Saturday, February 23, 2008

Palm Sunday - more than just blessing and waving palms

Its gaining courage to uphold the truth

We are in the season of Lent and soon we will observe the Holy Week when we would relive the Passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. The Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday which commemorates the joyful entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.

When we were children Palm Sunday was a day of joy and celebration as we witnessed the blessing of palm and the procession that followed. We were happy to wave the palms and many of us took them back to place in our homes and even cars. Is Palm Sunday all about blessing and waving of palms?

Today we are older and after going through the various experiences in life we tend to see Palm Sunday differently. Jesus entered Jerusalem to face his imminent torture and death on the cross which he was well aware of. He took it willingly and placed full trust in God. Jesus was willing to walk the path of truth knowing very well that it is going to cause him immense suffering and death on the cross.

Very few people have withstood bravely to defend their principles in life. The notable person in modern times who did that was Mahatma Gandhi. With full convictions in what he was doing was right and full in God, he refused to submit to the hegemony of the colonialist. He single handedly defeated the British Empire not by hate and violence but by his love and integrity. He practiced to the fullest every word he preached.

We too are very often asked to bear witness to truth in our daily lives. Are we willing to walk the path of righteousness in an environment of hostility and ridicule? Are we willing bold enough stand firm to our principles in facing up to the challenges in life? Many of us may think we would but only to succumb to the temptations of greed, lust and hatred.

The main reason we succumb to temptations is our lack of faith and trust in God. Real faith is tested not during good times but at times of great trouble and difficulty. It is easy to say we trust God when we have everything going our way but it is more important to hold on to that unwavering trust when we are encountered with failure after failure.

We are all well aware that even many hardcore Catholics, laity and clergy alike, have given up their faith in deep frustration as they feel God did not answer their prayers. They feel despite being steadfast in their faith, God did not come to their aid when they badly needed Him. They fail to realize that God answers our prayers in ways we dot not recognize or comprehend. Whatever He gives is what we deserve and is the best in the circumstances we are in.

Palm Sunday is not just about blessing and waving of palms and shouting “Hosanna, Hosanna” but it is a solemn lesson for us all. Like Jesus who rode into Jerusalem bravely to face His imminent torture and death in the defense of truth, let us also try our best to emulate Him bravely, to uphold the truth, in our journey in this world particularly in times of hardship and pain.

Dr.Chris Anthony

The Passion of Christ

The Passion of Christ - its relevance in our lives

We are in the season of Lent which is a time to reflect on the sufferings and death of Christ. The Passion is the theological term used for the suffering – physical, spiritual, and mental – of Jesus in the hours prior to and including his trial and execution by crucifixion. It basically refers to the sufferings of Our Lord, which culminated in His death upon the cross.

The Passion of Christ is based primarily on biblical accounts of the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. From these accounts we know Jesus was falsely accused, convicted and sentenced, not fined or jailed but to death by crucifixion, the severest form of sentence a man can possibly get. Before he was crucified he was severely persecuted, whipped, scourged, dragged up a hill carrying a heavy cross, stripped off his clothes and then nailed to the cross, watched by many, like a hardcore criminal.

What crime did he commit that deserved to be punished in that most inhumane way? It was for proclaiming the TRUTH. Yes, Jesus was tortured, humiliated and killed for telling the truth, the truth which caused so much fear among those in positions of power and comfort. He had to be eliminated at costs so that they can continue to live in power and comfort.

Throughout the journey of his passion, what was astonishing was the way Jesus humbly accepted his punishment which he knew was unfair and unjust. However he accepted all that willingly without fighting back or defending to set him free him. He did not show even the slightest anger or retaliation for being falsely accused and sentenced by the kangaroo court that tried him.

He did not get angry with the Jews who accused him, Pilate who sentenced him and the Roman soldiers who executed him. Instead he had the great magnanimity to forgive all of them who took turns to insult torture and kill him. It was the highest level of humility that no ordinary man can have.

Jesus taught us to love our enemies and to offer the other cheek when struck on one. He showed us that he really meant what he said by accepting his Passion so willingly. We call ourselves Christians, the followers of Christ, but how Christ-like are we in accepting humiliation and pain for speaking the truth?

What lesson does the Passion of Christ provide us in our own lives? We too in own small ways are often falsely accused, humiliated and punished for standing up for truth, by the authorities in the government, our places of work, families and even in the church. When we are denied our rights we fight back by protests, demonstrations and legal recourse. At time we may even resort to violence and wars to redeem our lost rights.

