Thought for Ascension Thursday

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The Feast of the Ascension strikes many Christians as the poor relative of the two rather bigger celebrations which top and tail the long and joyful season of Eastertide: Easter itself, and Pentecost. But Damian Howard SJ ascribes to this feast the utmost significance. What are we to make of the story of Jesus being taken up into a cloud, an episode that not only sounds like mythology but also violates our modern sense of space?

In between our celebrations of the Lord’s Resurrection at Easter and of the gift of the Spirit to His disciples, the ‘birthday of the Church’ at Pentecost, we observe another feast: the Feast of the Ascension. For all the memorable imagery that the story of Jesus’s ascension into heaven evokes, it still strikes many Christians as a rather curious episode. To put it crudely, had Jesus simply ascended vertically into space we would by now expect him to be somewhere in the outer reaches of the solar system, a thought that is hardly an aid to Christian devotion. Yet the event of the Ascension, which appears in both the New Testament books authored by Luke (his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles), serves as the narrative lynchpin of the grand story told by scripture. It is, as one scholar argues, the culmination of every biblical event leading up to it and the condition of the drama that follows it.[1] To understand why this is so will take a little explaining.

A good way to begin would be to ask yourself a question: what, in a nutshell, is the core of the New Testament message? There are doubtless as many answers to that question as there are Christians, but most of them would probably involve one or more of a bundle of ideas: resurrection–reconciliation–new life–triumph over sin and death, all very good, very Eastery answers – and all, incidentally, very much about us human creatures. The centrality of these notions to most Christians explains both why Easter and Pentecost are so important to us and why the Ascension is not. Easter and Pentecost can be quickly established to be all about us: the promise of forgiveness and new life for us, the gift of the Spirit to us. It is not quite so clear what the Ascension has to offer us? The best answer I have been able to come up with is that Christ’s withdrawal brings about a new mode by which Christ can be present to us, intimate, yet universal and ‘interceding for us at the right hand of the Father’.

If you were to ask the same question to the New Testament scholar, N.T. Wright, you would be given a subtly different response, one that puts centre stage someone other than us. For Tom Wright, the core truth of Christianity is that Jesus, and hence God, has become King. The crucified Nazarene has been raised by God to be the universal Lord. Christ’s rising from the dead is not in itself the end of the story but a vitally important part of the trajectory that takes him to his heavenly throne. Wright’s interpretation hardly denies the importance of resurrection; it just sees it as part of a bigger picture. Jesus is raised to be King.

All of which has serious implications for Christian belief and practice. If we were to think very schematically, we might say we have two styles of Christian living here: let’s call them Resurrection-Christianity and Kingdom-Christianity. (I am sketching here ‘ideal types’ for the sake of reflection and these should not be taken as applying to any individual or group in particular, still less as criteria for some kind of orthodoxy.) Resurrection-Christianity would focus, obviously, on the Resurrection, on the fact that Christ has overcome death and won eternal life for those who believe in Him. Kingdom-Christianity is more attentive to the arrival of the Kingdom of God, in other words a state of affairs abroad in the world, such that a new source of power and of ultimate authority is enabling and challenging human beings to allow themselves to be transformed, to receive ‘eternal life’ in the here and now. The two styles are hardly opposed to each other but their focus is appreciably different.

What makes Kingdom-Christianity so convincing an interpretation is the way it makes sense of the whole narrative of the Bible by offering a ‘crowning moment’ in the shape of the final resolution of an expectation spelt out in a spectacular apocalyptic scene by the prophet Daniel (7:13-14):

I saw one like a human being
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
and was presented before him.
To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
that shall never be destroyed.

Here, the coronation of the ‘one like a human being’ (the original expression is translated literally as ‘one like a Son of Man’, from which you can deduce whence Jesus derives His favourite way of referring to Himself) is presented exactly as an onlooker in heaven would enjoy the scene. It is a dream-vision, an imaginative rendition of the deep, hope-filled aspiration of faithful Jews, suffering persecution at the hands of an enemy so powerful they could scarcely envisage ever overcoming it. The Ascension, Douglas Farrow points out, is quite simply the very same event as viewed from the earth, the Son of Man setting out on His journey to take up His throne alongside the ‘Ancient One.’

Hence, in the Ascension we see the mystery alluded to in the Hebrew Bible acted out in full view of the disciples. You can see now that the Ascension is no quirky interlude between Resurrection and Pentecost but a dramatic consummation that makes sense of them: the Resurrection is the beginning of Christ’s heavenly journey, Pentecost the echo on earth of heaven’s jubilation at his coronation. The Ascension is crucial, not decorative.

Farrow defends this view of the centrality of the Ascension from the understandable and legitimate anxiety that it downplays resurrection hope as an end in itself:

In the Bible, the doctrine of the resurrection slowly emerges as a central feature of the Judeo-Christian hope. But if, synechdochically, it can stand for that hope, the hope itself is obviously something more. Resurrection may be a necessary ingredient, since death cuts short our individual journeys, but it is not too bold to say that the greater corporate journey documented by the scriptures continually presses, from its very outset and at every turn, towards the impossible feat of the ascension.

