Saturday, December 26, 2020

At the Nativity Every Jaw Should Drop

When the Magi come to pay homage to the powerless infant in the manger, the time has come for Jerusalem to take the center stage, and for Daughter Zion to become the Bride of Christ.

Epiphany means “revelation”. The Solemnity of the Epiphany is historically associated with three “revelations” of Christ: to the Magi, the foreigners coming to Jesus, in a manifestation of the universality of his salvation; at his baptism in the Jordan, where the Trinitarian mystery is revealed; and at Cana in Galilee, where the overflowing joy of his nuptial union with the Church  is highlighted through the first of his signs (note 1). All three revelations remind us of the immensity of God’s saving love in Jesus as the Christmas mystery continues to unfold. 

What makes the Bible such a fascinating book to read is its uncanny ability to continue to surprise us at every turn of its narrative of the long history of salvation. When the fullest of time has come for God to reveal Himself to the world in the most definitive way, He chooses not to show up authoritatively – the way He appeared to Abraham, as three men standing at the entrance of his tent (Gen 18:1-10); or present Himself mysteriously - to Moses “in fire flaming out of a bush” (Ex 3:2-3); or exhibit His omnipotence terrifyingly - to Israel in “peals of thunder and lightning…and a very loud trumpet blast” on Mount Sinai (Ex 19:16). In the most unexpected and self-deprecating manner, He chooses to manifest Himself in a powerless and defenseless infant, “born of a woman, born under the law”, “laid in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn” (Gal 4:4, Lk 2:7).

I don’t know about you. For me, the Nativity is not only a timeless and beautiful story, but also the most shocking twist and turn in all of human history. One that the most nerve-wrecking suspense from a Hitchcock movie cannot even come close in comparison. St Paul says every knee should bend at the name of Jesus (Phil 2:10). I say every human jaw should drop to the floor in reflecting on the Nativity!

The surprises are indeed many. Chief among them is the profound mystery of Christ’s incarnation. Who would have thought that of all the ways that God could have used to come to us, He would choose to allow Himself to be restricted by His own creations – space, time, and the human nature? Who would have imagined that the almighty God would put Himself in harm’s way by plunging deep into the undercurrents of human history?  Who would have predicted – other than God Himself through His prophets – that He would come into this world through a virgin birth, and make Himself known to the world as a powerless infant in the little town of Bethlehem (cf. Is 7:14, Micah 5:1)? 

“And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us”, John proclaims the mystery joyfully in the prologue to his Gospel. “The Son of God became the Son of Man so that the sons of men could become the sons of God.” Like everyone else, St. Athanasius’ struggled mightily to understand such a profound mystery, but this definition he coined goes down in history as one that inspires countless theologians, clergy, and laity alike. Christ came not only to redeem us, but also to elevate our human nature to lofty heights unimaginable by any human mind. In so doing, he enables us to partake of God’s divinity, making us the children of God (2 Peter 4:4)! “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are” (1 Jn 3:1)! Dumfounded and in disbelief, John can find no better words to express his amazement.

This has been a powerful reflection on the Epiphany of the Lord. But the jaw-dropping surprise doesn’t stop there. The theme of all three Mass readings is the universality of God’s saving grace. A universality that manifests itself in Jerusalem’s distant future, when “nations shall walk by your light”; when “your sons [shall] come from afar”; when “the wealth of nations shall be brought to you” (Is. 60:3-5). 

To St. Paul and the Jews, whose understanding of salvation has been restricted by God’s progressing pedagogy in the Old Testament to mean “salvation for Israel only”, the revelation of the mystery of universal salvation is a very big deal; or, shall we say, another jaw-dropping surprise. It’s a secret that “was not made known to human beings in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel”. (Eph 3:5-6). When the Magi come to pay homage to the powerless infant in the manger, the time has finally come for the secret to turn into a reality, for Jerusalem to take the center stage in world history, and for Daughter Zion to become the Bride of Christ – the Catholic Church.

Note 1: See Foundations in Faith - Catechist Manual Catechumenate Year B, p. 32.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

The Holy Spirit’s Knock-Out Punch!


For those of you who are studying the Scripture seriously, I hope the Holy Spirit would also punch your lights out the way He did it to me!

Hidden in the corners of my mind are traces of memories left behind by a long spiritual journey that eventually led me to the totality of embracing the Cross of Christ. Like distinctive visions from an old-time movie, they would play out before my eyes in my prayers and meditations – a little scratched and blurry here and there, but the experiences are as vivid as yesterday. The carolers who sang joyfully as they walked past my parents’ eatery on Christmas day when I was a small child; my grade 10 classmate who bravely spoke up against our teacher’s disparagement of her Christian faith, and then broke down and cried; strumming my guitar casually as I sang Amazing Grace for the first time together with several camping friends under a starry sky – experiences such as these and many others that had brought me closer to Christ continue to support and re-energize me as I inch forward in a faith expedition that never ends.

As unforgettable and powerful as these experiences were, none of them could really deliver the “knock-out punch” that was needed to humble my puffed-up ego and enable me to truly surrender to Christ. But when it finally came (thank God it did!) it was in the least expected manner - in the form of a prolonged period of scriptural enlightenment. Through magisterial teachings and theological studies, the Holy Spirit was able to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that all of the Scripture was about Christ and formed a coherent whole only when it was read through the lens of Christ. That was no ordinary proposition. It’s tantamount to claiming that Jesus is everywhere in the Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, from the Old Testament to the New Testament! The notion totally knocked me off my feet because I had always thought that Jesus, being a 1st C historical figure, was nowhere to be found in the Old Testament. 

This Sunday’s first reading from Isaiah 61 is a case in point. It provides a good illustration of the power of the pneumatic punch that eventually knocked me right out. 

“The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me” (Is 61:1) – Written more than 500 years before Jesus’ birth, this prophetic passage is already giving us many fine details about him (note 1). He is the Messiah – the Anointed One. He is to be anointed with the spirit of God and sent forth by the Father. 

What’s the purpose of the sending forth? “Bring glad tidings to the poor”, “heal the brokenhearted”, set free the captives and prisoners, announce God’s favor and vindication (cf. 61:1b-2a). In other words, Jesus is sent forth for all of us. In many ways, especially spiritually, every one of us is in extreme poverty. Like the “unclean” lepers in the Gospels, we are in dire need of healing and cleansing. Like Israel’s enslavement in Egypt, we are prisoners longing to be liberated. Beginning from Adam, the whole humanity has been fatally injured and unjustly persecuted by the power of Satan (cf. Lk 10:25-37; Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth I, pp. 199-200). But Jesus, the new Adam, has done us a huge favor. By the power of the Cross and his resurrection, we – humanity under persecution by Satan - have been vindicated. His saving grace is accessible to all of us. Anyone who is willing to embrace Christ and live in truth and righteousness is already victorious!

