DURING Lent, Jesuit priest Fr Simon Yong gave a recollection to the heads and members of the ministries of St Simon Catholic Church Likas.
The recollection based on the Year of Mercy, held on March 5 at the parish hall, was also attended by some parishioners.
Among the things that Fr Simon mentioned at the beginning of his talk was the challenge of keeping silence in an age where social media rules the way modern day people communicate.
“Why do we fear silence? It is about God’s will versus my will. We are very willful people, we want things our way.
“Not that it’s wrong to want things your way but we generally say, ‘Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, my will be done.’ That’s what we do.”
He used Abraham as a “prime example” of following God’s will, how his obedience saved his son’s life. “But to arrive at the point of giving in to God is the part where we all struggle with.”
“In a recollection, the difficulty is that it involves silence and communication with God. We are mindful that if we want to feed the whole person, we feed the mind, the body and soul.
“In short, it says who we are. We are not just physical beings – you don’t just live to eat. We are not just physical (corporal) beings but also spiritual beings.”
He then asked the participants what do they want to get out of the recollection. “The question to ask is: ‘Am I willing to encounter God in a one-to-one conversation with God?’
“Some of you may have heard of this name (Meister Eckhart). He’s a Dominican. The most famous Dominican is St Thomas Aquinas and he still is the theologian of the Catholic church. His theology is still the standard theology of the Catholic church.
“Eckhart belongs to the Dominican (order). We don’t know much about the Dominicans but we do know the contemporaries of the Dominicans: the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. (Saints) Francis and Dominic knew each other and they were the forerunner of what you call the Mendicant orders.
“In Europe, it’s not a shameful tradition to beg. Mendicancy is a sign of trust in God’s providence. You beg because you trust in God that God will provide. So they represented the Church moving out of the Benedictine walls.
“What are the Benedictine walls? The monks live behind walls. So the Mendicant order was one foot inside the convent, one foot outside the convent.”
He said that Eckhart has a famous phrase: ‘God, free me from God’. “What does that mean?” Fr Simon asked the participants.
‘God, free me from all my misconceptions of you as God’.
“That’s a way of saying, ‘God, you are sovereign, your will be done as it is in Heaven. Many of us have our own images of God that Abraham would have had. In a way, God reminds you of the things that you least want to give to Him. Eckhart prayed, ‘God, free me from whatever unjust image that I have of you that is not truly who you are as God’.
Fr Simon also cited Psalm 46, ‘Be still and know that I am God’. “Because there are elements of silence in the recollection to facilitate your encounter with God. It’s easy to talk about God but not that easy to talk to God.
“In the Year of Mercy, we are trying to feed the person. We do so by deepening our faith by attending formation, the feeding of mind, that we would experience our faith through the Liturgy. We don’t just feed the mind, we feed the body as well through the Liturgy.
“How many of you have gone to confession? That’s feeding your body as well. Also through our prayers, retreat/recollection.
“Everyone comes here with a whiteboard full of things already – all of us have our own concerns. The road that you take may not be the same as mine. So in terms of reflection, the road that I take reflects my concerns in this Year of Mercy.”
On the Year of Mercy, he asked the participants to reflect on the big picture. “How can your mercy be applied to those most in need? Where are we going in the Year of Mercy?
“Pope Francis used the image of the Church as a field hospital. What does the hospital do? To heal the sick. So that people will encounter the mercy of God.”
Where is mercy most needed? “Irregular unions (divorced and remarried),” he said, adding that the Pope tried to make the so-called tribunals, especially with regards to marriage, a simpler process. He said that mercy is also most needed for people with same-sex attractions.
“If image or perception is our concern, then our concern is not about who is right. The concern is about what is right. I’ve always been of the opinion that unpopularity earned doing what is right is not unpopularity at all,” he said. “So if a parish priest is one who’s concerned about doing what is right, then he will be unpopular. But is that unpopularity? I don’t think so.”
He cited Marcus Tullius Cicero, who once said: “I have always been of the opinion that unpopularity earned doing what is right is not unpopularity at all, but glory.”
He continued: “Because right now we are fighting a lot about who is right. But the question is, ‘what is right?'”
Meanwhile, Fr Simon talked about the faithful’s assumption in terms of engaging with the world, just like their preconception of God.
“What sort of assumptions that we have when we engage the world? Whether you like it or not, all of you are wearing ‘glasses’. Those of you who are wearing glasses, you are wearing ‘double glasses’. Because we are ‘blind’. Behind our glasses is the lens that we always don’t see. It is our background.
“What philosophical assumptions would we encounter when we try to offer mercy through the sacraments? What do naming normally reveal to us? Not only do they reveal a lack of imagination, it also reveals the mindset at work. But it’s not just that. It also reveals how we approach the Sacraments.
“Our approach to the Sacraments or Liturgy is quite functional. This is very important for all of us to understand. Nothing wrong with being functional or practical. We have to be practical. But, if that becomes the only way to approach life, then we will run into trouble.”
He said having such attitude reveals a utilitarian mindset. “What does it mean by utilitarian? It uses. How many of you have friends who only call you when they want something?”
He explained that in utilitarianism, it refers to the highest amount of happiness for the highest number of people. He said society got to this point based on French philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes‘ train of thought:”I think, therefore I am”.
