Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Immaculate Conception of the BVM, Thursday, 08-12-16

Genesis 3:9-15, 20 / Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12 / Luke 1:26-38

On  December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX formally proclaimed the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary as a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church.

Essentially, the doctrine here is that from the moment when she was conceived in the womb of her mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary was kept free from original sin and was filled with the sanctifying grace normally conferred during baptism.

Although the belief was widely accepted by the Church as early as the 4th century, it was only in 1854 that it was formally proclaimed.

It also seeks to clarify that Mary, at the first instance of her conception, and by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from all stains of original sin.

And being always freed from original sin, Mary also received the sanctifying grace that would, for us, normally come with baptism after birth.

Mary was filled with this sanctifying grace and that was why the angel Gabriel greeted her, "Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you".

The grace that Mary received was a special privilege from God that kept her free from sin so that she can respond to the call to be the Mother of God.

We too have received sanctifying grace at our baptism so that we can choose to walk in the ways of God and grow in holiness.

The grace that Mary received prepared her to be the Mother of God; the grace that we received at our baptism prepared us to be the holy People of God.

Let us pray with our Blessed Mother that we will always preserve the grace of God in our hearts so that the Son of God will make His home in us.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

2nd Week of Advent, Wednesday, 07-12-16

Isaiah 40:25-31 / Matthew 11:28-30

The number of times a particular word appears in the Bible is usually different for each version of the Bible. Because there is no single correct way to translate the ancient Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek Bible manuscripts into English. The grammar, structure, and style of those languages are very different from English, and a literal word-for-word translation is not possible.

With regards to the word "heart" in the Bible there as as many as 730 or more citations in the Bible.

But most translations would agree there is only once when Jesus spoke of His own heart and that is in Matthew 11:29 "Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls", which is part of today's gospel passage.

Jesus described His heart as gentle and humble, and it is with a gentle and humble heart that He was obedient to the Father's will.

It is with a gentle and humble heart that He was empowered by the Holy Spirit to proclaim with Good News with authority and to work miracles and wonders.

Knowing what the heart of Jesus is like, what can we say of our own hearts? Or what would God say of our own hearts?

The 1st reading describes what our hearts may be like: How can you say, Jacob, how can you insist, Israel, " My destiny is hidden from the Lord, my rights are ignored by my God"?

Our hearts may be restless and clouded with doubt, and this has caused us to be tired and weary, and we stumble along the way of life.

But Jesus tells us to come to Him and learn from Him, to be gentle and humble of heart and we will find rest for our souls.

And with that we will have hope in the Lord who will renew our strength and we will put out wings like eagles. We will run and not grow weary or tired. So let us ask Jesus to have a heart like His, a heart that is gentle and humble.

Monday, December 5, 2016

2nd Week of Advent, Tuesday,06-12-16

Isaiah 40:1-11 / Matthew 18:12-14

If a baby is born today and if the parents are still thinking of a Christian name for the baby, then they may want to consider the saint that the Church honours today.

Today the Church honours St. Nicholas, aka Santa Claus, which comes from the Dutch name Sinterklaas.

And with the festive season coming around, it would be good to be reminded of his influence in this particular season.

St. Nicholas lived in the 4th century and he used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra (part of modern-day Turkey) while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his protection for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.

Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known in the East as Nikolaos the Wonderworker .

He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of poor children and the needy, and thus became the model for the modern day Santa Claus. The golden decorative balls on the Christmas tree are symbols of those gold coins given out by St. Nicholas.

St. Nicholas and all the other saints throughout history are the embodiment of God's promises to His people from age to age.

The 1st reading says this: "Console my people, console them," says your God. And it goes on to say: Here is your God. Here is the Lord coming with power, His arm subduing all things to him

That promise of God was reiterated in the gospel parable told by Jesus of the man who left the ninety-nine sheep to look for the lost one, and His teaching that it is never the will of God our Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.

In all this, the Good News of God's promises are proclaimed and fulfilled.

So it was in the past and so it will be now. May this season of Advent and the prayers of St. Nicholas remind us of God's promises and prepare us for Christmas as God's promises will be fulfilled again.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

2nd Week of Advent, Monday, 05-12-16

Isaiah 35:1-10 / Luke 5:17-26

Whenever we say that something is impossible to accomplish, we come to that conclusion because it has not been done before and we also have not done it before.

In other words, it always seems impossible until it is done, and everything is theoretically impossible until it is done.

But since there is no harm in trying out the impossible and with nothing much to lose, then it could be exciting to try to do the impossible.

In the gospel, we heard of a paralyzed man on a bed and his friends trying to bring him before Jesus.

But the crowd made it impossible for them to find a way of getting in. It could also be that the crowd was telling them that it was impossible to get in. The crowd was simply not going to make way for the paralyzed man and his friends.

