Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord: Gospel – Mt 2:1-12

"
If Not for God, I would have Died Long Ago!"

Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore
on 6th January 2013

Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany or sometimes called the Feast of the Three Wise Men who following the star of Bethlehem eventually found the Infant Messiah in a manger.  In its essence, we are today celebrating how God has chosen to intervene into our lives as Messiah not only of the Jews, but also of all peoples as symbolised by the Three Wise men.  The Infant as “Light of the world” has now through His coming dispel the darkness of the world of sin and filled it with the True Hope of Salvation to all peoples.

There is a true story of how God intervened in the life of Rob Grassley. He shares very openly and graphically about his life, which I will adapt accordingly for my homily.  He says, “I’m not supposed to be alive.  I don’t deserve to have the most beautiful wife in the world, or two little warrior boys who love me more than life itself, or to have the house, the cars, the business etc. in my present life.  No, in fact I did everything in my power to bring destruction upon myself and the people around me.  It is only with God’s Supernatural Grace can an explanation be possible.

My parents are total opposites.  My mother was born into a very authentic Irish Catholic family. My father was raised by wolves. When you shook his family tree, nuts and drunks fell out everywhere. My father was blessed to survive his upbringing. I believe he loved Christ in his own way, but was never taught how to move beyond his own sufferings. He died with a belly full of booze, a heart full of unforgiveness and a ton of unconfessed sins.  It’s unfortunate that he died that way. I hope and pray that by God’s Merciful Love, he snucks into purgatory.

I was born in Troy N.Y. in July 1973. I was raised by my mother. My father was an infrequent guest in my life. We were nominal Catholics then. I grew up having Fr Smith as our Parish Priest.  He was a great, holy man with such gentle eyes.  I have the absolute fondest memories of that Church. I now love to go back and attend Mass there. The thought comes to mind is, “this is where I found God.”

Not having a father had profound effects on me.  The heart of every boy is designed to connect with his father; earthly as well as Heavenly. Thank God for mothers; and God only knows where I would be without mine because a boy needs a man to show him how to be one. Without a father I looked up to older kids in my neighbourhood to fill up the enormous void that was inside me. This is dangerous.

I then started drinking.  They don’t call that stuff ‘Spirits’ for nothing. That stuff was a god in a bottle for me.  I used it to kill the pain, the fear, the incompleteness, the lack of confidence within me.  It also enabled me to follow my real pursuit, women. This started me down a path that ended in a fiery blaze.

If you brought up the word “God” around me you were using a dirty word. I was going to find my own god in Relativism, Buddhism, Protestantism, hedonism, alcoholism.  These lasted about seven years.  I was smoking cocaine seven days a week, drinking around the clock, stealing food from grocery stores so I could eat, selling cocaine and committing all the sins you could name.

I had not eaten, showered, changed my clothes, or brushed my teeth in a week. But one morning when I woke up and I encountered hopelessness for the first time.  I had felt awful, pathetic, wretched, disgusted, anguish, agony, etc. thousands of times. But this was the first time I had ever felt hopeless.  It was as if there had always been a candle lit at the very end of a long, long tunnel and it had just gone out.  I wasn’t afraid of dying, but the pain of possibly living without hope, literally scared the hell out of me!

Not long after that my uncle from New York, somehow (I believe it is God’s intervention), found me and put me on a plane. I know how badly that prodigal son wanted to eat the slop being fed to the swine. Literally and figuratively, I was starving in every sense of the word.  I then got into a rehab on June 21 of 1999.

I had literally shredded my life.  Thus, I also knew that the emotional, mental and spiritual pain that I had to go through to renew my life and faith in God was going to be excruciating as there was no short cut to recovery.  Reflecting on my life, I can clearly see that God too wanted me to learn that cheap grace will not work; that I cannot simply ask Jesus to come into my heart to wipe away all the hurts and pains of my past life as though they never existed.

             

I knew that if this conversion is for real and deep, then the road to recovery and renewal is going to be a lifelong sanctification.  It is going to be a route that will be filled with trials, temptations and hurdles.  It is going to be a marathon, not a short sprint.  In all of these, I too knew that God knew me too well and that if I felt too good too quickly, I would be like the seed planted in rocky soil that sprouts up quickly and withers away.

Yes, God has truly saved an underserving wretch like me. I wasn’t even looking to be saved.  I got confirmed that Easter and finally married my wife in the Church and got our one year old son Baptized; and in the following Easter, my wife too was Confirmed.  In my journey to rediscover God, I realised that God can never change His Compassionate nature towards me regardless of how much harm I have done to my life through the sins I have committed.  God will always be my ever Loving Father, and I am His son. And now that I’m a father to my own children, I know what that means. Do my boys get a crack on the butt on occasion? You bet. Do I stop loving them?  Not for a minute.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we were each to reflect on our own lives more deeply, we will also realise that we are where we are today is because of God’s unfailing Merciful interventions into our lives.  Even as our past life may not be as colourful or not so sinful as that of Rob Grassley, many of us for instance, could have died in some car crash or illness if not for God’s Merciful interventions in our lives.  I personally would be sure that I would never have found my priesthood and religious vocation as a Jesuit.

There are two basic ways of responding to God’s Light of Truth in our lives.  As for the Israelites, the Chosen race, turned away from the Light of Salvation and continued to live in their Darkness, King Herod a non-Jew too continued to live in the darkness of his paranoia that some power, including an infant Child to be born in Bethlehem could seize his throne; and this we know led him to the merciless mass slaughter innocent infants. 

          

However, on the other hand, we have the three wise men from the East, whose hearts were sincerely searching for the true Light of the Messiah, were eventually rewarded with the great joy of being able to worship the Infant Child lying in a manger in Bethlehem, as the star had guided them.

Recognising the Messiah, they prostrated in worship of the Son of God and offered Him gold to symbolise His Kingship, frankincense to symbolise His divinity, and myrrh to symbolise that this divine King is also fully human and is one day to die for the Salvation of the whole world.

To conclude, let us be reminded that God has created us out of His unconditional Love and constantly intervenes in our lives to draw us into a deeper relationship with Him who is the True Light of Salvation.  Rob Grassley’s life clearly testifies this to be true of God.

           

This same God is today urging you and I to open our minds, hearts and homes more fully to His Saving Love in our daily living.  This is so that we can then see and love God in everyone.  Rob Grassley and the wise men of today’s Gospel each experienced God’s true Light personally . . . and God wants this of us too.   But, are we willing to pay the price for it?  Or do we prefer to look for love in the wrong places?  If we are truly honest with ourselves and with God, we all know that only God can be our true Light and Fulfilment that lasts for all eternity .

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

                         

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