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Saturday, September 27, 2014

26th Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 28.09.2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surely we will favour the “better” one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first said yes but yet did not go. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God loves these people as much as He loves us.

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

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

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

Saturday, September 20, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The others just fade into the background of obscurity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such comparisons will only lead to envy and resentment.

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

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

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

Sunday, September 14, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 6, 2014

23rd Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 07.09.2014

Ezekiel 33:7-9/ Romans 13:8-10/ Matthew 18:15-20

Driving a car in Singapore is certainly not an easy thing. Because in order to drive a car, we need to have a car. And in order to own a car we would need to strike it big at the lottery (since Singapore is the most expensive place to own a car).

And in order to drive a car we need to have a license, which is not that easy to get and it can be quite costly too.

There is this joke about a man who won the first prize of a brand-new car.

But he had no driving license and he was anxious to get a driving license as he wanted to be the first driver of his brand new car.

So he called up the driving school and he told the receptionist that he was desperate to learn how to drive, and that he wanted to learn how to drive in just 15 minutes!

The receptionist thought for a while and then replied him: Well sir, there is a “crash” course!  : P

Learning how to drive a car is one thing; being a good driver is another.

When we are on the wheel, something strange happens to us. We turn into some kind of ugly monster.

We become a speed-demon and a road-bully. We will scold and curse other drivers.

No wonder there is a prayer for blessing of cars. So many sins are committed in the car. 

We may try to be a good driver, but what about those who road-hog, or suddenly cut into our lane without signaling, who tail-gate, who show us bad signs, and who drive recklessly.

And then there are those who text while driving. There is this warning: Pray if you love Jesus; text while driving if you want to see Him!  : 0

In times like these we wish that the traffic cops are around to catch those drivers.

But most of the time we end up scolding and cursing those kind of drivers in the confines of our cars, with the windows rolled up.

What we won’t think of doing would be to track down these reckless drivers and confront them. Oh no, we won’t do that.

Jesus said in the gospel that when your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone.

But whether it is our brother or sister or stranger, we would avoid having it out with that party concerned.

That is too risky and we might end up getting traumatized.

We would rather complain about that person to others, gossip about his wrong-doing, and slime his reputation.

And if we want to be more vicious, we will write an anonymous poison letter to some people of authority about that person’s wrong-doing. Or better still, use a pseudonym and splash it all over social media.

To say it all in one word, it is about taking revenge but without confrontation. The human way of “correcting” a person is to “criminalize” him in order to teach him a lesson.

But the way of Jesus, the Christian way, is not to teach the person a lesson but to help him learn a lesson.

There is a big difference between teaching a person a lesson and helping a person learn a lesson.

To help a person to learn a lesson in order to correct him is certainly a more difficult way, but it is the Christian way.

As Christians, we have to be good and it is also our duty to help others be good.

There is no need to teach others a lesson in order to correct them. 

Rather we must help them to learn a lesson in order to correct them.

That would mean that we ourselves must learn the lesson of correction.

Jesus says this in the gospel: 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 when two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.

It means that first and foremost, we need to learn the lesson of prayer.

There is no crash course in this kind of prayer. Praying for the correction of others demands love and faith, perseverance and persistence on our part.

When we learn that lesson of prayer, then Jesus will show us the way to help a person learn a lesson in order to correct his wrong doing.

We just do the praying, and Jesus will do the correcting.

Let us remember that when we are united in prayer, what we ask for will be granted to us.

And Jesus will also fulfill His awesome promise to us – and that is He will be there with us.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

22nd Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 31.08.2014

Jeremiah 20:7-9/ Romans 12:1-2/ Matthew 16:21-27

As we come into the Church today, there is one thing we would take – the bulletin.

There are a few reasons why we take the bulletin.

I remembered that in my teenage years when I wouldn’t go with my parents to Church (because I want to go on my own – a teenage rebellious syndrome) I would make it a point to take the bulletin.

Not that I want to read what is in there, but it would be used as a proof to my parents that I did attend Sunday Mass (otherwise I will not have my pocket-money for that week).

