14 SEPTEMBER, 2017, Thursday, The Exaltation of the Holy Cross


SCRIPTURE READINGS: [NUM 21:4-9; PHIL 2:6-11; JN 3:13-17 ]

In the refrain to the responsorial psalm, we say, “Never forget the deeds of the Lord.”  Indeed, forgetfulness is the cause of many sins and the repetition of history.  The problem is that the human mind has very short memory of the past, good or bad.  That is why we are never grateful for what we have, or regret for the mistakes that we had made.  We tend to repeat history all over again.  When we study the history of humanity, it is but a repetition of the same mistakes that our forefathers had made, albeit now in new circumstances, but the mistakes are essentially the same.

This was the mistake of the Israelites in today’s first reading.  They had just seen the spectacular powers of God saving them from the pursuits of the Egyptian army.  They witnessed the guiding hand of God in their journey across the desert in the pillar of cloud during the day and the pillar of fire at night.   When they complained they had no food, God sent them manna and quails for meat.  They ate to their hearts’ content.  But they were always grumbling and complaining.  They were so forgetful of what God had done for them.

We too are like the Israelites.  We are always complaining about our lives.  We are never satisfied with what we have.  When we are young we wish we were older so that we can have greater freedom and mobility.  When we are older, we wish we were young, because then we were more carefree and had less responsibilities.  Those without jobs complain that they do not have work, whilst those with jobs complain about their work, their bosses and colleagues.  Those who have plenty of food complain that the food is not good enough, or they worry about eating too much; whilst those without food worry about where to find the next meal.

The cause of our anxiety comes from our failure to remember the mercy and love we have received from God.  This explains why we lack confidence that He will take care of our future.  We count our woes instead of our blessings.  When we reflect on our life, we will realize that we have received many blessings from God in different ways, through our successes and achievements.  These blessings came to us through different people in our lives.  Indeed, what we are today is the consequence of all the people and opportunities given to us.  If only we remember how the Lord has taken care of us all these years, then we would be assured that if He had looked after us until today, He will surely see us through the future as well.  Remembering the goodness of the Lord will give us the confidence to trust Him with our future.

Secondly, the failure to remember God’s deeds for us is always the cause of our ingratitude.  In spite of the blessings we have received, we tend to take them for granted.  Some of us think that everything is due to our hard work.  We fail to realize that success is not all due to our hard work and our intelligence alone.  God needs to bless us with good health, grey matter, opportunities, money and link us up with the right people.  When we lack gratitude, we will remain discontented.  If we are grateful for what we have already, then we will not be greedy for more, but happy to be what we are.  Those of us who are not grateful will always be envious of others, lamenting about what we do not have instead of what we already have. Remembering the past with gratitude is the key to contentment.

Thirdly, the failure to remember our past mistakes is the cause of our repeating them again.  This is what the Psalmist says, “Give heed, my people, to my teaching; turn your ear to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable and reveal hidden lessons of the past. When he slew them then they would seek him, return and seek him in earnest. They would remember that God was their rock, God the Most High their redeemer.  But the words they spoke were mere flattery; they lied to him with their lips.  For their hearts were not truly with him; they were not faithful to his covenant.”   Truly, many of us keep on repeating the same mistakes in life, or the mistakes of our forefathers.  We do not seem to learn from our mistakes or theirs.  We read in the papers of people who have been charged for cheating, corruption, sexual offences, killing, reckless and drunk driving, the evils of gambling, etc, yet, knowing the consequences ahead of us, we still do the same thing.  Students know the consequences of not studying and being disciplined, yet they do not take their studies seriously until they face the penalty of not being able to enter the school or enroll for the course of their choice.   Then they will drop out of school and find that they are not able to secure a good job and a career for their future.

This is particularly true in relationships.  Some of us have so many failed relationships simply because we never learnt from the mistakes of the previous relationships.   We are quick to enter into another relationship simply because there is a vacuum in our lives and we feel lonely and insecure.  But without learning from the lessons of the past, we are bound to repeat exactly the same mistakes.  Not knowing our history and not remembering our past will cause us to repeat our mistakes.

The antidote to our misery is to remember.   “Never forget the deeds of the Lord.”  What does it mean to remember if not to re-member?  When we remember, we bring together all the events of our past, good and bad, making sense of them, showing gratitude for the blessings we have received and learning from the mistakes we have made.  To remember is to give unity to all that happened in our life so that we can see the hand of God working in the daily events in our life.  In this way, we can give thanks to God and be grateful for all that has happened to us since all things work unto our good for those who love Him. (cf Rom 8:28)

This indeed is the way God helps us to heal our sinfulness and our lack of gratitude.  In the first reading, God asked Moses to erect a serpent on the pole to heal the people of their ingratitude and sinfulness.  “Make a fiery serpent and put it on a standard. If anyone is bitten and looks at it, he shall live.”   Why did God use the serpent that bit them to be the instrument of healing?  This was because by remembering the serpent, they would remember their pain and the mistakes they made in complaining and whining instead of being grateful to God for the blessings that they had received, freedom, manna and meat.  They were taught to be contented and to be grateful in their hearts.

The serpent lifted up on the pole of course is to anticipate Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.  Jesus said, “No one has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven, the Son of Man who is in heaven; and the Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”    Christ is our real deliverer, savior and healer.  He came to show us God’s mercy in forgiving our sins.  He showed us God’s compassion in healing our illnesses, curing our diseases.   He showed Himself to be the Wisdom and Word of God by teaching us the truth about life, about His Father and about humble service, self-emptying, forgiveness and sin.  He proved Himself to be our deliverer by freeing us from the clutch and the power of the Evil One, especially the last enemy of humanity, the fear of death.  By contemplating on the cross of Christ, we come to be convicted of the mercy, forgiveness and power of God’s love in rescuing us from death.

In Him, we can truly exclaim, “Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life. For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved.”  This is what St Paul seeks to affirm in the second reading.  Contemplating on the love and mercy of God, he wrote, “The state of Jesus Christ was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave, and became as men are; and being as all men are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross.”   The passion of Christ sums up the mercy of God in person.

But it is not sufficient to speak of Christ being lifted up on the cross at His passion. We must also speak of His resurrection.  The cross without the resurrection would be tragedy; and the resurrection without the cross would be without power.  So the lifting up of Jesus on the cross is also seen as His glorification.  For as St Paul said, “But God raised him high and gave him the name which is above all other names so that all beings in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld, should bend the knee at the name of Jesus and that every tongue should acclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

It is therefore most appropriate that in the Eucharist, we celebrate the memorial of His passion, death and resurrection.  In celebrating the mass, we call to mind His life, death and resurrection so that we will remember that Jesus is our life and our glory.   In receiving Him in the Eucharist, we are called to die with Him so that we too can share in the new life of grace.  In this way, we will be able to live a life of gratitude and thanksgiving every day, which is what the Eucharist is all about, thanksgiving.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved

Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
  • Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
  • Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
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