Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Homily for the Ninth Day of Parish Novena 2016: "BEC as Agent of God's Mercy"

Guest Preacher: Fr Simon Yong SJ

Today we take a closer look at a feature of the Church in Malaysia, the BEC, otherwise known as the Basic Ecclesial Community. Noticed that I did not use the phrase “Church of Malaysia” or “Malaysian Church” but the “Church in Malaysia”.

Firstly, the usage highlights an important reality. The Church of Malaysia or Malaysian Church both indicate a specificity which restricts the meaning to that of a national church. A good case was when Henry VIII broke away from Rome, the Church IN England became the Church OF England. In that way, it became an English and a national church. And, when that national church, also known as the Anglican church, crossed the pond, it sprouted roots as the Episcopal church of the USA. The Church IN Malaysia calls our attention to the truth of the Church as One.

Secondly, the development of this reality by which we designate the word Church took two distinct routes. The first trail took a Teutonic trot through the Black Forests arriving at the Baltic shores and the North Sea as the German Kirche or the Dutch Kerk or the Scottish Kirk as in Kirk Douglas and finally, the English Church. The word is derived from the Greek “Kyriake” or “Kyrios” meaning the Lord’s House or pertaining to the Lord. We hear its echo loudly in the Kyrie eleison. The second trail meandered along the southerly swathe of Europe and is derived from another Greek word “ekklesia” which is “to be called out of”, as in a convocation or an assembly. It is a translation from the Hebrew "Qoheleth" which means "gatherer". This Romantic roaming began with Chiesa in Italian, Eglise for the French, Iglesia for the Hispanics, Igregia for the Portuguese, travelling into the far reaches of the earth and ended up as Gereja in Malaysia, one of the many Portuguese words that has expanded the Malay vocabulary.[1]

As their etymologies suggest, both Kuriokos and Ekklesia are communitarian in nature. Therefore, can the BEC be an agent of God’s mercy?

The short answer is a definite yes. Is the BEC alive and well?

It depends because a BEC’s vitality is contingent on the history of its development within a parish. For example, the memory of Fr Decrooq looms large in this community. In the context of the Church in Malaysia, he can be said to be priest ahead of his time. What we have today are the diverse parishes and maturing chapels of Christ the Light, Risen Christ, Jesus Caritas, Christ the King, Kristus Aman and Holy Spirit.

They represented an effort at decentralising the city parishes through the formation of smaller communities imbued a strong missionary thrust. In a sense, all the canonically constituted communities that exist now as parishes or chapels, during Fr Decrooq's time can be likened to “proto” BECs. In fact, many of the families in this parish are the legacies of the evangelical spirit of Fr Decrooq. After canonical erection, the smaller size of the present BECs owes their origin to organising skills of the late Fr Savrimuthu.

As you realise by now that Parish priests play a crucial role in the formation and the maintenance of the BEC structure. But they are only one side of the two clapping hands. The other hand is made up of mainly baptised Catholics, mainly from families, within a geographical area. This method of delineating a parish is not a modern invention of both Frs Decrooq and Savrimuthu and neither is the basis for our BEC the Latin American experience of liberation theology with its grassroots movements. Instead, a strong scriptural precedence is found in Acts 2: 42. These remained faithful to the teaching of the Apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.

The idea of the BEC is not just scriptural but also apostolic. At the core of the apostolic discipleship four fundamental aspects may be observed in every functioning community: the handing on of the faith, the brotherhood (fellowship or “feilohship”), the breaking of bread and prayers. I am sure this is observed in the BECs that you have—that more or less, the various elements come into coordination. The Parish is like a BEC writ large or magnified whilst the BEC is a parish in miniature.

In our BEC or Parish, these different aspects articulate an animated and dynamic entity very much alive so much so that when we speak of the Church, we use the analogy specific to an organism. Hence, the Church is Body of Christ. Just like the different parts of a body is united in a common purpose, the same is said for the different members of a community, all bound by and working towards a common end. There exists in this community a moral bond. But, deeper than this moral bond, which is aimed at the perfect functioning of a body, is the mystical bond with Christ. We belong to the Mystical Body of Christ because we are guided by and united to the Head, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

From Him we draw supernatural life through the Sacraments. Through the Holy Spirit, He endows each one of us with gifts that accord with our vocation in life so that each one of us will contribute to the good of the many within the Mystical Body. Through us, the Church grows from our family into the world. It is not just a geographical expansion but so much more personal in the sense that we grow to be more Christ-like. In that way, the Church forms one whole with Christ that even St Paul (1 Cor 12: 12) dared to equate the Church as Christ. This union between head and members is conserved and nourished by the Holy Eucharist. In a way, the definition for a Sacrament is actualised in the Church, in the sense that the Body of Christ eats the Body of Christ.

The beauty of the BEC is that it mirrors what it means to be a member, a family, a community, a Parish, a Church and finally as the Body of Christ. However, the reality is not always beautiful. Back-biting or gossiping, back-stabbing, power-grabbing, showing off, hurt, withholding of gifts and talents, etc. are common features of a BEC. If a parish is racked with disunity, you can be sure that its BECs too. Instead of witnessing ad extra, that is to the world that Christ is truly the Saviour and the Church as necessary for salvation, the BEC is no better than any other earthly community. Of course, needless to say ad intra, the BEC fails in edifying the members becoming an obstacle to faith. The charge of hypocrisy and scandal, not of the sexual kind, but rather of unchristian behaviour becomes the excuse from participation.

We need to disabuse ourselves of this prevalent misconception that the Apostolic community was perfect. History bears us out that Peter and Paul did not always see eye to eye. Paul and Barnabas each, doing God’s work, had to go their separate ways. What hope have we when Apostles can fight? Recall that I mentioned a couple of days ago that wrong is not always wrong, perhaps we can accept that failure perceived is not always failure in fact. What do I mean by that? It has been remarked that when two Protestants fight, a new denomination is founded like when the Pastor and his Associate Pastor of “The True Jesus Church” fought, the next day, a new denomination called “The Truer than The True Jesus Church” is established. When two Catholics fight, a new Religious Congregation is founded and you find so many Congregations are the results of “disagreement” and yet, they function within the same Body, called the Church.

If Unity is a mark of the Church, then disunity is the handiwork of the Devil. One has to be careful not to blame the Devil all the time. Making a point of the Devil is this: If we are sincere about doing God’s work, trust that the Devil will disrupt it. This is not blaming the Devil and absolving oneself of responsibility. Rather, check your BEC because the presence of disunity is a sign that the Devil is at work, mostly through his unwitting henchmen. If there are fights in a BEC, ask yourself: “Have I allowed the Devil to use me for his destructive purposes”? Remember again, I spoke about “possession” of truth? The Devil plays on our pride making us think that we possess the truth and blindly inflict that on others.

There will never be a perfect community this side of death. We all love the idea of unity because harmony is beautiful and attractive. But, a dose of healthy realism might help. Perfection is God’s give to us. It is never our gift to God. Check out the Eucharistic Prayers. There is a part of it which is called the Epiclesis—it is the part pertaining to the invocation of the Holy Spirit upon the Bread and Wine so that these elements may become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. But, there is a second Epiclesis that invokes the Holy Spirit again to come down on those who share in the Body and Blood of Christ that may be brought together in unity to become One Body and One Spirit in Christ. That means, we become docile to His sanctifying action by becoming aware work His around us, recognising the gifts, He distributes, the movements and the institutions He inspires and affections and decisions He provokes in our hearts.  

The long excursus at the beginning tries to show how communitarian the nature of Church is. Yet, there are people who shun the community of the Church because they say “I have God and I do not need the Church because it is full of hypocrites”. But, its communitarian truth is as explicit the Sacrament of Baptism, which apart from apart from the necessity of Water and the Trinitarian formula, can only take place when they are at least two people—one is the baptiser and the other is the baptised. No one can ever take water and pour over himself whilst pronouncing the formula “I baptise myself…”. If Church is the Body of Christ made up of members, then a Christian is always a Christian in relation to the community.

The Church in Malaysia believes that the best interpretation of how we can be Church is through the lived experience of the BECs. If you are disappointed by your experience of community, welcome to the human race. If you have opted out of community, think again. The decision should not be to stay away because if two or three are gathered in His name, staying away would be akin to repudiating the source of life which is nothing but spiritual suicide. The BEC is a gift of the Lord for this part of the His Vineyard. And in a diverse Malaysia, it can be a powerful and efficacious means of evangelisation. Be a part of a BEC as you join in Christ’s work of salvation.

[1] Curiously, if tuala is the Portuguese word for towel, have you ever wondered what the Malays used before the Portuguese came?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Terms of Use: As additional measure for security, please sign in before you leave your comments.

Please note that foul language will not be tolerated. Comments that include profanity, personal attacks, and antisocial behaviour such as "spamming" and "trolling" will be removed. Violators run the risk of being blocked permanently. You are fully responsible for the content you post. Please be responsible and stay on topic.