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Saturday, April 30, 2016

6th Sunday of Easter, Year C, 01.05.2015

Acts 15:1-2, 22-29 / Apocalypse 21:10-14, 22-23 / John 14:23-29

It is said that Catholics like to collect statues. That is a bit of an understatement. We not only like to collect statues, we love to have statues.

Well, here in the sanctuary, we have the statues of Mother Mary and St. Joseph. Then at the entrance there is the life-size statue of the Sacred Heart. In the room just adjacent to the canteen, there are the statues of St. John the Baptist, St. Francis Xavier, St. Therese of the Child Jesus and a smaller statue of the Sacred Heart.

There are some more statues around the compound, and so there are enough of statues to give us a feeling that this is a holy place.

By and large the statues are standing upright, and that’s the way we are used to seeing them.

Today I like to show you a statue that is not standing upright. Not only is it not upright, it is lying down, sleeping actually.
Sleeping St Joseph

If we are wondering what statue is this, or which saint is this, this peculiar statue came into the so-called “limelight” when Pope Francis visited the Philippines in January 2015.

During a speech he said this: “I would like to tell you something very personal. I like St Joseph very much. He is a strong man of silence. On my desk I have a statue of St Joseph sleeping. While sleeping he looks after the Church.  Yes, he can do it!  We know that. When I have a problem or a difficulty, I write on a piece of paper and I put it under his statue so he can dream about it. This means please pray to St Joseph for this problem.”

The statue that the Pope was talking about is the “Sleeping St. Joseph” and the statue that we are looking at is the “Sleeping St. Joseph”.

Besides what the Pope said about St. Joseph looking after the Church even in his sleep, St. Joseph is a man who listens to the Word of God that is spoken to him in his dreams. And he acts on it.

It was because God’s Word has made its home in him that he was able to provide a home for Jesus and Mary.

Although he had his troubles and fears, he found his peace in God and was able to protect and provide for Jesus and Mary.

So all that Jesus said in the gospel, about keeping His Word, about a peace that the world cannot give, about not letting our hearts be troubled or afraid, all that was actualized in the life of St. Joseph.

And today, the 1st May, we also honour St. Joseph under the title “St. Joseph the Worker” and he is the saint that we turn to today as we ask him to pray for us that we offer our work for the glory of God and also to help us in the difficulties we face at work. 

So even though this statue portrays St. Joseph as sleeping, yet in his sleep he is also working. He is praying for us, praying for the Church as he is also the protector of the Church and model of all who labour.

There is this story of how St. Joseph was sent to answer the prayers of a community of nuns.

In the town of Santa Fe in New Mexico, there stands the Loretto Chapel. Inside the Gothic structure is the staircase referred to as the miraculous, inexplicable, marvelous and is often called St. Joseph’s Staircase. 

The stairway confounds architects, engineers and master craftsmen. It makes over two complete 360-degree turns, stands 20’ tall and has no center support. It rests solely on its base and against the choir loft. The risers of the 33 steps are all of the same height. 

Made of an apparently extinct wood species, it was constructed with only square wooden pegs without glue or nails.

Two mysteries surround the spiral staircase in the Loretto Chapel: the identity of its builder and the physics of its construction.
When the Loretto Chapel was completed in 1878, there was no way to access the choir loft twenty-two feet above. Carpenters were called in to address the problem, but they all concluded that access to the loft would have to be via ladder as a staircase would interfere with the interior space of the small Chapel. 

So the Sisters made a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. On the ninth and final day of prayer, a man appeared at the Chapel with a donkey and a toolbox looking for work. Six months later, the elegant circular staircase was completed, and the carpenter disappeared without pay or thanks. After searching for the man (an ad even ran in the local newspaper) and finding no trace of him, the Sisters concluded that he was St. Joseph himself, having come in answer to the Sisters' prayers.

The staircase is a magnificent structure. The design was innovative for that time (1878) and some of the design considerations still perplex experts even until today.

Of course, seeing is believing, but even without seeing the miraculous staircase, we can believe it. Because with prayer, nothing is impossible, and when St. Joseph rises from his sleep and gets to work, it will be for the glory of God.

