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Saturday, March 25, 2017

4th Sunday of Lent, Year A, 26.03.2017

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

It is not often that we are asked to describe ourselves. 

Probably the few occasions that we will be asked to describe ourselves are at group ice-breaking dynamics where we are asked to introduce ourselves.

To describe ourselves would be relatively easy. At least we should be able to describe ourselves with sentences beginning with “I am …”

We can begin with something obvious like: I am Chinese; I am medium-built; I am an executive. Or we can say what we have: I have short hair; I have brown eyes, etc.

But of course we won’t describe what is obvious about ourselves, or what is often taken for granted, e.g. I can see, I can hear, I can talk, I can walk. These don’t seem to be like such a big deal.

But for the blind man in today’s gospel, if he were asked to describe himself, he would probably begin with: I am blind.

It was obvious enough. It was his impediment. And for some, it was some sort of curse that he was born blind.

At least that was what the disciples thought when they asked Jesus: Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, for him to have been born blind?

It seems that when things go wrong, or when something bad happens, there is this tendency to put the blame on someone.

A story goes that a man bumped heavily onto another man on the street, and so he asked angrily, “Why don’t you look where you are going?” The other man retorted, “Then why don’t you go where you are looking?”

So, is it to look where you are going, or to go where you are looking? Is it the same? Or is there a difference?

If we were to look where we are going, and go where we are looking, then there will certainly be less accidents.

The blind man in today’s gospel had his eyes opened and he could see. More than just being able to see, he could also look deeper into his experience of being healed of his blindness.

While others were squabbling over what Jesus did on the Sabbath day, the man has this to say: I only know I was blind but now I see.

And he was clear about the whole matter when he said this of Jesus: If this man were not from God, he couldn’t do a thing.

So although we can see, do we see with clarity about the events of our lives, and more so to see Jesus present in those events of our lives?

We may remember the attack on the Twin Towers , the event that is now known as “9/11”. Some stories surfaced on why some people were still alive although they could have been numbers among the victims.

One survived that day because his son started kindergarten and had to take leave.

Another had to run an office errand so he wasn’t present in the office at the time of the attack.

Another was late because her alarm clock didn’t go off. 

Another missed the bus and couldn’t get a taxi. Another one’s car couldn’t start. Another one’s child fell ill and had to go to the doctor.

One or another, they couldn’t go where they were supposed to, and neither could they see what was going to happen. 

And because of that, they are still alive. And now they know why.

We too know why, and more than that, we can see the hand of Jesus in those events, just as the blind man eventually saw that he was born blind so that the works of God could be displayed in him.

And hence his profound testimony: I was blind and now I can see. That was also how he described himself after he was healed.

As for us, how do we describe ourselves? The words following “I am … “ are important because we dictate what is coming after.

So if we say “I am busy” then we will have no time. If we say “I am tired” then we will have no energy. If we say “I am old” then there will be more wrinkles!

But do we know how Jesus looks at us? And when we know how Jesus looks at us, then we will know how to describe ourselves.

Because we will say: I am a sinner, but I am saved. Because I am saved, then I am blessed. And because I am blessed, then I am thankful. 

And because I am thankful, then every event in my life is beautiful because I can see Jesus in all those events and in every event to come.

“I was blind but now I can see” said the blind man in the gospel.

May we also see, and see more with our hearts, so that we will describe to others, how great and how wonderful our God is.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

3rd Sunday of Lent, Year A, 19.03.2017

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

There are some phrases in the English language that we have heard of that sound rather odd. And if we don’t know the meaning, then it would be really amusing.

One such phrase is “to kick the bucket”. It means, bluntly speaking, to die. So, if we say that a person has kicked the bucket, it means that the person has died.

But if we don’t know what “kick the bucket” means, then we might wonder or even ask if the foot was injured.

There are many theories of how that phrase came about. One of those theories was that it originated from the Catholic practice of putting a bucket of holy water at the feet of a dead person so as to bless the body after prayer. But what has it to do with kicking the bucket, that wasn’t clear.

Another term that is connected with “kicking the bucket” is this “bucket list”. The meaning is quite obvious: before one kicks the bucket, one would make a bucket list, i.e, a list of things to do before one dies.

So, instead of saying what the things you want to do before you die, you can just simply say that you have a bucket list. (Sounds nicer right?)

So, do we have a bucket list? And what is in that bucket list? 

It may not be about going to the moon and exploring outer space, but it may be about looking into our hearts and to have inner peace.

Today’s gospel passage is commonly called “the Samaritan woman at the well”. And there is even a hymn about it that goes like this: Like the woman at the well I was seeking, for things that could not satisfy. And then I hear my Saviour speaking, “Draw from my well that never shall run dry.”

This Samaritan woman is interesting as well as mysterious. She is not known by name; she came to draw water at the sixth hour, which is around noon time, and that is the hottest time of the day in that region.

That already tells us that she wanted to avoid people and that her reputation in the town was on everyone’s lips.

She had a bucket with her to draw water, that was when she encountered Jesus and He asked her for a drink.

And with that a discussion about water began between Jesus and her, and then she got interested about the living water so that she may never be thirsty and never have to come to the well again to draw water.

And that was literally her bucket list: that she may never be thirsty again and never have to draw water from the well again.

And Jesus wanted to fulfill her wishes, on one condition – to call her husband here. 

And that was when her bucket started leaking. Jesus had told her everything she had done. She could decide to continue the conversation, or she could tell Jesus to mind His own business.

And here we must give credit to that Samaritan woman for her courage and humility to face Jesus even though she could be embarrassed and ashamed about herself.

And for that she had her bucket list granted, although not in the way she had expected. Because she forgot about her thirst and even hurried back to the town to tell the people about Jesus, the very people she had wanted to avoid. She would still be thirsty and she would still have to come to the well to draw water. But something had changed.

That was the Samaritan woman at the well, and her bucket had a new meaning for her.

And what about us? What is in the bucket of our hearts and do we want to show it to Jesus?

The Samaritan woman in today’s gospel in a way reminded me of a lady who was going through the RCIA journey. I remembered this lady because her attendance in the journey was not that regular because of one issue after another.

There is usually an interview before baptism when I have to ask the catechumens about their decision for baptism.

When this lady came to see me for the interview, I asked her if she wanted to be baptized, and I half-expected her to say that she was not ready for it.

To my surprise, she said, “Yes, I want to be baptized.” And of course I asked why.

Her reply was astonishing and amazing. She said, “I want to be baptized because now I am not afraid to die.”

She explained that one day, her young son looked troubled. When she asked him what was the matter, what her son said shocked her.

Her son said, “I don’t want mummy to die, and I am also scared to die.” Probably he had seen a movie or read something about death and loneliness.

That set her thinking and searching. She came to the RCIA, heard about Jesus, came to know about life after death, and about the eternal life that Jesus wants to offer her.

So despite the issues that hampered her from a regular attendance at RCIA, she heard enough for her to have an answer to death and about life hereafter.

So after hearing her story, what else can I say but a “Yes” for her baptism.

That brings us back to look at our bucket list. What is it that we are looking for and seeking for?

All things will come and go but Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Only Jesus can give us that living water that will turn into a spring and welling up to eternal life.

May we long only for that living water that only Jesus can give. 

Only that can fill up the bucket of our hearts.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

2nd Sunday of Lent, Year A, 12.03.2017

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

Whenever Wall Street of New York City is mentioned, a few images and ideas will come to mind.

Whether we have been there or not, from what we know and heard about, we would expect the place to have stock brokers, businessmen in suits and briefcases and hear plenty of money-talk.

And there is the famous big bronze sculpture of a bull, a charging bull. That is supposed to be a symbol of aggressive financial optimism and prosperity.

So it is quite correct to say that it is a world of stocks and shares, and people rushing about to close business deals. That is what we expect and that is what Wall Street is.

But some 30 meters away and straight in front of the charging bull is something that we may not expect to see. Facing the charging bull is a 4-feet bronze sculpture of a little girl in a dress with her hands on her hips and looking straight at the charging bull.

It is quite an unexpected and a surprising sight, but the bronze sculpture of the little girl changes the look and the feel of the place.

Now crossing over from Wall Street to Barcelona in Spain, one of the tourist attractions is the Barcelona Cathedral. It is a magnificent building of Gothic architecture.

Amidst this magnificence and within the cathedral is a small cloistered garden with a pond. And in that garden there are some free-roaming white geese, 13 of them.

It is quite a strange and unexpected sight, these 13 white geese, roaming around in the garden with a pond in the majestic cathedral. It certainly changes the look and the feel of the cathedral.

Whenever something strange and unexpected comes our way, there can be a variety of reactions: surprise, alarm, awe, amazement, astonishment.

