Saturday, 21 October 2017

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A 2017

Often I feel out of place here. As one approaches the facility, the forbidding “Zeto” [Zero Tolerance] sign-boards are compelling reminders of the purpose for the construction—to be a petrochemical plant. As it is, each time I come here, I see progress because new structures are sprouting up. What colours this place is not just the rusty brown dust of construction but rather functionality. Everyone here has a role to play—get this complex up and running.

Here I am, like feeling useless. Who needs God here?

If we buy into this functionality, that is, getting the job done, then it is straightforward, nothing more than that. When a worker dies, it would appear that he had died in the course of duty. There is nothing after the formality of repatriation, is there? The fact is, no matter how much we comply with this “Zeto” policies, there will be casualties and in the bigger picture, an accidental death is no more than a unfortunate statistic marring a perfect zero-accident count.

The question is, is there more to life than just being functional?

Today, coincidentally, is the feast of St Therese of Lisieux. If evaluated by  functionality, she would rank as nothing for her entire short life was spent intramural—behind the walls of a convent. And yet, she was proclaimed by Pope Pius XI as the Patroness of the Missions, alongside St Francis Xavier, whom we know to be the tireless Jesuit missionary of the East.

Where is the fairness? Whereas St Francis Xavier braved heat, hostility and exhaustion, here is someone who did not step beyond the convent walls and yet given the title, Patroness of the Missions. Life seems unfair.

Furthermore, we witness such unfairness regularly in the distribution of natural disasters. They appear to strike some countries more than others. Never mind that climate change could be a result of our sinful behaviour. Or some families look like they bear a bigger share of disability in their offsprings.

Easily we transpose this as God’s unfairness. 

But the 1st Reading reminds us that God is always just. He may come across as unfair. Thus, to lament that God is unfair is actually unfair to God. For example, how have we treated the environment that nature does not strike back at us The environmental degradation—a form of sinful behaviour—will have an impact on our health. Moreover, our sedentary lifestyle coupled with overconsumption will have a deleterious effect on us. God is not unfair. Instead we are largely to be blamed for some of the bad things that happen to us. 

We need to correct the misconception that God is not fair. Now, coming back to the case of St Therese, the reason for granting her the title of the Patroness of the Missions is because of what she said: “I will spend my heaven doing good on earth”. This desire at the end of her life was a culmination of an experience she had at 14, whilst praying at the Cathedral of Lisieux: “...looking at a picture of Our Lord on the Cross, I was struck by the blood flowing from one of the divine hands. I felt a great pang of sorrow when thinking this blood was falling to the ground without anyone's hastening to gather it up. I was resolved to remain in spirit at the foot of the Cross and to receive the divine dew. I understood I was then to pour it out upon souls… I wanted to give my Beloved to drink and I felt myself consumed with a thirst for souls."

Behind the convent walls, her life here on earth was and after her death, her life in heaven has been dedicated to assisting souls. This “here and hereafter”, allows us to figure why God seems to be unfair because in being functional, we frequently forget that there is a life beyond this life.

Many people work hard. Some hardly work and yet they appear to reap tremendous rewards. What is worse are how governmental thieves, especially those sworn to serve the common good, are literally getting away with murder. With impunity, they rob the poor of what in justice is theirs. Here, if we were to equate justice with fairness, we will certainly feel cheated in life.

But, remember the parable of Dives and Lazarus. When Dives died and went away to hell, Lazarus was feted in the life beyond. Without this hope that God will right what is wrong in our earthly life, life can be hopeless. Yes, it sounds politically incorrect because acquiescence might suggest that the oppressed should accept the status quo when it comes to “injustice”.

On the contrary, it is an invitation to think of justice beyond earthly terms. Life is never a loss even if it an injustice were unresolved for otherwise, what meaning can we give to the countless little people who amounted to nothing in this material and temporal world? In fact, to demand an absolute resolution to injustice is tantamount to a denial of the reality of Original Sin and its effect on creation. “Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ's grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle”. In relative terms, we all die but in absolute terms we are made for eternity. Death is merely a separation of the immortal from the body. Hence, in an attempt to right what is wrong, we must never forget to school our eyes to look beyond to the eternity which God has created us for. There, all will be fair and just.