Thursday, January 17, 2019
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。
Thursday, January 10, 2019
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
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.
Saturday, November 17, 2018
Jesus is our Lord and the reason why we celebrate Christmas. But in this Christmas, let’s also remember the woman who makes it great.
The day is edging to leave earlier, receding far below the horizons when mother earth is still unprepared for the looming darkness. The night…O, how she drags her feet shamelessly and overstays her welcome! With temperatures falling, light snow drifting, and the winds picking up speed, one doesn’t really need the busy downtown streets and the packed shopping malls to confirm that Christmas is here. Uncomfortable weather conditions aside, Christmas is always the time of the year when our hearts suddenly regain affections for the people around us; and our countenance, stern and robotic all year long, suddenly regains its human expressions. In this beautiful Christmas season, elodocuments would like to wish our readers peace, joy, and many wonderful blessings from the Lord! Now, let’s turn our thoughts to the Mass readings of the last Sunday of Advent - already filled with a festive, yuletide flavor as it is - to reflect on the woman who makes Christmas great for all of us.
"Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:42). Prompted by the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth cries out loud on seeing Mary in this Sunday’s gospel. How is Mary blessed? Mary is blessed in many ways. We will count two of them in this cursory reflection.
She is blessed because she’s the woman foretold by the prophets to give birth to Christ, our Savior. This Sunday’s first reading is a prophecy of great significance from Micah, a Judean prophet who lived about 700 years before Jesus. He announces the coming of two critical figures: a woman “who is to give birth” in Bethlehem to “the ruler in Israel Whose origin is from of old, from ancient times” (Mi 5:1-2). The ruler the woman gives birth to “shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the LORD…and…his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; he shall be peace” (Mi 5:3-4). Who is this woman? Who is the child she gives birth to? Inspired by the Holy Spirit, St. Matthew applies Micah’s prophecy to Mary and her infant, Jesus (cf. Mt. 2:4-11).
Mary is also blessed because she is the woman prefigured by special women of faith and courage in the OT. Whether it’s the first woman of the Bible, Eve, from whom the whole human race descends; or women of barrenness - Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Hannah - whose special pregnancies are the gifts of God; or women of lowliness like Rahab (a harlot who helped Joshua and Israel to conquer Jericho (cf. Jos 2:8ff)) and Ruth (a gentile woman married to Boaz, from whose line Jesus descends (cf. Mt 1:5)); or women of courage and liberation like Esther and Judith; or women of queenship like the queen mothers of the kings of Judah (particularly Bathsheba, the queen mother of Solomon (cf. 1 Kgs 2:19)); every one of these OT women is chosen by God to point us to Mary, the woman who mothers the whole human race spiritually, conceives miraculously in spite of “barrenness” (“I have no relations with a man” (Lk 1:34)), humbles herself as “the handmaid of the Lord”, assists Jesus in the salvation and liberation of mankind as his Co-Redemptrix, and is enthroned by her Son as the heavenly Queen Mother.
Mary is the woman of history. Together, Eve and Mary form the bookends of the Bible, one inaugurating the long history of salvation with human woes due to her disobedience, the other bringing it to a joyous conclusion because of her obedience. This is why Mary is called the New Eve and why she is succinctly identified by St. Irenaeus as the woman who unties the knots of Eve’s disobedience.
What’s in between the two bookends of the Bible, i.e. in between Eve in Genesis and Mary in Revelation (the woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet)? Another woman, the bride in the book of the Song of Songs – a book purposely placed at the center of the Bible. The sweet romance between the bride and her groom, laid bare in the biblical centerfold, points us to the sweet romance between the Marian Church (the bride, the mother, the New Eve) and the Lord Jesus (the groom, the New Adam). It’s only appropriate that the Bible should conclude with the Marian Church – the woman, the bride – urging her journeying husband to return: “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:20).
Jesus is our Lord and the reason why we celebrate Christmas. But in this Christmas, let’s also remember the woman who makes it great.
Wednesday, October 24, 2018
Are we nearing the day of the sun darkening, the moon losing its light, and the stars falling from the sky?
The gospel reading of Sunday November 18, 2018 (33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time) comes from one of the most difficult sections of Mark that is commonly known as the Olivet Discourse or “Little Apocalypse” (Mark 13:1-37). It’s so named because the discourse between Jesus and his four apostles - Peter, James, John, and Andrew - took place while Jesus “was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple area”, and its literary style is dominated by apocalyptic and prophetic symbolism (Mark 13:3).
Hard to miss is the eschatological overtone of the gospel reading: “[I]n those days…the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken”; “and then [the Son of Man] will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth” (Mark 13:24-25, 27). ). The nerve-racking, end-of-the world language that begins with visions of the celestial bodies in disarray, rises to a crescendo with the appearance of the “Son of Man” - the royal, Messianic figure in Daniel 7 whose enthronement in heaven caps off the Last Day – and ends in a thunderous blast when Jesus warns that “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place” (Mark 13:30).
If there’s any doubt about the theme of this Sunday’s readings in spite of the eschatological language of the gospel reading, the first reading, also from the Book of Daniel, is selected to drive home the prophetic warning that the day is coming when the whole human race – from now to ancient times, from the current generation to Adam and Eve - must witness the unthinkable occurrence of the resurrection and the Last Judgement. "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 predicts (Daniel 12:2).