In the gospel, we heard that Jesus led Peter, James and John up a high mountain where they could be alone. The disciples were not told what to expect, and probably they were not expecting anything, other than some fresh air and a good view.

But what they didn’t expect was to see Jesus being transfigured. Neither did they expect to Moses and Elijah to appear.

Their reaction was that of awe and amazement. But when a bright cloud covered them with shadow and when they heard the voice, the three of them fell on their faces and they were overcome with fear.

All that was unexpected and they don’t quite know what to make out of it.

But for us, this is nothing new. We have heard this before, many times even, and it’s no surprise to us.

We know why Moses and Elijah appeared. Moses represented the Law and Elijah represented the prophets. They pointed to Jesus who is the Law and the Prophet.

Moses also brought God’s people out of slavery in Egypt and that also pointed to Jesus who will bring us out of the bondage and slavery of sin. Elijah, as we know, went up to heaven in a chariot of fire. Jesus came, not just to bring us out of the bondage of sin, He also came to bring us back to heaven, our eternal home.

Oh yes, we know all that, or we should know all that. So the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus doesn’t seem to surprise us or make us think much about it.

But as we come for Mass and hearing the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus, are we also “transfigured” into a joyful people of God, celebrating our salvation in Christ, and proclaiming the Good News in our lives?

It is said that Catholics come for Mass looking like as if they are coming for a funeral. The faces are somber and sober; some try to sing, some lip-sync, some don’t sing. Some try to look happy, but others seem to look grumpy.

Maybe between the two Sundays of the week, we had gone through quite a rough time. We have been put down by rough words, by criticisms, gossips and slanders that burden our hearts and pull our faces down. So how to smile or be happy when we come to church?

But let us hear again what Jesus said to the three disciples: Stand up, do not be afraid.

We come to church so that we can hear again the life-giving words of Jesus.

We want to stand up and be transfigured so that like that bronze sculpture of the girl in Wall Street standing and facing the charging bull, we too can face the ugly world and bring beauty to it.

And about those 13 geese in the garden in the Barcelona cathedral, they represent the 13 year-old martyr St. Eulalia who refused to renounce her faith in Christ.

Her martyrdom brought about the birth of Christianity in Barcelona and eventually in Spain.

St. Eulalia was not afraid to stand up for her faith and her martyrdom brought about a transfiguration of the city and the country.

And Jesus is telling us to “Stand up and do not be afraid”, because He wants to transfigure us into a joyful, hopeful and a beautiful people of God.

When we are transfigured, then we too can help others to be transfigured by telling them to “Stand up and do not be afraid”.

And that is the Good News of the Transfiguration of Jesus. He is telling us to “Stand up” and be transfigured, so that we too can tell that to others.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

1st Sunday of Lent, Year A, 05.03.2017

Gen 2: 7-9. 3: 1-7 / Rom 5:12-19 (or 12:17-19) / Mt 4:1-11

If we look around at the sanctuary, we may notice something. We may notice that something is missing.

We may already have noticed that the sanctuary is rather bare, and then we will realise that there are no flowers, not even a leaf.

Someone jokingly asked: Father, why no flowers huh? Is it because the price of water is going to increase, so no budget for flowers?
Well, the price of water is certainly going to increase (30%), but that doesn’t mean we can’t afford some flowers.

Of course the reason is that the season of Lent has begun, today is the 1st Sunday of Lent, it is a season to go back to our spiritual basics.

And so to bring about that feeling, the sanctuary is not excessively decorated, so the flowers are left out, so that there is the bare so-called “desert” look.

And that is what the gospel tells us today: Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness (desert) to be tempted by the devil.

And there in the desert, He fasted for 40 days and 40 nights and that’s where we get that 40 days of Lent.

And after those 40 days and 40 nights, Jesus was very hungry and it was then that the devil began tempting Him.

At first it was for His physical needs i.e. His hunger – If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to turn into loaves.

And then the devil challenged Jesus to put God to the test by jumping off the parapet of the Temple.

And then finally, it was to give in to the devil, in return for riches and wealth, for luxury and pleasure.

But in all three attempts, the devil did not manage to find a gap to make Jesus give in to the temptation.

We might say “Of course, it is Jesus. The devil won’t succeed in tempting Jesus. The devil won’t stand a chance”. That’s what we might think.

