2nd Sunday in Ordinary Times
Isaiah 49:3,5-6; 1 Cor. 1:1-3; Jn 1:29-34
Purpose of Life – Do we know what this is?

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

As we begin the second week of this year 2017, I think it is good to ask ourselves and ponder on this very basic and very important question, “Do I know the purpose of my life, and therefore how to live meaningfully this year 2017?  In other words, “Am I aware that God has created you and I, and indeed every human being, to serve Him and glorify Him as our purpose in our life?  This may sound strange to some of us, as we may be thinking that the purpose of our life, is to live a “happy and fulfilling” life?! 

Yes, certainly, while this is true, our Readings today want to remind us is that “happiness and fulfilment” in life can only be experienced if we do not forget God in the way we live daily.  In today’s First Reading, Prophet Isaiah says, “The Lord said to me, You are my servant, Israel, in whom I shall be glorified; I was honoured in the eyes of the Lord, and my God is my strength . . . for He formed me in the womb to be His servant”.  And in response to this, our Psalm says, “Here I am, Lord!  I come to do Your Will.”  In short, the purpose of our life is to live a happy and fulfilling life by doing God’s Will daily through serving and glorifying Him in how we live.

There is a story of Brad Dowling whose face and whole body are covered in boils.  Brad is suffering from neurofibromatosis.  This is a genetic disorder that causes thousands of tumours to grow on nerve tissues; sometimes internally, and at other times on the skin where they result in severe disfigurement. 

However, in spite of his disfigured appearance Brad continues to serve in the children's ministry at Hillsong Church in Australia.  Brad who has been serving for over 20 years shares "Once you start letting something get to you, youwill stop doing what you're actually supposed to be doing."  He adds, "I definitely wouldn'tbe doing the same things I'm doing now had I not met Christ . . . it is Christ power in my life that drives me on in my service.  And so, if God is calling you to do something for Him, then you must do it.” 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, as mentioned earlier, even as many of us know that God is calling you and I to serve and glorify Him daily, we have the tendency to tell ourselves, “Well, I am not ready, or I am not gifted enough or I am too busy with my work and family commitments.”  If we have such tendencies, then what about Brad Dowling?  Are our challenges to serve God greater than what Brad has to face? 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, Brad could easily have withdrawn into himself in self-pity and get angry with God for his illness, and sink into a depression that allow the darkness of his pain and shame to destroy his life.  However, instead of isolating himself from the world, Brad has been able to face all his painful challenges and go beyond his physically disfigured face and body and serve the needs of children for the past more than 20 years.  And the reason why he is able to do this is because, he says, he is able to draw strength from God.

It seems to me that, even as the Holy Spirit touches us in different ways, like when we hear of an inspiring and challenging hmily, we seem to be touched only for those brief moments and then we very quickly turn our thoughts to other things and concerns in our lives after Mass . . . And in doing so, unlike John the Baptist, in our Gospel today, who is very focused on living God’s Will in his life, we on the contrary are frequently turning away from the Holy Spirit’s promptings . . . and continuing to live as we always live daily, without challenging ourselves firmly enough to live in the way that God wants us to live, which is to serve and glorify him.  And if what I am saying is happening to us, then it is no wonder that we have not grown closer to God over the many years of our lives as a Catholic.

There was once a rich man who got upset and said to his priest, “Why is it that people call me stingy when they all know that when I die, I will give all my wealth to charity and the church?!  The priest paused for a few moments and then answered, “Perhaps it may help if I tell you the story of the fable, of the conversation between the pig and the cow.

The pig began by saying, “Life is so unfair.  As a pig, I am always so unpopular; they think I am dirty, fat and even lazy, and people always call me all kinds of names that hurt me.  What am I to do?  My owners and bosses give me a sty to live in; they rarely think of washing the sty or bathing me, and they feed me with leftover food that people throw away.  What do you expect me to do?  I am born a pig and not a pet puppy where the owners would bring them out for walks, bath and groom them and even allow them to sleep in the comforts of their rooms?!  And as for you, people not only give you great respects, in some countries, you can wander in the streets with great dignity, and they even revere you as a sacred animal.  Yes, granted that you give these people milk daily, but what about me?!  I too give them every part of me; I give them bacon and ham, they pickle my feet and even use my bristles for brushes?!  Why are people so ungrateful?

To all of these, the cow, listening with patience and with wisdom answered, “I understand where you are coming from, but I suppose the big difference between you and me is that I share my gifts of milk generously and daily while I am still alive, but you give yourself only after you die!”  

My sisters and brothers in Christ, in today’s Gospel of St John, that we just heard proclaimed, John the Baptist urges all his followers to live their lives to the full by following Jesus.  He proclaims, “Look, there is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.”  John being gifted with great eloquence, popularity and respect could have fallen into the temptations of glorifying himself instead of Jesus.  If he had done so, he would then have forgotten his true mission in life, of serving and glorifying God /through leading all his followers to Jesus. 

And so, instead of falling into such temptations, John in his great humility and deep commitment chose to serve God passionately and at all costs.  For such a commitment, we know that John courageously exposed King Herod by telling him that he is living adulterously with his brother’s wife, Herodias.  And, in so doing, he suffered the consequences; and at the promptings of Herodias, he was beheaded. 

As I conclude, let us recall that Prophet Isaiah is today, reminding you and I that God has created us to serve Him and glorify Him in what we do and how we live daily.  And that when God calls us, we are to respond wholeheartedly, regardless of the price we are to pay.  Brad Dowling in our true story and John the Baptist in our Gospel were both able to live the fullness of their lives, because they had the wisdom to rely on God’s strength instead of their own strength, when they faced the challenges of wanting to live the true purpose of their lives. 

On the contrary, the rich man in the story, likened to the pigs in the fable, wanted to attain happiness and fulfilment in his life by trying to love God by giving Him secondary importance and a half-hearted commitment.  And in the end, finding life to be empty, miserable and meaningless. 

And so, my brothers and sisters in Christ, as we know the Truth of the Good News of Salvation that Jesus proclaims, let us pray for the wisdom to live the happy and fulfilling life with greater sincerity and creative fidelity to God; knowing that with His strength, nothing is impossible.

(Ref: Adapted from: www.christianpost.com/buzzvine/inspiring-story-of-a-severely-disfigured-man-who-wont-stop-serving-the-lord)


Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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