So Kingdom-Christianity in no way cancels out or negates Resurrection-Christianity: it includes it but situates it in a bigger picture and it is a picture that does not have us at the centre, with our desires and hopes, but the person of, if you like to think of it like this, King Jesus.

In his book Surprised by Hope, Tom Wright works out some of the consequences of what is for many a surprising angle on the Biblical story. The problem is not that Resurrection-Christianity (he does not use the term) is false. Rather, it is that if it becomes detached from its original moorings in the proclamation of Jesus as King, then it can drift into something lesser. An example is the way many modern Christians have come to think that the point of Christianity is about ‘getting to heaven when you die’. A Christianity rooted in its original proclamation of the Kingdom of God is not in the first place about life after death, but very much about life in the here and now under the new conditions of God’s reign (which is also not in any way to deny life after death!). If it totally loses its anchor in the Kingdom proclamation, an exclusive concern with resurrection has been known to see this world as a decadent and evil place without hope; salvation begins to look like escape. This is a Gnostic tendency to which Christianity has long been vulnerable. For Wright, the time has come to get back to the original Kingdom-Christianity of the Bible with its confidence in the resurrection of the body, its utter Christ-centredness and its concern for the mission of Christians to help transform the world in accordance with the in-breaking Kingdom.

I must confess both to excitement about Wright’s work and also to a certain perplexity. The excitement springs from the plausibility of his biblical interpretation, from the stress he puts on the Gospel as a God-event rather than the transmission of some new information, and on the implications of all this for the way we think about Christian action and witness in the world. But my perplexity is twofold. First, Wright is suspicious about a great deal of the Christian tradition as it has come down to us over the years. He regrets the medieval corruptions that set in, entailing the loss of the ‘real narrative’ of the Kingdom, until, that is, modern exegesis came into existence. An evangelical Protestant like Wright is entitled to think like that, of course, even if it puts a Catholic on the back foot. But is Christian tradition so badly in need of correction or has it, perhaps, managed to hang on to the Kingdom-story rather more than Wright allows? After all, leaf through any hymn book, Protestant or Catholic, and dozens of images of kingship will jump out at you. But still, Wright might say, these may not correspond to the way people actually think and act in their religious lives. Maybe there is a case to answer here.

The second difficulty is that my modern imagination rather baulks at the thought of Jesus sitting on a throne as King in heaven. It’s a fine metaphor but in what sense does it represent a state of affairs? My mind is uneasy with what sounds like mythology and I find myself restlessly wanting to ‘demythologise’ it, to translate it into categories more related to my way of seeing the world. The problem is that the Ascension is essentially an ‘is’ statement whereas demythologising usually ends up with ‘ought’ statements like saying that ‘living in the Kingdom of God’ really just boils down to living by ‘Kingdom values’ or, ‘building the Kingdom’ by being good citizens, speaking up for the victims of injustice and behaving in an ecologically responsible manner. If that is the ‘cash-value’ of the doctrine of the Ascension, then it seems to have made no real difference. Yet the only alternative would seem to mean fixating on a rather literalist interpretation of the doctrine itself; if my (or your) imagination cannot cope, that’s just too bad, because that’s how it is…

An answer to both perplexities comes in the shape of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola. What I see in his famous itinerary for a 30 day transformative retreat experience is a playing out of precisely the kind of spirituality that flows naturally from the Kingdom narrative: not one of resurrection as an end in itself (though resurrection is very present) but a vivid engagement with Christ, the Eternal King, and a focused and prolonged imaginative effort to contemplate the world under the aspect of the Kingdom of Christ and to discern in depth the difference that this truth makes: i.e. that it calls me to become a servant of Christ’s mission.

There is some irony in making this point. Everyone who has ever made the Exercises knows full well Ignatius’s fondness for regal and military metaphors. People often assume that behind it is Ignatius the (minor) nobleman harking back nostalgically to his time in the Spanish court or soldiering against the French. Yet Ignatius was no sentimentalist. If he used kingly language to speak of Jesus it was quite simply because he knew Jesus as a King.

In this he was helped by the standard, even ubiquitous iconography of the Middle Ages. One of the most common depictions of Jesus throughout the period was the eschatological Christ seated on a throne, surrounded by an oval aura called a mandorla and the four apocalyptic beasts. This figure, known as the maiestas domini, adorns many a Cathedral tympanum, reminding those entering below that Christ is indeed their King here and now. This Christ was majestic and powerful, not entirely dissimilar to the eastern Christian icon of Christ pantokrator, Lord of all. The mandorla was significant too, an unmistakeable reference to the birth canal. The figure of the King in the mandorla, the Kingdom in the very process of being born, echoes the Lord’s prayer: ‘thy Kingdom come!’ It is a dynamic image of God’s Kingdom coming to us as we look on, a reminder that if the Kingdom is indeed already a reality, nevertheless it has not yet fully arrived. It still has something of the subjunctive about it.

