4th Sunday of Advent: Gospel – Mt 1: 18-24

"Selfless and Sacrificial Love"

Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore
on 19th December 2010

The Gospel that we just heard proclaimed is a story that cannot be understood logically or proven scientifically.  This is because this Gospel story is a story of faith in God. It is a story of God’s Love for us and the human response to His Love by two persons – Mary and Joseph.  The degree to which we are able to appreciate and appropriate the Truth of this story depends on the depth of our faith.  Thus, any attempt on our part to analyse the story logically like how could Mary conceive by the Holy Spirit and the like would only superficialise the infinite truth of the story of God’s Plan of our Salvation.

As it is humanly impossible to understand how an infinite God can be born as a human child like us, it was also humanly impossible for both Joseph and Mary to understand God’s revelation to them.  However, both Mary and Joseph were fully open to God’s Truth and were able to accept God’s Will wholeheartedly.   While Mary’s “yes” to God’s Will and Ways was at the Annunciation, Joseph’s “yes” was in his dream.  Both acted promptly, courageously and selflessly.   What about us?

If we reflect on our own faith experiences of God in our lives, we too can tell our own story of how we have said “yes” to God’s invitation to love Him, as Joseph and Mary did. For some of us, our “yes” to God is prompt, courageous and selfless.  To others, our “yes” is hesitant, conditional and non-committal.   The quality of our response to God’s invitation to love Him is evident in the way we live our daily lives and practice our faith.

There is a story of a Jesuit novice and a Franciscan novice having lunch together on their “Villa Day” (off day).  Since both of them are meant to live their Vow of Poverty, they had to they could only afford a simple lunch.  Being Friday, they ordered fish.  A few minutes later, the waiter served them a plate containing two fried fish; one large and the other small.  The Jesuit novice immediately helped himself to the larger fish and gave his Franciscan companion the smaller fish.

The Franciscan got a bit upset and said, “You know, we Franciscans are well trained in our Vow of Poverty, and if I were the one serving the fish I would have taken the small fish for myself and given you the larger fish. The Jesuit replied immediately, “But, that what you have now!  So, what are you complaining about?”

Does this story remind us of the way we sometimes live our faith?  How often do we find ourselves putting our own needs before others, or loving God on our own terms and conditions?   If Mary and Joseph’s response were conditional there would be no Incarnation and Joseph would have exposed Mary’s conception, and she would have been stoned to death.  No, both Mary and Joseph accepted God’s Will so fully that they were willing to risk their lives out of love for God.  The bottom line for Joseph and Mary and also us is, “How much do we truly love God.”

There is a story of an engaged couple who both took the law bar examinations.  Both of them prepared very hard for the examinations.  On the morning when the results were published in the newspapers, each one of them frantically looked for their names.  The girl found her name as one of those who passed, but could not find her fiancé’s name.  Her heart sank and she tried to phone her fiancé, but he was not answering his phone.  They had before the results agreed to meet up for lunch at a particular place that day.  As she was waiting for her fiancé to turn up, with a heavy heart her mind was filled with thoughts like, “How can I console him?  How can I make him feel less miserable?  How I wished I was the one who failed as I am more able to take the failure?

Then, all of a sudden she saw her fiancé rushing towards her from a distance.  He was waving wildly at her and appeared to be somewhat happy.  “Was there a mistake?  Did I miss out his name?”  As soon as he reached her, he hugged her with joy and said, “Sweetheart, you did it!”

This is what happened.  The boy was happy that she passed and was able to go beyond his own pain of his failure.  On the other hand, the girl had forgotten that she had passed because she was saddened by her fiancé’s failure.  When we love someone deeply, we become selfless and our hearts and lives are totally focused on the person we love.  Such deep love is very evident in the sacrifices parents make out of their love for their children. The deepest form of such selfless and sacrificial love is when someone loves God so totally that he is willing to die for God.  This is clearly evident in the story of Joseph and Mary that we heard proclaimed in today’s Gospel.

A Religious once shared with me.  He said, “I have given my life to God and now do I expect God to reward me abundantly? I never thought of it like this. Whether God rewards me or not, it is up to Him as long as I love him, but strangely the more concerned I am with my family, the more tired I am with daily life, the more busy I am with apostolic work, and at times the more frustrated I get with my community, the more God reveals himself to me. How?   God works in ways that I would never expect. This is my experience, I do my best for God and He knows what to do with the rest and the best part is that He never disappoints us or anyone.

My sisters and brothers in Christ, God Our Lord never disappoints. He can only give us what is good for us in this world and infinite happiness in the next, for all eternity.  Let us have Joseph as our model; “a man of great honour;” a good man who was selfless and thoughtful of others.  As such, he did not want to bring any pain or shame, let alone death to Mary, when she was found to be with child before their marriage.

It is because of Joseph’s goodness and selflessness of heart that God was able to work through him in faith.  Let us all do the same.

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.


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