At my recent Ruby Jubilee celebrations, many photographs were taken and some were sent on to me by friends. My reaction to one of the photographs was, “My goodness! What a large belly I have!” I usually only see my belly from above and it doesn’t look too bad from up there so I was quite surprised when I saw myself from the angle at which the photograph was taken. But, that is what photographs do – they let you see things from a different perspective, and also give an opportunity “to stand and stare” at scenes, which probably passed by very quickly in the living of them. This, of course, is why we create photograph albums of weddings and birthdays etc. so that we can sit and smile as we remember.
This is also one way of looking at the great doctrines of the Church, which we celebrate at various times of the year. They can be compared to photographs – a chance to pause, ponder or “taste” an aspect of our Faith so that we may appreciate it more fully. We recently celebrated one of these “doctrinal photographs” – “Corpus Christi”, the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ –and here in Kuching, it was a very moving celebration with candle-lit processions of the Blessed Sacrament through the streets. It was an opportunity to remember and appreciate, in the busy-ness of our daily Christian lives, that at the very heart of our Faith is not a belief or a way of life or a message – but a living person: Jesus Christ, true man and true God. Moreover, the processions and other Eucharistic devotions bring home to us in a very real and forceful way that what we are celebrating is not just the memory of what Jesus did two thousand years ago, but also what he is doing now, by being really and truly present with us through the Eucharist, for without his loving presence to lift me up, hold me steady and encourage me to walk on with him day by day, there would be no hope, no salvation, no future. A message cannot save – only the God-man can do that – and without the “photograph” of this Feast of Corpus Christi, I might overlook that I am not alone and focus only on the daily demands of the Christian life, which, if I am honest, I am not very good at living up to.
Photographs, however, also have a down side. Among the photographs sent to me, there were also one of two of me, together with a few other people, standing with our hands above our heads and, if you were not present at the party, you might wonder, “What on earth are they doing?” To answer that, you need not a photograph, but a movie, because at one point in the party I and a few companions sang a song, which was accompanied by actions – but a photograph cannot show movement and without a movie we are sometimes at a loss to understand what is happening. In a similar way, if we were reliant only on the “photograph” of Corpus Christi for our understanding of the Eucharist, we might miss out on the “movement”, which St Thomas Aquinas says is the vital part of the Eucharistic mystery. St. Thomas sums up with whole of his teaching within the idea of movement – “God coming into the world in Christ so as to gather all together and bring us back to the Father” and the movie of the Eucharist shows us this. St Therése of Lisieux puts it in more down-to-earth manner: “You don’t think, do you”, she writes, “that Jesus comes down upon our altars day after day, just to be locked up in a golden tabernacle? He wants something much more than that – he wants you!” This is the “movie” of Corpus Christi and is indispensable if we are to appreciate not just what the Eucharist is, but also what it is for. To avoid judging ourselves and being disheartened at what we see, we need to know that Christ is truly with us, but the journey is not yet completed – we are in a “process of creation”. The Father has sent Jesus Christ to bring us home and we have started the journey, but have not yet arrived. Thus, when we look at ourselves, we should be able to see many “photographs” of times when the love of Christ shone through us, but there will also be others which will appear dark, for our creation is not yet complete. Without the “movie” of what Our Lord is doing in the Eucharist, we lose sight of the hope, which has been placed in our hearts and is the anchor we need when the going gets rough. It is this hope, which has brought me through 40 years of priesthood and which will, I believe, carry me on through.
Last week, one of our students was ordained in Sibu, the next door diocese – about 240 miles away. However, the ordination took place on our College Feast Day, Ss. Peter and Paul, and so I could not attend, but the Rector and I decided to go for the ordination reception the following day. We arranged to take the evening flight which would get us there just in time for the meal. However, when we got to the airport, the heavens opened and the rain flooded down in an intensity and length of time that I have not seen for a long, long time. We were informed that the airplane had arrived, but it could not land because of the extremely heavy rain, so it flew round and round while we waited on the ground. Eventually, the rain eased off and the plane managed to land, but it was so late that the Rector and I calculated that if we took it we would arrive at the celebration dinner just as it was ending. So, we headed home instead – to a much simpler meal than we would have had in Sibu.
A few years ago, I went on leave to England with a friend of mine from Bali, who is an ardent Arsenal fan and I bought two tickets for an arsenal match so he could watch his team in action, but a week or so before the game I was informed by the ticket agency that the game was oversubscribed and there would be no tickets. My friend was so disappointed, but did not complain. A few weeks ago, however, I saw that Arsenal are coming to Malaysia to play against the national team, so I sent a text to my friend in Bali asking him if he would like to go. The answer came back like lightning – “yes!” – so I am going this week to Kuala Lumpur to see the match and my friend is coming up from Bali to see his team at work – or should we say “at play”!
I sometimes chat by sms with my friends in prison in Bali. I was chatting recently with one of them – a young Vietnamese Australian, 25 years old, and he told me that he was trying to appeal for a reduced sentence. At present he is serving life, which means “life” and he hopes that it will be reduced to 15 years. However, the amount of money required for the appeal is staggering. I told him that all I can do is pray that he will get the help he needs. So, please remember him and other like him in your prayers.
I shall be going on leave to England on 24th August and will be home for four weeks – but the petrol surcharge has raised the fares considerably.