Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Mass of Christian Burial for Marie Tan
Choosing The Pattern of Christ

Readings: Wisdom 3:1-9; Psalm 23; Romans 6:3-9; Luke 23:44-46, 50, 52-53, 24:1-6
Picture: cc kudumomo

Sisters and brothers, when you go on a trip to a foreign country, you usually don’t get to choose the pilot who will fly your plane, or drive your bus. And you accept this. When you travel, you accept that this is just one of those things over which you have no control. But this doesn’t mean that you have no choice at all. You may not be able to choose the pilot, but you can choose the airline. You can, for example, choose the company that has established a reputation for high safety standards and good service. So that even though you may not be able to choose the pilot, you can still choose the way in which you wish to travel.

This is true not just of a trip from one country to another, but also of our journey through life and death as well. Although we may try not to think too much about it, we all know that, if we let nature take its course, we cannot really choose the cause of our death. If we did, we would all probably choose to die peacefully and painlessly in our sleep. But, even if this is true. Even if we cannot choose the cause of our death. In a very real way, we can still choose how we wish to live, and how we wish to die.

Isn’t this what we see in the experience of our dear Auntie Marie? We all know the disease that led to her death. We all know that she had no choice in the matter. She did not choose to have cancer. Nobody in her right mind would wish that. And yet, those of us who had the opportunity of spending time with her after her diagnosis, also know that Auntie Marie did make a choice about how she would spend the time that was left to her. She did choose how she would live and how she would die.

We know that she chose to be baptised into the Christian faith. She chose to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus. And we know what this means. To be baptised is not just to have water poured over our heads. The water symbolises both a dying and a rising. A dying to ourselves. So that we can rise in Christ. The second reading we heard just now tells us what this means. To be baptised is to imitate the pattern given to us by Jesus. The pattern of his death, and the pattern of his life.

This pattern has several characteristics. The first is surrender. Surrender to God. As we heard in the gospel just now, the final thing that Jesus said before he breathed his last was Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.

I did not spend too much time with Auntie Marie. But I did have the opportunity to chat with her on the Thursday before she died. The full content of our conversation should, of course, be kept in confidence. But I do think that she would want me to share at least this much with you. She told me that she had been praying the Rosary. And she was moved to tears as she spoke about her prayer. At first, I thought she was sad or afraid. But she wasn’t. She showed me a pamphlet written in Chinese. It contained a description of all the mysteries of the Rosary. And she told me that she was much moved when she thought of all that Jesus had done for us, and for her. So much so that she was not afraid die. She was willing to imitate the Lord Jesus. She was willing to surrender her life to the Lord.

And, because she was willing to do this, because she surrendered so wholeheartedly to God, we believe that she rests in the peace of the Lord. For this peace is the second characteristic of the pattern that Jesus left for us. This is also what we heard in the first reading. The souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God, no torment shall ever touch them. Even though Auntie Marie did suffer physical pain, even though it may appear to many that she is dead and gone, as disciples of Christ, we believe that she is now at peace in the embrace of the Lord. We believe that God has put her to the test and proved her worthy to be with him. And we believe that, when the time comes, we will all be reunited in the Kingdom of God forever.

Apart from surrender and peace, there is a third characteristic to the pattern that Jesus left us. This has to do with the effects of his dying and rising. In John’s gospel (12:32), Jesus says: when I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself. And we see the truth of this in the passage that we heard just now. After Jesus dies, people begin to gather. Joseph of Arimathea–who was until then only a secret disciple, because he was afraid of the religious authorities–now receives the courage to make his discipleship public. He goes and asks for Jesus’ body. We hear also of how the women gather at the tomb. When Jesus dies, he gathers people together. And they become one Body in Christ.

Isn’t this also what Auntie Marie’s passing is doing for us. When someone dies in Christ, people are gathered in the Lord. And this was something close to Auntie Marie’s heart. In my conversation with her, she told me that she had only one wish. She wished that all the members of her family would continue to care for one another. That they would always remain united. When someone dies in the pattern of Jesus, people are gathered together in Christ.

But that’s not all. In our gospel reading, although people are brought together, they do not remain in one place. Having been gathered by the experience of the Lord’s death, they then receive the news that He has risen from the dead. And, in this new experience, they are sent out to share the Good News with others. When someone dies according to the pattern of Christ, people are gathered in unity. And when someone rises in the pattern of Christ, people are scattered in service.