Many of us behave like the Jews who made false accusations against Jesus and wanted him out. We too make false accusations against those who are against us in order to get them out of our way. We resort to all forms of high handed tactics to succeed against our adversaries. We fail to realize that our actions cause so much pain and suffering to the person involved and his family.

There may be among , us especially those in positions of power who behave like Pilate, refusing to stand up to public pressure for fear of losing power. Due to our greed for power, we succumb to the wrongful demands of the public and wash our hands of the problems of those in need. We fail to realize, as Jesus said, “You will have no power if it is not given from above”.

Like the Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus, there are many among us, who carry out the execution of others without feelings or compassion. Even if we know it is wrong, we carry them out anyway for fear of the authorities or for some material reward.

As we make the weekly way of the cross and read the Passion of Christ on Good Friday, let us reflect on the relevance in our own lives, of Jesus’ actions during his agonizing times. Let his Passion be something just not to sympathize or sorrowful about but a real lesson for us as we cruise along own lives. Christ’s humility and forgiveness even towards his adversaries is infinite which is what not just Christianity but humanity is all about.

Dr.Chris Anthony

Friday, February 15, 2008

Ash Wednesday without the ashes

To what extent are we willing to be enriched with the poverty of Jesus?

February 6 2008, was Ash Wednesday. According to the traditions of the Catholic Church it is a day of fast, abstinence, prayer and mass followed by imposition of ashes on our foreheads, reminding us of the mortal nature of our bodies.

Unfortunately this year these traditions were postponed to a later date because Ash Wednesday fell on the eve of the Chinese New Year. We, including the non-Chinese, do not want to be reminded of our mortal nature on this auspicious day of Chinese New Year.

Our Church, which is so strict with its rich traditions, is willing to give up its centuries-old practice of fast, abstinence and imposition of ashes for the worldly celebrations of the lunar New Year. We didn't even have the usual Eucharistic celebration, which is central to our faith, to mark this very important day in the calendar of the Catholic Church.

If the Church is so convinced that these traditions are so important in our worship, how can it give in to material demands? The contradictory stand of the Church at times really puzzles me; can man's laws over-ride God’s? It looks like they can under certain circumstances and for certain individuals.

It may be pertinent for us to ponder on what Pope Benedict XVI’s Ash Wednesday message, "Like the disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called not to idolise worldly goods, but to use them as a means to live and to help others in need, ... in imitation of Jesus who, as St. Paul says, 'was poor to enrich us with his poverty'".

Are we willing to be enriched with the poverty of Jesus, if so to what extent?

Dr.Chris Anthony

General Election 2008 : Continuity or Change?

We need candidates who have credibility and integrity

Malaysians of all ethnicity and all walks of life will go to the polls on March 8, to decide the destiny of the nation which they have all made their home. It is a rare occasion when all citizens, regardless of race, creed, social standing, political affiliation and even the physically handicapped are made to feel equal in exercising their constitutional rights.

Over the last 50 years under the Barisan Nasional (BN) rule the nation had made great strides; from a underdeveloped agricultural country we have become a prosperous industrialized nation and at the brink of becoming a developed nation by 2020.Our success story is our pride and an example for others to ape. The credit goes to our leaders, for their foresight and wisdom and the relentless work of the people. We have never experienced the rule by any party other than the BN which were made to believe is the only party that can effectively rule the country.

Although we have developed tremendously, like in any country, we have our share of problems and setbacks as well. The country is now plagued with problems of racial and religious polarization, inflation, declining standards of education, high crime rate, immigrant problems, sluggish civil service and corruption at the highest places.

The Election Commission, Anti-Corruption Agency and police have become subservient to the executive. The independence of the judiciary has been seriously undermined and the Lingam Tape scandal has cast serious doubts on its credibility as the custodian of justice. It appears to be to be tainted and chaotic at the highest level. Even parliament is not bold to debate issues that are of grave interest to the public, instead it has become a mere rubber stamp of the ruling party.

The country is being divided not just along racial but also religious lines. We now have a 3 major races divided into 2 religious groups, Muslims and non-Muslims, who are kept poles apart.There is increasing Islamisation of every aspect of Malaysian life that is unchecked and non-Muslims are denied their basic rights and freedom enshrined in the Constitution. There is real fear that Syariah Laws will soon replace the civil laws as the supreme law of the land.

Human rights violations are on the rise and blatant abuse of power by “little Napoleons” at all levels if the administrations. Freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are forbidden. Mass media, both print and electronic, are monopolized by the ruling party with only negative reports on the opposition, who are being branded as unpatriotic and anti-national.

It is with this scenario of an illustrious past and a gloomy present that Malaysians are going to the polls that will set the direction to chart the future. They have to make the all important decision between continuity or change. In all previous elections the people opted for continuity as they perceived that to be the means of stability, peace and prosperity. How are we to overcome all the ills that plague us today? Can the party in absolute power for 50 years and had been contributory to all our problems be expected to solve them all in the next 5 years? Are we going to give them another absolute mandate?

Malaysians today are more educated and better informed than before. They are exposed more to international politics, such as the on-going election campaign in the US, and better appreciate the working of democracy. As such their demands and expectations from the government too have increased tremendously and will continue to do so in the years to come. They are beginning to realize that there should be better checks and balances as absolute power if unchecked will corrupt even the most righteous

The political maturity of Malaysians should not be underestimated and their demands for a transparency, accountability and fairness from the government they elect should not be over-looked. Our politicians must understand these positive changes that are taking place in the general populace and political parties must strive to offer better, more capable and credible candidates to meet these new challenges posed by a more literate and demanding electorate.

On the other hand the time has come for the people to show their wisdom in voting only for those candidates with good tract record, honesty, integrity and good moral values and reject those who thrive on race politics and those who are corrupt and who do not have the welfare of the people at heart. They must use the election to send a clear and strong message to the leaders of political parties that they are not willing to compromise these qualities in their wakil rakyat for anything whatsoever.

Malaysians must show their maturity by rising up to reject money politics. Those who succumb to bribery and vote buying are committing greater crime than those who offer them. They should not allow greed and selfishness and fall prey to such unscrupulous tactics but rather place the national interests above theirs.

The ongoing US election campaign is an eye opener for all of us. It is refreshing to see the potential candidates gracefully leaving the race willingly and in a very civil manner,on realizing they do have the support of the people. The Democratic battle between Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama is being conducted in such an open, civil and truly democratic manner that should be the envy of the rest of the world.

It is very gratifying to see the maturity of the political candidates and the American voters. Genuine issues like healthcare, Iraq war, poverty, inflation, tax and poverty are the deciding factors, not race or the religion. If Obama were to become the President, it would be historic, as a member of a once enslaved colored community can rise up to become the most powerful man in the world. That speaks volume for the democracy of their nation.

We are quick to criticize the US for its unfair policies and its alleged racism, but how does our system of guided democracy measure up to that of the US? After 50 years, race and religion have become the major factors that decide who we vote. Can a non-Malay citizen ever dream to become the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister or even a Menteri Besar of a state?

Our politicians, especially the veterans and those riddled with all types of scandals refuse to step down gracefully even if not wanted anymore. They cling onto power by all means available to them. Money politics is the order of the day and millions of ringgit are ditched out and all sorts of development projects launched and goodies promised at the last minute in an attempt to fish for votes. If this is not institutionalized bribery then what is it? It is sad that many voters are still swayed by these tactics.

The future of the nation is in our hands as we are given the opportunity to decide its destiny. This time around let us vote based on the merits of the candidate rather than the party that he/she represents. Let’s look at his/her merits – honest, straight, high integrity and above all dedicated to champion our causes effectively regardless of race or religion. We need national not ethnic champions.We must reject politicians who are corrupt and out to use their positions to enrich themselves and their families and cronies.

Let us vote to send only those with credibility and inergrity to parliament where issues confronting the nation can be debated in a civil and democratic way without fear or prejudice. Let us vote to make parliament the truly highest policy making body in the country, submitting to none other than the wishes of the rakyat alone.

As we are deliberating whether to vote for continuity or change, the following words of Barack Obama may be of some help The real gamble is to have the same old folks doing the same old things over and over and over again and somehow expect a different result "

We cannot and should not expect a better outcome with the same old system over and over again. To cure the ills we have today in our country we must strive to effect a change. To bring about that change may not be that easy, it may be a monumental task, but there must be a beginning for all good things to happen, why shouldn’t it be now. It is now in our hands to make that change; do we have the will and courage to do so?

Dr.Chris Anthony

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Lenten Campaign 2008

Lend a hand to those in loneliness

The theme of the Penang Diocesan Lenten Campaign, “Lend a hand” for this year is very appropriate and thought provoking and it should to stir the hearts of the people to do something not just during this coming Lent season throughout the year.

POHD slogan for Lenten Campaign 2008

The words of Jesus “I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mathew 25:40) should be a reminder to us that Jesus dwells in those around us, especially the needy and the destitute. We will only be cheating ourselves if we say we love Jesus while refusing to lend a hand to those around us.

Many of us remember Lent as a time for fasting, abstinence, way of the cross, almsgiving and penance. Many too consider the Lenten campaign as a means of raising funds for the poor. We become very generous during this season and donate graciously towards this fund. These may nevertheless be some of the ways of observing Lent but there is much more to Lent than just donating generously for the poor and denying ourselves of some pleasures in life.

The Penang Office of Human Development (POHD) has rightly come up with the theme “Lend a hand” for Lent this year. It is a reminder for us that Lent is just not all about fasting, penance and giving alms. It surpasses all these and encompasses the offering of our hands of friendship and love to those around us.

Everyone around us is “poor” in some way as they are silently suffering from some form of ailment either physical or mental; serious illness,loneliness,loss of loved ones, financial problems, failures in career, failures in love,persecution,denial of basic rights and freedom, and the list is in fact endless. It should be our hands of friendship that could help to alleviate their suffering. We may not be in a position to totally eradicate their “poverty”, only God can do that, but I am sure we can do the little within our means to reduce their pain and agony.

One of the things that caught my attention recently is the plight of the elderly. Elderly people are everywhere, in hospitals, in our parish, our BECs, in the homes of our relatives and friends, in the numerous homes for the aged, and very significantly in our own homes. It is sad that have become captives in their own homes by being solitarily confined.

These senior citizens could have had very successful lives when they were young but all of them succumb to the greatest fear of man as they advance into the twilight years of their lives – LONELINESS. Yes the fear of loneliness is the greatest fear of man, however great he could have been at the prime of his life. Many are lonely in their own homes despite being surrounded by children and grandchildren, as the latter have little time to spare for their old folks. They seem to have become totally irrelevant in the lives of the young.

Most of these elderly do not need our money, food or gifts on special occasions but what they really long for is our love, our touch and our company. Ironically we are willing to give them money, food, shelter, expensive gifts and elaborate nursing care but not the love and company they yearn for.

Let make this season of Lent the beginning of being more aware of the needs of those around us, especially those who are suffering in loneliness. Let’s lend a hand to someone who is lonely and at the brink of death. Let’s start with those lonely in our own families especially our elderly parents. Let’s be generous and gracious not just with our money but also with our precious time that money cannot buy.

We may be having a tough time ourselves coping with all the stresses in life to make ends meet. We may have terrible problems of our own to handle, with our spouse, our children, our work, our financial difficulties, our illness and so on, but amidst all these let us find some time for those who are gripped with the fear of loneliness, those in the twilight of their lives. If we can do that to one of these least brothers of His, we will be doing it for Him.

Dr.Chris Anthony

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Reflecting on Ash Wednesday 2008

Ashes - a reminder of our mortal bodies

Last Wednesday, February 6 2007, was Ash Wednesday. According the traditions of the Catholic Church it is a day of fast, abstinence, prayer and imposition of ashes on our foreheads. Unfortunately this year these traditions were postponed to a later date because of the Chinese New Year.

LENTEN REFLECTION: Signed with Ashes, Sent to Serve(COL)

When I was a boy, I still remember the words the priest uttered when imposing the ashes on my forehead – “Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shall return”. These words of my priest, though very meaningful did not touch me then at that tender age. When we were young, we were full of strength, energy and vitality. Death was appeared alien to us. We considered ourselves to be strong and invincible and we continue to enjoy life to the fullest.

Today being much older, inflicted with so many ailments and our vitality is rapidly draining away, we realize that death is some a real and imminent. We have already witnessed the death of many of our friends and relatives, some of whom were very dear to us. Today what my priest said on Ash Wednesdays becomes more significant.

The imposition of ashes reminds us, despite our social status, that we are all mere mortals and our physical bodies would perish one day. Today we may be alive with great power, wealth, beauty and strength but tomorrow our bodies may be reduced to dust. Reflecting on those words of the priest makes me realize that greed for material comforts is indeed foolish. In fact it is more important to cultivate the love of Christ that is within each and every one of us, which will bring everlasting rewards from God.

Today we leave our jobs to fast, abstain and receive the ashes without fail, but has the significance of the act really touched us in the way it should? Many of us don’t even know what the priest is saying or doing. We receive the ashes because it is a trend which we have to follow.

