Click the links under My Blog List to get to Chinese and English weekday homilies.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

2nd Sunday of Advent, Year B, 10.12.17

Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11 / 2 Peter 3:8-14 / Mark 1:1-8

By now the unmistakable sounds of Christmas music will be dominating the airwaves.

As early as the beginning of November and even before the Orchard Road light-up, Christmas music is heard in supermarkets and shopping malls.

And the repertoire can be anything from party-music “Jingle Bells” to the holier “Little Town of Bethlehem”.

For those of us (like myself) who are from the CD era when we collected music on compact discs, we would be taking out those discs and playing our favourite Christmas songs or converting them to MP3.

And it is a nice, warm, sentimental feeling, hearing those songs. After all, it is only at this time of the year that we play this kind of music.

And these Christmas songs are like the evergreens of holly and pine. We don’t seem to get tired of hearing them. I too, have my favourite collection of Christmas songs, I play them year after year, I am so familiar with them but I still love to hear them over and over again.

But more than just a nice, warm sentimental feeling, these Christmas songs bring about some reflection and reminiscing.

They give a portrait of how we have celebrated, or survived, past Christmases, and they also prepare us for a Christmas that is to come, 14 more days, to be exact.

Maybe there is a voice in those Christmas carols or songs, a voice that reminds us of the past as well as reminds us that there is a future.

In the 1st reading, as the people of God lived in the wilderness of exile, the prophet Isaiah is the voice of God as he spoke these words, “Console my people, console them” says your God. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and call to her that her time of service is ended, that her sin is atoned for, that she has received from the hand of the Lord double punishment for all her crimes.

The consoling voice of the prophet brings the Word of God to His people, and the voice of consolation also gives a direction: Prepare in the wilderness a way for the Lord. Make a straight highway for our God across the desert.

So, in the wilderness of exile where life is as barren as the desert, the Lord consoles His people and promises to bring them home. They just have to prepare themselves by making a straight highway for the Lord to bring them out of the land of exile and back to their homeland.

In the gospel, in the beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, it declared that God is going to send a messenger and he will prepare the way for His people. 

John the Baptist was the messenger and his voice cries out in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

But his call for repentance is also with a voice of consolation that though the past was in sin, the future is salvation.

It is the voice of consolation that gave the people their hope in God’s Word, and in repentance they turned towards salvation.

Over the past week, I had the privilege to be the voice of consolation for two people.

One was to a lady who, six months ago, was diagnosed with lung cancer. Six months ago, when she came to see me and talked about her situation, she raised this question: Will I do her funeral?

It was a difficult question but I knew I had to give her a reply and so I said yes. It brought her much consolation, but I remembered that I had to ask Jesus to help me fulfill this obligation.

Last Thursday was her funeral and I told her children I had come to fulfill a promise. It was not just my promise to her but the Lord’s promise to her. I can only thank God that I was able to fulfill it.

I told her children that their mother is going to spend her first Christmas in heaven and that consoled them.

On Wednesday evening, I went to visit Fr. John Baptist Tou in the hospital. He was in the ICU and critically ill. The doctors had earlier advised that Fr. Tou may not have much time left.

When I saw him, I too felt that there was not much time left for him, so I administered the Last Rites and I told him, though he was unconscious, to hold on to Jesus’ hand and He will bring him home. 

And I left a picture of the Sacred Heart next to his pillow. He passed on peacefully the next day. The funeral will be on Monday, at the Church of St. Bernadette.

In the wilderness of sickness, the Word of the Lord came upon those two people. Like John the Baptist, I was just the voice that brought them the consolation that they needed.

And like John the Baptist, I also knew that I am just the messenger who must proclaim the Word of God, for the voice of the messenger will fade and disappear but the Word of God will remain.

In this time of Advent, as we hear these Christmas carols, let us also listen to the voice in them. May that voice bring us consolation in the wilderness of our lives so that we will turn to the Word of God and find hope, and in turn let us be messengers of the Word of God and be a voice of consolation for others.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

1st Sunday of Advent, Year B, 03.12.2017

Isaiah 63:16-17; 64:1, 3-8 / 1 Cor 1:3-9 / Mark 13:33-37

The season of Advent officially begins today with the 1st Sunday of Advent.

