Friday, December 30, 2011

31st December 2011, Seventh Day of Octave of Christmas, Saturday

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

So we have finally come to the last day of the year 2011.

That might sound nostalgic to some, and melancholic to others, and it depends very much on how the year had turned out and how the events of the year unfolded in our lives.

So we can spend today reminiscing about the days that had gone by, or maybe regretting about some moments or even just wanting to forget about what a traumatic year it had been.

Whatever it might be, the 1st reading begins with this line "Children, these are the last days ..." and it gives a spiritual reflection of what had gone by.

The reading goes on to talk about the tumult caused by the antichrists, and these rivals of Christ have come out of within their own number.

Yet the 1st reading also affirmed the Christian community that it has the knowledge of the truth and that they must remain steadfast to the truth in the face of the chaos and tumult within.

So what is this truth that we already have knowledge of?

That truth is found in the gospel of today. Yes, in the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God, and the Word was made flesh and He lived among us.

Today's gospel is a summary of who Jesus is and what He wants to do for us.

He wants us to know the truth of His love for us so that we can receive grace upon grace.

In Jesus we see the light and in accepting His truth, we come out of the darkness of sin.

Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega; He is the beginning and the end.

In Him we too will find our beginning; in Him we will also know where is our end.

With that knowledge of the truth, we will be able to face the tumult and the chaos of life.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Holy Family, Friday, 30-12-11

Sirach 3:3-7, 14-17 or Col 3:12-21 / Luke 2:22-40

The word "family" gives rise to many concepts and images, as well as ideas.

We can think of home, warmth, security, love and unity, as well as many other related aspects.

Yet our modern times have also attached other words to this word "family" : dysfunctional family, family problems, family quarrels, family breakup, etc.

In fact, many of society's problems can be traced and boiled down to the family.

So when we hear the word "family", what are the images and concepts that comes to our minds?

Certainly we would like to have the beautiful and wholesome image of family that we see in advertisements and magazines.

But our experience of family life or what we see in our families may not agree or may be even totally opposite.

Yet the model that the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph presented to us gives us hope and direction.

Though the struggles and difficulties of family life are real and present, they are not overpowering and overwhelming.

The Holy Family has shown that with God's love they could face all the challenges and difficulties.

Indeed, love will prevail and sustain the family's life and unity.

And that love must be expressed in concrete forms like family prayer and keeping to the religious traditions of the family just like how Mary and Joseph kept to the religious traditions concerning the family.

By keeping faith in the Lord and walking in His ways of love, the family will be a source of love and unity for the Church and the world.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

29th December 2011, Thursday, Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas

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

We are celebrating the Christmas season, but by this time now, the Christmas decorations may seem a bit stale already and we would be already thinking when will be a good time to take down those decorations, especially those on the Christmas tree.

Nonetheless, if we have the opportunity, then just sit around in the quiet of the night and look at the Christmas decorations.

What will certainly catch our eye and engross us in wonder and imagination is the lights on the decorations, those steady burning and blinking lights.

Lights are a necessary part of the decorations. Yet Christmas is the celebration of light because the prayers in the liturgy have that theme.

Also Christ the true light has come to dispel the darkness of sin and evil.

And as the 1st reading said, if we claim to have seen the light but hate our neighbour, then we are still in the dark.

For the upright and devout Simeon in the gospel, his eyes have seen the light and that gave him the peace that fulfilled his longing.

May we long for the true light that will give us the same peace to reach out and love our neighbours.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Holy Innocents, Martyrs, 28th December 2011, Wednesday

1 John 1:5-2:2 / Matthew 2:213-18

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

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

Yesterday we celebrated the feast of St. John, the apostle and evangelist, who proclaimed the mystery of the divinity of God made flesh in the humanity of Jesus.

Yet, in the same Bible are also many infamous and wicked men, and today we hear of one such 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 vicious and evil deed was no big deal to him; in fact it counts as nothing for him.

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

For some people, these evil acts against innocent children also count as nothing for them.

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

The Church acknowledges them as martyrs because they witnessed to Christ even though they were innocent and helpless.

But their blood cries out now for the children of the world who are suffering and also for the unborn.

Then Holy Innocents of Bethlehem witnessed to Christ. Let us now witness to Christ by protecting our children and the children of the world from harm and evil.

Let us also teach our children to love God and to praise God and to give thanks to God

"How great is Your name, O Lord our God, through all the earth. Your majesty is praised above the heavens; on the lips of children and of babes You have found praise to foil Your enemy, to silence the foe and the rebel" (Ps 8:2-3)

St. John, Apostle and Evangelist, 27th December 2011, Tuesday

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 more profound and also more mysterious than 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.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

St. Stephen, First Martyr 26th December 2011

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, Holy Night" and "Joy to the world" still ringing in our heads and maybe we are still bloated from all the feasting.

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 soft and warm Christmas 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 22, 2011

24th December2011, Saturday

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

With the festivities happening around us and with the year coming to an end, we may want to just have a good time and forget about our worries and anxieties for a while.

With one day just before Christmas, we may yearn for some quiet time for prayer and for reflection on the meaning of Christmas and how we have prepared for it this time around.

