Monday, March 31, 2014

4th Week of Lent, Tuesday, 01-04-14

Ezekiel 47:1-9, 12 / John 5:1-3, 5-16

Some questions are difficult to answer, especially when the answer required has to be a "Yes" or "No".

In answering these questions, we reveal quite a bit about ourselves, about our convictions, about our expectations.

In the gospel, when Jesus asked the sick man "Do you want to be well again?" his answer tells us about his convictions and his hopes and maybe even about his faith.

He was convinced about the healing powers of the waters when it was disturbed, but yet at the same time, he did not expect to receive it, simply because no one helped him to get to the water in time.

So his answer was a typical "Yes, but, you know ...", and followed by the "Ifs" and the "Maybes".

Jesus is asking us to be convinced about what He can do for us. No Ifs or Buts or Maybes.

As we pray and reflect on the Word of God, the question of our faith in Jesus will come up again and again.

The question of faith is to help us come to a slow but sure and certain conviction of who Jesus is on our lives.

We may hesitate, we may even stop for a while in our journey of faith because of our doubts.

But let us remember that Jesus won't give up on us.

He will certainly help us; we only need to give Him a convicted "Yes".

Sunday, March 30, 2014

4th Week of Lent, Monday, 31-03-14

Isaiah 65:17-21 / John 4:43-54

It is often easier to talk about concepts and ideas and rather than to talk about reality and experiences.

This may sound strange but for those of us who are in the teaching profession or have to make presentations, we find it easier to talk about lofty and high-flown concepts and ideas.

To talk about reality and the human experience would require some thinking and reflection in order to find the right expressions.

In the gospel, Jesus seemed to be talking about the lofty ideas of faith and belief rather than to give the people the signs that they need.

But the court official begged Him with these words : Come down, before my child dies.

But that phrase "come down" was not to tell Jesus to stop talking up there in the air.

Rather it was an open invitation for Jesus to come and reinforce the faith that the court official had in Jesus.

The court official too had to "come down" to the essentials of his faith and believe in Jesus, and to obey Jesus to go home and believe that his son will live.

Even the 1st reading of the promise of the new heavens and new earth are expressed in the human longing for joy and gladness.

The season of Lent is to help us to renew our faith in God.

A renewed faith in the power of Jesus can bring about in a renewed faith in the wonderful and amazing things that God will do for us.

A renewed faith combined with the powerful love of Jesus can indeed bring about forgiveness and healing, which is so much needed in our world.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

4th Sunday of Lent, Year A, 30.03.2014

1 Sam 16:1, 6-7, 10-13 / Ephesians 5:8-14 / John 9:1-41

Very often in life, hidden talents are brought to public attention only when there is a given opportunity.

For example, singing contests often reveal surprising talents.

We may remember a local singing contest from the past that we watched on the black and white TVs called “Talent Time”.

And in the present times, there is the American Idol and our local Singapore Idol that had a lot of hype and publicity and drama even.

Having said that, I wonder if we have heard of someone by the name of Susan Boyle?

Well, she participated in a talent contest called “Britain’s got talent”, a contest that lets people bring out their talents, be it singing or dancing or playing an instrument or whatever.

Among the judges in that contest was Simon Cowell, who was notorious for criticizing contestants to the point of tears and even beyond.

So when Susan Boyle came up on stage for the first round, she looked like she just came in from the country-side.

She was plumpish, with an odd-looking hair-do, and an off-beat dress and it looked like she was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

The audience did not really welcome her on stage, and some even rolled their eyes upwards with a cynical look.

The three judges tried to be decent, and Simon Cromwell wasn’t looking forward to anything when Susan Boyle announced that she would sing “I dreamed a dream” (Les Miserables). 

But just after one line into the song, the audience and the judges were stunned by her rich powerful voice, and the cynical grins were turned almost immediately into cheers and standing ovations.

It was just another instance of how people were judged by their looks and appearances and written off before they could do anything and until they could prove otherwise.

But as for that blind man in the gospel, there was nothing for him to prove.

He was blind, he was a beggar, there was nothing that people saw in him, and there was nothing he saw in himself.

So it was, until Jesus came along and then things changed.

Earlier on, the disciples had looked at the blind man and asked whose sin it was that caused the blindness – his sin or his parents’ sin?

And then after when the blind man was healed, the Pharisees looked at him and asked what kind of sinner it was that healed the blind man.

It is strange that the disciples and the Pharisees and those who had sight could only see one thing – sin!

The disciples saw blindness as a punishment due to sin, and the Pharisees saw that man who was healed of his blindness as a sinner.

As for the blind man who was healed, he had his sight restored, and he could see just as the rest who had sight could see.

But as much as he could now see like the rest, there was something he saw that made him different from the rest.

When he was asked : What have you to say about him yourself, now that he has opened your eyes? His reply was : He is a prophet.

Not only he saw Jesus as a prophet, that former blind man became a surprise witness in the whole drama.

He even confronted and refuted the Pharisees by saying : Now here is an astonishing thing. He has opened my eyes and you don’t know where he comes from. If this man were not from God, he couldn’t do a thing.

That was a stunning statement from a surprise witness who was once blind but now could see deeper and see more than the rest.

But this gospel passage is not just about another miracle of healing a blind man.

Jesus proclaimed that He is the light of the world. His light is in all of us so that we too can see deeper and see more.

The light of Christ is not some kind of special talent that is given to only some or a few, and which can only be discovered through some kind of talent contest.

We have the light of Christ so that we can see deeper and clearer, and to choose what is from God and reject what is not from God.

Indeed we need the light of Christ to see what is from God and what is not from God because they can look so similar.

For example, HATE has four letters, but so does LOVE.
ENEMIES have seven letters; so does FRIENDS.
LYING has five letters; so does TRUTH.
NEGATIVE has eight letters; so does POSITIVE.
UNDER has five letters; so does ABOVE.
CRY has three letters; so does JOY.
ANGRY has five letters; so does HAPPY.
RIGHT has five letters; so does WRONG.

Jesus gives us His light so that we can see clearly and choose wisely.

May we choose what is from God, and reject whatever that is not.

Friday, March 28, 2014

3rd Week of Lent, Saturday, 29-03-14

Hosea 5:15 - 6:6 / Luke 18:9-14

When we review how our prayer life is going, we may be able to notice how our prayer life has changed in the way we pray.

We may have started off by reciting formula prayers like the Our Father and Hail Mary and the Rosary.

After a while we may feel we want to move on to a deep form of prayer and we will practice meditation on the Word of God and other forms of deeper prayer.

Then we might want to go further and pray to God in a spontaneous way and we start composing our own prayers.

Whatever form of prayer we might have adopted, what is essential is not so much what we say or do in prayer.

Rather it is the awareness in prayer; the awareness of who we are with.

When we realize who we are with in prayer, then we will also realize who we really are.

In the presence of God who is infinite love and mercy, we can only humbly admit that we are nothing without Him and that we constantly need His love and mercy.

Whatever words we might use in prayer and whatever thoughts we might have, let us always remember the prayer of the tax collector in the gospel: God, be merciful to me, a sinner.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

3rd Week of Lent, Friday, 28-03-14

Hosea 14:2-10 / Mark 12:28-34

The truth can be so simple and clear, and yet we human beings have that ability to make it so sophisticated and blur.

When we look at all the troubles that our world and ourselves are facing, we may think that the problems are immense and beyond our control and there is nothing that we can do about it.

Take for example the problems of hunger in the world and poverty. We may think that there is nothing we can do about it.

But that would make the problem seem so sophisticated and difficult. But all problems actually have simple and clear solutions.

We hear in the 1st reading from the prophet Hosea and he speaks on behalf of the Lord : Israel, come back to your God; your iniquity was the cause of your downfall.

The problems and dangers that Israel was facing have a simple solution, and that was they must turn back to God.

Fundamentally, it means what Jesus said in the gospel : The Lord our God is the one Lod, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. And you must love your neighbour as yourself.

Let the wise man understand these words. Let the intelligent man grasp their meaning. For the ways of the Lord are straight, and virtuous men walk in them, but sinners stumble.

Let us ask the Lord to forgive and cleanse us of our sin, so that we may walk in His truth and love Him and love our neighbour.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

3rd Week of Lent, Thursday, 27-03-14

Jeremiah 7:23-28 / Luke 11:14-23

Whenever we say that history repeats itself, we are more inclined to think that it is the mistakes of the past that are repeated.

These mistakes only show that the present generation has not learned much from the prior generation or from the past events of history.

This was also what the prophet Jeremiah was saying in the 1st reading.

Just about 120 years before, the Northern Kingdom of Israel had been annihilated by Assyria.

And now, the Southern Kingdom of Judah was facing the same threat from Babylon.

And God was warning them through Jeremiah. But why were they not heeding? Why were they not listening?

If anything, it is not too much to say that that the people do not love God.

Because one of the fruits of love is to listen.

Just like if we love our parents, our spouse, our children, our friends, we will listen to them with a heart of love.

Similarly when we love someone, we will also speak to that person with a heart of love.

When we listen and speak with a heart of love, then with Jesus we gather others into the peace of God's kingdom.

It is either we gather people into the peace and love of God's kingdom, or we scatter and bring division.

There isn't a third option.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

3rd Week of Lent, Wednesday, 26-03-14

Deut 4:1, 5-9 / Matthew 5:17-19

The Bible is the Word of God. We all know that. It is the sacred Book of the Church.

God speaks to us in the written words of the Bible. In the Old Testament, the most revered books are the first five books which are collectively called the Torah or the Pentateuch -  Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

In the New Testament, the most revered books are the four gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The assembly rises when the gospel is proclaimed because where the gospel is proclaimed, Christ is present, and we rise to acknowledge His presence.

Time and again, we have been told to read the Bible. Yes we need to be familiar with the Word of God and it is also a means of prayer to come into the presence of God and into communion with Him.

As we heard in the 1st reading, Moses said to the people : And now, Israel, take notice of the laws and customs that I teach you today, and observe them, that you may have life and may enter and take possession of the land that the Lord is giving you.

What Moses was telling his people, God is telling us through the Scriptures that we are listening to. Similarly Jesus told His disciples then, He is also telling us now through the gospel.

Jesus said that He came not to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to complete them. Hence we must understand the Word of God and to keep it in our hearts and to let it guide us in our way of life.

We read it to remind us of what God has told us. Yet as we read the Bible, it also reiterates what God has said and that God is bound to His own word and He will accomplish it and complete it.

We only need to believe in His Word, live by it and let it be completed in our lives.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Annunciation of the Lord, Tuesday, 25-03-14

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

Today the Church celebrates the great feast of the Annunciation of the Lord.

This feast recalls the announcement by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus, the Son of God, marking His Incarnation.

This is certainly a great celebration as we rejoice in that moment when the promise of salvation was fulfilled.

Yet, the mystery of that moment is also present in this moment, in the here and now, as we reflect on the angel Gabriel's announcement and Mary's response.

And we also cannot downplay or diminish the fact that the news of salvation is always encountered by apprehension.

In the 1st reading, king Ahaz was told to ask the Lord for a sign, but he refused. That was because he rather put his trust in earthly powers than on heavenly mysteries.

In the gospel, the angel Gabriel's greeting to Mary "Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you" caused her to be deeply disturbed and she wondered what the greeting could mean.

So it seems that the news of salvation does not seem like good news initially. But maybe that is necessary because we must be awakened and jolted by the news that God is going to save His people.

Nonetheless, just as Mary was given the grace to accept the good news of salvation, so are we given that grace.

And just as Mary was told not to be afraid, we are also told to have confidence in God's saving plan for us.

And if we think that God is asking the impossible from us, then let us also remember that nothing is impossible for God. We just have to let God's will be done unto us.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

3rd Week of Lent, Monday, 24-03-14

2 Kings 5:1-15 / Luke 4:24-30

One of the things that we really dislike and which stresses us out is to be confronted with a challenge and we have no idea as to how to get out of it.

It might be an irritated customer that keeps hounding us for a refund and we get caught between the customer and the company's policy.

Or it might be our boss who gives us an assignment that is beyond our capabilities and knowledge.

In such situations, we can get all flustered up and start to rant and vent out our frustrations.

Such was the case with the king of Israel in the 1st reading. The king of Aram sent him a letter to ask him to cure his servant Naaman of his leprosy.

The reaction of the king of Israel was to tear his garments and rant and vent at the letter and said, "Am I a god to give death and life that he sends a man to me and asks me to cure him of his leprosy?"

Well the king of Israel may have admitted that he was not a god. But he could also have acknowledged that there is the God of Israel whom he can turn to. And prophet Elisha reminded him of this.

It is quite surprising and amazing to see how a nation that had a God who was so near to them would not have turned to God when confronted with challenges and difficulties.

That was what Jesus told the people in the synagogue in Nazara. God had sent prophets after prophets and they did not listen. Ironically it was the outsiders who listened to the prophets.

Let us acknowledge the presence of God who is so near to us and unload all our worries on to Him because He is taking care of us. And let us also carry out the prophetic mission of witnessing to His presence in our world.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

3rd Sunday of Lent, Year A, 23.03.2014

Exodus 17:3-7 / Romans 5:1-2, 5-8 / John 4:5-42

We began the season of Lent with Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday as we know, and as we have been told, is a day of obligatory fasting and abstinence. 

The other day of obligatory fasting and abstinence is Good Friday.

We may think that it is only two days of fasting in a year, so there is no big deal about it.

But there is something strange about those two days of obligatory fasting.

More than any other day, on those two days of obligatory fasting, very strange thoughts come into the mind.

What we won’t usually think about, suddenly creeps into our minds out of nowhere.

Yes, it is strange that on days of obligatory fasting, thoughts about food come into our minds and makes our stomachs rumble with hunger.

Well, I have to admit that on Ash Wednesday, thoughts about food came into my mind (flooded my mind). 

And it is quite unbelievable, I had thoughts about a specific kind of food.

Just imagine, on Ash Wednesday I thought about roasted pork, the type that they serve in restaurants, those little cubes of roasted pork, tender and juicy with the crunchy roasted skin. 

I wasn’t just thinking about it, I was craving for it, on Ash Wednesday! 

So, it is rather embarrassing to say this, that on Ash Wednesday, I was thinking about where to go the next day for a feast of roast pork. (I don’t know what I will think about on Good Friday!)

Maybe it is the hunger. Hunger can make us have weird thoughts about food, and even make us behave strangely.

Well, if hunger can have that kind of effect, then what about thirst? It is said that we can survive for a time without food, but we can’t last long without water. 

Thirst can make us become irrational and our behavior can become abnormal.

In the first reading, we heard that tormented by thirst, the people complained to  Moses for bringing them out of Egypt and to die of thirst in the desert.

Yes, thirst made them reveal their true colours – they said very harsh things and were going to turn violent even.

When people get real thirsty, they show who they really are – they reveal what is in their hearts.

In the gospel, we also hear of two thirsty persons – Jesus and the Samaritan woman.

They are not desperately thirsty but water was their topic of conversation.

Jesus was thirsty enough to ask the Samaritan woman for a drink, though Jews do not associate with Samaritans; the gospel makes it a point mention it. Furthermore it was a Jewish man and a Samaritan woman!

But thirst can make people discard formalities and reservations. Jesus was tired and thirsty and He wanted a drink. 

The Samaritan woman was also thirsty and that was why she came to the well to draw water, although it was at an odd time – it was at noon, a time when people would stay indoors because of the heat (and that tells us something about her).

But as their conversation went on, more and more was revealed.

The Samaritan woman came to draw water from the well to quench her physical thirst. But there was another kind of thirst that she could not quench.

She could not quench her thirst for true love – she told Jesus she had no husband. But she already had five husbands and the one she has is not her husband.

Jesus knew her secrets, but He was gentle in revealing it to her. He revealed it to her with love and compassion

But He also knew that she had a thirst that wasn’t quenched and that’s why she had secrets that she wanted to hide.

Her thirst made her act strangely – she tried to avoid people and she tried to hide her secrets from Jesus.

But Jesus, who is the living water, slowly quenched the thirst in her heart, and with that she did the really astounding thing.

She hurried back to the town, to the people that she had been avoiding, and to tell them to come and see the man who had told her everything she ever did!

Her spiritual thirst had made her hide her secrets from people. But Jesus gave her the living water and the courage to face the truth.

Yes, the thirst of the heart can make us irrational and act strangely.

In our spiritual thirst, we will even turn to dead waters. But that will be like trying to quench our thirst with sea water; the thirst will come back with a vengeance.

We turn to dead waters when we give in to our desires – our desire for attention and status.

Our desire for success and to prove that we are better than others and to show-off.

Our desire for pleasure by indulging in pornography and engaging in immoral acts with others.

Yes, we try to quench the thirst of our hearts with dead waters.

But Jesus knows all that we have done.

He wants to cleanse us with His living water in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Jesus wants to quench the thirst of our hearts with the living waters of true love, which only He can give.

Let us turn away from those dead waters that will create more dark secrets and make us hide from God and from others.

Let us turn to Jesus who gives us the living waters of truth and love, so that our hearts will be at peace with God and with others.

Friday, March 21, 2014

2nd Week of Lent, Saturday, 22-03-14

Micah 7:14-15, 18-20 / Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

There is a movie shown some time back and the title is "The Usual Suspects".

Not that I have seen the movie, so I really don't know what it was all about, but it was the title that caught my attention.

"The Usual Suspects". That phrase says a lot about our presuppositions and assumptions about people and what we think about them.

In the gospel, we can say that the tax collectors and those who were seeking the company of Jesus were the "usual" sinners. And Jesus welcomed them and even eats with them.

Not only was that unusual for the scribes and Pharisees, it also annoyed and irritated them, and they questioned and criticized Jesus for that.

Because in their minds, sinners should be left in their sin, and repentance and conversion and forgiveness is out of the question.

Yes, there are many instances in the Old Testament where there is punishment in store for sinners.

But when it comes to repentance and conversion, what would God usually do?

The 1st reading says this of God: What god can compare with you: taking fault away, pardoning crime, not cherishing anger for ever, but delighting in showing mercy.

Yes, that is what God will usually do. There is nothing unusual about that. And when it comes to our turn to ask for mercy and forgiveness for our sins, let us believe in what God will usually do.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

2nd Week of Lent, Friday, 21-03-14

Genesis 37:3-4, 12-13, 17-28 / Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46

Whenever we read the Scriptures, we must be aware that it is more than just a story book or a history book.

The Scriptures is the Word of God and hence what it portrays is the reality of the relationships between God and man, man and his neighbour, and man and nature.

And these relationships are not all the time that rosy and loving. In fact, there seems to be more of the darker and uglier side of relationships like deception, betrayal, jealousy, hatred and even murder and killing.

The 1st reading portrayed one of those uglier and darker sides of relationships and it happened even among siblings.

More than just sibling rivalry, the eleven brothers resented Joseph for being the favourite son, and that resentment grew into a rejection that eventually turned into murder intention.

But God made an intervention through Reuben and eventually Joseph was sold as a slave for 20 silver pieces.

In the gospel, Jesus told a parable about the landowner and the tenants. It was a parable that had the elements of greed, violence and murder.

And in time to come, that parable will be actualized and the victim is none other than Jesus Himself.

But as it was with Joseph, so it was with Jesus; God intervened. God saved Joseph and he became the instrument of God's salvation for his father and brothers. God saved Jesus out of death and raised Him to be our Saviour.

So when we face opposition, conspiracy and violence, let us trust in the Lord's protection over us. God will intervene for us and even make us instruments of His salvation.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

2nd Week of Lent, Thursday, 20-03-14

Jeremiah 17:5-10 / Luke 16:19-31

The recent dry spell was certainly a conversational topic for us even though we live in an almost perpetually hot and humid country.

More than just talking about it, we could actually see the effects of the dry spell. It was obvious enough that the trees and bushes and the grass are drying up and wilting away and turning brown.

And there were even small bush fires here and there. If the dry spell were to last longer, it could be a big problem with our famous "Garden City".

But such a dry spell only shows the below-ground situation of the trees and bushes that line our roads and walkways and parks.

Like the example that was given in the 1st reading, a tree by the waterside trusts its roots to the stream. When heat comes it feels no alarm, its foliage stays green and never ceases to bear fruit.

Such is the man who puts his trust in the Lord, with the Lord as his hope.

But as for the rich man in the gospel parable, he put his trust in the things of earth - on food, dressing, pleasure and luxury.

But the things of earth will pass, and death will be like a scorching heat that will consume what we hold on tenaciously as our own. But we will still have to pass on. And where to?

When we put our trust in the things of above, then we will know where we will eventually go to. The bosom of God is our final resting place. We must keep reminding ourselves of that.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

St. Joseph, Spouse of the B.V.M., Wednesday, 19-03-14

Samuel 7:4-5, 12-14, 16 / Romans 4:13, 16-18, 22 / Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24

St. Joseph is known by many titles. The Litany of St. Joseph gives most of them and it expresses the roles and the virtues of St. Joseph.

Even without referring to the Litany, we may remember some of the titles of St. Joseph - Head of the Holy Family, patron of workers, patron of the sick and dying, protector of the Church.

Today the Church celebrates one of the titles of St. Joseph and it is celebrated as a Solemnity.

St. Joseph is called the Spouse of Mary, and it is a title that was recently added into the Eucharistic prayer. In the Litany, he is called the Spouse of the Mother of God.

This title of St. Joseph is first mentioned in the gospel when it said that Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.

It is a profound title, though we tend to know of St. Joseph in what he can do for us, namely for his intercession for our work, when we are ill or for those who are dying.

The greatness of St. Joseph was his humility in accepting the will of God and that meant giving up his plans and hopes for his own future.

Mary was betrothed to St. Joseph, but before they came to live together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. St. Joseph, being a man of honour and wanting to spare her publicity, decided to divorce her informally.

And that was when God came into the situation and St. Joseph had to make some decisions.

He eventually did as he was told, though he may not have understood everything. And in that sense St. Joseph would have understood our every difficulty and struggle when it comes to the will of God.

In accepting God's will, St. Joseph accepted to be the Spouse of Mary, he accepted to be the foster-father of Jesus, he accepted everything that God entrusted him with, and as well as giving up everything that he had planned for.

And for that God bestowed him a greatness for eternity. May St. Joseph pray for us too that we follow him to accept God's will with humility.

    Litany of St. Joseph

Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, hear us. Christ, graciously hear us.

    God the Father of Heaven, have mercy on us.
    God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
    God, the Holy Ghost,
    Holy Trinity, One God, have mercy on us.

    Holy Mary,                                                               pray for us.
    Saint Joseph,
    Illustrious Scion of David,
    Light of Patriarchs,
    Spouse of the Mother of God,
    Chaste guardian of the Virgin,
    Foster-father of the Son of God,
    Watchful defender of Christ,
    Head of the Holy Family,
    Joseph most just,
    Joseph most chaste,
    Joseph most prudent,
    Joseph most valiant,
    Joseph most obedient,
    Joseph most faithful,
    Mirror of patience,
    Lover of poverty,
    Model of workmen,
    Glory of home life,
    Guardian of virgins,
    Pillar of families,
    Solace of the afflicted,
    Hope of the sick,
    Patron of the dying,
    Terror of demons,
    Protector of Holy Church,                                          pray for us.

    Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, spare us, O Lord.
    Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, graciously hear us, O Lord.
    Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

    V. He made him lord over his house,
    R. And the ruler of all his possessions.

    Let us pray.

    O God, who in Thine ineffable providence didst vouchsafe to choose blessed Joseph to be the spouse of Thy most holy Mother: grant, we beseech Thee, that we may have him for an intercessor in heaven, whom we venerate as our protector on earth. Who livest and reignest world without end. Amen.

Monday, March 17, 2014

2nd Week of Lent, Tuesday, 18-03-14

Isaiah 1:10, 16-20 / Matthew 23:1-12

When we look at how the Church has developed, we can roughly see these various stages.

It began with a vision, and then it grew into a movement, and then it began an organization and then it became an institution.

This can also be said of how businesses and other organizations developed and grew.

From the vision to the movement stage, there are challenges and struggles, but there is a great amount of zest and fervour and the members of the movement are energetic and dynamic.

But when it became an organization and an institution, then it slowly becomes bloated and heavy.

Rules and regulations begin to set in and they become priority over what is essential. The lean and hungry years in the beginning became bloated and puffy and heavy.

Jesus noticed that during His time with religious practices and hence He told His disciples and the people: You must therefore do what they (the scribes and Pharisees) tell you and listen to what they say, but do not be guided by what they do, since they do not practice what they preach.

When what is preached is not put into practice, then religion will start to slide and decline.

So the essentials must be emphasized and repeated over and over again. The 1st reading gives a glimpse of the essentials of religion and as well as of our faith.

"Cease to do evil, learn to do good, search for justice, help the oppressed, be just to the orphan, plead for the widow"

If we are not doing this, then we may have forgotten what our faith is all about.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

2nd Week of Lent, Monday, 17-03-14

Daniel 9:4-10 / Luke 6:36-38

One of the often quoted sayings of Pope Francis comes in just five words: Who am I to judge?

He said this with regards to a particular issue, and so it was in a particular context.

Nonetheless, those words are still practical and applicable to wider issues about life and faith.

Quite obviously, Pope Francis is echoing the teachings of Jesus in today's gospel.

Jesus gave us a challenging teaching when He said: Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged yourselves; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned yourselves; grant pardon, and you will be pardoned.

That is clear-cut and straight-forward enough. As much as it is clear, yet we have this tendency to curtail this teaching of Jesus.

We would want to know if the other party deserves it or not, if the other party is repentant or not, if the other party would say sorry first.

But it is clear that when Jesus taught about compassion and pardon, He did not put in any conditions for it.

As the 1st reading said "To the Lord our God mercy and pardon belong" but "ours the look of shame because we have betrayed Him".

Let us in this season of grace turn to God who is compassionate and merciful and be filled with His compassion and mercy so that we in turn can offer others forgiveness and pardon.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

2nd Sunday of Lent, Year A, 16.03.2014

Genesis 12:1-4/ 2 Timothy 1:8-10/ Matthew 17:1-9

Whenever it is dark and especially when it is pitch dark, the first thing that we would want to do would be to switch on the light.

But when there is no light to switch on, then probably the only thing to do will be to stare into the darkness till we can slowly make out something.

And even in places where we think it is pitch dark, like the jungle in the night, we will be surprised that it is not that dark after all.

If we are the adventurous type and dare to move around in the outdoors at night, then we will know about fire flies and glow worms.

Well, these creatures give out light, and we can say that they make their own light.

But we are more familiar with something else that glows in the dark.

There is a story of a man who went to France for a business trip. On his way home, a roadside peddler persuaded him to buy a box that contained a decorative roundish stone, and the peddler said in halting English, “Glow in the dark.”

Quite amused, the man bought it and brought it home. Then after dinner, he took out the box, switched off the lights, and asked his wife to come and look at the stone in the box that is supposed to glow in the dark.

But when he opened the box, the stone was as dark as the surroundings and he felt that he was cheated.

The next day, the wife opened the box to look at the stone and saw that there was a small piece of paper with a few words in French.

She had it translated and it read like this: If you keep me all day long in the sunlight, I will glow for you all night long in the dark.

So, the stone was actually a fluorescent object which has certain pigments to absorb light and then emit it out.

We also call these luminous objects and some rosaries are even made of this type of material. (Not that advisable to wear them around the neck and walk around in the dark!)

What we heard in the gospel is commonly known as the Transfiguration.

Jesus was described like this – His face shone like the sun and His clothes became as white as the light.

Jesus was not some luminous object that was glowing with light. He was radiating light; He is the Light.

But why the Transfiguration? Well, if we had bothered to notice, it happened in chapter 17 of the gospel of Matthew which was somewhere like the middle of the gospel (which has 28 chapters).

At that part of the gospel, there was a darkness that was encircling around Jesus. 

Opposition was mounting against Him from the religious leaders.

His own disciples were squabbling over who was the greatest and who would sit on the right and left.

Everything was turning dark and so Jesus took with Him Peter, James and John up that high mountain where they could be alone.

And it was there that Jesus let the light shine forth from within Him and the voice from heaven announced: This is my Son, the Beloved; He enjoys my favour. Listen to Him.

And that was enough for Jesus to continue His mission and to go right on to the end.

And as we listen to this gospel message, the light of the Transfiguration of Jesus also shines on us, and shines the light into our hearts.

And we need to listen to Him as He tells Peter, James and John, and as He tells us: Stand up, do not be afraid.

Afraid of what? We might ask. Well, afraid of the dark, a darkness that is created by doubt.

And if we want to talk about doubt, then it has to be Abraham in the 1st reading.

When the Lord told Abraham to leave his country, his father’s house for a land that God will show him, Abraham had every reason to doubt.

He was already 75 years old. What can God expect of a 75 year old man? But Abraham went as the Lord told him, and he became for us the father of faith.

Last year, on the 13th March, God called another 75 year old man. God called Jorge Bergoglio to be the Pope, to be Pope Francis.

And that 75 year old Pope is changing the Church and changing it for the better.

In his book, “The way of humility”, he had this to say: Those who have fallen into the habit of being suspicious about everything, little by little lose the peace of mind that comes from trusting confidence in God.

That can be summarized as the Singapore “Kia su” syndrome.

If we are “Kia su”, is it because we don’t trust in God and we let the darkness of suspicion and doubt overwhelm our minds and hearts.

But Jesus tells us: Stand up, do not be afraid. Jesus is shining His light on us.

Let us open our hearts to His healing light and we will shine even in the darkest of night.

Friday, March 14, 2014

1st Week of Lent, Saturday, 15-03-14

Deuteronomy 26:16-19 / Matthew 5:43-48

Although some people believe in a supreme being, or a divinity, they nonetheless like to remain as "free-thinkers" (although that is a local colloquial term, or maybe just a local Catholic term)

Maybe the attractive factor here is the freedom.

The freedom to remain uncommitted, the freedom to live one's life according to one's own precepts, the freedom to believe whatever what one wants to believe in.

In today's 1st reading from Deutoronomy, we hear two declarations.

The first declaration was from the people, that the Lord God will be their God.

And God declared that they will be His very own people.

Such a declaration of commitment is not unlike marriage vows, and such a commitment actually frees both parties to love each other more deeply.

We commit ourselves to God by following His ways, and keeping His statutes, His commandments and His ordinances.

God in turn commits Himself to us by empowering us to be a consecrated people, a holy people.

A people set apart to show others a way of living that is much more meaningful and truthful.

But if we are like "free-thinking" Christians, then are we doing anything exceptional, especially when the other non-Christians do just as much?

As Christians, Jesus calls us to be perfect, to be holy, just as our heavenly Father is perfect and holy.

To be anything less is not going to be meaningful; and to be truly free, then we must also strive to be holy.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

1st Week of Lent, Friday, 14-03-14

Ezekiel 18 : 21-28 / Matthew 5 : 20-26

There is this story of a lady-driver who stopped her car at the traffic lights.

When the lights turned green, she was a little slow in moving on, and a honk came from the car behind hers.

In her anxiety to get her car moving, the engine stalled.

As she tried to start her car, the man in the car behind hers started sounding his horn.

His honking became more irritating and it made her even more nervous.

Finally, she had all she could take from him.

So she got out of the car, walked to the man in the car behind hers and she said:

Sir, I would be delighted to honk for you, if you would be kind enough to start my car for me.

Well, it is difficult what amuses us more in that story - was it the irrationality of the man or the ingenuity of the woman.

But one thing for sure - anger only generates heat that burns away a person.

On the other hand, reconciliation opens the door of the heart for God to enter and to heal and to bring about peace.

That is the message of the readings of today.

But reconciliation is not about who is right and who is wrong.

Let us remember that it was God who first reconciled us to Himself by sending His only Son to forgive and heal our sinful hearts.

May we do likewise with others

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

1st Week of Lent, Thursday, 13-03-14

Esther 4 : 17 / Matthew 7 : 7-12

One of the most remarkable faculties that we have as human beings is this ability to remember and to reflect.

We have this ability to store experiences, feelings, etc. in our memory.

Stored in the deepest recesses of our memory are the experiences of life and the things we learned about life.

Things like love, compassion, patience, forgiveness, and of course about faith in God.

That was where Queen Esther took refuge in her moment of peril, which we heard of in the 1st reading.

She had recourse to what she had been taught from young and what was stored in her memory.

She took recourse to God as her only Saviour.

She remembered what she had been taught about God.

In the gospel, Jesus tells us to remember that when we ask it will be given, when we search we will find, and when we knock it will be opened.

Because God does not turn His back on us who are His beloved children.

Let us remember that, and let us remember to teach that to our children.

It will come in necessary at some point in life.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

1st Week of Lent, Wednesday, 12-03-14

Jonah 3:1-10 / Luke 11:29-32

The number 40 in the Bible has the meanings of being a time of trial, a time of test and also a time of purification.

Before Jesus began His ministry, He spent 40 days in the desert to be tried and tested by the devil, and He overcame the temptations of the devil.

The people of Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years where their faith in God had to undergo trials and tests before they entered the Promised Land.

And as we heard in the 1st reading, Jonah announced that in 40 days' time, the great city of Nineveh will be destroyed.

The people of Nineveh had 40 days to decide their destiny. Or they can be defiant and see if Jonah's prophecy will come true.

But their immediate response to penance and repentance became an example even to the people of Israel, who hated the Ninevites as their arch-enemies.

And in the gospel, Jesus even used the story of Nineveh's repentance as a sign to the people of Israel.

We have already begun our 40 days journey of Lent. Like the people of Nineveh, we also have 40 days to decide what will be the outcome after this time.

The days are counting down. We have all the signs. This is the time of test and trials and also a time of penance and purification.

Let us ask God for the grace to live up to the test and to overcome the trials so that we can offer to the Lord a pure heart after these 40 days.

Monday, March 10, 2014

1st Week of Lent, Tuesday, 11-03-14

Isaiah 55:10-11 / Matthew 6:7-15

Very often, it seems to us that the forces of evil are victorious and even overwhelming.

Men of violence assert their power and might over innocent people and even kill them.

It seems that justice is slow in coming, if ever at all.

The movie industry will take advantage of this fact by churning out all those kind of "pay-back" movies.

Justice is done only in reaching out for the gun. But it is only confined to the dream-world of the movies.

So where is justice? Is there any justice?

Yet, we know that there is justice. At least, we will remember Jesus saying this: He who draws the sword will also die by the sword.

However, Jesus also did say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly.

Those are profound words of truth, profound words of life, words which, as the 1st reading puts it, does not return to the Lord empty without carrying out His will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.

We can only understand what justice is when we know what the truth is about.

In the gospel, Jesus taught us a prayer. It is a prayer of truth.

It is a prayer for justice. When we pray the Lord's prayer, we are also praying that the truth of God will bear fruits of love in our lives so that we will work for justice in the world.

Truth goes before justice. Because there can never be justice without truth.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

1st Week of Lent, Monday, 10-03-14

Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-18 / Matthew 25:31-46

The word "holy" in Hebrew, has the root meaning of "to separate".

In religious usage, the word "holy" denotes divinity.

It was used strictly for the divinity of God to emphasize the unbridgeable difference between God and His creatures.

Yet, in the 1st reading, it was God Himself who told His people: Be holy, for I, the Lord your God am holy.

In effect, God is telling us to be like Him, and rightly so, because we are made to be like Him because we belong to Him.

Hence to be holy is not about being pioustic or just being spiritual, but it also has moral obligations.

In the gospel, Jesus states this moral obligation of holiness in very basic terms and in very practical deeds.

Deeds like sharing our food and drink and helping those in need.

Deeds like making strangers feel welcomed and respecting the dignity of others.

Deeds like caring for the sick and lonely.

God became man in Jesus Christ to show us the real meaning of holiness.

To be holy can be as basic and as practical as doing small acts with great love.

In Jesus, the holy became human, so that we humans can become holy.

Let us be holy in all that we do, and it is as simple as sharing our food and drink and helping those in need, making strangers feel welcomed and respecting the dignity of others, and caring for the sick and lonely.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

1st Sunday of Lent, Year A , 09.03.2014

Genesis 2:7-9/ Romans 5:12-19/ Matthew 4:1-11

There’s something in the air that tells us that something is not quite right.

Yes, a number of people are coughing away and there seems to be a bug flying around somewhere.

And it is not a matter of whether we catch the bug. Who would want to catch such a bug? It is the bug who wants to catch us!

But besides that, there is something else in the air that doesn’t smell right.

I wonder if we have smelt that there was something burning in the air.

Even though the wind is strong at times, the smell is equally strong.
Well, it is always said, where there is smoke, there is a fire, and where there is something burning, there will be a smell.

We may not see the fire, and it may not be that smoky or hazy, but we don’t have to wait till smoke gets into our eyes to know that something is burning.

Because the smell says it all. And it is interesting to note that we have quite a good sense of smell.

The smell of food will make us hungry, and it also tells us whether the food is barbecued, fried or grilled .

And we don’t even have to taste the food to see if it has gone bad or rancid. The smell will already tell us (blue cheese and smelly tofu)

Yes, our noses are able to pick out what can’t be seen or touched and yet we are able to identify it by the smell.

The 1st reading, began by saying that the Lord God fashioned man out of dust from the soil.

And Ash Wednesday reminds us of that: we remember that we are dust and unto dust we shall return.

Then it goes on to say that God breathed into the nostrils of man a breath of life, and thus man became a living being.

So, it can be said that man’s first experience of God was through his nostrils; he breathed in the breath of God.

And with that man also breathed in the life of God, and he also breathed in the love of God.

And with that man also breathed in truth and beauty and goodness. That’s why a good smell always delights us.

On the other hand, a bad, pungent, repulsive smell will put us off and we will immediately cover our noses.

Certainly we enjoy clean fresh air and we would a deep breath of it.
But it would be crazy and stupid if we were to take deep breaths of polluted air or a bad stench.

Also prolonged exposure to foul smells can impair the ability to smell.

In the 1st reading, we heard about the first temptation. The devil, the father of lies, and disguised as a serpent, tried to seduce Eve with a trick question.

Eve could have taken a moment to breathe in the truth of God and hence refused to get entangled with a bad question.

But she opened her mouth to speak, and the more she spoke, the more the breath of life was drained from her.

As we know, when we don’t breathe, we will be deprived of oxygen, we will start to malfunction and eventually die and turn to dust.

Adam and Eve breathed less and less of God, and with the eating of the forbidden fruit, the poison of death has set in on humanity.

In the gospel, we heard that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

The Spirit of God is also known as the breath of God. So with the power of the Spirit, with the breath of God, Jesus blew away the smoke that the devil was casting on Him in the three temptations.

In the desert, Jesus reversed the tragedy in the garden of Eden. 

With the breath of God, He cast away the smoke of Satan.

But the smoke of Satan is lurking around, and if we are not careful about it, then the smoke of Satan will choke us, and prevent us from breathing in the breath of God.

In 1972, Pope Paul VI delivered a homily that startled the world. 

Describing the chaos in the Church, he said: From some cracks and tears, the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God.

That statement of Pope Paul VI was ridiculed with sarcasm and contempt. He was criticized for not being a “modern man” and still talking about the wiles of the devil.

Well, forty years later, Pope Francis, just one day after his election, said: Let us never give in to the pessimism, to that bitterness that the devil tempts us with every day.

Pope Francis also powerfully rebuked those who deny the existence of Satan, warning against relativism, deceit and the seduction of evil.

He also spoke about spiritual warfare, and that contending with the devil is precisely our battle on earth.

The smoke of Satan often comes in the form of angry words thrown at us to lure us into an argument that will result in an eye or eye and tooth for tooth.

In such situations, we must pause and take a moment and breathe in deep the breath of God and be filled with the power of the Spirit.

Then with the clarity of the truth and the power of love, we will be able to blow away the smoke of Satan and resist the lure of evil and temptation.

So let us breathe in the breath of God and be united with the Spirit in prayer, so that the enemies of God will flee and scatter, and the smoke of Satan be blown away.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Saturday after Ash Wednesday, 08-03-14

Isaiah 58:9-14 / Luke 5:27-32

At any point in time, we can surely think of a person or persons that we have difficulties relating with.

We may feel uncomfortable about that person, or cannot accept certain qualities about that person, or that person may have hurt us before.

Hence human relationships are often laced with anything from indifference to intolerance.

Of course, as the disciples of Jesus, we will try and strive to resolve our differences.

But the moment we get hurt again or feel that it is pointless or feel that there can be no change for the better, we will immediately and conveniently give up.

But in today's gospel, we see Jesus approaching someone whom we would automatically ostracize in our lives, especially if that person has betrayed us and sold us out.

Levi was such a person and yet Jesus not only approached him, but even called him to follow Him.

Jesus came to bring together all peoples into the peace and unity of God's kingdom.

In our Lenten journey ahead, let us heed the word of the Lord from the 1st reading.

Let us release our clenched fists and drop the wicked word.

Then our light will begin to shine for others and our own shadows will be shortened.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Friday after Ash Wednesday, 07-03-14

Isaiah 58:1-9 / Matthew 9:14-15

Whenever we embark on a task, especially a task that we are not that keen on, there may be a tendency for us to look for benefits or rewards in order to motivate us.

We may ask this question: what do I gain from it?

So even a spiritual discipline like fasting can be manipulated.

The prophet Isaiah tells of people who ask God such questions, like: Why should we fast if You never see it, why do penance if You never notice.

Let us remember that spiritual disciplines like fasting or alms-giving or even prayer is not meant to attract God's attention and gain spiritual points.

In the case of fasting, it is a spiritual discipline, a physical form of prayer, that helps us to come to a greater awareness of God in our lives and also to have a hunger for God.

Fasting helps us see clearly what is really important and necessary in our lives.

Fasting is a good spiritual discipline that leads us into a deeper relationship with God.

When we are in a deep relationship with God, we will know what to fast from.

We are to fast from sin, because it creeps so easily into our lives and clings tenaciously onto us.

Sin destroys our relationship with God. Fasting is a spiritual means to restore that relationship.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Thursday after Ash Wednesday, 06-03-14

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 / Luke 9:22-25

Making choices can be quite difficult, like which school to send the children to, what career to embark on, which person to enter into marriage with, right down to what food to eat and what clothes to wear.

If those kinds of choices are difficult to make, then it may seem that the choice between life and death would be more straight-forward and clear-cut.

After all, a choice between life and death would seem to have a forgone conclusion, i.e. the choice would be obviously for life.

But if it is such an obvious choice, then why would there be a choice at at all?

We need to be aware of that sinful part in us that will make us look at the dark and slippery options that will eventually lead us to death, whether physical or spiritual death.

That is why in the 1st reading, Moses put before the people a choice between life and death, prosperity and disaster, blessing and curse.

And he was exhorting and urging the people, even like almost begging them, to choose life by obeying the voice of God and living in the love of the Lord.

The other choice would be death and disaster, and there are no other choices in between.

In the gospel, Jesus made it known what his choice for God would entail - He will accept suffering, rejection by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and finally be put to death.

That doesn't sound very motivating; in fact it sounded rather frightening. Yes, we are indeed frightened to lose our lives by giving of ourselves to others and sacrificing for others.

If we choose to follow Jesus, then it means that we have to renounce ourselves and take up our cross everyday. That is indeed a difficult choice, but it is a choice that would bring us blessings and prosperity, life and love.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ash Wednesday, 05-03-14

Joel 2:12-18 / 2 Cor 5:20 - 6:2 / Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Today as the Church begins the season of Lent with fasting and abstinence, the Church also includes in the liturgy a rather odd substance.

This substance makes its appearance only once a year and it is on this particular day, and this particular day of the Church year is even named after it.

Yes, we are talking about ashes, a substance that is quite alien to the usual materials that is associated with the liturgy.

But it is only today that it makes its appearance and it is also used in a particular way that has its origins that dates back to the Old Testament.

Ashes smeared on the head and other parts of the body, or sitting in the midst of ashes was a sign of penance and repentance.

In today's Mass, the ashes will be imposed on the forehead with these words: "Repent and believe in the Gospel". The other formula is: "Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return".

The ashes that are used in today's Mass were obtained by burning the palm branches that were used in last year's Palm Sunday Mass.

As we look at the ashes, a thought or two may surface in our minds. Ashes makes us realize two realities in the cycle of life.

What has happened to the ashes is irreversible as well as irrevocable. We cannot reverse the process, we cannot change it back to what it was before, it cannot be recovered to its former state.

Yes, what has happened to the ashes is irreversible as well as irrevocable.

Ashes are used in today's liturgy, on the 1st day of Lent, to help us realize, in a very experiential way, that the season of Lent is a call to repentance and conversion.

Ashes are also used to help us realize our mortality and eventual finality. Yes, we will eventually turn to dust, for we are dust and unto dust we shall return.

And as Jesus tells us in today's gospel, for all the material rewards of this world, all will eventually crumble and turn to dust.

We are reminded of this as the ashes are imposed on our foreheads.

But a deeper realization is that there is an eternal reward that only God can give.

When we realize that all will turn to ashes, that all things will pass, that our existence is like a passing wind and fades like a shadow, we must then turn to God and surrender the ashes of our lives in penance and repentance.

And it is in God and only in God that we will rise from ashes, we rise from the good we failed to do. It is in God and only in God that we see our world as ashes but our lives must be true.

May the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting and alms-giving help us to rise from ashes and to a new life that will give glory to God.

Monday, March 3, 2014

8th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 04-03-14

1 Peter 1:10-16 / Mark 10:28-31

Between a book and a movie that is made out of it, more than a slight majority would say that the book is better.

But if we had read the book, then going to see the movie may just be a case of seeing how faithfully the movie had portrayed the book.

On the other hand, if we had only seen the movie, we may not bother to take the time to read the book. After all we had seen the action, so there is no need to read the composition.

The Old Testament prophets wrote about the coming of the Saviour. They had to be sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit as they wrote their prophecies.

They had to write about the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would come after them, and they tried to find out at what time and in what circumstances all that was to be expected.

It was like writing a book and wondering how and when the movie would be made out of it.

Anyway the prophets' task was to write the prophecies about the Christ. They may not have expected to see their prophecies fulfilled, nor to see the Christ in the flesh.

As for us, we know that Christ already came and fulfilled the prophecies. So, as the 1st reading would tell us, we are to free our minds of encumbrances, control them, and put our trust in nothing but the grace that has been given us through Christ.

And then we will be able to fully follow Christ and leave aside what is unnecessary or even hindering our lives, so that we will truly be holy in all we do, and finally to be able to see Christ face to face.