Thursday, December 20, 2007

Breaking free of chains

‘If you love Jesus, send this to 20 people’ - I often see this at the end of an email carrying a Christian message. Also, what is the deal with duplicating St Jude pamphlets and leaving them in Church?

It is unfortunate that many good Christians find themselves in this awkward dilemma. Yet as much as some of these emails can be inspiring to read, there is really no need to suffer any scruples over them. Too frequently, these writings not only cause unnecessary guilt but they also invite superstition. Usually, they also insinuate that if you love Jesus, you will have the good sense to share it with so many others, if you don't, then obviously you won't. In this aspect, they are no different from chain letters that promise some retribution or at the very least, the deprivation and loss of some blessing if a reader fails to pass them on.

In reality, authors who pen these things are presumptuous in describing the love of God in such terms.

If we do love God, there are certainly changes in our lives we should hasten to embrace to ensure that holiness and sincerity reign in all our thoughts and actions, since only in the truth of the Gospels is there any hope for happiness and peace in our lives.

Discipleship does not consist in merely forwarding an inspiring email to a certain number of people and then feeling like we've done our part for evangelising.

As such, I can't help wondering how different folks who rally around such minimalist approaches to religion are, as opposed to people who similarly build their faith around endless novenas and St Jude prayers and the recitation of a certain number of prayers on certain days.

Such an attitude towards faith and salvation is totally unchristian and founded instead on the magical assumption that we can control and dominate God by fulfilling a certain set of devotions.

The pagan spiritual world of magic and religion almost always consists of formulas to follow in order to obtain spiritual help. And in many ways, they also come equipped with the understanding that dark days will come upon him who fails to observe these practices.

A religion based on instilling fear of spiritual backlash is not a true religion.

Rather, the fear and reverence of God prescribed by the Old Testament is an allusion to a different kind of fear.

There is Holy Fear, which does not grip the soul in panic but rather imbues it with a humbling sense of tremendous wonder and awe, which is not only natural but also bound up with our duty and reverence towards God as our Creator. And then there is superstitious fear, the kind that is bound up with the same anxieties associated with darkness, snakes and evil that we find so common in our human psyche.

That is the kind of fear and relationship with God that the enemy seeks to introduce into our lives under the masks of "authentic" devotions.

But as you well know, there can be no authentic relationship where love is transplanted with formulaic transactions and where our spiritual health depends only upon so many emails we send to so many people, before slipping back to our morally complacent lives with an eased conscience.

We should remember that darkness often seeks to sow superstition in the heart of real religion.

When I do come across something inspiring and feel inclined to pass it on to individuals I think would benefit from its messages, I do forward the mail, but only after I delete the ridiculous portion crying.."If you love Jesus, send this to so many people etc."

That is an example of corrupting the Christian message of love as well as using the Lord's name in vain.

The idea that we can pry open a treasury of grace by following an exterior set of "magical" formulas is silly. That is also why whenever we come across stacks of chain letters to St Jude where the petition carries with it the obligation to reproduce these letters and leave them in church, we should promptly throw them in the trash, for that is our Christian duty before God and the Magisterial Church.

However, there will always be those who prefer this kind of sentimental faith, the same kind that appeals to Christians who claim to tell fortunes through tarot cards and read your palms while invoking the name of St Anthony or some other saint, as if by that safeguard, they somehow legitimise their superstition as falling within the realm of approved religion.

Why do so many prefer it?

Because it costs less in terms of the repentance and conversion that is needed in real faith.

That's almost similar to the Pharisees and scribes who go through the motions of offering a couple of sheep and goats as token worship to Yahweh, but whose lives largely never change.

Many people who go to novena services often do so because they want something, and that something they want is more often than not, NOT a conversion of their lives.

Indeed, formulas deprived of their original intention give many of us an excuse to do the barest minimum for Christ, and still expect to be blessed with material rewards. Hence the popularity of chain letters that come hidden under the guise of genuine devotions.

After all, doesn't Christian tradition describe how Satan often takes on the appearance of an angel of light?

Now you might ask, what about services or devotions like Triduums and Novenas or even the traditional practice of saying 3 Hail Marys through the day? And let us not forget the 5 decades of the Rosary. How are these different?

Well to start with, the incidental number of days or prayers connected with these devotions are just that...incidental. They don't have any magical powers associated with them. If you don't complete 9 days in a novena, it doesn't mean that you offend heaven or commit a sin.

Secondly, there is no compulsion to perform them. You are not a bad Catholic if you do not believe in their efficacy or practice. The worst you can be accused of is a lack of charity and appreciation for such ancient devotions that have brought blessings and consolations to so many generations.

But to each his own. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that is essential to our salvation, all others simply aid us towards that.

The word "Novena" is Latin for 9 days at a time when early Christians performed acts of charity or held certain days of prayer vigils to commemorate and honour a certain aspect of the Gospel. The length of these devotions are set so as to impress upon the penitents a sense of pilgrimage, as they journey through the different meditations and arrive at a destination in their prayer which usually culminates in benediction or a celebration of the Mass.

Having a certain number of devotional days to celebrate is much akin to the ancient wedding and religious feasts of those days. Weddings in the time of Christ for instance went on for weeks like in the Gospel story of Cana. The feast of the tabernacles or Passover was also a celebration that went on for a good number of days.

Novena services simply honour that tradition of a family celebration, where we journey as pilgrims together on the move, from one theme or day of prayer to the next, recalling the reasons for our redemption and so forth.

They are undertaken so as to draw closer to God, and to afford a greater union to His love by taking special time to meet Him in our busy schedule.

This is the same rationale behind things like Tridiums (3 days), the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius (30 days retreat), LENT (40days)...all of which are just invitations to set aside time for God and commit ourselves to meeting him everyday for a determined period.

The number of days are not important.

It's almost like a man saying, "I have been so busy recently that I rarely give time to my family apart from those sporadic moments after work each evening. But despite my busy schedule, perhaps I can commit myself to spend the next 10 days in really giving myself to my wife and children, and recalling my vocation as a Christian husband and father. Hopefully that will help me to grow deeper in my love and appreciation for them. Even though my work will not ease up, I make this commitment because I know how important they are to me."

The same principle applies. The numbers are not magical. 40 days of Lent commemorate the 40 days of Jesus in the desert and the 40 years of Israel wandering in the desert in anticipation of God's promise. 9 days in a Novena (although a Novena can be made with any number of days that you personally determine) simply evolved from the ancient Roman custom of those days, when pagan Rome had a traditional 9-day devotion to appease their Gods by offering sacrifice and prayer.

As Rome became Christianised, the early Christians replaced the Roman practice of sacrificing to their Gods with 9 days of vigils and prayers in honour of Christ and His saints instead, to signify that Jesus had conquered, overcome and replaced the old pagan religions and customs with the Gospel light of Himself.

That was a symbolic act to say that the old had passed away and the new was here to stay.

Some traditions however attribute this popular vigil to the 9 days that the apostles were believed to have spent in prayer before the descent of the Holy Spirit during Pentecost.

The novena prayers to St Jude work on the same basis. The numbers of days simply connote a sense of commitment and sincerity in following something through. They are not magical. For people who believe otherwise, they get terribly upset whenever their prayers are not answered after completing this routine, as if we can make God a prisoner by forcing Him to uphold His part of the bargain since we are fulfilling the formula.

God is not a genie living in a lamp whom we rub 3 times and utter some incantation. Why should St Jude bother with someone whose sole purpose in performing some religious devotion is to gain temporal favours? It's his role and special interest to intercede for us that we might become better disciples and be saved. And if part of that in God’s plans means having our prayers granted, then that is up to God. It is not a condition for faith or even a road map to happiness.

These devotions we must remember, are meant to bring the person into closer union with God. They are spiritual exercises meant to strengthen faith and charity. They are NOT activities that unfailingly promise favours, which is mostly why people perform them; to seek gifts apart from the giver, as if by our very attendance to these things, we are doing God a favour and therefore He should show us His gratitude by answering our prayers. If not, we'll just hop onto the next passing wagon of cheap rituals that promise something else.

These prayers and practices are intended to help Christians find the strength to carry their crosses, not remove them. For without the cross, how can we ever be lifted up to the heavens? Without Good Friday, how can there be any Easter Sundays in our lives? And without Calvary, will we ever see the Resurrection?

By the way, the Novena, (private or public) is not an official part of the Church's liturgy despite being widely popular among the faithful for ages.

So back to the issue of these inspirational chain letters, don't feel too badly if you choose to ignore them. In as much as we can evangelise through these things, I hardly think that this constitutes spreading the Good News. If we were to content ourselves to merely this as disciples, we should really re-look our motivations and generosity in making Jesus known and loved.

After all, this requires no sacrifice save the effort of your finger upon the keyboard.

But we are asked to do more, much more.

So if you come across something you'd like to pass on, by all means. But delete the bit that sounds like a chain mail. It’s an insult to Christianity. Let it be your personal intention and even then, only send it to people whom you want to say something to. Then follow up on this with real efforts to spread the Good News in your life.

The only multiplication we need in our religious duties is the increase of grace in our lives, without which all is vanity.

Monday, October 15, 2007

My guardian dear

Few things in life burden the human heart with greater sadness than loneliness. To awake each morning to the pangs of unwanted solitude can be emotionally crippling to our self-esteem. Our senses long to know the touch of a loved one, our eyes seek to rest upon the smile of a guardian, and our hearts sigh for the faithful love and friendship of a kindred spirit.

And although many of us truly struggle with a deep lack of human affection, most of us also fail to recognize the companions we’ve been blessed with all our lives.

Earlier this month, we celebrated the Feast of Sts. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, as well as the feast of the Guardian Angels. During those days, the Church celebrated the gift of these heavenly spirits with joy, although throughout the year, angels are constantly present to us also in the scriptures as beacons of light in our pilgrimage towards the City of God.

Every Catholic child is brought up to believe in a personal guardian angel who watches over him/her from cradle to grave. I too recall being given a beautiful prayer card when I was about seven years old; which depicted an angel watching over two little children with great tenderness and love - his powerful wings stretched over them as a gentle shade as they picked flowers along a brook - his eyes never far from their faces.

Of course as Christians we believe in the existence of Angels since it is a matter of scriptural and doctrinal truth, but the idea of a personal guardian angel seems more suitable for children; just like Santa Claus, fairies and elves. Adults in a sense should know better than to indulge in such naivety.

But is it really immature to believe in guardian angels? Let’s think about that for a moment. Who among us need guardians? The young and vulnerable certainly, but also the weak and defenseless.

Alright, but who else? The rich and powerful surely want to be protected from envious enemies who may wish them harm, but equally deserving of this help would be the prominent children of royalty and heads of state.

I think of how young royals, or the children of Presidents etc, are constantly caught on camera accompanied by their armed bodyguards or secret service agents wherever they go. Understandably, this vanguard of safety enforces some degree of necessary protection.

For some however, this relationship is more than just a security detail. In times past especially, the personal bodyguard is not just protector and shield, but also mentor and confidante. His mission is to constantly look out for his young charges, to ever remind them of their exalted dignities – and by association – their royal duty to always live and act in ways worthy of such dignity.

Far away from the comforts of palace and throne, whether at work, at play or in school, the bodyguard reflects and recalls the memory of the king upon his royal charges; so that despite the natural vigor and adventure of youth, the young royals may not forget their own princely dignity, but always be reminded of their duty, honor and special calling in life.

When this guardian is not protecting, he is counseling, tutoring, encouraging and consoling his young friends.

Now as children of the King of Kings, are we thus not children of royalty? And as children of God, are we hence not vulnerable to the preying intents of His enemies, who desire nothing more than to see us lose our heavenly inheritance through sin.

As such, far away from our heavenly home, do we not need and deserve a spiritual mentor and bodyguard to watch over us until the time comes for us to return safely to our Father’s house?

Of course we do, lest we forget our true dignity as children of God, and embrace a lifestyle and attitude more akin to animals.

Indeed, our Heavenly Father commands that for every one of his sons and daughters, there should be entrusted an angel of light as guardian; to accompany, lead, teach, protect, guide, console and defend always. And like the best of the best, our spiritual bodyguards come to us from God’s own elite army.

These magnificent soldiers of Christ are not cold, nor frightening in their sense of duty before God. Rather they love us with the tenderness of God’s own flaming heart, and seek nothing less than to set our own hearts afire with love for God. They are solicitous to our needs, desirous of our happiness, and faithful to us from cradle to grave.

They are as St. Padre Pio often claimed; our dearest companions on earth. Sons of God in whom his glory is made manifest and his will enthroned for our sakes. They are our friends, our elder brothers in Christ, and our dearest companions from young. They are our own guardian angels, no one else's.

Now it is not enough for us to know that we have a protector and guardian, we should also remember that we have a mentor, confidante, brother and friend, with whom we can open our hearts without fear or regret.

With every step we take in this life, a strong arm is there to support us in love and courage, assuring us that God is ever with us. One of the most beautiful images in scripture for me is the verse about the Archangel Raphael personally offering the prayers, sighs and petitions of Tobit before the face of God, joining his own angelic voice to the prayer of this poor man; interceding for him before the Most High.

Such is the devotion of the angels to us, lest we should lose heart and forget that God exists, and yes he loves us.

The next time we feel alone, let us not forget to turn our minds and hearts to this faithful, loyal and heavenly companion - to ask his help and guidance in all things, to seek his counsel and prayers, to speak, smile, cry and celebrate the joys and sorrows of this life with - for he is eager to serve and lead us to Christ, who is our common master in life and in death.

So to all those who read this, I salute you and your angel with love, and I leave you with this childhood prayer, since those of us who have experienced this friendship know that guardian angels in particular, show us the face of God in a world bereft of supernatural vision:

“Angel of God, my guardian dear. To whom God’s love entrusts me here. Ever this day be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen”

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Fishers of Men (Part 1) AWESOME!

A beautiful vocation video for those of you discerning a call to the priesthood

Fishers of Men (Part 2) AWESOME

Second part of this very well done vocation video

Monday, October 1, 2007

Sunday, September 2, 2007

An interesting remark from a sermon I heard today - "Why are we so conquered by "feeling" rather than "knowing" in our lives today? We do something and act out our choices because we feel like it, regardless of whether we know something is right or wrong. More and more, our lives are ruled and governed by the fickle embers of our feelings (which often cannot be trusted to be authentic witnesses of truth) rather than the conviction of knowledge formed by conscience and prayer.

When faced with any dilemma or conflict, many of us would rather bury our minds in the denial of responsible judgement - as long as I feel it's ok, it's ok - rather than discover the truth about things and ourselves. Not many feel comfortable looking into the mirror of their own conscience, and many more would prefer to escape into the indulgence of their feelings and whims, just so they don't have to think things through...and quite possibly risk admitting their own faults and failings.

In the same way, we cannot afford to build our faith on feelings, since any soul who strives to live righteously with fidelity to the gospel will soon discover that he has more problems, crosses and sadness than he did before his conversion. It almost seems as if the "good man" is a sorry man where providence is concerned. And the irreligious and lackadaisical prosper with apparently lofty blessings from on-high.

At times like these, we may be tempted to cry out in despair because we feel abandoned by God. And yet this dark night is common to the saints; which has led a personage no less than Tereza of Avila to exclaim, "No wonder Lord you have so few friends, look at how you treat them."

However to feel abandoned and to know you're abandoned are two very different things. And the saints no matter how grievous their trials and feelings of despair, know in their hearts that God does not abandon them; that in His love, all their Calvarys have meaning and worth, and that the right path to sanctity and heaven is often preceded by thorny roads.

We must be careful not to let "feelings" alone, however authentic and genuine, be the arbitrator of our life decisions. Instead, we must seek to live our triumphs, losses, joys and hurts in the wisdom and knowledge of God's holy spirit; and a hope that is founded on the faithfulness and redemption of Christ. Above all, we need to ask for the courage to persevere in prayer, since in the words of Mother Teresa (who for many years struggled and lived through her own dark night) - "The fruit of quietness is prayer; The fruit of prayer is faith; The fruit of faith is Love; The fruit of Love is service; The fruit of service is peace."

Faith and truth are not built on feelings, and neither is love. And although we may sometimes feel sad, we will also know deep joys and triumphs in this life...if we persevere in faith, hope and love.

Monday, August 13, 2007

No retreat, no surrender

I was watching a documentary on WWII the other day and one scene in particular stood out in great drama for me.

It was a shot of allied soldiers huddling in the rain - tired, brutalized and discouraged - as an enemy plane rained down a blizzard of propaganda leaflets calling for surrender.

Meanwhile the radio cackled with the insane voice of an enemy station trying to convince the allied troops that they were losing the war in spite of all their efforts and sacrifices. Even worse than the actual torments of battle, this constant barrage of bad news and negative propaganda succeeded in reducing a squad of brave men to tears and despair.

Psychological warfare they called it...almost as powerful as the explosive charge of a combat brigade, but infinitely more damaging in its destructive appeal.

That's what happens in a war. You try and break the enemy spirit, rob them of their passion to resist and inflict the pain of despair upon their souls. After that, any attempt to resist will be drained of courage and hope. And when hope is lost, the battle is won even before a single shot is fired.

We've heard so much about the present war against terror. But so little is ever said of the more horrifying and insidious war in our midst, just because its reality and devastation are often invisible to our eyes.

I am speaking of course of the war that St Paul talked about; the spiritual battle that assaults us all, and against which the horrors of this world are but a pale comparison.

As it stands, I can't think of a time in history when the powerful influence of the secular media is more widely employed to discredit Christianity; with more hostility, fervor and sophistication than in recent years.

It seems that everywhere we turn, we are constantly bombarded with the scandals and infidelity of Christians, the righteousness of abortion and homosexual unions, the sexual perversions of our religious ministers, the relentless mocking of our Christian traditions, the overwhelming rise of divorces and failed marriages, and a merciless stampede upon the idea of absolute truth as taught and defended by the Church.

The list goes on of course; not only with news, persuasions and campaigns that are directly abusive towards the Christian religion;( in particular Catholicism), but also rife with every negative image of suffering, corruption, indifference, chaos and cruelty that cloak the human spirit like a blanket of futility snuffing out any embers of hope and courage, as if persuading people of goodwill to give up the good fight since all is lost anyway.

Indeed, why try when you can make little or no difference? Why not instead join the multitudes and at least spare yourselves the sufferings and ignominy of a useless moral stand?

In contrast, little media coverage is ever given to the triumph of the human spirit, particularly when it comes to the glories and righteousness of the Gospel message and the success of its apostles in turning back the tide of materialism and despair.

Even in our entertainment, the values, lifestyles and perceptions advocated in movies and sitcoms are cleverly designed to rob generations of a living conscience and an accountability to God and each other, knowing that countless people act like drones in subscribing to these artificial realities as gospel alternatives to happiness and fulfillment.

So much negative publicity, so much propaganda against Christians, the Church, organized religion, traditional values, the sanctity of family life, chastity, obedience, self-sacrifice and all the glories of Christianity (and often times perpetrated by the very ministers and stewards who are entrusted with safe-guarding these sublime mysteries and truths for the salvation of souls), that one is prompted to ask this question...

From where does all this evil propaganda arise from? Who is really behind this campaign to vanquish and subdue the Christian heart? What conscious force has hijacked and manipulated this sublime art of communication for use in perpetuating distortions and lies?

