Saturday, 28 November 2015

Tuesday of the 5th Week of Lent

We sometimes come across certain words or messages which are difficult to accept or swallow. When we are confronted with such words, what do we do? Some of us may try to avoid the words altogether, thinking that they will go away or even be forgotten. Some of us may try to find ways and means to interpret the words so that they mean something else, or at the very least they sound a little more palatable to us. Some of us may take offence and begin to find ways to discredit the person uttering such words. But how many of us are willing to accept such word as a means to improve oneself; or to take heart such words; or even to take such words with a pinch of salt, especially if we are quite certain that such words do not apply to us, instead of over-reacting?

In today's Gospel, we see how the Pharisees were not able to understand or even misunderstood Jesus. This is because their minds were already so fixated and they refused to admit who Jesus is, even though they could clearly see who Jesus is from His words and deeds. These Pharisees even began to think of what to refute or retort, instead of taking the trouble or the effort to understand what Jesus was trying to tell them. When the heart is stubbornly closed, or when a person has become so proud, egoistic and arrogant, it is certainly very difficult to help a person to change or become better or grow closer to God. May we take caution and not end up becoming like the Pharisees, so that God may help us transform into something better.

Monday of the 5th Week of Lent

Have you ever noticed how some people are so easily duped with certain leaders and hang on to every word they say? Some of these folks are not necessarily simpletons, as some of them are quite highly educated, but when it comes to certain matters such as faith and religion, some of these folks prefer not to think carefully what the leader is saying, and blindly follow the instructions and pronouncements made by the leader, without even thinking or considering whether such words uttered by the leader are truth, or actual teaching of the faith, or they are merely rubbish meant to benefit the leader.

In today's reading, we come across two elderly men who had been selected from the people that year to act as judges. These elderly men were judges posing as guides to the people, and their hearts were filled with filled and uncontrollable lust, especially towards Susanna. Because of this, the reading tells us that these two men "threw reason aside, making no effort to turn their eyes to heaven, and forgetting its demands of virtue." Instead, they managed to have Susanna condemned to death via trumped up charges, and the people were so naive to listen to these judges without proper investigation, just like what some people do even today. But thankfully, God "roused the holy spirit residing in a young boy named Daniel who began to shout, 'I am innocent of this woman’s death!'" Daniel even added (perhaps in a mocking way): "Are you so stupid, sons of Israel, as to condemn a daughter of Israel unheard, and without troubling to find out the truth? Go back to the scene of the trial: these men have given false evidence against her." In the end, instead of Susanna, the two elderly perverted men were the ones condemned to death.

What about us? Do we just follow a leader blindly, regardless whether the leader is a religious or political one? Have we come to realise that sometimes a leader may be dishing out commands or instructions merely for his or her own benefit? May we not be so "stupid" or so easily duped into obeying blindly, but take caution in what certain leaders say, so that in all things, we glorify God.

Friday of the 4th Week of Lent

Throughout history, we have seen how certain people have been murdered, asssassinated, belittled or treated with meanness or contempt, just because they speak the truth or they do things that do not conform to the ways of the world, or conform to a certain ideology or way of thinking. The fact is: the truth hurts, and some people refuse to admit their error and change their ways; or some people are benefitting from certain deals or privileges, and they refuse to give up on such benefits.

In today's reading, we come across some people who wanted to get rid of the virtuous man, since the virtuous man was exposing their hypocrisy and falseness. Likewise, the Gospel shows us how certain Jews, especially the scribes and the Pharisees, wanted to get rid of Jesus, because His words, way of life and deeds were challenging their comfort and so called authority. But the fact is: are we prepared, like the virtuous man and like Jesus to remain steadfast to the truth and to justice? Or have we become more and more conforming to the ways of the world? When we are on the side of truth, we should not be afraid as there is nothing to hide. So, let us stand firm and remain on the side of what is right and just, and we will see the fruits of our perseverance, knowing that our loving God will not fail us and be our help and guide.

Thursday of the 4th Week of Lent

There is song called "When Will They Ever Learn" and part of the lyrics are: "Where have all the soldiers gone; Long time passing; Where have all the soldiers gone; A long, long time ago; Where have all the soldiers gone; Gone to graveyards, every one; When will they ever learn?; When will they ever learn?" In this song, we discover how people seem to have not learnt from the past; how people, especially among the younger generation who are experiencing peace and prosperity, easily forget the evil, the atrocities committed, the suffering endured. When people forget, the consequences can be disasterous. We have seen numerous wars, betrayals, and other deeds which happen over and over again at different points of history. Why is this happening? Some reasons could be: due to our pride, our ego, our impatience with God and with each other, our lack of forgiveness, our selective forgetfulness. When will they ever learn?

In today's reading, the Israelites experienced the liberation from Egypt and the miraculous parting of the Red Sea. God had rescued the Israelites in a spectacular way. But did the Israelites learn from their past? No. They soon forgot about the God who saved them and they created an idol in the image of an animal and worshipped it. As a result, the Israelites ended up wandering in the desert for 40 years as a reminder of who they are and what God has done for them.

We too could end up wandering in the desert for 40 years or even more, if we forget who we are and what God has done for us. We could end up in a vicious cycle, forgetting the many bitter and painful lessons of the past, if we do not make effort to remember and change our ways, our attitudes and our conduct. God is so patient with us and giving us plenty of opportunities to repent, realign ourselves to Him, and live and grow in His love and care. Will we ever learn? Are we willing to learn?

