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Saturday, October 10, 2015

28th Ordinary Sunday, Year B, 11.10.2015

Wisdom 7:7-11 / Hebrews 4:12-13 / Mark 10:17-30

By and large, we human beings are quite predictable creatures and that is because we are creatures of habit.

From what we do, to what we say, to how we think, we can be habitually predictable and predictably habitual.

Which can be a good thing because that will put some stability and regularity into our lives.

Being creatures of habit, we will form a routine in our lives that is familiar and comfortable for ourselves.

So we will wake up at a particular time, and get up on a particular side of the bed; we will have a particular pattern of washing up and a particular way of having breakfast and a particular way of starting the day.

Not only are we creatures of habit when it comes to routine, we are also creatures of habit when it comes to sinning!

We have heard of people saying: I always commit the same sins! (At least I have heard of that before)

Well, if you always commit the same sins, then it may mean that you are a habitual sinner.

Anyway if you commit new sins every day, then you would need serious spiritual help. 

Whether it is sin or other things, we have this habit of attachment.

Yes, we are attached to our habits because we have this habit of attachment.

We are attached to what is familiar. That’s why changing jobs can be a chaotic experience.

Just overnight and our working environment is so new to us and we have to start from scratch to prove our worth.

Shifting to a new house can be equally chaotic and even traumatic for the older people.

You lose your things, you lose your way, and if you don’t settle down quickly, you may even lose your mind.

Yes, we are all creatures of habit and our main habit is the habit of attachment.

We attach ourselves to what is familiar, to what is comfortable, to what is stable and secure.

To move out of these so-called “comfort zones” is to enter into a possible “danger” zone, where things can be chaotic and even traumatic.

In the gospel, we heard of a rich young man who was pretty comfortable in life.

He was also religiously habitual, as he faithfully kept the commandments, which he had kept from his earliest days.

So why did he want to go to Jesus and even knelt before Him and say, “Good Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

That rich young man was pretty comfortable and secure, materially as well as religiously.

He was already having a good life here on earth. But he also wanted to do something to secure eternal life. And he was sincere about it.

And that’s why Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him.

That rich young man was a sincere seeker and he was humble enough to kneel before Jesus and ask what he should do to inherit eternal life.

Yet, when Jesus told him what to do, his face fell.

And the reason was that, as much as the rich young man was willing to do more, yet he couldn't do with less.

And with that, he went away sad. And we will not hear of him again in the gospel.

The rich young man had a habit – a habit of attachment. He was attached to his possessions, and in a sense, he was possessed by his attachment.

His habit is undeniably also our habit. We are attached to our possessions, and we become possessed by our attachments.

We may not possess great wealth, but it may be our health, our achievements, our promotions, our reputation, our enjoyment.

Yet, the wisdom of life tells us that life is a journey of progressive poverty.

We will, slowly but surely, lose our youth, our health, our memory, our eyesight, our hearing, and in the end we will lose everything. 

And then we will go back to where we came from.

A mother brought her young son shopping. They passed by a bakery. The aroma of freshly baked pastries wafted through the air. 

The boy stopped in his tracks, with his eyes fixed on the window display. His gaze was on a delicious-looking piece of chocolate cake. He drooled over the tempting cake.

Knowing the son’s interest, the doting mother bought the cake for her son. Her son was elated, his face beamed with delight and he squealed in joy.

The cashier put the cake in a box and handed it to the little boy. 

The boy could not wait to have his cake and immediately set to open it. 

As it was lunchtime, the mother did not want the boy to eat his cake then. So she took the cake away from the boy and said, “You can eat this later in the afternoon, ok?”

The boy reacted with a tantrum and loud wailing. He squat on the pavement outside the shop, his face was red and tears rolled down his cheeks, he screamed, “Mummy bad, bad mummy!”

Passersby stopped and stared at the boy and his mother. They wondered what had happened. The mother felt awkward and embarrassed.

Before the mother bought the boy the cake, he didn’t have anything. Now that the mother had taken the cake away, he is simply restored to his original state. He didn’t lose anything. There is nothing sad about that. 

