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Reflection for Fourth Sunday of Easter B

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First Reading
Acts of the Apostles 4:8-12
Peter announces an act of healing in the name of Jesus Christ.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 118:1,8-9,21-23,26,28,29
A prayer of thanksgiving to God for his kindness

Second Reading
1 John 3:1-2
God revealed his love for us by calling us children of God.

Gospel Reading
John 10:11-18
Jesus says that he is the good shepherd who knows his sheep.

Background on the Gospel Reading

The fourth Sunday of Easter is also called Good Shepherd Sunday. In each of the three lectionary cycles, our Gospel is taken from the 10th chapter of the Gospel of John. In Cycle B, we hear the middle verses of this chapter. Unless we consider this chapter in the greater context of John’s Gospel, we will miss the radical nature of the statement Jesus makes when he declares himself to be the Good Shepherd.

This chapter of John’s Gospel follows Jesus’ healing of the man born blind and the rejection of this miracle by the Jewish leaders who question Jesus’ authority to heal. Jesus responds to this challenge by calling himself the Good Shepherd. He is criticising the leadership of the Pharisees and the other Jewish leaders. The Pharisees and other Jewish leaders are so angry that they attempt to stone and arrest Jesus (see John 10:31,39). This controversy with the religious leaders continues until Jesus’ death.

In the portion of the chapter that we hear proclaimed today, Jesus describes his relationship with his followers as similar to the relationship between a good shepherd and his sheep. As a good shepherd will risk and lay down his life in order to protect his sheep, Jesus willingly sacrifices himself for the sake of his sheep. Jesus contrasts the actions of the good shepherd with the actions of the hired shepherd who abandons the sheep in the face of danger. In the verses following Jesus’ teaching, we learn that the Pharisees and the other religious leaders understand that Jesus is referring to them when he describes the hired shepherds.

The concern of a good shepherd for his sheep is part of the shepherd’s job. Jesus says, however, that the actions of the good shepherd are based upon the relationship that develops between the shepherd and the sheep. This is at the heart of the difference between the good shepherd and the hired shepherd. The good shepherd knows the sheep and therefore acts out of love. For the Good Shepherd, this is never simply part of a job; this love-in-action is integral to his identity.

As with so much of John’s Gospel, one hears in this passage John’s particular focus on Christology. As the sheep are known by the Good Shepherd, the Father knows Jesus and Jesus knows the Father. There is an essential unity between the Father and the Son. The freedom with which Jesus acts when he lays down his life is rooted in the unity that he shares with his Father.

In this context, Jesus also refers to others with whom he shares a relationship. By this reference, John probably understands the eventual inclusion of the Gentiles in the Christian community. Our modern ears hear this as a reference to Christian unity. The work of ecumenism is to restore unity among all Christians so that we form one flock under one shepherd, as God desires.- loyolapress.com

Seven spiritual mistakes of ‘good Catholic parents’

A few weeks ago I wrote that the greater part of what is wrong with young people today is parents(see A Church of kids: Will the Synod on Youth get it backwards?). I also touched briefly on some key elements of sound Catholic parenting, particularly in education. But it would be wrong to give the impression that I know how to raise your children.

Prayerful, engaged parents understand their children better than anybody else does, except God. Moreover, each child is different. With children, while parents must be fair, one size does not fit all, and it never will. Neither the State nor the day care system nor the schools (nor even yours truly) can raise your children nearly as well as you can—if only you will avoid the very first spiritual mistake listed below. But check yourself against the other six mistakes as well. My purpose here is to help you avoid what I see as the seven biggest spiritual pitfalls for those who try hard to be good Catholic parents.

1. Failure to pray: The very first principle of good parenting is that parents are flawed creatures who, even with the best of intentions, make significant and even serious mistakes. Yet you would be amazed at how many Catholics do not recognize the inescapable corollary: Parents must pray daily both for their children and for themselves: To understand their children rightly, to raise them well, and to secure Divine protection. You and your children have guardian angels, too, so call them to account! The point is that grace is available for parents as parents and for children as children. Fostering the reception of grace in your whole family must be even more constant than your natural human love.

2. Over-engagement: Call it an emphasis on doing over being, or a lopsided preference for the active over the contemplative life: We live in a hyperactive and hyper-distracted culture. One symptom of this is constant overwork in our paying jobs, but it can also manifest itself in chronic over-engagement. For “good Catholics”, this often includes justifying too much time taken from family life for apostolic work. But even apostolate does not trump vocation. Over-engagement communicates to children that the culture of the family must take second or third or fourth place. A lack of presence of parents to their children, when it is not absolutely demanded by the survival of the family itself, teaches that the loving formation of children is not the high priority parents claim it to be.

3. Transcendental restriction: Consider the three transcendentals—truth, goodness, and beauty. Interest in and attraction to these transcendentals mark three different paths to God, and each person is more attuned to one of these paths than the others. In many counter-cultural Catholic families today, parents find themselves in conflict with a world which rejects nearly every specific teaching of the Church. In consequence, it is not uncommon for them to emphasize doctrine, doctrine and more doctrine. But these same parents are likely to have children who (whether generally or at certain stages) are far more attracted to saints than to catechists, or far more attracted to the beauty of God as manifested in nature and art than in the mastery of moral principles. Parental attention and approval must recognize and encourage all of the transcendentals, that is, all of these ways to God.

4. Spiritual smothering: When I was growing up, I knew neighborhood kids with over-protective parents who would never permit anything that involved even the slightest risk. The same problem can occur spiritually, especially in the midst of a culture hostile to faith and morals. But children who are too isolated from the larger culture, with all its benefits and all its dangers, can be easily overwhelmed when finally released into the world. Kids are not best served by what we might call the formation of theoretical virtues in the complete absence of temptation. Just as children need physical exercise, they need moral exercise. This requires judicious exposure to the life they will one day be called to live as mature Christians in the world. The same applies to a form of spiritual smothering which prevents children from awakening to all the gifts of God which manifest themselves outside the realm of specifically “Catholic” and “spiritual” activities.

