In the first reading, we read how God chose the People of Israel to be His own. Indeed the people were merely slaves in Egypt. They were under the bondage of Pharaoh. But God in His mercy set them free from the slavery of the Egyptians.
The new life of Christ has now been given to us as well. We are called not simply to be God’s people but His very own, that is, to be His sons and daughters. The fullness of our identity can be realized only in Christ. By His death and resurrection, He not only revealed to us our identity as the adopted sons and daughters of His heavenly Father, but that we have a share in His divine life. This is made possible when the Father poured out the Spirit of Jesus into our hearts in His name. This is what St Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans. “Everyone moved by the Spirit is a son of God. The spirit you received is not the spirit of slaves bringing fear into your lives again; it is the spirit of sons, and it makes us cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’”
Knowing that God is not just a transcendent God but our personal Father makes us feel that we are not merely His creatures but His children as well. This experience of sonship and daughtership frees us from slavery and fear. We can now live our lives in total freedom because we know that God our Heavenly Father will look after us as He looked after Jesus. Even when we find the trials of life too overwhelming and difficult, we can surrender our lives to the Heavenly Father as Jesus did. We can also commend our spirit to the Father whom we know will help us to overcome every trial and even death. So with the rediscovery of our true identity as the adopted sons and daughters of God in Christ, our lives are now lived with a purpose and with dignity. We no longer need to live as slaves to the world but in total freedom as God’s children. Indeed, the partial revelation of the people of God as God’s own and the deliverance from physical slavery is not fully revealed with the declaration that we are the children of God and that we are interiorly free.
How can one mediate this Trinitarian experience of the One God whom we worship as Father, Son and Holy Spirit? This experience is transmitted through baptism. This is why the Lord commands us to baptize. He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Baptism therefore is the matrix in which a person is initiated into the experience of a Trinitarian God.
However, it is not sufficient to know that we are God’s children. All children must grow to adulthood and maturity. What is the use of being born again when we die a premature death? The gift of baptism and rebirth requires that we bring the gift of eternal life given to us to fullness. We are not only called to be baptized but Jesus specifically makes it clear that we are called to be disciples. “Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations.” Indeed, we cannot be contented with making converts to the Faith. More importantly, we must make them disciples.
This is the real weakness of the Catholic Church. We are good at making converts. We even boast of the number of converts each year. We are proud of the large number of Catholics in our country. But what is the quality of their faith? Are they mature in their faith? Are they making others disciples of Christ? Are they evangelizing? Are they living as sons and daughters of God? Do they know the Father more and more intimately? Do they live the gospel of Christ? How many of our young have left the Church after confirmation? How many of them live the gospel and moral life as demanded of us? Are they proud to be Catholics and to be identified as such in the world? How are they bringing the gospel into the lives of the people in their place of work, family and society?
Discipleship is an ongoing reality. We never stop being disciples. We need to underscore once again the importance of Christian discipleship. We cannot be left on our own. We need formation throughout our lives. Our Catholic faith cannot be reduced to attending mass on Sundays and praying the occasional prayers. Unless we seriously see the importance of our on-going formation in our faith, in doctrines and most of all our spiritual life, a deepening prayer life and love for the Word of God, we cannot expect to truly enjoy the fullness of life as the sons and daughters of God. The truth is that many of us are Christian in name but not in fact. This explains why many of us are nominal Catholics. We do believe in God and in Christ but it is not a living and lively personal faith. Our faith in God is merely notional and unconscious rather than a conscious personal relationship. The only time when faith becomes more personal is when we are desperate to seek God’s help and divine intervention to solve our problems.
However, discipleship cannot take place without a community. It is not enough to confess our faith in the Holy Trinity in name but not in fact. To confess our faith in the Trinity and therefore the desire to live the Trinitarian life since we are baptized in the name of the Trinity, we must also imitate the life of God. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, although distinct within the being of God, yet all three are in each other, for each other, by each other and from each other. The unity of the three persons in the inner life of God is one of intense union, reciprocal love, of interpenetration of life. This accounts for the dynamic and vibrant life of God. God is a living God because He is a God of life and love, of mutual giving and receiving.
Accordingly, to be a disciple is to live the Trinitarian relationship among ourselves. We, too, wherever we go, at home, in our place of work, in the community, in society and in the country, we must live a life of communion. We are called to support each other in every way. We are called to live a life of love and unity among ourselves. We are distinct and different, yet the strength of the Catholic lies in living a life of unity not in spite but because of our diversity. We are all one in the Lord, regardless of our race, language, culture or status in life. As Catholics, we need a community in which our fellow brothers and sisters can journey with us in our faith, support us when we are going through the trials of life. Formation happens formally or informally, always within the community of faith. Faith is very much connected with the extent of our relationship with the community. This also explains why those who do not take discipleship and formation seriously normally have not much link to the community. They are alone and eventually drop out of the Church.
Finally, through the empowering of God’s love in the community, we are inspired and filled with joy and zeal to share our fellowship with God and with each other with the world. Truly, this is what it means to fulfill the command of our Lord to go out to the whole world to proclaim the Gospel and baptize them in the name of the Trinity.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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