Tuesday, July 31, 2018

17th Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 01-08-18

Jeremiah 15:10, 16-21 / Matthew 13:44-46

We often hear of "a calling". It may be a calling to the priesthood or the religious life. It may be a calling to a mission. It may be a calling to a particular state of life.

But just what is a calling? Is there a "voice" somewhere that is calling? And how certain is that a calling or is it some kind of imagination?

If we wish to understand what a true calling is, just looking at the 1st reading will give us a idea of what it entails.

Jeremiah was called to be a prophet. But it was certainly not easy at all. He was a man of strife and dissension. He was cursed upon and suffered insult for proclaiming God's Word to the people.

He lamented that his suffering was continual, his wound incurable. If we imagine ourselves to be in his shoes, we would probably want to end it all by giving up and running away.

But Jeremiah stuck to his calling because he knew it was God who had called him to be a prophet and God assured him that He is with him all the way and will save him from his enemies.

God was Jeremiah's treasure. Jeremiah also knew that when he does what God wants of him, then he is willing to give up everything for God in spite of his suffering.

May we also know what God wants of us, may we know what God is calling us to, and may we also give up everything and do what God wants of us.

Monday, July 30, 2018

17th Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 30-07-17

Jeremiah 14:17-22 / Matthew 13:36-43

We live in a troubled world. The "troubled world" is just a term to mean that there are many things that are sad and bad.

What is sad is that there are poverty, drought, famine and whole list of other things that make us shake our heads in sadness.

What is bad is that there are wars, innocent suffering and death, vices and immorality that make us wonder if there can ever be justice in the world.

And our troubled world can make us even question if there is a God and if there is, what is He doing about all this.

In the 1st reading, God sent the prophet Jeremiah to say these words: Tears flood my eyes night and day, unceasingly, since a crushing blow falls on the daughter of my people, a most grievous injury. If I go into the countryside, there lie men killed by the sword; if I go into the city, I see people sick with hunger; even prophets and priests plough the land; they are at their wit's end.

As much as Jeremiah was describing what the sadness and the tragedy around him, he was also expressing the sorrow of God over the tragedy of His people. But it was a tragedy that they brought to themselves for being unfaithful to God and rejected God.

But the people still believed in God as they cry out: O our God, you are our hope.

So in our troubled world with all that is sad and bad, let us continue to put our trust in God for He is our hope. Let us be faithful to God and live virtuous lives, for the virtuous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of God.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

17th Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 29-07-18

Jeremiah 13:1-11 / Matthew 13:31-35

It would be rather awkward and embarrassing to talk about undergarments in a sacred and holy context of the homily.

Even the mention of the word "underwear" will irritate some sensitivities.

Yet the 1st reading was so graphic in description about the loincloth and its decay.

But the purpose of graphic language is to irritate and cause discomfort to us.

Because when we see decay, we get this disgusted feeling.

When God sees our spiritual decay caused by sin, He too gets disgusted.

And He will employ all means to wake us up to our decay and destruction, even using an embarrassing and awkward item like a loincloth.

Whenever we see something that is rotting and decaying, we turn away in disgust.

Yet it is strange that whenever we sin, we turn away from God and we foolishly swirl in rot and decay.

Yet the Lord reaches out to us sinners and binds Himself to us just as man wraps a loincloth closely around his waist.

God wants to wake us up from our foolishness and stupidity so that we will cling to Him as a loincloth clings to the waist of a man.

Yet along with the mercy and forgiveness of God, there is also a stern warning.

As the Lord says : If you do not stand by Me, you will not stand at all (Isa 7:9)

Saturday, July 28, 2018

17th Ordinary Sunday, Year B, 29.07.2018

2 Kings 4:42-44 / Ephesians 4:1-6 / John 6:1-15
Whenever we want to go for a meal, the big question is where to go. If we have friends who are “foodies”, as in they seem have in their minds a catalogue of places to eat somewhere, then they will surely recommend places and what to eat.

But in case we don’t have such friends (which is unlikely) then we can turn to our good friend “Google” and type in “hungry go where”, and we will be spoilt for choice.

But if we are hungry and lazy, then it’s not “hungry go where”. Now it’s “hungry call who?” With food delivery as a new option, there are no worries if we are hungry and lazy, because there are food delivery companies. 

And when we go to their websites, we see so many variety of food that it looks like some kind of buffet spread and we feel like trying everything in one go.

There are just so many choices, from Western to Indian, to Korean, from Chinese to Japanese, and there are also search options to look for some kind of popular dish. There are just so many choices that making a choice can be quite challenging. 

And once the order is placed, the food will be delivered in 30 to 45 minutes. So, if we are hungry and lazy, there are no worries. Just need to have money.

But the situation of the crowds in the gospel was quite different. They were hungry, they didn’t know where to go, they don’t know who to call and they had no money. It was a rather lousy situation to be in.

Yes, Jesus was there, but so far He had shown that He could cure the sick. But could He feed the hungry with just 5 barley loaves and two fish?

For a hungry person, he may be impressed with miraculous signs but the most impressive would be to place some delicious food before him. As it is often said, it may not be very effective to preach about God’s love to a hungry person. More effective would be to place food before him and that will be the sign of God’s love for him.

We read in the gospel that Jesus looked up and saw the crowds. He then asked Philip where to buy bread for the people to eat. We were told that this was to test Philip. Philip replied with not where but how much money was needed to buy the bread. Obviously we need not ask how many marks Philip scored for the “test”.

Jesus looked up and saw the hungry crowd. But He also looked up to His heavenly Father, the God of which the 1st reading quoted as saying: For the Lord says “They will eat and have some leftover.”

Jesus wanted to teach His disciples and the people that His heavenly Father will provide for them what they need, even when the odds are overwhelming.

We might think it is impossible but for God everything is possible. But just as God provides for us, He also expects us to be generous with what God has blessed us with.

We have these “5 loaves and 2 fish”. They may not be much and as Andrew said “what is that between so many?”

But with that Jesus looked up to heaven and with that small boy’s offering, the five thousand were fed.

It does sound impossible and some speculations say that others began to bring out what they had and so eventually there were more than enough.

But it is not so much how the bread was multiplied but why it was multiplied. It was a sign of God’s providence and care for His people and how generous God is with His blessings. 

And God also expects us to be generous with what He has given to us and that we share it with others too.

We may remember that back in 2015, it was a crunch time for the Church in Singapore. Three big churches were undergoing renovation – the Cathedral, Sts. Peter and Paul, Novena. At the same time, the Church of Transfiguration was being built.

We might think that it’s bad planning, but the fact is that it all happened at the same time. In retrospect, we can say that God did this to “test” the Church in Singapore, to see how generous we are in building God’s house.

Well, we have fared quite well, with the four churches renovated and built and the outstanding bills were paid.

Now the Catholic Foundation of the Archdiocese is appealing to our generosity for regular donations and this is to prepare the Church for the future. The projections are staggering, but again it is not impossible.

Just to share a short story about generosity.

There was a rich man who complained to his friend: “The people do not like me. They say I am stingy and greedy; but I have made my will and have willed my entire property to a charitable institution.” 

The friend replied: “A pig came to a cow and complained: ‘People speak so well of you. It is true you give milk. But they profit from me much more. They have meat and sausages of different types. Even my feet and hands they eat. Still nobody loves me as much as they love you. Why?’ 

The cow reflected and said: ‘Perhaps it is because of this: I give while I am alive.’ 

So let us not postpone the good and the generosity which we can do here and now.

God has blessed us with what we need. Let us also generously share God’s blessings with others.

Friday, July 27, 2018

16th Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 28-07-18

Jeremiah 7:1-11 / Matthew 13:24-30

Christians deplore the practice of superstition as it conflicts and contradicts the belief in God.

Included in the superstitious practices are consulting horoscopes, fortune-tellers and palm-reading, etc.

But few of us Catholics would admit to having religious superstitions.

For e.g., what are the real reasons for hanging the palm branch on the door post, drink holy water, wear holy medals, etc.

Of course there are valid religions reasons for these practices, but yet we can also concoct our own queer reasons for doing so.

The 1st reading pointed out that the people were using the Temple of the Lord as a kind of religious superstitious object by saying delusive words like "This is the sanctuary of the Lord.

The contradiction was that they know they were in the presence of God and yet they continued with their sinful ways.

Religion becomes a sort of superstition when we say we believe in God and come to church to obtain whatever religious articles and yet there is no change in our sinful ways.

The gospel parable highlights the sinful and superstitious practices in our lives but yet God is loving and merciful.

May the weeds of our sinfulness slowly diminish and may we produce a rich harvest of true love for God and neighbour.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

16th Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 27-07-18

Jeremiah 3:14-17 / Matthew 13:18-23

Too much of a good thing can have its negative effect.

For e.g. in Singapore, food is in such abundance that we don't quite know what it feels to be hungry anymore.

For that matter of fact, we don't know what is a food shortage. We don't understand the stories of the Japanese Occupation during WWII or the hard times of the '50s and '60s.

When we don't feel the hunger or loss, we tend to take things for granted.

As in the 1st reading, God called His people "disloyal children" because they were too safe and secure and hence they began to follow the dictates of their hearts.

Similarly, when we have too many other things in our minds, then God's Word can't sink into our hearts and bear fruits in our lives, just like the seeds that fell on rocky or thorny soil in today's gospel parable.

We must pray for a heart that will listen and understand what God is telling us.

Let us also pray that we will hunger for God's Word and be nourished by it.

God is good, and we can never have enough of God.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

16th Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 26-07-18

Jeremiah 2:1-3, 7-8, 12-13 / Matthew 13:10-17

In life, we are always curious, as well as amazed by mystery. There is always something that we don't quite understand.

Even ordinary things that we take for granted like gravity and friction have something to tell us but we don't usually look deeper at it and hence we just pass it by.

Yet when we lose the sense of mystery in religion and our faith becomes de-mystified through rationalism and familiarism, then God would become just a concept.

In the 1st reading, we hear the prophet Jeremiah lamenting of such attitude when he said:
"The priests have never asked, "Where is the Lord?". Those who administer the Law have no knowledge of the Lord. The shepherds have rebelled against the Lord; the prophets have prophesied in the name of Baal, following things with no power in them.

Yes, God had become just a thing that existed only in the minds of the people but not a reality in their hearts.

As Jesus would quote the prophet Isaiah in the gospel: For the heart of this nation has grown coarse, their ears are dull of hearing, and they have shut their eyes.

When we lose the sense of mystery, then we also lose touch with the spiritual aspect of our lives. Our hearts would also grow coarse and our lives are like leaky cisterns that hold no water.

Hence prayer is fundamental and essential in our lives. Prayer softens our hearts and makes us sensitive to the mystery of the presence of God around us and also in us.

God has revealed Himself to us in the Bible. Yet God continues to reveal Himself to each of us in a personal way.

May our prayer lead us to a deeper encounter of the mystery of God in our lives.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

St. James, Apostle, Wednesday, 25-07-18

2 Cor 4:7-15 / Matthew 20:20-28

There is a popular pilgrimage in Europe that is known as the Compostela.

It is a traditional pilgrimage to the grave of St. James and it is known as the "Way of St. James".

According to legend, the remains of St. James are held in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia (Spain), and St. James is also the patron saint of Spain.

And according to the local tradition, St. James went as far as Spain to preach the gospel, and there he had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary and then he returned to Judea where shortly after he was beheaded by King Herod Agrippa in the start of the persecution of the Church.

Hence he was the first of the apostles to be martyred and the first of the apostles to offer his life in witnessing to Christ.

Yes, St. James drank the cup that his Master drank and like his Master, he also offered his life as a ransom for many.

This feast of St. James also reminds us that our life is a pilgrimage on earth in a journey towards our eternal home in heaven.

In this pilgrimage, we understand what St. Paul said in the 1st reading - We are only earthenware jars that hold the treasures of God.

Like St. James, let us pour out our life in service of God and others, so that, as the 1st reading puts it - the more grace is multiplied among people, the more thanksgiving there will be to the glory of God.

Monday, July 23, 2018

16th Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 24-07-18

Micah 7:14-15, 18-20 / Matthew 12:46-50

It is said that every family has their own problems and difficulties, and of course we know how true that is.

It can be anything from inheritance disputes to parent-children tensions to a family member that marches to a different turn.

All these problems and difficulties result in anxieties and worries and it would be very challenging to keep the family together and in such situations.

In the gospel, we read that the mother and the relatives of Jesus were anxious to have a word with Jesus as He was speaking to the crowds.

Obviously, they had heard what Jesus was doing, and also the rising opposition against Him, and certainly they were anxious for Him. It also goes to show that even Mary had to struggle in her understanding of God's plan as the life and mission of Jesus unfolds.

But in the midst of all these anxieties and uncertainties, Jesus has this to say: Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother.

Jesus was clear of what the will of God was for Him, though He Himself would have to struggle through the difficulties of carrying out that will.

So we can sympathize with Mary and the relatives for being anxious and wanting to have a word with Jesus and find out what was going on.

But with what Jesus said about God's will, then the anxiety now would be to know what God's will is.

As much as we are anxious for the people we care for, especially when we can't understand what is happening with them, let us listen to Jesus as He points us to God's will.

In our anxiety, let us also pray that we will know what God's will is and to do it. Mary went through that anxiety. Let us ask her to pray for us so we will follow Jesus and do the will of God and be His brother and sister.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

16th Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 23-07-18

Micah 6:1-4, 6-8 / Matthew 12:38-42
A wise man can be described as one who believes in what is good and he lives out that goodness in his life.

On the other hand, a fool may know what is good but disregards it in his life or even lives contrary to the good.

But when wisdom and foolishness are understood in the context of faith, then there are far-reaching consequences in life.

In the 1st reading, we hear of  a foolish and unfaithful people being questioned by compassionate God.

God was confronting His people: My people, what have I done to you, how have I been a burden to you? Answer me!

Yet God was not asking much of His people. He was not asking for gifts or holocausts or libations or sacrifices that the people cannot meet up to.

In fact, what was good for the people, God had already made known to them, and this was what the Lord asked of them: to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with your God.

Yet the fact is that we fail in one, or more, of these at any point in our lives. Yes, it is so simple and yet we fail so miserably.

To act with justice, to love tenderly and to walk in humility with God and neighbour are profound signs of a good life.

May we have the wisdom to understand it and live it out in our lives.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

16th Ordinary Sunday, Year B, 22.07.2018

Jeremiah 23:1-6 / Ephesians 2:13-18 / Mark 6:30-34
We know what the letters RIP stands for. It is often engraved on tombstones and on niches. Of course in that context, it stands for “Rest in Peace”.

So it seems that only those who have passed on, those who have died, only they are entitled to rest in peace.

But for the living, and that is all of us, we also would like to “RIP”, but our “RIP” is in another sense, and that is “Rest If Possible”.

Especially in a dense and urban city like Singapore, we are plagued with not enough time and not enough rest, and our tagline is “busy busy busy”.

In fact, we can be so busy that RIP can also mean “Ripped Into Pieces”.

So even when we are in the toilet (the toilet is sometimes called the restroom), it may not be that we can do whatever in peace. Because someone will come along and knock on the door and say things like “Are you still in there? Can you hurry up?” Especially when it’s rush hour.

As we read the gospel, the sentence that will appeal to us is probably what Jesus said to His disciples “You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while.”

Oh, how we yearn for that! Oh yes, how we wish we could leave everything behind and don’t have to worry about anything, and just eat and sleep and rest. And of course not forgetting to bring along our mobile devices and battery chargers.

Jesus said that to His apostles because He had sent them out to preach repentance, cure the sick and to cast out devils. And they came back and told Him all they had done and taught. They saw how the authority that Jesus gave them had worked wonders and they probably wanted to go on and on.

But here is where Jesus told them to stop, to come away to some lonely place and rest. In other words, Jesus wanted them to stop, rest and pray.

Because the temptation here would be to go on and on, spinning faster and faster, and getting all heated up and then end up being burnt-out.

Jesus also wanted to remind His apostles that rest and prayer are critical because without Him they can do nothing.

Jesus used a rather interesting phrase in what He said to the apostles. He told them to “come away”. It is a rather strange way to use those two words. Usually it would be to “go away” or “come here”. But “come away”?

So Jesus is telling His apostles to “come away” from all their busyness and to come to Him. And here we will recall in Mathew 11:28, Jesus said: Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.

While the apostles might have found their mission exciting, and saw things happening, it may not be the same for us.

The anxieties and worries of life have taken their toll on us physically, and we yearn for a good rest in the comfort of our beds.

But more than just physical rest, what we really yearn for is that our hearts are at rest. In other words, our hearts need to rest in peace.

When our hearts are not rested in peace, then physically we will be always feeling tired and drained out and even burnt-out.

That was why the crowds were looking for Jesus. They had a need – it could be looking for a cure from some illness, or being disturbed by evil, or being oppressed or harassed.

Physically they were worn out by anxieties and worries. Spiritually they were burning out of hope and wearing out thin on faith.

When Jesus saw the crowds, He didn’t have the heart to turn the boat around and look for another place. Rather, He took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and He set Himself to teach them at some length. 

Jesus wanted to teach the crowds that besides physical and material needs, there are also spiritual needs. As much as the body needs to rest, the heart also needs to be at rest. When the heart is at rest, then that will make a difference in our lives.
The following poem will express what this difference is about:

I got up early one morning
and rushed right into the day;
I had so much to accomplish
that I didn't have time to pray.

Problems just tumbled about me,
and heavier came each task.
I wondered, "Why doesn't God help me?".
He answered, "You didn't ask."

I wanted to see joy and beauty,
but the day toiled on, gray and bleak;
I wondered why God didn't show me.
He said, "But you didn't seek."

I tried to come into God's presence;
I used all my keys at the lock.
God gently and lovingly chided,
"My child, you didn't knock."

I woke up early this morning,
and paused before entering the day;
I had so much to accomplish
that I had to take time to pray.

Well, RIP can stand for “Rest In Peace”, or “Rest If Possible”, or “Ripped Into Pieces’, but when we take time to “Rest In Prayer” then we will truly be at peace. 

And what a wonderful rest it will be for our lives.

Friday, July 20, 2018

15th Week, Ordiinary Time, Saturday, 21-07-18

Micah 2:1-5 / Matthew 12:14-21

The late Archbishop Fulton Sheen was an articulate and eloquent speaker and preacher.

In fact, he was one of the pioneers of media evangelization.

But when he was in college, a debate coach told him that he was the worst speaker he had ever heard.

Well, Fulton Sheen proved him wrong.

And so did others like Ernest Hemmingway and Thomas Edison who proved their critics wrong.

Yet there are also many others who were crushed and devastated by the criticisms against them.

And some don't recover from it.

Criticisms may not come with a sarcastic tone.

It may be just a jeer or a scorn, but it is as bad as a brawl and a shout.

In the gospel, we heard about the Pharisees criticizing and plotting against Jesus.

Yet, like how the prophet Isaiah prophesied: He will not brawl or shout; he will not break the crushed reed, not put out the smoldering wick till he has lead the truth to victory.

Let us turn to Jesus whenever we face criticisms or scorching remarks.

May the truth of His love lead us to rise above the criticisms and destructive judgments.

May we prove that the truth spoken with love is more powerful and creative than the harsh word that breaks and crushes people.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

15th Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 20-07-18

Isaiah 38:1-6, 21-22, 7-8 / Matthew 12:1-8

We may wonder what it is like to have a close shave with death. From the little that we might have read, it is like one's whole life would flash before one's eyes or something like that.

Whatever it may be, a close shave with death would certainly jolt us and make us think about life and not to take it for granted, besides the fact that it will also make us think about death.

For king Hezekiah, he did not have a close shave with death. He fell ill and was at the point of death. And the prophet Isaiah came to confirm for him that his time was running out and to put his affairs in order.

King Hezekiah was not ready for death and he pleaded to the Lord God for his life and he shed many tears. Maybe he also had not put his affairs in order yet.

But the Lord God heard his prayer and cured his illness and even gave him another fifteen years of life. It was not just to give him time to put his affairs in order, but the Lord God also had things for him to do.

We do not know when our time on earth will be up or when the Lord will call us home. But we don't need close shaves with death to remind us that we need to always put our affairs in order.

More importantly, while we still have life with us, let us know what the Lord God wants of us.

Our affairs must the affairs of the Lord and our life must be at the service of the Lord.

Jesus is not just the Master of the Sabbath; He is the Master of our life and we must do what He wants of us. Otherwise we will live in fear and become slaves of death.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

15th Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 19-07-18

Isaiah 26:7-9, 12, 16-19 / Matthew 11:28-30

In the prayers for the deceased, we often hear these phrases "eternal rest" and "rest in peace".

When understood literally, it means that the departed have finally come to rest from their journey in this world, and they are freed from the anxieties and worries of this life. That is one way of understanding the word "rest".

When Jesus said in the gospel, "Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest." we may immediately think of physical rest.

Indeed, the anxieties and worries of life have taken their toil on us physically and we yearn for a good night's rest in the comfort of our beds.

But spiritually, we also yearn for a rest for our hearts more than we yearn for physical rest. Our hearts need to rest in peace.

And Jesus wants to give us that peace because the meaning of rest is to go to Jesus and have our hearts re-created into His image and likeness so that our hearts can be like His.

As the 1st reading puts it: Lord, you are giving us peace. With peace in our hearts, then we will understand what the 1st readings means when it says: The path of the upright man is straight, you smooth the way of the upright. Following the path of your judgements, we hoped in you, Lord, your name and your memory are all my soul desires.

So even though our bodies may be resting, the 1st reading says: At night my soul longs for you and my spirit in me seeks for you.

Yes, our hearts will not be at rest until they find their rest in the heart of Jesus. Then like Jesus we will be humble and gentle of heart. Then we find that the yoke and the burdens of life will be light.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

15th Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 18-07-18

Isaiah 10:5-7, 13-16 / Matthew 11:25-27

The gospels portray Jesus as loving and merciful. He is compassionate and He heals the sick and cares for the poor and the outcasts.

He may have some harsh words for the elders, the scribes and the Pharisees, but He did not call down fire from heaven to destroy those who are against Him or against God.

On the hand, the Old Testament portrays God as a God who punishes His people for their unfaithfulness, though He is also portrayed as slow to anger and rich in mercy.

The 1st reading recounts how God "commissioned" Assyria against His people who had provoked Him by their unfaithfulness.

God allowed Assyria to pillage and plunder freely and to stamp on His people freely so that they would learn their lesson.

Yet when Assyria got out of hand and became like the axe that wants to claim more credit than the man who wields it or the saw that wants to claim more strength than the man who handles it, God's justice and mercy arose to stop Assyria and to protect His people.

Though we are God's people, we have to admit that there are times when we also get out of hand and sin against God. In order to wake us up and make us learn our lesson, God may also let our enemies get the better of us.

But let us also know that when our enemies get out of hand and think they can do whatever they like, then God's justice and mercy will also arise to save us from our enemies, and God will also forgive us when we repent for He is merciful and compassionate.

So the Bible has revealed to us who God truly is, that He will punish us but it will be for our good. And that He is also loving and merciful and compassionate, as how Jesus has shown us.

So let us walk in the ways of the Lord and be faithful to Him, and turn to Him in repentance when we sin, so that we can avoid the punishment due to sin and continue to experience the tender love and mercy of our God.

Monday, July 16, 2018

15th Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 17-07-18

Isaiah 7:1-9 / Matthew 11:20-24

When faced with a hungry person, it is utterly useless to preach to him about the love of God.

The most sensible thing to do is to give him some food and that will indeed show him the love of God.

Hunger has no logic and hence people will not listen to whatever promises of food that will be coming. The hunger has to be addressed immediately.

If hunger has no logic, then fear can cause panic. In the face of mortal danger, fear can make people hysterical.

In the 1st reading, we heard that the hearts of king Ahaz and the people of Judah shuddered when they got the news that the enemy was approaching to attack them.

The immediate thing to do would be to run away and save themselves and to each his own. For those remaining, they could panic and be hysterical as they wait for death to fall on them.

Yet in all that chaos, the Lord spoke. And He assured His people that what the enemy planned to do won't come true; it would not be. But on one condition: But if you do not stand by me, you will not stand at all.

The people will have to decide - either to stand by the words of the Lord, or give in to fear and panic.

Yet in the gospel, the story was quite the opposite. The people had seen the miracles of Jesus, and yet they refused to repent. And as it is, those places mentioned in the gospel now lie in ruins.

And for us, we have heard the words of the Lord; we have seen His love for us in the Eucharist.

We now have to make the decision - either we stand by Him, or we won't stand at all.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

15th Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 16-07-18

Isaiah 1:10-17 / Matthew 10:34 - 11:1

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and in Singapore, there are the communities of the Carmelite Fathers at the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, and the cloistered nuns at the monastery near the Church of St. Teresa.

The title of "Our Lady of Mount Carmel" is given to the Blessed Virgin Mary in her role as the patroness of the Carmelite Order.

From the late 12th to the mid 13th century, there were Christian hermits living on Mount Carmel in the Holy Land and they were called the Carmelites, and they built a chapel there and dedicated it to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Since the 15th century, popular devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel has centered on the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel also known as the Brown Scapular.

Associated with the Brown Scapular are the promises of Mary's special help for the salvation of the one who wears it with devotion to our Lady.

The Brown Scapular is a miniature of the part of the habit that the Carmelites wear, which is a piece of long brown cloth that covers the front and the back right down to the feet.

It is said that the Scapular is given to the early Carmelite by Saint Simon Stock.

The Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is known to many Catholic faithful as the "scapular feast," associated with the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

It symbolizes the wearer's consecration to Mary and affiliation with the Carmelite Order.

Certainly, Mary would be the model for one who wears the scapular and the spiritual values of the Carmelite Order would be the way of life.

But devotion to Mary and whatever spiritual disciplines would certainly have its foundations in the teachings of Jesus, in whom is the fullness of love and truth, and who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

May our devotions and our prayers lead us closer to Jesus and help us to worship God worthily in the Eucharist.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

15th Ordinary Sunday, Year B, 15.07.2018

Amos 7:12-15 / Ephesians 1:3-14 / Mark 6:7-13
Some people say that football is an amazing game. For those of us who love to watch football or play the game, we will certainly agree.

But for some people, football is an amusing game. It is amusing because there are 22 people on a pitch chasing after a ball, and when the ball goes into the net, they will celebrate it by jumping all over each other, though some will despair.

But whether it is amazing or amusing, the World Cup 2018 will reach its climax with the final match tonight (15th July). It will be between France and Croatia, and one of them will lift the trophy as the World Cup champions.

Since last week when France and Croatia emerged as the finalists, the tagline is “France vs Croatia”.

Maybe it is just a manner of speech; it’s easier to say France vs Croatia than to say Croatia vs France, but maybe it also reveals who is the favourite and who is the underdog. 

France is more well-known in every aspect, from French loaf to blue cheese, and even the national team is known as “Les Blues”. They have won the World Cup once, in 1998, a few other trophies. 

On the other hand, Croatia, only after checking the map, then we know that it is a small country in central Europe.

They had no World Cup championship honours, and it is the first time that they are in the World Cup finals. Probably the only other thing is that most Croatian names end with “ic”. Just look at the names of the Croatian footballers and you will know what I mean:
Luka Modrić, Ivan Rakitić, Mario Mandžukić, Ivan Perišić, Nikola Kalinić, Mateo Kovačić, Danijel Subašić, etc.

And not just the footballers, the name of the coach also ends with “ic”. By the way his name is Zlatko Dalic.

Most of the time, football is about fame and fortune and religion has hardly any part in it. But with Z. Dalic, and maybe unintentionally, a bit of religion is put into the game.

Z. Dalic spoke about his faith on the Croatian Catholic radio when World Cup began. (85% of Croatia’s population is Catholic). 

He said that his current success is due to his faith in God and that he always carries a rosary to hold on to in difficult times.

He said this: Everything I have in my life and in my profession and career, I owe it to my faith and I am grateful to my Lord. 

He added: I am happy with my life, but without strong faith and that motivation, it would be very difficult to achieve it.

He continued: When a man loses hope, then he must depend on our merciful God and on our faith.

In a game that is often associated with popularity and money, it is quite rarely that we find an element of faith and religiosity.

But Z. Dalic is certainly not embarrassed about it nor is he silent about his faith in the game of football.

But that was also what Jesus summoned His disciples to do. He sent them forth giving them authority over unclean spirits and they set off to preach repentance. They cast out devils and cured the sick.

So repentance is about turning back to God, and repentance is about reclaiming our faith in the various aspects of life.

Because the excitement and the anxieties of life can have the power to subdue our faith and we just continue aimlessly in life without God and without faith.

So repentance is about reclaiming our faith in the midst of life so that God can manifest His presence through our faith and bring about healing and cleanse the world of evil.

Last week, the attention was on which football teams will reach the World Cup finals. But there was also attention on another football team, but it was how to reach them and rescue them.

The “Wild Boars” football team of 12 boys and their coach were trapped in a cave in Northern Thailand with rising flood waters, and that made it very difficult to rescue them.

But finally all were rescued. Thanks be to God. The coach said that in the midst of cold and hunger, he taught the boys meditation and that helped them to stay together with hope. Now, that is a religious dimension in the whole rescue operations.

And that might make us recall that in 2010, in the country of Chile, 33 miners were trapped for 69 days when the mine collapsed. They too prayed together, and the Pope then, Pope Benedict XVI sent them rosaries that he blessed.

Obstacles and impossibilities gave way to the power of prayer. The dates were also significant. The mine collapsed on 5th August, the day of the dedication of the Cathedral of St. Mary Major in Rome. The last miner was rescued on the 13th October, the anniversary of the last apparition of Our Lady at Fatima. Again we saw the powerful religious dimension of faith in the rescue operation.

This dimension of faith in our ordinary life can be powerfully brought out by the act of repentance. Repentance is about turning back to God, repentance is about reclaiming our faith so that God can work wonders.

For the Croatian coach Z. Dalic, it may mean clutching his rosary for 90 minutes this evening. And that’s just for the World Cup. 

We too, must clutch our rosaries and pray that God will bring about healing and cleansing for ourselves and for the world. That is what repentance is about, and it is a powerful religious dimension of faith, and our world needs to see it.

Friday, July 13, 2018

14th Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 14-07-18

Isaiah 6:1-8 / Matthew 10:24-33

In these present times, we cannot deny that secularism is a powerful influence across all sectors of life.

But this is often balanced off by a quiet search for the meaning of life and existence in the quest for spirituality.

It cannot be denied that modern men and women are searching for the transcendent and they want an experience of God.

Even the Church has seen a renewed need for prayer and meditation as people search deeper for God.

Indeed, we all have this longing and thirsting for God.

And people do experience God in various situations and settings - at Mass, at prayer meetings, in retreats, at holy places.

In the 1st reading, the prophet Isaiah experienced the holiness of God in a vision.

At the same time, he also became aware of his sinfulness and unworthiness, but he was healed of it.

Yet, his experience of God also propelled him to a mission, and that was to proclaim the holiness of God to the people.

So an experience of God is not just for our sake but for the purpose of a mission.

That is essentially to proclaim the presence of God to a secularized world.

As Jesus said in the gospel, it is to declare and bear witness to Him in the presence of men.

May we not be afraid to let the love of God shine in us.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

14th Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 13-07-18

Hosea 14:2-10 / Matthew 10:16-23

The feeling of being forgiven is a beautiful feeling.

There can be many words to describe it but the feeling is always more than words.

It is a beautiful feeling because it is essentially an experience of God's love and mercy.

It is also an experience of being healed and being freed from sin.

It is like coming back to God and living in His presence in peace and safety.

The 1st reading proclaims that those who repent will be forgiven and they will be so blessed that they won't be contented with just a nice and beautiful feeling.

In fact they will bloom like the lily, thrust out roots like the poplar, be beautiful like olives, grow corn that flourishes and cultivate choice vines.

These are images of growth and fruitfulness.

The experience of God's love and forgiveness should lead us to grow in love and bear fruits of works of mercy.

Forgiveness is more than just a nice and beautiful feeling.

It is an experience of God's love that makes us want to be loving and fruitful in mercy and forgiveness.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

14th Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 12-07-18

Hosea 11:1-4, 8-9 / Matthew 10:7-15

Any parent whose son or daughter is overseas studying or working, would look forward or even long to hear from their children.

With the change in ways of communication, even parents would learn how to use email or skype or facebook or whatever just to keep in contact with their children.

But just as the parents would find ways and means to keep in contact, the children would be the ones who are not that keen or interested, even though they are more versatile with the modern day communication means.

The sentiments that parents have for their children are expressed tenderly in the 1st reading.

What is more profound is that it was God who was speaking through the prophet Hosea.

And the 1st reading contains the intimate revelations of God in the Old Testament.

God is portrayed as a loving father.

It was He who took Israel into His arms and lifted Israel into His embrace, and taught Israel to walk.

But the more God loved Israel, the more Israel turned away and rejected God.

This ungratefulness and unfaithfulness would certainly provoke divine wrath, besides of course, human censure.

This is where God reveals Himself as merciful and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in mercy.

To put it tersely, God is the Holy One who does not wish to destroy.

That is what Jesus sent for His disciples to proclaim.

That is also what we have to bear witness to.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

14th Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 11-07-18

Hosea 10:1-3, 7-8, 12 / Matthew 10:1-7     (2010)

Basic common sense will tell us that for the most important jobs, we would pick the most qualified people to do it.

Or at least people with a certain level of intelligence and capabilities that will do justice to the task.

Strange that Jesus did not follow this principle.

For the proclamation of the kingdom, He chose 12 men.

Most, if not all of them, would be automatically written off from the board of directors or executives of any organization.

In doing so, this is what Jesus is telling us.

Even for the simplest of persons, God has a task and a mission for him.

God does not write off anyone.

But we can write ourselves off. This happens when we become too proud of ourselves and do not rely on God anymore.

We become like the Israel in the 1st reading - the richer they became, the more idols they began to worship.

We do not need high qualifications to do the most important things in life.

In fact, we just need basic common sense to know what it is.

And it is there in the 1st reading when it says: Sow integrity for yourselves, reap a harvest of kindness. It is time to go seeking the Lord until He comes to rain salvation on you.

Monday, July 9, 2018

14th Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 10-07-18

Hosea 8:4-7, 11-13 / Matthew 9:32-38

Just a general reading of the gospels can give us a sense that it was an exciting time when Jesus was around.

All that sounded very exciting and especially when Jesus summoned His disciples and gave them authority to heal diseases and drive out evil spirits.

Yes, all that sounds very exciting at that time.

Yet it is no less exciting now. Because we are the current day disciples.

The imagery that Jesus gives us is a crop that is ripe for harvest.

And that is the urgency. If there is no harvesting, then consequently the crop will be rotting.

And to think that there are people out there who will be rotting spiritually just because we are not answering the call to be disciples of Jesus is a sad and disturbing thought.

The call to discipleship is first and foremost to be labourers of the harvest, and that is going to be tough work.

Yes, we pray for more vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

But we also need to pray for ourselves that we will be awakened by the call to be labourers of the Lord's harvest.

It's going to be a lot of tough work, but it is always exciting to be working for the boss who is none other than the Lord Himself.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

14th Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 09-07-18

Hosea2:16-18, 21022 / Matthew 9:18-26

One of the most difficult sins for us to forgive is that of betrayal.

More so in a relationship, when this betrayal takes the form of unfaithfulness, then it is even more difficult to forgive.

The prophet Hosea of the 1st reading suffered this experience of betrayal.

But he used this experience to show what God is like to His unfaithful people.

God is compassionate and forgiving, even when His people broke the covenant and worshiped idols.

Hosea showed that God is forgiving and He forgives so completely that punishment can be changed to restoration and even to a celebration of the renewal of the marriage covenant as we heard in the 1st reading.

God even says to the unfaithful Israel - I will betroth you to myself forever, betroth you with integrity and justice, with tenderness and love.

God has always loved us and He loves us with an everlasting love.

Even when we have sinned, God does not turn away from us but instead turns towards us with all His love.

We cannot remain unmoved by what we heard in the 1st reading.

Not to be moved by it means that we do not understand God's love for us. Not to be moved by it may mean that we don't understand what love is at all.

Let us turn to Jesus, and ask for forgiveness for the times we have been unfaithful to Him, so that we may be healed and be faithful in our love for Him.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

14th Ordinary Sunday, Year B, 08.07.2018

Ezekiel 2:2-5 / 2 Cor 12:7-10 / Mark 6:1-6

Whether we are football fans or not, we should know by now that the World Cup is going on in Russia. By the way, it is already in the quarter-finals and moving on towards the semi-finals. Never mind if you are not interested in all that.

There are many reasons why people watch the game. Some want to watch their favourite teams in action. Some just want to watch the highlights and see the goals. Some just want to look at the players, especially the good-looking ones. 

And since the World Cup is held in Russia, some jokes have come out of it, like this one:
Donald Trump met up with Vladimir Putin and asked him, “Hey Putin, who do you think will win the World Cup?” Putin looks at his vodka and replied, “I have not decided yet!” (Well the way Russia is progressing in the World Cup is quite surprising …)

But the World Cup has been dramatic enough so far. Some of the big names didn’t even qualify to go to Russia. And already some the big names have been surprising kicked out of the competition. 

One of the lessons that the World Cup is giving us is that on the world stage, the underdogs can stand a chance for glory. It gives a kind of hope to boys playing bare-footed in some dusty street a chance to make it to big time football.

Maybe that is why the game is so popular and gets the most attention on the media. It offers hope to the underdogs against the big names of football.

Yes, the World Cup enjoys extensive media coverage because of its popularity and the hope it offers. But moving away from the international limelight of the game in Russia, let us go the mountainous region of Chiang Rai in northern Thailand.

There, 12 boys from a football team and their coach, who had dreams and a hope of making a name in the game, are trapped in a cave with flood waters rising. Their hope of being rescued is fading fast as the forecast is that more rains will come, and rescue efforts are getting desperate as they race against time and terrain.

Will there be any hope of rescuing the 12 boys and their coach? Or will their dreams and their lives be wiped away by the murky muddy flood waters? We pray for them, we must pray for them, and also for the rescue workers. Their fate lies in the hands of God.

But what a world of difference there is between the hype and the attention in Russia, and the grim desperation in Chiang Rai.

While the feet and reputation of the players that the World Cup are value at millions of dollars, the lives of the 12 boys and their coach also calls out for our attention.

But more often than not, the glamour of the big names and the big money overwhelms the plight of the little and humble. But it is in the little and humble that the voice of God is often heard, and it is a prophetic voice.

In the gospel, we read that Jesus came to His home town and on the Sabbath He went to the synagogue and He began to teach there.

The initial astonishment was turned into rejection as the people of His home town began to dig into His background. It is the common case of “familiarity breeds contempt”.

Even Jesus had to say that “a prophet is only despised in his own country, among his own relations, and in his own house”. He couldn’t even work miracles there because of their lack of faith.

Maybe the people were expecting someone with a big name and a big reputation, and then they will listen to him. But a local carpenter doesn’t meet their expectations, and so they discounted His wisdom and His miracles. And with that the prophetic voice was silenced.

As we think about it, very often it is the hype and the glamour and the spectacular that catches our attention. But it that where the prophetic voice of God is heard? If we want to hear what God is saying to us, we may need to go beyond the hype, the glamour and the spectacular.

There is a story of a small family of three who lived in a house by the river. One day the son told his mother that he wanted to go for a swim in the river, and so his mother watched him from a window in the kitchen.

Suddenly she saw a crocodile form the opposite bank entering into the water and heading for her son. She immediately rushed out and screamed at her son to get out of the water. 

When her son realized that a crocodile was heading towards him, he swam desperately for safety. But just as he reached the river bank, the crocodile got his legs in its jaws. But at the same time, the mother reached her son and grabbed him by his arms and tried to pull her son out of the crocodile’s jaws.

The tussle was furious and as the crocodile tried to drag the boy into the water, the mother held on to her son’s arms with all her might.

The commotion alerted the father who came with a gun and shot the crocodile, and only then the crocodile released the boy.

After weeks in the hospital, the boy survived. His legs were extremely  scarred by the vicious attack of the crocodile and, on his arms, were deep scratches where his mother’s fingernails dug into his flesh in her effort to hang on to her son.

Newspaper reporters interviewed the boy after the trauma, and asked if he would show them his scars. The boy lifted his pants legs and showed them the deep scars. 

And then, with obvious pride, he said to the reporters, “But why just look at my legs? Look at my arms. I have great scars on my arms too. I have them because my mom wouldn’t let go.”

So there we have the prophetic voice of God. It is not in the hype or the glamour or in the spectacular. 

Rather it is in the little and the humble that God speaks and tells us what is really important .

So let us look, and let us see, and let us listen, for the Lord our God is always telling us something for our good.