Monday, July 28, 2014

Presbyterium Gathering 2014

My dear brothers and sisters,

The priests of the Archdiocese of Singapore will be away this week for the Presbyterium Gathering. 

As such, there will be no weekday homily postings for this week.  

The next homily will be for the 18th Ordinary Sunday. 

May God bless you!

17th Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 28-07-14

Jeremiah 13:1-11 / Matthew 13:31-35

Our dressing has a significance in our lives. There are some who dress to impress and there are some who dress for success.

But by and large, our dressing has two purposes. We dress to show our respect for others and for the occasion that we are attending.

We also dress for modesty and for our dignity. Because sloppy dressing says a lot about the attitude and the character of a person.

Yes we care a lot about our dressing.  But not that much attention will be given to our internal dressing or our undergarments. Even saying it is rather awkward.

Yet that was the topic of concern in the 1st reading. But what God told Jeremiah to do with the loincloth had a deep spiritual significance.

And the point was so stark that not much is left to the imagination. As the Lord said: For just as a loincloth clings to a man's waist, so I had intended the whole House of Judah to cling to me, to be my people, my glory, my honour and my boast. But they have not listened.

Not much more needs to be said from what the message of the humble loincloth had already given. So even the internal dressing has a hidden significance.

The parables that Jesus told in the gospel passage also pointed out the hidden significance of the mustard seed and the yeast.

For the mustard seed to grow into a tree, it must have deep roots; for the flour to rise the yeast must spread all through it.

For us to grow in the spiritual life and to rise in virtue, we must cling to intimately to God. Otherwise our external appearance will have no significance at all.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

17th Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 27.07.2014

1 Kings 3:5, 7-12/ Romans 8:28-30/ Matthew 13:44-52

Every now and then we may wonder what life is all about. If we have to answer that question again today, what will our answer be? What is life all about actually?

If we had seen the movie “Forrest Gump” (1994), in the beginning scenes, we may remember what he said to the lady when they were both sitting on the bench at the bus-stop.

“My mama always said: Life is like a box of chocolates; you’ll never know what you’re gonna get”.

That is so simple an illustration and yet so true, isn’t it?

Indeed, life is like a box of chocolates and you’ll never know what you are going to get.

You hope that it’s sweet but it may turn out to be bitter. Sometimes it melts in your hand before it could melt in your mouth.

And some chocolates are like fruitcakes – they have some nuts in them.

There is this joke about a tour bus driver who was driving a bus load of senior citizens. After a while a little old lady came up and offered him a small bag of peanuts, which he gladly munched up.

After a while, she came up again with another bag of peanuts, and after a while yet another bag.

Then the bus driver asked : Why don’t you eat the peanuts yourself? She replied: We can’t chew them because we have no teeth.

The puzzled driver asked: Then why do you buy them? She replied: We just love the chocolate coating on them, and we think that you might like the peanuts.

Well, life might be like a box of chocolates but you may not know where the peanuts came from.

But if we can enjoy the chocolate and also chew on the peanuts, then we are indeed happy.

So actually life is all about happiness. And yet life is also all about the search for happiness.

Some search for it in trying to strike the lottery or 4D. Some look for it in fast cars and living on the fast lane.

And in today’s gospel parables, happiness is in finding a hidden treasure and in a pearl of great value.

But the images of the parables point to a deeper reality and a deeper mystery, and that is the kingdom of heaven.

But the kingdom of heaven is not somewhere out there that is hidden and that we have to search for it.

The kingdom of heaven is here, and in fact it is within us, and happy are we when we realize it.

Yes, the kingdom of heaven is happening around us and even in us.

And the 2nd reading tells us that whatever is happening is turned to our good, turned to our happiness when we have love for God.

Recently something happened to my car and I wasn’t too pleased about it.

I was fetching my father to the hospital (he had passed on since) and in a moment of distraction, I scratched the side of the car against a pillar.

It was not a serious dent but it is quite unsightly and I intended to get it fixed.

Then I came upon this story that made me think about what happened in a different light.

The story is about a young and successful executive who was driving along a neighbourhood street in his new flashy sports car.

As he passed a side lane, he heard something smash into the car’s side door.

He immediately stopped the car and angrily got out and saw that it was a brick and it had caused a deep dent on the car door.

He looked around and saw a boy standing nearby and went up to him and grabbed his collar and shouted: What did you do that for? 
That’s a new car and that brick you threw is going to cost you a lot of money!

The boy was quivering and said: Sorry sir, sorry. But I didn’t know what else to do. I threw the brick because no one would stop to help.

With tears streaming down his face, he pointed to the side lane and said: It’s my brother. He rolled off the curb and fell out of his wheelchair and I can’t lift him up.

Now sobbing, the boy asked the stunned executive: Would you please help me get him back on the wheelchair? He’s hurt and he’s too heavy for me. 

Moved beyond words, the young executive tried to swallow the lump that is welling up in his throat. He lifted the handicapped boy to his wheelchair and a quick look told him that everything was okay.

The grateful boy then told the young executive: Thank you very much sir, and God bless you.

Too shook up for words, the young man simply watched the boy push his wheelchair bound brother down the lane and back home.

It was a long slow walk back to his sports car. The damage was quite obvious, but the young man never bothered to repair the dented car door.

He kept the dent there to remind him of this: Don’t go through life so fast that someone has to throw a brick at you to get your attention.

And neither am I going to fix that scratch on my car because it contains the memories of moments I had with my father.

Well, God won’t throw bricks at us or scratch our cars. Rather He whispers to our souls and speaks to our hearts to tell us what life is all about and what happiness is all about.

Life can be like a box of chocolates and you will never know what you are going to get.

But when we love God, then all things will happen for our good. 

And we will enjoy the chocolate, as well as the peanuts.

Friday, July 25, 2014

16th Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 26-07-14

Jeremiah 7:1-11 / Matthew 13:24-30

Christians deplore the practice of superstition as it conflicts and contradicts the belief in God.

Included in the superstitious practices are consulting horoscopes, fortune-tellers and palm-reading, etc.

But few of us Catholics would admit to having religious superstitions.

For e.g., what are the real reasons for hanging the palm branch on the door post, drink holy water, wear holy medals, etc.

Of course there are valid religion reasons for these practices, but yet we can also concoct our own queer reasons for doing so.

The 1st reading pointed out that the people were using the Temple of the Lord as a kind of religious superstitious object by saying delusive words like "This is the sanctuary of the Lord."

The contradiction was that they know they were in the presence of God and yet they continue with their sinful ways.

Religion becomes a sort of superstition when we say we believe in God and come to church to obtain whatever religious articles and yet there is no change in our sinful ways.

The gospel parable highlights the sinful and superstitious practices in our lives but God is loving and merciful.

May the weeds of our sinfulness slowly diminish and may we produce a rich harvest of true love for God and neighbour.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

St. James, Apostle, 25-07-14

2 Cor 4:7-15 / Matthew 20:20-28

During His life on earth, Jesus singled out three apostles out of the twelve apostles to be with Him in the special and unique moments of His ministry.

They were Peter, John and James, whose feast day we celebrate today.

They were with Jesus in His healing ministry as well as at the Transfiguration.

Although James had the privilege of being in the inner circle of the apostles, he did not quite understand the mission and purpose of Jesus.

As we heard in the gospel, he and his brother John had ideas about getting special positions in the earthly kingdom that they thought Jesus was going to establish.

But for all his misconceptions, James wanted to be with Jesus.

He had found the one whom he wanted to follow, even though he had yet to understand fully that his Master came to serve and to eventually give His life as a ransom for many.

Nonetheless, in the end, St. James would be the first among the apostles to give up his life in witness to his Master.

So even though St. James was in the inner circle of the apostles, he was an earthenware jar that holds the privilege of being chosen by Jesus.

The 1st reading reminds us that like St. James, we are also earthenware jars holding the treasures of God.

Like St. James, let us pour out these treasures in love and service to God and neighbour.

We can only inherit the kingdom of God when we give up our lives for others.

16th Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 24-07-14

Jeremiah 2:1-3, 7-8, 12-13 / Matthew 13:10-17

Life is not as complicated as it might seem to be. Generally speaking, if we follow some of the basic rules in life then things can be quite clear.

For example some of the simple rules in life might be this:
If you never go after what you want, you will never have it
If you do not ask, the answer will always be no.
If you do not step forward, you will always be in the same place.

One of the surprising statements in the 1st reading is this: The priests have never asked, "Where is the Lord?". Those who administer the Law have no knowledge of me. The shepherds have rebelled against me; the prophets have prophesied in the name of Baal, following the things with no power in them.

It must be remembered that the Lord brought His people out of slavery into a fertile country to enjoy its produce and good things.

They didn't ask for it; probably they didn't even dreamed of it. But when they had it, they took it all for granted and even abandoned and rebelled against God who provided for them.

And God had to use these words to describe what His people had done: stand aghast at this, stand stupefied, stand utterly appalled!

So eventually it was taken away from them. Because they don't have the love for God to give thanks for His blessings.

As Jesus said in the gospel: From anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. But Jesus also said: For anyone who has will be give more, and he will have more than enough.

The fundamental rule of the spiritual life is to have love for the Lord and to give thanks for His blessings.

Then our eyes will see and our ears will hear all the good things the Lord wants to give us.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

16th Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 23-07-14

Jeremiah 1:1, 4-10 / Matthew 13:1-9

Being a male is a matter of birth; being a man is a matter of age; but being a gentleman is a matter of choice.

Of course, similarly, being a female is a matter of birth; being a woman is a matter of age; and being a lady is matter of choice.

Having said that, the prophet Jeremiah whom we heard about in the 1st reading did not choose to be a prophet.

Rather it was God who chose him to be a prophet and it was even before he was formed in his mother's womb.

God's choice goes to show that He has a plan and that things happen for a reason because of that plan.

But it seems that the sower in the gospel parable had no plan. He seemed to be scattering the seeds everywhere - on the edge of the path, on patches of rock, among thorns and finally on rich soil.

That's futile sowing and it's also not productive. So actually the parable does not quite make sense.

Yet God's ways are not our ways; His thoughts are high above our thoughts; we don't understand His plan and what He wants us to do does not make sense.

But someday everything will make perfect sense. So for now, let's laugh at the confusion, smile through the tears and keep telling ourselves that everything happens for a reason. Simply because God has a plan for us.

Monday, July 21, 2014

St. Mary Magdalene, Tuesday, 22-07-14

Songs 3:1-4 / John 20:1-2, 11-18

Every now and then, we see in the newspapers a notice about a missing person, with the person's photograph and some details.

Whether the person was eventually found or not, we cannot be certain because very often there are no follow-up reports on the case in the newspapers.

What is certain is that when a loved one is missing, the anxiety is painful and the search is relentless.

Such was the depth of the emotion expressed in the 1st reading in the search for the one whom the heart loves deeply.

It may also express the pain and grief of Mary Magdalene as she looked for the One she loved in the tomb.

And not finding Jesus in the tomb, Mary Magdalene searched relentlessly and persistently for Him.

Mary's deep love for Jesus was because it was He who loved her first and healed her of her sufferings and sins.

In life, Mary Magdalene loved Jesus. Even in death she searched for Him in order just to be with Him.

Mary Magdalene is remembered because of her deep love for Jesus and her relentless and persistent search for Jesus when others seemed to have given up.

From our priorities and what we are searching and longing for, we will know how deep our love is for Jesus.

There is this saying for St. Augustine in his book "Confessions": You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there I searched for you.

God is within us. From within He calls out to us. If we are not listening to Him from within, then we might just be looking for the wrong things.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

16th Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 21-07-14

Micah 6:1-4, 6-8 / Matthew 12:38-42

People who believe in God would also want to practice goodness in their lives.

Because if they believe that God is love and goodness, then they too would want to reflect these attributes of God.

But such wasn't the case with the people of God that we heard about in the 1st reading.

And we heard God "accusing and pleading against His people": What have I done to you, how have I been a burden to you?

God in His love and goodness rescued His people from slavery in Egypt and sent Moses to lead them.

But in return they were unfaithful and sinned against the Lord and worshipped idols.

Somehow, it seemed that the people had this idea that God was very difficult to please. Would it appease the Lord with holocaust by the thousands and libations by the torrents, the people seemed to be asking.

And then the prophet Micah announced the three requirements that the Lord was asking of His people, and it is only this: To act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with God.

Yes, it is as simple as that: to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with God. But let us not think that what is simple is also easy to do.

The people of God in the past had failed in either one or all of the three. We, the present people of God, will not find it any easier either.

But that is what goodness is all about - simple but not easy. But goodness will be the sign we will give to the world. May we believe in it and act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with God.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

16th Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 20.07.2014

Wisdom 12:13, 16-19/ Romans 8:26-27/ Matthew 13:24-43

Among the science-fiction movies that became block-busters, one of the most interesting and fascinating is the Star Wars series.

Even if we have not seen a Star Wars movie, we know something about it.

I remembered watching the first Star Wars movie and it had a dramatic beginning.

There were those blue words on a black screen “Long long ago in a galaxy far far away …” and then that famous instrumental theme of the movie.

One of the more famous characters, if not the most famous character, of the Star Wars series, is not one of the heroes or one of the good guys.

Rather it was one of the bad guys, and he can be called THE bad guy.

And he is none other than Darth Vader. And who doesn’t know Darth Vader. He is that imposing character in a black suit and strange looking helmet and he looks like half-man and half-robot.

And there is his famous heavy breathing and he talks through his mask.

But more than his strange dressing and breathing, this Darth Vader character is also intriguing.

In the prequel, which was shown after the sequel (confusing isn’t it) the background and identity of Darth Vader was revealed.

He was originally one of the good guys, but he was tempted to walk on the dark side, which he eventually did.

And the Star Wars story which is essentially a story of good against evil goes on from there.

That story highlights the universal existence  and tension between good and evil.

And it also tries to explain a mystery. It tries to explain the mystery of evil.

It tries to answer questions like “Where does evil come from?” “Why do we become evil and commit evil acts?”

In today’s gospel, Jesus tells a parable that also dwells on the mystery of evil.

Good seeds were sown in the field. Then an enemy came and sowed weeds in the field.

So the cause of evil is zeroed in on this “enemy”. But who is this enemy? And where is this enemy?

It would be convenient to assume that the enemy is somewhere out there lurking in the dark.

Or better still, we can even identify the enemy as the devil, and for the evil that is happening, we can blame it on him.

In a way that is quite true. Even the gospel parable seems to put it like that.

Yet there is another enemy – the enemy that is within!

This story may illustrate what is meant by the enemy within.

The Great Wall of China was and still is a massive structure.

It was also built at a massive cost, especially in terms of human lives. (It has been estimated that more than a million Chinese died over the centuries that it took to build the Wall)

It was built to keep out and to prevent the barbarians from invading the country.

When it was completed, it was thought to be impregnable. Until one day it was broken into, and broken into quite easily.

Along the walls, there are also many gates for the troops to move in and out.

The enemy simply bribed one the gate-keepers, and when everyone was asleep, he opened the gates for the enemy.

The irony was that the Great Wall which was built at the cost of many lives, was breached not by the enemy from without but by the enemy from within.

And that brings up the point about the enemy in today’s gospel.

The enemy that sowed the weeds may not be from without or from somewhere out there.

The enemy may be from within. In other words, there is no greater enemy than ourselves.

In fact if the enemy is from without, it would make us more united.

But it is the enemy from within that will cause the most extensive damage because it begins with internal damage.

And internal damage begins with evil thoughts which will lead to evil desires and evil actions.

At the heart of it all is none other than the heart itself.

Our hearts are created by God and created to be pure and holy.

When we choose to walk on the dark side, we shut God out of our hearts and consequently we let the devil sow his weeds of evil into our hearts.

We become like Darth Vader who was originally on the good side but chose to walk on the dark and evil side.

But even if we choose to walk on the dark and evil side, there is the wheat of goodness in the hearts.

All the evil cannot take away the goodness in our hearts, because it is a goodness that is sown by God Himself.

So let us come back to the light and walk in the love of the Lord and bear a harvest of goodness.

Friday, July 18, 2014

15th Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 19-07-14

Micah 2:1-5 / Matthew 12:14-21

The late Archbishop Fulton Sheen was an articulate and eloquent speaker and preacher.

In fact, he was one of the pioneers of media evangelization.

But when he was in college, a debate coach told him that he was the worst speaker he had ever heard.

Well, Fulton Sheen proved him wrong.

And so did others like Ernest Hemmingway and Thomas Edison who proved their critics wrong.

Yet, there are also many others who were crushed and devastated by the criticisms against them.

And some don't recover from it.

Criticisms may not come with a sarcastic tone.

It may be just a jeer or a scorn, but it is as bad as a brawl and a shout.

In the gospel, we heard about the Pharisees criticizing and plotting against Jesus.

Yet, like how the prophet Isaiah prophesied: He will not brawl or shout; he will not break the crushed reed, not put out the smoldering wick till he has lead the truth to victory.

Let us turn to Jesus whenever we face criticisms or scorching remarks.

May the truth of His love lead us to rise about the criticisms and destructive judgments.

May we prove that the truth spoken with love is more powerful and creative than the harsh word that breaks and crushes people.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

15th Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 18-07-14

Isaiah 38:1-6, 21-22, 7-8 / Matthew 12:1-8

The king Hezekiah that we heard about in the 1st reading is portrayed in the Bible as a great and good king. He is one of the few kings praised so highly as to have “trusted in the Lord the God of Israel; so that there was no one like him among all the kings of Judah after him, or among those who were before him” (2 Kings 18:5).

Among Hezekiah's first acts was the repair of the Temple, which had been closed during the reign of Ahaz, his father. He reorganized the services of the priests and Levites, purged the Temple and its vessels, and opened it with imposing sacrifices (2 Chronicles 29:3-36).

So why did he fell ill and was at the point of death and the prophet Isaiah even went to him to tell him to put his affairs in order for he was going to die?

Some sources had it that he was claiming credit for his religious reforms and boasting of his wealth, for which he was confronted by Isaiah the prophet (2 Kings 20:12-19).

Hezekiah lived another 15 more years of life after praying to God, and it was considered as a way for Hezekiah to purge his sins and his arrogance in assuming his righteousness.

Like Hezekiah we too may think that we are masters of our lives and we claim credit for our achievements and may even boast of our abilities.

It takes a serious illness and the possibility of death to make us realize that our lives are just so fragile and we are indeed nothing without God.

In the gospel, Jesus proclaims Himself as the master of the sabbath. In truth, the master of the sabbath is also the Lord and Master of life and of all creation.

May we humbly acknowledge who Jesus is and give Him thanks and praise and also to put our earthly affairs in order and into His hands so that He will always provide for us in our need.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

15th Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 17-07-14

Isaiah 26:7-9, 16-19 / Matthew 11:28-30

We often hear these phrases being used very often: I am so busy; I am so stressed out; I am dead tired.

We not only hear it from others, we may have even used those phrases often.

Yet have we ever wondered, what are we so busy about? Why are we so stressed out? Why do we feel so drained and tired?

So is this what life is all about, that we are laden with busyness and get stressed out and tired with the troubles of life?

In the 1st reading, the prophet Isaiah identified what were the troubles of the lives of the people.

They got what their wicked deeds deserved, and the punishment was the oppression by their enemies.

Distressed, they now search for the Lord who will give them the peace they longed for. Lying in the dust, they hoped in the Lord who will awake and raise them to life and even exult them.

That too is our hope in the Lord as we feel the burden of the troubles of life.

And our Lord Jesus calls out to us to come to Him and find rest in Him.

It is only in resting in the heart of Jesus that we find peace of heart, and with gentleness and humility, we will be able to handle the troubles of life.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

15th Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 16-07-14

Isaiah 10:5-7, 13-16 / Matthew 11:25-27

To have faith in God means that we look and see with the eyes of faith and we also understand with hearts of faith.

To be a person of faith means that our faith is integrated into every aspect of our lives, and we see the hand of God shaping every event and every experience.

Yet if we put ourselves in the shoes of the people of God who were listening to the 1st reading, would we be able to see the hand of God directing the power of our enemy against us?

Yes, we have sinned, we have provoked the Lord, we have turned away from the Lord and have been unfaithful.

Our enemy has pillaged and plundered us, and stamped us like mud in the street. Will the Lord not have pity on us and save us from being cut to pieces?

Yet to have faith in this kind of horrible situation is certainly challenging but nonetheless it is critical to have that bit of faith in God.

Because we must believe what the Lord said through the prophet Isaiah in the 1st reading: Does the axe claim more credit than the man who wields it, or the saw more strength than the man who handles it?

To have faith in a critical situation also means that we have hearts like that of children who believe that  God will protect us and will not let break us beyond our strength.

Yes, the hand that hurts is also the hand that heals, and we must see the hand of God directing and shaping every event and experience in our lives for our good.

To have faith means we must be able to see further and deeper and to see God in all things.

Monday, July 14, 2014

15th Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 15-07-14

Isaiah 7:1-9 / Matthew 11:20-24

When faced with a hungry person, it is utterly useless to preach to him about the love of God.

The most sensible thing to do is to give him some food and that will indeed show him the love of God.

Hunger has no logic and hence people will not listen to whatever promises of food that will be coming. The hunger has to be addressed immediately.

If hunger has no logic, then fear can cause panic. In the face of mortal danger, fear can make people hysterical.

In the 1st reading, we heard that the hearts of the king Ahaz and the people of Judah shuddered when they got the news that the enemy was approaching to attack them.

The immediate thing to do would be to run away and save themselves and to each his own. For those remaining, they could panic and be hysterical as they wait for death to fall on them.

Yet in all that chaos, the Lord spoke. And He assured His people that what the enemy planned to do won't come true; it would not be. However, there was one condition: But if you do not stand by me, you will not stand at all.

The people will have to decide - either to stand by the words of the Lord, or give in to fear and panic.

Yet in the gospel, the story was quite the opposite. The people had seen the miracles of Jesus, and yet they refused to repent. And as it is, those places mentioned in the gospel now lie in ruins.

And for us, we have heard the words of the Lord; we have seen His love for us in the Eucharist.

We now have to make the decision - either we stand by Him, or we won't stand at all.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

15th Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 14-07-14

Isaiah 1:10-17 / Matthew 10:34 - 11:1

The Eucharist is the highest form of worship in the Church because it is Jesus who offers Himself to the Father, and we unite with Jesus in His sacrifice.

Hence, the Eucharist is indeed the source and summit of our faith and life.

In the Eucharist we receive an outpouring of God's grace as we receive Jesus in Holy Communion.

Yet at the same time, it may bother us to see that the celebration of the Eucharist may seem so bland and the Catholic life and spirituality seems so lethargic.

If that is the case and if we are asking ourselves why, then the 1st reading may shed some light into our question.

It seems that God is lamenting that the sacrifices that were offered to Him were unclean and blemished and unworthy.

Simply because the hearts of the people were unclean and wicked and hence their offerings and sacrifices were just a reflection of the state of their hearts.

How can God's grace enter into hearts that are contaminated by sin and wickedness?

And how can we say that the Eucharist does not seem to have any effect when it is we who are at fault?

Jesus comes with a sword to cut away the sin and wickedness in our hearts so that we can be made a worthy offering to God.

May we detest our sins and turn to Jesus who will cleanse us and heal us and make of us a worthy offering to God, and in turn receive peace and joy from Him.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

15th Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 13.07.2014

Isaiah 55:10-11/ Romans 8:18-23/ Matthew 13:1-23

It is often said that a picture paints a thousand words. But words can never say it all, because if words can say it all, then there is no need to paint anything at all.

But as much as a picture paints a thousand words, yet a few words can also change the story of the picture.

The great Chinese philosopher, Confucius, was quoted as saying: Without knowing the power of words, it is impossible to know anything at all.

And as much as words can tell a story, words can also change the story.

There is a story of an old farmer who wanted to plough his field to grow crops, but his son who would have helped him was in jail.
So he wrote to his son to lament: I am helpless this year because you are not here to plough the field, so I can’t grow any crops.

A couple of days later, the old farmer was surprised to receive a post-card from his son and it read: Papa, please don’t dig the field. I have buried my weapons there.

Then the next morning, a group of policemen can along with tractors and dug up the whole field but no weapons were found.

The old farmer was confused and wrote back to his son and told him what had happened.

A couple of days later, he got a reply from his son: Papa, now you can go ahead to plant your crops.

This sounds like an incredible story. Yet as much as it sounds incredible, there is an underlying truth in it.

And the truth is that words have the power to paint a picture and to create a story.

Yes, words can make something happen, and cause a reaction.

The parable that Jesus told in the gospel also sounds rather incredible.

Any sensible sower would sow the seeds on fertile soil. He would sow the seeds where they will produce a harvest.

But the sower in the parable seemed to be a rather careless sower.

Because some seeds fells on the edge of the path and were eaten up by birds.

Some fell on patches of rock and others fell among thorns. That is futile sowing, not fertile sowing.

But of course some fell on rich soil and produced their crops, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

And Jesus ended off this astonishing parable with this statement: Listen, anyone who has ears.

And even as we listen, we may be wondering if that sower was wasting his time and effort and the seeds.

Why sow seeds that will end up as bird food? Why sow seeds that won’t germinate or that will eventually die?

But the lesson in life that we must keep learning is that nothing is wasted, because every action has a reaction.

The reaction may be delayed, may be obstructed by resistance and opposition, but nonetheless there will be a reaction.

One profound aspect of this action and reaction is in the usage of words.

Words are not cheap, neither are they ineffective. If anything, they are packed with the power to ignite an explosion.

And more so with God’s Word. As we heard in the 1st reading, God’s Word does not return to Him empty without carrying out His will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.

Yes, God speaks and we seem to have some difficulty hearing Him.
By and large, we are practicing Catholics. If practice makes perfect, then are we anywhere near perfect?

We come for Mass every week, we hear three scripture readings, but is there anything happening in us?

We may resonate with this story of a man who said to his wife: I am going to stop going for Mass! I listen to the readings, I hear the priests preach, but I can’t remember anything. It is doing me no good. So I am going to stop going for Mass.

The wife thought for a while and replied: Then I am going to stop cooking for you! Because you can’t remember what you ate yesterday, you are getting fat and it’s not doing you any good. So I am going to stop cooking for you.

Maybe that is also the story of our lives. We don’t think that anything is happening to us, even as we try to listen.

But God will not stop speaking. A picture may paint a thousand words, but a few words will change the story of the picture.

More so when it is God’s Word. It will never return to Him empty without carrying out His will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.
All we need is to keep listening, and God will change the story of our lives. 
It may sound incredible, but that is the truth of the power of God’s Word.
We have the ears, so may we listen to God’s Word and produce a harvest.

Friday, July 11, 2014

14th Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 12-07-14

Isaiah 6:1-8 / Matthew 10:24-33

In these present times, we cannot deny that secularism is a powerful influence across all sectors of life.

But this is often balanced off by a quiet search for the meaning of life and existence in the quest for spirituality.

It cannot be denied that modern men and women are searching for the transcendent and they want an experience of God.

Even the Church has seen a renewed need for prayer and meditation as people search deeper for God.

Indeed, we all have this longing and thirsting for God.

And people do experience God in various situations and settings - at Mass, at prayer meetings, in retreats, at holy places.

In the 1st reading, the prophet Isaiah experienced the holiness of God in a vision.

At the same time, he also became aware of his sinfulness and unworthiness, but he was healed of it.

Yet, his experience of God also propelled him to a mission, and that was to proclaim the holiness of God to the people.

So an experience of God is not just for our sake but for the purpose of a mission.

That is essentially to proclaim the presence of God to a secularized world.

As Jesus said in the gospel, it is to declare and bear witness to Him in the presence of men.

May we not be afraid to let the love of God shine in us.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

14th Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 11-07-14

Hosea 14:2-10 / Matthew 10:16-23

The feeling of being forgiven is a beautiful feeling.

There can be many words to describe it but the feeling is always more than words.

It is a beautiful feeling because it is essentially an experience of God's love and mercy.

It is also an experience of being healed and being freed from sin.

It is like coming back to God and living in His presence in peace and safety.

The 1st reading proclaims that those who repent will be forgiven and they will be so blessed that they won't be contented with just a nice and beautiful feeling.

In fact, they will bloom like the lily, thrust out roots like the poplar, be beautiful like olives, grow corn that flourishes and cultivate choice vines.

These are images of growth and fruitfulness.

The experience of God's love and forgiveness should lead us to grow in love and bear fruits of works of mercy.

Forgiveness is more than just a nice and beautiful feeling.

It is an experience of God's love that makes us want to be loving and fruitful in mercy and forgiveness.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

14th Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 10-07-14

Hosea 11:1-4, 8-9 / Matthew 10:7-15

There is something amazing about the relationship between parents and their children.

Parents love their children and will always continue to do so even if the love isn't reciprocated by their children or even if their children take their parents' love for granted.

Parents love their children almost unconditionally and even if disputes cut into the relationship, parents will still be parents and they will be there for their children at the last count.

But this sort of relationship need not exist between God and His people. God does not have to tolerate His people's unfaithfulness and He could have done away with them at the first instance of disobedience.

The 1st reading talks about the unfaithfulness and disobedience of Israel and their grave sin of worshipping idols.

Whereas parents would have given up on their children if they had angered their parents beyond the limit, God, on the other hand had relentless called Israel back to Himself even though they kept turning away.

It makes us wonder why God would be bothered to go to this extent to bring His people back. We may also wonder why Jesus would bother sending out His disciples to go forth and proclaim the Kingdom of heaven.

He and His disciples would face rejection despite all the good work they do like curing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing lepers and casting out devils.

We would have given up on others if they ever take us for granted and are ungrateful for all the good that we do to them.

But God, in His love for us, does not give up on us even though we have been unfaithful and disobedient.

That is our hope in God who is merciful and forgiving. Let us in turn share that hope with those who want to turn back to God to find forgiveness and healing. God will never fail us.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

14th Week, Ordinary time, Wednesday, 09-07-14

Hosea 10:1-3, 7-8, 12 / Matthew 10:1-7     (2020)

At times we can't help but wonder about wealth and riches. Is it for the better or for the worse?

No doubt, wealth and riches can resolve some of our financial worries and we can even obtain some of the luxuries of life with it.

But wealth and riches, and specifically the obsession for it can lead to many complicated problems for us.

In the 1st reading, we heard that Israel was indeed blessed by God with riches and wealth.

But the problem was that the richer and wealthier Israel became, the more their heart was divided and they became unfaithful and strayed away from God.

Well, Israel (or Samaria) had had its day and destruction will soon follow because of their unrepentance.

In the gospel, we heard that Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits with power to cast them out and cure all kinds of diseases and sickness.

Then He made a rather strange statement: Do not turn your steps to pagan territory, and do not enter any Samaritan town; go rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.

Figuratively, Jesus could be telling His disciples not to be too taken in by the authority over unclean spirits with the power to cast them out and to cure all kinds of diseases and sicknesses.

If riches and wealth can divide the heart, then spiritual power can also result in pride and arrogance.

In whatever we have and in whatever we lack, let us always sow integrity and reap a harvest of kindness, and keep seeking the will of the Lord God.

That will be our blessing and the joy of our life.

Monday, July 7, 2014

14th Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 08-07-14

Hosea 8:4-7, 11-13 / Matthew 9:32-37

It is said that it took one day for the Israelites to get out of Egypt, but it took for 40 years to get Egypt of the Israelites.

During those 40 years of wandering in the desert, Israel was always complaining against Moses and the Lord God.

They were punished with deadly bites from fiery serpents and a whole generation of Israelites perished in the desert during those 40 years.

But even when they finally entered the Promised Land, they continued to defy the Lord God by worshipping idols and being unfaithful to the Lord God.

As we heard in the 1st reading, even God seems to be asking: How long will it be before they purge themselves of this, the sons of Israel?

And the 1st reading concludes with this very sad statement: He is now going to remember their iniquity and punish their sins; they will have to go back to Israel!

The 1st reading ended off with punishment, but the gospel proclaims the good news of salvation with Jesus curing all kinds of diseases and sickness and casting out devils.

The time of rebellion and punishment has come to an end with the coming of Jesus. Now is the time of salvation and redemption.

Let us not be rebels but be labourers of the Lord's harvest and work for the Lord to bring out His people from the Egypt of sin and slavery.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

14th Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 07-07-14

Hosea 2:16, 17-18, 21-22 / Matthew 9:18-26

Last week, from Monday to Friday, the priests of the diocese had their annual retreat.

The retreat was held at the Major Seminary, which is tucked away in Ponggol, a remote corner of the island.

It was a retreat that the priests looked forward to, because it was a break from the hectic pastoral ministry, and a time for prayer and rest and renewal.

Although there was no necessity to entice the priests to be at the retreat, there is always this temptation and distraction of the matters that were left behind in the parish.

The same cannot be said of God's people that we heard about in the 1st reading. God had to lure them and lead them out to the wilderness in order to speak to their hearts.

Certainly it was not going to be a pleasant journey for God's people to be driven into the wilderness and to be deprived of comforts.

But there is no doubt that in order to make someone listen, you may have to cut off all temptations and distractions from him in order to get your point across.

Similarly for the official and the woman with the haemorrhage in the gospel passage. It was in their loss and affliction that they know who to turn to in their need.

For the priests, they have seen death and illness happening to their people and at times they too are at a loss as to how to comfort their people and bring about hope and strengthen faith.

The retreat is a time where they recall who is the Saviour and to entrust these matters into His hands and to listen to His voice.

May we too let the Lord lead us in times of bereavement and illness so that we can listen to the voice of the Lord and find hope in life.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

14th Sunday, Ordinary Time, Year A, 06-07-14

Zec 9:9-10 / Rom 8:9, 11-13 /Mt 11:25-30    
The most happening country, at the present moment, is needless to say, Brazil! Because that is where the World Cup is happening!

And even if you are not a football fan, you will see the World Cup logo all around, and of course the country that is hosting it is printed right beneath the logo.

Besides football, Brazil is also famous for other things like coffee, corned beef, samba and the Mardi Gras! 

And there is one other thing that Brazil is also famous for. It’s a tourist attraction, a must-see if you ever go to Brazil.

It is that 100-foot, white-coloured statue of Christ the Redeemer and it is located at the peak of the 2300-foot Corcovado mountain.

At such a height, it makes an impressive sight.

It is a symbol of Brazilian Christianity and an icon for the city of Rio de Janeiro and Brazil.

Yes, that statue seems to be looking on at Brazil and on the whole world.

And there is also something interesting about that statue. Christ is not nailed to the cross or seated on a throne or in some triumphant posture.

Instead, the statue of Christ the Redeemer is standing straight, with His arms stretched out wide, almost 90 feet apart.

He seems to want to embrace the whole world. Or He seems to be opening His arms in welcome.

Whatever it may be, the statue of Christ the Redeemer depicts one of the most beautiful passages in the gospels, and it is the passage that we have just heard.

Jesus said in today’s gospel: Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.

Oh yes, we surely know what labour is. And we also know about labouring and labouring until we feel so overburdened that we feel so stressed out and feel like giving up on life.

At least those football players in the World Cup know what that is all about.

They are burdened with the pride of their country as they sweat it out for 90 minutes at each match.

They may be highly paid, but they are also highly stressed to perform and to deliver. For them football is not just a game.

And winning is not everything; it is THE only thing. And if they don’t win, then there goes everything.

Yes, a lot of pride is at stake. But that’s where the problem is, and that is also where our problem is.

We huff and puff, and labour and burden ourselves because our pride is at stake.

We want to perform, we want to deliver, we want to be the winner.

And yet Jesus tells us: Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

So when we are stressed with the burdens of life, we just have to turn in humility to Jesus, who will welcome us and embrace us and we will find rest for  our souls.

The key to finding rest for our souls is none other than in humility, the direct opposite of pride.

In the modern age of technology where a World Cup match in Brazil can be telecasted “live” on the tv screens and we can see whatever that is happening in “real time”, the telegraph and the Morse code would seem so archaic.

But just about 100 years ago, it was THE means of communication.

Its inventor, Samuel Morse, was asked if during his experiments he ever came to a stage when he didn’t know what to do next.

Humbly and modestly, he replied: Oh yes, more than once. And I must say that it is a matter of which the public knows nothing about. Whenever I could not see my way clearly, I would kneel down and pray to God for light and understanding.

And he added: I had made a valuable application to electricity by inventing the telegraph and the Morse code, not because I was superior to other men, but solely because God who meant it for mankind would reveal it to someone, and He chose to reveal it to me.

Samuel Morse, the great inventor who contributed to modern communication was humble enough to acknowledge that his ideas and inventions came from God.

Only the humble of heart will be blessed by God. 
Only the humble of heart will find rest for their souls. 
Only the humble of heart will go to Jesus and be welcomed by Him.

And Jesus, like the statue of Christ the Redeemer, will open His arms to welcome us and to embrace us, if we are humble enough to go to Him and tell Him that we need Him.