Friday, 5th OCTOBER
"Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Beth-saida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it shall be more tolerable in the judgement for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Caperna-um, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades."
It is hard to hear these words from You, Our Merciful Lord. It doesn't quite sound like You. I understand that it is not You who want to condemn them; it was them who didn't want to be saved. It wasn't You, Lord, who didn't knock at their door; it was them who didn't open. You want to save everyone but some stubborn sinners refuse to be saved.
As St Augustine put it: "God who created you without you, will not save you without you." These people were free to accept You, and freely decided to reject You.
It's not sin but the obstinacy of sin that condemns people. It is the insanity of remaining in our sin and not wanting to make amends. This insanity could be named 'insinnity': the obstinacy of remaining in our sins. Our mission, in order to save souls, is to encourage those sinners to keep trying to fight against their sins and to atone for them. We are all sinners. The only difference is that some sinners keep fighting and some others have given up. Discouragement is the devil's great speciality. The enemy spends his energy trying to convince us to give up: 'You will never get rid of these sins' he suggests in your ear. 'This is too hard for you', 'There is no point in going to Confession: you will need to confess the same sin again in no time...' Sound familiar?
A medical doctor was giving a lesson to his students. They entered a ward crowded with patients and he asked: "Which one of these do you think should receive attention first? Who do you think is worse?"
After they had given their different opinions, he gave the right answer: "Do you see that man with flies on his face? If he has given up shooing the flies away, it's because he has given up on himself."
We have this mission among our friends and relatives today, to assist those sinners who have given up and encourage them.
Mary, my Mother - their Mother - Refuge of sinners, 'help me to help them'.
05 OCTOBER, 2018, Friday, 26th Week, Ordinary Time
SEEING A BIGGER PICTURE KEEPS US IN PERSPECTIVE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ JOB 38:1, 12-21; 40:3-5; LK 10:13-16 ]
Most of us, like Job, have been brought up within a religious tradition. Our faith values and beliefs are dependent on that tradition. Whilst religious tradition is important in shaping our faith in God, yet, at times it does not fit into every situation. Indeed, many of us question why the Church is so strict when it comes to divorce and remarriage. There are many other ethical issues or even Church disciplines that some of us cannot reconcile with the mercy and love of God. Some have left the Church as they find the Church too legalistic, dogmatic and ritualistic.
This was the situation of Job. He was brought up in a religious tradition that taught him that the good are rewarded by God and the bad are punished. The doctrine of immediate retribution was very strong in the early part of the Old Testament, which is dealt with in the Book of Ezekiel. One of the sayings in those days was, "The parents eat sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge."
In fact, there is a general belief in the doctrine of Karma. You reap what you sow.
This was what St Paul also told the Christians in Galatians. "Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap." (Gal 6:7) Job was brought up in that theology of immediate retribution in this life. Hence, we can appreciate his inner struggle, seeking to reconcile his misfortunes with his innocence.
We can all surely empathize with Job in the way he reacted towards God. Searching and examining his life, in all conscience, he did nothing wrong to deserve the punishments he was receiving. Indeed, he was a just and righteous man. He was blameless and truly a law abiding Israelite. He was more than fair in his dealings with others but was also generous with the poor. Even his friends could not find anything that he had done wrong. Although most of us cannot compare with the integrity of Job, on many occasions, we too have been fair in our relationships with God and our fellowmen. We treat our workers and our loved ones well. We provide for their welfare and pay them a just salary. Yet, how often have we been cheated by them, or even betrayed in spite of all the good we have selflessly done for them. In such moments we feel like Job, that God has been unfair to us. We have contributed so much to the Church all our lives and then He permitted us to suffer a terminal illness or took away our spouse or children. When such tragedies strike, like Job, we wonder where the justice of God is, since we read so often in the bible, particularly in the psalms, that the righteous man will be rewarded by God.
Right from the onset, we must state clearly that the doctrine of immediate retribution cannot be applied without qualification. Most times, retribution happens in this life. If we do not work, we will be sacked; and if we do not study, we will fail our exam. This is something expected and a principle based on universal experience. However, it is also true that there are many occasions when the unjust also seem to prosper as well whilst the good suffer. This was how the psalmist felt too, "Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold for I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles their bodies are healthy and strong." (Ps 73:1-4) Sometimes, like the psalmist, we envy evil and selfish people because they seem to be doing so well even though they break all the commandments of God, whereas law-abiding Christians like ourselves suffer the disadvantages of being true to our principles. So we must not fall into the sin of presumption, as the friends of Job did when they sought to find some hidden blemish in his life to defend the justice of God. The fact was that Job's suffering had nothing to do with any wrong that he had done.
So where do we go from here when religious traditions do not agree with life experiences? We are called to embrace the mystery of God's love in the midst of a world that is imperfect and sinful. Suffering will remain always a mystery regardless how we try to explain it away or to make sense of it. Even God is not exempted from suffering. So it is not just us who are suffering. Anyone who loves will suffer. We suffer not just for ourselves but for our loved ones. The answer to the question of suffering and evil is not a matter of logic but a matter of embracing this profound mystery in faith and love. This was the sin of Job.
What was the sin of Job? Even though initially he claimed he had no sin, in truth he did sin by questioning God's wisdom and knowledge. He was so proud and confident of himself to think that he could bring God to a trial and show forth the lack of wisdom and justice in God. He had accused the Lord of being unjust. With that limited knowledge of his, without being able to see the big picture, Job was simply thinking about himself. He was too presumptuous to think that he was able to understand everything. One thing was that he was unaware of the reason why God permitted Satan to tempt Job. This is so common even in daily life. Many of us are not happy with our superiors and all those in authority for their decisions and management of situations. That is why those in public service get the most complaints because those who complain can only see the problem from their narrow perspective. It is about "I, me and mine". So when their needs are not satisfied or their convenience is compromised, they will accuse the authorities for not being responsible or caring, failing to realize that there are many other factors and considerations to be taken in every decision.
Seeing things in perspective and humbly admitting our ignorance is what is required of us, as Job finally did. God did not defend Himself or explain His reasons for what He did. He simply helped Job to know his place in the world. God spoke through His creation. Where was Job when God created the world? The point is that God in His wisdom and power created the universe. Surely He knows better how to manage this creation than anyone of us! We cannot even bring a person to life or create life in any creature. So who are we to question the wisdom of God, His justice and providence? When Job came to realize his insolence of wanting to bring God to trial, he became conscious of his sin. His sin was in questioning God and thinking he knew better what to do. He doubted God's justice and even suggested that He was unjust and evil. He was deeply remorseful when challenged to see the bigger picture of life and creation. He said, "My words have been frivolous: what can I reply? I had better lay my finger on my lips. I have spoken once…I will not speak again; more than once … I will add nothing." We are limited, finite and mortal. So all we can do is to bow down in silence before the mystery of God's creation and accept it in faith and love.
Yet, the irony is that when we surrender ourselves to the providence of God and His divine will, we will find peace. Like the psalmist, we are called to surrender in faith to God's will and plan for us. With the psalmist, we must pray, "O where can I go from your spirit, or where can I flee from your face? If I climb the heavens, you are there. If I lie in the grave, you are there. If I take the wings of the dawn and dwell at the sea's furthest end, even there your hand would lead me; your right hand would hold me fast. For it was you who created my being, knit me together in my mother's womb. I thank you for the wonder of my being, for the wonders of all your creation."
If we could pray this prayer with faith, then like Job, we will once again experience His love and blessings.
When our commitment to God is dependent on circumstances and temporal favours, our faith remains weak. Rather, we must follow Job in coming to realize our finiteness and God's incomprehensible wisdom. Let us be humble before God and continue to respect and trust in Him even when we are suffering. We must avoid falling like the inhabitants in Capernaum, condemned by the Lord for their pride. We must not lack faith like those in Chorazin and Bethsaida who did not recognize the marvels of God's love and creation. So with faith and humility, embracing God's plan and His will, we will find peace and joy.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Commentary of the day :
Saint Augustine (354-430)
Bishop of Hippo (North Africa) and Doctor of the Church
Discourses on the Psalms, Ps 50, §23
*"Whoever listens to you listens to me"*
Someone, having listened to the verse: "Offer to God a sacrifice of praise" (Ps 50.14), said to himself: "I will go to church every day when I get up and sing a morning hymn; then an evening hymn at the end of the day and then, in my own home, a third and fourth hymn. This is how I will make a sacrifice of praise every day and offer it to my God." It is good to do this if you do it in truth, but beware of placing your confidence in what you do and fear lest, while your tongue is speaking eloquently before God, your life may be speaking badly... Take care you don't live evilly while speaking well.Why is this so? Because God says to the sinner: "Why do you recite my commandments and profess my covenant with your mouth, [you who cast my words behind you]?" (v.16-17). You see how anxiously we have to speak to you... But as for you, my brothers, you are safe: if you hear good things being spoken then it is God you hear, no matter whose mouth is speaking to you. Yet God has not wanted to leave those who are speaking to you without warning them, lest they rest peacefully in their disordered lives thinking they are speaking about what is good, saying to themselves: "God will not allow us to be lost, those of us through whom he has wanted to speak such good things to his people". So, you who speak, whoever you may be, listen to what you are saying; you who wish to be heard, listen first of all to yourselves... God grant that I may be the first to listen, God grant that I may listen and hear even more than everyone else "what God proclaims, for he speaks peace to his people" (Ps 85,9).