Ordinary Sunday 15th Week
Mk 6:7-13

'Greater Repentance'

Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ
at Church of St Ignatius,Singapore
on Sunday, 16th July 2006

In today’s Gospel that we just heard, we could reflect on several themes. We could reflect on the themes of “Trusting God, Jesus cure of our illnesses, expelling demons in our lives, Mission, Repentance and the like. I have chosen to theme of “Repentance” because many preachers seem to shy away from this topic. It is a difficult and an awkward topic to preach on; it can cause uneasiness and embarrassment to people too. However, if we want to live our Catholic Christian faith more fully and faithfully, then we should dare to challenge ourselves to face the truth of this topic of “Repentance.”

And so, we find Jesus in today’s Gospel sending His Apostles out to preach repentance. When we hear the word “repentance” we think of the word “sins.” And when we hear the word “sins” we think of “Confessions” or “The Sacrament of Reconciliation.” “Confessions” are in turn often linked to the whole list of things that we have done wrong, and this list seems to be similar “Confessions” after “Confessions,” and year after year.

If you want to be a good husband/wife, is it enough not to try to offend, anger or do anything wrong towards your spouse? If you want to be a patriotic citizen, is it enough to avoid committing traffic offences and crimes? To be a good spouse and a patriotic citizen, we not only need to avoid doing wrong but, more importantly, we must try to do good to build the relationship and to contribute to the good of the nation respectively.

Likewise, if we want to be a good Catholic Christian, it is not enough to avoid committing sins. We must more importantly, learn to do more good. One of the main neglect in “Confessions” is to focus too much on the “list of sins” we have committed and over look the “Sins of Omissions” i.e. the good that we have failed to do. That is why at the “I Confess” prayer at the “Penitential Rite” of each Mass, we ask for God’s forgiveness for “What we have done” and “What we have failed to do.”

This “failing to do good” is perhaps a more fundamental aspect of repentance than we think it is. Why? One of the main reasons we fail to do good is perhaps because we have been living with a distorted perspective of life. If this is true, then we need a new/renewed perspective of life.

In recent weeks, we have read about how Warren Buffet had pledged USD$30 billion of his personal wealth to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Gates Foundation is based on the principle that every human life has equal value, and it is essential to reduce inequalities and improve lives around the world.

Warren Buffet, the second richest man in the world pledging USD$30 billion out of his USD$44 billion to the richest couple in the world through the Gates Foundation so that they can continue to contribute to the world’s needs especially in: improving the quality of education, the eradication of the killer diseases like Malaria, HIV/AIDS; providing funds for vaccine to 3 rd world countries and to do more scientific researches in these field of diseases.

This view that every human life has equal value by the Gates Foundation is a very radical view in the commercial, secular world and may I add family circles. “How many of us would think of redistributing our personal wealth to society’s needs when we die? A researcher has found out that Asian families in particular, think more of dividing their wealth amongst their children.

Bill Gates take the meaning of “equality” of the human person to heart. About 2 years ago (if I remember correctly) I read with great admiration of Bill, that his intention was to donate 52% of his personal wealth to worthy causes. Today, we read that he hopes to ultimately give away 95% of his personal wealth, which is worth around USD$70 billion, away. When interviewed, Bill said that he and his wife agree that it is enough for them to give each of their three children USD$10 million each. And, his goal in life, as he is stepping down as the chairperson of Microsoft Ltd, is to have eliminated the top 20 killer diseases in the world.

To all of these, whom Melinda Gates agrees, she adds, “Before Mary Gates (Bill Gates’ mother) died, she told Melinda, “To those who have much more is expected of them.” (“Is this not a profound statement for all of us too?!”) This statement has now been enshrined as another principle and motto of the Gates Foundation. From all of these, it is clear that Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet all strongly believe that wealth should be redistributed to society and not retained within the family through dynasties.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, my homily today is not about donating more money to the needy. It is about our need to change our perspectives in life so that we can live our Catholic Christian faith more fully and fulfil our Christian obligation more wholeheartedly.

I would therefore like to bring our reflection on the Gates Foundation that all human persons are equal to a deeper level; the spiritual level. In God’s eyes, we are all equal; equal in dignity because we are all God’s children. Being God’s children who have been saved by Jesus’ Death and Resurrection, we not only belong to one big family in this world, but we are meant to live as this one big family in heaven for all eternity.

If this is our faith, we then have many obligations to fulfil towards one another. We have to live the way God wants us to live and not in any way that we choose to live, if we want to continue to call ourselves “children of God,” “family of God” or “Catholic Christians.”

Take the case of a young man. Let us call him Tom (not his real name). Tom earns $10,000 per month, has five siblings (all not working) and parents who are aged and sick. Can Tom say that “I’ve earned my salary and I am free to spend all the money I have in any way I want?” While the money belongs to Tom, he also has an obligation to support his needy siblings and aged and sick parents. If Tom fulfils his obligations, what is happening is this: As Tom is sharing, caring and serving his family, he is growing in authenticity, as a child of God. Tom is becoming the “true self” that God wants him to become. Tom is becoming more Christ-like in the fulfillment of his obligations as a son and brother to his family.

However, if on the contrary, Tom were to spend his monthly salary all on himself and ignores the needs of his family, then Tom will be living a self-centered and superficial life. And this is so because Tom is not fulfilling his obligation of what God expects of him as a child of God.

My sisters and brothers in Christ, let us remind ourselves once again. Although I have been talking about Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffet and Tom, my main point is not about donating more money to the needy. My main point is about the living out of our obligations as Catholic Christians.

Let me ask you all a question. “Can you tolerate a priest who is lazy and uncaring?” What about a priest who presides a sloppy Mass, who never prepares his homilies, whose thinking is simplistic and superficial, and who is more interested in secular things than in spiritual things? I hope there are no such priests around. If there are, I am sure you will all be upset, angry and even disgusted at such a priest. “Do you know why you would all naturally feel this way toward such a priest . . . and rightly so?!” It is simply because in the Church there are obligations that priests have to fulfil. A priest is ordained to be a spiritual leader; he is ordained to care and serve the spiritual needs of the believers.

Fr Philip Heng,S.J. working with the poor in Philipines

And why is fulfilling our obligations as Christians so important? If we were to spend some moments, to reflect on our lives, whether we are priest, religious or lay persons, we will each find that we are so abundantly blessed by God. We have a good life, good health, material wealth, lots of talents, knowledge, (and as a priest, I have had so many years of priestly and religious formation), and the like. All these are abundant blessings from God; not of our own making. As Catholic Christians, are we all not challenged to fulfil our obligations to be selfless in our care for others and be generous with our time and in the use of our wealth and talents? Yes, we are all challenged to be more Christ-like to others in every way that is possible to us.

And how can we do this effectively? I believe we all need to challenge ourselves to have a new/renewed perspective of our life where we sincerely see and believe that every human person is equal in dignity before God’s eyes. Whether we are a migrant worker or an MD of a big corporation, whether we have a Phd or are a drop-out, whether we have millions of dollars in the bank or we are in debts, we all have an equal dignity in God’s eyes.

Our dignity comes from God who calls us His children. Therefore, we all have an obligation to affirm and preserve this dignity of every human person. Unless we change and have this renewed perspective, it is very difficult to live a fully authentic life that Christ has shown us and it would also be virtually impossible to fulfil our obligations as Catholic Christians.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, as I sum up, I would like to remind ourselves that Jesus in today’s Gospel is challenging each of us (you and I, without any exceptions), to greater repentance.

A repentance that does not forget our obligations as Catholic Christians to do good; a repentance that is more fundamental than just repeating our list of sins every time we go to “Confessions;” indeed a repentance that demands from each of us a fundamental conversion of the heart; a conversion that extracts us from the superficial Christian living that draws contentment or “the feel good syndrome” from WHAT we have instead of WHO we are – Children of God with obligations to do more good.

And so, as I conclude my homily, I would like to invite all of us to spend some moments of silence today, the coming week and better still, the rest of our lives . . . to have the silence to look at our life.

And as you look and reflect on your life, first, try to sense how blessed we are to be a child of God; a child who is so deeply, fully and personally loved by God Himself. Second, try to sense how blessed you are in life . . . the abundant gifts and blessings that have come your way . . . not of your doing.

Finally, to then ask yourself, “How is God challenging me to fulfil my obligations to share my self more fully; to share my gifts with everyone regardless of who they are.”

Fr Philip Heng, S.J.

Child labour working in a quarry..., queing for food...,

children living in poverty..., homeless...,

Global growing divide between the rich and poor, ...

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