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Scripture Reflections 29 August 2013, Thursday, The Passion of St John the Baptist RULED BY TRUTH AND LOVE, NOT

BY FEAR

SCRIPTURE READINGS: JER 1:17-19; MK 6:17-29

It is significant that the martyrdom of John the Baptist is celebrated as the Beheading of John the Baptist. Many saints have died in martyrdom, but they are not given such titles. Perhaps the Church wants to illustrate the special quality of John the Baptist, which is his courage to proclaim the truth at any cost, even at the risk of his own life. The death of John the Baptist might seem tragic to us, yet for himself, he did not die in vain. Even in death, he continues to live in our hearts.

This was because throughout his life he was ruled by truth and love. John was a man who was true to himself, to his fellowmen and to God. He was true to himself because even in the face of opposition, he spoke the truth. Without fear of the powerful or for his own life, John reprimanded Herod, It is against the law for you to have your brothers wife. Perhaps the only fear John had was the fear of not speaking the truth.

But if he spoke the truth, it was because he wanted to be honest with his fellowmen. Truth is intrinsically related to love. Love and truth go together. Truth cannot exist without love, and true love is always truthful. For if we are really true to our fellowmen, then we would want only what is good for them. If we truly love a person, we would want to tell the person the truth for his own good. Indeed, if we know that something is wrong and we do not speak up, then we are doing injustice to that person. By not correcting the person, we live in falsehood and that is not love, because that person will destroy himself in the long run. So true love means that we will do anything for the good of the person; even at the risk of losing the friendship. We deceive our friends when we fail to reveal the truth to them. This is because we love ourselves more than we love them.

If we were to be true to our fellowmen, it also means that we must seek justice for those who suffer, and not only those who live in falsehood. Hence, we can understand why John the Baptist was not only intent in helping Herod to come to his senses, but he also felt the need to speak on

behalf of Herods brother, Philip. By taking Philips wife, Herod was betraying his brother. It was an act against justice and love. He spoke out even though he was never thanked for what he did.

Finally, if he was true to himself and to his fellowmen, it was because like Jeremiah, John was true to God. He surrendered his life to God and would only do what the Lord commanded him. He was fearful of being irresponsible to the call God entrusted to him, for he knew that betraying Gods call in the final analysis was to betray himself and his people.

In contrast, Herods life was driven by a different kind of fear, instead of being ruled by truth and love. Herod feared John because he knew that he was a prophet of God. The gospel says, Herod was afraid of John, knowing him to be a good and holy man, and gave him his protection. When he had heard him speak he was greatly perplexed, and yet he liked to listen to him. Herod feared God because his conscience troubled him. He knew that what he did was wrong, yet he still went ahead. Indeed, in Matthews gospel, we are told that Herod continued to be haunted by guilt for executing John.

Not only did Herod fear John and God, but he also feared Herodias. His life was totally under her control. By marrying her, he had given up his freedom in some ways. Herodias must have been a very vindictive, cunning and scheming woman. So instead of finding love in Herodias, he found fear. Herod was also fearful of his reputation and social standing. Because he had no inner freedom, he made rash promises and having made them, he was too proud to retract his word, even when the request was immoral. Yes, the gospel recounts that Herod was deeply distressed, but thinking of the oaths he had sworn and his guests, he was reluctant to break his word to her. His fear of losing the respect of others prevented him from discerning and acting right.

For such a person, it is difficult to speak of true freedom. Herod was a king, but he acted more like a slave of circumstances and to other people in his life. He was a puppet to social acceptance. Indeed, this is always the temptation of those in authority. When we hold power, we are always tempted to pursue popularity, to do what will make us loved and liked, rather than to do what is truly just and good. Because we are not true to ourselves and we do not have the capacity to love authentically, we lack the courage to exercise our authority for good. Instead, we pander to the whims and fancies of our subordinates in order to stay in power. We become puppet rulers.

This explains why the weakness of Herod is also seen in Herodias and her daughter. Herodias too, was ruled by fear. Having betrayed Philip, she became fearful that Herod might in turn betray her. That is why she controlled Herod tightly. How ironic life is! The price we pay for being unfaithful to those we love is living in fear that others will be unfaithful to us. The one who betrays will most likely become suspicious that others will also betray him. Herodias hated John the Baptist, for she saw in him a potential threat to her happiness.

