Tuesday, July 31, 2012

17th Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 01-08-12

Jeremiah 15:10, 16-21 / Matthew 13:44-46

King Josiah of Jerusalem died in 610 BC, and at his state funeral there were thousands of mourners.

Among the mourners was a young man who was unnoticed, unhappy and unsettled.

He was unnoticed because of his youth, unhappy because of king Josiah's death, unsettled because God had called him to be a prophet, and he was very reluctant and also very unwilling, even though God had chosen him even when he was in the womb of his mother.

Jeremiah had often been called the "Weeping prophet" because he only had bad news for the people and for that he suffered endless persecution for that.

In the 1st reading, we can hear Jeremiah's lamentation of being God's prophet. 

Yet, what kept him going on as a prophet was that the Word of God was his delight and the joy of his heart and he devoured God's Word as God spoke to him.

He may be called a "Weeping prophet" yet he was also a tough one, just as tough as the other prophets and maybe even tougher when we consider what he went through.

He treasured the Word of God and even though he was called a "Weeping prophet" yet he was also a faithful prophet.

When we treasure the Word of God that we hear from the readings, the kingdom of God begins to take root in our hearts.

May we be able to let go of ourselves and rise with the blessings of God and let the kingdom of God grow in us.

Indeed, true happiness is when we keep the Word of God in our hearts and let it bear fruit in our lives.

Monday, July 30, 2012

17th Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 31-07-12

Jeremiah 14:17-22 / Matthew 13:36-43

We are often told not to take life too seriously and that we need to have a good laugh now and then; besides the saying that laughter is the best medicine.

Yet when something serious is turned into a joke too often, then the possibility is that it may not be taken seriously.

We know of many jokes about hell and the devil, but still we need to think about it seriously.

Because as much as we believe in the God of mercy and compassion, who is loving and forgiving, yet today's gospel makes it clear that eternal punishment awaits the subjects of the devil.

And just who are these subjects of the devil? They are none other than those people who fell into the temptations of the devil and ended up being his instruments of evil and wickedness to harm those who do good and want to walk the way of God.

Yes, these people who commit evil and wickedness are the darnel sown by the devil to tempt and to cause good people to fall into wicked ways and commit sin.

Yet we also need to remember that God wants to save these people. As the 1st reading says this about God: Tears flood my eyes night and day, unceasingly ...

Yes, God "cries" for these people who are trapped and held in bondage by the devil.

And we, the people of God, the wheat that He has sown in the world, need to persevere in doing good and also to persist in praying for the conversion of these people who are committing evil.

We must pray for their salvation. Because eternal damnation is not a joke.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

17th Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 30-07-12

Jeremiah 13:1-11 / Matthew 13:31-35

One of the set of clothes that we will certainly wash everyday is the under-garments.

For obvious reasons, the under-garments must be washed regularly although it is not for public view.

Yet it is also the garment that is closest to our bodies.

In the 1st reading, the Lord ordered Jeremiah to get a loincloth, wear it and without washing it, hide it among some rocks and then after a time to take it out.

Obviously we can imagine what has happened to the loincloth. Not only is it soiled, it will also be utterly unusable.

God chose His people to be His own and He bound Himself close to them. Yet they did not listen to Him and followed the dictates of their own hearts and hence became corrupted like the loincloth.

God just wanted His people to serve Him in obedience and humility, because it is through an obedient and humble people that God shows the power of His marvelous works.

Just like in the gospel parables, it is the simple and humble mustard seed and the yeast that brought forth the marvels of God's works.

God has chosen us to be His beloved people. He wants to do great things for us and through us.

Yet we must be obedient and humble and listen to His Word. It is as simple as that; yet it is also as difficult as that.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

17th Ordinary Sunday, Year B, 29.07.2012

2Kings 4:42-44/ Ephesians 4:1-6/ John 6:1-15

For whatever occasion it might be, there must be this one essential and important element, and that is none other than food.

Yes, for whatever occasion it might be, the presence of food will make things look good.

For example, at weddings, besides the bride and the groom looking very good, there will also be the wedding reception where there will be at least some catered food, or better still a 10-course sumptuous dinner.

For birthday celebrations, there will at least be a sweet rich birthday cake.

Even for funeral wakes, there will be at least some simple food.

But the presence of food is not just to make the occasion look good.

Food is for our good. Because food is the first necessity of life. We eat to live (and not the other way round).

In fact, the first human activity in the Bible is eating!

In the book of Genesis, after God created man, He told him that he may eat of all the fruit trees in the garden, except the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

So even God is concerned about our need for food, and what we are eating.

So the basic question in life, and for life, is this – What do we really need? And do we have it?

That was the question that Jesus asked when He saw the crowds – “Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat?”

The need was for food – bread for the people to eat.

And from the small boy’s five barley loaves and two fish, a miracle happened and the crowd of five thousand ate as much as they wanted.

Yes, it was a miracle, a sign and a wonder, all pointing to divine providence.

Yes, God cares for His people. He is concerned about their need for food and He provides.

Yes, food is good, because it points to the Lord who is good.

And hence eating must also be an act of thanksgiving. That’s why we say Grace before meals, to give thanks to God for the food.

Yes, give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for He provides us with food.

Yet, we see something strange happening in the gospel.

The people seeing this sign, this wonderful miracle that Jesus had given, were having ideas of taking Him by force and making Him king.

And so Jesus had to make a quick exit to the hills by Himself.

It was strange, because instead of giving thanks to God, the people’s need turned into greed.

Jesus had healed the sick; now He had provided bread for the hungry.

For the crowds, they could only see in Jesus the one who could give them food and health, and hence their problems in life are going to be solved.

So they wanted to make Him their king, so that He will have to provide for them always.

For the crowd, they thought that they had found the man who would take care of all their physical wants and needs.

They thought that they had found the one who would make everything right again – there will be no more hunger, no more sickness, no more problems, no more worries.