The Divine Author skillfully uses various images to present our Savior to us: He is clothed “with a robe of salvation”, “wrapped…in a mantle of justice”, “a bridegroom adorned with a diadem”, “a bride bedecked with her jewels” (Is 61:10). Small wonder that marriage is the main theme running through the pages of the Scripture. Our Savior comes to us as the Lover; he lovingly embraces us, the Beloved – the Church. He is a bridegroom adorned with a diadem. Compared this image to the fake bridegroom in Revelation who had “seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadems” (Rev 12:3). More is not necessarily better! If the last image of “a bride bedecked with her jewels” is a little baffling to some readers, just keep in mind that it’s referring to the Church – Jesus’ “bride”. As the Body of Christ, the Church and Jesus are one.

Don’t know about you, but when I first understood – truly understood – the profound meanings of Old Testament passages such as what we’ve just read in this Sunday’s first reading, I was spiritually knocked unconscious, lying flat out and motionless on the canvas of the boxing ring! Like Jacob’s mysterious and bruising wrestle with God, I had battled Him for decades and He won with that knock-out punch (cf. Gen 32:25-30)! But that was not it. I had to take the same pneumatic punch over and over again in that prolonged process of scriptural enlightenment! “Love does no harm to the neighbor” (Rom 13:10). Surely, I wish to do my readers no harm. But for those of you who are studying the Scripture seriously, I hope the Holy Spirit would also punch your lights out the way He did it to me!

Note 1: It is generally believed that Isaiah 24-27, 56-66 were written by Trito-Isaiah in about 515 BC. Trito-Isaiah could be a disciple or several disciples of the author of Isaiah 40-55. The Prophet Isaiah himself wrote Isaiah 1-23, 28-39 sometime in the 8th C.

The Shepherd and the King

  Jesus is no ordinary king. Like David, his Old Testament type, he is a Shepherd-King.

The theme of shepherd permeates the whole Bible. It also appears in this Sunday’s readings as the Church celebrates the feast of Christ the King to bring this liturgical year to a close. Why is the shepherd theme important? What are the underlying messages? Why uses it to celebrate Christ the King?

Shepherd is a popular biblical theme partly because the ancient Hebrews were a pastoral, seminomadic people. In Genesis, Abraham and Lot, his kinsman, had many flocks and herds. Eventually they had to go their separate ways in order to avoid internal conflicts (cf. Gen 13:5-9). Jacob spent many years tending his father-in-law’s flock in exchange for his consent to marry Rebecca (Gen 29:15ff). Moses also was a shepherd in Midian before leading Israel out of Egypt (Ex 3:1).

More significantly, the Bible uses the shepherd theme to reveal a very important message in God’s divine plan: The false shepherds of this world have led His people astray; God, the Good Shepherd who cares deeply about His sheep, will come among us to shepherd His people personally. This loving and trusting relationship between God and His people is beautifully portrayed in this Sunday’s psalm reading, which is traditionally attributed to David who was incidentally both a shepherd and a king: 

The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack. In green pastures you let me graze; to safe waters you lead me; you restore my strength. You guide me along the right path for the sake of your name (Psalm 23:1-3).

In Old Testament time, God entrusted His people, Israel, to the care of the shepherds He appointed, i.e. the leaders of Israel, particularly the political and religious leaders in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, they failed terribly in discharging their sacred duties. Thus, God chastised them through prophet Ezekiel: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves!... You have fed off their milk, worn their wool, and slaughtered the fatlings, but the sheep you have not pastured” (Ez 34:2-3). He promises in the 1st reading, “I myself will look after and tend my sheep” (Ez 34:11).

Ever faithful and true to His word, God does return in the person of the incarnate Christ. In Jesus, God is indeed pasturing His sheep Himself. In New Testament time, “God’s sheep” can be understood as a reference to the New Israel – the Church instituted by Christ. 

On this Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, it’s fitting that we use the theme of the Good Shepherd to celebrate Jesus’ kingship. Like a good shepherd, the King knows his people and cares for them (cf. John 10:13-14). However, he is no ordinary king. Like David, his Old Testament type (i.e. a biblical character that mysteriously prefigures and anticipates Christ), he is a Shepherd-King. He “lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). 

As the Good Shepherd, Jesus epitomizes every attribute of a good king, not only does Christ the King protect his sheep, to the point of shedding his blood for them, he also shepherds them “with an iron rod” (Ps 2:9, Rev 12:5). In other words, he disciplines his sheep and holds them accountable for what they do. “The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal (but the sleek and the strong I will destroy), shepherding them rightly” (Ez 34:16). The Shepherd-King’s work is not finished just because of his Ascension to the Father. His shepherding work will conclude with the Last Judgement, in which “he will separate [his flock] one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Mt 25:32). When was the last time you fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed a stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the ill, and visited those in prison (cf. Mt. 25: 35-36)? Let’s prepare ourselves well to meet the Shepherd-King while we can!

Thursday, October 29, 2020


 43 年前我敲了教會的門,這門開啟後出現在眼前的,是個奧秘的深淵,其深度遠遠超越任何人類思維所能達的界限!

說來有點難以置信,但我領洗加入天主教會已經 43年了!大學第三年時,我完成了主修會計學的必修科目後,便嘗試在深不可測的哲學領域裡探索一下;雖然哲學並不像會計帳目的收支記錄般清楚明確,分毫不差。不知何故,在我的青葱歲月裡,哲學界的眾神很早便高踞在我年輕的心靈深處。在我想像中,他們是卓越優秀的知識分子和學者。當我的會計課程差不多修完的時候,我立刻選修了幾個哲學科目,急不及待地進入了希臘哲學家和中世紀思想家的遠古世界中。

猶太基督文化與早期思想家的連結和關係,迅速把我帶到歷史上更早期的一位人物。對我這個在理性思維上初出茅廬的初學者來說,他好像是所有哲學探討的開始和終結一般 — 這位猶太裔智者,名叫耶穌基督。回想起來,我參加校園裏的《中國天主同學會》,和通過這團體而參加《聖母升天大學校園事奉團體》的成人慕道班,並不是巧合。哲學課程並不能滿足我要多點了解耶穌這個人的渴望。在這諸聖節,當我為彌撒讀經作一點反思時,我清楚看到 ,這個43 年前展開,把我帶到天主教教會門前的旅程,所帶給我的要比我想像中的更多。

那位引起我極大興趣的人物,原來不單是人,祂同時擁有人性和天主性!祂是天主的聖言,是「『阿耳法』和『敖默加』,元始和終末」,世上所有智慧都來自祂,也要歸向於祂,包括我所曾研讀過的每一位哲學家的智慧(若 1:1, 默 21:6)!祂來到世上,「為叫他們獲得生命,且獲得更豐富的生命 」(若 10:10)。若望在 《讀經二》驚嘆道,「請看父賜給我們何等的愛情,使我們得稱為天主的子女,而且我們也真是如此」 (若一 3:1)。