Friday, 27 November 2015

Wednesday of the 4th Week of Lent

How many of us could claim to be able to remember almost everything that has taken place, or almost every item we own or had, or even most of the names of the many friends and acquaintances we have? Quite likely we would remember a few things, and forget others. We forget because the memory is possibly not so important to us; or we have had unpleasant or painful experiences which compel us to forget; or because we have too many things in our mind and too busy to remember too many details, possibly leading to information overload; or due to age. Sometimes, especially when times are good, when we are healthy or doing well in life, or when we are in crisis and think that we can solve issues on our own, we even forget about God.

But does God forget about us? No. Today's reading assures us that God will never forget 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." We may have forgotten about God at times, we even may have thought that we can do without God, and when we are in dire straits and think that God has abandoned us or forgotten us, we are assured in today's reading that God will never forget us and will guide us if we let Him. The question is: are we still stubbornly trying to go our own way and end up even more stuck in muck, or are we willing to humbly and earnestly turn to God, and let Him be our help and guide.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Tuesday of the 4th Week of Lent

Some of us think of a church as a nice building with perhaps a nice altar, pews, tabernacle and other fixtures and fittings that make a church look like a church. But what we see is only the physical and structural part of a church. Do we also see the other part of the church, which is the people or the faithful? In fact, what is more important is not the building or the structures, but the people or the faithful; since the church, even from the earliest times of Christianity, are made up the faithful, and that the focus should be on building up the faithful and helping the faithful grow.

In today's reading, we are told that the waters flowing from the Temple, "flows east down to the Arabah and to the sea; and flowing into the sea it makes its waters wholesome. Wherever the river flows, all living creatures teeming in it will live. Fish will be very plentiful, for wherever the water goes it brings health, and life teems wherever the river flows. Along the river, on either bank, will grow every kind of fruit tree with leaves that never wither and fruit that never fails; they will bear new fruit every month, because this water comes from the sanctuary. And their fruit will be good to eat and the leaves medicinal."

Notice that the waters flowing from the Temple brings health and life, enables the growth of every kind of fruit tree with leaves that never wither and fruit that never fails, and that their fruit will be good to eat and the leaves medicinal. If the waters flowing from the Temple could bring health and life, are our churches doing the same? Are our churches full of faithful who are "good to eat and the leaves medicinal" in their behaviour, attitude, care and concern towards others, and in their witnessing? Or have our churches become more and more divided, segregrated, like a marketplace? May we come to realise the true significance of the church and being church, and be life-giving and bringing the message of the Good News to all, so that all may have health and life.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Monday of the 4th Week of Lent

Why is it so hard for some of us to forgive, reconcile and move on? One reason could be because of the hurt we had experienced as a result of the wrong done upon us, and we find it almost impossible to let go of the hurt. Another reason could be because our pride and ego has been wounded, and we find it difficult to let it be and move on, since we seem to be constantly bombarded by our pride and ego to claim what we think is rightfully ours. But what sort of attitude should Christians have towards forgiveness and reconciliation? Is it really that difficult to forgive and reconcile?

In today's reading, the prophet Isaiah tells us: "Thus says the Lord: Now I create new heavens and a new earth, and the past will not be remembered, and will come no more to men’s minds. Be glad and rejoice for ever and ever for what I am creating, because I now create Jerusalem ‘Joy’ and her people ‘Gladness.’" God is willing to forgive His people and make things new, instead of dwelling in the past and allowing the past to ensnare His people, freeing them from the bondage of past wrongdoings. In other words, God is letting bygones be bygones, and willing to give His people new life. If God is willing to do such things, are we not willing to do the same? Are we still trapped in our past hurts, failing to see the wonders and newness that God is offering us? May we free ourselves from our unforgiving drunkenness and unforgiving stupor, and let the Lord heal us and guide us closer to Him.

Friday of the 3rd Week of Lent

There are many things in life which are actually simple and straightforward. The problem that some of us face is when we transform what is simple and straightforward into something so complex or complicated, that it seems impossible to solve. Take for instance poverty: why does poverty exist? If we look at the root cause of poverty, we could say that it boils down to human greed. Some people have more than enough, yet they are not satisfied with what they have, and want more and more, and in the process of attaining more, they become more and more selfish and refuse to share. But when we try to address the issue of poverty, some of us begin to complicate things by offering so many other possible reasons, instead of focusing on the fundamental or key or root reason.

In today's readings, we see more examples of things that are actually simple and straightforward. In the reading, the prophet Hosea speaks on behalf of the Lord: "Israel, come back to your God; your iniquity was the cause of your downfall." Notice that the reason for Israel's downfall is its iniquity? Isn't that such a simple and straighforward reason? Likewise, today's Gospel reminds about loving God and loving neighbour. Loving God and loving neighbour are also simple and straightforward instructions which could be carried out easily. But herein lies our problem: we begin to make excuses as to why we experience downfall; we do not want to admit our wrongdoings, and allow our pride and ego to fester; we even claim to love God and neighbour, but our love is coloured with conditions, prejudices and other criteria.

Thus, instead of complicating things and making things difficult not only for ourselves but also for others, let us return to what is simple and straightforward. Let us turn back to God and learn to love genuinely, with no strings attached, the way God loves us all, and let us continuously and consciously grow closer to God and walk in His ways.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Thursday of the 3rd Week of Lent

We live in a world where we are beginning to see more and more people being divided according to racial lines, ethnic groups, ideologies, economic situation (such as lower income, middle income, upper class), and many other forms of division and fragmentation. Even within our countries, our communities and in some cases, even in our families, we see such division and fragmentation taking place. Why is this happening? Perhaps it is because we are so stubbornly holding on to our ideals, our wants and needs, our identity, our achievements and status. Perhaps our pride and ego has become more and more uncontrollable, due to our neglect in checking them. Or perhaps we have become less loving and receptive to God's voice, as we become more and more immersed in the ways of the world and all the attractions it has to offer. Perhaps some of us have even chosen not to listen, not to pay attention, and follow the dictates of our own hearts, ignoring God's voice completely.

