Saturday, November 28, 2020

The Holy Spirit’s Knock-Out Punch!

 


For those of you who are studying the Scripture seriously, I hope the Holy Spirit would also punch your lights out the way He did it to me!

Hidden in the corners of my mind are traces of memories left behind by a long spiritual journey that eventually led me to the totality of embracing the Cross of Christ. Like distinctive visions from an old-time movie, they would play out before my eyes in my prayers and meditations – a little scratched and blurry here and there, but the experiences are as vivid as yesterday. The carolers who sang joyfully as they walked past my parents’ eatery on Christmas day when I was a small child; my grade 10 classmate who bravely spoke up against our teacher’s disparagement of her Christian faith, and then broke down and cried; strumming my guitar casually as I sang Amazing Grace for the first time together with several camping friends under a starry sky – experiences such as these and many others that had brought me closer to Christ continue to support and re-energize me as I inch forward in a faith expedition that never ends.

As unforgettable and powerful as these experiences were, none of them could really deliver the “knock-out punch” that was needed to humble my puffed-up ego and enable me to truly surrender to Christ. But when it finally came (thank God it did!) it was in the least expected manner - in the form of a prolonged period of scriptural enlightenment. Through magisterial teachings and theological studies, the Holy Spirit was able to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that all of the Scripture was about Christ and formed a coherent whole only when it was read through the lens of Christ. That was no ordinary proposition. It’s tantamount to claiming that Jesus is everywhere in the Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, from the Old Testament to the New Testament! The notion totally knocked me off my feet because I had always thought that Jesus, being a 1st C historical figure, was nowhere to be found in the Old Testament. 

This Sunday’s first reading from Isaiah 61 is a case in point. It provides a good illustration of the power of the pneumatic punch that eventually knocked me right out. 

“The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me” (Is 61:1) – Written more than 500 years before Jesus’ birth, this prophetic passage is already giving us many fine details about him (note 1). He is the Messiah – the Anointed One. He is to be anointed with the spirit of God and sent forth by the Father. 

What’s the purpose of the sending forth? “Bring glad tidings to the poor”, “heal the brokenhearted”, set free the captives and prisoners, announce God’s favor and vindication (cf. 61:1b-2a). In other words, Jesus is sent forth for all of us. In many ways, especially spiritually, every one of us is in extreme poverty. Like the “unclean” lepers in the Gospels, we are in dire need of healing and cleansing. Like Israel’s enslavement in Egypt, we are prisoners longing to be liberated. Beginning from Adam, the whole humanity has been fatally injured and unjustly persecuted by the power of Satan (cf. Lk 10:25-37; Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth I, pp. 199-200). But Jesus, the new Adam, has done us a huge favor. By the power of the Cross and his resurrection, we – humanity under persecution by Satan - have been vindicated. His saving grace is accessible to all of us. Anyone who is willing to embrace Christ and live in truth and righteousness is already victorious!

The Divine Author skillfully uses various images to present our Savior to us: He is clothed “with a robe of salvation”, “wrapped…in a mantle of justice”, “a bridegroom adorned with a diadem”, “a bride bedecked with her jewels” (Is 61:10). Small wonder that marriage is the main theme running through the pages of the Scripture. Our Savior comes to us as the Lover; he lovingly embraces us, the Beloved – the Church. He is a bridegroom adorned with a diadem. Compared this image to the fake bridegroom in Revelation who had “seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadems” (Rev 12:3). More is not necessarily better! If the last image of “a bride bedecked with her jewels” is a little baffling to some readers, just keep in mind that it’s referring to the Church – Jesus’ “bride”. As the Body of Christ, the Church and Jesus are one.

Don’t know about you, but when I first understood – truly understood – the profound meanings of Old Testament passages such as what we’ve just read in this Sunday’s first reading, I was spiritually knocked unconscious, lying flat out and motionless on the canvas of the boxing ring! Like Jacob’s mysterious and bruising wrestle with God, I had battled Him for decades and He won with that knock-out punch (cf. Gen 32:25-30)! But that was not it. I had to take the same pneumatic punch over and over again in that prolonged process of scriptural enlightenment! “Love does no harm to the neighbor” (Rom 13:10). Surely, I wish to do my readers no harm. But for those of you who are studying the Scripture seriously, I hope the Holy Spirit would also punch your lights out the way He did it to me!


Note 1: It is generally believed that Isaiah 24-27, 56-66 were written by Trito-Isaiah in about 515 BC. Trito-Isaiah could be a disciple or several disciples of the author of Isaiah 40-55. The Prophet Isaiah himself wrote Isaiah 1-23, 28-39 sometime in the 8th C.


