Put very simply, in today’s Gospel Jesus is telling us, “be alert, vigilant and responsible in the way we live our faith daily. Why is this? Jesus is reminding us that the Second Coming can spring on us by surprise; the Master may return when we least expect it; and concretely anyone of us can die anytime. If this should happen, are we ready to meet God and be judged by Him?
Today’s Gospel that we just heard is very direct and challenging. To be very honest, I think many of us do not feel very comfortable with such Gospel challenges. Let us ask ourselves, “How often and how many of us speak about death even though we all know that this is a reality that can surprise us at any time?
Am I exaggerating if I were to tell you that it is true to say that even as I am alive today, and now preaching to you, I can even now, without warning die of a heart attack or die of an accident this afternoon or in my sleep tonight? Jesus in today’s Gospel is saying to you and me that all these can possibly happen to anyone of us here today.
Jesus is reminding us today, “If this should happen to me or to any one of you today, “Are we ready to meet the Master? Are you ready to meet Jesus and be judged by God?” Most people focus on trying to live a good and enjoyable life and on being healthy. Thus, we sub-consciously assume that we are going to live to a ripe old age of at least 75 years and above. How many of us take the reality of what Jesus is saying seriously? To be aware of the reality that anyone of us can die anytime is not to instill fear in our hearts or not to be pessimistic about life.
When Jesus shakes us all up to face the truth, Jesus is actually trying to remind us to live our lives more vigilantly and more responsibly in accordance to God’s Will and Ways. Fr James was one of my novice nine years ago in our Jesuit Novitiate. He was ordained last Sunday. With Fr James Boey’s permission, I would like to share some of my reflections on his life to illustrate Jesus’ Gospel message and challenge to each of us today.
Fr James was baptised in the Baptist Church in 1983. In January 1999, Fr James said, “When I was passing the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Tank’s Road, I was somehow very drawn to enter the Church. So entered it; I immediately felt the deep peace and joy of Jesus’ presence; I remained in the Church for two hours; I also found myself kneeling like other Catholics in the Church. This was the beginning of a radical change in my life as a Christian. To make a long story short, I soon joined the RCIA programme and the Church choir, and was eventually received into the Catholic Church on 22 nd of April 2000, during the Easter Vigil.
Even as a Baptist Christian Fr James said, “I had a strong desire to serve the Church as a pastor. Somehow I never felt fully satisfied with just serving God as a lay person. I wanted to serve God more fully. I wanted more people to know and experience Christ through me as God’s instrument. Even as I was holding a good job as a bank officer, at times with 6 month bonus, free gold credit card, and owned a car and apartment, life was never fulfilling enough.
My deepest desires were to serve God more fully and more wholeheartedly. I feel very blessed that God is calling me to the priesthood vocation. My biggest concern was my dad, since my mom’s death in 1978, for twenty two years my dad lived with me. We did things together and even if my friends were to invite me out, I will told them the I will have to bring my dad with me as he would otherwise be alone at home; my friends understood and accepted my dad very well.
When I was eventually accepted to join the Jesuit novitiate, I didn’t know how to break the news to my dad. Humanly speaking I was torn between answering God’s call and leaving my dad who was a non-Christian at home alone. However, in my vocation discernment, Fr Heng urged me to trust God more fully. He said, if your vocation is truly God’s calling, God will surely provide and your dad will eventually find the peace of your priesthood vocation. How? We don’t know. We can only leave it to God.
True enough, my dad was quite shaken by the news of my vocation. I too was very concerned and kept asking myself, “Who will take care of him, how would he live his life alone?” My dad did not really object, but simply asked me to reconsider very carefully my decision more carefully. In my prayer and discernment, I felt very strongly that the Jesuit charism of serving any person, any where and any time, for God’s Greater Glory really attracted me very much because that’s how I felt I want to give my life to God – totally and unconditionally, and to serve any person and place in this world all for Him.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, time does not permit me to give more details of Fr James’ vocation story. However, let me add that as Fr James was constantly torn between loving God in responding to His calling, and leaving his dad alone at home even though financially he was well provided for, God always give him the strength and the graces to remain faithful and to persevere in his vocation; regardless of the many challenges he faced.
Along the way God too gave Fr James signs and consolations that his decision to respond to his Jesuit vocation was a blessing. Friends of the parish took very good care of his dad and within some months he started RCIA and was baptised into the Catholic Church within a year. Fr James’s dad, took the name of John and since his baptism, encouraged Fr James to live his vocation faithfully, and also reminded him not to phone him and be more focused in his vocation formation; he is very happy in his life with many friends in the Church and many things to do.
Instead of being lonely, now uncle John was very busy, helping the poor through joining the SSVP and continued his hobby of photography and taking many photos for his friends. In one of Fr James’ summer breaks, uncle John went to Taiwan where Fr James was studying theology for a month. There Fr James was able to bring him to visit many places in Taiwan and lived in Jesuit houses who welcomed him very warmly.
When I met uncle John upon his return, he showed me the hundreds of photographs he took and explained to me what and where he went with great excitement and happiness. Uncle John was clearly one of the happiest man in the word. I prayed in thanksgiving to God for His great providence of allowing His Will to be fulfilled so beautifully in not only allow Fr James to become a Jesuit priest, but also to give so much happiness to uncle John not only as a father who was very happy with his son’s vocation, but has himself found the God of salvation through the Catholic faith.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, this true story of Fr James and his father John, we can all see illustrates today’s Gospel of Jesus’ teachings very well. First, we see how Fr James who loved his father so much had to put his love for God’s Will before everything else in his life. He was able to give up his good paying job, the comforts of his home, the joy and companionship of his good friends, and most painfully to leave his dad to himself after having lived together, traveled together and did everything together for twenty two years.
After a few months of returning from his very happy vacation in Taiwan with Fr James, uncle John caught pneumonia and died peacefully within a few days. I believe uncle John could not have had a happier death, and he is now smiling even with greater joy with God at seeing his son, Fr James, in his first Thanksgiving Mass in this Church.
Let me conclude by recalling the challenge that Jesus in today’s Gospel is posing to you and to me. Jesus is telling us, “be alert and live vigilant and responsible lives at all times; you will never know when you will die or when the end of the world is going to be; it can spring on us at any time. So, live your lives fully in accordance to God’s Will and Ways.” Being a Christian is more than doing good deeds and obeying the ten Commandments. Fr James Boey could have done all these without having to become a Jesuit or without having to be ordained as a priest.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, Fr James vocation story clearly shows us that if we put God at the centre of our lives and always have Him as the first love of our lives, we will dare to face the reality that we can die anytime with deep peace in the Lord. And like Fr James, we will also experience amidst the pains and challenges that come our way, the fulfillment that God will surely give us. And, like uncle John, we too will find that our love for God will make us one of the happiest person in this world and in the next .
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.
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