On deacons and partisan political views

YES, after a long pause, I am trying to resume regular posting for this blog. I guess, I needed that long break to really reflect what I want to share — not just making this blog a repository of past homilies. Hopefully, this year I will be able to contribute something that would really reflect my ministry as a deacon.

Let me start with this:

di4o4KdMTBEING a former student activist, I have a very firm opinion on politics, political issues and politicians. However, since being ordained as a minister of the Catholic church, I feel I have to be very careful in expressing my political views and inclinations mainly because I think people who will hear or read my views on political matters will not normally make a distinction between Chris, the citizen who like any other people has the right to express his opinion, and Deacon Chris, a minister of the Church, who has access to the pulpit and exhort people to think and act in accordance with the faith and teaching of the Church.

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Photo taken by John Casamento during my ordination, 15 Nov. 2014

It is very easy for the people we are ministering to take whatever we say as something we say in our capacity as deacons or ministers.

Yes we can still express an opinion but I think not to the extent of partisan political views. I feel if deacons–and for that matter any clergy–do this it will diminish our credibility as a witness and a messenger of the Gospel. For this reason, I am very uncomfortable hearing or reading deacons who are very partisan on political issues. I mean how can we be ministers on the edges; boundary riders if the people we are supposed to be seeking and bringing closer to the church; people who will have firm political stance, will be discouraged to open up to us because we are no longer perceived as impartial, someone they can feel safe and open and welcoming.

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Photo: J. Casamento

People come to us and share their hopes and joys, their pains and sorrows do this because of the very perception of being impartial and non-judgmental. And in my one and half-year of being deacon in our parish and in other pastoral areas where I minister, I have proven this many times already. People approaching me whether in the middle of the hospital cafeteria or a shopping centre asking for a blessing or just to have a quick conversation. They say they can “feel” that they can approach me.

On this matter, I look to  and try to follow Pope Francis’ example. He still expresses a firm view on political, social and economic issues but avoids being partisan, or maybe we can say he is partisan in the sense his views always takes the side of the Gospel message.

As Saint Paul said, “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings” (1Cor 9:22b-23). I think this is a good scripture passage for us deacons to remember. AMDG!

“Mass Line”

by Chris Creo

WE have a phrase we used to use in the student movement during my days in the University of the Philippines to describe a tactic or a strategy of winning over people to our cause. It’s called “mass line”. Simply put, it reminds us—yes, student activists—to always be at the people’s level, explain social realities in a way people can understand, tap on people’s concrete situations so they can identify with the imperatives of our cause and therefore they themselves decide to act. For those who held opposing views—even perceived as possible “threats”—the tactic was to isolate and neutralise.

bullying-in-workplaceMore recently, after a government benefit for fulltime students has been withdrawn from me, it was necessary that I find work. Luckily—and I took this as God’s providence for me—I immediately found one. Work was good and interesting. I got to work on a machine again in a pasta-making factory. But just like any new work environment, one gets to meet different kinds of people—some readily friendly, some aloof, and some manifestly (although may not be intentionally) hostile.

With my new job, I found two people of the latter kind. I was puzzled. Why the negative attitude towards me? Well, towards all of us new workers on that factory.

Initially, my reaction was to go back to an old tactic as an activist: Neutralise and Isolate. Consciously I cultivated friendship with other workers on my shift—especially the new workers. I was always on the alert to any actions of the two. I constantly observe them whenever they come to my machine; suspicious that they might do something to jeopardise or sabotage my work. There came a point that I had to talk to my boss about two incidents with the machine.

But at that point I came to a realisation and I asked myself: “Is this how a future deacon supposed to react?” Deacons, more than any other minister of the Church are supposed to be witnesses of the Good News of Christ in the world; in the streets; at home; and at workplaces. Deacons should always be reminded of the advice of one of its own—St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel always, if necessary use words.” We should witness our faith and the faith of the Church more with our actions.ET-preach-gospel-alwaysSo I decided, instead of the tactic of neutralizing and isolating them, I should instead be employing the tactic of mass line. Or more appropriately, I should be employing the mass line of Jesus. Facing negative attitudes I should respond with friendship and charity. As my wife said, teasing me: “Kill them with kindness!”

