Wednesday, December 17, 2014

18th December 2014, Thursday

Jeremiah 23:5-8 / Matthew 1:18-24

In most cases, the announcement of a pregnancy is welcomed with great joy and the subsequent waiting for the birth of the baby is filled with hopes and dreams albeit anxiety.

More so if the pregnancy is in the royal circle or with people who are famous and prominent. It will be in the news and there will even be updates on the progress of the pregnancy.

However, in the case of the birth of the Son of God, it was almost like a non-event.

Even the gospel seemed to word it nonchalantly - This is how Jesus Christ came to be born.

And instead of joy and hopes and dreams, there were immediate problems for those who were involved with the pregnancy.

Both Mary and Joseph could not quite explain or understand the mystery of the Incarnation.

Yet God was with them to see them through their difficulties and challenges.

Yes, God lived up to His name: God-is-with-us.

And He will be with us in our Advent preparation, in our difficulties and challenges as well as all the days of our life.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

17th December 2014, Wednesday

Genesis 49:2, 8-10 / Matthew 1:1-17

In Singapore, whenever we talk about salad, we think of the Western variety, eg, Caesar's salad, etc.

But there is also the local salad, and we call it "rojak", and there is the Chinese, Indian and Malay variety, each being very distinct.

Take for example, the Chinese rojak, it has ingredients that are of different flavours, from sweet to sour, from strong to bland, from fragrant to bitter.

Yet, all these ingredients combine together to give a flavour that is uniquely Chinese rojak, and which is quite tasty, going by general appeal.

When we look carefully at the genealogy list given in the gospel, we may find that it is like some kind of rojak.

Indeed, we are presented with a mixture of saints and sinners, of kings and peasants, of men and women.

Yet, from this rojak list of people, which is a genealogy list, we find Jesus Christ at the end of it.

We can only conclude that God uses all sorts of people, even though it may seem that it is not possible by human logic, to work wonders and to show His saving love for us.

The gospel reminds us that each and every one of us has a role to play in God's plan of salvation.

The Church, which seems like a "rojak" mixture of people, may leave us scratching our heads and raised eyebrows.

But yet God uses the Church as the sign of salvation, and so all of us, as well as each of us has a role to fulfill.

May we, the "rojak" Church, give the world a taste of God's saving love.

Monday, December 15, 2014

3rd Week of Advent, Tuesday, 16-12-14

Zephaniah 3:1-2, 9-13 / Matthew 21:28-32

Most of us wake up in the morning with some kind of electronic or mechanical alarm device, or simply putting it, some kind of alarm clock.

But before the emergence of alarm clocks, the common sound that signals the arrival of dawn is the sound of the cock-crow, which of course, we don't hear much nowadays in our highly urbanized surroundings.

The cock-crow signals the beginning of a new day, that the night is gone, and a new start awaits us.

But once upon a time, a cock also crowed, and a man wept in shame. Because he realized that in a bid to save himself, he denied his Master three times.

He wept in remorse and repentance and in shame. But where sin and shame abounds, grace and forgiveness abounds all the more.

St. Peter stands as a testimony to that. He was like the two sons rolled into one, in that, he said "yes" to Jesus, but at a time of reckoning, he said "no".

But later through a journey of shame and repentance, he said "yes" to Jesus again, this time being a more definitive "yes".

As we can see, great saints like St. Peter and St. Paul knew what shame and repentance is.

Jesus also said in today's gospel, that the great sinners of society at that time, the tax-collectors and prostitutes knew about shame and repentance just as much, and maybe even more than the so-called religious people.

As for us, do we know about shame and repentance as much as the tax-collectors and prostitutes knew it?

If we say we do, then it should be reflected in our attitude towards those whom society deems as dealing in the sleazy and shady side of life.

If we believe that God wants to remove our sin and shame, then we must also believe and pray that God will also remove their sin and shame.

When we can do that, then a new day indeed has begun.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

3rd Week of Advent, Monday, 15-12-14

Numbers 24:2-7, 15-17 / Matthew 21:23-27

We know what a dilemma is. It is a perplexing situation in which a choice has to be made between alternatives that are equally undesirable.

Going by that definition and putting it simply, it is a choice of the best among the worst.

In today's gospel, that was the situation that the the chief priests and the elders found themselves in.

They challenged Jesus' authority but in turn found themselves being challenged and in a dilemma as to how to answer that question of Jesus.

So they ended up choosing the worst of the worst alternatives with that reply: We do not know. Or in simple terms: No comment.

In the 1st reading, we hear of another dilemma. The pagan prophet Balaam was tasked to curse Israel, but when the Spirit of God came upon him, he faced a dilemma but made the choice to revoke his curse and instead bless Israel.

Whenever we face a dilemma, we think of the worst case scenarios and try to choose the one that will result in the least problems and difficulties.

But when we put the dilemma into the hands of God and ask the Spirit to guide us, then we will see the best case scenarios because we know that in each alternative there is growth and enlightenment.

So whenever we face a dilemma, let us not curse the alternatives that we have to choose.

Rather, let us ask the Lord for His blessings and also ask the Spirit to guide us in making a choice.

Every dilemma is an opportunity to experience the blessing and the guidance of God.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

3rd Sunday of Advent, Year B, 14.12.2014

Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11 / 1 Thess 5:16-24 / John 1:6-8, 19-28

As we began the Mass, we lighted the third candle of the Advent wreath, which is the rose-colored candle.

It also signifies that the third Sunday of Advent is also called "Gaudete Sunday". "Gaudete" means rejoice.

Yes, the first reading tells us to exult for joy in the Lord and to rejoice in God.

The second reading also tells us to be happy at all times and to pray constantly.

Yes, a rose-coloured candle standing in the midst of three dark- purple candles tells us that life can have its joyful moments amidst disappointment and sadness and sorrow.

Similarly, life can also have its funny and surprising moments amidst the serious and stiffness of life, and I hope we can smile a bit from this following story.

From the shadows in the distance, the man watched as the family packed their bags in the car, locked the doors and then drove off for their holidays.

The man waited till it was dark and then he emerged from the shadows and he went to the front door and rang the door-bell of the house.

When there was no answer, the man, a seasoned burglar picked the lock of the front door and got in.

Then just to be sure that no one was in the house, he called out, "Is there anyone in?"

Hearing nothing, he was about to move on, when he was stunned by a voice, "I see you, and Johnny sees you!"

The burglar panicked and called out, "Who's that?"

And again, the voice came back, "I see you, and Johnny sees you!"

Terrified, the burglar switched on his torchlight and pointed it towards the direction of the voice.

He was relieved to see that it was a parrot in a cage and it recited once again, "I see you, and Johnny sees you!"

The burglar laughed to himself and said, "Oh, shut up stupid bird. 

Anyway, who is this Johnny? Is it another bird friend of yours?"

And the parrot replied, "Johnny is right below me!"

And the burglar shined his torch at what was below the parrot's cage.

And there he saw Johnny, a huge Doberman, looking at the burglar with those eyes, and growling.

And then, the parrot said, "Go Johnny, go!"

Well, it is good to have a little laugh on this "Rejoice Sunday".

Back to something serious. In the gospel, we heard of a man sent by God, and his name was John.

So who is the John? Of course we know he is John the Baptist. But the gospel passage tells us more about who John is.

John is a witness, a witness to speak for the light, so that everyone might believe through him.

And John would say this about himself: I am, as Isaiah prophesied – a voice that cries out in the wilderness: Make a straight path for the Lord.

That is who John is. And the next question would be – who are we then?

The 1st reading tells us that the Spirit of the Lord has been given to us, and that the Lord will make integrity and praise spring up in the sight of the nations.

So the Spirit of the Lord will make us into persons of integrity and walk the straight path of Lord so that God will be praised.

So what is integrity? Once upon a time, there was a selfish and greedy man. He liked everything to be his own. He could not share his belongings with anyone, not even his friends or the poor.

One day, the man lost thirty gold coins. He went to his friend’s house and told him that he lost his gold coins. His friend was a kind man.