But let us also remember that the devil zeroed in on where Jesus was most vulnerable.

Jesus was hungry, very hungry, and a hungry man can be an angry man as well as a crazy man. Hunger cannot be underestimated.

Jesus was alone, and loneliness can make a person feel that God is not present and hence faith in God is easily shaken and eroded.

Jesus was human, just like us, and as we know it ourselves, we desire for comfort and pleasure and luxury, as well as riches and wealth.

But Jesus knew who He was. It was not a case of “If He was the Son of God”. He is the Son of God, and He had to hold firm to that identity.

On the contrary, we heard in the 1st reading how Adam and Eve fell into the temptation of the devil.

It is often presumed that Eve lead Adam to sin because it was she who first ate of the forbidden fruit and then she gave it to Adam causing him to sin. That seems to be what is often presumed.

But when we read the passage in the 1st reading again, there is this sentence – “She took some of the fruit and ate it. She gave some also to her husband who was with her, and he ate it”. So Adam was with Eve when the devil tempted her.

And here is where Adam failed. He was given charge over the garden, and he had the duty to protect Eve.

But it seems that Adam stood by passively as the devil tempted Eve. He did not protect Even from the cunning and subtle trickery of the devil. And as the master of the garden, he allowed evil to enter and he did nothing about it and said nothing about it.

We may call it the sin of omission. But more than that, it seems that Adam and Eve forgot who they were and forgot what God had blessed them with.

They could have their fill of all the fruit trees in the garden, but they still desired for what is forbidden.

More than desiring for what is forbidden, they also wanted control; they wanted to be like God. It’s the case of the creature wanting to be the Creator.

And finally they wanted the garden as their own possession. They wanted to build their own kingdom on what doesn’t belong to them.
But where Adam and Even failed and fell into sin, Jesus held fast and firm against the devil. Jesus is often called the Second Adam because He restored what Adam relinquished.

Jesus did not do nothing or said nothing against evil. On the contrary, He rebuked and repelled the devil. 

Yes, we have to fight against evil, in word and in action, because in the Opening Prayer for Ash Wed, we prayed that as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restrain. 

Because evil can only flourish when good people say nothing and do nothing against it.

Jesus assures us that the Word of God will sustain us and protect us from harm.

Let us put our trust in Jesus and follow Him as our Master. Let us spend these 40 days with Him in prayer and fasting and penance.
That is the only way that we can fight against the temptation of the devil.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

8th Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 26-02-2017

Isaiah 49:14-15 / 1 Cor 4:1-5 / Matthew 6:24-34

If we can recall, about two years ago, the Archdiocese was in quite a financial squeeze.
Because, all of a sudden, there was a number of large-scale renovation and building projects that ran into triple digit million dollars.

Call it bad timing, bad planning or no planning, the flurry of renovation and building activities also set the hearts of the hierarchy and the laity alike in a flurry.

Doubts and anxieties arose because there is a time frame for the completion of those projects and whether the money can be raised in time.

Just to give a rundown of the churches involved and the amount of money that was needed:
Church of Sts. Peter and Paul - $8m
Novena Church - $40m
The Cathedral - $40m
The Church of Transfiguration - $60m

There were fears about donation fatigue; or an economic recession that would reduce the fundraising momentum; there were thoughts and talks of delaying or postponing some projects.

But all four churches had valid reasons for the work to be done immediately and so in the end, the four renovation and building projects were carried out concurrently.

Indeed, it was a time of high anxiety, and worry, as the funds crept in slowly, but steadily.

That was two years ago. Last June, Sts. Peter and Paul  was completed, and it was beautiful. About two weeks ago, the Cathedral was re-dedicated and it was awesome. The Church of the Transfiguration was just completed and the first Mass has been scheduled on Holy Thursday. Novena Church is coming up soon (1 August) and it certainly will be worthy and ready for the Saturday devotions to Our Lady.

A priest of one the four churches was telling his congregation about the funds that were needed for the renovation works. When they heard about the amount, there was a controlled “Wah!!!” reaction. The priest then said, “Oh don’t worry, we already have the money. It’s all in your pockets. You just have to take it out!”

What the priest said is an echo of what Jesus is teaching us in today’s gospel. Jesus tells us not to worry about money, about what to eat, about what to wear, about tomorrow.

Jesus is telling us not to be gripped by worrying about all these because our heavenly Father knows we need them all.

