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.

 

Coming to Jesus in 3 important steps

Homily for 14th Sunday Year A Ordinary time

lift up your hands to GodWhen 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.