Tuesday, August 30, 2016

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

Have you ever been with a drunkard before? If you have, then you will know that a person who is drunk will never admit that he is drunk. They are usually in denial because they are not in control of their senses. Similarly, a really humble person will also deny that he or she is humble, the difference is, this person is sober and is in control of his or her senses.

Today’s Gospel talks about humility, not to exalt ourselves because if we do, we will be brought down by God. God knows who we are so we do not have to pretend or to tell people how humble we are. Thomas Merton once said that pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real. It makes us real because true humility will remind us of who we really are before God.

We need to differentiate between true and false humility. True humility means we truly believe that we are not humble, false humility is when we deny that we are humble but is secretly proud of it. When that happens, we are not being true to ourselves and to others and so we project a false image of ourselves.

I know of a few priests who claim that they are humble, well… even Donald Trump claims that he is very humble. Personally I think these people are just looking for attention and validation. True humility does not need validation because the only person that we need to “impress” is God and no one else.

C.S. Lewis said that humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less. That is why in the second part of the Gospel, Jesus says that we need to be charitable to those who are not able to repay us. When we give more thought to others, the experience will lead us to the path of true humility. This is also why the Church and our Legion encourages corporal works of mercy. This helps to cultivate the virtue of humility.

If we are too full of ourselves, there would be no space for God to enter. When we put others before ourselves, we allow ourselves to decrease and this in turn will allow God to increase. That is the true at of humility, knowing that we are allowing God to work through us instead of promoting ourselves with our works.

Saint Augustine posed this quote, “Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.” Without humility we are nothing but empty gongs making a lot of noise but with nothing inside.

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

We are all spoilt for choices. In these day and age, we find ourselves having to make decisions every day of our life. Gone are the days when life was much simpler and we had lesser choices to choose from. This is especially true when it comes to eating, the most annoying answer that we can get or give would be “anything” when asked to make a choice. 
But the fact is that it is anything but anything. Most of us already have something in mind but most times we let others make the choice. Sometimes it’s also because our choices are not really valued. So we decide to just keep quiet.

Whatever the choice, especially when it comes to food, once a decision is made, we still need to decide what we really want to eat, especially when we are in a food court, with multiple choices. Of course, we would take many factors into consideration, how much are we willing to spend, how hungry are we, what appeals to us at that present moment etc. These are the considerations when we need to choose what we want to eat.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus talks about choosing to enter the narrow gate instead of the wider one. Again, Jesus gives us a choice, but not so complicated, narrow or wide door, simple right? Or so it seems. We all know what is the difference between the two, the thing is, which would we choose? Human as we all are, we would sometimes choose the easier path, enjoying our life without regard for God, we would end up further and further away from God.

Let me give you an example from my own experience, that of the religious life. Having seen a few communities in few different countries, I find it saddening that compared to countries like Spain, Taiwan and Indonesia, we in Singapore are the most spoiled. We want comfort and grumble when placed in uncomfortable conditions. I’m saying this simply because we as religious have chosen to give up the things of the world and live a simple life. But the examples that I have seen so far is not very edifying.

My point is this, we profess that we want to follow the ways of the Gospel, but many a times, this is just a lip service. In the end, it is our own comfort that we look out for, and this is the wider gate that Jesus warns us about. I think if I remove all the air conds and replace them with just fans, more than 90% of our religious will not be able to cope.

I’m not saying that all of us should live like beggars but I think a ife of simplicity and moderation should be the way. This is the narrow gate which many prefer to avoid. Squeezing our way through the narrow gate means that we have to endure the conditions of the gate, we will get hurt in the process because we will scrape against the wall, and sometimes we may have to force our way through.

Similarly, if we lead too comfortable a life, I believe that our encounter with God will not be as intense as that of one who lives a simpler and harder life. Without hurts and failures, our need for God will be less. This is what it means to go through the narrow gate.

It is normal human tendency to choose the easy way out, we want convenience and comfort, but that will not lead us to God or heaven, just as we know that delicious and tasty food is seldom healthy. The choice is up to us, no one can force us to choose what we don’t want, we need to discern our choices every day. Let us then, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, make choices that are wise and that which will lead us to God.

Wedding at Cana – 2nd Sunday In Ordinary Time Year C

In today’s Gospel passage, we see three characteristics of Mary that we can meditate on – her motherhood, her prayerfulness, and her willingness to act.

