Pastoral Message from your Shepherds under the Fourth Phase of the MCO

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Dear friends in Christ,

Greetings of the Risen Lord.

As many of us had expected, the MCO has been extended for another two weeks and both priests would like to write to you all again to offer some encouragement and direction.

In the past few weeks, certain words and phrases have been bandied around by the authorities and experts and these have become part of our daily vocabulary. We believe that the intention of the authority and these experts is sincere and commendable as this is meant to help us cope and adapt to the current regiment and prepare us for the inevitable changes which will come when the MCO is lifted.

But it is important that we do not allow the use of these new terms and concepts to reshape the fundamental elements of our Catholic faith to the point of being made into new dogmas. It is not our intention to ignore the precautions which need to be taken for public health reasons, neither are these reflexions meant to deny the reality of the dangers and risks which the current pandemic poses. But we hope that this clarification will help you to have a better understanding and to make sense of these terms in the light of our Catholic faith.

1.0 Normal vs abnormal
We have been told by the authorities and experts that we would need to adapt to a “new normal” (new ways of doing things, lifestyles changes etc) and there is wisdom in this advice to ensure that there is no resurgence of this epidemic. However, this must never be interpreted as normalising what is inherently abnormal. For instance, it is never normal to permanently stay away from the church and to deny ourselves of the sacraments. It is not normal for us to experience the sacraments off-site and not in the presence of a minister through live streaming. It is not normal for us to turn our backs on community life purely in the name of social distancing. As much as we should be prudent to take necessary measures for the sake of public health, Catholics should resist the tendency to normalise the abnormal when it comes to what matters most in our faith.

2.0 Essential vs Non essential
Although places of worship have been closed during this MCO as in many parts of the world due to the fact that mass gatherings are potentially high risk areas for transmission, one of the unintended consequences of this is that, we have been lumped together with non-essential services as opposed to essential services like food, groceries and security. Though the association may not have been intended, it’s good to ask the question, “when did religion ever become non-essential?” In fact, as one writer noted, religion is the most essential service. As our Lord reminds us in his answer to the tempter, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) We hope and pray that this period of separation from physically participating in the Church’s life will not render our faith non- essential.

3.0 Healthy life vs Eternal life
Many difficult decisions have been taken by the civil and church authorities with regards to the good of public health and safety of individuals. But again, we must never confuse the priority of eternal life over merely preserving a healthy life. Our ultimate goal in life is our salvation, to participate in the eternal life won for us by our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. As much as it is prudent and also a moral obligation to care for the health of every individual and to avoid endangering the lives of others, we must never forget the purpose of our lives is not just to avoid death, but rather to gain eternal life. As Catholics, it is never a zero sum game of choosing one at the expense of the other. We must observe prudent measures to safeguard the health and safety of others especially the vulnerable but we should also be concerned about their salvation too, in fact, more than anything else. Let’s not throw God out of the window in the name of living healthier or longer. Neither should we use the name of God in vain by throwing caution to the wind and act in an irresponsible fashion.

We must begin to prepare ourselves for the changes which will take place after this MCO is lifted. We have already been told to adapt to a new-normal. Social distancing, wearing masks in public, screening, and other recommended practices will be part of that new normal. But the new normal can never mean reinventing our faith to the point of discarding what is essential.

During this season of Easter, the daily first readings at Mass are taken from the Acts of the Apostles. Acts describe a nascent church, an early Christian community, living in a strange and even hostile environment, where Christian meetings in private homes was the norm, rather than the exception. And yet, the story of Acts is not a story of a cowardly and frightened community but rather one of victory and vibrancy in the face of incredible obstacles, opposition and persecution. This too can be our experience in these times.

My dear friends, we understand that many of you are growing impatient in waiting for this to be over, there are those of you who have become despondent about the many uncertainties of the future, and there are some of you who are even now tempted to give up praying and hoping. We may not be certain of the future or what it has in store for us, but we can heed this most important exhortation given by St Paul who faced countless oppositions, trials, imprisonment and finally death.
“And let us never grow tired in doing good; for if we do not give up, we shall have our harvest in due time.” (Galatians 6:9)

As we enter into the month of May, the month of the Rosary, let us ask our Lady, to intercede for us, for the sick, for the frontliners, and for the whole world.
Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us.

Yours faithfully in Christ,

Fr Michael Chua and Fr Dominic Tan
29th April 2020
Wednesday of the Third Week of Easter
Memorial Feast of St Catherine of Siena