A few days ago BBC radio interviewed a 12 year old Indian boy, Sagar Nath Kashyap and his father Bhola. They are fishermen living beside the River Yamuna, in Delhi. Last month, Sagar had saved the lives of three children from drowning. During the interview that was translated, Sagar was asked, “Are you not afraid that the drowning person would drag you into the water and drown you?”
As far as I remember, this is what Sagar said, “My father had taught me how so save a drowning person very well, and when you see someone drowning you cannot help it but, jump in and try to save the person; there is no time to think of the danger ahead or the safety of your own life. And if there are more persons to be saved, you would still fearlessly plunge in to try to save the next person’s life; you just have to do it for the sake of the other person; he is somebody’s precious child.” Sagar added, “One father hugged me and was crying. He said, you saved my life; I have only one son, and you saved him.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, each of us have a great potential to make a real difference to the lives of others and to this world. Whether we are Christians or not, God has created each of us in His image and likeness of Love. God who is the fullness of Love has planted in our hearts deep desires to love on another. This is evident in the true story of Sagar and his father Bhola. It is in this sense that today’s Gospel is challenging you and I to be more more truthful as human persons and more authentic as Christians.
Jesus was upset with the scribes and Pharisees in today’s Gospel because they were so preoccupied with the observing the external rituals of washing their hands, and arms up to their elbow and then sprinkling themselves before eating, but are not bothered by the evil intentions of their hearts. Thus, they purify themselves externally, but were not concerned that they are living a life, as today’s Gospel says: of fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride and folly that come from within their hearts. Jesus rebukes them by strongly asserting that such people are merely paying me lip-service and the worship that they offer are worthless as the evil they have comes from within their hearts; and all their external purification are hypocritical.
Jesus’s words were very strong words and in no uncertain terms, He was challenging the scribes and the Pharisees and also all of us believers that if we wish to worship God, then our external observances must be consistent with the interior truth of our hearts. You and I are called to live more authentic lives as believers of Christ. I believe we are people who are trying to be good in our daily living. However, Jesus is proclaiming a “goodness” that is deeper than doing good deeds. Jesus is urging us to be more like Him.
Three days ago, the Funeral Mass of Fr Joseph Tan, the former Parish Priest of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church and the Holy Spirit Church was packed with, in my estimate about 1,700 people and some 80 priests; also with 2 Bishops and the Nuncio concelebrating. I believe the huge turnout was not only because Fr Joe had done some good in his life, but more so because he had lived and served selflessly in his Christ-like ways.
Fr Joseph had been suffering from kidney cancer; although his doctors had given him 6 months to live, he survived for about three years. Fr Joe knew that he could die anytime as he was carrying a “time bomb” within him that was killing him slowly. Yet, while he was sick, he not only never complained or mourn or groan about his illness; instead, Fr Joe transcended his own needs and reached out and to give comfort to other cancer patients from different parishes. As far as I know, he founded two St Peregrine cancer support groups in the Archdiocese that are still in existence.
Fr Joseph Tan
For the several times I met Fr Joe, he rarely spoke about his illness. A parishioner who knew him well said that if you were to ask him about his illness, Fr Joe would simply say, “Well, God knows what he is doing and we should trust Him at all times.” In relating to Fr Joe, you would find him smiling, showing great interests in people and always pastoral in his outlook.
Fr Eugene Vaz, who gave the eulogy before the Funeral Mass said that whichever parish Fr Joe went, his primary concern were for the poor and the sick. Moreover, he also had special care for the needs of families; he went beyond his duties as Parish Priest to offer his services to married couples in the Archdiocesan Marriage Encounter programme. Fr Vaz added that even as Fr Joe was frail and sickly, he would never fail to say his daily Masses until he was bedridden.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, Fr Joe was witnessing to Christ’s Love selflessly when he was well and more so when he was sick. Fr Joe had a spiritual strength and peace within him that only God can give. And why did Fr Joe had such spiritual strength and peace regardless of what was happening to him? He lived an authentic life where God was the foundation of everything that he did; everything that he lived for and hoped for. In Fr Joe’s authentic living, the had a depth that the secular world does not comprehend because they cultivate, what our Jesuit Superior General calls, a culture of superficiality.
When a person is unashamedly arrogant, proud and bad, everyone can tell that he is such a person. Even the bad person knows that he is bad. But, in the culture of superficiality, the danger is that we can very easily convince ourselves into thinking, behaving and believing in the way we choose to live; and this is not necessarily the Gospel way of living where, for example, the way we have chosen to live our lives is not necessary connected with what we celebrate in the Eucharist; for some of us, the Eucharist ends at the final hymn and the significance of what we celebrate is not connected with the way we live daily.
As such, we can so easily remain complacent with living a routine and unchallenged faith that like the scribes and Pharisees of today’s Gospel. In the culture of superficiality, we can easily be contented with simply observing and obeying the rules of the Church, without really digging into the depth of ourselves to discover the deeper Christ-like values that God wants us to live. We can easily convince ourselves so well and for some of us, even deceive ourselves into thinking that in-so-far as we come to Church on Sundays; whether we are late or not; whether we are paying attention or participating in it or not, God’s Mercy would somehow open a side-door for us to enter heaven. Even if this may be true, we cannot say that we are living the authentic life that Jesus is challenging the scribes and Pharisees to live.
In conclusion, let me say that it is clear that if we do not accept the authentic challenge to live the Christ-like life that Fr Joe has witnessed to us or the selflessness that non-Christians like Sahar and Bhola have shown us, then, we cannot hope to experience the deep spirituality of peace that God wants to give to you and me.
What then is our response to Christ’s challenge of the Gospel? Do we choose the spirituality of peace or the culture of superficiality that Jesuscondemns in today’s Gospel? Let us pause for a few moments in silence to sense what the Spirit is saying to you and me?
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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