Yesterday, a young man (let us call him John; not his real name) came up to me and handed me an envelope for our Parish Renovation Fund. He said, “Father, this donation is made after much prayer.” I thanked him and when I returned to my room and opened the envelope, I was deeply touched to find a five figure cheque; he is not a super rich man and it took a toll on his finances to make the donation.
I felt such a deep joy in my heart for this young man; my joy was not so much that the parish received more funds, but to see how this young man takes his faith so seriously and loves God so generously. John could easily say that he has no time for our Church’s programmes and activities, but he too is actively involved in our Parish ministries and gives his time and services selflessly. As we plan to have a vibrant year for our Parish, I thought to myself, “My wish for our Parish this year 2011 is that more of our parishioners would be like John.”
John in many ways reminds me of the three Magi of today’s Feast of the Epiphany. They were men who were inspired by God and spend much of their lives searching for God through living a discerning life. They not only find their careers and family life to be fulfilling, but they are those who give their best to God. Thus, they are those who dare to make sacrifices without much reservations and procrastinations. In short, they are what I call the “spiritual billionaires” of the Church who have Jesus as the shining star of their lives.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, as we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, we are affirming that Jesus, the Son of God who is born to us, in a manger, is manifesting to us that He is the Saviour of the world; He is the universal King of all kings; He is the “Star” who will illuminate our lives and our world with true Hope - the only Hope that can dispel the darkness of sin and suffering in the world, in our homes and in our hearts. But, to be caught up by the secular world of power and glory, is to continue to walk in the darkness of fear, division and destruction like King Herod.
In St Ignatius of Loyola’s spiritual writings, he emphasizes the important principle of having a clear goal in life or in what we do. Once our goal is clearly defined, we are then to try to discern the means of how to achieve the goal. Whatever goal we have in life, they must help us praise God, reverence God and serve God. As we begin the New Year 2011, it is good to ask ourselves, “What goal should I have for this year?” For a person like John, being a “spiritual billionaire” so to speak, even as he ponders on how he can live a more wholesome family life and a more successful professional career, at the heart of all his discerning, I have no doubts he would certainly have the fundamental criteria of “How can I praise, reverence and serve God more fully this year.”
When I use the term, “praise, reverence and serve God,” many of us may be thinking that I am calling you to join ministries of our Parish and come for daily Masses, or even donate more money to our Parish Renovation Fund and the like. To “praise, reverence and serve God” is essentially to live in such a way that God becomes the centre of my life and to make Him my deepest love of my life. Once we are able to make this our goal in life, the rest of what happens to us will fall into place; whether they are how we love our family and children, or how we fare in our career, or how we spend our leisure. I can see this clearly happening in John’s family, career and parish life. To live in this way is follow the “Star of Bethlehem” that will surely lead us to Jesus; our Saviour of the world.
When a non-believer looks at the manger what do we see? They see a plain cute baby sleeping on a straw bed. But, as a believer, do we see the great mystery of an almighty God, the Creator of the universe now present to us as a helpless baby? The shepherds; the poorest of the poor of the country and the Magis; the rich, learned and powerful were all able to recognise the baby as the Saviour of the world because they were open to the promptings and inspirations of the Holy Spirit. But, whether we are able to recognise the baby as Saviour of the world or not also depends to a great extent on how open we are to the Spirit and how deeply we love God and want to follow the Star of Bethlehem that leads us to Jesus or how distracted we are by the surrounding glitters in the world like King Herod.
A good test of how much we love God can be summed up in the question, “Do I give God the best or do I give God my left-over time, my loose change and my distracted interests in my participation in spiritual matters like giving time to prayers, attending on Bible, talks on the faith and the like?” This very practical question is not to make us feel guilty, but to help us gauge how much we love God or not.
For a person like John, he would be most happy to welcome such questions and would gladly spend much time during the year to ponder on how to give God his best in life. But, for those of us who are “spiritual paupers” so to speak, then in contrast, we would simply ignore such probing question and let it slip by and be contented with living a superficial and minimalistic faith that even finds coming to Mass on Sundays a burden.
In between the “spiritual billionaires” and the “spiritual paupers” are what we can call the “spiritual millionaires or spiritual thousandaires” if there is such a term at all. If we belong to these categories, then we have to recognise that we have much potential for growth in our love for God. We are those who would find the “Star of Bethlehem” to be attractive. And so, when there are spiritual and pastoral opportunities to love God, we will welcome them – though with different degrees of willingness and enthusiasm whether it is volunteering to serve in the Social Mission of the poor and needy, or whether it is coming for the Triduum, or Penitential Services or to volunteer to serve the Parish in different ways and the like.
St Ignatius would say that if we love God, if our faith is alive then we will always find peace in the Lord in whatever we do. But, if our love for God is lukewarm and hesitant, then the deeds in our lives will also be in half-measures. As God gives us the best of everything; including His Son to come into our lives and world, He expects us also to give Him our “best” and have Him as the centre of our lives and daily living.
So, like the Magis, we are called to give Him the “gold” of the precious possessions of our lives whether it is our time, talents, family or wealth as He is truly the King of all kings. We are called also to give Him “frankincense” of honouring Him as our one and only God of our lives and not be distracted by the many demi-gods of the secular world of power, prestige and position like king Herod. Finally, we are also called to give Him “myrrh” that symbolises the commitment of being faithful to Him at all times regardless of the price and pains we have to bear in following Him because He Himself has loved us so much that He is willing to die for us on the Cross.
As I conclude, let us ask ourselves, “Do I want to give God our Lord my “best” for this year 2011, like John, and be a “spiritual billionaire” or “spiritual millionaire?” Or am I satisfied with loving God conditionally by remaining a “spiritual thousandaire” or worse still a “spiritual pauper”? Whatever goal we choose for ourselves, let us be clear of one thing: when we love God and give Him our best of everything, we stand to gain and everyone in our family and all others stand to gain, and God will surely give us deep peace, joy and fulfillment in life that the secular world of glamour, glory and gold cannot give. There is no other way to live our lives if we are serious about God who is the giver of our lives, the consoler of our pains and the Saviour of the world. He is not only in the manger; He has been born in our hearts and homes; and He is to be found in every person we meet.
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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