Christ decrese, I increase

Last week we were miles away from the centre of Bangkok and chanced upon a bakery famed for its croissant. Curious, we went in. There was a waiting room full of people, seated much like in a hospital waiting to see the doctor. Only that it was more crowded. The ‘doctor’ should be available in an hour. We turned to the takeaway queue. It was serving number 19 and ours was 164. We left.
 
Time is life. What would have motivated me to spend an hour of my life in a queue for a croissant? This is not to detract from anyone who will. One day I might too. Rather I went away curious about how our behaviours have changed as we progressed in time. There is the factor of affluence and then also the allure of social media. Our behaviours have altered with our mobile devices. Innocent as it is fun, it would be nice to upload a photo of being at a trending place.
 
Today we celebrate Christ the King, the last Sunday of the liturgical year before we welcome the new year with Advent. “You will call him Emmanuel”. God with us. Soon our thoughts and schedules will be filled with Christmassy things. And we will welcome the new calendar year with a hangover. So, it may be good to choose this week to look back at our spiritual life and make our resolutions going forward. A good place to reflect on is perhaps how has social media (and wealth, if you have) altered “my behaviour”? Have I left my spiritual life somewhere as a backdrop and who and what is my King?
 
The internet and social media have really opened the world up. There is an amazing wealth of information. Google maps and apps have made places once remote, now accessible and known. Increasingly life is about experiences, queuing an hour for a croissant or eating a local egg breakfast in a remote Thai village. But if we are not conscious, these progressive developments can also make our world a lot smaller.
 
When I was a kid, I bought a weekly football magazine to follow my team. That was all I had to follow my team. As I suffered this poverty of information, I read every word in that magazine and as a result I had a wide knowledge of football. My world was big. Today I have the luxury of clicking on my specific club. That one click eliminates everything else, paradoxically making my world much smaller than it should be. In our hands we have this dangerous tool of becoming too engrossed only with our ‘self’. In today’s world, it is easy to be, “Christ decrease, I increase”.
 
Today’s first reading is good fodder for our reflection. Christ the King is there too in our internet world. He is the good shepherd always looking out for us, wanting to lead us back onto the right path, after we are being scattered by our pre-occupation of self. The reading tells us that God initiates, and He is always present in our midst, an always changing presence in our changing world. Emmanuel, God is with us.
 
“For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you drink? And the King will answer, “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.”” (Today’s Gospel)

Every time this passage comes along, I go back to a previous sharing of when the ministry I belonged to was running a special Sunday canteen service. The special that day was selling every item for a dollar. I was privileged to experience an elderly couple come up to me to thank us saying that they would not have been able to enjoy such items if we did not sell them for one. Basking in a sea of happy faces, perhaps self-engrossed milking the gratitude, I missed the significance of that encounter. Only that night as I lay in bed, this passage came to me. Yes King, I saw you in the canteen.

Emmanuel, you are in our midst. We must keep focus and not be distracted. Not to be blinded by the kingship of self. Then we will see and know our true King.

Solemnity of Christ the King

Bottoms up

I actually mean bottom up.

We go for mass on Sundays. Well, that was the routine pre-pandemic. And we belong to a parish. We are part of a congregation and like it or not, one in a community. We are the lay faithful. We are the church. Not a building, but people entrusted to make relevant the Gospel in our own life, and life that we share with others. We still are whether we go on Sundays or not. This is our personal responsibility.

Our universal Church is structured and organised. We are one among millions of Catholic Christians in life. In an institution where authority is necessary to lead, guide and shape, we the lay faithful sit at the bottom of the structure. We are entrusted to do only small things, unique to who we are and what talent we have. In the small circle of life that we share with others, it is our Christian responsibility to make the Gospel relevant.

“The kingdom of Heaven is like a man on his way abroad who summoned his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to a third one; each in proportion to his ability. Then he set out.” (Today’s Gospel)

We each have a unique talent or talents. Some have five, others two or maybe less, one. As Christians, we are to use these talents in a responsible way because at the end of our time we are accountable for them. We are to use them primarily to serve the needs of the Gospel.

We are the lay faithful in a parish setting. The organized structure although necessary for administrative needs is really intended to serve the pastoral needs of the people. Fulfilling these needs cannot be dripped down from the top through layers of hierarchy and authority. We are church that necessitated the institution and not an institution that houses a church. We are the lay faithful, the church, meaning to mission to one another.

Fr. John Murray*, our priest at the Cathedral here in Bangkok wrote this week, “If we want a church of mission that is alive and thriving, it must come from bottom up, it must rise from the faithful and their dreams, vision and needs”.

This is my vision of a vibrant parish. We must start small fires within our parish community. The fires are lit because of needs and vision, our talent the matchstick used to start the fire. It could be to start a ministry to address a certain pastoral need such as to start a Sunday canteen. We each have different talent suiting liturgical, pastoral and prayer needs. We start small pockets of fire within the congregation. Fires here and there that are small but will spread to link up and set the whole parish ablaze.

If we all do that as the lay faithful, wherever we are, the universal Church will eventually be ablaze! This does not work from top down but bottom up.

Fr. John* wisely concluded, “The way to go is to give the faithful space, let them share their dreams, listen to them and let them do it for themselves. No need to urge control, just allow for good order and give people freedom to be and act for the Gospel. Long live the revolution of the Gospel!”

I will “bottoms up” to that.

*Fr. John’s blog:

http://sanctasophiafan.blogspot.com/2020/11/its-about-them.html?m=1

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Happy are we

On Saturday, I took a walk in the neighbourhood of a poorer community. I came across this store, it jolted my memory back to a childhood 50 years ago. In today’s expression, this would be called a convenience store. It seemed like time had left this store behind. There it appeared somewhat frozen in a time capsule. Only the old couple aged along with the passage of time. I greeted them and wondered if they ever found happiness in life.

Later that day, I read a write-up about the plight of urban refugees in Bangkok, their situation worsened with this pandemic. They are mainly Pakistani Catholics fleeing various forms of persecution. They are destined to spend years of their life as refugees, each turn of the year bringing fresh hope, each year end adding another stroke to its count. They look to the future, wondering if they have one. They do not have much, only the hope their faith offers. They are not able to eke out a living. Can they eke out happiness in life?

“How happy are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. (Sunday’s Gospel). To be “poor in spirit” means to live our life dependent on God. Hence to be poorer in spirit means to be even more trusting in God that everything will be okay. So, happy will we be, and happy are we when we are poor in spirit. Ours is the kingdom of heaven.

So, what is true happiness? It is true that money does buy happiness. It is a human reality that material comforts do make us happy. The old couple and the urban refugees are likely to agree. We cannot deny this worldly happiness. But we will also need a form of spiritual happiness because we are all humans with an inner being, a soul. Our worldly life is a reality, and its our nature to be always trying to eke out happiness out of it.

From the Gospel of two Sundays ago, there are two sides to the coin, our worldly life, and our spiritual life. But it is one coin. It is inseparable. Being one coin, we understand that worldly life and spiritual life are inter-linked. Our worldly life is a pilgrim’s journey, the pilgrim being our soul, where the pilgrim must navigate to search for her way home to the Creator. The first reading today described this homecoming:

“One of the elders then spoke, and asked me, ‘Do you know who these people are, dressed in white robes, and where they have come from?’ I answered him, ‘You can tell me, my lord.’ Then he said, ‘These are the people who have been through the great persecution, and they have washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb.’” (First Reading)

All of us are being drawn through the passage of life to reach the eternal glory of heaven. The passage of worldly life is a soul’s journey. It is a narrow path to keep the balance between worldly and spiritual happiness. Living the Beatitudes is living a life dependent on God, a Christian lifestyle. Sometimes our lifestyle will seem to be stuck in time, our poverty in spirit making us refugees of modern lifestyles that question the existence of our Creator. But onwards we journey, saints we become.

‘Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.’

All Saints Day

Irrigated by love

Humankind seem to be at major crossroad of change, just another in her long history. This pandemic, in what is tangible, has threatened to push us into a new normal. But like a film negative from yesterday, the pandemic is merely the chemical used in the developing process turning hard-to-make-out negatives into bright, colourful, detailed photos. Today’s photo exposes who we have become.

It says a lot that while we wait for human ability to give us a vaccine, we are reduced to simple individual actions to fight it. And these actions are small acts like mask wearing and social distancing, but they highlight the impactful contribution we seemingly insignificant individuals can make. This situation is crying out, “We all matter, we must look out for one another”. It says even more when individuals resist this, standing tall in protest for individual rights. But they too are not to be blamed as individuals. It is merely how humankind has processed and developed into who we have become.

