Wednesday, April 30, 2014

St. Joseph the Worker, 01-05-14

Gen 1:26 - 2:3 / Matthew 13:54-58

Today, the Church celebrates the feast of St. Joseph and specifically under the title of St. Joseph the Worker.

Hence, St. Joseph is also the patron of all working people, besides being the patron of the Church, fathers and carpenters and also of the dying.

Being a patron of all working people, we would feel a deep affiliation with St. Joseph because we spend a considerable amount of time at work.

And we could relate with him in what was told of us in the scriptures.

We are told that he took his family to Jerusalem every year for Passover, something that could not have been easy for a working man.

We know he was a carpenter, a working man, and in the gospel a skeptical question was asked about Jesus, "Is this not the carpenter's son?" (Matthew 13:55).

He wasn't rich for when he took Jesus to the Temple to be circumcised and Mary to be purified, he offered the sacrifice of two turtledoves or a pair of pigeons, allowed only for those who could not afford a lamb (Luke 2:24).

There is much we wish we could know about Joseph, about where and when he was born, about how he spent his days, about when and how he died.

But Scripture has left us with one of the most important knowledge of who he was - "a righteous man" (Matthew 1:18).

May we always turn to St. Joseph for his intercession before and at the end of our work.

May we also be righteous and honest in our dealings at work and with our superiors and colleagues so that in all we do at work, we will give glory to God.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

2nd Week of Easter, Wednesday, 30-04-14

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

In our fast and busy world, we don't usually have the luxury of time to do much reading.

Even when it comes to the newspapers, we would be satisfied just to read the headlines or the highlights or the summary. The details can be left to another time.

The Bible is a thick compilation of 73 books. Yet the Bible can be summarized into a simple but profound message that runs throughout, from Genesis to Revelation.

This message can be found in today's gospel and specifically in 3:16-17.

"God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not be lost but may have eternal life."

Yes, God sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but so that through Him the world might be saved.

When we understand this core message of the Bible, then we will also understand what true love is, what sacrificial love means, and also the meaning of our life and existence.

Then we will also know what God has called us to do. God wants us to be proclaimers and witnesses of His saving love for the world.

God who calls us to this mission will also enable us to fulfill it, just as He enabled the apostles to proclaim the Good News despite the persecutions they faced as we heard in the 1st reading.

May we give time to the Lord everyday in prayer so that we will grow deeper in our love for Him and that it may be reflected to others.

Monday, April 28, 2014

2nd Week of Easter, Tuesday, 29-04-14

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

There is a book in the Old Testament called Qoheleth (or Ecclesiastes) that begins with this phrase: Vanity of vanities. All is vanity.

It gives a graphic description of vanity as like that of chasing the wind.

Vanity can also come in many forms like looks, intelligence, talents, but whatever it is, one can never get enough of it.

For eg. when it comes to looks and appearances, we can never get tired of looking at ourselves in the mirror.

In the gospel, Nicodemus took pride in himself as a Pharisee and as a teacher of religion and a man of knowledge.

But it is also this pride, or vanity, in his knowledge that led him to ask the question: How can this be possible?

He had some fixed ideas about God but when the ways of the Spirit goes beyond his knowledge, he was like trying to catch the wind with a net.

Even when we look at the 1st reading, and we hear that the whole group of believers were united in heart and soul, sharing everything in common and no one was in need, we may wonder if this can ever happen in our present times, and if this can ever be possible.

Yet the ways of the Spirit and the mystery of God can address all possibilities.

When we are moved by the Spirit, all possibilities can turn to realities.

When we are moved by the Spirit, we won't be chasing the wind; we will move with the wind.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

2nd Week of Easter, Monday, 28-04-14

Acts 4:23-31 / John 3:1-8

In its most fundamental understanding, prayer is a relationship with God.

That relationship is expressed in a communion with God and also expressed in a form of communication with God.

That communication is understood in the sense that one party speaks and the other party listens and responds.

In the 1st reading, as soon as Peter and John were released, they went back to the community and told them what had happened.

When they heard it, they lifted up their voice to God - they prayed together.

And God responded! Because as they prayed, the house where they were assembled rocked; they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to proclaim the word of God boldly.

But that doesn't seem to be our prayer experience. We don't seem to get any dramatic responses.

There may be some subtle experiences but they may be far and few between. By and large, our prayer experiences are rather mundane and monotonous.

But before we start to get discouraged and feel despair, let us remember what Jesus told Nicodemus in the gospel.

The Holy Spirit responds to our prayer, and the Holy Spirit is like a wind that blows wherever it pleases.

Prayer will make us feel like the wind of the Holy Spirit. We only need to surrender and let the Holy Spirit lead us to where we should go and what we should do.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

2nd Sunday of Easter, Year A, 27-04-14

Going to the Holy Land for a pilgrimage is certainly a wish we would want to fulfill. And with the modern means of transportation, that can be quite easily achieved and afforded.

We would want to go that land which God had promised to Abraham and also see the places that the Bible talks about.

Above all, we want to trace the footsteps of the life of Jesus, from His birthplace to where He was buried.

We want to see the places where He had been, places that are still existing, like the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane.

More than that, we would want to bring home some souvenirs, like an olive wood carving of a cross.

Of course, our faith does not depend on these sights and souvenirs, but these are certainly enhancements that make our faith tangible.

As human beings, and as a people of faith, we need the visible and the concrete and the tangible as expressions of our faith.

When the risen Lord came and stood among His disciples in that room, there is no doubt that they saw Him. They even heard Him. He even breathed on them.

But Thomas wasn't there. So he missed out on all that.

So when the other disciples told him that they had seen the risen Lord, he retorted by making his demands.

Not only did Thomas want to see the Lord, he also demanded for the touch-experience: he wanted to put his finger into the holes made by the nails and his hand into Jesus' side. Otherwise he refused to believe.

And Jesus came back for Thomas. And He invited Thomas to put his finger and his hand into the holes and into His side.

The gospel did not tell us whether Thomas actually did it.

But Thomas made the profound expression of faith when he declared before the risen Lord - My Lord and my God!

Jesus said that happy are those who have not seen Him and yet believed.

But we do see Him. We see Him in those who are wounded by the hurts and disappointments of life, those wounded by rejection and criticism, those wounded by loneliness and helplessness.

Jesus said that "Whatever you do to the least of my brothers, you did it to me" (Mt 25:40)

We can see those who are wounded. When we reach out to touch them, we touch the wounds of the risen Lord.

In touching those who are wounded, we are healed of our own wounds.

Our faith is visible, concrete and tangible and it is expressed in persons in need of healing.

It is in touching the wounds of these people that we bring about the Lord's healing to them as well healing for ourselves.

Indeed our faith is so real. We give thanks to the Lord for this visible, concrete and tangible faith.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Saturday within Easter Octave, 26-04-14

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

The resurrection of Jesus has many profound spiritual dimensions for us to reflect upon.

But one of the human dimensions that it reveals is a rather basal human aspect; and that is belief and unbelief.

No doubt, the resurrection is an unheard of phonomenon. Mary of Magdala and the two disciples who encountered the risen Christ may have others thoughts clouding their minds but they still believed that Jesus is risen.

But when they told the rest of the disciples about the resurrection, they were met with unbelief.

And later when Jesus would "reproach them for their incredulity and obstinacy, because they had refused to belief those who had seen Him after He had risen."

In the light of these reactions to the resurrection, what have we to say about ourselves?

We have not encountered the risen Christ like Mary of Magdala and the two disciples did; we have not heard the accounts of first-hand witnesses. So what is our reaction to the resurrection?

Between the two ends of belief and unbelief, most of us lie in the middle. Between these two polarities we fluctuate - at times our faith is strong and at other instances we sink into incredulity and obstinacy.

But when we reflect on it, it is like a dying and rising of faith. At times our faith feels like it is dying.

But let us keep believing in Jesus to will raise up our faith, and like Mary of Magdala and the two disciples, let us go forth believing and keeping the faith.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Friday within Easter Octave, 25-04-14

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

To be filled with something can be quite easily understood in physical and material terms - a cup that is filled with water, a flower pot that is filled with soil, or even a room that is filled with people.

To be filled with something would probably mean that we can see it, comprehend it, measure it or count it and give an empirical value to it.

But what does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit? It would be difficult to describe because there is no measurement for it.

And what does it mean when a person is filled with the Holy Spirit? What would be the means of measurement for it, if there is any?

In the 1st reading, we heard that Peter and John were arrested by the authorities and they were questioned by them.

And then it said that Peter filled with the Holy Spirit began to address them. And what Peter said was indeed Spirit-filled - clear, concise, precise, with no anger or sarcasm, and no accusation or judgement.

And that already tells us what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

To be filled with the Holy Spirit would mean to speak Spirit-filled words, which would in turn fill others with truth and goodness.

Because from what fills our hearts, our mouths must speak so as to fill others.

May the Holy Spirit fill our hearts, so that we will speak and live and move and have our being in the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Thursday within Easter Octave, 24-04-14

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

We may have heard about the recent news of the discovery of the computer bug called "Heartbleed".

It is causing anxiety and panic because that bug seems to steal passwords from server sites and that can cause accounts to be hacked into and also give rise to identity thefts.

As the name of the bug goes, it really makes our heart bleed because we are so dependent on the internet nowadays and passwords are a form of security for our internet accounts.

In the 1st reading, we heard that Peter and John got the attention of the excited crowd by working a miracle of healing a crippled man.

Peter took to opportunity to preach about Jesus and how they accused Him and had Him killed.

When the people heard this "they were cut to the heart" (Acts 2:37). But of course Peter didn't leave them there with their hearts bleeding.

Peter also consoled them by saying that neither they nor their leaders had any idea what they were really doing. Also it was the way God carried out what He had foretold, that Christ would suffer.

In the gospel, when Jesus appeared to His disciples, He also didn't make their hearts bleed for what they had done to Him in His hour of need.

Rather He healed their hearts and opened their minds to understand the scriptures so that they can see how it was written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.

Furthermore, in the name of Jesus, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations.

Our hearts bleed because of our sins. Jesus wants to forgive our sins and heal our hearts. May we be witnesses of His healing love and may we bring that love to others.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Wednesday within Easter Octave, 23-04-14

Acts 3:1-10 / Luke 24:13-35

The novel "A Tale of Two Cities" was written in 1859 by Charles Dickens. It is about a story of two cities, Paris and London, and the drama of the people in between.

In a way, it was a comparative study put in fiction form of what was happening in one city against what was happening in another city and the consequences.

Well, we also can use the phrase "a tale of two cities" to compare two individuals or two groups of people with differing fortunes.

And maybe we can also use it for the comparison between the characters in the two readings of today.

There is Peter and John in the 1st reading and  Cleopas and his companion in the gospel. It was like a tale of two cities: one group was full of faith, the other was losing faith; one group was confident, the other was despondent.

But still, there are similarities between these two groups: they had Jesus with them, although the latter group did not recognize Him until later on.

Peter and John also went through the darkness of despondency when they lost faith and couldn't see Jesus. That was what Cleopas and his companion went through in the gospel.

But eventually, they recognized Jesus in their midst, and it was Peter who expressed the conviction in this way: I have neither silver nor gold, but I will give you what I have: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk!

So in whichever state or whatever fortune we may be in, let us know that Jesus is with us. May our eyes be opened in the Eucharist so that we can receive Jesus in our hearts, and of what we receive may we also give totally to others.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Tuesday within Easter Octave, 22-04-14

Acts 2:36-41 / John 20:11-18

Human postures are what we do everyday and there may be no special significance to it.

But human postures in a religious context or in a ritual have a significance, e.g. sitting, standing, kneeling, prostrating, etc.

Postures in the bible context also have a significance. For example, Jesus would sit when He was teaching.

In the gospel, we heard that when Mary stooped to look inside the tomb, she saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head, the other at the feet.

And then they asked her : Woman, why are you weeping?

And in the next instance when Jesus appeared to her, He also asked her the same question : Woman, why are you weeping?

We may wonder why the two angels were sitting at where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and the other at the feet.

In that teaching posture, the two angels were already showing that something had happened, that Jesus is not dead, and that He was not there in the tomb.

Yes, Jesus is risen, He is not dead or lying among the dead. We rejoice because by dying He destroyed our death and by rising He has given us new life.

May our everyday postures, and more so our liturgical postures, express the new life we have in Christ and the joy of the Resurrection.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Monday within Easter Octave, 21-04-14

Acts 2:14, 22-33 / Matthew 28:8-15

If we woke up today without having to go to work or have nothing much to do, then we won't feel like getting out of bed even if we are wide awake.

We will only get on the way and move quickly when there is a sense of urgency, and when there are tasks ahead that need our attention.

When Jesus rose from the dead, a number of people were also "awakened" and immediately they had some urgent tasks ahead.

In the gospel, we heard that the women were filled with awe and great joy and they came quickly away from the tomb and ran to tell the disciples.

While the women were on their way, another group was on another way and also in haste.

The soldiers who were guarding the tomb went off into the city to tell the chief priests all that had happened.

So two groups went off hastily with two urgent stories to tell. And the outcome of both stories have survived until this day.

Jesus rose from the dead and He conquered sin and death. The light of His resurrection also shines through the darkness to awaken those who sleep in lies and falsehood.

So for us, everyday there is something to wake up to, and it's something urgent and needs our immediate attention.

We wake up with the truth of the resurrection and that is what we must immediately live out for the day.

It's either we wake up to the light of truth, or we may just sleep-walk in the darkness of lies.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter Sunday, Year A, 20.04.2014

The celebration of Easter is often called the greatest celebration of the Church.

But that does not mean that the other great feasts of the Church like Christmas and the Annunciation and Holy Thursday are not that great a feast.

The greatness that is meant here is that it is the high-point and the climax of the celebrations of our faith.

And Easter also sheds light as well as reveals the subtle meanings of the other feasts.

For example, at Easter, we celebrate the Resurrection – Jesus rose from the dead and conquered sin and death.

The Resurrection showed that Jesus is divine – He rose from the dead.

But it also points to His humanity – He suffered, died and was buried.

And that is what we celebrate at Christmas – that Jesus, the Word of God was made flesh; divinity also took on the nature of humanity.

So Easter sheds light and also reveals the subtle meanings of the other celebrations of our faith.

Easter is also the greatest feast of our faith because when we truly understand the meaning of Easter, we will also begin to understand what our faith is all about.

In the gospel, we heard about the empty tomb. Mary of Magdala came to the tomb and she saw that the stone had been rolled away and she ran to tell Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved.

They ran to the tomb. They saw the linen cloths on the ground, and the cloth that had been over His head.

The gospel ended off by saying that till then, they had failed to understand the teachings of scripture, that He must rise from the dead. But later on, they would understand.

Today we had 13 infants who are to be baptized soon in this Mass.
We see the ordinary signs of our faith being used: water for baptism, oil for anointing, baptism garment and the baptism candles.

We hear prayers and see the ritual gestures being performed.

In all this, are we able to grasp the deeper meanings of our faith, especially in the Resurrection of Jesus?

Jesus rose from the dead and He has given us new life and He will also give new life to these 13 infants through baptism.

And later on we will renew our baptismal promises and we will be sprinkled with holy water.

And for this Easter, the Church is giving you a bottle of holy water. 

We want to emphasize that it is holy water that is being given and its put into a respectable and dignified holy water bottle.

When we truly understand the meaning of holy water, then we won’t put holy water in a reused mineral water bottle.

Because holy water reminds us of our baptism into Christ and by His suffering, death and Resurrection, He has saved us and will lead us to understand the deeper mysteries of our faith.

So bring the holy water home and bless the home with it, because the home is the first place where we will live out our baptismal promises and make it a holy dwelling for God.

Bring it to your workplace and bless your work-station, because it is there that we will offer up the work of our hands for the glory of God.

And of course, let us use the holy water to bless ourselves and our children, so that we will set our hearts on the things of above even while in the midst of the things of earth.

And may we be that holy and consecrated people who are redeemed by Christ, to proclaim the marvelous works of God.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday, 18-04-14

Today is Good Friday. Today is the day when we recall what happened to Jesus on the cross - His suffering and death.

Human suffering is terrible, and innocent suffering is horrible. 

When we truly understand the sufferings of Jesus on the way to Calvary and on the cross, we might want to call today "Sad Friday" because of the emotions that are evoked.

But it is called Good Friday and indeed it is, because Jesus suffered and died for our good, He died for our salvation.

And as we behold Jesus on the cross, we may remember those times of our own sufferings and there were people who came to our help and to relief us of our sufferings.

Jesus suffered and died on the cross. But that was not the end of it. God did something about it. And He did it for our good.

So when we come across others in their sufferings, we can no longer pass them by and think that it is none of our business.

We must do something about their sufferings, or even to have a share in their sufferings.

To do nothing about human suffering is certainly not good at all. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maundy Thursday, Year A, 17.04.2014

We are gathered here this evening as Church and in union with the whole Church, to commemorate the Institution of the Lord’s Supper, which is also called the Holy Eucharist.

All three readings talk about a remembrance. In the 1st reading, the Lord instructed Moses and Aaron on the preparations of the Passover meal.

And the Lord also said, “This day is to be a day of remembrance for you, and you must celebrate it as a feast in the Lord’s honour. 

For all generations, you are to declare it a day of festival forever.

Similarly in the 2nd reading, St Paul recalled that night of the Last Supper when Jesus took bread and wine and consecrated it into His Body and Blood.

Jesus gave it to His disciples and told them to do it in memorial of Him.

And so we are here this evening to recall how with the first Passover meal, Israel gained their freedom from slavery in Egypt.

And more so we are here this evening to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ as we follow His mandate to celebrate this in memory of Him.

The gospel also talks about the Last Supper. Jesus was at the table with His disciples.

The gospel began by saying that Jesus had always loved those who were His in the world, but now He showed how perfect His love was.

They were at supper, and then Jesus got up from table, removed His outer garment, and then taking a towel, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet and wipe them with the towel.

That action stunned the disciples, so much so that they couldn’t react, nor make sense out of it.

And could we make any sense out of it? What has the Eucharist got to do with the washing of feet?

Jesus was Master and Lord and High Priest at the Last Supper. He had already given His Body and Blood to His disciples. Why would He also want to wash their feet?

The meaning may be found in what He told Simon Peter: If I do not wash you, you can have nothing in common with me.

Jesus washed His disciples’ feet so that they will follow in His footsteps. Not just His disciples but we as well.

He washes away not just the dust of the feet; He also washes away the dirt of slavery and the weariness of the burden of sin that makes us drag our feet.

He washes our feet clean so that we can be free to follow Him.

From here, Jesus will walk on to face the cross and offer up His Body for us and pour out His Blood to save us.

Do we understand what He has done for us?

Will we follow in His footsteps? 

We let Jesus wash us first, and partake of His Body and Blood.

And then may we do for others what Jesus has done for us.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Wednesday of Holy Week, 16-04-14

Isaiah 50:4-9 / Matthew 26:14-25

Babies are a joy to behold. Besides the fact that they are cute and chubby, they can also make us talk baby language to them.

Somehow when we are with babies, we end up talking like them. But of course the difference is that we know why we are talking that way to them, often gurgling as they do, and not making much sense, either to them or to ourselves.

But normally speaking, we know what we are talking about. Also we have enough of intelligence and rational to know what we are doing and why we are doing it.

We can also presume that Judas Iscariot knew what he was doing. Why he wanted to hand Jesus over to the chief priests and subsequently to look for an opportunity to betray Him, there are many theories for his motive.

We cannot know for sure what his real motive was. The gospel did not tell us nor did Jesus point it out.

But Jesus did try to awaken and enlighten Judas by saying that the Son of Man is going to His fate, but alas for that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. Better for that man if he had never been born.

Those are strong jolting words, and the one who was guilty would know it was meant for him.

But those words of Jesus were meant for Judas to recall who he was and the purpose of his life. He was born into this world for a good purpose. And now he was destroying all that.

Jesus came to show us how to fulfill our life's destiny by doing the will of God. We came into this world for God's purpose. May it be fulfilled as we come to the end of our lives.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Tuesday of Holy Week, 15-04-14

Isaiah 49:1-6 / John 13:21-33, 36-38

Whenever we talk about change, we are certainly implying and hoping that the change will be for the better.

But very often the main obstacle to a change for the better is sin.

And that sin is expressed in many ways - pride, arrogance, selfishness, obstinacy, greed.

In fact, we might as well include all the seven capital sins that would be obstacles to a change for the better.

But our faith and hope in God also tells us that He would not let these sinful obstacles remain there always.

In the gospel, we heard that while at supper with His disciples, Jesus was troubled in spirit and He declared that one of His disciples would betray Him.

He knew who it was and in the setting of the sacred meal, He had hoped that Judas would change his direction and not carry out his sinister deed.

Although it was of no avail, yet it also awoken in the disciples that they were not of one heart and mind and that sin was lurking in the midst of one of them.

Jesus spoke out against that sin of betrayal. He was not going to let sin remain hidden and lurking around and make victims out of His disciples.

And Jesus is not going to let sin make us its victims too. But it is for us to expose the sin. And Jesus will help us handle the rest. Then there can be change for the better.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Monday of Holy Week, 14-04-14

Isaiah 42:1-7 / John 12:1-11

The drama of life can be so complex that even two seemingly mutually exclusive and nothing-to-do-with-each-other experiences can exist side by side.

If we are wondering whether this is possible, we just have to think about a formula for a box-office success movie, and that is to combine war with a romance story.

Logically it doesn't seem to make a good combination; it's more like a contradiction. But surprisingly love in the midst of violence seems to appeal to our emotions.

The gospel also seems to have  two events that doesn't seem to fit into the same passage.

It began with a very tender and intimate act of love by Mary for Jesus - anointing His feet with a very costly ointment and wiping them with her hair.

But it was immediately followed by a criticism from Judas, and we were also told that there were ulterior motives behind it.

And following that was another more evil and sinister intention - to kill Jesus, as well as Lazarus whom He had raised from the dead.

So in just a short gospel passage, there were enough of drama to make a box-office hit.

Yet, that kind of drama also happens in our lives. In the midst of suffering there is compassion; in the midst of hate, there is love; in the midst of difficulties, there is help; in the midst of despair, there is hope.

Yes, even in the midst of sin, there is grace. For where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more (Rom 5:20).

So no matter how complex or complicated life is, God is always there. Holy Week tells us that. May we stand by Jesus in His suffering and death, so that we can share in His resurrection.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Palm Sunday, Year A, 13.04.2014

Isaiah 50:4-7/ Philippians/ Matthew 26:14-27:66

Life is like a cycle of ups and downs.

And as it is always said, what goes up must come down, and what goes down must come up.

Hence, we can say that nothing stays up always, and nothing stays down always.

Today’s liturgy has two opposite and contrasting moods.

We began the liturgy with the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.

The crowds spread their garments on the road and shouted: Hosanna in the highest!  (Praise God and his Messiah, we are saved) 

As we recalled that gospel scene, we too waved the palm branches in remembrance of that glorious moment when Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem.

But as we move on into the liturgy, the mood begins to swing drastically.

From “Hosanna in the highest”, we hear of human drama in the darkest and lowest.

We hear of betrayal, desertion, abandonment and crucifixion.

Within a span of an hour, we hear of glory tumbling down into agony.

The scripture readings have compressed for us that week in the life of Jesus in which we see a cycle of a high plunging down to a low, an up plummeting straight down.

And in that cycle of glory and agony, we are invited to see our lives in that one week of the life of Jesus.

We too had our days of glory when we walk with sunshine confidence and everything seems to be going right and under control.

But within a week, or even a day, or even in a matter of hours, things start crumbling and tumbling down.

And this is where we are invited to share in that moment of glory-to-agony experience of Jesus.

The readings prepare us for what is to come on Good Friday. 

At the same time, the readings also prepare us for our own Good Fridays when we feel the agony of a sudden serious illness, the death of a loved one, the loss of a friendship, failure and disappointment, heartaches and distress.

Yes, in a short time and maybe even overnight, we plunge from glory to agony, and fall into the darkness of the tomb.

The gospel also ended with Jesus buried in the tomb. But with Jesus we wait. 

Because what goes down must come up.

Agony will be turned into glory. But we must wait.

With faith and hope in the power and love of God, we wait till the agony of darkness will give way to the glory of light.

Friday, April 11, 2014

5th Week of Lent, Saturday, 12-04-14

Ezekiel 37:21-28 / John 11:45-56

Today's gospel ends with questions, and those questions will be answered in the coming days as the liturgy unfolds.

It was also a questioning time for Jesus as His hour of reckoning approaches.

So as He retreated to the countryside with His disciples, He could have decided to remain there.

He could have gone on with His work of healing and teaching in a quiet way.

Many people would have supported Him and kept Him safe.

But Jesus knew that that was not the Father's will, so He moved out of His safety zone, a move that will cost Him His life.

Hence whenever we talk about doing God's will, we have to remember that it involves risk.

It involves moving out of our safety zone and moving out of our comfort zone.

But it is only in moving out that God moves in.

It is only when we move out of our pride, our resentment, our selfishness that God can move in to strengthen us with His love and to face the questions of life.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

5th Week of Lent, Friday, 11-04-14

Jeremiah 20:10-13 / John 10:31-42

At times it can be quite difficult to do a good deed or a charitable act in the name of the Church or when we identify ourselves as Christians.

Take for example, when the late Mother Teresa started her home for the destitute in India.

Among the opposition that she faced, one was the accusation that she wanted to convert the destitute into Christians and using the home and charity as a cover.

This negative notion of Christianity stemmed from the period of colonial rule in India when Christianity developed a bad name due to the counter-witnessing of Christians there.

But of course, they eventually saw the real purpose and good intention of Mother Teresa.

This brings us to the reflection of our identity and our deeds.

Jesus said to the people in the gospel, that even if they don't believe in Him, then at least they should believe in the good that He was doing.

Then they will eventually see who He really was.

Similarly for us, our identity and our deeds must have a connection and in fact be intertwined.

Only then can people see the God who is working in us and through us.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

5th Week of Lent, Thursday, 10-04-14

Genesis 17:3-9 / John 8:51-59

Whenever we talk about promises, we may have this expectation that the fulfillment will be in our lifetime.

That is the obvious expectation, otherwise there would be nothing much to look forward to in the promises.

Such is the case with marriage - Till death do us part - and also the promises made in priesthood.

So, when promises are broken, how can there not be disappointments?

In the 1st reading, when God made a covenant with Abraham, let us remember that Abraham never got to see the fulfillment in his lifetime.

But his faith and trust in God made him see something more and understand something deeper.

In a word, it is eternity. Abraham was not expecting to see hordes and hordes of his descendants to appear before him in his lifetime. It was going to be something beyond the present.

It is with that perspective that we can understand what Jesus meant when He said: Whoever keeps my word will never see death.

That's a divine promise. It is a promise of eternity for eternity.

When we believe in that promise, then death is not a finality.

Rather, life will have the final word and it will be for eternity.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

5th Week of Lent, Wednesday, 09-04-14

Daniel 3:14-20, 24-25, 28 / John 8:31-42

The fiery furnace of tribulation is something we will come across in our lives. Not just once, but many times.

It is in this fiery furnace that our faith in God is tested, our faith in prayer is tested, our faith in others is tested, and our faith in ourselves is tested.

The fiery furnace comes in all forms: the loss of a job, the hurt form a broken or painful relationship, ill-treatment and accusations from others, etc.

And we often get trapped in the flames of doubt, despair, anger and resentment.

In the 1st reading, when the three young men were threatened with the fiery furnace, they stuck to their faith in God.

In doing so, they were freed from their fear of death.

They believed in God, and that set them free to face and get over the fear of the fiery furnace.

It is also by believing in God and in His Word of truth that will set us free.

By forgiving those who hurt us, we are freed.
By praying for those we wrong us, we are freed.
By not nailing judgment on others, we are freed.
By loving others, we are freed.

The flames of the fiery furnace may not go off, but by believing and living in the truth, we live in the freedom of walking together with our God in that fiery furnace.

Monday, April 7, 2014

5th Week of Lent, Tuesday, 08-04-14

Numbers 21:4-9 / John 8:21-30

In life, we will always have stress, which of course we do not welcome at all.

More so when stress turns to distress, then we will get all flustered and frustrated.

In the 1st reading, we heard how the Israelites were in distress, but that was due to their own grumblings at God and the consequence was the scourge of the fiery serpents.

But out of this distress, arose the intercession of Moses which brought about healing for the people.

For Jesus, His greatest moment of distress was when He was nailed to and lifted up on the cross.

But it was also on the cross that He revealed His full identity as Saviour.

The cross was also His throne of glory.

Whenever we sink into the depths of distress, or face trials and difficulties that wear us down, let us remember this.

That in times of great distress, God is closest to us in His full power to lift us up so that we can see His glory.

The times of distress are also the time in which God reveals His saving love for us.

That is somehow difficult to believe, just as it would seem strange that by looking at the image of a bronze serpent on a standard would bring about healing.

But as we look at Jesus being lifted up on the cross, then we will understand. Then we will believe.

Because we are looking at our Saviour who came to heal and forgive and save us.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

5th Week of Lent, Monday, 07-04-14

Daniel 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62 / John 8:1-11

One of our most common weaknesses is our tendency to participate in gossips, regardless of whether we are the initiator or the contributor.

Gossiping is already bad enough. But the damaging aspect of gossip is that judgement is also involved.

Whenever we gossip about someone, it is quite likely that the person's reputation is tarnished and his character is smeared.

Another aspect is that these kind of judgements can also literally cost a life, as we heard in the 1st reading.

The two elders bore false witness against Susanna but Daniel would want to have no part in it.

In the gospel, Jesus showed us what to do when we encounter a gossiping or slandering session.

His initial silence when asked for a judgement on the adulterous woman showed His one concern.

His concern was not so much for Himself as in how to get out of a sticky situation.

His concern was for the woman who had already suffered so much degradation and came to the point of almost losing her life.

So the next time before we initiate a gossip or even make our contribution, let us remember this scene of Jesus stooping down and writing in the sand in silence.

By our silence, others would know what our opinions are and where we stand.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

5th Sunday of Lent, Year A, 06.04.2014

Ezekiel 37:12-14/ Romans 8:8-11/ John 11:1-45

No matter what we want to say about appearances, we can’t deny that looks are important.

We may not be that vain as to want to look gorgeous or glamorous, but in all modesty, we would want to look pleasant.

So, if we have the “plain Jane” kind of looks, we certainly won’t let it remain like that.

Otherwise, the beauticians will be out of work, and the beauty and skincare product companies will go out of business.

So, to maintain the looks, going for facial and hairdressing are like the minimum requirements. 

And it is not just the ladies who go for such things.

The men are catching up. Gone are the days when the “rock-face” is in. That era belongs to actors like Charles Bronson. 

The “in” looks belong to actors like Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom and Tom Cruise, with smooth looks, as well as great hairstyles like David Beckham.

So, it’s like “I live, therefore I must look good”. And it is not just when we are alive and well that we want to look good.

Even in death, we would also like to look presentable for others when they come to pay their respects. 

So, when we are alive, we need beauticians; when we are dead, we need morticians. In any case, both will make us look good.

But for the Lazarus that we heard about in the gospel, he didn’t have to look good upon his death. (Maybe there were no morticians around at that time)

The dead person was wrapped up, the hands and feet bound with bands of cloth, with a cloth around the face. That was how it was described in the gospel.

The reality of death was traumatic (and it still is) and hence all signs of death must be concealed and wrapped up.

There is nothing good to look at in death. It only evokes grief and pain and sorrow.

But when Jesus called out to Lazarus and when he came out of the tomb, Jesus said to the people: Unbind him, let him go free.

Obviously, to show that Lazarus had come back to life, not only his hands and feet must be free from the binds of cloth, his face must be uncovered.

It was not just to show people that he looked good even after four days in the tomb; it was for the look of life, that Lazarus was raised from the dead and was alive.

Jesus was not some kind of skilled mortician that made a dead man look good and alive.

Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead; Jesus raised Lazarus to life!

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. And He said: If anyone believes in me, even though he dies, he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.

So, do we believe this? Can we believe this? And if we believe this, then what does it mean for us?

Back in 2008, there was this Japanese movie titled “Okuribito” or “Departures” (of course there are English sub-titles)

The movie is about the historic Japanese “encoffining” ceremony in which professional morticians ritually clean, dress and prepare the bodies before they are placed in the coffin.

Morticians and undertakers are a necessary occupation, though not necessary a preferred one, whether in Japan or elsewhere.

The story is about an unemployed cellist who went back to his hometown with his wife and through some confusion and desperation took on the job as a mortician, though he initially detested it.

He was beset with nausea, and he was also humiliated when strangers on the bus detect a stench on him.

Even his wife rejected him when she found out about his profession, because she didn't want to be touched by a man who touched the dead.

But he knew he had to continue. He realized that he was providing a service that had become meaningful to him.

It was a sense of fulfillment as he saw the relatives of the deceased feeling the consolation and having a closure with death and moving on in their lives.

One particular scene that was profound was how the face of the deceased was made up with exquisite attention to detail.

In some ways, that movie portrayed the mortician as someone who prepares the deceased in a dignified and respectable way for the afterlife.

So if we truly believe in Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life, then we would want to let Him prepare us for the afterlife by the way we live in this life.

And that means we have to face the ugliness and brokenness that we see in ourselves and in others.

Yes, the wages of sin is a slow spiritual death that is expressed in the ugliness and brokenness of our lives.

But Jesus calls out to us, heals our ugliness and brokenness and He unbinds us and frees us from the fear of death.

And like the mortician in the movie “Departures” we are also called to give people respect and dignity and help them rise to a life of meaning and fulfillment and to look at life with hope.

Yes, the Lord has forgiven us our sins and heals us and calls us to live a life in Him.

Let us celebrate this new life in Christ and may that new life be also shown on our faces.

Friday, April 4, 2014

4th Week of Lent, Saturday, 05-04-14

Jeremiah 11:18-20 / John 7:40-52

The fastest and easiest way to come to a conclusion is to make an assumption.

An assumption is to take something for granted, a supposition.

Whether it is a correct or an incorrect assumption, we usually begin by saying "I think ..."

But when the assumption is wrong, then the conclusion is also wrong.

In today's gospel, there were a lot of assumptions made about Jesus and specifically about His identity.

In the midst of these assumptions, an unexpected challenge came from Nicodemus.

He challenged the people to give Jesus a hearing and to discover for themselves who Jesus was.

But the assumptions far outnumbered and eventually drowned out the challenge.

We too have our own assumptions about who Jesus is.

We also need to verify our assumptions about Jesus.

It is about moving from "I think that Jesus loves me" to saying "I know that Jesus is loves me". May that be a conviction and not an assumption.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

4th Week of Lent, Friday, 04-04-14

Wisdom 2:1, 12-22 / John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30

Seminarians have to study theology in the Seminary, and although it can be difficult to remember and understand those theological concepts and definitions, it can still be managed. 

But trying to explain theology to children and teenagers would be a realization of how difficult it is to use simple language to get it across, as well as how much is really understood.

If understanding a subject like theology is difficult, then trying to understand a person is certainly no less easier.

And it would be easier to just make assumptions and presumptions and subsequently make conclusions about a person. That would also save a lot of time and energy.

And that was what they did to Jesus. From the little they knew about Him, they immediately made their conclusions.

Anyway, for someone preaching the dangerous message of love and claiming that God is His Father, He better be silenced. That was their assumption, presumption and conclusion.

And Jesus was silenced by their conclusions. But for just three days.

So as the 1st reading puts it: The godless say to themselves, with their misguided reasoning.

We too could have said things about others with our misguided reasoning and silenced them with our conclusions.

We too could have said things about others that were based just on our assumptions and presumptions.

Maybe we need to ask ourselves why are we doing that so often.

When we realize how little we know about ourselves, then we will also realize how little we know about others, and also how little we know about God.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

4th Week of Lent, Thursday, 03-04-14

Exodus 32:7-14 / John 5:31-47

The one thing that creates some problems for us and makes us feel aged is this thing called forgetfulness.

Forgetfulness afflicts everybody, and especially when we are no longer that young and we forget this and that, then we become the butt of jokes.

Anyway, if our individual forgetfulness can give us problems, how about the forgetfulness of a nation?

Certainly it would be disastrous, as in the case of Israel.

It was not that long ago since they experienced the liberation from Egypt and the miraculous parting of the Red Sea.

But soon they forgot about the God who saved them and they created an idol in the image of an animal!

In fact, forgetfulness is too lame a word to be used here.

The word should be stupidity. The Israelites were stupid enough to forget, and for that they wondered in the desert for 40 years just to have that lesson seared into their minds and hearts.

The 40 days of Lent is indeed a time for us to recall and remember the saving acts of God and the wonderful graces He poured into our lives so that we won't forget the meaning of love and mercy.

It  is also a time to cleanse ourselves of other distractions that have come into our lives that make us lose focus and forget about God in our lives.

For it is to God alone that we must say : You alone are my God.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

4th Week of Lent, Wednesday, 02-04-14

Isaiah 49:8-15 / John 5:17-30

With technology moving so fast, our mobile gadgets and devices could be rather aged even though it may be hardly a year since we started using them.

Furthermore, with the renewal of another two-year contract we get the new and latest models, it would not be surprising that we have a couple of mobile phones in our drawers or at some corner of the cupboard.

There might be times when they come in handy as spare phones, but by and large they are already "retired"; which is another way of saying that they are not that important and of not much use.

And what is no more important and of no use is simple left abandoned and forgotten.

In the 1st reading, we heard that it was Zion who was saying: The Lord has abandoned me, the Lord has forgotten me.

Zion was making such statements because the people of God felt that God has deserted them and let their enemies overrun them and conquer them.

But the Lord retorted by asking does a woman forget her baby at the breast, or fail to cherish the son of her womb? Even if these forget, the Lord will not forget!

Actually, very often it is the other way round - we are the ones who forget about the Lord and abandoned His precepts altogether.

Yes, we sinned against the Lord, and as we know by now the wages of sin is death. When we sin we die a slow spiritual death.

Yet, even as we are dying a slow spiritual death, the Lord calls us to Him with His love and forgiveness so that in hearing the voice of  our Saviour, we will hear it and live again.

Yes, the Lord will not forget us; may we not forget about Him. And may we not say that the Lord has abandoned us and forgotten about us.