CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 9 December 2017

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The community of communion

Pope Francis referred to All Saints’ Day as a celebration of a family. A priest in Hong Kong echoed a similar sentiment at a Mass on the feast day, calling it a community.
 
Indeed, humanity is a great multitude: from the fellowship of the apostles, prophets, martyrs, those preachers and teachers, to kings and queens, elderly vendors in the market, that pauper on the street corner begging for alms, that the community of communion springs, making amends for us who are in want; the living and the dead, known and unknown. We all are the communion of saints.
 
Each informed Christian knows the difference between our belief and non-belief. If we were asked what we have gained from reading the bible, we will promptly reply that it is the knowledge of our immortality.
 
This is the great and solemn truth which gives the gospel a claim over all else and indeed it might have arrested those who busied themselves with the pleasures and pursuits of life, awed and sobered them with the vision of life to come.
 
As told to us in the scriptures (1 Corinthians 8:5), this solemn truth of a future life is the doctrine that broke the power and the fascination of a godless life of paganism for, after death, comes the judgement (Hebrews 9:27), the judgement upon the eternal soul, which lives in spite of the death of the body.
 
In the world we have, enthroned in magnificence of empires and civilisations past, the power of dictators, wars and ruins remain scattered over the face of the earth and diseases and misery continue to plague us.
 
It is hard to persuade people that there is a greater and more marvellous authority that can break all, and even harder yet to bring home to some the feeling that we have souls.
 
To discern immortality is necessarily and convincingly connected with fear and trembling and repentance. Who would not be tempered by duration—a forever and ever?
 
Yet, can this revelation lead us to a real repentance or do we continue to live in merriment and vanity as if God made no declaration that our conduct in this life would decide our destiny in the next?
 
From birth, we are dependent on things because we feel that we could not be without help. To a child, the world is everything and seems content enough to be a part of it, as a branch is part of a tree. There is no concept of a separate and independent existence; it has no idea it has a soul.
 
The child sees itself always in connection with the world; looks to this world for its good and when asked to imagine something, always posits it in relation to this world.
 
To understand that we have a soul is to feel our separation from things visible. We are independent of the world; we are individuals and know our individuality so that we are distinct from things and are accountable for what we do.
 
All this is within the capacity of the child awaiting the grace God gives to unfold in spite of the external world. We often forget ourselves when we look at the things around us.
 
Somehow that new camera or the pair of shoes “I’ve always wanted and are now on sale” and the newest iPhone becomes awfully enticing. How we have overlooked our real strength!
 
When God begins to reclaim us, we will feel within a stirring so that the crass and feebleness of the world begin to reveal their true character and we are disappointed. Even if things were to live up to what they promise, they still will fail to satisfy us.
 
We begin to crave or search for something yet we know not what it is. Meanwhile, changes continue and they are constant. It is at this dizzying pace that we suddenly realise that though everything changes, we are the same.
 
Under God’s blessing, we come to behold a glimpse of the meaning of our independence from all things temporal. At that moment, we behold our immortality.
 
The scene is made more poignant when misfortune comes upon us then still more are we led to understand the nothingness of this world: we distrust it and through a dark glass, the view of the beyond is, by degrees, unravelled to impress upon us that there are just two beings in the whole universe: our own soul and the God who made it.
 
And what a revolution it is in the mind as it apprehends, in due proportion, the relation between itself and the most high God! In life we may never understand fully what is meant by living forever, but we can most certainly understand what is meant by this world not living forever!
 
Since the world can never have any claim over us, we need not give any allegiance to it. We are answerable for what we do and God is the righteous judge. “Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt” (Newman).
 
Therefore, be drawn forward to turn away from things temporal to things eternal, to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Christ whose cautions are many and concern us; whose promises cheer us and keep us hopeful; suffering to humble us; whose gracious gifts and mercy bind our hearts in gratitude to him.
 
They all affect us as they determine, direct and colour our journey to follow the silent voice of God. Time is of the essence for that which we take for granted and the space we now occupy will be occupied by others.
 
Therefore, forsake not our duty after the examples of the saints to take up that cross and wait for the Lord’s coming and to pray that we may be found watchful.
 
Those who know his blessedness need no one to tell them. They know God and they believe in him.
 
They will know, in the hour of danger, what is meant by that peace which Christ did not explain when he gave it to his apostles, but merely said it was not as the world could give (John 14:27).
 
 
• Caroline Hu