Friday, April 29, 2011

A truly people-friendly priest

Blessed with a people-friendly priest

I had the opportunity to attend the Easter Vigil mass on Saturday 23 April 2011 at St.Anne's Church, Bukit Mertajam as some friends were being baptized there that night. The mass was celebrated by the parish priest Rev.Fr.HenryRajoo.

It was such a wonderful experience attending his mass.In fact it was after a long time that I really attended a mass and went home happy and satisfied. He was so people-friendly and never uttered anything that could hurt the feelings of the people.

He may be a relatively young priest but I was impressed with his humility and the respect he had for the people. His message was very practical and he delivered it very simply and clearly with full conviction. When I left after the service, my friends and I couldn’t stop praising him for the way he conducted himself.

We went home spiritually satisfied and the message he gave in the homily about relationship with God and fellow men lingered in my mind for many days. In fact he reinforced my belief that unless we enhance our relationship with God we cannot relate well with others and if we cannot relate with others we will never find true happiness in our life. I shared this simple but important message in my blog and the Face book for the benefit of others.

Attending his mass that night was a pleasant change for me, my wife and friends. We hope we can find the time to do so more often in the future. In fact it would be indeed a pleasant and rewarding experience for many Catholics in some neighboring parishes who are being verbally abused and insulted every Sunday by their Parish Priests.

Being people-friendly is very difficult these days not only for priests but for all of us as well. It is extremely difficult to be friendly and polite to people who are over demanding, uncooperative and finding fault with everything we do or say. One needs a great deal of humility to be truly people-friendly these days where people tend to be critical, suspicious and at times hostile. This virtue of humility is what most of us lack and it what we all should ask God to grant us in abundance.

As Fr.Rajoo said in his homily that night, unless we enhance our personal relationship with God, there is no way we can acquire the humility to relate well with the people around us. If we cannot relate with others there is no way we can find the true happiness in our lives.

Monday, April 25, 2011

An old wooden church

An old wooden church

By Anil Netto

Herald April 05, 2011 at 17:31 PM

I am an old wooden church. You might even stroll past me without even a second glance. For if you look at me now, you might think I am nothing much to shout about. But I am a constant reminder of a bygone era of simplicity when the community was more important than concrete structures.

I came into existence in 1935, thanks largely to the efforts of Fr Jean Baptist Souhait, parish priest of Assumption Church in Penang, and the local Christian community, after most of the Catholics had settled in 1920 in outlying northern areas of Butterworth. I am made of hard treated timber that has stood the test of time and I blended in with the lush greenery all around me.

I started life as a primary school, just a few classrooms, during the pre-war years. On Sundays, the building was used for Mass. A priest from the College on Penang Island would travel to the mainland to say mass before the war years. Later, towards the end of the war, a priest would cycle from the next town, Bukit Mertajam, to come and say Sunday Mass here. Those were the days when children used to come to school with three cents as pocket money. They would buy a small plate of bee hoon for one cent, and a ball of ice scrapings coated with sweet coloured syrup for a quarter cent.

And they would still have change of 1 cent left over. Folks were a lot more humble and simple back then: the people who flocked to me on Sundays worked as civil servants in the health department and the railways, or small traders such as cloth vendors. There was even a toddy inspector! To get to me for Sunday Mass, some had to use a sampan to cross the Prai River to reach Batu Ujung and then walk up in their Sunday best. It was Fr Adrian Devalls who blessed me during the official opening in 1938. But my pride and joy was shortlived.

On December 8, 1941, the earth shook as Japanese planes attacked Butterworth and two days later, 70 aircraft launched massive air raids on Penang Island. In the distance, I could hear the faint thud-thudthud of bombing all around me. By December 13, people began fleeing from Penang, as the British retreated towards Singapore. Shocked, many flocked to me and I heard their anguished prayers, entreating the Lord for mercy. Those were difficult years during the Occupation. More bombing again in Penang in 1945 as the British tried to retake the area with the Japanese finally surrendering in September 1945. For the moment, a burst of relief and celebration but then came the dark years of the Emergency.

And then again, in 1957, I heard the expectant and fervent prayers of the community as they expressed their hopes and dreams as the country celebrated Independence. Ah yes, I have been through a lot with the community during their ups and downs. I have witnessed their joys and sorrows. I now see around me the grandchildren of the original inhabitants and how times have changed. A culture of materialism has spread. All around me I see the trappings of ‘development’ and crass consumerism.

Devoid of simplicity and spirituality. What has happened to the simplicity and community solidarity of times past? Today, like most old things and senior citizens who find themselves unwanted, I find myself feeling insecure. Will I be the next to go? How long more before they consign me to the ash-heap of history and spend millions to put up a ‘modern’ structure. Often, I hear them say that they need better and more comfortable air-conditioned surroundings for catechism classes and meeting rooms.

But I remember, when I was opened, the excited looks on the chidren’s faces. Things were a lot cooler then with all the greenery around. Today much of my surroundings are covered with concrete and tar. Why is it that modern churches think they have to be covered with concrete and tar all around them? What do people think when they look at me? Do they ignore me, walk past me? Do they feel embarrassed when they look at me? Do they see an old building that is a nuisance to maintain?

Do they feel uncomfortable when they look at me and compare me to the gleaming white concrete complexes that surround me - structures devoid of much soul and history with no tales to tell of the community around them? Or do they think a gleaming church complex would look much grander? Ah, the illusions of grandeur. Today, when people look at me, are they reminded of an era of simplicity when faith was manifested in simple structures and the prayers of a humble community? How they respond to my humble structure tells a lot about HOW they see their faith. I remember Fr Belville and his cough-coughcough as he said his Mass.

Although he built a bigger church next to me for the growing community next to me, I suspect he was fond of me and didn’t have the heart to tear me down. Neither did the parish priests who followed him, including our Archbishop. Others even lovingly restored me. Whenever I find my wooden structure feeling feeble and vulnerable, I am reminded that when his closest follower had deserted him, the closest thing to our Lord on the cross was the wood of the cross.

Today, I feel comforted by the thought I am still housing kindergarten classes and providing a haven for migrant workers to gather on Sundays. It is these simple people who still appreciate me. Just like, I am sure, the artisan carpenter from Nazareth who didn’t have a roof on his head, would. But how much longer do I have before someone or some committee decides to demolish me —and along with it the history and memories of a community — the only lingering trace of me being perhaps a fading photograph on the wall of some meeting room?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Refelctions for Easter 2011

Jesus is risen from the dead, lives in our midst, never to die again.

Easter commemorates one of the greatest mysteries of our faith - the resurrection of Jesus, which the Church says, is the very foundation of Christianity. His resurrection might have taken place more than 2000 years ago but how does that affect us today in this highly materialistic world driven by greed, pride and lust? As we celebrate Easter it may be good for us to reflect on what Christ's resurrection really means to us in a world where many are questioning the very existence of God.

At a mass recently the priest asked a very important question which we have all taken for granted,” Do you believe in resurrection?” A non-Christian friend was very puzzled how in this era of scientific sophistication, we can still believe a dead man could have come back to life after three days.

In fact a number of enlightened Christians have “lost their faith” for these reasons as they cannot accept the resurrection of Jesus. What they have believed all these years out of faith does not seem logical to their minds anymore. Today man has so advanced in science and technology that he insists on evidence before he accepts anything as the truth, especially those that are supernatural in nature. Would it be wrong of him to do so?

Gone are the days when he is willing to accept anything based just on faith and tradition? God’s gift to man – his inquisitive and intellectual mind had brought great advancements to the human race but many a time it also worked to his detriment when he misuses it for his selfish needs.
Jesus rising majestically

The Resurrection, as we were taught, is Jesus Christ’s return to life on the third day after his death. To my mind there are two aspects to this resurrection, physical and spiritual. The problem is that from an early age we have been taught to believe that resurrection is just the bodily rising of Jesus after death. The image of Jesus majestically rising bodily into the heavens had been vividly imprinted in our minds since we were children. We have been carried away by the over-emphasis on these physical aspects of the Resurrection. Our ideas of resurrection should instead mature when we grow older and wise with better and more mature understanding of Christ’s teachings.

There are many documented signs that suggest Jesus did rise from the dead but there is no conclusive scientific evidence to prove beyond doubt the physical resurrection of Jesus. In fact there are many who are bent on proving that the resurrection of Jesus is a myth with no scientific evidence whatsoever. They are hoping that new discoveries based on modern DNA studies as described in “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” may give weight to discredit the truth of the resurrection.

Our believe in the resurrection is based on the teachings of the early Church which was inherited from the Apostles who were convinced beyond doubt from the testimonies from eye witnesses then. Controversies continue as to the reliability of these testimonies.

From the discussions and research that has been ongoing all these years it is clear that we can go on arguing whether resurrection really took place but there will never be any conclusive evidence to prove beyond doubt it did take place. Even if we have conclusive evidence, man with is egoism, is not going to accept them. Our belief is basically a matter of faith and is going to be so and not on sound scientific evidence.