43 年前我敲了教會的門,為生命的真正意義尋求答案,這門開啟後出現在眼前的,是個奧秘的深淵,其深度遠遠超越任何人類思維所能達的界限!當我步入這奥境,並以虔誠和敬畏的心四處觀望時,我發現自己站在聖地上。我可以明白梅瑟站在曷勒布山上,在被火燃燒的荊棘叢前面的心情(參閱出 3:1-5)。我再望過去,發覺原來自己不是獨自一人。我看到的,是如若望在本主日《讀經一》所看到的「看見有一大夥群眾」— 成千上萬的人「來自各邦國、各支派、各民族、各異語的」,身穿「曾在羔羊的血中洗淨了⋯使【之】雪白」的白衣(默 7:9, 14)。他們是公教會的殉道者!他們與多不勝數的眾天使一起頌唸「光榮、至聖和讚頌」。

我心如鹿撞,用腳尖輕輕往前走,看見很多我在教父著作裏認識的著名人物。聖依勒內主教手持書本向我招手—他著名的護教著作《反駁異端邪說》。在書裏,他維護基督徒的信仰並有力地駁斥異端邪說的教導和傳統。在這天堂一樣的地方的另一邊,站着殉道者聖猶思定,他的死亡雖然可怕,但卻面帶燦爛愉快的微笑。我們要怎樣多謝他才足夠呢?他曾勇敢地向當時的羅馬君王見證教會如何欽崇天主(參閱 天主教教理 1345)。而這個似乎有少少超重的中世紀學者是誰呢?我的天!他可是聖多瑪斯.阿奎納?他還在寫《神學大全》( Summa Theologica )—那部在他1274年離世時遺下的未完成之作。這實在有點令人難以接受!我在哪裏?為什麼我會在雲雲殉道者和聖人當中?

像天主所有的子女,基督的妙身是我日常的真正居所。在這裏,我們不斷得到從妙身的頭 — 基督自己 — 而來的豐富的靈性滋養和恩寵(參 弗 5:23)。在這神聖的聯繫和共融内,諸聖的代禱使我們日益接近基督(天主教教理 956-7)。作為加拿大居民,我們一定要遵守本國法律。同樣地,讓自己堪當享有天主子女的特權,我們要跟隨耶穌的教導。從很多方面看,本主日福音的真福八端可以稱為「耶穌帶來的新梅瑟律法」,我們必須緊緊遵守 (Jesus of Nazareth I, p.68)。我一定盡我所能,做到最好,跟隨他的教導,讓我可以留在祂的奧體內。希望在下一個基督奧體的經歷中,我會遇上聖奧斯定!啊,我不介意也看到聖若望保祿二世!

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

"Francisco" - My Response to People's Concerns I

I always welcome and respect people's responses to my writings and presentations. I really do, especially those expressing concerns because concerns not voiced can easily lead to misunderstandings and cause unnecessary alienations. As a result, I'd like to thank a couple of my contacts who took the time to let me know their concerns about my last email on Pope Francis' endorsement of "convivencia civil". In doing so they graciously accorded me an opportunity to explain. 

One of them, to whom I had replied directly, thinks that the claim that "very close unions between people of the same sex do not in themselves imply sexual relations" is "naive". Since this is a good opportunity to explain the Church's core teaching on homosexuality, I'd like to share my reply as follows:

We all know that the Church is against homosexuality and sees it as a grave sin. Her position on this will not change and shouldn't (CCC 2357). 

At the same time, the Church also understands that she herself is but a house of sinners who receive redemption not because they deserve it but because of God's unfathomable mercy. She understands that the proper execution of her magisterial duty of teaching - "don't do this or that" -  must always be balanced out by the same mercy she receives from God. Therefore, the Church must take a loving and merciful approach in handling the homosexual community, always ACCEPTING them "with respect, compassion and sensitivity", and cautioning against any unjust discrimination that sees them as social outcasts (CCC 2358). 

Since the homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered" (CCC 2357), "homosexual persons are called to chastity", accepting the difficulties of their sacrifice as a participation in the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross (CCC 2359).

From the Church teachings above, it's easier to understand why Pope Francis embraces the concept of "convivencia civil" to the extent that sexual relations, i.e. the homosexual acts, are not involved. Are they still homosexuals? Of course they are. The "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" are still there, although "they do not choose their homosexual condition" (CCC 2358). But the difference is that people with homosexual inclinations, who opt for chastity, accept that the homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and sinful. They are willing to shun their homosexual desires and offer up their effort as their sacrifice to unite themselves to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross. This is a noble endeavor that deserves our full support, and the Pope is not afraid to embrace it. 

As for the concern that people in "convivencia civil" may not practice chastity, that's for God to hold them to account; nobody else can, not even the Church. The Church takes the same position on those priests who have homosexual inclinations. Her advice is for them to "at least try not to express this inclination actively, in order to remain true to the intrinsic mission of their office" (Pope Benedict XVI, Light of the World, p.153). What if secretly some of them disregard the Church's advice? Only God can hold them accountable. But the Church will not kick all of them out just because there are a few bad apples. 

God have mercy! More reason to pray for the Church and our clergy!

Monday, October 26, 2020

What did Pope Francis really say in "Francesco"?

New insights continue to emerge on Pope Francis' comments in the "Francesco" interview, including the clarification that “convivencia civil” in Spanish was mistranslated as "civil union". 

Even with this language clarification, there's still a need to further clarify what the Pope's idea of "convivencia civil" or "law of civil coexistence" was when he said he supported it. If his idea of "convivencia civil" included sexual relations, then he was essentially supporting SS civil union because there's really no difference between the two. However, a new CNA article offers strong evidences that the Pope's idea of "convivencia civil" doesn't include sexual relations or the homosexual acts. According to the CNA article, these are the actual words coming out of the Pope's mouth in the 2019 interview (an interview used and edited heavily by "Francesco" per CNA; highlight mine):

There, what I said is that they ‘have a right to a family.’ And that doesn’t mean to approve of homosexual acts, not at all.

Is "convivencia civil" without sexual relations a reality? Is it even practicable? Apparently it is according to the CNA article. It quoted Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, a theologian who's close to the Pope, to explain the concept of "convivencia civil" in Argentina and why it needed legal protection (highlight mine):

The Archbishop posted on Facebook that before he became the pope, then Cardinal-Bergoglio “always recognized that, without calling it ‘marriage,’ in fact there are very close unions between people of the same sex, which do not in themselves imply sexual relations, but a very intense and stable alliance. They know each other thoroughly, they share the same roof for many years, they take care of each other, they sacrifice for each other. Then it may happen that they prefer that in an extreme case or illness they do not consult their relatives, but that person who knows their intentions in depth. And for the same reason they prefer that it be that person who inherits all their assets, etc. This can be contemplated in the law and is called ‘civil union’ [unión civil] or ‘law of civil coexistence’ [ley de convivencia civil], not marriage.

