Archive for September, 2013
Human experiences teach us:
- That the people who hurt us often and hurt us the most are people who are so close to us. That is why there is a song entitled, “Why do we always hurt the one we love?”
- That the people we find the hardest to forgive are also people who are so close to us. People as such we call them traitors and ungrateful. It has been said that one’s best friends is one’s worst enemies.
- That the people who are deeply hurt or aggrieved have the tendency to self-pity, anger, hatred, resentment and revenge.
Given all these, it is hard to forgive, much harder, to forgive constantly. Indeed Alexander Pope is correct when he said, “To err is human, to forgive is divine.”
If your heart is filled with anger, hatred and revenge and you find it hard to forgive those who hurt or offended you, then, the message of today’s Gospel is for you: love the repentant sinner by forgiving him while hate the sin; hope for repentance of sinner and celebrate the redemption of even one sinner.
In today’s gospel, Jesus gave us the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin and the lost son. They all illustrate the point that God rejoices about each sinner who repents. “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (verse 7)… “there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” They reveal to us that God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, rich in compassion and relenting in punishment ( Ps 103:8, 145:8-9,15-18, Jl 2:12-13).”
Allow me to focus my homily on the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) is perhaps better named the parable of the lost son, since it is designed to go with the parables of the lost sheep (verses 3-7) and lost coin (verses 8-10). Some have even called it the parable of the prodigal father, because of the father’s extravagance. Even today, after centuries of teaching about God’s grace, the father’s willingness to forgive his runaway son is shockingly generous.
Going back to the parable we just heard, the younger son’s request was impudent and disrespectful. Typically, sons received their inheritance on the death of their father. Sometimes a father might decide to distribute part or all of the inheritance early so that he might retire, but the initiative is the father’s—not the son’s. In the event that a son received his inheritance prior to the father’s death, the son was expected to stay at home to provide for his parents in their old age. That was part of what it meant to “honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Exod 20:12).
This younger son was guilty of: (1) assuming the initiative that belonged to his father (2) treating his father as if he were dead (3) ignoring his obligation to his parents in their old age and (4) breaking the family relationship by leaving. Such conduct was shameful in that culture. A father would feel ashamed to have raised such a son. Neighbors would raise their eyebrows and thank God not to have such sons themselves.
Despite of what had happened the father has forgiven his repentant impudent and disrespectful son who deeply offended and hurt him. The father in the parable represents God the Father who is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment” (Jl 2:12-13) while the prodigal son represents the worst sinner who returns to the Father with contrite and humble spirit. Just as God the Father has forgiven us in Christ when were sinners and when we were still His enemies let us also forgive those who has hurt and offended us.
Why do we need to forgive?
- “The only way to peace is forgiveness. To accept and give forgiveness makes possible a new quality of rapport between men, interrupts the spiral of hatred and revenge and breaks the chains of evil which bind the heart of rivals” (Pope John Paul II, Homily at Mass for First Sunday of Lent, “Day of Pardon”, March 12, 2000 and Angelus Message, March 12, 2000).
- “Forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the high cost of hatred, and the waste of energy” (E. C. McKenzie).
- Forgiveness of one another is a condition for authentic worship of the Father. “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt. 5:23-24; cf. 6:14-15; Mk 11:25; CCC 2841; cf. CFC 2187).
- Man must forgive in order to be forgiven by God. The parable is a comment upon the fifth petition of the Lord’s prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us” (Mt 6:12). Those, and those only, may expect to be forgiven of God, who forgive their brethren “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will you Father forgive your trespasses” (Mt 6:14, 15). As James had it, “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:13).
“Because you are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive whatever grievances you have against one another. Forgive as God has forgiven you in Christ” (Col 3:12f). Forgive and “so be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect ” (Mt 5: 44-48).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that “To be in blessed and intimate communion with God is the fulfillment of the deepest longing of the human heart, a state of supreme and definitive happiness.” Heaven is the ultimate goal of human existence. It is the fulfillment of the deepest longing of every human being. Why? With God everything is sufficient. With God nothing is lacking. This is what we hope for. This is what we pray for. This is what we strive for.
In the letter of St. Paul to Timothy there it is revealed to us that God wants all men and women to be saved and come to the fullness of truth (1 Tim 2:4): Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through him (Jn 14:6). Yes God wants all men and women of all nations and generations to be happy with him in heaven. Yes we desire to be happy with God in heaven. Yet there is always something that prevents or hinders us from reaching our goal or fulfilling the deepest longing of our inmost being/
What is it that prevents or blocks us from following Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life? These are: social and familial relations, lack of perseverance and wealth and possessions.
In order to be happy with God in heaven, believing is not enough. Following the Lord is not enough. To be true disciple of Jesus is necessary. A disciple not on our own terms and conditions. A disciple not on our standard or measure. A disciple not on our qualification and merit. But a disciple based on the grace, measure and purpose of our Lord Jesus Christ who is our Lord, Savior and Teacher.
Considering the Gospel as a whole we can somehow conclude that a true disciple of Jesus possesses a combination of three traits: singleness of purpose, undivided heart, and persevering spirit.
