Thursday, 17 January 2019

Saturday of the 5th Week of Lent

Are we willing to take risks when it comes to doing God's will? Some of us may be content on just being nominal Christians, thinking that attending Sunday Mass and perhaps getting involved in some church activities is more than enough. But how many of us are willing to go all out and do God's will, even when there are serious risks involved? How many of us are willing to lose our lives for the sake of the Gospel? It is easy to do the barest minimum as Christians, but are we willing to do more?

In today's Gospel, Jesus retreated to the countryside with His disciples, He could have decided to remain there. He could have gone on with His work of healing and teaching in a quiet way, and quite likely many people would have supported Him and kept Him safe. But Jesus knew that that was not the Father's will, so He moved out of His safety zone and comfort zone, and it is a move that will cost Him His life. Jesus was willing to give it His all in bringing salvation to all.

What does this mean to us? It means that whenever we intend to do God's will, we need to remember and be aware that it involves risk. It involves moving out of our safety zone and our comfort zone just as Jesus did, and do things which may cause us to be ridiculed, persecuted or even put to death. That is the reality of doing God's will, which quite often goes against the ways of the world. But it is only when we choose to move out that God moves in and becomes our help and guide, and we know that God will never abandon us.

Saturday of the 4th Week of Lent

Some of us seem to assume that we know it all. For example, by just getting some information about a certain person, some of us form all sorts of conclusions about the person, and think that we know everything about the person. One situation where this may happen is when a priest is posted to his home parish as parish priest. Some may assume that they know him well, since they have seen him grow up from a child, and they assume that they know his background, character and so on. But can we really assume that we know a person completely? Could we ever admit that we have been wrong about some or even all of our assumptions?

In today's Gospel, a lot of assumptions had been made about Jesus, especially about His identity. The Pharisees thought they knew everything about Jesus, and assumed that Jesus could not possibly be a prophet, since they assumed that He came from Galilee. Also, the Pharisees condemned the crowd for following Jesus,  and said about them: "This rabble knows nothing about the Law – they are damned." since they assumed they knew best about the Law and who Jesus was. In the midst of these assumptions, an unexpected challenge came from Nicodemus, who challenged the people to give Jesus a hearing and to discover for themselves who Jesus really was. But the assumptions far outnumbered and drowned out the challenge.

What does this mean to us? It means that when our minds are closed, and we choose to stick stubbornly to our assumptions, we can never grow or change. We begin to think that our ways are exactly what God expects of us, even though in reality, we could be quite wrong. This smacks of pride, prejudice and ego. Would we be really and ever willing to humble ourselves, and discover Jesus as He really is, and walk in His ways, not according to what we think are His ways?

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Saturday of the 3rd Week of Lent

Some of us claim that we have not committed any serious or even mortal sins, but when we claim as such, are we claiming so with pride? It is easy to make such claims, and yet fall into sin by feeling proud about it, or putting others down or looking down on others, thinking that they are not on par with us. When we are like this, we have a problem of spiritual pride. We begin to think that we are ok and everyone else is hopeless or condemned.

In today's Gospel, the Pharisee was proud that he did not commit any grave sin; and he claims to have done credible deeds, but he was not at rights with God. Why so? His problem was spiritual pride: he called another person a sinner without acknowledging or admitting to be one himself. He propped himself up, at the expense of another person. He considered himself virtuous, and in doing so began to become more and more self-righteous. But what the Pharisee failed to realise and understand is that what God wants is not sacrifice, but love for Him and for others.

What about us? Are we like the Pharisee, full of pride and ego, thinking that we are on the right track or supposingly in God's good books? Or have we learnt to humble ourselves and say: God, be merciful to me, a sinner? Let us not be blinded by pride, even to the point of losing our awareness of sins we may have committed, no matter how small such sins may be. Instead, let us walk humbly in God's ways, and let Him be our help and guide.

Saturday of the 2nd Week of Lent

In the English language, black sheep is an idiom used to describe an odd or disreputable member of a group, especially within a family. The black sheep is the odd one out, whether he's a disgrace to the family or just doesn't seem to belong. The origin of the phrase comes from the rare presence in a flock of white sheep of a sheep with black fleece. For some families, a child who is a black sheep is seen as a bane and a burden of parents. Some parents may even resort to renouncing relationship with that child; while others may resort to punishment which may actually be just a way of venting out their frustrations on the child.

