John the Baptist in today’s Gospel that we just heard announced that Jesus is “the Chosen one of God . . . the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” How often have we thanked God and felt deep gratitude to Him for forgiving our sins? How much time do we really spend thanking God after our “Confession?” Do we find ourselves more often than not, muttering our token prayers for our “Penance”, and for some of us, somewhat hastily and then getting on with life?
The Church today makes it so easy for our sins to be forgiven. However, instead of feeling deep gratitude to God for His Mercy, sadly, we can so easily fall into the tendency of taking God’s infinite Mercy for granted and treat the Sacrament of Reconciliation lightly. One indication of this happening is seen from the lack of frequency in which we go to “Confession.” For many of us, we simply wait for the Penitential Services that is offered just before Christmas and Easter to come around.
When this happens to us, we can easily fall into the tendency of not allowing God’s Mercy to transform our lives as fully as He Wills of us. When the healing of our wounded soul is superficial, we then more easily fall back into the sins that we have just confessed as our attitudes and behaviour in our lives would not have changed deeply enough for the better. In time, our sins may become habitual as we may drift into the “routine” of sub-consciously “rationalising” that our sins are “okay or others are worse than us, as long as I don’t harm anyone it’s okay etc.”
But, if we make a good “Confession,” what happens is that essentially the quality of our lives would change for the better and our awareness of God’s Mercy for us would be deeper and more fully appreciated. We will then become much more conscious of our need to try very hard to love God more fully and to show this love to others. And so even as we will surely commit some of the sins that we have confessed, God knows that we have not taken His Mercy for granted, and over time, our lives would change significantly for the better, as Christ would be more deeply rooted in our hearts and life.
About sixteen years ago, when I was newly ordained, I was asked to give a talk to some businessmen and professionals in Manila. During the question time one person (let us call him Chito) asked me, “Father, we do you think it is just that the squatters refuse to move from our land in spite of our many reminders?” This was my answer. “I am no legal expert in such area and it seems that legally you have the right to evict them and that legally it seems that they have unjustly built their sheds on the land that you rightly own.”
After a pause, I added. A few weeks ago, I visited Ate Fe’s (in English Aunty Fe’s) home as part of my usual Sunday apostolate visits to the barrios or in English, village. Ate Fe, whom I knew was very happy to see me and invited me into her home. I went in and sat on a raised platform made of bamboo slits of about one foot and 15 feet by 15 feet square. I noticed some old cardboard boxes at one corner and some greasy and old cooking utensils in another corner. As we were trying to get a conversation going with my broken Tagalog, Ate Fe’s two year old son was purging. She was very apologetic and clearly she had no money to buy any medicine. When I asked her where he husband was she said, that he was out selling fruits. She added that no loan sharks would want to lend them any more money as there was nothing in her house to possess. So, her husband has to beg from his friends and relatives for some money just to buy some fruits to sell to earn a living. They have three other children, but they are living with their parents in the rural province as they are too poor to bring them up.
As we were talking, it began to rain, and to my surprise the rain was coming into the house. I looked up, and saw that the roof was patched together with plastic sheets and odd pieces of ply wood; and at the corner of the house was a broken umbrella covering a big hole in the ceiling. To make a long story short, I managed to raise some money to buy some wood to repair Ate Fe’s home. Her neighbours rallied together to help her repair her home.
I then explained further to Chito and said, “I believe Ate Fe’s husband, like all husbands and fathers have their pride and dignity to want to provide a solid and secure home for their families. Do you think that if they could afford to build a solid house for families, would they still want to squat on your land? However, you on the other hand is very blessed to live in a big house and have lots of land. While it may be illegal and unjust for the poor and needy like Ate Fe’s family to squat on your land, do you think it should be Christian charity to share your blessings with these squatters? Bring this to pray and listen to what Jesus may want to say to you.” From then on, there were no more questions.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we are not aware and are oblivious of the pain and suffering of others and if we lack mercy and compassion towards others, they are signs of our lack of awareness of the mercy that God constantly shows us for the sins that we have committed. We so easily forget that God has shown us His infinite Mercy and has forgiven us. And if we are to continue to take God’s Mercy for granted, we may one day end up behaving like Chito who is merciless towards the pain and sufferings of others (including those of our family, relatives and friends; let alone the poor and needy around us).
One way to value God’s Merciful Love for us, is to show mercy to those in need and to value the Sacrament of Reconciliation more fully, and to be grateful to God for all the abundant blessings that He has given us. The fact that we are alive is already a blessing from God. The latest and most expensive medical equipment or the most powerful politician and brilliant doctor in the world would not be able to make our heart beat or lungs breathe if God does not give us the gift of life. Every heart beat and every breath we take is God’s gift and blessing to us. How aware are we of this?
But, life is so fragile and our time on earth is only a transition. We are each challenged to live our lives to the full as God Wills of us. If this is so, then like John the Baptist, our lives too must always point people to Jesus through our witnessing: this is shown through not taking God’s infinite Mercy for granted and also through valuing more fully the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And if we live in these ways, then Jesus, the “Lamb of God who willingly and Mercifully take away our sins” have not come in vain.
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
visitors since 27 January 2011