6th Sunday in Easter
Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; 1 Peter 3:15-18; Gospel of John 14:15-21
Are we Humble enough to know we have Pride?

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of the Good Shepherd - Singapore, on 21st May 2017

In today’s Gospel of John chapter 14, that we just heard proclaimed, Jesus in v. 15 says to His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my Commandments . . .”  And then, in v. 21 Jesus adds, “Anybody who receives My Commandments and keeps them will be one who loves Me.” 

As we are gathered here in this Eucharistic celebration, as believers and disciples of Jesus, you and I know that these statements of Jesus to His disciples are true, and that they also apply to all of us, without any exceptions.  However, You and I also know that, it is one think to believe that what Jesus says is true, and it is quite another when it comes to putting what we believe into practice. 

A good and basic question that we fail to reflect on, but frequently experience as a reality of our daily living is, “Why is it so difficult for us to love Jesus and obey His Commandments, as God Wills of us?”  Why is loving Jesus so difficult, when we all know and believe that He had suffered so much and even died for us, so that He can then open the gates of Heaven for us to receive the gift of Eternal Life?

My brothers and sisters in Christ, yes to love God and to obey His Commandments is a common challenge that all of us and indeed all of humanity face, since Adam and Eve.  As a consolation, we know that even St Paul admits of this inner struggle in his letter to the Christian community in Rome.  He says, “I cannot understand my own behaviour . . . for though the will to do what is good is in me, the performance is not, with the result that instead of doing the good things I want to do, I carry out the sinful things I do not want.”  (Rom. 7: 15-16, 18b-19). 

Take the cases of these true stories that I have come across; the names I will use are not their real names.  James a non-Catholic was due for a bypass of his arteries; one was 95% blocked and another 85%, and if I am not mistaken a third had some 75% blockage.  To make a long story short, James’ wife asked me to bless James before his operation.  Before I blessed James, I asked him, “James, your wife has asked me to bless you and pray for you as you are going for a serious operation tomorrow.  Do u wish that I pray and bless you?  “Yes, certainly” James immediately responded.”  So, I prayed over and blessed James, and at the end of the prayer, James’ wife rubbed some holy water from Lourdes on James’ chest. 

Several days later, James’ wife called me and said that to the doctors were utterly surprised when in an X-ray before the operation, all of James’ arteries were found to be clear.  And when the doctors asked James, what had happened?  He simply replied, “Well, the only thing I know is that a priest came and prayed over me last night.”  James told his wife, “Fr Heng, saved me $25,000 for the operation and also my life.”  I replied, “No, Fr Heng did not save your husband’s life.  It is Jesus who saved his life.”  In spite of his wife’s urgings, as far as I know, up till today, James is still not Baptised.  He seems to continue to be resistant towards receiving the gift of faith to become a Catholic.  Is James waiting for a heart attack or another scare on his life before he accepts the gift of faith?  

Why is James resisting Jesus?  We shall not judge James, because for many of us, we are not too different from James.  If we reflect more deeply on our lives, we will realise that even as we have received the gift of faith, we too continue in so many ways daily, to resist Jesus.  We continue to allow our pride to come in the way of listening to the Holy Spirit in our hearts, and as such we continue to reject God’s Will and ways of urging us to love Jesus more fully.

My sisters and brothers in Christ, when we allow our pride to lead us into justifying our behaviour and, as St Paul says, “. . . instead of doing the good things I want to do, I carry out the sinful things I do not want,” we know very well that although we may sound convincing in our justifications and excuses of our uncharitable behaviours and self-centred attitudes, in doing so, we have never found find peace in our hearts.  We may put up strong arguments, respond arrogantly or and even threaten the weak with power and anger, but in the end, the Truth is that we will only find peace in our hearts, if we strive to be more like Jesus, in the way we live, and relate to others.

As such, my brothers and sisters in Christ, like St Paul, as we experience the inner battle within us, let us first be humble enough to admit that this “inner struggle and battle” of seeing the good and yet, somehow still choosing to sin, is actually happening in our daily living.  And so, let us not deny its truth and reality.  In other words, what is worst in our lives, is to continue to choose to justify our sinful behaviour and still think that we are right.  Such refusal and obstinate behaviour is what we call the sin of pride.  And pride, St Ignatius of Loyola, in his Spiritual Exercises, tells us is our refusal to be open to the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us in the way we live.  And, as such, if we continue to reject the Holy Spirit, and justify our sinful behaviour, as St Paul admits, then our pride will feed the other sins that are within us; and this in turn will attract other sins and vices. 

One of the big differences between St Paul and us, is that he has gone on to become one of the greatest saints and evangelist in the history of the Church, while many of us have not grown in our spiritual lives in as much as God would have Willed for us. 

An example of obedience to the Holy Spirit, amidst our challenges in life is the true story of Jane who is married to Jack for more than 25 years.  For the past several years, Jane has been going through much pain and trials in her family.  Jack has found a foreign China mistress, and living with her in a new house.  Meanwhile, Jack is keeping all his millions to himself; have a hold on his children as he has all the money to support them.  He spends lavishly on his new found mistress, and wants a divorce from Jane.  However, Jane as a good Catholic, refuses to give in to her husband’s demands, as it is against her faith. 

Jane tells me, “Father, I feel so tempted to be divorced from my husband, but I know that my children need both parents to grow up, normally and wholesomely.  I can see that they are already very hurt and confused in their lives.  I feel so sad for them, because I love them very much.  Daily, I can only live in the hope that my husband would one day see the truth and we be united again as a family.  Meanwhile, I daily pray for strength and know and believe that Jesus is there for me and my children. 

As, I conclude, let us be reminded once again of what Jesus in today’s Gospel is saying to us.  He says, “If you love me, you will keep My Commandments.  I shall ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you for ever, that Spirit of Truth whom the world can never receive, since it neither sees nor knows Him; but, you know Him, because He is with you; He is in you.” 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, as we like St Paul experience an inner battle within us of “seeing the good and yet, somehow choosing to sin,” let us be mindful that, with God’s graces, we can only overcome our pride with the virtue of humility.  And humility is the willingness to see that we are each weak and sinful, and that we can only choose to love Jesus wholeheartedly, if and only if, we allow the Light of the Holy Spirit to pierce through our hardened hearts, disarm our resistances, and empower us with the strength and courage to persevere, like Jane, to love Jesus unconditionally, in spite of the pain, trials and challenges of our lives. 

In doing so, we are assured that we will always have the Peace of Christ; but if we choose not to do so, then we all know from our experiences, that this will surely bring anxieties, miseries and emptiness in our lives.  Which do you think is God’s Will for you and for me?  Is it choosing to love Jesus through obeying His Commandments, or is it to resist the Spirit through our pride?

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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