“‘Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?’ Jesus said, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets also.’” (Sunday’s Gospel)

There is one constant that has survived every change in the history of humankind. This is the unconditional, ever-flowing love of God that flows pleadingly without judgement. Christian or non, believer or not, “love your neighbour” seem to be a very viable vaccine. But yes, as part of our development process we have also push religion out of the dark room. However, it would be incredibly naïve to expect the world to be any different from who she is today. We are who we are. God understands and will continue to pour his love into us to help us navigate life.

God pours love into us and it flows amongst us like an irrigation system. This flow will find its way into cracks and brokenness. The bigger the crack, the more it flows into it. Our life is such. No one journeys through life without crises. Often enough we find ourselves cracked and broken. In the biggest crisis we find ourselves sunken into our deepest self, feeling alone and abandoned, scrounging around for hope. Hope is like a crack in the darkness of despair, and into this crack this love will flow.

The love of God will always seek us out. It is said that we grow, mature and become better through crises. There are many stories out there testifying to this healing and restorative love of God. This unconditional love of God desires for us more than what we ourselves desire. As our brokenness is irrigated by the flow of this love, we find ourselves restored into a new normal of the fullness of life. In a way, God is harvesting us from our sufferings, and we emerge with new-found faith believing that love cannot be kept to one-self alone, for it will die. When it flows, it multiplies.

We have become who we have become. At this particular crossroad we know that little individual actions will count. Pope Francis said that this pandemic is a call for us to live differently. Maybe it is time to bring back into the dark room this chemical of love to process the negative of today to develop a better photo for tomorrow. Let love flow.

“In a way, God is harvesting us from our sufferings”

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Choices

There was a period when I felt strangely unsettled. Strange because it happened at a time when I should have been at the happiest; a young happy family and a job that afforded us a few luxuries. Ironically, it was the efficient, routine grind of work, repeating week after week, that probed my inner space, puncturing any elation, actually leaving me close to depression. “Is this life?” was a question that tormented my inner self for almost 2 years then. I was in a mid-life crisis.

I felt restless but I didn’t know why. I was full of what life had to offer, yet I felt a grave emptiness. I was wondering, without realising I was searching. I was doing new things to thrill but each choice fell flat. There were many loud choices but as each fell away, I saw a choice somewhat staying quietly in the distant. It was a choice to serve in the parish, something I had never done as an adult. I ignored it, “I don’t feel that is me at all. And I have better things to do”.

“‘Tell those who have been invited’ he said ‘that I have my banquet all prepared, my oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, everything is ready. Come to the wedding.’ But they were not interested: one went off to his farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his servants, maltreated them and killed them.” (Today’s Gospel)

A friend asked this week, “Is the purpose of our life here really just to ‘go along’ with whatever comes?” Mid-life is a good time to take stock. We have accumulated enough of a past to debate about God being a choice in our life. Life climbed us up some paths we never chose. Tired, disillusioned, we are told to let go, accept and trust God. “Is there no other perspective than to go along with God?” We may feel upset that God is in the way preventing us from doing what we like. It is no surprise that we keep refusing to go for the banquet.

Life is a tall mountain. Education, job, relationships, career, family, schooling, relationships, health, ageing and finally death. In between each climb, we stumble, fail and fall. We pick ourselves up. Dusting off the pain, God as a choice comes back again into our face. We are again invited for the banquet. And again, we have a choice to go or not to go.

“On this mountain, the Lord of hosts will prepare for all peoples a banquet of rich food. On this mountain he will remove the mourning veil covering all peoples, he will destroy Death for ever. The Lord will wipe away the tears from every cheek.” (First Reading)

This is the purpose of life. Our souls must find a way up the mountain of life back to our Creator. In our restless emptiness we ponder without knowing why, we search without knowing what. This is because God as a choice for our life is not a one-way choice. God chooses us too, hence the many banquet invitations. The choice for God does not start with you. It starts with God. It is not about us going to God in our mid-life muddle, but that God is coming to you. You didn’t move, He did. His choice pulled you. He wants to haul us up the mountain.

“When the king came in to look at the guests he noticed one man who was not wearing a wedding garment, and said to him, “How did you get in here, my friend, without a wedding garment?” And the man was silent. Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot and throw him out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen.’”

We have the freedom to keep refusing to choose God as a lifestyle choice. It is a common misconception that God judges us as we make our way through life. No. The generosity of God will come calling till our last breath. When we let go and let God, when we accept our situations and trust Him, when we let Him haul us up the mountain, we are allowing him to sew us a wedding garment, without which we might end up being thrown into the dark where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.

St. Augustine says, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds it’s rest in thee”.

Choices

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Our plot in the vineyard

Every time this passage comes around, I feel a little embarrassed. 30 years ago, I was a young upstart. I had turned around a desperate start to my work life. Unappreciative of it being a blessing, I became cocky and arrogant. I was thrashing the vineyard with my unruly behaviour. One day a Catholic colleague took me aside, not to admonish me, but to gently invite me to channel my energy into serving the Church. He did not deserve the answer I spewed out. I had killed the servant.

“There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard; he fenced it round, dug a winepress in it and built a tower; then he leased it to tenants and went abroad. When vintage time drew near he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his servants, thrashed one, killed another and stoned a third.” (Today’s Gospel)

The world is our vineyard. Each of us has a plot in the vineyard. We live our life in a situation, plot, unique to oneself. No two persons will have the exact same plot. This is the complexity of life. But it also means that God, the landowner, has for each of us a special and unique role in life. Our lives in this complexity is interlinked. We are seldom called to do big things, but little acts that only we can do in our unique situation, to impact the life of the other.

God has placed us in this world to do his bidding. We are to live good lives that will bear fruit and make good wine.

“Finally, brothers, fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honour, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise. Keep doing all the things that you learnt from me and have been taught by me and have heard or seen that I do.” (Second Reading)

We are sent as servants into the lives of our neighbours. We go into our neighbour’s plot when help is needed. God has meant for our lives to be intertwined like the vines in the vineyard. We are also sent as servants, like my colleague to me, to correct the behaviour of others in gentle ways. Because it will only be in such corrections where they will see the son of the landowner coming into their lives. If not they too will unknowingly reject the Son of God, and unwittingly prevent the seed of faith from taking root.

“It was the stone rejected by the builders that became the keystone.” (Gospel)

Thailand has vineyards. Who would expect this country to produce wine? The wines here will probably never get a high rating; the natural conditions are just too difficult to be conducive for good-rated wine. But with improving technology and know-how, they continue to try, maybe more in hope than in faith. Over the past years they have been producing better wine, maybe still not pleasing the palates of the judgemental world, but they have certainly pleased their landowners. There is fulfilment in effort.

God’s thoughts are not Man’s thoughts. God does not demand that we produce best-rated wines. That is his job. God only expect that we put in maximum effort in the little parts that we play in the vineyard of life. God himself will put all our efforts into the wine press to produce the best wine. Like every high-rated wine, every little complexity is vital. Our effort matters, even if they seem very small in the eyes of this judgemental world.

In our own plot, in the happenings of our life, we will discover the purpose of our daily toil. Accept and forgive ourselves our personal mishaps as I have done for myself. Age is a friend of wine. It is only with age when all our accumulated effort and experiences, both good and bad, will develop us into the best vintage. Not all of us are purposed to build wineries. For some we will spend our entire life merely to plant a seed. But the landowner will be equally pleased with both. He judges effort.

A figure of Buddha sits on the hillside overlooking a vineyard in Thailand.

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Save Our Souls

It is a spiritual curiosity how God speaks to us all the time, but often distracted, we cannot hear. But our faithful God is persistent, knocking constantly on our hearts. Save Our Souls is the crafty name of a beer house along the Chao Phraya. As I worked my way through the taps, I mused over the name amid our culture of authority and hierarchy, and of how we sometimes find ourselves saying ‘yes’ when we really mean ‘no’.

“He went and said to the first, “My boy, you go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not go,” but afterwards thought better of it and went. The man then went and said the same thing to the second who answered, “Certainly, sir,” but did not go.” (Today’s Gospel)

The church is outside its doors, it has always been. Today, social issues caused by the pandemic has only underlined this in an urgent way; God knocking on our hearts to address this pastoral need. There are many people out there bogged by personal issues. They will always be. It puts people into a search, seeking to understand life, searching for its meaning. Some end up at mass in church.

Save Our Souls is not only a cry upwards, but also a cry sideways. We are in this together. At every mass, there are people who come but will not fully partake of the sacraments. In the pews, there are people not yet baptised. Yet, they come. After everyone leaves, there is a lone person kneeling in desperate prayer. The reason they come. Should we do more to reach out to them, can we? We can only do so when we acknowledge our togetherness in life. We need to look out for one another. Save Our Souls is this collective cry.