In today's reading, God, through the prophet Jeremiah, reminded the Israelites, that He had been so patient and persistent in sending His servants the prophets to "knock some sense" into them, by trying to help them change their ways, their attitudes, their behaviour, so that they may have life and prosper, but the Israelites did not listen, they did not pay attention; they followed the dictates of their own evil hearts, refused to face God, and turned their backs on God. Even then, we see how God had not given up on them or left them to their doom. Instead, God was still so patient and persistent, even to the extent of sending His only Son, Jesus, to reach out to them, and eventually to die for their sins.

If God is so patiently waiting for the Israelites to change, He is also doing the same for us. We have been given many opportunities to change our ways, and return to His love and care. But sometimes, like the Israelites, we too did not listen, did not pay attention; followed the dictates of their own evil hearts, refused to face God, and turned our backs on God. Let us be reminded that our time on earth is short, and it is up to us to do what is necessary to change and grow closer to God. At the end of the day, whether we end up with God or away from God is up to us.

Wednesday of the 3rd Week of Lent

Some of us seem to have the tendency to forget things as we grow and as we age. While we may have had better memory when we were young, we could still forget certain things, especially things that have been difficult or unpleasant. But sometimes, it is necessary to remember certain things, even though they may be difficult or unpleasant, since by remembering, we could learn from them and try to avoid repeating the same mistakes, or we could learn to grow to become better persons.

In today's reading, we see an example of the need to remember, where Moses reminded the Israelites: "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." Notice that not only did Moses instruct the Israelites to not forget God's laws and customs, Moses even instructed them to teach such laws and customs to their children and their descendants. Such laws and customs may have been unpleasant or difficult, but for one to have life, it was necessary to not only remember them, but also to ensure that future generations remember them as well.

What about us? Would we be humble and willing to remember situations, events, laws and customs, some of which may have been difficult or unpleasant? Are we open to letting God take control and guide us to grow closer to Him? The memory may be difficult or unpleasant, but the rewards that we may receive if we are faithful, consistent and hopeful, are indeed worth the remembering.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Tuesday of the 3rd Week of Lent

When we pray to God, what do we normally say or ask for? Some of us may start asking for all sorts of things, some would ask for good health, some would ask for peace and happiness in the family, some would even be pleading with God for His help and deliverance, especially when they are in a desperate time of need or in danger.

But today's reading surprises us with a different way of praying. Instead of starting with a tirade of supplication or petitions or even pleas, Azariah praised God for His mercy and even admitted that the sins of his peope had caused them to be in the situation they were in. Azariah even continued by asking God to accept their contrite and humble hearts as an offering, and asked God to "Grant us deliverance worthy of your wonderful deeds, let your name win glory, Lord." If we observe what Azariah said, we can see that ultimately, he was putting his companions and he at the mercy of God, and he was confident that no matter what happened in the end, it would be for the glory of God.

What about us? Do we pray in such a way that ultimately, it would be for the glory of God? Or have we been praying to satisfy our needs and wants? May we come to realise that at the end of the day, all that we have, all that we ask for, is meant to glorify God.

Monday of the 3rd Week of Lent

We all know what anger is, and we've all felt it: whether we have experienced it as a fleeting annoyance or as a full-fledged rage, we have either been angry or experienced the anger of others at some point of our lives. Anger is a completely normal, usually healthy, human emotion. But when it gets out of control and turns destructive, it can lead to problems: problems at work, in our personal relationships, and in the overall quality of our life. Anger can make us feel as though we are at the mercy of an unpredictable and powerful emotion. That is why we need to learn and know how to handle or manage anger well, otherwise it may lead to undesirable or even disastrous consequences.

In today's reading, we see an example of how anger almost led to disastrous consequences. In the reading, the king of Aram sent the king of Israel a letter asking him to cure his servant Naaman of his leprosy. The letter was actually meant for the king of Israel to refer Naaman to the prophet Elisha, but instead of trusting in God's providence and having confidence that God's prophet Elisha could solve the problem, the king of Israel tore his garments, ranted and vented, in other words, he gave in to his anger, thinking that the king of Aram was trying to make an excuse to pick a quarrel with Israel. But fortunately for the king of Israel, Elisha pacified him and assured him that all would be well, and from the reading, all was indeed well, as Elisha had helped to have Naaman cured with God's help.

Sometimes, we too may have experienced anger and temporarily lost our heads, forgetting that God can help us solve things, and we begin to fret and worry, trying to find a solution and getting more and more agitated or worse, even more angry. The king of Israel, in a way, had a friend in Elisha, who reminded him that ultimately, God is in control and He can help. Likewise, sometimes we come across people who could be a friend to us and remind us that God is in control, just like Elisha, and it is up to us to recognise and be humble enough to let God take over. Are we willing to calm down and let God do what is best for us?

