Saturday, 31 January 2015

Tuesday of the 2nd Week of Easter

Some of us seem to live a life where only our needs, our wants and our expectations matter. We try to achieve wealth, fame, power, popularity and recognition for ourselves. Sometimes in our pursuit for such things, we may have become ruthless or cold in our relationship with others, and some may even resort to different forms of intimidation or tactics to eliminate the competition. "What's in it for me?" or "What do I gain from this?" are some of the questions some may ask when asked to help or offer assistance to others. But is such an attitude or way of life compatible to being a Christian? What sort of attitude or way of life should a Christian have?

In today's reading, we are told about the early Christian community and the sort of attitude and way of life they lived: "The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul; no one claimed for his own use anything that he had, as everything they owned was held in common. None of their members was ever in want, as all those who owned land or houses would sell them, and bring the money from them, to present it to the apostles; it was then distributed to any members who might be in need." While living such a life style, way of life, or attitude may seem quite challenging these days, we need to ask ourselves: do we really care about others sincerely and with concern and charity? Or have we become so engrossed with the world and with ourselves, that the individual and individualistic ways have taken over our lives and our values? Are we united with our Christian community, or have we become loners, only thinking about ourselves and our needs?

Let us be mindful that people take notice of what it means to be a Christian by the way we witness to others in our community. May we be examples and not stumbling blocks of what it means to be Jesus' witnesses, so that others may know we are Christians by our love.

Monday of the 2nd Week of Easter

When we are faced with persecution or difficult situations, what do we do? Some of us may resort to prayer, and when we pray, what do we say? Some of us may ask God to free us from our persecutors or difficulties experienced, some of us may ask God to change the hearts and minds of those who persecute us or cause us difficulties, but how should we pray to God?

In today's reading, the community of believers had heard from Peter and John what the chief priests and elders had said. When the community prayed, they asked God to "take note of their threats and help your servants to proclaim your message with all boldness, by stretching out your hand to heal and to work miracles and marvels through the name of your holy servant Jesus." By praying in this way, the community of believers were not asking God to get rid of their enemies, or deliver them from persecution or difficulties. Instead, the community asked God to help them be bold in preaching and healing, so that God would ultimately be glorified.

What about us? Have we been praying for God's help so that we could be courageous and determined to preach the Good News? Have we offered ourselves totally to God, so that in all we do, God will be glorified? Let us not be afraid or discouraged, but be bold in our efforts, for God will not abandon us.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

2nd Sunday of Easter Year B

What sort of way of life are you living as a Christian? What sort of lifestyle should a Christian be living? Some of us think that being a Christian means keeping God's commandments, going to church, avoiding temptations or occasions of sin, praying regularly or even reading the bible consistently. But are these the only sort of lifestyle a Christian should have? Many of the things we do as Christians may seem fine, but what Jesus is trying to tell us in today's readings is that our lifestyle as a Christian cannot be confined only to between us and God, we cannot live on our own island or in isolation, but we are called to witness our faith in a community and as a community. How we live our lives in community will show others what it means to be a true believer and a witness of Christ to the world.

If we look at the first reading, we discover that the early Christian community "was united, heart and soul; no one claimed for his own use anything that he had, as everything they owned was held in common." The benefit, good, and needs of the community were more important than personal needs or wants. This was how they showed others the meaning of being a Christian, by living as a community instead of living on their own, isolated and separated from anyone and everyone. Are we living as a united community in heart and soul at our church, and even at our housing area? Do we care about the needs of others before our own? Or have we grown more and more individualistic, only thinking about ourselves and keeping to ourselves? If we refuse to live as a community, if we prefer to mind our own business and ignore others, if we are only concerned about ourselves and perhaps those dear to us, then what sort of Christian witnessing are we showing to others?

Some of us may be thinking or even complaining: "But living as a community is hard! Some people can be so difficult to please. I get hurt with the remarks of others or even the back-biting or politicking that is going around!" The fact is, living in a community is never easy, since we are not dealing with robots, saints or angels here, but with different types of people. Jesus did not assure us that living as a community was going to be a piece of cake or a walk in the park. But what did Jesus say to the disciples in today's Gospel? He said: "Peace be with you." Despite the difficulties and challenges in living as a community we may face, Jesus assures us His peace. Peace does not mean that there would be no conflict or that we must agree on everything. Peace means recognising that the risen Lord is in our midst, and knowing that Jesus is present in the community, even though we face difficulties, problems, unhappiness and conflicts. Jesus did not solve all our problems and conflicts we may face in the community. Rather, Jesus gave us something better, that is the power, the ability and the opportunity to forgive. In the Gospel, Jesus breathed his Spirit on his disciples and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven.” When we put on Christ, if we consider ourselves followers of Christ, then we should learn to love and forgive others just as He has done the same for all of us. Forgiveness is necessary because we do not live in a perfect community and also because we too are still not perfect.

Today, let us renew our commitment to be Jesus' witnesses to the world. Let us learn to do our part to help our community grow into a loving and forgiving community, the kind of community which is united in love as followers of Jesus, and united in love for others around us. It is in this way that others will know we are Christians by our love.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Housekeeping - 1st Week of Easter

For your easy reference, the following is a list of weeks and years with their corresponding date:

5 April 2015 - Easter Sunday
6 April 2015 - Easter Monday
7 April 2015 - Easter Tuesday
8 April 2015 - Easter Wednesday
9 April 2015 - Easter Thursday
10 April 2015 - Easter Friday

Easter Friday

We sometimes forget our identity and our purpose as Christians. When times are not so favourable, some of us may be tempted to go back to our old ways, our old habits or our previous life. Some of us may even become lapse in our faith and some even stop going to church or get involved in any church activities, all because some feel as if God is not helping them.

In today's Gospel, we read: "Simon Peter said, 'I'm going fishing.' They replied, 'We’ll come with you.' They went out and got into the boat but caught nothing that night." It seems as if the disciples may have had some doubts whether Jesus would be with them again, or perhaps they were wondering what would be next. Instead of becoming fishers of men, these disciples were going back to being fishermen. But what do we find next? Jesus stood on the shore and helped these disciples to rediscover their identity and purpose. He helped them become aware of His presence by performing the same miracle when He first "caught" them and brought them into His company. After this, "None of the disciples was bold enough to ask, 'Who are you?'; they knew quite well it was the Lord."

When we are down in the doldrums, when we feel as if we are heading in all sorts of directions without any real purpose, let us be reminded that Jesus is there to help us and strengthen us. Let us not be so easily discouraged and go back to our old ways. Let us instead focus on Jesus and let Him lead us through the storms in our lives, so that we too would be "fishers of men."

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Easter Thursday

It is tempting for some of us to take all the credit for a job well done or when a task has been completed successfully. Sometimes the task at hand could have been near completion and before you know it, the original person or persons who had toiled at it have moved on, and another person or other persons get the opportunity to finish it. If we are honest and grateful about our duties and efforts as well as the efforts of those before us, we would give recognition and credit where it is due, but some may try to grab the glory all for himself, herself or themselves. A Malay proverb comes to mind: "Lembu punya susu, sapi dapat nama," which roughly translated means: "it is the milk from the cow, but the bull takes the credit."

