In today’s Gospel of St Luke 12:49-53 that we just heard proclaimed, Jesus says, “I have come to bring fire to the earth . . .” and asserts, “Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division . . . father will be divided against son . . . mother against daughter . . .” and the like.
These words of Jesus are clearly not to be taken literally because we all know in 1 John 4:8 that “God is love” and this Love is the fullness of love; the plenitude of love. Moreover, the Good News of Salvation proclaims clearly that Jesus, the Son of God has come into our world to show us that God’s Love for us is total and unconditional, and that God’s one divine desire is that all human persons are to be saved and to live their lives with Him for all eternity.
Put simply, Jesus is saying to His disciples and to us. God loves us totally, infinitely and unconditionally. But, can we also love Him as wholeheartedly and unconditionally in our daily living? Jesus knows that as a human person, we have many loves in our lives. We say we love our family, we love the challenges of our career, we love a good holiday, we love to drive in big cars and we also love God.
One of the main challenges of life is that very often we are not clear about what “love” is about . . . and so, we call everything love and in the end we confuse ourselves because . . . all the “loves” of our lives seem to compete for our attention and create for many of us a complex and confusing way of living. And this is so because we put God as just another “love” of our life that we need to try to accommodate.
Very simply, Jesus is saying to you and to me, “Can you put Me as your one and only love in your life?” Immediately, many of us would hesitate and say, “What about my family, my finances, my career, my comfort, my vacation, my other loves in life?” Jesus would say to us . . . “I know you have many loves in your life . . . they are needed and it is not wrong to have them . . . in fact, many of your love are good and need to be nurtured. However, I still want to know whether you can still put me as the first and only love of your life? If you do this . . . even though you will face many challenges . . . I will be there for you . . . and you will surely find the true Peace, Joy and Fulfilment in life. . . Can you trust me?” What would our answer be?
There is true conversion story of Scott and Kimberly Hahn. Before their conversion to Catholicism, they were very anti-Catholic. But, as they did more scholarly research and studies, they began to question the foundations of the Protestant creed. To make a long story short, Scott then got converted to Catholicism.
During that interval, when Scott was a Catholic, their marriage suffered tremendously. Scott shared, “Close friends became distant. Family members grew silent and turned away . . . I was made to feel like a leper . . . Meanwhile, Kimberley and I were sailing through even rougher waters. Days and weeks would pass without us sharing anything spiritual together. She was anything, but eager to hear from me about the benefits of daily Mass and meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary.
As my spiritual life surge forward, my marriage tumbled backward. What made it especially painful was our having shared such rich time of ministering together in the past. I found myself wondering, Will it ever be the way it was? Will our marriage ever survive this period of trial and agony? Most attempts to deal forthrightly with our differences would end in grief and frustration.” (Rome Sweet Home, Our Journey to Catholicism: San Francisco: Ignatian Press, pp.97-99); (Hearts Burning – Homilies for Sunday of the Year – Cycle A,B and C, by Nil Guillemette,S.J.: St Pauls Pub: Philippines: 2006: pp406-407.)
However, in God’s providence, Kimberly eventually also got converted to Catholicism. Since then, their marriage as a couple was even deeper than before. But, as for their Evangelical friends, most of them broke away from them permanently. If we were in Scott’s and Kimberly’s shoes, what would we have done? How many of us would have held on firmly to our faith and sense the challenges, “pain and division” that Jesus proclaimed in today’s Gospel? Or how many of us would have taken the path of least resistance and compromised our faith and rather push God to the background whenever we have to choose God or choose the other loves of our lives, whether it is our marriage, our family needs, our public reputation . . .
Some of us may be tempted to think and tell ourselves, “Well, Scott and Kimberly” are special and different . . . While this is true, are we then saying to Jesus, “Lord, what you are asking of me is too much . . . I am not Scott and I am not Kimberly . . .” And, if this is so, we are sadly and effectively saying to Jesus, “Lord, what you are proclaiming in today’s Gospel is not acceptable to me . . . I rather be a mediocre follower of yours . . . I am sorry to say, that my many other loves in my life is more important than my love for you.”
Scott and Kimberly have shown that their commitment to God in their faith is the most important thing in their lives. All else, have to come within this commitment; our love for God must be ultimate at all times. I know of many parishioners who are live such commitment . . . there are young professionals and retirees who live very busy and hectic lives, and yet they are as fully involved in our parish RCIA programmes, NCC activities and ministries. Others who are similarly and actively involved are diagnosed with terminal illness, yet always putting on a genuine smile and remaining positive about life and surrendering their future to God’s providence, and grateful for the gift of faith. There are still others who are deeply hurting from the rejection and deep wounds of family relationships, yet holding on and finding strength and peace in the Lord, with a forgiving heart.
We then have Andrew Koh, our former parish and Jesuit accountant, who passed away peacefully this morning. Over the past 17 years that I have known Andrew, I must say that he has been truly edifying for me . . . he had served in the background with great selflessness, commitment, professionalism and generosity . . . Andrew was truly an exemplary Catholic . . . Andrew was also a spiritual man who took his faith very seriously . . . He not only clearly loved his family, but God deeply. . . I have no doubts that he is a man of God . . . I could call on him at any time to consult him on parish financial matters . . . most important of all I could see clearly that Andrew did all he did because he loved God deeply throughout his life.
Louis Hodrick’s poem may echo some of our thoughts and feelings we may Jesus’ demands in today’s Gospel stirs within our hearts.
And the Lord said, “Go!
And I said, “Who, me?
And God said, Yes, you!”
And I said, “But I’m not ready yet
and there is company coming,
and I can’t leave my kids;
You know there’s no one to take my place.”
And God said, “You’re stalling.”
Again the Lord said, “Go!”
And I said, “But, I don’t want to.”
And God said, “I didn’t ask if you wanted to.”
And I said, “Listen, I’m not the kind of person
to get involved in controversy.
Besides, my family won’t like it.
And what will the neighbours think!”
And God said, “Baloney!”
And a third time the Lord said, “Go!”
And I said, “Do I have to?”
And God said, “Do you love Me?”
And I said, “Look, I am scared . . .”
People are going to hate me . . .
and cut me to pieces . . .
I can’t take it all by myself.”
And God said, “Where do you think I’ll be?”
And the Lord said, “Go!”
And I sighed,
“Here I am, send me!”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, to conclude, let me add that while Jesus’ demand of a total and single-minded commitment in our faith, hope and love for Him in today’s Gospel seems impossible to fulfil . . . If we reflect on the Gospel more deeply, this is not the case. God would not make demands of us and then abandon us and leave us in the cold . . . God will surely make it possible for us to live and fulfil His Will . . . But, this is will happen, if and only if we are willing to take little steps each day . . . to build and deepen our relationship with Him.
We are not short of good examples of such selfless commitment of faith. We have Scott and Kimberly Hahn and the many in our parish family, including Andrew.
So, Jesus is challenging you and I today to say “yes” to His invitation daily. By all means we should be ourselves in our response to His invitation . . . we may even wish to bargain with God if we wish (as in the poem) . . . but, eventually . . . “What would our answer to Jesus be?”
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
visitors since 20 August 2013