The core of the cross: Good Friday

s_sabina-particolare-porta1As I was looking at this image in the “porta lignea” of the basilica of St. Sabina in Rome, it stirred me to ask an interesting question. Why is the cross important for our faith?

 This picture shows the first representation of the crucifixion that has been preserved to our days. What is interesting is that it dates back as late as the 5th century. Other Christian symbols have been preserved from the beginning of the church: the fish, the bread, etc… but no crosses or crucifixes. Why? Did it take the first Christians five centuries to discover the centrality of the cross? Did the 5th century Christians suddenly discover the importance of the crucifixion?

This representation does not pretend to innovate a symbol, it is simply a representation of a scene shown among many other scenes. In fact, the crosses are barely visible, what is shown is the crucified. Does the cross deserve to be our most outstanding symbol?

Perhaps symbols evolve and change with cultures, but the core of our faith is expressed in the gospels, which some scholars have described as accounts of the passion and resurrection, with a long introduction. Accepting that Jesus “must suffer according to the Scriptures” is an essential condition to true faith in Jesus.

The cross is not just an unfortunate episode in the life of Jesus. Jesus did not even save us “in spite” of the cross, but through His cross. Jesus was not a simple hero or martyr whose torments were an expression of their fidelity and consistency. His passion revealed a Redeemer. If the incarnation of Jesus reveals God with us; the crucifixion reveals God for us.

Jesus had been in control of His life and destiny clearly throughout His whole ministry. He decided whom to cure, where to go, what to preach, when to leave, whom to approach. He is the master. There is, however, a turning point in the life of Jesus when He was assailed by an extreme distress. In the synoptics, it happened at the Garden of Olives. The gospel of John presents this extreme distress at the beginning of the Last Supper. From then on, Jesus was passive. He would let things happen to Him. He would not run away or hide Himself. He would not defend Himself or even pray to be delivered. He allowed men to do with Him as they pleased. This was a unique moment in the history of the universe. God had become vulnerable, tragically vulnerable.

The passivity of Christ is the passion of God who decided to be touched and hurt by the sin of the world. Christmas makes full sense only in the light of Good Friday. God’s incarnation was not to holiday with humans. God became man to allow Himself to be touched by man’s rejection. Capital punishment is simply that, the expulsion of a man from the community. The cross is man’s way to tell God, “we don’t want you with us”. The Son of God attracted upon Himself the ultimate expression of man’s sinful condition.

An omnipotent God could be totally dispassionate about man’s disobedience; a compassionate God cannot but implicate Himself in man’s self-destruction to the point of taking the effects of this destruction upon Himself. Christmas is God accompanying man; Good Friday is God substituting man as a true victim of human sins. And all this is not a symbolic ritual sacrifice;  it is pure crude history, a naked fact. God came to His creation and was tragically rejected in the nastiest possible way.

From now on, sin cannot say anything else. The human power to hurt cannot become more powerful. It has been exhausted. Of course, we are still free to hurt ourselves and others, and these hurts will be real and consistently have tragic effects in our lives. But from now on, these sins are only mere echoes of the main cry “Crucify him!” Sin had spoken its loudest.

However, is this the last word?

Do you understand what I have done for you?: Maundy Thursday

washingfeet3The word “maunday” comes from a verse version of the Latin “mandatum” command. It refers to Jesus’ command “you ought to wash one another’s feet” (Jn 13:14).

Interestingly, the church has never received this “command” in the ritualistic sense. Although there were a few Christian sects that practice the rite literally, the church has received this commandment only as an imitation of the spirit of this rite. In fact, the ritual of the washing of the feet  is not mandatory, not even on Maundy Thursday. All the more for us to strive to understand the spirit of this gesture. The poignant question of Jesus to his disciples is still a good question today: “Do you understand what I have done for you?” (Jn 13:12)  Do we?

 In Jesus’ time, the washing of feet was a custom that was not required from anyone, not even slaves, although “occasionally, disciples would render this service to their teacher or rabbi” (Raymond E. Brown).

It is not surprising that Peter refuses this apparent reversal of preposition. Peter, or other disciples, should wash Jesus’ feet. However, Jesus was very clear. He does not mean that the disciples have become suddenly masters: “You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am.” (Jn 13:13).

Jesus had intended something very different: “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you. No slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him.” (Jn 13:14-16)

In other words, although the distinction between master and disciples is real, the relationship becomes one of equality. If the master dares to treat the disciples like masters, all the more, the disciples should treat each other like masters. Although we are all different, when it comes to service, we become all equal. Servants have, in a way, received the dignity of masters without being masters. Dignity refers to something’s goodness on account of itself (Aquinas). The disciples have received something good, a master’s treatment from the master. They now become equal in dignity.

Love, unlike washing feet, cannot be commanded (Deus caritas 18). God does not force us to produce an emotion towards our neighbors. It does not work like that. Often, we forget this, and change the commandment of love into a pretense of love: “I do not really love him, but I will act as if I did.” We pretend to love only because we are told. Like Peter, we accept the commandment without understanding: “not only my feet, but also my hands and my head as well.”

Love cannot be understood unless it is experienced. It cannot be produced unless it is received. Only the disciples that received the master’s treatment by the master can give the master’s treatment to others. Washing each other’s feet entails removing our clothing of pretenses of superiority, acknowledging the equal dignity of the other person, and treating them consistently.

In this way, love does not become a product of our strength but a natural reaction to the goodness we just discovered in the other person. At times, we may not like them. We may even have good reasons to hate them, but still Jesus washed their feet with our feet. Jesus saw in them something we must discover, and when we do… we realized what Jesus had done, we understand and we are empowered to love as Jesus loves.

Happy Feast Day: the objective Aquinas!

aquinas3Today we celebrate the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas. Details about his devouted life and intellectual prowess are well known. However the question remains whether his teachings are still relevant after seven centuries. What I find particularly relevant today is his overall approach as one of the best exponents of a philosphical tradition known as realism.

Truth has been reduced to empirical facts and knowledge to different opinions, with a consistent effect in a relativistic and utilitarian ethics. We have naively started to unquestionably believe the dogma that “I think it is, therefore it is.” While a debate between realistics would try to assess what is the true nature of marriage, for example, today’s debate simply claims that marriage is nothing in itself, and will only be what we want it to be. In other words, marriage, human nature, normal behavior is “nothing” per se, and we are entitled to give it the definition, (or reality) we want.

In our mentality, the human mind becomes a creative power, a source of being, instead of attempting to be a receptacle of reality “as it is”. The human mind can certainly interpret, and in this vein, be creative; but its creations should never be a substitute for the real reality.

If there is one word that keeps being repeated in Aquinas’ writings is “object”. And what we need today is objectivity as opposed to the over-subjectivity of today’s mentality.

We look at everything from the point of view of the subject. Positive (good?) emotions are emotions good for the subject; negative emotions are emotions the subject does not want to experience. However the value of emotions doees not lie  in what the subject experiences, but in how suitable they are to the object of the emotion. A speeding truck towards a subject that experiences no fear is lethal. The important bit  is not that fear stresses the subject; but that fearing the right object of fear will save his life.

For most this is plain common sense. But it is precisely this common sense for the importance of the object what is missing today. What we say about the object of fear, equally goes for the object of marital love. And while most will see fearing an incoming truck as common sense, just as many will see loving with marital love any person I choose depends on me, the subject, and not on whom I love, the object.

Our lives today are measured in terms of subective experiences. A life with lots and exciting experiences is worth living and actively pursued and proposed as the “ideal” style of life. We admire adventurers, travellers, those who achieve the ultimate thrill. In contrast the unasumming life of the ordinary folk is dismissed as boring and, of course, the life of the commatose patient a total waste. Experience is the mantra of our times.

We therefore need people who questioned that dogma. That life should not be measured in terms of experience, but in terms of fidelity. Humanity has always admired unassuming heroes that were steadfast in their commitments, even if this made them pass through undesireable experiences.

Fidelity needs an object (of fidelity). Truth is the subject knowing faithfully (as it is) an object as it is. Truth about the shape of the earth is knowing faithfully how the shape of the earth really is. Honesty is being faithful (accountable) to someone.

A  life centered around experiences will make of us coach-potatoes of life, sitting in the sofa of our lives waiting for things to happen to us, even if that implies changing constatly the sofa. Fidelity however makes of us active subjects in the search for the right object of our relationship. Fidelity is a true journey; experience-thirsty subjectivity is simply to be a spectator.

We need new (truer) cultural dogmas. Perhaps some dogma that says “the life full of experiences and devoid of fidelity is not worth living”. When we look back, how do we measure our lives?

While you won’t see people reading St. Thomas Aquinas on the MRT, although I have tried, his philosophy will always remind us that there is a right and wrong object out there that will change and transform us. Being more objective and less subjective, in the end, opens ourselves to God and his recreative power. Insisting that all depends on us, will simply isolate ourselves in an increasingly archipelagic world.

Happy feast day!

It is all about timing!


timing1At the beginning of this Ordinary Time we read the beginning of the letter to the Hebrews and the beginning of the gospel of Mark. Both readings refer to the importance of timing. “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; 2 in these last days, he spoke to us through a son” (Hb 1:1). In the gospel, Jesus acknowledges this timing: “This is the time of fulfilment. The Kingdom of God is at hand.” (Mk 1:15).

It is good to tell the truth. It is not good to tell all of the truth, all at the same time. Truth telling, to be good, needs to be timely.

We don’t disclose the secrets of “birds and the bees” to children until they are ready. In the same way, God spoke only in “partial ways” to the ancestors until “the last days” when the people were mature enough to receive the message. Even the church comes to discover the truth gradually and with the development of time.

The measure of truth is reality. The measure of truth telling is the audience.

How true is what we say, depends on how what we say, agrees with the reality we are talking about. The truth about the shape of the earth depends on the actual shape of the earth. How much or when we can say this particular truth will depend on whether the person is ready to receive that truth. The fact that we are all going to die is true. How and when we should communicate that truth, will depend on the disposition of the person to accept it. In fact, truth revealing can at times be inconsiderate if we fail to take into account the disposition of the person to understand and accept that truth.

To intentionally hide or deprive the people from truth, is an injustice. To disclose the truth without consideration of the receiver, could become a kind of cruelty. Both truth and sympathetic consideration need to go hand in hand.

As we begin the season of ordinary time, we need to ponder carefully what the truth is, that needs telling here and now. Ideas only become fruitful and useful when they are presented in the right time at the right place. Discerning the times is our urgent mission “this time.”

St. Raymond of Peñafort

raymon10- Today he is the patron saint of the canonist, and in Spain, the patron saint of lawyers as well.
– He entered the Dominican Order in 1222.
– He compiled the different decrees of ecclesiastical laws for the first time into what would be considered in 1917, the Canon Law. His work was declared by the Pope as the only authoritative reference to be used in theological schools.
– He was appointed the Chaplain to the Pope
– He was instrumental in the foundation of the Mercedarians (an Order founded with the purpose of rescuing prisoners and slaves).
– He declined the bishopric of Tarragona
– Reviewed the Dominican Constitutions
– He asked Thomas Aquinas to write a work to present the Catholic faith to non-believers, known as the Summa Contra Gentiles, the first Summa of Aquinas.
– He made it compulsory for Dominican formandees to study Arab and Hebrew in order to present the faith to the Muslims in Europe.
– He organized a debate on faith before the royal court where Jews, Muslims and Christians could explain and examine their beliefs.
– He died at 100 years old in 1275.

Friday before the Epiphany

stbasilSometimes dreams are shattered. We yearn to do this or that, only to find that life has different plans. St. Basil and St. Gregory Naziancen had plans. They wanted to become hermits but were appointed bishops in times of persecution. Their dreams of being in solitude and quiet were shattered by a daunting mission. Had they become hermits, we may have never known of their inner spiritual riches. Sometimes, some good dreams are well shattered.

 “Wealth, explains St. Basil, is like water that issues forth from the fountain: the greater the frequency with which it is drawn, the purer it is, while it becomes foul if the fountain remains unused”

From a homily on prayer of St. Basil,

“Ought we to pray without ceasing? Is it possible to obey such a command? These are questions which I see you are ready to ask. I will endeavour, to the best of my ability, to defend the charge. Prayer is a petition for good addressed by the pious to God. But we do not rigidly confine our petition to words. Nor yet do we imagine that God requires to be reminded by speech. He knows our needs even though we ask Him not. What do I say then? I say that we must not think to make our prayer complete by syllables. The strength of prayer lies rather in the purpose of our soul and in deeds of virtue reaching every part and moment of our life. ’Whether ye eat, it is said, ’or drink, or whatever ye do, do all to the glory of God.’ As thou takest thy seat at table, pray. As thou liftest the loaf, offer thanks to the Giver. When thou sustainest thy bodily weakness with wine, remember Him Who supplies thee with this gift, to make thy heart glad and to comfort thy infirmity. Has thy need for taking food passed away ? Let not the thought of thy Benefactor pass away too. As thou art putting on thy tunic, thank the Giver of it. As thou wrappest thy cloak about thee, feel yet greater love to God, Who alike in summer and in winter has given us coverings convenient for us, at once to preserve our life, and to cover what is unseemly. Is the day done? Give thanks to Him Who has given us the sun for our daily work, and has provided for us a fire to light up the night, and to serve the rest of the needs of life. Let night give the other occasions of prayer. When thou lookest up to heaven and gazest at the beauty of the stars, pray to the Lord of the visible world; pray to God the Arch-artificer of the universe, Who in wisdom hath made them all. When thou seest all nature sunk in sleep, then again worship Him Who gives us even against our wills release from the continuous strain of toil, and by a short refreshment restores us once again to the vigour of our strength.

Signs of the times

The world is very “astute” when it comes to thinking outside the box and solving its own problems. Internet and google have grown incredibly in just few years mainly because it does work. It solves new problems with effective solutions.

The church has and will always have the same standard of morality, in spite of travelling through different times and cultures. However, the church has also different needs in different times. For example, orders were founded to satisfy these historical needs. And just like world inventions, they spread fast and wide. Today the church has even more new and pressing needs and the Holy Spirit has inspired men and women to satisfy those needs. Mother Teresa’s sisters grew into thousands in just few years. And new Lay Movements are spreading far and wide.

However the average catholic still seems oblivious to this duty– we all have to read “the signs of the times”. Vatican II made of it a technical term, but its practice has been as old as the church itself.

How much time do we spend thinking about the new needs of the world and the church? How are we called to make a difference?

Responsible stewards: 29th Wednesday of the year

Many of our ethical dilemmas can be solved by understanding with precision, what it means to be a servant of the Lord.

In the New Testament, the word “doulos” is translated indistintively as servant or slave. However, in Jesus parables, servants are always given a certain ownership and responsibility, while slaves of the ancient times was just part of the property of the master.

God has given us “some” ownership and the ensuing responsibility. We can use creation, but not abuse it. We are called to dominate creation but not domineer it. We may respect and serve persons, but we may not use them. We should be each other’s keepers or stewards, but not lord over them or be enslaved by them.

From the very beginning, Adam and Eve were called to be mere stewards, were tempted and sinned in their attempt to become lords like God. Satan again tempted Jesus with the same temptation–to betray His service to the kingdom and to the Father. Jesus was tempted to abuse His power (jump from the pinnacle of the Temple) and to acknowldge the lordship of Satan.

This continues to be our temptation too. Biotechnology offers a unique possibility to domineer others’ lives and bodies. Political power continues to tempt authorities and systems with the opportunity to lord over others. In our daily lives, we seem to forget that we are all stewards, but at times we insist that some stewards are more equal than others.

“… as for the servant who says to himself, ‘My master is taking his time in coming’, and sets about beating the menservants and the maids, and eating and drinking and getting drunk, his master will come on a day he does not expect and at an hour he does not know. The master will cut him off and send him to the same fate as the unfaithful.” (Lk 12:39-48)

We are not called to be masters, slaves or abusive servants, but to be responsible stewards.

The Servant Master: 29th tuesday of the year

Today’s gospel is one of those St. Luke’s pearls that is unique to him and are not found in the other gospels. While other gospels abound in parables where God is the master and the disciples are just “useless” servants, in today gospel, Jesus assures the disciples that the master will “put on an apron and serve them”. In other words, the Lord becomes a servant to the servants:

“Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes; truly, I say to you, he will gird himself and have them sit at table, and he will come and serve them.” (Lk 12:37)

But for this service of the master, the servants cannot afford to fall asleep. They need to be constantly of service until the master returns.

We do not like to be servants. We have been trained to become masters, to be in control, to fight and to climb until we are on top. The paradox is that by doing that, we will never get the true only master to serve us.

The foolish dream of retirement: 29th Monday of the year

Earn and save money fast so that you can retire early and start to enjoy life. What is wrong with that? Isn’t that everybody’s dream?

Jesus told a story  of someone who also longed for early retirement. His plan was easy, 

“I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, `Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Lk 12:19-21)

This man deals with his soul as a slave serves his master: Eat, drink and be merry. A kind of navel-worship that encloses him into his little world and forgets the world out there.

We envy people who have what we struggle for. We admire people who are the kind of person we wished to be. We envy achievers; we admire devotion, fidelity, courage, determination, passion, freedom and integrity.

The question is how do we measure our lives? In years? In minutes? In merry moments? In achievements? In laughter? We should make up our minds before it is too late. Maybe “This night your soul is required of you.” What are we really struggling for? We do not need an early retirement plan as much as we need an early working plan.

St. Ignatius of Antioch: feared no evil

After the section where Jesus criticized the Pharisees for their legalism, Jesus continued His teaching with words of encouragement: “Do no be afraid of those who kill the body.” (Lk 12:4).

While civilizations sing their heroes who are examples of courage, the church has continually sung her particular example of courage–those who did not fear even death, the martyrs. The church’s message is not a more or less strict legal code or a list of forbidden behavior but it is above all else, a witness that life in Christ reaches heights unknown to human power.

A saint is someone who has virtues, namely, who is predisposed to do good. A canonized saint is someone who practised those predispositions to a heroic extent. Thus, all martyrs are automatically saints because they lived to a heroic extent the virtue of courage.

When St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote his letters to the church in Rome, he knew that, being a bishop, his persecuted church would try to avoid that he be caught and tortured by the Romans. However he pleaded with them earnestly,

“Show me no untimely kindness. Let me be food for the wild beasts, for they are my way to God. I am God’s wheat and shall be ground by their teeth so that I may become Christ’s pure bread.”

What must be proclaimed is not, that apostasy is a sin, but that the church makes people who are capable of overcoming the most paralyzing fear–the fear of death.

Creating opportunities: 25th Monday of the year

“No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel or sets it under a bed; rather, he places it on a lamp stand so that those who enter may see the light.” (Lk 8:16).

Conformism is a disease. Many of us take the easy approach to life. If I don’t do the wrong thing, I am OK. At times we get adventurous and, when the opportunity is there, we go out of our comfort zone and manage to do something good. But what if the opportunity were not there?

“To anyone who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he seems to have will be taken away.” (Lk 8:17) If we lay back and wait for opportunities to come our way, we are not doing enough. We are considering that the kingdom is not our kingdom, is not our business, just our boss’ business. If we care for the kingdom, we will strive to create opportunities.

Hiding or ignoring, our talents, our gifts and our charisms is not humility. It is personal stinginess and, in the end, it’s our loss: “even what he seems to have will be taken away.”

Wednesday of the 23th week: Welcoming Migrants

I have come to know that people of Serangoon Gardens are getting uncomfortable with the idea of having a dormitory for migrants built in their vicinity.

It seems that people love to enjoy nice developed Singapore at the expenses of low salary foreign workers but find it hard to have them living next to them. It is sheer hypocrisy to want foreign workers to work here but not want them to live here.

It seems that the main “damages” that foreign workers do are to dirty the place and date foreign maids. I suppose that the same laws apply for Singaporeans and foreigners when it comes to hygiene. As to dating foreign maids, who says maids must take a vow of virginity when they come to Singapore? It is funny how people are interested in getting their children to marry, but wished their maids could not even have social life.

We seem to forget that to help families in Singapore, we might be destroying or incapacitating families in other countries. Young maids with few or no free days have nearly zero chance of having a social life, let alone having a serious relationship and thinking about marriage. Some maids are already married in their countries and have to abandon spouses and children to earn a more decent living in affluent Singapore. In brief, maids are expected to help Singaporean families by renouncing to their own families or the possibility of having one.

But of course there is a simple solution to all this. Do you want to have a developed country without the underdeveloped countries’ problems? Then apply developed countries solutions.

In affluent countries, a migrant receives a basic salary exactly the same as nationals would get and enjoy the same rights as nationals do. They are also part of the Social Security system and enjoy free medical care. Soon they start saving and can buy a car to move around and rent an apartment to live in. In some months they can even bring their families and their children will be able to study in regular schools side by side with the rest of the children of that country.

This is the way to avoid, foreign workers transported like cattle in trucks, having them living in crowded dormitories and avoid having them looking for love in the wrong places.

This is also the understanding of the church: Migrants should enjoy the same rights as the natives of the country where they are migrating and they should be able to bring their families to live with them.

But, of course, that is costly. It is much more profitable to keep first world standard by paying foreign workers third world salaries. That is not only totally unjust, but simply an unfair way of developing. It is like cheating in a race for development at the expenses of foreign workers.

To top it all, some people are not only ignoring and avoiding the thorny issue of just development, they want the impossible: workers working for them, but not living near them. This is not only unfair and inhumane; it is simply unreasonable.

Provoking the fulfilment of the Scriptures

Yes, Jesus claimed that the scriptures were being fulfilled in Him. He was the fulfilment of the Scriptures. But He did something else. He provoked the fulfilment of the Scripture.

When people listened to Jesus in the synagogue, they liked Him. When He told them He was not going to perform miracles, they were outraged, making it true that “no prophet is welcome in his own land”.

Jesus not only fulfilled the Scriptures for who He was. He provoked people in a way that they fulfilled the Scriptures too. This is our challenge. NOt to wait until things happen but to make things happen- to provoke and let ourselves be provoked into fulfilling God’s will.

St. Augustine: The Dominican Ruler

St. Dominic and his disciples had to choose a rule already approved to start the Dominican Order. Humbert of Romans thought that Augustine’s rule was the best choice. Only someone who had authority, wisdom and holiness, could write a fitting rule to lead others to wisdom and holiness, under the right guidance. Furthermore, being a rule adopted by regular canons, St. Dominic himself, had been living under it and knew of its convenience to lead the kind of apostolic life he wanted for his brethren.

With that rule, St. Augustine intended to revive the kind of life the apostles lived. The apostolic community was the model to authentic Christian living. St. Dominic liked that. The Second Vatican Council, also advised religious congregations to go back to their sources. In other words, our fundamental rule perpetually calls us to renew ourselves by going back to the very fundamentals of the church: the apostolic life.

21st Tuesday of the year

When we are tired of doing things, we have two questions in mind. “Did I do enough already?” and “When is it finished?”

The Pharisees created a complex system of rituals trying to answer the first question. When you can count the number of absolutions, prayers, sacrifices and other rituals you do, then you can feel some satisfaction that you have done what is required, you can even count them. The more in number, the better.

The church of Thessalonica was facing the second question: When is this finished? Some started to believe that the end was near. All millenarians try to send the message that we have served enough time. Now is the end. The shorter the better.

In a religion based on a response to love, we would not need to count the number of services or calculate when it would be finished. People in a loving relationship do not look forward to the end nor keep count. They simply respond spontaneously to love with love.

The Queenship of Mary: Friday, 20th week

The Queenship of Mary must be understood in relationship with a Kingdom, the Kingdom of God, of whom, she is mother. But it was her attitude of a “handmaid” of the Lord that eventually made her Queen. The now Queen has not stopped being servant; just like the King of the kingdom has not stopped serving, since he came “to serve and not to be served.”

When it comes to dealing with creation, we have been known to try to be more lords than servants. Exploiting the environment selfishly without concern for others or future generations. We seem to have forgotten that we are not lords of the universe but merely “useless stewards” in charge of caring for the environment and keeping it as a gift for all and for next generations.

As we celebrate the Queen handmaid of the Lord, may we, in turn, learn to be responsible stewards of creation.

Welcoming children!

“And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.” (Mt 18:5) Today’s gospel fits with the Singaporean debate on how to have more children. Nick Chui proposed recently in The Straits Times to change the law of abortion so that more children, who otherwise would be aborted, could be saved and see the light of day. That would certainly help.

Unwanted children through contraception and abortion is certainly the root cause of the problem. But a further question should be asked. Why do today’s couples seem to feel very reluctant towards procreation? I believe that at the root lies what is obvious and everybody seems to see clearly, the cost of raising a child, but also what is hardly visible to the plain citizen but did not escape the prophetic eye of John Paul II– a distorted idea of freedom.

A freedom that is understood as a mere capacity to choose what I want, as long as I do not interfere in other’s freedom, makes of us mutual enemies. Jean Paul Sartre, a very different John Paul, preached that “Hell is the other” which is very much consistent with a vision of freedom that is threatened by “the other.”

In fact, children are seen as the end of matrimonial bliss and the beginning of marriage chaos. Children are the cause of the couple needing to tighten their belts, preventing them from travelling, enjoying nights out, etc. Children are seen as a threat to freedom, and therefore an obstacle to happiness.

Only a mind-set shift of the understanding of freedom, not so much as the capacity to choose, but the capacity to become someone greater, can really bring about a practical solution. Children, the church believes, help in the sanctification of their parents. If this is true, and sanctification is the real purpose in life, then having children is not an obstacle but is the most important way to achieve it.

On the other side, we have the economic problem. Our econmic system is an anti-child system. The church believes that a fair wage is the wage that is sufficient to sustain a family. Our economic system is built in such a way that one’s wage is not enough to sustain a family. When labour is also subject to the laws of supply and demand, couples who are eager to sacrifice family in the name of two wages, push the supply-demand curve to a point in which average wages are indeed not enough.

However, everyone takes for granted that both parents need to work and nothing is done about pushing the curve to more family-friendly levels.

In that context, it is really hard to hear Jesus saying, ‘whoever receives one child… receives me”

St. Dominic: New preaching for a new Church

The dawn of the XIII c. surprised St. Dominic at about 30 years old, in the South of France in the company of bishop Diego de Acebedo. The church was shaken by heretics who were becoming more and more popular. The same Pope who had forbidden Dominic and his bishop go to the missionary territories to evangelize the pagans, was now trying to counterattack the heretics by sending Papal legates to preach. He chose among others, a Ciertercian Abbot and two of his monks. Dominic and his bishop met these legates and engaged in a conversation that will affect the life of the church ever since. This is the dialogue that ensued,

“After leaving the court and reaching Motpellier, Diego met the venerable Arnold, abbot of Citeaux, and Brother Ralph and Borther Peter of CAstelnau, Cistercian monks from Fontfroide who were legates of the Apostolic See. All three had decided to resign from their posts, because so much had been demanded of them that they were dscouraged. jThey had made scarcely any progress in their preaching against the heretics. Whenever they spoke out, the bad lives of the clergy were dragged into the argument in opposition. Yet if they dared to attack clerical slackness, they would be prevented from preaching altogether”

The bishop advised the legates not to give up but to persevere in preaching with more zeal and in the manner that reflected true fidelity, with humility, in poverty, barefoot, without gold or silver, in the manner of the Apostles.

The legates replied that if somwone was willing to go ahaed and put the scheme into operation, they would certainly follow him. Bishop Diego offered himself. From that moment, Bishop Diego, Dominic and two of the legates formed a team of new preachers with a different style.

The chronicles tell us that they “preached and dispute in public without any ostentation, making no use of their authority but relying solely on the persuasive power of plain truth to give weight to their words. At the same time they put their preaching to the test of sincerity. This was indeed an unusual sight: papal legates, a bishop and a canon daring to assume contemptible garments in order to speak to despised men, after the example of Christ the poor man.”

Like the heretics and the apostles, and unlike the other legates, they preached in poverty; like the legates and unlike the heretics, they preached the genuine gospel of Christ. Fighting fire with fire was the solution to the problem. “The people were deeply stirred by the preachers, and sometimes whole villages, declaring themselves for Diego and dominc, turned out and followed them for miles.”

The harvest was plentiful, but the workers were few. Unfortunately, three men of the group died suddenly and Dominic was the only survivor of the team. But this survivor planned to continue with the project. What followed later is called the Order of Preachers, with St. Dominic as its founder.

The Visitation, a matter of hope

We include this episode of the visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth among the mysteries of the Holy Rosary. And indeed there is something mysterious about the way Elizabeth interpreted her baby’s leap in her womb. Most pregnant women experience their babies jumping in their wombs. Not all of them understand why.

This first encounter of Jesus and John while still in the wombs of their mothers symbolizes the continuity between the Old and the New Testaments. The last of the Old Testament and the first of the New recognize each other and rejoice in each other’s presence. The promises and the prophecies of old are already fulfilled. This is the core of the joy of this event. The four protagonists acknowledge it. John the Baptist leaps for joy. Elizabeth understands this joy and salutes Mary, and Mary exalts God and understands that all generations will call her blessed.

Promises are not only matters of the Old Testament. Every hope we harbor in our hearts appears to us in a way like a promise. We hope that this and that will be fulfilled. Our journey through life is marked by the frustrations and the fulfilment of these hopes.

We know that only God will fulfill the right hopes while clinging to our false hopes will lead to disappointments. Purifying our hopes is learning from Elizabeth and Mary, who recognized and rejoiced at the fulfilment of her right hopes.


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