As I reflected on the readings of today together with the Opening Prayer for the Mass, a constant theme that came across was our need to live a more discerning life. To live a more discerning life is to live a more wholesome life that is more life-giving, more loving and all because we are more God-Centred.
To understand the importance of living a more discerning life, I would like us to reflect on the true story of T.J. Bengston’s life which I will adapt for this homily. This is what he shared about himself. “Not too long ago, the deepest, most venomous anger, hatred and bitterness were eating me alive from the inside out. Nearly a decade of rejecting God had finally caught up with me. The burdens of greed and selfishness were caving in.”
“I was dying in my heart, and there was no one to blame but myself. In that moment, I faced one terrifying question: What on earth have I done? On the outside, my image didn’t add up. I was raised in a devout Christian home, went to a private Christian school, had amazing parental examples, and was taught to memorize the Bible from a young age. But by the time I got to high school I’d grown bored with everything that had to do with God and church.” I was tired of the same old stuff that I was hearing.
One day, when I was about 15, I consciously and purposefully shut the door on God. As far as I was concerned, that was it. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I still acknowledged God’s existence. That’s why I firmly maintained my status as an agnostic and NOT an atheist. This was because I could clearly see that “There’s too much beauty in the world for there not to be a God.” However, my faith did not go beyond that, and I made sure it didn’t.
Then came college and the long, endless nights of hard partying, downtown clubbing, bar hopping, shameless liquor, girl chasing and unrestrained, recreational party drugs. Even scarier, I convinced myself I was having the time of my life.
Then something happened: I met a special young lady Michelle (not her real name) and fell deeply in love. With that relationship came a tight-knit, close group of wonderful, caring friends. I thought I had everything I could ever want. I finally had someone who loved me with a group of loyal friends.
However, sadly, I neglected Michelle, took advantage of her love and was destroying our relationship through the same greedy, self-absorbed guy that I had always been. We both fell into a deep, nightmarish, downward spiral; eventually, and rightly so, she left me. When our friends found out, many of them left too. I was broken and bleeding on the battlefield of a war I’d been waging against myself and everyone around me.
When the smoke cleared, I realised that I had destroyed every precious thing I had in my life. And so, I cried out to God in my brokenness and agony – and, for the very first time in my life, I heard Him answer . . . He picked me up out of the rubble of my self-destruction . . . and I felt His unconditional Mercy and Forgiveness . . . in spite of what I have done to Him and the people who loved me so much . . . His Peace overwhelmed me . . . I had leant the painful lesson of life. I cannot live my life on my own terms and in the way I wanted it . . . – absolutely and unquestionably my past lifestyle had NOT worked.
Looking back on my life, I am deeply grateful to my parents who did not condemn me and who loved me unconditionally in spite of the hell I put them through. My mom and dad continued to love and forgave me. Whatever poison I threw against faith, they always assured me that our home would always be a safe shelter of love and compassion for me to return to. However, in all of these, they never watered down their faith in God and the need to practice of the faith through their good examples. Was it easy for them? Of course not.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, you and I and all persons in the world, without exception want to live a meaningful and wholesome life. Deep in our hearts we want to love one another and make a real difference in the world during our lifetime. This is so that on our dying bed we could reflect on our lives and not regret. We all want to die in the peace of knowing that we have done some good to others while we are alive. All of us and all peoples deeply desire this because God has created us in His Image and Likeness to live in His Love and to share in His Ways.
And so, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that it is only when you and I desire to live a more discerning life that our Opening Prayer today will make good sense to us when we are asked to strive for the “wisdom” of heaven. The life of Bengston tells us clearly that the First Reading of the Prophet Baruch too has great wisdom when it says, “take off our dress of sorrow and distress and put on the beauty of the glory of God forever.
Then again, if we want to avoid destroying our lives as Bengston did with his life, then we too should heed St Paul’s words of the Second Reading today, when he urged the community of Philippi to love one another more fully by deepening their perception to recognise what is “best” so that they can reach the perfect goodness which Jesus Christ produce.
Bengston, in our story today clearly reminds us of what we can do with the freedom we have in our hands. We can either misuse our freedom and destroy all the precious people and relationships that God has given us or we can live a more discerning life of what St John the Baptist in today’s Gospel reminds of us . . . that in different degrees, you and I need the repentance for the forgiveness of sins, so that we all may see the Salvation of God, who is Jesus our Lord and Saviour. This is the Advent message you and I are called to live as we begin the Second Week of Advent to prepare for the Coming of Christ more fully into our hearts and homes this Christmas.(ref. adapted from: www.cru.org – by T.J. Bengston, )
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
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