Tuesday, 20th MARCH.
Who are you? Will you refuse?
Again he said to them, "I go away, and you will seek me and die in your sin; where I am going, you cannot come...You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he." They said to him, "Who are you?" Jesus said to them, "Even what I have told you from the beginning".
Jesus' disciples had been with Him a long time by then. They have heard His Words and seen His miracles. And after all that they are still asking, "Who are You?" We have the special task of praying for those who still don't know Who He is. Many souls are looking for the answer that can give meaning to their lives.
All the saints have had that passion (some call it 'zeal') to reach out to everyone and explain to them who Jesus Christ is, and where He is to be found so that they can go to Him. We also have that apostolic mission, to tell them that Jesus has died for them and that it is, in actual fact, He who is looking for each one of them.
On September 10, 1946, St Teresa of Calcutta felt that Jesus was asking her to take His Love to all the abandoned, the sick and the poor. In order to do that, she had to overcome many difficulties and had to take the final step of leaving her convent walls; but Jesus was in a hurry to reach many souls, and was spurring her on to reach out to those who weren't finding Jesus and didn't know Him yet. Then she heard these words from Him: *"You have come to India for me. Are you now afraid to take one more step for me? Has your generosity cooled down? Am I only secondary for you? You did not die for souls; that's why you don't care what happens to them. Your heart was never drowned in sorrow as was my Mother's heart. We both gave ourselves up totally for souls. What about you? ... Will you refuse?"*
St Teresa of Calcutta didn't refuse, as you know, and brought Jesus to thousands of those souls. Now, what about you and me? We have a similar mission... will we refuse?
Mary, Handmaid of the Lord, you didn't refuse your mission either; help me to be faithful to mine and never refuse it.
20 MARCH, 2018, Tuesday, 5th Week of Lent
OVERCOMING DESPAIR THROUGH FAITH IN CHRIST
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ NUMBERS 21:4-9; JOHN 8:21-30 ]
We can empathize with the Israelites in the desert. Forty years is a long time to be wandering round and round without arriving. We can imagine their frustration and anger. They were in the desert, in the hot and cold, no water and sometimes no food. Some were losing hope that the Promised Land was just a dream.
In our trials and difficulties we too will feel that God has abandoned us, especially when we are walking through a tunnel, like suffering an incurable sickness, dealing with a rocky marriage or a job that is difficult. When we see no end to our problems, we cannot but give up hope in God. Some of us even become resentful of Him for not caring for us. We too have our dreams of the Promised Land, but along the way, we lose our direction in life because of difficulties or challenges which seem too daunting for us to handle.
When we are tempted to give up hope, what must we do?
Complaining like them will do us no good.
St Paul wrote, "Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world." (Phil 2:14-18f) Indeed, they were punished for their lack of faith and most of all, by their inability to accept God's will and follow His divine plan. They were bitten by the fiery serpents, symbolizing the consequences of their sins of impatience, resentment and bitterness. So lamenting and entering into depression will lead us to other sins. We will eventually commit more sins, such as stealing, lying, and drinking, destroying our lives. Indeed, those who complain and whine cannot find life.
That was what Jesus said to the Jews as well. "I am going away; you will look for me and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come."
Why cannot we join Jesus in life and in heaven? According to Jesus, this is because "You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I have told you already: You will die in your sins. Yes, if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins." Indeed, because we do not look towards God and believe in Him and accept His divine will, we will hurt ourselves by choosing our own path in life.
How, then, should we act when we are in a dilemma?
We must first begin by contemplating on our sins and the lack of faith. We must examine our own lives. Socrates says that an unexamined life is not worth living.
The truth is that the Lord made the Israelites go such a long and round about way round the Sinai Peninsula because He wanted them to mature in faith so that they could fight their enemies when they entered the Promised Land. God's intention was to strengthen them physically and spiritually, not to punish them. They were to be taught to trust in Him alone and no one else. They were to be tested in fidelity and faith.
