Saturday, November 26, 2016

Advent and Handel’s Messiah

Hear the Christmas carols on the radio stations? Indeed we are in the season of Advent again. The 3rd Sunday of Advent reflects on the following readings: Isaiah 35:1-6,10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11.

“Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you” (Isaiah 35:4, 1st reading).

“Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:8, 2nd reading).

“Go and tell…what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” (Matthew 11:4-5, gospel reading).

Listening to the above-mentioned Mass readings is like listening to Handel’s Messiah: Ev’ry Valley Shall Be Exalted…O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings To Zion…Rejoice Greatly, O Daughter Of Zion…Then Shall The Eyes Of The Blind Be Open’d…Hallelujah…Amen!

The readings and the oratorical lyrics bring hope and anticipation, comfort your heart with healing and affirmation, stir your mind with joy and exultation.

Upon a young parishioner’s recommendation, who was a member of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, my wife and I attended a Toronto Symphony Orchestra/Toronto Mendelssohn Choir concert on Handel’s Messiah during the Christmas season several years ago. The unbelievable experience began as soon as we stepped into the concourse of the Roy Thomson Hall. From the pedestrians milling around in the downtown streets to a sold-out crowd of two thousand plus concert-goers, from a secular society that got annoyed at the slightest hint of religiosity to a church-like congregation of people who were unabashedly determined to share their common adoration for Christ, from an increasingly narcissistic world that valued only personal obsessions to a community of art and music that came to admire the out-of-the-world talents of one of the most polished and brilliant musical composers and oratorios writers ever lived - the difference was day and night, and the contrast stark.

The sterling performance of Hallelujah brought the whole house of 2000 plus people to their feet, who, following the long-standing royal protocol, stood and rejoiced in great jubilation. The powerful experience prompted us to return to attend the concert year after year for 5 years in a row. On this third Sunday of Advent, my heart is once again stirring with joy and passion, itching to experience once again the hope, the joy, the agony, and the exultation of Handel’s Messiah.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

It's All About Freedom

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” shouted John the Baptist (Mt. 3:1-2), the voice crying out in the desert that Isaiah had predicted would prepare the way of the Lord (cf. Isaiah 40:2). Repent because human history was on the threshold of its final days. Christ would come to “gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Mt. 3:12).

Repent and to the Lord’s barn we go, harden our hearts and to the unquenchable fire we are thrown. It’s all about a very important choice.

Unlike the current world order in which man and nature have been at odds with each other ever since our first parents fell into a state of sin (cf. Gen 3:17-19; CCC 378-9), “the Lord’s barn” as envisioned by Isaiah is a new world order that brings perfect harmony: “Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid…the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair” (Isaiah 11:6-8). How can we live in this amazing and beautiful world? Make good use of our freedom to choose to repent and accept Jesus’ salvific grace.

In the Scriptures, man’s freedom to choose was something so precious and highly esteemed that God would do anything to protect it, even if it meant exacting a heavy price. Saul, who became Paul after conversion, was allowed to persecute the early Church; Peter to deny Jesus; Judas to hand over God’s only Son. To free Israel from the slavery of Egypt, God parted the Red Sea. To free us from the slavery of sin, His only Son suffered and died for us on the cross.

Every time when the integrity of man’s freedom was at stake, God would go to the wall for him - every time, it never failed. For deprived of freedom, what is man? Made on the 6th day in God’s image, man was top of the hierarchy of creatures (CCC 342), the summit of the Creator’s work (CCC 343), and destined for the glory of God (CCC 353). He was given the dominance and the freedom to govern all creatures (Genesis 1:26). In fact, all creatures, including heavens and earth, were created for the good of man (CCC 358). So, what is man if deprived of his freedom to take care of God’s creation, the freedom to rise above the 6th day to join God on the Sabbath - the 7th day, the Lord’s day, the day of perfection and holiness – through the transforming power of the 8th day – the new day, the day of Christ’s Resurrection, the day of the New Creation (CCC 349)?

No matter what human ideals we strive for, what communities and societies we build, what leaders and governing regimes we support, what religious faiths we believe in, if human freedom is suppressed, they are just accomplices of the powers of darkness that have been lurking in the undercurrents of history, always eager to pounce on the Creator whose plan is to make us free. They strike at the very heart of the Scriptures. As such, they must be seen as nemeses against everything that is good, an affront to Jesus work of redemption, and thus unworthy of their power and authority.

Just this week on November 22, 2016, in the Presidential Medal of Freedom Ceremony at the White House, special recognition was given to 21 luminaries that included Michael Jordan, Dianna Ross, Robert Redford, Bill Gates (philanthropy), Margaret Hamilton (scientist), Maya Lin (art and architecture), Lorne Michaels (producer of Saturday Night Live), Newt Minow (law), and Eduardo Padron (education), just to name a few.

I watched with intense interest as each recipient walked on stage to receive his/her medal from President Obama. Many of them looked old and physically frail for their golden and productive years were well gone - gone but not wasted because their contributions to America and to the world, made possible by the freedom that they enjoyed, had helped make every one of us a better person and the world a freer order. I was captivated by the whole ceremony from the beginning to the end. I watched and I cried like a puppy, out of thankfulness to the recipients and to God who has been adamant in defending human freedom.

Disclaimer: My outpouring of emotions for the Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients must not be perceived as my endorsement of their personal ways of living, moral values, and political aspirations.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Virtuous Communities

EWTN news had an article on Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia entitled How to fix our broken sexual culture. It quoted Archbishop Chaput on a number of issues concerning marriage, sex, and family. I find his comments really enlightening and inspiring. Recited below is one that is of particular interest to me:

ON COUNTERING INFIDELITY, DIVORCE, SEXUAL VIOLENCE, PORN CULTURE - "We’re getting a culture that’s just hugely preoccupied with sexuality, and being restrained sexually is not considered a virtue anymore...I think it’s really important for us to encourage young people to form communities of young people, peers, who can give them support in the face of this culture of cheapening human relationships...[These virtuous communities are] really what the Church should be. It should be a community of people who think like Jesus and want to act like He calls us to act.”

"Being restrained sexually is not considered a virtue anymore," the Archbishop said. How true! In today's culture, such restraint is often considered "not exercised"; if exercised, "unreal"; and if real, "weird".

I think Archbishop Chaput's idea of encouraging young people to form virtuous communities is inspiring. But given the overpowering and invasive force of the unchaste culture, such practice should be extended to everyone, both young and old. Anybody interested in initiating one?

For viewers getting increasingly edgy about Pope Francis' controversial exhortation, Amoris laetitia, you will find the Archbishop's comment below re-assuring:

“[In putting Amoris laetitia into practice] the Holy Father himself states clearly that neither Church teaching nor the canonical discipline concerning marriage has changed...[Francis’ exhortation] should therefore be read in continuity with the great treasury of wisdom handed on by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church … and previous magisterial documents.”