One Family Under God
In his homily for 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Father Hanly reminds us that God is with us and He wants us to recognise that we are one family under God.
Readings for Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
- First Reading: Jeremiah 17:5-8
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 1:1-2, 3, 4, 6
- Second Reading: First Corinthians 15:12, 16-20
- Gospel: Luke 6:17, 20-26
(Note: Father Hanly’s homily for 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, was delivered in Hong Kong, China, on the first day of Chinese New Year in the Year of the Tiger.)
As you all know, this is the Year of the Tiger.
For some reason, tigers have always frightened me. But when I read that, in China, the tiger is considered the king of beasts and I was wondering, good Lord, what have I been missing all these years?
Maybe it’s because I was born in the Year of the Monkey, you know, and monkeys and tigers don’t get along too well. (Congregation laughs.)
Anyhow, it’s the Year of the Tiger. I was reading up on the tiger and the book that I was reading from says that, see if I can find it here now, “Tigers are noble, leaders, optimistic, open, protective, loyal, honourable, generous and sensitive.”
Wow, I can see why I don’t like tigers. Because I’m terribly jealous of them! Monkeys are a little bit, you’re not supposed to trust us, you see, we kind of hop back and forth, and nobody’s quite sure whether or not or what we’re going to do.
The reason I mention this is because I’d like to talk about something that is related to it. It’s not the years that are important, it’s the idea of the gathering of peoples at this time, the Reunion dinner (團圓飯).
The Reunion dinner (團圓飯) I was fortunate enough, when I was in Taiwan, I was only there a very short time, and I was invited to a family Reunion dinner (團圓飯).
As you know, if you keep the rules strictly, and they kept them very strictly in those days in Taiwan, nobody that wasn’t a blood member of the family was allowed in to the Reunion dinner (團圓飯). There were no such things as honorary guests. And when they went in, they locked the doors and sealed them, and the Reunion dinner (團圓飯) took place.
And I, fortunately, there was a doctor in the village that I was assigned to in Nantou, and he had been in New York studying to learn more about his practice as a doctor, especially because he took care of aborigines.
He was a Protestant minister as well, and so my mother, who was in the hospital, got to know him very well and helped him a great deal because he was a little bit lost. He was the only one in Brooklyn, I think, that came from that part of Taiwan. In those days, people didn’t travel too much.
And he loved my mother and he loved my father and family.
So, when I went to Taiwan, I was assigned to Taiwan and I was assigned to his village where he lived. And so he invited me to participate in the Reunion dinner (團圓飯).
And I didn’t realise it at the time, but not only was the relationship between Catholics and Protestants — him being a Protestant minister and me being a Roman Catholic priest — the relationships were a bit strained, even more so I was a Gweilo (foreigner) and …
And yet he, with kind of great courage…
I said to him: “They tell me that I shouldn’t be invited to this meal.”
And he said: “If anybody objects, I will never have them in my house again.”
And so that gave me a little courage.
But the thing that I would like to talk about is here is a Christian gentleman, a Presbyterian doctor and a minister, and here was a Roman Catholic priest, in the middle of a village that spoke nothing but Taiwanese, there was not even Mandarin was spoken in the village, and here we are coming together.
And I felt deeply moved by it, because I was accepted into this family, and there’s every reason in the world why nobody should accept me. I was a foreigner. I could hardly speak the language. I was a different, even though we were Christians, he was a Protestant, I was a Catholic.
I marvelled at it and so I sat there thinking. And he began to explain all the meaning of the Reunion dinner (團圓飯). And he was very good at it.
He said: “This is what unifies the family. This is why we come together. Because we need each other. Because we are one family and our unity is very important. Because if we are not one family, we are nothing.”
And this was the sign. And I said to myself: “This is the Last Supper, because this is what Jesus did.” Do you remember, he brought his disciples together for a final supper.
He didn’t bring them there so that they could just eat.
He wanted to teach them a lesson: that the best way to understand God is to know that it is the gathering and the moulding of a community around a table of food with songs and joy and people of all different kinds together by Jesus himself, for he was going to be the new principle for the community that would ultimately and finally touch God Himself in a very special way.
And so it was that the disciples came to the Passover feast and he broke the bread and he blessed the wine.
And his one and only hope was that these men from different backgrounds, and women and children, would yield and come together and realise they belong to something very special: it’s the family of God Himself.
And so it was that going all the way from Brooklyn all the way to Nantou, I learned the lesson that Jesus was teaching his disciples.
“Wherever you go,” he said, “remember I send you to the whole world, not just to this race or this group or this happy or unhappy place.
“I send you to every corner of this whole world to tell them the good news that God is here, that God is among us, that God is with us and He wants us all, not to be converted, He wants us to recognise that we are one family under God.”
And that’s my favourite expression that I borrow from the ancient wise men of China, 天下一家 (inaudible). 天 is “heaven,” 下 is “under,” 一家 is “only one family.”
And so, today, we celebrate something more than just the beginning of the New Year.
We celebrate in our own hearts the recognition that, ultimately and eventually, no matter whether you like it or not, it’s God’s will that the good news be preached to everyone and we come together as one family.
Then it seems to me there is another aspect.
It means family unity. We really are a family.
Individuals don’t mean anything, even though they are the centre of every community is the individual.
But what people begin to forget that what makes them really a family is their ability to sacrifice themselves for each other that they might come together and be a real family.