In truth, who wields a greater influence over the secular media than the enemy of our salvation, whom scripture warns as being steeped in the art of deceit and cunning subterfuge?

Now don't get me wrong, the modern mass media is a miracle of wonder and a great tool for good and evangelization but in our own time, but it has been employed by the powers of this world to subject man to a prison of false ideals and destructive attitudes, instead of helping him to build a more humane and compassionate society based on objective truths.

There is no news like bad news. There is no truth like the one that comes packaged, edited and compiled with precision to fit a social, economical or political agenda. There is no greater accountability than the lust for prime ratings and readership. And there is no greater loyalty to journalistic integrity than the commitment to pander to the crowd.

Give them what they want and they will love you for it.

Isn't that what the Imperial Senate told Caesar in the Roman heydays of gladiatorial games and bloodlust? Win the crowd and you will win Rome? Is it any wonder then that Christians who remain steadfast in their faith are held in contempt?

To speak publicly of Jesus Christ is to invite scorn, hostility, ridicule and humiliation. And just as some Christians in ancient times have been cowered into silence and impotence by the rantings and ravings of an aggressive crowd, Christians today are just as easily overpowered and conquered by the storm of popular opinion.

How many times have I myself blushed with embarrassment as I sit privy to a conversation that criticizes and condemns my Catholic faith with mocking derision, and felt weak in the face of such overwhelming odds? What more those of my brethren whose feeble attachments to the faith are weak at best, and who are often wont to give anti-christian opinions and arguments more blind faith and respectability than they deserve.

Nevertheless, no storm however violent and threatening can stand up to the power of Jesus Christ, who commands the wildest tempests with supreme majesty and might, as the apostles discovered one stormy night upon the raging waters of Galilee...if...we but keep our eyes fixed upon Him, our rock and our foundation, our refuge and safe harbor in this sea of life.

The next time our hearts feel the cold fingers of futility when confronted with the endless array of bad news and scandals in the media and entertainment arts, let us be brave and remember that this is merely psychological warfare; the desperate attempts of the enemy to drive us into surrender lest we remember our invincibility in Christ, who has already conquered this spiritual war; the prize of which is the salvation of souls.

Let us rather pay no attention to the wiles and propaganda of hell, and keep our eyes centered instead on our valiant captain and Lord - the Lamb of God who by His passion, death and resurrection has overcome the forces of darkness and has consigned them to the everlasting death.

Let us truly rejoice to be part of this victorious army, for both scripture and experience tell us that with Christ and in Christ we will always triumph! And if we are careful not to shut our hearts to this spiritual reality, the father of lies will find it hard to sneak up on us who keep the light of Christ before our eyes always.

Instead, let us put on the armor of God - faith, hope, charity, truth and righteousness - and use every means at our disposal to launch a divine PR campaign for gospel truth and divine love, missing no opportunity to speak of Christ our Lord with reverence and love, making no excuses for our faith, and turning back the icy clutches of relativism and false morality in our world today by the sheer warmth and conviction that comes from embracing the fire of the Holy Spirit.

In our work, in our relationships, in our families, in our marriages, let us be living banners proclaiming the grace and mercy of God, and use every ounce of our gifts and talents to promote the gospel truth of Christ.

The war is won but the battle for souls continues. The time is now for those who would act.

For as always, the old adage rings true - evil succeeds when good men choose to do nothing. And the glory of God is man fully alive…in His goodness and truth.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

What's forever for?

Doesn’t anybody ever stay together anymore? That’s a question from one of my favorite songs growing up, but today it seems more pertinent than ever before.

It’s heartbreaking to see so many of us give up on love for really stupid and conceited reasons. We often think of infidelity as involving another man or woman, but the truth is, we are guilty of infidelity when we let anything - whether it's our egos, pride, hobbies, entertainment, social life, friends or work - hijack our hearts from the ones we love, and place our relationships in neat little compartments which we only take out when it pleases us.

In this narcissistic world of what I want, what I prefer, who I want to be with; fidelity is often a tragic victim of selfishness disguised as “being true to myself”…without realizing that we’re often untrue to the one who loves us.

I wonder how many of us actually place our partners as priorities in our lives, and how many of us who enjoy that precious place in the hearts of our partners actually treasure that privilege. It’s sad, but all too often we let our relationships die right before our eyes because we turn our sights away from what’s true and noble, and fix our glances only upon the seduction of self-interests.

Don’t couples know that the opportunities for reconciliation, for healing grace and love are blessings that do not grow on trees, but are graciously given from heaven – not because we deserve it but because we need it. And as the gospel so often reminds us, we must not hesitate with graces, we must not be slow to respond to the kindness God shows us. When the opportunity for reconciliation and peace expresses itself, we must not let pride rob us of that saving grace - for there may not be another one like it.

We need to pray for hearts today; hearts that have forgotten how to love responsibly, to love with hope and forgiveness, to persevere in charity and truth, to be contrite in humility, to trust with generosity, and to always choose fidelity – not just to our partners, but to the virtues of love itself!

For in the end, falling in love is easy…choosing to love is heroic and ultimately the only true face of love. And that is the love we must always pine and work for, even if our partners don't deserve it. Or should I say - especially when they don't deserve it, so that with God's help love may conquer all, and bring healing both to ourselves and to our relationships.

Billy Gilman - What's Forever For Lyrics

I've been looking at people

And how they change with the times

And lately all I've been seeing are people

Throwing love away and losing their minds

Or maybe it's me that's gone crazy'

Cause I can't understand why

All these people keep hurting each other

When good love is so hard to come by

So what's the glory in living

Doesn't anybody ever stay together anymore

And if love never lasts forever

Tell me what's forever for

I've been listening to people

And they say love is the key

And it's not my way to let them lead me astray

It's only that I want to believe

But I see love-hungry people

Trying their best to survive

While right there in their hands is a dying romance

And they're not even trying to keep it alive

So what's the glory in living

Doesn't anybody ever stay together anymore

And if love never lasts forever

Tell me what's forever for

And if love never lasts forever

Tell me what's forever for

Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Gospel according to E.T.

Is there life out there amongst the billions of galaxies teeming with possibilities?

Ever since the first scientists suggested that we might have crawled out of the primordial slime and wriggled our way into humanity, countless evolutionary theories have speculated that if this was true of life on earth, there is no reason to think that intelligent life cannot be replicated elsewhere in far away galaxies with life support systems that mirror our own. And if that were true, how do we reconcile our Christian faith with colonies of E.T. trampling through Elliot’s garden eating M&Ms?

Doesn’t our faith in Christ as sole mediator and savior of mankind exclude this possibility? Are we not the sole beneficiary of God’s saving love and fatherhood? Or do we have distant cousins and spiritual siblings we know nothing about?

The Magisterial Church has never made any pronouncements about this for good reason. First off, it’s just curious speculation no matter how many alien abductions, UFOs and unpleasant bodily probings some people claim to have encountered on “Ripley’s Believe It or Not”.

Secondly, although it makes for interesting debate, it is not crucial to the life of Christians to wrangle about the souls of possible extra-terrestrials when we have far more urgent and practical commitments to our own proven salvation history. For all our faith in the supernatural life, Christians are practical and realists when it comes to living the truth.

Having said that, some theologians have suggested various ways of looking at this question if the basis of alien life was true. Perhaps like in a parallel universe, they would have their own “Jesus” and their own salvation history. Or perhaps like the history of the Jewish nation, salvation would first be offered to the human race and then extended to the “gentile” nations of the stars in time to come, spurred on by the evangelizing efforts of astronaut priests and missionaries. Others insist that the possibility of other intelligent life forms does not omit the need for a creator of the universe, nor in redeeming humanity did Christ not also redeem the entire order of creation as St. Paul says.

The truth is...I don’t know. But here’s what I think.

Love is a funny thing; you can’t scrutinize it under a microscope or swirl it in a test-tube, although some people seem to think otherwise when it comes to making babies. And it was supernatural love - personal, pure and eternal - that created and redeemed us.

God did not clinically make Adam and Eve out of a cold laboratory, he gave birth to us as it were from his own supernatural life; as a woman gives birth to her child through the life of her own human nature – begun and sustained with conjugal and maternal love. In saying this I do not mean that the theory of evolution is debunked, but rather that the natural process of creation does not rob God of his supernatural intent or motivation – which is to give himself to us as our fulfillment and joy. Through the redemption of Christ we are further born into a new life of supernatural grace, which bonds us even closer to God in the intimacy of father and child.

What does this mean?

There’s a phrase from St. Josemaria Escriva that I dearly love: divine filiation - the idea that we are not merely adopted, but that we are truly sons and daughters of God by dignity and redemption through the love and mercy of Christ. This truth above all other truths explains our reason for joy and hope in life. And as any of us know, a father’s love is deeply personal and intimate. It doesn’t matter how many other children are stumbling around in the playground, a father has a special, devoted and faithful love for his own child above all others; because “this” is flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood.

To look into the face of your own child is to see your own.

And the relationship that God has with mankind, unraveled through the historic ages of this planet we live on is a personal relationship between father and child, bridegroom and bride.

Scripture tells us that all things in the cosmos were created for man, to help man realize the love of God for him, and for him to draw closer to the love of his creator.

It doesn’t matter how many planets or solar systems purport to support life, God is not obligated to populate the universe with similar beings just because he did so for one tiny blue planet. He made all things and as maker of all things, he is exempt from the limitations he imposes on all things. The natural laws of the universe cannot impose themselves upon the supernatural will of their creator, who sustains their very existence by his own love.

As such, there is no reason to believe that just because God chose to have this personal, intimate history with mankind, he must do so for every other planet that bears the same ideal conditions.

Love doesn’t work that way. In fact, real intimate love is always faithful and often exclusive in a special way.

Just because I fall in love with a certain kind of woman doesn’t mean I will fall in love with every other woman with the same character traits. I may feel similarly attracted to these features in another woman, but love demands more than just a set of chemical responses in the brain, it demands a personal choice and an conscious act of the will.

In other words, I may be naturally attracted to someone but I supernaturally choose to love someone; even though sometimes she may be less than attractive to me. There's a big difference between the two.

Does God himself act differently? Out of all the great nations of the world, he chose one tiny nation to make a covenant with, and he remained faithful to that covenant despite Israel’s countless adulteries with foreign Gods.

Out of all the pure, faithful and virtuous women in Israel at that time, he chose one young Nazarene virgin to be born of, and to be given the dignity of being his mother and the spouse of the Holy Spirit.

Out of the countless myriads of people milling around the Judean countryside, he called 12 men to himself to be the cornerstone of his Church, and out of those 12, he chose a weak stumbling and impetuous fisherman to lead them. And in your own lifetime, he has chosen you through the waters of baptism to be a sign of his special love among others.

Is there a science to that? As far as I know, the science of divine love will never pass the scrutiny of atheistic scientists because it was tested, applied and proven on the folly of Calvary.

The basis of evolution, or indeed any scientific discipline is wrapped around very precise formulas and theoretical presumptions, and the end result often lies along a very narrow strip of speculation based on statistical data. Hence even though natural science is really a great adventure of discovery, it’s also a very controlled experience governed by the natural laws of the universe; at least those that we know of anyway.

But God is above those laws. How often for instance have we seen medical science flounder in defeat when trying to explain supernatural interventions and healings in the lives of patients who cannot medically survive? How often can we not explain why one woman is fruitful in her womb while another remains sterile when no medical anomalies exist between them etc?

Love is a very different kind of adventure; it’s unpredictable, passionate and constantly filled with sweet surprises that endure in fidelity. And ultimately God is love - the best kind, and I sincerely wish you that kind of adventure.

So in short, do I think E.T. exists with all the other green men of the universe? At this point, my personal entry in the Captain’s Log, stardate 2007 says “I very much doubt it”.

But that’s just my opinion as a man of faith, not as a man of science.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Walking in the moonlight

How the seasons change. Today, we celebrate Pentecost; the birth of the Church and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Only a little while ago, we recall the joy of Easter. The church bells chimed with the rhythm of new life, announcing to the world that sin and death have been vanquished, darkness must give way to light. And yet for some, this Lenten season has passed without so much as a murmur of change. The leaves fall, the sun shines and the vicissitudes of life meander as usual as we go about our pleasures and our business.

For others, this holy season has brought us closer to the passion of Christ than we dared imagine. Far beyond our tepid abstinence on Fridays and our half-hearted prayers, it seems Lenten mortification has come calling with the violence of an unwelcome guest. Life can sometimes be a hard drink to swallow when the wine press of suffering distills the potency of faith.

I know of many who have endured pain, misunderstanding, loss, illness and death over this period – so much so that inevitable questions arise within their human hearts – Where is God? Is he real? Why me?

Indeed, what is the Christian response to suffering, especially when it afflicts the innocent and good with the bluntness of crude terror? What words escape us when Calvary shakes the ground we stand upon and swallows us in its bowels?

Instinctively, we look towards the cross of Christ. From our spiritual birth, we’ve been taught to find our answers and meaning in the crucified form of the Nazarene, who so loved us, he hung himself dry of life in order that we may live with hope - brave, certain, new abiding hope - supernatural hope. And so we pray.

And we pray.

And we pray.

And sometimes, the wait for an answer echoes in unbearable silence. For a generation used to quick solutions and immediate gratification, this can be a torturous journey that pushes our faith and hope to the limits.

Why does God take so long to come to our aid? 40 years of the Israelites wandering in the desert, 13 years of St. Monica weeping for the conversion of her son Augustine, and night after night of endless prayers offered up in desperation by countless souls in the crucible of Calvary. Sometimes, the sighs we offer up to the eternal one seem to take an eternity to be answered. In the meantime, we stay racked on a bed of pain where the sinews of our faith are stretched to the limits of human credence.

In short, the mystery of Christian suffering remains that – a mystery. And I don’t think there are any human answers for the divine will, at least none that will satisfy our vulgar thirst for justification.

It’s understandable that we want to hold God accountable for our faith in him. “We believed in you and we called on your name and you did not answer”. It’s what I call the “convenience store” spirituality. I made an agreement with you that you would be my God and I would be your customer. I rang the bell and there was no service. Not only that, I was kept waiting even though I’m obviously an important patron with an existing account - in this case, my willingness to profess my belief in you as my Lord and Savior as long as you hold up your end of the transaction in this barter of wills.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten up from my table at a restaurant and simply walked away because of the bad service, or turned my nose at a bargain because I was invisible to sales staff who were too busy picking lint off their lapels to notice my calls for help.

Nobody likes to be ignored because we expect a certain degree of attention and responsibility from people in our circle of life, whether personal, romantic or professional. And since we’ve invested our hopes and faith in this bank of trust, we expect reasonable returns or lo and behold, we’re withdrawing our faith and taking our business somewhere else.

But God is not our supplier and we are not his clients. Our Father in heaven wants nothing from us but only happiness for us. To persist in the immaturity of this “convenience store” relationship will only obstruct our faith and bury our prayers in the soil of self-conceit, and we shall never penetrate the essence of what it means to be loved and to love with all our hearts in spite of riding the roller coaster of life.

The covenant between God and man is not a business contract; it is a marriage feast of the lamb, a spousal union of life that invites us to give ourselves to another in generous service and love so as to till the soil of our own souls to receive the seed and flowering of the Holy Spirit in our relationships. But like the multitudes that followed Jesus through the Judean countryside, we sometimes mistake our lust for God’s bread with our love for him.

In a marriage, we do not marry for what our spouses can do for us but for who they are as persons in God. And if we are to be faithful in our supernatural marriage to the Lamb of God, we must open our eyes and our hearts to the greatest good that is our Lord himself, and not what he can do for us.

Still, we cannot ignore the very real suffering of losing a loved one, or the pain of debilitating disease or the empty hours of deep loneliness some of us go through. The Lord himself does not want us to deny these realities and difficulties.

But neither does he want us to lose hope or courage on the brow of Calvary, for standing beneath that cross in the storm of uncertainty, is to also stand before the power of redemption and life; to be bathed in the water and blood that gushes upon us in love and renewal so that strengthened and transformed like the Roman Centurion; St. Longinus, we may descend from that holy mountain to face the world anew with glory and strength.

As we recall the memory of the infant church gathered around the presence of her mother Mary, who prayed with and for them, I find it most interesting that Our Blessed Lord chose to give Mary to us as our own beloved Mother at the very precise point of his crucifixion; when the disciples were twisting in the fear and despair of their darkest hour, unable to see the light that was bursting forth from his pierced heart.

There were so many glorious episodes in the gospel when our Lord could’ve chosen to make this grand gift of his mother to the Church, but instead he waited for this one dramatic moment to entrust her to us and vice versa. Why?

Is it because when the night is darkest that we need the moon the most, so that we will not lose our way completely. Or maybe it’s because Our Lord knows that we need to draw strength from her maternal presence and love the same way he did, in all the dark Calvarys of our lives? Perhaps it’s when we feel most abandoned and orphaned that we need our mother’s love the most?

Surely it’s all of the above and more. I’ve included one of my favourite renderings of the Pieta scene with this entry. And to close, I’d like to also share this little anecdote from the life of St. Josemaria Escriva…where he shares an observation from his childhood:

“I remember how in my country, when harvest season came and they did not yet have these modern agricultural machines, they lifted the heavy bundles of wheat by hand and loaded them on the backs of mules or poor little donkeys. And come a certain time in the day, around noon, the wives, the daughters, the sisters would come – with scarves gracefully draped over their heads, so that their more delicate skin would not get sunburned – and bring them cool wine. That drink refreshed the tired men, encouraged them, strengthened them…That is how I see you, O Blessed Mother. When we struggle to serve God, you come to encourage us throughout this journey. Through your hands, all graces come to us.”

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Hello again...

It's been forever since I last posted anything on this blog. But like any enduring project, it requires its own commitment and energies. Forgive me for slacking off. Between the demands of work, the exhaustion of engagements and the curve balls that life throws at us ever so often, I have not been able to be present at this site.

Well let us begin again.

I initially intended this blog to be less about me and more about my faith, but typing out little treatises about doctrine, apologetics and faith require more precise thoughts, phrasings and academic discipline than I'm available for. Yet despite my penchant for privacy, I realise also that my faith is best explained and shared with you, my friends, through my life and struggles and not just through my encyclopaedic knowledge...which is miniscule to start with.

So let's take a break from that and just chat shall we? It's about time I slowed down and just gave myself the joy of space and being.

If anything, I'd probably take short trips around asia just to ease off a little...but first chance I get, I'd like to head towards Spain, and more of Italy. The Italian countryside and the rennaissance of Florence still capture my imagination. And the eternal city of Rome resides in my heart like a mother looking out for her son's return with an embrace of good food, good cheer and tender love.

Even though there are many places that call to our wanderlust, every step towards a private moment with God is a vacation in beauty. And our souls need little vacations now and then.

There's a little rugged flatland near my apartment that I sometimes trudge to for fun. It's a little oasis of greenery and virgin tracks that taper towards a wide river which eventually leads to the open sea. And it always amazes me that hidden beneath the shadows of high-rise flats is a scenic buffet of untamed landscape, exotic birds and cute critters. And everytime I laced up my hiking boots for a visit, I feel like I'm taking a vacation with the Lord and entering this secret garden of thoughts and smiles.

I enjoy luxuries like anyone else, but it always surprises me how little we really need to lift up our hearts and joys. And it amazes me even more how much heaven is within our grasp when we school ourselves in the art of learning how to love truly in a beautiful relationship. Human love is a great mystery and a great gift of life. Unlike many today who give only to receive, we must remember to give in order that the other may receive our best sacrament of love...their joy and fulfillment as human beings are our reward and satisfaction, since Christian joy exults and multiplies in the happiness and growth of our beloved. In our calling to be saints, we must always give thanks for our struggles as sinners...and not be discouraged in our vocations to be sacraments of Christ to each other.

I pray that all who read this post will know this joy of living, loving and praying. And if you've been really busy and tired lately, take a little vacation...take a walk with Jesus...and let your heart smile and hope again. For as the disciples of Emmaus discovered, "did not our hearts burn within us when he was talking to us?"

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Payback or pay forward?

If God is merciful, how can there be such a thing as temporal punishments? Why bother to forgive our sins if he wants to bear grudges and retain the punishments due to us in this life?

Unfortunately, the term “Temporal Punishment” invites misunderstanding. The word “punishment” is too negative a connotation for what the doctrine truly represents, which is nothing less than the love and wisdom of God in helping a soul towards perfection. A better word would be temporal “purification”, but for the purpose of this discussion, let’s keep to its original and more familiar terminology to avoid confusion.

Contrary to what some might believe, it is not the cruel retaliation of some fuming deity seeking payback. It is however the just restitution made in atonement to God for all the harm and pain caused by our sins, even those already forgiven. Let us remember that no sin is personal. All sin is social, even when committed in secret and alone, since it infects and weakens both society and the Church because of our interdependence on each other. Either for evil or for good, we have to resign ourselves to the reality that each one of us no matter how slight, has an influence on every individual we encounter.

The idea that our sins have consequences that run their course despite our sorrow and contrition over them is a hard notion to swallow in this day and age. We’re so used to having dirt on our clothes washed away without a trace by a simple dash of detergent, that we often forget that mistakes in life sometimes have effects that are a little more stubborn to remove.

If we violate a traffic law, we conveniently pay the fine and move on with our lives. If we mistype a letter, we can always press backspace and start over. And for children used to the pampering love of their parents, there’s always someone willing to close an eye and white-wash their faults with characteristic indulgence.

Today more than ever, this complacency becomes the norm when so much in society and technology work towards delivering us from the burden of undesirable consequences. In fact, there is a distinct trumpet call in the world that incites us to reap the benefits of pleasure without any obligatory hassle. Contraception is one such example.

Yet in practice, nothing could be further from the truth.

For instance, we can strike someone in anger and still be fortunate enough to enjoy the person’s forgiveness, but the impact and bruise of our action remains visible and painful to the victim who continues to feel the effects of the punch long after it’s been forgiven. Saying you’re sorry for cheating on your wife might convince her to pardon you, but the pain of that betrayal will forever scar the soul of your marriage even if it doesn’t tear the two of you apart. And the tears of a young mother crying over the loss of her unborn child through abortion cannot absolve the memory of what could have been, even when she goes on to have other children later in life.

In each of these scenarios, there is contrition, forgiveness and perhaps even reconciliation. But the effects of sin in each case stubbornly clings on to the fabric of our lives and extend far beyond our naive expectations.

Justice and logic demand that for every wrong, there must be restitution. For every offence, there should be atonement. It is what we demand for ourselves when we suffer some personal injustice. We instinctively seek a just resolution to our grievances because it is part of our nature to do so. That is why every nation and state is empowered with civil and secular courts to uphold the rights of individuals and society to justice.

Even in everyday circumstances, we see the sensibility of this logic. A person who steals something must in addition to apologizing for the theft, return the stolen article. A father who reneges on his promise to celebrate his son's birthday must find some way to make it up to the boy if trust is to be restored.

Because talk is cheap, repentance is more than just muttering mea culpas and striking our breasts in great drama before returning to the "ho hum" routine of life as usual.

So if we feel so strongly for ourselves and cry out to God for satisfaction against the injustices in our lives, knowing in our hearts that there is no judgment more fair, more just than the eternal wisdom of our Lord, why then do we deny that same right and prerogative to God Himself who is so deeply grieved and offended by the nature of sin?

God is Love. But true love is also just. It cannot be otherwise. Love seeks the good and welfare of the beloved. That means righting the wrongs, correcting the injustices, repairing the abuses suffered by the beloved.

Frankly if we truly love God and are sincere in our repentance, we will do more than just be content with offering a verbal apology. We will in fact do all we can to repair the damage done to our relationship with the Lord by seeking to love more earnestly.

After all, any decent father is bound by love to correct his children. As scripture says, "The Lord disciplines those whom he loves." Likewise any loving child longs to assure his parents of his sincerity through a greater outpouring of obedience and improvement. In other words, true love seeks to satisfy not just the victim’s need for justice but also the sinner’s need for righteous correction.

This does not in any way diminish God's tremendous sense of mercy and forgiveness. But we must remember that forgiveness is a two-way street. It is not an end in itself.

It is a call to walk more righteously in the path of true conversion and holiness. So even though a person is forgiven and reconciled to God through the sacrament of confession, he must in true repentance strive to make amends for his sins by repairing the harm done to others.

If this is not at all possible in a concrete way, he can still participate in the healing and redemptive mission of Christ by undertaking acts of penance, charity and service for the good of souls. Most of all, he can atone for his sins by patiently and humbly accepting whatever crosses and difficulties Divine Providence might send him.

But hang on; if God is love, if he is all merciful and forgiving, isn’t he supposed to overlook things like justice for himself?

Much of this confusion comes from thinking that Love and Justice are incompatible. Yet in reality, they’re inseparable. You cannot have one without the other. There is no love without justice nor is justice possible when love is absent. The drama of our human history clearly proclaims that.

Because God is Love, he must also be Just, even if that Justice is tempered by his Mercy - a balance that cannot be perfectly achieved by fallen man but nevertheless describes the divine nature and mystery of God.

The psalms alone are full of lamentations and cries for the mercy of God, asking the Lord to show pity on the psalmist and grant him justice in his grievances. If scripture ties mercy so inextricably to upholding justice, true love to righteousness, real contrition to atonement, isn’t it righteous and just that in the divine law, there should be equal fairness and justice due to the dignity of God? The saints and angels would demand it out of love for Our Lord and Creator, even if we should deny it.

So temporal punishments are really nothing more than the just sentences accorded to our grievous actions by divine justice. Every man, woman and child has a pair of scales that measure how we live our life. Our Lord Himself says in scripture that "vengeance is mine" Romans 12:19-21.

Now vengeance is quite another thing from revenge, although the world constantly mistakes one for the other. Vengeance has the fulfillment of justice in mind, no more no less. Revenge is just returning evil with evil, oftentimes inflicting more harm than received to prove a point. Even though vengeance might sound cruel to us, what it simply means is that God is just and there is truly a fair judgment for every soul, even if in this life there will always be imperfect justice. In fact, our civil courts are but a poor substitute for the divine justice that we long for and can only find in the courts of heaven.

For all our philosophizing, the human spirit yearns for a just world where every victim has his day in court, where every wrong and grievance is fairly addressed and satisfied....

And this I think is due to our innate instincts and desire for righteousness.

We ask God to forgive us our sins and he does, especially since no matter how grievous our sins are, his divine mercy is infinitely greater. But we also expect him to remove all consequences and sufferings that occur as a natural consequence of our sins. That is as mature as a child committing a crime and asking his parents to bury the evidence in addition to pardoning him. Can there truly be sincerity in an apology that is more concerned with escaping the consequences than repairing the offence?

Common sense will tell us that there is no virtue or righteousness in such an attitude. In fact, the graver our sins, the more we can expect to experience painful repercussions. Remember that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. We see that in the physical realm. The longer we place our hand in the fire, the graver the burns and sufferings of pain, and indeed, the longer the recovery. So in a way, the "consequences" are proportionate to our actions.

In a universe governed by the natural laws of medicine, physics, nature and common sense, the spiritual dimension is also held together by supernatural laws of order that proceed from the wisdom of God. Naturally, telling a lie is not quite the same thing as murder. And quite logically, the effects of adultery and abortion are more serious and harmful than uncharitable words.

Temporal punishments refer to the purification that a soul must go through in order to recover its health and atone for the sins committed. If properly embraced, they not only give strength to our souls and restore peace to our conscience; they also enable us to grow in Christian perfection in much the same way that an athlete pursues greatness through discipline.

We often forget that the soul is like the body in that it can be injured and wounded by spiritual falls and dangers...and in some cases, mortally. Sin does that. Because we're not always conscious of its dimensions as we are of our material body, we don't think of our soul in those terms. And depending on the injury it suffers, it can either take a long while or a short time for the soul to regain its health.

Haven't you noticed often that sin brings despair to our hearts and prevents us from praying sometimes, or at least forces us to pray badly? We feel further from God and hope than we are accustomed to. Still, like any good mother, the Church rushes to our aid by guiding us to the healing power of the sacraments, while at the same time suggesting reflections, readings, devotions, charity, prayer, penance and acts of mortification which all do violence to one thing - namely our pride and ego.

But not everyone will hasten to take advantage of these counsels and apply themselves diligently to these commendable practices and reflections. Which leaves many more who will happily confess their sins and then go about their lives as if nothing more is required of them.

It is true that they are forgiven if they are truly sorry for their sins. But they are also more likely to commit the same sins over and over again, and wonder at the end of the day why confession and the sacraments have not made them any different.

The reason? No penance, no true repentance, no sacrifice. It is no secret of the sages that men learn best through sacrifice and suffering. What knowledge that is gained through hardship is not easily forgotten, and it transforms a soul as the pruning knife cuts and moulds a young sapling.

