Saturday 28 February 2015

Thursday of Week 9 Year 1

As Christians, we sometimes miss the point of what the commandments of God really mean. Some of us say that we love God "with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength." But some of us seem to forget that there is more to God's commandments than just loving God. Loving God appears to be the easy part, but is that it? No. There is a second part and that is to "love your neighbour as yourself." Are we aware of this and if so, are we really, truly and consistently loving God and neighbour?

In today's Gospel, the scribe was quite impressed with Jesus' reply and said: "'Well spoken, Master; what you have said is true: that he is one and there is no other. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself, this is far more important than any holocaust or sacrifice." That is what the commandments are all about: loving God and loving neighbour. We cannot pick and choose, as we are required to love both God and neighbour completely. If we say that we love God, and have arguments or problems with our neighbour, then we are actually not really loving, since loving God and neighbour cannot be separated. After all, we are reminded in Genesis 1:26-27 that we are made in the image of God. This does not mean that we are gods, but that we are godlike or connected to God. So, if we say we love God, then we must love others, since loving others means we are loving God too. See the connection? That is why it is not so easy to love, since love involves both God and neighbour. Are we really loving then? Or have we been loving only when it is easy, beneficial or convenient to us?

Wednesday of Week 9 Year 1

Is this life on earth all there is? Or do some of us believe that life continues as usual even after life here on earth has ended? It seems that there are people who believe that this life is all there is and they would try to maximise their pleasure and enjoyment of this life as much as possible, because they think that death is the end, they cease to exist, there is nothing else after that, life is finished, they are history, finito. On the other hand, some people believe they would continue the ways of this life when death comes. We have seen how the pharoahs of ancient Egypt were buried with their possessions, wealth and even personnel, as they thought that they would continue living life as usual after death, but as we have seen, the tombs of the pharoahs have been looted, their wealth and possessions sold, and some of their mummified bodies can now be seen in museums in some part of the world. But what sort of life do we Christians believe in?

In today's Gospel, we come across the Sadducees (an older padre once remarked that the Sadducees are also known as "Sad U see") who did not believe in life after death or the resurrection. Because of their way of thinking, they became preoccupied with living only life on earth and were convinced that should there be life after this life on earth, there would be confusion and chaos, as mentioned concerning the woman and her seven husbands. But Jesus replied: "Is not the reason why you go wrong, that you understand neither the scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, men and women do not marry; no, they are like the angels in heaven. Now about the dead rising again, have you never read in the Book of Moses, in the passage about the Bush, how God spoke to him and said: I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob? He is God, not of the dead, but of the living. You are very much mistaken."

Jesus was basically saying: wake up, there is more to life than here on earth, and our life is ultimately to be with God. Life with God is not merely a continuation of life on earth, since life with God is far better and far more satisfying than anything here on earth. That is why we need to make every effort to be in good relationship with God, so that we would later be with Him in eternity. Are we making effort today to grow in our relationship with God?

Friday 27 February 2015

Tuesday of Week 9 Year 1

In some ways, we really need to hand it to the scribes, Pharisees and chief priests, because their immense jealousy and hatred towards Jesus simply shows how we humans can sometimes degrade ourselves into committing all sorts of despicable and foolish acts. Pride and ego can colour our vision, and blind us from what is true, what is proper and just, what is truly holy and what is fair; just because we want to win at all costs, and we want to save face. At the end of the day, does it really matter? Actually, no. But some do not see it this way and stubbornly and vehemently insist in keeping to their ways and protecting their interests. But this is where some fail to realise that everything that we do, and everything that we have, be it wealth, fame, titles, recognition or whatever, is merely temporary and cannot be brought with us when we die.

In today's Gospel, we see a classic example of how silly the scribes, Pharisees and the chief priests were behaving. Already they had tensions and serious disagreements with the Herodians, but when it comes to a common so called enemy (Jesus, in this case), they are willing to forgo their principles just to find a solution to get rid of Jesus. Their hypocrisy showed quite clearly when they asked the question: "Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay, yes or no?" These people asked not because they wanted to know, but because their intention (or in Bahasa Malaysia, "niat") was merely to trap Jesus. Jesus answer: 'Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar - and to God what belongs to God.' took them completely by surprise. But if we look deeper into Jesus' reply, we can discover that Jesus was actually making fun of these folks. Does anything really belong to Caesar? No! Ultimately, everything actually belongs to God, whether we are willing to admit it or not. So the question these folks had asked was actually a non-question, but their jealousy and hatred towards Jesus blinded them to what is evidently truth.

When we look at our lives, have we become more like the scribes, Pharisees and the chief priests or even the Herodians, in the way we conduct ourselves and the way we treat others? Have we forgotten who we are? Let us be mindful and check ourselves from falling into the abyss of hypocrisy, lest we lose ourselves and lost sight of our eternal goal.

Monday of Week 9 Year 1

Most of us would not have experienced major persecution or face danger to our lives. Most of us have some freedom to practise our faith and share our faith with others. During such times, we may sometimes become complacent and used to the peace and prosperity. But let us consider for a moment, if we were living in exile in some strange land, constantly facing danger of being caught and executed for our faith, what would we do? Would we stay strong to our faith, come what may? Or would we abandon our faith to save our skin?

In today's reading, we come across Tobit who said: "I, Tobit, have walked in paths of truth and in good works all the days of my life. I have given much in alms to my brothers and fellow countrymen, exiled like me to Nineveh in the country of Assyria." Even though Tobit was in exile in Nineveh, and even though the environment in Nineveh was hostile to Tobit and people of the same faith as him, Tobit was not afraid to practise his faith and be charitable to others. Upon discovering that a fellow countryman had been murdered and left at the market place, Tobit was willing to show solidarity with his brothers and fellow countrymen by taking away and burying the murdered countryman. Some of his neigbours even laughed and said, 'See! He is not afraid any more.' But Tobit was not affected by their taunts and went about doing charity to ensure that the murdered brother be given a decent burial.

Tobit was willing to take risks and put his life on the line, to show his faith. What about us? Are we willing to do the same, even in the midst of severe persecution? It is easy to say that we have faith and keep to ourselves, but as James reminds us in his Epistle: "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works (James 2:14-18). Are we saying that we have faith only in mere words and nothing more? Or are we making effort to show our faith fearlessly?

Thursday 26 February 2015

Trinity Sunday

The mystery of the Trinity: God is Father; God is Son; God is Holy Spirit. How do we understand this? Humanly speaking, we cannot fully explain the Trinity, since the Trinity is a mystery as the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it: "The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the "hierarchy of the truths of faith". The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way and the means by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to men "and reconciles and unites with himself those who turn away from sin". (CCC 234)" Moreover, "The Trinity is a mystery of faith in the strict sense, one of the "mysteries that are hidden in God, which can never be known unless they are revealed by God". To be sure, God has left traces of his Trinitarian being in his work of creation and in his Revelation throughout the Old Testament. But his inmost Being as Holy Trinity is a mystery that is inaccessible to reason alone or even to Israel's faith before the Incarnation of God's Son and the sending of the Holy Spirit. (CCC237)"

Many of us often think of God as a distant and unapproachable God and not a person we can relate with. But the mystery of the Trinity gives us an opportunity to relate with God in three ways, because there are three persons united in one God. We are children of God the Father, as St. Paul in the second reading tells us: "The Spirit himself and our spirit bear united witness that we are children of God. And if we are children we are heirs as well: heirs of God and coheirs with Christ, sharing his sufferings so as to share his glory." We have Jesus, the Son of God, as our brother, and as our Saviour. Jesus is both God and man, and He gave up his own life on the cross to save us. Before Jesus left this world, He promised His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that dwells within us at our baptism and makes present the life of the Trinity in each person. God resides in each of us through the Holy Spirit.

And so we have the Trinity which is a very important mystery for us. Even though we may not fully understand this mystery, that is ok, since mysteries are not always easy to comprehend. It takes much time, faith and prayer to understand the mysteries of God, since our minds are limited. The Trinity is an example of perfect communion which we should learn to follow. By loving in a community, we would then be witnesses to others, that God is with us as a Trinity.

Wednesday 25 February 2015

Housekeeping - Pentecost & Week 8 Year 1

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

24 May 2015 - Pentecost - Mass of the Day
25 May 2015 - Monday of Week 8 Year 1
26 May 2015 - Tuesday of Week 8 Year 1
27 May 2015 - Wednesday of Week 8 Year 1
28 May 2015 - Thursday of Week 8 Year 1
29 May 2015 - Friday of Week 8 Year 1

Friday of Week 8 Year 1

Every once in a while, we come across people who claim that they are disciples or followers of Christ. But the fact is, are such people Christian only in name or are they really living fruitful lives as Christians? We can tell whether a person is really a Christian or not by the kind of fruits the person produces, since a person who is a Christian only in name would more often than not be living a life quite contrary to the values of the Gospel and the ways of Christ. We call such persons hypocrites, since they do not practice what they preach (or neglect or ignore what they learned about the Christian faith) and they do things only for show. Could some of us be guilty in this way?

In the Gospel, we come across Jesus cursing a fig tree which had no figs on it. Some of us may initially wonder whether Jesus was acting irrationally or weird, since the Gospel tells us that Jesus felt hungry and seemed annoyed that He could not find any figs, only leaves, since it was not the season for figs. However, if we look carefully at the text, we would discover that Jesus was actually using symbolic language to mean Israel, especially the scribes and Pharisees, who had so stubbornly held to their ways of doing things and their self-righteous behaviour and attitude, instead of repenting and returning to God's ways. This point was further reinforced when Jesus "went into the Temple and began driving out those who were selling and buying there; he upset the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those who were selling pigeons. Nor would he allow anyone to carry anything through the Temple. And he taught them and said, 'Does not scripture say: My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples? But you have turned it into a robbers' den.'" Instead of changing their ways, the scribes and Pharisees began to plot to get rid of Jesus, because to them, their traditions and customs were more important to them than following God's commandments. The Temple had become a place of profiteering and cheating, since buying and selling was being done there and many of those conducting such acts were more interested in making money, and not treating the Temple with proper reverence as the House of God. To make matters worse, the scribes, chief priests and Pharisees had no qualms about allowing such activities to continue and flourish in the Temple.

If we look at ourselves, have we in some way become like the scribes and Pharisees? Have we begun to stick only to our traditions and customs which we have formulated and followed, and set aside God's commandments, which is to love God and love neighbour? What sort of fruits have we really been producing? Have we been like the fig tree, which produces fruit only according to season, and at other times we can behave and do as we please? Let us be mindful, lest we end up like the fig tree, withered to the roots; because of our pride, prejudice, selfishness, lack of forgiveness, and stubbornness; as well as our refusal to truly, consistently and wholeheartedly do all things for the glory of God.

Tuesday 24 February 2015

Thursday of Week 8 Year 1

How persistent and consistent are we in asking God for help? Some of us may have asked for help, but we doubt whether God is really listening or willing to help us. Some of us may have asked for help, but we become so easily discouraged when we do not get results quickly or the kind of results expected. Some of us even think that God is not going to help us anyway no matter how hard we try, and we go for other forms of help like witch doctors, shamans, feng shui, or even some form of divination, thinking that we would have a better chance of getting the help we want and expect. But when we have such attitude or do such things, would we certainly be helped? More often than not, we would end up disillusioned, disappointed and disgusted. So how should we seek help from God?

In today's Gospel, we come across a blind beggar who was very determined to ask Jesus to heal him. Even though he was scolded and asked to keep quiet, he refused to give up. He shouted all the more louder, asking Jesus for help. When he was called to come to Jesus, notice in the Gospel that he threw off his cloak to go to Jesus. The cloak was his security, the only piece of clothing he had to warm himself, but even that he was willing to let go, so that he could get to Jesus. Because of his faith in Jesus, the blind beggar could see again, and what did he do? He followed Jesus along the road, for he had found new security and joy in Jesus.

What about us? Are we willing to let go of the many things we cling to which become like a cloak to us? Are we willing to cling to Jesus as our new security instead? Are we willing to have faith in Jesus so that he may heal us? Let us follow the example of the blind beggar who was healed because of his great faith in Jesus, and let us be patient, persistent and determined, knowing that Jesus will help us according to His time and for His glory.

Monday 23 February 2015

Wednesday of Week 8 Year 1

The world often equates a great or a successful person as one who has attained tremendous wealth, or important titles, or high qualifications, or recognition from peers and admiration from others. We would hear of such people being idolised as good examples which others ought to imitate and follow. But the moment these people lose their wealth for some reason or another, or they lose their titles or their qualifications are no longer relevant or redundant, or due to some issue or even scandal they lose recognition or admiration from others, then what happens? More often than not, the world would then look for other persons to exalt and glorify, and these people would become nobodies or has beens. But how should a Christian behave towards wealth, titles, qualifications or recognition?

In today's Gospel, Jesus reminds us: "You know that among the pagans their so-called 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 become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of Man himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Our duty and attitude as Christians is not to seek greatness for ourselves, but to be of service to all for the glory of God. Such attitude is in contrast with the ways of the world, so we need to ask ourselves truly: do we want merely temporary greatness in the world, or would we rather be great in God's eyes?

Tuesday of Week 8 Year 1

Some of us are quite calculative with the money, talent or time we have. We seem to expect others to do many things for us, but we seem to be quite stingy when it comes to us giving to others. I have seen people demanding so many things from the church, but when asked to help out or donate some wealth or their time, these people would make all sorts of excuses or try to pass the task or responsibility to others. Some of these people so easily make suggestions or make demands, but when asked to be involved in carrying out such suggestions or demands for the betterment of all, they seem to shy away or try to change the topic. It seems as if these people are more than willing to take or receive, but are quite hesitant or reluctant to offer or give.

But today's reading is a contrast of how some of us behave towards our time, our wealth and our capabilities. The reading tells us: "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." When we are generous in giving, the reading assures us that God will reward us even more than what we have given. Instead of being reluctant in giving, instead of having a sour or monkey face when we give, let us be cheerful and happy, for the Lord has blessed us with many things and abilities. Do we not appreciate and are thankful with what God has given us and are we not willing to share such gifts and abilities with others?

Monday of Week 8 Year 1

In some societies and cultures, a person who has committed a crime may sometimes be ostracised and shunned indefinitely. This is especially if the person had committed a crime so terrible that the consequences of such a crime are being felt by many, long after the person has been convicted and perhaps imprisoned. In some cases, such a person may be sentenced to death and may either be immediately excuted, or is placed on death row, making it a daily ordeal for the person, or for the victims themselves if they survived, or even for the families of the victims, since the parties involved would not know when the person's time is up and execution would be carried out. However, if you notice here, such a conviction is often following "an eye for an eye" principle, and even if the person may somehow be freed someday, the stigma of being known as a ex-convict may remain. In some cases, the ex-convict may have been imprisoned for such a long time that integration back to society is extremely difficult or even impossible, and we may have heard of cases where such a person would go back to a life of crime, or may commit suicide if the person is unable to cope with being freed.

But how does God deal with us when we commit a crime, when we sin? In the first reading, we come across a God who is quite different from what some of us humans may behave. The reading tells us "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. How great is the mercy of the Lord, his pardon on all those who turn towards him!" As we can see, God is a merciful and loving God. He gives us plenty of chances and opportunities to change, no matter how bad or terrible we may have been. If God is willing to do this for us, then perhaps we need to ask ourselves sincerely: we pray the Lord's Prayer quite often, and when we do, we say: "forgive us our tresspasses as we forgive those who tresspass against us." Such words seem easy to say, but do we mean what we say? Are we willing to forgive those who have hurt us, or committed terrible crimes? Let us seek the Lord's help, and find it in our minds and hearts to forgive, just as God is willing to forgive us.

Sunday 22 February 2015

Pentecost Year B - Mass of the Day

What does it mean to be a Christian? Are we truly united as brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of our ethnic group, language group, or even social status or background? Sometimes, we come across parishes which are quite divided and segregated along racial and social lines. Each group is more interested only in the affairs, needs and wants of their respective friends and acquaintances within their group. We see people within their group avoiding or minimising contact with people of other groups, due to fear, prejudice, pride, inability to communicate, or for some other reason. Sometimes, when there is a dispute among persons between different groups, we see people taking sides, defending their own group, and finding ways to discredit the other side. It seems as if there is a siege mentality, where the other side is seen as a constant threat that needs to be checked. But is this what being a Christian really all about? Is Christianity exclusive only to certain people?

