Copied from Sabbath

 Sometimes the Church is considered to be very slow to adapt to modern developments and ways of communication. In the case of Wi-Fi, it is the world that has taken thousands of years to catch up with the Church. The Church and the Jewish people before Her have been praying to God with success for thousands of years, yet it is only in the last decade or so that Wi-Fi has really taken off in the world. One of the problems with the world’s adoption of Wi-Fi technology is that it seems to have distracted us from our need for prayer in our lives.

       Jesus demonstrates that even the Son of God needs to put time aside for prayer. We often see Him prioritizing prayer for Himself and encouraging His disciples to do the same. We need to give a similar priority to prayer. Generally speaking, the less time we seem to have for prayer, the more important it is for us to pray. The busier we are, the more we should pray so as to ensure that we are placing everything that we do under the guidance and grace of the Holy Spirit.

       Jesus knows this is the day when He will call to Himself His Apostles — the men who will become His closest collaborators in the ministry of the Gospel, the men who will continue the work when He has returned to His Father in heaven. This is a serious event in His ministerial life and so He wants it guided by prayer. He wants to make extra sure that His choices are aligned with the Father’s will.

       How often do we act without even considering that God may have an opinion or a word of guidance regarding our planned action? Don’t you think it might be a good idea to hear what He has to say?

       The best thing about God’s Wi-Fi is that we know it does not have to be powered by signal from a service provider and it is totally free. Why don’t we take advantage of the guidance of the Holy Spirit whenever we can? Fr. Steve Tynan, MGL


REFLECTION QUESTION: When did you last ask God about His thoughts on your planned action? Do you constantly communicate with Him through prayer?

Jesus, help me to take advantage of Your wisdom made available to me through prayer. Help me to listen to the guiding voice of the Holy Spirit in my life.


Teresa of Ávila: Slayer of Dragons

Teresa of Ávila: Slayer of Dragons

This woman, who had deep spiritual insights, described prayer as nothing but an intimate sharing between friends. Rather than describe a formula for prayer, she taught an attitude for life. She discovered that all we need to do is seek the Lord actively; then he will do his part to bring us closer to him.

Once Teresa had arrived at this point in her life, all the other problems she faced became less intimidating. She was able to take on an attitude that echoed St. Paul’s: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” This casual but confident approach turned her into what I like to call a spiritual dragon slayer as she overcame some of the most powerful—and common—spiritual obstacles that we all face. So let’s take a look at how Teresa’s example and teaching can help us slay some of the dragons that threaten our spiritual lives.

The Dragon of Somberness. Teresa saw the spiritual life as one of happiness, modesty, and freedom rather than a burdensome list of steps leading to spiritual superiority. “May God deliver us from cheerless saints” was her motto. And she lived out that motto with a winning gracefulness. For example, during an early meeting with John of the Cross, she noted his small stature and remarked that while she had asked God to send her two good friars to help, he instead sent “a friar and a half.”

There is also the famous story about a mishap she had while crossing a stream on a mule. The mule had its own ideas, and Teresa wound up in the stream, covered with mud. “No wonder you have so few friends,” she told Jesus. “Look how you treat the ones you do have!” This popular tale, which may not have actually taken place, illustrates Teresa’s sense of perspective. She never took herself too seriously and was able to find good humor in every situation she faced.

There was no room for formalities or an exaggerated sense of self-importance in Teresa’s vision. To overcome the formality, she liked to enliven her sisters’ community with singing and dancing. As for self-importance, she insisted that they all (beginning with herself) join in the manual work of the monastery. She taught that we can discover God “among the pots and pans” just as easily as we can on our knees in prayer.

One of the greatest gifts Teresa gave the Church was a sense of liveliness. She taught us to enjoy God and the life he has given us. Through her writings and her example, we can learn to laugh and have some fun even as we strive to please the Lord and get to know him better. So let Teresa teach you how to do the dishes, mow the lawn, change diapers, and go to work every day with a lighter, happier heart. Let her show you that monastic life—and everyday home life—doesn’t have to be a burden. It can be a source of joy and freedom!

