14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 66:10-14; Galatians 6: 14-18; Gospel Luke 10:1`-12.17-20
Peace, amidst Suffering

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Joseph, Victoria Street – Singapore
on 3 July 2016

In today’s Gospel that we just heard proclaimed, the key related aspects that we could reflect on is, First, Jesus is reminding us that, we should all rejoice because our “names are written in heaven.”  Secondly, there is a great harvest of people in the world that is longing for the “Peace” that Jesus wants to give everyone. 

Before I enter into our reflection on today’s Gospel, we could perhaps first ask ourselves the question, “Have we been rejoicing each day, because we are so blessed to have our ‘names written in heaven’ or are we allowing the hectic living and demands of the secular world to steal this divine “Peace” that God wants to give us daily? 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, “What does it mean to live a life that is filled with Joy because ‘our names are written in heaven’?”  Just in case you may be thinking that I am speaking about an abstract Truth that is far and removed from our daily living.  I would like to assure you that this Truth is meant to be very much part of our daily living and more so when we have to face the trials of life.

Two weeks ago, Christopher Minjoot, a friend and parishioner of St Ignatius Church died at the age of 46.  I have permission from his wife to share about Chris.  Some years ago, Chris shared with me, “After graduating from university, I spent 16 years working in a Finance sector.  I had become a senior vice-president in my firm before I was 32 years old.  My pay went up every year, and my bonuses started to become obscene towards the end of my career.  At that stage, I was at best a “Sunday Catholic”, although I served in the Rotary Club and volunteered in my son’s school PTA. 

In 2005, I discovered I had colorectal cancer.  The news was earth shattering for me.  To make a long story short - the surgeons removed about 20 cm of my affected colon.  Soon after that I went back to work and plunged myself into it.   Although there was always time for family, there was not much time for exercise, and not much time for church . . .

Four years later, in June 2009, I deservedly got my second wake-up call.  My oncologist told me that the mean life-expectancy for recurrent cancer patients was 30 months. I endured 6 straight months of treatment and suffered all the side effects.  Soon after that, I did what a lot of ignorant people would do; I went back to work!

However, at my wife’s promptings, I decided to go to Lourdes.  When I dipped myself in the bath at the Lourdes grotto, (where thousands of other pilgrims do), I was immediately filled with deep peace; it was like a 1,000 times the peace that you receive after going for a good Confession; all my burdens in life immediately dissipated; it was clearly a miracle for me.

Several months later, I decided to stop working.  I told myself, with God on my side, I will be healed!  However, in November 2011, a blood test showed otherwise.  My cancer markers had shot up and the cancer had metastasized (meaning.  I was in a state of shock.  My faith was shaken.  Why me God?  Haven’t I been good?  I no longer prayed and I stopped going to Church.  My wife kept prompting me to reach for God, but I ignored her.  I felt that God had deserted me.  This went on for over a month.  Then, miraculously, God showed me another sign.  In a contemplative moment, God said to me, “Have I ever let you down in your times of trouble?”  This was my eureka moment – a moment that finally made sense of my life after all these years.  I began to realise that God truly loves me!

As I do not have the time in this homily to share the many details about Chris’ life, I would like to share the farewell message that he wrote to his family and friends to be read by his son, at his Funeral Mass because it reveals much what Chris’ life was about.”  This is and extract what Chris wrote.

“My Dear Brothers-and-Sisters in Christ, I have lived a blessed life.  A life filled with much love, friendship, happiness, joy and peace.  Much more than I could have imagined, or asked for, nor ever deserved.

I’ve been truly blessed to have wonderful parents, a loving family growing up, a wife who deeply loved and cherished me, and three wonderful and beautiful boys. And even though I may have suffered with cancer for many years – I was never unhappy – because I always felt truly loved, by my family and friends, and by God.

Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your lives.  And thank you for all your prayers.  My “extra” time on Earth has given me the opportunity to truly seek and find God, (and also serve Him more fully) with and through you.  To grow in faith, and to grow in love.  For this, I will be eternally grateful.

Be well and be happy.  Always choose to Love.  And trust in God’s Mercy.  See you again in Heaven.”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, Chris’ life illustrates the message of today’s Gospel very well.  First, through the crises of his cancer, Chris learnt that God never let him down and was always there for him; more so during his painful illness.  Chris in particular said, “Even though I may have suffered with cancer for many years – I was never unhappy – because I always felt truly loved by my family, and friends and by God. 

Second, in spite of the many times Chris stopped going to Church and pushed God away, God remained patient and forgiving, and tried in many ways, especially though his good wife, ‘to draw him back to Him. 
Third, in all these challenges that Chris encountered, what always gave him strength and deep peace, was his firm faith that he will return to his heavenly home.  Indeed, as in Jesus’ words of today’s Gospel, Chris was sure that “his name was written in heaven”. 

My sisters and brothers, together with our government recent statistics and our recent archdiocesan survey of the number of Catholics not attending weekend Masses is as high as 65%.  And this makes up about 250,000 Catholics.  Jesus in today’s Gospel urges you and I to do something about this for He says, “The harvest is rich, but the labourers are few.” 

In other words, there are some 250,000 Catholics who was like Chris before his conversion; when he used to push God into the background of his life, but when his good wife continued to urge him to renew his faith and return to the Church, he eventually returned.  

So, in other words, God is inviting all of us to “become” His active labourers in His vineyard to urge these 250,000 Catholics to return to the Church.  Indeed, the “harvest is rich, but the “labourers” are few.”  I have no doubts that all these people are each longing to live a more meaningful and fulfilling life; a life that is filled with the divine “Peace” that God wants to give them . . . This is affirmed by Jesus when He sent His seventy-two disciples, to proclaim the Good News of Salvation to all peoples, when He said, “Whatever house you go into, let your first words be, ‘Peace to this house!’ 

Finally, let me add that, “Peace” in the Bible is more than the absence of conflict or war: it is about living a life of completeness, well-being and our right relationship with God.  Sacred Scripture assures us that when we enjoy such peace (Rom.5:1) we will be able to overcome the trials, temptations and threats of the secular world.  Chris has witness to us that this is possible, and it is for that reason that even though he was going through a very trying and painful illness, he always had a beautiful smile . . . and as such, many people did not realise how very sick he was. 

When we have Jesus as our first and deepest love, we too as Jesus promised, are assured that “our names are written in heaven” and indeed we shall rejoice and we too will wear the beautiful smile of faith in Jesus like Chris . . . and also have the strength, wisdom and power to bring the “Peace of the Gospel” to all peoples daily.

Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.

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