Tuesday, August 19, 2014

20th Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 20-08-14

Ezekiel 34:1-11 / Matthew 20:1-16

"Streets of London" is a song written by Ralph McTell and released in the United Kingdom as a single in 1974. We are familiar with the chorus:

"So how can you tell me you're lonely, And say for you that the sun don't shine?
Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London
I'll show you something to make you change your mind"

The song was inspired by McTell's experiences busking and hitchhiking throughout Europe, especially in Paris and the individual stories are taken from the Parisians. McTell was originally going to call the song Streets of Paris.  Eventually London was chosen because he realised he was singing about London.

The song contrasts the common problems of everyday people with those of the homeless, lonely, elderly, ignored and forgotten members of society.

The passage from the 1st reading may also be called the "Streets of Israel". The subject of that passage is about how the rulers of the country (shepherds of Israel) had neglected to take care of the common people and the prophet Ezekiel announced of their impending reckoning.

The gospel parable also had its setting in the streets - the streets of a market place where those looking for work were standing there to hire themselves out.

But it was a street of hope; it was a street that leads us to see the generosity of God.

As we go on our way, we will encounter those who are the homeless, lonely, elderly, ignored and forgotten members of our society.

May we be generous to them and show them some care so that they will still be able to believe that the God's love is still shining on them.                                        

Monday, August 18, 2014

20th Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 19-08-14

Ezekiel 28:1-10 / Matthew 19:23-30

It is quite surprising and amazing how we easily accept society's way of segregating us into classes.

And we also subconsciously divide ourselves against each other.

For example, the one driving a bigger car would expect the one driving a smaller car to give way.

The ones who have more money will get better and faster treatment.

The 1st class passengers get to leave the plane first, just like the 1st class passengers were the first to leave the sinking Titanic.

Yes, all of us are equal, but some have made themselves like gods.

Such was the case of the king of Tyre in the 1st reading.

Such will also be our case if we don't watch our pride, because pride comes before the fall (Proverbs 16:18), just like the impending tragedy that was to befall the king of Tyre.

And if we think that we can feel more secure by having more material possessions, then we will surely fall because we will trip over the stuff that we are dragging along.

We like to think that with a lot of material possessions, we can be first.

But as Jesus said in the gospel, those who are first will be last.

May Jesus always be the first in our lives so that we will know that we are all equal in His eyes.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

20th Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 18-08-14

Ezekiel 24:15-24 / Matthew 19:16-22

Physical pain can be bearable but yet when the pain goes beyond the body's threshold of tolerance, then the body will just black-out or shut down.

That is the body's way of handling pain.

But how about sorrow and grief? There are certain ways to express our sorrow and grief, like crying and wailing.

But when sorrow and grief overwhelms us, what will happen to us?

When the prophet Ezekiel's wife died, he was told by God not to express his sorrow and grief.

Moreover when the people asked him why he was not grieving, he was to respond that this was how God wanted them to mourn for the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.

The point here is that the mourning, the sorrow and the grief is so great that it cannot be expressed in the usual way.

Similarly, to give up the material and the luxurious things of life can be a painful sacrifice, as the rich young man in the gospel passage of today would surely understand.

To lose wealth and health can be overwhelming.

But the ultimate tragedy and disaster is to lose God and heaven because of personal sin as well as the unwillingness to repent.

No amount of sorrow and grief can be expressed for that kind of tragedy and loss.

May we always desire for the eternal treasures and cherish the blessings that God had bestowed on us.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

20th Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 17.08.2014

Isaiah 56:1, 6-7/ Romans 11:13-15, 29-32/ Matthew 15:21-28

Much has been said about the topic of prayer, and much more can be said and will be said about the topic of prayer.

Well, the least we can say about prayer is that we are here to pray to God and to ask Him to answer our needs and petitions.

And what do others have to say about prayer? Mother Teresa has this to say: Prayer is not about asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depths of our hearts.

So, for Mother Teresa, prayer is total surrender to God’s call and letting Him do whatever He wants to do for us.

Another quote, although not from a religious figure is this: Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one (Bruce Lee 1940-1973).

Oh yes, life is difficult and we have to handle it with prayer.

There is this story of a man who bought a lottery ticket and he prayed: Lord, if I strike, I will give the Church 10% of the winnings. He did not strike. 

He bought another lottery ticket and he prayed: Lord, if I strike, I’ll give the Church 25%. Again he did not strike.

He bought another ticket and he prayed: Ok, Lord, ok. This time it will be 50-50. (So, will he strike?)

As we all know by now, the purpose of prayer is not to change God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.

That being said about prayer, today’s gospel passage presents to us a unique scenario and also a unique encounter between Jesus and a Canaanite woman.

Jesus and His disciples had gone outside of Jewish territory into the region of Tyre and Sidon.

When you are not on home ground, it is best that you keep a low profile and stay out of trouble. And that’s what Jesus and His disciples were doing.

Then out came this Canaanite woman shouting for Him, calling Him “Son of David” and to take pity on her for her daughter was tormented by the devil.

We can imagine what a scene it was, and we can also imagine the disciples squirming at this embarrassing situation.

So desperate were they that they had to tell Jesus to give her what she wanted, probably because people were starting to look at them and wonder what was happening.

And surprisingly, Jesus was silent. It was like as if He didn’t care. It was so unlike Him. 

And when He finally said something, it was some puzzling thing about being sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. Again it was so unlike Jesus, and we ourselves may begin to start wondering.

And then with the woman kneeling at His feet and pleading “Lord, help me” He seemed to be insulting the woman by saying that it was not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house dogs.

At this point, the woman could have stood up and cursed and swore at Jesus. If He was not going to help her, then there was no need to be rude and insulting.

It is said that God gives three types of answers to prayers. He says YES and gives us whatever we want. He says NO and gives us something better. Or He says WAIT and gives us the best.

That Canaanite woman came before Jesus to intercede for her daughter.

She didn’t have to go through all that pleading and kneeling, if not for the fact that she took on her daughter’s need and made it her need. And she was prepared to wait through thick and thin to have the need addressed.

This unique encounter and unique exchange between Jesus and the Canaanite woman highlights the vital element in interceding for others – and that is the power of intervention.

To intervene is to involve oneself in a situation so as to alter an action or development.

The Canaanite woman interceded for her daughter and in doing so she also intervened between Jesus and her daughter. She stood between Jesus and her daughter.

And in the end her daughter was healed and Jesus also affirmed her of her faith.

We have come for Mass to worship and to pray. Yes we pray for ourselves, but more importantly we pray as the Church community, and as the Church we pray for others.

And this is expressed in the Intercessory Prayers or the Prayers of the Faithful.

Because like the daughter of the Canaanite woman who was unable to help herself, there are people who are quite unable to pray for themselves.

And we are called to intercede for them and to intervene for them before the Lord.

The main concern of Pope Francis at present is the situation in Iraq.

Even though he is now in South Korea, he tweeted this message on Friday, which was the feast of the Assumption of our Lady. It read : My heart bleeds especially when I think of the children in Iraq. May Mary, our Mother, protect them.

Our Archbishop has also called upon us to pray especially for the Iraq this weekend.

Just about a year ago, on the 7th September 2013, the Church by her intercession and prayer intervention had diffused the threat of a military strike at Syria.

We are now called upon again for our intercession and prayer intervention for the protection of Christians and the other minorities in Iraq who are facing mortal danger.

They are running for their lives and they need our prayers. It is for us to take on their need and make it our need, just as the Canaanite woman took on her daughter’s need and make it her own need.

That is what true intercession is about; that is what prayer intervention is about.

The salvation of many depends on the prayer and sacrifice of a few. 

We may be few, but we have the power of intercession and to make a prayer intervention.

May we have the faith of that unnamed Canaanite woman to persevere in prayer and may we too experience the power of our prayer intervention.

Friday, August 15, 2014

19th Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 16-08-14

Ezekiel 18:1-10, 13, 30-32 / Matthew 19:13-15

Modern psychology has discovered that the formation of person's personality and character can be traced back to the childhood years, and even right before birth, when the baby is still in the mother's womb.

Depending on what the child had been exposed to, the child can either gain or suffer from it.

That is why in the Church's "Book of Blessings", there is a prayer for expecting mothers and for the baby in the womb.

All this shows that the early years of a child are the most important years, because that's when the character is formed and the faith built.

So for us adults, the greatest thing we could do for a child is to give them tender love and an assuring word.

And as Catholics, it is even more important to share our faith with our children.

We must, and this is imperative for parents, to pray with our children as well as to pray for them, by blessing them with the sign of the cross on their foreheads.

We can do this whenever they go off to school, and when they come back home, before they go to sleep and whenever they are sick.

Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven belongs to the little children.

So whenever we bless our children, we ourselves will also receive a blessing.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Assumption of the BVM, 15.08.2014

Apocalypse 11:19; 12:1-6,10 / 1 Cor 15:20-26 / Luke 1:39-56

Every living person this earth has a name and that person is identified by this name.

The person also responds to this name, and so it can be said that the person and the name are one.

But something strange happens upon death.

As death separates the soul from the body, so too the name is separated from the body.

With death, it seems that the body of the deceased becomes a nameless entity.

So we will hear it said that the body is resting at this or that place.

Or that the body is to be buried or cremated.

So it seems that upon death, the body of a person loses the identity that was his when he was alive.

Maybe it is just a way of speaking. But that may also imply that the body of a person has become just a material casing and there is no life in it.

Just like what happens to egg shells after the chickens are hatched from it.

But the feast of the Assumption tells us that even after death, the body has a meaning, a spiritual meaning.

Mary was raised, body and soul into heaven. She is the first human being to receive the reward that Jesus gained by His Resurrection and Ascension.

The fact that God raised Mary body and soul into heaven means that even at death, the body (or the mortal remains) is still identified with the person and has a spiritual meaning to it.

Hence, the body of the deceased is given a proper burial and treated with respect because we profess in our Creed that at the resurrection on the last day, God will raise up our bodies or mortal remains and join in our souls to share in the risen glory of Christ.

This reiterates the fact that what is created cannot be destroyed and what came into existence will continue to exist into eternity.

That should remind us to take care of our bodies and that whatever acts of charity or sacrifice we offer with our bodies have a spiritual value.

Mary offered her body and soul to do the will of God and she consented to be the Mother of God.

May we too offer our body and soul to God and to do His work here on earth so that like Mary, we too will be raised up body and soul into heaven.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

19th Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 14-08-14

Ezekiel 12:1-12 / Matthew 18:21 - 19:1

To be a messenger of bad news is not at all a pleasant task. We can be assured that that there will be resistance at the least and hostility at the worse.

And neither is it a pleasant task to give an unfavourable assessment of a subordinate or an employee or a student.

There is always the possibility of rebuttals and arguments against the assessment and that can end up in a stand-off.

For the prophet Ezekiel in the 1st reading, he was tasked to be a symbol for the House of Israel - a symbol of exile.

He was not just a prophet of doom; he had to act out the message of doom. It was as much a distress for him as well as for the people.

On the other hand, the gospel is about the good news of mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation.

The first servant in the gospel parable could have been a messenger of that good news.

He could have shared the mercy and forgiveness he received from his master with his fellow servant and rejoiced together.

But he chose otherwise and ended up in a miserable state, besides being bad news to his fellow servant.

To be servants of good news or bad news is our choice. May we remember that good news brings about mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation. We don't have to think what bad news will bring.