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Friday of the 2nd Week of Lent

Intelligent, successful, and attractive people could seem intimidating. They force us to hold a mirror to ourselves, and by doing so, we could end up being disappointed, or jealous, or even inspired toward personal growth. When we allow ourselves to have feelings of insecurity, fear, concern and anxiety over an anticipated loss or status of something of great personal value, when we begin to feel intimidated by such persons, we begin to allow jealousy to take over us. When that happens, we begin to experience anger, resentment, inadequacy, helplessness and disgust. People get jealous for different reasons. Some are jealous in a joking or playful manner: they say they are jealous but they say it in jest. Some are jealous but they do not allow jealousy to get into their head and control them; instead they use their 'jealous' energies to do something positive or good. Others are jealous and allow their jealousy to control their thoughts, feelings and emotions.

In today's reading: "Israel loved Joseph more than all his other sons, for he was the son of his old age, and he had a coat with long sleeves made for him. But his brothers, seeing how his father loved him more than all his other sons, came to hate him so much that they could not say a civil word to him." From the reading, we can clearly see how jealousy can cause us to behave in a crazy manner. Just because Israel loved Joseph more, the other brothers hated him so much that they could not say a civil word to him. They even tried to kill him but fortunately, one of the brothers named Reuben had some sense and prevented them from doing so.

What about us? Are we allowing jealousy to control our lives and actions? Are we not aware that God has given each and every one of us different gifts, different abilities or talents, different purposes? May we keep jealousy at arms length and avoid ourselves from being infected by its poisonous embrace, and may we remain humble and grateful to God for making us who we are, as well as who others are, and in all things give Him the glory.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Thursday of the 2nd Week of Lent

How much do you really trust the people around you? Do you have absolute 100% trust and confidence in certain persons or even most persons? Do you have 75% trust and confidence? Or do you have little trust and confidence in others? Some of us may have put a lot of trust and confidence on a person or certain persons, but it is not easy to determine whether a person or certain persons would be trustworthy, dependable, loyal or reliable. We have seen cases of persons who turned out to be traitors or unreliable. So when we deal with persons, we are taking a risk, because we do not know what sort of persons we are dealing with and it takes much time to build trust and confidence towards such persons.

That is why today's reading reminds us: "The heart is more devious than any other thing, perverse too: who can pierce its secrets?" Also, the reading reminds us: "A curse on the man who puts his trust in man, who relies on things of flesh, whose heart turns from the Lord... A blessing on the man who puts his trust in the Lord, with the Lord for his hope." When we trust God, we know that He will care for us and not betray us, but trusting in people requires much discernment and care, to ensure that we are not taken for a ride, tricked or cheated. This does not mean we should avoid trusting people, but it means that our full trust and hope should be in the Lord, and when comes to trusting and confidence in people, Sirach cautions us: "Let those who are friendly with you be many, but let your advisers be one in a thousand. When you gain friends, gain them through testing, and do not trust them hastily. (Sir. 6:6-7)"

Wednesday of the 2nd Week of Lent

I remember a time when life was so much different in the old days. In those days, many of the things we are so used to having nowadays did not exist, or were still quite new and not so advanced in usage and function, or were even too expensive to own. For example, we are so used to handphones and things like texting, whatsapp, viber, skype, facebook and so many conveniences which have changed the way people communicate today. In the old days, handphones were too bulky to carry around easily, or in some places did not exist, and people could communicate only by using a dialing phone at home if they were fortunate to have one, or face to face. While it may seem as if such ways of communicating back then were inconvenient, the good thing about then is that, to a certain extent, we could build better relationships and friendships as we communicated, since more often than not we communicated face to face, and we could get a better and clearer understanding of the other person, since we could also observe things like body language, facial expressions and other cues. The problem is, as we progress and attain more and more conveniences, we begin to be less and less tolerant towards pain, suffering, waiting, discomfort and other experiences. But are such pain, suffering, waiting, discomfort and other experiences good or bad? Even though initially such experiences may seem to be bad, we could actually learn and benefit from them, since such experiences help us to slow down, to take care, and to look at life in a different way.

In today's reading, the prophet Jeremiah asked the Lord to deliver him from his adversaries and from suffering. Likewise in the gospel, James and John wanted the glory, but Jesus asked them if they could take the suffering as well. The suffering that the prophet Jeremiah endured, and the suffering that James and John would face, may seem bad, but actually we can see goodness in such suffering, since such suffering reminds us of who we are, and how much we really need to depend on God and in His care and providence. Such suffering is what is known as "redemptive" suffering, since it is through suffering that Jesus brought about redemption, not just our redemption, but also the redemption of the world. Are we prepared, as Jesus said in the Gospel: "to drink of the cup that I am going to drink?" Are we prepared to remain joyful and hopeful in the Lord, even though we experience pain, suffering, waiting, discomfort and other similar experiences?

Monday, 16 November 2015

Tuesday of the 2nd Week of Lent

As humans, personal hygiene is a very important part of living. If we do not keep our bodies clean, we could contract various diseases, we could smell or look dirty and unkempt, we could even be shunned or avoided by others due to the condition we are in. For example, in some countries where the weather is cold and some people do not bathe regularly, such persons would use quite a bit of perfume to hide their body odour, but the perfume used could in itself be overwhelming or nauseating for others. I recall some friends telling me that boarding a bus full of such people, or even if a few of such people are present, could be a choking experience, and these friends even commented that they would walk to their destination rather than taking the bus. In a similar way, our soul could become dirty and emit a nauseating stench when we sin, if we do not take care of our soul and seek forgiveness regularly through the Sacrament of Confession.

