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LIKAS – On Easter Vigil 31 Mar 2018, a 2000-crowd witnessed the baptism of nine adults, two teens, six children and three being received into full communion with the Catholic Church, presided by Father Cosmas Lee, at the St Simon Catholic Church here.
These baptisms are an Easter story that tells of a new life, a new purpose, a new mission that can change the face of the earth.
How do we reconcile the meaning of Easter – the celebration of new life, new hope, new possibilities, new dreams and new mission – with the hopelessness caused by all the troubles in the world, and in our own backyard? How are we called to see new possibilities in the midst of all these uncertainties? What is hope saying to us?
This is a pertinent question for Christians as we enter the joyous liturgical season of Easter.
In our own backyard, many feel a sense of hopelessness through the deteriorating value of the Malaysian Ringgit. We also have the elderly who, sadly, have to go back to work because of the rising cost of living.
Malaysians are also faced with the stark and unfortunate reality that this country, which was once a peaceful multiracial society, is now filled with bigotry and racial and religious polarisation in practically every sphere of life, among the old and even the young.
We are also besieged by a surge in corruption, which appears to be permeating every level of our governmental and administration system. We can no longer identify just one “bad apple” as it were. This one bad apple has affected the whole basket!
While there is so much trouble all around us, it also brings to the fore the interesting question of “hope.”
Every Easter, we hear a wonderful story from the Gospel of Luke about two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
During this journey back, they encountered the Risen Lord and were transformed. He approached them, walked with them and talked about scripture, bringing up events that led to the breaking of bread and finally his death. It was then that their eyes were opened – they recognised the Lord. He had risen! He was alive!
That very moment instead of walking towards Emmaus, they decided to walk back to Jerusalem. They decided not to walk in the way of hopelessness but their steps were lightened with hope instead.
Many things happened to them on the road – the talking, the listening, the thinking, the change of heart, and the willingness to see old things in a new way. This was what hope did for them and they shared the experience from hopelessness to hopefulness with the people.
Now this is exactly what our Christian journey is. This is the transition, the new hope that we are invited to, we who are facing all kinds of hopeless situations in our nation/world, and perhaps troubles and despair in our life, in our marriage, in our family, our work and our parish.
So what exactly is this hope?
This hope calls us to be different; it is listening to the Risen Lord and it makes us get up and walk to Jerusalem, towards life and towards newness. This is what the joyous Easter message is inviting us to do.
It is absolutely wonderful to see hope in action, such as in parishes across the diocese which give birth to new Church members to walk their catechumenal journey in order to be baptised. This is an excellent example of hope that is active and reaches out to make things happen.
Gabriella Chong, baptised on Easter Vigil alongside eight other adults at St Simon’s, speaks of a powerful experience of her sin being broken and experiencing new life as she relates her baptismal experience to Romans 6:4 “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”
Speaking of her imminent marriage to a Catholic, she exudes confidence in her newfound Catholic faith “I am certain now that we can live a Catholic married life, and to pass our Catholic values to our children.”
While another newly baptised, Susanna Su values the concept of “community” taught by her catechumenal journey. “We should be supporting and caring for each other, and not judging people but accepting them. I have learned to accept and love myself more, just as Jesus first loved us,” said Susanna.
Neophyte Aaron Arulnanthi, like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, is enthusiastic about learning from the catecheses which taught him to look for and to recognise the presence of God in his life.
Comparing his life in 2013, the newly baptised marvelled: “Many aspects of my life and thinking have changed! It is not about me anymore, but all about the Lord Jesus Christ! He is the very reason I wake up every day!”
Evangeline Chong, another neophyte, admitted that life prior to baptism was hard with all its ups and downs. Familiar story, but after encountering hope through the Risen Christ, Evangeline felt like she has been transformed to a person with changed personality, as was her transformed friend who introduced her to RCIA. She sensed the precious changes in her being humbler in outlook and a yearning for simplicity in living.
Meanwhile Clare Wong declared that she finds peace each time she walks into the Church, a fact which she acknowledged as what the RCIA programme has blessed her with. “I know this is where I belong,” said Clare.
On the night of her initiation, Clare recalled: “I felt at home and grateful to be part of my new Catholic family with whom I now can walk and grow in my faith, and to pass on to others.”
As one who experienced hope arising from a hopeless situation, neophyte Emmanuel Lisius testified how, against every odd in his life of brokenness and neglect since his teen years, the Risen Christ let him see that there is hope in hopelessness when he allowed Christ to touch him.
The experience of the “closeness” of the Risen Christ in his catechumenal journey has given him the warm assurance that baptism and becoming a member of the Catholic family is indeed part of what God has in store for him.
Similar stories of hope are born this Easter as the parishes across the Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu received 1060 new Catholics on this most solemn night of all nights, Easter Vigil.
The same Good News is echoed in the Dioceses of Keningau and Sandakan as they too received hundreds of new members into the Catholic Church. – (Some materials are used here with permission from CAN, contributed by Fr Joseph Stephen CSsR.)