Such fear also rubbed onto Herodias daughter as well. Having come from a dysfunctional family and having lost her father already, she too must have suffered the fear of losing her mother. This could explain why she obeyed her mother unquestioningly, when she was asked to perform an immoral and evil act by her mother. Fear hardens the heart of a person from feeling for others. When we are frightened, we can only think of our own needs and interests. Fear will make us act impetuously without thinking. Fear will make us act just to save ourselves, regardless of the morality of the action.

When we are ruled by fear, we seek security in popularity and reputation. When we are ruled by fear, we seek acceptance in possessions and impressions. As a result, like Herod, our fears prevent us from heeding the dictates of our conscience. Fear drives us to play to the crowd and to fawn on our superiors and the authorities. There is no real peace in such a fear-filled life. Indeed Herod was ruled by others. He could not take a strong stand on what he knew to be right. By aligning with evil, it showed his utter powerlessness, weakness and cowardice. We must heed the warning that God spoke to Jeremiah, Do not be dismayed at their presence, or in their presence I will make you dismayed. In other words, if we give in to our fears, they will destroy us. Instead of saving ourselves and freeing ourselves for life and love, we surrender our freedom to be their prisoners.

So if we want to save ourselves from fear, we must ask ourselves how John the Baptist found his strength and conviction. Primarily, it was because he knew the meaning of solitude. He had spent many years in the silence of the desert to hear the voice of God. Being rooted in the Word of God, he was given the truth about life and love. At the same time, he was assured of Gods love and protection. He heard the Lord saying, They will fight against you but shall not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you.

Faith comes from being enlightened in the truth and assured of His personal love for us. Faith is therefore knowledge and trust. It was with such faith in God and His promises that John felt vindicated by the Lord. Even if Herod could get rid of John, he could not escape sin and condemnation of himself. He might have gotten rid of Johns body, but not his spirit that continued to haunt him. Indeed, when we are faith-filled, we have no room for fear. When we are focused on God and His glory, there is no need to hanker for the glory of man. John certainly suffered a brutal death, but his heart was at peace with the Lord.

Today, we need to pray for the same power, boldness, and courage to witness to Jesus Christ and to the truth of the gospel. We must seek Christ in solitude, listening to His word and being filled with His Spirit of love, so that we can be like St John, pointing to Christ as the Lamb of God not just by our words, but also by our lives. With His love, we do not need to fear those who oppose us and the gospel, because the love of Christ is stronger than fear and death itself. His love conquers all, even our fears and timidity in the face of opposition. It is in His love that fear can be driven out from our lives. As St John the Evangelist tells us, perfect love conquers fear and death. Written by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore All Rights Reserved ___________________________

Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart. Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord. It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.

Copyright secured by Digiprove 2011 Catholic Spirituality Centre Singapore 28 August 2013, Wednesday, 21st Week, Ordinary Time SECULAR WORK VERSUS CHURCH WORK

SCRIPTURE READINGS: 1 THESSALONIANS 2:9-13; MATTHEW 23:27-32

There are many Catholics who sincerely desire to serve God and to grow in holiness but they feel torn between doing church work and secular work; between being involved in mundane activities and religious work. Many Catholics labour under the false notion that secular work is not religious work. Hence, many fervent Catholics look forward to early retirement so that they can serve in the Church full time or give themselves to Catholic charitable organizations. Quite often, we hear remarks that they have made enough money, so now is pay-back time to the Lord.

On the other hand, we have many Catholics who are involved in Church work. They think that just because they are engaged in Church activities, like being in the choir, lectors or wardens, they are therefore to be considered as doing Gods work. Behind this thinking therefore is that because they have rendered services to the Church, they could be better assured of a place in heaven because at least they have something to report to the Lord when it comes to judgment day. Yet, such thinking is always false.

So what then is the difference between secular work and religious work?

The first difference lies in the nature of the work itself. Church work implies those activities that are related to the operations of the Church, including her ancillary activities of outreach and service to the community. Of course, in a more specific way, we refer to those activities that are connected with the liturgy and catechesis. It would also include all other activities that are connected directly with the Church or the Catholic religion, like those in bible cell groups, neighbourhood groups, organizations and movements.

Secular work gives us the connotation that it belongs to the world. In other words, it is concerned with things that are profane versus sacred, material versus spiritual, earthly versus the transcendent. Secular work therefore would include all human activities, whether in the social,

political or economic spheres. It would include all daily human activities, our work, household chores, looking after the sick, teaching our children and living as a family. In a word, it concerns the development of this world and of humanity.

