It was a nostalgic trip through the seven years Fr Martin spent at the Church of Divine Mercy, Penang (CDM) serving as it’s first parish priest. A pictorial account of his journey was recapped over a PowerPoint presentation that traced all the things he had done since coming to the 8th Catholic church to be established as a parish on the island of Penang. His journey began on the 29th September 2013. There were many humorous moments recounted in the presentation at the end of the 9 am morning mass on the 27th August. The limited number of parishioners in attendance then had a prayer said over him followed by a cake cutting ceremony. The moment was especially memorable as Fr Martin’s father was also invited up as his 81st birthday was the following day. This was followed by a gift presentation of the first fruits of the harvest by the Ministry of the Friends of Creation (FoC) who had just recently established the first rooftop garden in a church in Malaysia.
As an added surprise, Fr was invited to sit back to view recorded video messages by the many significant people in his life. Besides congratulary messages from his family, there were clips also from Archbishop Emeritus Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam (his former parish priest where he as an altar server), Sr. Sandra Seow (all the way from Spain, she studied together with him in the seminary), Fr Johnson Fernandez (from CDM Singapore, where he had spent his time in his final year as a seminarian) as well as his beloved companion Simba (his dog).
In conclusion a special poem was read by Catherine Lee written by her husband Edmund, to congratulate Fr on this special day.
Earlier, at the mass homily on this day of the feast of St John the Baptist, Fr Martin began by explaining that the gospel showed the message of the foolishness of the Cross and the Power of God. He quoted 1 Corinthians 1:18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. He said that even when John the Baptist was in prison and appeared to be abandoned by God and facing an unheroic end, he did not give up his faith in God. As a friend (Church) of the bridegroom (Christ) he surrendered his human heart to laid down his life. His love for God made this possible. This is the call to us to fight and overcome our fear and to trust in God. In the course of our lives we may have to journey through darkness, misery and despair and lose faith. He illustrated this with a story of a man chosen by Leonardo Da’Vinci to be the face of Jesus in the painting of the Last Supper, as the same man 30 years later, chosen to be the face of Judas. At Herod’s feast celebration, there were all sorts of indulgences that reflected the unredeemed humanity and not that of the supper of the Lamb. In his Passover dinner in prison, John the Baptist was sitting in chains, sober and praying unceasingly. It was most probable that he could hear the sounds and smells of the celebrations going on above him and yet he was remained steadfast amid the distractions. Can we be like him with the attractions offered in the world around us? To trust in the Lamb of God to take away our fear.
Can we adopt a strong resolve to conquer our fears and do something for God amid the distractions and our own shortcomings? To illustrate the extent of this resolve, Fr related the true story of Ray Blankenship who dived into rushing waters to save a child being swept away by a flooding tide. He received the Coast Guard’s Silver Lifesaving Medal in 1989 for this selfless deed, remarkably as he did not know how to swim. God wants us to do something for Him even in our turmoil. St John the Baptist opened his mouth and had his head chopped off. We may not called to do anything as spectacular as this but we can do what St Mother Teresa said, that is, to do ordinary things in extraordinary ways.
Fr Martin remarked that when he was going to be ordained as a priest, he was advised to choose a feast day of a saint. Someone to serve as his role model. He didn’t know why he had chosen this particular feast day. But with having being able to establish CDM as a church with the Holy Door and being able to organize the international conference of Divine Mercy (AACOM) he felt blessed to be able to have done something new with the help of many others. John the Baptist was a man of joy and humility who had always advocated that he must decrease and God must increase. He was the best man at the wedding. In following his example amid the contradictions of this age and pointing to the path of a new creation of living, Fr said that he had tried his best while holding on to his ordination motto of Phillipians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. In doing so, to bring about the best in him to be a Jesus to others. Can we also be this to others too?
Dr Ivan Filmer
4th September 2020.