In today's reading: "Everyone came running towards Peter and John in great excitement, to the Portico of Solomon, as it is called, where the man was still clinging to Peter and John. When Peter saw the people he addressed them, 'Why are you so surprised at this? Why are you staring at us as though we had made this man walk by our own power or holiness? You are Israelites, and it is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our ancestors, who has glorified his servant Jesus, the same Jesus you handed over and then disowned in the presence of Pilate after Pilate had decided to release him. It was you who accused the Holy One, the Just One, you who demanded the reprieve of a murderer while you killed the prince of life. God, however, raised him from the dead, and to that fact we are the witnesses; and it is the name of Jesus which, through our faith in it, has brought back the strength of this man whom you see here and who is well known to you. It is faith in that name that has restored this man to health, as you can all see."

Notice that in the reading, Peter and John had healed the man, but they did not take credit for it. Instead, they gave credit to Jesus because the power to heal comes from Jesus. Peter and John shows us that as Christians, we should not try to exalt ourselves or think that we can do all things through our own efforts. It is Jesus who uses us as His instruments to help and to heal. We ought to think of ourselves as merely servants, doing God's will and not our own. In a world where some people would try to take credit and show how great they are, we should show example and give glory to God, for all things are made possible through God's love and providence.

Easter Wednesday

Being crippled can be a difficult and painful experience. One's ability to live an independent life is lost, and one would need help from others to perform even the simplest task which many of us take for granted. There are different reasons why a person could become crippled. Some are crippled as a result of an accident, some are crippled because of an illness, and some are crippled from birth, like the man in today's reading.

The man in today's reading had been crippled from birth, and he had to beg from people to survive. Instead of giving him money, Peter and John gave him something more important and more valuable: they cured him in the name of Jesus Christ and gave him back his freedom and independence. The man began walking and jumping and praising God for he was freed from his crippled state and was able to fend for himself.

In a way, we too could become crippled. When we sin, we are crippling our soul and slowly losing our ability to listen to the voice of God. We slowly become desensitised to what is holy and good, and lose our relationship with God. But all is not lost, for we are given plenty of opportunities to be healed from our crippling state when we seek forgiveness, especially through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Are we humble and willing to be freed from our crippling state and grow closer to God, or are we still stubbornly refusing to change and remain crippled till it is too late?

Monday, 26 January 2015

Easter Tuesday

Some of us seem to dwell in our hurts and experiences of disappointments. Some seem to be engrossed or stuck in such a state or are caught up with the past, preferring to wallow in our self-pity, our "poor me" syndrome, our feelings of helplessness and lick our wounds instead of seeking help, learning to come out of it and move on. Such people sometimes appear to have a dark cloud above their heads. Sometimes, such people could be suffering from low self-esteem or low self-worth, but we also come across people who prefer to be in such a state so that they could attract sympathy and comfort from others, to feed their ego or pride in a twisted way, so to speak.

In today's Gospel, we come across Mary of Magdala who seems to be caught up with the past. Jesus had died and she seemed to be still thinking of what had happened to Jesus and how all her hopes, dreams and expectations had come to a crashing halt. Mary was still weeping, afraid to enter the tomb and not even realising that the duo in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head, the other at the feet, were actually angels in white. Even when Mary turned round and saw Jesus standing there, she still did not recognise him. It was only when Jesus said, ‘Mary!’ She knew him then and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbuni!’ – which means Master.

Today, Jesus is calling us by name, inviting us to stop dwelling in the past and let Him be our "Master." What has happened has happened, nothing can change that, but we can choose to learn from the experience and become stronger, and let God transform us into something better, or we can choose to remain as we are. Sometimes circumstances may seem to be not in our favour, or the odds may be stacked against us, but let us be reminded that God has helped His people in the past, and He will help us too, if we are willing to be patient and trust in His providence and love. Let us not weep but rejoice, for God will help us in His time, for His greater glory.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Easter Monday

It is interesting to see the reaction of people who wake up and do not have anything urgent at hand, compared to people who wake up and realise that there is a pressing task ahead. Those who do not have any urgent matter at hand may likely find it difficult to get out of bed, and they may try to catch a few moments more of sleep. But what if there is a pressing task ahead and due to some reason or another, we have not completed the task? When we realise that the task is still pending, we may likely get out of bed quickly and start cracking on the task. Some of us may even wake up earlier than usual hoping to gain more time to work on the task at hand.

When Jesus rose from the dead, some people "woke up" and realised that an important event had happened and they had an important and urgent task to perform. In the Gospel, the women were filled with awe and great joy and they came quickly away from the tomb and ran to tell the disciples. The Gospel then tells us: "And there, coming to meet them, was Jesus. 'Greetings' he said. And the women came up to him and, falling down before him, clasped his feet. Then Jesus said to them, 'Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee; they will see me there.'" Naturally, the women became quite excited and anxious to fulfil the task given to them, and they when on their way quickly to tell the disciples. At the mean time, we also come across some soldiers who were the guards at the tomb. These soldiers went off quickly into the city to tell the chief priests all that had happened. From here, we can see two different groups "waking up" and having urgent news to convey, and from the Gospel, we know the outcome of the story. One group chose to tell the truth, the other chose to spread lies. One group chose to do God's will, the other was more interested in protecting their own interests and saving their own skin.

What about us? When we "wake up" and come to realise of an important matter, are we willing to face the facts, face the truth, admit our failings or wrongdoings if any, seek forgiveness where necessary and move on? Or are we trying to avoid and hide the truth? The truth may hurt at times, but we can choose to get over it and be at peace, or we can choose to live in denial, live in fear, and suffer the consequences.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Easter Sunday

Circumstances sometimes bring out different outcomes to different people. Different people take good or bad news in a different way, and by observing how they react or response, we could learn more about others and learn from the experience, so that, hopefully, we would know what to do if we were involved in such a situation. Even in our faith journey, whether we can grow in faith or remain as we presently are depends on our response to certain situations. In today's Gospel, we see three different characters responding quite differently to the tomb that first Easter morning.

The first character we come across is Mary of Magdala who came to the tomb while it was still dark. She sees the stone which covered the tomb has been moved away and does not enter. Perhaps, she was afraid, perhaps she was unsure what to expect, but instead of entering the tomb, she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved. Sometimes we too are like Mary of Magdala. Instead of going further to discover what has happened, we choose to run away. We are not prepared to go further or deeper because we fear that we may not find what we were expecting or we fear that we would not be prepared to face what is inside. But unless we take the risk and enter the tomb, we will always be standing outside speculating, wondering, guessing, never knowing the truth, as we see in what Mary of Magdala said in the Gospel: "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don’t know where they have put him." Some people go through life without making important decisions; or they stay clear of commitment; or they fear going deeper into any relationship because they are fearful or are not prepared to face the changes that may take place. But unless we are prepared to take the risk, unless we are prepared to make the commitment, unless we are prepared to go deeper or further, we will always remain outside fearful, doubtful and uncertain.

