Thought for Ash Wednesday

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Ash-WednesdayToday is Ash Wednesday. Most observant Catholics know that today is a day of fast and abstinence in the Universal Church, that means that we are to abstain from flesh meat today, and according to the present norms of the Church, our fast is to mean that we are allowed up to three small meals today, with two of them being supplemental (in other words, one larger “major” meal). However, many of us take the fast more purposefully and will only take one meal at all today, and that one very light. I’m not sure how things work in your parish today, but I know that at my own, the Mass today is one of the most well-attended of the year. I have never seen a crowd like the one that comes for the evening Mass on Ash Wednesday. It is wonderful to see so many come to Mass (and therefore I really hate pointing this out), but what makes that reality of the near-overflow crowd on Ash Wednesday so interesting is that as important as today is, attendance at Mass today is not obligatory. Today is not a Holy Day of Obligation, though there are those of us who personally believe that it should be and we treat it as though it is.

A big part of the reason for the overflow crowd in some parishes today is the imposition of ashes. Many other ecclesial communities distribute ashes today, Catholics aren’t the only ones who do, but it seems that we are the most well-known for doing so. You don’t have to be a Catholic to receive ashes on your forehead in a Catholic parish, just be a sinner. Since we are all sinners, today is a day when we are called to turn back with all of our hearts to God and to the work of his Kingdom. We are called back to God on a daily basis, but today the Church gives us a very public reminder. As sinners in the Scriptures were sometimes called to repentance “in sackcloth and ashes,” so we also recognise that call to conversion in a public way when we step forward and receive the ashes.

The other perhaps more important reality which the ashes remind us of is our own mortality. Some people today will hear the words “turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel when they receive the ashes. This is a fine reminder to us to return to the promises of our own baptism. However, I personally prefer the other formulary sometimes used when distributing ashes on Ash Wednesday, the more traditional “remember you are dust, and to the dust you shall return.”  It is a quote from Genesis 3:19, which recounts the story of the fall when God threw Adam and Eve out of Eden for their disobedience:

“In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

It is a reminder that we will see death as our first parents did. As St. Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22:

“For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”

Hence, the ashes are a powerful symbol of the death that comes due to sin, as well as dying to sin and repenting of it, as well as our receiving new life in Jesus Christ. They are a powerful symbol of faith.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. Many Catholics know that Lent is a season especially set aside for prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and that it culminates in the Paschal Triduum (the commemoration of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Our Lord) and the Easter Season. In that spirit, many people “give up something for Lent.” It isn’t a bad idea, really, but it should be remembered that Lent is less about giving up things for the sake of giving them up and more about using this time to draw closer to God. If things are “given up,” they should be things that are keeping us from a deeper relationship with Christ and the Church. Lent is a time to ask ourselves what we can do to deepen our prayer life, our relationship with others, and what we do for the poor and the helpless in our midst. More than that, we are called to penance and conversion of life, and to use the 40 days of Lent  to deepen that conversion, and to redouble our efforts to grow in our own faith in such a way that our Lenten observances will take root outside of Lent and become norms for a deeper spiritual life for us.

As we remember our own sinfulness and need for redemption today, let all of us pledge anew to remember the meaning, on multiple levels, of the ashes we receive today. In doing so, we can all remember that Lent isn’t just about giving things up, but about that continuing conversion to draw us ever closer to the Cross of Christ. – diocese of knox

 

 

Feb 09

SHC celebrates Lunar New Year with something more

tambourine dancers 2016

KOTA KINABALU – Sacred Heart Cathedral here celebrated the Lunar New Year with “something more” on 8 Feb 2016.  The “something more” was the tambourine dance added to the usual drummers during the 15-minute display before Mass.  The participants – five drummers and five dancers – were children ranging from kindergarten to Form One.  The drummers were led by 10-year-old Jessica Liew.  According to its coordinator, the tambourine dance is based on the story of Joshua and the capture of Jericho (Jos 6:1-20), the tambourine substituting the ram’s horn trumpet.

