Thursday, July 19, 2018

15th Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 20-07-18

Isaiah 38:1-6, 21-22, 7-8 / Matthew 12:1-8

We may wonder what it is like to have a close shave with death. From the little that we might have read, it is like one's whole life would flash before one's eyes or something like that.

Whatever it may be, a close shave with death would certainly jolt us and make us think about life and not to take it for granted, besides the fact that it will also make us think about death.

For king Hezekiah, he did not have a close shave with death. He fell ill and was at the point of death. And the prophet Isaiah came to confirm for him that his time was running out and to put his affairs in order.

King Hezekiah was not ready for death and he pleaded to the Lord God for his life and he shed many tears. Maybe he also had not put his affairs in order yet.

But the Lord God heard his prayer and cured his illness and even gave him another fifteen years of life. It was not just to give him time to put his affairs in order, but the Lord God also had things for him to do.

We do not know when our time on earth will be up or when the Lord will call us home. But we don't need close shaves with death to remind us that we need to always put our affairs in order.

More importantly, while we still have life with us, let us know what the Lord God wants of us.

Our affairs must the affairs of the Lord and our life must be at the service of the Lord.

Jesus is not just the Master of the Sabbath; He is the Master of our life and we must do what He wants of us. Otherwise we will live in fear and become slaves of death.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

15th Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 19-07-18

Isaiah 26:7-9, 12, 16-19 / Matthew 11:28-30

In the prayers for the deceased, we often hear these phrases "eternal rest" and "rest in peace".

When understood literally, it means that the departed have finally come to rest from their journey in this world, and they are freed from the anxieties and worries of this life. That is one way of understanding the word "rest".

When Jesus said in the gospel, "Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest." we may immediately think of physical rest.

Indeed, the anxieties and worries of life have taken their toil on us physically and we yearn for a good night's rest in the comfort of our beds.

But spiritually, we also yearn for a rest for our hearts more than we yearn for physical rest. Our hearts need to rest in peace.

And Jesus wants to give us that peace because the meaning of rest is to go to Jesus and have our hearts re-created into His image and likeness so that our hearts can be like His.

As the 1st reading puts it: Lord, you are giving us peace. With peace in our hearts, then we will understand what the 1st readings means when it says: The path of the upright man is straight, you smooth the way of the upright. Following the path of your judgements, we hoped in you, Lord, your name and your memory are all my soul desires.

So even though our bodies may be resting, the 1st reading says: At night my soul longs for you and my spirit in me seeks for you.

Yes, our hearts will not be at rest until they find their rest in the heart of Jesus. Then like Jesus we will be humble and gentle of heart. Then we find that the yoke and the burdens of life will be light.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

15th Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 18-07-18

Isaiah 10:5-7, 13-16 / Matthew 11:25-27

The gospels portray Jesus as loving and merciful. He is compassionate and He heals the sick and cares for the poor and the outcasts.

He may have some harsh words for the elders, the scribes and the Pharisees, but He did not call down fire from heaven to destroy those who are against Him or against God.

On the hand, the Old Testament portrays God as a God who punishes His people for their unfaithfulness, though He is also portrayed as slow to anger and rich in mercy.

The 1st reading recounts how God "commissioned" Assyria against His people who had provoked Him by their unfaithfulness.

God allowed Assyria to pillage and plunder freely and to stamp on His people freely so that they would learn their lesson.

Yet when Assyria got out of hand and became like the axe that wants to claim more credit than the man who wields it or the saw that wants to claim more strength than the man who handles it, God's justice and mercy arose to stop Assyria and to protect His people.

Though we are God's people, we have to admit that there are times when we also get out of hand and sin against God. In order to wake us up and make us learn our lesson, God may also let our enemies get the better of us.

But let us also know that when our enemies get out of hand and think they can do whatever they like, then God's justice and mercy will also arise to save us from our enemies, and God will also forgive us when we repent for He is merciful and compassionate.

So the Bible has revealed to us who God truly is, that He will punish us but it will be for our good. And that He is also loving and merciful and compassionate, as how Jesus has shown us.

So let us walk in the ways of the Lord and be faithful to Him, and turn to Him in repentance when we sin, so that we can avoid the punishment due to sin and continue to experience the tender love and mercy of our God.

