Wednesday 31 December 2014

3rd Sunday of Lent Year B

How much do we value our places of worship? How much do we care about our churches? Also, how much do we care about ourselves as a Christian community? Are we coming to church only to fulfil our Sunday obligation and nothing more? Do we take care of the surroundings and the inside of the parish church we go to? Do we care about our Christian community and find ways and means to help it grow spiritually? Or has our church become a place of gossip; a place where we throw rubbish and other items we have just used (such as tissue paper, sweet wrappings and other items) or have no use of; a place of selling and buying of religious articles (or in some cases, even a place where business or other commercial dealings take place); or even a place for other activities instead of being a house of prayer and the dwelling place of God?

Among the Jews, the Temple was a sacred institution. It provided them physical space to offer worship and sacrifices, and also symbolised the very presence of God. For a Jew, the Temple became a sign that God had not abandoned his people, despite their failures, iniquities and weaknesses. The Temple therefore occupied a very central place in the Jewish religion. That is why in today's Gospel, Jesus was so upset when he found people using the Temple for business purposes rather than for religious purposes.

As a result of the temple being misused and being turned into another commercial place, Jesus became quite angry and chased away all those money-changers, sellers and even the cattle and sheep as well from the Temple, saying: "‘Take all this out of here and stop turning my Father’s house into a market." This caused the Jews to become even more determined to plot to get rid of Him. But what gave Jesus the courage to do what no other person could dare do? "Zeal for your house will devour me," are the Old Testament words that came to the minds of the disciples after seeing Jesus in action. Here is someone who is so passionate about truth, justice, fairness and right-conduct such that he is ready to challenge the religious leaders of his time in order to promote these values. Here is someone who is ready to die for his values.

Today, Jesus is looking for men and women of integrity who are willing and ready to serve, are courageous, committed and ready to stand up to challenge evil practices, immoral conduct and other vile acts, no matter the cost. He is challenging all of us to do what is right and proper in our lives and in our churches, so that others may see what it means to be a Christian. There is a time and place for everything, and we should strive to ensure that our churches and we too do not end up like what happened to the Temple. Let us pray that the same zeal that led Jesus to the cross and beyond may also fill our hearts and enable us to seek justice and fairness regardless of the cost to ourselves. Let us make our own these words: “Zeal for your house will devour me!”

Housekeeping - 2nd Week of Lent

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

1 March 2015 - 2nd Sunday of Lent Year B
2 March 2015 - Monday of the 2nd Week of Lent
3 March 2015 - Tuesday of the 2nd Week of Lent
4 March 2015 - Wednesday of the 2nd Week of Lent
5 March 2015 - Thursday of the 2nd Week of Lent
6 March 2015 - Friday of the 2nd Week of Lent

Friday of the 2nd Week of Lent

Let us consider for a moment... Is there anything in this world that we really own? Do we have sole, complete and eternal rights to things, persons and ideas? Some of us may think that we have total rights and total control over such things, persons and ideas, and we become quite possessive towards them, but do we really have such total rights and total control? When we die or are one day incapable of controlling such things, persons and ideas due to some sickness or due to some other reason, what would happen then?

In today's Gospel, we come across a parable of a vineyard. In this parable, Jesus was actually talking about the scribes and Pharisees. The owner of the vineyard is God, who is ever so patient, merciful and kind, giving the scribes and Pharisees plenty of opportunities to change and walk in His ways. But the scribes and Pharisees became quite possessive with their way of thinking and to them, only their way of rituals, sacrifices and other observances of their version of God's law would enable themselves and those who followed them to grow closer to God. Prophets were sent to try and change the attitude and behaviour of the scribes and Pharisees, but thy remained obstinate, refused to listen or change, and got rid of the prophets. Jesus is the son the land owner had sent, but the scribes and Pharisees once again refused to listen or change, and even plotted to get rid of Him. Ultimately, Jesus gave the scribes and Pharisees a stern warning that they would not only meet their wretched end like the tenants in the parable, Jesus even added: "I tell you, then, that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit."

What about us? Have we been like the scribes and Pharisees in one way or another? Have we been having "holier than thou" attitudes or become quite possessive with our position in church, possessive with our families and friends, or even tried to be possesive with God? Let us be reminded that our time here on earth is short, and make every effort to change our minds and hearts, so that we may produce good fruit and glorify God.

Tuesday 30 December 2014

Thursday of the 2nd Week of Lent

There are some people in this world who think that riches is a blessing from God.  They begin to think that just because they are rich or someone is rich, they or that someone can do whatever they like and possibly get away with it. For example, we have come across people who are rich in material wealth and property, and think that they can buy their way to privileges and perks, or they think they are entitled to certain benefits reserved only for those who have the means. Some even become conceited and boastful, thinking that money, wealth and property are all that matters. So does this mean that being rich is wrong or sinful? No. It depends on one's attitude and behaviour, since we do come across people who are rich, but they live lives quite detached from the riches they have. In fact, some of these rich people use their riches not for themselves, but for charity and the benefit of mankind. Some even end up penniless at the end of their lives, because they had used up their riches to be of service to others less fortunate. If you are wealthy, what sort of person have you become?

In today's Gospel, we come across the story of Lazarus and the rich man. The rich man ended up in Hades not because he was a rich man per se, but because of his attitude or behaviour. The rich man was rich only for himself, since as the Gospel tells us, he: "used to dress in purple and fine linen and feast magnificently every day. And at his gate there lay a poor man called Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to fill himself with the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table." He knew that Lazarus was there, but he refused to take notice, he was only concerned about himself, and he did not lift a finger or at the very least get someone to help Lazarus out. After all, the rich man was enjoying himself to the fullest, and he did not want to have anything to do with others. It is only when the rich man ended up in Hades that he realised his folly, but by then it is too late.