The Dragon of Suspicion. In the Spain of Teresa’s day, it was assumed that women should not assert themselves in religious matters. Teaching on subjects of spirituality or personal prayer by anyone other than an acknowledged “expert” was highly suspect—and even more so if the teacher was a woman. Clerics and scholars held a tight monopoly on all things spiritual. They were concerned that too much emphasis on religious experience outside of well-established devotions and the sacraments could lead to a subjective and individualized form of pseudo-mysticism.

Teresa realized that the only safe way for religious women to share their insights or approaches to prayer was to pretend that there was nothing innovative about them. Frequently in her finest writings, Teresa shields herself by saying something self-deprecating like, “I am only a poor woman who knows nothing about this.” She further protects herself by insisting that she is merely relating her own experiences, not proclaiming general details about prayer and spirituality.

Teresa’s earliest autobiography was confiscated by the Inquisition and never returned to her because it was judged to have contained some imprudent assertions or teachings. So when her confessor asked her to write another story of her life, she took an even more circumspect approach, saying such things as, “I know someone who . . .” She found that humility and modesty—even when used with a touch of shrewdness—went a long way in allaying people’s doubts. She felt that it was best to drop into the shadows and let the truths that she was teaching take center stage instead of herself.

Teresa saw that nothing melts a suspicious heart more powerfully than simplicity and humility. Even if you begin to question your own spiritual experiences, you can follow Teresa’s example. “I’m trying my best to understand,” you can tell yourself. “I may not be a seasoned theologian, but here’s how I’ve felt Jesus giving me his peace and his guidance.” And if someone questions you or speaks disparagingly about your faith, you can always find a way to reply humbly but point out how much your prayer has helped you in your everyday life. Remember Jesus’ words: “By their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:16). Nothing can stand against the fruits of a quiet heart and a changed life!

The Dragon of Pessimism. During Teresa’s later years, and especially after her death, well-meaning superiors fell back on burdensome practices that were rooted in a pessimistic outlook about the world at large and about the human soul. Many of these practices had little to do with the Carmelite ideal of an easy and happy life in God’s presence. Teresa maintained that simplicity was the best guarantee that the Holy Spirit was active within a community. “We pray as well as we live, and live as well as we pray,” she would say.

Despite her vigorous prayer life, Teresa made sure that she and her followers devoted their lives to the service of the Church. They should never think so negatively about themselves that it kept them from doing any good. There was no room for such a bleak outlook! She took seriously Jesus’ teaching that a lamp shouldn’t be hidden under a basket, no matter how dim its light may seem. Rather, it should be raised high enough to enlighten people. That’s why she encouraged her friars to preach and write, and she supported plans for foreign missionary efforts to Africa and America. She trusted that if her spiritual children lived well, giving of themselves in service and love, they would pray well also.

In Teresa’s own time, she had to confront those superiors who did not believe that women’s communities should control their own affairs, including finances; select their own confessors and chaplains; or elect their own leadership. An excessive pessimism and fear of evil underlaid the belief that women couldn’t manage their own dealings. It’s ironic, then, that Teresa’s reform began with an experimental community of women and only later spread to include men. What’s more, most of the discord and political bickering that soured her work came from the friars, not the nuns.

It’s not hard to imagine Teresa sighing and rolling her eyes at the antics of her spiritual children! This dragon of pessimism can find its way into our hearts especially as we think about our families. “Will my children ever find peace with the Lord?” “Will my husband and I ever find a way to stop fighting?”
“How can I possibly be happy when I am facing this major illness or this financial hardship?” Of course, these are serious questions, and we shouldn’t just dismiss them. But at the same time, we need to remember Teresa’s advice and keep seeking the Lord. He has a plan for our lives. He sees us, and he loves us, even in the midst of life’s messiness.

If we can hold on to hope because Christ is in us, we’ll find a way through our challenges. What’s more, if we try to adopt a positive, hope-filled attitude, we have a good chance of helping other members of our families lift up their hearts as well.

A Warm Opponent. Throughout her years as a reformer and spiritual teacher, Teresa of Ávila never backed away from an argument when it involved important values. She was a formidable opponent, no matter which “dragon” she was facing. Much of her success lies in the fact that she never lost respect for her adversaries. Even in her hottest conflicts, this dragon slayer was always careful to reflect the warm smile of a loving God.

