Saturday, April 30, 2016

6th Sunday of Easter, Year C, 01.05.2015

Acts 15:1-2, 22-29 / Apocalypse 21:10-14, 22-23 / John 14:23-29

It is said that Catholics like to collect statues. That is a bit of an understatement. We not only like to collect statues, we love to have statues.

Well, here in the sanctuary, we have the statues of Mother Mary and St. Joseph. Then at the entrance there is the life-size statue of the Sacred Heart. In the room just adjacent to the canteen, there are the statues of St. John the Baptist, St. Francis Xavier, St. Therese of the Child Jesus and a smaller statue of the Sacred Heart.

There are some more statues around the compound, and so there are enough of statues to give us a feeling that this is a holy place.

By and large the statues are standing upright, and that’s the way we are used to seeing them.

Today I like to show you a statue that is not standing upright. Not only is it not upright, it is lying down, sleeping actually.
Sleeping St Joseph

If we are wondering what statue is this, or which saint is this, this peculiar statue came into the so-called “limelight” when Pope Francis visited the Philippines in January 2015.

During a speech he said this: “I would like to tell you something very personal. I like St Joseph very much. He is a strong man of silence. On my desk I have a statue of St Joseph sleeping. While sleeping he looks after the Church.  Yes, he can do it!  We know that. When I have a problem or a difficulty, I write on a piece of paper and I put it under his statue so he can dream about it. This means please pray to St Joseph for this problem.”

The statue that the Pope was talking about is the “Sleeping St. Joseph” and the statue that we are looking at is the “Sleeping St. Joseph”.

Besides what the Pope said about St. Joseph looking after the Church even in his sleep, St. Joseph is a man who listens to the Word of God that is spoken to him in his dreams. And he acts on it.

It was because God’s Word has made its home in him that he was able to provide a home for Jesus and Mary.

Although he had his troubles and fears, he found his peace in God and was able to protect and provide for Jesus and Mary.

So all that Jesus said in the gospel, about keeping His Word, about a peace that the world cannot give, about not letting our hearts be troubled or afraid, all that was actualized in the life of St. Joseph.

And today, the 1st May, we also honour St. Joseph under the title “St. Joseph the Worker” and he is the saint that we turn to today as we ask him to pray for us that we offer our work for the glory of God and also to help us in the difficulties we face at work. 

So even though this statue portrays St. Joseph as sleeping, yet in his sleep he is also working. He is praying for us, praying for the Church as he is also the protector of the Church and model of all who labour.

There is this story of how St. Joseph was sent to answer the prayers of a community of nuns.

In the town of Santa Fe in New Mexico, there stands the Loretto Chapel. Inside the Gothic structure is the staircase referred to as the miraculous, inexplicable, marvelous and is often called St. Joseph’s Staircase. 

The stairway confounds architects, engineers and master craftsmen. It makes over two complete 360-degree turns, stands 20’ tall and has no center support. It rests solely on its base and against the choir loft. The risers of the 33 steps are all of the same height. 

Made of an apparently extinct wood species, it was constructed with only square wooden pegs without glue or nails.

Two mysteries surround the spiral staircase in the Loretto Chapel: the identity of its builder and the physics of its construction.
When the Loretto Chapel was completed in 1878, there was no way to access the choir loft twenty-two feet above. Carpenters were called in to address the problem, but they all concluded that access to the loft would have to be via ladder as a staircase would interfere with the interior space of the small Chapel. 

So the Sisters made a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. On the ninth and final day of prayer, a man appeared at the Chapel with a donkey and a toolbox looking for work. Six months later, the elegant circular staircase was completed, and the carpenter disappeared without pay or thanks. After searching for the man (an ad even ran in the local newspaper) and finding no trace of him, the Sisters concluded that he was St. Joseph himself, having come in answer to the Sisters' prayers.

The staircase is a magnificent structure. The design was innovative for that time (1878) and some of the design considerations still perplex experts even until today.

Of course, seeing is believing, but even without seeing the miraculous staircase, we can believe it. Because with prayer, nothing is impossible, and when St. Joseph rises from his sleep and gets to work, it will be for the glory of God.

Let us ask St. Joseph to pray for us, that like him, we will keep God’s Word and let God’s Word make its home in our hearts. 

In our troubles and anxieties, may Jesus grant us His peace, and it’s a peace which the world cannot give. 

May we also sleep in peace, and rise with strength to work for the glory of God.

Friday, April 29, 2016

5th Week of Easter, Saturday, 30-04-16

Acts 16:1-10 / John 15:18-21

God has a plan for each of us. But it is not only God who has a plan for us. The evil one also has a plan for us. Whose plan we want to follow depends on what we want in life.

But more than what we want in life, we also should know what each plan has to offer and what each plan entails.

The evil one offers us a life of pleasure and to fulfill our desires. It means that we surrender our wills to the evil one and to be his instruments of evil and wickedness.

God offers us a life of blessings so that we can walk in His ways and follow His paths. But it means that we surrender ourselves to do God's will and to accept suffering for the forgiveness and salvation of mankind.

And we must also realize that the suffering we face may not be something we deserve because we did something wrong and hence we suffer for it.

It may be something adverse that just comes upon us and pulls down our joys and happiness and whatever good feeling we might have.

Yet this should not come as a surprise. Jesus said in today's gospel: If the world hates you, remember it hated me before you ... because you do not belong to the world, because my choice withdrew you from the world, therefore the world hates you.

So obviously, God's plan for us may not look so pleasant nor pleasing. But it is a plan for our happiness on earth as it will also be in heaven.

Let us trust in God's plan for us and accept our sufferings for the love of God.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

5th Week of Easter, Friday, 29-04-16

Acts 15:22-31 / John 15:12-17

The council of apostles and elders that met in Jerusalem to discuss the issue of the Gentile Christians was the first of many councils to come.

From that council, there are a lot of directions that the present day Church can learn from.

Firstly, they did not agree with some Jewish Christians who insisted that circumcision is necessary for salvation.

Furthermore they reinforced their decision with prayer and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

It is our belief that God chose us to be in His Church to be a sign of His love and salvation to the world.

With prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can help others to come to know God and to love Him.

With the Spirit of love in our hearts, we can indeed fulfill the commandment of love and also help others do the same.

May the Holy Spirit be our rule of life and may the Holy Spirit rule our lives.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

5th Week of Easter, Thursday, 28-04-16

Acts 15:7-21 / John 15:9-11

The demographics of the Catholic Church in Singapore is changing and along with this change comes a new set of challenges.

Generally speaking, in the past, the majority of Catholics in Singapore are "cradle Catholics", i.e. baptized as infants.

But with the RCIA programme and other means of evangelization, the number of Catholics baptized as adults have increased and every year at Easter, there are substantial numbers of people being baptized into the Catholic Church.

With that comes new challenges like revised formation sessions, practices and understand of cultures and religious beliefs.

Such was the situation that the apostles and elders faced in the 1st reading. While the first Christians were mainly Jews, there was now an influx of pagans being baptized and coming into the early Church.

With that, there was a tension of religious beliefs and practices of the traditions of the Jews and that of the pagans.

It was James who steered the discussion back to the scriptures and from what was in the Word of God, a ruling was made.

In the gospel, that Word of God is made clear as Jesus said: As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Remain in my love.

When we keep ourselves in the love of God and have recourse to the Word of God, then we will be able to resolve the issues and challenges, just as how the early Church resolved their issues and challenges.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

5th Week of Easter, Wednesday, 27-04-16

Acts 15:1-6 / John 15:1-8

The word "catholic" in a narrow sense may mean the Roman Catholic faith.

But in the broad sense of the word, it means a wide variety of things, all-embracing, diverse, diversified, wide, broad, broad-based, indiscriminate, etc.

Seen in that sense, then it also means that the Roman Catholic Church should also have all those aspects and in many ways she does.

But with the diversity and universality of races, nationalities, languages, cultures, customs and traditions, there will be some inevitable issues.

Such was the case in the 1st reading with the Christian Jews and the Christian non-Jews and the point of contention was about circumcision.

Certainly it was not a small matter so much so that the apostles and elders met to look into the matter.

But the crux of the matter is not so much about the expression of the faith but more about the impression of the faith, i.e. whose mark or imprint is made in the hearts of believers?

In the gospel, Jesus said that He is the true vine and we are the branches.

In our hearts must be marked and imprinted with His word, so that we make our home in Him just as He make His home in us.

Then we will bear fruit in plenty and be all things for all peoples (1 Cor 9:22) so that God will be all in all (1 Cor 15:28).

Then we are indeed truly Catholic in the sense of the word.

Monday, April 25, 2016

5th Week of Easter, Tuesday, 26-04-16

Acts 14:19-28 / John 14:27-31

Blessed Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916) was a French army officer in Algeria and Tunisia during the era of the French colonial expansionism in North Africa.

But he later left the army to live alone in the vast N. African desert, where he once had his military expeditions.

He wanted to find peace and strangely enough he found peace in that vast barren land.

He then hoped to spread that peace to those he met in that place.

On his clothes he drew an image of a heart with a cross on it.

When the locals asked him what it meant, he explained to them the difference between a restless heart and a peaceful heart; he spoke of a peace that the world cannot give, a peace that can only be found in Jesus.

And they seemed to understand what he was talking about.

One of the fruits of the peace that Jesus gives is a heart that is freed from fear and worry and anxiety.

In the 1st reading we heard how Paul and Barnabas went on their missionary journeys and they put fresh hearts into the disciples, encouraging them to persevere in the faith.

So although they experienced many hardships, with Paul being stoned etc., their hearts were at peace.

We too have our share of hardships. But we too can have hearts of peace in the face of hardships.

We don't have to go to the desert to find peace. Jesus has already given us His peace.

We only need to live our lives with the peace that is already in our hearts.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

St. Mark, Evangelist, Monday, 25-04-16

1 Peter 5:5-14 / Mark 16:15-20

St. Mark, whose feast we celebrate today, was not one of the apostles.

Nonetheless, he was one of the disciples of St. Peter, and he was mentioned in the 1st reading as a "spiritual son" of St. Peter.

He could also possibly be one of the followers of Jesus and later on became a disciple of St. Peter and he eventually wrote the account of the life and ministry of Jesus, which became one of the gospels of the Church.

In his gospel, St. Mark captured the core and essence of the ministry and message of Jesus.

As we heard it in the gospel, and what is often called the "Great Commissioning", the way St. Mark puts it across straight and sharp in just a few words.

"Go out, proclaim the Good News, believe or be condemned, cast out devils, work signs and miracles, heal the sick".

As we hear this, we might be thinking - proclaim the Good News sounds ok, healing the sick sounds ok, work signs and miracles ... hmmm ... cast out devils ...???

Well, the gospel is not a supermarket for us to pick and choose whatever we like.

It is one whole message; it's either we take all or we take all.

To understand and accept the Good News and the commissioning of Jesus, we need to "Go out" like St. Mark did.

Because when we are out there, and there is no dependency and certainty but Jesus Himself, then we will truly experience the power of the Good News and become true disciples of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

5th Sunday of Easter, Year C, 24.04.2016

Acts 14:21-27 / Apocalypse 21:1-5 / John 13:31-35

There are many phrases and sayings that have the word “tears” in it.

There are “moved to tears”, “burst into tears”, “blood, sweat and tears”, “reduced to tears”, “bored to tears”, and then there is this rather unique phrase “crocodile tears”.

The phrase derives from an ancient belief that crocodiles shed tears while consuming their prey. Strange, isn’t it?

“Crocodile tears” is used to mean a false, insincere display of emotion such as a hypocrite crying fake tears of grief. That is certainly not easy to do that.

It is said that tears are 1% water and 99% emotions, but crocodile tears can be said to be 1% water and 99% deception.

Although much has been said about crocodile tears, much more has also been said about tears that had dropped on the face of the earth.

And most of these are tears of grief and sadness, tears of pain and suffering, tears of disappointment and rejection. We may recall St. Monica’s 30 years of tears for her son St. Augustine before he was finally converted.

Yes, the human race has shed tears since the beginning of time and the tears have not stopped since then.

But it is not only human beings that shed tear?. Would we think that God also sheds tears?

In the gospels, we can remember two occasions that Jesus shed tears.

One was when Jesus shed tears over Jerusalem because it didn’t heed the call to repentance and hence it would fall into the hands of its enemies.

The other was when Jesus wept over the death of his good friend Lazarus.

Today’s gospel began with this line “When Judas had gone” and then it continued with Jesus giving a teaching to His disciples.

There was no mention of how Jesus felt but we may wonder if He was holding back His tears of disappointment and rejection.

He had washed the feet of Judas, He had offered him a piece of bread, which was a sign of love and friendship, He even tried to hint to Judas that He knew about his plans to betray him.

But it was futile and it was in vain. Judas was determined to do what he had planned to do and even Jesus could not stop him. 

Jesus had to let him go and do what he wanted to do. The pain and the hurt that Jesus felt would have probably made Him burst into tears, tears of disappointment and rejection.

Even before the spear pierced His heart, it was already broken by the betrayal of Judas.

But here is where Jesus turned His suffering into strength, and His tears into a teaching.

From the depths of His heart, Jesus gave His disciples a new commandment: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also must love one another. By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples.

This new commandment of Jesus to love one another will give us a new perspective to our own tears.

Pope Francis has this to say about tears – Sometimes in our lives, tears are the lenses we need to see Jesus.

Jesus could have shed tears not just over how Judas betrayed Him, but also how Peter denied Him and also how the other disciples deserted Him in His darkest moments.

But instead of shedding tears, Jesus went on to shed His blood so as to show how much He loved us and how much He wants us to love one another.

There is a story of a wise man who went to a party and while he was among the people, he cracked a joke and the people laughed like crazy. 

After a while he cracked the same joke again, and this time less people laughed. After a while, he cracked the same joke again, but this time no one laughed.

Then he smiled and said: If you can’t laugh over the same joke again and again, then why do you keep crying over the same thing again and again?

That brings us to the 1st reading to what Paul and Barnabas said to the disciples to encourage them to persevere in their faith: We all have to experience many hardships before we enter the kingdom of God.

So there will be hardships in life and it will happen again and again. There will be pain and hurt, grief and sadness, disappointment and rejection.

There will be tears in our eyes. But those tears must also help us to see Jesus who by the shedding of His blood has poured love into our hearts so that we can keep on loving in spite of the tears.

Just as there is no rainbow without the rain, the heart would not have a rainbow if the eyes had no tears.

Yes, in life there will be tears, but tears are also the lenses we need to see how Jesus loved us even to the shedding of His blood.

So even if our eyes are filled with tears, may our hearts also be filled with love, and healed by love, may we share our rainbows of love with those whose eyes are filled with tears.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

4th Week of Easter, Friday, 22-04-16

Acts 13:26-33 / John 14:1-6

Whenever we hear of a person or a group of people being chosen for a task or a mission, we will have some assumptions or presuppositions or expectations.

We might assume that this person or this group of people have the abilities or qualities for being chosen.

We might presuppose that they deserve the privilege of being chosen because of some talents or skills.

We will also expect them to fulfill the task or mission that they are chosen for.

Yet, for Israel, the Chosen people of God, such was not the case.

In fact, as St. Paul puts it in the 1st reading, they did everything contrary to their task or mission as the Chosen people of God.

Yet, in doing so, they ironically fulfilled the prophesies in the scriptures.

In a way, we can say that God made it straight even despite the crookedness of His Chosen people.

Indeed, it was God who chose Israel and it was God who fulfilled the mission of Israel.

It is God who chose us to be His people.

As His people, we have to learn the lessons from the history of Israel and to straighten up the crookedness of our lives.

We may have failed in the past but let not our hearts be troubled or lose faith.

Let us trust in Jesus who will show us the way of truth so that we will know how to live our lives.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

4th Week of Easter, Thursday, 21-04-16

Acts 13:13-25 / John 13:16-20

It is the mission of all Christians to proclaim the Good News of salvation and that Jesus Christ is THE Saviour.

And Christian leaders, whether cleric or laity, have to keep this in mind in the pastoral ministry, whether it is preaching or service or mission.

In the 1st reading , we heard a sermon of St. Paul, the great missionary of the early church.

As he recalled the history of salvation to his listeners, he began from the time of slavery in Egypt and then he mentioned a person who was prominent in the unfolding of the coming of Christ.

It was John the Baptist who heralded the coming of Jesus and it was he who proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the whole people of Israel.

And before he ended his ministry, John the Baptist said this: I am not the one you imagine me to be; that one is coming after me and I am not fit to undo his sandal.

St. Paul did not say it but for him John the Baptist was a model for him when it comes to preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ.

In fact John the Baptist is a model for all Christian preachers and leaders, as well as for missionaries and those serving in ministries.

John the Baptist knew he was just a servant and he cannot be greater than his Master; he was just a messenger and his task is to deliver the message and not to point to himself or to get people to follow him.

May we too be servants of our Master Jesus Christ and that we focus on proclaiming Him as the Saviour. Without Him we can do nothing of any value.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

4th Week of Easter, Wednesday, 20-04-16

Acts 12:24 - 13:5 / John 12:44-50

We may have noticed since the Easter season began, the 1st reading has been consistently from the Acts of the Apostles, and so will it be until the end of the Easter season.

That being said, the Acts of the Apostles not only gives us a picture of what the early church was about, it also sets what can be called "procedures" and "guidelines" for the later church to follow.

In the 1st reading, we heard that the Holy Spirit "spoke" to the disciples and indicated that He has chosen Barnabas and Saul for a particular mission.

That seemed so obvious and clear and it seemed that no discernment was necessary and there was no contention about what needed to be done.

However we must remember that it was while they were offering worship to the Lord and keeping a fast when the Holy Spirit "spoke" to them.

And it was also after fasting and prayer that they laid their hands on the chosen one and then sent them off for the mission.

For the early church, worship and prayer and fasting were moments of encountering the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit also revealed to them the mind of God.

What happened in the early church will also happen in today's church when we take our worship and prayer and fasting seriously.

Indeed, worship and prayer and fasting are moments of encountering the Risen Christ and He sends the Holy Spirit to direct us in His ways.

What happened then in the Acts of the Apostles will also happen now, but only when we take our worship and prayer and fasting seriously,

Monday, April 18, 2016

4th Week of Easter, Tuesday, 19-04-16

Acts 11:19-26 / John 10:22-30

It is always more comfortable and easier to relate with and to deal with our own kind. We know who we are talking to and the possible reactions that might arise.

Also we will feel more secure in terms of culture and language and even habits and practices.

Going out of this comfort zone would mean risks and possible failures and even hostile reactions.

In the 1st reading, we heard that as the disciples fled the persecution, they preached the Good News of Jesus Christ only to the Jews as they went along.

Then as they moved further on, some started preaching to the Greeks. The Lord helped them, and a great number believed and were converted to the Lord.

This news even reached back to the church in Jerusalem and it caused some alarm so much so that Barnabas had to be sent to see what was the matter about.

This new development eventually gave the disciples and those who believed in the Good News a new identity - they were called "Christians".

Certainly it was a development that was initiated by God and the results bear witness to the work of the hand of God.

We who believe are called "Christians". And just like the early disciples who went out and preached the Good News to non-Jews, it is also our mission to preach the Good News to non-Christians.

It will involve risks and it won't be comfortable and we won't know what to expect.

But let's live up to our identity as Christians, and God will help us with the rest.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

4th Week of Easter, Monday, 18-04-16

Acts 11:1-18 / John 10:1-10

Back in 1968, Pope Paul VI issued an encyclical which was titled " Humanae Vitae".

An encyclical is a letter addressed by the Pope to all the bishops of the Church and the teachings contained in it are to be heeded.

The English title of that encyclical is this - The Right Order to be fulfilled in the Propagation of Human Offspring.

In that encyclical, Pope Paul VI taught about the dignity and the respect of the human life of the fetus, a teaching which was reiterated by the popes after him.

He urged against the use of contraception and artificial birth control methods, as well as fertility methods which violate the respect and dignity of the human person in the fetus.

At that time, this teaching of the Pope was criticized as being backward and out of touch with the current trends of society.

But now we see the consequences of not heeding what the Pope taught at that time.

Legalized abortion and safe-sex methods only resulted in higher teenage pregnancies and abortions.

Yet, on the other hand, there is this contradiction of falling birth rates.

Experiments on the embryo have gone as far as cloning and other bizarre ideas and practices.

As the Church, let us listen to the one voice, the voice of the Good Shepherd.

The Good Shepherd still speaks through the Pope.

As we heard in the 1st reading, the Good Shepherd spoke through Peter and the Jewish Christians realized that God also wants to grant salvation to the pagans.

Let us listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd especially in the teachings of the Church.

Because it is a voice that calls us to life.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

4th Sunday of Easter, Year C, 17.04.2016

Acts 13:14, 43-52 / Apocalypse 7:9, 14-17 / John 10:27-30

In this week’s bulletin, there is something other than the usual announcements. 

There is a photo of the Major Seminary formators and the seminarians and also a chart that shows the number of priests in the various age groups.

This Sunday is also called “Vocation Sunday” so a little information about seminarians and priests might be interesting.

A story has it that one church decided to put a rather unique announcement in its bulletin and it is titled “Obituary” and it goes like this:

Our church was saddened to learn this week of the death of one of our most valued members, and he is Mr. Someone Else. 

Someone's passing creates a vacancy that will be difficult to fill. 

Mr. Else has been with us for many years and for all those years, Someone did far more than a normal person's share of the work. 

Whenever there was a job to do, a class to teach, or a meeting to attend, one name was on everyone's list, "Let Someone Else do it." 

Whenever leadership was mentioned, this wonderful person was looked to for inspiration as well as results; "Someone Else can work with that group." 

It was common knowledge that Someone Else was among the most liberal givers in our church. Whenever there was a financial need, everyone just assumed Someone Else would make up the difference. 

Someone Else was a wonderful person and everybody expected a lot of Someone Else. Now that Someone Else is gone, we wonder what we are going to do. 

Someone Else left a wonderful example to follow, but who is going to follow it? Who is going to do the things Someone Else did? 

Mr. Someone Else will be fondly remembered and sadly missed. 

When help is needed we can't depend on Someone Else anymore. 

May Someone Else rest in peace.

Maybe that’s a novel way of highlighting an issue that is usually faced in church.

We come to church but we don’t want to get too involved. We tend to think that when there is something to be done, then there will be “someone else” to do it, but not us.

That’s why church ministries and organizations always have a membership issue. Because we think that someone else will join and do the work.

The same goes with the priesthood. There will be someone else who will join the Seminary and be a priest. But the reality can be seen in the chart in the bulletin.

But in the gospel, Jesus said, “The sheep that belong to Me listen to My voice. I know them and they follow Me.”

Jesus founded the Church and along with it the priesthood so that there will be a continual offering of the Mass in memory of Him.

Obviously it can’t be that Jesus won’t provide the Church with vocations to the priesthood.

So Jesus is calling those He has chosen, but are they hearing His voice? And are we helping those that Jesus has chosen to hear His voice?

Our parish, the Church of the Sacred Heart, was built in 1910. It is one of the oldest parishes in Singapore and also one of the smallest, in terms of size.

But size may not matter, because small does not mean we are invisible and insignificant. 

Since it was built, this parish has produced fruits for the priesthood. 

At least five priests were baptized in this parish, and out of those five, three were ordained here, and one of them became the bishop of Penang.

And there is a seminarian from this parish (Bro. Simon Ho) who is in his third year of formation, and with our prayers we will be able to see his ordination in five years’ time.

So Jesus is indeed calling, and His voice is being heard in this parish.

But another voice is being heard and it’s calling out for “someone else”, as in “let someone else be a priest, but not me”.

“Let someone else join the church ministry and church organization, but not me”. “Let someone else do the work, but not me”.

But as in that church bulletin about the obituary, that “someone else” is gone. There is no more “someone else”.

The voice of Jesus is calling out to us. If we don’t listen, then there will be no one else who will join the priesthood.

If we don’t listen to the voice of Jesus, then no one else will pray for vocations to the priesthood.

If we don’t listen to the voice of Jesus, then it will be time to write an obituary, and it will be an obituary about our church.

But when we listen to the voice of Jesus, then the parish will bear fruit – prayers will be answered, miracles will happen, nothing will be impossible, and there will be vocations to the priesthood, as well as to the religious life.

Jesus is calling; let us listen, and the rest will happen.

Friday, April 15, 2016

3rd Week of Easter, Saturday, 16-04-16

Acts 9:31-42 / John 6:60-69

Most of us, if not all of us, wouldn't want to say things that will embarrass ourselves and make ourselves look foolish.

Even for those who shoot their mouths off, they wouldn't usually say things that will make others think that they are mad or out of their minds.

St. Peter, as we know, had a reputation for being impulsive and brash and later he would have to eat his words.

Well, he had said that he wouldn't deny his Master; he said at the transfiguration that he would build three tents although he didn't know what he was saying; he tried to remonstrate with Jesus about His suffering only to get rebuked by Jesus.

Yes, we sigh and shake our heads and look to heaven when St. Peter shoots his mouth off. Yet, we also cannot deny that there were also profound words that came from St. Peter.

In the gospel, we heard one of those profound statements from St. Peter - Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that You are the Holy One of God.

Even in the 1st reading, the St. Peter that we hear about spoke words of power that brought about healing and even restored life!

And all that was because of the Risen Christ. Through the power of the resurrection, St. Peter has learnt to speak like his Master and even has the power to act like Him.

That is the power of the resurrection on St. Peter. And the power of the resurrection is also given to each of us.

Let it begin with our words so that we can speak like our Master. Like St. Peter may our words bring about healing and also awaken the life in those who hear us.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

3rd Week of Easter, Friday, 15-04-16

Acts 9:1-20 / John  6:52-59

Whenever we are told to do something we don't like or find it difficult, our response will depend on who is telling us to do it.

If it's from someone that we can ignore, then it will be a flat "No!" and it won't bother us too much.

But if it's from our superior or from someone that we can't say "No" to, then we will either try to think of a good reason to get out of it or to try to buy time and hope that something will change and we will be let off.

For Ananias in the 1st reading, when God told him to go to Saul, he gave reasons, and they are valid reasons, why it was better that he don't go.

But God insisted that he must go all the same, and so Ananias went. After all, it would be better not to defy God and he being a disciple, all the more he had to obey.

But that's what a disciple is all about - to obey the Master even though the task may be difficult or even dangerous.

Ananias had to live up to his own words "Here I am, Lord" when God called out to him.

His mission was to go to Saul to show him how to respond to the Lord and also to testify to Saul's conversion.

So to will be our mission as the Lord calls out to us. We are to show others how to respond to the Lord. It would be difficult and dangerous to live up to those words "Here I am, Lord" but the blessings we get in return will tell us that it is the best response.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

3rd Week of Easter, Thursday, 14-04-16

Acts 8:26-40 / John 6:44-51

Most of us would have experienced this a few times, or at least once. It can be called "the appointed moment" or "the limelight moment".

It's that particular moment or moment in our lives where we do the extra-ordinary thing and it's that moment that we had never thought that we would be in or never expected ourselves to be in.

In the 1st reading, we heard of Philip. He was one of the seven deacons appointed by the apostles to help them in the administrative matters.

After the martyrdom of Stephen and when a bitter persecution started, Philip fled to the neighbouring district of Samaria to preach the Good News and there he worked many signs of deliverance and healing.

In the 1st reading we heard a detailed account of Philip's "appointed moment". He explained the Good News of Jesus to the Ethiopian eunuch and eventually baptized him.

It was not just Philip's "appointed moment" but also the eunuch's "appointed moment". God had drawn them to that moment, and they responded accordingly.

We had experienced God drawing us to our "appointed moment" and He will continue to draw us to many more of those moments.

When we respond according to His will, Jesus will raise us up at those "appointed moments" and like Philip, we will, in turn, draw others to their "appointed moments".

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

3rd Week of Easter, Wednesday, 13-04-16

Acts 8:1-8 / John 6:35-40

We don't usually accept mistakes or an unexpected turn of events that leave us fretting away and wondering what is going to happen next.

But history and the experience of our lives show us that many discoveries and movements have their origins from apparent accidents and mistakes and unexpected events, rather than from carefully planned programs and processes.

Such was the case with the discovery of penicillin.

Such was the case with the independence of Singapore.

Such was the case with the early Church in its first missionary movement.

Had the Christians not been persecuted in Jerusalem, they would not have gone to Samaria, at least not at such an early stage, to preach the good news about Jesus.

And the Good News needs to be spread because people need to know that besides the material world, there is also the spiritual world.

Besides material needs, there are also the spiritual needs.

Besides physical hunger, there is also a spiritual hunger which only God can satisfy.

Jesus came to do the will of His Father and that is to be the bread of life and to fill the spiritual hunger of people in the world.

So when things don't go our way, that is when God wants to show us His way.

That is when Good News is going to happen, so that we may see and be filled with it, and in turn share that Good News with others.

Monday, April 11, 2016

3rd Week of Easter, Tuesday, 12-06-16

Acts 7:51 - 8:1 / John 6:30-35

Just mention the word "martyrdom" and that would invoke thoughts of pain and unimaginable cruel torture that would end in a bloody death.

We would also be able to imagine the groans and screams of pain and the evil laughter of the torturers.

Certainly it is horrible and terrible to think that human beings can torture another human being to the point of death.

But why would the martyrs accept such horrible tortures and eventual death? They could have just renounced their faith and denied Jesus and saved themselves from torture and death.

In the 1st reading, Stephen already knew he was in mortal danger and he could have just admitted to the accusations and saved his life.

Instead, he went on to say things that infuriated his accusers. Then filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at God's right hand. And he even told his accusers what he say.

That was the final straw for his accusers and they became his executioners.

But as he was being stoned to death, Stephen did not scream in pain or agony. Rather he said in invocation: Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he even implored the Lord not to hold this sin against his enemies.

Stephen died a violent death. But he died in peace. For him the turmoil and tribulations of this life cannot be compared to the eternal glory that was awaiting him in heaven.

To believe that requires faith. That faith has its foundations in believing that Jesus is the Bread of Life. When we truly believe that, we will be able to face the turmoil and tribulations of life.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

3rd Week of Easter, Monday, 11-04-16

Acts 6:8-15 / John 6:22-29

There are usually two reactions to a surprise - either we are pleasantly surprised or we are unpleasantly surprised.

Usually a surprise is unexpected and we react according to how we perceive it.

In the 1st reading, when Stephen was filled with grace and power and began to work miracles and great signs among the people, he must have been pleasantly surprised.

He must have been awed by the wonderful signs that God was working through him and he must have felt unworthy and humbled by it.

But it wasn't long before another surprise was waiting for Stephen. His enemies took him by surprise and arrested him and brought him before the Sanhedrin.

When all the false accusations were hurled against Stephen, it was the Sanhedrin's turn to be surprised when they looked intently at Stephen - his face appeared to them like an angel.

We may not have those kinds of surprises like Stephen had. But in between, we may have had pleasant surprise experiences of God's presence in us or around us.

And we too may have unpleasant surprises of how others have reacted rudely to our acts of kindness and charity.

Whatever it may be, let us ask the Lord to grant us His peace so that we will be calm as the mystery of life unfolds before us.

And may we give others pleasant surprises of God's peace and love.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

3rd Sunday of Easter, Year C, 10.04.2016

Acts 5:27-32, 40-41 / Apocalypse 5:11-14 / John 21:1-19

We might like to think that having lots of time and nothing to do can be quite an enjoyable thing.

After all, we have always been so busy with work, with children, and with so many other things in life that we hardly have time for ourselves.

So we dreamed about some time in the future when we are retired and the children are grown-up and then we will be free and have lots of time for ourselves.

We will dream of overnight mahjong sessions, go on a cruise, go for holidays, just enjoy life.

After all, we have worked hard in life and we want to have some enjoyment after that.

But for how long can we keep playing mahjong, or going for cruises, or going for holidays? How long can we go on with lots of time and nothing to do?

Because without a challenge and a direction in life, we will begin to lose the meaning of life.

In the gospel, we hear of Peter and the other disciples at the Sea of Tiberius, doing nothing.

Though it was after the resurrection of Jesus, and Jesus had already appeared to them twice, they were not very sure what to do or where to go. They had lots of time but they had nothing to do and nowhere to go.

So Peter suggested they go fishing, hoping that they can make some use of their time.

But it was strange that they caught nothing at all after working hard all night.

Maybe because there was nothing in their minds and in their hearts, even their work also resulted in nothing. Seems like even the fish also didn’t want to go near them.

Until Jesus called out to them. Then things began to change and change so quickly. All of a sudden, there was a miraculous catch of fish. And then one of the disciples realized that it was Jesus.  And when they came back to shore, there was a breakfast ready for them.

But most importantly, Jesus was with them and life began to look different. Life began to look exciting. But it was also going to be challenging.

And at times it may seem like what the disciples went through – going fishing all night but catching nothing.

Life, indeed, has many moments of frustration and disappointment. 

We feel like we wait for nothing and we work for nothing.

Our human inclination is to want life easy and smooth. So whether in church, or at home, or at work, we want it smooth and easy.

Whether in marriage, or in bringing up kids or taking care of aged parents, we want it smooth and easy.

And we can have it our way. So in church organization, if we are not happy, we leave.

If we are not happy at work, we resign. If we are not happy in our marriage, we divorce.

But do we want to choose our way or do we want to live life God’s way?

In the 1st reading, Peter bravely said that obedience to God comes before obedience to man.

Peter could have just obeyed those with power and authority and avoided trouble and saved his life.

But that would mean giving up for nothing and giving up to nothing.

There is a story about not giving up and it goes like this:

One day a man decided to quit. He gave up on his job, his relationship, his spirituality. He wanted to give up on his life. He went to the woods to have one last talk with God. 

"God", he asked, "Can you give me one good reason not to give up?"

His answer surprised the man. "Look around", He said. "Do you see the fern and the bamboo?" "Yes" the man replied.

"When I planted the fern and the bamboo seeds, I took very good care of them. I gave them light. I gave them water.  The fern quickly grew from the earth. Its brilliant green covered the floor. 

Yet nothing came from the bamboo seed. But I did not give up on the bamboo.

In the second year the fern grew more vibrant and plentiful. And again, nothing came from the bamboo seed. But I did not give up on the bamboo. 

In the third year there was still nothing from the bamboo seed. But I would not give up on it

In the fourth year, again, there was nothing from the bamboo seed. I would not give up.

Then in the fifth year a tiny sprout emerged from the earth. 

Compared to the fern it was seemingly small and insignificant. But just 6 months later the bamboo rose to over 100 feet tall.

It had spent the five years growing roots. Those roots made it strong and gave it what it needed to survive. I would not give any of my creations a challenge it could not handle."

He asked me. "Did you know, my child, that all this time you have been struggling, you have actually been growing roots". 

"I would not give up on the bamboo. I will never give up on you. 
Don't compare yourself to others. The bamboo had a different purpose than the fern. Yet, they both make the forest beautiful."

"Your time will come", God said to me. "You will rise high."
"How high should I rise?" the man asked. "How high will the bamboo rise?" God asked in return. "As high as it can?" the man answered. "Yes." God said, "Give Me glory by rising as high as you can."

The Lord will never give up on us and we too must not give up on ourselves, on others and on the challenges and difficulties we face.

Instead of telling the Lord how big the problem is, let us turn around and tell the problem how great the Lord is!

Yes, God is great, all the time. May we use all our time and all our days proclaiming that God is great, all the time.

Friday, April 8, 2016

2nd Week of Easter, Saturday, 09-04-16

Acts 6:1-7 / John 6:16-21

There is a famous poem called "Footprints in the sand" which we have probably come across before.

It is about a person who had a dream and was walking along a beach with the Lord.

Suddenly, across the sky, scenes appear from the person's life.

For most of the scenes, there were two sets of footprints in the sand - one belonging to the Lord and the other to the person.

What confused the person was that during the most trying times of life, there was only one set of footprints.

The person then asked the Lord why was he alone during the most trying times in life, since there was only one set of footprints.

The Lord replied: I would never never leave you alone during your times of trials and sufferings.

When you saw only one set of footprints, that was when I was carrying you.

In the gospel, when the wind was strong and the sea was rough, Jesus appeared to His disciples and said: It is I, do not be afraid.

When life gets too stormy, let us remember this gospel passage and remember those words: It is I, do not be afraid.

And let us also believe that in those dark moments, the Lord is carrying us.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

2nd Week of Easter, Friday, 08-04-16

Acts 5:34-42 / John 6:1-15

Since young, we were told to be careful. Be careful when crossing the road, be careful with fire, be careful with the hot water, be careful when using knives, etc.

Yes, we need to be careful when dealing with volatile things or situations so as not to hurt ourselves and also not to hurt others.

But over and above, we also need to be careful about how we relate with people and also in our relationships.

If we are not careful in our relationships with others, they can in turn be more volatile than fire and boiling water and knives.

In the 1st reading, the wise Pharisee, Gamaliel, advised the Sanhedrin to be careful in dealing with the apostles.

He cited examples where movements fizzled out then the leaders were killed. So if the apostles were similar to those movements, then they will fizzle out in time.

But Gamaliel ended off with a profound statement: "But if it does in fact come from God, you will not only be unable to destroy them, but you might find yourselves fighting against God.

Gamaliel was careful enough to say that, and he was also careful enough to access the situation and the apostles, and he left the matter open-ended.

We too, need to be careful about how we deal and relate with others. But like Gamaliel, we also need to look carefully at how God acts in others.

We would certainly want to be careful enough to fight for God and not fight against God.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

2nd Week of Easter, Thursday, 07-04-16

Acts 5:27-33 / John 3:31-36

To be in the position of power and authority, it is also fundamental and essential to practice justice, integrity and honesty.

That is the very basic requirement for anyone who holds the position of power and authority.

When spiritual authority is combined with political power, then the bar is raised to an extraordinary level.

Simply because the more one has, the more it is required and expected.

In the 1st reading we heard of a face-off between those in power and authority, and those who had nothing to their credit except the testimony of the resurrection.

In the end, those in power and authority were so angered and infuriated that they wanted to put the apostles to death.

Yet the apostles were simply testifying to the truth. In effect they were asking those in power and authority, where was their integrity and where was their honesty and was there justice in what they did and were doing.

The fruits of truth are integrity and honesty and justice. Those are also the fruits of life that will lead us to eternal life with God who is the source of all truth.

Today's readings remind those who are in power and authority of their responsibility.

Abuse of power and authority will lead to death which is the fruit of evil.

Whereas when power and authority are used in the service of justice and integrity and honesty will lead to life, which is the gift from God.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

2nd Week of Easter, Wednesday, 06-04-16

Acts 5:17-26 / John 3:16-21

We like to see movies in which the good triumphs over evil. However a number of these movies are action movies that have violence in them and that may not be suitable for children.

However we enjoy comedies and we would have a good laugh when we see the bad guys being made a laughing stock.

The account from the 1st reading can be like a scene from a comedy. The high priest and the Sadducees were prompted by jealousy and they arrested the apostles and had them put into prison.

But that night, the angel of the Lord freed them from prison and told them to preach the Good News in the Temple.

Then in the morning the high priest and his supporters, without realizing anything, convened the Sanhedrin and asked for the prisoners to be taken out.

But surprise, surprise, the prisoners were not there and then news came that they were preaching in the Temple. The high priest and his supporters must have looked like fools and a laughing stock.

Yes the good will be vindicated and triumph over evil but it does not mean that we want to see the evil and bad people have a violent end.

Because the gospel tells us that God sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world but so that through Him the world might be saved.

Yes the good will have the last laugh at evil and we want to laugh with them too. But the good would also want the evil people to repent and turn back to God so that there would be more rejoicing in heaven. We must want that too.

Monday, April 4, 2016

2nd Week of Easter, Tuesday, 05-04-16

Acts 4:32-37 / John 3:7-15

A need is obviously different from a want. A need expresses a necessity. A want expresses a desire.

But very often, the difference becomes blurred and what we think is a need is actually just a desire.

In other words, what we think we need may actually be just an accessory and not really a necessity.

The selfish and greedy side in us will always make us think that we would need a lot of things, and the more we have, then the happier we would be.

So what we heard in the 1st reading is going to challenge us and make us think about what we have and what we need.

The 1st reading tells us that the whole group of believers was united in heart and soul. No one claimed for his own use anything he had, as everything they owned was held in common.

We may wonder if this is really possible nowadays. We may also wonder if anyone would be crazy enough to let go of his possessions and share it with others.

We may have our questions, but the question is whether we believe we can really let go of what we possess and even let go of what we think we need.

But in order to let go of our possessions and our needs on earth, then we need to look at life from above.

Only the Holy Spirit will lift us from earth "to be born from above" so that we are able to realize that we come from God and God is all we need and God will provide for all we need.

May we let go of this earth so that we can be born from above and live the life of the above.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Annunciation of the Lord, Monday, 04-04-16

Isaiah 7:10-14; 8:10 / Hebrews 10:4-10 / Luke 1:26-28

There is a point in life when we have to make a critical decision, a decision that requires a long term or a life-time commitment, a decision that could be irreversible and irrevocable.

It could be about migrating to another country, to enter into a marriage, to serve the Lord as a priest or religious. It's a life changing moment and it could also be a defining moment.

It also means that all other options will be closed and even closed for good.

In the Annunciation, Mary found herself to be in a situation that required her to make a decision which will change her life when she hears the call to be the Mother of the Son of God.

It was not going to be just a 9-month term, that after the birth of Jesus, she could continue with her life as before.

In saying "Yes" to God, then Mary also closed all the other options, and closed them for good. Maybe it can be said that Mary closed those other options for the greater good.

As we celebrate this event of God's call to Mary and her obedient response, we also open ourselves to God's call to us.

God calls out to us to commit ourselves to Him, to be faithful to Him and to trust in Him.

It will mean that we will have to close the other options and close them for good. And it will be good to close those other options.

To say "Yes" to God is the best decision. Mary would know better. We ask her to pray for us that we too say "Yes" to God and that we rejoice with her that God's will be done.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

2nd Sunday of Easter, Year C, 03.04.2016

Acts 5:12-16 / Apocalypse 1:9-13, 17-19 / John 20:19-31

The one thing that all of us have seen is the reality and the finality of life.

Yes, we have seen our loved ones and relatives and friends pass on from this world to the next. 

But what is this “next world”, we do not know because no one has ever come back from the dead to tell us what it is like.

And even if someone were to come back from that “next world” to tell us what it is like, how would we react to it?

There is this story of a couple who decided to go to somewhere sunny during a particularly cold winter. They planned to stay at the same hotel where they spent their honeymoon 20 years earlier. 

Because of hectic schedules, it was difficult to coordinate their travel schedules. So, the husband flew off first with his wife flying down to join him the following day. The husband checked into the hotel. There was a computer in his room, so he decided to send an email to his wife. However, he accidentally left out one letter in her email address, and without realizing his error, sent the email.

Meanwhile, in another part of the world, a widow had just returned home from her husband's funeral. The widow decided to check her email expecting messages from relatives and friends. 

After reading the first message, she screamed and fainted. The widow's son rushed into the room, found his mother on the floor, and saw the computer screen which read:

To: My Loving Wife
Subject: I've Arrived

I know you're surprised to hear from me. They have computers here now and you are allowed to send emails to your loved ones. I've just arrived and have checked in. I've seen that everything has been prepared for your arrival tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing you then. 

P.S. By the way, you can be sure it is really hot down here!!!

Two things that this story tells us. One is to be careful when typing an email address. The other is that we cannot be too sure how to respond to someone who comes back from the dead.

In the gospel, when Jesus appeared to His disciples, their reaction seemed to be rather mild. Jesus came and stood among them, He said “Peace be with you”, showed them His hands and His side, and they were filled with joy.

But in the other gospels, the reaction of the disciples were quite different. Jesus had to tell them “Do not be afraid” (Mt 28:10). In the gospel of Mark (16:8) the women ran away from the tomb because they were frightened out of their wits and they said nothing to a soul for they were afraid.

And the rest of the disciples didn’t believe it when they were told that Jesus is alive (Mk 16:11). And in the gospel of Luke (24:16-17) when Jesus stood among them, the disciples were in a state of alarm and fright and they thought they were seeing a ghost.

Our own reaction would be no different from that of the disciples if we had any encounters with that of the other world. 

Whether it is a white shadow or a dark shadow, or a scent or a sound, we too would be alarmed and frightened.

But that would probably mean that we are not at peace within. The disciples of Jesus were not at peace after His death because they knew what they had done.

Thomas, who is often called the “Doubter”, was also not at peace and he wanted to touch the wounds of Jesus because he himself had wounds of fear and guilt that needed to be healed.

That is why the first gift of the Risen Christ is peace. “Peace be with you” He said to His disciples. 

Jesus died a horrible and painful death.  Yet, His last sentence was:  “It is accomplished” and “Into your hands Father I commend my spirit”. And then He breathed His last.

His death was horrible and painful, yet Jesus died in peace. He was at peace with God and with Himself.  

He has forgiven those who crucified him, His mother was taken of, and His mission was accomplished.

At His last breath, Jesus had no unfinished business and He died in peace. And hence when He appeared to His disciples, His first words were “Peace be with you”.

Because He wants them to be at peace with themselves, so that they can rejoice with Him in His victory over death. 

That makes us think about what will be in our hearts when we come to the last moments of our lives on this earth. Can we also say that “It is accomplished” and “Into the hands of God I commend my spirit”?

Or will there be unfinished business, like unforgiveness, anger, resentment, bitterness that are burdening our hearts?

Or, the unfinished business of regret, regret like not having told our loved ones that we love them, regret for not showing them that we love them and that we care for them.

Dying with unfinished business is not a peaceful death; in fact it may even be a painful death.

Jesus gives us His peace so that we can live in peace and die in peace. If we have the fear of death, it means that we have fears in life.

When we are at peace within, no evil can happen to us, either in life or after death.

And today as the Church celebrates Divine Mercy Sunday, let us ask the Lord for His mercy and forgiveness, so that we can be at peace with God, with others and with ourselves.

It is with God’s mercy that we can live in peace and rest in peace.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Saturday within Easter Octave, 02-04-16

Acts 4:13-21 / Mark 16:9-15

Faith is a gift from God. It is not something we can earn or acquire by our own efforts or resources.

But how God grants this gift of faith and in what measure is somewhat a mystery.

A person can read the whole Bible and the profound theological books and listen to the most persuasive preacher and yet do not have faith.

On the other hand a person can just come across an ordinary mundane experience and yet be converted, as in the case of St. Augustine and St. Ignatius of Loyola.

In the 1st reading, ordinary uneducated laymen like Peter and John were preaching about the resurrection of Christ.

There was even proof of what they were saying in the person of the healed cripple.

Yet, the elders and the scribes somehow did not believe them.

In the gospel, Mary Magdalene went to tell the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead.

But they refused to believe her. Well, it can be very difficult to believe that a person can rise from the dead, especially after being dead for three days.

The main phrase that runs through the readings is "did not believe".

The gospel even mentioned that Jesus reproached His disciples for their incredulity and obstinacy for their refusal to believe in His resurrection.

As for ourselves, regardless of whether we have inherited the faith because of our parents or came to believe in the faith in our adult years, the challenge for us is to grow and deepen in our faith.

If faith is a gift from God, then we must treasure and nourish this gift with prayer and devotion.

We also must persist in our faith. That is one profound way of proclaiming our trust and faith in God.