What about us? Have we become like the rich man in one way or another? We may have wealth, some of us may be rich in other ways, such as riches in intellect, riches in talent, riches in abilities, but are we keeping such riches only for ourselves? Let us not become complacent, indifferent or have a "tidak apa" or "tidak peduli" attitude (roughly translated from Malay as "don't care" or "doesn't matter to me" attitude), but use our "riches" for the greater glory of God.

Sunday 28 December 2014

Wednesday of the 2nd Week of Lent

What do you look for in life? Some of us may be looking for riches, wealth and financial security. Some may be looking for continuous happiness with family and friends. Some may look for titles, recognition and power. Some may look for popularity among peers. But what about you? What are you really looking for?

In today's Gospel, we come across the mother of Zebedee's sons coming to Jesus and asking Jesus to give her two sons important positions in heaven. These two brothers were looking for power and prestige, even in heaven. It seems strange that these two did not ask Jesus themselves and got their mother involved, but if we consider for a moment their actions, we can understand why they did so, since some of us would do the same. What they did could be called a form of "intercessory syndrome," where a person feels more comfortable to ask another to ask the authority or important person instead of asking themselves. Some of us do the same by asking our father or mother to ask the other parent, instead of asking the other parent directly. In the same way, some of us do the same by preferring to ask Mother Mary instead of asking God or Jesus directly.

But Jesus response to their request is a lesson in service and humility. In the Gospel, Jesus teaches us: "You know that among the pagans the rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." To be great is to be a humble servant to all. This is quite in contrast with what the world thinks of greatness, and if we call ourselves disciples of Jesus, then we need to learn to shed away the ways of the world and put on the ways of Christ. May we learn to walk humbly before our loving God and let Him be our guide.

Saturday 27 December 2014

Tuesday of the 2nd Week of Lent

When we are performing a certain task, we should consider for a moment what is our true motive for doing so. Some of us may be doing things just to please others and hopefully receive admiration and some form of reward or praise from others. Some of us do things grudgingly because we are forced to do so or we feel the task is not what we wanted or expected. How many of us would perform a task without any expectation and with the intention of giving glory to God?

In today's Gospel, Jesus reminds us to be careful not to become like the scribes and the Pharisees. He cautions us: "The scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses. You must therefore do what they tell you and listen to what they say; but do not be guided by what they do: since they do not practise what they preach... Everything they do is done to attract attention... The greatest among you must be your servant. Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted." This is where we need to be truthful to ourselves: are we in all we do trying to win some sort of popularity contest, or appear to be better than others? Let us check our pride and ego, and learn to walk humbly before our loving God, while doing our tasks for the glory of God.

Friday 26 December 2014

Monday of the 2nd Week of Lent

Every once in a while, we come across people who seem to only know how to say bad things about others, or they condemn others for even the smallest matter, or they seem to only know how to bad mouth others. Some of these people may be doing such things because they have some sort of inferiority complex, thinking that others seem better than they are and they feel the need to put others down to satisfy their ego. Some people may be doing such things because they think that only they are blameless or holy and adopt a self-righteous attitude, and everyone else seems to be unable to measure up to their standards. What sort of person have you become at this moment?

In today's Gospel, Jesus admonishes us: "Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged yourselves; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned yourselves; grant pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and there will be gifts for you..." In a world where people seem to be interested only in themselves, we as Christians should follow Jesus' example and way of life in being loving, forgiving and generous with our time, talents and wealth towards others. Let us shed the ways of the world and remain close to Jesus, and let Him guide us in our conduct, behaviour and actions, so that in all things may God be glorified.

Thursday 25 December 2014

2nd Sunday of Lent Year B

Some cultures view high places such as the top of mountains, hills, above the trees and other similar places with much reverence, since they believe that high places are sacred places where the divine resides or where the divine might be encountered. Some cultures even build temples, build shrines, perform sacrifices, and many other things or rituals, in an attempt to establish communication or a connection with the divine.

In today's readings, we come across examples of high places where the divine is encountered. In the first reading, Abraham obeyed God's command and almost sacrificed his son Isaac to God on a mountain. In the Gospel, Jesus was transfigured on a mountain, and Peter, James and John were granted the privilege of experiencing the divine. But what is more important in these readings is not the mountain or some other high place, but what God did after that. What God did was to grant a gift far greater than the events which took place on the mountain.

In the first reading, Abraham obeyed God and was about to sacrifice his son as a gift to God, but God gave Abraham a far greater gift when He said: "because you have done this, because you have not refused me your son, your only son, I will shower blessings on you, I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants shall gain possession of the gates of their enemies. All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants, as a reward for your obedience." Likewise, in the Gospel, the disciples have the privilege of hearing God's voice: "This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him." Jesus is God's gift to all of us, and we do not need to go about offering sacrifices or climbing mountains or other high places in an attempt to be closer to God. We just need to listen to Jesus. And when we listen to Jesus and do whatever He tells us, we can be sure of God's help and providence, as St. Paul tells us in the second reading: "With God on our side who can be against us? Since God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all, we may be certain, after such a gift, that he will not refuse anything he can give."