However, secular need not necessarily be distinguished from religious work. Similarly, Church work need not be identified with religious work. Thus, the real question confronting us today is not so much the difference between secular and Church work but between secular/Church work and religious work.

All secular work when done with the intention to glorify God is religious work. This is what the responsorial psalm says. O where can I go from your spirit, or where can I flee from your face? If I climb the heavens, you are there. If I lie in the grave, you are there. If I take the wings of the dawn and dwell at the seas furthest end, even there your hand would lead me, your right hand would hold me fast. The Lord is present in the whole of creation. God invites us to be His cocreators of this earth. The world is filled with the glory of God. When secular work is done with a conscious desire to bring glory to God and to develop humanity and creation, it must be considered as truly religious work. All human and secular work, when sanctified and consecrated to the Lord, are religious work. That is why, the Liturgy of the Hours seek to consecrate the whole day and its activities to the lord.

Conversely, even Church work is not religious work when it is done without the desire to glorify God. Today, many Catholics are active in Church ministries but many are serving for the wrong reasons. Some are there simply because of friends. Others serve in order to feel important and admired. Many serve out of guilt for fear that God will punish them otherwise. Then there are others who serve hoping that by serving God and the Church, God will bless and protect them. However, when we serve with the wrong motives like the Jewish leaders, then the most sacred form of religious work, like distributing Holy Communion, serving as lectors, funeral ministers, etc are not religious work. It is religious work in terms of the work itself but certainly, it does not sanctify the person performing it.

Indeed, Jesus condemned the Jewish leaders for being hypocritical by appearing to be doing religious work when it was for their glory and self-interests. They simply wanted to look good before the eyes of men. True religious work must not be like whitewashed tombs that look handsome on the outside, but inside are full of dead mens bones and every kind of corruption. True religious work must come from pure motives of love and sincere desire to honour and

worship God. Truly, quite often, people are scandalized by so called religious people, whether those of the collar or the habit, or active Church workers, because their behaviour and conduct do not agree with what they preach and teach. They live a double life and are not sincere in helping people. It is a matter of creating a good impression.

In contrast we have St Paul who is the exemplar of a Christian who combines secular work with Church work. We read in the first reading that he worked and slaved day and night to pay for his own expenses so as not to be a burden on any one of you while we were proclaiming Gods Good News to you. His way of sanctifying God was to earn his keep and at the same time, by witnessing to Gods life in Him by living a life of love, justice and truth. St Monica, whose feast we celebrated yesterday, was one who lived in Christ whilst in this world, allowing God to be praised in both her faith and works. So by living a good and holy life even without being involved in Church work, we are really doing religious work.

However, the highest degree of religious work is not working for God but allowing God to work in and through us. Scripture everywhere reminds us that it is not we who work for God but God who works for us. A king is not saved by his army, nor a warrior preserved by his strength. A vain hope for safety is the horse; despite its power it cannot save. (Ps 33:16f) St Paul wrote, Another reason why we constantly thank God for you is that as soon as you heard the message that we brought you as Gods message, you accepted it for what it really is, Gods message and not some human thinking; and it is still a living power among you who believe it. So it is not enough to be doing the work for God. What is more important is to allow God to work in and through us as St Paul did. He allowed God to manifest His power in His weakness. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Cor 4:7) He also said, Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christs power may rest on me. That is why, for Christs sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:9f)

Nevertheless, secular work in the arena of the laity proclaiming Christ in the world does not forbid or exclude them from being involved in Church related activities and functions. On the contrary, it is necessary that Catholics who are involved in secular work and mundane activities find strength from their union with the Catholic community through some form of contact and fellowship, especially in study, prayer and worship. Otherwise, they would be left without sufficient formation in their doctrinal and spiritual life and be without the support of fellow Catholics when they are serving in the world. The danger is that Catholics who are so involved in secular work, whether in politics, commerce, social work or even in non-governmental

agencies often become too worldly in their approach to life, charity, justice and truth. The values of the world often run contrary to the values of the gospel. Without being infused with faith, we cannot suffuse the world with the presence of Christ, His love and compassionate presence. Written by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore All Rights Reserved ___________________________

Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart. Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord. It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.