Thursday, March 23, 2017

3rd Week of Lent, Friday, 24-03-17

Hosea 14:2-10 / Mark 12:28-34

In our worship, we use very lofty and transcendent names for God.

We say prayers like "I confess to Almighty God ..." or "We believe in one God, the Father Almighty".

It is an expression of who God is and that we are His creatures.

Yet the image of an almighty God was reduced to that of a broken-hearted father who is pleading with his children to return to him, as the prophet Hosea put it in the 1st reading.

God was also portrayed as a father yearning for his children's love.

But how can!? How can God be portrayed as going down on His knees and pleading with His creatures?

Could not God have used His almighty power to work some spectacular signs and bring His people back to Him?

Or just give the ultimatum: Come back or else!

Surely He could. But of course God knows better.

God knows that a forced loved is not a true love.

True love comes from a freedom to love.

As Jesus puts it in the gospel - to love with all the heart, all the soul, all the mind and all the strength.

That is the kind of love that God has for us, and an everlasting love at that.

We know how to love Him in return - and that is by loving others.

God has made His choice to love us. It is now up to us to make our choice.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

3rd Week of Lent, Thursday, 23-03-17

Jeremiah 7:23-28 / Luke 11:14-23

Whenever we say that history repeats itself, we are more inclined to think that it is the mistakes of the past that are repeated.

These mistakes only show that the present generation has not learned much from the preceding generation or from the past events of history.

This was also what the prophet Jeremiah was saying in the 1st reading.

Just about 120 years before, the Northern Kingdom of Israel had been annihilated by Assyria.

And now, the Southern Kingdom of Judah was facing the same threat from Babylon.

And God was warning them through Jeremiah. But why were they not heeding? Why were they not listening?

If anything, it is not too much to say that the people did not love God.

Because one of the fruits of love is to listen.

Just like if we love our parents, our spouse, our children, our friends, we will listen to them with a heart of love.

Similarly, when we love someone, we will also speak to that person with a heart of love.

When we listen and speak with a heart of love, then with Jesus we gather others into the peace of God's kingdom.

It is either we gather people into the peace and love of God's kingdom, or we scatter and bring division.

There isn't a third option.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

3rd Week of Lent, Wednesday, 22-03-17

Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9 / Matthew 5:17-19

Most homes and offices will have a storage room of some sort and of various sizes. Of course, the bigger the storage room, the more the items there can be.

Some of these items may be things of importance or they may just be ordinary things that we use now and then, or things that we just want to get out of the way and so the most convenient place to put them will be the storage room.

But the problem can be that we may not make a list of what we put in that storage room and also we may not be that discerning and hence, that room will be cluttered with things like boxes and brooms and whatever.

And after a while, we may not remember what we have put into that storage room and when we want to look for something we may also forget that we put it in that room.

Such can be said of our hearts and minds. There are so many things to remember and so many things to think about that after a while, even the important things like birthdays and anniversaries are forgotten.

In the 1st reading, Moses urged the people not to forget the things their eyes have seen, nor let them slip from their hearts all the days of their life. They must tell them to their children and even to their children's children.

In the gospel, Jesus said that He did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to complete them.

In effect, He is reminding us of the Law of God that must be taught and kept in our minds and hearts.

The season of Lent is to help us remember what Jesus had taught us and to keep it and also to teach it to our children and also to our children's children.

Monday, March 20, 2017

3rd Week of Lent, Tuesday, 21-03-17

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

There is a prayer format that goes by acronym ACTS and it stands for Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving and Supplication.

That prayer format is interesting because it starts with adoration and supplication is at the end.

It is interesting because usually we would start with supplication, or petitions, first. We would launch our prayer first by asking for this and that.

It is not just a human tendency, but in a desperate time of need or in danger, we would be pleading with God for His help and deliverance.

In a desperate situation, we would even demand that God saves us immediately.

In the 1st reading, what Azariah prayed is indeed surprising. He and his companions Hananiah and Mishael were thrown into cauldron of fiery furnace to be burnt alive.

But he did not immediately launch into a desperate cry of help, instead he praised God for His mercy and admitted the sins of his people that resulted in such a dire state.

He continued by asking God to accept their contrite and humble hearts as an offering.

Of course, if we were to read the story further, we will know that God eventually delivered the three young men from the fiery furnace unharmed.

Azariah's prayer may not have followed strictly the formats of ACTS but he placed his petitions last and he praised God first.

So when it comes to forgiving someone who has done wrong to us and hurt us badly, it is not important to ask about whether we should forgive or how many times we ought to forgive.

Let us begin by praising God for His love and mercy, and admit that we have sinned against Him.

Then we will begin to understand what is meant as we pray "forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us".

Sunday, March 19, 2017

St. Joseph, Spouse of the BVM, Monday, 20-03-17

2 Sam 7:4-5, 12-14, 16 / Romans 4:13, 16-18, 22 / Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24 or Luke 2:41-51

There is something interesting about St. Joseph in the gospels.

The gospels described the character of St. Joseph, saying that he was a man of honour, and what he did for Jesus and Mary.

But nothing of what St. Joseph said was recorded in the gospels; just about what he did.

But that was enough for us. From the gospel accounts, we can also see that St. Joseph was of a strong character and a man of faith.

To quote a few instances: Joseph took Mary to be his wife even though he wasn't exactly sure how she became pregnant.

After the birth of Jesus, when Herod was persecuting them, he did not abandon mother and child for his own safety.

St. Joseph also had a keen ear for listening to the will of God, whether it was by dreams or through visions of angels.

So it was his actions that spoke louder than any words.

It was by his actions that he showed his faith and trust in God.

Indeed, as we honour St. Joseph, we must learn, not only from his actions, but also from his silence.

Most of all, let us learn to do God's will, as St. Joseph did.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

3rd Sunday of Lent, Year A, 19.03.2017

Exodus 17:3-7 / Romans 5:1-2, 5-8 / John 4:5-42

There are some phrases in the English language that we have heard of that sound rather odd. And if we don’t know the meaning, then it would be really amusing.

One such phrase is “to kick the bucket”. It means, bluntly speaking, to die. So, if we say that a person has kicked the bucket, it means that the person has died.

But if we don’t know what “kick the bucket” means, then we might wonder or even ask if the foot was injured.

There are many theories of how that phrase came about. One of those theories was that it originated from the Catholic practice of putting a bucket of holy water at the feet of a dead person so as to bless the body after prayer. But what has it to do with kicking the bucket, that wasn’t clear.

Another term that is connected with “kicking the bucket” is this “bucket list”. The meaning is quite obvious: before one kicks the bucket, one would make a bucket list, i.e, a list of things to do before one dies.

So, instead of saying what the things you want to do before you die, you can just simply say that you have a bucket list. (Sounds nicer right?)

So, do we have a bucket list? And what is in that bucket list? 

It may not be about going to the moon and exploring outer space, but it may be about looking into our hearts and to have inner peace.

Today’s gospel passage is commonly called “the Samaritan woman at the well”. And there is even a hymn about it that goes like this: Like the woman at the well I was seeking, for things that could not satisfy. And then I hear my Saviour speaking, “Draw from my well that never shall run dry.”

This Samaritan woman is interesting as well as mysterious. She is not known by name; she came to draw water at the sixth hour, which is around noon time, and that is the hottest time of the day in that region.

That already tells us that she wanted to avoid people and that her reputation in the town was on everyone’s lips.

She had a bucket with her to draw water, that was when she encountered Jesus and He asked her for a drink.

And with that a discussion about water began between Jesus and her, and then she got interested about the living water so that she may never be thirsty and never have to come to the well again to draw water.

And that was literally her bucket list: that she may never be thirsty again and never have to draw water from the well again.

And Jesus wanted to fulfill her wishes, on one condition – to call her husband here. 

And that was when her bucket started leaking. Jesus had told her everything she had done. She could decide to continue the conversation, or she could tell Jesus to mind His own business.

And here we must give credit to that Samaritan woman for her courage and humility to face Jesus even though she could be embarrassed and ashamed about herself.

And for that she had her bucket list granted, although not in the way she had expected. Because she forgot about her thirst and even hurried back to the town to tell the people about Jesus, the very people she had wanted to avoid. She would still be thirsty and she would still have to come to the well to draw water. But something had changed.

That was the Samaritan woman at the well, and her bucket had a new meaning for her.

And what about us? What is in the bucket of our hearts and do we want to show it to Jesus?

The Samaritan woman in today’s gospel in a way reminded me of a lady who was going through the RCIA journey. I remembered this lady because her attendance in the journey was not that regular because of one issue after another.

There is usually an interview before baptism when I have to ask the catechumens about their decision for baptism.

When this lady came to see me for the interview, I asked her if she wanted to be baptized, and I half-expected her to say that she was not ready for it.

To my surprise, she said, “Yes, I want to be baptized.” And of course I asked why.

Her reply was astonishing and amazing. She said, “I want to be baptized because now I am not afraid to die.”

She explained that one day, her young son looked troubled. When she asked him what was the matter, what her son said shocked her.

Her son said, “I don’t want mummy to die, and I am also scared to die.” Probably he had seen a movie or read something about death and loneliness.

That set her thinking and searching. She came to the RCIA, heard about Jesus, came to know about life after death, and about the eternal life that Jesus wants to offer her.

So despite the issues that hampered her from a regular attendance at RCIA, she heard enough for her to have an answer to death and about life hereafter.

So after hearing her story, what else can I say but a “Yes” for her baptism.

That brings us back to look at our bucket list. What is it that we are looking for and seeking for?

All things will come and go but Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Only Jesus can give us that living water that will turn into a spring and welling up to eternal life.

May we long only for that living water that only Jesus can give. 

Only that can fill up the bucket of our hearts.

Friday, March 17, 2017

2nd Week of Lent, Saturday, 18-03-17

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

Based on anecdotal evidence, we can say that there is a black sheep in every family.

Usually that is referred to one of the children. That particular child is always out of step with the rest and seems to be marching to a different tune.

That 'black sheep' is the bane and the burden of parents.

Some parents will resort to renouncement of the relationship with that child, others will resort to punishment which may actually be just a way of venting out their frustrations on the child.

In today's gospel parable, we hear of yet another way of dealing with the 'black sheep'.

The father gave in to his younger son's request, but yet further on in the parable, we hear of the father waiting and looking out for him to return.

What made the son came to his senses was that he recalled how kindly his father treated his servants. That was enough for him to get moving.

No matter how far a person has gone over to the dark and destructive side, the memories of love and kindness and goodness can never be erased from him.

It is these memories that will make a person come to his senses and bring him back to the light.

So when we come across the odd one, the black sheep, the sinner, let us be the reflection of God's love to that person.

The 1st reading describes God taking fault away, pardoning crime, not cherishing anger for ever but delighting in showing mercy.

Let us be that image of God for others to help them come to their senses and return to God.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

2nd Week of Lent, Friday, 17-03-17

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

Whenever we mention "enemies" and "those who hate us" what are the faces that come to mind? Who are those that we can think of?

If too many faces come to mind, then it may mean that we are in big trouble. Because that would probably mean that we have made too many enemies.

On the other hand, the "enemies" or "those who hate us" may be nearer than we think. It could well be the case of "the enemy with us".

In the 1st reading, Joseph could have thought that he had no enemies. But he could have never thought that his "enemies" were his own brothers who stay with him under the same roof.

As the 1st reading puts it: But his brothers, seeing how his father loved him more than all his other sons, came to hate him so much that they could not say a civil word to him.

And when the opportunity arose, they even thought of killing him but changed their minds and sold him off to some merchants.

But in the gospel parable of the vineyard and the tenants, the landowner's son fell into the evil tenants' intentions and was killed by them.

Both readings remind us that thoughts are impetus to actions. Of course, good thoughts gives rise to acts of charity, and by the same take, bad thoughts give rise to immorality.

Emotions like anger, resentment and bitterness give rise to hate and violence and other undesirable actions.

The Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving are to help us cleanse our hearts of these undesirable thoughts so that we can see everyone as friends and lead them to experience the love of God.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

2nd Week of Lent, Thursday, 16-03-17

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

Whenever we are on the streets, we are quite certain to encounter some people that belong to a so-called "class" in our society.

We can be quite sure to meet some "poor" people, those who seem to be in some kind of financial difficulty.

They may be those who are really down-and-out and begging in the streets; there are others who are not certain of when they are going to have their next meal; others may be hovering just above the poverty line.

So even in our affluent country, we do see the presence of poor people. And if we bother to go further into the matter, then we will realise that there are genuinely poor people in our society.

The parable in today's gospel makes us realise this reality and also asks us what are we going to do about it and how are we helping the poor?

That brings to mind that one of the spiritual disciplines of Lent is almsgiving and last weekend we received the Charities Week envelopes.

How much are we going to put into the envelope and how much are we going to give in regular almsgiving depends very much on how we understand what God wants us to do for the poor.

More than charity, it is our duty to help the poor, and it is also about justice to the poor when we understand that we are stewards who should look after the weak and poor members of our community and society.

It also underscores our faith in the Lord God. As the 1st reading puts it: A blessing on the man who puts his trust in the Lord ... he is like a tree by the waterside ... it has no worries of drought and never ceases to bear fruit.

When we understand that it is our duty to help the poor and that it is an act of justice, then we will receive that blessing from the Lord and we will continue to bear fruits for the Lord.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

2nd Week of Lent, Wednesday, 15-03-17

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

One of the devotions that is highlighted during the season of Lent is the Way of the Cross.

The Way of the Cross booklets are taken out during this season (and maybe dusted off and cleaned up) and used on the Fridays of Lent.

That gives the idea that it is only during the season of Lent that we do the Way of the Cross. Yet, the reality is that the Stations of the Cross are always  a feature in church. And so it also means that the Way of Cross can and should be a devotional practice even outside of the Lenten season.

And rightly so, because the Way of the Cross is the way of life and the way to live for us who are disciples of Jesus.

If anything the season of Lent is to remind us to have a renewed devotion to the Way of the Cross so that in following Jesus, we will understand that we are following Him in His Way of the Cross.

And that is the reality of our lives as disciples of Jesus. We have to face our cross and take up our cross and follow Jesus.

And certainly it can be painful and fearful, as it was so in Jeremiah's experience in the 1st reading. Even he had to ask why evil is being returned for good, and that he had even prayed for his enemies.

Certainly, to be disciples of Jesus does not mean sitting comfortably at His left and right. It means that like Jesus, we do not ask to be served but to serve and give our lives to Jesus for the ransom of many.

May the Way of the Cross help us to understand what that means.

Monday, March 13, 2017

2nd Week of Lent, Tuesday, 14-03-17

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

The feeling of guilt can weigh heavily on a person and can even slowly squeeze the life out of the person.

More so when this feeling of guilt is often aggravated by other people who keep harping on the guilt.

It is strange and yet not so strange that people tend to glee and gloat over the guilt and the wrong-doings of others.

Which might make us recall this amusing and yet truthful phrase: When I do the right thing, no one remembers. But when I do the wrong thing, no one forgets.

It stems from the tendency to make oneself look big by making others look small.

Yet in life, we have to admit that we make mistakes at one point or another.

And when we do something wrong, we don't need reminders. Reminders only make the guilt heavier.

What we need is compassion and forgiveness.

In the 1st reading, God gives us a reminder. It is a reminder not of our sins, but of His compassion and forgiveness when He said: Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow ; though they are red as crimson, they shall be white as wool.

Jesus came to untie our burden of guilt and shame with His compassion and forgiveness.

With the power of His love, Jesus frees us. Let us in turn also untie and free others of their guilt and shame.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

2nd Week of Lent, Monday, 13-03-17

Daniel 9:4-10 / Luke 6:36-38

During this season of Lent, the importance of the spiritual discipline of prayer is emphasised over and over again.

It may mean that we make more time for prayer so that prayer becomes our priority not just during the season of Lent but also thereafter.

But it also means that as we pray and enter deeper into a communion with God in prayer, we also want to understand more about God and what He has done for us.

In the 1st reading, Daniel began his prayer by acknowledging who God is in these words: O Lord, God great and to be feared, you keep the covenant and have kindness for those who love you and keep your commandments .

Daniel acknowledged the greatness and faithfulness of God because that was what God had done for him. God blessed Daniel with status and authority even though he was in exile in Babylon. God gave Daniel the gift of prophecy. He saved Daniel in the lions' den and rescued him from his enemies' plots. Time and again, God showed Daniel His greatness and also His faithfulness.

That was Daniel's experience of God and as he prayed, he remembered and praised God for His greatness and faithfulness to him.

Similarly, when we pray and as we begin our prayer, let us remember how Jesus described who God the Father is. God is compassionate, He does not condemn and He grants pardon. He gives His love to us in a full measure and running over.

So as we offer God our time in prayer, let us remember the great things that He has done for us and how faithful He is to us.

When we remember to praise and thank God, then we will indeed be given a full measure of His grace and blessings, so that we too can share with others what God has given us.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

2nd Sunday of Lent, Year A, 12.03.2017

Genesis 12:1-4a / 2 Tim 1:8-10 / Matthew 17:1-9

Whenever Wall Street of New York City is mentioned, a few images and ideas will come to mind.

Whether we have been there or not, from what we know and heard about, we would expect the place to have stock brokers, businessmen in suits and briefcases and hear plenty of money-talk.

And there is the famous big bronze sculpture of a bull, a charging bull. That is supposed to be a symbol of aggressive financial optimism and prosperity.

So it is quite correct to say that it is a world of stocks and shares, and people rushing about to close business deals. That is what we expect and that is what Wall Street is.

But some 30 meters away and straight in front of the charging bull is something that we may not expect to see. Facing the charging bull is a 4-feet bronze sculpture of a little girl in a dress with her hands on her hips and looking straight at the charging bull.

It is quite an unexpected and a surprising sight, but the bronze sculpture of the little girl changes the look and the feel of the place.

Now crossing over from Wall Street to Barcelona in Spain, one of the tourist attractions is the Barcelona Cathedral. It is a magnificent building of Gothic architecture.

Amidst this magnificence and within the cathedral is a small cloistered garden with a pond. And in that garden there are some free-roaming white geese, 13 of them.

It is quite a strange and unexpected sight, these 13 white geese, roaming around in the garden with a pond in the majestic cathedral. It certainly changes the look and the feel of the cathedral.

Whenever something strange and unexpected comes our way, there can be a variety of reactions: surprise, alarm, awe, amazement, astonishment.

In the gospel, we heard that Jesus led Peter, James and John up a high mountain where they could be alone. The disciples were not told what to expect, and probably they were not expecting anything, other than some fresh air and a good view.

But what they didn’t expect was to see Jesus being transfigured. Neither did they expect to Moses and Elijah to appear.

Their reaction was that of awe and amazement. But when a bright cloud covered them with shadow and when they heard the voice, the three of them fell on their faces and they were overcome with fear.

All that was unexpected and they don’t quite know what to make out of it.

But for us, this is nothing new. We have heard this before, many times even, and it’s no surprise to us.

We know why Moses and Elijah appeared. Moses represented the Law and Elijah represented the prophets. They pointed to Jesus who is the Law and the Prophet.

Moses also brought God’s people out of slavery in Egypt and that also pointed to Jesus who will bring us out of the bondage and slavery of sin. Elijah, as we know, went up to heaven in a chariot of fire. Jesus came, not just to bring us out of the bondage of sin, He also came to bring us back to heaven, our eternal home.

Oh yes, we know all that, or we should know all that. So the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus doesn’t seem to surprise us or make us think much about it.

But as we come for Mass and hearing the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus, are we also “transfigured” into a joyful people of God, celebrating our salvation in Christ, and proclaiming the Good News in our lives?

It is said that Catholics come for Mass looking like as if they are coming for a funeral. The faces are somber and sober; some try to sing, some lip-sync, some don’t sing. Some try to look happy, but others seem to look grumpy.

Maybe between the two Sundays of the week, we had gone through quite a rough time. We have been put down by rough words, by criticisms, gossips and slanders that burden our hearts and pull our faces down. So how to smile or be happy when we come to church?

But let us hear again what Jesus said to the three disciples: Stand up, do not be afraid.

We come to church so that we can hear again the life-giving words of Jesus.

We want to stand up and be transfigured so that like that bronze sculpture of the girl in Wall Street standing and facing the charging bull, we too can face the ugly world and bring beauty to it.

And about those 13 geese in the garden in the Barcelona cathedral, they represent the 13 year-old martyr St. Eulalia who refused to renounce her faith in Christ.

Her martyrdom brought about the birth of Christianity in Barcelona and eventually in Spain.

St. Eulalia was not afraid to stand up for her faith and her martyrdom brought about a transfiguration of the city and the country.

And Jesus is telling us to “Stand up and do not be afraid”, because He wants to transfigure us into a joyful, hopeful and a beautiful people of God.

When we are transfigured, then we too can help others to be transfigured by telling them to “Stand up and do not be afraid”.

And that is the Good News of the Transfiguration of Jesus. He is telling us to “Stand up” and be transfigured, so that we too can tell that to others.

Friday, March 10, 2017

1st Week of Lent, Saturday, 11-03-17

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

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

Maybe the attractive factor here is the freedom.

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

Yet in today's 1st reading from Deuteronomy, we hear two declarations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 9, 2017

1st Week of Lent, Friday, 10-03-17

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

There is this story of a lady-driver who stopped her car at the traffic lights.

When the lights turned green, she was a little slow in moving on, and a honk came from the car behind hers.

In her anxiety to get her car moving, the engine stalled.

As she tried to start her car, the man in the car behind hers started honking.

His honking became more irritating and it made her even more nervous.

Finally, she had all she could take from him.

So she got out of the car, walked to the man in the car behind hers and she said:

Sir, I would be delighted to honk for you, if you would be kind enough to start my car for me.

Well, it is difficult to say what amuses us more in that story - was it the irrationality of the man or the ingenuity of the woman.

But one thing for sure - anger only generates heat that burns away a person.

On the other hand, reconciliation opens the door of the heart for God to enter and to heal and to bring about peace.

That is the message of the gospel of today.

But reconciliation is not about who is right and who is wrong.

Let us remember that it was God who first reconciled us to Himself by sending His only Son to forgive and heal our sinful hearts.

May we do likewise with others, so that our virtue can grow deeper.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

1st Week of Lent, Thursday, 07-03-17

Esther 4:17 / Matthew 7:7-12

If I were to ask you to refer to today's readings, those who have the weekday missals will probably open it and look at it.

For those who do not have the weekday missal, then there is no need to do anything or just look at something else.

So the response to my request is not crucial. You can do as I asked or you can just ignore the request without responding to it.

But if I were to plead with you, if I were to implore you, if I were to beseech you, then it would be very different because there is an urgency and gravity about the matter.

Such is the case with queen Esther in the 1st reading. She prayed to the Lord God of Israel. But she was not merely asking the Lord. She besought the Lord; she was pleading and imploring the Lord to save her and her people from mortal danger.

She began with these words: My Lord, our King, the only one, come to my help, for I am alone and have no helper but you.

And she ended her prayer with these words: Come to my help, for I am alone and have no one but you Lord.

For queen Esther, her prayer is one of pleading, imploring and beseeching. For queen Esther, the Lord God is her only hope. There were no other options.

In the gospel, Jesus said: Ask and it will be given to you, search and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.

But if our prayer is only mere asking, if we are not desperately searching, and if we have options of a few doors to knock on, then it could mean that the Lord God is NOT our one and only hope.

Let us plead, let us implore and let us beseech the Lord our God, and we will be given, we will find and that door of hope will be opened for us.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

1st Week of Lent, Wednesday, 08-03-17

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

The spiritual disciplines in Lent, ie. prayer, fasting and almsgiving, is to help us realise the need for repentance and conversion so as to turn back to God.

And in order to repent and to turn back to God, two aspects are necessary - humility and obedience.

We must be humble enough to admit that we are sinners and we need to obey the teachings of the Lord so as to walk in His ways.

We heard in the 1st reading that when the Word of God was addressed to Jonah and gave him the mission to preach to the Ninevites, Jonah went in obedience to the Word of the Lord.

But that was not so earlier on as Jonah refused to do as the Lord told him and tried to run away from his mission.

He was not at all keen to preach to the Ninevites. Besides, the Ninevites were the hated arch-enemies of the Israelites, and so Jonah refused to have anything to do with them.

The last thing that Jonah wanted to see was the repentance and conversion of the Ninevites, but that was what happened when he preached to them.

More often than not, God would ask us to do something that will be for the good of those that we dislike and detest.

Like Jonah, we would rather not listen and even turn away from where and who God wants us to look at.

But all our prayer, fasting and almsgiving would come to nothing if we don't humble ourselves in obedience to the Word of God.

It is by our humility and obedience that God will grant the grace of repentance to those in need of His mercy.

Monday, March 6, 2017

1st Week of Lent, Tuesday, 07-03-17

Isaiah 55:10-11 / Matthew 6:7-15

Very often, it seems to us that the forces of evil are victorious and even overwhelming.

Men of violence assert their power and might over innocent people and even kill them.

It seems that justice is slow in coming, if ever at all.

The movie industry will take advantage of this fact by churning out all those kind of "pay-back" movies.

Justice is done only in reaching out for the gun. But it is only confined to the dream-world of the movies.

So where is justice? Is there any justice?

Yet, we know that there is justice. At least, we will remember Jesus saying this: He who draws the sword will also die by the sword.

Yet, Jesus also did say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly.

Those are the profound of truth, profound words of life, words which, as the 1st reading puts it, does not return to the Lord empty without carrying out His will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.

We can only understand what justice is when we know what the truth is about.

In the gospel, Jesus taught us a prayer. It is a prayer of truth.

It is a prayer for justice. When we pray the Lord's prayer, we are also praying that the truth of God will bear fruits of love in our lives so that we will work for justice in the world.

Truth goes before justice. Because there can never be justice without truth.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

1st Week of Lent, Monday, 06-03-17

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

The word "holy" in Hebrew, has the root meaning of "to separate".

In religious usage, the word "holy" denotes divinity.

It was used strictly for the divinity of God to emphasize the unbridgeable difference between God and His creatures.

Yet in the 1st reading, it was God Himself who told His people: Be holy, for I, the Lord your God am holy.

In effect, God is telling us to be like Him, and rightly so, because we are made to be like Him because we belong to Him.

Hence, to be holy is not about being pious or just being spiritual, but it also has moral obligations.

In the gospel, Jesus states this moral obligation of holiness in very basic terms and in very practical deeds.

Deeds like sharing our food and drink and helping those in need.

Deeds like making strangers feel welcomed and respecting the dignity of others.

Deeds like caring for the sick and lonely.

God became man in Jesus Christ to show us the real meaning of holiness.

To be holy can be as basic and as practical as doing small acts with great love.

In Jesus, the holy became human, so that we humans can become holy.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

1st Sunday of Lent, Year A, 05.03.2017

Gen 2: 7-9. 3: 1-7 / Rom 5:12-19 (or 12:17-19) / Mt 4:1-11

If we look around at the sanctuary, we may notice something. We may notice that something is missing.

We may already have noticed that the sanctuary is rather bare, and then we will realise that there are no flowers, not even a leaf.

Someone jokingly asked: Father, why no flowers huh? Is it because the price of water is going to increase, so no budget for flowers?
Well, the price of water is certainly going to increase (30%), but that doesn’t mean we can’t afford some flowers.

Of course the reason is that the season of Lent has begun, today is the 1st Sunday of Lent, it is a season to go back to our spiritual basics.

And so to bring about that feeling, the sanctuary is not excessively decorated, so the flowers are left out, so that there is the bare so-called “desert” look.

And that is what the gospel tells us today: Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness (desert) to be tempted by the devil.

And there in the desert, He fasted for 40 days and 40 nights and that’s where we get that 40 days of Lent.

And after those 40 days and 40 nights, Jesus was very hungry and it was then that the devil began tempting Him.

At first it was for His physical needs i.e. His hunger – If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to turn into loaves.

And then the devil challenged Jesus to put God to the test by jumping off the parapet of the Temple.

And then finally, it was to give in to the devil, in return for riches and wealth, for luxury and pleasure.

But in all three attempts, the devil did not manage to find a gap to make Jesus give in to the temptation.

We might say “Of course, it is Jesus. The devil won’t succeed in tempting Jesus. The devil won’t stand a chance”. That’s what we might think.

But let us also remember that the devil zeroed in on where Jesus was most vulnerable.

Jesus was hungry, very hungry, and a hungry man can be an angry man as well as a crazy man. Hunger cannot be underestimated.

Jesus was alone, and loneliness can make a person feel that God is not present and hence faith in God is easily shaken and eroded.

Jesus was human, just like us, and as we know it ourselves, we desire for comfort and pleasure and luxury, as well as riches and wealth.

But Jesus knew who He was. It was not a case of “If He was the Son of God”. He is the Son of God, and He had to hold firm to that identity.

On the contrary, we heard in the 1st reading how Adam and Eve fell into the temptation of the devil.

It is often presumed that Eve lead Adam to sin because it was she who first ate of the forbidden fruit and then she gave it to Adam causing him to sin. That seems to be what is often presumed.

But when we read the passage in the 1st reading again, there is this sentence – “She took some of the fruit and ate it. She gave some also to her husband who was with her, and he ate it”. So Adam was with Eve when the devil tempted her.

And here is where Adam failed. He was given charge over the garden, and he had the duty to protect Eve.

But it seems that Adam stood by passively as the devil tempted Eve. He did not protect Even from the cunning and subtle trickery of the devil. And as the master of the garden, he allowed evil to enter and he did nothing about it and said nothing about it.

We may call it the sin of omission. But more than that, it seems that Adam and Eve forgot who they were and forgot what God had blessed them with.

They could have their fill of all the fruit trees in the garden, but they still desired for what is forbidden.

More than desiring for what is forbidden, they also wanted control; they wanted to be like God. It’s the case of the creature wanting to be the Creator.

And finally they wanted the garden as their own possession. They wanted to build their own kingdom on what doesn’t belong to them.
But where Adam and Even failed and fell into sin, Jesus held fast and firm against the devil. Jesus is often called the Second Adam because He restored what Adam relinquished.

Jesus did not do nothing or said nothing against evil. On the contrary, He rebuked and repelled the devil. 

Yes, we have to fight against evil, in word and in action, because in the Opening Prayer for Ash Wed, we prayed that as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restrain. 

Because evil can only flourish when good people say nothing and do nothing against it.

Jesus assures us that the Word of God will sustain us and protect us from harm.

Let us put our trust in Jesus and follow Him as our Master. Let us spend these 40 days with Him in prayer and fasting and penance.
That is the only way that we can fight against the temptation of the devil.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Saturday after Ash Wed, 04-03-17

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

At any point in time, we can surely think of a person or persons that we have difficulties relating with.

We may just feel uncomfortable about that person, or cannot accept certain qualities about that person, or that person may have hurt us before.

Hence, human relationships are often laced with anything from indifference to intolerance.

Of course, we being the disciples of Jesus will try and strive to resolve our differences.

But the moment we get hurt again or feel that it is pointless or feel that there can be no change for the better, we will immediately and conveniently give up.

But in today's gospel, we see Jesus approaching someone whom we would automatically ostracize in our lives, especially if that person has betrayed us and sold us out.

Levi was such a person and yet Jesus not only approached him, but even called him to follow Him.

Jesus came to bring together all peoples into the peace and unity of God's kingdom.

In our Lenten journey ahead, let us heed the word of the Lord from the 1st reading.

Let us release our clenched fists and drop the wicked word.

Then our light will begin to shine for others and our own shadows will be shortened.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Friday after Ash Wed, 03-03-17

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

"There's no business like show business". That's the title of a song as well as a movie in the '50s.

When we think about it, for other kinds of professions the reward is in the pay, but in show business, it is not only the pay but also the applause and maybe even admiration for those who can sing and dance and act.

The Lenten season began on Ash Wed and in the gospel passage for that day, Jesus pointed out three spiritual disciplines - prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Yet He also warned that these three spiritual disciplines could also end up like "show business", ie. for others to see and to win their admiration.

Today's readings talk about fasting. The 1st reading quoted what the people thought about fasting: "Why should we fast if you never see it, why do penance if you never notice?" It seems that the people thought of fasting as a way to get God's attention and even to get rewarded for it.

And the response from the Lord is this: Is not this the sort of fast that pleases me - to break the unjust fetters and undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke, to share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor, to clothe the man you see to be naked and not turn from your own kin?

In other words, our act of fasting should also lead us to hunger for charity towards others. Our fasting should help us cleanse ourselves of selfishness and be filled with the grace of kindness for others.

If not, then our fasting may just be "show business" and there will be no reward for that.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Thursday after Ash Wed, 02-03-17

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

Shocking words are not what we usually like to hear because they disturb us.

But when the same shocking words are repeated over and over again, we become numb to it. It loses its "kick", so to speak.

So when we hear the words of Jesus in today's gospel, what is our response?

Are we raising our eyebrows and wondering if what He is saying is for real?

Yesterday we began the season of Lent with an emphasis on prayer, penance and almsgiving.

All this are not ends in themselves but are means to help us feel for others, to feel our "within" and more importantly to feel God in our lives.

All this is to help us respond to God's Word.

Like what Moses said to the people in the 1st reading: See, today I set before you life and prosperity, death and disaster.

The words of Jesus may not sound very consoling to us.

But those are the words that point us to the way of life and eventually to eternal life.

The way of life is the way of the cross.

To choose otherwise is to choose ruin and disaster.