Monday, February 29, 2016

3rd Week of Lent, Tuesday, 01-03-16

Daniel 3:25, 34-43 / Matthew 18:21-35

Most of us have this experience of lending money to people.

And most of the time, we end up so frustrated and feel like banging our heads against the wall.

Because we lent the money so easily, but it came back to us with so much difficulty and so slowly, if ever at all.

And of course, the higher the amount of money lent, the greater the frustration and the heart-ache.

So when it comes to talking about forgiveness, Jesus did not talk in abstract terms.

He used this experience of loans and payment.

Immediately, we will know what it means to forgive. It is almost synonymous to writing off a debt.

But to be able to write off a debt, it means that we have come to the realization and enlightenment that there is something beyond money.

Only then can we let go and move on.

Similarly, to forgive someone who had done us great harm and hurt us grievously, it means that we have come to the realization and enlightenment that there is something greater beyond the anger, the pain and the hate.

Let us pray for this realization and enlightenment.

Because it is a special grace from God. It is His healing love that is being poured into our hearts.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

3rd Week of Lent, Monday, 29-02-16

2 Kings 5:1-15 / Luke 4:24-30

Whenever we want to buy a product, we would certainly take a look at the brand name.

Brand names are a big business. In fact, the brand name can be as important as the product itself, maybe even more important than the product.

In religious circles, if you carry the title of prophet, then you are indeed a religious brand name.

Yet, Jesus said in the gospel that no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.

Certainly, He was referring to Himself as well as the line of prophets before Him who suffered rejection and persecution.

Maybe because a true prophet does not carry a brand name.

But as it is, a product without a brand name is usually written off.

Yet, the prophetic word was often spoken by unlikely and even nameless people like the Israelite slave girl in the 1st reading.

It was through her that Namaan the Syrian army commander set off looking for a cure in Israel.

These days we hear of news about disasters and catastrophes happening here and there, and political unrest and wars almost everywhere, besides the usual economic woes.

Alongside such news are commentators, analysts, strategists, experts, all giving their 2 cents worth of comments.

But where is the prophetic voice? If only we could hear the voices of those suffering from the troubles of the world.

It is a voice that begs for peace and reconciliation. It is a voice that begs for the presence of God in our troubled world.

It is in listening to that prophetic voice that we will begin to realize our prophetic mission.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

3rd Sunday of Lent, Year C, 28.02.2016

Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15 / 1 Cor 10:1-6, 10-12 / Luke 13:1-9

Let’s begin with a question, and the question is this: Which Christian denomination (or which Church) appears most in movies and is the topic for stories in the newspapers?

If the answer isn’t obvious, then maybe these movies may jog our memory – The Exorcist; Da Vinci Code; Angels and Demons; Sister Act; The Sound of Music

Yes, all these movies have their themes around the Catholic Church or that the Church is used as a background.

So for better or for worse, whenever a Church is featured in a movie, it is most likely the Catholic Church, maybe because it has history as well as mystery.

And if no news is good news, then it may not be the case with the Catholic Church. 

Every now and then, there are stories and articles written about the Catholic Church in the papers, some of which are inspiring while some are disturbing.

And in that sense, the Catholic Church is a bit like what we heard in today’s gospel.

We heard that some people came and told Jesus something that is rather disturbing – some Galileans were killed and Pilate had their blood mingled with that of their sacrifices.

And Jesus in turn had something disturbing to tell them – those eighteen people who died when the tower of Siloam fell on them.

Those were rather disturbing and uncomfortable discussions that we would rather not want to think about them and we might even wonder why they were in the gospel in the first place.

But the parable that Jesus told after that would put all those disturbing and uncomfortable topics in their context.

The parable about the fig tree that was not bearing fruit left the conclusion rather open-ended. So did the fig tree eventually bore fruit, or did it get chopped down?

Although there was no apparent conclusion, there was a message – the man who looked after the vineyard appealed for more time to work on the fig tree.

That gives us a glimpse of the mercy of God, which does not just give us a second chance but a series of chances for repentance.

And that’s the good news in the midst of the disturbing and uncomfortable news that we heard in the gospel.

And talking about disturbing and uncomfortable news, in last Sunday’s papers, there was an article that brought up something eerie and diabolic in which the Catholic Church was somewhat involved.

It was dubbed as the “Toa Payoh ritual murders that took place in 1981.

Singaporeans were shocked at the grisly, gruesome and horrible murders of two children in Toa Payoh within a fortnight.

But the murders and subsequent arrests of three persons drastically affected especially the Good Shepherd Sisters,  who run schools, a vocational centre for girls and a shelter for women.

They knew the first victim,  a nine-year-old  girl, whose family were devout Catholics. And when the police arrested three people for killing the two children, the sisters were distressed to learn that one of the suspects was Catherine Tan Mui Choo, who had attended their Marymount Vocational Centre.

As the sensational case unfolded before the court, Singaporeans heard terrible details of trickery, sexual abuse, rape, violence and rituals.

When Adrian, Catherine and Adrian's 25-year-old mistress Hoe Kah Hong were sentenced to hang on May 23 1983, one of the nuns, Sister Gerard felt she had to act quickly.

She asked for and got permission to meet Catherine on death row, but only if she was willing to meet her, so she wrote her a letter right away and included a prayer card.

She waited for six months before a reply came.

The first words were: 'Sister, how could you love me after what I have done?' And she signed her letter, 'Your black sheep, Catherine.' Sr. Gerared immediately went and got permission to see her.

Sister Gerard would go to Catherine's cell each week and stay half an hour. She was not allowed to enter the cell, but the two women would hold hands and chat and pray and sing hymns together.

One day, Catherine asked to make her confession, and after that, her life changed. Catherine spent hours in prayer, and looked forward to the times when the priest would come and say the Mass in front of her cell and she received the Eucharist.

Later on, the other woman, Kah Hong asked to see Sr. Gerard too, and Kah Hong eventually asked to be baptised a Catholic and she took the name Geraldine.

And then they began to pray for Adrian’s conversion. During all those time (about 7 years), Adrian had refused to see a counsellor. 

But it was not until one week before the executions that Adrian asked to see the priest. Adrian then asked for confession and communion.

So despite the gruesome, grisly and evil deeds committed by them, they eventually turned back to God and God in His mercy and compassion granted them forgiveness.

They had to pay with their lives for the wrong that they committed, but they repented and that’s the good news.

The parable of the fig tree and the man who asked for time,  tells us that God is merciful and compassionate.

God does not just give us a second chance; God gives us a series of chances and waits patiently for our repentance

May we not take God’s patience for granted but repent and turn away from our sins, and by our repentance may we, the Catholic Church give the world the good news of God’s love and mercy.

Friday, February 26, 2016

2nd Week of Lent, Saturday, 27-02-16

Micah 7:14-15, 18-20 / Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

It is not too presumptuous to say that every family has a black sheep.

It is not necessarily one of the children. It can be anyone in the family.

And it is not just limited to the family. There are black sheep in the parish community, in the company, in society and in the country.

We can call the second son in today's gospel parable a "black sheep". After all, for what he had done to his father, he certainly deserved that infamous title.

Yet, how the father in the gospel parable treated the second son is certainly a far cry from how we would treat the "black sheep" in our family, company and society .

Yet, are we not also going to admit that we are "black sheep" in the eyes of God?

And how will God treat us? The prophet Micah puts it beautifully in the 1st reading.

With a shepherd's crook O Lord, You lead your people to pasture, taking fault away, pardoning crime, not cherishing anger but delighting in showing mercy.

The season of Lent is a time to come to our senses and to admit our sinfulness and seek reconciliation with God.

And God, like the father in the gospel parable, will say: This son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

2nd Week of Lent, Friday, 26-02-16

Genesis 37:3-4, 12-13, 17-28 / Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46

In our more logical moments, we can't help but be amused with those fortune-tellers, whether they are palm-readers, or crystal-ball gazers or whatever.

We are amused because we may be thinking that if they can foretell the future of others, then why can't they foretell their own future.

Yes, it is amusing, but yet on a more serious note, the counter argument is that we don't expect a surgeon to perform an operation on himself.

In the 1st reading, Joseph was called, in contempt, by his brothers "the man of dreams".

But Joseph did not ever dream that his own flesh-and-blood brothers would think of harming him and even consider taking his life, or selling him off as a slave.

Yet in the gospel, Jesus was aware that chief priests and the scribes were plotting against Him and eventually would even take His life.

Jesus was also aware that while the people seemed to be in approval of Him, the time will come when the tide turns and they will reject Him and even oppose Him.

As for us, we do not know our future and we don't need to know.

God knows we can't handle the future so He gives us moment by moment.

And everything that happens in every moment has a reason and a purpose.

Our life and our future are in the hands of God. Let us renew our faith in God and trust that His plans are always for our good. (For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord ... plans to give you hope and a future - Jeremiah 29:11)

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

2nd Week of Lent, Thursday, 25-02-16

Jeremiah 17:5-10 / Luke 16:19-31

As much as we know that wickedness and evil will certainly lead to a dreaded end, yet at times we wonder why wicked people and those who commit evil are not punished immediately.

If punishment is swift and sharp for those who commit evil and wicked deeds, then it would certainly be a deterrent against others who are thinking of doing likewise.

But such is not usually the case, and as such we might even be tempted to join in the wicked deeds although we may not be that bad as to commit evil deeds.

Wicked deeds like plotting and taking advantage of good and generous people.

Wicked deeds like slandering others and creating discord among others.

But by doing so, what are we saying about ourselves? What are we trusting in?

The 1st reading tells us that a curse be on the man who puts his trust in man, but a blessing on the man who puts his trust in the Lord.

The responsorial psalm tells us why. The man who puts his trust in the Lord is like a tree planted beside the flowing waters, that yields its fruit in due season and whose leaves shall never fade, and all that he does shall prosper.

Indeed, our faith in the Lord should open our eyes to the plight of the poor and those in need around us, whether financially or emotionally and to the Lazaruses that we see around us.

Let us put our trust in the Lord's blessings and walk in His ways, for He will give each man what his conduct and action deserves.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

2nd Week of Lent, Wednesday, 24-02-16

Jeremiah 18:18-20 / Matthew 20:17-28

There is no doubt that gossips and rumours are always slanted towards the juicy and sleazy.

The damage that they do cannot be underestimated, as ripple effects can always turn into tidal waves when gossips and rumours go viral.

One possible outcome could be what we heard in the 1st reading when the evil doers were plotting against the prophet Jeremiah and even intending to take his life.

Because Jeremiah had spoken the Word of the Lord against them, and now as he feared for his life, he could only plead with the Lord to rescue him.

Jesus also made it known to His apostles that He would be handed over to the chief priest and scribes and they will condemn Him to death and they will hand Him over to the pagans to be mocked and scourged and crucified.

Well, to follow Jesus and to proclaim the Good News and to fight against evil in people and in the world, we have to be prepared to go through what Jesus went through.

We might complain like Jeremiah did - Should evil be returned for good? Remember how I stood in Your presence to plead on their behalf, to turn Your wrath away from them.

Yes we will complain when vicious rumours and gossips are hurled behind our backs when we try to do what the Lord wants of us.

But just as Jesus came to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many, let us do likewise and not let resentment lead us into sin.

Monday, February 22, 2016

2nd Week of Lent, Tuesday, 23-02-16

Isaiah 1:10, 16-20 / Matthew 23:1-12

The story of the two cities of Sodom and Gomorrah can be found in the book of Genesis 19.

These two cities were eventually destroyed by fire and brimstone because of their unrepentant sinfulness and evil deeds.

In the 1st reading, the prophet Isaiah used the symbolic names of these two cities to warn his people of the anger and the judgment of God that will come upon them if they don't repent.

Even God Himself seemed to be pleading through the prophet Isaiah with these words:

Come now, let's talk this over. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be white as wool.

We may not be committing the kind of atrocious sins of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Yet, it does not mean that the lesser or venial sins are acceptable in the eyes of God.

The human tendency to crave for recognition and status is what Jesus pointed out in the gospel.

Jesus also pointed out that we have this tendency to be self-righteous and even impose our religious beliefs onto the weaker ones when they don't share our views of religious practices.

These may not seem to be major sins but they reveal to us our understanding of our Master.

Jesus our Master came to serve and not to be served.

May we follow our Master and be servants to each other in love and humility.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Chair of St. Peter, the Apostle, Monday, 22-02-16

1 Peter3:1-4 / Matthew 16:13-19

One of the prominent features of the Catholic Church is its unity.

This unity is seen in worship, in teachings and generally in practices.

This unity is also symbolized in the figure of the Pope, who is the head of the Catholic Church.

The feast of the Chair of St. Peter is an affirmation of the authority given to St. Peter by Jesus to lead the Church on earth.

Jesus said: You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church.

The Church in its 2000 years of history has seen glorious times, challenging times, turbulent times and dark moments.

But the very fact that the Church has survived those turbulent and dark moments only goes to show that the Pope draws his authority from Christ, and that the Spirit is guiding the Church.

Nonetheless, the authority and leadership of the Pope is always being challenged.

In the area of morality, issues like abortion, the sanctity of life, same-sex marriage have often been brought up to ridicule and criticize the Church and inevitably the Pope.

In the area of faith, heresies and schisms have undermined the authority of the Pope.

From within as well as from without, the Pope and the Church had suffered pot-shots from numerous quarters.

Yet, in the midst of these criticisms and confusion, let us keep faith with the Church and in obedience to the Pope.

Let us remember what Jesus promised the Church: The gates of the underworld can never hold out against it.

Let us also remember to pray for the Pope and the leaders of the Church.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

2nd Sunday of Lent (C-2016), 21-02-2016

Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18 / Philippians 3:17 – 4:1 / Luke 9:28-36

When it comes to remembering names of people, some of us can find it interesting while others find it quite challenging.

While some people might find it interesting to remember the names of people they meet, most of us would find it rather challenging.

There are times that even just after the introduction, the name of the other person just slips out of our minds. So we can imagine what it is like if we are introduced to a group of people.

Certainly, remembering names can be quite challenging, and to forget the names of people we meet now and then can be quite embarrassing.

There is this joke about two elderly ladies had been friends for many years. Over the years, they had shared many kinds of activities and adventures.
Lately, their activities had been limited to meeting a few times a week for lunch.
One day, they were having lunch when one of them looked at the other and said, "Now, please don't get mad at me. I know we've been friends for a long time, but I just can't recall your name! I've thought and thought, but I can't remember it. Please tell me what your name is." 
Her friend glared at her. For quite a while she just stared and glared at her. 
Finally she said, "How soon do you need to know? Because I have to go back home and look at my IC"  :0

But if names are difficult to remember then it is the face that gives the identity and even tells a story.
We may not be able to remember the other person’s name but we will be able to recognize the face. Even if it’s classmates or friends that we have not met a long time, even if it’s as long as 30 or 40 years, somehow  the face will make us recall and bring back memories.

Today’s gospel tells us about a face – the face of Jesus.
He had gone up the mountain with Peter, James and John to pray. And as He prayed the aspect of His face was changed and His clothing became brilliant as lightning.

We are not told to what aspect of His face was changed, but it was the voice from the cloud that told the identity of that face – “This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to Him”

So the identity of Jesus was revealed as well as reiterated – He is the Son of the Father. And with Moses and Elijah appearing with Him, it also means that He is fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.

It also means that when we listen to Jesus, then our face will also change to be like His face.
But it also means to say that when we don’t listen to Him then our face will change to be like something else.

There is this story of Leonardo Da Vinci, the famous Italian artist, and how he painted the Last Supper. It took several years for him to complete it. The figures representing the twelve Apostles and Christ himself were painted from living persons. The live-model for the painting of the figure of Jesus was chosen first.

Da Vinci went around to find a face and personality exhibiting innocence and beauty, free from the scars and signs of dissipation caused by sin.
Finally, after weeks of laborious search, a young man was selected as a model for the portrayal of Christ. For six months Da Vinci worked on the production of this leading character of his famous painting. During the next few years Da Vinci continued his labours on this sublime work of art. One by one, fitting persons were chosen to represent each of the eleven Apostles – with space being left for the painting of the figure representing Judas Iscariot as the final task of this masterpiece.
For weeks Da Vinci searched for a man with a hard, callous face, with a countenance marked by scars of avarice, deceit, hypocrisy, and crime. A face that would indicate a character who would betray his best friend.

After searching around for the type of person required to represent Judas, Da Vinci was told that a man whose appearance fully met his requirements had been found in a prison, sentenced to die for a life of crime and murder. Da Vinci made the trip to the prison and saw before him a dark, swarthy man, his long shaggy and unkempt hair sprawled over his face, which betrayed a character of viciousness and complete ruin. 

At last the famous painter had found the person he wanted to represent the character of Judas in his painting and so he proceeded to use him as the model for Judas. 
As he was finishing his painting, the prisoner asked Da Vinci if he recognized him, and the painter stared hard at the prisoner.
Then, lifting his eyes toward heaven, the prisoner said, “Oh God, how have I fallen so low?” Then turning his face to the painter he cried, “Leonardo Da Vinci, look at me again for I am the same man you painted just a few years ago as the figure of Christ.”

Whether true or not, the point of the story tells us that the face reveals the identity and also tells a story.

When we listen to Jesus, our face change to be like His and our life will tell of a wonderful story of how God has changed us to be like Jesus.

But when we don’t listen to Jesus, then our face will tell of a terrible story of the disfigurement of sin.

So let us turn to Jesus, let us listen to Him and may our face show to others a story of the wonderful things that God has done for us.

Friday, February 19, 2016

1st Week of Lent, Saturday, 20-02-16

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

Although some people believe in a supreme being, or a divinity, they nonetheless like to remain as "free-thinkers" (although that is a local colloquial term).

Maybe the attractive factor here is the freedom.

The freedom to remain uncommitted, the freedom to live one's life according to one's own precepts, the freedom to believe whatever what one wants to believe in.

Yet in today's 1st reading from Deutoronomy, we heard two declarations.

The first declaration was from the people, that the Lord God will be their God.

And God declared that they will be His very own people.

Such a declaration of commitment is not unlike marriage vows, and such a commitment actually frees both parties to love each other more deeply.

We commit ourselves to God by following His ways, and keeping His statutes, His commandments and His ordinances.

God in turn commits Himself to us by empowering us to be a consecrated people, a holy people.

A people set apart to show others a way of living that is much more meaningful and truthful.

But if we are like "free-thinking" Christians, then are we doing anything exceptional, especially when the other non-Christians do just as much?

As Christians, Jesus calls us to be perfect, to be holy, just as our heavenly Father is perfect and holy.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

1st Week of Lent, Friday, 19-02-16

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

We have often heard this phrase being said in an argument and in protest - That is not fair!

It is not only said by children or youth, it is also said by adults in every age bracket.

We say that because we feel that something wrong has been done to us and we seek fairness and even justice.

We hear this being said by the people in the 1st reading

They even accuse the Lord for being unjust in punishing so severely an upright man who committed sin.

Yet, on the other hand, the Lord is so compassionate and merciful to a repentant sinner.

We too may think it is a bit unfair. Why can't the upright man be given a chance instead of handing him such a severe punishment?

And if we ever thought of asking that kind of question, then we also have to ask ourselves how deep is our virtue and our understanding of the ways of God.

Because if we truly understand the ways of God, then we will know the seriousness of sin and its devastating effects.

Hence, we will never want to break away from God and think of committing sins.

God is just and His ways are justice and love.

Let us act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with our God.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

1st Week of Lent, Thursday, 18-02-16

Esther 4:17 / Matthew 7:7-12

Mother Teresa was quoted with this saying - "Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat."

In a word, all that points to loneliness. One can be in the midst of a crowd and yet feel lonely.

And the dark feeling of loneliness can be overwhelming when one is physically all alone.

And more so when in times of mortal danger as Esther felt in the 1st reading.

She pleaded with the Lord to come to her help, for she was alone and have no helper but the Lord God.

Not many of us have faced that kind of mortal danger as Esther had, and felt totally helpless about it as we see our life draining away with the danger.

But we all have at one time or another, felt the dreadful loneliness of being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, and forgotten by everybody.

In times like these, let us turn to the Lord as Esther did, for our help is in the Lord God alone.

As Jesus promised in gospel, the one who asks always receives; the one who searches always finds; the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him.

We are never alone. The Lord our God is always with us. In Him alone is our refuge and our strength.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

1st Week of Lent, Wednesday, 17-02-16

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

There are plenty of material about the predictions of the end of the world and doomsday prophecies.

So much so that we get numbed by it and we begin to see them as some kind of a dumb joke.

Yet, whether we frown upon or make fun of it, there is an urgency about these doomsday prophecies.

Putting it simply, it tells us to be prepared and to get ready for impending judgement and punishment.

Well, in the 1st reading, if the people of Nineveh were to frown or make fun of the prophet Jonah, then it would have been really disastrous for them.

But they heeded the message, maybe because they acknowledge their evil behaviour and the wicked things they have done.

The season of Lent calls us to conversion and repentance so that we can be forgiven and healed by God.

Yet it is not a question of whether we are heeding the message. We all know we must repent, but is there an urgency?

Let us not wait and take things easy, especially in this season of Lent.

The people of Nineveh were given three days. We may have lesser time.

Monday, February 15, 2016

1st Week of Lent, Tuesday, 16-02-16

Isaiah 56:10-11 / Matthew 6:7-15

In the RCIA process towards baptism, the catechumens are presented with the Creed and the Lord's Prayer.

The Creed symbolizes the heart of the Church's faith and the Lord's prayer symbolizes the heart of the Church's prayer.

Indeed as it is stated, it is the Lord's prayer. Our Lord Jesus taught that prayer to His disciples.

At Mass, the priest would proceed with the Communion Rite with these words - "At the Saviour's command, and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say ... "

Yes, the prayer has divine origins and it also has divine purposes.

As the 1st reading puts it, the Word from the mouth of God does not return to Him empty, without carrying out and succeeding in what it was sent to do.

Hence, when we pray the Lord's Prayer, it is not just an ordinary prayer; it is THE prayer taught by Jesus.

When we pray that prayer, then we must be aware of the divine purposes of God for us and we have to carry it out, and He will give us the grace to fulfill His will for us.

So when we pray the Lord's prayer, let us pray it reverently, let us pray it sincerely, and let us also be prepared to forgive others so that we too will be forgiven.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

1st Week of Lent, Monday, 15-02-16

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

It was said that the Great Wall of China was the only man-made structure that can been seen from the moon.

Whether it is true or not, the fact is that the Great Wall is a massive and impressive structure.

It was built to keep out the enemy and so it was built to be impregnable.

Yet it was breached, and many times too, simply because of traitors and betrayers; in other words, it was a case of the enemy within.

The enemy brewed from within not because of big crises but rather from small issues like welfare, honesty, integrity and respect.

Those might seem to be like small issues but they can become powerful enough that even the Great Wall cannot stop them.

Jesus also talked about paying attention to the small issues of the Christian life, issues like feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked and visiting those in prison.

Those are small issues that won't make the headlines but they are important to God.

In the 1st reading, God commands His people to be holy just as He is holy.

The expression of holiness is in paying attention to the small issues of life.

These small acts of love cannot be seen from the moon, or for that matter of fact, might seem even too trivial.

But they count in God's eyes, and they count for eternity.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

1st Sunday of Lent, Year C, 14.02.2016

Deuteronomy 24:4-10 / Romans 10:8-13 / Luke 4:1-13

It can be said that everyone has two eyes but no one has the same view.

The fact is that two people can look at the exact same thing and see something totally different.

This can be said of how Valentine’s Day came about, since today is the day and it’s good to know something about it.

The Catholic Church recognises at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. 

One story has it that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he saw marriage as an obstacle and so he outlawed marriage for young men. 

Valentine saw the injustice of the decree, and he defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. 

When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

That’s one account of how Valentine’s Day came about. So it was about two men who had two different views about love and marriage.

One view withstood the test of time and sensibility, while the other faded off into absurdity. It’s not just two different views, but also two opposing and contradictory views.  

By and large, it can be said that the world is made up of two sorts of people – those who love and create, and those who hate and destroy.

Putting it simply, we can say that the world is made up of good and bad people.

As in the case of St. Valentine and the emperor Claudius, the bad will try to put down the good, as the good tries to stand for what is right and just.

We see this again in the gospel account of the temptation of Jesus.

In his attempts to tempt Jesus, the devil takes on the ultimate spiritual battle of trying to destroy Jesus and the good that He stood for.

The devil tried to fool Jesus to believe in what isn’t true. But Jesus turned the temptation into a teaching of what is true.

As for us, we are presented with these two opposing views and we have to decide which to believe and follow.

There is a story of a famous writer was in his study room. He picked up his pen and started writing:

“Last year, I had a surgery and my gallbladder was removed. I had to stay stuck to the bed due to this surgery for a long time. 

The same year I reached the age of 60 years and had to give up my favourite job. 

I had spent 30 years of my life in this publishing company. 

The same year I experienced the sorrow of the death of my father.

And in the same year my son failed in his medical exam because he had a car accident. He had to stay in bed at hospital with the cast on for several days. The destruction of car was another loss. 

At the end he wrote: Alas! It was such bad year!! ”

When the writer's wife entered the room, she found her husband looking sad and lost in his thoughts. From behind his back she read what was written on the paper. She left the room silently and came back with another paper and placed it on the side of her husband's writing.

When the writer saw this paper, he found this written on it:

“Last year I finally got rid of my gall bladder due to which I had spent years in pain.

I turned 60 with sound health and got retired from my job. Now I can utilize my time to write something better with more focus and peace. 

The same year my father, at the age of 95, without depending on anyone or without any critical medical condition went peacefully to meet his Creator.

The same year, God blessed my son with a new life. My car was destroyed but my son stayed alive without getting any disability.

At the end she wrote: This year was an immense blessing of God and it passed well!! ”

The incidents are the same but the viewpoints are different. What point of view we take is certainly our choice.

Certainly, we should fear temptations, but then again, fear can have two meanings.

F-E-A-R can mean Forget-Everything-And-Run. Or it can also mean Face-Everything-And-Rise.

It’s for us to decide and choose.

Jesus faced His temptations and rose with the truth.

May we also face our temptations and realize that we do not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.

May we worship the Lord our God and serve Him alone.

May that be our choice and our decision.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Saturday after Ash Wednesday, 13-02-16

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

It is said that nothing is too difficult to achieve as long as we persevere and persist in it.

So whether it is some kind of physical training to excel in a sport, or practising on a skill, or trouble-shooting and finding a solution to a problem, what is needed is perseverance and persistence.

The way to go about it is certainly not impossible or rocket-science but what is needed will be conviction and commitment.

In the 1st reading, what the Lord is telling His people is certainly something that is not beyond their reach or impossible to achieve.

It is the very basics of being human - doing away with the yoke, the clenched fist, the wicked word, giving bread to the hungry, relief to the oppressed.

In return, what they will receive from the Lord is immeasurable - they will be like a watered garden, a spring of water, called "Breach-mender" and "Restorer of ruined houses".

In the gospel, Jesus called Levi to follow Him. It was not certainly not that impossible or too difficult to understand what Jesus meant by that.

But it would take a conviction and commitment on the part of Levi. And what he got in return was an unbounded joy that made him give a great reception in honour of Jesus.

In the season of Lent, we are called to practise the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

That is not too difficult or impossible. But we must have the conviction and commitment. And what we will receive from the Lord would be a joy that is so unbounded that like Levi we will also do all for the glory of God.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Friday after Ash Wednesday, 12-02-16

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

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

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

So even a spiritual discipline like fasting can be manipulated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer together with fasting are powerful spiritual disciplines that makes us aware that God is always telling us "I am here".

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Thursday after Ash Wednesday, 11-02-16

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 / Luke 9:22-25

We may know about the novel titled "Frankenstein" and may even have read it.

It is about this monster that Dr. Frankenstein created, although the monster had been mistakenly called Frankenstein.

It is not so much a horror story but rather a tragic story.

Because this creature-monster also had feelings and self-awareness to some extent.

It was that ability to think and feel and reflect that made it more an object of pity rather than of fear and disgust.

We too, can think and feel and reflect. And we also can choose.

That is what makes us uniquely human - our ability to choose; our freedom of choice.

In the 1st reading, Moses asked his people to exercise properly this freedom of choice - a choice for life or death, a choice for God or for sin and destruction.

In the gospel, Jesus stated clearly His choice - He chose the cross.

In turn, Jesus now asks each of us: What is your choice?

Do we want to follow Jesus and hence choose the cross?

That is the fundamental question that stands between us and Jesus.

Moses urged his people: choose life.

Ironically, it is in choosing the cross that we choose life.

To choose otherwise will only make us monsters.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Ash Wednesday, 10-02-16

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

Today as the Church begins the season of Lent with fasting and abstinence, the Church also includes in the liturgy a rather unique substance.

This substance makes its appearance only once a year and it is on this particular day, and this particular day of the Church year is even named after it.

Yes, we are talking about ashes, a substance that is quite alien to the usual materials that is associated with the liturgy.

But it is only today that it makes its appearance and it is also used in a particular way that has its origins that dates back to the Old Testament.

Ashes smeared on the head and other parts of the body, or sitting in the midst of ashes was a sign of penance and repentance.

In today's Mass, the ashes will be imposed on the forehead with these words: "Repent and believe in the Gospel". The other formula is: "Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return".

The ashes that are used in today's Mass were obtained by burning the palm branches that were used in last year's Palm Sunday Mass.

As we look at the ashes, a thought or two may surface in our minds. Ashes makes us realize two realities in the cycle of life.

What has happened to the ashes is irreversible as well as irrevocable. We cannot reverse the process, we cannot change it back to what it was before, it cannot be recovered to its former state.

Yes, what has happened to the ashes is irreversible as well as irrevocable.

Ashes are used in today's liturgy, on the 1st day of Lent, to help us realize, in a very experiential way, that the season of Lent is a call to repentance and conversion.

Ashes are also used to help us realize our mortality and eventual finality. Yes, we will eventually turn to dust, for we are dust and unto dust we shall return.

And as Jesus tells us in today's gospel, for all the material rewards of this world, all will eventually crumble and turn to dust.

We are reminded of this as the ashes are imposed on our foreheads.

But a deeper realization is that there is an eternal reward that only God can give.

When we realize that all will turn to ashes, that all things will pass, that our existence is like a passing wind and fades like a shadow, we must then turn to God and surrender the ashes of our lives in penance and repentance.

And it is in God and only in God that we will rise from ashes, we rise from the good we failed to do. It is in God and only in God that we see our world as ashes but our lives must be true.

May the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting and alms-giving help us to rise from ashes and to a new life that will give glory to God.

Monday, February 8, 2016

5th Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 09-02-16

1 Kings 8:22-23, 27-30 / Mark 7:1-13

An atheist is defined as a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings.

In other words, an atheist is one who does not believe in the existence of God.

A story goes that an atheist asked a Christian this: Show me where God is and I will give u a hundred dollars.

The Christian replied : Show me where He is not, and I will give you a million dollars.

Well, the atheist and the believer can argue all day long but for King Solomon in the 1st reading, the question of the existence of God is beyond argument.

For him, the existence and the presence of God is so enormous that even the heavens cannot contain God, much less the magnificent Temple that he has built.

So the presence of God is everywhere, and His commandments are valid anytime.

But human beings have this ability to manipulate God's commandments to serve their own vested interests.

In the gospel, Jesus gave a few examples of how human traditions can make God's commandments look small and restrictive.

Hence, we too need to reflect and examine our own practices and traditions.

Our practices and traditions should not make people frown and belittle our faith.

Rather, our faith practices and religious customs and traditions should show others that we truly believe that God is present everywhere and loving us all the time.

Chinese New Year 2016, Monday,08-02-16

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

There is this theory of evolution that man is evolved from apes.

Whatever we think about it, the point here is that it is just a theory.

Anyway if man is evolved from apes, then why is it that there are still apes around?

Today we are not here to discuss about science and evolution. We are here to celebrate Chinese New Year and in the Chinese zodiac, today begins the Year of the Monkey.

But we are not going to talk about the monkey or what the Year of the Monkey has in store for us.

But as we incorporate this ethnic and cultural celebration into our religious celebration, we are also doing something very profound.

What we are doing distinctly separates us from the rest of the animal species, inclusive of the monkey.

We are gathered here to offer worship and thanksgiving to God, something that even the most intelligent of animals cannot do.

We are not just one of God’s creatures; we are God’s children, and in Christ we call God “Father’.

And as we offer up our prayers and petitions to God our Father, we are reminded by Jesus in the gospel that God our Father knows what we need.

We only need to set our hearts on His kingdom first, and on His righteousness and all these other things will be given to us.

Hence we are urged not to be too worried and anxious about tomorrow, because God will handle it all for us.

Nonetheless, since this is the Year of the Monkey, maybe the monkey may have something to tell us.

There is this proverb that says: Even monkeys fall from trees. It means to say that no one is perfect; everyone falls at one point or another in life.

But for us, we are assured that when we fall, Jesus is there is help us get up and get on with life. That is the faith we must have in Jesus our Saviour.

We are also familiar with the “Three Monkeys” and what they represent – see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

But that may have something more to tell us:
Don’t see everyone’s flaws; always look for the good in people.
Don’t listen and believe in everything we are told; not everything is truth.
Don’t speak if it is not kind; only speak words of kindness.

So let us know that just as monkeys can fall from trees, we are not that perfect either.
And with that let us not see the imperfections in others but to see the goodness in them.
Let us not listen to what will cause discord but let us open our ears to the Good News of the Lord.
And as we listen to what is good, so must we speak what is good.

With that, may the Lord bless us and keep us, and may His face shine upon us and be gracious to us.
And may the Lord grant us peace in the Year of the Monkey.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

5th Ordinary Sunday, Year C, 07.02.2016

Isaiah 6:1-8 / 1 Cor 15:1-11 / Luke 5:1-11 

When we walk through the main entrance of the church, we may have noticed quite a few things there.

This life-size statue of
The Sacred Heart has been
with our Church since 1910. 
Of course we can’t miss that big statue of the Sacred Heart at the side. Standing at the side, it seems to be saying “Hello” when we come in and “Goodbye” as we go out.

And then there is a table with the “Year of Mercy” pilgrimage pamphlets and information.

And then lately, about more a week ago, we added something else.

There is another table with an acrylic box and a holder with green-coloured slips of paper by its side.

That box is for petitions to the Sacred Heart and the green-coloured slips of paper are petition slips for us to write our petitions. Of course there are pencils there as well for us to write our petitions.

Just over a week and the petition box is already almost full. About 500 petition slips and almost all are used up and hence the need to print more already.

And on the 1st Friday Mass the petitions in the petition box are offered up and prayed for.

Going by the petitions that are already in the petition box it can be said that people don’t pray only when they are in trouble.

Because when we only pray when we are in trouble, then it may mean that we are already in big trouble.

Nonetheless, trouble and desperation will make us pray. There is even a “Student’s Desperate Prayer” that goes like this: "Now I lay me down to rest, And hope to pass tomorrow's test. If I should die before I wake, Then that’s the test I don’t have to take."

But prayer is not a “spare wheel” that we pull out when we are in trouble, but a “steering wheel” to direct us along the right path.

And when prayers go up, blessings come down. But if we heard of “blessings in disguise” then we must also be prepared that when our prayers go up, then the blessings might come down as a surprise.

In the 1st reading, the prophet Isaiah began with a prayer of mourning over the king’s passing, but what came down was a vision that resulted in his commissioning when he responded “Here I am, send me.”

In the 2nd reading, St. Paul recounted how he was a persecutor of the Church before his conversion. He probably prayed for success in his persecution. But would he ever think that he would change from persecuting the Good News to preaching the Good News?

And in the gospel, Peter would had probably prayed for fish, since he worked hard all night and caught nothing. But would he ever think that from catching fish for a living, he would be catching men for the Lord?

So when prayers go up, blessings come down. And when those blessings come down, they might come down in disguise and they will also come down as a surprise.

For Isaiah, St. Paul and St. Peter, they started off with their own prayers, and the blessings that came down, came as a surprise.

So when we pray, a surprise will be awaiting us. And it might just be that we will be the answer to someone else’s prayer.

There is a story of a pretty and well-dressed lady who went to see a lawyer to file for divorce.

Her husband used to be a successful businessman, and he was able to support her expensive and lavish life-style.

But when his business failed, his wife couldn’t take it and decided to file for divorce and leave him.

When the lawyer heard her story, he told her that he would like someone to speak to her, and he called in a middle-aged office cleaner.

The lawyer asked the cleaner to tell the lady how she found meaning and direction in her life.

The cleaner’s story went like this – My husband died of cancer in his late 30s, and then barely half a year later, my only son was killed in a road accident.

I had nobody left and nothing to live for. I was in grief and in shock and in a daze. I couldn’t sleep and couldn’t eat.

I couldn’t smile. I was angry with God and resented those people who seemed so happy in life. I even thought of ending my life.

One day when I came back from work, there was a scrawny kitten at the corridor, meowing away, and it followed me to the door.

I felt sorry for the kitten, and I decided to let it in and I gave it some milk. It purred and rubbed against my leg.

For the first time in months, I smiled. Then I stopped to think. If helping and feeding a little kitten can make me smile, then maybe helping somebody in need can make me happy.

So the next day, I cooked some food and brought it to a neighbour who was elderly and sick, and it made her happy.

So every day, I would try to do something nice for someone else and it made me happy to see them happy.

I realized that a person cannot be happy unless he is thinking of how much he can help others, instead of thinking about how much he can get from others.

Now I eat well, and I sleep well, and I am happy.

And then the cleaner said to the lady: I hope that  you can be happy too, by helping others to be happy.

Whether the lady changed her mind or not, the story leaves it to us to think about it.

But the point of the story is that the poor cleaner found happiness by helping others to be happy.

She prayed for happiness and found it by helping others to be happy.

So when prayers of petition are offered up, blessings in disguise and blessings of surprise are awaiting us.

And it will help us change our own perspectives to see how God wants us to be an answer and a blessing to others.

Often we feel bad when others remember us only when they need us. But actually we should feel blessed because we are like a candle that comes to their mind when there is darkness.

So we pray, and offer up our prayer and petitions. And like Isaiah, St. Paul and St. Peter, let us be prepared to be God’s answer and blessing for others.

Friday, February 5, 2016

4th Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 06-02-16

1 Kings 3:4-13 / Mark 6:30-34

We know that life is a continuous learning process.

This learning process is manifested in the quest for knowledge which can be attained through education and reading and research.

As it is, we are often measured by the quality of our knowledge, especially when it comes to a job requirement.

Yet knowledge does not stand alone.

Knowledge goes hand-in-hand with wisdom, and they complement each other.

To put it simply, knowledge is knowing the answer, wisdom is giving life to the answer.

In the 1st reading, when King Solomon asked for wisdom from God, it was not that he did not know how to rule. He had experienced advisers with him.

Rather he was asking God to make him a good king, a king who knows what God wants and to carry it out.

We need wisdom to see what is vital and necessary because we can get too absorbed with our busyness and get too focused on achievements.

In the gospel, even Jesus had to tell His apostles, who had just come back from successful missions and feeling high, to go off to a lonely place and rest and of course to pray.

In the spiritual sense, we need the wisdom to come to know the Lord whom we are working for instead of just doing the work of the Lord.

Wisdom is also necessary for self-knowledge and to get a good picture of ourselves.

I came across another version of the popular Serenity prayer and it goes like this:
God, grant me the serenity
to accept the people I cannot change,
the courage to face the one I can change,
and the wisdom to know it is me!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

4th Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 05-02-16

Ecclesiasticus 47:2-11 / Mark 6:14-29

Each of us has some shadows, some dark spots lurking in our lives.

Though these belong to the past, yet they haunt our present, maybe because we have yet to come to terms with them and to be reconciled with what we did.

Hence, we may limp and stagger in the present because of the shadows from the past.

In the gospel, we heard how king Herod was haunted with a shadow from the past.

It was the shadow of John the Baptist whom he executed.

Everything that happened around him had that shadow of John the Baptist.

Even when he heard of Jesus, he immediately reacted by saying that it was John the Baptist whom he executed.

But Jesus did not come to settle scores with Herod.

Rather, Jesus came to save him from the shadows of the past.

Problem was that Herod chose to live among the shadows of his past.

We may have a shadowy past, a past that is peppered with black spots.

But Jesus comes to bring light, and that light gives life to the present and to scatter the shadows.

Jesus came to show us God's love and mercy and forgiveness, so that we may start living again and walking in the light of God's love.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

4th Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 04-02-16

1 Kings 2:1-4, 10-12 / Mark 6:7-13

It is interesting to note that airlines put a weight limit on the passengers' luggage. For the economy class, it is generally 20kg.

We might think that 20kg is a lot of stuff but if we have to pack our luggage for a trip, then we will know how easy it is to exceed this weight limit.

Jesus also put a weight limit on His disciples' luggage as they set off for their mission trips.

In fact, other than the clothes that they were wearing and the sandals on their feet, they were only allowed to carry a staff. And that was only to symbolize the authority that was given to them by Jesus.

With such bare minimum, the disciples learned the first lesson of discipleship.

And that is this: God's grace alone is sufficient. The rest are peripherals. And also the rest will be provided for.

In the 1st reading, David also instructed Solomon on the bare but fundamental minimum as aspects of the kingship.

Primarily it is the obedience to the injunctions of the Lord, and the rest will be provided for by the Lord.

Hence, we may say that obedience to the Lord is the condition for His grace to be active in us.

Although God's grace is not tangible, it is certainly experienced by us, especially in times of difficulty.

Living the Christian life has its challenges, but where difficulties and challenges arise, God's grace is always present.

And where a need arises, grace provides.

We don't need 20kg of power to overcome our challenges and difficulties.

God's grace is all we need.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

4th Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 03-02-16

2 Sam 24:2, 9-17 / Mark 6:1-6

About St. Blaise (memoria of the saint of the day):

He was bishop of Sebastea in Armenia in the early 4th century.

He was born of rich and noble parents, received a Christian education and made a bishop while still quite young.

When persecution arose, he was given a divine direction to withdraw to a cave in the mountains which was frequented only by wild animals.

But these wild animals did him no harm and when they were sick or wounded, they would come to him for his blessing and he healed them.

Meanwhile, hunters who had been sent to capture animals for the amphitheater, found him surrounded by these animals.

Although greatly amazed, they seized him and took him back to the authorities.

On their way, they met a poor woman whose pig had been carried off by a wolf.

At the command of St. Blaise, the wolf restored the pig unhurt.

On another occasion, a woman brought to him a little boy who was at the point of death owing to a fishbone stuck in his throat, and the saint healed him with a prayer and the sign of the cross over his throat.

On account of this and other similar cures, the intercession of St. Blaise has been invoked for all kinds of throat trouble.

St. Blaise was scourged and thrown into prison and deprived of food. But the woman whose pig had been restored secretly brought him provisions and little wicks to light up his dark dungeon.

St. Blaise was further tortured with iron combs tearing away his flesh and finally he was beheaded.

Although the intercession of St Blaise is invoked in the blessing of throats, the message and relevance of the prayer is in the expression of our faith in God our Saviour and Healer.

Through the intercession of St. Blaise and the saints, we turn to God and ask for His blessings of health in mind and body so that we can be of service to others especially to those who are ill and need our care.

So we ask for God's blessings not just for ourselves but also for those in need of healing so that they too will experience the healing love of God.

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

Monday, February 1, 2016

Presentation of the Lord, Tuesday, 02-02-16

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

(On the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, candles are blessed before the Mass.)

The candles that were blessed at the beginning of the Mass were meant to be lighted and then brought along in procession into the church where the Mass will be celebrated.

The significance of this is to remind us that at Christmas, Jesus came into the world and He is the true Light.

This feast of the Presentation indicates that Jesus the Light of the world is being presented to His Father and consecrated to Him.

That is the significance of why the candles are to be lighted and brought in procession into the church.

This feast is also an occasion for those in the consecrated life to renew their commitment to God, especially those who belong to religious orders and other similar organizations.

Yet, the lighted candles also have a deeper meaning. Not only do we carry in us the light of Christ, we also unite with Him in His offering and sacrifice to the God.

Jesus was presented and consecrated to God to be the Saviour of the world.

It is through Him and in Him that the promise of salvation will be fulfilled and Jesus will fulfill that on the cross.

As we celebrate this feast of the Presentation, we also unite with Jesus and present ourselves to be consecrated for the salvation of the world.

May the blessed candles remind us that our lives are to be a continual sacrifice to God so that through us, the work of salvation that was begun in Jesus will be continued and fulfilled.

May our lives be like lighted candles that bring the light of God's love to the world.