The tradition of having a Chinese drum beaten during the Lunar New Year Mass started in 1989, beginning with one drum under Patrick Lee.  Later it evolved and became what it is today – a separate presentation showcasing the skills of the young drummers who practise under Lee.

Archbishop John Wong presided over the concelebrated Mass with an overflowing congregation, many of whom were attired in red.  The concelebrants were Abp Emeritus John Lee, Fathers Cosmas Lee, Joseph Fung sj, Wilfred Atin, Jeffri Gumu, Rhobby Mojolou and Abel Madisang.

In his homily, the presider touched on the importance of the family meal seen in the reunion dinner on the eve of the new year.  However, he pointed out the sad reality that nowadays family members spend too much time on their electronic gadgets rather than spending time talking and sharing with each other.  He also called on the parishioners to heed Pope Francis’ message in saving the environment as well as to be “merciful just like the Father.”

Symbolic gifts of lighted candles, flowers, vegetables, fruits, kuazi were brought to the sanctuary along with the bread and wine during the Presentation of Gifts.  The rite of three bows to the altar (representing God), to the clergy by the people, and to each other took place before the blessing and distribution of mandarin oranges by the clergy to the people.

It is customary for the organisers to invite a lion dance troupe to perform in front of the parish centre after Mass.  But this year there was something more: not just the lions came but also a dragon and a unicorn came from the same troupe – the You Yi Troupe.  Among the several lions that came, there was one blue-and-silver lion with two long feathers on its head, representating Sun Wukong or Monkey King of the “Xi You Ji” (Journey to the West) saga, being Year of the Monkey.  It was this blue-and-silver lion that performed on the poles.

In Chinese Culture, the lion symbolises strength, stability and superiority, while the dragon represents power, boldness and excellence.  The dance performances are meant to chase away evil spirits and welcome prosperity.  Both traditions date back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC –220 AD) in China.  Dancers feed the lion used in the dance with lettuce, because the Chinese word for “lettuce” sounds similar to the word for “wealth.”

The Qilin or Chinese unicorn is the most important of the four sacred animals (Qilin, Dragon, Phoenix, turtle) in Chinese mythology. Like the dragon and phoenix, the Qilin has features of various animals and as it resembles the Western Unicorn, it is also known as the Chinese Unicorn.The Qilin is said to appear only during auspicious times or during periods of great peace and harmony. Since these are ideal social conditions that people aspired to, the Qilin is often shown in various art forms and used as a decorative symbol. Qilin dance is especially prevalent among the Cantonese and Hakkas dialect groups and is performed during festive and religious events.

Performing a dragon dance can require up to 100 people, while a lion dance is usually performed by two people. The unicorn dance is different from the lion dance; when performing the unicorn dance, the dancers use very low and high stances. The head of the unicorn moves in a circular motion from left to right and looking backwards, and also moves in little shaking movements. But for the lion dance, the lion’s head shakes mostly up and down, and the dancers are high on their legs.  All the dancers move to the sounds of the cymbals, gong and drum.

The unicorn dance is nothing new to older parishioners of Sacred Heart Cathedral who are predominantly Hakkas.  Some can recall that under the late Thomas Lee (father of Abp Emeritus John Lee), students from Kung Ming Primary School (now Shan Tao Primary School) performed unicorn dances which were displayed unfailingly each Lunar New Year since the school was founded in 1938.  The Lee Family was involved in the troupe until the early 1980s.  After that it was the family of James Lee (the father of Patrick Lee, no relation to Thomas Lee) who formed a new troupe.  At present there is no active church-related troupe.

lion 2016

Feb 07

Reflection on the Year of the Monkey

The first day of the Lunar New Year 2016 falls on February 8.  Below is a reflection on the Year of the 1-10-Unze-Gold-Lunar-II-Affe-2016-Australien-Proof-Perth-Mint_1Monkey by Fr Stephen Chin, Sacred Heart Church Kuching.