A good mother anticipates the needs of her children and family before others realize a possible problem, challenge, change of direction, or obstacle up ahead.  The innate sense of a mother is profound and this gift is given to mothers by God in order to be a protector, a person of sensibility, great awareness, and practical.  Mary, therefore, realizes, anticipates the problem of the wine running short and goes to Jesus to see if He can do anything about it.  Jesus can do something about it and He does.  But that is not the point of this reflection, the point here is that Mary knew He could.

Mary’s motherhood is seen when she pays attention to the needs of the newlyweds at Cana, noticing when they have run out of wine for their guests. The wine is a sign of “happiness, love, and plenty,” and that many families and people today have also run out of “wine” due to loneliness, unemployment, illness, and other difficulties.

Being sensitive to the needs of others is something that is really lacking in our lives these days. The secular influence of “I, me and myself” has become more and more prevalent, even in the church. Many people see only their own needs and do not want to think further.
During my novitiate, my novice master tells us constantly to be sensitive to the needs of others and try to anticipate their needs. This is indeed something that is not easy to do but that does not mean we should give up trying. It is even more important when we are involved in ministry. I strongly believe that ministry is not a place where we come just to spend our Sundays or to just socialize and catch up on gossip.

Ministry should be a place where we can openly and honestly share our struggles, our joys, a place we can call a second home. All of us have different challenges in life, different needs but the one common thing is that we need to be loved and appreciated. And this is where the need to be sensitive to the needs of others comes in. The question is, are we willing to try to anticipate the needs of others and paying attention to them instead of hogging all the limelight?

Secondly, Mary exhibits prayerfulness when she “approaches Jesus with confidence” to make known the newlyweds’ problem to Him. The family, and ministry in our case, is a school of prayer where people are reminded that they do not live in isolation but must be concerned about the well-being of loved ones around them. In the family, “we are one and we have a neighbor close at hand.”

We are all familiar with prayer. Whether it is a set prayer formula, the Rosary, Novena etc, we become so accustomed to prayer that sometimes it becomes a routine and mechanical. Even for religious, our hours of prayer can become mechanical and routine. We end up reciting these prayers without even thinking or reflecting on their deeper meaning. On the other hand, we have the situation where we only pray when we encounter difficulties or when we need something from God. God becomes like a vending machine for us. But prayer is much deeper than that. We come as the Legion of Mary Sunday after Sunday and pray together but are we really praying? What is our intention when we pray? St Teresa of Avila would describe prayer as a conversation between friends, do we treat our prayer that way, confident like Mary, that Jesus would hear our prayer?

The most important thing is for us to approach God confidently in our prayers but whether he chooses to answer is up to him. I believe that God answers prayers in 4 ways; a “yes’ and nothing ese, in other words, you get what you asked for and nothing else, a “yes and here is so much more”, he gives us more than what we need, an outright “no” and the last way “no, not now” Whatever it is, we must always be faithful to our prayers no matter what the answer is.

Finally, Mary’s willingness to act is seen as she turns to the servants at the wedding feast and tells them to follow Jesus’ commands. Mary’s words are also directed at us; we should do what Jesus tells us, that is, give our lives in the service of love. We must always remember that the family is a place where people can serve one another in love. All in the family deserve this love; “no one is rejected; everyone is worth the same.”

Action is the fruit of prayer, without action, prayer is empty. Action can take many forms, not necessarily physical in nature. For example, a change of heart towards greater virtue, a conscious desire not to say harsh or unkind words etc. Prayer does not change God, rather, it changes us to be more receptive of God’s will and to become a better person. Are we truly willing to do what Jesus tells us? In reality many people practice the “pick and choose to my liking” mentality. We pray for God’s will and yet sometimes we do what is contrary.

We need to constantly ask ourselves whether we are bearing the fruits of prayer. Our very lives, the way we live will bear witness to that fruit. We do not see or hear much about Mary in the Gospels, but from what we do hear and read, she is continually reflecting on the word of God. It was by this continuous reflection that she was able to carry on serving God.

Let us then continue to be aware of these 3 characteristics, being sensitive to others, prayerfulness and willingness to act and to put it into practice. With God’s grace we can continue to be God’s instrument wherever we are.