Homily for 15th Sunday in Ordinary time year A 2014
With 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?
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.
Homily for 14th Sunday Year A Ordinary time
When I was in the Philippines, I was talking to a nun-in-charge of the Home for the Aged Priests in the Archdiocese of Cebu. The nature of her work allowed her to meet many different priests from different places. She shared with me a wonderful story of a priest-exorcist who came to stay in that place one day. The story was that this priest was doing the ministry of exorcism to a certain person who was possessed by an evil spirit. This priest played the music ‘How lovely is your dwelling place O Lord’. Hearing that, apparently the evil spirit started to cry. It is an amazing thing for this priest because in his experience as an exorcist, evil spirits are so arrogant, full of pride, swearing, cursing, uttering terrible words. But hearing it crying, is unusual. So this priest asked ‘why did you cry?’ The spirit answered: ‘It’s true that God’s dwelling place is so lovely, so beautiful. But I no longer have the chance to live there. But you people just take this and many other things for granted.’
Friends, I’m sharing this with you because in our gospel today, Jesus is giving us a chance, an opportunity, an invitation, whoever we are, to come to him, to rest in him and to learn from him. And this is too good an opportunity to miss and to be taken for granted. This is an invitation that assures us that not only that we can tell God, how great our problem is, but also that can we can tell our problems, how great our God is.
And I thank all of you, especially the young people here for responding to this invitation of Jesus- to come to him- through this Holy Eucharist. At times, we may be tempted to think Mass is dull, boring, repetitive, and we don’t get anything out of it. But St John Vianney would say: “If we really understood the Mass, we would die of joy.” The Second Vatican Council Document in its Constitution on the Church ‘Lumen gentium’ put it even more beautifully saying that the ‘Eucharist is the source and the summit of Christian life.’ (LG 11). The Eucharist gives us life and keeps us alive. Scott Hahn, a protestant-turned-Catholic theologian recalled his amazement of the first time he’d been to Catholic Mass. While sitting in the Church, during the Liturgy of the Word, Hahn exclaimed: “I sat there saying ‘Man, stop the show, let me explain your prayers. That’s Zechariah; that’s Ezekiel. Wow! It’s like the Bible coming to life and dancing out on the center stage and saying, “This is where I belong.” (http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/apologetics/ap0088.html). One more thing, is that every time we receive the Eucharist, we not only come to Jesus, but we allow him to come into our lives and become part of us.
It is important to remember too that ‘coming to Jesus and resting in him’ is not only about our partaking in the Eucharist.
Coming to Jesus at Mass also means coming to celebrate as a community of faith. “In the Church there is no DIY or ‘do it yourself’ Christianity, there are no ‘free agents’ as Pope Francis would say on one of his Wednesday audiences at St Peter’s Square. [See: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2014/documents/papa-francesco_20140625_udienza-generale.html]
The pope added: “We are able to live this journey (this faith journey) not only because of others, but together with others.” Pope Francis also acknowledges that it is a challenge for us to take because according to him: ‘It is true that walking together is challenging, and at times can be tiring: it can happen that some brother or some sister creates difficulties, or shocks us…. But the Lord entrusted his message of salvation to a few human beings, to us all, to a few witnesses; and it is in our brothers and in our sisters, with their gifts and limitations, that he comes to meet us and make himself known. And this is what it means to belong to the Church. Remember this well: to be Christian means belonging to the Church. The first name is “Christian”, the last name is “belonging to the Church”.
Coming to Jesus also means coming to him in faith.It is a challenge for us today because of the many things that would distract us from God, from the faith. There are people today, even in our immediate surroundings who would say to us ‘that they don’t need God’, and even showing pride of their not having faith at all. Francis Chan puts it rather cleverly when he wrote: “The irony is that while God doesn’t need us but still wants us, we desperately need God but don’t really want Him most of the time.”
If only all of us realize the beauty of our God and the value of our faith, we come to appreciate more of the gift of life that God has given us so generously. The other day, I visited a parishioner who had been diagnosed of brain tumour and given few weeks to live. Her faith and her readiness to die amazed me. She couldn’t wait to get there. Her faith keeps her strong, and not feeling depressed by her situation. She realized ‘life is a gift’ and her faith tells her to continue living it no matter what it brings her. And that my friends, is true faith in action.
This morning I was driving towards Raywood ( a small country Church) to say Mass there. It was foggy almost all of the way. The fog was so thick I could only see no farther than 50 metres ahead of me. So I had to slow down, turned my lights on, and more importantly, stayed on my lane. And I got there safely. That made me reflect though that at times, our faith is like that. Our faith at times could only help us see as much. There might be cloud of doubts or uncertainties, worries, or problems so thick that we could hardly see any light or any way out. But if we slow down (humble ourselves and pray, seek God’s face and turn from our wicked ways [cf 2 Chronicles 7:14]) , go to retreats, give time to ourselves and to God), turned our lights on (keep on living, live in hope), stay on the right lane (remain in the Church), and keep going, then we’ll get to our final destination in the end (heaven and eternal life).
Friends, dear brother and sisters, Jesus in the gospel is calling us to come to him, to take up his yoke with love and fidelity in him, and learn from his example of loving with no condition, of serving one another with no limits, and laying down our lives for our brothers and sisters. He is giving us an opportunity to come to him in the Eucharist, to celebrate our faith as a Church, and he has gifted us the faith. These are our chances. And I hope and pray, we wont take these amazing opportunities for granted. Otherwise, like the evil spirit in the story above, we would end up crying for ever rather than enjoying our lives in happiness forever with God. Amen.