The Monkey as a Symbol
The monkey is one of the symbolical animals corresponding to the ninth of the twelve terrestrial branches.  It is a symbol of ugliness and trickery.

Worshipping the Monkey
The monkey is worshipped to some extent by the Buddhists and Taoists of Folk Religions.  According to some opinions, in return for some supposed services rendered to the monk who went to India to obtain the Buddhist scriptures by the command of the Tang Emperor, the monkey was deified or was conferred the title of “The Great Sage equal to Heaven.”

The Power of the Monkey
1. The monkey is believed to have the general control over hobgoblins (mischievous spirits), witches and elves.
2. It is also believed that the monkey is able to bestow health, protection and success on humankind in one way or another by keeping away malicious evil spirits or goblins. Since some people often imagine that sickness or lack of success in study and trade is caused by witches and hobgoblins, the worship of the monkey is necessary in order to drive away or prevent the evil influence of the various evil spirits or powers.

Christian Reflection on the Monkey
The dark side of the monkey: Ugliness and trickery are not for us to emulate.  What is ugly?  Trickery is ugly.  Sin is ugly.  Evil is ugly.  The works of the devil and evil spirits are ugly.  Physical ugliness is not a problem nor a moral evil.  It is the spiritual ugliness embodied in sin that is terribly ugly and to be shunned by people of all faiths.

The bright side of the monkey: The sacred books or Buddhist Sacred Scriptures.  The monkey is associated with helping the one ordered by the emperor to get the sacred scriptures from Indian to China and is thereby honoured or deified by the emperor.

For us Christians, this reminds us of the messengers sent by God to give us the light of revelation, the word of God, written by people inspired by God, to be handed down for posterity to know and follow – the Sacred Scriptures contained in our Holy Bible.  We remember those in the past who helped in spreading the Word of God to others, to sanctify the hearts of people.  We also remember those who are now and will be spreading the Holy Word of God that can save us from our sins and give us eternal life.

The Holy Word of God can protect us from all evil influences, all superstitions, all evil spirits and devils.  the Holy Word of God bestows health to our souls, brings success to our undertakings or studies and every work be it trade or other works we are engaged in for the Holy Word of God enlightens our minds and hearts, gives peace to our hearts so that we remain holy and healthy in the Lord God, our heavenly King of the universe, for God is our Protector and His Word is infinitely powerful, active, dynamic and effective in sanctifying the hearts of all.

Conclusion: New Year Resolutions
In our new year resolutions:
1. Let us have no dealings with the evil one, the devil, portrayed by the dark side of the monkey before its ‘sanctification.’ Let us never turn to sin for happiness for it is ugly and harmful to us. Let us not turn to trickery to obtain what we want, that is, let us not do “any monkey business.”
2. Let us have recourse to God for protection, good health and success in our new year undertakings.
3. Let us have recourse to Holy Scriptures, the Holy Word of God. For the Holy Word of God is our guide, our light, our strength and our salvation.

May we turn to the Holy Word of God in season and out of season for our spiritual nourishment, at all times, for all the years of our life.

May the good Lord Jesus who came to reveal to us the Word of God and who came to save, protect, forgive, sanctify and serve us even unto death on the cross, bless everyone in the world, and all of us during the Lunar New Year of the Monkey and all the years to come.

Wishing you all a very happy and blessed New Year!

Feb 06

FSIC accepts new member

sic first profession 2016

PURAK, Papar – The Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception (FSIC) accepted a new member into their order when Novice Edna Sylvester Yukun made her first profession on 6 Feb 2016 at their novitiate chapel at the Convent of St Mary of the Angels here.

Archbishop John Wong presided at his first Eucharistic Celebration with the Rite of First Profession, concelebrated with Fr Aloysius Fidelis, chaplain of the novitiate house as well as of the nearby Holy Family Residence for Senior Citizens run by the order.

