Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas.. godfather.

I received this beautiful e-card from my “godsister”. I know there is no such a word in English (at least not in the Collins Dictionary) but I think its connotation is quite obvious. I mean.. just think about godparents, godfather or godmother in Christian sense...

This card reminds me of my late godfather, Lucius Duki Mandadi. I was baptized in St. Peter Cleaver’s Church at my home parish, Ranau. I didn’t know exactly why my father chose him to be my godfather except that he was my father’s good friend. In fact, my father and he went to college together. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to know him closer partly because soon after I was baptized, my parents moved to Semporna (a small town about 8 hours driving from my hometown) due to my father’s working commitment. Only some 15 years later did I came to know that he was my godfather.

A man with a smiling face” I would describe him.. He never missed to talk to me whenever he saw me, sometimes just a small conversation but always with big smiles on his face. There were few occasions I would never forget about him... the first was when I met a car accident in the year 2000, he happened to pass by with his white van and took all the troubles to help me. Sometimes later he invited me for his daughter’s wedding. I promised him to come but I never turned up.. I felt so bad about it when I met him the next day but he simply grinned, couldn’t be bothered at all about it.

I would also never forget him for his zealous involvement in the parish organizing committee for my ordination. In one of the meetings, somebody proposed that, being my godfather, his name should be up in the ordination booklet but he humbly declined it. I regretted not to insist. But most of all, I remember when he was in agony in Queen Elizabeth Hospital.. I came to give him the Sacrament of Anointing. He was all on oxygen mask, obviously in extreme pain yet he still tried to smile at me.

I heard about the demise of him three days after he was buried... too late to attend his funeral. I remember sitting silently behind the Blessed Sacrament.. unsure what I should say for him in the prayer. I just felt so bad for many ambiguous reasons.. one thing for sure was in having taken for granted the irreversibility of time.

It has been two years now.. or was it three years ago? I must thank my godsister for being so thoughtful to me this Christmas. I guess she doesn't really realize how much this card actually mean to me but I’m sure her late father aka my godfather does.

Merry Christmas to you, godfather.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Man of the Shroud

The "Man of the Shroud" (as it has been always named)  is an anatomical study based on the Shroud of Turin by Isabel Piczek, a noted monumental artist and theoretical physicist and a highly respected Shroud researcher.

This 24" X 5" bronze depicting Piczek's works captured my attention as I entered the Casa Nuovisima in Collegio San Pietro Apostolo. Placed on the right side of the staircase facing the main entrance of the house, one would never miss to notice the significance of it.  My own word to describe it is the "Humiliation of the Lord"..

"In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken up from the earth." (Acts 8:33)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

On the Threshold

"Songs of Chokhamela"
Why have you thrown this challenge, god?
Solve this riddle of mine;
Enter my shoes, know in your own self:
An outcast, what rights do I enjoy?
Says Chokha, this low born human body
Every one drives away?

Chokhamela was a fourteenth-century untouchable saint-poet who belong to the varkari tradition of Maharashtra. These poems, the first expression of dalit poetry, express poignantly a peculiar dichotomy: the awareness of living at the margin, and God's need and love for him.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


"Tuuhan" ka nopo do boros do Dusun nga tiinum do waig toiko nunu nopo ii miloh do inuman om okon ii ko kawanit. Nga iti nopo boros diti miloh nogi do popokomoi do kalangadan moginum dii tinuman papaauk migal ko lihing, bahar, montoku om kinomol.

Iti nopo tulun diti nga noiindaman tinuuhan om kotoboi dii isio do mindakod do piasau. Miagal dirii om nokokinam dii isio do popohtuuh di tatalan dau miampai waig piasau... :))

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Christian Priesthood: The Originality of Its Being and Action

Study Materials: Mazzanti, G., I Sacramenti: Simbolo e Teologia, Pontificia Universtà Urbaniana (class notes).

This paper is written as a summary for the course TLD 1004 – Il sacerdozio cristiano: l’originalità del suo essere e agire (translated as “The Christian Priesthood: The Originality of Its Being and Action”). It is a required course for licentiate students in the Faculty of Theology, Pontifical University of Urbaniana, Rome.

Scope and Terminology
The lectures of the course TLD 1004 revolved around the theme of the Nuptial Design of God in the Christian Priesthood. This theme can be outlined into the following topics: [1] the Kingly Character of Christ, [2] the Prophetic Character of Christ, [3] the Priestly Character of Christ. It is notable that two terms have been consistently utilized throughout this course, namely sponsale and sponsalità. As such, it is necessary to study the etymology of these terms as well as to see the possibility of finding equivalent English translations for them.

