Monday, May 20, 2019

Is Jesus Departing for a Distant Star on His Ascension?


“When he had said this, as they were looking on,
he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight” (Acts 1:9).




Let’s face it, the more we read about the gospel account of Jesus’ Ascension, the more we are reminded of its resemblance to the good-guy-bad-guy stories of Walt Disney. The bad guys beat up on the good guy; the good guy suffers terrible humiliations and hardships; a magical power from above appears to rescue the good guy and fix up the bad guys; the good guy rises from his demise and literally disappears into the sky in a thousand points of glimmering and swirling lights. What a wonderful ending that makes the child in us happy!

But Walt Disney magics are pure fantasies. In the real world we live in, reason, to the extent that our rational faculties allow us to command, must be the steering wheel that directs our thinking process as we strive to understand the empirical experiences happening all around us. When confronted with the extraordinary phenomenon of the Ascension, as recounted by St. Luke in this Sunday’s 1st and 3rd readings, we must ask: Where is Jesus going? Is he departing into a remote region of the cosmos somewhere? Is his Ascension a journey to a distant star? The scene that ended Jesus’ journey on earth, glorious as it is, remains perplexing and incomprehensible to human reason even after 2000 years. Could the Ascension account be a fabrication of Jesus’ followers, created like a Walt Disney, feel-good fantasy to gloss over the tragic death of their master? Questions such as these must be addressed and put to rest, leaving no excuse for the probing mind’s speculative instinct to fester further.

What we must not lose sight of is that before Jesus’ Ascension, there was his resurrection. As pointed out by Pope Benedict XVI, resurrection brings a whole new dimension of space and physicality that is completely foreign and incomprehensible to us. It’s a state of being not experienced by any human beings until it’s time for our own resurrection when “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace” (Daniel 12:2).

What’s really enlightening about the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances is that they give us a first glimpse, no matter how primitive, of what it’s like to live in a resurrected body, even if the encounters were scantily and poorly illustrated by the witnesses, who understandably were shocked and disoriented, and simply lacked the intuition needed to understand the extraordinary experiences properly. Clearly, the resurrected Christ no longer exists in the spatial dimension of this world: the doors were locked where the disciples gathered, but he was able to enter somehow; and did so suddenly (c.f. John 20:19, 26). The encounters show that the resurrected Christ doesn’t exist the way we do: in one space alongside other spaces. Under normal circumstances, when a physical human body, or any physical body for that matter, rises up, it means the object is vacating from a lower space to enter into a higher space. This is the logic underlying our earlier speculation that maybe Jesus is going up to a distant star. But with the resurrected Christ, who exists in a new dimension of space and physicality, this is not the case at all.

This understanding of the resurrected Christ leads us to conclude that Jesus’ upward movement on Ascension is not his “going away” (again, forget about the “distant star”!), but his “coming” in a new and resurrected state; it’s not a departure, but a new form of closeness and continuing presence. This is evident in the post-Ascension reaction of the apostles, who “worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Luke 24:52). If Jesus had really departed, shouldn’t they be perplexed and sad instead? Jesus, who has garnered a new dimension of being through resurrection, is now as close to us as ever, if not closer. He now has a divine presence that transcends our spatial dimension, a presence that manifests itself especially in the Eucharist.

No, Jesus’ Ascension doesn’t mean he’s relocating to a distant star. It doesn’t even mean he is leaving us. His upward movement is indicative of “an ontological leap”, to use Pope Benedict XVI’s language, that opens up “a new space of life, a new space of being in union with God”. To borrow a socioeconomic jargon, it’s “upward mobility” in its truest sense! With this understanding of Jesus’ Ascension in mind, we can appreciate better Jesus’ words to the Apostles before his Passion: “I go away and I will come to you” (John 14:28).

(Reference: Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth – From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, 272-293.)

Monday, March 25, 2019

Repent or Parish

Repent or perish (Lk 13:5). Jesus meant every word he said.