The retribution for that is that now I have to proof-read the weekly bulletin.  : (

But for most of us, we take the bulletin to have a look at the announcements and the up-and-coming events and whatever we need to take notice of.

But inevitably, there would be some bloopers and blunders and typo or grammatical errors.

The mistakes are certainly unintentional, but at the same time they can be quite funny and even hilarious.

The following are some examples but they are not from our parish bulletin.

  • Ben and Jessie were married on Oct 24 in the church. So ends a friendship that began in their Sunday school days.
  • Don’t let worry kill you – let the Church help!
  • Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want to remember.
  • Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our Church.
  • Let us join David and Lisa in the celebration of wedding and bring their happiness to a conclusion.
Certainly these bloopers and blunders are unintentional. It’s just a case of the wrong choice of words or the wrong placing of the words that make it sound strange and even hilarious.

But if what is spoken can be quoted, then what is printed cannot be easily amended.

We may remember that in last Sunday’s gospel passage, we heard Peter made that profound profession about who Jesus is when he said: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.

And for that Jesus made Peter the rock on which He will build His Church.

Indeed it was an astounding heavenly revelation that was given to Peter.

But in today’s gospel passage, we heard the  same Peter remonstrating with Jesus with those words: Heaven preserve you Lord; this must not happen to you.

That was certainly not a blooper or blunder on the part of Peter.
Because to remonstrate means to make a forceful reproachful protest.

So it was intentional and Peter knew exactly what he as saying to Jesus.

And from being the rock on which the Church would be built, he sank to rock-bottom. He became associated with the prince of the underworld; he became associated with none other than Satan himself.

We may wonder why Jesus was so harsh on Peter.

And we may also wonder why such strong words of Jesus was recorded in the gospels in the first place.

Jesus came to bring comfort to those who are in distress.

Jesus is the love of God made visible for those who want to follow the way of God.

But it needs to be said that God’s way is not man’s way.

God’s way is the way of the cross. But in the face of pain and suffering, the human inclination is similar to that of Peter’s remonstration.

We want to protest against the cross. There has got to be a way out of the problem of pain and suffering.

We are inclined to think of a way out of the cross and not the way of the cross.

The question of which way will always come before us.

It was the same question that came before St. Thomas More (1478 – 1535) who in the 16th century was Lord Chancellor and the right-hand man of king Henry VIII.

But when he was asked to renounce his allegiance to the Pope and to declare his loyalty to king Henry VIII as sovereign head of the Church of England, he refused and was imprisoned.

The daughter of St. Thomas More even implored him to declare his loyalty to the king in order to save his life.

After the jury's verdict was delivered and before his sentencing, St. Thomas More spoke freely of his belief that "no temporal man may be the head of the spirituality".

In other words, what will a man gain if he wins the whole world and yet ruins his life?

St. Thomas chose the way of the cross and laid down his life for it. But he got his eternal reward.

The cross is not just a part of the Christian life – it is the very heart of the Christian life.

The truth is that the cross does not crush out our life but through it we gain our life.

It is when the cross is heaviest that God’s blessings are at its greatest.

We don’t need to ask for the cross; it will be given to us.

There is no typo error or grammatical error to that. It is as truthful as it can get.

The question is do we choose the way of the cross, or do we choose the way out of the cross.

Our choice will determine whether we gain our life or ruin it.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

21st Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 24.08.2014

Isaiah 22:19-23/ Romans 11:33-36/ Matthew 16:13-20

The name Peter comes from the Latin “Petrus” and “Petrus” means stone or rock.

In the Bible there is only one person with that name and we all should know who he is. 

His original name is Simon son of Jonah, but in today’s gospel passage, we heard that it was Jesus who gave him this name.

Jesus said to Simon: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church.

So Peter means “rock” but his fellow apostles would have nicknamed him “Rocky”, but of course that is not found in the Bible.

When we say that something is on the rocks or that something is rocky, we know what it means.

When we call someone “Rocky”, it may mean that that person may be brawny but not necessary very brainy.

