Tag Archives: Apostles

The Last Shall Be First

Mark 10:28-31

This Gospel passage continues from where the rich youth rejected our Lord’s counsel to cast away his riches and thus, went away sorrowful. It is in this context that the Apostles began to inquire of THEIR reward for they had ALREADY fulfilled this precept of leaving everything behind.

However, Jesus replies with a general answer. He instructs the Apostles to prefer the Glory of God over the things of this world. Finally, He closes the discourse by telling them the famous verse which all Catholics love: “But many that are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mk 10:31)

From a human perspective, this may seem daunting, illogical and unfair. Even in the depths of my heart, I do ponder why this must be so. How is it fair that the last will become first? (The sin of envy is a very ugly sin.)

The fundamental principle to remember is that God’s ways are DIFFERENT from ours. If we can’t accept this, then we do not understand a thing about True Christianity. The heart of Mark 10:31 is God’s generosity. It’s about the way God deals with us and the way He asks us to deal with each other. The last will be first.

The world’s view is the exact opposite. The world loves winners and has no time for losers. The brightest student gets the scholarship while the weakest goes to work in McDonald’s. The world doesn’t have time for those who are last. Jesus invites us through today’s Gospel to ask ourselves: shall we act in the way the world does?

With God, there are no losers. Remember that He loves us all equally. Whether we choose to accept that love though, will always be our choice alone.

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Originally posted on Instagram.
Image: PD-US

Discord

James 4:1-10, Psalm 55, Mark 9:30-37

The central theme of James 4:1-10 and Mark 9:30-37 is discord. In the Gospel, we read that the Apostles were arguing about “who was the greatest”. The reason for this dispute probably arose because Jesus only brought Peter, James and John up onto the mountain where he was transfigured.

The others might have wondered if Jesus showed favoritism by passing a secret to only these three. Moreover, only Peter was promised the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven according to Matthew’s Gospel.

These snippets of the Gospel show us just how human the Apostles really were. Their behavior isn’t so different from ours if you think about the times when we too, fall so easily to the sin of envy.

A friend told me yesterday, ”We listen to the voices of angels and devils every day. Which of the two we obey though, is up to us.” So how do we discern which is the voice of God?

Indeed most of the time, God’s voice is drowned out by the world. It is not that God cannot speak loudly and clearly, but he usually prefers to speak quietly and gently because he wants to INVITE us to listen, not command us. When it comes to God, it is always ‘requests’. A loud, terrifying voice would be a mandate, not an invitation, causing a person to respond out of Servile Fear.

God does not want this. He wants us to know His soft voice and obey Him out of our own free will. This is why Jesus did not come down from the cross when challenged to do so. If Jesus had come down, the Jewish people would have been compelled to believe in Him. It would not be true Faith.

Noise is a great obstacle to hearing Jesus, who is meek and humble of heart. Finding time every day for silent prayer and listening is critical. Let us remember that when we pray, we are conversing with a LIVING GOD, not a dead god.

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Originally posted at Instagram.

Remain in Me

Before meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul was “breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord,” and yet today we remember him as a great evangelizer and prolific New Testament writer. What happened? Nothing less than an inbreaking of divine grace.

For the powers of humanity, there are a great many situations that are beyond hope: souls that have been irrevocably corrupted, systems that are beyond repair. But for God, no one is beyond hope. No matter how hardened a person, God can break through any barriers to offer them mercy and an opportunity for transformation. He stopped Paul right in his murderous path, turned him away from Damascus and out into all the world a changed man. He channeled Paul’s zeal toward its natural, rightly ordered purpose: building up the Kingdom of God. In the same way, our own human purpose can only be understood through an encounter with the divine.

Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood remains in me and I in him (John 6:56).
Jesus has given Himself to us in the Eucharist as an opportunity for encounter with Him, that we too might be transformed by His grace. He instituted this sacrament so that we might share a radical intimacy with Him. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati understood this deeply—he received Communion daily, meeting Jesus every morning and carrying Him throughout the rest of the day. This is the key to his sanctity: not Pier Giorgio’s own goodness, but his openness to divine grace, to deep intimacy with and vulnerability before God.

