In today’s Gospel, Jesus was clearly very upset with the Pharisees and the Scribes. He calls them hypocrites. This is so because they were overly particular about following the external ritual cleansing of their hands and overlooking the deeper need to observe the interior cleansing of their hearts.
Very simply, this means that Jesus was upset with the Pharisees and Scribes because they were so particular about how they should worship and praise God, in the ritual cleansing of their hands, but they were overlooking the more important need to put into action in their daily living their rituals of worship.
Similarly for us, Jesus is saying that while it is good that we come for Sunday Mass, it is more important that we bring the meaning of the Mass into our daily living. Unless we do this our coming to Mass can drift into a routine ritual or a fulfillment of our Sunday obligation, but deep within us, no conversion of heart takes place.
We could argue that coming to Mass routinely is better than not coming at all. I agree. However, we are each challenged first to bring our whole lives into the Mass. Second, unite our lives with Jesus during Mass when He is offered to God the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit. Third, bring this deep union that we have with Jesus into the daily living of our lives. How do we do this? We do this through the witnessing of the faith that we celebrated at Mass, and this very simply is expressed in doing good and loving others daily, out of love for Christ.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, instead of developing on the theme of how our interior faith must be consistent with the external expressions of our faith in worship, I would like us to reflect on our need to interiorise more fully the faith that we profess and express in this Mass.
Jane (not her real name), a pretty woman in her forties is dying of cancer. She is undergoing chemotherapy and losing her hair; she is weakening daily. In her younger days, Jane too has suffered much in her life as she has been exploited as a woman. Jane has good reasons to be angry with life and many people in her situation would even be angry with God. But, what does Jane do with the remaining days of her life?
Every day, Jane, who lives in a Catholic hospice, would spend much of her time wheeling the other sick and dying patients around voluntarily. Jane would also be seen spending much time stroking their arms and hands, and trying to talk to them to comfort them. In this true story of Jane, we not only see how Jane is able to face her death with courage and dignity, but also how she is able to bring comfort to those who are dying, even though she herself is dying.
Whether we like it or not, our exterior and interior selves are inseparably connected. The quality of our exterior living does reveal the quality of our interior self. For Jane, it is evident that she is able to transcend and go beyond her own pains of facing death, and with courage and dignity reach out to the needs of others who are suffering. One reason why Jane is able to do this is because she is able to connect with the goodness of God within her.
All of us are created in the image and likeness of God. When God created us He planted in our hearts a desire to love others as He the Creator loves us. This desire to love is in our hearts and it is a natural gift that God has given to you and me. Thus, for us to love someone is very much part of our human nature; to be able to love beyond our own pains, like Jane, is to be able to love fully as God loves us fully.
This means that, if we do not love others or if we are not able to love as fully as God wishes us to love, then we are actually not behaving and not living like human beings; we are not living out the true nature of our image and likeness of God that is deeply present in our hearts. So, Jesus in today’s Gospel is challenging you and I to be more authentic as a human person and thus be more loving as a child of God.
When I first mentioned to our Bazaar team that my target was to raise $100,000 instead of the $20,000 that they mentioned, I could see that they were surprised. Then in the following meeting, I upped my stake and said that my target is now $200,000. I could see that they were even more surprised, if not shocked. After the Bazaar, several people confessed to me that that from the start they were all very skeptical about such bazaar fund raising project. Many felt that it was bizarre to have a bazaar, and that I should be happy if I even get $90,000. I think we all now know that it’s not so bizarre after all as we finally raised $355,000 or so just as a private Parish project alone. What happened?
Well, as your Parish Priest, I must say that I was very touched to see how so many people in the last two weeks responded so generously and selflessly. One RCIA person told me, “Father, I bidded for an $800.00 wine that probably cost only $500, and I don’t even drink such wine. The reason why I bidded for it was partly because you were so convincing, but more importantly, I wanted to contribute to the poor and needy.”
My sisters and brothers in Christ, this good man who had a heart for the poor and needy in many ways represented the many of our parishioners who turned up to buy the many things that you never really wanted. But because the Bazaar was for the poor and needy, you bought paintings, wine, furniture and many things that some of you are now wondering what you are now supposed to do with them or how you can give them away.
What is clear from this beautiful experience of the Bazaar is that in our parish, there is a lot of goodness in the hearts of our parishioners. And the Bazaar was a good opportunity that brought out such goodness and generosity that you had within you. Not only did you turned up to give the Bazaar the overwhelming support, but so many of you too spent much time and effort to cook, bake and sell different home prepared food, all at your own costs to raise $20,943. Still, others used their talents in different ways to raise funds through selling plants, magnetic buttons, providing therapy, painting and the like to raise another $10,890. Even some of the altar boys, I hear, voluntarily took care of the kids in the bouncing castle, while their parents were buying things at the Bazaar. Behind the scenes and in different ways, the main Bazaar teams were labouring selflessly round the clock to ensure that the coupons sold and Bazaar sales were fully accounted for, the donated items were properly categorized, rightly priced tagged, and then professionally displayed, and then when everyone has gone home to pack up and clear the mess.The logistics were a nightmare, but charity and service of God for the sake of the poor and needy eventually prevailed.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, as I congratulate you all as parishioners for your wonderful Christian witness that was evident during the Bazaar, I too would like to remind us that today’s Gospel is challenging us not to stop there. We are each challenged to develop this potential goodness that God has placed in our hearts, so that as a Parish we will continue to grow as a community and witness to the world what it is like to have Christ in our hearts.
The Christian faith is not simply to do good in a very private manner, the witness of our faith becomes more powerful as a community. This communal witness is not about showing off of how good we are, but about pointing others towards Christ, who is so wonderfully present in the beauty of our Christian charity and love for one another and for the poor and needy. And, when this happens, as in the Bazaar, we influence each other to love more fully. This is what a community of believers in Christ is supposed to be; we are to draw out the goodness of God from each other, and together serve selflessly and joyously for God’s Greater Glory. This is what happened in the Bazaar and I pray that the Gospel values that was very evident will continue to develop and grow and mature even more fully in the coming months when we implement our Parish Goals.
And as I conclude, let me sum up by saying that as today’s Gospel of Christ challenges us to live our faith more fully personally and as a parish community, we are to remind ourselves that as God has blessed you and I with a beautiful faith, let us challenge ourselves to bring our faith to a deeper level and not allow its potential to stagnate. You and I know through our experiences of the Bazaar that this is possible; the goodness of God is truly present in our hearts. So, let us interiorise this gift of God more fully and draw out from each other the very best of the image and likeness of God that He has planted in our hearts and build our family and Parish community into a vibrant community that truly witnesses to the Gospel of Christ to all peoples
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.