Friday, July 22, 2016

愿照祢的旨意成就吧



丙年常年期第十七主日   

你们求,必要给你们……” 这是耶稣给我们的强力许诺。然而,很多时候我们的经历却恰恰相反。有时当我们为某些好的意向——如为病者得到痊愈而祈祷时,天主未必让我们如愿以偿。

那么,我们又如何能明白耶稣这句话的意思呢?——“你们求,必要给你们;找,必要找到;你们敲,必给你们开”?其实,理解这句话的关键就在天主经的上半段。

我们的天父,愿祢的名受显扬,愿祢的国来临,愿祢的旨意奉行在人间,如同在天上。求祢今天赏给我们日用的食粮……

这上半段祷文的意思是什么呢?它意味着每当我们祈祷时,无论发生什么事都要光荣天主,并非光荣自己。我们祈求天主的国建立在人间,祂的旨意承行于地;而不是祈求建立我们的国和承行自己的意愿。我们的祈祷内容和目标就是要完全依赖天主,甚至每天的日用粮都是祂的恩赐。天主从不拒绝这样的祈祷。

想必你们还记得上个主日福音里的两姐妹吧?她们一位是在厨房里忙碌的玛尔大;另一位则是坐在耶稣跟前的玛利亚。耶稣称赞玛利亚,说她做了比较好的选择。玛利亚示范了最好的祈祷态度。她并没有要求耶稣做些什么,也没告诉耶稣该怎么做,她让耶稣成为她的主。事实上,透过她的沉默,玛利亚好像在说:“上主,愿照祢的旨意成就吧!”

另一方面,玛尔大却要耶稣听从她的吩咐。她要求耶稣命令妹妹来帮助她。如果那是玛尔大的祈祷,那么这祈祷听起来就好像是在说:“ 主,照我的意愿成就吧。”很多人的祈祷方式都像玛尔大,而不像玛利亚。我们时常坚持要天主依照我们的意愿行事,忘记了祈祷其实应该像玛利亚一样,时常把一切交托给天主。祈祷并不是由我们来告诉天主该怎么做;而是应该做好准备聆听天主要我们做什么。

有时,我们以为可以透过祈祷操纵及控制天主。参加了多次的九日敬礼或念了多串的玫瑰经后,就认为天主必然会俯允我们的祈求。然而,祈祷并不是魔术,它不会让我们控制天主。反之,真正的祈祷会带来皈依和转化,使我们学习让天主掌管我们的生命。

我们必须记住:天主确实俯听了所有的祈祷,但祂未必依照我们的意愿俯允我们。有时,天主会答应,有时却不。有时祂立刻俯允我们的祈求;有时却要我们等候。有时,祂以这种方式允准;有时却是用另一种方式。无论结果是什么,我们相信天主最清楚一切。因此,我们必须学习如何祈祷,不要尝试去改变天主的决定;相反地,要借着祈祷而被改变和转化,以使我们能够在一切事上,接受天主的旨意。

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Dare we pray



Seventeenth Ordinary Sunday Year C

I often remember God with sympathy whenever I’m confronted with the demands of parishioners. I do agree that as a pastor, part of my job description is to give a listening ear to their troubles, their problems, and, of course, their complaints. But for many, listening equals obey. “Father you need to listen me,” equals, “Father you must obey me.” Although I appreciate the many suggestions that come from concerned parishioner who act like expert pastoral consultants on how to be a good priest or a better priest, little do they realise that I often receive conflicting pieces of advice and suggestions from others. Demands can often descend into the ridiculous. Those pushing their demands will insist that I accede to theirs whilst ignoring the rest.  “Father, you have to listen to me,” can be said in the same breath as “Father, you cannot be listening to everyone (referring to the others).” I presume that God often gets this on daily basis a zillion times over. “Lord, listen to my prayer. Don’t listen to theirs!”

The real problem is that so many of us suffer from a profound sense of entitlement. In essence, “I’m SPECIAL!” A sense of entitlement is established and upheld by the belief that we are the centre of the universe, and if the universe doesn't meet our needs and desires, all hell will break loose. The truth is that this malignant form of Self-Love often harms the people around us, which indirectly harms us in the long term.  It eats away at our personal life, our church life and even our relationship with the Lord. People with a profound sense of entitlement are often self-righteous, opinionated, disgruntled and frustrated individuals. They seem to have complaints about anyone and everyone else. They cannot understand why the Powers-that-be and their neighbours and friends don’t exhibit the same intelligence as they do.

When self-entitlement is translated into the spiritual life, it becomes a dangerous enemy of prayer. This is because God is reduced to someone who helps me get what I believe I am entitled to. Just like last week’s gospel passage of the two sisters, Martha and Mary, the voice of entitlement would sound very much like that of Martha’s. “Lord, give me what I want.” This weird “spiritual” entitlement leads us to believe God owes us something, that He is in some way entitled to give us what we want. We have a right to material abundance, comfort, zero-problems, the nice house and all the other things our entitlement culture tells us we deserve.

