Saturday, May 28, 2016

Homily for the Seventh Day of Parish Novena 2016: "Bearing Wrongs Patiently and Forgiving Others Willingly"

Guest Preacher: Fr Simon Yong SJ

If only. If only people just behave. You see, I actually do not need to control my anger, everyone around me just need to avoid annoying me. Is that not how some of us feel?

Tonight we turn to yet another work of mercy which is to bear wrongs patiently and forgive offences willing.

What does it mean to say bearing wrongs patiently and how is that different from forgiving offences willingly? Let us just say that wrong is not always wrong. As a priest once said to me, left is right and right is wrong. Confusing as it sounds, that was basically an instruction given to someone whilst driving. What I am trying to say is that wrong is not always wrong. The other way of phrasing this spiritual work of mercy is to be patient with those in error. When I state that wrong is not always wrong I am saying that firstly, nobody intends to be wrong and secondly, some people are just “wrong” FOR US. The operative words are “FOR US”. Let me explain.

If you have gone to Thailand before, you would have seen T-shirts, “Same same but different”. The original phrase describes “lady-boys” who have added female features yet retaining the OEM—Original Equipment from Maker! It illustrates a subtle nuancing whereby we may like to think that we are all the same but really what appears to annoy me might not be what irks other—thus wrong is not always wrong. Think pilgrimage and as the Ringgit swims underwater, not infrequently strangers are forced to share rooms. I had one pilgrimage where a cough threatened to derail our journey.

In an uber-sensitive world, anything can upset anybody not solely because we are different but because we have developed this overwhelming sense of uniqueness that is our individuality is expressed to the extreme. And the older you are, the more set you are in your ways. For example, poor as I am as a religious, I do not like a stranger to sit beside me during a Economy flight. I like my space. The Teochews have a word for it “Kou Tuck”.

When we are set in our ways, we often like to impose on others our norm as if it is the only norm or standard there is. This is made even more pronounced when our social space is organised according to the principle of me. It is all about me.

Why me? Whenever sorrow strikes us, many a complaint will be “Why me”? Apart of the celebration of victimhood, we are basically children of our age. What gives this “why me” syndrome? A possible explanation is the shift that took place almost 400 years ago and ever since that tumultuous upheaval, the universe has gradually moved at a pace almost imperceptible that has transformed truth to meaning, from a heteronomous perspective to an autonomous worldview. Truth is no longer a question at the top of our minds, meaning is. Simply put: Heaven is not important, earth is. Salvation is not important, liberation is.

You can count the number young people here every day. For many of them, Mass is boring because the truth of the Mass is not as important as the meaning of the Mass is to them. Meaning is premised on personal satisfaction. It does not interest me. I do not feel a thing coming here. The transformation from truth to meaning changes the question “What is it?” to “What is in it for me? When “I, me and myself” is the centre of the universe, the only result of that is an increased in irritation when the world does not conform to my expectations.

You know OCD? It does not stand for Ordo Carmelitarum Discalceatorum (or Order of Carmelites Discalced). OCD is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Do you realise that so many people are suffering from OCD? Cleanliness and Orderliness are two common expressions of OCD behaviour.

I think that OCD is a form of hungering for God. The more we make ourselves the focus and the more we banish God from the centre of the Universe, the more OCD we will witness because this desire to be “ordered” is a divine innate quality bestowed by God. When we do not know who the Author of order is, we will go out of our way to be more ordered thinking that that is what Godliness is. And for that, the world has to suffer our “disordered” orderliness, our OCD.

Look at the servers. Are they an expression of OCD? I am impressed by the deliberate and regimented steps that make them sway in unison. The first day I came, I was fascinated and I tried to sway with them but I am always out of synch. This is just one example of the way they serve. The question here is this: Is their way of serving an expression of a priest, namely your parish priest’s psychosis or OCD?

As previously stated, if order is a reflexion of God then chaos must be the product of the Devil. Order points us in the direction of God and the liturgy is musical in the sense, according to Pythagoras, as music properly composed according to mathematical principles, is one of the best measure for an ordered universe. Perhaps you can make the connexion between a beautiful rhythmic swaying of the entrance procession as an example that reflects the order of the universe.