The info above from CNA is important for understanding the Pope's comments in "Francesco". It gives us reason to believe that, at least in as far as his comments in the Francesco interview are concerned, his public appeal for legal protection for "convivencia civil" is not an attempt to redefine the meaning of marriage. Conceivably, his suggestion doesn't even contradict the 2003 CDC's opposition to "legal protection of homosexual unions" in which sexual relations are understood to be inherent.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Experiencing the Mystical Body of Christ

The doors of the Church that I knocked on 43 years ago are opening up to an abyss of mysteries far deeper than any human mind can fathom!

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been 43 years since I was baptized and received into the Catholic Church! In my 3rd year as a university student, I had completed enough courses required by my Accounting major to allow me to test my feet in the deep waters of Philosophy, which was never as clear-cut as the debits and credits of accounting journal entries. For whatever reason, the gods of Philosophy had always occupied the upper echelons of my youthful heart and captured my imagination of intellectual excellence. As soon as my accounting business was more or less dealt with, I couldn’t wait to take a few courses in Philosophy and dive right into the ancient world of the Greek philosophers and medieval thinkers. 

The connection shared by many of these early thinkers to the Judeo-Christian culture soon took me further back in history to one man who somehow seemed to me, a beginner learning to polish his tools of rational thinking, to be both the beginning and the end of all philosophical explorations - a Jewish sage named Jesus Christ. Looking back, it was no coincidence that I would join the Chinese Catholic Community on campus and, through them, the RCIA of the Assumption campus community. The Philosophy courses simply were insufficient to quench my thirst to learn more about this man. On this Feast day of All Saints, as I reflect on the Mass readings, I can see how the journey that first began when it took me to the doorsteps of the Catholic Church 43 years ago has given me much more than what I was bargaining for. 

The man who had aroused so much interest in me turned out to be more than just a man, he is both human and divine! He is the Word of God, “the Alpha and the Omega” that all wisdoms of this world come from and must return to, including the wisdom of every single philosopher that I’ve studied (Jn 1:1, Rev 21:6)! He came so that the world “might have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10). “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are”, John marvels in the 2nd reading (1 Jn 3:1).

The doors of the Church that I knocked on 43 years ago, looking for answers to my quest for the true meaning of life, are opening up to an abyss of mysteries far deeper than any human mind can fathom! As I walk inside and look around with reverence and awe, I find myself standing on holy ground. I can relate to how Moses must have felt when he stood on Mt. Horeb in front of the burning bush (cf. Ex 3:1-5). When I look further, I realize I’m not alone. I see, as John does in this Sunday’s first reading, “a vision of a great multitude” – hundreds of thousands of people “from every nation, race, people, and tongue”, wearing white robes made “white in the Blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:9, 14). These are the martyrs of the universal Church! They are chanting, “Glory and holiness and praise!” together with the angels, who are countless in number. 

Tiptoeing further along with my heart in my throat, I see many renowned figures that I’ve come to know through the writings of the Church Fathers. There’s St. Irenaeus of Lyons, waving at me and holding a book in his hand – his famous apologetic work, Against Heresies, in which he defends the Christian faith against heretical doctrines and traditions. Over there, on the other side of this heavenly place, stands St. Justin Martyr, wearing a bright and cheerful smile in spite of his horrific death. How can we thank him enough for testifying bravely to the Roman emperor of his days on how the Church worshiped (cf. CCC 1345)? And who is this medieval scholar who looks a little overweight? O, my Lord! Could this be St. Thomas Aquinas? He’s still working on Summa Theologica, the uncompleted work he left behind when he died in 1274. This is a little overwhelming! Where am I? Why am I in the midst of all these martyrs and saints?

Like all children of God, the Mystical Body of Christ is my true dwelling place day in and day out. We receive spiritual nourishments and graces lavishly and unceasingly from the Head of the Body – Christ himself (cf. Eph 5:23). We are drawn closer to Christ in the unity of this holy communion by the intercessory prayers of the saints (CCC 956-7). As a resident in Canada, we must observe the law of the country. Similarly, to be worthy of the privilege of the children of God, we must follow Jesus’ teaching. The Beatitudes in this Sunday’s gospel are in many ways “the new Torah brought by Jesus” that requires our close adherence (Jesus of Nazareth I, p.68). I will certainly do my best to follow his teaching and make sure I remain in his Mystical Body. Hopefully in my next Mystical Body experience, I’d be able to bump upon St. Augustine! Oh, I wouldn't mind seeing St. John Paul II too!

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Did Pope Francis' Film Interview Change the Church's Teaching on Marriage?

CNA article

To follow up on my previous post, I'd like to refer my fellow-bloggers to the CNA article above. It said exactly what I was trying to say, only better - much better - and more comprehensive in its coverage of the issue; breaking it down piece by piece and offering the right answer for each. Great article. 

I heard the Pope's film interview had triggered heated arguments among Catholics. The CNA article proves that if you understand the issue properly and think it through based on proper theological understanding, there should be no argument. The whole issue is crystal clear: 

The Pope has always supported and maintained the Church's infallible teaching on marriage; his endorsement of legal protection of SS civil unions - if that's indeed what he said in the interview - is not infallible teaching; as such the Catholic faithful's obedience of faith is not mandatory or even expected. 

A Pope's casual opinion in a film interview cannot change the Church's long-standing and infallible teaching on marriage, nor was it his intention to change it. 

His position or alleged position of endorsing legal protection for SS civil unions differs from his immediate predecessors, JPII and BXVI, who were also HIS POPES, to whom he owes allegiance and religious obedience. His suggestion or alleged suggestion could be a bad application of the Church's teaching on marriage, but the Church's position against homosexuality and SSM still stands.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Pope Francis endorses same-sex civil unions

As Catholics, we should be startled by this morning’s news headline: Pope Francis endorses same-sex civil unions. But don’t jump to the conclusion just because of this headline that the Pope has done a complete 180 on a 2000-year old Church doctrine about marriage. The doctrine still stands and will continue to stand. It’s the Church’s infallible teaching; it cannot be changed by an interview in a film, even if the person expressing the view was the successor of Peter. 

We should be startled by the Pope’s view because, as pointed out in the NCR report, it’s a departure from the position of his predecessors, including St. JPII and Benedict XVI. It goes against the Church’s official direction as given by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under St. Pope JPII in 2003. The CDF opposed “legal recognition of homosexual unions” and saw homosexuality as a “deviant behavior”.  To the CDF, such laws would endanger “common good” and fail to “promote and protect marriage”.

