1. August, 2020Church News Comments Off

St. Alphonsus de Liguori

EMBRACE INTEGRITY AND YOU’D HAVE EMBRACED LIFE

“‘The hand of Ahikam was with Jeremiah so that he was not given over to the people to be put to death’ (cf. Jer 26:24). ‘Herod seized John and bound him, and put him in prison, because John said to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her’” (cf. Mt 14:3).

Dearly beloved in Christ, the decision to embrace the integrity of life, to speak and stand on the side of truth without fear or favour, has never been a palatable taste to the mouth; nor a pleasure for the heart of the one who so decides. To embark on this mission is to embark on the mission of serving God Who is Truth (cf. Jer 10:10; John 17:16). Yesterday, we saw with Jeremiah and Jesus that, the decision to remain on God’s side – be His minister and/or faithful servant, merits the individual hostile scorn, persecution, rejection and/or death. Serving God in and before a world that is densely dazed and sick with secularism, consumerism, materialism, popular opinion, immorality, injustice and obliviousness to sacredness of life and the truth, is difficult but not an impossible mission. For in matters of truth, St John Mary Vianney would make us understand that, “You either belong wholly to the world or wholly to God.”

Blind to the truth and to God, the secularist, the consumerist, and the materialist consider Faith and faithfulness to living it (in such a way that confronts the falsity of their principles), is not just a utopian adventure, but indeed, an attempt to be obsolete, anachronistic and superannuated. Those overtaken by the pleasures of this world lose themselves to ignominious way of life, and any truth that confronts their way of life becomes a victim of rejection and death. For to the secularist, consumerist and/or materialist, who has given himself/herself to the demeaning pleasures of the world, whatever truth that confronts his/her conscience is so bitter a herb not to be tasted and swallowed. Yet, the truth would always haunt at every step those dare to boycott it. As for the upholder and defender of the truth, such an individual is at the mercy of the assailants of truth.

The above is what we see in the personalities of Jeremiah, who fearlessly defends the truth and confronts the people of their sins; and in Herod who for the pleasures of the world dared to maim the truth (cf. Jer 26:11-16,24; Mt 14:1-12). The one who so chooses to remain faithful to God, living the faith to the best of one’s ability, telling the truth in charity, and in compliance to grace, is a target of the world’s ugliest hostility. This is what we see again at play in the life of Jeremiah, who is condemned by even the people of his very own profession, who should have taken the lead in bringing the people back from their waywardness (cf. Jer 26:11-16,24). Jeremiah remained firm on the side of truth and was saved from the clutches of the false prophets and priests, who sought his death at the hands of the princes (cf. Jer 26:16,24). This is in fulfilment of God’s promise to Him: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you to deliver you. They will fight against you but will never overcome you” (cf. Jer 1:8,19). Although the truth might taste quite bitter, remaining fearless in speaking and accepting it has always yielded the blessings of mercy and salvation. Amidst the boiling pot of persecution and rejection, the individual is called to remain faithful to the cause of God, undaunted, courageous and fearless in proclaiming the truth, whether the time is right or wrong (cf. 2Tim 4:2; Phil 1:15-18); convince the people of their wrongs and assure them of God’s mercy if they repent (cf. Jer 26:3-6).

The time of trial and persecution is like a period of sinking in the mud, but the servant must constantly in faith call out to God for protection, that God’s salvation raises him/her up; and be assured that He will deliver him at an acceptable time (cf. Ps 69:15-16,30-31,33-34). The saints who have trod this path understood it clearly. We must never trust in ourselves, but in Him Who has called us; and ask of Him every grace we need to remain humble and faithful. St. Alphonsus de Liguori admonished against trusting in ourselves thus, “He who trusts himself is lost. He who trusts in God can do all things.” Commending ourselves to the power of the Almighty is a mighty weapon in the face of persecution of the truth. Therefore, St. John Mary Vianney once said: “Man is a beggar who needs to ask God for everything.” He understood well that “Prayer is the inner bath of love into which the soul plunges itself.” For without the love of God, we would never come through the eye of the needle called “Perseverance. Hear what St. Alphonsus de Liguori has to say about this, “He who does not acquire the love of God will scarcely persevere in the grace of God, for it is very difficult to renounce sin merely through fear of chastisement.”

INTEGRITY OR POPULAR OPINION?

Beloved in Christ, when an individual chooses to forsake integrity of life, such a person loses the dignity of life. Where falsehood and injustice are the popular opinions that form the basis of a people’s existence, upholding integrity, honesty and taking sides with truth, presents one who chooses the path of integrity as unfashionable and antediluvian. In the midst of these, who do we choose to imitate: Jeremiah, John or Herod? St John Mary Vianney holds that, “You cannot please both God and the world at the same time, they are utterly opposed to each other in their thoughts, their desires, and their actions.” From this and from the First and Gospel Readings, we see clearly that, there is a fierce battle between integrity of life which pleases God and, the popular opinion which rules and ruins the world. It is a battle between cowardice and bravery, moral integrity and popularity, truth and falsehood.

 It might seem simple a thing to an unsuspecting mind to choose popular opinion, but the resulting effects far more outweigh such simplistic decision. This is what we see from the Gospel episode. Herod chose to sacrifice moral uprightness at the altar of popularity by beheading John the Baptist. When one prioritises power, influence and popularity; when one becomes so secularistic, consumeristic and materialistic as to deny the truth of conscience, maim the truth that confronts one and feigns integrity, one loses the dignity conferred on one by the Creator and, the dignity of human life and honour due to God is devalued. The danger is, and indeed, loss of conscience and peace with God our Father, with oneself and with others. For vanity begets cowardice and resistance to truth and God, which in turn begets the ceaseless haunt of conscience. This is exactly what Herod did and lost peace with himself and with God. In his bid to do away with what causes him qualms of conscience, He beheaded John.

Consequently, we see that integrity leads the one who upholds it to encounter ordeals and dangers. Jeremiah and John told the truth and that cost them rejection, sentence of death; and in John’s case his precious life (cf. Jer 26:11-16; Mt 14:3-12). Both, however, were undaunted in spirit by the persecution and threats of the false prophets and priests, Herod and Herodias. For they were convinced that, “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate [them] us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (cf. Rom 8:38-39). Both were ready to; and John actually died for the truth. We must overcome fear with faith, hearkening to the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch: “Let everything be done for God’s honour.”

Let us take to heart the words of St John Mary Vianney: “All our religion is but a false religion, and all our virtues are mere illusions and we ourselves are only hypocrites in the sight of God, if we have not that universal charity for everyone – for the good, and for the bad, for the poor and for the rich, and for all those who do us harm as much as those who do us good”. Unless we confront the truth in charity and confess our moments of denial of the truth, we would always be haunted by the truth. We should at all times consider God and His reward of great value and, stand on the side of truth and justice, if we desire to be saved. May the words of St. Alphonsus de Liguori encourage us on this cause, “When we hear people talk of riches, honours and amusements of the world, let us remember that all things have an end, and let us then say: “My God, I wish for You alone and nothing more.”

Dear Lord God our Father, we praise you Who are the salvation of those who trust in you. We confess those moments we have for the pleasures of the world failed to stand for truth, for justice and for You. Let Your salvation, O Lord, raise us up, that we may praise and glorify You with thanksgiving. With the strength and grace of the most sweet Holy Spirit, maintain us firm on the path of integrity of life and defence of justice and truth. Listen to your needy children; and let your salvation raise us; that we may praise your name with song in Christ Jesus our Lord. Who lives and reigns, forever and ever. Amen.

Happy feast of St. Alphonsus de Liguori.