Of course, we won’t call Peter “Rocky” out of respect because he is the first head or first pope of the Church.

We don’t call Peter “Rocky” but more often than not, he shoots off his mouth and says the wrong things at the wrong time and ended up flat-footed.

The gospels do not spare Peter in recording his “rockiness”. Jesus called him Satan, he denied Jesus 3 times, Jesus wants to wash his feet but he asked for a bath.

The gospels portrayed Peter as impulsive and brash. 

Jesus named him the “rock” but his confreres might have called “rocky” and the object of their jokes.

But did Peter laugh at himself for all his blunders? Because you would need to have quite a sense of humour in order to carry on like Peter. Besides having some thick-skin as well!

It is said that laughing at your own mistakes can lengthen your life. But it is also said that laughing at your wife’s mistakes can shorten your life!  : )

Well, we all know that Peter had a mother-in-law (Jesus healed her – Mt 8:14-15), which means that he had a wife, but he nearly had his life shortened, not because he laughed at his wife’s mistakes but because he was imprisoned by king Herod with the intention of putting him to death.

But Peter was miraculously rescued from prison by an angel (Acts 12:1-25).

But eventually in 64 AD Peter was executed by the Roman emperor Nero and he was crucified upside down.

Peter might have had a rocky start but in the end he was as firm as a rock in witnessing to Jesus.

When Jesus said that it will be on this rock He will build His Church, Peter might not have fully understood what it meant.

Neither could he have understood what it was meant to be given the keys of the kingdom of heaven, to bind and to set free.

And neither would he have fully understood what was meant by the gates of the underworld would never hold out against the Church that would be built on him as the rock.

Even now, we ourselves might not understand what all that means. But there is one thing that we know.

We know the fury and the violence that the gates of the underworld have unleashed upon the Church and upon the world.

In the course of this week, one of the sensational news was the beheading of the American photojournalist James Foley.

Like Peter, he escaped death once when he was captured in Libya, but through the prayers of his family and friends he was later released.

When news of his brutal death was announced, Pope Francis called his family to console them and they were very moved by his kindness and condolences. (By the way, James Foley and his family are Catholics).

After his Libyan ordeal, James Foley wrote an article to thank his family and friends for their prayers.

He also recounted how he prayed the Rosary during his captivity and that gave him strength and courage and hope.

He also said that he experienced the power of the prayers of his family and friends of his church community and also the power of his own prayer.

But his Libyan ordeal did not stop him from going to the dangerous situation in Syria. And neither did his family members want to stop him.

He had this mission in life and it was a mission that he wanted to fulfill.

His mother, Diane Foley, wrote this message after receiving the news of her son’s death:

“We have never been prouder of our son Jim. He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people.”

She also added: “We implore the kidnappers to spare the lives of the remaining hostages.”

James Foley saw the gates of the underworld and the fury and violence that it unleashes.

Like St. Peter, he too lost his life to it. But like St. Peter, James did not die in vain.

His photos and footage of what is happening in Syria and Iraq bring images to the news reports that we read and we just can’t look away and not be bothered by it.

His death has also brought about an international outcry and condemnation of his killing, and also a call to an end to the violence and bloodshed.

And just as the Church stood firm and moved on after the death of St. Peter, we too must stand firm of the rock of St. Peter and pray fervently for the end to the violence and hostilities that had cost the lives of many innocent victims.

We the Church cannot sit around and do nothing in the face of what is coming out from the gates of the underworld.

If we profess what St. Peter professed, that Jesus is the Christ, then may we stand firm on the rock of St. Peter’s profession, and by our prayer may we hold out against the gates of the underworld.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

20th Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 17.08.2014

Isaiah 56:1, 6-7/ Romans 11:13-15, 29-32/ Matthew 15:21-28

Much has been said about the topic of prayer, and much more can be said and will be said about the topic of prayer.

Well, the least we can say about prayer is that we are here to pray to God and to ask Him to answer our needs and petitions.

And what do others have to say about prayer? Mother Teresa has this to say: Prayer is not about asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depths of our hearts.

