Friday, March 15, 2013

Why "Luxurious" Church Buildings and "Glamorous" Papal Lifestyle?

The talk of austerity, simplicity, and humility, triggered by the election of Pope Francis, has caused some people to wonder why the Catholic Church has in its possession so many costly cathedrals and basilicas. One CBC reporter in Rome also noted that the Pope’s lifestyle was anything but humble. Let me answer these accusations from both the scriptural and theological perspectives as follows:

• In the New Testament, people made a similar accusation when a woman poured expensive perfumed oil on Jesus' head. But Jesus defended her behavior because "the poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them, but you will not always have me" (Luke 14:3-9).

• In the Old Testament, God asked Moses to build the Tabernacle - a huge tent that served as the Lord’s sanctuary and the Israelites' place of worship - together with very expensive furnishings, liturgical accessories and, most of all, the legendary Ark of Covenant which was made of acacia wood and plated with pure gold inside and out. Later on, He also asked King David and his son King Solomon to build Him the majestic Jerusalem Temple. Both projects were very "luxurious" in today's standard.

• From a theological perspective, the awe-inspiring structure of a church building serves as a sign that manifests here on earth the grandeur of the Heavenly Temple. It is a door to the sacred, as it were, that opens the human eye to see the majestic dwelling place of the Lord and enables the human heart to tremble in fear in the presence of the Lord of Hosts who is “clothed with majesty and glory, robed in light as with a cloak, and spreads out the heavens like a tent” (Psalm 104:2-3).

• Jesus is Lord of lords and King of kings (Revelation 17:14) who reigns as the Head of the Kingdom of God. As Jesus' Vicar here on earth, the Pope, dressed in his regal vestments and enthroned in the sedia gestatoria, is a visible image that reminds the faithful of Jesus’ kingship.

Before people point their accusatory fingers at the Church on the issue of “luxurious” church buildings and the Pope’s “glamorous” lifestyle, they are well-advised to understand the underlying scriptural and theological reasons.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Welcoming Pope Francis

I can see God's Providence at work. In fact, there's not a moment in history that God isn't guiding the Church of Christ. From Vatican II to the painful post-conciliary period of dissents, desertions, and confusions that had rocked the boat of St. Peter, to the "40-year period" (round number) of JPII and BXVI in which the true spirit of Vatican II and its teachings were vigorously exhorted, defended, and solidified, God has always been present in His Church as He promised:

And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age (Mt. 28:20).

With the election of Pope Francis, a simple and holy man who chose St. Francis’ name to represent the spirit and outlook of his pontificate, I can see a new period of purification, both spiritually and administratively. The new pontificate of Pope Francis will take the Church right back to the very core of her being: a new level of holiness, simplicity, austerity, and poverty; to the simple and humble spirit of the Beatitudes.

Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, mournful, meek, hungry for justice, merciful, pure at heart, peaceful, and persecuted for the sake of righteousness (cf. Mt. 5:1-10).

At a personal and individual level, this is also where we need to be and want to be.

At this important juncture of the history of the Church, let's pray hard for her, and do so in and through Our Lady, the Mother of the Church, who was also there praying with all the Apostles and disciples at the crucial moment when the Church was about to be inaugurated.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

We Have A New Pope!

Perhaps this time it was not as intense; perhaps not as sad, knowing that this time there was no death staring us in the eyes, unlike 8 years ago when a giant in the arena of world history had been on his death bed, about to depart. But the feeling and experience were nonetheless familiar: 100,000 devout pilgrims huddled in prayer in St. Peter’s Square, defying the falling rain and chilly evening of Rome in March; curious media reporters stationed everywhere, trying to catch every hearsay that could arouse the interest of their viewers; Catholics all over the world put aside their daily routines to pray for the Church, waiting anxiously for the election of a new Pope. It’s as though their lives - maybe the whole history of the world - were hung in suspense.

It’s on occasions such as this that the power of prayer, especially the Rosary, is made evident. Two thousand years ago, following the ascension of Christ, in anticipation of the birth of the Church on Pentecost, the apostles and their followers gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem to pray (cf. Acts 1:12-14). Among them, Mary, the Mother of the Church, who played a decisive role both in the generation of the God made flesh and in the birth of the community that receives the nourishment of the Body of Christ.

After lunch this afternoon, I walked gingerly on the slippery and snow-covered grounds of the Too Good Pond, praying the Rosary as I went. Hail Mary, full of grace! The Lord is with thee. Blessed are thou amongst women…In spite of the familiarity of the prayer, what I experienced in praying it at a time when the whole Church was awaiting the arrival of a new Pope was anything but familiar. For the first time I understood clearly what it really meant to pray in Mary, by whom the Church was anticipated and in whom the Church is personified. She was there when the great mystery of God made flesh was about to take place. She was there, in solidarity with the community of apostles and disciples gathered by Jesus, praying for the Church that was about to be inaugurated. On this special day, I know she was there, once again, together with all the faithful of the Catholic Church - including me, a contemplative soul slip-sliding away in solitude on the icy grounds of the Too Good Pond - to pray in anticipation of a new successor to St. Peter, as a Mother would.

At 3 p.m., I turned on the TV to learn that an hour ago, just when I was praying at the Too Good Pond, the white smoke from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel had come out. We had a new Pope! Half an hour later, Pope Francis, former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina, a saintly man of holiness and simplicity, appeared on the balcony of St. Peter’s to greet the faithful. The 266th successor to St. Peter is here! Where are the successors to the Roman emperors whose calculated, relentless, and repetitive persecutions of the Church were meant to exterminate her leaders and followers? Where is the Roman Empire that was once so mighty and powerful? Ironically the only "empire" that bears a resembling name is the Roman Catholic Church - the Kingdom of Christ that reigns not by sheer military power but by the love of Christ.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Jesus of Nazareth

My new program, Living in the Holy Tradition, encourages the participants to dig deep into the Holy Tradition until every single cell of their bodies is infiltrated by a true Catholic mindset. Only then will they be able to understand the Scriptures properly, only then will the excitement of the Catholic faith be truly appreciated. We begin with BXVI's Jesus of Nazareth, vol. 1, and have had three meetings so far.

Our study of Jesus of Nazareth certainly takes on a new meaning now that the Holy Father has officially stepped down and retreated into retirement. His "stepping down", "retreat" and "retirement", generally seen as "undesirable" and even "scandalous" by the world, as though they were some kind of "setbacks" for the Church, coincide with the new topic of our next meeting, the Beatitudes, in which we'll be introduced to virtues that are similarly "undesirable" and "weak" in the eye of the world. The Beatitudes usher in a complete transformation of values. We are asked to be poor in spirit, to mourn, to be meek, to be hungry and thirsty for righteousness; blessed are those who have mercy, whose hearts are pure, who promote peace, who suffer persecution for the turth. BXVI's exhortation is for us to follow the footsteps of St. Paul, who as an Apostle lived and suffered like the impostors, the unknown, the dying, the punished, the sorrowful, the poor. We will be introduced to St. Anthony, the father of monasticism, and St. Francis of Assisi who continues to inspire the Church as an ascetic.

In this time of trial and hardship, in this Lenten season of penance, fasting, and prayer, I look forward to discussing with the program participants Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's explanation of the Beatitudes in Jesus of Nazareth, to see if we can find similarities between the ascetic values of the Beatitudes and the "undesirable" conditions that the Church currently finds herself in.