JULY 20, 2008, Vol 58, No 15
Q. How does God deal with suicide bombers who believe they will go to "paradise" and be with Allah? How can they go to hell if they don’t even believe in it? For that matter, how can anyone go to hell who doesn’t believe in it? Sometimes I think hell is only for bad Catholics.A. I am surely not qualified to explain Islamic beliefs on the subject, but Catholic teaching has some interesting and valuable things to say about it.
Contrary to the assumptions of many, including even to this day a fair number of Catholics, the Catholic Church holds that all persons who sincerely attempt to follow the dictates of their conscience, what they believe to be right and good, are saved.
This concept is by now well entrenched in church teaching. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says it clearly: "Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – these too may achieve eternal salvation" (No. 847, quoting the Vatican Council II Constitution on the Church).
Pope John Paul II elaborated on this in his message for the World Day of Peace, Jan 1, l999. Speaking about religious freedom, he concluded, "People are obliged to follow their conscience in all circumstances and cannot be forced to act against it."
All this assumes, of course, for all human beings whatever their culture or background, a diligent and honest attempt to inform one’s conscience with all the grace and wisdom possible, and then to live one’s life in accord with what is seen as "religious duty," however the individual sees that duty.
Some will claim, of course, that no human being could honestly envision as morally good inhuman and appalling acts of cruelty – acts which are perpetrated in countless nations of our world to this hour by people other than Muslims.
Many people, among them religious leaders, have publicly proclaimed that all the dead terrorists are burning in hell, and those still alive will do so. Arrogance like this is unworthy of any thoughtful human being, let alone any Christian.
Judgments like this about the condition and fate of other people’s souls are wholly beyond our reach. The pretense of having sufficient knowledge and wisdom to make such judgments invades territory that belongs to God alone.
God created all of us, including the terrorists, out of love. And Jesus, as St. Paul declares, died for each of us. It is, therefore, the worst sort of blasphemy to dare to tell God which of his children he will reject or to tell Jesus which of those for whom he died must be condemned.
Does this answer your question? To be sure, whether an individual explicitly believes in hell or not, someone of any or no religion is capable of rejecting God and his law by a deliberate, radical, eternal choice of evil over good. But that is not the whole story.
We must also confront our complete ignorance of how God’s grace and truth may have transformed a person, not only during his or her life, but also in the last moments. We believe God performs incredible miracles of mercy. Who knows which ones take place during a suicide bombing?
We don’t know, of course, and will never know in this life. But it is with these instincts of faith and hope, aware that we all desperately need his mercy, that the church has us pray, just after the consecration at Mass, that God will bring our deceased "brothers and sisters, and all the departed," all people in the world who have died, into the light of his presence.Q. I take exception to your answer about suicide bombers. The wording of the Catholic Catechism, which you quote, is carefully chosen.
It says those who through no fault of
their own do not know the Gospel
or the church, but who seek God with a sincere heart and "moved by grace" try to do God’s will as their conscience dictates can be saved.
Those words "moved by grace" are important. If we think God’s grace would lead us to kill ourselves and slaughter innocent people, we make Christ’s victory over evil meaningless. A person could do these things and not be eternally condemned only if he is mentally ill or cannot choose between good and evil. It is unthinkable that a sane person could believe God is leading him to wipe out dozens or thousands of people. This is the core of our faith in God’s power over evil.
A. First of all, all good that is done in this world, by anyone, is done, one way or another, by the movement of God’s grace. In many human actions, there is a complex mixture of good and bad, of worthy and unworthy motives. One cannot use the Catechism’s words to make them say more than they can say.
You make some good points, but I think we must be extremely hesitant before we claim absolute certainty about what is or is not going on in the depths of anyone’s heart, in that person’s personal relationship with God. We’re in territory way beyond our reach when we try to limit what God can or cannot do in his saving love.
Perhaps a more urgent reminder to be humble and cautious about such condemnations is that massive horrendous evils have been committed in God’s name by people of many other religions, including our own.