So, for Mother Teresa, prayer is total surrender to God’s call and letting Him do whatever He wants to do for us.

Another quote, although not from a religious figure is this: Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one (Bruce Lee 1940-1973).

Oh yes, life is difficult and we have to handle it with prayer.

There is this story of a man who bought a lottery ticket and he prayed: Lord, if I strike, I will give the Church 10% of the winnings. He did not strike. 

He bought another lottery ticket and he prayed: Lord, if I strike, I’ll give the Church 25%. Again he did not strike.

He bought another ticket and he prayed: Ok, Lord, ok. This time it will be 50-50. (So, will he strike?)

As we all know by now, the purpose of prayer is not to change God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.

That being said about prayer, today’s gospel passage presents to us a unique scenario and also a unique encounter between Jesus and a Canaanite woman.

Jesus and His disciples had gone outside of Jewish territory into the region of Tyre and Sidon.

When you are not on home ground, it is best that you keep a low profile and stay out of trouble. And that’s what Jesus and His disciples were doing.

Then out came this Canaanite woman shouting for Him, calling Him “Son of David” and to take pity on her for her daughter was tormented by the devil.

We can imagine what a scene it was, and we can also imagine the disciples squirming at this embarrassing situation.

So desperate were they that they had to tell Jesus to give her what she wanted, probably because people were starting to look at them and wonder what was happening.

And surprisingly, Jesus was silent. It was like as if He didn’t care. It was so unlike Him. 

And when He finally said something, it was some puzzling thing about being sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. Again it was so unlike Jesus, and we ourselves may begin to start wondering.

And then with the woman kneeling at His feet and pleading “Lord, help me” He seemed to be insulting the woman by saying that it was not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house dogs.

At this point, the woman could have stood up and cursed and swore at Jesus. If He was not going to help her, then there was no need to be rude and insulting.

It is said that God gives three types of answers to prayers. He says YES and gives us whatever we want. He says NO and gives us something better. Or He says WAIT and gives us the best.

That Canaanite woman came before Jesus to intercede for her daughter.

She didn’t have to go through all that pleading and kneeling, if not for the fact that she took on her daughter’s need and made it her need. And she was prepared to wait through thick and thin to have the need addressed.

This unique encounter and unique exchange between Jesus and the Canaanite woman highlights the vital element in interceding for others – and that is the power of intervention.

To intervene is to involve oneself in a situation so as to alter an action or development.

The Canaanite woman interceded for her daughter and in doing so she also intervened between Jesus and her daughter. She stood between Jesus and her daughter.

And in the end her daughter was healed and Jesus also affirmed her of her faith.

We have come for Mass to worship and to pray. Yes we pray for ourselves, but more importantly we pray as the Church community, and as the Church we pray for others.

And this is expressed in the Intercessory Prayers or the Prayers of the Faithful.

Because like the daughter of the Canaanite woman who was unable to help herself, there are people who are quite unable to pray for themselves.

And we are called to intercede for them and to intervene for them before the Lord.

The main concern of Pope Francis at present is the situation in Iraq.

Even though he is now in South Korea, he tweeted this message on Friday, which was the feast of the Assumption of our Lady. It read : My heart bleeds especially when I think of the children in Iraq. May Mary, our Mother, protect them.

Our Archbishop has also called upon us to pray especially for the Iraq this weekend.

Just about a year ago, on the 7th September 2013, the Church by her intercession and prayer intervention had diffused the threat of a military strike at Syria.

We are now called upon again for our intercession and prayer intervention for the protection of Christians and the other minorities in Iraq who are facing mortal danger.

They are running for their lives and they need our prayers. It is for us to take on their need and make it our need, just as the Canaanite woman took on her daughter’s need and make it her own need.

That is what true intercession is about; that is what prayer intervention is about.

The salvation of many depends on the prayer and sacrifice of a few. 

We may be few, but we have the power of intercession and to make a prayer intervention.

May we have the faith of that unnamed Canaanite woman to persevere in prayer and may we too experience the power of our prayer intervention.