Friday, January 25, 2013

A Word worth Listening

Third Ordinary Sunday Year C

There was a time when academic performance was the conclusive benchmark of intelligence. You were either graded as excellent, good, average, below average or just simply stupid (Ok, the last one was my addition). Then experts in pedagogical sciences and gurus of motivation began telling us that some of us who didn’t make the marks weren’t really stupid. Apart from IQ, you also had the benefit of EQ. It was music to the ears to learn how this had now leveled the playing field. These experts argued that it all came down to learning styles. To learn, we depend on our senses to process the information around us. Most people tend to use one of their senses more than the others. Therefore, there are generally three types of learning styles based on different modes of acquiring information: auditory (hearing), visual (seeing) and kinaesthetic (using hands or action).  Some educationist would also insist that the learning capacity increases as we move from auditory methods to kinaesthetic, thus the auditory style is regarded as the least effective. This is best articulated in the Chinese saying, “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.”

Today’s readings remind us that Christians, following the tradition of the Jews and the Hebrews before them, are intentionally auditory. But this does not mean that the Judeo-Christian culture is inferior to others which emphasised ‘doing’. Israel was a nation of prophets, not philosophers. Prophets listen to God. Philosophers envision. For the Greek philosopher, intellectual understanding came through the eye. For the Hebrew prophet, it came through the ear. The eye sees and dissects. The ear, on the other hand, hears and obeys. The Hebrews began their scriptures by saying that God spoke and all came into existence. The most fundamental statement of the Law (Dt 6:4), begins with the words, “Hear” or “Listen”.  The logic of the Hebrew scriptures is the logic of revelation. God is the cause; we are the result. The Lord speaks and his word has effect. In the logic of revelation, the most illogical thing is to refuse to listen to the Voice of God. To refuse to listen is to refuse to participate in what God is doing. The prophets called it rebellion. Thus we call evil irrational.

It is interesting to note that the etymology of the word ‘obedience’, which comes from the Latin ‘obedire’, or in the original Biblical languages, Hebrew (shema) and Greek (hupakouo), means to listen. Perhaps, this is one of the reasons why listening is so under-rated in today’s society that places ‘doing’ or activism as the benchmark of achievement. In a “just do it” culture, the whole notion of obedience seems absurd and even anachronistic. Everything in our culture resists obedience, because we are made to feel that any loss of control over self-fulfillment is a loss of self. Because of the emphasis placed on freedom, self-will, autonomy and personal determination, obedience does little to suggest a good life. From a marketing perspective, obedience is a hard sell, especially because the very notion of obedience seems to be a suffocation of life rather than the promotion of it.

Yet obedience is a core element of the gospel, a primary dimension of Jesus’ life and relationship with his Father, but also of what it means to a Christian. Jesus is the wholly obedient one. "He humbled Himself becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:8) and "through the obedience of the One, the many will be made righteous" (Rom. 5:19). Jesus not only listened and obeyed the word of God, He totally identified with it - He is the Word. Thus at the end today’s gospel, he could confidently announced that he is the fulfillment of the prophetic word. For many centuries the Hebrews strained to listen to the Word of God through their prophets, but then the Word came even closer. The Word became flesh.  Humanity was allowed to see the Word, not as a written word, but a living Word.

Unfortunately, many often reduce obedience to just a matter of following rules and conforming to obligations. Today’s readings remind us that obedience is more about an encounter with the Living Word, Jesus. It is more about effective listening than blind obedience to dead letter of the law. It means getting in touch with the voice and life of the Spirit. The three readings provide us with different levels of listening.

In the first reading, we read about the reconstruction of the moral and religious fibre of a foundering nation that has lost not only its independence but also its integrity. The foundation of this reconstruction would be the Law, which is the name given by Jews to their scriptures. As they listened attentively to the words of their holy book being read by Ezra the scribe, the crowd was moved not only to tears but ultimately to worship. For them, the Law was not just a set of religious and moral rules and obligations, it was the voice of God, the God that had not abandoned them, the God who was now restoring their fortune. Thus the first level of listening is listening to God, a listening which inspires worship, a listening that inspires conversion, and a listening that demands obedience and surrender to the sovereignty of God.

The second reading proposes a second level of listening. In obedience we also listen to the voice of the Church, the Body of Christ. In the face of the human heart’s tendency towards narcissism, individualism and exclusiveness more than towards the needs of the other, obedience as attentive listening to the other members of the Body of Christ frees us to live for the other and become an integral part of the family we call Church. Obedience can challenge our worldviews and prejudices which often filters our perception of God’s will.

Finally, the gospel speaks of the third level of listening – listening to the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalised. By citing a text from Isaiah, Luke attempts to explain Jesus’ mission as a proclamation of gladness for the poor, liberty for the captives, sight for the blind, release for prisoners and a year of favour for all. These categories are often regarded by the larger society as invisible, thus not deserving its attention or time. The rich and the powerful have our ears, but not the poor. Thus, the cries of the poor are a great corrective to our self-importance, selfishness and pride. If our heart’s desires are gifts from God, then listening to the cries of the poor reveals the demands these gifts make on us. Any Christian life which does not listen to the voice of the poor effectively shuts out the voice of God.

Christ’s powerful words spoken to us at Mass are meant to change things, to change us, to change the hearts and the lives of all who hear them. In the past when the mass was said in Latin, many people would resort to ‘reading’ the word from their missals. But now that the Word of God is proclaimed in our own language, we should put aside our missals, abandon the need to see the text projected on the screen, because listening to the word requires more than just our attention, it demands a total investment of ourselves, it demands obedience. Reading along and listening attentively are very different activities and have very different results. Most people would prefer reading. We are independent of the lector who proclaims the Word. Reading allows us to set the pace and affords an opportunity to analyse the text. In a certain way, we continue to assert mastery over the word. But we are a people called to ‘listen.’ Listening makes us uncomfortable because we strain to listen not just with our ears but also with our hearts. Listening treats the word in a personal way, rather than just a subject to be studied. Listening is relational. Thus, we listen to God, we do not read or study him. In listening, we make no demands of the Word – we merely listen, embrace the Word and obey. We seek not to substitute the Word with our words. But rather we allow the Word to form, challenge, comfort and finally consume us.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Wine may run out but the Party's not Over

Second Ordinary Sunday Year C

Every drinker, whether a connoisseur, a social one or just plain alcoholic, would appreciate the wisdom found in this Bible verse taken from the Book of Ecclesiastes (9:7), “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favours what you do.” Wine or alcohol can be a bringer of joy, albeit temporary. But when the initial momentary elation wears off, the mood can descend into tears, anger, and even violence. Before you know it the lingering effects of alcohol leave the drinker feeling empty again, till his next fix. The celebration is literally over when “we have run out of wine”.

The Bible treats intoxicating drinks ambivalently, considering them both a blessing from God that brings joy and merriment and potentially dangerous beverages that can be sinfully abused. The wine in today’s gospel story bears the first sense. The symbol of wine used concomitantly with the theme of the wedding feast expresses the exhilarating joy of ‘the Hour,’ not just the hour of nuptial bliss for the couple, but the ‘Hour’ marking the decisive intervention of God and manifestation of his glory in Christ. This is the hour of Israel’s liberation. Her Saviour has come! But just when the celebrations were gaining momentum, it risked being turned into a disaster. The festivities encountered an untimely snag: “they ran out of wine.” How could they celebrate without the most important ingredient of a good party? The mother of Jesus announces the sobering news, “They have no wine.” For all those present, who were expecting a continuous and even inexhaustible flow of good wine, this would have sounded like a death sentence.

This incident is a very fitting illustration of the failure of all this world’s joys. As much as we hope for an inexhaustible supply of resources, as much as we pray that the party and the honeymoon will never end, we always end up with an empty casket after everything has been drained. We know what it means for the wine to run out.  Sooner or later in every situation, in every relationship, in every type of human pleasure, the wine runs out. Our family, so dear to us, one day is gone. Divorce or separation may come, when the romance disappears and the harsh realities set in. Our friends, with whom we've shared so many enjoyable times, slowly drift away. Our college days, so exciting, are soon ended. Our profession, perhaps challenging and rewarding, one day, too, comes to an end. Youthfulness slip through our fingers as we have to contend with the trials of aging. In the parish, the exodus of the young, and the gradual decline of the BECs seem to signal the death of a once vibrant community. In every human achievement, pleasure, and joy — the "wine" is bound to run out.  

What do all these experiences tell us? Have we truly run out of wine? Has the party ended? Or are these scenarios merely pointing to the fact that we are often dictated by our subjective experiences, especially our emotions? It is interesting to note that our assessment of any situation is often dictated by our subjective experience. “How do I feel?” What does my gut tell me?” This is quite natural. The problem is that we often assume that our subjective assessment is conclusive and infallible. Emotions are lovely, stirring, and enjoyable, but they can also be intoxicating, dangerous and misleading. They may not be an accurate indication of reality and fact. In fact, pleasant or agreeable urges can often endorse lies and induce sin. Our feelings say more about ourselves than objective realities that we sometimes distort, manipulate, and circumvent in order to achieve our favoured ends. We often justify our sinful actions by saying that we feel God is telling us to do it.  We confuse our emotional urges for the voice of conscience. In any event, emotions are always beyond our control and they never last. This kind of wine is inevitably doomed to run out.

Thousands of years ago, the people of Israel also thought that the destruction of their country meant the end of everything. They were called the “Forsaken” and “Abandoned” People. But Isaiah in the first reading gives an entirely different picture, an objective one as far as it is the vision of God. It is a message of hope. All is not lost because God will return to redeem them. They will be called by a new name, they will receive a new glory, they will be called “My Delight” and “The Wedded” for God has taken delight in them again. God has renewed his covenant with them – God has wedded them again. What brought about this change? They finally realised that glory and blessings come from God alone. No human power, riches or glory will last. Eventually all these things will run out except that which is given by God.
Our most common folly is that we often realise this important point only after our own resources have been depleted or even exhausted. In our drunken merriment, self-absorbed in our own human achievements, intoxicated by our urge for pleasure, enslaved by our own unmonitored subjectivity, we  often fail to recognise that Christ is the true source of joy, an inexhaustible and irrevocable joy, unless we choose to ignore him. He is not only the provider of the wine that will never run out. He is the Wine, the Vine sacrificially crushed for our redemption and liberation. He is best wine often mistakenly kept for the last.

Thus, we must guard against the deception of subjective assessment and the proclivity to be misled into thinking that this is the end, merely on the basis that we feel it is so. When we allow our subjective impressions to dictate our lives, it would only lead to chaos and confusion. Here, our Catholic understanding of the Sacraments proves illuminative. Sacramental theology speaks of an objective reality, which is the grace we receive in the Sacraments, that is not dependent on our subjective experience or our emotions. The Church uses a Latin maxim to describe this objective reality: ex opera operato. Ex opere operato literally means "by the very fact of the action's being performed." It refers to the fact that the sacraments objectively and truly confer grace when the sign is validly effected, that is when the proper actions, words and objects are used  - not as the result of the personal feelings of the recipient but by the power and promise of God. The significance of the sacramental efficacy ex opere operato is that the bestowal of grace is not dependent upon the sanctity of the minister, nor does the faith of the recipient put any obligation on grace. Christ remains free in granting us his gift. Put positively, ex opere operato means that this act is Christ's act.

Therefore, even when the parties to the marriage no longer feel anything for the other, this does not spell the end of the marriage. The subjective experience of the parties does not determine the end of the objective reality proposed by the sacrament. Objectively, Christ remains faithful; he continues to confer the necessary grace through the sacrament of matrimony, and this ultimately defines the permanency of the marital bond. In another instance, even if everyone in the congregation felt listless and bored during the entire mass, or the priest was ill-prepared to celebrate the mass, the mass is still objectively the Sacrifice of the Cross. As the fate of marriages cannot be determined by changing sentiment, the victory of the Cross is not undone by our fluctuating moods.

So what do we do when the wine runs out? What do we do when the thrill is gone? What do we do when the passion fizzles? What do we do when the faith fails? What do we do when health degenerates? Many look for substitutes, only to find themselves disappointed once again because the wine will also run out. ‘Running away’ is no solution too. Mary shows us the way.  The strength of Mary’s faith is when she tells the servants to follow the instructions of her son. We run to Jesus with faith that he can do even the impossible, even outmatching the miracle of transforming water into the wine. Mary teaches us to come to him in humble submission, ready to listen to what he has to tell us, even though it may go against our better judgment. So, when the wine runs out, don’t attempt to brew some more, and don't run out. It’s not over. The best wine has been saved for the last – it is Jesus. Jesus came to give us new life; not just a quick fix for all our problems. Jesus came to give us himself, His Body and Blood, new life, eternal life, overflowing ... grace upon grace…wonder upon wonder…way, way, way more than enough to keep the party of possibility and hope going…until that day when we can all dance and sing and rejoice together at God’s heavenly banquet where the wine will never run out. When we have tasted the wine of God’s providence, we will be stricken to shame that we could have ever desired a lesser substitute.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Water spells God

The Baptism of the Lord Year C

Deep waters have never been appealing to me. Well, I do love to linger in the showers and the occasional therapeutic soak in my portable bathtub (now you know), but swimming pools and the sea are off limits. A traumatic near-drowning incident as a child is to be blamed for this. I never took to swimming after that experience. For some, the sight of water immediately conjures images of fun and games. For me, it simply spells ‘death’!

The Israelites had a similar aversion to waters. They were not a ‘sea-lubbing’ lot. The waters of the sea represented the chaos that had to be subdued by God’s creative act. In pre-biblical myths of neighbouring nations, for example the Enuma Elish, the Babylonian myth of creation, the sea was the dwelling place of monsters, the backdrop of an apocalyptic clash between the forces of order and chaos. Likewise in the Bible, the most fearful of monsters dwelt in the depths of the waters. If you remember the story of creation in Chapter 1 of the Book of Genesis, God gave birth to creation by bringing shape and order to watery chaos. This is an important point often missed. Take note that the watery chaos was already present prior to God’s act of creation. It reinforces the theological point which the biblical author wishes to stress – God is not the author of chaos. But God is a God who can bring order, peace and glory out of chaotic, confused and hopeless situations.

But the story of watery chaos does not end with Chapter 1. We would encounter it again in the story of the Great Flood. The story provides the last piece to our puzzle: What is the origin of chaos? The story of the flood symbolises the effects of humanity’s sin: God’s ordered universe, where the waters of chaos are kept at bay, is now shattered by man’s wickedness and disobedience. Man causes his own destruction. Together with God, in harmony with his Creator’s will, man was destined to be co-creators. But separated from God, man is only capable of manufacturing destruction. As the waters receded, God undertakes once again a new creation by repopulating the world with Noah’s descendants and the animals that issued forth from the ark. The waters had symbolically swept away evil. Here, the story narrates a simple truth: man’s sin is the cause of disorder and chaos. When man chooses to set his will against God, the harmony of God’s ordered universe is once again disrupted and everything descends into chaos. But God has not abandoned man. He does the seemingly impossible and unexpected. Once again, God brings life out of chaos.

Through God’s intervention, water now holds diverse connotations. On the one hand, water still represents the chaos that signified the realm beyond God’s control but when subjugated to God’s will, it becomes a source of life, a means of cleansing and renewal.  Thus, we find in the symbol of water a paradox of seemingly opposing themes: Chaos and order; Death and rebirth; Sin and purification. These themes are also primary in today’s gospel.

In complete obedience to the Father’s will, Jesus began his ministry by stepping into the murky waters of the River Jordan, diving into the chaos of humanity caused by disobedience. Why did Jesus, the sinless one, subject himself to this ritual washing of sins? St Maximus of Turin provides the answer: Christ is baptised, not to be made holy by the water, but to make the water holy.” When Jesus came up from the water, the heavens opened and the spirit of God descended upon him “in bodily form like a dove.” Once again, the voice of the Lord is over the waters. Yes, in the tearing apart of the heavens and the descent of the Spirit as a dove over the waters, we are meant to see the opening of a new creation story, in which, as on “the first day” of creation, the “wind of God swept over the face of the waters”, and we are reminded of the  “everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth” which was promised when Noah and the animals came out of the ark. Out of the waters rises a new humanity: having identified fully with our sinfulness in an act of repentance, Jesus opens the possibility of our identifying with him as God’s new creation.  In one of his sermon, Saint Proclus, beautifully describes the significance of this event, “Christ appeared in the world, and, bringing beauty out of disarray, gave it luster and joy”

Through the event of Jesus’ baptism, God is restoring the original work of creation and repairing what was damaged by sin and man’s disobedience. God is inaugurating a new creation, a new humanity which will be defined not by His wrath and anger, but by his favour. God is stepping in once again to clean up the mess caused by our sinfulness, he is bringing order out of our chaos. In the first volume of his exegetical studies on the life of Jesus in the gospels, entitled “Jesus of Nazareth,” our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “Therefore, the Baptism in the Jordan presents yet another truth: that Jesus has started a new creation. He is the second man (1 Cor 15:47) or the last Adam (1 Cor 15:45), that comes to repair the first Adam’s guilt… Jesus loaded the burden of all mankind’s guilt upon His shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan. He inaugurated his public activity by stepping into the place of sinners."

Today, you may find yourself in a state of chaos, when things don’t seem to go according to plan, your plan that is. It is somewhat consoling to note that you are not alone. We live in a world of chaos; the result of man’s rebellion against the will of God. Man continues to seek his own way, shape his own truth, do his own thing, and follow his own path. Ironically, man does so in an attempt to impose order in his disordered world. The story of creation and Jesus’ baptism provides us with a timely reminder that order comes only from our total and complete submission to God’s will. The essential truth is that the more we attempt to shape our destiny, right the wrongs in this world, find solutions to our multiple problems, as if God was not part of the equation, the messier the trail we will leave behind. Only God, the Master and the Creator of the Universe, can bring order out of chaos.

Whenever we come to Church to celebrate the great sacrifice of Jesus during mass; whenever we make the sign of the cross; whenever we come humbly as penitents to confess our sins; whenever we recite the creed, the symbol and summary of our faith; whenever we touch and are blessed with holy water, we are reminded once again that we are redeemed from the chaos of sin through our baptism and inserted into the order of God’s Kingdom sacramentally made present in the Church. Baptism is the sign that God’s authority has triumphed over the chaos wrought by sin. As St Hippolytus reminds us, “whoever goes down into these waters of rebirth with faith renounces the devil and pledges himself to Christ. He repudiates the enemy and confesses that Christ is God, throws off his servitude, and is raised to filial status. He comes up from baptism resplendent as the sun, radiant in his purity, but above all, he becomes a son of God and a coheir with Christ.” He becomes a new creation.

Yes, you may find yourself in a state of chaos, but do not despair. God majors in taking care of chaotic situations. He can bring peace and order where confusion and disorder reign. In baptism, Christ has already overcome the world, the devil, sin and death.

Recently, a good friend and former parish priest, Fr Phillips Muthu, who pastors in the East Coast posted a message on his Facebook a day after New Year, the day many parts of Terengganu and other areas in the East Coast were inundated with flood waters, thus crippling life and business. For many, these were clearly bad omens for the year. But Fr Phillips chose to disagree. He did not see the author of chaos and disaster in the deluge, but the Lord of order, the Lord who continues to care and watch over us. He writes: “DAY 2 ... one may wonder: How can I achieve anything this year? Some say it’s a bad start; whilst others say it’s a good start, newspapers say it’s a wet start. But God says: “'I made the firmament, the vault, the sky ... remember it’s the 2nd Day of Creation....God separated the waters to make way for the heavens..and therefore (see His) protection...look at the sky and know that God watches over us...”  Fr Phillips reminds me and I believe all of us – water doesn’t necessarily spell ‘death’ or ‘destruction’ or ‘chaos’; it spells ‘life’. Indeed it spells ‘God’!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Christ the Star

Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

Last Christmas, it must have come as a surprise (or a major disappointment) to many that our pre-mass programme seems sedated in comparison to previous years, even solemn to the extent of sounding like a funeral, some critics would even claim. There was no Christmas pageant, no wise men or kings arrayed in royal finery, no cute children’s choir belting out a repertoire of carols, which include ‘White Christmas’, ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’, ‘Jingle Bells,’ ‘Rudolph the Red nosed Reindeer’, or a Boney M number thrown in for good measure. Of course, we had some traditional carols with profoundly deep theology; but no banal stuff, at least not the kind that we can sing or yell from memory without having to refer to a book of carols. Sigh ... I must admit, it was anything but entertaining.

And so I was particularly surprised when a family of visitors, with some young men, came up to me after the midnight service to tell me how they ‘enjoyed’ the mass and found it lively. They were expressing gratitude for the sense of the sacred. It was the last thing I expected to hear. But I guess, I could have fallen victim to the popular mode of assessing the celebration of the mass – the important criteria was whether it was entertaining, creative, exciting etc. I had forgotten that the only criterion is the one displayed by the shepherds who made their way to the side of the crib, or the group of wise men who traversed distant lands braving all forms of difficult terrain and weather conditions in order that they may present their gifts before the child born in Bethlehem. That criterion is simply this: we are here to worship God.

Over a period of time I have overheard people discussing the setbacks of a Catholic mass and the futility of coming to Church. A teenager, talking to a group of her peers said that: "Mass is soooo boring. The music doesn’t rock at all! I don't know how a priest can say the same things every Sunday." A man declared: "I am Catholic, but I don't see the need to go to church. After all, I know a lot of bad people who go to church and I know a lot of good people who don't go to church." A lady stated that: "I'm a Catholic, but I don't go to church every Sunday. The homilies are so bad, I can't stand them. When I do go, I sometimes take a novel with me to read during the homily."

Our initial reaction to any of these statements may often be to offer sympathy and our own agreement. Yes, mass is boring and seems even pointless when we don’t seem to get anything out of it.
The argument might be raised that if people have fun, they will like going to Mass. If they don’t have fun, they won’t go. They will think Mass is boring and religion dreary. So we make a list of suggestions on how to remedy the situation – simply, make it lighter, shorter, less painful and uncomfortable, more fun, more exciting, more creative, and definitely more entertaining. We fail to recognise that these statements are actually quite revealing. They suggest that many people do not attend mass because they have come to worship God. In fact, many people attend mass because they are looking to be entertained.

Today’s Solemnity of the Epiphany offers us a realignment of our orientation. The magi, as did the shepherds on Christmas Day, offer us the supreme goal of our lives – it is to encounter Christ our Lord and offer him our worship and adoration. Unlike other astrologers who were busy studying constellations and stars that could guarantee good fortune and ward off bad luck, unlike King Herod who was so absorbed in his own self-importance, and unlike the Jewish priests and ruling elite who were concerned with self-preservation, the magi were able to transcend their own selfish goals and ambitions to discover their salvation in the Christ-child. In this sense, the Mass is a kind of epiphany, a manifestation of Christ in person, body and blood, soul and divinity, calling us to transcend our self-absorption. Epiphany is an invitation to restore the sense of the sacred, to return Christ to his rightful place as the real star of the celebration, and to give priority to worship in our encounter with Him.

The primary importance of Jesus Christ within the liturgy has been a constant theme of Pope Benedict’s teaching during his seven-year pontificate. He has often expressed concern that bad teaching can lead some Catholics to view the liturgy ‘horizontally’ as the creation of a parish or group in which the community celebrates itself. “The liturgy is not a kind of ‘self-manifestation’ of a community,” in other words, it is not an Epiphany of man. Rather, it should always be an Epiphany of God – Christ who manifests himself not only as man but under the form of bread and wine. Pope Benedict noted that when priests or parishioners reflect on how to make the liturgy “attractive, interesting and beautiful,” they can “risk forgetting the essential: That is the liturgy is celebrated for God and not for ourselves.”

 If God is absent from our celebration, then we are lost – without a star, we become the stars. “If the centrality of Christ does not emerge in the celebration, then it is not a Christian liturgy, totally dependent on the Lord and sustained by his creative presence,” the Pope adds. The Mass, therefore, is a bridge between heaven and earth, a serious business which can never be taken lightly. The Mass was never meant to be a form of entertainment, any more than the sacrifice on Calvary was meant to be. The whole point of Holy Mass is not to create a human experience, but rather to encounter mystery. Our experiences at Mass must be conditioned by and predicated on these goals: we are here to discover Christ and worship Him.  

Sometimes, the young are cited as the justification for introducing innovation and ‘fun’ into the liturgy, in the form of livelier music, relaxing the rubrics and rules regarding decorum and dressing, and turning the priest into an entertainer. This is the argument many self-described pastoral types make: and see how it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If, week after week, our young people are given the message that the Mass is supposed to be “fun”, entertaining, rocking, etc., then they will expect it always to be that way, and they will learn to judge it according to these malformed standards. Giving the kids a ‘good time’, is a tragic short-changing. The idea that a Mass must be entertaining and must hold the attention of children by means of gimmicks is a mistake. We will create a kind of spiritual blindness and deafness in the young. They will come to mistake their subjective experience for the voice of God.

In the three gifts offered by the wise men to Christ, we are invited to restore Christ’s rightful place in our liturgy.  The gift of gold symbolises our acknowledgment that he is king. The gold in our sanctuary is not a symbol of human opulence but the glory due to the King of Kings, worthy of our humble submission. The gift of frankincense symbolises our worship and adoration due to one who is not just a mega rock star or super-hero – he is God worthy of our praises. Finally, the gift of myrrh reminds us of the solemnity of our celebration which is a re-enactment of his sacrifice on the Cross. The cross is hardly entertaining because the cross demands that we deny ourselves of the need for amusement and stardom. Christ must suffer and die in order for the world to be saved. This is his destiny. We as his followers must also be prepared to follow his example and accept his fate. The way of the cross leads to heaven.

Today, as we pay homage to the King of Kings, the Lord our God, and the Saviour who died on the cross for us, let us never forget that he is always the Star and focus of our celebration. He may have to suffer this injustice whenever we can’t tell the difference between what we sing in a bar, in our bathrooms, or what we hear at a concert with what we do in mass. A renewed sense of the sacred in Church would allay such fears and provide a sensible distinction between what we are doing in the Church and what we are doing in the Hall next door.