According to DIZIONARIO ETIMOLOGICO ONLINE (, the word sponsale derives from the Latin SPONÀLEM. Thus, the English word “spousal” (adjective) should be the most appropriate for its translation. The term sponsalità, however, is ambiguous as it is nowhere to be found in the dictionary. But it most likely that sponsalità is a noun considering that the Italian words conjugated with –tà (e.g. regalità and sovranità) are all nouns. Nonetheless, giving the benefit of doubts, the Italian terms sponsale and sponsalità will be retained throughout this paper.

The Kingly Character of Christ
In the history of Israel the institution of the Old Testament priesthood traces its origin to Aaron, the brother of Moses. It is also a hereditary of the tribe of Levi, one of the twelve tribes of Israel (Sir 45:7). However, Jesus is the heir of David whose lineage comes from the tribe of Juda. Thus, his priesthood is not from the tribe of Levi but of Juda (Heb 7:14). In this sense, Jesus’ priesthood is different from that of Levi’s priesthood. In fact, his priesthood is one which has been elevated. He is the "king-priest after the order of Melchizedek" (cf. Mt 26:63-64; Ps 109; Heb 5:9-10).

Melchizedek is a mysterious figure who appeared in Gen 14:18-20. He is linked to the Messiah, who is promised to the nations in Psalm 109:4. That Jesus is from the order of Melchizedek is important in order to understand Jesus’ Kingly Character. Melchizedek is a King of Salem (Gen 14:18) and Jesus Christ is accredited a king in his entrance to Jerusalem (Mt 21:1-11). As such, Jesus’ kingship is not only linked to Melchizedek but is different to that of the worldly kings. His kingship is a Kingship over all creation as testified in the Gospel of John “..the Father had given him all things into his hands..” (Jn 13:3).

The kingship of Jesus is also attested by a woman by a symbolic gesture when Jesus was at the house of Simon the leper. The woman “came to him with an alabaster box of precious ointment and poured it on his head” (Mt 26:7, Mk 14:3). In the Gospel of John, this woman, identified as Mary the sister of Lazarus, is mentioned to have anointed Jesus’ feet with the ointment and wiped his feet with her hair (Jn 12:3). The connection of this gesture is seen in the last supper when, by washing the feet of his disciples, Jesus manifests to his disciple the true nature of his kingship (Jn 13). He is a servant-king not a dictator-king.

The nuptial design of God in this respect is seen from the fact that in Jesus Christ, the plan of God for humanity to be the King of creation is realized. Jesus the King mediated human being in receiving “all things that the Father has given him in his hands”. Thus, human being is understood as the authorized master of all other creations through Jesus Christ. On the other hand, in the Eucharist, Jesus the Priest represents human being in offering a perfect offering of thanksgiving to the Father for this wonderful gift. This reciprocal event in the king-priest of Jesus realizes the sponsale and sponsalità dimension of God’s nuptial plan.

The Prophetic Character of Christ
There are two closely interweaving aspects that constitute the theme of the Nuptial Design of God from the dimension of the Prophetic Character of Christ: [1] the corporate personality and [2] the original-destination of God’s plan. In both aspects, Christ the prophesied Messiah is seen as the embodied Word that fulfilled God’s plan for His creation.

The corporate personality sees the design of God in a manner of complementing pair (coppia). It begins with the creation of Adam and Eve (Gen 1:27; 2:2-25) who represent the whole human beings and continues with story of Abraham and Sarah (Gen 12) the patristic padre and madre of all humanity. In fact, the pair-up designation of God is evident since Noah’s time (Gen 7:2-9). This element of cooperate personality conveys not only God’s original plan for His creations to be in communion with Him but also the character of His communal divine image.

God’s original plan of communion implies “freedom” of both involved parties. Already in the first creations of Adam and Eve, God has bestowed freedom to them but the freedom was violated. As a consequence, the original sin came into the picture of human history and separated the communion between the God and humanity (Gen 3). However, the incarnation of Jesus, foretold in Isaiah 7:14, brings new hope for humanity to restore the original blessing of God. In this moment of incarnation, the perfect freedom is manifested. The divinities, in the form of the Son, willingly entered into human history and as such fulfilled the prophecy of old.

