Saturday, May 31, 2014

7th Sunday of Easter, Year A, 01.06.2014

Acts 1:12-14/ 1 Peter 4:13-16/ John 17:1-11

Recently, some Hollywood movie celebrities were in town. Yes, some actors and an actress from the movie “X-men” were here to promote the movie.

Oh, the “X-men” movies are a big hit in the box-office and so are the actors.

And one of the more famous actors of that movie was among those who came here.

He is so famous in his role as Wolverine that when the fans see him, they would call him “Wolverine! Wolverine” instead of Hugh Jackman (his real name).

But those celebrities should have timed their visit a little later.

Because they were just a little too early for one of the great events in Singapore.

If they had come just two weeks later, they would be in time for the Great Singapore Sale!

Yes, those two months of the year where there are great discounts on goods and services.

And Wolverine could have a manicure for his claws at a discount! :D  Or even for free since he is such a big star!

Well, when you are a big star in a big movie, there can be many perks, besides the big money.

It is no wonder when they say that size does matter, because the bigger you are, the more attention you will command and the greater influence you will have.

Oh yes, size does matter. So, there is the box office success, a big budget blockbuster, and those famous actors and the Great Singapore Sale.

All these words- “success, big, famous, great” tell us that size does matter.

All these words also tell us of man’s hunger for glory, even if it’s just a passing glory, an earthly glory.

And that hunger has no size to it. It’s a hunger that cannot be satisfied. It is like a bottomless pit.

In the gospel, Jesus also talked about glory and power. He said this (to His heavenly Father):

“Glorify Your Son, so that Your Son may glorify You, and through the power over all mankind that You have given Him, let Him give eternal life to all those You have entrusted to Him.”

The whole gospel passage of today is called the “priestly prayer of Jesus”.

It was a prayer that Jesus said at the Last Supper. In that prayer He mentioned about power and glory.

But in that prayer, Jesus also said this: I pray for them; I am not praying for the world but for those you have given me.

In other words, Jesus prayed for His disciples, and those who will come after them, which means you and me. Yes, Jesus prayed for you and me!

And what was it that Jesus prayed for us? He prayed that the power and glory that was given to Him will also be given to us.

He prayed that we will be empowered by God’s love so that we can glorify God even while we are on this earth.

Putting it simply, we have this power to do good and to make this world a beautiful place.

There is this Thai life insurance advertisement that has a powerful and moving message. It’s just a 3-minute clip.

It’s about a simple young man, a sort of Good Samaritan, a sort of unsung hero, who goes about trying to some good.

When water drips on his head, instead of cursing and swearing, he pulls a pot of dying plant over, so that it can be watered back to life.

He feeds a hungry stray dog with some of his lunch; he buys bananas for an elderly neighbour; and he gives some money, though he doesn’t have much, to a poor mother and daughter for the girl’s education.

His actions either go unnoticed or that others think he was rather crazy with those simple good deeds.

But, as the narration in the advertisement goes, that young man was not looking for recognition; he gets nothing in return; he won’t be richer, he won’t be famous. He is still a “nobody”.

Eventually though, the young man’s kind actions change things.

The dying plant is brought back to life and becomes a beautiful plant.

The stray dog follows him home and becomes his pet. The elderly neighbor acknowledges his generosity.

And the most touching scene is when the girl comes back from school and shares with her mother what she had learnt.

The advertisement continues by saying that the simple young man sees happiness and he reaches a deeper understanding of life.

He feels the love, and receives what money can’t buy.

And the final words of the advertisement are these: The world is made more beautiful.

It was a unique and moving advertisement about life insurance.

We may think that it’s a rather mushy advertisement, a “Forrest Gump” kind of fairy tale.

But that 3-minute advertisement had a more powerful message than those big-budget movies with a star-studded cast.

And we must believe in the power of love that will bring about simple deeds of goodness that will make this world more beautiful.

Jesus prayed that this power will be given to us. Jesus had done His part. It is for us now to do our part.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Visitation of the BVM, Saturday, 31-05-14

Zephaniah 3:14-18 or Romans 12:9-16 / Luke 1:39-56

The beginnings of this feast came about in the early 13th century at the height of the Marian devotion.

This feast was later extended to the entire Church in 1389 with the hope that Christ and His Mother would visit the Church and put an end to the schisms and divisions which were tearing up the Church of Christ.

Yet, this feast is as relevant and important now as it was then and as it was throughout the centuries.

And this feast is as relevant and important for the Church as well as for each of us.

Just as the Church faced many dark and terrible moments in her history, we too face many trials and challenges as we strive to live out our faith.

At times, the distress, the pain and the hurt may be a bit too unbearable and our faith is shaken and our hope wavers and our love runs dry.

Yet, the Lord promised to be our help and our strength.

In the gospel, Elizabeth said of Mary: Blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.

This feast is a celebration of God who is our salvation.

That's why the 1st reading says: Shout for joy, shout aloud; rejoice, exult with all your heart.

Yes, the Mother of God comes with the Lord to visit His people in their need.

The Mother of God will also come with the Lord Jesus to visit us in our need and especially in our time of distress.

The Lord has done great things for Mary. The Lord will also do great things for us.

For that we only need to rejoice and shout for joy and give thanks to the Lord our Saviour.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

6th Week of Easter, Friday, 30-05-14

Acts 18:9-18 / John 16:20-23

It is only human to ask questions about life. Questions like - Why is there innocent suffering? Why is there unnecessary pain? Why is happiness so elusive?

These questions are not just about the what is happening in the world around us.

These questions are about what is happening in our lives and to those whom we love and care about.

So these questions concern our family, our marriage, our spouse, our parents, our children, our work, our friends, etc.

In short, we encounter sorrow and suffering in life.

And it may add on to our desolation when Jesus said in the gospel: I tell you solemnly, you will be sorrowful.

Yet, our consolation is that Jesus did not end it there. He continues by saying that our sorrow will turn to joy and that joy no one can take from us.

As we bring our needs and petitions to the Lord and place it at the altar of sacrifice, let us have the hope that the Lord would come to our help in our sorrows and sufferings.

That hope is not just wishful thinking but it is a joyful hope as we wait for God's will to unfold in the midst of our sorrows and sufferings.

Let us just ask the Lord for this joyful hope. With this joyful hope, there will be no further questions.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Ascension of the Lord, 29.05.2014

Acts 1:1-11/ Ephesians 1:17-23/ Matthew 28:16-20

One of the often-used expressions in our conversation with others is this so-called “word”: Err….

We can call it an expression, or a term, or an interjection, or whatever, this “err…” can be used for pretty much everything and any occasion.

One of the common uses is to stall for time, to “buy” time, so to speak.

We may use that word to let the other person know that we are thinking about what he said before we make a response.

Or we may use that word when we don’t have words or ideas or we are just lost.

Or when we are hesitant to reply, and to break the stark silence, we use “err..”

In the gospel, we heard that the eleven disciples (the eleven apostles) set out for Galilee to the mountain where Jesus had arranged to meet them.

When they say Him, they fell down before Him. And strangely, the gospel also added this line “though some hesitated”.

We would have presumed that the faith of those eleven apostles would be strong and firm.

Yet, for whatever reason, some hesitated. And that tells us something about their faith and about our faith.

As much as the faith of the apostles in Jesus should be strong and firm, we must also remember that they are human.

Faith can fluctuate and as much as it can be strong and firm, there will be times when faith and will hesitate and there can be doubts.

So, even when apostles saw Jesus, some went down in adoration, while others stalled in hesitation.

In any case, Jesus still sends them forth when He said: Go, make disciples of all nations.

So, whether in faith or in doubt, in adoration or in hesitation, whether it is “Amen” or “Err…” Jesus tells them to go on and go ahead because He will be with them always, even to the end of time.

This hesitation of some of the disciples is very consoling to us as we gather to celebrate the Ascension.

Because it gives us much courage and hope. 

Our faith has its share of doubts and hesitations. Even though we may say “Amen”, we will also succumb to that “Err…”

But just as Jesus sent forth His disciples into the world to preach the Good News and to make disciples, so too Jesus sends us.

And He promises us that He will be with us always, even to the end of time.

Let us not hesitate or “Err…” to that but respond with a firm “Amen”. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

6th Week of Easter, Wednesday, 28-05-14

Acts 17:15, 22 - 18:1 / John 16:12-15

Every school or institution of higher learning has a library and that is an important resource center.

Even though there is the Internet with search engines to get a multitude of information, the library is still a necessity.

We may not be able to remember all the information there is, but there is the world of books in the library that we can delve in.

The knowledge contained in there is almost inexhaustible.

But if knowledge is inexhaustible, then truth is inextinguishable.

By inextinguishable, it means to say that the truth is already planted in our hearts and we only need to let the light of truth keep shining for us.

Hence, any enlightenment, and realization, any insight, is simply the seeds of truth in our hearts that are bearing fruit.

And that is certainly the work of the Holy Spirit.

That is also what Jesus meant when He said that the Holy Spirit will lead us to the complete truth.

So for the questions in life and about life that we do not understand and do not have the answers for, let us pray to the Holy Spirit for wisdom and to journey on in faith.

One day we will know, one day we will understand, when we let the Spirit guide us.

Monday, May 26, 2014

6th Week of Easter, Tuesday, 27-05-14

Acts 16:22-34 / John 16:5-11

It has been said that faith is taught as well as caught.

Yes, faith is taught in a catechism and it is presented in a neat and logical manner.

Yet, the faith of the early Church began in a more chaotic as well as mysterious way but it was from there that the faith was caught.

In the 1st reading, we hear how Paul and Silas was flogged and thrown into prison although they were just talking about the faith.

While in prison, something mysterious and bewildering happened and in the end, the jailer and his family caught on the faith and were baptized.

Hence, very often it is in a troubled and distressful situation that the faith is caught on by others.

Certainly, this is the workings of the Holy Spirit and Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit who will lead us to all truth.

We may remember that in the beginning of the book of Genesis God sent the Spirit into the chaos and then creation came forth.

So whenever we face a troubled and distressful and chaotic situation, let us remember this.

That out of chaos, creation will come forth, and the faith is caught.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

6th Week of Easter, Monday, 26-05-14

Acts 16:11-15 / John 15:26 - 16:4

To talk about religion with someone is not exactly a comfortable conversational topic.

Furthermore, to talk about it with another Catholic may not be any easier than to talk about it with a non-Catholic.

Whoever it might be, we prefer to talk about how hot the weather is, where to find the best food, the price of cars, or whatever.

Yet, one of the most profound ways for God to move the hearts of people is through the sharing of our experience of Jesus.

That is one of the ways of witnessing. That was what St. Paul did in the 1st reading.

Through preaching the Good News and sharing the experience of Jesus, the Lord opened the heart of Lydia to accept what St. Paul was saying.

Of course not everyone will accept what we say or what we share about Jesus.

Yet, if people do listen, it is because the Lord had opened their hearts, and the Spirit of truth has guided them.

The Spirit needs us as His instruments and His mouthpiece.

May the Spirit of truth make us willing to open our mouths so that others will be willing to open their hearts.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

6th Sunday of Easter, Year A, 25.05.2014

Acts 8:5-8, 14-17/ 1 Peter 3:15-18/ John 14:15-21

Do you know what is the percentage of the population in Singapore who has tertiary education?

Just a check on the Ministry of Social and Family Development, the 2012 Statistics say that it is about 25%.

In other words, about one in four persons in Singapore is a university graduate.

That means to say that Singaporeans are highly educated, thanks to the effective education system.

Which means to say that from young, we are taught how to think correctly and reason out things properly.

There is this story of a couple with a young son and they were looking around for a place to rent.

Finally, they came upon a place that was owned by an elderly man, and they really liked the place.

So when the couple inquired about the rent, the old gentleman said, “I would gladly let you have this place, but I don’t rent it out to couples with children.” glancing at the young boy as he said this.

Of course the couple was disappointed with this, so they turned to leave.

After walking a couple of steps, the young boy turned and went back to the house and knocked on the door.

The elderly gentleman opened the door and saw the young boy and said, “Oh, it’s you. What do you want?”

The young boy said, “I want to rent this place!”

The elderly gentleman said, “But I don’t rent it out to couples with children.”

And the boy replied, “I don’t have children. I only have parents. So, how much is the rent?”

Not surprising actually, because nowadays the young children can think so fast and they are able to give a reply to whatever we say to them.

We may have to admit that the young are better educated than us and they certainly know more than us.

But being better educated is not just about thinking fast and having something to say about everything.

The 2nd reading spells out the purpose of a Christian education and formation.

It says this: Reverence the Lord in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you for the reason for the hope that you have.

It continues by saying: But give it with courtesy and respect and with a clear conscience so that those who slander you when you are living a good life in Christ may be proved wrong in the accusations that they bring.

In the gospel, Jesus tells us that He will give us an Advocate (a Helper/Defender) to be with us forever.

And this Advocate is the Spirit of Truth, who will help us to love Jesus and keep His commandments.

And this Spirit of Truth, this Advocate is indeed helping us to understand our faith and defend it.

In the latest edition of the Catholic News, there is an article on page 12 that is worth reading. The caption says: Thousands take part in procession and Holy Hour in response to planned “black mass” in US. 

It reported that a group of students at Harvard University, one of the top universities in the world, had planned to conduct a satanic ritual “black mass” on May 12 on the campus. (A “black mass” is a satanic ritual which mocks the Catholic Church’s Holy Sacrifice of the Mass)

That planned event brought about a public outcry and drew wide criticism from religious leaders, as well as from students, alumni and faculty members at Harvard.

The Catholic community at Harvard responded with a Eucharistic procession and a Holy Hour at St Paul’s Church that was attended by 2000 Catholics and joined by many others.

At the Holy Hour, the senior Catholic chaplain at Harvard, Fr. Michael Drea, told the congregation, “We are here tonight praying, with trust and worship, in the presence of our Risen Saviour under the appearance of bread.”

He continued by saying, “A threat to the Eucharist in an act of sacrilege demands our prayerful and firm response.”

The Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, said that the Catholic community took offence at the planned “black mass” but there was no way to prevent it other than to try and explain to people how evil it is.

But thanks be to God, that planned “black mass” was cancelled and taken out of campus. 

Certainly it was the prayers of the Catholic community, the procession and the Holy Hour that prevented the “black mass” from taking place.

And most certainly, it was the Advocate, the Holy Spirit of truth, that activated the Catholic community into a prayerful and firm united response against that evil.

So even though people are educated and have all the information, and even at the tertiary level, the presence of evil lurks in the corners and in the corridors.

But evil can only thrive when people of faith say and do nothing about it.

May the Spirit of truth defend and guard us against evil and falsehood.

May the Holy Spirit, our Advocate, empower us to give a prayerful and firm response with our faith so that others will be able to see the reason for the hope that we have.

And let us love the Lord and keep His commandments, and teach others to do the same. That’s what a good education is all about.

Friday, May 23, 2014

5th Week of Easter, Saturday, 24-05-14

Acts 16:1-10 / John 15:18-21

In life, we are often confronted with the two ways of deciding and acting.

There is the way of the world, which is always more popular and also easier to follow.

But a deeper reflection would tell us that the way of the world is inevitably a selfish and self-centered approach which does not bring about much good.

The other way is the way of Jesus. It is obviously a more difficult way, but one that leads us to discover the meaning of life and wonders of love.

As it is, the world talks about retribution, revenge, to think about ourselves and to be No. 1 even at all costs.

The way of Jesus shows us sacrifice, humility, love and care for others.

To follow the way of Jesus can result in scorn and contempt. Others will see us as weak and soft and will even call us losers.

Yet in the end, the way of Jesus has proven to be a more gentle and more powerful way that brings about the beauty and the meaning of love.

Let us remember that we serve only one Master. Hence for us it is only His way.

In May 2007, Pope Benedict XVI wrote a Letter to Chinese Catholics, in which he asked that May 24 each year be dedicated to a World Day of Prayer for the Church in China.

He chose May 24 because it is the Feast of Our Lady Help of Christians, who is venerated at the Shrine of Sheshan in Shanghai.

In honor of the first celebration of the World Day of Prayer for China, in 2008, Pope Benedict composed a prayer to Our Lady of Sheshan and asked that Christians throughout the world recite it on May 24.

Indeed, it is an occasion in which the whole Church would “demonstrate their fraternal solidarity and solicitude” (care and concern) for the persecuted Church in China by acts of prayer and penance.

So it is a call for action on the spiritual dimension, something that we the Church can do, and yet we seem to have neglected it.

There seem to be this disturbing "spiritual divorce" within the Church in that we have not heeded the call for unity and solidarity and solicitude for our Catholic brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.

Let us be united in this kind of friendship with the Lord and with each other. And let us offer the love of this friendship to our brothers and sisters in the Church in China by offering the prayer below for them, especially on this day that is dedicated for prayer for them.

May the Lord guard and protect the Church in China, and may He give them strength and courage in the trials and difficulties that they face.

Prayer to Our Lady of Sheshan (A Prayer for Chinese Catholics by Pope Benedict XVI)

Virgin Most Holy, Mother of the Incarnate Word and our Mother,
venerated in the Shrine of Sheshan under the title "Help of Christians,"
the entire Church in China looks to you with devout affection.
We come before you today to implore your protection.
Look upon the People of God and, with a mother's care, guide them
along the paths of truth and love, so that they may always be
a leaven of harmonious coexistence among all citizens.

When you obediently said "yes" in the house of Nazareth,
you allowed God's eternal Son to take flesh in your virginal womb
and thus to begin in history the work of our redemption.
You willingly and generously co-operated in that work,
allowing the sword of pain to pierce your soul,
until the supreme hour of the Cross, when you kept watch on Calvary,
standing beside your Son, Who died that we might live.

From that moment, you became, in a new way,
the Mother of all those who receive your Son Jesus in faith
and choose to follow in His footsteps by taking up His Cross.
Mother of hope, in the darkness of Holy Saturday you journeyed
with unfailing trust towards the dawn of Easter.
Grant that your children may discern at all times,
even those that are darkest, the signs of God's loving presence.

Our Lady of Sheshan, sustain all those in China,
who, amid their daily trials, continue to believe, to hope, to love.
May they never be afraid to speak of Jesus to the world,
and of the world to Jesus.
In the statue overlooking the Shrine you lift your Son on high,
offering him to the world with open arms in a gesture of love.
Help Catholics always to be credible witnesses to this love,
ever clinging to the rock of Peter on which the Church is built.
Mother of China and all Asia, pray for us, now and for ever. Amen!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

5th Week of Easter, Friday, 23-05-14

Acts 15:22-31 / John 15:12-17

The difference between harmony and discord lies with many factors. One of which is the obedience to authority.

Certainly, authority that is respected would bring about harmony, but authority that is not respected would bring about discord.

And more so, for an authority that is respectable and credible, then the disrespect is unjustified and uncalled for.

In the 1st reading, the Church authorities, namely the apostles and elders, came to know of a discord in the churches of Antioch, Syria and Cilicia.

Some of the Jewish Christians have gone to these churches and propagated the necessity of circumcision as a means to salvation.

This has caused discord and disagreement in these Churches. And so the Church authorities decided to clarify the situation and make a statement.

They made it clear that those who propagated circumcision acted without any authority, and hence they are sending respectable men like Judas and Silas, and Barnabas and Paul to confirm by mouth what was written in the letter.

Yes, those who act without authority, will only cause discord and harmony.

Jesus, who is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, has authority both in heaven and on earth. With that authority, He is giving us the command to love one another, just as He has loved us.

With the power that comes from the authority of Jesus, let us love one another and thus bear fruits of peace and harmony.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

5th Week of Easter, Thursday, 22-05-14

Acts 13:7-21 / John 15:9-11

It is always challenging to be committed and be faithful to a direction or purpose or to a duty.

The same can be said for a commitment and faithfulness to a vocation or calling in life, or to a marriage vow or to priestly vows or promises.

Even in a good thing like going on a diet or having an excise program, we find ourselves slacking and not keeping disciple to it.

Somehow there is a tendency in us to lose focus and look around for other things that might amuse us, even if it is just once in a while or just to break the routine.

Maybe it is just to have some thrill or excitement or happiness but as we know by now, these are always fleeting and fade off quickly.

In the gospel, Jesus told us something so that our joy be complete. Jesus said that just as the Father has loved Him, so has He loved us.

In just four words, Jesus summed up how to experience the joy that He is giving us - "Remain in my love".

To remain in the love of Jesus is to be faithful and committed to Him in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.

To remain in the love of Jesus is to be faithful and committed to prayer and to what He has taught us in living out our lives in truth and in love.

In doing so then the joy of Jesus will be in us and our joy will be complete.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

5th Week of Easter, Wednesday, 21-05-14

Acts 15:1-6 / John 15:1-8

Leaves on the ground are a common sight in our country, because we have many trees around and our country is also known as the "Garden City".

So there are leaves on the trees and plants, and there are leaves on the ground and the pathways.

But wherever they may be, the fact is clear. The leaves on the ground and pathways have fallen off from the trees and plants.

And the state of those leaves are clear to us - they are dead and in time they will wither away.

Those withered leaves will also have the similar message as what Jesus said in the gospel.

Jesus said that cut off from Him, we can do nothing, and we will wither and die.

But with Jesus and in Jesus, we will have life and we will reflect the beauty of life just as those leaves on the trees reflect the beauty of life.

To be joined to Jesus means we are to make our home in Him.

But in order to make our home in Jesus, there are things that need to be cut off and thrown away.

Obviously, sin and things that are unholy and not good are to be cut off and thrown away.

Then we can truly make our home in Jesus, and joined with Him, we will bear fruits of truth and love, goodness and beauty.

Monday, May 19, 2014

5th Week of Easter, Tuesday, 20-05-14

Acts 14:19-28 / John 14:27-33

We know that God is all-powerful and His power is infinite. Compared to God, the devil stands nowhere and his power is certainly limited.

Yet, with his limited power, the devil will strive to do all the evil that he can. And he would do more evil if he could.

Certainly, the No. 1 evil that he would do is to tempt us to turn away from God by making us commit sin.

But when we stay close to God and be faithful to Him, then we need have no fear of the devil.

Although we need not fear the devil, but still we have to reckon with those who are used by the devil.

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

The disciples would have also thought that he was dead, but when they crowded round him, he stood up and went back to the town.

That may seem quite amusing, but seriously speaking, the devil had tried to use the people to stop Paul from preaching the Good News, but God protected him and kept him going.

The thought that we are surrounded by people who are used by the devil is quite like that of parachuting deep into enemy territory.

But in the gospel, Jesus promises to bequeath His peace to us. It is a peace the world cannot give; it is a peace which only He can give.

So let not our hearts be troubled or afraid. We just have to keep loving God and be faithful to Him. And God will fight our battles for us.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

5th Week of Easter, Monday, 19-05-14

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

One of the memories of our growing up years is our schooldays.

For 5 days a week and for around 12 years or more, we attended school. It is amazing that so much has been taught to us, our teachers used so many words, and so much information has been transmitted to us, and so much paper was used!

But it may also be equally amazing how much we remembered, or how little we remembered about the subjects we were taught.

Maybe that is why constant revision is necessary, besides the need for acquiring new knowledge and information so as to keep up with the changing times.

Jesus would have foreseen that all He said and taught would not be remembered fully, or even get distorted along the way.

That is why He sent the Holy Spirit to be our Advocate. As Jesus said, the Holy Spirit will teach us again and remind us of all that Jesus said.

In the 1st reading, the disciples had only one thing in mind, and that is to preach the Good News.

Though they faced persecutions and difficulties, and besides the distracting adulation, they were focused on preaching the Good News and on what Jesus taught them.

However much or little we may remember about the teachings of Jesus or about how to preach the Good News, let us remember one thing.

Jesus has made His home in our hearts. Let the Good News begin in that home of our hearts.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

5th Sunday of Easter, Year A, 18.05.2014

Acts 6:1-7/ 1 Peter 2:4-9/ John 14:1-12

It is not that often that we hear the topic of hell being preached.

Yes, we would like to hear some fire-and-brimstone preaching but listening to preaching about hell is not that exciting.

Anyway, more or less we know what hell is like. From what Jesus said, it is a place where “the worms never die and the fire never goes out.” (Mark 9:48)

That would give us an idea of what hell is like. 

But others may have other descriptions of hell. For those who love good music, then hell is full of amateur musicians.

And going by the rising number of places in Singapore where smoking is not allowed, the only place left for smoking seems to be in hell. (might as well quit smoking)

Enough of hell. We are supposed to know more about heaven. So what is heaven like?

Going by what we see from religious art, heaven seems to be like a place of light, many angels stand on what look like clouds, and people with halos. At least, that is the picture we get from cartoons.

But what did Jesus say that heaven is like?

From today’s gospel, He has this to say: There are many rooms in my Father’s house. 

So the picture that we get is that heaven is a place that has many, many rooms.

And from what Jesus said, it seems that each of us has a special room prepared for us.

That is quite a nice thought, especially for those of us who don’t have a place to call our own here on earth.

We will certainly look forward to going to heaven and there we can finally rest in this special room of ours, and it will be forever and ever.

That is what Jesus promised us and He even urged us to trust in God and trust in Him.

Yes, we have to trust in Jesus and His promise to us, because we can so easily lose grip of that promise.

And Jesus warns us about that when He said: Do not let your hearts be troubled.

Trouble is a dangerous word, and it becomes more dangerous when it creeps into our hearts.

In the 1st reading, we heard how trouble crept into the early Church community.

At the time when the disciples were increasing, the Hellenists (the Greek-speaking disciples) made a complaint against the Hebrews, because in the daily distribution, their own widows were being overlooked.

There was unfairness, and there was unhappiness over it. Complaints were made and trouble was brewing.

Relationships were strained and the community was in danger of breaking up.

The promises of Jesus seemed to have been forgotten and faded off because of this trouble.

But we must realize that this trouble was self-created. And the Apostles realized that and they had recourse to prayer to find a way out of this trouble.

And if the early Church could be afflicted with troubles, so too can be the present Church.

And if the disciples could let trouble creep in and make them complain against each other, we too can end up complaining.

But we must realize what the trouble is with us. We must realize what the problem is with us.

Essentially, the problem with us is that we create our own troubles.

When our hearts are troubled, we resort to complaining and we lose hold of the promises of Jesus.

There is a story of a man who got tired of his wife and wanted a divorce.

However, he was afraid that his young 5 year old daughter would be traumatized by it, so he told his daughter: 

Mummy is getting old and not pretty anymore. So let daddy get a new and pretty mummy for you, ok?

The little girl thought for a while and then she replied: No, I don’t want. Grandma is very old, but you didn’t go and get a new grandma.

The little girl was happy with what she had, whereas her daddy was asking for trouble with what he was unhappy about.

We may wish that our marriage is made in heaven. But thunder and lightning also happens in heaven.

Similarly, Jesus said that we are made for heaven. But it doesn’t mean that there will be no thunder or lightning or other troubles in our lives.

But even with the thunder and lightning and troubles, let us stay close to Jesus.

He is the Way, we must follow Him; He is the Truth, we must believe in Him. 

And in His heart, He has a special place for each of us.

To stay in His heart and remain there, that is what heaven is all about. That is what our life is all about.

Friday, May 16, 2014

4th Week of Easter, Saturday, 17-05-14

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

Generally speaking, we bear a certain resemblance to our parents.

Whether be it in the looks, or the character, or the habits, there is a certain connection between us and our parents.

In the gospel, Jesus said that if we know Him, we will know the Father. And to see Him is to see the Father.

So do we know Jesus? And do we see Him?

In the Eucharist, we receive Jesus. In the Eucharist, we come into communion with Jesus. He is connected to each of us.

And if we look closely at each other, we will slowly begin to see that we do have many similarities, be it physical or spiritual.

And if we look deeply enough and make a reflection about it, then we will see that we are all made in a certain image.

Yes, each of us is made in the image of God our Father. And Jesus came to restore this image that has been distorted by sin.

So, as we look at each other, may we see Jesus in each other, and when we can see Jesus in each other, we will also begin to do the works that Jesus Himself did.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

4th Week of Easter, Friday, 16-05-14

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

As we start the day, our minds are getting filled with what might probably come our way.

Our thoughts might be about work, or about our family members, or about our health, or about our investments, etc.

And as we come before the Lord in the Eucharist, and as we place before Him the things of our minds and hearts, what is it that He wants to tell us and say to us?

Could it be what we heard in the 1st reading, when God spoke through St. Paul in these words: We have come here to tell you the Good News. It was to our ancestors that God made the promise but it is to us, their children, that he has fulfilled it, by raising Jesus from the dead.

So what do these words mean to us? And if we had paid attention to those words, then what is this promise for us now?

God promise to raise Jesus from the dead, and He fulfilled that promise.

And now the Risen Christ promised us in the gospel that He has prepared a place for us in His Father's house and He will return to take us there.

So let not our hearts be troubled with the things of earth. We have to trust in God and in the promise Jesus made to us.

Let us set our hearts on the things of above, and believe in the promise that Jesus made to us - that where He is, we will be there too.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

4th Week of Easter, Thursday, 15-05-14

Acts 13:13-25 / John 13:16-20

We may know what a pedicure is - a way to improve the appearance of the feet and the nails. It refers to superficial cosmetic treatment of the feet and toenails. A pedicure can help prevent nail diseases and nail disorders.

We may also know what foot reflexology is - a massage technique on the soles of the feet and supposedly bring about better blood circulation and health for the body.

It seems that the feet and the toe-nails, which are the lowest parts of our bodies, and often the most neglected parts, are finally getting some attention after all.

In the gospel, when Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, He also gave them the example of service and humility.

And in washing their feet, He also showed them that He cares and pays attention to what most people would take for granted and also often neglect.

In doing so, Jesus also invited us to look at the so-called "feet" of our lives - those persons that we take for granted and seldom pay attention to.

And these may the people that Jesus is sending to us to have their feet washed.

It is when we go down on our knees and to touch and wash the feet of these people, then we can touch the grace of God whom we call Lord and Master.

Yes, no servant is greater that his Master, and no messenger is greater than the one who sent him.

And just as our Lord and Master touches and washes our feet, may we do likewise for others.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

St. Matthias, Apostle, Wednesday, 14-05-14

Acts 1:15-17, 20-26 / John 15:9-17

The name Matthias is of Hebrew origin and it means "the gift of God"

But Matthias was not chosen to replace Judas just because he had a nice and meaningful name.

Rather, he was chosen by a draw of lots.

We would think that it was a rather primitive and secular method to use for such an important and sacred task.

But it only shows that the apostles left the choice to God.

They have done their part by proposing the candidates and commending them to to the Lord in prayer.

Then they let the Lord guide them in making the choice.

As Jesus said in the gospel, it is not we who chose Him.

Rather it is He who chose us, and He commissions us to go forth and bear lasting fruit.

Hence, it is not so much our suitability for the task at hand but rather our availability for God.

Our availability is our response to God, just as St. Matthias made his availability his response to God.

So what we are is God's gift to us. How we can be available for God is our gift to God.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

4th Week of Easter, Monday, 12-05-14

Acts 11:1-18 / John 10:11-18 (Year A)

The meat that we see in the supermarkets are neatly packaged and we consume the meat without thinking too much about it.

Not many of us have been to the slaughterhouse or abattoir, which is a facility where animals are killed for consumption as food.

If we had seen how the pigs and sheep and cattle are killed in an abattoir, and how the meat is carved up, that might affect our appetite for pork chops or steak or rack of lamb.

In the 1st reading, Peter saw this vision of a big sheet with all sorts of animals and wild beasts and hearing the voice saying " Now Peter, kill and eat".

He refused, saying that nothing profane or unclean has ever crossed his lips because of his religious dietary prohibition, the reply he got was that what God has made clean, he had no right to call profane.

More than just saying that it is alright to slaughter animals for food, the vision is also stating that the Gentiles and the uncircumcised were not an unclean or profane people.

Hence they have every right to hear the Good News of salvation, and Peter and his people need to do a revision of their own thinking about cultural and religious practices.

In the gospel, Jesus said that there are other sheep that are not of the fold, but these He too will lead.

Because the Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep, whether they are of the fold or not.

So if we think that slaughtering animals for food is brutal and bloody, then how about Jesus being killed on the Cross to save us from our sins. At least that should make us turn away from sin.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

4th Sunday of Easter, Year A, 11.05.2014

Acts 2:14, 36-41/ 1 Peter 2:20-25/ John 10:1-10

This world is full of sights and sounds. For us who could see and hear, we would use our discretion to see what we want to see and to hear what we want to hear. That is called selective seeing and selective hearing.

But for those who are blind and deaf, they don’t have this option for selection. Simply because they can’t see and they can’t hear.

Between blindness and deafness, it is difficult to say which is more inconvenient.

Maybe the chances of overcoming the difficulties of deafness are higher because of the availability of good hearing aids.

There is this story of an elderly gentleman who had serious hearing problems for a number of years.

Finally, he went to a doctor who fitted him with a set of hearing aids that allowed him to hear quite well.

After about two months, he went back to the doctor for a follow-up and the doctor said, “Your hearing is good. Your family must be pleased that you can hear again.”

The elderly gentleman replied, “Oh I haven’t told my family yet. I just sit around and listen to the conversations. And there is something else that they don’t know. And that is I have changed my will three times already.”

This reminds us of the basic principle in life: Be careful what you say, because you don’t know who is listening.

Maybe because we think that others are a bit deaf and that they are not listening to us.

Well, another elderly man was wondering if his wife had a hearing problem.

So one day he stood a short distance behind her as she was sitting on the sofa, and he said, “Can you hear me?” There seemed to be no response from her.

He moved closer and said, “Can you hear me?” Still there seemed to be no response.

Finally, he moved right behind her and said, “Can you hear me?” And she replied, “For the third time, Yes!”

It goes to show that some have ears that can hear, some have ears that can’t hear, and then some have ears that hear only what they want to hear.

In the gospel, Jesus told the famous parable of the Good Shepherd.

The good shepherd calls out to his sheep, and he calls them one by one, and the sheep hears his voice, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.

But Jesus also said that the sheep never follow a stranger but run away from him because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.

So what is the difference between the voice of the shepherd and the voice of the stranger?

Certainly, it is more than just the tone or the familiarity. Because the voice of the shepherd speaks the truth with love, it is the voice that cares, it is the voice that has compassion.

In the 1st reading, when Peter stood up with the Eleven, he addressed the crowd in a loud voice. He said, “The whole house of Israel can be certain that God has made this Jesus who you crucified both Lord and Christ.”

That wasn’t very impressive nor eloquent. In fact it was rather blunt. But when the people heard it, they were cut to the heart.

What the people heard was more than the voice of Peter. They heard the voice of the Good Shepherd, they heard the voice of truth, the voice of love, the voice of salvation.

Well, today we also celebrate Mothers' Day. We honour our mothers and we give thanks to God for the love and care our mothers give to us.

And our mothers are also like the mouthpiece of God. God speaks to us through our mothers (although at times a bit too much).

Of course, mothers are not the only ones who are like the mouthpiece of God.

Teachers also form and guide the young by their words as they teach the truth with love.

A married teacher who has no children was sharing this with me.

She teaches at an organization that provides tuition classes for needy students, and obviously these students are from the low income families and this is one of the best tuition they can ever have.

Just a couple of days back, a young boy, one of her students, came up to her and gave her this small packet of potato chips.

And he said to her, “For you, teacher, for Mothers Day.”

That young boy, in all his innocence, thought that she is a mother, maybe because she is so like a mother to her students.

It was just a small packet of potato chips, may not cost much, but it is a big thing for that poor boy, and a bigger thing for that teacher.

Yes, the voice of the Good Shepherd can be heard everywhere, from mothers, from teachers, from young poor students.

It is a voice that speaks of truth and of love, a voice that cares and has compassion, a voice that gives life and life to the full.

Let us listen to this voice, and may the voice of the Good Shepherd fill our hearts, so that we too will be the voice of the Good Shepherd for others.

Friday, May 9, 2014

3rd Week of Easter, Saturday, 10-05-14

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

Some creatures are rather revolting by sight. Just think of maggots and leeches  and they would probably fit into this category.

But lately, medical science has found out that maggots and leeches can be helpful in treatment.

For eg. maggots have been used in treating sores on diabetic patients and leeches have been used to stop bleeding.

Who would have thought that maggots and leeches would have such useful purposes in life and in medical science?

Likewise in life, what we used to reject or scorn at at an earlier point in life, we will somehow come to accept and sanction later on in life.

When Jesus gave His discourse on bread of life in the gospel, the people rejected Him then.

Now we take that profound discourse for granted and maybe even too lightly.

We might have become too casual to the words of Jesus about the bread of life that He wants to give us.

Yet, the message of Jesus about Him being our spiritual food and drink is not just for this life.

His is the message of eternal life. There is no need to look for another message.

We need to continually deepen our understanding of this message of Jesus.

More than just accepting the message, may we also become the message that will bring others to see in Jesus the bread of eternal life.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

3rd Week of Easter, Friday, 09-05-14

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

Not many persons have the name "Ananias". At least there was none from those recently baptized at Easter who had chosen that name..

"Ananias" means that the Lord is gracious or that the Lord is compassionate.

Well, the Ananias that we heard of in the 1st reading might had understood what his name meant but he will soon find out that the Lord is indeed gracious and compassionate.

The Lord was sending him to Saul, and he was trying to put up a resistance and giving reasons why he could not go.

But when the Lord commands, how can one resist or even reason out with Him? "You must go all the same" was the Lord's reply to Ananias.

And in going to Saul, Ananias also discovered the depths of the graciousness and compassion of God.

And his initial resistance and reluctance gave way to acceptance and it was he who baptized Saul, who would become Paul, the great missionary and apostle to the Gentiles.

Jesus said in the gospel that anyone who eats His flesh and drinks His blood has eternal life and He will raise him up on the last day.

Jesus will also raise us up from our resistance and reluctance to do His will, just as He raised up Ananias and sent him to Saul.

And just as Ananias saw the graciousness and compassion of the Lord, may we who partake of the Body and Blood of Jesus also grow in grace and compassion.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

3rd Week of Easter, Thursday, 08-05-14

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

What do we think it is that will keep giving us joy in this world?

When we have thought enough about it, then we may realize that almost everything is passing and fleeting.

Whatever contentment or satisfaction that we had seem to fade off and there will be other longings and yearnings.

In the 1st reading, we heard of the Ethiopian eunuch on his way back from Jerusalem and he was reading the book of the prophet Isaiah.

The Spirit sent Philip to him to explain the scriptures and the Good News of Jesus.

Subsequently he baptized the eunuch and though the eunuch never saw Philip, he went on his way rejoicing.

It is amazing how the Word of God can have such a wonderful effect on the eunuch.

But that wonderful effect of the Word of God should all the more be upon us. We have the Word of God and the Eucharist.

When we truly believe that the Word of God is a lamp for our steps and a light for our paths, and that the Eucharist fills us with life, we will also go on our way with rejoicing.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

3rd Week of Easter, Wednesday, 07-05-14

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

We don't usually like it when mistakes happen or an unexpected turn of events leave us fretting away and wondering what is going to happen next.

But from history and from the experience of our lives, we may see that many discoveries and movements have their origins from apparent accidents and mistakes and unexpected events, rather than from carefully planned programs and processes.

Such was the case with the discovery of penicillin. Such was the case with the independence of Singapore. Such was the case with the early Church in its first missionary movement.

As we heard in the 1st reading, had the Christians not been persecuted in Jerusalem, they would not have gone to Samaria, at least not at such an early stage, to preach the good news about Jesus.

And the Good News needs to be spread because people need to know that besides the material world, there is also the spiritual world.

Besides material needs, there are also the spiritual needs. Besides physical hunger, there is also a spiritual hunger which only God can satisfy.

Jesus came to do the will of His Father and that is to be the bread of life and to fill the spiritual hunger of people in the world.

So when things don't go our way, that is when God wants to show us His way.

And when God makes the Good News happen, may we see and be filled with its joy, and in turn share that rejoicing with others.

Monday, May 5, 2014

3rd Week of Easter, Tuesday, 06-05-14

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

We have heard of statements like "let go and submit to the will of God". We heard it in homilies and preaching and in religious talks.

It can be understood as an idea and a concept but what does that mean in reality?

Well, in the 1st reading, the deacon Stephen showed what it meant to let go of oneself and submit to the will of God.

He disregarded the consequences for speaking the truth to the people, the elders and the scribes. He knew that he was not going to be let off easily.

But the defining moment came when he was filled with the Holy Spirit and submitted to the will of God as he gazed into heaven and proclaimed openly what he saw. And that led to his death sentence.

We may wonder how Stephen felt as his enemies rushed at him and sent him out of the city and stoned him.

One thing for sure is that when we let go of ourselves and submit to the will of God, we will have peace of heart even in the face of danger.

Because Jesus will be in our hearts and He will be our bread of life and with Him we will never be hungry nor thirst for anything more.

The deacon Stephen was at peace in the face of death and he even forgave his enemies. May we have that same peace as we continue to put our faith in Jesus.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

3rd Week of Easter, Monday, 05-05-14

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

Life has many surprises. Of course we wish that all surprises are pleasant and that they are happy surprises.

But the fact of life is that there is a corresponding amount of unpleasant surprises and they can also be unhappy ones.

In the 1st reading, the deacon Stephen might have surprised the people with his wisdom as well as the miracles and great signs he worked among the people. Certainly, it was a pleasant surprise.

But his enemies conspired against him and then they took him by surprise and arrested him and brought him before the Sanhedrin.

Does it surprise us that such a good and grace-filled man would have such evil done to him?

Not surprising actually because history has many instances of evil being returned for goodness, and that rule about doing to others what you want others to do to you somehow does not apply.

In the gospel, we heard that Jesus had miraculously fed the five thousand people. More than just being pleasantly surprised, they are now trailing Him.

And when they found Him, Jesus had another surprise teaching for them. He told them that if they want to do the works that God wants, they must believe in Him.

As for us,  if we really believe in Jesus, then we must be prepared to suffer like Him in order to rise like Him.

That shouldn't come as a surprise for us.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

3rd Sunday of Easter, Year A, 04.05.2014

Acts 2: 14, 22-23/ 1 Peter 1:17-21/ Luke 24: 13-35

If by now we have not heard of this word “Internet”, it may mean that we are seriously and critically out of touch.

Even if we don’t use the Internet, we know more or less what it is.

And for some people, the first level on the hierarchy of needs is no longer food- clothing-shelter, it has become wifi-Internet-mobile phone (with data plan).

But lately, the Internet has encountered some serious problems.

The latest one was a problem with a popular browser and the danger was that personal information like passwords could be stolen.

Then, a couple of weeks back, a malicious bug called “Heartbleed” was discovered. It steals passwords and accounts and it could lead to identity thefts.

So, for Internet users, passwords are important and it is a good practice to change passwords after a while.

But passwords can be quite irritating especially when we forget the latest password that we had used to log in.

A father was teaching his young daughter how to create an email account. When it came to the password, he asked her to think of one with a minimum of 8 characters.

She thought for a while and then gleefully cried, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs!”

On the other hand, the older generation would also have their own challenges when it comes to passwords.

One grandmother was telling another grandmother that it was so difficult to remember passwords and she always got it wrong or mixed up.

The other grandmother said: Oh, I only have one password for everything and that is “incorrect”.  Because whenever the computer ask me for the password, I will just type something and then the computer will say: The password is incorrect, and so I will just type “incorrect” and I will get through. (smart grandmother :))

Yes, forgetting the password can be very troublesome and inconvenient and distressing.

In some instances, we may have to abandon the whole thing altogether, just because we don’t have that much needed password.

If we have this unfortunate experience before, then we might understand how the two disciples felt as they made their way to Emmaus from Jerusalem.

They had pinned their hopes on Jesus. Then everything crumbled when Jesus was crucified. Then they heard He was alive.

With all this happening, their frustration was that they couldn’t understand what was going on.

It was like they were locked out of the system and they didn't have the password to get in.

So they gave up, frustration turned into disappointment and hence they walked away from it all.

From Jerusalem to Emmaus was only seven miles, but walking with disappointment and frustration only makes the journey seem longer and more difficult.

Then Jesus came along and walked by their side, but as the gospel tells us, something prevented them from recognizing Him.

Again, it seems like they don’t have that password to recognize Him.

Well, they did talk with Jesus, telling Him their disappointments and frustrations, and what they got in return was a ticking-off (You foolish men!) and a lesson on Scripture.

Still, they did not quite get it until when they were at table and Jesus broke bread and then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.

Finally, they got it and understood. It was like at the breaking of bread that Jesus gave them the password to get into the system.

So now, what is this so-called “password” that Jesus gave to them?

The breaking of bread is what we do at Mass. We listen to the Scriptures and we break bread for communion.

The Mass is also called the Eucharist. Eucharist means “thanksgiving”.

And that is precisely the password that we need to have in order to understand what is happening in our lives and to see Jesus in our midst.

Because with thanksgiving in our hearts, we will find hope in disappointment, we will find consolation in our frustration, we will find strength in our faith journey.

So as we come for Mass, we need to have that one thing that is necessary, that so-called password, and that is “thanksgiving”.

We come to give thanks to God for His blessings during the week, and we go forth with even greater thanksgiving because we have received the greatest blessing from God, and that is Jesus the Risen Lord.

Yes, all we need is thanksgiving and we will understand, we will see and our hearts will be set on fire.

A mother told her little daughter: If a stranger comes up to you and say that your mummy has asked him to fetch you, you must ask him for the password. Because whenever I leave you on your own, I will give you a password, so that you will know it is from me.

Jesus has also given us a password so that we can see Him and recognize Him in the circumstances of our lives. That password is “thanksgiving”.

With thanksgiving and with a thankful heart, we will see, we will understand and with hearts on fire, we will proclaim that Jesus is the Risen Lord.