This was the main theme set for this year’s Divine Mercy celebrations at the Church of Divine Mercy, Penang (CDM). At the beginning of the year the parish council of the church gathered to come up with this theme in line with the parish’s focus on the family. The Lenten Campaign Cards were also designed to provide suggested family activities for Lent coming up to the Divine Mercy Sunday on the second Sunday after Easter. A nine-day novena was started on Holy Saturday and Fr Martin Arlando, the parish priest of CDM had invited daily presiders for night masses starting on the Monday after Easter. It was a special treat for parishioners to get to listen to different priests share their experiences in homilies at the masses. After each mass, everyone was invited for fellowship sponsored by various BECs and church ministries to meet up with the presiders.
On the first two nights, the parish priest from Church of the Risen Christ in Air Hitam, Penang, Fr Arul Mariadass was the presider and preached on the theme Fear not … meet me THERE! He began by saying that we are known as the Easter or Alleluia people and praise the Lord for fulfilling His mission. He reiterated that he often advised his parishioners not to wear black on Good Friday as there was no need to fear. A greeting Jesus often gave when meeting people was “Shalom. Do not be afraid.” Often when we are faced with trouble, we worry and this tends to lead us away from God. There is no need for this fear as we become witness of Jesus in building the kingdom of God as God is always there with us. On the second night, Fr Arul gave his homily on the theme Have courage … you are SENT! He said that the greatest love story is found in the Bible. Beginning from Genesis when God created man out of His love, to Revelation where God shows us the Kingdom he has prepared for us. The question we have to ask is are we living as a disciple or as a devotee. We have been asked to live our lives as disciples. Jesus has given us assurances that we need not fear if we believe in Him. In the scriptures we find that when Jesus healed anyone he only asked if they believed in Him. We need to show that we believe in Him through our actions. If we destroy the Earth where we are called to be stewardesses, we are not believing in Him. We can show we are missionaries in our work place, community and parish by our actions which should reflect God’s love for us. In dying on the cross for us Jesus showed us an example of forgiving and a new way of living by praying for our enemies and adopting a new way in showing our faith. The word “Christian” means “Christ + I am nothing” shows that we, who are nothing, can become everything with God through our actions to be witnesses in building the kingdom of God.
The next presider to CDM was Fr Nelson Chitty, the parish priest of the Church of the Infant Jesus in Balik Pulau, Penang and gave a homily on the theme Take, Bless, Break … GIVE! He said that when we take, this is usually done with permission and we are grateful and acknowledge it when it comes from someone. We accept this as a blessing. In breaking we are sharing what we have taken from what we were given. Often we come to Mass with many preoccupations. We seldom recognize that the Lord is walking with us all this while at the Eucharist. We have nothing of worth to offer to the Lord who has everything. Instead we offer up our brokenness , our pain, our failings and sinfulness. God, in turn, accepts our humanity, our sinfulness and everything in us in exchange for eternal life. Does God bother with the family? What is its worth? In scripture, God created man and woman to share paradise with him. The promise of God to Abraham was through his family. God has done this as God himself in the unity of three persons is in himself family. He has created the human race in the image and likeness of himself. Thus, family is important to God and he died to redeem the human family. To become like God we have to cherish the family and reflect the unity of the three persons of God in it. If we want to grow in holiness then the family is important. Even as priests, our families are important. We have our families and the church community is also our family. We need to pray for them and cherish the family. We often take for granted the people closest to us. Remember that Jesus is always walking with us and is there through the pain and suffering. Our lives are a small part of salvation and we need to recognize Jesus in the breaking of bread at the Eucharist to know he is always here for us.
In his second homily on the theme Be my witness …through your FAMILY! Fr Nelson began by explaining the term “Witness”. In the Bible we are told … not to bear false witness. This essentially means giving testimony for something not true or simply telling a lie. The opposite is meant by giving testimony of Jesus which is the truth of what God is. The scriptures bears witness of the truth through John the Baptist, Moses and the actions of Jesus and still we don’t believe. We are called not to bear false witness of the truth. Jesus is the truth of God’s revelation. He instituted the Church and sent his disciples forth with the spirit to bear witness. The Church is the people of God, a great community of families and exists to bear witness to God. When the Spirit comes to us to bear witness it brings about a change of life and heart. Like St Paul says this enables us to call out “Abba” in recognition that we have a relationship with God our Father. This Spirit is a Helper, a Paraclete and brings about a humbling experience of change. But the Spirit must first be a reality in our lives. To do this we need to know ourselves as a child of God that bears witness to our family. There is no perfect situation that you can say that only now can I bear witness. We have to acknowledge our faults and weaknesses and in spite of everything to make use of what little we have even through our brokenness to bear witness to our family and the Church, of the truth.
On the last two days of the novena masses we were so blessed to have Fr Andrew Manickam, parish priest of the Church of St Francis of Assisi, Cheras come share his experiences with us. In his first homily based on the theme Duc In Altum … Put out into the DEEP! Fr referred back to the gospel passage in Luke 5 where Peter was asked to put out into the deep. He asked the congregation to put themselves in the story and asked them that if they were in the story where would they be. Would they be one of those on the shore who heard the word of God, sang a song and then went home. People do this all the time at Mass - gather, hear the preaching then head home. Would we be willing like Jesus to leave the shore and go out into the deep to that one soul who needs us. It is recorded that after this experience, Peter changed and followed Jesus. When was the last time we had an experience with Jesus in the deep. We are often so busy with our lives that we fail to cultivate a deeper relationship with God. But when we do, we will encounter our real self, the person you are instead of the person who you think you are. They are often two different things. Like Peter who made his confession to Jesus, we will discover our real self which is hidden to others. In doing so, we become honest with Jesus and then we will be transformed. It is about being humble and honest which are the terms of healing grace, then we can throw away the fear that is holding us back and preventing us from becoming all that God wants us to be. There are three kinds of fear that prevents us developing our talents. These are Self-doubt, Self-consciousness and Self-pity. In self-doubt, we are locked in a prison and unable to develop our full potential. There is the fear of failure which is worse that failure itself. However, it is through failure that we find out what doesn’t work. In self-consciousness, we constantly worry what people think of us and in self-pity we behave like Judas who eventually hung himself. We need to be like Peter who cried because of his failings and returned to Jesus who chose him, the biggest failure, to start the Church. By moving out into the deep to develop a strong relationship of honesty and humility with God, we can tame our fears. Jesus will always there with us and we will not be alone to help us transform with his graces to be a fisher of peoples.
In his homily on the theme Family + God = MISSION POSSIBLE! Fr Andrew quoted Abraham Lincoln when he said “Just one way to bring up a child the way he should go, that is to travel that road yourself”. The question is how do we do it. He related a story of a child crying out to his mother at night and the mother telling her not to worry as Jesus is with her. In reply, the child asked for someone who can give her physical contact. This is the same with our families. It is about relationships and forming the feeling of being close to someone to cultivate deep learning and emotional attachments. It is commonly said that the families that spent time together stay together. This may not always be so, as one can feel all alone in a crowd. They can experience a lack of the ability to feel welcomed and a lack of belonging. He asked the congregation to reflect on the word that is commonly known to deepen relationships with one another, namely “bonding”. This is an emotional relationship of all the parts of a soul, that of feelings, joys and sorrow shared with one another. The Bible explains this as abiding in the Lord namely to live in a relationship of one that matters and makes a difference, whose presence is desired and absence missed. The family should be the first place of a feeling station for love of each other. He asked if our family is a feeling station. Bonding is important for God as He himself is relational and this bonding is incomplete in isolation. God has shown this in creating Adam and instituting marriage. Attachments are the basic needs of everyone as everyone in a family needs each other. When someone is going through a crisis of suffering, death or injury, it decries that person’s need for healing through bonding if we just tell that person to trust God and leave it to Him. God doesn’t intend for us to suffer alone in isolation. We can check to see if we have the symptoms of “bonding deficient” in the following ways. Firstly, do all family members spend all or most of their times in different rooms. Secondly, is the need for comfort turning to food, gadgets, work, hobbies and non-relational things.Thirdly, does our conversation center around what a person is doing rather than how he is doing. Lastly, are relationships outside the home a priority rather than those inside the home. These are indications that love and closeness are absent and the family has no roots to build everything else. We need to begin where we are in our families, invest time and see what is happening in our family life. Take an interest in doing something for our families as the family is a gift from God. In this way we can begin our mission to deepen and nurture the Word of God.
At the end of this Mass, the congregation went on a 2 km procession outside the neighbourhood of the Church bearing the statue of the Divine Mercy followed by the consecrated host in a monstrance. The chaplet to the Divine Mercy was recited throughout this hour long procession back to the Church. After Benediction, the relics of St Faustina, St Pope John Paul II and Blessed Michael Sopocko (St Faustina’s confessor) were venerated followed by fellowship.
Fr Martin Arlando, parish priest of CDM gave a homily on the last day of the celebrations on the theme Family + God = MISSION POSSIBLE! He said that the word “see” is mentioned over and over again in the gospel. The disciples saw and recognized Jesus through his wounds but Thomas wasn’t there initially and refused to believe. Most of us are like Thomas who may be considered our “twin” brother too. We also need to see and touch God. We can do this through his wounds to understand the depth of his love and receive his forgiveness. We also need to have this deep feeling for our families by touching the love Jesus had for us in order to find peace and joy.
Love demands confidence and Mercy demands trust. Our God is a very possessive God. We need to live in a desired unity with God in order to be healed and bonded together with Him. In this way we can be sent out on mission to share His love and mercy. How do we do this? We need to experience His love and let ourselves be forgiven. We can be afraid to confess our sins as we feel ashamed. But our shame should be experienced so that we can go beyond it and embrace the forgiveness of God to see our God in the members of our families. God challenges us to ask for His mercy. In reconciliation we are encouraged and experience love and the power of forgiveness to rekindle love. If we close the door then we are left outside. But God will continue to love us unconditionally and it is our choice if this relationship ends. Our emotions can betray us and this requires humility on our part to ask for the key to the closed door, to open the door and speak to God through reconciliation. God holds all the keys. We need to confess our sins in order to encounter God. Like Thomas we will find joy in forgiveness. Trust in Him and He can change hearts and this can happen in our family relationships. We need to pray for each member and ask for the grace not to run aground in our sins. To renew us and bring us to new life and nourish us to be the face of Jesus to our family and others.
Dr. Ivan Filmer
4th May, 2019.