Homily for 8th Sunday in Ordinary time year A 2014
My priestly calling began when I was still in grade three. Drawn by the white vestments of our then parish priest and the way he carried out himself, I just felt within me that I wanted to become a priest. That desire was even intensified when I went to a Benediction for the first time. When the priest blessed us with the Blessed Sacrament I just felt the urge to become a priest because I wanted to be able to hold that Blessed Sacrament myself and bless the people.
However, my desire to become a priest almost always had an accompanying challenge to take and difficulties to overcome. First of all, as a child and being one of eleven, that ambition was just like howling at the moon, considering the cost of seminary education and the many years needed for priestly formation. Then when my father died I had to step in, being the eldest son to help my mother raise my younger siblings. That wasn’t easy. So I tried to put my personal dream aside. But the more I set it aside, the more it stirred me from within. Yet still, I tried to focus on helping my family because I thought it would be so selfish of me to neglect my duties and responsibilities for my own mother and younger siblings if I followed my personal interest then.
I didn’t lose hope though. I continued to dream. I started taking prayer seriously. I asked God if he really wanted me to become his priest, to provide me the way, the means and the opportunities to get there. By sheer God’s sense of humour, I had to face another challenge. When I told my sisters about my plan to enter the seminary, some of them thought I was getting away from my responsibilities for my family. I told them: ‘Let me just go there and respond to God’s call for me. I’m sure He will never let us down. Let’s see, if we all survive amidst all these challenges and difficulties then that means it is really God’s will for me to become a priest. If not, then I’ll take that as a sign that God has something else for me.’ If I could have preached to my older siblings then, I would have used the words of Jesus in the Gospel today. Because my siblings were a bit a concerned about the well-being of my younger siblings like food to eat, clothes and education may be, I could have quoted Jesus’ words in the gospel today: ‘Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?’ (Mt 6:25)
But I didn’t have the courage to do so. And yet eleven years of seminary formation have elapsed, and more than two years now in the priestly ministry, here I am surviving. My family is still there and surviving. I am happy I have realized my dream. For me, I don’t think there is a better option than being a priest. I am happy and felt this is really my life because in this and through I truly felt God’s presence and working in my life. I am also happy that as a priest now I have become instrument of God’s love, compassion, continuing care and support for his people and that includes my family.
I’m sharing you a bit of my vocation story because I just can’t help but share with you the beauty of having God acting and working so personally in my life. Looking back, I could really feel the hand of God guiding me through all the trials and challenges I had to face. And the words of the Prophet Isaiah (Is 49:14-15) in the first reading today captured it all: Though a mother forgets her child, God couldn’t abandon us. He couldn’t to forget us.
Jesus in our gospel today (Mt 6: 24-34), would also affirm this wonderful and personal actions of God the Father for our good. But Jesus would add more: That God’s work is not only providing us of our material needs but also of our spiritual needs- in fact He provides us the goal of our Christian journey- eternal life with him in his kingdom.
But we’ve got work to do. As Jesus would urge us we have to ‘strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness.’ (Mt 6:33)
To seek first the kingdom of God is to look up (to God), look into (our hearts) and to look outside our comfort zones (e.g. to those who are in need).
To look up to God means that God has to be on top of our priorities because it is only through him that we could see things in the bigger picture and in the right perspective. This is a challenge we have to face everyday because as Pope Francis wrote in his Apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), we have in the modern time created new idols. The Pope said: ‘The worship of the ancient golden calf (Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.’ (EG 55). There is indeed a tendency we have now to use or exploit people to gain more money or profit rather than using money to help people live a decent human life.
Looking up to God also means constant communication with our God in Jesus through prayers, meditation and contemplation.
To look into our hearts means constant review or examen of our attitudes, our inner motives, and our beliefs. Then after examination, we need to make a constant resolution to ‘have a heart that loves like Jesus’ as Bishop Joe Grech put it in his prayers, to have a heart ‘that feels like Jesus, understands like Jesus, thinks like Jesus and behaves like Jesus.’ (Bishop Joe Grech Homily, 2010). We need to look into our hearts because it is the field where God plants the seed of the Kingdom in each one of us. We need to look into our hearts and see how are we nurturing or cultivating that seed of the kingdom that God entrusted us to grow.
Finally, to look outside our comfort zones means going out and tending the wounds of the wounded like the Good Samaritan who didn’t just leave the dying person to die by the road of life. It also means welcoming the strangers and the foreigner, and not to turn their boats away or tow them back as if unwanted gifts or sick animals that threaten the integrity of the land.
When we are looking up to God, looking into our hearts constantly, and looking outside our comfort zones, we are on the way to find the Kingdom of God- ‘the eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.’ (Preface of the Feast of Christ the King)
This Wednesday we begin the season of Lent. This is an opportune time for us to search for the kingdom of God by reflecting on our relationship with God (Prayer), on our relationship with others (almsgiving) and by reflecting on who we truly are and where we are now in our Christian journey (fasting)
May we observe this lent by re-visiting the seed of the kingdom of God planted in our hearts and doing something to nurture it, to cherish it, to make it grow in us and to share them to others.