If all this is indeed true, sisters and brothers, then it is not just Auntie Marie who made a choice. We have a choice to make as well. We have a choice as to whether or not we wish to see Auntie Marie’s passing according to the pattern of Christ. We have a choice whether or not, even as we continue to grieve the loss of a loved one, we wish to surrender ourselves into the comforting arms of the Lord. We have a choice whether or not to allow ourselves to be gathered into unity, and to be scattered in service.

We have a choice.

Sisters and brothers, how will you choose today?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Nativity Of The Lord: Mass During the Night
Children’s Pageant Mass
Reaching The Light Switch

Readings: Isaiah 9:1-7; Psalm 95:1-3,11-13; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14 (Children’s Lectionary)
Picture: cc Chris&Rhiannon

Sisters and brothers, grownups and children, are you afraid of the dark? There once was a little girl named Cindy. Cindy was only two years old, and she was terribly afraid of the dark. One afternoon, the grownups in her family were very busy, and they left Cindy in a room with her baby brother, who was fast asleep. At first, Cindy was happy just to play with her toys. Then evening came, and the room began to get very dark. Cindy was afraid. But she could not switch on the lights, because she was too short. There was no one else in the room except her baby brother. But he was no use, since he was also too short to reach the switch. Cindy was so frightened that she started to cry. Thankfully, someone finally heard her crying, came into the room, and switched on the lights for her.

What we learn from Mary’s story is that if you are stuck in a dark room, and you’re too short to turn on the lights yourself, then you need someone who can help you. Someone taller than you. Someone who can reach the switch for you. And this is precisely what we are celebrating on this joyous Christmas night. As our first reading tells us: Those who walked in the dark have seen a bright light. Tonight we celebrate the coming of Jesus. He is our bright light. He is the One who is able to reach the switch that we are unable to reach.

But there is something very strange going on here, isn’t there? This Jesus, whom we are celebrating, this rescuer, who is supposed to turn on the light for us, comes to us as a little baby. Can a baby reach the light switch that we ourselves cannot reach? How can a baby rescue us? How can a baby light up our darkness? This is the question that we need to think more deeply about in order to enter into the joy of Christmas. And, to do this, we need to recognize that there are different kinds of darkness. Just as there are different types of light switches.

At the time when Jesus was born, as our gospel tells us, the people were ruled by an emperor named Augustus. Now, as you know, the people were Jews. But Augustus was a Roman. How did a Roman become king of the Jews? Only by beating them in battle. So that, when Jesus was born, the people were living in a kind of darkness. It was the darkness of defeat. And they saw only one way out. They needed someone who was strong enough to drive out the Romans. But, of course, a baby cannot do that. A baby cannot even feed itself. How can it defeat an army? Isn’t this why, when it was time for Jesus to be born, there was no room for him in the inn? Most of the people paid no attention to him because they just did not think that the baby Jesus could be the one to rescue them from the darkness of Roman rule.

And what about us? Perhaps, as we come here tonight, we too may be feeling like we are stuck in a dark room of some sort. Where the light switch is beyond our reach. Some of us may be stuck in the darkness of illness or old age, of family problems or work stress. And perhaps we too may have our doubts about whether a helpless little baby can really help to switch on the lights in our darkness.

Which is why it is important for us to consider how the baby Jesus is able to save us. It is important for us to realize that there is more than one type of darkness in our readings today. In addition to the darkness of being ruled by a foreign king, the people in our readings are also stuck in the darkness of selfishness. Why else is there no room at the inn for Jesus, Mary and Joseph? Why else did the King of Kings have to be born in a dirty stable? People were focused only on their own needs. Caught up in their own concerns. No time to pay attention to the stranger and to the homeless. And, of course, with selfishness, there often also comes loneliness.

It is to brighten this darkness of selfishness and loneliness that the baby Jesus is born. And he can do this because of who he is. We believe that although Jesus is truly a human baby, he is also more. This Jesus is also God. The same God who made the whole universe out of nothing. The same powerful God, who out of his great love and mercy for us, has become a powerless little baby. As the second reading tells us: He saved us because of his mercy, and not because of any good things that we have done.

It is when we keep looking at this helpless little baby lying in a manger–not just on this Christmas night, but throughout the days of this Christmas Season, all the way till January the 8th–that we will be able to feel the light shine out. The light of God’s love and mercy for us. The light that reassures us that God is on our side, that God cares for us. The light that then moves us to care for others. The baby Jesus is able to reach the switch to this light, because the switch is not really something that is very far from us, something too high for us to reach. No, this switch is really buried deep within our hearts. And it takes this precious little baby, who is both human and divine, both powerless and almighty, to reach into our hearts to turn on the light for us.

The question we need to ask ourselves is: How willing am I to allow the baby Jesus to reach my light-switch today?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

4th Sunday of Advent (B)
The Rest Of A Guest

Readings: 2 Samuel 7:1-5,8-11,16; Psalm 88:2-5,27,29; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38
Picture: cc darcy1b

Sisters and brothers, the holiday season is often a time for receiving guests into our homes. Some may drop by for only a brief visit. They come for tea, or lunch, or a dinner party. Others may linger. They stay for the night. Or even for a few days. But, however long the stay, or whatever its purpose, isn’t it true that we don’t always enjoy such visits? While there are many guests whom we love to entertain, isn’t there usually also a select few whom we sometimes wish would never show up at our door? Ever? Their arrival produces in us a tensing of the muscles, and a gritting of the teeth. Their leaving, a sigh of relief. The reasons for this are many. Some people may be too demanding. Others rude or inconsiderate. But perhaps the most difficult kind of guests to handle are those who insist on role reversal.

Consciously or not, these visitors simply refuse to accept the role of a guest. They refuse to sit back quietly and to let you play host. They try their best to help you entertain them. It’s as though they were determined to replace you as host. And, in the process, they often end up simply getting in the way. Even messing up your carefully made plans. You may, for example, tell them not to bring food because you’ve hired a caterer. But they bring a huge portion anyway. As a result, your family ends up eating leftovers for the rest of the week.

Yes, it’s not easy to be a good guest. It requires a certain self-discipline. A consideration for the other. An ability to allow oneself to be entertained by someone else. A willingness to surrender oneself into the hands of another. Trusting that the other both knows and wants what’s best for us. It demands that we somehow let go of control over our own lives, if only for a few hours. This can be uncomfortable. Even scary. Perhaps this is why some of us always prefer to play host than to be guests. And yet, when we insist on doing this, when we refuse ever to let ourselves be guests, we end up shortchanging not just ourselves, but also those we may wish to entertain. After all, how can one be a good host, who has forgotten what it feels like to be a guest?

And this is true not only in social circles, but also in the spiritual life as well. Especially in this beautiful season of Advent, many of us are trying our best to make space in our hearts and our lives for the God-Who-Comes. We are preparing to play host. We are trying to be as hospitable as we can. As individuals, we may be giving more time to prayer and reflection. As a parish, we are filling our Magi Board with resolutions, our Advent Tree with holy desires. We’ve set up Advent wreaths and Christmas cribs. As an Archdiocese, some of us are meeting for shared prayer using the Advent booklet. All this is good. However, even as we continue to engage in all these worthwhile activities, we need also to remember that the One we are preparing to welcome is not just a guest, but also, and most of all, our Host.

This too is what our readings help us to appreciate today. Consider King David in the first reading. For many years, he has been very busy fighting battles. He has expended much time and energy in building and consolidating his political power. But now, we’re told that he has finally settled into his house. Now, he enjoys rest from all the enemies surrounding him. And, now that his own house is secure and at peace, David wishes to make a special place in it for God. He wants to build a Temple. At first glance, this desire seems like a truly holy and commendable one. By this, David shows that he is not an ungrateful man. Even when things are going well for him, he does not forget God. Perhaps this is why the prophet Nathan initially supports David’s proposal.

And yet, quite surprisingly, God brings the king’s plans to an abrupt halt. Why? Is God trying to be difficult? A wet blanket? A kill-joy? We get a better sense of the possible reasons for God’s action when we reflect more deeply on God’s response to David. God reminds David that, amid all the battles that David has fought, through all the many adventures that David has undergone, even though it may seem like David had been doing all the work, it was really God who had been the main Actor. It is God who has been building David a royal house. It is God who has been making David’s reign secure. Although David may feel that he should make a space for God in his kingdom by building a Temple, God reminds David that it is actually God who is making a special space for David and his descendants among God’s people. God is the Host. David is but the guest. And, if David is the guest, then his first order of business is not so much to do something new for God, as it is to allow himself to rest in the space that God is making for him. Not so much to build a house for God, as it is first to remain in the house that God is building for him. And then, with heart filled with gratitude, to sing the praises of God, the divine house-builder. Just as we did, in our response to the psalm just now: I will sing forever of your love, O Lord.

