Home Catholic Church & Asia When the Church gathers, it’s Christ who unites us

When the Church gathers, it’s Christ who unites us

The following is a homily given by Myanmar’s Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon during the celebration of Chrism Mass.

I greet you with the words of the Apocalypse that we have just heard: “Grace to you and peace from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead and the King of kings of the world!”

It is difficult to plan ahead this year: No tentative program. I believe that the Lord is trying to tell us that we are not in charge, but the Lord. Everything becomes unpredictable. All our celebrations: Jubilees and even the Episcopal Ordination of Bishop Naw Aye limited.

Due to COVID first of all, and worse still due to the Myanmar situation, we are experiencing what we had never gone through before.

Our churches are locked, and not offering daily Mass, our lives seem to be empty and you miss your priests, especially miss most of all receiving the Eucharist. We believe we are praying for our people and our people too are praying for the priests daily.

We could offer ourselves encouraging words — beautiful and heartfelt words from emeritus Pope Benedict XVI: “In the early Church there was a most expressive exercise of spiritual fasting. It could be an act of solidarity with those who are unable to receive the Eucharist. From time to time we need a cure of falling into mere habit and dullness. To avoid this habit of doing out of routine and dullness, we need to practice fasting, that is, spiritual fasting, which creates a hunger, that is, a spiritual hunger. It could be a vehicle for love. So, this fast is an act of love in our longing for Christ.”

In whatever place or time, when the Church gathers, it is always Christ who unites us: it is always Him “who loves us and frees us from our sins with His blood, and makes us a kingdom, priests for His God and Father. To Him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen” (Ap 1:5-6).

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We would like to reflect for a while of what we had just heard from the Gospel: “Today the Scriptures that you have heard is fulfilled” (Lk 4:21).

The ascension of Christ as seen on a stained-glass window of a church. (Photo by Jorisvo/shutterstock.com)

Today! I deeply feel the need to share this awareness of faith with you in order not to live superficially our “today,” this moment and all other days. Even this moment, itself a point in history so complex and difficult, especially here in Myanmar (COVID and the country’s turmoil) belongs to the “today” of Christ. It is drawn to that fulfillment that occurs every time we listen to His Word with our ears and break His bread with our hands. 

Therefore, we cannot consider our celebration of the Chrism Mass today as merely an annual or usual. Rather, it appears to me as an invitation to a deepening or, better, to a repositioning. Today the Lord, both here as then in the synagogue of Nazareth, asks us to take a new position: to open the scroll of the Scriptures again, to read the truth of our present time, and to reconsider life: The life of each of us, the life of our societies, the life of our Church with its expectations, its hopes and its labors.

The difficult period we are experiencing due to the pandemic and political situation and its consequences, must also become an invitation to rethink, to take a new position in the world, new, but yet an old position: Meaning the place that Jesus took in the synagogue of Nazareth.

What did Jesus announce at that moment? A messianic prophecy, the proclamation of liberation, of the possibility of consolation (cf. Lk 4:18). Among the many confused voices that we have heard in recent days, as Church and as priests, we have the grace and the task of making the Word of God resound first. It is the Word of God that corrects very short-sighted human views. It expands narrow political and social strategies, it points out to our tired and disoriented communities, the evangelical paths of faith and essentiality, of sobriety and sharing. 

Only then will we not indulge in cheap generic optimism.

On the contrary, we will find in the Word of God the strength and courage to act and speak with hope; a hope founded on the God of the Covenant who — as the prophet Isaiah reminds us — never fails in His promise to rebuild from our rubble (Is. 61:3).

Jesus is baptized by St. John the Baptist as depicted on a stained-glass window decoration. (Photo by Vesilvio/shutterstock.com)

The Oil of the Infirm invites us to precisely this: To not only be healers in an agonized world but witnesses to salvation which itself is more than a healing.

Today we turn to our priesthood: We want to contemplate it by trying to find in it the intention of God and his will. In this too, we will have to reposition ourselves and rethink. In this too, we must not invent new places or new roles for the Church and priests in the world, but once again to relocate ourselves to the place where Jesus was, and that place must also be ours: The Upper Room and the Cross.

I am not here to make an apology for pain, but to remind us that we can bear pain by transforming it into an offering, which becomes a gift of self.

The place in which we find ourselves now, Gethsemane, reminds us precisely of this gift of self, of total abandonment to the will of God. We are here today also to take on the commitment to make His will and His life our own selves, our country people. And we would be deluded if we think that this abandonment is something automatic. Jesus himself in Gethsemane experienced a dramatic struggle: The temptation to prefer his own will: “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me! But your Will, not mine, be done!” (Mt. 26:39)

Here in Gethsemane, Jesus’ relationship with the Father is at play. It constitutes the identity of Jesus, who is Son and Son alone. Jesus has always lived a filial relationship of love, obedience, complete trust and reciprocity with the Father. But now Jesus feels that this fidelity to the Father’s plan requires him to renounce even his own identity as Son. In fact, it is a question of taking upon humanity’s sin, which is disobedience to the Father.

