Sunday, 15 January 2017

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

From a young age, we were constantly taught and reminded to be strong and stand up for our rights. We were exposed to an environment where we must be the best, never lose out, be aggressive so that we protect what we think is rightfully ours, and to be rough and tough to prevent others from taking advantage of us. All these things taught us to be "wise" in worldly affairs, so that we would be able to live and prosper in this world.

However, today's Gospel paints us a different set of values: the values of the Kingdom or the beatitudes. Instead of being the best, never lose out, aggressive, rough and tough; the Gospel tells us: "Happy are the poor in spirit; happy the gentle; happy those who mourn; happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right; happy the merciful, happy the pure in heart, happy the peacemakers, happy the persecuted." It seems as if it is the weak, the powerless, the gentle and the ones who patiently endure suffering or persecution that are blessed. If we were to think like the rest of the world, then of course such values seem hard or even impossible to understand or even follow. But if we look at the second reading, St Paul reminds us: "it was to shame the wise that God chose what is foolish by human reckoning, and to shame what is strong that he chose what is weak by human reckoning; those whom the world thinks common and contemptible are the ones that God has chosen – those who are nothing at all to show up those who are everything.” When we allow ourselves to be consumed with power, violence, hatred and revenge, we will only experience the same things – power, violence, hatred and revenge.

So how do we get ourselves out from a potential mess and a vicious circle of fear, distrust and self-preservation? Jesus gives the answer, by teaching us an alternative set of values in today's Gospel. These values will transform our world into the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of peace, joy and love. Jesus counters the values of greed with values of simplicity; values of power with values of weakness; values of seeking revenge with values of mercy and forgiveness; values of dishonesty with values of honesty; values of violence with values of peace. Some may say: "But all these values sound impossible or improbable for us humans to carry out. Jesus is different, for He is God." But we must not forget that Jesus is God who became one of us. Throughout His life and ministry, He showed us how to be humble, powerless, non-violent; living a life of poverty, being gentle, hungering for righteousness, showing mercy, being a peacemaker and finally enduring persecution, suffering and even death on the cross. It is not impossible or improbable to do, if we let Jesus be our guide and walk in His ways.

So today, as the first reading tells us, let us "Seek the Lord, all you, the humble of the earth, who obey his commands. Seek integrity, seek humility: you may perhaps find shelter on the day of the anger of the Lord." When we strive to do so and live in His ways, then we will discover that it is when we are weak, we are truly strong.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Monday of Week 1 Year 1

When a young man feels called to the priesthood, he has to undergo a process and pass through several steps such as interviews, several tests, journeying with the vocation director for some time, meeting the bishop several times, letter of application, etc. When accepted, he stays several years in the seminary for intensive formation which includes studies in Philosophy and Theology. The seminarian is also exposed to various pastoral experiences in different environments, including parish assignments, spending time with the poor, marginalised and less fortunate, and many other situations a priest may encounter in ministry. This is to test the young man's physical, psychological and moral stamina, to ensure that he is fully aware and ready for the tasks ahead. Only after successfully going through these many stages that the young man may ask to be ordained.

Jesus' disciples did not undergo such a process as we do today, but they had a somewhat similar orientation. Today's Gospel tells us that Andrew and Simon were simply casting their nets in the lake while James and John were putting their nets in order when Jesus called them: "Follow me and I will make you into fishers of men." They left everything in the boat and followed Jesus immediately. That instant, willing and ready! No hesitation! No ifs or buts! They had their "seminary formation" with Jesus for only three years or even less. All but one passed with flying colors and after that, they went on a super charged mission in bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to the entire world.

Today we give thanks for the many young men and women who have answered God's call, just as the disciples did, to go forth and preach the Good News. What about the rest of us? Have you answered God's call to preach the Good News? Have you offered your lives to serve Him as His priests and religious? May you find it in your hearts to be generous, willing and enthusiastic to answer His call, and go into His vineyard, for His greater glory.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Dec 27 - Saint John, Apostle, Evangelist - Feast

Today we celebrate the Feast of Saint John the Evangelist. He was the son of Zebedee, a fisherman, brother of Saint James the Great, one of the Sons of Thunder, a disciple of Saint John the Baptist and a friend of Saint Peter the Apostle. He was called by Jesus during the first year of His ministry and traveled everywhere with Him. He took part in the Last Supper. He was the only one of the Twelve who did not forsake the Saviour in the hour of His Passion, standing at the foot of the cross. He was made guardian of Our Lady by Jesus and took her into his home. Upon hearing of the Resurrection, he was the first to reach the tomb and when he met the Risen Lord at the Lake of Tiberias, he was the first to recognise Him. How was he able to go through all these events and situations? Because ultimately, Saint John the Evangelist showed and taught us what it really means to love.

The word "love" has been used and abused so rampantly, that it may have lost its meaning. This is because, if you really and truly love someone, you will do anything and everything for his or her best, even to the point of sacrificing your very own life like Jesus and many others did. Such love is expensive, costly and not easy to find, since the one who loves is putting everything at stake, no holding back, no hesitation. In the case of Saint John the Evangelist, it is such expensive love which was his guiding principle or motto, and it is what we should follow or emulate. May we learn to love with such intensity, genuineness and courage, that others may come to know the love of Christ.

Dec 26 - Saint Stephen, the first Martyr - Feast

Today we celebrate the Feast of Saint Stephen, the first Martyr who died for Christ. Some of us might be wondering why we celebrate his feast on the day after Christmas where we are still filled with the joy of Christmas. The reason is because this Feast of Saint Stephen is to remind us of why Jesus came. Christmas is not just about the baby Jesus, but a life that would go through much persecution and rejection, which would end up on the Cross. Even as an infant, persecution had already started when Herod tried to kill the baby Jesus, resulting in His escape to Egypt and resulting in the death of the Holy Innocents, whose feast we celebrate on December 28. So the coming of Jesus is a call to commitment and a call to martyrdom, and Saint Stephen sets us an example on how to follow and die for Jesus.

Following the example of Jesus, Saint Stephen offered his spirit to God, saying: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." He even prayed for forgiveness for those who were stoning him to death, where he said: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” This tells us that a Christian martyr does not die consumed by hatred and crying for vengeance, but his love for Christ enables him to love and forgive his enemies. If we were to be martyred for our faith, would we be able to follow Saint Stephen's example, as well as the examples of the many martyrs who had died for Christ?

Monday, 20 June 2016

Friday of the 2nd Week of Advent

In society, we have certain rules, regulations and laws which are meant to be followed, for the good of society as a whole. If we do not follow such rules, regulations and laws, we could be causing inconvenience or even problems to others, because of our selfishness, attitude and behaviour. For example, if we drive our vehicle as we please by not wearing the seatbelt or driving too fast, we may be a danger or hazard to others, and the police would summon us for not obeying traffic laws. Likewise, we also have God's commandments which are there for the good of all, so that all may be loving and responsible in our words, deeds and conduct.

Today's reading tells us: "I, the Lord, your God, teach you what is good for you, I lead you in the way that you must go. If only you had been alert to my commandments, your happiness would have been like a river, your integrity like the waves of the sea." God is inviting us to let Him teach us and lead us. When we are open to following God's commandments, and be willing to let Him guide us, we would then learn to be loving and responsible as His people. Are we willing to let God be our guide, or do we still stubbornly insist in doing things our way?

Thursday of the 2nd Week of Advent

When you go for a holiday or a business or working trip, it is generally better if you have a tour guide or someone who knows the place of destination who can accompany you. This is so that the holiday or trip would be an enjoyable one, and you would not be so easily cheated or taken for a ride. In the season of Advent, there is somebody who is ever willing to help us in our journey. That person is John the Baptist, who is showing us the way and the preparations that we need to do. The preparations consist of repentance and the conversion of heart. In the Gospel, Jesus exalts John the Baptist because he is faithful and committed to His mission in life. He is indeed true to his purpose.

What about us? Are we preparing ourselves for Jesus, with repentance and conversion of heart? Are we being faithful and commited to our mission in life, so as to give glory to God? May we follow John the Baptist's example, and prepare the way not only for ourselves but for others too, so that we would be ready to meet our loving Saviour.

Wednesday of the 2nd Week of Advent

When a farmer wants to plough the field in preparation for planting crops, the farmer would put a yoke on an ox so that the animal could pull the plough. Some farmers have a yoke which is designed for 2 oxen, so that the burden of ploughing the field could be shared by the 2 oxen. Another reason why a yoke for 2 oxen is used is to train a new ox, since the more experienced ox would be guiding the new ox in ploughing the field.

In today's Gospel, Jesus is inviting us to " Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light." When we have Jesus to guide us, we would be able to go through the plough of life with less difficulty, since Jesus is pulling the plough with us. May we shoulder Jesus' yoke, and find rest for our souls in His care.