Perhaps the deepest trial many are experiencing today, that springs from this spiritual sense of entitlement, is the temptation to lose faith in prayer and ultimately lose faith in God. The prayer of doubt which springs from a sense of entitlement asks “why?” “Why did God not answer my prayer?”  But the prayer of faith that springs from true humility asks “how?” “How Lord do you wish me to proceed on the inexplicable path before me?” And He answers, “Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.” The humble do not understand all of God’s ways; rather, they simply accept them in faith, keeping the Cross and Resurrection as a guiding star before them in the night of suffering.

So with regard to God and entitlement, let me be frank. God owes us nothing. We are not entitled or God is not obligated or in any way relegated to give us anything. He is God. He gives because He WANTS to not because He HAS to. He is the centre of all things and we are not. All things exist for His good pleasure. He does not exist for ours. The Good News is that even though God owes us nothing, out of His great love He will give us what we need and even things beyond our imagination, even when we did not deserve it. Yet He is never obliged to give us a thing. It’s from unconditional love by grace that He gives.

The problem with entitlement is that it creates an attitude that puts a selfish demand on God’s generosity and creates conditions in the relationship that are unhealthy and I would dare say, deadly. If we believe that God owes us something then the measure of our thankfulness is now based on God’s performance and the entitlements we expect from Him. When we sense we have a right to something we distance ourselves from grace and ultimately God. To the extent that we fall into an entitlement trap we become more deserving in our own eyes and God’s grace gets less and less amazing in our estimation. Before we know it, gratitude and thanksgiving are slowly replaced with bitterness, pride and envy.

If self-entitlement is the enemy of prayer, humility is a prerequisite. Prayer ought to be humble. True humility is had when a person does not presume to have power over the other but rather submits to the will of the other. Mary, who sits at the feet of Jesus, makes no demands of him. Mary becomes the embodiment of the words found in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The Lord’s Prayer is certainly the model prayer par excellence, because it is the epitome of humility.  

In the new translation of the Roman Missal, the Lord's Prayer is introduced by the priest with the words, “At the Saviour's command and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say...” The current introduction replaces the four options that were available in the earlier translations. The old option that comes closest to the original Latin and the present translation is “we have courage to say.” A superficial reading may treat ‘courage’ and ‘dare’ as interchangeable. However, ‘courage’ and ‘daring’ are potentially quite different in meaning. ‘Courage’ does not necessarily invoke a feeling of humility, whereas ‘we dare to say’ inherently recognises our insignificance before the Father. We use the word ‘courage’ to imply some talent or accomplishment on our part, for example, we can say that we have the courage to speak publicly. But when we use the words, ‘we dare to say’, we humbly admit that it has nothing to do with us, in fact, it admits that it is not anything which we can ever hope to accomplish.

The whole phrase places the Lord’s Prayer in a different light – it is no longer to be seen as a cry of entitlement, a demand made on God to fulfill our petitions and wishes.  But rather, it is prayer of humility by someone truly unworthy to even stand before the august presence of God, the one ‘who art in heaven,’ what more to address Him with the all too familiar moniker of ‘Father’ and make a series of demands of him.  The catechism tells us that “Our awareness of our status as slaves would make us sink into the ground and our earthly condition would dissolve into dust, if the authority of our Father himself and the Spirit of his Son had not impelled us to this cry . . . ‘Abba, Father!’ . . . When would a mortal dare call God ‘Father,’ if man’s innermost being were not animated by power from on high?” It is by placing ourselves into the position of a child, calling God our Father, that we open ourselves to the grace by which we approach God with the humble boldness of a little child. As the resilience of children would teach us, let us not give up: the road to Paradise is narrow, but not impossible. It is walked in the humility of faith in the constancy of prayer.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Good is the enemy of Great



Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Back in 2001, a bestselling management book, “Good to Great,” by James Collins made this profound insight about the damning effect of just settling for the good, an insidious and dangerous form of mediocrity. Jim Collins argues that “good is the enemy of great… Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.” Ironically, the same principle may be applied to our spiritual life. Have you become comfortable, complacent, with your spiritual progress and faith life? Perhaps, you may feel that you have arrived at that level of spirituality which is “good” enough, that you are better than the average Catholic. Where’s the motivation to do more? The problem is the “good” gives us a false sense of security.  We feel OK because whilst we may not be saints, at least we’re not that bad. If you feel that what you possess is already “good” enough, you may never feel motivated to do more. That’s why good is the enemy of great.  As Christians, often, the greatest enemy of the life of faith in God is not sin, but good choices which are not quite good enough and settling for the mediocre.