Yes, it began with a need, but it turned into greed.

The crowd was not able to see that the miracle of the multiplication of loaves was a sign of the goodness of the Lord’s providence.

When a need turns into greed, thanksgiving will be forgotten, and there will only be selfish desires and agendas.

As we come to Mass, we have come to the Eucharist which means “thanksgiving”.

So we have come here to thank God. But are we aware of what to thank God for?

Oh yes, the first thing that comes to mind is that we thank God for giving Jesus to us in Holy Communion.

But the consecrated host is a small piece of wafer that hardly satisfies us if we are really physically hungry.

Yet, as we receive Jesus in Holy Communion, we also open our eyes in thanksgiving.

And certainly, one of the things we must thank God for is the food that is so easily available in Singapore, and that we can eat as much as we want.

Do we see any miracle there? Yes it is a miracle in that for a country like Singapore which hardly produces what it consumes, we have so much of fresh food.

And the food that we consume has certainly gone through the labours of many hands and many people before it appears as delicious warm food for our enjoyment.

So right before our eyes, a miracle has happened! And when we see it as a miracle, we would certainly give thanks to God for that.

Yet at the same time, we can also simply take it for granted, that there will always be food on demand, and that we can even waste food.

If that is the case, then our need has become a greed.

We will cease to see miracles and cease to give thanks.

And then like the crowd, we would begin to put our selfish desires and agendas on demand, and expect Jesus to fulfill it.

Yet, as we come to the Eucharist, let us also realize how poor we are.

There is nothing that we can offer to the Lord which He has not given to us in the first place.

Yes, in this Eucharist, let us give thanks to the Lord for providing for our needs.

Let us also remember to always say the “Grace before meals”.

And with thankful and grateful hearts, we will be able to see the wonders and miracles that the Lord works for us always.

Friday, July 27, 2012

16th Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 28-07-12

Jeremiah 7:1-11 / Matthew 13:24-30

In some countries, corruption is widespread and rampant, and it usually affects government departments and agencies.

As it is, corruption taints the reputation of the government, and the government departments and agencies end up with a bad name.

But what if the department or agency involved in corruption is the law enforcement department or agency, ie. the police force.

In other words, what if the police station has become the robbers' den?

That is what the Lord was saying in the 1st reading, that His people were committing sin upon sin, and yet they come to the Temple and saying, and expecting, the Lord to protect them.

The people don't seem to realize that God and sin cannot be dwelling in the same place; they are mutually exclusive and they can't co-exist.

And they even have the cheek to say: Now we are safe - safe to go on committing all these abominations.

We will certainly wonder how they can get so spiritually corrupted and yet not aware of it.

Yet in the gospel parable, we may get a hint from Jesus as to how this has happened - The enemy has planted darnel among the wheat when everybody was asleep.

Let us be alert and vigilant because the enemy is prowling around and  trying to sow seeds of evil in our hearts.

Let us stand up against him, strong in faith, and let us also ask the Lord to purify our hearts of all sin and evil corruption.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

16th Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 27-07-12

Jeremiah 3:14-17 / Matthew 13:18-29

Loyalty is a virtue that is of much value in the battlefield and it is a test of one's integrity to stay with the leader or commander when the going is really rough.

If loyalty is of such importance on the human level, then loyalty to God needs no further elaboration and can be said to be a foregone conclusion.

We may think that disloyalty to God is utterly appalling and stupidity in the highest degree.

Yet in the 1st reading, God called His people "disloyal children" and urged them to come back.

Yet as in any case of disloyalty, the cause usually begins with pride, and with that, the follower thinks that he can do better than the leader, the student thinks he is better than the teacher, the disciple better than the master, and in the case of God's people, they just want the freedom to follow the dictates of their own heart.

And using the parable of the sower in the gospel, disloyalty is like the ground thinking that it can bear a harvest without any seed being sowed in it.

Disloyalty, whether it is to God or to our superiors, usually begins with dissatisfaction that will grow into a resentment, and with pride eating in, then we think of what we want and how to break free.

Hence we have to check our hearts of undue worries and overt worldly attachments that create thorns and patches of rock that hardens our hearts and blocks the Word of God from entering.

May the Word of God bring us back from following the dictates of our own hearts, and may the Word of God soften our hearts to bear a harvest of life and love.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

16th Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 26-07-12

Jeremiah 2:1-3, 7-8, 12-13 / Matthew 13:10-17

In life, we are always curious, as well as amazed by mystery. There is always something that we don't quite understand.

Even ordinary things that we take for granted like gravity and friction have something to tell us but we don't usually look deeper at it and hence we just pass it by.

Yet when we lose the sense of mystery in religion and our faith becomes de-mystified through rationalism and familiarism, then God would become just a concept.

In the 1st reading, we hear the prophet Jeremiah lamenting of such attitude when he said:

"The priests have never asked, "Where is the Lord?". Those who administer the Law have no knowledge of the Lord. The shepherds have rebelled against the Lord; the prophets have prophesied in the name of Baal, following things with no power in them.

Yes, God had become just a thing that existed only in the minds of the people but not a reality in their hearts.

As Jesus would quote the prophet Isaiah in the gospel: For the heart of this nation has grown coarse, their ears are dull of hearing, and they have shut their eyes.

When we lose the sense of mystery, then we also lose touch with the spiritual aspect of our lives. Our hearts would also grow coarse and our lives are like leaky cisterns that hold no water.

Hence prayer is fundamental and essential in our lives. Prayer softens our hearts and makes us sensitive to the mystery of the presence of God around us and also in us.

God has revealed Himself to us in the Bible. Yet God continues to reveal Himself to each of us in a personal way.

May our prayer lead us to a deeper encounter of the mystery of God in our lives.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

St. James, Apostle, Wednesday, 25-07-12

2 Cor 4:7-15 / Matthew 20:20-28

St. James was one of the Twelve Apostles called by Jesus. In fact, he and his brother John was one of the first apostles to be called by Jesus at the seashore of the lake of Galilee where he was a fisherman.

He is often called "James the Greater" to distinguish him from James, son of Alphaeus, who is known as "James the Lesser".

Together with only Peter and John, James had the privilege of witnessing the Transfiguration and also the raising of Jairus' daughter back to life.

The Acts of the Apostles, 12:1, records that Herod had James executed by sword. He is the only apostle whose martyrdom is recorded in the New Testament. He is believed to be the first of the 12 apostles martyred for his faith.

We heard in the gospel that Jesus asked James and John whether they could drink the cup that He was going to drink, they confidently replied that they could.

At that time, James would not have known what his end was going to be like, and so he may not know what he was saying.

But at the end, he knew what he was doing - he was following his Lord and bearing witness to Him.

He readily gave up his life in service for the Lord. Maybe he would have even considered it an honour to be the first among the apostles to give up his life for Christ.

In a way, the James who asked to sit on either the right or left of Jesus was a different James who was beheaded by Herod.

St. James realised along the way that he was just an earthenware jar that was chosen to hold the treasures of God.

May we also realise along the way that we are earthenware jars that are chosen to hold the treasures of God.

May we also be willing to pour out our lives for others in service and sacrifice, so that the treasures of God will flow into their lives.

Monday, July 23, 2012

16th Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 24-07-12

Micah 7:14-15, 18-20 / Matthew 12:46-50

During the time of the Old Testament, the image that people had of a deity was one that was mighty and strong.

Hence when one nation went into war with another nation, it was also a battle between the gods of the two nations.

The conqueror would also destroy all stone or wood images of the deity of the vanquished in order to show the power of conqueror's god.

Associated with the power and might of the deity was also the fury and the chastisement the deity would inflict on the people if the people were to disobey it or turn away from it.

This is where there is a fundamental difference between the God of Israel and the other deities of the other nations.

As much as God protects and provides for His people, He is also a merciful and compassionate God, slow to anger and rich in love.

In the 1st reading, the prophet Micah affirmed this attribute of God when he said: What god can be compared with you - taking fault away, pardoning crime, not cherishing anger for ever but delighting in showing mercy?

That is the image of God that Jesus came to show, and that is also the God we worship and adore.

In and through Jesus, we call God our Father. In and through Jesus we know what He wants of us His children.

Our Father's will is that we become like Him, merciful and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.

May we, who are God's children, truly reflect His loving image to others.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

16th Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 23-07-12

Micah 6:1-4, 6-8 / Matthew 12:38-42

A wise man can be described as one who believes in what is good and he lives out that goodness in his life.

On the other hand, a fool may know what is good but disregards it in his life or even lives contrary to the good.

But when wisdom and foolishness are understood in the context of faith, then there are far-reaching consequences in life.

In the 1st reading, we hear of  a foolish and unfaithful people being questioned by compassionate God.

God was confronting His people: My people, what have I done to you, how have I been a burden to you? Answer me!

Yet God was not asking much of His people. He was not asking for gifts or holocausts or libations or sacrifices that the people cannot meet up to.

In fact what was good for the people, God had already made known to them, and this was what the Lord asked of them: to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with your God.

Yet the fact is that we fail in one, or more, of these at any point in our lives. Yes it is so simple and yet we fail so miserably.

To act with justice, to love tenderly and to walk in humility with God and neighbour are profound signs of a good life.

May we have the wisdom to understand it and live it out in our lives.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

16th Ordinary Sunday, Year B, 22.07.2012

Jeremiah 23:1-6/ Ephesians 2:13-18/ Mark 6:30-34

I am sure we know what the initials “RIP” stand for.
We see these initials on tombstones and on niches – and of course we know it stands for “Rest in Peace”. (Not Rise if Possible!)

It seems that only for those who have passed, those who have died, only they are entitled to “rest in peace”.

But for the living (and that means us!), we can go around wearing T-shirts with the big letters RIP – and they would stand for “Rest if Possible”.

Well, in an urban society like Singapore, we are plagued with nothing less than busyness.

In fact, we can be so busy that RIP can also mean “ripped into pieces”.

Maybe that is why we like to go overseas for holidays. We want to get away from it all, to have some rest and some peace. (As if it is possible!)

Even when we are in the toilet (sometimes it is called the restroom), we still cannot rest in peace.

Because someone will come along and knock on the door and say things like: You are still in there? Can you hurry up?

And we can also forget about Sunday being a day of rest.

Sundays can be so filled with busyness, that we need to recuperate from Monday to Saturday.

But whatever day it might be, we are always busy, we are always “on the go”. But where are we going?

We heard in the gospel that Jesus had sent his disciples “on the go”, to go on the mission of preaching repentance and deliverance and healing.

They had been busy, and no doubt they liked it because they saw how the authority of Jesus worked in them – people repented, evil spirits were cast out, the sick were cured.

And also there was so much more to do that the disciples didn’t even have time to eat.

But they were high and they wanted to go on for more.

And that’s when Jesus jammed the brakes and told them to come away to a lonely place and rest.

Yet, the irony was that it was Jesus Himself who ended up “on the go” – He set Himself to teach the crowds.
In other words, Jesus ended up being busy.

And the so-called “rest” that He wanted for His disciples was certainly short-lived, if ever there was any at all.

So, what is it that Jesus is teaching us in the Gospel?

Is it that there will be no rest and peace all the days of our lives, until we are over and done with life?

Come to think of it, rest and peace is so elusive, isn’t it?

For example, parents will never rest from their responsibilities and they will always worry about their grown up children.

Married couples would long for some peace between each other.

Those who are sick would long for a good night’s rest without pain.

Those who have done something wrong would long for peace and reconciliation.

So we may be longing for a good rest, but we better not say we are dying to rest. (Because we might just end up in eternal rest!)

But just like that short amount of respite that Jesus and His disciples had in the boat before they reached the other side, God will also give us just enough of rest so that our hearts will have just enough of peace.

Because our God who gives us rest is also restless.

Because He cares for those who are like sheep without a shepherd.

As I reflected on the Gospel, I remembered that there was one particular weekend that was unusually taxing.

But I was also looking forward to Sunday evening because some of my friends had called me along for dinner.

So, after the evening Mass, though I was very tired, but I was relieved that the weekend is over, and I looked forward to having a good relaxing dinner.

I wanted some rest and peace, so I even switched off my handphone.

So, when I met up with my friends, I was happy and relaxed and of course very hungry.

We ordered our food and as we were tucking into the first dish, my friend’s handphone rang.

He answered the call,  and although I was busy with my food, I somehow felt he was glancing at me.

And then I heard him saying: Yes, Fr Yim is with me.

I must say my heart froze. I chilled. I suspected something coming up.

Well, to cut the story short, his relative was critically ill in hospital and his family members were trying their luck to see if he could contact me and there I was in front of him!

Needless to say, I couldn’t continue the dinner, and I have to admit that my face was like a combination of burnt toast and bitter gourd.

I had to go back to church to get dressed, get the hospital kit, and get the Blessed Sacrament.

I was angry, and I was complaining: Why? Why? Why can’t I have a quiet relaxing dinner after a long tough weekend? Why?

On my way to the hospital, I really had to pray that I would be gracious and have a heart of compassion for the sick, instead of giving them a taste of burnt toast and bitter gourd.

Anyway, when I reached the hospital, and met the family members, my heart softened because of their tears and I did whatever I could as a priest.

They were the sheep looking for the shepherd, and God sent me there.

Initially I didn’t understand why God wanted to “spoil” my evening and my dinner.

But when I got back to church, I saw that it was about 9.30pm, there was some food in the fridge which I quickly ate, and I could call it an early night because I have morning Mass the next day. 

But more importantly, my heart was at peace. 

Because I have done God’s work.

The lesson that I learnt is this: Do God’s work first, and God will take care of the rest, and I will be at peace.

Jesus and His disciples needed some rest and peace, but Jesus saw the needs of the crowds and set Himself to teach them.

So Jesus did God’s work first and God took care of His needs as well as that of His disciples.

So in all our busyness, are we doing God’s work?

And what is God’s work? When parents teach their children to pray and also pray with them, that is God’s work; when married couples pray together so that they will be in love and in communion with God, that is God’s work; when we visit the sick and pray with them, that is God’s work; when we pray with those who are troubled and burdened, that is God’s work.

When there is misunderstanding, we pray for reconciliation, and where there is conflict, we pray for peace, that is God’s work.

Or like how the gospel puts it, where the sheep is without the shepherd, there God’s work is waiting to be done.

And when we set out to do God’s work, then rest is possible, and we will also be able to rest in peace.

Friday, July 20, 2012

15th Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 21-07-12

Micah 2:1-5 / Matthew 12:14-21

There is a spiritual exercise that we are encouraged to do everyday and it is called the "Examination of conscience".

Besides being aware of the presence of God in our lives and giving God thanks and praise for His abundant blessings, we also ask for forgiveness for the wrong we have done.

Yet is also also a time to reflect about what are the thoughts in our minds and what we are engrossed with.

In the 1st reading, we get a glimpse of what goes on the minds of people who are steeped in wickedness and evil.

They "plot evil, lie in bed planning mischief, no sooner it is dawn than they do it". Yes their minds are filled with evil thoughts and they commit evil knowingly and and publicly.

They don't think about God, nor would they ever bother about Him. But to these evil doers, God has this to say: Woe to those who plot evil.

In the gospel, we hear yet again of evil doers and it was the Pharisees plotting evil against Jesus and wanting to destroy Him.

Jesus knew what were their thoughts, yet He did not confront them nor counter-attacked them.

As the prophecy of Isaiah puts it: He will not brawl nor shout, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.

But that is not all, the prophet Isaiah continues with this: He will not break the crushed reed, nor put out the smouldering wick till he has led the truth to victory.

The truth is that God knows our thoughts and He sees our deeds, be it good or evil.

Let us keep our minds on God always and let us keep thinking of God's goodness to us so that our words and actions will be good.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

15th Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 20-07-12

Isaiah 38:1-6, 21-22, 7-8 / Matthew 12:1-8

Whenever someone is afflicted with a critical or terminal illness, there is always a dilemma that is faced by family members and friends.

The question is whether the sick person should be told about the gravity of his illness and what is going to be done about it.

Yet the knowledge of the reality of the illness can bring about an adverse reaction in that the person may feel too troubled and burdened by it, resulting in a negative situation.

Yet in the 1st reading, we heard of the prophet Isaiah going up to king Hezekiah who was critically ill and telling him bluntly to put his affairs in order because he was going to die.

It must be noted that it was the king who was suffering from a grave and mortal illness and those around him were certainly apprehensive in telling him the truth.

So it was left to the man of God to tell the king the stark truth about his illness and condition.

In the gospel it was the Son of God who had to tell the Pharisees the real meaning of the Sabbath.

The Sabbath was a day to offer worship to God and to give thanks for His love and mercy.

In turn we too must be instruments of God's love and mercy for others.

Hence whenever we are faced with a dilemma or a sensitive situation, we will be able to handle it lovingly and with care for the feelings of others.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

15th Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 19-07-12

Isaiah 26:7-9, 12, 16-19 / Matthew 11:26-30

We often hear these phrases being used very often: I am so busy; I am so stressed out; I am dead tired.

We not only hear it from others, we may have even used those phrases often.

Yet have we ever wondered, what are we so busy about? Why are we so stressed out? Why do we feel so drained and tired?

So is this what life is all about, that we are laden with busyness and get stressed out and tired with the troubles of life?

In the 1st reading, the prophet Isaiah identified what were the troubles of the lives of the people.

They got what their wicked deeds deserved, and the punishment was the oppression by their enemies.

Distressed, they now search for the Lord who will give them the peace they longed for. Lying in the dust, they hoped in the Lord who will awake and raise them to life and even exult them.

That too is our hope in the Lord as we feel the burden of the troubles of life.

And our Lord Jesus calls out to us to come to Him and find rest in Him.

It is only in resting in the heart of Jesus that we find peace of heart, and with gentleness and humility, we will be able to handle the troubles of life.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

15th Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 18-07-12

Isaiah 10:5-7, 13-16 / Matthew 11:25-27    (2020)

To have faith in God means that we look and see with the eyes of faith and we also understand with hearts of faith.

To be a person of faith means that our faith is integrated into every aspect of our lives, and we see the hand of God shaping every event and every experience.

Yet if we put ourselves in the shoes of the people of God who were listening to the 1st reading, would we be able to see the hand of God directing the power of our enemy against us?

Yes, we have sinned, we have provoked the Lord, we have turned away from the Lord and have been unfaithful.

Our enemy have pillaged and plundered us, and stamped us like mud in the street. Will the Lord not have pity on us and save us from being cut to pieces?

Yet to have faith in this kind of horrible situation is certainly challenging but nonetheless it is critical to have that bit of faith in God.

Because we must believe what the Lord said through the prophet Isaiah in the 1st reading: Does the axe claim more credit than the man who wields it, or the saw more strength than the man who handles it?

To have faith in a critical situation also means that we have hearts like that of children who believe that  God will protect us and will not let break us beyond our strength.

Yes, the hand that hurts is also the hand that heals, and we must see the hand of God directing and shaping every event and experience in our lives for our good.

To have faith means we must be able to see further and deeper and to see God in all things.

Monday, July 16, 2012

15th Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 17-07-12

Isaiah 7:1-9 / Matthew 11:20-24    (2020)

When faced with a hungry person, it is utterly useless to preach to him about the love of God.

The most sensible thing to do is to give him some food and that will indeed show him the love of God.

Hunger has no logic and hence people will not listen to whatever promises of food that will be coming. The hunger has to be addressed immediately.

If hunger has no logic, then fear can cause panic. In the face of mortal danger, fear can make people hysterical.

In the 1st reading, we heard that the hearts of the king Ahaz and the people of Judah shuddered when they got the news that the enemy was approaching to attack them.

The immediate thing to do would be to run away and save themselves and to each his own. For those remaining, they could panic and be hysterical as they wait for death to fall on them.

Yet in all that chaos, the Lord spoke. And He assured His people that what the enemy planned to do won't come true; it would not be. But on one condition: But if you do not stand by me, you will not stand at all.

The people will have to decide - either to stand by the words of the Lord, or they give in to fear and panic.

Yet in the gospel, the story was quite the opposite. The people had seen the miracles of Jesus, and yet they refused to repent. And as it is, those places mentioned in the gospel now lie in ruins.

And for us, we have heard the words of the Lord; we have seen His love for us in the Eucharist.

We now have to make the decision - either we stand by Him, or we won't stand at all.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

15th Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 16-07-12

Isaiah 1:10-17 / Matthew 10:34 - 11:1    (2020)

The Eucharist is the highest form of worship in the Church because it is Jesus who offers Himself to the Father, and we unite with Jesus in His sacrifice.

Hence the Eucharist is indeed the source and summit of our faith and life.

In the Eucharist we receive an outpouring of God's grace as we receive Jesus in Holy Communion.

Yet at the same time, it may bother us to see that the celebration of the Eucharist may seem so bland and the Catholic life and spirituality seems so lethargic.

If that is the case and if we are asking ourselves why, then the 1st reading may shed some light into our question.

It seems that God is lamenting that the sacrifices that were offered to Him were unclean and blemished and unworthy.

Simply because the hearts of the people were unclean and wicked and hence their offerings and sacrifices were just a reflection of the state of their hearts.

How can God's grace enter into hearts that are contaminated by sin and wickedness?

And how can we say that the Eucharist does not seem to have any effect when it is we who are at fault?

Jesus comes with a sword to cut away the sin and wickedness in our hearts so that we can be made a worthy offering to God.

May we detest our sins and turn to Jesus who will cleanse us and heal us and make of us a worthy offering to God, and in turn receive peace and joy from Him.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

15th Ordinary Sunday, Year B, 15.07.2012

Amos 7:12-15/ Ephesians 1:3-14/ Mark 6:7-13

The Lord’s Prayer is a powerful prayer that we are all very familiar with. Not just familiar, but we should know by heart.

It’s a simple prayer, yet it is also a very deep prayer, a prayer that can and must be used for any occasion and in any kind of need.

Yes, we need to pray that prayer seriously and also understand the meaning of that prayer.

Talking about serious praying, tell me who prays more earnestly? Is it the prayer of the one in church or the prayer of the one in the casino?

Jokes aside, the prayer of the one in the casino may be more earnest?!?

Nonetheless, we need to pray the Lord’s Prayer seriously and even slowly, because haste is the death of devotion (St Francis de Sales).

And when we begin to reflect and meditate on the Lord’s Prayer, we may come to one particular portion that we might find rather mysterious and intriguing.

Have we ever wondered about that part of the Prayer that says: Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil?

The immediate question would be: Why would God want to lead us into temptation?

To begin with, God cannot be tempted and He tempts no one. That must be made clear first.

Yet, when we ask God not to lead us into temptation, it means that we are asking God “not to allow us to enter” or “not to let us yield to” temptation.

It also means that we are asking God to block our way into temptation and to give us the Spirit of discernment.

And because temptations can just spring up all of a sudden, we need God’s help to stop us from consenting to temptation and from falling into sin.

One example would be that you are on the Titanic which was sinking fast, and there is one more place in the life-boat and you are about to take it, when you see a pregnant woman next to you.

So what are you going to do? Let the pregnant woman take your place? Or just think about saving yourself first? That springs up the temptation which requires an immediate decision.

Or, we may remember 9/11, and the crumbling Twin Towers (World Trade Center). People were running out of the building to save their lives, but there were also people running INTO the building to save lives.

What would we have done there and then?

That is just another case of temptation that requires an immediate decision.

So, when we pray “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”, it means that in that critical moment of temptation, we ask God for His help and salvation.

In the Gospel, we heard that Jesus sent forth His disciples. He also instructed them to bring practically nothing with them.

His power and authority will be the source of their preaching of repentance and deliverance and healing.

All that will sounds challenging enough as the disciples listened to Jesus in the safety of their comfort zone.

But when they are out there in pairs, when they experience discomfort and rejection, when they face difficulties and danger, things will be different.

Any sensitive situation can explode into a temptation.

Well, they can get into a disagreement with their travelling companion and end up parting ways.

They can get homesick, discouraged, frightened, disillusioned…anything.

Anything can happen the moment they give into temptation.

More so in the face of fear and terror we can all snap easily and turn from our cherished beliefs and principles and turn into something else.

In the first reading, we heard of Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, and the religious leader of the people.

Yet, in the moment of temptation, he chose to rely on the support and acceptance of the king and the people; hence he drove away the prophet Amos.

If it can happen to priests and religious people, then it is obvious that no one is spared.

Yet, let us also remember that the prayer “Lead us not into temptation” is also immediately followed by “deliver us from evil”.

In that moment of temptation, where fear and even terror may besiege us, God is also there to deliver us from the evil one.

We just have to reach out for God and trust in Him, otherwise we will be consumed by fear and terror.

There is this movie titled “Of Gods and Men”, which gives us a glimpse of religious life and its mission.

Based on a true story of a group of French Trappist monks who lived among the people in a rural village in Algeria.

All was well and peaceful until fundamentalist terrorists started creating terror in the country in 1996 and began targeting and killing foreigners.

That was when the faith and unity of the Trappist monks was put to the test.

As fear and terror began to grip that religious community, the temptations were clearly expressed in statements like:

“I didn’t become a monk to end up being killed by terrorists” or “I am not going to stay and get killed in a foreign land”.

The immediate instinct was to leave and go back to their home country.

Yet, they eventually stayed on and in the end, they lost their lives.

The words of the Prior was profound as he told his fellow monks: When we became a monk, we have already given our lives to God.

Yes, the disciples were called not just to follow Jesus but to give their lives to Jesus so that they can be sent to preach repentance, to cast out evil spirits and to heal the sick.

The temptation will be to take the easy and safe road, and to look for support and acceptance from people.

The temptation would be to follow the desires and dictates of their own hearts instead of trusting and relying on God’s grace and power.

The repentance that we need to undergo is from self-reliance to relying and trusting in God.

The evil that we need to cast out is the selfish desires of our heart, so that our heart will be healed and recreated to love.

May God save us from being overwhelmed by temptation, especially when fear and terror wants to pull us away from relying and trusting in God.

May Jesus deliver us from all evil and also cast out all evil from us, so that we belong to Him and Him alone.

Our lives are already safely in the hands of Jesus. Let us not turn to anything else.

Friday, July 13, 2012

14th Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 14-07-12

Isaiah 6:1-8 / Matthew 10:24-38

Nothing happens by coincidence. We believe that every thing happens under the watchful eyes of God and that He has a plan for everything.

So too with our experiences in life. All our experiences are linked together by a mystical thread that is woven by God's hand.

Our past experiences prepare us for what we encounter in the present, and our present experiences also prepare us for what is to come.

In the 1st reading, the prophet Isaiah tells of his mystical vision of the holiness of God.

The overwhelming glory of God made him confess his sinfulness, and at the same time he was cleansed and healed of his sinfulness.

Yet it does not end there. That mystical experience also made him respond to the call of God to be His messenger.

And would that be easy? Certainly not! But that mystical experience of God's holiness was seared into the being of Isaiah, and in the toughest of times, it will be this experience that will pull him on.

That is also the story of the numberless martyrs and witnesses as they persevered and persisted in the face of persecution and mortal danger.

May that also be our story as we reflect and meditate on our experiences in life and may we be able to see God's hand upon us, guiding us and protecting us.

May we hold on tightly to God's hand as we declare our faith and our love for Him in the presence of men.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Priests Retreat 2012

My dear brothers and sisters,

The priests of the Archdiocese of Singapore will be having their annual retreat from Monday 9th July to Friday 13th July.

I will also be at this retreat and I am really looking forward to it for a time of silence and prayer.

As such, there will be no weekday homily postings until Saturday 14th July.

Requesting prayers for myself and my brother priests that we will be renewed and re-focused so that we will continue to faithfully serve the Lord and His holy people.

Thank you. May God bless you!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

14th Ordinary Sunday, Year B, 08.07.2012

Ezekiel 2:2-5/ 2 Cor 12: 7-10/ Mark 6:1-6

About a week ago, some of us woke up at about 2am to switch on the TV. I wondered how many of us did that.

Well, there was this European Cup final between Italy and Spain and of course we know that Spain won 4-0.

Seems like Italy was really outplayed and got trashed,  despite their reputation of having a rock solid defense.

In a game where there can be any one winner, the Italians would have to creep back home and try to avoid their countrymen who are fanatical over football.

But certainly not so for the Spaniards. They are the winners, they have the Cup to show, they are the heroes, theirs is the glory and victory.

A homecoming like this, as winners, is certainly sweet, with everyone cheering and clapping for them.

Yes, they are the champions of Europe, and with that the money will also roll in.

As the song goes: The winner takes it all, the loser standing small… Actually the loser has nothing to stand on.

Yes, this world does not acknowledge losers, the world only looks at winners.

Especially if you leave your hometown in search of a fortune elsewhere.

Because when you go back home, you better make a name for yourself, as well as a fortune.

In the gospel, we heard that Jesus went back to His hometown of Nazareth.

He already had a reputation: that He taught with authority and He worked miracles.

With such a reputation, we would expect the people of His hometown to cheer and clap for Him.

Yet they questioned His wisdom and His miracles.

So what is the problem? Or where is the problem? Or who is the problem?

Well, Jesus pointed out the problem. Yes, He made a name for Himself.

But that name is not winner, not hero, or champion.

That name is prophet! And Jesus pointed out a prophet is only despised in his own country, among his own relations, and in his own house.

Yes, Jesus went back to His hometown as a prophet but He did not bring any profits for the people.

Anyway, prophets and profits do not mix!

So, when the people saw that there was nothing to gain from Jesus, that there was nothing they would benefit from Him, they just rejected Him.

If Jesus had multiplied their food, their crops, their livestock, their wealth, then perhaps they would have welcomed Him.

But in their minds, carpenters are not supposed to preach.

And certainly, Jesus had preached about things that they didn’t want to hear.

Things like faithfulness to God, forgiving enemies, praying for those who wrong them, helping the poor and needy, honesty and humility.

Even we ourselves would not be very excited about hearing those kinds of things.

Yet, these are divine truths, and divine truths are also the truths of life.

Jesus preached to His people those divine truths but He was like a thorn in the flesh for them.

And those truths He taught only increased the pain for them.

So, the most convenient thing to do was to label Him a carpenter and reject Him. Case closed.

Jesus would have certainly felt the pain of their rejection, so much so that He could work no miracle there.

To say that He was amazed by their lack of faith may be an understatement.

The rejection was painful and it was like a thorn in the flesh for Him.

We also heard in the 2nd reading of St Paul complaining about his “thorn in the flesh”.

What was it, we are not told, but like Jesus, St Paul also faced rejection in his ministry.

He even pleaded with the Lord, three times, to remove this “thorn in the flesh”, but he was told:

“My grace is enough for you; my power is at its best in weakness”.

And with that, St Paul continued to face the insults, hardships, persecutions and agonies for the sake of Christ.

In the latest edition of Catholic News, there was an article on the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen.

It was about his beatification. He is recognized for his heroic Christian virtues.

In fact, he was the forerunner of TV evangelization back in the 1950s and his talks are very inspiring and his books are still widely read.

Yet, there is something we must know about Fulton Sheen. When he was in college, he was told by his college debate coach: You are the worst speaker I ever heard.

That must have been a deep thorn in his flesh and caused him much pain.

How he managed to overcome that pain and rejection, nobody knows but he certainly believed in those words: “My grace is enough for you, my power is at its best in weakness”.

In life, we will be hurt with many painful thorns of rejection and criticism.

Some may think that we are of no use or of no benefit to them.

And then there are the thorns of failure, defeat, humiliation, and also the thorns of pride and sin.

But as St Paul had taught us and this indeed is a divine truth: those thorns in the flesh are to stop us from getting too proud.

Yet at the same time, Jesus tells us: My grace is enough for you, my power is at its best in weakness.

Yes, it is when we are weak that we are strong.

Let us deepen our faith in Jesus, our healer and Saviour.

Even with the thorns in our flesh, we can still be His prophets, powerfully proclaiming the wonders that God works in us.

Friday, July 6, 2012

13th Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 07-07-12

Amos 9:11-15 / Matthew 9:14-17    (2020)

It goes without saying that the quality of the agricultural produce of the land depends very much on the weather.

Yet another fundamental factor is also the stability of the land, i.e. the political and social condition of the people living on that land.

If there were wars and bloodshed and unrest, would we expect the land to bear quality produce even if the land was fertile?

And if grapes were planted during a time of turmoil and distress, what will be harvested could be sour grapes that are neither edible nor used for wine making.

In the 1st reading, the planting and the harvesting of grapes was in the background of a land that was restored and the people were at peace.

Yet, it must be remembered that the rich harvest of grapes, the sweet taste of wine and the joy it brings to a people at peace was the work of God who restored the land and blessed the people.

In the gospel, Jesus also talked about wine and wineskins, and He said that no one puts new wine into old wineskins.

It may simply mean that the new wine of restoration and blessing cannot be put into the old wineskins of turmoil and distress that comes from unfaithfulness to the Lord.

By now we should know the dire consequences of being complacent and being unfaithful to the Lord.

Yet, as much as the Lord is merciful and restores us and blesses us to that we can have peace in our lives, may we also prepare new wineskins for our hearts so as to receive and treasure God's blessings.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

13th Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 06-07-12

Amos 8:4-6, 9-12 / Matthew 9:9-13

Whenever we read the Old Testament, we will certainly come across this phrase - "Thus says the Lord", or "It is the Lord who speaks", or "The oracle of the Lord ... ".

In whatever way it is phrased, it is quite obvious that the Lord often spoke to His people, and these prophesies were proclaimed by the prophets.

Amos was sent by the Lord to the Northern Kingdom. He was different from the other prophets. He came from Tekoa, which is in the wilderness of Judea in the south, about six miles south of Jerusalem. 

He was a layman, a man of the fields; he wasn’t a professional priest or prophet, but he was called to go up to Bethel in the north, the center of calf worship.

Amos was sent to Israel at a time when the nation thought they were militarily secured and prosperous.

Yet they were turning to idolatry and abandoning their faith in God. In short they had misplaced their confidence on a false sense of security, and abandoned the laws of the Lord and had turned to injustice and oppression of the poor and helpless.

So Amos had a real difficult time on all fronts with a really difficult people. Yet in the end it was that difficult people who met with a tragic end when they were annihilated by Assyria in 721BC.

They had rejected the Word of the Lord from Amos, so in the end "they will stagger from sea to sea, wander from north to east, seeking the word of the Lord and failing to find it."

It was a tragic end for the Northern Kingdom but over and over again, the Bible has shown us that it was the proud and mighty who reject the Word of God from the prophets, and yet it was the humble and lowly who accepted it.

As Jesus said in the gospel, He came to call not the proud and mighty who think they are virtuous, but rather sinners who are humble and lowly.

May we acknowledge our sinfulness, may we come before the Lord in humility and lowliness and receive His Word, and may the Lord in His mercy grant us His constant blessings.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

13th Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 05-07-12

Amos 7:10-17 / Matthew 9:1-8

Hearing aids are indeed a great help for those who have hearing difficulties or are losing their hearing.

But as much as hearing aids are a great help it can also be rather challenging to use and at times inconvenient.

Besides that occasional screeching noise and the need for fresh batteries, the hearing aid picks up every kind of sound, near and far.

That is because the hearing aid, unlike the human ear, is not discerning nor does it have selective hearing.

On the other hand, our human ear is selective in its hearing as it filters out the unnecessary noises and only lets in what needs to be heard.

Yet at a deeper level, we can be so selective in our hearing that we oppose to what we don't like to hear or react angrily to what disturbs us and makes us uncomfortable.

In the two readings, we see this kind of reaction and opposition.

In the 1st reading, Amaziah the priest of Bethel reacted to Amos by telling him: Go away seer; get back to the land of Judah; earn your bread there, do your prophesying there. We want no more prophesying in Bethel.

In the gospel, the reaction goes a few notches up as the scribes thought this of Jesus when he proclaimed the forgiveness of the sins of the paralytic: This man is blaspheming.

Primarily, it means that we are not that open to the call of conversion and repentance.

It means that we have to listen to what disturbs us and makes us uncomfortable.

May God open our ears and our hearts so that we may truly thank God for His mercy and forgiveness.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

13th Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 04-07-12

Amos 5:14-15, 21-24 / Matthew 8:28-34

In the gospel, we heard of demoniacs. Not just one but two. And the gospel passage described them as creatures so fierce that no one could pass that way.

Probably not just fierce but but more frightening and since there were two of them, that makes them look like a double-barrel shotgun.

Why or how they became demoniacs, the gospel did not say. Yet they were still described as creatures.

In other words, they were created by God and created to be good, but something went terribly wrong along the way, and evil took hold of them.

Yet Jesus came to cast off the evil from them and restored them to their original created state. That is the power that God has over evil, and evil can never overcome God.

But the more sinister and cunning evil is the widespread injustice and corruption which is so often overlooked and even taken for granted.

Injustice and corruption are like camouflaged evil and can even seep and infiltrate into our faith and make us ignore our moral obligations of justice and integrity.

Yes, the words of the Lord in the 1st reading must shock us. The Lord says this: I hate and despise your feasts, I take no pleasure in your solemn festivals, I reject your oblations, and refuse to look at your sacrifices of fattened cattle.

May these words of the Lord cast out the evil from our hearts and instil in us justice and integrity, so that we will offer to the Lord a worthy sacrifice of ourselves.

Monday, July 2, 2012

St. Thomas, Apostle, Tuesday, 03-07-12

Ephesians 2:19-22 / John 20:24-29

St. Thomas was one the the Twelve Apostles called by Jesus, although the gospels did not give details of how he was called.

At the Last Supper, Jesus told His Apostles that He was going to prepare a place for them to which they also might come because they knew both the place and the way.

But when St. Thomas said that they did not know the way, Jesus had to plainly and clearly say that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Yet St. Thomas was best known for questioning the resurrection of Jesus when the rest of the Apostles testified to it.

He even demanded to touch the wounds of Jesus before he would be convinced.

And because of that he was often called "Doubting Thomas". Yet when the Risen Christ appeared before him, it was St. Thomas who proclaimed the truth of the Resurrection when he addressed Jesus as "My Lord and my God".

St. Thomas was chosen as the instrument to make the first proclamation of the truth of the Resurrection and the Lordship of the Risen Christ.

He may have been skeptical and cynical and labelled as "Doubting Thomas", but we also must acknowledge that he was the first among the apostles to proclaim Jesus as Lord and God.

From St. Thomas we can see that out of a great doubt comes a deep faith.

So if we come across people who are skeptical or cynical about who Jesus is, let us also know that these very same people can be great witnesses of Jesus.

And even from our own doubts and darkness, we will also proclaim Jesus as Lord and God when we see the light.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

13th Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 02-07-12

Amos 2:6-10, 13-16 / Matthew 8:18-22

In this world where materialism and consumerism are so rampant we may wonder what is influence of religion.

Even secularism has crept into religion although it has not gone to the extent that it has replaced the sacred.

Yet the question remains - how effective or influential is religion in this materialistic world?

In the Old Testament, the covenantal relationship between God and Israel was sealed with blood.

God will protect His people but if His people should turn away or be unfaithful to Him then He was not obligated to protect them, and furthermore disaster will befall upon them.

Such was the gravity of the covenant then. But do we see it as such now? Would we ever fear the consequences of being unfaithful or turning away from God?

Yet when disaster befall upon us, we would still want to rely on our own strength and resources.

But the 1st reading reminds us: flight will not save even the swift, the strong man will find his strength useless, the mighty man will be powerless to save himself.

Yes we have to realize that we cannot save ourselves, yet that realization can slowly come about in the process of denying ourselves and following Jesus wholeheartedly.

Turning our backs on the ways of the world may seem to be painful. Yet it will be painfully crushing to turn our backs on God and to finally realize that nothing in this world could ever save us.