Dominus Vobiscum

I first learnt of this Latin phrase and its reply “Et cum spiritu tuo” as an altar boy maybe when I was 12 in Wah Yan College. After Vatican II, the Catholic Church introduced substantial changes, some rather dramatic, including conducting Masses in local languages, and in our case, in English and Chinese. The two phrases became, “The Lord be with you” and “And also with your spirit.”

The Catholic liturgical year begins with Advent followed by the Christmas season. This year – 2023 – the Fourth Sunday of Advent fell on 24 December and the next day was Christmas Day proper. We would have normally gone for the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve which this year fell on the same day as the Fourth Sunday of Advent, but we had agreed to attend the wedding banquet of a friend’s son so that we ended up going to Mass on Christmas Day proper and missed the traditional Christmas Party at Duchess of Kent Children Hospital to which we have been going for a number of years.

Christmas Day was a beautiful day, sunny and warm, though Su found it cold. My favourite priest friend Robert Ng gave a slightly longer than usual homily, but which I found enlightening and refreshing, and which prompted me to make an attempt to share the thrust of it with you. But first let me go back a day earlier when we were at Mass listening to Robert’s homily which centred on the effect of God’s presence in one’s life. Robert referred to the First Reading taken from 2 Samuel where David sought counsel from Nathan on whether to build a temple to house the Ark of God which was then placed in a travelling tent or behind curtains when he (David) was living in a house of cedar. Whereupon, Nathan suggested that David could do anything, “for the Lord is with thee.” It came to pass though that the Lord spoke to Nathan in the night and asked him to advise David of an alternative plan, which effectively asked David not to build a Temple, which job was to be left to his son – Solomon. Robert’s interpretation was that God did not allow David to build His Temple because his hand was full of blood, having killed so many enemies. Nevertheless, David ruled Israel for 40 years peacefully, even though his small country was surrounded by the Kingdoms of Assyria, Sumer, Babylon and Egypt, which was no small feat, for all the surrounding countries were big and menacing.  The reason Robert ascribed to David’s achievement and survival was that God was with him, as the prophet Nathan had said. The signs of God’s presence in our religion was traditionally represented by the Ark of the Covenant which housed the tablets brought by Moses from Mount Horeb in the wilderness of Sinai and a pot of manna, and by the Holy Temple or its precursor, the Tent. The Ark had since been destroyed and the Holy Temple at Jerusalem plundered and destroyed twice. It is here that we can find divergence between the Old and the new Testaments. Very briefly, the Old Testament put great emphases on reward and punishment such that God was seen as vengeful and had punished His people for turning against Him, by having Israel defeated, the Temple destroyed and the people sent into exile. With the coming of Christ, the New Testament has portrayed God as a merciful Father who so loved Mankind that He sent His only Son our Lord to save the World that it would not perish but would have everlasting life. More importantly, by dying on the Cross, Christ has nailed all the sin of the world on the Cross once and for all, so that we don’t need any more the signs represented by the Ark and the Temple. Indeed, by rising from the dead, Christ has fulfilled the prophesy that He would raise the Temple destroyed by the Jews in three days. Christ of course was referring to His death and resurrection.  It was against this background that we should celebrate Christmas and the Good News recorded in the New Testament.

Turning to the homily on Christmas Day, Robert had used 說話 or Shuōhuà as his theme to expound his homily. Thus, God had made numerous attempts over time to communicate to Mankind or His people His views, beginning with His call to Abraham to leave his country and his comfort zone to a new and unknown site where he finally died. God had found it necessary to move Abraham and his descendants from a polytheistic environment to build a community that would be monotheistic or believing in only one God.  God later also spoke to Moses and asked him to bring his people out of Egypt to practise monotheism for 40 years and as character building. God had also sent His archangel Gabriel to tell the Virgin Mary that she would give birth to Christ and name Him Jesus.  In short, God had tried hard to make known to His people His view and wishes, and it is up to the people to respond properly to such messages. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ Himself spoke to the disciples and to the Jews and others, famously through the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere, all of which had been recorded in the Holy Bible, which Robert urged us to take as God’s words, as opposed to words of Man. Robert then urged the congregation to read the Bible as often as necessary, adding that he has always asked the Christian communities to begin every meeting with scripture readings. In particular, Robert urged us to read the New Testament at least once in full, starting in the New Year 2024. The Holy Bible, or what the Masonic community refers to as the Volume of the Sacred Law, indeed provided the source materials to regulate our faith and action in life, for therein, one would be taught the important duties one owes to God, to one’s neighbours and to oneself.

I commend to you as a New Year Resolution for 2024.

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