Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Enough Confrontation - Time for Dialogue and Prayer

I read and re-read my previous post, A Tale of Two Governments on a Very Difficult Day, many times. I don’t think I said anything to suggest that I supported the pro-democracy protesters’ move to “occupy Central”. I was saddened, as any Hong Konger should be, to see the riot police’s beastly and almost insane brutality in suppressing the demonstrators, the majority of whom were peaceful and disciplined young people armed with nothing but umbrellas, rain coats, and goggles. I thought the violent forces exerted by the Hong Kong police were excessive and unnecessary; and the tactics used provocative and miscalculated. In my article, I contrasted the Hong Kong government’s shameful and less than rational behavior on Sunday with the caring behavior exhibited by the Japanese government on the very same day in dealing with the Mount Ontake emergency.

The next day, the government of Hong Kong obviously woke up to realize its stupidity and quickly softened its approach. But the damage had been done and the horrifying news spread the world over. The iron-fisted strategy backfired: hundreds of thousands of protesters angered by the government’s shocking brutality came out in full force to occupy every important business or commercial district of Hong Kong one can think of: Central, Wan Chai, Causeway Bay, even Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui. Condemnation of the Hong Kong government's shameful behavior against its own citizens came one after another from the various democratic countries.

Let's be clear, I am not in favor of “Occupy Central”. No question it’s illegal, as civil disobedience always is. But in the civilized world, a parent is not allowed to act against his/her children in a violent manner just because they are disobedient. Similarly, a government should not use excessive force to curb a peaceful protest of its citizens, especially the young generation who are our future.

My heart is bleeding as the confrontation between the two camps continues to escalate. This morning I heard that the pro-democracy camp gave the government of Hong Kong until Wednesday to respond to its demands. Not a wise move. The protesters should understand that their message had been sent; it was loud and clear. The beast is hurt; but it's dangerous to back it into a corner. Let’s pray that the two camps will soften their confrontational attitudes and a peaceful negotiation will quickly ensue.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Tale of Two Governments on a Very Difficult Day

On a day the government of Japan mobilized teams of rescue experts and workers to search for survivors on the slopes of Mount Ontake where about 250 hikers were trapped by an unexpected volcano eruption, the government of Hong Kong mobilized 7,000 strong riot police to suppress tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters, wielding batons and shields, deploying pepper spray, and unleashing round after round of tear gas as its citizens watched in stunning disbelief.

No matter how many years one has left Hong Kong – in my case 32 – and how remote the days of living there may seem as memories grow old, it’s impossible to watch the violent scenes and widespread unrest breaking out on the familiar streets of Hong Kong without any emotions.

“This is no longer the Hong Kong that I used to know!” muttered a protester, sobbing uncontrollably as swirls of tear gas continued to drift visibly in the background. I must echo the same sentiment, not because the city has changed so much in its outlook, but because the trust and respect between its government and its people, rooted in many years of fighting adversities together and strengthened after several decades of growing prosperity, just don’t seem to be there anymore. While a colony, Hong Kong was never at ease with Britain, its imperial ruler. Now that it’s under the wings of a country that shares its cultural and ancestral roots, one would expect the trust and respect to grow into fraternal love. Unfortunately for many Hong Kong people, Sunday, September 28, 2014 was a day of rude awakening.

The day ended with the Japanese government calling off its rescue teams, promising to intensify its rescue effort as soon as the first daylight crept over the horizon of the Sea of Japan to allow the workers to search the smoke-obscured paths. Further south where the Victoria Harbor met the South China Sea, the Hong Kong government threatened to step up its suppression should the protesters continue to refuse to disperse – a threat widely speculated to mean the use of plastic bullets.

Read similar post: Cry, My Beloved Birth Place!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

寄福傳於中國書法藝術

天主離我們不遠。的確!天主並不遙遠,很多人心中的天主是至高無上和遙不可及的。但聖經所啓示给人的天主,卻是一位忠信於人和有情的造物主。公元前八世紀時,衪曾藉先知依撒意亞給猶大王阿哈次許諾了一個貞兆,「有一位貞女要懷孕生子,給他起名叫厄瑪奴耳」(依撒意亞7:14)。厄瑪奴耳意思是「天主與我們同在」。透過童貞女瑪利亞誕下耶穌 - 即天主之子 - 天主真的與我們同在一起了。歡欣雀躍的聖若望宗徒在他的福音情不自禁地说:「聖言成了血肉,寄居在我們中間;我們見了衪的光榮!」 (若望福音1:14)

「聖言成了血肉」的耶穌意味著那位無處不在,超越時間和空間的天主,竟然謙抑自下闖進人類歷史之中。這是多麽不可思議的大事啊! 祂採用了人性,成了人去拯救我們人類;藉救恩將人提升,讓他分沾天主的神性,享有崇高的地位。正如聖亞他那修(St. Athanasius)說得那麼簡潔:「天主之子成了人子,使人子们能成為天主之子。」這真是天大喜訊!我們需要把喜訊傳揚出去!正如主耶穌在他升天前囑咐門徒說「你們要去使萬民成為門徒」(瑪竇福音28:19) 。

教會好友家靜將回港舉辦中國書法展覽;很高興她能善用天主所賜予的天賦,以中國書法的藝術來表達信仰的熱誠,把這天大喜訊傳揚出去。恭喜您,家靜!願天主祝福您福傳的努力!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

God's Way or My Way? - A Life-Defining Question

This is my reflection on the Mass readings of the 25th Sunday, Ordinary Time, Year A – September 21, 2014
Mass Readings: Is 55:6-9; Phil 1:20-24, 27; Mt. 20:1-16

On September 6, 1997, innumerable people around the world watched on live television broadcast the solemn and glamorous funeral of Princess Diana, conducted in the historic Westminster Abbey and attended by royals, dignitaries, and celebrities as glittering as the stars in the sky. Notable among them was Elton John, who paid tribute to the beautiful princess with a rousing performance of Candle in the Wind. 8,000 kilometres away in a small and humble chapel of Kolkata, lay quietly and without much of the world’s attention was the body of Mother Teresa, who died of cardiac arrest on the day before.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways” (Is.55:8). If the first reading of the 25th Sunday needs any illustration, there is no better illustration than the two contrasting scenes above.