Ignatius, judging by the language he uses to speak of Christ in the Exercises, took this icon as his preferred depiction of the Lord. Whenever he imagines himself standing before God, offering himself for service in whatever way God will decide, he speaks of God/Christ as ‘the Divine Majesty’:

Then I shall reflect within myself and consider what, in all reason and justice, I ought for my part to offer and give his Divine Majesty, that is to say, all I possess and myself as well… (Sp Exx 234)[6]

The most important and transformative exercises are preceded by an invitation to imagine Christ as King and to allow oneself to enter into the scene of that image, adopting the behaviour appropriate to it:

how much more is it worthy of consideration to see Christ our Lord, the eternal king, as to all and to each one in particular his call goes out: ‘It is my will to conquer the whole world and every enemy and so enter into the glory of my Father… (Sp Exx 95)

And:

Here will be to see myself in the presence of God our Lord and of all his saints that I might desire and know what is more pleasing to His Divine Goodness. … here it will be to ask for the grace to choose what is more for the glory of his Divine Majesty and the salvation of my soul. (Sp Exx151-2)

Two vital clues suggest that the link with the Ascension was one Ignatius would have made himself. In the ‘Fourth Week’ of the Exercises, which deals with the Resurrection of Christ, Ignatius offers for meditation no less than 13 appearances of the Lord, including one to Paul which would have taken place after the Ascension. But he insists that it is the Ascension that should be the final mystery of the whole retreat to be contemplated. For Ignatius this is no mere detail, no pious addition to the list of biblical incidents but the highpoint, the climax of the whole movement of Christ that brings him to the divine throne before which he stood repeatedly seeking God’s will for his life. The other detail comes from an autobiographical incident that took place when Ignatius was on pilgrimage in Jerusalem. He was about to be expelled from the Holy Land by the Franciscan authorities but before heading for the coast he was desperate to do one last thing: to revisit a particular site from the pilgrim’s itinerary, the place where, tradition has it, Jesus ascended into heaven. Bribing the guards with a pair of scissors, of all things, Ignatius managed to get up to the Mount of Olives where he could check the exact position of Christ’s footprints before He was taken off into the cloud.

So, with regard to my first perplexity, it is clear that Ignatius at least, one of the Catholic tradition’s most brilliant and influential spiritual masters, is an unabashed exponent of Kingdom-Christianity. If you know anything about his life that observation will ring true; he was above all a man who desired to let God’s glory shine out here in the world by living his life as a divine mission. Knowing this, one could never say blandly that the tradition of the Church simply lost sight of the central significance of Jesus Christ as universal King. Indeed, it seems to have maintained it with clarity and vigour.

Ignatius has also relieved my second perplexity considerably, the anxiety that simply proclaiming the kingship of Christ as a literal state of affairs does not seem to get us very far. Appropriating this deep truth, as Ignatius’s life shows, requires a very special human faculty, one that Ignatius was forced to deploy by the very forces which were undermining the ‘Kingdom’ in his day. For at the time he is writing, the image of the Divine Majesty was facing a major crisis. This was thanks to the impending demise of that ancient, traditional cosmology in which the image of Christ as King in heaven made some sense. By the end of the 15th Century the new sciences and the successful circumnavigation of the globe had put that picture under severe pressure. Politically things were changing too. A united Christendom had been evidential warrant to the notion of a civilisation united under the rule of Christ. But now, under the impact of the Reformation, Christendom was breaking up, making it all but impossible to conceive of Christ as King of the universe. This is the decidedly inauspicious climate in which our young Basque finds himself not only drawn to the maiestas domini but also sensing its urgent appeal. I imagine him gazing longingly at some cathedral portal after Mass, on fire with the love of God and aware that, despite all the contradictory desires that filled his heart, it was only in the service of Christ’s mission that inner unity and purpose in life could be achieved. He must have seen depicted in this image a process, a dynamic by which human beings could allow order to be drawn out of the chaos of their lives. He understood that the only way to unleash the transformative power of the Kingdom was not merely by assent to a purported state of affairs but by the deepest possible imaginative exploration of what it means to live in the world where Jesus is King. For the key to engaging with the mystery of the Kingdom is, for Ignatius, as for the Spinner of parables Himself, the human imagination. – Damian Howard sj, thinkingfaith.com

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The Resurrection and “Amoris Laetitia”

 

In his new apostolic exhortation on the family, “Amoris Laetitia,” Pope Francis writes:

Here hope comes most fully into its own, for it embraces the certainty of life after death. Each person, with all his or her failings, is called to the fullness of life in heaven. There, fully transformed by Christ’s resurrection, every weakness, darkness and infirmity will pass away. There the person’s true being will shine forth in all its goodness and beauty. This realization helps us, amid the aggravations of this present life, to see each person from a supernatural perspective, in the light of hope, and await the fullness that he or she will receive in the heavenly kingdom, even if it is not yet visible (No. 117).

In the Fourth Gospel, the Resurrected Lord takes up earth’s unfinished love. Like so many of us, death had robbed Peter of the chance to redeem his denial. You cannot apologise to the dead. You cannot undo what life has ended. But the resurrection of Christ reveals an eternal life that finishes earth’s loves. Heaven doesn’t cancel earth. Paradise is not a winnowing away from the loves of this life. In Christ, what was wrong can be righted. What sin ruptures, grace can heal.

This is the deepest meaning of purgatory, which should be understood as the compassion of the Risen Christ. It is not a place of minimum security. It is an ante-chamber of heaven, if you will, a process of mercy, whereby the Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, heals the wound of time.

In the Eucharist, heaven’s meal, the Lamb redeems us and, with us, all of human history.

“Do you love me?” is the great do-over of the disciple. It reveals the depth of redemption. Resurrection is Peter’s solace and our security, because resurrection completes earth’s unfinished loves.

Today Christ reveals that the darkest of human nights yields to the dawn of resurrection. In “Amoris Laetitia” Pope Francis quotes his predecessor Pope Saint John Paul II,

Moreover, moments of joy, relaxation, celebration, and even sexuality can be experienced as a sharing in the full life of the resurrection. Married couples shape with different daily gestures a “God-enlightened space in which to experience the hidden presence of the risen Lord” (No. 317).

Human relationships aren’t lost in death. To the contrary, it’s there that the Lord of life makes them whole again. – America

Communication and Mercy: A fruitful encounter

wcd messagePope Francis’ message for the 50th World Day of Social Communications was released at a press conference in the Vatican on 24 Jan 2016, which is traditionally published in conjunction with the Memorial of St Francis de Sales, patron of writers. The message, entitled ‘Communication and Mercy: A Fruitful Encounter’ is focused on the responsibility of all communicators to promote caring and healthy relationships in our fragmented and polarised world.

Quoting from Shakespeare, the Gospels and the Old Testament, the Pope reminds us that, as Christians, our “every word and gesture, ought to express God’s compassion, tenderness and forgiveness for all.”  If our hearts and actions are inspired by charity and divine love, he says, then our communication will be touched by God’s power too.

As sons and daughters of God, the message stresses, we are called to communicate with everyone, without exception. Communication, the Pope insists, has the power to build bridges, to enable encounter and inclusion, to heal wounded memories and thus to enrich society. In both the material and the digital world, he says, our words and actions should help us all “escape the vicious circles of condemnation and vengeance which continue to ensnare individuals and nations, encouraging expressions of hatred”.

Pope Francis invites all people of good will to rediscover the power of mercy to heal wounded relationships and to restore peace and harmony to families and communities. Even when ancient wounds and lingering resentments stand in the way of communication and reconciliation, he says, mercy is able to create a new kind of speech and dialogue.

Our political and diplomatic language in particular, the Pope says, would do well to be inspired by mercy, which never loses hope He appeals to political and institutional leaders, as well as the media and opinion makers to remain especially attentive to the way they speak of those who think or act differently. Even when condemning sins such as violence, corruption and exploitation, the Pope says, we must speak with meekness and mercy that can touch hearts, rather than with harsh, moralistic words that can further alienate those we wish to convert.

True communication, the Pope says, means listening, valuing, respecting and being able to share questions and doubts. Online or in social networks, he stresses, we must remember that it’s not technology which guarantees authentic communication, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal.

The Pope concludes by encouraging everyone “to see society not as a forum where strangers compete and try to come out on top, but above all as a home or a family, where the door is always open and where everyone feels welcome”.

In sum he says “Communication is a gift of God which involves a great responsibility” and the “encounter between communication and mercy will be fruitful to the degree that it generates a closeness which cares, comforts, heals, accompanies and celebrates.” – Vatican Radio

 

KK Archdiocese gears up for “Communication and Mercy” programme

kk archd gears upKOTA KINABALU – The Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu is geared to implement a special programme at parish level that is in line with the theme for this year’s 50th World Communication Day, “Communication and Mercy: A Fruitful Encounter”.

Planned and organised by its Commission on Social Communications (SOCCOM), this programme is aimed at helping Catholics in the Archdiocese to gain knowledge and understanding on the meaning and purpose of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

This action is designed to bring this message of mercy right to the personal level, particularly in the healing of broken relationships within a Catholic family. This is in tune with what Pope Francis says in his WCD message, that communication has the power to build bridges and that words can build bridges between individuals and within families, social groups and peoples.

This year’s theme for the celebration was decided in order to coincide with the Jubilee of Mercy, the Holy Year called by Pope Francis to announce the mercy of God.

The choice of the theme is most appropriate. It is clearly determined by the celebration of the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, and the Holy Father undoubtedly wants to see that the World Communications Day would provide the appropriate occasion to reflect on the deep synergy between communication and mercy.

It should be recalled that in the ‘Bull of Indiction’ of the Jubilee Year, the Pope had affirmed that: “The Church is commissioned to announce the mercy of God, the beating heart of the Gospel, which in its own way must penetrate the heart and mind of every person.”

