Homily for Golden Jubilee of Fr. Peter Tong (by Fr. James)

11thSunday of the Year – Year B

Today we celebrate three major events: first it is the 11thSunday of the Year; second, it is Fathers’ Day – when we remember and pray for all of our fathers, whether living or dead. But thirdly, today we celebrate the Golden Jubilee of priestly ordination for our Fr. Peter Tong. We rejoice with him and with his family who join with him today in celebrating this major event – an event which at one time he doubtless doubted whether he would ever celebrate.

In the Gospel for today, Jesus tells us about the kingdom of God as a small seed which grows into a large tree to shelter the birds of the air. But, as we heard at Vigils from St Peter Chrysologus, as long as the seed remains intact, its power of growth remains dormant. It is only as the seed is crushed that the power within is released. Jesus expressed this in another parable by saying: “Unless the grain of wheat die, it remains alone; but if it dies, it brings forth much fruit.” In saying this, Jesus was forewarning us of what must take place within the life and heart of each one of us.

This is certainly true in a very dramatic way in the life of our Fr. Peter. Born in South VietNam during a time of relative peace in that area, he was soon faced with a nation in civil war. In spite of that, he was able to go to the seminary and be ordained as a priest. He became secretary to the Bishop. But after that he became a chaplain to the South Vietnamese Air Force and also of the military hospital there. After some years he was captured by the VietCong and placed in a prison camp, where he underwent ten years of torture and attempts at indoctrination. They had hopes of using him in establishing the National Church in the South. These were the years when the seed was crushed and broken, and gave new life and fruitfulness to his life. It has been said that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of new faith. While he did not suffer martyrdom, yet he came close to it in a way that was to make his life fruitful for many.

In due time he was able to escape and left VietNam as part of the boat people. He eventually came to California and served there as a priest for some time. However he had read books by Thomas Merton and aspired to the monastic life. He came to Gethsemani in 1994.

What is seen in the life of Fr Peter is true for each one of us, though in a much less dramatic way. Every one of us is called to allow that seed of life to die within us in order that it may rise to new life for ourselves and for many others. The Kingdom of God has been sown within each of us in Baptism, and we are to allow it to come to fruition precisely by dying to ourselves so that, like St Paul, we can say: “I live now, not I, but Christ lives within me”. And the Christ who lives within each of us passes through the same stages as He did in his earthly life – a process of dying and rising to new life.

This process expresses itself in the way that we live our life each day, and particularly in how we live our life in relation to those who touch our life. Jesus said over and over that the great commandment is that we love God and love our neighbor. This requires a love which endures all things in order that the life of Christ may be expressed in our lives. The seed has been sown within us, but it is for each one of us to allow that seed to become fruitful and bear much fruit so that the birds of the air – all the people of our lives – can find rest in us. We are not to become briar patches, but open branches to accept all who come with love.

This is the call of every father in his family – but it is also the call of each one of us as we share our lives with one another. In this way, precisely through the pains and tribulations of each day, we become fruitful and allow the kingdom of God to become a reality within our hearts and in our world.

The Lord shares with us today anew His own Body and Blood in this Eucharist, in order that it may become a new seed toward eternal life; a seed which binds us together in one with Christ Jesus.