Saturday, August 31, 2013

22nd Ordinary Sunday, Year C, 01.09.2013

Sirach 3:19-21, 30-31 / Heb 12:18-19 / Luke 14:1, 7-14

It is said that a proud man can learn humility but he will be proud of it.

Pride is the scourge of humanity and it has brought about the first Fall and countless misery.

Well, it was pride that changed angels into devils.

Having said all that about pride, it is also necessary to look at its counterpart - humility.

It is humility that makes men as angels; the Lord turns His eyes on the lowly and the humble.

Indeed the first test of a truly great person is his humility.

Yet humility does not mean that one looks down on himself, or to have a poor self esteem, or does not have self-respect or dignity.

That would be like false humility or a warped understanding of humility.

Maybe putting it simply "humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less" (C. S. Lewis)

Having said all this about humility, it would be helpful to have practical ways of humility.

Below are 10 ways that humility can be put into practice.

1. Listen without interrupting (Proverbs 18)
2. Speak without accusing (James 1:19)
3. Give without sparing (Proverbs 21:26)
4. Pray without ceasing (Colossians 1:9)
5. Answer without arguing (Proverbs 17:1)
6. Share without pretending (Ephesians 4:15)
7. Enjoy without complaining (Philippians 2:14)
8. Trust without wavering (1 Cor 13:7)
9. Forgive without punishing (Colossians 3:13)
10. Promise without forgetting (Proverbs 13:12)

Yes, we can live without pride, and humility is not just the key to living but also the key to loving.

Friday, August 30, 2013

21st Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 31-08-13

1 Thess 4:9-11 / Matthew 25:14-30

There is a story of a rat who fell into a bin of rice. At first it tried to get out but it was not possible as the walls of the bin are steep.

Since there was rice all around, it began to feed itself. And after a while, it was enjoying itself inside the bin.

There was food, there was security, and all it needed do was to literally eat and sleep.

But one day, the rice ran out, and the rat, by then obese and over-weight, realized that it couldn't get out of the bin any more and would eventually die of starvation.

One of the lessons about life that we can learn from this story is that when things are going easy and there are no difficulties and challenges, we got to be careful.

Because we will be getting careless and lax and we might be sliding into a hole in which we would not be able to get out.

In the gospel parable, the servant who buried his one talent in the ground was called "wicked and lazy" by his master.

We may think that the master was rather harsh with his words and in his treatment of that servant.

But it is a pointed reminder for us who are servants of God that we must labour in the field of love and to bear of harvest for the Lord, as St. Paul would remind the Thessalonians in the 1st reading.

Not to struggle and labour for love of God and neighbour would mean that we slowly dry up and waste away the love that God has given us.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

21st Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 30-08-13

1 Thess 4:1-8 / Matthew 25:1-13

Mention the word "sex" and there might be various kind of reactions.

People might be uncomfortable with that word and its implications, and hence they react. Some emotions are stirred and people might get defensive.

We know reactions when we see it. In fact, some people on the other side will intentionally stoke the fires, especially when they know we will react. They know if they poke we will coil up and be ready to react in a full way.

In the 1st reading, St. Paul was not out to say anything repulsive or offensive to the Thessalonians.

But he did use words like "fornication" and "selfish lust" so as to highlight how wrong it was because it was sinful and it was against what God made us to be and what He wants us to be.

Among other things, God made us to be sexual beings and sex is meant to be a holy act that is consummated in the sanctity of marriage.

Yet when human beings forget that the holy fire of love is created by God, then they will turn to immorality and allow the fire into a lust that will burn up and destroy relationships.

Like the five wise bridesmaids in the gospel parable, let us keep the fire of holiness burning bright in our lives.

It would be foolish to let this fire burn out because of a lack of prayer. Because when the fire of God's love is put out by our carelessness, then the fire of lust and immorality will arise and devour and destroy us.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Passion of St. John the Baptist, Thursday, 29-08-13

Jeremiah 1:17-19 / Mark 6:17-29

Today's gospel for the memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist has a rather intriguing sentence that sticks out like an extra digit on a finger of a hand.

The mood of the passage would have flowed quite well except for this sentence: When he heard him speak, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he liked to listen to him.

Why was Herod perplexed when he listened to John the Baptist speak, and yet he liked to listen to him?

Given the historical facts about Herod, it would be quite obvious that he would have ordered the head of John the Baptist to be lopped off before he could finish saying anything about Herod and Herodias.

But Herod being Herod, he probably wanted to watch John the Baptist die a slow and painful death for saying such embarrassing things about him.

Yet that hideous desire slowly became a great perplexity for him. But he stilled liked to listen to John the Baptist.

Logically it may sound strange but that's the power of the Word of God.  It comforts those who are disturbed but disturbs those who are comfortable.

And the Word of God is to be proclaimed by prophets such as John the Baptist and by Jeremiah (1st reading).

And the Word of God is to be proclaimed by us who are baptized into the prophetic mission of Jesus.

It may mean that we are to stick out and cause others to be perplexed. But deep in the heart of hearts we still want to hear the Word of God. The question is what are we going to do about it?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

21st Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 28-08-13

1 Thess 2:9-13 / Matthew 23:27-32

There is quite a difference between the parenting styles of a father and a mother.

Mothers tend to have an emotionally nurturing role and they talk more to their children, and they tend to "talk-out" the issues involving discipline.

Fathers, on the other hand, tend to be more keen on helping and challenging their children to face the real world, and from a disciplinary standpoint, they tend to impose consequences more quickly and then talk later.

So it may be a male tendency to eradicate and eliminate what is obstructing and opposing them.

In the gospel, Jesus brought out a sore point from the past. He admonished the scribes and Pharisees by saying that they were doing exactly what their fathers had done in the past - they shed the blood of the prophets.

Yes, they had learnt well from their fathers and there was no denying it that they were doing exactly what their fathers did.

Certainly that was not a very positive image of fatherhood. But then the 1st reading gives a view on the other side of the coin.

St. Paul told the Thessalonians that he worked hard for them, and treated them right and fair, just as how a good father would treat his children.

A good father would teach his children what is right, encouraging them and appealing to them to live a life worthy of God so that they would have a share in God's kingdom.

And that is not just about fathers. Any good teacher, superior, manager, leader is called to do likewise.

And for every Christian, one of the spiritual works of mercy is to instruct the ignorant.

So let us live a life worthy of God, and then we will be able to teach others what is right and good.

Monday, August 26, 2013

21st Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 27-08-13

1 Thess 2:1-8 / Matthew 23:23-26

Spiritual gifts are quite awesome as well as worrisome.

Because they can command a lot of authority, and yet they can also be abused.

The gifts of preaching and healing are two spiritual gifts that can turn people to God or turn people away from God.

In other words, they can be used to magnify God or they can be used to multiply personal gains.

In the 1st reading, St. Paul stressed on the possibility of abuse in the preaching of the Good News.

He warned the missionaries of the early Church not to preach for money or honour or power or authority.

Rather, like a mother feeding and looking after her own children, they should preach with love and devotion.

In doing so, they not only preach the Good News, but they preach by also handing over their lives.

In the gospel, Jesus reprimanded the scribes and Pharisees for not putting into practice what they preach, and also they neglected the fundamentals of the Good News - justice, mercy and good faith.

Where there is no love in the preaching, then there will also be no healing and conversion.

Regardless of whether we are a preacher or just an ordinary parishioner, we are judged by the fruits we bear in our lives.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

21st Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 26-08-13

1 Thes 1:1-5, 8-10 / Matthew 23:13-22

It can be quite amazing to think about the influence and power we can have over people.

What we say and what we do can influence others, be it for better or for worse.

And more often than not we see that power being used for the worse.

In the gospel, Jesus gave an example of how others can be adversely affected by our bad influence.

He said to the scribes and Pharisees: You who shut up the kingdom of heaven in men's faces, neither going in yourself nor allowing others to go in who want to. You who travel over sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when you have him, you make him twice as fit for hell as you are.

Those are very grave and shocking words but nonetheless it shows the reality of the devastating power and influence that we can have over others.

But on the other hand, we are also capable of influencing others to rise above the sludge of this world and to reach for heaven.

In the 1st reading, we heard how St. Paul gave thanks to God for the community at Thessalonika.

But it was he who preached to them the Good News and helped them to break from idolatry and were converted to God and became servants of the true and living God. They showed their faith in action, worked for love and persevered through hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.

So we have a choice: we can be like the scribes and Pharisees and have a devastating power and influence over others or we can be like St. Paul who was an instrument of God's saving grace for the Thessalonians.

Yes, we can choose, and let us pray that we will choose to be signs that will point others towards heaven.

Friday, August 23, 2013

St. Bartholomew, Apostle, Saturday, 24-08-13

Apocalypse 21:9-14 / John 1:45-51

St Bartholomew was from Cana in Galilee, and in the Gospel according to Matthew he is listed together with Philip as one of the first apostles chosen by Christ.

Because of that he is usually identified as Nathaniel in the gospel of John as we have heard in the gospel passage.

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

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

He is said to have been martyred in Albanopolis in Armenia. According to one account, he was beheaded, but a more popular tradition holds that he was flayed alive and crucified, head downward. He is said to have converted Polymius, the king of Armenia, to Christianity. Astyages, Polymius' brother, consequently ordered Bartholomew's execution

To be flayed means to be skinned alive and that is indeed a very painful way to die. Some pictures of St. Bartholomew had him carrying his own skin, an indication of his martyrdom.

This is certainly gruesome to even think about, but that may help us reflect on another aspect - a skin-deep impression or understanding.

That was St. Bartholomew's initial impression of Jesus. But he would later understand Jesus as the Son of God and the King of Israel.

And when he went forth to witness for Jesus, he not only shed his blood, he would even have to shed his skin for Jesus.

May our faith and love for Jesus not be merely skin-deep. May it be deep in our hearts, just as it was in St. Bartholomew's heart, so that it will show forth in our lives.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

20th Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 23-08-13

Ruth 1:1, 3-6, 14-16, 22 / Matthew 22:34-40

One of the top needs of human beings is the need for security. We need to protect ourselves in order to have peace of mind.

When we have peace of mind, then we would be able to look at other needs like food and clothing.

But we often reverse the process by looking around and seeing what we can get from others.

We think that by getting more and more from others, we will be secured and feel protected.

But the reality is actually the opposite. In fact when we give of ourselves to others, it is we ourselves who will have peace of mind.

As we heard in the 1st reading, Ruth could have followed her sister-in-law and return to her own people and that was perfectly alright and even Naomi her mother-in-law encouraged her to do so.

Yet Ruth choose to give of herself to follow her mother-in-law to go to a foreign land and hence giving up her sense of belonging and security.

But for giving up herself and giving of herself to Naomi, God blessed her and her name is mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus.

She exemplifies the teaching of Jesus to love God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind.

When we give our heart and soul and mind to God, we will be secure and be at peace.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Queenship of Mary, Thursday, 22-08-13

Isaiah 9:1-4 / Luke 1:26-38

This feast of the Queenship of Mary is a follow-up to the Assumption and is now celebrated on the octave day of that feast.

In his 1954 encyclical To the Queen of Heaven, Pius XII points out that Mary deserves the title because she is Mother of God and because she is closely associated as the New Eve and she cooperated with the redemptive work of Jesus

Her queenship of heaven and earth flows from the universal kingship of Christ, just as her Assumption into heaven flows from the saving grace of the Ascension of our Lord Jesus.

