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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"

Church of the Sacred Heart, Singapore Facebook:

Saturday, February 4, 2017

5th Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 05.02.2017

Isaiah 58:7-10 / 1 Cor 2:1-5 / Matthew 5:13-16

There are the 12 Days of Christmas. That’s already quite a long time to keep celebrating Christmas.

But that’s not as long as the 15 days of the Lunar (Chinese) New Year, and we are just slightly over the halfway mark.

Whatever the customs and traditions there are for these 15 days of the Lunar New Year, for most of us, it is more or less like going around visiting with two mandarin oranges and collecting ang pows.

And usually the same things are being said. The elders will ask those who still single: When are you going to get married? 

And the elders will also ask those who are married but with no children yet: When are you going to have baby?

But for the sake of getting a bigger ang pow and maintaining cordial relationships, it would be better not to reply and just try to smile it away.

Then it will go on to the next thing and that will be eating and eating and more eating. 

The things that come to mind, or that will go into the mouth, are pineapple tarts, bak kua, love-letters, cashew nuts, cakes and a whole range of so-called “goodies” that will leave us bloated with over-eating.

That is how we spend the Chinese New Year, and we wish each other “Happy New Year”.

But are we really happy doing all that? Do all that visiting and eating make us really happy? Are all that a good start to the New Year?

Certainly it is good to meet up with relatives and friends especially if it is a once-a-year affair. 

And we would like these moments to be enriching and enlightening moments such that these moments will be remembered and cherished.

In other words, we want to share good news with others, and we also want to be good news to others.

In the gospel, Jesus tells us that He wants us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

The salt that we are called to be means that we are to give a taste of God’s presence in our conversations with others.

Too much salt would turn people off as it would become overdosed with religion and we are seen to be overly zealous.

But often in our conversations, God is missing and it becomes like tasteless food. And it is here that Jesus is prompting us to be that “pinch of salt” that would leave in others a taste of God.

Especially when our conversations digress into complaining and gossiping. That is when we have to be the salt that would purify and preserve the decency of the topics of our conversation.

If we, as the salt of the earth, give others a taste of God, then as the light of the world, we are called to be light-signs that show others the way to God and the ways of God.

It is often said that God works in mysterious ways and we ourselves must be able to see it before we can tell others how to look for it.

There is a story of a pretty and well-dressed lady who went to see a lawyer to file for divorce.

Her husband used to be a successful businessman, and he was able to support her expensive and lavish life-style.

But when his business failed, his wife couldn’t take it and decided to file for divorce and leave him.

When the lawyer heard her story, he told her that he would like someone to speak to her, and he called in a middle-aged office cleaner.

The lawyer asked the cleaner to tell the lady how she found meaning and direction in her life.

The cleaner’s story went like this – My husband died of cancer in his late 30s, and then barely half a year later, my only son was killed in a road accident.

I had nobody left and nothing to live for. I was in grief and in shock and in a daze. I couldn’t sleep and couldn’t eat.

I couldn’t smile. I was angry with God and resented those people who seemed so happy in life. I even thought of ending my life.

One day when I came back from work, there was a scrawny kitten at the corridor, meowing away, and it followed me to the door.

I felt sorry for the kitten, and I decided to let it in and I gave it some milk. It purred and rubbed against my leg.

For the first time in months, I smiled. Then I stopped to think. If helping and feeding a little kitten can make me smile, then maybe helping somebody in need can make me happy.

So the next day, I cooked some food and brought it to a neighbour who was elderly and sick, and it made her happy.

So every day, I would try to do something nice for someone else and it made me happy to see them happy.

I realized that a person cannot be happy unless he is thinking of how much he can help others, instead of thinking about how much he can get from others.

Now I eat well, and I sleep well, and I am happy.

And then the cleaner said to the lady: I hope that  you can be happy too, by helping others to be happy.

Whether the lady went on to file for divorce or not, the story left it to us to think about it.

But the point of the story is that the poor cleaner found happiness by helping others to be happy.

In doing that, she also found her purpose and meaning in life. She found God in her life, and she is helping others to do so.

We are Christians. A Christian is a person in whose life Christ lives again.

Just as salt gives taste and light gives sight, let us give others a taste of God’s presence and to help them see the mysterious ways of God.

Then when we wish others “Happy New Year” we are also wishing them the love of God and all His blessings.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

4th Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 29.01.2017

Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13 / 1 Cor 1:26-31 / Matthew 5:1-12

Most of us wake up to the sound of an alarm clock. Maybe on Saturdays and Sundays we can sleep in and tomorrow we can also sleep in since it’s a holiday.

But on weekdays, whether it is to go to work or to school, the alarm clock will be our wake-up call.

And that can be a very challenging time as our ears and our bodies keep protesting to the sound of the alarm clock as it persistently keeps bugging us.

And depending on how we want to start the day, there are many alarm tones that we can choose from.

There are those that sound like the fire alarm, such that even the neighbours at the next block can hear it. That is usually for heavy sleepers who want it loud.

Some choose to be awaken gently and so there is the radio-alarm where we can wake up to soothing music. And then there is a range of alarm tones to choose from. 

But the most traditional alarm tone is provided by nature and it comes from the rooster. But the cock-crow is something that we don’t hear in our highly urbanized surroundings.

But the rooster, often generally termed as chicken, is not often noted for its morning call. Rather it is thought of as food: fried chicken, curry chicken, essence of chicken, chicken nuggets, chicken soup, etc.

But in the Chinese zodiac, the rooster takes on a prominence as this year is the Year of the Rooster.

And in the Bible, the rooster makes its one and only appearance, and that was in the trial of Jesus.

When Jesus was being questioned by His persecutors, Peter was nearby as he tried to see what would happen to Jesus. Then some people identified him as being associated with Jesus. At this he began to vehemently deny it, and when he denied knowing Jesus for the third time, the rooster crowed.

At that cock-crow, Jesus turned to look at Peter. And as their eyes met, Peter suddenly realized what he had done and he went away and wept bitterly.

The crowing of the humble rooster was used by God to be a wakeup call for Peter. It was for him an awakening – an awakening of a sleeping heart.

In the face of persecution, the call of the rooster revealed to Peter who he was and who Jesus is.

In the gospel, we heard a teaching from Jesus which is often called the Beatitudes. Beatitudes means blessings.

So what Jesus is saying is that when we are poor in spirit, when we are gentle, when we are merciful, when we hunger and thirst for what is right, when we are persecuted because of Jesus, we are blessed. The gospel used the word “Happy” but it means blessed. 

And that word recurs throughout the passage. (9 times)

Another word in the passage that keeps recurring is the word “shall”. That word accompanies the word “Happy” and it reinforces it by making it into a promise.

In other words, when we are gentle, when we are merciful, when we hunger and thirst for what is right, when we are persecuted because of Jesus, then we shall be blessed. 

That is the promise that Jesus is making to us, and it is He Himself who will bless us.

And that is a wakeup call for us. When we hear the teaching of the Beatitudes, we wonder about it. Because it goes against our instinct and logic to think that by giving way, by not retaliating, by being humble, by being kind, we will be blessed.

We would be more inclined to go by the ways of the world and to go with the flow by keeping quiet and looking away from injustice and staying out of trouble, by playing safe, by going for what is advantageous and profitable to us.

But the Beatitudes keep calling us to us that when we follow the Way of Jesus, we will be blessed and rise from what the world can give us to what Jesus want to give us.

There’s a story of a chicken farmer who found an eagle’s egg. He put it with his chickens and soon the egg hatched.

The baby eagle grew up with all the other chickens and learned to imitate the chickens. He would scratch the ground for worms. He grew up thinking he was a chicken.

Since the chickens could only fly for a short distance, the eagle also learnt to fly a short distance.

