It began at the beginning of the year when Fr. Martin Arlando, parish priest of the Church of Divine Mercy (CDM) here in Penang decided to start preparations for the dual celebrations of Easter and the Divine Mercy Sunday which was a week after Easter. In deciding on a theme, he wanted something that was attractive to the younger members of the parish. After some thought and prayers, he came up with the theme TransformUs: The Journey.
So in line with this theme, he instructed that two types of prayer cards for Lent be prepared. One, more serious, for the general adult parishioners and another to cater especially for the younger people. They were printed and handed out after the launch of the Lenten Campaign. To help parishioners be more aware of the liturgical period they were in, the BECs were asked to organize gatherings for Seder Meals. Fr Martin, who had just returned from Poland where he collected the first class relic of St Faustina, conducted each of the meals and explained the significance of the prayers recited and the type of food and drink that were presented at the meal. This was aimed at giving the parishioners some awareness of the situation the Jews found themselves on the night just before the flight from Egypt.
Also in line with the time of Lent, a formation on the screening of the Seven Deadly Sins & Lively Virtues by Fr Robert Barron was carried out over four Wednesday nights. At the end of the last session, CDM carried out its penitential service.
Fr Martin began his homily at the Easter Virgil mass on Holy Saturday with a greeting of Alleluia the Lord is risen! He explained that Alleluia means Praise the Lord in Hebrew and used at Easter to praise the Lord for his triumph over death. It was also the first feast to be celebrated by Christians on Sunday as the resurrection is central in the lives of all Christians. St Paul reminded us that if Christ had not risen from the dead then our faith is in vain.
Fr Martin explained that no one had actually seen Jesus rise from the dead but there are three points of evidence. First, the empty tomb. It was a new tomb so there could have been no mixed up of bodies. In addition, there were Roman guards guarding the entrance throughout the night. Secondly, there were the words of the women in the gospel who first visited the tomb. They were the first witnesses. Thirdly, the transformation of the disciples from the simple men who had fled during his crucifixion to the courageous men after the death of Christ. The Acts of the Apostles relates many deeds of courage after they had experienced the risen Christ. The Lord had given them courage. He reminded us that even Peter at first was slow to believe (John 20:8). Today many people still do not believe in the resurrection. But Easter is a personal experience of what you make of it.
He then proceeded to lead the congregation into a meditative experience of the death and resurrection of Jesus in relating the stages of the growth of a simple seed from being placed in the soil advancing to become a blossoming plant. Linking to our experiences beginning from Ash Wednesday through the period of Lent to give up our faults and leave our burdens behind by confessing sins and repenting to experience God’s forgiveness and love for us. As the plant emerges from the ground towards the light, Jesus also holds us up and we rise with him. From the moment we recognize we are a risen people, we rise to this glorious new life which is the foundation of the Christian faith.
When the baptism ceremony began, there was great anticipation as CDM was about to welcome 20 new parishioners from RCIA into our community. It was especially memorable because Fr Martin had built the first immersion baptismal pool in a Catholic church in Peninsular Malaysia. The new inductees included a month year old baby boy to a 91 year old gentleman. In the nearly four hour celebration, parishioners waited patiently for the baptism to begin. There was great applause when nonagenarian George Khoo stepped into the pool and asked to be immersed instead of just having water poured over his head.
Later when George was asked how he felt about being baptised in this way, he said that he felt very happy and relaxed and nearer to God now. Jeffrey See who was the first person into the immersion pool said that although he was gasping after the third dunk, it really felt like attaining ‘new life’. Chloe Tan remarked that she was touched and could see a miracle happening as she was dipped into the baptismal pool. Susan Khoo said that there were no words to describe the profound feeling she felt after waiting so many years. Geraldine Silini was so grateful to go through the sacrament of Confirmation after waiting 8 years. After the baptism and confirmation, a representative of the new inductees , Johnny Bong, gave a most touching and humorous speech, citing many times from the Bible. His testimony speech can be found in the CDM website at http:\\www.cdm.my.
In his homily on Easter Sunday morning, Fr Martin related a story of the tourists who came to a religious site in the Italian Alps beheld a breathtaking sight. However, many failed to follow on to another smaller trail to visit a more significant shrine of an empty tomb. They just stopped at the cross of the first site. This is similar to what many Catholics do today. They fail to look beyond the cross of Good Friday. Today we live in a complex and confusing world of breathtaking beauty yet marred with acts of cruelty and terrorism, war and natural disasters where the innocent suffer. Similarly, Jesus was innocent and yet tortured and crucified. This is part of the world of Good Friday. But those who are still feeling that the good that was trampled by evil and love killed by hatred as witnessed by Jesus carrying the cross and suffering the blow of each whip and the execution on the cross, are still living in the Good Friday world. The events in the gospel that follow after this show that we are now to begin living in a new Easter day world. Jesus invites us all to live in the resurrected light of this new world. This can be difficult when we live in a world where is so much suffering around us. But this is the Easter message, that we are Easter people and Alleluia is our song. To change our human pain into joy with the love of a God who never leaves us behind. The Easter message is that the power of God brings a new life. The God who was made real through the resurrection.
It was a most fulfilling faith experience of carefully planned events to journey from Ash Wednesday through Lent and culminating at Easter. But the journey was still continuing with the coming of CDM’s feast day, the Sunday after Easter.
Dr. Ivan Filmer
14th April, 2015