All these will be given to us. But there is something we must give first. We must give God first priority. We cannot serve two masters. It’s either we serve God, or we become slaves to worry and it’s usually worry about money.

But when we set our hearts on God’s kingdom and on His righteousness, then all these other things that we need will be given to us.

But the temptation is to worry about ourselves first, before we think about what God wants of us. 

Putting it in construction terms, we want to build our house first, and only when we have whatever leftovers, then that will be for God’s house. But that’s not putting God first.

That’s when we forget what Ps. 127 is telling us: If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labour. If the Lord does not watch over the city, in vain does the watchman keep vigil. In vain is your earlier rising and your going later to rest, while He pours His gifts on His beloved as they slumber.

Yes, we will worry and work in vain if God is not first over everything.

It’s like what we heard the people saying in the 1st reading: “The Lord has abandoned me, the Lord has forgotten me.” And the reply from the Lord is this: “I will never forget you.”

And in many ways, the completion and the dedication of the Cathedral is a testimony of what God has done for the Church in Singapore, as well as our generosity in building the House of God.

But there was an incident that happened during the renovation of the Cathedral that showed God’s hand working together with our hands.

It was the discovery of the 173 year-old time capsule found under one of the Cathedral’s columns. But the discovery wasn’t without some drama. During the renovations, the pediment (the triangular upper part of the front of a classical building) facing Victoria Street collapsed.

That was bad news as the completion will be delayed and more money will be needed. But in the midst of the rubble, the 173 year-old time capsule was discovered, and it revealed artefacts of a time in the history of the church, and also the cornerstone that was laid when the Cathedral was first built.

The news of the discovery of the time capsule and the cornerstone brought about a renewed interest in the renovation of the Cathedral and subsequently a fresh flow of funds for the renovation.

And now the small pieces of the bricks from the collapsed pediment are sold as souvenirs to raise funds for the Archdiocese.

So just when the time capsule and the cornerstone was about to be forgotten and lost in the renovation works, the pediment had to collapse so that they can be revealed.

Certainly the collapse of the pediment doesn’t seem to be like good news initially, but it revealed God’s hand of blessing when the Cathedral was first built, and His hand of blessing on the Cathedral now as well as God’s hand of blessing on the Church in Singapore.

At present another House of God, the Church of the Transfiguration, is still in need of $16 million to pay up for the construction. And the Archdiocese is also in need of $230 million to prepare the Church for the future.

Those are staggering amounts of money. It’s a worry but it also calls for our generosity.

So will we give to God for what He has given to us?

The Lord has not forgotten us and will never forget us. Let us also not forget the Lord and how He has blessed us.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

7th Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 19.02.2017

Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18 / 1 Cor 3:16-23 / Matthew 5:38-48

The past week can be called a happening week. It was a happening week for the world, for the church, for Singapore, and for our parish.

For the world, the happening day was on Tuesday, the 14th February, because it was Valentine’s Day.

It was a day of love and one of the ways to show that is to give chocolates.

And if you had received too many chocolates and can’t finish it, you can pass some over, preferably dark chocolates 70% - 80% cocoa.

But the origins of Valentine’s Day is to honour St. Valentine, a priest who defied the imperial ban on marriages and continued to officiate marriages until he was caught and martyred.

Last Tuesday, besides being Valentine’s Day, it was also a day of rejoicing for the Church in Singapore, because that was also the day that the newly restored Cathedral was re-dedicated. It was first dedicated in the year 1897, on the same day, 14th February.

We had waited a long time for the joyful day and for those of us who were there or watched the live streaming of the dedication, we gave thanks as we witnessed the outpouring of God’s love on the Church in Singapore, and especially on the Cathedral, our Mother Church.

Indeed the 14th February was a day of love, a day of blessing and rejoicing, a day to give thanks to God.

But the day after, the 15th February, was a solemn day for Singapore, as we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore to the Japanese Army. And there was also a memorial service at the Kranji War Memorial.

It was a dark period for Singapore as it began the 3 years under Japanese Occupation.

And it affected not just our nation but also our parish, Church of the Sacred Heart. It was recorded in the archives that on the afternoon of the 15th February 1942 (1st day of Chinese New Year), a couple of Japanese shells fired from Johor Bahru targeting Fort Canning, fell through the roof of our church.

No one was injured as the Chinese New Year Mass was in the morning, but furnishings and fittings were damaged. But despite the shells exploding and especially in the church, the walls did not buckle. It remained firm then and still firm to this day.