Advent is an exciting time especially for children. Because as they see Christmas decorations appearing at Orchard Road and shopping malls and everywhere else, they also want to be part of this decoration excitement.

They too would want some Christmas decoration at home, so parents would have to drag out the Christmas tree and untangle the lights and search for those other Christmas decorations tucked away somewhere in the house.

But as much as most Christmas decorations have some kind of spiritual meaning, there is one that stands out from the rest and it symbolizes the season of Advent.

At the beginning of the Mass, we blessed the Advent wreath and we lighted the first candle of the wreath.

The Advent wreath is rich in symbols. The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent in which we prepare for the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

The circular wreath symbolizes the eternity of God who is without beginning or end, and that He loves us with an everlasting love.

The evergreens of holly and pine represent our hope in the saving love of God, a hope which is fulfilled in the birth of the Saviour and the hope of eternal salvation.

As Advent progresses, from the 1st week to the 4th week, the number of candles  are lighted accordingly.

This has a profound spiritual meaning in that Jesus, the light of world is coming to scatter the darkness of our sins, and with each passing week, the light of the candles in the Advent wreath grows brighter in preparation to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the true light.

So in Church, the Advent wreath is the symbol of the Advent season and it is placed within the sanctuary to remind us of the need to prepare ourselves spiritually for the celebration of Christmas.

And as in Church, so it should be at home. Especially with the children on school holidays, we the parents and adults must keep the spiritual traditions alive and find meaning and direction for our faith in the Advent season.

With the stress and busyness of life, the family hardly has time for prayer, and if parents and adults do not lead the way and show the way, the children would not have any spiritual directions to follow.

So Advent is like a spiritual alarm clock that rings into our hearts and bids us to wake up and prepare ourselves for the coming of our Saviour. 

Yes, we must wake up but as like most mornings, the alarm clock wakes us up and then we put it to snooze and we fall back to sleep.

That’s why in the gospel, Jesus urges us to stay awake, and be on our guard against complacency and carelessness.

More so in this time of Advent when we should be preparing ourselves with prayer, we will be tempted to busy ourselves with shopping for gifts and just getting materially prepared for Christmas but neglecting the spiritual aspects.

So if we don’t have an Advent wreath, then it would certainly be meaningful to get one, either from a Catholic bookshop or from the department store. It is quite easily available actually.

Jesus wants to come into our lives with His light and blessings.

He wants to bring us healing from the darkness of our sins and help us be reconciled with one another especially in the family.

He wants to be in our families so that we can experience His love and joy and peace with each other.

But we must invite Him, and the Advent wreath would be the means to bring the family together in prayer and to let the light of Christ shine in our hearts and bring about the warmth of love and peace that we always wanted for our families and for ourselves.

We only need to stay awake and be vigilant in prayer. Lighting the candles of the Advent wreath and praying together as a family may be a little and humble act but the blessings that Jesus gives will be bountiful.

We just have to stay awake in prayer to receive true blessings.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Christ the King, Year A, 26.11.2017

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

Whenever it comes to Friday, some ideas will come to our minds.

For most, it is “TGIF” – Thank God it’s Friday. The work week has ended and the weekend is here.

For priests, it’s “ONIF” – “Oh No it’s Friday”. Especially if the Sunday homily is not yet done!

We know what is Good Friday. It’s called Good Friday because Jesus died for our good.

And then last Friday is called “Black Friday”. It may sound like some kind of unlucky day, like “Friday the 13th” which is thought of as unlucky for whatever reasons.

But Black Friday is a day where retailers offer discounts of up to 50% or even higher. So it’s a day of savings for shoppers and a day of sales for retailers.

But why is it called Black Friday? When shops lose money, the losses are written in red. But on Black Friday, they have the opportunity to make so much sales that the shops make a profit and are “in the black”, as in contrast with “in the red”. Hence, the term “Black Friday”, and this is also a day of savings for consumers. 

