The beauty of God as a friend

Homily for Easter Vigil 2015

A priest friend of mine shared with me recently an amazing story about his friend, a priest in a certain missionary country. This priest went to a meeting one day. One of those who were there was a man who is blind and he had his guide dog with him sitting by his feet. Upon seeing the dog, the priest tried to pat it but the owner said: ‘No, don’t touch him, he’s working.’ If the priest would have touched the dog, he would have been attacked. Such was the loyalty of the dog to its owner that his attention is solely focused to master. After the meeting though, the owner patted the dog, and said: ‘You can relax now, your work is finished.’ And the dog began to roam around the room and would now allow other people there to touch him.

The priest was amazed of the dog’s dedication to his master. But what the owner said was even more amazing. The blind man said: ‘You know Father, if God would let me choose whether to have perfect eyesight or my dog, I would still choose the dog.’

It’s just an amazing thing that the master would rather still choose to have his personal defects than missing the company of his dog.

In a way, this is a kind of Easter story.

God, the master, the creator of all the universe, most holy, and the source of all perfections,  would rather be one like us through Jesus Christ- a subject to death, taking on our imperfect and sinful conditions, than leaving us die in our own sins and imperfections.

God has it all you know. In fact, God could have chosen not to have anything to do with us. Yet, when he found us in sin, abusing his goodness, disrespecting his creation, denying him at times, not believing him, or disappoint him at times, he didn’t abandon us. It’s not that He can’t. He just won’t abandon us forever.

If I were God, I would have decided: “Okay, it’s not my loss anyway. You people go on your own sinful ways. I don’t care about you anymore. I’ll focus now my attention to something else, somewhere.”

But no, God would even do much more that we can imagine. Through Jesus Christ, his own Son, He would rather take on the ultimate punishment of our sins- death, in order for us to live, in order to enjoy our company with him forever in heaven.

This is one message of Easter- that God enjoys our company so much so that he would break down the enormity of our sins, the gates of hell and the power of death- those things that would separate us from him.

Yes, God, as we have seen in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, enjoys our company, that he would never give up on us even if at times we try to give up on him in exchange of temporary happiness, greed, false security and worldly honour.

Furthermore, Jesus would never let us down even if at times we let him down. Jesus never came down from the cross even if his closest disciples, let him down. See, they had been with him for three years, seeing every wonderful thing he, did, hearing every comforting word he said, witnessed and experienced amazing events he was in, yet they left him on his own to face his imminent death- his death on the cross, all except John and his mother- Mary. How disappointing would it have been for Jesus not to see his disciples in his final moments.

But, no he didn’t back off. He loves us so much that not only he would take on himself the punishment due to us for our sins, he would also justify us before God the Father as he prayed while hanging on the cross: ‘Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.’ Wow! Amazing God!

This one of the final words of Jesus on the cross is one of the most comforting passages in the gospels, in fact in the whole of Scriptures. This just assures us that God, our God is a loving God, a forgiving God, a God of mercy. He is the kind of God- the father of the prodigal son, who was looking out the window day by day for the coming back of his son. This God is that father who would rather take on the ridiculous situation of running towards his son and threw his arms around his son, despite what his son had done to him previously.

As Pope Francis would say: “God never tires of forgiving us, never… The problem is that we get tired, we don’t want to, we get tired of asking forgiveness. Let us never get tired. He is the loving Father who always forgives, who has that heart of mercy for all of us.”

Moreover, God enjoys our friendship that he would take all that it costs for this friendship to work out. As Jesus has shown, He lay down his life for his friends.

In addition, God never stops believing us, even if at times we stop believing in him. I just like this beautiful statement I found on our kitchen table this morning that says: ‘Though I’m not perfect, but Jesus thinks I am to die for.’ Wow!

That’s how much we meant for our God. That’s how much Jesus cares for us.

It is just right and fitting that we celebrate this Holy Week, more particularly the Easter triduum with such solemnity, with prayerful reflections, and with ceremonies full of symbolism.

As we just had it- we started the blessings of the fire outside. Then we lit the paschal candle. Then we lit our little candles from the Paschal candle- to remind ourselves of God’s intervention into the story of our salvation as the light of Christ that drives the darkness away. Then we heard the beautiful chant- the Exultet, a summary of the history of our journey with God from the slavery to freedom, inviting us Church to rejoice, because in Christ, God has assured us of our salvation. Then we re-called the history of our salvation through the many readings that tell us of God’s care for us and intervention into our human story. Then we blessed the water, the symbol of our Christian baptism, wherein we not only die with Christ but also rise with him in glory.

We do all these and we celebrate these holy days with such solemnity, because these days remind us that God enjoys our company and that he wants to be part of his circle of friends in heaven.

As we celebrate this Easter season with renewed heart and renewed life, let us also remember those people who courageously spoke up as friends of God- as Christians, especially the victims of the recent massacre in Kenya and in many parts of the world. As we pray for their eternal rest in God, let us learn from their courage in proclaiming the faith.

Let us always remember: In Jesus, we see God that enjoys our company and friendship that He would rather be not only in company with us sinners but really that He would pay the price of our sins in full- through his death on the cross- thus assuring us of eternal life, happiness, peace and friendship with him forever in heaven.

I hope and pray, you all have a holy and a happy Easter.

Amen.

God, faith, tradition: keep the family grounded

Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family 2014

A boy went to a priest and asked: ‘Father, what is a devil?’ The priest replied: ‘The devil is an evil spirit and comes from hell.’ The boy gasped: ‘Oh, so I must be from hell then?’ Surprised, the priests asked: ‘Why did you say that?’ ‘Well’, the boy explained, ‘my mum always calls meyou little devil.’

It is a sad fact, but true that though God has ordained a human family from which we all are born into, as good and thus for the good of all members, yet some of us would make ‘hell out of it.’ It is unfortunate that there are some of us who just can’t live out the ideals of family life as God has designed it to be from the beginning.

I  believe one reason why God has chosen not only to become ‘flesh’, human like us, but also he chose to be born in a human family is to help us see the importance, the value, the beauty, the real meaning of a human family. As God as he is, he could just have come out of the blue. As God as he is, he could have just appeared anywhere and wherever he wants, in whatever way and whatever form he likes to be. But, no, he chose rather to be born as human, and to be born into a human family, to be cared for, nurtured and raised by a human  father and mother, just like any of us.

Such is the dignity of the human family. Such is the significance of our families. So to remind us this, today the Church celebrates the feast  of the Holy Family in Nazareth. We are now broadening our perspective from just looking at the baby in the manger, we now are to look at the whole nativity scene- the image of a family.

We are to reflect on the Holy Family and as we have it in our opening prayer, we are to ‘imitate them, in practicing the virtues of family life. We can imitate the Holy Family not because they are the perfect family, but because they are the ideal family. I dare to say that the holy family is not the perfect family in terms of our human standards of perfection: i.e. they are poor (Joseph’s job was a carpenter); they could only afford a poor family’s offering for the sacrifice in the temple- a pair of turtledoves (Lk 2:22-40); Mary’s pregnancy is ‘unnatural’; they almost lost Jesus when they left him in the temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2:41-52); they had their ups and downs too as any human family would have.

Indeed, there is no perfect family in this world, but there could be an ideal family. As Pope Francis would say to the engaged couples at St Peter’s Square during the Valentines day this year: “We all know that the perfect family does not exist, nor a perfect husband or wife…(then he paused a moment) we won’t even speak about a perfect mother-in-law.”

The Holy family though is an ideal family for at least three good reasons and in these they are worth imitating.

First, they were grounded in God. They opened their hearts to God and allowed God to be part of their life, of their day to day works and decisions. The last line of our gospel today can assure us this when Jesus “grew to maturity, and he was filled with wisdom; and God’s favour was with him.” (Lk 22:40). If God wasn’t real and true, and not welcome in the family of Mary and Joseph, theirs wouldn’t have love in there too, because as St John would say: “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” If love is absent, a family is impossible, that’s where ‘hell is made.

