4th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Gospel – Mt 5:1-12

" Beatitudes - Challenges to live selfless lives "


Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore
on 30th January 2011

In the “Beatitudes” that we just heard proclaimed Jesus is saying, “Congratulations to you, how blessed are you or how happy are you if you are ‘poor in spirit’ because the kingdom of heaven will be yours.  Jesus is also saying, “Congratulations to you too if you are gentle, merciful, pure in heart, a peacemaker or more so, if people persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account, rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”

The “Beatitudes” immediately challenges you and I to reflect on the way we live our daily lives. Jesus is challenging us to ask ourselves, “Are we poor in spirit?  Or are we gentle, merciful, pure in heart or a peacemaker in our daily living and the like?”  If so, then we should hear Jesus telling us today, “Congratulations!  How happy you are in life.”

                        

My brothers and sisters in Christ, we all want to be happy and want Jesus to congratulate us for living good lives that are in accordance to His Father’s ways.  However, for many of us this dialogue between army personnel who has drinking problems and a psychiatrist may strike a chord in us. (re: Scott Peck’s, “The Road Less Travelled.”)

“Do you like to read?” asked the psychiatrist.
          “Oh yes, I like to read, sure.”
          “Then, why don’t you read in the evening instead of drinking?”
          “It’s too noisy to read in the barracks.”
          “Well, why don’t you go to the library?”
          “The library is too far away.”
          “Is the library farther away then the bar you go to?”
          “Well, I’m not much a reader.  That’s not where my interests lie.”

“Do you like to fish?”
          “Sure, I love to fish.”
          “Why not go fishing instead of drinking?”
          “Because I have to work all day long.”
          “Can’t you go fishing at night?”
          “No, there isn’t any night fishing in Okinawa.”
          “But there is,” said the psychiatrist.
          “I know of several organizations that fish at night here.
          Would you like me to put you in touch with them?”
          “Well, I really don’t like to fish.”
         
          “What I hear you saying,” the psychiatrist clarified, “is that there
           are other things to do in Okinawa except drink, but the thing you
           like to do most in Okinawa is to drink.”
          “Yeah, I guess so.”
         “But, your drinking is getting you into trouble, so you’re faced
          with a real problem, aren’t you?” etc. etc. the dialogue continues.

My sisters and brothers in Christ, this dialogue between the army personnel and the psychiatrist may sound familiar for some of us.  It could very easily be adapted to a conversation we may have with our priest or spiritual director where we could replace the word “reading” or “fishing” with “prayer” and where the conversation could begin with our spiritual director asking us, “Do you like to pray or a word in the Beatitudes like, “Do you like to be kind or gentle or compassionate or be a peacemaker to others, and we would answer, sure!”  And then, we may find that as the dialogue progresses, like the army personnel we could find ourselves giving ourselves excuses and rationalising as to why we are not living the “Beatitudes” of Christ.

            

Deep within ourselves, we all know that we should challenge ourselves to change our lifestyles for the better and if we were to do so, we would certainly be happier persons and better followers of Christ.  However, for many of us, it seems so difficult for us to break the chains of our “comfort zones” of how we are used to living and relating to people.  Ramona L. Anderson a famous American writer once wrote: 
          Bound by fear she cannot see
          Her limitless possibilities

          She knows there’s hope she know this well
          Yet she chooses to live inside her hell

          It’s safer there it’s her comfort zone
          To step outside is to face the unknown.

          It’s to risk being hurt, risk being burned
          It’s to open herself up to desires yearned

          So she runs being hurt in a cowardly fashion
          Repressing her love denying her passion

          Bound by fear O such pain
          Maybe it’s time she breaks the chains.

Jesus in today’s first Beatitude gives us a clue on how we can break our chains of comfort zone.  He says, “How happy are the poor in Spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Very simply, in this Beatitude, Jesus is saying to you and me, “How happy you will be and you will truly find a godlike joy in your hearts if you were to be detached from the material things of this life and be attached to God in your daily living.”      

                         

In this context, I would like to pay a special tribute to a friend of mine called Ivan Wong.  Ivan over the last ten years or more must have literally spent thousands of hours setting up and maintaining our Singapore Jesuit website and more recently our Parish website.  Although he has not been our parishioner for the past ten years, he had continued to serve as an IT specialist selflessly, generously, graciously, humbly; always gentle, a peacemaker, a pure in heart, merciful to those in need and most importantly, loving God and putting Him at the centre of his life.  Four days ago, Ivan died of a massive heart attack at the age of 46.

At Ivan’s wake, his father Simon told me, “Ivan took very good care of me.”  His younger brother, Terence also said, “Ivan is always so caring and compassionate, he always has time for others; whether they are his friends, family or colleagues or anyone in need.  He is always serving others; when he returns from work he would help clean the house and do the groceries for my parents; he would even cook for people on special occasions.  He would often work on his computer throughout the night for the Church website and then go to work; he probably died through giving his life for others.

When I approached Ivan to help me set up our Parish website soon after I became the Parish Priest, this was Ivan’s email response.  He said, “Greetings everyone, for me, it is a pleasure to assist everyone in getting the Parish website off the ground.”  Over the past 12 to 13 years that I got to know Ivan, it is clear to me that Ivan’s selfless service and humble ways are clearly his ways of living the Beatitude of being fully detached to the material needs of his life and himself and being lovingly attached to the God he knew so intimately and loved so dearly.

                 
                               Ivan Wong R.I. P ( Died 26 January 2011)

As I conclude, it is perhaps good to ask ourselves this question, “Was it easy for Ivan to be so selfless and so Christ-like?  Yes and no.  “Yes”, because he lived his life for Christ and thus all his sacrifices were deeds of love for Jesus whom he loved so dearly.  “No,” it was not easy for Ivan because like all human persons, there seems to be a strong tendency for us to behave like the army personnel and thus remain in our “comfort zone” through our endless ways of rationalising and not challenging ourselves to live selfless lives.

However, many of us too may find ourselves to be responding more like Ivan who was able to transcend outside our “comfort zones” all the time in order to be more fully attached to God.  And this is precisely the Beatitude that Jesus in today’s Gospel hopes that we live for: “Happy are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

 

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