I read a true story of a fellow Singaporean, Wilson Tang, who wrote about his life’s experiences. Wilson shared, “I was a happily married man. I had a great wife, three wonderful young sons and was running a small but thriving wholesale optical business. Sickness was a rare occurrence in my life – I had been to the doctor only once in several years and coughs and colds were alien to me.” However, in 2004 I suddenly had a viral infection that refused to go away.
Regardless of how different doctors tried to help him, nothing seemed to work; the virus began to attack his liver, lungs and especially his heart. After five months of battling with the virus, the doctors told him that his heart could only last for at most one year. Wilson was shocked; eventually, he said, “My wife, Kelly decided to resign from her job to look after me and my boys.”
“Every day, Kelly would cook a small dish for me or double-boil a soup and take it all the way from our Paya Lebar flat to Singapore General Hospital where I was warded. I kept telling her not to, but she insisted. ‘How can I be sure you are eating properly?’ ” she would ask, not heeding my protests.
“Life was tough on Kelly and it showed. I was running out of money, my good wife was exhausted, helpless and eventually became depressed when my situation worsened.” The only way Wilson could survive was to have a new heart, but he knew that his chances were slim and this would usually take up to four or five years of waiting, and his heart could only last for a year.
However, after a few months, Wilson received the great news that the Heart Centre had found a heart that matched his blood and tissues. This was from a young man who in his thirties and around his age, was killed in an accident. Wilson says, “The transplant was done and I am alive. I am forever indebted to the man who gave me his heart, even though I do not even know his name. Now I am able to walk 3 km a day and feel my new heart beating non-stop. Life is tough, but I am still living. Every day is a miracle for me now. I owe it to the man who gave my family and me a good life. Every single day that I live is one more day gained in my life; thanks to him.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, the reality of this story does not only apply to Wilson’s life, but your life and my life. We can all be well in life, but illness and death can knock at our door when we least expect. In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells His disciples and us, “Stay awake . . . that day – referring to the end of the world and our death – can spring on us suddenly like a trap.”
Advent is a good time for us to take a step back and reflect on the deeper meaning and purpose of life. Advent is a time for us to prepare for the First Coming of Christ at Christmas and the Second Coming of Christ when the world comes to an end. While our faith urges us to prepare our hearts to receive God’s special graces and blessings in the coming of Christ at Christmas, it also reminds us of our need to prepare to face God’s judgment when the world comes to an end.
This basic truth of the end of the world is a reality that we can either choose to accept or ignore. There is a tendency for us to tell ourselves, “This world will not end during our life time; this world will only end some thousand years later in some other people’s life-time.” One of the reasons why we prefer to think this way is perhaps our defense mechanism is sub-consciously luring us away from the pain of facing our true self. We prefer not to see our faults, failures and sinfulness. Thus, we prefer a spirituality where God’s love without the need to face His Justice is emphasised.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, if we dare to face truth of Christ Second Coming; the end of the world, which Jesus says, can come any time, then our next question that we have to face is, “How can we prepare ourselves to face God without fear and where the end of the world will be for us a great moment of liberation, salvation and jubilation.
One way in which we can prepare ourselves effectively for the Comings of Christ is to begin with repentance. We will hear of this theme of repentance again in next week’s Gospel, when John the Baptist proclaims a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. When we begin with repentance; genuine repentance, God will surely give us the graces to look at the truth of ourselves. This truth can be scary for many of us and we prefer to avoid looking at the truth of the quality of our relationship with God. For some of us this happens even during Confession when we rattle off a few common sins that we commit all the time, instead of facing the deeper truth of why we fail to love others and God as fully as we ought to.
I will not wish to elaborate further here on the Sacrament of Reconciliation here (perhaps in next week’s homily) because the general theme of today’s Gospel challenge is to prepare ourselves to meet Christ in His coming at Christmas and His coming at the end of the world, which Jesus says, can be any time. It is in this context of preparations that our Parish will have a Penitential Service on December 17 th and a Triduum to prepare our hearts to receive Christ more fully and readily over three days of Gospel contemplation from December 20 th, 21 st and 22 nd. I really hope that our Church will get an overwhelming response for such spiritual preparation, so that our Parish will experience an overflowing joyat Christmas that is beyond the superficial commercial level of gift giving that boost the sales of our Orchard Road shopping malls.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, as I draw my homily-reflection on Advent to a conclusion, let us remind ourselves once again of what Jesus in today’s Gospel and St Paul in today’s Second Reading are trying to tell us. When Jesus is challenging us to stay awake, He is urging us to appreciate the gift of life, and more importantly the gift of faith and salvation that God so patiently and mercifully gives us all the time.
Wilson through his near death experiences learnt painfully how to appreciate his good wife, his children and the kindness of the donor of his new heart more fully in his second chance in life. God continues to give us not only a second chance, but chances after chances, day after day, patiently and mercifully, His unconditional Love.
This season of Advent is yet, another season of opportunities that God is giving us to relive our livesdifferently. To “stay awake,” St Paul tells us in today’s Second Reading that we are all called to “increase our love for one another and for the whole human race. Live the kind of life, St Paul says, “that you are meant to live; the life that God wants.” If we begin this Advent season with a genuine repentance of our hearts then, we are well on our way to celebrating the most meaningful and most joyfulmeeting of Christ at His First Coming at Christmas and His Second Coming at the end of the world, any time . . . with heads held high and confident of the eternal joy that will come our way when we die.
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.