Are we listening to Jesus? Are we doing our best to listen to Jesus in good times and also in bad? We sometimes feel as if Jesus is not speaking to us or helping us when we face tough times or difficult situations. But if we open our ears and also the ears of our hearts, we would be able to hear His soft but reassuring voice, inviting us to trust in Him and let Him be our guide. As we journey on in this season of Lent, let us not be distracted or give up, but focus on Jesus. Let us continue to seek Jesus, the greatest gift of all.

Wednesday 24 December 2014

Housekeeping - 1st Week of Lent

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

22 February 2015 - 1st Sunday of Lent Year B
23 February 2015 - Monday of the 1st Week of Lent
24 February 2015 - Tuesday of the 1st Week of Lent
25 February 2015 - Wednesday of the 1st Week of Lent
26 February 2015 - Thursday of the 1st Week of Lent
27 February 2015 - Friday of the 1st Week of Lent

Friday of the 1st Week of Lent

Each and every one of us have been given different choices throughout our lives. Ultimately, we are responsible and accountable for the choices we make. This also includes the choices we make on how we wish to live. We can choose to live as good Christians, observing humbly, consistently and joyfully God's command to love God and neighbour; or we can choose to live a worldly life, caring only for oneself and living a life away from God's loving care. Whatever the choice we make, we should be aware of the consequences and be prepared to face them.

One choice we make is mentioned in today's reading. In the reading, we choose whether we wish to be a wicked man or an upright man. It may seem obvious that most of us would want to be an upright man, but the reality is that there are people who think that they are upright but from their attitude, behaviour and actions, they are actually leaning more towards being wicked. How so? The reading tells us how a wicked man would live: "If the wicked man renounces all the sins he has committed, respects my laws and is law-abiding and honest, he will certainly live; he will not die. All the sins he committed will be forgotten from then on; he shall live because of the integrity he has practised." The reading also tells us how an upright man would die: "But if the upright man renounces his integrity, commits sin, copies the wicked man and practises every kind of filth, is he to live? All the integrity he has practised shall be forgotten from then on; but this is because he himself has broken faith and committed sin, and for this he shall die."

Ultimately, as the reading reminds us: "When the upright man renounces his integrity to commit sin and dies because of this, he dies because of the evil that he himself has committed. When the sinner renounces sin to become law-abiding and honest, he deserves to live. He has chosen to renounce all his previous sins; he shall certainly live; he shall not die." The question we need to ask ourselves is this: we call ourselves upright and we believe that we are so, but are we truly and consistently living an upright life? Let us be honest with ourselves and discover where we stand, so that we can do what is necessary and return to the Lord's ways, and live, not die.

Tuesday 23 December 2014

Thursday of the 1st Week of Lent

There are times in life we may have bitten off more than we could chew. We think we can handle such things or situations, thinking that we are more than capable and do not need any help, even help from God. However, we sometimes get ourselves into a sticky, challenging or dangerous situation which we may find it difficult to get out of. When this happens, are we still going to stick to our guns, remain proud and try to work things out on our own? Or are we willing to humble ourselves and seek help from others and from God?

In today's reading, we come across Queen Esther who "took refuge with the Lord in the mortal peril which had overtaken her. She besought the Lord God of Israel..." Despite facing great danger or peril, Queen Esther was humble and willing to seek God's help and leave her fate in God's hands. What about us? Are we willing to follow Queen Esther's example and leave it in the hands of the Lord? Are we able to set aside our pride and let God be in control?

Wednesday of the 1st Week of Lent

How many of us really take our spiritual life or spiritual condition seriously? When was the last time you went for confession? How often do you go for Mass, seek spiritual direction, perform an examination of conscience, read the bible, pray, meditate, perform merciful acts of charity and other spiritual acts which help us grow in relationship with God? When we seem young, healthy, full of life and seem to have many things going good for us, some of us may have become preoccupied with enjoying life and striving to make a name for ourselves here on earth; but as we become more and more busy with earthly things, we may become more and more complacent or even indifferent with eternal things.

In today's reading, the people of Nineveh were warned by Jonah that their city was going to be destroyed after 40 days. Though their city was tremendously huge and took 3 days to cross it, everything would be wiped out. So what did the Ninevites and their king do? Did they scoff at such a warning and go about merrily with their lives? No. The Ninevites and their king proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, making effort to renounce their evil behaviour and the wicked things they had done. As a result, the reading tells us: "God saw their efforts to renounce their evil behaviour, and God relented: he did not inflict on them the disaster which he had threatened."

What about us? Are we still being complacent and continuing merrily with our lives? Are we aware of the state or condition of our soul? Let us not be caught off-guard and jeopardise our eternal future, but be proactive and make every effort to grow closer with God.

Sunday 21 December 2014

Tuesday of the 1st Week of Lent

Pride and ego are two things which we are often reminded to watch out for as we journey in this life. As Christians, we are cautioned not to allow pride and ego to fester in our minds and hearts, since many other sins have been committed in one way or another due to our pride and our ego. One area which some of us may be struggling to change and improve on is "forgiveness." Our pride and ego sometimes gets in the way, distorting our minds into thinking only of the unfairness, the hurt, the anger, the frustration and the giving up on the other person who has wronged us. We begin to think: "poor me" or "I am the victim, so why should I forgive so easily." But is this the kind of attitude that befits the life of a Christian?

In today's Gospel, Jesus taught us how to pray. In the "Lord's Prayer" or the "Our Father," we pray: "forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven those who are in debt to us." Do we realise what these words mean? Our pride and ego blinds us to the fact that forgiveness is not just a one way street. All of us have fallen in one way or another, we are not perfect and we make mistakes. We ask God to forgive us when we are at fault, but have we learnt to be humble and willing to forgive others as well? Let us take heed of what the Gospel warns us: "Yes, if you forgive others their failings, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours; but if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your failings either."

