Saturday, February 28, 2015

2nd Sunday of Lent, Year B, 01-03-2015

Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18 / Romans 8:31-34 / Mark 9:2-10

One of the must-have delicacies during this festive season is the barbequed meat, aka “bak kwa”.

Those bak kwa smell as good as they taste, and although they may not be worth their weight in gold, but at more than $50 a kilogram during this season and having to queue up to get it before the Chinese New Year, they are like more precious than gold.

Bak kwa is usually made from pork but it is difficult to say which part of the pig it comes from.

But it doesn’t really matter; as long as it is delicious, we won’t bother.

And we also won’t bother how the pig feels about it. It can’t put up a fight anyway.

(If pigs can put up a fight they will learn karate – so that they can give a pork chop : P )

But pigs can’t put up a fight, and that’s why they end up as ham and bacon and bak kwa.

They can’t fight but they surely can feel. When a piglet is taken away from the mother, there will be tears in her eyes and she will make a mourning sound. The piglet will end up as roast piglet and the mother knows it.

Oh yes, pigs and other animals have feelings too, if we pay attention to their reactions.

If animals have feelings, then more so do human beings and there is a whole set of vocabulary to express those human feelings and emotions.

But in the 1st reading, we don’t seem to hear how Abraham felt.

God put him to the test, and Abraham was told to take his son, his only child Isaac, whom he loved, to be offered as a burnt offering.

The next thing we heard is that they arrived at the place God had pointed out, and Abraham stretched out his hand and seized the knife to kill his son.

Abraham is a man of faith, but he certainly has feelings too. It was he who bargained with God as he tried to save the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

And now he has to sacrifice his own son. How did he feel about it?

We would have guessed that initially he would be shocked, and then he would ask questions like “How come?” and “How can?” At least we would ask those kind of questions.

And we would also wonder why God would demand for human sacrifices. 

But for Abraham, he had seen it happening in the other cults at that time and now the God he is worshipping is asking this from him.

So for him, it was like a case of no choice. Feelings and emotions aside, he had to comply with what God was asking of him.

But as Abraham seized the knife to kill his son, he was stopped by an angel.

So in stopping Abraham from killing his son, God in effect is putting a stop to human sacrifices.

And in effect, God is also saying that the only sacrifice He wants is that of obedience.

But for us obedience to the will of God is often subjected to our feelings and whether it is worth it or not.

A story goes that a king assembled his ministers. He handed a minister a glowing pearl and asked him how much it is worth.

The minister replied that it is worth more gold than a hundred caravans could carry.

Then the king ordered the minister to break it. But the minister replied that he wouldn’t dare do such a thing. And the king seemed pleased at his reply.

One by one the king asked the ministers how valuable the pearl is and each one would raise the value higher than the other.

But when ordered to break it, none of them would do it. They took the cue from the first minister.

Then the king’s faithful servant came along and the king asked him how valuable the pearl is. The servant replied that it is certainly much more than he can think of.

Then the king ordered the servant to break the pearl. Without hesitation, the servant took a hammer and broke it into pieces.

The ministers were shocked and screamed at the servant and asked him why did he break the precious pearl.

The servant replied – What the king says is worth more than any pearl. I obey and honour the king, and not some coloured stone.

With that the ministers realized their true standing with the king and what the king thinks of their obedience.

Jesus is the beloved Son of the Father. He is also obedient to His Father, an obedience that would lead Him to the cross.

God did not demand for Jesus to shed His blood in sacrifice.

It is the sin of mankind that demanded for His blood.

Jesus has shed His blood to save us once and for all from our sins. 

There should be no more shedding of blood, no more taking of revenge, no more pay-back, no more eye for eye and tooth for tooth.

Let us listen to Jesus and be obedient as He was obedient.

Friday, February 27, 2015

1st Week of Lent, Saturday, 28-02-15

Deuteronomy 26:16-19 / Matthew 5:43-48

People who are searching for a religion to adhere to may ask this question.

How is Christianity different from the rest of the other religions?

Well, of course there are many ways to answer that question.

One answer could be this - Christianity doesn't just teach you to be good; Christianity teaches you to be like God!

That was what Jesus meant when He said: You must be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.

In other words, we must be holy, just as our heavenly Father is holy. We must be like God our Father, no less.

To be like God means to do what Jesus did.

And that is to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us.

People might say that that is crazy, but that is what it means to be holy.

So can it be possible to be holy as God is holy?

As the 1st reading puts it, when we declare that God is our only God, then God will also make the declaration that we are His very own people.

God will consecrate us with His love and we will be living images of His holiness in the world.

So is the Lord God our only God? That is the question that we have to answer in the purifying season of Lent.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

1st Week of Lent, Friday, 27-02-15

Ezekiel 18:21-28 / Matthew 5:20-26

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” ― Albert Einstein

That seems to be the tagline of inventors and people who makes discoveries. Because it is usually from a mistake that an invention or a discovery is made and that opens the way for something new.

But there is a big big difference between a mistake and a sin. A mistake is an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgement caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, insufficient knowledge, or to understand, interpret, or evaluate wrongly.

A sin is to do something that is considered wrong according to religious or moral law, or an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law.

As the 1st reading puts it, when an upright man renounces his integrity, he wasn't making a mistake. He knows it is wrong and he deliberately goes on to do it.

He is not trying out anything new, because sin, as a matter of fact, is as old as the hills and the mountains and we all know what are its consequences.

In the gospel, Jesus raised the standards of virtue to a new and a higher level. He goes beyond the usual understanding of the precepts of the Commandments and gives a new teaching about even minor transgressions like anger and cursing.

As far as it goes, there are no new ways to commit sin and there are no new discoveries to be made from it. The result is always a tragedy and causes pain.

But with virtues, we cannot say that we have reached perfection. In fact we will always struggle to be virtuous.

We pray for the grace of God to keep living virtuous lives so that we will discover the power of God's love that will keep us away from sin and to grow in holiness

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

1st Week of Lent, Thursday, 26-02-15

Esther 4:17 / Matthew 7:7-12

One of the most common words we use in prayer is this word "Amen".

We say "Amen" at the Collect, at the Prayer Over the Gifts, at the Closing Prayer, and also when we receive Holy Communion.

It is a simple 4-letter word, but it is packed with meaning. It is actually a Hebrew word that means "Yes, it is" or "So it shall be".

It is an affirmative response to what has been prayed for, and it is also a total commendation to God as we say "Yes" and as we offer ourselves to Him.

What we heard in the 1st reading is a desperate prayer from queen Esther as she begged God to save her and her people from being killed by their enemies.

And if we understood her situation and paid attention to her prayer, we too would say "Amen" to it.

And if we read her story further, we would come to know that indeed God saved her and her people from destruction.

In the gospel, Jesus tells us to ask, to search and to knock. And Jesus also tells us that God give us only the good things.

But we have to ask, to search and to knock like queen Esther in the 1st reading. In other words, we need to beg God to help us, to save us and to grant us the grace to believe that God will always provide for us and take care of us.

When we receive the good things that God gives us, may we give thanks and praise to God with an resounding "Amen".

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

1st Week of Lent, Wednesday, 25-02-15

Jonah 3:1-10 / Luke 11:29-32

For a patriotic Jew who lived during the time of the Old Testament, the book of the prophet Jonah would not be on the favourite list of books, neither would it be a must-read book.

The Ninevites, or the Assyrians, were Israel's most hated enemy. They were the ones who wiped out the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and continued to harass the Southern Kingdom of Judah.

And now a Jewish prophet was sent to this pagan nation to preach about destruction in 40 days' time.

If that patriotic Jew was reading the book for the first time, he would have expected that the Ninevites will ridicule the prophet and then torture him to death, and then that would flare up the anger of God and He would even hasten the time of their destruction.

But the twist and the shock would come about when the Ninevites, from the king to the animals, actually repented with fasting and penance and prayer even.

And God actually relented and He did not inflict on the Ninevites the disaster which He had threatened.

It is like saying that all those terrorists and killers will be forgiven and all the atrocities will be forgotten when they repent. That seems to be too easy and too lenient for them, isn't it.

Yet when we sin, we too would want God to forgive us and be merciful towards us especially when we have sinned gravely.

The Ninevites showed their repentance by taking their penance seriously. And Jesus, in the gospel said that that was the sign that the people of His time should heed.

We too, must heed that sign and we should be the ones who must show our repentance by seriously doing our penance.

The season of Lent is a time of grace where God's gift of forgiveness is given without measure.

May we with a humble and contrite heart heed the call to repentance and be a sign of God's mercy and compassion to the world.

Monday, February 23, 2015

1st Week of Lent, Tuesday, 24-02-15

Isaiah 55:10-11 / Matthew 6:7-15

We have often heard it said that what goes up must come down. That's true in most cases, but not with age, and often it is not with weight, and certainly not the cost of living.

We have also heard it said that what goes down must come up. But is there anything that goes down and does not come up? If we are thinking what it is then the 1st reading gives us the answer.

In fact it is the Lord who said it - As the rain and the snow comes down from the heavens ...

Yes, we see the rain and the snow come down from the heavens, and we do not see it going up the same way as it came down.

Yet, in a way it does. Because the Lord continues - As the rain and snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, ...

If that is what happens to the rain and the snow, then similarly, the Word of the Lord does not return to the Lord empty, without carrying out His will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.

Yes, the Word of the Lord has that kind of power to come down upon the earth and fulfill what it was sent to do before the returning to the Lord.

Jesus is the Word made flesh. In the gospel, He taught us "The Lord's Prayer".

As we raise our voices to God in that prayer, as we even "storm heaven" with that prayer, then we must also believe that our prayer will return to us with God's blessings and graces, for every prayer uttered is also every prayer answered.

So God's Word came down to raise us up to God, and our prayer goes up to God and brings down God's blessings and graces upon us.

Let us believe in the power of God's Word and also in the power of our prayer.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

1st Week of Lent, Monday, 23-02-15

Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-18 / Matthew 25:31-46

It is said that in order to be great, one must be humble. In order to succeed, one have to undergo failure. In order to be understood, one has first to understand.

There seems to be a connection with opposites, even though opposites are understood as two realities or concepts in opposition.

So in an apparent opposition, there is some kind of common denomination.

So how about being human and being Christian? Are these two identities in opposition or is there something in common?

Some may think that being a Christian means accepting and adhering to a higher moral standard.

But if we look at the 1st reading, the precepts that are stated are not too lofty or too difficult to adhere to.

In fact they are more like basic human values of honesty and integrity - "you must not stead or deal deceitfully with your neighbour; you must not exploit or rob your neighbour; you must not curse the dumb, nor put an obstacle in a blind man's way"

If that seems to be like some kind of religious moral code, then in the gospel Jesus makes it clear what is fundamental in life (even regardless of religion) - feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison.

The season of Lent is a time for us to reflect on our frailty and weakness that has led us to sin.

But it is also a time to discover our true human identity and our fundamental human responsibility and duty.

