Homily for the Opening Mass of the FABC 50
Peace and joy of the living, loving and liberating Savior, Jesus.
The Asian church gathers today, celebrating with grateful exuberance, proclaiming the marvels that the Lord has done in the life of all of us. We have gathered around the altar to break the bread of grace and gratitude and to celebrate our communion across the kaleidoscopic Asian culture, affirming dignity in diversity. This is the synodal moment of the Asian church: this is our communion, this is our mission, this is our participation. An exciting onward journey awaits us.
We celebrate the half-century of our journey. We celebrate the presence of Spirit in the Asian Churches, its diversity, its contribution to nation-building in many countries, its witness to fellowship with the suffering masses, its survival amidst all challenges, and its emergence as the blessed pool of great vocations. For all that has been thanks to the presence of the Spirit.
Gratitude yes. The Jubilee year in the Bible is also the year of renewal. In Leviticus 25, we find the first reference to Jubilee, as part of the law given by Yahweh to the Israelites. The Jubilee year — occurring after every seventh Sabbath year, thus, every 50 years — is an economic, cultural, environmental and communal reset, when the land and people rest, and all those who are in slavery are set free to return to their communities. A crossroads — yet called to a metanoia.
That is beautifully captured in the objective of our celebrations: reaffirm, renew and revitalize the whole Church in Asia. The theme of “Asia with Christ: Journeying together as peoples of Asia “…and they went a different way.” (Mt 2:12)
The FABC has a thousand flowers of gratitude to offer to the Lord. It is not just fifty years of gratitude. Our Christian journey started 2,000 years ago, as the first Christians carried the Gospel to Asia and India. Countless priests and religious, catechists and Christian families carried on that tradition till today. To all these gifts we are grateful.
The first encounter with Asia is recorded in the great Epiphany 2,000 years ago. The wise men from the East followed a star to have their encounter with God’s love for humanity. Today in the third millennium we, the Church in the east, celebrate Christ’s dynamic encounter in our lives.
The Jubilee is our call to the epiphany. It is our Pentecostal moment.
There is a new star on the horizon, a new call, a new challenge. Yes, brothers and sisters, the epiphany of the third millennium calls for us to “take a different route” accepting the challenge to make this century, the century of Asia, the century of Christ, and the century of Evangelization.
Let this breaking of the word and bread in this Eucharist give us the courage to follow the star and let Jesus and his Good News become the new dawn of peace and reconciliation in Asia.
Today’s readings illuminate an exciting road map to the Asian church. The destination beckons.
Challenges, yes blazing challenges to the church in Asia reminds us of the great scene of Moses in front of the burning bush:
The Asian Church stands in front of the burning bush of existential problems of Asia: exploitation, nuclear winter, big power rivalry, despotic evil displacing democracy, the commodification of human tears, ecological holocaust, pandemic, millions in distress migration, wars and displacement, natural and man-made disasters.
Will the Asian Church rise to the occasion?
Moses, plagued by self-doubt, could inflict on himself a paralysis and cry out “how can this be?” Confronted with the challenges, call to respond, we too cry out sometimes. “How can this be to a small church in Asia?”
The same assurance that came to that shepherd Moses atop the Horeb Mountain comes from Yahweh to the Asian Church with thundering assurance: “Fear not I will be with you always.” We pray for that assurance from God in our Mission in Asia. Let the same Yahweh encourage us in this Jubilee: “My dear Asian Church — Fear Not in the new Millennium. I am with you always.”
Yes, this Church was not built by emperors, great philosophers or men of great wealth. It was built by shepherds like Moses and fishermen and tent makers like Peter and Paul. With God in our hearts, we can move mountains. That is the message of the Gospel. God is with you. Fear not.
That is also the message of the first reading today.
The first reading from the book of Deuteronomy talks of the doubt and dithering of the people of Israel. The chosen race always felt ill at ease at her vocation to be God’s witness. The task that seems unwieldy as reaching “the heights of the skies and the depths of the ocean.” Following God’s call looks daunting to the Israeli people.
God’s words shatter those fears with the searing words: No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and your heart so you may obey it. (Deut :30:10-14). Yes, brothers and Sisters, as we celebrate a great jubilee, let us say with joy the Word is very near us, this Good news is in our mouths and heart.
The burning bush of great problems is met with another burning bush in our hearts, the fire of zeal, the fire of proclamation of Jesus as the Lord to the Asian people. Let this fire burn in every Christian heart. Set the world on fire with Christ’s love.
What is our pivotal mission today in Asia?
Three popes have laid down a map for the Asian church. Our special task was already prophesied by the great St Pope John Paul II. Allow me to repeat his challenge to the Asian Church. His challenge reverberates in the opening words of the document on the Asian Synod, Ecclesia in Asia:
The Church in Asia sings the praises of the “God of salvation” (Ps 68:20) for choosing to initiate his saving plan on Asian soil, through men and women of that continent. It was in fact in Asia that God revealed and fulfilled his saving purpose from the beginning …. In “the fullness of time” (Gal 4:4), he sent his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ the Savior, who took flesh as an Asian! Exulting in the goodness of the continent’s peoples, cultures, and religious vitality, and conscious at the same time of the unique gift of faith which she has received for the good of all, the Church in Asia cannot cease to proclaim: “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his love endures forever” (Ps 118:1).
