Tuesday, April 30, 2013

St. Joseph the Worker, Wednesday, 01-05-13

Genesis 1:26-2:3 or Col 3:14-15, 17, 23-24 / Matthew 13:54-58

Today is also called May Day. May Day has its origins in the pre-Christian era as a pagan religious festival, which had more feasting and often noisy.

May Day then became known as International Workers' Day (or Labour Day) in the 1890s, and it had the intention of honouring the working class and respecting the rights of workers.

May Day is an important official holiday in some communist countries, and the celebrations typically feature elaborate popular and military parades in these countries.

Then in 1955, the Catholic Church dedicated May 1 to "Saint Joseph The Worker". The Catholic Church considers Saint Joseph the patron saint of workers and craftsmen, besides others.

More than just wanting to honour the contributions of the working class and the rights of workers, the Church, in this feast, wants to teach about the holiness of work which contributes to creation and gives glory to God.

In the gospel, we heard that Jesus is known as "the carpenter's son". It means that Joseph was a carpenter and that Jesus would have also followed along in learning the trade.

Hence the gospel tells us, and the Church teaches us as well, that Jesus was indeed involved in the ordinary human life and had to work for a living, with all its satisfactions and drudgery.

But where once upon a time when work was seen as a curse because of sin in that "by the sweat of your brow you shall eat your bread" (Gen 3:19), the Son of God has now sanctified work and now by the work of our hands we give glory to God.

So in whatever work we are doing, in whatever profession we are in, let us put our heart into it because we must know that over and above all, it is God that we serve and work for.

And just as St. Joseph taught Jesus to work with His hands, may St. Joseph also pray for us that by the work of our hands, and through the work of our hands, God will bless the world and may we beautify the world through the work of our hands.

Monday, April 29, 2013

5th Week of Easter, Tuesday, 30-04-13

Acts 14:19-28 / John 14:27-31

Quite often we understand the word "encouragement" as something that is inspiring, stimulating, boosting and reinforcing.

At the same time, connected with the word "encouragement" are also meanings like comforting and consoling and helping.

To be a person that gives encouragement to others would also mean that the person would have faced the trials and tribulations and the lessons of life are seared into the flesh.

So when Paul and Barnabas said in the 1st reading that "we all have to experience many hardships before we enter the kingdom of God", they know what they were talking about.

We heard from the 1st reading that the people stoned Paul and dragged him outside the town, thinking he was dead.

But miraculously, when the disciples came and crowded round him, he stood up and went back to town as if nothing has happened.

That sounded rather amusing but we would be hesitant to laugh at it. Because we won't be laughing if we get stoned and then dragged around.

Yet we need not frown or get distressed because Jesus gives us these words of encouragement: Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.

As the hymn goes: Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come. 'Twas grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.

Similarly, through many dangers, toils and snares, that have come and that will come. But it will be peace that will bring us safe thus far, and it will be peace that will lead us home.

May the gift of the peace of Jesus be always with us and may it give us the encouragement to face the dangers, toils and snares.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

5th Week of Easter, Monday, 29-04-13

Acts 14:5-18 / John 14:21-26

Many people are often honoured but it is usually only after their death. That would also include most of the saints. The fact is that no one is ever canonized during their life-time.

But if all the honour and adulation are given to a person when he is still living, how would that person react to it? What would be his response to people putting him high up on the pedestal?

These questions are difficult for us to answer because maybe we have not been in such a position before.

Yet it also cannot be denied that in each of us, there is a yearning for people's attention and the limelight. Or at least to be praised for our good word and contributions.

In the 1st reading, Paul worked a miracle of healing a crippled man. And almost immediately, he and Barnabas were worshipped as gods by the people.

And even though Paul desperately tried to explain that it was the work of God, the euphoria of the people just overwhelmed him and Barnabas.

If we were Paul and Barnabas, what would have been our response? How would we have reacted?

It would have been very easy to succumb to our ego and to the temptation and lap up the glory and feel exalted by others.

But that would be to love ourselves in a corrupted manner. But if we truly love Jesus, then we would keep His word and let His word make its home in our hearts.

The true beauty (and glory) of a person is when he lets God make His home in his heart.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

5th Sunday of Easter, 28.04.2013

Acts 14:21-27/ Apocalypse 21:1-5/ John 13:31-33, 34-35

Have we ever wondered what it feels like to be a bird? It would be nice to fly in the sky and see things from on high.

I think that there is also a song that goes like: I rather be a sparrow than a snail, yes I would, if I really could, I surely would.

But we won’t want to be just a sparrow. We want to be an eagle, the king of birds, a symbol of majesty and might.

The Bible mentions about sparrows and eagles for various reasons.

Yet the Bible also mentions about an unattractive black scavenger bird that makes an irritating cawing sound.

That bird is the raven. But it is mentioned for a revered reason.

The first bird that that Noah sent from the ark after the 40 days of rain was a raven. It was only later that he sent out the dove.

It was also a raven that brought bread and meat to the prophet Elijah when he was taking refuge in the mountain. (1 Kings 17:6).

In the stories about the saints, when St. Benedict made the sign of the cross over a poisoned loaf of bread that was meant for him, a raven flew by and carried the poisoned bread away, thus saving St. Benedict’s life.

In Singapore, we don’t have ravens but we get their smaller cousins, the crows, which are equally unattractive.

If people say you got crow’s feet around your eyes, then that’s really bad news.

Crows and ravens are unattractive and they make an unpleasant sound, but the crows have something to teach us.

The younger crows will take care of their parents when they are old and unable to fly around much to look for food.

The younger crows will bring food to their aging parents until they expire.

So crows may be scavengers and look ugly, but they show us a profound lesson in filial piety.

We may say that it’s in their bird-brain instinct. But then their bird-brain instinct can’t match our supreme human intelligence.

Yet, with all our supreme human intelligence, we may not have fully understood and fulfilled the commandment that Jesus gave us in the gospel.

Yes, Jesus gave us a new commandment – to love one another just as He has loved us.

It is with this love for one another that others will know that we are His disciples.

A commandment is not an option or a suggestion. It means that as disciples of Jesus, it’s either we love or we love.

It is a commandment that Jesus Himself carried out as He went all the way to the cross to show His love for us.

We can speak of love in its many ways and forms, but when love is expressed as a sacrifice that saved us, then love becomes a compelling motive.

Love becomes the way of life, the rule of life and the commandment of life.

There is a story of an elderly man who would walk to the pier in the late afternoon just when the sun is starting to dip into the horizon.

With a bucket of shrimps in his hand, he would walk to the end of the pier. By that time, not many people would be around and the old man, who is wearing a military cap, is alone at the end of the pier with his bucket of shrimps.

But soon he is no longer alone. Up in the sky a flock of birds are flying in, screeching and squawking, towards that lanky old man.

And in no time, dozens of seagulls would surround and envelope that old man, their wings fluttering and flapping.

Then he would toss the shrimps to the hungry birds and he and the seagulls would seem to be in another world.

Soon the bucket is empty but the old man does not leave. The seagulls still surround him, some perched on his shoulders, and at times one would perch on his old military cap that he has been wearing for many years.

After a time, he begins to walk back and a few of the birds would hop along with him.

It is an intriguing sight  - that old man wearing an old military cap, with a bucket of shrimps feeding the seagulls.

Well, that old man is Eddie Rickenbacker (October 8, 1890 – July 23, 1973), a WW I ace pilot and hero.

But during WW II, he was sent as an advisor to the Pacific front.

While flying in a B-17 bomber as a passenger, the plane went off course and ran out of fuel and crashed into the sea.

The eight member crew survived the crash and climbed onto a life raft.

They floated for days on the rough sea in a remote part of the Pacific.

They fought the sun and the sharks. But by the eighth day, their rations ran out – no food and no water.

They were far from land and no one knew where they were. Hopes of being rescued were fading fast.

They prayed and prayed for a miracle. One afternoon after prayer, Eddie leaned back and pulled his military cap over his eyes and tried to nap. Time dragged by. All he could hear was the waves slapping against the raft.

Suddenly Eddie felt something land on his cap. It was a seagull! He lay perfectly still and planned his next move.

Then with a flash of his hand and a squawk from the seagull, he managed to grab it and killed it and he and the rest made a meal out of it.

They used the intestines for bait, caught fish with it which gave them more food and more bait and the cycle continued.

After 24 days at sea, and by some dramatic events, they were found and rescued.

Eddie Rickenbacker lived many more years after that ordeal but he never forgot that seagull and how it was sacrificed to save his life.

Hence he made it a routine and a ritual to go to the pier and feed the seagulls. And all he could say was: Thank you.

We too have come to the Eucharist to say: Thank you. We thank the Lord Jesus for sacrificing His life for us so that we can be saved.

More than just a routine and a ritual, the Eucharist is a celebration of love – God’s sacrificial love for us.

Let us love the Lord in return. 

May we also love others and offer that love to them as a loving sacrifice.

We are certainly more than just ravens and crows and seagulls.

Because by our love for others, they will know that we are disciples of Jesus. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

4th Week of Easter, Saturday, 27-04-13

Acts 13:44-52 / John 14:7-14

From the pictures taken from outer space, we know that Earth is a big blueish roundish mass.

It is in this Earth that all of us live and we are bound to this Earth for our existence.

Yet, despite the fact that we all live on this Earth, it seems that some want to push others out of this world.

These people do not seem to understand that they can only push others from one corner to the other but never out of this world.

That was what happened in the 1st reading. Some people, blinded by jealousy, plotted to drive Paul and Barnabas out of their city.

They were blinded to the extent that they could only drive Paul and Barnabas out of their city but they could never drive them out of this world.

They were also blinded to the fact that Paul and Barnabas were just ordinary human beings like themselves and yet they see them as threats that are to be eliminated and done away with.

In the gospel, Jesus told Philip and the disciples that to have seen Him is to have seen the Father.

And how do we see Jesus? We are all created in the image of God and when we look closely and deeply at each other, we will see the face of Jesus and eventually see the face of the Father.

We not only live in the one and only Earth, we even look alike and we even form the one unique species called the human race.

How else are we supposed to live but in peace and love! We don't need to go to outer space to realize that!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

4th Week of Easter, Friday, 26-04-13

Acts 13:26-33 / John 14:1-6

If we are driving to a place that we have not been before, we would certainly make some preparations beforehand.

We would check the map for directions and with modern technology, we may even be able to get a street view of the location.

Yet this has to be done beforehand. It would certainly be dangerous to drive and look at the map or whatever device that is helping us with the directions.

But the best help we can have will be to have someone with us who knows the way and tell us how to go and give us directions as we drive.

That was what Jesus told Thomas in the gospel: I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through me.

Jesus is the Way to the Truth of Life. Those who know Him will know the way. Those who know Him are also witnesses of the way.

St. Paul witnessed to the Way when he said in the 1st reading: We have come here to tell you the Good News. It was to our ancestors that God made the promise but it is to us, their children, that he has fulfilled it, by raising Jesus from the dead.

We are also witnesses to the Way. Yet whenever we meet with troubles in life, we lose our way and we get into deeper trouble.

In such times, let us remember what Jesus said in the gospel: Trust in God still, and trust in me.

Yes, Jesus is always with us to help us and take us along the way. We only need to entrust ourselves to Him in prayer and live out that trust in Him along the way of life.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

St. Mark, Evangelist, Thursday, 25-04-13

1 Peter 5:5-14 / Mark 16:15-20

St Mark the Evangelist is the traditional author of the Gospel according to Mark, and he is closely identified as (John) Mark that we heard about in the 1st reading, who was a disciple of St. Peter.

St. Mark is also closely identified as the cousin of Barnabas, who together with St. Paul were great missionaries in the Acts of the Apostles.

So St. Mark had connection with big names in the New Testament, but that was not why he became a big name in the Bible.

He was greatly involved in the missionary work of the early Church and he founded the Church in Alexandria.

He may have been recognized for his gift of writing and being a disciple of St. Peter, he wrote the gospel through the reflections and teaching of St. Peter.

So St. Mark was a missionary and a writer and he was also involved in the work of the early Church.

He may have discovered these gifts gradually but he knew what these gifts were for.

As the 1st reading says: Wrap yourselves in humility to be servants of each other, because God refuses the proud and will always favour the humble.

So in spite of being associated with big names in the Church and bestowed with gifts, St. Mark remained a humble servant of the Church.

So let us learn from St. Mark to be humble servants of God and to humble servants to each other.

That is the first requisite for the proclamation of the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

4th Week of Easter, Wednesday, 24-04-13

Acts 12:24 - 13: 5 / John 12:44-50

The means of communication have evolved in leaps and bounds over the past few decades.

From the experiments in electric voice-transmission devices in the mid 19th century, the means of voice communication devices is really astounding.

There is a cartoon in which two modern-day handphones were looking at a portrait of a wired telephone, and one handphone said to the other : Oh yes, our ancestors have tails. (the wire that attaches the handset to the body of the telephone)

Yes, modern day communication is easy and convenient and mobile. With modern day handphones, one can go roaming, in every sense of the word.

In the 1st reading we heard how the Holy Spirit communicated to the disciples at Antioch.

Yet to prepare for this communication, they had to pray and keep a fast. They had to keep that line of communication free from distortion and from other influences that might give them a wrong message.

And when the Holy Spirit spoke, it was not to just one individual but to the community of disciples.

As Jesus Himself said about the Word of God, what He had spoken did not come from Himself but was commanded by the Father.

As for ourselves, in order to be receptive to the Word of God, we need to pray and even keep a fast as a form of spiritual offering.

And we will know if God has spoken to us in the depths of our hearts. By what we speak to others, we will know whether those words are from God or not.

Monday, April 22, 2013

4th Week of Easter, Tuesday, 23-04-13

Acts 11:19-26 / John 10:22-30

The designation of the early followers of Christ as "Christians" was not initiated by themselves.

Rather it was initiated by the non-Christian population of Antioch and it was there that the followers of Christ were first called Christians.

Originally it was probably a term of mocking or derision - "Christians" mean "little Christ" with a derogatory tone to it.

Prior to that, Christians called themselves "believers" (Acts 5:14), "brothers" (Acts 6:3), or "saints" (Acts 9:13), names which also continued to be used.

Yet, "Christian" would give a profound and significant meaning to the identity as we understand it now.

What is interesting is that it was coined by those who wanted to mock or deride the Christians, and yet it became the official title of anyone who is baptized into the Christian faith.

Most probably those early Christians didn't like that title at all. Well, it was a title given by the pagans to insult them and to use that title for themselves would be like profaning themselves.

But just as the stone that was rejected became the corner stone, the insult became an institution.

The ways of God are indeed strange and mysterious to our logical minds.

Yet, we only need to listen to the voice of Jesus and follow Him and He will turn our sorrow into joy and our sufferings into gladness.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

4th Week of Easter, Monday, 22-04-13

Acts 11:1-18 / John 10:1-10

Every moment in history has a few significant turning points that steered it in a specific direction and a specific time.

One significant moment in Christianity was at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles and that began the mission of the proclamation of the Good News.

But an equally significant turning point in Christianity that took place, although at a less dramatic level, was at the home of the Roman centurion Cornelius when Peter saw the same Spirit descend on the Gentiles.

That was the account that Peter gave in the 1st reading, which was actually initially intended to clarify the criticisms against him.

That clarified and signified that Christianity was not just for the Jews but for the Gentiles as well; in fact it is for the whole world.

But Peter's account was not so much a convincing defense against the criticisms; rather the rest of the apostles together with the Christian community heard the voice of God behind the account of Peter.

And as Jesus said in the gospel, the sheep follow the shepherd because they know his voice; they do not follow a stranger because they do not recognise his voice.

So for the Church to continue moving in the direction of the Holy Spirit, we must be able to hear and recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd.

That can only be possible when each of us are hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd. We will recognize that voice because it is a voice that speaks of peace.

For the Church (as well as for us) to be relevant and significant in the world, we also need to speak with the voice of peace. Because it is the voice of the Good Shepherd.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

4th Sunday of Easter, Year C, 21.04.2013

Acts 13:14, 43-52/ Apocalypse 7:9, 14-17/ John 10:27-30

One of the easiest presents to give a child is a stuffed toy.

Children love stuffed toys and one of the most popular stuffed toy is the teddy bear.

But of course there are other stuffed toys that take on animal shapes, like for example, Mickey Mouse, Hello Kitty, Pink Panther, Ninja Turtle.

Children generally love these soft stuffed toys because they can become imaginary playmates and they can also cuddle them to sleep.

Well, not only children love stuffed toys. Adults love them too, and some even have a collection of soft toys. After all there is a child in all of us.

But as much as we love animals, we only want to cuddle them when they come in the form of a stuffed toy. The real thing, as in the real animal, is just too much to handle.

Just imagine trying to cuddle a real tiger to sleep. I wish you a good night and sweet dreams.

Another soft toy that can be seen in Catholic and Christian bookshops is a stuffed toy lamb, and it holds a little banner with the words: The Lord is my shepherd.

It is a really cute toy, especially since it is white and soft and fluffy. It’s so cute.

And that is very often our popular and romantic idea of lambs and sheep – they are white, soft and fluffy and cute.

Oh yes we like our lambs and sheep to be white and soft and fluffy and cute as well.

But the reality is very different, especially if we had been near a flock of sheep.

As like the other animals, sheep have a smell. Not that they are smelly, but it’s just that peculiar unwashed smell.

We wouldn’t really want to cuddle a real lamb or sheep to sleep.

And unlike the pictures of Jesus with a lamb on His shoulders, we would at most pat the lamb, and nothing more.

Yet, Jesus calls us His sheep, and with that He also calls Himself the Good Shepherd.

And even our idea of the shepherd is a popular and romantic one that we see in pictures.

But pictures don’t give out any smell. A real shepherd would have a smell, and it’s none other than the smell of the sheep.

And like the sheep that he is always with, he would also have the smell of that peculiar unwashed sheep smell; and he is not someone we would want at our dining table. (Lamb chops – yes; sheep and shepherd – no!)

Even during the time of Jesus, shepherds were regarded as religiously unclean, obviously because of their peculiar smell.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Yet He is also the Lamb of God. So He not only looks like the sheep, He also smells like the sheep.

The 4th Sunday of Easter is also called “Vocation Sunday”.

The word “vocation” has its root in the Latin word “vocare” which means “to call”.

Jesus the Good Shepherd calls out to us. And if we are His sheep, we will be listening to Him and we will also follow Him.

And Jesus said in the gospel : I know my sheep and they follow me. 

I give them eternal life and they will never be lost. And no one will ever steal them from me.

Vocation Sunday can also be called “Listening Sunday”, because Jesus the Good Shepherd calls out to us to follow Him.

Yet the call of Jesus also goes further and deeper to those for whom He has a particular calling.

Vocation Sunday focuses on the call to the priesthood.

It is for those young men who are thinking of the priesthood because the call of Jesus has stirred their hearts.

It is for the seminarians in the major seminary undergoing training for the priesthood, that they keep listening to the call.

Last but certainly not the least, it is for priests who have heard the call, answered the call, and to remain faithful to the call.

So whether they are thinking about the priesthood, studying for the priesthood, or serving in the priesthood, the call of Jesus is to be shepherds who have the heart of the Good Shepherd.

Pope Francis in his Chrism Mass homily has this to say to those who are shepherds or preparing to be shepherds of God’s flock.

He said that priests are to bring the healing power of God’s grace to everyone in need, to be close to the oppressed, and to be “shepherds living with the smell of the sheep”.

Yes, God’s flock is not a collection of stuffed toy lambs and sheep that look soft and white and cute and cuddly.

God’s flock, God’s people, have the underlying hope and desire for divine comfort and healing and protection, so that our souls can become white as wool and a pure offering to God.

And more so for God’s priests. We priests are reminded that if we really want to serve God’s people, then we have to be like the shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.

We priests cannot think of God’s people as a collection of stuffed toys that look clean and soft and fluffy and cute and cuddly.

God’s people are like a flock of sheep that needs protection and healing. 

God’s people are like a flock of sheep that hunger and thirsts for none other than the living God.

So humbly I ask you, my dear people of God, to pray for us priests that we will lead you to hear the voice of Jesus and to follow Him to the green pastures of eternal life.

Yes, pray for us priests and pray for those who are preparing for the priesthood and for those who are thinking about the priesthood.

May we lead you to believe this, which is taken from Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want”.

Yes, with the Lord as our shepherd, there is indeed nothing we shall ever want.

All we want is to listen to Him and follow Him.

Friday, April 19, 2013

3rd Week of Easter, Saturday, 20-04-13

Acts 9:31-42 / John 6:60-69

The period of peace and security can also be a rather risky time. Because we can take the peace and security for granted and become complacent and lose our alertness.

Furthermore, with the absence of challenges and dangers, life becomes mundane and monotonous, and we slowly corrode and erode and lose the sharpness for life.

In the 1st reading, we hear the churches throughout Judaea, Galilee and Samaria were left in peace.

Yet, that is not all in that statement; it continues by saying that they were building themselves up and living in the fear of the Lord and filled with the consolation of the Holy Spirit.

Those were the trademarks of the early Church - building up the community and fortifying it; living in the fear of the Lord and yet with full faith in Him; and trusting in the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

And Peter showed forth the power of the name of Jesus in healing a paralytic and raising the dead.

In short, the early Church was proclaiming the Good News, which also means that it is the message of life and the message for life.

It was the same Peter who in the gospel proclaimed that Jesus has the message of eternal life and they believed in Him as the Holy One of God.

As Church, we must be proclaiming Jesus and His message of eternal life. Yet, like Peter who healed the paralytic and raised the dead, may we too rise and keep walking towards Christ.

It is in proclaiming the powerful name of Jesus that we too will find life and also eternal life.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

3rd Week of Easter, Friday, 19-04-13

Acts 9:1-20 / John 6:52-59

In the 1st reading, we hear what Christianity was called when it first began - it was called "the Way".

And Saul was on the way to Damascus with letters that would authorise him to arrest and take to Jerusalem any followers of "the Way", men or women, that he could find.

When we talk about the way, we may have in our minds a method, a direction or an instruction.

When Saul was on the way to Damascus, he had a direction and an instruction. He knew where he was going to and what he was going to do.

Yet, it was on the way to Damascus that he was confronted by another "Way" - it was Jesus who is the Way.

Yet, the 1st reading is not just about the Saul who was the persecutor of the Way. There was also Ananias who was a disciple of the Way.

When the Lord appeared to him in a vision and told him go to Saul and heal him of his blindness, Ananias must have initially thought : No way! He is going to kill me!

In fact that was almost like what he said to the Lord. Yet the Lord told him: You must go all the same. In other words the Lord was like telling Ananias : Do it My Way!

Yes, the Lord's way is the perfect way as Saul and Ananias had discovered.

May we too conform ourselves to the ways of the Lord and continue journey in the Way that leads to eternal life.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

3rd Week of Easter, Thursday, 18-04-13

Acts 8:26-40 / John 6:44-51

For something to work, there are at least three factors that have to be present: the right place, the right time and the right people.

We can also say that for God to make something happen, these three factors will also be present and maybe plus one more - the right thing.

In the 1st reading, the eunuch was the subject of the passage. Something was going to happen to him; God was going to reveal Himself to the eunuch.

And all those important factors were also coming in place to make it happen.

Firstly, Philip was chosen and sent to meet up with the eunuch. The time was noon, which was not the most conducive time for anything actually. But it was a time for a divine happening.

The eunuch had been on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. And he was reading the scriptures. Everything was in place for God to do some work in him.

In the end, Philip baptized him and he went on his way rejoicing.

Jesus said in the gospel that no one can come to Him unless he is drawn by the Father.

So as we continue to partake of the Bread of Life, we are also being prepared for God to work in us.

Yes, God is preparing us for eternal life. Yet in the present life, let us keep rejoicing like the eunuch. It is in rejoicing and in thanksgiving that God will make all things right for us.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

3rd Week of Easter, Wednesday, 17-04-13

Acts 8:1-8 / John 6:35-40

When things go wrong, we will naturally get flustered; when unexpected and unhappy things happen we will get frustrated.

That's because we want life to be smooth and secure so that we can feel settled and relaxed.

But history has shown that many discoveries and inventions have their origins in accidents and mistakes and in unexpected events rather than carefully planned programs and experiments.

Such was the case with the discovery of penicillin, corn flakes, saccharin which is the artificial sweetener, the micro-wave oven and many others.

How these taken-for-granted things originated and were discovered is really fascinating and interesting.

The 1st reading gave an account of the persecution of the early Church. There was an exodus of Christians from the country. It was a time of turmoil and distress.

Yet it also brought about an unintended missionary expedition to the outside world.

It may be said that if there were no persecution, then the Christians would be secure and settled at Jerusalem and they won't be going anywhere out of there in their own free will.

And Jesus said in the gospel that He came not to do His own will but the will His Father who sent Him.

We would have realized by now that God's ways are not our ways, God's thoughts are not our thoughts and God's will may not be our will too.

So when things go wrong, when unexpected and unhappy things happen, when things don't go according to what we plan or how we wish it to be, then let us believe that something greater and better is going to happen.

When we can believe that, then life would always be a joyful surprise and we will rejoice at God's marvellous plans.

Monday, April 15, 2013

3rd Week of Easter, Tuesday, 16-04-13

Acts 7:51-8:1 / Jn 6:30-35

When we think about the events that happened in our lives, the moments we have experienced, the people that we met along the way, then we may come to see that nothing happens by coincidence.

Everything that happened, every person that we encountered, has a bearing on our lives.

The connection between these events and these persons may be made known to us immediately or maybe later on in the future.

In the 1st reading, we heard about two men who were on opposite and opposing sides.

There was Stephen who was standing alone against the elders and scribes and the people, and among them was Saul.

Both of them had nothing to do with each other and may not have known each other.

In the end, the only connection was that as Stephen was stoned to death, the executioners put down their clothes at the feet of Saul, and he entirely approved of the killing.

Yet in the future, Stephen and Saul, who would change his name to Paul, would share the same fate as well as the same faith in Jesus as they laid down their lives for Him.

Both of them were connected and nourished by Jesus the Bread of life and in Him they hungered and thirst no more.

Jesus is our Bread of life and He unites us in love as we partake of Him.

And just as many grains of wheat make a loaf of bread, the many events and persons in our lives will form a meaning and a direction for us towards Jesus who is our all in all. Indeed nothing happens by coincidence.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

3rd Week of Easter, Monday, 15-04-13

Acts 6:8-15 / John 6:22-29

We may wonder what are the signs of holiness. Certainly we know that it goes beyond being seen always praying and going for daily Mass.

Essentially, people who are holy live their lives centered on love of God and love of neighbour.

They do not pass judgement on others for the simple reason that they are aware of their own failings and sinfulness.

They accept the purification that comes from the struggles and sufferings they face and they have learnt to be tolerant of the narrowness and shortcomings of others.

They let the Spirit lead them in the directions and ways of God, which may be different from their own plans and ambitions.

And their lives radiate warmth, goodness and love. We may think that such people would be easily accepted by others. That's what we think and like to think.

Unfortunately, such good and holy people are not often accepted by others.

In the 1st reading, we hear about how some people pounced on Stephen the deacon even though he had done nothing wrong and in fact was doing good and holy deeds.

In history, many others have suffered the similar fate as Stephen, and yet it is also obvious that they walked the same path as Jesus.

So when we feel discouraged and dismayed that we get criticized and put down for doing the good and right thing, then we need to look at Jesus.

Stephen kept his focus on Jesus and kept walking towards Him. May we also do likewise - keep focused and keep walking towards Jesus.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

3rd Sunday of Easter, 14.04.2013

Acts 5:27-32, 40-41/ Apocalypse 5:11-14/ John 21:1-19

One of the most fascinating organs that we have is our skin, although we seldom think of it as an organ.

From the top of the skull right down to the soles of our feet, our skin is like a membrane that covers our flesh.

It is rather unimaginable not to have any skin. More than just looking rather gruesome, we will die if we were skinned alive, or suffered from severe burns in the skin.

But moving away from the medical and scientific understanding of our skin, there is also a way that we use to describe the skin of a person.

We know what it means when a person is described as “thick-skinned”.

To call a person “thick-skinned” certainly does not mean that he has more skin than flesh.

It means that the person is insensitive or not easily affected by criticism and hence not easily upset or offended.

That may be quite a good thing in that we won’t care much about the negative things that people say about us, if we are that “thick-skinned”.

On the other hand, being “thick-skinned” could mean that one is insensitive to hints, and hence one is not bothered about the needs and feelings of other people.

Such “thick-skinned” people are like a block of wood and they have no EQ, and that’s not what we like to be either.

So having understood the meaning of “thick-skinned”, let us see if we can answer this question.

Which of the apostles do we think is the most “thick-skinned”?

If we are want a clue, then it is one of the characters that is in today’s gospel.

Well, by now, we would have certainly guessed that it is none other than Simon Peter (who incidentally was the first pope!)

Simon Peter is certainly quite thick-skinned. We will remember that passage when Jesus asked His disciples who they said He was.

Simon Peter proclaimed Him as “the Christ, the Son of God”.

But almost immediately, Peter tried to talk Jesus out of His suffering and death, and Jesus rebuked him sharply by saying to him: Get behind me Satan! Because your ways are not God’s ways but man’s ways.

Frankly, to be rebuked like that by Jesus would probably mean that we better disappear and hide our face forever.

Yet, Simon Peter still followed Jesus along the way, as if nothing had happened.

Not only is Simon Peter thick-skinned, he also has a big mouth, big enough for both feet to go in.

At the Last Supper, when Jesus talked about His impending suffering and death, Simon Peter boasted that he would stay with Jesus and even die with Him.

And yet it was he who denied knowing Jesus, and he did it three times, all within one day, and within the span of a couple of hours.

For such a thick-skinned and big-mouthed person, we may wonder what it would take to pierce through that thick skin and shut that mouth.

Well, the ways of God are indeed simple and humble and yet powerful enough to pierce any thick skin and shut any big mouth.

All it took was the crowing of a rooster, and that brought Peter to tears.

Hence the rooster became the mascot of Simon Peter and that is why some pictures have him with the rooster.

Yes, the rooster was God’s instrument to give Simon Peter the wake-up call.

Yet in today’s gospel, it seemed that Simon Peter as well as the rest of the disciples had not fully awakened, despite the fact that the Risen Christ appeared to them twice already.

Thomas may still be doubting; Nathanael might still want to sit under the fig tree; James and John might still be wondering if they could still sit on the left and right of Jesus.

As for you and me, we might still be caught up in our worldly worries and anxieties.

And it was in this dreamy state that Simon Peter suggested that they go fishing.

And as it turned out, history repeated itself, they fished all night but caught nothing.

But it was in catching nothing that they got the wake-up call.

And this is the lesson that we must learn: When we are down to nothing, then God will come up with something.

No matter how thick-skinned we might be, when we are down to nothing, we will have to go down on our knees.

No matter how big-mouthed we might be, when we are down to nothing, our mouths will also have nothing to say.

Yet, it is when we are down to nothing, that God will give us our wake-up calling.

In the 1st reading, we could see that the thick-skinned and big-mouthed Simon Peter was really awakened.

When threatened by the authorities, Simon Peter retorted: Obedience to God comes before obedience to man.

Simon Peter’s thick skin and big mouth is now used to glorify God and to give others the wake-up call from God.

So whether our skin is thick or thin, we can’t deny that we have been proud and arrogant.

Also, with our mouths, we have been boastful and spoken words that were harmful.

But Jesus rose from the dead to conquer sin and to give us a wake-up call so that we can rise from sinfulness to holiness.

God is giving us this wake-up call: That we can do nothing without Him, and that we are nothing without Him.

When we can wake up and realize that we are truly nothing, then God can raise us up into something.

Friday, April 12, 2013

2nd Week of Easter, Saturday, 13-04-13

Acts 6:1-7 / John 6:16-21

The early church has often been held as an model for us to emulate. They were united in heart and mind and they shared their belongings with each other and no one was in need.

Furthermore, the presence of the apostles affirmed and strengthened the faith of the early church and they bore powerful witness to the Risen Christ and to the Good News.

Yet, in spite of this, all was not that perfect or rosy, for danger lurks even in safe places, and small issues can explode into nasty confrontations.

The 1st reading recorded the first crisis in the early church. There was tension between the Hebrews and Hellenists, and it was like a tension between locals and foreigners.

We may be surprised that this can happen in the early church. But as a matter of fact, this can happen to any church in any time in any place.

The possible cause of such crises may be found in today's gospel, as the disciples in the boat were caught in rough seas and strong wind.

And Jesus was not with them! And even when He came to them walking on the water, they became frightened.

Yes, there will always be crises in the Church and also in our own lives. More so when we begin to think that it is safe and we become complacent and indifferent in our faith. We take Jesus for granted.

But when crises start to explode and rock the Church and our lives, let us remember what Jesus said to the disciples in the boat.

"It is I. Do not be afraid." Yes, we must always turn back to Jesus. That was the core of the preaching of the early church. That must also be the core of the preaching of the present church.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

2nd Week of Easter, Friday, 12-04-13

Acts 5:34-42 / John 6:1-15

To serve the Lord is certainly not as easy as it is said. And we must be prepared for what is to come.

Because in serving the Lord we enter into the spiritual realm and we will face opposition from the dark side, besides from people who are used as instruments by the powers of the dark.

In the past few days, we heard the readings from the Acts of the Apostles. One thing was clear - they face opposition after opposition.

It was obvious that the powers of evil were out to destroy them, discourage them or at least to distract them.

Yet, it was also more obvious that God was there to defend them.

In today's 1st reading, one of their defenders came in the person of Gamaliel, who was a member of the Sanhedrin and a Pharisee.

In short he told the Sanhedrin that if what the apostles were doing is of human origin, then it will break up on its own accord; but if it does come from God, then not only will they not be destroyed, but they will be defended by God.

Yes God is the defender of the weak and poor and lowly and helpless, and He will help them in their time of need.

So it was in the gospel. With the help of God, the bread was multiplied and the hungry were fed.

And so it is now.  In serving the Lord, let us be humble and lowly and simple especially in the face of opposition and even persecution.

God will help us, defend us and even fight for us as long as we humble ourselves and entrust ourselves to Him and follow Jesus in love and forgiveness.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

2nd Week of Easter, Thursday, 11-04-13

Acts 5:27-33 / John 3:31-36

By the way we speak and also the things we speak about, others will be able to figure out what kind of spiritual orientation we have.

And that spiritual orientation is either rooted in God and in the eternal life of heaven, or it may be rooted in the things of earth and in world desires.

In the gospel, John the Baptist made this clear when he said that he who is born of the earth is earthly himself and speaks in an earthly way.

But he who come from heaven bears witness to the things he has seen and heard.

In the 1st reading, we can see who is of the earth and who has seen and heard the things of heaven.

The chief priest and the Sanhedrin demanded an explanation for what the apostles had done, especially for fixing the guilt of condemning Jesus to death on them.

The chief priest and the Sanhedrin seem to be more concerned about their reputation and the opinion of the people.

On the other hand, Peter and the apostles declared that obedience to God comes before obedience to men. Furthermore, in obedience to God and with the power of the Holy Spirit in them, they had to bear witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

It is not that difficult to see what the spiritual orientation of these two groups and where they are coming from and where they are heading.

What is more difficult for us is to answer the question of our spiritual orientation - Do I pledge obedience to God or do I succumb in obedience to men?

Our answer will tell us where we are from and where we will be heading.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

2nd Week of Easter, Wednesday, 10-04-13

Acts 5:17-26 / John 3:16-21

To break out from a jail is not that impossible. We have read stories of spectacular escapes from high security prisons and even from the infamous Alcatraz.

But whether the escapes were spectacular or otherwise, the method of escape is usually revealed and there is nothing so mysterious or miraculous about it.

Yet the escape from the jail that we heard in the 1st reading is indeed mysterious and miraculous, just as much as the appearance of an angel is beyond logical explanation.

Even the prison officials bore testimony to the fact that the jail was securely locked and that the guards were on duty at the gates and hence any escape was next to impossible.

We would have thought that this would stop the high priest and the Sanhedrin and make them ask themselves what was happening and that they could be dealing with a supernatural power.

But it seemed that they just brushed that aside and continued with the persecution of the apostles.

It seemed that their minds are darkened with jealousy. And as the gospel puts it - though the light has come into the world, men have shown they prefer darkness to the light because their deed were evil.

And indeed, everybody who does wrong hates the light and avoids it, for fear that his actions should be exposed.

So when we do wrong we are entering into a prison of darkness and we live in fear.

Yet, we also can escape from that self-made prison. We only need to turn to God and beg for mercy.

For God sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world but to save the world. When we turn to Jesus who is the Divine Mercy, we will escape from our sins and live in the light.

Monday, April 8, 2013

2nd Week of Easter, Tuesday, 09-04-13

Acts 4:32-37 / John 3:7-15

Back in 1969, on the July 20th, the American astronaut Neil Armstrong, became the first man to step on the moon.

That historical moment was beamed back to earth and shown "live" on television, and with those famous words: This is one small step for man, but a giant leap for mankind.

However, some people believed that the affair was being staged in some studio in Hollywood and put out as a prank.

And there were even stories going around that the space exploration was a big hoax.

Well, disbelief is something that we will always have and will always face.

Disbelief was also nothing new to Jesus and He encountered it in Nicodemus.

And that was why in the gospel, Jesus said to Nicodemus: If you do not believe me when I speak about the things in this world, how are you going to believe me when I speak to you about heavenly things?

On the other hand, the early Christian community showed their belief in the eternal life by their way of life on earth.

They did this by sharing everything they had with each other. That is quite incredible but it is for us to believe it.

So today's readings challenge us to reflect on the teachings of Jesus.

If we really believe in Jesus, then like the early Christian community, we will put into practice on earth what we believe in the eternal life of above.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Annunciation of the Lord, Monday, 08-04-13

Isaiah 7:10-14, 8:10 / Hebrews 10:4-10 / Luke 1:26-38

It is often said that Easter is the greatest feast of the Church, and for our faith as well.

In rising from the dead, Jesus conquered sin and death and revealed His divine identity - that He is the Son of God, and that He is Lord of the living and the dead.

Yes, Jesus is fully divine. Yet He is also fully human. Indeed, that is a mystery that needs to be often meditated upon.

Today's feast of the Annunciation of the Lord helps us to understand deeper the humanity of Jesus.

The angel Gabriel announced to Mary the good news of salvation and that the Son of God would be conceived in her by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Indeed, God becoming man and taking on human flesh in the womb of a woman is not that easy to comprehend.

Yet in His human nature, Jesus showed that God is with us, God is one of us, and that the offering of Himself on the cross has become the one perfect sacrifice that took away the sins of the world and saved us.

Hence, in as much as Easter reveals the divinity of Jesus, the Annunciation reveals the humanity of Jesus as well as the dignity of human nature.

In our human nature, whatever sacrifices we make for the Lord is united in Jesus who will offer it to the Father as sacrifice for the salvation of the world.

Just as Mary offered herself for God's plan of salvation, may we also follow her in offering ourselves as servants of the Lord for the salvation of the world.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday), 07.04.2013

Acts 5:12-16/ Apocalypse 1:9-13, 17-19/ John 20:19-31

It is only natural that we like things neat and tidy.

After all, there is also a saying that goes: Tidiness is next to godliness (and of course, messiness leads to craziness).

So even when it comes to our faith, we like it neat and tidy.

More so when it comes to the expressions of our faith, for example, in things like statues, holy pictures, stained glass and other representations of saints.

These are collectively termed as “sacramentals” and they serve as reminders of the blessings of God and for us to keep growing in faith and holiness.

As such, they must be decent representations which are “neat and tidy” and not too fancy or gaudy.

Hence, the statues (that we see here), of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Madonna with the Holy Child, St Teresa and the stained glass representations of her life, are tastefully portrayed and appealing to the senses.

Yes, we like our sacramental “neat and tidy”. We won’t be too keen on anything that is too disturbing or repulsive.

Yet, these images may be rather sanitized and glossed over (makeover).

Because, the reality (or the personality) behind the images can be too stark for our comfort.

In the gospel, we heard that the Risen Christ came into the room where His disciples were huddled together in fear.

When He appeared to them, His first words were “Peace be with you.” And then He showed them His hands and His side.

There is no doubt that He showed them the wounds of His crucifixion in His hands and side.

And what would those wounds look like? Certainly those wounds would not look like those that on the Risen Christ statue that is at the back of the church.

Those wounds on that statue are just too “neat” and too “nice”.

On the contrary, when the Risen Christ showed them His hands and His side, those wounds would have “shocked” His disciples.

Because those mortal wounds pointed to the pain and suffering of Jesus on the cross and to His death.

His wounds were for real. It wasn’t something neat and nice. In fact it would be horrible and shocking.

But as much as those wounds were ugly and repulsive, there was also something about those wounds that filled the disciples with peace and joy.

The Risen Jesus had overcome the pain and suffering and death caused by those wounds.

Jesus had risen from the dead; He is alive!

And that was enough for the disciples because they knew that they had been forgiven, and through the wounds of the Risen Christ, they were healed.

Yes those wounds were not neat and nice; there was no makeover, no plastic surgery.

Those wounds were stark and irksome, with torn flesh and gaping holes that make people turn away. There was certainly no beauty in them.

Yet by looking at the wounds of the Risen Christ, the disciples were healed and they found peace.

And Thomas (poor Thomas) who wasn’t with the disciples when the Risen Christ appeared, obstinately refused to believe.

He not only wanted to see those wounds, he even wanted to touch those wounds.

Simply because those horrible wounds were the marks of death. For Thomas, no one with those kind of wounds would ever be alive.

He just can’t believe that the Risen Christ would still have those wounds that were the marks of death.

Eight days later, when the Risen Christ appeared again to the disciples, He came specially for Thomas.

And there was no need to put his finger or his hand into those gaping wounds.

He saw, he believed, and he proclaimed: My Lord and my God.
Well, eight days after Easter Sunday, we are gathered here again for the Eucharist.

There are no gaping wounds to make us squirm and turn away.
In fact, as we look around, all seem quite neat and nice and tidy.
But let us not think that there are no wounds.

It would not be too presumptuous to say that each of us have our own wounds.

There are wounds of bitterness and unforgiveness;  there are wounds of greed and lust; there are wounds of envy and jealousy.
Some of those wounds are gaping and festering, causing us much pain and sorrow.

Yet we try to look nice and neat. We try to do plastic surgery on ourselves, but the plastic cracks and our wounds get worse.

The Risen Christ showed His disciples His wounds so that they can be healed and be at peace.

We in turn must show the Risen Christ our sinful wounds so that we can be healed.

But how are we going to do that?

Well, shortly after the election of the Pope, the Vatican revealed what the then cardinal Jorge Bergoglio said in the Sistine Chapel when he was formally asked if he accepted the outcome of the vote.

He answered: I am a big sinner. Trusting in the mercy and patience of God, in suffering, I accept.

Pope Francis was honest and sincere to say that he is a big sinner and unworthy to be the Pope.

But he also trusted in God’s mercy and love, and with humility he accepted the vote.

The Pope has given us the example of showing his wounds and being healed by God’s mercy and love.

We don’t have to tell the whole world what our sins are and show them our sinful wounds.

We only need to be honest and recognize our own wounds.

Wounds like: I am proud; I am possessive; I am insecure; I am envious and jealous; I am lustful and greedy; I am bitter and unforgiving.

Yes by our wounds we know that we have sinned. Yet by His wounds we know that we can be healed.

This Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday. From His wounds, mercy and forgiveness flow into our wounds to heal us and grant us peace.

And blessed are we who dare to look at our wounds, and yet believe that we will be forgiven and healed by the mercy and love of God.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Saturday within Octave of Easter, 06-04-13

Acts 4:13-21 / Mark 16:9-15

Somewhere along in life we would have met some people who are stuck in their incredulity and obstinacy.

These people are difficult to talk with, and to make it more difficult, they can be found in the high places of authority.

Probably dictators and cult personalities have these kind of traits.

We have heard of Jesus reproaching the chief priests and scribes and Pharisees.

Yet, in today's gospel, we hear of Him reproaching His own apostles because of their incredulity and obstinacy.

For Jesus, whether it is the incredulity and obstinacy of the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees, or whether it is that of His apostles and disciples, He does not let it go so easily.

He gave them a good scrubbing and they better hang their heads down in shame.

Yet, almost immediately, Jesus told them to go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News to all creation.

So where once they were unwilling to believe and skeptical about, where once they were stubbornly adhering to their unbelief, now they were told to proclaim the very thing they denied.

As for us, we certainly don't want to be reproached by Jesus. But that would mean that we better wake up from our own incredulity and obstinacy.

We certainly don't want to be known as Christians who are incredulous and obstinate.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Friday within Octave of Easter, 05-04-13

Acts 4:1-12 / John 21:1-14

In his first sermon in the the Sistine Chapel after his election, Pope Francis has this to say to the college of cardinals:
We can walk as much we want, we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail. We will become a pitiful NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) but not the Church, the Bride of Christ. When one does not walk, one stalls. When one does not built on solid rocks, what happens? What happens is what happens to children on the beach when they make sandcastles: everything collapses, it is without consistency.

Very bold words from a new Pope to the seasoned cardinals who have heard almost everything and hence that is nothing new.

Yet today's gospel tells us what happens when people lose focus and direction and forget who they are and what is the meaning of their lives.

Simon Peter and a few others were together by the sea of Galilee. Simon Peter decided to go fishing and the rest went along with him.

They forgot that they were not called to be fishermen but that Jesus had called them to be fishers of men.

So it was as if that the Risen Christ had to make His appearance again to remind His disciples who they were and what they were supposed to be doing.

So what Pope Francis said was indeed a reminder to the whole Church. We may do anything and even everything, but if we don't profess Jesus Christ as Lord, then it comes to nothing.

As Peter said the 1st reading : For of all the names in the world given to men, this is the only one by which we can be saved.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Thursday within the Octave of Easter, 04-04-13

Acts 3:11-26 / Luke 24:35-48

The Hebrew word for peace is "shalom". But "shalom" has more than one meaning besides peace.

It is also rooted in the word שלם (shaleim), which means completion.. So it also means that without peace, nothing can come to completion.

Also "shalom" is also used as a greeting and a salutation.

So when Jesus greeting His disciples "Peace be with you", all the meanings of shalom were also intended.

Obviously the disciples were not at peace and they were mentally and spiritually shattered.

But with His gift of peace, Jesus gathered the minds and hearts of His disciples so that they can see the meaning as well as the completion of all that had happened.

Yes, all that had happened, from the Last Supper to the Passion and Death and Resurrection, found meaning and completion in the Risen Christ.

At Mass, we exchange the sign of peace with each other as we say "Peace be with you".

Following that we partake of Holy Communion and unite ourselves with Christ. It also means that we unite ourselves with Christ in His Passion, Death and Resurrection.

May be peace of Christ be always in our hearts in the dying and rising moments of our life so that our life can find completion and bring about peace for others.