Thursday, January 31, 2013

3rd Week,Ordinary Time, Friday, 01-02-13

Hebrews 10:32-39 / Mark 4:26-34

Life is always changing, and yet the changes in life always fill us with a certain anxiety.

Because when there are changes, the future becomes uncertain and unpredictable.

It is not that we want to predict the future, but a certain stability is shaken.

Whatever the changes might be, one thing is certain, and that is there will be growth.

The gospel parables of today talk about growth - the seed sprouting and growing, the mustard seed growing into a big shrub.

How these changes occur, we are not that certain, yet in the end, the results are obvious - there is growth.

The 1st reading also talks about changes. But those changes were rather distressful and even painful.

People who embraced the faith and became Christians were exposed to insults and violence and stripped of belongings.

But just as the seed was sprouting and growing and growing into a beautiful tree, then we must also believe that situations can change and change for the better along with time.

As the 1st reading puts it, "Only a little while now, a very little while, the one that is coming will have come; he will not delay. The righteous man will live by faith."

Let us face the changes in life with faith, and let us persevere in our faith and await the blessings of the Lord.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

3rd Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 31-01-13

Hebrews 10:19-25 / Mark 4:21-25

This world is a beautiful world. Yes, we need to reiterate that over and over again because God created this world and saw it as good and beautiful.

And this world can continue to be good and beautiful and would be good and beautiful as long as the good people in this world would share the goodness of God's love.

But if the people who believe in goodness and want this world to be a good and beautiful place to live in do nothing to bring about goodness, then this world will slowly turn dark and ugly.

Consequently and subsequently, it will also turn to evil and then this world would be a dangerous place to live in.

The famous Edmund Burke quote is this :“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

It is like what Jesus said in the gospel about bringing in a lamp and putting it under a tub or under the bed - the light from the lamp is not going to be very useful.

But for us to bring about goodness into the world, we need to come before the Lord of all goodness and be filled.

So the 1st reading urges us that as we come before the Lord in His sanctuary, let us be sincere in heart and filled with faith, our minds sprinkled and free from any trace of bad conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

In other words we must be cleansed of sin, by going for the Sacrament of Reconciliation if necessary, and to keep our hearts pure in order to receive the Lord and be filled with His love.

Then we will truly be able to love our neighbour, be concerned for them, and also to stir a response in love and good works in them. And this world be indeed continue to be a good and beautiful world.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

3rd Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 30-01-13

Hebrews 10:11-18 / Mark 4:1-10

In school, we learn about ideas and theories and formulas and principles.

With all the knowledge in our heads, we will to go out into the world to see how these ideas and theories and principles work in the practicality and in the reality of life.

To remain in the classroom and not moving out would only give us a very narrow and myopic perspective.

Jesus began His ministry by teaching in the synagogues. But in today's gospel we heard that He began teaching by the lakeside.

And He used simple stories of everyday life to teach the people about eternal life, and also to help them understand the kingdom of God in the reality of their lives.

Hence the parable of the sower is about the hearts of the people as well as about our own hearts and how we are responding to God's Word.

Yet it is also a parable about God's heart for His people. The parable begins with "a sower going out to sow".

God goes out to His people to where they are and in their everyday lives and it is there He sows His word.

The 1st reading says that when those days arrive, God will make a new covenant with them, and He will put His laws into their hearts and write them on their minds.

In Jesus, God has come down from heaven to be with us so that we are able to understand His love. And may our hearts be sown with the seeds of God's love and bear a harvest of love too.

Monday, January 28, 2013

3rd Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 29-01-13

Hebrews 10:1-10 / Mark 3:31-35

Sometimes religion can be thought of as some kind of barter trade between the deity and the devotee.

Religious rituals and sacrifices are performed in order to gain some kind of favours from the deity.

So someone may have gained a sum of ill-gotten money and to offset the guilt, he makes a donation to a religious institution in order to ease his conscience.

Or he may perform some religious rituals in order to ask for favours and to be granted what he desires.

Yet, we read in 1 Samuel 15:22 that the prophet Samuel told king Saul this, "Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams."

So what God is asking of us, over and above everything else, is our obedience to Him. With that, our religious rituals and sacrifices will fall into place and find their meaning in our faith.

And this is reiterated in the 1st reading when it said that God wanted no sacrifice or oblation or holocaust but that we do His will.

And in the gospel, Jesus would tell His disciples that whoever does the will of God is His brother and sister and mother.

So as we pray to God for our needs and intentions, let us also remember that God's will must also be done.

Obedience to God's will will give us peace of heart and mind. And that is what we really want.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

3rd Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 28-01-13

Hebrews 9:15, 24-28 / Mark 3:22-30

It is amazing as well as astounding how much words can come out of our mouths and what effect it has on others.

Good words of encouragement and support are pleasing to hear and we will have a feeling of peace and joy as those words resonate in our hearts.

On the other hand, we are also capable of saying very bad words that hurt and break the hearts of others and will also cause them to get angry and retaliate with violence.

In the gospel, we heard the scribes saying something very disgusting as well as evil. They said that Beelzebul (the devil) is in Jesus, and that it is through the prince of devils that He casts out devils.

It is disgusting because, if there is nothing good to say, then it would be better not to say anything.

But to say that the devil is in that person when that person is doing something good is certainly very vicious and evil.

Yet Jesus did not react with anger or retaliation. Rather He reasoned out with them that Satan won't fight against himself and cause his own destruction. Of course whether the scribes will listen or not is another issue.

In fact the devil would only want to make us fight against each other by spewing vicious and hurting words at each other and causing us to fight against each other and be divided against each other.

Hence we need to learn from Jesus as in how He handled the situation when those scribes accused Him of being possessed by the devil and working for the devil.

We need to be calm and vigilant because the devil is prowling around looking for someone to eat (1 Peter 5:8). We need to stand by Jesus who will keep us firm in faith and be at peace.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

3rd Ordinary Sunday, Year C, 27.01.2013

Nehemiah 8:2-6, 8-10/ 1 Corinthians 12:12-30 or 12:12-14, 27/ Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21

Over the past week, there is one topic that dominated the local news, and that is the election or by-election.