“I urge you with all the strength of my soul to approach the Eucharist Table as often as possible. Feed on this Bread of the Angels from which you will draw the strength to fight inner struggles.”
—Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

Conversione_di_san_Paolo_September_2015-1aThe great things that Paul achieved after his conversion stemmed from this intense closeness with God and awareness of God’s perfect love. This is what opened Paul’s heart to allow God to work through him rather than imposing his own will. When the scales fell from his eyes and he saw his life with sudden clarity, he fell to his knees in humility before God. Throughout the rest of his life, as he wrote and preached and converted a great many souls, he was ever aware that it was all due to God working in him: It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20). Paul knew all too well the cold, cruel man he would be without God, and thus he was able to recognize that any good fruits that flowed from his work were not due to his own power or talent or goodness, but from Jesus Christ working through him.


1. Domenico Morelli, Conversion of Saint Paul / PD-US
2. Caravaggio, The Conversion of Saint Paul / PD-US

Originally posted at Frassati Reflections.

Finding the Way

“Where I am going you know the way.”
Thomas said to him,
“Master, we do not know where you are going;
how can we know the way?”
Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.”
—John 14:4–6

If we follow Jesus wholeheartedly, seeking first and foremost to know Him and grow ever closer to Him, then we will be on the right path. We might be led in very different directions than we imagined, we might be confused about the details as we go, but if we stay close to Him, we can trust that we’re on our way to the Father.

Like Thomas, we ask: How do we know the way?

Open your eyes, Jesus says. I am the way.

You are beholding God before you at this very moment. The Father’s house still awaits, but the Kingdom of God is already at hand.

How will you get there? Be with me. Focus on nothing else; do not worry yourself about directions. Stay with me, keep me company, let me delight in you. Relish this time we share together, even when you are disoriented, even when the path is steep. The journey itself is sacred.

The way to Heaven is not by intently navigating our path with maps and compasses and plans of our own making. The only way we’ll make it is with a guide—Jesus Himself. We cannot reach Heaven without embracing the way of Jesus: the way of the Cross, the way of mercy, the way of humility and love and truth.

Wherever God leads you today, seek the company of Jesus right where you are.

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Originally posted at Frassati Reflections.

A Question of Fairness

Peter turned and saw the disciple Jesus loved following them – the one who had leaned on His breast at the supper and had said to Him, ‘Lord, who is it that will betray You?’ Seeing him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘What about him, Lord?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to stay behind till I come, what does it matter to you? You are to follow Me.’ (John 21:20-22)

Have you ever felt unfairly picked upon? What is our reaction? “How come you didn’t ask person A…? Why can person B do this, but I cannot? …”

Last Supper, Jacopo Bassano (1542)

It is curious, Jesus did not address the unfairness which St Peter pointed out. Instead, He seemed to chide him even more! Strange how the Just One seems unjust. Or could it be that it is not always a question of fairness but of love?

Many a time we choose to focus on the cost of discipleship and forget the privilege of being chosen as His disciple! We choose to attend to our pride instead of to our love; for the husband of a pregnant wife does not say it is unfair when he might have to put in extra hours to bring home the money needed for the family, nor does a woman in labor say it is unfair to have to suffer so as to see her newborn baby for the first time, nor does the child cry unfair when they spend their hard-earned savings on a Mother’s Day gift.

The question is; how much do I love others as compared to myself? Can I humble myself for those who love me/whom I love? Can I humble myself for Love?

So the divine love is sacrificial love. Love does not mean to have and to own and to possess. It means to be had and to be owned and to be possessed. It is not a circle circumscribed by self, it is arms outstretched to embrace all humanity within its grasp.
— Archbishop Fulton Sheen

Divine Friendship

Jesus said to his disciples:
“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
I have called you friends,
because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you
and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,
so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
This I command you: love one another.”
—John 15:12–17

Two lines from this Gospel passage may seem contradictory at first glance:

You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.

Andrea_del_Sarto_-_The_Last_Supper_(detail)_-_WGA00391First of all, Jesus tells us we are friends, not slaves—if we do what He commands us. Wait. Do friends normally take orders from one another? Then He says we are not slaves because we know what our Master is doing. But…do we really? At the time He spoke these words, his apostles had no idea that He was about to suffer and die (though, to be fair, it’s not like He didn’t warn them). The disciples seemed pretty clueless most of the time about what Jesus was really up to. Can we truly say that we know what our Master is doing? I think more often we feel we are flying blind, having to trust Him without really understanding what His plan is. After all, so much of our Catholic worldview is grounded in the concepts of mystery and faith.