He thought that was what he was supposed to do. So that was all that he thought he could do.  As a consequence, that was all he was able to do.

One day the eagle saw a bird flying high above him. He was very impressed. “Who is that?” he asked the chickens around him.

“That’s the eagle, the king of the birds,” the chickens told him. “He belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth, we are just chickens.”

So the eagle lived and died as a chicken, for that’s what he thought he was. Or maybe he ended up as fried chicken or curry chicken.
So as the Lunar New Year begins with the Year of the Rooster, let us also hear the awakening call from Jesus. 

We are not called to be of this world, to be like mere chickens that scratch the ground for worms.

But we are called to lift up our minds and hearts and lives to God so that we can stretch our wings of blessings and soar high with God’s love.

Yes, that is what God is calling us to and that is what He wants of us.

St. Peter heard it and he became who God wanted him to be.

May we too hear God’s call and become who God wants us to be.

May the New Year bring about God’s blessings so that we will stretch out our wings and proclaim God’s wonderful love for us.
May we firmly believe in the promise of Jesus in the Beatitudes and receive blessings upon blessings.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

3rd Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 22.01.2017

Isaiah 8:23 – 9:3 / 1 Cor 1:10-13, 17 / Matthew 4:12-23

Life is kind of strange and it has its absurdities. At times it sounds like a serious joke, and we can choose to laugh at it, but at times it can also make us frown and we wonder why it is like that.

For example, why does round pizza come in a square box? Why is it that people pay to go up tall buildings and then put money in binoculars to look at things on the ground?

Why do we press harder on a remote control when we know the batteries are flat? Why do banks charge a fee on 'insufficient funds' when they know that there is already not enough money?

Enough of examples to tell us that we live in a strange world that at times look rather absurd.

There is this story that one day an elephant decided to go for a nice bath in the river. No sooner had he gone into the water when a little mouse ran up and down the river bank demanding that the elephant get out of the water.

The elephant protested and asked what the problem was. The little mouse was adamant that the elephant had to get out of the water first and then he would tell him.

The elephant gave in and got out of the water. Then the little mouse said: So sorry, Mr. Elephant. I was just checking. Someone took my swimming trunks and I was just checking if it was you who was wearing it.

That sounds like an absurd joke. But the strange thing here is that sometimes it takes a joke to bring out a point, or the moral of the story. And the moral of the story is this: 
It is easier to think that an elephant can fit into the swimming trunks of a mouse than for God’s plan to enter into the human heart. 

In other words, we can accept the absurdities of life more easily than we can accept the mysteries of God’s plan for us.

In the gospel, we heard about the beginnings of the ministry of Jesus. He heard that John the Baptist had been arrested and He went back to Galilee and settled in the lakeside town of Capernaum.

As He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He called His first disciples – Peter and Andrew, and James and John – and all four of them were fishermen.

And that sounds like a joke already. Just what kind of strategy was that? If the mission was going to be anything serious and successful, then Jesus would need professionals and not amateurs. 

More so when it was about the proclamation of Good News of the Kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness among the people. He would need the media and communications people, as well as doctors and health care specialists on board.

But fishermen? Is there something that we have missed?

The gospel quoted a prophecy that was taken from the 1st reading: The people that lived in darkness has seen a great light; on those who dwell in the land and shadow of death, a light has dawned.
Yes, it was a great light, so great that it didn’t look normal; it looked strange and absurd. But for those that it beckoned and called, the light shines and reveals.

So it was for Peter and Andrew, for James and John, and for all those who follow the light that shines in a strange and absurd world.

One of those who followed the light was Vietnamese Cardinal Francois-Xavier Nguyen van Thuan (1928-2002)
detained by the Communist Government of Vietnam in 1975 in a reeducation camp for 13 years, 9 of them in solitary confinement.

To his non-Catholic fellow prisoners, who were curious to know how he could maintain his hope, he answered: "I have left everything to follow Jesus, because I love the defects (or absurdities) of Jesus."

