Thursday, August 14, 2008

Thursday in the 19th Week of Ordinary Time (II)
Memorial of St. Maximillian Kolbe, Priest & Martyr

Readings: Ezekiel 12:1-12; Psalms 78:56-57, 58-59, 61-62; Matthew 18:21–19:1
Picture: CC karroozi

How do you feel when you see signs that are missing letters of the alphabet in them? Sometimes I find them funny, especially when an unintended message is sent as a result. But at other times, I find myself rather irked that those who put up the sign don’t care enough to ensure that it actually says what it’s meant to say. Someone somewhere has been negligent. Someone has dropped the ball. As a result, the sign isn’t as effective as it should be.

Memories of such signs, as well as my reactions to them, are what our readings bring to mind today. For we all know that as followers of Christ, members of his Church, we are called to be signs – or sacraments, to be more exact – of God’s loving and compassionate presence in the world. And, in the gospel, Jesus highlights an essential aspect of this sign, a crucial letter in the message that we are meant to bear. In reply to Peter’s query about whether or not he has to forgive a wayward brother even up to seven times, Jesus replies: Not seven times but seventy-seven times. And yet, this is a letter that so easily falls off our sign. Forgiveness demands so much from us that we may sometimes simply decide to forget about it, to leave our sign hanging with missing letters? The effort is just too much for us.

In contrast, our first reading presents us with someone who faithfully maintains the accuracy of the message on his sign, even when the going gets tough. In order to send the people the message that they will be exiled if they do not repent of their rebellious and idolatrous ways, God makes a demanding request of the prophet. He has to pack up his things, and depart from his home through a hole in the wall. And the prophet obeys. He doesn’t flinch from God’s call. The message is sent without any missing letters.

We find the same thing to an even greater degree in the life of the saint whom we celebrate today. It is a story we know well. Incarcerated by the Nazis at Auschwitz, St. Maximillian Kolbe volunteered to be executed in place of a young father. He did not flinch from sacrificing even his life, so as to continue presenting to the world an accurate sign of God’s inexhaustible love.

What is it, we may wonder, that sets Ezekiel and Maximillian apart from the rest of us? What is it that enables them to maintain the accuracy of their sign, even when an apparently superhuman effort is required of them? Perhaps it’s got to do with their intimate relationship, their close communication with the divine Sign-maker. Isn’t this also what we find in the life of that Sign of all signs, Christ our Lord?

As we reflect on their examples, perhaps we may consider if there are any missing letters on our sign, both as individuals as well as a community.

How accurate is the message we are sending today?


  1. As Signs - we are required to showcase who we truly are in our relationships with everyone and with everything that we come into contact with. Sometimes we also rely on others for signs to help us in our journey. Perhaps we are merely alphabets enjoined with others to form a message in community.
    As letters drop off, the message is weakened, very much like our worship and practice in Church. No man is an island. We must become realistic signposts so our lives can be concretized in tangible reality.
    The other intangible message - suffused into our deepest being by the Holy Spirit can only be experienced. Andy Ho's article today in the S.T. helps us to remember the wisdom of "Silence". Some messages are not spoken but felt. This may be difficult to articulate.
    Must remember always to reach within; and extend without, all that is real and genuine to reflect God's glory to people that I meet.
    Grant me the grace to Be Still.

  2. The missing alphabets of the signs in society and Church today are

    S I N

    G O D

    H O L I N E S S

    S A C R E D

  3. I miss reading your reflection today, Fr Chris. Second Friday without a post... is this a sign of things to come?

    My sign doesn't work well sometimes. You've said it: Forgiveness is a letter that so easily falls off our sign, especially when we are expected to forgive not just seven times but seven times seventy-seven times.

    It's much easier to bear a grudge than to forgive a hurt (intended or otherwise) even when I've prayed for the grace to forgive. It's much easier to go on a cold war and say nothing, pretending that everything is okay when actually it's not. It's much easier to bristle and go on the defensive than to seek to understand and to forgive or even to ask for forgiveness.

    Divine SignMaker, please repair my sign!