Sunday, December 8, 2019

Immaculate Conception of the BVM, Monday, 09-12-19

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 stain 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.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

2nd Sunday of Advent, Year A 08.12.19

Isaiah 11:1-10 / Romans 15:4-9 / Matthew 3:1-12
This time of the year is often called “Christmas Shopping” time. And the advertisements on all media platforms are making us go to the shopping malls (or online shopping) to get something.

But if it is Christmas shopping here, then in other places, there is what is called “Christmas Chopping”.
Because in countries where there are evergreens like the fir and pine trees, there is “Christmas Chopping” as these trees are chopped and exported all over the world to those who want a real tree for Christmas.

So even in Singapore, we can get a real tree for Christmas if we want to, although it is a chopped down one.
Of course, a real tree is somehow more “credible” than a fake tree. A real tree has a nice scent and real look, whereas a fake tree is plastic and with tinsel and fake snow.

There is one person who is rather interested in trees, regardless of whether they are real or fake.
He also usually comes around this time of the year. But we won’t find him in the media advertisements nor will he appear in our Christmas decorations or even in the Nativity scene.

So obviously, we are not talking about Santa Claus or some celebrity. He looks like a misfit for the season, wearing a garment made of camel hair and a rough leather belt round his waist.

He does not eat turkey and ham, but locust and wild honey. He does not say “Season’s greetings’ but “Repent!” He is such an odd figure for this season.

But needing no introduction, and with serious business, is John the Baptist. He is an uncomfortable figure in the midst of the festive mood and decorations.

John the Baptist looks at our Christmas trees, whether real or fake, and then he says: Any tree that fails to bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

And we know what he is talking about – the trees of our lives, and whether we are bearing real good fruit, or bad rotten fruit. 

And with that, we will understand his message about repentance in these days of Advent. Because without repentance, there can be no real good fruit.

Without repentance during Advent, our Christmas is going to be plastic and tinsel.

As we listen to the call for repentance, let us bring before Jesus the trees of our lives and to let Jesus cut off all that is rotten and bad, so that we can truly realise what is real and good.

There is this story that once upon a mountain top, three little trees stood and dreamed of what they wanted to become when they grew up.
The first little tree looked up at the stars and said: “I want to hold treasure. I want to be covered with gold and filled with precious stones. I’ll be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world!”

The second little tree looked out at the small stream trickling by on its way to the ocean, and said, “I want to be traveling mighty waters and carrying powerful kings. I’ll be the strongest ship in the world!”

The third little tree looked down into the valley below where busy men and women worked in a busy town. “I don’t want to leave the mountain top at all. I want to grow so tall that when people stop to look at me, they’ll raise their eyes to heaven and think of God. I will be the tallest tree in the world.”

Years passed, and the little trees grew tall. One day three woodcutters climbed the mountain.
The first woodcutter looked at the first tree and said, “This tree is beautiful. It is perfect for me.” With a swing of his axe, the first tree fell.
“Now I shall be made into a beautiful chest. I shall hold wonderful treasure!” the first tree said.

The second woodcutter looked at the second tree and said, “This tree is strong. It is perfect for me.” With a swing of his axe, the second tree fell.
“Now I shall sail mighty waters!” thought the second tree. “I shall be a strong ship for mighty kings!”

The third tree felt her heart sink when the last woodcutter looked her way. She stood straight and tall and pointed bravely to heaven.
But the woodcutter never even looked up. “Any kind of tree will do for me,” he muttered. With a swing of his axe, the third tree fell. 

The first tree rejoiced when the woodcutter brought her to a carpenter’s shop. But the carpenter fashioned the tree into a feedbox for animals.
The once beautiful tree was not covered with gold, nor with treasure. She was coated with sawdust and filled with hay for hungry farm animals.

The second tree smiled when the woodcutter took her to a shipyard, but no mighty sailing ship was made that day. Instead, the once strong tree was hammered and sawed into a simple fishing boat. She was too small and too weak to sail on an ocean, or even a river; instead, she was taken to a little lake.

