Thursday, December 31, 2009

31st December, 7th Day in the Octave of Christmas

1 John 2 : 18-21
John 1 : 1-18

This seventh day of the octave of Christmas also happens to be the last day of the year.

The last day of the year. Somehow there is a reminiscing tone to time, if we give ourselves some time to reminisce.

364 days have passed, and on this last day of the year, we still can ask ourselves : So how did the year turn out for us.

We only have today to ask that question, because come tomorrow, we will be looking at the new year with our plans, our schedules, our appointments, and oh yes, our resolutions.

Today's long gospel begins with "In the beginning ..." It sounds rather strange that on the last day of the year, we hear something about the beginning.

But yet this long gospel is actually a summary of the life and mission of Jesus.

He is the light that shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.

He is the Word made flesh; He came to His own domain, but His own people did not accept Him.

But to those who did accept Him, He gave them the power to become children of God, receiving grace upon grace.

Whatever our reflections of this passing year may be, let us thank the Lord for the blessings and graces we received during these 364 days.

Let us set ourselves to begin another year and to begin it with Christ.

From His fullness, let us ask for grace upon grace as that we end the year with thanksgiving and look forward to the new year with hope.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

30th December, Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas

1 John 2 : 12-17
Luke 2 : 36-40

Have you ever wondered what you will be doing, or what you will look like when you are 84 years old?

Or can you ever imagine what I will look like when I am 84? Well, looks aside, I wonder what kind of a person I will be when I am 84. I wonder if I will be a grumpy and long-winded old man.

But going by the general attitude of our pragmatic society, we don't want to think something so far ahead, we may even want to avoid thinking about it.

Because in a society where the value of a person is measured in terms of productivity and efficiency, then an old person is a liability, a sort of weak link.

In fact one of the common lament of the aged is that they feel useless and are just waiting to die.

But as I reflect on the gospel and on the 84 year-old prophetess Anna, an image comes to my mind - the image of a glorious mellow sunset.

She was old, but nonetheless she was radiant and mellow, maybe even glorious in her own ways, just like the sun setting slowly and quietly over the horizon.

And we have among us many of these glorious mellow sunsets. When we look around we are sure to see those aunties, a bit bent, a bit slow in their steps, but yet coming everyday for Mass, with Rosary or a prayer book in their hands.

Their names may not be Anna, but they are very much like her. And like Anna, they also have gone through a lot, they also have seen a lot.

When we see them, let us acknowledge them, and say something loving and simple like :Aunty, God bless you. Pray for me ok. They will be glad, they will be very happy to pray for us too.

In these old aunties as well as old uncles, we see the wisdom and the enlightenment that the 1st reading talked about.

They know that the world and all it craves for is coming to an end. But anyone who does the will of God remains forever.

Let us learn from them, these radiant and mellow sunsets, and let us live life gracefully by always praising and thanking the Lord.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

29th December, Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas

1 John 2 : 3-11
Luke 2 : 22-35

It is really amazing as well intriguing to see how some people seem to know that their time to leave this world was approaching.

I have seen some people who were seriously ill and then they seem to get a "second wind" and for a moment they seem to have recovered and they could even talk to their family members about family affairs at some length.

After that they will slip back into their illness and then slowly slip away and slip out of this world.

In retrospect it seems that these people were trying to settle any unfinished business in this world maybe because they could sense their time was near.

What they felt, what they saw or what they heard, we do not know. But there will come a time when we will have make that last leg of our earthly journey.

But in the gospel, we know what Simeon saw and that signaled to him that the time has come for him.

When he saw the parents of Jesus presenting Him in the Temple, he saw not only just a baby, but he saw the light.

He saw the light of promise, the light of salvation, the light of enlightenment. It was the light the world was waiting for. It was the light he was waiting for.

For Simeon it was the light that gave him peace. For us it is the light that shines upon us to give us life and love.

The 1st reading tells us that the night is over, because the real light is shining.

That light is a signal for us to move from darkness to light, from hate to love, from bitterness to forgiveness.

Christ the light has already come to us at Christmas. Let us follow that light and we will have no fear of stumbling.

Monday, December 28, 2009

28th December, Feast of Holy Innocents

1 John 1:5 - 2:2
Matthew 2 : 13-18

There are many famous men in Bible whose words and deeds have proclaimed the marvels and the wonders of God.

On Saturday, we celebrated the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr, who witnessed to Christ even to the point of death and also forgave those who were stoning him to death.

