Friday, July 31, 2015

17th Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 01-08-15

Leviticus 25:1, 8-17 / Matthew 14:1-12

At times we wonder if being good and doing good is really worth it.

Because very often, we see, and even experienced, that good is being re-paid with evil.

John the Baptist just wanted Herod to repent and live a good life.

Because what Herod did was leading towards self-destruction.

John the Baptist had compassion for Herod.

In fact, Herod knew it, and that was why he was distressed when he had to give the orders for John's execution.

But goodness cannot be silenced or put to death.

Because in the person of Jesus, Herod was once again reminded of the goodness of John the Baptist.

When we live out the Christian values of love, patience, gentleness, humility, etc., and we get slapped in the face, we may wonder if it is worth it.

But let us remember that all good comes from God.

When we do good, the benefactors are not just the others.

We ourselves begin to realize our Christian identity and see the power of goodness and the power of God's love happening in the lives of others.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

17th Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 31-07-15

Leviticus 23:1, 4-11, 15-16, 27, 34-37 / Matthew 13:54-58

If someone were to ask you who preached the homily at Mass last Sunday, you might take a while to recall which priest it was.

But if the next question would be "So what did he preach about?" then we really have to crank up our memory in order to recall what we heard.

And ten other persons who were there listening to the same homily would have ten versions of what was preached.

That could mean that people are doing their own reflections about the Word of God.

Yet, people also tend to listen with varying degrees of openness and receptivity.

And that depends largely on who is speaking.

In today's gospel, we see that a judgement is made between the speaker and what was spoken.

The people of Jesus's hometown were not open to the person, and hence is not open to the truth.

When we challenge ourselves to listen to what is said and not how it is said or who is saying it, then we will be able to hear the truth.

Then we will hear the prophetic voice of God.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

17th Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 30-07-15

Exodus 40:16-321, 34-36 / Matthew 13:47-53

It is very easy to use today's readings to preach a fire-and-brimstone homily about judgement and punishment, repent or burn etc.

But strange that Jesus would use the image of a dragnet.

A dragnet catches everything that is in its way.

The dragnet is such that it does not discriminate.

And that is what the church is like, or should be like.

We find all sorts of people in church - the saintly and the not-so, the straight and the crooked, the talkers and the doers, the quiet and the loud, just to name a few.

And at times, we might wonder why there are those kinds of people in church.

Maybe that's why we say that the church is a mystery.

As we heard in the first reading, the Israelites experienced mystery. In the form of the tabernacle, the Israelites came into contact with the mystery of God.

Similarly, in the Church, we encounter the mystery of God in the people present in the Church.

It is because when we believe in the mystery of the presence of God in the Church, we can then believe that God will cleanse the Church, cleanse each of us, so that we as the Church can be the distinct sign of salvation.

Then, we , the Church, can go forth and cleanse the world.

St. Martha, Wednesday, 29-07-15

1 John 4:7-16 / John 11:19-27

Whenever we talk about St. Martha, the image of an active and work-oriented as well as task-oriented person comes to mind.

That may be because of that occasion (Luke 10 : 38-42)when she invited Jesus to her home and she was caught up with all the serving.

And then she complained to Jesus about getting her sister Mary to help her with the work.

But Jesus told her that she worry and fret about so many things and yet only one is important, and Mary had chosen the better part.

Martha must have remembered what Jesus said to her, and so despite the sadness and grief over her brother's death, she knew that only Jesus could comfort her.

And true to her personality, she made the move to go out and meet Jesus and to express her faith in Jesus.

But on this occasion, she also made a profound proclamation.

Martha proclaimed Jesus to be Christ, the Son of God.

Only St. Peter had made that similar proclamation.

Hence, St. Martha, despite her active and work-oriented and task-oriented personality, came to slowly recognize who Jesus is.

St. Martha is an example for us of someone who is active and busy but yet took the time to reflect and to discover who Jesus is.

Like St. Martha we may also have very active lives and busy with a lot of things.

But let us not forget the one important thing - prayer!

It is in prayer that we will attain the peace to know that Jesus is truly the Son of God, our Saviour.

Monday, July 27, 2015

17th Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 28-07-15

Exodus 33:7-11; 34:5-9, 28 / Matthew 13:36-43

Moses is certainly one of the figures in the Bible who can say he knew how God protected him.

Throughout his life, from the time as a baby, to his fleeing from the Pharaoh, and then returning to Egypt to lead his people out of slavery, Moses knew how God's hand was protecting him.

It is through all this, that he came to know God as a God of mercy and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness.

And when the Israelites sinned against God and in spite of the evil that Moses saw the Israelites committing, yet Moses turned to God to beg for forgiveness and mercy for his people.

Well, the situations that we find ourselves in are not that different from that of Moses.

We are confronted by our own sinfulness, the sinfulness of others, and on a larger scale, the evil in the world.

Or like how the Gospel puts it. We see more darnel, we see more weeds than wheat.

But we are reminded that we must not let evil overcame us; instead we must conquer evil with God.

So let us not be discouraged over our acts of charity; we shall reap when the time comes, as long as we persevere in these good deeds.

Because, God from where all good flows, will never allow the good that we do, to be destroyed by evil.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

17th Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 27-07-15

Exodus 32:15-24, 30-34 / Matthew 13:31-35

Babies and very young children have this peculiar tendency.

They will cry out in distress when they don't see their parents around them.

Their parents are certainly still around; just that they are momentarily out of sight.

This tendency is especially manifested on the first day of nursery, when the parents leave their children under the care of teachers.

The reaction of the children can be anything from frowning to hysterical cries.

Such is the need of children for a visible presence of their parents.

We see a similar situation with the Israelites in the 1st reading.

Moses had left them to go up to Mt Sinai, and they began to feel abandoned and insecure.

They needed a sense of security and they turned to a thing to satisfy them.

Yes, we might criticize them for being idolatrous, etc.

But what they felt only illustrates the human desire for the presence of God in order to feel secure.

The presence of God is like the mustard seed and the yeast parables that Jesus used to describe the Kingdom of God.

Where God is made present, there is the Kingdom.

We are like the mustard seeds and the yeast.

God is within us and He is waiting.

He is waiting for us to make His kingdom present in the world.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

17th Ordinary Sunday, Year B, 26.07.2015

2 Kings 4:42-44 / Ephesians 4:1-6 / John 6:1-15

Coming for Mass can be quite distracting and challenging, especially if we are hungry.

In Singapore where eating is like a habit and a lifestyle, (despite the fact that our country produces hardly any food) to be hungry for a prolonged period of time sounds abnormal and strange.

Still, hunger cannot be undermined because hunger fans the emotions of anger.

Some clever people have amalgamated the words “hungry” and “angry” into a new word called “hangry” to mean a state of anger caused by lack of food.

It is true that hunger can cause a negative change in the emotional state of any living being.

That’s why it takes a lot of patience to run a food business and to face hungry and demanding customers.

Once, I was at a food court and waiting behind another customer to get beef noodles. And I thought I heard her telling the cook that she wants the beef medium rare.

The cook just nodded and prepared the so called “medium rare” beef noodles for her.

So when my turn came I was curious and I had to ask if there is such a thing as “medium rare” beef noodles. 

The cook replied that it is better to pretend to give the hungry customer what she wants than to argue about the existence of “medium rare” beef noodles (smart cookie!)

In today’s gospel, food, and the multiplication of food is indeed a point for reflection.

But the reflection is not on how it was multiplied. Rather, the reflection is on why the food was multiplied. 

A large crowd was following Jesus, impressed by the signs He gave by curing the sick.

And they continued to follow Him simply because He made them feel loved.

He had shown his love for the sick by curing them. He showed His love for the crowd by teaching them the way of love.

And now as He sees the hungry crowd before Him and He knew exactly what to do.

He was going to show them another sign of His love, His love for them.

He was going to show His love for them by satisfying their hunger.

So regardless of how the loaves and fish were multiplied, the miracle pointed to one thing.

It showed that when God loves, He loves generously and He even loves in excess.

After all, when the remainders were collected ,they filled up 12 baskets.

Now that is the God that we are called to believe in - a God who loves generously; a God who gives generously.

But that is where the problem begins; because very often the attention shifts from the Giver to the gifts.

In the gospel, when the crowd saw the miracles that Jesus had worked, they wanted to make Him their King.

At first they followed Jesus because they hungered for truth and for love.

But now they got distracted by material benefits.

Now, they are interested in more food, more comfort, more security, more possessions.

And that is precisely our story.  Yes, we believe in God especially when He gives.  But what about when He doesn’t?

Yes, the God that we believe in is a God who loves us generously and provides for our needs.

Yet the God that we hunger for is the God who was nailed to the cross, died on the cross, so that we can have life.

If we only turn to God for food, clothing, shelter, wealth, then we are just like “hungry beings” – we will never be satisfied or contended.

If “hungry beings” are always thinking about food, then poor beings are always thinking about wealth and riches.

To be wealthy and rich but without honour and integrity is like tasteless food; it will satisfy the hunger but it won’t taste good.

A successful businessman was growing old and knew it was time to choose a successor to take over the business. 

Instead of choosing one of his directors or his children, he decided to do something different. 

He called all the young executives in his company together. He said, “It is time for me to step down and choose the next CEO. I have decided to choose one of you.” The young executives were shocked, but the boss continued. “I am going to give each one of you a seed today – one very special seed. I want you to plant the seed, water it, and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from the seed I have given you. I will then judge the plants that you bring, and the one I choose will be the next CEO”

One man, named Jim, was there that day and he, like the others, received a seed. He went home and told his wife the story. 

She helped him get a pot, soil and compost and he planted the seed. Everyday, he would water it and watch to see if it had grown. 

After about three weeks, some of the other executives began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow. 

Jim kept checking his seed, but nothing ever grew. Three weeks, four weeks, five weeks went by, still nothing. By now, others were talking about their plants, but Jim didn’t have a plant and he felt like a failure. Six months went by- still nothing in Jim’s pot. 

He just knew he must have killed his seed but he didn’t say anything to his colleagues. He just kept watering and fertilizing the soil.

The year finally went by and all the young executives of the company brought their plants to the CEO for inspection. 

Jim told his wife that he wasn’t going to take an empty pot. But she encouraged him to be honest about what happened. Jim felt sick in his stomach, it was going to be the most embarrassing moment of his life, but he knew his wife was right. 

He took his empty pot to the board room. When he arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by the other executives. Jim held his empty pot and many of his colleagues laughed at him.

When the CEO arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted his young executives. Jim just tried to hide at the back. “My, what great plants, trees, and flowers you have grown,” said the CEO.” Today one of you will be appointed the next CEO!” 

Then he spotted Jim at the back of the room with his empty pot. He ordered the financial director to bring him to the front. Jim was terrified. 

He thought, “Now he knows I’m a failure! Maybe I’ll be fired!” 

When he got to the front, the CEO asked him what had happened to his seed. 

Jim told him the story. The CEO asked everyone to sit down except Jim. Then he announced, “Behold your next Chief Executive! His name is Jim!” He continued, “One year ago today, I gave everyone in this room a seed. I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today. But I gave you all boiled seeds; they were dead – it was not possible for them to grow. All of you, except Jim, have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When you found that the seed would not grow, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you. Jim was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. So, he is the one who will be the new CEO!”

Just a story to remind us that hunger for success cannot be at the expense of honour and integrity.

Jesus did not give in to the crowds to become popular for the wrong reasons.

We are reminded that we are human beings and not “hungry beings”.

We only need to follow God’s ways and He will open wide His hands and fill the hunger of our hearts.

Friday, July 24, 2015

St. James, Apostle, Saturday, 25-07-15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 23, 2015

16th Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 24-07-15

Exodus 20:1-17 / Matthew 13:18-23

Everyday we hear a lot of words, and we  react and respond to those  words.

And it is not just what we hear, but also how we hear it.

In the 1st reading, we heard the words of the 10 Commandments.

Just mention the 10 Commandments, and the immediate phrase that we can think of is "Thou shall not ..."

And phrases like "thou shall not ..." seems to be prohibitive and restrictive, and our response to it will be that of indifference or to just "toe the line".

But what is NOT said can be as important as what is said. Because what we are told not to do is also implicitly complimented by what we should do.

God gave us the 10 Commandments not to restrict us but to protect us and to let us know what is good for us.

When we hear and understand God's Commandments, we will also be also the hear the voice behind those words, the voice of God that will motivate us and inspire us to live a life meaningfully and peacefully.

The voice of God behind the words of Scripture are like seeds that are sown in our hearts so that we can bear a harvest of love and good deeds for God in the service of others.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

16th Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 23-07-15

Exodus 19:1-2, 9-11, 16-20 / Matthew 13:10-17

Preparation for an occasion is certainly necessary. More so if we expect to get something worthwhile out of it, then a more detailed preparation will be required.

After all what you sow is what you will reap, and thin sowing means thin reaping. And hence the greater the occasion, the more will be the preparation.

In the 1st reading, God told Moses that He is coming to His people, and Moses was told what were the necessary preparations.

The people were to wash their clothing and hold themselves in readiness for the third day, because God will descend on the mountain of Sinai in the sight of the people.

And it was indeed a dramatic and spectacular occasion. On the third day, there were peals of thunder and lightning flashes, a dense cloud appeared, and a loud trumpet blast and inside the camp all the people trembled.

There was smoke and fire and the mountain shook violently as God came to His people. Such was how the people experienced God. But it was an experience that required preparation on the part of the people.

But in the gospel, when Jesus spoke to the people, they don't seem to understand Him as He spoke in parables.

Jesus came to His people not so much in drama and spectacle but in mystery, and those who are prepared to look beyond His humanity will be able to see the mystery of His divinity.

We have come to the Mass in which a great mystery is about to happen. God not only speaks to us, He even comes into communion with us.

May we always be well prepared as we come to Mass so that we will experience deeply the mystery of God.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

St. Mary Magdalene, Wednesday, 22-07-15

Songs 3:1-4 or 2 Cor 5:14-17 / John 20:1-2, 11-18

Mary Magdalene's appearance in the gospels was rather sudden, her name may mean that she was from the town of Magdala (thought to have been on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee).

According to Luke 8:2 and Mark 16:9, Jesus cleansed her of "seven demons". That could mean that she was under some kind of serious diabolic possession or influence.

But despite her centuries-old infamous reputation which was depicted in religion, art, literature, and in recent prominent fictional books and movies, it is largely agreed today that there was no solid biblical or extra biblical evidence that suggests she was ever a prostitute,  or a secret lover or wife of Jesus, or mother of His children.

The gospel of Luke has it that after Jesus delivered her of the "seven demons", she followed Him and joined the band of women who supported Jesus and His disciples out of their own means.

But it was at the crucifixion, burial and Resurrection that Mary Magdalene became prominent.

She was there at the foot of the cross with Mother Mary and the beloved disciple John; she was at that burial of Jesus; and she was there at the tomb very early on the first day of the week.

And it was there and then that Jesus appeared to her and called her by name.

In Mary Magdalene, we see a slow and silent transformation from the moment she was delivered by Jesus to the moment He called her by name at His resurrection.

She had a dark past, and maybe even after that was disregarded and labelled with rejection.

But in the events of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection, Mary Magdalene displayed faithfulness, courage and love even beyond death.

So if every saint has a past, then every sinner also has a future. But just as Mary Magdalene put her future in Jesus, may we also put ours into the hands of Jesus and hear Him call us by name.

16th Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 21-07-15

Exodus 14:21 - 15:1 / Matthew 12:46-50

In life, there will always be changes. Change is inevitable. There is even a philosophical saying: You can never step into the same river twice (Heraclitus)

Although for most of the time, change is usually for the better, yet it cannot be denied that not all change is for the good. In other words, changes can bring about negative effects and undesirable results.

In the 1st reading, we heard the great saving act that God did for the Israelites – the miraculous parting of the sea that saved the Israelites but doomed the Egyptians.

But the fact is that much earlier, God had sent the 10 plagues against Egypt. Yet it changed Pharaoh’s heart for the worse – it hardened his heart.

And with that, his army met its fate in the depths of the sea; whereas Israel in witnessing the great act that the Lord had performed against the Egyptians venerated the Lord and put their faith in the Lord.

In the gospel, we hear Jesus asking this very astonishing question – Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?

Is Jesus changing His family origins and identity? Is He cutting off family ties and family relationships?

Of course not! But He is stating the one necessary criterion that is necessary if we are to belong to His family – the change of heart in order to do the will of His Father.

It is a change for the better, if fact for our good, so that we can truly say we belong to Jesus. It is a change that will also save us.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

16th Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 20-07-15

Exodus 14:5-18 / Matthew 12:38-42

Changing our minds is something that happens so often even within a day, so much so that it is said that if we don't change our minds, then why have one!

Nonetheless, we are always free to change our minds and choose a different future or a different past, whether it is for better or for worse.

In the 1st reading, we heard that the Egyptians changed their minds about the Israelites after they had escaped from Egypt.

They gave chase in their chariots and when they were about to catch up on the Israelites, it was now the Israelites' turn to change their minds about leaving Egypt.

In this whole drama of blood-thirsty Egyptians and panic-stricken Israelites, one thing was clear - both sides changed their minds about God.

The Egyptians were inflicted with the ten plagues and they changed their minds about God and His people and let them free, only to change their minds later and chased after the Israelites.

The Israelites saw the signs and wonders from God and were happy to escape from Egypt but when faced with a mortal danger, they changed their minds about God and about leaving Egypt.

Even though His people were fickle-minded, God did not change His mind about them. He still protected them and saved them even when they were unfaithful to Him.

God will also not change His mind about us even when we doubt Him or are even unfaithful to Him.

But we must change our minds and our hearts to trust in God and to be faithful to Him so that we will have peace of mind and heart.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

16th Ordinary Sunday, Year B, 19.07.2015

Jeremiah 23:1-6 / Ephesians 2:13-18 / Mark 6:30-34

I am sure we know what the initials “RIP” stand for.

We see those initials on tombstones and on niches – and of course we know it stands for “Rest in Peace”. (Not Rise If Possible!)

It seems that only for those who have passed on, those who have died, only they are entitled to “rest in peace”.

But for the living, and that means us, we can go around wearing T-shirts with the big letters RIP – and they would stand for “Rest If Possible”.

In an urban society like Singapore, we are plagued with nothing less than busyness.

In fact, we can be so busy that RIP can also mean “Ripped Into Pieces”.

Maybe that is why we tend to go overseas for holidays. We want to get away from it all, to have some rest and some peace. And yet we carry along our mobile devices so as to be connected to the internet and to emails and whatever.

Even when we are in the toilet (sometimes it is called the restroom), we still cannot “rest” in peace.

Because someone will come along and knock on the door and say things like: You are still in there? Can you hurry up?

And we can also forget about Sunday being a day of rest.

Sundays can be so filled with busyness, that we need to recuperate from Monday to Saturday.

But whatever day it might be, we are always busy, we are always “on the go”. But where are we going?

We heard in the gospel that Jesus had sent his disciples “on the go”, to go on the mission of preaching repentance and deliverance and healing.

They had been busy, and no doubt they liked it because they saw how the authority of Jesus worked in them – people repented, evil spirits were cast out, the sick were cured.

And also there was so much more to do that the disciples didn’t even have time to eat. But they were excited and enthusiastic and they wanted to go on for more.

And that’s when Jesus jammed the brakes and told them to come away to a lonely place and rest.

Yet, the irony was that it was Jesus Himself who ended up “on the go” – He set Himself to teach the crowds.

In other words, Jesus ended up being busy.

And the so-called “rest” that He wanted for His disciples was certainly short-lived, if ever there was any at all.

So, what is it that Jesus is teaching us in the Gospel?

Is it that there will be no rest and peace all the days of our lives, until we are over and done with life?

Come to think of it, rest and peace is so elusive, isn’t it?

For example, parents will never rest from their responsibilities and they will always worry about their grown up children.

Married couples would long for some peace between each other.

Those who are sick would long for a good night’s rest without pain.

Those who have done something wrong would long for peace and reconciliation.

So we may be longing for a good rest, but we better not say we are dying to rest. Because we might just end up in eternal rest!

But just like that short moment of respite that Jesus and His disciples had in the boat before they reached the other side, God will also give us just enough of rest, so that our hearts will have just enough of peace.

Because our God who gives us rest is also restless.

Because He cares for those who are like sheep without a shepherd.

As we heard in the gospel, when Jesus stepped ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and He set Himself to teach them at some length.

In doing so, Jesus taught His disciples a profound lesson.

The happiest people in the world are not those who have no problems, but those who learn to live with things that are less than perfect, and to have compassion on others.

There is a story of group of graduates, highly established in their careers, who got together to visit their old university professor. 

Conversation soon turned into complaints about stress in work and life.

Offering his guests coffee, the professor went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups - porcelain, plastic, glass, crystal, some plain looking, some expensive, some exquisite -
telling them to help themselves to the coffee.

When all the students had a cup of coffee, the professor said: "If you noticed, all the nice looking expensive cups were taken up, leaving behind the simple and cheap ones. 

While it is normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the source of your problems and stress. Be assured that the cup itself adds no quality to the coffee.  In most cases, it is just the quality of the cup and in some cases even hides what we drink. 

What all of you really wanted was coffee, not the cup, but you consciously went for the best cups. Then you began eyeing each other's cups."

The point of the story is that Life is like the coffee; the jobs, money and position in society are the cups.

They are just tools to hold and contain Life, and the type of cup we have does not define, nor change the quality of Life we live. 

Sometimes, by concentrating on the cup, we fail to enjoy the coffee.

The happiest people don't have the best of everything. They just make the best of everything.

Compassion is like good coffee. We are like the earthenware cups that contain the good coffee of God’s compassion.

Those who are tired and wearied by the troubles of life would long for the aroma and thirst for a drink of the coffee of God’s compassion.

No matter what kind of cup we think we are, we can always offer others a drink of God’s compassion.

God’s compassion will offer rest to the weary and peace to the troubled.

May we be the cups that will contain God’s compassion and may we ourselves find rest and peace in God.

Friday, July 17, 2015

15th Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 18-07-15

Exodus 12:37-42 / Matthew 12:14-21

Under normal circumstances, it is not that easy for the inmates in a prison to escape or even to walk out freely without facing any violent opposition.

Especially if they are unarmed and not having any external help or intervention, escaping from prison or walking out freely is almost out of the question.

But in the 1st reading we heard of the Israelites leaving, or escaping, from Egypt almost unobstructed. They had been in Egypt for 430 years and their last known status in Egypt was that they were slaves who were made to do all the hard work.

Furthermore Egypt at that time was a political power to be reckoned with and the Israelites were certainly no match against their military power and might, no matter how great their numbers may be.

But still, the Israelites were able to escape from Egypt, although they had to hurry and they had no time for dallying.

Certainly it was not some tactical plan of man but the result of the mighty hand of God.

When God wants to do something, no power or might will be able to stop or hold back the hand of God.

So if God freed His people from bondage and slavery by mighty works and wonderful signs, He will also do mighty works and wonderful signs for us in time of oppression or distress or in a time of need.

But it will happen in God's time. It took 430 years before the Israelites could go back to their homeland.

We just need to believe in God's time and in His great love for us for His love is without end.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Annual Priests Retreat 2015

My dear brothers and sisters,

The priests of the Archdiocese of Singapore will be having their annual retreat from 13th June Monday to 17th July Friday.

I will also be at this retreat and I am really looking forward to it for a time of silence and prayer.

As such, the next weekday homily post will be for 15th Week Ordinary Time, Saturday, 18th July 2015, this week. 

Requesting prayers for myself and my brother priests that we will be renewed and re-focused so that we will continue to faithfully serve the Lord and His holy people.

Thank you. May God bless you!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

15th Ordinary Sunday, Year B, 12.07.2015

Amos 7:12-15 / Ephesians 1:3-14 / Mark 6:7-13

Last Tuesday, something happened in Singapore that made big news.

We would have surely read about it, or even got caught in it.

On Tuesday evening, at peak hour, and for an unknown reason (they are still investigating) the trains stopped.

It was a massive breakdown that affected 54 stations simultaneously and it left 250,000 passengers stranded.

It was quite a chaos as passengers scrambled for the free bus rides or tried to get other means of public transportation like the taxis.

For our country where things run efficiently and where we tend to grumble when the trains are delayed or when there is a minor breakdown, this is a big “fail” for public transportation.

It seemed like everything just stopped. It’s nothing to laugh about it especially if we got caught in it.

It may remind us of this wry saying – A bus station is where the bus stops. A train station is where the train stops. On my desk there is a work station …

And so when the trains stopped, there were generally two kinds of reactions of those who were affected – those who think of themselves, and those who think of others.

There were the unpleasant behaviour of those who pushed and jostled in order to get their way, and also those who took advantage of the situation like the private taxi fare hikes.

But there were others who gave way to those in need and practiced charity in the midst of adversity and even took upon themselves to give directions and do crowd-control before the police arrived at the scene.

Truly in the midst of adversity, the character is revealed, and the choice to be selfish or self-giving is put to the test.

In today’s gospel passage, we heard that Jesus summoned the Twelve and sent them out in pairs.

The acceptance to be sent out is the foundation of Christian discipleship.

It means that to be a disciple, one would have to be self-giving. A disciple cannot be selfish or to think of oneself.

For a Christian disciple, salvation is not a private business. We don’t go to heaven alone. It is our mission to bring others to heaven.

In other words, their salvation is our concern, because God wants everybody to be saved. 

We have to think of others, even if they don’t appreciate it or take it for granted or even downright rejecting us.

Maybe this story of the mousetrap might help us understand the welfare and of others is our concern.

A mouse looked through the crack in the wall and saw the farmer and his wife opening a package.

"What food might this contain?" the mouse wondered, but he was devastated to discover it was a mousetrap.

Retreating to the farmyard, the mouse proclaimed the warning: "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

The chicken clucked and scratched, raised her head and said, "Mr. Mouse, I can tell this is a grave concern to you, but it is of no consequence to me. I cannot be bothered by it."

The mouse turned to the pig and told him, "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

The pig sympathized, but said, "I am so very sorry Mr. Mouse, but there is nothing I can do about it but pray. Be assured you are in my prayers."

The mouse turned to the cow and said "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

The cow said, "Wow, Mr. Mouse. I'm sorry for you, but it's no skin off my nose."

So, the mouse returned to the house, head down and dejected, to face the farmer's mousetrap alone.

That very night a sound was heard throughout the house, like the sound of a mousetrap catching its prey.

The farmer's wife rushed to see what was caught. In the darkness, she did not see it was a venomous snake whose tail the trap had caught.

The snake bit the farmer's wife. The farmer rushed her to the hospital, and she returned home with a fever. 

Everyone knows you treat a fever with fresh chicken soup, so the farmer took his knife to the farmyard for the soup's main ingredient. So there goes the chicken.

But his wife's sickness continued, so friends and neighbours came to take care of her around the clock. To feed them, the farmer butchered the pig.

The farmer's wife did not get well and eventually she died. So many people came for her funeral, so the farmer had the cow slaughtered to provide enough meat for all of them.

The mouse looked upon it all from his crack in the wall with great sadness.

The moral of the story is that when we hear of someone who is facing a problem and think it doesn't concern us, remember - when one of us is threatened, we are all at risk.

We are all involved in this journey called life. We must keep our eyes for one another and make an extra effort to help one another.

When it’s every man for himself, then all necks end up in the chopping block. 

God thought of us and He made the first and decisive move in Jesus Christ, Who laid down His life for us to turn us from our selfish ways of self-destruction.

When the trains stopped on Tuesday, some thought only of themselves and became selfish.

Some thought of others and became self-giving to solve the problems of others.

As for us, the disciples of Jesus, let us heed the call to be sent to others and to be with them in their problems.

Let us make their welfare our concern. Their salvation is our mission. Because it is together with them that we will go to heaven.

Friday, July 10, 2015

14th Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 11-07-15

Genesis 49:29-33; 50:15-26 / Matthew 10:24-38

St. Benedict whose feast day we celebrate today was born in AD 450. Although he lived and studied in Rome, he could not take the meaningless life of the city and he went to live a life of deep solitude as a hermit in the mountains.

His reputation spread, and some monks asked him to be their abbot, but when they could not take the discipline he imposed, they tried to poison him.

But his later followers were more matured and sincere and disciplined and with them, St. Benedict began founding communities which developed into monasteries.

Eventually he founded the famous monastery of Monte Cassino which became the roots of the Church's monastic system.

His beliefs and instructions on religious life were collected in what is now known as the Rule of Saint Benedict and it is still directing religious life after 15 centuries.

St. Benedict realized the strongest and truest foundation for the power of words was the Word of God itself: "For what page or word of the Bible is not a perfect rule for temporal life?"

St. Benedict instructed his followers to practice sacred reading. In this lectio divina, he and his monks memorized the Scripture, studied it, and contemplated it until it became part of their being. Four to six hours were set aside each day for this sacred reading.

We who live such a hectic stressful urban life will even wonder if we can ever manage to have four to six minutes a day to read scripture and we could hardly remember what we have read as busyness overwhelms our minds.

In the gospel, Jesus instructed His apostles in these words : The disciple is not superior to his teacher, nor the slave to his master. It is enough for the disciple that he should grow to be like his teacher, and the slave like his master.

And one of the ways to grow to be like Jesus our Master is to read and meditate on the scriptures.

In St. Benedict's words: "For what page or word of the Bible is not a perfect rule for temporal life?" May we take some time out in the temporary life to read about and prepare for eternal life.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

14th Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 09-07-15

Genesis 46:1-7, 28-30 / Matthew 10:16-23

Stories of courage and bravery in the face of danger and death are usually very inspiring.

Those kind of stories, especially when they are real life stories, stir in our hearts the sentiments that people make in self-sacrifice and makes us think about whether we would do the same if we were in their shoes.

In the gospel, we heard Jesus beginning His instruction of the Twelve with this line: Remember, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves; so be cunning as serpents and yet as harmless as doves.

Following which is a description that will make us shrink if we were to imagine that it would really happen to us.

But we may silently ask ourselves if it is that worth it to go through all this.

Can there be another way out in that we just live our lives quietly and have just some faith to do good to others? Can that just be enough?

But as Jesus said, the man who stands firm to the end will be saved. Yes, when we stand firm in the face of difficulties and danger, we will be rewarded.

In the 1st reading, we hear how Joseph was rewarded for his perseverance in all his trials. He was finally reunited with his father Jacob after more than twenty years, and when they finally met, Joseph threw his arms around Jacob's neck and for a long time wept on his shoulder.

It was indeed a very moving moment of reunion and the pain of trials and difficulties and danger don't seem to matter any more.

So let us stand firm in our trials on earth. Eventually when we are reunited with God our Father, He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

14th Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 09-07-15

Genesis 44:18-21, 23-29; 45:1-5 / Matthew 10:7-15

If we have to name a couple of the great figures of the Old Testament, one of them would be Joseph.

Joseph was indeed a great but humble man. He was loved by his father but hated by his brothers, favored and abused, tempted and trusted, exalted and abased.

Yet, at no point in the one-hundred-and-ten-year life of Joseph did he ever seem to get his eyes off God or cease to trust him.

Adversity did not harden his character. Prosperity did not ruin him. He was the same in private as in public. He was a great and humble man.

In the 1st reading, we again see his greatness and humility. He was able to forgive his brothers for what they had done to him and even loved them and revealed his identity to them.

He had the faith in God that God has a plan for him and he went trustingly to everywhere he was sent.

And Joseph himself said this to his brothers "do not reproach yourselves for having sold me here, since God sent me before you to preserve your lives".

Our faith is not a passive one. It is a dynamic faith in that we are always sent by God to people and to places to be an active part in His plan of salvation.

Jesus sent forth His disciples to proclaim that the kingdom of God is close at hand and that is expressed in various ways like curing the sick, cleansing the defiled and casting out evil.

Jesus is also sending us forth to be proclaimers of the kingdom of God and the Good News.

Let us remember that God has a plan for us. We just need to have faith and go trustingly to whoever and wherever God is sending us.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

14th Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 08-07-15

Genesis 41:55-57; 42:5-7, 17-24 / Matthew 10:1-7    (2010)

Basic common sense will tell us that for the most important jobs, we would pick the most qualified people to do it.

Or at least people with a certain level of intelligence and capabilities that will do justice to the task.

Strange that Jesus did not follow this principle.

For the proclamation of the kingdom, He chose 12 men.

Most, if not all of them, would be automatically written off from the board of directors or executives of any organization.

In doing so, this is what Jesus is telling us.

Even for the simplest of persons, God has a task and a mission for him.

God does not write off anyone.

But we can write ourselves off. This happens when we become too proud of ourselves and do not rely on God anymore.

We do not need high qualifications to do the most important things in life.

We only need to know what is the most important thing in life - to say "Yes" to God. To those He calls, He will qualify and justify.

Monday, July 6, 2015

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

Genesis 32:23-33 / Matthew 9:32-38

Just a general reading of the gospels can give us a sense that it was an exciting time when Jesus was around.

All that sounded very exciting and especially when Jesus summoned His disciples and gave them authority to heal diseases and drive out evil spirits.

Yes, all that sounds very exciting at that time.

Yet, it is no less exciting now. Because we are the current day disciples.

The imagery that Jesus gives us is a crop that is ripe for harvest.

And that is the urgency. If there is no harvesting, then consequently the crop will be rotting.

And to think that there are people out there who will be rotting spiritually just because we are not answering the call to be disciples of Jesus is a sad and disturbing thought.

The call to discipleship is first and foremost to be labourers of the harvest, and that is going to be tough work.

Yes, we pray for more vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

But we also need to pray for ourselves that we will be awakened by the call to be labourers of the Lord's harvest.

It's going to be a lot of tough work, but it is always exciting to be working for the boss who is none other than the Lord Himself.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

14th Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 06-07-15

Genesis 28:10-22 / Matthew 9:18-26

In a time of anxiety and distress, it is difficult to see what God is doing or even where God is.

But that is because we are looking more at our own concerns and desperate for solutions rather than to be still and to listen and feel the promptings from God.

Yet, it is precisely when everything is spinning and in chaos that we need to stop and look and listen.

In the 1st reading, Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. But it was not a journey of leisure or a business trip.

Jacob was fleeing from the elder twin brother Esau after he had tricked his father Isaac into blessing him instead of Esau.

So Jacob was running for his life and he was not ready for any kind of God-experience until he had to rest for the night.

And there in a dream God spoke to him and made him the promise that he and his descendants shall be a blessing for other nations and that God will not desert him.

Only then did Jacob realized that God was with him and that "the Lord is in this place and I never knew it!"

But in the gospel, we hear of two people who knew who to look for when life was bleeding away or came to a dead end.

In their turmoil and distress the official and the woman with the haemorrhage had the sense to turn to Jesus for healing and salvation.

May we always to turn to Jesus in our turmoil and distress for He has promised to heal us and save us.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

14th Ordinary Sunday, Year B, 05.07.2015

Ezekiel 2:2-5 / 2 Cor 12:7-10 / Mark 6:1-6

Today being a Sunday, for most of us, it would be a day of rest.

But more often than not, it is quite the opposite. Not that today is a day of unrest. But resting might be the last thing we can ever do today.

Sunday can be called the busiest day of the week. We bring our children over to church for catechism class and then to whatever class we can think of – swimming, music, tuition, etc.

Or we would doing our groceries, visit the in-laws, going shopping (it’s the Great Singapore Sale!).

But no matter what we need to do and where we need to go, at the end of the day, we need to go back to where we started from, and that is - home.

Going home may seem to be like quite a comforting thought. After all there is no place like home. But that depends on how we say it – it can have a two different meanings. Maybe the following might show us what it means.

A man is stopped by the police around 1 am and he is asked where he is going at this time of the night. 

The man replies, "I am on my way to a lecture about alcohol abuse and the effects it has on the human body, as well as smoking and staying out late." 

The police officer then asks, "Really? And who is giving that lecture at this time of night, and where will it be held?" 

The man replies, "That lecture would be given by my wife, and it would be held at home." 

So no matter what, and whatever the time would be, and no matter who is there, and whether it is a comforting feeling or not, we still will have to go home.

In today’s gospel passage, we heard of Jesus going back to His home town with His disciples.

Having been away for a while, it would have been a good feeling to be back home again, to see His mother, to catch up with friends and to be back to familiar surroundings.

Things at the home town may not have changed much, but something has changed. Jesus had changed. 

From the time He left and now that He had come back, He had certainly changed.

Because with the coming of the Sabbath, Jesus began to teach in the synagogue, and that astonished the people of His home town. 

Obviously that was something that He did not do before He left.

They wondered at His wisdom and His miracles. They traced out His family connections. And finally they came to a conclusion – they would not accept Him.

Jesus had changed, but to them He was still a carpenter.

And carpenters are not teachers and they cannot be teachers. For the people of His home town, that was the opinion as well as the conclusion. 

And the last line of the gospel passage tells us the reaction of Jesus – He was amazed by their lack of faith.

We would have thought that the people of His home town was rather biased against Him, their minds were probably as small as their town, their minds were closed even though they admitted that there was wisdom in Jesus.

But Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith. Because faith would help us see realities, spiritual as well as rational, and faith would also open the heart to accept these realities. 

And one reality is that home is not necessarily home sweet home. The following dialogue may show us what this reality is.

Wife was busy packing in her clothes. Husband - Where are you going?
Wife - I'm moving to my mother’s. Husband also starts packing his clothes.
Wife - Now where are you going? Husband - I'm also moving to my mother’s.
Wife - And what about the kids? Husband - Well I guess ... If you are moving to your mother’s and I'm moving to my mother’s ... They should move to their mother’s.
Clothes unpacked… (hopefully…)

The reality is that the home, the family, as well as society is not as rosy as we might want to see it.

And from some of the petitions that I read (so that I can offer a prayer for them) it is quite obvious that the home can be a stressful place and family members are living in tension, and this in turn affects society at large.

The family and society has gone into two disturbing directions.

The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, whether it is a sexual orientation, or a religious direction, or a habitual addiction, you must fear or hate them.

The second is that to love someone, you must agree with everything they believe or do, even if it is morally wrong.

Both directions are wrong but the reality is that they don’t seem to be so obvious.

So even within the family there is fear and hate among members because they can’t agree with and accept each other. And what happens in the family is reflected also in society.

And when it comes to loving their children, parents may want to suppress discipline and morality and be silent when it comes to pre-marital sex and other sexual issues.

These are disturbing issues and we don’t feel comfortable about it and we would rather not talk about it.

But when Jesus taught in the synagogue, His teachings would have disturbed His listeners so much so that they would not accept Him.

But as the 1st reading puts it, whether they listen or not, they must know that there is a prophet among them.

A prophet is like a thorn in the flesh and the prophetic voice is not comfortable to listen to.

Because it awakens in us God’s law that is engraved in our hearts. 
God’s law is the law of love, and it is a love that has moral principles.

May God’s law of love be proclaimed and practised first and foremost at home and in the family. 

Then the family will truly be at home and society will in turn practice what is right and just.

Friday, July 3, 2015

13th Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 04-07-15

Genesis 27:1-5, 15-29 / Matthew 9:14-17

It is easy to find the drama of deception and trickery in fiction literature as well as in real life stories.

But to find it in the Bible (of all books) would be rather surprising to some, yet it shouldn't be that surprising at all.

Because the Bible is about the book of life and how God has loved and saved a sinful humanity from self-destruction.

Nonetheless, we read about deception and trickery in the 1st reading. Whether it was Issac or Rebekah, or Esau or Jacob, none of them can say they were truly honest or truthful.

Earlier in Genesis 25:29-34, there is the account of Esau selling his birthright to Jacob over some stew that Jacob had just made. Jacob offered to give Esau a bowl of stew in exchange for his birthright, to which Esau agreed. So already Esau was not true to his word.

Isaac also wanted to bestow the birthright to Esau, but he knew he was not doing the right thing because he wanted it done privately and secretly.

That was probably because he had known that Rebekah had received the prophecy that the twins Esau and Jacob were fighting in her womb and would continue to fight all their lives, even after they became two separate nations. The prophecy also said that "the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger;" (Genesis 25:23)

Yet, Rebekah also took things into her own hands and not leaving it into the hands of God.

So it was a really messy story of God's chosen people resorting to deception and trickery and even committing grave sin just to have their way and get what they want.

Yet, despite the crookedness of His people, God still made things straight for the coming of His only Son to save the people from their sins.

Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. May we walk the ways of God in truth and love so that we will  live a meaning life of honesty and integrity.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

St. Thomas, Apostle, Friday, 03-07-15

Ephesians 2:19-22 / John 20:24-29

The attitude of St. Thomas in today's gospel gave rise to the term "Doubting Thomas".

That term, undoubtedly, has a negative connotation, and may not be that fair to St. Thomas.

Nonetheless, the disbelief of St. Thomas has done more for our faith than the belief of the other apostles.

We can surely relate with St. Thomas especially when he showed his human limitations about his faith.

We can surely relate with him especially in his asking for a sign, not just seeing the Risen Christ, but very realistically putting his finger and hand into the wounds.

St. Thomas did not take his faith in Jesus lightly. What he asked for was nothing short of a deep experience of the Risen Christ.

Finally, his response to this God-experience was his profound proclamation - My Lord and my God.

We too, should not take our faith for granted not take it too lightly.

God will show Himself to those who deeply desire to deepen their faith in Him.

As we pray for a deepening of our faith, let our prayer also be "My Lord and my God".

And blessed are we who have not seen, and yet believe.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

13th Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 02-06-15

Genesis 22:1-19 / Matthew 9:1-8

When what we have is sufficient and even in surplus, it is easy to think that God will provide for our needs.

But when we are down to nothing, can we believe that God will come up with something?

Abraham was blessed by God with almost everything and the most precious was an heir, a son in his old age.

But in the 1st reading, we heard God telling him to take his only son Issac and to offer him as a burnt offering!

What were Abraham's thoughts and emotions, we were not told. 

But without any delay, he set off the next morning to the place of offering, bringing along Issac and two other servants.

Along the way when Issac asked him where was the lamb for the offering, Abraham replied with this profound faith statement: God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.

Yes, to believe that God will provide is something we need to learn from Abraham.

But from Jesus, we learn something more about God. We learn that God loves us, that God will forgive us, that God will heal us.

God does not just provide for us. God has given us His only Son to be sacrificed on the cross so that we can be saved from our sins.

God has given us everything. Hence, we can never say that we are down to nothing. Let us give thanks, let us praise the Lord, and let us offer ourselves whole-heartedly to serve Him.