Saturday, January 31, 2015

4th Ordinary Sunday, Year B, 01.02.2015

Deut 18:15-20 / 1 Cor 7:32-35 / Mark 1:21-28

There was (and there still is) a practice in the Church of the blessing of throats, although not much emphasis is given to it.

It falls on the day after the feast of the Presentation, which is on the 2nd February.

So on the 3rd February, which is the feast day of St. Blaise, there is a blessing of throats, in which the invocation is made to the intercession of St. Blaise for the blessing.

The candles blessed on the feast of the Presentation, which is the day before, is made into a shape of a cross and placed over the throat as the priest says the prayer of blessing.

The purpose of the blessing is for the protection against any physical ailment of the throat, and hence those who use their voice often should come for the blessing.

It is usually quite a solemn occasion as the faithful come up individually and the priest cross the candles and invokes the blessing.

It is usually solemn until the boys come up, and boys being boys, will try to act silly and hold their throats after the blessing as if they were choking, and of course the priest will stare at them.

Whatever the boys or others think of it, the blessing is more than just to ask for protection against throat diseases or throat ailments.

It is also to sanctify the throat and to protect it against spiritual ailments like speaking profanity, cursing and gossiping.

Because, as Scripture says, if anyone claims to be religious but don't control his tongue, he is fooling yourself, and his religion is worthless (James 1:26).

That’s the purpose of the blessing of throats and also to make us more aware of what comes out of our mouths.

In the gospel, we heard that Jesus went to the synagogue and began to teach and His teaching made a deep impression because He taught with authority.

In other words, what came out of His mouth were words of truth spoken with love and that brought the people closer to God.

But in the same gospel passage, we also heard from a man who was possessed by an evil spirit and it was shouting.

Actually it was shouting out a truth, but it spoke the truth, not with love, but with anger and hatred.

Yes, Jesus is the Holy One of God. Yes, Jesus came to destroy evil.
All that is true, and confronted with the Truth and by the Truth, evil which is the source of all lies reacts with anger and hatred.

In the face of such hostility, Jesus had only this to say: Be quiet! Come out of him!

Those few words of Jesus are indeed words of truth and spoken with authority.

The evil spirit is ordered to be silent and with that it is expelled out of the man.

What happened in the gospel passage is indeed very relevant to us.

Of course we are not possessed by any kind of evil spirit. But we cannot deny that that evil lurks somewhere inside of us.

Evil can lurk inside of us because of sin. Sin creates an opening for evil to enter and sin then continues to fester.

And sin and evil then create a turmoil within us and from within us profanity, cursing, gossip and harmful words come out of our mouths.

And to all the turmoil that is in us, Jesus commands with these words – Be quiet!

To be quiet is to be still. As God says in the psalms – Be still and know that I am God.

We will remember that Jesus ordered the winds and the waves to be still when the disciples in the boat were caught in the storm.

Those winds and waves are not out there but in our hearts and stirring up a storm.

To these winds and waves of the heart, Jesus is commanding – Be quiet! Be still!

Much has been said about opening our mouths and saying the wrong things and creating unnecessary storms.

We need to remember to open our minds before opening our mouths.

We need to open our minds and our hearts to hear those words of Jesus: Be quiet! 

Yes, we need to quieten our minds and hearts and to be still and to know that Jesus is the Holy One of God who comes to bring us peace.

It is with His peace that we will realize that as much as we use our tongues to praise the Lord, we also use it to speak profanities and harmful words, and that is certainly wrong.

May we listen to the command of Jesus to be quiet and to let our minds and hearts be still and to be at peace.

When we are at peace, then we will speak the truth with love. 
And may what comes out of our mouths be a blessing for others. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

3rd Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 31-01-15

Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19 / Mark 4:35-41

The name John Newton might sound familiar and ring a bell for some of us.

Well, John Newton was a slave trader in the 1700s.

One night, a violent storm tossed his slave ship about like driftwood.

John Newton panicked and he cried out to God like this:

O God, if You see us safely through this storm, I will stop all this slave-trading business and become Your slave.

The ship survived and John Newton kept his promise.

Later, as a minister of the gospel, he wrote this hymn to celebrate his conversion.

The hymn is this: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I one was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.

Like the disciples, it took a storm to let John Newton see who Jesus is.

So when a storm is blowing in our lives, let us persevere in prayer and know that Jesus is opening our eyes to see His love for us.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

3rd Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 30-01-15

Hebrews 10:32-39 / Mark 4:26-34

Now and then, we come across this hypothetical question : If you can live life all over again, how would you want to live it. What do you want it to be like?

So in other words, it is about a new beginning, or a re-start, or a re-birth, or whatever terms that can be used.

So the focus and the attention is on the starting. But how about the ending?

There can be many new beginnings and re-starts but what will the ending be like?

In the gospel, Jesus talked about humble beginnings but great endings.

The 1st reading emphasized that between the start and the end, we must be faithful until our souls are saved.

Indeed, we are not the sort of people who would draw back and are lost by it.

In fact, we should not be that sort of people because of what we believe.

We believe that God has prepared a great and glorious ending for us which would be eternal.

Let us not lose sight of it and keep walking faithfully towards it in faith.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

3rd Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 29-01-15

Hebrews 10:19-25 / Mark 4:21-25

Nowadays there is an emphasis on rights, be it human rights, workers rights, women's rights, civil rights, right to freedom of worship, etc.

Rights can be defined as a moral or legal entitlement to have or do something.

And along with rights come duties and responsibilities which uphold the rights.

So it can be said that rights come with a price, and that is there are duties and responsibilities to be fulfilled.

The 1st reading says that  through the blood of Jesus, we have the right to enter the sanctuary of the Body of Christ, the Church.

That right would entitle us to the blessings of God and to whatever grace necessary to fulfill our Christian mission.

And the 1st reading also states that as we go in, we must be sincere in heart and filled with faith, our minds sprinkled and free from any trace of bad conscience and our bodies are to be kept pure.

