When I was four and a half years old, it was the first week of kindergarten, and you’ll have to bear in mind, I was a terribly spoiled child. I was used to having my own way. I was not used to people saying “no” to me. I had with me my toy dinosaur. This was my toy dinosaur that went everywhere with me. Scapasaraus was his real name. And there was a reason I would never be parted from him because he would get lonely and then start to be afraid of being in kindergarten. So, the teacher looked at me and said, “Put that away.” And I wouldn’t. And she reached and grabbed Scapasaraus, by his tail, and I instinctively raised my hand as if to hit her. And she said, “Go on then, hit me.” Now you have to bear in mind, I grew up in Singapore where we are so used to obeying laws and being obedient to our elders and so when she said, “Go on then, hit me,” I did. And then, all hell broke loose.
I remember being driven home by my mother. My mother was telephoned at her workplace and she had to come and get me and I was driven home in silence, my face streaming with tears of anger, tears of shame, frightened because this was so serious that my mother wasn’t even speaking to me. She had a peculiar frown on her face, concentrating as she drove us home, and didn’t say a word. And then when we got home, as soon as we got into the driveway, I jumped out of the car and ran into the house and ran into my favorite place in the world—the cupboard underneath the stairs and stayed there in the dark. Now, all these many years later, now that I’ve become a parish priest and a Prior, I still feel that great urge to go running underneath that cupboard, to the cupboard underneath the stairs, except I don’t think I’d fit now. So I stayed there, in the dark. I let the darkness hide my shame, angry and afraid, because finally something had happened and it wouldn’t be all OK, just like that.
And then evening came and the lights went on and my brothers and my sister had come home from school and I heard them all say the Rosary but I stayed in the cupboard. And then dinner was served and two strong arms reached into the dark and lifted me, and put me at the table and I was served dinner. And that was that. Out of darkness, out of doubt, I was lifted up and I was loved and I was there as a son again, forgiven, restored, restored at that table.
January 1, 2006
Now the Gospel you just heard, maybe you were expecting me to tell you something about hearing the word of God and keeping it and that is how you become the mother and the brothers of Jesus Christ. To be sure Jesus has nothing but high praise for his mother throughout the Gospel, like the passage we heard today, there’s another one almost like that where a woman says from the crowd, “Blessed be the woman that bore Thee and the paps that gave Thee suck.” And He says, “Blessed rather those who hear the word of God and do it.” It echoes Elizabeth’s praise of Our Lady, “Yes, blessed is She who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was promised her by the Lord.” Now you see, long before we hear the word of God and we keep it, something else comes first. Long before, or rather, shortly before Our Lady said, “Behold the Handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word,” do you remember what was said? God sent the Archangel Gabriel to greet her. And how does God address His creature, His Mary? When Luke writes his gospel in Greek, its two words are very difficult to translate. You say, “Hail, full of grace”—really, it’s “Rejoice, you who have been and remain filled with divine grace.” Such an extraordinary greeting. Long before Our Lady heard the word of God and kept it and did anything, She was loved. That’s the first thing. This is the foundation of all things. And a really good translation I think, although it’s slightly facetious, when God greets Our Lady as “Hail, full of grace,” it’s His way of saying, “Hi, gorgeous, you’re so beautiful. I love you.” Long before Our Lady heard the word of God and kept it, she was loved.
You have to bear this in mind. Many of you come to confession thinking there is so much you have to do, so much penance, so many wrongs you have to right. Really, the story I told you, I realized it’s far more than an autobiography. It is also a parable. And there is a little coda to that story. I was terrified of going back to school, of having hit my teacher. But when I went back the next day, I was a hero to all the other kids because I had done what every child dreamed of doing and I got away with it. My story is a bit of a parable. All our sins make us feel like we can never be restored. We are terrified of returning to the scene of our sins, to the bridges we have burned, knowing, thinking, believing we can never be right again, it can never be undone. And in one way that’s true.
When God forgives our sins there is something God does not do. God does not erase history. He does not undo the past, but rather he makes us something different. So for example, Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, but we’ll never go back to Eden, we’ll never go back to the Garden with talking snakes and all kinds of trees. We go to something better—we go to the Kingdom of Heaven. The same with us. When we were children we were not quite sinners yet, we had original sin, until our baptism. But when we hit our teachers at four and a half then we started to sin. I can never go back. I can never be the child that did not hit his teacher. I can only be something greater. I can be the child who was forgiven for hitting his teacher. And the same way with all of us. We can never go back to being the one who never lied, or stole, or who never cheated, or who never committed adultery. We have since become something far greater. We’ve become forgiven liars, forgiven thieves, forgiven adulterers, forgiven murderers, something far greater and beautiful.
You have to remember when the risen Jesus comes back, He doesn’t come back all prettified, and nice and tidy. He comes back with holes in His hands and His feet, and a hole to His Heart, to His Sacred Heart. And why? Because Easter Sunday never pretends that Good Friday didn’t happen. So I urge you then, in this beautiful place, in this place of grace, open your hearts to our Lord. Let Our Lady speak to you. Remember Her words. (The electricity and lights suddenly flicked off and back on again, causing a dramatic effect to Fr. Leon Pereira last words “Remember Her words”.) The first thing She says, “If you knew how much I loved you, you would weep for joy.” Remember that thought before you start prayer and penance. Remember how much you are loved and then you will see how God’s grace will change you.