Yes, Church in Asia cannot cease to proclaim that “Jesus is the Lord.”
Signs of times. Call of the Christ. Go and Proclaim. Asian Church your task is being a Missionary Church and proclaiming Church. Two eyes but one mission: Building God’s kingdom on earth. This is the pivotal message of this Jubilee.
The FABC started with the visit of Pope Paul VI who insisted: The Church exists to evangelize. That is her core mission and identity. Pope Benedict articulated the New Evangelization with threefold objectives :
- Proclaiming the Good news, ad gentes
- Deepening the faith of the baptized
- Energizing the evangelized to become evangelizers.
Pope Francis made Evangelization the top priority in his restructuring of the curia published in the apostolic constitution Praedicate Evangelium. The pope himself took on responsibility for the missionary and evangelization departments of the Roman Curia.
As the vast parts of the traditionally Christian areas are becoming secular. The East holds a great attraction to the West. The last fifty years saw an explosion of interest in Eastern Spiritual traditions. The interiority of the Asian religions, the simple mysticism, making millions take to cultivate prayer methods, and the popularity of mindfulness and mediations — all point to a great thirst for experience.
The East has insisted on experience. Not many explanations!
That is our great challenge. Moving from words to action. Moving from just structures into experience and interiority. Concepts and words do not impress people. A church that shares because of an intense and personal encounter with Jesus. A missionary church that proclaims through witnessing.
Our second challenge: We also live among great indigenous traditions. A vast land mass of Asia, starting from the shores of the southern China Sea to the central parts of Asia, is the home to Indigenous People. Their history and their spirit have gained great attention under the present pope. Laudato Si is inspired by the way traditional communities showed stewardship to the modern man.
The real challenge is to engage with the Eastern spiritual and indigenous cultures of Asia.
Yes, we need to discern in the Spirit. Every call demands an answer in Spirit. Jesus encourages in the Gospel of today: The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Life in the spirit, led by the spirit. Moving from the colonial tag, into the original Christian charism, the Agape of the First Christians. Francis of Assisi gives the modus operandi: Proclaim the Good News always – use words if needed.
The Jubilee laws are essentially concerned with social relationships, economic security, stability and the well-being of the community. They seek to ensure that people live in ways that reflect good relationships with God, with each other, and with creation.
This FABC jubilee demands from us that we reset our relationships. Through his three major exhortations, Pope Francis recasts that faith is not only a set of dogmas but a relationship: with God, with nature and with one another.
That ensures witness. We are in urgent need of not only a personal witness to the message of Christ but a collective witness. The first Christians proclaimed their communal witness. The identity and mission of the Asian Church need unity. One of the great hurdles of Christianity in Asia is “Christ divided” among so many. Catholic Church needs a universal approach despite our diversity. Our diversity is a great strength, the various rites are great gifts of faith. Unity is not uniformity.
Our mission demands being one in spirit and of one mind.
This is the grace St Paul prayed for the early churches. One in Spirit and of one Mind. In today’s he appeals movingly to the Philippians:
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.(Phil: 2:1-5)
So take courage. Together we can dream of a new Asian century.
The Asian Church has many reasons to sing its Magnificat: The Lord has done marvels in us and through us. Its contribution to human development in many countries is gratefully acknowledged. With Christianity still growing in the continent, vocations continue to be of great joy to the Asian and the global Church. Despite persecutions and constraints, the fortitude of the faith of Christians continues to inspire all.
The Jubilee year demands a metanoia. Evangelization and Missionary mode demands that the Church in Asia widens its modus operandi and modus vivendi.
As we step into the next fifty years, joy and gratitude fill our hearts. With humility, we remember that after 2,000 years of evangelization just two percent of Asia is Christian. Asia the cradle of world religions awaits the face of Asian Jesus.
We remember with grateful hearts hundreds of missionaries who came to this continent to light the great Christian hope. It is now our turn to become a missionary church that shows our Asian brothers and sisters, the Light of Jesus.
Daunting as it may look. The bigger the challenge, the greater the Grace. Our faith journey started on the Cross. Despite the great Roman empire, fishermen and tentmakers confidently went about proclaiming the Good News of Jesus. Faith of a mustard seed can move the mountains because we are not alone in this endeavor. Christ, The Word That Became Flesh And Dwells Among Us.
Jesus, the living, loving and liberating God walks with us.
I wish to conclude with energizing words of Jesus in his farewell discourse to his disciples in today’s Gospel:
“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
Let our hearts be not troubled. Yes. Onward March, Asian Church. God is with us.