‘We cannot but speak about what we have seen and heard’ (Acts 4:20)

How can we see hope, how can we see life amidst the arrogant dance of death and evil amidst us?

Greetings in the powerful name of Jesus our Lord. Today the Catholic World, led by Pope Francis, celebrates our call to be missionary disciples of Jesus Christ. Today  we celebrate Mission Sunday 2021 with a provocative theme proposed by the prophet of this era, Pope Francis.

We cannot but speak  about what we have seen and  heard.

These are challenging times to  speak. Today’s theme challenges us more: Speak about what you have seen and heard(Acts 4:20). The  words are taken from the Acts of the Apostles who proclaim Jesus to the world, because they had encountered Jesus, the Lord of Love. They speak out. Inspired by the Missionary zeal, the first Christians speak of love. They speak out against the unjust Roman Empire. They speak for the Kingdom of God.   

The apostles and the early Christians convey a very contextual message to us today. 

Speak out!

Speak out to the powers that are spiritually blind. Silence can be criminal in times when evil chose to dance in the streets. When agents of death arrogate to themselves the right to decide who lives and who dies, speak up. Speak out when thousands are buried so that a few can live in luxury and comfort. Speak out when children and women were chased out of their humble homes and huddle in forests as displaced people and shiver in the merciless monsoons with empty stomachs. Speak up in a country where there are more arms than food on the plates of the people. Speak up when sacred places of worship are desecrated and  become the untimely graves of the faithful. Speak up.

Not out of hatred, but out of love. Even the worst enemy needs his humanity, do not deny him that.

Jesus spoke up against the powers

When we read the theme of this year’s Mission Sunday, we are dragged into the scene of Jesus passion – the heart wrenching scene of the innocent suffering in front of the arrogance of power. And Jesus speaks to the power when a soldier slaps him. Jesus who advised his followers to forgive seventy times seven and asked to show the other cheek is telling the arrogant soldier:

“If I said something wrong,” Jesus retorted, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?”

History will play that scene ad nauseum, centuries after centuries in many corners of the world.

Jesus’ confrontation has a contemporary reverberation. Speaking truth to the power, has been always an existential danger. John the Baptist lost his head when he chose to speak to the power. Jesus  speaks truth to the power – with the words that painfully  echoes in the streets today.

Myanmar nun Sister Ann Rose Nu Tawng kneels in front of police officers to ask security forces to refrain from violence against children and residents amid anti-coup protests in Myitkyina, Myanmar, March 8 in this still image taken from video. (Myitkyina News Journal handout via Reuters)

If I speak the truth, why do you strike me? 

The soldier who slapped Jesus had no answer. Soldiers can only speak with weapon. In the face of truth, weapons become impotent. Truth will cry out from the grave. When Jesus faced the proxy of the Roman Empire, Pilate, he had no answer. Faced with the cascading power of truth, powers of the world choose criminal silence.  

A disciple of Jesus speaks up. And today the Mission Sunday calls forth all believers  and say “We cannot but speak about what we have seen and heard”

Pope Francis also inaugurated the Synodal way: A Synodal Church, the Pope says,  listens. It accompanies. It journeys, sometimes in the helplessness of the people, sometimes in their anxieties, sometimes in their darkness. This Mission Sunday, as Synodal Church, we are called upon to walk with these people, the Good Friday people, the mothers whose cries are unending as they lost their children. And see and Hear  and Speak about it, like the Apostles did to the powers.

In this country, what are we seeing? What have we heard today? What should we speak today? For the last several months: What did we see? What are we listening?

In the last nine months we see the path of our people is an unending way of the Cross.   We hear the cry of our people who like Jesus are wounded with five wounds: COVID, conflict and displacement, collapse of the economy, climate disaster and crisis after crisis. Our people have exhausted their tears; their ears have borne the molten larva of wailing from the disasters.  

The mission of Jesus is the proclamation of the Good News. And  What is the good news in a country that has seen some of the most inhuman suffering of the innocents? How can we  proclaim the Good News in a land where the optimism seemed to have been euthanized by relentless violence against life?

Pope Francis contemplates such a scene from the history of the Apostles. They encountered the Lord; experienced his love:

Experiencing the Lord’s friendship, watching him cure the sick, dine with sinners, feed the hungry, draw near to the outcast, touch the unclean, identify with the needy, propose the Beatitudes and teach in a new and authoritative way, left an indelible mark on them, awakening amazement, expansive joy and a profound sense of gratitude.

But when they embarked on the mission journey, they encountered darkness.

Sister Ann Rose Lasang Nu Tawng kneels in front of policemen and soldiers in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State in northern Myanmar on Feb. 28. (Photo courtesy of Radio Veritas Asia)

The Pope is vivid;

Even so, (after experiencing the living God) things were not always easy. The first Christians began the life of faith amid hostility and hardship. Experiences of marginalization and imprisonment combined with internal and external struggles that seemed to contradict and even negate what they had seen and heard.

