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Blood is the Seed of Life

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Blood is the Seed of Life

Blood is a vital ingredient and the seed of life. Without blood there is no life, and without the Blood of Jesus there is no spiritual life. More than just washing our sins away, the Blood of Jesus continues the flow of divine life within us. On this feast day of the Body and Blood of Christ, the Church draws our attention to the essence of what we receive at Holy Communion. The Feast of Corpus Christi is a celebration of our belief in the Real Presence of the Body and Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. The feast was inspired by St Juliana of Liege, who at an early age cultivated a great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. She once had a vision of the Church in the form of a full moon with a black spot in it, which she interpreted as the absence of a major feast for the Blessed Sacrament. Her prayers were granted on August 11, 1262, when Pope Urban IV instituted the Feast of Corpus Christi.

The value of blood is based on the belief that life is contained within it. This is the reason the consumption of blood was forbidden in the Old Testament (Lev. 7:26-27). Blood is the sign of a covenant as we saw in the First Reading where Moses used the blood of sacrificed animals to ratify the people’s solemn agreement with God. In the Gospels, Jesus tells us that His Blood is the sign of the new and everlasting covenant. Furthermore, blood is an instrument of atonement that spares the life of the sinner. As Scripture says, in Jesus Christ ‘we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins’ (Col.1: 14). Blood is a symbol of purity as was the case in the Exodus drama when the people of Israel were commanded to mark their doorposts with the blood of the Passover lamb as a sign for the Angel of death to pass over them. Therefore, in Holy Communion, we receive the Blood of Christ which sealed the perfect sacrifice on the Cross. In drinking from the Chalice, we celebrate the Precious Blood that washes away our sinfulness and protects us from evil attacks and influences. The first shedding of blood to make up for sin was in the Garden of Eden when God used animal skins to cover the nakedness and shame of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3: 21). This primitive act of atonement pointed the way to the Calvary sacrifice. Blood is an instrument of peace (Col. 1:20), and sanctification (Heb. 13:12). Blood is also a sign of sanctity as manifested in the holy martyrs whose blood is regarded as the seed of Christianity.

On this feast day, therefore, we are invited to reflect on the abiding presence of Jesus with us, under the appearances of bread and wine. There are two miracles involved in the Eucharistic sacrament. The first is that at the consecration, the substances of bread and wine are changed into Christ’s living body and blood. and this process is called “Transubstantiation.” The second miracle is that although the substances are changed, the appearances remain the same even though Jesus is truly present in them. That is why we treat the Eucharist with so much reverence. It is not just a symbol; it is a sacrament and a mystery of Christ’s Real Presence, body and blood, soul, and divinity.

Dear friends, Christ abides with us not only in the Scripture, not only in the living Church, not only in the examples of the saints but even under the simple and silent appearances of bread and wine. In the Eucharist, he is as close to us as he was to those who walked with him on earth. He is even closer to us because whereas those people received bread at his hands, we receive the Lord himself in Holy Communion. The Holy Eucharist is the ongoing redemption of the world through Christ’s Real Presenceamong and within us, and that is why we worship the Blessed Sacrament.

Consequently, we should never come to receive Holy Communion if we are in mortal sin and have not been to confession. A mortal sin is a conscious, major rebellion against God. Three conditions are necessary for a mortal sin to occur: a) it must be a grave (serious) matter, b) there must be full knowledge, and c) there must be full, deliberate consent on the part of the acting person. Grave matter (mortal sin) is when we break any of the Ten Commandments. Receiving Holy Communion without having obtained sacramental absolution is an offence to God who is pure goodness and justice. Holy Communion in mortal sin is a sacrilege. God gave us the Sacrament of Reconciliation because he understands our need for it – for our spiritual cleansing and renewal.

Venial sins are different. This is when all the three conditions for a mortal sin are not present, like when we impulsively lose our temper, or when we fail to pray daily, or when we get angry with God. A venial sin is still wrong but not a major rebellion against God, and it should not keep us from receiving Communion. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1863): ‘Venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity, and consequently eternal happiness.’ On the contrary, Holy Communion cleanses us from venial sins.

Accordingly, brothers and sisters, let us fill up our hearts with gratitude and awe at the truly amazing gift of Christ’s own body and blood given to us as spiritual nourishment in the Holy Eucharist. And let us resolve to ensure that we always receive this gift worthily, starting today, with humility, reverence, and joy. Afterall, it is the Body and Blood of Christ!

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PASTOR’S CORNER

The Church and the Kingdom of God

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The Church and the Kingdom of God

At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom of God. This kingdom was his ultimate mission and his ministry revolved around it. The existence of a kingdom presupposes the existence of a king and his subjects. The Church is Christ’s kingdom on earth, and we are the subjects. That is how the Lord sees it. But how do we see it ourselves? In his book, “Models of the Church”, Cardinal Avery Dulles outlines six ways of understanding the Church:

1.         The Church as an Institution (including a hierarchy of ministries, to continue Christ’s mission, and reflecting a need for order, unity, and consistency of teaching).

2.         The Church as a Mystical Communion (including our mysterious and intimate spiritual union with God and each other through the Body of Christ).

3. The Church as a Sacrament (including the responsibility to be, as the Sacraments are, the visible presence of God on earth).

4.         The Church as a Proclamation (Kerygmatic) Agent (including the mission of the People of God, the baptised, to proclaim God’s Word).

5.The Church as a Servant (including dialogue with society and assisting people in a variety of needs through social advocacy and charitable works).

6.         The Church as a Community of Disciples (including Catholic sense of always being learners, formed by the scriptures, acting lovingly, sharing in Jesus’ mission and service, and being co-responsible for the Church’s mission and identity).

Each of these models is an aspect of the Church but none captures its entirety. The Church is the Kingdom of God on earth and our means to the heavenly Kingdom. Thus, when we say, “Thy Kingdom come,” do we mean the same thing as Jesus when he taught us that prayer? Do we pray for God’s kingdom where hearts obey him out of faith and love, or the kingdom of this world where hearts obey themselves out of selfishness and fear? True Christian citizenship demands that we always obey our King and carry out his commands. Obedience is always a challenge for us. Jesus knows this, and he does not demand blind, mindless obedience. Rather, he uses parables to explain the secrets of his kingdom with a promise that by following and obeying him, our lives will be fruitful. The virtues that bring us true, lasting beauty and fulfilment in life – wisdom, courage, self-control, and Christ-like love, etc., are like the seeds in today’s parables. They are planted in our hearts at baptism and, as we walk with Christ every day, they grow and blossom. Good discipleship is the surest path to an abundant spiritual harvest here on earth and forever in heaven. By making us citizens of his Kingdom and his messengers on earth, God gives each one of us the opportunity to put our own creativity at the service of that Kingdom.

Both our Gospel parables today teach a similar lesson, but it may help us to apply the first one (on the seed growing secretly) to how the kingdom of God grows in us; and the second one (on the mustard seed) to how the kingdom of God grows through us. Thus, the parable of the seed growing secretly challenges us to be patient with our seeming lack of progress in the spiritual life. Often, we wonder why we still succumb to temptations, why we are not yet as holy as we should be.

However, even though our spiritual growth may not be visible, the Gospel assures us that so long as we abide in Christ, the seed of faith sown in us will continue to grow and come to fruition in the beatific vision. Likewise, the parable of the mustard seed is call for us not to discount the seemingly insignificant things we do for God, thinking that our little efforts are of no effect. A mustard seed is a very tiny one to sow but with time it becomes a great shrub providing shelter to the birds. The parable challenges us to be more diligent in the little, everyday things we do for the kingdom of God. At the right time, those apparently unimportant things will bear great fruit to the glory of God. Despite its insignificant beginnings, the Church of Christ has grown tremendously and will continue to expand God’s kingdom on earth. Like the mustard seed, it spreads its branches to every corner of the globe, giving spiritual shelter to every race and nation.

Therefore, we are challenged to anchor our lives on the rock of Christ’s friendship by obeying his commands and following the teachings of his Church. But the commandments are just the beginning of the spiritual life. God does not want us to be robots; he wants us to be companions, and free citizens of heaven. He does not programme us like machines but rather inspires us, like soldiers or artists. He wants us to get to know his plan, and then to freely bring our own resourcefulness, intelligence, and imagination to the task of building up his kingdom in the world. God does not micromanage us on a day-to-day basis, but rather he gives us the intelligence and creativity to do something wonderful, beautiful, and lasting for him and for humanity. It does not matter our own model of the Church, what matters is our love for Christ and our zeal for his kingdom. That is what it means to be a Christian: to build our lives on the solid foundation of friendship with Christ and obedience to his kingship, to build energetically and creatively, as love always does. That goes for every Christian, not just priests and religious, but every one of us! 

