What is the very first thing that we think of when we face the numerous tragic deaths of our times? It may be the crash of the Ethiopian Airlines flight some weeks ago and the death of the entire crew and passengers. It may be the massacre of Catholic faithful at Mass by Islamic terrorists in the Philippines. It may be the tragic death of school pupils in a collapsed building in Nigeria or the shooting victims of the mosque killings in New Zealand.
Our first response is usually to ask who is to blame for the tragedies. We may ponder what the motive for the taking of innocent human life is. We may even think about the best way to prevent such a thing in the future. These are very positive and laudable responses but Jesus demands from us Christians a much deeper reflection when we are faced with the reality of human tragedies.
Jesus is informed in Sunday’s Gospel of some Galileans whom Pilate had slayed when they were offering sacrifice. Jesus, the truly compassionate one who is most sensitive to our sufferings, did not focus on who was to blame or the motive for the violent act. He replied, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way that they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?” He rather chose to remind His audience to make good use of the grace of the present moment, “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did.” Rather than theorize about who is holy and who is not, Jesus calls His audience to repent now because, by His presence with them, this is the time of God’s grace.
When we hear of the death of others, no matter the circumstances, we too must also remember God’s greatest gifts to us in this life — the gift of time and divine grace. Every second of our lives is a precious gift from God. Every second of our lives also comes with the grace of God to help us to repent of our sins now, do good and overcome all evil now.
Jesus’ parable about the barren fig tree planted in the garden leads us to see Jesus as the gardener in this parable who wins for the tree both time and needed nourishment, “Sir, leave it for this year also and I shall cultivate the ground around it fertilize it.” This is how Jesus wins for us time and grace. He is surely praying and laboring for us so that we too bear fruit worthy of eternal life, “He (Jesus) is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”(Heb 7:25) He has not given up on us; we too must not give up on Him but make use of His gifts of grace and time very well.
One person who makes use of the gift of time and grace is Moses in Sunday’s First Reading. He had witnessed an Egyptian slave driver maltreating an Israelite. He tried to save his kinsman by slaying the Egyptian and concealing his body. His fellow kinsmen accused him of a hidden motive of trying to become their ruler. He eventually fled Egypt when he sensed that Pharaoh had heard of his evil deed. Moses acted like a cowardly murderer then.
Now God gives him a second chance, a chance to act with courage and return to Egypt and to bring freedom to His people. This time Moses is going to act in God’s own time, in God’s own name, with God’s own grace and in God’s own way. God has an intense desire and readiness to save His people and He wants to do it through a converted Moses, “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt …So I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians… Thus shall you say to the Israelites: The Lord, the God of your Fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.” This is the moment of saving grace for both Moses and God’s people.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, when we look at the numerous clergy scandals plaguing the Church, we must realize that we too have failed to be authentic witnesses of the Gospel to others. Day after day, we are bombarded with the shameful sins of our clergy and the wicked cover-up of their colleagues in the Church hierarchy. We are brokenhearted to see even the promotion of such men to positions of great influence in the Church. This has no doubt led to many the tragic spiritual death of many in the Church today as faith is lost and hope dwindles.
This is too is a moment of grace for us all. God still desires and is ready to save the world through those who are going to be humble enough to be converted now by opening their hearts completely to His grace. We are to strive to be instruments of His truth and grace in the world today. We cannot do it on our own but by deepening our union with Christ who has assured us that “Without Him (Christ) we can do nothing.”
We enter into this deep saving union with Christ for our sake and for the sake of others by receiving His divine grace regularly. This can be in form of the Eucharist or in regular reception of the sacrament of Confession. This will bring us both repentance as well as the grace to strive for the good and to overcome evil in ourselves and in the world. We can also intensify our prayer life because it is only through prayer that we obtain the grace that can change our hearts and the hearts of others. This will then lead us to bearing witness to others by words and examples. This is how we can be channels of God’s saving love in our world today.
Venerable Bruno Lanteri (1759-1830), the founder of our Congregation, the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, was a man who suffered the devastation of the French Revolution in his native country of Italy. He witnessed the secular mentality that puts God out of our personal and social life. He saw the waning hope of many of the faithful of his time. He saw many of his fellow priests fall into heresies and scandalous behaviors. He would say, “Even if I fall a thousand times a day, I would still rise and say to God, ‘Nunc Coepi,’ (Now I begin).” Ven. Lanteri puts aside the past gains and pains and begins his spiritual journey as if it were the very first time. His words and attitudes brought great hope and strength to many of lay faithful, priests and religious. He is a man who understood well God’s precious gifts of time and grace and who did not give up because of past failures in the Church or in his own life.
Today, this second, is another gift from God that bears with it the grace of the present moment. This Eucharist is also another gift from God that gives us His grace. Remember the words of St. Paul, “Do not receive the grace of God in vain…Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”(2Cor 6:1-2) No matter the tragedies and painful failures of our past, let us make good use of these gifts of time and grace today, constantly beginning again and again, and doing so for the sake of our salvation and that of the whole world.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!