And talking about savings, there is only one Black Friday that offers eternal savings, and that is on Good Friday.

And coincidentally, this year, on Black Friday, the PSLE results were released and there were not many “in the red” as the news reported that 98.4% of the students made it to secondary school.
So Black Friday can be called a happy day for most shoppers, retailers and students.

But life is certainly more than just shopping for savings and passing exams to get into choice schools.

Today’s gospel brings us back to the basics of being human and it is the gospel text chosen for the feast of Christ the King.

More than just about the basics of being human, it is also the basic examination for our eternal destiny. 

The question of feeding the hungry, giving drink to the poor, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked and visiting the imprisoned seems so secular and there seems to be no religious aspect to it. 

None of the above is specifically religious, but that is where having a religion and being a human is connected.

Having a religion, should and must make us more human, so that we can feel the needs of other human beings and respond to them with a faith that is expressed in love.

Faith and love are needed to recognise the presence of Jesus hidden among the poor and the needy. Where their needs are met, Jesus is acknowledged and served.

When the hungry are fed, the thirsty given a drink, strangers are offered hospitality, the naked are clothed with dignity, the sick are attended to, and prisoners are visited, then Jesus the King is being served with love. And it takes faith to see all that and do all that. 

As in the gospel, the king would say: 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.

So there are no random or meaningless acts.  We are all connected in one way or another and our lives meet in Christ just like all the spokes of a wheel meet at the hub. We cannot separate ourselves from each other just as the wind cannot be separated from the breeze.

This fact and reality in addressed in today’s gospel, and a rather interesting reflection of this is in a novel “The Five People You Meet In Heaven” by Mitch Albom.

The novel begins on the last day of Eddie's life. He is 83 years old and works as the maintenance manager at Ruby Pier amusement park, the same job his father once held. Eddie is resigned to his position, even though he swore to never follow in his father's footsteps. Most of the people he loved have passed away and the knee injury he sustained during World War II still plagues his every movement. However, Eddie is loved at Ruby Pier. Eddie is proud of Ruby Pier's spotless safety record, but that all changes when a missing car key damages the machinery on a ride and cart begins to fall off the track. Moving as quickly as he can, Eddie tries to save a young girl from being crushed by the falling cart. He remembers grasping her small hand and then - his life is over.

He goes to heaven and the first character he meets is Blue Man, who was part of the Ruby Pier sideshow when Eddie was eight years old. The Blue Man reveals to Eddie that he was responsible for the Blue Man's death. Young Eddie dashed in front of the Blue Man’s car chasing a runaway baseball, and the Blue Man swerved his car and it crashed and killed him.

Then Eddie meets the second of his "Five People": the commanding officer of his World War II platoon, whom he calls Captain. Eddie recalls being held captive by the enemy in a village, along with the Captain and four others. Then they managed to escape when the village caught fire, but as they were running off, Eddie thought there was a child trapped inside a hut and wanted to save the child. However, a bullet shattered his knee, stopping him in his tracks. Eddie learnt that it was the Captain who shot him in order to prevent him from losing his life in the fire.

Then, Eddie meets Ruby - the third of his "Five People." Ruby reveals that her husband Emile was the founder of Ruby Pier, which he named after his beloved wife. Ruby offers Eddie a new perspective on the circumstances surrounding his father's death. Eddie used to think that his alcoholic and abusive father caught pneumonia after making a drunken decision to jump into the freezing river. However, it turns out that Eddie's father was saving the life of his oldest friend. Eddie's father had many faults, Ruby explains, but he was loyal. She tells Eddie that his father called to his family out the hospital window right before his death. Ruby knows this because she was tending to Emile in the very same room.

Then he met Marguerite, who is the fourth of Eddie's "Five People," and she is there to teach him about eternal love. She shows him that their love was always there, even after she died.

Eddie's fifth and final meeting is with a young girl named Tala. Tala reveals that she was the child Eddie saw in the burning hut as he was escaping, and she died that day. Eddie falls apart upon realizing that he was responsible for this young girl's painful and untimely death, but Tala comforts him.
Tala asks Eddie why he was so unhappy on earth, and Eddie responds that he never did anything meaningful in his life. But Tala tells him that he was meant to be at Ruby Pier to keep all the children safe on the rides. She also reveals that Eddie did save the little girl from the falling cart on the day of his death - he pushed her out of the way.

