Homilies

First Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 63:16-17; 64:1,3-8; 1 Cor. 1:3-9; Gospel of Mark 13:33-37
Vigilance . . . Pope Francis as our Inspiration


Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of the Good Shepherd - Singapore, on 3 December 2017

Today, we are all gathered here on the first day of the First Week of Advent, to begin our “Preparations for the Birth of Jesus at Christmas.”  In today’s Gospel of St Mark, Jesus says to His disciples and to each of us, who are His believers and disciples, “Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come.”  In other words, Jesus is proclaiming to you and to me to live a life of vigilance, because at any time, there could either be: His Second Coming at the end of time or His private coming at the end of our lives. 

More specifically, if Jesus is cautioning us to “stay awake,” He is also challenging us to live more fully and wholeheartedly in His Love and Ways.  “Staying awake and being vigilant in our faith is more than just doing more good and being kind to people.  “Staying awake” is a fundamental challenge to you and I to be and become more like Christ

More specifically, this challenge is for us to first, open our hearts to allow Jesus to change our narrow perceptions into Christ’s ways of seeing the world. Second, to allow Jesus to convert our hearts to be more compassionate, as Jesus is Compassionate.  And third, to allow Jesus, indeed to transform our whole lives today, (as we begin the season of Advent), in such a way that everything that we live for, long to fulfil, and dream about is truly IN UNION with JESUS, who lives HIS FATHER’s WILL.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, do such challenges sound humanly impossible?  Many, if not all of us would say, yes, this sounds impossible.  However, let us note that, if we were to read and reflect on the lives of the saints and martyrs, we will also discover that they too, before their conversion, were often thinking and living their faith like many of us here today.  Before their conversion, they too were confining and comforting themselves into thinking that it is enough simply to live a mediocre and minimalistic spirituality of just trying to do some good in life, and be contented with not being “shaken” out of their comfortable and routine way of living their faith. 

In this sense, my sisters and brothers, these canonised saints, BEFORE their radical conversion of hearts, had perceptions of their faith that were similar to ours.  They became saints because along the journey of their faith, they opened their hearts wider to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and lived a more discerning life.  And, so, gradually over time, they lived a more “vigilant” life where they deepened their awareness of Jesus in their lives.  Eventually, they were able to grow into becoming the Christ-like person that God Willed of them.  Without being too self-righteous, if these saints can experience such radical transformation in their lives, so can we, as it is the SAME HOLY SPIRIT of JESUS that is leading and empowering them and us to live the Christ-like life that God Wills of us.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, to “stay awake and live a vigilant life, Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, in his recent visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh have shown us what this “vigilance” can mean and how we can also appropriate and personalise the Gospel values that Jesus has proclaimed.
 

First, Pope Francis’ ways and perceptions of the crises of the people and the refugees of the Rakhine State of Myanmar radically challenges us to see the suffering people of the world, from the eyes of Jesus, and as such, Pope Francis calls them, “my brothers and sisters, of Rohingya”.  In doing so, and upon hearing all the sad story of some twelve refugees, that clearly broke his heart . . . and like Jesus, with great compassion, he says, “Your tragedy is very hard; very big.  We give you space in our hearts," the Pope said. "In the name of everyone, of those who persecute you, those who hurt you, and especially of the world's indifference, I ask for your forgiveness.  Forgive us."  "Many of you talked to me about the great heart of Bangladesh, which offered you refuge.  Now I appeal to your heart to give us the forgiveness we are asking from you."

My sisters and brothers in Christ, if we want to be worthy disciples of Jesus, Pope Francis’ as the Shepherd of our universal Catholic Church, is reminding us through his examples, that we all need to develop the virtue of HUMILITY.  And this is to ask for FORGIVENESS, for the SIN of OMISSION of our lives.  And in today’s context of the Pope’s visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh, we have to search our hearts and ask ourselves, in the spirit of Advent, “Have I failed to take responsibility for the suffering people around me, and in the world?”  “Do I easily walk pass the homeless, the poor and marginalised of our society and not feel any empathy for their sufferings”? 

Even as we gather here to be in solidarity with Our Holy Father, Pope Francis’ visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh, let us remember that today’s Gospel challenge for you and I is not only to be awakened to the atrocities of the world, but also remember that such suffering people are also found in the faces of the people in our nation: the homeless, and indeed the aged, the sick, the dying and the depressed of our homes. 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we sincerely desire to be in UNION with JESUS, and want to live the FATHER’s WILL daily then, our perceptions of the SUFFERING people, must be one in which we see the SUFFERING JESUS’ FACE in them.  We cannot live the Gospel as fully as God Wills of us, UNLESS, we begin to be CONSCIENTISED and BE IN TUNED and FEEL the pain of the suffering people around us.  This is precisely what Pope Francis is trying to say to us and to the world, when after speaking to the inter-faith leaders in Bangladesh, he spoke profoundly when he said to them, “Let us NOT close our hearts, let us not look the other way.  The presence of God today is also called Rohingya!  Let us stay close to them so that their rights may be recognised.”
 

And so, my sisters and brothers in Christ, if we do not dare to pray for the grace of HUMILITY, that Pope Francis is urging us to develop, in our attitude towards the suffering poor and needy of the people around us, then Pope Francis, is also saying to us that we too are “closing our heart to JESUS and turning away from the Suffering Faces of JESUS” who is appealing to us with Compassion.  And perhaps, this is the basic challenge Jesus is appealing to you and to me in this Advent season, when He says, “Stay Awake” for the “Coming of Christ” at the end of the world and our lives can come at any time.

In the context of Advent, as I conclude, let us also remember that St Paul in today’s Second Reading praises the community of Corinth by saying, “I never stop thanking God for all the graces you have received through Jesus Christ.  I thank Him that you have been enriched in so many ways . . .” 

My brothers and sisters, I believe you and I too, in so many ways can also hear St Paul telling us, if he were here in front of us, the same thing of how we too are so blessed by God, and that he too would never stop thanking God for the abundant graces that we have received from God.  However, let us also remember that as St Paul was singing all these praises, he was doing so in the context of cautioning the Corinth community of their need to remain FAITHFUL to God.  And, even as they receive abundant graces, AND, if they are not living their faith VIGILANTLY, they too would risk living a divisive life in their community.
 

And, should this happen to us too . . . then we know that we have not heeded Jesus’ challenge in today’s Gospel that we live a vigilant faith.  And this, as I mentioned earlier is more specifically, to challenge ourselves, with God’s graces, to first, open our hearts to allow Jesus to change our narrow perceptions into Christ’s ways of seeing the world.  Second, to allow Jesus to convert our hearts to be more compassionate, as Jesus is Compassionate.  And, third, to allow Jesus, indeed to transform our whole lives today, (as we begin the season of Advent), in such a way that everything that we live for, long to fulfil, and dream about is truly IN UNION with JESUS, who lives HIS FATHER’s WILL, and indeed, to heed the fundamental challenge to be and become more like Christ. 

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

285 visitors since 6 December 2017