But that did not stop them from thinking of another way to get to Jesus. So they went up the flat roof and lowered him and his stretcher down throught the tiles right into the middle of the gathering, right in front of Jesus!

And Jesus saw their faith. And so the gospel is telling us this - Without faith, nothing is possible. With faith, nothing is impossible.

When we are faced with a great difficulty and a hopeless situation, the 1st reading tells us this: Courage! Do not be afraid. Look your God is coming, vengeance is coming, the retribution of God; He is coming to save you.

With faith, we will be able to face that great difficulty and overcome a hopeless situation.

The difference between the possible and the impossible lies in the determination of faith, as the paralyzed man and his friends have shown us. Let us be firm in our faith, and God will make things possible.

Without faith, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible.
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Without faith, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible.
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Saturday, December 3, 2016

2nd Sunday of Advent (Year A). 04.12.2016

Isaiah 11:1-10 / Romans 15:4-9 / Matthew 3:1-12

By this weekend, we ought to have taken out our Christmas decorations from the store room. Yes, taken out, unwrapped, and hopefully the fairy lights, and whatever lights, still work.

Come to think of it, putting up the decorations can be like a good spiritual preparation for Christmas. Because we will have to learn how to handle the frustrations and disappointments that comes with the season. 

And Christmas may seem to be just like our job at the office, as in we do all the work and the fat guy with the suit gets all the credit. 

Still we will try to numb the nagging reality of life by trying to get into the festive mood, so we distract ourselves with putting up the festive decorations.

At least we will try to put up a Christmas tree. Certainly not a real tree as real trees are costly and times are tough.

But an artificial tree will do, just like the one that is outside. And we try to decorate it to give it a Christmassy look.

And that should be enough to bring us through the season. At least we hope that the lights won’t burn out before Christmas Day, or at least the lights won’t burn down the tree. 

But what is the big fuss over the Christmas tree?  What kind of biblical or religious significance has it got?

Well, the Christmas tree is used to symbolize Jesus. He is the shoot that springs from the stock of Jesse, the scion that trusts from Jesse’s roots, as the prophet Isaiah said in the 1st reading.

Jesse was the father of King David, whose reign brought about the golden age of Israel. But after his reign, Israel declined and the kingdom was split and was overrun by her enemies over and over again.

Eventually when Israel was exiled into Babylon, King David’s descendants became an obscurity.
But the prophet Isaiah wrote of hope, that one day a shoot will spring forth from the stump of Jesse and bring about Israel’s glory.

Jesus was that shoot that sprang into a tree, a life-giving tree, a hope-giving tree. And that is why the Christmas tree is an appropriate symbol for the season.

Besides being an evergreen tree that retains its colour in the midst of winter, it is also a sign of life and hope, when everything seems to come to a standstill.

And that is why we decorate our Christmas tree with other meaningful symbols like the star, lights, and those other things that symbolize what Jesus is about and what He came to give us.

One of the things that we surely won’t find, and nor would we put under the Christmas tree, is a gift-wrapped, ribbon-tied sharp axe. The kind of axe that John the Baptist talked about in today’s gospel, the kind of axe for chopping down trees.

Somehow, John the Baptist is interested in our Christmas trees. Whether real tree or otherwise, he is ready to chop it down, if our Christmas tree do not symbolize anything about our Christian belief, or about our Christian way of life.

Not that he is jealous just because Christmas trees cannot be found in the desert, because that is where he stays.

But what he couldn’t stand is that we so-called “fake” our Christmas, by having nicely decorated Christmas trees that have no meaning in our lives whatsoever.

So for example, we put a big star at the top of the Christmas tree.  That star is a symbol of the star of Bethlehem that led the wise men to find the infant Jesus.

As we put up the star, are we going to tell our children and our family members that we are going to have family prayers from now on, and follow Jesus in His way of love.

As we put up the lights on the tree, are we also going to tell our family members and our children that we are going to make our home a place of warmth, joy and peace.

And the gifts that we put beneath the Christmas tree, do they symbolize the self-giving love of Jesus?

John the Baptist may be welding his axe and demanding that we show our repentance by bearing good fruits, yet that repentance can be a beautiful spiritual experience when we understand God’s self-giving love in the beautiful mystery of the Incarnation at Christmas. There  is a beautiful story that reflects the self-giving love of God at Christmas.

Once there was a tree, and she loved a little boy. And every day the boy would come and he would gather her leaves and make them into crowns and play king of the forest. He would climb up her trunk and swing from her branches and eat apples. And when he was tired, he would sleep in her shade. And the boy loved the tree very much. And the tree was happy.

But time went by. And the boy grew older. And the tree was often alone. Then one day the boy came to the tree, and the tree said, "Come, Boy, come and climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and eat apples and play in my shade and be happy."