How could she not? It was a loving, warm smile from God that had filled her with so much love in the first place! So go on out and face down the dragons in your own life! Arm yourself with confidence in Christ. Take up the shield of humility and the sword of good humor. And whatever challenges you face, know that Jesus is smiling at you. He is proud of your faith, no matter how weak you think it is. Let him help you live it out in freedom, happiness, and peace.


SCRIPTURE READINGS: Isaiah 53:10-11; Psalm 32:4-5,18-20,22; Hebrews 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45 (or >< 10:42-45)

One of the essays we have our young children write about in school is: “What is your ambition in life?”  Indeed, in asking this very important question, we are helping our young people to develop a clear direction in life.  If not, many of them would be studying without a goal and therefore without any motivation.  But ambition alone cannot make us happy or give us fulfillment because it tends to be inward-looking.  It is mainly about self, about amassing honour, status and material gains.  In the gospel, we read how the apostles of Jesus were fighting for positions to fulfill their ambition.  Their motives for following Jesus were no better than ours.  They wanted glory, power and honour.

Ambition is not only self-destructive but often leads us to jealousy, competition and even destruction of others.  It may move some to resort to slander to destroy their opponents in order to achieve their ambition.  It makes us see everyone as a threat and causes us to create enemies.  It fills us with anger and revengefulness, consuming us with thoughts of how to destroy our opponents and winning at all costs.  That was the way the other apostles reacted when James and John sought positions from Jesus.  The evangelist noted, “When the other ten heard this they began to feel indignant with James and John.”

Provoking jealousy does not help to bring peace and unity in our community.   Such a competitive spirit divides people.  Hence, ambition might not bring the desired outcomes of joy, love and unity for ourselves and those whom we work for.  Look at the office politics, not just in secular and corporate offices but even within the Church and in voluntary organizations. There is so much infighting, politicking, scrambling and competition for power, authority, and recognition.  So much so that much of our energy is expended on fending off our enemies, leaving us with not much energy left to employ our resources, skills and talents for the service of God and His people.  So we can fulfill and achieve our ambition, but at the cost of the loss of joy, peace and love.

That is why we must seek for something more than ambition.  We must be driven by higher and more sublime goals in life.   This is called vocation.  Only vocation can bring true happiness and fulfillment in life.  This is because we no longer work for ourselves but for others.  When our energy is no longer directed at ourselves, we have nothing to protect.   Instead, our energy is now directed towards others with a certain sense of detachment, doing all we can for their good.  When we expend all our energy in loving and serving, that energy is not only expansive but keeps on increasing from strength to strength.  Love makes love grow! Indeed, this is what the Lord said about the Suffering Servant, “By his sufferings shall my servant justify many, taking their faults on himself.”

Vocation, unlike ambition, is a call to serve God and humanity, rather ourselves.  Vocation is for the service of others before self.  The interests of those whom we serve come before ours.  Vocation is at the service of life and love.  This entails sacrificing ourselves for others.  Like the Suffering Servant who suffered for his people and for the Lord.  “The Lord has been pleased to crush his servant with suffering.”  Indeed, this is how Jesus saw Himself in His vocation and mission.  He said, “For the Son of Man himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Vocation is servanthood.  Jesus instructed His disciples, “You know that among the pagans their so-called rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you.”  Vocation is humble service, and being a servant and a slave to all.  Jesus said, “No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all.”   The greatness of a servant lies in the way he serves, humbly, selflessly and totally.

Vocation comes first and foremost as a call from God.  God has put into our hearts a passion for something.  Not only has He put this passion in our hearts, He also provides us the skills and the charisms for the vocation.  It is a call that begins from within before it comes from without.  Unless the Lord has already put that passion in us, regardless of what is without will not evoke in us.  In other words, God has planted the seed of our vocation even before we were born.  Hence, we know it is our vocation when what we are called to do is also matched by the skills and talents the Lord has blessed us with.  In responding to that call in us, we find peace and fulfillment.