As his friend’s daughter was coming back from an errand she found a bag that contained thirty gold coins.

When she arrived home, she told her father what she had found. The girl’s father told her that the gold coins belong to his friend and he sent for him. 

When the selfish and greedy man arrived, he told him how his daughter had found his thirty gold coins and handed them to him. 

After counting the gold coins, the man said that ten of them were missing and had been taken by the girl as he had forty gold coins. 

He further demanded that he will recover the remaining amount from him. But of course the girl’s father refused.

The man left the gold coins and went to the court and informed the judge there about what had taken place between him and the girl’s father.

The judge sent for the girl and her father, and when they arrived the judge asked the girl how many gold coins she found. She replied thirty gold coins. 

The judge then asked the selfish man how many gold coins did he lose and he answered forty gold coins.

The judge then told the man that the gold coins did not belong to him because the girl found thirty and not forty as he claimed to have lost.

And then the judge told the girl to take the gold coins and that if anybody is looking for them he will send for the girl.

The judge then told the man that if anybody reports that they have found forty gold coins he will send for him. 

It was then that the man confessed that he had lied and that he lost only thirty gold coins but the judge would not listen to him.

Just a story about integrity and honesty and that truth will prevail. 

But that is also who we are and when we are who we should be, then we will truly rejoice in the Lord.

As the 2nd reading says – never try to suppress the Spirit; think before you do anything, hold on to what is good and avoid every form of evil.

With that we will receive joy from the Lord and then the joy of the Lord will be our strength.

2nd Week of Advent, Saturday, 13-12-14

Ecclesiasticus 48:1-4, 9-11 / Matthew 17:10-13

If there was one prophet in the Old Testament that we can say is really dramatic, it is surely the prophet Elijah.

And the 1st reading makes special mention of this dramatic prophet, and rightly so.

Elijah was a fire-and-brimstone prophet. He worked great and awful deeds like calling down famine upon the land, calling down fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice he offered and putting the 450 false prophets down by slitting their throats, just to mention a few.

But all that dramatic deeds were intended to turn the people back to God and for the restoration of Israel as the people of God.

But people can just be interested in the dramatic and the spectacular and not see the meaning and the message behind it.

We live in an age where people, Catholics included, are easily attracted by the dramatic and the spectacular and the extraordinary.

We may even expect the end times and the second coming of Christ to be kind of dramatic and spectacular, with awesome signs.

But as Jesus said in the gospel, Elijah came in the person of John the Baptist, and God came to visit His people in the Word made flesh.

But John the Baptist and Jesus were just too ordinary, and hence did not live up to the people's expectations.

The season of Advent prepares us to encounter God in the ordinary.

Amidst the festive celebrations, let us quieten our hearts to hear the voice of God in the ordinary.

When Jesus first came to this world at the first Christmas, it was just another ordinary day.

When He comes to us today, it will also be in an ordinary way.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

2nd Week of Advent, Friday, 12-12-14

Isaiah 48:17-19 / Matthew 11:16-19

One of the frustrating situations in a meeting, whether in church or elsewhere, is when people are silent about the issues that are being discussed.

It is frustrating because time is being wasted as people sit around and keep quiet about the issues without offering their opinions or suggestions.

It is frustrating because we don't know what they are feeling about the issues and what is on their minds. And we leave the meeting frustrated and disappointed.

But if people's silence can be frustrating and also disappointing, what more people's criticism, as we heard in the gospel.

But Jesus showed us that affirmation and encouragement are indeed noble deeds.

He affirmed and encouraged the faith of the centurion, the woman who anointed His feet with precious oil, the widow who gave up all she had, etc.

Jesus came to restore us to our dignity as children of God so that we can have self-respect, and He will affirm and encourage us whenever we make sacrifices and do the will of God in our lives.

As the 1st reading puts it, we only have to be alert to the voice of God that is spoken by others, then our happiness would flow like a river and our integrity will rise like the waves of the sea.

So let us learn this wisdom of God - that by affirmation and encouragement, we continue the mission of Jesus in helping people realize who they are so that they will turn back to God.