The third tree was confused when the woodcutter cut her into strong beams and left her in a lumberyard.
“What happened?” the once tall tree wondered. “All I ever wanted was to stay on the mountain top and point to God...”

Many, many days and night passed. The three trees had forgotten their dreams.
But one night, golden starlight poured over the first tree as a young woman placed her newborn baby in the feedbox.
“We wish we could make a cradle for him,” the parents whispered to each other, but they also said, “But this manger is beautiful.”
And suddenly the first tree knew she was holding the greatest treasure in the world.

One evening a tired traveller and his friends crowded into the old fishing boat. The traveller fell asleep as the second tree quietly sailed out into the lake.
Soon a thundering and thrashing storm arose. The little tree shuddered. She knew she did not have the strength to carry so many passengers safely through with the wind and the rain.
The tired man awakened. He stood up, stretched out his hand, and said, “Peace.” The storm stopped as quickly as it had begun.
And suddenly the second tree knew she was carrying the king of heaven and earth.

One Friday morning, the third tree was startled when her beams were yanked from the forgotten woodpile. She flinched as she was carried through an angry jeering crowd. She shuddered when soldiers nailed a man’s hands to her. She felt ugly and harsh and cruel.
But on Sunday morning, when the sun rose and the earth tremble with joy beneath her, the third tree knew that God’s love had changed everything.
It had made the third tree strong.
And every time people thought of the third tree, they would think of God.
That was better than being the tallest tree in the world.

So the next time we feel angry and disappointed because we didn’t get what we want, let us stand firm in faith and believe that God has something better to give us.

But we must also let Jesus cut off what is rotten  and bad in our lives, so that we can bear real good fruit, fruit that we offer to Jesus and to others.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

1st Week of Advent, Friday, 06-12-19

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

Great things can be accomplished when there are two factors involved: conviction and commitment.

In other words, when we believe in something and we put our energy and even our lives on it, then great things can be accomplished.

On the other hand, we can have all the resources and all the tried-and-tested methods, but if we lack the conviction and the commitment, then all the guarantees that something will work will not happen, or that the result will only be mediocre.

In the 1st reading, when the prophet Isaiah wrote those words that began with "The Lord says this: ... ", in effect he was writing an oracle from the Lord God, which is a divine edict.

What was his conviction that what he was writing was from the Lord God? Could it be that God appeared to him in a vision and told him to write those words down?

Or could it be that in his reflection and meditation and prayer, he came to a conviction that this is what the Lord God wants him to write down and he committed himself to it?

And what he wrote is a prophecy, and as it is with prophecies, it may happen soon or it may happen in another age.

Nonetheless, the prophet Isaiah wrote it down, and he could only put his trust in the Lord that the Word of the Lord will be fulfilled in time to come.

Such was the conviction and the commitment of the prophet Isaiah to the Lord and what the Lord had called him to do.

In the gospel, the two blind men followed Jesus along the way and were shouting, "Take pity on us, Son of David."

They even had to follow Jesus all the way to the house, considering the fact that they were blind and hence it was not that easy for them to move along.

But they did. And when Jesus asked them, "Do you believe I can do this?" their answer showed their conviction about who Jesus is - "Sir, we do."

The reply of Jesus is most comforting and consoling as He says this to them, "Your faith deserves it, so let this be done for you."

As we come before Jesus in this First Friday Mass and Devotion to the Sacred Heart, and as we offer up our needs and petitions, Jesus is looking at the conviction of our faith in Him.

Like the two blind men, we must call out to Jesus to take pity on us as we offer up our needs and petitions and believe that He will answer our prayers.

Let us put our faith conviction in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and let us also renew our commitment to Him in the mission of the salvation of souls.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

1st Week of Advent, Thursday, 05-12-19

Isaiah 26 : 1-6 / Matthew 7 : 21, 24-27

The Berlin Wall was built in 1961 to separate the communist East Germany from West Germany.

Along with that wall were electrified fences, mine-fields, guard-posts and at regular intervals, tall towers with search lights.

It was a formidable sight, and all this just to protect a Communist political system, and also at the expense of lives who tried to escape from that system.

