3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time: Gospel – Lk 1:1-4, 4:14-21

" Deepening our Awareness of God’s Presence "

Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore
on 24 Jan 2010

In today’s Gospel, we find Jesus in a synagogue in Galilee, teaching on God’s Word that He had proclaimed. A synagogue in Jesus time is like a Neighbourhood Group gathering in our time; about ten families would gather to listen to God’s Word and then reflect on it and discuss about its truth and how it is related to their daily living and practice of their faith.

The people were very impressed with Jesus’ Wisdom and were deeply touched by what He said. This was because the people were in a period of what is called the “Galilean springtime.” This means that the people were hungering for the Truth of God and waiting with great anticipation of the coming of the Messiah who will bring them the great freedom and liberation that they were waiting for.

During such “spring time” of anticipation, the crowds were truly open and eager to hear the Truth and what Jesus had to say. What about us gathered here today and every Sunday for Mass? Are we like the Jews in the synagogue who are filled with eagerness to learn more about God’s Word and revelation or are there hindrances in our lives that are preventing us from being touched and transformed by God’s Word?

In my personal reflection on what is happening to our faith, I think it is not so much that we are not keen about God’s Word and Truth, but that many of us are finding the basic reality of daily living to be too dry, daunting and demanding. By this I mean that for many people we are trying to make sense of the different concerns that we are each facing daily. Some of us have our different family needs, others have to wrestle with their serious illnesses. Still, others cannot avoid and cannot overcome the nagging hurts and trials of relationships and the like.

When such basic human realities dominate our daily living, each person would experience life to be very different. And one main reason why we each experience life so differently can be explained by the fact that each of us has different degrees of awareness of God and thus different levels of relationships with Him in our daily living.

It is like a very good mother who has taken great pains to prepare a very sumptuous dinner for her children because she loves them so much. However, each child appreciates what she is offering differently because each child values and loves her differently. The first type of children are those who wish they do not have to come for the dinner, but forces themselves to turn up out obligation and other superficial reasons; their love for their mother is superficial. The second type of children are those who will turn up to eat the dinner prepared, but are not too interested in the meal because they have other more interesting concerns and attractions in their life; their love for their mother is good, but not too deep. The third type of children could be those who truly appreciate and value what the mother has done because they love her very deeply and dearly.

Put in another way, we could generally say that the three types of children are what Jesus in St Luke’s Gospel (8:4-15) calls those of us who respond to God’s Word and Truth differently. The first, those who fall on “rocky soil,” the second are those who fall on “thorns,” and the third are the seed of God’s Word falling on “rich soil,” The rocky soil is those of us who love God, but our love has no deep roots. Thus, when we are tested, we are changeable and some of us can even deny God’s love for us. The seeds that fall on thorns are those of us who are choked by the worries, riches and pleasures of life and do not reach maturity as we have little room and desire for God in our daily living. The rich soil is those of us who have a noble and generous heart; we value God wholeheartedly and produce a rich harvest of happiness, joy and peace in our lives.

We all know whichever type of children or kind of soil we are, by the way we lead our daily lives, but what is more important for us today is to ask ourselves how we can become the type of child who is able to value and love the mother deeply or to be able to respond to God’s Word like the rich soil and experience a hundred fold of happiness, joy and peace in our daily living.

While our experiences of God are different, we can each try to learn to increase our awareness of God daily in our lives. There is a story of a young girl, Amanda who wrote a letter to God and simply said, “I love You, God.” She then waited for a reply from God for weeks, but did not receive any. One morning, while Amanda was alone sitting beside a brook in a countryside feeling somewhat down, she suddenly heard a soft voice say, “I love you.” She turned around and did not see anyone. Then, when she bent forward and listened intently, she heard the water saying very distinctly again, “I love you, too!” God was answering her letter. Amanda over the coming days went back to the countryside; daily she hears God speaking to her in her heart through nature. Amanda would hear how God continue to say to her, “I love you,” in the sigh of the breeze, the whisper of the trees, the rustle of the dry leaves, the twittering of the birds, and even in the formation of the clouds.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, there is a lot of truth in the story of Amanda. If we open our ears and listen more attentively to nature, if we open our eyes to see Jesus staring right into our eyes in the beggar who may even smell of drink and is asking for a dollar from us, if we open our minds to the Truth of God that brightens our understanding of life, if we open our heart to feel the emptiness of people we know who are putting up a brave front in life, but are deeply wounded and lost in their lives; waiting for someone to point out how they can be truly fulfilled in life.

Meaningful prayer too, is one of the surest ways in which we can create the “rich soil” in our hearts that produces the rich harvest of happiness, peace and healing in our hearts and life. A British surgeon and psychiatrist named, Dr Kenneth McAll is fully convinced that prayer brings deep and wholesome healing in our lives. Over fifteen years, he recorded some 600 cases and concluded that prayer brought healing to his patients who had phobias, obsessions, schizophrenia, tuberculosis and other disorders.

He himself testifies that as a prisoner of the Japanese in World War II for four years, he said, “People in all the camps were in a crude position medically; there were no medications, not even aspirins or bandages. We were suffering from bronchial diseases, vitamin deficiencies, and the like. In many camps, the prisoners were dying. But, in our camp, people would get better. This was different from the other camps. The Japanese were baffled over us . . But, there was only one difference between us and the prisoners in other camps: we prayed for one another.” He adds, “I saw this happen so many times, healing is related not so much to doctors or drugs but to prayer and spiritual experiences . . . the doctor alleviates and contains an illness, but it is God who heals. . . to Dr McAll, he concludes that, life is about the relationship between ourselves and God.

My sisters and brothers in Christ, as I sum up our reflection on today’s Gospel and conclude let us remind ourselves that the Jews in the synagogue were impressed and deeply moved by what Jesus had to say to them because their minds were open and their hearts were receptive. Amanda, the little girl of our story, was able to hear God saying to her, “I love you,” also because she was able to see, hear and feel God’s presence around her. Dr McAll’s personal experiences of God healing illnesses and bringing peace in the most extreme trials and pains of people’s lives show that God is certainly very much part of our daily lives, and if we can each daily try to grow in our relationship with the Lord, through developing a greater awareness of God in nature and around us, and through developing a more meaningful prayer life, we will surely be nurturing the “rich soil” of our hearts, and become the first type of child of God who is truly able to value and love God deeply in our daily living. And when we are able to experience God in such a personal manner, our hearts too will be on fire like the Jews in the synagogue who heard Jesus teach them the Truth .

Fr Philip Heng, S.J.

visitors since 3 February 2010

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