Thursday, December 30, 2010

31st December 2010, Friday, Seventh Day within Octave of Christmas

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

Well, we have come to that day of the year when we will this old familiar song being sung or played on the radio -  "Auld Lang Syne"

I wonder if we know what that phrase "Auld Lang Syne" means.

It literally means "long long ago" or "days gone by" or "old times".

Well it's the last day of the year and 365 days may have gone by, but it may not seem like so long ago or that it was long long ago since we began this year.

The gospel begins with the works : In the beginning ......

Obviously it was not referring to the beginning of the year or even the beginning of time.

In fact it is not even talking about any beginning. It is talking about a mystery that has no beginning or end.

Because the mystery of God is always and forever.

For us it may be the end of the year and we are about to begin a new year.

But God wants us to know that He is with us always and forever.

At every moment of our lives, He blesses us with grace upon grace.

May we also live our lives in the grace of God every moment of our lives.

May our lives be lived in truth so that the light of God shines in us.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

30th December 2010, Thursday, Sixth Day within Octave of Christmas

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

I don't think that I have ever heard of anyone saying that growing old is fun. 

Children might say that they can't wait to grow up but we know better.

Most of us here are not that old. But if we are 84 years old, do we think we will still come for the weekday morning Mass. Or evening Mass for that matter of fact.

Old age brings about a set of challenges and problems.

But the fact is that every age and stage of life brings about a set of challenges and problems.

The prophetess Anna whom we heard about in the gospel had her share of challenges and problems in every stage of life.

She had been married, been widowed and now at 84 years old, she was a symbol of mellowness, a person of prayer and an instrument of God.

She was able to recognize the Saviour even though He was just a baby.

As we advance in age, let us mellow our lives into the Spirit of God, let us be persons of prayer and in the midst of life's challenges and problems, let us be instruments of God by showing others the saving love of God.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

29th December 2010, Wednesday, Fifth Day within Octave of Christmas

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

The symbols of Christmas has this profound aspect of being symbols of light.

From the candles in the Advent wreath, to the star of Bethlehem, to the decorative lights on the Christmas tree and the electric bulb shining on the baby Jesus in the crib, all these are symbols and representations of light.

Indeed, Christmas is a celebration of the the light of Christ shining into our human shadows and scattering away the darkness of sin.

In the gospel, Simeon saw that light and his heart was at peace. His wait is over.

Our wait is also over because the 1st reading tells us that the night is over and the real light is already shining.

For the commercial world, Christmas is over, but for us Christmas has just begun.

Let us walk in the light of love and forgiveness, mercy and compassion, generosity and sacrifice so that we too will be symbols of the light of Christ.

Monday, December 27, 2010

28th December 2010, The Holy Innocents, martyrs

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

Most of us have fond memories of our childhood days.

We may recall those slow and easy days of our growing up years when we were in the sun most of the time and we made toys from our own simple creativity.

In that aspect we can consider ourselves really fortunate.

Because when we read in the papers or see in the tv of the turmoil going on in the other countries, we are immediately confronted with the fact of how vulnerable children are.

In fact, in times of war or conflict, or even in tragedies or disasters, children are the first to suffer, whether the persecution is direct or indirect.

So it was in the time of Jesus, when Herod out of his insecurity and insanity, ordered the massacre of infants of Bethlehem.

And this senseless brutality continues to this day.

It continues in the political, racial and religious conflicts.

It has even happened at home in the form of child abuse, not forgetting abortion, where the fetus is regarded as a thing.

The feast of the Holy Innocents remind us that it is our duty to protect the rights and dignity of children, just as Mary and Joseph protected the helpless Jesus.

The children are our future. They need our love and protection.

And in the not-so-far-away future, they will be the ones who will show us God's love and protection.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

27th December 2010, Monday, St. John, Apostle, Evangelist

1 John 1:1-4 / John 20:2-8

According to tradition, St. John was subjected to torture by being plunged into a pot of boiling oil but he miraculously survived, whereas the other apostles were martyred.

It is also believed that he lived to a ripe old age of about 94 and he died of natural causes.

There could be some truth in that because the gospel that is attributed to him contains a spiritual depth that is not so obvious in the other three gospels.

In biblical art,  the Gospel of John is often depicted with an eagle, which symbolizes the insight to the height of the mystery of the person of Jesus which was expounded in the first chapter of the gospel.

It had that depth of insight to the height of the mystery probably from the reflection and meditation over the years.

There was a story that when St. John was old man, he was asked to preach to a gathering of believers.

His message was short yet sublime : Dear children, love one another. Learn to love one another as God loves you.

That is also the central theme in the gospel of John - the love that God has for us, and it can be found in passages like  John 3:16-17; 13:34-35; 15:17.

It is a profound theme and to love one another as Jesus has loved us is a spirituality and a mystery that needed to be constantly reflected and meditated upon in our hearts.

Like St. John may God also deepen and enlighten us in His love for us so that we will in turn love one another as Jesus has loved us.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Midnight 2010

Isaiah 9:2-7 / Titus 2:11-14 / Luke 2:1-14

Back in the year 1223, St. Francis of Assisi  set up the first Nativity scene  that would eventually spread across the whole Church.

His intention of arranging the Nativity scene was to help the peasants who were uneducated and could not read the gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus.

In visual form, the poor people could see and understand the situation and the circumstances in which Jesus was born.

800 years later, the Nativity crib still has the visual significance and impact that it had back in the year 1223.

In churches and at homes and even in public places, the Nativity crib captures that significant moment when Jesus was born.

Along with that moment were all the characters who were intimately connected with the birth of Jesus as recorded in the gospels.

So in the crib with the baby Jesus are Mary, Joseph, a couple of shepherds with a couple of sheep, an ox and a donkey.

So as we admire the Nativity scene and the beautifully crafted statues in it, have we ever wondered which character we could relate with at this point in our lives.

Well, mothers could relate with Mary and rejoice with her as they carry their own babies in their arms.

Yet there is also the anxiety over the health and safety of their babies.

Husbands could relate with Joseph as he commits his life to caring and protecting mother and child.

But they also know how stressful it is to be the man of the house and maybe even the sole bread-winner.

Some of us might be able to relate with the shepherds who have to work away from home, and maybe could not be home for Christmas.

Some of us might even be able to relate with the sheep or the ox or the donkey.

Meaning to say that just like those animals, we feel that life is a burden just as the donkey is a beast of burden.

Or like the sheep and the ox, we pour out our lives in sacrifice for others and yet we don't feel appreciated or valued.

Yet whatever it is and whatever we may feel, gathering together in this Mass is like gathering together around the crib.

We focus our hearts on the Baby in the manger and we rejoice at His birth.

And we give thanks to God that we can be here to celebrate the birth of our Saviour.

Yes we give thanks because there are people who want to be here but they just can't.

Maybe let me ask you a riddle. What is it that you have in December that you don't have in any other month?  Answer : The letter D.

Yes, D as in December, D also as in "depressed".

Yesterday (Christmas Eve) I went on my hospital duty.

I can't help feeling sorry for those who have to spend Christmas in the hospital.

They not only can't come to Church, they can't even be at home for Christmas. It can be depressing.

One of the patients was this lady who had a severe fall and her right arm and leg had become numb and weak. She was really depressed about what had  happened to her.

Even when she made the sign of the cross, she used her left hand to take her right hand to make the sign of the cross.

So after saying the prayers, I gave her Holy Communion.

After saying "Amen", I had expected her to receive Holy Communion on the tongue.

But instead, her left hand took her right hand and with her right hand she struggled to hold the Host reverently and then slowly put it into her mouth.

What she did really caught me there, and by a flash of inspiration, I said something like : Wow, the way you held Jesus was like the manger that was holding the baby Jesus.

I myself was amazed with what I said. (Going to the hospital can give you this kind of inspiration)

Yet this is the Christmas message for me, and I want to share it with you.

We look at the baby Jesus and all the characters in the Nativity crib.

Yet we miss the manger, which is the feeding trough, or feeding tray of the animals.

It was in a manger that the Saviour of the world was lying in, and the gospel specifically mentioned it.

Yes, we may relate with the characters in the Nativity crib.

But may our hearts be like the manger in which the Lord Jesus will lay His head.

May our hearts tenderly carry the Lord Jesus, just like the lowly manger carried the Saviour.

Wishing you a merry and blessed Christmas.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Note for Christmas

My dear brothers and sisters,

Wishing you a Merry and Blessed Christmas and may the celebration of the birth of Christ bring peace and joy to our hearts.

I want to give thanks to God for the many inspirations to make His "Word become flesh" in the daily readings of the liturgy. I also want to thank those whom I have not been able to acknowledge but from whom I got the ideas, the stories, the examples and the situations in life in which they shared their experience of God.

I give thanks to God if the reflections on the daily readings have helped you grow in faith, love and understanding of the ways of God.

Since it is Christmas, I have daringly posted a little tune to entertain you :)

I wished I could have given a better rendition of that popular carol. But I once read somewhere:

Sing the songs that you can sing
Forget about the perfect offering
There's a crack in everything
But that's how the light shines in.

Merry Christmas & God bless you.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxPj6PtwBMY

24th December 2010, Friday

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

To prepare for the birthday celebration of a special person is an exciting and happy affair.

We will do the utmost preparations to have a memorable celebration for that person.

We will check through everything, from the food to the decorations, to the programme and the guest list.

But when Jesus was born into this world, no one was prepared to receive him or celebrate His birth.

Even Mary and Joseph could not adequately prepare to receive him, given their situation.

But just as David (First Reading) and Zechariah (Gospel) were moved by the Spirit of God to understand His plan, may the Spirit of Christmas also lead us into a deeper preparation to celebrate the birth of Christ.

May the Spirit of peace, love and joy prepare our hearts to receive Jesus so that He will make His home in us and that we will remain in His love. 

Behold, the virgin is with child and will soon give birth to a son whom she will call Emmanuel a name which means "God-is-with-us" (Isa 7:14).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

23rd December 2010, Thursday

Malachi 3:1-4, 23-24 / Luke 1:57-66

If we bother to find out more about our names, we will see that most of our names have a meaning.

More so for Asians, the parents will want to give their children a meaningful as well as nice sounding name, with the hope that they will live up to their names.

The people of the biblical times were certainly no different in this aspect.

The name John means "God is gracious".

Indeed, John the Baptist came to herald the appointed time of grace.

Time was like pregnant with grace, grace that was waiting to burst forth.

John the Baptist came to announce the time of the fullness of grace in Jesus Christ.

As much as this grace is good news, it is nonetheless a painful one.

John the Baptist was like a refiner's fire that burns away the useless dross as we heard in the 1st reading.

Yes the time is very very near. Let us purify ourselves in prayer and penance to make our hearts a worthy home for the Lord.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

22nd December 2010, Wednesday

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

Generally speaking, in order to believe in something, it must be logical and must make sense to us.

We also want to understand it fully in order so that we are clear about its capabilities and limitations.

Yet when it comes to our  understanding and belief in God, everything is almost reversed.

We can understand only so much about God from theology, yet God is beyond our comprehension.

God also has a mysterious way of doing things which challenges our human ways and understanding.

For e.g. when He delivered Israel out of Egypt, He chose Moses who had a speech impediment to negotiate with Pharaoh.

When He chose a mother for His only Son, He chose an unknown ordinary girl.

And that girl sang a hymn that portrayed God who turns things upside down.

He blesses the humble, He blesses the poor, He blesses the hungry.

If anything, the God that we believe in is nothing less than revolutionary.

The God who is praised in the Magnificat is certainly not a God who conforms to our ideas and neither to the world's ideas and standards.

Yet we can be sure of this one thing about God - that God is magnificently merciful.

He will come to the help of His humble servants, He will remember His mercy to us.

Let us deepen our faith and prayer as we prepare to encounter the mystery of the Incarnation at Christmas.

Monday, December 20, 2010

21st December 2010, Tuesday

Songs 2:8-14 / Luke 1:39-45

Advent is a time of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Christ as well as His second coming.

But for Mary and Elizabeth, it was a time of preparation of motherhood.

As these two expecting mothers met in the gospel passage, we can sense a spike of revelation.

For Elizabeth, the sad barren period of her life is over as God revealed His blessings on her.

For Mary, a joy filled, yet anxious future, has just been revealed to her.

In Mary and Elizabeth, we can see the cycle of life and the cycle of joy and anxiety.

Yet even in our joys and anxiety, God will still reveal Himself to us, just as He did to Mary and Elizabeth.

In our joys and anxiety may we still sing the songs of love and thanksgiving, like the song we heard in the 1st reading.

May our hearts always leap with joy with each revelation from God.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

20th December 2010, Monday

Isaiah 7:10-14 / Luke 1:26-38

The word "sign" in everyday language can have a few meanings.

A sign can give information, as in the information in a signboard.

It can give directions, as in road signs.

Or it can have a symbolic meaning, as in someone's words or actions are indicating a peculiar meaning or happening.

But when the Bible uses the word "sign" as in the 1st reading, it means that God was intervening for His people.

In the 1st reading, God was pledging that He would be with king Ahaz as he faced the threat of the foreign powers, and the prophet Isaiah was calling on Ahaz to trust in God because of the sign that was given.

Similarly in the gospel, God was also intervening when He sent the angel Gabriel to tell Mary that God was with her.

When the world was crumbling in its sin, God intervened and gave a sign.

He sent His only Son, born of a virgin, became like us in all things except sin, to save us.

At every Mass, we celebrate God's saving intervention when we hear the words: The Lord be with you.

Let us respond by being with God and in God always, so that in everything, we see the signs of God's saving love.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

18th December 2010, Saturday

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.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

17th December 2010, Friday,

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

We can divide our lives into three general categories.

One category can be called moments of greatness,  the other category can be called moments of weakness and the last can be called moments of grace.

Moments of grace are instances when we experience the hand of God moving profoundly in our lives.

The history of Israel may also be divided into these three categories and we can see it in the genealogy that is presented in the gospel.

From Abraham to David, it was an era that was filled with moments of greatness, with Israel becoming the Chosen People of God and developing into a great and mighty nation.

The second era, from David to the Babylonian exile recalls Israel's fall from greatness. It was also about how Israel turned away from God and turned to sin.

The third era, from the Babylonian exile to Jesus, recalls God's promises to Israel and its fulfillment in Jesus, who is the fullness of grace.

It is this moment that we are preparing to celebrate - a time of grace, a time of restoration, a time of re-creation.

We had our moments of greatness and our moments of weakness.

What we need is to live our days in God’s grace.
It is a time to witness to the world that because of Jesus, we can lift our heads and our hearts and take pride in being the chosen people of God.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

3rd Week of Advent, Thursday, 16-12-10

Isaiah 54:1-10 / Luke 7:24-30

It is interesting that Jesus should mention the tax collectors among the people who listened to John the Baptist's message of repentance.

We may know what kind of reputation the tax collectors had at that time. They were called great sinners, traitors, extortionists, criminals, blood-suckers, etc.

Hence they had had no witnessing rights in the court of law and neither were they allowed to participate in worship.

So who are the "tax collectors" or great sinners in our present time and in our society?

They can't be you and me because it is not likely they will read this.

Maybe they are those loan-sharks, the drug peddlers, those pimps, the gangsters, and those who commit horrid and terrible crimes and yet couldn't care less.

So what does God see in them that is worth saving?

Well, there is nothing more wonderful and marvelous than the conversion of the most unlikely people. And the fact is that it happens.

That points to the fact that everyone has that inborn capability to respond to God's saving grace.

The frightening thought is that could we be the Pharisees and the lawyers that Jesus was talking about who thwarted God's saving grace.

And just who are we to call others great sinners when we ourselves can't even say that we have no sin.

The choice to be a Pharisee or a tax collector is ours.

Let us not forsake the everlasting love God has for us.

For the mountains may depart and the hills be shaken, but God's love for us will never leave us.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

3rd Week of Advent, Wednesday, 15-12-10

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

Not many of us have the experience of being in prison or in some horrid dungeon.

To make matters worse there is no hope of release and death hangs heavily on the heart.

To be imprisoned in some forsaken dungeon is just another way of a slow, lonely and terrible death.

Hope and faith is as dark as the surroundings of the dungeon.

For John the Baptist, such was the situation, or even worse. He had been the one who pointed out Jesus as the Messiah.

