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Saturday, October 21, 2017

Mission Sunday, Year A, 22.10.2017

Isaiah 2:1-5 / Ephesians 3:2-12 / Mark 16:15-20
There is one thing that we all have in common right now, and that one thing comes in pairs.

That one thing that we have in common right now is that we are wearing a pair of shoes. No one came here barefooted. Even if we have taken off our shoes a bit for whatever reason, we will still put them on again.

Shoes are not just something we put on to walk about and to protect our feet. Shoes reveal quite a bit about the person actually. And quite often we make shoe contact first before we make eye contact.

And although it is not that polite to stare, but to stare at a pair of gorgeous shoes can be quite a compliment.

For men, shoes show who they are, because shoes change the way they walk and the way they carry themselves, such that it can be said “If I ever let my head down, it will be just to admire my shoes”

For women, they will go by this saying: “You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy shoes, and that’s more or less the same thing!” So most women will say this: Roses are red, violets are blue, keep the flowers, I rather have shoes.

We can remember the fairy tale of Cinderella. Well, Cinderella is a story of how a pair of shoes can change your life.

So what do shoes have to do with Mission Sunday, which the Church is celebrating this weekend?

The gospels begins with this: Jesus showed Himself to the Eleven and said to them, “Go out to the whole world, proclaim the Good News to all creation … “

And the gospel ends with: And so the Lord Jesus, after He had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven. There at the right hand of God, He took His place, while they, going out, preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs that accompanied it.

Jesus commanded His apostles to go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News to all creation, and they went, preaching everywhere.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, and that would be to step into a pair of good shoes.

Shoes, no matter how gorgeous they look, the most important part of the shoe is often not visible, and that part is the sole of the shoe.

We may not realise how important it is until when the sole begins to disintegrate and leave crumbs all over the place. It often happens to those spongy running shoes or tennis shoes.

Or when the sole just separates from the shoe without much of a warning. They really become like flip-flops. No matter how good they look on the top-side, when the shoe loses its sole, that’s the end of the shoe.
In a way, the sole of the shoe is quite like the soul of a person. When the soul of a person starts to crumble or disintegrates, then the person also loses direction in life and it is the beginning of the end.

Mission Sunday reminds us that our primary task as Christians is to save souls, a term which we seldom hear of nowadays. We don’t hear much of the “salvation of souls” and hence we seldom speak about it and so after a while it is also forgotten.

So we slowly forget to pray for the salvation of the world, the salvation of souls, we slowly forget that we have mission to bring souls to heaven.

We even might forget to pray for the departed. In the past, there is this prayer invocation: “May the divine assistance remain always with us, and may the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace.” We seldom hear of it now.

Yes, we must pray for those who are in living here in this world, as well as for the souls in Purgatory.

Because heaven is for real, and Jesus wants us all to be in heaven with Him, and we have that mission of bringing souls to heaven.

But how real is heaven for us? Do we long to go there, and will we help others to go there too?

There is this book “Heaven is for Real”, which was also made into a movie with the same title.

It is about a true story (true or not it is left us to believe) of a young boy's astounding story of his trip to Heaven and back. The book documents the report of a near-death experience of the four-year-old boy Colton Burpo.

Todd Burpo is a pastor and his son Colton had a life-saving emergency surgery on March 5, 2003 at the age of four. During the months after surgery, Colton began describing events and people that seemed impossible for him to have known about. Examples include knowledge of an unborn sister miscarried by his mother in 1998 and details of a great-grandfather who had died 30 years before Colton was born. Colton also said how he met Jesus riding a rainbow-coloured horse and sat in Jesus' lap while angels sang songs to him. He also saw Mary kneeling before the throne of God and at other times standing beside Jesus.

Among the many profound and intriguing dialogues in the movie was this:
Colton: "Mommy"
Sonja: "Yes, Colton"
Colton: "Did you know I have a sister?"
Sonja: "Don’t you know that Cassie's your sister?"
Colton: "No, I have two sisters. You had a baby die in your tummy, didn't you?"
Sonja: "Honey, who told you I had a baby die in my tummy?"
Colton: "In heaven, this little girl came up to me. She told me she died in your tummy."
And then when the mother asked her son what was that little girl’s name, Colton replied: She didn’t have a name. You didn’t give her a name.
It is a good story to read and a good movie to watch. To believe the story or not is another matter.

But as the title says it “Heaven is for real”. And that’s the Good News that is proclaimed on Mission Sunday. 

We must believe that Jesus wants us to be in heaven and He also wants us to help others go to heaven.

We may not have a great or dramatic story to tell but our mission is to walk with others and to even walk in their shoes so that together we walk in the paths of the Lord and journey towards heaven.

Let us share with others the good shoes of faith and walk with them that journey of a thousand miles. Let us remember that the salvation of their souls are our responsibility.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

28th Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 15.10.2017

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

This year is dedicated to the celebration of the centennial of the Marian apparitions at Fatima.

By now, we would know what it is all about. It has been a hundred years since Our Lady appeared to the three peasant children at an obscure village called Fatima in Portugal.

And to mark the occasion, a statue of the Pilgrim Virgin is in Singapore and it went to some parishes, schools and centres, and many people participated in the prayers, the vigils and the devotions.

But to begin with, Fatima is a rather unique and maybe odd-sounding name. It somehow doesn’t sound quite like the usual Catholic or Christian names. For all that is connected with it, Fatima is not that popular when it comes to choosing a name for baptism.

According to some sources, the town of Fatima was named after a Moorish princess who was kidnapped by a Portuguese knight, but later they fell in love and the rest of the story is just for reading pleasure. But at least we now know where the name came from.

As to why God would choose a town with such a peculiar name for Mary to make her apparitions, it can only be said that God uses jagged ways to give His messages.

And today’s gospel parable can be said as one of the jagged ways that God uses to give us a teaching, although it may leave us rather puzzled and scratching our heads.

The parable begins with a king who gave a feast for his son’s wedding. He sent his servants to all those who had been invited, but they would not come. No reason was given for their refusal.

The king invited them again, but they were not interested. One went to his farm, another to his business, and the rest seized the servants, maltreated them and even killed them. The king was furious and he sent his troops to destroy those murderers and also destroyed their town.

It is quite jarring as we hear invitation turning to destruction, and celebration turning to violence.

And then the king sent his servants to the cross-roads to invite everyone they could find to the wedding, the bad and the good alike. 

At this point, the parable is already jagged enough with all that violence and contradictions. And as if that is not enough, a man without a wedding garment had to be thrown out into the dark, where there was weeping and grinding of teeth.

It is such a jagged parable that it can be quite difficult to understand. Its jaggedness disturbs us, but it calls for our attention. And that’s how God speaks to us.

Taking the parable literally does not make much sense. But when its jagged edges cut into our hearts, then we get glimpses of what Jesus is telling us in the parable.

Last Friday, 13th October, was the 100th anniversary of the last apparition of Our Lady to the three children at Fatima. 100 years ago that day, our Lady promised a sign that will prove that her messages are from heaven, messages that must be heeded for the conversion and salvation of the world.

In what is termed as the “miracle of the sun”, the storm clouds parted, revealing the sun as an immense silver disk shining with an intensity never before seen, though it was not blinding. Then the immense disk began to "dance." The sun spun rapidly like a gigantic circle of fire. Then it stopped momentarily, only to begin spinning again. Its rim became scarlet; whirling, it scattered red flames across the sky. All this lasted about 10 minutes, and witnessed by the 70,000 crowd gathered there, as well as by numerous witnesses up to twenty-five miles away from the place of the apparition.

We would think that with such a sign, there would be mass conversions and that people would believe in God and be God-fearing and lead religious lives from then on.

But it doesn't seem to be the case. From 1917 to this day, the world has seen two world wars, and many other hostilities that seem to snub those signs from heaven and snub the call to repentance.

If the gospel parable sounds jagged, the world has shown that it is like a hacksaw blade that cuts deep into the flesh of humanity and caused much bloodshed.

So the call to prayer and penance, to repentance and conversion, which is the essential message at Fatima was not heeded, even after a hundred years.

But it is not all hopelessness and jaggedness. 
Last Friday, the 13th October, we had our monthly Rosary at Mary’s shrine. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the last apparition of Our Lady at Fatima, the catechists of our parish asked the parents of the children in the catechism classes to bring their children along because we wanted the children to lead the Rosary.

Well, the parents brought their children along; or is it that the children brought their parents along? Whatever it might be, the children and the youth led the Rosary with the help of their catechists.

With children leading the Rosary, it may not be that polished, there were some jagged edges here and there, but it was heart-warming to hear the chirpy voices of children reciting the Rosary, and with that it brought about a renewed hope for the future of our parish and for the Church.

Because the 1st reading mentions of this mountain, and this mountain is the Church. On this mountain (the Church)
the Lord of hosts will prepare for all peoples a banquet of rich food. 
On this mountain He will remove the mourning veil covering all peoples, and the shroud enwrapping all nations, He will destroy Death for ever.
The Lord will wipe away the tears from every cheek; He will take away His people’s shame everywhere on earth,
for the Lord has said so.

So the Lord of hosts invites each of us come to His holy dwelling, to His holy mountain, to offer prayer and praise, and not to be silent like the man without the wedding garment in the gospel parable.

We bring our children along and we must teach our children to pray and to worship the Lord.  

Together with their prayer, the conversion and salvation of the world is not just a possibility. It will be a reality. We have waited a hundred years. Let us wait no longer.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

27th Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 08.10.2017

Isaiah 5:1-7 / Philippians 4:6-9 / Matthew 21:33-43

It is said that today’s children is tomorrow’s hope. There is nothing new or profound about that. We all know that the future belongs to the children and the youth of today.

For those of us who have children, what would we have to say about them? The general feedback from parents will tell us this: children can be a joy, but at times they can be a pain.

They can be a joy especially when they come back from school and they tell us what they have learnt, and then they ask us all those funny corny questions like:
- Which bird wears a wig? – the bald eagle
- What do you call a fly without wings? – a walk
- What has four wheels and flies? – a garbage truck.

And when you try to teach them something, they can come up with something else. A father was trying to teach his young son about the evils of alcohol. He put one worm in a glass of water and another worm in a glass of whiskey. The worm in the water lived, while the one in the whiskey curled up and died. So the father asked his son, “Now what does that show you?” The son replied, “It shows that if you drink whiskey, you won’t have any worms!”

And children can be a pain because with each having their own rooms, they will close the door and you don’t know if they are in or not? Even knocking on the door might not get any response. But to find out, you just have to turn off the wi-fi, and they will appear suddenly.
But that is not as painful and hurting as the song of the vineyard in the 1st reading. The prophet Isaiah sings of a song of a man’s love for his vineyard: “My friend had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug the soil, cleared it of stones and planted choice vines in it. In the middle he built a tower, he dug a press there too. He expected it to yield grapes, but sour grapes were all that it gave.”

But it is not just about a man’s love for his vineyard and the sour grapes that it produced. It calls for the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the men of Judah to look at themselves as the People of God, and what kind of fruits they were producing.

And in case they were still wondering what it all meant, the final verses of the 1st reading says it all: Yes, the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the House of Israel, and the men of Judah that chosen plant. He expected justice, but found bloodshed, integrity, but only a cry of distress.

The 1st reading reveals the pain and hurt of God over His people. If that is a sad story, then the gospel parable is a rather violent one. It is also about a vineyard but it is a blood-soaked vineyard, as the bad and evil tenants maltreated and even killed the landowner’s servants and even the landowner’s son.

Jesus told this parable to the chief priests and the elders of the people and in case they didn’t get it, Jesus tells it straight to them: ‘I tell you, then, that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.’
In both the 1st reading and the gospel parable, God expected from His people justice and integrity, but what He got was cries of distress and bloodshed.

God demands an accountability for the blessings He bestowed on His people, and after many warnings and in the time of reckoning, when instead of finding justice and integrity, He gets cries of distress and bloodshed, then God will punish, He will turn His hand against His people, though He will not turn His heart from them.

We are God’s people, His children. He expects from us justice and integrity, He expects from us an accountability.

But that is also what we expect from our children. We expect from them justice and integrity. We expect from them an accountability of the values and principles that we have taught them.

And we must teach them and correct them when they go wrong, just as God will correct us when we go wrong.

A little boy came up to his mother in the kitchen one evening while she was preparing dinner, and he handed her a piece of paper that he had been writing on. After his mom dried her hands on an apron, she read it, and this is what it said:
For cutting the grass: $5.00
For cleaning up my room this week: $1.00
For going to the store for you: $1.50
Baby-sitting my kid brother while you went shopping: $1.25
Taking out the garbage: $1.00
For getting a good report card: $5.00
For cleaning up the porch: $2.00
Total owed: $14.75

Well, his mother looked at him standing there, and the boy could see the memories flashing through her mind. She picked up the pen, turned over the paper he'd written on, and this is what she wrote:

For the nine months I carried you while you grew inside me: No Charge.
For all the nights that I've sat up with you, doctored and prayed for you: No Charge.
For all the trying times, and all the tears that you've caused through the years: No Charge.
For all the nights that were filled with dread, and for the worries I knew were ahead: No Charge.
For the toys, food, clothes, and even wiping your nose: No Charge.
When you add it up, my son, the cost of my love is: No Charge."

When the boy finished reading what his mother had written, he hung his head down and then he looked straight up at his mother and said, "Mommy, I love you."
And then he took the pen and in great big letters he wrote: "PAID IN FULL".

Children’s Day was celebrated last Friday. And when we think about it, children are living messages we send to a time we will not see.
And so what are we teaching them? What are we telling them?
Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. And since children are great imitators, then we must give them something great to imitate. Children may close their ears to advice but they open their eyes to example.

The month of October is called the Month of the Rosary and the call is to pray the rosary. 

The spiritual crisis that the Church is facing is that families don’t pray the Rosary, and much less, pray at all. We have a duty to be examples of prayer and to pray the Rosary as a family at home. It is a duty that we will be held accountable for.

Our children are the Church’s most valuable resource and her best hope for the future.

We must teach them to pray and be examples of prayer for them, so that they will show the world what is justice and integrity, so as to put a stop to the distress and bloodshed we see now.

And if we think that the prayer of children doesn’t amount to much by worldly standards, then Psalm 8 has this to tell us: How great is your name, O Lord our God, through all the earth! Your majesty is praised above the heavens;
on the lips of children and of babes you have found praise to foil your enemy, to silence the foe and the rebel.

That’s the power that children have, and may they always have that power as they grow into the future. That power flows from prayer. Let us pray and they will follow.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

26th Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 01.10.2017

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

Exams are a major part in the life of a student. Exam time is also probably the most religious time in the life of most students. One rather funny prayer before the exam the next day is this: As I lay me down to rest, I pray I pass tomorrow’s test. If I should die before I wake, that’s one less test I’ll have to take. 

But exams can be so strange. Some statics have it that 80% of the exam questions are based on that one lecture you didn’t attend and on that one book you didn’t read. When that happens then it’s poetry time: Tick tock, mind block, pen stop, eye pop, full shock, jaw drop, time up, no luck.

But even when the exams are over, the anxiety comes next. Because there will be the results of the exams and that will be the time of reckoning.

Those who scored “A”s will be in the limelight and will get praises and rewards. But in the shadows are those at the end of the spectrum, those who are graded “F” or bluntly speaking, the failures.

In the exam grading scale, “F” stands for fail. In the social grading scale, “F” can also stand for forgotten. In the eyes of society, the failures are forgotten and there are not many who will feel sorry for them.

But we need to remember that failure is not the opposite of success; failure is part of success. In fact, failure is the mother of success, and we learn more from failure than from success.

One thing that can be learnt is that failure is not final, and failure can be good, as long as it doesn’t become a habit.

So if your child gets an “F” for the exam, “F” of course means fail, please go easy on the child. FAIL can also mean “First Attempt In Learning”.

After all, failure is just a bruise, not a tattoo. And failure is just an event in the life of the person; failure is not equal to the person.

Of course, this is not meant to encourage failure, but just to give encouragement in the event of failure. As it is said, if plan “A” doesn’t work, then the alphabet still has 25 more letters.

In the gospel, Jesus is highlighting a category of people who live in the shadows of society, and He pointed them out as the tax-collectors and prostitutes, in short, all those who are considered the failures of society.

Generally speaking, failures can be divided into two classes: those who thought about it but never did anything about it, and those who did it but never thought about it.

In a way, the tax-collectors and prostitutes, those so-called sinners, just did it and never thought about it. And since they had already done wrong, they stayed in the shadows of society and never thought much about it.

Until they heard John the Baptist preach about repentance and forgiveness, then they thought better of it, and as Jesus said of them, they are making their way into the kingdom of God. Yes, they have learnt from their failures and showing it in repentance.

They are like the first son in the parable, who refused to go and work in his father’s vineyard. But afterwards he thought better of it and went.

On the other hand, the second son thought about it, and he even said yes to his father, but then never did anything about it.

The teaching of Jesus in the gospel is about repentance, and that is expressed in that phrase “thought better of it”.

And that is also how we learn from failure. We need to think better of it, so as to learn from it, and to gain from it and even to make a success out of it.

And that is how we need to look at persons who have failed, to see failure as just an event in the person’s life and not failure as a person. We need to think better of it, so that the person can move on in life and become a “success” in life.

There is a story of a couple had a few children. All were normal and intelligent. Except one who had Down’s Syndrome and hence, was slow and different from the rest.

The couple took joy in their other children but for this special child, they had to swallow their disappointment and embarrassment.
At times, they even asked themselves why they were burdened with such a child. It seems that they will have to care for him all their lives.

As the years went by, the rest of their children got married and left home to start their own families. As the couple became older, their children also became busier with their own families.

Naturally, the couple felt lonelier with all their children gone. Except for one, the slow “special” one. Because of his inabilities and disabilities, he obviously had to stay with his parents.

In the past, the parents thought of him as a burden and an obstacle to their freedom in life. But now, the old couple realized that he is the only one who is with them day and night.

Once upon a time, he had to depend on them and they have to fend for him. Now that they are in their lonely old age, it is they who have to depend on him despite his inabilities and disabilities.

This story opens our minds to those whom society deem as failures or liabilities, people who are left in the shadows and forgotten, just like those tax-collectors and prostitutes in the gospel.

The gospel reminds us that when the message of repentance is preached to them, they responded more quickly and readily accepted the Good News of salvation.

In fact, despite their failures in almost every sense of the word, they showed that they thought better of it and did what God wanted of them.

When we can think better of those who failed, whether in academics or in life, and see how they are responding to the call of God, then we will be able to follow them in making the way to heaven.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

25th Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 24.09.2017

Isaiah 55:6-9 / Philippians 1:20-24, 27 / Matthew 20:1-16

This time of the year can be termed as “exam time” because there is the PSLE, the N level exams, the O level exams and the A level exams.

Exam fever don’t just affect the students. Parents get stressed over their children taking the exams, grandparents will try to quell the anxiety of their grandchildren, and priests will be busy as parents bring their children to them to ask for a blessing for the exams. And after that the teachers will be perplexed over the marking of the exam papers.

Yes, exams are a big thing in Singapore because the results will indicate to the students what their future would be like.

The “A” students will have everything going for them – the best schools, scholarship offers, overseas exchange programmes, and the best of opportunities.

But those on the lower end, those who can barely make it or fail to make the mark, will have to make do with whatever that is left for them.

And as in the education system, so it is in the job market. People are paid according to their academic qualifications and their capabilities. So it can be said that people are paid for what they are worth.

So our minds are shaped and formed by market forces. More so in the job market, the better qualified we are, the more capable we are, the higher is our worth, and the higher will be our pay.

So in the world market, our worth is measured in dollars and cents. How much we are paid is an indication of how much we are worth in the eyes of the world.

And that’s why today’s gospel parable bothers us and disturbs us, because it rattles our minds and penetrates deep down into our hearts to see how we understand justice and fairness.

This gospel parable brings back childhood memories when our siblings and our classmates seem to get more than us: a bigger piece of cake, a bigger apple, nicer clothes. It’s just about someone else getting more and better.

Our response to that is: “It’s not fair and square.” As long as somebody’s square is bigger than ours, then it is not fair.

This gospel parable also makes us squirm and look away as it brings back memories of our adolescent and adult years, memories of how we were not selected and left out on the side-lines, of how we were looked over and not promoted.

In other words, it’s the experience of rejection and devaluation. And to make it even more hurting, we may be called “stupid” or “useless” or “hopeless”.
These are the memories that we want to hide away and lock up in the furthest corners of our heart.

But today’s gospel parable digs deep into our hearts and brings up those memories and makes us look at them again.

Because there are times when we know how it feels to be waiting to be hired. As the hour turns into days and into months, our self-worth is also draining away. We feel unwanted, rejected and dejected.

And we may not even have that 11th hour opportunity that the workers had. The end of the day may mean that there is nothing there for us. And so in our emptiness, we get envious and jealous at those who got hired, those who got what they wanted, those who seemed to have all the luck.

Yes, we get envious and jealous when there is nothing there for us. But we also get envious and jealous when there is something there for us.

In the gospel parable, those who were hired first thought that they would get more than those who were hired last. After all they had done a whole day’s work in all the heat.

But they got what was agreed upon. So even though they had something, they grumbled. Even though they had something, they were still envious and jealous of those who did only an hour’s work but got the same pay as them.

So what is the teaching in this rather disturbing gospel parable? One truth that is portrayed is that when it comes to God, we have to expect the unexpected, especially when it comes to His generosity towards the least, the last and the lowly.

When it comes to God’s generosity, we may remember that He made too much good wine at the wedding in Cana (more than 100 gallons); He multiplied too much bread for the crowd and there were 12 baskets of bread leftover; and of course He paid too much to those 11th hour workers.

And God is asking us this question: “Why be envious because I am generous?”

And envy and jealousy can eat into those who have as well as those who have not. Those who already have a day’s wage asked why those who did less got the same pay. 

Those who were hired last, although it was not mentioned, could be thinking of why others got hired and not them.

But God’s ways are not our ways. And as high as the heaven is above the earth, God’s ways are above our ways and God’s thoughts are above our thoughts.

And so we are called to think like God and not like how they think in the market.

Generosity is the art of counting our blessings. Envy and jealousy is the art of counting other people’s blessings instead of our own.

So when we always have something negative to say about others, it reveals to us that we are secretly envious and jealous of others.

Envy and jealousy are like mental and spiritual cancers. The only way to treat it is to sincerely congratulate others for their blessings. Then our blessings will come.

Because God cannot be outdone in His generosity. When we begin to think like God and act in the ways of God, then God will certainly bless us and bless us generously.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

24th Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 17.09.2017

Ecclesiasticus 27:30 – 28:7 / Romans 14:7-9 / Matthew 18:21-35

In this parish, as well as in the other parishes, there is this regular occurrence. There will be individuals wandering into the premises and asking for money.

If they are asking for money in order to have some food for the day, then we are obligated to help them, for that is our Christian duty. And we will help them in their sustenance for a day or two, and we would also see if the SSVP can give them further assistance.

But more often than not, there are people who come to ask for money and they say it’s for their rent, or their medical bills or utility bills and they are asking for at least $100. And they will make promises to repay it back as soon as they have the money. In effect they are asking for a loan, which of course the church is unable to do so.

But on a personal level, we have the experience of people like family members, relatives, colleagues and friends coming to us with a sob-story and begging us to lend them some money for an urgent need, and the amount that they are asking is a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars!

And we also have the experience of being soft-hearted and we lend – a few hundred or a few thousand dollars – our hard-earned money. And we also have the experience that when we ask for our money back, we only get empty promises and excuses. 

And those who borrowed money from us and have not repaid us, we will always remember them. (So if we want someone to remember us, just borrow money from them and don’t return it :) They will certainly remember us always, although not for a good reason :( )

In the gospel, Jesus told a parable that we can immediately understand, especially if we had lent people some money and they haven’t return it to us.

What the servant owed the king – 10 thousand talents – was an enormous amount and impossible for the servant to repay it.

