4th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Mark 1: 21-28

“O that Today, Listen to His Voice. . . ”
Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore
on 1 February 2015

In today’s Gospel that we just heard proclaimed, Jesus’ teachings astounded the crowds and created a deep impression on them.  This was because Jesus taught with great authority.  While the Jewish rabbis quoted prophets and great teachers, Jesus quoted from God Himself; He Himself was the authority of what He proclaimed.  Moreover, Jesus’ authority had great credibility because He also had the power to expel unclean spirits from those who were possessed by them.

This same Jesus is speaking to you and to me here and now, through the Gospel proclaimed and in this homily; He is in our midst and within our hearts.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, I believe that you and I want to listen to God’s Word and want God to enter our lives.  While many of us are deeply committed and even ablaze with God’s Love, there may yet be others who are still wondering why are we not yet touched and ablaze by God’s Love in their daily living?  This is precisely why today’s Responsorial Psalm is reminding you and I, “O that today you would listen to His voice!  Harden not your hearts.”

God is neither not loving us enough nor is God selective in His Love for people.  In fact, Jesus says that He has come that sinners are saved; it is the sick who needs the doctor.  In other words, the greater our sinfulness, the greater would be Jesus’ longing to reach out to embrace us in His Compassionate Love.  For this to happen, we must allow God to embrace us; we must want to “listen to His voice . . . and our hearts must not be hardened” . . . as the Psalmist is urging you and I today.

Dr Kenneth McAll, a British surgeon and psychiatrist said that he had spent the better part of his life “hunting for the spiritual reality of what healing is about.”  While he was a missionary physician in China, he was arrested after the outbreak of World War II and was put into a Japanese prison camp for four years.  In sharing his experiences in the camp he said, “People in all the camps were in a crude position medically; there were no medication; not even aspirin or bandage.  We were suffering from bronchial diseases, vitamin deficiencies, and the like.  While the prisoners in the camps were dying, the prisoners in ours would get better; the Japanese were baffled over us.  There was only one difference between us and the others: we prayed for one another.

Dr Kenneth adds, “There were spontaneous remission of illnesses; I saw this happen so many times; and these remissions were not related to doctors or drugs but to prayer and spiritual experiences.  After the World War, I conducted a survey of over 15 years and recorded some 600 cases where prayer and not medical science was apparently the factor in a person’s healing.  Here are cases after cases of people with phobias, obsessions, schizophrenia, tuberculosis, and other disorders were cured and remained cured . . .”  Dr Kenneth says profoundly, “the physician alleviates and contains, but it is God who heals.”

Antoinette Bosco, a journalist and author of the book, “Shaken Faith, Hanging in there when God Seems Far Away,” from which I am quoting shares, “My family doctor sent me to a radiologist who said I needed an operation. 
I said that I couldn’t have one.  At the time I was a single parent, supporting and caring for my six children.  I couldn’t imagine how I could handle being in a hospital and taking time to recuperate when I had so many responsibilities.  And so the doctor decided to try to shrink the growth with steroids.  Truly believing that God would help me, I embarked on a programme of prayer.  Within two weeks, the tumour unexplainably shrank and then disappeared; to this day, I have never had a recurrence of the problem.  But, I am still on my prayer programme, but now everything I say to the Lord is a variation of “Thank you.”

Dr Kenneth shares further about his sister Loretta who as a physical therapist, has worked with many AIDS patients, mostly young men who are close to death.  One day she called me to talk to me about an AIDS patient who had died; let us call him Dave; not his real name.  Loretta dearly loved Dave, and she was with him on his final journey.  Shortly before Dave died, he told Loretta that he needed a little boost of faith to help him on his final journey.  And so Loretta prayed with him and for him.  Later that day, when Loretta went back to see Dave, he looked somewhat distracted.  So she asked him what was the matter.  Dave looked at her and asked, “Who is this little boy?”

Loretta was confused because there was no little boy in the room.  Yet Dave insisted that the boy is there and he wanted to know that Loretta saw him.  Loretta said, “As I paused for a moment to think what Dave as saying, it then dawned on me that that Dave was truly seeing a boy and I was sure this was someone sent to him from beyond – maybe his guardian angel – to help him let go.”  So I said to Dave, “Dave, what does the boy want?”  Dave responded beautifully, “He wants to take my hand.”  “Do you trust him?”  Loretta asked.  “Yes” Dave said.  He then extended his hand, took a very long and peaceful breath, and was on his way.  Loretta knew that God had answered her prayers in His Loving and Compassionate way.


My sisters and brothers in Christ, in spite of sharing these positive experiences of God in our lives, I do not deny that there would still be many of us who would want to ask the basic question, “Why does God allow so much suffering in the world?”  Did God make a serious mistake of giving human freedom to Adam and Eve and the human race and us, when He created us?

No, God did NOT make any mistake in giving you and I the freedom to choose . . . God want you and I to love Him freely and without any coercion  and also without any threats of punishments . . . neither does God want us to be robots who are programmed and have no freedom.  God created us out of love and wants every human person to make personal choices to love Him in return and develop a relationship with Him.  If we have no freedom, there can be no relationship with God and without any relationship with God there can be no love; robots do not and cannot love!

The chaos, pain and sufferings we find in the world and in our hearts, are because we have not used our freedom and God’s abundant blessings responsibly enough, and have not filled our lives and the world with God’s Divine Beauty, Peace and Love as He has longed for us to do so . . .

My brothers and sisters in Christ, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that whether it is Dave’s experience of God sending him his guardian angel in the last moments of his journey on earth, or Antoinette being healed of her cancer tumour, or the prisoners who found God’s strength, healing and peace in their sufferings, all these experiences of God remind us that the Jesus of today’s Gospel who proclaimed the Good News of Salvation and expelled demons is still real and alive within your hearts and my heart.


Jesus is assuring us that we can trust Him in whatever situations we may find ourselves here and now; whether we are in the midst of a separation in our marriage, or waiting for our doctor’s MRI report on our cancer tumour or waiting for your wife to deliver your child, whatever situation we may find our lives to be in, Jesus will never abandon us.  He will always be there for us to love us . . . and give us all the strength we need to live in God’s Wisdom and experience the joy of His Loving and Compassionate Care.  It is now up to us to pray for the wisdom to take to heart what the Psalmist is saying to you and I, “O that today you would Listen to His Voice!  Harden not your hearts.”
(cf: Adapated from: Shaken Faith, Hanging in There when God seems Far Away, by Antoinette Bosco, Twenty-Third Pub: A Division of Bayard; 1989: pp.66-68.)

Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.


visitors since 1 February 2015

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