There is a story of king Antonio who was one day riding in his great royal carriage in the countryside. He then came across a beggar on the side of the path that he was passing. He stopped his carriage and asked his soldiers to call for the beggar. The beggar was terrified at what the king would do to him even though he had heard that king Antonio was a very kind and compassionate. To his great surprise, king Pius invited the beggar to his palace.
On the way to the palace, the king spoke with great humility and kindness to the beggar and asked him, with great compassion about his sufferings in life. King Antonio heard the heart wrenching account of the rejection, loneliness and pain that the beggar went through. When they arrived at the palace, king Antonio led the beggar to a room and opened a treasure chest filled with solid gold coins and asked the beggar to take as many as you wish. As the beggar scooped up the coins with great delight and filled both his hands with them, the king then asked him, “Are you happy with what you have?” The beggar with great joy in his heart said, “Yes, your majesty . . . thank you so very much.”
To the beggar’s surprise, king Antonio then said to him, “I have a greater gift for you . . . much more than all the gold coins that you are holding. But, if you believe me, you have to let go of all the gold coins that you are holding, and then come to me with your open palms to receive this greater gift.
The beggar tried to look at what the king was holding in his hands that was in exchange for the gold coins that he was holding in his hands. Since he could not tell what the offer was, he did not dare to risk losing the gold coins he already has in his hands. So, he politely said to the king, “Your Majesty, what I have is already mine, through your goodness to me. But, what you have in your hands, I cannot see . . . so, I will not take the risk of losing what I have. King Antonio then replied, “But, my friend, can you not trust me . . . have you not seen how I have been loving and caring for you in all your needs?
The beggar was silent . . . he did not dare to let go of his possessions . . . king Antonio was sad that the beggar was not willing to trust him in spite of his compassion and generosity. Actually, the king had wanted to give the beggar the key to a whole treasure chest of gold coins and precious jewels which was infinitely more than what he has in his hands.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, do we find ourselves having similar attitudes like the beggar? How often does this happen? God, our Lord, wants to give us a happiness, peace and fulfilment in life that this whole world cannot give. But, like the beggar, we rather cling on tightly to the possessions that we have in life and not dare to let go of them because we do not dare to trust God fully enough. And so like, the beggar, we lose out on the greater gifts that God wants to give us in life.
One of the biggest hindrances of living the life that God wants us to live is the different degrees of attachments we have in life. If we are not willing to let go of our attachments like the beggar, then we are at the same time we are also not letting God into our lives . . . and as such, like the beggar we lose out on the infinite happiness, peace and fulfilment that God wants to give us in life. One indication that this is happening in our lives is when we find our lives to be very blessed by God in so many ways, yet we are somehow not really happy and not deeply at peace and fulfilled in life.
The attachments we have in life are not necessarily always about material possessions. Sometimes they are the resentments, bitterness, unforgiveness, negative thoughts, self-pity, false guilt feelings and the like that we hold on to and harbour in our heats that are preventing us from letting God enter our hearts and homes. When this happens, the love of God which was poured into our hearts at Baptism remains cold and paralyzed. They cannot flow into our lives because we have blocked the path of grace with our cold and unChrist-like attitudes in our daily living.
Are we surprised that whenever a rural village turns into a modern city that glitters with secularism and materialism, the vocation to the priesthood and religious life dries up? Are we surprised that churches and cathedrals in Europe are empty of worshippers, but only filled with tourists who admire the breath-taking beauty of the buildings, but do not wish to be enlightened by divine Truth nor be touched by the loving God for whom these great cathedrals were once built for? Are we surprised too that when we push God to the background of our lives our hearts and homes are inevitably filled with different forms of fear and insecurity?
We find the exact opposite happening in today’s Gospel, when Jesus called His disciples, Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow Him, they “left their nets at once and followed Him.” Let us not fantasise and think that it was “easy” for the disciples to let go and be detached of their families and the securities of their profession to follow Jesus. They are no different from us; they loved their families, friends and relatives as much as we do ours.
As Christians, who profess to follow Christ in our daily living, we do not deny that like the disciples and others we too would have our fair share of the darkness, trials and tribulations in life. However, as Christians, we are called to be different from those who do not know and do not believe in Christ. As Christians, we are called to believe that Jesus is the fulfilment of Prophet Isaiah’s prophecy, that “The people in darkness have seen a great Light; and those who dwell in the land and shadow of death, a Light has dawned.”
Upon reflecting on my own life, I have no doubts that if God had answered all my prayers and petitions in the way I wanted my life to be, I would certainly not be a priest and a Jesuit today . . . and over the past 30 years as a Jesuit and 20 years as an ordained priest, I have come to a clear conclusion in my life that, the greatest wisdom in life is to let God be God. He is God and I am only a mere creature . . . in fact a sinner who is helpless like others without God’s Mercy and self-centred in my tendencies without God’s graces . . . we cannot outdo God’s generosity and His infinite and unconditional love for us. Whatever we do for Him, He graciously and generously showers us infinitely with His Love; a divine love that the secular world and no one can ever give.
Thus, my brothers and sisters in Christ, as Christians, we too have faced the darkness of life where: we have lost a lifelong spouse, or experience an unexpected rejection of a loved one, or have to face the pain of the dream of our business success shattered, or encounter the sudden loss of our good health, or the disappointment that our child was not accepted by the school of our choice and the like. In these situations, we should all the more be stronger in our faith . . . and dare to believe in Jesus and that the Good News of Salvation is a Truth and reality that is bigger, brighter and is beyond what we can humanly comprehend in our lives. But, if we truly dare to Trust God, then we are allowing the True Light of Christ to pierce through the dark clouds of our lives.
And as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that when God seems far from us, be assured that He has never abandoned us. When God did not seem to have answered our prayers, be assured that He has certainly heard all our prayers. It is just that He has chosen to give us what He thinks is best for us, but not what we think is good for us. When God seems to have taken the side of people who have hurt us deeply, be assured that God is always just and have never once chosen to oppose us. God loves us too much to want us to suffer meaninglessly.
And so, when we are lost, confused and in pain, be assured that the storms of our lives will surely pass in God’s Time and Ways. In the meantime, the wisest thing to do is to allow God’s Spirit to steer the vessel of the storms of our lives and believe strongly that what truly and ultimately counts in life is to have gained the eternal life, that Jesus is offering us daily and especially at the time of our death.
But, if we continue to choose to have the attitudes of the beggar in our story . . . and hold on to our material and tangible comforts and consolations in life, then like the beggar, we are sure that we will end up losing more in life. But, if we dare to trust God, as symbolised in king Antonio of our story, then the truth is that even if we are a bad person will become good someday, and if we are a good person will become even better, and a good Christian will gain the sanctity of the Christ-like peace, fulfilment and happiness that nothing and no one in this world can give. And this is the “calling” that Jesus in today’s Gospel is presenting to you and to me to accept. Will we?.
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
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