The servant pleaded with the king – “Give me time and I will pay back the whole sum”. We too have heard this from those who borrowed money from us – “Give me some time and I will repay you”, and we wait and wait and wait.

In the parable the king had pity on that servant and wrote off that enormous debt. But the reality for us is that it is so difficult to write off a debt, especially if it is a large sum of money. It is like a knife that is stuck in our hearts.

But the gospel parable uses the imagery of a monetary debt to point to a spiritual debt. When others do wrong to us, how willing are we to forgive, especially when they don’t seem to deserve it.

There is this book “The Sunflower” written by a Nazi holocaust survivor, Simon Weisenthal. His pain was extremely intense: 85 members of his family died in the concentration camps.
In his book, he tells of this story that one day when he was in the concentration camp, a nurse came and told him to follow her. He was led to a make-shift hospital and into a very small room, which had a single bed and lying on the bed was a person almost completely wrapped in bandages.

It was obvious that this person was about to die soon. Simon was left alone with this person and then the dying person began to speak and he told his story. 

He was a young man, 21 years-old, a member of the dreaded SS troops. He had been raised a Catholic but was swayed over to the Nazis and he joined the elite SS troops. 

When he was in the eastern zone, he was given the assignment to deal with the Jews in the zone, which actually meant killing them by any means. This incident troubled the young SS soldier as his early faith formation rebelled against what he did. He grew careless and was distracted and during a battle, he was wounded to this state. 

One of the things that were on his mind was that above all, he wanted forgiveness from a Jew. And so it happened that the nurse called in Simon Weisenthal, and there he was, listening to the young man’s story and heard his plea.

The dying young man said that he was not born a murderer and he didn’t want to die a murderer, and he begged Simon, on behalf of his people, for forgiveness. Simon Weisenthal says in his book that the only response he could give was to get up and leave the room without saying a word, without granting forgiveness.
He wrote that much later on, his non-response began to trouble him. Should he have granted forgiveness to that dying young man? He could think of many reasons not to, but he still cannot come to terms with his non-response to the pleading of the dying man. He concluded the story by asking the readers to put themselves into his shoes and ask themselves the question: What would I have done?

When people owe us money and they don’t pay up, or when they won’t pay up, it is painful. And whenever we think about it, the knife of resentment and anger twists in our hearts and it becomes more and more difficult to forgive them. 

But when others do wrong to us, it can be more painful because the knife goes round and round in our hearts making a big hole in our hearts and all kindness and compassion are drained away.

The antagonist could be an abusive parent, an unfaithful spouse, a scheming sibling, a back-stabbing colleague, or even a gossip-mongering parishioner.

The hurt and the pain may not be so intense as that of Simon Weisenthal’s, but still it is a twisting cutting pain that hurts the heart and makes it so difficult to forgive.

But the 1st reading reminds us of this: Resentment and anger, these are foul things, and both are found in the sinner. Forgive your neighbour the hurt he does you, and when you pray, your sins will be forgiven. Jesus said likewise in the gospel: forgive each other from your heart.

Which makes us look at the other side of the coin. Have we been like that dying young soldier who took the wrong path and was careless and did all the wrong things? 

Of course we can be obstinate and rationalize away our guilt, but one day we will have to come face to face with our sins, and then it will be our turn to plead for forgiveness.

For this, the 1st reading has this profound teaching: Remember the last things and stop hating, remember dissolution and death, and live by the commandments. Remember the commandments, and do not bear your neighbor ill-will; remember the covenant of the Most High, and overlook the offence.

Yes, let us remember that the gospel is about forgiveness. Just as Jesus forgives His enemies, we too must forgive others. Just as Jesus forgives, our sins are also forgiven.

And as we remember the last things, let us stop hating and start forgiving. And as we forgive those who trespass against us, the Lord will also forgive us our trespasses.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

23rd Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 10.09.2017

Ezekiel 33:7-9 / Romans 13:8-10 / Matthew 18:15-20
The ways we understand and perceive the world around us are through our senses. We have five traditional senses known as sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. These senses take the information from our environment and send it to our brain, which then processes the information and tells us how to respond.

The sense of sight develops the ability of visual recognition and develops more quickly than the rest of the other senses. 

