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Term Opening Mass (Form 4 to Form 6) 2017-09-26

Opening Mass (Sacred Heart), Tues 17.9.26; by M Sloboda,
S4, S5, S6; Is. 43:1-7; Heb. 12:1-6; Jn. 1:1-7

Dear supervisor, principal, teachers and students. Congratulations on the 60th anniversary of MFS. We thank God for the past 60 years, and we look forward to the next 60 with confidence.

Or do we? Students, are you worried about your city, your country, and the world? Years ago, I certainly was.

During summer holiday after I finished P6 (1965), and over the next couple of summers, there were race riots in US several cities. My hometown, St. Louis, was the largest city in the USA which did NOT have blood on the street. Back then, St. Louis was black and white, with only a couple of Chinese restaurants. There were only a few black students in my school. If I had to relive those years, I would have talked to them more often. By S3, the war in Vietnam was becoming intense. Next, there was an incident between a US Navy warship [the Pueblo] and North Korea which could have led to war. When I was in S5, university students held a protest on one campus. The military shot 4 of them dead. Many young people said, “It’s hopeless! The world will come to an end soon. So let’s drink alcohol, take drugs, and have fun.” Yet I was one of many who kept studying, going to church and praying.

Will the world and the human race be here 10 years from now, 100 years from now, or even 1000 years from now? I don’t know, you don’t know, and not even the Pope knows. We need to live responsibly today, tomorrow and the next day. Atheists can ruin their future by being overly pessimistic, and Christians can ruin their future by being overly optimistic. In the 1960s, a number of couples thought: “World War Three is coming. The United States and the Soviet Union both have thousands of hydrogen bombs. We are doomed. Why bring children into such a hopeless world?” They were too pessimistic. Now they are old and childless. At the other extreme, I read about a newly married Christian couple who made the news in 1974. They were expecting a decisive battle in Israel [at Armageddon] any day. They said, “We are full of hope for the future. Jesus will return, intervene on that battlefield and win the victory. Then it will be heaven on earth, and a year later we will have our first child.” That was 43 years ago. If they are still waiting to start a family, they’ve waited too long. They were too pessimistic. Now they are old and childless. They were too optimistic. Now they are old and childless.

Here’s another example of misplaced optimism. A woman met at man and they fell madly in love with each other. She invited him to meet her parents at dinner. After the meal, her father questioned the young man in private: “Do you have a job?” “No, sir, God will provide.” “Are you looking for a job?” “No, sir, God will provide.” “Do you have any money in the bank?” “No, sir, God will provide.” Afterwards, his wife asked, “What do you think of our future son-in-law?” The future father-in-law replied, “Bad news and good news: the bad news is he has no job, no ambition and no money. The good news is he thinks I’m God.”

It’s good to be midway between being too pessimistic and too optimistic, between feeling hopeless and feeling complacent. Students, be cautiously optimistic, and be responsible. You have to study. It’s no good to say, “The world will end before I graduate from university, so why should I study hard?”

Working people have to save for retirement. It’s no good to say, “The world will end before I retire, so why should I save any money for my senior years?” We might be here for a long, long time. God wants us to plan for the future.

When the local situation is tense, it’s good to see the big picture. When the news today is bad, it’s good to have a sense of history.

In the first reading, the people of Israel were in a time of trouble. The prophet Isaiah looked back 1000 year to their famous ancestor, Jacob. He also referred to some neighboring countries in his own day. I’m not going to give you a history lesson. The key point is that God protected his people in the past and would do so again. They did not have to be afraid of water, fire or the current political situation.

During bad times, some people rise to the challenge. They face scary situations. They do not panic. They resist the urge to run away. In the second reading, St. Paul mentioned heroes, brave martyrs - a cloud of witnesses. Ever country pays respect to those who struggled and died for the nation. The church honors saints who kept the faith. We can learn from their example. I’m not asking you to pray for trouble and persecution. Yet it if comes, I hope you and I will see the big picture and ask God for strength.

The Gospel of John begins with the widest perspective, all space and time. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The big picture makes sense. There is a logic, a pattern, and a purpose behind the universe, ever since the first moment of creation. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato could deduce that much. He wrote about the divine Word and the light of truth. In Israel 300 years later, John the Baptist started testifying to the light and calling people to turn away from darkness. The first chapter of John’s Gospel continues and says “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” Every Christmas day in church we read about the eternal Word of God coming into our little word of time. Neither Plato nor any other philosopher ever predicted the coming of Jesus.

Around the world, people want to see what’s coming. I close my eyes and I see a reception desk in a Mainland hotel, 31 years ago in Guilin, Guangxi Province 廣西省桂林. I was a tour guide. My mother and Uncle Joe, her older brother, flew to HK. I met them at the airport. A few days later, we went to the Mainland. I was wearing ordinary clothes. Tourists were just beginning to visit China. It was the second day of business for that new hotel in Guilin. The 2 ladies at the reception desk were 18 years old. It was their first job. They had recently graduated from secondary school. They said, “You speak Chinese so well.” I replied politely, “No, I just speak it a little.” They asked, “Are you a businessman?” I was not going to lie. I answered, “No, I am a Catholic priest.” The teens opened their eyes wide and looked at each other. They had been born during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). They had never met a priest before. They did not know anything about any religion. It was their first chance to acquire some spiritual knowledge. One of them held out her hand and asked, “Can you read my palm?” I shook my head, “Sorry, they did not teach me that when I was studying to become a priest.” They looked disappointed. In that situation, I could not tell those teens the story of Jesus. At least I could tell them that Catholics are not into fortune telling. Also, I behaved like a sober gentleman, not like a loud, annoying, drunken tourist. That is an important witness in any situation.

In conclusion we do not know what tomorrow will hold, but we know who holds tomorrow. The future is in God’s hands, and we have work to do today. Enjoy this school year. God bless you.

Also bless a student rec room with holy water.

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