Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Mary, Mother of God, 01.01.2020

Numbers 6:22-27 / Galatians 4:4-7 / Luke 2:16-21 
As we come before the Lord on this first day of the New Year, we have come to do two things. 

We have come to offer thanksgiving for the blessings that we have received during the year past. 

We also have come to invoke God’s blessings as we begin the New Year. 

But before we invoke blessings from the Lord, we must also be thankful for His blessings that we have received. 

And here is where we need to ponder and remember how God has blessed us. 

It is in pondering and remembering the blessings that we receive from God and that our hearts begin to be filled with thanksgiving. 

2019 is still fresh in our memories and it must be. We won’t forget things so quickly.  

We have seen birth and death, health and sickness, happiness and sadness. We have had our share of joys and hopes, and also anguish and disappointments. 

But over and above all these, in good times and in bad, we must see the hand of God blessing us. 

And so we remember, we ponder and we give thanks to the Lord for blessing us with good times and lifting us in bad times. 

In the gospel, we see Mary pondering on what she heard about her son Jesus, and she treasured them in her heart. Jesus is her greatest blessing from God. 

Jesus is her greatest treasure in her heart and today as we honour Mary with the eminent title of Mother of God, Mary wants to share with us this great treasure of her heart. 

Jesus is her greatest joy and blessing, and that blessing enabled her to endure the painful sorrows to come: The escape to Egypt from the persecution of Herod, the loss of Jesus when he was 12 years old, the crucifixion and death of Jesus, and having to bury Jesus. 

All these sorrowful moments pierced her heart, like the sword that Simeon prophesied. 

But out of her pierced heart flows the greatest gift to us, Jesus, and also her motherly prayers for us. 
So we pray for blessings for the days ahead. Like Mary, let us know that we will receive the greatest blessings from God, and that is Jesus. 

With Jesus in our hearts, no sorrow will break our hearts, and with Mother Mary praying for us, let joy fill our hearts on this first day of the New Year and may joy be in our hearts all the days of the New Year. 

Monday, December 30, 2019

Seventh Day Within Octave of Christmas, Tuesday, 31-12-19,

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

We have come to that day of the year when we will hear this old familiar song being sung or played on the radio -  "Auld Lang Syne"

We may know what that phrase "Auld Lang Syne" means.

It literally means "long long ago" or "days gone by" or "old times".

Well it's the last day of the year and 365 days may have gone by, but it may not seem like so long ago or that it was long long ago since we began this year.

The gospel begins with the works : In the beginning ......

Obviously it was not referring to the beginning of the year or even the beginning of time.

In fact it is not even talking about any beginning. It is talking about a mystery that has no beginning or end.

Because the mystery of God is always and forever.

For us it may be the end of the year and we are about to begin a new year.

But God wants us to know that He is with us always and forever.

At every moment of our lives, He blesses us with grace upon grace.

May we also live our lives in the grace of God every moment of our lives.

May our lives be lived in truth so that the light of God shines in us.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Sixth Day Within Octave of Christmas, Monday, 30-12-19

1 John 2:12-17 / Luke 2:36-40

No one would ever say that growing old is fun. 

Children might say that they can't wait to grow up but we know better.

Most of us here are not that old. But if we are 84 years old, do we think we will still come for the weekday morning Mass. Or evening Mass for that matter of fact.

Old age brings about a set of challenges and problems.

But the fact is that every age and stage of life brings about a set of challenges and problems.

The prophetess Anna whom we heard about in the gospel had her share of challenges and problems in every stage of life.

She had been married, been widowed and now at 84 years old, she was a symbol of mellowness, a person of prayer and an instrument of God.

She was able to recognize the Saviour even though He was just a baby.

As we advance in age, let us mellow our lives into the Spirit of God, let us be persons of prayer and in the midst of life's challenges and problems, let us be instruments of God by showing others the saving love of God.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Holy Family, 28.12.2019

Ecclesiasticus 3:2-6 / Colossians 3:12-21 / Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
As the year 2019 come to a close in a couple of days’ time, prominent news agencies have already made a review of what are the top news of the year, i.e. the most read and the most watched news.)

Certainly, there are much top news both in the international scene and on the local scene.

There are just so much news flooding the air waves and on our mobile screens every day, and the news come by the hour, and maybe even by the minute. 

But if we were to take a moment and ask ourselves, what is the news that had an impact in our lives, we may have to think for a while.

Of course, we may have our own pick of what is the top news of 2019, but how a piece of news has an impact on us depends very much on one thing.

And that is how much we are affected by it and how it unites us closer to one another. In other words, the impact of a piece of news on a group of people, regardless of whether good or bad, depends on its unifying effect. 

We the church, may remember certain events of 2019 that united us in solidarity.

We may remember that in April this year, there were two tragedies that happened. One was the raging fire at Notre Dame Cathedral. The other was the Sri Lanka church bombing.

Both events had an impact on us and although there is nothing much that we can do about it, in an emotional sense, it made us feel united as a family in the faith. It was like a family tragedy.

On this feast of the Holy Family, the gospel passage had the spotlight on Joseph.

The gospels have no quotes from him and he seems to be that silent father-figure whose actions spoke louder than words.

But if we were to ask Joseph, what were the events that had an impact on him and changed his life, he would have quite a list to share.

Firstly, after a dream in which he had a vision of an angel telling him what to do, he took Mary home to be his wife.

Then he and Mary had to go to Bethlehem for the census. It was there that Jesus was born and since there was no room, the infant Jesus was laid in a manger.

And then another dream, and he had to take Mary and the Child to flee to Egypt in order to escape from King Herod who wanted to kill the Child.

After Herod’s death, came another dream, and he brought Mary and Jesus back to Israel, but as there was still danger in Judaea, he brought them to Galilee and settled in a town called Nazareth.

Those were not just mere impactful events. Those were crisis moments and life-endangering moments. But those were moments that Joseph remembers. Those were also moments that he showed his true character and also brought the family together.

So today, we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. They are called the “Holy Family” and not the “Happy Family”, or the “Lucky Family”, or “Healthy Family”.

They are the Holy Family because in dangerous crisis moments, they stayed together in faith and love and they gave us a model of what a family should be.

The top news of 2019 would probably not have anything about the family. The world-changing events do not seem to have anything to do with our families.

But it is said, and very profoundly so, that if you want to change the world, go back home and love your family (St Mother Teresa).

It is love that can change the world and it has to start with the family. 

And usually it is in dangerous crisis moments that family love and unity is built, as the following story will show us.   

It was the coldest winter ever. Many animals died because of the cold.

The porcupines, realizing the situation, decided to group together. They had quills, but the quills of each wounded the closest companion. 

After a while, they decided to distance themselves, and they began to die, alone and frozen.

So they had to make a choice: Either accept the quills of their companions or disappear from the earth. Wisely, they decided to go back to being together. They learned to live with the little wounds that were caused by their close relationships because the most important part was the heat that came from the others. With that, they were able to survive.

For a family to stay together there are two things that are necessary: pray together and to eat together.

That is what the Mass is about – as God’s family, we come to pray together and to partake of Holy Communion so that we can become like the Holy Family.

The Holy Family won’t be featured as the top news of 2019. Nor will the family that prays together and eats together and stays together make any waves in the news.

But it is not the news that changes the world. It is the simple and humble family that will change the world. 

And the family can change the world by simply praying together, eating together and staying together. 

Friday, December 27, 2019

Holy Innocents, Martyrs, Saturday, 28-12-19

1 John 1:5 - 2:2 / Matthew 2:13-18   

The Christmas story has its setting in the town of Bethlehem.

Whenever the name of that town is mentioned in the Nativity story or in the Christmas carol "O little town of Bethlehem" we will warm thoughts of the Nativity scene and the characters there adoring the Baby Jesus.

Moreover, Bethlehem means the "house of bread" and the infant Jesus who is the "bread of life" lying in the manger, a feeding trough for animals, gives an overall profound spiritual meaning.

All this is indeed very uplifting. But the reality of rejection and persecution of the infant Jesus sets in almost as quickly when king Herod came into the picture.

When he realized that he had been outwitted by the wise men, he was furious and he ordered the massacre of all the male children aged two and below, and he turned Bethlehem into a "house of blood".

His fear of the infant king of the Jews and his insecurity made him shed the blood of the children just like how stale bread is thrown away.

But today the Church remembers those innocent children and proclaimed them as Holy Innocents and acknowledged that they suffered for Jesus and also proclaimed them as martyrs.

Indeed, the kingdom of God belongs to the children and to those who are helpless and defenceless against the violence and hostility of those who are fearful and insecure.

May we also come to the help and defence of children and those who are helpless and defenceless, so that just as the Holy Innocents proclaimed Jesus by their deaths, may we proclaim Jesus with our lives.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

St. John, Apostle and Evangelist, Friday, 27-12-19

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

During His ministry on earth, Jesus brought three of His disciples to profound moments of revelation like the raising of the dead girl, the Transfiguration, the agony in the garden of Gethsemane, etc.

Those three are Peter, James and his brother John, whose feastday we are celebrating today.

St. John is often identified as the author of the fourth gospel, as well as the disciple that Jesus loved and most probably the youngest of the apostles.

Also while the other apostles were martyred when they went forth to proclaim the Good News, St. John, according to some accounts, died of old age.

As he came to realize that he was the last of the apostles to be still alive, St. John wrote the gospel and the letters with the primary objective of stating and proclaiming the true identity of Jesus.

In the gospel that he wrote, St. John stated clearly that Jesus is the Divine Word, that He is God, and that He is the Word-made-flesh.

In his letters, St. John reiterated that the Word, which is Jesus, existed since the beginning, and became man.

St. John and the other apostles witnessed this, and more importantly, the Word is life.

St. John wants to proclaim this over and over again, so that those who hear and believe this will be in union with those who had seen Jesus in the flesh.

As we celebrate the Christmas event, we also come into union with the faith of the apostles and the generations of faithful who believe that Jesus is the God-became-man and the Saviour who came to save us and free us from our sins.

May we also hold firm to the faith and proclaim the Good News of salvation and that Jesus is the Saviour who came to seek and save what was lost.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

St. Stephen, Protomartyr, Thursday, 26-12-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas 2019, 25.12.2019

When it comes to this time of the year, the famous event is at the nearby Orchard Road, which is Singapore’s glamorous shopping belt, which also has posh hotels and restaurants and night-clubs.

That big event is of course the Orchard Road Christmas light up, stretching from Tanglin to Somerset.

Walking down that stretch of road, we will be dazzled by the display of lights and decorations. Or we might take an easier way by going to the computer and look at the photos and the videos of the lights. 

Whatever we might want to say about it, there is no doubt that it is big budget for the bright lights and the dazzling decorations.

Although we are very nearby Orchard Road, this little church along Clemenceau Avenue won’t be featured as part of the Orchard Road Christmas light up. 

We are small budget and the decorations have been repaired, reused and recycled.
So obviously we are no match for the nearby bright lights and dazzling decorations. But is that so? Are we just a little humble church with lights that are no match for the big and bright lights nearby?

The Christmas story is set along the background of a census that was taken of the whole world. Caesar Augustus issued a decree for the census, and Quirinius was governor of Syria at the time.

Those two were big names at that time, and they wielded power and control. Then came along two insignificant persons, Joseph and Mary, who had to come to Bethlehem for the census and Mary was heavy with child.

And then the time came for Mary to give birth, but with no room at the inn, her Child had to rest in a manger.

With the census happening in the background, that Child born of insignificant parents would seem to be an insignificant event.

When babies are born, one of the things to do is to weigh them, so as to know how well developed and how healthy they are.

So now, what do we think is the weight of the baby Jesus? Sounds like a weird question isn’t it, what is the weight of the baby Jesus. Is that significant at all?

The prophecy of Isaiah says that a child is born for us, a son given to us, and dominion is laid on his shoulders. 

So the Child that was born of Mary is a King, with authority and power.

And the Child sleeping in the manger is the Saviour of the world. On Him rest the salvation of the world, on His shoulders are the burdens of the sins of the world.

So now we know what is the weight of the baby Jesus, the Saviour of the world. On Him is the weight of the world, the weight of all the sins of the world.

The world longs for the coming of the Saviour, but the world must also know that Jesus is the Saviour.

All the bright lights and the dazzling decorations cannot take away the sins of the world.

But if the world were to walk a bit further down from Somerset Road to Clemenceau Avenue, and stop to look at the simple and humble lights of the Nativity scene outside the church, then they will know the reason for the season.

And if they were to come into the church, then we must show them who the Saviour is, the Emmanuel, the God-is-with-us, the Word-made-flesh, the Saviour who takes away the sins of the world, for He came to seek and save what was lost. 

So the lights and decorations of the church are simple and humble, compared to the bright lights and the dazzling decorations nearby. 

Yes, simple and humble, but certainly not insignificant, because they announce the birth of the Saviour, who took on the weight of the sins of the world.

May we who believe that Jesus is our Saviour and celebrate His birth, announce to all peoples the Good News of salvation, so that glory will be given to God in the highest heaven, and may Jesus grant peace to all who seek forgiveness and salvation.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

23rd December 2019, Monday

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

If we bother to find out more about our names, we will see that most of our names have a meaning.

Parents will want to give their children a meaningful as well as nice sounding name, with the hope that they will live up to their names.

The people of the biblical times were certainly no different in this aspect.

The name John means "God is gracious".

Indeed, John the Baptist came to herald the appointed time of grace.

Time was like pregnant with grace, grace that was waiting to burst forth.

John the Baptist came to announce the time of the fullness of grace in Jesus Christ.

As much as this grace is good news, it is nonetheless a painful one.

John the Baptist was like a refiner's fire that burns away the useless dross as we heard in the 1st reading.

Yes, the time is very very near. Let us purify ourselves in prayer and penance to make our hearts a worthy home for the Lord.

21st December 2019, Saturday

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

Every now and then, we will see photos of some people jumping into the air, with their hands raised and their feet off the ground.

Usually it is the younger people who can do such things; the older people can't jump that high and their bones may not be able to take the impact of landing.

Yet such photos of people suspended in mid-air can be quite amusing. They don't seem to be going up and neither do they seem to want to come down to earth.

But when the Son of God came down to earth and became man, He entered into the womb of a humble and simple young girl to take on human flesh.

For God to become man and take on human flesh with all its weakness and limitations is indeed a great mystery that is incomprehensible and maybe even be unacceptable.

Yet God became man so that man can go back to God. That is as simply as we can put it and yet it is not that easy to comprehend either.

Nonetheless this great mystery of God becoming man is the reality that we prepare for during Advent and which we celebrate at Christmas.

It doesn't really matter how much or how deeply we understand this mystery. Let us simply rejoice and exult with all our heart, as the 1st reading urges us, because the Lord our God is in our midst.

And even in the womb of his mother, John the Baptist leapt for joy at the presence of  the Saviour in the womb of Mary.

May our hearts also leap for joy because God became man so that He can be in our midst and to lead us back to God.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

4th Sunday of Advent, Year A, 22.12.2019

Isaiah 7:10-14 / Romans 1:1-7 / Matthew 1:18-25
As we come to the last few couple of days before Christmas, our thoughts are on many things.

It may be about the presents we have prepared for our loved ones, the parties that we will be attending, the food that we will be eating, the weight that we will be gaining.

In our minds are many thoughts. But in our hearts, there is one longing, and it is that we want to be home for Christmas. As it is often said: Home is where the heart is.

And there is even a song that goes “I’ll be home for Christmas”.

Already quite a number of people have wished me “Merry Christmas” in advance because they will be going back to their own countries to be home for Christmas.

Anyway who doesn’t want to be home for Christmas. As the song goes: I’ll be home for Christmas. And for those who can’t be home for Christmas, then they can only dream about being home for Christmas.

But besides the time of Christmas, thoughts of home give us a warm and nice feeling.

Because home is where we feel secure and where we can be ourselves. Home is our refuge and our shelter from the cold hard world.

Home is private space and not open space. We don’t really welcome a stranger to our home, nor can we treat other people’s homes like ours, even though they may say “make yourselves at home” (say only).

The Christmas story is about the birth of Jesus Christ, and the gospel begins with this line “This  is how Jesus Christ came to be born”.

But after that was an incredible story: Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but then she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph thought of divorcing Mary, and then an angel appeared in his dream and then Joseph woke up he did what the angel told him to do. It was really an incredible story.

But the most incredible thing in this is that Jesus, the Son of God, left His home in heaven to make His home in the immaculate womb of Mary, and He also needs a place to call home.

And so it was Joseph, the man of honour, after that dream in which the angel appeared to him, made that important decision of taking Mary to his home. And with that, Jesus, the “God-is-with-us”, is now at home with us.

Truly the Christmas story is a dramatic story about how the Son of God made His home with us.

There are many stories about being home for Christmas. But looking for a movie with that “home for Christmas” theme, what we will get is “Home Alone” and the two other sequels.

I accidentally came upon this movie although it is not a movie about being home for Christmas. The title of the movie is “The Way Home”. It is a 2002 Korean movie and we can watch that movie with English subtitles on the Internet.

The story is about a 7 year-old boy from the city whose mother had to be away to look for a job and so took him to live with his 78 year-old, mute but not deaf, grandmother who lived in a remote and rural village.

That 7 year-old boy came with his junk food and electronic toys and had not desired to stay with nor respect his grandmother, especially as her house has neither electricity nor running water.

Alone with his grandmother, the boy ignores her and calls her names and detested her.
When his Game Boy ran out of batteries, he pestered his grandmother for money to buy batteries, and when she couldn’t give him money, the boy caused havoc in the house.
One day the boy demands Kentucky Fried Chicken. The grandmother only understood “chicken” and so she took some melons from her little garden and trudges off to the market to buy a chicken. Bringing back a live chicken in the rain, she prepares a home-made boiled chicken instead of fried chicken. The boy sees the boiled chicken and got angry and threw it away.

The boy remains angry and confused by the unfamiliar environment and repeatedly rejects his grandmother’s attempts to appease him. But her unconditional love slowly touches his heart. One day, the boy gets up early and goes with his grandmother to the market where he sees how hard his grandmother persuades passers-by to buy her vegetables.

Eventually the boy begins to love his grandmother, but because she is unable to read or write, he makes some simple greeting cards, so that she has some letters from him. His depth of love for his grandmother is revealed when he has to leave and he bid his grandmother a tearful farewell.
The film closes with the grandmother continuing to live alone in the thatched-roof house but with the letters of love from her grandson.

The movie is not about Christmas, but as the title goes “The Way Home”, it is about how an arrogant young boy found his way home and it was his 78 year-old mute grandmother who showed him the way. It is a very touching movie, and we can watch as a family or alone. 

It may make us think about how Jesus came to be with us and to make His home among us, but what He faced was rejection and persecution.

It may make us think about our family relationships. We may stay in the same house but is it a home where there is kindness and forgiveness, understanding and patience?

If home is where the heart is, then let charity and the spirit of Christmas begin at home.

We turn to Joseph, who gave us this courageous example of taking Mary to his home and thereby letting Jesus be part of his life.

May we also let Jesus make His home with us this Christmas.  

Thursday, December 19, 2019

20th December 2019, Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

19th December 2019, Thursday

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

As we approach nearer to the day of the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the readings have the theme of announcement of pregnancies.

With the announcement of pregnancies, it would be expected that there would be rejoicing and celebration.

But as any parent who have gone through the experience of pregnancy, they would know it was a spectrum of emotions.

There would be rejoicing and gladness, there would be anxiety and worry, there would be doubts and frustrations.

In the 1st reading, the wife of Manoah had a vision of an angel telling her that she would conceive and bear a son.

She told her husband about it and both of them could be bewildered and astonished about this sudden news since they were barren and had no children.

In the gospel, Zachariah had his doubts when he was told that his wife Elizabeth would conceive and bear a son, as he reasoned out that he was already an old man and his wife was also getting on in years.

As we prepare for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas, we may also be having our anxieties and worries and doubts about other things and lose our focus in our Advent preparation.

But let us keep our focus during this season of Advent on the marvels that God had done for His people, and let our hearts prepare the blessings that God wants to bestow upon us even in this season of Advent.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

18th December 2019, Wednesday

Jeremiah 23:5-8 / Matthew 1:18-24               

There is one song that we will hear during this time of the year, and it is "I'll be home for Christmas".

Oh yes, it would certainly be very nice to be home for Christmas, and it won't be just in our dreams.

For most of us, we would have a home to go to. But there are certainly some who may not have a home to go back to, for some reason.

In the gospel, we heard that when Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took Mary to his home.

It is an act of faith and charity on the part of Joseph to take Mary to his home. But a deeper reflection would bring out much more.

It also meant that Jesus had a home to go to; Jesus had made His home among His people; He is truly the Emmanuel, "God-is-with-us".

In Jesus, the prophecy of Jeremiah in the 1st reading is fulfilled: As the Lord lives who led back and brought home the descendants of the House of Israel out the land of the North and from all the countries to which He had dispersed them, to live on their own soil.

Oh yes, we want to have a home to go back to, and we must not take our homes for granted.

But we must also let Jesus make His home with us. May we also bring Jesus to others so that He can make His home with them too.

Monday, December 16, 2019

17th December 2019, Tuesday

Genesis 49:2, 8-10 / Matthew 1:1-17   

To remember our ancestors is an expression of filial piety and it is also a religious act of faith especially in praying for our departed loved ones.

Most of us can only remember our ancestors up to the preceding three generations or four generations.

If we have drawn up a family tree, then we will be able to remember our forefathers based on the data that is available.

As we remember our ancestors and forefathers, we may feel that emotional connection with those who have long gone. But we will also feel the legacy they left behind in our lives.

The gospel gave an account of the genealogy of Jesus Christ. But it is not for some sentimental reason or to trace the ancestry of Jesus.

In fact, the last line of the genealogy "of her was born Jesus who is called Christ" indicates what is called the "Virginal Birth" of Jesus.

The genealogy shows us that God's promise to the generations of those who trusted in Him is now fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

We too remember our ancestors and forefathers who passed on the faith to us and we give thanks for the legacy of faith that they left in our lives.

Let us keep the faith and pass on the faith to the next generation so that God's promises will continue to be fulfilled.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

3rd Week of Advent, Monday, 16-12-19

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

We know what a dilemma is. It is a perplexing situation in which a choice has to be made between alternatives that are equally undesirable.

Going by that definition. it may be said that it is a choice of the best among the worst.

In today's gospel, that was the situation that the the chief priests and the elders found themselves in.

They challenged Jesus' authority but in turn found themselves being challenged and in a dilemma as to how to answer that question of Jesus.

So they ended up choosing the worst of the worst alternatives with that reply: We do not know. Or in simple terms : No comment.

In the 1st reading, we hear of another dilemma. The pagan prophet Balaam was tasked to curse Israel, but when the Spirit of God came upon him, he faced a dilemma but made the choice to revoke his curse and instead bless Israel.

Whenever we face a dilemma, we think of the worst case scenarios and try to choose the one that will result in the least problems and difficulties.

But when we put the dilemma into the hands of God and ask the Spirit to guide us, then we will see the best case scenarios because we know that in each alternative there is growth and enlightenment.

So whenever we face a dilemma, let us not curse the alternatives that we have to choose.

Rather, let us ask the Lord for His blessings and also ask the Spirit to guide us in making a choice.

Every dilemma is an opportunity to experience the blessing and the guidance of God.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

3rd Sunday of Advent, Year A, 15.12.2019

Isaiah 35:1-6, 10 / James 5:7-10 / Matthew 11:2-11
Life is like a cycle with its ups and downs. And if life is like a cycle, then nothing is stable in the sense that life is not a straight line. 

Because if life is a straight line, then it may seem that there is no more life. So in the cycle of life we may find ourselves sometimes at the upper half and sometimes at the lower half.

So, one month ago, we remember our departed loved ones. This month we prepare for the celebration of birth and new life.

Only last month we were complaining how hot and dry it was, and one month later we are saying how cold and wet it is. 

One month ago, the students were stressed out by their exams. And one month later, they are posting photos of places that they are having holidays.

So life is indeed like a cycle of ups and downs, and these cycles can be so quick, such that it can be said that what a difference a day makes, or what a difference a week makes, or what a difference a month makes.
And in the gospel, we can also see how quickly things can change.

Just last week, we heard of John the Baptist preaching and baptizing in the wide open spaces of the wilderness.

He was on fire as he called the people to repentance, spoke against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Sadducees. He was like thunder and lightning.

But in this week’s gospel, we see a very different picture of John the Baptist. Reduced to the shackles and darkness of his prison cell, he was disturbed by doubts.

Still he managed to contact his disciples and sent them to ask Jesus this question: Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?

John the Baptist had expected the one to come to be serious business. If he was thunder and lightning, then he expected the one to come to be like fire and brimstone.

He thought that the one who is to come would be like an axe that would chop down trees bearing rotten fruit and a winnowing fan that will gather the chaff and throw them into the fire that will never go out.

But in the darkness of the prison, he was disturbed and he doubted. So that Jesus, is he or is he not the one?

Maybe it was a question of expectations, and John the Baptist did not expect Jesus to be like that.

To that question of John the Baptist, Jesus did not give a direct answer. Rather, he replied with this: Go back and tell John what you hear and see – the blind see again, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor. And happy is the man who does not lose faith in me.

That’s the same with us too. When people or situations go against our expectations, we too get disturbed.

We too need to see and hear so that we can understand the reality and not what we think or expect it to be.

A teenage boy and his father got into a train and the boy took the window seat and he seems to be enjoying the travel and the nature, as if he is seeing it for the first time. 

Once the train started moving, the boy started shouting at what he was seeing outside the window.
“Dad, see these trees are moving to the back,” His father just gave a smile.

A young couple sitting nearby this boy looked at his childlike behaviour and started talking between themselves about that boy. 

Suddenly, again the boy called his father with an excitement and said, “Dad, see the clouds are running with us.” Again the dad smiled and kept quiet.

The young couple couldn’t understand why this boy was talking like this, and so they asked his father who is sitting nearby, “Why don’t you take your son to a hospital to have a good check-up?”

The father gave a smile and replied, “We just came from the hospital.” And he also added that his son was blind from the birth, and  he just got his eyes yesterday and this is the first time he is seeing the world. The young couple was stumped when they heard that.

So we may have our expectations in life. We may expect life to be quiet and comfortable, like the young couple in the train.

But when we get disturbed, let us see and hear what God is showing and telling us.

In the cycle of life, a dark disturbance comes before a bright revelation. 

That is the cycle of life. So when we get disturbed, let us not fret and complain. 

Because in the cycle of life, a disturbance comes before a revelation.

Let us see and let us hear with open hearts and the Good News will be revealed to us. 

Thursday, December 12, 2019

2nd Week of Advent, Friday, 13-12-19

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

As we come to the end of the second week of the Advent season, it may be good to recall what is the purpose of the season of Advent.

No doubt the season of Advent is to prepare us for the celebration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas and also to prepare us for the second coming of Jesus.

In other words, the season of Advent is to prepare us for the great blessing that God wants to bestow upon us, and that is the gift of Jesus our Saviour.

So it can be said that with the celebration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas, all the other blessings from God will follow.

That is why the celebration of the Christmas, the Word-made-flesh, is so important, and the season of Advent prepares us to receive this great blessing.

The only thing that can ever block this blessing from God, the only thing that can block Jesus from entering into our hearts at Christmas, is none other than sin.

Sin blocks out the blessings that Jesus wants to give us at Christmas, and the greater the sin, the lesser the blessings we will receive.

That is why the message of Advent is about repentance and about the blockages to God's blessings.

So as we come to the middle of the Advent season, let us meditate on what the 1st reading is telling us, that God want to teach us what is good for us and the way we must go and to be obedient to His commandments.

Then our happiness would have been like a river and our integrity like the waves of the sea.

So let us repent of our sins and turn to God during this season of Advent, so that we can be filled with the joy and peace of Christmas.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

2nd Week of Advent, Thursday, 12-12-19

Isaiah 41:13-20 / Matthew 11:11-15

Israel had its golden age during the time of king David and king Solomon. That was also the time the first Temple was built in Jerusalem (833 BC).

Before that it had to struggle for freedom from slavery in Egypt and to find its identity as a nation with a king to rule over them.

But after king Solomon, the kingdom of Israel became divided and also tragedy upon tragedy befell them, with the annihilation of the Northern Kingdom by the Assyrians in 721 BC and the destruction of the Temple and exile in Babylon in 586 BC.

So when the 1st reading described Jacob as a poor worm and Israel as a puny mite, it is not just an expression but more like the reality.

Yet God said that He will help Israel and called Himself not just the Holy One of Israel but also its redeemer.

The word "redeemer" in the Old Testament originally meant the nearest male relative who will avenge the blood of someone who has been murdered, or pays off a debt and frees the debtor from prison, or protects the defenceless.

When God called Himself the redeemer, it meant that He is the one who will protect and liberate His people.

And He will even turn Israel into a fearsome threshing-sled with double teeth that will crush mountains and turn the hills into chaff.

But with Jesus as the Redeemer and Liberator who is sent by God, He does not break the crushed reed or snuff out the smouldering wick.

He calls out to those who have ears to listen to the prophesies of the prophets and the Law.

If only we will listen to the Word of God and keep it in our hearts, then the golden age of peace and joy will come upon us. We only need to listen.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

2nd Week of Advent, Wednesday, 11-12-19

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

In order to go anywhere in life, we must have goals.

Goals help us to set directions and keep focused on what we need to do to achieve those goals.

That means that we also must have a plan as to how to achieve those goals, because without a plan then our goals are merely wishes that exist in our imagination but not in reality.

Needless to say, if we set these goals for ourselves, then we would be determined to achieve it.

And experience has taught us that if we don't achieve our goals, then we will be disappointed and get disillusioned, and begin to lose motivation.

As the 1st reading puts it, even young men may grow tired and weary, and youths may stumble.

In the gospel, Jesus offers us a goal and a direction in life when He said: Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.

It also means to say that when Jesus is our final goal, then the other goals in life will find their fulfillment in Jesus.

It also means to say that if all our goals in life are not directed towards Jesus, then we will grow tired and weary and stumble whenever we face setbacks.

But when our goals in life are in Jesus and towards Jesus, then He will renew our strength and we will put out wings like eagles.

Monday, December 9, 2019

2nd Week of Advent, Tuesday, 10-12-19

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

It is said that the two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.

Between these two so-called most important days of our lives, we will be having our questions about life and its purpose.

And as we try to find out the meaning of life and its purpose, we will slowly come to understand why we have to learn the painful lessons of life.

It is to help to come to the realization that we won't live forever in this world.

As the 1st reading puts it: All flesh is like grass and its beauty like the wild flower's. The grass withers and the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on them.

But life is not just about finality and termination.

Because as much as the grass withers and the flower fades, the Word of the Lord remains forever.

And the Word was made flesh in Jesus. And Jesus tells us in today's gospel that it is never the will of our Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.

May we find out one day that in order for God to find us and save us, we have to be little and humble.

God first came to us as a little and humble baby. May we return to God as His little and humble children.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Immaculate Conception of the BVM, Monday, 09-12-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 7, 2019

2nd Sunday of Advent, Year A 08.12.19

Isaiah 11:1-10 / Romans 15:4-9 / Matthew 3:1-12
This time of the year is often called “Christmas Shopping” time. And the advertisements on all media platforms are making us go to the shopping malls (or online shopping) to get something.

But if it is Christmas shopping here, then in other places, there is what is called “Christmas Chopping”.
Because in countries where there are evergreens like the fir and pine trees, there is “Christmas Chopping” as these trees are chopped and exported all over the world to those who want a real tree for Christmas.

So even in Singapore, we can get a real tree for Christmas if we want to, although it is a chopped down one.
Of course, a real tree is somehow more “credible” than a fake tree. A real tree has a nice scent and real look, whereas a fake tree is plastic and with tinsel and fake snow.

There is one person who is rather interested in trees, regardless of whether they are real or fake.
He also usually comes around this time of the year. But we won’t find him in the media advertisements nor will he appear in our Christmas decorations or even in the Nativity scene.

So obviously, we are not talking about Santa Claus or some celebrity. He looks like a misfit for the season, wearing a garment made of camel hair and a rough leather belt round his waist.

He does not eat turkey and ham, but locust and wild honey. He does not say “Season’s greetings’ but “Repent!” He is such an odd figure for this season.

But needing no introduction, and with serious business, is John the Baptist. He is an uncomfortable figure in the midst of the festive mood and decorations.

John the Baptist looks at our Christmas trees, whether real or fake, and then he says: Any tree that fails to bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

And we know what he is talking about – the trees of our lives, and whether we are bearing real good fruit, or bad rotten fruit. 

And with that, we will understand his message about repentance in these days of Advent. Because without repentance, there can be no real good fruit.

Without repentance during Advent, our Christmas is going to be plastic and tinsel.

As we listen to the call for repentance, let us bring before Jesus the trees of our lives and to let Jesus cut off all that is rotten and bad, so that we can truly realise what is real and good.

There is this story that once upon a mountain top, three little trees stood and dreamed of what they wanted to become when they grew up.
The first little tree looked up at the stars and said: “I want to hold treasure. I want to be covered with gold and filled with precious stones. I’ll be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world!”

The second little tree looked out at the small stream trickling by on its way to the ocean, and said, “I want to be traveling mighty waters and carrying powerful kings. I’ll be the strongest ship in the world!”

The third little tree looked down into the valley below where busy men and women worked in a busy town. “I don’t want to leave the mountain top at all. I want to grow so tall that when people stop to look at me, they’ll raise their eyes to heaven and think of God. I will be the tallest tree in the world.”

Years passed, and the little trees grew tall. One day three woodcutters climbed the mountain.
The first woodcutter looked at the first tree and said, “This tree is beautiful. It is perfect for me.” With a swing of his axe, the first tree fell.
“Now I shall be made into a beautiful chest. I shall hold wonderful treasure!” the first tree said.

The second woodcutter looked at the second tree and said, “This tree is strong. It is perfect for me.” With a swing of his axe, the second tree fell.
“Now I shall sail mighty waters!” thought the second tree. “I shall be a strong ship for mighty kings!”

The third tree felt her heart sink when the last woodcutter looked her way. She stood straight and tall and pointed bravely to heaven.
But the woodcutter never even looked up. “Any kind of tree will do for me,” he muttered. With a swing of his axe, the third tree fell. 

The first tree rejoiced when the woodcutter brought her to a carpenter’s shop. But the carpenter fashioned the tree into a feedbox for animals.
The once beautiful tree was not covered with gold, nor with treasure. She was coated with sawdust and filled with hay for hungry farm animals.

The second tree smiled when the woodcutter took her to a shipyard, but no mighty sailing ship was made that day. Instead, the once strong tree was hammered and sawed into a simple fishing boat. She was too small and too weak to sail on an ocean, or even a river; instead, she was taken to a little lake.

The third tree was confused when the woodcutter cut her into strong beams and left her in a lumberyard.
“What happened?” the once tall tree wondered. “All I ever wanted was to stay on the mountain top and point to God...”

Many, many days and night passed. The three trees had forgotten their dreams.
But one night, golden starlight poured over the first tree as a young woman placed her newborn baby in the feedbox.
“We wish we could make a cradle for him,” the parents whispered to each other, but they also said, “But this manger is beautiful.”
And suddenly the first tree knew she was holding the greatest treasure in the world.

One evening a tired traveller and his friends crowded into the old fishing boat. The traveller fell asleep as the second tree quietly sailed out into the lake.
Soon a thundering and thrashing storm arose. The little tree shuddered. She knew she did not have the strength to carry so many passengers safely through with the wind and the rain.
The tired man awakened. He stood up, stretched out his hand, and said, “Peace.” The storm stopped as quickly as it had begun.
And suddenly the second tree knew she was carrying the king of heaven and earth.

One Friday morning, the third tree was startled when her beams were yanked from the forgotten woodpile. She flinched as she was carried through an angry jeering crowd. She shuddered when soldiers nailed a man’s hands to her. She felt ugly and harsh and cruel.
But on Sunday morning, when the sun rose and the earth tremble with joy beneath her, the third tree knew that God’s love had changed everything.
It had made the third tree strong.
And every time people thought of the third tree, they would think of God.
That was better than being the tallest tree in the world.

So the next time we feel angry and disappointed because we didn’t get what we want, let us stand firm in faith and believe that God has something better to give us.

But we must also let Jesus cut off what is rotten  and bad in our lives, so that we can bear real good fruit, fruit that we offer to Jesus and to others.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

1st Week of Advent, Friday, 06-12-19

Isaiah 29:17-24 / Matthew 9:27-31                   

Great things can be accomplished when there are two factors involved: conviction and commitment.

In other words, when we believe in something and we put our energy and even our lives on it, then great things can be accomplished.

On the other hand, we can have all the resources and all the tried-and-tested methods, but if we lack the conviction and the commitment, then all the guarantees that something will work will not happen, or that the result will only be mediocre.

In the 1st reading, when the prophet Isaiah wrote those words that began with "The Lord says this: ... ", in effect he was writing an oracle from the Lord God, which is a divine edict.

What was his conviction that what he was writing was from the Lord God? Could it be that God appeared to him in a vision and told him to write those words down?

Or could it be that in his reflection and meditation and prayer, he came to a conviction that this is what the Lord God wants him to write down and he committed himself to it?

And what he wrote is a prophecy, and as it is with prophecies, it may happen soon or it may happen in another age.

Nonetheless, the prophet Isaiah wrote it down, and he could only put his trust in the Lord that the Word of the Lord will be fulfilled in time to come.

Such was the conviction and the commitment of the prophet Isaiah to the Lord and what the Lord had called him to do.

In the gospel, the two blind men followed Jesus along the way and were shouting, "Take pity on us, Son of David."

They even had to follow Jesus all the way to the house, considering the fact that they were blind and hence it was not that easy for them to move along.

But they did. And when Jesus asked them, "Do you believe I can do this?" their answer showed their conviction about who Jesus is - "Sir, we do."

The reply of Jesus is most comforting and consoling as He says this to them, "Your faith deserves it, so let this be done for you."

As we come before Jesus in this First Friday Mass and Devotion to the Sacred Heart, and as we offer up our needs and petitions, Jesus is looking at the conviction of our faith in Him.

Like the two blind men, we must call out to Jesus to take pity on us as we offer up our needs and petitions and believe that He will answer our prayers.

Let us put our faith conviction in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and let us also renew our commitment to Him in the mission of the salvation of souls.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

1st Week of Advent, Thursday, 05-12-19

Isaiah 26 : 1-6 / Matthew 7 : 21, 24-27

The Berlin Wall was built in 1961 to separate the communist East Germany from West Germany.

Along with that wall were electrified fences, mine-fields, guard-posts and at regular intervals, tall towers with search lights.

It was a formidable sight, and all this just to protect a Communist political system, and also at the expense of lives who tried to escape from that system.

Yet in 1990, the Berlin Wall crumbled. It crumbled from the people's urge for freedom from an oppressive system.

But as we look deeper at it, the Berlin Wall crumbled from the power of God's will to grant freedom and peace and unity among peoples.

The prophet Isaiah urged his people to trust in the power of God rather than in steep citadels and fortifications which will eventually crumble.

Because high walls and electric fences will not protect us if our hearts are not with God.

Real defense against fear and insecurity and evil is having a faithful heart which will trust in the Lord.

When we put our faith in God and build our lives on the Lord who is the Everlasting Rock, we will not crumble in the face of evil and suffering and oppression.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

1st Week of Advent, Wednesday, 04-12-19

Isaiah 25:6-10 / Matthew 15:29-37       

A mountain, or even a hill, in its natural state is stately and a majestic sight from afar.

But to climb up a hill, or a mountain, would obviously mean that we have to start at the foot of that hill or mountain.

What might seem so serene and tranquil from afar will not seem so when we are up close at the foot of it.

An uphill climb is certainly not a walk in the park even for able-bodied persons, as it is a rough and uneven terrain with thick vegetation to cut across.

So we can imagine how difficult it was for the lame, the crippled, the blind and those with some kind of infirmity and ailment to climb up a hill.

In the gospel, we heard that those were the people who climbed up the hill to seek out Jesus, and they were cured and they praised the God of Israel.

The 1st reading also talked about a mountain, a mystical mountain, where the Lord of host will prepare a banquet of rich food and fine wines.

On that mountain, the Lord will wipe away the tears from every cheek and take away His people's shame.

The season of Advent is like climbing up to the mountain of God. It is certainly not an easy climb.

But we also know that when we reach the top, we will rejoice with the celebration of saving promises of God that are fulfilled in Jesus.

So let us keep climbing and praying in our Advent preparation.

Monday, December 2, 2019

St. Francis Xavier, Patron of Missions and Missionaries, Tuesday, 03-12-19

1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23 / Mark 16:15-20               

St. Francis Xavier was from a noble family and when he was studying in the University, he met another student who would often ask him and other students this question: What would a man gain if he wins the whole world but loses his life?

Those words made St. Francis Xavier think and reflect about life and eventually he followed that student who was none other than St. Ignatius of Loyola to form the Society of Jesus, or commonly called the Jesuits.

St. Francis Xavier was also convinced that salvation comes through belief in Christ and he opted to be a missionary in the East.

He worked in Goa, Malacca, Japan and China, converting as many as 30,000 people.

He faced dangers, difficulties and fatigue, but his zeal burnt stronger than ever.

In a letter he wrote to St. Ignatius Loyola, he expressed the desire to go around the universities of Europe to stimulate the zeal for the mission of evangelization.

He also said this: I wish they could work as hard to be missionaries as they do at their books, and so settle their accounts with God for their learning and the talents entrusted to them.

This makes us reflect on what are our priorities in life and what we are working so hard for.

After all, if God is not loved above all, then He is not loved at all.

Furthermore, what would a man gain if he wins the whole world but has no love for God and for others.

May St. Francis Xavier pray for us that our love for God is expressed by living out and proclaiming the Good News to others.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

1st Week of Advent, Monday (Year A), 02-112-19

Isaiah 4:2-6 / Matthew 8:5-11

An average dictionary would have something like over 50,000 entries and with over 70,000 definitions.

That is quite a number of words with quite a number of definitions.

But despite their abundance, words still have a powerful effect on our lives and in our thinking.

A carefully chosen word or phrase can save a situation, whereas a careless choice of words can ruin everything.

So if the pen is mightier than the sword, then the spoken word can be as powerful as the action.

In the gospel, the centurion recognized the authority of Jesus and the power of His Word, the centurion being a man of authority himself.

He believed that what Jesus says is as good as being done already.

As the Church begins the season of Advent, we are called to reflect on what Jesus said and to prepare for how it will be fulfilled.

Jesus came 2000 years ago to bring about healing and forgiveness. He will come again to bring about restoration and salvation.

May we hold on to our faith in His Word as we continue to wait for the fulfillment of His promises.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

1st Sunday of Advent, Year A, 01.12.2019

Isaiah 2:1-5 / Romans 13:11-14 / Matthew 24:37-44
We have come to the first day of the month of December. This is the first day of the last month of the year. And looking at the next 31 days, we can expect a busy busy time ahead. 

But first things first, we need to look for those Christmas decorations. It’s only 25 days to Christmas and we better get started with the decorations.

But things are not going to be so straightforward and we have to be prepared for that. 

Even as we put up that outdoor Nativity scene and the Christmas tree, there were some issues. Some lights didn’t work, some parts don’t fit, and some things were missing.

So when we are putting up the decorations at home or in office, and if we find the top half of the Christmas tree and the bottom half is missing, then we just have to settle for a miniature Christmas tree.

And if we find the bottom half but the top half is missing or have a problem, then maybe we have to settle for a Christmas bush. We can still have the lights on it and do something creative out of it. 

Whatever it might be, the age-old wisdom saying tells us to “expect the unexpected”.

Yes, we have to expect the unexpected, not just in putting up Christmas decorations, but expect the unexpected as we put up our lives expectations.

Certainly we have expectations in life. We expect to have a white and bright Christmas, our children to do well in school, to get a big fat year-end bonus, and all in all we expect to have a good life.

But will that be so? Are we prepared to expect the unexpected?

And are we listening to what Jesus is saying in the gospel, that we are to stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour that we do not expect?

And Jesus makes us recall the story of Noah. Before the Flood, people were eating and drinking, taking wives and husbands, right up to the day when Noah went into the ark and they suspected nothing, till the Flood came and swept them all away.

Added to that is also the image of a burglar in the night. These are uncomfortable and disturbing images. That is not what we expect to hear as we begin this festive and holiday month of December.

But that is not bad news as we might be inclined to think. In telling us to stand ready and to expect the unexpected, and to look and think deeper about the things around us, Jesus is telling us this:
That in preparing to expect the unexpected, we can be open to the God of surprises, the God of joyful surprises.

One of the decorative plants for the coming festive season is the Poinsettia. The plant’s colours of red and green make it a pretty decorative plant for Christmas.

There is a story behind the popularity of this plant for this season. 

There was once a poor Mexican girl called Pepita who had no present to give to the baby Jesus at the Christmas Eve Services. As Pepita walked to the church sadly, her cousin Pedro tried to cheer her up.
He said, “Pepita, I'm sure that even the smallest gift, given by someone who loves Jesus will make Him happy."

Pepita didn't know what she could give, so she picked a small handful of weeds from the roadside and made them into a small bouquet. She felt embarrassed because she could only give this small present to Jesus. 

As she walked through the church to the altar, she remembered what Pedro had said. She began to feel better, knelt down and put the bouquet at the bottom of the Nativity scene. 

Suddenly, the bouquet of weeds burst into bright red colours, and everyone who saw them were sure they had seen a miracle. From that day on, the bright red flowers were known as the 'Flowers of the Holy Night'. 

The shape of the poinsettia flower and leaves are sometimes seen as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem which led the Wise Men to Jesus. The red colored leaves symbolize the blood of Christ. The white leaves represent His purity.

So as we hear this story, maybe we are expecting to hear of a miracle, a happy ending, and indeed it was a happy ending. So it was up to our expectations. But is there anything that was unexpected?

The poinsettia is actually a weed that grows in the ditches and wild places of South America and Mexico. Because this lowly, common plant became so striking around Christmas each year it has been used to celebrate the holiday in South America for centuries.

The poinsettia is well-known not for its flowers but for its brilliantly colored leaves. The flowers themselves are “unremarkable”, but the top-most leaves change to colours of red, pink, coral or white as the days get darker and shorter.

And that is rather unexpected isn’t it? So it is not so much the flowers, which usually get the attention, but rather it is the leaves that are attractive.

And that is the pleasant surprise, because not only a lowly weed was elevated to such a high status, it is not so much the flowers but the leaves that catch the attention.

So as we begin the season of Advent, let us find time to be still and to be quiet, so that we can be prepared for the unexpected pleasant surprises that Jesus wants to give us. 

It is these unexpected pleasant surprises, like how the poinsettia leaves turn from green to red, that we can believe that swords will be turn into ploughshares, spears into sickles, the profane into the profound, the secular into the sacred, as we begin our Advent preparation.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

34th Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 29-11-19

Daniel 7:2-14 / Luke 21:29-33       

It is often said that what we see is what we get. But on the other hand, there is always more than meets the eye. 

What we see will give us first impressions and opinions. But when we start to think about it, we will discover deeper meanings and even the mystery behind it.

The 1st reading talked about Daniel seeing visions in the night. That might already give us some ideas of the meaning of those visions might be.

For one, it would not be that clear in its meanings because the night has always been mysterious and things cannot be seen clearly and there is always something hidden.

But what is obvious is the power struggle of the earthly kingdoms and the rise and fall of empires.

But as Daniel gazed into the visions of the night, he saw something more than just earthly. 

Coming from the clouds of heaven was one who was conferred sovereignty, glory and kingship, and his empire shall never pass away nor will it be destroyed.

It was like a vision within a vision, something more than meets the eye.

In the gospel, Jesus used the buds of a fig tree to tell us that there is something more than just summer is near.

It is the kingdom of God that is breaking forth and manifesting itself in the midst of the ordinary.

Yes, there is always something more than meets the eye. If we don't see a deeper meaning in it, if we don't see the kingdom of God happening in it, we may just be settling for something less.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

34th Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 28-11-19

Daniel 6:12-28 / Luke 21:20-28              ` 
To be thrown into a lion's den is to be in a place or state of extreme disadvantage, antagonism, or hostility.

And usually it is not the strong and mighty who are thrown into the lion's den, but the weak and the innocent.

And no doubt about it, not many have survived and come out alive of the lion's den. Death is almost certain and a horrible death at that.

The prophet Daniel was thrown into the lion's den by his accusers who were actually just jealous of his high rank and he also enjoyed the king's favour.

So they laid a trap under the guise of religion and the king unsuspectingly signed the decree, and which he could not revoke.

So it can be said that the conspirators were more vicious and inhumane compared to the lions in the den.

But once again, God came to the help of the innocent and those who are faithful to Him; God rescued Daniel by sending an angel to seal the lions' jaws and saved Daniel from certain death.

There will be many lion's dens that we might be thrown into by those who are against us for some reason.

Like Daniel, let us remain innocent and faithful to God's ways and trust in the Lord's saving help.

In doing so, we will survive the lion's den and live to proclaim the mighty and marvelous works of God.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

34th Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 27-11-19

Daniel 5:1-6, 13-14, 16-17, 23-28 / Luke 21:12-19                   

Graffiti is writings or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place.

In this country, graffiti is a crime as it is the damage to property caused by: spraying, writing, drawing, marking or applying paint or another marking substance to a person's property without their consent.

And there can be no question of doing graffiti in high security places like Parliament House,  military headquarters and other dignified places.

In the 1st reading, there was graffiti in, of all places, the royal palace, where king Belshazzar was having a great banquet with his noblemen, their wives and singing women, and they were using the sacred vessels looted from the Temple of Jerusalem.

But that was no ordinary graffiti. It is what is understood as "the writing on the wall", done by the hand of God.

Those words " Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin" were meant for king Belshazzar and he would know what it was all about and what was going to happen.

In the gospel, Jesus tells of another hand, but not that of God. It is the hand of injustice and persecution. It is the hand of evil and hate that wants to stop the Good News from spreading.

It is a hand to be reckoned with, but Jesus will also be at hand to defend us and help us bear witness to Him.

We just have to hold on to the hand of Jesus, and He will write His name on the walls of our hearts.

Monday, November 25, 2019

34th Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 26-11-19

Daniel 2:31-45 / Luke 21:5-11     

We often say that the past is history and the future is mystery. Sounds rather poetic.

And good poetry often makes a reflection on the harsh reality but puts it across beautifully.

So as much as we know the history of the past, we do not know the mystery of the future.

It is because we do not know the future, we tend to live in anxiety.

And we may secretly like to think that if we know what is going to happen in the future, then we may be relieved of this anxiety.

Well, king Nebuchadnezzar had a dream about the future. And Daniel interpreted that dream for him.

But did it quell his anxiety?

Similarly in the gospel, the people asked Jesus about the time and the signs of the future.

And Jesus did tell them something about the future, but did it quell their anxiety?

It is not good to be too anxious about the future, but yet we can turn that anxiety into something creative.

We can use that anxiety to build the foundations of our lives so that we won't be thrown about by the worries of what is to come.

The prophet Daniel mentions in the 1st reading of a stone, untouched by human hands.

We, of course, know that the stone that he was talking about was that stone that was rejected by the builders but which became the corner stone.

May Jesus be that corner stone which forms the foundations of our lives.

It is in Jesus that we can have the security in a future that is mystery.

Because with Jesus we can truly live in the HERE and NOW. Without Jesus, we will be NOWHERE

Sunday, November 24, 2019

34th Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 25-11-19

Daniel 1:1-6, 8-20 / Luke 21:1-4

Faith is not a passive or inert aspect of our lives. Faith responds visibly to something that might be expected to produce manifestations of an emotion or feeling.

Having faith would also mean participating readily or actively in the situations around us so as to reveal the presence of God in those situations.

In that sense, if we have faith then we would not be so easily influenced, acted upon, or affected by some external influence, and just being swept along with the flow.

In the 1st reading, the four young men faced a dilemma. They were exiled in a foreign land but were selected to be trained for the service of the king.

They were given food from the king's royal table, but it was food that had been first offered to idols and hence for the Jews to eat that food would be to defile themselves.

As exiles in a foreign land, going against orders would mean certain death.

But their faith in God made a way for them and as it turned out, God blessed them for their faithfulness.

In the gospel, that poverty-stricken widow put in two small coins into the treasury, and as Jesus commented, she put in all she had to live on.

In both cases of the four young men and the poverty-stricken widow, they could have just submit to their thinking and taken the easy and sensible way out of a difficult situation.

But their faith made them face the difficult situation and in doing so the presence of God was manifested in those situations and circumstances.

The world needs to experience the presence of God. That is why God chose us and gave us the faith. By our faith may we let God be present and may we call upon His blessings for our world.