FOREVER I WILL SING THE GOODNESS OF THE LORD!

Catholic Homily/ Sunday Reflection / Gospel Reflection
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A

There is something particularly striking in today’s response to the 1st reading. Profuse in its expression of joy, the response acclaims God’s faithfulness, his kindness, his justice, and exalts him for the favors he has given.

There is a note of definiteness to this profuse expression of thanksgiving and exultation in the Lord. Today’s readings give us enough reasons to join the psalmist in singing of the Lord’s goodness.

When was the last time you could honestly feel with the grateful psalmist? When was the last time you really knew you were overflowing with gratitude to the Lord? Tough question for many of us, huh?

Let me tell you how in my life I used to complain more than I thanked God – at least, as an initial reaction to something I never expected.

As an enthusiastic, 21-year old professed brother, fresh from College, I, together with my companions, was avidly waiting for our assignments, that summer of 1977. Each of us had made our own plans and dreamed about being assigned mostly to schools. I was among the last the Provincial spoke to. All I saw from everyone was a big smile on their faces as they received their first obedience. It was not to be the case with me. I was not being sent to any school, not even to the seminary in Canlubang (where I have stayed for 5 years as a student), neither to the minor seminary in Pampanga. I was told to go to forlorn Mayapa, to be assistant to the Parish Priest, whose fiery temperament and hurting ways were no secret to us. My first reaction was not to thank God, but to ask him, “Why me?” To Mayapa I went, reluctantly at first. I remember I cried the first night my companions were away…off to their “juicy” assignments. I stayed and lasted for two wonderful, grace-filled years! When the time came for me to leave and go for theological studies, I found it hard to leave. The people have been very good to me. The Lord had been very gracious to me. I learned so many things that otherwise I could not have learned if I had been sent elsewhere.

Soon after ordination, I was being assigned once more to Canlubang, that is to the seminary. I thought again, wrongly, that I was being given a raw deal. I did not thank God. I complained. I asked to be allowed to enjoy my priestly ministry in a parish at least for a few months. I was given all of summer to do that. By June, I reluctantly and sadly wended my way to Canlubang…back to barracks…back to the seminary. I was not happy. But soon, I was proven wrong. I was so happy doing a little teaching, a little preaching, doing farm work, (I planted scores of trees!), and doing some studies. Two years after, I was being sent back to Mayapa to act as Parochial Vicar. I complained again. I did not find it a lucrative post. But when the time came to leave both Mayapa and Canlubang, my heart was just about ready to burst. I have not been given a raw deal, after all. I was given what I needed at the time. The Lord has been very gracious to me. And when by a sudden twist of fate, brought about by profound historical changes associated with the 1986 snap elections, and I had to be whisked away from Mayapa, I complained to the Lord. Again. Like the stubborn Jews that only Moses and his endless patience can deal with. I was sent to Pampanga. I was not happy, initially. I was missing the active pastoral ministry in the parish. I missed the simple, ordinary people. I missed working with people who were on fire with zeal to build up the Church in the far-flung barrios of Calamba. And when I thought that I was settling down in Pampanga, after taking up once more the job of teaching religion to just about all the classes from Gr. 5 to 4th Year high school, I was told to go to Mandaluyong to be Principal of the Elementary and High School Departments. I was sad. Again, I did not thank God. I complained to him. I was afraid of that big school.

The pattern was to be repeated over and over again. The four years of stay in Mandaluyong proved to be fruitful and memorable. They made me grow in many ways. They made me see other aspects of the ministry that otherwise I could not have seen had I stayed where I wanted to stay. I climbed a dozen mountains. I became national chaplain to the Catholic Scouting movement. In the fourth year of my stay in Mandaluyong, I got wind that I would be given a transfer. I hid from the Provincial whenever he was around. But then I could not hide forever. My happy years in Mandaluyong came to an end as I was sent to Rome for further studies. Two years later, what I thought was going to be an uninterrupted academic career was to be cut short. The need for me to go back to Canlubang was communicated to me by the Provincial. I desisted. I complained. The rest is history. This is a history of my inability to see beyond ordinary events, an inability to see the hand of God at first blush. This is a history of my initial incapability to see through events and thank God for what comes, not for what I plan for. There was nothing wrong with Mayapa. There was nothing to be afraid of in Canlubang. There was nothing to complain about in Mandaluyong, in Pampanga, in Italy, and then back in Canlubang. Take it from my personal experience. The Lord has been good to me all along.

Today’s response to the readings strikes me personally. It convicts me. It reminds me of the so many times I could have been grateful and was not. Late have I realized how good and gracious He had been to me all these years. Some of them could have been years of pain. But they were also years of possibilities, of opportunities, and of growth. Today, I would like to confess to you all: too late have I learned to really be grateful. But today, I feel, perhaps, more than any other, at a time when I am in the throes of letting go, of grieving something I have “lost” recently, in this fallow time of mine, when I no longer primarily do things for others, but to focus more on myself, the need for me to make the words of the psalmist really my own: FOREVER I WILL SING THE GOODNESS OF THE LORD!

How different had been the response of the woman from Shunem! She and her husband received the prophet Elisha without complaint. She gave her best: food, bed, lamp, a small room up on the roof. She lost nothing. She gained, for she was given a prophet’s reward for having received Elisha the prophet. How stingy could we be when it comes to God! How selfish. And yet, “what do we have that we have not received?”

St. Paul reminds us of the fundamental reasons to be thankful to God for. First, he says that we who are baptized were baptized into his death. We were buried with him into death… so that “we too might live in newness of life.” (Romans 6: 3-4). He constructs a well-worded syllogism that should leave no room for doubt about how gracious he is to us.

If we have died with Christ, we shall also live with him

Christ dies no more

Death no longer has power over him

He died to sin once for all

He lives for God

Therefore, he says, “you too, must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 6: 8-11)

How does a people so privileged react to all this? What do people who have been shown the graciousness of God do? What do those who received so much give in return to the Lord? What do they get as reward? What more is in the offing for them?

The Gospel passage of today answers these questions point blank. As part of the missionary discourse of the Lord in Matthew’s gospel, we are told that there is more for those who have tasted the Lord’s goodness; more challenges, for one:

He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.

He who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

He who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

There go the reasons for my complaints! What right do I have to complain given these one-liners that are addressed to would-be missionaries? What, then, do I receive from the Lord? The above list tells us: what we really receive is the privilege to be like Christ, to suffer like Christ, “to fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.” (Col 1:24) “But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly.” (1PT 4:13)

But in the same breath, the Lord himself tells us what else is in the offing for the would-be missionary:

Whoever receives you, receives me, and whoever receives me, receives the one who sent me.

Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is righteous will receive a righteous man’s reward.

Whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple – amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.

As I look back over the past 33 years that I have been a Salesian, given these fresh readings that I have done on the liturgy of today, I am shamed and at the same time humbled by the realization that there are no reasons whatsoever for me to complain at all. The Lord has been very gracious to me. I have all the reasons in the world to be grateful. From the two years I spent in forlorn Mayapa, to the ten years I spent at Canlubang… they have all been one whole package of love from God: privileges to suffer with him, and rewards galore, as only those who follow him sincerely can ever get. Indeed, “what do I have that I have not received?” (1 Cor 4:7) With Teresa of Avila, I can honestly say: TODO ES VIDA; TODO ES GRACIA. FOREVER I WILL SING THE GOODNESS OF THE LORD!

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