Next we come across Peter. He and the other disciple run to the tomb upon hearing the news from Mary of Magdala. He is slower than the other disciple. Perhaps it is his age and he is unable to run that fast anymore ("no more spring chicken" as some may say) or perhaps he is also fearful of what he may find at the tomb. Even when Peter entered the tomb, he seemed clueless and confused as to what had happened, since the Gospel tells us: "Till this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead." Some of us may be like him, we hesitate, postpone, procrastinate, take it slow and easy or even drag our feet. We do this because we fear the truth which may challenge our status quo; we fear the pain, lost of face or embarrassment it may bring because our faults and our limitations may be exposed; we are afraid or are not prepared to face our weaknesses or shortcomings. Perhaps Peter may have been thinking: What if Jesus had actually risen? Would Jesus punish or reprimand him for not being faithful or confront him with his betrayal? Then upon seeing inside the tomb, Peter could have found it difficult to comprehend what was going on; or he could have been worried and bewildered as to what had happened to Jesus. For some, it seems better to pretend as if nothing had happened; to sweep it under the carpet and hope no one knows or finds out; or to be blind to the truth and continue living in our own world. But unless we are ready and willing to admit our faults and face up to our failures and move forward, there can never be growth, there can never be change or improvement, we could be stuck in a rut, we could be stagnant in our faith and our relationship with God.

Finally, we come across the disciple whom Jesus loved. His name is not mentioned because he represents and shows what a disciple should be, a disciple who is prepared to take risks, who is not afraid and willing to put one's trust in God's providence, who is willing to make a commitment, who is ready to face the truth, make the change and move forward. We are told in the Gospel that when he entered the empty tomb, "he saw and he believed."

As we celebrate Easter Sunday, let us ask ourselves honestly: what sort of a disciple have we so far become? Are we like Mary Magdalene? Are we like Peter? Or have we become more like the disciple whom Jesus loved? The fact is: Jesus has risen, but there are still some who are not aware or are unwilling to acknowledge or admit this fact. What about you? Are you still crippled or paralysed by your fears and are fearful or reluctant to enter the tomb? Or are you prepared to take the risk, change your perception or ways, and make a firm commitment to become true followers of Jesus?

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Housekeeping - Holy Week

For your easy reference, the following is a list of weeks and years with their corresponding date:

29 March 2015 - Palm Sunday
30 March 2015 - Monday of Holy Week
31 March 2015 - Tuesday of Holy Week
1 April 2015 - Wednesday of holy Week
2 April 2015 - Maundy (Holy) Thursday
3 April 2015 - Good Friday
4 April 2015 - Easter Vigil

Easter Vigil

At every Easter Vigil, we proclaim that Jesus is risen. But do we really believe that Jesus is truly risen? Do we behave as an Easter people? Some of us still seem to live as if Jesus is still dead in the tomb; some of us still seem to live in darkness, as if we are still trapped by sin, despair, anger, fear and unforgiveness, and that the light of Christ had not come. Some of us still seem to remain in the tomb, preferring to drown ourselves in self-pity and preferring to blame God and others for our suffering and pain. When we do such things or live this way, we have actually failed to recognise that Jesus has truly risen.

But the fact of the matter is Jesus has risen! The readings today tell us that God has triumphed over chaos; has defeated the powers of darkness; has conquered sin and death; and has quenched our thirst with the waters of eternal life. The tomb is empty. Jesus is risen! When we were baptised, St. Paul reminds us that "we went into the tomb with Jesus and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life.” In baptism, we are “dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus."

Thus, we are called to go forth and be witnesses of Christ's resurrection. God has conquered the powers of darkness through the sacrifice of His Son on the cross. The empty tomb reminds us that life is greater than death; that at the end, suffering is not defeat but victory; and that God’s power is far greater, no matter how powerful evil, suffering and darkness may appear. Today, as an Easter people, let us proclaim this great message of hope and joy. Let us sing with conviction the song of Easter: Alleluia! Praise the Lord! The Lord has risen!

Good Friday

Each and every one of us have experienced suffering in one way or another at certain points of our lives. We can try to deny it, we can try to hide it, we can try to find ways and means to distract ourselves from it, we can even try to fool ourselves into thinking that it is okay or an illusion, but the fact is, suffering is a very real thing.

But one significant event brought suffering to a different level and meaning. God died on the cross. God allow himself to be crucified on the cross for our sake. He died on the cross to redeem us and to save us from our sins, as what Isaiah reminds us in the first reading: "And yet ours were the sufferings he bore, ours the sorrow he carried. But we, we thought of him as someone punished, struck by God, and brought low. Yet he was pierced through for our faults, crushed for our sins. On him lies a punishment that brings us peace, and through his wounds we are healed." Thus, we should not see suffering as a bad thing, we should not think that God does not understand what we are going through, since Jesus suffered and died for all of us because of His immense love for us.

When we become aware of the significance and the power of the cross, we become witnesses of Jesus. We become more sensitive, compassionate and understanding to the needs and sufferings of others. Jesus, while suffering on the cross, did not forget about others. He reached out in love to all around him. For his enemies, he asked for forgiveness; for his mother, he found a new home by giving her to his beloved disciple, and in doing so, giving her to all of us who are like that beloved disciple; for his disciples, he made sure that they would continue to support each other. Thus, let us set aside our anger, self-pity, hatred, pride, prejudices and bitterness, so that we may give ourselves in love and selflessness to others, just as Jesus did for all of us. Let us, as the second reading remind us, "be confident, then, in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help."

Monday, 19 January 2015

Maundy (Holy) Thursday

Have you ever wondered why you come for Mass? Do you come merely to fulfil a Sunday obligation, or because a parent or family member forced you to, or because you are attracted to some friends and would want to hang out with them, or just to accompany your spouse, girlfriend or boyfriend, or for some other reason? For some of us, Mass may have become "normal" or "usual" that we have begun to lose its true value and taken it for granted. But if we consider for a moment what the Mass means, then we will never call the Mass "normal," since every Mass challenges us to live fruitful and authentic lives as Jesus' disciples.

Whenever we celebrate the Mass we are celebrating the mystery of our salvation. In the First Reading. God commanded Moses and the Israelites to continue celebrating the Feast of the Passover so that they will remember how God saved them and liberated them from Egypt. Just as the Israelites remembered at every Feast of the Passover how God had saved them and liberated them from Egypt, we are reminded at every Mass of how God has saved us and is still saving us from the powers of darkness and evil, and giving us new life through his Son Jesus Christ. Also, the Mass reminds us of Jesus sacrifice of love on the cross. Jesus gave up his own life so all may live. When we participate at every Mass, we are challenged to give up our lives, to die to our sinfulness and selfishness, to die to our prejudice and hatred, to die to our pride and arrogance, so that all would come to know what it truly means to be a follower of Christ and live. Moreover, the Mass calls us to be of service to others, just as Jesus served all. Instead of seeking power and places of honour, instead of competing and arguing about who should have his feet washed, we should be following the example of Jesus, who humbled himself to wash the feet of those who we think are unworthy. In the Mass, there is no room for pride, arrogance, prejudice or power, there is only room for humble service.