Ironically, to be faithful to the Father, Jesus must lose Him. Losing the Father, living the extreme distance from God with sinful humanity, accepting this total solitude and abandonment, is the only way, at that moment, to remain a son. Ironically, it is the only way to love the Father at that decisive hour.

Here in Gethsemane is also the relationship with one’s brothers and sisters; with the humanity that Jesus had assumed and which the disciples represented. At that decisive moment, Jesus must give life to his brothers … but what were they doing? They sleep. They are not with Him and therefore they manifest their extreme human fragility.

A fresco of Jesus in Gethsemane garden as seen in a Czech church. (Photo by Renata Sedmakova/shutterstock.com)

Another very important relationship is at play: That with the evil one — Satan. He returns here with his power of temptation and hopes to find a weakened Jesus and wants to overcome him by intruding between the Father and Jesus, just as he once intruded between God and Adam, and likewise he tried to do in the desert through the three temptations. Satan wants to separate Jesus from the Father by tempting him to do his own will and not that of the Father.

In light of all this, here and in our own different Gethsemanes, all of us, but especially we bishops and priests, must profess and declare our will to unite with Jesus, to identify with Him. We firmly declare our desire to renounce anything that prevents us from living fully up to the very end that same relationship that nurtured Jesus — be they material goods, human or spiritual pride. We renew unconditionally to God the Father our obedience, whatever it may be, because in it we will find our freedom as children and we will do it by renewing our obedience to the Church and her pastors.

We also reaffirm fidelity, love and trust in the brothers and sisters of this our Church, whether they are awake or asleep, faithful or traitors, or revengeful or making use of violence.

By saying “yes” to the Father, we also say “yes” to our brothers and sisters as they are. And precisely for this reason we will say “no” to Satan, to his divisive power and to everything that separates us from God and brothers. This will be both our new and old way of living our priesthood.

An image of praying hands as part of stained glass in a church. (Photo by Randall Stevens/shutterstock.com)

Here we ask that His Spirit give us a heart capable of loving. Because only love is greater than pain and transforms despair into hope and resignation into mission. It is the Spirit who, through the chrism, transforms us and makes us capable of being priests of a new covenant. All you men and women who do not fear to take on the way of Christ and the Christian life: Lose that you may find, give that you may receive, die that you may resurrect.

Body of Christ: Eucharist, Corpus Christi, which we are ministers, demands to be verified in daily life, lived in the offering of oneself (cf. Rom 12:1ff), or be condemned to worthlessness. The time will come when old and new poverty and suffering be brought to us, and they will demand from us an addition of justice, reconciliation and love. But we would not be credible if we went to the altar to celebrate the Eucharist, without having also celebrated the complete gift of self in the life of the world, in our communities, assuming the efforts and commitments to bear the burdens of each other in joy and pain, in the solitude of the ministry or in fraternity.

These days nobody unfortunately will speak of reconciliation and love. Nobody would like to hear that word. And we?

And so, at a time when Christian witness and the presence of the Church seem to be destined to be not suitable, practical, nor with us, we will discover a new leadership, a new royalty that is not the same as with power but with truth and freedom: the freedom of the children of God. “He made us a Kingdom” (Ap. 1:6) so says the Book of Apocalypse.

But a kingdom which is not of this world. In Christ and like Christ, we become king. This means that in the midst of a world that speaks of freedom, democracy, but invents always new forms of slavery, we are called to remain free: free for the Kingdom, free from unnecessary burdens, from perhaps reassuring customs and traditions that no longer speak to life because they no longer concern life, free for the salvific “today” that resounds in every true encounter with Christ!

The Oil of the Catechumens that we bless today recalls this dignity but also this baptismal courage, which should make us all not opposed to each other, but makes us always new witnesses of evangelical truths and freedoms, in a world that often, in disguise, repeats old style of domination and deceitfulness.

Finally, allow me to wish and pray with you for a truly prophetic Church, profoundly priestly, authentically kingly.

Prophetic because it liberates us from the human desire for power, hence it is capable of consoling, of courage and of vision. It is able to speak to the human heart; it is able to respond to those who are thirsty of life and love.

Priestly because it is able to mediate between men and God, to intercede with God for the good of the world; it is able to carry and offer to God one’s own life for the love of the world.

Kingly because it is able to testify to the kingship of Christ over the world; a kingship that loves, gives, liberates and give thanks.

May our Church in Myanmar, in the midst of difficulties, bear truthfully witness to the Kingship of Christ! Amen!

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