In his homily the presider said that based on the readings of the day (Sat of 4th Week in Ordinary Time), one must prioritise one’s relationship with the Lord who calls one to be with him first before being sent out on mission.  He likened the stages of formation to this call of the Lord: from being a novice (being with the Lord) to a young professed (being sent on mission).  One must emulate Solomon’s prayer in the first reading – to ask for wisdom, for a discerning heart, to have right judgment.

Novice Edna then professed the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience for a year before Superior General Sr Grace Deosing, who accepted the vows, which was witnessed by Sr Lilian Unsoh and Sr Frances Mani.  After doing so, the neo-professed changed into the habit of the congregation, signifying a new status, that of a temporary professed member of the institute.  She is now Sr Edna.  After the change of attire, the presider presented her with the Rule and Life of the Order Regular of St Francis.  The rite ended with a sign of peace and welcome from the Superior General and her council, the Directress of Novices and the presider.

Born on 1 Apr 1983, Edna is the third child in a brood of seven girls and three boys born to Sylvester Yukun and Sylvia Koriki of Ranau.  They were all present to witness her first profession.  She was born in Ranau but grew up in Sandakan.  After her father retired from the forestry department, the family moved back to Ranau.  Edna, according to a spokesperson, had always the desire to become a religious, even when she was in kindergarten.  She was actively involved in church activities.  She was also a member of the Star of Yahweh Covenant Community in Sandakan. She entered the local institute in 2012.

After the Mass, Sr Grace announced that Edna would be sent to the new community of Our Lady of Consolation Nabawan together with Sr Sandra Yapp.  It was noted by Abp Wong that her profession was the first profession after the Year of Consecrated Life and he encouraged her to join her fellow religious to “wake up the world” (theme of the Consecrated Life Year) through the witness of their lives.

Those who attended the event – around 90 – mostly fellow religious, family members and relatives, Secular Franciscans and friends – adjourned to the dining hall for a fellowship lunch.

 

Feb 05

Archdiocesan formands begin academic year with opening Mass

iy opening 2016

KOTA KINABALU – Eighteen formands – two in Initiation Year (IY), six in second year aspirancy, and ten in first year aspirancy – began their formative journey towards the diocesan priesthood with an opening Mass on 4 Feb 2016 at the St Peter’s College Initiation Year Formation House here.

Archbishop John Wong presided at the Mass concelebrated with IY Director Fr Rayner Bisius, Aspirants Director Fr Wilfred Atin, and Fr Thomas Madanan, one of the IY lecturers.

In his homily, the presider exhorted the formands to be open to the working of the Spirit and to invite Jesus to be the centre of their lives as they go through the formative journey.

Among those present at the event were the teaching staff of the different years, benefactors, religious, members of the Women’s League, and friends.

After the Mass, all adjourned to the dining hall for a fellowship meal where after some speeches, there was a cake-cutting ceremony by the clergy and teaching staff.  Two additional staff were recruited to help the second year aspirants prepare for the Malaysian University English Test (MUET) in November. While eating, the guests were entertained by the formands with karaoke singing.

The first year aspirants are: Jeremia Duminggu (KK), 22; Joseph Jup Matias (Manggatal), 20; Paddelyne Francis Pius (Keningau), 21; Freddy Nicholas (Papar), 32; Ricki Boy Hasim (Telupid), 23; Jasryide Gadius (Keningau), 24; Charileo Chari Chali (Membakut), 20; Airon Japilih (Keningau), 32; Switchely Michael (Ranau), 27; and Jescie Petrus Petu (Sandakan), 21.

The second year aspirants are: Nelbart Peter (Sook), 21; Andrewsius Jumil (Bundu Tuhan), 23; Bonnyface Stephen Matthew (Bundu Tuhan), 24; Baxcter Christianus (Telupid), 21; Wendell Wong (Tenom), 21; and Scany Polycarp (Kota Marudu), 23. Three other formands – Maxwell Verus (Inanam), 24; Jerry Joseph (Manggatal), 37, and Ziffyon Minsun (Telipok), 23 – will leave for Penang College General on Feb 15 for a year of intensive English course together with Andreas Jipis (Manggatal), 22 and Aubrey Bidi (KK), 23, who will be going there for their philosophical studies.