Let us therefore thank Jesus for the gift of Himself and for the gift of the Mass. If we make effort to concentrate and participate at Mass, instead of allowing our minds to wander, get distracted with other things such as our handphones or other gadgets or even distracted with other persons, or become impatient with the time, we would slowly begin to appreciate the Mass. Let us make every effort to not just participate at Mass, but to live it where we are, and bring the Good News of Jesus to all around us.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Wednesday of Holy Week

Some of us Christians may have faced ridicule, some form of persecution, or even insult. However, one of the hardest things we may encounter is when we are betrayed by another person. It becomes even more painful when the one who betrays us is a close friend or family member. You thought you could trust them and depend on them, but as it turns out, they too have turned against you. To make matters worse, the reason why they decided to turn against you is not because they have something against you, but merely because of money or some promise of wealth, property or high position. Such are some people who are willing to betray others just for a small sum, property or title, all of which are temporary and will be lost.

This is the reason why Jesus said in today's Gospel: "but alas for that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! Better for that man if he had never been born!" When a person chooses to betray another for money, property or position, the betrayer has made his or her life and the life of others cheap. God treats us as His precious, but our betrayal treats us as cheap or worthless, easily to be discarded when the time comes. Have we become so easily influenced by temporary perks or benefits, that we are willing to betray others, and ruin ourselves in the end? Do we not realise that our life and the lives of others are far more valuable, precious and important compared to all the wealth, position and power the world has to offer, since all these things will fade away or be lost?

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Tuesday of Holy Week

Do you know where are you going to? Is the path of life clear before you? Sometimes we are so caught up with things and situations of this world, that we become distracted and lose track of our ultimate destination. Sometimes some of us feel as if we are going through life just to make a living, raise children, gain some recognition, and then one day, when the children have grown up and have left the nest, when we are no longer able to make a living and are dependent on our pension or savings or other sources of income, when the many things we were able to do are no longer possible, due to age or illness, then what? Where do we go from here?

For some of us, such thoughts may have crossed our minds as we journey through life. At times, we may have wondered just as Isaiah wondered: "I have toiled in vain, I have exhausted myself for nothing." But what Isaiah later realised is: "and all the while my cause was with the Lord, my reward with my God. I was honoured in the eyes of the Lord, my God was my strength." We may have been running at other directions looking for joy, happiness, and peace, and all the while God is the best direction to go.

At the end of the day, we need to ask ourselves: are we still constantly running in circles and getting lost, just as some may experience if they depend on the worldly GPS ("Guna pun sesat" or "Use also can get lost"), or have we learnt to reposition our lives so that we are aligned towards our heavenly GPS (God our Powerful Source/Saviour)?

Monday of Holy Week

The way the world looks at service and the way God looks at service is quite different. More often than not, a person who serves according to the ways of the world is more interested only in himself or herself. He or she serves to please the boss, superior or certain persons who would be beneficial to him or her. Once the person has gotten what he or she wanted, or achieved one's goals, the person may start looking elsewhere for power, status, and recognition. Such persons often think that the world is a battlefield, or that it is a dog-eat-dog world, and they could be quite ruthless and would do everything they can to dispose of the competition, or get rid of potential opponents or threats, so that they would remain on course in getting what they want and achieving as much as they can.

In contrast, today's reading paints quite a different picture of being a servant to God. Such a servant does things not to attract attention to himself or herself, but to glorify God, as the reading tells us: "Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom my soul delights. I have endowed him with my spirit that he may bring true justice to the nations. He does not cry out or shout aloud, or make his voice heard in the streets. He does not break the crushed reed, nor quench the wavering flame. Faithfully he brings true justice; he will neither waver, nor be crushed..." The reading also reminds us that such a servant is chosen and commissioned by God to perform things which are quite in contrast with the ways of the world: "I, the Lord, have called you to serve the cause of right; I have taken you by the hand and formed you; I have appointed you as covenant of the people and light of the nations, 'to open the eyes of the blind, to free captives from prison, and those who live in darkness from the dungeon.'" Where the world tries to keep us blind so that only certain people would prosper and benefit, such a servant is sent to open the eyes of the blind; where the world imprisons, such a servant sets free; and where the world tries to keep things dark and hidden, such a servant brings to light. Ultimately, the purpose and goal of such a servant is to glorify God.

The question we need to ponder is this: which direction are we heading; are we becoming more and more worldly in our lives and serve ourselves, or have we begun to conform more to the ways of God? While we strive to survive and prosper in this world, let us be cautious not to become too attracted to it's lurings, at the expense of our eternal goal.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Palm Sunday

What is our purpose in life? What is it that really matters? Are we looking for recognition and admiration from others on earth, or are we looking to glorify God and to be glorified by God? Life is such that many of us want to be praised; to ‘save face’; to be liked by others around us; to be popular. No one wants to be mocked, made fun of or ridiculed. No one wants to be unpopular or rejected. We want to be seen as the "good guy" or "good girl."

But the fact is, we cannot always have our cake and eat it. We cannot always be the "good guy" or "good girl" and we cannot please everyone, if we want to follow Jesus. For example, we see a lot of gossipping, politics and in some cases, stealing of items in the office. If we want to be honest and be the "good guy" or "good girl," instead of following the crowd, we may find ourselves ostracised, or others may think we are queer. By being honest, we may lose business or have less chances to get a raise in salary or a promotion. For those of us studying in school or at university, we may discover that some of our classmates are cheating in exams or bribing certain lecturers or teachers or treating them in a special way (some call this "curry-favouring"), and we may lose out in getting better grades or better treatment as a result of refusing to follow their deeds. By remaining faithful to Jesus, we may find ourselves receiving insults, opposition, ridicule or even threats from others, including our family members and some so-called friends. Some people would think we are naive, stupid, silly or just dumb, and we may not be very popular. Are we ready and prepared to face all these?

This is the reality we face and the choices we need to make. This is the way Jesus took. Instead of conforming to the ways of the world, Jesus chose the Way of the Cross. Instead of self-glory, self-gratification and boosting one's prestige and ego, Jesus chose humility and servitude. Instead of being first at all cost, Jesus chose to be last. Instead of losing life by gaining everything, Jesus chose to lose everything for the kingdom of God. The way that Jesus chose is described to us in the second reading: "His state was divine, yet Christ Jesus did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave and became as men are; and being as all men are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross." If we call ourselves Christians, if we want to follow Jesus, then this too must be our fate. We must be prepared to face insults, opposition, humiliation and even the possibility of death, just as Jesus did. To follow Jesus means we must be prepared to be treated like Jesus, and be a sign of contradiction to the world.