What do we mean when we speak of the mysteries of God? Encountering mystery does not mean that we’ll never know the answers and should simply give up trying to understand. Rather, it means that no matter how deeply we study this complex truth, there will always be more layers of understanding to peel back, always something new to learn. Our human understanding is limited, but with God we can go deeper and deeper, until we are united fully with God in Heaven and can participate in His perfect understanding.

Jesus_washing_Peter's_feet

The more we plumb the depths of these mysteries, the more we grow in both understanding and wonder. But in order to get anywhere we must first have faith. We cannot grasp at this understanding for ourselves; we must draw closer to God so that He can help us see. We must trust Him. Our hearts must be open to soak in His wisdom, rather than trying to sharpen our own, which is a losing battle. Understanding the mysteries of God requires more than just intelligence; it requires divine relationship. It requires friendship with Jesus.

And Jesus offers us that friendship as a great, unmerited gift. We can begin to understand what He is doing—though it be far beyond our depth—through our love for Him. He says, “You are my friends if you trust me. And if you trust me, you will follow my commandments.” Our obedience springs from love and gratitude rather than fear and servitude. We can rest in the knowledge that we are loved and chosen, and we can return that love by recognizing Jesus in others and loving one another.

We are not mere servants; we are friends. And we are made to delight in a Love that is greater than we can comprehend. When we remain in Him, we can begin to bear the fruits of understanding, cultivated through love alone.


1. Andrea del Sarto, The Last Supper / PD-US
2. Ford Madox Brown, Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet / PD-US

Originally posted at Frassati Reflections.

Pentecost

Acts 2:1-11, Psalm 104, Galatians 5:16-25, John 20:19-23

Catholicism sprouted from Judaism. The Church has always promulgated that because well; Jesus chose to be born into a Jewish family and was faithful to the Jewish traditions of his time. So my Catholic friends, always be proud of your Jewish roots because its a sign of authentic historicity of our Faith!

The Jews had a cycle of feast days just like Catholics (Lev 23). Out of these, two have been brought over to the New Covenant in the Catholic Church:

Passover 👉 Easter

Feast of Weeks (Shebuoth) 👉Pentecost.

The word ‘Pentecost’ comes from the Greek ’50’, which means 50th day after Passover. This is why the Church celebrates it 50 days after Easter.

From a Jewish perspective, Pentecost was immensely important because it was one of the three pilgrimage feasts. (This meant that adult male Jews were required to go up to the temple and offer sacrifices on this day.) Why? Well, the Babylonian Talmud indicates that Pentecost was the day Moses received the Ten Commandments on Sinai.

Understanding this is crucial to draw the parallel to Luke’s account of ‘Tongues of Fire’ in Acts, because Exodus 19:16-18 describes how God also descended upon Sinai ‘ in fire’.

12 Tribes + Ark present (Ex 19) = 🔥

12 Apostles + Mary present (Lk 1:14) =🔥

Pentecost is thus an extremely important feast day for it marked the sign of a New Covenant. The Psalmist sings: ‘Lord, send out your spirit and renew the face of the earth!’ (Ps 104:30). An early Church Father comments:

“Now the Holy Spirit appeared in fire and in tongues because all those whom He fills He makes simultaneously to burn and to speak—to burn because of Him and to speak about Him. And at the same time He indicated that the Holy Church, when it had spread to the ends of the earth, was to speak in the languages of all nations.” (Ven. Bede, 8th Cent.)

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Originally posted on Instagram.

Editor’s note: Today concludes the Octave of Pentecost, a beautiful tradition of Holy Mother Church.

The Spirit of Truth

Jesus said to His disciples: ‘When the Advocate comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth who issues from the Father, he will be My witness. And you too will be witnesses, because you have been with Me from the outset. (John 15:26-27)

If the sight of rose petals falling in the Pantheon is something to behold, I wonder what beauty “tongues of Flame” descending onto the Apostles must have looked like. The change it brought: fear into fearlessness, doubt into conviction, sadness into joy. But it did not come at no cost… The Apostles were surrounded by enemies; never mind their Roman conquerors, what would their fellow men have done if they found out that they belonged to “the King Of The Jews?”

Yet despite all their faults, all these circumstances, all the uncertainty, they were faithful; they stayed in Jerusalem and waited. And so we come to the end of Easter with the Feast of Pentecost — the Advocate’s arrival; the birthday of the Church! The question is; just how much of a witness have I been to the Spirit within? If I am in a trying situation, what does the Holy Spirit instruct? What spirit moves within me?

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Editor’s note: Today is Saturday in the Octave of Pentecost.

Two Charcoal Fires

Peter’s Denial, Carl Heinrich Bloch (1873)

There are only two charcoal fires (Greek: anthrakia) mentioned in the whole Bible, and they are both in the Gospel of John. The first anthrakia mentioned was in the high priest’s courtyard, where the gatekeeper said to Peter, “You are not one of this man’s disciples are you?” and Peter says, “I am not.” Questioned like that two more times, Peter, now warming himself at the same fire, DENIES being a disciple of Jesus two more times (c.f. Jn 18:18, 25-27).

The second anthrakia mentioned was on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, apparently prepared by the Risen Christ (Jn 21:9). Here, the very same Peter was questioned; “Do you love me?” and the disciple now affirms his ALLEGIANCE three times.

Christ’s Charge to Peter, Raphael (1515-1516)

So one anthrakia sets the threefold denial of discipleship, while the other anthrakia sets the threefold affirmation of discipleship. Coincidence? Knowing John’s Gospel, such symbology is likely not by chance. And who is to say that the association does not go back to Jesus himself, helping Peter to realize that the denier is being given a fresh start in his relationship to the Lord. This beach scenario is not only a matter of astounding forgiveness; it is also of commissioning: “Feed my lambs; feed my sheep.”

I’ve once asked a bunch of friends before – “Why did Jesus mention feeding his Lambs and then his Sheep? Like, what’s the difference?” This verse is deeply theological and the Church has the best answer: Jesus is commissioning Peter here to become not just leader of the laity (lambs); but also leader of the clergymen (sheep); symbolized through the young and mature in the flock.

Peter is given an opportunity to demonstrate the love he professed by sharing in the mission of the risen Lord. Ultimately, it is going to be a matter of being led where he does not want to go. Loving the head shepherd means obeying his commandments – even if it means becoming the first Pope, which would ultimately lead to his martyrdom.

Movie Review: Paul, Apostle of Christ

I was excited when I learned that the life of Saint Paul was going to be made into a movie. Among the saints, Saint Paul is one who has a movie-worthy life:  his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus, a daring escape plan that involved being lowered down the window in a basket, preaching and provoking riots and getting arrested several times, shipwreck, remaining unharmed after being bitten by a viper.

Paul,  Apostle of Christ turned out different from what I expected.  It is meditative, a bit slow-paced in the beginning, and intellectual. It assumes that the viewer knows a bit about Saint Paul. Nevertheless, the movie is still accessible, and though the movie could have been improved by better storytelling and more action, it is not devoid of tension and drama.

In short, I loved the movie despite its flaws.

Paul, Apostle of Christ opened  at the time of the Roman emperor Nero’s crackdown against Christians after the burning of Rome. Christians were being persecuted, and Saint Paul was arrested, imprisoned in the Mamertine Prisons, and condemned to death by beheading.  (For parents concerned with the appropriateness of this movie for their children, the movie depicts scenes of Christians being burned as human torches, the bloody body of a dead child, and Christians, including children, in prison waiting to be thrown to the lions).

The movie follows Saint Luke’s frequent visits to Saint Paul in prison, seeking wisdom for a struggling Christian community in Rome and in order to document Saint Paul’s story in what was later to be the Acts of the Apostles. The movie also follows the subplots of the dilemma of the Christian community whether to stay in Rome or escape, the conflicts with a faction of Christians who want to raise arms against Nero, a Roman officer’s attempt to understand Christianity, and Saint Paul’s own internal conflict grappling with his past as a persecutor of Christians himself.

