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Saturday, May 20, 2017

6th Sunday of Easter, Year A, 21.05.2017

Acts 8:5-8, 14-17 / 1 Peter 3:15-18 / John 14:15-21

Do we know what is the hottest news in town? It’s on everyone’s lips anyway.

If we are still wondering about what is the hottest news in town, think no further. The hottest news in town is that it is hot, it is hot and it is hot! It’s on everyone’s lips right?

We don’t need to check the temperature to know that it is hot.

Have we heard of those “the weather is so hot” jokes? The weather is so hot that:
- The only milk available is evaporated milk
- The chickens are laying hard-boiled eggs
- Swimming pools have become protected areas 

But jokes aside, we wonder if the hot weather has anything to do with another phenomenon.

What has the warehouse opposite IMM, the Punggol construction site, Changi Airport Terminal 2, Shenton House, Paya Lebar Bakery, Katong I12, Woodlands flat and the taxi on Commonwealth Avenue, all have in common? 

They all caught fire!

So the warning is obvious. In this hot weather, don’t play with fire. It’s already hot enough, don’t make it hotter!

And of course in this heatwave, it would be wise to follow some good advice, like:
- Drink more water. (but that would only increase the price of water)
- Eat more fruits, but durians are excluded, for obvious reasons
- Wear light clothing, but that doesn’t mean wear less clothing. 

That’s pretty good advice for the hot weather. But advice is advice. 

Whether we want to follow it or not, that’s really up to us.

In the gospel, Jesus said to His disciples: If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

In no uncertain terms, Jesus is also telling us that if we love Him, then we must keep His commandments.

Jesus is talking about commandments. It’s not about advice, not about options, not about suggestions.

Commandments are imperative. They have to be obeyed. It’s not negotiable, we cannot bargain with commandments, at least not with the commandments of Jesus.

And even if we are not that well versed with the Bible, we know what are the commandments of Jesus.

And that is to love God with all our heart, with all our mind and with all our strength. And to love our neighbour as ourselves. 

Together with that is also the new commandment, i.e., to love one another as Jesus has loved us.

The practical expressions of these commandments are as challenging as trying to keep cool in hot weather.

For example, we should forgive and even love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us.

We know we should not bear hatred or take revenge. We know we should not judge or condemn or slander others. 

We should not lie or cheat, we should not be devious or malicious.

We should be kind and compassionate and generous. We must pray and be faithful to God.

These are the commandments of Jesus and they are also the truths of life, and we know it. We should know it.

Yes, we know it, but do we really believe in it?

Because if we really believe in it, then regardless of what others think or say, we will live by the truths of life because in the final analysis, that’s how we show that we love Jesus.

There is this reflection called the “Final Analysis” which tells us how to live out the truths of life in this world.

People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered; 
Forgive them anyway. 

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; Be kind anyway. 

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies; Succeed anyway. 

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; 
Be honest and frank anyway. 

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; Build anyway. 

If you find serenity and happiness, others may be jealous; 
Be happy anyway. 

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; 
Do good anyway. 

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; Give the world the best you've got anyway. 

So in the FINAL analysis, it is more than what we think about the truth. It is about what we do with the truth. It is about living out the truth. It is about showing how we love Jesus. It is about witnessing to Jesus.

Pope Paul VI said that modern man listens more to witnesses than to teachers, and if they do listen to teachers, it is because they are first and foremost witnesses.

So it’s not about telling others what to do in the hot weather. We must show how to keep cool in the heat.

Similarly, it is not about telling others how to be a Catholic, or criticize them when they don’t behave like one. 

We have to live out the truth, and live it out in love and the Spirit of truth that Jesus will send will help us to do it.

So that hot weather or cold weather, rain or shine, we will always love Jesus and that love must also flow out to others.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

5th Sunday of Easter, Year A, 14.05.2017

Acts 6:1-7 / 1 Peter 2:4-9 / John 14:1-12

We have heard of this term “monkey business”. Obviously it means that it is not anything serious. Rather it means doing something silly or stupid or foolish.

But that does not mean that monkeys are silly or stupid or foolish. 

Monkey business can be serious business. At least when it comes to one monkey at Segar Road in Bukit Panjang.

That monkey made some news two weeks ago. That monkey had terrorized residents by going into their homes to get food and bitten seven residents. Video footage of it showed that it can even crawl on the walls of high-rise HDB flats to get into the homes.

It had eluded capture many times, but two weeks ago, they managed to shoot it with a tranquilizer dart and it ended up in the net.

But the on-going debate is whether the monkey encroached on the humans’ space or is it that the humans encroached on the monkey’s space.

That’s because the HDB flats are just next to the natural reserve. 

The issue is that while some people think that the monkey has encroached into the humans’ space and did harm and damage, others think that it is the humans who have encroached into the monkey’s natural habitat.

So, essentially the issue is about the question of space. 

Whose space is being encroached upon? And it is not just between man and monkey.

Between nations and nations, between communities and communities, between groups and groups, between persons and persons, there will be tensions when space is being encroached upon, tensions arise when another’s space is intruded upon.

And that was the issue in the 1st reading. In the daily distributions, the Hellenist widows were being overlooked and so a complaint was made against the Hebrews.

In other words, one group got space but another group did not, although they were entitled to it. And hence the tension arose.

And seven men of good reputation, filled with the Holy Spirit and with wisdom, had to be appointed to look into the matter.

More than just about the distribution of food, they had to ensure that each group had their own space and that it is respected, so that there can be peace and harmony in the community.

But the issue is more than just having our own space. It also deals with the question of our place in the community, our place in our society and our place in our country.

We want to have a place on earth so that we know what we are standing on and where we are standing on, what belongs to us and what is rightfully ours.

So when our place and our space is encroached upon or intruded upon, whether by man or by monkey, we will get defensive and protective over what is ours.

The problem comes in when we want to expand our space. 

Inevitably, we will encroach and intrude into other people’s space. 

And that’s when tensions and problems arise.

That’s nothing new actually. That’s how quarrels and fights and wars begin isn’t it?

And here, Jesus has something important to tell us in the gospel:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still and trust in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house; if there were not, I should have told you. I am now going to prepare a place for you, and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you with me; so that where I am you may be too.

Jesus is telling us, He is promising us, that we will have a place in the other world, He had already prepared a place for us in heaven.
But in our desire for our personal space, we want to have a permanent place on earth, and we forget about our eternal place in heaven.

Yesterday, the 13th May, is the centennial of the apparition of Our Lady at Fatima. Yes, it has been a hundred years already, since the first apparition in 1917.

The message at Fatima is the call to prayer and penance for the conversion and salvation of the world.

Connected to that message is the reality of hell, and the three children were given a vision of hell and the souls that were lost to the devil.

Yes, the devil wants to tempt us to think that our space and our place in this world is all that we have. And hence we begin to focus on increasing our space and reinforcing our place.

And we do that by desiring to increase our wealth and whatever material gains.

And slowly we will forget about our eternal place in heaven that Jesus had promised and prepared for us.

So we need to heed the message at Fatima and the call to prayer and to go back to penance in order to resist the subtle temptations of the devil. 

Prayer and penance also helps us to let go of the things of earth and to focus on the things of above.

It has been a hundred years since Jesus called out to us through Our Lady’s apparition at Fatima.

Let us not take another hundred years to heed that message.

We don’t want to lose our place in eternity.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

4th Sunday of Easter, Year A, 07.05.2017

Acts 2:14, 36-41 / 1 Peter 2:20-25 / John 10:1-10

Around this time of the year, there is a spike in prayers. And then towards the end of the year, there will be an avalanche of prayers.

The reason for these two surges in prayers is because of exams! 

Yes, it is the exam fever time, a time when the brains of the students get heated up trying to remember the things that they were supposed to know.

And so it will be a time of fervent prayer: students will be praying; parents will be praying; grandparents will be praying; the whole clan will be praying. And of course the priests will be praying. Better still if we can leave all the praying to the priests right? It’s their job anyway.

A story goes that a student went to a priest to ask for prayers.
Student : Father, please pray for me to do well in my exams
Priest  : Yes I will. And if you do well in your exams, then what?
Student  : Then I will go the university
Priest : Then what?
Student : Then I will graduate and find a good job with a good pay
Priest : Then what?
Student : Then I will get married and have a family
Priest : Then what?
Student : Then I will work hard and have a lot of money
Priest : Then what?
Student : Then I will retire and enjoy life
Priest  : Then what?
Student : …

Then what huh? Somewhere along the way, there must come a time when we have to stop and ask ourselves “Where am I going?” and “What is the meaning of my life?”

But such questions can be difficult to answer. It can even be scary to think about such questions. Because it may mean changing directions or even changing our life altogether.

But such questions cannot be addressed by looking at the mirror and searching for answers there.

We may need to look beyond, and to listen to what God is saying to us before we can think about it and decide what to do about it.

We may need someone to tell us what life is all about and what directions we need to take.

In the 1st reading, we heard that Peter stood up with the Eleven and addressed the crowd with a loud voice, and their message was this: 
The whole House of Israel can be certain that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ.

It was a straight-cut message, with no frills, but the result was amazing.

Because upon hearing this, the people were cut to the heart, and they asked: What must we do?

More than just words, the people heard the voice of God and they were ready to do something about their lives.

Yes, the voice of God was heard in the voices of Peter and the Eleven as they addressed the people. God spoke to His people, and God still speaks to us through human instruments that He has chosen and appointed.

In the gospel, Jesus says that the sheep hear the voice of the shepherd, one by one he calls his own sheep, the sheep follow him because they know his voice.

Jesus is our Good Shepherd and He calls out to us. This 4th Sunday of Easter is also called Good Shepherd Sunday and it is also called Vocation Sunday.

The word “vocation” comes from the Latin “vocare” which means “to call”. On this Sunday, the emphasis is on the call to the priesthood and also to the religious life.

But with the vocation crisis, with seminaries and convents and even churches in other countries closing down, we wonder if the Good Shepherd had stop calling out to men and women to dedicate their lives to serve Him in the Church? Could it be that Jesus had stopped calling?

Or is it that we have stopped talking about it and shied away from talking to the young about the priesthood and the religious life?

And if we ever talk about it, it may sometimes come out in the wrong ways. Imagine if a young man comes along and says “I think I want to become a priest”, and then someone retorts “If you can become a priest, then I can become the pope!” It may sound like a joke, but that young man would probably never mention anything about the priesthood again.

Or at times, in order to discipline our children, we will say this to them: You want to be naughty, I will bring you to church and you stay with Father and you become a priest!

So it gives the impression that the priesthood is not for good boys but for naughty boys!

But that is certainly not the voice of Good Shepherd calling out to His sheep to enter into His service.

We must encourage people to think about the calling to serve the Lord, instead of just talking to them about passing exams with good grades.

Yes, we want our young to know how to make a living but we also want them to know how to live a life. We want our children to have a spiritual life. 

Yes, we must pray for more good and matured people to answer the call of Jesus. 

And we must also  remember that intercession invokes intervention.

We pray, we intercede, and God will intervene, and He will intervene through us so that we can be His voice to call out to those He has chosen.

When Peter and the Eleven spoke, the people were cut to the heart.

So too we must speak about vocations, so that in those whom Jesus has chosen, their hearts will be cut and opened for the voice of Jesus to enter.

And may they respond to His voice, so that we will know that God still speaks to us.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

3rd Sunday of Easter, Year A, 30.04.2017

Acts 2:24, 22-28 / 1 Peter 1:17-21 / Luke 24:13-35

The world that we live in is a fast and furious world, much like the movie of the same name “Fast and Furious”. And it can also be furiously fast.

Even the instant foods like instant noodles and instant coffee are not even fast enough.

Especially when we talk about speed, we are not so much interested in fast cars or fast food. We are more interested in fast Internet connections, going at 300Mbs or higher.

We don’t need our cars and our food to be fast and furious. But we want our Internet connections to be fast and furious.

Slow Internet connection is worse than no Internet connection because it is such a teaser, and we end up shouting at our mobile phones or computers and telling them to “faster, faster, faster!”.

It is said that before marrying someone, you should make them use a computer with slow Internet connection, then you will see who they really are.

But as much as speed is important, there must also be direction and purpose. Many people are going fast, but they seem to be going nowhere.

In the gospel, we heard of two of the disciples of Jesus who were on their way to a village called Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem.

They were not in a hurry, and probably they were taking a slow, heavy walk. They were heading for Emmaus, but beyond that, it may seem to be nowhere from there.

They were downcast, as their hopes in Jesus were crushed by His crucifixion and death. It was like as if their computers crashed and no recovery was possible.

So with nothing left to hold on to, the only thing left is to walk away with empty minds and empty hearts.

There was no hurry, no purpose, no direction. There was nothing to look forward to.

But the good news is this: when we are down to nothing, then Jesus can come up with something.

Misery always needs company, and indeed Jesus came up and walked with them on their journey.

And after listening to them recounting what had happened during the last few days, Jesus had this to say to them:
“You foolish men! So slow to believe the full message of the prophets! Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into His glory?” 

Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, He explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about Himself.

Then finally when He was with them at table, he took the bread and said the blessing. Then He broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.

We can say that for the two disciples, the journey to Emmaus was a journey from nothing to something.

The journey of the two disciples is also very much like our own journey of faith isn’t it?

In our fast and furious world, we move with such high speeds that we lose our connection with God. And hence we come to Mass to get re-connected with God.

But do we experience what the two disciples experienced? Are our eyes opened? Do we recognize Jesus as we gather before the altar for the Eucharist?

There is this story of a wife who was preparing to go to church on a Sunday morning when she saw her husband in singlet and shorts and watching TV, and so she asked him why is he not preparing to go to church.

He replied: I’ve gone for 30 years now, and in that time I have heard something like 3,000 sermons. But for the life of me, I can’t remember a single one of them. So, I think I’m wasting my time and the priests are wasting their time preaching. So I am not going to church anymore

The wife thought for a while and then said: I have been married to you for 30 years now. In that time I have cooked over 32,000 meals for you but you can’t remember any one of them. So I think I am wasting my time cooking for you and you are wasting your time eating my cooking. So I am not going to cook for you anymore.

The husband immediately got up and got dressed and went to church with his wife .

Most of us have been coming to church for the longest time. Some have coming to church for 10 years, 20 years or more. We have said countless prayers, and received Holy Communion till we have lost count.

Do we think that we are wasting our time? Is it doing us any good? Do we think that coming for Mass is boring?

We may want fast and furious results but like the two disciples, they had to walk that slow seven-mile journey with Jesus and slowly come to understand the scriptures before they finally recognized Him at the breaking of bread.

We too need to be patient as Jesus sows the seeds of His Word in our hearts and to wait for the harvest.

Let us not be afraid of moving slowly, but rather be afraid of not moving at all. With Jesus, we will walk slowly forward, but we will never walk backwards. 

And may our hearts slowly start to burn as we listen to the Scriptures and as the bread is broken, may our eyes be opened to see Jesus with us and Jesus in others.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

2nd Sunday of Easter, Year A, 23.04.2017

Acts 2:42-47 / 1 Peter 1:3-9 / John 20:19-31

Whether we like shopping or not, the ways of shopping have evolved tremendously.

When we think of shopping, what might come to mind are shopping malls, supermarkets, departmental stores, heartland shops, pasar-malam (or night bazaars).

And what we see is what we get. We not only get to see what we are interested in, we get to touch it and feel it.

Of course, some items are nice to touch and hold, but break it and it’s considered sold.

But with the rise of technology and the Internet, shopping has taken on another form, i.e.  online shopping!

From our computer screens, we go “window” shopping at those big online stores like eBay, Qoo10, Lazada, Redmart, and even if we don’t know Chinese we would have heard of Taobao.

Even though we are seated comfortably and just moving the cursor, we can literally shop till we drop. It’s almost like, if you can name it, then you can find it, and buy it.

Online shopping is getting so popular that when we want to buy something, we go online because it is cheaper and better still if it’s free shipping.

And some people can be so into online shopping that even a prayer has emerged out of it: Dear Lord. Please don’t let my husband be at home when all my online orders arrive. Amen.  

The only issue with online shopping is what we see and what we order, may not be what we get. And that’s when disappointment and frustration sets in.

So nothing is as certain as what we see is what we get when we get to touch and feel it, along with all that interaction of bargaining and choosing. 

Now we do not know what kind of shopping profile each of the apostles have. But most probably Thomas, called the twin, is not likely an online shopper.

Because even when the other disciples told him that they have seen the Lord, he answered: Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands, and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.

Thomas was not going to believe so easily what the disciples say about having seen the Lord. He himself wants to see the Risen Jesus, and not just see, but to touch, and to even touch those wounds.

To say the least, he could have been very disappointed. He had placed his hopes and dreams on Jesus and it come down, crumbling and crashing at the crucifixion. He lost it all.

Maybe that was why he was not there when Jesus first appeared to His disciples.

He wanted to be left alone and to get up and move on. He didn’t want to be disappointed again. And since the disciples told him that Jesus is risen and is alive, then he wanted to put the Risen Lord to the reality test. So it’s not just seeing, but touching, and touching and feeling those gaping wounds.

In a much lesser way, that is also a bit like our experience of online shopping isn’t it?

What we see on our computer screen excites us so much that we proceed to place an order. Our hopes and dreams begin to build on what we read about what we have ordered.

And then the disappointments come one by one. The shipping is delayed. The wrong item comes in. Or the size is wrong, the colour is not quite like what we saw, or wrong specs, or wrong this and wrong that.

In our frustration and disappointment, we would let fly some scorching reviews and write off online shopping, and go back to the old ways that we are familiar with and certain about.

It is not likely that the online seller would go out of his way to appease us by unconditional exchange of goods or quickly refund our money in order try to restore our faith in online shopping.

And here is where the difference lies. Jesus rose from the dead, He came back to His disciples to restore their faith, He came back again just for Thomas to lift him from his disappointment and even granted his request by letting him touch His wounds.

And that is the love and mercy of the Risen Jesus, the mercy that we celebrate on this Divine Mercy Sunday.

His glorious Resurrection is expressed tenderly in His love and mercy for His disciples and especially for Thomas.

And that love and mercy is also shown to us through His wounds. 

Because in those wounds of Jesus, we can also see our own wounds – wounds of disappointment, hurt, shame, rejection, frustration, envy, jealousy.

His wounds are the marks of His suffering in order to save us. By His wounds we are healed.

We look at the wounds of Jesus and the life-size statue of Jesus at the entrance shows us the wounds of His hands.

Through those wounds, Jesus is offering us mercy and healing. 

Yes, as we look at those wounds, we may also want to touch those wounds and with St. Thomas we too say “My Lord and my God”.

Jesus came to heal Thomas; He comes now to heal our wounds. Let us show Him our wounds and let Him touch it, and we will be forgiven and healed.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Sunday, Year A, 16.04.2017

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

This weekend is certainly not an ordinary weekend. Besides being a long weekend with Friday being a holiday, some of us have been coming to church every day since Thursday. So we can say that this weekend is a very spiritual weekend, a very churchy weekend.

For instance, there is the new Church of the Transfiguration which had its first Mass on Thursday, there were priests washing the feet of parishioners, people coming to church on a public holiday although it was raining heavily.

But as much as it is a spiritual weekend and a rather solemn weekend, there are some people who can see the lighter side of things.

Someone thought up of a conversation between Pontius Pilate and Joseph of Arimathea.

Pilate: Joseph, I don’t understand. You’re one of the richest man in the region. You have made this brand new tomb for yourself, and now you are going to let Jesus be buried in it. I don’t understand.

Joseph of Arimathea: Oh come on, Pilate. He is just going to be in there for the weekend.

So the word “weekend” now has another shade of meaning. And more than that, the word “tomb” now also has another shade of meaning.

As we look at the gospel accounts over this weekend, we heard of women going to the tomb where Jesus was buried, and then there was an earthquake and an angel came and rolled away the stone and sat on it.

The impression that the women had was that someone had taken the body of Jesus out of the tomb.

And just when the women were wondering what had happened, Jesus appeared to them. Yes, Jesus is alive! Or to be more exact, Jesus rose from the dead.

The tomb was just His weekend resting place, and it is now an empty tomb with the stone rolled away. Yes, Jesus had died but now He is risen! And it is for us to believe in it.

This weekend is not an ordinary weekend for 16 people in our parish. This evening they are here among us dressed in white, looking like the angel who rolled away the stone.

They are going to profess their faith in God and they are going to do it in our presence and then they will receive the Sacrament of Baptism.

For nine months, they have taken the journey of faith and they have “seen” Jesus.

They don’t have the feet of Jesus to clasp but we will have to offer our hands and our hearts to them to help them continue their journey so that together we will experience the Risen Christ and grow in faith.

That is our commitment to them as we ourselves renew our baptismal promises.

And that is also our commitment to Jesus as we renew our baptismal promises.

The stone covering the tomb of sin and death is once again removed so that the Risen Christ can bring us forgiveness and healing.

The Risen Christ wants to empower us to go forth and remove the stones covering the tomb of sin and death so that the light of the Risen Christ can shine in and bring about new life for those who are searching for the truth and the real meaning of life.

This weekend is certainly not an ordinary weekend. It is a weekend of faith, hope and love.

It is with faith, hope and love that the stones of sin and evil, the stones of selfishness and greed, the stones of doubt and pessimism will be removed.

Yes, there are stones to be removed. And the Risen Christ is sending us out to do that. 

That is what the profession of faith and the renewal of baptismal promises are about.

And it is not just for this weekend. It will be for every day.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Palm Sunday, Year A, 09.04.2017

Isaiah 50:4-7 / Philippians 2:6-11 / Matthew 26:14 – 27:66

At the beginning of today’s Mass, we were given palm branches, which were blessed and we waved it to commemorate the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem.

But these palm branches are not some kind of door gift or freebie that the church gives out once a year.

In fact they are “loaned” to us because a year later we will collect them back to be burnt and used for ashes on Ash Wednesday.

We bring them back and place it in a prominent place at home or at the workplace or in the car.

It is a sign of our welcoming Jesus into the areas of our lives where we live out our faith. 

These sturdy and spiky palm branches remind us to be firm and sturdy in our faith just as Jesus remained sturdy and firm in His Passion because of His love for us.

And those spiky needles of the palm branches reminds us that life has its painful moments and there will be times when like Jesus we will cry out: My God, my God, why have you deserted me.

But God will never desert us. Jesus suffered and died. But He rose from the dead. So let us stay close to Jesus and we too will rise from our pain and sufferings. When we do, then we will wave these spiky palm branches joyfully.