New Year's Day Mass
Numbers 6:22-27; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21
Mary, Mother of God - A Christ-like Year

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of the Good Shepherd - Singapore, on 1st January 2017

The Straits Times editorial today explains how “as in other countries . . . cars become an extension of a person’s economic self and every impediment to travel appears to question the driver’s self-worth; the impersonal rules of the road becomes personal; there is a temptation to want to own the road as well.  An unhealthy obsession with getting one’s way on the road, wrongly if not rightly, can lead ultimately to the notion that might is right.  As such, “It would be better if Singapore drivers resolved to display that civility towards each other which is customary in a civilised society.  The New Year provides a renewed opportunity to do so.” 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, as we begin the first day of the New Year 2017, let us be mindful that as we are all gathered here for Mass, and not just any social event, we are certainly expecting to reflect on the deeper meaning of what life is about and how we can live this new year more fully according to God’s Will and Ways instead of merely reminding ourselves to treat each other more civilly.

In order to enter more deeply into the reality of our lives, we need to first ask ourselves the essential questions, “What is my purpose in life?”  Once we know why we live the way we live, then the meaning of our life will emerge . . . for example, if some one tells you, “My goal in life is to be the best footballer in the world,” we would know what occupies his mind and takes up most of his energy.  But, what if someone says, “My purpose in life is to be a successful businessman, become a millionaire and have as many wives and children as I can.  However, this same person is too lazy even to apply for a job.  The conclusion that we can reasonably draw about this person is that he is not serious or too immature in what he says, or is mentally unsound. 

The universal Catholic Church has chosen January 1st each year to be a celebration of the Feast of Mary, Mother of God.  Why is this so?  I would like to think that in the Wisdom of the Church, She would like to begin each “new year” with the announcement of “HOPE” to the world and the call to “HUMILITY” of believers.  Both of these essential qualities and virtues are found in Mary, the Mother of God.

When we ponder more deeply on the meaning of HOPE, we will realise how crucially important this is for the world we live in.  The suffering in the world is immense and global and all of these is caused by the sin of injustice that exploits, abuses and destroys lives, families, relationships, nations and the ecological Beauty that God had created for all peoples.  Economically and politically we are facing greater uncertainties; cultural diversities are creating more disunity than harmony; “Peace” agreements are fragile and terrorist threats are real and we can no longer assume that terrorists will not attack our nation; including our public places, and places of worship.

Such global climate have seeped into our hearts and homes; divorce rates have escalated, individuals have lost their sense of meaning and purpose in life; more alarmingly, due to the influences of the secular and materialistic world, most people are no longer clear about their true identity.

Our world is in a crises, families are crying out in helplessness and the innocent lives of children are decimated daily, and the poor, the refugees are all desperately hopeless.  Indeed, the Church wants to have an icon of HOPE in the person of “Mary, the Mother of God” to restore the “HOPE” that the world and all of us need in our daily living.

Mary is the icon of HOPE precisely because she is also the icon of HUMILITY for all believers in the Church.  In Her great HUMILITY, Mary surrendered Her whole self to God’s Will, so that God can do what He Wills with Her life. 

You and I are good people and we each desire, like Mary, to live in God’s Love and Ways.  However, it is important that we do not presume that we are doing and living according to God’s Will, until we reflect on the quality of our daily living and renew our desires to live God’s Will more seriously and deeply.  For this, I would like us to reflect on the “Prayer of Generosity” of St Ignatius because it gives us the main elements of what is demanded of us, if we are truly serious about God’s Will in our lives. 

In striving to live God’s Will, St Ignatius prays, “Lord, teach me to be generous.  Teach me to serve You as You deserve; to give and not to count the costs, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, and to labour and not to seek for reward; save that of knowing that I do Your most holy Will, Amen.

I would next like to comment briefly on each of the qualities that St Ignatius highlights that he considers as essential if we truly wish to live in God’s Will and Ways daily.  First, “Lord, teach me to be generous.”  Generosity, of heart is more than being gracious in giving abundantly what we own and possess.  To be “generous” in doing God’s Will is to be “Christ-like” in everything that we do and live.  In other words, if we want to do God’s Will, are we willing to give up our whole self and all that we have for God or are we often holding back and attached to the many things in life that we value?  If so, then we are not yet, fully desiring to do God’s Will.

Second, “Lord, teach me to SERVE You as You deserve.”  Serving God is more than doing.  While “serving” denounces the evil of injustice, through exploitation, abuse and destruction of relationships, families and lives, To serve is essentially a life that witnesses God’s Presence through our daily living.  And so, we should ask ourselves, “If we want to do God’s Will, do our lives draw people closer to God?  If not then, we are not yet fully living God’s Will daily.

Third, “Lord, to GIVE and not to count the costs.”  While this value denounces the evil of gratification, how many of us truly share the abundant Blessings that God has given us?  How many of us continue to justify and rationalise away our need to return to God and put to good use the “Blessings” that He has given us for the sake and good of the poor, needy and the Church, like the archdiocesan “GIFT” campaign that our archbishop has launched in order to build a vibrant Church?

Fourth, “to FIGHT and not to heed the wounds.”  This virtue of doing God’s Will is the virtue of Committed Love for God.  How many of us are willing to be compassionate and forgive the people who have caused us deep wounds and hurts, especially in our vocation in marriage and religious life?  How many of us are willing to “die to ourselves” in the Humility that Mary has shown, so that God’s Will can be realised through us?  How many of us can see the “bigger picture” of the good of the family and others, instead of over focusing on our own needs?  If not, then we are not living God’s Will as He wills of us.

Fifth, “to TOIL and not to seek for rest.”  This virtue of selfless giving our ourselves is to see how it is indeed an honour to be able to serve God’s Will instead of seeing it as a burden that move us to complain for the smallest inconvenience in our service?  I have come across many people in our church who so happy give up their time, energy and talents for the sake and good of the Church.  

Sixth, “to LABOUR” and not to seek for reward.”  This virtue is one of the biggest challenges for many who want to do God’s Will, but are also seeking after selfish gains and glory in the service.  Such attitudes and behaviour are clearly very secular, and never what it is if we want to serve God’s Will and in His Ways.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, time does not permit me to enter into a lengthier reflection on how we can live God’s Will more wholeheartedly . . . However, let us learn from Mary, our Mother.  Today’s Gospel tells us, “As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in Her Heart.” 

Yes, Mary constantly pondered on God’s Will and allowed God’s Truth and challenges to seep into her heart.  Her Humility was to ACCEPT God’s Will wholeheartedly and NEVER to allow any attachments in life to come in the way of God’s Will and Her Will.  What about us?  If our hearts are able to allow the Holy Spirit to help us seek God’s Will and if we were to respond “generously, in Christ-like ways, and if we are willing to SERVE, GIVE, FIGHT, TOIL, and LABOUR without giving excuses after excuses, then the world we live in, beginning with our families and our hearts will find the true HOPE that our Church on this Feast of Mary, Mother of God wants us to experience. 

But, if we turn away from this Gospel challenge, then we like many in the world can only add to the darkness and sin of this world that not only destroys the world but, eventually all relationships, families and everything we have on our planet earth.  Do we wish to beg God for the graces that Mary, the Mother of God had and lived so that at least this year 2017 will be a year of renewed HOPE for ourselves and our future?  The choice is ours.


Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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