After much anxiety due to the closure of the churches because of the pandemic, 17 children in Year 4 at the Church of Divine Mercy, Penang (CDM) managed to receive this second sacrament of initiation into the Catholic faith on the 20th September. The five teachers of this class managed to prepare them adequately despite being unable to meet with the students face to face. Fr Martin Arlando, the parish priest remarked that he was pleasantly surprised at the preparedness and the serious intentions of the children when he gave them their first confession the day before.
At his special homily to them he quizzed on the names of the six relics found in CDM. He explained that the relics were there to help point us to Jesus. He drew their attention to St Maximillian Kolbe who had given his life to die in place of another prisoner as that man had pleaded to live as he had a family. In doing so, St Maximillian showed that he was a disciple after the heart of Jesus. So in dying to oneself to emulate Jesus he had shown he wasn’t just a devotee but a true disciple. His Eminence Cardinal Soter had posed this question to Catholics, in a recent publication of the Herald. He had asked whether we were just concerned to be devotees and follow all the rituals or are we disciples in proclaiming Jesus to others.
In light of this, Fr Martin said he had prepared a gift for the first holy communicants. They were each given a Missionary kit with their names labeled clearly on it. He invited them to open their kits and examine the contents. In it were seven collective items. He proceeded to explain the significance of each item. The first was two cotton ear buds for them to ensure their ears were open to listen clearly to the Word of God. To do this they had to pick up and read the Bible regularly. The second item consisted of a box of matches with a tea candle. These were intended to light and warm the hearts of others, to be a beacon to them. The third item a band aid plaster was given to let them know that they needed to help bind, heal and sooth the wounds of others. The fourth item was a mirror to remind them to look at themselves and see if they were a Jesus to others by bringing comfort and peace. The fifth item consisted of two petition prayer cards to remind them to constantly pray for the well being of others. The sixth item was a 5-cent coin. This coin nowadays is almost worthless. A reminder to always be humble and the five wounds of Jesus. The last item was a wooden cross to ask them to carry the cross for others. All the items were designed to help them live out a missionary life by being a Jesus to others. He reminded them that in all their challenges of being a Catholic, know that Jesus will always be with them until the end of time.
Fr Martin then proceeded to continue his homily addressing the congregation at large. He said that normally, this would be a time for exams in the school calendar year. Many would come to ask for blessings to do well, as the results had important consequences of winning a scholarship, entering a good school of higher learning or finding a good job. Inevitably, many would not make the mark due to poor performances. But the world dictates that people will be paid for what they are worth. Those who are more capable will be paid more in dollars and cents. This often gives rise to anger and envy when others less capable are seen to do better.
Today’s gospel on wages paid to laborers (Matthew 20:1-16A) by a generous landowner is all about justice and fairness. It is about some one getting paid more or better and it seems not fair. We all have such experiences or bad memories of being not selected, left out, overlooked and even not recognized or promoted. We harbour feelings of rejection, uselessness, hopelessness and isolation. In today’s gospel these feelings must have been felt by those who initially not hired. Surely, they also felt anger and envy. In the end, those same feelings were felt by the first laborers to be hired, even when they had agreed at the beginning to the wage for the work. One truth that emerges from this story is that when it comes to God, we have to expect the unexpected. He is asking us why be jealous at his generosity but instead to count our blessings and to sincerely congratulate others on the blessings God has given to them. Fr then went on to relate a story of how the generosity of a group of seminarians towards a particular poor man was generously shared to others in need. One needs to celebrate the gifts given from God to others instead of envy them. We cannot comprehend the ways God and the amount of his generosity to us or others. He will bless us if we show sincerity of heart. We need to remember that God cannot be outdone in generosity. We know that God’s ways are not our ways and that he will also be generous to us if we show our true concern for the good of others. We have to share in the joy of God’s generosity and to be a Jesus to others.
At the end of Mass each communicant received a certificate and in return they gave Fr a blessing. One of them, Madeleine Lim prepared a video presentation to thank Fr Martin. In it she reviewed all the past events in church that she had shared with Fr. She ended by calling him a miracle worker for the work done at CDM as he would be leaving the parish soon. It was a most touching tribute that left Fr speechless. The children were also presented with a custom made bookmark by the teachers to remember this celebration.
Dr Ivan Filmer
22nd September, 2020.