"I am too big to climb and play" said the boy. "I want to buy things and have fun. I want some money." "I'm sorry," said the tree, "but I have no money. I have only leaves and apples. Take my apples, Boy, and sell them in the city. Then you will have money and you will be happy." And so the boy climbed up the tree and gathered her apples and carried them away. And the tree was happy. But the boy stayed away for a long time, and the tree was sad.

And then one day the boy came back and the tree shook with joy and she said, "Come, Boy, climb up my trunk, and swing from my branches and be happy." "I am too busy to climb trees," said the boy. "I want a house to keep me warm," he said. "I want a wife and I want children, and so I need a house. Can you give me a house?"

"I have no house," said the tree. "The forest is my house, but you may cut off my branches and build a house. Then you will be happy." And so the boy cut off her branches and carried them away to build his house. And the tree was happy. 

But the boy stayed away for a long time. And when he came back, the tree was so happy she could hardly speak. "Come, Boy," she whispered, "come and play." "I am too old and sad to play," said the boy. "I want a boat that will take me far away from here. Can you give me a boat?" "Cut down my trunk and make a boat," said the tree. "Then you can sail away... and be happy." And so the boy cut down her trunk and made a boat and sailed away. And the tree was happy ... but not really.

And after a long time the boy came back again. "I am sorry, Boy," said the tree," but I have nothing left to give you - My apples are gone." "My teeth are too weak for apples," said the boy. "My branches are gone," said the tree. "You cannot swing on them." "I am too old to swing on branches," said the boy. "My trunk is gone," said the tree. "You cannot climb." "I am too tired to climb" said the boy.

"I am sorry," sighed the tree. "I wish that I could give you something .... but I have nothing left. I am just an old stump." "I don't need very much now," said the boy, "just a quiet place to sit and rest. I am very tired." "Well," said the tree, straightening herself up as much as she could, "well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting. Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest." And the boy did, and he was happy. And the tree was happy.

Yes, at Christmas, God gave us His only Son out of love for us. On Good Friday, Jesus allowed Himself to be chopped down and reduced to a stump in order to save us.

Yet out of this stump, Jesus rose, and He wants us to rise with Him. May our Christmas trees symbolize who Jesus is to us. May it also symbolize who we really are to others, as we give of ourselves, just as Jesus gave Himself for us.

St. Francis Xavier, Patron of Missions, Saturday, 03-12-16

1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23 / Mark 16:16-20

It is interesting to note that the Major Seminary in Singapore is dedicated to the patronage of St. Francis Xavier.

In the first year of formation, the seminarians had to read about the lives of the saints, and St. Francis Xavier was one for compulsory reading.

And even priests and religious and missionaries who read about his life and his work will admit that he is one model that is very difficult to match up to.

His missionary zeal, his perseverance and his persistence in preaching the gospel amidst the political clutter, his courage and determination were all very inspiring.

And it seemed that he spent so much time in the East in places like Goa, Malacca, China and Japan and learning the local languages so that he could preach to the local people that he eventually forgot his own mother tongue (Spanish).

He took the trouble to learn the local languages and in that sense he really went out and preached everywhere.

In St. Francis Xavier, we can see the words of today's gospel being fulfilled.

And the words of the gospel, the Good News, will continue to be fulfilled in us as long as we are willing to proclaim the Good News in word and in action.

We must always remember that it is not so much our suitability for the task but rather our availability for the mission.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

1st Week of Advent, Friday, 02-12-16

Isaiah 29:17-24 / Matthew 9:27-31

In Singapore, we are used to efficiency and productivity. For a small country like ours that does not have much natural resources, that is what we can offer to investors in order to remain competitive.

But it is not just to investors that would be impressed with our efficiency and productivity. Any company, especially those in the service sector must be able to attend to a customer's request as quickly as possible, otherwise they will be left behind and left out.

We would think that Jesus would also be quick to attend to any request because He came to proclaim the love of God and this is especially manifested in His healing ministry.

In the gospel, we heard that two blind men followed Him shouting: Take pity on us, Son of David! But the gospel went on to say that it was only when He reached the house that the blind men came up to Him.

Why was it that Jesus did not attend to the two blind men immediately as He would usually do? Why did He make the two blind men, who already have the difficulty of making their way around, follow Him all the way to the house?

In a way, that is also much like how we felt about the way our prayers are going. We have offered prayer after prayer and the answer seems slow in coming, and at times we wonder if the answer would ever come at all.

But the experience of the two blind men tells us this - for prayer to be answered, it requires a combination of faith, perseverance and persistence.

On this First Friday as we gather in the Eucharist to pray for the petitions offered to the Sacred Heart, Jesus is also asking us this: Do you believe that I can do this?

Furthermore, the Advent season is a time of waiting in faith and hope for God to answer our prayers as He did for His people in the past.

And like how the two blind men replied Jesus, we too want to believe that Jesus will answer our prayers. It is not about how quickly, but about whether we believe. Let us believe and persist in believing.