This is the reality of the fast moving world today, to follow the trend in order to be accepted into the system. There are rampant breaches of God’s laws - greed, lust, cheating, corruption, adultery and so on; in fact the list is endless. The sad thing is that we are slowly but surely beginning to accept these “sins” as norms with total disregard to the teachings of Jesus. We are tempted to follow the trend and if we don’t we’ll be left behind in the social and economic competition.

This is the real test of our faith and society in general today. As Christians can we say “NO” to this worldly trend and follow that set by Christ?

Let’s pause a moment to reflect on the true meaning of the words that we hear every Ash Wednesday “Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shall return”. May these words may give some strength and courage to say “NO” to the materialistic trend that is fashionable today. May they give us some meaning in the direction we are heading in our own lives.

In this context it may be relevant for us to be reminded by the words of the Holy Father,Pope Benedict XVI on this Ash Wednesday"Like the disciples of Jesus Christ we are called not to idolise worldly goods, but to use them as a means to live and to help others in need"

Dr.Chris Anthony

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Reflections on Lent 2008

Lent,a time for self-sacrificing love called agape

Once again we are in the season of Lent. Today is Ash Wednesday but without the ashes as it the eve of Chinese New Year. Our Church, which is so strict with its rich traditions, is willing to give up its practice of fast, abstinence and imposition of ashes for the worldly celebrations of the lunar New Year. We don't even have the usual evening mass to mark this very important day in the calendar of the Catholic Church.

If the Church is so convinced that these traditions are so important in our worship, how can it give in to material demands? The contradictory stand of the Church at times really puzzles me; can man's laws over-ride God’s? It looks like they can under certain circumstances.

When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus said, "'Love (agape) the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." ( Matthew 22:37-41).

In keeping to this commandment,Jesus demonstrated his extreme form of love for us by dying on the cross.He has shown us the type of love we should have for God and for one another,not the love that we see in our material world today,but a love that is divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional and thoughtful.

This type of love has been described as agape, which is one of several Greek words meaning love.

As expounded on by Jesus, agape is a form of love which is both unconditional and voluntary; that is, it is non-discriminating with no pre-conditions and is something that one decides to do without compulsion.

This, self-sacrificing love for God and for one another is what Lent should be all about.

Lent takes us through a number of important events that should make us reflect on our lives to see whether we possess the type of love as propagated by Jesus himself.

It begins with Ash Wednesday, when the imposition of ashes on our foreheads reminds us of our mortal bodies. However rich and powerful we may be, one day our bodies will be reduced to nothing but dust. This should remind us that the the culture of greed that has inflicted us today is a folly. Instead we should strive to cultivate the love of Christ that is within each and every one of us.

The weekly stations of the Cross is a reminder that it is not enough to just to recollect the agape love of Christ for us but that we should also develop that love for one another. There is no way we can love Christ without loving those around us.

The act of washing of the feet on Holy Thursday is a demonstration of extreme humility by Christ; where the master goes down to wash the feet of his subjects. To many of us it may be just a ritual and even appear ridiculous but in actual fact it is a great lesson for us in life. Jesus is trying to tell us how we should treat one another, especially our subordinates and those less fortunate than us. As the followers of Jesus, do we have that humility and love for those below us?

Death on the cross on Good Friday is a reminder of the ultimate self-sacrificing love of Jesus for mankind. His crucifixion is the real act of agape. As the followers of Christ, we are asked to emulate that ultimate sacrifice of Christ. Are we prepared to do that?

We need not literally lay down our lives for others but surely we can sacrifice some precious possessions of ours - our time, energy and wealth for the betterment of those around us. At the same we can give up something which we all possess in abundance - pride, selfishness, ego, anger and greed which impede our endeavors to serve others.

Do we possess that love for those we encounter daily in our homes, the office and neighborhood?

Are we willing to forgive and offer our hands of friendship to those who hate us? Are we sensitive to the needs of others around us? Are we willing to go down to the level of the downtrodden to help them? Are we willing to patiently listen to those in distress? Are we willing and brave enough to speak out against injustice wherever it occurs?

Lent is a time for us to ponder on all these. It is a time for unselfish sacrifice of love, agape, not for our well-being but that of others.

Christ's resurrection at Easter has given us the hope in our battle over "death”. Fasting, abstinence, prayer and rituals may be the tools in this battle but the key to victory over death is AGAPE..

Dr.Chris Anthony