“There must be no competition among you, no conceit; but everybody is to be self-effacing. Always consider the other person to be better than yourself, so that nobody thinks of his own interests first, but everybody thinks of other people’s interests instead.” (Second Reading)

Ite, missa est. Go, it is the sending. At the end of every mass we are sent outside the doors, into the world. The celebrant says, “The mass is ended. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord”. We are sent into this togetherness, to reduce this competition. We the laity, are sent to be pastoral, to be shepherd to them who need direction. We respond, “Thanks be to God”. We make a promise, we say “yes, I will go”. This is a good time for musing. Which of these two sons am I?

The Church has a hierarchy, which itself is not bad. But we the lay can do more so that it does not remain too clerical. Go, we are sent, the church is outside its doors. The lay faithful are called to rise, and to serve in today’s world where there is now a wide chasm between seeker and church because personal issues are getting more complex and church teachings alone cannot bridge this chasm. Knowledge and information no longer have the same authority without testimonies of personal encounters of the Gospel. Go, we are sent, to authenticate the Gospel.

Even without this pandemic, we have already been suffering a poverty of faith. Around us are many seekers sending out an s.o.s for direction. We the laity are placed in this vineyard to pick up such calls. We did say yes, did we not, or did we mean no?

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Always employable

During the initial days of the lockdown, I would walk the 5 km from work to home as a form of prayer. Shops and cafes were all shuttered, roads quiet. I needed my prayer to take a physical form, to be doing a sacrifice by discomforting myself. One day the sight of the long line of motorcycle taxis with their drivers standing idly by jolted my spiritual consciousness. Would not my prayer be more effective if I rode home in comfort which will provide for the driver to be employed?

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways not your ways”. (Today’s First Reading)

I have always worked a long time with my employers. I fill myself with envy every time I see a new hire coming in with higher wages and better benefits. Loyalty doesn’t pay. But the thoughts of this world can throw us spiritually off-guard. The one denarius in today’s Gospel buys us a new way in which we must think.

“They took it but grumbled at the landowner. “The men who came last” they said “have done only one hour, and you have treated them the same as us, though we have done a heavy day’s work in all the heat.” He answered one of them and said, “My friend, I am not being unjust to you; did we not agree on one denarius?”

A wife worked 25 years on their spiritual lives before seeing her husband baptized. A father toiled 30 years by example before his son re-embraced the faith and return to Church. A person who seem not to have don’t anything kind and right in life ask to be baptized on his death bed stealing the glory of heaven with his last breath. In the ways and thoughts of God, there is no envy, only true love.

The landowner goes out every hour to hire workers for his vineyard. This is the love of God that constantly searches for us even till the eleventh hour. The ways and thoughts of this world will always cause us to stumble in our spiritual lives. “Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why be envious because I am generous?” The way of God always gives us the opportunities to return to him despite our numerous stumbles. In this sense, we are always employable in today’s Gospel context, the one denarius always available to any one of us.

Being “always employable” allows us the opportunities to encounter the ways and thoughts of God. His ways generous, ours envious. In life, as long as we are alive, God does not judge or condemn us, unlike how we judge one another. Like the idle taxi drivers waiting to be gainfully employed, we spiritually stand in the courtyard of today’s Gospel waiting for God the landowner to employ us. When we make ourselves available at daybreak, we are prepared to be like St Paul, spiritually conscious, intentionally working in the vineyard, in the fields of mission to make God’s way known.

“I am caught in this dilemma: I want to be gone and be with Christ, which would be very much the better, but for me to stay alive in this body is a more urgent need for your sake. Avoid anything in your everyday lives that would be unworthy of the gospel of Christ.” (Second Reading)

Sometimes it is not always about being discomforted. As you complete your ride in the airconditioned comfort of a taxi, you add on an extra above the metered fare. A few baht, not much out of your pocket. But to the driver, he just encountered the mercy of God through your action. So we must remain employed.  

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Satisfaction of revenge

Revenge, we think, is satisfying. We cannot help crawling towards it like an ant towards sugar. When we are wronged and life suddenly changes for the worse, we are understandably angry. Very few can forgive immediately. We want to remain angry perhaps to justify ourselves. Allowing anger to fester is like ignoring the corrosive effect of rust. It takes its time to destroy you.

