Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Blessing of Same Sex Couples


If you read the above CNN news report on Vatican's decision to bless same-sex couples today (or the same from any other major news outlet), you will get the wrong impression that the Catholic Church is moving away from its longstanding opposition to same-sex marriage (SSM) because it finally agrees to bless the same-sex couples.

The news report also accused the Church of changing "a 2021 ruling from the Vatican doctrine office which barred any blessings" of same-sex couples. The implication was that the Church's teaching is not to be taken seriously because it can change and has changed in this case. 

Nothing is further from the truth. 

If you read Vatican's Declaration directly (Fiducia Supplicans, Declaration on the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings, December 18, 2023), you will realize that the Church remains firm in its opposition to SSM; and that the 2021 ruling barring any blessings of SS couples remains valid.

If anything, the Declaration re-affirms again and again the Church's opposition to SSM, insisting that marriage is the "exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the generation of children". It emphasizes that "the Church's doctrine on this point remains firm" (n.4).

What the document does is to clarify that there are two kinds of blessing. A liturgical blessing "requires that what is blessed be conformed to God's will, as expressed in the teachings of the Church" (n.9). As an example, what the Sacrament of Matrimony confers is a liturgical blessing. As SSM does not conform to God's will and is morally wrong, it cannot be blessed. So, the above-mentioned 2021 ruling remains unchanged. In other words, the CNN report's accusation that the Church's teaching has changed is wrong.

The second kind of blessing is a general, pastoral blessing which allows the Church or an ordained minister to bless someone - anyone - who has the humility to realize that they need God's mercy and help "to move forward, to live better, and to respond to the Lord's will" (n.20). This kind of blessing is essentially open to everyone. There's no need for the Church or an ordained minister to scrutinize closely the moral status of the receiver of the blessing to ensure they "have prior moral perfection" (n.25). Blessing for same-sex couples and couples in irregular situations (divorced and remarried for example) falls into this category.

In this special season of Advent, let's pray for unity and harmony in the Church handed down to us from St. Peter and the Apostles. Let's pray in particular for the Holy Father, who is constantly in need of the Holy Spirit's guidance and protection.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

How Accepting the Church as Petrine Transformed Me

 The stunning realization transformed me miraculously, turning me from a “Church rebel” into a passionate “Church defender”.

 I will place the key of the House of David on Eliakim's shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open (Is 22:22).

I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Mt 16:19).

I was dumbfounded when the above two verses from Isaiah and Matthew respectively were first paired up for comparison and the deeper meanings revealed by Dr. Scott Hahn in one of his earlier cassette-tape series on biblical studies. Born a rebel who customarily disliked any establishments and institutions, particularly the Catholic Church, I found Dr. Hahn’s comparison and insights fascinating and convincing. 

Through Isaiah’s prophecy, God promises to give “the key of the House of David” to Eliakim, which signifies authority and power. He will represent the king and act as his governor or prime minister, if you will, governing the kingdom of David. More importantly, the authority given to Eliakim is complete and unreserved: “when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open”.

What is really striking is that Isaiah’s prophetic words that made Eliakim the leader governing the kingdom of David on behalf of the king were adopted almost word by word by Jesus when he made Peter (originally named “Simon”) the first leader of his Church, which is already the seed and the beginning of the kingdom of God on earth (LG 5). In response to Simon Peter’s confession that he was “the Christ, the Son of the living God”, Jesus said, “I will give you [Peter] the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:19).

By adopting Isaiah’s prophetic words intentionally, Jesus is making three very significant points: 

1.     Jesus makes Peter the Sovereign Pontiff of his Church - Just as God made Eliakim the representative and governor of the kingdom of David by giving him the key of the house of David, he is making Simon Peter the vicar of his Church on earth by giving him the keys to the kingdom of heaven. As the Church on earth is already the seed and the beginning of that kingdom, Peter represents Jesus to govern his kingdom of heaven here on earth (LG 5). This is what the Catholics mean when they say the Church of Christ is Petrine.

2.    The Sovereign Pontiff’s authority over the Church is complete and unrestricted  Just as Eliakim’s governing authority was complete and unrestricted – “when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open” – the governing authority of Peter and his successors is also complete and unrestricted. Thus: “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven”.

3.     The Church is built on Peter and his successors - And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” (Mt 16:18). In response to Simon calling him “Christos” (in Greek, which means “Messiah”), Jesus calls Simon “Petros” (in Greek, which means “rock”) (16:16,18). The pun – “Christos” and “Petros” – is not incidental; it is a powerful way to make clear Jesus’ intention to build his Church on the person of Peter, the leader of the 12 apostles; the person he is addressing directly and for whom he has just given a new name. It’s “on this rock” - on this “petra” (the word for a physical object in Greek, same meaning as “Petros” which refers to a person) - that he will build his Church. 