As we receive Christ in the Blessed Eucharist today, let us thank him for making his Church so much more than just a social gathering, and let us renew our commitment to the everlasting Kingdom of God. Amen!

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The Trinity and Our Blessed Ignorance

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The Church and the Kingdom of God

The idea of three persons in one God is utterly beyond human comprehension and can only be grasped with the eyes of faith. The Trinity and the Incarnation are two concepts that distinguish Christianity from other world religions. We can only explain what the doctrine is but not the mystery itself. As St Thomas Aquinas says, “we cannot know what God is, but rather what He is not.” That is a good way to start a discussion on the Trinity.

It took St Augustine thirty years to write his book on the Trinity and, despite his best efforts, he realized the futility of trying to figure out the mystery of God. In the end, he learnt that one needed to believe first before they can understand. Augustine concluded that whatever the human mind can comprehend cannot be God. The Bishop of Hippo came to the view that it was better to make a sincere admission of ignorance than a rash claim of knowledge. Thus, concerning Trinitarian mystery, acknowledging our ignorance helps us to follow God with the eyes of faith alone.

What does Scripture say about the Trinity? The doctrine is not explicitly spelt out in the Bible. In fact, there is no mention of the word “Trinity” in the Holy Book. Instead, there are indications of it, like what we read in the Book of Ecclesiastes that: “As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things” (Ecclesiastes 11:5). Nevertheless, the early Christians arrived at the doctrine by applying their God-given reason to the revelations they had received in faith. Jesus spoke about the Father who sent him (the Son) and the Holy Spirit whom he was going to send. He said that the Father had given him (the Son) everything, and he in turn had given to the Holy Spirit all that he received from the Father. So, we see the unity of purpose among the Three Persons of the Trinity.

We may not be able to understand the “how” of the Trinity but it is important to know the “why”. Why did God choose to reveal this mystery to us? The significance of this doctrine lies in the fact that we are made in God’s image, and the more we learn about God the more we can understand ourselves. There is a philosophical proposition that people always try to be like the god they worship. Those who worship a warrior god tend to be warmongering; those who worship the god of pleasure tend to live for pleasure; those who worship the god of wrath tend to be vengeful; while those who worship the One and trinitarian God of love tend to be loving and compassionate. The One and True God does not exist in solitary individualism but in a community of love and sharing. The trinitarian God is not a loner. Consequently, a Christian disciple must shun every inclination to selfishness and isolationism. Christianity is a fellowship of love.

Normally, God the Father is seen as the Creator, the Son as the Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit as the Sanctifier, but all these qualities are equally true of each of the Three Divine Persons such that whatever each does is an action of the Trinity. Put differently, everything the Trinity does is done by Father, Son, and Spirit working in unity with one will, equal dignity, equal majesty, equal authority, and equal glory, without any subordination of one to the other. This point is strongly made by the Creed of St Athanasius that the “Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal.” One powerful image of the Trinity is that of water which exists in the form of steam, ice and rain, that is, gas, solid and liquid – but each with the same chemical properties.

Humanly speaking, we are incapable of understanding the mysteries of God except by revelation. As St Bonaventure says, “God is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” However, Jesus gives us the best way to understand the Trinity – love of God and love of neighbour. These two great commandments of the New Testament are the gateway to the love of the One and Triune God. As we read in the Epistle of St John, “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16). We are called to love, especially when it does not feel good. We don’t need to be friends with others to love them; we don’t need to like others to love them; and we don’t need to be in love with others to love them. The agape love of God requires us to will, wish, work, and pray for the good of the other, whether it is convenient or not. That is the best way to imitate the Trinitarian God. When Jesus says: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48), he is not asking us to do anything extraordinary but only to imitate the Father’s love and compassion. The Holy Scripture tells us that the heavenly Father “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). In addition, the Lord Jesus tells us somewhere else that people will know that we are his disciples if we learn to love one another (cf. John 13:35).

Today therefore, let us not worry so much about our limited or even zero understanding of the idea of the Trinity, but rather let us join St Anselm of Canterbury in crying out: Credo ut intelligam – I believe that I may understand.

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Our Pentecost of Positive Reversal

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The Church and the Kingdom of God

“Pentecost” comes from the Greek word for “fiftieth.” Fifty days from the day of Passover, the Jews celebrated the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), commemorating the giving of the Law (Torah) at Mount Sinai. While Passover signified the people’s freedom from bondage, the Feast of Weeks signified their becoming God’s covenant people through the adoption of the Law.