This fullness of time is not only a moment of creation for the new Adam (1 Cor 15:22; 45-49) but also a creation of the new Eve. In the book of Genesis, Adam called Eve "woman" (Gen 3:12). At the wedding in Cana nobody was identified but Jesus and his mother and Jesus called her "woman" (Jn 2:4). In this regard, the sponsale and sponsalità dimension in God’s nuptial plan once again takes place. But above all, it is important to acknowledge that the new Adam, the Word becomes flesh, is not of a man but of a woman (Gal 4:4). That seems to be a reverse from the original formation of the first woman, who is taken from the flesh man (Gen 2:21-22). Nonetheless, precisely on this basis, the prophecy about Christ the “seed of a woman” (Gen 3:15) is fulfilled and the design of God takes place.

The sponsale and sponsalità elements are also seen in the context of the Ark of Covenant and Mary’s womb. The Ark of the Covenant was significant to the Israelite as it is the Holy Place of God’s dwelling. The letter to the Hebrews reveals that the Ark contains the manna, the rod of Aaron and the tables of the testament (Heb 9:4). Mary, having bore Jesus in her womb, now becomes the new Ark of the New Covenant. Her womb is likened to the “bosom of the Father” as testified in the book of John (Jn 1:18). Thus, the “bosom of the Father” is understood as the Holy Spirit. Further, the manna which was given by God as the food for the Israelite is parallel to Jesus, who comes to the humanity as the bread of life.

The nuptial design of God in the prophetic character of Christ is seen in the sense that Jesus the embodied word, who was prophesied in the Old Testament now fulfills God’s original-destination plan of communion. This communion is understood as the union of love between God and human being. This so-called “wedding of the divine and humanity”, continues to take place in the celebration of the Eucharist. The bread is the consecrated body of Christ but also the embodied word. Thus, in the person of Christ, the communion of love between the human and divine is indeed being mediated.

The Priestly Character of Christ
Already from the topics of Kingly and Prophetic Character of Christ, the Eucharist is seen as a significant event in mediating the nuptial design of God. To construct the nuptial design of God from the dimension of the Priestly Character of Christ is naturally giving a significant place for the Eucharist. After all, a priest essentially exists for the Eucharist and vice versa. However, it is also necessary to come back to the crucifixion event as it was also a momentous revelation of Christ’s priesthood. Thus, this topic will focus on two main aspects: [1] the priesthood of Christ from the horizon of the cross as a gift and sacrifice; [2] the priesthood of Christ that as the “preside” of the Eucharistic.

The cross has been always seen both as a sign of suffering and also victory (Colossians 2:13-15). The crucifixion of Christ, therefore, is both a sacrificial offering to God and also a gift of life to humanity. As such, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is an act of love (un atto di amore) in obedience to the Father. It is an act of love of God the Father to the humanity. The obedience of Christ is a ransom for the human being not in the sense of “levy” (un dazio) but of “heart” (dal cuore). It is in this sense that we see the sacrifice of Christ the “High priest” as a spousal love sacrifice, a perfect love sacrifice of the bridegroom to his bride the Church. “Because of the insufficiency of the sacrifices of the law, Christ our high priest shed his own blood for us, offering up once for all the sacrifice of our redemption..” (cf. Heb 10).

As the “presider” of the Eucharistic, the nuptial design of God in the priesthood of Christ must be looked from two perspectives: [1] the Eucharistic act inherited from the synoptic tradition (Mt 26:26-29; Mk 14:22-25; Lk 22:19-20) and [2] the Eucharistic act inherited from the account of John’s Gospel (Jn 13-16).

In the synoptic gospels, the conduct of the Last Super is designated in such a way that actually bring across the element of sponsale and sponsalità . First of all, the sponsale element is seen the choice of a place in the upper room. The upper room characterize a spousal room (camera sponsale), a private place. Secondly, in the Last Supper which has a typical Jewish character Jesus was with the twelve. The twelve is his family but also his spouse. In fact, the twelve are representing the Church the bride of Christ. Thirdly, the banquet has a character of a wedding banquet (un banchetto messianic nuziale) where everyone is welcomed, sinners included. Fourthly, the interval in the banquet namely the offering of the bread and wine completed the spousal union between God and human being but also in a special way the sponsale and sponsalità between man and woman. It is interesting to notice the elements in the making of bread namely the water and fire. These elements are symbol of the Holy Spirit. Likewise, the wine which is transformed into the blood of Christ symbolized life the gift of the Holy Spirit. Hence, the Holy Spirit is never absent in the nuptial design of God.

