Sunday, January 31, 2016

4th Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 01-02-16

2 Sam 15:13-14, 30; 16:5-13 / Mark 5:1-20

A curse can be expressed in several ways. It can take on the expression of a wish that misfortune, evil, doom, etc., befall a person, group, etc.

Or it can be a formula or charm intended to cause such misfortune to another. Or it can be an evil that has been invoked upon a person. Or it can be the cause of evil, misfortune, or trouble.

Whether the curse will be actualized or not is another matter.

Nonetheless, to hear the words of a curse can cut and tear the heart.

In the 1st reading, king David heard the cursed words of Shimei and he could have retaliated. But he did not.

King David knew that he was in the pits because even his own son was after his life.

Still, in the depths of his distress, he placed his hope in the Lord's mercy.

In the gospel, we can understand that what the disciples saw in the man was just a bag of curses.

They might even felt that this was the pits for them: they were in a foreign land, there was this possessed madman before them, the pigs, the cemetery around.

They were probably cursing the situation they were in and wondered why Jesus brought them there in the first place.

But that was precisely why Jesus came into this world so that the curse of sin will be changed into a blessing of hope.

So whenever we find ourselves in a lousy situation and feel like cursing, let us follow David's example and turn to God and place our hope in His mercy.

And when we have received the blessing of hope and mercy, let us also do what Jesus told the man He had healed: Go home to your people and tell them all the Lord in His mercy has done for you.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

4th Ordinary Sunday, Year C, 31.01.2016

Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19 / 1 Cor 12:31 – 13:13 / Luke 4:21-30

It is said that knowledge is power. Knowledge has the power to control access to opportunity and advancement.

Knowledge comes from learning. But the more the knowledge, the lesser should be the ego.

Because the more we know, we should also realize that there is much more that we don’t know. Because real knowledge is to know the extent of our ignorance.

It is said that there are two ways to live life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.

And if we think that praying for a miracle is almost nearly impossible then let us listen to this story.

A woman went to see a holy man and asked him to pray to God to take her husband out of this world, because he was always quarrelling with her, and she can’t live with him anymore.

The holy man paused for a moment, and then said to her:  Very well, I will pray, but I must warn you that when I begin to pray, God will decide which of you is more guilty. And whoever is more guilty will die immediately! So how? You want me to start praying?

The woman thought for a while, and then said: Err…. Never mind, no need to pray anymore. And she left, hurriedly.

Well, the truth set her free, and it also made her flee.

We may know what the truth is, but it would take a miracle for the truth to set us free.

In the gospel, we heard that Jesus went to His hometown and preached the truth to His people but they despised Him.

To bring home the point, Jesus recalled for them two stories from their history about how God helped outsiders instead of their own people.

One was a widow at Zarephath, a Sidonian town and the other a leper, Naaman a Syrian.

But instead of believing that miracles can happen to outsiders, they became enraged and they hustled Him out of the town and took Him to the brow of the hill and intended to throw Him down the cliff.

And then something astonishing happened. Jesus slipped through the crowd and walked away.

Another miracle happened before their eyes. The truth had set Jesus free but that same truth left them obstinate and trapped in their anger.

So we may know what the truth is, but for the truth to set us free, it may require a miracle.

And that would depend on how we live our lives. Do we live as though nothing is a miracle? Or do we live as though everything is a miracle.

But for a miracle to happen would require us to put more energy to our faith and beliefs than to our doubts and fears.

Once there was a Christian lady who lived next door to an atheist.

 Everyday, when the lady prayed, the atheist guy could hear her. 

 He thought to himself, "She sure is crazy, praying all the time like that.  Doesn't she know there isn't a God?" 

Many times while she was praying, he would go to her house and harass her, saying "Lady, why do you pray all the time? Don't you know there is no God?"  But she kept on praying.

One day, she ran out of groceries. As usual, she was praying to the Lord explaining her situation and thanking Him for what He was going to do.  

As usual, the atheist heard her praying and thought to himself, "Humph. I'll fix her."  He went to the grocery store, bought a whole bunch of groceries, took them to her house, dropped them off on the front porch, rang the door bell and then hid in the bushes to see what she would do.

When she opened the door and saw the groceries, she began to praise the Lord with all her heart, jumping, singing and shouting.  

The atheist then jumped out of the bushes and told her, "You old crazy lady!  God didn't buy you those groceries, I bought those groceries!" 

Suddenly the lady shouted and began running down the street, shouting and praising the Lord. The atheist chased after her, and when he finally caught her, he asked what her problem was. 

She said, "I knew the Lord would provide me with some groceries, but I didn't know He was going make the devil pay for them!"

So as it goes, for some everything is a miracle; for others nothing is a miracle.

For us who believe in God and that with His love, everything is possible and everything is a miracle.

Yes, God is love and His love is described in the 2nd reading: love is patient and kind, never jealous, never boastful or conceited, never rude or selfish; love does not take offence and is not resentful; love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth.

And as we hear these words, a miracle is also waiting to happen. As much as God is love and His love is described in the words that we have heard, God also wants to recreate us with His love.

The miracle that is waiting to happen is when we can say: I am patient and kind, never jealous, never boastful or conceited, never rude or selfish; I do not take offence and I am not resentful; l take no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth.
May this text be fulfilled even as we listen.

Friday, January 29, 2016

3rd Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 30-01-16

2 Sam 12:1-7, 10-17 / Mark 4:35-41

Weather forecasts have advanced far enough for us to know what will be coming up.

So when we tune in to the weather forecasts, we will know if it is going to be sunny or rainy, humid or windy, warm or chilly.

And those forecasts are often correct, especially when it comes to the more serious things like storms, typhoons, hurricanes and tornado.

So if we were told that a storm is already brewing, then we better heed the warnings and take the necessary precautions.

King David, before he was confronted by the prophet Nathan, was committing one sin after another - he had an affair with Uriah's wife who subsequently conceived; then he tried to get Uriah to take responsibility, failing which he plotted his death.

The warning signs were there but David's murky conscience did not want to heed it. Until Nathan told him the parable and then it was David who pronounced sentence on himself.

In the gospel, while the disciples were crossing the lake, a gale blew up, probably without any warning signs. The waves were breaking into the boat and it was almost swamped.

Certainly they were frightened and in their fear, they confronted Jesus, who was asleep and complained that He didn't care.

But the fact that He was with them was a sign that they didn't understand that He has power over the wind and the waves.

God will always give us signs to tell us what is happening with us and what we should do or where we should go.

Let us pray that we will be sensitive to these signs and that we will understand and comprehend these signs.

Then in any storm, the winds and the waves will not overwhelm us.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

3rd Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 29-01-16

2 Sam 11:1-10, 13-17 / Mark 4:26-34

An act or a deed is driven by an intention or motive. We don't do something without a reason.

And depending on what the intention or motive is, the act or deed is deemed good or bad.

In the gospel, we heard parables about seeds. The seeds were be thrown on the soil or sowed in the soil.

That act was intended to have the seeds germinate and bear fruit for the harvest.

In the 1st reading, we heard about king David "sowing his seed" with another woman. But king David's intention of "sowing his seed" was out of lust and carnal desires.

And so out of a sinful intention came a act that bore consequences and then it spiralled further into another evil intention that resulted in the murder of an innocent man who was loyal and trusted in his king.

Hence, we must always check the intentions behind our actions. Because bad intentions will drive actions that will only bear bad fruit.

For whatever we intend to do, we must put it under the light of prayer and to sieve out any ulterior motives and selfish desires.

Then our actions and deeds will bear a harvest of goodness and God will be glorified in all that we do.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

3rd Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 28-01-16

2 Sam 7:18-19, 24-29 / Mark 4:21-25

The Book of Psalms in the Bible is accredited to the authorship of King David, although it is quite obvious that there is more than one author.

We use the Psalms in the worship at Mass and also in the Divine Office of the Church.

In many ways, the Psalms expressed the spirituality of King David.

There are psalms of adoration, worship, praise and thanksgiving.

There are also psalms of petitions, contrition, distress and lamentation.

Psalm 8 expresses best the prayer of King David in today's 1st reading.

Psalms 8 begins with this: What is man that you should keep him in mind, mortal man that you care for him.

David was overwhelmed that God not only made him king of a great nation, God also promised to make his descendants into a royal dynasty, from which as we know now, came the Saviour Jesus.

That was why David said: Who am I, Lord, and what is my house that you have led me this far?

Like King David, let us also ask ourselves: Who am I, that the Lord should care for me even though I am sinful, and He sustains my life and fills me with blessings even though I do not deserve it.

Indeed, we could only say that God is merciful and His mercy endures from age to age.

When we truly understand this mercy and love of God for us, then that mercy and love will kindle the flame within us and, like Jesus said in the gospel, we will shine God's love for all to see.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

3rd Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 27-01-16

Samuel 7:4-17 / Mark 4:1-20

Jesus started His ministry by teaching in the synagogues.

In today's gospel, we see a switch in style. He goes into the open: at the seashore, and the fishing boat becomes the pulpit.

But a more profound switch was from lecture-style teaching to simple parables about everyday life, although the purpose was still the same, i.e. to teach the people about eternal life.

The switch was only natural, because for the common people, stories attract their attention, and they are easy to remember.

But the purpose of Jesus in using stories or parables goes deeper than just getting their attention.

A parable like the sower and the seed tests the hearts of the people, as well as our hearts.

When our hearts are open, we will be able to sense the truth of the teachings of Jesus.

Just as in the 1st reading, the prophet Nathan sensed it was the word of the Lord that was being announced to him and he opened his heart to receive it.

Yet, nonetheless, God will also respect our freedom.

The parables of Jesus contain enough light for us who want to know the truth.

We have the freedom to step into the light of truth, or to remain in the shadow of darkness.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Saints Timothy and Titus, Tuesday, 26-01-16

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

One of the ways to motivate people to take on higher responsibilities is to recognize the contributions they are already making and the talents they have.

They need to be affirmed of whatever gifts that God has bestowed upon them so that what they have and what they are doing with it can be reinforced.

When St. Paul chose Timothy and Titus to be bishops of their respective churches, he was not looking merely at their gifts and talents.

In fact, Timothy and Titus were rather young to be the bishops of the churches.

Rather, St. Paul recognized the faith that they had.

And especially for Timothy, St. Paul reminded him of the sincere faith which was handed down from his grandmother and his mother.

St. Paul affirmed Timothy that he saw this faith in him, and that was sufficient for him to lead the church that was entrusted to him.

Here, it is good to remember that faith is not so much taught as it is caught.

The faith that we have is "caught" from others - our parents, our teachers, our friends, etc.

Hence, we have a faith to share, a faith that others are waiting to catch, so that they too will come to know God and believe in Him.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Conversion of St. Paul, Monday, 25-01-16

Acts 22:3-16 or Acts 9:1-22 / Mark 16:15-18

Almost everyone is interested in a conversion story and may even get inspired by a conversion story.

Usually what we hear about are the deep experiences leading to the conversion.

What we seldom hear about is the other side of the conversion story.

We seldom get to hear about the sinfulness or its details before the conversion experience. It is deemed too profane and maybe also scandalous.

But in the conversion story of St. Paul, he recounted, almost unabashedly, what he was doing before that experience on the road to Damascus.

And these are not minor sins, because even Jesus Himself had to tell the then Saul: Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? I am Jesus, and you are persecuting me!

But from then on, St. Paul moved on to become the apostle to the Gentiles.

From the history of the Church, we can also see that similar conversion pattern of the great saints who once were great sinners.

There is St. Peter who denied Jesus, and St. Augustine who even wrote about his past sinfulness in his book "Confessions".

But they experienced mercy and the conversion was deep.

So it is with those whom we might call the "sinners of today".

We need to pray for them that they too will experience the grace of conversion as St. Paul did.

And how can we ourselves not admit our sinfulness and the need for on-going conversion?

But the sinners of today can be the saints of tomorrow.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

3rd Ordinary Sunday, Year C, 24.01.2016

Nehemiah 8:2-6, 8-10 / 1 Cor 12:12-30 / Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21

Today we have come to church amidst some inconveniences of road closures and road diversions and changes in bus routes.

Whatever it is we have come here and later from here, we will be going somewhere else.

But wherever we may be going, at the end of the day, we will have to go back to where we started from – to a place called home.

Yes, there is no place like home, where we can be ourselves, wear what we like and do what we like. After all we are at home and it is there that we are truly ourselves.

And there is also no place like home, because that’s where the wi-fi connects automatically and easily. Indeed there is no place like home where the wi-fi is concerned.

In fact, there is no place like home where everything else is concerned. Home is where the day begins and home is where the day will end.

In the gospel, we heard that Jesus came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up.

He had left Nazareth and went down to the river Jordon and was baptized by John.

And with the power of the Spirit in Him, He went to Galilee and He taught in the synagogues.

And now He had come home, and in a way He was a different person.

Jesus had left home and now He had come back. And His homecoming is going to be where a new story begins.

And that new story began when He unrolled the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.

Let us hear again what that new story, that new chapter of His life is all about:

“The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, and to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.”

Jesus came back to His hometown of Nazareth to begin a new story of His life, a story of love, hope and dreams.

And as He rolled up the scroll and as all the eyes in the synagogue were fixed on Him, He said to them: This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.

So the story of His life was not going to begin in time to come or somewhere in the future. It was going to begin there and then. It was to begin in that “today” even as they listened.

And throughout His life, as He proclaimed the story of the kingdom of God and of the Lord’s year of favour, His hometown will become associated with His name.

Because Jesus will be known as “Jesus of Nazareth”. And when the story of His life comes to an end, the notice that was nailed to the cross will also tell where the story began: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.

Today we have come to church. But we have not just come to another place. We have come home; we have come to the house of God called “Church of the Sacred Heart” or often in short “Sacred Heart Church”.

We are the parishioners of the Church of the Sacred Heart. When I go to other parishes, I will be known as Fr. Stephen Yim from the Church of the Sacred Heart.

Similarly when you go to other parishes for some church function, you will be known as a parishioner of the Church of the Sacred Heart, or you will introduce yourself as such.

So the Church of the Sacred Heart is our spiritual hometown. It is from this hometown that our spiritual story begins, a story of love, hope and dreams.

And for this year, we have a profound story to tell. This year is the Jubilee Year of Mercy and our church is one of the five pilgrimage churches in Singapore.

The Year of Mercy has already begun on the 8th December 2015 and almost two months have passed. So what are we doing about it? 

As parishioners of this pilgrimage church, we are to be witnesses and heralds of God’s mercy. And people from other parishes want to know more about this.

We conducted a talk on the Year of Mercy a week ago and it was rather overwhelming. We expected to have 150 people but 270 people came and we ran short of material.

Yes, people are thirsting for the Good News and they want to experience God’s mercy. This is the Lord’s year of favour.

So we will have to conduct another talk on the Year of Mercy soon. 

The Pope has led the Church to implore God’s mercy and God is pouring His mercy on His Church and so we cannot just let this year pass by without letting it have an impact on our lives.

The least we can do is to take a few of these Year of Mercy pamphlets and sharing it with others and to accompany them on a pilgrimage to our church and to experience God’s mercy and forgiveness and healing.

Home is where our story begins. For Jesus it was Nazareth. For us it will be the Church of the Sacred Heart.

May the story of God’s mercy and love and forgiveness begin here and today and may it come to an end at our eternal home in heaven.

Friday, January 22, 2016

2nd Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 23-01-16

2 Sam 1:1-4, 11-12, 17, 19, 23-27 / Mark 3:20-21

We are called Christians. There are many words that can be used to describe who we are and what we do as Christians.

For e.g. we are to be loving and forgiving, generous and kind, merciful and compassionate, etc.

One simple expression could be to say that we are "big-hearted" people.

Big-hearted people also express love in a big-hearted way.

We not only love our friends and those who are good to us.

We also must rise above our selfishness that tends to make us hate those who hate us and to ignore those who ignore us.

In the 1st reading, we could see how David showed he was such a big-hearted person.

He forgave Saul who had persecuted him for so many years.

Not only did he lamented in grief over the death of Saul, he also remembered Saul's good qualities and he also remembered the goodness and love that Jonathan had for him.

Jesus Himself preached and showed the bigness and greatness of love.

But such bigness and greatness of love is not easily understood and accepted by others because they may have become numbed to the selfishness and evil they see so often around them.

Even the relatives of Jesus thought He was out of His mind.

But what is foolishness and madness for the world is indeed the bigness and the greatness of love.

That bigness and greatness is shown on the cross. It is in the cross we encounter the unfathomable bigness and greatness of God's love.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

2nd Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 22-01-16

1 Sam 24:3-21 / Mark 3:13-19

It is said that if you want to take revenge, you have to dig two graves - one for your enemy and one for yourself.

Often we think that by taking revenge for something wrong done to us, we are settling scores and then all will fair and square.

But is that so? Will taking revenge for a wrong done to us resolve all the pain and hurt and bitterness?

The proverb that David quoted in the 1st reading calls for reflection - "Wickedness goes out from the wicked, and my hand will not be laid on you."

Indeed, if we were to take revenge on the wicked for doing something wrong to us, the wicked will only retaliate by escalating the wickedness and doing more wrong to us.

But David heeded the wisdom of the proverb by not laying his hand on Saul. David had done no wrong to Saul yet Saul hunted him and wanted to kill him even.

David forgave Saul in order not to be dragged into the wickedness that Saul had inflicted upon him.

Indeed, forgiveness has to be preached so that people will understand why it is not only futile to take revenge but also in taking revenge, we get drawn deeper into the wickedness itself.

Jesus called and sent the twelve to preach and with power to cast out devils. The power of evil is to lure us to take revenge.

But the power of forgiveness will heal the pain and hurt of the wrong done to us and restrain us revenge and retaliation. Then there will be no need to keep digging graves.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

2nd Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 21-01-16

1 Sam 18:6-9: 19:1-7 / Mark 3:7-12

Cancer is a much dreaded disease, and it is deadly as well.

At times, it is not discovered until it is too late.

Medical science has been able to detect for us the causes of cancer and the symptoms.

But something that is more deadly than cancer are our unchecked and unresolved emotions.

Especially emotions like jealousy and resentment, or anger and bitterness.

When left unchecked and unresolved, these powerful emotions eat away at our relationships in life and distort our understanding of others.

Just like how the unchecked and unresolved emotions of king Saul in the 1st reading developed into an abnormal behaviour that desired to kill David.

We all have emotions, and even experienced powerful emotions like those experienced by king Saul.

But let us also remember that emotions are good servants but bad masters.

Emotions become our servants when they help us to make an honest assessment about ourselves and they can even enrich our prayer life when we bring before the Lord the feelings that are in our heart.

We heard it in the gospel that crowds were following Jesus because they have experienced the healing touch from Him.

It also means that these people have done a prior reflection about their state of life and the destructive emotions that are eating away at them.

May we too make time for prayer so that we can bring to the Lord all that is disturbing us and eating away at us and to experience the healing love of Jesus.

That is another way of saying that we are experiencing salvation.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

2nd Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 19-01-16

1 Sam 17:32-33, 37, 40-51 / Mark 3:1-6

Nowadays, medical science is able to identify illnesses and physical problems and give them names so as to be able to generally categorize the affliction or the syndrome.

So we know what is a flu, or a stroke, or Parkinsons, or cancer or high blood pressure.

But when the gospel mentioned about the man with the withered hand, it may not be very clear as to what the affliction was.

Nonetheless, it would be enough to say that with a withered hand, its function is hampered or at worse rendered ineffective.

But what grieved Jesus was that when He asked the people about the purpose of the law, they were silent. The gospel described them as so obstinate.

It was like as if they had withered minds and hearts, to the extent that they can't even give a reply to that simple question. The answer was obvious, but Jesus wanted them to say it in order for them to hear it for themselves. But they remained silent.

If a withered hand is ineffective, then what about a withered heart. A withered heart obviously is not functioning anymore. But it can mean that it is withered with fear and anxiety.

In the 1st reading, David the young shepherd boy was to battle the giant Philistine warrior Goliath.

It would be easy meat for Goliath if David's heart was withered with fear. But David said this: The Lord who rescued me from the claws of lion and bear will rescue me from the power of that Philistine.

And with a heart of faith and with confidence in the power of the Lord, the hand of David wielded a sling and stone that brought down the Philistine.

May our hearts also be filled with faith and with confidence in the power of the Lord and our hands will do the mighty works of God.

Monday, January 18, 2016

2nd Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 19-01-16

1 Sam 16:1-13 / Mark 2:23-28

Very often things are not really what they seem. There is usually something more than what is just the obvious.

Detective stories like Sherlock Holmes often have this point when one minor detail yields up more evidence, or what is often overlooked becomes the critical factor.

It does not just happen in detective stories. Even prophets and seers may not immediately understand the ways of God.

In the 1st reading,  the prophet Samuel had expected the first few sons of Jesse to be the one that God had chosen, because of the appearance or other qualities.

But in the end, the one that God had chosen was totally out of expectation.

Yes, man looks at appearances but the Lord looks at the heart.

Similarly, in the gospel, the Pharisees looked at the law of the Sabbath and picked on what is forbidden.

Yet Jesus looked at the law of charity in the Sabbath, and it was this law that gave and even saved lives, as it was in the case of David that Jesus recalled.

Whether it is the law of the Sabbath or the law of charity, it is certainly much more than what we see or understand.

May Jesus our Master lead us to a deeper vision and understanding of the law of love.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

2nd Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 18-01-16

1 Sam 15:16-23 / Mark 2:18-22

A half-truth is no truth at all; it is actually a disguised lie.

Similarly a "half-obedience" is no obedience at all; it is a disguised disobedience.

It's like we are asked to sweep the floor and we sweep all the dust to one corner without clearing it into the bin. So we did sweep the floor but the purpose of sweeping the floor is not accomplished.

In the 1st reading, Samuel had to confront Saul about his disobedience.

But Saul protested. He said that he did obey the voice of the Lord. Then from his own mouth, the truth came forth.

He spared Agag the king of the Amalekites, for whatever reason, and he also took the choice sheep and oxen from the ban, so as to offer for sacrifice to the Lord.

But as Samuel retorted: Is the pleasure of the Lord in holocausts and sacrifice, or in obedience to the voice of the Lord?

It may seem like a small thing that Saul did not carry out the Lord's command to the full.

But as Jesus would say in Luke 16:10 - "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much."

Disobedience starts with small things and then slowly escalates to big issues. And disobedience to the Lord is equivalent to rebellion which is a sin of sorcery, meaning to say that it is evil.

Let us pray that our minds and hearts will be like new wineskins that will be able to hold the wine of obedience to the Lord. Disobedience will be like those old wineskins that will be destroyed.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

2nd Ordinary Sunday, Year C, 16.01.2016

Isaiah 62:1-5 / 1 Cor 12:4-11 / John 2:1-12

Back in 1979, Singapore launched a rather interesting campaign. It is called the National Courtesy Campaign.

It was launched as a means of encouraging Singaporeans to be more kind and considerate to each other, so as to create a pleasant social environment.

Its purpose was to have a smooth transition to a new Singapore which would be densely populated, where people lived and worked in high rise towns, offices and factories, while travelling in crowded buses, trains and lifts.

The courtesy campaign was to encourage Singaporeans to adopt a more courteous attitude and lifestyle.

Whatever we may remember of the Courtesy Campaign, we may at least remember Singa the Courtesy Lion and that jingle “Make courtesy our way of life”.

That courtesy campaign may have left some effects in our lives. 

For example we may not be so blunt as to say “No!” to a request.

So we will say “Later” or “See how” or “Let me think about it” and we hope that the matter will be forgotten.

Once I was a friend’s house and when we sitting at the living room, he called out, “Hey waiter, get a cup of coffee for Father.” As I wondered who he was calling, his son came out of the room and went to get a cup of coffee.

I was amused and I asked him why he called his son “waiter”. He explained: Every time I asked him to do something, he would tell me “Wait” so after a while I decided to name him “Waiter”.   ; P

So we won’t say “No!” We will try to be courteous and say “Later” or “See how” or “Wait”

In the gospel we heard about the event of the wedding at Cana. It is a unique story that is not found in the other gospels.

It is also a peculiar story because of the conversation between Jesus and Mary. 

The wine for the wedding had finished and Mary came to know of it. And she said to Jesus, “They have no wine.”

The reply that Jesus gave to Mary was almost equivalent to a “So what?” or “It’s none of my business.” Whatever it may be, the reply of Jesus to His mother seemed rather blunt.

Yet, it can be said that Jesus was clear with His reply. He didn’t say “See how” or “Later” or even “Wait”. It was as clear as a “No”; no wine means no wine. 

So the wedding feast was going to turn into a wedding fiasco. 

Celebration was going to turn into embarrassment.

It seemed like nothing can be done, and even Jesus don’t seem to want to do anything about it.

But for Mary, no wine does not mean no hope.

She was like putting her own faith to the test when she said to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.”

So even though Jesus said that His hour has not come, Mary was willing to wait and see how things will turn out.

She dared to believe that Jesus will do something, sooner or later. It may not be there and then, but His hour will come as He had said.

A priest told me of this occasion when he and a few students went to do some social work.

They took a lift to the house they were going but as the lift was going up, it jolted and stopped.

Of course they were alarmed and one of the students asked the priest to pray for the lift to get working.

The priest was hesitant and told them to wait for the lift technicians to come but they pestered him to pray.

So he casually prayed like this: Lord, if You are willing, please get this lift working so that we can get out safely. 

But the students said: Father, just ask God to get this lift working again so that we can get out quickly.

So the priest prayed again: Lord, can you please sent the lift technicians over quickly so that we can get out safely?

Again the students said: Father, just ask God to get this lift working quickly.

The priest became a little flustered and so he retorted: Why not you pray and ask God yourself.

So one of the students prayed like this: O God, help us to get out of this lift quickly!

Well, you may guessed it. The lift jolted a little and got working and running and got to the floor and the lift door opened and the students jumped out and saying “Thanks be to God.”

The priest was the last to get out of the lift, and as he did so he looked upwards and sighed. Maybe he should have prayed with more conviction like that student, and get to the point instead of trying to be courteous with his prayers.

So when we pray, let us not be too courteous with our prayers. God knows what we need but we need to have more conviction and confidence in our prayers and that His hour will come.

Mary had that conviction and confidence that the hour of Jesus will come and that was why she was able to tell the servants “Do whatever He tells you.”

What Jesus wants to tell us is to pray with conviction and with confidence. 

Let us not “see how” or “wait” or “later”. When the Lord’s hour has come we must do whatever He tells us.

May Mother Mary pray for us to have faith like hers, so that we too will see water turn to into wine.  

Friday, January 15, 2016

1st Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 16-01-16

1 Sam 9:1-4, 17-19: 10: / Mark 2:13-17

"All's well that ends well". The meaning of that saying is that an event that has a good ending is good even if some things went wrong along the way.

So it may also mean that a good start to a day may not mean a good end to the day, or that a bad start may mean it's going to be a bad end.

Because life is like a cycle of ups and downs and there are reversal of fortunes.

Even in the spiritual realm, it can be like that. And that's what we heard in the two readings.

In the 1st reading, the impressive Saul was chosen to be the first king of Israel, and he started off well in serving God and His people.

But along the way, things got messy and he became an insecure, brooding and temperamental man.

In the gospel was a tax collector, Levi son of Alphaeus, someone who was detested by his own people. By choosing that profession, he had chosen the direction of his status in life.

But in answering the call of Jesus, he changed direction as well as profession.

So for Levi, it is a case of "all's well that ends well" but not so for Saul.

These two figures from today's readings tell us we shouldn't be too confident of ourselves when we had a good start, nor do we need to be too discouraged when things don't go well.

If we had a good starting, let us pray for a good ending, where God  will be all in all.

If we had a bumpy and rocky start, let us pray for God's guidance so that all's well that end well.

But whichever way we start, let us keep faith and focus on God who will be our end.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

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

1 Sam 8:4-7, 10-22 / Mark 2:1-12

Comparing ourselves with others can have only two consequences.

When we compare ourselves with others we will end up being either vain or bitter.

When we think that we are better than others in whatever areas, we become vain and proud and we think too highly of ourselves.

But when we think that others are better than us, we come bitter and we lament over why we are not good enough or why others are better than us.

In the 1st reading, the people made a statement that displeased the prophet Samuel when they said: Give us a king to rule over us, like the other nations.

Up till then, the Israelites didn't have any king to rule over them. God was their ruler and God sent prophets like Samuel to make known to them His decrees.

But now, it seems that the people want a king, because when they looked around at other nations that have a king, those nations seems better off.

So when the Israelites compared themselves with the other nations, they envied them and then they decided that they too want a king.

The prophet Samuel tried to dissuade them but their envy of other nations made them even more adamant. They focused on the other nations and lost their focus on God.

May we not lose our focus on God and on our need for Him. God cannot be compared with anything else.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

1st Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 14-01-16

1 Sam 4:1-11 / Mark 1:40-45

The greatest test of courage is to bear defeat without losing heart.  (Robert Green Ingersoll)

Actually, there is more to be learned from defeat than from victory. And it is said that defeat is the mother of victory.

But defeat cannot teach us anything if the defeat is from our own ignorance.

In the 1st reading, we heard that the Israelites engaged in battle with the Philistines, and the Israelites were defeated with about four thousand killed.

In the Old Testament, when one nation goes into battle with another nation, it also means that the god of one nation goes into battle with the god of the other nation.

So when the Israelites lost that battle against the Philistines, they should have asked why.

The God of Israel was the God  who struck down Egypt with every kind of plague and hence defeated all the gods of Egypt.

So the Israelites should have asked why they were defeated. Certainly, it was not because God is not powerful enough.

But instead of asking and examining themselves as to why God allowed them to be defeated, they put God to the test by bringing along the ark of the covenant for the next battle.

So in their ignorance, they side-stepped self-examination; in their obstinance, they even forced God to go before them to fight for them.

Ignorance and obstinance are like defeat and failure that one does not learn anything from.

But let us be courageous enough to look at ourselves and look into ourselves and see what is wrong with us first.

That would be the first step towards victory and success for the glory of God.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

1st Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 13-01-16

1 Sam 3:1-10, 19-20 / Mark 1:29-39

The words "listen" and "silent" are made of the same letters.

Not only do they have the same letters, they have the same dynamics - in order to listen, you have to be silent.

It is said that silence is the language of God. If we want to know what God is saying to us, then we need to enter into that silence in order to listen.

There are two words to describe the ministry of Jesus - busy and noisy.

As we heard in the gospel passage, after leaving the synagogue, Jesus went on to the house of Simon Peter and Andrew and healed Simon Peter's mother-in-law.

Then in the evening, they brought to Him all who were sick and those possessed by devils and He cured many and cast out many devils.

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

Jesus needed to pray in order to rest His mind and silence His heart, so that He can listen to His Father.

With that, He knew what He had to do in order to accomplish His Father's will.

In the 1st reading, Eli slowly came to understand that it was the Lord who was calling Samuel. It was from his own listening to the Lord that he taught Samuel how to respond to the Lord and to listen.

Yes, in order to listen, we have to be silent. In the silence of the mind and heart, we will be able to hear the Lord speaking to us.

Monday, January 11, 2016

1st Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 12-01-16

1 Sam 1:9-20 / Mark 1:21-28

In the gospel passage, there is a rather interesting statement that the people made - "Here is a teaching that is new" they said "and with authority behind it: he gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him."

Does that mean to imply that the other religious teachers of that time had tried to expel evil but were unsuccessful?

And if they tried to expel evil and were unsuccessful, does it mean that their authority was questionable?

The gospel passage noted that Jesus taught with authority and it made a deep impression on the people.

When Jesus proclaimed the Good News, His message was simple and straightforward - the Kingdom of God was close at hand. Repent and believe in the Good News.

That is the Good News and God will give authority to anyone who proclaims that simple and straightforward message.

It is essentially a message of repenting of sinful ways and believing in the goodness of God.

In the 1st reading, Hannah prayed for a child and Eli, with his priestly authority, proclaimed that the God of Israel will grant her what she had asked for.

And indeed, with thanksgiving Hannah named her child "Samuel" - "I asked the Lord for him".

Let us ask the Lord for the grace of repentance to turn away from sinful ways and to believe in His goodness and providence. That would be enough to expel all evil.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

1st Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 11-01-16

1 Sam 1:1-8 / Mark 1:14-20

News that make it the headlines are usually sensational news.

But more often than not, those sensational news are more like bad news - wars and violence, killings and murders, scandals and whatever that might attract the reader.

The first few words of today's gospel passage sound like bad news: "After John had been arrested .."

The people knew who John the Baptist was and when they heard that Herod had him arrested, they would have shaken their heads and wondered what had become of goodness.

It was bad news for Jesus because John was his cousin, but He didn't sink into despair. With the news of John's arrest, He sprang into action and went to Galilee and there He proclaimed the Good News.

So with every piece of bad news, there will be a piece of good news to counter it so that God's kingdom will always rise above the turmoil of the bad news.

So it was with Hannah in the 1st reading. She was barren and her rival would taunt her to annoy her and because of that she went into despair.

Even her husband's affirmation of his love for her would not remove her dejection or stop her tears.

But there will be good news for Hannah in time to come. She just had to keep her faith in God.

We too need to believe that there will be more good news than bad news. With God there is always good news. We just need to believe in it.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Baptism of the Lord, Year C, 09.01.2016

Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7 / Acts 10:34-38 / Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

One of the things that we have been told when we were young was: Don’t play with fire.

But “Don’t play with fire” is a warning not just for children but also for grownups, regardless of how old they are.

Yes, fire is a good servant but it is a bad master. And when it is a bad master, it is something that we won’t want to play with.

And when fire becomes a bad master, what is there to do? 

There is this puzzling saying “Fight fire with fire”. But to fight fire with fire will only result in a bigger fire.

Maybe there is a word missing there, and that is “fight fire with fireman!”

The fireman, as we know, fights fire and puts it out. The fireman does not play with fire. 

In fact we can say that the fireman goes through a kind of baptism of fire, and he would know how dangerous it is.

There is a fireman’s prayer that goes like this:                 
 “O God when I am called to duty, wherever flames may rage; 
give me the strength to save a life, whatever be its age.
Help me to embrace a little child, before it is too late. 
Or save an older person, from the horror of that fate.
I want to fulfill my calling, to give the best in me. 
To guard my friend and neighbour, and protect his property.
And if according to Your will, I must answer death’s call; 
bless with Your protecting hand, my family one and all.”

Where others run away from the fire, the fireman goes to the fire, to face the fire, and to fight the fire.

To face the fire and to fight the fire, the firemen will have to go through some kind of baptism of fire.

It is a calling to go through that kind of baptism of fire, but having gone through that, the fire that now burns in those firemen is stronger that the fire that burns around them.

So the warning “Don’t play with fire” must always be observed otherwise there will be burning issues.

But as the Church celebrates the Baptism of the Lord, there comes another warning and it’s this: Don’t play with fire and water!

In the gospel, we heard about the baptism of Jesus. After His own baptism, He was at prayer and heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily shape, like a dove. 

And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.”

Jesus was baptized by John with water, and then astounding and amazing things happened.

And John has this to say about Jesus: I baptize with water, but someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

The elements of water and fire become powerful means at the Baptism of Jesus.

Jesus went through the baptism of water. And with that, He will give the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.

Now, we have gone through the baptism of water. And with that we must now be prepared to go through the baptism of fire.

It is said that the most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire. Indeed, the human soul on fire is a very powerful weapon.

But is it with the fire of the Holy Spirit, or with the fire of a bad master?

Is it a fire that leaves sparks of light everywhere, or is it a fire that destroys?

Yes, we have a fire within, but is it a good servant or a bad master?

One way to find out is to listen to what the letter of James 3:5 said: The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. 

Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.

The tongue is just a small organ yet it can be an instrument of the fire we have within.

And if the fire we have within is a bad master, then the fire that comes out of our tongues will cause hurt and destruction.

Those fiery words will burn up relationships and sow discord with gossips and slanders and lies. 

The tongue becomes like a flamethrower that burns away everything in its path.

But Jesus baptized us with the fire of the Holy Spirit. It is with the fire of the Holy Spirit within us that we fight fire with fire – the fire of a good servant against the fire of the bad master.

Hence, the holy fire from our tongues should leave sparks of light for those who hear us.

Our words must be words of love and mercy and compassion, words of kindness that encourage and strengthen others instead of tearing them down and destroying them.

Yes, we have a fire within, and the human soul on fire is a very powerful weapon. But it can also be a very dangerous weapon.

Jesus has already baptized us with the fire of the Holy Spirit. Let us not play with that fire, but let us make that fire a good servant, to serve God and to serve others.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Saturday after Epiphany, 09-01-16

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

There is no doubt that God hears our prayers. In fact, He always answers our prayers.

The question is in the way God answers our prayers.

The 1st reading gives an indication of how we should pray when it says: we are quite confident that if we ask the Son of God for anything, and it is in accordance with His will, He will hear us.

Yet, it is so easy for our prayer to be laced with self-interests and self-centered desires.

As we come to the end of the Christmas season, the figure of John the Baptist comes up again.

He did not say anything about prayer but what he said in the gospel showed that he was a person of prayer and who understands what God's will is.

With Jesus beginning His public ministry, John the Baptist sensed that it was time to do handing-over.

And he also had some words of wisdom for us when he said: A man can lay claim only to what is given him from heaven.

He knew who Jesus is and he knew who he was.

So as he gracefully steps aside, he had this to say: He must grow greater, I must grow smaller.

Let our prayer be that Jesus will grow greater in our lives and that we give thanks to God for all that has been given to us. That's all that we need.

Friday after Epiphany, 08-01-16

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

If looks are only skin deep, then it is obvious that judgement cannot be based on appearance.

Nonetheless appearance rules the world and hence looks are important in order to impress.

Even when we are sick, we still would want to look at least presentable.

But what if the sickness is the affliction of the skin? So much so that others think it is contagious and repulsive or even think that it is the result of some kind of curse.

That would be situation of the leper in today's gospel, as well as the situation of the lepers of that time.

Faced with rejection and laden with dejection, Jesus was his last hope and even then he wasn't very hopeful.

Hence his rather feeble request: If you want to, you can cure me.

And here is where Jesus makes an astounding reply: "Of course I want to! Be cured!" And He even stretched out His hand to touch the leper to heal him.

This profound act goes to show that God pays attention not so much to our appearance as to our hearts' disposition.

Furthermore, appearance is not the essence. Jesus took on flesh and became like one of us.

He was fully human and also fully divine. But it was His essence that defined His appearance.

May our appearance also be an exposition of our essence of who we really are.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Thursday after Epiphany, 07-01-16

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

To have all eyes looking at you intently is really something that can be quite unnerving.

In the first place, it is never that easy to capture people's attention. Even when we are engrossed in a movie, we still can get distracted somehow.

So was it something you said, or something you did that made all the people in the room fix their eyes on you?

When Jesus took the scroll on that day in the synagogue, and read from the prophet Isaiah, and then rolled back the scroll and sat down, all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on Him.

What Jesus read was not something new. The people had heard it before, many times even. But why were they looking intently at Him as if they heard it for the first time and seemed so engaged by it?

Because Jesus read with conviction, He was speaking about Himself, and what He read He will go about accomplishing.

When we read the Bible, what kind of conviction do we have? Do we read the Word of God with reference to ourselves?

Like in the 1st reading when it says: Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ has been begotten by God. And anyone who has been begotten by God has already overcome the world.

Just as the Scriptures speak about Jesus Christ, so too the same Scriptures speak about us if we believe in Jesus, and we too must do what He did.

The world will look at us and wonder who we are. But by our faith we will overcome the world by following Jesus to do what He did.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Wednesday after Epiphany, 06-01-16

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

There are two ways that we can look at life.

One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle (Albert Einstein)

But why is it that some see nothing as a miracle while others see everything as a miracle?

The 1st reading will give us some indication of where the difference lies.

"No one has ever seen God; but as long as we love one another God will live in us and His love will be complete in us".

Now isn't that a great miracle? As long as we love one another God will live in us! It is certainly a miracle that God would want to make His dwelling in weak and mortal humanity.

But that's the miracle of love. Love makes all things possible and love sees everything as a miracle and love would also see where God is.

In the gospel,  we heard that when the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water, they thought it was a ghost and they cried out and they were terrified.

As the last line of the gospel puts it - because they had not seen what the miracle of the loaves meant; their minds were closed.

In other words, the disciples had not understood the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves was an expression of the love of God.

Probably up till then, they were still not loving one another and hence there is fear instead of love.

In the Eucharist, we receive God's love in Holy Communion. May we love one another, then we will see that everything is a miracle.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Tuesday after Epiphany, 05-01-16

1 John 9:7-10 / Mark 6:33-44

We eat to live, though there are some who live to eat.

But whichever way it is, there is like a fine line to it.

As we eat to live, how much do we need to eat and when is that enough?

There are some buffet spreads that tout the slogan "Eat as much as you want!"

So from eating in order to live, we somehow can just slide into eating as though there is no next meal.

So the question is about contentment. When will we be satisfied? When will we say that enough is enough?

The question is not just about food. It spreads across all aspects of our lives and cuts into our desires and needs.

The gospel passage noted that the five thousand men ate as much as they wanted.

But were they contented? Were they satisfied? They filled their stomachs but were their hearts filled?

Jesus came to fill not just our stomachs but our hearts with light in order to see that man does not live on bread alone but on the Word that will be made flesh in us.

In this Eucharist, may we be filled and be contented so that we will know that it is only Jesus that we will ever need in order to live.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Monday after the Epiphany, 04-01-16

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

Whenever  a leader gives an inaugural speech, the opening lines are important.

Because the opening lines of a speech of a leader or someone in authority, will indicate his conviction, his rapport with the people, his vision, and in a way who he is.

The opening lines of Jesus as He begins his ministry may not sound very impressive.

As much as it may not sound very impressive, nonetheless it is very important.

Its importance lies in the fact that it is the truth.

Having celebrated the birth of Jesus and His revelation to the world, we must now live in the light of His saving love.

Hence, we have to turn away from lies and deceit, anger and revenge and gossip and slandering.

More than that, we must repent our lives and live in love and forgiveness, mercy and compassion, understanding and charity.

That is what repentance is all about. That is what the kingdom of God is all about.

That is why Jesus came for us and that is what we are all about.

Epiphany, 03-01-2016

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

One of the often asked questions when it comes to our faith is that “How does God speak to me?” 
Or when our lives are overcome with darkness, we will ask in frustration “Why does God not speak to me?”

Oh yes, we have heard it said that God speaks to us when we read the scriptures or when we hear a good homily by a priest.
But God also speaks to us when we pray by giving us emotions and promptings to feel what He wants us to do.
God can also speak to us through others when what they say suddenly enlightens us with so much clarity.
Or that what they do moves us so much that we in turn want to emulate them in their good deeds.
These are just a few ways that God speaks to us and how He gives us signs.

Now as we come to church today, did we “see” how God is speaking to us?
As we walked through the main doors of the church, were we aware that we were walking through the “Holy Doors of Mercy”?
Or as we were coming to church, did we see the shrine of Our Lady?
Yes, God speaks to us in various ways and in many signs, but were we able to “see” how God speaks to us?

Today’s gospel passage is certainly packed with instances of how God spoke and how people responded or reacted.
The first was when a star appeared. Probably many people saw it but only some wise men from the east saw it as a special star that announced the birth of the king of the Jews.
God spoke to king Herod through the wise men but he was perturbed. 
God spoke to the chief priests and scribes when Herod enquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
They had the answer from the prophecies, but they did nothing about it.
So God did speak but there were different responses and reactions.

The wise men followed the star and they were filled with joy when it led them to the infant king and they did Him homage with gold, frankincense and myrrh.
On the other hand, the perturbed king Herod reacted with trickery and an evil plot to use the wise men to find out the whereabouts of the infant king so as to do away with him.
The chief priests and scribes were indifferent to what the prophecies were telling them and they were like “couldn’t be bothered” kind of attitude.
And finally God spoke to the wise men in a dream not to go back to Herod. They listened and went back to their country by a different way.

Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Epiphany, which means “revelation”.  The birth of Christ was revealed to the whole world, and the wise men from the east, who were non-Jews, received the revelation and they are represented by the three figures in royal robes in the Nativity scene.

If God had spoken and revealed His signs to the world, then it surely means that God had spoken and revealed His signs to His people.
So what has God spoken to us, and what signs did He reveal to us?

For our parish, God has certainly spoken to us when we were designated as one of the pilgrimage churches with the Holy Doors of Mercy for the Year of Mercy.
Already pilgrims are coming to our parish and walking through the Door of Mercy to obtain an indulgence.
They are like the “wise men” from other parishes coming here to experience the mercy of God and to be healed from the wounds of their sins and to make reparation.

And what about us? Let us not be like the chief priests and scribes who knew what the prophecies were saying but did not do anything about it.
Let us go for the talk about the Year of Mercy on the 15th January to find out what it is all so that we will experience the mercy of God and to help others with our experience.

Also we have blessed the shrine of Our Lady on the 1st January and we prayed the Rosary and also prayed for the intentions offered on that day.
But that is only just the beginning. The shrine would be just a marble piece if it is not supported by prayer.
It is by prayers at the shrine that God’s grace and blessing will flow out from the parish and reveal God’s presence to the world.
So it is a call to prayer and devotion to Our Lady and it is up to us to come as a family or in groups to offer prayer and petitions and to experience the merciful love of God that brings forgiveness and healing.

So as in the past God has spoken, so now God is speaking and speaking to us.
Like the wise men, let us see and respond to the signs that God is giving us.
Let us response be: Speak Lord your servant is listening. You have the message of eternal life.