Singleness of purpose requires of us that whatever happens our ultimate purpose in life is to be happy with God in heaven. St. Paul reminds us that our ultimate destiny is heaven and our ultimate goal is to be happy with God. Therefore let us always guard ourselves against the danger of overindulging in worldly pleasure like drugs, alcohol, sex and food and not to be more preoccupied with worldly, material physical and sexual concerns. Else we will be tempted, misled, deceived, lost and enslaved by them.
Undivided heart requires of us that we will follow, love and serve the Lord wholeheartedly, freely and generously. Undivided heart reminds us that God wants His people to value and prioritize heaven over corporal, material and earthly things which may pass away. The moment we decided to follow the Lord that is also the moment that our loyalty, obedience and faithfulness to God must be unparalleled. Therefore, when it comes to priorities in life and hierarchy of values God takes precedence over our relations and possession, “Where your treasure is, there your heart is,” says the Lord.
Persevering spirit means that we will never give in to temptation and sins. It also means that we will never give up our faith, conviction, ideals, values in life even under the pressure of money, power, popularity and pleasure. Lastly, persevering spirit means that we will not quit what we have started even in the face of trials, hardships and persecution. Gen. Douglas McArthur once said, “Old age wrinkles the body, quitting wrinkles the soul.”
In today’s Mass let us be reminded that we are only pilgrims here on earth. Heaven is our homeland. To be completely and perfectly happy with God in heaven is our inmost longing, Have a singleness of purpose. Love and serve the Lord with undivided heart. Persevere in faith, hope and love.
There is a story told about Paul Cezanne who ranks among the world’s greatest artists. He painted for thirty five years before receiving any recognition. When an art dealer finally discovered him and exhibited his paintings in Paris, Cezanne was overwhelmed. Entering the exhibition with his son, he could not believe what he saw. “Look!” he said to his son, “I can’t believe it! They’ve even framed my paintings!”
The theme of today’s gospel is GREATNESS IN HUMILITY. Humility is such a rare and weird virtue. Rare, because as John Selden, a British jurist and statesman, said: “Humility is a virtue all preach, none practise, and yet everybody is content to hear. The master thinks it good doctrine for his servant, the laity for the clergy, and the clergy for the laity.” Weird because as Louis Evely described it, “the moment we think we have it, we lost it.”
Humility is one of the main pillars of the Christian life. “If you ask me”, St. Augustine says, “what is the essential thing in the religion and discipline of Jesus Christ, I shall reply: first humility, second humility and third humility” (“Letter 118”). In a similar story, when St. Bernard was asked what the four cardinal virtues were, he replied: “Humility, humility, humility and humility.”
What is humility? What does it entail? Based on today’s gospel’s account, greatness in humility entails three things:
First, put yourself last. Who is the greatest in God’s kingdom? The one who is humble and lowly of heart— who instead of asserting their rights willingly empty themselves of pride and self-seeking glory by taking the lowly position of a servant or child. “If you ask me”, St. Augustine says, “what is the essential thing in the religion and discipline of Jesus Christ, I shall reply: first humility, second humility and third humility” (“Letter 118”).
Unlike the proud and the arrogant, a disciple should not “…think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment…” (Rom. 12:3). He must be prepared to take the last, least and lowest place. He must be ready and willing to become a servant of servants of all. It teaches us to prefer others over ourselves (Rom. 12:10). It is knowing our true position before God. It is not self-abasement or demeaning one’s self. “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). Humility is necessary to be a disciple of Jesus (Matt. 18:3-4).
Second, be the servant of all. Greatness consists in humble service. “If any man would be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all” (Mk 9:35). Jesus own teaching and example is a lesson for all of us. The humility of Jesus is described in Philippians 2:5-8, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (NIV). Christ whole life expresses his mission: “to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (cf. CCC 608). As Christian, we are bound to do same – to be a servant of servants of all.
Third, to receive the seemingly insignificant human being with great love. God takes special care of the weak and will punish those who harm them and reward those who take care of them. To receive, love and serve a little child is to receive, love and serve Christ himself and the One who sent him. “Whosoever shall receive one of such little children in my name receives me, and whosoever receives me, receives not me, but him that sent me” (Mk 26-37).
Receiving a little child in Jesus’ name includes the unselfish care and support given for the poor and the needy who cannot repay us of our hospitality and generosity. Receiving, serving and loving the poor and the needy is serving and loving Jesus himself, hence, deserving of heavenly reward. Blessed are you when you “fed the hungry Christ, gave drink to the thirsty Christ, received the homeless Christ, clothed the naked Christ and visited the sick and the imprisoned Christ” (Mother Teresa of Calcutta) because you will inherit the kingdom prepared for you by my Father from the foundation of the world.
Humility is not only rare and weird, as I said earlier, but it is also difficult to conquer. As St. Francis de Sales said: “Pride – human pride dies 15 minutes after your own death.” History has shown us that person in power and authority is always tempted by pride, arrogance, honor, fame, wealth and corruption. Conscious of all these, St. Gregory the Great, who was pope from 590 to 640, adopted a title which has been applied to all Peter’s successors, a relevant reminded of Jesus’ teaching. The title is: “servos servorom” which means “the servant of servants of God” or “the least of all servants.”
Jesus in washing his disciples’ feet shows us the way we should walk, if we are to be like him, if we desire to follow him, not only to the cross at Good Friday, but to the glory of Easter Sunday. Wish to be the greatest of all? Put yourself last, be the servant of all, and receive the least, last and the lowest of society!