Thursday, June 28, 2012

Man Proposes, but God disposes

Thirteenth Ordinary Sunday Year B

I’m a person who likes to plan ahead. I keep a diary of all my appointments. This, however, does not mean that I’ve never missed an appointment. Getting my dates mixed up and forgetting appointments still plagues me. So, what’s the point of organising my life in the first place? It’s simple - I don’t like surprises. But I also recognise that things often do not go according to plan. Sometimes, when I’ve made an appointment to attend a meeting, I receive a phone call telling me that there is someone sick in the hospital that needs anointing. Or when I’m just about to begin mass, someone comes up to me with a pressing problem that needs attention and I end up reluctantly brushing him aside. There are other times where I am rushing an assignment on my computer, and someone urgently wants to see me. My gaze is torn between giving my full attention to that person and looking at my computer screen with the unfinished work staring back at me.

I am reminded of that famous idiom “Man proposes but God disposes.” Most people think this is a direct quotation from scripture, perhaps from the Book of Proverbs. But the idiom actually comes from a piece of medieval Christian Literature, entitled the “Imitations of Christ” by Thomas A Kempis, which boasts of being the second most read Christian book after the Bible. The full text of the passage from which this idiom emerges sounds like this: "For the resolutions of the just depend rather on the grace of God than on their own wisdom; and in Him they always put their trust, whatever they take in hand. For man proposes, but God disposes; neither is the way of man in his own hands".

Though extra-biblical, the idiom demonstrates the sovereignty of God’s work in contrast with human planning. It is ironic how we often believe that our plans are able to do for us, what God cannot accomplish in our lifetime. Today, we read in the gospel how Jesus’ plans were also interrupted by two persons in need. Jesus had just arrived at that place and was ready to begin preaching and teaching. The crowds must have been waiting patiently. Suddenly, his plans were interrupted by Jairus, the synagogue official, who pleaded with him to see his daughter who was “desperately sick.” Perhaps, if I was in Jesus’ place I would have told the man: “Can’t you see that I’m busy? I’m about to begin to mass. Can you come back at a later time?” But Jesus does not give this answer. Instead, he immediately gets up and follows Jairus back to his house. I can only imagine the anger and frustration of his audience, now that their preacher has been whisked away to another assignment.

The change in plans was interrupted again by a second incident. Instead of just making a bee-line for the house of Jairus, Jesus makes a critical detour – he is waylaid by another person – the woman who had suffered from a haemorrhage for twelve years. In Jewish society, such a woman was shunned by everyone because she was ritually unclean. This meant that anyone, including her husband or even her children could not touch her or use anything of her personal effects for fear of rendering themselves unclean. This woman, who has been so isolated for the last 12 years and suffering as a result of not only her physical pain but also social and spiritual pain, reaches out to Jesus. She thinks that Jesus would not notice her as the crowds are pressing around Jesus. But Jesus does take notice. Just like many of us who are caught between conflicting needs, Jesus is forced to make a critical decision – move on or stay. Jesus puts aside his planned agenda to visit the house of Jairus and offers time and love to this woman in need. Jesus heals her and returns her to her family and the community.

When Jesus arrives at the house of Jairus, it appears that he has arrived too late - Jairus daughter is already dead. It appears that the unintended delay brought about by attending to the need of the haemorrhagic woman had caused the life of another. But it is never too late for God. Jesus raises the girl from the dead and returns her to her family.

We all can appreciate the inexhaustible value of planning. When following a plan, you can always see how much you have progressed towards your project goal and how far you are from your destination. Knowing where you are is essential for making good decisions on where to go or what to do next. But our need to plan and our insistence with sticking to the plan may betray a more insidious hidden trait or attitude. Human planning may be man’s way of living self-sufficiently, arrogantly without God. Human planning may be our attempt to design a blue print or master plan for the establishment of our kingdom instead of God’s. Human planning is our way of asserting control over our environment, over others, over outcomes and even over God. It takes humility and the ability to embrace our vulnerability to admit that our planning is often flawed and far from being fail-safe.

We can plan for a foreseeable event. But what about the events that are unforeseeable? We are not able to predict every single eventuality in the future, and this can be a cause of great anxiety. For example, coping with expected changes like retirement planning or a planned move can be hard enough. Yet, we can plan ahead to mitigate the impact of these changes because they are foreseeable. Dealing with change that is sudden and unexpected, however, such as the death of loved one who seems perfectly healthy and in the prime of his life, can be devastating. These two gospel stories, therefore, provide an answer to the unexpected twists and turns of life. They are reminders of our human frailty, the limitations of our plans and proposals, and finally the need to let go and trust in God’s providence.

What does the story tell us about God? We derive much comfort from both the stories of Jairus’ daughter and the haemorrhagic woman as they assure us that God always has time for us. God is never too busy with the affairs of the world to hear and notice the plea of a single person even when his cries seem lost in the noise of the crowd. God does not resolve conflicting needs by paying attention to some whilst ignoring others. He always has time for all of us, all the time. But his answer to our prayers comes at the best possible time and in the best possible way, beyond our expectation. Whenever things don’t go according to plan, whenever the answer to our prayers seem delayed, whenever unforeseen turn of events occur in our lives, these do not mean that we have been abandoned by God. God’s plan for each and everyone of us is not so inflexible that he does not make changes in order to accommodate us.

Perhaps, it would be most appropriate to end this homily with this little parable told by none other than the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock.   There once was a king who was granted two wishes. His first was to see the future. But when he saw all that lay ahead -- the beauty and the pain -- he immediately asked for his second wish; that the future be hidden. "I thank Heaven," the master of suspense proclaimed, "that tomorrow does not belong to any man. It belongs to God." Indeed, the future belongs to God. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God’s ways and thoughts higher than yours. There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD. Rely not your personal understanding, counsel of others, and life experiences but trust Him at all times, for all things, with all your heart. No human plan, no programme or contingency, or insurance policy can guard against all the uncertainties of the future. Remember God’s foolishness is wiser than your wisdom, and His weakness is stronger than your strength (1 Cor 1:25-26). Man proposes but it is ultimately God who disposes. And it is comforting and liberating to know this.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Sun Stood Still

Nativity of John the Baptist

 Throughout the history of Christianity, the liturgical year has been a way that the church has celebrated the redemption story, with each of the cardinal feasts emphasizing a different aspect of the story. What brought further depth of meaning to the celebration was the uncanny correspondence between sacred time and the ordinary seasons of the year. Easter marks the Christian Spring, a time of rejuvenation and rebirth. Christmas comes in the thick of winter, with the winter solstice announcing the Sun’s victory over the cold and dark winter nights. Such correspondence is often lost on us Malaysians who live close to the equator, as we do not have the privilege of celebrating the four seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter nor do we experience a radical shortening and lengthening of days and nights.

Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Birth of St John the Baptist. The Nativity of St John the Baptist on June 24 comes three months after the celebration on March 25 of the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel told Our Lady that her cousin Elizabeth was in her sixth month of pregnancy, and six months before the Christmas celebration of the birth of Jesus. The purpose of these festivals is not to celebrate the exact dates of these events, but simply to commemorate them in an interlinking way. Therefore, for those of you who can’t get enough of Christmas and those who bedeck your homes with Christmas decorations all year round, today’s feast provides the first rumblings of the coming storm of Christmas.

The significance of today’s feast of the nativity of St John the Baptist becomes more apparent when we are able to appreciate its correspondence with the Summer Solstice. The word 'Solstice' derives from the Latin term meaning 'sun stood still', as in the winter and summer the sun appears to rise and set in practically the same place. In the northern hemisphere, the Summer Solstice date tends to be either June 21 or 22. Why then do we celebrate the Feast of St John the Baptist on the 24th? This isn’t very clear but just as Christmas is celebrated on the 25th of December instead of the 21st of December which marks the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the fixing of the present dates for both celebrations could be due to the inaccurate calculations and the limitations of the astronomical devices available in ancient times.

The birth of St John the Baptist must be truly significant in order for the Church to celebrate this date with its most solemn category of feast days, one which even supplants the liturgy of Sunday. But it is not only the Church that pays tribute to this man. It appears that the cosmos adds its eulogy to the event. The Sun stands still to illuminate this important figure in salvation history. Perhaps the greatest tribute still remains in the hands of our Lord. We remember the words of Jesus in the gospel of Luke, Among those born of women no one is greater than John” (Luke 7:28). But this further begs the question:  What’s so great about John the Baptist?

The first answer lies in human destiny and God’s plan of salvation. When the Church celebrates the feasts of saints, it celebrates the victory of the Paschal event that is the eternal life that has been won by these men and women by virtue of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thus each feast reminds us of our destiny. As a rule, the church celebrates the feast of a saint once a year, on the anniversary of the saint’s death. Death marks the entry of the saint into eternal life, into the economy of salvation. Although this is the general rule, there are two significant exceptions. Apart from Christ, there are only two others persons whom the Church accords its greatest festal honour to celebrate the event of their conception or birth. These are none other than the Blessed Virgin Mary and St John Baptist.

We celebrate the conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary as a Solemnity to denote the Church’s understanding of her immaculate conception, that is Mary tasted the fruits of redemption not at death but from the very moment of her conception. Although we also celebrate her birthday, it is of a less solemn feast because Mary had already experienced salvation at the moment of her conception in St. Anne’s womb. On the other hand, we celebrate the birth of St John as a Solemnity because at the time of his birth, he had already been admitted into the glorious company of the saints and a full participant in the economy of salvation. This took place during the visitation of Mary to his mother, Elizabeth. Luke’s gospel records the experience and words of Elizabeth who speaks of this event by stating that the child within her womb leapt for joy.

The greatness of St John the Baptist can also be seen in his unique and singular role of linking the Old Covenant or Old Testament to the New. According to St. Augustine, John is the hinge that represents both the old and the new. John the Baptist is the hinge between the Old and New dispensation, the Old and New Testaments. On one side of that door is the Law and the Prophets of Jewish history and tradition. On the other side of that door is Jesus. The father of John, Zachary’s inability to speak on the Jewish side of the door represents the inability of the Old Testament to speak to us or bring us to salvation. With the birth of John and his naming, we move to the other side of the door where salvation is possible through Jesus. In one sense he was like the Biblical prophets that came before him. On the other side, he was the prophet who foresaw the Christ, who recognized the Christ and who initiated the public life of the Christ.  Jesus’ baptism by John and the subsequent message of the Father began the public life of Jesus. In mark’s Gospel this is the event that begins the Gospel.

St John is great because, like many other great personages before him in the Old Testament, he received his name directly from God. The gospel story of the birth of John focuses on the naming ceremony. In biblical times, and still today in many cultures, personal names function the way business names do, that is, they aim to convey what the bearer of the name stands for. Names reveal an essential character or destiny of the bearer. The name John means “God is gracious.” His birth signals the beginning of a new era in God-human relationship, an era to be characterised by grace and not by law. In John we see that God already has a purpose for His children before they come into this world, and so the challenge of life is for them to discover this purpose and to be faithful to its demands.

But perhaps the greatest contribution of St John is seen in his relationship to Christ. He is the one prophesied from of old to be voice crying in the desert calling people to prepare the Way of the Lord. He is the finger that distinguishes and points out the Lamb of God from the crowd. He is the one that announces the greater personage who will come after him, the one who will baptise with fire and the Holy Spirit. He is the one who delivered the message of repentance in order to prepare people to believe in the one who will inaugurate the Kingdom of God. He is the first to lay down his life prefiguring the death of his Master. He is the one whose light must dim, whose influence must decrease, in order that the light of Christ may increase. His greatness lay precisely in this – his very existence, his life was lived wholly for the other. And it was only in the other, in the person of Christ,  that he discovered greatness.

St Augustine saw great significance in this tradition that the Baptist was born at the summer solstice. From the Summer solstice to the Winter solstice, the days will grow shorter while the nights lengthen. Thus, it was not difficult for St Augustine to make the connection with the Baptist’s words in St John’s Gospel ‘He (Jesus) must increase and I must decrease’ (John 3.30). Now this may seem bizarre to us, but the movement of the sun and the seasons of the year seem to support the Baptist’s humbling confession. The cycle of shortening days and lengthening nights ends during the Winter Solstice, December 21st. Thereafter, the reverse happens – the days grow longer and the nights grow shorter, thus literally playing out the dynamics of John’s words – “He must increase and I must decrease.” The waning of one central biblical figure marks the waxing of another. The Voice gives way to the Way. The Sun which shines at the centre of its own constellation, a giant among men, now recedes in order that the light of the Other may shine brighter.  John the Baptist, the Summer Sun stands still before the light of the other, the true ‘Sun of Righteousness’ (Malachi 4.2), the ‘Dayspring from on high’ (Luke 1.78), the ‘Light of the world’ (John 8.12, 9.5). Here the greatest among the created men acknowledges its Creator and Lord and bows before him – the eternal Word through whom all things were made.

As we celebrate this Solemnity, our testimonies too must join that of the Baptist, who points to Christ and away from himself.  Christ ‘must increase and I must decrease’ must be a constant life commitment. In a culture that idolises the subjective self, where man has enthroned himself at the centre of his universe, the prophetic witness of John the Baptist reminds us once again that even the greatest among us must fall on our knees to acknowledge the One who is greater. Christ must increase and I must decrease. If the Sun can stand still to mark this event, so can we.

Friday, June 15, 2012

'Big Bang' and Mustard Seeds

Eleventh Ordinary Sunday Year B

The Big Bang theory is an effort to explain what happened at the very beginning of our universe, 12- 14 billion years ago. Discoveries in astronomy and physics have shown beyond a reasonable doubt that our universe did in fact have a beginning. So, the Bible was right after all! Prior to that moment there was nothing; during and after that moment there was something: our universe. The Big Bang theory attempts to explain what happened during and after that moment. What brought about the Big Bang? Well, for scientists more speculations and theorising. Whereas for us Christians, we know the truth. If there was a Big Bang, God was the cause of it.

There are many misconceptions, however, about the nature of the Big Bang. The Big Bang Theory is actually a misnomer. The impression that we get from its name is that there was this great pyrotechnic display of cosmic proportions – a giant explosion. Experts however say that there was no explosion; there was (and continues to be) an expansion – the first thing to exist was a tiny object named by scientists as a singularity and this singularity expanded into our current universe.  Rather than imagining a balloon popping and releasing its contents, imagine a balloon expanding: an infinitesimally small balloon expanding to the size of our current universe.

Another misconception is that we tend to image the singularity as a little fireball appearing somewhere in space. According to the many experts however, space didn't exist prior to the Big Bang. The singularity didn't appear in space; rather, space began inside the singularity. Prior to the singularity, nothing existed, not space, time, matter, or energy - nothing. What is a "singularity" and where does it come from? Well, to be honest, we don't know for sure. Singularities are zones which defy our current understanding of physics. So where and in what did the singularity appear if not in space? We don't know. We don't know where it came from, why it's here, or even where it is. All we really know is that we are inside of it and at one time it didn't exist and neither did we. We Christians seem to have a further advantage. We know where that first singularity or existence came from. God spoke the Word, and so it was.

I’m not a big fan of astrophysics and don’t even claim to be able to hold a torch up to the likes of Stephen Hawkings or Einstein but what I found interesting are the parallels between the Big Bang Theory and the two parables involving seeds in today’s gospel. The parables speak of both the beginnings as well as the development of the Kingdom of God. The parallel with the Big Bang Theory is obvious. The Kingdom of God, just like the tiny mustard seed or the singularity which is the seed of the known universe, has humble and small beginnings but will eventually end up with great big mega results. The growth of the Kingdom, just like the many unanswered questions in the Big Bang theory or like the parable of the man who scatters in the dark of the night whilst everyone is asleep, will remain largely hidden and mysterious. The scale of its expanse and magnitude would only be apparent when one examines the final result.  

The Parables of the seed together with its quantum physics equivalent presents to us several important lessons regarding the Christian life.

The first lesson is that we should never despise nor overlook the significance of small things. The beginning of the universe and the Kingdom of God can both be traced to such humble beginnings. We are often tempted to believe that our ventures must by preceded by a great deal of groundwork and planning, massive promotions and advertisements, big rallies, spectacular shows. The Gospel Story of the Kingdom of God did not begin in such manner. Jesus was born in a humble manger among stable animals, with poor shepherds as his court retinue. His birth was not marked by dramatic accounts of the Son of God, the King of the Universe, being born in the most opulent palace of the wealthiest and most powerful monarch of the world. Great empires have crumbled, civilisations have become extinct but the Christian faith planted by the life, death and resurrection of this humble carpenter from an obscure part of the world would survive the tests of time. Small and humble beginnings place the entire catalyst and mover of the narrative in the hands of God and not in the devices of man.

A second lesson that may also be derived from the parables is that the Work of God is often unobservable or incomprehensible. Just because we are unable to detect or perceive God working silently in the background, does not mean that he is inactive or insensitive to our plight. We are often tempted to look for major signs and portents, immediate results and easy answers to our questions and prayers. When these are not forthcoming, we descend into frustration and anger, especially directed against God. But Jesus wanted his disciples, and us, to know that what is observable on the surface may not be an accurate measure of the final outcome. The story of the seed remind us of the inner dynamism of the Kingdom, a God who is constantly and faithfully at work even when man ceases to work, even when we have chosen to give up, even when everyone else has chosen to abandon this enterprise.

The third lesson is an important reminder that Christian life is ultimately eschatological. All things will become apparent at the end. The humble beginnings, the awkward and unplanned detours, the obstacles and setbacks, the disappointments and failures, the temporal success and victories do not mark the end of the story. What is definitive are the final fruits of the Kingdom which is not just a wild bet but a factual certainty – the harvest will come and the mustard seed will eventually grow into that large shady tree that will host all the array of the heaven. This eschatological dimension reminds Christians that we must always live in hope despite our present difficulties. We may be tempted to give up and call it quits as all the odds seemed to be stacked against us. But then, there is the other reality – the hidden reality, the reality with humble beginnings but a cosmic-scaled ending. It is the reality of the Kingdom of God established by Christ first coming and fully completed and realised at his Second.

The themes contained in today’s parable are best illustrated in the beautiful prayer popularly attributed to the late Archbishop Oscar Romero.  The real truth behind this prayer is that it was composed by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, drafted for a homily by Card. John Dearden in Nov. 1979 for a celebration of departed priests. As a reflection on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Bishop Romero, Bishop Untener included in a reflection book a passage titled "The mystery of the Romero Prayer." The mystery is that the words of the prayer are attributed to Oscar Romero, but they were never spoken by him. Here I conclude with this prayer.

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realising that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Is this Real?

Corpus Christi Year B

Reality seems simple enough to understand. You are real. This place is real. I am real (at least I think so). We say this with the conviction that we are not caught up in a dream nor are we delusional. Just in case you may have your doubts, try pinching yourself and see if you feel the pain. We describe something as real when we wish to say that it exists or it had existed. In other words, a thing which is real is not just a figment of our imagination. But we also recognise that this simple definition of reality is not as simple as it sounds. Sometimes, we confine our judgment of what is real to that which is observable or comprehensible. But as people of faith, we affirm and believe that God is real even when he is not observable or comprehensible.

Some wise guy may argue that the only reality which is accessible to us is perceived reality. It’s real only because I perceive it to be so. In other words, when there is no one around to perceive a tree, the tree ceases to be real. This witty limerick illustrates my point:

There was a young man who said "God
Must find it exceedingly odd
To note that this tree
Just ceases to be
When there's no-one around in the quad."

"Dear Sir, Your query is odd.
I am always about in the quad,
And therefore this tree
Will continue to be,
Since it's observed by, Yours faithfully, God."

Philosophers wishing to delve deeper into understanding the phenomenon of reality has ironically complicated the whole discussion. They make distinctions between perception corresponding to reality, thought corresponding to perception, mental abstractions, and that which cannot even be rationally thought. To summarise the many philosophies that postulate different theories in understanding reality, one may divide them into two groups: those which focus on the object and others which examine it from the perspective of the subject. The first group teaches that reality exists independent of the mind whereas the second group questions whether one can ever be certain of the reality outside the mind. One could even describe the first group of thinkers as realists whereas the second group could be called idealists.

Much of Catholic theology and doctrines is founded on the first group, the philosophies which focused on the object rather than the subject. St Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) was a primary Catholic thinker who sought to Christianise the realist philosophy of Aristotle. The philosophical works of Aquinas was not just mental gymnastics for its own sake but laid the foundation for his theological propositions regarding the Ultimate Being, God himself. God exist. God is real. The reality of God’s existence is independent of our senses or even the human mind. God is not a figment of our imagination. Aquinas’ objective philosophy of reality would also help him in formulating the doctrine of transubstantiation, which is the basis of our belief in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the consecrated host and wine.

But the optimism of realism would soon be challenged by the age of skepticism, an age which moved the study of the object to that of the subject. A typical example of a philosopher of this kind is the father of modern philosophy, Rene Descartes. Descartes decided that we cannot trust our senses to prove we are real because sometimes our senses deceive us. The only thing we can rely on is our thinking.  This is famously summed up in his saying, "Cogito ergo sum" ("I think, therefore I am"). The discovery of Descartes paralleled the ecclesiastical and religious upheaval of the 16th and 17th century. Although a pious Catholic, his philosophy would supplement the Protestant Reformers’ rallying cry of independence from the ontological and realist dogmas of Rome. Protestants would maintain and teach that every Christian had the subjective right of private judgment – they could interpret Bible on their own without reference to a central ecclesiastical authority. This would in turn explain the proliferation and multiplication of Protestant sects over the centuries.

In shifting the debate from "what is true" to "of what can I be certain?" Descartes shifted the authoritative guarantor of truth from object to subject, and in fact from God to Man. While traditional concept of "truth" implies an external authority, the ultimate authority being God, "certainty" instead relies on the judgement of the individual Man. In an anthropocentric revolution, Man is now raised to the level of a subject, an agent, an emancipated being equipped with autonomous reason. Man is finally freed of the shackles imposed by Church doctrine and divine revelation, or so he thinks. Man in this way is turned into a reasoning adult, a subject and agent, as opposed to a child obedient to God. This anthropocentric perspective posed the basis for the Enlightenment's emancipation from God and the Church, and colours much of modern culture today.

We celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ today where we once again reaffirm our faith, the faith of the Church, in professing and believing that the whole Christ is “truly, really, substantially present,” body, blood, soul, and divinity, under the appearances of bread and wine. Our faith in the reality of Christ’s presence is based on objective reality, and not on the manner by which the Eucharist affects us subjectively. In other words, we say we believe that Christ is really present in the Eucharist despite how we may feel or think about it. The objective reality of Christ’s presence is based on his words which we hear at every Mass: “This is my Body … This is my Blood.” When we receive holy communion with the minister saying  these words to us, “This is the Body of Christ,” we answer with a firm “Amen” thus affirming our believe that what we receive IS the Body of Christ, and not just something we perceive to be so. It is also based on the reality of the truth of the scriptures, where we hear Jesus in John 6 tells us that his body is real flesh and not just something symbolic.

The objective reality of these revealed truths and the teachings of the Church on Real Presence and Transubstantiation are being challenged today. Critics will maintain that such teachings on Real Presence are sentimental and nostalgic attachments to a bygone era. Many would argue or even believe that the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is as real as one chooses to make it real. It is no longer transubstantiation, but transignification, in other words, the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is no longer determined by the objective reality that that there has been a substantial change in the bread and wine at consecration but on the subjective reality that it has this meaning or significance for us. And so we constantly find ourselves giving the following assessment at the end of the mass, “Oh today, I really FELT the presence of Christ” or “Today I didn’t FEEL anything at all. In fact the whole mass was so dull and uninteresting.”

Our contemporary society today lives under the tyranny of the subject or the subjective. We assess the value or worth of something based on how much we, the subject, get out of it. If we do not derive any benefit therefrom, if we are not entertained, if we are not excited nor do we find meaning from that reality, we conclude that it isn’t ‘real.’ So we sing that dreamy Christmas Carol, “Christmas isn’t Christmas till it happens in your heart,” oblivious to the meaning of the lyrics. The fact of the matter is that Christmas did happened. Christmas happened with the birth of the Son of God. Our subjective feelings do not change that. Couples conclude that their marriage has come to end only because they perceive, think or feel that it is so. The gravity and permanency of  their sacred vows are set aside because it really doesn’t matter what you had professed on your Wedding day, it’s how you feel about it now that matters.

The tyranny of subjectivism has led to the dictatorship of relativism. Since the only reality, as claimed by  subjectivism, is the reality that is perceived by the subject, which would mean that there is no objective truth or even if there was objective truth, none of us would be able to fully perceive it. According to Pope Benedict XVI, “We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires.” Although relativism and its seeming tolerance for every kind of opinion and idea, all and sundry, has a certain attraction to it, the danger of its reasoning remains largely hidden to the public. Relativism rejects every absolute truth except the truth that there is no absolute truth. This is in itself a contradiction. But the more sinister aspect of this line of thought is that ideological relativism leads to moral relativism. If there is no absolute truth, there can also be no absolute moral standard. In a world that is relativistic, there is no wrong or right, its only how you see it. It doesn’t matter whether something is right or wrong, it’s how you feel about it. Perhaps, the only guideline would be the opinion of the majority. So if the majority is of the opinion that abortion is permissible, then it is so.

We live in an age where we can no longer trust the ability of our senses to abstract reality. Man no longer trusts in his ingenuity, in his intelligence and in his ability to find world peace and solutions to the many global problems that plague us. We have lost trust in our institutions and structures, in our economic and political systems and in their capacity to improve our present conditions. Our Holy Father tells us that we are like a small boat tossed about by waves - flung from one extreme to another: “from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism and so forth.” In a world drowning in skepticism and pessimism, man continues to search for an anchor of stability. Today, the Church holds up the Body and Blood of Christ as that beacon of stability, of objective reality, of objective Truth. The reality of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is not just a philosophical concept among the many philosophies that propose ways of examining knowledge and reality. When we gaze upon the Blessed Sacrament, we see God’s endearing love, his fidelity to the promise that he will always be with us till the end of time. When we look upon the Blessed Sacrament, we see the Incarnate Son of God, who gave up his life on Cross for our redemption. When our eyes pierce the sacramental veil of this Great Mystery, we see our salvation. And that, my brothers and sisters, is not just a product of our minds, a figment of our imagination, a fevered delusion. It is Real.

Ecce panis angelorum
Behold the bread of angels, sent
For pilgrims in their banishment,
The bread of God’s true children meant,
That may not unto dogs be given.