“Mere creature of flesh, he cherishes resentment” (Today’s First Reading)

A festering anger breeds resentment. We cherish resentment because it is somewhat sweet, like a baby given a sweet before an injection. Like a baby we can become dependent on a pacifier which resentment can be. Unable to let go and unable to find satisfaction, we crawl deeper towards revenge. For most of us, revenge will remain a fixation of the mind. But that is enough to harm our spiritual life.

Revenge is like running but no more than running on the spot. When opportunities arise, we take slingshots at the reputations of those who hurt us. We devilishly desire to climb out of the hole they threw us into and do better than them.  We fantasize one day meeting them to have one last kick at their groin before we can say we forgive. Revenge is like running on the spot, desperation leading to fury, our feet digging the ground below sinking ourselves into bitterness.

“Alive or dead, we belong to the Lord” (Second Reading)

Christ has come to lead us into the fullness of life. This fullness is satisfying. It gives us peace amidst any turmoil. Fullness of life erases all traces of resentment, deflates the fantasy of revenge, and heal the corrosive hurt of bitterness. Fullness of life can only be attained when we start to forgive. Forgiveness has the immediate pain of an injection, and we will cry like a baby trying to reject it.

“Peter went up to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.” (Gospel)

Most times, we don’t want to forgive, not that we cannot. Often, this is because we are still waiting for the sweet of revenge. But for those who succeeded in exacting revenge, even they will tell us that the sweetness does not last. It does not bring the peace that we ultimately seek. It does little to satisfy and fill our life.

The mist of anger leads to the fog of bitterness. We have all experience many nasty turns in life, but each turn has led us to be who we are or who we can be today. Sometimes we refuse to acknowledge that we are in a better place because of what others have done to us. We are still bitter towards our ex-employer for firing us unjustly, but we are in a happier state today because of that. We are still bitter over our ex- 20 years on, but will we give up our happy family today to marry her?

Bitterness has a hold on us and only forgiveness can release us from its grip.

We are mere creatures and we crave for satisfaction. Today, erase the fantasies of revenge and make the decision to forgive, and we will begin to taste the sweetness of the fullness of life; a fullness that truly satisfy.

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Knocking on closed doors

Our workplace seems to be an area where we have acceptable conflict. Our values are pushed aside for the sake of work success. The message of Christian love is left at the door of our offices. Inside the office when conflict arise, we engage in bare-knuckled blows to each other’s reputations. There is a marked difference between being a friend or a colleague.

“If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother.” (Today’s Gospel)

Being a Christian, we have a personal obligation to not hurt our neighbour. This obligation is not passive or self-guarding. When we confess our sins, we also confess for what we have failed to do. One of our most common failures is to fail to love our neighbours when we go about our worldly affairs. Love is the action of evangelisation. Love is proof of Christian faith.

In the early days of this pandemic, we hear the rallying cries that “we are in this together” and that “humanity is one”. Imagine if there was mutual love for one another; this love would have been the vaccine against all the sufferings from this virus. These rallying cries are less audible now because in truth, we have found it difficult to love one another.

“Avoid getting into debt, except the debt of mutual love. If you love your fellow men you have carried out your obligations.” (Second Reading)

When we were baptised, we became a privileged child of God. A parent owes unconditional love to a child. God knows that a child cannot survive without love. But love can only survive if it is mutual. When we were baptised, the seed of evangelisation was planted in us. Evangelisation is our obligation. When we were baptised, talents were invested in us, not for keeping under our pillows but for us to invest to help our neighbours from hurting.

This pandemic has closed the doors of our churches, leaving us a message. In the struggles of these extraordinary times, the church is much needed outside its buildings. “We must look out for one another” is another rallying cry of this pandemic. There are many out there struggling with material needs but there also are many struggling with spiritual needs. It is our obligation to help in both. As the doors of the churches are closed, we are let loose to evangelise.

One area is to realise that our congregation is no longer the same. In this pandemic, some who have not been part of church are returning after many years, seeking, and searching. While some who have been an ever present may decide not to come back having lost grip of what has been church to them – a Sunday obligation. These ins and outs have changed the composition and needs of our congregation, and this is knocking on those closed doors.

Friends, colleagues, and strangers are alike; we are all neighbours. These knocks say to us that we must be church to them, a church alive in every area. There are no acceptable conflicts particularly now in this pandemic.

“If I say to a wicked man: Wicked wretch, you are to die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked man to renounce his ways, then he shall die for his sin, but I will hold you responsible for his death.” (First Reading)

Knocking on closed doors

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time