Being a pilgrim festival, Pentecost was a most appropriate time for the Holy Spirit to come and kindle his fire of love in the hearts of the disciples assembled in the Upper Room, so that they could reach out to the multitudes who had come to the feast from so parts of the world. Consequently, Pentecost goes beyond a mere festival of grains to become the defining moment when the Holy Spirit initiates the universal harvest of souls. And beyond the liberation of a single nation, Pentecost now defines the salvation of all nations, the threshold of a new life of grace that begins here on earth but will only attain perfection in heaven.

As Scripture makes clear, Moses emerged from Mount Sinai with the Law engraved in stone tablets (Ex. 31:18), but the disciples emerged from the Upper Room with the Law written in their hearts. When Moses descended from the mountain and saw the people worshipping the Golden Calf, he smashed the tablets (Ex. 32:19-20); but when Peter faced the crowds, on coming down from the Upper Room, he preached repentance and reconciliation in the name of Jesus. And that is our sacred mandate – to condemn the sin while still loving the sinner. Pentecost reverses the sin and disunity of the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9), where confusion reigned as no one could understand the other anymore. But at Pentecost, everyone understood the Apostles in their own language, and this is in accord with the Church’s mission to reunite the human family torn apart by sin. The Holy Spirit is the bond of unity between the Father and the Son, and the Law of the New Covenant – the Law of the Church, is unity. As St Paul says, the Church is a body with many parts, but it remains one, united body.

The Holy Spirit comes to unite us all in the oneness of the children of God through baptism. The same Holy Spirit comes to break down the barriers of our sinful rebellion; to replace the cacophony of sinful division with the harmony of unity, peace, and joy. This is the Church’s work – reconciling the divided human family with God and with each other. But the quest for unity must start from within the Church itself. We must never forget that the Church is one, although made up of so many different peoples.

We are indeed one, which means there is no right-wing or left-wing church; no liberal or conservative church; no pre-Vatican or post-Vatican church; no traditional or modern church; but there is – and there can only be – the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. It is the Church of Jesus Christ, the Church of Our Lady, Peter and the Apostles; it is the Church of Justin Martyr and John Chrysostom; the Church of Ambrose and Augustine; it is the Church of Francis and Dominic, the Church of Catherine of Sienna and Joan of the Arc; it is the Church of Josephine Bakhita and Charles Lwanga, the Church of Padre Pio, Mary McKillop, Teresa of Calcutta, and Michael Iwene Tansi. It is our Church and we all belong to her as our Mother and Teacher! That is why we have the Litany of the Saints, which reminds us of the many martyrs and champions of the faith who now enjoy the vision of God in heaven. As history continues to unfold, civilizations come and go, empires rise and fall, and persecutions come and go, but the Church of Jesus Christ remains perennially relevant – always managing to reinvent itself in every age and circumstance.

Consequently, we must not let our limited vision, fractured by concupiscence and pride, stand in the way of unity in the Church and the world. We may have different philosophical or theological or pastoral viewpoints but that does not in any way alter the essential constitution of the Church. We are all members of the Church and have all benefited from her mission of unity; the Church has reached out to each of us and brought us into God’s family. Therefore, we are also responsible for carrying this work forward. And one way to do so is by striving to shatter the barriers of fear, misunderstanding, prejudice, jealousy, envy, resentment, grudges, etc. These are at the root of all the conflicts that threaten church unity and even global peace. All the conflicts in our world are traceable to the conflicts in our hearts. If we learn to break down the walls in our hearts, we will become more effective builders of unity in our world.

One major barrier that constantly threatens our peaceful co-existence is that of misunderstanding or lack of communication. This is the cause of so many ruined relationships. We need to imitate the model of Jesus on this. Before passing judgment on anyone, we must try to see things from their perspective. Until we can express the other person’s point of view, we should not be in a hurry to pass a judgment.

That’s exactly what Jesus did. Instead of passing judgment on sinful humanity, he came down from heaven and lived among us. He showed that he knew our perspective and, therefore, he was able to break down humanity’s misunderstanding of God and then open the way for a renewed divine communion.

May the Holy Spirit renew his presence in us and our world and help us with the grace to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, doing our little part in the great Pentecost mission of uniting a divided world. Amen!

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LEAD STORY JUNE 13

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