Saturday, 5 September 2020 : 22nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Teresa of Kolkata, Religious (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Religious or Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we are reminded today through our Scripture passages of our Christian calling, that is to be filled with love and charity, as well as to be humble and not to boast of our own glory and might, but instead, focus our attention on God and do what He has commanded each and every one of us to do, in understanding His will and obeying His Law with genuine faith.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Apostle St. Paul an exhortation he made in his Epistle to the Church and the faithful in Corinth, for all of them not to look down on others or to be judgmental and comparative, to feel superior to others and to be biased. And by using the examples of himself and the other Apostles, by showing and reminding everyone how they had humbled themselves and laboured so hard for the sake of the people, despite being the leaders of the community, the intention of St. Paul was to remind all of us to be humble and to focus ourselves on God.

It is very easy for us to be tempted by the temptation of ego and pride, to think of ourselves as better and superior, and that others are not as good as ourselves. And this is very common temptation that we often face whenever we do our work as part of the Church, in our communities and Church ministries, and even in our interactions and activities in the general community.

By our nature, we are easily tempted to think that we cannot go wrong, and that it must have been because of another’s fault that we end up in trouble. And we also tend to point out another’s mistake first rather than recognising, less still pointing out our own mistake. And all of these were caused by the pride and ego in us, and they are among the biggest obstacles in the path of our journey of faith.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard from the account of how the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law criticising the Lord’s disciples and followers before Him just because they picked on the grains of wheat in the field and eating them as they were hungry. All these happened on the day of the Sabbath, on the day which was supposed to be holy and dedicated to God, and of which there were rules and regulations related to this holy day.

The Sabbath is the holiest day in the week, and the Law of God stipulated that the day ought to be kept free from busy things in life and the usual activities, all for the intention of helping God’s people to refocus their attention on Him and spend quality time with Him, which is why the Sabbath day is also known as the Day of the Lord. It is what we also keep today in our observance of Sundays as the Days of the Lord, celebrating His resurrection and glory.

But over time, the Law was interpreted by the elders and the priests, passed down as increasingly strict sets of rules and regulations that severely restricted the activities of the people, and in time, as the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law embodied it, the obsession over the petty details of the Law of the Sabbath made many to forget the very reason, purpose and essence of Sabbath itself. The Law was enforced very strictly on the people, and those who did not obey fully, were looked down upon and despised like what the Pharisees did to the Lord and His disciples.

It was exactly what we have just discussed earlier, on the matter of pride and ego which misled the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. The Lord rebuked these people as misguided leaders and shepherds, who have indulged so much in their own sense of superiority that they had forgotten to lead the people on the right path, showing them guidance and compassion. Instead, they indulged in praise and fame they received from the people, and became haughty and arrogant.

That was why the Lord immediately reminded the Pharisees and teachers of the Law who criticised and attacked His disciples, that even the well-respected and adored king David in his time, gave his followers bread to eat when they were on the run from the authorities and were very hungry. And those bread in fact, were not just any bread, but bread reserved only for the priests to eat, and not for any one else.

The Lord wants to remind us through these, that we must not be distracted and tempted by pride, and we must not look at the Law of God, His commandments and laws at merely face value only. If we only appreciate these at face value only, then what we are doing is essentially just skimming the surface of God’s truth and will on the surface, without deep foundation and genuine understanding on what it means for us to be Christians.

If we act in ways that show prejudice on others, being judgmental and biased, being superficial in faith, then all of us need to realise that this is not what our Christian faith is about. And if we think that we are all good, righteous and more worthy than others, then we need to change our mindset and perspective. Today, we have a great role model whom we can look upon as an inspiration and example to follow in how we ought to live up a genuine Christian faith.

St. Teresa of Kolkata, also better known during her lifetime and after as the Mother Teresa of Calcutta, was a religious remembered well for her zeal and courage in reaching out to care for those who were sick and suffering, especially in the worst of conditions, as it was in Calcutta in India where many if not most of the people lived in abject poverty in slums and terrible conditions not fit for human habitation and life.

An Albanian Catholic girl, who chose to join religious life in her youth, and then thereafter came to India as part of her mission, St. Teresa of Kolkata came to know of these immense suffering endured by many of the poor in Calcutta outside her convent walls. As she came to experience more and more of these sad realities of life, she began to hear the calling to make a difference in the lives of those whom she had seen suffering so much.

That was how St. Teresa of Kolkata chose to embark on a new journey, venturing out from the convent and embracing instead the poor, the sick and those dying in the slums and in the streets, giving love, care and comfort to those who had no one to love them, those who had been treated as less than human beings, and showed them the face of God’s love. It was certainly not easy for her especially at the start of her new mission, and she faced plenty of obstacles and opposition, but her conviction, zeal and love for the poor and the dying helped her to overcome all those obstacles.

Many had been touched by St. Teresa of Kolkata and her tireless efforts for many decades, as she established the Missionaries of Charity, the religious congregation dedicated to follow in her drive and passion to help the least and the poorest, those who are suffering all around the world. To those who are not suffering in the way those poorest in Calcutta, the sisters of the Missionaries of Charity also reached out to those who had none to love and comfort them.

For all of these, St. Teresa of Kolkata was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize as well as great renown. But what she was very well-remembered for was her speech, in which she mentioned that ‘she was just an instrument, a pencil in the hands of the Lord’. St. Teresa of Kolkata remained personally humble and dedicated to her mission, and even as she struggled to overcome her many challenges, the temptations of the devil, we can see in her, a great and shining example of Christian virtue and faith, that each and every one of us can follow.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all follow in the inspiring virtues and examples of St. Teresa of Kolkata, being humble in our everyday life, humble before God and man alike, and place our focus constantly on God, as we live our lives joyfully in serving Him and in loving Him, in showing His love to one another, just as St. Teresa of Kolkata had done, sharing the genuine love of God to all man, especially to those who are most vulnerable, weakest and least loved by all.

St. Teresa of Kolkata, Mother Teresa, pray for us all that we too may follow in your footsteps, in loving our brothers and sisters, in showing genuine love, care and compassion, that we may live our lives as genuine Christians centred on God and not on ourselves or our selfish desires. May the Lord be with us always, and guide us in this journey of life in faith. Amen.

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