There is a story of a king who had two sons whom he loved very much. One day, the younger son said to his father, “Father, I know you love me very much and have given me everything I want in life in great abundance. But, I need my freedom to explore the world that is outside this palace.” The King was truly saddened by what he heard. He knew his son was not mature enough to face the world, but because his son insisted and was no longer happy to live in the palace, he allowed him to leave to discover the outside world.
For many years, the son did not return. The king would worry about his son day and night and hoped for his return. Managing the kingdom was difficult, but his worry for his son added to his sorrows. One day, his soldiers arrested a man for robbery and rape. The king was furious and said that under the law of the country he should be given 20 strokes of the cane and imprisoned for 20 years. The criminal was then brought to him for judgment. To the king’s horror, the criminal was his very own son. He could not change the law of the country as it would be unjust. He burst into tears and withdrew into his room and cried for three days.
On the third day, the king emerged and called for his son as he had to pass sentence on him. As his father, he knew that his son would not survive the caning and the imprisonment although he deserved them. The king was in deep agony. His son was eventually brought before him. The king asked his soldiers to unshackle the chains from his son. He then got off his throne and went down to his son and embraced him and kissed him. He said, “My son, I forgive you of all the crimes and wrongs that you have done.”
There was a sudden silence of shock in the hall as everyone knew that it was an unjust decision. The son too was shocked. At that moment, the king removed his kingly cloak and tore his royal garment and offered himself to take the place of his son. The king bore the lashes of the cane with great dignity even though the pain was excruciating. He served his son’s imprisonment and eventually died from his suffering.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we have heard this story before. This moving story of the king’s unconditional love for his son is found in the whole Bible. This is the core theme of the whole story that captures how God, Our Lord, sent His Son Jesus to save us from destroying ourselves, but has to suffer and die on behalf of our sins. God’s Love and Mercy for us is infinitely greater than the story of the king that we just heard. God’s Love and Mercy for us is not only deep, but divine and everlasting. I would urge us to ponder on this story when we return home and then try to sense how this story is captured as the underlying theme of the whole Bible and how God’s Love and Salvation is not a story of the past, but a reality of our present lives; a reality in our lives and in the lives of all peoples.
It is the Church’s wisdom to celebrate Bible Sunday.Why? This is so that we do not lose sight of how the Word of God is an integral part of our faith as followers of Jesus Christ. However, I think it is good to look at a few facts. I think is not unfair to say that very few of us here, including myself, dare to claim that we know the Bible very well. Many if not most of us here, do not know very much about the Bible. From this embarrassing truth, I believe we probably fall into three possible groups. The first group is those of us here who have many questions about the Bible, but have not taken steps to learn more about the Bible. The second group is worse; they are those of us who don’t even know what we don’t know about the Bible. The third group is the hopefuls: we are those who are keen to learn more about the Bible and are actually taking steps to learn more about it.
The Roman Catholic Church as a whole has been unjustly criticised for not using Sacred Scriptures. Actually we do use Sacred Scriptures. In fact, the Liturgy of the Word takes up at least one third of each Mass; we reverence the Gospel through holding it high in processions, we incense it before and kiss it after we proclaim from it. Moreover, almost every prayer and paragraph of the entire Mass is based on Sacred Scripture. We Catholic Christians too have been unjustly accused of having practices and beliefs that are not in Sacred Scriptures. Such false accusations clearly show two things. First, our accusers are so badly prejudiced towards us that they are blind to the Truth of God or second, they are ignorant of how God’s Truth is transmitted through both the Oral Tradition and Written Tradition of the Church founded by Jesus and continued by His apostles. Jesus Himself did not write any book or handed any book to the Apostles to follow. He taught verbally and lived the Gospels to the full to show all peoples what the Good News of Salvation is. The Gospels were being written only one or two generations after Jesus died and rose from His death.
We all know that the Bible is Sacred Scriptures and they are the divine revelations of God. The Bible is God’s Word and God’s way of trying to communicate with us His Will of how we can gain eternal life. The Bible is God’s sacred way of talking to us. The Bible is God’s story of how He loves us so unconditionally and forgives us so completely that He absorbed the sufferings we deserve for our sins, and has come to offer us eternal life, if we believe in Him and live in His ways.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, as today is Bible Sunday, we ought to remind ourselves of how we should take up God’s Word more seriously and more regularly in our daily living. We should not only try to learn more about the Bible, but also reflect on it so that we can be guided by God’s Word in our daily living.
We too should get used to praying with the Bible. The Bible being God’s Word is our direct contact with God. St Ignatius would urge us to meditate on the Gospels of Jesus. This can very simply be done by reading the Gospel texts reflectively and then pausing to allow the Truths of the Gospel to seep into our hearts and enlighten our minds. St Ignatius too would encourage us to imagine the Gospel scenes of Jesus and then allow the scenes to move and mould our hearts, as we allow ourselves to be drawn into the events of the Gospel, and may at times find ourselves participating in the Gospel scenes in a personal way through our sense of sight, sound, smell, touch and taste.
Some of us would immediately comment that praying the Sacred Scriptures of Christ is not easy and I do not know how to do it or I often find my prayer life to be dry and even a waste of time. To this I would say that it is important to see that prayer is about commitment to God and not about wanting to feel good and high about God. While prayer includes praising, thanking God for His blessings and also begging God for His Mercy for our sins, prayer is also showing God and telling Him “Lord, I love you and I want to spend my time, whether it is 20 minutes or 30 minutes or one hour with you every day. Prayer is giving quality time to Our Lord and developing a personal relationship with Him. I have to admit that prayer requires much patience and perseverance. But, such pains are not negative. Such pains are positive; they are sacrifices we have to make if we want to deepen our love for Our Lord more fully.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, as I draw this homily to a conclusion, let us remind ourselves that Bible Sunday is particularly important for us also because the first dimension of our Parish Goal is the “Personal goal” of developing a personal relationship with the Lord through praying more meaningfully. What better and more meaningful way of praying than to use Sacred Scripture, which is the revealed Word of God to help us get in touch with God Himself? If we as parish were to begin to spend more time to ponder on God’s Word and internalise it more fully, we will surely be more willing to move out of our comfort zones and face all the challenges that God will pose to us through His Word.
There are many opportunities for this in our Parish to help us grow spiritually, we are offering new Bible programmes for everyone to learn more about the Word of God. During our Feast Day Triduum, we will have opportunities to experience the Gospel contemplation and meditation prayer methods, to help us deepen our relationship with the Lord through Ignatian Spirituality. All these and other plans are shaping up in our Parish. God is challenging you and I to take Him and His Truth that is found in Sacred Scriptures more seriously and more wholeheartedly.
Will Bible Sunday today be for some of us the beginning of a challenge to take a positive step forward towards praying more and learning more about God Our Lord through Sacred Scriptures? God can only invite us, but ultimately it is whether we want to make a personal commitment to Him or not.
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.