Second, they were grounded in faith. Such is their faith in God and in one another that even if things are not really that clear for Mary and Joseph, even scary and tedious, if you like, they remained firm, they remained grounded. If Mary’s faith is that shallow, she would have trembled in fear and would have done something to prevent what Simeon, the prophet in the temple has said about Jesus as: ‘destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected – and a sword will pierce [her] own soul too.’ I can only imagine Mary’s reaction as I am reminded of  that news months ago about a baby with down syndrome, born in Thailand by a surrogate mother, not taken by the foster parents. If Mary had no faith of what God has done and would do still for her, she would have opted to do away  with Jesus if only later on He would only give her such pain, shame or disgrace so to speak. But no Mary, remained faithful to what God has willed for her. So with Joseph, they did their best to raise their child no matter what it takes, no matter what it costs them and no matter how much pain Mary had to bear later on.

Third, they remained grounded in their tradition. As we have heard in the gospel Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem with the child to undergo the purification ritual to offer a sacrifice for the Lord. This is their tradition-

It was a tradition and belief of the Jewish people of old that God is the source of life, and He would channel that life to human beings through blood. So, if a person came in contact with blood, he/she would be deemed to be coming in contact with God’s creative power, and that set this person apart from the ordinary world. This person then would have to undergo a certain ritual bath to go back to his/her ordinary and everyday life. Mary, of course upon giving birth, came in contact with blood and so before she could offer sacrifices to God she would have to go purification first.

This is just a glimpse of how the Holy family observed their traditions. We can see this again, when Jesus reached 12 years old and he was presented in the temple.

There are many challenges that families faced. One challenge for the family today is to uphold the traditional and ancient way of understanding marriage, i.e. between man and woman. Another one is the rise of domestic violence that divides families that leaves a traumatic and sometimes deep psychological wounds for the children. Surely enough there are families today that have fallen short of the ideals of family life.

Let us pray for them, as we pray for our families: that we may all go back to the Holy Family of Nazareth and learn from them how they keep their family grounded in God, grounded in faith and grounded in  tradition. God, faith and tradition are the grounds that would prevent more families from collapsing, and effectively keeping our human society together.

As we pray for our families, I leave you with a recipe for a perfect family. I found this on a website called Tastebook. The ingredients are: 1 loving Father, 1 loving Mother, 4 wonderful children, 2 cute puppies preferably one much larger than the other one, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and cousins. Directions: 1 Mix together:  (God, faith and tradition- my addition) 2 understanding  3 Patience  4 Laughter   5 Tears  6 Compassion 7 A dash of Humor   8 and a whole ’lotta love! 9 Blend well and serve generous portions, evenly to each and everyday

Source:Barbara: http://www.tastebook.com/recipes/839570-Recipe-for-a-Perfect-Family

 

Christmas: Humility of God and a call to hospitality for us

Homily for Christmas Mass 2014

Exactly, a month ago, there was a news on the daily telegraph, that really made me cringe. According to the daily telegraph: ‘The malnourished baby boy was found abandoned at the bottom of a 2.4m drain, covered by a concrete slab, after a cyclist and his daughter heard the baby’s screams early Sunday morning.”  “A newborn baby”, the news goes on, “may have been trapped in a storm water drain on the side of a Sydney motorway for up to five days before he was found by passing cyclists…With temperatures tipped to peak above 40C in Western Sydney today there were concerns the child would have died if he had been found later in the day.”  (source: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/)

Things like this really made me sick in the stomach.  It made me question how could a mother abandon such an innocent, vulnerable, helpless, defenceless, voiceless human being? How could someone do such a thing?

Friends, I know it is Christmas, a time of joy and a time of peace, a time of giving, a time of sharing, a time of caring, and you might say, I should have chosen a better story than the one I mentioned above. However, I can’t help it, because the story of that little child is a modern Christmas story.

