Thursday, October 22, 2009

World Mission Sunday 2009 Homily

Brothers and sisters in Christ, it is really an honor and a joy for me to be able to have a part in this year’s Mission Sunday celebration at Divine Word College. When I was in Chicago for novitiate and theology studies, I managed to make it back to Epworth almost every year for this celebration. The reason I came back was because I think Mission Sunday celebration at Epworth was the one celebration we had that made me feel very connected to what The SVDs was about, what Epworth was about, and what I’m about. When I was discerning religious vocations, there were a lot of things that I was uncertain of, but the one thing I was never uncertain about was that if I were to be in religious life, I had to be a missionary.

The other reason I came back was of course for….the international foodfest with all the delicious food made by the students. You should have seen the scene in the kitchen last night. Father Khien Luu counter a total of 24 priests, sisters, and seminarians joining together just to make one simple dish of Vietnamese dumplings. And with nearly 50 people in the kitchen, it was pretty amazing that the stove only caught fire once. Fortunately, Fr. Thang was there to the rescue and nobody’s eyebrows got burnt.

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been back for a home visit from my mission work in the northeast of Thailand. And it’s been almost 4 years since I’ve been to Epworth. So it’s nice to come back here again on this special occasion. I’m glad to see that there are new changes, and there are somethings that haven’t changed. The most obvious and impressive change is that DWC seems to have gotten more beautiful (referring to the presence of sisters now studying at the college). And I’m not talking about the buildings. But it’s comforting to know that Fr. Mike is still the college president, the Pour House is still selling coffee at ten cents a cup, and philosophy still doesn’t make sense to most of the students.

You know, if you’ve been away on trips, especially to an exotic place like Thailand where you have to learn about the language, food, and culture, when you come back, you always want to tell people about what you did, where you went, and what you saw. Family and friends pretend to be interested for about 5 minutes, then they’re like: OK, let’s get back to Fantasy Football. So I’ll just spend a few minutes telling you about Thailand. When I first came to Thailand, the first thing I had to do was learn the language. Now the thing about Thai language is that it doesn’t use the Latin alphabet, but its own alphabet. There are 44 consonants and 32 vowels. It’s also a tonal language, so making low sounds or high sounds does matter to the meaning of the word.

When I first came to Thailand, I stayed with the Redemptorists in Bangkok. That’s where I did my language training. One of the priests there gave me some warnings about the language. He said making some simple mistakes can lead to very dangerous changes in meanings. For example, If you said: พระเป็นเจ้าเป็นผู้ขี้ให้, it means: God is One who likes to give, to bless. It is a very beautiful characterization of God. However, if you were nervous when you speak, and you accidentally changed the order of the word ขี้ and the word ให้, you end up saying: พระเป็นเจ้าเป็นผู้ให้ขี้, which translates: God is One who gives…..excrement. And this is not a flattering description of God at all!

As you can see, learning the intricacies of the language, the traditions, and the culture of the country where we work is all part of the missionary experience. It can be a source of great adventure as well as frustration. However, without this part of it, missionary work is hopeless.

At Epworth, the SVDs are charged with a great responsibility of training future missionaries. And what does it mean to be a missionary? I think the Gospel reading today gives us some very good explanations. If we model our mission work on Jesus’ own mission, we discover the following: First and foremost, the missionary must be someone filled with the Spirit of the Lord, who sends us and guides us. Without the Spirit, the source of all our strength, courage, wisdom, and hope, the missionary is totally clueless.

The Gospel passage also tells us that the missionary is sent to preach the Good News. That’s right, preach the Good News. We’re not sent to condemn cultures and civilizations. We’re not sent to topple political systems. We’re not sent to develop local economies. We’re sent to preach the Good News, which is that we are loved by God, called to enter into God’s embrace, and be a part of God’s life and God’s vision for the world. The Good News has to be at the center of whatever we do.

And of course, the people to whom we preach this Good News are those who are most in need of hearing the Good News: The poor, the captive, the oppressed, and the outcast. The missionary works with the people and for the people to make God’s Good News a reality in their life. All over the world, SVD missionaries with the help of local people and the supporters of mission I call them the “stay at home” missionaries, are engaged in a myriad of activities that aim to achieve this. In Thailand, one of the main SVD work is caring for and supporting people with HIV/AIDS at our center, at the church where I’m the pastor, as well as in the village. For us, bringing the Good News to people suffering from AIDS defines greatly our presence in this country.

One thing that we can clearly see in Jesus’ declaration is the clarity of intent and purpose in carrying out his mission. As we celebrate Mission Sunday today, each of us is called to reflect on our own mission with that same clarity. We, whether it’s priests and religious, seminarians, or lay people, have to examine our Christian life to ask ourselves: How much commitment have we made to this work? No matter who we are, when it comes to the Christian mission, all of us have our work cut out for us, and no one is off the hook.

In some ways, the fact that we have a “Mission Sunday Mass” is rather ironic, isn’t it? In reality, every Mass, every Eucharistic celebration is mission in character. We can see this most clearly when at the end of every mass, we are told to go to love and serve the Lord. Sometimes the celebrant wants to make it real specific by adding the phrase “and one another” in case people forget that you can’t love and serve God without loving and serving your fellow human beings too. Either way, the celebrant doesn’t tell you: “The Mass is ended, go home and enjoy Sunday football.” Or, “The Mass is ended, go back to bed.” Sure, many people will probably go home from Mass to watch Sunday football, but hopefully, they’ll also remember to love and serve the Lord and one another the rest of the time as well.

You know, coming back to California from the mission field only after three years, I was quite surprised to see how much things have changed. People are now using Iphones and Blackberries. There’s luxury cars all over the roads – and that’s when our economy is going through difficult times. We’re always trying to improve and upgrade the quality of our material life. That’s understandable. However, the same can’t always be said of our spiritual life.

In fact, how we handle our spiritual life is very different. We attempt to find every possible way to keep our spiritual activities to a minimum requirement – one hour of Mass on Sunday, don’t cheat, don’t steal, don’t harm others, go to confession once a year. We do this with the hope that it’ll somehow keep us out of hell. Some of us are more than happy to get purgatory. Hey, it’ll be painful for a while, but at least it’s not permanent. We live just enough so as not to fall into hell, but don’t necessarily strive for heaven.

I think Mission Sunday reminds each of us that we not only need to upgrade our spiritual life on a personal level, but also for the sake of others as well. Recently, a high school student in Chicago was beaten to death by a mob. This incident was witnessed by numerous bystanders. I believe as much as we should be outraged at the individuals who picked up the wooden planks to beat the victim, we ought to be equally outraged at the individuals who simply stood by to watch and let it happen.

Brothers and sisters, the mission field has no place for workers who simply stand idly by to watch weeds grow up, choking the crops and destroying the harvest. More than ever, the mission field needs people who don’t just observe apathetically from the bank while others immerse themselves knee deep in the mud. We need people who don’t just “Come and See,” but also people who are willing to make that “Yes” response.

YES, I’m going to do something about social injustice in society.
YES, I’m going to do something about spiritual poverty among my friends and family.
YES, I’m going to do something about the fact that my children aren’t going to church anymore and the pews in churces are increasingly empty on Sunday.
YES, I’m going to do something about mission work overseas and at home that need my prayer and support.
YES, I’m going to do something about the lack of people responding to the call to religious vocations.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, Mission Sunday reminds us that we cannot take the minimum as the standard for our Christian life. Rather, it is about living out this life intently, purposefully, and enthusiastically. It is about saying “YES” to be part of God’s mission to preach the Good News to the world. It is about joining together as a community to do the task that we have been asked to do according to our vocation to the best of our ability knowing that the Spirit of the Lord is with us, knowing that the hope of the poor and the marginalized drive us, and knowing that joy and peace in serving God will be our greatest reward.

From our quiet suburbs, we are called to bring peace to the violent streets of the inner city. From our townhomes and condominiums, we are called to bring Jesus to the straw huts of Africa. From the corn fields of Iowa, we are called to preach the Good News on the mountains of Papua New Guinea. And from this very seminary, we are called to go out with joy and enthusiasm, for how beautiful in the fields, in the valleys, and upon the mountains are the feet of those who bring glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, proclaiming salvation, and saying to Zion, “Your God is King!”

May God bless all of us, send His spirit upon us, and may we be ready to respond to God’s call each and everyday of our life. Amen

Divine Word College Seminary, Epworth, IA, 18 October 2009

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