30th Sunday of Year A
Being a good spiritual role model.
Are you a good role model? Being a role model is not something that is taught to us in a classroom. Parenting classes do not teach expecting parents how to be role model parents; teachers’ training does not teach trainee teachers how to be role model teachers; and the seminary does not teach seminarians how to be role model priests. However, the fact is, everyone is called to be a role model. Even if I am not a parent, not a teacher, not a priest – there is always someone I am called to be a role model to. This could be a niece, a nephew, a subordinate, a colleague; even a neighbour or a friend. And there are certainly no training courses to prepare us to be role models for these! It is hence not surprising that many of us, when called to be a role model, do not do a good job. This is especially so when it comes to spiritual role modelling. Let us ask ourselves in honesty: have I been a good spiritual role model to my children; the youths in my church; the new converts to Christianity; or whoever else God calls me to be role model to?
We live in a relativist and a secular world. Relativism advocates that there is no right or wrong to any issues, it all depends on your personal perspective. This runs contrary to Christian morality, which teaches that immoral conducts are objectively wrong, e.g. abortion, promiscuity, euthanasia, drugs – just to name a few. When society advocates a relativist moral code that contradicts the moral code given to us by God, society at large becomes more distant from God. As a result, secularism sets in. Throw into mix the rapid spread of ideas through modern means of communication such as social media, it is no wonder young people find it hard to reconcile what they see and hear almost every moment of their lives with what the Church teaches. Sound familiar? May be this sound like someone in your family; someone in your church community; or perhaps you are a young person and this describes you. So what do you do – when what the Church teaches do not sound right to you; but it does not feel right to walk away from the Church altogether either? So you lead a double life. The person you are in church and the person you are at weekend parties are two different persons. Does this describe you? Does this describe a young person you know?
Faced with a young person struggling with such a dilemma, you may think that the solution is simply to subject the person to more church teachings – read the Bible, read the Catechism, attend talks, listen to great sermons, etc. We say, “Let us subject the young person the laws of Church, just as Moses did so to the Israelites in the desert in Ex 21-23.” This week’s First Reading presents part of the ordinances Moses handed down – on sacrifices; treatment of foreigners, orphans, widows; and financial matters. While church laws have a key role in moral formation, in truth, knowledge of church teachings are secondary tools and are more effective at reenforcing. Ever notice this? Whenever this is a great talk or a great speaker is in town, who attends? Those who are seeking conversion? No! It is the converted who attend these talks. So, if church laws are not an effective first approach to moral formation, what is? The fact is, faith conversion comes from the heart, not the head. It is when the heart is converted to faith that the heart will lead the head to seek understanding. St Augustine said, “Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore, seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.” Yes, my brothers and sisters, the heart must believe first before the head would seek to understand.
Our Lord Jesus understands the heart must come before the head. When John the Baptist saw Jesus and called Him out as “the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:36), two of John’s disciples followed Jesus. Jesus saw the two disciples following Him, and He asked “What are you looking for?” They answered, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” (Jn 1:38) Jesus said, “Come and see.” “They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day.” (Jn 1:39) Notice that when Jesus saw the two disciples seeking Him, he did not stop and give them a theological discourse. Instead, He invited them to “come and see”, to see how he lived and how he loves. Our Lord wanted to be a role model to the two disciples. That is why for a young heart caught between two worlds, what it needs is not more reasoning and teaching, but a heart conversion – the type of conversion that draws it inspiration from a good spiritual role model, a good spiritual mentor. And that’s the hard part.
For to reason and teach is easy, after all, there are many good books, articles or Youtube videos we can use. To be a good role model and mentor is much harder. The Latin phrase Nemo dat quod non habet means we cannot give what we don’t have. I cannot be a good spiritual role model or mentor to a young person unless I live a good spiritual life in the first place. In other words, to be a good spiritual role model and mentor, I need to first form myself spiritually. In mentoring, “do what I said but not what I do” simply does not work. It does not mean I have to be perfect. Rather, when I inevitably fail to show good example, I must practise humility. I must be prepared to admit my failure and strive to grow and improve. Showing humility in this way is by itself showing a good example.
Being a spiritual role model is what St Paul seeks to do what he said to the Corinthians, “I became your father through the gospel” (1 Cor 4:15). St Paul did the same to the Thessalonians in this week’s Second Reading. He said to the Thessalonians, “you became imitators of us and of the Lord, … so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia … not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known” (verse 6-8). As St Paul explained, good role modelling is contagious. The Thessalonians followed the example of St Paul and in turn became good role models to the people of Macedonia and Achaia.
Notice that St Paul said, “you became imitators of us and of the Lord” (verse 6). Unlike the two disciples of John the Baptist, the Thessalonians did not meet Jesus in person. So how is it that they can become imitators of the Lord? To appreciate this, we need to reflect on 1 Cor 12:12-27, where St Paul explains how we as members of Church make up the Body of Christ. Hence through us, through our examples, a young person or a new convert encounters Christ. And not just for young people, it is through encountering the mystical body of Christ, the Church, that we encounter Christ. And it is only when my heart encounters Christ that the Commandments resonates in me, especially Jesus’s commandments of love in this week’s Gospel: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. … You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (verse 37, 39) To contemplate these commandments of love, it helps if we work backward:
- First I must love myself. It is only when I love myself that I will walk away from my double life. It is only when I love myself that I can walk away from those things that destroy my happiness – promiscuity, drugs, etc.
- It is only when I love myself that I can truly love my neighbour. Who is my neighbour? My neighbour is the one who show mercy to me and the one I ought to show mercy to (Lk 10:37) – members of my family, my community and yes, this includes my enemies.
- It is only when I love myself and my neighbour that I can truly love God. We are only deceiving ourselves when we give lips services to loving God, when we cannot love ourselves or our neighbour in the first place. St John, the beloved disciples of Jesus, said, “those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” (1 Jn 4:20)
With the Lord Himself as our spiritual role model, let us go forth to be role models to others, to build a more loving world – for a better society, a better humanity. Amen.