Homilies

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
Isaiah 40:1-5. 9-11; Titus 2:11-14. 3:4-7; Gospel of Luke 3:15-16.21-22
Humility Needed to Know Jesus

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of Our Lady of Lourdes – Singapore
on 10 January 2016

Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus.  When we were Baptised, we were all cleansed of our Original Sin and all our sins, and we were given the gift of becoming children of God.  So, you may be wondering why did Jesus go to John the Baptist to be Baptised by him?  Jesus does NOT have any sins.  Moreover; He is the Messiah, Our Saviour and Lord.

The focus of Jesus Baptism event that we are celebrating is not so much Jesus’ Baptism, but of God the Father revealing and proclaiming to all peoples that Jesus is His Son.  So He says, “This is My Beloved Son; My favour rests on Him.”  In another Gospel it adds, “Listen to Him.”   Jesus is then filled with the Holy Spirit who descended upon Him in the form of a dove, when the “heavens opened up” when He was at prayer. 

Jesus’ Baptism was a great act of humility.  Jesus submitted Himself to be Baptised by John the Baptist, like any other common Jew of His time.  Jesus, the Messiah, identified Himself with the anonymous crowd.  This Truth about Jesus’ humility is not new.  When we celebrated the Birth of Jesus, at Christmas, Jesus the Messiah was not born in the pleasures, pomp and riches of a palace, but in the simplicity, serenity and cold solemn night of a stable, with straws in a manger for His bed, and shepherds from the fields, the poorest of the poor in Israel as His first honoured guests.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we want to know Jesus more personally and intimately, like Jesus, we first need to be humble.  This is because when our hearts are humble and sincere, we will then be able to sense the solemn and silent presence of the Holy Spirit within us; prompting and revealing to us who this Jesus, our Saviour and Lord is, in our lives. 

What then is this virtue of humility?  About a week ago, The Straits Times, carried a story about Mersi Fransina Missa, the 28 year old maid from Kupang, Indonesia.  Mersi, had continued to feed, bathe and care for her employer for more than a year when she suffered a stroke in August 2014.  Even as Mersi’s employer was warded in Singapore General Hospital (SGH) after a second stroke, Mersi continued to visit and care for her employer for month, until she could no longer continue to care for her employer.

This was because as her employer is bedridden and unconscious, Mersi was not paid her usual $520 per month since October.  Mersi said, “I had no more food to eat and I also got no money . . . She usually paid me on time . . . but she cannot pay me any more now.”  Her employer who is single and has no children, used to keep $100 for her and pay her the rest.  Mersi used to send home $340 monthly to her parents and six siblings, aged between two and 27.  Mersi shares, “I am the eldest child and my family are farmers.  My family at home is waiting for my money,"  "I feel helpless . . . I don't even know when I will go back to see my family. . . I keep thinking of my mother."  "I hope my ma'am is okay, . . . but my mother who is 52 year old is ill.  I miss them and I want to go home and see them.”

Moved by Mersi’s plight, a Singaporean professional, (let us call him David; not his real name as he wishes to be anonymous) donated $2,000 and his friends chipped in another $600 for Mersi.  David shared, “I was particularly touched by her loyalty.  Mersi could have seen that her employer was not going to recover soon, or questioned where her salary was going to come from, but she was there for her employer every day.”

My sisters and brothers in Christ, the virtue of humility is about living the Truth of the Gospel.  And this “Truth” is acknowledging and responding to the reality of the suffering people who are in great need and are suffering around us and the world.  Jesus’ humility is to identify Himself with the poor and suffering people and reach out to them, and even die for their sake and salvation.

Thus, Mersi, David and his friends are each living a life of humility in different ways.  They are each authentic in their ways.  Even as Mersi had very desperate family needs, she continued to be so selfless and caring towards her employer who was sick.  Mersi’s goodness of heart and compassion went beyond her care of her family.  On the other hand, David and his friends too responded and reached out to Mersi through their donations because of their compassionate love for her. 

The virtue of humility that Jesus proclaims and witness, is essentially a form of love that is willing to put the good and needs of others before our own needs, because we value the needs of others as more important than our own needs, as Mersi, David and his friends have shown us.  When we have such attitudes and virtues in our hearts, the Spirit of Jesus will surely be able to enlighten, empower and encourage us to live like Jesus and come to know Him more personally in all situations of our lives. 

We know that the opposite of the virtue of humility is the vice of pride.  St Ignatius of Loyola tells us that when we have humility, all other virtues will develop in our hearts.  Meaning to say that when we are humble and care for the needs of others, we will surely grow in the holiness of becoming more like Jesus. 

However, if we are proud, St Ignatius says that all other vices and sin will grow.  In other words, if we are proud, our hearts would be so filled with our self, that there will be little or no room for others; and for the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us.  Basically, pride is a serious form of self-centredness that constantly glorifies itself, at the expense of others, and the sadness of Jesus. 

John the Baptist, recognising this divine event of Jesus’ coming for His Baptism proclaims, “He is more powerfulthan I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of His sandals, (which is a more humbling task than a slave), and He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  And this we know Jesus did, at Pentecost, when He sent the Holy Spirit to descend on all His Apostles, so that they will have the divine wisdom and strength to live the life that He has proclaimed and witnessed, and have the courage and commitment to grow into becoming more like Jesus, in their service of the Gospel, even to the point of laying down their lives, like Him for the sake and salvation of all peoples. 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, we all want to live humbly like Jesus so that God will be glorified.  However, we often find ourselves, resisting such deep desires.  As we celebrate today’s Feast, Jesus is inviting you and I to let go of our resistances and let God lead us on and strengthen us to live the humble life that Jesus wants us to live. 

And if we do, we will experience the Spirit of Jesus loving and leading us tenderly like the Good Shepherd of our First Reading that Prophet Isaiah assuring us says, “He is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms, holding them against his breast and leading to their rest the mother ewes.” 

We will each experience Jesus’ tender love differently.  Perhaps, this poem may capture some of our personal and tender experiences of Jesus.  So, we may find Jesus’ voice whispering these words of encouragement in our hearts.

You said you were afraid to go to a better place
until I lit the path and took your hand.
You said that you were afraid to try
until I convinced you that in my eyes you
couldn’t fail.
You said you couldn’t share your hurt
until I showed you the scars on my heart.
You said you wished you could do things differently
until I convinced you that it wouldn’t
change how I felt about you.
You said you couldn’t fly
until I lifted your arms and blew confidence
under your wings.
You said you were too tired to go on
until I lent my shoulder to carry your load.
You started to say you didn’t deserve.
I said be still and know that you are special.
Todd Wielgos.

And, so my sisters and brothers, let us on this Feast of Jesus’ Baptism, ask Jesus for the gift of wisdom to love Him more personally and let go of our resistances and let His Spirit lead us on and strengthen us to live the humble life that He, Our Lord and God wants us to live daily.

(cf. Adapted from: The Straits Times, 4 January, 2016, Aw Cheng Wei; 8 January, B2; Home; yuensin@sph.com.sg); photosource: The Straits Times.

(Poem: cf. Happiness Manufacturers, Gujarat Sahitya Prakash; Hedwig Lewis, SJ; pub.; 2001; p.132)


Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.

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