Oh yes, the faces of the four candidates from the four political parties were on the news, together with the leaders and members of their parties.

Rallies were held, many words were spoken, many promises were made.

Each candidate is matured and promising, and so it would be a by-election to watch as it would be closely fought.

By now, we would know who won the seat at the Punggol East constituency.

And we would certainly hear some words of vision and direction from the new minister of parliament.

Coincidentally, at the same time, we, the Church of Singapore, are also rejoicing over an “election”.

Yes, we give thanks and we rejoice because an Archbishop Coadjutor had been chosen for our archdiocese.

Archbishop Coadjutor means that he will definitely succeed the present Archbishop when he retires.

And the date for his ordination (Episcopal Ordination) is set on the 22nd February at the Singapore Expo Max Pavilion.

We certainly await that day as the administrative and logistic preparations are rolling at full speed.

But we are also looking ahead into the future to see what vision the Archbishop-to-be William Goh has for the Church in Singapore.

We also want to know what direction and what mission he has for us.

Yes, we are waiting because this will certainly have an effect on how we are going to live out our faith and to make it relevant in our lives and in our society. 

Yes, we are looking for vision and mission statements from our spiritual leaders as well as from our political leaders.

But today we hear the vision and mission statement from none other than the Chief Shepherd, who is also the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

Jesus went back to His hometown in Nazareth, and in the synagogue on the Sabbath day, He stood up to read.

He unrolled the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and He read this passage.

“The Spirit of the Lord been given to me, for He has anointed me. 
He has sent me to give good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.”

Certainly, a very grand and impressive vision and mission statement.

It represented the hopes and dreams of the people of the Old Testament and Jesus came to fulfill it as He said those words: “This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.”

Yet, as much as it represented the hopes and dreams of the people of the Old Testament, what they experienced were anguish and pain.

In fact, the anguish and pain of the peoples of the Old Testament are also the anguish and pain of the people of the New Testament and are also the grieves and anguish of the people of modern times.

It is said that every person, on the average, has some kind of physical complaint or a stressful problem every 3 days. 

I think that is already very optimistic. You may retort by saying, “What every 3 days?! It’s everyday!”

Whatever it may be, we want to hear good news that bring joy and hope and we also want to tell others that kind of good news.

We want to experience liberty and freedom from all those stressful problems that hold us captives.

We want to experience that power of prayer that will heal the sick and make them healthy and happy.

We want to say that we are not stressed because we are blessed, and that the Lord’s favour is on us.

Yet, in the face of illness, financial difficulties, family and marriage problems, and problems at work, what we feel are pain and anguish.

We feel so weak in face of all the challenges and it is a painful burden for us. 

So, did God fail us somewhere and did not keep His word? After all, Jesus proclaimed that grand and impressive vision and mission statement, but the world is still battling old illnesses and facing new ones; there is still injustice and poverty, oppression and destruction.

Yes, we are still struggling in our grief and anguish over the problems that we face, be it physical or emotional.

Yet, our struggle is not an absence of strength. In fact, our struggle is a means to strength. 

We are tempted to think that God sends us our trials and tribulations to test us and teach us.

But the fact is that our trials and tribulations are already here. Even Jesus would say, “In this world you will have trials and tribulations.”

There is a story of a little girl who found a butterfly cocoon and she brought it home to take care of it and to watch the butterfly come out.

Finally, the day arrived and the cocoon shook a little and there was a small tear and a tiny head appeared.

But it seemed that the butterfly was struggling and having difficulty to break out of the cocoon.

The little girl grew impatient and she thought of helping. She took a little stick to open up the cocoon so that the butterfly could break out of it.

Immediately, the butterfly was free, but when it tried to fly, it stretched out its wings but it fell and died.

The girl was shocked and ran crying to her father, asking, “What happened? I tried to help!”

The father gently answered, “The butterfly needed to struggle.Without struggling, it would never be able to strengthen its wings to fly.”

And even for Jesus, after proclaiming the words from the prophet Isaiah, He went on His mission that would be lined with trials and difficulties. (In fact, next week, we will hear of His first struggle)

And in the end, He had to struggle to carry the cross up to Calvary on which He would lay down His life for us.

But we must remember that struggles and sufferings, trials and tribulations, do not have the final word.

The final word belongs to Jesus as He tells us: In this world, there will be trials and tribulations. But do not fear. I have overcome the world.

So Jesus has given us a vision of hopes and dreams. With that the mission must begin and it must begin today.

It will be a struggle, but may we be rewarded with the joy of seeing the butterflies breaking free from the cocoons.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Sts. Timothy and Titus, Saturday, 26-01-13

2 Tim 1:1-8 or Titus 1:1-5 / Luke 10:1-9

In the 27 books in the New Testament, 13 are attributed to St. Paul. Out of those 13 book, there are some which are personal letters to individuals.

In both the alternative 1st readings, we get to read a portion of those personal letters to individuals.

St. Paul was a prolific writer, but in those personal letters, he bared his heart to the one he was writing to.

He called Timothy "dear child of mine" (as in a spiritual son) and encouraged him to keep the faith and to have the courage given by the Spirit in bearing witness to Jesus.

He also called Titus "true child of mine in the faith that we share" and explained that he left Titus behind in Crete because he had work there for him to do.

Timothy and Titus were disciples of St. Paul and his co-workers. St. Paul loved them and was concerned about them and expressed it in his letters.

The fact that these letters survived and was incorporated into the New Testament showed that Timothy and Titus treasured those letters from St. Paul.

Those letters were about the only concrete reminders for them of St. Paul, and what he taught them and the memorable times they had in doing God's work together.

The spoken word can be powerful, yet the written word can have a more lasting effect and also it can be a source of encouragement and support for the addressee.

May we also take time out to write a word of encouragement and support to our friends and loved ones. A short sincere note will certainly go a long way for them.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Conversion of St. Paul The Apostle, Friday, 25-01-13

Acts 22:3-16 or Acts 9:1-22 / Mark 16:15-18

Of all the 27 books in the New Testament, 13 are attributed to St. Paul, and the book of the Acts of the Apostles has many accounts of what St. Paul did and said.