Because in order to be a Christian, we have to be truly human, and to be like Jesus who became like us in all things except sin.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

1st Sunday of Lent, Year B, 22.02.2015

Genesis 9:8-15 / 1 Peter 3:18-22 / Mark 1:12-15

We are into the Lunar New Year (or the Chinese New Year) and according to the Chinese zodiac, this is the Year of the Goat.

So if you are born in the Year of the Goat, and going by the sound that the goat makes, then our wish for you is that “Meeh the Lord bless you.”

The Chinese zodiac has twelve animal symbols, and a person born under particular animal symbol is said to manifest the characteristics of that animal.

So in that sense, it is good that there is no year of the toad. That would be rather challenging where looks are concerned.

Even if that is changed to its relative, the frog, then one of the attributes won’t be that of singing.

As we all know, whether it is frogs or toads, they can’t sing; they can only croak.

But there is one frog that can sing. If we are from the era of Sesame Street and the Muppet Show, then we will know who that frog is.

We would know, or at least heard of Kermit the frog. Kermit is a singing frog, at least in the Muppet Show.

And he has a hit in the Billboard Hot 100 in 1979, and the title of the song is “Rainbow Connection”.

The song begins with “Why are there so many songs about rainbows, and what’s on the other side?”

And you know what they say about you will find at the other end of a rainbow? Whatever they may say, at the other end of the rainbow is just the letter “W”  :P

The 1st reading talks about a bow in the clouds, meaning to say, a rainbow.

It was a rainbow that came after a lot of rain, 40 days of rain. It was a lot of rain and also with a lot of pain.

It was with a lot of pain that God decided to cleanse the world of sin and evil with the flood and only Noah and those with him and those animals in the Ark were saved from the flood.

And so after the flood subsided, God set the rainbow as a sign of the Covenant with Noah and every living creature for all generations – that water shall never again become a flood to destroy lives.

Sin has a destructive effect. It destroys the relationship between God and man, between man and his fellow man, and between man and creation.

The waters of the flood washed away and destroyed that sin, and water has now become a sign of salvation and the rainbow bears testimony to it.

If the rainbow in the 1st reading is the sign that bears testimony to the saving love of God, then in the gospel the sign of God’s saving love is none other than the desert.

We heard that the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness of the desert, and He remained there for 40 days, and He was tempted by the devil.

In the harsh and torturing environment of the desert it is easy to give in to the temptations of the devil and to give up the fight.

And there is also this rather interesting line - He was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after Him.

Why would the gospel mention in particular the wild beasts?

Well, the 1st reading also mentioned about wild beasts, those wild beasts that Noah brought into the Ark.

Those wild beasts were saved from the destruction of the flood.

In mentioning that the wild beasts were with Jesus, the gospel wants to point out to us that the saving mission of Jesus has begun.

And it began, of all places, in the desert, and in being with the wild beasts, Jesus brought nature back to God, just as Noah brought along the wild beasts into the Ark.

Jesus brought nature back to God in the harsh environment of the desert and from the devil’s temptations.

The next stage of His saving mission will be more difficult, and that is to bring mankind back to God.

And it will have to happen, more painfully, on the cross with the pouring out of His blood.

But just as there can be no rainbows without the rain, there can be no salvation without the pain.

Jesus knows that. And He wants us to know that too.

Life is like a rainbow. We need both the rain and the sun to make its colours appear.

But the damp disappointments followed by the scorching frustrations of life can make us forget the love of God for us.

Yet, it can also bring out the true colours within us, the colours of love that God has painted in our lives.

Oh, about Kermit the frog singing that song “Rainbow Connection”. It may sound like some kind of lullaby or kiddies song.

But in the Muppet Movie where Kermit first sang that song, he was in a swamp and he looked at the rainbow. He was told that it’s just a vision, just an illusion.

But he goes on to sing that as he reflected on the rainbow, he hears a voice and he heard it too many times to ignore it, and it’s calling him to be something that he’s supposed to be. 

It all started out by just looking at the rainbow, and its colours, and then he found the connection with his life.

The colours of the rainbow bears testimony that God wants to brighten our lives with His saving love.

We bear that rainbow of God’s love within us and that is the Good News that Jesus came to proclaim.

If we believe in that Good News, then we in turn must bear witness to that Good News and be a rainbow of God’s love in other people’s lives.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Saturday after Ash Wednesday, 21-02-15

Isaiah 58:9-14 / Luke 5:27-32

At any point in time, we can surely think of a person or persons that we have difficulties relating with.

We may just feel uncomfortable about that person, or cannot accept certain qualities about that person, or that person may have hurt us before.

Hence, human relationships are often laced with anything from indifference to intolerance.

Of course, we being the disciples of Jesus will try and strive to resolve our differences.

But the moment we get hurt again or feel that it is pointless or feel that there can be no change for the better, we will immediately and conveniently give up.

In today's gospel, we see Jesus approaching someone whom we would automatically ostracize in our lives, especially if that person has betrayed us and sold us out.

Levi was such a person and yet Jesus not only approached him, but even called him to follow Him.

Jesus came to bring together all peoples into the peace and unity of God's kingdom.

In our Lenten journey ahead, let us heed the word of the Lord from the 1st reading.

Let us release our clenched fists and drop the wicked word.

Then our light will begin to shine for others and our own shadows will be shortened.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Friday after Ash Wednesday, 20-02-15

Isaiah 58:1-9 / Matthew 9:14-15

Whenever we embark on a task, especially a task that we are not that keen about, there may be a tendency for us to look for benefits or rewards in order to motivate us.

We may ask this question: what do I gain from it?

So even a spiritual discipline like fasting can be manipulated.

The prophet Isaiah tells of people who ask God such questions like: Why should we fast if You never see it, why do penance if You never notice.

Let us remember that spiritual disciplines like fasting or alms-giving or even prayer is not meant to attract God's attention and gain spiritual points.

In the case of fasting, it is a spiritual discipline, a physical form of prayer, that helps us to come to a greater awareness of God in our lives and also to have a hunger for God.

Fasting helps us see clearly what is really important and necessary in our lives.

Fasting is a good spiritual discipline that leads us into a deeper relationship with God.

When we are in a deep relationship with God, we will know what to fast from.

We are to fast from sin, because it creeps so easily into our lives and clings tenaciously onto us.

Sin destroys our relationship with God. Fasting is a spiritual means to restore that relationship.

Fasting is also a form of prayer. Hence, may our fasting cleanse and empty us of our selfish desires and also draw us closer to God.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Chinese New Year, 19-02-2015

Numbers 6:22-27 / James 4:13-15 / Matthew 6:31-34

It has to happen sooner or later, and it has happened and we have lived through it.

Can we remember when was the last time that Ash Wednesday fell on the eve of Chinese New Year?

On the eve of Chinese New Year (which was yesterday) the main feature is the Reunion Dinner.

And with the Reunion Dinner falling smack on Ash Wednesday, which is a day of obligatory fast and abstinence, even the Bishops’ Conference has to issue a directive to say that it was agreed that Masses are to be arranged with imposition of ashes as usual.

However fasting can take place on Ash Wednesday itself or on another day which is to be decided by the individual.

Well, we have celebrated Ash Wednesday yesterday and today we are gathered to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

We toggle between fasting and feasting, between faith and culture, between being Catholic and being Chinese, that we feel that one competes with the other.

But faith does not compete with culture, and being Catholic does not mean we cannot keep to our Chinese traditions.

Faith does not compete with culture; in fact faith completes culture.

Faith helps us to see the presence of God in our cultural practices.

Most of us would have observed the obligatory fasting of yesterday and we break fast over the Reunion Dinner as we give thanks to God for keeping the family united in love.

And as we open the celebration of the first day of the Lunar New Year, we come to the house of God to give thanks and to ask for blessings.

We ask for God’s blessings so that as we visit our relatives and friends, we will bring along that blessing.

In all our well wishes, what we really wish for others is the blessing of peace in the midst of anxiety and the uncertainties of tomorrow, and what to eat and what to drink and what to wear.

This year is the Year of the Goat, and goats are described as peace-loving and kind.

So may this new year bring about God’s blessings on us so that we may be peace-loving and be bring about peace where there are anxieties and uncertainties.

May we also radiate the kindness and the graciousness of the Lord.

We give thanks for the past year, and we look forward to a new year, the 1st reading gives us a direction for our faith in our everyday lives.

We call upon the name of the Lord for His blessings upon us, and we also call upon the name of the Lord to bless those who are anxious and uncertain about their lives so that they will be at peace and experience the kindness of the Lord.                                                                                                

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Ash Wednesday, 18-02-15

Joel 2:12-18 / 2 Cor 5:20 - 6:2 / Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent. As the name implies, ashes will be blessed and used in today's Mass and later it will be marked on our foreheads.

The ashes are made from the palm branches that were blessed on Palm Sunday of the previous year.

We may think that the Church is pretty good at recycling otherwise we may not know what to do with the blessed palm branches.

Recycling is a good practice and we should always be mindful of the bountiful gifts God has given us in His Creation.

However, there is a deeper and more spiritual reason behind this old Catholic tradition of using ashes made from the palm leaves blessed on the Palm Sunday of the previous year.

Palm Sunday is the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt and the people welcomed him by waving palm leaves and laying them on the ground.

The Mass on Palm Sunday starts with the liturgy of palms and the blessing of palms. These palms reflect the joy of the people at Jesus’ triumphant entry and also our joy in Jesus, our Saviour.

In the Gospel, the people’s joy soon turned into sorrow when Jesus died at the cross to save them from their sins. Converting the palms into ashes is thus a reminder that crucifixion and death followed soon after.

Ashes were used in ancient times to express grief. The gesture of sprinkling ashes on the forehead was also used to express sorrow for sins and faults.

The imposition of ashes is a mark of penitence, and using the palm branches is also a reminder that the same people who cried "Hosanna" would later be baying "Crucify him!"

The imposition of ashes is also a mark of our own penitence for our own sins. May we begin the season of Lent in the spirit of fasting, alms-giving and prayer and offer it with love to the Lord.

Monday, February 16, 2015

6th Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 17-02-15

Genesis 6:5-8; 7:1-5, 10

Most of us would have gone for a boat ride, but not many of us would have the experience of being in a boat when there is a storm.

Even though the boat is being tossed about in the sea during the storm, the only thing to hang on to is the boat and hope that it won't capsize.

It may not be a sure security but that is the only available security in the midst of the storm at sea. And in terms of proportion, a small boat is hardly anything compared to the massive sea.

But whether it is a small boat or ocean liner, it is no match for the mighty sea as the remains of sunken vessels at the seabed will bear testimony to it.

Today's two readings mentioned about boats. The first reading talks about an ark big enough to hold the various species of animals.

The gospel talks about a boat with a dozen or more men on it crossing the lake.

But whether it is the big ark or that small boat, what is our reflection on it? What do we perceive out of it?

The ark is the refuge of life and the means of salvation. Outside of the ark, is the flood where everything will be gotten rid of.

In the boat and present in their midst is the Lord of life and Saviour of all. But the disciples don't seem to perceive it.

As for us, what do we perceive as we come for this Mass? May we hear the Word of life and experience the saving love of God in this Eucharist.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

6th Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 16-02-15

Genesis 4:1-15, 25 / Mark 8:11-13

When it comes to any competition, it is said that winning is not everything.

As much as it is not everything, some people would twist it and say that "winning is not everything; it is the only thing".

This is quite obvious in sports where sportsmanship is often put to the test and many fail it.

In the 1st reading, we heard that God favoured the offering of Abel but did not look with favour on Cain and his offering.

It may sound like a competition in which there is a winner and there is a loser and if we had been losers before, we would know how Cain felt.

Naturally, Cain was angry and downcast, and God even talked to him telling him to be well disposed or else the sin of resentment and bitterness is like a crouching beast waiting to devour him.

But Cain did not listen to God, and letting his anger develop into resentment and bitterness, it turned into a tragedy as the first murder in the Bible was committed.

God is always speaking to us but are we listening to Him? If only we are aware of the emotions within us, the signs that are in us, then we will know how God is speaking to us.

When anger flares up within us, we just have to look at the Bible and see what it says there.

"Do not let resentment lead you into sin. The sunset must not find you still angry. Do not give the devil his opportunity" (Ephesians 4:26-27)

We don't have to ask for any more signs. We only have to look and feel the signs within us. It is there that the Lord God is speaking to us.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

6th Ordinary Sunday, Year B, 15.02.1015

Leviticus 13:1-2, 45-46 / 1 Cor 10:31 – 11:1 / Mark 1:40-45

We have often heard it said that “no pain, no gain”.

Whatever we make out of it, we may also want to ask if for all the gain, is it worth the pain?

Pain is defined as a highly unpleasant physical sensation caused by illness or injury, or a severe mental suffering or distress.

Whatever it is and whatever it may be, pain is something we want to avoid.

So there are such things called painkillers, and we will go for them when the pain is like killing us.

Of course painkillers can also be used for an adverse purpose.

There are some people who take an overdose of painkillers in order end their painful lives.

Having said so much about pain, what do we think is the greatest pain?

It may sound rather surprising, but the greatest pain is not to feel pain at all.

If we are wondering whether the greatest pain is not to feel pain at all, then let us think about the leper in today’s gospel.

Leprosy is a disease that results in a lack of the ability to feel pain and thus loss of parts of extremities due to repeated injuries.

So the leper does not feel physical pain but the pain increases in his heart as he is being cut off from family and society and left alone to fend for himself.

And at that time there was no cure for leprosy and so it can be termed as terminal, a slow death sentence.

It was in such a state that he came desperately to Jesus and pleaded on his knees, “If you want to, you can cure me.”

And the response from Jesus was sharp and pointed – “Of course I want to! Be cured!”

And the leper was cured! But let us also remember that when the leper was cured of his leprosy, he will begin to feel physical pain once again, just like you and me.

Generally, there are two types of pain – pain that will hurt us and pain that will change us.

We won’t usually associate pain with Hawaii. In fact we may think Hawaii as an escape from the pains of life.

But back in 1864, things were different. In the island of Molokai, there was a leper colony.

It was there that a priest, Fr. Damien, went to, and for sixteen years he cared for the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of those in the leper colony.

Then one day after a long missionary trip, he went back and while preparing to bathe, Fr. Damien accidently put his foot into scalding water, causing his skin to blister. 

But a surprise awaited him; he didn’t feel any sensation. Then it dawned upon him that he had contracted that dreaded disease – leprosy.

Certainly, not feeling any sensation and not feeling any pain would have caused a pain in his heart.

But that pain in his heart also changed him. The next day he announced that he was a leper and with that he was embraced passionately by the leper community.

He continued to serve the leper community till his death in 1889 and was canonized St. Damien in 2009.

Certainly, it was an inspiring and heroic account of a man who turned pain into gain.

As Fr. Damien wrote in one of his letters – “ ...I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ.”

Certainly we may not be that heroic and self-sacrificing. In fact we would rather avoid pain, and even at all cost.

But not to feel pain could well be the greatest pain. In avoiding pain and not wanting to feel pain, we have become insensitive and indifferent to ourselves and to the others around us.

In other words, we could have become spiritual lepers and not feeling pain within ourselves and the pain of others.

And that brings back what the leper in today’s gospel said to Jesus – If you want to, you can cure me.

Yes, Jesus is our Saviour and our Healer. To ask Jesus to heal us and to cure us does not mean that we are asking for a pain-free life.

In fact it might just be the other way round. We are asking Jesus to heal us and cure us so that we are able to feel the pain within us and the pain that others are suffering from.

Yes, pain can hurt us, and yet pain can also change us.

Jesus went through the pain of the cross in order to save us.

The pain of the cross became the gain of salvation.

When we are able to accept the pain of our lives, then we are healed of our spiritual leprosy.

We are healed of our insensitivity and our indifference to the pain of others.

And just as Jesus reached out and touched the leper and cured him, we too will be able to reach out and give that healing touch of Jesus to others.

So, of course Jesus wants to heal us. But let us remember what we are asking for as we say to Jesus “If you want to, you can cure me”.

It may mean that we are willing to accept the pain. But it is a pain that will have tremendous gain.

Friday, February 13, 2015

5th Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 14-02-15

Genesis 3:9-24 / Mark 8:1-10

Many questions have been asked about sin and suffering.

Questions like is there a connection between sin and innocent suffering.

So, as much as the reality of sin is not denied, yet the aspect of suffering as a consequence of sin has its questions.

Especially innocent suffering, or as a consequence of other people's sin.

Some may even question the inheritance of Original Sin, since it was the sin of Adam and Eve, and we should not be liable for it.

Well, we will always have our questions about sin and suffering.

But let us listen to what questions God is asking us.

In the 1st reading, we heard God asking the question - Where are you?

So even though Adam and Even had sinned, God did not abandon them but searches for them.

In the gospel, we hear Jesus asking another question - How many loaves have you?

Jesus was not looking at the limitations; He was more interested in possibilities.

God is reaching out to us with His questions so that we may look again at our questions about life, about sin and about suffering.

And Jesus is asking us to put the loaves of our lives with its questions into His hands.

From His hands we will receive the Bread of Life that will give us faith and hope to walk on in love, despite and in spite of our questions.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

5th Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 13-02-15

Genesis 3:1-8 / Mark 7:31-37

The darkest periods of the history of the world, or for that matter of fact, the darkest periods of the history of the Church was when human beings did not involve God in their affairs.

In World War I and World War II, where was God in human affairs?

In the period before the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, where was God in the Church affairs?

In the 1st reading, where was God in the darkest moment of the devil's temptation?

Surely God was around, but He was neither consulted nor was He asked to be involved in the conversation between the serpent and the woman.

In the darkness of the moment, Adam and Eve fell into sin, and that made them hide from God.

Sin opened their eyes, only to make them run and hide.

Whereas Jesus opened the ears and loosened the tongue of the man, as well as the eyes of the people to see that God has come to restore the goodness of His creation.

In fact, that was what God wanted to do for Adam and Eve when He walked in the garden in the cool of the day - He came as a friend; He came with love and forgiveness.

God will always walk with us in the moments of our temptations, and He wants to save us in the darkness of our sin.

Let us remember that no darkness is dark enough to prevent God from entering. But we  have to make to choice to let God enter and be involved in our lives.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

5th Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 12-02-15

Genesis 2:18-25 / Mark 7:24-30

Whenever we talk about salvation, there are many aspects to consider.

What do we need to be saved from?
- Saved from the punishment due to our sins?
- Saved from a meaningless life so as to become fully alive?
- Saved from an imminent danger or threat?

The fundamental meaning of salvation in the Bible is the restoration of relationship between God and man.

The relationship was broken when man turned away from God and sinned.

The consequence of which is that man turned against himself, against each other and even against nature.

Jesus the Saviour restores the relationship between God and man, man and his fellow-man, and man with nature.

Jesus came to restore the relationship that we heard about in the 1st reading.

He came to save and heal as we heard in the gospel.

If there is anything that we need from God, it is the need to be saved and healed so that we can turn back to God and also be in union with each other and with nature.

If the Syrophoenician woman, who was a pagan, can turn to Jesus for help, all the more we the people of faith should turn to Jesus in all our needs.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

5th Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 11-02-15

Genesis 2:4-9, 15-17 / Mark 7:14-23

In the Bible, the verb "to eat" has a deeper meaning than just consuming food.

To eat can mean to be in communion with another person or persons, or to be in an intimate relationship with someone.

So for the Jews, who they eat with is significant and important.

Another meaning of the verb "to eat" can also mean to know, or to have knowledge of something or someone.

For the Jews, they had a long standing tradition of what is ritually clean and unclean foods.

So when Jesus said that nothing goes into a  man from outside can make him unclean, he actually knocked away one of the pillars of their cultural and religious tradition.

On the other hand, Jesus connected the act of eating with the knowledge of what is sin.

Similarly in the 1st reading, God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

When we sin, we eat of the fruit of evil and our hearts become filled with evil, and death and destruction happens from within.

In the Eucharist, we gather to partake of Jesus, who is the Bread of Life so as to be in communion with Him.

May we be filled with the life of the Spirit so that in turn we will speak words of love that will give life to others.

Monday, February 9, 2015

5th Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 10-02-15

Genesis 1:20 - 2:4 / Mark 7:1-13

Children are always thrilled with balloons.

More so if the balloons are filled with helium because they rise and you have to keep it attached to a string if you don't want to lose the helium balloons.

It might sound like a silly question if i were to ask this question: Which helium balloon will rise faster - the red, the green, the blue or the yellow coloured one?

Of course we will say that it is not the colour that matters but what is inside the balloon.

That may be obvious to us, but in other matters, things may become blurred.

The gospel cites one instance of the emphasis on washing of hands but neglecting the purity of heart.

As Jesus puts it so profoundly - You put aside the commandment of God to cling to human traditions.

Yet, the basis of the teachings of Jesus and His ministry is stated in the 1st reading.

We are all created in the image and likeness of God and it is this image and likeness that Jesus came to save and restore.

External appearances are necessary but they can never replace the internal essence of what we are made of and who made us.

May our words and actions flow from the essence of the image and likeness of God within us.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

5th Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 09-02-15

Genesis 1:1-19 / Mark 6:53-56

There is this saying: Don't judge a book by it cover.

In other words, just as we can't say what are the contents in the book just by looking at its cover, neither can we say what a person is really like just by his looks.

Nonetheless, we can't deny that looks do reveal.

Looks do reveal something about the feelings of the person and something about his heart.

For example, the angry look, the hurt look, the loving look, the tender look, etc.

In the gospel, we heard that the people recognized Jesus.

The recognition is more than just the physical features. They saw deeper than just the physical dimension.

They saw in Him, the look of mercy and unconditional love.

They saw in Him, the face of love, the face of God.

In the Eucharist, Jesus shows us the face of His love.

He gives to us who His is and what He is.

When we partake of the Eucharist, we change just as bread and wine is changed.

We too take on the look of love; we take on the face of love.

May others recognize that look and see that face in us.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

5th Ordinary Sunday, Year B, 08.02.2015

Job 7:1-4, 6-7 / 1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23 / Mark 1:29-39

Life would be very much easier if there is always someone to solve our problems.

We just have to dump our problems with that person and then just wait for solutions. Life would be so easy for us then.

There is a sports equipment company that has this slogan “Just do it”. Our slogan would be “Get someone else to do it”.

Children would get their parents to do it, when it comes to homework (that’s called outsourcing). Older siblings would get their younger siblings to do it, when it comes to housework (that’s called bullying).

And when we get our colleagues to do it, it’s called “arrowing”.

Maybe that’s why at meetings, we try to keep our heads as low as possible so as to avoid getting arrowed.

To be arrowed and burdened with other people’s problems can rather frustrating and annoying.

As Job says in the 1st reading “life is but a burden”, “nothing more than pressed service”, “no better than hired drudgery”.

It is certainly very frustrating when you have to solve other people’s problems, and there’s no one to solve your problems.

Oh yes, life is full of problems and we will always be looking for that “go-to” person to dump our problems with and then wait for solutions.

In the gospel, we can see who that “go-to” person is. He is none other than Jesus. 

On leaving the synagogue, He went to the house of Simon and Andrew and there they told Him about Simon’s mother-in-law who was down with fever.

And so Jesus went to her and took her by the hand and helped her up and the fever left her.

Then that evening after sunset, they brought to Him all who were sick and those possessed by devils.

In fact the whole town came crowding round the door and He solved problem after problem, curing those who were suffering from diseases of one kind or another and casting out devils.

Those problems were bad news, but Jesus turned them into Good News.

Just as out of chaos, creation came forth, then out of bad news will come forth Good News.

There is a story of a famous tennis player who trained hard for the championship.

But unlike other famous players, he lived simply and even took public transport.

Because he trained hard, he won the championship and the $10 000 prize.

As he walked to the bus-stop with the prize money, a woman went up to him, crying, saying that she has a sick dying child and she needed $10 000 to save her dying child.

Without a word, the tennis player gave her his $10 000 prize money.

A week later, the tennis player was at a café and a news reporter went up to him and asked him if he had given a woman $10 000, and he said yes.

The reporter then told him that he has bad news for him. The woman does have a child but the child is not sick nor dying.

The tennis player asked, “Really?”  The reporter said, “Yes, really. You had been cheated!” (guess what happens next?)

The tennis player said, “I mean is it really true that her child is not sick nor dying?”

And the reporter replied, “Yes, the child is not sick nor dying.”

Then the tennis player said, “Thanks be to God! That’s the best news I’ve heard all week.”

That’s certainly good news, as long as we can look beyond that $10 000.

The point in the story is that the bad things in life can open our eyes to the good things we weren’t paying attention to before.

But in order to see the good things and to see the Good News, we need to heed what Jesus is telling us – Come to Me all you who find life weary and burdensome and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28)

Jesus Himself knew the weariness and burdens of life, and we heard in the gospel that in the morning, long before dawn, He got up and went off to a lonely place and prayed there. 

It was prayer that made the difference, the difference of turning bad news into Good News, the difference of turning problems into solutions.

To end off, let us listen to this short poem called “The Difference”.

I got up early one morning and rushed right into the day. I had so much to accomplish that I didn't have time to pray.

Problems just tumbled about me, and heavier came each task. "Why doesn't God help me?" I wondered. He answered, “You didn't ask." 

I wanted to see joy and beauty, but the day toiled on, gray and bleak. I wondered why God didn't show me. He said, "But you didn't seek.” 

I tried to come into God's presence. I used all my keys at the lock. God gently and lovingly chided, "My child, you didn't knock." 

I woke up early this morning and paused before I entered the day. I had so much to accomplish that I had to take time to pray.

So let us not tell God how great our problems are, but let us tell our problems how great God is.

Then problems will turn into solutions, and bad news will turn into Good News.

Friday, February 6, 2015

4th Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 07-02-15

Hebrews 13:15-17, 20-21 / Mark 6:30-34

The need for rest and recreation seemed to be like a missing element in our lives.

In our fast-paced society, we can even feel guilty about having some rest and recreation when everyone seems so busy. Taking leave and going for a holiday would sound so selfish and inconsiderate.

We may have become so used to busyness and hurried lives that we forget about the necessity of rest and recreation.

But rest and recreation is not about doing nothing and sleeping our time away.

It is about a quiet time for prayer and to refocus our hearts on God.

In the gospel, when the disciples came back from their mission and reported what they had done, the response of Jesus was for them to go to a lonely place and rest.

Because the temptation to do more and more especially with success after success can make people lose focus and perspective.

We have to realize that success cannot be created by our own hands.

It is God who will give success to the work of our hands.

Only when we are rested in the hands of God in prayer will our work bear fruits that last. Otherwise our busyness is just an occupied emptiness.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

4th Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 06-02-15

Hebrews 13:1-8 / Mark 6:14-29

The book "Five people you meet in heaven" is novel written by Mitch Albom is about a man, Eddie, who died and went to heaven and met five people who significantly impacted him while he was alive.

The surprising element in the story is that Eddie was not acquainted with those five persons nor were they acquainted with each other.

Somehow their lives criss-crossed into each other and had an influence and impacted the life of Eddie without him knowing it.

It would be interesting to know how many people we are going to meet in heaven who had influenced and impacted our lives without us knowing them.

But without talking too much about who we are going to meet in heaven and about the afterlife, the 1st reading talks about this life and it urged us to " remember always to welcome strangers, for by doing this, some people have entertained angels without knowing it."

Some people are like angels who help us look beyond life on earth and to see the presence of God in all things and in everyone.

In the gospel, king Herod heard about Jesus and he was curious about Him. But in any case, he would had certainly known who John the Baptist was. After all he had ordered his execution.

John the Baptist had tried to talk some sense into Herod especially about his sin with Herodias. Herod was perplexed though he liked to listen to him.

John is gone and now Jesus appears into the scene and Herod starts thinking again. Will Herod ever realise that God is sending him people to tell him something about his life?

May we also realize that God is always present and speaking to us in the people that have come and crossed into our lives.

And when we welcome those who are the least, the last and the lonely, we are welcoming God into our lives.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

4th Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 05-01-15

Hebrews 12:18-19, 21-24 / Mark 6:7-13

If we have to use analogies to describe the OT and the NT, then the OT can be said to be like the radio and the NT is like the television.

The OT let us hear the Word of God. The NT not only let us hear the Word of God but also let us see the Word of God in the person of Jesus.

The 1st reading gives us another dimension as well as another comparison between the OT and the NT.

In the OT the blood of Abel cries out for vengeance. In the NT, the blood of Christ cries out and pleads more instantly for mercy.

And it is mercy that has restored us to heaven and it has also given us the status as the "first-born son" and a citizen of heaven.

All because Christ came and poured out His blood so that we can be saved by the mercy of God.

And that was what Jesus sent His disciples to preach - repentance. So that we can be saved.

The blood of Christ is pleading to us to repent and may it not be pleading in vain.

Yes, Christ is pleading for us to repent, because He would rather go through hell to save us than to go to heaven without us.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

4th Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 04-02-15

Hebrews 12:4-7, 11-15 / Mark 6:1-6

God's love is really an interesting phenomenon. It often shows itself unexpectedly and in unexpected places.

One of the most unexpected places (maybe not so unexpected actually) to see God's love is of all places, at the hospital.

Yes, the hospital, the place where medical science and technology try contest with suffering and death.

Yet, very often, it is on the hospital bed that  a sick person comes to his senses and gains a new perspective to life.

Of course, the experience of suffering and standing on the edge of life is not something we look forward to.

As the 1st reading says, it is most painful and far from pleasant or pleasurable.

Yet, we see such experiences as the "commas" of our lifes, those little pauses that holds us for a while so that we can get some perspective and see where God is in our lives.

Even for Jesus, when He faced  rejection, it was like a "comma", a pause that enabled Him to have the strength to obey the Father's will and to face the cross.

So when we encounter a "comma" in our lives, difficult and unpleasant as it is, let us also know that it is in moments like these that God's love is poured forth abundantly in our hearts.

We just have to stop and open our hearts to His love.

4th Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 03-02-15

Hebrews 12:1-4 / Mark 5:21-43

Today is the feastday of St Blaise, and the Church celebrates his feastday as a memorial.

St. Blaise was the bishop of Sebaste in Armenia during the 4th century.

Not much is known about his life and according to various accounts, he was a physician before becoming a bishop.

He was reputed to have miraculously cured a little boy who nearly died because of a fishbone that was stuck in his throat.

Devotion to him spread in the Middle Ages and from the 8th century, he has been invoked on behalf of the sick, especially those afflicted with illnesses of the throat.

Hence on this feastday of St. Blaise, a blessing of throats may be given by  a priest or deacon during Mass or after Mass depending on pastoral situations.

The blessing of throats is a profound sign of the struggle against illness in the life of the Christian.

As the Roman Ritual puts it - The blessing of the sick by ministers of the Church is a very ancient custom, rooted in the imitation of Christ Himself and His apostles.

So as much as we Christians feel and experience pain as the rest of humanity, yet our faith in God helps us to grasp more deeply the mystery of suffering and to bear our pain with greater courage, just as St. Blaise did in his martyrdom.

Through the intercession of St. Blaise, may we fight strenuously against all sickness and seek the blessings of good health, so that we may bear witness to God's love and His providence.

Prayer of blessing of throats :
"Through the intercession of Saint Blaise, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from every disease of the throat, and from every other disease. In the name of the Father and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit.
R. Amen."

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Presentation of the Lord, Monday, 02-02-15

Malachi 3:1-4 / Hebrews 2:14-18 / Luke 2:22-40

If a child is a baptized Catholic, he or she would most certainly have prayed (and played!) with a lighted candle before.

In fact, in the Catholic Church, blessed candles are used to administer all the sacraments, except the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

A candle used for prayer is also sometimes called a votive candle. It is intended to be burnt as a votive offering in an act of prayer. The word “votive” is derived from the Latin word “votum” which means vow or promise.

As we offer a prayer to God on behalf of someone or something, the candle that we light is a tangible sign of that prayer. In praying with a lighted candle, we align ourselves and our intentions with the will of God. We pray for the Light of the World to come.

Besides use in Church, blessed candles can also be used in the homes for personal prayers. The Church places such emphasis on blessed candles; there is even a special day for blessing candles. This is on 2 February, on the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, the feast we are celebrating today.

The feast of the Presentation of the Lord occurs forty days after the birth of Jesus and is also known as Candlemas day, since the blessing and procession of candles is included in the day's liturgy. This day is also referred to as the "Purification of Mary."

This feast concludes the celebration of the Nativity and with the offerings of the Virgin Mother and the prophecy of Simeon, the events now point toward Easter.

During the presentation of Jesus at the temple, Simeon recognized Jesus as the Messiah, the “light to enlighten the pagans and the glory of Your people” (Luke 2:32).

The candles blessed on this day and kept by the faithful in their homes should be seen as a sign of Christ 'the light of the world' and an expression of faith.

May the celebration of the Eucharist bring forth an enlightenment into our lives and as we bring the blessed candles home, may we also continue to pray that the light of Christ will shine upon the world.