Thursday, December 31, 2015

Mary, Mother of God Year C, 01-01-16

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

By now we should have already opened up our Christmas presents.

If not then we might as well keep it for next Christmas. But we are still in the Christmas season and so it’s actually not that late still.

But who would want to wait to open their Christmas presents. 

Some would even open their presents before Christmas. 

Come to think of it, it’s really not that easy to think of a Christmas gift for someone, especially when that person is really special to you.

And we would want to consider the two aspects of the present.

One is that the person would cherish it and remember us for the gift. Probably it would be gift to represent who that person is, so as to show our appreciation for that person.

The other would be that we want the gift to symbolize who we are to that person. Of course it doesn’t mean to say that I would give you a mug as a present and on it would be written the name “Stephen”! That’s rather egocentric.

But for a gift to symbolize who we are to that person, it would certainly be based on the relationship with that person, and how we would like that person to remember us.

For almost two months now, we the parish of the Sacred Heart had been preparing a gift for someone who is special and dear to our hearts.

Two months ago, there was a proposal to build a shrine for Our Lady.  

The proposal to build the shrine was because we have a statue of Our Lady. 

That statue was standing at the grotto which was pulled down to make way for the former parish hall in 1971.

From then on, that statue of Our Lady went all over, from being at the parish house to the parish hall to the store room and finally was place at the loft of the church.

Six months ago we brought down the statue to have it restored by taking off the layers of paint and we found that it was an intact and solidly-made statue.

After some prayer and discernment, we decided to build an outdoor shrine for Our Lady since in the first place the statue is an outdoor statue.

We asked for donations for the construction of the shrine and you were forthcoming and generous with it.

So eight days after Christmas, on this last day of the Octave of Christmas, and on this feast in which we honour Mary as Mother of God, we humbly present to Our Lady a shrine for her statue.

This is our gift to Our Lady who is also Our Mother.

It’s a gift to represent who she is to us, and we thank her for always being so loving, so thoughtful, so understanding and so kind.

She is the Mother of God and she is also the Mother of Mercy, the refuge and the hope of sinners, and her shrine will be a place where we can come to her and place our trust in her.

As we present her with the gift of the shrine, we also ask Mary to keep us close to her heart and we ask her to remember that never was it known that anyone who fled to her protection, implored her help, or sought her intercession was left unaided.

And so, inspired with this confidence, we ask Mary our Mother to remember us and not to despise our petitions but in her mercy to hear and answer us.

Today’s gospel affirms that Mary will remember us as it says this about her: “As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart”.

Yes, Mary will remember us for the shrine we built for her statue. 

She will remember us when we come and stand before her statue with our prayer, our petitions and our needs.

She will remember all those we will bring to her shrine and ask for her intercession for them.

Yes, Mary will treasure us and ponder upon us in her heart and she will help us for the love of Jesus Christ.

May we also treasure her and ponder upon her in our hearts.

For it is through her that we receive the greatest gift from God – Jesus Christ.

It is a gift that we need to open every day and to experience the love of God for us.

May we also help others to open the gift that God has given to them so that they too will experience the love of Jesus for them.

May we join Mary our Mother in prayer so that the Lord God will bless us and keep us, let His face shine upon us and be gracious to us and bring peace to the world.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

31st December 2015, Thursday, Seventh Day within Octave of Christmas

 1 John 2:18-21 / John 1:1-18

So we have finally come to the last day of the year 2015.

That might sound nostalgic to some, and melancholic to others, and it depends very much on how the year had turned out and how the events of the year unfolded in our lives.

So we can spend today reminiscing about the days that had gone by, or maybe regretting about some moments or even just wanting to forget about what a traumatic year it had been.

Whatever it might be, the 1st reading begins with this line "Children, these are the last days ..." and it gives a spiritual reflection of what had gone by.

The reading goes on to talk about the tumult caused by the antichrists, and those rivals of Christ have come out of within their own number.

Yet, the 1st reading also affirmed the Christian community that it has the knowledge of the truth and that they must remain steadfast to the truth in the face of the chaos and tumult within.

So what is this truth that we already have knowledge of?

That truth is found in the gospel of today. Yes, in the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God, and the Word was made flesh and He lived among us.

Today's gospel is a summary of who Jesus is and what He wants to do for us.

He wants us to know the truth of His love for us so that we can receive grace upon grace.

In Jesus we see the light and in accepting His truth, we come out of the darkness of sin.

Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega; He is the beginning and the end.

In Him we too will find our beginning; in Him we will also know where is our end.

With that knowledge of the truth, we will be able to face the tumult and the chaos of life.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

30th December 2015, Wednesday, Sixth Day within Octave of Christmas

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

The days between Christmas and New Year can be called the least productive week.

It can also be called the holiday week where even if offices and factories are opened, the workers may want to take leave to enjoy the festive time.

But more than just a festive time and to take a break from work, it is also a time for reflection and to think about the events that are just over and the events that are to come.

After all, life is more than just having a good time and enjoying whatever pleasures there can be.

Or as the 1st reading puts it - "the sensual body, the lustful eye, pride in possessions" - that is only what the world has to offer and can only offer and no more than that.

But there is a mystery to life that gives us a hope for the future in which we look forward to.

The prophetess Anna was one who knew what that mystery was and she looked forward to it and she lived to see it.

May we also like Anna, spend time in prayer and even fasting, so that we will encounter the mystery of Christmas and look forward to the mystery of the future.

Monday, December 28, 2015

29th December 2015, Tuesday, Fifth Day Within Octave of Christmas,

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

The symbols of Christmas has this profound aspect of being symbols of light.

From the candles in the Advent wreath, to the star of Bethlehem, to the decorative lights on the Christmas tree and the electric bulb shining on the baby Jesus in the crib, all these are symbols and representations of light.

Indeed, Christmas is a celebration of the the light of Christ shining into our human shadows and scattering away the darkness of sin.

In the gospel, Simeon saw that light and his heart was at peace. His wait is over.

Our wait is also over because the 1st reading tells us that the night is over and the real light is already shining.

For the commercial world, Christmas is over, but for us Christmas has just begun.

Let us walk in the light of love and forgiveness, mercy and compassion, generosity and sacrifice so that we too will be symbols of the light of Christ.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Holy Innocents, Martyrs, Monday, 28-12-15

1 John 1:5 - 2:2 / Matthew 2:15-18

There are many famous men in Bible whose words and deeds have proclaimed the marvels and the wonders of God.

On Saturday, we celebrated the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr, who witnessed to Christ even to the point of death and also forgave those who were stoning him to death.

Yesterday, was the feast day of St. John the evangelist, who proclaimed the mystery of the divinity of God made flesh in the humanity of Jesus.

But in the same Bible are also many infamous men, and today we hear of a man who was a tragedy to himself and he also caused tragic consequences.

Because of his pathological state of mind and his paranoia, he ordered the slaughter of the infants at Bethlehem in order to exterminate the new-born King of the Jews.

That deed was no big deal to him. In fact, it counts as nothing for him.

This makes us reflect on the horrible deeds that are done to children and the unborn: abortion, child abuse, child molestation, child labour, child pornography.

For some people, these things also count as nothing for them.

The feast of the Holy Innocents does not just recall the innocent babies being slaughtered and martyred for Christ.

Because their blood now cries out for the children of the world who are suffering.

Their blood also cries out to us to something for children.

So what can we do for our children and for the children of the world?

May this poem help us in reflection and spur us into action.

Children Learn What They Live

If children live with CRITICISM
They learn to CONDEMN

If children live with HOSTILITY
They learn to FIGHT

If children live with RIDICULE
They learn to BE SHY

If children live with SHAME
They learn to FEEL GUILTY

If children live with TOLERANCE
They learn to BE PATIENT

If children live with ENCOURAGEMENT

If children live with PRAISE
They learn to APPRECIATE

If children live with FAIRNESS
They learn JUSTICE

If children live with SECURITY
They learn to HAVE FAITH

If children live with APPROVAL

If children live with ACCEPTANCE and FRIENDSHIP

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Holy Family, Year C, 27.12.2015

Ecclesiasticus 3:2-6, 12-14 / Colossians 3:12-21 / Luke 2:41-52

Today’s feast of the Holy Family brings back for me many childhood memories, especially childhood memories about going to church.

When my siblings and I were still kids, my parents would usually bring us together as a family for Mass every Sunday.

We would go for the early morning Mass and my parents would have a hard time waking us up on Sunday mornings.

I can’t remember how but I think my family would make it in time for Mass, although my parents had to drive us out of the house as if the house was on fire!

Then at Mass, I also don’t know if we were actually praying but all I could remember is that if I was not dreaming, then I would be playing a fool.

I remembered on one occasion, I went to church with a safety pin on my shirt because a button had come off.

But during the homily, I felt bored, so I took out the safety pin and poked my brother.

Of course, we got into a bit of fight, and my mum intervened, and she “prophesied” that I would get it after Mass, and the “prophecy” was fulfilled.

Of course, besides Sunday Mass, my parents would make sure that we have our family rosary prayers every evening.

As I think about it now, I must say that it is my parents who formed my religious upbringing.

It was not easy for them to make me behave in church and to say my prayers, because I was the naughtiest of my siblings.

They were strict with me in my religious upbringing but now I really thank them for that, otherwise I would have gone way out.

No doubt they prayed for me, but I guess they never expected how far their prayers would go, especially when I became a priest!

Today’s Gospel presents us Jesus and His parents going to the Temple.

This is the only time we hear about Jesus as a 12 year-old.

Being the Holy Family does not mean that they have no worries or anxieties or problems.

In today’s gospel, we see the problem between parents and children.

It is not about who is right or wrong. Rather it is about a family going through the struggles and difficulties of life together.

Nowadays parents have a difficult time bringing up their children, especially in giving them a religious upbringing.

Getting them to come on time for Mass on Sunday is already difficult enough.

Trying to have family prayers is really challenging because of the busyness of everyone in the family.

Yet, without the religious dimension of the family life, then it is almost impossible to have family values.

The 1st reading talks about the filial piety of children but this cannot be fostered if the children have no knowledge of God.

Hence, if parents want children to respect them then they have to teach their children to respect God first and then the children will know what to do.

Parents have to be firm with their children in their religious upbringing like coming for Mass on Sundays and praying together as a family.

It is not easy especially when parents themselves are so busy and children are so independent nowadays.

But if there is to be any family love, warmth and unity, then God must be in the center of the family.

The family that prays together will stay together in difficult and challenging times.

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph showed us in this aspect.

Mary and Joseph will   pray for us and our families that there will be love, unity, understanding, forgiveness in our families.

Yes, Mary and Joseph will pray for us but we too need to do our part.

On this feast of the Holy Family, the Archbishop William Goh has composed a “Prayer for the family in the Year of Mercy”.

In that prayer, he prayed for the healing of family brokenness through God’s mercy and forgiveness.

His prayer is inspired by what Pope Francis said about the family:
“Husband and wife, have you quarrelled? Children with parents? It’s not right, but it isn’t the problem. The problem is that this sentiment must not be there the next day... The day must never end without making peace in the family.”

Yes, we need to pray for peace in the family. But it can only come about through God’s mercy and forgiveness.

The Archbishop has given us the prayer. It is for us to decide whether we really want to pray for peace in the family.

Family peace begins with prayer. And Mother Mary and St. Joseph will be there in prayer with us for our families.

A family that prays together will stay together in peace.

Friday, December 25, 2015

St. Stephen, Protomartyr, Saturday, 26-12-15

Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59 / Matthew 10:17-22

We are still very much in a festive mood, with Christmas carols like "Silent Night, Holy Night" and "Joy to the World" still ringing in our heads and maybe we are still bloated from all the feasting.

Well, today the Church opens up the liturgy with, of all things, the gruesome and shocking martyrdom of St. Stephen.

Somehow the tenderness of Christmas is shattered by the violent execution of St. Stephen.

Why didn't the Church move this feast to another time, maybe in Lent, so that we can still have that soft and warm Christmas feeling and just talk about angels and shepherds and baby Jesus?

Well, the martyrdom St. Stephen has a deep connection with the birth of Christ.

Somehow Christmas has been embellished and glossed over with so much sentimentality that we forget that Jesus was born into a hard, cold and violent world.

The Son of God had to born in stable, of all places, and laid in a manger. Not long after He was born, King Herod was looking for Him to kill Him.

That was only the beginning of the violence and the persecution that Jesus was going to face, and it would eventually lead to His execution of the cross.

Yet when we reflect on the joy of Christmas and the martyrdom of St. Stephen, we see the connection between divine tenderness and human violence.

Christ came to heal our human violence with His divine tenderness, expressed in mercy and forgiveness, as witnessed to by St. Stephen.

Let us also believe that the ugliness of human violence can only be changed with the divine tenderness of forgiveness and love.

The young man by the name of Saul in the 1st reading, who approved of the killing, would later be touched by divine tenderness, then changed his name to Paul and went forth to proclaim the tender love of God and His forgiveness.

So in the face of human anger and violence, let us stand firm on divine love and tenderness.

It is only through God's mercy and forgiveness that hardened hearts will be turned into loving hearts.

Christmas Day 25-12-15

For this year, the traditional Christmas symbols face stiff competition.
Santa Claus and his reindeers seemed to be pushed aside by some kind of unexpected force.
Even the Christmas movies that usually come around at this time of the year seem to lose their attraction to what seems like the season’s contradiction.

So much so that even a song that is usually associated with Christmas had some of its lyrics changed to accommodate this craze.
We know how the song “Santa Claus is coming to town” goes.
Well, the lyrics have been altered to go like this: “You better not shout, you better not cry, you better not call on Yoda’s Jedi, the Empire is coming to town” : )
If you are still wondering what this is all about, then you may have at least heard of “Star Wars: The Force awakens”

And what a force it had on this Christmas season. Children are clamoring for Star Wars paraphernalia like Darth Vader’s mask and the Stormtrooper’s helmet and lightsabers and whatever.
So by now Star Wars is not just about a movie or about a series of sequels and prequels.
It has generated into a merchandise of toys and fashion and whatever imaginable that can generate money.

But come to think of it, the title “Star Wars” may not be a star causing a lot of wars but more like many stars at war.
Because everyone wants to be a star and because there are too many stars and hence there are “stars war” and not “star wars”.
It’s just a matter of switching the plural nouns around and we will understand why there is so much tension in the world and why so many wars are happening.

Everyone wants to be the brightest star, the highest star, the biggest star.

But Christmas reminds of one thing – it all began with one star.

It was a star that brought good news, a star that attracted the wise men to seek for a divine revelation, a star that pointed to the love of God in the form of a baby born in a manger.

As we celebrate the birth of our Saviour, we must be able to recognize who is the real star of the Christmas season.

It is not about the theme song of “Star Wars” but “O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie”; it is not about “a long long time ago in a galaxy far far away” but “a long long time ago in Galilee far far away”; it is not about “the force awakens” but “a new hope awakens”.

It is about Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, the long awaited Saviour born to us and fulfilling the promise of God to save us.

Jesus is the Star of the Christmas season, the Prince-of-Peace, the Saviour born in Bethlehem who is Christ the Lord.

It is only in Him that we will find peace and then the wars in our hearts will be put to rest.

And if we want to be stars, then let us be like that star that pointed out to the wise men where the infant King was born.

Let us stars of peace and not stars of war.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

24th December 2015, Thursday

2 Sam 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16 / Luke 1:67-79

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behold, the virgin is with child and will soon give birth to a son whom she will call Emmanuel a name which means "God-is-with-us" (Isa 7:14).

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

23rd December 2015, Wednesday

Malachi 3:1-4, 23-24 / Luke 1:57-66

The birth of a child in not a private affair. It is not just the baby and the mother, or with the parents alone.

Generally speaking, it is a family event as well as a social event because relatives and friends and neighbours will certainly want to see the baby.

The underlying excitement in all this is that the birth of every child gives hope to the human race and a sign that God wants the human race to multiply and not terminate.

Hence, with the birth of the child comes another important occasion which is the naming of the child.

Zachariah and Elizabeth gave a surprise name to their baby son and they called him "John" which means "God is gracious"

Putting it in the words of the 1st reading, this grace is to "turn the hearts of fathers towards their children and the hearts of the children towards their fathers".

In other words, it is the grace of reconciliation, because at Christmas Jesus came to us so that we can turn back to the Father.

May we cleanse our hearts of sin and evil and prepare ourselves for the gracious coming of our Lord.

Monday, December 21, 2015

22nd December 2015, Tuesday

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

"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?" (Isaiah 49:15)

The answer is foregone and obvious. The maternal instinct is well known for its protectiveness over its young and a mother will even sacrifice her life for her children.

But in the 1st reading, we heard that Hannah, after she had weaned Samuel, took him to the temple and offered him over to the Lord.

From the human perspective, that would seem rather cold and stoic, or at least indifferent to her maternal instinct.

But for Hannah, that was the child she prayed for and the Lord granted her what she asked of Him, and so now she offered him over to the Lord for His service.

Hence, Hannah was not cold or stoic or indifferent to her maternal instinct. But with her child or without her child, in whichever way of life, she has offered it over to the Lord.

And in the gospel, Mary was also not indifferent to her situation as she sang her praise to God.

But whether in calmness or in anxiety, in peace or in worry, she is offered over to the Lord.

What we can learn from Mary and from Hannah is that whether in good times or in bad, in sickness or in health, in joy or in sorrow, let us offer it over to the Lord.

The Lord will not forget our offering, just as a mother would not forget the baby at her breast.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

21st December 2015, Monday

Songs 2:8-14 or Zephaniah 3:14-18 / Luke 1:39-45

Advent is a time of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Christ as well as His second coming.

But for Mary and Elizabeth, it was a time of preparation of motherhood.

As these two expecting mothers met in the gospel passage, we can sense a spike of revelation.

For Elizabeth, the sad barren period of her life is over as God revealed His blessings on her.

For Mary, a joy filled, yet anxious future, has just been revealed to her.

In Mary and Elizabeth, we can see the cycle of life and the cycle of joy and anxiety.

Yet, even in our joys and anxiety, God will still reveal Himself to us, just as He did to Mary and Elizabeth.

In our joys and anxiety, may we still sing the songs of love and thanksgiving, like the song we heard in the 1st reading.

May our hearts always leap with joy with each revelation from God.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

4th Sunday of Advent, Year C, 20.12.2015

During this time of the year, the two words that are quite often used are “Merry Christmas”. At least it is often used in Church. And although Christmas is only five days away we just can’t wait to keep saying it, as if Christmas is already here.

But this year, another word seems to have surfaced and have come into prominence, along with the traditional “Merry Christmas”.

With the opening of the Year of Mercy on the 8th December, the word “mercy” has generated other connected terms like “Door of Mercy” and “works of mercy” and also the theme of the year “Merciful like the Father”.

But the word “mercy” seems to have dropped out of use in our everyday language. It seems to be out of fashion.

It seems to be restricted to Church language in the form of prayers and preaching. 

But now the word “mercy” is brought up into prominence and the Pope, echoing his predecessors, declared the centrality of mercy in the Church’s mission and message.

Along with that, and among other things, is the re-emphasis of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

The understanding of mercy has its foundation in the opening lines of Psalm 50 – Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness, in your compassion blot out my offence.

So mercy is expressed in two forms – kindness and compassion.
Kindness is an act of charity to those in need and compassion is sharing in the suffering of others.

And that’s what we saw in the gospel account of what is commonly known as “The Visitation”.

The gospel account began by saying that Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah to visit her cousin Elizabeth.

Certainly it was not a casual or ordinary event. Mary has just conceived Jesus in her womb and she had her own worries and anxieties to handle.

It was certainly not a time to go travelling over the country side.

But having known that her cousin Elizabeth was already in her sixth month of pregnancy, Mary knew that she must be there for her.

It was a call to an act of mercy – to show kindness to Elizabeth in her time of need, and to share in her joy and anxiety of pregnancy.

The gospel passage reminds us that there is always something that we can give, even if it is only kindness and compassion. (Anne Frank)

Because life’s most persistent and urgent question is: “What are you doing for others?” (Martin Luther King Jr) 

Some time ago, there was this rather touching and inspiring article in the papers.

A single mother Noriza A. Mansor gets only one day off a week from her job as a bedsheet promoter.

Most would use that day to rest, but she spends it looking after an old man she met by chance as he stood in a Toa Payoh supermarket soiled by his faeces.

Noriza, 49, made headlines last October when she stepped forward to help Tan Soy Yong, 76, who had soiled himself while buying groce¬ries with his wife, who was in a wheelchair.

Others had recoiled from the old man and his stench. However, Noriza not only bought him new shorts but even knelt to wipe the dried faeces off his legs – an act which moved a bystander to tears.

Since that day, she has made it a point to visit Tan for at least six hours a week at his three-room flat in Potong Pasir.

Tan has lived there alone since the start of the year when his wife, Lee Bee Yian, also 76, was hospita¬lised for cancer.

During her visits, Noriza cleans up Tan, who cannot control his bowels, and washes his soiled laundry. She also mops the floor and tidies up the flat while chatting with him in a mix of Malay and Hokkien.

Some days, she will accompany him to visit his wife in hospital.

On other days, she will take him out in his wheelchair to the hawker centre to eat his favourite wonton noodles.

“I only wish I could see him more often. Sometimes if I finish work at 8pm, I will go to see him. But I don’t always have the time,” said Noriza.

She often works 12 hours a day, taking home around S$2,000 a month. She has three sons and two daughters aged 11 to 26. Four of them still live with her.

Yet she has no qualms about ma¬¬king time for the elderly couple. “In my life, I am never tired,” she said.

Tan told her he has a son and a daughter but Noriza said that according to social workers, the couple have no children.

Noriza believes Tan was sent into her life by God, as she lost her pa¬rents when she was 21.

Her father succumbed to cancer and her mother wasted away in depression eight months later.

She said she treated the couple as “my own father and mother”.

Tan once asked her if she had a passport. “I said yes. He said when his wife is discharged, we can go on holiday together as a family.”

She smiled wistfully. “I know this kind of thing is very hard with their conditions. But of course I told him we would.”

Certainly that was a very touching and remarkable act of kindness and charity. 

It is said that kindness goes a long way. But where does it go to?
Let us remember that every act of kindness, every act of compassion, every act of mercy, is a stepping stone towards heaven. 

Every corporal and spiritual work of mercy is to make us be merciful, just as the Father is merciful.

May this Christmas be a “Merry Christmas” for us. And may this Christmas also be a “Merciful Christmas” for us as we give to others the gifts of kindness and compassion.
Have a "Merciful Christmas"

Friday, December 18, 2015

19th December 2015, Saturday

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

In the two readings of today, there is a tone of an initial misfortune.

A married couple having no children was an embarrassment to society at that time, and some people may even think that the couple is under some kind of curse.

The couple themselves would feel ashamed that they have no descendants, because the family line would be terminated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did we still believed that God did not abandon us, and did we still remained faithful to Him?

When we have survived those moments, then we will know this for sure:
When we abandon ourselves to God, God will not abandon us.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

18th December 2015, Friday

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

One of the most revered saints who had an important role in God's plan of salvation in the Bible was however surprisingly silent in the Scriptures.

St. Joseph was not quoted as saying anything though from how the gospel described him, we know he was a man of honour and he didn't want to put Mary into disgrace or any trouble.

What is interesting about St. Joseph is that the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and told him what to do with Mary and what name to give the child.

And he did what he was told. He would certainly have discerned about it and came to accept it as God's will and he carried it out.

Though he may not be called the patron saint of dreamers, yet as he slept the Lord spoke to him in dreams.

And it is amazing that St. Joseph could get down to sleep despite the turmoil and distress he felt about his future with Mary and the child that she bore.

Certainly, to be able to sleep, the mind and heart must be at peace and the body must be able to relax.

St. Joseph was able to sleep because he put his worries and anxieties into the hands of the Lord. And in turn the Lord revealed to him what he should do.

St. Joseph reminds us that God can only tell us what to do when we are ready to listen to Him. May St. Joseph pray for us that our hearts and minds and bodies be at peace and rest in the love and mercy of God.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

17th December 2015, Thursday

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

Today, the 17th December begins a special period of the Advent season. From today till the 24th December (Mass in the morning) a different set of readings are used.

The emphasis in the liturgy of the Church (ie. Mass and Divine Office) is on the "O" Antiphons, dating back to the fourth century, one for each day until Christmas Eve.

These antiphons address Christ with Messianic titles, based on the Old Testament prophecies and how the people waited in hope for the coming of the Messiah.

In the gospel, we heard about the genealogy of Jesus Christ - three sums of generations and fourteen in each generation.

The purpose is to tell us that from Abraham, the father of our faith, right down to Mary, the mother of the Church, the longing is for the Messiah and Saviour.

It also reminds us that through the generations, humankind had been shackled by sin and wickedness and is still is being tempted and lured by the devil to eternal damnation.

As we begin this special period of Advent, let us be still and prepare ourselves with prayer for the coming of the Saviour.

Let us acknowledge our sins and seek healing in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Let us ask for the grace of obedience so that our hearts will be open to Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

3rd Week of Advent, Wednesday, 16-12-15

Isaiah 45:6-8, 18, 21-26 / Luke 7:19-23

A spiral staircase is certainly not that easy to climb up nor would it be that easy to go down with.

Whether going up or going down, the step are irregular and we need to be careful and hold on to the railings.

Also because it is a spiral, so not the whole staircase can be seen; it's only a few steps at a time.

In a way, faith is like going up or down a spiral staircase. We can't see the whole staircase, we need to go one step at a time, we have to be careful and hold on to the railings.

The question that John the Baptist posed in the gospel is essentially a question of faith: "Are you the one who is to come, or must we wait for someone else?"

John the Baptist was the greatest of prophets but even he had his doubts about Jesus and he had to ask the question about Jesus.

It was he who pointed out Jesus and proclaimed, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!"

But now he seemed unclear and uncertain about what he had said about Jesus. John the Baptist may have his doubts, but his prophetic words about Jesus are irrevocable because they are not human words but divine words.

This is what God said about His words in the 1st reading: "By my own self I swear it; what comes from my mouth is truth, a word irrevocable."

As we come to this point of the Advent journey, we await to celebrated the Word made flesh in the person of Jesus.

May we not lose faith in God's Word but go on each step at a time even though we may not be able to see everything.

Monday, December 14, 2015

3rd Week of Advent, Tuesday, 15-12-15

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

The Year of Mercy has begun on the 8th December and last Sunday, 13th December, (the 3rd Sunday of Advent), the doors of the five pilgrimage churches in the Archdiocese of Singapore were blessed and opened.

It was decreed by Pope Francis that in every diocese, either at the Cathedral or another church of special significance, a Door of Mercy will be opened for the duration of the Holy Year.

So in our Archdiocese there are five pilgrimage churches with five Doors of Mercy. In other words, each district has a pilgrimage church and that would make it very accessible for us.

So the invitation to make a pilgrimage to any one of these churches and to fulfill the requirements for a plenary indulgence and to experience the mercy of God is already sent to us.

So what is our response to God's invitation to receive His mercy and to experience forgiveness and mercy?

Would we be like the second son who said "Yes" but then did nothing about it?

That would be like what the 1st reading described of the rebellious who "would never listen to the call, would never learn the lesson, never trusted in the Lord and never drawn near to God.

But the time has come when we have to feel the shame for all the misdeeds we have committed against the Lord and cry out to Him for mercy.

With God's mercy we will receive healing so that we will do no wrong, tell no lies, and the perjured tongue will no longer be found in our mouths.

Yes, this is the time of mercy. Let us show that we need God's mercy with acts of corporal and spiritual works of mercy so that we can be merciful to others just as God has been merciful to us.

The Holy Door at Church of the Sacred Heart,
Pilgrimage Centre, City District
Rite of Blessing of the Holy Door

Incensing the Holy Door

Sunday, December 13, 2015

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

Numbers 26:2-7, 15-17 / Matthew 21:23-27

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

Going by that definition, if I may put it simply, it is a choice of the best among the worst.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 12, 2015

3rd Sunday of Advent, 13.12.2015

Zephaniah 3:14-18 / Philippians 4:4-7 / Luke 3:10-18

It has been said that when God closes the door, He opens a window. 

Whatever we think about that, it somehow sounds rather ridiculous.

It seems that God closes the door that we can walk through and makes us climb in through the window. Just how can God be like that?

Certainly, God is not like that! Because God never shuts a door without opening a few other doors.

God has His reasons for closing a door, but we look so long and so sadly about a closed door without realizing that there are many other open doors.

But of course, an open door is like a mystery. Because between the things that are known and the things that are unknown, there is the door.

We may have this experience of walking through a door and into a room and then we forget why we have come into the room for. 

Somehow when walking through the door, something has changed. It’s like we have entered into another dimension or into another domain.

Last Tuesday, on the 8th December, Pope Francis blessed and opened a special door at St. Peter’s Basilica. It is called the Holy Door of Mercy.

And with that he declared the opening of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, as he entered through that door.

On that same day, Archbishop William Goh also blessed the Holy Door of Mercy at the Church of Divine Mercy.

The Pope has also decreed that the following Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent, in every diocese, whether at the cathedral or another church of special significance, a Door of Mercy will be opened for the duration of the Holy Year.

Our parish, the Church of the Sacred Heart, is designated as one of the five churches in Singapore to have the Holy Door of Mercy and a pilgrimage church for the Holy Year.

Today, the main door of the church is blessed and we are called to cross the threshold of the Holy Door.

But the door can only have meaning when we associate the door with Jesus, who is the Door. There is only one way that opens wide the entrance into the life of communion with God, and that is Jesus.

To pass through that door is to profess our belief that Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour.

To pass through that door means that it is a decision and a choice to leave the worries and anxieties and our sinfulness behind and to enter into the divine life of God.

Our parish is designated as one of the pilgrimage churches because it is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which represents the love and mercy of God.

And more than that, we pass through the door and into the mystery of the Heart of Jesus.

In other words, we pass through the door and we enter, not just into God’s house; we enter into a divine domain, we enter into the Heart of Jesus who is full of love and mercy.

Love is what God gives us when we don’t deserve it. But because of our sins, we deserve punishment. Yet because God is merciful, He spares us from the punishment due to our sin.

But the mercy of God cannot and should not be taken for granted.
As we heard in the gospel, the people asked John the Baptist, “What must we do?” we too ask the same question – What must we do to ask for God’s mercy?

Now if we want something we never had, then we must be prepared to do something we have never done.

In this Year of Mercy, we cross the threshold of the Holy Door of this church, and we ask for the strength to embrace God’s mercy and dedicate ourselves to being merciful with others as God the Father has been merciful with us.

So we will have to relook at the corporal and spiritual works of mercy which we can find in the pamphlet printed by our parish for the Year of Mercy.

Since we are one of the pilgrimage churches, we must be prepared to provide refreshment and hospitality to the pilgrims who will be coming to our church.

We priests must be prepared to be available to hear confessions and to provide spiritual guidance and healing for those seeking God’s forgiveness.

We must quickly organize ourselves to be of service to those who will be coming to our church to make their pilgrimage.

So in the weeks to come as we plan out what to do as a pilgrimage parish, we will also ask you to come forward to serve so that we can show the face of God’s mercy.

But first and foremost, let us familiarize ourselves with the spiritual program as laid out in the pamphlet.

We ourselves must experience the mercy of God before we can lead others to experience God’s mercy.

Indeed, God has opened the door of mercy for us and inviting us to enter through it and experience mercy and in turn be heralds of God’s mercy.

This is a special year in which the doors of mercy are fully opened to everyone. Let not our sinfulness close these doors.

Friday, December 11, 2015

2nd Week of Advent, Saturday, 12-12-15

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

December 12, 1531 was a very special day in the history of the Catholic Church and Mexico.

Prior to that, on December 9,1531, a poor and humble Aztec Juan Diego saw an apparition of a young girl at the Hill of Tepeyac, near Mexico City, and he recognized her as the Virgin Mary.

Juan Diego told his story to the Spanish Archbishop of Mexico City,  who instructed him to return to Tepeyac Hill, and ask the "lady" for a miraculous sign to prove her identity.

The first sign was the healing Juan's uncle who was suffering from a deadly illness. Then Mary told him to gather flowers from the top of Tepeyac Hill.

Although December was very late in the growing season for flowers to bloom, Juan Diego found Castilian roses, not native to Mexico, on the normally barren hilltop.

Then Mary arranged these in his peasant cloak or tilma. When Juan Diego opened his cloak before the Archbishop on December 12, the flowers fell to the floor, and on the fabric was the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

With that, and also within a short time, about six million native Mexicans were baptized and Christianity grew from then onwards. It also brought about a reconciliation between the Spanish conquerors and the natives.

Indeed, the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is nothing less than a divine piece of art by the divine painter.

Yes, God wants us to know that He is always present among us, not only through the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, but also in our Advent preparations, as we prepare for the Word to be made flesh in our lives again.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

2nd Week of Advent, Friday, 11-12-15

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

Criticisms and fault-finding are two ugly acts that often dampen and damage the spirit of creativity.

Ugly acts as they are, yet we often give in to the tendency of criticizing the short-comings rather than appreciate and affirming the good and the beautiful.

We may look at the Christmas decorations and say that it is too sparse or too gaudy.

We may listen to the choir singing and say that they are too dull or too showy.

We need to learn how to look out for the good in others and appreciate the beauty in things.

The 1st reading tells us that God will teach us what is good for us and lead in ways that lead to life.

God's ways are demanding as shown in the life of John the Baptist.

Yet in Jesus, we also see that God's ways are also full of joy and life.

We will know when we have learnt the ways of God when we are able to rejoice with those who rejoice and yet share in the sorrow of those in misery.

Let us walk the ways of God and bring back the beauty into this world.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

2nd Week of Advent, Thursday, 10-12-15

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

The microphone is a powerful tool. Even when we speak softly into it, our voice will be projected into a big hall and our voice will fill the big space.

Jesus described John the Baptist as the greatest of all prophets. He was the greatest of all prophets because it was he who proclaimed the coming of Jesus.

So it was Jesus who made him great, just as the microphone will make our voice sound much louder than our usual volume.

Another reason why John the Baptist was great is because he proclaimed Jesus at the cost of his life.

And hence, for us as disciples of Jesus, our proclamation of God's kingdom will surely come with its struggles.

We get tempted, we face opposition, ridicule and criticism.

As Jesus said in the gospel, we will be subjected to violence and the violence will even take us by storm.

But as God tells in the 1st reading, not to be afraid because He will help us.

And when we come up triumphant, it is for others to see that the hand of the Lord God has done this for us, that it is indeed the Lord who is helping us.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

2nd Week of Advent, Wednesday, 09-12-15

 Isaiah 40:25-31 / Matthew 11:28-30

Whenever we get angry and frustrated, we will tend to raise our voice. With that we will also raise our tempers. And with that we become emotional and then we become irrational.

But it begins when we don't take hold of our anger and let it run out of control, often with unpleasant consequences.

In the 1st reading, the Lord confronts His people with this: How can you say, Jacob, how can you insist, Israel, "My destiny is hidden from the Lord, my rights are ignored by my God?"

When the people faced distress and turmoil from enemies and dangers and hardships, their faith in God was shaken and they began to get angry with God. So they began to grumble against God.

But the Lord asks them in return: "Did you not know? Had you not heard?"  God asked His people to raise up their eyes and look - Who made the stars and calls each one by name, that not one fails to answer.

God did not raise His voice or His anger at His people, instead, He raised His words to make them think and reflect.

And when they put their hope in the Lord, they will renew their strength and put out wings like eagles and rise to God.

So if we are worn out and bogged down by troubles and difficulties, let us heed the call of Jesus to come to Him and rest in Him.

When our minds and hearts and rested in Jesus, we will rise like eagles and we will also raise our words in praise and thanksgiving.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Immaculate Conception of the B.V.M., Tuesday, 08-12-15

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

The Immaculate Conception is the conception of Mary in the womb of her mother without any stain of sin.

Church doctrine states that, from the first moment of her existence, Mary was preserved by God from the Original Sin and filled with sanctifying grace that would normally come with baptism after birth. Catholics believe Mary was free from any personal or hereditary sin.

The Immaculate Conception was proclaimed as a dogma in 1854 by Pope Pius IX. It means that it is to be accepted as an infallible statement of faith.

But why such a focus on Mary? We must remember that any teaching about Mary must eventually point to Christ.

The teaching on the Immaculate Conception points to the grace of God which preserved Mary from sin at her conception in order that she will bear the divine Son of God in her at the Annunciation.

Although God removed sin from Mary at her conception, He did not remove her free will and her freedom of choice.

At the Annunciation, Mary made her choice for God's plan to be fulfilled in her.

We have been cleansed of sin at our baptism. It is for us now to remain in God's grace by choosing to do God's will always, just as Mary chose to do God's will.

On this feast of the Immaculate Conception, let us also ask for Mary's intercession for the grace to do God's will always.

Let us pray that prayer found on the Miraculous Medal, or otherwise also called the medal of the Immaculate Conception.

The prayer goes like this: O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

2nd Week of Advent, Monday, 07-12-15

Isaiah 36:1-10 / Luke 5:17-26

Not many of us like to be in crowded places, such as at a sale or a fair, where there are greatly discounted prices.

Being in a sea of humanity can be stressful and tiring, and manners and etiquette are being trampled underfoot.

Also it is difficult if not impossible to get what you want or take your time to browse or have time to think.

For the paralyzed man and his friends in the gospel passage, to get to see Jesus is almost next to impossible, given the crowds.

It was futile and maybe even hopeless, we might say.

Yet their determination found a way to Jesus. Jesus may even be looking at their innovation with amazement.

And we see in the paralyzed man and his friends a determined human unity, a human solidarity seeking healing and salvation.

It was a sign of a hopeful human race, and Jesus came to fulfill that hope.

It was the same hope that the prophet Isaiah talked about in the 1st reading when he said - Courage! Do not be afraid.

Yes, we need the courage and hope to believe that conversion is possible, that differences between people can be resolved, that forgiveness can be granted.

No human situation is a hopeless situation as long as Jesus is there.

Whether it is a crowd or just an individual, Jesus will still come to forgive, to heal and to save us.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

2nd Sunday of Advent, 06.12.2015

Baruch 5:1-9 / Philippians 1:3-6, 8-11 / Luke 3:1-6

As we are about to come to end of another year, we can begin to look back and see what were the news that made headlines.

To begin with let’s look at the local scene. In March this year, we mourned the passing of our country’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew. 

We remember the crowds that went to pay their last respects at the Parliament House and the moving and emotional funeral.

Lee Kuan Yew was certainly missed as Singapore celebrates SG50 and at the National Day Parade, the chair that he usually sat on was left empty, and a bouquet of flowers was placed on it, in remembrance of him.

Nonetheless, the SG50 celebrations was indeed an occasion to remember as our country unites itself in recalling what makes it uniquely Singaporean.

Then there was the General Elections in September which was hotly contested and we wondered about the outcome, which of course we now know already.

That was certainly enough of the local big news that we can remember and enough to say that 2015 is a happening year for Singapore.

On the international scene, there was much to recap but enough to say all will be history soon.

The gospel began with the recalling of a bit of history – “In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar’s reign, …”

And following that were the big names of that year – Pontius Pilate the governor, the tetrarchs Herod, Philip and Lysanias, the chief priests Annas and Caiaphas.

They were in big positions and in high places. It’s enough to say they were the high and mighty ones who called the shots.

Though they were high and mighty, this is what history remembers of them:
Tiberius was one of Rome's greatest generals. But he came to be remembered as a dark, reclusive, 
and somber ruler who never really desired to be emperor, and he was called "the gloomiest of men."

Pontius Pilate is best known from the biblical account of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. It was he who sentenced Jesus to be crucified. 

Herod (Antipas) is best known today for accounts in the New Testament of his role in events that led to the executions of John the Baptist and indirectly the crucifixion of Jesus.

So they were big names and they held positions of power and authority. But what they were known for was certainly nothing big to talk about.

History remembers them not for any legacy but as tragedy.

But last on that name list is John, son of Zechariah, aka John the Baptist.

What sets him apart from the earlier ones was that the Word of God came to him in the wilderness, a barren and lowly place.

John the Baptist then went through the whole Jordan district proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

He was the voice that cried out in the wilderness to prepare a way for the Lord.

Though he was eventually executed, John the Baptist left behind a legacy. He was the one who prepared the way for the Saviour by pointing out who He was.

And during the season of Advent, John the Baptist is remembered for his legacy.

During this time of the year, what we hear is “Season’s greetings” and “Happy holidays”.

But the reason for the season is none other than Jesus; Jesus is the reason for the season.

John the Baptist and his message of repentance and forgiveness of sins remind us of that.

But John the Baptist also reminded us that when the Word of God came to him, he accepted it and he did what God wanted of him. He didn’t say he was a nobody who stayed in the wilderness. He didn’t make any excuses.

He was the greatest of all prophets because he didn’t make excuses, nor compared himself with those other big names.

In fact, John the Baptist continued the legacy of the other biblical characters when the Word of God came upon them and they did what God wanted of them.

For example, Abraham was too old, Moses stuttered, Jacob was a liar, Gideon doubted, Elijah was burned out, David had an affair and even had someone killed, Isaiah had unclean lips, Jeremiah was too young, Jonah didn't like the job, Amos only knew how to prune trees, Paul was a persecutor, 
Timothy had ulcers, Lazarus was dead, Martha was a aunty-worry.

But the Word of God empowered them to rise to the occasion and become some of the greatest models of our faith.

We are to carry on this legacy of accepting the Word of God as John the Baptist and the rest of the biblical figures did.

The repentance that is required of us is to stop making excuses and to let the Word of God empower us.

Because if we want it, we will find a way. If we don’t want it, then we will find an excuse.

When we don’t make excuses, we will see the salvation of God and  the reason for the season. 

Otherwise this season will not be worth remembering.

Friday, December 4, 2015

1st Week of Advent, Saturday, 05-12-15

Isaiah 30:19-21, 23-26 / Matthew 9:35 - 10:1, 6-8

There will be times when we will inevitably think that God punishes us when we sin.

How else can we explain a string of unfortunate events that happened when we did something wrong and have yet to admit it and confess it.

Could it be that God sends us some spiritual lashes so as to wake us up to our own sins and be repentant?

To think of God as a punishing God is abhorrent  indeed because we believe that God is love.

Yet, we are not wrong to say that God will discipline His people so that they will walk in His ways.

This we can see in the 1st reading, especially in the last line of the passage - On that day the Lord dresses the wound of His people and heals the bruises His blows have left.

Yes, God disciplines His people and yet God also dotes on His people with care and compassion.

It was the same care and compassion that Jesus showed when He saw the crowds and felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected.

Advent is also a time to enter into the silence of God's care and compassion so that in turn we will show care and compassion for the harassed and the dejected that we see around us.