After that I tried to be more positive in reacting to my two co-workers. Instead of stressing what they could do to my machine, I learned to give them the benefit of the doubt. If I disagree with them, I tell them but always making sure to communicate that I appreciate what they were trying to do—that is to help me. After every disagreement I make sure to tell them: “We’re alright.” I also started saying “thank you” every time they helped me with something—whether supplying ingredients, packing products or fixing minor faults. I also try to show them that I am there also to help them—with simple gestures such as throwing the content of their rubbish bins after my work. Furthermore, I try to make an effort to talk to them about things other than work. For example, I asked one of them about their home country; about their language—something or anything about them! And I try communicating to them that I am interested—really interested in knowing them as a person.

It may still be premature to make a judgment but somehow, I am starting to notice small changes in their attitude towards me. They are more ready to engage in small talks with me—with us new workers. They are also more helpful than before—even giving me the usual Italian coffee that I am beginning to love!

jesus-washing-feetAlthough their sudden change in attitude could be the result of my brief talk with the boss, I would like to think that it is also the result of my effort to be more positive towards them. I’d like to think that kindness, friendship and charity have more effect. Because I believe that the friendship and charity of Christ is more irresistible than any other response. To respond to aggressiveness with equal aggressiveness may lead to more conflict, escalation of negative attitudes, even violence. But who could resist the charity and friendship of Jesus? And because deacons should be icons of Christ the servant, we should reflect Jesus in us.

If the “mass line” tactic of activists is good in winning over people, how many more people can we win over if we employ the “mass line” of our Lord? Besides, being friendly is also good to the health. ###


Post script: Today, I was admitted to the Ministry of Acolytes by our Archbishop together with two other men preparing for the permanent diaconate and five seminarians preparing for the priesthood. Please pray for all of us so that we may be worthy to be God’s servants and the Church’s ministers.

 

Death & Life in Jesus

5th Sunday of Lent-A

Gospel Reading: John 11:3-7,17,20-27,33-45 ©

Mary and Martha sent this message to Jesus, ‘Lord, the man you love is ill.’ On receiving the message, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will end not in death but in God’s glory, and through it the Son of God will be glorified.’

Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, yet when he heard that Lazarus was ill he stayed where he was for two more days before saying to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judaea.’

On arriving, Jesus found that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days already. Bethany is only about two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to sympathise with them over their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus had come she went to meet him. Mary remained sitting in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘If you had been here, my brother would not have died, but I know that, even now, whatever you ask of God, he will grant you.’ ‘Your brother’ said Jesus to her ‘will rise again.’ Martha said, ‘I know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said:

‘I am the resurrection and the life.
If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live,
and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?’

‘Yes, Lord,’ she said ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.’

Jesus said in great distress, with a sigh that came straight from the heart, ‘Where have you put him?’ They said, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept; and the Jews said, ‘See how much he loved him!’ But there were some who remarked, ‘He opened the eyes of the blind man, could he not have prevented this man’s death?’ Still sighing, Jesus reached the tomb: it was a cave with a stone to close the opening. Jesus said, ‘Take the stone away.’ Martha said to him, ‘Lord, by now he will smell; this is the fourth day.’ Jesus replied, ‘Have I not told you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone.

Then Jesus lifted up his eyes and said:
‘Father, I thank you for hearing my prayer.
I knew indeed that you always hear me,
but I speak for the sake of all these who stand round me,
so that they may believe it was you who sent me.’

When he had said this, he cried in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, here! Come out!’ The dead man came out, his feet and hands bound with bands of stuff and a cloth round his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, let him go free.’

Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary and had seen what he did believed in him.

Other Readings:  Ezekiel 37:12-14;Romans 8:8-11; Ps 129:1-8

I WONDER how many of us remember the last funeral liturgy or funeral mass we have attended. Several months ago, I attended a funeral vigil of a relative. I remember the priest presiding that vigil liturgy saying that we mourn not for the dead but for ourselves; we mourn and we grieve because we lose somebody we love.

griefIn the gospel, we heard that people grieved for the loss of Lazarus—a brother to Martha and Mary, a neighbour to the community and a friend. We even hear that Jesus cried when Mary asked him why he allowed their brother to die; they sent for him days before Lazarus’ death.
 