But from our earliest days, the sense of hearing develops our ability to communicate. That’s how we learn our mother tongue. That’s also how we develop the way we speak and our accent. And maybe that’s why we have two ears and one mouth, so as to listen twice as much as we speak.

So hearing is one of the body’s five senses, but listening is a skill that needs to be developed further. Because most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.

So even as we listen to someone talking to us, our brains are already formulating a reply even before the other person has stopped speaking.

And often, we are so eager to express our opinions that we interrupt the other person in mid-speech, which is quite rude, and at times the other person gets irritated and tells us off with “Can you let me finish what I am saying?” Well, we can let the other person finish what he needs to say, but it doesn’t matter much to us because we already have a reply ready and hence, we are not listening anymore.

That’s usually how an argument begins. It starts off as a discussion, and then into a debate and then when it gets fast and furious, it will dive into an argument where everybody is speaking (or shouting) and no one is listening.

What Jesus stated in the gospel is like a process for addressing a wrong-doing or conflict management: “If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you: the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain any charge. But if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community; and if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.

That’s a logical process that is applicable in addressing a wrong-doing or a resolving a conflict. But all that depends on one important factor – listening. That is also the keyword in that passage.

For any dialogue, or discussion or even a debate, listening to the other party is necessary, otherwise it will just become an argument which can even turn violent.

So is this just about addressing a wrong-doing or resolving a conflict? Maybe, but more than that, the teaching is at the last sentence of the paragraph, i.e. “if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.”

That is interesting because the gospel passage is taken from the gospel of Matthew, and Matthew as we know was a tax-collector before Jesus called him.

In the context of the gospel, a pagan is understood as one who doesn’t know God and a tax-collector is one who is concerned only with material gain.

So to treat a person as a pagan or as a tax-collector is to understand that the person does not know the voice of God and does not know how to listen to Him.

This weekend is “Catholic Education Sunday” and also “Catechetical Awareness Weekend”. Whether as teachers or as catechists, they teach children how to listen to God.

But the voice of God is not something so unfamiliar that we have to learn it through an academic process. Rather Catholic teachers and catechists help their students to listen to the voice of God within.

The word “catechism” at its core, is the word “echo”. God speaks to everyone, and His voice echoes in our hearts. We only need to know how to listen.

A son and his father were walking in the mountains.
Suddenly, his son falls, hurts himself and screams: "AAAhhhhhhhhhhh!!!" To his surprise, he hears the voice repeating, somewhere in the mountains: "AAAhhhhhhhhhhh!!!"
Curious, he yells: "Who are you?" He receives the answer: "Who are you?" Angered at the response, he screams: "Coward!" He receives the answer: "Coward!"
He looks to his father and asks: "What's going on?"
The father smiles and says: "My son, say something nice."
And so the son shouts to the mountains: "I like you!"
The voice answers: "I like you!"
Again the son shouts: "You are strong!"
The voice answers: "You are strong!"
The boy is surprised, but does not understand.
Then the father explains: "People call this ECHO, but really this is LIFE.
It gives you back everything you say or do.
Our life is simply an echo of our words and actions.
If you want more love in the world, create more love in your heart.
If you want more competence in your team, improve your competence. When your words are kind, the people you speak to will also be kind.
This relationship applies to everything, in all aspects of life; Life gives you back everything you have given to it."

Catholic teachers and catechists are like the father. He does not impose his voice but he lets his son hear the echo of his own voice, and helped his son realize that the voice of God is heard in the kind words that he spoke.

But in this noisy world where people want to have their say and so many words are spoken, how do we listen to the voice of God?

That’s where prayer comes in. Jesus said, “I tell you solemnly once again, if two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.”

Before even embarking on addressing a wrong-doing or resolving a conflict, we must be able to pray with the other person first, otherwise nobody will be listening to anything that is spoken.

When we pray together, we listen to echoes of our own voices as well as the echo of the voice of God within us.

And the voice of God will never contradict the Word of God, for Jesus is the Word of God and where two or three gather in His name, He will be there.

That is His promise to us. Let us believe in His promise, and we will be able to listen to the voice of God.