15 May 2022 – 5th Sunday of Easter (Year C)

by Bishop Sebastian Francis

Acts 14:21-27
Psalm 144:8-13a
Apocalypse 21:1-5
John 13:31-33,34-35

Theme: Jesus Renews Our Lives

As we gather here in the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, I always like to make connections with what is happening beyond this Cathedral because we are always connected to a bigger mission beyond what is happening here.

Well, just outside in the classrooms, a group of 40 Form 1, 2 and 3 students, boys and girls, are having a Persons Are Gifts camp, Friday, Saturday and today, Sunday. Persons Are Gifts, together with about 20 or so facilitators or more. They sent me a message and they said, “Please pray for me.” So I am not passing it on to you. I am inviting you to pray with all these young people who are there just outside here in the classrooms from Forms 1, 2 and 3, are going through this program called Persons Are Gifts. And I told them I am going to ask one more person to pray for you. And that is the late Father Ignatius Huan from Malacca Johore Diocese. Why? Because he started this program. He has gone back to the Lord. Many of you know him. So I said I am going to ask him to pray for our young people here. He started the program for Persons Are Gifts and it is something wonderful, it has spiritual, it has biblical, it has psychological, it is a comprehensive program for young people. So that is happening.

Today is Wesak Day. So I want to pray for all our Buddhist brothers and sisters in our Diocese. And the Head of the Malaysian Buddhist Association is somebody with whom I work very closely, Venerable Datuk Jit Heng who heads the Kek Lok Si Temple and who is President of the Malaysian Buddhist Association. So I want to remember him and pray for him and for all Buddhists who are celebrating Wesak Day today.

And today, my elder brother, as a Bishop, Bishop Emeritus Paul Tan, who is in Johor Bahru was ordained a Bishop on Wesak Day in Johor Bahru many years ago. So today is his anniversary. So I want to remember Bishop Paul Tan and be close to him and pray with him. I was his vicar-general in Malacca Johore and now we are brothers because we are both successors of the apostles and we are both Bishops. So i want to remember him on the anniversary of his ordination as a Bishop in Malacca Johore.

Today, something very, very, very exciting is happening in Rome and also in India, especially in Southern India, in Tamil Nadu. Now what is happening? Today Pope Francis is going to canonize ten more saints. We Catholics never get tired of canonizing saints. And out of these ten saints who will be canonized today in Rome, one is from South India and I want to focus on him. And he came from Tamil Nadu and so the people of Tamil Nadu today are very excited, the Catholics of Tamil Nadu as well as Southern India and the whole of India. He is the first local born, bumiputra, son of the soil of India to be martyred. There are other saints like Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Saint John Britto, Saint Francis Xavier who came to India but these people are foreigners who came as missionaries to India.

But this gentleman, his name is Devasahayam Pillai and Devasahayam means God helps and he was martyred and today he is going to be canonized as the first local saint of Tamil Nadu of South India. First Martyr of India. So I want to remember all our people who came from South India especially from Tamil Nadu and today is a very exciting day for all of them. So we are going to be one with them to welcome ten more saints and especially one from India, from Asia.

And very soon we are going to launch, in maybe mid-August, the 50th Anniversary of the Federation of the Asian Bishops Conference where we have a conference for the whole of Asia and it has its headquarters in Hong Kong and now we have moved to Bangkok just very recently. And so we are going to launch this 50th Golden Jubilee of the Asian Bishops Conference very soon. And one of the things we are going to do is to come out with a litany of Asian Saints and Martyrs from all over Asia, not from Europe, not from the West. We have hundreds, if not more of canonized Asian saints and martyrs from all over, from China, from Japan, from Korea, from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, you name it, Philippines and many other places. And even about 40 who are former students of College General, who are martyred in Vietnam. So get ready. Asia is going to move together.

The bishops, we are going to meet for three weeks in Bangkok. I will be there in October to kind of ask the Holy Spirit “What do you want to tell the people of Asia?” And we are going to spend three weeks in prayer, in discernment, in fellowship come October and at the end of it, we will be making a statement together as Bishops of Asia. So all this is happening around us.

