Thursday, February 28, 2019

7th Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 01-03-19

Ecclesiasticus 6:5-17 / Mark 10:1-12

All of us have friends; we have good friends and even best friends.

But do we have true friends? That phrase "true friends" might sound rather strange because we seldom use it.

Yet the question remains. Do we have true friends? And what is a true friend?

The 1st reading gives us a description of what a true friend is. It says:

A faithful friend is a sure shelter, whoever finds one has found a rare treasure.

A faithful friend is something beyond price, there is no measuring his worth.

So do we have a true and faithful friend? For those of us who are married, is our spouse our true and faithful friend?

Married couples are not only true and faithful friends with each other, they are no longer two, but they are one body - one in mind and heart.

That is what Jesus said in the gospel and that is what married couples must strive for.

Let us reflect again on the 1st reading and see what God is telling us about true friendships and how is it is helpful for married couples in their understanding of their own marriage.

A faithful friend is the elixir of life, and those who fear the Lord will find one.

Whoever fears the Lord makes true friends, for as a man is, so is his friend.

Let us be true and faithful to the Lord, and we will have true and faithful friends.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

7th Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 28-02-19

Ecclesiasticus 5:1-8 / Mark 9:41-50

Time is what we want most. Yet time is also what we waste most.

The irony is that the more time we have, the more time we will waste.

By and large, we think that we have a long future ahead of us.

We think that there will always be a tomorrow. Yet that is not a certainty.

That is why the 1st reading urges us not to delay our return to the Lord and not to put it off day after day.

The last line of today's gospel passage gives us an aspect of our lives to think about.

Jesus said: Be at peace with one another.

More than just the need for reconciliation with those whom we have crossed swords with, the more urgent need is to stop hurting others and being a pain to others, whether it is with our words or actions.

Jesus tells us to cut off our hurtful and sinful words and actions because in the end we will have to pay the debt of our sins.

Let us ask the Lord to cleanse our hearts for from the bounty of the heart, the mouth speaks and the hands act.

Let us also ask the Lord to grant us His peace so that we will live in peace with the Lord and with one another.

Let us not delay. Let us do it now. In a way, it is now or never.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

7th Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 27-02-19

Ecclesiasticus 4:11-19 / Mark 9:38-40

Whatever our opinions or experiences are about evil spirits, we can't deny that evil exists in this world.

No matter how we want to explain why some people do terrible, bad and evil things like killing and murder, sexual exploitation, abortion, drug-trafficking, in the end we need to recognize one thing.

And that is there is an evil force behind all this and instigating and using people to carry out bad and evil deeds, causing harm, violence and destruction.

We certainly can do with some counter-force against these evil spirits and we would be grateful if there are people who are able to pick out these evil spirits and even cast them out, in order to keep us safe from the harm.

It didn't seem to be the case when John told Jesus about a man who was not one of them casting out devils in Jesus' name and John wanted to stop him.

Maybe it was out of jealousy, maybe John felt threatened about losing the exclusivity that belonged to him and his fellow-disciples.

Whatever it may be, the very evil that they were casting out was now within them, sowing seeds of discord and trying to stop their work.

Certainly we need divine wisdom to know what is from God and what is not.

The 1st reading tells us whoever has this wisdom judges aright, and whoever pays attention to divine wisdom dwells secure.

Let us pray for the gift of that divine wisdom, so that we will know that whoever is not against Jesus is for Jesus, and may we work with them in the fight against evil and bring about peace.

Monday, February 25, 2019

7th Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 26-02-19

Ecclesaisticus 2:1-11 / Mark 9:30-37

For every question that is asked, there is an answer to it. Even for rhetoric questions, we already know what the answer is.

Yet if a question is asked, and no answer is given, then there could be a couple of possible reasons for it.

It is either that no one really knows the answer but they will have to say so, or that the answer is so stark that it is too embarrassing to say it.

In the gospel, when Jesus asked His disciples what were they arguing about on the road, they said nothing.

They surely knew what they were arguing about - which of them is the greatest. But now they are like small boys hanging down their heads and not wanting to say anything.

Certainly when grown men argue like small boys, it is really embarrassing, and more so when they were the disciples of Jesus, and even more so when just before that, Jesus was telling them about the suffering and death He had to go through.

And it was here that Jesus showed those big "small boys" what greatness really is. He set a little boy before them and gave them this profound teaching: If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all.

The 1st reading gave us such a startling teaching that we would rather not hear about it. It says: My son, if you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal.

It continues with this: Whatever happens to you, accept it, and in the uncertainties of your humble state, be patient, since gold is tested in the fire, and chosen men in the furnace of humiliation.

So if we were to ask what greatness is, we also know what the answer is. May we be willing and humble enough to accept that answer.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

7th Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 25-02-19

Ecclesiasticus 1:1-10 / Mark 9:14-29

The relationship between a master and a disciple is like that between a father and a son.

The master imparts all he knows to the disciple and the disciple assimilates all he can from the master.

Yet, just as there are times when the son thinks he knows better than the father, the disciple will also be tempted to think that he is better than the master.

Things only become clear, maybe even painfully clear, when the truth is shown in the challenges of life.

In today's gospel, we hear scorching words from Jesus to His disciples: How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you?

A man had brought his son to his disciples to be delivered of an unclean spirit of dumbness but they were unable to.

To make matters more embarrassing, His disciples ended up arguing with some scribes. So instead of healing, the disciples got engaged in arguing.

Hence when Jesus arrived and asked why they were arguing, they didn't respond, maybe because they knew they had detracted and lost focus on what Jesus would have done.

Later when they had gone indoors, His disciples asked Him privately as to why they were unable to cast that unclean spirit out.

The answer Jesus gave would certainly make the disciples, as well as us, do some serious thinking. Jesus said: This is the kind that can only be driven out by prayer.

Indeed, without prayer, the disciple can never be like the master. But with prayer, the disciple will gain the wisdom of the master.

As the 1st reading puts it: All wisdom is from the Lord ... and He conveyed her to those who love Him.  If we are serious about learning from Jesus our Master, then we need to be serious in prayer.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

7th Ordinary Sunday, Year C, 24.02.2019

1 Sam 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23 / 1 Cor 15:45-49 / Luke 6:27-38
It is said that all men are equal. But in reality that may just be a notion.

Because in the reality of this world, there is always some kind of disparity.

Just like there is light and darkness, so there is the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak, the proud and the humble, the quick and the slow.

In this kind of disparity, inevitably there will emerge a bully. A bully is someone who seeks to harm or intimidate those whom he thinks are vulnerable and cannot stand up against him or cannot fight against him.

It is acknowledged that bullying happens in school, at the workplace, and wherever we can think of.

And because of social media, bullying is not just confined to a physical locality. Because there is now cyber bullying, and the bully can torment his victim almost round-the-clock, 24/7.

But what makes a person become a bully and why does he not stop being one?
As it is, the disparity in society will tempt the stronger to flaunt his strength on the weaker, maybe just to boast to others, or just to show off.

Another reason can be like what happened to king Saul in the 1st reading. As the king, he was jealous of David for being more popular than he was, and we also remember David’s bravery and victory in the battle between David and Goliath.

So jealousy turned Saul into a bully, and even into a killer, as he took 3000 handpicked men to hunt down David and his companions.

It was a massive manhunt and David would not stand a chance, if not for his trust in the Lord.

David trusted in the Lord and took refuge in the Lord as his protector and his rescuer. 

And this is where we can learn from David, who was not just bullied by Saul, but his life was in danger.

In the face of bullying and persecution, the Lord is our only help and refuge and our protector. There is no point in trying to stand up to a bully or fight a hostile persecutor. We can’t win and we might get badly hurt.

And as the 1st reading tells us, David, with the protection of God, eluded Saul’s attempts to capture him. But then one night the tables were turned. 

David found himself standing over the sleeping Saul and a spear was at hand. Saul was a sitting duck (and a sleeping duck). Just one thrust of the spear into the heart of Saul and that would be the sweetest revenge for David.

But sweet revenge is just a notion. Can revenge ever be sweet? It is said that if you want to take revenge, then first you need to dig two graves – one for your enemy, and one for yourself.

In every act of revenge, at least two lives will be lost, whether literally or figuratively. So revenge can never be sweet. In fact, revenge is always sour and bitter.

So in the 1st reading, David wants to tell us all this. Taking the life of Saul might be easy but the consequences will be heavy.

So in short, if the Lord saved David’s life from Saul, then David had to spare Saul’s life. The hunted cannot turn into a hunter.

In the gospel, Jesus gives us a teaching about how we ought to treat our enemies.

When we think about our enemies, what comes to mind are those who bully us, those who do bad things to us, those who persecute us for no reason. And for some reason, we cannot get back, we cannot retaliate.

And so resentment, anger, bitterness and hatred begin to build up in us. But as it was for David, so it will be for us. One day, we will stand over our sleeping enemy, and all that anger, resentment, bitterness and hatred will make us want to grab that spear and thrust it deep into our enemy’s heart. But would that be sweet revenge?

This teaching of Jesus, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly” is a very difficult teaching to follow.

Yet, that difficult teaching comes with a promise from the Lord, that He will be our refuge and protector, He will save us from those who bully us, who hate us, who curse us.

Yes, the Lord will save us just as He saved David. Let us not grab that spear and thrust it into the heart of the sleeping enemy. Let us not turn into a hunter and a persecutor and lose God’s protection over us.

Let us follow the teaching of Jesus and let Jesus fight our battles for us, so His blessings of a full measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will be poured into our hearts.

Friday, February 22, 2019

6th Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 23-02-19

Hebrews 11:1-7 / Mark 9:2-13

The one word that keeps recurring in the 1st reading is the word "faith". It begins the passage as well as ends it off.

It talks about the faith of Biblical characters like Abel, Enoch and Noah.

By their faith they came to know who God is, and by their faith they experienced His presence, and it was by their faith they did God's will.

In the broadest sense of the word, faith can be said as believing in what cannot be seen and hoping in what cannot be fully explained.

In other words, faith is a gift from God to experience a mystery that is revealed and yet keeps revealing.

In the gospel, the disciples had their faith brought to another dimension when they saw the mystery of who Jesus is being revealed in His Transfiguration.

But still they don't understand what was meant "rising from the dead" and that Jesus will suffer grievously and be treated with contempt.

There may be still many things about our faith that we do not understand.

But still let us give thanks to God and hold firm to our faith. With faith, we will be able to see beyond the ordinary to a mystery in which God reveals Himself and will keep revealing Himself to us.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Chair of St. Peter, Friday, 22-02-19

1 Peter 5:1-4 / Matthew 16:13-19

The Chair of St. Peter (Latin: Cathedra Petri), also known as the Throne of St. Peter, is a wooden throne, encased in bronze, that is physically in St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. Essentially it is an elaborate chair.

But there is a profound symbolic meaning in the chair. The chair is described as "a symbol of the special mission of Peter and his Successors to tend Christ’s flock, keeping it united in faith and in charity." (Pope Benedict XVI)

It is a mission entrusted to Peter, as we heard in the gospel, and not just to Peter but also to his successors.

Hence this feast also traces for the present universal Church its Apostolic succession right up to Peter. In that sense, Pope Francis is called the successor of St. Peter, and he inherits the same apostolic authority that was given to St. Peter.

And this authority is to be used for teaching the truth and to serve with humility, as we heard in the 1st reading, and also to keep the Church united as the Body of Christ so as to be a sign of salvation to the world.