All this may sound quite depressing or discouraging to some. Some may want to give up and say that it is impossible to live in this world and follow Jesus. The fact is, Jesus never promised us an easy life and He never said that following Him is going to be a piece of cake. But for those of us willing to go through what Jesus did and follow Him faithfully, the Lord will be our strength, our support, our guide, and our providence, as Isaiah assures us: “The Lord comes to my help, so that I am untouched by the insults.” Even though Jesus received rejection and humiliation from the hands of men, St. Paul in the second reading tells us that “God raised him high and gave him the name which is above all other names”. Being glorified by God is far greater, far more lasting, far more satisfying in the long run, and far more important than any insult or rejection we may receive from men.

This Palm Sunday and the many Palm Sundays to come, let us make a commitment to follow Jesus and remain faithful to Him, even when the going gets tough. Let us take up our crosses and follow Jesus, for we know that God will give us a glory more precious and lasting, which we can never find on earth. Are we willing to lose eveything, including our lives on earth for the glory of God? Are we willing to let God lead us to our true and everlasting home?

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Housekeeping - 5th Week of Lent

For your easy reference, the following is a list of weeks and years with their corresponding date:

22 March 2015 - 5th Sunday of Lent Year B
23 March 2015 - Monday of the 5th Week of Lent
24 March 2015 - Tuesday of the 5th Week of Lent
25 March 2015 - The Annunciation of the Lord - Solemnity
26 March 2015 - Thursday of the 5th Week of Lent
27 March 2015 - Friday of the 5th Week of Lent

Friday of the 5th Week of Lent

One of the things we come to realise as Christians is we can never please everyone. Sometimes even doing a good deed or a charitable act in the name of the Church or identifying ourselves as Christians could lead to opposition from certain parties, especially if such parties may have had bad experiences with other Christians who did or said things which do not reflect the truth about Christianity. As in any religion, we have the good and the bad followers and leaders, and this challenges us to be more alert and more determined to show the true face of Christianity, with the hope that such opposition would see our real intention and purpose.

In today's Gospel, Jesus said: "If I am not doing my Father’s work, there is no need to believe me; but if I am doing it, then even if you refuse to believe in me, at least believe in the work I do." When minds and hearts of some people are hardened, it is quite difficult to get such people to change their attitude and perception about Jesus and about Christianity, but at least we try to help them realise that the deeds we do are for the good of all, and that people would come to know that we are Christians by our love.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Thursday of the 5th Week of Lent

Whenever we make a business contract with another person, we are actually coming up with an agreement of a list of services being offered, certain terms and conditions to be met, the kind of compensation to be received such as money or goods in exchange, and the consequences to be faced if the contract is not fulfilled. Such a contract could be broken by either party for a variety of reasons, and should that happen, legal or other measures may be taken. More often than not, the parties involved would prefer to see the contract carried out until such a time the conditions have been completed or the contract is no longer relevant and the parties involved agree to terminate mutually.

However, when God deals with us humans, He does not make contracts with us, but a covenant. The terms are stipulated by God and fulfillment of the covenant are carried out by God in His time. In today's reading, God made a covenant with Abraham, where Abraham "shall become the father of a multitude of nations." This covenant is not for a limited period, but in perpetuity. Naturally, Abraham would not get to see the covenant fulfilled completely in his life time. It is something which would go beyond the present and we see the covenant continuing even today. When God makes a covenant, He keeps His word and He is faithful, even though we may not be so faithful to Him at times. Even though God is omnipotent (all powerful) and omniscient (all knowing), He is still willing to make a covenant with us humans, and keep His end of the bargain. We are invited to remain faithful to Him, but we are not forced to. We can choose to remain in His providence, or we could choose to go our own way, but we know from our history that remaining in His providence is the way to go.

Today, God is inviting us to remain with Him, so that we may continue to prosper. Even though there are times we may have gone astray, God is always beckoning us to come back to Him. Let us make every effort to remain in His love, so that we may live and be happy.

The Annunciation of the Lord - Solemnity

Usually, when a married woman finds herself pregnant, she would be quite happy, since she and her husband may have tried several times to become pregnant. There would be weeks of anxious expectation, highs and lows, getting clothes for the new baby, preparing everything necessary, but the budding parents-to-be would be excited and willing to get things ready. When the child is born, all in the family would be extremely happy and proud with having a new addition to the family.

But imagine for a moment, a woman being told she would become pregnant and she was betrothed. Betrothal meant the man and the woman were legally bound to each other although they could not live together until the wedding had taken place. In Israel, a woman who was unfaithful during betrothal was stoned to death. So, when the angel Gabriel said said to Mary, “Do not be afraid,” and then explained that Mary would give birth to Jesus whose father would be the Holy Spirit, Mary could have been perplexed and petrified for a while. She knew that she would face much gossiping and many other nasty things being said about her, as well as the many nasty looks that she would have to endure, but what was Mary's response to the angel Gabriel? Mary simply said: "Be it done unto me according to your word." Her response was faith. She believed. We see how strong her faith really was, for she was willing even to risk death for the sake of obeying God.

In recent times, some of us may have become quite attracted to things being explained scientifically. Some of us may think that science can explain and prove many things. But there are also many instances where science cannot explain or prove. Faith means believing even when science cannot explain or prove. It is because of faith that Mary, a virgin, conceived by the Holy Spirit; and an old couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist. Faith believes, as the angel Gabriel said, that “Nothing is impossible to God.”

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Tuesday of the 5th Week of Lent

Gratitude and thankfulness are virtues which may be lacking in some of us nowadays. We may have become so used to getting things done, getting more things, getting what we want, or even getting it quickly, that we have forgotten the meaning of being grateful, being thankful, being patient, being content with what we have, and just being happy. Sometimes our thirst for more and more could lead us to fall into greed, pride, impatience, selfishness and other sins.

In today's reading, the Israelites lost patience on the way to the Promised Land. They spoke against God and against Moses, even though God had assured them that they would get there. These Israelites expected to reach their destination quickly, and they were not humble enough to let God lead the way. It was only when some of them were being bitten by the fiery serpents that they pleaded: "We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Intercede for us with the Lord to save us from these serpents."

When we are not willing to let God be in control and guide us, we too may experience a similar situation as the Israelites. Some of us think that we have a right to this or that, but we fail to realise that in the end, whatever we have and whatever we get is actually from God's providence. When we expect our rights to be met, we may one day find that we may have nothing left. Let us let God be our true guide and providence, for He knows what is best for us and He would give us what we need according to His time and His terms.

Monday of the 5th Week of Lent

Have you ever been unfaithful to your husband or wife? Hopefully most of us would say we have been faithful. If we are aware of what it really means to be married and are committed and determined to stay faithful, we would not allow our eyes to wander and look longingly at another man or woman. Even people who are not married could also fall into sin when we allow our eyes to wander and look longingly at another man or woman. This is where the danger of lust may creep in and we would have committed adultery in our hearts, even though we may not have actually done anything physically to the other person.

In today's Gospel, we come across the scribes and Pharisees who brought a woman along who had been caught committing adultery (or so it seems). Being caught committing adultery was already bad enough, but these scribes and Pharisees had malice in their hearts. They did not really care about the woman; to them, she had committed an unforgivable crime and to them, the only solution was to have the woman stoned to death. Not only were they determined to get rid of her, they also tried to make a big display of their so called piousness and holier-than-thou attitude and even humiliated her by making her stand there in full view of everybody. Using her as an example to all, and as a tool to try and trap Jesus, they tried to force Jesus' hand, because they knew that either way He answered, they were confident that he would be caught and trapped with His own words. It is ironic that the scribes and Pharisees had caught the woman, but as we know, it takes two to tango. What happened to the man? Didn't he get caught as well, or did he get away so easily? We do not know the full story about how only the woman was caught, but what we do know is Jesus saw through their evil intentions and their hypocrisy, looked up and said, "If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Bang! The scribes and Pharisees were caught. Jesus had turned the tables on them, and "they went away one by one, beginning with the eldest, until Jesus was left alone with the woman, who remained standing there." Then Jesus assured the woman with these words: "Neither do I condemn you... go away, and do not sin any more."

Ultimately, we need to ask ourselves: how faithful have I been in my relationship with another person and in my relationship with God? Have I committing adultery in my thoughts or even in my deeds? Have I become like the scribes and Pharisees, self-righteous and so easy to condemn others, but refusing to admit my failings, mistakes and sins? Our God is beckoning us to come back to Him and remain in His love. We choose to remain with Him, or we choose to condemn ourselves by going away from Him, through our attitude and our actions.

Monday, 12 January 2015

5th Sunday of Lent Year B

What does it mean to be great? What does it mean to be important? Some think that being great and important means having a title or a high position in society; some think it means having lots of wealth and property; some think it means having lots of influential friends and acquaintances; some think it means being popular or famous like movie stars or pop stars. But what about those people who are not in the limelight; those people who care for the sick, the unloved, the forgotten, the bedridden, the rejects of society; those people suffering crosses without grumbling; those people giving encouragement to others; those people who bring the love of God to others; those people who witness to Jesus in small ways? Are they great and important too? As Christians, what does it really mean to be great and important? Are we great and important only in the eyes of the world?

If we look at the life of Jesus, we can get some ideas of what it really means to be great as a Christian. In today’s Gospel Jesus says His hour has come, His hour of glory. Unlike what the world may think as glory, Jesus' glory is quite different: It is his passion and death! Why so? Because if a grain falls on the ground and dies it yields a rich harvest. The hour of glory for Jesus is his passion and death because when he is lifted up from the earth he will draw all men to himself. Jesus’ glory is not what the world thinks as glorious because the world does not see as God sees. Who would have thought that Jesus would have to suffer? Yet as the second reading reminds us, "He learnt to obey through suffering; but having been made perfect, he became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation." This is greatness, not quite what the world sees as greatness, but greatness in God's eyes. It is for each and every one of us Christians to follow, as the Gospel reminds us: "Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life. If a man serves me, he must follow me, wherever I am, my servant will be there too. If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him."

The question is: are we still looking for greatness in this world, greatness which is only temporary, an illusion? Or have we begun looking for greatness which is eternal? Sometimes we give glory to what seems strong and powerful, but God does not look at appearances, God looks at the heart. Do we give glory to what appears great or do we give glory to what truly is great? Let us not be complacent into thinking of what seems great but in reality is not so, but humbly, earnestly and consistently strive to discover the real meaning of greatness, and glorify God.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Housekeeping - 4th Week of Lent

For your easy reference, the following is a list of weeks and years with their corresponding date:

15 March 2015 - 4th Sunday of Lent Year B
16 March 2015 - Monday of the 4th Week of Lent
17 March 2015 - Tuesday of the 4th Week of Lent
18 March 2015 - Wednesday of the 4th Week of Lent
19 March 2015 - Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary - Solemnity
20 March 2015 - Friday of the 4th Week of Lent

Friday of the 4th Week of Lent

Each and every one of us have got a certain tolerance level or limit towards something. Once we reach that level and beyond, some may find it quite difficult to go on. Some have got a certain tolerance level towards pain. Once they reach that level, the pain may become quite unbearable that some may resort to drastic measures (such as suicide, or if the pain is caused by another, some may even go to the extent of committing murder) to end the pain, while others may turn to substances to dull the pain, and in doing so some may end up becoming addicted to such substances after prolonged usage. But what sort of tolerance level do we have towards the truth?

The truth hurts. Some of us prefer not to let others know the real us, or the real situation, and we would go through great effort to cover up the truth or sweep it under the carpet, and find ways and means to ensure it does not surface. In some cases, trying to avoid the truth could lead some of us to have malice, cruel intentions or wickedness in our hearts. Some begin to ill-treat, mock or even kill (either by actually committing such an act, or by bringing down a person's reputation through character assassination). This is the situation the godless in today's reading were in. They could not and refused to admit the truth, and their reasoning, common sense and sense of justice and fairness became corrupted and misguided. The reading even tells us: "This is the way they reason, but they are misled, their malice makes them blind. They do not know the hidden things of God, they have no hope that holiness will be rewarded, they can see no reward for blameless souls."

What about us? Have some of us become like the godless, only interested in finding ways and means to protect ourselves and our interests from being exposed or revealed? Are we running away, avoiding or hiding the truth? We may be able to run and hide, but for how long? Someday, somewhere, the truth will come back to haunt us and be brought to light. As a Malay saying goes: "sepandai-pandai tupai melompat, akhirnya jatuh ke tanah juga" (roughly translated into English as: "no matter how clever a squirrel is able to jump, it would eventually fall to the ground"). Let us set aside our pride, prejudice and ego, and let God guide us to be true.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary - Solemnity

Some of us seem to misunderstand the silent types. Some think that people who are silent or do not say much seem to be anti-social, or appear to be not so approachable, or even appearing to be aloof. But as we know, we should never judge a book by its cover. What appears to be something in our mind, could be quite different in reality, especially in personality and character, once we get to know the person. We sometimes call these sort of people "introverts" and for some of those among us who are extroverts or like to yakkity yak yak, meeting an introvert could be quite a harrowing or unnerving experience for some, especially if we do not know how to reach out to one.

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary. That is quite a long (and impressive) title for someone we do not know much about. We do not have any record from the Gospels of what he said, and we would notice in the alternative Gospel that it was Mary who did the talking when they found Jesus in the temple. But what may seem lacking in words and sayings in the Gospel, Saint Joseph more than made up for it in action. Even though in the Gospel he found out that Mary was pregnant with Jesus, he still listened and did what the angel told him to do and took Mary to be his wife. When they found out that Jesus was missing, he became a pillar of strength for Mary and could be counted on as they frantically looked for Jesus.

From these few instances where Saint Joseph are mentioned, we can deduce that Saint Joseph trusted in the Lord and he was faithful to what was entrusted to him. In his silence, humility and trust, we learn that one can be silent, and be a source of strength. We also learn that action speaks louder than words, as what we do could sometimes mean more to another than what we merely say. So the next time you come across these silent types, be aware that these folks could sometimes be a great source of strength and dependence. We just need to be willing and humble enough to accept others for who they are and learn to appreciate their gifts, abilities and talents, giving thanks to God.

Wednesday of the 4th Week of Lent

Some of us may have experienced some situation or danger or even some sort of illness which make us wonder whether we would be able to survive such an ordeal. Some may begin to wonder whether our prayers would be answered, so that we would be safe and be able to continue living. Some may think that they would not get the help they asked for, and may begin to look for other sources of help in an effort to preserve their life; whereas some may just give up and despair. But how should we Christians address such an issue?

In today's reading, we are given great assurance that God will never abandon us or forget about us. The reading tells us: "For Zion was saying, 'The Lord has abandoned me, the Lord has forgotten me.' Does a woman forget her baby at the breast, or fail to cherish the son of her womb? Yet even if these forget, I will never forget you." If God has made it clear that He would not forget us, even though others may, why do some of us still doubt His assurance? Let us remain hopeful, confident and steadfast in faith, knowing that God would help us in His time.

Tuesday of the 4th Week of Lent

When we are stricken with a serious illness or facing some sort of crippling difficulty, who do we turn to? Some people start looking for the best doctors to try and cure them. When modern medicine or other forms of modern therapy fail to heal or cure, some people start looking for bomohs, medicine men, shamans or some other form of traditional healing; some people begin to listen to practitioners of feng shui or some other form of divination, thinking that these would give them some form of lucky charm, amulet or method which would cure them; some people may even think that their illness is incurable and may begin to despair. But what about us Christians? What should we do?

In today's Gospel, we come across a building at the Sheep Pool in Jerusalem, called Bethzatha in Hebrew, consisting of five porticos; and under these were crowds of sick people – blind, lame, paralysed – waiting for the water to move. These people had much faith that the water, when stirred or disturbed, would heal whoever was first to get into the water. One man there had an illness which had lasted thirty-eight years, and despite his faith that the water could heal him, he never had a chance to get into the water, since so many people were there and someone else always seemed to get there first. But Jesus came and said, ‘Get up, pick up your sleeping-mat and walk,’ and the man was instantly cured. There was no need for the man to inch his way to the pool with hope of receiving new life, since new life from Jesus came to him.

If Jesus could cure the man instantly, He could do the same for us. Are we willing to put our trust in Jesus instead of running around looking for all those other means, which more often than not would not cure us but may make matters worse? Sometimes we just need to be humble and patient, consistent and persistent in our prayer, and let Jesus heal us according to His time.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Monday of the 4th Week of Lent

Every now and then, some of us may have experienced a situation, event or persons which leave a bitter taste, which some may find quite difficult to forget. Some of us may begin to dwell more and more into the memory of such a situation, event or persons, so much so that the more we think of and relive what we had gone through, the more angry and bitter we become. If we are not careful, we could become consumed with disgust, hatred and hurt as we drown and suffocate more and more in such memories, to the detriment of our sanity and sanctity.

However, God is reaching out to us to let go, be humble and willing to forgive, and move on. We are not doing ourselves any good in dwelling and getting stuck in such memories. Instead, as mentioned in the 1st reading, God will create new heavens and a new earth, and the past will not be remembered, and will come no more to men's minds. God wants His people to rejoice because He wants to give joy and gladness to His people. God wants to heal us of our bitterness and resentment so that we can be a new people who will proclaim joy and gladness to all. Are we willing to be transformed into something new, and experience God's healing grace of joy and gladness?

Thursday, 8 January 2015

4th Sunday of Lent Year B

Every now and then. we come across people who do not seem to feel good about themselves. Such people seem to think that they are not good enough, not smart enough, not handsome or pretty enough, not loving enough, not talented enough or not capable enough. When these people think and feel this way, they are suffering from low self-image and low self-esteem. They are unable to accept themselves for who they are, even though in reality they are doing just fine. Some even begin to be critical of others or constantly find fault in others, thinking that by doing so, they would be able to boost their ego and self-esteem. But such efforts would only end up in failure, because these people would become more and more alienated from others, or others may avoid or shun them.

But if we consider for a moment what today's readings and Gospel tells us, we are actually much loved and appreciated. We are so loved and appreciated that, as the Gospel tells us: "God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life. For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved." Moreover, St. Paul remind us in the second reading: "We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning he had meant us to live it." Imagine that... we have a God who loves us so much that He sent His son to save us. We are not just any other old thing or useless or hopeless, but we are God's work of art. With such assurance from God, why do we still need to look for other forms of assurance?

Since God loves us so much and we are His works of art, then we should making every effort to stop sinning. When we sin, we are actually lacking of belief in God’s love for us. When we sin, we believe that God’s love for us is not enough and we doubt His love for us. When we sin we are actually calling God a liar, since we claim that there is something more than what God can give to us.

So let us not be so concerned about looking for acceptance from others, from our peers, from our families, friends and loved ones. No matter how much we do things for others or say nice things to others, we will never be able to please everyone, and we may end up miserable and unhappy. We also do not need to try and please God by trying to be more prayerful or by merely trying to follow the commandments, since as St. Paul reminds us in the second reading: "It is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit." Instead, we should learn "to live the good life as from the beginning he had meant us to live it." All that we say or do should not be to win admiration or approval from others, or we hope to win admiration or approval from God, but because we know that God loves us and all that we say and do is ultimately for His greater glory.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Housekeeping - 3rd Week of Lent

For your easy reference, the following is a list of weeks and years with their corresponding date:

8 March 2015 - 3rd Sunday of Lent Year B
9 March 2015 - Monday of the 3rd Week of Lent
10 March 2015 - Tuesday of the 3rd Week of Lent
11 March 2015 - Wednesday of the 3rd Week of Lent
12 March 2015 - Thursday of the 3rd Week of Lent
13 March 2015 - Friday of the 3rd Week of Lent

Friday of the 3rd Week of Lent

Some of us seem to be great runners. Some of us run away from responsibilities; some run away from commitments; some run away from relationships for some reason or another; some run away from the hurt or pain one is experiencing and try to find alternatives to help forget or reduce the hurt or pain; some even run away from God. But how long can we really run away? Eventually, we will need to face reality and the truth, and come to terms with what we are trying to run away from. What would we do then, when we are unable to run anymore?

In today's reading, God beckoned Israel: "Israel, come back to the Lord your God; your iniquity was the cause of your downfall. Provide yourself with words and come back to the Lord. Say to him, 'Take all iniquity away so that we may have happiness again and offer you our words of praise...' Let the wise man understand these words. Let the intelligent man grasp their meaning. For the ways of the Lord are straight, and virtuous men walk in them, but sinners stumble." When Israel was running in circles and running away from God, they faced many challenges and hardship because of their stubbornness and iniquity. But God did not give up on them; God continued to call them to come back to Him, to stop running away and be happy again in His love and care. In the same way, God is calling us to come back to Him, to stop running away and be happy again in His love and care. Why are we still running away and remaining fearful and stubborn? Don't we want to experience the true happiness that God offers us?

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Thursday of the 3rd Week of Lent

Pride can be the downfall of many. When a person becomes proud, he or she slowly begins to lose the ability to reason, to accept mistakes and correction, to change, to forgive and seek forgiveness, and even to love unconditionally. People who gradually become proud begin to think that only their ways or thoughts matter, and others are perceived as a threat or unwanted competition. Such people may begin to find ways and means to put others down, or belittle them, or in some cases even to the point of committing 'assassination' of character or taken to the extreme, having the other killed so as to protect one's interest. Such is the danger of being consumed with pride, that other sins and vile acts could begin to occur.

In today's Gospel, we come across some people who have become so proud of themselves, their ways, and their capabilities, that Jesus was seen as a threat to them. They just could not accept Jesus or His teachings and everything Jesus did was seen as bad or threatening to them. Such people even went to the extent of saying: "It is through Beelzebul, the prince of devils, that he casts out devils." A normal, sane, and thinking person would not associate the devil casting our devils, since such utterance is illogical, absurd and makes one look and sound foolish. But herein lies the problem: when a person is proud; jealousy and anger creeps in when one believes that one's status or ability is being challenged. In response to their silly statements, Jesus admonished these people, saying: "Every kingdom divided against itself is heading for ruin, and a household divided against itself collapses. So too with Satan: if he is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? – Since you assert that it is through Beelzebul that I cast out devils. Now if it is through Beelzebul that I cast out devils, through whom do your own experts cast them out? Let them be your judges then. But if it is through the finger of God that I cast out devils, then know that the kingdom of God has overtaken you." But were these people willing to see error in their ways? No, pride had already coloured their vision, and they preferred to remain in their comfort zone and carry on merrily in their ways instead of changing and returning to God's ways.

We too could fall into the same trap as these people, if we allow ourselves to dwell in pride, since pride could rear its ugly head in many ways and forms. May we be watchful and learn to grow in humility, so that we could grow closer in relationship with our loving God.

Wednesday of the 3rd Week of Lent

Do you want to live? Or would you prefer to die? Many of you may be thinking... what a silly question! Of course many of you would say that you would want to live, and some would say that they would want to live as long as possible. So what do we need to do to help us increase our lifespan? Some may think that it would be necessary to have a healthy diet. Others may think that physical exercise and regular checkups with the doctor would help. But what sort of life are we trying to prolong here? Are we only concerned about life here on earth?

In today's reading, Moses said to the people: "Now, Israel, take notice of the laws and customs that I teach you today, and observe them, that you may have life and may enter and take possession of the land that the Lord the God of your fathers is giving you....But take care what you do and be on your guard. Do not forget the things your eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your heart all the days of your life; rather, tell them to your children and to your children’s children." At first glance, we can deduce that Moses is giving the people a pep talk, and encouraging them to be faithful and remain close in relationship with God, so that they would one day come to the promised land. But for us Christians, our promised land is not a place here on earth. Our promised land is to be with God in heaven. Are we faithfully, diligently and consistently doing our part to "take notice of the laws and customs" and even "tell them to your children and to your children’s children" so that we would reach our promised land?

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Tuesday of the 3rd Week of Lent

"Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" are the words from the Lord's Prayer or the Our Father which we pray on many occasions. We pray the Lord's Prayer during Mass, when we pray the rosary, during a wedding, funeral or even a baptism service, and during many other liturgical services. But some of us do not seem to understand or appreciate what it really means to forgive and to receive forgiveness. Some of us say we forgive, but in our hearts we are still keeping the hurt or anger and allowing such hurt and anger to fester in us, to consume us, and lead us to even greater bitterness and hatred.

But what exactly does it mean to forgive? To forgive means we are making a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness. Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well. If we receive forgiveness from God, we must give it to others who hurt us. When we forgive, we cannot hold grudges or seek revenge. We are to trust God for justice and forgive the person who offended us. That does not mean we must forget the offense, since sometimes that is beyond our power, but we should not linger in the memory of the offense or allow the thought about the offense to consume us and continue to hurt or destroy us. Forgiveness means releasing the other from blame, leaving the event in God's hands, and moving on.

This is where the unforgiving servant in today's Gospel did not get the point. He thought that he had been given a lucky break when his master felt so sorry for him that he let him go and cancelled the debt. Instead of being grateful and thankful for his master's generosity, charity and benevolence, and instead of following his master's example towards his fellow servant, he became arrogant and nasty, refusing to forgive the other servant who owed him way much less than what he owed his master, and even had the gall to throw his fellow servant into prison till he should pay his debt. This caused his master to become furious and as the Gospel tells us: ""You wicked servant," he said "I cancelled all that debt of yours when you appealed to me. Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow servant just as I had pity on you?" And in his anger the master handed him over to the torturers till he should pay all his debt."

What about us? Are we still like that wicked and unforgiving servant, expecting God and others to forgive us, but refusing to forgive others? Do we treat forgiveness lightly or as a lucky break, and think that we can do as we please towards others? As the Gospel also reminds and cautions us, we will be responsible and liable to repay our debts if we refuse to forgive others: "And that is how my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from your heart."

Friday, 2 January 2015

Monday of the 3rd Week of Lent

Misunderstandings and ill-feelings sometimes occur when people do not communicate well or when people do not get the actual message. Sometimes the misunderstanding could be because the one who receives the message does not know or is not aware that the message is not for him or her; sometimes it could be misinterpreted due to limitations in language (as some say, "lost in translation"); sometimes it could simply be because the person who receives the message is edgy or quite easily aroused over the smallest things, possibly due to pride, fear, or even lacking of trust; sometimes it could just be a case of not listening, thinking and executing, but just hearing and doing.

When the king of Aram sent Naaman to the king of Israel, the message given to him in the form of a letter was actually meant for Elisha, but possibly due to a misunderstanding of the message, the king of Israel thought that the king of Aram was trying to pick a quarrel with him, since he tore his garments and exclaimed: "Am I a god to give death and life,’ he said ‘that he sends a man to me and asks me to cure him of his leprosy? Listen to this, and take note of it and see how he intends to pick a quarrel with me." But Elisha admonished the king for doing such a silly thing, called Naaman to come to him, and had Naaman cured after Naaman immersed himself seven times in the Jordan. This led Naaman to realise "that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel."

Sometimes we too do not listen carefully to what we are told. We just hear and scoot off, only to come back feeling sheepish or embarrassed for not getting the gist of the message. Just as the king of Israel was too quick to jump into conclusions, Naaman himself too was at first too quick to jump into conclusions when he felt Elisha was not willing to cure him directly or immediately. It was only after he did what Elisha told him that Naaman was completely cured.

What about us? Do we take time and effort to listen carefully to what we are told? Do we discern carefully what God is telling us? Sometimes it just takes a bit of patience, humility and perseverance to truly understand the message. Let us not so easily jump the gun or jump into conclusions, so that we will be crystal clear on what we have listened.