As I studied this topic more and more, I found myself captivated by the magisterial position of the Catholic Church that the only divinely instituted “Church of Christ, which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic, was entrusted [by Christ] to Peter’s pastoral care [and] is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him” (LG 8). The stunning realization transformed me miraculously, turning me from a “Church rebel” into a passionate “Church defender”. 

Little did I know that this change in me, drastic and unbelievable as it was, was only the beginning of a spiritual conversion of epic proportions. When it was all said and done, my world view, moral values, and personal life, particularly my marriage and family, had gone through a clear break with the past. It’s fair to say, the world as I knew it had turned completely upside down. And it’s all for good. For the first time, I truly understood what St. Peter meant when he said, “For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25). If my first encounter with the Isaiah 22:22 vs. Matthew 16:19 comparison was like a hurricane that shook me to the core of my being, the full force of its tailwinds can still be felt on encountering it again in this Sunday’s readings.

Friday, March 31, 2023

The Jerusalem Heartache

The Good News that they’ve heard and the best meal that they’ve ever had have permeated their whole being with great joy and a compelling sense of mission. They can’t wait to return to Jerusalem to serve the Lord and help people entangled in the Jerusalem heartache.

 “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?" the two disciples wondered out loud after a mysterious encounter with the risen Christ on their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus (Luke 24:32).  

For people who have the blessing of encountering Christ through the Scriptures, the way from Jerusalem to Emmaus is a powerful spiritual journey they traverse often. It is heavenly to hear the divinely inspired word directly from the mouth of Christ who, as the Word of God, embodies the sacred Scriptures, and is the only “one in heaven or on earth or under the earth” capable of opening the sacred scroll (cf. Rev 5:3-5). They hear, as Pope Benedict XVI articulated it with so much eloquence, “a polyphonic hymn”, “a single word expressed in multiple ways”, a “symphony of many voices in which the one word is spoken” (Verbum Domini 7). No wonder the two disciples found their hearts “burning” during the mysterious encounter!

Jerusalem is a city of dejection and danger for the two disciples. Their conviction that they have finally found the Messiah in Jesus the Nazarene has just been crushed and shattered into pieces when he died like a criminal on the cross. And the Roman authority and the Sanhedrin are aggressively hunting down his followers. But now they are hearing that he might still be alive, and that his tomb was found empty. What’s really going on? It’s nothing but heartache, confusion, and fear.

Unfortunately, the ”Jerusalem heartache” that haunted the two disciples is in many ways also haunting all of us. Every descendent of Adam and Eve living in a world order deprived of its original innocence and holiness because of our first parents’ unbelief and disobedience must experience it again and again. Sometimes, it seems there’s just no breaking away from Jerusalem!

But the loving Father will not leave us hopeless and despondent. For every heartache or confusion or fear that we experience in the Jerusalem of our hearts, there is always hope that a joy or enlightenment or comfort is out there waiting to be found - if only we have the courage, the will, and the resilience to turn our back on Jerusalem and set out for Emmaus, as the two disciples did. Where is Emmaus? A Judean village of uncertain location according to Ignatius Catholic Study Bible. But it doesn’t matter where it is really. What matters is that somewhere out there, away from Jerusalem, there is hope, there is an opportunity to start anew, there is Emmaus.

On their journey in search of hope and comfort, they encounter the risen Lord, who enlightens them and makes them understand that it is “necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory” (Lk 24:26). How does Jesus do that? Using the sacred Scriptures. “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him” (Lk 24:27). In other words, he gives them a quick overview of the whole salvation history, how it progresses from Moses and the prophets to Christ; from the law as our disciplinarian to faith as fulfillment and justification; from, in a word, the Old Covenant to the New (cf. Gal 3:24-25). What a rich and profound scriptural discourse that must have been!

As rich as the scriptural discourse is, Jesus does not stop there. He goes on to share a meal with them. What happens next is a sequence of actions reminiscent of what he did at the Last Supper: “he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them” (Lk 24:30, 22:19). Clearly, this is no ordinary meal. It is the Eucharistic liturgy! It is only then that the “[disciples’] eyes were opened, and they recognized him” (Lk 24:31) The road to Emmaus is in fact a Mass liturgy in which Jesus gives himself to the Church in word and in Sacrament (the Eucharist); it is the miniature of the Mass liturgy, beginning with the liturgy of the Word and ending with the liturgy of the Eucharist. The Church’s response to Christ’s self-emptying, as shown by the two disciples, is thanksgiving expressed in the form of “heart burning” on hearing the word and “eyes opened and see Jesus” on receiving the Eucharist.