Let us ask St. Joseph to pray for us, that like him, we will keep God’s Word and let God’s Word make its home in our hearts. 

In our troubles and anxieties, may Jesus grant us His peace, and it’s a peace which the world cannot give. 

May we also sleep in peace, and rise with strength to work for the glory of God.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

5th Sunday of Easter, Year C, 24.04.2016

Acts 14:21-27 / Apocalypse 21:1-5 / John 13:31-35

There are many phrases and sayings that have the word “tears” in it.

There are “moved to tears”, “burst into tears”, “blood, sweat and tears”, “reduced to tears”, “bored to tears”, and then there is this rather unique phrase “crocodile tears”.

The phrase derives from an ancient belief that crocodiles shed tears while consuming their prey. Strange, isn’t it?

“Crocodile tears” is used to mean a false, insincere display of emotion such as a hypocrite crying fake tears of grief. That is certainly not easy to do that.

It is said that tears are 1% water and 99% emotions, but crocodile tears can be said to be 1% water and 99% deception.

Although much has been said about crocodile tears, much more has also been said about tears that had dropped on the face of the earth.

And most of these are tears of grief and sadness, tears of pain and suffering, tears of disappointment and rejection. We may recall St. Monica’s 30 years of tears for her son St. Augustine before he was finally converted.

Yes, the human race has shed tears since the beginning of time and the tears have not stopped since then.

But it is not only human beings that shed tear?. Would we think that God also sheds tears?

In the gospels, we can remember two occasions that Jesus shed tears.

One was when Jesus shed tears over Jerusalem because it didn’t heed the call to repentance and hence it would fall into the hands of its enemies.

The other was when Jesus wept over the death of his good friend Lazarus.

Today’s gospel began with this line “When Judas had gone” and then it continued with Jesus giving a teaching to His disciples.

There was no mention of how Jesus felt but we may wonder if He was holding back His tears of disappointment and rejection.

He had washed the feet of Judas, He had offered him a piece of bread, which was a sign of love and friendship, He even tried to hint to Judas that He knew about his plans to betray him.

But it was futile and it was in vain. Judas was determined to do what he had planned to do and even Jesus could not stop him. 

Jesus had to let him go and do what he wanted to do. The pain and the hurt that Jesus felt would have probably made Him burst into tears, tears of disappointment and rejection.

Even before the spear pierced His heart, it was already broken by the betrayal of Judas.

But here is where Jesus turned His suffering into strength, and His tears into a teaching.

From the depths of His heart, Jesus gave His disciples a new commandment: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also must love one another. By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples.

This new commandment of Jesus to love one another will give us a new perspective to our own tears.

Pope Francis has this to say about tears – Sometimes in our lives, tears are the lenses we need to see Jesus.

Jesus could have shed tears not just over how Judas betrayed Him, but also how Peter denied Him and also how the other disciples deserted Him in His darkest moments.

But instead of shedding tears, Jesus went on to shed His blood so as to show how much He loved us and how much He wants us to love one another.

There is a story of a wise man who went to a party and while he was among the people, he cracked a joke and the people laughed like crazy. 

After a while he cracked the same joke again, and this time less people laughed. After a while, he cracked the same joke again, but this time no one laughed.

Then he smiled and said: If you can’t laugh over the same joke again and again, then why do you keep crying over the same thing again and again?

That brings us to the 1st reading to what Paul and Barnabas said to the disciples to encourage them to persevere in their faith: We all have to experience many hardships before we enter the kingdom of God.

So there will be hardships in life and it will happen again and again. There will be pain and hurt, grief and sadness, disappointment and rejection.

There will be tears in our eyes. But those tears must also help us to see Jesus who by the shedding of His blood has poured love into our hearts so that we can keep on loving in spite of the tears.

Just as there is no rainbow without the rain, the heart would not have a rainbow if the eyes had no tears.

Yes, in life there will be tears, but tears are also the lenses we need to see how Jesus loved us even to the shedding of His blood.

So even if our eyes are filled with tears, may our hearts also be filled with love, and healed by love, may we share our rainbows of love with those whose eyes are filled with tears.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

4th Sunday of Easter, Year C, 17.04.2016

Acts 13:14, 43-52 / Apocalypse 7:9, 14-17 / John 10:27-30

In this week’s bulletin, there is something other than the usual announcements. 

There is a photo of the Major Seminary formators and the seminarians and also a chart that shows the number of priests in the various age groups.

This Sunday is also called “Vocation Sunday” so a little information about seminarians and priests might be interesting.

A story has it that one church decided to put a rather unique announcement in its bulletin and it is titled “Obituary” and it goes like this:

Our church was saddened to learn this week of the death of one of our most valued members, and he is Mr. Someone Else. 

Someone's passing creates a vacancy that will be difficult to fill. 

Mr. Else has been with us for many years and for all those years, Someone did far more than a normal person's share of the work. 

Whenever there was a job to do, a class to teach, or a meeting to attend, one name was on everyone's list, "Let Someone Else do it." 

Whenever leadership was mentioned, this wonderful person was looked to for inspiration as well as results; "Someone Else can work with that group." 

It was common knowledge that Someone Else was among the most liberal givers in our church. Whenever there was a financial need, everyone just assumed Someone Else would make up the difference. 

Someone Else was a wonderful person and everybody expected a lot of Someone Else. Now that Someone Else is gone, we wonder what we are going to do. 

Someone Else left a wonderful example to follow, but who is going to follow it? Who is going to do the things Someone Else did? 

Mr. Someone Else will be fondly remembered and sadly missed. 

When help is needed we can't depend on Someone Else anymore. 

May Someone Else rest in peace.

Maybe that’s a novel way of highlighting an issue that is usually faced in church.

We come to church but we don’t want to get too involved. We tend to think that when there is something to be done, then there will be “someone else” to do it, but not us.

That’s why church ministries and organizations always have a membership issue. Because we think that someone else will join and do the work.

The same goes with the priesthood. There will be someone else who will join the Seminary and be a priest. But the reality can be seen in the chart in the bulletin.

But in the gospel, Jesus said, “The sheep that belong to Me listen to My voice. I know them and they follow Me.”

Jesus founded the Church and along with it the priesthood so that there will be a continual offering of the Mass in memory of Him.

Obviously it can’t be that Jesus won’t provide the Church with vocations to the priesthood.

So Jesus is calling those He has chosen, but are they hearing His voice? And are we helping those that Jesus has chosen to hear His voice?

Our parish, the Church of the Sacred Heart, was built in 1910. It is one of the oldest parishes in Singapore and also one of the smallest, in terms of size.

But size may not matter, because small does not mean we are invisible and insignificant. 

Since it was built, this parish has produced fruits for the priesthood. 

At least five priests were baptized in this parish, and out of those five, three were ordained here, and one of them became the bishop of Penang.

And there is a seminarian from this parish (Bro. Simon Ho) who is in his third year of formation, and with our prayers we will be able to see his ordination in five years’ time.

So Jesus is indeed calling, and His voice is being heard in this parish.

But another voice is being heard and it’s calling out for “someone else”, as in “let someone else be a priest, but not me”.

“Let someone else join the church ministry and church organization, but not me”. “Let someone else do the work, but not me”.

But as in that church bulletin about the obituary, that “someone else” is gone. There is no more “someone else”.

The voice of Jesus is calling out to us. If we don’t listen, then there will be no one else who will join the priesthood.

If we don’t listen to the voice of Jesus, then no one else will pray for vocations to the priesthood.

If we don’t listen to the voice of Jesus, then it will be time to write an obituary, and it will be an obituary about our church.

But when we listen to the voice of Jesus, then the parish will bear fruit – prayers will be answered, miracles will happen, nothing will be impossible, and there will be vocations to the priesthood, as well as to the religious life.

Jesus is calling; let us listen, and the rest will happen.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

3rd Sunday of Easter, Year C, 10.04.2016

Acts 5:27-32, 40-41 / Apocalypse 5:11-14 / John 21:1-19

We might like to think that having lots of time and nothing to do can be quite an enjoyable thing.

After all, we have always been so busy with work, with children, and with so many other things in life that we hardly have time for ourselves.

So we dreamed about some time in the future when we are retired and the children are grown-up and then we will be free and have lots of time for ourselves.

We will dream of overnight mahjong sessions, go on a cruise, go for holidays, just enjoy life.

After all, we have worked hard in life and we want to have some enjoyment after that.

But for how long can we keep playing mahjong, or going for cruises, or going for holidays? How long can we go on with lots of time and nothing to do?

Because without a challenge and a direction in life, we will begin to lose the meaning of life.

In the gospel, we hear of Peter and the other disciples at the Sea of Tiberius, doing nothing.

Though it was after the resurrection of Jesus, and Jesus had already appeared to them twice, they were not very sure what to do or where to go. They had lots of time but they had nothing to do and nowhere to go.

So Peter suggested they go fishing, hoping that they can make some use of their time.

But it was strange that they caught nothing at all after working hard all night.

Maybe because there was nothing in their minds and in their hearts, even their work also resulted in nothing. Seems like even the fish also didn’t want to go near them.

Until Jesus called out to them. Then things began to change and change so quickly. All of a sudden, there was a miraculous catch of fish. And then one of the disciples realized that it was Jesus.  And when they came back to shore, there was a breakfast ready for them.

But most importantly, Jesus was with them and life began to look different. Life began to look exciting. But it was also going to be challenging.

And at times it may seem like what the disciples went through – going fishing all night but catching nothing.

Life, indeed, has many moments of frustration and disappointment. 

We feel like we wait for nothing and we work for nothing.

Our human inclination is to want life easy and smooth. So whether in church, or at home, or at work, we want it smooth and easy.

Whether in marriage, or in bringing up kids or taking care of aged parents, we want it smooth and easy.

And we can have it our way. So in church organization, if we are not happy, we leave.

If we are not happy at work, we resign. If we are not happy in our marriage, we divorce.

But do we want to choose our way or do we want to live life God’s way?

In the 1st reading, Peter bravely said that obedience to God comes before obedience to man.

Peter could have just obeyed those with power and authority and avoided trouble and saved his life.

But that would mean giving up for nothing and giving up to nothing.

There is a story about not giving up and it goes like this:

One day a man decided to quit. He gave up on his job, his relationship, his spirituality. He wanted to give up on his life. He went to the woods to have one last talk with God. 

"God", he asked, "Can you give me one good reason not to give up?"

His answer surprised the man. "Look around", He said. "Do you see the fern and the bamboo?" "Yes" the man replied.

"When I planted the fern and the bamboo seeds, I took very good care of them. I gave them light. I gave them water.  The fern quickly grew from the earth. Its brilliant green covered the floor. 

Yet nothing came from the bamboo seed. But I did not give up on the bamboo.

In the second year the fern grew more vibrant and plentiful. And again, nothing came from the bamboo seed. But I did not give up on the bamboo. 

In the third year there was still nothing from the bamboo seed. But I would not give up on it

In the fourth year, again, there was nothing from the bamboo seed. I would not give up.

Then in the fifth year a tiny sprout emerged from the earth. 

Compared to the fern it was seemingly small and insignificant. But just 6 months later the bamboo rose to over 100 feet tall.

It had spent the five years growing roots. Those roots made it strong and gave it what it needed to survive. I would not give any of my creations a challenge it could not handle."

He asked me. "Did you know, my child, that all this time you have been struggling, you have actually been growing roots". 

"I would not give up on the bamboo. I will never give up on you. 
Don't compare yourself to others. The bamboo had a different purpose than the fern. Yet, they both make the forest beautiful."

"Your time will come", God said to me. "You will rise high."
"How high should I rise?" the man asked. "How high will the bamboo rise?" God asked in return. "As high as it can?" the man answered. "Yes." God said, "Give Me glory by rising as high as you can."

The Lord will never give up on us and we too must not give up on ourselves, on others and on the challenges and difficulties we face.

Instead of telling the Lord how big the problem is, let us turn around and tell the problem how great the Lord is!

Yes, God is great, all the time. May we use all our time and all our days proclaiming that God is great, all the time.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

2nd Sunday of Easter, Year C, 03.04.2016

Acts 5:12-16 / Apocalypse 1:9-13, 17-19 / John 20:19-31

The one thing that all of us have seen is the reality and the finality of life.

Yes, we have seen our loved ones and relatives and friends pass on from this world to the next. 

But what is this “next world”, we do not know because no one has ever come back from the dead to tell us what it is like.

And even if someone were to come back from that “next world” to tell us what it is like, how would we react to it?

There is this story of a couple who decided to go to somewhere sunny during a particularly cold winter. They planned to stay at the same hotel where they spent their honeymoon 20 years earlier. 

Because of hectic schedules, it was difficult to coordinate their travel schedules. So, the husband flew off first with his wife flying down to join him the following day. The husband checked into the hotel. There was a computer in his room, so he decided to send an email to his wife. However, he accidentally left out one letter in her email address, and without realizing his error, sent the email.

Meanwhile, in another part of the world, a widow had just returned home from her husband's funeral. The widow decided to check her email expecting messages from relatives and friends. 

After reading the first message, she screamed and fainted. The widow's son rushed into the room, found his mother on the floor, and saw the computer screen which read:

To: My Loving Wife
Subject: I've Arrived

I know you're surprised to hear from me. They have computers here now and you are allowed to send emails to your loved ones. I've just arrived and have checked in. I've seen that everything has been prepared for your arrival tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing you then. 

P.S. By the way, you can be sure it is really hot down here!!!

Two things that this story tells us. One is to be careful when typing an email address. The other is that we cannot be too sure how to respond to someone who comes back from the dead.

In the gospel, when Jesus appeared to His disciples, their reaction seemed to be rather mild. Jesus came and stood among them, He said “Peace be with you”, showed them His hands and His side, and they were filled with joy.

But in the other gospels, the reaction of the disciples were quite different. Jesus had to tell them “Do not be afraid” (Mt 28:10). In the gospel of Mark (16:8) the women ran away from the tomb because they were frightened out of their wits and they said nothing to a soul for they were afraid.

And the rest of the disciples didn’t believe it when they were told that Jesus is alive (Mk 16:11). And in the gospel of Luke (24:16-17) when Jesus stood among them, the disciples were in a state of alarm and fright and they thought they were seeing a ghost.

Our own reaction would be no different from that of the disciples if we had any encounters with that of the other world. 

Whether it is a white shadow or a dark shadow, or a scent or a sound, we too would be alarmed and frightened.

But that would probably mean that we are not at peace within. The disciples of Jesus were not at peace after His death because they knew what they had done.

Thomas, who is often called the “Doubter”, was also not at peace and he wanted to touch the wounds of Jesus because he himself had wounds of fear and guilt that needed to be healed.

That is why the first gift of the Risen Christ is peace. “Peace be with you” He said to His disciples. 

Jesus died a horrible and painful death.  Yet, His last sentence was:  “It is accomplished” and “Into your hands Father I commend my spirit”. And then He breathed His last.

His death was horrible and painful, yet Jesus died in peace. He was at peace with God and with Himself.  

He has forgiven those who crucified him, His mother was taken of, and His mission was accomplished.

At His last breath, Jesus had no unfinished business and He died in peace. And hence when He appeared to His disciples, His first words were “Peace be with you”.

Because He wants them to be at peace with themselves, so that they can rejoice with Him in His victory over death. 

That makes us think about what will be in our hearts when we come to the last moments of our lives on this earth. Can we also say that “It is accomplished” and “Into the hands of God I commend my spirit”?

Or will there be unfinished business, like unforgiveness, anger, resentment, bitterness that are burdening our hearts?

Or, the unfinished business of regret, regret like not having told our loved ones that we love them, regret for not showing them that we love them and that we care for them.

Dying with unfinished business is not a peaceful death; in fact it may even be a painful death.

Jesus gives us His peace so that we can live in peace and die in peace. If we have the fear of death, it means that we have fears in life.

When we are at peace within, no evil can happen to us, either in life or after death.

And today as the Church celebrates Divine Mercy Sunday, let us ask the Lord for His mercy and forgiveness, so that we can be at peace with God, with others and with ourselves.

It is with God’s mercy that we can live in peace and rest in peace.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter Sunday, Year C, 27.03.2016

Acts 10:34, 37-43 / Col 3:1-4 / John 20:1-9 

Most of us who were at this church last Easter are here again this Easter.

We may have noticed some things being moved and some things were changed.

Well, things being moved and things being changed are a sign that there is life, there is growth, that it is not stagnating or lifeless.

So can we remember what were the changes or additions to this church since last Easter?

One of the first additions (actually it is a restoration) is the statue of Our Lady at the left side altar.

She was brought down from the loft, cleaned up and touched up after last Easter but she didn’t take her place yet at the side altar because we had to find back St. Joseph.

When we finally found him, and it was by God’s grace we did, we had Mother Mary and St. Joseph back to their original places at the side altars.

So almost all was restored. Except for one more thing – the baptism font.

It seems that the baptism font used to be at somewhere near the Confessional. There were no accounts of why it was removed. But it seems that it was a rather small and inconspicuous baptism font, more like just a holy water font. And there was no proper baptism font after that.

But today, may I introduce to you an item that is our latest addition to our parish.

On your right, weighing 800kg, is our parish’s new baptism font.

The baptism font is
the spiritual womb of the Church
It came in on Thursday, just before the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, and it has been sitting there quietly, observing the Lord’s Supper, the Good Friday services and the Easter Vigil rituals.

And soon, it will fulfill its role as the Elects of our parish come forward for baptism.

But for an 800kg stone item (marble actually), it would actually take quite a lot of manpower to move it.

To move a stone item twice that weight (1600kg) would be certainly more difficult.

That was roughly the weight of the stone that covered the tomb of Jesus. Rolling the stone over the tomb is difficult enough. Rolling the stone away to open the tomb would be more difficult because of the weight of the stone and also because there is a deep groove for the stone to sit on to seal the tomb. Certainly it was not an easy task to roll away the stone.

The gospel accounts about the Resurrection of Jesus, all mentioned about the stone being rolled away from the tomb of Jesus. 

Whatever human possibilities there can be, e.g. the disciples rolled away the stone and took away the body of Jesus and faked His Resurrection, and whatever theories there can be to debunk the Resurrection, we can be certain of one thing.

It is by faith that we believe that the stone was rolled away by the power of the Risen Jesus.

It is by faith that the Elects will come forward to be baptized by Jesus and to share in the power of His Resurrection.

It is by faith that we will renew our baptismal promises and with the power of the Resurrected Christ we will move the stones of our lives.

It is said that faith will move mountains. But in order to move mountains it must begin with the first stone.

And to create mountains, it must also begin with the first stone.

The baptism font is the newest addition to our parish and it may not be the last.

But more importantly are the newest additions of the members of our community – those that are baptized.

And Jesus has given us the task to build His Church and our community.

And by the power of His Resurrection, we will move the stones of our hearts, the stones formed by sin.

Yes, we will move those stones and put those stones into the hands of Jesus, and He will turn those stones into living stones to build the Church of Christ.

The stone that closed the tomb could not stop the Resurrection of Christ. Sin and evil could not stop the Resurrection of Christ. What is impossible for man is not impossible for God.

May we have faith in the Resurrection of Jesus, and as we renew our baptism promises later, let us also believe in the power of the Risen Christ.

It was by the power of His Resurrection that the stone of the tomb was rolled away and the tomb turned into the womb that gave birth to new members of the His Body the Church, and that will also give new life to all of us.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Palm Sunday, Year C, 20.03.2016

Standing for so long during the gospel reading can be quite tiring.

We get tired and after a while we get bored. And then we begin to get distracted. It is certainly difficult to keep focused.

In a way, we are like the disciples who were sleeping while Jesus was desperately praying in the garden of Gethsamane.

And even if we were wide awake, we may just be like Peter, who said the wrong things and did the wrong things.

But just as the Lord Jesus turned and looked straight at Peter, the Lord Jesus is also looking straight at us.

And just as Peter immediately remembered all that Jesus said to him, may we also begin to remember.

May we remember how much Jesus loved us, even to the extent of laying His life on the cross to save us.

May we not sleep through while Jesus suffered for us.

In His suffering, Jesus is offering us healing. In His dying, He is giving us life.

May we then, let the precious blood of Jesus flow into our hearts to heal our wounds and to forgive us our sins. Then with hearts and minds fully awake and remembering how much Jesus loves us , we will be united with Jesus in His suffering, death and resurrection.