The novel brings out a point that to understand what happened in our lives and to have it explained and connected together may bring about a peace in our hearts.

But Jesus tells us in the gospel that whatever we do or don’t do, for better or for worse, is done in Him and done to Him. 

Those five words “you did it to me” will tell us that we are all connected in one way or another and no act is a random act or a meaningless act. 

Those five words “you did it to me” will help us to remember the basics of being human and to live out our faith with love on earth so as to be numbered among the blessed in heaven.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

33rd Sunday, Year A, 19.11.2017

Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31 / 1 Thess 5:1-6 / Matthew 25:14-30
The education system in Singapore has gone through much changes and developments. From what used to be just kindergarten, primary school, secondary school, VITB, Polytechnic, Pre-U, and University, now there are pre-school, K1, K2, higher mother-tongue in Primary schools, N levels, O levels, IPs, ITE, Baccalaureate. Schooling is so complex nowadays.

One interesting development is in the area of Special Education. Teachers in this field are trained to help students with special needs like autism, dyslexia, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) etc. 

Our educational system recognizes that students with special needs are diverse learners. So by adapting and differentiating the instructions, these students can learn. More time, more effort and more resources may be required but students with special needs, given the correct educational formation, can be an asset and contribute to the growth and development of society.

Here are some examples of famous people with special needs:
OCD: Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, David Beckham, Donald Trump, Harrison Ford
ADHD: Jim Carrey, Michael Phelps, Walt Disney, John Lennon, Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison.              
Dyslexia: Tom Cruise, Lee Kuan Yew

So although they may have some kind of disorder, but it is not a defect or a disadvantage. They are just different and they can be made into a distinction. They may be different from the rest but they may become one of the bests. 

In the gospel parable, we heard about a man who summoned his servants and gave them different amounts of talent. To one he gave 5 talents, to another he gave 2 talents, and to the third he gave one talent.

The one who was given 5 talents made 5 more; the one who was given 2 made 2 more. The attention is then turned to that servant who was given one talent. 

Unlike the other two, he did what can be called a quiet funeral service – with that one talent, he buried it in the ground.

And when the time of accounting came, he delivered a lousy “eulogy” to justify himself as to why he buried that one talent. He wanted to absolve himself and indirectly blamed his master for being too demanding.

But what that third servant did not do was to explore the potential of that one talent. As he himself said: I had heard you were a hard man, reaping where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered; so I was afraid, and I went off and hid your talent in the ground.
Yet that servant also knows that his master expects him to do something about that one talent. As his master said, he should have deposited it with the bankers and recover that capital with interest.

So the Lord also expects us to do something with our gifts and talents. And the more we are given, the more will be expected of us.

On the one hand we use our gifts and talents to glorify the Lord, and on the other, we also must help others to discover their talents. That is our service and duty to those who are deemed as liabilities of society, those who are slower, have more difficulties, who seem to be “defective”, those who in the eyes of the world would be buried in the ground and written off and forgotten.

But like those with OCD or ADHD, they are not defective. They are just different, and that difference can be made into a distinction.

A story has it that the famous Michelangelo acquired a block of marble that every sculptor thought was defective and useless. So one sculptor asked him what he was going to do with such a useless block of marble. 

Michelangelo replied, “I am going to release an angel out of it.” And from that so-called useless block of marble, he carved out the famous statue of David.

So if God made all things good, and nothing and no one is useless or defective, then we just have to look from a different angle and we will see the distinction.
Not many of us may have disorders like OCD or ADHD, but we often complain that we have disadvantages and difficulties that make us feel lesser than others.

A man said to a priest: Why do I have so many difficulties as compared to others? The priest replied: Shhh … don’t speak so loud, otherwise God might hear it and He might reply – If you want to know why, then come up here and find out!

But whether it is difficulty or disadvantage or disorder, it is not a defect, and a good can come out of it, maybe it can even be made into a distinction.

