Sunday, 8 September 2019 : Twenty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday all of us are called to reflect on the importance of trusting and putting our faith in the providence of God, and all of us are encouraged to discern more deeply about how we can be better disciples and followers of the Lord in our daily living. We are called to discern carefully what it truly means for us to be a disciple of Christ, Our Lord and Saviour.

To be a disciple of Christ, which means as Christians, all of us must be willing and committed to accept the cross of Christ as He Himself mentioned to His disciples in our Gospel passage today, that those who follow Him must carry their crosses in life. This cross that they carry is the cross of suffering united to the cross of Christ’s suffering, on which He has borne all of our punishments for our sins and died for our sake.

Through all of these that God had spoken to us through His words in the Sacred Scripture today, God wants each and every one of us to know that following Him is not going to be something that can easily be done or something that will be all pleasant and good. In fact, the reality is such that to be a follower of Christ will often mean that we will endure the same kind of rejection and suffering that the Lord Himself has suffered.

And that is why He put it plainly before all of us without sugarcoating any of the details. He put it clearly and plainly that being His disciples will often lead us to be in difficulty, in moments of trials and challenges, in rejection and persecution, all of which will lead us to doubt, or question or even wanting to give up our faith entirely. But we must not give in to those temptations and pressures, and instead we must learn to put our trust in God.

In our second reading today, in the letter which St. Paul had written to Philemon, this servant of God addressed himself as a prisoner of Christ, which highlighted the plight and suffering that he was then going through as someone being persecuted for his faith and dedication to the Lord. St. Paul has endured a lot of trials and challenges throughout his ministry as an Apostle during his evangelising missions.

He has been rejected by many people just as there were many others who accepted him and listened to him and his message of God’s truth. He has been cast out of towns and cities, ridiculed and almost stoned to death, persecuted and almost killed by his enemies and those who despised the Lord and the Christian faith. He has been betrayed and made to suffer pains in the physical, mental and spiritual dimensions, and yet, he remained true to his faith.

And why is that so? That is because St. Paul united his sufferings and trials to the very sufferings of Christ. He did not carry his cross all alone by himself, or just by carrying them with some others. In fact, as I have mentioned earlier, he carried his cross in union with Christ Himself, knowing that for everything he had suffered, the Lord has suffered infinitely a lot more, having had to endure the punishments for all of our sins.

There were also many other saints and holy servants of God who have suffered in the same manner as St. Paul or even more. Throughout the history of the Church there had been countless men and women who endured willingly those many pains and sufferings in the defence and witnessing of their Christian faith. They committed themselves to God, again knowing that they carried out their crosses in their respective lives and circumstances being united with Christ’s own sufferings.

There must have been a lot of questions that would have arisen amidst all those sufferings. Just as is in our human nature, it is bound for us to doubt, or to question or to wonder why is it that we have to suffer in this world, especially as those who believe in God and considered as God’s own beloved ones. It is common for us to hear questions such as ‘Why is there suffering if God is so good and loving?’ or ‘Why does God let His people suffer if He loves us all so much?’

This is where then we need to understand first and foremost why we have to suffer and carry our crosses in life as we follow the Lord in His path. Our sufferings come about because of the abuse of human freedom and our own stubbornness in refusing to listen to and to accept God’s truth. All of us are all beloved by God, every single one of us without any exception. Thus, by that nature, all of us ought to enjoy God’s full grace and love for eternity as He has intended.

Unfortunately, because we refuse to obey Him and chose freely to embrace the tempting fruits of sin and wickedness that Satan has presented to us, that we become corrupted and attached to those sins and temptations. And therefore suffering comes because we willingly chose to abandon God’s fullness of grace, love and providence, and preferred to walk down our own path to ruination. We chose the path of sin and disobedience and in doing so, we become reluctant to follow the Lord.

That is also why those who remained in sin and refused to believe in the Lord ended up persecuting their brethren who chose to believe in God. They refused to listen to the truth often because the truth pointed out to the defects and what are lacking in their hearts. Their pride and ego, their greed and desire for acknowledgment and superiority and unwillingness to let go of those negative things led them to persecute those who believe in the truth, that is us as Christians.

But, brothers and sisters in Christ, this is where then each and every one of us must truly contemplate what we should be doing with our lives from now on. Again in our Gospel reading passage today, God spoke to the people with regards to a parable He chose to portray and deliver His message to them. He spoke of a person building a house who ought to be thinking of what would be needed in order to build the house and complete it thoroughly or else, the house cannot be completed and the builder would be shamed.

Similarly then, the Lord spoke using the example of a king who was about to go into war with another king, who ought to discern and examine carefully the prospects of victory before engaging each other in battle. Essentially, using these two examples, the Lord wants us to discern carefully on our own respective lives as well, given that He has presented to us the truth of everything, and how each and every one of us have been given the free will to choose between following Him or to follow the path of the devil and the world.

Following God, as I have mentioned earlier, will often mean for us to suffer and to have to endure difficulties and challenges for His sake. Of course the extent of sufferings, trials and challenges will be different for each and every one of us, and no two same people will encounter the exact same conditions and sufferings as each other. Nonetheless, it is a fact and reality that the path that we have to take as faithful Christians will be an uphill one.

On the other hand, it is often so much easier for us to take the other path, that is the path of disobedience and sin, the path which Satan and his fallen angels, our tempters have presented to us all the time. This path is likely to be much more appealing and enticing to us than the path that God has shown us. Yet, the Lord also made it very clear and had revealed to us, that those who choose the path of sin and willingly and constantly going down that path has nowhere else to go but the damnation in hell, while those who persevered in the path of faith will receive the eternal and true glory of God.

Now, all of us have been given the wisdom and the ability to discern carefully what our course of action in life should be, that we have known what the two possible ultimate outcomes are. But a lot of times, we end up being distracted and fall into indecisiveness because we tend to worry, be concerned about ourselves and our worldly well-being, about being accepted by others and by the community.

This is where our first reading passage today from the Book of Wisdom should enlighten us and help us in our decision, as it was mentioned there that ‘our human reasoning is timid and our notions are misleading’ and how our ‘physical body weighs down on the active mind’. All of them reminds us of our own mortality and our own vulnerability to the temptations of the body and the flesh, the weakness of our body that become obstacles in our journey of faith.

That is why, because of our own weaknesses and inability to understand many things around us that we have to learn to put our trust in God and to focus our whole attention and our whole being on Him. The more we try to comprehend things or make decisions by considering all the concerns and thoughts we have, the more we will be confused and easily be trapped by the devil and his snares.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore, let us all pray and spend more time building a healthy and good relationship with God from now on, and trust in Him with all of our hearts and with all of our strength, knowing that He has provided us with everything that we need, and despite the sufferings, trials and challenges we may encounter in life, let us remember that He Himself has endured those same sufferings and worse, all for the love He has for each and every one of us.

Let us all therefore spend this time and moment to grow ever stronger in our faith, and to walk ever more faithfully in the path towards God. Let us be ever closer to God with each and every passing moment. May the Lord continue to guide us and journey with us, as we strive to carry up our crosses with Him, entrusting ourselves completely in His hands. May God bless us all and all of our good works and endeavours. Amen.

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