Homily: 19th Sunday of Pentecost/2nd Sunday after Holy Cross (Luke 6:31 – 36)

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The full text of the homily that I preached at St. Joseph’s Melkite Catholic Church, Fairfield VIC on 30/09/2012

The Gospel that we have just heard today comes from Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Mount. While Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount is brief compared to the one in the Gospel of Matthew, the simplest overview of the Sermon on the Mount is this: an introduction to the kind of life that everyone who desires the Kingdom of God should be leading.

Based on Matthew’s account of the Sermon, and if we were to break the Sermon of the Mount down, we can break it down into 4 parts; namely:-

  • The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-16)
  • The New Covenant – which is the fulfilment of the Jewish Law of the Prophets (Matthew 5:17 – 48)
  • Spiritual disciplines, which are giving alms, prayer, and fasting (Matthew 6:1 – 7:12)
  • Exhortation to righteousness (to hear His words, and live by it) (Matthew 7:13 – 29)

Today’s Gospel falls under the section of the New Covenant. To briefly introduce the section which I call the “New Covenant”, Jesus reminds us that that He did not come to “destroy the Law … but to fulfil” (Matthew 5:17 – 18). And the Law that He is calling us to live by, in its fullness, in today’s Gospel, is an ancient Jewish Law, which most of us know as the Golden Rule; which is “and as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them” (Luke 6:31 – 36).

We would have heard this saying countless times, whether it be from today’s Gospel reading or from some other source. This saying is universal, and transcends all religions and cultures. However, the intended fulfilled meaning that Jesus wants us to accept is very different to what His contemporaries then understood. To the people of Jesus’ time, many of them were still confined to the 613 Jewish laws, and what they understood of the Golden Rule was very legalistic and may have sounded something like this: “don’t do any evil to anyone, and you won’t receive evil”. There are 2 elements of negativity to this; namely:-

  • It made people very passive to reach out to others
  • It made people very selective in who they chose to interact and form a relationship with i.e. “friendship” or “love” with benefits; which was not really love, but a means of selfishness and serving the ego.

But as Jesus puts it; He calls on us to treat others as we would like to be treated by them. However, just as it was back then, we are at the risk of misunderstanding this commandment; by doing good to others in the hope that they would respond with the same form of good, and in equal value to us. As the modern proverb goes, “I scratch your back, you scratch mine”. But Jesus points out to us that love must be freely given; even out to those who will respond with nothing; not even a simple “thank you”.

That is the first thing that Jesus commands us to do. With that, a second question arises: Who are these “other people” that Jesus talks about? Are they my friends, are they random strangers? Jesus clarifies this for us to include even our enemies – people who have exploited us, people who have offended us, insulted us, hurt us, or even those who have done the worst possible things unto us. From our human perspective, we can’t even think of associating with them; let alone love them. But this is exactly the command that Jesus calls us to follow: Love your enemies.

But the second question remains: How can I love my enemies when they are exactly that, my enemies? There is no easy “how-to” instruction manual on how to love my enemy, but Jesus is trying to stress yet another point: “Be merciful, as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).

And yet again, He startles us. But He has a point: Firstly, mercy is good, and there is only One that is good, which is God Himself. We will never reach the point of goodness that God only possesses, but through our Baptism, we share in that goodness, and we partake of that goodness. If we find it really difficult to love our enemies, we can find inspiration by sharing our Father’s spirit of mercy. A few signs of the Father’s spirit of mercy include:-

  • We should never think of a person as lost, gone for good, or a write-off because of their actions and deeds
  • We should always believe that a person is never entirely bad, and can change

If that is not good enough, or if that still leaves us doubtful; here’s another simple reminder: God first loved us, even though we are always at the risk of falling into sin. If God is always going to love sinners, and if God is always ready to open His arms to sinners, who are we to take God’s place and decide who we should or should not love, when we still commit sins ourselves to begin with?

Irrespective of whom it is, or the sin one has committed, the “image of God” is still present in all of us, and in our enemies. Perhaps the most important question here remains: How can the “image of God” in me, a sinner, meet the “image of God” in my enemy, a fellow sinner?