Many years ago, a sixteen-year old boy he left home to find employment in New York City to help his poor family. He had previously worked in a soap manufacturing shop. When he told the captain of the canal boat upon which he was traveling that he planned to make soap in New York City the man gave him this advice: “Someone will soon be the leading soap maker in New York. You can be that person. But you must never lose sight of the fact that the soap you make has been given to you by God. Be a good man. Give your heart to Christ. Give God all that belongs to Him. Make an honest soap. Honor Him by sharing what you earn. Begin by tithing all you receive.”

Along with that and with his mother’s words of “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God”, he arrived at the city, managing only odd jobs. He remembered the boat captain’s words and so for every dollar he earned, 10 cents would be given to God.

He soon found regular employment in a soap-making company, and then he became the owner and he prospered and his business grew.

And all the while he kept the promise of giving one-tenth of his earnings to the Lord, and more as his business grew along the way.

So what is the name of this 16 year-old boy? William Colgate. And who has not heard of Colgate toothpaste and soap and other products.

William Colgate was poor, that was his difficulty and his disadvantage. His only talent was soap-making. He may not have a disorder like OCD or ADHD, but he had a devotion to the Lord.

He gave to the Lord one-tenth of what he earned, he gave money for education and helped the poor. He turned difficulty and disadvantage into a distinction.
Literally he used that one talent in soap-making, for the glory of God and to help and serve others.

Whether we have one talent or many, whether we have a difficulty or a disadvantage, whether we have a disorder or a devotion, let us not bury it in the ground.

God wants us to use it, and He will turn whatever difficulty or disadvantage or disorder into a distinction for us that Jesus can truly call us His good and faithful servants.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

32nd Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 12.11.2017

This happened about a week ago at somewhere nearby: something like 800 people queued up overnight to get something. Do we know what they were queuing up for?

On Nov 3rd, the long-anticipated iPhone X was launched in Singapore’s Apple store. As the doors opened at 8am, the horde of fans numbering about 800 who had queued up overnight at the Orchard Road store rushed in to get that state-of-the-art gadget.

To queue overnight with such a number of people, we would think that it must be something really important. We would probably do it only if we really think that what we are going to get will change our lives so much for the better that we would go all out to do it.

For the 800 people, it was something they wanted to queue for. Not only are they willing to lose sleep over it, they would be wide awake to make sure that they keep their place in the queue. If they fall asleep and someone cuts into their queue, then they can only blame themselves.

The gospel parable talks about 10 bridesmaids waiting for the bridegroom. The wait was long as the bridegroom was late. And all 10 of them fell asleep.

And then at midnight there was a cry: “The bridegroom is here! Go out and meet him.” And all of them woke up and trimmed their lamps.

And here lies the teaching point of the parable. Five of them were sensible and they brought extra flasks of oil, but the other five were foolish and they didn’t bring any extra oil.

A lamp without oil is like a handphone with a flat battery. So you may spend the whole night awake and queueing up to get that state-of-the-art hand-phone, but if for whatever reason, the battery in the hand-phone is flat or faulty, then there is nothing much you can do about it.

And in this age of handphone communication, do you know what is the most romantic thing a boy can say to his girl-friend? – “I want to spend the rest of my handphone battery with you.”

If that sounds like a joke, then we are not laughing when it comes to low battery level on our handphones. Because if our handphone battery level is down to 10% and if we don’t have a power bank or a charger, then we will suffer from “Low Battery Anxiety”.

The symptoms are that we will feel panicky, agitated, anxious, distracted, fed-up, etc. So the sensible thing to do is to always have enough battery power or have a power bank around. That is common sense. (But common sense is like deodorant; the people who need it most never use it)

The fact is that you can’t borrow battery power from your friend’s handphone. That’s what the gospel parable is saying – the sensible bridesmaids cannot give the foolish bridesmaids the oil for their lamps not because they are selfish but because it is not transferable.

In other words, common sense, or sensibility, or wisdom, is gained through the tough experiences of life. 