Nguyen van Thuan said: "During his agony on the cross, when the thief asked him to remember him when he arrived in his Kingdom … had it been me, I would have replied: 'I will not forget you, but you must expiate your crimes in purgatory.' However, Jesus replied: 'Today you shall be with me in paradise.' He had forgotten that man's sins. Jesus does not have a memory, He does not remember sins, He just forgives everyone."

"Jesus does not know mathematics. This is demonstrated in the parable of the good shepherd. He had 100 sheep, one is lost and without hesitating he went to look for it, leaving the other 99 in the sheepfold. For Jesus, one is as valuable as 99, or even more so."

Jesus doesn’t know logic. Van Thuan’s evidence for this “defect” is the story of the woman who loses one of her ten silver pieces and who, upon finding it calls all her friends to celebrate with her. The celebration must have cost more than that one silver piece, perhaps even more than ten silver pieces. This, Van Thuan suggests, is completely illogical, except to the strange logic of the heart of Jesus.

He also said that Jesus is a risk-taker, a man with a publicity campaign that to human eyes is “doomed to failure.” A promise of trials and persecutions for those who follow him. No guarantee of food or lodging, only a share of His own way of life. “Jesus is the risk-taker for the love of the Father and of humanity, is a paradox from beginning to end, even for us who have become used to hearing it.”

Finally, Jesus doesn’t understand finance or economics, as evidenced by the story of the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Van Thuan points out that if Jesus were named the administrator of a community or the director of a business, the institutions would surely fail and go bankrupt. How can anyone pay someone who began working at 5:00pm the very same wages paid to the other person who has been working since early morning? Yet Jesus does.

Archbishop Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan also recalled.
"One day, one of the prison guards asked me: 'Do you love us?'" I answered: 'Yes, I love you.'
"'We have kept you shut in for so many years and you love us? I don't believe it ...'
"I then reminded him: 'I have spent many years with you. You have seen it and know it is true.' The guard asked me: 'When you are freed, will you send your faithful to burn our homes and kill our relatives?' 
'No, although you might want to kill me, I love you.' "Why?' the guard insisted. "Because Jesus has taught me to love everyone, even my enemies. If I don't do this, I am not worthy to bear the name Christian. Jesus said: 'Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.'
'This is very beautiful, but very hard to understand,' the guard replied.

Indeed Jesus is hard to understand. To some, He is strange and absurd. To others, He is a light that is too bright to look at.

To us, He calls and beckons us to follow Him and His light will guide us through this strange and absurd world. 

We may look like “crack-pots” to follow Jesus. But only when there is crack that the light can shine in.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

2nd Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 15.01.2017

Isaiah 49:3, 5-6 / 1 Cor 1:1-3 / John 1:29-34

According to the Chinese zodiac, this is the tail end of the Year of the Monkey. The Year of the Monkey began last year with the Chinese New Year and will end with the coming Chinese New Year.

As some will say, monkey business is coming to an end.

Of all the animals in the Chinese zodiac, the monkey is considered the most intelligent. 

And there is some theory that says that human beings were evolved from apes. Hmmm … if that is true, then why are there still apes?  ;)

But let us not go to that topic. No matter how intelligent the monkey is, it is certainly not a match against human intelligence.

The natives of an island have a way to catch monkeys in a very unusual way. 

Most of the monkeys are sold to zoos, so the hunters avoid using ordinary traps which can cause disfiguring injuries. Instead, they hollow out a football-sized coconut, leaving a hole in one end just big enough for a monkey to slip in its hand. Inside the hollowed-out coconut, the hunters put delicious green bananas, the monkey's favorite food. Then they fasten a chain to the other end of the coconut to a nearby tree. 

A monkey will pick up the baited coconut, put its hand through the hole in one end, and clutch the bananas inside with its fist. 