Looking at ourselves, aren’t we all like that boy?  We want our spouses to do things for us. We want to watch a certain TV programme. We want to have a certain phone, buy a certain car, own certain brands, go to certain restaurants, and taste certain food.

But, we didn’t have all these to begin with. And then when we have them, we feel like we can’t live without them. We have been “kidnapped” by these things.

Like what Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher said, “What we possess will in turn also possess us.”

A man was fishing by the river. He had been fishing for a few hours under the hot sun and had a few beers. Soon, he dozed off. 

Suddenly, there was a strong tug at the end of his fishing line. A big fish had taken a bite and was hooked to his line. The sudden tug woke the man and in his confusion, he lost his balance and fell into the water. The man struggled in the water, with his rod in his hand and the fish still hooked to his line. 

A boy who was strolling by the river with his father, was bewildered by the strange sight of the man and the fish both struggling in the water. He turned to his father and asked, “Daddy, is the man catching the fish or is the fish catching him?”

So similarly, are we catching the fish or is the fish catching us?

When we want something and because we don’t possess it and we become unhappy, then this thing itself has already possessed us and brought us unhappiness. 

In fact, what we need, we already have it. And we should be thankful for that.

Jesus is looking steadily at us and loving us. That is all we need – for Jesus to look at us and love us.

Let us look at Jesus and love Him now. Because in eternity, we will be looking only at Jesus and loving Him. That is true happiness. And that is all we need.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

27th Ordinary Sunday, Year B, 04.10.2015

Genesis 2:18-24 / Hebrews 2:9-11 / Mark 10:2-16

The month of October reminds us of many things. It reminds us that it is the last quarter of the year and like the toilet roll, the closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes.

Before we know it, the school term will come to an end, it will be a time to go for holidays, Christmas will be soon and we will wonder what kind of bonus we are going to get.

But before we move on too fast, the Church wants us to pause and holds out the Rosary before us. Yes, for the Church, the month of October is dedicated to the Holy Rosary. And why is it so?

It began at a place called Lepanto on the coast of western Greece.

A great naval battle took place there on the 7th October 1571. A hastily gathered coalition Christian fleet from European Catholic states set sail to face the mighty main fleet of the Ottoman Empire which was sailing in from the east.

The Christian fleet was greatly outnumbered by the Ottoman armada. The Pope at that time, Pope Pius V, called on the Church to be united in a Rosary crusade to help the Christian soldiers in that battle.

Because defeat for the Christian fleet would mean that Christian Europe would be overrun by the Ottomans and that would mean the end of Christianity in Europe.

Furthermore, the unity of the Catholic Church was severely weakened by the Protestant Reformation which began in 1517.

So by 1571, the Pope could only call upon a handful of loyal Catholic states to unite and fight the invading Ottomans. 

Also, the Ottomans took advantage of a disunited and weakened Christian Europe to launch an attack and were confident of a victory.

So the two forces clashed at the Gulf of Corinth in the Ionian Sea. 

And after 5 hours of intense fighting, the Ottomans were decisively defeated, and the Ottoman advance was halted and the Mediterranean Sea was freed of Ottoman occupation.

But before the Christian fleet set sail, all the soldiers were given rosaries and it was said that the Christian soldiers fought with swords in one hand and rosaries in the other.

The victory was credited to the Virgin Mary’s intercession, and even Pope Pius V, who was hundreds of miles away from the battle scene, had a foreknowledge of the victory when he gave thanks for victory even before the battle ended.

Though the victory was termed “miraculous” yet it does not mean that no lives were lost or that no blood was shed.

About 7500 Christian soldiers died, and on the Ottoman side there were about 20,000 dead, or wounded or captured.

The Christian fleet lost 17 ships, but the Ottomans lost 50 ships, and 137 ships were captured and about 10,000 Christian slaves rowing the Ottoman ships were freed.

Certainly a major defeat for the Ottoman Empire from which they never recovered and it was indeed a miraculous and religious victory for the Church.

The intercession of Mary was reinforced in the faith of the Church and the Rosary earned its reputation as a powerful form of prayer.

But the Rosary is not just a simple prayer prayed by soldiers and sailors in a war zone.

It is simple enough for children to pray it and they must be taught how to pray it. 

They may not know what the repetitive prayers of the Rosary means, but Psalm 8 tells us that on the lips of children and of little ones, God has found praise to foil the enemy and to silence the foe and the rebel.

It’s just like how we say “Amen” at the end of the prayers at Mass. 

We may not even remember what was prayed but our collective “Amen” means that the prayers will be presented to the Lord.

Similarly the prayers of the Rosary said by children has the ability to call upon the power of God in times of distress.

But children won’t know how to pray the Rosary if we the parents and adults don’t teach them how to pray.

Donoso Cortes used to say : "Our world today is in a poor state because there are more battles than there are prayers".

And many of the battles are fought, of all places, in the home.

As in a war, there are no unwounded soldiers. In other words, in every war, there will be casualties.

And just as in a war, so it is in a divorce – there will be casualties. 

And the first casualty in a divorce is love – God’s love.

And following that will be the next casualty – the children. 

The end of world would not be caused by a nuclear holocaust. The end of the world would come about when there are no more prayers and when children don’t know how to pray anymore.

The month of the Rosary reminds us that it is our duty to teach our children how to pray the Rosary and to pray it with them.

Some people may say that the Rosary is monotonous repetition of prayers. Père de Foucauld used to say: "Love is expressed in a few words, always the same, repeated time and time again "

But it is precisely out of these monotonous repetition of prayers from the lips of children and of little ones, God has found praise to foil the enemy and to silence the foe and the rebel.

And out of the lips of children and of little ones, God will put an end to wars in the world and the battles at home.

A Rosary a day will keep the war away.

So let us pray the Rosary and pray it with our children every day.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

26th Ordinary Sunday, Year B, 27.09.2015

Numbers 11:25-29 / James 5:1-6 / Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

We cannot deny and in fact we are aware of the tension between Catholics and Christians.

Even though we believe in the same Jesus Christ and in the same God, yet very often Catholics and Christians are like enemies.

We may have relatives or friends or colleagues who are Christians.

Whenever we meet them, we will try our best to avoid talking about religion. We would rather talk about the haze. 

But very often, it is the Christians who ask us about the practices of the Catholic Church.

Of course there are times when some of the Christians just want to criticize us Catholics.

They accuse us of praying to statues and worshipping Mary and they irritate us by quoting the Bible so much.

Not only their Bible knowledge is better than us, but for some of their questions, we don’t even seem to know the answers.

They ask questions like “why go for confession to a priest when we can confess our sins directly to God?” or “why pray to saints?” or “why pray for the dead?”

Of course if we don’t know the answers to their questions then we have to find out or read up or discuss with our fellow Catholics.

Nonetheless, the golden principle is to never criticize other religions, be it Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism or Hinduism or Islam or Judaism.

Because the Catholic Church teaches that these other religions also have the seeds of truth because they teach people to live good and moral lives.

But the Catholic Church also teaches that we have the fullness of truth in Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

In today’s gospel, Jesus Christ teaches us the fundamental truth in the respect for other religions.

He told his disciple John not to stop someone from casting out devils in His name.

Because someone who works a miracle or a good deed in His name is not likely to speak evil of Him.

Because of this teaching, hence we must refrain from criticizing other religions, because they also exhibit rays of truth that teaches mankind to be good.

Even if they are the ones who criticize us, we must not do the same.

That is because Jesus taught us to pray for our enemies and for those who treat us badly.

The teaching of Jesus is that we don’t pay back evil for evil. Rather we pay back with a blessing.

When we follow these simple but truthful teachings of our faith, people will indeed see the truth of our religion.

Nonetheless, we also cannot deny that some of the criticisms against us may be valid and have a point.

We should pay attention when people say things like “can Catholics do this kind of thing?” or “how can Catholics be like that?”

Especially when our neighbours and friends and colleagues know that we are Catholics.

It would be a real shame to hang a crucifix or a holy picture at the main door of our house, and yet at home we quarrel and yell and scream at each other as if we are doing some kind of exorcism and fighting with the devil.

There is a joke that goes like this: In the first year of marriage, the husband talks and the wife listens.

In the second year of marriage, the wife talks and the husband listens.

In the third year of marriage, the husband and wife talk and the neighbours listen.

Yes, the bad examples of Catholics always undermine the faith and give the Church a bad name.

Jesus said in the gospel that anyone who is an obstacle or a bad example to the faith would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around his neck. That is a serious warning.

So today, Jesus is calling us to reflect and examine our lives and especially our actions.

His stern teaching is this - to cut off immediately whatever wrong we are doing, lest we give a bad example to others.

When we Catholics do something wrong or something bad, people not only wonder what kind of faith we have, but they also wonder what kind of God we believe in.

So whenever we hear of criticisms against us, let us not react by getting defensive.

Let us see if there is truth in the criticism, however ugly or painful it may be.

They may even reveal to us whether we are for God, or are we against God.

May we be good and faithful Catholics, so that others can see that we believe in a God of love.

And with the love of God, let us be prepared to give a reason for what we believe in and work for what will bring people to God rather than do something wrong and turn people away from God.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

25th Ordinary Sunday, Year B, 20.09.2015

Wisdom 2:12, 17-20 / James 3:16 – 4:3 / Mark 9:30-37

Between a discussion, a debate and an argument, there are similarities and there are also differences.

A discussion is a process of talking about something, typically in order to reach a decision or to exchange ideas.

A debate is a formal discussion on a particular topic in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward.

An argument is an exchange of diverging or opposite views, typically a heated or angry one, with the aim of persuading others that an action or idea is right or wrong.

Whichever it might be, emotions are always involved, and a discussion can develop into a debate and then when the emotions get high it becomes an argument that can turn into a shouting match.

And usually in small and petty arguments, it isn’t about who is right or wrong but who can shout louder and prevail over the other.

It’s also rather funny how after an argument is over, you begin to think about more clever things you should have said (but a bit too late).

A couple drove down a country road for several miles, not saying a word. Because an earlier discussion had led to a debate and then into an argument and neither of them wanted to concede their position. 

As they passed by some goats and pigs, the husband asked sarcastically, "Relatives of yours?" The wife replied, "Yep,… the in-laws."

The fact is that when a discussion deteriorates into an argument, logic turns into emotion, and intelligence turns into arrogance.

In the gospel, Jesus asked His disciples what were they arguing about on the road.

They said nothing. Of course they said nothing because what they argued about was nothing intelligent – they argued about who was the greatest.

And obviously each was trying to prove that he is the greatest by the volume of his voice, so much so that it reached the ears of Jesus.

But when they were confronted by Jesus, they became silent.

But it was only when they were silent that they were ready to listen. 

It is interesting to note that “silent” and “listen” are made up of the same letters.

And it was when they were silent that Jesus began to teach them about what is greatness.

He taught them that if anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last and the servant of all.

And then He took a little child and set him in front of them and told them that anyone who welcomes one of these little ones would be welcoming Him.

In other words, anyone who would be as humble as a little child would be able to listen to the teachings of Jesus and attain greatness without having to prove it.

And there is also no need to try to win an argument in order to prove that one is great.

There is this story of Mother Teresa who went around begging for food for the orphans that she was taking care of.

One day Mother Teresa went to a local bakery to ask for bread for the starving children in the orphanage. The baker, outraged at people begging for bread from him, spat in her face and refused. 

Mother Teresa calmly took out her handkerchief, wiped the spit from her face and said to the baker, “Okay, that was for me. Now what about the bread for the orphans?”

The baker, shamed by her response, gave her the bread she wanted.

Truly it was an example of greatness in the face of insult. And there is no argument about that.

As we think about it, we may realize that most of the time, we react and enter into an argument with others and may even end up fighting for nothing and over nothing.

And that’s what St. James tells us in the 2nd reading when he says this – Where do these wars and battles between yourselves first start? Isn’t it precisely in the desires fighting inside your own selves? You want something and you haven’t got it, so you are prepared to kill. You have an ambition you cannot satisfy, so you fight to get your way by force.

Yes, when we look at what is happening in the world, we can see that there are people who would resort to violence and even killing and they think that it is great to do so.

There is a story of a holy man who was threatened with death by a bandit.

The holy man calmly said, “Then be good enough to fulfill my dying wish - Cut off the branch from the tree.”

With one slash of the sword, and it was done. “What now?” asked the bandit.“Put it back again,” said the holy man.

The bandit laughed, “You must be crazy to think that anyone can do that.”

The holy man replied, “On the contrary, it is you who are crazy to think that you are great and mighty because you can wound and destroy. But true greatness and might would know how to create and heal.” 

Certainly, it is very brave to talk like that to someone who is wielding a sword. 

But true greatness is also having the courage and the wisdom to speak the truth with love.

Because to speak the truth with love requires the wisdom that can be attained only with the humility of a little child.

As the 2nd reading puts it, it is a wisdom that comes down from above and it makes for peace and it is full of compassion and shows itself by doing good, and there is no trace of partiality or hypocrisy in it.

Yes, we need to be humble and ask for the wisdom from Jesus in any discussion or debate or even in an argument.

With the wisdom from Jesus, our discussions and debates and even arguments will bear fruits of peace and even help others to grow in holiness.

Between a discussion, a debate and even in an argument, the difference lies with Jesus and in Jesus.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

24th Ordinary Sunday, Year B, 13.09.2015

Isaiah 50:5-9 / James 2:14-18 / Mark 8:27-35

When it comes to thinking of a present to give to someone, it is certainly much more difficult than to choose which political party to vote for at the elections.

But it actually boils down to two choices. We can give the person what that person wants, and that would easy because we can just ask that person what he/she would like for a present.

Or we can decide to give that person what we want to give, regardless of whether the person likes it or not. Of course if that person is someone we care about, then we would give something that is personal; otherwise the present might just get recycled.

There is this joke about a woman who woke up on the morning of her birthday and her husband, “I just had a dream that you gave me the most beautiful diamond necklace. What do you think it means?”

“You’ll know tonight.” he said. The woman could hardly think of anything else all day and she couldn’t wait for her husband to return home.

That evening, the man finally came home with a small package and gave it to his wife. Delighted, she opened it excitedly, only to find that it was a book entitled… “The Meaning of Dreams”.

So if we find that book somewhere, then it might just have been recycled, and maybe a few times.

When it comes to giving presents, we can give what that person wants, or we can give what we want.

Similarly when it comes to giving our views and opinions, we can say what that person wants to hear, or we can say what we personally think it is.

In the gospel Jesus asked His disciples who they think He was. But He began by asking them what people were saying about Him.

That was easy for them. So they said what others said about Jesus – that He was John the Baptist, or Elijah or one of the prophets.

But that was just like a teaser. Because the next question that Jesus asked His disciples was what they themselves thought about Him. Who did they thought He was?

That was certainly up close and personal and not that comfortable. Now they can’t quote what other people were saying. They have to say what they personally think.

As His disciples and having followed Him around for some time already, they could be wondering about the consequences of their opinion.

And they could be wondering if they should tell Jesus something He wants to hear, or to be frank with Him and tell Him what was really on their minds.

And then Peter comes along with this divinely inspired proclamation “You are the Christ” and that saved the rest from that tight awkward situation.

But when Jesus began to teach them He was destined to suffer grievously and to be put to death, Peter decided to come up with his own opinion and began to remonstrate with Jesus.

With that, Jesus had to rebuke Peter with these rather sharp words: Get behind me Satan! Because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.

Certainly for Peter, it was one moment of inspiration followed by another moment of humiliation. Of all things, he was called “Satan”; what else can be worse.

But the learning point that we can get from Peter’s lesson is the way we think – do we think in God’s way or do we think in our own way?

And just as Jesus asked His disciples who they think He was, in what way do we see others and what do we think of them?

Butterflies are beautiful creatures. The pattern and colour on their wings are truly amazing.

Yet it is said that butterflies can’t see their own wings. They can’t see how beautiful they are, although everyone else can.

In a way we are also like butterflies; we may not be able to see the beauty in us.

But that should not prevent us from seeing the beauty in others.

When Jesus asked His disciples “Who do you say I am?” He was also asking them if they were seeing Him in God’s way or is it in their own way.

God’s way of looking at people is always that of seeing the beauty in others.

God created each of us with His image, and it is an image of love and beauty.

When we see others with the love of God, then we are able to see the beauty in others.

That is the best present and the best gift that we can give to others.
And when we see the beauty in others, then we too will begin to see the beauty in ourselves.

Butterflies are beautiful but we are more than that. We are created in God’s image.

To see God’s image in others is truly the best gift we can give to them.

And it is also the best gift we can give to ourselves.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

23rd Ordinary Sunday, Year B, 06.09.2015

Isaiah 35:4-7 / James 2:1-5 / Mark 7:31-37

Being selective can have a couple of meanings.

It may mean that one is fussy and selects only what is desired and wouldn’t consider the rest.

Or it may mean that one is discerning and after careful consideration will choose only what is good and necessary.

And the word selective is also used to describe other words – selective attention, selective memory, selective observation, selective quoting, selective hearing, selective listening.

And talking about selective hearing and selective listening, there is a little difference.

Selective listening is a listening technique that filters and summarizes in order to achieve comprehension. 

While the goal of listening is to fully understand what someone is saying, in practice, people don't always fully listen. People make choices when listening. They apply filters. So they half-listen to get a general impression of what's said. 

When it comes to selective hearing, it can be said that we have the ability to hear certain sounds and cut off the rest. But not so for those who wear a hearing aid. It seems that the hearing aid would just take in all the sounds and it’s a matter of which sound is the loudest.

Nonetheless, the hearing aid is certainly a great help for those who have a hearing problem.

There is a story of an elderly gentleman who had serious hearing problems for a number of years.

Finally he went to the doctor and the doctor was able to have him fitted for a set of hearing aids that allowed the gentleman to hear almost 100%.

The elderly gentleman went back to the doctor after a month and the doctor said, "Your hearing is perfect. Your family must be really pleased that you can hear again."

To which the gentleman said, "Oh, I haven't told my family yet. I just sit around and listen to the conversations. I've changed my will three times!"

It’s wonderful what the hearing aid can do, although some don’t want to use it because it can be quite irritating at times.

In the gospel, there is an account of Jesus healing a deaf man who also had a speech impediment.

And indeed, the man’s ears were opened and the ligament of his tongue was loosened and he spoke clearly.

But for those who were there, and who could hear, it seemed that they had a listening problem.

Because Jesus ordered then to tell no one about it, but the more He insisted, the more widely they published it. 

Certainly their admiration was unbounded, so much so that they didn’t even want to listen to what Jesus had ordered. 

As for the man who was cured of his deafness and speech impediment, it would be interesting to know what would be his direction in life.

He can now hear and he would  have to choose and discern what to listen to and decide his direction in life.

There is a story of a group of frogs that set off on a hike, traveling through the woods.  Then two of them fell into a deep pit.  When the other frogs saw how deep the pit was, they told the two frogs that they were as good as dead.  The two frogs ignored the comments and tried to jump up, out of the pit, with all their might.
The other frogs kept shouting at them to stop, repeating that they were as good as dead.  Finally, one of the frogs lost heart and gave into fear.  He believed what the other frogs were saying and gave up. He fell down and died.

The other frog continued to jump as hard as he could.  Once again, the crowd of frogs yelled at him to stop the pain and just die.  But he jumped even harder and finally made it out!

When he got out, the other frogs were surprised and said, “Did you not hear us?”

The frog explained to them that he was rather deaf.  He thought they were encouraging him the entire time.

There is power of life and death in the tongue.  An encouraging word to someone who is down can lift them up and help them make it through the day.

A destructive word to someone who is down can be what it takes to kill them. 

We have to be careful what we choose to listen to and what to believe. Whether we hear as well as Superman or as poorly as Beethoven, we need to be selective in our listening.

We need to listen to what comes from God and tune out the rest.
What comes from God are words that give life and fill us with faith, hope and love.

When we hear words of encouragement, words of correction, words of forgiveness and healing, words of wisdom, words of enlightenment, let us be opened to those words.

Those are words spoken by people who care for us and love us, and in and through those people, God is speaking to us.

When we listen to those words, we will in turn speak those words.

Then others will also know that God is speaking to them. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

22nd Ordinary Sunday, Year B, 30.08.2015

Deut 4:1-2, 6-8 / James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27 / Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

The word “smart” is generally used to describe the intelligence level of some people.

When we say that a person is smart, it would mean that the person is clever, bright, intelligent, sharp-witted, quick-witted and maybe even shrewd and astute.

And if we say that a person looks smart, it means that the person is neat and well-dressed and maybe even stylish. But that’s only for the looks; it does not say much about the intelligence.

Nowadays the word “smart” is not just used to for people but also for devices and appliances.

So there is the smart phone, the smart TV, the smart car, and whatever they could make smart and smarter.

But no matter how smart things can become, they depend on one thing – that little chip that is called the CPU (central processing unit).

So smart devices or appliances can’t choose to do whatever they like. They can only do what they are programmed to do, and we can’t tell them to do otherwise.

So there is no point shouting at the computer or handphone or calling it “stupid”. They are only following their programmed instructions and they will stick to it.

In a way we can call them “robots of habit” – they will just do what they have been programmed to do and they won’t ask why. They can’t.

In today’s gospel passage, we heard the Pharisees and scribes asking Jesus why His disciples do not wash their hands before eating, and hence not respecting the tradition of the elders.

Jesus called them hypocrites, because they were only interested in regulations and traditions.

Putting it in another way, the scribes and Pharisees are like “robots of rituals”.

They have been programmed by human regulations and human traditions which they follow meticulously.

And these “robots of rituals” can also talk – they criticize others for not following the programmed regulations and traditions.

And the quotation from the prophet Isaiah sums up the crux of the matter : These people honour me only with lip-service, while their hearts are far from me.

In other words, the scribes and Pharisees follow the regulations and traditions like “robots of rituals” and they can even criticize others for not doing so.

But the heart is not there. Just like robots have no heart; they only a CPU that runs the program.

While regulations and traditions have a useful purpose and rituals can help to sanctify, it is the heart that matters.

Because it is the heart that gives life to regulations and traditions and rituals, and then they become expressions of love.

Without the heart, we become like “robots of rituals” that only look smart but with no meaning or understanding.

There was once a monastery, where the abbot had a very punctual cat. Every morning, just before prayer, it would begin wonder around and distract the monks.

After a few weeks of this irritating habit, the abbot gave permission for the cat to be tied up. After a few years, the abbot died, and the cat outlived him, and the practice to tie up the cat continued. Eventually, the cat died.

The monks of the monastery, upon realising that there was no cat to tie up before prayer, brought in another cat, and so, every morning, the cat would be tied up so that prayers could go ahead.

The tradition continued and original cord that was used to tie up the cat was revered as a relic. Books on devotions and novenas were written on the spiritual significance of tying a cat before prayers. 

Prayers to the “holy cat” were compiled and studied devotedly and pictures of the cat were being mass produced.

Just a story to show how absurd traditions can become and people can turn into “robots of rituals”.

And this can even happen at Mass. We come for Mass and a programme kicks in and we become “robots of rituals”.

We know when to stand, when to sit, when to kneel, when to say “Amen” and when to take out some money to put into the collection bag.

But is there anything happening to our hearts? Do our hearts feel the love of God that makes us aware of the sinfulness that is lurking in our hearts?

Jesus pointed out what could be the sinfulness of our hearts – fornication, theft, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly.

All these make our hearts unclean but we come before the Lord in the Mass so that He can cleanse our hearts with the precious blood of Jesus that was shed on the cross.

When we want to be cleansed, then our hearts will change. We won’t be “robots of rituals”; we become God’s holy people and we offer a worship that is pleasing to God as we offer to God a humble and contrite heart.

We are not called to be smart. We are called to be holy so that we will be holy in our worship and in our relationships and we become truly human and we will also become truly loving.

Then we will be able to cleanse this world of sin and evil, and we will also help to turn robotic human beings into persons of love.