John said to Jesus, ‘Master, we saw a man who is not one of us casting out devils in your name; and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him.’ But Jesus said, ‘You must not stop him: no one who works a miracle in my name is likely to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us.
   ‘If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink just because you belong to Christ, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.
   ‘But anyone who is an obstacle to bring down one of these little ones who have faith, would be better thrown into the sea with a great millstone round his neck. And if your hand should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life crippled, than to have two hands and go to hell, into the fire that cannot be put out. And if your foot should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life lame, than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out; it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell where their worm does not die nor their fire go out.’
(Mark 9:38-43,45,47-48)

The Spirit of God blows where it will. We cannot control God or try to dictate to him who he chooses to be his instruments to bless others. The disciples of Jesus tried to restrain others from performing exorcism in the name of Jesus – even among Christians, there is the temptation to jealously guard our prerogatives and reluctance to share them with others. One instance of this is the culture of clericalism. It reduces the people of God into small groups of elites who try to preserve their privileges at the expense of others. Clericalism also fosters a form of false esteem for the ordained ministers.

Against clericalism Christians must strive for the sharing of authority in the Church – since Vatican II, there has been the call for the empowerment of the laity to take up their rightful role in the Church. Clericalism can also be fostered by the laity not assuming their roles and responsibilities, leaving “father” to “take care of things.” The lay faithful may often be more competent than the clergy in many of the tasks required in the running of the parish. However, at times, the priest can end up having to carry out the work because the laity are preoccupied with other activities.

Having been configured to Christ at baptism; as priest, prophet and king, the lay faithful share in the responsibility of building up God’s kingdom. The faithful; laity and clergy alike, must work together as they share in the vision and mission of the Church.

One of the urgent tasks we share in, is to protect our children and those most vulnerable in society. In ancient Israel, children were counted as less than human – meaning they were considered unimportant and didn’t count very much in their society. Jesus, in the Gospel reading, revealed his care for the little ones. They were precious to him.

In recent months, many of us have read very upsetting news about the sexual abuse scandals that have resurfaced in the United States. For example, the Pennsylvania report of August this year spoke of over 1000 cases that happened from the 1940s over a period of 7 decades, that involved over 300 priest abusers. These crimes and sins are indefensible as they involve the betrayal of trust given to the clergy and have resulted in suffering and harm to so many victims. The culture of clericalism no doubt contributed to the abuses and cover-ups.  Jesus’ condemnation of harm caused to the children is clear – “But anyone who is an obstacle to bring down one of these little ones who have faith, would be better thrown into the sea with a great millstone round his neck.” Furthermore, our Lord is calling us to deal seriously with the sin – “… if your hand should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life crippled, than to have two hands and go to hell, into the fire that cannot be put out.”

Although the crisis which resurfaced started in the United States, it affects the whole Church, even our church in Malaysia. It is apt that the Bishops of Malaysia, at the end of September, have come up with a statement in connection with the crisis:

The month of October is traditionally our month of praying the rosary. As you gather in your homes and neighborhood, in Family Bloc Rosary, BEC, Tamans, Kampongs, let us pray with the universal Church for the intentions of the Holy Father. “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Cor 12:26). Pope Francis has called on Catholics everywhere to pray, fast, and make reparation for the sins of clerical abuse that is hurting the Church and her mission. Our Church in Malaysia is part of the universal Body of Christ, and suffers with all the victims. Let us turn to Mary our Mother and Mother of the Church, during this month of Rosary to pray for the purification, healing and renewal of the Catholic Church everywhere, beginning in our own families, parishes and dioceses. The daily Mass on the last Friday of 26 October will be offered for this intention. Other forms of penance during this month may include personal adoration, acts of charity, acts of sacrifice, acts of piety, corporal and spiritual acts of mercy. We must implore the mercy of God upon the Church and the world. We remain in communion of prayers with you the People of God.

(Issued by the Catholic Bishops of Malaysia on 26 September 2018, Penang)

The call of our bishops for us to pray and to do penance, highlights that the sexual abuse crisis has a spiritual dimension. The Evil One is actively attacking the Church to destroy it. A chief target of Satan would be the spiritual leaders of the Church. He works by trying to find areas of weakness in the leaders of the Church. Through sin that is tolerated, Satan increases control over individuals until he corrupts their moral lives entirely to commit grave and heinous sins. Therefore, practical solutions alone do not suffice. Prayers are needed for the spiritual renewal of our Church and her leaders – both clergy and among the laity. An infection, if not attended to can result in gangrene. If it spreads it can cause death. Similarly, when sin is allowed to fester in one’s soul, the result is spiritual death. Sins must be seriously repented of.

Another favourite target of Satan is the family. By destroying families, the Evil One inflicts great suffering and pain. Those who are called to the vocation of marriage are to strive to build healthy families. Parents must not only protect their children, but help foster their spiritual growth. Parents are the primary faith formators of their children. To this end, the Church repeatedly calls for the renewal of families.

There is need for parents to invest quality time to build up and strengthen familial bonds. Human beings are made for love. When we are deprived of love we become spiritually sick. Parents are to bear witness to the meaning of love by their examples. They teach their children the meaning of honouring father and mother by the care and respect they show to their own parents and parents-in-law. We encourage the laity to serve the community of faith. But service in the parish must not lead to the breakdown of the family. Sometimes, serving in the parish can become a form of escapism from familial responsibility. I am also convinced of the harm of digital addiction. The excessive use of smartphones prevalent in our society has led to less time spent in meaningful social interactions.

The Gospel passage speaks to us about empowerment and the sharing of authority and responsibility. We all need to be alert to the harmful culture of clericalism – the false esteem given to elites in the Church and also sidestepping of rightful responsibility by members of the laity. All of us have a share in the work of the Gospel, and must exercise the authority given to us by virtue of our baptism to continue the work of Jesus.

I reiterate that one very important work is the protection of our children and of those deemed most vulnerable in society. To this end, I have sought the help of our Parish Pastoral Council (since September 2018) to set up a team consisting of the laity to propose pro-active steps and to implement them in our parish, even as safeguarding policies for children and the vulnerable are being worked out at the diocesan level. The Parish Pastoral Council will also propose ways to empower parents to become more effective faith formators of their children. I hope that ways to offer support to facilitate healing for victims of abuses may become available too.

This is a tall order but if God asks of us, he will supply the grace to enable us to carry out his work. And his grace is most abundantly given to us in the Eucharist – the greatest source of spiritual treasure of our Church.

Fr Felix Au
22 Nov 2018

(This article is based on the homily notes of Fr Felix Au for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B on 30 Sept 2018)