If I were to ask you, “What are your deepest desires in your life?” What do you think your answer would be? Like many Singaporeans, a typical answer could be, “I want all my children to get A stars in their exams.” Some younger ones may say, “I want to be a beautiful and famous Hollywood celebrity; some more ambitious good Catholics may say, I want to be the President of the United States and bring back the moral norms of the Church; others who are more realistic may say, I just want to be like my good mother who is so caring and loving. Still others may wish to be like Mother Teresa so that “I can spend all my energy serving the poorest of the poor throughout my life, a few may dare to dream to be like Archbishop Romero, who spoke out against the injustices of the poor and was martyred for doing so in his faith.
I am sure many of us already have our dreams and deepest desires in our lives well thought out. If not, then I think this would be a good exercise for us this weekend or the coming weeks of the Easter season. This is so because our deepest desires, in many ways, do reveal the type of person we are and the quality of our present living. And our basic answers to this question would also in many ways give us an indication of whether we are living a fulfilling, frustrating or frivolous life.
If we truly wish to live a fulfilling and happy life, regardless of whether we are a lay person, priest or religious, then the ultimate purpose of our life cannot be desires and dreams that are materialistic, secular or self-centered. This is because materialism and secularism are realities that are passing; they do not last. Thus, our ultimate goal in life has to be founded on our relationship with God.
Tonight’s celebration of Easter, the Resurrection of Christ is precisely a celebration that goes beyond the needs of this world; it is a celebration of the gift of eternal life that Jesus is offering us through His Resurrection.
We began tonight’s celebration with the blessing of the fire that becomes the Light that gradually dispelled the darkness around us. Our Easter Proclamation (the “Exaultet”) says that this Light is the “Light of Christ” which has brought an “end to the gloom and darkness” of this world and our lives. This Light of Christ is the “triumph of our mighty Kingthat has banished the darkness of sin, brokenthe prison bars of deathand floods the earth with Her glory.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, all of these mean that in the Resurrection of Christ, your life and my life, and the lives of all believers have been transformed radically. Christ who was crucified and died, has now Risen and conquered death, and we can now live forever. The Easter Proclamation, adds that if we are truly believe and live this Easter Truth, then we should “shake with joy and persevere” to keep this Light of Christ “undimmed in our lives so that the sanctifying power of this night will dispel all wickedness and washes our faults away.”
Take the case of Fr Pierfilippo Guglieminetti. (Fr Pierfilippo is in a blue shirt in the picture). He is a 74 year old Jesuit priest who is now living in Taiwan. In one video clip interview about 12 years ago, Fr Pierfilippo shared, “I was alone in a big parish all day; celebrating three to four Holy Masses on Sundays. Then, after one Easter Feast, I fell down; I went to the hospital. There they found I had cancer of the intestines. Now, it seems I also have cancer of the bones. Then, [soon after that], I had an accident; I lost the right eye and my left eye is becoming weaker and weaker. [But], I am happy! And this is a very interesting experience.
Many times, when I was in solitude or loneliness, I felt such deep joy that [helped me] understand the meaning of our religious life. It is a joy without reason because it is a joy which comes directly from God. And still more, even if I had a very hard, [and] a very painful time, also during these times, I was always peaceful and happy. Happy in my vocation because I know that it is the Will of God [who wanted] me to work very hard in my pastoral job before and now He has given me this grace to share more deeply in the mystery of the cross.”
In preparing for this homily yesterday, I manage to get a fellow Jesuit to telephone Fr Pierfilippo to ask him a few questions: how he is feeling after so many years of illness and pain. Fr Pierfilippo said, “I am feeling very weak and tired; I have lost one eye, but I have a “third eye” in my heart and I am still happy. Even as there are more days of desolations than consolations, I still find the deep presence of God in my heart reassuring me and giving me all the strength that I need.” And when the Jesuit asked Fr Pierfilippo, “What advice would you give to us on this Easter night?” He simply said, “I have a picture of Jesus in my room that I contemplate daily. On the days when I feel down and sad, I pray, “Jesus, I trust in You . . . don’t let me lose my faith.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, when we hear of such a moving story like Fr Pierfilippo, we are deeply edified by his life. To live the Easter reality of our faith is to be able to persevere in the Light of Christ and keep the flame undimmed regardless of the pain and challenges we face in our daily living as Fr Pierfilippo shows us very concretely.
Humanly speaking, we have no doubt that Fr Pierfilippo must have gone through many days of trials and even sadness and desolation, as he has shared. Mother Teresa too have had a great share of such deep pain and desolations in her life, but she remained faithful to God throughout her life of service. Her passionate desires to serve the poorest of the poor remained uncompromising and clearly evident throughout her life. And so, like too, like Fr Pierfilippo, they continue to keep the reality of the Easter gift of eternal life in sight and continue to persevere in faith from one day to another.
Often the grace of the Risen Christ sustaining us may not always be evident in people that we know and also in us. It is only by the “fruits” of our perseverance that it becomes evident that we are truly sustained by the power of God’s Spirit.
The Paschal Mystery of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus is one inseparable mystery; we cannot conveniently split them. One reason why it is so tempting to split them and focus on the Resurrection and eternal happiness without the Passion is because none of us, in our sound mind wants pain and suffering in our lives if we help it.
There is a story of Jack, who got Baptised into the Catholic faith after he got married to his Catholic wife. When his friends asked him who Jesus is and what Easter means to him, Jack paused for a while he said, “To be frank with you, I cannot really give you a theological answer, but all I know is that since I became a Catholic, I have over the past years given up my excessive drinking. I also now no longer get angry at people so easily, but instead try to understand and forgive them. Moreover, as a father and husband I must also add that I have been much better.
If I were to reflect on the past three years experiences as the Parish Priest of this parish family, I would say that this year’s Holy Week has been the most fulfilling experiences for me. Why? There is no greater joy than to find our church packed with people for our Penitential Service, the Stations of the Cross video reflection and each of our evening Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday and Holy Wednesday guided contemplation of Passion of Christ; each night attracting about 700 to 800 people; including people from other parishes; clearly more people have been drawn closer to God. Its “by the fruits” you will tell, Jesus reminds us.
In a few moments, 37 elects will be Baptised and 8 Christians will be received into full Communion with the Catholic Church. As from tonight, you will become a full member of our Parish family, and together with us you are called to witness the Gospel of Christ in your daily living. And in times of trials and pain, know that as you belong to our Parish family; we are here to support and strengthen you; we all belong to the same Mystical Body of Christ, the Catholic Church to which you have been Baptised and received fully into.
As I conclude, I would like to ask us again, “What are your deepest desires in your life?” In the light of the Risen Christ who offers us Eternal life as a gift of our Easter celebration, I would imagine that our answer now be certainly be different. Christ has conquered death through His Resurrection; we are no longer mere mortal beings whose existence ends at death. Our lives continue forever with God and with one another. This is the gift and reality of the Resurrection of Christ that we are all exulting and joyful about. How then are you and I going to live differently from today? So should we not witness this Good News of Salvation to all peoples in our daily lives?
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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