He had portrayed Jesus as the one with the axe and the winnowing fan and bringing judgment and justice.

But in the dungeon he was not sure about Jesus anymore. In his distress he could be wondering why Jesus was not doing anything to get him out of prison.

Today's gospel passage tells us the John the Baptist was just as human as any of us.

In our own distress we too will doubt God and even get angry at Him for not helping us in our difficulties.

To have problems and difficulties arising at this time of the year can be really depressing.

While everybody is in a festive mood, we find ourselves sinking in our distress.

Yet Advent is a time to let our hearts be still and to know that "apart from God, all is nothing" (Isa 45:6)

He is our Deliverer and Saviour. Blessed are we who do not lose faith in Him

Monday, December 13, 2010

3rd Week of Advent, Tuesday, 14-12-10

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

It seems that one of the most difficult feelings to cast off is the sense of shame.

Be it personal shame, family shame, or shame in whatever scale or level, it is a feeling that brings people low and humiliated.

During the time of Jesus, the tax-collectors and prostitutes were never accepted as part of the community because of their shameful deeds.

Their shame and humiliation hanged on their necks for the rest of their lives.

So what Jesus said was shocking when He said that tax collectors and prostitutes were making their way into the kingdom of God.

Simply because God wants to remove the shame and humiliation of these rejected and despised people and restore their dignity and worth as His people.

The parable of the two sons also has a profound message for us.

There is nothing more tragic than someone who started off well and ends up badly.

And there is nothing more inspiring than someone who starts off badly but ends up well.

Shame and guilt can happen along in life when we make mistakes and stray from the way of truth and love.

But the truth is that we are created with dignity and worth.

God sent His only Son Jesus to remove our shame and guilt and to restore our dignity and worth.

May we find refuge in our Lord and Saviour Jesus as we journey on this Advent into the heart of God.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

3rd Week of Advent, Monday, 13-12-10

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

The main story of Balaam whose oracles we heard in the 1st reading, occurs during the close of forty years of wandering in the desert of the Israelites and before they crossed the river Jordan.

The Israelites have already defeated two kings east of the Jordan.

Balak, king of Moab (Numbers 22:2), consequently becomes alarmed, and sends elders and his messengers (Numbers 22:4-5), to Balaam, son of Beor, to induce him to come and curse Israel.

Balaam agreed but after a couple of divine interventions, he could only bless Israel instead of cursing them.

He explained to Balak that as a prophet, he could only speak words that God had put into his mouth and not otherwise.

In the gospel, the chief priests and elders wanted to challenge the authority of Jesus.

But when they were posed with the question of the authority of John the Baptist, they were thrown into confusion.

They knew in their heart of hearts that John the Baptist was a prophet sent by  God.

Yet when it came to the question about who Jesus is, they did not look into their hearts to find the answer.

Advent is a time to quieten our hearts in prayer and reflection and meditate on the mystery of the Incarnation and on who Jesus is in our lives.

Blessed are we when we prepare a special place for Jesus in our hearts during this Advent so that His Word may be made real in our lives.

Friday, December 10, 2010

2nd Week of Advent, Saturday, 11-12-10

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

Moving mountains may not sound as impossible as it seems.

With modern technology it can actually be possible to flatten one mountain and create it somewhere else.

Come to think of it, mankind has been able to accomplish many great and impressive deeds.

In the 1st reading, the great and mighty deeds of the prophet Elijah was recounted and they were indeed impressive.

But his most important task and mission was to turn the hearts of the people of Israel back to God.

All the great and mighty deeds that he worked were signs that affirmed his mission.

John the Baptist did not work any great miracles. He was only the voice calling for repentance and yet he was very much alike Elijah.

Both these great prophets turned the hearts of the people to God.

That brings us back to the core of our Catholic spirituality and our mission.

Our hearts must be always turned to God. We may not be called to work great and mighty deeds.

Nonetheless we must also help people to turn their hearts to God.

It is easier to move mountains than to move the human heart.

But when our own hearts are moved by God, then will we be able to move the hearts of others.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

2nd Week of Advent, Friday, 10-12-10

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

Criticisms and fault-finding are two ugly acts that often dampen and damage the spirit of creativity.