Some of the more cruel destruction of innocent lives (carnage perpetrated in the course of the eight or more Crusades (11th to13th centuries), accompanied by bloodbaths massacring Jews, "heathens" and other Christians; and merciless executions of thousands of real or suspected unbelievers, especially during the Spanish Inquisition, to mention only two Catholic examples) were ordered and carried out by people, from common folk to popes, who sincerely and absolutely believed they were doing God’s will. We’re still apologizing for that, and coping with the consequences.It is not at all unseemly or unfaithful of us to ask God’s mercy on them all, and on us. -
Q & A with Father John Dietzen
THERE ARE SOME people who dispute about having Mass sung in Latin according to the old form before Vatican II
I would say that the entire concern with the process of the Eucharist should not be focused too much on us: How much do I understand? or how much do I enjoy? or the Protestants are having very enjoyable and attractive services.
We should be focused on God and the Sacred Mystery. In other words, we should not seek ourselves but seek God. After all, the nature of worship of the Protestants and ours are totally different. They do not have any
sacramental implication or sacramental value in their services. Our attitude to divine worship and our quest should be completely different from Protestant worshippers.
In our worship, we are required to contemplate the unfathomable mystery of our salvation in the sacrifice of Christ’s cross. Contemplation of the sacred mystery in the Eucharistic celebration goes far beyond merely
understanding the language and the symbols used in the liturgy. In contemplation, we let our consciousness and inner being of self be fused with the Divine presence at the celebration. By far, the most helpful medium to achieve this is the sacred chant in the rich tradition of mother church, which we call Gregorian chant.
In contemplating the sacred mystery, when the Holy Spirit chooses at any time to infuse the purified and sanctified soul with instantaneous and intuitive cognition of God, then the person will pass over to ecstasy and may even loose consciousness of the surrounding and self. This is possible depending on the state of perfection of the soul and the free gift of the Holy Spirit when he sees fit to bestow. It is however doubtful that many souls would reach this state that some saints might have attained.
The correct disposition for approaching the Eucharist is not the eagerness to be entertained but an eagerness to be united to God and offer him sublime adoration. After all, we are not the protagonist at the Eucharist; it is Christ who once again through the ministry of the priest is offering the sacrifice of the cross to our heavenly Father. The most important disposition is to enter into the celebration with great faith and intense love for God.
What I have written is written without prejudice to the "Novus Ordo" of the Eucharist celebrated in the vernacular because all liturgies in whatever format in the Roman Catholic tradition has the same purpose that God be glorified and man sanctified.
Father Augustine Tay
The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the
heart. And before him no creature is hidden, everything is uncovered and opened to the eyes of the one to whom we must give account of ourselves." (Heb. 4:12-13).
As God is the God who acts with power, God’s word cannot fail to be active and powerful like a sharp sword or a "polished arrow" (Is 49:2); it never fails to pierce through and through; there is no blunt side to it, it always cuts with one side or the other, either saving or judging. The piercing power of the Word of God helps to scrutinize and discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart. A prayerful reading/listening of the word evokes the faithful to respond through all aspects of human life: spiritual, intellectual, moral and emotional. "The living and enduring Word of God" (1 Pt 1:23) is the basis for everyday choices and radical decisions which regenerates the believer.
"Were not our hearts burning within us while he (Jesus) was talking to us on the road [to Emmaus]? (Lk. 24:32). The disciples wondered and their eyes were opened at the breaking of bread. The disciples filled with enthusiasm returned to Jerusalem that very evening to share their joy with the other disciples. God’s Word does not take the form only of a spoken or written word. An event can likewise be a word of God and must therefore be kept in the heart as did Mary with the events of Jesus’ "mercy". "Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart" (Lk 2:19;2:51).
The essential character and inexhaustible vitality and efficacy of the Word of God are clearly defined in Is 55:10-11: "as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it."
