Monday, December 31, 2012

Mary, Mother of God (01-01-2013)

Numbers 6:22-27 / Gal 4:4-7 / Lk 2:16-21

Most of us have some kind of watch on our wrists. And maybe somewhere at home in some drawer there are a few more watches: dress watch, sports watch, diving watch, automatic watch, analogue watch, digital watch, etc.

Whatever it is, all of us have at least one watch, or some kind of time piece.

It only goes to show how important time is in our modern lives.

Yesterday, if we were celebrating some kind of “count-down”, then we would have seen how the last few seconds of last year ticked away into history and into the new year.

And this morning we are looking at the 365 days ahead, and we are here at Mass asking God for His blessings in this new year as we offer the new year to the Lord.

And today is also the 8th day of the Octave of Christmas, and the Church dedicates this day in honour of Mary under the title of “Mother of God”.

Mary is indeed instrumental in the whole story of salvation, because as we heard in the 2nd reading: When the appointed time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born a subject of the Law, to redeem the subjects of the Law and to enable us to be adopted as sons.

Yes, Mary was there at the appointed time, at the appointed moment, and she was available to carry out the will of God.

So as we welcome the first day of the new year, we also need to be prepared for the appointed time when God will come into our lives and reveal Himself to us.

Well, let’s say on this first day of the New Year, you win a prize!
And these are the details of the prize:

Each morning your bank will deposit $86,400.00 into your private account for your personal use.

However, this prize comes with rules just like any game has certain rules.

The first set of rules would be this:
1.  The money that you do not spend at the end of each day would be taken away from you.
2. You cannot simply transfer the money into some other account.
3. Only you can spend it.
So each morning when you wake up, the bank opens your account with $86,400.00 for that day.

The second set of rules is this:
1. The bank can end the game without warning.  At any time it can say, “It’s over, the game is over!”
2. It will close the account and you will not receive a new one.

So with $86,400 what would you want to do with it?

You would buy anything and everything you wanted, right?

Not only for yourself, but for all the people you love and your
friends as well, right?

Even for people you don’t know you would also want to spend it on them, because you couldn’t possibly spend it all on yourself, right?

You would try to spend every cent, and use it all, right?

Well actually this game is about life! 

Each of us is in possession of such a “magical” bank.  

We just don’t see it.


Each morning upon awakening, we receive 86,400 seconds as a gift of life, and when we go to sleep at night, any remaining time is NOT credited to us.

What we haven’t lived up to that day is forever lost.

Yesterday is forever gone.

Each morning the account is refilled, but the bank can dissolve your account at any time……. WITHOUT WARNING.

Well, what would you do with your 86,400 seconds?

Aren’t they worth so much more than the same amount in dollars? 

In fact they are worth much more.

So as we begin this new year and as we look at so many days ahead, let us look at one second at a time, one moment at a time.

Together with Mother Mary, let us offer each second and each moment of every day to the Lord so that He will bless it and make it holy, so that every moment of every day, we will be loving and peaceful and joyful.

So as we move on from this moment, may I quote the formula for blessing from the 1st reading.

“May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord let His face shine on you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord uncover His face to you and bring you peace.”

Sunday, December 30, 2012

31st December 2012, Monday, Seventh day of Octave of Christmas

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

This 7th day of the Octave of Christmas also happens to be last day of the calender year of 2012.

The last day of the year ... somehow there is a nostalgic tone to it. Because if we have the time, we would certainly like to look back at the days gone by during this year and do reminiscing.

We would recall the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, and all those in between that made up the days of this year.

Even the 1st reading happened to talk about "these are the last days." Yet it gives a spiritual reflection of what had happened as it talked about the "last days."

It talked about the appearance of the antichrist and that rivals of Christ have come out of their own number.

Yet in spite of the turmoil within and without, the truth has prevailed in the Church and we have knowledge of this truth.

The truth is that the Word of God was made flesh and dwells among us. He is the light that shines for us and gives us life.

He is the light that shines in the dark and it is a light that the darkness could not overpower.

Let us let the light of Christ shine in the bygone days of this year so that we will give thanks for His blessings.

And may we look forward in hope and follow the light of Christ into the days that are to come.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Holy Family, Year C, 30.12.2012

Ecclesiasticus 3:3-7, 14-17 or 1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28/
Colossians 3:12-21 or 3:12-17 / Luke 2:41-52

Today, the Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Family. So, inevitably the focus will be on family life.

And when we look at the family, just what kind of analogy could we use to describe a family?

Maybe I would say that the family is like a fruit cake – mostly sweet and with some nuts; some may have more nuts!

Nonetheless, we still have to admit that family life, although like a fruit cake, can be quite messy.

It’s said that a family is like a social unit that is concerned with some kind of space.

The father is concerned with parking space, the children are concerned with outer space, the mother is concerned with looking for space. 

And when the family has to share the same space,  that is where challenges come in.

Because problems can arise when we feel that our own space is encroached upon or has been trespassed.

And when our space is encroached upon or is trespassed, then communications become fragile and tensed.

We will be quick to speak and to scorch, but we will not be that ready to listen with attention.

Let me quote from a poem entitled “Harsh Words”: 

I ran into a stranger as he passed by, “Oh excuse me, please” was my reply.
He said, “Please excuse me too, I wasn’t watching for you.”
We were very polite, this stranger and I. We went on our way saying good-bye.
But at home, a difference is told, how we treat our loved ones, young and old.
Later that day, while cooking the evening meal, my son stood beside me very still.
As I turned, I nearly knocked him down. “Move out of the way!” I said with a frown.
It so ironic, isn’t it, that while dealing with strangers, common courtesy we use.
But with family and loved ones, we seem to abuse.
In today’s gospel, we heard about Mary and Joseph, and the 12 year-old Jesus going to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover.

It was an annual event for them but this time round something happened.

After the feast, Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, without his parents knowing.

Needless to say, Mary and Joseph must have panicked during those three days until they found Him in the temple.

The gospel passage simply said that they were overcome when they saw Him, but that said a lot about how Mary and Joseph felt – the anxiety, the stress, the frustration, the anger (?).

And we can certainly feel the seriousness of the tone in what Mary said to Jesus, “My child, why have you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been looking for you.”

And the reply of Jesus was nowhere near consoling, and as if that was not enough, it was also confusing to say the least.

That would have easily erupted into a parent-child quarrel and harsh words would fly about to cut and scorch.

Yet, no further words were exchanged, maybe because Mary and Joseph did not understand what Jesus meant. 

But Mary stored up all these things in her heart. Joseph might be thinking that it would be easier to build a house for God than to raise the Son of God. 

Yes, whether it is the Son of God or not, it was never easy to be parents and it never will be.

Yes, there is that 5th Commandment – Honour your father and your mother, but we all know that we have broken that commandment time and again.

Yet as much as that 5th Commandment is directed at children, there is also an underlying spiritual aspect to it.

This underlying spiritual aspect is that parents have this God-given authority over their children.

But this authority is not to be used to drive their children to resentment and make them feel frustrated.

Over and above, the duty to care for their children and to provide for their needs, parents have a spiritual authority over their children.

It means that when parents pray for their children, God will surely listen to their prayers.

And it is not just praying for them when they are applying for entry into a particular school or university, and when they are taking their exams.

Parents will have to exercise their spiritual authority over their children when they are ill, when they have gone wayward, when they are in trouble or in danger.

Parents have this power to call upon God’s protection and blessing over their children.

And that is why it is so important that parents understand and exercise this spiritual power.

And it is so essential that parents must pray together in order that this spiritual power be manifested and bear spiritual fruits in their children.

One of the difficult challenges in family life is family quarrels.
Family quarrels are bitter, especially when they are between parents and children.

They can be about any issue, and can spring up unexpectedly and catch us totally unprepared.

Whatever it is, family quarrels are bitter and painful. They are like splits in the skin that won’t heal easily because there’s not enough material to do so.

But again, parents have this spiritual power to call upon God’s blessing so that there can be peace and unity in the family.

Family peace and harmony cannot be taken for granted, and as a matter of fact, family breakup is becoming more rampant.

But again, parents have that spiritual power to keep the family together and sharing the same space.

So even after the Temple episode, Jesus went down with Mary and Joseph to Nazareth and lived under their authority.

There He increased in wisdom, in stature and in favour with God and with others.

As it was for Jesus, so may it be for parents and children in the family.

As Pope John Paul II said: As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.

Friday, December 28, 2012

29th December 2012, Saturday, Fifth day within the Octave of Christmas

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

On this fifth day in the octave of Christmas, the Church celebrates the optional memorial of St. Thomas Becket, bishop and martyr.

He was born in London and after studying in Paris, entered the service of Archbishop of Canterbury, became Lord Chancellor under King Henry II in 1155, and in 1162 Archbishop of Canterbury.

He went from being "a patron of play-actors and a follower of hounds" to being a "shepherd of souls" as he absorbed himself in the duties of his new office, defending the rights of the Church against king Henry II. This prompted the king to exile him to France for six years.

After returning to his homeland he endured many trials and agents of the king travelled to Canterbury and fell upon the bishop while he was attending evening prayer.

His priests rushed to his aid and tried to bar the church door; Thomas opened it himself with these words: The house of God will not be defended like a fortress. I gladly face death for the Church of God.

Then to the soldiers: I command it in the Name of God: No harm may be done to any of mine. Thereupon he cast himself on his knees, commended his flock and himself to God, to the Blessed Virgin Mary, to St. Denis and other holy patrons of the Church, and with the same heroic courage with which he had withstood the king's laws, he bowed his holy head to the sacrilegious sword on December 29, 1170."

St. Thomas Becket saw the light, the real light that was already shining, as the 1st reading puts it, and hence he was courageous in life as in death.

Like Simeon in the gospel, St. Thomas Becket also saw the light, and it was a light that shone in the darkness, a darkness of rejection and persecution and trial and finally martyrdom.

St. Thomas Becket became a beacon of light for the Church, so much so that in 1539, king Henry VIII ordered his remains to be burned, and that was like 400 years after his death.

Yes, darkness can never overcome or overpower the true light. May we see that light, follow that light, be enlightened by that light and become beacons of light.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

28th December 2012, Friday, Holy Innocents, Martyrs

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

The first day of Christmas, the Church celebrated the martyrdom of St. Stephen, the first Christian to witness to Christ with his life.

The second day of Christmas, the Church honoured St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, who emphasized the divinity of Christ.

These two men went into Biblical history and Church history as men who who faithful to God and walked in His ways.

Today, we come across a man who was a tragedy to himself and he caused tragic consequences.

Because of his pathological state of mind and his paranoia, he ordered the slaughter of the infants at Bethlehem, and it counted as nothing for him.

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

All this also counted as nothing for those who committed such atrocities and heinous crimes against children.

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

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

We will recall the 20 young children and 6 teachers who were innocently gunned down just two weeks ago in Sandy Hook elementary school, Newtown, USA.

The blood of innocent young children cries out for the children of the world and cries out to us.

We have to teach and guide, protect and guard our children. If we cannot get that right, we will not be able to get anything right.

May God bless the children who are entrusted to us and may we care for them and guide them in the ways of the Lord. May Mother Mary and St. Joseph help us in this mission.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

27th December 2012, Thursday, St. John, 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 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 an 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.

Yesterday at the feast of St. Stephen, we were confronted with the hostility of humanity in the martyrdom of St. Stephen.

But today in the feast of St. John, we are lifted to the tenderness of divinity from which is poured out love and forgiveness

It is a profound theme, and to love one another and forgive one another as Jesus has loved us and forgiven 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.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

26th December 2012, Wednesday, St. Stephen, First Martyr

Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59 / Matthew 10:26-27

If we look up on the images of St. Stephen, there are various portrayals of him .

Some will picture him holding a palm branch to symbolize the victory of martyrdom.

Some will show his martyrdom by stoning as we heard in the 1st reading, which was a slow, painful and gruesome death.

But quite a number of pictures will also show him dressed in a deacon's vestment, which actually is a sort of apron to indicate that the ministry of the deacon is for service of God and the Church.

On one hand he is pictured as holding a censer to indicate his role in the liturgical service of the Church.

On the other hand he is pictured holding a miniature church. This is to indicate his role and his influence on Church especially during its infancy that was filled with turmoil and turbulence.

In today's liturgy, we honour St. Stephen as the First Martyr and with his death came along the path of blood that was laid out for those who would witness to Christ with their lives.

Yet St. Stephen and those that laid their lives down were only following what their Lord and Master Jesus had done and given them the example.

Jesus Christ came into the world to show God's love and we celebrated the great and joyful feast of His birth yesterday.

He came to save us. Yet He had to lay down His life on the cross in order to redeem us from sin and eternal death.

On the cross God forgave us our sins. As for St. Stephen, as his life came under a pile of stones, he too said, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them".

On this feast of St. Stephen, let us ask for forgiveness for our sins. And let us also ask for the grace to forgive others too.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas, Year C, 2012

Is 62:1-5/ Ac 13:16-17, 22-25/ Mt 1:1-25

Before Mass, we saw what is commonly called a Children’s Christmas Pageant, or a Nativity Play.

Well, it was certainly cute and amusing as the little children are dressed up in Nativity-style costumes, with look-alike shepherds and angels.

What is really heart-warming is that the children and their teachers had taken time and effort to put up the Christmas Pageant.

They did this as their offering to God to recall the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ.

So that is why what we saw is called the Children’s Christmas Pageant.

The word “Pageant” is an interesting word. It means a grand show, a big show.

So besides the Christmas Pageant, there are also other pageants like the “Miss Universe” pageant.

That is indeed a grand show, a big show, a show of beauty and brains, with cameras clicking away and with the spot-light on the beautiful women from all over the world.

And of course there is the typical reaction of the eventual winner of the “Miss Universe” title.

Well, in our Children’s Christmas Pageant, it is also a grand show; at least the parents were clicking away with their cameras and videoing the whole pageant.

But instead of glamorous designer evening gowns and dresses, what we saw was a motley combination of mix-and-match costumes that brings us back to the time of the birth of Jesus.

And the children, with the guidance of their teachers, were doing the Christmas Pageant because they want to be part of the beautiful Christmas story.

And every character in the Christmas story has a role and a purpose. Nothing happens by coincidence.

If not for Caesar Augustus issuing a decree for a census, then Mary and Joseph would not need to go to Bethlehem. And in doing so they fulfilled the prophecy.

And because there was no room at the inn, Mary had to lay the new-born Jesus in a manger where the shepherds were able to find them.

And the shepherds came because of the angel’s announcement of the birth of the Saviour.

Yes, nothing happens by coincidence. There was a plan, a beautiful plan for a simple and humble and quiet entry of the Saviour into the world.

And for the children who took part in the Christmas pageant, it was not a coincidence either.

Well, at least they will remember that they played a role in Christmas Pageant 2012, whether it is Mary or Joseph or the shepherd or the angel. (Anybody played role of the donkey or cow?) 

How will this have an influence in their lives, we will know as the mystery of life unfolds.

And as for us who are here this evening and have watched the pageant, we being here is certainly not a coincidence.

Nothing in life happens by coincidence, especially when it is at Christmas.

Why are we here may be due to various reasons – we are here with our family or friends; we are here because the Midnight Mass will be too late and it will affect our beauty sleep.

We may be bored and got nowhere to go because everywhere is crowded; or we could be part of that network of undercover Catholics who only comes for Mass at Christmas and the service on Good Friday.

Whatever it may be, we being here is not a coincidence. Because something has happened to us.

Just like Mary and Joseph and the shepherds and even the angels, something has happened to them.

All because the Saviour has come into the world and into their lives.
So we have seen the Christmas story. We have seen a wonderful pageant, and now we are a part of it.

What will happen to us we will know as life unfolds.

Yes nothing happens by coincidence because the Saviour has come into our lives.

Let us join the angels and praise God and give glory to Him in the highest heavens.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

24th December 2012, Monday

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

By now, most churches would be logistically prepared to celebrated Christmas.

Churches would have been decorated with Christmas themes, the crib would have been laid out, the candle-stick and lanterns polished, the liturgical vestments ironed and hung and ready to be worn for this evening's liturgical celebrations.

Yes, everything in the house of God would be prepared and ready to celebrate the birth of the Son of God. That's how we would like to think.

Just like in the 1st reading, king David thought that since he had all the resources and means available, he could build a magnificent house for God. The prophet Nathan thought likewise.

But God had other plans. Through the prophet Nathan, God asked David, "Are you the man to build me a house to dwell in?"

Not only was God telling David that he was not the one to undertake the task, but a deeper reflection of that statement will also make us realize that who are we, mere mortals to do anything for God, especially when it comes to building God's house.

As Ps 126 puts it, "If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labour."

In fact, God has already built His house in us, right here in our hearts. So it is our hearts that we must prepare for God to visit us.

As Zechariah proclaimed in the gospel, " Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for He has visited His people."

God visited His people when Christ was born on that first Christmas day. God will visit us again as we celebrate the birth of Christ.

May our hearts, which is the house of God and the Temple of the Holy Spirit, be cleansed and made worthy to welcome the Prince of Peace, and be filled with love and joy as we celebrate Christmas.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

4th Sunday of Advent, Year C, 23.12.2012

Micah 5:1-4/ Hebrews 10:5-10/ Luke 1:39-44

If I say I have news for you, then most probably you would want to hear what the news is about.

Regardless of whether it is good news or bad news, we would want to know what it is.

The curiosity in us would also make us almost demand to know what the news is all about.

So whether the news is good or bad, happy or sad, favorable or incredible, we just want to hear it first and then see what to make of it after that.

So, let’s say one day you come back from work and you see a letter addressed to you and it’s from your daughter, you would surely open the letter immediately.

Your curiosity won’t let you wait, no matter how tired or how busy you might be.

Well, a story goes that one day, a mother came home from work and as she passed by her daughter’s room, she was astonished to see the bed nicely made and everything was packed up.

Then, she saw an envelope propped up prominently on the center of the bed. It was simply addressed to “Mom”.

With the worst premonition, she opened the letter with trembling hands and slowly read the letter.

It read like this:

Dear Mom, 
It is with great regret and sorrow that I am writing to you. I had to elope with my new boyfriend because I wanted to avoid a scene with you and Dad.
I've been finding real passion with John and he is so nice, even though he is pierced with studs in his ears, nose, lips, tongue, face and he has tattoos all over his body. 
But it's not only the passion, Mom. I'm pregnant and John said that he will take care of me and we will be very happy.
He has a trailer somewhere and there is enough food for us and the baby. He wants to have many children with me and I really like that idea too.
John taught me that marijuana doesn't really hurt anyone and we intent to grow it and then trade it with his friends for all the cocaine and ecstasy pills we want. 
In the meantime, we hope that science will find a cure for AIDS so John can get better because he surely deserves it.
Don't worry Mom, I'm 15 years old now and I know how to take care of myself. Someday I'm sure we'll be back to visit so that you can get to know your grandchildren.

With love, your daughter,Susan
PS: None of the above is true! I'm actually at the neighbour’s house. I just wanted to remind you that there are worse things in life than my report card which is in my desk drawer. I love you, Mom. Call me when it is safe for me to come home.

Well, I guess there are many ways to break some news so we might as well try to be creative with it!

And talking about breaking news, we heard in the gospel that Mary went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah to see that Elizabeth.

Earlier on, the angel Gabriel told Mary that Elizabeth had conceived and that she was already in the sixth month of her pregnancy.

Mary went to see Elizabeth to share her joy of pregnancy and also to render whatever help she could.

Yet at the back of her mind and circling around in her heart, she was also wondering how she was going to break the news to Elizabeth of her own pregnancy.

Because it all sounded so incredible. There was the angel who told her that she was to be the Mother of God.

She will conceive the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit and she consented to it all that.

The next question is: Will anyone believe her incredible story? Would Elizabeth believe her?

Oh yes, we can believe in an incredible pregnancy, like Elizabeth’s which was amazing and certainly something to rejoice over.

But Mary’s pregnancy? And that she has conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit? 

Such a thing has never happened before. So could it be true? Is this for real? And how would we know for sure?

Well, to begin with, there are many incredible stories, incredible but nonetheless true.

The following true story was told by a late Reverend Father Stanislaus SS.CC 

One day many years ago, in a little town in Luxembourg, a Captain of the Forest Guards was in deep conversation with the butcher when an elderly woman entered the shop. 

The butcher broke off the conversation to ask the old woman what she wanted. She had come to beg for a little meat but had no money.

The Captain was amused at the woman and the butcher. 'Only a little meat, but how much are you going to give her?', he wondered.
'I am sorry I have no money but I'll hear Mass for you, ' the woman told the butcher. Both the butcher and the Captain were indifferent about religion, so they at once began to scoff at the old woman's idea.

'All right then,' said the butcher. 'You go and hear Mass for me and when you come back I'll give you as much as the Mass is worth'.

The woman left the shop and returned later. She approached the counter and the butcher said. 'All right then we'll see.'

He took a slip of paper and wrote on it 'I heard a Mass for you.'

He placed the paper on the scales and a tiny bone on the other side, but nothing happened.

Next he placed a piece of meat instead of the bone, but still the paper proved heavier.

Both men were beginning to feel ashamed of their mockery but continued their game. A large piece of meat was placed on the balance, but still the paper held its own. The butcher, exasperated, examined the scales but found they were alright.

'What do you want my good woman? Must I give you a whole leg of mutton?' At this he placed the leg of mutton on the balance, but the paper outweighed the meat. A larger piece of meat was put on, but again the weight remained on the side of the paper.

This so impressed the butcher that he was converted and promised to give the woman her daily ration of meat.

As for the Captain, he left the shop a changed man and became an ardent lover of daily Mass. Two of his sons became priests, one a Jesuit & the other a Father of the Sacred Heart.

Father Stanislaus finished the story by saying, 'I am from the Religious of the Sacred Heart & the Captain was my father.'

From this incident the Captain became a daily Mass attendant & his children were trained to follow his example.

Later, when his sons became priests, he advised them to say Mass well every day and never miss the Sacrifice of the Mass through any fault of their own.

Unlike the daughter’s letter that we heard at the beginning, this is true, incredible, amazing but true.

And what about Mary’s story of that incredible conception by the Holy Spirit?

Who was going to know whether the child in her womb was really indeed the Son of God?

It was not that possible by conventional reasoning. But just as the Holy Mass was an overwhelming mystery, it was the child in Elizabeth’s womb that revealed the identity of God.

While still in his mother’s womb, John the Baptist sensed the presence of the Word made flesh and leapt for joy.

As we came to the last Sunday of Advent and with Christmas just a couple of days away, let us ponder on the mystery of the Incarnation, the Word made flesh, the God who became man.

It sounds incredible and amazing but blessed are we who believe.

Yes, we believe in the Emmanuel – The God who is with us. That is the Good News. That is incredible but that is the truth. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

22nd December 2012, Saturday

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

The word "enthusiasm" usually means great excitement for or interest in a subject or cause, or a source or cause of great excitement or interest.

But the original meaning (and maybe by now obsolete meaning) is that it is a divine inspiration or some kind of godly possession of a person that makes a person behave as such.

We see a bit of this original meaning of enthusiasm when a person shares a spiritual experience with us.

There is so much conviction and excitement that the person can just keep talking and talking and that might even leave us quite tired and boring.

We see a shade of that kind of enthusiasm in the 1st reading as Hannah offered thanks to the Lord for granting her a child in Samuel and she even insisted to Eli that Samuel be "made over" to the Lord for all his life".

Such enthusiasm is almost unbelievable and seemed extreme but that was how Hannah wanted to thank the Lord.

And even for Mary, the scriptures did not quote her saying much but in today's gospel she truly magnified the Lord as the gospel recorded 11 verses of her praises.

For Hannah and Mary, their enthusiasm was truly of a divine inspiration and they were indeed filled with the Holy Spirit.

May we too be open to the Holy Spirit and to His promptings so that we too will give thanks and magnify the Lord and may we be enthusiastic in proclaiming the wonders of the Lord.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

21st December 2012, Friday

Song of Songs 2:8-14 or Zephaniah 3:14-18 / Luke 1:39-45

Every now and then, we will see photos of some people jumping into the air, with their hands raised and their feet off the ground.

Usually it is the younger people who can do such things; the older people can't jump that high and their bones may not be able to take the impact of landing.

Yet such photos of people suspended in mid-air can be quite amusing. They don't seem to be going up and neither do they seem to want to come down to earth.

But when the Son of God came down to earth and became man, He entered into the womb of a humble and simple young girl to take on human flesh.

For God to become man and take on human flesh with all its weakness and limitations is indeed a great mystery that is incomprehensible and maybe even be unacceptable.

Yet God became man so that man can go back to God. That is as simply as we can put it and yet it is not that easy to comprehend either.

Nonetheless this great mystery of God becoming man is the reality that we prepare for during Advent and which we celebrate at Christmas.

It doesn't really matter how much or how deeply we understand this mystery. Let us simply rejoice and exult with all our heart, as the 1st reading urges us, because the Lord our God is in our midst.

And even in the womb of his mother, John the Baptist leapt for joy at the presence of  the Saviour in the womb of Mary.

May our hearts also leap for joy because God became man so that He can be in our midst and to lead us back to God.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

20th December 2012, Thursday

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

In the readings that we have just heard, there is one word that appeared rather frequently.

That word is "will" and in the context of the readings, that word is a sign of the future tense.

In the two readings, that word "will" appeared no less than ten times. And that word is used to indicate what will be happening in the future.

In the 1st reading when king Ahaz said, "I will not put the Lord to the test", he was not saying that he has faith in the Lord and hence there was no need to ask for a sign.

His meaning was that he has no need for a sign from the Lord as he had no faith in the Lord and hence he was not relying on God for any help in the troubles and dangers he was facing.

And so the prophet Isaiah spoke: The Lord Himself will give you a sign. It is this: the maiden is with child and will soon give birth birth to a son whom she will call Emmanuel.

And so the prophet Isaiah prophesied what the Lord was going to do and that He will do it.

Similarly in the gospel, the angel Gabriel prophesied about who the Saviour is: He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.

Indeed the Lord will do things for us. He will reveal Himself to us, He will help us walk in His ways, He will save us from our sins, He will do what we think is impossible.

We only need to have the faith to believe that the Lord God will do all this for us. Let us pray for that faith and we will believe.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

19th December 2012, Wednesday

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

As we prepare for the celebration of the birth of Christ, we also rejoice with those parents of new born babies.

To celebrate Christmas with a new born baby in the home certainly adds on to the joy of the Christmas season.

Today's readings also talked about the births of two babies who later would be carrying out the great deeds of God - Samson and John the Baptist.

Yet it also recalls the fact that before their conception was announced, their parents had to live with the burden of being barren.

During that time, for a married couple to be barren was an embarrassment as it would certainly mean that the family line would be terminated.

It would also be grounds for the couple to divorce and to put an end to the embarrassment and to gossips.

Yet, the two couples, Manoah and his wife, and Zechariah and Elizabeth, stayed on with each other and bore the burden together and were faithful to each other.

Faithfulness in the face of embarrassment and burdens are challenging for married couples and even between friends.

Yet we must remember that God is always faithful and He will lift us from our burdens and will not abandon us in our misfortune and embarrassment.

When we abandon ourselves to God, we can be sure that God will not abandon us.

Monday, December 17, 2012

18th Decemeber 2012, Tuesday

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

The homeland is a word that is filled with much meaning and reflections, and many emotions well up in our hearts as we recall the memories and relationships we forged in our homeland.

One powerful aspect is the sense of belonging to a people, a culture, a tradition and a way of life. And with that the other foundations like respect and pride and identity and independence are built and strengthened.

And for a people who were exiled from their homeland and were not allowed to return, the emotions will certainly be mixed and there will be thoughts of what it will be like for the future.

Yet the prophet Jeremiah in the 1st reading proclaimed an oracle from the Lord that He will raise up a true and wise king for His people who will practice honesty and integrity in the land.

Even his name will be called "The Lord-our-integrity".

Yet when this king is to come into the world, His mysterious conception by the Holy Spirit was initially greeted with turmoil, with Mary's integrity suspected and Joseph trying to uphold integrity.

In the end, it was the name of Emmanuel, a name which means "God-is-with-us" that renewed the integrity of Mary and Joseph and their trust in God and in each other.

Yes, God is with us and He wants to make His home in our hearts so that we will live our lives in honesty and with integrity.

So may we prepare our hearts to receive our King so that we will also be prepared to make the return to our eternal homeland.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

17th December 2012, Monday

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

When we examine deeper the genealogy list that is given in today's gospel, we will find some people in that who are quite surprising, to say the least.

And we may be even correct to say that they are out of place among the names and the personalities given in the genealogy.

We are talking about people like Tamar, Rabah, Ruth and Solomon's mother Bathsheba. And of  course there is also Mary.

What is strange and surprising is that in the genealogy list which is predominated by males, there is the mention of these five women.

And if we know our Old Testament well enough, then we will know that Tamar tricked her father-in-law into a sexual union in order to bear sons for the family.

Rahab was a harlot or prostitute who lived in Jericho and helped Joshua conquer the city. Ruth was a foreigner, a Moabite (non-Jew) who followed her Jewish mother-in-law back to her homeland. Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah and king David has seduced her and also had her husband killed in battle.

And then there was Mary who was with child by the Holy Spirit before she and Joseph came to live together.

All these women, with their colourful and intriguing stories, nonetheless had a part to play in the ancestry of Jesus, and in a way prepared the way for His coming.

The genealogy list showed that people were instrumental in preparing the way for the coming of the Saviour, yet those five women who were not expected to be in the list played a pivotal role in the ancestry of Jesus.

As we enter deeper into the Advent journey, let us be open to the unexpected people who will come into our lives. They might be instrumental in bringing Jesus into our lives.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

3rd Sunday of Advent, Year C, 16.12.2012

Zephaniah 3:14-18/ Philippians 4:4-7/ Luke 3:10-18

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

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

Yes, the first reading tells us to rejoice and exalt with all our hearts.

The second reading also has this call to rejoice as St Paul tells the Philippians: I want you to be happy, always happy with the Lord.

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

So I hope we can laugh a little with this story that I am going to tell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The burglar laughed to himself and said, "Oh, shut up stupid bird. Anyway, who is this Johnny? Is it another bird friend of yours?"

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

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

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

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

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

But if the first two readings talk about rejoicing and happiness then the gospel message is certainly serious and it is no laughing matter.

Last Sunday, we heard John the Baptist preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

And today we heard that people, all sorts of people, including those detestable and sneaky tax collectors, and those rough and tough soldiers coming to hear him.

As they hear the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins, they had one common question: What must we do?

The people asked, "What must we do?" The tax collectors asked, "What must we do?" The soldiers asked, "What must we do?"

They asked that question because they have heard the voice.

Not just the voice of John the Baptist, but also the voice of the Lord.

Yes, it was the voice of the Lord that spoke to them in their hearts telling them that they had not shared their goods with those who were poor.

They had ignored those who were hungry and had nothing to live on. They fell into dishonesty and injustice.

And then, they heard the voice of John the Baptist.

John the Baptist was like telling them, "I see you, and the Lord sees you."

In a way, we are like that burglar who breaks into a house at night and thinks that nobody is watching.

That's what happens when we sin. When we sin, we enter into the dark.

And in the darkness of sin, we think that no one is watching as we commit dishonesty and injustice, selfishness and greed, lust and immorality.

And just when we thought we are going to enter deeper into the dark, the voice of John the Baptist calls out to us, "I see you, and the Lord sees you!"

What are we going to do? Are we going to stop in our tracks?

Or are we not going to be bothered and go on deeper into the dark and into sin?

There is one Christmas song that I like to listen to as well as reflect upon.

The title is "Do you hear what I hear?" It is composed in 1962 and it was written at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the United States and the then Soviet Union confronted each other over the placement of missiles in newly Communist Cuba.

So the  Christmas song "Do you hear what I hear?" was a plea for peace, and the composers Regney and Shayne got the inspiration after watching a baby being pushed in a pram, and sleeping peacefully.

So do we hear the voice of John the Baptist? Maybe he is just telling us, "I see you and the Lord sees you."

It is not to frighten us but to call us to repent and have our sins forgiven.

So, do you hear what I hear? If we do hear, then we will also know what to do.

Because the voice belongs to the One who will bring us goodness and light.

As that Christmas song tells us – “He will bring us goodness and light, He will bring us goodness and light.”

Friday, December 14, 2012

2nd Week of Advent, Saturday, 15-12-12

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

Among the prophets of the Old Testament, one that was truly impressive and worked mighty deeds was the prophet Elijah, and the 1st reading makes a special mention of him.

Indeed he "arose like a fire, his word flaring like a torch" and he worked many miracles, the most famous of which was when he called down fire from heaven at Mt. Carmel to consume the sacrifice to show the mighty power of God (1 Kings 18:20-39)

But all that was to turn the people back to God and to restore Israel as the people of God.

Yet people can just be interested in dramatic and the spectacular and fail to see the meaning of the message behind it.

We too are easily attracted by the dramatic and the spectacular and the extraordinary and look for signs and wonders.

We may even expect that God would reveal Himself in some kind of dramatic and spectacular and 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 they did not fit into people's expectations of how God would reveal Himself.

The season of Advent is to prepare us to encounter and experience God in the ordinary.

We need to quieten our hearts in prayer and to experience God in the ordinary.

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

When He comes to us today and even at Christmas, it will also be in an ordinary way. Let us be prepared.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

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

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

One of the easiest ways to cause disappointment is to be silent when a good and charitable act to done to us.

So for example, when our mothers prepare a meal for us at home, we may just be indifferent about it and sit at the table and gobble down the food and not say a word of thanks or compliment our mothers for the food.

To be silent may mean that we are taking things, as well as people, for granted and also that we don't appreciate the good that is done for us.

If our silence means that we are indifferent, disinterested and unconcerned, then our criticism can certainly cause more than disappointment.

Because with criticism there will be hurt and pain, which will in turn cause unrest and agitation, to say the least.

In the gospel, Jesus commented that the people of His generation seemed to only know how to criticize John the Baptist and Himself, but they wouldn't dance to pipes nor mourn with the dirges.

They were not wise enough to see that John the Baptist and Jesus had a message for their salvation.

And as the oracle of 1st reading puts it: If only you had been alert to my commandments, your happiness would have been like a river, your integrity like the waves of the sea.

So as we enter deeper into the season of Advent, let us pray for the wisdom to understand the message of salvation.

To be silent and not to respond would only leave us disappointed and dismayed at Christmas.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

2nd Week of Advent, Thursday, 13-12-12

Isaiah 41:13-20 / Matthew 11:11-15      (2019)

Israel had its golden age during the time of king David and king Solomon. That was also the time the first Temple was built in Jerusalem (833 BC).

Before that it had to struggle for freedom from slavery in Egypt and to find its identity as a nation with a king to rule over them.

But after king Solomon, the kingdom of Israel became divided and also tragedy upon tragedy befell them, with the annihilation of the Northern Kingdom by the Assyrians in 721 BC and the destruction of the Temple and exile in Babylon in 586 BC.

So when the 1st reading described Jacob as a poor worm and Israel as a puny mite, it is not just an expression but more like the reality.

Yet God said that He will help Israel and called Himself not just the Holy One of Israel but also its redeemer.

The word "redeemer" in the Old Testament originally meant the nearest male relative who will avenge the blood of someone who has been murdered, or pays off a debt and frees the debtor from prison, or protects the defenceless.

When God called Himself the redeemer, it meant that He is the one who will protect and liberate His people.

And He will even turn Israel into a fearsome threshing-sled with double teeth that will crush mountains and turn the hills into chaff.

But with Jesus as the Redeemer and Liberator who is sent by God, He does not break the crushed reed or snuff out the smouldering wick.

He calls out to those who have ears to listen to the prophesies of the prophets and the Law.

If only we will listen to the Word of God and keep it in our hearts, then the golden age of peace and joy will come upon us. We only need to listen.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

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

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

We have been told that God does not suffer. Christian philosophy calls that the "impassibility" of God.

That is one of the attributes of God, besides others, to describe the divinity of God and how He ought to be understood.

Even the 1st reading described God as an everlasting God who does not grow tired or weary, and it is He who gives strength to the wearied, and He strengthens the powerless.

On the other hand, we experience pain and suffering in life, and we also suffer when we see our loved ones in pain.

God became man in Jesus Christ so that we can feel that God is with us in our pain and suffering.

In the gospel, Jesus invites us to come to Him with all our labours and burdens and He will give rest for our souls.

But He also invites us to shoulder His yoke and learn from Him. Our burdens won't disappear but with gentleness and humility, we will find our burdens lightened.

Indeed, we will always have our burdens but with Jesus we will put out wings like eagles and we will run and not grow weary.

Let us pray for a gentle and humble heart during this Advent. Then we will be able to offer our enemy forgiveness, our opponent tolerance, our friend our loyalty, our customer joyful service, to a child a good example and to all charity.

Monday, December 10, 2012

2nd Week of Advent, Tuesday, 11-12-12

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

We know what a problem is. It is a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome, or something difficult to achieve or accomplish.

But when a person is labelled as a  problem, it certainly encompasses all the above traits as well as making the situation much more complex because it is an "animated problem".

So we will come across terms like "problem kid" or "problem worker" or "problem boss".

And there are certainly no straight-forward or clear-cut solutions to these "problems".

The 1st reading has this interesting passage: All flesh is grass and its beauty like the wild flower's. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on them. (The grass is without doubt the people). The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God remains forever.

As we read the Old Testament, it is quite clear to us that the Chosen people of God had incessantly given God problem after problem. They are like a "problem people".

The straight-forward clear-cut solution would be to abandon them and cut them off and choose another group of people.

But if God's ways are not our ways, then God's way of dealing with a problem is certainly not our way either.

Just like in the gospel parable of how ridiculous it seems to leave the 99 obedient sheep in search of the one who strayed.

And it is even more ridiculous for God to become man in Jesus. Yet when it comes to saving the lost, nothing is ridiculous for God.

So when we face "problem people" may we keep in mind that it is never the will of God that one of them should be lost.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

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

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

To be exiled would generally means to be away from one's home and country, and forbidden to return and even threatened with imprisonment or death upon return.

Usually the exile is forced upon an individual or a group or a nation, and it also usually means a deportation outside the country of residence.

Israel experienced one such exile in 586 BC when the Babylonians captured Jerusalem and razed the Temple to the ground and the inhabitants were exiled in Babylon.

It is difficult to understand the sufferings of the exile. It is enough to say that it was tragic with everything and all hope being lost.

But the 1st reading was precisely for the exiles in Babylon to give them the hope that God had not abandoned them nor forgotten them.

Triumphant and encouraging words were used: Courage! Do not be afraid. Look, your God is coming, vengeance is coming, the retribution of God; He is coming to save you.

In a way, we can say that the paralysed man in the gospel was in some form of exile - an internal exile.

He might have been forgotten and abandoned but he still had the support some friends who brought him to Jesus, even though it took more effort than they expected.

Yet in the end, the paralysed man was healed and liberated from that internal exile.

As for ourselves, we are also called to look into our hearts and into our lives to see if we are living in some kind of spiritual exile, as in that we chosen to stay away from God because of some anger or bitterness or resentment.

But God wants to save us and liberate us. The 1st reading would describe those who are freed and liberated as "shouting for joy, everlasting joy in their faces; joy and gladness will go with them and sorrow and lament be ended".

May we too experience such joy and gladness in our Advent journey towards Christmas.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

2nd Sunday of Advent, Year C, 09.12.2012

Baruch 5:1-9/ Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11/ Luke 3:1-6

In this particular season, whether we want to call it the festive season, or the Advent season or the raining season, a famous figure will appear to bring some cheer.

Let me give a short popular description of this figure and we will certainly know who this is.

He has a white bushy beard, quite roundish, dressed in red with white trimmings, and his famous quote is “ho, ho, ho”.

Yes, we are talking about Santa Claus, who appears around this time in the festive decorations and also in advertisements.

But Santa Claus is not a clever figment of commercial imagination.

The name, Santa Claus comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas which means St. Nicholas.

St. Nicholas was a 4th century saint and the bishop of Myra (which is modern day Turkey).

His feast day is on 6th December (last Thursday) and just out of curiosity, I checked the newspaper advertisements but I hardly find any appearance of Santa Claus. 

Maybe he fell out of fashion, or maybe he was forgotten during this season. 

Yet, many miracles were attributed to the intercession of St. Nicholas and he became known as Nicholas the Wonder Worker.

He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him. And so he became the model for Santa Claus.

One of his famous acts of charity was towards a poor man who had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them.

This would mean that they would remain unmarried and in the face of poverty, they might be forced into prostitution.

When St. Nicholas came to know about it, he decided to help the poor man secretly.

Under cover of night, he went to the poor man’s house and threw three small bags, each filled with gold coins, one for each daughter, through the window opening of the man’s house. 

But later, the poor man found out about it and came to thank St. Nicholas.

In humility, St Nicholas said that it was not him he should thank. 

Rather he should thank God and God alone.

Yes, thank God for the gift of saints like St. Nicholas to show His great love and His help to those in need.

In today’s gospel, we hear of another great saint who also makes his appearance around this time of the year.

So, in the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was Governor of Judea, Herod, tetrarch of Galilee etc etc, the word of God came upon a strange person in a strange place.

The word of God came to John, son of Zechariah, when he was somewhere in the wilderness. It was quite a contrast to the big names and the big places we heard earlier.

Yes, the word of God came to John and with that John went through the whole Jordan district proclaiming a baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

As the prophet Isaiah puts it: A voice cries in the wilderness – Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley will be filled in, every mountain and hill will be laid low, winding ways will be straightened, and rough roads made smooth.

So that all mankind shall see the salvation of God.

With the word of God, John the Baptist proclaimed repentance and forgiveness of sins so that the people can see the great love of God.

It was a simple message with a profound meaning and it turned people back to God.

John the Baptist was God’s gift to the people and his mission was to prepare the way for God’s greatest gift to us – Jesus Christ.

Yes, at a time when the power and might of Tiberius Caesar and Pontius Pilate and Herod and Annas and Caiaphas cast a fearsome shadow on the land, the word of God came to John the Baptist to bring forgiveness and salvation.

And later on in the 4th century, the word of God came to St Nicholas and he brought gifts to the poor and needy.

We heard earlier how St Nicholas helped the poor man and his 3 daughters by giving them 3 bags of gold coins.

That is why there are images of St Nicholas holding 3 gold round bags, or three golden balls, depicting him as a gift-giver. 

Hence, the golden ball decorations that we hang on the Christmas tree symbolize the gifts of St Nicholas.

Well, St Nicholas or Santa Claus is a gift-giver but he points to God who is the God of all gifts.

So, on this day in December in the season of Advent, in the year 2012, the word of God comes to us as a gift.

The word of God comes to us, bringing forgiveness and salvation.

The word of God comes to us, calling us to repentance but it is a joyful repentance.

This repentance is to make us realize that we are to be gifts to others, gifts that bring about hope, peace, joy and love.

So as we think about what gifts we need to get for others, let us realize that the greatest gifts lie within us.

Well, gold and silver we may have none, but like John the Baptist and St Nicholas, we can give others the greatest gift of all, and that is the love of Jesus Christ.

So, to our enemy, we give the gift of forgiveness.
To our opponents, we give the gift of tolerance.
To a friend, the gift of our loyalty
To a customer, the gift of joyful service.
To our superior, the gift of obedience. 
To our spouse, the gift of faithfulness.
To our children, the gift of good example.
Yes, to all, let us give the gift of love.
Because in Jesus Christ, God has given us all of His love.
So, let us and rejoice and be a joyful gift to others.