Sunday, April 30, 2017

St. Joseph the Worker, Monday, 01-05-17

Genesis 1:26 - 2:3 or Col 3:14-15, 17, 23-24 / Matthew  13:54-58

The feast of St. Joseph the Worker was instituted only in 1955 and so it was a fairly recent addition to the feastdays of the Church.

There were many reasons for the institution of this feast but the main purpose is to give a religious understanding to the meaning and purpose of work and labour.

Labour day is a public holiday to celebrate the economic and social achievements of workers. Labour Day has its origins in the labour union movement and the rights of workers.

Yet, the Church also celebrates the feast of St. Joseph the Worker on this same day so as to give a spiritual dimension and direction.

The 1st reading from Genesis tells us that God Himself does the work of creation and after completing the work He was doing, He rested on the seventh day.

Hence, work has a holy and sacred meaning because we are also the work of God's hands and we are called to continue the work of God's creation.

Yet, we must also remember that when man sinned and broke the harmony of God's creation, work is seen as a curse - "By the sweat of your brow, you shall eat your bread"(Gen 3:19).

Well that makes us think. Tomorrow we will be going back to work. Are we dragging our feet there? Does going to work make us stressed and anxious? Does meeting our boss or colleagues give us a pain in the neck?

Yet, the alternative 1st reading from Colossians also tell us that whatever our work is, we are to put our heart into it as if it were for the Lord and not for men, because it is Christ the Lord that we are serving.

Let us do our work for the Lord and make it a holy and sacred offering to Him. In this way, we follow our Lord Jesus who came to serve and not to be served.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

3rd Sunday of Easter, Year A, 30.04.2017

Acts 2:24, 22-28 / 1 Peter 1:17-21 / Luke 24:13-35

The world that we live in is a fast and furious world, much like the movie of the same name “Fast and Furious”. And it can also be furiously fast.

Even the instant foods like instant noodles and instant coffee are not even fast enough.

Especially when we talk about speed, we are not so much interested in fast cars or fast food. We are more interested in fast Internet connections, going at 300Mbs or higher.

We don’t need our cars and our food to be fast and furious. But we want our Internet connections to be fast and furious.

Slow Internet connection is worse than no Internet connection because it is such a teaser, and we end up shouting at our mobile phones or computers and telling them to “faster, faster, faster!”.

It is said that before marrying someone, you should make them use a computer with slow Internet connection, then you will see who they really are.

But as much as speed is important, there must also be direction and purpose. Many people are going fast, but they seem to be going nowhere.

In the gospel, we heard of two of the disciples of Jesus who were on their way to a village called Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem.

They were not in a hurry, and probably they were taking a slow, heavy walk. They were heading for Emmaus, but beyond that, it may seem to be nowhere from there.

They were downcast, as their hopes in Jesus were crushed by His crucifixion and death. It was like as if their computers crashed and no recovery was possible.

So with nothing left to hold on to, the only thing left is to walk away with empty minds and empty hearts.

There was no hurry, no purpose, no direction. There was nothing to look forward to.

But the good news is this: when we are down to nothing, then Jesus can come up with something.

Misery always needs company, and indeed Jesus came up and walked with them on their journey.

And after listening to them recounting what had happened during the last few days, Jesus had this to say to them:
“You foolish men! So slow to believe the full message of the prophets! Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into His glory?” 

Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, He explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about Himself.

Then finally when He was with them at table, he took the bread and said the blessing. Then He broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.

We can say that for the two disciples, the journey to Emmaus was a journey from nothing to something.

The journey of the two disciples is also very much like our own journey of faith isn’t it?

In our fast and furious world, we move with such high speeds that we lose our connection with God. And hence we come to Mass to get re-connected with God.

But do we experience what the two disciples experienced? Are our eyes opened? Do we recognize Jesus as we gather before the altar for the Eucharist?

There is this story of a wife who was preparing to go to church on a Sunday morning when she saw her husband in singlet and shorts and watching TV, and so she asked him why is he not preparing to go to church.

He replied: I’ve gone for 30 years now, and in that time I have heard something like 3,000 sermons. But for the life of me, I can’t remember a single one of them. So, I think I’m wasting my time and the priests are wasting their time preaching. So I am not going to church anymore

The wife thought for a while and then said: I have been married to you for 30 years now. In that time I have cooked over 32,000 meals for you but you can’t remember any one of them. So I think I am wasting my time cooking for you and you are wasting your time eating my cooking. So I am not going to cook for you anymore.

The husband immediately got up and got dressed and went to church with his wife .

Most of us have been coming to church for the longest time. Some have coming to church for 10 years, 20 years or more. We have said countless prayers, and received Holy Communion till we have lost count.

Do we think that we are wasting our time? Is it doing us any good? Do we think that coming for Mass is boring?

We may want fast and furious results but like the two disciples, they had to walk that slow seven-mile journey with Jesus and slowly come to understand the scriptures before they finally recognized Him at the breaking of bread.

We too need to be patient as Jesus sows the seeds of His Word in our hearts and to wait for the harvest.

Let us not be afraid of moving slowly, but rather be afraid of not moving at all. With Jesus, we will walk slowly forward, but we will never walk backwards. 

And may our hearts slowly start to burn as we listen to the Scriptures and as the bread is broken, may our eyes be opened to see Jesus with us and Jesus in others.

Friday, April 28, 2017

2nd Week of Easter, Saturday, 29-04-17

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

Different situations and circumstances can alter the behaviour of a person or a group of people.

When things are calm and under control, we would also behave calmly and we would also be in control of things.

But when chaos and panic happens, and when things are not under control, then it is going to be a different situation.

Like when we are on a small boat and the wind is strong and the sea is rough. And then we see someone walking on the water.

Even if we are quite certain that is Jesus who is walking on the water, that is not the time to be awed or fascinated about it.

Simply because the situation is tensed, and that is also not the time to appreciate such divine feats.

Hence, we can understand why the disciples were frightened. The situation has changed their behaviour from normal to one that is beyond their control.

Similarly, in the 1st reading we heard about the Hellenists complaining against the Hebrews. Until now what we had been hearing was a united and loving early Christian community.

Yet, it is the reality of life in that when situations change, the behaviour of people also will change.

And that is also the reality of our lives. Yet we don't have to be in chaos and panic whenever the situation is out of control.

What we need to know is that God is in control. He can walk calmly on water even when the winds are strong and the sea is rough.

Jesus wants to walk into the center of our hearts. When Jesus is in the center, then all things will come together and put under control.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

2nd Week of Easter, Friday, 28-04-17

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

In its 2000 over years of existence, the Church had undergone many trials and tribulations.

When the Church was split into the Eastern and Western Church in 1054, people thought it was the end of Christianity.

During the 16th century when the Church was corroding from corruption and immoral practices, and when the Protestant Reformation came along, people thought it was the end of the Church.

In this present time, we hear of the terrible scandals in the Church, and we begin to get shaken.

We wonder what has become of the Church and what is the Church all about?

Yet, we cannot negate the fact that the Church is divine as well as human.

As Gamaliel puts it in the 1st reading - if this is of human origin, it will break up of its own accord.

We are crushed and confused by the scandals of the Church.

Yet, we still have the mission of feeding those who still hold on to their belief in God and in the Church.

God has given us the five loaves and two fish. We cannot just sit there and rot with it.

With the grace of God, we must rise and embark on the mission of feeding and healing those whose faith was shaken and shattered by the scandals.

We only need to entrust ourselves into the hands of God who is merciful and compassionate.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

2nd Week of Easter, Thursday, 27-04-17

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

In life, we use a lot of everyday things, from computers to cars.

We make use of these things although we are not too sure how it works. We only see the results and the effects.

Similarly in the Christian life, we are not too sure how faith in God works.

But people of faith show it in their transformed lives.

They transform especially the secular notion of obedience.

For people of faith, obedience to God is not seen as a curtailing of their freedom.

Obedience is understood in the biblical sense as in listening to the Word of God and then making the choice to act in accordance to God's will.

That was what Peter meant in the 1st reading by being obedient to God.

It is an obedience that comes from listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, believing in it although there are risks and difficulties, and finally acting on it with love.

The person of faith will continue to testify so that the earthly ones may be reminded of the things that are from above.

People may not want to know what our faith is all about. But they would certainly want to see how our faith works in us.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

2nd Week of Easter, Wednesday, 26-04-17

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

The one worded question "How?" can be said to be the question that probes into how things happen, or how things work, or how things came to be.

It is a question that can lead to investigations and discoveries as the matter in question is analysed and discussed to find out the cause.

In the 1st reading, when the Temple officials went to the prison to bring out the apostles who were imprisoned there, they found they were not inside.

They went back to the Sanhedrin and reported: We found the gaol securely locked and the wardens on duty at the gates, but when we unlocked the door we found no one inside.

Obviously, the immediately question would be "What happened?" as they wondered what this could mean.

And then fresh news arrived that the apostles were at the Temple preaching to the people. The immediate question would be "How did they get out?"

But they should have kept pondering on what this could mean. There could be many theories of how they got out, but a deeper question to be pondered upon would be what could that mean.

In the gospel, we heard Jesus giving a teaching on why He came and why the Church exists and why we are called to be Christians.

"God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not be lost but may have eternal life. For God sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that through Him the world might be saved."

May we keep pondering on what Jesus said so that we not only know how to live our lives as Christians but also why we have to show mercy and compassion to others, especially those who are most in need of it.

Monday, April 24, 2017

St. Mark, Evangelist, 25-04-17

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.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

2nd Week of Easter, Monday, 24-04-17

Acts 4:23-31 / John 3:1-8

Every time when we hear Jesus saying "I tell you solemnly ..." He is not just saying that we should take Him seriously, or that some times He is just joking but whenever He uses that phrase we must take Him seriously.

And when Jesus used this phrase twice in the gospel, Nicodemus still thought that Jesus was not serious and hence, he had to ask Jesus to clarify how can a grown man be born again or how can a man go back into his mother's womb and be born again.

Whenever Jesus uses the phrase "I tell you solemnly ..." He is teaching a doctrine as well teaching a truth that can be difficult to understand.

Of course we now understand what Jesus meant by "born from above" and "born through water and the Holy Spirit".

Yes, we may understand but what is our experience of "born from above" and "born through water and the Holy Spirit"?

In the 1st reading, when Peter and John were released and when they went back to the community and told them everything, they lifted up their voices to pray.

There are many things that we can learn from their prayer. They praised God, they remembered what God had promised them through the Scriptures, they thanked God for fulfilling those promises in Jesus.

And as they prayed, the house where they were assembled rocked; they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to proclaim the Word of God boldly.

That was their experience of being "born from above" and being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Every time when we pray, we are also being filled with the Holy Spirit. Let us remember how the disciples prayed and our hearts will be rocked and we will know what it is to be "born from above".

Saturday, April 22, 2017

2nd Sunday of Easter, Year A, 23.04.2017

Acts 2:42-47 / 1 Peter 1:3-9 / John 20:19-31

Whether we like shopping or not, the ways of shopping have evolved tremendously.

When we think of shopping, what might come to mind are shopping malls, supermarkets, departmental stores, heartland shops, pasar-malam (or night bazaars).

And what we see is what we get. We not only get to see what we are interested in, we get to touch it and feel it.

Of course, some items are nice to touch and hold, but break it and it’s considered sold.

But with the rise of technology and the Internet, shopping has taken on another form, i.e.  online shopping!

From our computer screens, we go “window” shopping at those big online stores like eBay, Qoo10, Lazada, Redmart, and even if we don’t know Chinese we would have heard of Taobao.

Even though we are seated comfortably and just moving the cursor, we can literally shop till we drop. It’s almost like, if you can name it, then you can find it, and buy it.

Online shopping is getting so popular that when we want to buy something, we go online because it is cheaper and better still if it’s free shipping.

And some people can be so into online shopping that even a prayer has emerged out of it: Dear Lord. Please don’t let my husband be at home when all my online orders arrive. Amen.  

The only issue with online shopping is what we see and what we order, may not be what we get. And that’s when disappointment and frustration sets in.

So nothing is as certain as what we see is what we get when we get to touch and feel it, along with all that interaction of bargaining and choosing. 

Now we do not know what kind of shopping profile each of the apostles have. But most probably Thomas, called the twin, is not likely an online shopper.

Because even when the other disciples told him that they have seen the Lord, he answered: Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands, and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.

Thomas was not going to believe so easily what the disciples say about having seen the Lord. He himself wants to see the Risen Jesus, and not just see, but to touch, and to even touch those wounds.

To say the least, he could have been very disappointed. He had placed his hopes and dreams on Jesus and it come down, crumbling and crashing at the crucifixion. He lost it all.

Maybe that was why he was not there when Jesus first appeared to His disciples.

He wanted to be left alone and to get up and move on. He didn’t want to be disappointed again. And since the disciples told him that Jesus is risen and is alive, then he wanted to put the Risen Lord to the reality test. So it’s not just seeing, but touching, and touching and feeling those gaping wounds.

In a much lesser way, that is also a bit like our experience of online shopping isn’t it?

What we see on our computer screen excites us so much that we proceed to place an order. Our hopes and dreams begin to build on what we read about what we have ordered.

And then the disappointments come one by one. The shipping is delayed. The wrong item comes in. Or the size is wrong, the colour is not quite like what we saw, or wrong specs, or wrong this and wrong that.

In our frustration and disappointment, we would let fly some scorching reviews and write off online shopping, and go back to the old ways that we are familiar with and certain about.

It is not likely that the online seller would go out of his way to appease us by unconditional exchange of goods or quickly refund our money in order try to restore our faith in online shopping.

And here is where the difference lies. Jesus rose from the dead, He came back to His disciples to restore their faith, He came back again just for Thomas to lift him from his disappointment and even granted his request by letting him touch His wounds.

And that is the love and mercy of the Risen Jesus, the mercy that we celebrate on this Divine Mercy Sunday.

His glorious Resurrection is expressed tenderly in His love and mercy for His disciples and especially for Thomas.

And that love and mercy is also shown to us through His wounds. 

Because in those wounds of Jesus, we can also see our own wounds – wounds of disappointment, hurt, shame, rejection, frustration, envy, jealousy.

His wounds are the marks of His suffering in order to save us. By His wounds we are healed.

We look at the wounds of Jesus and the life-size statue of Jesus at the entrance shows us the wounds of His hands.

Through those wounds, Jesus is offering us mercy and healing. 

Yes, as we look at those wounds, we may also want to touch those wounds and with St. Thomas we too say “My Lord and my God”.

Jesus came to heal Thomas; He comes now to heal our wounds. Let us show Him our wounds and let Him touch it, and we will be forgiven and healed.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Saturday within Easter Octave, 22-04-17

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

"Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe". That was what the Risen Jesus told St. Thomas when he demanded to see the Risen Jesus with His wounds and even wanted to touch those wounds.

Whether St. Thomas actually went on to put his finger and his hand into the wounds of the Risen Jesus, the gospels did not say.

But if seeing is believing, then the sight of the Risen Jesus would be enough for St. Thomas. There would be no need for him to touch those wounds of Jesus.

In the gospel, we heard that Jesus reproached His disciples for their incredulity and obstinacy, because they had refused to believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.

And then He said to them, "Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation".

And certainly they did. As we heard in the 1st reading, when told by the Sanhedrin to stop proclaiming the name of Jesus and His resurrection, Peter and John retorted: You must judge whether in God's eyes it is right to listen to you and not to God.

As we listen to the discussions about the Resurrection of Jesus, there are as many affirmations as well as refutations.

Who are we going to listen to. Because who we listen to and what they say will also be what we will proclaim.

The disciples proclaim the Risen Christ because they saw Him. But blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.

Let us believe what the gospels tell us about the Resurrection and then we will see Him and then we will go forth to proclaim the Good News.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Friday within Easter Octave, 21-04-17

Acts 4:1-12 / John 20:1-14

Have we ever tried to catch fish with our bare hands? If we want to try, then we can go to the pond outside and just try to catch one of the fishes there.

Needless to say, trying to catch fish with bare hands is no easy task. It would be easier to use a small net to catch the fish, like how they do it in the restaurants after a fish is selected from the tank.

But a fisherman would use a more professional equipment like a fishing net which can be cast over a wider area to catch more fish.

In the gospel, the disciples went fishing all night but they caught nothing. It seems rather strange that they caught nothing. And they were not amateurs. At least for Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, fishing was their former profession, and it can't be that they lost all their skills and knowledge to the extent that they couldn't even catch a single fish!

And then Jesus came along and told them where to fish. And they caught so many big fish that they could not haul it in.

But more than just catching fish, the disciples caught a revelation. The Risen Jesus appeared to them, and though they didn't realised it initially, it was only when Jesus revealed Himself that they caught it.

No questions were asked, Maybe because none of the disciples were bold enough to ask "Who are you?"; they knew quite well it was the Lord. Jesus had revealed Himself to them through the miraculous catch of fish. So more than just catching fish, the disciples caught a revelation.

In the 1st reading, Peter and John were arrested for proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus and imprisoned. They were "caught" by the religious authorities.

Yes, the religious authorities caught the disciples but nothing more. They didn't seem to catch anything more or anything else.

That brings about the question of faith. Faith can be taught, but more often it is caught. It is caught when others see in us a revelation of who Jesus is by our words and actions.

That will bring about a spark of faith which will slowly burn into a fire of faith in Jesus.

We are called to be "fishers of men". But we are also called to be the "fishes" of the revelation of the Risen Christ in others.

It was the fishes that revealed the Risen Christ to the disciples. May we also be the "fishes" that will help others catch the revelation of the Risen Christ and come to believe in His Resurrection.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Thursday within Easter Octave, 20-04-17

Acts 3:11-26 / Luke 24:35-48

To cling on to something or to someone means to hold on tightly to that something or to that someone.

It is more than just being attached to something or to someone. It is more like a possessiveness over something or someone.

In the 1st reading, everyone came running towards Peter and John in great excitement, and the crippled man who was healed was clinging on to them.

It was a rather strange way to describe the man as clinging on to Peter and John. In whatever way we might want to visualise it, the healed man probably couldn't quite believe the healing that he experienced and hence, he clung on to Peter and John for assurance in the midst of all that excitement.

It was quite a different picture in the gospel when Jesus appeared to His disciples and stood among them.

In a state of alarm and fright, they thought they were seeing a ghost. Even after Jesus had assured them that it was really Him, their joy was so great that they still couldn't believe it, and they stood there dumbfounded.

We would have thought that the disciples would be so excited that they would crowd around Jesus to cling on to Him.

We would have done that, wouldn't we? But Jesus would want us to do more than that. Because in Holy Communion, He comes into our hearts so that our hearts would not only embrace Him but cling on to Him tightly.

Let us cling on tightly to Jesus. To cling on to other things or to other persons is certainly not worth it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Wednesday within Easter Octave, 19-04-17

Acts 3:1-10 / Luke 24:13-35

What we see depends mainly on what we are looking for.

When we are looking for a particular thing, then all the other things do not seem to matter as we look for that one particular thing.

In the 1st reading, the crippled man looked at Peter and John and he begged to them hoping to get something from them.

In the gospel, the two disciples on the way to Emmaus saw Jesus but something prevented them from recognising him.

In both cases, it can be said that that they were looking but not really seeing more, other than what they wanted for themselves

The cripple wanted some financial assistance. The two disciples wanted some sympathy for their misery and disappointment.

When we are looking at only what we want for ourselves then we may not be seeing what Jesus wants to give us.

What may actually be preventing us from seeing Jesus is when we look inwards at ourselves instead of looking outwards and seeing what Jesus wants to give us.

What Jesus wants to give us is not mere silver or gold or some consolation in our disappointment.

Jesus wants to give us a revelation. When Jesus is who we are looking for, we will see Him.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Tuesday within Easter Octave, 18-04-17

Acts 2:36-41 / John 20:11-16

The gospel began with Mary staying outside the tomb weeping.

The gospel ends with Mary of Magdala going forth to tell the disciples that she had seen the Lord.

In between, something very personal, something very intimate, happened to Mary.

She heard the Risen Lord call her by her name, and she responded in Hebrew, her mother tongue, a language that was most intimate to her.

Before that, she was a broken person - weeping, grieving and lost.

But the experience of the Risen Lord gave her back her identity and a mission; she was Mary of Magdala and she had seen the Lord.

Similarly, the Peter who spoke on the day of Pentecost was a different person from the one who denied Jesus three times and wept.

Something happens when people experience the Risen Lord. They regain their identity and find a new purpose and mission in life.

So when we feel that life has come to a standstill, our dreams are broken, and we have more fears than hopes, the Risen Lord comes to us.

He calls out to us just as He called Mary. Mary responded with her heart.

We can't be always standing outside the tomb of emptiness or the tombs of pleasure, wealth and power and sin.

The Risen Lord calls us by our names. Let us respond with our hearts so that our lives can have a meaning and a mission.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Monday within Easter Octave, 17-04-17

Acts 2:14, 22-33 / Matthew 28:8-15

For the past 6 weeks of the season of Lent and especially over the Holy Triduum, we had gone through a flurry of activities.

There were Stations of the Cross on Fridays, and fasting and abstinence and penance, and Reconciliation services in the parishes.

All these makes the season of Lent seem like a very busy time.

Now that the season of Easter is here, it seems that so much has been scaled down and there is nothing much to do.

Yes, there is actually nothing much to do. We are just like the disciples who also do not know what to do when they heard the news of the resurrection.

In fact, the ones who were scurrying about trying to do something were the guards and the elders, as we heard in the gospel.

They had to do something to cover up the truth. But the truth can never be concealed or suppressed. And that is the power of the resurrection.

As we heard Peter say in the 1st reading - You killed Him, but God raised Him up life, freeing Him from the pangs of Hades, for it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.

The power of the resurrection will lead us to the truth. We just have to let go of our sinfulness and false securities and let God raise us up to life.

Easter Sunday, Year A, 16.04.2017

Acts 10:34, 37-43 / Col 3:1-4 / John 20:1-9

This weekend is certainly not an ordinary weekend. Besides being a long weekend with Friday being a holiday, some of us have been coming to church every day since Thursday. So we can say that this weekend is a very spiritual weekend, a very churchy weekend.

For instance, there is the new Church of the Transfiguration which had its first Mass on Thursday, there were priests washing the feet of parishioners, people coming to church on a public holiday although it was raining heavily.

But as much as it is a spiritual weekend and a rather solemn weekend, there are some people who can see the lighter side of things.

Someone thought up of a conversation between Pontius Pilate and Joseph of Arimathea.

Pilate: Joseph, I don’t understand. You’re one of the richest man in the region. You have made this brand new tomb for yourself, and now you are going to let Jesus be buried in it. I don’t understand.

Joseph of Arimathea: Oh come on, Pilate. He is just going to be in there for the weekend.

So the word “weekend” now has another shade of meaning. And more than that, the word “tomb” now also has another shade of meaning.

As we look at the gospel accounts over this weekend, we heard of women going to the tomb where Jesus was buried, and then there was an earthquake and an angel came and rolled away the stone and sat on it.

The impression that the women had was that someone had taken the body of Jesus out of the tomb.

And just when the women were wondering what had happened, Jesus appeared to them. Yes, Jesus is alive! Or to be more exact, Jesus rose from the dead.

The tomb was just His weekend resting place, and it is now an empty tomb with the stone rolled away. Yes, Jesus had died but now He is risen! And it is for us to believe in it.

This weekend is not an ordinary weekend for 16 people in our parish. This evening they are here among us dressed in white, looking like the angel who rolled away the stone.

They are going to profess their faith in God and they are going to do it in our presence and then they will receive the Sacrament of Baptism.

For nine months, they have taken the journey of faith and they have “seen” Jesus.

They don’t have the feet of Jesus to clasp but we will have to offer our hands and our hearts to them to help them continue their journey so that together we will experience the Risen Christ and grow in faith.

That is our commitment to them as we ourselves renew our baptismal promises.

And that is also our commitment to Jesus as we renew our baptismal promises.

The stone covering the tomb of sin and death is once again removed so that the Risen Christ can bring us forgiveness and healing.

The Risen Christ wants to empower us to go forth and remove the stones covering the tomb of sin and death so that the light of the Risen Christ can shine in and bring about new life for those who are searching for the truth and the real meaning of life.

This weekend is certainly not an ordinary weekend. It is a weekend of faith, hope and love.

It is with faith, hope and love that the stones of sin and evil, the stones of selfishness and greed, the stones of doubt and pessimism will be removed.

Yes, there are stones to be removed. And the Risen Christ is sending us out to do that. 

That is what the profession of faith and the renewal of baptismal promises are about.

And it is not just for this weekend. It will be for every day.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Good Friday 2017

Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12 / Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9 / John 18:1 - 19:42

We have just heard the gospel account of the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Let us spend a few moments to reflect on the last few sentences of the Lord Jesus before He died on the cross.

Nailed to the cross, He saw His mother and said to her: Woman, this is your son.

And then to the beloved disciple, he said: This is your mother.

After this, Jesus knew that everything had now been completed, and to fulfill the scriptures perfectly, He said: I am thirsty.

He said this to mean that despite His helpless and hopeless situation on the cross, He is still longing for God to save Him.

And did God save Jesus? Well, God did not save Him from death.

But God save Him out of death. God saved Jesus out of death by raising Him from the dead.

So out of a hopeless and helpless situation, God showed His power and might through the resurrection of Jesus.

So by saying that He was thirsty, He was actually saying that He was putting all His faith in the saving power of God.

And that is what we should be hoping and thirsting for – that we share in the victory of the resurrection of Christ.

Later, as we come forward to venerate the cross, we are showing that we believe that carrying the cross and dying to ourselves, we will also experience the saving power of God. That is our hope in God. That is also our belief in God who is our mighty Saviour.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Holy Thursday, 2017, 13.04.2017

Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14 / 1 Cor 11:23-26 / John 13:1-15

Today is called Holy Thursday. Some of us might remember that it is also called Maundy Thursday.

That word “Maundy” is derived from the Latin word mandatum which means mandate, and it refers to the new commandment of love which Jesus gave to His apostles at the Last Supper.

Indeed, it was a night of love, and Jesus showed how perfect His love was.

Yet it was also a reminder that love entails sacrifice.

In the first Passover, a lamb was sacrificed and its blood was poured out on the doorpost as a sign that Israel was to be freed from slavery.

At the Last Supper, Jesus was the Lamb of God who would have to pour out His life so that we could be freed from the grip of sins.

When it comes to saving mankind from the grip of sins, let us remember that it was not easy for God to sacrifice His own son.

Neither did Jesus look for a quick fix for a broken world that was shattered by sins.

Yet, in the breaking of the bread, Jesus foreshadowed His self-sacrifice on the cross for the salvation of the world.

And then came an action that is difficult to express in words.

In the strangest of divine actions, Jesus who is Master and Lord, got up from the table, and with towel and basin, washed His disciples’ feet.

And this upsets our perception of social norms and how things should be. Even Peter protested.

Peter and the rest did not understand what Jesus did then.

Maybe they understood it later when it came to their turn to go down on their knees and pour out their lives for others.

Are we also able to comprehend the meaning of what Jesus did?

On this holy night of the Church’s Triduum, Jesus instituted the Eucharist and He then washed His disciples’ feet.

The Eucharist is about sacrifice. The washing of feet is about service with humility. One flows from the other.

Jesus, our Lord and Master, gave us this example so that we should follow. It is a mandate.

When we truly understand the mystery of the Eucharist and the washing of feet, we too will take up the towel and pour out our lives for others in love and service.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Wednesday of Holy Week, 12-04-17

Isaiah 50:4-9 / Matthew 26:14-25

During these three days, the one figure that stands out in gospel is obviously Judas Iscariot. Although the other disciples were mentioned here and there, but it was Judas Iscariot that stood glaringly obvious.

All the four gospels mention Judas Iscariot as the one who betrayed Jesus. Today's gospel gives the account of Judas going to the chief priests and he settled for thirty silver pieces for handing Jesus over to them.

Thirty silver pieces can be considered a small fortune but it was certainly not that big an amount to betray someone, especially if it is betraying one's Master and teacher.

No reason was given for Judas wanting to betray Jesus. There were many speculations but the gospels did not state the intention or the reason.

To betray a person, especially if it is a friend, is certainly a despicable thing to do. And if it is just for 30 silver pieces, then it is outrageous because the relationship is measured in those monetary terms.

Even Jesus seems to have harsh words for a betrayer: But alas for that man if he had never been!

But His words didn't have any effect on Judas because when it came to his turn, Judas can ask with a cold indifference: Not I, Rabbi, surely.

As we reflect on the gospel, may we resolve not to betray Jesus with our sins. May we also not betray our friends for self-gain. It is just not worth it.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Tuesday of Holy Week, 11-04-17

Isaiah 49:1-6 / John 13:21-33, 36-38

It is quite difficult to imagine a day without light. We are so used to the sun shining in the morning and in the day time. And even at night there are the electrical lights that we can turn on so that we can see even after the sun has set.

But we can also take light so much for granted that we don't really appreciate it.

And we may take light so much for granted that we may not know what darkness is, and when light is not available, then the darkness can be overwhelming.

In the gospel, we heard that what followed after Judas went out. It is just three words: Night had fallen.

Those three words indicate that the hour of darkness had descended and it was a sinister darkness because it was a darkness that brought out the dark side of the disciples.

It was not just Judas betraying Jesus. Peter denied Jesus. The rest of the disciples feared for their lives and deserted Jesus and left Him alone to face His enemies.

But in that encroaching darkness, Jesus said: Now has the Son of God been glorified and in him God has been glorified.

Jesus was that light in the darkness and the darkness cannot overpower Him. For Jesus, He didn't curse the darkness nor let the darkness overwhelm Him.

In that darkness, He let the glory of God shine in Him and that glory shone bright in His Resurrection.

We all have our dark sides, and when the devil plays on our darkness, the cumulative darkness can be overwhelming.

But we must remember that we belong to the light. As we heard the Lord saying in the 1st reading: I will make you the light of the nations so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.

Let us shine bright with the glory of God so that the darkness of evil will be scattered.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Monday of Holy Week, 10-04-17

Isaiah 42:1-7 / John 12:1-11

Much has been said about this attitude of materialism and consumerism, this urge to have more material things and having more than necessary.

With this attitude of materialism and consumerism, the side-effect is this "throw-away" mentality.

Anything that is spoilt or broken is to be thrown away. There is no point in repairing it.

Especially with electronic goods; it may make more economical sense to buy a new set than to repair something that has malfunctioned.

That "throw-away" mentality has, in a way, affected the way people are treated.

Those who are slow, dull, unproductive, don't look good and don't speak well, or a liability to society, they are often devalued, discounted and disconnected from the rest.

Not often are they given a second chance, simply because of this "throw-away" prejudice against them.

Certainly that's not the case with God. In the words of the 1st reading: He does not break the crushed reed, nor quench the wavering flame.

Indeed, every person is precious in the eyes of the Lord, and every act of love is treasured by Him.

In the gospel, Jesus accepted that act of love from Mary even though there was a criticism against it.

For Jesus, every act of love, big or small, is treasured by Him because it comes from the heart.

As we enter into the spirit of Holy Week, let us also deepen our spirit of love.

Every act of love is treasured by God as we offer it to Him.

Nothing that we offer Him is ever thrown away or discounted or devalued.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Palm Sunday, Year A, 09.04.2017

Isaiah 50:4-7 / Philippians 2:6-11 / Matthew 26:14 – 27:66

At the beginning of today’s Mass, we were given palm branches, which were blessed and we waved it to commemorate the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem.

But these palm branches are not some kind of door gift or freebie that the church gives out once a year.

In fact they are “loaned” to us because a year later we will collect them back to be burnt and used for ashes on Ash Wednesday.

We bring them back and place it in a prominent place at home or at the workplace or in the car.

It is a sign of our welcoming Jesus into the areas of our lives where we live out our faith. 

These sturdy and spiky palm branches remind us to be firm and sturdy in our faith just as Jesus remained sturdy and firm in His Passion because of His love for us.

And those spiky needles of the palm branches reminds us that life has its painful moments and there will be times when like Jesus we will cry out: My God, my God, why have you deserted me.

But God will never desert us. Jesus suffered and died. But He rose from the dead. So let us stay close to Jesus and we too will rise from our pain and sufferings. When we do, then we will wave these spiky palm branches joyfully.

Friday, April 7, 2017

5th Week of Lent, Saturday, 08-04-17

Ezekiel 37:21-28 / John 11:45-56

Other than rhetoric questions, generally questions probe for answers and the question will remain until there is an answer.

Today's gospel ends with questions, and those questions will have to be answered.

It was a questioning time for Jesus as His hour of reckoning approaches.

As He retreated to the countryside with His disciples, He could have just put those questions on hold. He could have decided to remain there.

He could have gone on with His work of healing and teaching in a quiet way, and those disturbing questions would slowly fade away with time.

Also many people would have supported Him and kept Him safe.

But Jesus knew that that was not the Father's will, so He moved out of His safety zone,  and it will be a move that will cost Him His life.

Hence, whenever we talk about doing God's will, we have to remember that it involves risk.

It involves moving out of our safety zone and moving out of our comfort zone.

But it is only in moving out that God moves in.

It is only when we move out to face the questions of life that we will begin to see what God's will for us is.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

5th Week of Lent, Friday, 07-04-17

Jeremiah 20:10-13 / John 10:31-42

Before the Mass we had the Stations of the Cross, which is a devotion that is practised during the season of Lent on Fridays.

After the Mass, there will be the Devotion to the Sacred Heart, which is practised every Friday in our parish and more so today being the first Friday of the month.

So if we were to participate in all three, ie. Stations, Mass and Devotion, then it would easily take one and a half hours, which is certainly a good form of sacrifice and prayer for Lent.

But if we to choose between Stations and Devotion, which would it be? Maybe it would be Stations, since it is Lent. As for the Devotion, we have it every Friday, and since it is a regular feature then we can always go for it another time.

But when we reflect on it, there is a progression from one to the other. The Stations help us to understand the sufferings of Christ, which we celebrate in the sacrifice of the Mass, and the Devotion to the Sacred Heart helps us to unite our sacrifice with Jesus through reparation and expiation so that we can continue the saving work of Jesus.

In the 1st reading, we hear from the prophet Jeremiah lamenting about those disparaging him, those who watched for his downfall, those who want to seduce him into error and those who want to take their revenge on him.

His consolation is that the Lord is at his side, and his opponents will stumble and unforgettable disgrace will be theirs

He claimed that the Lord of hosts will probe with justice and let him see the vengeance on his enemies.

Presumably, it means that his enemies will be punished. And that is what we will hope for too - that our enemies will be punished for the evil they did to us.

Yes, there will be punishment for the bad and evil people, but the justice of God is also mercy and compassion.

God would also want to see the wicked and evil people repent and come to believe in His love for them.

On the cross, Jesus forgave His enemies. And through His Sacred Heart, He revealed His desire for all to be saved.

So as we participate in the Stations, the Mass and the Devotion to the Sacred Heart, we also must pray for our enemies, and for all the wicked and evil people.

We must pray for their salvation. It is not an option. We must make it our commitment. Because the justice of God is mercy and compassion.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

5th Week of Lent, Thursday, 06-04-17

Genesis 17:3-9 / John 8:51-59

Whenever we talk about promises, we may have this expectation that the fulfillment will be in our lifetime.

That is the obvious expectation, otherwise there would be nothing much to look forward to in the promises.

Such is the case with marriage - Till death do us part - and also the promises made in priesthood.

So, when promises are broken, how can there not be disappointments?

In the 1st reading, when God made a covenant with Abraham, let us remember that Abraham never got to see the fulfillment in his lifetime.

But his faith and trust in God made him see something more and understand something deeper.

In a word, it is eternity. Abraham was not expecting to see hordes and hordes of his descendants to appear before him in his lifetime. It was going to be something beyond the present.

It is with that perspective that we can understand what Jesus meant when He said: Whoever keeps my word will never see death.

That's a divine promise. It is a promise of eternity for eternity.

When we believe in that promise, then death is not a finality.

Rather, life will have the final word and it will be for eternity.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

5th Week of Lent, Wednesday, 05-04-17

Daniel 3:14-20, 24-25, 28 / John 8:31-42

If a burglar comes up to you, pointing a knife at your throat and saying "Your money or your life?", what would we be willing to part with?

Needless to say our life is more precious than our money  and our decision is beyond consideration.

But change the question to "Your God or your life?" and now what would be our choice?

That was the question that was posed to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the 1st reading.

And if they choose to be faithful to God, then into the flames they go and their ashes will be scattered to the winds and no memory will be left of them.

But their words are profound as they replied the king: If our God, the one we serve, is able to save us from the burning fiery furnace and from your power, He will save us. And even if He does not, then you must know that  we will not serve your god or worship the statue you have erected.

In the history of the Church and up till this present day, there are many martyrs whose names we know but many more martyrs who have given up their lives to be faithful to God.

And there are also many more others who have given up the faith under persecution and pain of torture.

The truth is all our wealth will one day be turned to dust. Our bodies will one day turn to dust. May this truth set us free so that we will always choose God and belong to Him eternally.

Monday, April 3, 2017

5th Week of Lent, Tuesday, 04-04-17

Numbers 21:4-9 / John 8:21-30

A common greeting for a person whom we have not met for some time would be phrases like "How have you been?" or "How are you doing?" or simply "How are you?"

If and when we are asked that question, what would our reply be? Of course we can reply indifferently with "I am fine" but is that honest and true?

If we were to ask the Israelites in the 1st reading how they were, we can be quite sure that they won't give a casual or indifferent reply.

As we heard in the 1st reading, they were journeying in the desert, they lost patience, they spoke against God and against Moses, they were thirsty and they were sick of the unsatisfying food.

At this, God sent fiery serpents among the people, and their bite brought death to many in Israel. Does it seem that God was rather harsh on His people, especially when they were in the desert and hunger and thirst are not minor discomforts?

But as much as the people's complaints were valid, they also forgot the wonders that God had done for them.

They were no more slaves in Egypt and they were a free people and there were no slave-drivers to torment them. They also forgot that God will provide for them as He always did.

So instead of cherishing their freedom, they turned to complaining. The fiery serpents were sent to remind them of who they were and who God is.

So whenever others ask us how we are, let us take a moment to think about the good things that God has done for us and how He has provided for us.

Let us remember to give thanks and praise the Lord for the wonders He has done for us. God will shower His blessings on those with a grateful and thankful heart.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

5th Week of Lent, Monday, 03-04-17

Daniel 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62 / John 8:1-11

Whenever the law is broken, the offenders are brought to justice and punishment will be meted out.

It is as straight-forward as that, and in the normal run of things, that is how it should happen.

But what if when it does not happen that way? And that was what happened to Susanna in the 1st reading.

The two men, elders of the people, and selected to be judges, men who were supposed to keep and uphold the law, had conspired between themselves to take advantage of Susanna, and when they couldn't, they resorted to false evidence to condemn her to death.

Susanna cried out to God for help and the Lord intervened through Daniel and eventually justice was done.

But it was a different scenario in the gospel. The woman caught in adultery was brought before Jesus for judgement. She had nothing to plead for and could only wait for punishment.

As much as Susanna was innocent and the woman was guilty, in the end justice was done for both.

God came to the help of Susanna to vindicate her and God also came to the help of the woman to save her life so as to give her another chance to repent.

Whenever injustice is done to us, we need to have recourse to the law but we also must cry out to God to save us from the injustice.

But when we demand for justice, let us also remember that God is merciful and compassionate.

The justice of God also calls out to sinners to repent. May we not throw stones at others when they commit injustice but let us plead to God for their conversion and repentance.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

5th Sunday of Lent, Year A, 02.04.2017

Ezekiel 37:12-14 / Romans 8:8-11 / John 11:1-45

In life there are many decisions to make. And when it comes to making a decision, there are at least two choices.

A decision between two choices can be, for example, as simple (or as difficult) as to whether to come to Church or not. Your presence here already says what your choice is.

Also the more the choices, the more difficult the decision will be. For example, going to a food court with its great varieties of food, we can spend more time deciding what to eat than eating. But as it is, having to decide between two choices can be difficult enough.

At this point in time, a particular group of people is going to make a decision about their future, and perhaps it is a decision about their eternal future.

They are the Elects of the RCIA, and there are 16 of them in our parish.

By now, they should have made their decision about baptism, which is just two weeks away. But it cannot be denied that there can be doubts and uncertainties.

I remember this man who was in the RCIA and coming towards baptism.

Although he has acquired much knowledge about the faith, he has not quite reached a conviction about Jesus and so he was hesitant about baptism.

He consulted me about this and I told him to ask Jesus for a sign. 

He asked me what kind of sign should he ask for, and how would he know if it is from Jesus. I could only tell him that when Jesus gives the sign, he will know. He ended off by saying that it would be difficult to believe if he can’t “see” the sign.

About two weeks later, he came back and told me that he had seen the sign, and of course I asked him what it was.

First, it was an email that he opened when he got back to the office after talking with me. As he read the email, and as he came to the end, the sender signed off and then below the name was this scripture verse: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

He stared at the verse and the verse also stared at him. He went on to read the other emails, but he just can’t get that verse out of his mind.

A few days later, he accompanied his wife to the shopping mall, and as his wife did her shopping, he wandered around and he came to a Christian bookshop. And there on the display window was this painting of the Risen Christ with St. Thomas putting his hand into the wound of the side of the Risen Christ. And below the painting was this scripture verse: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” It was like a thunderbolt in his heart and he stood there like almost frozen.

And two signs were enough for him to make his decision about baptism and come to a conviction about Jesus.

Yes, we have to make decisions in life, and it is not so simple as coming to a decision with the toss of a coin.

Because we are unsure and uncertain of what will be the consequences of our decision. And as a people of faith, we have to turn to God and ask for His help so that we can make a decision that we are at peace with, and that it will also give glory to God.

In the gospel, we heard of Jesus making a rather intriguing decision when He heard that Lazarus was ill. Instead of hurrying over to see him, Jesus stayed where He was for another two days.

And Jesus made an equally intriguing statement when He said: This illness will not end in death but in God’s glory, and through it, the Son of God will be glorified.

The sign that Jesus gave to prove that what He said is true is when He called Lazarus out of the tomb.

The raising of Lazarus was indeed a profound sign that points to who Jesus is and many who had seen what He did believed in Him.

And Jesus will also give us the signs to help us make our decisions. 

Because the sign will give glory to God and also for us to come to a deeper faith in God.

And of course, the signs help us to make our decision about our immediate future as well as for our eternal future.

In about three weeks’ time, there will be a major shuffle in our Archdiocese as a number of priests take up their new postings.

One of those priests was sharing with me about that day when the Archbishop called him and asked him to take up the post of parish priest in another parish.

He was stunned as he did not expect this, and he was also quite happy being an assistant priest. He told the Archbishop that he need some time to consider it and then he started to think of how to decline the offer and he spent the whole day thinking.

Then the next day, as he was preparing for Mass, and as he looked at the gospel, it had to be that gospel passage where Jesus said: Why do you call me “Lord, Lord” and not do what I tell you?
What clearer sign can there be, and so he said “Yes” to the Archbishop. He had to come out of his own interest so that he can say “Yes” to God. 

But like Lazarus, it was like coming out of the tomb and into a new life.

Today we hear Jesus calling out to us: Come out. He is calling us to come out of our tombs of anger, resentment, failure, disappointment, in a word, the tomb of sin and death.

Jesus is calling us to come out of our tombs and to come out to life and to give glory to God.

And if we are still hesitant and uncertain, then let us ask Jesus for a sign, and Jesus will give us that sign, and it will be an unmistakable sign.

And with that unmistakable sign, we must make a decision to say “Yes” to Jesus and “Yes” to life.