All Included in the Lord’s Mercy
“Mercy for All or for None!” This was the call of Bishop Sebastian Francis at the Chrism Mass at the Church of Divine Mercy, (CDM) Penang on the 15th March. He argued that who are we to decide who deserves mercy. It has to be Mercy to everyone on God’s terms as revealed by Jesus or Mercy to none on our terms. His Lordship reiterated that everyone including Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and others are not to denied the Lord’s mercy. The Chrism Mass was celebrated a bit earlier this year in Penang. But on this day, the sacrament of Holy Orders was also being celebrated and so His Lordship focused his homily on the role, life and ministry of the Bishop.
He said that bishops are ordinated with the fullness of the priesthood of the Jesus Christ. Priests are ordained with the priesthood of Jesus as an extension of the bishop and so are permanent Deacons. All three sharing in the identity of Christ as the head, servant and Shepherd with different roles. In the Catholic tradition the bishop has two immediate collaborators. They are the priests who share in the priesthood of the Jesus and the permanent deacons as servants representing as Christ, the servant. They are extensions of the call, life and mission of the bishop. On Holy Thursday Jesus established and instituted the Eucharist which is the sacrament par excellence where he gave himself to his Father and to us both as priest and as victim. On Good Friday, Jesus took upon himself the sins, the weaknesses and the limitations of humankind and became the savior of the world. This is what the priesthood is all about. The three most important sacraments linked to the priesthood is the celebration of the Eucharist, the sacrament of Reconciliation and the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. They all have something to do with unity, preserving the unity of the body of Christ. The Eucharist is the sacrament of unity. The sacrament of Reconciliation is about providing a remedy and healing for those who have broken the unity. The Anointing of the Sick also provides forgiveness and healing. The priesthood is about caring for everyone before the Lord as he comes before the altar where no one is excluded.
The Bishop explained that Pope Francis has said that when bishops don’t pray, the people suffer. So our children, regardless of what they are doing within or outside the faith, must see their parents pray. And when the bishop prays he must be seen to be with his spouse which is the Jesus. Then they are okay. The first seven deacons appointed by St Peter was to allow the bishops to devote themselves to prayer. Our Father Abraham (Hebrew: Abba: Father, Rahim: womb; a father with a womb) carries all his children in his womb. His Lordship also thanked all his priests for doing this, carrying everyone, the faithful and the lax, not excluding anyone at prayer and at the altar, taking upon themselves all their limitations and sins while interceding for them. In doing so, we rightly call them, Father. The bishop has to protect the three sacraments and given this faculty to the priests. As bishop, he alone can give this faculty to his priests in order to protect this unity and ensure that they are not led by wolves in sheep’s clothing or mercenaries. He reminded himself, as bishop, as well as all the priests present that before they were ordained priests they were ordained deacons. Therefore, they can rightly speak about servant leadership, not servants that do not want to be leaders neither as leaders that do not want to be servants. Both are captured in the Jesus as the servant, the head and the shepherd. At the start of the Chrism Mass a total of 35 priests, Bishop Emeritus Antony Selvanagam, a deacon, seminarians and Bishop Sebastian processed into the church through the Door of Mercy. All priests, deacon and the two bishops were seated around the altar. The congregation witnessed the elaborate ceremony of the blessing of the Chrism oils. At the end of Mass, the chairperson of the CDM parish council, Rodney Gomez thanked Bishop, priests and everyone for coming to this Mass. The priests were entertained to a song by two young girls while all their faces were each projected for the congregation to see and recognize. They also received a personalized “Thank You” card prepared by the CEC children as well as a book of poetry by Edmund Lee and a CDM pilgrimage certificate. In addition, a book written by Sr Maureen Chew entitled History of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Penang, was launched by Bishop Sebastian and given to all the priests as they left the church.
Bishop also updated the parishioners of the current diocesan projects going on the island of Penang. There will be the setting up the Penang Diocesan Museum of the Catholic Church headed by Mgsr Michael Cheah and assisted by the retired curator of the Penang State Museum, Mr Khoo Boo Chia. It will be located in the compound of the Church of the Assumption at Farquhar Street. There will also be the restoration and preservation of the oldest Catholic heritage cemetery at Northern Road within the compound of the Church of St Francis Xavior headed by Mr David Choo of CDM in collaboration with Dr David Cheah of USM and Mr Clement Liang of the Penang Heritage Trust and others. Fr Nelson Chitty and Fr Joachim Robert of City Parish are also part of this endeavor. The Church of the Assumption that was established in 1786, the oldest Catholic church after the Church of St Peter in Melaka (1710) will also be restored, headed by Fr Gerard Theraviam together with his team. All three are within the heritage enclave of George Town and the bishop reminded all present to preserve the past as part of our mission and evangelization as Catholics of Penang. All parishioners were then invited for fellowship at the church basement.
Dr. Ivan Filmer
20th March, 2016.