However, this voice in us most of the time remains latent until it is stimulated by a voice that comes from without; from our loved ones, from society and from the Church.  Vocation comes from identification and solidarity with the suffering. Like the suffering servant, we are called to take upon the sufferings of others in our own bodies.  We are called to identify ourselves with them in their pain and sufferings and make them as our own so that we can grow in compassion and sympathy. This is what we read of how Jesus identified Himself with us sinners.  “For it is not as if we had a high priest who was incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us; but we have one who has been tempted in every way that we are, though he is without sin.”

It often entails vicarious suffering for others.  It is a great challenge. Vocation is not meant for the weak and the unenlightened.  Many want to do great things for God and for people, but do not have the capacity to suffer.  In moments of trials, they give up doing good.  That is why Jesus warned the disciples to think through carefully the demands of a vocation.  He said, “You do not know what you are asking.  Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I must be baptised? …  ‘The cup that I must drink you shall drink, and with the baptism with which I must be baptised you shall be baptized.”  We will not be exempted from suffering when doing good.  We will be misunderstood, ridiculed or even opposed by selfish people who are threatened by our good works.

Sacrificing for the greater good of the future and for humanity brings great blessings.  This is what the Lord says, “If he offers his life in atonement, he shall see his heirs, he shall have a long life and through him what the Lord wishes will be done.”  Indeed, the true reward of humble service and love is not honour and glory but the growth in our capacity to love, the experience of joy and peace.  This is what the Lord told His disciples, “but as for seats at my right hand or my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted.”

It is within this context that we look at our vocation in life and our profession.  It is not enough to have a profession, but we must see our profession as our vocation.  Once we see our profession as more of a vocation, then our orientation and motive become different.  We feel empowered and our lives become very meaningful.  It is no longer work or simply as a means to make money, but a means to give life to others, to share our love and joy.  Regardless of whether we are priests, doctors, nurses, social workers, lawyers, etc, we are called to give life to others.

When our profession is one with our vocation, we live a life of integrity, peace and unity.  We become who we are and what we do.  Our message and work become our identity as well, when doing and being are one.  Only in this way, can we live an exemplary life in whatever profession we are in.  Jesus was able to walk the talk by being exemplary because His work is the expression of Himself.  The cause and the messenger are one.  It is not enough to exercise our skills and be competent in our profession, but we need to walk the talk and be good examples of what we teach and preach.

In the final analysis, we need His grace to live out our calling.  The author of Hebrews invites us, “Let us be confident, then, in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help.”  On our own strength, we cannot live out this vocation of love because the demands on love are too overwhelming.  But if we turn to Him for strength by basking in His love and mercy for us, filled with gratitude, we can then continue to serve humbly and selflessly.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
© All Rights Reserved


SCRIPTURE READINGS: Wis 7:7 – 11; Ps 89:12-17; Heb 4:12 – 13; Mk 10:17 – 30

Like the rich man in today’s gospel, we are all seeking for true happiness in life.  Like the rich man, we too ask, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?  Indeed, the truth is that many of us are like this man, so desperate to find the fullness of life.  This is particularly true for those of us who have already achieved much in life, especially in terms of career, business, wealth and pleasure.  The irony is that after spending all our energy, time, efforts and labour in securing wealth, power and status, we still find our lives empty and meaningless.  In spite of the fact that we have everything, we are not happy.

Sad to say, after so much striving, we only arrive at the realization that power cannot bring security.  Look at all the so-called powerful people around us, they are the most insecure.  They need security guards wherever they go.  They have no privacy. They need to hide from the public, especially the paparazzi.  And even when they have so much power, they never seem to be satisfied with the power they have.  Often, they feel threatened by others and so would always look at every person with fear and apprehension that one day they might snatch power from them.

If power cannot bring security, money cannot bring happiness as well.  True, money can provide a comfortable living and a life of pleasure.  But pleasure cannot bring happiness.   What is enjoyed is over the moment the pleasure ends.  Then one begins to feel empty and bored again.