No, sisters and brothers, God is not a kill-joy. In preventing David from proceeding with his Temple-construction plans, God is really helping David to resist the tendency toward role reversal. God is helping David to remember who is the Host and who is the guest. And this is important, because it is only by playing the role assigned to him, it is only by being a good guest, that David can remain in touch with the true source of his power. Isn’t this what is meant in the second reading, where we are told to give glory to him who is able to give us the strength to live the Good News of Jesus Christ?

And isn’t this also the experience of Mary in the gospel? When we hear Mary call herself the handmaid of the Lord, it is tempting for us to imagine a servant who is always busy. Someone who never has time to rest. A woman who only ever plays host, and is never a guest. After all, immediately after saying yes to the angel, doesn’t Mary set out on a journey to serve her pregnant cousin Elizabeth? In Luke’s gospel, the Visitation follows closely after the Annunciation. But that is precisely the point, isn’t it? The Visitation comes after the Annunciation. Not before. And what is crucial to the Annunciation is not so much what Mary does, as it is what God wishes to do in and through her. The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. Isn’t this what being a handmaid means? Being willing first to accept and to appreciate, to submit and to surrender to, God’s action in one’s life. To be willing first to be a guest of the Divine Host. To remain in the house of God’s will for us. Let what you have said be done to me.

Isn’t this the crucial lesson that our readings are teaching us on this fourth and final Sunday of Advent? The same lesson that David learned, and that Mary knew so well. In a world where we are often judged only by how we perform and by what we produce, our readings remind us that, when it comes to God, we only have the strength to act when we have first learned to rest. We can only use our hands to build God’s house, when we have first been moved to raise our voices to sing God’s praises. We can only be good hosts to others, when we have first learned to be good guests of the Lord.

Sisters and brothers, how has God been building you a house? How good a guest are you today?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

3rd Sunday of Advent (B)
Waiting At The Right Terminal

Readings: Isaiah 61:1-2,10-11; Luke 1:46-50,53-54; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8,19-28
Picture: cc choonMing

Sisters and brothers, someone once went to receive a visitor at the airport. But after waiting for a very long time, he saw no sign of the guy. What’s going on? He thought. Had his guest changed his mind about coming? Had he fallen sick? Whatever it was, he eventually gave up waiting, and went home in frustration. Only to discover, later on, the real reason for his guest’s apparent no-show. It was really quite embarrassing. You see, while at the airport, our friend had been waiting at the wrong terminal.

To avoid frustration when waiting for another, it’s important to be sure that one is waiting at the right place. This too is a lesson that our Mass readings teach us today. As you know, the 3rd Sunday of Advent is also called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete–the first word of the entrance antiphon. A word that means rejoice! Today, even as we continue to wait for the God-Who-Comes, our readings encourage us to keep up our efforts by speaking to us of the great joy that God brings to those who remain alert. To those who have the patience to wait. Indeed, we are reminded that there is something truly amazing about this divine gift of joy. Although we may sometimes think that joy is experienced only when the one for whom we are waiting finally shows up, our readings tell us that this is not really the case with God. With God, joy can be felt not only upon arrival. With God, joy is already ours to experience even while we wait.

Consider what is happening in the first reading. Although the prophet proclaims to the people that they will very soon be brought home from exile, this happy event is still in the future. It hasn’t actually happened yet. Even so, the prophet declares that he is already exulting for joy. In the responsorial psalm, in her Magnificat, Mary rejoices in the coming of the Messiah even though he hasn’t even been born yet, let alone accomplished his mission. At this point in the story, Mary has only just conceived the Christ-child in her womb. Who knows what could happen in the course of her pregnancy and beyond. And yet, Mary’s  heart is already filled with joy. In the second reading, even though St. Paul acknowledges that we are all still waiting for the Lord to come again, he also reminds the Thessalonians to be happy at all times.

Clearly, the joy that our readings offer us today is something really extraordinary. Not only is it never frustrated, but it can be experienced even while we wait. This is the joy that we are celebrating in these days. This is the grace of the beautiful season of Advent. But in order for us to receive this gift, we must take care to wait at the right place.

