Fourth Sunday of Advent: Gospel – Lk 1:26-38

"
Don’t Worry, Be Happy!"

Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore
on 18 December 2011

One of the most common problems of today’s first world country like Singapore is that we worry too much; we worry about almost everything in our lives and all the time.  Worries are part of our human experiences as we each have different concerns.  Some of us are worried because of our children’s examination, our career advancements, our financial and social status, our health condition, our family relationships and the like.

A basic question that we each have to ask ourselves is, “Does our faith make much difference to the worries we have in our lives”?  In trying to cope and manage our worries in life, “Are we any different from others whom we know have similar worries as we do?  Our answers to these questions do give us a good indication of how important God and our faith in Jesus is in our lives.

In today’s Gospel on the Annunciation scene that we just heard proclaimed, Mary was asked by God to be the Mother of Jesus, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world.  This gift from God was never offered to any other person in the whole history of the human race.  This gift is the most precious gift that God can ever give to anyone.  Yet, this divine gift of God demands a response that is so total that if Mary were to say “Yes” to God, she would risk being stoned to death in public for conceiving a child before her marriage to Joseph.

Mary knew the risk she was exposed to, yet she said “Yes” to God simply because Her obedience to God the Father’s Will is the most important thing in her life; whether she would be stoned to death or not was of secondary importance and concern to her.   Having said “Yes,” in obedience to God’s Will . . .  was Mary worried for her life?  Without any doubt she certainly was worried because she is also fully human like you and I.  The big difference between Mary and us is that she loves God totally and unconditionally, while we love God conditionally, and for some of us half-heartedly.

Last week, I presided at a Funeral Mass of a very holy woman who was in her sixties.  Let us call her Jane; not her real name.  Jane was brought up in a Taoist background.  For some months, one of her relatives brought her to attend Novena services.  There she felt deep peace that she never experienced before or elsewhere. This developed and to make a long story short, Jane took up catechism and was baptised in April this year.  Not long after that, Jane discovered that she had pancreatic cancer.  She was in such excruciating pain that even morphine could not help much to ease her pain.  She often had to sit up and lean her head on a table to sleep as she could not lie down because of the pain.  Doctors gave her at most one month to live, but Jane lived for almost eleven months; primarily attributable to her strong faith in God and deep devotion to Our Lady.

        

In spite of all these suffering, Jane never once complained, let alone blame God for her suffering.  Throughout her life, Jane had worked very hard to support her siblings as her parents were too poor.

Jane’s brother said, “My sister, never had a single day in her life where she never suffered because she had to work so hard to care for all of us.  Yet, whenever, we wanted to bring her out for dinners and holidays, she would politely decline as she did not want to trouble anyone, nor wanted to spend money unnecessarily.”  I told Jane’s brother, “I think for your sister, it’s not that she had to suffer every day.  For her, I think it was her way of loving you all totally and selflessly, at all costs.  Her pains were to her not so much her suffering, but the price of her sacrifice, care and love all of you.

Jane’s catechist said that it was truly a great blessing to teach Jane the faith.  Her eyes would often light up whenever the Truth about Jesus was explained to her.  She was so enthusiastic and joyful about the faith. To make a long story short, Jane was Baptised in April this year.  Her family and I could all see that the gift of faith brought her so much peace, joy and happiness.  The doctors and all of us who knew her were happily surprised to see that after the Baptism, Jane was somewhat renewed in her hope and was even able to walk to Church for daily Masses for several months. In her pains, Jane would constantly pray to Our Lady.  On many occasions Jane deep spiritual experiences of Our Lady.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, Mary in the Gospel and Jane’s story illustrates well the point I made at the beginning of this homily that our lives are often filled with worries of all kinds, but like Mary and Jane, we are each challenged to go beyond our worries and pain.  Like Mary and Jane, we can do this only if our love for God is deeper than worries and concerns for life, and also only if we want to obey the Father’s Will at all costs.

St Augustine tells us, “We should sing here on earth while we live in anxiety.  In the midst of our problems we should sing alleluia, because we still have the Lord.  He still loves us and will always take care of us and He is a faithful God.  He will not allow us to be tried beyond our strength.  Yahweh’s love will last forever.  He is the only One who will always love us and take care of us no matter what we do. 

          I would like to share this reflection on life as it may help us discover the perspective that perhaps Mary and Jane had in times of their worries and anxieties of their lives.

     

Life, you cannot ever tempt me
with your glamour and your glow.
You are but a plate of distraction,
and I still have far to go.

I have seen your different faces,
hear your many tones of voice.
But, how I live depends on me,
because I have no other choice.

Life, your arms are cold and empty
and your words do not ring true.
But, I have found a gentle Master
who loves me more than you.

I am done with foolish yearnings
for the things I cannot keep.
There is no more senseless searching,
no more crying in my sleep.

I have scars to show my failings
and the wrong turns I took.
But, God did not forsake me,
though the very mountains shook.

And when my days are over
and all the shadows dim,
I’ll close my eyes and take his hand
and leave the rest to Him!”

There is always someone who cares
and bears a love for you.
Someone unseen,
but near your side in all you ever do.

Someone to comfort and console
your sorrow and your despair.
Someone to give your strength and hope
and all your burdens share.
Someone to turn to in distress
when all seems lost and vain.
Someone to bring you confidence,
and your long sought goal to gain.

‘Who is this someone’ you may ask,
‘who shows such care and love?’
Beyond any shadow of doubt,
it’s God, the Lord above!’

         

As I conclude, dear sisters and brothers; the wisest thing in life, like Our Lady, in today’s Gospel, is to obey God’s Will.  And this is to live in His ways, and to draw strength from Him, and trust in Him more fully each day of our life.

Mary and Jane have shown us that “with God nothing is impossible.”  The alternative is to see life as filled with problems, fears and anxieties.  The choice is ours . . . God is waiting for us.

(Poem adapted from Fr Joseph Galdon,S.J.; Laughing Christ; p 342).

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

 

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