GRAMPA, GRAMMA AND ANCESTORS
DATE \@ "MMM. d, yy" Feb. 11, 05 2nd Sunday Lent (A) [Matt.17: 1-09]
Gen.12: 1-4&5 I was shocked. I had known this Chinese Protestant missioner
for many years. She had gone into China many times to preach the gospel. She ignored
government regulations. She passed out religious pamphlets and made converts.
She was now in her eighties and was seriously ill. I went to the hospital. She
had always “told” me to read something from the bible and to pray
with her. I told her: “Your suffering will soon be over. Then you will be
with Jesus in heaven. You will see your mom and dad.” But she said: “No,
my parents are not in heaven. They weren’t baptized.”
We Catholics believe in the importance of baptism. But at the same time, we know
that God is much nicer than that—condemning her parents and her ancestors
just because they were never baptized. Today’s first Scripture reading tells
us what God thinks of our non-Christian ancestors and the debts that we owe to
our non-Christian forebears.
How many of you here today were born in Hong Kong? [Raise your hand.] If you were
born in Hong Kong, were your parents born in Hong Kong? Grandparents? Today we
will talk about our forebears. When they fled from China to come to Hong Kong
they didn’t have much maybe a little bundle of clothes and perhaps something
precious-a picture or something. Some risked their lives to come to Hong Kong
and swam with a tire tube through shark-infested Deep Water Bay. And once they
got into Hong Kong, they scavenged until they found enough pieces of scrap tin
and wood to make a home. And there were many fires that destroyed their shacks.
The mothers cried and then the family built another shack.
For the most part our grandparents and grandparents “worshipped spirits.”
I want to tell you about two other families that moved house. And more importantly,
I want to tell you what they brought with them to their new home.
GOD’S WORD “Abram took…all the possessions that they…acquired
in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan.” Genesis 12: 5.
Around 1800 years before the birth of Christ, a fellow by the name of Terah lived
in the city of Ur in Chaldea. Today Chaldea is called Iraq. The city of Ur was
the about 200 miles to the north of the Persian Gulf. Ur is called the “cradle
of civilization.” Ten thousand years ago the people already had formed a
community. They settled down on farms and set up a well-organized city. They had
put together an efficient government with law courts and assemblies. They had
social legislation to help those in need. In agriculture they had technical excellence
never known before. And moreover, the city of Ur was the center of learning and
Terah named his first son “Abram.” Like all parents Terah had great
expectations for the little fellow. The name means: Ah=father and ram=great. He
wanted his son to be great. And Terah’s hope would come true beyond his
wildest dreams. Abram would become the father of God’s people and the ancestor
of our Savior.
However by the time Terah was 75 years old, there were more and more violence
and conflicts around Ur. Perhaps he feared that when Abram got into his teens,
he might get in with the wrong crowd.
Terah decided it was necessary for his family to find a new home. He brought with
him his wife, his grandson Lot and his son Abram who was five years old. In addition,
he brought along little Sarai who would one day be Abram’s wife plus all
of his servants and household furnishings. They moved to Haran, a border town,
about 900 miles north of Ur.
It must have been a difficult transition. Terah would have had to change his occupation—take
up sheep raising. (I like to think that sheep are cuddly and lovable animals.
But I heard that despite their public relations image, they actually stink. However
this reflection is irrelevant to our homily.) That meant the family had to be
semi-nomads and never have permanent home. The family would have had to relocate
from time to time. That’s so that the sheep [who eat like pigs] would also
have plenty of delicious grass.
In Ur Terah was a wealthy man—perhaps a gentleman farmer. And he certainly
enjoyed the conveniences, the cultural events and the social life of the city.
Also moving entailed risks: accidents, bandits, the difficulty of finding a place
and learning a new occupation. But Abram’s father was a brave and a “great”
man. And happily the family prospered in Haran. And the bible says that Terah
lived to be 215. [In the bible good people generally lived longer than bad people.
Presumably Terah would have lived even longer if he hadn’t gotten sick or
had a serious accident.]
Meanwhile Abram grew up, worked hard, married Sarai and became more wealthy [his
sheep multiplied like rabbits.] And together Sarah and he grew old.
Terah had taught Abram about the culture and traditions of Ur. He introduced Abram
to the gods of Chaldea. He taught Abram how to please the gods. During his whole
life Abraham tried to be good. He always did his best to please the gods. He praised
and thanked whichever of the various gods might be protecting him. As he grew
older Abraham probably spent more time “thinking” about life and the
gods—I guess you could say he was praying. Abram was always grateful because
his father taught him about his heritage.
But one day when Abram was about sixty-five the true God made a house call: “Abraham,
fold up your tent and get moving. I am going to give you a whole country so that
you don’t have to be always moving.” When Abraham understood the one
true God wasn’t kidding, he obeyed and set out.
And “Abraham took…all the possessions that they…acquired in
Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan.”
Scripture scholars tell us an inspired writer deliberately added this verse because
he/she wanted to show that Abram brought all the riches of the pagans to enrich
his own people. Abram’s pagan formation was the source from which Abram
drew his first experiences of God. His “pagan” upbringing prepared
him to meet the one true God and to set up a “great nation.”
Abram took with him not only material things but “all” to include—all
the good things that his father had brought with him from Ur, the center of civilization,
its culture, its beauties including the Chaldean religious heritage.
REFLECTION ON FIRST READING
Our ancestors may have had faults. Some may have done wicked things. If they did
any bad things, we hope that they were truly sorry and that they are with Jesus
But we would not be here today at St. Patrick’s church this morning if each
of us did not have a lot of good “pagan” ancestors. By their words
and example they taught us how to become responsible men and women and what we
should be handing down to the next generation. They passed on to us our Chinese
virtues, ideals and how to get along with out one another. Although some of our
forebears were non-Christians and “worshiped the spirits”, they, without
knowing it, may often have experienced meeting with the true God, Theologians
tell us that the Holy Spirit does a lot of stuff like that in the lives of non-Christians.