Instead we are brought up in a culture that seeks greater short cuts and comfort in everything, including the quickest, surest way to heaven that does not require too much sacrifice. That is false theology, no matter how appealing it might sound to our appetites.

Jesus constantly warned His disciples against taking the wide and easy path. At the same time, all is grace. Our desire to atone for our sins is in itself a grace. I've always said that no one can save himself or raise himself to greater sanctity by pulling on the roots of his own hair. He needs the saving action of God and faith.

In the same way, no one works his way to heaven and sanctity by "doing" penances without first and foremost believing in God's mercy and love. It is his mercy that forgives, pardons and inspires us to discipline ourselves in order to help ourselves. He alone does the saving.

When we think of the penances given at the tribunal of confession (which are nothing more than just restitutions for our offences), we already see the immeasurable mercy of God and His Church when all we need to fulfill in atonement for our sins are often some short prayers, some brief reflections or a simple act of kindness etc.

Come to think of it, this is totally disproportionate to the grave insult and grief that a single sin can cause the heart of God. So even in this, Newton's law is already demolished when divine justice refuses to give us what we truly deserve, but only a trickle of what should be our real punishment. Is that not mercy?

Hell is a real place. And the punishments of the fallen angels bear before our minds always. They rejected God but once and definitively in their inspired intellect, we reject God a hundred times a day and are given mercy evermore because of our dull and clouded minds. Why? - Because he loves us. He doesn't just tolerate us; he labors to save us.

Now what about people who do not take upon themselves the atonement that is necessary for sanctification in this life? More often than not, the penances we receive in Confession are sufficient payment to fulfill the penalty for our sins. However, for those who fail to adequately avail themselves of such opportunities, they will have to confront the same reality in Purgatory. There is no escaping this need for purification if we hope to stand before the all holy presence of God one day. Which is partly why the saints constantly offer their sacrifices and pains for the salvation of sinners. Happily there is always someone, somewhere atoning for us, taking upon themselves after the example of Jesus, the sentence that is rightly meant for us.

After all, as Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said; if it is possible for doctors to transfuse blood from a healthy person to save a dying man, why is it not possible to transfuse suffering? And if surgeons can graft healthy skin from one part of the body to restore goodness in another, why is it not possible to graft sacrifice?

It is also true that God sends material and temporal sufferings to certain souls because they need it in order to pave the way for salvation and change. For those who won't willingly take upon themselves the vocation of purification, he does not abandon them even in this delicate but necessary task of discipline. Instead he sends them some tough love in this life so that they may not be left clueless in spiritual wisdom.

Some stubborn children who refuse to take their medication have to be forced to receive their bitter prescriptions if they are to have any chance of a proper recovery, or they will always be vulnerable to relapses of viruses. And God sometimes slips these bitter pills under the gourmet of life, especially for those who feast continually upon this world's delights.

Thus our crosses when borne courageously with faith and love can bear us to heaven. Without this chance to aid our own purification, who knows how long we'll be in purgatory, a state of existence which is also based upon this ancient teaching of atoning for our sins.

In the end, it is God's mercy and love, his utmost generosity and compassion, his understanding of our human weaknesses and poverty that teaches us the crucial importance of spiritual discipline and personal responsibility.

So that in being truly sorry for our sins, we may strive more joyfully towards Christian perfection...and by our redemption for a broken and wounded world.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Vocation of a Knight

The Knights of Malta are an enigma to many people. On the one hand, some in society find their exclusive membership somewhat elitist and pompous. On the other hand, there is no denying the great comfort and consolation they bring to those suffering the ravages of war, disease and natural disasters through their medical and social relief efforts.

Like Opus Dei, the Charismatic movement or indeed the Catholic Church herself, the Order of Malta cannot be understood from the outside; it can only be experienced from the inside. To peer in through the critical lens of a spectator is to miss the character and true spirit of its nature and foundation, and to behold only the extravagant and somewhat archaic display of costumes, capes, medals and medieval courtesies; which can seem rather ostentatious. And yet, we need visible symbols of valour, fidelity and courage to remind us of the invisible virtues they represent.

After all, we are sacramental people living in the great sacrament of God’s love, and symbols express our Christian faith with the high pageantry of inspired hearts and wills. But for those of us who are pilgrims in the Order of Malta, how should we live the challenges of this vocation? – (For indeed, it is a vocation and not a social membership.)

There are as many egocentric dangers of belonging to an association draped in historical nobility and prestige, as there are temptations to self-importance. And the novice knight is vulnerable to such mortal wounds unless he guards his soul with the chainmail of faith and humility.

I hope my brethren in the Order will indulge me these few points of reflection.

The Maltese cross so proudly worn by every knight and dame of the Order should point us to something bigger than ourselves and indeed, to someone other than ourselves. This splendid eight-pointed cross of chivalry means something only if it leads those who wear it to prostrate themselves before the rugged cross of Calvary.

This is because the true nobility of a Christian knight lies not in the ancient lineage of the Order nor on the promises of their station, but rather on the promises and grace of their baptism, which makes them children of God and co-heirs of Jesus Christ.

As Catholic Christians, the divine blood that runs through our veins at every Holy Communion should awaken us to our real dignity as sons and daughters of God. As members and associates of the Order, this same eucharistic blood further obliges us to place ourselves at the service of suffering humanity; in imitation of Christ.

In every kingdom there are lords and servants, and knights by their very station exist to serve, so that through their service they bring glory and honour to their king, and ennoble their own souls through the practice of heroic virtues.

A Christian knight has every obligation to be a saint, since he has every obligation to reflect the greatness, mercy and goodness of Christ the king, in whose service he has vowed himself. As secular knights carry the standard of their Lords and Mistresses upon their breastplates, a Christian Knight of Malta must carry the standard of Jesus and Mary upon his soul. And if that lofty standard is the cross, then he must indeed be willing to embrace his holy vocation as a soldier of Christ, bonded to his liege and master as a royal victim, priest and servant, for unlike the flags and banners of secular pride, the glory of Christ is written on the hearts of men.

As such, every emblem of office for the knight must remind him of his divine duty before God; that he is a man set apart - not for honour and glory – but for humble and sacrificial service to God and neighbour; particularly to the poor and the sick. Failure to recognize this grave obligation to sanctity and love will only reduce a Christian knight to the hollow tinsel of his medals and ribbons. And like so many things that sparkle and glisten in this world, the vanity of such an obsession will be tragic.

All of us need symbols and ideals larger than ourselves to help us live the Christian life. We need the collective drive, courage and wisdom of other heroic souls in a blessed camaraderie of faith and love, to support and strengthen us on our common pilgrimage and journey to paradise. But we also need to ensure that the glorious symbols of such a consecrated gathering do not blind us with pride and hinder our salvation, but rather remind us of our real dignity as children of God, and lead us to place ourselves at the service of our brothers and sisters.

This is our true noble calling; to be a poor knight for Christ, so that our hearts may be rich with love for his people. In this, we do well to recall the example of Francesco Bernadone – the frivolous young man of Assisi who lusted with all his heart for the worldly nobility of knighthood, who clad himself in the finest armour and rode forth on an empty crusade for fame and honour, only to be stripped of his delusions by the love of God.

Suffering greatly the pains of his vanity, he finally found himself naked of all illusions and reduced to an empty husk of existence. With no knighthood and no nobility to boast about, he could only throw himself before divine mercy and in doing so, he took the first steps of wisdom to becoming a true knight of Christ. In exchanging his rich armour for the tattered tunic of a beggar and in surrendering his quest for glory to his hunger for Christ, this young man began the transformation that would eventually immortalize him as the shining paradigm of a true Christian knight.

For a cup to be filled, it must first be emptied. St. Francis of Assisi pray for us, teach us what it means to be a real knight. May the good Lord save us from the vanity of this life.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Are you disappointed?

Every now and then I wrestle with the disappointment of living the Christian life; not that the Christian life isn’t worth living. Rather, I sometimes expect in some kind of childish way that the waters of baptism would make life easier and more pleasing. And of course it doesn’t.

Christians don’t necessarily enjoy an easier life than pagans. Being saved and redeemed by our Lord doesn’t make the battle against sin any less urgent. We still fall sick, we still suffer injustice and pain, we still labour against the concupiscence of our flesh, and ever so often, we still fall prey to the dark vestiges of despair.

Calvary beckons every Christian soul to climb it in the example of his valiant captain, and to crown his ascent with the sacrificial worship of faith, hope and love.

The health and wealth gospel so richly preached from the pulpits of some evangelical circles is not the gospel of Christ. It may sound more popular than the gospel of Jesus, but it is not the message of Jesus. Instead, Christ our Lord promised that the cross is ever before us, the poor will always be with us, injustices will exist, and if we’re fortunate enough, some of us may even be crowned with martyrdom.

It all sounds a little morbid, doesn’t it? No wonder some people prefer to shop around for a more lenient gospel. But like the political zealots of Israel who hoped that Jesus would usher in an earthly reign of peace, prosperity and freedom from the Romans, we too sometimes look to our messiah only as the deliverer of our earthly chains, forgetting that the Kingdom of God is not of this world.

In reality, Jesus never promised us a naturally happy life. Rather, he promised us a supernaturally happy life; one that can be experienced even now. The gospel ‘Beatitudes’ show us the joy to be found in witnessing to Christ amidst the sufferings of this life. “The peace that I give, the world cannot give.” We hear this read so often from the gospels and yet we hanker after the peace of this world. Why? Is it because we find it more deeply fulfilling or merely because our hearts cannot aspire to anything beyond our immediate gratification?