God reveals himself
It pleased God in his goodness and wisdom, to reveal himself and to make known the mystery of his will. His will was that men should have access to the Father, through Christ, the Word made flesh, in the Holy Spirit and thus become sharers in the divine nature (CCC 51). Revelation involves a specific divine pedagogy: God communicates himself to man gradually. He illumines our mind to turn to him through the words in the Scriptures. He used ordinary human events and words to manifest his plan for us in the Scriptures for no other purpose than that we respond to him in faith, hope and love. He reveals himself fully in his Son who became man in Jesus Christ. The Word made flesh fulfills all Scriptures and nourishes us with them. He assists us "to be born from above" (Jn 3:3) and become the children of God (Jn:12).
With this in mind let us turn to God in prayer with the Word of God. There are various methods for Bible reflection/sharing to help us to fathom the depth of God’s love and mercy. The Regional Bible Commission proposes one method not because it is the best but because it came from the 12th century and has been practised by
nuns and monks. This method can be used by all either individually or in small groups. Thirty years ago Cardinal Carlo Martini popularised it to make the Word come to fruition in the world today. To make every effort to ensure that it will not remain in the stage of the hearing/reading of the Word, this reading would lead us to prayer and action. That knowledge – gained from an analysis and interpretation of the real world should be followed by action with the "mind of God". This allows the power of the Word to transform us.
"Lectio divina" that is "spiritual reading" is a way of praying the Scriptures so that the Word of God
may penetrate our hearts and we may grow in intimate relationship with the Lord. Through the practice of "lectio divina" as individuals and as community we give space for God’s Word to challenge us so that we may begin
to look upon our world as it were with the eyes of God and to love what we see with the heart of God.
Its natural movement is towards greater simplicity, with less and less talking and more and more listening. Gradually the words of Scripture begin to dissolve within us and the Word is revealed before the eyes of our heart. The movement in "lectio divina" prayer is towards silence. This augurs well for both individuals and small communities.
"Lectio divina" is a slow, contemplative prayer of the Scriptures. Time set aside in a special way, for "lectio divina", enables us to discover in our daily life an underlying spiritual rhythm. Within this rhythm, we discover an increasing ability to offer more of ourselves and our relationship to the Father and to accept the embrace that God is continuously extending to us in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. To be effective we have to set aside quality time to experience the Word in our hearts and lives.There are various ways we can get going in "lectio divina". Those who are regular in reading the Bible would be able to "dive" into it without much difficulty The usual way would be seen in four steps.1. "Leetio" - Read
Read the passage slowly and attentively. Take your time with each word, each phrase, pausing when you feel like it, repeating words or phrases to yourself, savouring and enjoying every word, focusing on things that may stand out. Don’t rush through it.
2. "Meditatio" – Listen & meditate
Take the word or phrase to yourself, slowly repeat it to yourself – "chew" on it. Let it interact with your concerns, memories and ideas as you try to work out its meaning and make it personally relevant. Don’t worry about being distracted – if memories, thoughts or images come up, just bring them up to the Lord as part of your prayer. Be aware of your feelings and emotions. This is not "navel gazing", but an honest accounting of our lives and always directed outward to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
3. "Oratio" - Prayer
4. "Contemplatio" – Contemplation & response
For those who are not very familiar with the Bible or rather who are not used to the reading of the Bible as a daily/weekly act of piety, the following step is proposed. This method wouldn’t pressurise you, you could go at the pace you or your group desires. The end (product) is the same, it is just the way you reach the goal – to get to know God who loves and helps us to believe in a loving God. To both the initiated and uninitiated the Word is a gift given by God to each of us whenever we turn to the Scriptures.Choose a text of the Scriptures that you wish to pray
Many Christians use in their daily "lectio divina" one of the readings from the Eucharistic liturgy of the day; others prefer to slowly work through a particular book of the Bible. It makes no difference which text is chosen, as long as one has no set goal of "covering" a certain amount of text. The amount of text covered is in God’s hands, not yours.