God’s mysterious name, “YHWH”, a 4-letter Hebrew word, or “Yahweh” with vowels added for pronunciation, means “I am He who is” (CCC 206). It reveals God’s primary attribute: a pure Being who simply “is”; a Being whose existence gives rise to all things; “and in him all things hold together” (Col 1:17). This awesome mystery that explains my consciousness, breathing, and writing in this moment – and your consciousness, breathing, and reading - is somehow revealed to Moses in the burning bush in this Sunday’s first reading.

The ancient Israelites did not take this biblical encounter between God and Moses lightly. Well aware of their privilege of receiving this revealed truth, Israel venerated God’s holy name as absolutely sacred. So much so they would refrain from saying it directly, choosing to address God as “Adonai” (HB), or “Kyrios” (GK), which is translated as “Lord” in English (CCC 209). (Therefore, when the New Testament writers refer to Jesus as “Lord”, it is effectively a recognition of his divinity, i.e. Jesus is God Himself (CCC446).) What is more, the Day of Atonement was the only day in the year during which the Jewish high priest was allowed to utter God’s holy name, Yahweh, and then only inside the Holy of Holies (Thomas Lane, “The Catholic Priest-hood”, p.38).

Connected to Israel’s veneration of God’s holy name is also a long history of its close encounters, interactions, and covenants with God. Yahweh is “the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob” (Ex 3:15); Israel is God’s Chosen People who are “baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” according to this Sunday’s second reading.

Being God’s people chosen from among all nations is a special blessing. But if the blessing is not received well, it can turn into a curse. This is the warning underlying Jesus’ parable in this Sunday’s gospel. Israel is the fig tree planted by God in a special orchard (Jer 8:13, Hos 9:10). It is expected to bear fruit. What fruit? The fruit of repentance. As God’s “first born son” among all nations (Ex 4:22), Israel has failed to do what God asked of it: becoming “a kingdom of priests, a holy nation” (Ex 19:6). Not only that, now that God has sent them their long-awaited Messiah, Israel, ever “a stiff-necked people” like its ancestors, refuses to receive him (Ex 32:9).

For its failures and hardness of heart, Israel deserves nothing better than being cut down like a fig tree that bears no fruit. But God’s mercy knows no bounds. As the Responsorial Psalm re-minds us, “The Lord is kind and merciful” (Ps 103:8). Despite Israel’s impenitence, God will leave the tree “for this year”, hoping “it may bear fruit in the future” (Lk 13:9). One last chance, in other words. Result? Sad to say, Jesus’ warning was left unheeded. In 70 A.D., soon after Jesus’ death, Israel’s sins finally caught up with it. Jerusalem had to suffer a devastating massacre and destruction at the hands of the Romans. Its Temple was completely burnt down and all sacrifices ceased. Repent or perish (Lk 13:5). Jesus meant every word he said.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

你們要赦免,也就蒙赦免(路6:37)

我仍然滿懷希望,天主最終能贏得她的心,將一個判斷和譴責的心轉化為一顆慈悲和寬恕的心。


相當難以置信地,我在天主教中華殉道聖人堂主持的聖經研討聚會(BSP),已超過十六年。每年的聖經研討聚會,對作為領航員的我,及參與這事工的組長、參加者和志願工作者,在不同程度上都是美好的祝福。BSP 不僅幫助我們大家定期研讀聖經,還使我們繼續在靈修上成長,並把我們的生活建基於天主聖言 — 而聖言是「萬有之先就有」和「萬有都賴他而存在」的(哥1:17)。

今個主日的福音讓我想起了一位 BSP 的參加者,在課程中,她至少問過我五、六次,為什麼耶穌要求我們「愛你們的仇人,善待他們」(路 6:35)。很明顯,我沒有很成功地給她一個令人信服的答案,否則她不會一遍又一遍地問同樣的問題。一向樂觀的我,並不認為她揮之不去的懷疑是我的失敗。反之,我認為在她的懷疑背後,是基督宗教其中最困難的條件之一; 是一個很少人能夠掌握的條件。於那些能够做到的少數人來說,如果他們沒有一顆被聖神徹底點燃的心,及一個毫無保留地接受天主的愛的決心,他們就不可能成功。在本主日的第一篇讀經,我們就面對面見到這樣的一個人 – 達味。