The Church Militant is constantly at war with “the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens” (Ephesus 6:12). Defending the Church’s infallible doctrine of marriage is the main battlefront that will determine whether the Church wins or loses this war. “The history of mankind, the history of salvation, passes by way of the family” (Letter to Families, 23). Yes, marriage and family is that important. 

Because it’s so important, it’s also the battlefield where the forces of darkness amass their fighters and armory; it’s where they launch most of their attacks. As a result, the Church will suffer many setbacks on the issue of marriage and family. It’s not unexpected.

Endorsing same-sex civil unions under the false pretense of inclusiveness is a setback. As the above-mentioned CDC position suggested, this is simply against common good and will put the institution of marriage further at risk. But has the Church “lost the battle”? No. If the Church changed its infallible teaching on marriage – I can assure you this will never happen – then, and only then, would the whole battle be lost. What will constitute a “change” in the Church’s infallible teaching on marriage? Just to give you some idea, one example is when the Church allows same-sex couples to receive the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony; or when people practicing homosexuality are allowed to receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

Let's continue to fight in the Church Militant using our most fervent prayers....

Thursday, October 8, 2020




聖若望保祿二世直言不諱地指出婚姻與家庭天主救世計劃的中心:「人類的歷史人類的救恩史都因著家庭而展開」(致家庭書, 23)



基督徒的婚姻及聖體給我們指向一個更大的事情。這日子將要來到,那時候全人類未來;無論種族文化及語言會被邀請與天主及天上眾使、諸聖人一同慶祝一個永恆樂、和天上的婚宴;簡而言之這便是我們「天堂」或「天主的國」;進一步闡述,那裡要被正義與和平再沒有眼淚與悲傷( 25:8, 21:4)。天主這計劃一定終會實現。故此,整部聖經應被視為天主獻給每一個人,祂天上婚宴的邀請是天父給祂在塵世的迷惘中,長期寄居子女歸家呼喚。「被召赴羔羊婚宴的人,是有福的」( 19:9)


「凡口渴的,請到水泉來!那沒有錢的,也請來罷!請來買不花錢,不索值的酒和奶吃!你們為什麼為那些不能充食的東西花錢,為那些不足果腹的東西浪費薪金呢?你們若細心聽我,你們就能吃豐美的食物,你們的心靈必因脂膏而喜悅」( 55:1-2)


·       婚宴會場—「這座山上」(25:6)。這是指耶路撒冷聖殿在的摩黎雅山;這也是亞巴郎祭獻他由撒辣所生的獨生子依撒格的地方;又是天父犧牲祂唯一聖子耶穌的地方。這些聖經的記載把我們指向天上的耶路撒冷聖殿羔羊婚宴的場地 (參閱希8:1-5)

  • 「要為萬民擺設」這超凡卓越的寰宇婚宴 (25:6)天主正如依撒格問亞巴郎同樣 問題時亞巴郎所預言的一般(參照 創22:14)。\ 菜單是甚麼?「肥甘的盛宴,美酒的盛宴」,正如教會在慶祝聖體聖事盛宴中已經預象的(25:6)
  •  盛宴的主人新郎,在婚宴中會做甚麼?「祂要撤除那封在萬民上的封面」猶如新郎在婚禮中揭開新娘的面紗(25:7)。這也是為甚麽耶穌死時「聖所的帳幔,從上到下分裂為二」( 27:51)。因為把天主和人分隔開必須耶穌的救贖恩典徹底摧毀。
  •  郎還會做甚麼?「他要永遠取消死亡... 從人人的臉上拭去淚痕,要由整個地面除去自己民族的恥辱」(25:8)。可記得聖保祿如何對死亡而毫不戰慄?「死亡!你的勝利在那裡?死亡!你的刺在那裡?」(格前15:55)。我們現明白他為何不害怕。
  •  我們接到羔羊婚宴的請我們該做甚麽?「我們要因他的救援鼓舞喜樂!」(25:9)亞孟!如聖保祿所言「在主內應當常常喜樂」( 4:4)。

 於《依撒意亞先知書》讀經中談及的婚宴主題是如此豐富,難怪教會選用耶穌婚宴的比喻本主日的福音讀經來配合 (參照 瑪 22:1-14)。耶穌告誡我們要做好準備。祂告訴我們那些「不穿婚宴禮服」的會被「丟在外面的黑暗中:在那裡要有哀號和切齒」(22:13)。既然婚宴禮服「代表聖徒們的義行」衣著不當的人要承擔可怕的後果,也相當合理(19:8)

Monday, August 31, 2020

The Bible is in a Nutshell Just God’s Wedding Invitation

 If there is one theme that captures all messages that the Bible was written to convey, it’s marriage and family. 

St. John Paul II minces no words in pointing out the centrality of marriage and family in God’s plan of salvation: “The history of mankind, the history of salvation, passes by way of the family” (Letter to Families, 23).

The theme of marriage and family runs through the Bible like a thread, weaving its way intricately and skillfully from the first chapter to the last. It bookends the whole Bible, starting from the broken marriage and family of Adam and Eve in Genesis, ending with the perfect union of Christ and the Church in the wedding feast of the Lamb in Revelation. As if to punctuate its significance, Jesus' first miracle also happened in a wedding feast - the wedding at Cana.

Having lost its original luster in Adam and Eve due to the first parents’ original sin, the institution of marriage regains the preeminence of its immaculate state in the one-flesh unity of Christ and his Church – a unity manifested outwardly as a sign in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, and inwardly as an ontological reality and organic whole in the Body of Christ.

Both Christian marriage and the Eucharist are pointing us to something much bigger. The day will come when all of humanity - ancient, contemporary, and future; regardless of race, culture, and language - is invited to celebrate together with God and all the angels and saints above in an eternal, joyful, and heavenly wedding feast; which, to put simply, is what we call “heaven” or “the kingdom of God”; where, to elaborate further, justice and peace will reign and tears will be no more (Is 25:8, Rev 21:4). As a result of this divine plan, which must and will come to pass, the whole Bible should really be understood as an invitation from God for everyone to attend His heavenly wedding feast. It’s the heavenly Father’s call for His waylaid children to come home after a prolonged sojourn here on earth. “Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb” (Rev 19:9).

God’s invitation for us to attend this cosmic wedding feast has been expressed in many different forms scripturally. For example, in Proverbs, it’s expressed as “Wisdom” sending out her maidens to invite those who are “simple” and “lacking in understanding” to “Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed” (9:4-5). In Isaiah, it’s expressed playfully as God touting those who are thirsty and poor - people in need and deprived of real wealth - to drink and eat well from Him for free:

“All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk! Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy? Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare” (Is 55:1-2).