And Jesus knew Lazarus was dead. In fact, he has caused this very scene, and was “glad” that his friend died to make his disciples and perhaps others who knew Lazarus believe in him. He also knew he can raise Lazarus back into life; Jesus knew that death will not have a final say over Lazarus’ life, or any other human life.
 
lazarusSo why did he cry? The story of the raising of Lazarus brings to our attention the humanity of Jesus and the reason and significance why he came. When God became man in the person of Jesus he embraced everything that makes us human—with one exception: our weakness to sin.In this story, Jesus did not just know and encounter death in an abstract way but in a more concrete, personal way. As one theologian says, Jesus felt death in his bones and the cold sting of a loved one laid in a tomb.
 
The story also tells us that grieving is a natural human response to whatever loss we experience in life—not only in the instance of death. We grieve the lost of our country of origin when we came to Australia; we grieve when our children leave the family home; we grieve when we lose our jobs, social status, our health—any change in life can be an occasion to grieve.And we express our grief in many ways. But the point is we should accept that grief is a part of our life; we should let ourselves grieve and let others help us in overcoming our grief.
 
As mentioned before, another lesson we can take home from this story is the significance of our faith in Jesus in relation to death.Ezekiel in the first reading said: “I mean to raise you from your graves, my people, and lead you back to the soil of Israel.” Jesus came to this world to conquer death and grant those who believe in him eternal life for as he said in gospel “‘I am the resurrection and the life.”
 
Two weeks ago Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart, in the Rite of Election, received one of our parishioners into the Order of the Elect. Since then Charles is preparing to receive the sacraments of initiation—baptism, confirmation and Holy Eucharist—through the process of scrutiny.This is his last scrutiny where he, together with his sponsors, reflects on the promise not only of the forgiveness of his sin brought about by baptism but also the promise of a new life—in Christ and for Christ.
 
For us, this is also an opportunity to recall the same promise that is given to each and everyone of us when we were baptised into the Church; that when we were baptised, we died with Christ from our old selves—that is exactly what it means when we see a person being baptised immersed into water. But with Christ, we also gain the promise of resurrection and eternal life; after baptism, we become a new person—a new creation.
 
In a way, the story of the raising of Lazarus, prefigured that promise of eternal life to all those who consider Jesus as his or her friend. It also tells us something about God’s love for us and his purpose of creating us.The Church teaches us that “God wants more for us, his creatures, than a transient nature. He wants us to live with him as he created us, body and soul.”
 
As we prepare for the celebration of the Paschal Triduum and Easter, let us reflect on the words of Jesus in the gospel: “If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”But Jesus is also asking each and every one of us the same question he asked of Martha: “Do you believe this?”—Do we really believe in Jesus?


					

“Forgive Us Our Trespasses as We Forgive those who Trespass Against Us”

A Reflection on Mercy and Justice
By Chris Creo

I HAVE been reading the blogs of two deacons in the US (which inspired me to start my own blog) regarding two issues happening there about the same time. Both of these issues are linked to the concepts of sin, mercy and justice.

The first one was about the reaction of people regarding the dismissal of a teacher from her teaching job in a Catholic school because she got pregnant out of wedlock. The second was about whether the late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman should be given a Catholic funeral since some believed that the actor was a “grave public sinner.”

mercy2Then I had this discussion with our catechumen and his sponsors during our regular RCIA gathering on the same concepts. We were actually discussing the Lord’s Prayer and I was trying to explain to them the meaning and significance of the prayer in our lives as Christians; as Catholics.

The discussion was going OK. Then I noticed an increase in interest and participation level when we came to that line in the Lord’s Prayer that says “… and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

I was telling the group that by praying that part of the Lord’s Prayer, we are not just acknowledging that we are sinners who need redemption and forgiveness but also proclaiming God’s abundant mercy through His Son. God willed to redeem and save us even when man was still in a state of sin–God did not wait for man to repent. Instead He sent His Son to communicate His love and His mercy.

However, I also added that we can only feel this grace; the feeling that we have indeed been forgiven, if we for our part have forgiven first.

“Ah!” exclaimed one of the participants following with the question: “So will I only be forgiven if I forgive? What if one does not ask for forgiveness or even refuse to acknowledge his or her wrong doings against me? That would not be fair.”

A valid question. In fact, I said, that was also my question before. First, I answered that indeed it is hard to forgive. Because what is involved is not just a notion that something was broken; that something unfair has been committed. It is not just a “head” thing. More importantly, it involves emotion; feelings of anger and hurt. Oftentimes, it is hard for us to forgive because we are angry and hurt.  But I added that our anger and our hurt are also manifestations of our love to that person “who trespass against us.”