In today's First Reading, we are told that the Holy Spirit came and rested on the heads of the disciples, "they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak foreign languages as the Spirit gave them the gift of speech" and also that "there were devout men living in Jerusalem from every nation under heaven, and at this sound they all assembled, each one bewildered to hear these men speaking his own language about the marvels of God." Notice that the Holy Spirit did not take sides or focus only with a particular group, but instead broke barriers in language so that all could hear and understand the disciples in their own language.

Likewise, today's alternative Second Reading remind us: "If you are guided by the Spirit you will be in no danger of yielding to self-indulgence, since self-indulgence is the opposite of the Spirit, the Spirit is totally against such a thing, and it is precisely because the two are so opposed that you do not always carry out your good intentions. When self-indulgence is at work the results are obvious: fornication, gross indecency and sexual irresponsibility; idolatry and sorcery; feuds and wrangling, jealousy, bad temper and quarrels; disagreements, factions, envy; drunkenness, orgies and similar things. I warn you now, as I warned you before: those who behave like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. What the Spirit brings is very different: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control. You cannot belong to Christ Jesus unless you crucify all self-indulgent passions and desires. Since the Spirit is our life, let us be directed by the Spirit." If we are sticking to our guns and sticking only to our respective groups, then how can we belong to Christ Jesus, since we are actually being self-indulgent with only our group?

This is why we cannot be Christians and at the same time be attached or fixated to only a particular group. The Holy Spirit is gifted to all of us, regardless of who we are and where we come from. The second reading tells us that: "There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit; there are all sorts of service to be done, but always to the same Lord; working in all sorts of different ways in different people, it is the same God who is working in all of them. The particular way in which the Spirit is given to each person is for a good purpose." Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves honestly and sincerely: are we Christians only in name, but self-serving in practice? Or are we truly making every effort to be united as one family of God? Are we willing to come out of our comfort zones and reach out to others, especially those who are not so familiar to us, with love and Christian charity? Let us mean what we say when we sing: "We are one in the Spirit, We are one in the Lord. And they'll know we are Christians by our love."

Saturday 21 February 2015

Housekeeping - 7th Week of Easter

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

17 May 2015 - 7th Sunday of Easter Year B
18 May 2015 - Monday of the 7th Week of Easter
19 May 2015 - Tuesday of the 7th Week of Easter
20 May 2015 - Wednesday of the 7th Week of Easter
21 May 2015 - Thursday of the 7th Week of Easter
22 May 2015 - Friday of the 7th Week of Easter

Friday of the 7th Week of Easter

Some of us are fortunate to have parents who love us a lot. Sometimes we may not necessary hear our parents say the words "I love you," but they would go out of their way to show their love. This is especially true among Asian parents, who are usually uncomfortable in using such words, but they would show much love and affection to their children. But do we love our parents in return? There are some who have received much love from their parents when they were young, but when their parents are old and are unable to care for themselves, what happens? How many children are willing to care and love their parents in their golden years? How many children are truly grateful and appreciative towards their parents for the love and sacrifices their parents had showered on them? How many children are really willing to go out of their way to love and care for their parents, just as their parents had done for them when they were young?

In today's Gospel, Jesus asked Peter 3 times whether Peter loved Him. When Jesus was on trial, Peter had denied knowing Jesus but Jesus did not hold that against him. Instead, Jesus was trying to help Peter come to terms with what it really means to love. Love is not just words, since anybody can just say things without meaning it. Instead, love requires action, and in the case of Peter, Jesus had entrusted the care of His sheep to him. Not only that, Jesus reminded Peter: "I tell you most solemnly, when you were young you put on your own belt and walked where you liked; but when you grow old you will stretch out your hands, and somebody else will put a belt round you and take you where you would rather not go." This shows that ultimately, Peter would be expected to love till it hurts, to love even to the point of death.

What about us? Are we willing to love till it hurts, even to the point of death? Are we willing to go through all the effort and trouble to love our parents and care for them as best we can, just as they had done so for us? Sometimes it seems convenient to just do the minimum and get on with our own lives, but are we truly being loving, or are we just trying to shirk our responsibilities? If Jesus were to ask us: "Do you love me?" the way He asked Peter 3 times, what would our honest response be?

Friday 20 February 2015

Thursday of the 7th Week of Easter

Some of us seem to take offense over issues which we think are big or serious, but sometimes the issue at hand may not necessarily be that big or serious after all, but our minds are sometimes too fixated or closed to see the bigger picture. We begin to squabble over petty things when there are more serious matters to be discussed and addressed. When we are like this, we lose sight of our true purpose as Christians and end up wasting much time and energy over trivial matters.

This was the problem that the scribes, the Pharisees and the Sadducees had with Paul. Just as they were obstinate and refused to change when Jesus was around, they were also equally obstinate with Paul. So Paul decided to shake things up a bit and distract them from their narrow-mindedness. Using a bit of guile, Paul pitted the scribes and Pharisees against the Sadducees by exclaiming: "Brothers, I am a Pharisee and the son of Pharisees. It is for our hope in the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial." When he said this, the scribes and the Pharisees ganged up against the Sadducees and a big argument broke over differences of opinion which had nothing to do with the reason why Paul was being arrested and put on trial in the first place. This shows that, the core issue which the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees had against Paul, was actually not really a big deal after all, since they could be so easily distracted with other things.

What about us? Have we become so consumed, so obstinate or so insistent with our ways or our ideas, that we have become like the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees? Have we forgotten our primary duty as Christians to proclaim the Good News to all? Ultimately, we need to take a good, hard look at ourselves and realise that the universe does not revolve only around us, and that we have more important tasks or matters at hand for the greater glory of God.

Wednesday of the 7th Week of Easter

In every community, we do come across people who do things for their own interests. Sometimes such people would try to influence the community to listen to them and follow their lead, even though it may not be in the best interests of the community to do so. If members of the community are not careful or discerning enough, they may inadvertently bring suffering or even destruction to the entire community. We have seen throughout history how certain individuals have betrayed or sold off their community just for some title, position, wealth or power and when such people have gotten what they wanted, they would make themselves scarce and let the community face the consequences.

This is why St. Paul in today's reading warns us: "Be on your guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you the overseers, to feed the Church of God which he bought with his own blood. I know quite well that when I have gone fierce wolves will invade you and will have no mercy on the flock. Even from your own ranks there will be men coming forward with a travesty of the truth on their lips to induce the disciples to follow them. So be on your guard..." As leaders of a Christian community, we need to be discerning and careful not to allow certain individuals to wreak havoc and destruction to the community. This does not mean that we should become paranoid or suspicious of every person or every idea, but we should seek God's help and wisdom to ensure that all in the community are not led astray or duped into following false or wrong teaching. This requires prayer and listening to God's promptings, and sometimes it does not take much to smell a rat or identify a wolf in sheep clothing.

Thus, let us not become complacent in our duties as leaders in our Christian community. Ultimately, we should be discerning enough with the help of God, to determine whether certain persons are being true or are being agents of destruction.

Thursday 19 February 2015

Tuesday of the 7th Week of Easter

Whenever I go to the coffee shop for breakfast or lunch, I come across different sorts of people. Some are at the coffee shop to have a meal before they go to work. Some bring their children for a meal before sending them to school or kindergarten. But I also notice a few uncles and aunties who are at the coffee shop to get together and have a long chat, sometimes a really really long chat. I have observed some uncles and aunties who can spend almost the whole day at the coffee shop (since I sometimes pass by and notice some of them still there engrossed in their conversation). It amazes me how some of these folks can find so much to talk about. But I suppose that some feel as if they have got nothing else better to do, and find comfort and solace with their fellow compatriots in having marathon sessions of sharing juicy bits. But as Christians, what should be our attitude towards utilising our words, our time and our efforts?