Yesterday, was the feast day of St. John the evangelist, who proclaimed the mystery of the divinity of God made flesh in the humanity of Jesus.

But in the same Bible are also many infamous men, and today we hear of a man who was a tragedy to himself and he also caused tragic consequences.

Because of his pathological state of mind and his paranoia, he ordered the slaughter of the infants at Bethlehem in order to exterminate the new-born King of the Jews.

That deed was no big deal to him. In fact it counts as nothing for him.

This makes us reflect on the horrible deeds that are done to children and the unborn : abortion, child abuse, child molestation, child labour, child pornography.

For some people, these things also count as nothing for them.

The feast of the Holy Innocents does not just recall the innocent babies being slaughtered and martyred for Christ.

Because their blood now cries out for the children of the world who are suffering.

Their blood also cries out to us to something for children.

So what can we do for our children and for the children of the world?

May this poem help us in reflection and spur us into action.

Children Learn What They Live

If children live with CRITICISM
They learn to CONDEMN

If children live with HOSTILITY
They learn to FIGHT

If children live with RIDICULE
They learn to BE SHY

If children live with SHAME
They learn to FEEL GUILTY

If children live with TOLERANCE
They learn to BE PATIENT

If children live with ENCOURAGEMENT

If children live with PRAISE
They learn to APPRECIATE

If children live with FAIRNESS
They learn JUSTICE

If children live with SECURITY
They learn to HAVE FAITH

If children live with APPROVAL

If children live with ACCEPTANCE and FRIENDSHIP

Saturday, December 26, 2009

26th December, Feast of St. Stephen

Acts 6 : 8-10; 7 : 54-59
Matthew 10 : 17-22

We are still very much in a festive mood with Christmas carols like "Silent Night" and "Joy to the world" still ringing in our heads and maybe we are still bloated from all the feasting.

Today is also known as Boxing day, and it came from a custom when Christmas presents packed into boxes were given out on this day. But maybe it has become a day to open our Christmas presents because we might have been too busy yesterday.

Well, today the Church opens up the liturgy with, of all things, the gruesome and shocking martyrdom of St. Stephen.

Somehow the tenderness of Christmas is shattered by the violent execution of St. Stephen.

Why didn't the Church move this feast to anytime, maybe in Lent, so that we can still have that Christmassy feeling and just talk about angels and shepherds and baby Jesus?

Well, the martyrdom St. Stephen has a deep connection with the birth of Christ.

Somehow Christmas have been embellished and glossed over with so much sentimentality that we forget that Jesus was born into a hard, cold and violent world.

The Son of God had to born in stable, of all places, and laid in a manger. Not long after He was born, King Herod was looking for Him to kill Him.

That was only the beginning of the violence and the persecution that Jesus was going to face, and it would eventually lead to His execution of the cross.

Yet when we reflect on the joy of Christmas and the martyrdom of St. Stephen, we see the connection between divine tenderness and human violence.

Christ came to heal our human violence with His divine tenderness, expressed in mercy and forgiveness, as witnessed to by St. Stephen.

Let us also believe that the ugliness of human violence can only be changed with the divine tenderness of forgiveness and love.

The young man by the name of Saul in the 1st reading, who approved of the killing, would later be touched by divine tenderness, then changed his name to Paul and went forth to proclaim the tender love of God and His forgiveness.

So in the face of human anger and violence, let us stand firm on divine love and tenderness.

It is only through God's mercy and forgiveness that hardened hearts will be turned into loving hearts.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Advent, 24th December, Thursday

2 Samuel 7 : 1-5, 8-12, 14, 16
Luke 1 : 67-79

Somehow, at this time of the year, especially with the festive mood and with the year coming to an end, we want to have a good time and forget about our worries and anxieties for a while.

But on a more sober note, we must also remember all the good things that has happened to us, as well reflect and learn from our struggles and difficulties.

Yet it is not that conducive to make time to do this recalling and reflecting, because of the frenzy of activities and busyness.

Even for us priests, we will be preparing for the Masses this evening and for tomorrow, and looking into the necessary preparations, etc.

So as much as we may be singing "Silent Night, Holy Night", it may not be really so. In fact, it may well be a noisy and busy night.

Yet we must make time for ourselves if we really want to experience the silence and the holiness of this eve of Christmas.

We have to make time for ourselves to welcome God as He visits His people and to feel His wonderful gift of love in Jesus.

Just one day before Christmas we are reminded in the gospel what is the meaning of this whole occasion.

It is God fulfilling His promise of salvation. He is sending us our long awaited Saviour.

