Proper 17, 29 August 2021
As we grow in life, we realise that what produces results – good or bad – is what we do constantly and consistently. Olympic athletes practice not only when they feel like it, but as a way of life; we should pray not only when we need something, but as a way of life. Prayer must become a lifestyle for us to grow in our relationship with God. Gratitude should also be a lifestyle.
Today’s Gospel says Christianity is not a religion of the lips but of the heart. We may serve God with outward actions and give to Him, but it’s more important that whatever we do comes from the heart. Jesus said what affects a person is not what you eat, but what comes out of your heart. MRI scans show the exact situation of the organs in the physical body; we may not have spiritual X-ray, but you’ll know a person’s heart by what he or she does and says. The religious leaders were obsessed with rules of cleansing, but what we do and what comes out of our lives is more important. Saint Ignatius of Antioch said, “Do not have Jesus Christ on your lips and the world in your hearts.” God should be in our hearts and at the centre.
Next month, we’ll celebrate and remember God’s greatness and goodness: particularly that for more than a year He’s protected every one of us. Many have been touched and are thankful because of our daily prayers. In a difficult situation, it’s great to know that thousands of people are praying for you; the worst thing is to go through something alone with no-one to help you. We have the assurance that God is with us and the Church is praying for us. We also pray for others: what we plant, we’ll reap.
We need to remember
In 1937, President Manuel L. Quezon opened the Philippines to more than 1,300 Jewish refugees fleeing from the Nazi regime, called all Filipinos to welcome them, and instructed the government to assist them. There’s a saying, “In Rome, do what the Romans do” – but only do the good things; and likewise in whatever country you’re in. This isn’t a question of which culture is better: before anything else we’re Christians. Nevertheless, we cannot forget what the Philippines did in 1937: Filipinos by nature are hospitable. There are certain things with which God has blessed us in our culture, which we cannot forget even if we’re in another country. On 27 January 2020, International Holocaust Day, twin events took place in USA and Israel, called Safe Haven: Jewish refugees in the Philippines, with the viewing of documentaries and the personal testimonies of German Jews and other nationalities who fled to the Philippines.
Between the end of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus were four hundred years of events. Exodus 1:8 says: “There arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” These are significant words. It would have been impossible for him to be acquainted with Joseph; but what did he fail to remember? After Moses, Joseph is the second most written about person in the Hebrew Bible. He was sold into slavery, falsely accused and imprisoned – this was all planned by God – but he rose to become the second most powerful person in Egypt, the most powerful nation on earth. There was a severe famine, and God used Joseph to save Egypt and the neighbouring countries from destruction. The king had forgotten.
This is why we have museums. Several times when our Patriarch came to Europe, he wanted to visit concentration camps where people were tortured and killed. He said, “I don’t want to forget what evil can do”. The point is not for our hearts to be filled with bitterness and anger, but to avoid evil and not repeat it. An idea from one person killed six million Jews; something similar happened in China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Russia. We always need to be reminded of our past: remembering is important; it’s tragic not to remember.
God is with us
When Jacob ran away from his brother Esau, he slept with a rock as his pillow; the Church Fathers believe that rock was Jesus Christ. In his dream he had a visitation from God, and saw a ladder with angels going up and down. He said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” Be assured: Didn’t Jesus say, “If two of you are gathered in My name, I will be in the midst of you”? Didn’t He say He’d be with us in the Eucharist? Today, God is with us – isn’t that a privilege? He’s with us whenever we gather together, even when we think things around us are falling apart. People say, “Follow the science…”, but humanity isn’t in control; I want to hear what God is saying more than what science is saying.
Jacob was alone, but because of his dream he said, “God is in this place”, and “This is the house of God, the gate of heaven.” If you want to taste what heaven is, come to church. You might say, “I don’t feel like heaven”; but let God open your heart, and you’ll see and discern His presence. Some people in the Gospels didn’t recognize Jesus when He passed in front of them. Jesus is recognized not with our eyes but with our heart; that’s why God calls us to purity of heart: those who are pure in heart will see God.
How did Jacob respond? (Genesis 28:18-22) He made a choice – as Joshua said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Jacob made a promise to build a house for God, and to acknowledge that everything comes from Him.
We need to thank God
The king forgot what Joseph had done 400 years earlier. Remembering the good and evil others have done, and one’s moral obligation, is indispensable to a meaningful life. Being thankful to people for what they do, and particularly being thankful to God, brings meaning to life. A person who isn’t thankful won’t have meaning in life. The Sacrament of the Eucharist focuses on remembrance: “Do this in remembrance of Me.” God doesn’t forget His promises – we do. God will always fulfil His promise; man does not. We’re a forgetful people.
God didn’t leave man in exile, slavery to sin and death – because He created man after His own heart and for Himself. He sent His Son Jesus Christ to set man free and give him life. When God created Adam and Eve, He gave them dominion over the earth, and gave them the earth to enjoy; but out of that enjoyment, our hearts should be overwhelmed with thanksgiving. When we eat, we say, “Bless us, o Lord, in these Thy gifts which we are to receive from Thy bounty [abundance] through Jesus Christ”, because the food we eat comes from God. Everything we have comes from Him, even life (James 1:16-17). What should be our response? God didn’t have to do this for man, but He did it anyway. We don’t have to thank God, but we need to thank Him.
Sometimes people become very busy, and their priorities change. Several years ago, a survey of Filipinos in Madrid showed that God was number five on their list of priorities, after health, work and money. We need to reverse this: God should be number one and the centre of our lives, because everything comes from Him. Anyone who ceases to participate in the Great Thanksgiving – the Eucharist – eventually loses sight of this and begins to think, “It’s because of my blood, sweat and tears that I am what I am, and that I have what I have. I’m successful because of my industry and because of what I do – look at me!” That individual becomes proud in front of the world, and forgets that the talents we have come from God. He is on a slippery slope and becomes lost and self-deceived, as if everything comes from him; he needs rescuing in his soul, and again needs a Saviour. Let us not forget that everything comes from God.
Someone said, “Humans sometimes think that God owes them an explanation for everything that happens under the sun. It is rather creation that must give an account to God for all the blessing from above, like the rain that falls from heaven.” Many people around the world, including Christians, are asking, “God, why are You allowing these things to happen?” – but this is the wrong way around. It’s not that we should question God, but He holds us accountable.
It will awaken us to say, “Lord, we want to thank You for everything You’ve done for us. We don’t deserve it at all, but You chose to love us even though we don’t deserve to be loved. You have protected us…”
Some of you have survived COVID, and it’s as if God has given you a new life – many people have died because of it. I pray God will give you a strong, robust immune system to counteract it, so this virus cannot take your life, and that He’ll heal any pre-existing condition.
Next month we’ll celebrate and thank God. My desire is to buy a church building – as Jacob blessed a stone to be the house of the Lord – and that many generations from now, your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will always remember you. How do you want to be remembered? I want to be remembered for my love for God and how I serve Him. It will be a sacrifice. If you don’t have much money, start with something small each month, and eventually it will become a substantial amount – where there’s a will, there’s always a way; and God will bless you. It will be a monument, because we loved God, and during the pandemic He protected us; and it will remind the generations to come.
 These included The Last Manilaners, Quezon’s Game, and An Open Door: Jewish Rescue in the Philippines. See https://www.unhcr.org/ph/17553-jewish-refugees.html
 Genesis 28:11-16
 Genesis 28:17