Ugly acts as they are, yet we often give in to the tendency of criticizing the short-comings rather than appreciate and affirming the good and the beautiful.

We may look at the Christmas decorations and say that it is too sparse or too gaudy.

We may listen to the choir singing and say that they are too dull or too showy.

We need to learn how to look out for the good in others and appreciate the beauty in things.

The 1st reading tells us that God will teach us what is good for us and lead in ways that lead to life.

God's ways are demanding as shown in the life of John the Baptist.

Yet in Jesus, we also see that God's ways are also full of joy and life.

We will know when we have learnt the ways of God when we are able to rejoice with those who rejoice and yet share in the sorrow of those in misery.

Let us walk the ways of God and bring back the beauty into this world.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

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

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

The last of the Old Testament prophets appeared something like 400 years before John the Baptist.

During those 400 years, there were no prophets to lead the people of Israel as they met one crisis after another.

There were no prophets to tell them what God has in store for them as they faced turmoils, disasters and tragedies.

In John the Baptist, the people saw a great prophet. Not only was he a great prophet, he was the last of the prophets because he pointed out the Messiah to the people.

As the Messiah, the Word of God appeared in person, the attitude of the people was not necessarily one of welcome.

Because He was a sign of contradiction, and He pointed out to the people things that they did not want to see or accept.

Advent is a time to remember that God had fulfilled His promise of sending the Saviour.

It is also a time to remind ourselves that Jesus had promised that He will return.

Meanwhile we the Church has to continue our mission of being a sign of the kingdom of God in the world.

That would mean that we stand by the truth and be a sign of contradiction in the face of violence and aggression.

But the 1st reading assures us that God is holding us by the right hand and that He will help us overcome all difficulties.

And God tells us this: Do not be afraid. Let us listen to God's Word and have courage.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Immaculate Conception of the BVM, Solemnity, Wednesday, 08-12-10

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

The Immaculate Conception is the conception of Mary in the womb of her mother without any stain of sin.

Church doctrine states that, from the first moment of her existence, Mary was preserved by God from the Original Sin and filled with sanctifying grace that would normally come with baptism after birth. Catholics believe Mary was free from any personal or hereditary sin.

The Immaculate Conception was proclaimed as a dogma in 1854 by Pope Pius IX. It means that it is to be accepted as an infallible statement of faith.

But why such a focus on Mary? Yet we must remember that any teaching about Mary must eventually point to Christ.

The teaching on the Immaculate Conception points to the grace of God which preserved Mary from sin at her conception in order that she will bear the divine Son of God in her at the Annunciation.

Although God removed sin from Mary at her conception, He did not remove her free will and her freedom of choice.

At the Annunciation, Mary made her choice for God's plan to be fulfilled in her.

We have been cleansed of sin at our baptism. It is for us now to remain in God's grace by choosing to do God's will always, just as Mary chose to do God's will.

On this feast of the Immaculate Conception, let us also ask for Mary's intercession for the grace to do God's will always.

Let us pray that prayer found on the Miraculous Medal, or otherwise also called the medal of the Immaculate Conception.

The prayer goes like this: O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.

Monday, December 6, 2010

2nd Week of Advent, Tuesday, 07-12-10

Isaiah 40:1-11 / Matthew 18:12-14

It is a human tendency to look with favour on those who are well-behaved, who are obedient, who are smart and intelligent, and generally those who have good qualities.

But those who are out-of-sync, out-of-step, those who seem to dance to a different tune, we tend to leave them aside, we tend to see them as problems.

This kind of situation happens everywhere, and it even happens at home.

One child might be bright and smart; the other dull and may be wayward.

The tendency is to shower the bright and smart one with love and attention, and just give the basic minimum to the other.

Yet the Good Shepherd image that is portrayed in today's two readings showed that God pays special attention to the weak and to those who strayed and are lost.

The Good Shepherd also challenges our human tendencies and also fundamentally our human biasness.

Just as it is the sick who needs the doctor, Jesus came to seek and save those who are lost in their sins.

When we challenge ourselves to try to understand some whom we consider to be a "problem", then we might discover that it is actually we who are solving our own problems.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

2nd Week of Advent, Monday, 06-12-10

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

Not many of us like to be in crowded places, such as at a sale or a fair, where there are greatly discounted prices.

Being in a sea of humanity can be stressful and tiring, and manners and etiquette are being trampled underfoot.

Also it is difficult if not impossible to get what you want or take your time to browse or have time to think.

For the paralyzed man and his friends in the gospel passage, to get to see Jesus is almost next to impossible, given the crowds.

It was futile and maybe even hopeless, we might say.

Yet their determination found a way to Jesus. Jesus may even be looking at their innovation with amazement.

And we see in the paralyzed man and his friends a determined human unity, a human solidarity seeking healing and salvation.

It was a sign of a hopeful human race, and Jesus came to fulfill that hope.

It was the same hope that the prophet Isaiah talked about in the 1st reading when he said - Courage! Do not be afraid.

Yes we need the courage and hope to believe that conversion is possible, that differences between people can be resolved, that forgiveness can be granted.

No human situation is a hopeless situation as long as Jesus is there.

Whether it is a crowd or just an individual, Jesus will still come to forgive, to heal and to save us.

Friday, December 3, 2010

1st Week of Advent, Saturday, 04-12-10

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

There will be times when we will inevitably think that God punishes us when we sin.

How else can we explain a string of unfortunate events that happened when we did something wrong and have yet to admit it and confess it.

Could it be that God sends us some spiritual lashes so as to wake us up to our own sins and be repentant?

To think of God as a punishing God is abhorant  indeed because we believe that God is love.

Yet we are not wrong to say that God will discipline His people so that they will walk in His ways.

This we can see in the 1st reading, especially in the last line of the passage - On that day the Lord dresses the wound of His people and heals the bruises His blows have left.

Yes God disciplines His people and yet God also dotes on His people with care and compassion.

It was the same care and compassion that Jesus showed when He saw the crowds and felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected.

Advent is also a time to enter into the silence of God's care and compassion so that in turn we will show care and compassion for the harassed and dejected we see around us.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

St. Francis Xavier, Patron of Missions, 03-12-10

1 Cor 9:16-18, 22-23 / Mark 16:15-20

It is interesting to note that the Major Seminary in Singapore is dedicated to the patronage of St. Francis Xavier.

In the first year of formation, we had to read about the lives of the saints, and St. Francis Xavier was one for compulsory reading.

As I read about his life and his work, I must admit that he is one model that is very difficult to match up to.

His missionary zeal, his perseverance and his persistence in preaching the gospel amidst the political clutter, his courage and determination were all very inspiring.

And it seemed that he spent so much time in the East in places like Goa, Malacca, China and Japan and learning the local languages so that he could preach to the local people that he eventually forgot his own mother tongue (Spanish)

What embarrassed me was that he took the trouble to learn the local languages and I remember those times when I made such a fuss whenever I had to preach in Chinese which is my mother tongue.

In St. Francis Xavier, we can see the words of today's gospel being fulfilled.

And the words of the gospel, the Good News, will continue to be fulfilled in us as long as we are willing to proclaim the Good News in word and in action.

We must always remember that it is not so much our suitability for the task but rather our availability for the mission.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

1st Week of Advent, Thursday, 02-12-10

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

One phrase that we use very often is to say that we "have to go for a meeting."

And quite often, we say it with resignation and even frustration.

That may be because our experience of many meetings is that those meetings are mere occasions of people wanting to have a say and with time-consuming deliberations on problems but not much of directions on solutions and actions.

In life, we establish ourselves through concrete actions; our actions say who we are.

So words don't count for much if they are not followed by actions.

Similarly as we hear the prophet Isaiah say in the 1st reading - "Trust in the Lord our everlasting Rock" - that trust must be actualized in the concrete actions of our lives and not remain as concepts and ideas or even wishes.

So we trust in the Lord when we choose to tell the truth, because the truth will set us free.

We trust in the Lord when we choose to do good instead of returning evil for evil, because we believe that good will overcome evil.

We trust in the Lord when we forgive others because in forgiving, we too are healed.

But to trust in the Lord means that we build our lives on the Lord our Rock.

It is much easier to build our lives on the sands of pleasure and comfort.

But when the winds and the rains come, there will be no time to call for a meeting with the Lord.

We prepare for that meeting with the time we have now.