In today's Gospel, we come across another black sheep, the younger son. In the Gospel, the father gave in to his younger son's request for his share of the inheritance, but yet further on in the parable, we hear of the father waiting and looking out for him to return. The younger son came to his senses because he recalled how kindly his father treated his servants, and that was enough for him to return home to his father. Instead of seeing the younger son as a bane or a burden, the father was so happy to see his younger son again, and took him back to the household.

What does this mean for us? It means that even a black sheep is still welcomed back when he or she comes to his or her senses and wants to return. It also means that when we come across the odd one, the black sheep, the sinner, let us be the reflection of God's love to that person. May we be merciful, loving and forgiving to others, even when it comes to black sheep, just as God is merciful, loving and forgiving towards us.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Saturday of the 1st Week of Lent

Are we able to forgive our enemies and those who have hurt us in one way or another? Jesus taught us to forgive in different parts of the Gospel, including today's Gospel. If we ponder on what it means to forgive, we would realise that forgiving is an act of our will, not our emotions. In the Our Father, we pray: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive others who sin against us.” When we pray in this way,  we are asking God to forgive us to the degree by which we forgive others; and it is the sign that we have received God’s forgiveness by our willingness to forgive others.

If we are able to forgive, we would save ourselves from restless nights and unnecessary anger and anxiety. Instead, we could channel our energies to more constructive things. If we find ourselves unable to forgive, it could be that God is not good enough for us. It could also be that God and His words do not occupy the first priority in our lives. Thus, let us set aside our pride and ego, and continuously choose to forgive, just as God forgives us.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Saturday of the 5th Week of Lent

As humans, we are the same in body parts and composition. We may not necessarily look the same, since we have different skin colour; different body shape and hair style; but deep down inside, we belong to one humanity. Our problem is we tend to distinguish ourselves from others based on language, social status, religion, ethnic group and much more, and we stubbornly hold on to such criteria. But is this the way God intends us to live from the beginning? Of course not! We are all part of humankind, and we should be united and loving with one another, not divisive and conceited.

In today's reading, Ezekiel tells us of how God will reunite His people who had been scattered, exiled and divided, into one people, and He would be their God and they would be His people. This reading reminds us, that ultimately, we should be one people under God. The question is: are we able to let go of our pride and ego; our divisiveness; and our prejudices; and strive towards being one people of God? It may seem difficult or impossible to achieve, but God can make straight out of crooked lines, and we should continue to trust in Him and walk in His ways, as we strive to remain as one.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Saturday of the 4th Week of Lent

Who can we trust in this world? Some of us think that we can trust our parents; some think we can trust our spouse; some think we can trust our children; some think we can trust our brothers, sisters or other relatives; some even think we can trust our friends; but how much can we really trust such persons? Can we find a person we can trust completely, without any shadow of doubt? The challenge that we face is that we may be able to trust persons to a certain extent, but how many of us can claim to have absolute trust in certain persons?

In today's reading, Jeremiah is trusting of others until the Lord shows him the truth, and then he realises that they were plotting against him, even ready to kill him, and he was unaware of the deception. He would have gone on innocently, not knowing the danger, except that the Lord was looking out for him and showed him the way. We may think others are trustworthy, but they are at best human and at worst dangerous. Jeremiah was trusting of others, and they would have killed him. But he can trust in the Lord. In the same way, we too should be mindful whom we trust, and ultimately put full trust and confidence in the Lord.

Saturday of the 3rd Week of Lent

Some of us take for granted and not feel real contrition, remorse, and sorrow for our sins. Some think that God would forgive us anyhow, and we neglect going for confession to seek forgiveness our sins. Some even assume that being a Christian means merely accepting Jesus as Lord and saviour, and that is all enough for them to be guaranteed access to heaven. But what sort of attitude should a Christian have towards God's mercy and forgiveness, especially when it comes to the sins one has committed? Is God's mercy and forgiveness so easily accessed?

In today's reading, the people said: "Come let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces, but he will heal us; he has struck us down, but he will bandage our wound; on the third day he will raise us and we shall live in his presence." The Lord responded: "What am I to do with you? This love of yours is like a morning cloud, like the dew that quickly disappears." It seems like the people prayed to God in their misery but they prayed with a certain arrogance and self-interest. They were not repentant and did not ask why such misery fell on them. Instead, they took for granted that God would heal them and help them, and they felt entitled to His mercy and forgiveness.

What about us? Have we become like the people in today's reading, where we end up taking for granted His mercy and forgiveness? Have we become presumptuous, thinking that we are entitled to God's help and care, instead of walking humbly before Him? May we come to realise such attitude, and walk humbly in His ways..

Saturday of the 2nd Week of Lent

What is so different and unique about God that we Christians believe in? Unlike other so called deities, who were often viewed as gods who are fierce-looking and who inflict judgement and punishment whenever people were unfaithful and do not offer them sacrifice from time to time, we believe in God who loves and forgives.

In today's reading we are told: "What god can compare with you: taking fault away, pardoning crime, not cherishing anger for ever but delighting in showing mercy?" Other so-called deities may be seen as fierce, vengeful and prone to meting out punishment, but our God takes fault away, pardons crime, does not cherish anger, and even delights in showing mercy. Since we have God who is merciful and who loves and forgives, what about us? Are we able to be just as merciful and love and forgive others, just as God is merciful and loves and forgives us?

Friday, 4 January 2019

Saturday of the 1st Week of Lent

I believe many of us like to pick and choose things in our lives. As children, our parents would pick and choose a kindergarten and primary school which they think and feel is best for us. When we look for clothing, we pick and choose something which fits us, and the colour and pattern of the clothing is something we like. Some of us are even particular about the food we eat, and we pick and choose certain types, flavour and quality of food.

One thing which we cannot pick and choose is when it comes to God's laws and customs. Today's reading reminds us: "Moses said to the people: ‘The Lord your God today commands you to observe these laws and customs; you must keep and observe them with all your heart and with all your soul." When it comes to God, we cannot pick and choose only that which is pleasant or easy to observe. God expects us to observe His laws and customs wholeheartedly, in fact, we are to do so with all your heart and all your soul.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Tuesday of Week 8 Year 1

It is a reality that a church cannot function and carry out its mission effectively without funds. Various kinds of bills need to be paid; salaries of workers need to be paid, since most parishes employ people to take care of various tasks such as office administration, gardening and cleaning, etc.; works of charity and providing help to the poor; the list of expenses could go on and accumulate to a sizeable amount. Such funds come from the offerings of the faithful and from generous donors. The question is: how many of the faithful are generous in their offerings? Are some able to offer more, but they seem to hold back for some reason or another? Are some expecting to see tangible results on what they have offered, or are they willing to offer generously without any terms and conditions?

In today's reading, we are reminded "Honour the Lord with generosity, do not stint the first-fruits you bring. Add a smiling face to all your gifts, and be cheerful as you dedicate your tithes. Give to the Most High as he has given to you, generously as your means can afford; for the Lord is a good rewarder, he will reward you seven times over." God's generosity knows no limits and He has been generous to us in many ways. Are we just as generous in return? May we "give to the Most High as he has given to you, generously as your means can afford", and be grateful and joyful for His abundant love and care.

Monday of Week 8 Year 1

Some people seem to think that just because they have been committing the same sins over and over again, they begin to think that they have no hope or no possibility of changing. This leads to some even giving up, even to the point of despair. But the reality is: we are sinners, and we must continue to hope and trust in God to help us in overcoming our sins. Even though we may have sinned, we should pick ourselves up and continue our level best to stop sinning.

In today's reading, we are assured: "To those who repent, God permits return, and he encourages those who were losing hope. Return to the Lord and leave sin behind, plead before his face and lessen your offence. Come back to the Most High and turn away from iniquity, and hold in abhorrence all that is foul." God is not giving up on us, even though we may at times feel like giving up. When we sin, let us go to confession as soon as possible, to seek forgiveness for our sins, and do our very best to stop sinning. Of course, it is a struggle to remain without sin, since many temptations surround us. But we know that Jesus has won the victory for us, and we should place our trust and confidence in Him, knowing that He will help us and guide us in our struggle.

8th Sunday Ordinary Time Year C

What is a hypocrite? The dictionary defines a hypocrite as “a person who pretends to have desirable qualities or publicly approved attitudes, beliefs and practices but actually does not possess them.” If there is anything that Jesus hates, it is hypocrisy. As Jesus pointed out in his condemnation of the Scribes and Pharisees, their problem is they emphasise the “outside” rather than the "inside" - the inmost concerns of the heart. This being so, there is need to look into our “inside” and discover its priorities. Is it to impress others? If so, then our concern becomes how we appear externally before others, for example, through the way we talk, the clothes we wear, the jewellery and other bodily accessories we display, the house we live in, etc. For some of us, this may even include the way we practice our faith as the Scribes and the Pharisees did in Jesus' time. All these in order to project our self-importance.

Sincerity and truthfulness are the opposite of hypocrisy. In these virtues, the emphasis is on what lies “inside” of us. When we are sincere and truthful, we cease to be overly concerned with the “outside” since we believe that what matters in God's eyes is our “inside.” Among others it tells us that we would be no different from others if it were not for the grace of God. Jesus knows the kind of people we all are, how prone we are to sin. Yet He says to all of us, “Be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect.” We certainly cannot be as perfect as the heavenly Father is. But with God's grace, we can aim to be less and less imperfect - every moment, every day, over a long period of time, a lifetime.

Is it difficult? Of course. Is it impossible? No! Why not? Because Jesus has shown us how, as seen in today's Gospel. For example, Jesus, while talking about the parable of the blind leading the blind, asked, “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?... You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother's eye.” Here Jesus is teaching us that we can lead others only after we have accepted Him in faith. Thus the need for us to discover and acknowledge our sinfulness, and strive to make changes in our lives. Then only do we acquire, the so-called “right” to correct and even lead others without both of us falling into the pit.

Thus, when we speak out on people and issues, we do so not out of self–righteousness as this only puts them off. Rather, we do so conscious of our own shortcomings, a trait we all share with others but with a difference, we constantly try to overcome them . May we strive to follow Jesus' ways, and give glory to God in all we say and do.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

7th Sunday Ordinary Time Year C

A pastor once preached a Sunday sermon titled "Forgive Your Enemies." He asked how many of the congregation have forgiven their enemies. About half held up their hands. He then repeated his question. Now about 90% held up their hands. He then repeated his question once more. All responded, except one elderly lady. The pastor asked: "Mrs. Lee, are you not willing to forgive your enemies?" She replied: "I don't have any." The pastor was baffled and said: "Mrs. Lee that is very unusual. How old are you?" "Ninety-three," she replied. The pastor then asked: "Mrs. Lee, please come down in front and tell the congregation how a person cannot have an enemy in the world?" The little sweetheart of a lady tottered down the aisle and said, "I outlived every one of them!"

In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us an interesting teaching. He tells us to love our enemies, because as Christians, love should be our priority. At the heart of Jesus’ teaching are two important traits – compassion and forgiveness. More than ever, we need to exercise both compassion and forgiveness, wherever we are, especially in our society, parish community, and families. It seems easier said than done. But the reality is that compassion and forgiveness must be the foundation of all our relationships. In our relationships, we must be realistic that we live in an imperfect society, community and family. We must recognise that there are people who will try to take advantage of us, try to cheat us and wrong us, just as we also do the same to others. Ultimately, it is important to recognise that none of us is perfect.

Jesus does not demand perfection from us. Rather, in today's Gospel Jesus asks us to “be compassionate as your Heavenly Father is compassionate.” Here we find the basis of our need to show compassion and forgiveness. We must forgive and show compassion towards others because we have been forgiven and shown compassion by God. If God can forgive us in spite of our sinfulness, then we must be able to forgive others who have sin against us. It is only when we are able to reflect on our own sinfulness, limitations and weaknesses, that we begin to understand, forgive and finally come to accept others. Of course, it is not easy. But with the grace of God, all things are possible. Thus, let us pray for the grace to be more compassionate and more forgiving as we pray: "forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us."