Saturday, December 31, 2016

Mary, Mother of God, Year A, 01.01.2017

Numbers 6:22-27 / Galatians 44-7 / Luke 2:16-21

By now, we wouldn’t be hearing any more Christmas carols. In fact, what we are hearing are the Chinese New Year songs with the unmistakable drums and cymbals.

Also Christmas décor has made way for CNY décor with those big-headed dolls and fire-crackers and dancing lions and chili-red banners.

Just eight days after Christmas, Christmas carols sound rather odd, Christmas décor look rather worn out, and it seems like Christmas is over and done with.

Even in church, to wish someone “Merry Christmas” sounds off-beat. What we hear is “Season’s greetings” although it is not clear what that season refers to. Because in Singapore, there is no winter season, so could it be the rainy season, or could it be the hot season? We have both... Well, so much for “season’s greetings”.

So for the world, Christmas is over and done with, making way for New Year celebrations with last night’s count-down and then it’s back to work and back to school.

And about those New Year resolutions, it’s usually one year in and one year out. Anyway, may all your troubles last as long as your New Year’s resolutions.

But for the Church, we have continued the celebration of Christmas for eight days, or what is called the Christmas Octave, and today is the eighth day.

And on this day, we honour Mary with the title “Mother of God”. That title is certainly not new, in fact it goes all the way back to the year 431 when the Council of Ephesus formally proclaimed that title for Mary.

That title says much about who Mary is, but it also says much more about who Jesus is – that Jesus is God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.

Mary is honoured as Mother of God on the eighth day of the Christmas Octave and there is a reason for it.

The number 8 has a peculiar biblical meaning. God created the world in seven days. The eighth day represents a new creation or a re-creation.

We heard in the gospel that when the eighth day came and the child was to be circumcised, they gave Him the name Jesus, the name the angel had given Him before His conception. So the Saviour is given a name eight days after His birth.

Similarly with John the Baptist, on the eighth day, his mother Elizabeth gave him that name and confirmed by his father Zechariah.

Also eight days after the His Resurrection, Jesus appeared again to His disciples and especially to Thomas and he made that proclamation: My Lord and my God.

Mary is honoured as Mother of God on this eighth day of the Christmas Octave because as Elizabeth said this of her:
“Blessed is she who believed that the promises made to her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

And Mary has this to say: Yes, from this day forward, all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me.

And so year after year, as we begin each new year, we bless Mary and we honour her as Mother of God and also as our Mother.

In the gospel, we heard that Mary treasured all that had happened and pondered them in her heart. 

Mary had to wait for what God has to reveal to her. Meanwhile, she treasured and she pondered. She prayed and waited. And now she finally understood. Indeed the Almighty has done great things for her.

And as the Mother of God, she now prays for us that we will also treasure all that has happened and ponder over it and that we will see the great things that the Almighty will do for us.

But we have to pray and wait. There is something about this word “wait”. We can make an acronym out of it, as in WAIT can mean “will arrive in time”.

We have prayed for many of our needs. And to make our prayer more tangible, we write out petition slips and put them in the petition box. And then like Mary, we have to keep praying, keep treasuring, keep pondering and keep waiting.

But after a while, we may forget what we have prayed for. And even when God has answered our prayer, we may not even realize it because we have no record of it.

So why not keep a record of it? We can use the camera on our mobile phones and take a photo of our petition slips or Mass offerings and when we pray we ponder over it.

And when we see how God answers our prayers, then we will give thanks and like Mary, we can say that the Almighty has done great things for us.

I was talking with Robert, one of our church workers, that he had done much, in the absence of Francis, the other worker, in putting up the Christmas décor and all that. Now that Francis is back, he can ask Francis to keep the décor after Epiphany.

His reply astounded me. He said that he has been working here for two and a half years already, and he had never been ill or had any accidents. God had indeed blessed him. Even for Francis, God has also blessed him because he went back to India to get married. So Robert said that he cannot be calculative with God and that he will do whatever work that needs to be done so that he will receive more blessings from God.

That is truly inspiring from a simple and hardworking man. And so I wrote a petition for him that in time to come God will find him a good girl and get married. I took a photo of the petition slip, I will pray and I will wait, and I know that God will do great things for him and that the prayer “will arrive in time”.

So on this feast of Mary the Mother of God and on this first day of the year, let us write our prayer intentions on the petition slips and we wait for God to do great things for us.

So instead of making New Year resolutions, let us make New Year petitions. 

With Mary the Mother of God and our Mother praying for us, let us treasure our blessings, let us ponder on our needs, and let us wait for God to do great things for us.

A Happy & Blessed New Year to All!
From left: Fr Stephen Yim, Fr Paul Tong, Fr KS Michaelraj
Mary's Shrine, Church of the Sacred Heart, Singapore

Friday, December 30, 2016

31st December 2016, Saturday, Seventh Day within Octave of Christmas

1 John 2:18-21 / John 1:1-18

Today being the last day of the year, it is also a unique time when we look in two differing directions.

Yes, we look forward to the new year ahead, with its "joys and hopes," as well as its "griefs and anxieties" (Pastoral Constitution On The Church In The Modern World, Gaudium Et Spes
Promulgated by His Holiness, Pope Paul Vi on December 7, 1965

Yes, the future is uncertain and unpredictable, but that is what the mystery of life is all about.

On the other hand, we also look back on the 365 days that had passed, for some it was quickly, for others it was slowly, but in whatever case, it has gone down to memory and for our recollection and reflection.

For better or for worse, be it good times or bad, the gospel takes our recollection and reflection to "In the beginning was the Word..."

And that is to tell us that the Word of God was made flesh everyday of 2016, from the 1st January to today. The question is: Did we recognize Him and accepted Him into our lives?

Or is it like what the gospel said: He came to His own domain, and His own people did not accept Him.

The 1st reading begins with an opposite time when it says that "these are the last days", and it is described as a rather turbulent time, with the appearance of several antichrists, arising from within the church.

But as it says of these antichrists, they had never really belonged and now they had become enemies of the Church.

So as we come to the last day of the year, let us acknowledge the presence of Jesus, the Word made flesh, and let us welcome Him into our lives. Let us pledge to belong to Him so that He will be present to us all the days of the new year ahead.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Holy Family, Friday, 30-12-16

Sirach 3:3-7, 14-17 or Col 3:12-21 / Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

It is said that sometimes the very thing that you are looking for is the one thing you can't see, or don't seem to be able to see.

We look far and wide for the ideal or perfect thing but it may be the very thing that we are standing on, or even as close as our noses. And often we don't notice our noses isn't it.

Such may be the case with our families in general. The fact is that no family is ideal or perfect. And things have degenerated to such an extent that there are terms like broken families and dysfunctional families.

Yes, the family, which is the very basic social nucleus, faces many challenges and difficulties, and we care enough for our own families to pray for peace and unity.

And when we understand what the gospels say about the Holy Family, we will pray that our families will be spared of the challenges and difficulties that they went through.

But we will also pray that our families will take the Holy Family as a model of unity and understanding, as well as of care and concern, patience and kindness towards each other in the family.

The 1st reading gives us the fundamentals of family relationships and these must be highlighted, reiterated and seared into the very fabric of family life. It will be good to state this again:

- Whoever respects his father is atoning for his sins, he who honours his mother is like someone amassing a fortune.

- Whoever respects his father will be happy with children of his own, he shall be heard on the day when he prays.

- Long life comes to him who honours his father, he who sets his mother at ease is showing obedience to the Lord.

Yes, the Word of God has already stated what the family should be like. Let us heed what God our Father is telling us through His son and our families will be like that of the Holy Family.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

29th December 2016, Thursday, Fifth Day within Octave of Christmas

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

When setting up the Nativity Scene, it is necessary to have this one important element, without which the whole Nativity Scene would look rather odd.

Besides the backdrop of the stable and the manger and bits of lookalike hay, it is important that there must be light shining on the figure of the baby Jesus, or at least there must be light around the figure.

A Nativity Scene without light would look rather odd, and perhaps it betrays a lack of understanding of the meaning of Christmas.

In the prayers for the Christmas season, the aspect of light is often repeated, besides the emphasis of the celebration of the Lord's birth.

That is emphasized in the gospel when the devout and upright Simeon, who looked forward to Israel's comforting, blessed God when he held the infant Jesus in his arms and for letting him see the salvation which God had prepared for all the nations.

And then Simeon added: A light to enlighten the pagans and the glory of your people Israel.

Jesus came as Saviour and salvation is manifested as light that will scatter the darkness and the darkness can never overcome it.

The 1st reading says that with Jesus, the night is over and the real light is already shining.

The celebration of Christmas is the the celebration of Christ as the true Light who shines forth the light of salvation on us.

If we live in that light, then we will love God and our neighbour. If not, then we are still in the dark. May the light of our Saviour Jesus Christ shine on us and scatter the darkness of our sins and fill us with light and love.

Holy Innocents, Martyrs, Wednesday,28-12-16

1 John 1: - 2:2 / Matthew 2:13-18

Most of us have fond memories of our childhood days.

We may recall those slow and easy days of our growing up years when we were in the sun most of the time and we made toys from our own simple creativity.

In that aspect, we can consider ourselves really fortunate.

Because when we read in the papers or see in the tv of the turmoil going on in the other countries, we are immediately confronted with the fact of how vulnerable children are.

In fact, in times of war or conflict, or even in tragedies or disasters, children are the first to suffer, whether the persecution is direct or indirect.

So it was in the time of Jesus, when Herod out of his insecurity and insanity, ordered the massacre of infants of Bethlehem.

And this senseless brutality continues to this day.

It continues in the political, racial and religious conflicts.

It has even happened at home in the form of child abuse, not forgetting abortion, where the fetus is regarded as a thing.

The feast of the Holy Innocents remind us that it is our duty to protect the rights and dignity of children, just as Mary and Joseph protected the helpless Jesus.

The children are our future. They need our love and protection.

And in the not-so-far-away future, they will be the ones who will show us God's love and protection.

Monday, December 26, 2016

St. John, Apostle and Evangelist, Tuesday, 27-12-16

1 John 1:1-4 / John 20:2-8

According to tradition, St. John was subjected to torture by being plunged into a pot of boiling oil but he miraculously survived, whereas the other apostles were martyred.

It is also believed that he lived to a ripe old age of about 94 and he died of natural causes.

There could be some truth in that because the gospel that is attributed to him contains a spiritual depth that is not so obvious in the other three gospels.

In biblical art,  the Gospel of John is often depicted with an eagle, which symbolizes the insight to the height of the mystery of the person of Jesus which was expounded in the first chapter of the gospel.

It had that depth of insight to the height of the mystery probably from the reflection and meditation over the years.

There was a story that when St. John was an old man, he was asked to preach to a gathering of believers.

His message was short yet sublime: Dear children, love one another. Learn to love one another as God loves you.

That is also the central theme in the gospel of John - the love that God has for us, and it can be found in passages like  John 3:16-17; 13:34-35; 15:17.

It is a profound theme and to love one another as Jesus has loved us is a spirituality and a mystery that needed to be constantly reflected and meditated upon in our hearts.

Like St. John, may God also deepen and enlighten us in His love for us so that we will in turn love one another as Jesus has loved us.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

St. Stephen, Protomartyr, Monday, 26-12-16

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

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

Today is also known as Boxing day, and it came from a custom when Christmas presents packed into boxes were given out on this day. But maybe it has become a day to open our Christmas presents because we might have been too busy yesterday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas, Year A, 25.12.2016

Isaiah 9:2-7 / Titus 2:11-14 / Luke 2:1-14

Once a year, at this time, the Nativity Scene makes its appearance in church.

And at the beginning of the midnight Mass, the figure of the baby Jesus was reverently carried and put into the central place of the Nativity Scene and rightly so. 

After all it’s the celebration of our Saviour’s birth and it reminds us of that first Christmas when God came to earth as a helpless baby.

In that helpless baby, we see the Word of God made flesh and lived among us.

And the Nativity Scene symbolizes all that. Surrounding the baby Jesus are Mary and Joseph, and the shepherds who came to see this wonderful sign, and the poor and humble surroundings of the manger with the donkey and the cow and a couple of sheep. The three wise men would make their appearance later at the Epiphany.

And the Nativity Scene draws our attention. Some Nativity Scenes are quite elaborate with backdrop and lights and life-sized figures.

Some even want to have an updated version: one had a shepherd on the mobile phone calling “Pizza Hut”, and another with a wise man on his laptop checking Google Maps for directions to Bethlehem.

No, no, we are not going to have all that fancy stuff. We are going on traditional. And that means what we have there in front of the sanctuary.

But there was a little issue when we were setting up the Nativity Scene. Because of the size of the Nativity Scene in relation to the sanctuary, we couldn’t have a backdrop of the manger, as some bigger ones might have, complete with the roof and all that.

And because there is no backdrop, then one figure in the Nativity Scene would be difficult for it to find a place.

And that would be the angel. For those with the roof, then the angel would be placed on the roof and holding that sign “Gloria in excelsis Deo”.

So we have a figure of an angel but we don’t really know where to put it since there is no roof to place it on.

Or should we put it there at the Scene? Nobody would really notice it if there is no angel isn’t it?

After all, most would be looking at the baby Jesus, or Mary and Joseph, or the shepherds, or the cow and the donkey or whatever.

But the presence of the angel is significant to the whole Christmas story. It was an angel who announced to Mary that she was chosen to be the Mother of God. It was an angel who appeared to the shepherds and brought them the joyful news of the birth of the Saviour.

Yes, the angels are the messengers of God to announce the fulfillment of the promise of God to send the Saviour. And so for our Nativity Scene we have put the figure of the angel behind the main characters of the Christmas story.

But that does not mean that the messenger is forgotten, nor must the message of Christmas become just a backdrop.

All the characters of the Christmas story heard the message and they played a part in the birth of Jesus. 

Mary accepted the will of God; Joseph had to change his plans; the shepherds went to see the sign.

And we have come to celebrate this wonderful story and to hear the message of Christmas again. And having heard the message, we in turn have become the messengers. We are now the “angels” of the Christmas story.

The angels sang at the birth of Jesus: Glory to God in the highest heavens, and peace to men who enjoy His favour.

Yes, we want to be the people who enjoy God’s favour, the people who are blessed by God, the people who despite the challenges and difficulties of life will join the characters in the Nativity Scene and worship the Saviour and be filled with peace because Jesus is the Prince of Peace.

There is this story that just before Christmas God was looking down at Earth and saw all of the evil that was going on.  He decided to send an angel down to Earth to check it out.  So He called one of His angels and sent the angel to Earth for a time.  When he returned he told God, yes it is bad on Earth, 90% is bad and 10% is good.

God thought for a moment and said, maybe it is better to send down a second angel to get another opinion.  So God called another angel and sent him to Earth for a time too. When the angel returned he went to God and told Him yes, the Earth was in decline, 90% was bad and 10% was good.

God said this was not good. So He decided to email the 10% that were good and He wanted to send them a message to encourage them, and to bless them and give them something to help them keep going.

Do you know what God said in that email?

No?!? Oh, so you didn't get that email? Oops!

Hmmm, it seems that we are in that 90% category. But that is what Christmas is about – that Jesus came not for the virtuous but for sinners.

And because of Jesus, then we have to change that 90% bad into 90% good. And that is the message of Christmas – that Jesus came to change the bad into good.

Today we hear the message, and it is the message of peace to people of goodwill. As we gather around the altar, Jesus is born again in our hearts to bring us peace and to restore the goodness in us.

And let us also be messengers of this news of great joy. We have heard that 2/3 of Catholics in Singapore don’t come to church.

Let us be that Christmas angel to bring them to come and see the Nativity Scene and its message.

Let us pray that the peace, joy and blessing of Jesus will move their hearts to experience His love.

Jesus came to save sinners. And He also calls sinners to be His messengers. 

May Jesus, the Prince of Peace, fill our hearts with His peace and may we go forth to bring to others this news of great joy.

Friday, December 23, 2016

24th December 2016, Saturday

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

With the festivities happening around us and with the year coming to an end, we may want to just have a good time and forget about our worries and anxieties for a while.

With one day just before Christmas, we may yearn for some quiet time for prayer and for reflection on the meaning of Christmas and how we have prepared for it this time around.

Yet it may not be that conducive to make time to do this recalling and reflecting, because of the frenzy of activities and busyness.

Even in Church, people are busy making preparations for the Masses this evening and tomorrow, and also for the Christmas parties along the way.

So as much as we may hope that it is going to be "Silent Night, Holy Night", it may not be really so. In fact, it may well be a noisy and busy night.

Yet we must make time for ourselves to be with the Lord if we really want to experience the silence and the holiness of this eve of Christmas.

We have to make time for ourselves to welcome God as He visits His people and to feel His wonderful gift of love in Jesus.

Just one day before Christmas we are reminded in the gospel what is the meaning of this whole occasion.

God has fulfilled His promise of salvation. He is sending us our long awaited Saviour.

Jesus our Saviour will lead us from darkness of sin and from the shadow of death and guide us into the way of peace.

Let us make time today for prayer and reflection. Let us feel the holy silence of this eve of Christmas.

May we be filled with a joyful peace as we prepare to celebrate Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

23rd December 2016, Friday

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

The task of choosing a name is an honourable task but nonetheless a difficult task.

Whether it is choosing a name for a person, or for a business, or for a society, there are many factors to be considered.

One of which is that it must sound nice and also meaningful, not just in the predominant language, but also in other dialects and languages.

The name John is a Jewish name (Yehohanan) and it means God-is-gracious.

That name has a great significance for Elizabeth and Zechariah.

Elizabeth was barren and barrenness was seen as a curse from God.

So the conception and birth of John was indeed a gracious blessing from God.

But God's grace did not just give Zechariah and Elizabeth a son.

God's grace will be continued in the life and mission of John.

John's mission was to prepare the people for the time of intense grace from God.

A time of restoration to the dignity as God's people. A time of reconciliation between God and each other.

As Christmas draws near, let us prepare ourselves to receive this moment of intense grace from God, so that we can be a grace-filled and a graceful people.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

22nd December 2016, Thursday

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

What we heard in the gospel is the prayer of hymn of Mary, which is also commonly called the "Magnificat".

Whenever we hear it or whenever we pray it, have we ever reflected about it and what are our feelings about it?

Certainly it was a prayer of exaltation and magnifying the Lord, and also a prayer to praise the mighty works of the Lord.

But would we say that prayer with conviction and mean what we say?

Of course we might say that Mary's prayer is so lofty and we are so unworthy to say it. And we might also say that Mary can say it but not us.

But Mary can say such a prayer because she had surrendered her all to the Lord and hence being filled with the love of God and from the bounty of her heart, she prays such a prayer.

As in the 1st reading, Hannah had surrendered her all to the Lord in prayer and when she was given a child, she also surrendered her child Samuel to the Lord, or made over to the Lord.

May we too like Mary surrender our whole life to the Lord so that we can truly praise and magnify the Lord with all our heart.

And like Hannah who had Samuel made over to the Lord, may we also give ourselves totally to the service of the Lord.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

21st December 2016, Wednesday

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

For those of us who had grown plants from seeds, we would know how fragile the beginning of life can be.

The first few days are critical for the germination and the growth of the seedling. Too much sunlight or too much water will harm it, and adverse elements of nature can cause dire consequences for it.

As much as the seedling is prone to the elements of nature, yet the seedling also needs some challenging conditions in order for it to grow in strength to withstand those conditions.

In the gospel, we heard that Mary set out as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country to visit Elizabeth who was with child.

Usually when a woman has just conceived, she would need to take care and rest more as the early stages of pregnancy are rather critical.

And for Mary who has just conceived, instead of resting more to let the baby in her womb develop, she seemed to be taking a risk by travelling to a hill country, and travelling in those times is certainly not a ride in a luxury coach.

But with the new life of Jesus in her, Mary was propelled by the power of the Holy Spirit to go to Elizabeth who would need the help and company of someone who understood her situation.

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we will also be filled with the blessings of the new life that Mary experienced.

Like Mary, we too will be propelled by the Holy Spirit to serve those in need. When we let the Holy Spirit lead us to go out and serve others, our faith will indeed grow and be strengthened.

Monday, December 19, 2016

20th December 2016, Tuesday

Isaiah 7:10-14 / Luke 1:26-38

One of the great themes of Advent is this theme of fulfillment.

It is the fulfillment of a prophecy, as well as the fulfillment of a promise.

In the 1st reading, when the prophet Isaiah prophesied to king Ahaz about the sign that God will give, it was for that particular situation in time.

But that prophecy was also a future event that would be fulfilled 700 years later.

The prophecy in both cases was about the salvation that was promised by God. Yet the promise of salvation can also be accepted or rejected.

Mary accepted the promise of salvation even though she had her questions about it. But she believed, hence the promise was also fulfilled in her.

On the other hand, king Ahaz rejected the promise. He relied on other powers to save him in that time of danger.

Christmas is also a time of fulfillment of the promise of salvation.

Jesus came to save us from the punishment due to our sins.

How we welcome Him depends very much on how aware we are of our sins and on our need to be saved by Him.

When we know how awfully our sins are destroying us, then we will see the great love that God has for us by sending His only Son to save us. That is His promise. He will fulfill it again and again. Let us believe and accept it.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

19th December 2016, Monday

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

It is one thing to have visions of the supernatural, and quite another thing to have a spiritual or mystical experience.

Not many can claim to have those visions like that of the seers in the apparitions  of Our Lady at places like Guadalupe and Fatima and Lourdes.

In those instances, the message of Our Lady to them was clear and they knew what Our Lady wanted and how to go about conveying the message.

In a way it could be similar to what Menoah's wife and Zechariah had encountered. In both instances, it was the angel of the Lord that appeared to them with a message from the Lord.

It was an encounter with the supernatural that had an effect on their lives. It can also be said to be a life-changing encounter for them.

As for us, we may not have those kind of encounters with the supernatural. But there is also the spiritual side of us that enables us to have spiritual or mystical experiences.

As we look back and reflect on our lives, it can be quite certain that we have had spiritual or even mystical experiences.

It could be a prayer that was answered, a need that was provided for, a danger that  was averted, or a prompting that has to be addressed. In all these, we know that it was the Lord who is behind the experience.

As the days draw nearer to Christmas, let us prepare our hearts with prayers and cleanse our souls with penance.

A spiritual or even a mystical experience may be waiting for us, and it could be a life-changing experience.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

4th Sunday of Advent, Year A, 18.12.2016

Isaiah 7:10-14 / Romans 1:1-7 / Matthew 1:18-25

To have a roof over our heads and a house to live in is not just one of the basic needs.

It gives us a sense of comfort and security in which we can call our home.

And especially so in land scarce Singapore, to have a house that we can call home is indeed something to be cherished.

However in Singapore, there is also this trend of buying and selling houses, whether it is for upgrading or downgrading. 

When it comes to HDB flats, the selling and buying can be a rather anxious time. Because you can end up selling your flat but the new flat is not ready; or that the new flat is ready to be occupied but you can’t find a buyer for the old flat yet.

If it is the case of looking for a buyer for the old flat, then maybe we might consider praying to St. Joseph.

We know that St. Joseph is the patron saint of workers and the protector of the Catholic Church. But we might not know that he is also the patron saint of selling homes.

It seems that there is this very old Catholic tradition of burying a St. Joseph statue upside down to expedite selling property. 

Around 1500 A.D., European nuns living at a cloister needed more land on which to plant vegetable gardens and raise livestock. They had medals made that were imprinted with Saint Joseph’s image and wondered if burying them in the ground would help their prayers be heard and answered more quickly. Evidently, it worked because they nuns gained more land after burying their medals and were able to remain self-sufficient at their cloister. 

However, why the medals were substituted for statues of St. Joseph is unclear. By engaging in this ritual, the nuns essentially reinforced the concept of turning something over to the will of God. Catholics and anyone else who believes that having faith can cause good things to happen believe that it is not the act of burying a medal or statue that results in the sale of house but that it is faith in the Lord and His saints which propels the materialization of desired property transactions.

But for us, burying a statue of St. Joseph in the ground does not seem respectful, and if we are selling a HDB flat, burying the statue in a flower pot is certainly out of the question!

Certainly it would be enough to place a statue of St. Joseph in a respectful place in the house and say a prayer to him for a speedy sale of the house.

What has St. Joseph to say about all this, we can’t be too sure. But there is no harm to ask him to help us in our need, even if it is in selling the house.

But certainly St. Joseph would want our house to be a home. He too had a house and he had plans to make it into a home for him and Mary, his betrothed. 

And then he found out that Mary was with child. And being a man of honour and wanting to spare her publicity, he decided to divorce her informally.

It was then that the Lord intervened and the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and told him to take Mary home as his wife. And when he woke up he did what the angel of the Lord told him to do – he took Mary to his home. And in doing so, he also took Jesus into his home.

The gospel described St. Joseph as a man of honour. Being a male is a matter of birth. Being a man is a matter of age. But being a man of honour is a matter of choice.

St. Joseph showed that he was a man of honour when he chose to do what God wanted of him although he didn’t fully understand what it meant by what was conceived in Mary was by the Holy Spirit.

Nonetheless he prepared a home for Mary and Jesus, and he kept watch and guarded what was entrusted to him.

Probably his thoughts can be expressed by this quote of Mother Teresa: I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. But I didn’t know He trust me so much.

St. Joseph would also have taught Jesus how to be a man of honour and how to build a home. He would also have taught Jesus how to work with wood, for his trade was a carpenter.

And Jesus did work with wood. Because with just two pieces of wood, He built a bridge to our heavenly home.

As we come to the 4th Sunday of Advent, let us also make our final preparations to invite Jesus and Mary and Joseph into our homes.

Let us give a sign to them that we want them in our homes by putting up the Nativity Crib if we have yet to do so.

And with Jesus, Mary and Joseph in our homes, let us work for righteousness and love and we will find life, prosperity and honour.

Let our homes be the home of the Emmanuel, the “God-is-with-us” so that there will be peace and joy at home.

Yes, we can sell our house and buy a new house, but we can’t buy a home.

And let us remember why Jesus came. He came so that He can bring us home; He came to bring us to our eternal home.

But first, let us welcome Him and Mary and Joseph into our homes. Then we will look forward to our eternal home.

Friday, December 16, 2016

17th December 2016, Saturday

Genesis 49:2, 8-10 / Matthew 1:1-7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 15, 2016

3rd Week of Advent, Friday, 16-12-16

Isaiah 56:1-3, 6-8 / John 5:33-36

By this time, we would be hearing Christmas carols or songs about the Christmas festive season over the air-waves.

Over the radio and in shopping malls, we would hear the traditional carols like "O Holy Night" and "Little Town of Bethlehem" to the more secular ones like "Jingle Bell Rock".

The more traditional ones would certainly bring up some memories of how we spent Christmas and the experiences that we had, and these are once again lighted up and we would look forward to Christmas.

In the gospel, Jesus described John the Baptist as a lamp alight and shining, and for a time the people were contented to enjoy the light that he gave.

Because the voice of prophecy had been silent for about 400 years until John the Baptist came into the scene.

The people remembered the promises of old through the voice of John the Baptist. The hope of the people was kindled. The fire of faith began to burn again.

But John the Baptist was not just talking about the past. He was pointing to the future in which the promises of God would be fulfilled in Jesus Christ the Saviour.

Similar the voice of God in the Scriptures that we hear during Advent does not just talk about the past promises of God but about about the promise already fulfilled

We now look at Christmas and the future not just with memories of what had been but what is to come. May we look with eyes of faith and hope because the promises of God has already been fulfilled.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

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

Isaiah 54:1-10 / Luke 7:24-30

“When a wise man points at the moon the fool examines the finger.” (Confucius)

We might think that it is absurd that there are people who would just end up looking at the finger that is pointing to something else.

But the fact in life is that there are many who get so absorbed and stuck with the sign that they do not see or understand what it is pointing to and to the reality that it is pointing to.

In the gospel, Jesus asked questions like "What do you go out into the wilderness to see?"; "Then what do you go out to see?"

Yes, the people went there to see the prophet John the Baptist. And Jesus tells them that more than just another prophet, John the Baptist is the messenger who was to prepare the way for the Saviour.

And for those who saw and heard him, people like the tax collectors, acknowledged God's plan. But the Pharisees and others thwarted what God had in mind for them.

The season of Advent is filled with signs and symbols, like the Advent wreath with the lighted candles, the purple vestments, the Christmas decorations and lights, etc.

All this point to something that is approaching, a reality that we are waiting for, and preparing the way for us.

When we can see that the signs are pointing to the reality, then the way is prepared for Jesus to enter into our hearts.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

3rd Week of Advent, Wednesday, 14-12-16

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

Spiritual writers often talk about how a time will come when faith is put to the test, and they will use terms like "when the well runs dry" or "the dark night of the soul" or "the cloud of the unknowing".

It is also a time when the most fundamental and critical questions are asked.

Questions like: What is the meaning of my life? Why is such a bad thing happening to me? Does God really care about me? Are my prayers really being heard?

This "dark night of the soul" cuts across all and no one is spared, from saints to sinners.

In today's gospel, we heard of the dark night of the soul of John the Baptist.

In the darkness of his prison cell and the even darker uncertainty of his existence and mission, he had tough questions to ask.

So is Jesus the Messiah or not? If He is then why doesn't He make it clear and get me out of here?

We too will have our dark night of the soul, and we too will have our scorching questions.

And when there seemed to be no answers, then maybe the 1st reading will give us some consolation.

The prophet Isaiah tells us that everything is in God's hands, and from the Lord alone will come strength and victory.

Our moments of clarity and confusion are like the cycle of day and night.

Through all these moments, we must learn to depend on the Lord and put our faith in Him alone and turn to Him for strength.

Even if there seemed to be no answers to our questions and the dark night is a prolonged one, let us continue to wait for the Lord with hope.

When the Lord comes, may He find us waiting in faith.

Monday, December 12, 2016

3rd Week of Advent, Tuesday, 13-12-16

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

To act on impulse is often a rash and a brash act that does not reflect well of a person's character.

To act like this often results in regrettable consequences that may have other negative ripple effects.

In the parable that Jesus told in the gospel, the first son's response to his father's request is certainly not one of obedience or respect for his father.

It was a flat "No" with no other considerations at that moment. Certainly, if we were the father in the parable, we would be disappointed and even get angry with that son.

But when the man went and said the same thing to the second son, the response was certainly sweet and pleasing to the ears, something that we would also like to hear whenever we ask a favour from others.

But words must be expressed in actions, for actions always speak louder than words.

As for ourselves, we may have said "Yes" to our elders' or superiors' requests but did we follow up with the appropriate action?

On the other hand, we may have been rash and brash and said "No" to those whom we think don't really matter when they ask us for help.

But as the first son thought better of it, let us also think better of our response to others. Especially to those who don't seem to matter much to us. Jesus may just be asking us to help them, for when we do it the least, the last and the lowly, we do it to Jesus.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

3rd Week of Advent, Monday, 12-12-16

Numbers 24:2-7, 15-17 / Matthew 21:23-27

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May we also give Jesus the authority over our lives so that we will be living images of His presence to others.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

3rd Sunday of Advent, Year A, 11.12.2016

Isaiah 35:1-6, 10 / James 5:7-10 / Matthw 11:2-11

This weekend of the 3rd Sunday of Advent finds us between two significant dates in the Catholic calendar.

Just a couple of days ago, the Church celebrated the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Back in 1854, on the 8th December, Pope Pius IX formally proclaimed the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary as a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church.

Essentially, the doctrine here is that from the moment when she was conceived in the womb of her mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary was kept free from original sin and was filled with the sanctifying grace normally conferred during baptism.

Although the belief was widely accepted by the Church as early as the 4th century, it was only in 1854 that it was formally proclaimed.

This doctrine of the Immaculate Conception gained additional significance from the apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes in 1858. 

At Lourdes a 14-year-old girl, Bernadette Soubirous, claimed that a beautiful woman appeared to her and said, "I am the Immaculate Conception".

That was the 8th December. Monday is the 12th December. It is another feast-day that is connected with Mary under the title of “Our Lady of Guadalupe”.

On the 12th December 1531, a peasant Juan Diego went to see his bishop for the third time. The bishop had asked for a sign that Juan Diego had a vision of Our Lady who asked that a church be built on the hill of the apparition.

Our Lady had told Juan Diego to pick the roses that were growing on the hill (which was unlikely in December) and she arranged the roses in his tilma (or cloak) for him to bring to the bishop as a sign.

For the third time, Juan Diego was ushered in to see the bishop. 

The bishop was skeptical and had waited for two days to see what sign Our Lady has for him. So Juan Diego opened his tilma, letting the roses cascade to the floor. But more than the roses, both men are astonished to see what is painted on his humble tilma - an exquisite image of Our Lady, which is now known as the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, indeed a divine artwork.

On display at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City built on the site of her apparition, it is a place for Mary to hear the petitions and to heal the sufferings of the Mexican people and to the millions more who make pilgrimages over the next five centuries to see the miraculous tilma, and to honour Our Lady of Guadalupe. Great miracles continue to occur, even till today.

So with such a rich spiritual history, the Catholic Church continued to grow. But now there seems to be signs that this growth is plateauing off and maybe even declining to a crisis.

We see it in other countries where there are big beautiful churches but not much of a congregation.

And from the recent survey that the archdiocese conducted, there is something disturbing. Statistics have it that there are over 370,000 Catholics in Singapore but only about 125,000 attend Church on Sundays. It means to say that only one out of three are practising Catholics.

Well, we know of at least someone who don’t come to Church. We also know that a number had gone over to other Christian churches. 

To say the least the signs are worrying and disturbing.

What is this looming crisis that the Church is Singapore is facing? Or in short, what is the problem?

In the gospel, John the Baptist also had a problem, or a crisis actually. He was in prison and he had heard what Jesus was doing and he sent his disciples to ask Him, “Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?”

Maybe we too, in times of crisis, will ask a sort of similar question, like, “Am I in the right church, or would it be better to go to another church which is more happening? Or would it be better that I don’t go to church at all.”

Jesus told John’s disciples, “Go back and tell John what you hear and see: the blind see again, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor, and happy is the man who does not lose faith in me.”

We too want to hear and see all that. We want to see signs and wonders so that we won’t lose faith in Jesus and in the Church.

This made me recall the occasion when an excited lady came to see me on a Monday, the 13th December 1999.

She had just come back from a holiday trip in Australia the night before. She was baptized earlier in the year at Easter but over the months the fervour of her faith had dwindled.

She went for a holiday in Australia and the day before, 12th December was the last day of her trip. She wondered off from her hotel early in the morning to catch the sights before going back later in the afternoon.

She had brought more than enough of money in her purse so she toured around. Then by chance she came to a church and so she went in but Mass was already halfway through. After Mass, she walked around the church and came across a rather strange picture and the words below the picture were “Our Lady of Guadalupe”. 

Not knowing the story behind the picture, she nonetheless said a short prayer to Our Lady. And since there was a donation box below the picture, she thought it would be good to give something. 

So she took out a $50 Australian note from her purse and since she had some time, she did a little origami on the note and folded it into a small triangle, since the triangle is a symbol of the Trinity, and then she put it into the box and went off to continue her sight-seeing.

She went to a flea market that is rather crowded and she stopped to look at some souvenirs and decided to buy something. It was then to her horror that she discover that her purse that contained all her money was missing.

She panicked because now she had no money to go back to the hotel and she was all alone in a foreign country. But in her helplessness she remembered the picture at the church and asked Our Lady of Guadalupe to help her.

Hoping against hope, she dug into her pockets to see if by chance she had some money. Then she felt something in one of her pockets. She took it out, and she couldn’t quite believe what she saw. It was a $50 Australian note folded into a shape of a triangle, much like the one that she put into the donation box.

Whatever it was, it was enough to get her back to the hotel and in time to catch the flight back to Singapore. As she told me the story, she ended off by saying that her faith in God was renewed through the prayers of Our Lady of Guadalupe. 

I did some checking up, and then I told her that it happened to her on the 12th December, the feast-day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. 

Certainly it was no coincidence.

In the story of Guadalupe, when Juan Diego was disappointed and afraid to see the bishop, Our Lady said to him, "Am I not your mother? ... Are you not in the crossing of my arms?"

On this 3rd Sunday of Advent, as the celebration of the birth of Jesus draws nearer, let us rejoice and be glad.

It is not the old church dying, but a new church coming to birth.  

May Our Lady who is the Immaculate Conception and who is also the Lady of Guadalupe pray for us that we will not lose faith in Jesus and that we will be able to see the signs and wonders He has in store for us.

Friday, December 9, 2016

2th Week of Advent, Saturday, 10-12-16

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

The prophecies in the Old Testament are understood as God speaking to His people then and also about what is to come, ie. in the future.

When it is about the latter, then those prophecies of old come to a new fulfillment in the New Testament, and especially in the person of Jesus Christ.

Also connected with Jesus Christ are also figures of the Old Testament and their roles which take on a new fulfillment in the New Testament.

One such figure is Elijah who was mentioned in the 1st reading. But he is also mentioned again in the gospel and his mission is now continued by John the Baptist.

During this time of Advent, we hear again the prophecies of the Old Testament which are fulfilled with the coming of Jesus Christ.

But the Word of God is alive and active and hence the prophecies are also alive and active and so is the mission of the prophets in our present times.

May the progressive lighting of the Advent candles shed light on our hearts and enlighten us on how the Word of God is alive and active and taking flesh in our lives.

May the Word of God also empower us to be prophets of our time so that we will turn our hearts and the hearts of our people back to God and receive His blessings of peace and joy.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

4th Week of Advent, Friday, 09-12-16

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

The saint that the Church remembers and honours today is St. Juan Diego. He was canonized in 2002. He was a native of Mexico, and he is the first Roman Catholic indigenous saint from the Americas.

He was a common person, neither rich or influential, but he was the person chosen to receive the first apparition of Mary hill at Tepeyac on the 9th Dec 1531 and subsequently Mary appeared to him for another three times.

On that day he was on his way for Mass when he was stopped by a beautiful radiant sight of a woman and she requested him to go to the bishop and to tell him to build a chapel on that hill.

When Juan Diego approached the Bishop and told him about the matter, he was asked to come back another time. Later on during the day Juan Diego encountered the Virgin Mary a second time and told her he failed in granting her request. He tried to explain to her he was not an important person, and therefore not the one for the task, but she insisted he was the man chosen for the task.

Juan Diego returned to the Bishop the next day and repeated his request, but now the Bishop asked for proof or a sign the apparition was real and truly of heaven. Mary agreed to give the sign. But after some obstacles here and there, the sign was a miraculous imprinted image of the Virgin Mary on the flower-filled cloak (tilma) of Juan Diego.

After that event, Juan Diego withdrew to a hermitage on the hill and spent the rest of his life in prayer and work and looking after the site of apparition.

Today, the rich and poor alike gather at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe to experience the blessings of God through the intercession of the Blessed Mother.

As the 1st reading tells us: I, the Lord your God, teach you what is good for you, I lead you in the way that you must go.

St. Juan Diego was humble and willing to listen to the Blessed Mother, and through him God taught us what is good for us. May St. Juan Diego pray for us that we too will be humble and willing to be taught what is good for us.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Immaculate Conception of the BVM, Thursday, 08-12-16

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

On  December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX formally proclaimed the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary as a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church.

Essentially, the doctrine here is that from the moment when she was conceived in the womb of her mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary was kept free from original sin and was filled with the sanctifying grace normally conferred during baptism.

Although the belief was widely accepted by the Church as early as the 4th century, it was only in 1854 that it was formally proclaimed.

It also seeks to clarify that Mary, at the first instance of her conception, and by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from all stains of original sin.

And being always freed from original sin, Mary also received the sanctifying grace that would, for us, normally come with baptism after birth.

Mary was filled with this sanctifying grace and that was why the angel Gabriel greeted her, "Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you".

The grace that Mary received was a special privilege from God that kept her free from sin so that she can respond to the call to be the Mother of God.

We too have received sanctifying grace at our baptism so that we can choose to walk in the ways of God and grow in holiness.

The grace that Mary received prepared her to be the Mother of God; the grace that we received at our baptism prepared us to be the holy People of God.

Let us pray with our Blessed Mother that we will always preserve the grace of God in our hearts so that the Son of God will make His home in us.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

2nd Week of Advent, Wednesday, 07-12-16

Isaiah 40:25-31 / Matthew 11:28-30

The number of times a particular word appears in the Bible is usually different for each version of the Bible. Because there is no single correct way to translate the ancient Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek Bible manuscripts into English. The grammar, structure, and style of those languages are very different from English, and a literal word-for-word translation is not possible.

With regards to the word "heart" in the Bible there as as many as 730 or more citations in the Bible.

But most translations would agree there is only once when Jesus spoke of His own heart and that is in Matthew 11:29 "Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls", which is part of today's gospel passage.

Jesus described His heart as gentle and humble, and it is with a gentle and humble heart that He was obedient to the Father's will.

It is with a gentle and humble heart that He was empowered by the Holy Spirit to proclaim with Good News with authority and to work miracles and wonders.

Knowing what the heart of Jesus is like, what can we say of our own hearts? Or what would God say of our own hearts?

The 1st reading describes what our hearts may be like: How can you say, Jacob, how can you insist, Israel, " My destiny is hidden from the Lord, my rights are ignored by my God"?

Our hearts may be restless and clouded with doubt, and this has caused us to be tired and weary, and we stumble along the way of life.

But Jesus tells us to come to Him and learn from Him, to be gentle and humble of heart and we will find rest for our souls.

And with that we will have hope in the Lord who will renew our strength and we will put out wings like eagles. We will run and not grow weary or tired. So let us ask Jesus to have a heart like His, a heart that is gentle and humble.

Monday, December 5, 2016

2nd Week of Advent, Tuesday,06-12-16

Isaiah 40:1-11 / Matthew 18:12-14

If a baby is born today and if the parents are still thinking of a Christian name for the baby, then they may want to consider the saint that the Church honours today.

Today the Church honours St. Nicholas, aka Santa Claus, which comes from the Dutch name Sinterklaas.

And with the festive season coming around, it would be good to be reminded of his influence in this particular season.

St. Nicholas lived in the 4th century and he used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra (part of modern-day Turkey) while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his protection for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.

Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known in the East as Nikolaos the Wonderworker .

He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of poor children and the needy, and thus became the model for the modern day Santa Claus. The golden decorative balls on the Christmas tree are symbols of those gold coins given out by St. Nicholas.

St. Nicholas and all the other saints throughout history are the embodiment of God's promises to His people from age to age.

The 1st reading says this: "Console my people, console them," says your God. And it goes on to say: Here is your God. Here is the Lord coming with power, His arm subduing all things to him

That promise of God was reiterated in the gospel parable told by Jesus of the man who left the ninety-nine sheep to look for the lost one, and His teaching that it is never the will of God our Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.

In all this, the Good News of God's promises are proclaimed and fulfilled.

So it was in the past and so it will be now. May this season of Advent and the prayers of St. Nicholas remind us of God's promises and prepare us for Christmas as God's promises will be fulfilled again.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

2nd Week of Advent, Monday, 05-12-16

Isaiah 35:1-10 / Luke 5:17-26

Whenever we say that something is impossible to accomplish, we come to that conclusion because it has not been done before and we also have not done it before.

In other words, it always seems impossible until it is done, and everything is theoretically impossible until it is done.

But since there is no harm in trying out the impossible and with nothing much to lose, then it could be exciting to try to do the impossible.

In the gospel, we heard of a paralyzed man on a bed and his friends trying to bring him before Jesus.

But the crowd made it impossible for them to find a way of getting in. It could also be that the crowd was telling them that it was impossible to get in. The crowd was simply not going to make way for the paralyzed man and his friends.

But that did not stop them from thinking of another way to get to Jesus. So they went up the flat roof and lowered him and his stretcher down throught the tiles right into the middle of the gathering, right in front of Jesus!

And Jesus saw their faith. And so the gospel is telling us this - Without faith, nothing is possible. With faith, nothing is impossible.

When we are faced with a great difficulty and a hopeless situation, the 1st reading tells us this: Courage! Do not be afraid. Look your God is coming, vengeance is coming, the retribution of God; He is coming to save you.

With faith, we will be able to face that great difficulty and overcome a hopeless situation.

The difference between the possible and the impossible lies in the determination of faith, as the paralyzed man and his friends have shown us. Let us be firm in our faith, and God will make things possible.

Without faith, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible.
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Without faith, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible.
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Saturday, December 3, 2016

2nd Sunday of Advent (Year A). 04.12.2016

Isaiah 11:1-10 / Romans 15:4-9 / Matthew 3:1-12

By this weekend, we ought to have taken out our Christmas decorations from the store room. Yes, taken out, unwrapped, and hopefully the fairy lights, and whatever lights, still work.

Come to think of it, putting up the decorations can be like a good spiritual preparation for Christmas. Because we will have to learn how to handle the frustrations and disappointments that comes with the season. 

And Christmas may seem to be just like our job at the office, as in we do all the work and the fat guy with the suit gets all the credit. 

Still we will try to numb the nagging reality of life by trying to get into the festive mood, so we distract ourselves with putting up the festive decorations.

At least we will try to put up a Christmas tree. Certainly not a real tree as real trees are costly and times are tough.

But an artificial tree will do, just like the one that is outside. And we try to decorate it to give it a Christmassy look.

And that should be enough to bring us through the season. At least we hope that the lights won’t burn out before Christmas Day, or at least the lights won’t burn down the tree. 

But what is the big fuss over the Christmas tree?  What kind of biblical or religious significance has it got?

Well, the Christmas tree is used to symbolize Jesus. He is the shoot that springs from the stock of Jesse, the scion that trusts from Jesse’s roots, as the prophet Isaiah said in the 1st reading.

Jesse was the father of King David, whose reign brought about the golden age of Israel. But after his reign, Israel declined and the kingdom was split and was overrun by her enemies over and over again.

Eventually when Israel was exiled into Babylon, King David’s descendants became an obscurity.
But the prophet Isaiah wrote of hope, that one day a shoot will spring forth from the stump of Jesse and bring about Israel’s glory.

Jesus was that shoot that sprang into a tree, a life-giving tree, a hope-giving tree. And that is why the Christmas tree is an appropriate symbol for the season.

Besides being an evergreen tree that retains its colour in the midst of winter, it is also a sign of life and hope, when everything seems to come to a standstill.

And that is why we decorate our Christmas tree with other meaningful symbols like the star, lights, and those other things that symbolize what Jesus is about and what He came to give us.

One of the things that we surely won’t find, and nor would we put under the Christmas tree, is a gift-wrapped, ribbon-tied sharp axe. The kind of axe that John the Baptist talked about in today’s gospel, the kind of axe for chopping down trees.

Somehow, John the Baptist is interested in our Christmas trees. Whether real tree or otherwise, he is ready to chop it down, if our Christmas tree do not symbolize anything about our Christian belief, or about our Christian way of life.

Not that he is jealous just because Christmas trees cannot be found in the desert, because that is where he stays.

But what he couldn’t stand is that we so-called “fake” our Christmas, by having nicely decorated Christmas trees that have no meaning in our lives whatsoever.

So for example, we put a big star at the top of the Christmas tree.  That star is a symbol of the star of Bethlehem that led the wise men to find the infant Jesus.

As we put up the star, are we going to tell our children and our family members that we are going to have family prayers from now on, and follow Jesus in His way of love.

As we put up the lights on the tree, are we also going to tell our family members and our children that we are going to make our home a place of warmth, joy and peace.

And the gifts that we put beneath the Christmas tree, do they symbolize the self-giving love of Jesus?

John the Baptist may be welding his axe and demanding that we show our repentance by bearing good fruits, yet that repentance can be a beautiful spiritual experience when we understand God’s self-giving love in the beautiful mystery of the Incarnation at Christmas. There  is a beautiful story that reflects the self-giving love of God at Christmas.

Once there was a tree, and she loved a little boy. And every day the boy would come and he would gather her leaves and make them into crowns and play king of the forest. He would climb up her trunk and swing from her branches and eat apples. And when he was tired, he would sleep in her shade. And the boy loved the tree very much. And the tree was happy.

But time went by. And the boy grew older. And the tree was often alone. Then one day the boy came to the tree, and the tree said, "Come, Boy, come and climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and eat apples and play in my shade and be happy."

"I am too big to climb and play" said the boy. "I want to buy things and have fun. I want some money." "I'm sorry," said the tree, "but I have no money. I have only leaves and apples. Take my apples, Boy, and sell them in the city. Then you will have money and you will be happy." And so the boy climbed up the tree and gathered her apples and carried them away. And the tree was happy. But the boy stayed away for a long time, and the tree was sad.

And then one day the boy came back and the tree shook with joy and she said, "Come, Boy, climb up my trunk, and swing from my branches and be happy." "I am too busy to climb trees," said the boy. "I want a house to keep me warm," he said. "I want a wife and I want children, and so I need a house. Can you give me a house?"

"I have no house," said the tree. "The forest is my house, but you may cut off my branches and build a house. Then you will be happy." And so the boy cut off her branches and carried them away to build his house. And the tree was happy. 

But the boy stayed away for a long time. And when he came back, the tree was so happy she could hardly speak. "Come, Boy," she whispered, "come and play." "I am too old and sad to play," said the boy. "I want a boat that will take me far away from here. Can you give me a boat?" "Cut down my trunk and make a boat," said the tree. "Then you can sail away... and be happy." And so the boy cut down her trunk and made a boat and sailed away. And the tree was happy ... but not really.

And after a long time the boy came back again. "I am sorry, Boy," said the tree," but I have nothing left to give you - My apples are gone." "My teeth are too weak for apples," said the boy. "My branches are gone," said the tree. "You cannot swing on them." "I am too old to swing on branches," said the boy. "My trunk is gone," said the tree. "You cannot climb." "I am too tired to climb" said the boy.

"I am sorry," sighed the tree. "I wish that I could give you something .... but I have nothing left. I am just an old stump." "I don't need very much now," said the boy, "just a quiet place to sit and rest. I am very tired." "Well," said the tree, straightening herself up as much as she could, "well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting. Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest." And the boy did, and he was happy. And the tree was happy.

Yes, at Christmas, God gave us His only Son out of love for us. On Good Friday, Jesus allowed Himself to be chopped down and reduced to a stump in order to save us.

Yet out of this stump, Jesus rose, and He wants us to rise with Him. May our Christmas trees symbolize who Jesus is to us. May it also symbolize who we really are to others, as we give of ourselves, just as Jesus gave Himself for us.