5. Hypercriticism: It is hard to remain upbeat when living in a culture hostile to nearly everything we believe, and in a Church which too closely mirrors that culture. The Devil launches a gigantic wave of temptations against serious Catholics to be annoyed by every failing and to comment instantly on what is wrong (including in our kids). One of my adult children mentioned that he was so used to hearing me criticize bishops that it took him a long time to enter into a proper relationship with the Catholic hierarchy. (Happily, I have another adult child who remembers that, after Mass one day, when the kids were commenting negatively on how the liturgy had been done, I pointed out that not one of us is worthy of even the most poorly said Mass.) Parents who constantly criticize everything, including their children and their children’s friends, cannot be surprised if their children run for cover as adults.

6. Confusion between tradition and Tradition: Readers of CatholicCulture.org tend to accept everything the Church teaches and try to live accordingly. While many of their neighbors confuse cultural platitudes with the Faith, our readers are more likely to confuse Catholic traditions with Catholic Tradition. For example, the Assumption of Mary into Heaven is part of Tradition (and therefore revealed), but the use of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite is not. The unique particulars of this rite and even the use of Latin itself are simply human Catholic traditions. This does not mean it is wrong to have a preference for them—only that they are preferences. Parents who treat any human traditions as if they are Tradition run the risk of alienating their children from the Church when they realize that something inculcated as a matter of Faith is not Divinely ordained.

7. Emotional piety: The cases encompassed by item 6 are often occasioned by unrecognized emotional attachments. Just as our approach to the Faith can be too narrowly focused on behaviors or doctrines as if they exhaust the Divine mystery (see item 3), so too can our piety be too rooted in human emotion. While this can affect us in all kinds of ways, a classic example is found in the charismatic experience, which tends to be emotionally stimulating, and can lead to a confusion between feelings and the action of the Holy Spirit. Parents run a risk when the experience of the Faith they offer their children is predominately emotional. Unlike reverence and the principles of faith and morals, emotions cannot be inculcated. No matter what the context, if emotions are at the core of religious commitment, children who do not experience these emotions will drift away as they mature.


This list will do little good for the majority of those who claim the Catholic name. Better indeed that they should fall into a few of these excesses than continue to be lukewarm, proud of being in step with the larger culture, refusing to make the sacrifices to give their children a truly Catholic education, and failing to recognize that Catholicism must effect that revolution in all their affections which we call conversion. Such parents may well see these pitfalls as warnings against the very effort to acquire what St. Francis de Sales would call true devotion.

No, this is for those who are self-consciously committed to raising children to be lifelong Catholics. I have tried to outline seven dangers frequently experienced by parents who take their Catholicism very seriously. For, serious as we may be, we are all still very much “on the way”. We may be committed souls and committed parents, but we are as weak and fallible and sinful as anyone else who has received the treasure of the Faith with far too little gratitude.

Still, much has been given to us in our children, and so much is expected of us. Therefore, we may not fully trust our fallen nature. As parents we must be trained and corrected through constant prayer, by the Church and by Christ Himself. And of course even after our children are grown—and even if they fall away—our prayers must never cease, nor our confidence that Christ and His Church will bring them safely home. – Jeff Mrius, Catholic Culture, 10 Apr 2018

Can you really vote your conscience?

Can you really vote your Conscience?

“VOTE your conscience” is not an unfamiliar phrase during election seasons. However, conscience is a biblical theme, and Christians should ask whether the common understanding of conscience in our society has become more in line with Disney’s Jiminy Cricket than with the word of God.

When we open the Bible and ask what God has to say about it, we’ll soon find that your conscience, in fact, does not have a vote in this election.

Hearing crickets?

The way many of us understand the conscience is actually very close to a tiny cricket living inside our heads. The conscience is like an inner, speaking guide leading us through the blinding haze when we lose our way.

Tapping into the wisdom of Seinfeld’s Kramer: “What does the little man inside you say? . . . The little man knows all.” In short, many people think of their conscience as the guiding voice inside them that speaks which direction to take at the fork in the road. When you don’t know what to do, let your conscience be your guide. So, when we hear, “Vote your conscience,” we think, “Listen to the guiding voice inside you.”

Can’t vote your conscience

This understanding of the conscience more closely resembles the Hindu idea of a guru counselor than the Bible’s explanation of the conscience.

Biblically speaking, the conscience is less like a guide and more like a reporter. Your conscience is not like a crystal ball that tells you what choice to make going forward (whether this candidate or that one). It’s not a proactive voice that provides you with new information you do not know. Rather, it is a reactive voice that tells you whether your actions, thoughts, and beliefs conform to the law of God.

Biblically, your conscience doesn’t have a vote. To be precise, you don’t “vote your conscience” – but your conscience does have something to say about your vote, once you begin to formulate it.

Your conscience is the inward testimony of God’s law written on your heart (Romans 2:15); it is like a microphone to God’s law, so that no one can ever say before God, “I didn’t know I was sinning” (Romans 2:16). The unbelieving suppress the truth of God within them (Romans 1:18), but this is no excuse for not knowing God, because the conscience regularly reports to them that they are sinning against God’s law.

If a Christian sins against God’s law, the conscience will flare up – in fact, the Christian conscience is presumably more sensitive because of the Spirit’s work in us. However, the Christian’s conscience is not testifying to the wrath of an angry God but the loving discipline of a heavenly Father (Hebrews 12:6–7).

No excuses for bad decisions

The distinction between conscience-as-guide and conscience-as-reporter becomes massively significant when we apply it to elections and other important decisions.

For one, understanding your conscience as a guide – as a kind of third-party counsel, other than your own heart and mind – can aid the effort to excuse oneself from moral accountability. It is an easy thing to play the conscience card: “I’m going to vote for Candidate X because my conscience told me to.” Well, who can argue with that? If your conscience told you so, no need for further thought or careful arguments.

In reality, what most people mean by “conscience” is “my gut feeling,” which is to say, the bottom level of a sometimes-sinful, sometimes-good, often-confused, sincere mess of emotions, opinions, and understandings of what’s right and wrong – not exactly a faithful guide. Thus, the conscience often becomes a moral scapegoat either for sinful choices, or for the sin of apathy, or for neglecting the hard work required to make tough decisions.

By pointing to the “conscience,” many expect to be let off the hook for their sinful or unexamined actions. But this is foolish, since what they really mean by conscience is not the unquestionable law of God, but the highly questionable human heart (Jeremiah 17:9). Essentially, this abused understanding of the conscience trades a deceptive excuse like “the devil made me do it” with “my conscience made me do it.”

For love of God and neighbour

A proper, biblical understanding of the conscience should lead Christians in the opposite direction. Instead of washing our hands of the hard work of making difficult decisions, we should be eager to give voting its due diligence and offer up our leanings against the law of God for evaluation.

The Christian’s conscience is tethered to God’s law. That means that the conscience always speaks to the summary of God’s law: love God and love your neighbour (Matthew 22:37–40), which is a helpful grid to consciously consider for any election: Which vote (or no vote) will be the truest expression of my love for God and desire for my neighbour’s good?

In any given situation, your conscience – properly speaking – will not lead you. It’s not your guide. But it will evaluate your thoughts or actions based on whether they conform or transgress God’s command to love him and love your neighbour with all you are – heart, mind, soul, and strength. Your own God-given wisdom – your “powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14) – will lead you to understand (and be accountable for) the best way to obey the obligations of love for God and neighbour by voting for this candidate or that (or whether to abstain, not from apathy, but from principle).

What your conscience will do is convict you if you are voting out of sinful comfort or greed or fear. Or it will minister God’s approval if you act, as well as you’re able, in an effort to obey the command to honour him and love your neighbour.

When this is done – when your vote is a positive expression of a heart that is earnestly “desiring to act honourably in all things” (Hebrews 13:18) – you will receive the testimony of a good conscience.

Make that your goal this election season: not to hear crickets, but to receive the peace that comes from “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).

So, don’t vote your conscience. Rather, in whatever electoral choice you make – hidden to the world, but in the full sight of God – seek to love him and love your neighbour with a good conscience. – www.desiringgod

In season of Lent, Church offers everyone to live a time of desert

LENT is the occasion that the church offers to everyone, indistinctly, to live a time of desert without thus having to abandon daily activities. St Augustine made this famous appeal:

Re-enter your heart! Where do you want to go far from yourself? Re-enter from your wandering which has led you outside the way; return to the Lord. He is quick. First re-enter into your heart, you who have become a stranger to yourself, because of your wandering outside; you do not know yourself, and seek Him who has created you! Return, return to your heart, detach yourself from your body…. Re-enter into your heart: there examine Him whom you perceived as God, because the image of God is there, Christ dwells in man’s interior.”

To re-enter into one’s heart! But, what is represented by the word heart, of which there is so often talk in the Bible and in human language? Outside the ambit of human physiology, where it is but a vital organ of the body, the heart is the most profound metaphysical place of a person, the innermost being of every man, where each one lives his being a person, namely his subsisting in himself, in relation to God, from whom he has his origin and in whom he finds his purpose, to other men and to the whole of creation. In ordinary language the heart also designates the essential part of reality. “To go to the heart of the problem” means to go to the essential part of it, on which all the other parts of the problem depend.

Thus, the heart indicates the spiritual place, where one can contemplate the person in his most profound and true reality, without veils and without pausing on externals. Every person is judged by their heart, by what he bears within himself, which is the source of his goodness and his wickedness. To know the heart of a person means to have penetrated the intimate sanctuary of his personality, by which that person is known for what he really is and is worth.

To return to the heart means therefore to return to what is most personal and interior to us. Unfortunately, interiority is a value in crisis. Some causes of this crisis are old and inherent to our nature itself. Our “composition,” that is, our being constituted of flesh and spirit, inclines us toward the external, the visible, the multiplicity. Like the universe, after the initial explosion (the famous Big Bang), we are also in a phase of expansion and of moving away from the centre. We are perennially “going out” through those five doors or windows which are our senses.

Saint Teresa of Avila wrote a work titled The Interior Castle, which is certainly one of the most mature fruits of the Christian doctrine of interiority. However, there is, alas, also an “exterior castle” and today we see that it is possible to be shut-in also in this castle. Shut outside of home, incapable of returning. Prisoners of externals!

What is done outside is exposed to the almost inevitable danger of hypocrisy. The look of other persons has the power to deflect our intention, like certain magnetic fields deflect the waves. Our action loses its authenticity and its recompense. Appearance prevails over being. Because of this, Jesus invites to fasting and almsgiving in a hidden way and to pray to the Father “in secret” (cf. Mt 6:1-4).

Inwardness is the way to an authentic life. There is so much talk today of authenticity and it is made the criterion of success or lack thereof in life. However, where is authenticity for a Christian? When is it that a person is truly himself? Only when he has God as his measure. “There is so much talk – writes the philosopher Kierkegaard – of wasted lives. However, wasted only is the life of a man who never realized that a God exists and that he, his very self, stands before this God.”

Persons consecrated to the service of God are the ones who above all are in need of a return to interiority. In an address given to Superiors of a contemplative religious Order, Paul VI said:

Today we are in a world which seems to be gripped by a fever that infiltrates itself even in the sanctuary and in solitude. Noise and din have invaded almost everything. Persons are no longer able to be recollected. They are prey of a thousand distractions, they habitually dissipate their energies behind the different forms of modern culture. Newspapers, magazines, books invade the intimacy of our homes and of our hearts. It is more difficult to find the opportunity for the recollection in which the soul is able to be fully occupied in God.”

However, let us try to see what we can do concretely, to rediscover and preserve the habit of inwardness. Moses was a very active man. But we read that he had a portable tent built and at every stage of the exodus, he fixed the tent outside the camp and regularly entered it to consult the Lord. There, the Lord spoke with Moses “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11).

However, we cannot always do this. We cannot always withdraw into a chapel or a solitary place to renew our contact with God. Therefore, Saint Francis of Assisi suggested another device closer at hand. Sending his friars on the roads of the world, he said: We always have a hermitage with us wherever we go and every time we so wish we can, as hermits, re-enter in this hermitage. “Brother body is the hermitage and the soul is the hermit that dwells within to pray to God and to meditate.” It is like having a desert “in the house,” in which one can withdraw in thought at every moment, even while walking on the street. Saint Anselm of Aosta in one of his famous works:

Come now, miserable mortal, flee for a brief time from your occupations, leave for a while your tumultuous thoughts. Move away at this moment from your grave anxieties and put aside your exhausting activities. Attend to God and repose in him. Enter into the depth of your soul, exclude everything, except God and what helps you seek him and, having closed the door, say to God: I seek your face. Your face I seek, Lord.” – Fr Raneiro Cantalamessa

Sandakan bishop gives his take on ad limina visit

The Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei made their ad limina visit to the Holy See on 4-9 Feb 2018. Below is the reflection of Bishop Julius Gitom of Sandakan on the visit.

I am very grateful to God for the Ad Limina visit by the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei recently. The Ad Limina visit is the opportunity for bishops to personally inform the Holy Father about the development of the local Church and vice versa, also the opportunity for the Holy Father to give encouragement and advice to the Bishops.

Ten years ago, in my first Ad Limina visit in 2008, I met the Holy Father Benedict XVI. That was more “formal” compared with the recent visit. At that time, we were given ten to fifteen minutes to meet the Holy Father personally. It is very good that the bishops can personally speak to the Holy Father but, at the same time, there is not much that can be said as the time given is limited.

This time it was quite different because it was not too ‘formal.’ We met the Holy Father as a group for an hour and a half. What touched me during the meeting was when he said, ‘You are all co-workers in God’s vineyard, so you can say anything; you can ask anything; you can criticise the Dicasteries you have visited and may make suggestions to improve them.’

The meeting with the Holy Father was open, friendly, calm, relaxed, not tense. Every bishop in the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei had the opportunity to say something calmly though there were issues that were rather sensitive. The issues raised not only concerned global issues but also those that have a negative impact on the Church in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.

“The Holy Father was very happy to know that every diocese in the Catholic Bishops Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei have their own migrant ministry. He said, ‘Migrants must be seen as human beings. Therefore, they must be accepted by any and all as persons.’

For me personally, the Holy Father is ‘the Shepherd by the example of Christ;’ he really loves and cares for the sheep he has been entrusted with. He is the true Church leader of Christ. When we were in front of him, we could feel him radiating Christ’s love without saying anything. He is the role model and inspiration in the Church of Christ.

I also had the privilege of presenting our Diocesan Vision and Mission Statement to the Holy Father.

Pope Francis was pleased to acknowledge the Statement and advised that the Statement has to be put into practice.

He also gave us, the prelates pastoral tips on prayer by saying, ‘when we pray and act upon it, we are actually revealing the face of Jesus. – Herald Malaysia, 1 Mar 2018

Benedict XVI is right to worry about the liturgy, says moral theologian

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates the Christmas Eve Mass in St Peter’s Basilica in 2012 (AP)

Alexander Lucie-Smith is a Catholic priest, doctor of moral theology and consulting editor of The Catholic Herald. Below is his reflection posted on The Catholic Herald, 5 Oct 2017.

Benedict XVI, the Pope Emeritus, has written a very short foreword for the Russian edition of his book The Spirit of the Liturgy. It is short but eloquent and full of meaning.

Is Benedict right? Of course he is. He is completely correct to point out that the purpose of the Church is the worship of God, and when the liturgy becomes secondary, then clearly the Church is not functioning as it is intended to, and neither are the people in it. This analysis is simple, but not simplistic. It is, rather, the simple truth.

Consider the life of a typical parish. How much time is spent on the Liturgy? How much effort goes into liturgical preparation? Are the social and educational activities of the parish all geared to the great end of enabling people to take part in the Liturgy? Or is the Liturgy something that feels “tacked on” or even worse, something that almost interferes with the other parish activities? Parish activities are a good thing, but they should only happen for one reason – to build up the Body of Christ, the Body which takes part in the Liturgy.

Again, consider the life of a typical priest. Is he in the sacristy ready for Mass in good time? Or does he rush in at a minute or two before Mass is due to begin, out of breath and distracted? Does he spend far too much of his time dealing with invoices about double glazing, and fielding phone calls from photocopying companies, rather than celebrating the Liturgy, planning the celebration, making sure everything is ready for the celebration, and talking to his parishioners about the importance of the celebration, as well as, of course, perhaps most importantly of all, preparing himself in prayer for the celebration?

Again, are the people of the parish, encouraged by the priest, aware that Liturgy is addressed to God and God alone, rather than to the congregation, and that Liturgy is a language, and that every language makes sense because it has its own grammar? Are priest and people aware that certain practices, rightly called abuses, destroy the meaning of the Liturgy from within? Have they imbibed the teaching of Redemptionis Sacramentum the 2004 instruction from the Congregation for Divine Worship, which lays out what is to be done and what is to be avoided, in order to protect the integrity of the liturgy? One hopes they are, though there is always work to be done in this field, as evidenced by some continuing practices in some parts of the world.

Benedict XVI has done us all a great service, reminding us that in the end, the Church’s chief function is the Liturgy. Get that right, and everything else follows. Get it wrong, and everything falls apart.

