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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter Sunday, Year A, 20.04.2014

The celebration of Easter is often called the greatest celebration of the Church.

But that does not mean that the other great feasts of the Church like Christmas and the Annunciation and Holy Thursday are not that great a feast.

The greatness that is meant here is that it is the high-point and the climax of the celebrations of our faith.

And Easter also sheds light as well as reveals the subtle meanings of the other feasts.

For example, at Easter, we celebrate the Resurrection – Jesus rose from the dead and conquered sin and death.

The Resurrection showed that Jesus is divine – He rose from the dead.

But it also points to His humanity – He suffered, died and was buried.

And that is what we celebrate at Christmas – that Jesus, the Word of God was made flesh; divinity also took on the nature of humanity.

So Easter sheds light and also reveals the subtle meanings of the other celebrations of our faith.

Easter is also the greatest feast of our faith because when we truly understand the meaning of Easter, we will also begin to understand what our faith is all about.

In the gospel, we heard about the empty tomb. Mary of Magdala came to the tomb and she saw that the stone had been rolled away and she ran to tell Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved.

They ran to the tomb. They saw the linen cloths on the ground, and the cloth that had been over His head.

The gospel ended off by saying that till then, they had failed to understand the teachings of scripture, that He must rise from the dead. But later on, they would understand.

Today we had 13 infants who are to be baptized soon in this Mass.
We see the ordinary signs of our faith being used: water for baptism, oil for anointing, baptism garment and the baptism candles.

We hear prayers and see the ritual gestures being performed.

In all this, are we able to grasp the deeper meanings of our faith, especially in the Resurrection of Jesus?

Jesus rose from the dead and He has given us new life and He will also give new life to these 13 infants through baptism.

And later on we will renew our baptismal promises and we will be sprinkled with holy water.

And for this Easter, the Church is giving you a bottle of holy water. 

We want to emphasize that it is holy water that is being given and its put into a respectable and dignified holy water bottle.

When we truly understand the meaning of holy water, then we won’t put holy water in a reused mineral water bottle.

Because holy water reminds us of our baptism into Christ and by His suffering, death and Resurrection, He has saved us and will lead us to understand the deeper mysteries of our faith.

So bring the holy water home and bless the home with it, because the home is the first place where we will live out our baptismal promises and make it a holy dwelling for God.

Bring it to your workplace and bless your work-station, because it is there that we will offer up the work of our hands for the glory of God.

And of course, let us use the holy water to bless ourselves and our children, so that we will set our hearts on the things of above even while in the midst of the things of earth.

And may we be that holy and consecrated people who are redeemed by Christ, to proclaim the marvelous works of God.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Palm Sunday, Year A, 13.04.2014

Isaiah 50:4-7/ Philippians/ Matthew 26:14-27:66

Life is like a cycle of ups and downs.

And as it is always said, what goes up must come down, and what goes down must come up.

Hence, we can say that nothing stays up always, and nothing stays down always.

Today’s liturgy has two opposite and contrasting moods.

We began the liturgy with the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.

The crowds spread their garments on the road and shouted: Hosanna in the highest!  (Praise God and his Messiah, we are saved) 

As we recalled that gospel scene, we too waved the palm branches in remembrance of that glorious moment when Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem.

But as we move on into the liturgy, the mood begins to swing drastically.

From “Hosanna in the highest”, we hear of human drama in the darkest and lowest.

We hear of betrayal, desertion, abandonment and crucifixion.

Within a span of an hour, we hear of glory tumbling down into agony.

The scripture readings have compressed for us that week in the life of Jesus in which we see a cycle of a high plunging down to a low, an up plummeting straight down.

And in that cycle of glory and agony, we are invited to see our lives in that one week of the life of Jesus.

We too had our days of glory when we walk with sunshine confidence and everything seems to be going right and under control.

But within a week, or even a day, or even in a matter of hours, things start crumbling and tumbling down.

And this is where we are invited to share in that moment of glory-to-agony experience of Jesus.

The readings prepare us for what is to come on Good Friday. 

