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Dare To Be Different From The World – Homily by Archbishop William Goh (23 Feb 2020)

The theme of today’s scripture reading
focuses on the theme of holiness. In the First reading from Book of Leviticus, the
Lord said, “Be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” Indeed
the fundamental calling of every Christian is the call to holiness.
Our whole life is a journey to holiness. To become more and more holy each day.
This is what St John Paul II in his apostolic letter at the beginning of the
new millennium, he said, “To be baptised means that we want to be holy.”
So holiness is a call for every Christian, regardless of which rank you
hold in the Church. But what is holiness? Holiness simply means to be set apart. The word, “Pharisee”, actually is a good word. It is not a bad term. The word, “Pharisee”,
means “those who have been set apart”. And so it is true that in the Jewish world,
the historian Josephus wrote about the Pharisees. In fact most of the Pharisees
were loving, respectful and harmonious people. Of course there were some
Pharisees, like those described in the Gospel. There were those who were
hypocritical, insincere. But generally, the Pharisees were people who were
trying to live a holy life, to stand apart from the world. And that is what
holiness is all about. Holiness is really a call to be different from the rest of the world. Holiness is to live our lives ,as
Jesus tells us in St John’s Gospel, that we are in the world but not of the world.
The world itself, it is not bad. The world has to be understood correctly.
When the world is mentioned in St John’s Gospel, it is a world that is selfish,
sensual, inward-looking. And so a Christian who lives a life of holiness,
means to say, he is living a life of wisdom. And that is what St Paul tells us
in today’s Second reading, “The wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. God is
not convinced by the arguments of the wise.” The world tells us, if people cheat
you then you must cheat them back. If people hurt you, you hurt them back. If
people are nasty to you, you become even more nasty. That is the way of the world.
But that is not living a life of wisdom. The life of wisdom is really a life of
love, a life of service, a life of forgiveness. This is what holiness is all
about. Holiness must be distinguished from living a life of piety. Piety is a prelude
to holiness. But piety is not holiness. You can be saying your prayers,
you can be attending Masses, you can be going through the rituals. That can help
you to be more focused on God. But the ultimate criterion and measure of holiness
is this – perfection of charity, perfection of love. So how do you know you have
grown in holiness? When you have grown in love, in compassion. That means you are
holy. Not how many hours you spend in prayer but how much you love God and
how much you love brothers and sisters. That’s the reason why
today in the First reading when God told Moses, “Tell the people, be holy, for I the
Lord your God am holy.” What follows immediately after this
invitation? Moses said, “You must not bear hatred for your brother in your heart.
You must openly tell them, your neighbour of his offence.
You must not exact vengeance nor must you bear a grudge against the children of
your people .You must love your neighbour as yourself.”
So holiness is explained and elaborated in terms of compassion, in terms of love, in
terms of service. And it is for this reason in today’s second reading, St Paul
said, “You are the temple of God and therefore the temple of God is sacred.” To
be holy means to say we radiate the love of God in our heart. So when we say a
person is holy, what do we mean? This person is very holy. When we say a
person is holy, it simply means that this person radiates to us the sacredness of God,
His love, His compassion. So to be the temple of God, to be another
Eucharist to others is what holiness is all about. Can people see in us the
presence of Christ? That is holiness. So if someone said to you, “I see Jesus in
you”, it means that you are holy. If they cannot see Jesus in you in spite of all
the things that you do, it means to say you have failed to exude the presence of God.
So holiness simply means to let the grace of God, His Holiness shine through
you. That is holiness. But the hallmark of holiness for us as Christians is not
even compassionate. It is not even love of neighbour.
Because this is being done by people even if they are non-believers. You don’t
have to be a Christian actually to be merciful, to be compassionate. Many
non-believers, because of humanitarian reasons, they also serve the poor. So what
is the hallmark of Christianity? It is forgiveness. A Christian is not only one
who is compassionate, who loves his neighbour. A Christian is one who always,
always forgives, does not retaliate against those who have hurt him. And
this is very clearly brought up in today’s Gospel. Jesus speaks about holiness
in terms of forgiveness, non-retaliation. And so He said, “You must love your
neighbour and hate your enemy. That was said. But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you.” So how do we know that we have the heart of
God? The heart of God is described in today’s responsorial psalm, “The Lord is
compassion and love, slow to anger, rich in mercy. He does not treat us according
to our sins nor repay us according to our faults. God does not take revenge on
man’s sins. God is always forgiving. The moment we are contrite, our sins are
forgiven. And so therefore to be like God, to share the life of God, it means that we
also want to do the same. That we will not retaliate so you know that you are
growing holiness if you have the capacity to forgive your enemies. To
overcome evil not with evil. Overcome evil with goodness. Because if you
overcome evil with evil, you are no better
than anyone else. That’s why Jesus in the Gospel said, “Even the tax collectors do
as much, do they not? Even the pagans do as much, do they not? You must be perfect as
your heavenly Father is perfect.” This perfection is not moral perfection. It is
not intellectual perfection. It is the perfection of love. That is what we are
called to do. A person who is perfected in love, it means to say not only he loves
his neighbours, those who are suffering, but even those who hurt them. And he does
not take revenge. So Jesus said in today’s Gospel, “If
someone hit you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well.” It is
only through this principle of non-violence, non-retaliation, that
eventually we overcome even the harshest critics and our enemies in life, if we
can release our enemies, release our heart for God. One who cannot forgive, his
heart is also closed to God. And therefore he cannot find perfect peace and joy in
life. He can be praying but he has no joy because he cannot let go. You can only be
filled with the peace of God, only if you learn to let go. You cannot say, “I want to
be angry. I want to keep my hatred and I want to have peace. God, please give me
peace.” You have to let go. If you don’t let go, the peace of God cannot enter
into your hearts. But that does not mean to say however, a Christian cannot seek justice.
We can seek justice, but justice is different from retaliation. Justice
means we try to sort out things, we try to dialogue, we try to do it in a most
charitable way. But it has nothing to do with revenge, with
retaliation. We can seek justice but sometimes even if you try to
seek justice and justice is still not done, what do we do? Then “boh pian ah”. Then
you just surrender and you resign yourself to God. Because even Jesus
himself, He did not seek justice. Because greater than justice is charity. If you
can rise beyond justice then you have actually cultivated the heart of God,
which is charity. Charity is greater than justice. And so we leave it to God to
settle the problems for us. And that was what Jesus said, “Into your hands, I commend my spirit.
Forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” And God took, so to speak, in
inverted commas, “revenge” for Jesus by raising Him from the dead, by vindicating
Him. And so today as we celebrate this Mass, let us praise and thank God that we
will be able to live a life of holiness, a life of charity. So that when people
look at us. then we could truly say we are sons and daughters of God. Because
Jesus said, “If you do this, you will be sons of your Father in Heaven. For He
causes His sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and His rain to fall on
honest and dishonest men alike. All of us, whether we are sinners, whether
we are saints, we are all children of God, whom He loves.

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