Away with Negativity: A way to find the Kingdom of God

Homily for 17th Sunday year A 2014

 pearl2A woman came into the beauty shop one day to get her hair fixed.  Her hairdresser was noted to always be complaining about almost everything.  The customer stated that she was planning on leaving for Rome in a few days.

Hairdresser: Rome…Rome…Why that is one of the dirtiest cities you could ever go. How are you going to get there?

Customer: We are flying Continental Airlines.

Hairdresser: Continental…They are the worst airline! And they have the ugliest hostesses. Where are you staying?

 Customer: We are staying in the Villa.

Hairdresser: Villa…Villa! Why that is so overrated and way too expensive. I wouldn’t stay there if I were you. What are you going to see?

Customer: We are planning on seeing the Pope.

 Hairdresser: Why girl, you would be lucky to even see him from long distance. Don’t you know everyone wants to be around him. You won’t be able to get within a mile of him.

A month went by and the customer went back to the Hairdresser, hoping to break her of her bad habits. The Hairdresser asked her what she has been doing and the customer replied that she had just got back from Rome.

 Hairdresser: Rome…I bet your flight was bad.

 Customer: No, the flight was great. They had actually overbooked the flights and gave us first class seating and fed us steaks all the way to Rome. And our hostess was the most handsome man I had ever seen!

Hairdresser: Well. What about the Villa?

Customer: Funny you should ask. The Villa had just completed a $5 million restoration. They were also overbooked and we were forced to stay in the owner’s personal villa. Wow! The accommodations, the service, we had everything, we lived like kings!

Hairdresser: Well…what about the Pope?

Customer: We took the tour to the Vatican. One of the guards tapped us on the shoulder and stated, “The Pope often entertains a few people now and then, would you like to have a personal visit with the Pope?”

 Hairdresser: I can’t believe that. What did the Pope say?

 Customer: He took one look at me and asked, “That’s the worst hair-do I had ever seen! Who fixed your hair?

This might just be a joke, but sometimes in life, it’s true that we get caught by our own negativity and pessimistic view on life in general. Unfortunately, this is not only true in life, it is also very true with regards to our view on our faith, on our approach to Christianity, on our dealings with one another  and on our relationship with God. The thing about negativity and pessimism is that it reveals our lack of patience, our lack of trust,  our short-sighted approach to life- e.g. giving in to despair immediately.

We would notice this when we expect too much on our faith, as if a seed can grow big overnight. But of course, things generally are not like that. It is more so with God. God is not a magician, nor he is an illusionist. He doesn’t make things happen in a magical way, because He wants us to experience the beauty of the journey and the wisdom in the process of looking for the fulfillment of our longings and desires.

This is clearly evident in the parables of the Kingdom of God that Jesus tells us in the gospel today: that of the treasure hidden in the field and being found; that of the merchant looking for fine pearls; and that of sifting the good fish from those that are no use in the parable of the dragnet.

In a way, Jesus is telling us that the kingdom of God is not beyond our reach. In fact we can find this ‘most valuable treasure’ within us and among us- thus we  need to go and do something about it. We must make ‘heaven’ and ‘eternal life with God’ the treasure to which all our human endeavors would find their fulfillment and perfection, and from which all our human efforts get their meaning, bearing and significance in our Christian journey.

Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all his righteousness” (Mat 6:33), so Jesus would urge his disciples and us here today. As noted in the parables in the gospel today, Jesus here  is assuring us that we can really find this treasure. We need to do something though.

First, to find this ‘treasure’ we need to walk closely with Christ, because He is the way, the truth and the life (Jn 14:6). He is the key to the Kingdom. Pope St John Paul II would tell us the reason why we need to know Jesus Christ more personally and to walk with him more closely.  In his Address during the Vigil of prayer on the celebration of the 15th World Youth Day held in Rome in  2000, Pope John Paul II said:

It is Jesus in fact that you seek when you dream of happiness; he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; he is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is he who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is he who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is he who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be grounded down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.

Second, to find this treasure, i.e. the Kingdom of heaven, we need to pray for God’s wisdom- to help us discern and choose the good from and evil, the right from wrong, the truth from lie, and the life from death. Like Solomon in the First reading we need to humble ourselves before God and acknowledge our limitations and pray: ‘Give your servant a heart to understand how to discern between good and evil…’

Thirdly, to find the treasure that assures of eternal life and secures us for life is to love what we have, rather than longing to have what we love . By this I mean we love and accept who we really are rather than pretending to be someone we are not.  This also means we learn to appreciate what we have and be thankful to God for all the gifts we have received from him. One good reason we thank God for is the faith he has gifted us with. Let us thank God for this  and let us love this, because this is one valuable treasure that would lead us to find the real source of all riches. ‘Faith’ says Pope Benedict in his encyclical on Christian hope (Spi salvi) ‘gives life a new basis, a new foundation on which we can stand, one which relativizes the habitual foundation, the reliability of material income’ (SS 8).