The two IY seminarians are Canisius Benjamin (Inanam), 22; and Jesselton James (Labuan), 24.

Feb 04

MCC holds meeting in Keningau

mcc 2016

KENINGAU:  The Malaysian Catechetical Commission (MCC), with Bishop Cornelius Piong as Episcopal President, met in the Keningau Diocesan Retreat Centre in Tatal on 25-28 Jan 2016.

Discussion focused on the ongoing formation of catechists, integrating aspects of personality development, spirituality, knowledge and skills.  Every arch/diocese will prepare a complete module of catechist formation to be presented and discussed at the next meeting scheduled in October this year.

The Malaysian Catechetical Series, published by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia and used in stages since 2005 was discussed.  Looking at the changes in the world today brought about by modernisation, catechists encounter much difficulty with the present Series and face a challenging task to make their weekly catechesis more attractive and effective.  The MCC will conduct a research study on the current situation concerning the young generation of today to find a better way of catechising that is relevant and according to the needs of this generation.  Fr Alvin Ho SJ from the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur will prepare the material to facilitate this research to be carried out by the Diocesan Catechetical Commission.

Topics deemed relevant for young people but not covered in the MCS may be delivered during camps, recollections or faith formation sessions outside the Sunday School hours. Sr Maria Chan FMM shared about Good Shepherd Catechesis for pre-schoolers.

Materials used for RCIA in both BM and English were also discussed at some length. The materials in BM that were prepared by the Sabah Catechetical Commission Team of the arch/dioceses in Sabah under the guidance of Bishop Cornelius Piong, are ready to be put on a trial run this year before publication. Those interested may contact Sr Dariah FSIC, Catechetical Commission of Kota Kinabalu.

Catechetical week will be celebrated on 18 September 2016 with the theme ‘Merciful as the Father is Merciful’ (Lk 6:36), chosen in line with the Year of Mercy.  Fr Simon Yong SJ from the diocese of Melaka-Johor will prepare the reflection on the theme.

Election of office bearers of the MCC followed, and before dispersing, members of the MCC visited Sosopon Hill, a place of pilgrimage where there is a Holy Door of Mercy in the new Church. Members also visited the Catholic community at St Blasius Church, Magatang, Keningau,

The next MCC meeting will be hosted by the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur on 10-13 Oct 2016.

Feb 04

PEKA has first-ever meeting with Archdiocesan Head

peka 2016

PENAMPANG – For the first time in its history, the Association of Catechists or Persatuan Katekist (PEKA) had a meeting with an archdiocesan head recently.  Thirty-eight catechists from the 13 parishes with a majority of Malay-Kadazan-Dusun-speaking parishioners attended this historic meeting with Archbishop John Wong on 3 Feb 2016 at the Archdiocesan Centre here.  Spiritual Adviser Fr Alex Sipanu was also present.

According to its chairman, John Ansim, the meeting discussed a range of topics. Among the topics discussed were the catechist’s attire during Sunday service, a need for a leaders formation centre, a common reference term for the catechist who is leading the Sunday service, and a need to come up with an organisational chart.  At present it is under the Catechetical Commission.

The association was formed in 1973 to look after the welfare of the catechists and their families.  Many of the catechists had been trained in the former PUSKAT in Keningau which was started by Fr George Bauer in 1966.  The catechist has long been part of the local Church especially in the rural parishes where there are numerous outstation chapels, few priests, and where majority of the faithful are Malay, Kadazan and Dusun speaking.  In the absence of the priest, the catechist (man or woman)  conducts the Liturgy of the Word with Communion Service on Sundays and feast days.  He or she also presides at funeral services.

The members meet once in two months.  Their next meeting will be held in Kudat.