Jesus will lead us from darkness and from the shadow of death and guide us into the way of peace.

Let us make time today for prayer and reflection. Let us feel the holy silence of this eve of Christmas.

May we be filled with a joyful peace as we prepare to celebrate Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Advent, 23rd December, Wednesday

Malachi 3 : 1-4, 23-24
Luke 1 : 5-25

The task of choosing a name is an honourable task but nonetheless a difficult task.

Whether it is choosing a name for a person, or for a business, or for a society, there are many factors to be considered.

One of which is that it must sound nice and also meaningful, not just in the predominant language, but also in other dialects and languages.

The name John is a Jewish name (Yehohanan) and it means God-is-gracious.

That name has a great significance for Elizabeth and Zechariah.

Elizabeth was barren and barrenness was seen as a curse from God.

So the conception and birth of John was indeed a gracious blessing from God.

But God's grace did not just give Zechariah and Elizabeth a son.

God's grace will be continued in the life and mission of John.

John's mission was to prepare the people for the time of intense grace from God.

A time of restoration to the dignity as God's people.

A time of reconciliation between God and each other.

Let us prepare ourselves to receive this moment of intense grace from God, so that we can be a grace-filled and a graceful people.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Advent, 22nd December, Tuesday

1 Samuel 1 : 24-28
Luke 1 : 46-56

It is said that the first six years of a child's life are the most important years, and indeed it is true.

Because those six years are the formative years, a time during which the child learns and absorbs the values, the principles and the way of life that will shape his/her future.

And the child learns this, usually, from the parents.

Jesus is the Son of God, yet during His childhood years, He certainly learned from His parents.

From St. Joseph, He not only learned the carpenter's trade, He also learned to be a man of honour and respect, and also how to discern God's will.

From Mary His mother, He learned humility and to proclaim the greatness of the Lord.

He learned that God will exalt the humble and the lowly.

He learned that the poor are the ones who will inherit the Kingdom of God.

He learned that those who hunger for justice will be filled with good things.

He learned what Mary proclaimed in the Magnificat.

What He learned from His parents, He will later proclaim in the Beatitudes.

As we draw nearer to Christmas, we draw nearer to a new beginning, a new beginning with Jesus.

We are led to the manger, and we will learn about the way, the truth and the life.

As we move on from the manger, the way of love and the truth of God must also form the values and the principles of our lives.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Advent, 21st December 2009

Song of Songs 2 : 8-14
Luke 1 : 39-45

On the 20th July, 1969, the American astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped out from the lunar module.

Just before his foot touch the surface of the moon, he said this :

That's one small step for man, but a giant leap for mankind.

We may have seen that footage before and we know the excitement behind it.

Today's gospel is also filled with excitement, a much greater excitement.

It was just one small leap from a baby in his mother's womb, but it signals the beginning of our leap back to GOd.

All because Jesus stepped out of heaven to set foot on earth.

Today is another step closer to Christmas.

At Christmas, Jesus will again step in our hearts and make His home in us.

Let us also take a step closer to Him as we hear Him calling out to us in the words from the 1st reading : Come then, my love, my lovely one, come.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Advent, 19th December

Judges 13 : 2-7, 24-25
Luke 1 :5-25

In the two readings of today, there is a tone of an initial misfortune.

A married couple having no children was an embarrassment to society at that time, and some people may even think that the couple is under some kind of curse.

The couple themselves would feel ashamed that they have no descendants, because the family line would be terminated.

But for the two couples in today's readings, Zechariah and Elizabeth, and Manoah and his wife, they were blessed for their faithfulness to each other and to God.

Because for the Jewish people at that time, being barren or sterile could be grounds for divorce.

Also the unfortunate couple would be subjected to slanting looks and wagging tongues that poke and cut till they wilt and fade and eventually they will separate.

Yet the two couples remained together, enduring the embarrassment and the shame, and enduring it together.

But God blessed them with sons who would become famous men in bible history.

Which makes us call to mind the times when we experienced misfortune and embarrassment and even shame.

Did we still believed that God did not abandon us, and did we still remained faithful to Him?

When we have survived those moments, then we will know this for sure :
When we abandon ourselves to God, God will not abandon us.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Advent, 18th Dec

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

The gospel according to Matthew begins with the coming of the Emmanuel.

In the last chapter of the gospel, Jesus, the Emmanuel, the "God-is-with-us" tell His disciples that He will be with them until the end of time.

