SCRIPTURE READINGS: [  REVELATION 1:1-4; 2:1-5; LUKE 18:35-43   ]

Often, we begin something out of love and passion.  Yet, along the way, we sometimes forget that we started out of love.  This was the case of the Christians at Ephesus.  The Lord said, “Nevertheless, I have this complaint to make; you have less love now than you used to.”  Indeed, the church started with love for Christ but after some time, when they were focused on building the church, they forgot that it was Jesus and His Church, the body of Christ, whom they served and loved.

When that happens, our relationship becomes very officious.  Indeed, we might be doing many things for the Church but they do not spring from love.  Jesus told the Christians, “I know all about you: how hard you work and how much you put up with. I know you cannot stand wicked men, and how you tested the impostors who called themselves apostles and proved they were liars. Know, too, that you have patience, and have suffered for my name without growing tired.”   Indeed, when it comes to work and commitment, they appeared to be very committed to their faith.  They worked hard and fought against the enemies of the Church.  They suffered for Christ and His name without ever growing tired.

There are many people like that, priests, religious and lay workers included.  They begin the ministry and their church involvement with much joy and love for Christ and His Church.  They would do this and that for the Church.  When you are in love, life and work is always full of joy.  Then they get over involved and over committed.

When love is lost, work and ministry become a chore, a duty, and a responsibility.  We do them grudgingly and in a routine manner.  There is no joy or passion.  It is pure work, whether we do it out of duty or simply because it is expected of us.  That is when we become calculative.  We become indifferent and insensitive to the feelings of those who ask us for help.  We are rude, tactless and businesslike in the way we deal with people coming to ask for our services.  How often do we hear complaints that our Church staff or ministry members are aloof and uncaring?

But this is true for those in relationships as well, especially in marriage.  Looking at many of our married couples, do we see loving couples or just intimate strangers?  Often couples are staying together even when the fire of love is extinguished.  The only reason they are staying together is because of the vows they had taken and the commitments they have towards the children and each other.  They will do things for each other, take care of each other, carry out household chores, bring the children for activities, etc but there is hardly any love or emotional bond between them.  It is as good as living with a slave or a worker.

But that is not what the Lord wants of us.  He wants our love, not our service.  Even Jesus at times wanted not the service of Martha but the attention of Mary.  He desires our love, not sacrifices.  Sacrifices must be the expression of our love, if not they have not much value.  When we receive something from someone with a condescending spirit, or when things are done for us reluctantly and grudgingly, we prefer that it was never given or done at all.  No one wants any favours from one without love.  It makes us feel small and worse, we feel that we are not worthy of their love.  Even dogs are not treated this way.

Today, we see that the ministry of Jesus was always motivated by love.  He was on His way to Jerusalem for the Passover.  Like the rest of the pilgrims and as any rabbi would do, He taught the disciples as they walked along.  And we are told that the pilgrims were all crowding around Jesus to hear Him.  There was this blind man who was driven by a desperate need.  He wanted his eyesight back.  Whilst others might have been too engrossed in the attention given by the crowd, this was not the case for Jesus.  When He heard the cry of the man, He stopped in his tracks, interrupted His discourse with the crowd and turned to the man.   Jesus simply withdrew from the crowd and gave His singular attention to the man in need.  He was not carried away by His discourse.  At that point of time, here was a man who was in desperate need.  He responded accordingly in pity and healed Him.  For Jesus, the love of God is not mere words but most of all, manifested in deed.

We too must be watchful of ourselves.  So often, we allow work and duty to take precedence over the call to love.  So often, even in the church, we conduct ourselves like those in the corporate world.  We are businesslike in our dealings with those who come to us for assistance and we treat them like undesirable and unwelcome customers.  We do not treat our staff as brothers and sisters but merely workers hired to do a job and to deliver their work.  We emphasise on productivity, efficiency and performance.  They are paid and therefore treated like mere workers.  We lack compassion, sensitivity and brotherliness in dealing with our staff and parishioners.  Often I get complaints of how bureaucratic and unbending our rules are in our churches, lacking compassion for the pains, the sufferings and the difficulties of those who seek help.  They come to the church looking for compassion and understanding but they are treated with coldness and inflexibility.  No wonder many have left the church because they do not feel that the Church really cares for them.  It is all talk and preaching but no action.

Let us learn from St Teresa of Kolkata.  She reminds us that not all of us are called to do great things but we can all do small things in a great way, which is to do them with love.  When there is love, every small thing becomes big.  Giving a smile, a hug, a word of encouragement goes a long way to make someone’s day.  But we need to do so with love.  When love is sincere and genuine, our recipients will be touched.

Let us therefore take the exhortation of the Lord seriously when He said, “Think where you were before you fell; repent, and do as you used to at first, or else, if you will not repent, I shall come to you and take your lamp-stand from its place.”  We need to recover our first love for the Lord.  We need to return to that time when we encountered the Risen Lord and rested in His love.  For those of us in marriage, we need to remember those days of courtship when we were in love with each other.  We need to recapture those romantic moments of our lives.  For those of us in ministry, we must recall the day of our ordination or our religious profession or that day when we joined the ministry.

Let us not forget the joy and the gratitude of being called or being loved.  Once we forget that beautiful moment, we lose our gratitude and we begin to take our ministry and our loved ones for granted.   If we are not careful, the little that is left of our ministry or our relationship would be taken away.  So we need to repent and renew our love for the Lord and our love for our loved ones.  As we approach the end of the year, we need to look back and see how far we have abandoned the original dream we had when we were married, ordained or when we begin our work.   So let us not be like those who were indifferent to the blind man and oblivious to what Jesus wanted to teach them.  Only the blind man could recognize Jesus as the Lord of love and compassion.  It took a blind man to recognize Him as the Messiah because He felt the love of Jesus for everyone.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore