Jesus in today’s Gospel says to Nicodemus and also to you and I, “God so loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not be lost, but have eternal life. . . No one who believes in Him will be condemned; but whoever who refuses to believe is condemned already, because he has refused to believe in the name of God’s only Son . . . they prefer darkness to the light . . . but he who lives by the truth comes out in the light. . .”
What Jesus said to Nicodemus hits “the nail on the head” or shall we say, “hits the nail on our heads!” Jesus points out clearly that God offers eternal life to us and indeed to all peoples in the world. However, Jesus says, “some live in the truth . . . but, some prefer to live in darkness.” If someone were to drive past a huge crowd dying of thirst in a desert and say, “Look I have a lorry load of fresh water if you wish to drink.” Would we not expect everyone to jump on the truck with great joy and say, “Yes, thank you . . . we are dying of thirst . . . thank you for saving our lives.” That would be the normal and expected response.
However, would we not be surprised if some say, “No, I don’t need your water . . . you can keep it or give it to others.” Such a response sounds ridiculous. However, unfortunately, this is precisely what is happening in our Church and the world today because millions of people are not even aware that they are dying of thirst and rejecting the water of eternal life that Jesus is offering them. Thus, they prefer to live in the darkness of sin and a life where God is redundant and unimportant.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, I am not here to judge anyone; I have no right to judge anyone; only God can judge. However, I would be failing in my vocation as a priest, if I do not preach the Gospel of Christ, but merely say how great and wonderful we all are and not dare to pose serious and prophetic challenges for you and I to wake up to the truth of the Gospel of Christ that we just heard proclaimed.
Jesus is pointing out very clearly that there are two kinds of responses to the gift of eternal life that He is offering us. There are those who believe and accept the truth and live in the light and there are those who choose to live in live in the darkness of rejecting eternal life and bring condemnation upon themselves.
If we look at our Catholic church carefully, we could very generally speak of four different types of responses to the Good News of salvation that Jesus is offering. In attempting to describe these types of responses, I would like us to try to identify which one of the responses/category describes the way I live my faith more accurately. As I mentioned earlier, I am neither here to judge anyone nor to make you feel guilty. You are to judge for yourself and decide for yourself how you wish to continue to live your faith in God as a Catholic.
The first type of response/category of those who respond to Jesus’ offering of eternal life are the martyrs, saints and the beatified of the Church. We know and have read the lives of St Ignatius of Loyola and blessed like Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa and others. These are the great models; the most perfect of whom is Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Through their lives, they remind us so much of how Christ was truly the centre and foundation of their lives regardless of the pain and trials they have to god through. Many of our saints and martyrs were greater sinners than us, but what is most striking about them is that they were constantly open to God and they were never afraid of changing their lifestyles, attitudes and behaviour so that God can be the centre of their lives.
St Ignatius was willing to give up his courtly life and his vanities of serving an earthly king to serving Christ the Eternal King through a life of simplicity and service to all peoples, whenever, wherever and however God Willed of him and his followers, for God’s Greater Glory. Our late Pope John Paul II, was able to continue to serve in Christ-like manner, selflessly and with great dignity even when he was very sickly. He never gave himself excuses when God and the universal Church had to be served or the truth about morality has to be taught. Mother Teresa too served the poorest of the poor in India and all over the world regardless of the pain, trials and spiritual desolation that she had to go through for fifty years. She remained committed to preaching the Good News of Salvation through being the face, the feet, the hands and the heart of Christ’s Compassion in today’s world that marginalises and destroys human lives through all kinds of evil ways.
The second type of response/category to the Good News of Jesus is those whom we know and belong to our Parish family. They are what I call the“saints in our midst”. These are those who live their vocation to the full. They are not only very responsible spouses, parents and grandparents, but they also have a heart of gold. While they are not perfect as nobody is, their Christ-like compassion, forgiving love and self-less service with great humility of heart is very evident. When it comes to donation to the poor and needy, they are usually the most generous and this is very consistent with the spirituality they uphold of seeing that it is indeed an honour and a blessing to be able to serve people in need. In reaching out to the needy their hearts are often touched by the presence of Christ whom they find in the very people they serve. Yet, they are by no means spared from the pains and trials of relationship and the crosses of their vocation. Their secret of living and sustaining such a holy life is their intimate relationship with the Lord which they have developed over the many years of their lives, through a meaningful prayer life that is sustained by the Sacraments and the Word of God which they treasure as most precious and beyond what the secular and material life can offer.
The third type of response/category to the Good News of Jesus is the “Conditional Catholics”. These are good practicing Catholics who come to Church regularly and faithfully and they take their faith seriously. However, their love for God is very calculated and conditional. They are those whom we will often hear saying, “I am so so busy!!!” I am not here to judge anyone and I am sure you have your very good reasons for being busy and living a hectic life. It is very understandable if someone says that I am busy with work, but it is another thing to tell your children you don’t have to attend catechism classes or no need to come for Mass on Sundays because you have tennis lessons, tuition or examinations. My guess is that they are those Catholics who do not sign up for our Parish census because they are too busy or they do not wish to give the Parish their personal information as they do not wish to be bothered by emails that inform them of what is happening in the Church; they are also those who do not read our weekly Parish bulletin that updates us on what is happening in our Parish. So, as “conditional Catholic” they are those who love God and practice their faith, but on their terms and “convenience” and not what our Lord preaches and expects of us as He proclaimed in the Gospels and through the Church.
The fourth type of response/category to the Good News of Jesus is the “Passive and Lapsed” Catholics. They are those who come to Church at the Baptism, Holy Communion and Confirmation, Marriage and finally for their own funeral. Some of them come to Mass “regularly,” but regularly only during Christmas, Good Friday, Easter and go for Confessions about once every ten years. So, they consider themselves “practicing Catholics” who try not to harm anyone during their life time and hope to make it to heaven when they die.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, Jesus in today’s Gospel asserts that some choose the Light of eternal life and others prefer to live in darkness and hate the light. I have merely attempted to clarify further through our reflection on this Truth by describing the four categories of responses to the Good News as: first, the “martyrs, saints and the beatified” like St Ignatius, Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa, second, the “saints in our midst,” the third, “the conditional Catholics” and finally the fourth, the “Passive and Lapsed Catholics.” You know very well how you have been living your faith and thus which “category” describes your faith best.
As I conclude, let me reiterate that these are clearly very broad categories and descriptions of the different types of Catholics we have in our Church. Even within each of the categories, we have further shades and distinctiveness of how we each choose to live our faith daily. Jesus is clearly offering you and I eternal life; each of our responses are different, but none of us can escape the truth that one day, we will have to die.
And when we die, we will have to explain to God why we chose to live the way we chose to live. That’s the fundamental Truth of the Good News that we have to face, and to have wisdom is to know how to live our lives to the full while we are still alive and to grow from being “Passive and Lapsed Catholics” into becoming “Conditional Catholics”; and from being “Conditional Catholics” into becoming, “Saints in our midst” Catholics so that when we die, we will join the ranks of the martyrs, saints and beatified in heaven.
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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