12th Sunday in Ordinary Times
Jeremiah 20;10-13; Romans 5:12-15; Gospel of Matthew 10:26-33
Sufferings?  Suicide?  God is Always there for us!

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of the Good Shepherd - Singapore, on 25th June 2017

I would like to begin my homily by asking us to ponder on what Jane, a hypothetical person has to share about her relationship with God.  She says, “I thank God daily for answering all my prayers and needs in life.  Every time I need something or have a problem and pray to God, God immediately answers my prayers and all my problems are resolved.  Even when I have financial or family problems or when someone is ill in the family, as soon as I ask God for my needs, they are answered immediately.  God is great and He truly loves me so much.”  

My brothers and sisters in Christ, “Do we all not envy Jane and her closeness to God?  Do we not also wish that God answer our prayers as promptly and as totally, each time we make a petition to Him?  Would we also not want to ask God, “God, You are our Father, but how is it that You answer Jane’s prayers and petitions so promptly and readily, and when I ask You for something; more so, when I am so desperate and down, You seem to take ages to answer my prayers?  And, quite often, You don’t even seem to be around to listen to what I have to say.  In fact, in my most desperate moments and when I need You most, You seem to be “Silent” most of the time?  Why is Jane so special?  What about me?!  Am I also not special to You? 

Have you come across someone like Jane before?  If so, I don’t Jane would be make a good friend.  In all that Jane is sharing, she is not telling you the full story of what is happening in her life.  The point here is not that God loves Jane more than us, but that the God that Jane describes is too simplistic to be true.  The truth is that, Jane is actually, not telling you about the God in her life.  Instead, she is telling you a fairy tale of “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp”, where each time Aladdin needs something, all he has to do is to rub the lamp, and a great muscular genie will appear in his turban, and with his customary arms folded, he would bow deeply and say, “Master, what can I do for you . . . your wish is my command.”  Aladdin, the owner of the lamp can then make whatever wishes, and they will be granted instantly.  Do we all not wish that we own such lamp? 

My sisters and brothers in Christ, fairy tales like this are like someone trying to tell us, “Married life is a wonderful life; my husband and I and together with our children have no problems at all.  Every day we have great fun together and we have nothing to worry about; it can’t get any better.”  Those of you who are married know that such statements about the married life, is closer to fairy tales than to the harsh realities and challenges of what a married vocation is about. 

However, unfortunately, many Christians think and hope that God is like the genie in Aladdin’s lamp.  He is there to solve all our problems, remove all obstacles and sufferings that we have in our lives.  Actually, to have such wishful thinking and fantasies about God are very understandable, especially when we are experiencing great trials and sufferings in our lives, and when there does not seem to be any end to our problems or hope or light at the end of the tunnel.

Two weeks ago, someone, let us call her Julie (not her real name), shared with me, and I have her permission to share her story with you.  Julie said, “Father, my life had been a great suffering.  My husband left me for another woman after 12 years of our marriage.  I had to work very hard to bring up my two children; my small business was getting from bad to worse, and I had at times even have to take on two jobs, in order to provide for my children.  Bringing them up was so stressful and painful.  In spite of this; to make a long story short, when my children grew up, one of my daughters threw me out of my own home.  I then had to look for another place to live with my second child.  The trials of life was so overwhelming that when I told my daughter that I would commit suicide to show her how much pain she is causing me, she remained determined, with her husband, to throw me out of the house.  I had attempted suicide three times; when the police came, I was even handcuffed, because they told me that it is a crime to take one’s life.

Looking back on my life, I can only say that it is simply by God’s Mercy and grace that I am still alive today.  In the darkest moments and deepest pain, ending my life seemed the only way out of my problems; and jumping to my death seemed to be less painful than the traumas that I had to go through.  But actually, looking back, I knew in my heart of hearts that even during these moments, God had never abandoned me.  In fact, God was desperately trying to save me and pull me out of my deep depression and pain.  Actually, it was me who chose not to want to listen to Him.  It was me who chose to allow my deep pain and traumas to control and overwhelm me, rather than choosing to open my heart to Jesus’ Mercy and Compassion. 

As I was too weak and too deeply wounded to do the right thing, God used others to intervene and prevent me from taking my life, each of the three times I had wanted to end my life.  Today, and for the past several years, I have been attending Mass daily, and going before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament of the Adoration chapel to draw strength and be with Him.  Life continues to be filled many challenges, but I have learnt from all my trials and tribulations that God will never fail me, if we only entrust our whole life to Him. 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s Gospel, when Jesus instructed His Twelve Apostles before He commissioned them to proclaim the Good News, He said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul; fear him rather who can destroy both the body and the soul in hell.” 

A spiritual writer, Horace O. Duke explained; and to which I would also like to add my own thoughts, is that God is always within us; He is constantly calling us to a deeper faith, God is luring us to go on living, and to believe that there is always a deeper meaning in life; that is what is happening to us all the time.  And, when things happen or relationships are so divisive and painful, and when we do not have the strength and power to change them, in such desperate situations, be assured that God is not absent.  In fact, during such moments, all the power of the universe is at our disposal, through God, to rise above what we cannot change and feel overwhelmed by, we are all the more challenged to live through such trying times; give meaning to our experience,and find purpose in life in spite of or because of what is happening to us.

Horace adds, “We have lived too long with the wrong belief that God changes things.  We have made God into something God is not; we have made God into a fixer of things and the magic genie of Aladdin’s lamp.  In fact, God does not change things or circumstances and events.  However, God does change people.  We witness the Presence and Power of God, when a person’s spirit is changed and empowered to live with meaning and purpose, come what may. 
And so, as I conclude, my brothers and sisters in Christ, let us remind ourselves of the true story of Julie’s life of intense and excruciating sufferings, and utter helplessness. God in His Mercy, pulled her out of her three attempts to take her own life.  Even as she resisted God and wanted to end the traumas of her life, God’s Light and Providence somehow was still able to penetrate her heart to re-awaken her to God’s Mercy and Compassion for her, which she at one time of her life had experienced. 

In other words, “God does not magically remove sufferings from our lives.  Instead, He gives us the strength to bear our sufferings and to profit immensely and grow in maturity, through the trials and traumas of our lives.  In fact, God our Father too did not protect His own Son from suffering, but through suffering, He made His Son strong enough to save the world, through His Death and Resurrection. 

At the end of the day, Jesus is also saying to us, as He did to His Apostles, “Can you not buy two sparrows for a penny?  And yet, not one falls to the ground without your Father knowing.   Why, every hair on your head has been counted.  So, there is no need to be afraid; you are worth more than hundreds of sparrows.  In other words, my sisters and brothers in Christ, every single one of us, indeed every single person that God has created, is precious to Him, and He Loves each of us personally, totally and unconditionally, and He will never ever abandon us, more so, if we are going through much suffering in our lives.  Our Lord, wishes that we find the Light and strength in Him to persevere in our trials and tribulations, and also be God’s strength to those whom we know are going through much pain in their lives, for God Loves them too.

(Ref: adapted from: Nil Guillemette, S.J.; Hearts Burning; Homilies for the Sundays of the Year, cycle A, B and C; St Pauls Philippines; 2006; pp. 98-99)

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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