But in recent times, many terrible scandals have rocked the Church to its foundations and the Church have sunk deep into crisis with heresies and schisms.

Yet, this feast of the Chair of Peter reminds us that the Church is built on rock and the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it.

We take comfort and consolation that these are the words of Christ Himself, who is the Head of the Church.

May the celebration of this feast also bring about blessings for the Church to strengthen the faith and keep pressing on with the mission of salvation.

We must also keep alive the hope that our prayers will bring about the light of Christ shining through the Church in a darkened world.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

6th Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 21-02-19

Genesis 9:1-13 / Mark 8:27-33

In a number of companies, there is an annual appraisal for the staff. Other words that can mean the same thing are assessment and performance-review.

Generally speaking, the purpose is to help the staff improve themselves in the areas of team-work, productivity and efficiency.

Most of the time, it is the supervisors or superiors who do the appraisal or assessment or performance-review on their subordinates.

It is a time for the supervisors or superiors to affirm or correct the subordinates with the objective of focusing on the company's vision and mission.

In today's gospel, Jesus turned all this around by asking His disciples who do people say He is and what the people think of Him.

And then He went on to ask them what they themselves say who He is.

But in having to answer that question as to who they think He is, it is in a way like an appraisal. The disciples cannot say what others think of Jesus. They have to say who Jesus is from their own convictions.

And with some divine inspiration, Peter declared who Jesus really is, that Jesus is the Christ.

But what Peter and the rest of the disciples may not be prepared for was what Jesus was going to tell them - that He will suffer grievously and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests.

As much as we may know that Jesus is the Christ, the conviction of who Jesus really is will be on the Cross.

As His disciples, we must take up our crosses and follow our Master if we say that we know who Jesus is.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

6th Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 20-02-19

Genesis 8:6-13, 20-22 / Mark 8:22-26

We don't have to know a lot about birds to know the difference between a dove and a raven.

Doves are generally white in colour and associated with good luck or good omen. In fact doves are also a sign of peace.

In the first reading, when Noah sent out the dove the second time, it returned with a new olive-branch, to indicate that the waters were receding from the earth.

And when he sent out the dove the third time, it returned to him no more, to mean that the surface of the earth was dry.

So much of that lovable dove in the 1st reading. Now what about the raven? If we had paid attention to the 1st reading, Noah sent out the raven first, and it flew back and forth until the waters dried up from the earth. But after that there was no further mention of the raven.

Ravens are black in colour and they don't make a nice sound, and they are often seen as a bad omen and luck, maybe because of their colour, the sound they make and generally their looks.

But surprisingly, ravens are mentioned in the Bible at significant moments. Besides being sent out by Noah, it was also a raven that brought food to the prophet Elijah, and also in other parts of the Bible.

So as much as ravens do not have glamorous roles in the Bible, they have significant roles in the plan of God.

It also reminds us that God chooses what is humble and lowly to do His work. So may we not despise what is humble and lowly for God often works through them.

6th Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 19-02-19

Genesis 6:5-8; 7:1-5, 10 / Mark 8:14-21

When  the phone rings, we can do two things.

We can either take the call, or we can just ignore the call.

But one thing for sure, and that is, we know that there was a call.

The call to repentance and conversion is constantly given by God.

He calls out to us to turn away from our sinfulness and to come back to Him.

The 1st reading might have sounded harsh and may have given us the impression of a vengeful and punishing God.

But when we read the whole story of Noah and the flood, we will see that God had issued call after call, warning after warning, to His people.

If punishment comes, it was not because God was vengeful and wanted to wipe out His creation.

It was because His creatures did not remember Him. They forgot who was Creator and who was creature.

They did not heed His call and it was their own sins that punished them.

Hence the important factor for repentance and conversion is always this remembering.

Remembering that God is our Creator and provider.

Remembering that God is merciful and compassionate and forgiving.

Remembering that He fed the thousands when they were hungry.

Remembering that it is only when we hunger and thirst for Him alone, then He will fill us with His saving love.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

6th Sunday, Ordinary Time, Monday, 18-02-19

Genesis 4:1-15, 25 / Mark 8:11-13

When it comes to any competition, it is said that winning is not everything.

As much as it is not everything, some people would twist it and say that "winning is not everything; it is the only thing".

This is quite obvious in sports where sportsmanship is often put to the test and many fail it.

In the 1st reading, we heard that God favoured the offering of Abel but did not look with favour on Cain and his offering.

It may sound like a competition in which there is a winner and there is a loser and if we had been losers before, we would know how Cain felt.

Naturally, Cain was angry and downcast, and God even talked to him telling him to be well disposed or else the sin of resentment and bitterness is like a crouching beast waiting to devour him.

But Cain did not listen to God, and let his anger develop into resentment and bitterness, it turned into a tragedy as the first murder in the Bible was committed.

God is always speaking to us but are we listening to Him? If only we are aware of the emotions within us, the signs that are in us, then we will know how God is speaking to us.

When anger flares up within us, we just have to look at the Bible and see what it says there.

"Do not let resentment lead you into sin. The sunset must not find you still angry. Do not give the devil his opportunity" (Ephesians 4:26-27)

We don't have to ask for any more signs. We only have to look and feel the signs within us. It is there that the Lord God is speaking to us.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

6th Ordinary Sunday, Year C, 17.02.2019

Jeremiah 17:5-8 / 1 Cor 15:12, 16-20 / Luke 6:17, 20-26
Compared with other years, this year the Lunar New Year celebrations can actually go on for 15 days for Catholics, as the season of Lent is starting later, in fact, in two weeks’ time.

Even Valentine’s Day is outside of the season of Lent. If we can remember, last year’s Valentine’s Day was smack right on Ash Wednesday. It’s kind of funny to think of trying to have a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner with bread and water.

And talking about Valentine’s Day, and the other days of the year, there is this reflection about days:

If you marry the right person, every day is Valentine’s Day.
Marry the wrong person, every day is Good Friday.
Marry a lazy person, every day is Labour Day.
Marry a rich person, every day is New Year’s Day.
Marry an immature person, every day is Children’s Day.
Marry a cheater or liar, every day is April Fool’s Day.
And if you don’t get married, every day is Independence Day.

It is understandable that we wish and desire that every day will be a good and happy day. But we also know that it’s not going to be like that.

And we know by now that there is no rainbow without the rain, and there is no gain without the pain.

So as much as we greet each other with those Lunar New Year greetings and well-wishes such as “xin nian kuai le”, and “gong xi fa cai”, and as much as we really mean it, we also brace ourselves for difficult and tough times.

But with the eyes of faith, we will see opportunity in adversity and creativity in difficulty.

So when we read about what Jesus is saying in the gospel, we need to read it with the eyes of faith, and it is with the eyes of faith that we can see the truth of what Jesus is saying.

In short, Jesus is saying blessed are those who are poor, hungry, weeping and hated. At the same time, Jesus also said that woe will come to those who are rich, full, laughing  and praised.

A cursory reading of the gospel text may lead us to start wondering about a few things. Is Jesus propagating poverty and a masochistic life-style? Is He having something against riches and wealth?

But with the eyes of faith, we can see that Jesus is teaching a truth of life here. He is not just challenging the ways and values of the world. He is also showing how God blesses His people.

And God’s blessings come down on those who are poor, hungry, weeping and who are hated. God is there for them and will bless them because God knows that they have no one to turn to and nothing else to rely on.

Whereas for those who are rich, full, laughing and praised, they are so wealthy, there is no more hunger in them. Everything seems easy and smooth and they have the high ratings.

So will they ever need God? Maybe, but God is just one of the options. But that option will be the direction when there is desperation.

So as we think about it, if wealth equals happiness then the rich should be playing on the streets, but only the poor kids do that.

If power ensures security, then the high-ranking officials should walk around unguarded. But it is the simple and little people who sleep soundly.

And if beauty and fame bring about ideal relationships, then celebrities should have the best marriages and families.

So what Jesus said in the gospel today makes us look at the adversities and difficulties of life and look at them with the eyes of faith.

And we want to believe that it is in the adversities and difficulties that God is going to rain down His blessings. Because it is in our adversities and difficulties that we become the poor, the hungry, the weeping and the hated. It is the very people that Jesus said that God will bless and bless abundantly.

And we see these people in the Bible. God put a baby in the arms of the 99 year-old Sarah, He parted the Red Sea for Moses, He closed the jaws of the lions for Daniel, He opened the prison for Peter.

They were in some kind of adversity and difficulty. They had no one else to turn to but to God. And God blessed them abundantly.

And we also know of people who faced adversity but saw opportunity, people who faced difficulty but were blessed with creativity.

So as much as we wish to be rich, full, laughing and praised, let us not be obsessed by it and fret that we don’t have it.

And when we face adversity and difficulty, let us not be in distress about it. Let us rejoice actually. Because it is then that God is blessing us abundantly. 

May we have the eyes of faith to see it and know that we need only God and God alone.

5th Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 16-02-19

Genesis 3:9-24 / Mark 8:1-10

Many questions have been asked about sin and suffering.

Questions like is there a connection between sin and innocent suffering.

So, as much as the reality of sin is not denied, yet the aspect of suffering as a consequence of sin is not readily accepted.

Especially innocent suffering, or as a consequence of other people's sin.

Some may even question the inheritance of Original Sin, since it was the sin of Adam and Eve, and it should have nothing to do with them.

Well, we will always have our questions about sin and suffering.

But let us listen to what questions God is asking us.

In the 1st reading, we heard God asking the question - Where are you?

So even though Adam and Eve had sinned, God did not abandon them but searched for them.

In the gospel, we hear Jesus asking another question - How many loaves have you?

Jesus was not looking at the limitations; He was more interested in possibilities.

God is reaching out to us with His questions so that we may look again at our questions about life, about sin and about suffering.

And Jesus is asking us to put the loaves of our lives with its questions into His hands.

From His hands we will receive the Bread of Life that will give us faith and hope to walk on in love, despite and in spite of our questions.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

5th Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 15-02-19

Genesis 3:1-8 / Mark 7:31-37

The darkest periods of the history of the world, or for that matter of fact, the darkest periods of the history of the Church was when human beings did not involve God in their affairs.

In World War I and World War II, where was God in human affairs?

In the period before the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, where was God in the Church affairs?

In the 1st reading, where was God in the darkest moment of the devil's temptation?

Surely God was around, but He was neither consulted nor was He asked to be involved in the conversation between the serpent and the woman.

In the darkness of the moment, Adam and Eve fell into sin, and that made them hide from God.

Sin opened their eyes, only to make them run and hide.

Whereas Jesus opened the ears and loosened the tongue of the man, and the eyes of the people were also opened to see that God has come to restore the goodness of His creation.

In fact, that was what God wanted to do for Adam and Eve when He walked in the garden in the cool of the day - He came as a friend; He came with love and forgiveness.

God will always walk with us in the moments of our temptations, and He wants to save us in the darkness of our sin.

May we open our eyes to see the light of God's love in the darkness of temptation and sin.

May we also open our ears to hear the voice of God that calls out to us to turn back to Him.

May we open our lips to call out to God to help us and save us.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Anniversary of the Dedication of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, Thursday, 14-02-19

1 Kings 8:22-23, 27-30 / Matthew 16:13-19

The Cathedral of the Good Shepherd is the oldest Catholic Church in Singapore, and its design is rather simple as compared to the other cathedrals.

It was back in 1833, that with a small but growing Catholic community, a place of worship was blessed and opened at the site.

Then in 1843, the foundation stone was laid and in 1847, the Church of the Good Shepherd was blessed and opened.

In 1888 it was elevated to the status of a cathedral and on the 14th February 1897, it was consecrated as a cathedral.

The Cathedral of the Good Shepherd has a fascinating association with the history of Korea's Catholic Martyrs.

Saint Laurent-Marie-Joseph Imbert, in all probability the first Catholic priest to the island, died a martyr in Korea and the church's name "Good Shepherd" was inspired by what he wrote knowing the persecutions the missionaries will face "In desperate circumstances, the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep."

Just a very brief history of the Cathedral, the mother church of the Archdiocese. And as we can see it had humble beginnings and a slow but steady growth.

So today as we celebrate the dedication of the Cathedral, we are also reminded of our humble beginnings and also to look ahead with faith and humility in the midst of the many changes in the Church as well as in the world.

Just as the design of the Cathedral is simple and humble, let us also be simple and humble in the way of faith and in our way of life.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

5th Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 13-02-19

Genesis 2:4-9, 15-17 / Mark 7:14-23

In the Bible, the verb "to eat" has a deeper meaning than just consuming food.

To eat can mean to be in communion with another person or persons, or to be in an intimate relationship with someone.

So for the Jews, who they eat with is significant and important.

Another meaning of the verb "to eat" can also mean to know, or to have knowledge of something or someone.

For the Jews, they had a long standing tradition of what is ritually clean and unclean foods.

So when Jesus said that nothing goes into a  man from outside can make him unclean, he actually knocked away one of the pillars of their cultural and religious tradition.

On the other hand, Jesus connected the act of eating with the knowledge of what is sin.

Similarly in the 1st reading, God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

When we sin, we eat of the fruit of evil and our hearts become filled with evil, and death and destruction happens from within.

In the Eucharist, we gather to partake of Jesus, who is the Bread of Life so as to be in communion with Him.

May we be filled with the life of the Spirit so that we will speak words of love that will give life to others.

Monday, February 11, 2019

5th Week, Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 12-02-19

Genesis 1:20 - 2:4 / Mark 7:1-13

Children are always thrilled with balloons.

More so if the balloons are filled with helium because they rise and you have to keep it attached to a string if you don't want to lose the helium balloons.

It might sound like a silly question if I were to ask this question: Which helium balloon will rise faster - the red, the green, the blue or the yellow coloured one?

Of course we will say that it is not the colour that mattered but what is inside the balloon.

That may be obvious to us, but in other matters, things may become blurred.

The gospel cites one instance of the emphasis on washing of hands but neglecting the purity of heart.

As Jesus puts it so profoundly - You put aside the commandment of God to cling to human traditions.

Yet the basis of the teachings of Jesus and His ministry is stated in the 1st reading.

We are all created in the image and likeness of God and it is this image and likeness that Jesus came to save and restore.

External appearances are necessary but they can never replace the internal essence of what we are made of and who made us.

May our words and actions flow from the essence of the image and likeness of God within us.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

5th Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 11-02-19

Genesis 1:1-19 / Mark 6:53-56

Today the Church celebrates the memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes. The title of "Our Lady of Lourdes" is a rather recent title of Mary given to her in honour of the Marian apparitions at Lourdes in France.

It was on the 11th February 1858 that the Blessed Virgin Mary made her first apparition to Bernadette (later canonized as a saint on the 8th December 1933), a 14-yr-old peasant girl and her sister at a grotto.

Over the following two weeks, there were more apparitions. Bernadette's parents tried to bar her from going but the young girl was determined and went secretly to the grotto of the apparition.

On the 24th February, Bernadette related that the apparition asked for prayer and penitence for the conversion of sinners. It was then that the apparition asked her to dig in the ground and drink from the spring she found there.

It was muddy at first and made Bernadette a mess, but this act revealed the stream that soon became a focal point for pilgrimages.

Soon the stream became increasingly clean. As word spread, this water was given to the sick and those with disabilities and many reports of miraculous cures followed. The Church has recognized more that 70 miraculous cures.

Yes, Lourdes has become a place of pilgrimage and healing. Yet it is also a place for the renewal of faith for the people as well as for the Church.

Today is also the World Day of Prayer for the Sick. We pray for the sick at Mass. And we are also reminded that the Church must also continue the healing ministry of Jesus and to pray for sick that they will bear their illness with faith so as to unite their sufferings with Jesus on the cross.

Also through St. Bernadette, our Blessed Mother has brought about the healing grace of God through the waters at Lourdes.

Let us continue to pray with our Blessed Mother for the sick and for their healing, both physically and spiritually.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

5th Ordinary Sunday, Year C, 10.02.2019

Isaiah 6:1-8 / 1 Cor 15:1-11 / Luke 5:1-11

During this festive season, besides the usual visiting and eating and weight-gaining, there is also one unique thing that we would have done, and it happens only during this festive season.

It is claimed to be a local creation, and it is called “lou hei” (Yusheng), and translated into English it means Prosperity Toss.

It is a pre-meal dish, like a sort of appetizer, and it usually consists of strips of raw fish or abalone, mixed with shredded vegetables and other sauces and condiments, each with some kind of symbolic prosperity meaning.

The practice is that all at the table would dig their chopsticks into this dish and toss the ingredients as high as possible and wishing each other good luck, prosperity, good health and everything good.

And even if we ran out of well-wishes, we can just say “Fatt!” or “Huat!” meaning “prosper!” That is why it is called a Prosperity Toss. And the restaurants and those selling it are certainly prospering from it.

Certainly, as we begin the Lunar New Year, we want life to be well and good and to be prosperous. 

We are prepared to work hard for it because we know that good things don’t come easy. We also know that if it is easy come, then it is also easy go.

But if we had worked hard and yet we gained nothing and have nothing to show for all our effort then how are we going to come to terms with it?

Is it that we are unlucky, or we just missed those opportunities, or that at the “lou hei” there is always someone tossing higher than us, or what?

Maybe that was what Simon Peter was thinking about as he washed his fishing nets. He had worked hard all night long and yet caught nothing.

It was all just so wasted, with nothing to show for all the time, the energy and the effort. Was there something wrong that even the fishes avoided him?

Then came along Jesus who told him to go out into the deep and pay the nets out for a catch. For a carpenter to tell a fisherman how to catch fish, it does not make much sense.

Maybe Peter was desperate or despondent, or that he just wanted to prove that Jesus was wrong. Nonetheless, he did as Jesus told him, and behold, an amazing catch of fish that it filled two boats to sinking point.

More than just an amazing catch, it was also an amazing revelation for Peter as he went down on his knees and exclaimed, “Leave me, Lord, I am a sinful man.”

So we can see that when God blesses us with a fortune, there is also an accompanying revelation. The problem is that we can get so engrossed with the fortune that we missed the revelation and what God wants to say to us.

Now, let’s say as you begin the new year, you win a prize!
And these are the details of the prize:
Each morning your bank will deposit $86,400.00 into your private account for your personal use.
However, this prize comes with rules just like any game has certain rules.
The first set of rules would be this:
1.  The money that you do not spend at the end of each day would be taken away from you.
2. You cannot simply transfer the money into some other account.
3. Only you can spend it.
So each morning when you wake up, the bank opens your account with $86,400.00 for that day.
The second set of rules is this:
1. The bank can end the daily deposits without warning.  At any time it can say, “It’s over, the deposits are over!”
2. It will close the account and you will not receive a new one.
So with $86,400 what would you want to do with it?
You would buy anything and everything you wanted, right?
Not only for yourself, but for all the people you love and your friends as well, right?
Even for people you don’t know you would also want to spend it on them, because you couldn’t possibly spend it all on yourself, right?
You would try to spend every cent, and use it all, right?

Well actually the daily deposit is about life! 
Each of us is in possession of such a “magical” bank account. Just that we don’t see it.
Each morning upon awakening, we receive 86,400 seconds as a gift of life for that day, and when we go to sleep at night, any remaining time is NOT credited to us.
What we haven’t lived up to that day is forever lost.
Yesterday is forever gone. Last year is gone forever.
Each morning the account is refilled, but the bank can dissolve your account at any time ……. WITHOUT WARNING!
Well, what would you do with your 86,400 seconds?
Aren’t they worth so much more than the same amount in dollars? In fact they are worth much more.

So when Simon Peter looked at that huge catch of fish, he could have just been engrossed with it and think of how much money he could make from it.

But he caught the revelation of who Jesus is and who he is.

So as we continue with the Lunar New Year celebrations with the “lou hei” and toss up for prosperity, let us also listen to what God wants to tell us and see what He wants to show us.

Let us lift up our minds and hearts to Jesus to be His fishers of men and to be His workers in the harvest.

That will truly be our joy and happiness.

4th Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 09-02-19

Hebrews 13:15-17, 20-21 / Mark 6:30-34

The need for rest and recreation seemed to be like a missing element in our lives.

In our fast paced society, we can even feel guilty about having some rest and recreation when everyone seems so busy.

We may have become so used to busyness and hurried lives that we forget about the necessity of rest and recreation.

But rest and recreation is not about doing nothing and sleeping our time away.

It is about a quiet time for prayer and to refocus our hearts on God.

In the gospel when the disciples came back from their mission and reported what they had done, the response of Jesus was for them to go to a lonely place and rest.

Because the temptation to do more and more especially with success after success can make people lose focus and perspective.

We have to realize that success cannot be created by our own hands.

It is God who will give success to the work of our hands.

Only when we are rested in the hands of God in prayer will our busyness bear fruits that last.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

4th Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 08-02-19

Hebrews 13:1-8 / Mark 6:14-29

In the cycle of life, there is this reality of retribution that cannot be denied.

Call it whatever, it stems from the Golden Rule, i.e. "Do to others what you want others to do unto you".

Obviously, this is not limited to one-to-one situation. More so in the case of an evil deed, the elimination of the victim does not mean that retribution for the aggressor will not take place.

From the gospel, we can see this happening to king Herod. He had John the Baptist beheaded because he made an oath to the daughter of Herodias in the presence of his guests.

But king Herod knew that John the Baptist was innocent and that he was a good and holy man.

So when he heard of Jesus and the miraculous powers at work in Him, disturbing thoughts of John the Baptist came to his mind. And this was just the beginning of the retribution that he would have to face, even though John the Baptist was already dead.

The 1st reading puts the Golden Rule in a more positive way as it says: Continue to love each other like brothers, and remember always to welcome strangers, for by doing this, some people have entertained angels without knowing it.

And we also know that whatever we do to others, we do it to Jesus. May we always treat others with love, and be assured that in the end, it is Jesus who will reward us.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

4th Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 07-02-19

Hebrews 12:18-19, 21-24 / Mark 6:7-13

"To be sent" would imply that the one who is sent has a mission or a task at hand.

At the same time, that would also mean that there would be some anxiety and uncertainty and there may also be some difficulties.

Especially when one is sent to negotiate for peace or to do trouble-shooting and to clear up some mess.

In the gospel, we heard that after Jesus had been teaching around the villages, He began to send out His apostles in pairs and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.

By the very fact that Jesus had to give authority to those He was sending out, means that He was sending them to "troubled spots" and that they would face challenges and difficulties as well as opposition from evil.

So as we heard from the gospel, they set off to preach repentance; and they cast out many devils, and anointed many sick people with oil and cured them.

It was quite obvious that the apostles were sent to places where there was a need and where it needs to be liberated and free from the clutches of evil.

Yet, where there is a need and where people are living in darkness and in shadow of fear and oppression, God will be there, and in fact He is already there.

But He needs people who are willing to be sent to these troubled spots so that they can be His channels and instruments of grace and healing.

God wants to empower us to carry out His mission. May we be willing to heed His call and be sent.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

4th Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 06-02-19

Hebrews 12:4-7, 11-15 / Mark 6:1-6

One of the difficult things in life to understand is discipline.

For discipline to be instilled, it has to be come along with punishment. To try to have discipline without punishment can only be left to imagination.

But the question with discipline is about its objective, and the purpose of the punishment that is used to attain it.

The 1st reading gives us a direction and the balance between discipline and punishment.

It says: When the Lord corrects you, do not take it lightly, but do not get discouraged when He reprimands you. For the Lord trains the ones that He loves and He punishes all those that He acknowledges as His son. Suffering is part of your training. God is treating you as His sons. Has there ever been any son whose father did not train him?

So when parents discipline their children, some sort of punishment will be necessary, be it corporal punishment or whatever.

And when God wants to instil and build up our discipline, He will correct us and even reprimand us through His chosen instruments.

On the other hand, when we face rejection and opposition, we also need to see it as a means to train us in discipline and obedience to the Lord.

Jesus, in the gospel, had to face rejection and opposition, but He showed how disciplined He was in carrying out the mission from God.

As disciples of Jesus, let us accept hardships and suffering, rejection and opposition. Let us look at these as means to strengthen us to do God's will.

Chinese New Year, 05.02.2019

Numbers 6:22-27 / James 4:13-15 / Matthew 6:31-34

Today we are gathered together on this first day of the Lunar New Year to celebrate a new beginning.

New beginnings are always important as they revive our hope of blessings in the days ahead and also to renew our faith in God who is the source of all blessings.

And blessings from God are important, and the 1st reading states clearly the formula for blessing and how to invoke God’s blessings on His people.

Although the Lunar New Year (or what is commonly called the Chinese New Year) seems more like a cultural and ethnic celebration, yet we can see many aspects of our faith in it.

For example, last evening we had our “Reunion Dinner” with our family. Today we come as a family of faith to have our reunion with God in the Eucharist.

And about the colour red. The decorations are red, the dressing is red, the angpows are red. Although legend has it that the colour red is to ward off evil spirits, the colour red for the Church is the colour of the Holy Spirit.

We want to celebrate the Lunar New Year with love, peace and joy, all of which are the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and we also pray for a Spirit-filled year ahead.

Now, about the Year of the Pig. So what has the pig got to do with our faith?

When we think of the pig, we think of bak-kwa (which is $50/kg), roast pork, pork knuckles, ham and bacon.

But when we think of the piggy, what will come to mind is not just food, but of savings. Remember the piggy-bank?

Just as with a piggy-bank, we put in little coins to inculcate the habit of saving, the piggy-bank will also remind us of our prayer-bank, which helps us to inculcate a habit of regular prayer.

So the Year of the Pig reminds us that small regular savings in the piggy-bank bears more results than trying the luck at 4D or Toto.

And the piggy-bank reminds us of our prayer-bank, that regular prayer bears more results in patience and perseverance than last-minute desperate prayers.

So the celebration of the Lunar New Year and the Year of the Pig is not about eating and drinking and hoping for something lucky and at the same time being anxious with worry.

It is a celebration of faith and trusting in God’s blessings for the days ahead and believing that God hears our prayers and grants us what we need.

And so, as we begin the Lunar New Year and the Year of the Pig, may the Lord bless us and keep us. May the Lord let His face shine on us and be gracious to us. May the Lord uncover His face to us and bring us peace.

Monday, February 4, 2019

4th Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 04-02-19

Hebrews 11:32-40 / Mark 5:1-20

It is a fact of life that no one is immune to the trials and tribulations of life.

But it is through trials and tribulations that one comes to a self-realization and becomes more resilient to the difficulties and hardships of life.

And it is also through trials and tribulations that one comes to realize who God is and how much one needs His help.

The 1st reading gave some names of those who had gone through trials and tribulations: Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets.

But of course these are just only some of the Bible characters, and there are even more prominent ones that we can think of.

And there are also those who are not named, like the man who had the legion of demons expelled from him.

That man had gone through trials and tribulations and after he was healed, he wanted to follow Jesus.

He had realized who God is and how God had helped him out of his trial and tribulation.

And now he had a mission from Jesus - he is to go back to his people and tell of all that the Lord in His mercy had done for him.

So when we had to undergo a trial or tribulation, let us not sink into distress and despair.

Rather let us be prepared for something great to happen. Because we are going to know who we are and who God is and the wonders that He is going to work through us.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

4th Ordinary Sunday, Year C, 03.02.2019

Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19 / 1 Cor 12:31 – 13:13 / Luke 4:21-30
The Lunar New Year is just around the corner, with the usual festive frenzy, and with people busy with cleaning, cooking and shopping.

And with two public holidays to celebrate the Lunar New Year, there will be plenty of eating, as we go around visiting our relatives and friends.

But not everyone will be looking forward to it, because there will be the usual yearly questioning from those people whom we usually meet only once a year (usually it’s the aunties).

So for those who are thinking how to answer those questions, here are some snappy and not-so-polite answers to those irritating and not-so-polite questions.

When they ask: Why so old still collecting ang bao?
You can say: Why until now you still giving only $2 angbao?

When they ask: Why no girlfriend/boyfriend?
You can say: They heard about you and they ran away.

When they ask: When are you getting married?
You can say: Married already, didn’t invite you.

So, there it is, not-so-polite answers to those irritating and not-so-polite questions. But then it might end up as a not-so-happy Lunar New Year. So, better be polite to those who are not-so-polite.

But Lunar New Year or otherwise, we will always have to face those difficult questions that have no easy answers.

Those questions will irritate us, and it will be rather challenging not to be irritating in return. It would be even more challenging to answer it with truth and with love.

No doubt the truth will set us free but the truth can also make some people unhappy and even angry.

We heard in today’s gospel passage that Jesus preached in the synagogue and He won the approval of all and they were astounded by the gracious words that came from His lips.

So all was well until they started asking questions like “This is Joseph’s son, surely?” It was a rather intrusive question. They were not questioning about what He said. They were questioning about who He is and His family background.

Jesus replied by saying that they missed the point. They were not focused on the message but they were investigating the messenger. So it was not so much about what was said but who said it. So Jesus had to tell them that they missed the point.

And Jesus had to remind them that in the past their ancestors had also missed the point of God’s message.

And so the prophets who were sent to them, were sent to outsiders, the non-Jews, to proclaim the message of God and that the blessings and miracles were worked for outsiders and not for the people of God.

Obviously, they were not happy to hear that. They were not happy and they were so angry that they hustled Jesus out of town and to the brow of the hill and to throw Him from the cliff. In other words, they wanted to kill Jesus.

Nothing new actually. When people miss the point of the message, they turn on the messengers, the prophets and persecuted and killed them. 

But of course, we are not so violent as to want to kill people for answering us impolitely or rudely. But of course we will get angry with them for doing that. And we may also get irritated when we are told truth about ourselves. 
But we can spare ourselves of the cutting truth when we think a bit before we ask our questions. Because very often, those questions that we want to ask reveal very much about ourselves, our motives, our insecurities.

Just like in the gospel, when the people asked the question: This is Joseph’s son, surely?

Besides revealing that they missed the point of the message of Jesus, their question revealed their prejudice and biasness. Jesus is the son of Joseph the carpenter. Carpenters don’t preach and they cannot do so.

Or that occasion when Peter asked Jesus how many times must he forgive someone. Was 7 times enough? Peter thought that 7 times was already too much. And then Jesus had to tell him that it is not 7 times but 70 x 7 times. Poor Peter, just when he thought he was going to score high with Jesus, he got it really low.

So before we ask questions, let us think about what is the question that we are asking. Think as in: 

T for truth. Is it as truthful question, or is it there an ulterior motive behind it?

H for helpful. Is it helpful to both parties to come to an understanding?

I for important. Is that question important for clarification? Or is it going to cause confusion?

N for necessary. Is it necessary to ask that question there and then, especially when there are others around.

K for kind. Is that question asked out of a genuine kindness and concern for that person?

So think before we ask those questions and we won’t get scorching answers in return.

Think and may the Lord bless us with a joyful and peaceful Lunar New Year.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Presentation of the Lord, Saturday, 02-02-19

Malachi 3:1-4 or Hebrews 2:14-18 / Luke 2:22-40

The candles that were blessed at the beginning of the Mass were meant to be lighted and then brought along in procession into the church where the Mass will be celebrated.

The significance of this is to remind us that at Christmas, Jesus came into the world and He is the true Light.

This feast of the Presentation indicates that Jesus the Light of the world is being presented to His Father and consecrated to Him.

That is the significance of why the candles are to be lighted and brought in procession into the church.

This feast is also an occasion for those in the consecrated life to renew their commitment to God, especially those who belong to religious orders and other similar organizations.

Yet the lighted candles also have a deeper meaning. Not only do we carry in us the light of Christ, we also unite with Him in His offering and sacrifice to the God.

Jesus was presented and consecrated to God to be the Saviour of the world.

It is through Him and in Him that the promise of salvation will be fulfilled and Jesus will fulfill that on the cross.

As we celebrate this feast of the Presentation, we also unite with Jesus and present ourselves to be consecrated for the salvation of the world.

May the blessed candles remind us that our lives are to be a continual sacrifice to God so that through us, the work of salvation that was begun in Jesus will be continued and fulfilled.

May our lives be like lighted candles that bring the light of God's love to the world.

3rd Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 01-02-19

Hebrews 10:32-39 / Mark 4:26-34

There is nothing really nice or good about being down.

When something is down on the ground, it is in a very vulnerable position in that it will be stepped on. Being on the ground is certainly not at a superior position.

And when we are feeling emotionally down, then we will be prone to outbursts and other kinds of behaviour that will only drag us further down.

So whether physically, or emotionally, or spiritually, when we are down we will be vulnerable and prone to all things that are not nice and not good.

A phrase that is often used is that we will call something or someone "down and out".

But does being down also means being out? We say it so often that it becomes like a mantra: down and out, so much so that when one is down, it subsequently means that one is out, or has to be out.

But when we listen to the parables of Jesus in the gospel with regards to the seeds, then we will come to see that down doesn't necessarily mean out.

In fact, down means up, so it is not down and out, but down and up. The seeds show us that.

Only when they are down on the ground or in the ground that they will begin to sprout and grow and bear fruit and put out big branches so that the birds of the air can shelter in their shade.

Even when the 1st reading talks about sufferings and persecutions and being stripped of everything, others would see those early Christians as being down and out.

But the 1st reading tells us those early Christians might be down, but they are down and up.

Because they know that they own something that was better and also it is a lasting reward.

But all this reversal of the world's ideas and the mantra of being down and out, comes from none other than the Resurrection of Jesus.

In rising from the dead, Jesus showed us that down is not out; in fact it is down and up. Anyway it is also said that what goes down must come up!

So whenever we feel physically, or emotionally, or spiritually down, let us know that it is not going to be out.

Let us look at Jesus on the Cross and He will raise us up. Let us also look at the Sacred Heart of Jesus and know that that is what He will do. It is a promise from His Heart.