He adds: “Her language and her gestures must transmit mercy, so as to touch the hearts of all people and inspire them once more to find the road that leads to the Father. It is helpful, in this regard, to remember that our reflection is situated in the context of an awareness that communication is a key element for the promotion of a culture of encounter.”

The Pope, on this occasion, refers to the language and gestures of the Church but the context makes it clear that all men and women in their own communications, in their reaching out to meet others, ought to be motivated by a deep expression of welcome, availability and forgiveness.

The theme for WCD, therefore, highlights the capacity of good communication to open up a space for dialogue, mutual understanding and reconciliation, thereby allowing fruitful human encounters to flourish.

It was pointed out, when the theme was picked, that at a time when our attention is often drawn to the polarised and judgmental nature of much commentary on the social networks, the theme invokes the power of words and gestures to overcome misunderstandings, to heal memories and to build peace and harmony.

Once again, Pope Francis is reminding us that, in its essence, communication is a profoundly human achievement. Good communication is never merely the product of the latest or most developed technology, but is realised within the context of a deep interpersonal relationship.

SOCCOM in Kota Kinabalu has also lined up other activities to mark the 50th anniversary of the WCD, maintaining its tradition to celebrate the occasion each year without fail. The day is celebrated universally each year on the Sunday before Pentecost, which this year falls on May 8.

It is the practice in the Kota Kinabalu Archdiocese to allow parishes to volunteer the hosting of the annual World Communication Day celebration.

The venue for this year’s celebration takes a rural setting, at St Philip Neri, Pekan Nabalu, an outstation chapel  under the parish of St Pius X Bundu Tuhan, with a Holy Mass at 10.30 am that Sunday.

Last year, the SOCCOM of the Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu celebrated the 49th WCD at the Church of the Assumption Sugud, hosted by the youth from three parishes – St Michael Penampang, Holy Trinity  Inobong and Holy Nativity Terawi. It was attended by over 300 youth from those parishes.

Fr Thomas Madanan, the Spiritual Adviser of SOCCOM, presided over the Mass in Bahasa Malaysia that focused on the “Family.”  He stressed that the family that prays together stays together, from cradle to grave, adding that the family is a resource and should not be viewed as burdensome.

Last year, the Catholic Sabah also observed its 3rd Catholic Sabah Day in conjunction with the 49th WCD on May 16, 2015. A forum was organised as a follow up to the Catholic Sabah Readership Survey two years ago.

At a thanksgiving dinner that day, Msgr Primus Jouil, the Editor of Catholic Sabah, highlighted the aims of World Communications Day, reminding Catholics of their responsibilities in communication and media consumption, their obligation to contribute funds, to pray and support those engaged in social communications of the church.

On that occasion, Archbishop John Wong spoke about the challenges faced by Catholic Sabah and the competitive nature of the media world.

“Everybody wants to be the first to tell a story. Everybody wants to share something new, something that’s the latest. This is the challenge people in the media world are facing. How then would Catholic Sabah face such challenges?” he asked.

Giving a clue to the direction the archdiocesan paper should take, the head of the archdiocese proposed that “as long as we aim to communicate truth, communicate love and communicate mercy and forgiveness to our readers, or in other words, communicate the Good News of Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, I believe our readers being distracted by so many things in life will find the contents of our paper appealing and relevant to their deeper yearnings.”

Each year on the Sunday that marks the WCD, parishes throughout the archdiocese would make a collection at the Masses as a means to contribute funds for social communications and the media apostolate.

The Catholic Sabah is a fortnightly publication that serves the Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu, the Diocese of Keningau and the Diocese of Sandakan, covering the entire state. – SOCCOM, Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu 

Charity dinner held to raise funds for Pilgrimage Centre Nulu Sosopon

charity dinnerKENINGAU –  Keningau Diocese’s 2016 charity dinner  was organized to raise funds for the development of Pilgrimage Centre Nulu Sosopon (PZKKNS). Over 1,000 people came to the dinner at Dataran Terbuka Keuskupan Keningau on 1 Apr 2016.

Organising chairperson, Maria Kuntou expressed her gratitude to all parishioners who were present that night. She commended their generosity and said that this has enabled the smooth progress of developing the pilgrimage centre. She also thanked Bishop Cornelius Piong for entrusting the organisation of this year’s dinner to her team. She hoped that all who gave generously have experienced the love of God.

In turn, Bishop Piong said the development of the centre has reached 95% in its construction. He also revealed at the same time, that an effort to build a cross-shaped tower of 70 feet height is in process. He hoped that this tower would become an attraction for Keningau Diocese as well as for the whole of Sabah.

He then enlightened the crowd on the spiritual meaning of ‘dinner (having a meal)’. He considered a charity dinner as an appropriate means to raise funds, because in the Catholic faith, ‘having a meal’ means fellowship and togetherness. Bishop Piong further explained that the purpose of attending the charity dinner was not solely to enjoy good food but to give thanks to God for His gifts and sustenance, and in their turn, the people would contribute to the charity purpose of the dinner.

