Yesterday evening, when I was at the Alhuda mosque together with about fifty of our parishioners to celebrate the combine Hari Raya and Lantern festival, I received the sad news about our Minister Mentor’s (MM) beloved wife’s death. We all know how much MM’s wife means to him. We also know that regardless of how brilliant and passionate MM is about building Singapore, in all probability, we can also say that without such a good and loving wife, who was his confidante, counsel and companion for 63 years, MM would not be what he is today.
Even though MM’s wife was in a coma state, (in a recent published interview with MM), he shared how he would each day go to his beloved wife and talk to her and tell her how his day was, and would also read her favourite poems and books to her. The death of his beloved wife must be a great loss and deep pain for MM; an abyss that he would find very difficult to fill. Yet, we can see too that this is so precisely because his wife has been such a great blessing to him throughout his life and more so in his trying times of forming and leading the country.
The reason why I am sharing these thoughts about MM is to remind us that as a human person, we cannot live alone; without human love we will each dry up so to speak and life would be empty and meaningless; our successes and joys in life will only make sense if we have our loved ones to share them with. God has created us in such a way that we cannot be totally happy alone.
The aloneness and emptiness that I am speaking of is more than our need for physical proximity of persons in our lives. We all need meaningful and deep personal relationship to keep us sane and humane especially during our pains and trials of life. We all know so well too that in a married vocation and family life can only be filled with happiness and peace if the relationships within the home are one that is built on deep love, commitment and care for one another, as MM has shown us through his deep love for his wife.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, as we affirm the reality of our need for deep and meaningful relationships, in today’s Gospel Jesus invites us to an even deeper reality of our lives. Jesus invites us to deepen our relationship with God. Jesus is inviting us to experience a reality that offers us a happiness that is infinitely deeper than any human relationships and any thing that this world can ever offer. Jesus tells us that even if our faith is the size of a mustard seed, which is as big as a dot on a page, we will be able to accomplish the impossible in life. Why? Because, God will give us His infinite power and strength to achieve what is humanly impossible; because if we dare to trust and love God deeply enough, then there is nothing that is good for us that God will not give us.
There is a story of a Jesuit Polish priest, Fr Walter Ciszek who spent twenty three years in Russian prison camps in Siberia; falsely imprisoned as a young priest during World War II of being a Vatican spy. Fr Ciszek spent about twenty years living in a tiny cell of “about seven by twelve feet with about a dozen other men. This cell had grimy stone walls and one little window high in the wall. The room was always dark. For about fifteen years, Fr Ciszek too had to do the dirtiest work; digging long sewer trenches through the frozen ground, loading and unloading heavy construction materials with bare hands, crawling in damp, dark mines where death was always only one careless step away and the like.
What if we were put through such torture, how many of us would survive? If we did survive, what do you think we would find the strength in to remain sane and alive? For Fr Ciszek, he says, “Many men died in the camp, especially when they gave up hope, but as for me, I trusted God. So, I never felt abandoned or without hope. I owe my survival to my faith in God.”
My sisters and brothers in Christ, as God was Fr Ciszek’s strength and real hope in his torments, this same God in today’s Gospel is offering us the same divine strength to help us live our daily lives and face our daily challenges. Through today’s Gospel, Jesus is assuring us that we can have an immediate access to God’s divine power within us and thus nothing can crush us regardless of how difficult, painful and insurmountable they may seem as we can see in Fr Ciszek’s life.
When life’s challenges seem to be humanly impossible to overcome, our human tendency tempts us to give up hope; when pain is unbearable, our hope diminishes, as instrained relationships in marriages and the like. While this is true, let us remind ourselves that what ever we do, and however we cope with our trials and tribulations in life, never give up on our trust in God. To cut ourselves from our trust in God is like saying to the rescuers of the ship that is passing by, when we are drowning in the ocean, “I don’t need your help.”
For God to be our greatest strength to rescue us in times of our crises in life, we must in good times also be nurturing the faith that we have in God, even though it may be the size of a “mustard seed.” What matters most is our daily trying to become more fully aware that God must become the centre of our lives and a higher priority in how we live our lives daily. What do I mean by this? Let me illustrate by taking just one example of what this responsibility of nurturing our faith in our life means.
There are times when I see people rushing towards Mass even twenty minutes after the Mass has begun . . . some even later. I fully understand that there are the occasional unexpected traffic jams or unforeseen delays because someone is sick and need to be attended to and the like. However, if we are consistently coming to Mass ten minutes, fifteen minutes and even twenty minutes late . . . then such pattern is perhaps revealing a certain truth about our lukewarm attitude in our faith or towards the Mass.
Our Church always teaches that the Mass is the climax of the day for those of us who attend daily Masses, and the climax of the week for those of us who attend weekend Masses. Our Lord reconciles us in the Eucharist during the Penitential Rite; He opens our minds to His Truth in the Liturgy of the Word especially when the Gospel is being proclaimed; He unites all joys and pains in life with Himself as He is being offered as a Sacrifice at the Liturgy of the Eucharist, He then gives us Himself to nourish us at Holy Communion, finally He missions and sends us forth to celebrate and make Him known to the world as we live the Good News of Salvation by being Christ-like in the way we live our lives and relate with one another daily living.
All of these graces and blessings are given to us abundantly during each Mass. When we are five minutes late, we will miss out on the graces of the Penitential Rite, when we are 10 minutes late, we will probably have missed the graces of the Readings and the Gospel that is proclaimed to transform us and the like. So, when we are rushing in and out of Masses are we merely physically present, and going through the motion of the Mass, but not spiritually and fully united with Our Lord during the Eucharist? All these we can only each answer for ourselves before God. I am not here to make us feel guilty. I am merely pointing out one observable fact as an illustration of how we may be living our Catholic faith. There are many other facts and facets of our faith that we can each challenge ourselves to look at. And this is our personal responsibility throughout our lifetime on earth. We are so blessed to have a God who is infinitely patient and compassionate towards us.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, as I conclude I would like to say that Jesus in today’s Gospel is only pleading that we take one small step at a time in our efforts to grow in our faith in Him. If we are able to do this, then Jesus assures us that over time our faith will be and even become as strong as that of Fr Walter Ciszek because God’s Spirit will give us the strength to grow in our faith daily. If our faith as parents and adults are not strong and if we do not witness to our faith visibly enough, then who do our children turn to as their models to grow in their faith?
When we return to our homes today, let us be remind ourselves that Fr Ciszek was perhaps once like us in our faith, but he took the needed steps to challenge himself. If he can do it, so can we not so much in a proud way, but because Jesus in today’s Gospel reminds us that even as our faith is the size of a mustard seed, we can overcome the most hopeless, most painful situations and most ingrained habitual lukewarm living of our faith because our God is always there with us and for us
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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