「我的靈魂,請向上主讚頌,我的五內,請向主名讚頌」(詠 103:1)。本主日的《答唱詠》中,達味對天主毫無保留的愛,顯而易見。 「上主富於仁慈寬恕,極其慈悲,遲於發怒。他沒有按我們的罪惡對待我們,也沒有照我們的過犯報復我們。」(詠 103: 8,10)。達味非常明白自己的所犯的罪,他一次又一次經歷了天主的慈悲,他知道他無法在天主面前宣稱正義並譴責他的敵人。撒烏耳在他的邪惡中可能多次背叛和迫害達味; 他可能給了達味充足的理由去謀反和報復。 但是達味知道憐憫他的天主希望他對他人仁慈,特別是對撒烏耳這位上主的受傅者,達味必不得加害(參見 撒上 26:23)。

「你們應當慈悲,就像你們的父那樣慈悲。你們不要判斷,你們也就不受判斷;不要定罪,也就不被定罪;你們要赦免,也就蒙赦免。」(路 6:36-37)。我不能確定這位參加了BSP十六年的朋友是否有機會閱讀這篇文章。如果這麼多年來,我無法說服她寬恕她的敵人,我不奢望這篇簡短的反思能夠做到這一點。但我仍然滿懷希望 — 希望只要她繼續參加 BSP,並把自己的生命建基於天主的聖言上,上主最終必能贏得她的心,將一個判斷和譴責的心轉化為一顆慈悲和寬恕的心。亞孟。

Saturday, February 16, 2019

一生何求?



這十多天頗充實,完成很多工作。昨夜難得熟睡,雖較遲起牀,還可以在Starbucks買咖啡前,環繞Toogood Pond步行一週。零下七八度氣温加風速,但陽光普照。厚雪和冰地上獨步前行,倍感詩意。

其實人一生重要的不是要做很多事情,重要的是活好天主賜給我們的每一刻。無論處人或處事,都按真理而行;無論工作或娛樂,都彰顯著基督。「我生活已不是我生活,而是基督在我內生活。」(迦拉達書2:20)能這樣做,每人都可以平安面對最終審判(默示錄20:11ff)。

對,總有做得不好的時候,但天主不是要我們憑自己力量去達到完美。祂不是這樣無理的。祂體悉人的軟弱,「因為我們所有的,不是一位不能同情我們弱點的大司祭,而是一位在各方面與我們相似,受過試探的,只是沒有罪過」的主(希伯來人書4:15);天主已為我們準備了基督救恩,去彌補一切人努力的不足。祂要求的是我们真心地,全力奮勉地做,力求止於至善,其餘的祂自會照料:「正為了這個原故,你們要全力奮勉,在你們的信仰上還要加毅力...。」(伯多禄後書1:5,創世記22:14))

感謝主!

Thursday, January 17, 2019

像天堂臨於人間的加拿大


今晨零下十一度,加上風速,感觉寒度是零下二十,但陽光普照。

從Starbucks買了咖啡回家途中,收音机傳來七十年代Anne Murray 的 Danny's Song (even though we ain't got money)。 這首歌加上今天早上天氣陽光,讓我感觉上像回到七十年代的温沙大學校園。

那些日子有苦有甜,但可說後者遠遠超越前者。在各方面這段时间都是自己非常重要的成長期,是自己生命旅途極関鍵性的一個階段,也佈下了今天在加拿大永久居留的伏線。

想著,想著,心裡充滿無限感恩;一方面感謝天主的引领和垂顧,另一方面也感谢加拿大這片美好的國土。就像今天早上的陽光,她送給我溫情無限,就像天堂臨於人間!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

A Love Story Like No Other

This marriage of heaven and earth between Christ and his Church is the crown jewel of God’s new Creation, ushered in by Christ Incarnate who “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” according to John (Jn 1:14).