The symbolic actions and elements in the Last Supper are re-enacted again and again in the celebration of the Eucharist. The priest, being the presider or minister of the Eucharist, represents Christ the bridegroom whereas the people of God, the Church is the bride of Christ. However, equally important to consider is the “version of the Eucharist” according to John the evangelist. The Gospel of John replaced the account of the Eucharist in the Synoptic Gospel with the washing of feet and followed by a long discourse to his disciples. This “version of the Eucharist” reveals the dynamic aspect of the Eucharist namely all Christians are called to serve one another. But it is also an event where the nuptial design of God is revealed. The washing of the feet symbolize a spousal act of a husband and wife by the example of Christ and of the Church (Eph 5:25-27). On the other hand, the discourse that follows immediately is the prayer of Christ the Bridegroom for his Bride the Church. This prayer is continued by the apostolic work of the Church ministers in anticipation of the eschatological banquet, an eternal nuptial of the divinity and humanity.

The originality of the being and action in the Christian Priesthood obviously has the characters of sponsale and sponsalità. These characters reveal the beautiful plan of God for the eschatological wedding namely the eternal union between divinity and humanity in the Kingdom of God. However, the Kingdom of God is also here on earth. Thus, the wedding between divinity and humanity is already here and now. It takes place each time in the re-enactment of the paschal mystery of Christ especially through the Eucharist - the supreme manifestation of Christ's action and being.

This action and being of Christ constitute the Christian Priesthood. The priestly, kingly and prophetic characters of the priesthood, therefore, are not just an office per se but mediation for the nuptial design of God. It connects the whole events in the salvation history with the paschal mystery of Christ. It brings across the truest reality of God’s original design for human being. Understanding the elements that constitute the celebration of the paschal mystery in the Eucharist will not only enhance a liturgical participation in the Holy Mass but also a perception and encouragement to meditate more on the Holy Scripture. In a special way, the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary is also acknowledged and in fact closely associated in the nuptial plan of God. As such, the place of honour to Mary that especially prevalent in the Catholic tradition is not only secured but fortified.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Each of us is necessary..

..extract of the His Holiness Benedict XVI's Homily, Sunday, April 24th 2005
Posted by Picasa

I came across this beautiful words of the Holy Father in the souvenir shop of the Catacomb of St Peter's Basilica last year (2008). It was imprinted as bookmark available in 5 languages (English, French, Italian, German, Spanish). Needless to say, every single word is impressively wonderful and inspiring...

And only where God is seen
does life truly begin.
Only when we meet
the Living God in Christ do
we know what life is.
We are not some casual
and meaningless product of evolution.
Each of us is a result
of the thought of God.
Each of us is willed,
each of us is loved,
each of us is necessary.
There is nothing more beautiful
than to be surprised by the Gospel,
by the encounter with Christ.
There nothing more beautiful
than to know Him and to speak to others
of our friendship with Him

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Penitential: Celebration and Sacrament

(An assignment presented to Prof. G.Iuliano as a partial fulfillment for the course of TLD 1005 - Penitenza: celebrazione e sacramento, Faculty of Dogmatic Theology, Pontificia Università Urbaniana, Rome)

Study Material
Osborne, K., Reconciliation and Justification: The Sacrament and Its Theology, Wipf and Stock, Eugene, Oregon, 2001 (Paulist Press, New York, 1990).

Fr. Kenan Osborne, O.F.M is a Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at the Franciscan School of Theology and the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. He is the past-president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and a worldly renowned teacher and scholar. His other books are including The Christian Sacraments of Initiation, Sacramental Theology and Priesthood.

The Reconciliation and Justification presents two main concerns of Fr. Osborne namely the full efficacy of Jesus’ saving act and the absolute gratuity of God’s grace in relation to the Sacrament of Penance. In his efforts to bring out these two points, Fr. Osborne develops the following subjects: [1] The issues of justification and Sacrament of Penance, [2] Jesus, the Primordial Sacrament, [3] The historical and theological background of the Sacrament of Penance, [4] Vatican II and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, [5] The Unresolved Issues on Justification and the Sacrament of Penance.

The issues of justification and the Sacrament of Penance
“Justification” in Fr. Osborne’s mind is one way to speak the mystery of salvation. There have been other terminologies preferred in the various Christian traditions i.e. redemption, divinization, sanctification as well as “reconciliation”. The ritual or sacrament of penance is intended for reconciliation of the penitent and God. However, it should not be seen as the only means for the reconciliation because every Christian sacrament actually involves reconciliation. The issues in justification and the issues in the sacrament of penance are interdependent because both are focusing on the full efficacy of Jesus’ saving act and the absolute gratuity of God’s grace.