Suffering in life too, is meant to strengthen us and transform us to be leaders in suffering for others. Last Sunday we read in Heb 5:7-9 how Christ submitted Himself so humbly in obedience to the Father. Indeed, through our suffering we learn obedience to God's will. If we are obedient and surrender ourselves to His will, we will find peace and freedom. In turn, like Jesus, we become a source of inspiration to others. Life is a question of walking the way and then showing the way. If we have not trod the path of suffering and growth, we cannot be an inspiration to others to find their way.
This must be followed by a humble acknowledgement and confession of sins. The people came and said to Moses, "We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Intercede for us with the Lord to save us from these serpents." So long as we repent, the Lord will come to our help. Truly, quite often in life, during our time of suffering, we seek to find scapegoats for our woes. Instead of acknowledging our faults and failings, we point the faults at others, like the people who complained against Moses.
That is why the cure for their sickness was to contemplate on the serpent lifted up on the pole. "Moses interceded for the people, and the Lord answered him, 'Make a fiery serpent and put it on a standard. If anyone is bitten and looks at it, he shall live.' So Moses fashioned a bronze serpent which he put on a standard, and if anyone was bitten by a serpent, he looked at the bronze serpent and lived."
The Lord invites us to look at ourselves instead of blaming others for their mistakes and folly. It is important that we begin with self-examination if we want to seek healing and His divine wisdom.
We need to go beyond contemplating on our sins. It is through knowing the consequences of our sins that we can be led to repent. "Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith." (Gal 6:7-10) But it is not enough. We do not have the strength to do the right thing.
Hence, this serpent anticipates the cross of Jesus when He too was lifted up. We are invited to contemplate on the love of Christ on the Cross. Jesus said, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He and that I do nothing of myself: what the Father has taught me is what I preach; he who sent me is with me, and has not left me to myself, for I always do what pleases him'. As he was saying this, many came to believe in him." In contemplating on His love, we can repent because of His love for us. When we think of how much He suffered for us and how He was tempted for us and suffered for our sake, we will be able to carry our cross for the love of Jesus and our loved ones even though they might be difficult to love, especially our young people or unreasonable parents.
When we reflect on God's wondrous love, we cannot but be assured that He will help us to overcome every trial. "But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation." (Rom 5:8-11)
But again love might not be enough to help us to continue because of the lack of certainty. Reflecting on the resurrection will give us hope that suffering and death have been overcome and eventually those who have faith in God will find life. Love can enable us to do many things but humanly we are weak. That is why we need a clear confidence in the final victory and most of all, the Holy Spirit to give us the strength to love as He has loved us. The Holy Spirit, we know, is the love of God that is poured into our hearts. For that reason, we must contemplate on His resurrection. Being lifted up is also a symbol of the resurrection when the Father raised Jesus from the dead.
However, this is not the crown of faith. It is when we reflect on the mystery of the identity of Christ as the Son of God, the love of God in person. Only by contemplating on the fact that this person who died for us is the Son of God, as in the letter of St Paul to the Philippians, can we find life. Hence, the gospel asks, "Do we know who He truly is?" Jesus answered, "What I have told you from the outset. About you I have much to say and much to condemn; but the one who sent me is truthful, and what I have learnt from him I declare to the world."
He is none other than the Father's only Son. "You will know that I am He and that I do nothing of myself: what the Father has taught me is what I preach; he who sent me is with me, and has not left me to myself, for I always do what pleases him." The death and resurrection of Jesus will be the credentials that express the Father's heart of love and mercy; and the resurrection as the endorsement of His message and identity.
As we prepare for the celebration of the Easter Mysteries, especially the Eucharist which is the celebration of His passion, death and resurrection, let us deepen our contemplation on His love and mercy in the passion and the resurrection. Let us come to Jesus as He invites us, when He said, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." (Mt 11:28) May our contemplation on His death and resurrection lead us to share in His resurrection and glory as we die to ourselves with Him and find new life, love, and hope!
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved