Friday, August 31, 2012

21st Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 01-09-12

1 Cor 1:26-31 / Matthew 25:14-30

In this world, only a very small percentage of humanity will ever make a name for themselves.

The more popular ones are the actors and actresses, the pop singers, the top athletes and geniuses in their respective fields.

So, it goes without saying that the majority of us will come and go without the rest of the world ever noticing us.

Yet, we have this innate or inborn tendency to make a name for ourselves, to desire for attention, to bask in the limelight or to be just famous and popular.

In other words, we like to be praised by people and to be looked up to and even admired.

But the 1st reading would ask us this rather scorching question: What is there to boast about?

For us, how we stand before people is not as important as how we stand before God.

As it is expressed in the gospel parable, it is not about how many talents we have, but rather what are we doing with those talents.

We may not be flaunting our talents, but we may have to admit that we may be using our talents for selfish and self-gaining purposes.

Let us remember that we walk this way but once, and whatever good we can do, let us do it now, for we shall never walk this way again.

And for whatever good we do, let us give thanks and praise the Lord.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

21st Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 31-08-12

1 Corinthians  1:17-25 / Matthew 25:1-13

The term "simple truths" may give the impression that truth is simple enough to be immediately understood.

That may be the case in a logical truth, like the saying "what you sow is what you will reap". This is clear and simple enough as a truth of life.

But there are also other simple truths that require some reflection in order to understand what that truth is.

Because what initially seems to be foolish from the human perspective may actually have the seeds of divine wisdom.

As St. Paul said in the 1st reading, the crucifixion of Christ cannot be expressed in terms of philosophy because the language of the cross is illogical from the human perspective.

The Jews demand miracles and the Greeks look for wisdom, and hence the crucified Christ does not make sense to them.

Yet, the foolishness of the cross is the power and wisdom of God, for God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.

But to understand this, we have to look at the cross and the crucified Christ as the supreme expression of God's love for us.

When we understand how much God loves us, then we would want to be like lighted oil lamps which shine through the darkness of foolishness in search of God's wisdom.

Then we will also be willing to be like the oil that is being offered to be burnt and give out light for others. And that is indeed true wisdom.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

21st Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 30-08-12

1 Corinthians 1:1-9 / Matthew 24:42-51

Time and tide waits for no one. Certainly, time has a way of slipping by us without us being aware of it as it flows by.

I was at a class reunion just the other day and someone mentioned that it has been 35 years since we left school.

If anything, 35 years is certainly a long time. And over that period of time, we had moved on from school to pursue our own directions in life.

It had been a long time, and yet we can recall vividly the moments we had in school and the occasions we met and how we had been keeping up with each other.

Yet the passage of time is not just for us to keep reminiscing about the past. It is also a time to look forward and to wait.

In the 1st reading, St. Paul tells us we are waiting for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed, and that He will keep us steady and without blame until the last day.

So as much as we treasure the past for whatever it is, we also must stand ready for what is to come.

To stay awake is to be alert and well as to be sensitive to the small and quiet revelations of the Lord in our busy and hurried world.

In fact as we reminisce and reflect on the past, then we would have also seen how we had been careless and rather foolish even, to let the Lord pass us by without us understanding it or acting on it.

Let us awake from our spiritual slumber and stand alert and ready because the Lord wants to reveal how He is going to bless us.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Passion of St. John the Baptist, Wednesday, 29-08-12

Jeremiah 1:17-19 / Mark 6:17-29     (2016)

The life of St. John the Baptist is indeed very dramatic. Even in his mother's womb, he leapt when Mary greeted Elizabeth at the Visitation.

At his birth, there was this amazing occasion of the choice of his name which restored the power of speech of his father Zechariah, and which also left the astonished neighbours wondering what would he grow to be.

His appearance at the river Jordan preaching repentance and baptising people earned him the reputation of "the Baptist" and he even baptised Jesus.

He had an illustrious ministry. Yet in essence, St. John the Baptist was a prophet and his greatest deed as a prophet was to point out Jesus as the Lamb of God.

And as a prophet, he had to fulfil his mission by proclaiming the ways of the Lord and pointing out sin and evil and calling for repentance and conversion.

For that St. John the Baptist paid the price when he pointed out Herod's sin, and for that he was captured and imprisoned in Herod's fortress.

If his life was dramatic and illustrious, his death was equally dramatic, although it was also very gruesome.

His death by beheading revealed the characters of Herod, Herodias, her daughter, and also all the guests present, who did nothing and said nothing to stop the heinous act.

For a great prophet like St. John the Baptist who had such a dramatic and illustrious life and ministry, his death seemed so humiliating.

Yet, today, we the Church honour him. Over and above all else, we honour him for his faithfulness to God and for his courage to accept and fulfil the mission of being God's prophet.

Even for us, in all the drama of life, the spills and the thrills, or even in the mundane and the monotony, what counts for us will be our faithfulness to God.

Because in the end, it is our faithfulness to God that mattered. It mattered to St. John the Baptist. It also mattered to God.

Monday, August 27, 2012

21st Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 28-08-12

2 Thess 2:1-3, 14-17 / Matthew 23:23-26

Whenever we watch a movie or a tv series, or read a book, we should be feeling the build-up of the story line and the excitement and tension.

