Bishop Cornelius Sim: Homily For Red Mass 2012

The beginning of a new year means different things to different people.

One of our young ladies was involved in a car accident just before the New Year and will be spending the next 3 months immobilised due to a broken hip. She nevertheless was quite cheerful when I called her on the phone before I left.

Despite the pain and inconvenience, she is still able to count her blessings.

Our parishes have also been active fund raising for the victims of the recent flooding in Mindanao. Many of our Catholics in Brunei are Filipino migrants and this disaster resonates very much with them. 2012 will be a difficult year for those who lost families and homes. Whatever little we are able to do for them will help alleviate their burden in some way.

Regardless of our individual circumstances, the beginning of a new year presents an opportune moment to us as Catholics, who are called to be a people of hope, to consider the direction of our lives and how we are responding to God’s call to follow him.

I understand January is named after the Roman God, Janus. He had 2 faces; one looked forward, the other backwards. As we look back over the past year, we give thanks for God’s providence (“In all things God works for God for those who love him,” Rom 8:28) and as we look forward we want to pray for the grace of renewal and deeper conversion in our continuing faith journey.

By the way, I would like to thank the Catholic Lawyers Society for inviting me to celebrate this Mass with you. In the short time I have spent with some of your members, I have been very impressed by the fraternal spirit I have witnessed. I am encouraged to look to the possibility of forming such a body in Brunei too.

Coming to today’s readings, I must confess that I have a certain fondness for the Gospel account of Our Lady at the wedding at Cana. If I may digress a little, I recall Hillaire Belloc’s charming little ditty:

“Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There’s always laughter and good red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so.
Benedicamus Domino!”

Nothing captures for me the Catholic spirit so well: the effortless manner in which mundane and ordinary things are able to coexist with matters of celestial proportion.

Back to the Gospel:
There are three points I would like to touch on.

First of all, I see in Mary’s conduct the need to be sensitive to the needs of others. Mary saw a situation developing in which the wine was running out while others, including the bride and groom were unaware of it. She made it her business to look out for the good of the young couple

Like Mary, I am called to grow in my ability to read the signs of the times and endeavour to intervene appropriately. This is a service I can offer to my community, my church and my country, and it requires a willingness on my part to be conversant with what people are going through at a deeper level than the superficial. This will take effort and empathy and compassion.

Second of all, Mary did not only see the reality before her eyes. She acted on that knowledge. She turned to Jesus and presented the needs of the couple to him.

As a Catholic, it should be second nature for me to turn to the Lord in any situation. This should be deeply ingrained within my spirituality. More often than not, I turn to my limited human wisdom and resources which while necessary can never be sufficient. They only go so far.

I must be convinced that there are many times I must adopt the posture of Mary of Bethany, not Martha, despite my natural tendency to jump in where angels fear to tread. Turning to Jesus means reminding myself that Jesus is the Saviour, not me.

Third, Mary knew her place in the whole scheme of God’s plan. She wisely did not prescribe any particular action or solution to her Son. She left it entirely up to him to work out what would be most appropriate under the circumstances.

Jesus’ mysterious response “Woman, why turn to me? (How does your concern affect me?) My hour has not come yet.” did not undermine Mary’s confidence in his ability to intervene in an efficacious manner to save a young couple in an embarrassing situation. She knew his compassion and love would come through to save the day.

Bishop Cornelius Sim

Beyond accepting Jesus as Saviour, I acknowledge that he is Lord. I submit to him with all humility as Mary did. It can be hard for me to take on this attitude of submission. I am tempted to tell God how I would like things to work out. I must be ready to go down the road the Lord wants me to travel even when he chooses to work in a different way.

Ultimately, I have to heed the instruction Our Lady gave to the servants at the wedding, “Do whatever he tells you.” They could not foresee the miracle the Lord was about to perform but in his design they had a part to play. Filling the jars with water was their role. Turning the water into wine was his part.

