23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom 9:13-18; Philemon 1:9-10.12-17; Gospel Luke 14:25-33
Fidelity – Am I Merciful?

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes – Singapore
on 4th September 2016

This morning, the front page of The New Paper that has a picture of a mother kissing her adult son on his cheek caught my attention.  The headline says, “His mum says, ‘As long as we support him, everything will be okay.’ ”  This story is about Foo Hou Jing, who is suffering from microcephaly; an illness which slows down a person’s learning abilities and mobility; basically the slowing down of the growth process of a person’s body.  Hou Jing’s mother Madam Sim Bee Hah says, “He looked like a normal baby, but his head kept shaking.  We were very upset and worried and brought him to a specialist at NUH when he was seven months old. 

When Hou Jing was diagnosed with the illness, his mother, had to make the painful decision to leave her factory job to take care of him, while his father, Mr Foo continued to provide for the family as a technician with an income of under $3,000 per month. 

Hou Jin and family - Photo taken from The New Paper, 4th Sept 2016

Hou Jing’s mother shares, “He has to do everything slowly, even when putting on his clothes.  I taught him how to put his right arm into the correct sleeve first, then slowly do the rest; otherwise he might wear the shirt the wrong way.  Hou Jing’s microcephaly illness is not obvious, and in public, people are quick at judging him as a normal person.  Once Hou Jing tripped someone, and immediately the person scolded him rudely.

In spite of Hou Jing’s learning disabilities and mobility issues, today, his favourite self-taught pastime is computer games.  In fact, Hou Jing has even participated in swimming and bowling competitions under the Special Olympics banner, and has many awards and certificates stashed in his home. 

Hou Jing is now 25 years old and has a brother How Wei who is three years older.  How Weil is a recent Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) graduate with a degree in accounting and finance.  He admits that, at first, he was ashamed of his brother.  He has to put up with people labelling his brother, “stupid” and “retarded.”  However, he says “I realise that I have an obligation to care for him in the future (when my parents are gone); he is my brother after all.  I don’t see him as a burden.” 

Hou Wei and Hou Jing - Photo taken from The New Paper, 4th September 2016

This story of Hou Jing’s family is a story of love and commitment that is rightly shown and shared within a family when there are overwhelming challenges.  The sacrifices of giving up a job, the pain of facing the public and the daily patience that love demands has not only given Hou Jing the dignity that is rightly his as a human person.  Clearly, without such affirming care and committed love, Hou Jing and his family would all be living in the darkness of despair and depression.  However, because of such love and care Hou Jing was able to face his illness with dignity and take up the challenges to go beyond the disabilities of his illness and even to compete and win in international sports events. 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, if all these describe the reality of what committed love ought to be within a family and between siblings, today’s Gospel challenges us to encounter the deeper truth of our “single-minded fidelity” and “unconditional commitment to God” that Jesus proclaimed to us.  Jesus wants us to bring the meaning of “fidelity to the Good News of Salvation” to a level that puts God as our highest goal and our only goal; where all our energy and focus in life should be channelled. 

It is in this sense, and not the literal sense that Jesus says to us today, “If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple.  Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me, cannot be My disciple . . . and indeed, none of you can be my disciple unless he gives up all his possessions.” 

My sisters and brothers in Christ, while what Jesus proclaims seem harsh and inhumane, if we understand today’s Gospel in the context of the eternal life of the Good News of His Kingdom, then it will actually sound reasonable.  If Bill Gates were to say to one of us, “I will give you 100 million dollars if you are willing to work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week to help me in my project to serve the needs of the poor, for the next ten years.”  Would it not sound reasonable?  How many of us would grab the offer? 

Today’s Gospel offer of Jesus is an even more radical and attractive.  Jesus says to us, that if we love Him and live His Father’s Will with fidelity and total commitment, then our reward would not be just be $100 million, but an eternal life of happiness, peace and glory with Him. 

Today, Blessed Mother Teresa of Kolkata is canonised as a saint in Rome by Pope Francis.  In an interview with Catholic News Service, Sr Mary Prema Pierick, the Superior General of the Missionaries of Charities shared that Mother Teresa, began her order in the 1940s, walking into the slums of Kolkata, having no convent walls to protect her.  "But it was her love for Jesus and love and compassion for the suffering of the poor that brought her to do what she did."

Mother Teresa is "an icon of mercy; even people who would have no faith would see the compassion and the mercy which Mother spread around her. She would not leave a suffering person without giving attention to them. On the contrary, she would go out to search for them and try to bring them to the realization that they are loved and they are appreciated." 

In Pope John Paul II’s homily during the Beatification of Blessed Mother Teresa, he said, “Mother Teresa's service to the poor, was the basis of her faith-filled conviction that in touching the broken bodies of the poor she was touching the body of Christ. It was to Jesus himself, hidden under the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor, that her service was directed. Mother Teresa highlights the deepest meaning of service -- an act of love done to the hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick, prisoners (cf. Matthew 25:34-36) is done to Jesus himself.

She wanted to be a sign of "God's love, God's presence, God's compassion" and so remind all the value and dignity of each of God's children, "created to love and be loved." Thus was Mother Teresa "bringing souls to God and God to souls". . .  

Pope John Paul added that, as "The Son of man came to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). Mother Teresa shared the passion of the Crucified One; they lasted fifty years of her life, except for the five weeks of spiritual consolations; the interior darkness were as piercing, which she accepted as a singular "gift and privilege.

In the darkest hours she would cling with greater tenacity to prayer before the Most Blessed Sacrament. This harsh spiritual suffering led her to identify herself ever more with those she served every day, experiencing pain and at times even rejection. She would love to repeat that the greatest poverty is that of being unwanted, of having no one who cares for you.

To this, Sr Mary, the Superior General shares, “The "darkness" became part of Mother Teresa's ministry; the grace that gave it power.  "It was part of her mission to the poorest of the poor, especially sinners who experienced their unwantedness and their rejection. Sharing their experience of darkness and of being away from God made her an instrument of grace for them," And she had great compassion for those who did not know God and did not experience the love of God for them."

Mother Teresa's spiritual pain was something she kept well-hidden from all except her spiritual directors. "In all things, Mother did not draw attention to herself but gave herself completely to others, forgetting about her own pain."  Her continuing prayer and work, even with the experience of God being so far away, "speaks about her faith, her faithfulness to the commitment she had taken and to the person to whom she was wed: Jesus."

While Mother Teresa began her order in the 1940s, walking into the slums of Kolkata, having no convent walls to protect her. And while most religious congregation are today experiencing a decline in their vocations world-wide, the Missionaries of Charity continue to increase in the number of sisters from 3,914 at the time of Mother Teresa's death to 5,161 as of Aug. 5 this year. The Missionary of Charity brothers too has grown by 53 to 416.  When Mother Teresa was alive, her order was working in 120 countries; today they are present in 139 nations.

And so, as I conclude, let me sum up by saying that when we hear of stories of deep love, care and commitment in a family like that of Hou Jing, we are touched and encouraged to do the same.  This is because God has created each human person with a heart that naturally wants to care and love each other. 
However, the purpose of bringing up such stories up is to highlight the reality that beyond such humane familial love, there is the Truth of the Divine Love in our hearts that God wants us to experience.  And for such Compassionate Love St Mother Teresa has shown us that, with God’s graces, this is possible if we dare to love God wholeheartedly, and make Him the most important love and only love in our lives . . . even though we are called by God to carry the “crosses” He wants us to carry, as He did for St Mother Teresa.

Finally, let us remind ourselves that the big difference between St Mother Teresa and us is that while we are easily discouraged and often mourn and groan when we face pain and trials in our lives, and even get angry and give up on God, St Mother Teresa, unlike us, was able to transform the great darkness and spiritual trials in her life, into experiences of empathy, and at “oneness” with the sufferings of the poorest of the poor who are marginalised and exploited and destroyed by the secular world. 

Indeed, it was her faith-filled conviction that in touching the broken bodies of the poor she was touching the body of Christ. It was to Jesus Himself, hidden under the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor, that her service was directed.  Likewise, Jesus is challenging you and I today, “Are we able to see Christ in others and love Him wholeheartedly in our daily living regardless of the crosses we are asked to carry, like Jesus?”


Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

Ref: (Adapted from, Catholic News Service, 26 August, 2016; by Cindy Wooden.)
(Adapted from “The New Paper, Sunday”; September 4, 2016 pg. 4-5, by Ng Jun Sen.)

(Adapted from St Pope John Paul II’s homily on the Beatification of Mother Teresa, Rome.)


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