Homilies

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Times
Isaiah 8:23-9:3; 1 Cor. 1:10-13.17; Mt 4:12-23

Crises in the Church – Lifting the Veil of Darkness

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of the Good Shepherd - Singapore, on 22nd January 2017

We can say that the way that God wants all of us to grow in holiness is through living the fidelity of and the fullness of the vocation that God has called you to in your married vocation and me in my priesthood and religious vocation.  To try to in our faith outside the reality of our vocation is to face the great trials, turbulence and traumas that that will surely come our way.  However, if we are able to persevere in our vocations, then even as the challenges come our way, Jesus will not allow the crosses of our lives to crush us.  He will be our strength and our solace at all times.

In today’s Gospel of St Matthew that we just heard proclaimed of Jesus’ calling of fishermen to follow Him and become “fishers of men,” is often in today’s times a theme that when preached in homilies would in all probability not generate much interests and effects.

We all know that vocations to the priesthood and religious life are on the decline; most Catholic seminaries in the world are barely surviving and many have closed down.  This shortage of vocation is also a crisis of our own archdiocese in Singapore.  The average age of the priests in our archdiocese is increasing and our ageing priests are not being replaced by younger vocations.

Related to such darkness in our Church is the inseparable reality of the darkness of the brokenness in families; divorce rates have reached record levels worldwide.  Änd, if there is little peace in the family where deep joy and true meaning in life are missing, the married vocation is also facing a similar crisis.   As such, the happiness and fulfilment in our vocations that we long to have, cannot be taken for granted.  In fact, when children of Catholic families stop going to Mass, parents live in great anxieties that their children’s married life would sooner or later hit the rocks . . .

My brothers and sisters in Christ, the Gospel of Jesus is the about “Good News of Salvation.”  And even as we may find the reality of our lives and what is happening in our families, Church and world to be very disturbing, as Christians, we must always live in the divine hope that God will save us from such darkness.  Prophet Isaiah in today’s First Reading that says, “The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light; and those who live in the land of deep shadow as light has shone.”  To live in such a true and real hope, we have to turn away from the darkness of this world and turn towards Jesus who is out True and Everlasting Light.

My sisters and brothers in Christ, when Jesus in today’s Gospel called His apostles, Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, and then later James and John the sons of Zebedee, they dropped what they were doing; they were “mending their nets, and at once leaving their boats and father, they followed Jesus.”

From this account of the call of the apostles, we learn that the first and fundamental truth that we need to learn from the apostles, is the wisdom to draw strength from Jesus at all times.  Jesus is the True Light in our world of darkness and sin.  And only when we follow Him closely in all that we do and how we live, can the veil of darkness of our lives lift and give way to the Light of Truth, Peace, Love and Joy that following Jesus closely will bring about. 

When Jesus called the Apostles, they must have humanly speaking felt the pain of loss of having to leave behind their families, relatives and friends, and their fishing trade.  Moreover, the Apostles too must have sensed, as all genuine calling to follow Jesus would, that if they were to trust Jesus fully and wholeheartedly, then Jesus will take care of all that will happen in the future of our lives.  In other words, if we are to follow the path and Light of Jesus, we must be single-minded in our focus and commitment to Jesus alone and not be also attached to the other desires of our lives. 

Fr Nil Guillemette, a Jesuit spiritual writer explains that when the apostles left everything and followed Jesus, “they knew that they were risking their future which could eventually turn out to be a hoax or a nightmare instead of a beautiful dream.  In spite of such challenging risk, they courageously and valiantly entrusted their whole lives and future in Jesus’ hands, stepped into history. 

If we reflect on the history of our world, we will see that lot of geniuses, emperors and great men have been completely forgotten. However, today over a billion Christians honour the names of Simon, Andrew, James and John; those four humble fishermen of Galilee.  Why?  Because they dared to “let go and let God” take care of their lives. 

Fr Guillemette explains further that, “When we let go of things we consider precious and entrust them to God, we always end up the winners.  However, what we must let go of are not necessarily and only our material possessions.  More often than not, what we have to let go of are our emotional baggage: like resentments, bitterness, unforgiveness, negative thoughts, self-pity, false guilt feelings, and the like.  Surprisingly, such dark “treasures” are what we are often most attached to. 

And so, when our hearts are filled with such pain and darkness, the love of God which has been poured into our hearts at Baptism remains cold and paralyzed.  They cannot flow into our lives because too many attitudes contrary to God block it.”  And, so, in order to have the Love, Peace and Joy of God, we need to have the thoughts of God and the heart of God.  And for that to happen, we need to let go of all that are not godly in our hearts and replace them by focusing our lives on Jesus. 

“Why do you think Jesus instructed His Twelve Apostles to take nothing for the journey: no food, no sack, no money in their belts? Because they are to bring God alone!  They are to be God’s witnesses and nothing more.  They are to bring nothing but Jesus.  Their total dependence must not hang on something or on somebody else. In other words, their attention and destiny must point only on Jesus” (Mk 6:8)

Fr Manny Duetao, another spiritual writer says, “For most people, happiness is his being accepted, recognized, even wanted.  The entertainment industry says that the more popular you are, the better for you.  Thus everyone wants to be popular.  In fact, the very small children of our days, because of mass media, idealize movie or TV personalities more than the Saints of our Church.  Such secular influences does not spare even the priesthood.” 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that the words of Prophet Isaiah in our First Reading that says, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light” is challenging us to follow the Light of Christ more wholeheartedly; more so when we are facing the painful trials and tribulations of our married, priesthood or religious vocation.

Moreover, this single minded commitment of our vocation must solely and single-mindedly be built and focused on Jesus and not in any material gains or glory in life.  That is why St Paul cautioned the Christian community in Corinth in today’s Second Reading, when he says, “In your serious differences, many of you are saying “ I am for Paul, others are saying I am for Apollos, or I am for Cephas.  What you all need is to say that “I am for Christ.”

And, so, my brothers and sisters in Christ, the reality of our faith and challenges are very basic and real.  Like any believing Christian, if the priest or religious do not focus their lives on getting to know Jesus more personally, our spiritual wellsprings within us will run dry one day, and we too would have a vocation crisis that will threaten to destroy our lives.

Let us then transcend the petty and superficial differences of relationships, let us build our lives on Jesus who is the true and only Light that can dispel the darkness of sin and suffering in our world and let us then be Christ’s Light in today’s world by saying “Yes” to Jesus who is calling not only priests and religious to be faithful to their calling in their vocations and so serve God’s people, but also to those whose calling is to the married vocation . . . to bring up holy families and witness to the “darkness” of the world.

(Ref: Adapted from, Hearts Burning, homilies for Sundays for the Year A,B,C, NilGuillemette, St Pauls Pub., Philippines; 2006; p.77)

 

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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