And Father Joachim was telling me just now before Mass he is happy that things are getting back to normal in our parishes. And so we thank and praise God.

We are feverishly preparing for the Feast of St Anne in Bukit Mertajam (BM) in July and with her news that her many, many, many, many pilgrims are converging on to BM so pray for us, pray for the team in BM because we have huge challenges ahead of us in our Basillica of St Anne in Bukit Mertajam.

So what does God’s word say in the midst of all that is happening to all of us, whether it be micro or whether it be macro, big or small does not matter. In the Acts of the Apostles, we see Jesus has handed over the mission. He has ‘balik kampung’. You and I are still here. The mission is in our hands. He has returned to the Father and He has handed over the mission to Peter and the Apostles and today, in a special way, to Paul and Barnabas and others. And what do we see Paul and Barnabas doing? They are giving a report, an account to the church in Antioch.

Now all of us are not merely members of the Catholic Church with the baptism certificate to prove that we are members. We are more than that. We are disciples and apostles and all disciples and apostles will have to give an account on the mission entrusted to you and me by the Holy Spirit through the church.

Second reading from the great John, the dreamer, the mystic, the beloved disciple as he calls himself, tells us that after all the challenges, all the hardships, Devasahayam Pillai died a marytr in Sourthern India, in Tamil Nadu, after all the graces flowing from the mission that is entrusted to you, John the beloved disciple, the dreamer, the visionary shares a vision of the future, not of what is going now in Ukraine or Russia or Sri Lanka or Myanmar or Malaysia. We have to think beyond and not be stuck in the mud.

Yes, we will deal with the issues that are before us but we must have this vision of the future. and John is giving us a vision of the future and he tells about the new heavens and the new earth. The new Jerusalem as beautiful as a bride, all dressed for her husband. You, disciples and apostles, are that bride and are you dressed up for your bridegroom? And who is your bridegroom? According to John, it is the lamb. It is Jesus.

In the Gospel, we are going backwards now. We are already into resurrection but the church takes us back to the night before He died and reminds us of what He said the night before He died at the last supper. And what is interesting is He waited for Judas to leave the room before He said what He said because Judas cannot take it. Judas is distracted with many other things.

He was going to speak about intimacy and so He did not want Judas. He waited for Judas to go and after Judas went, then He spoke to the eleven now ‘tinggal hanya sebelas sahaja’. To the eleven apostles, He told them what we heard in the Gospel today. He said “The Father and I are one.”

The Father and I are one.

He spoke about the intimacy between the Father and himself, the Son. And we are listening now to the words of Jesus before Calvary but in the light of the resurrection. Everything changes because of the resurrection. If you remain at Calvary, and you keep crying there, sitting there and mourning and crying and grumbling and complaining, then nothing much would have changed.

But now, He has risen. They have had an experience of His resurrection. Now the church is reminding us of what He said the night before He died. And what did he do? After Judas left, He said He gave them the final. Final means final, nothing more after that. He gave them the final commandment, the last commandment, the new commandment. And therefore nothing is going to change. The final word has been said and it will remain till the end of time.

Devasahayam Pillai heard those words and lived his life accordingly and gave his life to the Indian soil, and to the Asian soil, and to the soil of the church. He shed his blood and he said “As I have loved you”, (always start with this love. For God’s sake do not start with “Your love for God” is boring.) Start with His love for you because that love is unique, it is personal, it is intimate. never start with “Your love for God”. It will get worn out after some time. Start with always “As I have loved you, you love one another”.

And the sign of discipleship, He said on the night before He died, is not your baptism certificate that you are a member of the catholic club. The sign of discipleship is that you will live according to this new and final. Final means nothing more. That is the last word, that is it. That is what is going to take you to your last day on earth, till you die. And that is how you and I are going to meet the bridegroom.

That is it. Homily over.

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