Feb 03

Lunar New Year Message: Mercy builds a family of faith and happiness

happy-new-year-2016-a

Spring brings joy and fills the earth with hope!

At this turn of the season, people are generally preoccupied with planning. What is your plan? I hope that your plan will include building a family of faith and happiness.

It has been an important and a long-practiced tradition for generations of Chinese to have their families gather around the dinner table on the eve of Chinese New Year. Despite the long distance and minimal availability of transportation system during the agricultural era, reunion dinner was a day not to be missed but to be greatly treasured.

However, with modernisation and advancement in technology, our values, especially in terms of the significance of family and its values, have changed. There is a growing phenomenon where people do not know how to treasure the gift of their families as they ought. With secularisation, material wealth becomes top priority, and more time is expended at work to build a career and accumulate wealth. This has come at the expense of time spent in nourishing their marriages and nurturing their children.

Family is the basic foundation of society. When family units are broken, the order of society and the world will be in chaos. We read in Genesis that God created man and woman and hence, instituted marriage. This was the first family He has created. Married couples are called to continue God’s work through procreation. With children as the fruits of love between husband and wife, it is the primary mission of parents to share and help children experience the love of God.

Parents are the first two individuals children encounter and they play the most influential role in the lives of their children. Parents are also the children’s first teachers, where their words, thoughts and deeds have great influence in the character formation of their children. They are the pillars of each family unit and they are the messengers of love. The love between husband and wife serves as the foundation in building a happy family. Children learn about love and how to love from the love their parents share as husband and wife.

Love is the key to create a warm and intimate family. When love, care and conversation are absent, children and parents alike will feel distant from each other. The house will turn ‘cold’ and will remain a building instead of a home and a place children would want to avoid, while at the same time deep within their hearts, they desire and search for a place to belong to. We know that the deepest desires of children are love, forgiveness, accompaniment, justice and sincere care. It is not the latest video games or i-Pad that they want. These are the fundamental values in building a happy family. These values are in the core of our being and will never change.

As Catholics, are our homes filled with the Presence of God? Do we have a place at home for the Sacred Scripture, the Crucifix and holy items? Do we pray and read the Bible together? If not, let us make this New Year a new beginning to grow together in Christ as a family.

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is the model family for us all. Pope Paul VI in one of his addresses said that Nazareth is a kind of school. It is here that we can learn who Christ really is, and take account of the conditions and circumstances that surrounded and affected his life on earth.

Indeed, when we know the life of the Holy Family, our values towards family will change accordingly. No longer will we build our families on material wealth, but on our faith and the teachings of Christ.

In celebrating this Lunar New Year, there are two important reasons in my emphasis on the importance of ‘Family’: first, according to the tradition and customs of the Chinese, the emphasis of the Lunar New Year revolves around family reunion and its unity; and second, last October in Rome, Pope Francis in calling forth the Synod of Bishops has set its theme on the Family “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World”, in which I was present. In the Synod, as in our present time, we could easily identify the risks families are exposed to. People do not give priority to their families. The divorce rate is on the rise. The vow of everlasting love that was taken on their wedding day fades away all too soon. They emphasise the fulfillment of their personal happiness instead of those of their spouses. They become selfish and are reluctant to forgive and accept each other as they are.

Pope Francis has also announced the Year of Mercy, which has commenced on 8 Dec 2015 and will end on 20 Nov 2016. I urge that we are to first bring the mercy of the Father into our homes to allow our family members the experience of God’s Mercy, in being merciful to and in acceptance of each other. Let us treat our family members with such mercy in order to build an intimate family.

Finally, love is the key to build a family. In this Lunar New Year, I would like to encourage us with this Scripture from 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7 “Love is always patient and kind; love is never jealous; love is not boastful or conceited, it is never rude and never seeks its own advantage, it does not take offence or store up grievances. Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but finds its joy in the truth. It is always ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes.” These are the essential elements in the relationship between husband and wife and those among family members. How much have you lived them out?

I pray that every family will grow in love and passion for prayer, the Word of God and the Eucharist, as the way to grow more intimate with the Merciful Father.

Wishing you all peace in this New Year and may your days be filled with God’s Mercy.

+ Archbishop John Wong

 

Feb 03

Dialogue and encounter with the peoples of Asia

representation-of-asia

On this vast continent which is home to a great variety of cultures, the Church is called to be versatile and creative in her witness to the Gospel through dialogue and openness to all. Dialogue, in fact, is an essential part of the mission of the Church in Asia (cf. Ecclesia in Asia, 29). But in undertaking the path of dialogue with individuals and cultures, what should be our point of departure and our fundamental point of reference, which guides us to our destination? Surely it is our own identity, our identity as Christians. We cannot engage in real dialogue unless we are conscious of our own identity. Nor can there be authentic dialogue unless we are capable of opening our minds and hearts, in empathy and sincere receptivity, to those with whom we speak. In other words, an attentiveness in which the Holy Spirit is our guide. If we are to speak freely, openly and fruitfully with others, we must be clear about who we are, what God has done for us, and what it is that he asks of us. Fearlessly, for fear is the enemy of this kind of openness.

The task of appropriating and expressing our identity does not always prove easy, however, since – being sinners – we will always be tempted by the spirit of the world, which shows itself in a variety of ways. I would like to point to three of these. One is the deceptive light of relativism, which obscures the splendor of truth. Here I am not speaking about relativism merely as a system of thought, but about that everyday practical relativism which almost imperceptibly saps our sense of identity.

A second way in which the world threatens the solidity of our Christian identity is superficiality, a tendency to toy with the latest fads, gadgets and distractions, rather than attending to the things that really matter (cf. Phil 1:10). In a culture which glorifies the ephemeral, and offers so many avenues of avoidance and escape, this can present a serious pastoral problem. Without a grounding in Christ, the truths by which we live our lives can gradually recede, the practice of the virtues can become formalistic, and dialogue can be reduced to a form of negotiation or an agreement to disagree. An agreement to disagree… so as not to make waves… This sort of superficiality does us great harm.

Then too, there is a third temptation: that of the apparent security to be found in hiding behind easy answers, ready formulas, rules and regulations.

Finally, together with a clear sense of our own Christian identity, authentic dialogue also demands a capacity for empathy. We are challenged to listen not only to the words which others speak, but to the unspoken communication of their experiences, their hopes and aspirations, their struggles and their deepest concerns. This capacity for empathy leads to a genuine encounter – we have to progress toward this culture of encounter – in which heart speaks to heart. […] – For full text on Pope Francis’ Evangelistic Intention for Feb 2016 @ www.apmej.net

Feb 03

What we should know about the Spiritual Works of Mercy II

spiritual works of mercy

Third and Fourth: Counsel the Doubtful and Comfort the Sorrowful

What a tremendous gift it is from The Divine Mercy when you find someone who really listens to you, who really lets you pour out your heart and share your troubles and miseries, and who then really takes your whole situation in prayer to the Lord before presuming to dole out advice to you. Plenty of people are quick to give out half-baked, ill-considered advice! But how many people do you know who really listen to you and to the Holy Spirit before they speak?

You can become that person for others if you learn to really listen to the Holy Spirit in your own life first with the help of a spiritual director. Read the New Testament every day and listen to the Lord speaking to you there. Find a good spiritual director and listen to the Lord speaking to you through his or her wise counsel. Then, having learned to listen, you will be ready and able to listen deeply to others.

We can find a good example of this in the life of St Faustina. In her religious community, she was apparently such a good listener she earned the nickname “the dump” from her fellow sisters because they were always dumping their problems on her (see her Diary, 871). It’s not hard to discover from her Diary where she learned this art of listening. She learned it from listening to the Holy Spirit in prayer and from the same Spirit speaking to her through the guidance of her spiritual directors.