What about glory, status and prestige?  They too cannot bring happiness.  If our lives are so dependent on what people think of us and how they look at us, then we will always live under the threat of rejection.  We become slaves to public opinion.  We spend our energy trying to stay popular in opinion polls.  We are not in control of our lives but the world and the public control us.  We do not do what we are convinced about or what we believe in.  We are prisoners and have no freedom of our own.  We do not overcome low self-esteem just by seeking popularity. Happiness begins with self-acceptance. When we cannot accept ourselves, even if the whole world congratulates us, we will never believe that we are good enough.  So the problem lies within oneself; not what the world thinks of us.

What is even more frustrating is that not only does happiness elude those who seek the things of the world, but even those who are supposedly faith believers cannot find happiness.  Many law-abiding Christians and Catholics, like the Jews in the gospel, are not happy.  They obey the laws but they do not appear to be happy and joyful.  They are obeying out of fear and with hidden hostility against God.  Life seems to be a tiresome set of rules to be followed, or one risks being punished by this vindictive God.  This was the case of the rich man.  When Jesus queried whether he had obeyed the commandments, his answer was in the affirmative.  Then why was he still not happy when he had fulfilled the laws.  Something was still missing.   Indeed, as Catholics and Christians, we must ask ourselves whether we are happy, joyful, liberated people. If we are not an alleluia people, then it shows that Christ has not set us free and He is not our savior.

Well, if religion cannot set us free and make us happy and give us fulfillment, then perhaps, doing humanitarian works might help.  This seems to be what Jesus was suggesting to the rich man when He said, “There is one thing you lack. Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”  Indeed, there are many philanthropists and those who have sufficient resources doing voluntary social work.  Although initially they might feel passionate and happy, but along the way they become resentful because of organizational, institutional, political and inter-personal clashes.  Also, sometimes the poor are not so easy to please either.  They can be rather demanding and unreasonable.  Caregivers in attending to them often feel exasperated and get hurt in the process.

What, then, is the crux of the problem?  Because we lack true wisdom! What is true wisdom?  This is what the author says about true wisdom.  “I esteemed her more than sceptres and thrones; compared with her, I held riches as nothing.  I reckoned no priceless stone to be her peer, for compared with her, all gold is a pinch of sand, and beside her silver ranks as mud. I loved her more than health or beauty, preferred her to the light, since her radiance never sleeps. In her company all good things came to me, at her hands riches not to be numbered.”  The day we come to see that riches, honour, health, beauty, etc are just illusions and are transitory, then we know what true wisdom is.  We will then not hanker after such things and even if we have them, they are not possessions to be hoarded but to be shared and given away or used for love and for mercy.

What can be even more lasting than the things of this world if not authentic love and lasting relationships?  But alas, even relationships today are so fragile.  True and lasting love is rare.  Beautiful relationships and even marriages break down.  So much so many of us are skeptical of relationships.  This explains why many have given up on marriage even.  Most are contented with passing relationships.  That is why even love alone cannot suffice, if we are seeking real happiness.  Human love, even if it were lasting, cannot make us truly happy because one of the partners will also die.  At any rate, total unconditional, caring love is rare today.

So what is the secret?  It is to follow Jesus.  The rich man was not simply told to give up his wealth.  Giving up your resources to the poor might not make you happy.  In fact, one might end up feeling short-changed and cheated that one has given up everything for nothing.   When we experience bitterness in service and ministry, we end up giving up faith completely in goodness and in human beings.  For this reason, Jesus did not say that the rich man would be happy if he were to give up everything.  The giving up of his wealth was a condition and preliminary to the following of Jesus.  Only in following Jesus, can the man be truly happy, not so much in giving up his wealth to the poor.

But in following Jesus, he will find happiness in giving up his wealth to the poor because he will live a life of true freedom and unconditional love.  He begins to live like the Lord, in love and in total dependence on God, detached from the things of this world.  The whole creation becomes his. He enjoys what he is given but not missing what he has not.  Indeed, the true wisdom is Christ Himself.  He is the wisdom of God in person.  Anyone who possesses wisdom has put on the mind of Christ.  When we discover Christ as the wisdom and the love of our life, and when we give ourselves totally to Him, we will find lasting and true happiness.  Only Christ can fill the emptiness in our hearts and only Christ can enlighten our minds.  Only Christ can fill us with the divine love of God and His inner peace and joy.  Living in and from Christ, we will find true joy and peace.

How, then, can we find Christ as our Wisdom?  Not by our own strength of course.  This is what the Lord told the disciples when they said, “In that case who can be saved?” Jesus gazed at them and said, “For men, it is impossible, but not for God: because everything is possible for God.”  Indeed, we cannot give up our wealth and follow Jesus without His grace.

The book of wisdom says we need to pray for His grace. “I prayed, and understanding was given me; I entreated, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me.” The psalmist prayed and his prayer was answered. Prayer indeed is the gate to the wisdom of God.  If we want to find Christ and His love, we need to pray.

Most of all, we are called to pray the scriptures.  Only the Word of God can enlighten us in the truth about love.  The author of Hebrews describes the power of the Word of God.  He wrote, “The word of God is something alive and active: it cuts like any double-edged sword but more finely: it can slip through the place where the soul is divided from the spirit, or joints from the marrow; it can judge the secret emotions and thoughts. No created thing can hide from him; everything is uncovered and open to the eyes of the one to whom we must give account of ourselves.” So if we are serious about true wisdom, distinguishing the illusory values of the world from what is true, lasting and valuable, we need the Word of God to help us and to guide us.  Most of all, only the Word of God can expose our deceptive ways of thinking, of which we may not even be conscious.

The result of prayer and discernment is to know the truth of God and His love for us.  We become freer in love and for love.  Because we know that our destiny lies in God ultimately, we no longer cling to this world and its possessions.  Because we know our destiny is to share in the life of God, we begin to live this life already.  That is why, like the apostles, we already have a foretaste of the kingdom that is to come.  Possessing nothing, we own everything.  This is what the Lord promised the apostles when they asked, “What about us? We have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “I tell you solemnly, there is no one who has left house, brothers, sisters, father, children or land for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not be repaid a hundred times over, houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and land – not without persecutions – now in this present time and, in the world to come, eternal life.”

Written by The Most Rev William Goh
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
© All Rights Reserved


SCRIPTURE READINGS:  JONAH 1:1-2:1, 11; LUKE 10:25-37

We are told in the gospel that the scribe wanted “to disconcert Jesus” and so engaged in an intellectual religious debate with Jesus regarding His attitude to non-Jews.  In response to the question of what one must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus referred to the Law of Moses which is simply this: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbour as yourself.”  Of course, the answer of Jesus is well known to every Jew, not least to the scribe who was a professional lawyer of the Torah.

Yet, the fact remains that the Jews knew that deep in their hearts they had not totally fulfilled this commandment, especially the last segment of the commandment.  The problem lies in the fact that for the Jews, their religion and nationalistic pride restricted them from reaching out beyond their own kind.  As far as the Jews were concerned, non-Jews were unclean and pagans had no hope for salvation.   We can understand that such a mentality existed during the time when the book of Jonah was written.  In the first reading, Jonah disobeyed God because just like his fellow Hebrews, they could not accept that God wanted the salvation of pagans.  Thus, Jonah left for Tarshish deliberately, hoping that God would punish the pagans for their wickedness.  He had no pity, compassion or love for them.  He only wished their destruction.  The irony of it all is that by wanting them to be exterminated, the sailors in the boat sacrificed him to save themselves saying, “’O Lord, do not let us perish for taking this man’s life; do not hold us guilty of innocent blood; for you, Lord, have acted as you thought right.’ And taking hold of Jonah they threw him into the sea; and the sea grew calm again.

Within this context, we can understand why the lawyer was “anxious to justify himself”.  He questioned Jesus further, “And who is my neighbour?”  It should be noted that this scribe wanted to engage in an intellectual discourse with Jesus by posing this question in such a way that was directed towards others.  The question was not “Am I a neighbour to others?”, but rather, “Who is my neighbour?”  Yes, the scribe was not really interested in examining himself, but rather in proving that his alienating attitude towards pagans and non-Jews was justified, namely, that non-Jews and sinners do not deserve our love and mercy.