Monday of the 1st Week of Lent

Whenever we are faced with difficult people or difficult situations, what do we do? Some of us may choose the easy path, though at times, that easy path may not necessarily be a good choice or even a wise choice for us and for the other person. Some of us may choose not to get involved and avoid the person altogether, thinking that it is better to avoid conflict and remain neutral and supposingly peaceful. But what should we as Christians do?

Perhaps the key to what we as Christians should do can be found in today's reading. The reading can be summarised into two important sentences: "Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy" and "You must love your neighbour as yourself." Instead of focusing too much on the minute details about what we should or should not do, some of which are mentioned in today's reading, let us ask ourselves sincerely: are we loving others as much as we love God and also as much as we love ourselves? Sometimes difficult people or difficult situations are there to teach us what it means to love, since we are loving not because it is convenient or beneficial to us, but because we choose to love just as God loves all and cares for all. Let us thus make every effort to remain holy and dependent on God, and follow God's example in being loving towards all.

Saturday 20 December 2014

1st Sunday of Lent Year B

Many of us can survive for some time without food, but how many of us can survive for a certain period of time without water? Our bodies are composed of quite a lot of water, and as we lose water through various ways, we need to replenish the water lost. Thus, water is essential to all life. We need water to drink, to cook, to clean ourselves, to wash our clothes and other things, to enable our trees, vegetables, flowers and other kinds of plants to grow and become fruitful, and even for animals both wild and tame to live and prosper. Most of us don't give much thought to or appreciate the need for water, but when we are deprived of water due to shortage and rationing, due to maintenance or repairs to the pipes, or due to some other reason, then we begin to realise how important water really is.

When we look at water, we realise that too little water is not a good thing. On the other hand, too much water is also not a good thing. Why so? Too much water could cause damage to crops and cause food prices to escalate. Too much water could also cause floods and even tsunamis which have happened in recent times and caused great destruction and lost of life. But if we ponder for a while, we can begin to realise that just as water can kill, it can also bring life.

Water seems to be the common theme in today's readings. In the first and second reading, we read of the flood waters which destroyed most of life on earth. In the gospel, we read of the Spirit driving Jesus into the wilderness, where water is scarce. When we look at the readings, we can see how too much water and too little water could be a bad thing. Too much water in the form of the flood waters caused death and destruction. Too little water caused much hardship and challenges to Jesus during His 40 days of being tempted by Satan in the wilderness. At the same time, we can also discover that the destructive power of water leads to salvation. In the story of Noah, God promises Noah that he will never destroy the world again with flood waters. At the end of Jesus’ experience in the desert, He proclaimed the Good News to all, with a message that will quench the thirst of everyone who long for the kingdom of God.

What about us? How does water affect us as we go through this season of Lent? During this season of Lent, water reminds us of our need for conversion and repentance, where we must die to our old ways of selfishness and sinfulness in the flood waters of purification; we must purify our intentions and face our temptations with courage, hope and trust, as we journey with Jesus into the wilderness of our lives. Water reminds us of our baptism and our constant need to remain "hydrated" with the Lord, as the second reading tells us: "That water is a type of the baptism which saves you now, and which is not the washing off of physical dirt but a pledge made to God from a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ..." Let us therefore take courage, knowing that we can continue to hope and trust in Jesus, as the second reading assures us: "Christ himself, innocent though he was, had died once for sins, died for the guilty, to lead us to God."

Thursday 18 December 2014

Housekeeping - Week 6 Year 1

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

15 February 2015 - 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
16 February 2015 - Monday of Week 6 Year1
17 February 2015 - Tuesday of Week 6 Year1
18 February 2015 - Ash Wednesday
19 February 2015 - Thursday after Ash Wednesday
20 February 2015 - Friday after Ash Wednesday

Friday after Ash Wednesday

Today's readings speak of a common theme and that theme is "fasting." When we speak of fasting, some of us may begin to assume that it means not taking certain food or drink; or not eating a particular meal; or even not eating for a certain period of time (such as from dawn to dusk). But is that the kind of fasting we are supposed to do?

In today's reading, we are told 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 supposingly fast from food or drink without love, without right conduct and without right action, we are merely making a mockery out of fasting. If this is what we do, then why fast in the first place? Are we trying to win a popularity contest or something? Do we expect others to see us fasting for our own personal gratification, while we continue to put on a sad or monkey face, but at the same time be nasty or ruthless in our behaviour and conduct?

Instead, the reading tells us about the right way to fast: "Is not this the sort of fast that pleases me, to break unjust fetters and undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke, to share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor, to clothe the man you see to be naked and not turn from your own kin?" When we fast with love, mercy and compassion, the reading tells us: "Then will your light shine like the dawn and your wound be quickly healed over." Let us not be hypocrites in fasting only to win recognition and admiration among men, but do what is pleasing to God.

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

It is quite easy for some to become distracted and caught up with so many things this world has to offer. Wealth, property, popularity, fame, recognition, power and prestige are some of the attractions which could lure us away from our true purpose and our true goal. The world gives us the impression that these things are what matters and some may fail to open their eyes and discover the illusion and impermanence of all these temporal things.

In today's Gospel, we see a contrast between the ways of the world and the ways of God. If we want to grow closer to God, Jesus reminds us in the Gospel: "If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me. 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?" The question we need to ask ourselves truthfully is this: are we seeking an eternity of happiness, or an eternity of ruin? We say that we want happiness, but what are we doing to arrive at such happiness? Are we willing to lose it all on this earth for eternal rewards? Let us choose wisely and make the necessary preparations for what ultimately really matters.

Tuesday 16 December 2014

Ash Wednesday

Many things that we see around us may seem beautiful, pleasing to see, or attractive, but when these things are burnt, the only thing left are ashes. No matter how grand, stylo milo, or shockalingam the item or even a person may appear, all of these will no longer be identifiable once reduced to ashes. Many of us would normally not want to have anything to do with ashes, since such ashes are merely dust. But when we look at ashes through the eyes of faith, we begin to see its true value. Ashes remind us that everything that we own, every relationship that we cherish, are impermanent. Ashes also remind us of our mortality and we should not only focus on things and people here on earth, since all of these will eventually disappear, all of these will return to dust.

Today we celebrate Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of the season of Lent. For us Christians, ash is used as a sign of penance. Each of us may come from different backgrounds, different ethnic groups or even different social status, but no matter who you are or where you come from, all are invited to come forward to place ashes on your forehead, all are equally sinners in need of salvation. In this way, we are all equal in the eyes of God; we all require forgiveness and redemption.

This season of Lent is an opportunity for us to die to sin; to die to its illusions, its lies. Sin misguides us into thinking that we only need to think of ourselves. Sin lures us with the ways of the world and blinds us to the ways of God. Instead of giving into sin, our focus should now be turned toward God. In God, we shall discover our true worth and our true purpose, and we will find our resting place and our true home. Thus, in this season of Lent, let us increase our efforts to examine our lives and turn back to God and depend on His providence. Let us heed the call to "turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel."

Monday 15 December 2014

Tuesday of Week 6 Year 1

Yeast is a useful substance which enables bread to expand and rise, making the bread more pleasing to look at and eat once baked. A little yeast can cause a small lump of dough to become a much larger loaf. Just a little of it affects everything. In today's Gospel, Jesus warned us of a "yeast" that was both religious and political which we should be on our guard against. This "yeast" could be translated as "attitude"; and the "attitude" or "yeast" of the Pharisees and the "attitude" or "yeast"of Herod could corrupt one’s whole "attitude" as a Christian.

The problem with the Pharisees is not that they were bad people, but they tended to think only those like them had any value in the sight of God. The yeast of the Pharisees is narrow-minded religious exclusivism. It is an attitude that says only those who believe and behave like us are saved, everyone else is damned or are of no consequence. The yeast of the Pharisees makes people more concerned about who is 'in' and who is 'out' instead of doing the will of God. It makes people continually compare themselves over others and makes them think that they are ok and everyone else is not.

The "yeast" of Herod, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of the Pharisees. Herod was a friend with the Romans since it was the Romans who kept him in power. For him, the important thing was to keep the status quo as it was, since it favoured him. Herod was prepared to make any number of accommodations, and was prepared to water down the Jewish faith to suit his purposes. Herod was only interested in preserving His political power, and was not the least bit interested in doing the will of God.

What about us? Have we been corrupted or infected with the "yeast" of the Pharisees and the "yeast" of Herod? Have we been behaving as religious extremists, thinking that our beliefs and way of doing things is the only way and everyone else who does not follow our way to the minute detail are condemned to hell? Or have we become so worldly in our behaviour and conduct, only interested in protecting our power, position and prestige, and watering down our faith or even totally ignoring the ways of God? When we allow ourselves to be infected with such "yeast", either by falling into the "yeast" of the Pharisees, or by falling into the "yeast" of Herod, we would have lost the true meaning of being a Christian, since our focus is no longer in doing the will of God and doing all for the greater glory of God, but our focus has become one of personal gratification and personal glorification.

Monday of Week 6 Year 1

When we offer our services or talents to others, do we expect something in return? Some of us may expect others to be grateful to us; some of us may expect others to be nice to us or treat us favourably in return (like a "I scratch your back, you scratch mine" mentality); some of us may begin to feel proud, thinking that our ability to offer such services or talents is due to our own effort or our own capabilities. But what if we do not get a favourable response or the kind of response we expect from the other person; or the other person seems not grateful or thankful to us, or the other person does not respond in any way whatsoever? Would we become angry, upset, or fed up towards others? Or would we be humble enough to offer all we have done to God and give Him the glory?

In today's reading, we come across two brothers, Cain and Abel. The reading tells us: "The Lord looked with favour on Abel and his offering. But he did not look with favour on Cain and his offering, and Cain was very angry and downcast. The Lord asked Cain, '‘Why are you angry and downcast? If you are well disposed, ought you not to lift up your head? But if you are ill disposed, is not sin at the door like a crouching beast hungering for you, which you must master?'" Cain was angry and jealous because his brother Abel had received the Lord's favour. As a result, in a fit of rage, Cain killed Abel and tried to cover up the deed or pretend he did not know anything about it. But as we know, we can run but we cannot hide; we can pretend but God sees and knows all we have done, even if we have been able to prevent others from knowing the truth. The question we need to ask ourselves is this: are we offering our gifts, our services or talents for the glory of God and to build His Kingdom? Or are we doing things just to please others, to show off, to look good, and possibly for our own personal gratification and to build our own kingdom?

Friday 12 December 2014

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

What does it mean to be treated as an outcast or to be ostracised from society? Have you ever experienced being treated as an outcast, ostracised or excluded from a group, a community or even from society? Many of us may have had the privilege of not having to experience such a thing, but there are some who go through this ordeal daily. Such people are treated this way due to a number of reasons: a person could have committed a crime so heinous or horrible that the person is locked away from others for the so called good of society; or a person could be infected with an extremely contagious or dangerous disease, that it is safer and better for such a person to be separated from others to avoid any further infection to others around the person or even to avoid an epidemic. One such disease which could cause a person to be ostracised is leprosy.