Place yourself in a comfortable positionand allow yourself to become silent
Some Christians focus for a few moments on their breathing; others have a beloved "prayer word" or "prayer phrase" they gently recite For some, the practice known as "centering prayer" makes a good, brief introduction to "lectio divina". Use whatever method is best for you and allow yourself to enjoy silence for a few moments.Turn to the text and read it slowly, gently
Savour each portion of the reading, constantly listening for the "still, small voice" of a word or phrase that somehow says, "I am for you today." Do not expect lightning or ecstasies. In "lectio divina", God is teaching us to listen to him, to seek him in silence. He does not reach out and grab us; rather, he gently invites us ever more deeply into his presence.
Take the word or phrase into yourself
Memorize it and slowly repeat it to yourself, allowing it to interact with your inner world of concerns, memories, and ideas. Do not be afraid of distractions. Memories or thoughts are simply parts of yourself that, when they rise up during "lectio divina", are asking to be given to God along with the rest of your inner self. Allow this inner pondering, this rumination, to invite you into dialogue with God.
Speak to God
Whether you use words, ideas, or images – or all three – is not important. Interact with God as you would with one who you know loves and accepts you. And give to him what you have discovered during your experience of meditation. Experience God by using the word or phrase he has given you as a means of blessing and of transforming the ideas and memories that your reflection on his word has awakened. Give to God what you have found within your heart.
Rest in God’s embrace
And when he invites you to return to your contemplation of his word or to your inner dialogue with him, do so. Learn to use words when words are helpful, and to let go of words when they no longer are necessary. Rejoice in the knowledge that God is with you in both words and silence, in spiritual activity and inner receptivity.
Sometimes in "lectio divina", you may return several times to the printed text, either to savour the literary context of the word or phrase that God has given or to seek a new word or phrase to ponder. At other times, only a single word or phrase will fill the whole time set aside for "lectio divina". It is not necessary to assess anxiously the quality of your "lectio divina", as if you were "performing" or seeking some goal. " Lectio divina" has no goal other than that of being in the presence of God by praying the Scriptures.
"LECTIO DIVINA" TEACHES us about the God who truly loves us. In "lectio divina" we dare to believe that our loving God continues to embrace us today. In the Word we experience ourselves as personally loved by God; as the recipients of the Word which God gives uniquely to each of us whenever we turn to the Scriptures."Lectio divina" teaches us about ourselves. In "lectio divina" we discover that there is no place in our hearts, no interior corner or closet that cannot be opened and offered to God. God teaches us in "lectio divina" what it means to be a royal priesthood – a people called to consecrate all our our memories, our hopes and our dreams to Christ.
IN THIS SHORT article we saw the "power of the Word" (Bible). It does not return until it has given "food to the eater". Then we saw briefly what "lectio divina" is and offered two ways of reading and reflecting on the text on the basis of an individual’s/community’s familiarity with Bible reading. The Bible is a book of faith, written in faith and given for the faith of the people of God. The Bible has to be read with faith. In this way, the Word of God continues to resound in the story of human beings; deciphered and understood in its twofold reality. The Bible opens its treasure of revelation and grace. In the words of the book the believing community encounters the Word of the Lord, interiorizing and actualizing it in its own reality and in its own history. The Divine enters the human (incarnation) and the human reaches the Divine.
THIS ARTICLE ENDS with an extract from Pope Benedict XVI’s message to the participants of the International Dei Verbum (divine word) Congress in Rome on 16 September 2005.
"In this connection, I would like especially to recall and to recommend the ancient tradition of "lectio divina": the assiduous reading of Holy Scripture accompanied by prayer, realizes that intimate colloquy where, by reading, we listen to God who speaks and, in prayer, we respond to him with confident openness of heart (cf DV 25). This practice, if effectively promoted, will bring to the church – of this I am convinced – a new spiritual spring. As a firm point of biblical pastoral ministry, "lectio divina" should for this reason be further encouraged, through the use too, of new methods, carefully considered, that are fully up-to-date. We ought never to forget that the Word of God is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps 119:105). nPrepared by the Regional Biblical Commission – Malaysia – Singapore-Brunei
WHEN GREGORY YONG became Archbishop of Singapore, his main task was to set up the infrastructure for the archdiocese required by the Second Vatican Council.