Yet wisdom can also be gained by those who open their hearts to this gift from God. The 1st reading says this: Wisdom is bright, and does not grow dim. By those who love her she is readily seen, and found by those who look for her.

So when we desire this gift of wisdom from God, then we must be prepared to go through the tough experience of gaining it, just like how those who wanted that prized handphone were willing to lose sleep and queue up overnight for it.

Once a king called upon all of his wise men and asked them, “Is there a wise saying which works in every situation, in every circumstances, in every place and in every time. In every joy, every sorrow, every defeat and every victory? One answer for all questions? Something which can help me when none of you is available to advise me? Tell me is there such a wise saying?”

All the wise men were puzzled by the king’s question. They thought and thought. After a lengthy discussion, a wise old man suggested something which appealed to all of them. They went to the king and gave him a silver bangle with these words engraved on it: “THIS TOO SHALL PASS”

They told him that when in extreme danger, when the king finds himself alone and there seems to be no way, then he will understand its meaning.

Some time later, the neighbours attacked his kingdom. The king and his army fought bravely but lost the battle. The king had to flee on his horse. The enemies were following him, getting closer and closer. Suddenly the king found himself standing at the end of the road - that road was not going anywhere. Underneath there was a rocky valley a thousand feet deep. If he jumped into it, he would be finished, and he could not turn back because it was a small road. The sound of enemy’s horses was approaching fast. The king became restless. There seemed to be no way.

Then suddenly he saw the silver bangle shining in the sun, and he remembered the message engraved on it: “THIS TOO SHALL PASS”

The king read it again and again. Suddenly something struck him – “Yes ! This too will pass. Only a few days ago, I was enjoying my kingdom. I was the mightiest of all the kings. Yet today, the kingdom and all my pleasures have gone. I am here trying to escape from enemies. Like those days of luxuries have passed, this day of danger too will pass.” A calm came on his face. He kept standing there. The place where he was standing was full of natural beauty. He had never known that such a beautiful place was also a part of his kingdom. 

The revelation of the message had a great effect on him. He relaxed and forgot about those following him. After a few minutes he realized that the noise of the horses and the enemy coming was receding. They have moved into some other part of the mountains and were nowhere near him.

The king was very brave. He reorganized his army and fought again. He defeated the enemy and regained his kingdom. When he returned to his city after victory, he was received with much fanfare. The whole capital was rejoicing in the victory. 

Everyone was in a festive mood. Flowers were being showered on the king from every house, from every corner. People were dancing and singing. For a moment the king said to himself, “I am one of the bravest and greatest king. It is not easy to defeat me.” With all the reception and celebration he saw an ego emerging in him. ”

Suddenly the silver bangle flashed in the sunlight and reminded him of the message:“THIS TOO SHALL PASS”. 

He became silent. His face went through a total change - from the egoist, he moved to a state of utter humbleness. And he reflected: This too is going to pass. The defeat has passed, this victory will pass. Everything will pass. 

So our state-of-the-art handphones will pass, our low battery anxiety will pass, our sorrows will pass, our happiness will pass, our setbacks will pass, our achievements will pass, our life will pass.

Wisdom is knowing what will pass, and what will not pass. May wisdom lead us to God who is forever and shall never pass, and that only God loves us with an everlasting love.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

31st Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 05.11.2017

Malachi 1:14 – 2:2, 8-10 / 1 Thess 2:7-9, 13 / Matthew 23:1-12
The duty of preaching the homily at Mass is assigned to those who are in the ordained ministry, ie. the deacons, priests, bishops, etc.

To preach a homily is not to just say a few words, but the content must be prepared by praying and reflecting on the Word of God, so that through the homily, the people of God will hear the voice of God.

And priests serve in the person of Christ. That’s what the priest is ordained for, and much is expected from him, in preaching and in service to God and to the people of God.

But much is also said about the state of Catholic preaching and much is also said about the Catholic priesthood. And with it are also some jokes:
- Email sent to a priest: Dear Father, I liked your homily on Sunday, especially when it was finished!
- A little boy came up to a priest and said, “When I grow up I want to give you some money.” The priest said, “Oh thank you very much, but why do you want to do that?” The boy replied, “My dad says that you are one of the “poorest” preachers we ever had!”

