Saturday, October 19, 2013

Foes That Must Be Fought

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
(Mission Sunday)

Picture: cc HoangP

Sisters and brothers, have you ever found yourself under attack by an enemy of some kind? What do you do? How do you react? Do you run away? Do you fight back? Or do you just give in? Well, it all depends, right? Sometimes fighting back is just not the wise thing to do. If I happen to be in a lonely place, for example. And a robber suddenly appears and points a knife at me, asking for my wallet. Probably not a good idea for me to fight back. No point in risking my life to save a few dollars, which I can earn back later on. Better just to give in. At least for the time being.

And this is true not just of human robbers snatching my money. It’s also true of another kind of thief. The invisible kind. The kind that steals not my money, but my good looks. I’m talking, of course, about ageing. What do I do, for example, when I notice wrinkles appearing on my face? Or when my hair starts turning from black to white? Or when it even begins to fall off? At first, of course, I may insist on fighting hard against this enemy. I may use skin creams and hair dyes and other similar weapons. But, after a while, I realise that I’m really fighting a losing battle. It’s only a matter of time before age catches up with all of us. Maybe it’s better not to struggle so hard. But to learn to grow old gracefully. Rather than fighting back all the time, there are some enemies that we just need to learn to accept. Maybe even to befriend.

But not all enemies are like that. There are some enemies that we really need to keep fighting against. No matter what. Even if it seems at first that we have no chance of winning. For example, as you know, here in Singapore, we have spent much of this year fighting against a very tiny but very deadly enemy. The Aedes mosquito. Which spreads Dengue fever. A disease that has so far claimed the lives of 5 people in Singapore this year. And although it’s an uphill battle, we have not given up. We continue to make every effort to fight this enemy. To wipe out its breeding grounds. And we do this so that we, and those we love, can be safe. This is something worth fighting for.

Sisters and brothers, sometimes, when we are under attack, it’s wise to give in. But, at other times, we just really need to keep on fighting. This is true in the spiritual life as well. In each of our Mass readings today, for example, we find people under attack. And, in each case, those under attack do not to give in. But keep on fighting back. In the first reading, after escaping from slavery in Egypt, the people of Israel reach a place called Rephidim. Here they are attacked by a race known as the Amalekites. And the people of Israel react by going to war. They do not give in. They fight back. In the second reading, St. Paul tells Timothy never to give up, but to keep fighting the good fight. To keep struggling especially against the attacks of false teaching. And, in the gospel parable, we find a poor widow suffering injustice of some kind. Caused by the attacks of an unnamed enemy. But, although she seems helpless, the widow does not give in. She keeps fighting back, by pestering a judge until he finally agrees to help.

The Amalekites in the first reading. Falsehood in the second. And injustice in the gospel. Sisters and brothers, in our readings today, these are the enemies against whom people refuse to give in. But keep fighting against. And we can probably think of other enemies too. Enemies whose attacks perhaps we ourselves have experienced. Enemies that we continue to have to fight against. Enemies like certain sinful habits that we can’t seem to break. No matter how hard we try. Maybe an addiction of some kind. To pornography. Or to gambling. Or to drink. Or even to work. An attachment to an unhealthy relationship. To someone who, for example, is already married to somebody else.

And what about enemies that attack not just individuals but also societies. Enemies such as poverty, for example. Isn’t it true that even in a rich place like Singapore, there are still poor people among us? People who need help, just to survive. And isn’t it also true, that there is a kind of poverty that affects even those who may have plenty of money. A poverty of the heart that somehow prevents people from being truly happy. A deep sense of loneliness, or emptiness, or meaninglessness, which may remain even though one’s life may be filled with many expensive things.

Sisters and brothers, like the people in our readings today, it’s likely that we too have experienced attacks by enemies that we need to fight against. But how do we do this? How exactly should we fight back? Especially when we ourselves often feel so weak? Thankfully, our readings give us some suggestions. When fighting against spiritual enemies, there are at least two things that we need to pay attention to.

The first is to occupy the right places. Notice what Moses tells Joshua in the first reading. March out to engage Amalek, he says. I, meanwhile, will stand on the hilltop. Moses begins his fight against Amalek by making sure that his forces occupy two places at once. The first place is where he sends Joshua and his armies. To the battlefield. And the second place is where Moses himself goes. To the hilltop. The battlefield of life. And the hilltop of prayer. These are the two places that we all need to occupy, especially when fighting against spiritual enemies. On the one hand, we need to do everything in our power to engage the forces of evil on the battlefield. But that is not enough. We also need to remain on the hilltop to pray for strength. The way Moses prayed. And the way the widow in the gospel prayed. Lifting up holy hands to God. Without giving up. Trusting in God’s power and desire to save us. Even if we may sometimes have to wait.

But that’s not all. In addition to occupying the right places, we also need to make use of the right weapons. Notice how, in the first reading, when Moses raises up his arms in prayer, he is not empty-handed. He carries the staff of God in his hand. The staff given to him by God as a sign of power and authority. The same staff that Moses used to defeat the magicians of Pharaoh. To part the Red Sea. And to strike the rock from which water flowed for the people to drink. Notice also that, in addition to the staff of God, Moses also relies on a stone on which he sits. And the support of two companions, when his arms grow tired. And not just Moses on the hilltop. But also Joshua, on the field of battle. He too relies on a weapon. We’re told that Joshua cut down the Amalekites with the edge of the sword.

But what about us, sisters and brothers? What weapons do we have? What is our equivalent of a staff, and a stone, and a sword? The answer to this question is found in our second reading, where St. Paul reminds Timothy of the power of the holy scriptures–from these, Paul writes, you can learn the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. It is in the scriptures that we find our true and only effective weapon against the power of the Enemy. This weapon is Christ himself. Who, by his Cross and Resurrection, has redeemed the world.

My dear sisters and brothers, in life we often undergo attacks from enemies that we need simply to ignore. Or even to accept. But there are other times. There are certain enemies that we have to keep fighting against. No matter what. Enemies that threaten our life as Christians. Enemies that are stronger than us. Against whom, on our own strength, we would be powerless. But, thankfully, we have been given an effective Weapon. A Weapon that has already won for us the Victory. And it is this Weapon and this same Victory that we are celebrating here at this Mass. It is this Weapon and this Victory that we all have received a mission to proclaim to all the world.

Sisters and brothers, as we celebrate Mission Sunday, what enemies do you need to keep on fighting against today?

1 comment:

  1. O Lord,

    as I begin to reflect on the spiritual gems in this homily, the SERENITY PRAYER came to my mind:

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - -- - -

    " O God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
    the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.
    Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time.
    Accepting hardships as the parthway to peace.
    Taking, as HE did, the sinful world as it is, not as I would have it.
    Trusting that HE will make all things right if I surrender to HIS will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with HIM forever. "

    May this prayer become a part of my life and may You continue to guide and lead me in Your LIGHT and in Your Wisdom. Amen.

    Seeing Is Believing
    20 October 2013


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