However to me that is the least important and it would be improper for us to base our faith solely on the resurrection and other such supernatural events, which cannot stand the test of time. We know for sure that Jesus was true and his death was also true. Above all his teachings were absolutely true and never flawed even with the passage of time. The way he accepted his passion and death was extraordinary and the infinite love and forgiveness he had even for his enemies was remarkable for a normal human being.

While we cannot scientifically prove the physical resurrection but we can definitely beyond doubt testify the spiritual resurrection of Jesus. Yes, he died but yet we know for sure he is alive and present in our midst. We witness his presence daily in our lives; the air we breathe, the water we drink and the people we meet. He is there in all the challenges, trials and tribulations we encounter.

Very often we either do not recognize or we are too arrogant and ignore his presence in our midst. We expect Him to come in majesty to work miracles to help us overcome our difficulties and we become disappointed and disillusioned when he doesn’t. As a result we lose our faith in him. Little do we realize that he comes simply in impoverished people, the beggar, the sinner, the sick and dying, the hungry, the naked, the depressed and the oppressed and most recently in the priests and victims of the clergy sex abuse. We fail to realise that we are his “miracle workers” to alleviate the pain and agony of such people in our midst.

It is the experience of unselfish love for one another that resembles the mystery of the Resurrection of Christ. It is something that is beyond reason, beyond replication, beyond scientific fact. It is in this love that the risen Christ dwells and if we cultivate this love for one another in our hearts then His resurrection is true which needs no human proof.

Yes, truly Jesus has risen from the dead, lives in our midst, and never to die again. All we need to do is to be humble enough to seek him in our hearts and in the hearts of those around us and we will surely find the risen Christ in some mysterious form.

Wishing you and your family a very Blessed and Joyous Easter.

May the risen Lord bring you peace, happiness and hope in your life and family.

Let’s stand firm and unwavering with righteousness come what may

and He will deliver us from all our perils

Reflections for Good Friday

The Cross is a sign of love, freedom and hope

Once again we will be observing Good Friday to commemorate the death of Christ on the Cross. It is a day we will reflect on the sufferings and death of Christ, which is generally called the Passion 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.

To many the Passion of Christ is just a lesson in history where we sympathize with Christ for the sufferings he went through before he died.

That is what we do during the church service, read and enact his passion, pray for the church and the people of the world and venerate the cross on which Jesus was crucified.

We find it hard to believe how the people can be so cruel to inflict the most severe form of pain on a man who they knew was innocent. For us Christians the Passion should be more than a lesson in history but a lesson in life to stand up for truth and justice under even the most difficult situations.

The Passion 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 by fine or imprisonment, but to death by crucifixion, the severest form of sentence a man can possibly get.

As if that was not enough, before he was crucified he was humiliated, severely persecuted, whipped, scourged, crowned with thorns, 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 Jesus commit that deserved him to be punished in that most inhumane way? He was tortured, humiliated and killed not for cheating, amassing wealth through corruption, rape, adultery or murder but for telling the truth, the truth which caused so much fear among those in positions of power and comfort. He was a threat to their social security and had to be eliminated at costs and which they did.

Throughout the journey of his passion, what was astonishing was the way Jesus humbly accepted his punishment which he knew was unfair and unjust. He very well knew he was innocent. However he accepted the punishment willingly without fighting back or defending himself. He did not show even the slightest anger or retaliation for being victimized, 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. To me this extraordinary nature of Jesus goes to prove that he was no ordinary man but the Son of God.

This was in keeping with what was written He was oppressed, yet when he was afflicted he didn't open his mouth; as a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before its shearers is mute, so he didn't open his mouth”.( Isaiah 53:7).

Jesus taught us to love our enemies and to offer the other cheek when struck on one. He had demonstrated that he really meant what he said by accepting his Passion so willingly. Today many of us try our best to escape from the law even when intentionally committing an offense. We are prepared to cheat, pull strings, pay money and many other corrupt means just to escape punishment. At times others who are innocent are punished to let us go free. Are these actions of ours right? Christ accepted punishment willingly for crimes he did not commit and even treated those who punished him with love and forgiveness but we are not willing to face the consequences of our crimes.

We call ourselves Christians, the followers of Christ, but how Christ-like are we in accepting humiliation and pain for speaking the truth? How Christ-like are we when we are accused of offences we did not commit? Will we be humble enough not to strike back and forgive those who accuse us?