One of the movie’s strengths was making Saint Paul’s words come alive, putting them in the context in which they were written – a context not so different from our own times. I like how the scriptwriter chose appropriate Pauline quotes for the different situations that the movie depicted. The themes of love, forgiveness, and hope will be appreciated by many.

I also like how the movie made Saint Paul himself come alive, highlighting his mental sharpness and his zeal for souls which made seize every available opportunity to speak about Christ to everyone, even his executioners.

Another of the movie’s strengths is its depiction of the first Christians – how they lived fraternally among themselves, how their ideals clashed with those of pagan Rome, how they sustained hope and witnessed to Christ in their ordinary lives amidst persecution. The Christian characters other than Saint Paul are just as lovable, and one of my favorite parts is when a certain Christian character’s excellent practice of his profession became an occasion of grace for a non-believer.

However, the movie could have given more emphasis on the Eucharist as the sustaining and unifying force of the Christian community. There was a lot of focus on the teachings of Christ as transmitted by Saint Paul, but not enough on the Bread of Life which was the center of life and worship among the first Christians, and which was also a central theme of Pauline writings. More emphasis on the Eucharist would have been also been an apt counterpoint to the movie scenes showing sacrifices to the pagan Roman gods.

Despite its flaws, Paul, Apostle of Christ is a worthy effort to present the apostle’s life and teachings. Its depiction of Saint Paul as a man with a rich inner life and silent power beneath his aging, battered exterior complements my image of him as a passionate and energetic preacher and man of action. Watching the movie gave me a greater appreciation of Saint Paul’s role in the early Church, and how his teachings are as relevant today as they were during those times.

Movie Review: Mary Magdalene (2018)

A friend and I were given free tickets for a preview of the upcoming film Mary Magdalene.

The visuals were truly exquisite, bringing to life the stark beauty of poor Hebrew dwellings, their dress and cuisine, and the simplicity of life in a fishing village, with the soothing susurration of the waves ever present.

However, I was really disappointed with the lack of true understanding of Mary Magdalene’s role as a disciple of Jesus, and how the film pits her against the apostles. The film has a strong feminist bent while funnily leaving out Jesus’ other female disciples.

We are introduced to Mary as a strong-willed though mild young woman who refuses to marry, despite her father’s attempts to match-make her.

She flees to the synagogue to pray in distress, and is rebuked for bringing dishonor on her family by appearing crazed.

Her stubbornness is interpreted as demonic possession, and she is tricked into an exorcism ritual where she is nearly drowned.

However, she encounters Jesus, who is mobbed by villagers seeking cures. She runs away from home to follow him and his apostles to Jerusalem.

The apostles are portrayed as clueless Jewish patriots who see Jesus as the key to overthrowing the Roman Empire. Judas is portrayed in a sympathetic light, as someone who lost his wife and child to the Romans.

The movie depicts Mary Magdalene as being the only one to understand Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness. At her instigation, he preaches to the women of a town, especially one who is filled with hatred and unforgiveness over another’s rape. This is in contrast to the Scriptures, where Jesus needs no one to prompt Him to approach the Samaritan woman, or to visit Mary and Martha, or to raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead.

Also, Mary Magdalene is shown baptizing women, using a strange formula about being “baptized into the Light.” There is no mention of the Holy Trinity, which is necessary for a valid baptism.

Peter resents Mary’s presence and declares that she will cause division among the apostles. However, he is sent with her to minister to the towns. She tends to the dying, and he realizes that she, more than he, has grasped Jesus’ message of mercy.

Mother Mary meets them as they enter Jerusalem. Far from the beautiful and stately Mary portrayed by Maia Morgenstern in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004), she looks crabby and restless. She sharply states to Mary Magdalene, indicating Jesus, “You love him, don’t you?” Mary Magdalene is then depicted lying down near Jesus, his one companion in his distress as he approaches his death.

Jesus is also shown breaking down in tears before entering Jerusalem, while Mary Magdalene comforts him, cradling his head in her lap. It is a poignant reminder of God making Himself vulnerable in His humanity, and that we can comfort Him by doing reparation for sins. Yet, all this intimacy between Mary Magdalene and Jesus in the end does a disservice to the Gospel, where Jesus pursues His earthly mission as both God and man, the Anointed One with the strength to resist temptations alone in the desert.