However, when it tries to pull out the delicious fruit, it quickly discovers that the hole in the coconut is too small for it to withdraw its banana-filled hand. All the monkey has to do to escape is open its fist and let go of the bananas. Then it can easily pull out its hand.

But the greedy monkey almost never does the logical thing. It tries to carry off the coconut, but of course, it is chained securely to a tree. It struggles, it screams, it rages, it tugs and pulls at the coconut until it is exhausted. Then the hunters come to put a sack over the monkey who's been caught by its own fist.

The monkey could, of course, let go of the bananas and run before getting caught. But it hangs on to the bananas until the sack goes over its head. Why? Because the banana has value to the monkey and the monkey is unwilling to let go of that value. So unwilling that it gets trapped for it. 

So much for a monkey trap. So even though the monkey can be quite intelligent, it can still fall for a simple trap.

In the gospel, when John the Baptist saw Jesus coming towards him, John said: Look, there is the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.

John the Baptist was called the greatest of all the prophets because it was he who pointed out the Lamb of God, the Saviour of the world.

But before Jesus came onto the scene, John the Baptist had the people in his hand. He preached about repentance, he baptized people, and the people even thought that he was the Saviour.

But when John the Baptist saw Jesus coming towards him, he had to make a choice. He could look away and hold on to the limelight and the attention that he was getting from the people.

But he made the choice to let go and to be freed from the clutches of pride and ego. It was in letting go that he was able to point out the Lamb of God.

Therein lies his greatness. He was humble enough to let go and make way for Jesus when He appeared.

There is one statement from John the Baptist that expressed his understanding of the whole matter. He said: A man can lay claim only to what is given to him from above (Jn 3:27).

Indeed, we can only have what is given to us from above. As for the rest, we will have to let go.

It is only in letting go that we can be freed from the trap of the clutches of our own hand.

We have an intelligence higher than that of the monkey, and yet we often fall into the trap like how the monkey is trapped by the banana in the coconut.

John the Baptist said that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

So what is this sin that he is talking about? Certainly when it comes to sin in its broadest understanding, it is what separates us from God.

And when we look at how John the Baptist was able to let go of himself and point out Jesus as the Lamb of God, then we can see particular strand of sin is self-obsession. 

There is this story of the last three wishes of Alexander the Great. After conquering many kingdoms, he was returning home. On the way, he fell ill and it took him to his death bed. With death staring him in his face, Alexander realized how his conquests, his great army, his sharp sword and all his wealth were of no consequence. 

So, the mighty conqueror lay prostrate and pale, helplessly waiting to breathe his last.

He called his generals and said, "I will depart from this world soon, I have three wishes, please carry them out without fail.”

1) "My first desire is that", said Alexander, "My physicians alone must" carry my coffin."

2) After a pause, he continued, "Secondly, I desire that when my coffin is being carried to the grave, the path leading to the graveyard be strewn with gold, silver and precious stones which I have collected in my treasury".

3) "My third and last wish is that both my hands be kept dangling out of my coffin".

Alexander's favorite general asked, "O king, we assure you that all your wishes will be fulfilled. But tell us why do you make such strange wishes?"

At this Alexander took a deep breath and said: "I would like the world to know of the three lessons I have just learnt. Lessons to be learnt from last 3 wishes of King Alexander. I want my physicians to carry my coffin because people should realize that no doctor on this earth can save a person from the clutches of death. So let not people take life for granted.

The second wish of strewing gold, silver and other riches on the path to the graveyard is to tell people that not even a fraction of gold will come with me. I spent all my life greedy for power, earning riches but cannot take anything with me. Let people realize that it is a sheer waste of time to chase wealth.

About my third wish of having my hands dangling out of the coffin, I wish people to know that I came empty handed into this world and empty handed I go out of this world". With these words, the king closed his eyes, and death conquered him and he breathed his last.