The letters of St. Paul describes the meaning of a Christian life and spirituality. There is no doubt that the letters of St. Paul was very influential in the time of the early Church as well as even now.

What is really surprising is that St. Paul, when he was known as Saul before his conversion, was a feared persecutor of Christians and that he was even sent by the high priest and the whole council of the Jewish elders to the neighbouring Damascus to capture Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment.

What is even more surprising is that Jesus would choose such a man, who was there at the stoning of St. Stephen, and with so much blood of Christians in his hands.

So it was there on the road to Damascus that a bright light shone around Saul and he fell to the ground and he heard a voice and then he realized that in persecuting Christians he was actually persecuting Jesus, and subsequently he was struck blind.

And it was ironic that he was healed of his blindness by a Christian called Annanias. The very people that he persecuted was also the ones who healed him.

The conversion of St. Paul reminds us of what Jesus taught us in the gospel - to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us.

As much as the Christians at that time feared Saul the persecutor, they prayed for him and he became St. Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles.

And in the account of the healing of St. Paul's blindness, it was also a Christian who healed him.

So let us believe that in praying for our enemies, Jesus will shine the His light on them. May we also be courageous to offer them healing and reconciliation.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

2nd Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 24-01-13

Hebrews 7:25 - 8:6 / Mark 3:7-12

People came to Jesus for various reasons. Some have heard about Him and so they have come to check Him for themselves.

Others may be curious for the spectacular; yet others may be desperate because of some particular need, eg. for healing, for deliverance, for enlightenment, for direction, etc.

Whatever it was, the reasons were many. And the bottom line is that they want something from Jesus.

As it was then, so it is now and it will always be as such. It is like some kind of consumerism mentality.

Whatever Jesus can give, people would want, and they will want more and more. And they may even crush Him in order to get what they want from Him.

As we heard in the gospel, He even had to get onto a boat to keep Himself from being crushed.

Yes, we all want something from Jesus, and we might not be that ready to take "No" for an answer.

But as we reflect on the 1st reading, it is clear that Jesus is the high priest appointed by God to be the mediator between God and man, and hence His power to save is utterly certain.

Yet as high priest and Saviour, Jesus had to offer Himself as the sacrifice for sinners in order to save them.

Hence, if we truly believe in Jesus as our high priest and Saviour, then we too would follow Him in doing what He had done - to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice so that Jesus can continue His saving work in us.

Hence, it would not be so much as what we want from Jesus, but what we are willing to give up and offer to Him as a loving sacrifice.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

2nd Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 23-01-13

Hebrews 7:1-3, 15-17 / Mark 3:1-6

One of the figures of the Old Testament that is shrouded with mystery is this person called Melchizedek, who was mentioned in the 1st reading.

Melchizedek  is mentioned in two instances in the Old Testament - Genesis 14:18-20 and Psalm 110:4, but his origin still remains a mystery.

His name means "king of righteousness" and he was king of Salem, which means that he was the king of peace. He was described as the priest of the most high God and Abraham offered him tithes.

The word "righteousness" also has the meaning of justice and it is to be understood in the context of the covenantal relationship with God.

By faith we are justified and hence we live our lives with righteousness and moral conduct so as to express our relationship with God.

In living out our covenantal relationship with God in righteousness and justice, we will also be at peace with God and with others.

As the 1st reading puts it, Jesus is the second Melchizedek; He is the expression of the righteousness and peace of God.

Hence in His encounter with the man who had a withered hand in the synagogue on the Sabbath day, He questioned those present whether it is right and just, whether it is against the law to do good and to save life.

But their silence only grieved Him and nonetheless, He proceeded to cure the man.

Yes, it is rather strange that righteousness and peace are met with obstinacy and even evil.

Yet, like Jesus, let us continue to live our lives in righteousness and bring about peace in the face of obstinacy and evil.

Monday, January 21, 2013

2nd Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 22-01-13

Hebrews 6:10-20 / Mark 2:23-28

One of the reasons why some people do not wish to embrace a religion is because of the obligations to the laws and practices of the religion.

In as much as they may believe in a supreme divine being, they prefer to remain as "free-thinkers" - free from religious obligations, and perhaps, moral obligations.

And we ourselves may at times find our religious obligations and laws rather cumbersome and inconvenient, and we may even think that some are like a nuisance.

But laws and obligations have a purpose. They are meant to help those who need black-and-white instructions to what needs to be done and what needs to be observed.

More than that, they also help us know where we are in our spiritual life, and to find a direction in our relationship with God.

Hence we must remember that our God is not a God of laws and commandments and obligations.

He is a God of relationships, and Jesus is the expression of that relationship.

And if Jesus is the master of the Sabbath, which is a holy day, then He is leading us into a holy relationship with God and with each other.

It is in this holy relationship that we will understand the laws and commandments and obligations.

Over and above, let us be holy, just as our Lord God is holy.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

2nd Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 21-01-13

Hebrews 5:1-10 / Mark 2:18-22

New ways of doing things are interesting and exciting. From cooking with firewood to gas cooking or electric cooking is really a leap of a change.

Yet new ways are not always immediately understood and accepted, even though they may be more effective and productive.

In fact, new ways are often viewed with suspicion and grilled with questions and they will be heavily criticised when a small fault happens.

The way of Jesus in proclaiming the Good News of God's love was certainly unconventional and revolutionary, but it also irked the other religious groups of His time like the scribes and Pharisees.

While the religious attitude at that time was concerned with religious purity and keeping the rituals, Jesus came along and feasted with the sinners and those considered impure.

Jesus made God's love incarnate - people, especially the sinners, could see, hear, touch and feel the love of God, and they were told that God loves them all, sinners or not.

As how the 1st reading described that a high priest is taken out of mankind and is appointed to act for men in their relations with God, so that he can sympathise with those who are ignorant or uncertain.

So Jesus, the Son of God, the high priest of God, feasted with all alike to celebrated God's love for them and to lead them back to God.

Although He was Son and high priest, He learnt to obey through suffering and He became for all who obey Him the source of eternal salvation.

So fasting and penance are still ways to express our love for God; but in Jesus, the way of obedience brings about a deeper meaning to fasting and doing penance.

The way of obedience is not just a new way; it is the way of Jesus who is THE WAY.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

2nd Ordinary Sunday, Year C, 20.01.2013

Isaiah 62:1-5/ 1 Corinthians 12:4-11/ John 2:1-11

Most of us carry a mobile phone. In fact Singapore has one of the highest mobile phone subscriptions per capita – about 7.5 million mobile phone subscriptions for a population of about 5 million.

And a good number of us also carry stylish smart phones, and we really have to be quite smart to use it.

But whether smart phone or just a plain simple mobile phone, there are some challenges attached to it.

One is, of course, the battery state. You can have the best and smartest phone, but when the battery goes flat, then it can become quite a useless thing.

Of course all you need to do is to get it plugged to a socket outlet and start charging and the battery problem will be solved and things will be under control.

The other problem is more critical and quite out of our control.

And that problem surfaced unexpectedly last Tuesday, and some of you may know what I am talking about.

One of the telcos, one of the mobile network service providers, had a power failure in the system, and that resulted in a network failure, meaning to say that there was no signal going to the subscribers’ mobile phones.

It lasted for about 19 hours or maybe even more. So for 19 hours, the mobile phones couldn’t connect to the internet, couldn’t SMS and the voice calls were also down.

That was something that was totally beyond our control, and when our mobile phones have no signal, then they are not much of a use.

So without warning, there was no signal, and all the things that we do with the mobile phone, all that just came to a halt.

So last Tuesday, some of us would have felt frustration, because we couldn’t do the usual things on our phone.

We would also have felt desperation, because we couldn’t contact or confirm our appointments, simply because we couldn’t reach them and they couldn’t reach us.

Inevitably, resentment would come in because we paid for the service and it couldn’t deliver. Surely we would be angry.

So such a turmoil arose just because there was no signal coming into our precious mobile phones.

And at the wedding at Cana that we heard in the gospel, there was also a turmoil.

Everybody seemed to be happy and celebrating and sharing in the joy of the newly married couple.

Of course, as in any wedding, there would be lots of food. And there would also be lots of wine. After all it is a wedding feast.

Then it seems that all of a sudden, as if without warning, there was no wine! The wine had run out!

The first probable reaction would be: How come? How come like that?

And just like when there was no signal on the mobile network, there was desperation and frustration.

Where could they go to find some more wine? Where were the shops selling the wine? Would there be enough wine in the shops?

And then there would be accusations. Somebody didn’t do his job. 

How come the wine wasn’t enough? Why?

The wedding feast was going to turn into a wedding fiasco. 

Celebration was going to turn into embarrassment.

And Mary was there, sensing the dilemma, and she went to Jesus and said, “They have no wine.”

The reply of Jesus was just so strange. He didn’t say, “What happened? How come like that?”

With a tone of indifference, He replied, “Woman, why turn to me? My hour had not come yet.”

It seemed like nothing could be done, and even Jesus didn’t seem to want to do anything.

But Mary sensed something else, and that was why she made this puzzling statement to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.”

And what Jesus told the servants to do was rather mundane and menial – fill those six jars with water.

And we know the rest of the story – the water had turned into wine. 

The water that was meant to be used for washing hands and feet was turned into top grade wine!

So the wedding at Cana tells us that no wine does not mean no hope.

We often tell God how great our problems are. But do we tell our problems how great God is?

A story goes that once upon a time, following a shipwreck, one of the crew managed to hold on to a wooden remnant of the ship and was washed ashore on a desolate island. 

He stayed there for many months expecting a rescue by some other ship. He built a tent and tried to survive.

Most of the time he went to the beach and looked for signs of help from an approaching ship. He prayed fervently but his prayers were not answered for a long period, and he was losing hope.

One day, feeling much depressed and disgusted, he stood at the beach, as usual, inspecting the horizon, expecting the appearance of a ship as an answer to his prayers.

Suddenly, to his horror, he found that his tent was on fire. He rushed to the scene but was helpless. He cursed and swore and blamed God, as his last possessions were lost in the fire. 

He lost all hope and returned to the beach, ready to commit suicide in the ocean. 

As he entered the water, he could see the flag of a distant ship. A boat was fast approaching him. The sailors arrived and rescued him. 

Back in the ship, he asked the captain how did they know about his plight. The captain said, “We saw the fire and the smoke rising from that island. We sent the boat expecting some one there.”

It was only then that he realized that God's ways are mysterious. He felt sorry for blaming God for letting his only possessions catch fire. 

He realized that the fire was God's signal to the sailors in a distant ship. He learned to hope and trust in God’s love.

As in the wedding at Cana, no wine does not mean no hope. 

And even in our lives, we meet with situations that begins with “No” – no joy, no peace, no love, no help, no understanding, no forgiveness, no money in the account, no signal in the mobile phone, no idea what to do.

But just like Mary, we need to tell Jesus that we have run dry; we too have no more wine.

And yet we have to listen to Mary as she tells us, “Do whatever He tells you.”

Yes, we tell Jesus how great our problems are. Now we need to tell our problems how great Jesus is.

With Jesus, there is no situation that is of no hope. 

Let us put our hope in Jesus, and He will turn the water of our lives into sweet rich wine.

Friday, January 18, 2013

1st Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 19-01-13

Hebrews 4:12-16 / Mark 2:13-17

Behind the facade of our looks and appearances, there lies in our minds and our hearts, our thoughts and our emotions.

No one would know our thoughts and our feelings, and if we have mastered the art of having a poker face, then we can be quite certain that no one can guess what we think and how we feel.

Well, almost no one, except the One who created us and knows us through and through. From Him, we can't hide nor can we ever deceive.

As the 1st reading puts it, with His Word, God cuts through our thoughts and emotions more finely than the sharpest sword, and enters into the depth of our beings.

And that was what happened when Jesus called out to Levi, the son of Alphaeus, to follow Him. Jesus, the Word of the Father, had already probed the mind and heart of Levi even before He called him.

And Levi just got up and followed Jesus. But prior to that, there was a whole process and probing and prompting before the final responding.

But as for the scribes and Pharisees, they didn't make any attempt to hide their contempt for Jesus in eating with tax collectors and sinners, as they let fly their scorching words.

And with that, Jesus cut through their thoughts and emotions. Yes, there are those who know that they are sinners, like Levi and his tax collector friends.

Yet there are also those who think that they are virtuous, like the scribes and Pharisees.

Whether we think we are virtuous or sinners, the Lord knows us through and through. Let us pray that the Lord will help us to know who we really are.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

1st Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 18-01-13

Hebrews 4:1-5, 11 / Mark 2:1-12

One of the most powerful signs that humanity can ever exhibit is that of solidarity.

When individuals unite and agree upon an action with a common interest and giving each other mutual support, then it is certainly a solidarity to be reckoned with.

In the gospel passage of the healing of the paralytic, there are many points of consideration and reflection.

Yet, we must not forget how it all began. There were the four men who carried the paralytic on a stretcher and their solidarity also gave rise to creativity as they stripped the roof in order to lower the stretcher on which the paralytic lay to where Jesus was.

Certainly Jesus would be impressed by their solidarity. But He also saw more than that - He saw their faith.

It would not be too absurd to say that solidarity without the faith aspect could lead to a revolution of chaos.

As we begin the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, let us recognize and admit that the Church as a whole is divided among the various denominations, and also within the denominations.

Christian unity may seem like quite impossible at the present moment, but let us have recourse to our faith and pray for healing and peace and reconciliation among Christians.

Let us remember that Jesus prayed that we will all be one and united in faith (John 17). Let us keep praying and keep building Christian solidarity with our faith.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

1st Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 17-01-13

Hebrews 3:7-14 / Mark 1:40-45

There is a fairy tale called "The Frog Prince" which we had probably heard before.

In that tale, a spoilt princess dropped a golden ball into a pond and a frog emerged from the pond and told the princess that it would retrieve the ball for her. His only request was that she kissed him after he had gotten back the ball for her.

The princess promised but after she got back the ball she hurried back to her castle without kissing the frog. That evening while having dinner, there was a knock on the door, and the frog was there demanding that the princess keep her promise.

But of course being a fairy tale, the princess kept her promise, kissed the frog, and it transformed into a handsome prince.

But in real life you may have to kiss a lot of frogs before you can find your true love. Yet, true love is about kissing the frogs regardless of whether they will turn into a handsome prince or not.

And Jesus demonstrated that true love by reaching out and touching a leper. The leper got healed and found back the dignity of his life.

But the real healing was that where others have turned him away and driven him out, Jesus touched him. And even if he was not cured of the leprosy, that touch of Jesus would be good enough.

We are not asked to touch lepers or kiss frogs; we are called to be loving and forgiving and to respect the dignity of people, especially the ones that we dislike or even detest.

As the 1st reading reminds us, the Holy Spirit is prompting us to listen to His voice and not to harden our hearts.

Jesus reached out and touched us even when we are deformed and ugly with sin. Yes, that is how much Jesus loves us. The least that we can do is to be loving in the simple and ordinary ways.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

1st Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 16-01-13

Hebrews 2:14-18 / Mark 1:29-39

To step down from a position of power and authority is never an easy thing to do. At least one of the things that one has to get used to is the downsizing of the office.

Where once everyone is at your beck and call, now you will have to make your own coffee and get your own lunch and wash your own dishes.

What would be really difficult to accept will be that where once the final decision would lie with you, now you don't have a say anymore, and you would feel quite redundant and maybe even useless.

So when Jesus emptied Himself and took on flesh and blood and became like one of us, we can imagine what it was for Him.

But as the 1st reading puts it, it was essential that He should become completely like His brothers so that He could be a compassionate and trustworthy high priest of God, and to be able to atone for human sins.

So in emptying Himself, Jesus did not become redundant or useless; on the contrary, He was able to help those who are tempted and to save them from their sins.

In the gospel, we heard Him doing just that - He cured many who were suffering from diseases of one kind or another and He also cast out many devils.

Yet because He emptied Himself, Jesus had to rely on the power of God for His mission and so in the morning, long before dawn, He got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.

If Jesus, the Son of God gave such an important priority to prayer, then we who are weak and wounded by sin, certainly cannot do with any lesser priority to prayer.

When we pray, we unite ourselves with Jesus, and like Him, we too empty ourselves so that we can be filled with the power of God to continue the mission of proclaiming the Good News of God's love.

Monday, January 14, 2013

1st Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 15-01-13

Hebrews 2:5-12 / Mark 1:21-28

In a highly urbanized country like ours, we live in a very noisy world. And in a small country-state like ours, there are not many places we can go to for a quiet moment.

Although we may say that peace is to be found within oneself, yet it cannot be denied that the noise of the world can affect our peace within.

More so if the noise is aggressive and hostile and confrontational; we will be tempted to react and then created a more disturbing noise all around us.

In the gospel, the unclean spirit that possessed the man shouted at Jesus, " What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God."

It was not just a noise, but a voice that is aggressive, hostile and confrontational; it was a voice of fear, a voice that was defensive because it felt threatened.

Yet Jesus, in a calm and authoritative voice, had only this to say: Be quiet! Come out of him!

So whenever we are faced with aggressive and hostile and confrontational situations, let us remember that Jesus is within us.

The 1st reading says that Jesus is our brother; He sanctifies us and grants us peace, so that we can be still and be quiet in the noisy world.

And with the peace of Jesus in our hearts, may we also help to quieten down the aggressive and hostile people we see around us.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

1st Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 14-01-13

Hebrews 1:1-6 / Mark 1:14-20

Time is very important to us. Most of us have a watch or some kind of time piece and throughout the day we will take a look at it.

We arrange our schedules according to the time. We see how much we can do with our time and our lives revolve around the time of the day.

Even in the liturgy, we begin with the first week in Ordinary Time!

And the readings of today also mention something about time, but it is not just about ordinary time.

The 1st reading begins by saying that at various times in the past God spoke through the prophets, but in our own time, He has spoken through His Son.

The time that is referred to is not about ordinary time or chronological time, but rather it is about the appointed time - it is about God's time.

And in the gospel (of Mark), the first words of Jesus as He begins His mission is this: The time has come ...

Yes, the time has come, and the time is now. The kingdom of God has come and it is here.

So what are we to do? Jesus tells us to repent and believe the Good News.

With so much time ahead of us today, let each minute, each second, each moment be a Good News moment.

Let us spend each minute, each second each moment giving thanks for the goodness and blessings that the Lord has blessed us with and may we share God's blessings with others and be a people of the Good News.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Baptism of the Lord, Year C, 13-01-12

Is 40:1-5, 9-11/ Tit 2:11-14, 3:4-7/ Lk 3:15-16, 21-22                              

Everyday about 366,000 copies of The Straits Times are printed, distributed and of course read by Singaporeans.

Although the circulation is only 366,000 copies, yet The Straits Times has the highest readership in Singapore.

But whether it is The Straits Times or just newspapers in general, they contain more than just news.

There are articles of interest, pictures, comic strips, announcements, obituaries and of course there are advertisements.

Especially during this festive period of Christmas, followed by Chinese New Year, there are more than the usual advertisements of sales and offers.

Advertising is a big business. Not only the presentation of the product is slick, the models that accompany the product are also glamourous, good-looking and always smiling.

And with Chinese New Year coming up, one advertisement that we will certainly see in newspapers and in other forms of media will be “bak kua” (BBQ sweet meat).

How can there be Chinese New Year without bak kua. Bak Kua is a must for Chinese New Year!

In the bak kua advertisement, there will be a model holding a piece of bak kua. Of course, she is pretty, fair with long hair and smiling away.

The impression that is given is that if you eat this brand of bak kua, you will be like the model, looking pretty and looking happy too.

Yes, that is the impression that the advertisement gives. Anyway, advertisements is about impressions, isn’t it.

In order to sell a product, the advertisements will impress upon us that we need it, and need it badly and desperately.

So, they will tell us that we need this latest smart phone or this latest gadget or we will be out of touch with the world around us.

They will tell us to take this brand of supplement or we will not be healthy or even get afflicted with some disease.

They will tell us to go for this diet or beauty program because we are fat and out of shape.

They will tell us to use this facial cream because we are not good-looking enough or even downright ugly.

And about the bak kua advertisement, if we eat enough of it, we will be happy and even pretty like the model in the advertisement.

But sadly enough, no matter how much bak kua we eat, we won’t be that happy, because we will get a sore throat.

And we won’t be looking pretty either, because pimples will begin to sprout out on the face.

Yet, we will fall into the enticement of these advertisements, because they stir the envy that is lurking within us.

Envy makes us unhappy. We feel that we are not good enough, not pretty enough, not clever enough, not rich enough.

In short, we feel we are just “not enough”. And so we give in to the impressions that the advertisement create.

Today, as we celebrate the baptism of the Lord, we are reminded that Jesus was baptized, not because He has to be cleansed of some sin.

In fact, Jesus was baptized so that He can become like us in all things but sin!

And at His baptism, a great revelation was proclaimed by the voice from heaven: You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rest on you.

And that was enough for Jesus. To know that the Father loves Him, that He is God’s beloved, that was enough.

And for us who are baptized, we are called Christians because we are baptized into the person of Christ.

And in Christ, we too are God’s beloved and God’s favour rest on us too. And that should be enough.

Yes, that should be enough. Yet, the sin of envy comes along and tells us that we need more, that we don’t have enough.

And that becomes more obvious when we are aware that we are lacking in something, whether materially or physically or emotionally.

There is this true story of an 8-year old Katrina Simpkins, who was born with PFFD (proximal femoral focal deficiency), which is a rare birth defect that affects the pelvis and the hip-bone.

The defect may affect one side or both, with the hip being deformed and the leg shortened.

For Katrina, one of her legs was deformed so she had to hobble around with an artificial leg.

Being physically handicapped, she was also made fun of in school, and as a result she was emotionally withdrawn and became depressed.

All that changed when she met a dolphin by the name of Winter when she visited the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida.

Winter was a special dolphin. As a baby, she lost her tail when she was rescued from a fishing trap.

She was used as an object lesson by the aquarium to create awareness of how humans can harm the wildlife.

Then a Dr. Dan from a prosthetic clinic decided to design an artificial tail for Winter, although it had never been done before.

It was that prosthetic tail that made an impact on Katrina. She and Winter began to bond, and she began to believe that she had a place in this world.

Katrina went from being an introverted little girl to a bubbly advocate for Winter. She was quoted as saying, “I felt good that a dolphin was just like me.”

And in 2008, the same Dr. Dan also designed Winter’s prosthetic tail, who designed a new prosthetic leg for Katrina.

An amazing story of how a handicapped dolphin helped a handicapped girl find her place in this world.

They were lacking in something yet eventually they found everything.

Most of us have almost everything but the media and the world around us give us that impression that we are lacking in something, that we are not good enough, not pretty enough, not clever enough, not rich enough.

Jesus came among us and He went about doing good and caring for all who had fallen into the power of the devil and to restore the image of God in us.

And through His baptism, Jesus is also telling us this, “You are God’s beloved, His favour rests on you.”

Just as God loves Jesus, God also loves us so that there is nothing lacking in us.

Yes, God loves us with an everlasting love, and that is enough for us, more than enough for us.

And just as Jesus went about doing good and sharing God’s love with others, let us also do likewise.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Saturday after Epiphany, 12-01-13

1 John 5:14-21 / John 3:22-30

In one of the most profound revelations in the readings after the feast of Epiphany, we come to the gospel text of today that talks about John the Baptist and his role as the one who prepares the way for Jesus.

And as the gospel text puts it, that was before John was put into prison, which effectively ended his ministry and later it would also end his life.

John was baptising, and so was Jesus, and hence John's disciples brought out this issue to him and was concerned that everyone was going to Jesus.

Yet John was graciously profound when he said he was not the Christ and that he was just the one who has been sent before the Christ.

John knew he was not the bridegroom but just the best-man  he was not the Christ but just the baptizer; and that he must grow smaller and the Christ must grow greater.

And with that comes a statement from John the Baptist that revealed his self-understanding, and at the same time something that we ourselves need to understand.

He said, "A man can lay claim only to what is given him from above." And with those words he stepped aside for Jesus and he faded off and faded away.

John knew what he was given from above and he claimed that authority and fulfilled his mission.

We too know what we have been given from above. The 1st reading says that the Son of God has come and has given us the power to know the true God.

To know the true God is to acknowledge Jesus is Lord and to gain from Him the reward of eternal life.

To desire and yearn for passing things is to worship a false god, and to lose what we have been given from above.

Yet in order to lay claim to what we have been given from above, we need to grow smaller and to let God grow greater.

That is what our life is all about on earth; and that is also what eternal life is all about.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Friday after Epiphany, 11-01-13

1 John 5:5-13 / Luke 5:12-16

The feast of the Epiphany celebrates the revelation of the birth of Christ to the whole world.

The Magi, or the wise men, came to pay homage to the new born king of the Jews with gifts of mystical meaning - gold to symbolize royalty; frankincense to symbolize divinity and myrrh to symbolize humanity.

In the days after the feast of Epiphany, the readings at Mass continue to expound on the revelation of the identity and mission of Jesus.

Over the week, we have heard Jesus had power over substance - there was the multiplication of the five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand men.

Jesus also had power over nature when He calmed the rough sea and the strong winds.

In today's gospel, we see Jesus having power over illness and disease, and in this case it was the dreaded leprosy.

Jesus is our Saviour and Healer. He came to heal us of our illness and infirmities. He wants to make us whole so that we can radiate the glory of God.

Yet we must open ourselves to His love and healing grace. One of the areas in our lives is that of forgiveness.

We need to be forgiven and healed so that we in turn can be able to forgive and let others be healed.

When we are able to forgive others and heal them with the love that God has loved us with, we reveal God to others.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Thursday after Epiphany, 10-01-13

1 John 4:19 - 5:4 / Luke 4:14-22

Quite a number of us gathered here attend Mass almost daily. We attend Mass daily because it has become a spiritual staple diet for us.

So we come to Mass to listen to the Word of God and to receive Him in Holy Communion.

Also we experience the strength to live out of faith and we also find peace from the noisy world.

The Mass is indeed a celebration of love - God's love for us and we can only respond with love and to live lives of love.

So it goes without saying that if we come for daily Mass, then we ought to be more loving and to grow more and more in love for God and for others.

Yet, if that is not the case then we need to do some serious reflection and examination of our spiritual lives.

And even as I say this, I also need to check myself. I celebrate Mass daily. Am I growing to be more loving and forgiving, patient and kind, faithful to the truth and persevering in faith and hope?

As the 1st reading puts it, anyone who says "I love God" and hates his brother is a liar, since a man who does not love the brother he can see cannot love God, whom he has never seen.

So let us pray that at every Mass we will be filled with God's love and be filled with the Spirit so that we will proclaim God's love in our lives.

May it begin with today and may it be fulfilled today even as we listen.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Wednesday after Epiphany, 09-01-13

1 John 4:11-18 / Mark 6:45-52

The word "ghost" will certainly give rise to uncomfortable feelings and scary thoughts, and certainly we won't want to hear "ghost stories" at night and have nightmares.

As it is generally understood, ghost may mean an apparition of a dead person that is believed to appear or become manifest to the living in some kind of vague, unclear, hazy or ill-defined image.

In the gospel, the disciples in the boat thought that Jesus was a ghost when they saw His walking in the water.

Added on to that, the wind was strong and the sea was rough and we can assume that they were trying to stay afloat and certainly all was not calm and peaceful.

In such chaotic moments, logic and rationale usually gives way to fear and anxiety and inevitably the imagination will run wild, so even though it was Jesus, the disciples thought that it was something scary.

Yet the 1st reading tells us that where there is love there is no fear. Yes, God loves us and we belong to Him.

God's love is perfect and His perfect love drives out all fear, because to fear is to expect punishment, and anyone who is afraid is still imperfect in love.

So when all around us is in turmoil and in chaos, let us be still and be calm. Let us be still and know that God loves us.

May God's love drive out from us all that cause us to fear and be anxious and to worry.

May God's love also grant us peace of heart so that we will grow in love.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Tuesday after Epiphany, 08-01-13

1 John 4:7-10 / Mark 6:34-44

In the religious sense, sacrifice is the offering of food, objects or livestock to God or the gods as an act of propitiation or worship.

While sacrifice often implies ritual killing, the term offering (oblation) can be used for bloodless sacrifices of cereal food or artefacts. For offerings of liquids or beverage by pouring, the term libation is used.

Sacrifice is the central form of worship in any religion. It is offered for many reasons: thanksgiving; supplication; appeasement;

Usually it is the people or the devotees who makes the sacrifice before the deity and not the other way round.

Yet in Christianity, it is the other way round, and the 1st reading makes an emphasis of it.

God's love for  us was revealed when God sent into the world His only Son so that we could have life through Him.

So it is not our love for God but God's love for us is proclaimed when He sent His Son to be the sacrifice that takes our sins away.

That is the foundation of Christianity and that is also the direction that we Christians must take in order to live out our faith.

Yet it must also be known that whenever we offer a sacrifice to God we will never be left wanting or in need.

As we heard in the gospel, out of the five loaves and two fish, five thousand hungry people were fed and there were leftovers.

Indeed, since God has sacrificed His only Son to save us from our sins, what is there that we cannot offer to God?

So let us make our sacrifices lovingly and joyfully, for in the end, it is us who will be filled

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Monday after Epiphany, 07-01-13

1 John 3:22 - 4:6 / Matthew 4:12-17, 23-25

It is not often that we who live in a urbanized society know what darkness is really about.