The more anger, the more hurt we feel corresponds to how we actually love that person. That is why, I said to the group, it is harder to forgive family members than any other person because we naturally love family more. Indeed, anger and hurt are part of our lives because relationships are part of our existence.

However, forgiveness does not mean we should forget about justice–that sense of fairness or giving “what is due to God and neighbor.” For we are all called “to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good (Catechism, 1807).”

mercy1True, Jesus told the adulterous woman that she was forgiven (Jn 7:53-8:11). But he did not let the woman off the hook either. Instead he said “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” We are all given the gift of forgiveness but we are also called to make restitution and to conversion. For forgiveness or pardon without repentance or restitution negates the notion of fairness and the very sense of justice.

To the question: “Will I only be forgiven if I forgive first?” My answer was that we were already given that gift when Jesus became man like us, died on the cross and rose from the dead. The thing is we can only feel that grace if we truly repent for our sins and if we experience how it feels to forgive. And as one of the sponsors shared, that feeling of being forgiven whether after the sacrament of reconciliation or after reconciling with somebody is palpable; as if something heavy has been lifted off from our shoulders.

Yes it is hard and it takes time but maybe the first step is to try freeing ourselves of the hurt; let the actions or the event that injured our feelings not hurt us anymore. Then when the hurt is gone, anger will also fade away until such a time that we can open our hearts once again and be ready to forgive when forgiveness is sought in order to restore harmony and relationships once again.

Related article/blog: http://billditewig.wordpress.com/2014/02/06/rush-to-judgment-sin-and-lifestyle/

Seeing God’s People in Every Issue and Situation

By Chris Creo

WE ALL try to do the good thing. We all try to do the right thing. And we are told that to do the right thing is to follow or adhere to one’s principle. Because what we hold as our personal principles come from our conscience. For conscience “is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths.” (Gaudium et Spes, Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World n.16).conscience1

Even for those who do not believe in God, conscience still represents an inner force where one “detects a law which he [or she] does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this, shun that (GS, 16).”

We usually link conscience to intuition or what feels right. Principles, therefore, are concrete expressions of what we feel is right—right judgment, right speech, and right action. Concepts such as democracy, equality, fairness, progress, rights. These are all examples of principles we try to uphold so that we may call ourselves good persons.

But sometimes we become too focus on upholding these principles that we forget or overlook a crucial element. That is, behind every principle or concept lies the human person.

For example, I heard a politician on the radio saying that the “time of entitlement is gone and the time of taking responsibility and lifting our own weight has began” or similar words to that effect. This is in connection with the government’s refusal to give A$25 million to a fruit cannery in Victoria to partly fund the updating and re-tooling of its machineries and equipment.

noholdenThe politician says the government cannot waste the people’s money to aid a profitable multinational company and by its decision not to help the government can focus on returning the budget of the country to surplus. Later news reported that the government is encouraging the company to re-negotiate its enterprise bargaining agreement with the workers, saying the workers are getting too much. The local MP (she’s from the same party as the government) was vehemently denying this last point, saying the package was not overly generous and that the company already did all it can to minimise cost–by laying-off the maintenance workers and by out sourcing the job.

This was also the position of the government in the car manufacturing industry, which resulted to the withdrawal and eventual closure of all car manufacturers in the country, finding thousands of workers losing their jobs. The same position seems to be applying to the draught-relief assistance that farmers are asking from the government.

Not to waste the people’s money is a good principle. It implies prudence on the part of government politicians in managing the wealth of the community. But to apply this principle without seeing the human person; without considering the people or the community that would be affected by the application of such principle is misguided and not really an act of conscience. Because acting in conscience should always move us towards doing good; towards loving others. Here we see that the subject of right judgment and right action is always the good of the human person or the community. Principles and ideologies are just guides or tools so we might achieve the good of the human person. They are not the ends themselves.

nohelpIn the issue of government subsidies to industries or aids to communities or sections of the community, those people defending the government’s position seem to be dead set on treating these issues as purely economic; as long as the books are in the black everything should be all right. We may ask how withholding financial aid that poses a threat to the entire community’s livelihood; renegotiating workers compensation package so that these workers receive less be a good thing?

