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Saturday, June 25, 2016

13th Ordinary Sunday, Year C, 26.06.2016

1 Kings 19:16, 19-21 / Galatians 5:1, 13-18 / Luke 9:51-62

Phones were invented for telecommunication. It means that we can communicate with each other over a distance using the phone.

But nowadays, the phone, or specifically the mobile phone, is used not so much for telecommunication, but for messaging. It seems that messaging has become the norm of communication.

And with messaging, it’s not just about words but also with this thing called emoji. Emoji is a small digital image or icon used to express an idea or an emotion in electronic communication.

And emoji has a whole range from smileys to surprised to sadness. 

So instead of using words we can use an emoji to express an emotion.

One unmistakable emoji that we may have used before is that of anger, and the image or icon that is used to express anger is usually reddish and has an unpleasant expression.

If we had used that anger emoji before and used it quite often, then it may mean that we have anger management issues, or maybe we are playing too much of that “Angry Birds” game.

Whatever it is, anger is one of the most common emotions that we have in our lives. 

Anger is a feeling that makes the mouth work faster than the mind, and when we speak when we are angry, then we will make a speech that we will eventually regret, and that others won’t forget.

Yes, anger teaches us many lessons only if we are willing to learn from it.

In the gospel, Jesus gave His disciples a lesson on anger management.

They came to a Samaritan town, and the people would not welcome Him, and seeing this, the disciples James and John said, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to burn them up?” But He turned and rebuked them.

The fact is that anger doesn’t solve anything. It builds nothing but it can destroy everything.

And holding on to the fire of anger is like holding burning coals with the intent of throwing it at someone else; but we are the ones getting burned.

And that was why Jesus rebuked them. He wanted to free them from that anger so that it won’t destroy them.

And as the 2nd reading puts it: When Christ freed us, He meant us to remain free, and not to submit again to the yoke of slavery, which is the slavery of self-indulgence.

When we give in to self-indulgence, we give in to our anger and it destroys and burns up our love for others.

There is a story that a long time ago in China, a girl named Li-Li got married and went to live with her husband and mother-in-law.

In a very short time, Li-Li found that she couldn’t get along with her mother-in-law at all. Their personalities were very different, and Li-Li was angered by many of her mother-in-law’s habits. In addition, she criticized Li-Li constantly.

Days passed, and weeks passed. Li-Li and her mother-in-law never stopped arguing and fighting. But what made the situation even worse was that, according to ancient Chinese tradition, Li-Li had to bow to her mother-in-law and obey her every wish. All the anger and unhappiness in the house was causing the poor husband  great distress.

Finally, Li-Li could not stand her mother-in-law’s bad temper and dictatorship any longer, and she decided to do something about it.

Li-Li went to see her father’s good friend, Mr. Huang, who sold herbs. She told him the situation and asked if he would give her some poison so that she could solve the problem once and for all. 

Mr. Huang thought for a while, and finally said, “Li-Li, I will help you solve your problem, but you must listen to me and obey what I tell you.”

Li-Li said, “Yes, Mr. Huang, I will do whatever you tell me to do.” Mr. Huang went into the back room, and returned in a few minutes with a package of herbs.

He told Li-Li, “You can’t use a quick-acting poison to get rid of your mother-in-law, because that would cause people to become suspicious. Therefore, I am giving you a number of herbs that will slowly build up poison in her body. Every other day prepare some delicious meal and put a little of these herbs in her serving. Now, in order to make sure that nobody suspects you when she dies, you must be very careful to act very friendly towards her. Don’t argue with her, obey her every wish, and treat her like a queen.”

Li-Li was so happy. She thanked Mr. Huang and hurried home to start her plot of poisoning her mother-in-law.

Weeks went by, months went by, and every other day, Li-Li served the specially treated food to her mother-in-law. She remembered what Mr. Huang had said about avoiding suspicion, so she controlled her temper, obeyed her mother-in-law, and treated her like her own mother. After six months had passed, the whole household had changed.

Li-Li had practiced controlling her temper so much that she found that she almost never got mad or upset. She hadn’t had an argument in six months with her mother-in-law, who now seemed much kinder and easier to get along with.

The mother-in-law’s attitude toward Li-Li changed, and she began to love Li-Li like her own daughter. She kept telling friends and relatives that Li-Li was the best daughter-in-law one could ever find. Li-Li and her mother-in-law were now treating each other like a real mother and daughter.