It’s not just a stopover on the way of life. It’s the ebb and flow of God’s grace within us that is allowed and it operates when we come together as a family.
And so family is at the centre of our life. This is true.
I remember my teacher telling me that the old Chinese idea was that individuals cannot stand, but if brought together as a family, you have the family, and you have the larger family, and you have the town, and you have the city, and you have the country, and you have one family, and that is the way it should move.
Now in order to do that, of course, Jesus taught us how.
You must sacrifice, you must recognise you are already blessed by God, you are already holy people, you are already His and you are destined to be His for all eternity.
And that means that you must learn to accept each other, care for each other, sacrifice for each other.
For it is God Himself who sits at the table breaking the bread and says, “One body,” blessing the wine and saying, “One cup.”
Then you become one with him and one with each other.
Probably, in our day and age, the greatest danger to our community is not new ideas or new inventions or television or what have you.
There is only one thing that can destroy the movement of God among us, and that’s the refusal to give of yourself to create a community.
Whether that community be only three people around the Reunion dinner (團圓飯) or whether it’s a whole village as they did in Taiwan, coming together to work together in order to create a community.
I’m going to end this with a kind of a nice story.
One of my favourite families in Brooklyn was my mother and father’s best friends. They were a Jewish family, the Berkowitzes. And the Berkowitzes were wonderful to be with. We used to go over there quite regularly and play cards and talk and chat and exchange.
And Mr Berkowitz was a storyteller and the very first time I went to the Berkowitzes, this is the story he told.
He said there was a place in a very fancy city, and there was a Jewish gentleman and his wife, and they were very well-to-do, lots of money.
And there was, in the family, a grandchild and also the old father.
And the Jewish mother and father were quite happy to have the grandfather, but he was getting a little doddery and losing a little bit of control.
So when he sat down at the table sometimes he’d dribble whatever it was, the food, onto his shirt, and sometimes he would belch at the wrong time, and sometimes his collar would be astray.
And they said: “Well, we just can’t have this.”
So, what they decided to do was they, in the garage, which was a very nice garage, above the garage was a big open space and they built a lovely little room for him where he could be by himself.
And then his son, they would take a wooden bowl and they would put all the supper in and the little boy would go up after supper with Grandpa’s portion.
And Grandpa was quite happy, because he was a storyteller, too, and he told all these wonderful stories to the little boy. And the little boy loved Grandpa and the grandpa loved the little boy.
Anyhow, it came about that the father was going to have a birthday.
And they invited all their friends, which were very important people, and they were all there at the birthday. And the wife was taking care of everything to see everything was done right.
And then the time for the presents came. And everybody had wonderful presents for the birthday man. And he opened each one. He was so grateful and it would seem like, “this was the reason why I’m here, you know. My family is together and I am with them.”
And then they got to the point where, at the end, the little boy came up and he had a gift. And he made the gift himself.
And the father said: “I didn’t know you were going to do this for me.”
And he said: “Oh yes, I’ve been waiting a long time and I’ve done my best to make it as pretty and as beautiful as possible.”
So the father opened it.
And it was a wooden bowl, you see.
And his face was like he saw a spirit.
“What, what, what is this wooden bowl for?”
And the little boy, in all his innocence: “Father, when you become an old man, this is the bowl I’m going to give my son and he can go up to the garage to feed you your supper.” (Congregation laughs.)
Mr Berkowitz looked at me and he said: “Never forget that story.”
Because when one is missing, everybody loses.
And from that day on, the father learned a great lesson.
He learned that the most precious member of his family was the one who gave him life. And he brought him out of the garage and put him at a special place at table.
The reason I say this is because this is what we are called to be.
We are not supposed to pick and choose and say: “I’ll have this one and this one is not worth it” and all the rest of it.
The only way we’re going to make this world work is if we’re like the little boy who loves and knows that the most important thing in life is love.
And we have to work for it.
So in the Reunion dinner (團圓飯), for the great expressions of Chinese New Year’s, the most important thing again is to recognise the family.
The very first Beatitude that we read during the Gospel: “Blessed are the poor, blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the poor.”
Blessed means they are happy, they must rejoice, because they are the favoured ones of God.
And Jesus was not saying, “This is what you should become – poor.”
He was looking out at the disciples and everybody at the Mount and he was saying: “This is what you are. You are poor, but you are greatly blessed.”
And why was he saying that?
Because blessed are the poor, in the context of the teaching of Moses, the poor are those who know their need for God.
And in knowing their need for God, they know their need for each other.
And until we begin to understand that it is our need for each other that brings us together, that sponsors our forgiveness, our willingness to keep trying even though we fail.
To know your need for God and to know your need for others is the first step in happiness and in community and in love and in longing and in making a place for everyone who is a part, not only of our family, but extending it to the whole world.
So today, blessed are the tigers because they are leaders. But blessed are the monkeys who hop around until they find something that makes sense to them and it makes sense to others as well.
The Reunion dinner (團圓飯) is found in every culture: the family together, sacrificing for each other, caring for each other and learning from each other how to forgive, how to care and how to love.
And that is what Jesus has come to do: 天下一家, one family under God.
There is no such thing as strangers. There is no such thing in this concept as foreigners. And every war is a fratricide, brothers killing brothers for no good reason.
If we can learn this lesson, then we have the beginning of knowing our need for God, knowing our need for each other. And knowing our need for God, who is so generous that He will fill us with His presence, His joy, His forgiveness and give us all a future together.