In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ disciples were arguing amongst themselves on “which of them was the greatest?” When Jesus asked them what they were arguing about, they could not answer Jesus’ question because deep in their hearts they felt guilty. When we feel guilty, we know that deep within us, we have not been doing or saying the right thing that we ought to. Why is this so? This is so because God has created us to live and love like Him; the image in which He has created us to be and become.
Some years ago, on CCTV there was a beautiful story of Bai Fang Li who lived in poverty and died at the age of 93. Fang Li had donated about RMB 350,000 (renminbi) about $70,000 to universities and schools in Tianjin to help 300 poor children in need. For almost twenty years, Fang Li had paddled his tricycle earning Yuan by Yuan to save up for his donations.
His lunch was two buns and plain water. Luxury to him was the sauce he put into the water. Dinner was a piece of meat or an egg. What he wore was what he picked from the dump. Any extra piece was luxury. He paddled 365 days a year every year, in the snow and in the soaring heat of 50 degrees C. He started at 6 in the morning and finished at 7 or 8 at night. When asked, he says, “It’s alright that I suffer, but let the poor kids go to school.” At the age of 90, he placed his last saving of RMB500 neatly in a box and handed to Yao Hua School, saying, “I cannot paddle anymore and so I am not able to donate any more. This shall be my last …” All the teachers in the School wept …The last image people had of him was his photo inscribed, “A special Love for a special you.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, Fang Li’s selfless love for the poor children in need illustrates beautifully the Compassionate Love that Jesus has for the needy when He embraced a child in today’s Gospel and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all.” In the ancient world of Jesus’ time, children were precious, no doubt to their parents, but they had no social status or value whatsoever; until they reached adulthood they were nobodies, in law. So, if someone outside the family were to welcome and show affection to a child, he would be turning a social norm upside down.
And so, when Jesus, in today’s Gospel, called a child and embraced him and says, “Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in My Name, welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me, welcomes not me, but the one who sent me.” In saying this, Jesus was putting aside His adult status and self-importance and lowering Himself to the level of a child and respecting the child as His equal. It is in such humble love that Jesus is proclaiming that we should have for one another. It is also with such humble attitude that we should serve one another.
The compassionate love that Fang Li showed to children who are poor and needy, reveals the inner beauty that you and I too have in our hearts. This is so because the is how God has created Fang Li, you and I and indeed all human persons to be . . . in His Image and Likeness.
Fr Joseph Galdon, a Jesuit professor in English literature shares, “We all possess an inner beauty – the beauty of love that is not always seen on the surface. We all wear silence, anger and arrogance on the outside sometimes, and that makes it hard to recognise the love, the common humanity that is within us all. Thus, we can never judge the package by its wrapping. What is inside is not always visible on the outside. We have to accept the fact that the contents of the package have value even if the ribbons on the outside are not too attractive. People are good. Love does exist. It really does.
And so, when we reach out to others in love, despite the outside wrappings of the person, we give life a new meaning. If we speak to strangers, and listen to the lonely, if we are not afraid to show that we care, especially those who are close to us in the family, then we will find that the love we give to others comes back to us a hundredfold, for love begets love. Dostoievski, a Russian novelist, once wrote, “Love a man or a woman, even in their sin, for that love is the summit of all love on earth.”
No one says that this kind of love is easy, or simple or effortless. It does take a lot of blood, sweat and tears to make it work. But when we understand the blessing of truly what selfless love is about, and when we learn to cherish and love the essence of each person we meet, then we will experience the inner peace and joy that is beyond all words. How can I tell you how happy I am when you love me and when I love you? Only when we love one another are we truly alive and truly happy. Love somebody, really love them, and see the difference it makes in him or her – and in you! Only when we truly love can we look forward to tomorrow with a smile.”
Last week, I shared with a parishioner, Jane, (not her real name), that when I step down as the Parish Priest, I would really like to continue to serve the poor and needy. When I next met Jane, she told me, “Fr Heng, my husband and I have decided that instead of celebrating our Golden Wedding Anniversary, we will donate the money for a more worthy cause of the Poor and Needy. Thank you for the opportunity to be able to do some good for those who are less fortunate.”
I was not surprised at all at Jane and her husband’s very generous response to what I had said to her. This is because Jane’s daily living is one that is truly always Christ-centered. She is always so caring and loving as a wife, mother and grandmother. She not only prays frequently, but several times each week brings Holy Communion to our sick parishioners in hospital and in their homes. She is a sponsor to many in our parish RCIA journey, is an interim leader in or NCCs and attends all our parish talks, Days of Recollection and the like. Some of us may be wondering, “As Jane is so involved in the needs and care of others and is so active in our parish, is she neglecting her family? Jane would say, “I do all these parish work after fulfilling all my family responsibilities.” But, then again we may ask, “But, how do you find the time do so much?”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, this is precisely the question that you and I should ponder on daily and ask ourselves. “How does Jane find so much time to do so much for her family and others, and yet continue to be prayerful and still find time to participate in our Parish programmes?” We could also ask the same question of Fang Li, “How is he able to be so selfless and caring for the poor and needy children?”
My sisters and brothers in Christ, as I conclude, I believe the answers lie in the simple truth, “Do we truly love Jesus? If we do, then are we willing to make the needed sacrifices to be and become more like Him? If we do, then like Jane and Fang Li, we will always find the time and the ways to love, serve and share all that we have with others.
In loving Jesus, Jane sees the world around us and people differently. She sees Jesus in all peoples and she feels Jesus’ Compassionate Love for those who are suffering. We do not know whether Fang Li is a Christian or not. If he is then, we can clearly see the great similarities that he and Jane have in their love for Jesus. But, if Fang Li is not a Christian, we are even more amazed by how his goodness and compassionate heart has grown to be so Christ-like.
What about you and I? Are we going to argue like Jesus’ disciples on “who amongst us is the greatest or are we going to be more resolved to be more like Christ in our daily living as He has shown us in today’s Gospel?
(cf. The Chain of Love, Essays for Daily Living, Joseph A. Galdon,S.J.: Cacho Hermanos, Inc.:1993; p. 53.)
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
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