The Shepherd and the King


  Jesus is no ordinary king. Like David, his Old Testament type, he is a Shepherd-King.

The theme of shepherd permeates the whole Bible. It also appears in this Sunday’s readings as the Church celebrates the feast of Christ the King to bring this liturgical year to a close. Why is the shepherd theme important? What are the underlying messages? Why uses it to celebrate Christ the King?

Shepherd is a popular biblical theme partly because the ancient Hebrews were a pastoral, seminomadic people. In Genesis, Abraham and Lot, his kinsman, had many flocks and herds. Eventually they had to go their separate ways in order to avoid internal conflicts (cf. Gen 13:5-9). Jacob spent many years tending his father-in-law’s flock in exchange for his consent to marry Rebecca (Gen 29:15ff). Moses also was a shepherd in Midian before leading Israel out of Egypt (Ex 3:1).

More significantly, the Bible uses the shepherd theme to reveal a very important message in God’s divine plan: The false shepherds of this world have led His people astray; God, the Good Shepherd who cares deeply about His sheep, will come among us to shepherd His people personally. This loving and trusting relationship between God and His people is beautifully portrayed in this Sunday’s psalm reading, which is traditionally attributed to David who was incidentally both a shepherd and a king: 

The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack. In green pastures you let me graze; to safe waters you lead me; you restore my strength. You guide me along the right path for the sake of your name (Psalm 23:1-3).

In Old Testament time, God entrusted His people, Israel, to the care of the shepherds He appointed, i.e. the leaders of Israel, particularly the political and religious leaders in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, they failed terribly in discharging their sacred duties. Thus, God chastised them through prophet Ezekiel: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves!... You have fed off their milk, worn their wool, and slaughtered the fatlings, but the sheep you have not pastured” (Ez 34:2-3). He promises in the 1st reading, “I myself will look after and tend my sheep” (Ez 34:11).

Ever faithful and true to His word, God does return in the person of the incarnate Christ. In Jesus, God is indeed pasturing His sheep Himself. In New Testament time, “God’s sheep” can be understood as a reference to the New Israel – the Church instituted by Christ. 

On this Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, it’s fitting that we use the theme of the Good Shepherd to celebrate Jesus’ kingship. Like a good shepherd, the King knows his people and cares for them (cf. John 10:13-14). However, he is no ordinary king. Like David, his Old Testament type (i.e. a biblical character that mysteriously prefigures and anticipates Christ), he is a Shepherd-King. He “lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). 

As the Good Shepherd, Jesus epitomizes every attribute of a good king, not only does Christ the King protect his sheep, to the point of shedding his blood for them, he also shepherds them “with an iron rod” (Ps 2:9, Rev 12:5). In other words, he disciplines his sheep and holds them accountable for what they do. “The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal (but the sleek and the strong I will destroy), shepherding them rightly” (Ez 34:16). The Shepherd-King’s work is not finished just because of his Ascension to the Father. His shepherding work will conclude with the Last Judgement, in which “he will separate [his flock] one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Mt 25:32). When was the last time you fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed a stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the ill, and visited those in prison (cf. Mt. 25: 35-36)? Let’s prepare ourselves well to meet the Shepherd-King while we can!

Thursday, October 29, 2020

在基督奧體內的奇妙經歷

 43 年前我敲了教會的門,這門開啟後出現在眼前的,是個奧秘的深淵,其深度遠遠超越任何人類思維所能達的界限!

說來有點難以置信,但我領洗加入天主教會已經 43年了!大學第三年時,我完成了主修會計學的必修科目後,便嘗試在深不可測的哲學領域裡探索一下;雖然哲學並不像會計帳目的收支記錄般清楚明確,分毫不差。不知何故,在我的青葱歲月裡,哲學界的眾神很早便高踞在我年輕的心靈深處。在我想像中,他們是卓越優秀的知識分子和學者。當我的會計課程差不多修完的時候,我立刻選修了幾個哲學科目,急不及待地進入了希臘哲學家和中世紀思想家的遠古世界中。

猶太基督文化與早期思想家的連結和關係,迅速把我帶到歷史上更早期的一位人物。對我這個在理性思維上初出茅廬的初學者來說,他好像是所有哲學探討的開始和終結一般 — 這位猶太裔智者,名叫耶穌基督。回想起來,我參加校園裏的《中國天主同學會》,和通過這團體而參加《聖母升天大學校園事奉團體》的成人慕道班,並不是巧合。哲學課程並不能滿足我要多點了解耶穌這個人的渴望。在這諸聖節,當我為彌撒讀經作一點反思時,我清楚看到 ,這個43 年前展開,把我帶到天主教教會門前的旅程,所帶給我的要比我想像中的更多。

那位引起我極大興趣的人物,原來不單是人,祂同時擁有人性和天主性!祂是天主的聖言,是「『阿耳法』和『敖默加』,元始和終末」,世上所有智慧都來自祂,也要歸向於祂,包括我所曾研讀過的每一位哲學家的智慧(若 1:1, 默 21:6)!祂來到世上,「為叫他們獲得生命,且獲得更豐富的生命 」(若 10:10)。若望在 《讀經二》驚嘆道,「請看父賜給我們何等的愛情,使我們得稱為天主的子女,而且我們也真是如此」 (若一 3:1)。

43 年前我敲了教會的門,為生命的真正意義尋求答案,這門開啟後出現在眼前的,是個奧秘的深淵,其深度遠遠超越任何人類思維所能達的界限!當我步入這奥境,並以虔誠和敬畏的心四處觀望時,我發現自己站在聖地上。我可以明白梅瑟站在曷勒布山上,在被火燃燒的荊棘叢前面的心情(參閱出 3:1-5)。我再望過去,發覺原來自己不是獨自一人。我看到的,是如若望在本主日《讀經一》所看到的「看見有一大夥群眾」— 成千上萬的人「來自各邦國、各支派、各民族、各異語的」,身穿「曾在羔羊的血中洗淨了⋯使【之】雪白」的白衣(默 7:9, 14)。他們是公教會的殉道者!他們與多不勝數的眾天使一起頌唸「光榮、至聖和讚頌」。

我心如鹿撞,用腳尖輕輕往前走,看見很多我在教父著作裏認識的著名人物。聖依勒內主教手持書本向我招手—他著名的護教著作《反駁異端邪說》。在書裏,他維護基督徒的信仰並有力地駁斥異端邪說的教導和傳統。在這天堂一樣的地方的另一邊,站着殉道者聖猶思定,他的死亡雖然可怕,但卻面帶燦爛愉快的微笑。我們要怎樣多謝他才足夠呢?他曾勇敢地向當時的羅馬君王見證教會如何欽崇天主(參閱 天主教教理 1345)。而這個似乎有少少超重的中世紀學者是誰呢?我的天!他可是聖多瑪斯.阿奎納?他還在寫《神學大全》( Summa Theologica )—那部在他1274年離世時遺下的未完成之作。這實在有點令人難以接受!我在哪裏?為什麼我會在雲雲殉道者和聖人當中?

像天主所有的子女,基督的妙身是我日常的真正居所。在這裏,我們不斷得到從妙身的頭 — 基督自己 — 而來的豐富的靈性滋養和恩寵(參 弗 5:23)。在這神聖的聯繫和共融内,諸聖的代禱使我們日益接近基督(天主教教理 956-7)。作為加拿大居民,我們一定要遵守本國法律。同樣地,讓自己堪當享有天主子女的特權,我們要跟隨耶穌的教導。從很多方面看,本主日福音的真福八端可以稱為「耶穌帶來的新梅瑟律法」,我們必須緊緊遵守 (Jesus of Nazareth I, p.68)。我一定盡我所能,做到最好,跟隨他的教導,讓我可以留在祂的奧體內。希望在下一個基督奧體的經歷中,我會遇上聖奧斯定!啊,我不介意也看到聖若望保祿二世!

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

"Francisco" - My Response to People's Concerns I

I always welcome and respect people's responses to my writings and presentations. I really do, especially those expressing concerns because concerns not voiced can easily lead to misunderstandings and cause unnecessary alienations. As a result, I'd like to thank a couple of my contacts who took the time to let me know their concerns about my last email on Pope Francis' endorsement of "convivencia civil". In doing so they graciously accorded me an opportunity to explain. 

One of them, to whom I had replied directly, thinks that the claim that "very close unions between people of the same sex do not in themselves imply sexual relations" is "naive". Since this is a good opportunity to explain the Church's core teaching on homosexuality, I'd like to share my reply as follows:

We all know that the Church is against homosexuality and sees it as a grave sin. Her position on this will not change and shouldn't (CCC 2357). 

At the same time, the Church also understands that she herself is but a house of sinners who receive redemption not because they deserve it but because of God's unfathomable mercy. She understands that the proper execution of her magisterial duty of teaching - "don't do this or that" -  must always be balanced out by the same mercy she receives from God. Therefore, the Church must take a loving and merciful approach in handling the homosexual community, always ACCEPTING them "with respect, compassion and sensitivity", and cautioning against any unjust discrimination that sees them as social outcasts (CCC 2358). 

Since the homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered" (CCC 2357), "homosexual persons are called to chastity", accepting the difficulties of their sacrifice as a participation in the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross (CCC 2359).

From the Church teachings above, it's easier to understand why Pope Francis embraces the concept of "convivencia civil" to the extent that sexual relations, i.e. the homosexual acts, are not involved. Are they still homosexuals? Of course they are. The "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" are still there, although "they do not choose their homosexual condition" (CCC 2358). But the difference is that people with homosexual inclinations, who opt for chastity, accept that the homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and sinful. They are willing to shun their homosexual desires and offer up their effort as their sacrifice to unite themselves to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross. This is a noble endeavor that deserves our full support, and the Pope is not afraid to embrace it. 

As for the concern that people in "convivencia civil" may not practice chastity, that's for God to hold them to account; nobody else can, not even the Church. The Church takes the same position on those priests who have homosexual inclinations. Her advice is for them to "at least try not to express this inclination actively, in order to remain true to the intrinsic mission of their office" (Pope Benedict XVI, Light of the World, p.153). What if secretly some of them disregard the Church's advice? Only God can hold them accountable. But the Church will not kick all of them out just because there are a few bad apples. 

God have mercy! More reason to pray for the Church and our clergy!


Monday, October 26, 2020

What did Pope Francis really say in "Francesco"?

New insights continue to emerge on Pope Francis' comments in the "Francesco" interview, including the clarification that “convivencia civil” in Spanish was mistranslated as "civil union". 

Even with this language clarification, there's still a need to further clarify what the Pope's idea of "convivencia civil" or "law of civil coexistence" was when he said he supported it. If his idea of "convivencia civil" included sexual relations, then he was essentially supporting SS civil union because there's really no difference between the two. However, a new CNA article offers strong evidences that the Pope's idea of "convivencia civil" doesn't include sexual relations or the homosexual acts. According to the CNA article, these are the actual words coming out of the Pope's mouth in the 2019 interview (an interview used and edited heavily by "Francesco" per CNA; highlight mine):

There, what I said is that they ‘have a right to a family.’ And that doesn’t mean to approve of homosexual acts, not at all.

Is "convivencia civil" without sexual relations a reality? Is it even practicable? Apparently it is according to the CNA article. It quoted Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, a theologian who's close to the Pope, to explain the concept of "convivencia civil" in Argentina and why it needed legal protection (highlight mine):

The Archbishop posted on Facebook that before he became the pope, then Cardinal-Bergoglio “always recognized that, without calling it ‘marriage,’ in fact there are very close unions between people of the same sex, which do not in themselves imply sexual relations, but a very intense and stable alliance. They know each other thoroughly, they share the same roof for many years, they take care of each other, they sacrifice for each other. Then it may happen that they prefer that in an extreme case or illness they do not consult their relatives, but that person who knows their intentions in depth. And for the same reason they prefer that it be that person who inherits all their assets, etc. This can be contemplated in the law and is called ‘civil union’ [unión civil] or ‘law of civil coexistence’ [ley de convivencia civil], not marriage.

The info above from CNA is important for understanding the Pope's comments in "Francesco". It gives us reason to believe that, at least in as far as his comments in the Francesco interview are concerned, his public appeal for legal protection for "convivencia civil" is not an attempt to redefine the meaning of marriage. Conceivably, his suggestion doesn't even contradict the 2003 CDC's opposition to "legal protection of homosexual unions" in which sexual relations are understood to be inherent.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Experiencing the Mystical Body of Christ

The doors of the Church that I knocked on 43 years ago are opening up to an abyss of mysteries far deeper than any human mind can fathom!

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been 43 years since I was baptized and received into the Catholic Church! In my 3rd year as a university student, I had completed enough courses required by my Accounting major to allow me to test my feet in the deep waters of Philosophy, which was never as clear-cut as the debits and credits of accounting journal entries. For whatever reason, the gods of Philosophy had always occupied the upper echelons of my youthful heart and captured my imagination of intellectual excellence. As soon as my accounting business was more or less dealt with, I couldn’t wait to take a few courses in Philosophy and dive right into the ancient world of the Greek philosophers and medieval thinkers. 

