Sunday, October 30, 2016

Our Vocation is to be Holy

All Saints 2016

From a very young age, parents often attempt to instil in their children the seeds of a future ambition. 'When you grow up- Do you want to become a doctor? Do you want to be a lawyer?  or, Do you want to be an astronaut?' The Church similarly also wishes to plant within every child, at his or her baptism, the seed of a very different kind of ambition. It is not an ambition to be rich and famous. Rather, it is the ambition to be a saint. Do you want to be a saint? By giving each of us the name of a saint, the Church is reminding us of our true ambition, our most important ambition is to emulate the heroic example of this particular saint and become a saint in our own right. Our vocation is to be holy.

Today’s feast is precisely about the whole point of human life – our human vocation. God made us to be saints! We’re made for heaven, to spend eternity with God in His kingdom of love. Jesus came down from heaven to show us the way to heaven where he awaits us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: “All Christians, in any state or walk of life, are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity.” All are called to holiness: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Today we celebrate those people who followed Jesus all the way there, the great and famous saints we know about, and the countless quiet saints, who died in the love of the Lord and now live in His love. These are the ones who are singing today in that holy place, the beautiful endless song glimpsed in the passage from Revelation, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

“Salvation belongs to our God.” The first thing we celebrate today is God’s free gift of salvation. Holiness and Heaven are always and exclusively a gift of God beyond anything we can merit. We cannot make ourselves holy. Our sanctification is primarily the work of God. Men and women do not by sheer determination and self-discipline become saints. Sanctity is a divine gift. It is indeed the power of the resurrection at work in human lives. Thus commemorating the saints is nothing other than a way of affirming that the victorious power of Christ is at work, all about us, in human lives. In honouring the saints, we proclaim the victory of the grace of Christ. God is so powerful! It is He who can transform a sinner into a saint.

It is for this reason that we come to understand that holiness does not consist of 'never having sinned'. The best way to think about holiness is as the attitude that, from which being generous and faithful to grace, returns to God the love that He had deposited in our souls. Because of this, if we want to be saints, it is more by God’s providence than by our own initiative. We don’t look for holiness in order to be ambitious, but God wants us to be saints and because we praise Him when we strive to attain holiness.  Holiness consists of letting Christ redeem us even when we have sinned badly. We can’t make ourselves holy. All that we can do is to open ourselves up to Christ to let Him scrub us clean, to let Him make us bright and shining!

But as much as Heaven and holiness are God’s gift that we cannot earn, God out of love has made them the result of our choice, the result of our acting on that longing. To get to heaven, as St. Thomas Aquinas said, 'we need to will it, we need to desire it, we need to choose it'. Life is ultimately a choice between true, lasting happiness and momentary pleasure; a choice between light and darkness; a choice between good and evil; a choice ultimately, between life and death. Jesus came down, not only to show us the way to choose well, but also to help us to choose well, but there are competing voices that attempt to seduce us to choose against what God wants. The saints are those who have chosen well. They are the multitude of men and women, just like us, who have responded to God’s grace and chosen Him, though He had already chosen them.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus gathers us around Him and presents to us anew; the way to heaven, the way to happiness and the way to holiness. In fact, the Beatitudes speaks of the life of Christ Himself. Therefore, by trying to copy Him, the model of all saints, we can walk in the path of holiness. This path stands in stark contrast to the path that the majority of people in the world believe will make us happy. In His Beatitudes, Jesus exalts those whom the world generally regards as weak. He is basically saying to us, “Blessed are you who seem to be losers, because you are the real winners! You who seem to be throwing away your lives compared to those who are obtaining fame, fortune and power: Blessed are you, Jesus says, because the kingdom of heaven is yours!”

So today, as we celebrate all the saints who have come before us, we need to recognise that they’re all encouraging us, in unison, to allow Christ to make us the saints of our era just as much as they allowed Him to make them the saints of their own time. St. John of the Cross once told young Carmelite novices,” “Remember always that you came here for no other reason than to be a saint; thus let nothing reign in your soul that does not lead you to sanctity.”

Each saint is a unique image of Christ in the world. This is why we have images of saints — because they are images of Christ. We see Christ alive in them. Saints are ordinary Christians who have been completely fulfilled in Christ. Therefore, every Christian is called to be an image or likeness of Jesus in the world. Pope Benedict said saints are “living theology” and that we can only interpret the Scriptures through the lives of the saints. In the saints, we see the theories of our faith lived out in human history. In the saints, we see the truths of Scripture alive in the lives of ordinary people. In the saints, we see the grace of God at work in a powerful and real way. In the saints, we come to recognise that what is humanly impossible to man is made infinitely possible by God. We venerate the saints because they show us the face of Christ. We venerate the saints because they show us our destiny.

