Third Sunday in Advent: Gospel - Lk 3:10 - 18-6
The 'Joy' of Life through Challenges . . .

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of Our Lady of Lourdes - Singapore
on 13 December 2015

The Trials, tribulations and tragedies in life can bring out the worst in us.  This is because when we are ravaged by misfortunes, we would rather take the easy road out and wallow in the sullied pit of self-despair.   Sadly, many never get out of it because strangely, it seems more “comforting” to blanket ourselves with our deceptive reassurance of malaise.  However, thankfully, not everyone is like this.  Many have a fighting spirit that never backs down.  Jason Chee is one amongst many other such cases.

I believe we have all heard of the Singaporean, Jason Chee, who led the Singapore Table Tennis team to win the gold medal in our recent ASEAN Para Games Event. 

In December 2012, Jason who held the rank of Military Expert 2 in the Singapore Navy, lost both legs, his left arm and three fingers on his right hand in a ship accident.  He was caught between a motorised winch and a berthing rope while doing a routine check on board a warship and was fighting for his life. 

Within 6 months of his accident, Jason had regained his independence at home, and even started taking public transportation again.  Jason also rediscovered his adolescent love for table tennis.  He says, “It helps me remove negative thinking, to be positive and have self-esteem”.  Inspired by national players like Feng Tianwei and Li Jiawei, Jason was determined to achieve his dreams.  Jason too shares that, “Wearing the Singapore jersey means a lot to me. It’s my nation; I want to do my nation proud . . . win or lose, it doesn’t matter, to represent Singapore is already a win.”  Touched by the generosity of Singaporeans during his mishap, Jason says he too wants to blaze the sporting spirit and bring light to those trapped in the darkness of despair.

And so, on 5th December, some 8 days ago, with great joy, Jason Chee raised his right hand; his only hand and saluted the screaming crowd as he savoured an unforgettable night for para-table tennis in Singapore.  He said, "This is the greatest achievement of my sports career.  "I started to play table tennis on a wheelchair in June 2013 and wanted to get a gold medal for my life and my country. It was not an easy fight but I achieved that today. It feels awesome." 

Despite dazzling with his sporting excellence, Jason is also determined to continue his education, Chee wants to resume his UniSIM studies and obtain a degree in mathematics.  He says, “If I don’t give up, I will fulfil anything that I want”!

My brothers and sisters in Christ, I do not know whether Jason believes in Jesus or not, but we can see how the human spirit on its own can indeed overcome the great trials, tribulations and tragedies in life . . . if we do not give up and are determined to overcome them . . . instead of allowing them to overpower us.  The good news is that there is a deeper Truth in life and a greater power in our hearts. 
This is why, in today’s 3rd Week of Advent we celebrate the “Joy” of Advent; we celebrate the “Joy”of celebrating that we are not alone.  God is Coming into our lives through the Birth of His Son at Christmas.  God’s Divine Presence and Providence will give us the divine Power to overcome our trials, tribulations and tragedies in life and in the world. 

In today’s First Reading, Prophet Zephaniah proclaims, “Rejoice, exult . . . The Lord has driven your enemies away . . . have no fear . . . In response, our Psalm acclaims, “Truly, God is my salvation . . . I trust, I shall not fear, the Lord is my strength and my song . . . for He has done glorious deeds for us . . . Sing and shout for joy, for great in the midst is the Holy One of Israel.”  Furthermore, in today’s Second Reading, St Paul’s in his Letter to the community of Philippi by says, “I want you to be happy; always happy in the Lord . . . There is no need to worry; but if there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it with prayer and thanksgiving,and that ‘Peace of God’ which is much greater than we can understand, will guard your hearts and thoughts, in Christ Jesus.” 

My sisters and brothers in Christ, the life of Jason Chee that we heard is truly inspiring, and we salute him for his great determination and fight against the tendency to drift into self-pity and depression in face of the great trials, tribulations and tragedies of his life, in his accident.  However, let us not forget that the inspired Words of Sacred Scriptures that we just heard is infinitely deeper and more profound than any and all human inspirations.  The Word of God in Sacred Scriptures gives us divine hope and strength.  

Last week, I received a phone call from Alice (not her real name) asking me to visit her dying friend Julie (also not her real name); the doctors were discharging her from the hospital as there was nothing they could do to help her as her cancer was too advanced and have spread to widely. Alice told me that her friend Julie is not baptised and is open to the Catholic faith.  To make a long story short, I waited for Alice and more importantly for Julie’s family to arrive before I explained the Catholic faith to her.  Julie said that she has been to Mass once or twice before and wants to accept Jesus as her Lord and Saviour, and that if it is God’s Will that she recovers, she would be most happy, but if she is to die, I assured Julie that in our Catholic Faith, through Baptism all her sins of her past life would be forgiven and that she will go straight to heaven.  I also explained briefly our faith in God of the Trinity and the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  With great joy in my heart, in in front of her family, Julie accepted the faith and was Baptised.  She also received Jesus in Holy Communion together with the Sacrament of Confirmation and the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. 

Clearly, when these four Sacraments were administered, Julie was filled with deep peace and joy in her heart in spite of the critical condition she was in.  Julie took the name “Mary”, the Mother of Jesus.  Even as Julie, now “Mary” was Chinese speaking, she responded with deep conviction, the prayers that were said in English.  She constantly made the sign of the Cross. 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, to conclude, let us remember that while Jason Chee’s story of human determination and will to go beyond the tragedies of his life is very inspiring and he deserves great public praise and recognition for having great positive attitudes of life, Julie’s conversion story to go beyond her critical illness to accept Jesus as her Saviour and Lord is infinitely more profound. 

Finally, we must remember that in today’s Gospel, the crowds, the public sinners like tax collectors and the soldiers all asked John the Baptist, “What must I do to change and experience a conversion of heart in my life?”  John the Baptist urged them to live a life of honesty and integrity, have great respect for others and share generously what you have and possess especially to those who are poor and needy, and most importantly accept the Messiah who is to Come.  John the Baptist says, “He is someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of His sandals.  He will Baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.   In other words, accept Jesus, as the Saviour and Lord, more wholeheartedly, as Julie, now Baptised as Mary did.  If we do this, our trials, tribulations and tragedies in life will be transformed into great “Joy” and “Peace” of Christ . . . This is the divine gift that God wants to give you and me during this 3 week of the Advent season. 

Will our hearts be willing to accept Jesus, the Messiah more wholeheartedly?  If our hearts are willing, then, we will surely experience the “Jesus’ Baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire”.  We will have the divine strength and renewed hope to live the life that Jesus wants us to live.  

Adapted from:

Yahoo News, 12 January, 2014; My Paper, 8 Jan 2014; Safra’s Website 26 Feb, 2014, The Straits Times 6 Dec. 2015 and http://thesmartlocal.com/read/sg-inspiring-stories#sthash.HXKNoOgj.dpuf

Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.

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