DOPP drafter gives his take on its impact on diocesan life

PENAMPANG – The Diocesan Organisational Pastoral Plan (DOPP) of Kota Kinabalu Diocese was drafted by a core team in 1996.  It was accepted and launched on 16 Sept 1997.  Twenty years later (14 Aug 2017), Dominic Lim, one of the drafters, was asked to give his views on how it has affected the life of the diocese since then.

Asked on its positive impact, Lim said the desired end of the DOPP is the attainment of the Diocesan Vision viz to be a communion of Christ-centred communities journeying together in the faith, hope and love of Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit to build up the Kingdom of God.

In this area, he continued, many of the faithful have been active in church groups such as parish committees, basic ecclesial communities, and quite a number have made long-term commitments in ecclesial movements.

Lim noted that there is a greater sense of belonging to the diocesan family through participation in diocesan programmes organised such as Jubilee Year 2000, Diocesan Silver Jubilee 2001-2002, Eucharistic Congress 2004, ordinations and anniversaries of clergy and religious, the Priestly Year, the Year for Consecrated Life, Jubilee Year of Mercy, and others.

“I see these as positive signs of moving towards a communion of Christ-centred communities, a greater effort to journey together. The journey towards the dream will take time. DOPP as a Pastoral Plan has only a 7-year timeframe and in fact it has expired. It is too short a time to achieve our Vision. But the signs are there. We just have to continue to remind each other of our Vision, move together towards  that common direction and continue to allow the Spirit to empower us,” he said.

As for striking changes, Lim said, “We have moved away from a centralised pastoral structure (PAX Board of Directors) that decided the direction we moved as a diocese to a more consultative and participative approach with the Vision as our common direction.”

While he admitted that there is still much room for improvement, the parish community is now able to plan and move from where they are towards the Vision though some [parishes] are still struggling to “grasp the elements of the Vision, others are already implementing the Objectives stated in the DOPP.”

He saw this as “something more realistic in being Church because the maturity level of our communities differs from place to place.”

Lim pointed out that the emphasis on ongoing personal and communal conversion is “the key” to a total and integral renewal.

This, he added, is enhanced by living out the commitments spelt out in the Mission Statement, that is, living out a life of prayer nourished by the sacraments and the Word, guided by church teachings, unity in communities, respecting values of other faiths, responsible stewardship of the environment, and promoting justice and peace in society.

Lim noted that since the DOPP, there are more people attending daily Mass and coming forward to help in RCIA, Alpha and other church activities.  Many seminars, recollections, retreats and other faith formation programmes have been conducted.  There are also more inter-church activities.

“And there has been a greater awareness of our faith response to societal issues. All these were not very visible 20 years ago,” he said.

Lim, who works in the archdiocesan secretariat, pointed out that the mission ad gentes of the archdiocese was enhanced through the setting up of new pastoral structures such as the Social Communications Commission and Human Development Commission, the Montfort Youth Training Centre, the Sacred Heart Charity, Pusat Kebajikan Good Shepherd and other welfare programmes of the lay movements, and the strengthening of the church’s role in mission schools.

As for ways and means to maintain the DOPP spirit, Lim recalled the speech of Bishop John Lee during the launching of DOPP on 16 Sept 1997 at the Sacred Heart Cathedral.  The bishop admitted that the DOPP was quite technical but as long as “we adopted and lived the spirit behind the whole planning exercise, we would have achieved something – our new way of being Church begins not in what we do but how we live with each other in the Church and with the world around us.”

He said that to maintain the spirit, streamers on the Diocesan Vision and Mission were printed and hung on the walls of many chapels and halls to remind the people of their common direction in pastoral life.

In addition, Lim continued, the Diocesan Prayer was recited and continues to be recited on Sundays and feast days.

“The seminar on pastoring together in 1998 had laid the foundation for a better understanding of collaborative ministry while the bishop’s keynote addresses at subsequent PAX Assemblies after 1997 touched on elements of the Diocesan Vision to promote and maintain the DOPP spirit,” he added.

Lim noted that the changes from PAX Board of Directors to Diocesan Pastoral Council in 1998, from Parish Council to Parish Pastoral Council in 1999 had concretised collaboration among the clergy, religious and laity in pastoral leadership and mission of the Church in line with the Diocesan Vision.

The DOPP drafter pointed out: “DOPP as a Pastoral Plan was overtaken by events since its launching.  The two big events – Great Jubilee Year 2000 and the Silver Jubilee of the Diocese in 2002 were not anticipated during the formulation of the Plan but somehow the diocese was able to blend them into the spirit of the DOPP.”

Lim noted that though the DOPP implementation might not have been strictly according to the Timelines stated in the document, many of its Enabling Objectives have been carried out in various forms over the past 20 years.

In conclusion, he suggested that the term DOPP be dropped since the Plan has already expired.  Instead, the archdiocese should just focus on the Vision and Mission.

Another member of the DOPP Core Team, Magdalene Chu, described the process of coming together and thinking through the vision and mission of the local diocese was good.  She said it made concrete the universal mission of the church in the local church context.

The Archdiocesan Prayer still being said, she added, is good as it helps to remind everyone of the mission and needs of the archdiocese. (KK became an archdiocese in 2008).

Pastoral use of the Bible

Below is a reflection on the pastoral use of the Bible in conjunction with Bible Sunday, 9 July 2017:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

Divine Revelation as God’s self-revelation

Our Catholic faith is based on divine revelation. Before Vatican II, the concept of “revelation” was referred to as a list of truths which disclosed information about God. In Vatican II, however, our understanding of revelation evolved into God’s self-revelation in the person of Christ, who is the Word made flesh. Christ, the Eternal Word, comes to reveal the face of God to humanity as well as to invite each man and woman to enter into an intimate communion in the life of the Holy Trinity1 (Dei Verbum 2).

