St Anthony even exclaimed: “Through you, Paradise has entered our world!” St Anthony found great delight and strength in invoking the “sweet name of Mary”, the “New Eve” and “Star of the Sea”, and his devoted imitation of the poor, humble Virgin in her poverty, littleness and purity of heart was such that his holy life became the very presence of Mary in the world.
And in the light of his being like Mary, who “always had her mind raised straight up to God in the contemplation of heavenly things”, it is no wonder we have the delightful account of St Anthony holding and adoring the Child Jesus in his arms.
May we learn from St Anthony, in the words of St John Paul II, that “devotion to Mary, by highlighting the human dimension of the Incarnation, helps us better to discern the face of a God who shares the joys and sufferings of humanity, the ‘God-with-us’ whom she conceived as man in her most pure womb, gave birth to, cared for and followed with unspeakable love from his days in Nazareth and Bethlehem to those of the cross and resurrection”.
Mary, our Queen, Holy Mother of God,we beg you to hear our prayer.
Make our hearts overflow with divine grace and resplendent with heavenly wisdom. Render them strong with your might and rich in virtue.
Pour down upon us the gift of mercy so that we may obtain the pardon of our sins.
Help us to live in such a way as to merit the glory and bliss of heaven.
May this be granted us by your Son Jesus who has exalted you above the angels, has crowned you as Queen, and has seated you with him forever on his refulgent throne. Amen.
A prayer of St Anthony of Padua, whose feast we celebrate on 13 June, after the Marion month of May when devotions are made in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
One of the significant celebrations in our Custody is the Feast of St Ann and St Joachim which falls on 26 July. This is because the friars have been serving in the parish of St Ann in Kuching, Sarawak since 2001. Under her patronage, the parish has grown from a small mission outpost to a vibrant parish.
Although dampened by COVID restrictions, the feast day this year is uniquely special because Pope Francis recently declared 25 July 2021 (fourth Sunday of July) the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly. This is in no way a coincidence as St Ann and St Joachim are the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and grandparents of our Lord Jesus.
According to tradition, St Ann was an old woman when she conceived Mary immaculately in her womb. The years of shame and hardship that both of them endured as a barren couple turned to unsurpassed joy at the gift of a child, who would one day bear within herself the Messiah. This beautiful miracle attests to the fact that God can work through anyone He chooses.
From this elderly couple and indeed many others in Scripture (eg Abraham and Sarah, Zechariah and Elizabeth), God raises our hope and cements our belief that all of us are part of the body of Christ, each with a valuable and indispensable role.
In his message for this first celebration, Pope Francis reminds the elderly of their role, saying :
“Think about it: what is our vocation today, at our age? To preserve our roots, to pass on the faith to the young and to care for the little ones. Never forget this.”
– Pope Francis
Indeed, it is from the elderly that we inherit our faith, customs and traditions, from whom we learn the virtue of humility as we acknowledge the wisdom they have gained through years of life experience.
At the same time, the elderly need our special care and attention – more so in this time of social isolation. Who can bring them consolation from God, who assures us with these last words of the Gospel of Matthew – “I am with you always” (Matt 28:20)? Yes, the young, and the not so young!
As Pope Francis says in his message, “May every grandfather, every grandmother, every older person, especially those among us who are most alone, receive the visit of an angel!” Each of us can be that angel, but so too can parishes, and perhaps especially a Sarawakian parish under the patronage of the grandmother of Jesus.
I remember the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of Franciscan presence in Singapore and Malaysia in 2008, working with people as passionate about the Franciscan Order as I am. I remember too how I felt after the celebrations were over. I felt an indescribable void within, like I was a piece of dead wood drifting in the ocean, and the waves kept pushing me further and further away from the shore. I felt that I was being pulled away from any purposeful existence in my life.
When I confided in a good friend, MD, he said:
“Reinvent yourself. Repurpose your choice of being a Franciscan. Find new meaning in what you are doing. Redefine your relationship with God. Perhaps the old definitions are not working for you anymore.”
Those wise words have remained with me all these years, and MD’s suggestion to reinvent myself have become something deeply spiritual.
Reinvent yourself daily in your journey with God. A dynamic relationship with God is an invitation to look at every day with new lenses. Each new day is an opportunity to recover from mistakes made because of stupidity, selfishness and self-absorption. Each day is a new chance to experience the love of Jesus, to live with the dignity that has been given to us freely by God.
Since the celebrations in 2008, we friars in Singapore and Malaysia have reinvented ourselves in many ways. Sometimes purposefully and sometimes out of necessity. The need to remain relevant in the lives of our communities has made us find ways to stay fresh, renewed or updated even in tried and tested environments such as parishes. Old ways of doing things can lead to lost opportunities.
We are now in the midst of another chance for reinvention. The pandemic is causing much misery around the world. With millions of people dead, livelihoods destroyed, the sick unable to obtain a basic commodity like oxygen, what kind of disciples are we supposed to be in the midst of lockdowns and threats of new variants of the virus?
The resurrected carpenter from Galilee changed the lives of ordinary people by inviting them to renew and reinvent their understanding of how God was working in their world. The disciples of Jesus experienced tumultuous times, but not only did the faith survive, it thrived in many areas. History shows that difficult and challenging times were often opportunities for the Church to revisit the Gospel of Jesus and accept the invitation to authentic living.
So how do we make sense of our faith in the midst of the many challenges that we face as a Church? I submit that we accept the invitation to reinvent and renew.
As Pope Francis said in pre-COVID times, his preference is for a Church “which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security”.
The Holy Father’s invitation is to all of us, not just the clergy and Religious. Pope Francis encourages us to read the spirit of the times, to not be stuck in the old ways of living our faith, to trust God and reinvent the way we live our faith.
The past 18 months or so have shown us the need to do this. In these unprecedented times, participating in the Eucharist means being quick to book Masses when the online bookings open, and only being able to do so in one parish. With the limited numbers allowed at each Mass, getting confirmation of a Mass booking is almost like winning the lottery.
For some, the trouble is not worth the effort. They do not want to compete with fellow Catholics over attendance at Mass (with all the restrictions of mask wearing, no singing and no socialising).
There is certainly an urgent need to review the way we have been practising our faith. Participating in the Eucharist is a vital part of our faith. What happens now that we are not able to attend, because of the COVID restrictions, even on a Sunday? Will some no longer see a need to attend Mass?
Reinventing necessarily means that we live our Eucharistic faith in our world. This means, as the Pope has warned us, not being “a Church that is concerned with being the centre and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures”.
If what matters to me only is whether I can get a place in Church for Mass, then perhaps I am placing myself at the centre. The Archdiocese (of Singapore) has had to restrict the number of Masses each person can book in order to enable more to participate in the Eucharist. Do I consider others when I make my Mass bookings? Am I one of the those who made the restriction necessary?
The Eucharist is about forgiveness, inclusivity, standing against sin and injustice. The teaching of Jesus invites us to bring faith, hope and charity to others, thus becoming sacraments for them. In challenging times, we can be tempted to become self-absorbed and we cease being sacramental signs for others.
Now perhaps is the appropriate time to be the Eucharist for others.
Student friars Marvin Voo and Nelson Evarinus spent the month of June on a mission exposure and pastoral attachment at St Joseph’s Home, a home for the aged under the care of the Canossian Sisters. They share some of what struck them from the experience.
Friar Marvin: On my third day, I asked the Lord why he had sent me there. God replied during morning prayer in the reading – “Give your bread to those who are hungry, and your clothes to those who are naked. Whatever you own in plenty, devote a proportion to almsgiving. Bless the Lord God in everything; beg him to guide your ways and bring your paths and purposes to their end.” (Tobit 4:16,19).
In a literal sense, I was doing “give your bread to those who are hungry, and your clothes to those who are naked” by helping to bathe and feed the residents, and make their beds.
What gives meaning to what I was doing is “Whatever you own in plenty, devote a proportion to almsgiving”. Sr Geraldine, who was in charge of us, was always telling us – residents and staff – to harvest the smile. One afternoon, a resident who was difficult to handle and cursed almost every day caught my hand as I walked past, and asked me gently if I was still working and when was I going back. I was stunned and touched because that was the nicest thing I had ever heard from him.
I will never forget our fourth day. In the morning, we prayed Lauds with a resident who passed away that evening. That was a reminder to me that I need to live well every second of my life and “Bless the Lord God in everything; beg him to guide your ways and bring your paths and purposes to their end”.
Friar Nelson: I always describe old people as messy, wrinkly, and ugly. But one of the biggest benefits of living many years is one that so many today overlook or dismiss. It’s the wisdom that comes from so much experience in life!
Living and working in St Joseph’s Home for a month made me realise that ministering to the elderly is not a burden but is instead an opportunity to see my future. I remember seeing a poster in a senior centre that declared, “Growing old isn’t for sissies!” As the years go by, we will all relate with that statement more and more. But the Creator who designed our bodies to be affected by the passage of time does not leave us to suffer alone.
Through the prophet Isaiah, He says, “Listen to me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been upheld by me from birth, who have been carried from the womb; even to your old age, I am he, and even to grey hairs I will carry you! I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry and will deliver you” (Isaiah 46:3-4).