Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

Thoughts on Catholicity & the Blessed Sacrament

During my retreat, I had the privilege to attend Daily Mass. Despite our different ethnic backgrounds, it was a big treat to witness all 8 ‘retreatants’ from Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, UK, and Australia all coming together to celebrate the same Mass and read the same readings as all other Catholics in the world. This is why the Catholic Church is one; united in doctrine, mind and worship.

There is a running joke that being a Catholic entitles you to a ‘global passport’. You can be overseas, but every mass celebrated around the world in a Catholic Church is the same. This is one of the main reasons why I am proud to be Catholic! Truly; the meaning of the name is fully embodied (Catholic means Universal); and as Christ Himself said — one flock, one shepherd (Jn 10:16, 17:21-22).

One of the other major moments for me during the retreat was spending dawn, noon and night in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus Christ Himself. Although being in nature had a sense of beauty, I personally felt that I could focus best when I was with Jesus, kneeling in front of my King and Savior.

In any Catholic Adoration chapel; one would find a small ‘cupboard’ which we humbly call the Tabernacle, acknowledging our Jewish roots. Every Catholic Tabernacle in the world contains consecrated bread and wine by an ordained priest. This Bread and Wine is truly the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in its totality: physically and spiritually (c.f. Jn 6:51-54).

This is signified by a burning candle lit at the side of every tabernacle (see pics). As long as Jesus is inside, this candle must be lit to symbolize the Light of the World being truly present (Jn 8:12). This is an ancient and beautiful practice dated way back to the 4th Century!

As a lover of history, I find it fascinating that just as the ancient Israelites in the OT believed the Holy of Holies resided within their Holy Tabernacle, Catholics today also believe that Jesus Christ Himself is present inside each modern Tabernacle in the form of consecrated bread and wine!

___

Originally posted on Instagram.

True Food

Exodus 16:2-15, Psalm 78, Ephesians 4:17-24, John 6:24-35

In these readings, the Church juxtaposes the two instances in history where supernatural food was given to men.

The first account is way back in the Book of Exodus during the wanderings in the desert, where the Israelites were given “bread rained down from heaven” (Ex 16:4, Ps 78:24). Many ancient church fathers called this the Bread of the Angels, because it was heavenly food.

The second account is in A.D 30+, during the time of Jesus. Here was when Jesus ‘upgraded’ and fulfilled the OT by giving us His own flesh when He instituted the Eucharist. No more Angelic food! This time, we would be eating the Bread of Life Himself (Jn 6:35, 51-58). That’s how close in proximity Jesus wants to be with us!

It is in John 6 that Jesus fervently teaches this hard Truth, that the Eucharist is truly His real flesh and precious blood, which we must eat to inherit eternal life (Jn 6:51-58).

All who say this is symbolic or metaphorical are incorrect. None of the early Church Fathers believed Jesus spoke symbolically, and none of the Apostles did — as we read very clearly from Peter’s response: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn 6:68-69)

In fact, this literal understanding is so obvious because we see that the Jews WALKED AWAY from Jesus because they wanted it to be symbolic (c.f. Jn 6:66)! If the Eucharist was just a symbol, then Jesus’s words would make no sense because angelic Bread supercedes earthly bread.

Think about it, if what we have today is just a mere piece of earthly wafer symbolizing Jesus, wouldn’t the REAL angelic bread way back in Exodus be greater? This is of course, absurd. Thus, there has and only been one Truth which the Catholic Church has been promulgating since A.D 33; that the Eucharist is truly the true flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.

Anyone who claims they love Jesus will obey His commandments, even if they do not understand them. The Mystery of the Eucharist is one such truth which all disciples of Jesus must accept in faith.

___

Originally posted on Instagram.

Hidden faith will turn into ruins

Jeremiah 13:1-11

In this reading, God instructed Jeremiah to hide the loincloth in a hole in the rock, and some time later Jeremiah was instructed to retrieve it, only to find it “worthless and of no use”.

