Monday, July 23, 2007

Monday in the 16th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
You Have Only to Keep Still…

Readings: Exodus 14:5-18; Exodus 15:1bc-2, 3-4, 5-6; Matthew 12:38-42

There’s an advertisement that one often sees in some cinemas. Various letters of the alphabet are mingling on the screen when a fire suddenly breaks out. Screams are heard and all the letters rush for the exit, which gets jammed in the process, until someone whistles and gets everyone to file through the exit in an orderly fashion. The message is clear enough. When there is an emergency, do not panic! Keep calm… Do what is necessary… Easier said than done, of course.

We encounter a similar situation in the first reading today. Here there is a serious emergency of another sort. Imagine what it must be like for the poor defenseless Israelites, waking up one morning to find a horde of bloodthirsty Egyptian charioteers, horsemen and soldiers descending upon them. Is it any wonder that they begin to panic? They blame Moses for rescuing them from slavery. Better to work for the Egyptians than die in the wilderness! Yet, in the midst of their panic, God offers a word of encouragement so incredible as to seem almost ridiculous. In the face of certain death, God actually tells the people to have no fear, to keep still, to do what is necessary… Which is what Moses does. He follows God’s instructions to the letter and pioneers for the Israelites a way across the waters of the Red Sea.

There are no Egyptians breathing down our necks. But we do, from time to time, have to face various emergencies of our own. Sometimes there are people making difficult demands on us. At other times the struggle is with painful feelings that might suddenly ensnare us. Whatever the crisis, don’t we sometimes find ourselves reacting with the same panic that afflicts the Israelites? And isn’t God’s response often the same? Don’t panic… Keep calm… Do what is necessary…

We know it’s far from easy to put this advice into practice: when things go very wrong, to do what we can and to trust that God has the situation under control, even if we don’t. Perhaps what might help us to do so is to recall and to recognize the signs of God’s presence and action in our lives, the very signs that the Pharisees in today’s gospel seem so oblivious to. We should like to see a sign from you, they ask Jesus, thus demonstrating their blindness to the One who, by his life, death and rising, becomes the sign of God’s undying love for us.

Who are the Egyptians in our lives? How are we being invited to keep still today?


  1. In today's society, inaction is deplored and speed is everything. Singaporeans have earned the dubious distinction of being the fastest strollers in the world (displacing Hongkongers!). I think that we are also the fastest talkers in the world. Don't these people ever come up for air?

    My work demands quick thinking, quick decisions and quick actions, so much so that even if I have the luxury of solitude once in a while, my mind cannot stay still even after my body has. With the help of Fr Heng, it took me three long days to settle down to my eight-day retreat. That's why I prize precious moments of solitude and personal "retreat".

    We are in an emergency. Fr Chris, there ARE "Egyptians" breathing down our necks, only disguised in very beguiling, seductive externals. Just take the present real estate {en bloc} fever sweeping the country, making instant millionaires but displacing untold numbers (many of whom are parishioners of St Ignatius). The amount of money changing hands is not only astounding, it makes a mockery of all who work hard to earn a decent living but whose reward is much, much less. In light of this en bloc fever, what should our attitude as Christians be?

    "Be still and know that I am God". I think the key is not only to be still but to know that the Almighty is present and real and is in charge. We know this only too well in our heads but (like me) I suspect not in our hearts. How do we get in touch with this reality? One way is as Fr Chris says: recall God's presence and providence in our lives. Another is what I often do, that is, after the event, look back on how God has guided and blessed us through the tumultous times.

    Be still and know that He is God.

  2. I'm a working mum and I feel like I'm running around all the time. All my waking hours are fully occupied taking care of my husband's, kids', and colleagues' demands. I love being a mummy and valued co-worker but I really need to take 5 and keep still sometimes or I would burn out. Then I wouldn't be much use, would I?

    We have been pushed very hard to achieve and be the best, and taking a break/rest has come to be seen as a sign of weakness. This is false as those who are self-aware and know their limits are just being courageous to admit that their bodies need a rest. Even machines have down-time, what more people.