At the same time, the readings also prepare us for our own Good Fridays when we feel the agony of a sudden serious illness, the death of a loved one, the loss of a friendship, failure and disappointment, heartaches and distress.

Yes, in a short time and maybe even overnight, we plunge from glory to agony, and fall into the darkness of the tomb.

The gospel also ended with Jesus buried in the tomb. But with Jesus we wait. 

Because what goes down must come up.

Agony will be turned into glory. But we must wait.

With faith and hope in the power and love of God, we wait till the agony of darkness will give way to the glory of light.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

5th Sunday of Lent, Year A, 06.04.2014

Ezekiel 37:12-14/ Romans 8:8-11/ John 11:1-45

No matter what we want to say about appearances, we can’t deny that looks are important.

We may not be that vain as to want to look gorgeous or glamorous, but in all modesty, we would want to look pleasant.

So, if we have the “plain Jane” kind of looks, we certainly won’t let it remain like that.

Otherwise, the beauticians will be out of work, and the beauty and skincare product companies will go out of business.

So, to maintain the looks, going for facial and hairdressing are like the minimum requirements. 

And it is not just the ladies who go for such things.

The men are catching up. Gone are the days when the “rock-face” is in. That era belongs to actors like Charles Bronson. 

The “in” looks belong to actors like Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom and Tom Cruise, with smooth looks, as well as great hairstyles like David Beckham.

So, it’s like “I live, therefore I must look good”. And it is not just when we are alive and well that we want to look good.

Even in death, we would also like to look presentable for others when they come to pay their respects. 

So, when we are alive, we need beauticians; when we are dead, we need morticians. In any case, both will make us look good.

But for the Lazarus that we heard about in the gospel, he didn’t have to look good upon his death. (Maybe there were no morticians around at that time)

The dead person was wrapped up, the hands and feet bound with bands of cloth, with a cloth around the face. That was how it was described in the gospel.

The reality of death was traumatic (and it still is) and hence all signs of death must be concealed and wrapped up.

There is nothing good to look at in death. It only evokes grief and pain and sorrow.

But when Jesus called out to Lazarus and when he came out of the tomb, Jesus said to the people: Unbind him, let him go free.

Obviously, to show that Lazarus had come back to life, not only his hands and feet must be free from the binds of cloth, his face must be uncovered.

It was not just to show people that he looked good even after four days in the tomb; it was for the look of life, that Lazarus was raised from the dead and was alive.

Jesus was not some kind of skilled mortician that made a dead man look good and alive.

Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead; Jesus raised Lazarus to life!

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. And He said: If anyone believes in me, even though he dies, he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.

So, do we believe this? Can we believe this? And if we believe this, then what does it mean for us?

Back in 2008, there was this Japanese movie titled “Okuribito” or “Departures” (of course there are English sub-titles)

The movie is about the historic Japanese “encoffining” ceremony in which professional morticians ritually clean, dress and prepare the bodies before they are placed in the coffin.

Morticians and undertakers are a necessary occupation, though not necessary a preferred one, whether in Japan or elsewhere.

The story is about an unemployed cellist who went back to his hometown with his wife and through some confusion and desperation took on the job as a mortician, though he initially detested it.

He was beset with nausea, and he was also humiliated when strangers on the bus detect a stench on him.

Even his wife rejected him when she found out about his profession, because she didn't want to be touched by a man who touched the dead.

But he knew he had to continue. He realized that he was providing a service that had become meaningful to him.

It was a sense of fulfillment as he saw the relatives of the deceased feeling the consolation and having a closure with death and moving on in their lives.

One particular scene that was profound was how the face of the deceased was made up with exquisite attention to detail.

In some ways, that movie portrayed the mortician as someone who prepares the deceased in a dignified and respectable way for the afterlife.

So if we truly believe in Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life, then we would want to let Him prepare us for the afterlife by the way we live in this life.

And that means we have to face the ugliness and brokenness that we see in ourselves and in others.

Yes, the wages of sin is a slow spiritual death that is expressed in the ugliness and brokenness of our lives.

But Jesus calls out to us, heals our ugliness and brokenness and He unbinds us and frees us from the fear of death.

And like the mortician in the movie “Departures” we are also called to give people respect and dignity and help them rise to a life of meaning and fulfillment and to look at life with hope.

Yes, the Lord has forgiven us our sins and heals us and calls us to live a life in Him.

Let us celebrate this new life in Christ and may that new life be also shown on our faces.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

4th Sunday of Lent, Year A, 30.03.2014

1 Sam 16:1, 6-7, 10-13 / Ephesians 5:8-14 / John 9:1-41

Very often in life, hidden talents are brought to public attention only when there is a given opportunity.

For example, singing contests often reveal surprising talents.

We may remember a local singing contest from the past that we watched on the black and white TVs called “Talent Time”.

And in the present times, there is the American Idol and our local Singapore Idol that had a lot of hype and publicity and drama even.

Having said that, I wonder if we have heard of someone by the name of Susan Boyle?

Well, she participated in a talent contest called “Britain’s got talent”, a contest that lets people bring out their talents, be it singing or dancing or playing an instrument or whatever.

Among the judges in that contest was Simon Cowell, who was notorious for criticizing contestants to the point of tears and even beyond.

So when Susan Boyle came up on stage for the first round, she looked like she just came in from the country-side.

She was plumpish, with an odd-looking hair-do, and an off-beat dress and it looked like she was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

The audience did not really welcome her on stage, and some even rolled their eyes upwards with a cynical look.

The three judges tried to be decent, and Simon Cromwell wasn’t looking forward to anything when Susan Boyle announced that she would sing “I dreamed a dream” (Les Miserables). 

But just after one line into the song, the audience and the judges were stunned by her rich powerful voice, and the cynical grins were turned almost immediately into cheers and standing ovations.

It was just another instance of how people were judged by their looks and appearances and written off before they could do anything and until they could prove otherwise.

But as for that blind man in the gospel, there was nothing for him to prove.

He was blind, he was a beggar, there was nothing that people saw in him, and there was nothing he saw in himself.

So it was, until Jesus came along and then things changed.

Earlier on, the disciples had looked at the blind man and asked whose sin it was that caused the blindness – his sin or his parents’ sin?

And then after when the blind man was healed, the Pharisees looked at him and asked what kind of sinner it was that healed the blind man.

It is strange that the disciples and the Pharisees and those who had sight could only see one thing – sin!

The disciples saw blindness as a punishment due to sin, and the Pharisees saw that man who was healed of his blindness as a sinner.

As for the blind man who was healed, he had his sight restored, and he could see just as the rest who had sight could see.

But as much as he could now see like the rest, there was something he saw that made him different from the rest.

When he was asked : What have you to say about him yourself, now that he has opened your eyes? His reply was : He is a prophet.

Not only he saw Jesus as a prophet, that former blind man became a surprise witness in the whole drama.

He even confronted and refuted the Pharisees by saying : Now here is an astonishing thing. He has opened my eyes and you don’t know where he comes from. If this man were not from God, he couldn’t do a thing.

That was a stunning statement from a surprise witness who was once blind but now could see deeper and see more than the rest.

But this gospel passage is not just about another miracle of healing a blind man.

Jesus proclaimed that He is the light of the world. His light is in all of us so that we too can see deeper and see more.

The light of Christ is not some kind of special talent that is given to only some or a few, and which can only be discovered through some kind of talent contest.

We have the light of Christ so that we can see deeper and clearer, and to choose what is from God and reject what is not from God.

Indeed we need the light of Christ to see what is from God and what is not from God because they can look so similar.

For example, HATE has four letters, but so does LOVE.
ENEMIES have seven letters; so does FRIENDS.
LYING has five letters; so does TRUTH.
NEGATIVE has eight letters; so does POSITIVE.
UNDER has five letters; so does ABOVE.
CRY has three letters; so does JOY.
ANGRY has five letters; so does HAPPY.
RIGHT has five letters; so does WRONG.

Jesus gives us His light so that we can see clearly and choose wisely.

May we choose what is from God, and reject whatever that is not.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

3rd Sunday of Lent, Year A, 23.03.2014

Exodus 17:3-7 / Romans 5:1-2, 5-8 / John 4:5-42

We began the season of Lent with Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday as we know, and as we have been told, is a day of obligatory fasting and abstinence. 

The other day of obligatory fasting and abstinence is Good Friday.

We may think that it is only two days of fasting in a year, so there is no big deal about it.

But there is something strange about those two days of obligatory fasting.

More than any other day, on those two days of obligatory fasting, very strange thoughts come into the mind.

What we won’t usually think about, suddenly creeps into our minds out of nowhere.

Yes, it is strange that on days of obligatory fasting, thoughts about food come into our minds and makes our stomachs rumble with hunger.

Well, I have to admit that on Ash Wednesday, thoughts about food came into my mind (flooded my mind). 

And it is quite unbelievable, I had thoughts about a specific kind of food.

Just imagine, on Ash Wednesday I thought about roasted pork, the type that they serve in restaurants, those little cubes of roasted pork, tender and juicy with the crunchy roasted skin. 

I wasn’t just thinking about it, I was craving for it, on Ash Wednesday! 

So, it is rather embarrassing to say this, that on Ash Wednesday, I was thinking about where to go the next day for a feast of roast pork. (I don’t know what I will think about on Good Friday!)

Maybe it is the hunger. Hunger can make us have weird thoughts about food, and even make us behave strangely.

Well, if hunger can have that kind of effect, then what about thirst? It is said that we can survive for a time without food, but we can’t last long without water. 

Thirst can make us become irrational and our behavior can become abnormal.

In the first reading, we heard that tormented by thirst, the people complained to  Moses for bringing them out of Egypt and to die of thirst in the desert.

Yes, thirst made them reveal their true colours – they said very harsh things and were going to turn violent even.

When people get real thirsty, they show who they really are – they reveal what is in their hearts.

In the gospel, we also hear of two thirsty persons – Jesus and the Samaritan woman.

They are not desperately thirsty but water was their topic of conversation.

Jesus was thirsty enough to ask the Samaritan woman for a drink, though Jews do not associate with Samaritans; the gospel makes it a point mention it. Furthermore it was a Jewish man and a Samaritan woman!

But thirst can make people discard formalities and reservations. Jesus was tired and thirsty and He wanted a drink. 

The Samaritan woman was also thirsty and that was why she came to the well to draw water, although it was at an odd time – it was at noon, a time when people would stay indoors because of the heat (and that tells us something about her).

But as their conversation went on, more and more was revealed.

The Samaritan woman came to draw water from the well to quench her physical thirst. But there was another kind of thirst that she could not quench.

She could not quench her thirst for true love – she told Jesus she had no husband. But she already had five husbands and the one she has is not her husband.

Jesus knew her secrets, but He was gentle in revealing it to her. He revealed it to her with love and compassion

But He also knew that she had a thirst that wasn’t quenched and that’s why she had secrets that she wanted to hide.

Her thirst made her act strangely – she tried to avoid people and she tried to hide her secrets from Jesus.

But Jesus, who is the living water, slowly quenched the thirst in her heart, and with that she did the really astounding thing.

She hurried back to the town, to the people that she had been avoiding, and to tell them to come and see the man who had told her everything she ever did!

Her spiritual thirst had made her hide her secrets from people. But Jesus gave her the living water and the courage to face the truth.

Yes, the thirst of the heart can make us irrational and act strangely.

In our spiritual thirst, we will even turn to dead waters. But that will be like trying to quench our thirst with sea water; the thirst will come back with a vengeance.

We turn to dead waters when we give in to our desires – our desire for attention and status.

Our desire for success and to prove that we are better than others and to show-off.

Our desire for pleasure by indulging in pornography and engaging in immoral acts with others.

Yes, we try to quench the thirst of our hearts with dead waters.

But Jesus knows all that we have done.

He wants to cleanse us with His living water in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Jesus wants to quench the thirst of our hearts with the living waters of true love, which only He can give.

