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Saturday, October 25, 2014

30th Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 26-10-2014

Exodus 22:20-26 / 1 Thess 1:5-10 / Matthew 22:34-40

There was a piece of news during this week that may not have caught our attention, but it may be of concern to our children.

It's about the schools. A total of 52 schools will get new principals next year.

A new principal would probably mean that the school will embark on a new vision, a new mission and maybe a new direction.

But whatever new things that may happen in a school that has a new principal, the fundamentals won't be changed that much.

Because the fundamental purpose of a school is to provide education for its students.

And the task of the principal is to ensure that the teachers will teach the students well.

It is said that the best teachers are those who show the students where to look, but won't tell them what to see.

In other words, a good teacher will let the students discover what they need to learn.

But there are times when what the student discovers and learns may need some realignment.

A Sunday school teacher was teaching her class about the 10 Commandments in preparation for their First Confession (8 year-olds)

After explaining the Commandment to "honour thy father and mother" she asked the class, " Is there a commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?"

Immediately one boy puts up his hand and answered, "Thou shall not kill."   : 0

If we had grown up with siblings, we probably would have agreed with that boy.

And we may have to admit that some people are such a pain for us that we would have done something drastic if not for that commandment.

In the gospel, we heard that the Pharisees asked Jesus about which is the greatest commandment of the Law.

The Pharisees were such a pain for Jesus. As if they don't know what is the greatest commandment of the Law.

But they asked that question not so much for discussion but rather to disconcert Jesus.

To disconcert is to upset or to frustrate or to ruffle or irritate someone. It's certainly not a nice thing to do to someone.

And Jesus could have given those Pharisees a piece of His mind just to shut them up, just as He had silenced the Sadducees earlier.

But being a good teacher, Jesus showed them where to look , and He left it to them to see whatever they want to see or whatever they have to see.

The first and greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.

And then it is followed by this: You must love your neighbour as yourself.

So to love God is to see God in your neighbour and that would also mean to see yourself in your neighbour.

Jesus told the Pharisees where to look, but what they want to see is for them to choose and decide.

So we are also told where to look. And what do we see?

As for Jesus, He saw that it would be more loving to give those Pharisees  a bit of His heart than to give them a piece of His mind.

We too would be happier when we give people a bit of our heart rather than a piece of our mind.

But when we look at the people around us, those at home, those at work, those in Church, it would be easier to give them a piece of our mind than a bit of our heart.

And here lies the lesson of life - Nothing and no one ever goes away until they teach us what we need to know.

God doesn't give us the people we want. He gives us the people we need - people who will hurt us, people who will leave us, but also people who will help us and people who will love us, so as to make us into the persons we were meant to be.

When we can see that, then we would have understood the lesson of life.

And with that, we will be able to love God and love our neighbour as ourselves.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Mission Sunday, 18-10-2014

Isaiah 2:1-5 / Ephesians 3:2-12 / Mark 16:15-20

The job market in Singapore is a tight and dense market, but there are still jobs available.

But the job market has also changed over the years.

In the past, getting a job in Singapore would mean we would be working locally and we won't expect to be going anywhere out of the country.

Even going for business trips would mean that it is for a few days or a couple of weeks and then we will return to home sweet home.

We know of expatriate professionals (expats for short)  working here and sometimes we would even envy them for all the perks that they get, but we would not think much about working overseas for an extended period of time.

But now, things have changed. The job market has changed.

Singaporeans are being stationed overseas and working there for extended periods of time on contract basis.

It has even become such that if you decline an overseas posting, then your career might come to a standstill

In fact, an offer for an overseas posting may be considered as a promotion and an advancement in the career.

(But for diocesan priests like myself, an overseas posting is very unlikely because diocesan priests are ordained for the local Church).

Nonetheless, an overseas posting is both exciting and challenging.

We will probably get the perks and the frills of an expat, and maybe even get much more than when we are working in our own country.

At the same time, it can be challenging in having to adapt to the new environment and meeting up to the expectations of the new posting.