But if we cannot even fulfill that Christian duty and responsibility of being freed of sin, then like what Jesus would say in the gospel, we are like a lamp put under a tub or under a bed.

Because as members of the Body of Christ, any sin that we commit cannot be kept hidden and sooner or later it will be brought to light.

So let us listen to the message of Christ and be faithful to our Christian duty and mission so that that we will be entitled to the fullness of the blessings from God.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

3rd Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 28-01-15

Hebrews 10:11-18 / Mark 4:1-20

The moment we are born into this world, we immediately come into a world of need.

We need to be fed, to be clothed, to be taken care of, to be loved - we are in need.

And as time goes by, we will also be called upon to fulfill the needs of others - to feed them, to clothe them, to take care of them, to love them.

And then we also begin to realize that there are other deeper needs - the need to be understood, the need to be accepted, to be forgiven.

The 1st reading has this line - When all sins have been forgiven, there can be no more sin offerings.

But we also know that as much as we have been forgiven from all our sins, we still continue to sin.

That is why the Sacrament of Reconciliation continues to be celebrated. That is why the Eucharist continues to be celebrated.

It all points to the fact that we need God - we need His love, we need His forgiveness and mercy, we need His blessings in order to keep the faith.

But we also must remember that we need God not just for ourselves. We need God so that we can bear a harvest of a thirty, or a sixty or a hundred fold.

We must bear a harvest so that we can fulfill that need of others - that need for God so that all other needs will also be fulfilled.

Monday, January 26, 2015

3rd Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 27-01-15

Hebrews 10:1-10 / Mark 3:31-35

For those who are maturing in their prayer life and deepening their spirituality, one of the questions they will face will be that of God's will.

Essentially, the question will be what is God's will for them in their lives.

But before we want to know what is God's will in our lives, a more fundamental question is:  Do we know what we want for ourselves?

When we know what we want, then we will go and get it done. It is almost as simple as that.

In the gospel, we heard that the mother and brothers and sisters of Jesus were outside and they sent a message asking for Him.

The reply of Jesus was rather puzzling - "Who are my mother and brothers?" And then He said this - Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister and mother.

The mother and brothers and sisters of Jesus were asking for Him. But do they know what they want from Him? Do they know why they were asking for Him in the first place?

And that brings us to the 1st reading when it said - God, here I am! I am coming to do your will.

When we ask what is God's will for us, then we must be prepared to put our lives into His hands and like Mary at the Annunciation, we must be ready to say "Be it done according to Your will".

And like Mary who had to learn moment by moment how to be the mother of Jesus and to do God's will, may we learn moment by moment how to be brothers and sisters of Jesus and do God's will.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sts Timothy and Titus, Monday, 26-01-15

2 Tim 1:1-8 or Titus 1:1-5 / Luke 10:1-9

The apostles were disciples of Jesus, and in turn they too had their own disciples.

These disciples not only learned from the apostles the truth of Jesus, they also helped the apostles with the mission of spreading the Good News.

St. Paul was given the title of apostle although he was not one of the chosen twelve apostles.

He also had his disciples and today the Church honours two of them - St. Timothy and St. Titus.

In a way, they were closest to St. Paul and he often mentioned about them in his letters and also wrote letters to them.

He also made them take charge of the churches he had founded.

The main criterion for making them leaders of the new-found churches was not because of their abilities. In fact, St. Timothy was considered young in years and maybe even a bit timid.

But what St. Paul saw in them was faith, and that was enough for him to entrust the care of the churches into their hands.

Yes, as Jesus said in the gospel, the harvest is rich but the labourers are few.

Let us pray for more labourers, and may those chosen labourers be people of faith and dedication and courage.

It is our responsibility and duty to pray for these labourers. It is also our duty and responsibility to respond if we are called to be one of those labourers.

Certainly prayers are important. When we pray and God answers our prayers, it is that He wants us to trust in His abilities.

But when we pray and it seems that God does not answer our prayers, then it could be that He wants us to trust in our abilities.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

3rd Ordinary Sunday, Year B, 25.01.2015

Jonah 3:1-5, 10 / 1 Cor 7:29-31 / Mark 1:14-20

When we were in primary school there was a science question that we would love to answer because we know the answer.

Also it’s because the answer is so “obvious” and we just can’t miss it.

And so what is that question? Here it is – What is the biggest animal in the world?

The Blue Whale. The blue whale is a marine mammal. It measures around 30 metres (98 ft) in length and 180 metric tons (200 short tons) or more in weight, it is the largest known animal to have ever existed.

Oh yes, such a big marine mammal would certainly capture our imagination and fantasy, maybe because most of us have not seen a real blue whale before.

(By the way, there was a skeleton of a blue whale found in Port Dickson in 1893 and it was displayed in the National Museum until 1969.)

The whale (blue or otherwise) is such a big animal that it even found its way into the Bible.

We will surely remember that story of the big fish that swallowed Jonah and he was in the belly of that fish for three days before it spit him out on the shore.

That big fish is believed to be a whale although quite a bit is left to the imagination.

One day, a teacher was talking to her primary 1 class about whales when a little girl had a question.

Little Girl: “Do whales swallow people?” Teacher: “No, even though they are much bigger than a person, they have throat pleats that filter their food of krill and plankton.

Little Girl: “But my mummy says that Jonah was swallowed by a whale.” Teacher getting agitated: “Blue whales cannot swallow people.”

Little Girl: “Well, when I get to heaven I’ll just ask Jonah if he was really swallowed by a whale.” Teacher, getting a bit flustered, said: “What if Jonah went to hell?”

Little Girl: “Then you go and ask him.”  : P

Whether Jonah was really swallowed by a whale or not, in the 1st reading, we heard that the word of the Lord was addressed a second time to Jonah and he was told to go to Nineveh to preach.

That was the second time. So what happened at the first time?

At first when Jonah was told to go, he said no. God told him to go east, Jonah went west. God told him to deliver a message of fire, but he headed for the water. And that was where he got swallowed by that big fish.

Obviously for Jonah, to answer God’s call was not an easy thing and it took three days in the belly of that big fish for him to come to his senses.

It was only after then that he realized that it was time to do what God had told him to do.

It was such a contrast in the gospel passage as we hear how Jesus called His disciples. He called them to follow Him and they left everything and followed Him.

It sounded so easy for the disciples to answer the call of Jesus.

But we must remember what Jesus said before that – The time has come and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe in the Good News.

Yes, the time had come for Simon and Andrew, and James and John, to realize that Jesus was calling them to something better and something higher.

They were fishermen and so their profession was to catch fish. So the more they catch the better.

But it is said that the things you own will end up owning you.

They were catching fish for a living but if the meaning of life is just to catch fish, then their lives might just end up being swallowed by a big fish, just as Jonah was swallowed by a big fish.

Yes the time has come for Simon and Andrew, and James and John to answer the call of Jesus.

The time has come for us too, to know that Jesus is calling us to believe in the Good News.

We only need to give God our time to serve Him, but more often than not we say we have no time.

Then maybe we need to listen to this poem “No Time” - 

I knelt to pray but not for long, I had too much to do.
I had to hurry and get to work, for bills would soon be due.
So I knelt and said a hurried prayer, and jumped up off my knees.
My Christian duty was now done, my soul could rest at ease.
All day long I had no time, to spread a word of cheer
No time to speak of Christ to friends, they'd laugh at me I'd fear.
No time, no time, too much to do, that was my constant cry,
No time to give to souls in need, but at last came the time, the time to die.
I went before the Lord, I came, I stood with downcast eyes. 
For in His hands God held a book; It was the book of life.
God looked into His book and said "Your name I cannot find, I once was going to write it down...But never found the time"

Of course the ending is just to wake us up. God surely will have time for us. In fact He has given us all the time in the world.

But as the 2nd reading says – our time is growing short. 

If our time is not offered back to God and to do what God is calling us to do, then time will swallow us and we will always end up with no time.

The time indeed has come for us to believe that when we do what God wants of us, and that primarily will be to serve Him in our brothers and sisters, then it will always be a time of Good News.

Friday, January 23, 2015

2nd Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 24-01-15

Hebrews 9:2-3, 11-14 / Mark 3:20-21

If you have children of your own, then let us speculate on this scenario.

Let's say that one of your children tells you that he or she wants to go to some under-developed country to do missionary work and to help the people improve their lives and to share with them the love of Jesus.

What will be our reaction? Whatever our reactions might be, they are certainly more than mixed.

We might be asking questions like: Why can't you do something more normal like most people? What is there to gain from it? How does it help your future? What would people think?

Maybe that was why the relatives of Jesus were worried about Him and thought that He was not thinking right.

He had already done certain things that they were not prepared for and didn't know how to handle.

He threw away the security of a job and a home to become an itinerary preacher.

He hung up His safety when He took on the scribes and Pharisees. (You can't get away with that and in fact He didn't.)

He didn't bother about what people would say regarding His company of friends.

Following Jesus involves taking risks. We may have to throw away our superficial security, hang up our flimsy safety precautions and turn a deaf ear to the criticisms and discouragement around us.

But when others think that we are out of our minds, or maybe when we wonder if we ourselves are out of our minds, then Jesus will come and take charge of us.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

2nd Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 23-01-15

Hebrews 8:6-13 / Mark 3:13-19

Sacrifice has always been a fundamental aspect in any religion.

The sacrifice can be anything from the produce of the land to animal sacrifices, and in primitive cults there are even human sacrifices.

But why is sacrifice so important? What is the real meaning behind the sacrifice?

Sacrifice establishes the relationship between a deity and its devotees.

The Bible calls that a covenant, and usually a sacrifice of blood from animals seals the covenant.

The symbolism is that if ever the covenant is broken, then the people's blood will be shed.

But in Christianity, it is God who seals the covenant with us.

And when we break that covenant by sinning against God, instead of us having to shed our blood, it is God who sheds His "blood" in the person of Jesus Christ.

So whenever we make sacrifices like giving way to others, holding back our cutting tongues or doing a thankless task, there is nothing that we can take merit for.

Because on the cross, God sacrificed Himself and shed His blood to show that He not only forgives our sins, but He will also never call them to mind again.

So just as Jesus laid down His life lovingly for us, let us see on the cross His call to us to also lay down our lives in love for others.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

2nd Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 22-01-15

Hebrews 7:25 - 8:6 / Mark 3:7-12

We often call what we see around us the "the reality".

We call it "reality" because we can see it, we can touch it, we can hear it, we can smell it and maybe even taste it.

So when a person talks about things that are beyond the empirical, things that we can't comprehend or don't understand, we would feel like saying : Come on, get real!

Yet the letter to the Hebrews talks about a reality beyond our grasp, a reality beyond our senses.

It talks about an eternity that is beyond our grasp.

It talks about an eternal high priest, an eternal sanctuary, an eternal sacrifice.

It calls all that the reality. And it makes sense.

Because if eternity is within our grasp, if heaven is within our reach, then there is no need for Jesus.

But in Jesus is our eternal mediator who reconciles us with God.

Because Jesus is the Son of God and our Saviour.

When we can truly understand that, then we will understand what reality is.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

2nd Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 21-01-15

Hebrews 7:1-3, 15-17 / Mark 3:1-6

One of the figures of the Old Testament that is shrouded with mystery is Melchizedek, who was mentioned in the 1st reading.

Melchizedek  is mentioned in two instances in the Old Testament - Genesis 14:18-20 and Psalm 110:4, but his origin still remains a mystery.

His name means "righteousness is my king" and he was king of Salem, which means that he was the king of peace.

He was described as the priest of the most high God and Abraham offered him tithes.

In Jesus was the fullness of righteousness and peace and He is also our high priest.

Just as Melchizedek offered Abraham bread and wine, Jesus offers us Himself as our bread of life.

Just as Melchizedek symbolized righteousness and peace, Jesus gives us the faith to do good and to give life to others.

May our Eucharistic worship be expressed in our lives and may we be symbols of righteousness and peace to others.

Monday, January 19, 2015

2nd Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 20-01-15

Hebrews 6:10-20 / Mark 2:23-28

Most religions have one main objective or one main goal.

That objective or goal can be stated in various ways, according to the precepts of whichever religion.

Simply stated, that objective or goal is salvation, or whatever similar word.

Christianity also has that some objective and goal.

And the beauty of Christianity is that  it is God who offers salvation to mankind.

And God became man in the person of Jesus Christ to show us how far He would go just to offer us salvation.

In Jesus is our high priest who offered Himself as the sacrifice for our sins in order to save us.

So it is important to know the teachings of Jesus and what the Church tells us to do and not to do.

Yet it is even more important to know who the Saviour is.

In the gospel, our Saviour Jesus said that the sabbath is made for man and not man for the sabbath.

It also means that things are made for man and not man for things.

When we use all things for the glory of God, then our religion would point to salvation and to Jesus who came to save us.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

2nd Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 19-01-15

Hebrews 5:1-10 / Mark 2:18-22

To have freedom is what we as humans beings really cherish.

In order to be free, people are prepared to fight and even die for it.

Yet to have absolute freedom is probably just a notion and exists only in the imagination.

Because true freedom lies in obedience, which may seem to be a contradiction of terms.

Jesus is divine and hence He had the absolute freedom to do whatever He wants.

But when He was on earth, He submitted Himself humbly in obedience to His Father.

It was an obedience that even entailed tears and suffering.

Yet it is in obedience that Jesus showed what true freedom is all about.

Because true freedom is found in doing the Father's will.

Whatever ideas of freedom we might have, let us look at Jesus our Master who taught us that obedience brings about true freedom.

That might not correspond to our ideas or thinking.

But when we obey and follow what Jesus is teaching us, then we are like new wine in fresh skins.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

2nd Ordinary Sunday, Year B, 18.01.2015

1 Sam 3:3-10, 19 / 1 Cor 6:13-15, 17-20 / John 1:35-42

We may know this song that goes by the title “What a difference a day makes”. 

The song begins like this – “What a difference a day makes, twenty-four little hours, brought the sun and the flowers, where there used to be rain.”

Oh yes, what a difference a day makes. And if what a difference a day makes, then we can imagine what a difference a year makes.

Day by day we think that nothing changes but one year ago, would we ever have imagined that we are what we are now?

Maybe one year ago, we hoped to get slimmer, but one year later we only got fatter.

One year ago, we had hoped to get richer. One year later we are still hoping.

One year ago, we were younger. One year later, we are certainly older and maybe grown a bit wiser.

But whether it is one day or one year, things have changed, whether we want it or not, whether we liked it or not, whether for better or not.

As it is said, not all change is for the better, just as not all movement is forward.

And even if everything else is inconsistent, then change is the only constant.

For the young Samuel in the 1st reading, change was going to take place. God was calling out to him to be His prophet.

For Eli the old priest, change was also going to take place.

At the third call of Samuel, Eli realized and understood that his time is over and that Samuel was going to take over.

In the gospel, we also see that change is happening. John the Baptist saw Jesus passing by and he stared hard at Him.

And then he said to his disciples – Look, there is the Lamb of God. 

Hearing this, the two disciples left him and followed Jesus.

John the Baptist also realized that in pointing out Jesus to his disciples, his time was going to be over. He must decrease and Jesus must increase.

The theme of today’s readings is about answering God’s call. But that would mean that change needs to happen, and that we must be willing to accept this change in order to answer God’s call.

The phrase “to change our minds” does not mean that we are fickle-minded. Rather it may mean that we are open-minded about the situations that we encounter.

There is a story of a big company in a big city that was manufacturing soap and packing it into small boxes.

But there was a flaw in the production lines. Some boxes were not loaded with the soap and were shipped out resulting in complaints from customers.

So consultants and engineers were called in to analyze the problem and then they introduced a combination of mechanical and microelectronics automation, with X-ray technology and the problem was successfully solved.

So whenever there is an empty box in the production lines, it will be detected and picked out. The whole system costs $900,000.

That was the big company in the big city. A much smaller company in the outskirts also had a similar production line and hence a similar problem.

The owner told the supervisor to solve the problem immediately. 
Being a small company it was obvious that forking out $900,000 is not an option.

The supervisor thought about the problem and he managed to solve the problem with just $190.

This was his solution. He bought a high-powered fan with that $190, and put it next to the production line. The strong draught from the powerful fan blew away the empty boxes. So problem solved, for $190, instead of $900,000.

A few lessons can be learnt from this story. One of which is that technology is not necessarily productive. Another is that knowledge is not synonymous with creativity.

But what is obvious is that there are many ways to solve a problem.

It’s whether we are open-minded enough to change our minds and look at other simple solutions.

If they can say that what a difference a day makes, then what a greater difference an open mind makes when it is ready to change.

Because those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything at all.

As we saw in the 1st reading, Eli was open-minded enough to see that God was calling Samuel.

In the gospel, John the Baptist was open-minded enough to see that Jesus was the Lamb of God and pointed Him out to his disciples.

May we be open-minded enough to see the ways of God and open our hearts to the call of God.

We may have heard this before – Yesterday I thought I was clever so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wiser, so I am changing myself.

When we change ourselves to answer God’s call, then what a difference we will make.

Friday, January 16, 2015

1st Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 17-01-15

Hebrews 4:12-16 / Mark 2:13-17

The word "vocation" comes from the Latin word "vocare" which means "to call".

Whatever vocation in life we have embarked on is a response to a calling, whether the calling is to to the married life, to the priesthood or religious life, to the single state.

Every vocation is great, if greatly pursued.

Saul was called to be the first king of Israel. That was his vocation. He was also gifted to fulfill that vocation. But later he would waste it all.

Levi (or Matthew) was called by Jesus. His response was prompt and decisive.

But more importantly, he remained faithful to that vocation and to that call.

We are called to be Christians and our baptism is our response to that call from God.

At baptism we are immersed into the identity of Christ and hence we are called Christians.

That is our first and fundamental call, because from that call flows the various vocations in life.

The test of our calling comes when we are tempted to be lesser than we are called to be, in other words, the temptation to be selfish, self-centered, greedy, etc.

But it is precisely in the midst of temptations that Christ reminds us of our vocation.

He calls out to us, just as He called Levi.

And if we should fall, then let us hear again those words of Jesus in today's gospel: I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

1st Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 16-01-15

Hebrews 4:1-5, 11 / Mark 2:1-12

There is this quote from the series "Band of Brothers", a series about the lives of soldiers in WW II and a soldier said this after parachuting into Normandy in France, which was occupied by the Germans.

He said - "if some way I could get home again, I would find a nice peaceful town and spend the rest of my life in peace"

Certainly it was also the wish of every soldier who is fighting in a war; war is hell, even for the soldier.

But it is not just a soldier's wish to find a quiet place and to spend the rest of his life in peace, especially having gone through the horror of war.

It is also our desire to live a nice and quiet life and spend the rest of our days in peace.

The 1st reading would term this as a place of rest, and it is a place God has promised and prepared for us, a place that is beyond this world.

But the 1st reading also warns us to be careful not to forfeit and lose this place by being disobedient to God.

To be disobedient to God is to sin and turn away from Him. So what does it mean to be obedient to God?

Among other things, to be obedient to God is to forgive others just as God has for given us.

In the gospel, the scribes questioned Jesus as He declared the forgiveness of the sins of the paralytic.

When we do not doubt that God has forgiven us in Jesus, we would also likewise forgive those who sin against us. And then we will be able to spend the rest of our days in peace.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

1st Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 15-01-15

Hebrews 4:1-5, 11 / Mark 2:1-12

There are some words which we take for granted and even use for granted.

Yet when we think about it deeper, those words just don't make any sense.

There are words like untouchables or outcasts or lower class, yet God made everybody with the same class.

There are refugees, yet this planet is our only home.

There is the first world, right down to the third world, and yet there is only one world.

If it is by words we sow divisions and segregation, then know that it is the mind that thinks up of such evil.

That is why the 1st reading warns us about the wicked mind, especially within the community, for there will be disastrous consequences.

Yet the same reading also urges us to encourage each as long as "today" lasts.

By our encouragement and affirmation, we break down the divisions and segregation and heal the loneliness and brokenness in our faith community.

Even the very simple but basic appreciation of each other's  presence is the first step towards a loving and caring community.

In doing so, we are following what Jesus did as He reached out and touched the leper in the gospel passage.

So let us reach out to appreciate, to encourage and affirm each other. Today!

1st Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 14-01-15

Hebrews 2:14-18 / Mark 1:29-39

We all know that businesses thrive on strong relationships, so they try hard to impress their clients and external stakeholders.

However, little attention may be paid to relationships with our peers, bosses and colleagues.

In the workplace there is a go-to person  who is the individual everyone appreciates and turns to for advice, whether it is de-facto or officially appointed.

If we are that go-to person, we may certainly feel rather important and needed and valued.

In the gospel, we heard that Jesus was like a go-to person. When Peter's mother-in-law was down with fever, they told Him about her and He went over to heal her.

In the evening after sunset,  they brought to Him all who were sick and those possessed by devils and He cured them.

If we were doing all that we might be feeling very good about ourselves.

But in reality, if we were doing all that, we would, sooner or later feel the strain and the drain of being the person that everyone would off-load their problems to and expect quick solutions.

And if we are feeling as such already, then Jesus gave us a direction in the gospel as to how to cope with such demands.

We heard that in the morning, long before dawn, He got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.

So as much as people went to Him with all sorts of problems, Jesus Himself went to God to be refreshed and to be strengthened to face the demands of the people.

Jesus has given us the direction. God was His go-to person. May God also be our go-to person.

Monday, January 12, 2015

1st Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 13-01-15

Hebrews 2:5-12 / Mark 1:21-28

To go to school in order to be educated does not mean we are not intelligent in the first place.

Rather it means that we are intelligent to know that there is plenty left to learn.

The learning process is indeed a slow and long process; in fact learning is a life-long process.

Yet, there are still certain questions that we don't have any answers for in spite of our education.

For example, in the gospel passage, why is there a man possessed by an unclean spirit in the synagogue of all places?

Or why is there so much evil and terror and horror in the world despite the fact that Jesus had already came and He is supposed to bring us peace?

The 1st reading puts it wisely: At present, it is true, we are not able to see that everything has been put under His command.

But in Jesus we also saw how He was subjected to evil in the forms of suffering and death.

Yet, He overcame death and conquered sin and He is now crowned with glory and splendour.

So if there is anything we need to learn about life, we need to turn to Jesus and learn from Him.

In the midst of the troubles and evils of life, let us stay close to Jesus and learn from Him for He is the Holy One of God.

When we live holy lives, the noise of the evil in this world will be slowly silenced.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

1st Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 12-01-15

Hebrews 1:1-6 / Mark 1:14-20

We are already 12 days into the new year, school has already started last week, our work and our lives are getting back to routine and into the groove, and it would sound odd if we are still wishing each other "Happy New Year".

Whatever new beginnings that we are looking forward to at the start of the year may have become a bit jaded by now as things begin to plateau off into monotony.

But as we begin the first day in the first week of Ordinary Time, the 1st reading begins with this line - At various times in the past and in various different ways, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; but in our own time, the last days, He has spoken to us through His Son.

It sounds rather odd that on the first day of the first week of Ordinary Time, the 1st reading would talk about the last days.

Yet, it is precisely in these "last days" that we are made aware that God has spoken in a very personal way through His Son, Jesus Christ the Word made flesh.

In the gospel, we heard how Jesus proclaimed the Good News and how He called the first disciples Peter and Andrew, James and John.

And that sets the direction in the days to come, be it the early days of the year of the last days of the year. Or for that matter of fact, all the days of our lives.

Jesus is proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom of God to us. God wants to pour out His goodness into our lives so that we can be lifted from the monotony and the routine of our worldly lives and to live in the love and joy that Jesus came to bring.

And Jesus is also calling us to follow Him and to be proclaimers of the Good News so that God can continue to speak to the world through us. Let us answer that call, just as the first disciples left everything and answered that call.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Baptism of the Lord, Year B, 11.01.2015

Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7 / Acts 10:34-38 / Mark 1:7-11

It is said that there are two most important days in your life – the day you were born and the day you find out why (Mark Twain).

The day that we were born is certainly an important day in our life. Who can ever forget his or her birthday? (Maybe another day that we won’t forget is our payday!)

So besides our birthday, is there any other day that we won’t forget? Is there another day that we will always remember?

Well, just out of curiosity, how many of us remember the day of our baptism?

If we are wondering as to how we can find out the day of our baptism, we just have to look for our baptism certificates and it is stated there. 

Oh yes, the day of our baptism is an important day for us because that’s when we officially become a Christian and it should be a life changing event.

There is this story of a priest who was teaching catechism to a group of adults. 

When it came to the teaching of abstinence of meat on Fridays, one of them had his questions and he was puzzled especially when he was told that instead of meat, he could eat fish.  

Finally came the day of baptism and so the priest baptized him and he said to him, “Frankie, you were a pagan and now you are a Christian!”

One Friday evening, the priest decided to take a walk around the neighbourhood and he smelt the smell of barbecued meat coming from Frankie’s house.

So he went over to see what was happening and there he saw Frankie barbecuing some beef, and as he did so, he was saying this to the beef: You were meat, and now you are fish!

Well, baptism is not just a name-changing event but it is a life-changing event. 

It is not just about formerly being called a pagan to being called a Christian.

It is not a superficial change in title but an essential change in identity.

Today as we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, we have also come to the close of the Christmas season.

Last Sunday, as we celebrate Epiphany, we hear of the wise men adoring the infant Jesus and paying Him homage. 

Today, we fast-forward thirty years and we hear of the adult Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist.

It was a life-changing event for Jesus, as well as an earth-shaking event as the heavens were torn open and the Spirit descended upon Jesus and the voice from heaven that declared: You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.

What happened during those thirty years were unknown to us other than that when Jesus was twelve years old, He went with His parents to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover.

But it took thirty years after His birth and then with His baptism, Jesus began His mission of salvation.

So the day of His baptism was an important day as Jesus was affirmed of His identity and His mission.

Thirty years is indeed a long time, almost like half a life time.
Is it worth waiting for thirty years to discover the meaning and the purpose of life? 

For St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine, she would tell us that it is worth it.

St. Monica was born in 331 AD, was brought up as a Christian and she married a pagan Roman official, Patricius, a man of violent temper and also adulterous, and critical of Christians.

St. Monica endured with patience and prayer and finally after 30 years, her husband was converted and baptized a Christian.

Her son, St. Augustine was much more difficult, as she had to pray for him for 17 years, begging the prayers of priests who, for a while, tried to avoid her because of her persistence at this seemingly hopeless mission. 

One priest did console her by saying, "it is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish." This thought, coupled with her faith strengthened her. St. Augustine was eventually baptized by St. Ambrose in 387. St. Monica died shortly after that.

St. Monica is considered the patron saint of wives and mothers whose husbands or sons have gone astray.

So St. Monica spent most of her life in prayer, praying for the conversion of her husband, and then for her son St. Augustine.

But she would tell us that the most important days of her life were the day of her baptism when she was immersed into the faith, and the day when she witnessed the baptism of her husband and later on of her son St. Augustine.

It is indeed a great joy to see someone turning back to God and knowing that you had an important part in that person’s conversion story and the journey back to God.

The Baptism of the Lord is indeed an important day for Jesus as He begins His journey of fulfilling His mission on earth.

Following this there will be many important days in His life which we will celebrate as the liturgical year unfolds.

As for us, there will also be many important days to come as our lives unfold in the days to come.

But as for today, may we celebrate our own baptism into Christ, and may today also be a day that we find out why we were born into this world. 

Like Jesus, we are born for a reason and we are born for a mission. 
We only walk this way once. Let us walk with Jesus and we will make each day an important day for others as well as for ourselves. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Saturday after Epiphany, 10-01-15

1 John 5:14-21 / John 3:22-30

The question of the origins of pride and envy is like the chicken and egg question. We are not sure which come first but what we know is that one leads to the other.

But what we are sure of is that we are afflicted by these two capital sins.

Our consolation is that it is not just we are afflicted by it but so too were the apostles of Jesus.

They were envious of one another and they quarrelled about who was the first.

But John the Baptist was different. If he were ambitious, seeking recognition or power, he would have resented it when Jesus started becoming more popular than he was.

He had made a name for himself as "the Baptist". But today's gospel also mentioned about Jesus baptizing.

However John did not feel threatened or envious of Jesus. In fact, he even said that "this joy I feel is now complete". He even encouraged his disciples to follow Jesus by pointing Him out as the Lamb of God.

Finally, he made his exit with his most gracious and profound spiritual statement: He must increase, and I must decrease.

So it must be for us. One way to know how we are handling our pride and envy is our response to other people's success and accomplishments.

Our response or reaction speaks volumes about the spiritual state of our hearts.

Today John the Baptist reminds us that our mission is to make Christ known and loved, not ourselves.

The 1st reading warned us to be on guard against false gods, and that is what pride and envy are.

Let us pray that our pride and envy will become smaller, and our love for God and others become greater.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Friday after Epiphany, 09-01-15

1 John 5:5-13 / Luke 5:12-16

To say that the world is getting more and more secularized and more materialistic is certainly quite true.

But that is only one side of the situation that the world is in.

What is of interest is that people are also searching for the spiritual and to have an experience of the sacred.

Because there are people who are interested in prayer and mediation as a means to counter the stress and anxiety of life.

This is where we, the Church, are called to be beacons and signposts who will show people the path towards God and to have a spiritual encounter with Him.

But obviously, we can't do so if we ourselves are not spiritual people and also not persons of prayer.

In a busy and hurried world, we can be caught up with the swing and speed of life and lose touch with the spiritual.

We heard in the gospel that Jesus had a busy schedule - He was either teaching or healing or on a missionary journey.

But He would always make time for prayer; He would always go off to some lonely place where he could be alone to pray.

The greatest need for us as Church and for the world is to re-discover the solace and the solitude of prayer.

When we have encountered God in prayer, then we will be the sign that will lead others to find God in prayer.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Thursday after Epiphany, 08-01-15

1 John 4:19 - 5:4 / Luke 4:14-22

Our parish (Church of the Sacred Heart) is opened from early in the morning to late in the evening.

Being so near to the shopping belt and the happening scene, it can be said that our parish is the Church in Orchard Road. We are literally a stone's throw away from Orchard Road.

And the church does have visitors coming over to pray or just to admire the architecture or just to see where this church is.

So the church is a sign of a religious presence in this area. But besides being just a building, the church is also made up of the community of faith.

A religious building that does not have the presence of the faith community is just a building of stone and cement.

The 1st reading tells us that no one has seen God but as long as we love one another, God will live in us and His love will be complete in us.

And if God's love is complete in us, then we will also be living visible images of His love for others.

As we come to the Eucharist to experience the mystery of God's love and to come into communion with His love, then we also must be ready for the mission.

The mission is to be living images of God's love as a faith community so that any visitor to the church can see the presence of God and feel His love.

Yes, the Spirit of God's love has already been given to us. That love must be fulfilled in its mission. And it must be fulfilled today even as we listen.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Wednesday after Epiphany, 07-01-15

1 John 4:11-18 / Mark 6:45-52

Some people tend to believe in ghosts, a belief that at times seemed to be much greater than the belief in God.

And some people say that they can see "ghosts" and some of these stories can even make our skin creep.

Whatever we might want to think about these stories or about these people, it is interesting that the gospel mentioned the word "ghost".

The disciples thought they saw a ghost, and they were not just afraid - they were terrified.

Yet, the gospel also said that "Jesus was going to pass them by".

"To pass them by" is a biblical way of saying that a revelation of God is going to happen, ie. a theophany.

Just yesterday we heard how Jesus revealed God as teacher and provider in the multiplication of loaves.

Today, we heard how Jesus revealed His divinity as He walked on the rough waters.

The rough waters and the strong winds of life can make us afraid, and even terrified, and like the disciples, we see only the "ghosts" that is frightening us, but we miss what God is revealing to us.

So what does God want to reveal to us? The feast of Christmas reminds us that God sent His Son to reveal His love for us.

As the 1st reading puts it, God is love, and anyone who lives in love lives in God, and God lives in him.

In love there can be no fear, whether of ghosts or suffering or death.

In love, God continues to reveal and fill our hearts with His love.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Tuesday after Epiphany, 06-01-15

1 John 4:7-10 / Mark 6:34-44

Generally speaking, we have two types of reactions to a situation.

Either we react to it emotionally, or we react to it rationally.

When Jesus saw the large crowd, He took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and He set Himself to teach them at some length.

It was understandable that Jesus felt for the people, or if we wish to say, He acted from His emotions.

But it went to the extent that He ignored the rationality of feeding the crowd of 5000 with five loaves and two fish.

His disciples seemed to be more rational, especially when it was going to cost them 200 days' wages, since the average wage for a day was 1 denarii.

But Jesus challenged His disciples to see what was available. And from what was available, out came a miracle.

Essentially, today's gospel passage continues the Epiphany message that God is our Helper and Provider.

Yet like the disciples, we often use too much of our rationality.

But what the Lord is asking of us is our availability.

To serve the Lord is to make our hearts available for Him.

Hence, we have to feel the promptings, especially the challenges the Lord is giving us, just like He challenged His disciples when He told them : Give them something to eat yourselves.

It is not so much our rationality that matters when we serve the Lord, but rather our availability for Him to do great wonders through us.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Monday after Epiphany, 05-01-15

1 John 3:22 - 4:6 / Matthew 4 : 12-17, 23-25

There was a long-running medical drama series on tv called E.R. It presents the life of doctors and patients in the emergency room.

It is not just about the work and the personal lives of the doctors but also the anguish and misery of patients in the hospital.

For eg, an old lady with an ECG monitor, a man in oxygen mask, a young mother grieving over the death of her child, etc.

The underlying question of the patients and their loved ones seemed to be this: Why is this happening to me? What is happening to my loved one?

This is also the same question that we will ask when we ourselves become ill or when our loved ones become seriously ill.

On this Monday after Epiphany, the gospel proclaims to us that in Jesus, we see God our healer.

But physical illness and suffering can be alleviated by medicine. A greater suffering is the suffering of the heart, an emotional and a spiritual kind of suffering.

That kind of suffering and pain can only be addressed with the healing that Jesus came to bring.

The prophecy of Isaiah gives us an idea of what is this kind of healing when it says: The people that lived in darkness has seen a great light; on those who dwell in the land and shadow of death, a light has dawned.

In other words, Jesus the true Light shines on us to heal our broken and hurting hearts so that we can get up and walk in the light of love.

The healing light of Christ continues to shine in the Sacraments of the Eucharist, Reconciliation and the Anointing of the Sick. It continues to shine when we pray for others in their distress

Let us open our hearts with confidence in the light that God our Healer wants to give us, and let us be witnesses of His healing love for us.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Epiphany, Year B, 03-01-2015

Isaiah 60:1-6 / Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6 / Matthew 2:1-12

Today we hear of the wise men, or the Magis, and with that the Christmas story comes to a completion.

We not only hear about them, we also see them at the Crib as they make their grand appearance.

Among the figures at the Crib, or the Nativity set, the wise men (aka the 3 wise men) are the most impressively and glamorously dressed.

They wear crowns and royal robes; they bring along exotic gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh; they came from the East and they carry with them a sense of mystery.

They looked like rich and smart guys and they are often portrayed as riding on camels and looking quite elegant.

But from the gospel, we will know that they went to the wrong place (Jerusalem instead of Bethlehem), at the wrong time (when Herod was king) and they asked the wrong question (Where is the infant king of the Jews?)

So much for being wise men. If it had been 3 wise women, the story might have been different.

Different in the sense that the 3 wise women would have asked for directions; they would have arrived on time and helped deliver the baby; they would also have cleaned up the stable; they would have brought practical gifts like milk powder and diapers and chocolates; they would also cook a meal and even bake a cake and there will be peace on earth.

That would be a nice ending to the Christmas story. After all we like stories with a happy ending that would leave us smiling.

Abut if we were to read on from where the gospel ended off, then we would know that when the wise men didn’t go back to king Herod, he was furious and then he ordered the slaughter of the infants at Bethlehem.

So from the start, the Christmas story was a bumpy kind of story. 

Things didn’t happen as expected.

And that is one thing that we can learn from the Christmas story – things don’t happen as expected.

Not even for the wise men in spite of their wisdom. They expected the infant king of the Jews to be born in the big city of Jerusalem, but it turned out to be in the little town of Bethlehem. 

They thought that Herod was helping them but it turned out that he was using them.

The feast of the Epiphany is about Christ being revealed to the world.

And in a way, the revelation of Christ is also a revelation of what life is all about, and that things don’t happen as expected.

There is this story of three trees on a hill in the forest. They were discussing their hopes and dreams when the first tree said, "Someday I hope to be a treasure chest. I could be filled with gold, silver and precious gems. I could be decorated with intricate carving and everyone would see the beauty." 

Then the second tree said, "Someday I will be a mighty ship. I will take kings and queens across the waters and sail to the corners of the world. Everyone will feel safe in me because of the strength of my hull.”

Finally the third tree said, "I want to grow to be the tallest and straightest tree in the forest. People will see me on top of the hill and look up to my branches, and think of the heavens and God and how close to them I am reaching. I will be the greatest tree of all time and people will always remember me."

After a few years of praying that their dreams would come true, a group of woodsmen came upon the trees. When one came to the first tree he said, "This looks like a strong tree, I think I should be able to sell the wood to a carpenter," and he began cutting it down. 

The tree was happy, because he knew that the carpenter would make him into a treasure chest. At the second tree the woodsman said, "This looks like a strong tree, I should be able to sell it to the shipyard." The second tree was happy because he knew he was on his way to becoming a mighty ship. When the woodsmen came upon the third tree, the tree was frightened because he knew that if they cut him down his dreams would not come true. One of the woodsmen said, "I don't need anything special from my tree, so I'll take this one", and he cut it down. 

When the first tree arrived at the carpenters, he was made into a feed box for animals. He was then placed in a barn and filled with hay. This was not at all what he had prayed for. 

The second tree was cut and made into a small fishing boat. His dreams of being a mighty ship and carrying kings had come to an end. The third tree was cut into large pieces and left alone in the dark.

The years went by, and the trees forgot about their dreams. Then one day, a man and woman came to the barn. She gave birth and they placed the baby in the hay in the feed box that was made from the first tree. The man wished that he could have made a crib for the baby, but this manger would have to do. The tree could feel the importance of this event and knew that it had held the greatest treasure of all time.

Years later, a group of men got in the fishing boat made from the second tree. One of them was tired and went to sleep. While they were out on the water, a great storm arose and the tree didn't think it was strong enough to keep the men safe. The men woke the sleeping man, and He stood and said "Be still" and the storm stopped. At this time, the tree knew that it had carried the King of Kings in its boat. 

Finally, someone came and got the third tree. It was carried through the streets as the people mocked the man who was carrying it. 

When they came to a stop, the man was nailed to the tree and raised in the air to die at the top of a hill.

When Sunday came, the tree came to realize that it was strong enough to stand at the top of the hill and be as close to God as was possible, because Jesus had been crucified on it.

The moral of this story is that when things don't seem to be going our way, let us know that God has a plan for us. If we place our trust in Him, He will give us great gifts. 

Each of the trees got what they wanted, but just not in the way they had imagined. 

We don't always know what God's plans are for us. We just know that His ways are not our ways, but His ways are always best. 

May the star that led the wise men to the infant Jesus also shine upon us and may God grant us the wisdom to know that when things don’t turn out as expected, then God is leading us along His ways.

And like the wise men, may we be at peace in knowing that God will always be leading us in His ways.

Friday, January 2, 2015

3rd January 2015, Saturday, Weekday of the Christmas season

1 John 2:29 - 3:6 / John 1:29-34

There is a deep connection between parents and their children.

Among other things, every child bears a physical resemblance to the parents.

That's why there are such sayings as "a chip off the old block" or "like father, like son".

John the Baptist calls Jesus the Lamb of God. The Lamb of God takes away the sins of the world by being sacrificed for sinners.

Jesus sacrificed Himself for us so that freed from sin, we can be re-formed and re-created into His image and likeness.

As the 1st reading puts it, we must purify ourselves and try to be as pure as Christ. That is why sin is so serious and devastating.

Because to sin means that we do not know Christ.

But by our baptism, we have become children of God and we have become one with Christ.

In our prayer, let us renounce our sinfulness and profess our faith and our love for God.