Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Super Ironwoman

Day 4 of Nativity Church Feast-Day Novena

I Believe in Jesus Christ, Incarnate of the Virgin Mary

Readings: 1 John 1:1-4; Psalm 97; John 1:9-14
Picture: The Real Singapore (Apple Daily)

Sisters and brothers, do you remember a woman by the name of Ms Louise Chow? Also known as Super Ironwoman? Do you remember who she is? And how she got that nickname? Her story was told in the news just a couple of weeks ago. According to the reports, Ms Chow was jogging one day along the waterfront of Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong, when she noticed a crowd of people watching a man who had fallen into the sea. As it turned out, the man was mentally unstable, and was trying to commit suicide. Now you may remember that this was also the time when Typhoon Utor was passing through Hong Kong. So the winds were very strong. Blowing at more than 100 km/h. And the waves were high. You can probably imagine what it looked and felt like. But, in spite of all that, Ms Chow did not hesitate. She interrupted her run, took off her shoes and socks, grabbed a life-buoy, dived into the choppy waters, and pulled the man to safety.

Sisters and brothers, don’t you think that was a very heroic thing to do? If it were me, I’m not sure whether I would have done the same... Actually… probably not. There were, after all, other people there at the scene. Perhaps some just walked away without a second thought. And maybe some others stood by and watched. Doing nothing. Except maybe exchanging comments with their friends, or just taking some photographs. And then, very likely, there were also some other people who may have tried to reach out and help. But only from afar. Only from the safety of the shore. What made Ms Chow stand out, was her willingness to jump straight into the dangerous waters. Again, I don’t know if that was a wise thing to do. But that was what she did. As a result, a man’s life was saved that day. And Ms Chow earned for herself the name Super Ironwoman.

Now you may be wondering, sisters and brothers, why I’m telling you this story. I do it because I think it can help us to understand a little better–to ponder a little more deeply on–the theme that you have chosen for this fourth day of your Novena in preparation for the parish feast. Today’s theme is the Incarnation. And, as you know, to incarnate literally means to put on flesh. The Incarnation has to do with God becoming a human being in Jesus Christ. That much we all know. But what does the Incarnation really mean to us and for us? What difference does it make in our lives? This is where the Super Ironwoman story can help us.

Why did Ms Chow dive into the dangerous waters of Victoria Harbour? She didn’t have to. She didn’t plan to. She could have chosen simply to continue jogging. Her action was a spontaneous response to an urgent situation. An emergency. A matter of life and death. She did it to save someone who was trying to take his own life. Isn’t this also something like what the Incarnation is for us? Isn’t this a little like why God decides to become flesh? To dive into the choppy waters of our human situation? God does this in order to rescue us from drowning. To save us from certain death. Even from committing suicide.

But some of us may object. Surely none of us here is drowning, right? None of us is trying to commit suicide. We’re all still very much alive. But are we? Really? What does it mean to be alive? Of course, we all know what it means biologically. We consider someone to be alive when the person is still breathing. When the heart is still pumping. When the brain is still thinking. And yet, we also know that we human beings are created by God for something more than mere biological life alone. We are meant for something greater. Something which our Mass readings call eternal life.

We have seen Eternal Life, the first reading tells us, and we bear witness, and we are telling you of it. But what is this Eternal Life? And how is it different from mere biological life? Jesus himself gives us the answer in John’s gospel (17:3). As he prays to his heavenly Father, Jesus says: this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. According to Jesus, eternal life is far more than just breathing lungs and beating heart and active brain. For Jesus, to have eternal life is to enter and to remain in a loving personal relationship with God. It is to put God first in one’s life. Anything less than this is less than eternal life.

Which, of course, immediately presents us with a problem. The same problem that we find in the gospel reading. Which tells us that although God was already in the world, the world did not know him. And since eternal life is to know God, then not to know God is somehow to die. And, worse still, to choose not to know God is to choose to die. To commit suicide. It is to decide, like that mentally unstable man in Hong Kong, to drown in our own ignorance of God. And isn’t it true, sisters and brothers, that many of us, if not all, have some experience of drowning in this way? Don’t I know what it feels like to put other things and other people in front of God? To drown in my greed, for example. My desire to accumulate more and more things. Like bigger houses. Or faster cars. Or richer friends... Or to drown in my worries and anxieties. My jealousies and resentments. My unwillingness to forgive those who may have hurt me. My lack of care and attention for those who may need my help. Especially those for whom I bear some responsibility. My parents. My children. My siblings. My neighbours. The poor.

Sisters and brothers, we all say that we believe God is everywhere. In every situation, and in every person. Yet, isn’t it true that many of us, myself included, often find it difficult to see and to recognise God. When things go well for me, I tend to forget all about God. And then, when things go badly, I look for God, but can’t seem to see where God might be hiding. I say I believe that God is everywhere, and yet I find it hard to see God present in the challenging situations I may encounter. Or the difficult people I may have to face. Sisters and brothers, isn’t it true that we all know the feeling of drowning in our own ignorance of God?
Fortunately for us, God responds to our drowning in the same surprising and heroic way as the Hong Kong Super Ironwoman. Of course, God can simply choose to walk away. Or to stand by and take pictures. Or to reach out to us only from afar. But God doesn’t do these things. God chooses instead to dive into our human situation. To put on flesh so that we can learn to recognise God. To hear God. To see God. To touch and feel God. This is what Jesus does for us. When we look carefully at his life. Especially as it is described in the Gospels. At the way he comes to be born as a helpless baby. Born in a manger because there was no room at the inn. At the way he grows up, humbly and quietly obedient to his parents (cf Luke 2:51). At the way he spends his adult life, tirelessly teaching people about his heavenly Father, and mercifully healing them of their illnesses. At the way he allows himself to be tortured, and put to death, and then raised to life again on the third day. When we carefully consider the life, death and resurrection of Christ, we finally come to know what God is like. We come to realise what is written in the first letter of John (4:16): that God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.

And that’s not all. As we grow in our relationship with Jesus, the Word made flesh, we also gradually learn to recognise him present to us and loving us in all the different situations and people in our lives. And not just to recognise, but also to respond. To respond to him in the same way that God responds to us. To respond as Ms Louise Chow did when she came across a fellow human being in need. Diving into the choppy and dangerous waters of their situation. And pulling them into the safety of God’s loving embrace.

Sisters and brothers, in the Incarnation, God becomes our Super Ironwoman. How is God diving into your life today?

1 comment:

  1. I wonder why don't we say Saint Virgin Joseph? ...similar to Blessed Virgin Mary ?
    My eyes were caught by the title..." Jesus incarnate of the Virgin Mary...:"

    I know that up to 30-40 years ago, almost all women mentioned in the calendars were called Virgins, but men, no, men were not called virgins.


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