Hence the gospel of Matthew has this underlying theme - that Jesus is the fulfillment of God's promise to come and live among His people.

This is also the underlying theme in this particular period of our Advent preparation.

God's promise to us still holds true, that His is with us and will be with us till the end of time.

The modern world is going through a great secularization, to the extent that God and the Church has become irrelevant.

On the other hand, science and technology have taken the world by storm and pushing aggressively its advancement, and at times with all costs.

But science and technology cannot explain one thing, and that is the ecological problems that the world is facing, as well as the hostility amongst peoples.

It not only cannot explain, in a way, it amplifies and multiplies it.

When we reflect on the gospel, we see that it is the Spirit who brought about the coming of the Emmanuel.

It is the same Spirit who will bring about the presence of God in a broken and bleeding world.

Just as Mary and Joseph were open to the Spirit and became instruments in bringing about the presence of God into the world, we too must be open to the promptings of the Spirit within us.

We must first believe that God is indeed with us, before we can help others to believe likewise.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Advent, 17th December

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.

Taking 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.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

3rd Week of Advent, Wednesday, 16-12-09

Isaiah 45 : 6-8, 18, 21-26
Luke 7 : 19-23

Spiritual writers often talk about how a time will come when faith is put to the test, and they will use terms like "when the well runs dry" or "the dark night of the soul" or "the cloud of the unknowing".

It is also a time when the most fundamental and critical questions are asked.

Questions like : What is the meaning of my life? Why is such a bad thing happening to me? Does God really care about me? Are my prayers really being heard?

This "dark night of the soul" cuts across all and no one is spared, from saints to sinners.

In today's gospel, we heard of the dark night of the soul of John the Baptist.

In the darkness of his prison cell and the even darker uncertainty of his existence and mission, he had tough questions to ask.

So is Jesus the Messiah or not? If He is then why don't He make it clear and get me out of here?

We too will have our dark night of the soul, and we too will have our scorching questions.

And when there seemed to be no answers, then maybe the 1st reading will give us some consolation.

The prophet Isaiah tells us that everything is in God's hands, and from the Lord alone will come strength and victory.

Our moments of clarity and confusion are like the cycle of day and night.

Through all these moments, we must learn to depend on the Lord and put our faith in Him alone and turn to Him for strength.

Even if there seemed to be no answers to our questions and the dark night is a prolonged one, let us continue to wait for the Lord with hope.

When the Lord comes, may He find us waiting in faith.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

3rd Week of Advent, Tuesday, 15-12-09

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 cockcrow, which of course, we don't hear much nowadays in our highly urban surroundings.

The cockcrow 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 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.

Monday, December 14, 2009

3rd Week of Advent, Monday, 14-12-09

Numbers 24 : 2-7, 15-17 / Matthew 21 : 23-27          (2019)

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. if I may put 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 12, 2009

2nd Week of Advent, Saturday, 12-12-09

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 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 extra-ordinary.

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 of 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.

Friday, December 11, 2009

2nd Week Advent, Friday, 11-12-09

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.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

2nd Week of Advent, Thursday, 10-12-09

Isaiah 41 : 13-20
Matthew 11 : 11-15

Life can be very much easier and comfortable when we have someone around to help us and guide us.

One good example is when we have to go to a foreign place for a meeting or for business.

It would be very much easier and enjoyable if we have someone to receive us at the airport and show us the way.

Then we would be able to enjoy the sights and the scenery without having the anxiety and the fear of the unknown.

In this season of Advent, there is someone who is ever willing to help us in our Advent journey towards Christmas.

John the Baptist is our Advent guide and he shows us the way and the preparations that we need to do.

His message is clear and simple - repentance and the conversion of heart.

We must remember that it is God who sent John the Baptist to be our Advent guide as we journey in faith towards Jesus.

Even Jesus, in the gospel, would exalted John the Baptist and affirmed that John was the one sent by God to turn the hearts of the people back to God.

So in our prayer, let us also ask John the Baptist to pray for us so that we can journey deeper into the heart of Jesus and in turn lead others to experience Jesus at Christmas.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

2nd Week of Advent, Wednesday, 09-12-09

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

If there is one thing that I can think of that symbolizes some stability in the turbulence of the journey of life, that thing would be a seat-belt.

As life unfolds moment by moment, with its twists and turns, with its ups and downs, we can philosophically say that life is always changing.

Indeed change is always happening, whether on a personal level, or a social level or a much higher level.

It is not that easy to welcome change because change can be unsettling, tiring and frustrating.