Jesus, the Primordial Sacrament of Reconciliation
Jesus, the “Primordial” Sacrament of Reconciliation is seen from the fact that the New Testament is all about reconciliation. In other words, reconciliation is an essential part of gospel living. Thus, the Church, being the Body of Christ, is the basic sacrament of reconciliation. In this sense, the classical passages on the power to forgive sin (Mt 16:16; Mt 18:18; Jn 20:22-23), cannot be interpreted as applying only to hierarchy but to the power to isolate, repel and negate sin. It’s a power which Christians found in every aspect of their life, not simply in leadership. That Jesus the primordial sacrament of reconciliation is to be considered from two aspects: [1] his message of reconciliation; [2] his life-death-resurrection. These two aspects call to realise that a new way of being with and in God is the goal of all salvation.

The historical and theological background of the Sacrament of Penance
There is no indication in the New Testament of a sacramental ritual of reconciliation. The earliest historical evidence of a rite of reconciliation for sins committed after baptism is found in the writings of Hermas (c. 150). The ritual was public, imposed to serious sins (i.e. adultery, apostasy and murder) and could be received only once in a lifetime. It required an entry in the “order of penitent” for at least three years and exclusion from attending Mass. This public ritual was a normative approach for the next nine hundred years throughout the Christian church.

The present sacrament of penance which is private in nature and can be repeated as often as needed has the origin of the Celtic Churches (Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England). It started as a form of spiritual direction in the monastic life. In 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council adopted it, thereby officially abandoning the public form of sacrament. The Celtic form of penance encouraged the “confession” of sins and, as a help had several Penitentials, books which listed sins and penance. The Celtic form of penance was one of the most important catechetical means that brought about a genuine renewal in the moral life of continental Europe in the early medieval period.

In the reformation period the sacrament of penance became an issue of focus of criticism because the theology of justification found expression in the sacrament of penance. Unfortunately, the Catholic response (in particular the Council of Trent) did not really address the real issue. In many ways the response focused on the denial of sacramentality, not on the interrelationship of the theology of justification and the theology of penance. The ambiguity of the statements of Trent among others was influenced by the unsettled issues between various schools (i.e. the Thomists and Scotists). Council of Trent, however, became the dominant approach to the Sacrament of Penance in the Roman Catholic Church for the next 400 years.

Vatican II and the Sacrament of Reconciliation
The new rite for the sacrament of penance (Ordo paenitentiae), promulgated on December 2, 1973 is an important development of the sacrament of penance. Its significance is noted mainly because of the two documents of Vatican II (Lumen Gentium and Sacrosanctum Concilium) that become the basis for renewal. Among notable points in the new rite are the presentation of the social nature of sin (offence against God and the Church) and also the communal nature of reconciliation (reconciliation with God and with the Church).

The term “mortal” and “venial” also have been carefully avoided in the new ritual. Furthermore, the new rite highlights the importance of the use of scripture in the liturgical celebration of the sacrament of penance. The theology of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is also linked to the baptismal and Eucharist. Nonetheless, despite all these, the new ritual of reconciliation (hence Vatican II) did not address in any way the issue of justification nor attempt to bring the theology of justification into the renewal effort.

The Unresolved Issues on the Sacrament of Reconciliation
Fr. Osborne remarks that the Post-Vatican II theology is left with a number of unresolved issues on the Sacrament of Reconciliation and has selected five issue for consideration: [1] The issue of general absolution, [2] The issue of private confession to a priest, [3] The issue of the age for first reconciliation, [4] The issue of frequent confession, [5] The issue of justification.
[1] The issue of general absolution
The problem lies on the statement of 1972 regulation (Sacramentum paenitentiae) that instructing the usage of general absolution only in “case of necessity”. It is theologically incorrect because obviously every time the rite of reconciliation is celebrated, there is operative in one way or another a “case of necessity”. Even if it is referring to the situation in “imminent danger of death”, one still can argue as such situation has its own form (cf. Shorter Rite 1). The instruction that requiring the penitent who received general absolution to come back “within a reasonable time” to private confession to a priest is also another problem. By giving a “condition” to general sacramental absolution given, it is compromising the full efficacy of Jesus’ saving act and the absolute gratuity of God’s grace.

[2] The issue of private confession to a priest
The new ritual of reconciliation instructs that all sin is an offence against God and an offence against the community. Also, the instruction goes that reconciliation at all levels is both reconciliation with God and reconciliation with the community. In other word, there is no such thing as completely private or personal sin neither a merely personal reconciliation. Thus, private confession to priest becomes an issue. The teaching of the Church on contrition (which of itself takes away sins), the recognition that the priestly absolution given generally is valid and the theology that an integral confession of all serious sins is necessary for an absolution of sin make this issue even more complicated.

[3] The issue of the age for first reconciliation
This is closely related to the issue of receiving first Holy Communion. The first confession prior to the first Eucharistic is a current practice of the Roman Catholic Church. The problem arises not only with regard to the catechetical process of the children but also to the theology of the sacrament i.e. “there is no necessary prior reception of the sacrament of penance unless there has been a serious and substantive separation by a Christian both from God and from the community”. The directives of the Church authorities which have been adopted from time to time to require first confession before first Eucharist, therefore, become questionable. To be exact, it can’t be said “absolute”. They can only be interpreted as endorsing and encouraging a pastoral practice otherwise we will be having an erroneous theological doctrine.

[4] The issue of frequent confession
This issue become a problem because the renewed rite of reconciliation, especially Rite 1 (private confession to a priest) signals priests to spend more time with each penitent. On the other hand, church officials signal priests to confess large number of penitents. The two signals do not fit well together. It also can foster many unhealthy pastoral position and ambiguous theological positions. For example, a doubt that sin is truly forgiven in the sacrament of reconciliation and also an implication that the penitent must “do” something again and again so that sins can be forgiven. Such consequences, obviously, compromise the full and absolute gratuity of God’s grace and the full efficacy of the salvific work of Jesus.

[5] The issue of justification
Justification has been a long-standing issue that Fr. Osborne claimed to have not been officially addressed by the leadership of the Roman church. Many areas in the new rite of penance are ambiguous because they are not developed in these contexts of justification. For instance, the various theologies of the sacrament of penance on the “the work of the penitent”, the “efficacy of the priestly absolution”, the “disposition of the penitent” and the “intention of the priest” could be appeared to compromise the absolute gratuity of God’s grace.

Other Pastoral Observations
Fr. Osborne’s critical analyses on the unsolved issues of the sacrament of reconciliation are mainly linked with the theological issue of the full and absolute gratuity of God’s grace and the full efficacy of the salvific work of Jesus. The following issues on the sacrament of reconciliation are some other observations that probably more pastoral in nature:
1. The individual comes to the Reconciliation Chapel or confessional wanting something other than the Sacrament of Reconciliation. They may have a question; they may want advice; they may want a candle or a rosary blessed; they may need money or food or medicine. They may be lonely and want to talk to someone. They may need psychiatric help: advice, counselling or therapy.
2. The conviction that sins will be forgiven if, in true contriteness, an individual ask God directly for absolution. Hence, confessional box, reconciliation chapel, and the priest are unnecessary.
3. The people are losing confidence in their parish priests’ ability to understand and relate to the real-life trials in their daily lives. Confessional counselling isn’t taken seriously. Worst still, they see no leadership or example being set by their priests where the sacrament of reconciliation is concerned. They see that many priests seldom, or never, go to confession themselves.
4. They have had terribly bad experiences in the confessional at one time or another either because of the crudely, tactlessness, or insensitiveness of the priest. They are also often embarrassed or hurt by priests who imply that some of the sins they confess are nothing more than triviality.

Joseph Ratzinger and the Sacrament of Penance
In the course of the recent development in the Post-Vatican era, there have been a lot of insights from other Catholic theologians as well as the Roman Catholic officials that either for or against to Fr. Osborne. In the context of this study, it is of vital necessity to mention that of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) in the motu proprio Misericordia Dei dated 2 May 2002. The letter highlights other aspects which were not touched by Fr. Osborne. Obviously, it was not intended as a response to Fr. Osborne but the insights are important for us to understand the position of the Catholic Church on the issues in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

The then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger starts with the Personalist nature of Christian life. Despite all our bonds with the human community, sin is ultimately something totally personal. Thus, our healing with forgiveness also has to be something that is totally personal. God does not treat us as part of a collectivity. He knows each one by name. This nature is manifested in a particularly clear way in the Sacrament of Penance. Personal confession and the forgiveness directed to this person, therefore, are constitutive parts of the sacrament. Collective absolution is an extraordinary form that is possible only in strictly determined cases of necessity; it also supposes the will to make the personal confession of sins as soon as it will be possible to do so.