The tricky part here is that the line between God’s order and OCD is rather thin which brings us back to Truth as a communal search. It is not just “my” search for Truth. In all that we do as Church, there has to be dialogue and conversation amongst us. But, it is not restricted to just amongst us meaning it is also not just “our” search for Truth. This dialogue or conversation must, in addition, take place between us and the Magisterium and the Tradition amongst others.

Yesterday, I mentioned about the Church in heaven, the Church in purgatory and the Church on earth. Each time Catholics speak of Tradition with a capital T, it means our communal search cannot be independent of the Church in heaven and the Church in purgatory. Perhaps you appreciate why the Church does not change her practices willy-nilly just because time has changed or just because fads have shifted.

In this search, bearing wrong or errors patiently is an expression charity as we communally search for truth. We do not possess the truth. We need to bear in mind that some people can seem more arrogant than others. Some people speak differently from others. People are definitely not copies of me. When you work together, this will come out. People are not as clever as I am. People are not a generous as I am. And my irritation grows. It is not always easy. And sometimes, I guess it takes heroic strength to bear the wrongs of another person. There were two professors—one a chemist and the other a philosopher. They are known to have called each other by name. The Chemist to the Philosopher: Navel Contemplator. The Philosopher to the Chemist: Shit Analyser. Both are priests. Both are Jesuits. Both live in the same community. Not easy right because both are headstrong. But nonetheless, they are not excused from a very important Spiritual Work of Mercy because bearing wrongs patiently is pre-requisite for the next work of mercy.

Bishop Fulton Sheen makes an interesting distinction and let me paraphrase him: “Tolerance applies to the erring, intolerance to the error meaning be kind to those who are in the wrong but be firm about the truth we want to stand with because we do not possess the truth.

This brings us to forgiving others willingly. The difference between bearing wrong patiently and forgiving other willingly lies in deliberation. Wrongs are not intentional—they are just things out of order. If you think about it, no one wakes up in the morning and the first thing he does, like Mr Burn of The Simpsons who drums his fingers and say in a most wicked quivering voice: “Let me see, today I am going to irritate my husband”. It is not malice even if sometimes we ascribe malicious intent to the offending person. In short do not flatter yourself—the wicked world does not revolve around you. (Only victims do lah).

If wrongs are not deliberate, offences are in the sense that an injury has been done to us. And for that, forgiveness is demanded of us. I have heard it mentioned that it takes a lot of strength to hang on. But it takes so much more to let go. When our sense of justice is warped by revenge, then forgiveness will come across as weakness.

Unforgiveness may be emblematic of love. If we love deeply, it follows that the cut will be just a deep. And, the more we love, the greater will our struggle be to forgive. Perhaps the difficulty of letting go of hurt in order to forgive is symptomatic of our hoarding culture. One of the side effects of a consumeristic culture is the need to hoard. If we hoard things, we can also hoard resentment and unforgiveness and we can nurse them like they are our treasures.

Forgiveness does not mean that we forget totally as Dr Martin Luther King said: Certainly one can never forget, if that means erasing it totally from his mind. But when we forgive, we forget in the sense that the evil deed is no longer a mental block impeding a new relationship.

Finally, there is freedom involved in forgiving. At times, unforgiveness can constrict our vision so much so that we cannot see the truth of what our enemy is saying. If the Devil can say something which is true, what is more, our mortal enemies. Of course, the Devil cannot be trust to be truthful but he can still say something which is true. The very people we hate or are angry with are capable of truth. So, without forgiveness, we destroy our freedom to hear the truth. Funny thing is that the very people whom we cannot forgive may just sleep well at night and the one who hurts is the one who does not know how to forgive. From bearing wrongs patiently to forgiving willingly, we know that an inability to bear with one another and a heart unwilling to forgive will definitely consume our energy and drain us of the motivation to do other more important works of mercy be they spiritual or corporal.

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