On this Great Feast of All Saints, let us heed the call of Pope St John Paul II, who proclaimed more saints in his pontificate than any other pope in history. As he spoke to the young people gathered at the World Youth Day of the Great Jubilee, “Do not be afraid to be saints of the new millennium! Be contemplative, love prayer; be coherent with your faith and generous in the service of your brothers and sisters, be active members of the Church and builders of peace. To succeed in this demanding project of life, continue to listen to His Word, draw strength from the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Penance. The Lord wants you to be intrepid apostles of His Gospel and builders of a new humanity.” Dare to be a Saint!

All you holy men and women, pray for us. Amen.





虽然人人都不理会匝凯,然而耶稣却注意到他。耶稣从人群中认出他,并请他从树上下来。耶稣使他重新回到团体。我们是群居的,身为基督徒,我们不可以忘记我们的群居特性 ——耶稣要我们在团体内互爱共融地相处,而不是自私自利,以自我为中心地生活。基督的爱改变了匝凯。对匝凯来说,这是有生以来第一次,有人是出自爱和怜悯注意他,而不是因为他的地位和财富。

这就是每个主日我们所听到的好消息。天主爱我们、耶稣爱我们并不是因为我们的财富,也不是因为我们的成就,更不是我们的圣德及在社会上的地位。不管我们是谁,耶稣都爱我们。即使我们不察觉本身的优点和善良,但这一切,耶稣都知道。 在读经一中,我们听到天主怎样爱一切所有,没有任何受造物是祂所憎恨的。正如读经一作者所写的:如果天主憎恨什么, 祂必然不会造它。天主从不制造废物,天主不会犯错。


Thursday, October 27, 2016

God's Hospitality is Salvation

Thirty First Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

The 19th century artist, William Holman Hunt, may be most remembered for his famous painting which debuted in 1853 at a London exhibition. “Light of the World” portrayed Jesus holding a night lamp and knocking at the door. According to the fable, he first revealed the painting to family and friends. They knew he was proud of his extreme attention to detail, so they inspected the painting carefully. Suddenly, someone spoke up, “Did you forget something?”
“No,” Hunt said, “What?”
“Jesus can’t open the door. The door doesn’t have a handle.”
“No, I didn’t forget. The door represents the heart of the person and the handle is on the inside. Jesus knocks at the door, but only the person can let him in.”
Regardless of whether the story is true or not, the painting makes a very clear point. When we invite Jesus into our hearts, we make Him an honoured guest. Letting Him in requires repentance. Making Him an honoured guest requires hospitality. For a Christian, repentance and spiritual hospitality are interwoven. Consider this narrative from today’s gospel.

Here we have a man, Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, who stood at the fringe of society. Being a collaborator of the hated colonial masters and who profited from his treachery at the expense of his countrymen, Zacchaeus was certainly an unwelcomed guest at any social gathering.  Yet, hearing the news of Jesus’ arrival in his hometown, this much-maligned man pushes his way through the crowds, hoisting up his garments in the most undignified manner to climb a sycamore tree like an adolescent, just to catch a glimpse of the Lord. But his efforts at demeaning and humbling himself would be rewarded by this surprising turn of events. Our Lord notices Zacchaeus and invites Himself for dinner. This is a breach of decorum because Jesus does not wait to be invited to the tax collector’s house.  Instead, He takes the initiative and invites himself; it is the shepherd seeking the one lost sheep.

The interplay between Zacchaeus, Jesus, and the crowd revolved around one issue: the worth of the sinner. The crowd rejected the sinner. They had no place for him in their society. But Jesus saw beyond the reticence of the crowd and the bravado of the tax man. The shepherd was willing to leave the 99 in order to seek out the lost. He had come for the sick and the sinner, not the healthy or righteous. Zacchaeus had been denied hospitality by his own brethren. He had little value in the eyes of his fellowmen, but he was of great worth in the eyes of the Lord. The Lord seeks to include the excluded in the Kingdom which he had come to establish. Here is the irony of the Divine Comedy, an irony of cosmic proportions: Zacchaeus had gone up a tree seeking Jesus, but it was Jesus who came down to the level of sinners and the marginalised, to seek Zacchaeus. As Jesus declared at the very end of today’s passage, “for the Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost.” The one marginalised, the “sinner”, is the one, who gave hospitality to Jesus, and is therefore, offered the hospitality of God.

