Fourth Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 7:10-14; Rom. 1:1-7; Matthew 1: 18-24
God’s Will and Our Will – Which do we Choose?

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of the Good Shepherd - Singapore, on 18 December 2016

In today’s Gospel account, we all know that both Mary and Joseph’s Obedience to God’s Will were essential to the Birth of Jesus, the Infant Messiah.  However, we also know that in their obedience, they also accepted the many painful challenges that came their way. Today, as we hear the Gospel proclaimed, the Holy Spirit is also urging you and I, like Mary and Joseph also to be obedient to God’s Will in the challenges of our daily living. 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, as we are on the last week of Advent, let us be reminded that the lives of Mary, Joseph and the Nativity of Jesus are all part of the glorious mystery of God’s Will to save us from all our sins.  In this glorious divine story, God wants each of us to cooperate with Him. 

However, we all know that to obey God’s Will is frequently filled with painful challenges.  Yet, we all know that not to follow God’s Will is literally to turn away from the true meaning of our lives and to rob ourselves from the deep peace and fulfilment that God wants to give all of us.
As many of us struggle between wanting to do God’s Will and our own will, I would like us to reflect on the true story of how Irene Barnes faced the many painful challenges of doing God’s Will and how its demands can also reflect the similar challenges that you and I may be facing when we try to be faithful in our obedience to God’s Will. 

So, this is what Irene has to share, which I will adapt for our needs within the short time available for us.  “Life was good and easy — maybe too easy. I had everything I could possibly want: my heavenly Father, my husband, my family and friends.  But God had plans to take me out of my comfort zone and to a place I never thought possible.  God made me part of His story.  And this story I am sharing is not about me, but about God, His love and His promises to us. It’s a story about obedience.

Each morning I look to God for forgiveness, submit my day into His care, and ask for clarity of His will for my life.  One morning, while waiting in silence for God to speak to me, I felt His presence come over me.  To my great surprise, I received a clear divine understanding of God impressing upon my heart to donate a kidney to my husband Wayne’s estranged brother, Steven.  He had been on the kidney transplant list for two years.  Steven had to endure dialysis for many hours a day to keep his mortal body alive.

“Why me?” I questioned.  How could God expect me to give up a vital organ to someone I really didn’t know? I could never be a match as I wasn’t related to Steven.  Besides, I was too weak. I could never go through with this.  I was sure this was just a dream made up in my head. So I ignored the message, but just for a brief moment.  I went back into prayer and asked God for confirmation.  If this was something that He wanted me to do, I needed to know His Will without any doubts. 

As I look back on what transpired, I knew it wasn’t something I could have done on my own. My selfish thoughts, fears, and worries would have prevented me from going ahead with the surgery. It would have been easy to come up with great excuses to quit when I encountered each hurdle throughout the ordeal.

But I couldn’t, and I didn’t. This was something God wanted of me and I had to do it at all costs.  Armed with my trust in God, I picked up the phone and spoke to Steven and his wife Linda telling them that I was willing to donate my kidney because of God.

For three months, I endured rigorous medical tests with positive results all the way through.  Two weeks later, I found myself in Toronto preparing for surgery and meeting Steven and Linda for the first time. Here I was, far from the comforts of home and our life in Edmonton. Wayne and I took time off work to go through with the surgery, not knowing how long we would be there. There was the expense of hotels, lost income, airfare, and more that would be incurred during our stay in Toronto. Moreover, there were doubts as to whether the transplant would even work.

The surgery went as scheduled and the transplant was a success. It was a great victory for Steven, which I was just thrilled about.  But for me, it was not as easy. There were complications and a lot of pain.

My recovery was difficult, but I kept my eyes on the Lord and recalled His promise to me: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:28).

Early one morning, as I lay in the hospital bed, feeling so sick, I just cried out to God.  I asked for Him to reveal Himself to me.  I wanted to feel His presence, His peace.  Lovingly, He answered my prayer. He came alive in my heart and His presence was real.

What an amazing sense of deep peace I felt! There are no possible words to describe it. God spoke words that were clear and calming enough to release me from my fears. He said, “You are not alone, you are never alone.  Who do you think is in control of your life?”

Yet, when we returned to Edmonton, as my struggles continued I began doubting God once again. I got caught up in feeling sorry for myself.   Hospitalized with complications, the plot kept changing.  In all these struggles, I forgot that all my pains and suffering were about God, and that I had told Steven that I am donating my kidney because of God.  In all my pain, I failed to see the transformation God was doing in my life.

As such, I’m ashamed to admit that during this time I felt angry, alone, insecure, and unworthy.I hated it and took my anger and frustration out on my husband Wayne — the one person I hold so dear and yet hurt so much. 

On my knees, I cried out to God, confessed my sins and my disobedience to Him. Immediately, I felt His love shine down on me.  Again I felt His indescribable peace — a peace I did not deserve. He is such a forgiving God!  He guided me to His words in Psalm 34: 18, “The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” 

As I Reflect on my journey, I ask myself, “Was it worth all the pain, frustration, and enormous financial costs?”  I have to say very honestly that, Yes!  It was all worth it.  This is because I came away with a deeper faith. My character has been strengthened. I now understand more clearly what St Paul’s Letter to the Romans mean, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

It was God in His Providence that guided me to go forward with the surgery, and provided the right people to make it happen. He protected me and gave me amazing strength and courage. He held my hand in the hospital when I needed Him. And He carried me when I was too weak to move on my own. He never forsook me, and for this I give Him all the praise!

You may feel like I was feeling — inadequate. You may see yourself as just a plain, insignificant nobody, just as I felt and just as Moses felt.  But in God’s eyes we are each very special to Him.  Each one of us has been created by Him.  We all have a purpose here on earth and are a part of God’s glorious story. . .

As I conclude, let us remind ourselves that the divine tapestry of Salvation is made up of millions and billions of people, and at different moments in the history of mankind, since Cain and Abel.  In today’s Gospel, we all know that Mary and Joseph, played a very significant and special part in God’s Glorious story of Salvation. 

There is much we can learn from Irene’s experiences.  Her resistances and struggles between choosing God’s Will and her own will were very understandable and human.  Yet, she knew in her heart of hearts, that God was calling her to make very painful sacrifices for the sake of Steven whom He loved.  And in doing God’s Will, Irene eventually concluded that she had no regrets, and that everything she and her husband went through were worthwhile, simply because God had wanted this for them and for Steven.  We find such similar experiences too in parents who love their children so very much.

If I reflect on my journey as a religious for the past 33 years and 23 years as a priest, I too must say that without doubts that all the challenges that I faced in being part of God’s glorious story is indeed worthwhile.  And so, as we continue to strive to be obedient to God’s Will, let us, like Irene, committed and loving parents, Mary and Joseph also be faithful to God’s Will, regardless of the challenges we will surely encounter. 

How is God’s Spirit urging you and I to be obedient to God’s Will here and now in our lives?  May we each have the wisdom to live and love as Jesus has shown us, and as our Loving Father Wills of us in the Holy Spirit.  This is so that being united to God, we will then bring the Peace, Joys and Truth to all the people that God has placed in our lives; and the world a brighter and better place to live in.

Ref: Adapted from: https://thelife.com/challenges/obedience-isnt-going-to-be-easy; by Irene Barnes)


Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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