And it can be quite stressful and even distressful to be away from the comfort and security of home and country.

In the gospel, we heard that as Jesus showed Himself to the Eleven after His Resurrection, He also said to them: Go out to the whole world, proclaim the Good News to all creation.

In no mistakable terms, Jesus was giving His disciples an overseas posting, and they cannot decline it, they can't reject it and it is also non-negotiable.

Today, as the Church celebrates Mission Sunday, we are reminded that like the disciples, we are called and chosen and sent.

But it does not necessarily mean that we have to go overseas. Essentially it means that we are sent to people.

Because Roman 10:13-15 has this to say: For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But they will not ask His help unless they believe in Him, and they will not believe in Him unless they have heard of Him, and they will not hear of Him unless they get a proclaimer, and they will never have a proclaimer unless one is sent.

Yes, we are sent to people to bring them the Good News of Jesus Christ.

But we must also remember that people don't care about what we know until and unless they know that we care about them.

The prerequisite for the proclamation of the Good News is that we care for the people that we are sent to.

Last Tuesday at the Singapore Sports Hub, there was a friendly international match between Brazil and Japan. The match ended with Brazil winning 4-0.

But what was interesting was what happened after the match. After the match, the Japanese fans, though disappointed with their team's defeat, did something amazing.

They immediately took out light blue plastic bags and collected all the trash in the section of the stadium where they were gathered.

And it wasn't the first time they were doing it. In the World Cup in June, they also did the similar thing.

Those Japanese fans showed that even though they were in a foreign country, they cared about the environment and respected the people of the country.

And in the disappointment of defeat, those Japanese fans displayed true sportsmanship.

In the sport that is often marred with hooliganism, what the Japanese fans did was very edifying. Maybe it's the Japanese culture, maybe it's their way of life, maybe it's their upbringing. Whatever it may be, we can learn something from them.

Mission Sunday reminds us that Jesus sends us out to people, and the first thing that we need to do in order to witness to the Good News is to respect the people and to care about what they care about, even if it means picking up the trash.

We are sent to our family members at home, to our colleagues at our workplace, to the people that we meet along the way, even to the people in Church.

When these people know that we care about them and respect them, then it is the sign that the Good News is proclaimed.

So people are waiting for the sign. The Lord Jesus wants to give them the sign. May we be that sign that the Lord will work for them, so that the Good News will be proclaimed.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

28th Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 12.10.2014

Isaiah 25:6-10/ Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20/ Matthew 22:1-14

The world as we know it is changing and it is changing at a very fast pace.

If change is the only constant, then it is indeed constantly fast and furious.

In Singapore, if one had left the country for a couple of years, he would be amazed on return, and even astounded, at how much the local landscape has changed.

But change is not just about physical appearance. There is also a change in behaviour, attitudes and in the meaning of the words we use.

Once upon a time, there was this term “Sunday best”. It meant that when we go to church on Sunday, we would be dressed in our best.

That was once upon a time. Nowadays that term “Sunday best” is hardly used and even the style of dressing to come to church has changed, and maybe changed too drastically.

Probably only on certain occasions that people are dressed in their best and one occasion would probably be church weddings.

And even then it is only once in a life-time and it is only for the bride and the groom, and maybe for the entourage.

And talking about dressing at weddings, there is this joke about a little girl who was attending a wedding for the first time.

She whispered to her mother: Why is the bride dressed in white?

The mother replied: Because white is the colour of happiness and today is the happiest day of her life.

The little girl thought for a moment and then asked the mum: So why is the groom wearing black?

Today’s gospel parable talks about an invitation to a wedding and also about a wedding garment.

It’s no ordinary wedding. It’s a royal wedding, the wedding of a king’s son.

Certainly it is an honour and privilege to be invited to that wedding.

Then comes the twist in the parable. Those who were invited were not interested.

One went to his farm, another to his business, and the rest turned violent and even killed the servants sent to invite them.

To say the least, the parable does not make sense in that an invitation to a celebration turned in a rejection that led to destruction.

It is as puzzling as that last line of the gospel: For many are called, but few are chosen.

But being called and chosen would also require a response just as being invited would require a response (RSVP) to the invitation.

If many are called and few are chosen, then it is a question of how those who were invited chose to respond.

In the gospel parable, those who were invited chose to reject the invitation and even turned violent.

Nonetheless, it was a response though it was a negative and unfavorable to say the least.

What is most annoying and frustrating is a non-response,  that puts everything on hold and leaves things hanging.

A non-response would mean indifference and not being interested.

In a way, it would be about how we dress when we come to church although it may be just about appearance.

But the external appearance in a way is a reflection of the internal disposition.

I remembered what a staff of a tuition centre that provides assistance to needy students said about the attire of the students when they come to the classroom.

The students are expected to be dressed decently and in clean clothes and the tuition centre would even help them get those clothes if necessary.

Even though they are poor and needy, the students are taught to give themselves dignity and respect themselves and others by what they wear to class.

That brings to mind the man who was without the wedding garment. That man showed no respect for the host, nor for himself.

The scriptures also had something to say about clothing (Col 3:12-15) - 
You are God’s chosen race, His saints; He loves you and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, in gentleness and patience. Over all the clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love.

In our fast changing world, some things must remain constant, otherwise there will be no anchoring points in the face of the waves of changes.

We need not come for Mass in wedding garments but in our “Sunday best” and by that we mean that we give our best response to God’s invitation to the Eucharist.

It is in the Eucharist that God wipes away the tears from our eyes, takes away the rags of shame, and clothes us with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, and fills us with His love.

We are called, we are chosen. Let us respond with our “Sunday best” – the best of our love – for God and for others.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

St. Therese of the Child Jesus, Parish Feastday, 05-10-14

St Therese of the Child Jesus             
Isaiah 66:10-14 / 1 Cor 13:4-13 / Matthew 18:1-5   

How our country got its name is rather interesting and amusing.

History has it that when Sang Nila Utama landed on this island, he saw a strange-looking animal and it ran off.

Upon inquiry, he was told it was a lion and in his language, it was called “Singa” so he called this “Singapura” which means “lion city”.

(A joke about this is that if he had seen a large prawn, he would have called this country “Tempura”.)

As Singapore the “Lion City” developed and progressed, the image has also evolved.

Singapore is still the “Lion City” but it has also acquired other names and the well-known one is “Garden City”, because of the greenery in our country.

Our city state is often described as “clean and green” and so indeed it is, and hence, “Garden City” is quite appropriate. 

As in a garden, we can see plants, shrubs, trees and vegetation of various kinds.

Yes, we will see a lot of greenery, and yet we may miss out the most obvious greenery.

We may notice and admire all the flowers and plants, all the shrubs and trees, but we will take the grass for granted.

The grass is like the backdrop of the whole greenery. And they are so inconspicuous and plain that we hardly notice them.

In fact, we step on the grass and we wipe soiled things on the grass. We seem to ill-treat the grass!

There is hardly any recognition given to grass except the saying that when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.

But the 1st reading did give some prominence to the grass when it said: At the sight, your heart will rejoice and your bones flourish like the grass.

Even in its lowly and down-trodden state, grass is a symbol of the strong will for life.

Even after a bush-fire, the first signs of life in the razed land will be the appearance of grass.

We don’t know where they come from, but it seems that we cannot get rid of the grass.

Today our parish celebrates the feast of our patron saint, St. Therese of the Child Jesus. Her actual feast day is on 1st Oct.

She has been called the “greatest saint in modern times” (Pope Pius X), but it can be certain that she wouldn’t want to be known as such.

In fact, ever since she entered the Carmelite convent in Lisieux, she never left the convent.

Two words can be used to describe her life as a Carmelite nun – obscurity and oblivion.

Even that great spiritual classic “The Story of a Soul” which is her autobiography, it was not written on her own accord but in obedience to her superior’s orders.

In her life-time, she was like the plain grass in her convent.
She wasn’t among those who were like the flowers or plants or shrubs.

She didn’t do great things, but she did little things with great love.

And if we were to meet her now, she would introduce herself as “Little Therese” instead of St. Therese.

And her humble, little and simple spirituality flourished like grass after her death.

It was like the same imagery that the 1st reading gave when it said: Your bones will flourish like the grass.

In the gospel Jesus said that the one who makes himself as little as a little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Being little is actually a very great challenge. Even St. Therese had to remind herself with these words : I must remain little.

In our “Garden city” the admiration goes to the pretty flowers and plants, literally as well as figuratively.

Because people are also a bit like flowers and plants – they want to stand out and win the praise and admiration of others.

But the flowers will bloom and fade away. Plants will wither and die.

But it is the plain and lowly and humble grass that will continue to flourish.

Grass is like the carpet of the garden that softens the ground.

In our “Garden city” St. Therese has shown us what we should be.

We should be like the lowly grass that carpets the “Garden city” and softens it with love.

We are called to be like St. Therese – little, humble and lowly.

By being that, we can turn our city into a garden of love.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

26th Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 28.09.2014

Ezekiel 18:25-28/ Phipippians 2:1-11/ Matthew 21:28-32

Life has many contradictions, many paradoxes and many reversals of fortunes.

What may seem to be a good thing may turn out bad.

What may seem to be a bad thing may turn out good.

But we can only see the present in its limitation, we can only comprehend the here and now.

We don’t know about the future, so we judge everything as good and bad according to how we see it now.

For example, if one of our children is rather slow, or naughty, or not very pleasing to us.

What will be our attitude towards that child, as compared to the rest of our children who might be cleverer, or smarter, or better looking or more capable?

Surely we will favour the “better” one.

As for the other one, we will just have to accept him although we will not have much hopes or expectations from him.

Yet, life has shown us over and over again that there are many paradoxes and many reversals of fortunes.

This is also a recurring theme in the Bible, that the first will be last and the last first.

Jesus told parables like the rich man and Lazarus, the prodigal son, the workers in the harvest (last week) to tell us about the paradoxes and reversals in life.

Today he told another parable of two sons and their obedience to their father.

The father asked both sons to go and work in the vineyard.

The first said yes but yet did not go. 

The other said no but later changed his mind and went.

Jesus actually addressed this parable to the chief priests and elders.

The tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners were like the first son.

They sinned, but when they heard the Good News of God’s love and forgiveness, they repented and turned back to God.

On the other hand, the chief priest and the elders were like the second son who said yes to all that God has commanded but yet did nothing to change their lives.

In many ways, this parable is also addressed to us to make us reflect on how we view people and how we treat them.

The reality of life is that we favour those who are more pleasing to us, but we are indifferent or ignore those whom we think do not meet our hopes and expectations.

There is a story of a couple had a few children. All were normal and intelligent.

Except one who had Down’s Syndrome and hence was slow and different from the rest.

The couple took joy in their children but for this special child, they had to swallow their disappointment and embarrassment.

At times, they even asked themselves why they were burdened with such a child.

It seems that they will have to care for him all their lives.

As the years went by, the rest of their children got married and left home to start their own families.

As the couple became older, their children also became busier with their own families.

Naturally, the couple felt lonelier with all their children gone. Except for one, the slow “special” one.

Because of his inabilities and disabilities, he obviously had to stay with his parents.

In the past, the parents thought of him as a burden and an obstacle to their freedom in life.

But now, the old couple realized that he is the only one who is with them day and night.

Once upon a time, he had to depend on them and they had to fend for him.

Now it seems that in their lonely old age, it is they who have to depend on him despite his inabilities and disabilities.

It is just another story about how life has many paradoxes and reversals of fortune or status.

Let us not ignore these whom we think are of little or no use to us or those who are not pleasing to us and give us problems.

God loves these people as much as He loves us.

And the paradox of life is that God will turn these people into His instruments to show us His love.

So let us accept those whom we think may not count for much in life.

A time will come when they will show us what really counts in life.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

25th Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 21-09-2014

Isa 55:6-9 / Phil 1:20-24, 27 / Mat 20:1-16

This weekend is the F1 (Formula One) race in Singapore.

There is much hype and publicity about this F1 race since it started a few years ago.

Whatever it is, the outcome of the race is that there will be only one winner and the rest are losers.

Yes, the winner takes it all, and the losers will be nowhere at all.

So whether it be the F1 race, or any sport or competition or in the business world, or in the hierarchy of any organization, it is the first, or the winner, that really matters.

The others just fade into the background of obscurity.

So today's gospel parable may not sound very fair to us if we put ourselves into the shoes of those who were the first to be hired and yet in the end got the same wages as that of the late comers or last comers.

In fact, we may even be resentful of the fact that the late comers did the least and got the same wages as us.

But as the 1st reading tells us, the heavens are as high above the earth as God's ways are above man's ways and God's thoughts are above man's thoughts.

We must realize that in God's eyes, there are no winners or losers, no first-comers or late comers, no Formula One or Formula Zero.

Some are called to do great things, some are called to do little things, but everyone is good for something and no one is good for nothing.

The 2nd reading urges us to avoid anything in our everyday lives that would be unworthy of the gospel of Christ.

Let us avoid the comparison between the first and the last, the good and the bad, the happy and the sad.

Such comparisons will only lead to envy and resentment.

As the landlord in the gospel parable said: Why be envious because I am generous?

Yes, God is generous to the great and little alike, as well as to the first and the last.

May we realize that and rejoice in God's generosity and give thanks for His blessings.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Sunday, 14-09-14

Numbers 21:4-9 / Philippians 2:6-11 / John 3:13-17

To say that God sent His only Son to die for our sins is certainly not wrong but it may not be that entirely right either.

As a matter of fact, Jesus did die for our sins and He died a cruel death by crucifixion.

Jesus was nailed to the cross and was flaunted before the face of God as if to mock God for sending His Son to earth.

If it had all ended on the cross, then evil would have scored a victory because God did nothing to prevent or save Jesus from the cruelty and death on the cross.

Yes, God did not save Jesus from death. But since God did not save Jesus from death, then how would Jesus dying on the cross save us from our sins.

Well, God did not save Jesus from death. But God saved Jesus out of death (Hebrews 5:7). And that gave the whole twist to that cruel death by crucifixion.

It  is because God saved Jesus out of death by raising Him from the dead, then by the resurrection of Jesus we too are saved from our sins.

St. Paul, in the 2nd reading reiterates that when he said Christ did not cling to His equality with God but emptied Himself, and He was humbler yet even to accepting death on the cross.

But God raised Him high and gave Him the name above all other names and all creation will bend the knee at the name of Jesus.

So for St. Paul, the death of Jesus on the cross is the essence of our hope, although the cruel death on the cross seems to exclude any kind of hope.

But more than just a sign of hope, the cross is also the sign of love. Although that seems to be pushing the meaning of the cross to its limits already.

But the gospel tells us that God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.

For God sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world but so that through Him the world might be saved.

So saying that God sent His only Son to die for our sins may not be wrong but it is not the whole picture.

God sent His Son to love us and the price of that love is death on the cross.

But that love was so powerful that even the meaning of the cross was changed, for the cross of death has now become the cross of love that triumphs over sin and death.

So the holy and precious cross is now raised aloft for the Church and for all the world to see.

For in the cross is life and love, forgiveness and healing, redemption and salvation.

Let us kneel before the Holy Cross and venerate it for it protects us and the powers of evil and darkness cower and flee before it.

Let us also pray with the Cross so that we will faithfully and courageously follow Jesus in His way of the Cross and may we also glory with Him in the Cross.