That is why, in today's reading, God is inviting us: "Come now, let us talk this over, says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing to obey, you shall eat the good things of the earth. But if you persist in rebellion, the sword shall eat you instead." God is giving us many opportunities to change our ways, seek forgiveness, and get our soul clean again. The question is: are we still procrastinating or thinking that we have plenty of time to do so; or have we become proud, egoistic and arrogant, thinking that we do not need God and would prefer to remain dirty, soiled and reeking with stench? God is patient and merciful with us, but our time here on earth is short. Ultimately, whether we end up with God or away from God very much depends on us.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Chair of Saint Peter, The Apostle - Feast

Those of us who have worked in the business world would know that management and marketing skills are much needed. It is not enough for us to just have a good product, it is also necessary to know how to market and sell the product, so that the company would make money and rake in profits. If the management and marketing is done effectively, and certain targets have been met, then employees would stand a good chance of getting an increment or bonus.

The church too has got certain management and marketing principles which can be found in today's reading, but for a different purpose. In the reading, St. Paul reminds us: "Be the shepherds of the flock of God that is entrusted to you: watch over it, not simply as a duty but gladly, because God wants it; not for sordid money, but because you are eager to do it. Never be a dictator over any group that is put in your charge, but be an example that the whole flock can follow." In the case of the church, the goal is not to make money and rake in profits, but to care for God's people and proclaim the Good News to all.

But such a task is not easy because of human frailty and weakness. This is where we need to depend on the grace of God, and to pray for the Holy Father, church leaders and even for ourselves, that we would be humble and willing to persevere in our efforts to be witnesses of God's love and presence in the world, so that others will come to know who is Jesus Christ.

Friday of the 1st Week of Lent

Do any of us hold grudges in our hearts? Do we have an unforgiving attitude? Sometimes I come across people who come for confession and say that they are unable to forgive a friend or family member who has hurt them or betrayed their trust. Why are such people unable to forgive? Could it be because of their wounded pride? Could it be because their ego is preventing them from forgiving and reconciling? Whatever the reason is, we should remember that at some point of our lives, we too could have hurt others, and when that happens, do we seek forgiveness with humility and sincerity? Or do some of us think that we are ok, that we have done nothing wrong, and everyone else owes us an apology?

In today's Gospel, Jesus reminds us: "If your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven." The scribes and Pharisees were known to have a self-righteous attitude, thinking that everyone else are sinners and anyone who is not like them or follow their ways is condemned. Have some of us become like the scribes and Pharisees, expecting others to be humble and kow tow to us and follow our example? May we come to realise our folly, our self-righteous attitude, our pride and ego, and make amends with God and with others. Otherwise, we may find ourselves "thrown into prison... and will not get out till you have paid the last penny."

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Thursday of the 1st Week of Lent

Many of us would have prayed to God for help, for things, for health, and for many other reasons. But if we consider for a moment what we are praying for: are we praying for our needs, or our wants, or to fulfil our desires? Is what we are asking for really good for us? Or is what we are asking for merely to satisfy our pride, our prestige or our ego? Sometimes what we are asking for may seem deceptively good, but in reality, in may turn out to be not so good for us after all.

In today's Gospel, Jesus assures us: "If you, then, who are evil, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" This assurance sounds like a blank cheque where God would give us anything which we ask, as long as it is good and we ask. But if we observe the text carefully, we would begin to understand that the word "good" does not refer to our interpretation or expectation of "good," but according to God's choice and providence. This means that God would, for His glory, give us what is good, not to satisfy our pride, ego or personal gratification. May we discern carefully what we ask for, and have full trust and confidence that God would grant us the good that we truly need, so that in all things, we would give Him the glory.

Wednesday of the 1st Week of Lent

Jews and Ninevites were sworn enemies during the time of the Prophet Jonah. The Ninevites (a.k.a. the Assyrians) were Israel's most hated enemy, as they were the ones responsible for wiping out the northern Kingdom of Israel, and continuing to harass the Southern Kingdom of Judah. And now Jonah, a Jewish prophet, was sent to this pagan nation to preach about destruction in 40 days time. Such a deed would have been revolting, shocking or disgusting to the Israelites. Just imagine: a Jewish prophet helping the enemy to repent and change their ways? Absolutely incomprehensible! But that is exactly what happened: Jonah went and warned the Ninevites about their impending disaster and doom, and today's reading tells us that the Ninevites actually repented with fasting, penance and prayer. Even more shocking, God actually relented and did not inflict on the Ninevites the disaster which He had threatened.

What does this tell us? God is impartial; God's mercy and compassion is for all, not exclusive or restricted only to a certain people or to a certain group. The Israelites thought that God would only care for them and destroy all others, but today's reading shows us otherwise. As long as we are willing to show our repentance by taking our penance seriously, God would be merciful to us just He had done for the Ninevites. Are we willing to learn from the Ninevites, and make every effort to repent and seek forgiveness, especially through the Sacrament of Reconciliation? May we not waste the many opportunities given to us to return to the Lord and walk in His ways.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Tuesday of the 1st Week of Lent

Throughout our lives, some of us would have asked our parents for something. When we ask for something, some of us could have sounded quite whiny and some of us even started using baby-like noises, hoping that our parents would give in to our requests. Sometimes, some of us may even start bargaining with our parents, promising to behave, do better in school, or some other thing, hoping to convince our parents that we deserve what we are asking for. But do we really need to do or say such things? When we ask God for things, help, healing or something else, would we resort to such tactics, hoping that God would give in to our wants and needs, just like how some of our parents may do?