“Cogito ergo sum – ‘I think, therefore I am’ in Latin – is not that innocuous,” Fr Simon said. “In the process of trying to save the old world, Descartes ended up almost destroying it, philosophically speaking.
“It began with a long retreat from reality, composite of mis-reality as a whole, to a very subjective reality (about the subjective feeling about how one feels, or, feeling is a primary determinant of reality).
“We have become some kind of dualism… Your body is a prison, what’s more important is the head and mind. What must you do if your body is a prison? You want to break free. What happens is that, if the body is not so important, the mind is more important, it has a far-reaching consequences.
“The consequence will be the rise of modern science, decline of what you call the religious cosmology.”
He explained that cosmology is the study of the heavens, what’s up there – the universe.
“But with modern science, you can explain the whole universe not from a religious point of view. So, arts and science became separated.
“Our future is now no longer determined morally, but rather, our future is tied to the development of science and technology.
“What if our future is not determined morally? What does it mean? It means that our end, teleology means our end, where we’re heading is no longer guided by morality. But instead where we’re going, teleology in the future, is tied to the development of science and technology.
“Today, what’s the greatest danger of transplantation? Body rejection. With body rejection, your immune system is very low because you need to take medication to suppress your immune system. Otherwise your immune system will reject the transplant organ.
“What if in the future we are able to do in such a way that the immune system is strong and yet it will not reject the organ. When science and technology can develop that, then it’s ‘alright’ to do as much transplantation as you want.
“No morality involved. Just science and technology. ‘I think, therefore I am’ has a far, far-reaching consequences in the way we do things.”
Fr Simon used another analogy to explain Descartes’ philosophy based on young people’s excuses not to attend Mass: ‘I don’t understand it.’ ‘Church is boring.’ ‘As long as my head doesn’t understand it… therefore it’s meaningless.’
“If your body is a prison, and what’s more important is your head, then you can use the body to escape. It has led to what you call an increase in aggressive narcissism.”
He gave another example, this time on anger. “I don’t need to control my anger. Everyone around me just needs to avoid annoying me. So you slap your children, saying, ‘stop annoying me’. But you don’t think about yourself – that your anger needs to be controlled.
“In a narcissistic dualism of mind and body; freedom has become a license with no attachment to behavioural dogma. It has no connection to how we should behave, except perhaps the narrow lines of theft, murder, rape, abuse of children.
“When the mind is more important, and the body becomes a prison, the body becomes a tool as well. How does it become a tool? The body is no longer a temple of God. Your body becomes just raw material for you to use.
“It’s a construct, like a machine, you can do whatever you want with it. It’s no longer a supernatural gift nor is it natural, meaning, you’re born with it. My body now becomes my choice.”
He said more and more young people are going into skin art and piercings because of such mindset, “My body, my choice – I think, therefore I am“.
On the decline of morality in society, he said, “We have lost our wisdom in our knowledge. People think that the more you know, the wiser you are. IQ is no guarantee that one is wise.
“Not only have we lost our wisdom, we have also lost our knowledge in our information.” He said these days we are bombarded with information (ie. messages/e-mails that are forwarded without thinking).
On the millennials, the generation born in the information and technology era, he said the definition of success is “disloyalty”.
To explain this, he asked those in their fifties and above to compare the years they have stayed on with their job with that of the millennials. Some said “18”, others even “25 years”.
“Day in, day out, you have been with your job for 20 years. That’s called loyalty. No matter how ‘bad’ your boss is, you’re still loyal.”
For millennials, if one stayed long within in a company, it’s considered a personal failure. Today, you need to move jobs at least three or four times in a decade to be considered a success. “These are the millennials,” he said.
“Job hopping is a new normal. Last time, when you come for a job interview, and a person has moved three jobs in one and a half year, you know this person tak boleh pakai (cannot be used),” he said. “But today, if you don’t move three jobs in 10 years, you’re not innovative, creative and stagnated.”
“It’s a whole new world out there. The new world order without morality and practical reasons. Where do you see all this? Facebook (social media).”
He questioned the participants, “So how is mercy perceived in such a world?”
He later talked more about how the modern world is embracing such utilitarian mindset, how the culture of death is taking hold of the younger generation and why the Church, especially in the Year of Mercy, needs to address such issues.
Among the topics covered were “Mercy and Condescension”, “Mercy and Truth”, “Mercy and Justice” and “Mercy and Sin”. Fr Simon also encouraged the participants to spend some quiet time with the Lord to reflect on the recollection.
One of the participants, who wanted to remain anonymous, said the recollection “was very interesting but a bit dense and complex”.
During the Q&A session, some of the questions asked were:
Question: Any changes in the confession?
Answer: No, and if there were any shortcomings it was a sign of a lack of pastoral practices of the priests.
Question: Catholics converting to other religions?
Answer: People do this because they have lost the sense of the Resurrection. That there is a life to come. We must believe that if we are denied anything in this life, God can provide even better things in the next life.
That’s why martyrs bravely walk to their death – because they believe in the Resurrection. Today, we are very materialistic. Secularisation is the problem. Parents have the responsibility to teach their children the vocation of life. We must get our youth to experience the beauty of our Liturgy. Truth is a person. Jesus is the truth.
Mass was later celebrated to wrap up the recollection.