A key difficulty of the Olivette Discourse is that what is apparently a depiction of the end of the world that includes cosmic and catastrophic atrocities is predicted to occur at a time that is plainly inaccurate if understood literally. According to Jesus, “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place” (Mk 13:30), which suggests that the fulfillment of these eschatological events would have already taken place within the lifetime of his contemporaries. If that’s the case, why are we still here two thousand years later, alive and kicking?
When it comes to biblical exegesis (interpreting the various passages of the Bible), it’s important to understand the difference between the literal sense and the spiritual sense (see CCC 115-119). Literally, “the sun darkened”, the moon losing light, “the stars falling from the sky” (cf. Mark 13:24-25) suggest physical, cosmic disturbances. Spiritually these visions of heavenly chaos can be understood as God’s judgment against the pagan ways of Jerusalem which in Jesus’ time had deteriorated to an unseen level in terms of faith and morality (see commentary of Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament on this passage). The final punishment of Jerusalem, mentioned repeatedly by the OT prophets and Jesus himself, would be so sweeping and devastating that it could only be described in end-of-the-world language. In 70 AD, which is well within the lifetime of Jesus’ contemporaries, a large Roman army under the generalship of Vespasian, the future Roman Emperor Titus, besieged and conquered the city of Jerusalem, demolishing the 500-hundred-year-old Temple, plundering the whole city, and killing 1.1 million people, of which the majority were Jewish. The rest is history.
For real-life application, let us end this reflection with a few thought-provoking questions: Given the “pagan ways” of our world today and its new lows in morality and faith, can we see the city of Jerusalem of 70 AD as the prefiguration of the world we live in? As the residents of this “world city”, are we in danger of an imminent and devastating destruction that might sweep away not only a city but the whole world? Are we nearing the day of the sun darkening, the moon losing its light, and the stars falling from the sky?
Friday, October 5, 2018
Saturday, August 11, 2018
As fascinating as the Bible is, we must keep in mind that biblical interpretation is ultimately not academic but liturgical.
In the gospel reading of Sunday, September 9, Jesus heals a deaf man who also has a speech impediment. The significance of this miracle can only be fully understood from Luke’s account of a brief encounter between the disciples of John the Baptist and Jesus. When John sends two of his disciples to ask Jesus whether he is “the one who is to come”, our Lord answers, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” (Luke 7:19, 22). Like John’s disciples, what we have seen and heard in this Sunday’s gospel are miracles similar to those alluded to in the said Lucan account.
In the first reading, promises of the same miracles roll off the tongue of the Prophet Isaiah one after another like magic roses: “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 35:5-6). By performing all the signs that Isaiah has promised will appear when the Messiah comes, Jesus is making an epic statement: The Messianic prophecies of Isaiah have now been fulfilled in me; I am the Messiah, “the one to come”. Promises made, promises kept!
It doesn’t take long for a careful and persistent reader of the Bible to realize that the book is not an undifferentiated collection of unrelated texts, voluminous that it is. Rather, from beginning to end, it is a remarkably coherent story about God’s plan to save us. Gradually but surely God’s plan unfolds in human history, through generations and across geographical boundaries, defying all cultural barriers and surpassing all religious and political ideologies.
It flows in continuity. Through human writers, the same God who tells us the story of creation, the conjugal union of Adam and Eve, and the kingdom of David, also reveals to us the consummation of the New World order, the one-body union of Christ and his Church (the new Adam and Eve), and the glory of the Kingdom of God. From the Old Testament to the New, every promise or prophecy that has ever been made is fulfilled; every iconic figure, image, and sign that has ever crossed the stage of this long drama of Redemption is given its definitive and final meaning.
In contemplating this awesome mystery – this heavenly treasury of life and wisdom that we call the Bible, St. Augustine, known for his skills in rhetoric and articulation of words, could barely find words to express himself. This short acclaim is all the words he could manage to put together: Novum Testamentum in Vetere latet, Vetus in Novo patet, or the New Testament is hidden in the Old, the Old is revealed in the New, his famous dictum on the Bible. Hidden in the Old Testament - this Sunday's first reading from Isaiah - is Jesus coming as our Savior. Revealed in the New Testament - this Sunday's gospel reading - is how the Isaian promise came to fruition in Jesus.
In concluding this reflection, here’s a little reminder for those interested in biblical hermeneutics (the interpretation of biblical texts) from someone who speaks from his experience in this regard. It’s easy to make the mistake of wanting to be Jesus’ follower but ending up being just a fan. We must keep in mind that just as the word of God is spoken not for us to study but to live, the discipline of biblical interpretation ultimately is pursued not as an academic exercise but as a living, liturgical experience. What are we saying here? What we are saying is that to be truly Christian is to be a true follower of Christ and not just a fan. A fan of Christ is interested in – even crazy about - everything he does, researches every word he says, and reads every book there is about him; but somehow just falls short of really entering into an authentic and intimate relationship with him. A true follower of Christ, on the other hand, wants to live in him; experience his presence; and become one with him. What better way to do all that than going to Mass, which is a significant and integral part of living out our Catholic faith? For both liturgically and sacramentally, it is in the Mass celebration that Christ makes his word heard through the Liturgy of the Word; his presence felt through the priest celebrating the Mass in persona Christi; and his Body and Blood come alive through the Liturgy of the Eucharist!