Most of us yearn for a good, happy and healthy relationship and companionship with our friends, our family and our loved ones. However, if one is stricken with leprosy, such a relationship and companionship may not be possible so long as the disease is still existing with the person. Leprosy is curable with the help of modern medicine, and people infected with the disease and are on proper medication could live a normal lifestyle. However, lepers in ancient times, including those during the time of Jesus, were not so lucky. Fear and prejudice led them to being treated with contempt and scorn as some people wrongly thought that they had become lepers because they had committed some great sin. Some lepers may even have felt isolated from God as they could not attend the synagogue services or visit the Temple at Jerusalem. Thus, the only company that they would have had would have been with other lepers.

The leper in today's Gospel could have felt tremendous emotional and physical pain due to his condition. He would have had to live away from others, as the first reading tells us: "The man is leprous: he is unclean. The priest must declare him unclean; he is suffering from leprosy of the head. A man infected with leprosy must wear his clothing torn and his hair disordered; he must shield his upper lip and cry, “Unclean, unclean.” As long as the disease lasts he must be unclean; and therefore he must live apart: he must live outside the camp." Can you imagine being called "unclean"? What a demeaning or insulting title! But that was what this leper had to go through. In desperation, he hoped that Jesus would cure him and release him from his predicament. And that is exactly what Jesus did; He cured the leper and gave him back his freedom: the man could come out of his isolation and be reunited with his loved ones and with society. The cured man could have been so delighted and excited about being cured, that he defied Jesus' stern order: "Mind you say nothing to anyone, but go and show yourself to the priest, and make the offering for your healing prescribed by Moses as evidence of your recovery." Instead, he started telling everyone about Jesus.

Today, we have many "lepers" in our midst. Do we know who they are? Have we thought about how we can bring Jesus' healing presence to them? These "lepers" may not necessarily be suffering from leprosy, but they may be suffering a similar fate like lepers because of a number of reasons: they could be isolated, lonely and confined to their homes due to sickness or old age; they could be rejected by society due to prejudice and fear because they are suffering from some infectious disease or from some perceive as a dangerous and contagious disease or even from AIDS; they could have isolated themselves because of grief or poor self-esteem; or they could be migrants or even others suffering from ridicule or isolation due to language difficulties, prejudice and poverty. As Christians, we need to come out of our comfort zones, our pride and prejudice, and our fear, and reach out to these many "lepers" around us. Let us bring Jesus to them, and do our part in showing them God's compassion, love, and mercy.

Wednesday 10 December 2014

Housekeeping - Week 5 Year 1

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

8 February 2015 - 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
9 February 2015 - Monday of Week 5 Year1
10 February 2015 - Tuesday of Week 5 Year1
11 February 2015 - Wednesday of Week 5 Year1
12 February 2015 - Thursday of Week 5 Year1
13 February 2015 - Friday of Week 5 Year 1

Friday of Week 5 Year 1

Some of us may be quite easily duped or tempted into doing something wrong, especially when the reward or prize seems to be quite lucrative. Mr. S. A. Tan is quite clever and adept in knowing our weaknesses, and he would find ways and means to try and distract us and tempt us into committing such acts by feeding our ego, our pride and our selfishness.

In today's reading, this is exactly what happened. Mr. S. A. Tan, in the form of a serpent, tempted the woman to eat the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. He assured the woman: "No! You will not die! God knows in fact that on the day you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil." Such lies and deceitful words, and yet both the man and woman were equally guilty in falling into Mr. S. A. Tan's trap by eating the fruit.

What about us? Do we have a weakness which Mr. S. A. Tan is trying to exploit to tempt us into sinning? Are we making efforts to resist and are we seeking God's help fervently and humbly? Sometimes we try to fight such temptations on our own, but we must remember that our foe is not just some ordinary being. If we are to overcome such a foe, we need to remain in good relationship with God and continuously seek His help, guidance and protection. Let us not play play with such a dangerous and deadly foe, since it is only with God's grace and strength that we have the means to avoid his poisonous and deadly attacks.

Tuesday 9 December 2014

Thursday of Week 5 Year 1

Many of us are so used to getting things done quickly. Some of us complain when there is a traffic jam and we fume while we wait for the vehicles in front of us to hurry up and go. Some of us get agitated when the internet is slow, even if it is only for a little while due to some issue that is being addressed. At work, some of us may have experienced our boss breathing down our necks, expecting us to complete a task or report quickly. Some of us may have become quite impatient with certain family members or with our children, when they take time to get dressed or when they seem slow in finishing a meal. It seems like as we become more and more modernised and progressive, we may have become more and more impatient and demanding. Life, for some, could be quite stressful, when others expect us to hurry and we in turn expect others to do the same.

However, when it comes to our prayer life and communication with God, we are reminded that God does not follow our rules or our ways. When we ask something from God, He does not always grant it to us immediately, pronto, expresso. Sometimes, we find ourselves having to wait, since ultimately, God decides what is best for us. When we don't get what we want or ask for, how many of us are humble and willing to be patient and persistent in our prayer? Would we become impatient and start looking elsewhere to get what we want?

In today's Gospel, we come across a Syrophoenician pagan woman who begged Jesus to cast the devil out of her daughter. Even though Jesus did not seem to immediately grant her her wish, she was humble enough to be patient and persistent in begging Jesus for His help. In the end, due to her immense faith in Jesus, Jesus granted her her wish. What about us? In a world which is becoming more and more obsessed in frantically rushing through things and tasks, are we willing to be patient and persistent in our prayer and in seeking God's help? Let us maintain full trust and confidence in God, knowing that He will guide us and care for us.

Wednesday of Week 5 Year 1

We sometimes come across people who have taken certain God's laws such as dietary laws to the extreme. Such people begin to focus more on whether it is "kosher or not" to eat something, or whether it is "halal or haram" (Malay for 'allowed or forbidden to be eaten.') But what some of these people may fail to realise is that by focusing so much on such dietary laws, they may neglect, ignore or fail to observe more important aspects of God's laws such as love, mercy, compassion, justice, fairness and many others. They may appear to be pious in what can or cannot be consumed, or even how they look in public, only to be hypocritical in their behaviour and conduct.

In today's Gospel, Jesus reminds us: "Can you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot make him unclean, because it does not go into his heart but through his stomach and passes out into the sewer? It is what comes out of a man that makes him unclean. For it is from within, from men’s hearts, that evil intentions emerge: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within and make a man unclean." Are some of us only concerned about the externals and choose to behave as we please? Some of us may appear to be holy, but our hearts may be twisted or hide nasty or cruel intentions. Let us take heed and be honest with ourselves, and make every effort to shy away from all that drives us away from our relationship with our loving God.

Monday 8 December 2014

Tuesday of Week 5 Year 1

How much do we love God? Some of us say that we love God a lot. But what about others? Do we love others as much as we love God? Do we follow God's commandments in loving God and loving others? How many of us can claim to be truly loving God and others? Or could we be guilty of loving God and others when it is beneficial or convenient to us?

In today's Gospel, we come across the Pharisees and some of the scribes who thought that loving God means following their traditions and way of life. These people were so extreme in following their own rules and regulations, so much so that they were even willing to circumvent or bypass the true meaning of God's laws, for the convenience and observance of their own. This is why Jesus scolded them when He exclaimed: "It was of you hypocrites that Isaiah so rightly prophesied in this passage of scripture: This people honours me only with lip-service, while their hearts are far from me. The worship they offer me is worthless, the doctrines they teach are only human regulations. You put aside the commandment of God to cling to human traditions."

What about us? Are we just as guilty in making up laws and regulations which befits us, and make God’s word null and void for the sake of our tradition which we have handed down? Let us be mindful and careful not to become like these Pharisees and scribes, who do things only to appear to be good and holy. Let us instead follow the example of Jesus, who loves us all and does all things for the greater glory of God.

Monday of Week 5 Year 1

It seems strange and unfortunate that we sometimes come across some people with quite low self-esteem. Such people think that they are not good, or hopeless, or worthless, or lacking in one way or another. When a person has got low self-esteem, such a person may try to cover it up by bearing down at others, in an attempt to hide their true self and possibly to boost their ego. Some people with low self-esteem may try to put the blame on others, thinking that they have gotten to such a state because of others. Some keep to themselves and prefer to lick their wounds and remain in their present state, rather than making effort to do something about it. Some even try to show off to others how good they seem to be, hoping to gain some popularity or recognition from others, in an attempt ot hide their low self-esteem. The question is: are we not aware of how important and valuable we are? Do we not know that we are made in the image and likeness of God, and thus we should have no reason and no excuse to belittle ourselves and remain in such a state?

In today's reading, we are reminded that whatever God had made, "God saw that it was good." If that is the case, then each and every one of us is good, because God does not make mistakes. We are good in different ways, as each and every one of us are made to be different, to be special, to be unique. Thus, let us put aside our fears, our worries, our low self-esteem, and continue to do our best and shine, so that in all we do, we bring glory to God.

Wednesday 3 December 2014

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

What is your purpose in life? Have you even wondered why you are here on this earth? Why are you working in a particular job or performing certain tasks? Are the things we are doing, sometimes routine tasks, all there is to life? Some may feel as if life is becoming more and more of a drudgery, and they feel more and more disillusioned and tired of doing the same things over and over again. Those who feel this way may identify with Job in today's first reading, where he lamented: "Is not man’s life on earth nothing more than pressed service, his time no better than hired drudgery?" The danger we have to watch out for is when we allow ourselves to begin to feel as if our lives no longer have any purpose and any direction. When we allow ourselves to feel this way, some of us may begin to contemplate suicide, thinking that life is no longer worth living, has no purpose, and there seems to be no more reason for us to carry on.

However, today's readings actually give us a significant reason and purpose for living; and that purpose is God. We live because we believe in God and seek to maintain a close relationship with Him: in good times or in bad, in all that we do, in our efforts to do good and avoid evil; all these mean something special and matter only because we believe that God will be our providence and guide. In the Gospel, Jesus could have easily been carried away with doing wonderful work and helping so many people. He could have been tempted to continue doing this good work with the excuse that he was doing it out of love and compassion for the people. But was this God's will? No. Jesus was aware that his mission was to preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God to other neighbouring country towns also, not just settle down at one place. What He wanted to do personally wasn’t important. The only thing that mattered was the will of God: and that is to preach the kingdom of God and to glorify God. Likewise, St. Paul knew of his life purpose to preach the gospel, as he tells us in the secong reading: "I do not boast of preaching the gospel, since it is a duty which has been laid on me; I should be punished if I did not preach it! If I had chosen this work myself, I might have been paid for it, but as I have not, it is a responsibility which has been put into my hands." This too is our mission and our purpose in life, that is: in all things, to glorify God.

Some of us think that the devil would tempt us into doing something which is bad or evil. However, this is not always the case. The devil could also tempt us into doing something which seems good, and when we do so, some of us may begin to think that without us, the task at hand would collapse. We begin to do things for our own personal gratification, for our own popularity, to feed our ego. We begin to drift away from our true purpose: that is to preach the Good News and to glorify God in all we do. We become more concerned with what others think of us; and so we do things that we hope would make them like us. We become more concerned with what makes us happy, even though that happiness is only temporary; whether it be riches, popularity or power. If our life purpose is based on these factors rather than God, we will soon find ourselves disillusioned and tired.

Thus, let us always remember that we have a purpose in life, and that is to preach the Good News and to glorify God. Let us continue to strive towards building God's Kingdom and not our own, as we beseech God to help and guide us; as we hear the words of the "collect" or opening prayer: "Keep your family safe, O Lord, with unfailing care, that, relying solely on the hope of heavenly grace, they may be defended always by your protection."

Tuesday 2 December 2014

Housekeeping - Week 4 Year 1

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

1 February 2015 - 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
2 February 2015 - Presentation of the Lord
3 February 2015 - Tuesday of Week 4 Year1
4 February 2015 - Wednesday of Week 4 Year1
5 February 2015 - Thursday of Week 4 Year1
6 February 2015 - Friday of Week 4 Year 1

Friday of Week 4 Year 1

When a stranger comes to church, do we welcome him or her and make him or her feel at home? Or do we mind our own business and carry on with our prayers or with whatever task we are doing? What if a stranger were to come to our home, would we be welcoming or hospitable towards the stranger; or would we be suspicious of the stranger, since we may have heard of horror stories of robberies or other unpleasant situations; or would we pretend not to be at home, hoping that the stranger would go away? What about those who are in prison or those who have been abused or badly treated? What have we done for them? Notice that these scenarios point to our duty to love others just as God loves us. It is easy to say we love God, since we do not see Him, but would we be just as generous in our love towards others, not just in words, but also in deeds?

In today's reading, we are reminded: "Continue to love each other like brothers, and remember always to welcome strangers, for by doing this, some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Keep in mind those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; and those who are being badly treated, since you too are in the one body. Marriage is to be honoured by all, and marriages are to be kept undefiled, because fornicators and adulterers will come under God’s judgement. Put greed out of your lives and be content with whatever you have; God himself has said: I will not fail you or desert you, and so we can say with confidence: With the Lord to help me, I fear nothing: what can man do to me?"

We call ourselves Christians and we believe that God would provide for us. But what are we doing or what have we done to provide for others? Are we making effort to love and care for others just as God is loving to all? Or has our love become a selfish love, only focusing on ourselves and perhaps on our loved ones?

Monday 1 December 2014

Thursday of Week 4 Year 1

If we are given an important task in our job, would we get to work immediately, or would we take things easy and procrastinate, thinking that the task could wait, no matter how urgent it may be? Quite likely we would get to work quickly, as our livelihood may be at stake, and we would want to make a good impression on our bosses or superiors, hoping that we would get a promotion or better pay. We certainly would not want to jeopardise our future by being lazy or complacent.

However, if it is Jesus calling us to perform an important task, how would we respond? In today's reading: "Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out in pairs giving them authority over the unclean spirits. And he instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no haversack, no coppers for their purses. They were to wear sandals but, he added, ‘Do not take a spare tunic.’ And he said to them, ‘If you enter a house anywhere, stay there until you leave the district. And if any place does not welcome you and people refuse to listen to you, as you walk away shake off the dust from under your feet as a sign to them.’" We can see the urgency and gravity of the task Jesus had given to the Twelve, and they had to go forth quickly and not be concerned or saddled with things which could hinder them from performing the task. Would we be willing to follow the Twelve's example and perform the task quickly, as our eternal future may be at stake, or would we still procrastinate and remain complacent, thinking that we have more important things to do?

Wednesday of Week 4 Year 1

Suffering is part and parcel of life. Before we were born, our mothers suffered labour pains and the pangs of childbirth. As we were growing up, we suffered growth pains such as our first attempts to walk only to fall down, possibly bump our heads or bottoms and cry, and then try again; the pain of our first teeth coming out, and we may have developed a fever and experienced great discomfort; and even the pain due to the consequence of our curiosity of touching something we should not be touching. We also suffered lost relationships such as the death of a loved one or when a loved one left us due to one reason or another. Indeed, we cannot avoid suffering, but what is more important is how we treat suffering. We could see suffering as a good or positive thing; or we could see it as a bad or negative thing.

In today's reading, we are reminded of the necessity and advantages of suffering. We are told: "Have you forgotten that encouraging text in which you are addressed as sons? My son, when the Lord corrects you, do not treat it lightly; but do not get discouraged when he reprimands you. For the Lord trains the ones that he loves and he punishes all those that he acknowledges as his sons. Suffering is part of your training; God is treating you as his sons. Has there ever been any son whose father did not train him? Of course, any punishment is most painful at the time, and far from pleasant; but later, in those on whom it has been used, it bears fruit in peace and goodness. So hold up your limp arms and steady your trembling knees and smooth out the path you tread; then the injured limb will not be wrenched, it will grow strong again."

We are all treated as sons and daughters of God, and when we suffer punishment from God, it is not because God does not like us or is out to get us. We are being trained to become better people, and we are growing closer to God. In this way, suffering ought to be seen as something good and worthwhile, for we are being prepared to remain happy and cared for in God's loving presence.