Among the items for that night were lucky draws and singing performances by the diocesan priests, Seminarian David Gasikol and a few parishioners. Aldrin Benedict

Prelate blesses St Cecilia’s Shrine at SMK Konven St Cecilia

st cecilia shrineSANDAKAN – More than 100 people comprising members of the School Board of Governors, religious sisters, members of the Christian Students’ Movement (CSM) and teachers witnessed the blessing ceremony of St Cecilia’s Shrine officiated by Bishop Julius Gitom on 9 Apr 2016 at SMK Konven St Cecilia here.

The life-sized solid concrete statue of St Cecilia of about half a tonne was installed adjacent to the basketball court amidst a beautiful floral landscape of colourful flowers.

Construction of the shrine is intended to maintain the ethos, character as well as the identity of the school and to honour St Cecilia, the patron saint of the school. St Cecilia is the patroness of musicians. Construction work began in November 2015 and it took some five months to complete.

Cecilia D’Souza, chairperson of St Cecilia’s SBOG expressed her appreciation to Bishop Julius for the trust and confidence in the SBOG to construct and complete the shrine.

After the opening speech by the SBOG chairperson, all guests and attendees adjourned to the shrine to witness the blessing ceremony administered by the bishop, assisted by Fr Sunny Chung. – Rogena Sining

Catholic Women ‘s Apostolate celebrates IWD with Parish Women’s Day

cwa celebrationSANDAKAN – International Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time in St Mary’s Cathedral parish with the theme “Celebrating Women’s Call” on 12 Mar 2016 at the parish hall. One hundred and eighteen women participated in the one-day programme organised by the Catholic Women’s Apostolate of the Cathedral parish here. Here’s a testimony from Anathasia Thomas who speaks of being affected by such an initiative of the parish for women:

I am grateful to celebrate Women’s Day because there are many new things that I have learned. Through the activities and with Sr Appollonia fsic to guide us through the Scriptures, I was able to understand and learn more deeply about the uniqueness of woman and how special woman is.

“I was deeply touched by the sharing session and the activities conducted by Sr Maria rgs on “Why are you crying?”  As a woman, I have experienced many bitter experiences since my childhood. I realised that there are more women who are suffering because of violence and inhuman attitude of some parties.

Through the activity of ‘The Cup of Life,’  I learn about the goodness of sharing the Word of God with other women. To share and reflect on God’s Word together, we will be able to edify one another. We will also be blessed if we mutually help each other.  – Sr Appollonia

 

Some neophytes share their stories

This year over three thousand were baptised in the three dioceses of Sabah during the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday Masses. Here are some of the testimonials of the neophytes on why they have “decided to follow Jesus”, and declared a “no turning back” for them, after a Christian hymn entitled “I have decided to follow Jesus” by which they sang with conviction and much gusto after their baptism rites.

 There’s no reason for me to turn back

ely sipinElly Sipin of SHC realised that being born into a Christian family does not just guarantee anybody eternal salvation unless we truly understand the sacrifice that God has made in order to save us from the curse of sin and henceforth to dedicate our life solely to God.

She recalled: “Ever since I  attended the RCIA class, I have truly understood how to live my life as how God wants me to.” Elly insisted that making God as the centre of her life “has guided me in every decision making.”

She philosophised that life always would have its ups and downs but “I know that there’s no reason for me to turn back or resort to the worldly things as He has finished His work and I am saved!”

She marvelled how she now looks at the crucifix not in the same way as she used to look at it, “Nothing is greater than the price which He has paid for me on the cross.”

Professing her love for Jesus, she became open to being taught by His Words to deal with people regardless of their colour, character and status.   “I have been more loving, empathic and merciful and would want everyone to know the merciful God that I serve in my life, in my daily walk, in my career and when dealing with families and friends!” said Elly.

However, like Jesus, a price has to be paid. She experienced that “Along the way, people treat me differently because of my decision to follow Him. I cried at times questioning God why I had to face such people.” She believed that God is purifying and strengthening her so that she can be “a living testimony to others.” She said that she does not harbour hard feelings or hatred. Instead,  “I have a stronger desire to pray for them so that they may see how great my God is and one day that they will also truly understand the beauty of our Father’s work!”  She said that the journey in RCIA has “opened my eyes and my mind to His amazing grace. I want to trust in Him wholeheartedly as Mother Mary trusted Him.”

My heart is certain that this is where I belong”

paulinePaulina Irawan of SHC came from a Buddhist background but after going through the RCIA journey and being initiated into the Catholic Church during Easter Vigil was certain that this was where she belonged. She found herself having arrived ‘home.’

She recalled her childhood and growing up years were not a happy journey. “My mother died when I was 5 and my father sent me and my sister to a Catholic orphanage in Surabaya for three years. I know nothing about Catholicism, nor what religion is. The orphanage took good care of us, although everything goes by strict rules. Our daily routine started and ended with prayers, 5am Mass, and going to school.”

She also related that her favourite pastime was surprisingly reading the bible. “For me, it’s like never-ending stories to read. Watching the movie of the journey of Jesus Christ has also touched my heart deeply.”