Let us turn away from those dead waters that will create more dark secrets and make us hide from God and from others.

Let us turn to Jesus who gives us the living waters of truth and love, so that our hearts will be at peace with God and with others.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

2nd Sunday of Lent, Year A, 16.03.2014

Genesis 12:1-4/ 2 Timothy 1:8-10/ Matthew 17:1-9

Whenever it is dark and especially when it is pitch dark, the first thing that we would want to do would be to switch on the light.

But when there is no light to switch on, then probably the only thing to do will be to stare into the darkness till we can slowly make out something.

And even in places where we think it is pitch dark, like the jungle in the night, we will be surprised that it is not that dark after all.

If we are the adventurous type and dare to move around in the outdoors at night, then we will know about fire flies and glow worms.

Well, these creatures give out light, and we can say that they make their own light.

But we are more familiar with something else that glows in the dark.

There is a story of a man who went to France for a business trip. On his way home, a roadside peddler persuaded him to buy a box that contained a decorative roundish stone, and the peddler said in halting English, “Glow in the dark.”

Quite amused, the man bought it and brought it home. Then after dinner, he took out the box, switched off the lights, and asked his wife to come and look at the stone in the box that is supposed to glow in the dark.

But when he opened the box, the stone was as dark as the surroundings and he felt that he was cheated.

The next day, the wife opened the box to look at the stone and saw that there was a small piece of paper with a few words in French.

She had it translated and it read like this: If you keep me all day long in the sunlight, I will glow for you all night long in the dark.

So, the stone was actually a fluorescent object which has certain pigments to absorb light and then emit it out.

We also call these luminous objects and some rosaries are even made of this type of material. (Not that advisable to wear them around the neck and walk around in the dark!)

What we heard in the gospel is commonly known as the Transfiguration.

Jesus was described like this – His face shone like the sun and His clothes became as white as the light.

Jesus was not some luminous object that was glowing with light. He was radiating light; He is the Light.

But why the Transfiguration? Well, if we had bothered to notice, it happened in chapter 17 of the gospel of Matthew which was somewhere like the middle of the gospel (which has 28 chapters).

At that part of the gospel, there was a darkness that was encircling around Jesus. 

Opposition was mounting against Him from the religious leaders.

His own disciples were squabbling over who was the greatest and who would sit on the right and left.

Everything was turning dark and so Jesus took with Him Peter, James and John up that high mountain where they could be alone.

And it was there that Jesus let the light shine forth from within Him and the voice from heaven announced: This is my Son, the Beloved; He enjoys my favour. Listen to Him.

And that was enough for Jesus to continue His mission and to go right on to the end.

And as we listen to this gospel message, the light of the Transfiguration of Jesus also shines on us, and shines the light into our hearts.

And we need to listen to Him as He tells Peter, James and John, and as He tells us: Stand up, do not be afraid.

Afraid of what? We might ask. Well, afraid of the dark, a darkness that is created by doubt.

And if we want to talk about doubt, then it has to be Abraham in the 1st reading.

When the Lord told Abraham to leave his country, his father’s house for a land that God will show him, Abraham had every reason to doubt.

He was already 75 years old. What can God expect of a 75 year old man? But Abraham went as the Lord told him, and he became for us the father of faith.

Last year, on the 13th March, God called another 75 year old man. God called Jorge Bergoglio to be the Pope, to be Pope Francis.

And that 75 year old Pope is changing the Church and changing it for the better.

In his book, “The way of humility”, he had this to say: Those who have fallen into the habit of being suspicious about everything, little by little lose the peace of mind that comes from trusting confidence in God.

That can be summarized as the Singapore “Kia su” syndrome.

If we are “Kia su”, is it because we don’t trust in God and we let the darkness of suspicion and doubt overwhelm our minds and hearts.

But Jesus tells us: Stand up, do not be afraid. Jesus is shining His light on us.

Let us open our hearts to His healing light and we will shine even in the darkest of night.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

1st Sunday of Lent, Year A , 09.03.2014

Genesis 2:7-9/ Romans 5:12-19/ Matthew 4:1-11

There’s something in the air that tells us that something is not quite right.

Yes, a number of people are coughing away and there seems to be a bug flying around somewhere.

And it is not a matter of whether we catch the bug. Who would want to catch such a bug? It is the bug who wants to catch us!

But besides that, there is something else in the air that doesn’t smell right.

I wonder if we have smelt that there was something burning in the air.

Even though the wind is strong at times, the smell is equally strong.
Well, it is always said, where there is smoke, there is a fire, and where there is something burning, there will be a smell.

We may not see the fire, and it may not be that smoky or hazy, but we don’t have to wait till smoke gets into our eyes to know that something is burning.

Because the smell says it all. And it is interesting to note that we have quite a good sense of smell.

The smell of food will make us hungry, and it also tells us whether the food is barbecued, fried or grilled .

And we don’t even have to taste the food to see if it has gone bad or rancid. The smell will already tell us (blue cheese and smelly tofu)

Yes, our noses are able to pick out what can’t be seen or touched and yet we are able to identify it by the smell.

The 1st reading, began by saying that the Lord God fashioned man out of dust from the soil.

And Ash Wednesday reminds us of that: we remember that we are dust and unto dust we shall return.

Then it goes on to say that God breathed into the nostrils of man a breath of life, and thus man became a living being.

So, it can be said that man’s first experience of God was through his nostrils; he breathed in the breath of God.

And with that man also breathed in the life of God, and he also breathed in the love of God.

And with that man also breathed in truth and beauty and goodness. That’s why a good smell always delights us.

On the other hand, a bad, pungent, repulsive smell will put us off and we will immediately cover our noses.

Certainly we enjoy clean fresh air and we would a deep breath of it.
But it would be crazy and stupid if we were to take deep breaths of polluted air or a bad stench.

Also prolonged exposure to foul smells can impair the ability to smell.

In the 1st reading, we heard about the first temptation. The devil, the father of lies, and disguised as a serpent, tried to seduce Eve with a trick question.

Eve could have taken a moment to breathe in the truth of God and hence refused to get entangled with a bad question.

But she opened her mouth to speak, and the more she spoke, the more the breath of life was drained from her.

As we know, when we don’t breathe, we will be deprived of oxygen, we will start to malfunction and eventually die and turn to dust.

Adam and Eve breathed less and less of God, and with the eating of the forbidden fruit, the poison of death has set in on humanity.

In the gospel, we heard that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

The Spirit of God is also known as the breath of God. So with the power of the Spirit, with the breath of God, Jesus blew away the smoke that the devil was casting on Him in the three temptations.

In the desert, Jesus reversed the tragedy in the garden of Eden. 

With the breath of God, He cast away the smoke of Satan.

But the smoke of Satan is lurking around, and if we are not careful about it, then the smoke of Satan will choke us, and prevent us from breathing in the breath of God.

In 1972, Pope Paul VI delivered a homily that startled the world. 

Describing the chaos in the Church, he said: From some cracks and tears, the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God.

That statement of Pope Paul VI was ridiculed with sarcasm and contempt. He was criticized for not being a “modern man” and still talking about the wiles of the devil.

Well, forty years later, Pope Francis, just one day after his election, said: Let us never give in to the pessimism, to that bitterness that the devil tempts us with every day.

Pope Francis also powerfully rebuked those who deny the existence of Satan, warning against relativism, deceit and the seduction of evil.

He also spoke about spiritual warfare, and that contending with the devil is precisely our battle on earth.

The smoke of Satan often comes in the form of angry words thrown at us to lure us into an argument that will result in an eye or eye and tooth for tooth.

In such situations, we must pause and take a moment and breathe in deep the breath of God and be filled with the power of the Spirit.

Then with the clarity of the truth and the power of love, we will be able to blow away the smoke of Satan and resist the lure of evil and temptation.

So let us breathe in the breath of God and be united with the Spirit in prayer, so that the enemies of God will flee and scatter, and the smoke of Satan be blown away.