The connection shared by many of these early thinkers to the Judeo-Christian culture soon took me further back in history to one man who somehow seemed to me, a beginner learning to polish his tools of rational thinking, to be both the beginning and the end of all philosophical explorations - a Jewish sage named Jesus Christ. Looking back, it was no coincidence that I would join the Chinese Catholic Community on campus and, through them, the RCIA of the Assumption campus community. The Philosophy courses simply were insufficient to quench my thirst to learn more about this man. On this Feast day of All Saints, as I reflect on the Mass readings, I can see how the journey that first began when it took me to the doorsteps of the Catholic Church 43 years ago has given me much more than what I was bargaining for. 

The man who had aroused so much interest in me turned out to be more than just a man, he is both human and divine! He is the Word of God, “the Alpha and the Omega” that all wisdoms of this world come from and must return to, including the wisdom of every single philosopher that I’ve studied (Jn 1:1, Rev 21:6)! He came so that the world “might have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10). “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are”, John marvels in the 2nd reading (1 Jn 3:1).

The doors of the Church that I knocked on 43 years ago, looking for answers to my quest for the true meaning of life, are opening up to an abyss of mysteries far deeper than any human mind can fathom! As I walk inside and look around with reverence and awe, I find myself standing on holy ground. I can relate to how Moses must have felt when he stood on Mt. Horeb in front of the burning bush (cf. Ex 3:1-5). When I look further, I realize I’m not alone. I see, as John does in this Sunday’s first reading, “a vision of a great multitude” – hundreds of thousands of people “from every nation, race, people, and tongue”, wearing white robes made “white in the Blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:9, 14). These are the martyrs of the universal Church! They are chanting, “Glory and holiness and praise!” together with the angels, who are countless in number. 

Tiptoeing further along with my heart in my throat, I see many renowned figures that I’ve come to know through the writings of the Church Fathers. There’s St. Irenaeus of Lyons, waving at me and holding a book in his hand – his famous apologetic work, Against Heresies, in which he defends the Christian faith against heretical doctrines and traditions. Over there, on the other side of this heavenly place, stands St. Justin Martyr, wearing a bright and cheerful smile in spite of his horrific death. How can we thank him enough for testifying bravely to the Roman emperor of his days on how the Church worshiped (cf. CCC 1345)? And who is this medieval scholar who looks a little overweight? O, my Lord! Could this be St. Thomas Aquinas? He’s still working on Summa Theologica, the uncompleted work he left behind when he died in 1274. This is a little overwhelming! Where am I? Why am I in the midst of all these martyrs and saints?

Like all children of God, the Mystical Body of Christ is my true dwelling place day in and day out. We receive spiritual nourishments and graces lavishly and unceasingly from the Head of the Body – Christ himself (cf. Eph 5:23). We are drawn closer to Christ in the unity of this holy communion by the intercessory prayers of the saints (CCC 956-7). As a resident in Canada, we must observe the law of the country. Similarly, to be worthy of the privilege of the children of God, we must follow Jesus’ teaching. The Beatitudes in this Sunday’s gospel are in many ways “the new Torah brought by Jesus” that requires our close adherence (Jesus of Nazareth I, p.68). I will certainly do my best to follow his teaching and make sure I remain in his Mystical Body. Hopefully in my next Mystical Body experience, I’d be able to bump upon St. Augustine! Oh, I wouldn't mind seeing St. John Paul II too!

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Did Pope Francis' Film Interview Change the Church's Teaching on Marriage?

CNA article

To follow up on my previous post, I'd like to refer my fellow-bloggers to the CNA article above. It said exactly what I was trying to say, only better - much better - and more comprehensive in its coverage of the issue; breaking it down piece by piece and offering the right answer for each. Great article. 

I heard the Pope's film interview had triggered heated arguments among Catholics. The CNA article proves that if you understand the issue properly and think it through based on proper theological understanding, there should be no argument. The whole issue is crystal clear: 

The Pope has always supported and maintained the Church's infallible teaching on marriage; his endorsement of legal protection of SS civil unions - if that's indeed what he said in the interview - is not infallible teaching; as such the Catholic faithful's obedience of faith is not mandatory or even expected. 

A Pope's casual opinion in a film interview cannot change the Church's long-standing and infallible teaching on marriage, nor was it his intention to change it. 

His position or alleged position of endorsing legal protection for SS civil unions differs from his immediate predecessors, JPII and BXVI, who were also HIS POPES, to whom he owes allegiance and religious obedience. His suggestion or alleged suggestion could be a bad application of the Church's teaching on marriage, but the Church's position against homosexuality and SSM still stands.