In this Sunday’s 1st reading, also from Isaiah, the same invitation is expressed powerfully as a cocktail of wedding goodies: 

Venue of the wedding feast – “On this mountain” (25:6). In other words, Mount Moriah where the Jerusalem temple was situated; it’s also where Abraham sacrificed his only son from Sarah, Isaac; and where God, the Father, sacrificed His only Son, Jesus. These biblical events are pointing us to the heavenly Temple of Jerusalem where the wedding feast of the Lamb is to take place (cf. Heb 8:1-5).

Who “will provide for all peoples” in this extraordinary cosmic event (25:6)? – God, just as Abraham had prophesized when he was asked a similar question by Isaac (cf. Gen 22:14).

What’s the menu? - “juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines”, as is already prefigured in the eucharistic feast the Church celebrates (25:6).

What will the host of the feast, the Groom, do in this wedding feast? – “he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples”, the way the groom unveils his bride during a wedding (25:7). This is also why when Jesus died, “the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom” (Mt 27:51). For what separates God and man must be completely destroyed by Jesus’ redemptive grace.

What more will the Groom do? – “he will destroy death forever...wipe away the tears from all faces; the reproach of his people he will remove from the whole earth” (25:8). Remember St. Paul’s defiance in confronting death? “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55). Now we know why he was defiant.

What should we do on receiving the invitation to the wedding feast of the Lamb? – “let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!" (25:9) Amen! As St. Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4).

Small wonder, given the riches of the theme of the wedding feast in the Isaiah reading, Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast is chosen by the Church as this Sunday’s gospel reading (cf. Mt 22:1-14). Jesus warns us to come prepared. We are told that those who are “not dressed in a wedding garment” will be cast “into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth” (Mt 22:13). Since the wedding garment “represents the righteous deeds of the holy ones”, the terrifying consequence for those experiencing wardrobe malfunction does make a lot of sense (Rev 19:8)!

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Finding Yourself Requires a Sincere Gift of Self

Jesus’ stern rebuke of Peter in this Sunday’s gospel - “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me” (Mt 16:23) – is quite remarkable, considering that he has just given Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven and the power to bind and loose only a few verses earlier (cf. Mt 16:19). 

What is the reason for Jesus’ strong words against Peter whose comment many will consider perfectly innocent and harmless? After all, his beloved teacher and leader has just revealed that he’s heading to Jerusalem to get killed! 

Here’s the problem. Peter’s reaction to Jesus’ shocking revelation, while well-intended, reflects a fundamental flaw in human thinking that doesn’t jive well with the Father’s divine will and Jesus’ way of confronting tribulations. Aversion to suffering is in the human instinct. Peter, like everyone of us, sees it as an undesirable thing that must be avoided at all costs. It is unpleasant, painful, and, in Jesus’ case, life-threatening. It even goes straight against our human pride, inflicting on us a sense of being overpowered and a feeling that we are losing control. Suffering, affliction, humiliation, death, and a whole host of other traumatic experiences are probably some of the things that race through Peter’s head to cause him to blurt out his unsolicited and unwelcomed advice to Jesus. 

People also see suffering as an affront to a person’s or institution’s power and authority. Why should Jesus allow himself to be overpowered by the Sanhedrin and the Roman authority if he is truly divine and almighty? Similarly, how can the Church suffer from scandal after scandal if it truly has God’s special protection against evils (cf. Mt 16:18)? 

That’s how Peter and many people in general see suffering. But God has a very different perspective. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). 

Like a good teacher, Jesus rebukes Peter, his student, and then explains his rebuttal with a clarity that leaves no room for bewilderment: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 16:24-25). Deny yourself; take up your cross and follow me; and your reward will be me – the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Lose your life because of me, and you will save it.

The paradox presented by Jesus above is further explained by the Church this way: “Man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self” (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, n. 24). The more willing we are in giving ourselves away, the more successful we will be in affirming or establishing our true selves. For a person who gives is a person who loves. And the more we love, the better we resemble God, the perfect and infinite Lover (1 John 4:7-8). 

In the second reading, St. Paul’s appeal for us “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” is seen by Pope Benedict XVI as “the existential aspect of the new concept of worship and sacrifice” (Rom 12:1; cf. Jesus of Nazareth II, p.236). St. Paul shows us how to give ourselves away, and what it means to take up our crosses and follow Jesus. We should offer our bodies –everything we have – “as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God”. In doing so – in excising our priestly duty in Christ to give away everything we have as a sacrifice to God, including our lives if necessary – we will end up gaining everything. For we will “have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10)! 

A few decades after the above-mentioned gospel episode, Peter, who had once coached Jesus to avoid suffering, would find himself willingly embrace martyrdom in Rome during the reign of Emperor Nero. His death brought fulfillment to Jesus’ prediction about him in the gospel of John: “When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go" (John 21:18). Peter would literally “take up his cross” and follow Jesus, offering his body – upside down on the cross according to Christian tradition, because he felt unworthy of sharing the same posture as his Savior - “as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God”. In giving up his life, Peter found true life – everlasting and abundant. Through a sincere gift of self, he found his true self – vibrant, saintly and fully grown in Christ, “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing” (Eph 5:27).

Monday, July 6, 2020

How Good It Is to be Able to Repent!

Blessed Are They Who Repent, for They Shall Be Forgiven

From God’s “lenience” towards those who repent in the first reading to praising God for He is “good and forgiving” in the Responsorial Psalm; from the Holy Spirit’s intercession for us “with inexpressible groanings” in the second reading to the apocalyptic image of all evildoers who persist in their evil way being thrown into “the fiery furnace” in the gospel; repentance as a theme navigates its way masterfully through this Sunday’s readings with persuasiveness and coherence (Wis 12:18, Ps 86:5, Rm 8:26, Mt 13:42).

Everywhere we turn in the Bible, we hear good news. No wonder St. Paul wants us to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4). Not feeling well today? Rejoice! Hurt by people’s harsh and unfair criticism? Rejoice! Covid-19 pandemic? Rejoice! No matter what injustices, miseries, and misfortunes “the principalities…the powers…the world rulers of this present darkness” manage to pull out of their sleeves to throw at us, we must not stop rejoicing. For the battle against them has already been won (cf. 1 Cor 15:57, Rev 20:9-10)! God is firmly in control and will always be, even if this world of injustices and tribulations sometimes may suggest otherwise. The Bible is full of good news that work either individually, or collectively, or interchangeably to enable those whose hearts are filled with the Holy Spirit – the author of the Bible – to embrace without wavering this important understanding. And if they are truly able to do that, how can they not rejoice in the Lord always?

So, what is the good news this Sunday? First and foremost, the good news is that we are able to repent; and the Lord, who is “good and forgiving, abounding in kindness to all”, will forgive our sins because of Christ (Ps 86:5).

Wait! Isn’t repentance an option available to us always? Why has it become good news all of a sudden?