In fact, Christian faith springs from an encounter with Christ. When Jesus who is the Word of God speaks, He calls for openness on the part of the listener to respond to Him in faith by allowing Him to transform and orientate his/her life. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in Deus Caritas Est, Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon, and a decisive direction” (#2).

The Bible and the Catholics of today

Nowadays, people tend to have little or no time and space to be quiet as they rush to meet deadlines and aim to be productive. As Catholics, we too can be stuck in the busyness of getting things done, even in the church arena, that we forget what is most essential, that is,  to encounter Christ. It is easy to busy ourselves by undertaking charitable activities and organisational duties in parishes and neglect cultivating an inner life of prayer with the Word of God. The more we grow deaf to His Word, the greater the risk that our faith becomes rancid and dry. As Fr James Meehan once said, “Don’t work so hard for God that you forget the God for whom you work.”

Prayerful reading of the Word of God is not a common habit among Catholics. In fact, numerous families possess Bibles but many keep them as part of religious items on display. They are not used to reading the Bible. Some even mistakenly think that the Bible has no place in the Catholic tradition.

The Word of God, for some Catholics, does not make sense to their life circumstances as they search for life’s direction, grapple with sickness and old age, deal with pain and loss, labour to make ends meet, etc. However, they have yet to discover that the pages of the Scriptures do in fact contain answers to their problems and questions. God speaks to them through His Word and leads them to find the quiet joy of His presence amid the peaks and valleys of daily life. Through this, they would then be able to give an account for their hope to those who ask for it (1 Pet 3:15).

It is also a common view among young people that the Bible is simply a book with lots of verses that instruct them as to what God expects of them. Many find that the Bible does not provide adequate explanation to the complex world around them.Therefore, most young adults today find the Bible to be uninteresting and irrelevant to their lives and do not see the need to read it. What can the Church do for the faithful in order that they may come to a closer contact with God’s Word?

Letting the Bible inspire all pastoral work

The role of the Church is to facilitate and promote such intimate grace-filled encounters between Christ and His people through His Word. Thus, it is of great importance for all Christian faithful to be encouraged to attentively listen to God’s word and have a prayerful reading of the Bible, in order to live their faith passionately.

“Along these lines the Synod called for a particular pastoral commitment to emphasise the centrality of the Word of God in the Church’s life, and recommended a greater “biblical apostolate,” not alongside other forms of pastoral work, but as a means of letting the Bible inspire all pastoral work.”  This does not mean adding a meeting here or there in parishes or dioceses, but rather of examining the ordinary activities of Christian communities, in parishes, associations and movements, to see if they are truly concerned with fostering a personal encounter with Christ, who gives himself to us in his word. 5(Verbum Domini)

As People of God, there are many areas in which we, as lay catechists, religious, priests, parents, grandparents, teachers, etc. can commit to make the Word of God more central in our own lives as well as in the Church’s life, and foster a life-transforming personal encounter with Christ.

To initiate and sustain this personal relationship, we must recognise the essential role of those entrusted with the proclamation of the Word of the God daily. For the Word of God to be the foundation of the Church’s life, the faithful need to hear it proclaimed authentically by preachers who themselves are people who pray and live the Word out in their daily lives. The Homiletic Directory published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments states: “The homily will be delivered in a context of prayer and it should be composed in a context of prayer.”  Therefore, preaching is a sacred duty whereby preachers speak from the heart to the listeners and place them with Christ, only Christ. Preachers must be people of prayer so that none of them will become an “empty preacher of the Word of God outwardly, who is not a listener to it inwardly.” (St Augustine, Sermons)

The Word of God touching the realities of life

The parish must be the hub where the faithful, as diverse people, can gather as one community of faith to listen to and apply God’s Word to their lives so as to journey toward a greater authenticity as Christians. Priests and the faithful of each parish must be creative in offering opportunities for the Bible to be heard, prayed and shared. Too often, biblical texts are used as aids to draw lessons in morality or simply as a tool to indicate a time for discussion. Lay catechists, youth leaders, faith formators, etc have the responsibility to create conditions in which Catholics, young and old, may develop their inner ability to listen to Jesus and personally experience the transforming power of His Word.

In order to make the Bible more relevant to the lives of the people, parishes can consider having a pastoral-biblical care ministry that provides responses from the Bible to human problems such as sickness, racial divisions, injustice, death, etc, in order for people to bring their life circumstances into the light of the Word of God. This was the experience of St Augustine whose life was transformed when he allowed the Word to resonate with his personal struggle of living a chaste life. While praying in the garden, he heard a child’s voice saying, “Tolle, lege!” (“Take and read!”) St Augustine took his Bible and read the first passage his gaze fell on. It happened to be Romans 13:13. The biblical text made sense to St Augustine whose life changed after that personal experience with the Word of God.

Bible and the young people

Our Catholic community can help to promote the Bible through resources like Bible-based music or comics or artwork that draw young people to appreciate more the Word of God. There can be more youth ministries that are primarily centred on the Bible where young people can encounter the living Christ through praying and sharing the Word. Parents and godparents play an essential role in forming the faith of children and youth by setting examples and being people whose foundations are rooted in God’s Word. Pope Francis, addressing parents and godparents in a homily, said: “Every day, make it a habit to read a passage of the Gospel, a small one, and always carry a little Gospel with you in your pocket, in your purse, so you can read it. And this will set the example for your children, seeing dad, mom, their godparents, grandpa, grandma, aunts and uncles, reading the Word of God.”

Lectio Divina

Vatican II states that “the treasures of the Bible are to be opened up more lavishly so that a richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s Word” (Sacrosanctum Concilium)

Average Catholics hear the Word of God when they attend Mass. Their interaction with the Word of God ends when they leave the church and head back to their daily routines. Thus, there is a greater need today for “pulling the Christian scriptures from the margins back to the centre as the text for living the Christian life deeply.” (Eat this book)

An effective way of putting the Bible at the centre of Christian living is by using the method called Lectio Divina, which is a traditional monastic practice since the 6th Century. It comprises 4 steps: Read, Meditate, Contemplate and Live. Lectio Divina can be used by any group in the parish. In fact, its straightforward method can be adapted to cater to children and youth groups in the parishes.