Of course Jesus could see the self-righteousness of the scribe.  He knew clearly that ‘neighbours’ for the Jews could only refer to fellow Jews.  Thus, instead of responding in an academic manner, He discussed the problem existentially by relating the parable of the Good Samaritan.  At the end of the story, Jesus challenged him to rethink and adjust his mindset by asking him, “Which of these three, do you think, proved himself a neighbour to the man who fell into the brigands’ hands?”  Take note of the response of the scribe.  He said, “The one who took pity on him”.  He did not say explicitly that it was the Samaritan traveller, because it would be too difficult for him to admit that the one who really proved himself to be a neighbour was his enemy!

We too are just like the scribe.  We ask questions in order to justify ourselves.  We do not really want to know the truth about ourselves.  For like the scribe, we restrict our neighbours to our loved ones, our friends, those whom we like and those whom we can get something back in return.  We do not go beyond our circle of friends.  This was the attitude of the priest and the Levite in the story.  They were more concerned about their self-interest, their salvation, by not getting themselves ritually contaminated by either a dead man or worse still, by a non-Jew!  Similarly when our love is restricted to our loved ones and friends, such love is not truly divine love since to love our loved ones is not just for their sakes but ours.  Love for friends has mutual benefits unlike our love for strangers and those who cannot repay us in any way.   Helping those who do not even know that we help them is a true participation in God’s love, as Jesus tells us in the gospel, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others … But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you”. (Mt 6:2-4)

But the point of the parable goes beyond even just helping those who cannot repay us but like the Samaritan who reached out to one who was not simply a stranger, but an enemy.  He took the risk of helping the injured man by bandaging his wounds and bringing him to an inn to recuperate at his expense without hoping for anything in return; perhaps even risking misunderstanding and condemnation. This Samaritan was moved simply by compassion and love.  If that was the case for the Samaritan, then our neighbours should rightfully include strangers, those who are helpless, our enemies and those whom we can get nothing back in recompense.

Jesus says to love only those who love us is to behave like pagans, for they love only in this manner. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”. (Mt 5:43-48)

Indeed, it is easy to love those who love us.  The fact of life is that we care and love those who love us more.  But if we fail to be a neighbour to our enemies and those who do not like us, then we have not really loved. Jesus did not only teach us but in His very own life, He also died for us whilst we were still sinners.  “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:6-8)

It does not suffice to simply know who our neighbour is, as we are called to be a neighbour to others.  Yes, the command of Jesus is direct, “Go, and do the same yourself … and life is yours.”  Be a neighbour to the poor, the unloved and your enemies!  This is truly loving God and loving oneself.  Without a true love for our enemies and the helpless, we cannot truly claim to have the heart of God.  For this same reason too, we cannot inherit eternal life since the life of God and His compassion to all human beings, and even all creatures, is not in us.  If we are unable to go beyond our pagan love for others today because we do not have the heart of God, then we must turn once again to Jonah.  We are told that God sent a fish to swallow Jonah and he was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights before the fish vomited him onto the shore.  Following this experience, the rest of the Jonah story tells us how he returned to Nineveh to preach conversion and repentance to the people.

Of course, we are not told in today’s scripture reading what made him change his mind and obey the call of God.  This is because almost the entire second chapter has been omitted due to a space constraint.  In chapter two, we are told how Jonah reflected on his life, his ingratitude and the love and mercy of God for him when he was in the belly of the fish.  It was through prayer and recollection that he came to realize how great a sinner he was and how God has loved him in spite of his unworthiness.  It was in the belly that he experienced the merciful and universal salvific love of God.  Once he realized that God loves us all in spite of our sinfulness and that He wants the salvation of all, including the pagans and not the Hebrews alone, he decided to prophesy to the Ninevites.

We too must spend time in prayer and recollection so that we will become more conscious of our sinfulness and the lack of love in our lives.  We must recognize that if God loves us, then we are called to love others in return, especially those whom we consider undeserving of our love, such as our enemies or difficult people in our lives.  When we realize that God also wants these people to come to the knowledge of the truth and experience His love, we would gladly become His messengers of love, be a neighbour, and a good Samaritan to them, without having any thought of reward or appreciation.  Such a heart would necessarily mean that we have the life of God in us, now and hereafter, since all human beings and all creatures are our friends and we are one with them in love and unity.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
© All Rights Reserved