‘The family is God’s last bastion of anything that is Godly’
KOTA KINABALU: For those arriving at the Church from the parish hall, the smell of enticing barbecue filled the compound on Sunday morning for the Feast of the Holy Family (Dec 27).
Rightfully so, the St Simon Church Likas rector Fr Cosmas Lee addressed the roasting chicken in the backyard of the parish to the post-Christmas crowd in the opening of his sermon:
“I hope your senses are not so dull as not to have seen the smoke and smell the aroma of ‘ayam panggang‘ (barbecue chicken) as you came to Church this morning.
“We’re going to have a little party after Mass. Everyone is invited. But knowing that half of you will not go, I will do the homily as my speech there… so that we will have something to reflect on this great Feast of the Holy Family.”
Feeling disheartened by the fewer than normal crowd in the Church, the rector couldn’t help but address the people’s “battle fatigue”.
“When you are in a war, and if you keep on fighting, there is a thing called ‘battle fatigue’. (Most people would think that) aiyo, just went to Church two days ago, today go again, better sleep first lo. You see how much we need the endless mercy of God.
“Today we are celebrating our traditional 4-in-1 celebration. First, to celebrate the family, not just our own family but also the family of the whole parish community.
“Secondly, to thank and appreciate all those who have served in this parish the whole year. I wouldn’t mention the names.
“Then, it’s a day that we’re supposed to appreciate our children. Give them a chance to rejoice, to celebrate because they are our future… future of faith, future of understanding of God’s love and mercy.
“And finally, of course, to celebrate my ordination anniversary. I always feel a little embarrassed, every year that we have to do this celebration. I’m so aware that the people have been working so hard. Preparing the caroling, doing the decorations, you will never understand how much work there is unless you have been really involved.
“Everyone has been busy. And then, you know, on Holy Family Day you still have to put up with another celebration. I always say, if they wish to celebrate my anniversary, make it simple… no need also never mind lah,” he said to a chorus of laughter.
“But the quality of our belief is seen when we are ready to walk that extra mile. So I thank everyone who has been busy preparing for today’s celebration. I thank you, too, because I believe some kind of prayers were put up on the little tree behind in the Church for me but I’m too embarrassed to mention that. I thank everybody that we are doing this together.
“Some reflection on the family, on love and service and ministries, on our children and on my ordination. The family – St John in the second reading tells us that we are all made children of God and that’s what we are. The one thing that we have really in common is that we have received life from one God, the Father, and in each one of us, the life of God, the Spirit has been given to us. This sense of being the children of God begins in each of our own family that God designed – that building block, that fundamental unit of society, and through this family in blood we may grow to be children of God and bear witness outside this immediate family.
“That we may turn the whole of humanity into the family of God. In the design of God there is no such thing as ‘only for my family’. We’re given a family as a gift to the family of the human race. It’s always a call to each family for mission, to pass on the experience and belief that God is our Father.
“When we come as a family, when we realise that we have been called, St John reminds us that being a family is not just to be aware that we are children of God. But that we keep His commandments and that keeping His commandments is to love one another, beginning with that man and woman who you married.
“The family is so important. People in modern times are trying to say that there are better alternatives to the design of the family that God has made. They are fools. They’re deluding themselves. I think the first thing we should do, you know, we who all have a family, is to decide today. That the family is indispensable.
“The horrible things that are going on in modern times affect us so deeply we always say affect our children – not true.
“Evil first come to us parents, and when we fall, our children who are even more vulnerable will fall with us.
“Today we must decide that the family is God’s last bastion of anything that is Godly. We must renew our faith in that. If we have not done too well, let’s renew again. Always confidently depend on God’s endless mercy.
“Everyday is new. We can always begin again in our journey towards virtues, the family.
“Secondly, a word on ministries. On loving service for others and I have in mind particularly service in the family of the parish. We heard the story of how Hannah, the mother of Samuel, her only child, making him over to the Lord. It’s a strange English expression, to ‘make it over’. In other words, to consecrate, to give away entirely to God.
“Her husband Elkanah, after a year since Samuel’s birth, went to the temple and asked Hannah to go along. But Hannah said ‘no… I must wait to wean the child.’ In other words, ‘I must stay … in order to give him milk until the day that he does not need milk anymore’. That he could survive on solid food and can be taken over by some other people except his mother.
“When you give puppies away to people you make sure that the puppies are weaned, that they don’t depend on the mother’s milk anymore.
“The whole idea is this: Hannah would give her only child entirely away to the service of God in the temple. And we know Samuel grew up to be a great Prophet of Israel.
“It’s such an extreme example for all of us to look to. Because all that we are, and it begins with our life itself, all that we have (or don’t have) belong to God.
“If we as parents, as children, as man and wife, don’t understand this, we will never get the family right. That all belong to God. That all of us must make it over to the Lord, who is the very purpose and end of our existence.
