Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, a blessed Christmas to you!
I have been putting off writing this despite repeated requests to publish a Christmas message. This will be my last Christmas message addressed to you as Rector of the Blessed Sacrament Church.
For the few Catholics in Kuching who do not yet know, the Archdiocese had a big reshuffle of priests that affected many parishes including ours. The announcement was released publicly on 1 Dec 2019. But more about that later.
We have spent four weeks of Advent to prepare for the celebration of the birth of our Lord. Christmas takes us to the heart of the Christian faith – the person of Jesus Christ. In this holy season, we celebrate his wondrous birth. For the love of all men and women, God assumed our human nature, that we all might become partakers of his divine nature. This is the mystery of the incarnation.
You and I are called to reflect on this mystery and on the events of his birth. With a deeper understanding, it is my hope that we might be grasped by this mystery. This will change us. It will make us reorder the priorities of our lives. The values that Christmas teaches us are radically different from those of the world which have such corrupting influence on our lives.
Born in a poor and humble state, our Lord unequivocally renounced the earthly power and wealth which beguile many. Our God in Jesus Christ embraced poverty and suffering, not because they are good in and of themselves, but because love was willing to descend to the depths of lowliness and pain to redeem us.
The experience of Mary and Joseph teaches us the important lessons of Christmas. They had to set aside their plans and ideas of a happy marriage together, because God had told them to take another path. Mary had an unplanned pregnancy. Joseph, who had then intended to divorce her quietly and move on in life, was asked to change his mind and instead take Mary home to be his wife.
My meditation on these experiences of Mary and Joseph has taken on a very personal meaning this time round. I have been rector of Blessed Sacrament Church for a total of two years and ten months. This posting was my first as a rector. This relatively brief period has also been one of great joy and meaning.
Working alongside lay leaders – especially with members of the Parish Pastoral Council – and members of the community, has been humbling. The generosity, commitment, holiness, friendship and love of the people I have worked with have inspired and helped me in my priesthood. I feel privileged to witness the empowerment and growth of many in the community; this has fuelled my motivation in ministry.
The leaders of this parish and I have tried to discover God’s plan for this community by listening together to the Word of God, carefully discerning the needs of the people and boldly embracing necessary changes. This has been articulated in the Vision and Mission statements of this parish. In our Parish Pastoral Council meetings, we had often prayed to the Holy Spirit to guide us so that all our deliberations and plans may be aligned to the will of God for us.
This Advent has been a time for me to experience a little of what was asked of Mary and Joseph… The announcement from the Archbishop about wanting me to learn Mandarin in Taiwan for a year, beginning early 2020, and my leaving BSC came as a bit of a surprise – the timing of it at least.
Reflection has made me understand that it was God’s unexpected way of asking me to let go of the plans the parish leaders and I had already crafted, which I had looked forward to, in order to follow the path he had laid out for me.
In faith, Mary and Joseph resolved to peacefully and joyfully embrace God’s inscrutable and challenging ways. This way of faith which he has asked of me, is what our Lord asks of every Christian. This is one of the important lessons of Christmas.
The incarnation confounds human wisdom. Jesus’ embrace of poverty and suffering does not make any sense to many. Where there was no room available for him at the inn in Bethlehem, Jesus now calls us to make room in our hearts for him that he may steer the direction of our lives, often in surprising, unexpected and sometimes painful ways. It is when we cooperate with God’s plan for us that we are caught up in the mystery of salvation.
Before I conclude, I must record my thanks to Fr Lawrence Chua, my predecessor, who has with his great wisdom, offered me sound advice. Much credit goes to him for rooting this community in faith through the many years since its foundation.
I also pray and urge all the parishioners to lend their full support to Fr Patrick Heng who will succeed me in serving as rector here. He will bring much to this community and continue God’s plan for his flock.
May the joy, peace and hope which the birth of Jesus brings be yours in abundance. Happy Christmas and a blessed New Year to all.
Humbly in Christ,
Fr Felix Au