Monday, July 16, 2018

15th Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 17-07-18

Isaiah 7:1-9 / Matthew 11:20-24

When faced with a hungry person, it is utterly useless to preach to him about the love of God.

The most sensible thing to do is to give him some food and that will indeed show him the love of God.

Hunger has no logic and hence people will not listen to whatever promises of food that will be coming. The hunger has to be addressed immediately.

If hunger has no logic, then fear can cause panic. In the face of mortal danger, fear can make people hysterical.

In the 1st reading, we heard that the hearts of king Ahaz and the people of Judah shuddered when they got the news that the enemy was approaching to attack them.

The immediate thing to do would be to run away and save themselves and to each his own. For those remaining, they could panic and be hysterical as they wait for death to fall on them.

Yet in all that chaos, the Lord spoke. And He assured His people that what the enemy planned to do won't come true; it would not be. But on one condition: But if you do not stand by me, you will not stand at all.

The people will have to decide - either to stand by the words of the Lord, or give in to fear and panic.

Yet in the gospel, the story was quite the opposite. The people had seen the miracles of Jesus, and yet they refused to repent. And as it is, those places mentioned in the gospel now lie in ruins.

And for us, we have heard the words of the Lord; we have seen His love for us in the Eucharist.

We now have to make the decision - either we stand by Him, or we won't stand at all.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

15th Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 16-07-18

Isaiah 1:10-17 / Matthew 10:34 - 11:1

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and in Singapore, there are the communities of the Carmelite Fathers at the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, and the cloistered nuns at the monastery near the Church of St. Teresa.

The title of "Our Lady of Mount Carmel" is given to the Blessed Virgin Mary in her role as the patroness of the Carmelite Order.

From the late 12th to the mid 13th century, there were Christian hermits living on Mount Carmel in the Holy Land and they were called the Carmelites, and they built a chapel there and dedicated it to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Since the 15th century, popular devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel has centered on the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel also known as the Brown Scapular.

Associated with the Brown Scapular are the promises of Mary's special help for the salvation of the one who wears it with devotion to our Lady.

The Brown Scapular is a miniature of the part of the habit that the Carmelites wear, which is a piece of long brown cloth that covers the front and the back right down to the feet.

It is said that the Scapular is given to the early Carmelite by Saint Simon Stock.

The Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is known to many Catholic faithful as the "scapular feast," associated with the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

It symbolizes the wearer's consecration to Mary and affiliation with the Carmelite Order.

Certainly, Mary would be the model for one who wears the scapular and the spiritual values of the Carmelite Order would be the way of life.

But devotion to Mary and whatever spiritual disciplines would certainly have its foundations in the teachings of Jesus, in whom is the fullness of love and truth, and who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

May our devotions and our prayers lead us closer to Jesus and help us to worship God worthily in the Eucharist.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

15th Ordinary Sunday, Year B, 15.07.2018

Amos 7:12-15 / Ephesians 1:3-14 / Mark 6:7-13
Some people say that football is an amazing game. For those of us who love to watch football or play the game, we will certainly agree.

But for some people, football is an amusing game. It is amusing because there are 22 people on a pitch chasing after a ball, and when the ball goes into the net, they will celebrate it by jumping all over each other, though some will despair.

But whether it is amazing or amusing, the World Cup 2018 will reach its climax with the final match tonight (15th July). It will be between France and Croatia, and one of them will lift the trophy as the World Cup champions.

Since last week when France and Croatia emerged as the finalists, the tagline is “France vs Croatia”.

Maybe it is just a manner of speech; it’s easier to say France vs Croatia than to say Croatia vs France, but maybe it also reveals who is the favourite and who is the underdog. 

France is more well-known in every aspect, from French loaf to blue cheese, and even the national team is known as “Les Blues”. They have won the World Cup once, in 1998, a few other trophies. 

On the other hand, Croatia, only after checking the map, then we know that it is a small country in central Europe.

They had no World Cup championship honours, and it is the first time that they are in the World Cup finals. Probably the only other thing is that most Croatian names end with “ic”. Just look at the names of the Croatian footballers and you will know what I mean:
Luka Modrić, Ivan Rakitić, Mario Mandžukić, Ivan Perišić, Nikola Kalinić, Mateo Kovačić, Danijel Subašić, etc.