"It was not easy to start but fortunately the priests were responsive," he said in an interview with CatholicNews on his 80th birthday.
On the agenda was the establishment of different commissions. He recalled, "One of the first things to set up was the Priestly Life Commission so that there’s better communication between priests and bishop. The Senate of Priests was not so well set up so it had to be updated and better organized."
Another area that Archbishop Yong felt he was able to contribute
to the church in Singapore was the promotion of RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults). With new converts to the faith came the challenge of getting more
priests. The ratio in the 1980s was one priest to 1000 Catholics.
"I told the priests the way the church was growing in Singapore – an average of 3,500 baptisms a year – every year we must have three new priests. I told them we must pray for vocations" so that even if they were not forthcoming from the diocese, God would still provide, he said.
"And they came! Young men joining the Franciscans, the Carmelites – all part of the Kingdom of God that we are building here in Singapore. So the ratio is still the same today. We must always trust in providence!"
Besides building the community of faith, there was also the toil to build or renovate church buildings.
Archbishop Yong empathised with those who were involved. Securing the land and raising the money was a lot of hard work, he stressed. The first church he directly helped to build was the Church of the Holy Cross. "I am grateful to the priests who helped to build the churches around the island and for the generous response of the people," he told CatholicNews.
Summing up his tenure as Archbishop of Singapore, he said he had quite a pleasant and rewarding time running the Archdiocese of Singapore which included welcoming many congregations to the diocese.
The congregations that came here during his term include the Brothers of Mercy, Carmelite Fathers, Daughters of St. Paul, Dominican Friars, Missionaries of Charity, Religious of the Cenacle, Verbum Dei Missionaries and Opus Dei.
As for the laity, he expressed gratitude for their generosity. "Our local Catholics are very cooperative. If they see that you are doing a good job they will help with their time, energy, and expertise, provided the priest is there to welcome them." All parishes can have the same kind of co-workers, or lay-workers, ever ready to come forth, he added.
Asked what made him happy,
he replied, "Happiness is doing the will of God though this is not
always easy. But you will discover
his will through everyday circumstances and events."
On the other hand, sadness for him was "when I see people not living up to the Lord’s expectations."
"They want happiness but are not prepared to pay the price of happiness (which is to act according to the will of God, like promotion of family life)."
Archbishop Yong kept himself up to date with current affairs even in retirement.
"All this casino business is meant to make Singaporeans happy but will they be happy?" he commented.
"Many look for happiness in the wrong places – birth control, divorce, affluence," he noted.
Singapore Catholics now benefit from the many institutions and processes initiated and encouraged by Archbishop Yong and decisions made by him which have been fruitful over the years.
Among these are: establishment
of the Archdiocesan Catechetical Commission; Singapore Pastoral Institute; building of the Major Seminary; increased distribution of CatholicNews; supporting lay organisations like Legion of Mary, St. Vincent de Paul, Natural Family Planning; introducing Marriage Encounter, Choice, Engaged Encounter, Family Life Society, New Evangelization Team, AWARE; encouraging the formation of the Mandarin speaking community; use of Mandarin in the liturgy; outreach to the Chinese in China; and distributing the Life Application Bibles to bishops, priests, religious and lay people from Myanmar, India, Africa and Indonesia who came here to attend retreats to help them understand and apply the Word of God where God has placed them.
There are many other achievements not mentioned here.
The most important is a vibrant, growing and faith-filled Catholic community in Singapore. This is evident in the packed and lively churches at weekend Masses.