So that is why i said earlier that we need a seat-belt to anchor us down us to some stability amidst the fluctuations of life.

In the 1st reading the people lamented that God had abandoned them and ignored them.

So through the prophet Isaiah, God proclaims to His people that as much as they were wearied by the turbulence of life, He does not grow tired or weary.

He gives strength to the wearied and those who put their trust in the Lord renew their strength and they put out wings like eagles.

In the gospel, Jesus reiterated this point gently when He invited all those who labour and are overburdened to come to Him and He will give them rest.

In the midst of all the fluctuations and turbulence of life, we need to listen to the call of Jesus, especially the call to come to Him in prayer.

In Him we will find rest for our weary souls ; in Him we will renew our strength and put out wings like eagles.

In Him is our safety and our eternity.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

08 Dec 2009, The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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

For those of us who were baptized as babies, our parents gave us a baptism name.

For those of us who were baptized as adults, we chose a baptism name for ourselves.

These will be the names for the rest of our lives.

But these are not just names to identity ourselves. They have a much greater significance.

They symbolize our new identity in Christ through baptism.

For those of us who were baptized as adults, our baptism names symbolize our "Yes" to God to be His beloved children.

Mary was graced to be immaculately conceived in her mother's womb, and freed from sin by the power of God.

But at the Annunciation, Mary is called by a new name and empowered to bear the One who is to crush the power of evil.

Mary is called by the angel Gabriel "the highly favoured one".

And Mary said "Yes" to the mission of bearing the Word made flesh.

By the grace of our baptism, we too have become God's highly favoured ones; we too have become "immaculate".

We too are empowered to say "Yes" to God.

In saying "Yes" to God, we are also saying "No" to evil and to the devil's temptations.

So let us rejoice with Mary on this feast of her Immaculate Conception and give thanks and praise to God for His saving love for us.

Let us renew the grace of our baptism, and by the grace of our baptism, let us crush our evil and sinful desires and live as God's beloved and highly favoured sons and daughters.

Let us also ask Mary to pray for us by using the prayer that is inscribed in the Miraculous Medal : O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you

Monday, December 7, 2009

2nd Week of Advent, Monday, 07-12-09

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

The Communists took over power in China in 1949.

They set up the state-controlled Church, and anyone who resisted was thrown into prison.

Bishop Ignatius Kung of Shanghai was one of those who resisted.

He was imprisoned for 30 years before being released at 83 years old and in poor health. He died in March 2000.

Bishop Ignatius Kung spent one third of his life in prison.

His suffering was a true experience of an exile - he was separated from the people he loved, from the ministry which he was ordained for, and from the life he loved.

In fact, all human suffering is a form of exile - it separates us from what and from who we love.

In the 1st reading, the prophet Isaiah talked about God bringing His people back from exile, to restore them to the promised land, to save those from being lost.

That was what Jesus did for the paralyzed man.

That is also what Jesus wants to do for us when we feel that we are walking through some kind of wilderness and desolation, or going through some kind of exile.

The Lord wants to heal us with His word and with His touch.

He wants us to experience love and forgiveness and to have true freedom.

Bishop Ignatius Kung was imprisoned for 30 years, but the Lord gave him strength for his weary hands and trembling knees.

The Lord gave him courage to hope for the coming of the Lord who will save him.

May we too be courageous and keep hoping in our Lord who will come to save us and grant us freedom.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

1st Week of Advent, Saturday, 05-12-09

Isaiah 30 : 19-21, 23-26
Matthew 9:35 - 10:1, 6-8

We are always attracted to this phrase : Free of charge!   Of course we would rather be receiving it than to be giving it.

Indeed, we get a spurt of happiness whenever we get something free, and more so when it is something valuable.

As we think about it, let us also reflect about the free and valuable things that God has given us daily - the warm sunshine, the rain, the fresh air, the cool evening, the beautiful moon, etc.

Most of all, the life that is beating in our hearts and the love that we experience around us.

All these are certainly blessings from God. But what if God were to charge us for His blessings?

What if God were to charge us for the help He gave us, for the times He saved us from trouble and danger, for healing us when we were sick?

But God doesn't need our money nor does He want us to pay Him back anything.

God is all loving and generous and merciful and compassionate. Furthermore it is out of His great love for us that He created us in His image and likeness.

Jesus, the greatest gift from God wants us to know this and that is why He said in today's gospel : You received without charge, give without charge.

It is not just about the material blessings that we have received from God that we are called to share without charge with others.