And not just the footballers, the name of the coach also ends with “ic”. By the way his name is Zlatko Dalic.

Most of the time, football is about fame and fortune and religion has hardly any part in it. But with Z. Dalic, and maybe unintentionally, a bit of religion is put into the game.

Z. Dalic spoke about his faith on the Croatian Catholic radio when World Cup began. (85% of Croatia’s population is Catholic). 

He said that his current success is due to his faith in God and that he always carries a rosary to hold on to in difficult times.

He said this: Everything I have in my life and in my profession and career, I owe it to my faith and I am grateful to my Lord. 

He added: I am happy with my life, but without strong faith and that motivation, it would be very difficult to achieve it.

He continued: When a man loses hope, then he must depend on our merciful God and on our faith.

In a game that is often associated with popularity and money, it is quite rarely that we find an element of faith and religiosity.

But Z. Dalic is certainly not embarrassed about it nor is he silent about his faith in the game of football.

But that was also what Jesus summoned His disciples to do. He sent them forth giving them authority over unclean spirits and they set off to preach repentance. They cast out devils and cured the sick.

So repentance is about turning back to God, and repentance is about reclaiming our faith in the various aspects of life.

Because the excitement and the anxieties of life can have the power to subdue our faith and we just continue aimlessly in life without God and without faith.

So repentance is about reclaiming our faith in the midst of life so that God can manifest His presence through our faith and bring about healing and cleanse the world of evil.

Last week, the attention was on which football teams will reach the World Cup finals. But there was also attention on another football team, but it was how to reach them and rescue them.

The “Wild Boars” football team of 12 boys and their coach were trapped in a cave in Northern Thailand with rising flood waters, and that made it very difficult to rescue them.

But finally all were rescued. Thanks be to God. The coach said that in the midst of cold and hunger, he taught the boys meditation and that helped them to stay together with hope. Now, that is a religious dimension in the whole rescue operations.

And that might make us recall that in 2010, in the country of Chile, 33 miners were trapped for 69 days when the mine collapsed. They too prayed together, and the Pope then, Pope Benedict XVI sent them rosaries that he blessed.

Obstacles and impossibilities gave way to the power of prayer. The dates were also significant. The mine collapsed on 5th August, the day of the dedication of the Cathedral of St. Mary Major in Rome. The last miner was rescued on the 13th October, the anniversary of the last apparition of Our Lady at Fatima. Again we saw the powerful religious dimension of faith in the rescue operation.

This dimension of faith in our ordinary life can be powerfully brought out by the act of repentance. Repentance is about turning back to God, repentance is about reclaiming our faith so that God can work wonders.

For the Croatian coach Z. Dalic, it may mean clutching his rosary for 90 minutes this evening. And that’s just for the World Cup. 

We too, must clutch our rosaries and pray that God will bring about healing and cleansing for ourselves and for the world. That is what repentance is about, and it is a powerful religious dimension of faith, and our world needs to see it.

Friday, July 13, 2018

14th Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 14-07-18

Isaiah 6:1-8 / Matthew 10:24-33

In these present times, we cannot deny that secularism is a powerful influence across all sectors of life.

But this is often balanced off by a quiet search for the meaning of life and existence in the quest for spirituality.

It cannot be denied that modern men and women are searching for the transcendent and they want an experience of God.

Even the Church has seen a renewed need for prayer and meditation as people search deeper for God.

Indeed, we all have this longing and thirsting for God.

And people do experience God in various situations and settings - at Mass, at prayer meetings, in retreats, at holy places.

In the 1st reading, the prophet Isaiah experienced the holiness of God in a vision.

At the same time, he also became aware of his sinfulness and unworthiness, but he was healed of it.

Yet, his experience of God also propelled him to a mission, and that was to proclaim the holiness of God to the people.

So an experience of God is not just for our sake but for the purpose of a mission.

That is essentially to proclaim the presence of God to a secularized world.

As Jesus said in the gospel, it is to declare and bear witness to Him in the presence of men.

May we not be afraid to let the love of God shine in us.