20th Sunday of Ordinary Time: “Lay Apostolate Sunday” Gospel – Mt15:21-28

" Growing in God’s Ways in a Hectic World "

Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore
on 14th August 2011

Today is “Lay Apostolate” Sunday; if you are not a priest or a professed religious, then you are a “lay person”.  So today’s Sunday celebration is first to remind all of you about the abundant blessings that God has given you to live your vocation as a lay person and to grow in holiness in your daily living.  The blessings that God has and will give you are to strengthen you to face all the challenges of your daily living. 

Let us first begin by admitting that to grow in holiness is never easy for many of us, especially when the daily living of our lives are so hectic, demanding, distressing and for some of us desperate.  “How can we then grow in holiness?”  You may ask.  This is a good question even though I believe that while we are each imperfect, all of us are good people and trying to be better. 

However, it may not be an exaggeration to say that for many of us we seem to have hit a plateau of our spiritual life’s growth and relationship with God.  Thus, we do not seem to be able to get out of the “bondage” of our pain, discouragement and constant trials that we have been facing; for some of us, for years.  Fr Olivier Morin, a French Jesuit working for prisoners at the Detention Centre in Bangkok once said that when we see so many people suffering so much and for so long, we can understand why for many of them “hope can begin to fade and even disappear.”

Being disciples’ of Christ, we are each called to bring hope to people’s lives; we are called to be God’s channel of healing grace to others.  But then you may say, “If I don’t find peace in my own heart, how can I be God’s channel of hope to others?”

While it is true that we cannot give what we do not have, we have to draw consolation that it is God who heals and gives hope and bring peace to people and not us.  Our role is to point people to God and help them open their hearts to let God’s strength and healing grace give them hope.   

When people come to me with their pain and trials, very often if not always, I find myself helpless as to what I can do.  I feel their pain, I empathise with what they are going through and I wish I had Jesus’ power to perform the miracle to wipe away their pain, heal them of their hurts and restore peace in their hearts and in their homes.  But, I know I can’t; I also know that I cannot take over their pain and problems let alone wipe them away.  And so, what am I left with in such a painful situation?  I am supposed to be their Parish Priest?!

This is what usually happens.  In the outpouring of their sorrows and suffering, and sometimes hatred, total helplessness and hopelessness . . . inevitably . . . the Spirit of God comes to our rescue . . . the Spirit gives the suffering person or me a word or an insight that somehow changes everything and brings comfort and renewed hope to what was originally desperate and hopeless.  The suffering person leaves with greater strength to face the painful challenges of his or her life.  Yes, God is our source of peace, strength and hope.  As in today’s Gospel, He is full of compassion and love.

When the Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel was desperate, she poured out her heart and pestered Jesus for help believing that Jesus will surely do something and not leave her in her pain.  Jesus was moved with compassion and love for her for loving her child so much, and performed the miracle of freeing her daughter from the possessions of devils.

Today as we celebrate “Lay apostolate” Sunday, Jesus is challenging us to become a holy people that point others to God and draw them closer to Him.  We are called to bring God to the world and sanctify the secular world with God’s presence.  How do we do this?  We are called to live a more Christ-like life.

The holiest people that I know personally and I know many of them, are people who are very close to God.  These people remind me and mirrors God’s love to me through one very basic quality that is very evident.  They have the quality of selflessness.  They are people who are willing to make sacrifices and die to their own comforts and needs just for the good of others; and clearly out of love for GOD.  In being selfless they somehow reveal their commitment and love for God.  By their “selflessness” I do not only mean that they have to be serving the Church all the time; while this is important it is not the only criteria of holiness.

Their “selflessness” is a Christ-like quality that is seen in different ways.  For some, we can see such a quality in the deep dedication and love that they give to their children and family in spite of the pains and trials that they have to go through.  They are people who are going through so much pain, but are yet very edifying because in them we also see the virtue of humility.  Through their virtue of humility they are able to surrender their pains to God and remain committed to God in spite of the trials of their vocation because they believe, somehow, like the Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel, that Jesus will see to their needs and hear their pleas, and give them the strength and healing graces that they need.

                 

As believers and disciples of Christ, we know that because of such selflessness and humility in Jesus, willingly died the cruel death of the Cross.  If Jesus did not love you and I and indeed every person in the world as selflessly, and if He did not humbly submit Himself to fulfil His Father’s Will to save all of humankind, we would not be here today, and there would not be such the reality of eternal salvation.

As we thank the Lord for His infinite compassion and unconditional love for us, and as we celebrate “Lay Apostolate” Sunday, let us challenge ourselves once again to be God’s channel of compassion and love to people with whom we live, work, relate to and serve . . . so that God through the witness of our daily living God will transform our secular world into a sacred world where Christ’s presence is more fully felt and His mission of saving the world is more effectively fulfilled through our daily living.  Will we open our hearts to take up this challenge or would we say to the Lord, ‘count me out?”

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

 

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