Our greatest treasures are in our heart, and in there are the gifts of love, care, compassion, forgiveness, patience, understanding and all the blessings that God has given us free of charge.

Let us share these gifts and blessings without charge with the others around us.

That will be one way of preparing to celebrate Christmas, because at Christmas we celebrate the greatest gift of God.

We celebrate the gift of Jesus, who was given to us free of charge.

Friday, December 4, 2009

1st Week of Advent, Friday, 04-12-09

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

Advertising is a big business. Almost everyone, maybe even anyone who has a product to sell or a service to offer will have to have recourse to some of advertisement to get some publicity.

But the most powerful and most convincing form of advertisement is none other than people's words.

For eg., if you want to buy a hand-phone or a laptop, just ask someone who is using one. You don't have to look at the papers to get some opinions.

So why did Jesus tell the two blind men who were cured, not to talk about what happened?

Maybe Jesus didn't want people to see Him simply as a wonder-worker.

That's because people generally focus on the sensational and the wonderful things rather than on the message.

Jesus also wanted people to follow Him and come to know Him for who He really is, and not what He can just do for them.

That's why before He cured the two blind men, He asked them a very profound question : Do you believe I can do this?

He wanted to know the faith of these two blind men. He wanted them to see more than just the sensational and the wonder.

We too come before Jesus with our needs and our petitions. Do we really believe that Jesus will grant us our needs?

If we really do believe, then what is our anxiety and our worry?

The question is not what Jesus can do for us or what He can give us.

The question He is asking us is this : Do you believe I love you?

That can be the question for our Advent reflection and prayer.

May our prayers lead us to find the answer at Xmas.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

1st Week of Advent, Thursday, 03-12-09

Isaiah 26 : 1-6 / Matthew 7 : 21, 24-27    (2019)

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 ad 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.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

1st Week of Advent, Wednesday, 02-12-09

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

I have heard quite a bit about fine dining although I have not been to one nor do I intend to.

It seems like it is always in a top-class restaurant, and each diner will be served by a waiter, and the food is, needless to say, very good. And so is the price.

Yet when we hear of such things in a world that is experiencing hunger and famine, we wonder what sense does it all make. In fact it sounds like a mockery.

For the people hearing the prophet Isaiah taking about God preparing a fine banquet and rejoicing, it didn't make much sense to them because they were in the midst of the threat of annihilation by a powerful enemy and there was also an internal power struggle to bear with.

In fact one might even get angry with God about the hunger and famine and the political turmoil and the wars and violence that is happening all around.

Just like the story of the young man who was angry with God over the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

Then he had a dream in which God told him this : I have great things in store for the poor and hungry.

The young man asked angrily : Like what!?!    God answered  : I am sending you

Well, like is often said : If we are not part of the solution, then we are part of the problem.

I guess the problem is realising that we are called be the solution.

Just as in the gospel, the solution was in the hands of the disciples, the solution to life's problems also lies in our hands.

But we have to ask God to help us realise it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

1st Week of Advent, Tuesday, 01-12-09

Isaiah 11 : 1-10
Luke 10 : 21-24

Fairy tales make us smile, fairy tales like Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.

They make us smile because the ending is so rosy, so dreamy, so happily ever after, and we feel nice about it.

But the real world is not a fairy tale and we don't usually end up smiling or happy ever after. In fact it can like happy never after.

What we heard from the prophet Isaiah seemed to be like a fairy tale.

The wolf lives with the lamb, the lion eats straw like the ox, infant plays over the cobra's hole.

A picture of serenity, a picture of peace and harmony.

But can it be true, can it ever be true? Or is it  just  a dream and a fairy tale?

We might say that it is not possible, and that it because we, too often, have experienced the hard knocks of the real world.

In this hard and real world, there are no dreams or fairy tales.

The story of Vincent van Gogh, the great Dutch painter, is one such case.

He actually produced 1,700 paintings and drawings before he died in 1890. However in his lifetime, van Gogh sold only one painting, and that for only a miserable sum.

So in the hard real world, dreams and fairy tales just fizzle out and vanish. Or is it so?

It is into this hard real world and that Jesus came to help us dream again, and to give us hope and to help us believe that the Kingdom stories are not just airy fairy tales.

So as we begin our Advent preparation, let us also become like little children of the Kingdom, children who want to dream, children who dare to believe that stories can come true, children who dare to hope against hope.

Just a final world about Vincent van Gogh. If he had stopped painting and drawing because his first work could not sell, then this world would be a hard and cold place without any art.