Finally, unlike that hairdresser, let us be positive and optimistic about life.  Yes, it’s true that as Christians, the Cross is a big part of our discipleship and we may have noticed that the closer we try to be with Christ, the heavier the Cross we have to carry. Yet, we can unload our burden unto him and as the saying goes: “God may not make the mountain smaller, but he can make the climb easier.

 Let us also remember we are Easter people, this means that though at times, we may experience ‘the Good Friday’ we are also living in hope of the resurrection. There is more to life than just the negativity and pessimism we may have perceived. We can learn from Jesus in the way he transformed the negativity of the  cross into a redeeming power and to make it a necessary gateway to life for us. Let us live in hope then, because this keeps us going, this keeps us grounded, this keeps us strong in the face of many adversities, trials and tribulations we might be facing at the moment.

As we continue our celebration of the Eucharist, let us remember most especially those people who are facing trials and challenges for their faith and for those who  considered only the material things to be the be- all and the end- all of their lives. Let us pray that they may realize the real treasure that God has reserved for them for eternity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living as wheat alongside the ‘darnel’

Homily for 16th Sunday year A 2014

This past week has been a distressing week for me personally. I just can’t help but be affected deeply by the three events happening in the world in the past few days.

One thing that  caused me distress is the terrible fate of the Malaysian Airline flight MH17 being shot down and crashed in Ukraine killing 298 people on board. My thoughts go especially to those who lost their father, mother, grandparents, brother, sister, son, daughter, whole family even, and a friend.

Another thing that ‘sickened’ me is the horrible news of the death of more than 300 people including 73 children (as of latest news), killed in the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

And the third event that also caused me distress is the typhoon that lashed through some parts of the Philippines, leaving some 94 people dead (as of latest news), destroying several billions worth of agriculture, and displacing hundreds of thousands of families. I know this was a natural disaster but what upset me was the thought of  some senators being arrested in the Philippines a month ago for corruption, for plundering hundreds of millions pesos from the taxpayers money. The money they had senselessly used for their own selfish ambitions and own gratification could have been of great help to these many victims of typhoon.

Events like these honestly made me question God: ‘How could he allow these terrible and unthinkable things to happen?’ How could ‘the one who cares for everything’ according to the Book of Wisdom (cf Wis 12:13,16-19) we heard read today, let this horror occur?’

While reflecting on the gospel today (Mat 13:24-43), I got an answer. God may allow evil things to happen but He never gives us bad things. The seed he sows in the world and in our hearts us is always a good one and for the good of everyone. So it is not fair to blame God for all the bad things that are happening in the world.  We put the blame however, to the evil one who sows the ‘darnel’ alongside the ‘wheat’ in the world. We can also put the blame to some people  who allowed the evil one to sow the evil seeds in their hearts and even nourished these seeds with hatred, selfishness, vengeance, murderous intentions, and senseless killings and the like.

How I wished, God takes over and silenced these evildoers RIGHT NOW! How I wished God would do something ASAP to let these people realize the evil they have done, the horror they have caused, and the beautiful and precious lives they have put to an end! How I wished I could do something to put an end to all these?

However, after thinking much deeper on the gospel I said to God: ‘I would take back what I wished for the evildoers’ otherwise I would be the first one to go. I too am a sinner. I too, have ‘weeds’ and  ‘darnel ‘growing in me. There are two  opposing sides in me: the saint and the sinner, the pull to do good and the pull to do evil. Like St Paul, sometimes “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Rom 7:15).

But despite the fact of the ‘weeds and the darnel’ both growing in us, God gives us the chance, the opportunity, the power to overcome the darnel and become the wheat worthy to be kept in his barn at the time of the harvest.

The gospel today offers us such opportunity and power.

First, is that we are not to take matters into our own hands. This calls for humility and patience. We need to trust God and his divine justice to weigh things over at the harvest time. This means we must not give in to what Pope Francis calls in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), “the evil spirit of defeatism [which] is the brother to the temptation to separate, before its time, the wheat from the weeds…the fruit of an anxious and self-centred lack of trust.” (EG85). However, this does not mean we just can sit there, doing nothing, while waiting for the end to come. We rather keep up living with our Christian hope, enlightened by the truth that beyond the cross of  Jesus Christ, there is the glory of resurrection.

Second, let us live with the ‘darnel’ or the ‘weeds’ but not be outlived by it. St Paul gives us two valuable tips to survive in this challenge to spiritual  life and growth. One is that ‘we overcome evil with good’ (Rom 12:21) and two is that we should  ‘not grow weary in doing what is right’ (Gal 6:9).

Third is that we grow with the darnel or weeds but not be outgrown by it. This we can do through nourishing our souls with spiritual food and with heavenly longings, such as constant connection and communication with our God, in prayer, in our constant and regular encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist and in the sacraments, in the service to the poor and the needy, in bringing God into our day to day life and work, just  allowing God to be part of our life and to be on top on the ladder of our priorities.

Yet to take on all those challenges mentioned above, we need to take our Christian faith seriously. This is one seed of the kingdom that God has planted in our hearts to be nurtured and to be cared for. Like the small mustard seed our faith must grow and bear fruit. Like that yeast, our faith must help us transform from within. Without faith, life would be bleak for us, and life would seemed to have no way out, nothing  beyond. But with faith, life would have more meaning. With faith, we can make so much difference. With faith, lived, expressed and nourished by good works, we can live on, despite the evil things happening around us. With faith we live on without being outlived by the evil one. With faith, we can grow  as worthy subjects of the Kingdom of God without being outgrown.

So let’s take our faith seriously. I leave you with a quote from Michael Kent because this speaks so much of how  can our faith give meaning in our life now. Kent said: “Darkness can best be eliminated not by cursing it but by lighting one small candle.” This small candle is our faith, let’s keep it burning and we’ll be amazed of the difference it makes.

God bless  everyone and with faith in our hearts join me in this prayer:

PRAYER FOR THE VICTIMS OF NATURAL AND MAN-MADE

DISASTERS

Almighty, Father, God of mercy and of peace

we humble ourselves in prayer

and lay down our unified thoughts before you:

For those who have perished in the plane crash in the Ukraine and

for their families who grieve,

For the people caught up in the conflict between Israel and Palestine

and in countries where tensions and war are evident, and

For the people in the Philippines who are once again affected by the

latest typhoon Rammasun/Glenda.

We believe your compassionate heart is crying and is suffering with us at this time.

Look with mercy on those who have lost their lives,

Let your loving embrace comfort the grieving families, those families

torn apart and those families being displaced,

Let us all experience your loving presence and consolation.

Give us strength and encourage us to extend our support in any way

we can.

We humbly ask you Father,

please don’t let us lose hope,

please don’t let us give up,

please don’t let these events crush our spirit,

please help us all not to get discouraged,

rather help us to be more generous of our time,

of our skills and of our resources.

We ask you this, through your Son, Jesus Christ,

Our Lord whose suffering gives us redemption. Amen.

How to embrace the Word of God?

Homily  for 15th Sunday in Ordinary time year A 2014

church_docs_resource_quoteWith the invitation of the late Bishop Joe Grech, the then Bishop of Sandhurst, I came to Australia in 2007 with two other seminarians-now priests in the other part of the diocese of Sandhurst. The reason of Bishop Joe (may he rest in peace), to have us finished our studies in Australia is so that we can gradually immerse ourselves into the Australian culture, establish friendships and familiarize the diocese where we would be working later on. And I would say that was a very wise move. Part of the immersion was to work during the school holidays. At the end of that year, I and one other seminarian got a job  in the orchard in Tatura. We did pruning, changing trellis, weeding and fruit picking. The fee was good, but because it was my first summer in Australia and  my first experience of 40 or more degree heat, after a month, I said to Bishop Joe: ‘I quit!’ I said to the Bishop it’s too hot for me. So I quit and found another job in the tomato shed in Murchison. Again, the fee wasn’t that bad but because it was in the shed and because I was with many Filipinos working there too, I didn’t mind. I worked there for over a month, before I had to go back to the seminary. At the end of the financial year I received a letter about my income tax return, and I was happy to see I had a good return. I said to myself: ‘Wow! Good return doesn’t really come that easy. I really have to work hard for it.’

Friends, brothers and sisters, I’m sharing this with you because getting a good return is one point that Jesus is telling us in our gospel today. In telling us the parable of the sower he is inviting us to check our hearts whether we are receptive to his word or resistant to it. But he also tells us this parable, and even explains its meaning because he wishes that our hearts are fertile for his word to grow and nourished and thus assuring us of a good return- a return that  guarantees us of eternal life and eternal happiness with him.

How can we be assured of a good return? What can we do to get a good return that keeps us for eternal life?

Through the Word of God, the basis, the foundation of our Christian life. The Good News for us, Christian Catholics for that matter is that this Word of God is revealed to us in two ways: Scripture and Tradition.

