13 January, Friday – With A Little Help From My Friends

13 Jan – Memorial for St. Hilary, bishop and doctor of the Church

St. Hilary of Poitiers (315-368) was known as Athanasius of the West. He was born to wealthy polytheistic, pagan nobility. His early life was uneventful as he married, had children (one of whom was St. Abra), and studied on his own. Through his studies, he came to believe in salvation through good works, and then monotheism. As he studied the Bible for the first time, he literally read himself into the faith, and was converted by the end of the New Testament.

Hilary lived the faith so well that he was made Bishop of Poitiers from 353-368. He opposed the emperor’s attempt to run Church matters and was exiled; he used the time to write works explaining the faith. His teaching and writings converted many and, in an attempt to reduce his notoriety, he was returned to the small town of Poitiers, where his enemies hoped he would fade into obscurity. His writings nonetheless continued to convert pagans.

Hilary introduced Eastern theology to the Western Church, fought Arianism with the help of St. Viventius, and was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1851.

  • Patron Saint Index

Heb 4:1-5,11
Mk 2:1-12

…when some people came bringing him a paralytic carried by four men, but as the crowd made it impossible to get the man to him, they stripped the roof over the place where Jesus was; and when they had made an opening, they lowered the stretcher on which the paralytic lay.    

Today’s Gospel reading is about the bedridden man who was carried through the crowd by his four friends, then lowered through a hole in the roof (a hole that they made, no less) so that he could see Jesus and be healed. This part of the gospel stuck with me because I have always been a sucker for such a story arc — friends who will do just about anything and everything for one another, often going through some questionable hijinks, getting into trouble, risking life and limb, then enjoying a heartwarming, sometimes bittersweet, ending.  

What this tells me is that no one is an island. Or rather, we are not meant to be alone in the world. But the reality is, many people are indeed alone, unwanted, unloved. Even those of us with family and friends can also be alone mentally, or emotionally. It seems absurd that with 8 billion people on this small planet, loneliness and isolation still abound.  

We need friends, companions, people who care and love us. Even if we are solitary creatures, we would still appreciate a little care and concern now and again. Friends also provide strength and healing, as in the case in today’s gospel. Think for a moment that you are that paralysed man. You have heard of the amazing healer in town, and you really want to go to him, and perhaps be cured. But how will you get there if you cannot walk? How will you force your way through the crowds? How will you get his attention when there are so many vying to see him?

Enter your four friends. They carried you, tried to force their way through the throngs of people, and when they could not, they climbed up to the roof and hoisted you up as well, making sure you didn’t fall off. They broke a hole in the roof, then carefully lowered you down. They certainly got you to the healer, and certainly got his attention too. Friends help us, and nudge us along, sometimes resorting to unconventional and creative ways to do so. They have to drag and carry us, but if not for them, we would not be able to move from where we were. And just where are our friends dragging us to? To be healed, of course! 

It is also noteworthy to me that a line in this gospel (Mark 2:5) says “when Jesus had seen their faith“. It was not only the paralysed man. It was not only the friends who had put in the effort to bring the paralysed man to Jesus. It was all of them, as a whole, together. We too, are many parts, but one body. We all work together, to support one another. When one part is weak, other parts rise to the occasion to bring balance back to the body. No one is meant to be alone.

This also reminds me of the various faith communities we have. Faith is caught, not taught. And indeed, having a good role model can do wonders for the growth of your faith. When the COVID-19 restrictions were loosened, we rejoiced. Our faith communities are flourishing once more. We have been for Christmas Mass, where the church was filled to full capacity, with lots of singing. We exchanged greetings, and celebrated together. Retreats are happening again, where participants can come away to a quiet haven to focus on their faith journey. Catechism classes started back up and our children are finally spending quality time with their friends again. Ministries are getting back in full force, serving the church and serving the least and last of us.  

While the church communities bolster our faith and help us live our faith, especially when we start to stagnate or backslide, we also have our social communities. Gatherings are getting bigger and better; get-togethers are happening more frequently and at more happening venues. Even for an introvert like me, it is nice to catch up with friends in person again after 2 years, to talk to them face to face, to see how they are doing, and to know that they are alright. Other than faith, our communities are good for our mental and emotional states too. We cannot live entirely on our own.

Now, let us imagine for a moment that we are one of those 4 friends. We must have played that role at some point, whether we were aware or not. At some point in our lives, we would have said something or done something for a friend, or a random stranger. Sometimes, all it takes is to be present and validate someone else’s emotions — so they do not feel all alone in their thoughts and feelings. And even if we did not think more about it, it would have touched them in some way. Communities, formal and informal, are vital to our wellbeing, as we very well know ourselves. If someone, somewhere has helped you in this way, be sure to let them know (if possible) and thank them for their presence.   

Imagine ourselves as one of the 4. One of those people who will go out of their way for a friend. Now think also of the Good Samaritan, going out of his way for a stranger. Could we also extend the same help and hospitality to those we do not know? We are, after all, one large community, within which exists individuals who are alone. There are many simple ways to reach out to our friends in need.

Here in Singapore, we have had our Christmas celebrations, and are heading towards the Lunar New Year celebrations. Many homes and charities are currently struggling due to a drop in donations and volunteers. This could be due to re-opening and people going back to their usual routines, coupled with rising costs; but, who knows exactly why? The key thing is that volunteers and donations are very much lacking, and this lack is ever more stark over the festive period.  

Just as we all are in need sometimes, we can also be the ones helping a friend in need. Whether it is time or money, we can all try to share some of it with others who need it, so they can experience some care and concern. It does not have to be difficult or time consuming. Check in on a friend or family member and be their company. Donate to a good cause. Volunteer with a charity. If God is truly in our hearts, we must share his Love from our hearts.  

(Today’s OXYGEN by Felicia Zou)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for all the people who are suffering due to loneliness. We pray that we can be a source of comfort and companionship to them.  

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for blessing us with the gift of family, friends, and community and the love that flows and grows among all of us.  

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