The loincloth is the most intimate part of a man’s clothing. And this is a symbol of the people of Israel too — the people of Israel were God’s divinely-elected people, they were close to God’s heart and were called to be intimate with Him.

From this reading, two lessons can be gleaned:
1. When Jeremiah found the loincloth spoilt and good for nothing, it’s akin to when we keep our faith hidden from others — it will be good for nothing too!
2. The story also reminds us if we don’t keep ourselves close to the Lord but hidden away in a hole, we will lose our mission and what we were made to do.

As humans, we are called to give life to others and be gift to others. It is in the chaste giving of ourselves for others that we become fulfilled. If we hide away, we become inward looking, self-centered at end of the day. And we detract from the very missions that the Lord has called us each to embark on.

Let us not forget too that our calling to be instruments of God’s peace and love is not only for ourselves, neither is it merely for those around us, but to the whole world!

We are called to be ambassadors for Christ, and we need to bring those who don’t know Christ to come to know Him through our ordinary lives. That was what Israel was instructed to do — to be a people who will be light to the world!

May we never hide our faith and become good-for-nothings, but instead may we be fearless in the the sharing of our faith so that when others see us, they see Christ.

___

Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

Image: The Pursuit of  God — Know Your Bible

Lady Liberty and The Statue of Responsibility

Man’s Search for Meaning

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl would have to be classed among the most profound works of the twentieth century. A survivor of both Auschwitz and two concentration camps affiliated with Dachau, Frankl — a Jewish Austrian psychiatrist — reflects on his holocaust experience and in the face of it responds to life and its meaning.

Frankl lays bare the human condition at its lightest and darkest, best and worst. Boldly speaking about the imperative of life to find meaning, even and especially, in the face of suffering. His experience gives him license to speak rawly about universal and personal truths, lending it something of the prophetic. Despite his own sufferings and ability to maintain a sense of moral integrity during those testing years, he writes honestly, but without resentment against his oppressors, and without taking the moral high ground against those who compromised themselves under the weight of the Nazi jackboot. His sharing challenges our modern sensibilities—pointing out not the demands we should make of life, as we are taught to, but the demand that life makes of us.

There is so much one can take from this work, of what is really an introduction to Frankl’s Logotherapy. For a Christian, a Christian reading of the text is inevitable. The mystery of the Logos, the Word, and the Cross, seeps through the words on every page.

The Cross as Reality

Through Frankl, the Holy Spirit can help us recapture the true meaning of the Cross in our postmodern landscape where that meaning is all too often deconstructed, institutionalised, privatised and novelised. For the Christian today, faced with the crossless standard of secularism, the Cross runs the risk of becoming nothing more than an identity-concept, an intellectual corner stone, a symbol to muse upon and defend—a point of difference, instead of a reality and mystery to be lived and breathed and believed in.

It’s an imperative for every generation and age to rediscover the truths of our faith, particularly the Cross, which always has and forever will run against the grain of the status quo. The Cross will never be cool, and if in certain pockets it ever does become trendy, it could only be a kitsch version of it. It’s a mystery far too great and gritty to be reduced to something bite-sized or to something that merely flashes on a billboard or dangles upon a neck. It will always be more.

The Wisdom of the Cross speaks uniquely in every age to those with ears to listen (Mt 11:15), but the message remains the same—a call to discover the meaning of life in Christ by shouldering his yoke of love and burden of responsibility.

Liberty & Responsibility

In Part II of Man’s Search for Meaning Frankl says the following:

Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth… Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.[i]

With such a simple proposition Frankl says many things…

Freedom without responsibility is arbitrary, aimlessly egocentric and condemned to meaninglessness. It’s a license for a self-autonomy void of consideration for the other. It’s the kind of freedom that allows an S.S. soldier to push a woman into a gas chamber. Sure, he might find meaning in doing so, but such subjective meaning is arbitrary, false and without substance. One of the many reasons it is exposed as such is because of its inability to register with universally held human values.