For our world often leads us to places other than the one found in our readings. So that, like our friend at the airport, we can end up frustrated, because we’ve been waiting at the wrong terminal. All too often, for example, we are led to look for joy at the terminal of acquisition. Whether we realise it or not, we are seduced into thinking that joy comes only from what we have. On a daily basis, everywhere we turn, we encounter all kinds of advertisements, which not only claim to reveal to us needs we never thought we had, but also promise to satisfy all of them. There was a time, for example, when I didn’t think I needed to carry a phone in my pocket. But now that I already have a cellphone of my own, I find myself thinking that perhaps I need a new one, a smarter one! Here, at the terminal of acquisition, happiness depends only upon what I have. But what happens when, for one reason or another, I’m not able to get what I want? Or when, having finally gotten what I want, I discover that someone else has something even better? What happens to my happiness then? It just keeps getting postponed, doesn’t it?

Nor is the terminal of acquisition the only place where our search for happiness is frustrated. Especially here in Singapore, there is yet another problematic location that many of us like to frequent. Let’s call it the terminal of activity. Here, we meet many different kinds of people: Students as well as office-workers. Priests and religious as much as lay people. Here, happiness has to do, not so much with what we have, but, above all, with what we do. Here, to be happy, we have to do something significant. We have to make something of ourselves. And, of course, what’s significant, what counts as something, rather than nothing, invariably depends upon what everybody else is doing. So that to be happy I have to keep doing things that are better or bigger, higher or faster, stronger or shinier than what others are doing. And, if I’m a religious person, I may even think that I’m doing it all for the greater glory of God. But, in fact, competition is the name of the game. And, with competition, of course, comes overwork. And, eventually, with overwork, burnout. For even if I happen to come out on top at some point, it’s always only a matter of time before someone else does better. Also, being a mere human being, there inevitably comes a time when I can no longer perform at the same level as I did before. A time of rest and retirement. Even of deterioration and decay. What happens to my happiness then?

Sisters and brothers, in contrast to the terminals of acquisition and activity, our readings invite us to wait at a very different place. Here, happiness depends, not so much on what we have, or on what we do, as it does on who we are. At first glance, this place bears a passing resemblance to the previous one. For, in the gospel, when people ask John the Baptist who he is, he appears to respond by talking about what he does. I am a voice that cries in the wilderness, he says: Make a straight way for the Lord. Similarly, the prophet in the first reading speaks about bringing good news to the poor, of binding up hearts that are broken, and of proclaiming liberty to captives and freedom to those in prison.

But, when we look more closely at what is going on, we see that, for both the prophet in the first reading and the Baptist in the gospel, what is crucial is not so much what they do as what the Lord has done to them and for them. The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, says the prophet, for the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me... The Baptist too speaks and acts not for himself but on behalf of someone else. He was not the light, only a witness to speak for the light. Both for the prophet as well as for the Baptist, who they are depends not so much on what they do as on their relationship with God, on who God calls and empowers them to be. And it is in living out of this deep sense of who they are that brings each of them a profound experience of joy. An abiding joy, which endures both in good times and in bad. As much when they are made to wait for the Lord’s coming as when they experience His arrival. And the place where this joy is to be found is neither the terminal of acquisition nor of activity. It is, instead, the terminal of anointing.

For us too. It is only when we are willing to wait at this same place, when we are willing to heed God’s call and allow God to take control of our lives, that we finally receive lasting joy. A joy that the world cannot give. A joy that is the grace of this season of Advent. A joy that is the gift of the Christ-child, who comes among us and within us, at Christmastime and throughout the year.

But, sisters and brothers, perhaps the crucial question we need to ask ourselves is: Am I waiting at the right terminal today?

Sunday, December 04, 2011

2nd Sunday of Advent (B)
The Embrace of Inconvenience

Readings: Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11; Psalm 84:9-14; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8

Sisters and brothers, have you watched the delightful animated movie that is playing on HBO? It’s entitled Despicable Me. And it’s about a professional thief named Gru, who finds redemption when he goes out of his way to adopt three little orphan girls. One interesting thing about the movie is the gradual change in Gru’s attitude toward the orphans. When they first show up on his doorstep selling cookies, Gru refuses even to open the door for them. He turns them away because he sees them as a nuisance–an inconvenient interruption to his busy life of crime. But his attitude begins to change when his career suffers a setback. Thinking that the girls can help him to defeat a rival criminal, he sets out to use them for his own evil purposes. What Gru doesn’t count on is the power of these innocent little ones to get under his skin. Somehow they penetrate his hard exterior and touch his inmost heart. Although his initial intention is to exploit them, through his contact with the girls, Gru experiences a deep healing of the hurts of his past. In the process, Gru is transformed. The once self-centred crook becomes a caring father.

