Sunday, February 12, 2023

From Nests Outgrown To A Tree To Call Home

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

(Solemnity of the 62nd Anniversary

of the Dedication of St Ignatius Church, Singapore)

Readings: Ecclesiasticus 15: 16-21; Psalm 118 (119): 1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34; 1 Corinthians 2: 6-10; Matthew 5: 17-37

Picture: By Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

My dear friends, how do we usually tell when a child has truly grown up? Isn’t it when she’s finally able to fend for herself? Isn’t this why we often speak of home as a nest that children are expected to leave once their wings are strong enough for flight? And why it’s an embarrassment when an able-bodied middle-aged person continues to sponge off his parents? Even good vocation-directors try to weed out candidates who see religious life as nothing more than a convenient way to avoid growing up, a cosy nest to call home.

Rightly or not, our modern western society often equates maturity with self-sufficiency. So that when we hear St Paul telling the Corinthians that the wisdom he preaches is meant for those who have reached maturity, it’s difficult not to think immediately of self-sufficient individuals. And when the first reading reminds us that it’s within our power to keep the commandments, consciously or not, we may quickly assume that we are expected to do so by our own strength alone.

But still, which of us can deny that the Lord’s teaching in the gospel today actually perplexes us, that it may even fill us with a certain degree of trepidation? And not just because it’s difficult to put into practice, but also because it’s not always clear to us what that practice actually looks like. For example, the call to tear out our eyes, and to cut off our hands if these should cause us to sin, is obviously not meant to be taken literally. Otherwise few if any of us would make it to adulthood with our bodies intact. Also, haven’t we come to realise that the loving response to a bully, or an abusive spouse, may actually be to stand up instead of backing down, or to walk away rather than to keep hanging around? And hasn’t the Catholic Church’s experience with the abuse of children taught us that seeking reconciliation can be a long and painful process that should not be concluded prematurely? Nor is reconciliation the same as condoning wrongdoing, or what’s worse, covering it up.

My dear friends, if we are honest, and paying close enough attention, then what we find in our scriptures can really shake our sense of self-sufficiency to its core. And there’s no shame in admitting that. On the contrary, the willingness to acknowledge our weakness and perplexity may well be a sign of Christian maturity. An indication that we’re finally growing in that virtue which exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, who were nothing if not smugly self-sufficient. A virtue founded on that poverty of spirit, which enables us to humbly recognise our need for God and for one another, and which eventually leads us into the kingdom of heaven. The same virtue that inspires our current efforts at walking more closely together as a synodal church rather than a clerical one.

Sisters and brothers, in the gospels, the kingdom of heaven is likened not to a temporary nest that we leave when we grow up, but to a tiny seed that becomes a great tree, where all can find refuge and rest (cf Mt 13:31-32). As we commemorate the anniversary of the dedication of our church, what must we do to better help one another tend and thrive in this life-giving tree today?

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