I recall an animated movie about ants. One of the soldier ants–the general–tries to drown the entire colony. When others asked him why he is doing it, he answered: “I am doing this for the colony!” On this, the lead ant character shouted: “BUT WE ARE THE COLONY!” Ironically this seems to be the same line we hear from people who justify letting an entire industry close down leaving thousands of workers jobless. “We’re doing it for the country!” Maybe we should also remind them: “WE ARE THE COUNTRY!”

When we take away the human element in every issue or situation, we are treating human beings, as Pope Francis said in his apostolic exhortation, as “consumer goods to be used and then discarded (Joy of the Gospel, n. 53.2).” For this we are spreading a “throw away culture” or an economy and a culture of exclusion.

Just as the Holy Father said: “It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the ‘exploited’ but the outcast, the ‘leftovers.'”

Making “principled” judgment and action that promotes this culture of exclusion and throw away economic outlook does not make us good persons. When we dehumanise others we are also dehumanising ourselves. Ironically if we continue to promote this kind of thinking; of excluding people, sometime in the future others who would get hold of power and authority may decide that we are no longer useful. Then we may find ourselves the ones being excluded.

On the other hand, the Gospel message proclaims that we are all connected with one another because each and everyone of us is a son and daughter of God. Our call or vocation, therefore, is to affirm each other’s humanity and to offer each other the charity that God offered first—His own Son in order for us to be united with Him and share in His glory.

The Christian call to holiness is to promote inclusion that is based on respect for the human dignity since we are created in the image and likeness of God. Our task is to discern the face of God in each of us and be the icon of Christ who came not to be served but to serve.

Spiritual but NOT Religious, Pope says “That’s absurd!”

By Chris Creo

WHEN I was studying for my first bachelor’s degree, I was very active in university-based cause-oriented groups. I was part of the student movement. But at the same time, I was equally active in Church activities. I started as a member of the junior presidium of the Legion of Mary at the age of 10 then was recruited by some community leaders to be an altar server for our chapel. From there I progressed on becoming a reader, choir member, organist and youth and community leader.

For me, being an activist and active church member was a normal thing. That is why I was surprised when a university friend of mine expressed his amazement that I did both.

Nowadays, I find it intriguing at the least when I hear people say: I AM SPIRITUAL BUT NOT RELIGIOUS. For me, what these people are actually saying is that they may believe in some transcendental being or state but they don’t want to belong in any organised religion. For people who have a Christian background, what this really means is that they believe in God or in Christ but not the Church.

Vatican Pope YouthsHowever, Pope Francis said recently this line of reasoning makes no sense. Francis, quoting his predecessor Pope Paul VI, says: “…it is an absurd dichotomy to love Christ without the Church, to listen to Christ but not the Church, to be with Christ at the margins of the Church. It’s not possible. It is an absurd dichotomy.”

In a sense one cannot call someone a Christian–or claim to love God or Christ–if that person separates himself or herself from the Church. Because as the Pope says in his homily: “We receive the Gospel message in the Church and we carry out our holiness in the Church, our path in the Church.”

Some would defend this position by stating that they cannot possibly let themselves be identified with a religion or a church tainted with scandal, abuse, corruption, etc. One of the inquirers in the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) group I coordinate asked: “How can you say the Church is holy if we can plainly see sinners even in the hierarchy–priests abusing children or having affairs, and bishops covering them up?”

But the Church–the people who are gathered in the name of God and Christ–does not claim to be perfect. It acknowledges its own imperfections and strives to overcome all these. We can say that the Church remains holy because her origin, her source and her sustainer IS holy–God himself. The Church is holy because her mission is the pursuit of holiness.

And one cannot do this alone. One cannot achieve holiness by himself or herself. We need others to do this. We need each other. As Pope Francis says we carry out our holiness in the Church–and I would add, WITH the Church.

I would dare to say that to claim to be spiritual but not religious is, in fact, to mask our self-centeredness; our refusal to take responsibility and our fear to share ourselves with others–the real meaning of LOVE. Because to belong to a Church is to give or to share something of ourselves. And we have Jesus himself as our example. Because by dying on the cross, Jesus gave us the ultimate model of total self-giving.

A more accurate statement therefore is that I AM SPIRITUAL BECAUSE I AM RELIGIOUS. MY LOVE OF CHRIST MAKES ME BELONG TO A CHURCH.

Find the related article here: http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/the-vatican/detail/articolo/santa-marta-31673/