Our non-Christian parents, grandparents all did their share so that we would be
gathering here at St. Patrick’s Church this morning.
Verse five reminds us to love our heritage including that of our non-Christian
forebears. It is our task to pass on to the next generation these stories—these
stories of their wisdom, values, courage and struggle. We are especially grateful
to our immediate ancestors who struggled to give us children, grandchildren and
great grandchildren a happier life. I am sure that no one in Church this morning
would want to do anything to make our ancestors, whether Christian or non-Christian,
to be ashamed of us.
FINALE I will give you two minutes for you to tell the person next to you about
one of your beloved ancestors.
HOMLY NOTES AND STUFF
DATE \@ "MMM. d, yy" Feb. 11, 05 2nd Sunday Lent (A) [Matt.17: 1-09]
TEXT: “Abraham took…all the possessions that they…acquired in
Haran…” Genesis 12: 5. [NB: This verse is not in included in the readings
for this Sunday.]
ONE WORD: Forebears
TWO WORDS: Non-Christian forebears
TOPIC SENTENCE: Christians love the goodness and beauty of many of their forebears
including the non-Christians.
“And so whatever good is found to be sown in the hearts and minds of men,
or in the rites and cultures peculiar to various peoples, is not lost.”
“Missions”, Walter M. Abbot, S.J., ed., The Documents of Vatican II
(New York: America Press, 1966) p. 596
Abram: Ab=father ram=great. Abram father, a “pagan” was great.]
“…if you leave your father who is ‘great’ you will become
a ‘great’ people." Thus greatness apparently is a leit-motif
of the blessing of Abraham… The nations shall bless themselves (shall desire
the good, that is) by using the name of Abraham (v. 3), an allusion possibly to
those wish-formulas wish formulas contained in the word ‘ram” or ‘great.’”
Thierry Maertens & Jean Frisque, Guide for the Christian Assembly: A Background
Book of the Mass: Revised: 2nd to 8th Sunday (Notre Dame, IN: Fides Publishers,
1969) p. 62.
“Verses 4b- were added later by a priestly editor, who had also a less obvious
purpose, to show how Abraham brought all the riches of the pagans to enrich his
own people… Nothing is said of the early pagan formation which was none
the less the source from which Abram drew his experience of God.” [Emphasis
added-et] Ibid-p. 62-63.
Correction: Regarding the homily for the 5th Sunday (A) Feb. 6, 23005: No horse
is mentioned in the accounts of Paul’s conversion. As far as we know Paul
was on foot. Hence there was no need to speculate on the possible injury that
the horse would have sustained had he been present.
Regarding the homily for the 5th Sunday (A) Feb. 6, 23005. I made some adjustments
because this homily was given to a 10:45 A.M. Mass which consisted of more than
a hundred children plus parents. And I cut out my own witness. Instead we ask
the parents to close their eyes. And I asked the children and then the teenagers
if they thought their parents were wise. We later asked the parents to tell their
child something that grandma or grandpa always said that was real wise.
During World War II, Hitler, both nefarious and stupid, informed his subjects:
“You do not love your country, if you are not willing to send your children
to die in this war. If do not you so do you are a cowards. You are not patriotic
and you don’t love your country.”
In preparing this homily, I thought of my own great-great grandparents who like
Abraham undertook a long journey from Poland, Luxemburg and Germany. They were
young, perhaps teens, when they boarded the boat. Perhaps that had an address
of a relative or maybe they didn’t know anyone in America. They had to struggle
to find their way around with a new language and in a strange country, raise a
family, find work, working ten or twelve hours a day. In the Chicago fire, my
great grandparents loaded all their belongings on a wheelbarrow, perched their
youngest child on top and walked fifteen miles to establish a new home in Wilmette.
Those are the folks who were truly great. Both wise, brave, hard-workers and strugglers.
Christians love the land and resources given us by God for the benefit of all.
Christians respect those leaders who are wise, honest and who love the citizens
especially the “least.” Christians respect those leaders who carry
on the tradition of those of our ancestors who were truly brave, deeply wise and
who struggled so that we could live richer lives.
In loyalty to our Chinese ancestors we love the land and the people—not
venal politicians. In Hong Kong each parish has a Social Concerns group. One of
the purposes of these groups is show our love for Hong Kong and China. We preserve
our heritage by exposing those people who say they honor our ancestors while by
their behavior they cause these ancestors shame. Christians do not want our Chinese
ancestors to be ashamed of us.
Reflect individually and as a family on the gifts you have received from your
forebears. Examination: What do my ancestors think of me: any reason to be ashamed
of me? Drugs, feeling sorry for myself, a terrible goof, failure, giving up, wanting
to end it all or wasting time watching TV.
CHEWING, DIGESTING AND DOING GOD’S WORD
DATE \@ "MMM. d, yy" Feb. 11, 05 2nd Sunday Lent (A) [Matt.17:1-09]
NAME _______ GRADE _______
1. What does the name “Abram” mean? ____ ____What did Abram bring
to the Promised Land? ____ his possessions.3. Besides material possessions what
else did he bring with him?When our parents or grandparents came from China what
did they bring with them?
Material things ________________________
Other things ___________________________________________
(Optional) Write a prayer of thanks to one of your deceased non-Christian forebears.
Dear _______, I would like to thank-you for everything you gave me and especially
I will never do anything that would might make you ashamed of me.
Salt05 DATE \@ "MMM. d, yy" Feb. 11, 05 2nd Sunday Lent (A) [Matt.17:1-09]
Gen.12:1-4&5 PAGE 4