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 fiercely, sometimes with vengeance. We organize protests, demonstrations, hurl verbal abuses and resort to legal recourse. 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 to get rid of him. 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. We fail to realize that our efforts cause so much pain and suffering to the person whom we depose and his family.

There may be others among us, especially those in positions of power, who behave like Pilate, refusing to stand up to public pressure for fear of losing our power. Due to our greed for power, we succumb to the wrongful demands of the public and wash our hands off the problems of those in need. Others continue to support those in power who suppress the people under their care

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

As we make the final Way of the Cross and read the Passion of Christ on Good Friday, let us reflect on its relevance in our own lives, of Jesus’ actions during his agonizing moments. Let his Passion not be just a lesson in history to commemorate Christ’s suffering at the hands of his own people but a lesson for us to emulate. His Passion is not something to sympathize or be sorrowful about but a real lesson for us as we encounter the many challenges in our lives.

Christ’s humility and forgiveness even towards his adversaries is infinite which is what not just Christianity but humanity is all about. The Cross is a sign of love, freedom,sacrifice and hope not sorrow and despair as we often make it to be.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Holy Thursday 2011 - Humility

Washing of feet, sign of extreme humility

On Holy Thursday we commemorate the Last Supper which forms the basis of the institution of the Holy Eucharist that has become the fundamental focus of our Catholic Faith. The most memorable thing about this day that had impressed me since I was young was the washing of the feet by the preist. Yes year after year on every Holy Thursday, without fail we witness the priest, like Jesus, washing the feet of his 12 “apostles”.

This act of Jesus was a truly revolutionary one which would have been scorned by those in power and would be so even today when those who are supposed to serve have become masters of the very people they are are serve. By Jesus washing the feet of his apostles he has demonstrated the most extreme form of humility and love for man and this love resulted in the ultimate sacrifice of His life for us on the cross. He may have done that more than 2000 years ago but the significance of his action remains relevant even today.

As the followers of Jesus, we are asked follow Christ, to humble ourselves, to wash the feet of others especially those under our care. It may be easy to enact that historic scene of washing of the feet but in real life it is not that easy to demonstrate that humility and love for those below us. Are we, like Jesus, willing to go down on our knees to serve others? Are we willing to sacrifice whatever we can for the betterment of others? These are the questions we must ponder on this auspicious day when Jesus gave us Himself in the form of bread and wine for the betterment of us.

If only each of us had that humility of Jesus the chaos in and around us would never have occurred. If only we had the humility to admit our mistakes and seek forgiveness from those we had hurt most of our problems could have never surfaced. On the other hand lack of this humility was the cause of violence and war throughout the history of man.

Today our Church is being confronted with the biggest challenge in recent times in the form of the clergy sex scandal which had dealt a severe blow to its relevance in the world today. The very people who were supposed to uphold morality have failed us miserably. If only those involved regardless of their position had the humility to take responsibility for their sins or their cover up of justice, we will not be experiencing this problem that is threatening the credibility of the Church as the moral guardian of humanity. On Holy Thursday our priests, bishops and the Pope take centre stage in enacting the washing of feet for the world audience but are they willing to follow Jesus in washing the feet of the victims of the sex abuses? Are they willing to wash the feet of their parishioners who may be despised and suffering in pain and agony of some form?

On a smaller dimension if only each one of us had that humility of Christ, marital problems resulting in divorce and family break up with “orphaned” children will be minimal. Our families would be happy and intact.

Every year our priests make it a point to wash the feet of their twelve "apostles". To many it may be just a ritual and they do it as an obligation. In fact the act itself is reminder that they are the servants, not masters, of their parishioners.

The washing of the feet is a lesson not only for the priests but for of us as well. It is a lesson for us in our relationship with those we encounter daily - our spouse, our children, parents, priests, friends and particularly our subordinates. Do we treat them with the respect and love they deserve?

The washing of the feet is a clear demonstration of Christ’s second great commandment to us – love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus said, “If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you must wash each other's feet”(John13:14).

Mother Teresa had this great virtue of humility in abundance as she fulfilled this commandment to the fullest by ‘washing the feet’ of the poorest of the poor in her midst. It is pertinent here to examine ourselves to see where we stand on this scale of humility that was demonstrated by Jesus on Holy Thursday and Mother Teresa in recent times. How willing are we to wash the feet of one another as Jesus commanded.

On this special day let us ask God to give us this great virtue of humility in abundance so that we can in our own small ways, bring about the peace and harmony in our own surroundings by 'washing the feet' of our neighbor in particular our enemies.