Through the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls us to examine how we love our neighbours without expecting anything in return, and this includes our enemies. To deprive them of our love is to overlook our sinfulness, and to deny that we are equally in sin as the other. But there is a Light in all of that, as we are made in the image of likeness of God, and that He desires that we all share in His spirit of mercy.

As we prepare to receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, let us ask Him, and also through the prayers of His all-pure Mother, to reconcile our “image of God” with the “image of God” with our enemies before receiving the Eucharist. Let us also exalt Him by saying this prayer, that is said silently by the priest before the end of our Liturgy.

PRAYER: You who are the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, Christ our God, who fulfilled the whole providential plan of the Father, fill our hearts with joy and gladness, at all times, now and always and for ever and ever.

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Reflection for the Sunday before the Feast of the Holy Cross

A short 300-word reflection that I have been requested to write for our parish newsletter – CollinImage

I am convinced that the Cross of Christ is the most feared religious symbol of contemporary society. The Cross of Christ has become too much to handle even for us; that we Christians shy away from the Cross, which is the very sign and symbol of our salvation. I am not suggesting that we are ashamed of our Christian faith or about Christ Himself, but we forget the most essential part of how we got to Christ in the first place: The Cross. Could it be because of the violence involved, or is it because crucifixion is a cruel and degrading?

Whatever our reasons are, we in contemporary society are slowly compromising Jesus Christ and His Cross for a “do-good, feel-good” religious belief that has no reference to Jesus Christ, His Holy Cross, or even His Holy Gospel as its foundation. Worse still, we who are ashamed of the Cross and our redemption are the same people that proudly hang Crosses or crucifixes in our homes, Cross ourselves during prayer and the Liturgy, or even wear the Cross around our necks!

However, the Cross is not an ornament, a decoration, or a fashion accessory. To an anonymous 2nd century author, this is his story of the Cross:-

“When I am overtaken by the fear of God, the Cross is my protection; when I stumble, it is my help and my support; when I engage in combat, my prize; when I conquer, my crown. The Cross for me is a narrow path, a narrow way, which angels ascend and descend, at the top of which the Lord is to be found”.

In preparation for the Feast of the Holy Cross this Friday, there is just one question for us: Have I walked away from the Cross that brought my Saviour to me? 

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Homily: 14th Sunday After Pentecost (Matthew 22:1 – 14)

A brief homily that I prepared for today’s Divine Liturgy at St. Joseph’s Melkite Catholic Church, Fairfield, VIC, Australia – Collin

In today’s Gospel passage, the Kingdom of Heaven is likened to a marriage feast. And in the context of Jesus’ parable today, the marriage feast is an image of rejoicing and communion with God. The idea from the marriage feast comes from Isaiah 25:6 – 9, where the salvation of God is portrayed as a joyful banquet. By using the context given to us by the Prophet Isaiah, we can slowly uncover the Gospel of today.

The King is God our Heavenly Father, and He is preparing to celebrate the marriage of His Son Jesus Christ to the Jewish nation, and subsequently His Church. Such an elaborate and generous feast He has prepared for them, and He sends His servants (prophets) to tell them about this great feast; but no – they decide to shrug it off, go about their business, and even killed the prophets. For some of you that are not aware, the prophets of the Old Testament were killed by those who rejected God’s Word. This greatly angered Our Father, and He punished these people greatly for their transgressions. And it was here, our God had decided – My Son is ready to be married; invite all you can find on the street! Tell the good news to everyone; both bad and good, both Jew and Gentile, go out to people of all nations, and more importantly – you and me!

People answered the call to the feast and the hall was filled with guests, but hold on – some of us chose not to wear a “wedding garment” – in other words, we didn’t fulfil our part of the “wedding agreement” by disobeying God, dishonouring our baptismal vows, and also not living what we have been called to.  We chose to be at this wedding feast, but we couldn’t abide by one single condition. So, our Father says “for many are called, and few are chosen”.

Looking back, what is so significant about the wedding garment and the “punchline” of today’s Gospel to us?

