23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time: Gospel – Lk 14:25-33

" How much do we love God? "

Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore
on 5th September 2010

Fr AT Thomas, a Jesuit priest worked with, stood by, and struggled for the dignity of the Dalits, the poorest of the poor in Hazaribagh, Bihar in India. In 1991 he wrote saying that “The Dalits are a fragmented group, economically and socially deprived, culturally impoverished, educationally backward, and religiously exploited and marginalised. They live in poverty, illiteracy, insecurity, fear, dependence and their accompanying ill-effects. For some years, Fr Thomas had been helping these Dalits to fight for their rights. He had on one occasion successfully helped them recover their land from the land-grabbers and in the process these people were arrested and imprisoned.

On October 24 th 1997, Fr Thomas then at the age of 46, went to visit these Dalits at the Sirka village. When he arrived, he found a group of policemen beating one of the villagers. These people where actually not the police, but insurgents dressed in police uniforms. Fr Thomas recognised that they were the same people who some years ago were trying to grab the land of the Dalits unjustly. Likewise, these land-grabbers too recognised Fr Thomas. They immediately surrounded him and took him away at gunpoint; the villagers were helpless and powerless even though they tried to protect Fr Thomas.

Father Thomas Anchanikal, SJ (1951-1997)
Died 27 Oct 1997 (India, in the region of Hazaribag)

Three days later, Fr Thomas body was found floating in a nearby stream; clearly battered and decapitated. A visiting Jesuit from India who knew Fr Thomas told me that, Fr Thomas’ body was covered with cigarette burns and disfigured by other marks of extreme torture; clearly inflicted before he was beheaded; it also took them several weeks to find the missing head of Fr Thomas.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus was reminding the crowds that if they did not “hate,” actually the correct meaning is “prefer,” i.e. those who do not “prefer” or give a “higher importance” to God instead of their “father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters and yes, even his own life too, he cannot be my disciple. Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”

We know Fr Thomas was not only able to put God first and before his family and himself; he also carried his cross willingly and courageously.His love for God was concretely lived through his passionate defence of the justice of the poor and voiceless of society and his identification with Christ in them.

Very simply we could say that Fr Thomas’ love for God was so concrete and real that he was willing to die for God and his faith. While it is very good to be inspired by the martyrdom of Fr Thomas, you and I still have to face the basic question, “What about us? How have the Good News of Salvation affected us? We are called to be Christ’s disciples and believers;not mere observers of the Christian faith that Jesus proclaimed.

So, when we look into our lives, “What evidences are there to show that we truly love God?”Has the Good News of Salvation of Jesus Christ, made us any different from our non-Christian friends and neighbours? Is our love for others qualitatively different? Are we only touched superficially by the Good News of Salvation or has the Good News touched our hearts deeply?

Fr Bill Schock, was an American Jesuit who lived and served in the Philippines for many years. He suffered from many long years of illnesses. He once wrote, (adapted) “If you do not experience more peace in your life, it is not because of what is happening to you. It all depends on how you choose to look at things in your daily life. If you go through each day with blaming others, getting angry with them and frequently critical and negative in your views about people, the Church and the world, then you will surely feel miserable about life because you yourself are making yourself miserable.

However, if you go through the same day, understanding yourself more clearly, and accepting people and situations positively and more importantly, in Christ-like ways, if you are able to forgive more willingly, be more generous and compassionate towards the need of others, and loving in your thoughts of others, you will surely find more peace in life.

Very often we can’t change the world and people around us, but we can change our world and can choose to see life differently. You can choose to put on the eyes of Christ that hates the sin, but still loves the sinner. You can choose to have a heart of Christ that is willingly to take up His Cross and even die for the love of others, instead of wasting our life and energy in nursing our hurts and contemplating our revenge when someone has wronged us unjustly. In short, if we can change the world within us, we will then be able to change the world outside us.

If Fr Thomas was not able change the world within him to see Christ being exploited and robbed in the poorest of the poor, he would probably have done nothing about it and simply gave himself the most common excuse in this world, “It not my problem.”

My sisters and brothers in Christ, today’s Gospel is challenging us to see Christ’s present in ourselves and in the people we relate and live with daily, especially in the poor and needy.

To live our faith as though we can separate whatever we think, say and do from our relationship with Christ is effectively saying to Jesus, “I want to be Your disciple, but I don’t want to carry the crosses in my daily life. Its too difficult to be compassionate, forgiving and loving. They disturb my routine and comforts in life. Why can’t I do my own thing and be happy and not bother too much with what is happening in our Parish, amongst my relatives and in the world? Jesus would probably answer, “Yes, you can by all means continue to live an uninterrupted life that you so cherish and continue to have unchallenged attitudes that you so treasure, but that’s not living the Good News of Salvation, and that’s not being my disciple. Are you also saying that you don’t want to accept my Good News of Salvation?

Mother Teresa very profoundly says (adapted), “Suffering is by itself nothing; it’s useless. But, suffering has its deepest meaning when shared with Christ in His Passion. When we are able to do this, our suffering becomes a wonderful gift to human life in the world. This is so true about Christ’s own life and His teachings when He said, ‘Greater love than this no man has, that he gives his life for his friends.’ And so when we suffer for Jesus, this is the greatest of undivided love” that we offer to the world.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, it is good to remind ourselves that “Christianity did not invent suffering. Suffering was already in the world thousands of years ago when human beings rejected God’s love soon after He created them. God created the world perfect and beautiful, but we messed it up by our irresponsible choices. However, Christianity gave a meaning to suffering. This meaning is not that suffering is good in itself but that, “in God’s providence, it is an opportunity to love – the supreme test in many instances.” (John Dalrymple).

At the funeral Mass that I presided yesterday, I was deeply touched to find out how so beautifully forgiving and Christ-like the deceased person was in his lifetime; he was truly such a great blessing to his family and relatives and everyone though his very Christ-like ways of uniting them through his very generous and forgiving ways.

And as I conclude, let us all remind ourselves that we CAN LOVE and ARE CAPABLE of GREATER LOVE, like this good man who died recently, like Fr Thomas and the many good people we know who have live and loved so fully as Christ has shown us.

Our challenge today is to learn to sense the Christ within us, and see the Christ outside us. And then to be the Christ to others, out of love for God. And, if situations and people demand that we take up our crosses to forgive more willingly, share more generously, and serve more selflessly then, we are called to trust that God will surely give us the strength to live in His ways. All this is not impossible if we dare to put our love God at the centre of our lives and as our highest priority in life - more than any thing we possess and any person we love. Yes, with God’s graces we can, but will we?

Fr Philip Heng, S.J.

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