If we are suffering from any discouragement, God doesn’t want this. Discouragement is a normal part of life, but it’s not from God. In the past three weeks, I’ve observed these types of discouragement: 1) People getting frustrated with themselves, their mistakes and failures; 2) Someone admitted, looking back on this year, “I wondered if God would accept me, after what I’ve done”—that’s the voice of doubt; 3) “I’m sick of being at home. I can’t go anywhere”—that’s an exaggeration, but the feeling of helplessness points to a deprivation of meaningful human contact.
[Watch Fr. Justin’s homily delivery here.]
Our theme for the past three weeks here has been Begin Again! Whenever we’re discouraged, begin again with God’s help; He has a plan for you; get out of yourself and help your neighbour; more blessings are coming !
The best reason to begin again is that God always begins again. When Adam and Eve sinned, God began again with a word of hope (Gen 3:15); when people in the Bible broke the covenants God made with them, He made more. When Jesus became man, which is what we celebrate today, the point is that He’s remaking a covenant that can never be broken.
The Gospel of the Christmas vigil says, “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham… So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ, fourteen generations” (Mt 1:1,17). As I mentioned two years ago, 14 is the number of David. This is how it works: If we gave each letter of the English alphabet a number, it would look like this:
A B C D E F G H…
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8…
But in Hebrew, the letters of their alphabet are in this order:
A B G D H V Z Ch…
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8…
Now, in original Hebrew of the Old Testament, vowels were not written, so the name David is DVD, which numerically is 4, 6, 4. If we add up these numbers, they give us 14! The Gospel writer is emphasizing that Jesus is the new David. David was made king but broke the covenant with God. So God begins again.
Seven years ago, in preparation for Christmas, Pope Francis said, “You can begin from scratch! Why? Because he is waiting for you, he is close to you, he loves you, he is merciful, he forgives you, he gives you the strength to begin again!”. His emphasis is on God‘s beginning again. That’s why Pope Benedict said that “Jesus is… the new beginning” (Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, 56).
There are three qualities to God’s beginning again at Christmas: 1) The Gospel says, “‘They shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means ‘God is with us’” (Mt 1:23). The first quality is that God is always with us, even if we’re not with Him. He’ll work in our hearts, even if we’re angry or frustrated. 2) His new beginnings are gentle. Jesus was born in a manger because God is humble. When He begins again in our lives, it’s usually with a gentle stirring of our hearts. 3) God never forces us. It says in the Gospel of Christmas Day: “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (Jn 1:11-12). There’s a choice here. Have you ever been so angry and someone tried to cheer you up, but you didn’t want to be cheered up? So be aware of any resentment, bitterness, or pride that says, “I don’t need this.”
Let’s look at four consequences of God’s beginning again:
1) If you’re ever feeling frustrated with yourself, remember that beginning again entrusts the past to God’s mercy. It’s normal to think about our past mistakes, but it’s only virtuous insofar as it makes the present better. God doesn’t dwell on the past sins: If we ask His forgiveness, then our sins are forgiven. Yes, we atone for sins, but we do that in the present.
Even after I’ve mentioned many times that it’s normal, for example, to confess the same sins over and over, people still get discouraged. Well, what do you want to confess: new sins, every time? Even when we’re sincere in moral growth, it takes time to overcome sins. So, the next time anyone comes to me for confession, saying, “I feel discouraged that I keep on doing the same sins,” I’m going to give them the evil eye!
Too many of us live in the past, with past hurts and resentments, and God is saying, “Begin again with forgiveness and mercy.” One person here in the parish actually told me that she reached out to heal a relationship after reflecting on the theme of begin again.
2) Beginning again uses better methods. Consequently, I’m not saying begin again by doing the exact same things! Sometimes God wants us to do that, but other times we begin again by trying new things, such as going to see a counselor, to get help. The reason we’re sometimes not growing is because we’re simply repeating what doesn’t work.
In the Second Reading for Christmas Day it says, “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the Prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by the Son” (Heb 1:1-2). God sent prophets, but we never listened fully to them, so He finally sent His Son, God Himself.
I once lived with a man who was abusive, not my father, and it wasn’t physical, but it was verbal and emotional. After trying many ways to reach out and forgive and even feeling pity for him, I realized that God was calling me to begin again by leaving, and not enabling him to sin against me.
3) Beginning again conquers doubt in God’s goodness. The person who wondered if God would accept him/her never heard the following true story, which I told five years ago at Easter. Jeanne Condon wrote, “I was 24 years old and working full time at a job that I really liked. I had felt quite flu-ish when someone suggested I might be pregnant. Impossible, I thought. So I took an at-home pregnancy test that instantly came back positive… I kept my secret for a few days while doing much thinking and soul searching.” She decided to call her mom, who “began to cry tears of sorrow… for my future and their present. I knew she loved me and was hurting for me. Mom would tell Dad at the appropriate time, whenever that was. How surprised I was when seconds later my telephone rang and it was my Dad. The first words out of his mouth… were ‘Jeanne, we’re going to make this scar into a star!’ Relief and gratitude for parents who loved me so much poured into my heart.” It will take our whole lifetime to appreciate truly how good God the Father is! So we have to begin again regularly to know His true goodness.
The father of Jeanne’s baby didn’t want to be involved so she gave birth to her son, Danny, and said, “In my heart I knew it would be just ‘the two of us…’ and no man would get near me now.” One day she went to the local camera store and Brian, the store manager, was helpful as usual. Some days later, she ran into him and he asked to go for a quick soda while on a break. That break turned into 1½ hours. “When I told Brian that I had a 9-month-old son, he paused… and said, ‘Ok,’ and we continued talking. In his head and heart though he already knew I was ‘the one’ because I had told him I was Catholic. He had been waiting for years to find a Catholic girl! “After 2 months I asked Brian what he would like Danny to call him. Brian’s exact words were, ‘Have him call me “Daddy”!’ Those were the sweetest most endearing words I could ever hope to hear, except maybe, ‘Would you marry me?’ So the girl who thought no one could ever love her because she had a baby, got married and lived happily ever after. We celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary this year with all of our 8 children.”
4) Beginning again means there are solutions to our problems. If you’re suffering from human isolation, this is not what God wants. All of us have different needs when it comes to human contact, but many people are suffering silently and the pain grows almost imperceptibly to the point when we’re overwhelmed. Several people have said, “There’s nothing I can do.” That’s not entirely true. You can call people. You can meet people outside, go for a walk, and keep a distance. There are creative ways to take care of our spiritual and mental health while keeping physical safety.
A beautiful solution our parish is offering is the Alpha program on January 6, 7, and 9, 2021. Alpha is an introduction to Christian faith and has three parts: a meal (your own since it’s virtual), a 25-minute world-class video, and then a discussion. Many people didn’t think Alpha could work online, but it has for us and many churches worldwide. The greatest gift is the safe, non-judgemental environment to share and have meaningful human conversations. Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings are in English, Thursday nights are in Chinese.
God began again, thanks to Mary, who said, “Yes,” to His plan, and allowed Jesus to be conceived in her womb. If we can give God a joyful “Yes” today, then praise God! If we can’t, maybe we could give Him a little “Okay,” meaning we’re a little open.
Most of the time, God gives me enough grace to begin again as soon as I’m aware that I’m discouraged. But sometimes, when I’m pushed to my limit, at an emotional level, I honestly don’t feel like beginning again. What encourages me at those moments is that God is beginning again.