Yes. We have known God’s love. But what we see is sheer human agony. The same experience of brutal violence, death and fear stalk our people; especially the youth. The World Food Program says nearly six millions of our people are starving, The World Bank  warns that half of the population will become very vulnerable by the end of the year.  

 Amidst these engulfing fires of despair, The pope urges the Church everywhere  to animate hope; citing the  glorious example of the disciples:  

Yet, rather than a difficulty or an obstacle leading them to step back or close in on themselves, those experiences impelled them to turn problems, conflicts and difficulties into opportunities for mission.

How can we see hope, how can we see life amidst the arrogant dance of death and evil amidst us? Can we fall into the temptations of internalizing the hatred nurtured by our enemies? No. That is defeat.   

We as a nation stand at the cross roads of history, a road that leads to self-mutilating hatred and destruction of the dreams of all or the road that nurtures the hope of a future of peace and prosperity.

Preaching hope can be a risky venture here today. But the Christian lives by hope. The Church is the hope generating agency. It holds the light of hope amidst all darkness. That is evangelization.

The Church exists to evangelize, said Pope Paul VI. That evangelization is the Good News. That Good News is always contextualized.

In the Myanmar of today,  we have only one  Good News :  Hope in a better future;  if we lose hope, we lose everything.

Father Celso Ba Shwe, apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Loikaw in Myanmar’s eastern Kayah State, tries to stop security personnel. (Courtesy of RVA)

Good Friday and Holy Saturday were grim. Holy Saturday was the silence of the grave. Such maiming silence invades the hearts of many. The Mission Sunday message is soothing from the Holy Father talking about the victims of despair all over the world.

Those who are most frail and vulnerable have come to feel even more so. We have experienced discouragement, disillusionment and fatigue; nor have we been immune from a growing negativity that stifles hope.

But Christians has the audacity of Hope, as the Pope says, we are not facing the world alone; the messenger is Jesus.

For our part, however, “we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor 4:5)’. Jesus needs hearts capable of experiencing vocation as a true love story that urges them to go forth to the peripheries of our world as messengers and agents of compassion’

Yes, the call to the Christians to “Go Forth to the peripheries of our world as Messengers and agents of compassion! Jesus never accepted injustice. Neither do we. Injustice is against Yahweh, the Old Testament God who was the personification of Justice. Those who compromise with injustice have lost their faith.  

In facing the arrogance of power when a soldier slapped him, Christ called  the power to accountability, their legitimacy to inflict violence. “The question having been asked an agent of power,  invited a response from Jesus. He took the opportunity to give his interrogators something to think about in regard to the legitimacy of their proceedings.”  Jesus never accepted injustice.

So do we. Our call for justice does not negates compassion but starts with that. The compassionate hope is our future: This is our Mission. This is our evangelization. 

The pope gives us  the final guidelines in his Mission Sunday message.

Everything about Christ reminds us that he knows well our world and its need for redemption, and calls us to become actively engaged in this mission: “Go therefore to the highways and byways, and invite everyone you find” (Mt 22:9). No one is excluded, no one need feel distant or removed from this compassionate love.

Yes. The Church of Myanmar needs to move to highways and byways; to the jungles of displaced people, the homes of the unending laments, in remote villages of anxious poor hiding to protect their children from untimely death.  

And even to those who chose the path of evil, the pope says “no one excluded” giving the enemy the benefit of humanity. They need redemption, since the Bible says when the poor cries it is God who listens. God waits; waits for the Pharaohs to relent; the ultimate arbiter is God, and he is the father of the powerless, widow and the orphan. He will act on time.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus shows the mercy and compassion of His Heavenly Father by healing the blind Bartimaeus. Just as the blind and the lame were God’s concern in the first reading, Jesus is concerned with the blind beggar, Bartimaeus of Jericho the blind man Bartimaeus pleads “I want to see.” Jesus cures him.    

And the Myanmar people have a mission Sunday message to super powers who live by selling arms:  Do not be blind; come out of your spiritual and compassion blindness! There are leaders of strong nations, who are really blind. They sell arms to poor countries, when millions in those countries are starving. You are blind. Those who sell arms and proclaim yourself super powers, you are pitiable men, eating out of the plates  of our poor. Seek real power, that is in service; that is in compassion.  

Let all of us, Myanmar people, pray and continue to pray, that this nation can see the day of peace. Let us nurture that hope that Myanmar will rise again in its compassionate love, in Karuna (compassion) and Metta ( Mercy). Let hope of a peaceful nation be our message of Evangelization in this country. Till that time like the apostles, let us commit ourselves saying:

We cannot but speak about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20)

God bless us with that power of hope and compassion; we will rise again with greater blessings.

Homily of Cardinal Charles Maung Bo on the occasion of World Mission Sunday

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