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

Even in Church, people are busy making preparations for the Masses this evening and tomorrow, and also for the Christmas parties along the way.

So as much as we may hope that it is going to be "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 to be with the Lord 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.

God has fulfilled His promise of salvation. He is sending us our long awaited Saviour.

Jesus our Saviour will lead us from darkness of sin 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.

23rd December 2011, Friday

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

The birth of a child in not a private affair. It is not just the baby and the mother, or with the parents alone.

Generally speaking, it is a family event as well as a social event because relatives and friends and neighbours will certainly want to see the baby.

The underlying excitement in all this is that the birth of every child gives hope to the human race and a sign that God wants the human race to multiply and not terminate.

Hence, with the birth of the child comes another important occasion which is the naming of the child.

Zachariah and Elizabeth gave a surprise name to their baby son and they called him "John" which means "God is gracious"

Putting it in the words of the 1st reading, this grace is to "turn the hearts of fathers towards their children and the hearts of the children towards their fathers".

In other words it is the grace of reconciliation, because at Christmas Jesus came to us so that we can turn back to the Father.

May we cleanse our hearts of sin and evil and prepare ourselves for the gracious coming of our Lord.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

22nd December 2011, Thursday

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

The God that we believe in is indeed a mysterious God. God can be so simple and yet profound. He can be so illogical and yet so powerful.

So many stories in the Old Testament show this aspect of God.

For example when God led His people out of Egypt, they came to the Red Sea and the Egyptian army on chariots were closing in on them.

Seems like God was so crazy to lead His people out into freedom only to be slaughtered by the enemy.

But who would expect God to part the Red Sea for His people to cross over and yet subsequently destroy the enemy?

And the mystery of God continues into the New Testatment when He chose an unknown humble girl to be the mother of His Son.

And this unknown humble girl, Mary, praised the God of mystery, the God who pulls down the proud and raises the lowly, who fills the starving with good things and sends the rich away empty.

Yet the most profound aspect of this mysterious God is that He will come to the help of His servants and mindful of His mercy.

That is also what we are preparing to celebrate in the coming feast of Christmas.

Meanwhile let us pray and reflect the hymn of Mary, the Magnificat, and let us open our hearts to the healing mercy of God as we ask Him to help us in our difficulties.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

21st December 2011, Wednesday

Zephaniah 3:14-18 / Luke 1:39-45

Pregnancy is a time where many emotions and many facets of life are exhibited and expressed.

Whether it is for the mother who is carrying the child or for the father or those who are close to the parents, the emotions range from joy to anxiety.

Whatever it might be, the fact that a new life is forming in the womb of the mother is a great happening.

So we can imagine when Mary visited Elizabeth and the emotions that bursts forth when the two expecting women met.

Both are going to be mothers-to-be and yet all is not joy. There were shades of anxiety and also uncertainty.

Yet the 1st reading proclaims to us to shout for joy and rejoice and exalt with all our heart.

Especially in this time of waiting in hope for the coming of the Lord at the feast of Christmas.

So even in our anxiety and uncertainty, let us remember what Elizabeth said to Mary : Blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.

Yes the Lord God is in our midst. He has already fulfilled His promise. We only need to pray and believe.

Monday, December 19, 2011

20th December 2011, Tuesday

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

The season of Advent is a time for prayer (and penance too!) and to enter into the spirituality of waiting for Lord.

Essentially it is this waiting for the celebration of the Lord's coming to us at the feast of Christmas.

Yet this waiting is also to renew and develop our longing for the Lord.

As we begin to long for the Lord in our hearts, then we will also begin to open our hearts to the signs that God is giving us.

In the 1st reading, Ahaz refused to ask for a sign but that was because he had no love nor trust in the Lord.

But in the gospel, the longing of Mary for the Lord was fulfilled when the angel Gabriel greeted her with "The Lord is with you".

Just as Mary waited and longed for the Lord, we too must wait and long for the Lord in prayer, especially in this period of Advent.

Yes the time of the Lord's coming is approaching. He has given us all the signs.

The most profound sign is the name "Emmanuel" : God-is-with-us.

It is in that name that God has fulfilled His promises to us.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

19th December 2011, Monday

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

Generally speaking, married couples would love to have children of their own.

Children would be a very profound expression of the fruit of their love and it is also a blessing from God that they are to go forth and multiply.

Hence barrenness may be viewed as a misfortune or even an embarrassment.

But for the two couples in today's readings, Manoah and his wife, and Zechariah and Elizabeth, 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 believe that God did not abandon us, and did we still remain 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. And this is what we will be giving thanks to God for as the feast of Christmas approaches

Friday, December 16, 2011

17th December 2011, Saturday

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

Today, the 17th December begins a special period of the Advent season. From today till the 24th December (Mass in the morning) a different set of readings are used.

The emphasis in the liturgy of the Church (ie. Mass and Divine Office) is on the "O" Antiphons, dating back to the fourth century, one for each day until Christmas Eve.

These antiphons address Christ with Messianic titles, based on the Old Testament prophecies and how the people waited in hope for the coming of the Messiah.

In the gospel we heard about the genealogy of Jesus Christ - three sums of generations and fourteen in each generation.

The purpose is to tell us that from Abraham, the father of our faith, right down to Mary, the mother of the Church, the longing is for the Messiah and Saviour.

It also reminds us that through the generations, humankind had been shackled by sin and wickedness and is still is being tempted and lured by the devil to eternal damnation.

As we begin this special period of Advent, let us be still and prepare ourselves with prayer for the coming of the Saviour.

Let us acknowledge our sins and seek healing in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Let us ask for the grace of obedience so that our hearts will be open to Jesus Christ.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

3rd Week of Advent, Friday, 16-12-11

Isaiah 56:1-3, 6-8 / John 5:33-36

By this time of the month, we can't help saying that Christmas is in the air.

With the barrage of advertisements and sales and offers and festive activities and Christmas carols heard almost everywhere, how can we resist saying that Christmas is in the air?

Yet Christmas is not just about the commercial and the material. We also can't help but say that there is something spiritual about Christmas.

Yes, no matter how cynical or skeptical we might be, the season of Advent leading to Christmas has a spiritual prompting.

It prompts us to look at the person of Jesus and to ponder on who He is in our lives.

As Jesus said in the gospel, the Father has sent Him and His works are His testimony.

So what are these works? In the 1st reading the Lord says this: Have a care for justice and act with integrity.

When we can care for justice and act with integrity, we have grasped part of the spiritual meaning of the season.

Yet, in order to care for justice and act with integrity, we need to pray.

Yes, at this time of the month, we can't help but say that the need for prayer is in the air.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

3rd Week of Advent, Thursday, 15-12-11

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

In the gospel, Jesus mentioned that among those who listened to John the Baptist, were surprisingly the tax collectors

We may know what kind of reputation those tax collectors had at that time - traitors, extortionists, blood suckers.

And who are the tax collectors of today? Well, we may immediately think of loan sharks, pimps, drug pushers, rapists, child abusers and all those evil and hard core people.

Yes those people come to mind so easily whenever we talk about evil and sin, just like tax collectors come the minds of the people at the time of Jesus.

It is so easy to think of those wicked and evil people. Yet have we also thought about those who have suffered because of their sin and wickedness?

Somehow in the attention given to the evil that is committed, we forgot about those who were
broken and destroyed by the evil. Strangely they are like the forsaken.

Yet the 1st reading calls on the forsaken to rejoice because the Lord remembers them and with an everlasting love  He has taken pity on them.

Yes, though the mountains may depart and the hills be shaken, but God's love will never forget the forsaken and His covenant of peace with us will never be shaken.

The Lord is merciful and takes pity on us. Let us listen to the voice of the Lord and enter into His peace and rejoice.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

3rd Week of Advent, Wednesday, 14-12-11

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

The season of Advent has a dual spiritual purpose.

It is a time of preparation for the celebration of the Lord's birth. And it is also a time of waiting for that joyful day to come.

This preparation and waiting also focuses on the second coming of Christ when all would be made new and our hope would be fulfilled with rejoicing.

Yet in this season of Advent, the commercialization of the festive season with its busyness of material preparation often takes the focus away from the spiritual dimension.

So the question that the disciples of John the Baptist asked Jesus is also a good question for our reflection for the season.

Is Jesus the one whom we are preparing and waiting for, or are we waiting for someone or something else?

The first line of the 1st reading gives us a strong reminder - Apart from Me, all is nothing.

Yes, apart from Jesus, this season with all its festivities and merry-making would be empty and mean nothing.

May we not lose focus nor the faith in Jesus in this season of preparation and waiting.

Monday, December 12, 2011

3rd Week of Advent, Tuesday, 13-12-11

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

One of the most difficult emotions to come to terms with is this sense of guilt and shame.

As if the burden of guilt and shame is not heavy enough, the impressions and attitude that others cast upon those who have done wrong only doubles the burden.

We can somehow easily forgive those characters in the Bible who did wrong, like David who committed adultery and murder, and Peter who denied Jesus, and even Judas who betrayed Jesus.

But when it comes to those who have been to prison or those whose wrong is made public, we tend to condemn them over and over again with our glancing eyes or even with our sarcastic words.

In the time of Jesus, the tax collectors and prostitutes were never allowed to forget their wrong doing and they would be reminded constantly of their guilt.

So what Jesus said in today's gospel is shocking - that tax collectors and prostitutes are making their way to the kingdom of God first.

So the lowly and the humble are on their way to the kingdom of God, whereas the proud boasters and those who strut around in God's presence are still harping on other people's guilt and shame.

So where do we stand in these two ends and where are we moving towards?

Jesus came into the world to remove our guilt and shame. May we move towards Him in repentance and contrition and help others do the same.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

3rd Week of Advent, Monday 12-12-2-11

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

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

Going by that definition. 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.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

On Leave

Dear Friends,
Thank you for your prayers. I have completed my pilgrimage to the Holy Land and will be taking some time off. The next homily post will be next Monday, 12 Dec 2011.
God bless you,
Fr Stephen Yim

2nd Week of Advent, Tuesday, 06-12-2011

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.