What you do for yourself, dies with you. But what you do for others will live forever. John the Baptist showed us how to let go so as to point out Jesus to others. May we do likewise. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Epiphany, Year A, 08.01.2017

Isaiah 60:1-6 / Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6 / Matthew 2:1-12

By now we would have already opened up all our Christmas presents. 

If we were not surprised by the presents that we got, then we may not be aware of Murphy’s principle about Christmas presents – “we always get the most of what we need the least”. And maybe there is also another one – we never get what we want. The irony of Christmas presents.

Nonetheless, it is still quite exciting to tear away the wrappers and see what is the gift, even though we may already know that it is a box of chocolates, or a bottle of wine, or a shirt, or several pairs of socks, (seems like I am talking about what I got for presents …)

Anyway if we got our presents before Christmas Day, would we wait for that day to open our presents? Well, we should, but being pragmatic Singaporeans, we would open up the presents before Christmas Day and then see if we can “recycle” those presents!

But the spirit of Christmas is to give something precious isn’t it? 

A 5-year-old boy was telling his 3-year-old brother: “Let’s play Christmas. I’ll be Santa Claus and you’ll be a present, and I’ll give you away.” So much about giving away something precious …

To put it business-like, the deadline for giving Christmas presents is Christmas Day. 

Nonetheless, belated Christmas presents are still welcomed, but don’t wait till next Christmas.

Although it is not stated anywhere, but the last day for giving Christmas presents would be today, on the feast of Epiphany.

Today the Nativity Scene is a little more crowded than on Christmas Day because of three additional figurines. The three wise men have finally appeared, together with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

And their appearance is really a contrast to the rest of the figurines in the Nativity Scene. They have crowns on their heads, their robes are royal and elegant, their gifts are exotic and mystical.

These three wise men (let’s just take it at three) capture our attention, and they also stir up our imagination, and they also lead us on to a reflection.

Although they appeared at the end of the Christmas season, their journey actually began much earlier and they would give us something to think about at the start of Advent.

They saw a star, it was “His star” in their own words, and they began the journey to look for the infant king of the Jews.

The star stirred them to go on a journey of a search and to look for this king of the Jews. But it was not a straight-forward journey on first-class.

Because it meant crossing the harsh desert sands to Israel to look for this king.

Also the directions were not clear for them. The star was not there for them all the time. They had no clear indication of where the infant king of the Jews was. 

They came to Jerusalem thinking He was there. King Herod came to know who they were looking for and he schemed to make use of them to get to know the whereabouts of this infant king of the Jews.

Unlike the shepherds who had a vision of angels and were told in detail how and where to look for Jesus, the wise men had to be redirected to Bethlehem.

And it was in the final stages of their search that the star appeared again to lead them to their destination.

The wise men presented gifts of symbolic and mystical meaning. Gold points to the kingship of Jesus; incense points to the divinity of Jesus; and myrrh points to the humanity of Jesus. 

But the wise men are also gifts to us because we see in them the aspects of our faith. Our faith is one of searching and it also entails a struggling.

We too search of answers to our prayers. We search for answers to quell our doubts. We struggle with the fundamental questions of sickness, suffering and death, with hurting and broken relationships, with terrorism and wars and hunger and poverty, and recession and retrenchment. 

We search for answers to the things that say that there can’t be a God, if God is the one who allows miscarriages and babies to be born with severe defects and illness.

We struggle with the anxiety and worry of job security, financial security and emotional security.

Yes, we search and we struggle for the answers to life and its burdens, challenges and difficulties.

The wise men also had to search and struggle for answers and directions.

But they appear in this feast of Epiphany with a message for us. Epiphany means revelation. 

And their message for us is this: You will face your greatest opposition when you are closest to your greatest revelation.

Yes, like the wise men, we will face our darkness, our uncertainties, the Herods who will manipulate us.

But on this feast of Epiphany, the wise men had this message for us – they found what they are looking for; they found who they were looking for.

And so will we. Jesus will reveal Himself to us. That is His promise to us on this feast of Epiphany.