There is a contrast brought out here between fate and faith. Fate is a passive acceptance of the status quo while wishing things were different. Fate is wishing alone – it has no substance and is backed by inaction. Faith however is a combination of divine providence together with human watchfulness (prudence) and timely action (diligence).

As a Catholic, I am called to be a person of faith. I am deeply immersed in the realities and the needs of the men and women of my time. Like Our Lady, I ponder these realities guided by the Holy Spirit as he speaks to me through the Scriptures and the teaching of the Church. I struggle to understand what God is requiring of me I endeavour to do my part as he leads me to do.

My efforts may be unspectacular, seemingly ordinary not unlike the ordinariness of water. I am called to work together with other Catholics and indeed other like-minded persons to fill the jars with water. I can trust God to transform my humble human efforts into wine that will satisfy the deepest thirsting of the people of my time.

In our time, we cannot ignore the essential role we as Catholics are called to play in working for peace and justice, precisely because of the unique formation we have received. In a broken and sinful world, peace and justice remain elusive goals. Pope Benedict Xvi in his recent Message for the World Day of Peace chose “Educating Young People for Peace and Justice” as his theme.

In particular he underlined the need for an education of conscience acknowledging that justice and peace depends on formation from an early age. He affirmed that today “to assume responsibility for educating young people in knowledge of truth, in fundamental values and virtues, is to look to the future with hope.”

The Pope also stressed that education is more than instruction. There is a need for credible and authentic witnesses who walk the talk to show our young people what all this translates to. In this respect, I would like to refer to two men who inspire me most as I struggle to live out my Catholic commitment to serve the cause of justice and peace according to the dictates of my conscience.

One of these two men you are no doubt familiar with. St Thomas More, who was executed by Henry VIII because he refused to go against what he knew to be the truth about “the King’s grave matter.” More did not allow his position as Lord Chancellor to prejudice his deeply held conviction that he had to observe a higher law than the law of the land of which he was the highest custodian. In the end he stood alone in service to the truth he could not betray.

The other man I refer to is St John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, a contemporary of Thomas More. Of all the bishops in England at the time, John Fisher alone refused to submit to the Act of Succession which required him to sanction the King’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. He tells his fellow bishops, “The fort is betrayed even by those who should have defended it.” He stood firm even when King Henry said to him “You are only one man!”

John Fisher was martyred on 22nd June 1535 at Tyburn Hill by beheading. Thomas More was martyred a few days later on 6 July by beheading at Tower Hill.

The double witness of More, a layperson and Fisher, a bishop, is a very apt illustration of how priests and laity are called to exercise their responsibility to stand up for truth and justice in the pursuit of peace. The presence of the legal fraternity and other like-minded individuals here this morning at this Red Mass is a reflection of that shared duty and commitment.

I am about to conclude. You know, I have always been fascinated by Jesus mysterious words to Our Lady at Cana: “My hour has not yet come”. We know his hour did indeed come at Calvary. In Esther 4:14, Mordecai spoke to Queen Esther at a time when the Jews faced the imminent possibility of extermination: “Who knows but that you have come to a position such as yours for such a time as this?”

Has our hour come? More has been referred to as the “man for all seasons”, precisely because of the exemplary way he lived out his vocation in his season of history. It cannot be coincidence that each of us are called to his or her individual vocation at this particular time, in this particular historical and geographical context, in the same way More and Fisher and Esther were called to their vocations in their particular circumstances.

God bless you all as you continue to be sensitive to the needs of your people, to ponder together how the Holy Spirit through the Word of God calls you to respond by offering yourselves in obedient service to Our Lord, trusting the fruit of the enterprise to him whose wisdom and power go well beyond anything we can do on our own. Mary, Mother of the Lord, pray for us!

Rt Rev. Cornelius Sim, DD
Apostolic Vicar, Brunei
(Bishop of Brunei)

7th January 2012

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