Hence all that is said about Mary and all that is bestowed unto Mary is closely associated with and flows from the blessings that Jesus won for us on the Cross.

So in honouring Mary as our Queen, we join her to worship Jesus our king, and we also follow Mary's example of offering our lives in service of God and to do His will.

In asking for Mary's intercession, we also join with her in prayer to invoke the power of the Holy Spirit upon us.

As we heard in the gospel, when Mary asked the angel Gabriel, "How can this come about since I am a virgin?", the angel replied, "The Holy Spirit will come down upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow."

So on this feast of Mary our Queen, let us join her to invoke our Lord and King to send forth His power and might and protect us under the shadow of His hand.

May we also open our hearts to the guidance of the Holy Spirit to know the will of God and together with Mary our Queen, let us continue to build the kingdom of God.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

20th Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 21-08-13

Judges 9:6-15 / Matthew 20:1-16

Money does not make the world go round; but money does make people go round and up and about.

It cannot be denied that money has this incentive to make people work harder, go faster, think smarter, etc.

After all, the business transactions of the world are driven by money and the concern for profit.

Consequently, money can also be a point of contention where wages are concerned.

In the parable of the gospel, that seemed to be the complaint of the workers who worked all day and were paid the equal amount as those who came at the eleventh hour.

The complaint was about "unfair" wages, although it was not unjust; but the parable's concern is about availability and generosity.

The eleventh hour workers made themselves available, even when it was coming to the end of the day, and that earned them the generosity of the landowner.

Yet in the 1st reading, we see a reversal. Those who were able to lead the country refused to be available for the duty and it eventually fell into the hands of a tyrant.

And this is also the problem with our world. Those who are able refused to be available, and hence they end up at the fool's disposal.

Yes God is generous but we also have to be available for His generosity. With His generosity, our abilities will give God glory.

Monday, August 19, 2013

20th Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 20-08-13

Judges 6:11-24 / Matthew 19:23-30

Pope Francis chose the motto "Miserando atque eligendo", meaning lowly but chosen; literally in Latin 'by having mercy, by choosing him'.

That motto expresses the essence of the call by God to him to be the pope. That motto is the same one the Pope had already chosen as Bishop.

In the Bible, we see it over and over again who God calls for a special purpose - the lowly.

In the 1st reading, the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon and addressed him as "valiant warrior".

But Gideon could not understand it because his clan was the weakest in Manasseh and he was the least important in his family.

So he was not a warrior, much less a valiant warrior; in fact he had to hide himself while threshing wheat so that the oppressors would not find out.

But the Lord turned to him and said, "Go in the strength now upholding you, and you will rescue Israel from the power of Midian. Do not I send you myself?"

Yes, it is the Lord who empowers, who strengthens and who sends forth those He had called and chosen.

So as much as we see the weak and lowly as impossible candidates for any great mission, yet what is impossible for men is certainly not impossible for God.

Pope Francis was lowly but God chose him. We have to remember that each of us are already chosen by God for a special mission.

We just need to be lowly and humble in order to be empowered and strengthened in order to fulfill our mission.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

20th Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 19-08-13

Judges 2:11-19 / Matthew 19:16-22

What we heard in the 1st reading is also what we will read about in almost every page of the Old Testament.

And just what is that? It is this recurring problem of the Israelites. They turn to idols and worshipped the idols and they did what displeased the Lord.

Two idols were mentioned in the 1st reading: Baal who was chief of the Canaanite pantheon and worshipped as the source of life and fertility, the mightiest hero, and the lord of war.

The other idol was Astarte who was worshipped as the beautiful goddess of fertility and sexual love.

That brief description would already give us an indication of why the Israelites fell into idolatry.

Because the worshipping of these idols was an expression of the cravings and desires of a human heart that longs for power, might, wealth, sex and the freedom from moral obligations.

And the problem was that the worshipping of these idols did fulfill these yearnings and cravings and desires.

Just like how the obsession with money and wealth can fulfill the yearnings and cravings and desires of the modern world.

Worshipping the one true God has its moral obligations and it also disciplines the wild and straying heart.

Yet in worshipping the one true God, we will have the peace and joy that no amount of money can buy. For all that we give up on earth, God will reward us. That can also be found in every page of the Bible.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

20th Ordinary Sunday, Year C, 18.08.2013

Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10/ Hebrews 12:1-4/ Luke 12:49-53

There was a TV advertisement in the 1980s for a particular brand of stout that had this catchy phrase: “Are you afraid of the dark?”

Because the colour of that particular brand of stout is dark, almost blackish.

So, when ordering drinks, this catchy phrase will go around “Are you afraid of the dark?” and of course who would want to say he is afraid, and so they will order that dark bitter stout.

It was an innovative advertisement because it played on the two aspects of human nature.

Yes, it played on the male ego to say that they are not afraid of anything.

Yet, it also highlighted the human primeval fear of the dark.

So, just put the male ego and a primeval fear together and we get an advertisement for a stout.

But the fear of the dark is a reality for men, women and especially children, and even faith and courage are called upon to address the fear.

There is this joke about a little boy who was always afraid of the dark and he wouldn’t go outdoors alone after sunset.

One day, he forgot to bring in his badminton racket from the garden and since it was already dark, he asked his mother to bring it in for him.

His mother wanted to help him overcome his fear of the dark, so she told him:
Don’t be afraid, Jesus is out there even in the dark! So, just go and get your badminton racket back.

So the little boy opened the door a bit and said in a loud voice: Jesus, if you are out there, please bring in my badminton racket!

Oh yes, Jesus is out there everywhere, especially in the dark.

Jesus is the light of the world and He came to scatter the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome Him.

Oh yes, where there is darkness, let there be light, let there be the Light of Christ.

And we love the light, in every sense of the word, because it gives us security and clarity.

But in today’s gospel, Jesus seemed to be saying much more than just being the light of the world.

He said to His disciples: I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were burning already.

It is just a metaphor, just an image. But it is also a powerful image.
Fire is not something that we can remain indifferent to.

Fire is not a weak, pale, lifeless thing. Fire is alive and it gives out warmth and comfort.

And it has the power to burn up what is useless and refine what is impure.

Jesus said that He is the light of the world and that light comes from the fire that He is bringing with Him. 

And He is not talking about a small fire. He is talking about a big fire that will set the whole world ablaze.

Well, so far so good, and all of that is very nice to hear.

But what follows after that is what is considered to be a hard saying of Jesus, hard and disturbing.

Because Jesus said: Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.

And then He goes on to talk about a division that will cut right down to family ties.

But peace is what we want and more so we want peace in our family.

Yet it also cannot be denied that every family has got some burning issues that need to be addressed.

One example of a burning issue that would cause division in a family would be when a member of the family wants to convert to Christianity.

If there is opposition, that person could choose to hide it from the family in order to avoid tension.

But just as light cannot be concealed, burning issues must be addressed, be it in the family, or in the Church community or in the society.

We may remember the story about Moses and the burning bush in the book of Exodus.

While looking after his flock of sheep, Moses happened to notice a bush that was burning but not consumed by the fire.

He went to investigate this strange thing, and then God spoke to him from the burning bush.

Well, one thing led to another and in the end, Moses led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt.

It all began with a burning bush and what a fire it started in Egypt.

Well, the burning bush may have evolved into burning issues and it is up to us to look at them and to address them.

But strangely, we fear to address burning issues, just like we fear the dark.

But just as Jesus is the Light that will pierce through the darkness, Jesus also wants to speak to us in the burning issues that we see around us.

When we face these burning issues and address them, it will become a fire that will burn up what is useless and refine what is impure.

But it is a fire that will also give comfort and warmth and light.

Because it is a fire that comes from Jesus who is the Prince of Peace and the Light of the world.

So let us not be afraid of the fire from the burning issues of our lives, because the fire will scatter the darkness of our sins and our fears.

Friday, August 16, 2013

19th Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 17-08-13

Joshua 24:14-29 / Matthew 19:13-15

To say that someone is going through a "second childhood" is certainly not that positive. In fact, it is rather insulting and demeaning.

Because a "second childhood" usually refers to a person of advanced age who talks and behaves in a childish manner that irritates others and also is a nuisance and causes inconvenience to others.

Furthermore, the deterioration of mental abilities would also aggravate the matter.

In the 1st reading, we heard that Joshua died at a hundred and ten years old. That was a really advanced age but his mental alertness and awareness were certainly not diminished.

He urged Israel in his exhortation to remember the marvels the Lord had done for them and he challenged the people to make a decision to choose who they wish to serve.

Joshua himself remembered what the Lord had done for him in empowering him to lead Israel to conquer the enemies before them and to occupy their land.

He had been a great military commander who had lead Israel to many victories but that was not important to him any more.

At a hundred and ten years old, he had come to a humility and a simplicity of a child and he knew that he and his household only wanted to serve the Lord and be His children.

As Jesus said in the gospel, the kingdom of God belongs to little children who have the humility and simplicity to trust in the Lord in all things.

Let us pray for the humility and simplicity of a little child to trust in the Lord. That is what is needed first in order to serve the Lord.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

19th Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 16-08-13

Joshua 24:1-13 / Matthew 19:3-12

It is a strange human tendency to think that someone else is having a better deal than us.

Just like when we go to a restaurant and having ordered our food and when the dish is brought before us, we look at another table and we wonder if the food that the people are eating is better than ours.

And even while we are eating our food, we may be talking about types of food that we hope to eat in the future.

Somehow we don't seem to appreciate what we have before us. It may be out of dissatisfaction or just out of envy for what we don't have.

In the gospel, we heard the disciples responding to the teaching of Jesus about divorce. They think that it was not that advisable to get married after all.

So is being a priest a better and easier life? Is being a religious a better and easier life? Is being a single a better and easier life?

The reply of Jesus will give us a clarity. To whatever state of life we are called, we will also be granted the grace to live it out joyfully and lovingly.

Similarly we may think that the people of Israel had a better experience of God that we do. As Joshua recounted for them in the 1st reading, they had experienced the wonders and marvels of God.

So theoretically, they should have more faith in God than we do. And yet we also know that they had been unfaithful to God despite all the miracles He had worked for them.

So let us reflect about the blessings and graces we have received from God. Let us be grateful and give thanks and let us stay faithful to the Lord and our hearts will be at peace and we will have joy in life.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Assumption of the BVM, Thursday, 15-08-13

Apocalypse 11:19; 12:1-6,10 / 1 Cor 15:20-26 / Luke 1:39-56

The word "Assumption" is an example of how a word can take on new meanings over time while still retaining some aspects of its original meaning.

It came into usage in the 13th century, and was initially confined to a specific ecclesiastical meaning in the Catholic Church.

The Latin word on which it is based literally means “the action of being taken up or received,” and in English "assumption"  referred to the taking up into heaven of the Virgin Mary.

That meaning still exists today, and in all the meanings it has assumed since then, one can see the common thread running through them is the sense of taking.

One of the most common understanding of assumption is to take for granted or a supposition.

But of course we don't suppose that Mary is in heaven. Rather we believe that Mary was taken up into heaven body and soul. God took her up into heaven.

But God could only take what Mary had willingly given to Him. Mary gave herself to God to be His handmaid and it was through her that He gave us Jesus the Saviour.

As Mary proclaimed in the gospel, the Lord had done great things for her. And this marvelous deed of taking her up to heaven body and soul was her reward of giving herself totally to Him.

Yes, God will only take what we give to Him willingly. And if we are willing, God will also want to take us up to heaven where we will join Mary to glorify Him.

So let us follow Mary and offer ourselves body and soul to serve the Lord here on earth, and the Lord will fulfill His promise of taking us up to heaven and receive us into His kingdom.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

19th Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 14-08-13

Duet 34:1-12 / Matthew 18:15-20

The number 16670 may not have much significance for us, nor does it have any meaning whatsoever in our modern world.

But going back 72 years ago, on the 28th May 1941, when a man was transferred to Auschwitz prison, he was given a number - 16670, and he was known as prisoner #16670.

That man was Fr. Maximillian Kolbe, and he was arrested by the Nazis for harbouring Jews from the German invasion in his priory in Poland.

While he was in prison, three prisoners disappeared from the camp, prompting the deputy camp commander, to pick 10 men to be starved to death in an underground bunker in order to deter further escape attempts.

When one of the selected men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out, "My wife! My children!", Kolbe volunteered to take his place.

In that underground bunker, Kolbe celebrated Mass each day and prayed with the rest of the nine condemned prisoners and encouraged them with the hope of heaven.

After two weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe remained alive and the guards gave him a lethal injection to put him to death.

It was just another case of the atrocities that happened at the Auschwitz prison. But it was a story of faith and courage, love and sacrifice.

That is what we are celebrating as we remember St. Maximillian Kolbe and his sacrifice for another human being.

And as Jesus said in the gospel, where two or three are gathered in His name, He will be there. And we can see it clearly that St Kolbe was a sign of the presence of Jesus to the nine condemned men as they awaited their death.

May we follow the example of St. Maximillian Kolbe and be a presence of Jesus for others and be for them a sign of faith and courage, love and sacrifice.

Monday, August 12, 2013

19th Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 13-08-13

Duet 31:1-8 / Matthew 18:1-5, 10, 12-14

Whenever we hear the word "great" what usually comes to our minds are size, strength, power, ability, achievements, etc.

That is usually how we understand the word "great". It seems to be even more than good. 

Between a good place and a great place, it is quite obvious which is more in the qualitative as well as in the quantitative sense of the word.

Yet in the spiritual sense of the word, greatness does not seem to have much association with the ideas and concepts above.

Greatness, in the spiritual sense, is associated with littleness and humility.

And in the gospel, Jesus sets before us a symbol of this greatness - a little child.

And He even taught us that unless we change and become like little children, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

In the 1st reading, we heard that the Israelites were about to cross the Jordan and enter the Promised Land.

Moses addressed the people and he made it clear to them that the Lord God will cross it before them and lead them into the land that He promised as their inheritance.

Yet, they must follow the Lord in littleness and humility like a child.

Likewise, in littleness and humility, we will be able to follow the Lord into our eternal Promised Land.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

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

Deut 10:12-22 / Matthew 17:22-27

There are times when we find ourselves in this kind of a tricky and sticky situation - we say "Yes" to something and then we soon realize that we said yes to something that is not right.

Furthermore, we find ourselves stuck in between two parties who are unwilling to budge or give way over that matter.

Such was the situation with Peter in the gospel passage. The tax collectors told him to ask Jesus to pay the tax of the half-shekel.

He said yes to them without thinking, but then on his way to Jesus, he might have thought of kicking himself for shooting off his mouth. And now he had to face Jesus about the question of the tax.

And when he came to Jesus, he was put again into this question of taxes and again from his own mouth he found himself contradicting himself.

But fortunately for Peter, Jesus didn't want to be drawn into such a matter involving money and the paying of taxes.

And He saved Peter from being cornered in a sticky situation. But would Peter learn the lesson from this?

And would we learn a lesson from this too? The least we can learn is the 3 Ts : "Think Then Talk!"

But if we heed what Moses told the people in the 1st reading, then we can avoid those tricky and sticky situations.

"What does the Lord ask of you? Only this: to fear the Lord our God, to follow his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul, to keep the commandments and laws of the Lord that for your good that I lay down for you today."

So for today, let us think about what the Lord is asking of us and then we talk about what is the good and right thing to do.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

19th Ordinary Sunday, Year C, 11.08.2013

Wisdom 18:6-9/ Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19/ Luke 12:32-48

If we were asked what are the top ten popular inventions, we would certainly be able to name far more than just ten, in fact, there are so many.

It depends very much on how important it is in our lives and how much we use it for our convenience. 

But the one invention that we have with us, here and now, is the handphone (mobile phone or cell phone, or smartphone).

From an independent survey, it is reported that there are 7.8million mobile phones in Singapore and 90% of the population own a mobile phone. 

That is quite a staggering number and it seems like there is a lot of communication going around.

But the irony is that whenever we call a hotline, or a helpline, we may find ourselves talking to an answering machine.

“Press 1 for English…press 0 to speak to our customer service officer” or “Our Customer service officers are all engaged at the moment, please wait, your call is important to us…” (elevator music).

The irony is that telephones were invented for the purpose of direct voice communication.

Yet, just when we need to talk to someone on the line, we may end up talking to a recording, a voice mail, or we listen to a minute of ring tone and then get disconnected.

Yes, when we call someone on the phone, we expect the person to answer the call.

We expect the person to be like on standby to answer the phone, especially if it is an important and urgent call.

So when our calls are not answered, we get disappointed and frustrated.

Yet, for us who have our handphones so intimately close to us, we also have missed calls. Most of those calls are missed unintentionally, though some are intentionally not answered for various reasons.

And if we are waiting for an important call, we will make sure that our phone is in our hand, or at least within our reach.

Nonetheless, waiting for a call is not as stressful and anxious when we have our phones with us.

But waiting for someone important to appear can be quite wearisome.

Especially if it is that kind of person that Jesus was talking about in the gospel.

Jesus told a parable about being dressed for action, and having our lamps lit and to be like servants waiting for their master to return from the wedding feast, ready to open the door as soon as he comes and knocks.

The trouble here is that the servants do not know when the master is going to appear, and he can come at any time, and so they have to be ready and alert at all times.

There is no way of calling the master to ask what time he would be arriving.

There is also no way of checking the Internet for the estimated time of arrival.

There was nothing for them to rely on, nothing for them to check with.

All the servants need to do is to be dressed and ready, have their lamps lit and wait for the master to come and knock.

Surely, that is wearisome and tiresome. Furthermore there is no knowledge and clarity about the whole situation.

And that is what happens in life most of the time – we are blur and we are not clear about where life is going and what God is saying to us.

And we envy those who seem to have so much clarity about life and what God wants them to do.

People like Mother Teresa seemed to be clear about life and what God wants her to do.

She founded the Missionaries of Charity which numbered about 4000, in addition to thousands of lay volunteers.

The MC sisters also have 610 foundations in 123 countries on all seven continents. That indeed is very impressive.

One young man came to Mother Teresa and asked her to pray for him.

She asked: What do you want me to pray for?

The young man replied: Pray that I have clarity, just like you have clarity.

Mother Teresa replied: No. Clarity is what you desire but it is what  you have to let go of.

The young man said: But you seem to have the clarity that I long for.

Mother Teresa laughed and said: I never had clarity. What I have is trust in God. So I pray that you will have trust in God.

Well, we can be sure that Mother Teresa who is sitting at God’s banquet in heaven is praying for us to have trust in God.

We often complain that we call upon God and get no answer. God don’t seem to answer our “phone calls”.

So we get disappointed and frustrated and we say that God doesn’t speak to us and we don’t know what to do. We are blur and we are not clear.

But the fact is that God speaks to us all the time! Just that we may have missed His “calls”.

Because God calls us at the unexpected time, at an inconvenient time, a time when we are too busy with ourselves, a time when we would rather reject the call.

Just like how we would reject calls from our parents, or from our spouse, our boss, our colleagues, or someone whom we consider a nuisance or troublesome.

Those calls usually come at an unexpected time and at an inconvenient time, but yet those are precisely the calls from God.

But if we are faithful and trusting servants, any time is a good time. For an unfaithful servant, anytime is a bad time.

But if we truly trust God, whenever He calls, it is a good time. Because with God, anytime is a good time.

Friday, August 9, 2013

St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr, Saturday, 10-08-13

2 Cor 9:6-11 / John 12:24-26

St. Lawrence was a deacon of the Church of Rome when Pope Sixtus was martyred along with four other deacons during the year 258.

St. Lawrence, who was temporarily in charge of the administration, was told by the authorities that if he wanted to be spared, he was to surrender all the treasures of the Church in three days time.

So during the next three days, St. Lawrence went around gathering the poor and the needy who were supported by the Church.

Then he brought them before the authorities and he told them: These are the treasures of the Church.

Needless to say, he was taken away to be tortured to death. The account of the execution scene was morbid.

St. Lawrence was stripped and tied to a wire-mesh to be roasted over the fire.

One account has it that St. Laurence said to his torturers: You can turn me over, I am well done on this side.

But martyrdom is certainly no laughing matter, but yet even as the blood of the martyrs was poured out, the Church grew especially in those terrible times.

Because it was a blood that was willingly poured out, willingly given for the glory of God.

As the 1st reading puts it, St. Lawrence and the other martyrs sowed with their blood and their lives and they reaped the harvest of eternal life.

And as the gospel puts it, St. Lawrence gave up his life in witness to Jesus and by his death the Church reaped a rich harvest of faith.

The martyrdom of St. Lawrence reminds us that our lives are to be poured out for others so that they can grow in faith and love and be the treasures of the Church.

Hence, every sacrifice we make is like a dying to ourselves, and yet the harvest that will be reaped will make it all worth it.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Singapore National Day 2012

Isaiah 63:7-9 / Colossians 3:12-17 / Luke 12:22-31

The theme for this year's National Day is "Many stories, One Singapore". Probably it means that though we are many individuals, we make up one particular nation called "Singapore".

While we are many individuals (5 million) and each of us has our own stories, yet our stories find a common ground in Singapore.

Yes, we have a uniquely Singaporean story or a uniquely Singaporean characteristic.

For eg, if a food stall has a long queue, the food must be good.

Foreign airport custom officers will know whether a person is a Singaporean, because the luggage will contain chilli and Maggie Mee.

And talking about airport, our Changi Airport is the best place to study.

And since best places are usually short of seats, this is where Singaporeans have discovered the power of a packet of tissue paper - can "chope" (reserve) seats!

Yes, there are many more other stories that make up the nation that we call Singapore.

And as we the Church in Singapore celebrate our nation's National Day, we too, are called to add a Catholic story into the Singapore story.

And taking a direction from the 2nd reading, then that story is going to be based on sincerity and compassion, kindness and humility, gentleness and patience and forgiveness.

This must be our story for our country. This must also be who we are as we join our country  in the "Majulah Singapura".

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

18th Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 08-08-13

Numbers 20:1-13 / Matthew 16:13-23

The word "pontifex" is usually connected to the Pope and from it comes along other connected words like pontiff and pontifical.

It comes from Latin to mean literally "bridge-maker", from "pons" which means  bridge and "fex" from facere  which means to make.

So the Pope's role is to be the bridge between God and man. And in many ways, we the Church are also called to be bridge-builders between God and the world and also between peoples.

Yet to be a bridge-builder or to be the in-between person is never an easy task because of the pressure and demands of both parties.

We see this in the 1st reading. Moses was caught between a rebellious people demanding for water and God to whom he had to bring up the needs of the people.

Moses was so stressed up by the role that he eventually vent his anger on the people and taunted the people as he struck the rock twice to make water gush out from the rock.

In the gospel we heard Peter proclaiming Jesus as the Son of the living God, and indeed He is.

As the Son of God, Jesus came to bring men back to God but it certainly was not an easy task. Jesus had to lay down His life in order to fulfill His mission.

The mission that is entrusted to us the Church is also to bring people back to God by being bridge-builders.

Just as it was not an easy task for Jesus and Moses, neither will it be for us.

But Jesus promised us that the gates of the underworld cannot hold out against us. We just have to follow God's way and keep building the bridges that will lead people back to God.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

18th Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 07-08-13

Numbers 13:1-2, 25 - 14:1, 26-29, 34-35 / Matthew 15:21-28

What a difference a day makes. Be it for better or for worse, one day can make a difference.

And those Israelites of the 1st reading would certainly affirm that statement to the letter.

The Lord had instructed them to reconnaissance the land of Canaan. At the end of forty day, they came back with their report.

They gave such a disparaging report of the land that the whole community of Israel raised their voices and cried aloud and the people wailed all night.

But they forgot that it was the land that the Lord promised to their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

And so they paid the price for their forgetfulness and complaints. For each day that they went to reconnaissance the land, they were to wander in the wilderness for a year, and so that would add up to forty years, until the generation that wailed and complained against the Lord would perish in the desert sands.

It was a sad story of the Israelites not having faith in the Lord and rejecting the promised land of Canaan.

Yet in the gospel, it was a Canaanite woman who came to Jesus, the Promised One of God, and begged for the healing of her possessed daughter.

Though it was the Israelites who rejected the Promised Land and later the Promised One of God, it was a Canaanite who showed the faith that Jesus Himself would call "great".

May we too have that little faith to believe in God's promises in Jesus. If what a difference a day can make, then what a difference a little bit of faith can make.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Transfiguration of the Lord, Tuesday, 06-08-13

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 / 2 Peter 1:16-19 / Luke 9:28-36

It is the teaching of the Church that Jesus is fully human and fully divine.

Jesus was born of a woman and became a man like us. He also died a painful death by being crucified on the cross.

But three days later He rose from the dead and just as the crucifixion attested to His humanity, the Resurrection attested to His divinity.

But between the Incarnation and the Resurrection, there is this peculiar event which we are celebrating today called the Transfiguration.

At the mountain top, the the disciples saw the glory of Jesus and the voice from heaven proclaimed Him as the Beloved Son of God.

Peter, James and John were witnesses to this and in the 2nd reading, Peter wrote a testimony about it. On that mountain, the three disciples saw the glory of the Transfiguration of Jesus and they were ecstatic about it.

After experiencing such a divine manifestation, we would expect the three disciples to have an unshakeable faith in Jesus.

But further on ahead, as the events in the life of Jesus began to unfold, their faith was shaken to the extent that even Peter committed that infamous triple denial of Jesus.

And even when their faith is restored after the Resurrection, Peter remembered what happened at the Transfiguration and thereafter, and hence he wrote this in the 2nd reading: you will be right to depend on prophecy and take it as a lamp for lighting a way through the dark until the dawn comes and the morning star rises in your minds.

So as we gather to celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration, we acknowledge and give thanks to God for the experiences of His presence and glory.

Yet we also pray that when the darkness envelope us and shakes our faith, may our memories of the experiences of God's love be that little light that will shine through the darkness and bring about the light of God's salvation.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

18th Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 05-08-13

Numbers 11:4-15 / Matthew 14:13-21

A baby's cry is an alarm to the parents that the baby has some needs that require attention.

That is understandable because that is how a baby communicates with the world.

But when the baby starts to wail, it could mean that serious attention is needed. Moreover the wailing can be intolerable and irritating.

If that is the case with babies, then what about adults when they start wailing?

The 1st reading told us that the people of Israel began to wail, every family at the door of its tent.

The cause of the wailing was that they were clamouring for meat - "Who will give us meat to eat?"

Their wailing irritated the Lord to the extend that the anger of the Lord flared out, and Moses was also irritated to the extent that he was finding the people intolerable.

And to think that the wailing was all about the craving for meat! It is indeed difficult to understand how people would behave when they give in to their craving.

Yet in the gospel we saw a totally different kind of behaviour from Jesus when He received news about the death of John the Baptist, His relative.

He did not wail, He did not vent His anger or rave with revenge. He withdrew to a lonely place, but when He saw the crowds following Him, He rose above His emotions and took pity on them and even worked a miracle to feed them.

Let us ask the Lord Jesus to give us grateful and thankful hearts so that we can rise above our desires and cravings and praise the Lord for all the blessings we have received.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

18th Ordinary Sunday, Year C, 04.08.2013

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2:21-23/ Colossians 3: 1-5, 9-11/ Luke 12:13-21

There are many lessons in life that we keep learning over and over again.

One lesson that life always teaches us is that we won’t appreciate something until we lose it.

So it may be something precious, or it may be a pet, or it may be someone dear to us.

The sudden loss will embark us on an immediate and frantic search.
And depending on how precious it is to us, our hearts and minds may not be at rest until we find it.

But there are some things that are lost gradually and over a long period of time.

So much so that we don’t really notice it or miss it too much (until it is too late!)

Well, one thing that I can think of, and it affects men as well as women, is hair loss.

Oh yes, that crowning glory on our heads that we spend time in front of the mirror, combing, brushing, styling and even colouring (dyeing).

What started off as a full head of hair slowly thins along the years, and especially for men, there is the balding, or receding hair-line.
Well, everything happens for a reason, but if we can’t understand it then at least, we can try to laugh at it.

A joke has it that a little boy was having his breakfast and then he asked his mother, “Mummy, Mummy, why does Daddy has so few hairs on his head?”

His mother replied, “Because he thinks a lot.” And she was quite pleased with herself for coming up with such a quick answer.

Or so she thought, until the boy asked, “So Mummy, why do you have so much hair?”

But whether there is plenty hair or no hair, the 1st reading would call it as vanity.

But whether it is about hair or look, it is just one of the vanities. There is also this vanity of vanities.

In the gospel, Jesus would put a name to this vanity of vanities. He calls it “avarice” which is the extreme greed for wealth and material gains.

It all began when Jesus refused a request from a man to be a judge or arbitrator over the sharing of inheritance with his brother.

Jesus then took the opportunity to expose the cause of this fight over the sharing of inheritance.

In fact, it is not just about the fight over inheritance, it is about the desire and craving for material gains, whether rightfully or otherwise.

Jesus then told a parable that will certainly make us think and even lose some hairs.

But what is hair-raising is when God appears in the parable and says to the rich man: Fool! This very night the demand will be made for your soul, and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?

If someone were to call us a fool, it is a great insult. But if God were to call us a fool, then it would be the greatest tragedy.

And Jesus would tell us what a fool is – a fool is someone who stores up treasures for himself in place of making himself rich in the presence of God.

We must remember that riches and earthly treasures do not equate to greatness, although the world connects them together.

We have heard of Alexander the Great. Legend has it that after conquering many kingdoms, he was returning home but he fell seriously ill and he came to the point of death.

With death staring at him in the face, Alexander realized that his conquests, his great army, his sharp sword and all his wealth were of no consequence.

Knowing that his end is near, he called his generals and said, “I will depart from this world soon, but I have three wishes and they must be carried out without fail.”

“Firstly, my physicians alone must carry my coffin. Secondly, when my coffin is being carried to the grave, the path leading to the grave will be strewn with all the gold and silver and precious stones that I have collected.”

“Finally, my last wish is that both my hands be kept dangling out of my coffin.”

His generals assured him that his three wishes would be fulfilled, but they would like to know why those three strange wishes, and so he explained.

“I want my physicians to carry my coffin because people should realize that no doctor can cure every illness. They are powerless and cannot save a person from the clutches of death. So let people not take life for granted.

As for strewing the gold and silver and other riches along the way to the grave, that is to tell people that not even a fraction of gold will come with me. I spent all my life gaining riches but cannot take anything with me. Let people realize that it is a sheer waste of time to chase wealth.

And about my third wish of having my hands dangling out of the coffin, I want people to know that I came empty handed into this world and empty handed I will go out of this world.”

And with those final words, Alexander the Great closed his eyes and breathed his last.

So from Alexander the Great, we learn those lessons about life.
We learn that life and health are gifts from God. We must take care of it and yet we must realize that we cannot live forever nor be healthy always. We are only human, frail and weak.

We also learn that riches and wealth are only meaningful when they are shared with others. Riches and wealth are not only for “me”, they are for “we”. 

And finally, what you do for yourself dies with you, but what you do for others, lives on and makes you rich in the sight of God.

Yes, these are the lessons about life. Let us learn these lessons from life, rather than be taught a lesson by death.

The difference between life and death is like a hair-line difference, but it is a difference between now and forever.

So let us learn the lesson of life from the parable of Jesus, so that we know how to live now, as well as forever.

Friday, August 2, 2013

17th Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 03-08-13

Leviticus 25:1, 8-17 / Matthew 14:1-12

What others think about us and what they will say about us matters to us in varying degrees.

But it is quite unavoidable that what they think or what they say will affect us somehow.

Simply because we are not that stoic nor do we have stone-hard emotions that are unaffected by people's opinions about us.

In the gospel, we could see how many people were affected by just one sentence from John the Baptist.

He said to Herod: It is against the Law for you to have your brother's wife.

That sparked off a violent reaction in Herod and he wanted to kill John the Baptist. It also made Herodias scheme against John the Baptist and she looked for an opportunity to kill him.

Matters spiralled down tragically when Herodias prompted her daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist, thus dragging the daughter into an immoral act.

And Herod, who could have put a stop to all this, simply cared more about what his guests would say and completed it by giving the order for John the Baptist's head.

A holy man got executed all because some people cared more about their reputation and the opinions of others.

That was a complete contrast from what the Lord told Moses in the 1st reading - to proclaim liberation and a jubilee, a time of rejoicing.

That can only happen when we heed what God told Moses: Let none of you wrong his neighbour, but fear your God; I am the Lord your God.

Indeed, when we stand upright before the Lord, we will not wrong our neighbour, nor be too concerned about what they will think about us.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

17th Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 02-08-13

Leviticus 23:1, 4-11, 15-16, 27, 34-37 / Matthew 13:54-58

We can't help it if we have biased presumptions about people.

We might generally presume that a university graduate is more intelligent than someone with just a secondary level education.

Or maybe a good writer is also a good speaker.

Or that a good student is also a good teacher.

That is what we might presume until we encounter otherwise.

And when we do encounter otherwise, what will be our reaction?

The people of the home town of Jesus knew Him only as a carpenter's son.

And for them, He will always be a carpenter's son and nothing more.

For them, a carpenter's son cannot have that kind of wisdom and that kind of power.

Very often when truth and reality come face to face with biasness and presumption, the casualty is often truth and reality.

The result is that people often get suppressed and rejected.

But the acceptance of truth has a liberation power.

Truth sets us free - free to be surprised by God, free to begin to wonder and to be astonished by the ways of God, free to see the reality of people as they are and also ourselves as we really are.