“As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you;
And as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.” (Is. 62:5)

Want to know whether you really understand the Bible well? Take a simple test: What’s your immediate reaction on hearing the above verses from this Sunday’s first reading? Are you “cut to the heart”, the way the three thousand persons were on the prompting of the Holy Spirit after hearing Peter’s first sermon (c.f. Acts 2:37-41)? Do you feel like you’re left thunderstruck? Are you filled with excitement, edging to jump up and down, as though some firecrackers in your pants had just got ignited? Excuse the language but you’ve got the idea. If my words come across as too much of a melodrama, I’m just telling you my personal experience.

In the passage, God is addressing Israel through prophet Isaiah. If we hear Him right, He is saying He wants to marry Israel. O, my Lord! Who is “Israel”? The historical nation of Israel or some mysterious entity that God has fallen in love with? Why would God want to marry Israel, whoever that is? How is this divine-human marriage going to be consummated? What is it like to live in a conjugal relationship with our Creator who created us? To think about it, just asking these questions is reason enough for us to doubt our own sanity!

Fortunately, whenever we lose our way in reading the Bible, the Church Magisterium always comes to our rescue.

Simply put, Israel is us – “the Church of Christ”, “the new Israel” (LG 9). The Israel of old is but a prefiguration of the Church, “the new Israel” (LG 2, 9). “While on earth [the Church] journeys in a foreign land” as though she’s in exile, advancing and “[pressing] forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God” until she is fully glorified and received into the Kingdom of God (LG 6, 8). God wants to “marry us” in the sense that He wants His Church to enter into a faithful and everlasting communion with Him. Like the loving and one-body conjugal union between husband and wife in an earthly marital relationship, our intimate, union with God is free, faithful, fruitful, and total (without reservation). Its consummation is the new and everlasting covenant that our Lord, Jesus, has instituted and sealed by shedding his own blood and offering his own life for us on the Cross, making us mysteriously his Body – the Body of Christ (LG n.9, 1 Cor 11:23-25, Lk 22:20).

Espoused to Christ, the bridal Church renews the new and everlasting covenant every time she celebrates the Eucharist, enabling her to live in conjugal union with her husband, Jesus, in one Body (Eph 5:23). Yes, we risk losing our sanity if we insist on pushing our reasoning faculty to its limits to try to understand exactly what this conjugal relationship is like. After all, as the great Apostle teaches, “this is a great mystery” (Eph 5:32). In full consciousness of the Mystical Body of Christ and living in conjugal union with her husband who is her head (1 Cor 12:13, Eph 5:23), the Church must rejoice and “proclaim his marvelous deeds to all the nations”, this Sunday’s responsorial Psalm chants in jubilation (Ps. 96:3).

This marriage of heaven and earth between Christ and his Church is the crown jewel of God’s new Creation, ushered in by Christ Incarnate who “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” according to John (Jn 1:14). The incarnation of Christ is the “marriage” between divinity and humanity. It’s the theme that John uses to begin his gospel, starting from a Genesis-like, 7-day account of the New Creation, and culminating in the “sign” of the wedding of Cana (c.f. Jn 2:11), this Sunday’s gospel reading - a sign that points us to the fulfillment of God’s promise to marry Israel (Is 62:5).

In the final account, the Bible is really a love story from the beginning to the end. It begins with the broken marriage of Adam and Eve and ends with the joyful marriage of Christ (New Adam) and his Church (New Eve) in heaven (c.f. Rev 19). It truly is a romance like no other!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Fear God, Honor the King (1 Peter 2:17)


We have a "Bible Corner" in our parish. It's a notice board where we put up a different poster every month using a theme related to the passages being studied in our Bible Study Program (the program I conduct on every 4th Friday of the month). Attached is the poster of this month. It was designed by our Bible Corner volunteers. It's really beautiful and creative. Just want to share it with our blog viewers.