So this church is quite remarkable. It had seen peace and rejoicing, it had seen war and suffering. 

And the Catholics of this parish back in 1942 would certainly be angry and even bear hatred for what the invaders had done to this church as well as to the country.

How would they be able to come to terms with what Jesus is teaching in the gospel about offering the wicked man no resistance and to love your enemies and to pray for those who persecute you?

We would go for that “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” retaliation because it is so difficult not to resent and hate those who inflict pain and suffering upon us just because they think that might is right, and with that they can humiliate the weak and helpless.

There must be some kind of retribution for them. Better still if we can inflict some revenge upon them to make them pay for what they have done.

But is that the Christian response? And just what is the Christian response?

To begin with, vengeance belongs to God and not to us. We don’t have a right to revenge.

And it is also said that if you want to take revenge, then you have to dig two graves – one for your enemy, and one for yourself. 

Because revenge also results in more blood being shed.

And here God Himself teaches us how to respond. In the 1st reading, God instructed Moses to tell the people this: “Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.”

And the 2nd reading tells us this: Didn’t you realise that you were God’s temple and the Spirit of God was living among you? If anybody should destroy the temple of God, God will destroy him, because the temple of God is sacred; and you are that temple.

That brings us to think about the Christians that are still undergoing persecution, and also about the martyrs of the Church who shed their blood in witnessing to Jesus.

Let’s go back to the dedication of the Cathedral on Tuesday. For those who were watching the live-streaming, you would get a clearer close-up view.

After the consecration of the altar, the Archbishop proceeded to inter the relics of two saints into the altar, which is a traditional practice.

One of the saints is St. Francis Xavier, who is quite well known. The other is St. Laurent Imbert. We might ask who is that and why is his relic interred there.

Well, let’s begin with the name of the Cathedral. It is called the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd.

The story behind that name is that in 1821, an MEP priest (Paris Foreign Missions Society), Fr. Laurent Imbert was sent to Singapore to see if there was a possibility of opening a missionary station in the island. He spent about a week here and he could have been the first priest to celebrate Mass on the island.

In 1837, after being ordained bishop, he crossed secretly from Manchuria to Korea. During this time, Korea was going through a period of Christian persecution.

He secretly went about doing his missionary work, but the authorities found him out and before they captured him, he wrote a note to two other fellow missionaries.

He urged them to give themselves up to the authorities because he believed in doing so, the flock will be spared from persecution, and he wrote that a good shepherd must give up his life for his sheep.

So eventually the three of them were captured and tortured and beheaded. They were canonized in 1984.

When the Cathedral was to be dedicated 1897, the name "Good Shepherd" was chosen in memory of Fr. Laurent Imbert and his two companions.

St. Laurent Imbert, as well as the other martyrs of the Church followed what Jesus taught as well as followed what Jesus did.

They offered the wicked man no resistance. They did not curse their persecutors or threatened them with retribution. They even prayed for their persecutors.

The blood the martyrs shed is truly the seed of Christianity. So besides K-pop and Korean TV dramas, Korea is also the land where the Church experienced a phenomenal growth.

Truly the blood-soaked prayers of the martyrs washed away the evil and wickedness of their persecutors, just as the blood of Christ washed away our sins.

The truth is what Jesus taught us: offer the wicked man no resistance, love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you. 

That is what true holiness is, and that is what we are called to be.

Because that is what Jesus did. That is what the martyrs did. That is the Christian response to evil and wickedness, so that our enemies will be turned into our friends, and our persecutors will be turned into peace-makers.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

6th Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 12.02.2017

Ecclesiasticus 15:15-20 / 1 Cor 2:6-10 / Matthew 5:17-37

We all know who Fr. Paul Tong is. He has been in this parish for a very long time and until now he still does the Chinese Mass and takes care of the Chinese-speaking ministries.

Some of us may know how old he is. Yes, he is 90 years old and is still up and about, his mind is clear as crystal, remembers a lot of things, though a bit hard on hearing.

He still uses the computer to read his emails. He uses a tablet and I think he has got WhatsApp and WeChat.

To me, he is a fatherly figure, and needless to say he makes me feel very young.

It is said that the best classroom in the world is at feet of the elder. 

For me it is at the dining table and chatting with Fr. Tong and learning the lessons of life from him.

One lesson that I learnt from Fr. Tong is the meaning of the word “home”. It was when I first came to the parish and we were having breakfast.

Then he asked me if I was having lunch at home. I thought that he was asking if I was having lunch with my mother at home, as in my home.

So of course I told him that I am having lunch here, in the parish. And he said, “Yes, that’s what I mean. Are you having lunch here at home, in the parish.” 

That’s when I realized that for Fr. Tong, home for the priests means here in the parish. If it is the other home, then he will ask if I am going to see my mother.

And that’s a valuable lesson that I learnt from Fr. Tong – the sense of belonging for the priest. Home for the priest is the parish. Other than that it is going to visit our loved ones.

Such is his understanding of what it means to be a priest and where the priest must belong. And for me it was a truly enlightening lesson of life and of the priesthood.

Hence, we must salute and respect our elders. One thing is that they gained their wisdom without Google or Wikipedia. They may not be always right but at least they have more experiences of being wrong … and learning from it.

In the gospel, we heard Jesus giving a teaching and He begins with “You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors”. He touches on a few of the Commandments – Do not kill; Do not commit adultery.

But with each of those Commandments, He gives a deeper aspect to it and presents an enlightening teaching to help us understand the virtues that flow from the Commandments.

For example, with the Commandment on committing adultery, He says that if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

A story goes that a young man said to an elderly priest, “I like to look at women especially the beautiful ones. If God does not want us to look at them, then why does He give us eyes?” The elderly priest responded, “God also gave us eyelids so that we can close them when necessary.”

As for killing, Jesus says this: anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court.

The wisdom that life has taught us, that anger and its consequences is like drinking poison and hoping that the other person will die. Or clutching on to red hot coals and hoping that the other person gets burnt.

In other words, when we get angry, we only hurt and harm ourselves, and then the hurt and harm spreads on from us.

There was a grandfather, and his little grandson often came in the evenings to sit at his knee and ask the many questions that children ask.

One day the grandson came to his grandfather with a look of anger on his face. Grandfather said, "Come, sit down, tell me what has happened today."

The child sat and leaned his chin on his Grandfather's knee. 

Looking up into the wrinkled, nut brown face and the kind dark eyes, the child's anger turned to tears.

The boy said, "I went to the town today with my father, to trade the furs he has collected over the past several months. I was happy to go, because father said that since I had helped him with the trapping, I could get something for myself, something that I wanted.

I was so excited to be in the trading post, I have not been there before. I looked at many things and finally found a hunting knife! It was small, but good size for me, so father got it for me."

Here the boy laid his head against his grandfather's knee and became silent. The Grandfather, softly placed his hand on the boy’s hair and said, "And then what happened?". Without lifting his head, the boy said, "I went outside to wait for father, and to admire my new knife in the sunlight. Some town boys came by and saw me, they got all around me and started saying bad things. They called me dirty and stupid and said that I should not have such a fine knife. The biggest of these boys, pushed me back and I fell over one of the other boys. I dropped my knife and one of them snatched it up and they all ran away, laughing."

Here the boy's anger returned, "I hate them, I hate them all!"

The Grandfather, with eyes that have seen so much, lifted his grandson's face so his eyes looked into the boy’s eyes. Grandfather said, "Let me tell you a story. I too, at times, have felt a great hate for those that have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do.
But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these feelings many times. It is as if there are two wolves inside me, one is white and one is black. The White Wolf is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him and does not take offense when no offense was intended. But will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way.”

"But, the Black Wolf, is full of anger. The smallest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing.”

"Sometimes it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit."

The boy, looked intently into his Grandfather's eyes, and asked, "So Grandfather, which one wins?"

The Grandfather, smiled and said, "The one I feed."

So the question comes back to us. What are we feeding our hearts with? Because what we feed our hearts with, we will also become.

As we come to the Eucharist, we are fed with the teachings of Jesus, we are also fed with His love in Holy Communion.

And we also need to keep reminding ourselves of this love that Jesus is filling our hearts with.

There is this little prayer about love on our parish Facebook page. It goes like this:

“Love is patient, love is kindness, no hatred, no anger.
God is love, He loves me,  all the time, every time.”

Good to sing it we are about to be angry or not happy about other people. 

Jesus wants to remind us that He loves us always. The lesson of love must be revised in our hearts always.

And as we have learnt it, so must we show it.

To see video, click
Video of Archbishop William Goh & Prayerful Puppet singing "What is Love"

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