Creating new parishes, building churches
FROM 1975, A number of new towns were built, among them Clementi, Ang Mo Kio, Tampines and Woodlands. This created the need for churches to be built and new parishes to be established. Among them are: • 1978 – Church of St. Stephen.
FROM 1975, A number of new towns were built, among them Clementi, Ang Mo Kio, Tampines and Woodlands. This created the need for churches to be built and new parishes to be established. Among them are:
• 1978 – Church of St. Stephen.
• 1980 – Church of the Holy Cross in Clementi.
• 1982 – Church of Christ the King in Ang Mo Kio.
• 1990 – Church of the Holy Trinity in Tampines.
• 1992 – Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea was relocated to larger premises in Yishun.• 1994 – St. Anthony’s was relocated to Woodlands and the new building of St. Michael’s was taking shape.
• 1979 – Church of the Holy Spirit. A further extension was added in 1988.
• 1987 – The old trade school built by the Catholic Welfare Services was renovated.
• 1982 – Damien Centre was built at
Church of the Blessed Sacrament
• 1999 – Church of the Holy Family in Katong was rebuilt.
• 1999 – Church of Christ the King was rebuilt.
• 2000 – Church of St. Francis Xavier was upgraded.• 2001 – New Church of St. Anne was completed.
One reason for the upgradings was that congregations had not only
increased in size but also more significantly, the rather elaborate ancillary facilities reflected the trend for the church to assume a larger community role. This also meant greater involvement of the
laity in a variety of activities and
programmes. The churches were
no longer just houses of worship
but had developed into complexes
providing education, catechism for children, faith formation, social and recreational facilities, family and social programmes, meeting rooms and libraries.
HE PRESIDED OVER the delicate process of bringing about the unification of the church under a single administration. Catholics contributed generously to the building of churches in the new towns to which they had moved. He installed an organization that provided for consultation with his priests and the laity, set up an institution to bolster the faith of his followers and commissions to address social and religious concerns. Despite a heart by-pass in the midst of his tenure, he soldiered on gallantly.
He paid particular attention to the family realizing that the times and the pressures were eroding its very foundations. Often, he spoke on the value of human life and the importance of the family, encouraging the provision of services for counselling and assistance. His concern for the family led to a conference on the Church in Reflection and Dialogue in April 1993 to consider a more effective approach to related problems. Four family centres were set up, the number of convalescent homes and those for the aged increased, as well as that of lay apostolate groups. At the time of his installation as archbishop, anticipating how material wealth, arising form economic growth, would affect family life, he announced that he would "strive towards quality of life for Singaporeans by safeguarding spiritual values, upholding sound moral standards, respecting and defending human rights, promoting happy and contented family life through means that are moral and just"
Worldwide Marriage Encounter, which invites Catholic married couples to develop "an open and honest relationship within marriage and to live out a sacramental life in the service of others" found its way to Singapore
in 1979. "Choice" was started in Singapore in 1981 as a programme under the Family Life Society. It aims at guiding young single adults in the choices they have to make in life. The Family Life Society seeks to promote a deep understanding and reverence for marriage, family and human life for all. It provides counselling on family and marital matters, family education in schools, courses on parenting, runs a pregnancy crisis centre, mans a youth lifeline and offers legal aid.
Pope John Paul II wrote on the occasion of Archbishop Gregory Yong’s Episcopal Silver Jubilee on
Jul 1, 1993: "Nor have we forgotten the difficulties your faithful experienced on account of certain laws still in force,which are contrary to the moral directives of the church. It is to your credit that you have attempted to handle this difficult situation, though a formidable one and yet govern eminently."
On May 20, 2000, on attaining the age of 75, Archbishop Gregory Yong submitted his resignation as required by Canon Law. On Oct 14, Rome accepted his resignation. n
(The above is an excerpt from"Going forth... The Catholic Church in Singapore 1819 – 2004" by E. Wijeysingha in collaboration with Father Rene Nicolas, mep)