Fifth: Be Patient With Those in Error

It is an act of merciful love to share the faith with those who need it and to pray for them. On the other hand, we must be patient with God’s work in other people’s lives. We must never harass, pressure, or manipulate anyone. Our job is but to sow the seeds of faith in the hearts and minds of those who are in grievous error. But change has to come in God’s own time. Even if we never see for ourselves the fruit of our efforts, God will surely do His part to water with the grace of conversion the seeds we have planted, when and if people are ready to receive that gift. Until then, we are just to be patient with those in error, to share the truth with them as best we can (acknowledging all the while our own limited grasp of God’s revealed truth and limited capacity to adequately express that truth to others), and to pray for them, trusting in God’s mercy and patience with us all.

Sixth: Forgive Offenses

”’Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom 12:19). If there is any vengeance that needs to be “dished out,” in this life or the next, the only One qualified to do it is the Lord, for He alone knows the secrets of all hearts. Thus, we must always let go of any desire in our hearts for vengeance, and in that sense at least, to forgive our enemies. That means stopping ourselves from exacting “petty vengeance” as well, which includes the use of detraction or slander or gossip to get back at people for the evil they may have done to us.

In short, we are not to curse the darkness, but to pray for those in darkness. (See Mt 5:44.) Whatever temporal harm they may have done to us, those who are evil are in danger of the greatest harm of all: everlasting loss and condemnation. What they have caused us to suffer pales in comparison to what they will suffer eternally if they do not repent.

However, forgiveness is probably the most misunderstood of all the works of mercy. It does NOT mean blindly letting oneself be victimized. You have a duty to protect yourself and your loved ones from harm, for you are all children of God whom He made in His own image and for whom He gave His life on the Cross. That’s how valuable and precious you are in the eyes of our merciful Savior!

Forgiving our enemies, therefore, is entirely compatible with reasonable acts of self-protection. For example, forgiveness is entirely compatible with having criminals arrested and placed behind bars where they cannot do further harm to the innocent. (See Catechism, 2263-2267.)

Clearly, the duty to forgive your enemies is compatible with protecting yourself and your loved ones from harm and demanding high standards of conduct from those close to you, including your own close family members. To prevent and block the spread of evil in these ways is actually a work of mercy, not only toward yourself and your loved ones, but even toward the perpetrators of evil. The perpetrators, after all, often have little chance of ever coming to repentance without the help of the “reality therapy” meted out by those charged with the social responsibility of defending the innocent. In other words, to love and forgive your enemies is not necessarily to let them trample all over you. When there is no effective way to defend oneself or others from harm, then that may be the time and the place meekly to carry the cross of persecution. But that time and place is certainly not every time and every place!

Seventh: Pray for the Living and the Dead

Every day we are to bring our needs, the needs of our loved ones, and the needs of the whole world into the merciful Heart of Jesus. Saint Faustina herself often did this, bringing them into Christ’s “most compassionate Heart” (see Diary, 1209-1229).

Our works of mercy, both corporal and spiritual, will always appear inadequate compared to the needs of the world around us. But our Lord does not ask us to meet every need. We are only asked to do what we can and leave the rest to Him as He works out His loving plan for each human soul. Remember the “five loaves and two fish principle.” St Andrew said to Jesus, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?” (Jn 6:9). That meager supply, when offered in faith to Jesus, was found to be enough to feed multitudes. So will our seemingly meager efforts to practise the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, guided by His Spirit and offered up to Jesus. He can work miracles with such little offerings. Some of those miracles we will never even see with our own eyes until we meet Him face-to-face in heaven. It is then when He will give us the grace to see what He sees; it is then when He will turn His loving gaze upon us and we will hear those blessed words from His own lips: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Mt 25:23)

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is “admonishing sinners” so difficult today? Have you ever been effectively “admonished” by someone else?
  2. What new way could you find to “instruct the uninformed” in the truth of the Catholic faith?
  3. What new way could you find to “forgive offenses,” praying for those who mistreat you rather than “cursing the darkness?” – thedivinemercy.org