In today's Gospel, we have a contrast in the way two good women relate to the Lord. It’s really a contrast between the good and the better. Martha welcomed Jesus into her home by busying herself with all the tasks of hospitality - lots of activity, putting a meal together. Pay attention to this little but important detail - her only interaction with Jesus is to complain about her sister and to ask him to make Mary help her do what she wants done. Her complain and request can be verbalised in this statement: “Lord, my will (not yours) be done.” Make her help me! Mary also welcomes Jesus into her home, but for her this means not all the activity of hospitality, but rather just being with him and listening to him. Mary is more interested in Jesus than she is in hors d'oeuvres and she's not about to leave Jesus alone in the parlour. Let Martha do what she thinks best, but what Mary wants is to find out what Jesus wants. “Lord, Thy will be done.”

Both are good women, no doubt about it and both are proclaimed saints by the Church. Each has welcomed Jesus into her life, but only one thing is really necessary; Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her. What is this better part?

It is clear that the point of the message isn’t about us neglecting our household chores. The point is made about discipleship, the posture which a disciple must assume in the presence of the Lord. Ultimately, disciples cannot settle lesser when they can choose the better and even the best. In the case of this story, being the best means being in the right place. Martha was busy in the kitchen making all the necessary preparations for a guest as would be expected of a good host. But it was Mary who chose “the better part,” and this honour should not be eclipsed by Martha’s contribution. Choosing the best also means listening to the right voice. Mary who gave her full attention to the Lord heard the Words of Christ. Martha couldn’t hear anything above the noise of her busy-ness and frenzied activity. In fact, she was insisting that her “voice” be heard.

This story and Christ’s judgment begs the question: is serving bad? No, of course not. In several other places in the Gospel the Lord praised service of others: he said that he himself had come among us as one who serves; he washed his disciples' feet at the Last Supper and told them to do the same; and he said that the greatest among us would be the one who serves the rest. What Martha did was a “good” thing. What was the problem? The problem was not a choice between good and evil but between good and better. It simply was NOT the BEST thing to do at this point in time. Good was just not good enough in the face of something better. Here is what made Mary’s choice better. She recognised that Jesus had come to their home not to be fed, but to feed. The welcome he sought most was their time, their friendship, their love, their open ears and open hearts. We may boast of feeding the poor, but it is only in prayer that we are fed.

The Church Fathers have often seen in the story of the two sisters, the two fold dimension of Christian life – the active and contemplative life. Martha is representative of the active life whereas Mary that of the contemplative life. Both are important for Christian living. But they do not share the same platform. St. Gregory the Great wrote, “For the merits of the active life are great, but of the contemplative, far better.” Everything that Martha did was good. Yet in pursuing good things, she overlooked the greatest good. Mary made the better choice because she did not let service divert her attention from the Word made Flesh.  Action is important, no doubt about that, but the simple truth that many of us often find hard to accept is that prayer is more important than action. A Christian, without prayer, becomes a mere activist. We may be capable of accomplishing many good things. But the secret to greatness is prayer.

The challenge that is thrown by Jesus certainly does not sit well with many of us. In fact, our sympathies often go out to Martha. We have been generally taught that hard work is a virtue. We value work and productivity. Hardworking and productive persons are commended. Those who seem unproductive and who waste their time in leisurely pursuits including prayer are regarded as dead weight. We even gauge fellow Catholics based on their activism – a good Catholic is an active Catholic, someone who is busy serving in the parish and who gets things done. There is nothing wrong with living out our faith through action. In fact it is even commanded. But to place our entire trust on our work, our projects, our programmes, our human efforts, would be to lose sight that the Lord is the real Saviour of the World. In a world or a church where everyone is trying so hard to be saviour, do we really need Christ or God? That is why prayer is superior to action. Prayer places the necessary humbling corrective on our perception of work. Prayer puts God first. Only then do we see that work is our participation in the larger work of salvation wrought by God and never a substitute for it.

How do we reconcile the lesson of today’s gospel with our daily frenetic lives? The answer lies in finding a balance between work and prayer, with prayer always coming first. Thus, the Benedictine motto, Ora et Labor. Prayer and Work. Notice which comes first. St Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei has this to share: “For most Christians, called as they are to sanctify themselves in the middle of the world, action and contemplation cannot be regarded as two opposite ways of practising the Christian faith: an active life forgetful of union with God is useless and barren; but an apparent life of prayer which shows no concern for apostolate and the sanctification of ordinary things also fails to please God. The key lies in being able to combine these two lives, without either harming the other.” 

Today, we, too, like Mary, have listened at Jesus' feet while he has fed us with his word. We ask him likewise to give us the courage to reorder the priorities of our life. Jesus is the one thing necessary. Maybe we have let ourselves become so “distracted with all the serving” that we have forgotten why we should be serving at all. Maybe we have just given to the Lord our time and effort as if it was spare change or second hand used goods, instead of our best. As the ancient Latin maxim affirms, “Deus Optima Maxima.” “To God, the Best and the Greatest.” Mary chose the better part. Let us therefore ask God for the grace to make the same choice today and each day going forward, not to just settle for the good, but always aim for the best when it comes to God.