Yet what is freedom with responsibility? It is a yielding to the summons of life to be responsible, to take responsibility in the here and now, in fulfillment of one’s vocation.[ii] It demands one’s search for meaning, and one’s execution of their responsibility necessarily supplies it. It is the kind of liberty that rendered the woman being pushed into the gas chamber—St. Edith Stein—free to lay down her life of her own accord (Jn 10:18) despite being forced to die. Sent to the gas chamber but going freely, in her words, “For my people.” It is the kind of freedom that discovers and begets meaning even in situations intended by forces of tyranny to be vacuums of meaninglessness for its victims.

In an opposite strain, the fact that there is only a Statue of Liberty speaks loudly and immaturely of rights, and little of responsibility. It’s indicative of the attitude of the modern western man who first and foremost asks himself, not “What are my responsibilities?” but “What are my rights?”

There’s certainly a place for Lady Liberty but without Lady Responsibility she is like that personification of folly in the Book of Proverbs, who without the wisdom of responsibility leads men astray after the fancies of their own will, for “her steps follow the path to Sheol, she does not take heed to the path of life; her ways wander aimlessly” or we might say—meaninglessly (Prov 5:5-6).

What is this Statue of Responsibility?

We all know well what the Statue of Liberty looks like. Yet what might the Statue of Responsibility look like? There can be no doubt about it. The Cross. History has supplied us with the image, and God with its unexpected force of meaning brought about by the Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, who shouldered to the peak of Calvary the responsibility humankind owed to God and to itself. And where humanity failed to shoulder its dual responsibility, the humanity of God Incarnate succeeded.

Yet such success was not carried out to deliver us from our responsibilities, but it was carried out to enable us to fulfill them in He who has gone before us—by His strength, His grace and His love.

This is not because God is a Father who demands we earn our salvation by the sweat of our brow, but because to exercise our freedom to live responsibly is the only way to enter into this salvation. A salvation from sin, which is our inability to be perfectly responsible on our own, so that we might be enabled free to love—which is freedom to be responsible, to find meaning, purpose and dignity, not just now and in the face of the grave, but hereafter and beyond the grave.

The Statue of Responsibility is the Cross, and specifically, it is the Crucifix with Jesus nailed to it. Here a flaming torch is not held in the hand, but rather a heart burning with love, consumed by responsibility. The voice from this statue does not declare His rights, but rather invites each Mary and John, each woman and man: “Come to me all you who are weary and overburdened, and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light. Pick up your daily cross and follow me.”[iii]

Here the promised rest is not a false comfort secured by the abandonment of personal responsibility. It is that peace of heart and mind the world cannot give—infused by Jesus into one’s soul, and which begets a meaning no nail of suffering can destroy. It is the symptom of embracing one’s cross. The vertical beam representing one’s responsibility to God, and the horizontal, one’s responsibility to one’s neighbor. It’s not a cross without both these beams, and Jesus invites—commands even, that we shoulder it.

Easy and light? Ridiculous it’d seem. Offensive even. But isn’t that the strange miraculous power of love, that it really is madness to the rational observer, yet pure sense to the one afflicted by it… the one liberated by it? That after all is love—not emotion, but embraced responsibility.

The Ultimatum of Life

In the context of considering the divergent extremes human nature can take in the face of the worst kind of suffering, Frankl writes:

The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity – even under the most difficult circumstances – to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not.[iv]

He is not saying we deserve or don’t deserve the sufferings we get, but from the Christian angle—the Cross is there, looming large in the midst of our lives—we cannot escape it. Most of the time it makes its presence felt through little things. Yet sometimes the experience of the Cross is deeply felt, and at times it can be experienced as unspeakably terrible, a result of human evil or sickness, in such a way that its reverberations never leave us. Yet whatever form the Cross takes in our lives, it can either be something that crushes and corrupts us with the bitterness of resentment, leading us to lash out at the world with hatred; or a rare and testing opportunity to grow in depth—to be drawn deeper into meaning, into our humanity, and deeper into the Mystery of God who is our Holiness.

In other words, the Cross is surely forced on our backs by circumstances we can’t control, but we can decide whether it is an occasion that will crush us and break us, or an opportunity to carry it with Jesus for love of God and man.

It’s an ultimatum posed to us by human life itself, and Jesus the Life takes it and eternalises its meaningfulness beyond the human sphere. An ultimatum to choose to be crushed by the cross or to carry it, and our response is up to ourselves as individuals. “Let him deny himself and take up his cross” (Mt 16:24): it’s all in the singular because the proposition is profoundly personal. We cannot judge our neighbours, nor probe their motives, nor are we even capable of discerning the difference between being crushed by the cross and carrying it, for these things can look identical to outward appearance. No, it’s a matter for ourselves to consider, and at most, to invite others into an awareness of this summons. Thus our place is to use our often shoddy discernment not to judge, but to discern how to act as a Simon of Cyrene, instead of a shouting, flagellatory Roman soldier who only makes the crosses of others heavier.

One person may be paralysed and haunted by the profundity of their cross, and it may involve the severest kinds of trauma; or one may be able to meander along under its heaviness, and no doubt life will involve moments of both. Yet whoever we are, whatever our cross, the underlying truth is that to be able to bear and carry the Cross we needn’t be professionals who can run circuits with our cross, but we must simply accept it, even if it takes a while, in the faith that God can use this suffering–big or small–to make us better people, to teach us how to love, to give Him glory, and to help save souls.

The option is there, to either suffer meaninglessly in vain or to suffer meaningfully with purpose. To invoke the Name of Jesus is enough to inject our pain with infinite and eternal value.

“May Raise Him”

Frankl then elaborates:

Do not think that these considerations are unworldly and too far removed from real life. It is true that only a few people are capable of reaching such high moral standards. Of the prisoners only a few kept their full inner liberty and obtained those values which their suffering afforded, but even one such example is sufficient proof that man’s inner strength may raise him above his outward fate.[v]

“Man’s inner strength may raise him” indeed. Perhaps in our strength we cannot all rise above our outward fate—prisoners as we are of our own weaknesses. Then on the matter of sin—there is no way anyone can rise above that by their own strength. Just as well. God can achieve all these things, and in Christ Jesus, He has already raised us higher than “man’s inner strength may raise him”. The reality of this resurrection awaits us in our cross: those two beams of responsibility which are far from abstract. For already they weigh upon us and demand our response in the very moment we occupy. We need not search for meaning nor liberty elsewhere. In this respect our Statue of Liberty and Statue of Responsibility are really the same thing, it’s the Cross, through which God in Christ mediates the gift of the liberty of grace through our embrace of responsibility.

The Virgin Mary is a testament to this truth. She is the eminent member of our race raised into immaculacy from the moment of Her conception; sanctified, liberated into union with God, from the get-go. She only rose higher with leaps and bounds into this sanctity through Her profound union with Her Son – realised through Her responsibility to God and man, a responsiveness to Him the God-Man. A union made manifest and typified by Her standing by Him at the foot of the Cross—the True Statue of Liberty and Responsibly.

Lady Liberty & Lady Responsibility

Our Lady can thus rightly be called Lady Liberty and Lady Responsibly. For other than Jesus, who else knows better the twin-beams that make up the Cross? That dual responsibility to God and neighbour which crushed Her Heart in a pain worse than death? She was with Jesus in the face of His Cross, and we need Mary in the face of our own. She can teach us how to carry these beams, and calling upon the Name of Mary–confident in, and obedient to the fact that Jesus has given us to Mary, and Mary to us—is enough to realise Her maternal presence and aid already at our disposal.

As Lady Responsibly She will help to hold on to the splintery wood of the Cross, in the face of every kind of interior and exterior hardship. As Lady Liberty She will help us to do so with love, peace and even joy.

The United States has its own Statue of Liberty, its own Lady Liberty—without a signifier of Responsibility—a gift from the French, and all as a sign of national independence. Through faith, may we allow the Holy Spirit to erect in the land of our soul the real and everlasting Statue of Liberty and Responsibility, the Blessed Cross, and its accompanying Lady, a dual gift of God, and a testament to our freedom as pilgrims whose life and citizenship in Jesus, through Mary, is not of this “mortal coil” on earth but in that “undiscovere’d country” where angels smile,

To rest forever after earthly strife.
In the calm light of everlasting life.[vi]

[i] Victor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, Part II, 154-155, full text available from archive.org.

[ii] Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, Part II, 130.

[iii] A loose synthesis drawing from Mt 11:28-30; Lk 9:23.

[iv] Ibid., Part I, 87.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] John Henry Newman, Lead, Kindly Light (1833).
Other references, Hamlet, and Phil 3:20.

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.

A Paschal Poem: Christ’s Guests

The Adoration of the Magi Morris & Co. tapestry design by Edward Burne-Jones
The Adoration of the Magi. Morris & Co. tapestry. Design by Edward Burne-Jones

When Love was hid within the crib
Wise men Heaven’s call did heed
Beneath the Star they traveled far
To seek the King of which was writ
That He should come to rule the world.
The Infant’s fingers lightly curled
About His mother’s drooping veil
As the old kings did gently kneel
Amidst the straw, to here adore
The Messiah, and implore
His solemn benediction
Proffering a sweet oblation
Of frankincense for the true God
And purest gold for our one Lord
With myrrh to spice the Sacrifice
They built for Him an edifice
Of profound praise within their hearts
And reluctantly, depart
Holding in sweet memory
The innocent visage of He
Who was to bring
Through suffering
The reign of Peace.

"Why seek ye the living among the dead?" St Luke 24 v5 Painting by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (1829-1908)
“Why seek ye the living among the dead?”
St Luke 24 v5
Painting by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (1829-1908)

When Love had sprung from the cold tomb,
The women came to anoint His wounds
Bearing myrrh; their hearts were gold
With sheer courage – they were bold
Enough to brave the guards
If fight they must with their pot-shards
They would not be unduly kept
Away from Him for Whom they wept.
As prayers like incense rose on high
In silence through the darkened sky
They found to their deep dismay
The body gone, the grave forlorn
Who had stolen Him away?
The angels came, in light arrayed
And as the women bowed and prayed
They turned to them, and softly said
Why seek ye the living among the dead?
He is not here, He is risen.
Cease ye now thy sad orisons.
The women rose, and brought the news
To brethren hiding from the Jews
Who did not believe their words
But Peter ran, with John ahead
And stooped to see, with bated breath
If Christ had truly conquered death
No words were needed then, their eyes
Saw He had opened Paradise.

So now we sing, to our God-King,
Let all earth and Heaven ring
He has triumphed evermore!
Let us bow down and adore
The Infant, Man and God in one
The Father’s sole obedient Son
Who for us Life has dearly won
‘Tis Love alone, when all is done
Who will call to us, and we
Should now strive ever to be
Worthy of the price He paid
And deliver ourselves undismayed
Into His presence, and adore
In profound peace forevermore.

___

Images: PD-US

Truth Is a Person

The Jews picked up rocks to stone Jesus.
Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from my Father.
For which of these are you trying to stone me?”
The Jews answered him,
“We are not stoning you for a good work but for blasphemy.
You, a man, are making yourself God.”
Jesus answered them,
“Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, ‘You are gods”‘?
If it calls them gods to whom the word of God came,
and Scripture cannot be set aside,
can you say that the one
whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world
blasphemes because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?
If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me;
but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me,
believe the works, so that you may realize and understand
that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
Then they tried again to arrest him;
but he escaped from their power.
—John 10:31–39

When it came to listening to His sermons and watching His miracles, Jesus’s followers were totally on board. But when He proclaimed Himself the Son of God, none of the Jews listening to Him—as we saw in Friday’s Gospel—could accept such an outrageous claim. They were familiar with prophets, men who proclaimed God’s truth and channeled His power to perform miracles, but a man who was God? Blasphemy.

We, too, can be susceptible to this mindset of imagining God not as a Person but as a distant, lofty idea, a series of teachings and traditions to be practiced. The truth of the Church is deep and complex, something that we can really sink our teeth into and deeply reflect upon on a theoretical level—but first and foremost, truth is a Person. Jesus is not merely a representative of the truth, a preacher of God’s Word; He is truth. The people struggled to grasp this; they couldn’t comprehend how a man could be so arrogant as to think himself on the same level as God Almighty. What they didn’t consider is that God would deign to lower Himself to our level, to take on human flesh for our sake. Jesus is telling them not that a man is God, but that God is a man. And this proclamation is not blasphemy but love: that the heart of the universe beats within the chest of this humble, ordinary-looking man. This Jesus—ever loving and peaceful, drawing crowds and crowds of followers anxious to see Him and to touch Him—this is the face of Yahweh.

We are called not only to know and understand God but also to be His hands and feet, vessels of God in the world. Christianity is not merely about studying and preaching God’s Word; rather, it is about relationship with the living Word. It is about offering our whole lives to become the manifestation of God’s Word.

As we approach Holy Week, let us draw close to God, peeling away the sins and fears that separate us from Him. Let us experience His Passion, Death, and Resurrection from a perspective of intimate relationship with Him instead of just going through the motions. And let us pray that we might manifest God in the world, so that through our presence others may encounter the Way, the Truth, and the Life.


Image: Icon of Christ Pantocrator, St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai / PD-US

This post was originally published at Work in Progress.

He Noticed

For so many of us, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the multitudes. In the crowds of people at malls and stores, the workplace and schools, we lose sight of others, and maybe even more so, we ourselves feel truly lost in the crowd.

Jesus was familiar with swarms of people. It was a definitive aspect of His ministry to be frequently surrounded by the people:

And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him.[1]

But in the midst of that crowd one day, a sick woman, who had suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years, recognized Jesus. She knew He was there, and she did everything in her power not to lose sight of Him: more than that, she wanted to reach out to Him.

For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well.”[2]

She did not cry out for attention. She knew her littleness in contrast to all the multitudes of people swarming around Jesus. And yet, in her humble faith, she trusted that God could work a miracle for her if she but touched Him. Would He notice?

And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, “Who touched my garments?”[3]

The woman did not go unnoticed: Jesus sensed her act of faith, though she but reached out and caught the hem of his cloak in her fingers for a moment in time.

And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’”And he looked around to see who had done it.[4]

The disciples are confused: how can Jesus even ask the question ‘Who touched me?’ Probably half the people in the crowd have touched Him as they buzzed excitedly around Him for the past ten minutes alone. Further: why should Jesus care?

And yet, He does care. The others who touched Him did so because they were pressing upon Him in the crowd. The woman, on the other hand, was purposely reaching out in humility and trust. Her loving faith, so hidden to the eyes of the disciples overwhelmed by the masses, draws Jesus to reach out to her who reached out to Him.

But the woman, knowing what had been done to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.  And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”[5]

A living faith, however overlooked by the crowds, is never lost on God. The woman trusted in God’s goodness and mercy and reached out to Him. She was rewarded not only with His healing, but also with a return of His loving recognition. Even the Apostles saw nothing special in her simple touch, but Jesus saw her intention.

He noticed.

[1] The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version: Second Catholic Edition (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006), Mark 5:24.

[2] (Mark 5:28, RSV: Second Catholic Edition)

[3] (Mark 5:30, RSV: Second Catholic Edition)

[4] (Mark 5:31-32, RSV: Second Catholic Edition)

[5] (Mark 5:33-34, RSV: Second Catholic Edition)

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.)

Degrees of Sin — Separation from God

Sin is not wanting too much, but settling for too little. It’s settling for self-gratification rather than self-fulfillment.
— Scott Hahn, First Comes Love: Finding Your Family in the Church and the Trinity

It should have been better that all the stars should have fallen from Heaven than that one soul should have ever committed a single venial sin.
— Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman

Recently, some friends and I were discussing an interview with Milo Yiannopoulos, in which he said:

“Sins of the flesh, let us remember, are at the bottom of the scale. The Church says self-righteousness is at the top. Therefore, I’m in a lot better shape than some of my feminist and establishment Republican enemies.”

That part made me wonder about his grasp of Holy Scripture and the Catechism, not to mention Our Lady of Fatima’s sobering warning:

More souls go to Hell because of sins of the flesh than for any other reason.

A friend of mine chimed in: “Sins of the flesh rank lowest in Dante’s Inferno and also Bishop Barron agrees in his CD Seven Deadly Sins and Seven Lively Virtues.”

Sandro Botticelli, Chart of Hell

I replied: “Indeed, lust of all the sins is most akin to love, Dante notes. But when you really love someone, offending them in any way is just downright bad. And no matter what degree of Hell someone is in, it’s all really bad ‘cos it’s eternal separation from Love. So on one hand it may be technically right to say one sin is not as bad as another… On the other hand, they’re all terrible and we ought to scram from every one!

Sometimes when we are in a state of sin, it is tempting to compare ourselves to other sinners, thinking, “At least we’re not as bad as they are!” But isn’t that really the pinnacle of self-righteousness? Isn’t it akin to the attitude of the Pharisee who thought himself better than the publican? (Luke 18:11)

It’s like a sick person comparing himself with others in hospital: “At least I’m not as poorly as that man!” or worse, “What’s the point in getting well, we’re all going to fall sick and die in the end anyway.” He’s still stuck in hospital, and comparing himself to another patient just creates a false sense of consolation. Instead, it would be better to focus on his recovery, comparing his current condition with the healthful one he hopes to be in.

When in sin, therefore, let us take the example of Christ and the saints as our standard, and lean ever more on God for the strength to strive for holiness: confessing our sins, performing penance, and amending our lives.

For all have sinned, and do need the glory of God. Being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption, that is in Christ Jesus…
Romans 3:23-24

To confess your sins to God is not to tell Him anything He doesn’t already know. Until you confess them, however, they are the abyss between you. When you confess them, they become the bridge.
— Frederick Buechner

God does not judge Christians because they sinned, but because they do not repent.
— St. Niphon of Constantia

To say that God turns away from the sinful is like saying that the sun hides itself from the blind.
— St. Anthony the Great, Cap. 150

Be ashamed when you sin, not when you repent.
There are two things: sin and repentance.
Sin is the wound, repentance is the medicine.
Sin is followed by shame; repentance is followed by boldness.
Satan has overturned this order and given boldness to sin and shame to repentance.
— St. John Chrysostom

Image: PD-US

Listen and Ask Before You Give

Lawyers are taught to listen carefully to what our clients say and to ask questions, because a client might think that one issue presents the right course of action to take in court, but in reality a detail that may seem incidental to them could present a stronger case with a different line of argument.

Doctors too, should listen carefully when patients describe their symptoms, lest they misdiagnose them. My mother, a frequent migraine sufferer, was quite adamant that something had burst in her brain and it was a crushing pain unlike any she had endured before, but the GP insisted that it was probably just another migraine and she should just take some painkillers. Five days and many painkillers later, my mother underwent open head surgery for a brain aneurysm.

Sometimes, when we are approached for charity, it pays to listen and assess what the person really needs, lest we end up harming them more than helping.

A disheveled lady approached me outside a hostel in Adelaide, asking for $4 to take the bus home. It seemed strange to me that she needed $4, because the fare from the airport to the city had been cheaper than that. But I gave her the benefit of the doubt and handed over the change.

Later, I noticed her playing a poker machine in the basement, and I felt simultaneously incensed and sad. It appeared that I had just contributed to her gambling addiction. How could I have better handled the situation?

In Melbourne, I met a young homeless, nearly toothless girl on a tram, who was being booked for not paying the fare. I offered to pay for her, but the lady booking her paid. So I offered to bring her to lunch at an Italian restaurant… and the waiter paid! After we went for a stroll around the nearby university grounds, I decided to pay for her night’s lodging. After receiving $30, she said, “I forgot, on Wednesdays they raise the price, it’s $40 today.” I gave her more, and she departed. Later, I googled hostels in the area, and there was at least one with rooms for $26. I hoped that she would spend the extra money on food.

A few weeks later, she asked me for more money, saying she would pay it back. Soon enough, she was asking for even more. However, I was in the midst of moving back to Brisbane, and didn’t see her again.

Now, looking back, and having met more people who have struggled with drug addiction, I wonder if I had just been unwittingly feeding a drug habit. What could I have done better under the circumstances? How does one begin to help another person break free of the chains in their life?

J.J. Tissot, "Zacchaeus in the Sycamore Awaiting the Passage of Jesus"
J.J. Tissot, Zacchaeus in the Sycamore Awaiting the Passage of Jesus

When Jesus met the Samaritan woman, and when He met Zacchaeus, He asked them for simple things — a sip of water, lodging for the night. In asking them for things they could give, He opened the way for what He could give them — forgiveness and freedom from their sins, their patterns of addiction to lust and greed.

Perhaps here is a model for charity. Those mired in sin and addiction often feel helpless, even useless. Once you acknowledge someone’s free will and locus of control, they can begin to transform from within, breaking free of self-absorption while realising what they can still give to others. Jesus didn’t ask Zacchaeus to make amends for his misdeeds, but Zacchaeus joyfully announced that he would give half his possessions to the poor, and if he had cheated anyone, he promised to repay it fourfold (Luke 19:8). Our Lord’s request for Zacchaeus’ hospitality unlocked the man’s heart. How may we help to unlock other hearts today? And do our own need unlocking too?

___

Image: PD/US

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The Church Embraces All People: Thoughts on the Beatification of Fr. Stanley Rother

“They must be going to the beatification!” I yelped happily, as I pointed towards a well-dressed group of people walking down the sidewalk. It was early in the morning on Saturday, September 23rd, and I could not contain my excitement. Several minutes later, I found myself also walking down the sidewalks of downtown Oklahoma City. My husband, myself, and our toddler joined the massive throng of people who wrapped around the Cox Convention center, waiting to enter the arena. From around the state of Oklahoma – and around the world – we all came together for this historic event: the beatification of Fr. Stanley Francis Rother.

The view as we rushed through the arena, looking for open seats.

After bustling around, trying to find seats, we wound up sitting in the overflow section behind the altar. I was expecting many people to attend the beatification Mass, but the sight of so many people was incredible. Over 13,000 people crammed together to pray and celebrate the life and legacy of the first U.S.-born martyr to be beatified.

Throughout the beatification Mass, I kept thinking of how this event showed that the Church truly is universal and all-embracing. There were hundreds of priests and consecrated religious, and over 50 bishops. There were thousands of lay people. These individuals came to Oklahoma from all parts of the country – or from other countries, like Guatemala, where Blessed Stanley served and was martyred. The petitions during Mass also reflected the universality of the Catholic Church; they were read in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Filipino, Comanche, Tz’utujil, and Korean.

As I looked out on the massive, diverse crowd of people, I thought of how Blessed Stanley Rother gave his life as he ministered in love to others. He didn’t stay in his comfortable little hometown in Oklahoma, but he went out to embrace and guide those in another country during a tumultuous time. He helped translate the New Testament into the language of the people there, Tz’utujil. He lived simply, joining in solidarity with the men and women around him. In his life and work, he sought to serve and love others.

There have been many times where I have found myself becoming self-absorbed. I’ll think that “my way” is the “best way” when doing different activities. Or, I’ll narrow my field of vision and think that a Catholic must look or act in one particular way. At times like these, I forget that Christ welcomes all people into His Church – those who have cultural differences from me, those who have backgrounds different from my own, and those who pray in ways which I do not. In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes: “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ” (1 Cor 12:12). As I saw during the beatification Mass of Blessed Stanley Rother, there is a beautiful diversity among the members of the Catholic Church. Let us rejoice in the unique gifts that each person brings to the Church, and let us remember to embrace and welcome all people with the sacrificial love of Christ, so that we may all grow closer to Him together.