Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Mary,Mother of God, Thursday, 01-01-15

Numbers 6:22-27 / Galatians 4:4-7 / Lk 2:16-21

Today is a special day in terms of the time-line of the events in our lives.

Today we begin a new year. We look at what lies ahead of us, and we wonder what it will be like.

Yet we can look back at the not-so-old year, and we can see what it had been like.

So as we look at what lies before us and what lies behind us, the Church invites us to look at Mary.

Yes, we look at Mary and we ponder with her.

On the 8th day of the Christmas Octave, the Church celebrates Mary’s earliest defining title – Mother of God.

That title goes all the way back to the year 432, and that title tells us who Mary is.

Yet more importantly it also tells us who Jesus is.

Because by proclaiming that Mary is the Mother of God, the Church is also proclaiming that Jesus is God, and therefore Mary is the Mother of God.

So what is it like to be the Mother of God?

Well, a story has it that a wife had just given birth to her first child, and her happy husband was with her by her bedside.

Her husband asked her: My dear, what was child-birth like?

She thought for a while, and she looked at him and said :
Ok, smile as broadly as you can. Then use two fingers to pull the corners of the mouth as far back as you can.
Then pull your upper lip over your head. That’s probably how it feels like.

So being the Mother of God is certainly not without pain or suffering.

From the Annunciation to the Crucifixion, Mary had her share of pain and suffering.

Yet it is through this pain and suffering that she, as the Mother of God, can teach us something.

You know, as kids, we liked to cross our eyes and look stupid, and our mothers would tell us that if we keep doing that, then one day we might just end up permanently cross-eyed.

Well, Mother Mary is also telling us to stop crossing our eyes and becoming self-centered.

She is telling us to keep our eyes on Jesus and walk towards Him.

That was what she did when she said at the Annunciation : Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to Your will.

So just as she kept her eyes on the Lord, Mary is also telling us to keep our eyes on Jesus.

Because the moment we take our eyes off Jesus, we will just end up cross-eyed!

Also, from our earliest days, our mothers have taught us a peculiar kind of logic, and it goes like this :
If you don’t do what I tell you, you will get it.

Well, Mother Mary wants to teach us a holy logic and it’s this:
Do whatever He tells you, and you will get it.

That was what she told the servants at the wedding at Cana: “Do whatever He tells you”, and they got it. They saw who Jesus was.

Well, not all mothers are scientists, but they seem to know something about genetics.

I am sure that we have heard our mothers say this to us : You are just like your father!!! It is usually out of exasperation!

Well, Mother Mary is telling each of us : You are just like my Son!

But that actually came from Jesus Himself. On the cross, Jesus told His mother – That is your son.

So we are all Mary’s children. And Mary is our mother.

Because that’s also what Jesus said on the cross – This is your mother.

So it is not too mushy or too funny to think that Mother Mary will say to us – You are just like my Son.

Because the 2nd reading tells us that God has sent the Spirit of Jesus into our hearts.

So like Mother Mary, we ponder and treasure.

What lies behind us and what lies before us cannot be compared with what lies within us.

Yes, we have the Spirit of Jesus within us.

So let us give thanks and praise the Lord all the days of the year ahead.
May we also devote ourselves to the motherly care and guidance of Mary.

And may the Lord bless us and keep us.
May He shine His face on us and be gracious to us.
And may He grant us His peace in the days ahead.

31st December 2014, Wednesday, Seventh Day Within Octave of Christmas,

1 John 2:18-21 / John 1:1-18

Well, we have come to that day of the year when we will hear this old familiar song being sung or played on the radio -  "Auld Lang Syne"

I wonder if we know what that phrase "Auld Lang Syne" means.

It literally means "long long ago" or "days gone by" or "old times".

Well it's the last day of the year and 365 days may have gone by, but it may not seem like so long ago or that it was long long ago since we began this year.

The gospel begins with the works: In the beginning ......

Obviously, it was not referring to the beginning of the year or even the beginning of time.

In fact, it is not even talking about any beginning. It is talking about a mystery that has no beginning or end.

Because the mystery of God is always and forever.

For us it may be the end of the year and we are about to begin a new year.

But God wants us to know that He is with us always and forever.

At every moment of our lives, He blesses us with grace upon grace.

May we also live our lives in the grace of God every moment of our lives.

May our lives be lived in truth so that the light of God shines in us.

Monday, December 29, 2014

30th December 2014, Tuesday, Sixth Day Within Octave of Christmas

1 John 2 : 12-17 / Luke 2 : 36-40

Have we ever wondered what we will be doing, or what we will look like when we are 84 years old?

Or can we ever imagine what we will look like when we are 84? Well, looks aside, we will wonder what kind of a person we will be when we are 84. We will wonder if we will be grumpy and long-winded.

But going by the general attitude of our pragmatic society, we don't want to think something so far ahead, we may even want to avoid thinking about it.

Because in a society where the value of a person is measured in terms of productivity and efficiency, then an old person is a liability, a sort of weak link.

In fact, one of the common lament of the aged is that they feel useless and are just waiting to die.

But as we reflect on the gospel and on the 84 year-old prophetess Anna, an image comes to mind - the image of a glorious mellow sunset.

She was old, but nonetheless she was radiant and mellow, maybe even glorious in her own ways, just like the sun setting slowly and quietly over the horizon.

And we have among us many of these glorious mellow sunsets. When we look around we are sure to see those aunties, a bit bent, a bit slow in their steps, but yet coming everyday for Mass, with Rosary or a prayer book in their hands.

Their names may not be Anna, but they are very much like her. And like Anna, they also have gone through a lot, they also have seen a lot.

When we see them, let us acknowledge them, and say something loving and simple like: "Aunty, God bless you. Pray for me ok." They will be glad, they will be very happy to pray for us too.

In these old aunties as well as old uncles, we see the wisdom and the enlightenment that the 1st reading talked about.

They know that the world and all it craves for is coming to an end. But anyone who does the will of God remains forever.

Let us learn from them, these radiant and mellow sunsets, and let us live life gracefully by always praising and thanking the Lord.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

29th December 2014, Monday, Fifth Day Within Octave of Christmas, Monday,

1 John 2:3-11 / Luke 2:22-35

It is really amazing as well intriguing to see how some people seem to know that their time to leave this world was approaching.

There have been some cases of people who were seriously ill and then they seem to get a "second wind" and for a moment they seem to have recovered and they could even talk to their family members about family affairs at some length.

After that they will slip back into their illness and then slowly slip away and slip out of this world.

In retrospect, it seems that these people were trying to settle any unfinished business in this world maybe because they could sense their time was near.

What they felt, what they saw or what they heard, we do not know. But there will come a time when we will have make that last leg of our earthly journey.

But in the gospel, we know what Simeon saw and that signalled to him that the time had come for him.

When he saw the parents of Jesus presenting Him in the Temple, he saw not only just a baby, but he saw the light.

He saw the light of promise, the light of salvation, the light of enlightenment. It was the light the world was waiting for. It was the light he was waiting for.

For Simeon it was the light that gave him peace. For us it is the light that shines upon us to give us life and love.

The 1st reading tells us that the night is over, because the real light is shining.

That light is a signal for us to move from darkness to light, from hate to love, from bitterness to forgiveness.

Christ the light has already come to us at Christmas. Let us follow that light and we will have no fear of stumbling.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Holy Family, Year B, 28.12.2014

Ecclesiasticus 3:2-6, 12-14 / Colossians 3:12-21 / Lk 2:22-40

If we are from a traditional Catholic family, then our homes would have been blessed by a priest already.

For traditional Catholic families, it is important, and even necessary for the home to be blessed.

So it is the usual practice to invite a priest to come over to the home to bless it.

And the priest would say some prayers, asking God to bless the house as well as the members of the family.

And then he will go around the house, even going to each room, to sprinkle holy water.

In the prayer book for the blessing of the home, there is even a prayer of blessing for the bathroom.

Some people thought it was rather funny, you know, to bless the bathroom.

But why not. After all, we have heard of many cases of people slipping and falling in the bathroom.

And, if we have a case of constipation or diarrhea, then the bathroom somehow will become a prayer room.

So it would be a consolation to know that that the bathroom has been blessed.

Well, back to the priest going round the house to say prayers and sprinkle holy water.

That would be the normal ritual for a house blessing. But not many people know or understand the meaning of the ritual.

Practically speaking, the priest just have to say the prayers, and that ought to be sufficient, isn’t it?

Why sprinkle holy water all around? Especially if there is a new parquet flooring, and people would step on the water and leave their footprints all over the place.

Well, in the first place, when people are asked why they want to have their homes blessed, there would be various kind of answers.

Some say that if there is any kind of evil spirits around the house, then the blessing would drive out all the evil spirits.

Oh surely, the blessing will certainly drive out all the evil spirits. 

But if it is the people in the house who want to act like evil spirits, then the blessing can only do so much.

Or, if it is a new house, then they will say that the blessing will cleanse the house, because they don’t know what had gone on during the construction of the house.

So the house blessing will make the house “clean”. So it seems like the house blessing is to ask God to do house cleaning.

Or when they feel that the family is having a string of bad luck lately, (children fail exam, mahjong always lose), or always quarreling, then they might want to ask for a house blessing, so that the priest will come over and say some prayers for them.

Well, all these reasons for asking for a house blessing are well and good.

But what is the main purpose and reason for a house blessing?

As in the usual house blessing, the priest will say some prayers and sprinkle holy water around the house.

Some families will even light the candles at the family altar.

Now, holy water and lighted candles will remind us of the symbols of a particular sacrament – the sacrament of baptism.

So how is the house blessing connected to baptism? The connection and the meaning here is that the first place to live out our baptism commitment, is none other than in our homes.

Yes, the home is indeed the first place to live out our baptism commitment. Because the home should be where love is, and where there is love, there is God.

And if our home is the dwelling place of God, then our home is to be like a domestic church – meaning to say, our home is to be a house of prayer.

But the awkward reality of some homes is that they are a dwelling place of many gods. Meaning to say that everyone wants to be served, but not everyone wants to serve.

Maybe that’s why it is necessary to bless the bathroom because some family members use it as a prayer room – they do their Holy Hour in there.

And we would knock on the door every 3 minutes and ask: Are you still in there? We are like visiting those who are in prison.

Yes, many strange and comical things happen at home, not to mention other things that cause friction and brokenness with the family members.

It cannot be assumed that where there is a house, there will be a home, and where there is a home, there will be family love.

In fact,, it is the other way round – where is there is love, then the family will be at home.

So that is why we must remember to live out our baptismal commitment to love, and first and foremost, at home.

But the home can be a challenging place to be in when the family members are gathered together.

There is this interesting story about porcupines. An extremely cold winter was coming and the porcupines had to find a way to survive.

At first, they decided to group together to keep warm and protect one another.

But unfortunately, their sharp spiky quills poked at each other as their huddled together, so they dispersed.

Of course this left them exposed to the bitter cold and they started to freeze to the point of death.

So they had to make a fundamental life or death choice – either they stay apart and die, or they tolerate and accept each other’s thorns and survive.

And to think of it, we are a bit like porcupines. We have our own “spiky quills” and with that we hurt others and others hurt us too.

At times, living as members of the family can be so painful and hurtful, that we think it might be better off living alone.

But if the porcupines know how to stay together in order to survive, then we must also learn to accept and live with the spiky quills of others.

The Holy Family showed us how to live together in love and to bear the pain together.

And let us also call upon the grace of our baptism so that our families will be a blessing for the Church and for the world.

Friday, December 26, 2014

St. John, Apostle & Evangelist, Saturday, 27-12-14

1 John 1:1-4 / John 20:2-8

According to tradition, St. John was subjected to torture by being plunged into a pot of boiling oil but he miraculously survived, whereas the other apostles were martyred.

It is also believed that he lived to a ripe old age of about 94 and he died of natural causes.

There could be some truth in that because the gospel that is attributed to him contains a spiritual depth that is not so obvious in the other three gospels.

In biblical art,  the Gospel of John is often depicted with an eagle, which symbolizes the insight to the height of the mystery of the person of Jesus which was expounded in the first chapter of the gospel.

It had that depth of insight to the height of the mystery probably from the reflection and meditation over the years.

There was a story that when St. John was old man, he was asked to preach to a gathering of believers.

His message was short yet sublime : Dear children, love one another. Learn to love one another as God loves you.

That is also the central theme in the gospel of John - the love that God has for us, and it can be found in passages like  John 3:16-17; 13:34-35; 15:17.

It is a profound theme and to love one another as Jesus has loved us is a spirituality and a mystery that needed to be constantly reflected and meditated upon in our hearts.

Like St. John may God also deepen and enlighten us in His love for us so that we will in turn love one another as Jesus has loved us.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

St. Stephen. Protomartyr, Friday, 26-12-14

Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59 / Matthew 10:26-27

If we look up on the images of St. Stephen, there are various portrayals of him .

Some will picture him holding a palm branch to symbolize the victory of martyrdom.

Some will show his martyrdom by stoning as we heard in the 1st reading, which was a slow, painful and gruesome death.

But quite a number of pictures will also show him dressed in a deacon's vestment, which actually is a sort of apron to indicate that the ministry of the deacon is for service of God and the Church.

On one hand, he is pictured as holding a censer to indicate his role in the liturgical service of the Church.

On the other hand, he is pictured holding a miniature church. This is to indicate his role and his influence on Church especially during its infancy that was filled with turmoil and turbulence.

In today's liturgy, we honour St. Stephen as the First Martyr and with his death came along the path of blood that was laid out for those who would witness to Christ with their lives.

Yet, St. Stephen and those that laid their lives down were only following what their Lord and Master Jesus had done and given them the example.

Jesus Christ came into the world to show God's love and we celebrated the great and joyful feast of His birth yesterday.

He came to save us. Yet He had to lay down His life on the cross in order to redeem us from sin and eternal death.

On the cross God forgave us our sins. As for St. Stephen, as his life came under a pile of stones, he too said, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them".

On this feast of St. Stephen, let us ask for forgiveness for our sins. And let us also ask for the grace to forgive others too.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas 2014

This evening, we are gathered for a very special celebration.

Yes, we are here to celebrate the birth of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

It is a very defining moment, when at the appointed time, God fulfilled His promise of salvation, and His Word was made flesh in Jesus Christ.

Indeed, God has fulfilled His promise, and that is why we gather, in such numbers, to testify that God has indeed fulfilled His promise.

We are not here just for the Christmas mood.

Because if we just want to have some Christmas mood, we might as well go down to Clarke Quay or Orchard Road.

But with the crowds and the jam, our Christmas mood might end up being Christmas moody.

So we made the right choice to be here, right?
Quite comfy, most of us have a seat, some are standing, but it is okay, we are happy to be here.

We are happy to be here, to celebrate the birth of Christ 2000 years ago.

But we are here this evening, for yet another defining moment.

Because we are here to witness God making another promise to us.

That promise we heard in the Gospel, that God is with us and that He promised to be with us always.
And that is why we are here to celebrate this Christmas Mass – we are here to testify that God has fulfilled His promise of a Saviour, and God is promising us that this Saviour is not going to leave us, that He is going to be with us always.

Because God is with us, we are assured that He knows what we need, He knows the longings of our heart, He knows our anxieties and our worries.

Maybe that is why children are usually fascinated with Santa Claus, because they think, or expect him to know, what they want.

How children communicate with Santa Claus, I am not sure, but let me share this with you,

Santa Claus was in the toys section of a department store and a little girl came up to him.

So Santa asked the little girl: Well, my dear girl, what do you want for Christmas?

The little girl stared at Santa, her jaw dropped and she looked surprise and shocked. So Santa asked her what was the matter.

The little girl asked Santa: You mean, you did not get my email?!

Oh yes, the way we communicate nowadays have gone electronic.

But God does not communicate with us by email.

Because His Word is now made flesh in Jesus, and Jesus is the new promise that “God is with us”.

The birth of Jesus tells us that we don’t have to be chained to the stupidities of the past and its darkness.

Because Jesus is the light that brings new hope and a new vision, that challenges our pessimism, and opens our eyes to His presence among us.

Let me share with you a story about a pair of twins whose resemblance to each other was only in their looks.

But they are opposite in every way, one being a bright optimist, and the other a gloom and doom pessimist.

Just to see what would happen, to see if anything would change, and so when the family was out, the father had the pessimist son’s room filled with every imaginable toy and game.

The optimist son’s room was however loaded with horse manure.

When the family came home, the father waited a while, and then he walked past the pessimist son’s room.

He found him sitting with his new toys, but crying bitterly, and the father asked him why.

The pessimist son replied: Because my friends would be jealous of my toys, I’ll have to read all the instructions before I can play with them, I’ll constantly need new batteries, and my toys will eventually be broken.

The father sighed, and then he walked past the optimist son’s room.

He found him dancing for joy in the pile of horse manure.

So the father asked: What are you so happy about?
The optimist son answered: Well, I got my Christmas wish; with all this manure, there must be a pony somewhere.

So do you think the father will get him a pony? Sure, why not?

Christmas is a time for us to open our eyes to God’s blessings and graces, and to see his greatest gift of love, and that is Jesus.

Because with Jesus, we can only look forward for the best, and not fear and prepare for the worst.

Because of Jesus, we do not need to worry and fret when things start to crack.

After all, there is a crack in everything.

But, that’s how the light gets in. And that’s when Christmas begins.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

24th December 2014, Wednesday

2 Sam 7:1-5, 9-12, 14, 16 / Luke 1:67-79

To prepare for the birthday celebration of a special person is an exciting and happy affair.

We will do the utmost preparations to have a memorable celebration for that person.

We will check through everything, from the food to the decorations, to the programme and the guest list.

But when Jesus was born into this world, no one was prepared to receive him or celebrate His birth.

Even Mary and Joseph could not adequately prepare to receive him, given their situation.

But just as David (First Reading) and Zechariah (Gospel) were moved by the Spirit of God to understand His plan, may the Spirit of Christmas also lead us into a deeper preparation to celebrate the birth of Christ.

May the Spirit of peace, love and joy prepare our hearts to receive Jesus so that He will make His home in us and that we will remain in His love. 

May these words of Scripture help us prepare for what we are going to be celebrating : Behold, the virgin is with child and will soon give birth to a son whom she will call Emmanuel, a name which means "God-is-with-us" (Isa 7:14).

Monday, December 22, 2014

23rd December 2014, Tuesday

Malachi 3:1-4, 23-24 / Luke 1:57-60

If we bother to find out more about our names, we will see that most of our names have a meaning.

More so for Asians, the parents will want to give their children a meaningful as well as nice sounding name, with the hope that they will live up to their names.

The people of the biblical times were certainly no different in this aspect.

The name John means "God is gracious".

Indeed, John the Baptist came to herald the appointed time of grace.

Time was like pregnant with grace, grace that was waiting to burst forth.

John the Baptist came to announce the time of the fullness of grace in Jesus Christ.

As much as this grace is good news, it is nonetheless a painful one.

John the Baptist was like a refiner's fire that burns away the useless dross as we heard in the 1st reading.

Yes the time is very very near. Let us purify ourselves in prayer and penance to make our hearts a worthy home for the Lord.

22nd December 2014, Monday

1 Sam 1:24-28 / Luke 1:46-56

Generally speaking, in order to believe in something, it must be logical and must make sense to us.

We also want to understand it fully in order so that we are clear about its capabilities and limitations.

Yet when it comes to our  understanding and belief in God, everything is almost reversed.

We can understand only so much about God from theology, yet God is beyond our comprehension.

God also has a mysterious way of doing things which challenges our human ways and understanding.

For e.g. when He delivered Israel out of Egypt, He chose Moses who had a speech impediment to negotiate with Pharaoh.

When He chose a mother for His only Son, He chose an unknown ordinary girl.

And that girl sang a hymn that portrayed God who turns things upside down.

He blesses the humble, He blesses the poor, He blesses the hungry.

If anything, the God that we believe in is nothing less than revolutionary.

The God who is praised in the Magnificat is certainly not a God who conforms to our ideas and neither to the world's ideas and standards.

Yet we can be sure of this one thing about God - that God is magnificently merciful.

He will come to the help of His humble servants, He will remember His mercy to us.

Let us deepen our faith and prayer as we prepare to encounter the mystery of the Incarnation at Christmas.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

4th Sunday of Advent Year B, 21.12.2014

2 Sam7:1-5, 8-11, 16 / Romans 16:25-27 / Luke 1:26-38

Today is the 21st December. In the month of December when the date begins with a “2”, then it means one thing.

It means that Christmas is nearly here. After all it is just a few more days away. That would sound scary if we haven’t even put up the Christmas tree yet!

How can we not be aware that Christmas is nearly here?

In fact, for the rest of the world, Christmas is not nearly here; Christmas seems to be already here.

Since mid-November, the shopping malls and the supermarkets are already playing Christmas music.

And by now, most companies would already have had their Christmas parties and all that.

So it seems that Christmas Day, the 25th December, is the final day for Christmas celebrations.

And Christmas presents are already given out before Christmas Day. Not only given out but maybe opened already before Christmas Day.

So even though Christmas is nearly here, for the rest of the world, Christmas is already here, and maybe over and done with.

But whether it is nearly here or already here, the Christmas event, whether religious or otherwise, seems to have been taken for granted.

It is taken for granted in the sense that we expect it to happen, and that it must happen.

But today’s gospel passage reminds us that Christmas nearly did not happen.

Today’s gospel passage is commonly known as the “Annunciation” and we are familiar with the dialogue between the angel Gabriel and Mary.

We take it for granted that Mary will say yes to all that the angel Gabriel told her.

But when we take a closer look at the passage, then we may realize that Christmas nearly did not happen.

Because when the angel Gabriel greeted Mary, she was deeply disturbed by his words and she wondered what it could mean.

And then she questioned the possibility of her conceiving a child since she was a virgin.

Even though the angel Gabriel told Mary that nothing is impossible with God, that did not necessarily and satisfactorily answer her questions.

But in the end, Mary accepted what was told to her by the angel Gabriel.

So as we can see, Christmas nearly did not happen. And if Mary had said no, then Christmas would not have happened.

For Christmas to happen, Mary had to lay aside her plans and go 
along with God’s plans. 

Similarly in the 1st reading, king David had to lay aside his plans to build a house for God. Instead God would build a house for him, and that house and David’s sovereignty will always stand secure before the Lord and David’s throne will be established forever.

Yes, God’s ways are higher than man’s ways and God’s thoughts are higher than man’s thoughts. When we go along with God’s ways, then the Christmas event is happening again.

But that would mean that we have to let go of our ambitions and directions and go along the way of God.

There is this story of a teacher, Miss Hazel, who had ambitions of being a principal and even a superintendent of schools.

But in her class was this boy, Teddy, who certainly qualified as the last and the least. He was disinterested, untidy, messy, with a deadpan face, expressionless and with a glassy unfocused stare.

Whenever Miss Hazel spoke to Teddy, he always answered in monosyllables.

But Miss Hazel played her cards carefully. Although she would say that she cared for all in her class, deep down inside her she wasn’t being completely truthful. She disliked and resented Teddy.

Even then, she knew more about Teddy’s family background than she wanted to admit. The records read like this:

Teddy shows promise with his work and attitude but poor home situation. 

He could do better. Mother seriously ill and he receives little help at home.

Teddy is good boy but a slow learner. His mother died this year. 

His father shows no interest in him.

Well, it was Christmas time and the boys and girls in Miss Hazel’s class brought her Christmas presents. 

They piled their presents on her desk and crowded around to watch her open them.

Among the presents, there was one from Teddy. She was surprised that he had brought her a gift. It was wrapped in brown paper and held together with scotch tape, and written with these words: For Miss Hazel, from Teddy.

When she opened Teddy’s present, out fell a gaudy jade-stone bracelet, with a couple of stones missing, and half a bottle of cheap perfume.

The other children began to giggle and smirk over Teddy’s gifts, but Miss Hazel had enough of sense to silence them by putting on the bracelet and spraying some of the perfume on her wrist.

And then holding her wrist up for the children to smell, she said, “Doesn’t it smell nice?”, and the children taking the cue from her, nodded with “oohs” and “aahs”.

At the end of the day, when the other children had left, Teddy lingered behind. Then he slowly came over to her desk and said softly, “Miss Hazel … Miss Hazel … you smell just like my mother … and her bracelet looks real pretty on you too. I’m glad you liked my presents.”

When Teddy left, a stunned Miss Hazel got down on her knees and begged God to forgive her.

The next day when the children came to school, they had a “new” teacher. Miss Hazel had become a different person. She was no longer just a teacher; she had become an agent of God. 

She was now a person committed to loving her children and doing things for them that would live on after her. She helped all the children, especially the slow ones and especially Teddy.

By the end of the school year, Teddy showed dramatic improvement and had caught up with most of the students. 

Well, Teddy moved on to another class and Miss Hazel had a new class of students to teach.

Then one day, she received a note that read: Dear Miss Hazel, I wanted you to be the first to know that I came in second in my class. Love, Teddy.

Four years later, another note came: Dear Miss Hazel, they just told me that I will be graduating with honours in my class. I want you to be the first to know. The university has not been easy but I liked it. Love Teddy.

Another four years later – Dear Miss Hazel, I wanted you to know to be the first to know that I am getting married. I want you to come and sit where my mother would sit if she were alive. You are the only family I have now. Dad died last year. Love, Teddy.

Well, Miss Hazel went to Teddy’s wedding and sat where Teddy’s mother would have sat, and of course, wearing that bracelet and that perfume. 

She deserved to sit there; she had done something for Teddy that he could never forget.

And as she sat there, she thought to herself, “This is better than being a school superintendent.”

Certainly it is. When we let go of our ambitions and our plans and our directions, and go along the way of the Lord, we become gifts to ourselves and we become gifts to others.

Mary showed us how to do it. When we do what she did, then Christmas is not only nearly here, it is also already here.

Friday, December 19, 2014

20th December 2014, Saturday

Isaiah 7:10-14 / Luke 1:26-38

The season of Advent is a time for prayer (and penance too!) and to enter into the spirituality of waiting for Lord.

Essentially, it is this waiting for the celebration of the Lord's coming to us at the feast of Christmas.

Yet, this waiting is also to renew and develop our longing for the Lord.

As we begin to long for the Lord in our hearts, then we will also begin to open our hearts to the signs that God is giving us.

In the 1st reading, Ahaz refused to ask for a sign but that was because he had no love nor trust in the Lord.

But in the gospel, the longing of Mary for the Lord was fulfilled when the angel Gabriel greeted her with "The Lord is with you".

Just as Mary waited and longed for the Lord, we too must wait and long for the Lord in prayer, especially in this period of Advent.

Yes, the time of the Lord's coming is approaching. He has given us all the signs.

The most profound sign is the name "Emmanuel": God-is-with-us.

It is in that name that God has fulfilled His promises to us.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

19th December 2014, Friday

Judges 13:2-7, 24-25 / Luke 1:5-25

Generally speaking, married couples would love to have children of their own.

Children would be a very profound expression of the fruit of their love and it is also a blessing from God that they are to go forth and multiply.

Hence, barrenness may be viewed as a misfortune or even an embarrassment.

But for the two couples in today's readings, Manoah and his wife, and Zechariah and Elizabeth, they were blessed for their faithfulness to each other and to God.

Because for the Jewish people at that time, being barren or sterile could be grounds for divorce.

Also the unfortunate couple would be subjected to slanting looks and wagging tongues that poke and cut till they wilt and fade and eventually they will separate.

Yet, the two couples remained together, enduring the embarrassment and the shame, and enduring it together.

But God blessed them with sons who would become famous men in bible history.

Which makes us call to mind the times when we experienced misfortune and embarrassment and even shame.

Did we still believe that God did not abandon us, and did we still remain faithful to Him?

When we have survived those moments, then we will know this for sure:

When we abandon ourselves to God, God will not abandon us. And this is what we will be giving thanks to God for as the feast of Christmas approaches

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

18th December 2014, Thursday

Jeremiah 23:5-8 / Matthew 1:18-24

In most cases, the announcement of a pregnancy is welcomed with great joy and the subsequent waiting for the birth of the baby is filled with hopes and dreams albeit anxiety.

More so if the pregnancy is in the royal circle or with people who are famous and prominent. It will be in the news and there will even be updates on the progress of the pregnancy.

However, in the case of the birth of the Son of God, it was almost like a non-event.

Even the gospel seemed to word it nonchalantly - This is how Jesus Christ came to be born.

And instead of joy and hopes and dreams, there were immediate problems for those who were involved with the pregnancy.

Both Mary and Joseph could not quite explain or understand the mystery of the Incarnation.

Yet God was with them to see them through their difficulties and challenges.

Yes, God lived up to His name: God-is-with-us.

And He will be with us in our Advent preparation, in our difficulties and challenges as well as all the days of our life.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

17th December 2014, Wednesday

Genesis 49:2, 8-10 / Matthew 1:1-17

In Singapore, whenever we talk about salad, we think of the Western variety, eg, Caesar's salad, etc.

But there is also the local salad, and we call it "rojak", and there is the Chinese, Indian and Malay variety, each being very distinct.

Take for example, the Chinese rojak, it has ingredients that are of different flavours, from sweet to sour, from strong to bland, from fragrant to bitter.

Yet, all these ingredients combine together to give a flavour that is uniquely Chinese rojak, and which is quite tasty, going by general appeal.

When we look carefully at the genealogy list given in the gospel, we may find that it is like some kind of rojak.

Indeed, we are presented with a mixture of saints and sinners, of kings and peasants, of men and women.

Yet, from this rojak list of people, which is a genealogy list, we find Jesus Christ at the end of it.

We can only conclude that God uses all sorts of people, even though it may seem that it is not possible by human logic, to work wonders and to show His saving love for us.

The gospel reminds us that each and every one of us has a role to play in God's plan of salvation.

The Church, which seems like a "rojak" mixture of people, may leave us scratching our heads and raised eyebrows.

But yet God uses the Church as the sign of salvation, and so all of us, as well as each of us has a role to fulfill.

May we, the "rojak" Church, give the world a taste of God's saving love.

Monday, December 15, 2014

3rd Week of Advent, Tuesday, 16-12-14

Zephaniah 3:1-2, 9-13 / Matthew 21:28-32

Most of us wake up in the morning with some kind of electronic or mechanical alarm device, or simply putting it, some kind of alarm clock.

But before the emergence of alarm clocks, the common sound that signals the arrival of dawn is the sound of the cock-crow, which of course, we don't hear much nowadays in our highly urbanized surroundings.

The cock-crow signals the beginning of a new day, that the night is gone, and a new start awaits us.

But once upon a time, a cock also crowed, and a man wept in shame. Because he realized that in a bid to save himself, he denied his Master three times.

He wept in remorse and repentance and in shame. But where sin and shame abounds, grace and forgiveness abounds all the more.

St. Peter stands as a testimony to that. He was like the two sons rolled into one, in that, he said "yes" to Jesus, but at a time of reckoning, he said "no".

But later through a journey of shame and repentance, he said "yes" to Jesus again, this time being a more definitive "yes".

As we can see, great saints like St. Peter and St. Paul knew what shame and repentance is.

Jesus also said in today's gospel, that the great sinners of society at that time, the tax-collectors and prostitutes knew about shame and repentance just as much, and maybe even more than the so-called religious people.

As for us, do we know about shame and repentance as much as the tax-collectors and prostitutes knew it?

If we say we do, then it should be reflected in our attitude towards those whom society deems as dealing in the sleazy and shady side of life.

If we believe that God wants to remove our sin and shame, then we must also believe and pray that God will also remove their sin and shame.

When we can do that, then a new day indeed has begun.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

3rd Week of Advent, Monday, 15-12-14

Numbers 24:2-7, 15-17 / Matthew 21:23-27

We know what a dilemma is. It is a perplexing situation in which a choice has to be made between alternatives that are equally undesirable.

Going by that definition and putting it simply, it is a choice of the best among the worst.

In today's gospel, that was the situation that the the chief priests and the elders found themselves in.

They challenged Jesus' authority but in turn found themselves being challenged and in a dilemma as to how to answer that question of Jesus.

So they ended up choosing the worst of the worst alternatives with that reply: We do not know. Or in simple terms: No comment.

In the 1st reading, we hear of another dilemma. The pagan prophet Balaam was tasked to curse Israel, but when the Spirit of God came upon him, he faced a dilemma but made the choice to revoke his curse and instead bless Israel.

Whenever we face a dilemma, we think of the worst case scenarios and try to choose the one that will result in the least problems and difficulties.

But when we put the dilemma into the hands of God and ask the Spirit to guide us, then we will see the best case scenarios because we know that in each alternative there is growth and enlightenment.

So whenever we face a dilemma, let us not curse the alternatives that we have to choose.

Rather, let us ask the Lord for His blessings and also ask the Spirit to guide us in making a choice.

Every dilemma is an opportunity to experience the blessing and the guidance of God.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

3rd Sunday of Advent, Year B, 14.12.2014

Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11 / 1 Thess 5:16-24 / John 1:6-8, 19-28

As we began the Mass, we lighted the third candle of the Advent wreath, which is the rose-colored candle.

It also signifies that the third Sunday of Advent is also called "Gaudete Sunday". "Gaudete" means rejoice.

Yes, the first reading tells us to exult for joy in the Lord and to rejoice in God.

The second reading also tells us to be happy at all times and to pray constantly.

Yes, a rose-coloured candle standing in the midst of three dark- purple candles tells us that life can have its joyful moments amidst disappointment and sadness and sorrow.

Similarly, life can also have its funny and surprising moments amidst the serious and stiffness of life, and I hope we can smile a bit from this following story.

From the shadows in the distance, the man watched as the family packed their bags in the car, locked the doors and then drove off for their holidays.

The man waited till it was dark and then he emerged from the shadows and he went to the front door and rang the door-bell of the house.

When there was no answer, the man, a seasoned burglar picked the lock of the front door and got in.

Then just to be sure that no one was in the house, he called out, "Is there anyone in?"

Hearing nothing, he was about to move on, when he was stunned by a voice, "I see you, and Johnny sees you!"

The burglar panicked and called out, "Who's that?"

And again, the voice came back, "I see you, and Johnny sees you!"

Terrified, the burglar switched on his torchlight and pointed it towards the direction of the voice.

He was relieved to see that it was a parrot in a cage and it recited once again, "I see you, and Johnny sees you!"

The burglar laughed to himself and said, "Oh, shut up stupid bird. 

Anyway, who is this Johnny? Is it another bird friend of yours?"

And the parrot replied, "Johnny is right below me!"

And the burglar shined his torch at what was below the parrot's cage.

And there he saw Johnny, a huge Doberman, looking at the burglar with those eyes, and growling.

And then, the parrot said, "Go Johnny, go!"

Well, it is good to have a little laugh on this "Rejoice Sunday".

Back to something serious. In the gospel, we heard of a man sent by God, and his name was John.

So who is the John? Of course we know he is John the Baptist. But the gospel passage tells us more about who John is.

John is a witness, a witness to speak for the light, so that everyone might believe through him.

And John would say this about himself: I am, as Isaiah prophesied – a voice that cries out in the wilderness: Make a straight path for the Lord.

That is who John is. And the next question would be – who are we then?

The 1st reading tells us that the Spirit of the Lord has been given to us, and that the Lord will make integrity and praise spring up in the sight of the nations.

So the Spirit of the Lord will make us into persons of integrity and walk the straight path of Lord so that God will be praised.

So what is integrity? Once upon a time, there was a selfish and greedy man. He liked everything to be his own. He could not share his belongings with anyone, not even his friends or the poor.

One day, the man lost thirty gold coins. He went to his friend’s house and told him that he lost his gold coins. His friend was a kind man.

As his friend’s daughter was coming back from an errand she found a bag that contained thirty gold coins.

When she arrived home, she told her father what she had found. The girl’s father told her that the gold coins belong to his friend and he sent for him. 

When the selfish and greedy man arrived, he told him how his daughter had found his thirty gold coins and handed them to him. 

After counting the gold coins, the man said that ten of them were missing and had been taken by the girl as he had forty gold coins. 

He further demanded that he will recover the remaining amount from him. But of course the girl’s father refused.

The man left the gold coins and went to the court and informed the judge there about what had taken place between him and the girl’s father.

The judge sent for the girl and her father, and when they arrived the judge asked the girl how many gold coins she found. She replied thirty gold coins. 

The judge then asked the selfish man how many gold coins did he lose and he answered forty gold coins.

The judge then told the man that the gold coins did not belong to him because the girl found thirty and not forty as he claimed to have lost.

And then the judge told the girl to take the gold coins and that if anybody is looking for them he will send for the girl.

The judge then told the man that if anybody reports that they have found forty gold coins he will send for him. 

It was then that the man confessed that he had lied and that he lost only thirty gold coins but the judge would not listen to him.

Just a story about integrity and honesty and that truth will prevail. 

But that is also who we are and when we are who we should be, then we will truly rejoice in the Lord.

As the 2nd reading says – never try to suppress the Spirit; think before you do anything, hold on to what is good and avoid every form of evil.

With that we will receive joy from the Lord and then the joy of the Lord will be our strength.

2nd Week of Advent, Saturday, 13-12-14

Ecclesiasticus 48:1-4, 9-11 / Matthew 17:10-13

If there was one prophet in the Old Testament that we can say is really dramatic, it is surely the prophet Elijah.

And the 1st reading makes special mention of this dramatic prophet, and rightly so.

Elijah was a fire-and-brimstone prophet. He worked great and awful deeds like calling down famine upon the land, calling down fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice he offered and putting the 450 false prophets down by slitting their throats, just to mention a few.

But all that dramatic deeds were intended to turn the people back to God and for the restoration of Israel as the people of God.

But people can just be interested in the dramatic and the spectacular and not see the meaning and the message behind it.

We live in an age where people, Catholics included, are easily attracted by the dramatic and the spectacular and the extraordinary.

We may even expect the end times and the second coming of Christ to be kind of dramatic and spectacular, with awesome signs.

But as Jesus said in the gospel, Elijah came in the person of John the Baptist, and God came to visit His people in the Word made flesh.

But John the Baptist and Jesus were just too ordinary, and hence did not live up to the people's expectations.

The season of Advent prepares us to encounter God in the ordinary.

Amidst the festive celebrations, let us quieten our hearts to hear the voice of God in the ordinary.

When Jesus first came to this world at the first Christmas, it was just another ordinary day.

When He comes to us today, it will also be in an ordinary way.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

2nd Week of Advent, Friday, 12-12-14

Isaiah 48:17-19 / Matthew 11:16-19

One of the frustrating situations in a meeting, whether in church or elsewhere, is when people are silent about the issues that are being discussed.

It is frustrating because time is being wasted as people sit around and keep quiet about the issues without offering their opinions or suggestions.

It is frustrating because we don't know what they are feeling about the issues and what is on their minds. And we leave the meeting frustrated and disappointed.

But if people's silence can be frustrating and also disappointing, what more people's criticism, as we heard in the gospel.

But Jesus showed us that affirmation and encouragement are indeed noble deeds.

He affirmed and encouraged the faith of the centurion, the woman who anointed His feet with precious oil, the widow who gave up all she had, etc.

Jesus came to restore us to our dignity as children of God so that we can have self-respect, and He will affirm and encourage us whenever we make sacrifices and do the will of God in our lives.

As the 1st reading puts it, we only have to be alert to the voice of God that is spoken by others, then our happiness would flow like a river and our integrity will rise like the waves of the sea.

So let us learn this wisdom of God - that by affirmation and encouragement, we continue the mission of Jesus in helping people realize who they are so that they will turn back to God.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

2nd Week of Advent, Thursday, 11-12-14

Isaiah 41:13-20 / Matthew 11:11-15

Life can be very much easier and comfortable when we have someone around to help us and guide us.

One good example is when we have to go to a foreign place for a meeting or for business.

It would be very much easier and enjoyable if we have someone to receive us at the airport and show us the way.

Then we would be able to enjoy the sights and the scenery without having the anxiety and the fear of the unknown.

In this season of Advent, there is someone who is ever willing to help us in our Advent journey towards Christmas.

John the Baptist is our Advent guide and he shows us the way and the preparations that we need to do.

His message is clear and simple - repentance and the conversion of heart.

We must remember that it is God who sent John the Baptist to be our Advent guide as we journey in faith towards Jesus.

Even Jesus, in the gospel, would exalted John the Baptist and affirmed that John was the one sent by God to turn the hearts of the people back to God.

So in our prayer, let us also ask John the Baptist to pray for us so that we can journey deeper into the heart of Jesus and in turn lead others to experience Jesus at Christmas.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

2nd Week of Advent, Wednesday, 10-12-14

Isaiah 40:25-31 / Matthew 11:28-30

If there is one thing that I can think of that symbolizes some stability in the turbulence of the journey of life, that thing would be a seat-belt.

As life unfolds moment by moment, with its twists and turns, with its ups and downs, we can philosophically say that life is always changing.

Indeed, change is always happening, whether on a personal level, or a social level or a much higher level.

It is not that easy to welcome change because change can be unsettling, tiring and frustrating.

So that is why i said earlier that we need a seat-belt to anchor us down us to some stability amidst the fluctuations of life.

In the 1st reading the people lamented that God had abandoned them and ignored them.

So through the prophet Isaiah, God proclaims to His people that as much as they were wearied by the turbulence of life, He does not grow tired or weary.

He gives strength to the wearied and those who put their trust in the Lord renew their strength and they put out wings like eagles.

In the gospel, Jesus reiterated this point gently when He invited all those who labour and are overburdened to come to Him and He will give them rest.

In the midst of all the fluctuations and turbulence of life, we need to listen to the call of Jesus, especially the call to come to Him in prayer.

In Him we will find rest for our weary souls; in Him we will renew our strength and put out wings like eagles.

In Him is our safety and our eternity.

Monday, December 8, 2014

2nd Week of Advent, Tuesday, 09-12-14

Isaiah 40:1-11 / Matthew 18:12-14

It is a human tendency to look with favour on those who are well-behaved, who are obedient, who are smart and intelligent, and generally those who have good qualities.

But those who are out-of-sync, out-of-step, those who seem to dance to a different tune, we tend to leave them aside, we tend to see them as problems.

This kind of situation happens everywhere, and it even happens at home.

One child might be bright and smart; the other dull and may be wayward.

The tendency is to shower the bright and smart one with love and attention, and just give the basic minimum to the other.

Yet the Good Shepherd image that is portrayed in today's two readings showed that God pays special attention to the weak and to those who strayed and are lost.

The Good Shepherd also challenges our human tendencies and also fundamentally our human biasness.

Just as it is the sick who needs the doctor, Jesus came to seek and save those who are lost in their sins.

When we challenge ourselves to try to understand some whom we consider to be a "problem", then we might discover that it is actually we who are solving our own problems.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Immaculate Conception of the BVM, Monday, 08-12-14

Genesis 3:9-15, 20 / Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12 / Luke 1:26-38

For those of us who were baptized as babies, our parents gave us a baptism name.

For those of us who were baptized as adults, we chose a baptism name for ourselves.

These will be the names for the rest of our lives.

But these are not just names to identity ourselves. They have a much greater significance.

They symbolize our new identity in Christ through baptism.

For those of us who were baptized as adults, our baptism names symbolize our "Yes" to God to be His beloved children.

Mary was graced to be immaculately conceived in her mother's womb, and freed from sin by the power of God.

But at the Annunciation, Mary is called by a new name and empowered to bear the One who is to crush the power of evil.

Mary is called by the angel Gabriel "the highly favoured one".

And Mary said "Yes" to the mission of bearing the Word made flesh.

By the grace of our baptism, we too have become God's highly favoured ones; we too have become "immaculate".

We too are empowered to say "Yes" to God.

In saying "Yes" to God, we are also saying "No" to evil and to the devil's temptations.

So let us rejoice with Mary on this feast of her Immaculate Conception and give thanks and praise to God for His saving love for us.

Let us renew the grace of our baptism, and by the grace of our baptism, let us crush our evil and sinful desires and live as God's beloved and highly favoured sons and daughters.

Let us also ask Mary to pray for us by using the prayer that is inscribed in the Miraculous Medal: O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

2nd Sunday of Advent Year B 07.12.2014

Is 40:1-5,9-11/ 2 Pt 3:8-14/ Mk 1:1-8

If there is one word to describe the month of December, it will be this word – shopping!

Ever since early November, the media on all platforms have been bombarding us with sales, sales and sales, and urging us to buy, buy, and buy.

All of that is under the cover of Christmas – buy presents, buy gifts, buy for yourself, buy for your loved ones, buy for your friends.

We may tend to think that commercialism has made Christmas into a great shopping event.

But guess who started this “shopping for Christmas”?

If you were to ask me, I would say that it was those wise men.

And what they bought were not cheap stuff. In those days, gold, frankincense and myrrh were commodities of great value.

So they “shopped” for those things to present them to the infant king of the Jews.

And they may not have gone shopping with their wives. Otherwise, there would be more than three gifts.

If their wives had gone along shopping with them, then probably there would be diapers and milk powder for the baby, and essence of chicken and bird nest for the mother.

So there it is, the origins of Christmas shopping and it has not stopped ever since.

But from the way the gospel described John the Baptist, it was quite obvious he didn’t do any Christmas shopping.

He wore a garment of camel skin, like as if he was going for some fancy dress party.

What he ate was far from the food that is usually associated with Christmas. Whatever wild honey might taste like, the locusts look like something from “Fear Factor”.

And instead of a backdrop of winter wonderland with evergreen Christmas trees, it was the dry and hot desert sands of the wilderness.

On this 2nd Sunday of Advent, John the Baptist makes his appearance and he is waking us up from dreaming of a white Christmas.

He was that messenger who prepared the way for the Lord, and making His path straight.

What John the Baptist did then, he also wants to do now as we enter into the 2nd week of Advent.

He calls out for repentance and for the forgiveness of sins.

And the target here is to make straight the paths of our hearts for Jesus to enter.

But very often the paths of our hearts are twisted and make crooked by the voices of the world.

Christmas time is also an occasion that children make use of to dictate to their parents what they want for Christmas.

And what they want may not do any good for them, and many parents find it difficult to explain to their teenagers why some music or movies or magazines or clothing are not acceptable. 

There is this story of a father whose teenage son wanted a computer game for his Christmas present.

The son said that although it was expensive, it had high ratings and reviews and it was a gamer’s choice.

But it has a lot of violence and blood and gore, as well as some sex here and there and also foul language.

The father said no, the son pestered for an explanation. The father tried to explain but in the end it was still “NO” and the son sulked.
The next day, the father baked some brownies and asked his son if he would like to try some.

But he told his son that he needs to tell him what were the ingredients used before he can eat it.

It was a family recipe and the best ingredients were used, but the father added something new.

When the son asked what it was, the father calmly replied that he added dog poop.

The father stated that it was just a teaspoonful and he had taken great care to bake the mixture at the right temperature and for the exact time. The father said that the brownies will taste superb.

Even with all the assurances that the brownies will taste great, the son reeled and frowned and refused to take any.

The father acted surprised. There was only one additional ingredient and it would barely be noticed, but the son stubbornly refused to try the brownies.

Then the father explained that the computer game that the son wanted was just like the brownies.

Evil would mask itself in the voices of the world to say that the computer game is exciting and thrilling to play, and some violence and sex here and there is just part of the game.

But just like the brownies, just a bit of an extra ingredient makes all the difference between a great brownie and a repulsive one.

So whenever the son wanted to do something or get something or see something that he should not, the father would merely ask him if he would like some of his special dog poop brownies. No explanation or argument would be necessary.

Yes, the voices of the world of commercialism would twist and turn the paths of our hearts to get us to buy something we should not and eventually block out Jesus from entering into our hearts.

We need to shop, but let us shop wisely. The wise men bought gold, frankincense and myrrh to present them to the infant Jesus to symbolize His royalty, divinity and humanity.

May what we buy be used for the service of the Lord and to make the paths of our hearts straight for Jesus to enter.