The scene takes an ominous turn as the story states that the crowd “all complained when they saw what was happening. ‘He has gone to stay at a sinner’s house, they said.’” They took offense with the Lord’s decision to seek the hospitality of this public sinner as this seems to serve as an endorsement and approval of his sinful ways. This may indeed be a valid objection if it was true. Many today, would like to speak of the fact that Jesus was a friend of sinners. As precious as this truth is, it needs to be safeguarded against self-serving manipulation. It is all too easy to twist this out of context – “Jesus ate with sinners” becomes “Jesus loved a good party,” which then becomes “Jesus was never judgmental,” which finally becomes “Jesus never disproved of sinful lifestyles and even applauded it.”  If we are to celebrate that the Lord is a glorious friend of sinners – and we should – we must pay careful attention to the ways in which Jesus actually was a friend of sinners.

By going to Zacchaeus’ house, Jesus was neither endorsing Zacchaeus’ sin of financially oppressing the good citizens of Jericho, nor was He saying that it didn’t matter -  Jesus was simply showing  love. What the Lord does is that He shifts the hostility of the crowd from Zacchaeus to Himself. The Lamb of God takes upon Himself the sins of the world. Conversion is the ultimate goal of Jesus’ welcoming and hospitality offered to the sinner, not just a blanket acceptance. And it was in this way, that Jesus was a friend to sinners. Jesus came to them on their turf, in order that He may draw them out from their unknowing slavery to sin. The Lord was a friend of sinners not because he winked at sin, ignored sin, or made light jest of immorality. Jesus was a friend of sinners in that He came to save sinners and welcomed them to the life-giving and life-transforming hospitality of God’s Kingdom. 

That is why the hospitality offered by the Lord to Zacchaeus went beyond the courtesy of treating him as a person worth of respect. The hospitality which the Lord offered Him was the Divine Hospitality of God – Salvation. If sin is the cause of estrangement, alienation and separation, then the grace of salvation is the cause of reconciliation. That is why Zacchaeus, so overwhelmed with immeasurable gratitude, promises to give half of his possessions to the poor and offered to repay four times the amount that he had taken from those he had defrauded. And so at the end of this story, Jesus pronounces this judgment, “Today, salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham.”  This is what happens when the hospitality of man meets the hospitality of God. 

This gospel story, therefore, speaks to us not only of the hospitality of Zacchaeus but that of Christ and of God. Hospitality forms the basic narrative of the whole Bible and the basis of Jesus’ ministry. He came as an outcast figure in a world that did not recognise or receive Him. But, Jesus’ itinerant ministry placed Him in dependence on the hospitality of others. In his capacity as guest, Jesus bounds himself to the lost, shares table fellowship with tax collector, “sinner,” and Pharisee alike. The One who comes as a visitor and guest in fact becomes host and offers the hospitality of salvation in which human beings and, potentially the entire world, can become truly human, be at home, and know the salvation in the depths of their hearts.

This story of Zacchaeus and Jesus is also our story too. How often have we excluded the stranger, the lonely, the migrant or the alienated one? How often have we resented the presence of a newcomer, see him as a rival or as someone who would reduce my chances of getting a car park in the compound or my favourite seat in the pew? How often do we treat the other with suspicion and even keep them at a safe distance? If this community is to be an effective and powerful sign of Christ’s redemption and God’s hospitality, it’s time to open our doors. Reach out and don’t wait for others to reach out to you.

In our lives, Jesus does not break down the doors of our hearts. He does not compel us to respond to Him, though He continues to knock on the door. You and I are called to open the door, for we alone can do it. We must welcome Him into our homes, at our tables, in our work, in our friendships and even in our play and relaxation. And, the greatest surprise is that the Lord welcomes us with open arms at every mass. It is here in the Eucharist, that the sick are healed, the sinner is led to conversion and forgiven, and incredibly the outsider is ‘invited’ not only to the table, but also to a communion with the divine, Jesus Christ. The most undeserving of people are given a place at the table – to be heard, healed, forgiven, restored, taught, fed and to become beneficiaries of divine hospitality offered freely and undeservingly to us.