The first step of Lectio Divina is a prayerful and personal reading of a passage of the Bible. It is taking in a biblical text until it sinks into the heart of the person and opens him/her to dialogue with Jesus. The second step of Lectio Divina is meditating on the Word of God by placing the person’s gaze firmly on a word or a phrase of the passage. As the person starts to ruminate on the Word, he/she is slowly drawn from the matters of the mind to the matters of the heart. From the heart, the person starts to contemplate and enjoy the presence of God in the wordless silence. From prayerful reading, meditation and contemplation of the Word, the person is led to become a “doer of the Word.”   The Word of God becomes fruitful when the person starts to live it out and makes his/her life as a gift for others. As Pope Francis said, “The Christian life is this: listen to the word of God and practice it.”

Conclusion

On this Bible Sunday, let us, with humble hearts, give thanks to God for the invaluable gift of His Word. Christ never gets tired of speaking to each of us and inflaming our hearts with the fire of His love. May we always be eager to nourish ourselves with the Word so that we can be disciples of the Word made flesh, our Lord and God.

 

Questions for reflection

  1. As Catholics, do we take delight in the Bible as our spiritual treasure?
  2. Does God’s Word provide the daily nourishment for our faith?

Christ Our Joy (John 15:11)

Starting in 2017, the Malaysian Church celebrates Catechetical Sunday on January 22 (or date nearest to it).  Below is a reflection by Fr Mark Michael of the Malaysian Commission for Catechetics.

CHRIST came to bring joy to all humanity and this is one of the keynote messages of Christianity and the recurring motif of the Gospels. Joy, like love, is at the heart of what it means to be Christian, and it testifies to the conviction that human life has an ultimate meaning revealed to us by God and guaranteed by His unfailing love. Jesus wants us to experience His joy and He reveals the path to the lasting joy that satisfies the deepest needs of the human heart. He instituted the Church to bring us to this plateau of delight. We need to take Him at His word when Jesus told His disciples, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (Jn 15:11). The greatest honour we can give God is to be joyful because of the knowledge of His love.

Pope Paul VI wrote, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”  Catechesis is no longer perceived as the simple teaching of faith formulae, but is focused at the maturing of faith as a support to witnessing to it in the world. My primary concern about catechesis today is that we need to emphasise the joy, enthusiasm and hopefulness that our faith produces, by witnessing and living this truth in our words, our actions, our decision, our relationship and our entire being.

GK Chesterton, who states that joy, which was a small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian and that Christianity satisfies human’s ancestral instinct for being the right way up. GK Chesterton’s understanding would be seen as controversial and not all would agree with this claim of Christianity that affirms that joy is one of the “dominant thesis” of Christian faith.

A joy-filled Christian is one who, rather than endure life, has learned through faith, to treasure life and witnesses the kingdom of God. The Word of Jesus has produced its fruit. Those who believe in Him have the fullness of His joy (Jn 17:13). Joy is indeed a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22) and a characteristic mark of the Kingdom of God (Rom 14:17). The sacrament of Baptism fills the faithful with the joy of the Spirit (Acts 13:52), which makes the apostles sing praises even in their worst moments of persecution. Our joy depends more on the Spirit’s Presence in us. Joy is simply the Presence of the Holy Spirit. When the spirit of gladness permeates a person’s entire being, they are said to be joyful.

How do we catechise in a way that fosters learning of the heart? We are catechists in a community of various backgrounds, traditions and histories where there are expectations and pressures. We cannot be independent and cannot avoid the social structures beyond our Catholic religious structures. We will be constantly negotiating between those structures and our communities. The pastoral approach does not mean accommodation to current ways of thinking and behaving, but entails bringing the joy and the light of the truth to bear on contemporary situations in a manner that is convincing and sensitive to the questions of post-modern people. As the ministry of the Word, catechesis refers to a constellation of activities that promote, enhance and challenge believers toward more mature faith. “Christ our joy” could take many forms like:-

  1. The good example of living a gospel-inspired life
  2. Works of charity and mercy
  3. Morally appropriate language, action and attitudes.
  4. Genuine Christian faith, hope and charity
  5. A lifestyle characterised by prayers
  6. Celebration of the Sacraments and other acts of worship
  7. Genuine Christian humility
  8. Participation in the Christian community’s ministry
  9. Active participation in social justice events and causes.

Church leader reflects on Fatherhood and Mercy

fatherhoodMsgr Charles Pope reflects on fatherhood and mercy.  He writes in his blog:

Consider these seven observations:

I. The merciful father loves the mother of his children.

One of the most merciful things a father can do for his children is to love their mother with tender affection and gentle, protective support.  Children bond with their mother very closely, especially in their early years. They are reassured by seeing love, tenderness, and support shown to their mother.

In contrast, when children see their mother dishonoured or, even worse, abused by their father, they are easily struck with fear and a sense of dread.

How beautiful is this mercy of a father! It also helps his sons understand how to treat women, and helps his daughters understand how men should treat them.

 II. The merciful father attends to his own healing and maturity.

All of us have character defects and “issues” that affect others around us.  Some have anger issues; others are too fearful and non-assertive.  Some have problems with drinking; some with pornography.  Still others can be lazy or impatient.

A father can show mercy to his children by working on whatever ails him and thereby avoid inflicting frustration and pain on his children.  Scripture says, They made me keeper of vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept (Song 1:6).

It is a work of mercy for a father (and a mother, too) to work through his own issues and thereby spare his children pain.  There is an old saying, “If I get better, others get better too.” In doing this, not only are children spared pain, but they are better able to grow in virtue.

 III. The merciful father does not allow his career to eclipse his vocation.

Whatever career a man has, his vocation as husband and father is more important.  And while the two are not wholly separate (since a father provides for his family), there is far more to being a father than being a breadwinner.

Children need their father in their lives, not merely off in the distance sending money.  It is a great work of mercy for a father to cherish his children and to share in their lives.  It is a necessary component of their maturity for him to manifest the masculine genius of being human even as their mother manifests the feminine genius.

Children want their father’s support, encouragement, and approval.  A young man deeply needs his father’s model. He also needs his father’s affirmation as he grows into manhood.  There is perhaps no greater mercy than for a son to hear his father say, “I’m proud of you;  you’ve done well.”

A daughter delights in twirling her skirts and in being the apple of her father’s eye.  He models for her the love of a man who loves her for her own sake, without lust.  This can help her learn to distinguish love from lust and to develop the self-esteem that will help her to navigate the complex years of courtship and to discern a good husband.

A man who is more wedded to his career than to his family is too seldom around to have these crucial effects, which are far more precious than the extra money or additional possessions earned by long hours at the office.

Be careful, fathers.  Career can be big on the ego and it can easily ensnare you.  Home life may be less glamorous and less immediately rewarding in terms of money, but there is no greater satisfaction than to have raised your children well. The rewards will be enormous for both them and you.  And this is a very great mercy.

 IV. The merciful father is the spiritual leader of his home.

He establishes the structures of grace.  In our culture, too many men leave the spiritual and religious lives of their children to their mother.  But Scripture says, Fathers … bring up your children in the training and discipline of the Lord (Eph 6:4). This does not mean that the wife has no role, clearly she does.

A father is to be the spiritual leader in his home, sanctifying his family (see Eph 5:25-27).  He should be the first one up on Sunday morning, summoning his children to prepare for Holy Mass.  His wife should not have to drag him along to Mass.  He should read Bible stories to his children and explain their meaning.  He should teach them God’s law.  While his wife should share in this, the father ought to lead.

Surveys show that the highest predictor (by far) of children going on to practise the faith in adulthood is whether their father practises the faith.

A father should also seek to establish his household with the structures of grace.  He should live under obedience to God and insist that his children do likewise.  This makes for a home that, while not free of sin, makes it easier to live the Christian faith rather than more difficult.

All of this is a great mercy that a father extends to his children. Through his leadership, a father moulds his family into the beloved community where God’s justice and mercy are esteemed and exemplified.  By God’s grace this mercy reaches his children.

 V. The merciful father listens and teaches.

It is a beautiful work of mercy for a father to actively listen to his children and to give them his undivided attention whenever possible. It bestows on them a sense of dignity, because they see that what they say and think matters to their father.  And it reassures them that he cares for their welfare and what is happening in their lives.

After listening, a father should also respond and teach, giving his children guidance.  Too many children today are not being taught by their parents, especially regarding the critical moral issues of our day.  If parents do not teach their children, someone else will!  And that “someone” is not likely to be an individual with godly views.  More often it will be some pop-star, musician, or teen idol.  Perhaps it will be a gang leader or a rogue school buddy.  Maybe it will be the police officer or a judge in a legal proceeding.

Fathers, it is a great mercy to teach your children.  You have their best interests at heart.  You want what is truly good (not merely apparently good) for them.  Their lives will be much simpler and more productive if you insist that they do what is right from an early age.  Otherwise, hardships and painful lessons await them.  Show them mercy. Instruct them in the ways of the Lord.

Scripture says, Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6).  He who raises a fool does so to his sorrow, And the father of a fool has no joy (Prov 17:21).  A foolish son brings grief to his father and bitterness to the mother who bore him (Prov 17:25).

When a father brings up his children in the discipline of the Lord, it is mercy not only to them, but to others as well!

 VI. The merciful father praises and punishes.

Children are delighted to get their father’s esteem and approval.  They love to be praised, especially when they believe they have done well.

A paradoxical form of mercy is for a father to punish his children.  The purpose of punishment is to allow the child to experience in a small way the consequences of his transgression so that he does not experience the full and more painful consequences later.  Scripture says,

My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son … For what children are not disciplined by their father? We have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it.  How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!  They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.  No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it (Heb 12:5-11).

And thus punishment, properly understood, is a great mercy, because it saves children from great woes later on.  Clearly, punishment cannot simply be a father venting his anger or exacting revenge.  Punishment is not for the benefit of the father; it is for his children’s sake.

 VII. The merciful father uses his authority and has his children’s long term interests in mind.

The cultural revolution of the late 1960s was not just about sexuality, drugs, and feminism; it also ushered in a wide-scale rejection of authority from which we are still reeling.  And it is not just that those under authority reject it, but that those who have authority have become reluctant to use it.  Too many clergy and too many parents do not make necessary decisions, enforce important policies, or punish when appropriate.  Too many who have lawful authority are more concerned with being popular; they do not want to risk being questioned or resisted.

Authority involves a lot of effort and brings with it a great deal of stress.  Many seek to avoid all this and thus those who need leadership and guidance often do not get it. Scripture says, And indeed if the trumpet gives an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle? (1 Cor 4:18)

Whether they like to admit it or not, children need their father to be strong and to lead. And when he does this it is a great mercy.  It may not always be appreciated in the moment, but most children eventually recognise with gratitude the leadership of their parents, of their father.

Every leader needs to know that he will sometimes take some heat for his decisions, and he must be willing and courageous enough to make those decisions anyway.  A father must remember that he has to be more concerned with his children’s long-term interests than with their current, short-term happiness.  Their anger or discontent in the present moment will usually be replaced by gratitude and relief in the future.

A good father will mercifully hold the tension of the moment and keep his children’s best interests at heart.  He will serve their true good (not merely their apparent good) through the use of his authority and through his decisions on their behalf.  And this is a very great mercy! – blog.adw.org

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