Don’t worry, God is not mean! From the sounds of it, this King was a generous king, so if a poor person who entered the wedding feast didn’t have one, he could have asked for one and it would have been given to Him. But bringing this back to reality, we are like those people who did not have wedding garments, and for some of us, we chose NOT to refuse those wedding garments. In other words, we chose not to repent. We chose not to live the call of the Gospel. We chose not to do good works. We chose not to confess our sins. We chose not to fast, we chose not to pray, or we chose not to attend Liturgy on Sunday. In short, we chose not to do build our hearts up to love! Instead, we chose to live our faith on our terms – we do as we please instead of fulfilling the call.

When we refuse to put on the wedding garment, we fail to put into effect the words “all of you who have been baptised into Christ, have put on Christ” because what good is it to put on Christ and do nothing about it? What good is it to say we are Christian and we believe in Jesus Christ, but not actually live it; faithfully?

Coming back to the image of the wedding banquet, we can now safely ask ourselves – am I ready to put on this “wedding garment” of obedience and faithfulness to God, and be in a Christian in all that I do? Whether I am at work, or at university, at school, or even at home? Am I reaching out to my neighbour and my friend, who might need me?

While we may not see it, the word “love” is at play here, as God first loved us to desire all of us to be at this wedding banquet. If we can’t respond to that call of love, just as God first loved us, then, as St. Paul says, “I am nothing”. So, let us seek God, and ask Him to help search for our “wedding garments” within our souls and live out the Christian life. Additionally, as the Gospel ends with the statement, “for many are called, but few are chosen”, the question for us is, are all of us ready to tread down that narrow path? Everyone is part of the Church, but can all of us tread down that narrow path?

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“What Shall I Do to Inherit Eternal Life?” (Matthew 19:16 – 26)

A homily that I gave at St. Joseph’s Melkite Catholic Church, Fairfield on the 19th of August, which was the 12th Sunday of Pentecost. –  Collin

When asked this first question, Jesus immediately sees problems with his question.  By referring to Him as a “Good Teacher”, the young man overlooks the fact that Jesus is God – so Jesus turns Him back to the source of all goodness by saying, “If you call Me good thinking I am merely a teacher, you’re wrong, because no man is essentially good. Nothing you ever do will be good, as there is only One Who is good, and that is God.”

Nonetheless, Jesus begins this “build-up” of the revelation that is God by instructing the young man to “follow all the commandments.” By saying this, Jesus brings the young man out of his self-centred comfort zone to a more outward view of the “loving thy neighbour”. However, the young man resists, and insists that he has been following all the commandments from his youth.

Still unsatisfied because he’s doing everything “by the book”, the young man still feels like he’s not getting anywhere and asks, “what do I still lack?”, Jesus lays down the hard truth and says, “if you want perfection, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

The young man gets this cold and hard answer, but this is too much for him. So, he walks away dejected as he could not detach himself from his possessions to follow Christ.

On the other hand, the disciples; who probably saw great value in this man being one of their benefactors, were astonished when he walked away, and asked – Who can be saved?! Jesus responds simply – with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

It is obvious, that from today’s Gospel passage, there are some inherent problems with the questions that the young man asks of Jesus. After all, Jesus has been preaching “repent and believe, for the Kingdom of God is at hand” for a while, and here comes a young man who thinks that there is another way around getting eternal life. Whatever the reality of the young man is, it is also equally unfortunate that we can see a lot of ourselves in this young man.

This brings us back to the point of our faith in God, and our level of desire to know God as “the source of all Goodness”, and also “the One through Whom all things are possible”. Very simply, these can be the response to all the questions we’ve heard in a nutshell.

This point matters greatly, as they help us get out of the mentality of the rich young man in today’s Gospel. And here’s why I believe so:

  • Eternal life cannot be earned – Heaven and eternal life cannot be earned as our faith is not a loyalty programme or even “life insurance”. Our faith is not a faith of terms & conditions, where we have to do something to earn something. Additionally, we do not enter into this relationship solely to be saved. After all, If I had friends only for what I get from them, that is not real friendship.  We love Jesus Christ because He first loved us. Instead, this relationship with Jesus Christ is a “free, total, and faithful” relationship. Just like any relationship, we do not, and should not enter into something unless we are doing it out of our own free will, giving our total selves, and are planning to remain faithful. And if we are totally sincere and committed to that relationship, we will do our best to strip away all that stands between us and that other person in that relationship.
  • Don’t worry about the treasures in Heaven, the Kingdom of Heaven, and Salvation until we truly dedicate ourselves to getting to know God. Surely, these are promised to those who truly faithful and believe in God. However, it shouldn’t be our main focus. Our relationship with God should be the first and foremost desire of our hearts, and concern of our minds. These things will come to mind eventually, at the right time. Let us start by opening the Word of God and reflect on what He has thinks of us and what He has to say to us, spending time in prayer, receiving the Eucharist, and joyfully meeting Christ in the Sacrament of Reconciliation?

 Does this sound like too much? It sounded like too much for the rich young man, and it might be for us. Are we prepared to give up everything to follow Him?  It is not about quitting your jobs, putting your life plans on hold, or giving up on your education. Instead, it is about giving up anything that might stand between us and our relationship with Christ. There are “possessions”, and even flaws that possess us that distance us from Jesus. When you have the most important thing in the world, you should be willing to suffer all things to keep the most important thing. Amen.

 

 

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A Commentary of St. Paul’s Hymn to Love (1 Corinthians 13)

One of the very best summaries of St. Paul’s spiritual and theological thoughts is chapter 13 of his first letter to the Corinthians. In it, Paul addresses the Church of Corinth, who was more captivated by the spectacular manifestations of spiritual life: speaking in tongues, trading in words of knowledge, engaging in prophecy etc. This letter’s purpose was to bring them back to the fundamentals, so he insists on the superiority of love.

Paul speaks of having these gifts, but he asserts here that it counts for nothing unless they are accompanied by, and give rise to, love. Why should this be true? It is true because God is love (1 John 4:16); love IS the divine life – and the entire purpose of spirituality is to get that life in us. But specifically, what is love?

Love is not primarily a feeling or emotion (though love can be accompanied by feelings and emotions); it is willing the good of the other as other. When we love, we escape the black hole of our own clinging egotism and live for someone else; to love is to leap ecstatically out of the self.

“Love is patient, love is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4). Many of us are good or just to someone else so that he or she, in turn, might be good or just to us. This is not love, but rather indirect egotism. When we are caught in the rhythm of that sort of reciprocal exchange, we are very impatient with any negative response to a positive overture that we have made.

If someone responds to our kindness with hostility or even indifference, we quickly withdraw our benovelence. But the person characterised by true love is not interested in reciprocation but simply in the good of the other, and therefore, is willing to wait out any resistance.

True love has nothing to do with resentment, for it wants the success of the other. And the person who loves is not conceited, because she feels no need to raise herself above the other. Just the contrary: she wants the other to be elevated, and hence she takes the lower place with joy. Once we understand the nature of true love, we know why “it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). The one who loves is not focused on himself but on the object or person of his love. He is not preoccupied with his own weariness or disappointment or frustration. Instead he looks ahead, hoping against hope, attending to the needs of the one he loves.

“Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8). In heaven, when we are sharing the divine life, even faith will end, for we will see and no longer merely believe; hope will end, for our deepest long will have been realised. But love will endure, because heaven IS love. Heaven is the state of being in which everything that is not love has been burned away. And that is why “faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Paul has named here, not just the essence of his own theology, but also of Christian life itself. Everything else is just commentary.

Source:
Barron, R. (2011). The Indispensable Men: Peter, Paul, and the Missionary Adventure. In R. Barron, Catholicism: A Journey To the Heart of Faith (pp. 116-142). New York: Image Books.

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Which Catholics, Nancy???

I found this on Fr. Z’s blog today, and honestly, I am pretty shocked.

If I were her bishop(s), I’d just excommunicate her. There is no reasoning needed with these people sometimes.

Canon Law aside, which Christian advocates murder in its lowest form like this?

Read more here at:- “I am going to stick with fellow Catholics” – Nancy Pelosi

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Political affray in Malaysia (uncensored)

The Malaysian Government has censored 4 lines of this article that was recently published in The Economist. Here is the full uncensored version. This goes to show that the Malaysian Government is powerless against the Internet. Here is the link:-

Political Affray in Malaysia: Taken to the Cleaners (Uncensored)

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