Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

My Photo
Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Hope within Us

The Sunday Liturgy today invites us to ponder the patience and mercy of God who, like a Sower sows his seed and then awaits the fruit of his labour. This time of waiting, of nurturing, of allowing the seed to germinate, take root, grow, flourish and flower and then bear fruit of its own is the experience of the farmer, the gardener, the planter. It is an experience of great patience and expectation and God displays these attitudes in infinite abundance towards us.

For He has called us to live in the between-time, between the sowing of His Word at creation and the harvesting of the eschaton. As such, the Church into which we are called by baptism is a pilgrim Church, journeying towards final perfection and fulfillment in Christ. The words of the Second Vatican Council, from Lumen Gentium, 48, in this regard is worth quoting in full:

"Already the final age of the world has come upon us and the renovation of the world is irrevocably decreed and is already anticipated in some kind of a real way; for the Church already on this earth is signed with a sanctity which is real although imperfect. However, until there shall be new heavens and a new earth in which justice dwells, the pilgrim Church in her sacraments and institutions, which pertain to this present time, has the appearance of this world which is passing and she herself dwells among creatures who groan and travail in pain until now and await the revelation of the sons of God."
As such, the Council reminds us of the transitory nature of this present world, as indeed does St Paul. Most importantly, we are reminded that our pain and suffering is temporary. I am sure that in the midst of great suffering - the tsunami disaster of Boxing Day 2004, the tragic events of 7/7 in London and the great anguish and uncertainty that accompanies every such act of terrorism, the daily trials and grief of life, even such temporary suffering is all too long. That is the reality of our human condition and I would not want to belittle the very real anguish and despair of the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the victimised and the needy. For the poor of the world - a world in which a child dies of preventable illness or malnourishment every three seconds; 30,000 a day - every second of transient pain is one second too long...

However, in contrast to this is the great virtue of hope. Hope is that eternal destiny, that promise of the Resurrection and the glory of life with Christ and his saints, which faith offers us. It is this faith that allows the baptised to await with "eager expectation" the "glorious freedom of the children of God" (Rom 8:19, 21). They expect this because they have hope in Christ's promises, and there is none more beautiful than the vision St John expresses in Revelation 21:4, "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away". It is this hope-filled and glorious vision that perfuses the mind of the suffering Christian. But not only in the Christian, for hope is seen in too in the response of people to suffering and tragedy, in their resilience and striving for a better world.

As such, hope is the characteristic of our in-between time. It is in the nature of the farmer who plants, waters and awaits the first seedlings to sprout and bring forth grain. It is also in the very nature of God, who planted the Vineyard of His Creation. For, even as He waits patiently for our salvation, for our coming to Him, so too He does so in hope and expectation that we will not refuse His love, if only we knew the depths of His love for us.

I believe that this grain of Hope is planted in the human person by the Word, who goes forth from the mouth of God and "shall not return to [Him] void, but shall do [God's] will, achieving the end for which [He] sent it" (Isa 55:11). And the Word who sows this seed is Jesus Christ, Love incarnate. As such, it is the Love who brings forth Hope in our hearts, but this Hope needs to be watered by our Faith in order for its full heavenward flourishing; for Hope longs for the very things we know are ours by Faith. And Christ does not rest, his Word is not complete until He does God's will which is to bring to fulfillment our Hope of salvation, of rest, of peace, of that heavenly vision given to St John.

It is clear in the parable of the Sower which we hear in today's Gospel, just how prodigal God is with his love, he sows abundantly, even wastefully. Why? Because Love by its very nature does not count the cost but gives even to the point of expiration, 'wasteful' even unto death. But a question remains: how is the work of Christ, the sowing of Love in the field of the human heart accomplished today?

I refer once more to the words of Vatican II which point to the Church as the "sacrament of salvation" (LG, 48). As such, she points out the saving Love of Christ. The action of the Church, most especially in her saints, speak to the world of the Love of God, their Faith in His salvation and the Hope of the world to come. Primarily, the signs of these are the sacraments and especially the Eucharist. That sacrifice of Love points towards the eternal banquet of the Lamb, that bliss of Paradise and communion with the Triune God of Love. The Mass is a celebration in the here and now of the promise of our redemption and a pledge of our salvation in Christ. The Eucharist is a profound act of the Church's faith. No wonder then that it is the fons et culmens of our Christian life.

As Pope John Paul II said in Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 9: "The Eucharist, as Christ's saving presence in the community of the faithful and its spiritual food, is the most precious possession which the Church can have in her journey through history." In this in-between time, as we await our the culmination and end of our journey through history, the Eucharist gives us the strength we need to have hope. It also gives us the grace we need to express Christ's love for all humanity and to share in his works of justice, peace and mercy. To quote once more from John Paul the Great:

"A significant consequence of the eschatological tension inherent in the Eucharist is also the fact that it spurs us on our journey through history and plants a seed of living hope in our daily commitment to the work before us. Certainly the Christian vision leads to the expectation of “new heavens” and “a new earth” (Rev 21:1), but this increases, rather than lessens, our sense of responsibility for the world today. I wish to reaffirm this forcefully at the beginning of the new millennium, so that Christians will feel more obliged than ever not to neglect their duties as citizens in this world. Theirs is the task of contributing with the light of the Gospel to the building of a more human world, a world fully in harmony with God's plan."
- Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 20

Only then shall the Word of God not sow in vain. Only then can the Word be said to have returned to the Father fruitfully. And this happens when the seed takes root in good soil. Interestingly, the soil that bears fruits is a soul that "hears the word of God and understands it" (Mt 13:23). Earlier in the pericope, Jesus quotes Isaiah who berates those who "hear but not understand... indeed look but never see" (Mt 13:15) but this is a result of hard-heartedness. Hard soil, as any farmer knows can bear no fruit; the seed cannot penetrate. So too, a hard heart cannot be converted and healed by Christ (cf Mt 13:15b).

There is a certain hardness of heart and a certain deafness and blindness when we are impervious to the cries of the poor, for those who need our love. When those who suffer pain, loss, tragedy call for help and we decide it's all to unpleasant to think about - Oh another bomb in London, another landslide in the Philippines, another flood in China - we become hard-hearted and even numbed to the sufferings of this age and we can no longer feel and empathise to respond. That is a great tragedy indeed, for then the Word has sown and the soil has been impervious, unfruitful. But that need not and indeed, should not be so if we are receptive to the Word.

If we allow Love to sow and take root in us, we will respond with Faith, Hope and Love in turn. And this does happen in hearts which receive the Eucharist and which meditate on the Scriptures, God's written word. For surely and slowly, like a tiller in the soil, the Spirit softens us, waters us with grace and prepares us to bear fruit for Christ (cf Ps 65); we become saints. In this sense, God is ever patient with us, for like the farmer, he is waiting expectantly and patiently for this to happen, for us to be receptive to his sowing... And it is this Hope, this heavenly expectation that we can offer to our world desperately in need of Good News.


Post a Comment

<< Home