But it’s at this point, just when the disciples have heard the word and received the Eucharist,  that the most amazing thing happens: “So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem” (Lk 24:33)! They can’t wait to return to Jerusalem, the city of heartache and danger, the awful place that they’ve tried to run away from. Why? The Good News that they’ve heard and the best meal that they’ve ever had have permeated their whole being with great joy and a compelling sense of mission. They can’t wait to return to Jerusalem to serve the Lord and help people entangled in the Jerusalem heartache. So must we do the same after hearing the word of God and receiving the Eucharist at Mass. This is what the Church asks of us when the priest concludes the Mass celebration with this simple commissioning: Go forth, the Mass is ended; “Ite Missa est” (cf. Pope BXVI, Sacramentum Caritatis 51).

Thursday, March 2, 2023

The Romance at Jacob’s Well

The symbolism in this Sunday’s gospel is dense, its meanings rich and multi-layered. This comes as no surprise to the readers, knowing that the scriptural passage is selected from the Gospel of John, whose author is widely acclaimed by all exegetes, both ancient and contemporary, for his artistry of allegorical  expression and imagery. 

The scene depicting Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well immediately brings to mind three classic marital arrangements in the Pentateuch that took place in similar settings: the encounter of Abraham’s servant with Rebekah at a spring that ended with her marriage to Isaac; Jacob’s encounter with Rachel at a well, whom he eventually married; Moses’ encounter with his future wife, Zipporah, at a well in Midian (Gen 24:10-67, Gen 29:1-30, Ex 2:15-21; Ignatius Catholic Study Bible Jn 4:6). 

Drawing on the nuptial meaning of these ancient marital encounters and using the special backdrop of the well – the place of courtship in the Pentateuch - as the common denominator, John sees in Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the Jacob’s well a romance leading to a new and everlasting marital relationship. The God who throughout the Old Testament scriptures has been persistent in wanting to win over the heart of his beloved people, Israel, reveals his Trinitarian Self in his Son, the incarnate Jesus, in the New Testament. At the Jacob’s well, Jesus, the divine Bridegroom in search of believers to be his covenant bride, speaks prophetically in the sweet and irresistible language of love to court his beloved bride as embodied by the Samaritan woman. 

The courtship is apparently a fruitful one. The love story continues to unfold with the woman departing in a hurry. In her rush to leave, she abandons even her water jar – an important tool for her livelihood. She can’t wait to tell her people about this charming Lover that she has just encountered: “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?” (John 4:29). She calls Jesus “Christ” or “Messiah”!  A stone-cold conversation that began with the Samaritan woman calling Jesus “a Jew” and “sir” has turned into an affable, heart-melting, life-changing dialogue of the lovers. She has fallen in love with the divine Bridegroom head over heels. She can’t wait to proclaim the good news to her community and to the world, if necessary.

The Samaritan woman is in fact an image of infidelity and faithlessness. The fall of the northern kingdom of Israel to Assyria in the 8th century and the resettlement of foreign peoples in the region had forced the remaining Israelites to intermarry with the pagans. Over time they gradually adopted the pagan way of worship and religious practices. They became the Samaritans who were considered “defiled” by the Jews. The enmity between the two peoples remained even in Jesus’ day. The “five husbands” that the Samaritan woman had refers to the pagan deities and idols of Samaria (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible Jn 4:18). 

But the Samaritan woman is an image not only of Samaria, but also of Israel, Judah, and indeed you and me. The divine Bridegroom’s courtship is not reserved for the Samaritan woman alone. It’s also extended to you and me. Let’s retrace the myriad footsteps of our lives. When was it that Jesus met you at the well for the first time? What was it like? Can you recall the sweet dialogue of love and how it touched your heart? Did you proclaim the good news to your neighbors the way the Samaritan woman did? If yes, how? The author of this reflection, for one, is doing just that!

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Bishop Barron's 4 Guiding Principles for Voting


If you haven't had a chance to read Bishop Robert Barron's article above entitled "Four Principles for Catholics During Election Season", I'd strongly recommend that you take a moment to read and reflect on it. 

It strongly refutes a seriously flawed notion that is wildly popular amongst my fellow Chinese Catholics: all pious and true Catholics must vote for the Conservatives (Tories in Canada and Republicans in the U.S.) because they are pro-life. 

Just another bishop, you say? Well, you write him off at your own risk. 

Bishop Robert Barron, for those who are unaware, is the founder of Word on Fire. His "Catholicism" and "Pivotal Players of the Church" DVD series were remarkably successful and well-received. Not only is he a true blue Thomistic theologian (influenced by St. Thomas Aquinas and Scholasticism) who is well-respected all over the world, he is also an excellent and very popular speaker and media evangelist who knows how to communicate in-depth Catholic teachings to grassroot Catholics in the pews. He also actively reaches out to the non-Catholics and today's young unbelievers. You can't go wrong spiritually if you find yourself attracted to his works.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Scriptural Hyperbole or Understatement? You Tell Me!

 “The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom… Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing” (Is 35:1,4-6). 

When younger, I just didn’t know what to make of scriptural passages like this. So much exaggeration! “Do people really believe this stuff? What is God thinking? Why do passages like this appear everywhere in the scriptures under His mighty inspiration, especially in the Old Testament books? Does He think we must necessarily accept His every word even if it’s clearly ridiculous?” I wondered aloud. After many years of hearing them at the Mass, my resentment gradually turned into indifference; my protest became a muffled groan. “O, well”, I would shrug my shoulders and sigh, “just another example of scriptural hyperbole!” 

Then something happened to me personally in the early nineties that changed everything. It was as though a bulb in my head had suddenly lighted up, or a veil that had covered my eyes for so many years since my birth had been lifted. Suddenly – miraculously - I began to understand God’s word! Like the Bride (the Church) in Song of Songs, to whom the fragrance of her Groom (God) “is like perfume poured out”, I found myself savoring every little word He said in the scriptures as though I could never have enough (SS 1:3). I wanted to find out more what He really meant, what the word in its original language referred to, what the immediate and overall contexts were, how the historical setting underlying those words would help me understand better the real message, etc. Slowly but surely, I came to realize that what I used to see as “exaggerations” or scriptural hyperboles were in fact gross understatements! 

Like a baby struggling to speak the adults’ language, we are only blabbering when it comes to expressing our feelings and experiences about God and the heavenly realities. As blessed as Prophet Isaiah is, he is struggling mightily to try to tell us what God has opened his eyes to see. In his gravely insufficient and inadequate human understanding and expression, he wants us to see what he sees – or what he is given by God to see. Completely overwhelmed and overpowered, he has to use the strongest words he can find from his repertoire of vocabulary to express his strong feelings and the unbelievable message from God.

What did Isaiah see? He saw “the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God” (Is 35:2). He can’t quite put it in words what it is like to behold God’s glory. “The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom” is the best he can come up with to describe the awe and unspeakable excitement in the human heart on seeing God’s splendor. Is Isaiah’s description enough to capture the true picture, the out-of-the-world experience that he was able to behold with God’s permission? Probably not. But one thing is certain: what he is given to see and understand is many times more unbelievable and powerful than the few words that he managed to put together for us. In other words, his words are grossly understated. 

More specifically, Isaiah is talking about the coming of the Messiah. “He comes with vindication” because his mission is to un-do the devastation that Satan has inflicted on us through sin and death; “he comes to save you” because he is our Savior (v.4). Having experienced first-hand what Jesus did to me in the fore-mentioned personal conversion, I can embrace Isaiah’s words with no hesitation: “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing” (vv. 5-6). If anything, I find his words still inadequate, not because they are exaggerated but because they are grossly understated. They can’t really express the earthshattering experience that I personally went through. No, it’s not even close!

So, what was it that happened to me in the early nineties that turned exaggerations into understatements and made me literally a different person? This cursory Sunday reflection can’t possibly do justice to my long, personal conversion story. Therefore, I won’t go into the details here. But I do want to conclude by quoting the words of a nun whom I once considered a personal nemesis because she really minced no words in criticizing me before my conversion. In her view, my way of thinking was “too secular”, my mindset "too liberal". Looking back, I must admit she was absolutely right.

On a beautiful sunny morning after my conversion, in a special trip I made to the parish where she served, I shared with her how God’s word had transformed me. I talked non-stop for almost an hour because there were so many amazing things that had happened to me. I just had to get them off my chest. She listened intently and patiently until I finally stopped, almost exhausted with emotions. Smiling and squeezing my arm tenderly, she said, “Edmond, the Holy Spirit has touched your heart!” Touch my heart He did! In fact, He was more like a skillful surgeon who weaved his knife lovingly and magically to remove my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh (Eze 36:26)!

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

In This Lent, Let Yourself Be Overwhelmed by God's Mercy

 "Reconciliation is not primarily our drawing near to God, but his embrace that enfolds, astonishes and overwhelms us" (Pope Francis' homily at the penance service with consecration of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary).

Still wondering whether you should go to confession in this Lent? 

Whatever the reason is that stops you from going to confession, the Holy Father reminds us that confession is not primarily about our own human effort to "confess well" in order to "draw near to God", important as it is. It's more about God, our Father, reaching out to and embracing us, His waylaid children. 

God's mercy fills the confessional. So much so it overflows and overwhelms us. So, go! Just walk in with an honest and contrite heart. And let yourself be overwhelmed by God's mercy and forgiving grace!