The boy was left to die in the drain. He was abandoned, left to the elements. Somebody heard his cry and came to his rescue. And now I hope he is assured to live with a beautiful story of redemption to tell later on.

That is the story of Christmas. This is our story too. In a way, we are like that little child, helpless, vulnerable, and defenceless against the evil one, groping in the dark gutter of sin and death, thrown in the drain of damnation, Yet, God hears our cry for help. He came down not only to help us out from the gutter of sin and death and leave us on our own once again, but to assure us of a brighter and better future ahead of us. He has come to show us the life reserved for us for all eternity. He came to be the great light for us who walked in the darkness and in the shadow of death.

Christmas means that God has come to be with us-Emmanuel. He is here as one truly like us, in all  things except sin. He listens to our pleas for healing. He listens to our problems. He is sensitive to our needs. He cares for us. As St Paul would say in the Second Reading tonight: ‘He sacrificed himself for us order to set us free from all wickedness and to purify a people’ and called us to be his own.’

This is one, if not the main reason of all of our Christmas celebrations and Christmas Do’s.

Christ, has come to light our lives. Let us welcome him to be our light, to be at the centre of our lives.

To welcome him this Christmas and more importantly in our lives, is to visit him in the manger/ on the crib. We are to spend time in prayer and reflection before the nativity scene. We begin reflecting on Mary and how she would have felt having given birth not only in the foreign land, but also not in her house, or in the hospital, not even in a proper bed. She gave birth, with Joseph and no other, not even with close friends. She gave birth in the manger- the place to keep the animals at night.  Let us also reflect on Joseph, who stood by Mary, no matter how incomprehensible his situation is, no matter how much would it take him to be the human Father of Jesus.

Let us also reflect on the shepherds, humble, and simple people, loyal workers, no particular voice in the society, no privileged position in their community, just like many of us here tonight, yet readily went to pay a visit to the new-born child once they heard the good news of his birth.

Let us reflect on the lowliness, the poverty, the ordinariness, the simplicity of the manger, that hosted the most important, the most influential, the most powerful person not only in the whole world, but in all of creation, the richest person, the best of all philanthropists- God himself, who was made flesh for us.

To welcome Christ this Christmas also means we give him a place in our dining tables, in our Christmas parties, and celebrations. Even to say grace in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the  Holy Spirit, to acknowledge the presence of God in our homes, to give thanks to God for the blessings he gave us for the past year, would be pleasing to God and a way to give a birthday treat for the birthday boy- the child Jesus.

The question is: Do we even say grace still before or after meals/ Do we still make the sign of the Cross, or say the Trinitarian formula in the name of the Father, and of the Son when we sit down for meals? No matter how short or how simple a prayer of thanks would that be, it matters a lot, because it is a prayer of gratitude. I found some of this simple prayers and feel free to use this.  

Our Heavenly Father, we thank you for this food, and humbly request that you perform a miracle and remove the calories from dessert.

Lord, please bless this sumptuous feast, and bless the pizza guy who delivered these.

 Our heavenly Father, we thank you for this food we are about to receive…well, everything except the liver and maybe the cauliflower.

 Lord bless my family and may they be nice when they realize I dropped the food on the floor twice.

To welcome Christ this Christmas is to recognize him and welcome him when we meet him on the streets or in our workplaces, or even in our homes. He may be the homeless man looking for an accommodation or some change to get through  the night. He may be the old man in the nursing home with no family and friends to spend Christmas with. He may be the young woman who was looked down by her male colleagues at work. He may be a boy or a girl at home who are surrounded by beautiful toys and the like but never listened to, or seldom appreciated. He may be the person with disability next door living on his or her own, and often abused verbally, physically. He may be the old widow in the neighbourhood who had no one to talk to, or had nobody cared for him.

Christ has come for all of us and for each of these. The challenge for us is to recognise him and make him feel welcome.

Let us make Christ alive in our hearts…this is what Christmas is all about.

With peace and blessings from the Most High, I wish you all a Happy Christmas and Blessed New Year…

God bless!