One day, Li-Li came to see Mr. Huang and asked for his help again. She said, “Mr. Huang, please help me to stop the poison from killing my mother-in-law! She’s changed into such a nice woman, and I love her like my own mother. I do not want her to die because of the poison I gave her.”

Mr. Huang smiled and nodded his head. “Li-Li, there’s nothing to worry about. The herbs I gave you were not poison, but vitamins to improve her health. The only poison was in your mind and your attitude toward her, but that has been all washed away by the love which you gave to her.”

Indeed, the 2nd reading tells us: Serve one another in works of love, since the whole Law is summarised in a single command: Love your neighbor as yourself.

When we are guided by the Spirit of love, then we will not be in danger of yielding to self-indulgence and to anger.

Then we will truly be free to follow Jesus and the emotions that will be on our faces will be peace and joy.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

12th Ordinary Sunday, Year C, 19.06.2016

Zechariah 12:10-11 / Galatians 3:26-29 / Luke 9:18-24

Whenever we talk about history, it may seem to be like a burden to the mind especially when it comes to dates, events, places and names that are difficult to pronounce.

But this where we need to remember that history is formed by people, regardless of whether they are famous or not.

The word “history” is from Greek “historia” and it means a learning or knowing by inquiry, or an investigation.

So it can be said that history makes an inquiry or investigation of the lives of the famous people in the past and gives us an account of their lives.

With regards to that, let us look at these two questions:

Question 1: If you knew a woman who was pregnant, who had 8 kids already, three who were deaf, two who were blind, one mentally retarded, and she had syphilis; would you recommend that she have an abortion?

And as we think about the answer to that question, let us look at the second question.

It is time to elect a new world leader, and your vote counts. Here are the facts about the three leading candidates:

Candidate A: He associates with crooked politicians, and consults with astrologists. He's had two mistresses. He also chain smokes and drinks 8 to 10 martinis a day.

Candidate B: He was kicked out of office twice, sleeps until noon, used opium in college and drinks a quart of whisky every evening.

Candidate C: He is a decorated war hero. He's a vegetarian, doesn't smoke, drinks an occasional beer and hasn't had any extramarital affairs.

Which of these candidates would be your choice? Here are the identities of the three candidates - Candidate A is Franklin D. Roosevelt (served as the President of the United States from 1933 to 1945), Candidate B is Winston Churchill (who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955), Candidate C is Adolf Hitler (leader of Nazi Germany from 1934 to 1945).

And by the way, back to the first question: the answer to the abortion question is that if we said yes, then we just killed Beethoven (one of the most famous and influential of all composers).

So history has a way of making an inquiry or investigation into the lives of famous people and giving an account of their lives.

In the gospel, Jesus asked two questions – who do the crowds say He is, and who do the disciples say He is.

The first question was relatively easy as the disciples gave Him the opinion of the crowds – John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the ancient prophets come back to life.

The second question was rather difficult as they had to give their own opinion of who Jesus is.

While the other disciples were thinking of what kind of answer to give, it was Peter who spoke up and said that Jesus was the Christ of God. But whether he knew what he was saying is another matter.
And here is where Jesus gave two teachings – one about Himself and the other about us.

He said that He was destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death, and to be raised up on the third day.

And then to all He said, “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.”

The first was fulfilled, as we know, on the cross, that Jesus suffered and died, and rose again.

The second is for us to understand and believe and by which we will give an account of our lives.

There is a story of a wise man who had an opponent who criticized him for everything he said and did.

Then one day someone came up to the wise man and said excitedly, “Master, do you know what I just heard about your opponent?"
The wise man replied, "Before you tell me I'd like you to pass a little test first. It's called the Triple Filter Test. Let us take a moment to filter what you are going to say.

The first filter is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?" The man said "No, actually I just heard about it."   

The wise man said, "So you don't really know if it's true or not. 

Now let's try the second filter, the filter of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my opponent something good?" The man replied, “No, on the contrary..."    

"So," the wise man continued, "You want to tell me something about my opponent that may be bad, even though you're not certain if it's true?" The man shrugged, and felt a little embarrassed.

The wise man continued, "You may still pass the test though, because there is a third filter, the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my opponent going to be useful to me?" The man replied, “No, not really.”

"Well," the wise man concluded, "If what you want to tell me is neither True nor Good nor even Useful, then why tell it to me or to anyone at all?"

So what we want to hear is what is true, what is good and what is useful to us.

In the gospel, Jesus told us the Truth about Himself – that He will suffer and die on the cross so as to save us.

He also told us what is good and what is useful to us – that we must take up our cross and follow Him.

In order for Jesus to save us, we too must live by the truth and speak the truth.

Like Jesus, we pour out our lives to do good and speak what is good so that it will do good to others and be useful for them.

Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. History has given us an account of His life and proved that He is the Saviour.

May we too live by His Truth, and do what is good and help others to be saved.

Then we would be able to give an account of our lives before Jesus and before others.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

11th Ordinary Sunday, Year C, 12.06.2016

2 Sam 12:7-10, 13 / Galatians 2:16, 19-21 / Luke 7:36 – 8:3

Most of us know what the flag of Israel looks like. For those of us who have been on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, we would have seen the flag.

It is quite a simple flag – two blue stripes at the top and bottom against a white background, to symbolize the stripes on a tallit, the traditional Jewish prayer shawl.

And in the middle, between the two blue stripes is the six-pointed Star of David, or the Shield of David.

Needless to say, the “David” that is referred to is king David in the Bible, so it might be necessary to know a bit of the Bible in order to know who this king David was.

But even without referring to the Bible, we would have heard stories about king David in our early catechism classes.

For example, we would have heard of the story of the battle between David and Goliath, and how the young David overcame the giant and heavily armed Goliath with just a sling and a stone. 

So never underestimate the simple and humble.

And it was king David who united Israel as a nation and he brought about the golden age of Israel, as Israel became a wealthy and mighty nation under his rule.

But the glory of king David also had a terrible blemish and it went into the pages of the Bible.

It was not just a terrible blemish; it was a hideous sin, and it was what we heard in the 1st reading.

In summary, he committed adultery with Bathsheba, and when he found out that she was pregnant, he tried to make her husband Uriah the Hittite to take responsibility, and when he failed, he schemed to have him struck down in battle.

It was an atrocious sin, and when the prophet Nathan confronted him, king David could have just silenced him and do away with him. But that would, of course, add sin upon sin.

But this is where king David came to his senses and realized that God knows what he had done.

He could only say: I have sinned against the Lord.

But that was enough to bring about God’s forgiveness. David only had to openly admit to his guilt and God was all ready to forgive David.

In the gospel, we heard about a woman who had a bad name in the town, coming before Jesus with an alabaster jar of ointment. She waited behind Him at His feet, weeping, and her tears fell on His feet, and she wiped them away with her hair and she covered His feet with kisses and anointed them with the ointment.

She did not say anything but her actions showed that she was confessing her sins to Jesus, and she was forgiven. Jesus understood that by her actions, she was asking for forgiveness and it was granted to her.

So high and mighty king David and the despised and lowly woman in the gospel made an outward confession of their sin.

And this outward confession of sin is necessary in order to obtain the mercy and forgiveness of God.

As the Responsorial Psalm puts it: But now I have acknowledged my sins; my guilt I did not hide. I said “I will confess my offence to the Lord.” And you, Lord, have forgiven the guilt of my sin.

There is this story of a little boy visiting his grandparents was given his first catapult.  He practiced in the woods, but he could never hit his target.

As he came back to Grandma’s back yard, he noticed her pet duck.  On an impulse he took aim and let fly.  The stone hit the duck, and the duck fell dead.

The boy panicked.  Desperately he hid the dead duck in the wood pile, only to look up and see his sister watching.  Sally had seen it all, but she said nothing.

After lunch that day, Grandma said, “Sally, let’s wash the dishes.”  But Sally said, “Johnny told me he wanted to help in the kitchen today.  Didn’t you Johnny?”  And she whispered to him, “Remember the duck!”  So Johnny did the dishes.

Later, Grandpa asked if the children wanted to go fishing.  

Grandma said, “I’m sorry, but I need Sally to help me make supper.”  Sally smiled and said, “That’s all taken care of.  Johnny wants to do it.”  Again she whispered, “Remember the duck.” So Johnny stayed while Sally went fishing.

After several days of Johnny doing both his chores and Sally’s, finally he couldn’t take it anymore.  He confessed to Grandma that he’d killed the duck.