By embracing the inconvenient, the thief comes to discover what is most important. The hardened criminal is enfolded by the tenderness of love. In going out of his way to welcome the homeless, Gru himself finds his way home. A similar process is described in our Mass readings for this 2nd Sunday of Advent. Today, our first reading and the gospel speak to us about a messenger and his message. The message itself is supposed to be an attractive one. It’s supposed to be good news. Console my people, console them, says your God. God is coming to save God’s people. But, although the message is appealing, it is also highly inconvenient.

For one thing, the messenger himself is far from attractive. The description of John the Baptist in the gospel must surely sound very strange to us. In place of the familiar and lovable, red and round figure of Santa Claus, we’re greeted instead by a skinny crazy fellow dressed in camel-skin. And instead of a sack, full of presents, and a friendly Ho Ho Ho, John comes empty-handed, screaming demandingly at the top of his voice. Nor is he easy to find. John proclaims his message not in the centre of town–not amid the bright and colourful lights of Orchard Road–but in the desolate and dangerous surroundings of the wilderness. To meet this messenger, to hear his message, we have to go out of our way. We have to embrace inconvenience.

And this inconvenience is not just something external. It’s not just a matter of making a slight detour to meet someone who looks and acts a little peculiar. The inconvenience is also something interior. For the message of consolation that this messenger brings is also a call to conversion. A call to examine our lives anew, and, wherever necessary, to rearrange our priorities. Let every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill be laid low. Let every cliff become a plain, and the ridges a valley. We need to prepare the way for the God who is coming into our hearts and into our world.

And yet, as inconvenient as it is to meet this messenger and to receive his message, the gospel tells us that all Judaea and all the people of Jerusalem made their way to him. Why? Why did all these people go out of their way, not only to meet and to listen to what looked and sounded like a crazy person, but also to allow themselves to be plunged by him into the cold waters of the Jordan River? Why? Why not just continue going about one’s own daily business? Or, speaking for ourselves, why not just continue celebrating Christmas the way many Christians do every year? Buying and exchanging presents. Cooking and eating meals. Even dressing up for Midnight Mass. And carolling with the choir. Why bother to embrace inconvenience?

Unless, of course, inconvenience is the crux of the matter. Unless there is something sorely lacking in one’s yearly routine. Unless one is longing for something more. And this is precisely what we find in our readings. In the first reading, the people are deeply aware that they are living in exile in Babylon. They are far away from home. In the gospel, even though the people are living in their homeland, they are keenly conscious that the territory no longer belongs to them. They are labouring under foreign occupation, under Roman rule. More importantly, these forms of political exile point to a deeper spiritual state. For no matter what our nationality, no matter whether or not we are living in our own country, we Christians believe that we find our true home only in the Kingdom of God. And we still await the coming of that Kingdom in its fullness. As the second reading tells us, what we are waiting for is what the Lord promised: the new heavens and new earth, the place where righteousness will be at home. We are still longing for a place and a time when the peace of God will be enjoyed by all. When the hungry will be fed, the sick healed, and the oppressed set free. When every tear will be wiped away. Such is our longing. And such is the reason why people may be led to embrace inconvenience.

The danger is that many of us may have actually become too comfortable even in the midst of our exile. Like the character Gru in the movie, we may have become so used to a hardened life, centred only on ourselves, that we don’t even yearn anymore for something different, something better. Why bother to remember that other people may be suffering, if my immediate family and I are not? Except that my comfort may actually be very superficial. And in my quieter moments, when I allow myself a brief pause from ceaseless activity, I may feel strangely far away from home.

In such a situation, it’s not always a bad thing when inconvenience comes knocking on my door. Whether it be in the form of a person in need or a report of disaster, a sudden illness or a failed relationship, a financial loss or a career setback. As Gru discovered, such irritations might actually turn out to be blessings in disguise. Messengers from God, urging me to prepare the way for the One who is coming to make all things new.

I’m reminded of a family I once had the privilege of meeting. One of the children was born with Down Syndrome. I asked the parents what it was like to raise such a child, thinking that it must be very challenging. Their answer surprised me. They said that this child was a great gift from God, for whom they were extremely grateful. For it was this child that brought the family together. It was this inconvenient child who daily reminded the rest of them of the meaning of love.

Sisters and brothers, in your lives, are there any inconveniences waiting to be embraced today?