We won't want to go to the ending first and see or read what it is all about, and then begin watching the movie or the series or begin with the first pages of the book.

Yet there is always this curiosity and impatience in us that want to know what the ending is.

But to give in to this curiosity and impatience would rob us of the experience and meaning of journeying through the movie or the book.

Going through life is very different from watching a movie or reading a book. We can never know the ending until we get there. So each moment in life is an experience to behold and to be treasured.

That is what the 1st reading is saying - as much as we know that there will be an ending, yet we don't have to hasten it or even leave everything aside and just wait around for it.

What is important is to ask God to strengthen us in everything good that we do or say so that every moment in life is a loving and joyful moment.

And the gospel would highlight a couple of areas in life that would require this goodness - the practice of justice, mercy and good faith.

And equally important are also the virtues of purity and chastity. Good morality is a sign of a life lived in the goodness of the Lord.

So we don't have to be overly worried about the end. Each moment lived loving and joyfully is a preparation for the end and also for eternity.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

21st Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 27-08-12

2 Thess 1:1-5, 11-12 / Matthew 23:13-22

People go to Church for many reasons. Besides going there to pray and to worship and thank the Lord, one of the things they would look for is good preaching.

And people would even go to different services in different churches just to hear something inspiring.

Which may be well and good. The question is, what happens after that is what really counts. After hearing the Good News of salvation, how do they respond?

In the 1st reading, St. Paul praised the Thessalonians for their response to the Good News of salvation.

They broke from idolatry and became servants of the living God, and they looked forward to the coming of Christ.

That was quite different from the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus was addressing to in the gospel.

They heard the Good News but what they did and how they acted were far from what it meant to be saved.

We have heard the Good News. It is not interesting news; it is not extraordinary news; it is not updated news.

It is the Good News of God's love for us, the Good News of salvation.

Let us act upon it, and then by the way we live our lives, others will believe we are saved.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

21st Ordinary Sunday, Year B, 26.08.2012

Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b/ Ephesians5:21-32/ John 6:60-69

The word “paradox” is a rather strange word to define. I tried to look for the simplest and clearest and shortest definition, but I think I got into some kind of confusion.

So I can only vaguely say that a paradox is a statement which is seemingly absurd, but nonetheless true.

Yet in a way, we also vaguely know what a paradox is, and maybe a few examples may help us understand the paradox of our modern lives.

So what is the paradox of our modern lives? Well, we have taller buildings but shorter tempers; we have wider expressways but narrower viewpoints; we spend more but have less; we buy more but enjoy less.

We have bigger houses but smaller families; we have more conveniences but less time; we have more knowledge but less judgment; we have more medicine but less health.

We have conquered outer space but not our inner space; we have done bigger things but not better things.
These are just some examples of the paradox of our modern lives.

And we may even come up with some paradoxes of our own.

Yet there are times when we come across statements of conflicting truth and we don’t think much about them.

For example, if a person says “I always lie.” Is that person telling the truth, or is that person lying?

Or we may have heard parents saying to their little children : Don’t go near the water until you have learned how to swim!

Well, statements of conflicting truths and paradoxes may leave us in confusion and even frustration.

But we know what a nonsensical statement or a nonsensical language is. It is a statement or language that has no meaning or just simply absurd.

We will know it when we hear it, and there is no need to give an example.

Yet, we heard in the gospel that some of the followers of Jesus were complaining that He used intolerable language.

Putting it simply, they were saying that Jesus was talking nonsense, and that He was absurd and ridiculous.

And that was because Jesus said that the bread that He shall give is His flesh for the life of the world.

And that anyone who eats His flesh and drinks His blood will have eternal life.

It was nonsensical and absurd and ridiculous to them, and it disturbed them to the extent that they left Jesus.

And what about us? Can we accept the teachings of Jesus? Don’t we feel disturbed by His teachings?

Well, by the fact that we are here for Mass may mean that we believe in the teachings of Jesus. 

We say “Amen” when we receive Holy Communion, and we truly believe that we are receiving the Body of Christ.

But what about the other challenging and difficult teachings of Jesus? 

Like for e.g., love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Mat 5:43-44).

Or how about this : Do not resist an evildoer; if he strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other to him as well (Mat 5:39)

Or, if you do not take up your cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple (Lk 14:27).

In fact, every page of the gospels is filled with some kind of hard teachings of Jesus.

These teachings of Jesus may sound absurd and ridiculous, yet His words are spirit and they are life, and they contain the message of eternal life.

In fact, Jesus and His message is like a paradox, which may initially seem absurd and ridiculous, but nonetheless true.

Yes, it is the truth, but it is only after going through the pains of the trails of life that we can discover the truth of Jesus and His message.

Because it is in the trials of life that we will have to decide whether to leave Jesus or to believe in Him; whether to stay with Jesus or to stay away from Him.

Well, talking about the trials of life, and the good things and bad things that come our way, let me share with you a story.                   

Once upon a time, there was a king and he had a servant whom he liked very much because he was very wise and always gave very useful advice. Therefore the king took him along wherever he went.

One day, the king was bitten by a dog. His finger was injured and the wound got worse and worse. 

He asked the servant if that was a bad sign. The servant said, "Good thing or bad thing, hard to say". In the end, the finger of the king was so bad that it had to be cut off. The king asked the servant again if that was a bad sign. Again, the servant gave the same answer, "Good thing or bad thing, hard to say". The king became very angry and sent the servant to prison.

One day, the king went hunting in the jungle. He got excited when he was chasing a deer. Deeper and deeper he went into the jungle. In the end he found himself lost in the jungle. To make things worse, he got captured by natives living inside the jungle.

They wanted to sacrifice him to their god. But when they noticed that the king had one finger missing, they released him immediately as he was not a perfect man anymore and not suitable for sacrifice. The king managed to get back to his palace after all. 

And he finally understood the servant's wise quote, "Good thing or bad thing, hard to say". If he hadn't lost one finger, he could have been killed by the natives.

He ordered to release the servant, and apologized to him. But to the king's amazement, the servant was not angry at him at all. Instead, the servant said, “It wasn't a bad thing that you locked me up.” The king was astonished and asked “Why?” 

The servant said, “Because if you had not locked me up, you would have brought me along to the jungle. Since the natives found that you were not suitable, then they would have used me for the sacrifice!  So "Good thing or bad thing, hard to say". 

But the words of Jesus is not about whether it is a good thing or a bad thing.

The words of Jesus may seems ridiculous and absurd, but is it truth and life?

Do we leave it, or believe in it? Will we stay with Jesus, or will we stay away from Jesus?

From Peter we hear these profound words : Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life and we believe.

Oh yes, life can be a paradox; there will be good times, there will be bad times.

Yet good times or bad times, it is hard to say. What we must do is to believe and stay with Jesus, because only He has the message of eternal life.

Friday, August 24, 2012

20th Ordinary Week, Saturday, 25-08-12

Ezekiel 43:1-7 / Matthew 23:1-112

The style of preaching by most Catholic priests, including myself, has always been the brunt of jokes.

Maybe that is because most of the time it is sober, monotonous and also quite straight-forward (not that dramatic).

The congregation are free to listen or do whatever they may choose to. But they are certainly not forced to do whatever that is being preached and neither are they cornered to go along with the crowd.

In fact, the positive side of the style of Catholic preaching is that the listener can have the freedom to think and reflect and decide.

Yet, whatever opinions there may be about the style of Catholic preaching, priests know that they have to preach the Good News, and not good suggestions or good advice or good opinions.

And the Good News is that where the Church is, there is the throne of God, there is the step on which He rests His feet, and it is there that God dwells with His people, as we heard in the 1st reading.

Hence good preaching by the priests should lead the people of God to live in peace and to love one another and to radiate joy and freedom.

Yet if Catholics feel that religious obligations are a burden and serving in Church is a means of self-glory and getting into the lime-light, then priests may have to ask themselves if they practised what they preached.

The cornerstone of good preaching is humility and service. Indeed to step on the pulpit and preach demands that the priest speaks as a humble servant of God.

Only then will people listen to what the priest has to say about the Good News.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

St. Bartholomew, Friday, 24-08-12

Apocalypse 21:9-14 / John 1:45-31

St. Bartholomew was one of the twelve Apostles called by  Jesus, and he was listed among the Apostles in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.

He is usually identified as Nathaniel in the gospel of John as we have heard in the gospel passage.

He was introduced to Christ through St. Philip, another of the twelve apostles, and in their dialogue, we can see that the enthusiasm of St. Philip was met with the skepticism of Nathaniel.

Even though he didn't think much good can come out of Nazareth and Jesus, yet he accepted Philip's invitation to go along and see this person called Jesus.

And when Jesus saw him, He affirmed his frankness when He said that Nathaniel deserved the name "incapable of deceit".

And more than that, to be "under the fig tree" is a figure of speech to mean that one is reading and meditation on the Law.

So in essence, Nathaniel was a straight-talking and frank person. Yet he was one who keeps faith with the Lord and His Law.

So Nathaniel, or St. Bartholomew, tells us something about what we should be as disciples of Christ.

We may have our doubts or maybe we are skeptical about some things in life and maybe also about our faith.

Yet like St. Bartholomew, we need to be open to the mystery of life, and what we don't understand immediately cannot be thrown out immediately too. We need to "come and see".

Also we need to speak the truth always, and it's the truth that is rooted in Jesus.

Because openness to the truth, and living by the truth, will enable us to understand deeper the mysteries of heaven.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

20th Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 23-08-12

Ezekiel 36:23-28 / Matthew 22:1-14

If we find ourselves dreaming of staying in the countryside and living a relaxed and peaceful life, it may be because our present busy and stressed lifestyle is choking us.

We may get away from it all and go to the countryside to have a breath of fresh air and away from the hustle and bustle, but it is always back to reality.

Yet this longing for peace and serenity only points to something deeper, something that our spirit is yearning for .

In essence, it points to our yearning and longing for God who can give peace to our hearts and renew our strength to face the challenges of life with a deeper understanding.

Yes, if only we understand that God is prompting us always. If only the people of the 1st reading understood that God was prompting them to turn back to Him, then they will get new heart and a new spirit in them.

If only those who were invited to the wedding feast as we have heard in the gospel parable, had understood and responded to the king's invitation.

But in turning to themselves, and turning away from an invitation to celebrate, they only turned to tragedy and the destruction of themselves.

The God who prompts us is the God who created us. We are more spiritual and mystical than we think we are.

And very often we act as if there is no God and that we saw and heard nothing.

Let us make time for prayer and hear the Spirit of God calling, and we will be lead to rest in the green pastures of God's love.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Queenship of Mary, Wednesday, 22-08-12

Isaiah 9:1-6 / Lk 1:26-38

We exalt and glorify Jesus Christ as the "King of kings, and the Lord of Lords".

So for the Church to confer onto Mary the title of "Queen" is certainly fitting, since at the Visitation, Elizabeth called Mary "mother of my Lord", and hence she is also mother of the King.

Indeed from the earliest Church traditions, Mary has been given the title "Queen" and subsequently "Queen of Heaven", and from that title there are other expressions of her queenship.

The feast is a logical follow-up to the Assumption and is now celebrated on the octave day of that feast. 

God assumed Mary into heaven, body and soul, and in doing so, He bestowed upon her the queenship of all creation, after Jesus Christ who is the King of all creation.

As Jesus exercised his kingship on earth by serving His Father and His fellow human beings, so did Mary exercise her queenship. As the glorified Jesus remains with us as our king till the end of time, so does Mary, who was assumed into heaven and crowned queen of heaven and earth.

So as the Church celebrates the queenship of Mary, let us remember what she told the servants at the wedding at Cana - "Do whatever He tells you" (Jn 2:5)

But in order to do what Jesus is telling us, we have to have the spiritual sensitivity of Mary who knows what the will of God is for her and submits herself to it.

Let us consecrate ourselves to her Immaculate Heart and unite ourselves in a devotion to her, be it the praying of the Rosary of other forms of Marian devotion.

And like Mary our Mother, we too will say with her: Let it be done unto me according to Your Word.

Monday, August 20, 2012

20th Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 21-08-12

Ezekiel 28:1-10 / Matthew 19:23-30

The present city of Tyre had a significant part in the history of the Mediterranean region as well as in the Bible.

Commercially it was a prosperous city with two harbours and politically it was a strategic city of influence and a prized city for conquering armies.

It was at the height of her wealth and glory and might that the prophet Ezekiel pronounced the oracle against her that we heard in the 1st reading.

It was targeted at the ruler of Tyre, because though he was just a man, he considered himself the equal of God, and as such had become more and more arrogant.

Pride and arrogance had this one result - they make a person think that nothing is impossible for him.

By his own strength and might and abilities, he will be able to protect himself and overcome all difficulties and enemies.

But the oracle of the prophet Ezekiel stated otherwise. As it had happened so often in history, pride comes before the fall, and for Tyre and her ruler, it was a terrible fall.

What Jesus said about God and men in the gospel is truly a wise profound saying: For men it is impossible; for God everything is possible.

Human pride makes us think that we can do the impossible, only to fall and crash into the dust and then we realize that we are weak.

Humility would make us realize that we are nothing without God and that nothing is possible without God.

So as we pray, let us be aware that with God everything is possible; yet we also need to toil and work with the strength of God to make the impossible possible.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

20th Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 20-08-12

Ezekiel 24:15-24 / Matthew 19:16-22

Sin is a fracture or a break in our relationship with God. Yet it must be said that it is us who initiated that fracture or break by our committing sin.

The words "fracture" or "break" are certainly expressive enough when we experienced before how painful it can be when our bones are fractured or broken.

 It may be sad to say this, but human beings do not quite know the consequence of sin until they feel how painful it can be.

Moreover if we have other ways to numb the pain, we would have recourse to that, be it alcohol or drugs or whatever that may give us some temporary escape from facing the reality.

What we heard in the 1st reading was rather drastic. The prophet Ezekiel lost his wife but he was told by God not to mourn or grief.

It was to be a sign to a stiff-necked and hardened people who still thought that as long as the Temple of God was standing, He will come to their rescue sooner or later.

But God has a painful shock for them. Because the Lord said this, "I am about to profane my sanctuary, the pride of your strength, the delight of your eyes, the passion of your souls." In other words, God will allow His Temple to be destroyed by enemies.

Yes it was a painful shock and an even more painful awakening for the people to know that this is the consequence of their sin. Yet it was they themselves who brought that tragedy.

In the gospel, we heard that the young man went away sad after hearing what Jesus said about giving his money to the poor.

We should feel sad for that young man because he could not see what was only temporal and what was eternal.

But we should be sadder still if we still can sin and think it is not going to be that painful. For all we know it may just be an eternal pain, if we do not repent and turn back to God.

20th Ordinary Sunday, Year B, 19.08.2012

Proverbs 9:1-6/ Ephesians 5:15-20/ John 6:51-58

Two dots on a piece of paper can be joined by a line.                     

In our minds, we would presume that the line would be a straight line, meaning to say that a ruler would be placed between the two dots, and a straight line would be drawn across to join the two dots.

Especially in technical drawing, a line is usually a straight line. 

But that’s on paper, and we are talking about technical drawings.

But in life, lines may not be that straight, and the lines of life weave in and out of the various aspects of life.

For example, the line that divides the rich and the poor is not a pencil-thin line, but a large grey area. The question is how rich is rich and poor is poor?

Or the line between good and bad. Again, the question is how good is good and how bad is bad?

And the line between wisdom and foolishness may also not be so clear at times.

It is said that wise men talk because they have something to say, whereas fools talk because they have to say something.

Indeed, there is a difference between having something to say, and having to say something.

Yet is also said that, never argue with a fool, because people may not know the difference.                               

In other words, only fools argue with each other.

In the gospel, we heard that the people were arguing with one another.

They were arguing about this – How can this man (Jesus) give us his flesh to eat?

Jesus said that He is the living bread, and that the bread He shall give is His flesh for the life of the world!

The main point of the people’s argument is just those two words : How can? (How can this man give us his flesh to eat?)

And if we were around at that time when Jesus said those words, what would our reaction be?

Most likely than not, we are also going to say “How can?”

As a matter of fact, the ignorant and the foolish will be quick to say “How can?” to what they do not understand.

And even if the majority says the same thing, it doesn’t mean that they are right.

So even if fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.

Well, six centuries before Christ, there was a Greek philosopher and mathematician by the name of Pythagoras. From him we got the Pythagoras theorem.

He was the first man to say that the world was round.

The people at that time ridiculed him and also said “How can?”

Now, if we were there, six centuries before Christ, and we hear him saying that the world was round, what would our reaction be?

Would we say “How can the world be round?” (because our eyes see it as flat!)

Or would we ever dare to say “Why can’t the world be round?” and then get shot with all kinds of ridicules.

Indeed, to challenge the foolishness of this world, we need a lot of courage and wisdom.

It is easier to say “How can?” and stay with the majority; it is not that easy to say “Why cannot?” and then be ridiculed for being foolish.

Yet the 1st reading reminds us that as we partake of the Eucharist, we partake of the bread of life, and in doing so, we must live our lives with wisdom and leave the folly of foolishness.

The 2nd reading also tells us the same thing – to be careful about the sort of lives we lead, to be wise and not be like foolish people.

So practically what does that mean? Well the 2nd reading continues by saying that this may be a wicked age, but our lives should redeem it.

We have been told to study hard and to work hard, so that we can do well in life.

Now, what does “do well in life” means?

Obviously to do well in life means that we are going upwards in life, we are successful at work, we are well-off, we are somebody in somewhere that people look up to and admire.

Yes, the world talks about doing well in life. But those who are wise will talk about doing good in life.

And the line between doing well and doing good is parallel to the line between foolishness and wisdom.

In other words, what is the point of doing well in life, if we are not doing any good in life?

In choosing to live by the wisdom from God, we will want to do good in life, and by our lives lived in wisdom, we will redeem the world of its foolishness.

So it’s not with a foolish cynical attitude that we ask “How can we redeem the world with our lives?”

Rather, we will seriously think about how to live wisely in this world of foolishness and wickedness.

Some of us may know who Sam Plimsoll is. He lived during the 19th century (1824 – 1898).

He started his working life as a lowly clerk in England, and he was doing well and rising up the ranks.

Then misfortune struck him and he was reduced to destitution.

But empty pockets and empty stomachs will help you learn a million good things about life.

Sam Plimsoll learned from his poverty and he set off to do good in life, and he also did quite well in life.

He directed his efforts against what was known as the “coffin ships” at that time.

“Coffin ships” was the term given to unseaworthy and overloaded ships which were often heavily insured by greedy and unscrupulous owners.

Needless to say, many ships sank and many lives were lost. And that was evil and wicked.

When Sam Plimsoll challenged the mighty and arrogant shipping industry, his peers ridiculed him by saying “How can? How can you alone challenge the mighty shipping industry?”

Sam Plimsoll wisely replied : Why can’t we just paint a line on the hull of each ship, to indicated whether the ship was overloaded or not?

After much lobbying, the “Plimsoll line”, as it was called, became a standard feature on all ships, and remains so today.

It’s just a line, but it saved lives. It’s just a line but it divides good and evil. It’s just a line, but it made the difference between wisdom and foolishness.

So do our lives have a line that distinguishes what is wisdom and what is foolishness?

Do our hearts have a line that tells us what is good and what is evil?

The bread that Jesus gives us is the bread of life. May we not only do well in life, may we also do good, and redeem the world with our lives.

Friday, August 17, 2012

19th Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 18-08-12

Ezekiel 18:1-10, 13, 30-32 / Matthew 19:13-15

The gospel passage of today is very heart-warming, yet at the same time, rather perturbing and maybe also disturbing.

It was heart-warming to see that people were bring their little children, and probably even the infants in  their arms, to Jesus for Him to lay His hands on them and say a prayer.

It goes to show that people see Jesus as a holy person, as one who has the heart of love, and so they ask Him to pray and bless their children.

What is perturbing and disturbing is that the disciples were turning them away. Why would the disciples want to turn away such humble and commendable requests?

Well, if anything, the preceding passage was about marriage and divorce and the difficulties of marriage.

With the discussion of such a serious topic being broken by such commendable, mundane requests, the disciples thought it was an appropriate time for such thing.

Yet Jesus deemed it important enough to attend to such requests. And indeed it was important enough, and just as important as the topic on marriage and divorce.

Children are the fruits of love of a marriage union, and certainly the parents would want their child to walk the right path and grow into a good and God-loving person, and hence their request for Jesus to bless their children.

But if ever the parents view their children as security for the future and with other selfish motives, then it would not be likely that they would ever care about their children's spiritual growth.

So by all means bless your children, and whenever possible, have them blessed by the priests too.

Although the proverb in the 1st reading is ruled out by the Lord Himself (the fathers have eaten unripe grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge), yet another way of looking at it can be this ...

The parents have tasted the sweetness of the Lord's blessing, and may their children continue to taste the sweetness of the Lord.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

19th Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 17-08-12

Ezekiel 16:1-15, 60, 63 / Matthew 19:3-12

Just as love is "many a splendored thing", so can we say the same for marriage; or at least on the day of the wedding.

A couple enters into a marriage covenant and they certainly want it to last a life-time, be it good times or bad times, in sickness or in health.

Yet when a marriage fails, and the couple separates, one of the questions that will be asked is that can there be a divorce and will that be accepted in the eyes of God.

That is the current question for our times, and that was also the question in the gospel when the Pharisees posed it to Jesus, although they had the other motive of trapping Jesus in what He would say.

Jesus pointed it out that it was the plan of God from the beginning that marriage was a covenant, and that the man and woman are intimately joined in marriage by the love of God.

Yet as much as it was the plan of God that marriage should be as such, that plan was also one that God Himself commits Himself to in the covenant with His people.

The 1st reading describes how God entered into a covenant with His people, binding Himself in love with a lowly and despised people, and yet blessing them with dignity and wealth and status.

Yet, they became proud and infatuated, and became unfaithful and turned away from God.

We can hear the anger of God when He told Ezekiel: Son of man, confront Jerusalem with her filthy crimes.

But in the end, God wanted to pardon His people for all those filthy crimes they committed against Him.

Love may be many a splendored thing, but love is most splendidly manifested in forgiveness. God showed it to us. May we also show it in our lives, in our relationships and especially in our marriage.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

19th Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 16-08-12

Ezekiel 12:1-12 / Matthew 18:21 - 19:1

It is very humiliating when others treat you as some kind of commodity. It is not just humiliation but also a total disregard for the human dignity and for the human person.

When we are treated as a commodity, it means that we can be bought and sold for a price and the owner can do whatever he wants with us.

In other words, it means that we are not human beings; we are just things that are to be used and when we are of no use, we can be thrown away.

When Jesus told the parable of the servant who owned a enormous amount of money, the king had intended for him and his family to be sold in order to pay the debt.

That servant was treated as a thing but when he pleaded for mercy, the king cancelled his debt and treated him as a human being.

Well, that servant ought to have treated his fellow servant who owed him a much lesser amount, with the same dignity that the king treated him.

It has been often said that to forgive is divine; yet to forgive is also human.

Yet when we don't forgive, we become less human, if not inhumane.

And when we take forgiveness for granted, then we will become like the people in the 1st reading.

They took God's mercy and forgiveness for granted and hence they were exiled and were treated like things and not like human beings.

As we are forgiven, so too must we forgive, if we want to live and be treated as human beings.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Assumption of the B.V Mary 15.08.2012

Rev 11:19a; 12, 1-6a. 10ab/ 1 Cor 15:20-26/ Lk 1:39-56

To have insomnia is very frustrating. You can lie in bed and feel tired, and yet you can’t get to sleep.

And to think that everyone else is sleeping away, and even getting to sleep so easily, that can be quite depressing.

Of course, there are a few ways to induce sleep.

One is to take sleeping pills, but that won’t be good for the long term.

Or the other often used method is to “count the sheep”, but when the numbers get too big, it might create another problem.

I would want to suggest a better method, and that is to say the Rosary.

It is amazing as well as amusing, that whenever we say the Rosary, there seems to be this tranquilizing effect.

We may start off fresh and alert, and then along the way we seem to slow down to almost a standstill.

Yet that is one of the purposes of prayer – that we become still and know who God is (Ps 46:10).

And in the prayer of Mary in today’s gospel, the prayer that is often called the “Magnificat”, Mary affirms that the Lord will come to the help of His servants, mindful of His mercy.

And just as the Lord has done great things for Mary, the Lord will also do great things for us, His servants.

If the Lord raised Mary body and soul into heaven, won’t He grant us a good night’s sleep when we ask Him?

But if we can’t get to sleep easily, it may mean that we are either physically or mentally or spiritually not at rest.

By physically not being at rest, it may mean that we have pushed our bodies too much and our bodies now react against us.

By mentally not being at rest, it may mean that we worry and are anxious about so many things, but Jesus tells us that all our worrying will not add one cubit to our life (Mt 6:27), nor does it solve any problems at all.

By spiritually not being at rest, that may mean that our hearts are not with the Lord and that He is not in the center of our hearts.
Yet Psalm 126 has this to say: If the Lord does not build the house,
in vain do its builders labour; if the Lord does not watch over the city, in vain does the watchman keep vigil. In vain is your earlier rising, your going later to rest, you who toil for the bread you eat, when He pours gifts on His beloved while they slumber.

Yes, the Lord pours forth His blessing on us even while we sleep in slumber.

Yet we must look to Mary our Mother and learn how to live and move and have our being in the Lord.

In her humility, she accepted God’s will to be His handmaid.

In her charity, she was of service to her cousin Elizabeth in her time of need.

In her fidelity, she stood by the cross of her Son and accepted to be our Mother also.

And even now from her place in heaven, she continues her mission of being our Mother by praying for us and helping us to follow Jesus.

Yes, Mary holds us close to her heart so that we can be at peace and rest secure in the Lord.

Let us pray to her with the Rosary, not only when we can’t sleep, but also whenever we are faced with the turmoils of life.

For with Mary, our salvation will lie in conversion and tranquility, our strength in complete trust in the Lord (Isa 30:15).

Monday, August 13, 2012

19th Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 14-08-12

Ezekiel 2:8 - 3:4 / Matthew 18:1-5, 10, 12-14

The prophet Ezekiel was one of the 3000 upper class Jews who were exiled in Babylon in the year 597BC.

It was while he was in Babylon that he started to have visions and gave prophetic insights.

One of which was about the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 586BC.

Of course, at that time, the people were just too obstinate to accept Ezekiel's prophesies, especially those who were exiled in Babylon.

Because the Temple was still standing then, they thought that God will bring them back. They would never had expected to die in a foreign land.

Yet, as we heard in the 1st reading, what Ezekiel saw written on the scroll was clearly an indication of what was to come - "lamentations, wailings, moanings".

If only they had not been so stubborn and obstinate, they might have been spared; if only they had hearts like little children, they might have listened.

Indeed, children are sensitive enough to sense the seriousness of a warning and they will follow as they were told.

Yes, we need to have the simplicity and also the sensitivity of children in order to hear and understand and act on the promptings of the Lord.

As Psalm 8:2 would put it - From the mouths of children and of babes, You have found praise to foil the enemy and the foe.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

19th Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 13-08-12

Ezekiel 1:2-5, 24-28 / Matthew 17:22-27

When we read the gospels and reflect on it deeper, especially on the things that Jesus did, we may wonder why He did what He did, especially since He is the Son of God.

He seemed so much more human than He was divine.
He didn't have to be born in a stable, yet He did.
He didn't have to work as a carpenter, yet He did.
He didn't have to wash His disciples' feet, yet He did.
He didn't have to die on the cross, yet He did.

But did He have to pay the half-shekel? Well, to begin with, the half-shekel was for the upkeep of the Temple and also for the upkeep of the priestly services.

So Jesus had to pay the half-shekel, and He indeed did pay that Temple tax from the coin that was in the mouth of the fish that Peter caught.

But He also revealed a bit about His true identity when He said that kings collect tax from foreigners and not from their own sons.

In doing this, Jesus taught us a lesson on humility and obedience.

He is the Son of God, He is Lord and Saviour, He is Master, He is Teacher.

Yet He humbled Himself and took the form of a servant and became obedient even until death, and death on the cross (Phil 2:7-8)

In life we may be pushed to pay many "half-shekels" that we are not obliged to do so.

Somebody's work may end up on our desk; we may be stuck with a dirty thankless task; we may take the rap for someone else's mistake.

But let us be humble and obedient just like Jesus, our Lord and Saviour.

And we will be repaid a hundred fold with God's love and more so, in the eternal feast of heaven as His children around His table.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

19th Ordinary Sunday, Year B, 12.08.2012

1 Kings 19:4-8/ Ephesians 4:30-5, 2/ John 6:41-51

One of the most challenging places to work in is the service industry.

Essentially, the service industry caters to the needs of customers and consumers.

Actually, it is more than just the needs. The service industry must try to satisfy the demands of the customers and consumers.

Because in order to survive in the competitive service industry, one has to be able to fulfill whatever that  is “on-demand”, and that means whatever is demanded by the customers and consumers.

So for example, for a restaurant to survive, the food must be good, and the service fast and courteous.

For a telco or internet service provider, the rates must be value-for-money, and the customer hotline must be quickly attended to, and whatever problems quickly resolved.

For a hotel, the guests must feel like they are at home, and the longer they stay, the better.

By and large, the service industry thrives on the fact that people like to be served, and served quickly and courteously. 

Yet people can be hard to please. You give them a doughnut and some will ask why there is a hole in the center.

In other words, if you want to be in the service industry, you got to be prepared for all sorts of complaints.
And not just complaints, there will be hardly any compliments.

If complaining can be an Olympic sport, then we can get a gold medal for that.

Yet the word “complain” appeared twice in today’s gospel passage.

The people were complaining about Jesus (so even Jesus got complains against Him. That’s a great consolation actually).    And then He had to tell them to stop complaining.

The people were complaining that Jesus was talking nonsense – that He is the bread that came down from heaven, but they knew where He came from. Or at least they thought they knew.

Yes, Jesus had a difficult time trying to teach the people that He is the bread of life because their minds were already filled with complains.

When the mind is filled with complaints, the heart is already closed.

And when the mind is filled with complaints, then life can be a pain.

Even in the 1st reading, we hear of the prophet Elijah, who seemed to be complaining and even wishing he were dead.

His words of complaint were these : Lord, I have had enough. Take my life. I am no better than my ancestors.

Yet his complaint was not about the small stuff. His complaint was about a real mortal danger.

He was being pursued by his enemies, and they were hunting him down and bent on taking his life.

So even as a prophet, he felt he can’t take it anymore, and hence those words – Lord, I have had enough. Take my life!

Well, those are indeed prophetic words coming from a prophet in distress.

Because we too have our own complaints about life. 

Especially when all the work is arrowed and pushed to us, and no one would help us, whether it is at home or at work.

Or when our problems keep mounting and no one understands us. All they ever say is: Don’t worry, be happy!

Or when one is old and sickly, and no one bothers or cares, and loneliness has drained the meaning out of life.

In such situations, we will be tempted to say : Lord, I have had enough. (Take my life)

But God being God, He won’t take our life just like that. Rather He will give us the bread of life and the bread for life.

For the prophet Elijah, God sent an angel to bring him bread and water to help him go on.

The bread has a deeper meaning than just food to fill the stomach and to satisfy the hunger.

It was a sign for the prophet Elijah that God will be with him in the journey ahead.

So for his complaint, God did not give a solution; rather God became his companion.

The word “companion” is interesting. It is made up of two Latin words – “cum” which means “with”, and “panis” which means “bread”.

So “companion” means sharing and eating bread with someone.

It may be the bread of joy and happiness. But more often than not, it is the bread of suffering and loneliness, bread of pain and difficulties.

In these kind of moments, we will complain, and like the prophet Elijah, we will say : Lord, I have had enough.

Yet in our all complaints, whether it is about life or about God, let us realize that we are not asking for answers.

For the questions about life, pain, suffering and even about God, the answers won’t be of much help, even if we can get those answers.

Yet for all our questions and complaints, God comes to be with us and to be our companion on the way.

And that is actually what we really need – a companion to be with us in our difficult and painful moments of life.

With that, we will understand what Jesus meant when He said: the bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world.

In other words, Jesus will send someone (someone in the flesh! someone for real!) to be our companion in difficult and turbulent times.

Just the other day, I was reading a blog posting from Mr Brown, the renowned Mr Brown, who is seriously humourous as a social and political satirist.

He was writing about an experience he had when he was watching the badminton finals of the Olympics between Datuk Lee Chong Wei (Malaysia) and Lin Dan (China).

He was watching the exciting game when his 12 yr-old autistic daughter whose name is Faith, quietly snuggled up next to him.

Being seriously autistic, Mr Brown didn’t think she was into badminton or understood the game (but then again, who knows?)

Even though Faith does not talk, Mr Brown found himself explaining to her what was happening in that badminton match.

But he also thought to himself – while the battle for an Olympic gold medal was going on, he felt like a winner already.

Because he was so proud of being the father of an autistic child, who, without words, shows her affection in the simplest of ways, like sitting quietly next to her father to watch a game she probably doesn’t understand.

Mr Brown ended off by saying: I wouldn’t trade that for any gold medal in the world.

Indeed, the best service we can render to someone is to be a companion, to be with that person even if it’s just being there quietly, especially when that person is in difficulty.

Because no one would ever complain against a companion, especially a companion who shares in the bread of pain and suffering.

Friday, August 10, 2012

18th Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 11-08-12

Habakkuk 1:12 - 2:4 / Matthew 17:14-20

Workers and subordinates will always have something to lament about their bosses or superiors.

Yet, it is one thing to gripe and complain behind their backs, and quite another to face the boss or superior and speak out boldly the grievances.

Nobody would want to do the latter, because there is too much at risk and also too much to lose.

Now, what would it be if the boss or superior is God Himself. Because with God, He knows us through and through, and no thought of ours would ever be hidden from Him.

The prophet Habakkuk, in the 1st reading, was well aware that God knows his thoughts. And as he complains and questions aloud the intentions of God, he even puts his grievances into writing, as if it was for God to see even.

It does seem utterly disrespectful and insubordinate that a creature would act like this before his Creator, yet that is the beauty of our relationship with God.

God will let us get angry and even shout at Him when we don't understand at all the evil that is happening around us and even to us.

Yet in a calm and assuring reply, God said to Habakkuk: See how he flags, he whose soul is not at rights, but the upright man will live by his faithfulness.

Yes, just as Jesus said in the gospel that even if our faith is the size of a mustard seed, we can move mountains, all the more we must have faith in God who will act to protect His people from being overwhelmed by evil.

We will always have our grievances and our complains. Yet we must also believe that God cares and loves us much more than we can ever understand.

St. Lawrence, Deacon & Martyr, Friday, 10-08-12

2 Cor 9:6-10 / John 12:24-26

Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Lawrence, who was only a deacon at the time of his martyrdom in year 258.

In that year, on the 6th August, Pope Sixtus II and four other deacons was captured while celebrating Mass in the catacombs, and subsequently martyred.

The administration of the Church of left to St. Lawrence and he was ordered to surrender the riches and the wealth of the Church in three days time.

He quickly distributed as much Church property to the poor as possible, and on the third day, he gathered the poor, the crippled, the blind and the suffering and presented them to the authorities and he told them that these were the true treasures of the Church.

Needless to say he was immediately sentenced to death, and tradition has it that he was grilled or roasted to death, hence his association with the gridiron, which was the instrument of torture for grilling people to death.

What was remarkable was that it was a slow painful and horrible way to be tortured to death, and yet St. Lawrence persevered to the end.

His martyrdom portrays the reality of what Jesus said in the gospel: If a man serves me, he must follow me, wherever I am, my servant will be there too. If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him.

St. Lawrence served Christ with his life right up till the end. In doing so he gave us an example of giving up his life so that it will yield a rich harvest in the hands of the Lord.

May our lives also be like seeds of love in the hands of the Divine Sower, and wherever we are sown, may we also bear a rich harvest of love for the Lord.