The movie also omits the true friendship Christ enjoyed with the apostles, particularly St. John the Beloved, who stayed with Him to the bitter end and was entrusted with His mother’s care. Instead, after the Resurrection, Mary and Peter are again depicted at odds, with Mary Magdalene pledging to carry Jesus’ message despite the corrupted message she feels Peter and the apostles will pass on in forming a church. Yet, Scripture records that Peter was the one who stood by Jesus when others deserted Him over the Eucharist.

Oddly enough, the movie ends with references to the very Church built on the rock of Peter (Matthew 16:18); yet, again, it distorts the message of the Catholic Church. It notes Pope Gregory the Great as wrongly conflating St. Mary Magdalene with the penitent prostitute, and claims that because the Vatican has recognized her as the Apostle to the Apostles, that means she is equal to the apostles.

“Apostle” is simply Greek for “messenger”, and yes, Mary Magdalene brought news of Christ’s resurrection to the Apostles, so she was the messenger to the messengers of the Gospel, the messengers ordained by Christ to preach and to forgive sins with His authority (Matthew 18:18). All this hype about “equality” is a tone-deaf rendering of the roles of both men and women in the Church, which are different though complementary.

By denying St. Mary Magdalene‘s identity as a penitent, the film has omitted the awesome wonder of God’s grace working through a repentant sinner to bring the Good News that Christ conquered sin and death.

In the end, the 2018 film Mary Magdalene may be remembered for its beautiful cinematography, but it fails to deliver the salvific truth of the Gospel as ministered through the seven Sacraments instituted by Christ. The Gospel is not just about human charity and forgiveness or equality between men and women. It encompasses God’s great design for human salvation from the time of the Fall to the present day, and the movie very disappointingly lost His plot.

(Also, they forgot the donkey when Jesus made His entry into Jerusalem, foretold in Zechariah 9:9.)

The New Evangelization: What’s new, why now?

Evangelization: Why is the Gospel good news?

The word “evangelization” comes from the Greek “Euangelion” meaning the announcing of good news. St Paul and the apostles were excited about the person and message of Jesus. They had encountered Jesus as a Savior, who by His cross and resurrection, has triumphed over sin and death, and who has sent His Holy Spirit to accompany His followers in all things. The command by Jesus to “go teach all nations” was not felt as a burden imposed upon them, but as a joyful obligation. They had experienced true freedom in the Gospel “for freedom Christ has set us free”, and they wanted to proclaim this to the world, that God has made adoption as His children possible in Christ.

Through the preaching of the apostles, those who became Christian in the early Church felt the same freedom. St. Justin Martyr felt that Christ was the fulfillment of his vocation as a philosopher. St. Agatha felt herself to be a spouse of Jesus. To preserve her vow of virginity, she refused marriage to a pagan noble and suffered martyrdom as a result. St. Augustine, after living a chaotic life, famously declared after his baptism, “You have made us for ourselves O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” The ancient world was stirred by Christ and His message. The human person has a royal dignity and a direct link with the Creator. God in Jesus Christ is the friend of the human person. And the countless Powers—gods, spirits, demons—weighing upon the soul with all their terrors, now crumbled into dust.

Why a “new” evangelization?

If evangelization is the announcing of good news, why the need for a new evangelization? John Paul II, who first coined the phrase “new evangelization”, clarified that the message of the Gospel has certainly not changed. What has changed however was the fact that

i. A growing number of Christians, in traditionally Christian countries, no longer experience Christianity, especially its moral teaching, as liberation but as a burden. They practice their religion “as if they have just returned from a funeral.”

ii. Increasingly educated and exposed to science and reason, the doctrines of Christianity were also experienced as somehow pre-scientific and having no rational basis.

Two convenient options

Faced with these two challenges, a Catholic can take the “soft” option. He can (at least in his own mind) “water down” the Church’s moral teaching, especially its difficult and inconvenient ones. Faced with accusations that he is being “pre-scientific”, he could also discard the seemingly incomprehensible “supernatural” doctrines of Christianity (the resurrection or the virgin birth, for example) and focus on what seems to be “reasonable.”