“So unless we have that sense we will never really be children of God. It’s not ‘mine, mine, mine’. No. ‘Mine’, only for service. I am called to serve, to love, to care. That all may show forth God’s possession over us. That the glory of God will shine all around in the world.
“Another point I have to make, that we’re here to serve the Lord because in the first place, whether we believe or don’t believe, acknowledge or don’t acknowledge, we belong to God bah.
“I think with that, it’s much easier to give ourselves to walk that extra mile I spoke about. When we are given over to the Lord, things will be much easier. But if I see myself giving my things to God it’d be very difficult oh. Most of us are so, what do you call it, ‘luki’ (stingy).
“Children… No children, no family. When you see children, your heart, your instinct, your spirit automatically rejoices. Sometimes I stand at the back of the Church and look at the children, and then I look at the parents.
“The body language says they have not instilled a sense of God in the children. You know you begin looking after the children when you conceived it, not when they’re teenager. Too late. If you bring your teenage child to me and say, ‘Father, do something about it’, I’d say, ‘too late. Don’t waste my time’.
“Because today we hear the story of Jesus the teenager. Twelve years and beginning to have a mind of His own. And unsuspected by his parents that mind of his own was turning more and more to His Father in Heaven. That He had more than just His parents on earth.
“When parents and people come to me and complain about their teenage boy or girl and how impossible it is, because they’re so opinionated, they’re having a mind of their own, the first thing you should do is to thank God.
“That he/she is finally becoming an adult. Not slavishly become just like you – everything ‘you, you, you’. Parenting takes different approach at different development stage of the child. When teenage-hood comes, you should learn to begin to let go and make it over to the Lord. You would panic if you’ve not started weaning him, if you’ve not taken care of him since he was conceived.
“Good for you. Very normal to have bad teenage child. Very normal to be rebellious and having a mind of his own. But if we have been there ever since we conceived him and begotten him he will, like Jesus, turn to the Father, no matter how unapparent that may be. They will turn to the Lord and realise that they are a unique person created by God for Himself.
“Today as we look at our children… we better be devoted once more. To bring them up that they, too, will realise that they have more than just earthly parents. Ultimately, they are to serve God, the Father of all life.
“And lastly, my ordination. I was ordained 27th December 1976. Thirty-nine years. Last night at the celebration I told people that once you’ve passed 25th anniversary don’t count anymore because the figures are too big to remember.
“I am grateful that people remember and they want to celebrate (my anniversary) despite their ‘battle fatigue’. Because, why? It is not my celebration. I was ordained by the Church, in the name of God for you. I’m here for you, I’m your priest that’s why you celebrate. I don’t celebrate because I was ordained.
“Ordained to suffer. Ordained to suffer not much to rejoice, you know. Every family needs a father. You call me ‘Father’ I hope you don’t regret it. And I am supposed to minister you so that you’ll all be children who’ll know to be good prophets, priests and ‘kings’ – the roles we’re supposed to play since our baptism. To be a Prophet means to know the Word of God, to be able to speak for God in our life. To evangelise, to reach out – with the truth, not with nonsense. We think that all of us know how to serve, like Jesus the King, the Shepherd King. To govern our family, to govern our community, in truth, in justice, in mercy.
“And finally, this family, through the service of an ordained Minister will be better worshipers, priests. To be able to worship God rightly, truly, sincerely, and that this worship of God will be translated into our prophesying and our servicing as that Shepherd King in our governance of our family… So it is you who should be rejoicing and not so much me. I am the ‘victim’.
“Happy Feast Day. We pray for each other that we may all become a good family, with the Father; that the children are listening. Children should be allowed to be themselves, guided by the commandments of God,” Fr Cosmas said, concluding his longer than usual sermon.
Meanwhile, at the parish hall following the Mass, the Parish Pastoral Council Chairlady Anne Wong,on behalf of the community, thanked Fr Cosmas for his dedication to his call to shepherd the Likas parish.
“Father has said everything that is necessary to be said so I’ll just say what he did not say. Of course, he cannot thank himself. It’s for us to thank Father for his shepherding us, for being our ‘father’ in this parish,” Anne said.
“Most of all, we must thank God for calling us to serve in His little vineyard with our shepherd, Fr Cosmas. We thank the Holy Spirit for helping us to say ‘yes’ to the call to serve in this parish. Hopefully, it extends to our wider parish in our Archdiocese and the world.
“And, of course, we thank Jesus for showing us the example of how to be faithful, to be good servant. How do we do that? By being faithful to submit to the will of God, to serve according to the will of God, not ours. So today we’re very happy that Father is celebrating his actual ordination day (Dec 27).”
Among the highlights of the event included the culminating of the caroling at the parish-level where groups of carolers, led by Vincent Wong, sang Christmas songs on the stage. The food served included spaghetti, fried chicken, satay and ‘sao nyuk‘, among others.