Have we grown up only to become people of the moment with no regard to eternity, unable to look beyond the veil of our passions and appetites? I hope not. But even if that were so, there’s nothing to stop us from refocusing our spiritual eyes. Our joys in this world are always dependent on things going right, or to put it more honestly; things going our way. But the joys of a Christian faith does not hinge on any thing, property, human person or circumstance, so that in spite of trials, difficulties and failures, the Christian soul can still enjoy a peace and happiness that is above the conditions of this life. This is because Christian joy is founded on Jesus Himself. He is the reward and source of our happiness and peace. And as St. Augustine discovered, "our hearts were made for thee O'Lord, and we shall not rest until we rest in thee."

In life there will always be disappointments, especially when we have ideals. That’s not to suggest that ideals are bad. Not at all! In fact, ideals are the fuel that drives our passions; they are the musical notes that carry our words of commitment, fidelity and courage and give them form and beauty. However, we must be careful not to be driven to despair and bitterness when those same ideals are not realized despite our best prayers and efforts. You’ve heard of the phrase, “Man proposes, God disposes”?

Well, an English Dominican Provincial once gave a homily to newly professed novices in which he said; whatever schemes we hatch, whatever plans we formulate along the way, whatever monuments we hope to raise, we can be sure of one thing – God will frustrate them.

Perhaps you share this frustration and you’re upset that no matter how hard you try, how boldly you plan and aspire, you never seem to get a providential break. Are we doomed to fail because God sets Himself up as our adversary to happiness?

Instead, Fr. Timothy Radcliff O.P. sees it this way. God sometimes demolishes our plans and extinguishes our hopes because no matter how grand they might seem to us, He wants to liberate us from the smallness of our dreams. He wants us to reach more extravagantly in life, and to share more ambitiously in His hopes for us. Our dreams and plans (despite appearing ideal for ourselves) actually imprison us in mediocrity, since they grow from the soil of our own self-interest and imaginations. And as John Paul the Great often told young people everywhere, “Do not be content with mediocrity”.

God is not against us, He is completely for us, which is why he sometimes challenges us to look beyond the trivial pursuits of our hearts. Real happiness is not bought at the cost of replacing truth with fantasies, and God wants us to be truly happy, even at the risk of disappointing us.

We’re familiar with the feast of the Epiphany; the story of how God revealed Himself to the nations through the visit of the Magi from the East. We picture in our minds the moment of discovery for these wise men. We see them presenting their gifts amidst the Christmas glow of beautiful paintings and pious nativity plays. But how much do we really know of their struggles?

Did they expect to find what they found after months, or even years of difficult travel and seeking? How much time, energy and money did they invest in this quest for the King of the Jews? What sacrifices did they endure as they left their homes and families to seek this treasure? What greatness did they imagine they would find? And finally after the weariness of such a long journey across harsh and dangerous lands, their hopes kept alive only by the light of a single star, they discover their treasure wrapped in swaddling cloths in a poor shelter, surrounded by the poverty and filth of the animals, and cared for by two very ordinary looking parents in the company of dirty shepherds.

Was this a cruel joke? Is this what they had sacrificed everything for? Were they misled by false hope? Where was the majesty they had expected? Where was the splendour of this new king? Is this truly the audience they had been waiting for? Disappointed, sad and disillusioned, how much doubt must’ve filled their hearts. Should they turn their backs on this pathetic picture, or should they believe beyond the picture?

Uncertain – they must’ve prayed, discussed and pondered. But in the end, they knelt and worshipped Him, laying their gifts and their lives before His tiny feet. And with that act of faith, they broke free from the shackles and limitations of their human plans, and received instead the royal freedom of the Sons of God and a vision for happiness that enriched their lives beyond all telling.

My friends, we too shall face many disappointments in life. The question that awaits us however is the same: will we offer our human plans to his divine love and commit ourselves to trust Him still? Or will we turn our backs and walk away?

The next time we find ourselves at this crossroad, I pray we may have the wisdom of the Magi, for as always, some truths can only be learned on our knees.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Lord of the Dance

Dancing is not one of my fortes. Even though I sometimes take recklessly to the dance floor, I’m about as graceful as a guillotine spinning out of control. Forget the rhythm of the beat, we’re talking about taking evasive action whenever I gyrate to a tune. But some people just know how to move around their partners.

It’s true that the best dancers are always instinctive, they’re not self-conscious when they surrender themselves to the beat of the music, which lifts them, carries them and fills them with sweetness. They don’t dance with their minds, they dance with their hearts. They never try too hard; they don’t think through their steps, they merely allow themselves to enjoy the moment.

In the same way, I suppose marriage is very much like a dance. Drawn by a mutual melody and attraction for each other, our hearts beat to a common song that only we can hear. Step-by-step, we begin to move, swirl, spin and express the contours of our love with fervour and passion. And like planets orbiting around each other, we feel the gravity of our attraction, pulling us closer as the music becomes more familiar and the song more personal. With practice our steps become coordinated, our movements instinctive, and in time, a couple becomes one body in the rhythm of the music. Well, at least that’s how it is for some.

The rest of us tiptoe with as much grace as an elephant in a tutu, and I for one continue to put people’s eyes out with my flailing limbs. Needless to say, I’m uncomfortably awkward with knowing what to do, how to move and when to move. And the same is often true in my relationship with God.

If our spiritual life is a dance with God, how do we see ourselves progressing? From experience we know that the dance of life is not always slow and melodic, not always coordinated to our moods. Sometimes it’s fast and passionate, other times it can be violently energetic, often it’s spontaneous and unpredictable. And perhaps like me you sometimes feel intimidated by the complicated steps and rhythm, or find yourself lost in the complex beat of the music.

Do we move with perfect timing and grace? Do we remember the steps and music? Do we drag our soles, stumble over steps and stomp clumsily on his divine feet mostly?

It doesn’t matter. As long as we choose God as our dance partner, we shall always be in tune, even when we have two left feet. Why? Because when we dance with God, he always leads. All we have to do is follow his rhythm. Don’t think too hard about what steps to take, where to move and when to twirl. Trust your divine partner. Just hold on and let yourself be carried in love. The more you dance, the more you will become one.

That’s what happens when you tango with the real Lord of the dance. Everything else is pure magic. So dance with faith, dance with trust, and dance with joy. But whatever you do, don’t be afraid to dance with God.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

St. Josemaria Escriva 3

Over the years, I've heard so many unkind things about St. Josemaria and his oft-contested canonisation. I'm just glad I decided to watch, listen, study, pray and decide for myself instead of listening to these rumors. I hope you will too.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Thinking with the Church

To add on to my last entry on Conscience, I would like to share an excerpt from this book by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus; called “Catholic Matters –Confusion, controversy and the splendor of truth”.

“Dissent from official teachings – typically from teachings that do not sit well with the surrounding culture, and most typically from teachings touching on sexuality – is taken to be a mark of having grown up. The disposition is this: “Yes, I am a Catholic but I think for myself.” The somewhat implausible assumption is that what one thinks up by oneself is more interesting than what the Church teaches.

It’s true that, as the sixteenth-century St. Ignatius of Loyola put it, we should think with the Church (sentire cum ecclesia). It is also true that thinking with the Church begins with thinking. Faithful assent is not a matter of standing to attention, clicking one’s heels, and saluting at the appearance of every document from Rome. Rather, it is a matter of thinking for myself so that I can think with the Church, the prior assumption being that the Church possesses a teaching charism and authority that warrants my assent. I think for myself not to come up with my own teaching but to make the Church’s teaching my own. That is not always easy to do. People say they have difficulty with one teaching or another. That is not necessarily a problem. The problem arises when we assume that the problem is with the teaching and not with ourselves. The great nineteenth-century theologian Cardinal John Henry Newman said, “Ten thousand difficulties do not add up to a doubt.”

“Catholic Matters” can presently be purchased at Borders (That’s where I got my copy); and no, I don’t get any commission for recommending this, unless you count the spiritual kind.

In good conscience and in bad

Many Christians, including Catholics think that faithful assent to the Church’s doctrinal teachings is akin to an absolute surrender of reason and will. Post-modernism has bred such an emphasis on self that every man, woman and child always knows better than the collective wisdom of the Church.

Even clergy and religious sometimes hide their contempt for certain Church teachings by dressing their disobedience under the excuse of what they call “faithful dissent”.

In other words, “I disagree and disobey but I’m nevertheless a faithful Catholic because I choose to think for myself, and I think the Church is wrong on this subject so in obedience to a greater truth (usually mine), I must dissent.”

First off, there is nothing wrong with thinking for yourself. Faith and reason are not in battle with each other in the Catholic faith. Indeed, they co-exist in a perfect marriage where one complements the other. After all, God gave us the spirit to believe but he also gave us a mind to understand what we believe, and we are to use both. But in a world of shifting principles and democratic consciences, any claims to eternal or absolute truths can certainly upset anyone who has been weaned on contemporary ideas of personal choice and freedom.

For many, morality is not indisputable but adaptable. Truth is not eternal but relative, and “conscience” is just another word for exercising my right to decide for myself, rather than the imprint of the eternal God who infused our souls with that natural gift of sensing what we know by nature to be right or wrong, good or evil. Where that instinctive knowledge has been suppressed, dulled or ignored for too long, then a false sense of moral principles fed on the ideologies of the world and the appetites of the ego replaces the true conscience as the fulcrum of a person’s code of conduct and thinking.

G.K. Chesterton put it well when he said, "When people stop believing in something, they'll start believing in anything." A conscience in reality is a spiritual muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes and the more sensitive to good and evil it is. The less you use it or worse, try to suppress it; it will eventually be reduced to a state of spiritual muscular dystrophy. How then can it support a moral life?

God has given us tremendous attributes in this life, each of which is a tool designed by the creator to serve and help us when used as intended. Naturally when we use something in a way other than it was designed for, we risk not only ineffectiveness but also a real danger to life and limb. A can-opener does a great job of slicing open our canned dinner but it is hardly an appropriate tool for trimming your nails unless you have extra fingers to spare.

Think of your conscience and reason as a car. It can get you places and bring you to your eternal destination, but only if you drive it whilst being mindful of the rules that govern the highways of life. However, if you do all kinds of modifications to your car, or worse, you let it fall apart and then choose to ignore safety signs on the road, then you put yourself and others at risk because you become a danger to everyone else driving on that highway. When that happens, your “Aston Martin” is more likely to serve as a flaming coffin that propels you to certain death rather than the reliable means for bringing you home. After all, being placed behind the wheels can be intoxicating to anyone who doesn’t temper such power with humility and faith.

What’s more, we should recognize that since Genesis, there exists a voice that has sought to offer us an alternative code of morality to the one God envisioned for His children. He didn't tell Adam & Eve to do away with a conscience, he was much too sly for that. Instead, he convinced them that they had the sole power to know for themselves what was right or wrong.

“Eat of the fruit of the tree”, he said, then you shall know the difference between good and evil and you shall be like God. With this ultimate lie, this wretched creature convinced our first parents that “God doesn't want you to eat from the tree of knowledge because He knows that you will become like Him; you will become powerful and self-sufficient and will have no need of Him. That is why He hides that power from you, so that you may never know or enjoy that ability". Sadly it was this temptation to be our own Gods, to be subservient to no one, to be answerable to no master but the high altars of our own egos that plunged the world into darkness and rebellion.

Today, Satan continues to say to us, "You don't need the Church to point out what is good and evil. You have the power to decide this for yourself! The Church wants to keep you oppressed because she knows that you won't need her when you can decide on your own. You can be your own Church, your own Pope, and your own Gospel. It is only fools and old unthinking masses that bow their heads to the Church and her high-handed hypocrisy and thus live lives of utter sadness and oppression."

Why do you suppose popular culture and Hollywood constantly depict Catholics as ignorant, superstitious, pathetic and sometimes cruel, but always as tortured souls suffering great misery? Yet anyone who lives a genuine Catholic life will tell you that it’s a life resplendent with joy and grace.

Still, it’s no secret that the world identifies Catholicism as the bastion of oppression and injustice. To be a Catholic is to be robbed of original thought and reason; to be denied the freedom to do whatever you want, to express yourself in anyway that you feel comfortable. It's the "I gotta be me" mentality described by the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen.

The Catholic idea of freedom however is not quite the same thing. It is the freedom to choose wisely, to act responsibly and to be delivered from whatever addictions and sinfulness that can chain an individual and blind him to the right choices in life. The fact is, freedom as a gift is not an end in itself, nor is it the pathway to self-gratification.

Is the man who is free to indulge in drugs, adultery, fornication, pornography, homosexuality or excessive drinking truly free, when every such opportunity saps him of his strength to say "no" and rise above his wanton desires? Of course not. Rather, true freedom liberates us to be authentic witnesses in this world to the reality of God and truth. And one cannot do this when one is imprisoned in a thousand ways through false ideals, lifestyles and choices.

Now and then we are told that to make a financial killing, we need to listen to the advice of our brokers. To get a sharper nose, we gladly acquiesce to plastic surgeons. To have more prosperity, we obediently seek out geomancers and fortune-tellers, but to live rightly and justly for our happiness, we are outraged that the Church's teaching office or Magisterium should presume to tell us how to live our lives - they who receive their commission "to feed my sheep" from Christ Himself.

Tragically some things just don't change. Maybe that’s why Satan has such a field day convincing generations of men to follow in the footsteps of their first parents.

A conscience, despite being a natural gift from God, still needs to be formed and cultivated. This is where religion comes in. A man with a badly formed conscience will not be able to rise to the occasion under attack. Besides, how can we truthfully say "each man according to his own conscience" when some have such poorly formed ones as to appear to have none?

Hence to preserve and protect us, Christ our Lord gave us more than a conscience, He gave us the Church to preserve and form that conscience in order that through the Holy Spirit, we might be delivered from the idolatry of self-worship.

Truth is immutable and unchangeable. We are not the benchmarks of morality in our own lives. Christ is - The same Christ yesterday, today and tomorrow. The same Christ who commissioned one Church in particular to speak for Him definitively.

That might explain why the Catholic Church is so reviled as an icon of moral steadfastness in societies that expound an ideology of convenience and gratification. At the same time, she is often admired for her unwavering courage by people disillusioned with the transient solutions offered by society today. Her defense of traditional teachings in the face of trends, political correctness and popular theologies, effectively sets her as a thorn in the sides of people who recognize the seeds of truth in her words, regardless of how much they might insist on drowning that out.

Remember that the Church has never taught her doctrines and moral ethics because they were popular or even practical! She teaches them and maintains that she has no right to alter them for one reason alone - She is convinced that it expresses the will and intention of Christ Jesus her Lord and King, in whom her only duty is to obey and adore. That is why Jesus warned His disciples that the world will hate them as it hated Him, it will reject them as it rejected Him, and like her Master, the Church will be "a sign of contradiction" to the world, just as the Cross continues to be a sign of contradiction to the world.

Anyone who prides himself on being more progressive, forward-thinking and obviously more "enlightened" than a 2000 year old Church without even seriously investigating its doctrinal stands with some degree of honesty does a great deal of disservice both to the Church and to himself. And it is not uncommon for many in this day and age who are hungry for truth to be seduced by new fads, theologies and spiritual appeals that more often than not, distill Christian truths in their claims to shed more light.

Unfortunately, many (including priests and religious) who are most prejudiced against orthodox Catholicism, sadly also do not allow themselves to seriously study anything from conservative or traditional Catholic sources before condemning them. Instead, armed with what little knowledge they derive from some dissident source of literature, they feel comfortable abandoning two millenniums of magisterial teaching, saints, martyrs, doctors and the infallible promise of Jesus without bothering to weigh the arguments for the Catholic position seriously.

If this was an operation on a life and every doctor jumped at a new, fancy, popular treatment without objectively weighing these claims against proven medical histories and knowledge, they'll end up killing hundreds. In spite of that, many Church leaders, pastors and theologians feel they have to constantly reinvent Catholic theology by challenging the Church's heritage with hostility that borders on the insane. Instead of claiming to speak for Catholic truth, at the very most they can only present these novel ideas as their own.

Yet it is this crazed hunger for something new, something different, something exotic that dominates so much of their theological wrangling that they lead the faithful into a chasm of mistrust and confusion about the Church's teachings, often times just for the sake of seeming revolutionary. At best, they merely succeed at reinventing the wheel. At worst, they promote heresy and confusion among the faithful.

This is not to suggest however that Catholic Theology can bear no dialogue, that to raise doubts is to risk being struck by a bolt of lightning. That is not what we are saying.

The theology of the Church is made more manifest and clear through the contributions of great Catholic minds who delve into divine mysteries in a genuine effort to understand and articulate these truths. In order to grow, there must be courage to explore, to ask questions and to try new ways of thinking, but always and everywhere, this must be done in the context of Catholic understanding and tradition as far as divine revelation is concerned.

This is the backdrop. This is where we must return in our quest for a more authentic Catholic identity, even if our thoughts explore and stretch the boundaries of divine science; because in the end, theologians cannot be said to be expounding Catholic theology if what they teach contradicts and attacks the essence and nature of the Catholic faith - just as you cannot genuinely claim to be Catholic if your life bears no resemblance to authentic sacramental living within the Catholic Church. It is the duty and function of theology to question, think and study the truths in divine revelation in order to bring out their clarity and light, not to change and alter these truths into something entirely alien, or to invent a new revelation so to speak.

Author and apologist, Scott Hahn once commented that to agree with what the Church teaches is not faith, it is coincidence. You have a set of beliefs that you subscribe to. And coincidentally, the Catholic Church has an identical set of beliefs. Faith is when you encounter a teaching that is difficult, but you recognize the spiritual authority and wisdom of the Church and you bow your head in obedience, knowing that where your human efforts end, the Holy Spirit supplements with a wisdom and love that never fails.

The truth is, agreeing with Jesus has never been the condition for accepting His teaching. For His Apostles, His words were all that was necessary. They believed because He said it was so.

In the Gospel of John, many of Jesus' disciples abandoned Him because they could not accept His teaching that they would have to eat His Body and drink His Blood. No one could fault them for appealing to logic; it just did not make sense. However, instead of explaining Himself, Our Blessed Lord turned to Peter and the eleven and asked them, "What about you, will you leave also?"

Faith succeeds where human knowledge fails. It was Peter who responded despite not understanding, "You have the words of eternal life Lord, to whom shall we go?" John 6:68

Some people may be tempted to interpret this as implying that we should blindly accept all that the Church teaches. On the contrary, there is nothing in Catholic teaching that goes against the grain of reason. God didn’t just give us a heart to love Him; He also gave us intelligence to know Him and a mind to understand His will. Faith is not incompatible with reason, and it’s a tribute to the wisdom of the Catholic Church that she recognizes both as complementing each other in the life of a believer.

Therefore, do not be discouraged when questions arise. Many times, the Apostles themselves could not understand the Lord's teachings, at least not until the Holy Spirit came upon them and opened their minds to the mysteries of His Revelations. Very often, these episodes of clarity occurred much later in their history when they had grown more mature as Christians. So the next time you come across a difficult Catholic teaching, don’t be too hasty to pronounce judgement until you’ve heard all the evidence.

Read, study, question and research! You’ll be surprised at the wealth of Catholic resources available to those who want to know their faith better. You owe it to yourself to seek and discover the truth, instead of quietly assuming that the Church is erroneous in her moral claims. The least we can do in such a dilemma is to honestly try and understand the Church's position for ourselves, instead of relying on prejudicial hearsay.

Above all, pray! Let us sincerely ask the Lord for illumination. Because like Peter, we can also say to the Catholic Church, the true Bride of Christ, our Mother, "You have the words of eternal life, to whom shall we go?"