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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Christ the King, Year A, 23.11.2014

Ezk 34:11-12, 15-17/ 1 Cor 15:20-26, 28/ Mt 25:31-46

I am a priest and I should be preaching the gospel, but today I would like to give the ladies a little fashion tip when they go out for a date.

It is said that when a lady goes out for a date, she must put on at least three items – high heels, earrings and lipstick.

Oh, talking about lipstick, there is a little joke: Why did the girl put lipstick on her forehead? Ans: Because she wants to make up her mind.

So, when people can’t make up their minds, just tell them to put lipstick on their foreheads! :D

And talking about make-up, it is meant to enhance the beauty of a person.

Of course, there must be some natural beauty but a little make-up here and there can either enhance some features or cover up some blemishes.

On the other hand, too much make-up will make a face look too artificial and bad make-up can make a face look like something from a horror movie (especially if the make-up is not water proof).

But there is one more purpose for make-up, and that is, it is used for disguises.

With some skillful make-up, a face can look quite different, be it for younger or older, or be it for prettier or uglier.

Now we can’t say that Jesus wears make-up (He always looks good), but He is pretty good (excuse the pun) at disguises.

There is this story of St Martin of Tours who was a Roman soldier and a Christian.

One cold winter day, as he was riding into the city, a poor beggar stopped him and asked him for money.

Although St Martin had no money, he was moved with compassion for the poor man who stood shivering in the cold.

St Martin gave him what he had. Taking off his soldier’s coat, he cut it in two and gave half of it to the beggar.

That night, St Martin had a dream. In his dream, he saw heaven and all the angels and Jesus standing in their midst.

Jesus was wearing half of a Roman soldier’s coat. It was that half that St Martin had given to the poor beggar and St Martin realized that the poor beggar was actually Jesus in disguise.

Yes, Jesus is very present in this world but He always moves around in disguises.

So, if people were to ask us where to find Jesus, we can point to the tabernacle we may even dare to point to ourselves – after all we are the Body of Christ.

But today’s gospel parable tells us where to find Jesus and also who He is disguised as.

He is disguised as those who are hungry and thirsty, as the stranger, the sick and those in prison.

And that’s why it is so challenging to see beyond the disguises of Jesus.

His disguises are what we frown upon, and what we would rather avoid because they are not nice to look at.

Jesus says: I was hungry. We would be standing in the middle of a buffet and say: I don’t know what to eat.

Jesus says: I was thirsty. And we say: Upsize the drink for me.

Jesus appears as a stranger. And we will call the police.

Jesus may be in the naked and we would look at our wardrobes bursting with clothes and say: I have nothing to wear.

Jesus is in the sick. And we ask: Is it contagious?

Jesus is in the prison. And we say: Better keep those behind bars!

Yes, it is not that easy to recognize Jesus in His various disguises.

But there is a blessing behind the disguises of Jesus. (Maybe that’s where we get that phrase – A blessing in disguise)

Because we heard in the gospel parable: Come, you whom my father has blessed. I was hungry you gave me food; I was thirsty you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me; sick and you visited me; in prison and you came to see me.

In other words, the poor, the needy, the homeless, the least, the lonely, and these we find at the bottom of the social ladder as actually God’s blessings in disguise.

Let us remember these words of Jesus: I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

33rd Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 16.11.2014

Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31 / 1 Thess 5:1-6 / Matthew 25:14-30

There is one profession that is hardly talked about but at the same time we can hardly do without.

It is also a dying profession, and ironically it concerns the dead.

This profession is the grave digger and there isn’t a more polite term or politically correct term to it.

A newspaper article some time ago mentioned that there are only about 10 grave diggers in Singapore.

Even though cremation of the dead is a more preferred means, there are still some who opt for burials and that is where the grave digger comes in.

Modern machinery like the excavator may make the job easier but the grave digger will be needed to “tailor” the hole for the coffin to go in.

So there will always be a need for this profession though it is not nice to say that they make a living out of the dead.

In the gospel parable, it can be said that the 3rd servant is like a grave digger – both were into digging holes.

But unlike the grave digger who makes a living out of his digging, the 3rd servant lost his living from his digging. It can be said that he dug his own grave.

Whatever talents or money that his master gave him, he dug a hole in the ground and buried it.

In the parable, the talents that the master gave the servants represented something more than money.

It represented a gift – a gift of life and love.

In burying this gift, the 3rd servant exposed his attitude towards life and love.

Not only that, he even defended his attitude by focusing on his master’s hard and demanding expectations.

In doing so, he tried to shift the problem from himself to his master.

But that’s also our tendency, isn’t it? To always say that others have a problem, but not ourselves.

Like the ostrich, we bury our heads in the ground, refusing to look at the reality of our lives.

But as how the parable goes, the master exposed the servant’s attitude.

And we too will be exposed, sooner or later, but exposed for our own good, if we are willing to accept it.

There is a story of a young successful businessman who owns a big company.

Then he came to know a girl and he was attracted by her simplicity, humility, kindness and pleasant personality.

As they entered into a love relationship, the young successful businessman decided to check on her background.

So he called his assistant to engage a private investigator to check on the girl, but of course, without saying that he was the one who wanted the report.

After a couple of weeks, the private investigator’s report came in and the assistant passed it to that young successful businessman.

The report went like this: The girl in question comes from a middle class family. She holds a decent job in a manufacturing company, is hardworking and honest, kind and helpful.

But there is a problem. Lately, she has been going out with this young businessman who is noted for being ruthless in his business deals. He is crafty and cunning, and will resort to any means just to make money.

End of the report. Just a story, but what a twist it had at the end.

The story does not go on to say what happened to the young businessman.

And as in any story, if we were to put ourselves in the shoes of that young businessman, then what would our reaction be.

Would we refute the private investigator’s report and bury our heads in the ground and refuse to see the reality of ourselves?

Would we say that the private investigator is biased against us and tarnishing our reputation? Or worse, would we think that the “young businessman” in the report refers to someone else?

Say what we may, but like the 3rd servant, we have this tendency to bury our heads in the ground and shift the problem towards others.

But on the other hand, we can also be like the other two servants who used their gifts and talents to help others discover themselves in an enlightening and non-threatening way.

Let me share another story to show you what this means.

A boy had a very bad temper that was getting out of hand.

His father prayed about it and came up with this idea to help him.

He gave his son a hammer and a bag of nails, and he told his son: Every time you lose your temper, go to the wall and hammer a nail.

So the boy did just that – every time he lost his temper he took the hammer and hit the nail into the wall.

And if you have tried hitting a nail into the wall, you will know it is not that easy. Because you often end up hitting your thumb

So after a while, the boy thought that it was easier to control his temper than to keep hitting nails into the wall.

Then one day, the boy told his father that he could now control his temper because he had stopped hitting nails into the wall.

The father said: Well done, my son.  Now for every occasion that you felt like losing your temper but managed to control it, pull a nail out of the wall.

The son thought it was strange but did as he was told. So slowly the nails came out of the wall. And after some time, all the nails were pulled out of the wall.

The son told this to his father, and the father brought the son to look at the pock-marked wall.

He said to his son: My son, every time you lose your temper, it is like a nail being hammered into someone’s heart.

You may have apologized and the nail taken out, but the crack and the hurt remains, like this pock-marked wall. But learn this lesson, and you will be a better person.

It is interesting to note what the father did. He prayed first, and then he called upon whatever wisdom and experience he had to help his son overcome his bad temper. 

Today’s Gospel parable reminds us that God has given each of us, all the gifts, talents, wisdom, experience, that we need to make the most out of life.

That’s God’s gift to us. Our gift to God will be to use His gifts to us to help others make the most of their lives.

In other words, we are not called to bury hopes and joys. Rather we are called to share life and love.

Life and love are God’s gifts to us. What we do with that life and love is our gift to God and to others.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

All Souls Day 2014, 02.11.2014

Isa 25:6-9 / Rom 5:5-11 / Mt 11:25-30

One of the most emotionally charged occasions that we often come across would be at a funeral.

The death of a person, and more so a loved one, is usually accompanied with grief and sorrow and tears.

Words of condolences are few and short because no amount of words, no matter how profound can bring a dead person back to life.

And if words are to be used, then they must be carefully chosen and it is certainly not a time to take the matter lightly or make a joke out of it. But things can go wrong, unintentionally of course.

Like this one about the florist’s mistake. On opening his new shop, the owner received a bouquet of flowers. He became dismayed on reading the enclosed card because it read “Deepest Condolences”.

While he was wondering about the message, his phone rang. It was from the florist, apologizing for having sent the wrong card.

“Oh, it’s alright,” said the man. “I am a businessman and I understand how these things can happen.”

The florist said, “But I accidentally sent your card to the funeral wake.”

The man asked, “Oh! What did it say?”

The florist replied, “Congratulations on your new location.”

Certainly it was an awkward mistake, unintentional and no one would be laughing at it.

Nonetheless, it may reflect in a certain way, our hope for a departed loved one.

We hope and we pray that our departed loved ones would be in heaven and enjoy eternal rest, and are at peace.

As we would often hear at funeral wakes – he/she is in a better place, a better location, so to speak.

And that’s the purpose of coming for Mass on All Souls Day. We pray that God will grant our departed loved ones eternal rest in His presence.

But things may not be as simple as we would like it to be, as in that when we die we will go straight to heaven.

Because the reality is that as in life, so it is in death.

We who live in this world would know how much we can be attached to this world.

We are attached not just to things but more so to our loved ones and to the relationships that we have built in this world.

Even at our last breath, we may not want to let go easily of our life and detach ourselves from our loved ones.

Even though the Lord of life is calling us to the eternal light, we can’t help but keep glancing at the lights of this world that we have shared with our loved ones.

My father passed away in June, just three months before he could celebrate the diamond wedding anniversary with my mum and the family.

He had hoped and talked about it before his death but he didn’t get to live to celebrate it.

Although he died peacefully, we also know that he had some earthly hopes that could not be fulfilled.

And so this year’s All Souls Day is especially meaningful for my family and me as we pray that my father will rest in peace.

Similarly, you too have come to pray for your departed loved ones that they will rest in peace.

As the Church teaches us, “all who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation. But after death, they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

Yes, we must pray for our departed loved ones, as well as for those who are forgotten or who have no one to pray for them.

More than just moving to a “new location”, we pray that they will see the eternal light and set on a new direction, a direction towards the God of life who will give them eternal rest.

And even as we pray, may we even while on earth, set our direction towards God and find life and love, peace and joy.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

30th Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 26-10-2014

Exodus 22:20-26 / 1 Thess 1:5-10 / Matthew 22:34-40

There was a piece of news during this week that may not have caught our attention, but it may be of concern to our children.

It's about the schools. A total of 52 schools will get new principals next year.

A new principal would probably mean that the school will embark on a new vision, a new mission and maybe a new direction.

But whatever new things that may happen in a school that has a new principal, the fundamentals won't be changed that much.

Because the fundamental purpose of a school is to provide education for its students.

And the task of the principal is to ensure that the teachers will teach the students well.

It is said that the best teachers are those who show the students where to look, but won't tell them what to see.

In other words, a good teacher will let the students discover what they need to learn.

But there are times when what the student discovers and learns may need some realignment.

A Sunday school teacher was teaching her class about the 10 Commandments in preparation for their First Confession (8 year-olds)

After explaining the Commandment to "honour thy father and mother" she asked the class, " Is there a commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?"

Immediately one boy puts up his hand and answered, "Thou shall not kill."   : 0

If we had grown up with siblings, we probably would have agreed with that boy.

And we may have to admit that some people are such a pain for us that we would have done something drastic if not for that commandment.

In the gospel, we heard that the Pharisees asked Jesus about which is the greatest commandment of the Law.

The Pharisees were such a pain for Jesus. As if they don't know what is the greatest commandment of the Law.

But they asked that question not so much for discussion but rather to disconcert Jesus.

To disconcert is to upset or to frustrate or to ruffle or irritate someone. It's certainly not a nice thing to do to someone.

And Jesus could have given those Pharisees a piece of His mind just to shut them up, just as He had silenced the Sadducees earlier.

But being a good teacher, Jesus showed them where to look , and He left it to them to see whatever they want to see or whatever they have to see.

The first and greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.

And then it is followed by this: You must love your neighbour as yourself.

So to love God is to see God in your neighbour and that would also mean to see yourself in your neighbour.

Jesus told the Pharisees where to look, but what they want to see is for them to choose and decide.

So we are also told where to look. And what do we see?

As for Jesus, He saw that it would be more loving to give those Pharisees  a bit of His heart than to give them a piece of His mind.

We too would be happier when we give people a bit of our heart rather than a piece of our mind.

But when we look at the people around us, those at home, those at work, those in Church, it would be easier to give them a piece of our mind than a bit of our heart.

And here lies the lesson of life - Nothing and no one ever goes away until they teach us what we need to know.

God doesn't give us the people we want. He gives us the people we need - people who will hurt us, people who will leave us, but also people who will help us and people who will love us, so as to make us into the persons we were meant to be.

When we can see that, then we would have understood the lesson of life.

And with that, we will be able to love God and love our neighbour as ourselves.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Mission Sunday, 18-10-2014

Isaiah 2:1-5 / Ephesians 3:2-12 / Mark 16:15-20

The job market in Singapore is a tight and dense market, but there are still jobs available.

But the job market has also changed over the years.

In the past, getting a job in Singapore would mean we would be working locally and we won't expect to be going anywhere out of the country.

Even going for business trips would mean that it is for a few days or a couple of weeks and then we will return to home sweet home.

We know of expatriate professionals (expats for short)  working here and sometimes we would even envy them for all the perks that they get, but we would not think much about working overseas for an extended period of time.

But now, things have changed. The job market has changed.

Singaporeans are being stationed overseas and working there for extended periods of time on contract basis.

It has even become such that if you decline an overseas posting, then your career might come to a standstill

In fact, an offer for an overseas posting may be considered as a promotion and an advancement in the career.

(But for diocesan priests like myself, an overseas posting is very unlikely because diocesan priests are ordained for the local Church).

Nonetheless, an overseas posting is both exciting and challenging.

We will probably get the perks and the frills of an expat, and maybe even get much more than when we are working in our own country.

At the same time, it can be challenging in having to adapt to the new environment and meeting up to the expectations of the new posting.

And it can be quite stressful and even distressful to be away from the comfort and security of home and country.

In the gospel, we heard that as Jesus showed Himself to the Eleven after His Resurrection, He also said to them: Go out to the whole world, proclaim the Good News to all creation.

In no mistakable terms, Jesus was giving His disciples an overseas posting, and they cannot decline it, they can't reject it and it is also non-negotiable.

Today, as the Church celebrates Mission Sunday, we are reminded that like the disciples, we are called and chosen and sent.

But it does not necessarily mean that we have to go overseas. Essentially it means that we are sent to people.

Because Roman 10:13-15 has this to say: For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But they will not ask His help unless they believe in Him, and they will not believe in Him unless they have heard of Him, and they will not hear of Him unless they get a proclaimer, and they will never have a proclaimer unless one is sent.

Yes, we are sent to people to bring them the Good News of Jesus Christ.

But we must also remember that people don't care about what we know until and unless they know that we care about them.

The prerequisite for the proclamation of the Good News is that we care for the people that we are sent to.

Last Tuesday at the Singapore Sports Hub, there was a friendly international match between Brazil and Japan. The match ended with Brazil winning 4-0.

But what was interesting was what happened after the match. After the match, the Japanese fans, though disappointed with their team's defeat, did something amazing.

They immediately took out light blue plastic bags and collected all the trash in the section of the stadium where they were gathered.

And it wasn't the first time they were doing it. In the World Cup in June, they also did the similar thing.

Those Japanese fans showed that even though they were in a foreign country, they cared about the environment and respected the people of the country.

And in the disappointment of defeat, those Japanese fans displayed true sportsmanship.

In the sport that is often marred with hooliganism, what the Japanese fans did was very edifying. Maybe it's the Japanese culture, maybe it's their way of life, maybe it's their upbringing. Whatever it may be, we can learn something from them.

Mission Sunday reminds us that Jesus sends us out to people, and the first thing that we need to do in order to witness to the Good News is to respect the people and to care about what they care about, even if it means picking up the trash.

We are sent to our family members at home, to our colleagues at our workplace, to the people that we meet along the way, even to the people in Church.

When these people know that we care about them and respect them, then it is the sign that the Good News is proclaimed.

So people are waiting for the sign. The Lord Jesus wants to give them the sign. May we be that sign that the Lord will work for them, so that the Good News will be proclaimed.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

28th Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 12.10.2014

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

The world as we know it is changing and it is changing at a very fast pace.

If change is the only constant, then it is indeed constantly fast and furious.

In Singapore, if one had left the country for a couple of years, he would be amazed on return, and even astounded, at how much the local landscape has changed.

But change is not just about physical appearance. There is also a change in behaviour, attitudes and in the meaning of the words we use.

Once upon a time, there was this term “Sunday best”. It meant that when we go to church on Sunday, we would be dressed in our best.

That was once upon a time. Nowadays that term “Sunday best” is hardly used and even the style of dressing to come to church has changed, and maybe changed too drastically.

Probably only on certain occasions that people are dressed in their best and one occasion would probably be church weddings.

And even then it is only once in a life-time and it is only for the bride and the groom, and maybe for the entourage.

And talking about dressing at weddings, there is this joke about a little girl who was attending a wedding for the first time.

She whispered to her mother: Why is the bride dressed in white?

The mother replied: Because white is the colour of happiness and today is the happiest day of her life.

The little girl thought for a moment and then asked the mum: So why is the groom wearing black?

Today’s gospel parable talks about an invitation to a wedding and also about a wedding garment.

It’s no ordinary wedding. It’s a royal wedding, the wedding of a king’s son.

Certainly it is an honour and privilege to be invited to that wedding.

Then comes the twist in the parable. Those who were invited were not interested.

One went to his farm, another to his business, and the rest turned violent and even killed the servants sent to invite them.

To say the least, the parable does not make sense in that an invitation to a celebration turned in a rejection that led to destruction.

It is as puzzling as that last line of the gospel: For many are called, but few are chosen.

But being called and chosen would also require a response just as being invited would require a response (RSVP) to the invitation.

If many are called and few are chosen, then it is a question of how those who were invited chose to respond.

In the gospel parable, those who were invited chose to reject the invitation and even turned violent.

Nonetheless, it was a response though it was a negative and unfavorable to say the least.

What is most annoying and frustrating is a non-response,  that puts everything on hold and leaves things hanging.

A non-response would mean indifference and not being interested.

In a way, it would be about how we dress when we come to church although it may be just about appearance.

But the external appearance in a way is a reflection of the internal disposition.

I remembered what a staff of a tuition centre that provides assistance to needy students said about the attire of the students when they come to the classroom.

The students are expected to be dressed decently and in clean clothes and the tuition centre would even help them get those clothes if necessary.

Even though they are poor and needy, the students are taught to give themselves dignity and respect themselves and others by what they wear to class.

That brings to mind the man who was without the wedding garment. That man showed no respect for the host, nor for himself.

The scriptures also had something to say about clothing (Col 3:12-15) - 
You are God’s chosen race, His saints; He loves you and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, in gentleness and patience. Over all the clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love.

In our fast changing world, some things must remain constant, otherwise there will be no anchoring points in the face of the waves of changes.

We need not come for Mass in wedding garments but in our “Sunday best” and by that we mean that we give our best response to God’s invitation to the Eucharist.

It is in the Eucharist that God wipes away the tears from our eyes, takes away the rags of shame, and clothes us with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, and fills us with His love.

We are called, we are chosen. Let us respond with our “Sunday best” – the best of our love – for God and for others.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

St. Therese of the Child Jesus, Parish Feastday, 05-10-14

St Therese of the Child Jesus             
Isaiah 66:10-14 / 1 Cor 13:4-13 / Matthew 18:1-5   

How our country got its name is rather interesting and amusing.

History has it that when Sang Nila Utama landed on this island, he saw a strange-looking animal and it ran off.

Upon inquiry, he was told it was a lion and in his language, it was called “Singa” so he called this “Singapura” which means “lion city”.

(A joke about this is that if he had seen a large prawn, he would have called this country “Tempura”.)

As Singapore the “Lion City” developed and progressed, the image has also evolved.

Singapore is still the “Lion City” but it has also acquired other names and the well-known one is “Garden City”, because of the greenery in our country.

Our city state is often described as “clean and green” and so indeed it is, and hence, “Garden City” is quite appropriate. 

As in a garden, we can see plants, shrubs, trees and vegetation of various kinds.

Yes, we will see a lot of greenery, and yet we may miss out the most obvious greenery.

We may notice and admire all the flowers and plants, all the shrubs and trees, but we will take the grass for granted.

The grass is like the backdrop of the whole greenery. And they are so inconspicuous and plain that we hardly notice them.

In fact, we step on the grass and we wipe soiled things on the grass. We seem to ill-treat the grass!

There is hardly any recognition given to grass except the saying that when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.

But the 1st reading did give some prominence to the grass when it said: At the sight, your heart will rejoice and your bones flourish like the grass.

Even in its lowly and down-trodden state, grass is a symbol of the strong will for life.

Even after a bush-fire, the first signs of life in the razed land will be the appearance of grass.

We don’t know where they come from, but it seems that we cannot get rid of the grass.

Today our parish celebrates the feast of our patron saint, St. Therese of the Child Jesus. Her actual feast day is on 1st Oct.

She has been called the “greatest saint in modern times” (Pope Pius X), but it can be certain that she wouldn’t want to be known as such.

In fact, ever since she entered the Carmelite convent in Lisieux, she never left the convent.

Two words can be used to describe her life as a Carmelite nun – obscurity and oblivion.

Even that great spiritual classic “The Story of a Soul” which is her autobiography, it was not written on her own accord but in obedience to her superior’s orders.

In her life-time, she was like the plain grass in her convent.
She wasn’t among those who were like the flowers or plants or shrubs.

She didn’t do great things, but she did little things with great love.

And if we were to meet her now, she would introduce herself as “Little Therese” instead of St. Therese.

And her humble, little and simple spirituality flourished like grass after her death.

It was like the same imagery that the 1st reading gave when it said: Your bones will flourish like the grass.

In the gospel Jesus said that the one who makes himself as little as a little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Being little is actually a very great challenge. Even St. Therese had to remind herself with these words : I must remain little.

In our “Garden city” the admiration goes to the pretty flowers and plants, literally as well as figuratively.

Because people are also a bit like flowers and plants – they want to stand out and win the praise and admiration of others.

But the flowers will bloom and fade away. Plants will wither and die.

But it is the plain and lowly and humble grass that will continue to flourish.

Grass is like the carpet of the garden that softens the ground.

In our “Garden city” St. Therese has shown us what we should be.

We should be like the lowly grass that carpets the “Garden city” and softens it with love.

We are called to be like St. Therese – little, humble and lowly.

By being that, we can turn our city into a garden of love.