But if we go to the rural countryside, then we will know how inconvenient and troublesome and frightening darkness can be.

When I was a kid, I used to go up to Malaysia to my grandmother's farm in the countryside where there is no electricity and the means of lighting at night was at best the pressure lamp, but it would be usually the kerosene lamp.

I remembered that I hated it when nightfall came because the miserable kerosene lamps won't give much light, and so the house was frighteningly dark.

And at night I wouldn't want to go to the toilet because it is dark outside the house, and without good lighting, you just don't know what you are going to step on or fall into.

Hence it is only when we experienced the darkness of the night that we will truly long for the light.

In the gospel there was this profound quotation from the prophet Isaiah: The people that lived in darkness has seen a great light; on those who dwell in the land and shadow of death, a light has shown.

In Jesus we see the true light, and He is the light that the powers of darkness cannot overcome.

Jesus has also enlightened us and we are called to be prophets of the light and to be true prophets.

Hence whatever we do or say and whatever we think have to be tested in the light of Christ, because sin has contorted our thinking and our actions.

But when we let the light of Christ into our lives, His light will be reflected in our thoughts, words and actions.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Epiphany of the Lord, Year C, 06.01.2013

Is 60:1-6/ Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6/ Mt 2:1-12

Today’s feast of the Epiphany marks the revelation of the birth of the Saviour to the whole world.

The birth of Christ in Bethlehem in Judaea was marked by a star which led the Magi, or the wise men, who were non-Jews, to pay homage to the new born king of the Jews.

That is why, strictly speaking, the three Magi figurines make their appearance at the Nativity Crib only today and not earlier.

But their appearance will be short-lived because in the days to come, the Nativity Crib will be dismantled and the figurines will be stored away until the next Christmas.

And with that, it also means that it is time for the Christmas decorations in Church and at home to be taken down.

Already the shopping malls have replaced the Christmas decorations with Chinese New Year decorations even as early as on Christmas Day itself.

Most probably the star of Christmas or the star of Bethlehem will be the last to be taken down, maybe because it is at the top of the decorations.

Yes, the star that is over the Nativity Crib and the star that sits on the top of the Christmas tree.

Well, on this feast of the Epiphany, the spot light is on the star and in the whole Christmas story, it is only mentioned here.

It was the star that attracted the curiosity of the Magi and it beckoned them to head towards Jerusalem.

By the way, we are familiar with the nursery song “Twinkle twinkle little star”.

Generally we know the first stanza which goes like this:

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high, 
Like a diamond in the sky.

But there are other stanzas that tell us more …

When the blazing sun is gone, 
When he nothing shines upon,
Then you show your little light, 
Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.
Then the traveller in the dark, 
Thanks you for your tiny spark,
He could not see which way to go, 
If you did not twinkle so.
As your bright and tiny spark, 
Lights the traveller in the dark.
Though I know not what you are, 
Twinkle, twinkle, little star.

Yes, for the Magi, or the wise men, the star beckons them to the land of Judaea, to the land of the Jews.

They were knowledgeable in astrology and they had studied the stars and they reckon that this particular star was special.

This star was the sign of the birth of someone great, who will be the king of the Jews.

And so they set off to where the star was beckoning. They were willing to embark on this quest in order to fulfill their hearts’ desire.

Yet it must be said that the star was not always there to lead them.

From the gospel passage, it seems that they saw the star as it rose, so they set off in that direction.

Yet, if the star was always guiding them, then they wouldn’t have ended up before Herod, which was like walking into a lion’s den.

Yes, Herod was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem. 

Yet, it was there that the chief priests and scribes found out from the Magis that the king of the Jews was to be born in Bethlehem.

And so Herod sent them on with the pretext of wanting to pay homage to the new born king of the Jews. But of course he had ulterior and evil motives.

So the Magi went on to Bethlehem and this time the star appeared again and brought them to Jesus.

And they paid homage with gifts of mystical meaning – gold to represent royalty; frankincense to represent divinity, and myrrh to represent humanity and mortality.

What the chief priests and scribes in Jerusalem knew about but did nothing, the Magi searched for and received everything.

But just as the star caught the attention of the Magi and set them on a quest, the Magi themselves somehow catches our attention and imagination.

They were often portrayed as kings, wearing crowns and royal and colourful exotic robes.

And their three gifts were also just so extraordinary and fascinating.

Although there were shepherds at the Nativity scene, yet the Magi seem to capture our attention and reflection.

Maybe because the story of the shepherds was quite straight forward. 

An angel appeared to them to announce the birth of the Saviour; they were told where to go and how to look for Him; and they found it exactly as they had been told.

There were no surprises and no suspense. It was a straight cut and it was straight forward.

On the other hand, the Magi had only seen the star rising.

They then set off across the desert sands and maybe the star appeared now and then and here and there.

They thought that the new born king would be in Jerusalem, and unknowingly, they were used by Herod to be his agents.

Yes, the Magi seem to catch our attention and reflection maybe because we see a bit of our faith journey in them.

Like the star that beckoned the Magi, we also feel the call to faith and to follow Jesus.

Yet we know by now that following Jesus is not a straight cut and neither is it straight forward.

Many a times we wonder what God’s will is for us and what direction should we take.

But like the Magi, we had to move on because there is no turning back.

And along the way, we will meet the Herods of this world. We will be used, cheated, taken advantage of, and misled. But God will still draw straight with those crooked lines.

Like the Magi who had to face disappointment when they found out that Jerusalem was the end of their journey, we too will face disappointment when we did not get what we prayed for or that things didn’t turn out as we hoped or expected. 

But let us remember that Epiphany means revelation. As in any revelation, it come bit by bit and we just have to journey on in faith.

God will reveal Himself to us. That is what the feast of the Epiphany is all about.

And with this feast also comes a promise. And that is God will help us find what we are looking for.

Well, the Magi followed the star and although they made a few wrong turns, they eventually found what they were looking for, and they went back enlightened and fulfilled.

Yes, God will make the stars shine for us. We just have to keep looking, keep praying, keep searching, and we will become the stars that will reveal Jesus to others.