In today's Gospel, we are reminded not to "babble as the pagans do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard." Instead of having to sound whiny or say so many things to God, Jesus taught us a simple but significant prayer: The Lord's Prayer or the Our Father. If we observe the way the prayer is prayed, we are actually asking for things which would give God the glory. Also, we are asking that God would help us to change, to be more loving and forgiving, and that truth and justice would increase in the world. Perhaps when we pray the Lord's Prayer with sincerity and conviction, the Lord may grant us our wants and needs, since what we are asking for is not for our own personal glory, gratification or to boost our ego, but for the greater glory of God.

Monday of the 1st Week of Lent

We sometimes take for granted the small issues or matters in life. We think that such small issues or matters are insignificant or not worth too much of our effort or time. We sometimes hear of people telling us: "Don't sweat the small stuff." But sometimes, small issues could lead to big issues, if we do not deal with them, or take appropriate action, or throw caution to the wind and make necessary preparations. For example, you have a minor toothache, and the pain subsides. This does not mean that the toothache is no longer there. It simply means that the affected tooth is temporarily not giving you any pain, but the pain could flare up at any time, and sometimes the pain we experience could get worse compared to the first few times we experienced it. If we do not go to the dentist for proper treatment, we may experience even greater pain and discomfort.

In today's reading, the Israelites were reminded of the many small issues that needed to be observed. These many small issues are the dos and don'ts that helped the Israelites to learn how to love their neigbour as themselves, in an effort to "Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy." Likewise, in the Gospel, Jesus also talked about paying attention to the many small issues of Christian life, issues like feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked and visiting those in prison. If we do not pay attention to these small issues mentioned in the reading and the Gospel, if we become complacent and neglect them, if we procrastinate and think that we have plenty of time to act later, then we may suddenly find ourselves faced with a big issue, and that big issue could involve our eternal future. Are we willing to take the risk and lose it all? After all, there is a Malay saying: "sedikit-dikit lama lama menjadi bukit" (roughly translated as: "little by little a hill is formed"). Let us do our part today, even if it is little by little, and let our God guide us and help us grow closer to Him.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Friday after Ash Wednesday

I find it quite interesting to observe how fasting has become like a commercial opportunity or a show of so called piety for some people. What do I mean, you might say? Take for example, when the time for fasting arrives for certain people, we begin to see lots of advertisements on television or radio, inviting and enticing people to break fast in a restaurant or hotel, with a huge buffet of exquisite dishes to savour. I have also seen some of such people waiting hungrily and longingly for the time to break fast at a food court or restaurant, with the food all ready in place, and when the time comes to break fast, these people attack the food with such ferociousness like lions that have not eaten for days. Is fasting meant to be an excuse for people to eat lavishly when the time to break fast comes? Or is fasting such a torture or hassle that some folks just cannot wait to break fast, instead of giving thanks to God for the privilege and opportunity to fast? Why do such people fast in the first place?

In today's reading, we see that there are some people who fast just to put on a show. The reading tells us: "Why should we fast if you never see it, why do penance if you never notice?’ Look, you do business on your fast-days, you oppress all your workmen; look, you quarrel and squabble when you fast and strike the poor man with your fist. Fasting like yours today will never make your voice heard on high. Is that the sort of fast that pleases me, a truly penitential day for men? Hanging your head like a reed, lying down on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call fasting, a day acceptable to the Lord?" When we fast just to put on a show, or we are mean or nasty towards others, then are we really fasting in the first place? Is our fasting helping us to grow closer to God, and to love God and neighbour, or are we making a joke or mockery of fasting, through our actions, behaviour and conduct? May we not fall into hypocrisy when we fast, since we ought to be doing so not to boost our ego or for our personal gratification, but to give glory to God.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

Every once in a while, we are faced with choices. Sometimes the choices we are given are straightforward and clear-cut, and making a choice is easy. Sometimes the choices given may be quite difficult, and choosing one could cause us to lose the other and vice versa. For example, some of us may have faced a difficult situation where we can choose to listen and obey our parents, but in doing so we may be going against God's commandments; but if we obey God's commandments, we may risk losing our parents (one possible outcome from the choice made could be to be disowned by our parents). If we are faced with such choices, where there is no middle ground or third option, where it is either one or the other, what would you choose?

In today's reading, the Israelites were given a choice: "choose life and you will live and increase; choose death and you will most certainly perish." There was no middle ground or alternative; only one or the other. In the Gospel, Jesus gives us a choice: "For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, that man will save it. What gain, then, is it for a man to have won the whole world and to have lost or ruined his very self?" If we are asked to choose now, what would we choose? Would we choose life as in the reading, or choose to lose our life for Jesus' sake as in the Gospel? Or would we choose otherwise? Remember, there is no middle ground, it is one or the other. May we make our choice wisely, as there is no turning back or alternatives.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent. When we think of the season of Lent, what are some of the things we think of? Some of us think about going to church to receive the imposition of ashes on our forehead on Ash Wednesday, some think about abstinence and fasting on certain days, some think about the Way of the Cross which is usually held on Fridays during Lent, some even think about making a confession at one of the churches having penitential service. All these thoughts are practices and they are good. But what sort of practices are these? These are outward forms or external practices of piety, and if we get caught up with only such external practices, we may end up losing the whole point of Lent, and that is to lead us to reconciliation with God and with each other, and eventually lead us to an inner conversion. But are these practices already mentioned enough? Perhaps we need to relook at three practices which we often hear about especially during Lent, but we may not have fully comprehended or understood what they mean. The three practices are prayer, fasting and giving alms.

When we speak of prayer, we are talking about establishing a closer relationship with God. Sometimes we may have become so used to rattling out prayers such as the rosary, the divine mercy, prayer to the Sacred Heart, or some other form of devotion, that our prayer is prayed out of habit or out of a tradition that was passed down to us from our elders. But by praying such prayers, are we really growing closer to God? Prayer should change us and lead us to trust more in God and to place our lives in His control. Are our prayers enabling us to do so? Or have our prayers become a form of babbling, saying so many things but without meaning? When we speak of fasting, we are fasting not because we want to torture or punish our bodies, and fasting is not meant to be used as an excuse or a means to lose weight. We fast because we want to thirst for God, and place God first in our lives. Fasting helps us reconsider our values in life, and guides us to reject and deny the lures of temptations, especially to satisfy our own wants. Fasting sets us free from greed, and makes us more sensitive to the needs of others. When we give alms, we do so not because we pity the poor or those who are less fortunate. We give alms because it reminds us of the need to be in solidarity with all, especially with the poor. Giving alms reminds us that all things come from God, nothing really belongs to us, and thus we should not cling on to these things selfishly. Giving alms remind us that people are far more important than things.

As we begin the season of Lent, let us take courage and let the Lord help us deepen our prayer life, and help us to be humble and docile in our fasting and also in our generosity to share with the poor. Let us do these things not because they are merely external practices, or to show off, but because we want to grow closer to God, walk in His ways, and let Him be our providence and guide.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Tuesday of Week 5 Year 2

Why do we call ourselves Christians? Are we Christians only in name? Or do we really follow the ways and teachings of Christ? Sometimes we come across people who call themselves Christians, but they follow their own version or understanding of Christianity. Such people have laws, rules and regulations which have been formulated to suit their purposes and convenience. Could we have become like such people?

In today's Gospel, we come across the scribes and Pharisees who essentially were good people trying to follow God's laws. Their problem was they were following God's laws according to what they think was right, not according to the actual teachings, rules and regulations that God had given them from the beginning. God's laws can be summarised into love God and love neighbour, and as Jesus taught and showed in many ways, one's neighbour is not restricted only to one's friends or acquaintances, but also others, including one's enemies. In today's Gospel, we see how the Pharisees were so engrossed in maintaining and obeserving their numerous traditions and practices, that they put aside the commandment of God. This is why Jesus admonished them when He said: "This people honours me only with lip-service, while their hearts are far from me."

We too could fall into the same trap, if we start treating our own rules and regulations as more important than God's commandments. We could be like the scribes and Pharisees, when we begin to pick and choose only those laws and regulations that suit us or benefit us or are convenient to us, instead of observing them entirely, in the form of loving God and loving neighbour completely. Are we still stubbornly clinging on to our own ways, or are we willing to change and follow Jesus' ways?

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Monday of Week 5 Year 2

Do you believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist? Do you believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist at all times, including when we receive the Eucharist during Holy Communion, when we have adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, when the Blessed Sacrament is taken out of the tabernacle or exposed and put back in the tabernacle or deposed? As Catholics, we say we do, but if we say we do, then how are we showing proper respect and decorum towards the Eucharist? For example, are we properly dressed, gone for confession to clear our sins before receiving Holy Communion, maintain sacred silence at proper times in church?

In the 1st reading, we read that "the cloud filled the Temple of the Lord, and because of the cloud, the priests could no longer perform their duties: the glory of the Lord filled the Lord's Temple." For king Solomon and the people, it was clear that God was indeed present in the Temple and among His people, and the priests showed proper respect by not performing their duties. In the same way, we believe that God is present in the church and among us in the Eucharist, and if God is present in church and among us, then how do we show proper respect towards Him? If we are in the presence of a king or sultan or emperor or some important dignitary, surely we would make every effort to ensure that the way we look, the way we dress, our mannerisms and practices, would give honour and respect to the VIP (Very Important Person). But what about our being in the presence of our VVVIP, that is our loving God? Do we give even more honour and respect?

Friday, 6 November 2015

Friday of Week 4 Year 2

I have conducted many funerals throughout my ministry, and in some of the funerals, a family member of the deceased or in some cases, even a close friend, may come forward after the end of the funeral Mass or service, to say a few words. Quite often, the person saying a few words would talk about the good things the deceased had done, or how wonderful he or she was, or some other positive statements about the deceased. While such gracious or kind words are being uttered, I sometimes wonder... what sort of words or statements would I like to be remembered by, when the time comes? How would I like others to think of me?

In today's reading, we come across plenty of praises and nice words about king David. Such praises and nice words seem to sound like an eulogy or at the very least to pay tribute and to honour king David. Even though king David had sinned by committing adultery and then committing murder on Uriah to try and hide his misdeeds, king David was still humble, contrite and repentant, and with the Lord's forgiveness and help, he rose to great heights. On the other hand, we come across king Herod in the Gospel, who is portrayed as being a weak king, egoistic, proud, and easily duped into having John the Baptist beheaded merely for the price of seeing the daughter of Herodias dance.

King David left a legacy behind and people had plenty of praises towards him. King Herod, on the other hand, only left behind scorn and ridicule, for having chosen to remain unrepentent and proud. Would we end up like king David, being remembered fondly with plenty of praises? Or would we end up like king Herod instead?

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Thursday of Week 4 Year 2

Most of us would have taken a flight from one point to another at some time during our lives. Some of us may have taken a flight to go for a holiday, others for work, others for studies, and others to visit friends and relatives. No matter what reason we are taking a flight, there are some limitations which are imposed on us so that the flight would be safe and free from potentially dangerous situations or delays. For example, we know that liquids cannot be brought into the cabin and must be stored in suitable bottles or containers in our checked-in luggage, and even so, with a limitation as to how much liquid that can be checked-in (usually about 100ml). Even the checked-in luggage has got a weight limit. For example, for the economy class, it is usually 20kg. Some of us may think that 20kg seems like a lot of stuff, but if we pack our luggage for a trip, we would soon find out how easy it is to exceed this weight limit.

In today's Gospel, Jesus has also set a weight limit as to how much his disciples are allowed to bring with them as they embark on their mission. Why did Jesus impose such a weight limit? Some may say that Jesus is doing so, so that his disciples would not be encumbered with too many things. But there is a deeper meaning to that: Jesus is actually teaching His disciples, and us too, that to be a disciple, God's grace is sufficient. The rest of what we want or need are less essential things or peripherals, and will be provided for when the time comes. Would we be willing to shed away the many things that we have come to depend on, and depend more on God's grace, knowing that He will provide for us?

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Wednesday of Week 4 Year 2

Some of us may have allowed success and talent to get over our heads. When we feel that we have achieved something or are capable of doing something amazing or spectacular, we begin to think that we have done so through our own efforts. Some of us may even begin to feel proud and our ego may inflate. But is such success or talent merely from our own effort? Could we emulate such success or attain such talent in every circumstances?

In today's reading, king David, with the help of God, had subdued all his surrounding enemies and Israel became the greatest power in the region at that time. When this happened, success went over king David's head, and he thought that he had achived such feats through his own effort and through the effort of the Israelites. What king David failed to realise is that God was helping them in their endeavours, and in a rash act of pride and to boost his ego, king David did a census of the people. He apparently wanted to know the strength of his army and to flaunt the might and splendour of his kingdom. As a result, king David and the Israelites encountered the wrath of God and were punished for it.

At the end of the day, let us not forget that all the successes we have had and all that we have achieved is actually with help from God. We cannot claim total credit, since our abilities, talents and gifts are from God meant to be used for His glory, not for our own personal gratification or to boost our ego. May we learn to walk humbly before God and be thankful to Him, and in all things give Him the glory.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Monday of Week 4 Year 2

When we are faced with evil, what do we do? Do we repay evil with evil? Or do we put our trust and hope in God, and do only what is necessary to defend ourselves, but not with the intention of retaliating or taking revenge? It is tempting to succumb to "an eye for an eye" mentality, but what should we Christians do and how should we respond?

In today's reading, king David was experiencing a double whammy. His own son, Absalom, had gathered enough support from among the Israelites and was now after his head. Not only that, Shimei, a relative of Saul, came along and cursed David and threw stones at him. King David could have taken these situations as an excuse to take revenge and retaliate, in an attempt to defend his kingship and wipe out his enemies, which would include getting rid of his son Absalom and Shimei. But did king David do that? No. Instead, he chose to humble himself before God and commended himself into the hands of the Lord when he said, "Perhaps the Lord will look on my misery and repay me with good ..." Even when faced with a crisis, king David chose to face it with humility and repentance, and he trusted in God's mercy and remained faithful to God.

What about us? Would we be able and willing to respond the way king David did? Or would we allow our pride and ego to get the better of us, and end up retaliating or taking revenge? May we be willing and humble enough to put our trust in God and let God be our guide.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Friday of Week 3 Year 2

From time to time, some of us may have fallen and committed sin. It does not matter the sin is serious or not, but what is our response after the sin has been committed? Some of us may make effort to go for confession and do penance, so that our souls would remain as clean as possible. But there are also some who would try to deny committing such sins. Some even try to sweep it under the carpet and pretend that nothing had happened. But ultimately, we will be confronted with the sin committed in one way or another. When this happens, how would we respond? Would we eventually own up to the sin, seek forgiveness and move on? Or would we continue living in denial, with the possibility of committing even greater sins?

In today's reading, we see an example of how some people try to hide or destroy the evidence of wrongdoing, and end up committing even worse offences. King David had committed the sin of adultery by sleeping with another man's wife, causing Bathsheba to become pregnant. Then he tried to hide the evidence by encouraging Uriah to go home and spend some time with his wife Bathsheba, hoping that Uriah would later think that the pregnancy was caused by him. When that failed, David got rid of Uriah instead. From an already serious sin, king David blundered and committed other sins, and in the end even committed murder, another serious sin.

Today, if we realise that we have committed sin, let us not try to deny or hide the fact. We may think we can fool others, but we cannot fool God. Let us own up to our sins, seek forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, do penance, and move on. After all, there is really nothing to be proud of in committing sins, and may we be humble and willing to seek forgiveness and change our ways, while we have the opportunities to do so.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Thursday of Week 3 Year 2

Why do we sometimes find it so difficult to get new people to help out in different church ministries? Among the many reasons given, one reason is because there are some people who may have the skills or talents, but they are not willing to offer such talents or skills in church. Some of such people have what we call a "what's in it for me?" attitude; or they think their skills and talents are for them to use as they please and for their benefit or advantage; or they even feel that their talent or skill is not good enough, even though in reality, their talent or skill is really good or even phenomenal. Could some of us be guilty of such attitude or way of thinking?

In today's Gospel, we are reminded: "Would you bring in a lamp to put it under a tub or under the bed? Surely you will put it on the lamp-stand?... The amount you measure out is the amount you will be given – and more besides; for the man who has will be given more; from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away." When we offer our gifts, talents, skills and abilities to the church and to God, surely we would receive much from Him, sometimes even more than what we could dream off. Or are we still stubbornly or selfishly holding on to what we have, only to risk losing it all through our indifference, lack of practise, or due to some other reason?