23rd Ordinary Sunday - Year C
Luke 14: 25 - 33

A total and selfless commitment to God

If we take Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel literally, then Jesus would sound very cold and heartless toward our parents. This literal interpretation cannot be true because we all know that Jesus teaches and wants us to honour our parents.

So, what Jesus is trying to remind us in today’s Gospel is to have a total and selfless commitment to God; Jesus is asking us to put God first in our lives, as He Himself has shown us, through His life.

As soon as we hear the word, “total and selfless commitment to God,” many of us would sub-consciously tell ourselves: “I can’t, I am only a Sunday Catholic; I am not the ‘holy, holy type’ of Catholic; I am already finding it so difficult to be faithful to my prayers, so how can I be totally and selflessly committed to God?!”

Such feelings are understandable. However, they are not necessarily signs that we don’t love God. I believe all of us here love God in one way or another. The fact that we are here in this Sunday Mass, shows that God means something to us in our lives. Otherwise, we would not be here. Otherwise, we would prefer to sleep-in more or to spend our Sunday mornings differently.

I believe we should be more positive in evaluating ourselves, and our faith. We should first to be aware that we are daily seriously affected and influenced by the secular world and society that we are in. We are strongly influenced, dominated and even sub-consciously controlled by Mass Media like: advertisements, films, internet, and the like.Mass Media is not all and always bad. Important news and information of what is happening around the world will not reach us if we don’t have Mass Media.

Mass Media also do offer good and wholesome entertainment. However, Mass Media is never neutral; they often bombard us constantly with negative messages and images. With time, we will absorb secular values into our lives sub-consciously. All of us are over exposed to Mass Media daily, and we would likely over time, sub-consciously make possessions, prestige, power and popularity to be more important than people with human flesh and feelings.

More seriously, Mass Media can empty our hearts of compassion, love, care and service towards others including people of our own family; wealth can even become thicker than blood. The greatest danger of the secular world is the BIG LIE that we will be happy and fulfilled in life, if and only if people pay attention to us, praise us, look up to us and the like. And, that without such self-centred attention; without such ego-centred focus, we can never be happy.

My sisters and brothers in Christ, all these secular values promote only one thing; they promote our self-importance and they support a lifestyle that can only bring us disappointments, envy and even anger when such desires are not fed.

Self-importance can never bring happiness to anyone who is normal. Do you know of any person who is proud, self-opinionated, cold and calculative, materialistic and who is willing to destroy the reputation of others and the like? Would you want to marry such a person? Would you want such a person to be your pastor? Would you be proud to have such a son or daughter or parent?y.

The answer is obvious. Self-centredness promoted by the secular world, is just the total opposite of the Gospel values of Jesus that promotes selflessness, compassion, and love and the service of others.

About three weeks ago, a 79 year old Dutch Jesuit priest from Indonesia, Fr Heselaars, came here to visit and accompany a fellow Jesuit who is in hospital. Two weeks ago, while changing, Fr Heselaars fell in his room and broke his thigh bone into four pieces. While we were puting a pillow under his head while he was lying on the floor waiting for the ambulance to arrive, we asked him, “Father, how are you feeling?” He immediately said, “Well, I’m very fine and comfortable here.”

And after the operations, when asked how he was, he always said, “I’m very well thank you. I have been through much more serious operations and accidents before; this is nothing.” Over the past three weeks, Fr Heselaars never once complained about any thing. He is always very polite, pleasant and full of praises and gratitude for any person who visits him and attends to his needs.

To me, Fr Heselaars is a good model . . . a great inspiration. If I grow old, I would like to be as gentle and grateful towards people; peaceful and positive towards life and even in painful situations. I can see that Fr Heselaars’ heart is full of love for God. He is a man of God. When I asked him what books he wanted to read, he asked for the Bible, a Jesuit prayer book, and the letters of St Ignatius.

When we were in hospital or on vacation, “What type of books and magazine did we read? Did we read glossy magazine and watched TV most of the time? Did we used the opportunity to pray more? To me, the reason why Fr Heselaars’ is so positive and at peace with himself and his present condition of helplessness is because throughout the past fifty or more years of his life, he has been living a selfless life of service for the needs of others. He has lived for others. He has precisely lived the life that Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel.

My sisters and brothers, there are two opposing values in our lives: the secular values and the Gospel values. As we can see, the secular values that promote our self-importance is nothing, but a big lie; a big-lie that can never bring any happiness or fulfilment our lives. Instead, it can only bring division in our hearts and our homes and even a downfall to our career.

The Gospel Values that Jesus speaks about today, on the other hand will assure us of the deepest joy, peace and happiness in our daily living. Our families will be happier and our lives will be more wholesome because when our focus in life will be to care, love and serve others, we will then become selfless like Christ. With time, Christ then, will become our model and focus in life, instead of focusing on the self.

I know of a top executive (let us call him James, not his real name). James has more than ninety brand new, branded suits! He retired early from work because his two daughters and three sons have grown up. Even though he is still healthy and fit, he decided to spend the remaining years of his life serving the needs of the poor and people in need. One of his daughters told me that dad had given away, to charity, all his ninety plus brand new and branded suits to live a simpler life.

Since retirement, dad has lived a very busy life. He serves the needs of the poor, the sick, the aged, the lonely. Although his daily life is so full, dad somehow still finds time for us in the family. Some of his friends think he is crazy to have given up such a prestigious and high paying career but, he thinks otherwise.

James is fully convinced that in doing all these and in being so generous with his wealth, he finds himself even more blessed by God. James clearly sees how all his wealth, good career and loving family are all God’s blessings. So, it is only right that He repays God through his generosity and service of the needs of people.

James now finds his daily life to be filled with even more blessings from God, especially each time he is able to bring consolation, comfort to the sick, dying and depressed. In living in this manner, James has never been happier and more fulfilled in his life.

My sisters and brothers in Christ, let me conclude . . . by summing up what today’s Gospel challenge is about. When Jesus, in today’s Gospel tells us to be more selfless and more committed in our faith in God in the way we live our daily life, Jesus is not being cold and heartless even though this may mean that we have to put God before our personal needs and attachments in life.

Jesus is challenging us to live a more happy and fulfilling life; a life that loves, cares and serves others; a life that is selfless and totally committed to God. Indeed, a life of happiness that will last even after our death and for all eternity.The alternative lifestyle of the secular world is a life that is self-serving and focused on self-importance; a life that can only bring emptiness, envy and anger; a life that will inevitably lead us to failures and frustrations that come with self-centredness. Indeed, a life that, divides and eventually destroy every thing that we value. And all of us know and cannot deny that, this is the plain truth about any self-centred person.

Spend some time today to ponder for a few moments on what heard about Fr Heselaars, and ask ourselves, “What will my old age be like?” Ponder also on James and then ask yourself, “What is Jesus challenging me here and now of my daily living?”

So, there is only one way to live our daily life. There is only one choice in our life. We have to live the Gospel values of Jesus Christ.

Fr Philip Heng, S.J.