True, we have always been able to repent if and when we choose to do so. But before the coming of Christ, repentance alone, no matter how genuine, was insufficient to garner forgiveness for our sins. Christ’s saving grace, accomplished through his passion, death, and resurrection, has completely changed the whole cosmic picture. It is truly an unprecedented and monumental accomplishment. Its completion is a watershed moment, if you will, that has altered the whole order of creation through and through, including the very act of repentance. Before, repentance was just that – a human sentiment, even if good and righteous. After, if we repent, our sins will be forgiven. And Jesus is the sole reason for the difference. He is the only Mediator between God and men, as prefigured by Jacob’s vision of the stairway connecting heavens and earth (1 Tim 2:5, Genesis 28:12, John 1:51). He is, in his own words, “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

For repentance to be acceptable to God, it needs to come straight from the heart. “A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn” (Ps 51:19). But since human hearts are often bursting with pride, we need the Spirit to “come to the aid of our weakness” (Rom 8:26). He knows our every weakness and searches for our every sin - even the most elusive ones hiding either knowingly or unknowingly in the darkest corners of our hearts. He “intercedes with inexpressible groanings”, transforming our hearts and moving us to repent and confess (Rom 8:26, CCC 2739).

The theme of repentance culminates in Jesus’ apocalyptic message for “all who cause others to sin and all evildoers” (Mt. 13:41). They are the stiff-necked people who fail to repent, the “weeds” that grow together with the wheat in the field until harvest (c.f. Mt. 13:24-30). Their fate is to be tied up by the harvesters “in bundles for burning” in “the fiery furnace” (Mt. 13:30, 42).

The realization that God will forgive if we repent fills our hearts with hope and thankfulness. Jesus’ stern warning of the end-of-the-age judgement and the apocalyptic image of “the fiery furnace” where the evildoers “will be wailing and grinding of teeth”, on the other hand, shake us to the core of our being (Mt. 13:42). We must seriously re-examine how we live.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

From Shadows and Images into the Truth

Ever a gifted orator, St. Augustine was able to deliver a whole lecture on biblical theology in a few words: “The New Testament is hidden in the Old, and the Old Testament is manifested in the New”.

Just got off a video-conferencing meeting with a family Bible sharing group. Although everyone felt a little unnatural, the virtual gathering was nonetheless a welcomed opportunity to meet and share at an unprecedented time of national lockdown. If there was one common thread connecting all the families in isolation, it was a feeling of anxiety and fear. One family expressed concern that sooner or later the nursing home where their mother resided just might experience an outbreak. Another wondered if daily life would ever be the same when the crisis finally ended, whenever that might be. All of us were hoping our children would not lose their jobs – it’s like waiting for the other shoe to drop!

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me “(John 14:1). These comforting words from this Sunday’s gospel cannot have come at a more opportune time! “Do not let your hearts be troubled”, “Do not be afraid”, “Peace be with you” – tender words such as these are constantly on Jesus’ lips (Mt. 14:27, Jn 14:1, 20:19). They sound great, but why should we believe him? In his own words, this is why: “If I do not perform my Father's works, do not believe me; but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works...” (John 10:37-38). In other words, our faith in Jesus should rest in the works he performs. The works he performs are what the Father has foretold and commanded from time immemorial. He has brought them all to completion. So, believe!

The “Father’s works” that Jesus has brought to completion include everything foretold about him in the Old Testament – his divinity; his relationship with the Father; his incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension. No human mind can claim to comprehend how God could have known, foretold, and brought to fulfilment everything about Himself through activities and events freely chosen and acted out by erratic humans over time in the volatility of world history. It’s a powerful mystery unfolding before our very eyes in the Old Testament and New Testament books, demanding our deepest reverence and unreserved submission of faith. Ever a gifted orator, St. Augustine was able to capture this awe-inspiring concept about the Scriptures in just a few words: “The New Testament is hidden in the Old, and the Old Testament is manifested in the New”. The Catechism simply calls it “typology” (CCC 128-130). Let’s use this Sunday’s readings to illustrate this important concept, which is absolutely critical for any serious Bible reader to master. We’ll focus on reading 2 – 1 Peter 2:4-9.

“Stone” is one of the most important images used in the OT scriptures to prefigure the Messiah. The book of Daniel, for example, uses “a stone which was hewn from a mountain without a hand being put to it” to prefigure the coming of the Messiah, whose Kingdom will replace all earthly kingdoms (Daniel 2:34). Here in the 2nd reading, Peter identifies Jesus with this OT image and sees him as the “cornerstone” upon which God’s house will be built (1 Pt 2:6, Ps 118:22, Is 28:16). He is also “the stone that the builders rejected” as Israel, the people chosen by God to build His house, was first unfaithful to God and later also rejected Jesus, His Son.

As THE foundation stone, Jesus appoints Peter as his representative on earth: “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” (Mt 16:18). Peter, or “Petros” in Greek or “kepha” in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus, is a masculine noun for a sizeable “rock” or “stone” (cf. Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, p. 37). What Peter, the rock or stone, is telling us is that we are also living stones by virtue of our baptismal grace. Therefore, “let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pt 2:5). In other words, all Christians are mandated to be living stones like Peter and, by extension, Jesus. Together as living stones and God’s holy people, we are the Church, the house of God, the new Israel (LG 9). Affirming the same teaching, St. Paul asks, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16). As the Church, we are holy because the Holy Spirit dwells in us.

By now our readers should be able to see the profound insight of St. Augustine’s dictum. The New Testament teaching that Christ is the Living Stone and we his Church, is already hidden in the Old Testament, even if it is not in a readily recognizable form (Dan 2, Ps 118, Is 28, etc.). The Old Testament images and prophecies that point us to Christ and his Church, while not immediately comprehensible in the context of the OT, are now made crystal clear in the truths and teachings of the New Testament (1 Pt 2, Mt 16, 1 Cor 3, etc.). St. John Cardinal Newman, sometimes known as an “invisible” Father of Vatican II due to his influence, used these last few words inscribed on his tombstone to teach us what reading the Bible from the OT to the NT is all about: “From Shadows and Images into the Truth”. His words are no less brilliant than the Augustinian dictum.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Christmas Spirit of Humility and Lowliness

My heart is at peace in following Jesus’ descending path to lowliness, which is really the ascending path to see God face-to-face.

It’s difficult to recall precisely how Christmas first left its marks on my young cognitive faculties. The earliest experience I can think of was the blurry image of my primary school teacher dressed up as Santa, holding a bagful of beautifully wrapped presents, blurting out “Ho-Ho-Ho” as he walked on stage in front of a rowdy crowd of hundreds of wide-eyed schoolmates. If my memory serves me right, I think my immediate reaction was one of apprehension. Who on earth was this strange character dressed in some outrageous outfits? Why was my teacher, who was normally composed and dignified, acting like a fool?