When our thoughts and God’s are not in alignment, we often find ourselves arguing with him, the way the vineyard labourers argued with the landowner in Jesus’ parable. The first labourers believed they should be given more than the usual daily wage just because the workers who came late had been given that amount, forgetting conveniently that usual daily wage was what the landowner had promised them before they started. There was no ground for their dispute since the landowner didn’t break his promise.

To think about it, the real reason for the grumbling labourers’ complaint can only be jealousy. But if the landowner wanted to be generous with his own money, why would these jealous labourers think they had the right to dispute his generosity? Actually the landowner character in Jesus’ parable is an image of God, who is free to bestow his graces as he pleases; and often does so out of mercy and compassion. After all, grace is God’s gift of love. It’s free; it cannot be earned by human works. To say that one’s effort "deserves" more grace from God is in itself a presumptuous claim that reveals a heart pregnant with pride and self-righteousness.

Like the jealous labourers who grumbled against the landowner based on a faulty understanding of fairness, people often think God is unfair in dealing with them. Is it any surprise that people with such a mindset often find God remote and unreachable? In the Responsorial Psalm, we are reminded that we should “praise [God’s] name forever and ever” because he is “gracious and merciful”, “kind”, “compassionate”, “just”, and “holy”. Indeed if we would only heed the psalmist’s reminder of God’s exemplary virtues and bring our ways in alignment with his, we would find that whatever distance separating us from him will disappear quickly, for “the Lord is near to all who call upon him”. Given time, our trivial and mindless grumbles against God because of our own blindness to the truth will stop. Only then will peace and harmony in our relationship with God prevail.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Bronze Serpent - Why Did God Instruct Israel to Practise Idolatry?

This is my reflection on the Mass readings of this coming Sunday - Feast of The Exaltation of the Holy Cross – September 14, 2014.
Mass Readings: Nm 21:4-9; Phil 2:6-11; Jn 3:13-17

As a time-honoured sports fan, I watch many sport events; sometimes in person, but mostly on television. In my early years in North America, I was puzzled to see that in many games that I watched, a spectator or two in the crowds often would hold up a sign that said simply, “John 3:16”. Being unfamiliar with the Bible at the time, I thought it was a code word for promoting some kind of well-known merchandise. Eventually I realized that the signs were referring to this Sunday’s gospel reading, particularly this verse in John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.

The message is undeniably condensed and to the point. In the setting of a sporting venue or a crowded stadium where you can’t say much because people either can’t hear or won’t listen; drawing people’s attention to John 3:16 is a clever way to evangelize. But if I have a choice, I’d rather read out and explain in detail the preceding passage: And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life (John 3:14-15).

We are physical beings that perceive and communicate using our senses. Like a loving mother trying to get her baby’s attention using baby talk, God stoops down to our human level to communicate with us in an incarnational way that involves all of our senses. Top among God’s human techniques, or “baby talk” if you will, is the use of imagery that helps us visualize and understand things or ideas that are intangible or hard to grasp. Hidden in the fore-mentioned Johannine passage are powerful images that can shake anyone to the core of his being when properly understood.

In the first reading, God, who is steadfast in opposing idolatry throughout the Old Testament, inexplicably asked Moses to make an idol for his people – a bronze serpent. If this is not strange enough, His next instruction to Moses simply bordered on insanity: Get the Israelites to look at the bronze serpent, mounted high on a pole, as though it were an idol to be worshipped! God being God, He had it His way. Moses did exactly what he was told. But then again, God being God, He was able to heal everyone who got bitten by the serpents! Still, even though God can do anything He wants, a sensible reader will surely want to know: Why did God go against His own commandment and instruct Moses and his people to practise idolatry?

The way the Bible works, the real meaning of an Old Testament passage that seems so difficult to understand is usually revealed in the New Testament. As St. Augustine says so succinctly, “The New Testament is hidden in the Old, and the Old Testament revealed in the New.” In the gospel reading, Jesus perfects the techniques of biblical exegesis and explains that the bronze serpent that Moses lifted up in the desert is actually an image or a personification, if you will, pointing towards him personally. Like the bronze serpent that looked poisonous and yet was the cure for those suffering from poisonous wounds, Jesus, who looked like a convicted criminal on the Cross is in fact the cure for those suffering from sins; like the bronze serpent that was lifted up high on a pole, Jesus must be lifted up high on the Cross; like the serpent-bitten people who looked at the mounted serpent and got healed, the sin-wounded people who turn their gaze to the crucified Christ will be saved.

The imagery at work in the Mass readings of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is not only powerful, it is also a good demonstration of why images cannot be seen as identical to “idols” – an error often made by many separated brethren of the reformed churches.