Secondly, the Judicial-Sacramental character of the Sacrament of Penance is explained. The disciples are not simply a neutral instrument of divine forgiveness, but rather a power of discernment is entrusted to them and with it a duty of discernment for individual cases. Hence, two aspects belong essentially to the Sacrament of Penance: (i) the sacramental aspect, namely the mandate of the Lord, that goes beyond the real power of the disciples and of the community of disciples of the Church; (ii) the commission to make the decision that must be founded objectively and, therefore, must be just and in this sense has a judicial nature that requires a juridical order in the Church. The judicial-sacramental character of the sacrament implies that the sacrament of penance is different from Baptism. It is a specific sacrament that supposes a special sacramental power and it is linked with the Sacrament of Orders.

Thirdly, the limitation of the Church with regard to the sacrament of penance is acknowledged. The duty of confession was instituted by the Lord himself and is constitutive of the sacrament. Therefore, it is not in the power of the Church to replace personal confession with general absolution. Hence, only in situations of necessity, in which the human being's final salvation is at stake, can the absolution be anticipated and the confession left for a time in which it will be possible to make it.

Finally, the individual confession is affirmed as an experience of liberation in God. The simple confession of one's guilt is presented with confidence in God's merciful goodness. If it is done with the spirit of trust proper to the children of God it can become an experience of deliverance, an experience of liberation in God. This last explanation expresses the conviction of the Catholic Church on the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The spirit of trust proper to the children of God implies that our liberation is not our personal effort but because of the full and absolute gratuity of God’s grace and the full efficacy of the salvific work of Jesus.

The book of Reconciliation and Justification is indeed an excellent work of Fr. Osborne. His thorough historical and theological analysis on the issue of reconciliation and justification enriches ones understanding on the background of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Most importantly, his observations offer informative insights and stimulate the readers to think critically in order to perceive the truest celebration of penance as a sacrament.

In the context of our study, the question of Fr. Osborne remains valid for reflection: “In what way does the sacrament of reconciliation, in its currently revised form, celebrate the central mystery of justification?” There is no simple answer for this question but definitely, as Fr. Osborne has consistently echoed, the way in which it is to be answered must incorporate the issue of justification in its theology and pastoral dimensions.

In any rate, it must be noted that Fr. Osborne is neither promoting nor supporting the justification issue of the reformation era, in particular the Lutheran’s opposition to the Catholic Church. His critical analysis on the issue of justification with regard to the sacrament of reconciliation should be rather seen as a call to the Church authority to officially address this long-standing issue.

On the other hand, Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) offers a remarkable reflection on the sacrament of penance. His deeply grounded theology enables him to integrate the personal design of God for human being with the essence of the sacrament of penance. The individual character of the sacrament of penance does not despise the social dimension of it. In fact, individual or private confession is seen as a corporate act of worship which builds up the Body of Christ.

The recognition of the limitation of the Church must not be looked from Christological perspective i.e. the church as a Body of Christ rather in a juridical sense i.e. the Church as an institution. The judicial-sacramental character of the sacrament of penance distinguishes it from the other sacraments. As such, it is a “specific sacrament” that should be treated in a manner proper to its nature. In this sense, one can say that “penance” is truly a “celebration” of the Mystery of God’s love and also a “sacrament” namely, an outward sign of the inner grace of God.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Salvation Outside the Church (in Jesus Christ)

Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6; Mt 2:1-12

The story in today’s gospel about the story of the wise men (or the three Kings from the Orient) is found only in Matthew. Luke, Mark and John never mention about this story in their gospels. And so the question arises: What does it mean? What is Matthew trying to tell us? Surely, there is a wonderful truth that Matthew took all the troubles to preserve the story in his gospel. The second reading today gives us the answer-- it's a revelation of a mystery; that pagans now share the same inheritance as the Jews. The pagans too are part of the same body of Christ.

The three Kings are the Gentiles, the non-Jews, like you and I. They are representing the "pagans". In other words, Jesus Christ is born for all peoples. He came not only for the chosen race but the human race. He manifests not only for the Jews but for all of us. This is the truth that was proclaimed long before the Saviour born (as the first reading clearly has pointed out.) Unfortunately, this message doesn’t seem to have been understood by many people--not only by those in the Old Testament and in the New Testament but also by many people of today.

Now, you listen to this story... Few years ago one of my friends was diagnosed of having cancer. She was a Sabahan but working in Kuching, Sarawak. To make thing worse, her father was paralyzed and so her mother had to look after her father. She had 2 sisters and 1 brother but all of them were working in Peninsula Malaysia. And so, she was all by herself in Kuching General Hospital.

One of the nurses, apparently was observing her and realized her situation. So the nurse voluntarily had looked after her. She called all the members of her family so that they could take turn looking after her literally almost every single minute. Her sisters came, her mother and even her husband and children came to give necessary aids to this friend of mine. This wonderful nurse (and this i want you to pay attention) nevertheless was and is still now a Muslim.

My question, therefore, is; where do you think this Muslim nurse will go when she die? Do you think God will spare for her a room in the eternal kingdom? What about other non-Christians who have done good things in their life, say for instance Mahatma Ghandi? Where do you think he is now?

The Second Vatican Council states in a document called Nostra Aetate, the Declaration on the relationship of the church to non-Christian religions, that the Church rejects nothing of the truth and holiness found in the other religions; the church considers with respect even those doctrines of theirs which differ from the Church teaching but often contain a ray of eternal TRUTH. And so Christians must oppose every form of discrimination among men, based on status, race or creed. In that sense, the Church acknowledges that there is salvation outside the Church.

Many Christians probably would find it hard to accept. But we must look at it from the point of view of our Lord Jesus Christ, the absolute truth and the fullness of revelation. Remember that he is born for all people, for all human races. And on top of it, no one should underestimate his mercy, his compassion, his mission for all.

And so as we celebrate the feast of Epiphany, the manifestation of God in Jesus Christ, let’s be open to all forms of dialog with other religions. Let’s not be so cynical and skeptical towards people of others beliefs. The Muslim nurse in my story just now has allowed herself to manifest God’s love to my suffering friend regardless of beliefs and racial differences. It’s a total and unselfish offering of oneself. Let’s learn from her. Let’s reflect the epiphany in our deeds, in our thoughts, in our words and make tomorrow a better world for everyone.

They too are our brothers and sisters..

Gen 2:18-24; Heb 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16

I must admit that the Word of God today is one of the most difficult to preach. It speaks about what God intended from the very beginning of time as the ideal marriage relationship—two people should become one flesh; what God has joined let no man separate; whoever divorces and remarries commit adultery.

I said it is difficult to preach. Why? Because one of my own sisters is divorced, one of my aunties is a second wife to a married man, many of my close friends are either divorcees or married to divorcees. And, on top of that, some of you here are divorcees. But having said that, as a priest it is my duty to preach according to the teaching of the Church, which I, without reservation, accept and believe.

The Catholic Church teaches that a marriage should be marked by unity—it is a total sharing of body, mind and spirit of a husband and a wife. The Catholic Church also teaches that a marriage should be a permanent relationship—meaning, only death do them part. That is an ideal marriage, which is also the original plan of God.

But we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a real world where too often selfishness overpowers love, taking dominates giving, and some marriages end in divorce. What have the Church to say about it?

To answer this, recall how Jesus condemn adultery, but forgave the woman caught in adultery; how he showed compassion toward the Samaritan woman at the well who had lived with five husbands; and how he gave Peter a new start after Peter had denied him and runaway.

Do we continue to strive for ideal marriages? Yes, with all our resources. Do we condemn divorced people whose marriage fell short of the ideal? No, we condemn divorce but not the divorcee.

The letter to the Hebrews, in the second reading, tells us that Jesus took our human nature, and thus we are of the same human stock as he, and so he can call us his brothers and sisters. The divorcees too are of the same human stock as you and I. They are our brothers and sisters.

Let’s pray that God will continue to shower His grace to all married couples so that they will always remember the origin and purpose of marriage; so that they always strive for the ideal marriage. But let’s also not forget to pray for all the divorcees, that they will continue to experience God’s forgiveness and love in their lives; and especially, so that they will find a place in the Church.


Today I smiled, and all at once
things didn't look so bad.
Today I shared with someone else a bit of hope I had.

Today I sang a little song,
and felt my heart grow light,
and walked a happy little mile,
with not a cloud in sight.

Today I worked with what I had,
nor longed for any more,
and what had seemed
like only weeds,
were flowers at my door.

Today I loved a little more,
complained a little less,
and in the giving of myself,
forgot my weariness.
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