On my way back to Australia from the Philippines, I went through Singapore. I had to wait for six hours in the airport for my next flight to Australia. It was a long and boring wait. So to break the boredom of waiting, I started a conversation with another passenger, a Filipina on her way to the middle East. After introducing myself as a Catholic priest, she was taken aback and said that she is an adherent to the Islamic faith. Out of curiosity, she asked me: ‘As a priest, you are not allowed to marry, are you?’ I said: ‘Not in the Roman Catholic Church.’ She added: ‘But you’re still human, and you are still attracted to beautiful people, aren’t you?’ I said: ‘Yes, absolutely, but my case is no longer a matter of human attraction or of my being human, it is already a matter of commitment.’ Then I asked her in return: ‘As a married person, you’re still attracted to other people, are you?’ She affirmed. Then I continued: ‘But you can’t just get carried away by your attraction because you are already committed to someone. Are you? In the same way, my commitment is a Catholic priest. This is my ground, this is my foundation on which I always come back to every time I do something, I feel something, or even in the way I carry out myself.’ She seemed convinced and said she’d remember my explanation from that moment on.
Dear brothers and sisters, I’m sharing this with you not only because it is story of commitment but also because our gospel today and in fact the gospels read for the last two Sundays are all about commitment- a commitment to follow Christ. On the twelfth Sunday for instance, Jesus noted that if we commit ourselves to following him, we are to expect that we have cross to carry as we follow him. Last week, He urged us that if we commit ourselves to follow him, then we must strive not to turn back to our old way of life or to whatever we have left behind. ‘We are a new creature now in Christ, and this is what matters’, as St Paul would tell us in our Second Reading today. And in today’s gospel, Jesus tells us that if we commit ourselves to follow him, we are to strive to overcome all unnecessary baggage and obstacles, trials and challenges in our way to discipleship. He is inviting us to live simply, carry out our mission faithfully and bring the message of peace to others.
By virtue of our baptism we have committed ourselves to Christ and the gospel. This means that to be true to our Christian baptism we are to work like Christ, we are to work with Christ and we are to be with Christ. To be able to do this, let us listen to St Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) as she put it rather beautifully in her poem Christ Has No Body. She wrote: ‘Christ has no body but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours, Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world, Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, Yours are the eyes, you are his body.’
This is a way for us to honour our commitment to God and make Christ our firm and solid ground in our service to God and to our neighbours. ‘Apart from him, we can do nothing’ [Jn 15:5].
However, let us always remember, Jesus didn’t promise us a smooth-sailing journey, a cost efficient mission and a really productive endeavour. Instead he is warning us that there are always people, things and circumstances that would help create opposition and resistance against the message of the gospel that we bring. There would be ‘towns that wouldn’t welcome us and the message of peace that we bring.’ But we must keep up. We must not get carried away by discouragement and despair. We must keep up rather, with our commitment to Christ because we are not promoting ourselves here. We are not doing this to put ourselves in the front, so I hope and pray. We are bearing the marks of Christ in our lives, St Paul would say to us in our second reading today. We are doing this for the Kingdom of God.
Sincerely, I thank you all for being here today. By coming here today to celebrate our faith together is a concrete example that we are serious in our commitment to Christ and his gospel. Thank you for your commitment to come here in this mass, to show to the world that God matters, to show to the world that Christ is real in our lives and that we need him. Thank you for your commitment to Christ.
But this commitment demands more of us. Let us make this commitment to him our ideal to which we look up to and renew everyday in our lives. If we do this, then no amount of criticism, pessimism or cynicism can tear us apart because we are standing on the firm and solid foundation- Christ and the gospel.
This year Pope Francis is going to canonize two important figures in our Church whose commitment to Christ resonated in the way they lived up their lives and in the way they led the Church. Pope John XXIII convened the historic Second Vatican Council through which we come to see the beauty of the Church from all perspectives. Pope John Paul II showed in his leadership the beauty of unwavering commitment to Christ and his Church. We can learn from the examples of these two great figures in the Church, the beauty, the grandeur and the prize of unwavering commitment to Christ and to his Church by faithfully and prayerfully renewing our commitment to him everyday till the end of our earthly life.
So as we continue our celebration today, let us ask ourselves: How committed are we to Christ and the gospel? Is Christ now our ground, our foundation upon which we come back to and lean back on when things or people, trials and problems become obstacles and hurdles for us in our way to discipleship? Let this be a point for our prayer and resolution from this day on.