Yet in 1990, the Berlin Wall crumbled. It crumbled from the people's urge for freedom from an oppressive system.

But as we look deeper at it, the Berlin Wall crumbled from the power of God's will to grant freedom and peace and unity among peoples.

The prophet Isaiah urged his people to trust in the power of God rather than in steep citadels and fortifications which will eventually crumble.

Because high walls and electric fences will not protect us if our hearts are not with God.

Real defense against fear and insecurity and evil is having a faithful heart which will trust in the Lord.

When we put our faith in God and build our lives on the Lord who is the Everlasting Rock, we will not crumble in the face of evil and suffering and oppression.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

1st Week of Advent, Wednesday, 04-12-19

Isaiah 25:6-10 / Matthew 15:29-37       

A mountain, or even a hill, in its natural state is stately and a majestic sight from afar.

But to climb up a hill, or a mountain, would obviously mean that we have to start at the foot of that hill or mountain.

What might seem so serene and tranquil from afar will not seem so when we are up close at the foot of it.

An uphill climb is certainly not a walk in the park even for able-bodied persons, as it is a rough and uneven terrain with thick vegetation to cut across.

So we can imagine how difficult it was for the lame, the crippled, the blind and those with some kind of infirmity and ailment to climb up a hill.

In the gospel, we heard that those were the people who climbed up the hill to seek out Jesus, and they were cured and they praised the God of Israel.

The 1st reading also talked about a mountain, a mystical mountain, where the Lord of host will prepare a banquet of rich food and fine wines.

On that mountain, the Lord will wipe away the tears from every cheek and take away His people's shame.

The season of Advent is like climbing up to the mountain of God. It is certainly not an easy climb.

But we also know that when we reach the top, we will rejoice with the celebration of saving promises of God that are fulfilled in Jesus.

So let us keep climbing and praying in our Advent preparation.

Monday, December 2, 2019

St. Francis Xavier, Patron of Missions and Missionaries, Tuesday, 03-12-19

1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23 / Mark 16:15-20               

St. Francis Xavier was from a noble family and when he was studying in the University, he met another student who would often ask him and other students this question: What would a man gain if he wins the whole world but loses his life?

Those words made St. Francis Xavier think and reflect about life and eventually he followed that student who was none other than St. Ignatius of Loyola to form the Society of Jesus, or commonly called the Jesuits.

St. Francis Xavier was also convinced that salvation comes through belief in Christ and he opted to be a missionary in the East.

He worked in Goa, Malacca, Japan and China, converting as many as 30,000 people.

He faced dangers, difficulties and fatigue, but his zeal burnt stronger than ever.

In a letter he wrote to St. Ignatius Loyola, he expressed the desire to go around the universities of Europe to stimulate the zeal for the mission of evangelization.

He also said this: I wish they could work as hard to be missionaries as they do at their books, and so settle their accounts with God for their learning and the talents entrusted to them.

This makes us reflect on what are our priorities in life and what we are working so hard for.

After all, if God is not loved above all, then He is not loved at all.

Furthermore, what would a man gain if he wins the whole world but has no love for God and for others.

May St. Francis Xavier pray for us that our love for God is expressed by living out and proclaiming the Good News to others.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

1st Week of Advent, Monday (Year A), 02-112-19

Isaiah 4:2-6 / Matthew 8:5-11

An average dictionary would have something like over 50,000 entries and with over 70,000 definitions.

That is quite a number of words with quite a number of definitions.

But despite their abundance, words still have a powerful effect on our lives and in our thinking.

A carefully chosen word or phrase can save a situation, whereas a careless choice of words can ruin everything.

So if the pen is mightier than the sword, then the spoken word can be as powerful as the action.

In the gospel, the centurion recognized the authority of Jesus and the power of His Word, the centurion being a man of authority himself.

He believed that what Jesus says is as good as being done already.

As the Church begins the season of Advent, we are called to reflect on what Jesus said and to prepare for how it will be fulfilled.

Jesus came 2000 years ago to bring about healing and forgiveness. He will come again to bring about restoration and salvation.

May we hold on to our faith in His Word as we continue to wait for the fulfillment of His promises.