When her father took her and her sister back to their hometown, he remarried a buddhist wife, who later taught them Buddhism. Since then she labeled herself a Buddhist.

Then she married a Catholic and her son was baptised when he was just a few months old. “We went to Sacred Heart Cathedral to have our marriage blessed before our son could be baptised” recalled Paulina.

However, when her son turned 8, she came face to face with questions like “Where do I actually belong? Where my son is going?  Where am I going?”

She recalled her journey: “One day I just woke up and decided to embrace Catholicism. I registered for RCIA at Sacred Heart Cathedral. Through the RCIA journey, I have come to know more about the church, the Sacraments and about Mass. I can now actually teach my son more about faith and to share it with my husband.”

“I feel like I’ve been Catholic all my life. But only now, I feel I am truly home. I am very excited and enthusiastic to share this journey with my family and with Jesus” said Paulina.

She ended: “On 26th of March, I was initiated into the Catholic Church. I thank God for this beautiful new life.”

“I am so glad that I have decided to follow Jesus”

jeffrey teohIn answer to the question “What made me want to be a Catholic?”  Dr Jeffery Teoh of SHC responded with clarity, “I want to know more about Christianity.”

He recalled “I survived a serious motor accident in 2008, which I actually felt God’s saving hand on me, and I knew that he has given me a second chance. But at that time, I hesitated to embrace Christianity, until I met my fiancée who is a catholic. Through her I became a more disciplined person. I began to go to church and to search for Jesus (the Truth). Thus began my journey by joining RCIA classes.”

That there were the noticeable changes in him since joining the RCIA classes, Teoh could not deny: “for example my bad attitude gave way to a better attitude, jealousy became a thing in the past, and I have learned to be a more generous person. I have also learned to pray daily more earnestly. Mass attendance with my fiancée has become a regular thing despite my hectic schedule as a medical doctor in the public hospital.”

The RCIA journey has enabled him to discover and understand more about the Catholic faith and its rich traditions. “I am learning to give my all to Him and to trust Him in whatever situation I face” said the re-born doctor. “I am so glad that I have decided to follow Jesus. There’s no turning back.” he acknowledged and was grateful to his fiancée for always being there for him.

Through the RCIA process, I discover my faith”

hermanHerman Khoo of St Mary’s Cathedral Sandakan made the decision to go for RCIA class because he wanted to know what the Catholic faith is all about. Though he is married to a Catholic, he is unaware of the faith that his family professes. “I am interested to learn from the church’s teaching and most importantly, what my children are learning about the faith” said Herman.

After journeying for nine months in RCIA he learnt and understood that basically RCIA is more about sharing the experience of God in our life, as well as learning the teaching, culture and the faith of Catholic Church.

Seeing light out of his situation of darkness, he said,  “Now I know and understand why there is Mass, why we need to attend Mass, why and how Jesus died for us, why we have sin, the Sacraments and more about Jesus Christ and the role of Mother Mary in the life of Church.”

The RCIA process has enabled him to discover his faith, which to his understanding, “has begun to take root and grow. I now believe in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. I believe this is the beginning of my faith” but he also acknowledged “I still need Jesus to guide me, and there is still much for me to learn and understand from the Bible.”

God has not abandoned her desire to be a child of God

estelleEstelle of St Mary’s Cathedral was born to a Catholic family and brought up in the Catholic environment, although she was not baptised and had no knowledge of the teaching of the Church.

As a child, Estelle recalled her constant desire to be a Catholic. For family reasons, her desire to be a member of the church did not materialise. But little did she know that God has a plan for her. God has not abandoned her or her desire to be a child of God.

Last year, she was shown the way to the RCIA process. Through the dedicated commitment of the facilitators and their willingness to share their own faith experiences, she began to understand the Catholic faith, what it means to be a Catholic and how to live life as a Catholic.

“I began to know about God and one way of staying close to God is to read the bible. I was excited to be baptised this Easter, thanks to the guidance of the facilitators” said Estelle.

God actually noticed me”

stephanieStephanie Tai of St Mary’s Cathedral sensed that something was missing in her life and tried to fill it with other things and entertainments, but the emptiness still persisted.

So she started going to church with her boyfriend and his family. Though she did not know God, she talked to God every day to guide and lead her to Him. She felt that God actually noticed her! “I felt that God knows the emptiness in me through my struggle to get close to him. He gave me a chance to know Him by leading me to the RCIA process.”

Stephanie noticed how she has changed along the journey.  “In the first few months after joining the RCIA, my life changed for the better, I am becoming a more forgiving person!” she said.  “I feel closer to the Lord as I learned from the teaching and guidance from the facilitators. I am thankful to the Lord for giving me this opportunity. I was filled with joy and peace as I prepared myself for baptism during Easter.”

New Mission Tadika opens at St Catherine

Mission Tadika Sinar Sukacita opened its doors to children on Jan 11, this year following approval by the Education Department of the application for registration of the kindergarten. Currently, Tadika Sinar Sukacita has 52 children between the ages of 4 to 6 enrolled in the kindergarten.