“I know, Johnny,” she said, giving him a hug.  “I was standing at the window and saw the whole thing.  Because I love you, I forgave you.  But I wondered how long more you would let Sally make a slave of you.”

Yes, sin makes us a slave of our guilt, and the trouble is that we try to cover up one sin with another and we get chained up and dragged down by our sins.

But by confessing our guilt, God forgives us and frees us from our sin so that we can be at peace with God, with others and with ourselves.

That is what happens at the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We confess our sins, and Jesus forgives us and frees us from our sin so that we can have peace within.

Our guilt would make us want to hide our sin, but we must know that we can’t hide anything from God.

On the contrary, we find refuge in God as the Responsorial Psalm puts it: You are my hiding place, O Lord; You save me from distress. 

Let us confess our sins, so that we can have peace within.   

Saturday, June 4, 2016

10th Ordinary Sunday, Year C, 05.06.2016

1 Kings 17:17-24 / Galatians 1:11-19 / Luke 7:11-17

If we have to choose a name, whether for ourselves or for someone or for something, what criteria would we use.

What do we think a name should have, or should be?

Certainly a name must have a good meaning. No one would choose a name with a strange or funny meaning.                          

A name should also have a nice sound to it. And it should also be easily pronounced by aunties and uncles, as well as by grandmothers and grandfathers, because a difficult-to-pronounce name might dislodge their dentures  : P

For example, Sacred Heart in French is “Sacre Coeur”. The French pronunciation can be rather difficult.

With all these considerations, what would we think of the name “Barnabas”?

Although that name is found in the New Testament, it is not that common or popular a name.

But it has a good meaning. It means “son of consolation” or “son of encouragement”.

The apostles gave that name to a convert who sold away his property and gave the money to the apostles.

And Barnabas, who was that convert, lived up to his name. He went around preaching the Good News that brought consolation to those in distress, and he encouraged the Christian communities to stand firm in their faith in the face of trials.

St. Barnabas was indeed a great figure in the early Church, and his feast day is on the 11th June.

So the name Barnabas has the meaning of “one who consoles and encourages”.

Consolation and encouragement are two qualities that also express the love and mercy of God.

Consolation and encouragement are also two qualities that people yearn for in times of grief and brokenness.

In the gospel, we heard that Jesus was on His way to a town called Naim with His disciples and a great number of people.

When He was near the gate of that town, there was another crowd coming out.

It was a funeral procession of a dead man, the only son of a woman, who was a widow.

In that moment, divinity was met with a tragedy; life was met with a death.

When Jesus saw the widow, He felt sorry for her. His heart went out to her.

Then He told her, “Do not cry.” He then went up a put His hand on the bier, and the next thing He said was, “Young man, I tell you to get up.”

And the young man was brought back to life, and with that the people were filled with awe and praised God.

Jesus felt for the widow. His heart went out to her. He consoled her, and He even brought her son back to life.

With that, Jesus renewed the faith of the widow and the faith of the people the faith and gave them the courage to face the trials of life.

In what Jesus said and did, He taught the people about the heart of God – the heart of God that goes out to us to console us and to encourage us.

There is a story by an unknown writer and the title is “The most important part of the body”. The story goes like this.

My mother used to ask me what was the most important part of the body. Young as I was, I thought sound was very important to us. So I would say, “My ears, Mommy!" 

“No!” she would say. “There are so many people who cannot hear well or cannot hear at all! But you keep thinking and I will ask you again soon.” And so it went on until several years passed before she asked me again. 

Since making my first attempt, I contemplated on the correct answer. Or so I thought I had! 

So this time I told her, “Mommy, sight is very important to everybody, so it must be our eyes.” 

She looked at me and told me, “You are learning fast, but there are many people who cannot see clearly or even not at all.” 

Stumped again, I continued my quest for knowledge and after a few years, mother asked me a couple of times more and always her answer was, “No. But you are getting smarter every year, my child!” 

Then one year, my grandfather died. Everybody was sad and everybody was crying. 

Even my father wept. I remember that especially because I had never seen him cry before.

My mom looked at me when it was our turn to say our final good-bye to grandpa. She asked me, “Don’t you know the most important body part yet, my child?” 

I was shocked when she asked me this now. I always thought this was a game between her and me. 

She saw the confusion on my face and told me, “This question is very important. It shows how you have lived your life. For every body part you gave as the answer in the past, I have told you that it was wrong, even giving you the reason why. But today is the day you need to learn this important lesson.” 

She looked down at me as only a mother can. I saw her eyes welling up with tears. She said, “My dear, the most important part of the body is your shoulder.” 

“My shoulder? Is it because it holds up my head?” l asked. 

“No,” she replied, “it is because it can hold the head of a friend or a loved one when they cry. Everybody needs a shoulder to cry on sometime in life. l only hope that you have enough love and enough friends that you will always have a shoulder to cry on when you need it.” 

Then and there I knew that the most important body part is the part that shows sympathy to the pain of others. 

People might forget what we said. People might forget what we did. But people will NEVER forget how we made them feel. 

On Friday we celebrated the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and with it we also celebrated our parish feast day.

Before that we had a triduum, three days of prayer, during which petition envelops were given out for us to write our prayer petitions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Over those three day, about 3000 prayer petition envelopes were received and they are now placed at the side altars of Mother Mary and St. Joseph. 

It was just a humble prayer petition envelop, but it was also a symbol of the Heart of Jesus on which we write down the cries of our hearts.

Jesus offers us not just His shoulder but also His Heart to cry on.
And when He has wiped away our tears, let us also ask Jesus to make our hearts like His.

Let us be a consolation and encouragement for others so that they can feel the Heart of Jesus and maybe even a shoulder to cry on.

In times of grief and anguish, in sorrow and in pain, let us be a consolation and encouragement for others, so that they will know that Jesus comes to visit them and to give them life and hope.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Corpus Christi, Year C, 28.05.2016

Genesis 14:18-20 / 1 Cor 11:23-26 / Luke 9:11-17

The word “eat” is a popular word and for us it is a favourite word.

Because it forms our favourite question: “Where to eat?”. And it also forms our next favourite question: “What to eat?” Not that there is nothing to eat. Rather there is too much to choose from; we are really spoilt for choice.

And there are also many phrases that use the word “eat”: eat-and-run; dog-eat-dog; eat your own words; eat humble pie; eat like there’s no tomorrow; you can’t have your cake and eat it.

And then there’s this one that is rather amusing – eat your heart out.

The meaning is that if you say "eat your heart out” followed by the name of a famous person, you are jokingly saying that you are even better than that person. 

The origin of that phrase means to suffer in silence from anguish or grief, or more graphically, to have the heart eaten out with desire, bitterness, or pain.

But on the funny side, when this is referred to the eating capabilities of teenagers, we can say that they can eat their hearts out without affecting their appetites.

So when there is an abundance of food, we can think of humourous sayings and even make philosophical reflections.

In the gospel, food was also the talking point.

But there wasn’t anything to laugh about, nor was it an occasion to make profound reflections about eating.

Simply because there wasn’t anything to eat. Or to put it more correctly, there were five thousand men and only five loaves and two fish.

The disciples proposed the most convenient solution – send the people away and let them solve the problem themselves.

Jesus counter proposed: Give them something to eat yourselves.

As the disciples stared at the five loaves and two fish and wondered how to solve the overwhelming problem, Jesus proceeded with the underlying solution.

He took the five loaves and two fish, raised His eyes to heaven, said the blessing over them, broke it and distributed it.

And a miracle happened. They all ate as much as they wanted and when the scraps remaining were collected, they filled twelve baskets.

Yes, a miracle happened, and as we look at Jesus blessing the food, breaking it and distributing it, it all pointed to one thing – He gave them something to eat, He gave His heart out.

Today the Church celebrates the feast of Corpus Christi, which means the Body of Christ.

Jesus feeds us with His Body, and it also means He gives His Heart out to us.

*But the weakening of faith in the Real Presence of the Risen Christ in the Eucharist is one of the most significant aspects of the current spiritual crisis. Jesus wants to strengthen our faith in His Eucharistic presence. That is why from time to time in the history of the Catholic Church He gives us signs - Eucharistic miracles that clearly point to the fact that He, the Risen Lord Himself in the mystery of His Divinity and glorified humanity, is truly present in the Eucharist. 

The most recent Eucharistic miracle recognized by the Church authorities occurred in 1996 in the capital of Argentina–Buenos Aires.

In the evening on August 18, 1996, Fr. Alejandro Pezet was saying Holy Mass at a Catholic church in the commercial center of Buenos Aires. As he was finishing distributing Holy Communion, a woman came up to tell him that she had found a discarded host at the back of the church. Fr. Alejandro went and saw the defiled Host. Since he was unable to consume it, he placed it in a container of water and put it away in the tabernacle of the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament.

On Monday, August 26, upon opening the tabernacle, he saw to his amazement that the Host had turned into a bloody substance. He informed Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (who is now Pope Francis) who gave instructions that the Host be professionally photographed. The photos were taken on September 6. They clearly show that the Host, which had become a fragment of bloodied flesh, had grown significantly in size. For several years the Host remained in the tabernacle, the whole affair being kept a strict secret. Since the Host suffered no visible decomposition, Cardinal Bergoglio decided to have it scientifically analyzed.

In 1999, in the presence of the Cardinal’s representatives, Dr. Castanon took a sample of the bloody fragment and sent it to New York for analysis. Since he did not wish to prejudice the study, he purposely did not inform the team of scientists of its provenance. 

One of these scientists was Dr. Frederic Zugiba, the well-known cardiologist and forensic pathologist. He determined that the analyzed substance was real flesh and blood containing human DNA. Dr. Zugiba testified that, “the analyzed material is a fragment of the heart muscle found in the wall of the left ventricle close to the valves. This muscle is responsible for the contraction of the heart, and it pumps blood to all parts of the body. The heart muscle is in an inflammatory condition and contains a large number of white blood cells. 

This indicates that the heart was alive at the time the sample was taken. It is my contention that the heart was alive, since white blood cells die outside a living organism. They require a living organism to sustain them. Thus, their presence indicates that the heart was alive when the sample was taken. 

What is more, these white blood cells had penetrated the tissue, which further indicates that the heart had been under severe stress, as if the owner had been beaten severely about the chest.”

When Dr. Zugiba was asked how long the white blood cells would have remained alive if they had come from a piece of human tissue, which had been kept in water, he replied that they would have ceased to exist in a matter of minutes. Then he was told that the source of the sample had first been kept in ordinary water for a month and then for another three years in a container of distilled water; only then had the sample been taken for analysis. Dr. Zugiba was at a loss to account for this fact. 

There was no way of explaining it scientifically, he stated. Only then was he told that the analyzed sample came from a consecrated Host (white, unleavened bread) that had mysteriously turned into bloody human flesh. 

Amazed by this information, Dr. Zugiba replied, “How and why a consecrated Host would change its character and become living human flesh and blood will remain an inexplicable mystery to science, a mystery totally beyond her competence.” * (Eucharistic Miracle in Buenos Aires, by Fr. Mieczysław Piotrowski S.Chr.)
So for those who have faith and believe, no explanation is necessary; but for those who do not believe no explanation is possible.

We who have faith must also ask the Lord Jesus to increase our faith and to always believe that in giving us His Body, Jesus also gave His Heart out to us.

As we receive the Body of Christ in Holy Communion, Jesus wants to heal us from eating our hearts out in anguish or grief, or in bitterness or pain.

Jesus gives His Heart out to us. May we in turn give our hearts out to others. 

That is what the Body of Christ is about. And that is what being the Body of Christ is about.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Trinity Sunday, Year C, 22.05.2016

Proverbs 8:22-31 / Romans 5:1-5 / John 16:12-15

It is said that knowledge is power. Learning new things every day help us grow in many ways. But whatever we have learnt or are learning, there is still a massive amount of knowledge out there that remains to be learnt.

Some facts can be just trivia, which can be interesting, or amusing, or just simply amazing.

Did we know that the sentence "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" uses every letter in the English alphabet? That’s why that sentence is used for typing lessons for beginners.

Did we know the the average person falls asleep in 7 minutes? That’s why the recommended time for the length of a homily is 7 minutes.

Did we know that apples are more effective at waking you up in the morning than coffee? 

Did we know that money is the number one thing that people argue about?

Did we know that the most common mental illnesses are anxiety and depression?

And talking about anxiety and depression, it can stem from what we know, as well as what we do not know.

So knowledge of our present situation may lead us to depression, yet we are also anxious to know about our future.

A story goes that a young man was rather depressed about his current situation, and so he decided to go to a fortune-teller to see what his future is like.

So the fortune-teller studied his palm and then he told the young man, “You will be poor, unhappy and unmarried until you are 40.” 
And so the young man anxiously asked, “After that? After that?” And the fortune-teller replied, “After that you will get used to it!”

Maybe the truth here is that life is difficult and even depressing at times, and we have to get used to that. Or at least we have to be prepared for that.

In the gospel, Jesus said to His disciples, “I still have many things to say to you but they would be too much for you now.”

He could be referring to what was going to happen soon, i.e. He will be betrayed into the hands of His enemies, His disciples will desert Him, He will suffer and die on the cross.

But that would be too much for His disciples to handle for the moment. It would be too depressing for them.

Yet, Jesus also added this – But when the Spirit of truth comes, he will lead you to the complete truth.

So as much as the reality of life is that it is difficult and even depressing at times, there is an even greater truth that is promised by God in the scriptures.

Because in the book of the prophet Jeremiah, God has this to say to His people. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

It is by trusting in the Lord’s promise of the future for us that we dare to look towards the future with hope and not with despair.

Some of us may remember Arthur Ashe. Arthur Ashe became the first, and is still the only, Afro-American male player to win the U.S. Open and Wimbledon. He is also the first Afro-American to be ranked No. 1 in the world. Always an activist, when Ashe learned that he had contracted AIDS via a blood transfusion, he turned his efforts to raising awareness of the disease, before finally succumbing to it on February 6, 1993.

When he was suffering from the disease, he received letters from his fans the world over, one of which conveyed: "Why does God have to select you for such a bad disease?"

To this Arthur Ashe replied with this one paragraph, and it is often quoted as the paragraph that explains life: "All over the world 50 million children start playing tennis, 5 million learn to play tennis, 500,000 learn professional tennis, 50,000 come to the circuit, 5000 reach the Grand Slam, 50 reach Wimbledon, 4 to the semi-finals, 2 to the finals, and when I was holding the cup I never asked God “Why me?”. And today in pain I should not be asking God “Why me?”

For us, as the mystery of life unfolds before us, and especially when distress and turmoil swirl around us, we will be inclined to ask God “Why me?” But at the same time, another mystery is also unfolding before us, and it is the mystery of God who is Trinity.

Yes, we know who God is from the Bible and from what the Church taught us. We know that God is the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

God the Father sent His Son to be like us in all things so as to teach us how to live life, and in turn Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to be our Helper and Guide and to lead us the truth of life and even to the complete truth.

The truth of life is essentially the truth of God the Trinity. The truth of God is that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are united in love with one another.

And the truth of life is that we are to live our lives in love for God and for one another so that we can look to the future with hope and love.

Over the past couple of weeks, many of us have offered our time and love to fold these Jesus Invites for others so that they will come for the parish Triduum and Feastday and to experience for themselves the love of God for them.

Over the past week, many of us have prayed for Fr. Paul Tong’s recovery and offered our services to care for him after his discharge.

These are the facts of love that we need to know, and we can see God’s love being revealed in these acts of love. When we understand these facts and acts of love, then we will be ready to understand the love of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When we understand, then we will also want to love others as God has loved us.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Pentecost Sunday, Year C, 15.05.2016

Acts 2:1-11 / 1 Cor 12:3-7, 12-13 / John 20:19-23

In today’s feast of Pentecost, the focus is none other than on the Holy Spirit.

As we heard in the 1st reading, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles like a powerful wind from heaven and in tongues of fire.

That day was a great happening for the Church and they began to speak in foreign languages as the Holy Spirit gave them the gift of speech. It was a dramatic day.

Another occasion that we hear about the Holy Spirit is during the celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation for the teenagers. 

The bishop will be there, relatives and friends will be there, the teenagers are all dressed up, many photographs will be taken.

But after that, something strange happens. The teenagers seem to go into secret service or they go undercover. Because they don’t seem to be seen around anymore.

It’s like the story about the two Christian pastors and a Catholic priest having a discussion about the problem of birds in their churches.

The first pastor said that he covered up all the holes in the roof of the church but the birds still managed to come in. The second pastor said that he called the pest control company but the problem persisted.

Then they asked the Catholic priest how he handled the problem, and he said, “Oh I just confirm them, and they never come back.”
So, the Sacrament of Confirmation seemed to have a strange effect on Catholic teenagers; they seem to have “gone off” after that.

Maybe the name of the Sacrament can be changed to something like “Sacrament of Confirmation and Last Rites”. 

But what Jesus said in the gospel will make us think again about this feast of Pentecost, about the Sacrament of Confirmation, and maybe even about “Last Rites” (which is also called “Extreme Unction” or “Anointing of the sick”.

Before He breathed on His disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit, He said to them: As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.

And in the 1st reading, we hear what they were sent to do – they went out of that room and they began to proclaim the marvels of God, and those who heard them were amazed and astonished.

That’s the power of the Spirit working in the disciples. And if we were there witnessing it, we would say it in our own language – That’s the Spirit!

But that was then. What about now? Do we still see the Spirit working marvels in our day and age, and will we say: That’s the Spirit!

There is one prominent member of our community who would really want to be with us in this celebration of Pentecost, but he can’t.

I am talking about Fr. Paul Tong who is in hospital and recovering from an open surgery to remove his gall bladder.

Last Sunday evening, I went to the hospital to give him the “Anointing of the sick” to prepare him for the surgery the next day. It was a rather urgent surgery.

After the anointing, he said, “I’ll be ok, I’ll be ok”. At 9pm he waved his hand to tell us to go back, and when we still hung around he waved his hand again to tell us to go home, and he said this, “I want to sleep.” I was amazed by his calmness, and a few moments after that he snuggled himself to sleep. He was such a peaceful sight. Amazing.

The operation was successful but at 89 years-old Fr. Tong was worn down by it, and he slept through Monday and Tuesday.

On Wednesday I managed to catch him on one of his lucid moments and he asked me what day it was. When I told him it was Wednesday, he raised his hand and counted, “Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Can, can, I can come back on Sunday to do Mass!”

And before I could say anything, he dozed off. I was amazed by his spirit. Even though he was lying flat on the hospital bed, with tubes running here and there, he was already thinking of coming back to serve the community. What a spirit! But, that’s the Spirit.

Then on Thursday evening, the Archbishop informed me that he was coming to see Fr. Tong at 8.45pm. As the time was approaching, I could see that Fr. Tong was sound asleep and I just couldn’t bring myself to wake him up.

So I said a short prayer and then whispered into his ear that the Archbishop was coming to see him. But he was in deep sleep, and so I went down to meet the Archbishop.
Archbishop William Goh praying over Fr Paul Tong

When I met him, I tried to explain that Fr. Tong was resting, he was tired, he may not be awake to acknowledge the Archbishop and I hoped that the Archbishop won’t be disappointed that he couldn’t talk to him.

But when we went into the room, there was Fr. Tong, sitting up and wide awake and having his cup of Milo and biscuits. The Archbishop glanced at me and he probably wondered what I was talking about earlier. I could only say that the Spirit woke him up to meet the Archbishop.

We may think that Fr. Tong’s hospitalization and surgery was unfortunate, but God turned suffering into blessing and the Holy Spirit showed the mighty power of healing.

On Friday, after lying in bed for five days, Fr. Tong got up from bed and walked under the guidance of two physiotherapists. He did very well and won the praise of the physiotherapists.

The doctor said that Fr. Tong’s recovery was remarkable and he could be back in the parish by Monday. Certainly, it was the Holy Spirit gathering up our prayers for Fr. Tong that such a marvelous recovery and healing had happened.

The Holy Spirit was like a mighty wind moving our hearts to pray for Fr. Tong and moving the hearts of many members of our parish community to roster themselves to keep 24-hour vigil over Fr. Tong, so that someone will be around as and when he needed assistance.

So even though Fr. Tong could not be with us in this celebration of Pentecost, yet in his hospital bed, he already bore witness to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit working marvelously in his healing and recovery.

And it is also a testimony of how the Holy Spirit moved people to pray and to offer their service to those in need.

What the Holy Spirit did for Fr. Tong and through Fr. Tong, the Holy Spirit will also do for us and work marvels through us.

We only need to heed what the letter to the Galatians tells us (Gal 5:16, 22, 25): Learn to live and move in the Spirit. Then there is no danger of your giving way to the impulses of corrupt nature. The Spirit yields a harvest of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, forbearance, gentleness, faith, courtesy, temperateness and purity. Since we live by the Spirit, let the Spirit be our rule of life.