Looking at today’s readings, to preach about it would be like taking a self-assessment and at the same time wondering what you would think about us priests.

Already the opening lines of the 1st reading are rather startling: And you priests, this warning is for you.
Well, whether it is about the Levite priests that it is addressing, or the priests of the Catholic Church, it is not very comfortable to hear those words nor listen to the contents of the 1st reading.

Even though the gospel specifically mentions the “scribes and Pharisees”, but that line “do not be guided by what they do, since they do not practice what they preach” somehow has implications on priests and their ministry and how they are serving God and the Church.

Even though it is not mentioned in the readings, but one word that is often used to criticize Catholics, whether priests or parishioners, is this word “hypocrites”.

Hypocrisy, undoubtedly, is a real threat especially for priests who are public figures, but it must be said that no one would want to be a priest and be a hypocrite at the same time.

Priests want to practise what they preach and to be living examples of holiness so as to lead the people of God to be like God in His love, mercy, compassion and forgiveness.

Priests want to be men of God and men of prayer, men who are called to build the bridge between God and man, so that the Church can also become the bridge between God and the world.

Yes, we priests want to do all that and you also want the priests to do all that. We priests don’t want to be labelled as hypocrites, and neither do you want to be labelled as such.
So whether as priests of God or as the people of God, we know that being good is not enough. Because we are called to be holy as God is holy.

Being good is already challenging enough. We have to come to God’s House in our “Sunday best”, but we seldom hear of that term now. That seems to be taken over by “less is best” and that makes others wonder about our attitude when we come to church for worship.

We know that prayer is important and we want to pray, but the stress and busyness of life leaves us worn out and tired, and so we only have time for some sporadic scattered prayer. So how important is God in our life then, if our prayer is as such.

That brings up a saying by St. Francis de Sales: Ordinarily half an hour of prayer is sufficient, but if you are busy then make it an hour!

We keep coming for Mass, we keep praying, we go for Confession, we want to be good at least and we strive to be holy, but not to attract attention as hypocrites do.

Rather we do all that to keep ourselves humble and attentive to the presence of God in our lives and attentive to His plans for us.

We want to slowly discover the meaning of the events in our lives, to see God’s hand guiding us and helping us, so that our faith and our life can be connected.

We just want to be humble and faithful and attentive to God and not attract attention to ourselves. 

And the one person that we can relate with is this rather obscure 84 year-old widow and prophetess by the name of Anna in the gospel of Luke. She makes her appearance in just three verses (Luke 2:16-18)

She was married for seven years before becoming a widow. She never left the Temple, serving God day and night with fasting and prayer, for probably about 50 over years, waiting for the Saviour.

Every day of those 50 over years, she waited, disappointed at times, but nonetheless she waited out of duty, out of hope, out of need, out of simple routine.

Fasting and praying for 50 over years can be boring, and at 84 years-old, she could have wondered if this was getting pointless and futile.

But she came by just at that moment when Mary and Joseph brought the child Jesus to present Him to the Lord, and she began to praise God, and she spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Israel.

For Anna, all those fasting and praying and humbly keeping the faith for 50 over years made sense at that moment, and it all came together.

So too it will be for us. Let us humbly keep the faith, keep coming for Mass, keep praying, and hoping. Like Anna, one day it will all make sense and come together.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

30th Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 29.10.17

Exodus 22:20-26 / 1 Thess 1:5-10 / Matthew 22:34-40
There was a board-game that children used to play in the past, but that board-game doesn’t seem to be around nowadays. Maybe it became extinct with the high tech toys like Xbox and PlayStation.

That board-game is called “Snakes and Ladders”, provided for the children of the past, simple enjoyment and excitement.

It is actually a very simple game. On the game-board there are numbered and gridded squares. A number of "ladders" and "snakes" are pictured on the board, each connecting two specific board squares. The object of the game is to navigate one's game chip, according to dice rolls, from the start (bottom square) to the finish (top square), helped or hindered by ladders and snakes respectively. 

So each player has a coloured chip and he moves on with the throw of a dice. If he is lucky, he will reach the end of a ladder and then he will move up many squares. But if he happens to reach a square in which there is the head of a snake, then he will slide right down to its tail end.

The game provided for the children of the past, a source of simple enjoyment and excitement. The game is a simple race contest based on sheer luck. 
But the game seems to have roots in morality lessons, where a player's progression up the board represented a life journey which is complicated by virtues (ladders) and vices (snakes).
In the gospel, the Pharisees may not know about the game of “Snakes and Ladders”, but what they played was a game of “snakes and blunders”. That is because the gospel mentions about the Pharisees getting together to disconcert Jesus.

To disconcert is to upset someone, to make someone flustered so that he will make a blunder. The Pharisees wanted Jesus to make a blunder, then like snakes they will swallow him up. No wonder John the Baptist called them “you brood of vipers”.

They not only wanted to disconcert Jesus, they even wanted to trap Him in order to get rid of Him. This was obvious when on other occasions they asked Him to pronounce judgment on the adulterous woman and also about the issue of paying taxes to Caesar.

This time around, they wanted to see if Jesus knows His stuff by asking a seemingly trivial question: Which is the greatest commandment of the Law?

It was a trivial question because it is not like as if they don’t know, and so it was quite obvious that the Pharisees were trying to disconcert Jesus. And here, Jesus showed once again how He could turn an ulterior motive into something positive.

Jesus didn’t get Himself swallowed into the small details of the Law. Rather He gave the big picture of the Law; He gave the fundamental, the essence of the law.

It was so simple but yet so profound: you must love God with your whole being; and you must love your neighbour as yourself.

To a disconcerting question that was meant to disturb and unsettle Him, Jesus gave an answer, and if the Pharisees were to think about it seriously, an answer that would make them tremble.

Because attached to the law of loving God and loving neighbour, there is this word “must”. It is a serious word, an imperative, a command, and it gives us no options actually.

And so without exposing them outright, Jesus was indirectly asking the Pharisees, if what they were doing was out of love for God, and out of love for the neighbour who was standing there before them and whom they were trying to disconcert.

If the Pharisees had thought seriously about it, they would have trembled. Because they were like snakes waiting to swallow up Jesus if He fumbled.

Yet, Jesus did not play into their little snake games. Rather, He held out to them a ladder, a ladder of love, to help them climb from their ulterior motives and their evil intentions, to the level of the commandment of love.

And to us who are listening to what Jesus is saying in the gospel, He is also holding out to us a ladder of love.

Because we have also played those little snakes games, games to disconcert others, to mislead others, to discredit others, to cheat others, to use others. Oh yes, we have played all these games, and maybe still playing these games.

Especially when our security and comfort is threatened in these difficult economic times. And with the fears of insecurity, we begin to selfishly guard our survival. We become like snakes that will bite at anyone that comes our way or seems threatening to us.

So we, as the people of God, how are we going to respond to the external factors that seem to disconcert us? Are we going to let external situations make us fumble and tumble and be swallowed up by the snakes of fear and insecurity?

Well, Jesus showed us how He turned a disconcerting situation into a reminder of love and salvation. He turned the game of vice into a teaching of virtue.

There are the snakes of evil that we could succumb to and be swallowed up by the vices around us. Yet, Jesus is here to hold out to us the ladders of love. With the ladders of love, we can climb out of our fears and insecurities

So where are these ladders of love, and how are we going to climb these ladders of love. Well, this could be how:

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives ; be kind anyway 
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies ; succeed anyway
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you ; be honest and frank anyway
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; build anyway
If you find serenity and happiness, people  may be jealous ; be happy anyway
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow ; 
do good anyway
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough ; give the world the best you’ve got anyway 

So we just have to keep climbing the ladders of love so that as we climb towards God, we too will be able to love our neighbours as Jesus has commanded us.

Loving God and loving neighbour is certainly not a game. And the gospel is the only story where the hero dies for the villain. 

In other words, the Saviour died for the sinner, so that the sinner can begin to love. So let us love God and neighbour so that the gospel story will continue in our lives.