Some Christian denominations only claim the Scripture as the rule of faith (i.e. ‘sola Scriptura’ a phrase which is not found in the Bible itself), but we Catholics  believe that Scripture and Apostolic Tradition are two sides of one coin. If we deny Tradition, we create an unbridgeable gap, a missing link which would lead us away from the essence and the very beginning of our Christian faith. And no matter how much we deny it even, no matter we like it or not, we just can’t help because we are (if we look at it deeply) benefitting and enjoying its life-giving value and significance in our Christian life. We just have to open our eyes, humble ourselves and listen to those staunch Protestant intellectuals and those from other faiths, who after trying very hard to disprove the Catholic Tradition, ended becoming Catholics themselves.

We need to know this facet of our faith as a springboard for us to understand more fully the Word of God.

So with the Word of God revealed unto us and sowed in our hearts, how can we make a good return?

4 Ls.

First, Listening to the Word, listening to the Word of God by heart and with humility of heart. It is a tough call for many of us in this day and age to listen to the Word of God because of it entails silence, ‘be still and know there is God.’ (Psalm 46:10). It really is a hard call because we are in the time when the name of the game is ‘the more noise there are, the busier we are, the better we are than others’ the more alive we think or believe we are. But God couldn’t be found in the busyness of life. God couldn’t be heard when there is too much noise. And living a life fully is not just about living it as I want it to be, but living it according to what God called to be and to do. Listening to the Word also means listening to the Church (through her teaching office- the Magisterium) Listening requires humility and openness of heart.

Second, Learning from the Word. We’ve got copies of the Bible I supposed. It is one thing we need to have in order for us to learn the Word of God. And we are privileged in our day when we can just sit down in the comfort of our homes, browse the internet and we can find the resources, the seemingly unlimited materials to help us in our study and understanding of the Word of God. Another way to learn from the Word of God is through the practice of Lectio Divina. It is a way of reading a certain Scriptural passage slowly, prayerfully and meditatively, reading the text line by line and listening to the voice of God speaking to us through a word or a phrase or a sentence that struck us in the course of our reading.

Third, loving the Word. This means not only loving the Word of God in the Scriptures, but loving the Word-Made-Flesh, in the Eucharist. Jesus is really present in the Eucharist. We are privileged to receive him in our human hands and have him as our food and drink. Wow! The bread and wine we are sharing in at Mass are not symbols. They are really the body and blood of our Lord.  Jesus himself would assure us of this. Remember when Jesus taught: “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (Jn 6:53), and the Jews and many of his disciples couldn’t accept this teaching, they ‘turned back and no longer went about with him’ (Jn 6:66). If Jesus spoke of his ‘flesh and blood’ as mere symbols, he would have stopped those people who turned away and console them saying: ‘Come on! It’s not meant to be taken literally, you know. It’s only symbolic.’ But no. Jesus didn’t stop them. Jesus couldn’t deny the truth even if people wouldn’t believe in it, or couldn’t accept it. The truth is truth, regardless of anything. Thanks be to Peter and to the closest disciples of Jesus who declared their belief in him and in his words by staying with him, listening to him and continuing the mission that Jesus commissioned them to do at the last supper ‘do this (the Eucharist) in memory of me.’ (cf 1 Cor 11_23-25). If all of us, would only understand the immeasurable value and realize the amazing beauty of our God in the Eucharist, we would rather choose to die than not receiving Jesus.

There’s a saying that goes: ‘We are what we eat’, so if we are partaking in the banquet of the Lord each time we participate in the celebration of the Eucharist , then we must be at least becoming like Jesus. We need to pray for this everyday that  we learn to ‘love like Jesus, feel like Jesus, understands like Jesus, thinks like Jesus, and behaves like Jesus’ as the late Bishop Joe would pray.

Fourth, living in the Word. This means applying the Word of God in our day to day endeavours and life. Thank God for the many examples, in the past as well as in our present time who would encourage us that living the Word of God is indeed possible, doable and all of us are capable to do it. One example is St Paul. The Word of God is so real and personal in him, that he could  just say: ‘It is no longer I who lives, but Christ, who lives in me.’ (Gal 2:20).  Another example is Pope Francis now. I could see in him, the loving, the compassionate, the forgiving, the Jesus Christ who is a friend  to all, in his ways  and dealings with people. He really is living in the Word of God. And we are not just to admire him, we need to learn living in the Word of God too. And we can do this by taking on Pope Francis’ challenge to all of us in the Church: that we recognize and meet our needs to have the ‘ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; the need to proximity, nearness, to be the Church as a field hospital after battle,’ in other words, right where the action is, right where the warmth of our personal touch and care is badly needed.

Today let us thank the Lord for nourishing us with his Word. But let us also do our part by striving to get a good return, by listening, by learning, by loving and by living in the Word of God. In this way we can go out and sow the seeds of the gospel ourselves, and assured of giving God a return of a thirty-fold, sixty-fold and a hundred-fold, and more residents of the Kingdom of God. Amen.