In today's reading, Paul tells us: "But life to me is not a thing to waste words on, provided that when I finish my race I have carried out the mission the Lord Jesus gave me – and that was to bear witness to the Good News of God’s grace." While there is nothing wrong with catching up with friends and talking about matters at hand, we should also not lose sight of our purpose and goal as Christians, as Paul has shown us. May we ultimately use our words and actions wisely for the glory of God.

Monday of the 7th Week of Easter

In recent times, we have seen increased persecution among our Christian brethren in many different countries. Often the persecution stems from just being a Christian, and such persecutors are only interested in either forcing these Christians to convert to another faith, or to wipe them out from where they are. We have seen how, in some cases, the property and belongings of our Christian brethren have been seized and sold to further the cause of the persecutors. So it seems like the persecutors are committing such heinous acts not only in the so-called name of their religion, but also out of greed and jealousy. In the face of such vile acts, how do we Christians respond?

In today's gospel, Jesus assures us: "I have told you all this so that you may find peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but be brave: I have conquered the world." Jesus already knew that as Christians, we would have challenges, difficulties and trouble, since our ways are in contrast with the ways of the world. But Jesus is also assuring us of His peace and to be firm and steadfast in our faith in Him. Despite all the turmoil that we are facing around the world, let us not be disheartened or give up, since as Jesus tells us, He has conquered the world. Let us be patient and remain in Jesus, for He will save us and lead us to victory.

Wednesday 18 February 2015

7th Sunday of Easter Year B

Every once in a while, I get people coming up to me asking me to bless their car, their rosary, a picture of some saint, the crucifix that they would like to wear or they would like to gift to someone, a statue of Mary or some saint, some holy medal attributed to Mary or some saint, or even their house or workplace. Sometimes, I have people young and not so young coming to me asking me to bless them because it is their birthday, or their wedding anniversary, or they are hoping to conceive, or they are sick, about to go for some important treatment or feeling troubled, or they are about to take an examination, or to bless their children, or for some other reason. But the question is: What exactly is a blessing? Do you know why you ask for a blessing? Some people do not seem to really understand what a blessing means, and some people may think that it is a means of protection from evil or a means to obtain good luck, like a talisman or a good luck charm. But this understanding of what a blessing is, is wrong. It becomes a form of superstition, since the blessing ends up appearing to be some form of magic (like murgaga or hokus pokus).

So what exactly is a blessing? A blessing, as today's Gospel reminds us, is a form of consecration. In the Gospel, Jesus prayed a prayer of blessing, where He said: "Consecrate them in the truth, your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world, and for their sake I consecrate myself so that they too may be consecrated in truth." A consecration means the person or object now belongs to God. It means the person or item is moved away from the world and towards God, as the person or item is set apart for God, and the fate and the life of the person or object is now in the hands of God, to be dealt with according to His will. When something or someone is consecrated to God, the object or the person is now set apart to carry out the mission of Jesus Christ, which is to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to give glory to God in all things.

So what does this all mean? It means that, when a house is blessed, the family in that house must give glory to God by living a life of unity, charity and love. When a sick person is blessed, he or she gives glory to God through his or her sickness, regardless of whether he or she recovers or not. When a person asks for blessings before an important exam, the person is saying that he or she will do his or her best and give glory to God, regardless of whether he or she does well in the examination or not. When holy medals and rosaries are blessed, these objects become symbols reminding us to give glory to God through our prayers, through our deeds, and through the way we live our lives each day. When vehicles and workplaces are blessed, we are saying that such vehicles or workplaces would be used in an honest and proper way, for the good of all and for the glory of God.  So as we can see, asking for a blessing is not a small matter or a laughing matter or for play play. Are we prepared to carry out what the blessing requires?

Let us be reminded that God does not force us to have a relationship with Him, and we should love freely and willingly. Instead, God is inviting us to enter into a loving relationship with Him, as the second reading reminds us: "God is love and anyone who lives in love lives in God, and God lives in him." When we ask for a blessing for whatever reason, let us be prepared to consecrate our entire lives to God, so that we may live in His love and allow Him to live in us. Are we really, truly and happily prepared to do this for the greater glory of God?

Tuesday 17 February 2015

Housekeeping - 6th Week of Easter & Ascension

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

10 May 2015 - 6th Sunday of Easter Year B
11 May 2015 - Monday of the 6th Week of Easter
12 May 2015 - Tuesday of the 6th Week of Easter
13 May 2015 - Wednesday of the 6th Week of Easter
14 May 2015 - The Ascension of the Lord - Mass of the Day
15 May 2015 - Friday of the 6th Week of Easter

Friday of the 6th Week of Easter

When we are separated from our friends and loved ones for a period of time, some of us may feel down or feel sad. Sometimes the separation could be only for a short while, sometimes it could be for a longer time. However, how should we Christians deal with such separation? How many of us are joyful and hopeful, even when we are experiencing such separation?

In today's Gospel, Jesus assures us that the separation we experience is only temporary. We read: "I tell you most solemnly, you will be weeping and wailing while the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy. A woman in childbirth suffers, because her time has come; but when she has given birth to the child she forgets the suffering in her joy that a man has been born into the world. So it is with you: you are sad now, but I shall see you again, and your hearts will be full of joy, and that joy no one shall take from you." Jesus is encouraging us to stay focused and stay faithful to Him, since we will see Him again. Instead of dwelling in our sadness, let us give thanks to God and remain hopeful and joyful that such separation is only for a moment, and that we will be with Jesus again.

The Ascension of the Lord - Mass of the Day

At some point of our lives, we would have experienced people coming and going. Some go away because they have moved to another place, some go away because they have retired and wish to be away from the limelight, some go away because they have been transferred; but whatever the reason may be, sooner or later, a person would need to go away.

When a person goes away, some of us may feel sad that the person has left us. Perhaps we may one day be able to see the person again, perhaps not. But if we consider a moment, a person going away could also be seen as a moment of joy. Why so? When a person has gone away, his or her leaving gives us opportunities and room to grow. The person may have gone away, but if the person has been a great influence to us, a part of him or her would be with us, and that part would only surface and come to life when the person has gone. When the person was with us, we may have taken him or her for granted, it is only when the person has gone, then only do we begin to appreciate and imitate what the person has done. It seems strange, but that is sometimes how things are in life.

Jesus knew this fact of life really well, and He knew that He had to leave so that the disciples and the church could be empowered, grow and mature. The disciples could not be depending on Him physically forever, since that would stifle their willingness to grow and move on. But by leaving, Jesus left His disciples a legacy to continue, and that same legacy goes on even today. What is that legacy? To spread the Good News to all, no matter where we are.

The question is: has Jesus really left us? Has Jesus left us in a lurch or abandoned us? No. He may have left us physically, but He is with us in an even more powerful way, that is through the Holy Spirit. We may have been fearful and uncertain when Jesus left us, but with the power of the Holy Spirit, we have been given the strength and courage to face up to the world and help others to love just as Jesus loves us.

Today, as we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord Jesus, let us not feel disheartened or lost. Jesus is with us, guiding us, and helping us to go forth and preach the Good News with vigour. Now is our time, now is our moment, and let us seize every opportunity to glorify God with our words and deeds.

Monday 16 February 2015

Wednesday of the 6th Week of Easter

Versatility in using different approaches in preaching the Good News is needed if we are to be effective witnesses. We cannot use a one style fits all approach, since different people, different groups and different cultures would require different approaches and methods. For example, the way we teach children about faith would be quite different to the way we teach youth or adults. Even among these different groups, some individuals may require more effort and time to help them grow in faith. The question is: are we patient and persistent enough to help others grow in faith according to their abilities?

In today's reading, we come across Paul who used a more intellectual approach to stimulate the minds of the people of Athens, since these people were always on the look out for new ideas, new philosophies and things which involve the intellect. By using the intellectual approach, Paul was able to rouse the curiosity of some of the people of Athens and some even became believers, as the reading tells us: "At this mention of rising from the dead, some of them burst out laughing; others said, ‘We would like to hear you talk about this again.’ After that Paul left them, but there were some who attached themselves to him and became believers, among them Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman called Damaris, and others besides." Also, in the Gospel, Jesus said: "I still have many things to say to you but they would be too much for you now. But when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth, since he will not be speaking as from himself but will say only what he has learnt; and he will tell you of the things to come." Notice that Jesus did not shove everything down the throats of His disciples at one go. Instead, He taught them bite sizes, so that they would be able to grasp what He was saying, as His disciples required an approach quite different to the approach used by Paul on the people of Athens.

When we encounter different people, let us learn from the example of Jesus and St. Paul, and share the Good News to others using different ways. Sometimes we may find that one way works and another does not, depending on the situation, and we should be flexible and humble enough to change methods. Ultimately, how effective we are in preaching the Good News depends on how willing we are to change and let God guide us in our efforts.

Tuesday of the 6th Week of Easter

When we have been with someone for quite some time, we begin to warm up to the person and become used to the person's ways, habits, peculiarities and other things which we have begun to accept and live with. But the day will come when the person would need to go away for whatever reason, and when that day comes, how would we respond? Would we be prepared and ready to let go and give thanks to God? Or would we end up in an emotional mess?

In today's Gospel, Jesus told his disciples: "Now I am going to the one who sent me. Not one of you has asked, “Where are you going?” Yet you are sad at heart because I have told you this. Still, I must tell you the truth: it is for your own good that I am going because unless I go, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I do go, I will send him to you." It must have been difficult for the disciples to let go of Jesus and begin their mission in spreading the Good News. But Jesus promised them that they would not be left alone, they would not be abandoned, since the Advocate would come to them, be with them and strengthen them.

In the same way, we may one day no longer have the presence of those we love and are used to, but we do have memories, and we have God to comfort us and guide us as we move on in our lives. Let us not be disheartened or feel sad, for God will not leave us orphaned or abandon us. Are we willing to be patient and let Him transform us into something better?

Sunday 15 February 2015

Monday of the 6th Week of Easter

Every once in a while, we hear of persecution happening at certain places where the Christian community there is quite badly affected. Some of these communities end up losing their homes, their property and even their lives. Some are given a choice by their aggressors, to convert or die. We have seen many of these Christian communities fleeing from such persecution. Some are even willing to die rather than trying to save their skin and convert. Fortunately for many of us, we are spared from such a situation at the moment.

But what if one day, we too are faced with such a choice: to convert or die? What would our response be? Would we be willing to remain steadfast in our faith and face death, or would we so easily give up our faith just to preserve our lives? In today's Gospel, Jesus has warned us of the persecutions to come: "I have told you all this that your faith may not be shaken. They will expel you from the synagogues, and indeed the hour is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is doing a holy duty for God. They will do these things because they have never known either the Father or myself." Are we ready and prepared to face such persecutions, knowing that our reward is far more valuable and precious than anything this life could ever offer? Or are we going to allow ourselves to fall away just to save our lives, only to lose it later?

6th Sunday of Easter Year B

Among the different religions in the world, one thing which makes Christianity different is that love is part of being a Christian, and being a Christian mean one needs to love. In other words, love is part and parcel of being a Christian.

But what does it mean to love as a Christian? In the second reading, St. John reminds us: "My dear people, let us love one another since love comes from God and everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Anyone who fails to love can never have known God, because God is love." Not many of us realise the implications of what love means. Some of us think that we are loving the way God loves us, but actually more often than not, our love has got strings attached. Our love tends to be a selfish love, a "what's in it for me" love, or a love with conditions attached.

We are capable of loving the way God loves us only because we know and remember how much God loved us. Before we can begin to learn to love as Jesus did, we must be aware of how much we are loved by God. Love is never easy and is something we constantly struggle to do. But we need to remember that love isn’t about liking or disliking someone. Love is a decision, a choice and a commitment. We can decide and commit ourselves to love someone, even when we do not like that person. That’s love. This is possible only if we are reminded of how God loves us even when our love for him is not perfect and regardless of who we are. As Peter came to realise in the first reading: "The truth I have now come to realise is that God does not have favourites, but that anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him." God accepts and loves all of us, He does not love selectively as some of us may do.

Loving others is only possible when we remain in Christ’s love, and we can remain in Christ’s love when we keep his commandments. Today, Jesus reminds us in the Gospel: “This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you.” Let us thus set aside our pride, our ego, and our prejudices, and truly love the way God loves us, so that Jesus' own joy may be in us, and our joy be complete.

Saturday 14 February 2015

Housekeeping - 5th Week of Easter

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

3 May 2015 - 5th Sunday of Easter Year B
4 May 2015 - Monday of the 5th Week of Easter
5 May 2015 - Tuesday of the 5th Week of Easter
6 May 2015 - Wednesday of the 5th Week of Easter
7 May 2015 - Thursday of the 5th Week of Easter
8 May 2015 - Friday of the 5th Week of Easter

Friday of the 5th Week of Easter

How encouraging have we been to others around us? Have we noticed people around us who seem to be down in the doldrums, or they seem depressed or sad, or they seem to be keeping to themselves quite a bit? There are many reasons why people are in such a state, but do we notice them at all? Or have we become so busy with our activities or with ourselves that such people end up being ignored, forgotten or set aside?

In today's reading, we are told: "The apostles and elders decided to choose delegates to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; the whole church concurred with this. They chose Judas known as Barsabbas and Silas, both leading men in the brotherhood, and gave them this letter to take with them... The party left and went down to Antioch, where they summoned the whole community and delivered the letter. The community read it and were delighted with the encouragement it gave them." Notice that in the reading, the apostles and elders did not just write a letter to encourage the community at Antioch, they also sent delegates to be present and give encouragement and support. It is easy to just write a letter or a few words of encouragement, but what matters more is when we offer our presence to others and give them our support as best we can. Perhaps we could make more effort to be mindful of people who need encouragement around us, and help strengthen these people with our support and presence.

Thursday of the 5th Week of Easter

Meetings and discussions can sometimes turn out to be quite a frustrating activity. This is especially so when people begin to talk and argue over a topic which is essentially not a big deal. At times, such meetings and discussions could turn out to be quite a rowdy affair, especially when people begin to lose their cool and start behaving like only their opinion or point of view matters. In the midst of all these monkeying around, with some clashes of the gong and thundering voices here and there, we need someone to snap us out of our "temporary insanity" and get us back on our true purpose. That someone is what we call a moderator.

In today's reading, we have Peter who ended up being the moderator. The apostles and elders had been discussing about an issue which so incensed and consumed them (they were Jews and it was part of their upbringing). What was the issue all about? It was about whether the gentile Christians should be circumcised as part of the "salvation package," so to speak. Peter finally had had enough and he told all present: "In fact God, who can read everyone’s heart, showed his approval of them by giving the Holy Spirit to them just as he had to us. God made no distinction between them and us, since he purified their hearts by faith. It would only provoke God’s anger now, surely, if you imposed on the disciples the very burden that neither we nor our ancestors were strong enough to support? Remember, we believe that we are saved in the same way as they are: through the grace of the Lord Jesus." After Peter had said this, there was silence. You could almost hear a pin drop (if there was one at that time). It was clear to all present that they had been arguing about something which was really not big deal.

Then, to further strengthen Peter's argument, James added: "I rule, then, that instead of making things more difficult for pagans who turn to God, we send them a letter telling them merely to abstain from anything polluted by idols, from fornication, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For Moses has always had his preachers in every town, and is read aloud in the synagogues every sabbath." Wonderful! Case closed.

Just like the apostles and elders, we too sometimes end up arguing over the smallest matters concerning our faith, and we forget the bigger picture and the more important issues that we should be addressing instead. Let us learn from this dramatic episode and open our eyes, ears and hearts, so that we could learn to love and serve others better, while giving glory to God.

Wednesday of the 5th Week of Easter

A leaf cannot survive on its own. It needs to be part of a shrub or a tree so that it can grow and prosper. When a leaf falls from the shrub or the tree, what happens? It slowly dies and eventually it becomes compost or fertiliser for other plants. It could also end up as food for insects and animals. In some cases, the leaf could end up as part of a nest or part of shelter for insects and animals. Whatever the outcome may be, the leaf is dead, finito.

In today's Gospel, Jesus reminds us: "As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, but must remain part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is like a branch that has been thrown away – he withers; these branches are collected and thrown on the fire, and they are burnt." Just as a leaf cannot live and prosper for long if it is cut off from the shrub or tree, we too will not be able to live and prosper for long if we are are cut off from Jesus.

That is why Jesus is inviting us, beckoning us to "make your home in me, as I make mine in you." When we do so, we would then be able to live and prosper, and bear fruit in plenty. When we allow ourselves to be pruned by Jesus, when we make effort to seek forgiveness for the sins we have committed and do our best to avoid sinning, we would bear even more fruit. Ultimately, we have a choice: to be happy, grow and prosper in Jesus; or to go our own way and bear the consequences. Let us choose wisely, for our eternal future is at stake.

Friday 13 February 2015

Tuesday of the 5th Week of Easter

We live in a world full of uncertainty. Sometimes what may seem to be a peaceful, prosperous, or happy situation could change at the blink of an eye. Extremism, terrorism and other forms of violence, suppression and persecution could just appear all of a sudden, bringing misery, suffering and even death to many. We have seen how people who were once allies or friends have turned on each other for the smallest reasons. Considering what is happening around us, how would we respond? What should we do as Christians?

In today's Gospel, Jesus gives us a message of hope. He tells us: "Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid." When we have the peace of Christ in our hearts, nothing should shake us or distract us from doing the will of God. No matter how hopeless or challenging the situation may be, the peace that Jesus embeds in our hearts will help us ride the storm. This same message of peace is also for us to encourage others and help them experience and promote such peace in their own way. As Christians, we know that God will not abandon us to an uncertain fate, so we should also help others take courage and be confident that God and goodness will always triumph in the end.

Monday of the 5th Week of Easter

Many of us are gifted with certain talents or capabilities which make us unique and different. Some of us are good at academic pursuits, some are good at art, some are good at music, some are good at using their hands to make or fix things, some are good at singing or dancing; but whatever it is we are good at, are we thankful for such talents God has given us? Do we glorify God when we use such talents or capabilities? Or are we using such talents or capabilities to boost our ego and pride?

In today's reading, Paul healed a man who was crippled from birth. The reading tells us: "When the crowd saw what Paul had done they shouted in the language of Lycaonia, 'These people are gods who have come down to us disguised as men.' They addressed Barnabas as Zeus, and since Paul was the principal speaker they called him Hermes. The priests of Zeus-outside-the-Gate, proposing that all the people should offer sacrifice with them, brought garlanded oxen to the gates." Of course, Paul had healed the man with the help of God, but the crowd did not know about this and thought that Paul had some sort of divine power in him. Paul and Barnabas could have basked in the glory of what they had accomplished through the healing and taken credit for it, but instead, they "tore their clothes, and rushed into the crowd, shouting, 'Friends, what do you think you are doing? We are only human beings like you. We have come with good news to make you turn from these empty idols to the living God who made heaven and earth and the sea and all that these hold.'"

When we look at the kind of attitude Paul and Barnabas had, we can learn that though we have certain capabilities or talents, such capabilities or talents are meant to be used to give glory to God. In some ways, the capabilities and talents we have could also be used to preach the Good News. Are we using our capabilities and talents for such purposes?

5th Sunday of Easter Year B

What do we mean when we say we love? Do we really love others? Do we love our brothers and sisters? Do we show our Christian faith by living a life of love in our families, BEC, community, housing area, and at church? Besides people in our Christian community, do we also show love towards others who are not Christians? It is easy to say we love, but do we mean what we say by our actions, or are our words nothing more than mere words? St. John in today’s second reading reminds us: “Our love is not to be just words or mere talk, but something real and active."

Yet we cannot genuinely and truly love others unless we are rooted in Christ. Today's gospel reminds us that Christ is the Vine and we are the branches, and “whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing.” It would be not possible for us to love unconditionally, genuinely and wholesomely on our own, since we can only love in such ways if we are rooted in God's love.

There are some who think that they can love without God, but more often than not, such love would merely be an ineffective or inadequate attempt. We come across friendships, relationships and marriages that end up failing or breaking down because of the absence of God in our love and in our lives. This is because the kind of love that we humanly profess is imperfect, we love because we expect to receive love or something else in return. Genuine love is when we are able to love totally, without expecting anything in return. Could we ever accomplish such genuine love on our own? No. Only God is able to love totally, and we can only love the way God loves us when we are connected and rooted to Him.

Love does not mean we will be living in some sort of utopia or some fantasy place, where there is no conflict or problems. Love does not mean that others will like us or appreciate our love. Take for example St. Paul in today's first reading. In the first reading, Paul, then known as Saul, went around with the disciples, "preaching fearlessly in the name of the Lord." Not everyone was happy with him and some even tried to kill him, but because he was rooted in Christ and had experienced God's love, he was willing to endure challenges and hardships to bring the Good News of God's love to all. Love does not mean we must become popular, rather it means we must do what is right, what is true, what is just, and what is loving, even if it means we would become unpopular or not liked.

Today, some of us may be experiencing difficulties and trials as we try to show our love towards others. But as Jesus reminds us: "every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more." We are being pruned, so that we will grow and remain closer to Jesus. In this way, we would become stronger and be better witnesses of God's love to all.

Thursday 12 February 2015

Housekeeping - 4th Week of Easter

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

26 April 2015 - 4th Sunday of Easter Year B
27 April 2015 - Monday of the 4th Week of Easter
28 April 2015 - Tuesday of the 4th Week of Easter
29 April 2015 - Wednesday of the 4th Week of Easter
30 April 2015 - Thursday of the 4th Week of Easter
1 May 2015 - Friday of the 4th Week of Easter
                    - Saint Joseph the Worker

Saint Joseph the Worker

Work is essential for each and every one of us. We cannot be sitting around idle, not doing anything, and wasting our lives. It is said that an idle mind is the devil's workshop. When we are idle, we may begin thinking of things which could lead us to sinful thoughts and even lead to sinful actions. When we work, we are keeping ourselves occupied doing something for the good of all and for the glory of God. Work and being busy doing something useful is indeed good for us.

In today's second reading, we are reminded: "Whatever your work is, put your heart into it as if it were for the Lord and not for men, knowing that the Lord will repay you by making you his heirs. It is Christ the Lord that you are serving." No matter how much we try to work to please others, we will never be satisfied and happy, since more often than not, we would not get the kind of remuneration and recognition we long for. But when we work for the glory of God, we can hope to receive happiness and peace, knowing that God will care for us and be our providence. Thus, let us not be lazy or averse to work. Each and every one of us has talents and abilities which can be put to good use to help make this world a better place and also to glorify God.

Friday of the 4th Week of Easter

Life can sometimes pose us with challenges which some of us may find difficult to cope. For example, at some point of our lives, we may be stricken with an illness, due to one reason or another. If we are in such a situation, what would we do? Some may try different doctors, hoping that modern medicine would have some cure somewhere. Some may look for traditional or alternative medicine in the hope that one could be cured. Others may seek the help of medicine men, shamans, and other forms of divination or feng shui, thinking that these may help. But in our pursuit for a cure, how many of us are willing to bring God into the picture? How many of us really do pray earnestly and consistently, asking God to have mercy on us and heal us?

In today's Gospel, Jesus reassures us: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me." In our efforts to be cured, we may feel anxious, worried, concerned and troubled with what may happen to us. But do we have enough trust in God and in Jesus to heal us? Perhaps the cure may come instantaneously, perhaps it may come slowly, but we should not give up, thinking that God has abandoned us to our predicament. God can heal us according to His time. Are we willing to be patient and let God take care of us?

Wednesday 11 February 2015

Thursday of the 4th Week of Easter

It is interesting to see how some people try so hard to show how talented, how smart, how great, how clever or how resourceful they are. Such people do so to gain recognition, get the attention of others, perhaps rub shoulders with people who could be of use to them, and also to feed their pride and ego. But if we ponder for a moment: Why do we need to try so hard to show off? What are we trying to prove? Who are we really serving?

In today's Gospel, Jesus reminds us: "I tell you most solemnly, no servant is greater than his master, no messenger is greater than the man who sent him. Now that you know this, happiness will be yours if you behave accordingly." Jesus is inviting us to question our motives in serving others. Sometimes, in our zeal and efforts to serve, we may actually be serving ourselves. This happens when we try to gain glory for what we do, and try to lord it over others, thinking that they are not up to our standards or our expectations.

Let us be mindful of who we are, for we are merely servants and Jesus is the Master. When we acknowledge this fact and do our duty for the glory of God, then happiness will be ours, since we do not need to worry about losing our popularity or prestige. If we really are skillful, talented or capable, we do not need others to praise us or tell us how good we are, since these are gifts from God and we should thank and give praise to God for such gifts.

Wednesday of the 4th Week of Easter

What does it mean to be a missionary? Some people think that being a missionary means they must go to some remote place where people are primitive and appear to be savages or are followers of some animistic belief, and attempt to bring the good news to them. Sometimes, these people take it upon themselves to go to such places, without being sent or commissioned by a higher authority. But that is not what being a missionary is all about. Being a missionary means one is sent by a church into an area to carry out evangelism or other activities, such as educational or hospital work. The person does not choose where he or she is to be sent, but the church decides (hopefully with promptings from the Holy Spirit). Moreover, being a missionary does not mean only remote areas or areas where people seem primitive are favourable, for one could also be sent to developed areas where people are in need of God just as much as those elsewhere.

In today's reading, we are told: "One day while they were offering worship to the Lord and keeping a fast, the Holy Spirit said, ‘I want Barnabas and Saul set apart for the work to which I have called them.’ So it was that after fasting and prayer they laid their hands on them and sent them off. So these two, sent on their mission by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and from there sailed to Cyprus. They landed at Salamis and proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews; John acted as their assistant." From here, we can clearly see that it is the Holy Spirit who sent Barnabas and Saul on a mission. These two did not take it upon themselves to go on mission, but were merely servants and followed what the Holy Spirit commanded them.

Thus, if you think you are being called to be a missionary, be mindful of whether you become one because you have been called by a church and sent to a particular place; or you are trying to become one according to your own interest, own agenda and own purposes. Being a missionary means to be at the service of God according to where the church sees a need, for the ultimate reason is to glorify God, and not for one's personal gratification or glory.

Tuesday 10 February 2015

Tuesday of the 4th Week of Easter

Some of us seem to think that a particular ministry in church belongs to us. Some try to prevent other people from taking leadership roles in such ministries, and then they complain that it is difficult to bring in new blood to improve on the particular ministry. What these people fail to realise is that the various ministries in church do not belong to anybody. We are serving in such ministries for the glory of God, and not for our own gratification or to show how good or capable we are.

The same principle applies when it comes to preaching the Good News. We are called to preach the Good News to all nations, not just to a certain group of people or to a certain community. In today's reading, we are told: "Those who had escaped during the persecution that happened because of Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, but they usually proclaimed the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, who came from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch where they started preaching to the Greeks, proclaiming the Good News of the Lord Jesus to them as well. The Lord helped them, and a great number believed and were converted to the Lord." As we can see, the reading shows us that the Good News is meant for all, not only are Jews meant to be converted, but even Greeks and others too can be converted.

If this is the case, then we should not try to segregate ourselves according to ethnic group, racial lines, or language. We are supposed to be brothers and sisters in Christ, not brothers and sisters of a particular group in Christ. Are we making effort to come out of our comfort zones and learn to love and live with others as part of God's family? Or have we still allowed ourselves to be separated, differentiated and segregated, and only care about those within our circle? Has our Christian faith grown to be more of a communitarian one, or are we still individualistic about our Christian faith?

Monday of the 4th Week of Easter

Which voice are we listening to? Which gate are we entering through? Sometimes in life, we may be tempted and lured to listen to the voice of the world and all the splendour it appears to offer. But what we see is merely an illusion, something like an advertisement to make something appear greater or better than it really is. When we fall into listening to such a voice, we may find out that we have been duped. What we heard may not quite turn out to be what we expected. If we are not careful, we may even lose our lives just for the sake of something which is temporary and not up to expectations. Why do we allow ourselves to go astray and end up in a mess?

In contrast, Jesus in today's Gospel is reminding us that He is the shepherd and the sheep follow Him because they recognise His voice. Jesus also reminds us that He is the gate of the sheepfold. As long as the sheep go through the gate of Jesus, and follow His voice, the sheep are safe. The other voices are thieves and brigands, who come only to steal and kill and destroy; but Jesus has come so that we may have life and have it to the full.

The question is: are we still trying to trust in our own abilities and intuition, thinking that we can make our own choices and continue listening and being influenced by other voices? Or are we willing to be cared for and protected by Jesus by listening to His voice and going through His gate. The choice is ultimately ours to make, but let us be aware of the consequences of our actions, as it could be a matter of life or death.

Sunday 8 February 2015

4th Sunday of Easter Year B

What sort of motivation do we have when we are given a task to do? Some people would do a task because it is their job to do so, and they expect to be well paid and receive other rewards for the work done. Such people may be motivated by better income, better job security, better promotion prospects, or even approval and recognition from others, especially from the peers and the boss. But what if the task at hand happens to be unglamorous, few others are keen to do, and prospects and recognition are limited or non-existent? Would you still be willing to take on such a task and give it your all?

In today's Gospel, Jesus tells us that He is the good shepherd. He also contrasts between a good shepherd and a hired hand. Is Jesus trying to tell us that a hired hand, or a person who is paid to perform a task, is bad or not any good in any way? No! Jesus is not concentrating on the payment, because from time to time we do hear of hired hands who are just as committed as the good shepherd. What Jesus is focusing more about is the attitude and the level of commitment of the shepherd. That is the main aspect Jesus wants to differentiate. Why so? We should be aware that sheep are quite different from other animals. Animals generally have a leader of the pact or head which they follow and depend on. For most other animals like monkey, tiger or lion, the animal can be a leader or a follower. But not sheep. Sheep are not able to lead other sheep but depend on a shepherd to survive. If sheep were left on their own, they may get into trouble very easily and quickly.

We come across many sheep in our society who are unable to care for themselves. In this case we need someone to guide them. That someone is a shepherd. Some “shepherds” are paid to take care of the sheep and such people are called hired hands, especially since they are only doing a job and they are more attracted to good rewards and other perks. If trouble comes, for example a wolf, fox or bear is about to attack the sheep, such people may quite likely run away, as they would not dare to lose their life for an animal. But if it is the shepherd who is caring for the sheep, then the sheep have a better chance of survival, as the shepherd would be willing to lay down even his life for his sheep. To a good shepherd, caring for sheep no longer becomes merely a money making activity or to gain recognition or popularity, it becomes a vocation.

Therefore, we need to ask ourselves honestly: Have we become more and more materialistic and self-centered, that our wants and needs have taken precedence over the needs of our community and our parish church? Do we expect only the priests and religious to be the shepherds and we just step aside and take things easy? Or have we begun to become more like the good shepherd, doing our part to care for the flock and willing to make sacrifices for the good of all?

Saturday 7 February 2015

Housekeeping - 3rd Week of Easter

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

19 April 2015 - 3rd Sunday of Easter Year B
20 April 2015 - Monday of the 3rd Week of Easter
21 April 2015 - Tuesday of the 3rd Week of Easter
22 April 2015 - Wednesday of the 3rd Week of Easter
23 April 2015 - Thursday of the 3rd Week of Easter
24 April 2015 - Friday of the 3rd Week of Easter

Friday of the 3rd Week of Easter

Who would have thought that a person, after having been so wicked, mean and nasty towards Christians, could be converted? Who would have imagined that such a person could be transformed from being an ardent persecutor of the Way to an ardent promoter and defender of the Way? Some of us would have thought that such a person was beyond hope or redemption, and some would have been quite hesitant to believe when they hear that such a person had been converted. After all, news of such a person being converted could have been a trap, designed to flush Christians out from their hiding places so that they could be easily captured and imprisoned.

However, today's reading shows us that such a conversion is possible. Before Saul could enter Damascus to carry out his evil plan, God intervened and caused Saul to fall onto the ground and became blind. Then Ananias (whose name means that the Lord is gracious or that the Lord is compassionate) was commanded by the Lord to go to Saul, lay his hands on him and give Saul back his sight. Ananias was naturally quite hesitant to do so, since he had heard the terrible things and horror stories of what Saul had done. But the Lord replied, "You must go all the same, because this man is my chosen instrument to bring my name before pagans and pagan kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he himself must suffer for my name." With this assurance from God, Ananias did what he was told. He trusted in God's care and providence and because of this, we see the depths of the graciousness and compassion of God, and we also see the beginnings of an amazing preacher and defender of the Way, Saul who became St. Paul of Tarsus.

What does this incident tell us? Some of us may think that those who persecute us or created tremendous problems for us would get their just rewards. But sometimes the kind of reward such people would get could be quite different from what we expect. Who knows? Such people may be converted just like Saul, and become champions of the Christian faith. We just need to trust in God's care and providence, since He work wonders far beyond what we could ever imagine.

Thursday of the 3rd Week of Easter

If you are given the opportunity to do something to your life which would enable you to live forever, would you seize such an opportunity? Some people in the past had turned to different sorts of medicine, elixers, and meditation techniques, in an attempt to live forever. But the fact of the matter is, our bodies are not designed to live indefinitely. Humanly speaking, it does not matter what we try to do, we will die one day. Seeing that physical death is inevitable, what sort of death should we focus on instead?

In today's Gospel, Jesus tells us: "I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the desert and they are dead; but this is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that a man may eat it and not die. I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world." When we eat this living bread, we are actually nourishing our souls and letting God sustain our spiritual lives. It is this spiritual life which we should watch out for, since our bodies will perish but our soul will live on. Are we neglecting our souls and heading towards a spiritual death away from God? Or have we been doing our part to receive the living bread that Jesus is offering us, and giving us spiritual life that lives forever?

Friday 6 February 2015

Wednesday of the 3rd Week of Easter

Bread is an essential part of a meal for many people. People eat bread, sometimes with different kinds of vegetables, meat and fruits. Sometimes, bread is eaten with different kinds of jam, butter, margarine, peanut butter and other types of spreads. In some cases, bread could be eaten on its own, and some even dip pieces of bread into a cup of coffee, milo, chocolate or some other beverage, or even dip into some form of mixture or sauce. In Malaysia, we can find bread in other forms, such as chapati, roti canai (also known as "roti prata"), naan and thosai. When dipped in dal curry, fish curry or other kinds of curry and sauces, the taste and flavour is enhanced further.

But as we would notice, the kind of bread we eat is nourishing only to our bodies. What about the kind of bread which would nourish our spiritual side, our soul? In today's Gospel, Jesus tells us: "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst. But, as I have told you, you can see me and still you do not believe." The bread which we get for a meal will never satisfy and nourish us completely, since we would become hungry and thirsty again after a while. Jesus is offering us Himself, the bread of life, the kind of bread which would satisfy us both body and soul, provided that we come to Him and believe in Him.

Each day, Jesus is inviting us to partake in this bread of life, the Eucharist, His body, which is real food and real drink, to strengthen us and help us progress in our spiritual journey. It seems strange that there are some who make so much effort to find other forms of bread which satisfies us only temporary, when Jesus is offering us the best bread available and moreover, free of charge. Are we still insisting in going after only worldly bread, or are we making more effort to regularly partake in that heavenly bread for the betterment of our soul?

Thursday 5 February 2015

Tuesday of the 3rd Week of Easter

How many of us are willing to put our lives in danger, or even face death, to uphold the truth? Sometimes we come across wrongdoings, slander, rampant bribery, corruption, crimes being committed, exploitation and enslavement among the weak, the poor and the migrants, and many other heinous acts being committed around us. Are we willing to do all we can to uphold the truth, even if it means that we could end up being ridiculed, persecuted, imprisoned or even murdered or assassinated? Or are we more interested in preserving our lives, afraid or reluctant to get involved, and look the other way?

In today's reading, Stephen said some hard facts and truths to the people, the elders and the scribes which caused them to react in this way: "They were infuriated when they heard this, and ground their teeth at him." But Stephen did not back down or change his stance over the matter, he held his ground and the more he said, the more antagonised the people, the elders and the scribes became, leading to Stephen being sent out of the city and stoned to death. What was Stephen's response to all this? He merely followed what Jesus did on the cross: "'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' Then he knelt down and said aloud, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them.'"

It has been said that for evil men to accomplish their purpose it is only necessary that good men should do nothing. Are we willing to sacrifice ourselves and be bearers of truth, justice and fairness? Or are we only interested in saving our own skin? Let us choose our conduct wisely, for the consequences of our actions is far reaching, and our eternal future is at stake.

Monday of the 3rd Week of Easter

We need food to grow and survive each day. Even though we may be able to go without food for a certain period, eventually we would need to eat something to sustain ourselves. This is where we need to make a living so that we could continue surviving and prospering in this world. Our efforts are certainly not wrong, but sometimes we tend to forget who we really are and what is our ultimate purpose, our ultimate goal. Is this life all there is to us? The food we can taste in this world gives us pleasure and contentment only for a moment; after it has been processed in our stomachs, it becomes waste which we dispel.

This is why, in today's Gospel, Jesus reminds us: "Do not work for food that cannot last, but work for food that endures to eternal life, the kind of food the Son of Man is offering you, for on him the Father, God himself, has set his seal." Jesus is offering the kind of food which will satisfy us completely, not only physically, but spiritually as well. This food is found in His Body, the Eucharist, which we are encouraged to partake each day, so that our souls are nourished and our relationship with God is strengthened. Let us not take for granted or miss out on this precious and heavenly food which Jesus is offering us at no cost, food which has far greater effects and benefits on us as we journey towards our eternal future.

Wednesday 4 February 2015

3rd Sunday of Easter Year B

In ancient times, maintaining cleanliness and proper sanitation was not as simple or easy as today, but people still made effort to ensure that their homes and living quarters were kept clean as best as possible. Maintaining cleanliness also means taking out the garbage, lest the house itself ends up becoming a rubbish dump, which would then attract unwanted creatures like cockroaches, rats, mice and other creepy crawlies which either thrive on the rubbish or feed on the pests and vermin that thrive on the rubbish, which would then pose a danger to humans. We have read horrible accounts of diseases and other deadly forms brought by such unwanted creatures.

However, all this effort of maintaining cleanliness and proper sanitation is only for this world that we live in. What about the trash and junk which we may have picked up when we commit sin? We also need to put out that garbage for collection. If we don’t put out that trash for collection it will also become a dreadful mess, a mess inside us, affecting our entire self. The first reading reminds us: "Now you must repent and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out." Notice that the reading says "now" and not tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, or as and when we are free. The second reading further reinforces the urgency to put out the garbage within us and reminds us that "Jesus Christ, who is just; is the sacrifice that takes our sins away, and not only ours, but the whole world’s." But we must repent and turn to God, so that our sins would be wiped out. So if you have garbage or junk in your life, Jesus is waiting to take it from you; but He will not take it from you by force; He will wait for you to go to Him or open yourself to Him.

This is why we need to constantly remind ourselves of the importance of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This Sacrament is there to remove the accumulated rubbish, garbage and junk from our souls. It is not the priest that you meet in Confession, it is Jesus you meet, and it is He who heals you during the Sacrament. It is not just a Sacrament that is meant only for the season of Advent and the season of Lent. It is a sacrament for use all year round, God's Grace is waiting for us all year round. God is inviting us to get rid of the rubbish which is dirtying and damaging our soul, so that we may have a clear and open channel for God to guide us and heal us. It is strange that people would make lots of effort to buy expensive perfumes and take regular baths to ensure that their bodies are clean and smell pleasant, but they do not see the necessity or urgency to keep their souls clean and smell pleasant too.

Are we still procrastinating and putting off this wonderful and helpful means of getting rid of our inner rubbish? Why allow ourselves to become a source of attraction to the evil vermin waiting to devour us, or infect us with deadly diseases and destroy our being? God is inviting us to get rid of the leprosy of sin within us; it is up to us to seize the many opportunities given to us to seek forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and be clean once again as we grow closer to Him.