Homilies

Easter Vigil and Sunday
Acts 10:34, 37-43; Col.3:1-4; Mt 28:1-10
Taking Eternal Life for Granted!?

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at St Joseph's Church, Victoria Street – Singapore
on 15 April 2017

There is a true story of James McTavish who was a reconstructive plastic surgeon.  One day, James had to operate on a young man who tried to slash his wrists, in his attempt to kill himself.  The operation lasted for 8 long hours and eventually Dr James managed to mend and repair the torn muscles, nerves and tendons of his young patient.  Next morning Dr James went to assure the young man with the good news.  To his surprise, the young man responded, “Thank you Doctor for fixing my wrist, but who will now fix my life?  This single question haunted Dr James for months and confronted him with the deeper and more important questions of life.

When Dr James’ young patient attempted suicide, he must have lost all hope in his life; he must have lived in the total darkness of his pain and suffering where his fears crippled him; his loneliness must have traumatized him and the love that he longed to have must have been totally absent.  Indeed, to live a life without hope is absolute misery. 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, even as Dr James was a good surgeon, he had unfortunately taken the deeper meaning of life for granted until his young patient asked him the basic question of “Who will now fix my life?”  It was only with this “wake-up call-question” that Dr James began reflecting on his life, and through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit realize that life is more than trying to do good, but most importantly, doing good out of our LOVE for GOD;  that is what truly matters!  This is because the good we do can also come from impure motives.  To make a long story short, through his reflection on the deeper questions in life, Dr James eventually entered the Verbun Dei congregation, and now serves as a missionary priest in the Philippines. 

There is another true story of Fr James Reuter who was imprisoned in the Japanese concentration camp in Los Banos, Philippines during the Second World War.  Fr Reuter shared that one day, a young man was caught near the barbed wire fence of the camp and shot dead soon after that.  When one of the other prisoners asked why did the young man try to escape when he knew very well that it is impossible to escape?  Fr Reuter replied, “No the young man was not trying to escape.  He was trying to get in from the outside.  He was trying to bring some rice and bananas for his starving wife and child.  For one reason or another, after shooting the man, the Japanese guards gave the rice & bananas to Fr Reuter.  Fr Reuter then brought the food that was soaked in the man’s blood and gave them to the man’s wife.  The love that this young man, let us call him David, is truly selfless, total and unconditional.  David knew very well that he was endangering his life, when he tried to break into the camp.  However, David’s love for his starving wife and child was greater than losing his own life.  And so, for David, if he had to die, then that is the price he had to pay for loving his starving family. 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, the love we have in our lives for our loved ones, like our spouse, children and family can be deep and totally selfless, like David.  However, today, as we celebrate the Feast of Easter, we and all Christians around the world are celebrating an infinitely greater and deeper Love.  We are celebrating God loving us so unconditionally that He willingly suffered and died for all of us so that when He Rose from His Death, He will be able to conquer Sin and Death and offer us the gift of Eternal Life.

As such, when we celebrate the Feast of Easter, we are celebrating the core of our Christian faith and the climax of the whole liturgical year’s season; where “death” is not the finality of our human existence; for there is life beyond death.  We call this life after death, “Heaven”; our true home of Happiness that lasts for all eternity.  And this is precisely why Easter is a celebration of “JOY”.

However, even as the gift of Eternal Life is infinitely precious, for many of us, there is a tendency to take our faith in the Resurrection of Jesus and this divine gift of Eternal Life lightly and for-granted.  This can easily happen, especially if the daily living of our faith has become a routine, and where God’s Presence and Providence are no longer very important in our lives. 

In other words, to avoid becoming the case of Dr James’ young patient who attempted suicide, we must ask ourselves the deeper and more fundamental questions in life like, “What do you think would happen to us, if we were to drift into the tendency of taking our faith in Eternal Life for granted? 

If this should happen, then our faith will not be as alive and vibrant as it can be; external influences of the secular and materialistic world would then continue to undermine our faith.  And this in turn can lead some of us to think of “Eternal Life” as a real question only when we are on our dying bed; which is a great tragedy in our life because we would then have likely take our faith lightly and be living a superficial life.  And as such, God was probably only important when we are in the crises of our lives, instead of loving Him in good times and bad times of our lives.  Does this sound familiar to some of us?

My brothers and sisters in Christ, without our firm and conscious affirmation of the gift of “Eternal Life” in our daily living, the first thing that can happen to us is, we would live in the fear of “losing” everything we possess and are attached to when we die . . . For many, the reality of aging too would become fearful as death can then be liken to a candle flame that can be snuffed out easily or for without a faith in Eternal Life, death too can be like being plunged into a dark bottomless abyss. 

So, as I conclude, let us rejoice in the divine gift of Eternal life because Jesus has Risen!  Let us, be more fully conscious of the final destination of our life and vocation in our earthly journey and thus, rejoice and live our lives to the full as God Wills of us.   Let us then be bearers of His Good News of Salvation; as witnesses who bring Christ’s Peace: to broken relationships and home; as Christ’s Compassionate Love that heals wound and renews hope for the poor and the marginalised, and those who are going through turbulence in their lives. 

Let us then live a vibrant faith . . . walk the path that leads to Eternal Life . . . share the love we have in our hearts, as Christ has shown us, and especially to someone you may consider to be “most undeserving of your love” . . . And, if we are to think that this is an unreasonable demand, then let us remember that, that’s how God too loves us . . . He continues to love us totally and unconditionally even as we are undeserving of His Love. 

And so, let us be more fully resolved to live our Christian love more radically.  If our love for our family and loved ones can be as radical, selfless and unconditional as David in our true story has shown us, then with the Spirit of our Risen Lord, within us, all the more we will be able to live our faith with the passion that Jesus has shown us in His life.  This indeed is living the Easter Spirit of Joy and witnessing of the Good News of Salvation to everyone.  Happy Easter!

Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.

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