He can also take the “hard” option. In the face of a hostile world, he can retreat into his private Catholic space, with other like-minded Catholics, viewing the “hard” teachings as a necessary burden to attain heaven in the next life and diagnosing Catholics who have difficulties in believing as somehow lacking in faith. “If only they pray more and have more faith and don’t question too much.”

The teaching of the New Evangelization proposes a third option. John Paul II declares that the new Evangelization must be new “in ardor, methods and expression.” Let’s look at these in turn.

New in Ardor

Ardor refers primarily to enthusiasm and excitement. This is something that cannot be “faked”. It has to be real. It has to flow from an encounter, or a re-encounter with the person of Jesus Christ. Hence, Singapore Archbishop William Goh’s emphasis on the “conversion experience”, where one recognizes that he is a sinner in need of grace. Jesus Christ is experienced no longer as simply a great moral teacher but one’s personal savior. To continue fanning the flame of conversion, the Archbishop insists on the cultivating of an intense prayer life and on-going formation so that the converted disciple can better share the Gospel with others.

New in Method

There is a move away from teaching Catechism as simply “doctrines to be learnt” or “moral teachings to be followed.” Rather, at the heart of Catechesis is to facilitate for the child an encounter with the person of Christ. Doctrines and the Church’s moral teaching flow from that encounter. They liberate the person to live a new life in Christ. They point to Him. They are not ends in themselves. The catechist is not “the teacher” but a “facilitator.” Christ is the Teacher. The catechist is there to facilitate the encounter. He is not “God’s lawyer.” Rather, he is a co-pilgrim with his students in the journey of life. He has nevertheless found Christ in his pilgrimage of life and is thus there to share this with his students.

I remembered one incident that might illustrate this new approach. I bumped into my student who was hanging outside church and not attending Mass. In my earlier years as a Catechist, I would actually have focused straight away on his non-attendance at Mass and tell him that what he is doing is very wrong and that he should go for confession and then for Mass the next time. This time, I did something different. I said hello and asked him if he would like to chat a while as he seemed to have things on his mind. What followed was a 30 minute conversation where he shared about how he felt that Church teaching is restricting his freedom and that his family situation is unhappy. I acknowledged his feelings as very real and shared with him how, in my own experience, I too had these feelings but had gradually found Christ to be a source of freedom. I did not focus on what he “did not do.” A year later, while preparing another batch of students for confirmation, he waved at me and said that he too has decided to get confirmed. He too had experienced the love of Christ for him and found in the Catholic faith a source of true freedom. While I would never dare to take any credit for his conversion, I nevertheless shudder to think what might have happened if I had “scolded” him for not attending Mass during our first encounter, out of a sense of misguided zeal.

New in Expression.

Icon written by Br. Claude Lane, OSB, Mount Angel Abbey, Saint Benedict, OR, USA

It is easy to simply reduce the phrase “new in expression” to the need for Catholics to be “up to date”, especially in the use of social media (Facebook etc). While social media is certainly an important means of evangelization, the call for a “new expression” is deeper than that. It is a call to re-present the person and message of Christ in a manner that is comprehensible, challenging and compelling to a new generation. It would be no use for instance to say “Jesus Christ saves you from sin” when the culture has lost a sense of sin. Rather, a patient dialogue about the nature of right and wrong would be an important first step in precisely recovering such a sense, and then showing how Christ saves us from the burden of an overwhelming guilt. The art of learning how to understand the cultural situation in the light of Christ would require formation. But the acquiring of such knowledge is not simply “book knowledge” but flows from the fervor to make Christ known to others.

Conclusion: Mary, the Star of the New Evangelization

On 27th Sept 2014, Archbishop William Goh consecrated Singapore to Mary, the Star of the New Evangelisation. In this, we ask not only for our blessed Mother’s powerful intercession, but also through the studying of her life, we will know how to go about our tasks of evangelizing. As the Archbishop declared in his pastoral letter, it is from Mary that we learn i) that the New Evangelization is urgent. That it is ii) principally a witness of love. That it must iii) begin from a contemplation of the Word of God and that iv) it must possess a spirit of poverty and the recognition of the primacy of grace.

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Image: Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour