Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Why so many formations and retreats?

Do they make us better Christians?

It has become fashionable in our Catholic Church to organize various retreats, formations, recollections, reflections, seminars, rallies, convention and so on for the clergy and laity alike. You may call them by various names but they all more or less refer to the same - gathering of Catholics to discuss and reflect on issues facing us. Most of the time these sessions bring no concrete results whatsoever in the end.

A lot of time, enegy and money are spent to organize these events and as such it may be pertinent here to ponder to see whether they bring any real long-term benefits to us. Do they make us better Christians?

We are told that these formations are vital to be a good Catholic. There are some who even go on to say that we cannot reach God without attending these formations. Are these really true? Formations are good and are intended to make us better Christians but how better do we become after participating in such activities? There are many among us who attend so many formations and retreats but when we return we continue with our old selfish ways, refusing to talk to others, neglect elderly and indifferent to those in need in our midst.

The clergy too are involved in their own retreats. They are away 3 days a month on their monthly recollection. In addition to that, they have their retreats, off days and vacation. In most parishes the priests are away on leave one or two days a week. In fact in some smaller parishes there are those who take off as long as 3 days a week. During their absence there is no priest to cater for Eucharistic celebrations, final rites and anointing, confession and counseling.

When the priests return from their monthly recollections, not a single word is uttered of matters that were discussed. It is as though they had attended some top security meeting of a secret society, which must be kept secret from even their own congregation. Despite the beautiful slogan, “We are the Church”, the laity is left completely in the dark as though they do not exist. Neither are there any positive changes in the attitude of the priests towards their job and the parishioners after every retreat or recollection.

Talk to any priest today, his main grouse will be that very few parishioners are coming for mass and participating in the various organizations. On the other hand, at the BEC meetings more than 90% of parishioners will complaint that their priests do not visit them. In fact these days many complain that their priests have lost touch with the people and are not interested to know their parishioners.

The people today, being more qualified and well versed in many fields, are not happy with the lack of dialogue and openness in the management of the parish. They are not happy with the financial accountability of the parish administration that is rather unprofessionally run. The knowledge and skills of the laity are not appreciated let alone utilized.

It is sad that slowly this indifferent attitude of the clergy towards the people is slowly being accepted as a norm. As the Eucharistic celebration forms the crux of our faith, our priests consider themselves as indispensable. They are happy to say mass, consecrating the bread and wine and nothing more. All other duties are being designated to the laity with the excuse as they do have the time as they are in short supply.

With the rapid scientific and socio-economic changes in the global world today, it is time for our bishops and clergy to review their strategies in building the Kingdom of God in our midst. Are they really serious in their mission to build His Kingdom? How committed are they to this task? There is a need to improve the clergy-laity relationship to a level where there is more mutual respect for one another. The present system of monologue should be replaced by dialogue on a more equal standing. We must bear in mind that we need one another and have equally important roles in building the Kingdom of God. As mere mortals and sinners, we are all equal in the eyes of God.

Recollections, formations and retreats are important but of greater importance is their commitment to mankind in the form of their congregation. Unless they identify themselves with the people there is no way they can build God’s Kingdom. Their retreats and recollections must bring them closer to the people, in whom God dwells, otherwise these retreats and formations would be just waste of time and money.

Dr.Chris Anthony

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

How Christ-like are we in our lives?

We call ourselves Christians but how Christ-like are we?

At a recent Confirmation mass, I was impressed with the homily given by Bishop Anthony Selvanayagam.He reminded those to be confirmed and the congregation in general, of the very depressing situation in the world today. He lamented that the vast majority of those who call themselves Christians do not know Jesus at all. This ignorance of Jesus among his own followers is the greatest challenge to Christianity in the third millennium.

We resort to all sorts of deeds to please God, deeds which God did not ask, attending church and receiving the sacraments diligently without fail, making pilgrimages to all the holy sites and shrines, burning candles and offering prayers, we fast and abstain, but we fail to do what God has really asked us to do – to love our neighbor.

In fact we need not go round indulging in rituals for God to grant us our petitions as He knows our problems better than we do and He knows what is best for us. According to the bishop,on the final day, God is not going to ask us whether we went to church, received the sacraments, fasted, and burnt candles or how many churches we prayed at. What He will ask us is how we lived by His words during our short stint on earth.

Bishop Anthony drew our attention to the Jesus’Sermon on the Mount regarding reconciling our differences with our neighbor before going to worship God. This is what Jesus taught us:

“Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering(Mathew 5:23-24).

The Sermon on the Mount

Yes, many of us harbor so much ill feeling against others and refuse to even talk to them – our children, siblings, parents, relatives and friends. Often we leave them behind in pain and misery but go in search of God. The bishop emphasized that unless we reconcile our differences with them it is meaningless to seek God.

Bishop Anthony’s sharing should prompt us to reflect on our own actions as Christians. How do we treat the poor and oppressed? How do treat our own children and elderly parents? How do we treat the sick and hungry? How do we treat those who yearn for our love and affection? How do we treat those who sin against us? Are we willing to forgive and forget those who hate and even harm us? How generous are we with our wealth and possessions? In short how do we treat our neighbor?

There are three groups of Christians in the world today. Firstly there is a very large group who do not know Jesus truly for what He is. Sad to say, a large number of us belong to this group. We perform all sorts of rituals to please God to gain His blessings but fail to do what He really wants us to.

The second group consists of those who know Jesus reasonably well as they spend many years of their lives studying his words, but refuse to follow those words in their daily living. They are good preachers but not doers. The words of Jesus is meant for others not them. A large number of us, so called practicing Catholics, regrettably fall into this category.

The third group comprises of those who know Jesus and follow Him in a way He wants. They stick by His teachings in everything they do. Unfortunately only a few belong to this group of true followers.

It may timely for us to ponder on our own thoughts and actions to see which of the three groups we belong to. Do we live by the teachings of Jesus? Do we have Christ in our lives?
We call ourselves Christians, followers of Christ, but how Christ-like are we in our lives?

Dr.Chris Anthony

Monday, November 05, 2007

Let’s pray for religious tolerance

The Church must strive for religious rights and freedom

October 31, 2007 was a sad day for the residents of Kampung Rimba Jaya in Shah Alam and a black day for religious tolerance in Malaysia. It was the day when the100-year old Sri Maha Mariaman Temple in the village was demolished in a manner that showed total and blatant disrespect for the sensitivities of Hindu Malaysians.

Despite agreeing to move out to a new location, enforcement officers from the Majlis Bandaran Shah Alam(MBSA),and police armed with machine guns and knives brutally drove out the devotees and demolished the temple together with scores of houses. It is very disturbing that they did this a week before the Deepavali festival of Lights, an auspicious day in the Hindu calendar.

Arrival of enforcement team

In the bloody fracas a number of devotees were injured including the temple priest, some of the residents and four lawyers, who went to volunteer legal aid, were arrested. The latter were intimidated and manhandled at gunpoint without any respect for their profession. This attitude and actions of our enforcement units are unbecoming of a nation that preaches racial and religious moderation and tolerance.

Enforcement officers

While all these were happening to our fellow citizens of the Hindu faith, what did we, as Christians do to empathize with them. Most of us continued to go about our daily routine oblivious to the problems faced by those around us. We even attended Sunday service as though nothing had happened. As usual, the plight of our Hindu brethren of Kg.Rimba Jaya, was not even highlighted during our services nor did we offer special prayers for them. We were totally
indifferent to the feelings of those in pain around us. Are we any different from the enforcement officers who unjustly inflicted pain and suffering to fellow humans?

Enforcement team in action

Fortunately at least we had our Bishop Paul Tan, deputy president of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST), to criticize the high handed actions of the authorities in demolishing the temple and homes. He described this atrocious behavior as “insensitive and intolerant”.

This what Bishop Tan had to say : The fact that this huge loss is not caused by earthquake, tsunami or any other natural catastrophe but by governmental agencies has compounded the people’s misery and shock many times over. Places of worship are sacred places and the authorities must adhere to strict and proper protocals in taking action on such places”.(Malaysiakini,Nov.3).

Lawyers arrested and handcuffed

The bishop also criticized MBSA for the attack on temple priest Siva Sri Ramalingga Gurukal who was not armed and posed no threat to anyone. We share his views that this arrogant and violent actions by the MBSA in Kg.Rimba Jaya,is unwarranted if not checked, could encourage other local authorities to follow suit in future.

Demolished temple and homes
We must support the MCCBCHST in expressing our deepest regret and dismay over the MBSA’s actions. We call on the government to stop these mob-like actions of the MBSA and other local authorities.Let us also offer our aid in whatever way we can to those organizations that are working to help the affected residents of Kg.Rimba Jaya in rebuilding their temple, their homes and their lives as a whole.

We are denied our legitimate religious rights and freedom in our own land. We may be helpless in fighting for our rights against the powerful forces arrayed against us. The only way out of our predicament is through peaceful political means. We must strive to make people aware of their responsibilities in the coming general elections.

The Church has the moral obligation of not only to encourage its congregation to vote but to vote wisely so that we can bring about the necessary changes for a fair and just Malaysia where citizens of various races and religions can live in peace, harmony and mutual respect.

Dr.Chris Anthony

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Jesus and the tax collector

Sunday refection

4 November 2007 Luke 19:1-10

Jesus and the tax collector

Jesus entered Jericho and was going through the town and suddenly a man whose name was Zacchaeus made his appearance; he was one of the senior tax collectors and a wealthy man.

He kept trying to see which Jesus was, but he was too short and could not see him for the crowd; so he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus who was to pass that way.

When Jesus reached the spot he looked up and spoke to him, 'Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I am to stay at your house today.' And he hurried down and welcomed him joyfully.

They all complained when they saw what was happening. 'He has gone to stay at a sinner's house,' they said.

But Zacchaeus stood his ground and said to the Lord, 'Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.'

And Jesus said to him, 'Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham; for the Son of man has come to seek out and save what was lost.'


In this story of Jesus encounter with Zacchaeus,a tax collector,our Lord is trying to stress on the virtues of forgiveness and humility. Zacchaeus was a sinner in the eyes of the people at large but still Jesus went down to him. That act of humility converted Zacchaeus to become a better person. One virtue of humility led to another, forgiveness.

This story of Jesus is very relevant to us even today. Many of may be well off in society but often we avoid those who sin for fear of being branded as bad. We also avoid mixing with the less the fortunate and marginalized.

We are afraid to allow our children to mingle with those from poor families and bad for fear of getting spoilt.We is very selective with whom they mix.

These actions of ours are definitely against the basic teachings of Jesus, who despite being the lord ,master and teacher, showed by example to go down to the sinner and marginalized in society. He was not afraid of what the people thought of him.

Similarly, we too should go down to those despised and marginalized. Only by our humility and forgiveness we can “covert” them to better humans. When Jesus, who is our God and Master can go down to the sinner, why can’t we mere humans, who are also sinners. We expect Jesus to forgive us sinners, but we as sinners ourselves are not willing to forgive those who sin against us. What hypocrites we are!

Dr.Chris Anthony