That was pretty much my childhood Christmas experience in a nutshell: presents, Christmas cards, funs, parties. Other than a small group of people from a Christian denomination nearby, who would come to my parents’ shop on Christmas eve - all dressed up, candles in hands, caroling cheerfully as they processed - Christmas to me was just a special time for social activities. But over the years, as my Christian faith deepened and my secular heart enlightened by the Holy Spirit, my perception gradually underwent a complete transformation. No longer do I see Christmas as a mere occasion for celebrations and festivities; I am convinced its deeper meaning lies in its religious solemnity. Nor do I enjoy much the delusional feeling of affluence that the Christmas presents bring; I believe the real affluence of Christmas can only be found in its spirit of humility and poverty, starting from the lowliness and destitution of the manger where Jesus, the “King of kings and Lord of lords”, was born (Rev 19:16).

Here we are, barely a month after the Christmastide, on this 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Christmas spirit of humility, poverty and lowliness is still very much alive and visible in the Mass readings: Take care of the hungry, the homeless, and the naked, Isaiah exhorts in the 1st reading (cf. Is 58:7-8). In the 2nd reading, we find Paul preaching to his disciples not “with sublimity of words or of wisdom” but “in weakness and fear and much trembling” (1 Cor 2:1,3).

According to Pope Benedict XVI, the Beatitudes are the best definition of Christian discipleship. Who are Jesus’ true disciples? The lives of the true disciples of Christ must exhibit the ascetic attributes of the Beatitudes, says the Pope. “They are poor, hungry, weeping men; they are hated and persecuted” (Jesus of Nazareth I, p.73). Not surprisingly, the life of Jesus is in itself the fullest manifestation of the Beatitudes (ibid, p.74). It is a life of simplicity, poverty, sorrow, and persecution that culminates or, the world would say, “bottoms out” in his death on the Cross.

In the gospel, Jesus asks his disciples to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world”; their “light must shine before others” (cf. Mt. 5:13-16). As Jesus will not ask from us anything that he himself doesn’t do, he himself is actually the light “set on a lampstand”, the light that “must shine before others” (cf. Mt. 5:15-16). As Jesus’ followers, we follow his example to “shine before others” when our lives manifest the same radicalism of the Beatitudes, the same poverty and lowliness that define the life of our Lord.

As I reflect on the years gone by, from childhood to old age, from primary school to senior community, from my first Christmas experience in Hong Kong to the most recent one here in Toronto; my heart is overwhelmed by a profound feeling of thankfulness: thankful because my understanding of the meaning of Christmas has really come a long way; thankful because with God’s blessing and unfathomable patience, I have managed to leave behind the culture of possession and delusional affluence to embrace the culture of service and inner freedom; thankful, most of all, because my heart is at peace in following Jesus’ descending path to lowliness (his destitution, poverty, suffering, and death), which, as my mentor Pope Benedict XVI has assured me, is really the ascending path to see God face-to-face (cf. Jesus of Nazareth I, p.95). As Christians, our conviction is that the only way to shine is the way of the Cross.

I’d like to conclude this reflection with this scriptural passage: “Though he was in the form of God, [he] did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness…he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him” (Phil 2:6-9).

Thursday, January 2, 2020


「耶路撒冷啊!起來炫耀罷!因你的光明已經來到,上主的榮耀已經照耀在你身上。舉起你的眼向四方觀望罷![萬民]都聚集來到你這裡」(依 60:1, 4)。


本主日的第一篇讀經,先知以像雷射般精準的目光來看未來,預見新耶路撒冷蒙受「上主的榮耀」(依 60:1)。耶路撒冷聖城已成過去,它在公元 70 年被羅馬人攻陷、摧毀;按猶太歷史學家 Josephus,有百多萬居民被屠殺或因饑荒而死亡。但教會—新耶路撒冷—卻出現於世界歷史舞台上,把聖城延續下去, 但不是取代了它(CCC 756)。同樣地,耶路撒冷聖殿已成過去,它也被夷為平地,如耶穌所預言,沒有一塊石頭留在另一塊石頭上 (參 路 21:6)。聖殿既被摧毀,梅瑟法律規定的祭獻及亞郎司祭職,也無可避免地突然中斷了。然而,透過聖祭禮儀、以基督為中心的聖事及從伯多祿傳下來的聖秩職份,教會—新的耶路撒冷聖殿—接過了聖殿欽崇和聖化的神聖職務,並延續至今。

我們絕對不應該因為看見教會有時候會出現的「瑕疵...皺紋,或其他類似的缺陷」而震驚至目瞪口呆(弗 5:27)。我們這樣說並不是意圖輕輕抹過每次教會犯錯時所帶來的後果的嚴重性,和這些事情如何危害著伯多祿這條船(參閱路8:22-23)。如果說人生是一個讓我們學習及努力達致完善的過程,歷史便是一個讓教會—新耶路撒冷—進步並輾轉地日趨圓滿的過程。常被稱為聖城的教會,在經歷著煉淨;基督會使教會「成為聖潔和沒有污點的」(CCC 756, 弗 5:27)。「我們就是活石,要在此世形成一個屬神的殿宇」,直至天地更新,新耶路撒冷便會「從天上由天主那裡降下,就如一位裝飾好迎接自己丈夫的新娘」(CCC 756, 默 21:2)。

依撒意亞所預見的新耶路撒冷也是屬於天下萬民的:「萬民要奔赴你的光明...他們都聚集來到你這裡」(依 60:3-4)。儘管依撒意亞的預言對當代猶太人來說是不可思議的 - 因為他們排斥外邦人,認為他們是「不潔」的 - 但是它卻在至公的教會中得以圓滿實現。「至公」一詞最早由安提約基雅的聖依納爵(公元 108 年卒)首先使用,是普世及或天下萬民的意思。在第二篇讀經中,聖保祿在論及公教會這重要的特性時說,它是「藉著啟示,使我得知 ⋯ 的奧秘」(弗 3:2)。在這普世或至公的天國的奧秘中,「外邦人藉著福音在基督耶穌內與猶太人同為承繼人,同為一身,同為恩許的分享人」(弗 3:6)。

如此說來,我們便明白為何本主日的讀經以《瑪竇福音》三位賢士來朝的記載來結束。在多年準備、預言及期待之後;在漫長的分娩及產痛之後;歷史終於給人誕下了救世主,他是「一個嬰兒,裹著襁褓,躺在馬槽裡」(路 2:12)。祂會讓萬有修和,重歸於好:「無論是地上的,是天上的,都與自己重歸於好,因著他十字架的血立定了和平」(哥 1:20)。時候將到而且現在就是,拆毁所有屏障吧!除去一切仇恨和萬民之間的敵意吧!看啊!他們來了:來自東方和代表著外邦人的三位賢士;他們向新生王致敬,帶來了「禮物:黃金、乳香和沒藥」,明認著祂的王權、天主性和苦難;就如依撒意亞所預視的一樣 (瑪 2:11, Ignatius Catholic Study Bible)。