Tadika Sinar Sukacita St Catherine is one of thirteen new mission kindergartens that were established over the past year in the Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu. Five of these new mission kindergartens are in the Inanam Parish. This remarkable emergence of so many mission kindergartens in a short time is largely due the commitment and unstinting efforts from the members of the Archdiocese Early Childhood Committee in support of the Vision and Mission promulgated by Archbishop John Wong. The committee was entrusted with the objective to inculcate our Catholic faith to the young children of pre-school age and to build a strong foundation of love for Jesus and the Church. – AECEC, Ephraim Koujou

How one mom balances Faith, Family and Work

working momIs it possible in today’s world to be a faithful Catholic, loving wife, devoted mother and a successful businesswoman?

Paige Barry of Atlanta strives to do so each day. Barry is a 43-year-old working mother of two who has been married for 15 years. She is a senior vice president with a Fortune 500 global technology provider serving the financial services industry. In addition to her career and busy home life, she is actively involved in her parish and runs the successful career ministry at her church.

How has your Catholic faith affected the way you handle your career?

My Catholic faith is instrumental to every aspect of my career. I read my Magnificat to centre me for my day. I use prayer to prepare me for difficult conversations. I pray for the individuals who work for me who are struggling in their jobs; and I ask God for guidance in my big career decisions.

As a Catholic business leader, I feel I have a responsibility to see God in everyone I work with, especially the people I find most difficult. I enjoy sharing prayers with my staff who I know are open to a relationship with God; and I find myself in frequent conversations answering questions about our Catholic faith.

As a wife, mother and Catholic, how do you balance life’s demands?

I believe that God expands time to allow us to serve him, and I look for ways to integrate my family with my ministry work. I have invited job seekers to our home for one-on-one coaching, which allows me to be present to my children and show them one way we can love our neighbour. One of my favourite ministries is playing Bingo at a nursing home. The kids and I do that together. The balance comes by limiting my time away from home to no more than one night a week and preferably only one night every other week. When work requires my time and focus when I am scheduled to serve others, and it has this past year, I have leaned on volunteers and God to provide in my absence. He always does.

Does your team know you are Catholic? How does this affect their interactions with you?

I wear my Catholicism on my sleeve. I am immensely proud of our faith. I try not to be overbearing, and I am always looking for ways to preach the Gospel without words. I find that using well-known Scripture verses or saying something like, “God always provides” or showing gratitude by saying, “Praise God!” sometimes opens a door to discussing faith in the workplace. Sometimes people just hear it as mere words. I can’t think of a single time anyone has ever questioned or objected to the way I insert my faith into the way I approach work.

The key for me living my Catholic faith in the workplace is to maintain my humility at all times while being open to being God’s instrument. This is not easy for me, as I struggle with self-sufficiency and pride daily. There is a prayer to the Holy Spirit I use every day to help remind me of the need to be humble and to let God use me for his purposes. I keep that prayer posted in my office right behind my phone; and it is also saved to my cellphone if I need it while I am away from my desk.

I have had the occasion to share that prayer twice recently with two non-Catholic Christians. One works for me and is a woman of prayer who is all about love and giving. The other is a fellow job-search support volunteer who, like me, believes that a strong relationship with God is the best (and first) job-search tool anyone in transition needs. They love the prayer, use it and have shared it with others.

With a hectic job, enormous demands on your time and typical life stress, how do you find time for prayer?

Some days I am much better at it than others. I try to start every day with prayer and at least 10 minutes reading my Magnificat with my first cup of coffee. I am not a morning person, so this is a difficult discipline. If I am running late, I take my Magnificat to work and try reading it while my laptop is booting up or I’ll read it when a conference call ends early. My husband is a musician, and, for my birthday, he made me a CD of him praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet. I keep it in my car so I can pray it during my commute. In the past year, I have improved and increased my night prayer by praying intercessory novenas; I use the “Team Novena” app on my iPhone. And I try to pray at least four novenas concurrently. For me, night prayer has been an easier discipline than Morning Prayer. The first 20 minutes I am in bed at night I devote to prayer.

I absolutely love to read, and, as much as I can, I read everything on my Kindle, so I can take several books with me wherever I go. I am always reading more than one book at a time, and I don’t pressure myself to finish faith-formation reading in a specific period of time.

What legacy do you want to leave behind? How do you want to be remembered by family, friends and co-workers?

I hope people would describe me as generous, loyal and prayerful. I pray my family remembers me as a woman true to herself who loved well. I pray my friends remember me as someone who would offer prayers for them and actually prayed them. I pray my co-workers remember me as someone with exceptionally high standards who worked hard to encourage the growth of others.

What I want most of all is for God to be pleased with how I used the many, many gifts he has given me: my marriage, my children and all the blessings that have allowed me to enjoy such a terrific career. I am eager to hear him tell me some day I got things right and followed the path he chose for me. – Randy Hain @ www.ncregister.com

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