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Saturday, December 3, 2016

2nd Sunday of Advent (Year A), 04.12.2016

Isaiah 11:1-10 / Romans 15:4-9 / Matthew 3:1-12

By this weekend, we ought to have taken out our Christmas decorations from the store room. Yes, taken out, unwrapped, and hopefully the fairy lights, and whatever lights, still work.

Come to think of it, putting up the decorations can be like a good spiritual preparation for Christmas. Because we will have to learn how to handle the frustrations and disappointments that comes with the season. 

And Christmas may seem to be just like our job at the office, as in we do all the work and the fat guy with the suit gets all the credit. 

Still we will try to numb the nagging reality of life by trying to get into the festive mood, so we distract ourselves with putting up the festive decorations.

At least we will try to put up a Christmas tree. Certainly not a real tree as real trees are costly and times are tough.

But an artificial tree will do, just like the one that is outside. And we try to decorate it to give it a Christmassy look.

And that should be enough to bring us through the season. At least we hope that the lights won’t burn out before Christmas Day, or at least the lights won’t burn down the tree. 

But what is the big fuss over the Christmas tree?  What kind of biblical or religious significance has it got?

Well, the Christmas tree is used to symbolize Jesus. He is the shoot that springs from the stock of Jesse, the scion that trusts from Jesse’s roots, as the prophet Isaiah said in the 1st reading.

Jesse was the father of King David, whose reign brought about the golden age of Israel. But after his reign, Israel declined and the kingdom was split and was overrun by her enemies over and over again.

Eventually when Israel was exiled into Babylon, King David’s descendants became an obscurity.
But the prophet Isaiah wrote of hope, that one day a shoot will spring forth from the stump of Jesse and bring about Israel’s glory.

Jesus was that shoot that sprang into a tree, a life-giving tree, a hope-giving tree. And that is why the Christmas tree is an appropriate symbol for the season.

Besides being an evergreen tree that retains its colour in the midst of winter, it is also a sign of life and hope, when everything seems to come to a standstill.

And that is why we decorate our Christmas tree with other meaningful symbols like the star, lights, and those other things that symbolize what Jesus is about and what He came to give us.

One of the things that we surely won’t find, and nor would we put under the Christmas tree, is a gift-wrapped, ribbon-tied sharp axe. The kind of axe that John the Baptist talked about in today’s gospel, the kind of axe for chopping down trees.

Somehow, John the Baptist is interested in our Christmas trees. Whether real tree or otherwise, he is ready to chop it down, if our Christmas tree do not symbolize anything about our Christian belief, or about our Christian way of life.

Not that he is jealous just because Christmas trees cannot be found in the desert, because that is where he stays.

But what he couldn’t stand is that we so-called “fake” our Christmas, by having nicely decorated Christmas trees that have no meaning in our lives whatsoever.

So for example, we put a big star at the top of the Christmas tree.  That star is a symbol of the star of Bethlehem that led the wise men to find the infant Jesus.

As we put up the star, are we going to tell our children and our family members that we are going to have family prayers from now on, and follow Jesus in His way of love.

As we put up the lights on the tree, are we also going to tell our family members and our children that we are going to make our home a place of warmth, joy and peace.

And the gifts that we put beneath the Christmas tree, do they symbolize the self-giving love of Jesus?

John the Baptist may be welding his axe and demanding that we show our repentance by bearing good fruits, yet that repentance can be a beautiful spiritual experience when we understand God’s self-giving love in the beautiful mystery of the Incarnation at Christmas. There  is a beautiful story that reflects the self-giving love of God at Christmas.

Once there was a tree, and she loved a little boy. And every day the boy would come and he would gather her leaves and make them into crowns and play king of the forest. He would climb up her trunk and swing from her branches and eat apples. And when he was tired, he would sleep in her shade. And the boy loved the tree very much. And the tree was happy.

But time went by. And the boy grew older. And the tree was often alone. Then one day the boy came to the tree, and the tree said, "Come, Boy, come and climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and eat apples and play in my shade and be happy."

"I am too big to climb and play" said the boy. "I want to buy things and have fun. I want some money." "I'm sorry," said the tree, "but I have no money. I have only leaves and apples. Take my apples, Boy, and sell them in the city. Then you will have money and you will be happy." And so the boy climbed up the tree and gathered her apples and carried them away. And the tree was happy. But the boy stayed away for a long time, and the tree was sad.

And then one day the boy came back and the tree shook with joy and she said, "Come, Boy, climb up my trunk, and swing from my branches and be happy." "I am too busy to climb trees," said the boy. "I want a house to keep me warm," he said. "I want a wife and I want children, and so I need a house. Can you give me a house?"

"I have no house," said the tree. "The forest is my house, but you may cut off my branches and build a house. Then you will be happy." And so the boy cut off her branches and carried them away to build his house. And the tree was happy. 

But the boy stayed away for a long time. And when he came back, the tree was so happy she could hardly speak. "Come, Boy," she whispered, "come and play." "I am too old and sad to play," said the boy. "I want a boat that will take me far away from here. Can you give me a boat?" "Cut down my trunk and make a boat," said the tree. "Then you can sail away... and be happy." And so the boy cut down her trunk and made a boat and sailed away. And the tree was happy ... but not really.

And after a long time the boy came back again. "I am sorry, Boy," said the tree," but I have nothing left to give you - My apples are gone." "My teeth are too weak for apples," said the boy. "My branches are gone," said the tree. "You cannot swing on them." "I am too old to swing on branches," said the boy. "My trunk is gone," said the tree. "You cannot climb." "I am too tired to climb" said the boy.

"I am sorry," sighed the tree. "I wish that I could give you something .... but I have nothing left. I am just an old stump." "I don't need very much now," said the boy, "just a quiet place to sit and rest. I am very tired." "Well," said the tree, straightening herself up as much as she could, "well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting. Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest." And the boy did, and he was happy. And the tree was happy.

Yes, at Christmas, God gave us His only Son out of love for us. On Good Friday, Jesus allowed Himself to be chopped down and reduced to a stump in order to save us.

Yet out of this stump, Jesus rose, and He wants us to rise with Him. May our Christmas trees symbolize who Jesus is to us. May it also symbolize who we really are to others, as we give of ourselves, just as Jesus gave Himself for us.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

1st Sunday of Advent, Year A, 27.11.2016

Isaiah 2:1-5 / Romans 13:11-14 / Matthew 24:37-44

If we have to make a choice between health and wealth, what would we be more likely to choose?

Surely, we would be more likely to choose health, because as the saying goes, health is wealth, but not necessarily the other way round.

But as much as we desire health, it is also the one thing that we often take for granted and often neglect. Until when we lose it.

One obvious sign of how healthy we are is how we feel when we wake up in the morning. No doubt we may not be that aware or alert to take note of how we feel. 

But that already in itself is a sign. If we need a couple of alarm clocks to wake us up, then obviously we are not having enough of rest, among other things. More critical would be when we sleep through a couple of alarm clocks and not even hear them at all. Then that is certainly a sign to tell us that we better go for a medical checkup.

Of course we can put it off, but ignoring the signs is a sure way of ending up in the wrong destination.

Let us take for example the warning signs before a stroke. It is put in an acronym F.A.S.T., and this what it means.

“F” stands for face drooping, as in one side of the face starts drooping. “A” stands for arm weakness – one arm will just drift downwards.

“S” stands for speech difficulty – the speech is slurred. And “T” stand for time – time to call the ambulance. 

Since stroke can be the cause of death or disability, when the signs are there, then every second counts, so act FAST!!!

The 1st Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of a new Church year. It marks the beginning of a “new time” so to speak.

In the gospel, Jesus talks about a time gone by and also about a time to come.

He talked about the time in Noah’s day, the time before the Flood when people were eating and drinking, right up to the day when Noah went into the ark, and they suspected nothing, until it rained and rained for 40 days and 40 nights.

The people saw the sign of Noah building the ark. If words are to the ears what signs are to the eyes, then the people just ignored the sign until it was too late.

That was a sign of a time gone by. But Jesus also talked about a time to come.

He said that if a householder had known at what time the burglar would come, he would have stayed awake and would have allowed anyone to break through the wall of his house.

And the 2nd reading has this to say: You know “the time” has come; you must wake up now; our salvation is even nearer than it was before.

Yes, the time has come, the signs are there, the first candle of the Advent wreath is lit, the colour of the vestments has changed, Christmas decorations are coming up or have already gone up in the shopping centers.

We can ask for more signs and God will give us all the signs we want, but ultimately, we will see what we need to see when we are ready to see it.

The signs from God as signs of His blessings so that He may teach us His ways and that we may walk in His paths.

The signs of God blessings are expressed in the teaching of Jesus in the Beatitudes when He said things like blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers, etc. 

On the other hand, the devil will also have his set of blemishes and these are the signs that we need to look out for so as not to fall into his trap. So let us take a look at the devil’s blemishes as opposed to the Beatitudes of Jesus.

If the devil were to write his Blemishes, they would probably go something like this:

Blemished are those who are too tired, too busy, too distracted to spend an hour once a week with their fellow Christians in Church — they are my best workers.

Blemished are those Christians who wait to be asked and expect to be thanked — I can use them.

Blemished are the touchy, with a bit of luck they may stop going to church — they are my missionaries.

Blemished are those who are very religious but get on everyone’s nerves — they are mine forever.

Blemished are the troublemakers — they shall be called my children.

Blemished are those who have no time to pray — they are easy prey for me.

Blemished are the gossipers, for they are my secret agents.

Blemished are those critical of church leadership — for they shall inherit a place with me, in my fate.

Blemished are the complainers — I’m all ears for them.

Blemished are you when you hear this and think it is about other people and not yourself — I’ve got you!

So we see the signs of blessings from God and we also see the signs of blemish that the devil wants to corrupt us.

The time has come for us to heed those signs and to decide what to do. Let us act FAST and act NOW, so that there will be No Opportunity Wasted.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Christ the King, Year C, 20.11.2016

2 Sam 5:1-3 /  Colossians 1:11-20 / Luke 23:35-43

There is one particular sin that we always somehow succumb to, and that is lying.
Almost every day, or practically every day, we will tell a lie. It seems that we are pretty good when it comes to being practicing liars but not so good when it comes to being practicing Catholics.

Some people have asked if telling a white lie is sin. Well, the short and straight answer to that is that a lie is a lie; the colour doesn’t matter.

That being said, we have been taught from our earliest days to be honest and to tell the truth always.
But we also know how difficult that can be, because to be honest and to tell the truth can be costly and we wonder if the price is worth it.

There is this rather funny account of telling the truth: 
The teacher asked what my favourite animal was, and I said, “Fried chicken.”
She said I wasn’t funny, but she couldn’t have been right, because everyone else laughed. My parents told me to always tell the truth and so I did. I told my dad what happened, and he said my teacher was probably a member of SPCA. He said that they love animals very much. I do too, especially chicken, pork and beef. Anyway, my teacher sent me to the principal’s office. I told him what happened and he laughed too. Then he told me not to do it again.

The next day in class, my teacher asked me what my favourite live animal was. I told her it was chicken. She asked me why, so I told her it was because you could make them into fried chicken. She sent me back to the principal’s office. He laughed too, and told me not to do it again.

I don’t understand. My parents taught me to be honest, but my teacher doesn’t like it when I am. Today, my teacher asked me to tell her what famous person I admired most.
I told her, “Colonel Sanders.” Guess where I am now …

Yes, there are times when we get fried for telling the truth, and we chicken out and rather tell a lie.
But we have to realize that honesty is a very expensive gift and we can’t expect it from cheap people.
Today’s gospel brings us back to that moment when Jesus was nailed to the cross. For all the truth that He taught and stood for, that was where He ended up.

And there as He nailed and dying on the cross, the people watched Him, the leaders jeered at Him, the soldiers mocked Him, and even one of the condemned criminals abused Him.

For all the truth and the love that He stood for, it seemed like a sorry and sad end for Jesus. 
It seemed that truth and love have failed; it seemed that Jesus had failed; and it seemed that lies and that the devil, the “father of lies”, had triumphed.

But in the midst of all that noise of jeering and mocking, there was a silent witness.
As the gospel described it, above Jesus there was an inscription: “This is the King of the Jews”.

Nailed together with Jesus on the cross, it was what we have come to know as “INRI” which are the initials for the Latin inscription: “Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum”

That notice was nailed above Jesus by Pontius Pilate probably to state the crime for which Jesus was condemned, and also to ridicule Him.

But that notice was the profound silent witness to the truth of Jesus – that He is indeed the King, not just of the Jews, but the King of the universe.

And that is what we celebrate this Sunday – Jesus Christ, the King of the universe, as we come to the end of the Church year. 

We worship and honour Jesus as the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, the Beginning and the End, the Truth and Love. 

And like the other condemned criminal, aka “the good thief”, we also want to admit that we are sinners and liars and we can only ask Jesus to remember us and save us.

On the cross, all the lies and sins were nailed and overcome by the truth. On the cross, all the wrongs were made right by the sacrifice of love. On the cross truth and love prevailed.

There is a story of a maths teacher who set the following question for her Primary One class in a test. 
“If there are 5 people in your family and 10 apples to be shared, how many apples does each member of your family get?”

This was a straight forward question and the pupils should be able to get it correct. However, after the test, to the teacher’s horror, there was a typo error, instead of ‘10’, she had typed ‘1’. So the question read:
“If there are 5 people in your family and 1 apples to be shared, how many apples does each member of your family get?”

Even though there was a typo error, many pupils still attempted the question and gave different answers. Among all the answers, there was one by a little girl that stood out. She gave an answer and provided explanations.
She wrote:
Each member of my family will get 1 apple. If grandpa had bought an apple, he wouldn’t keep it for himself. He would give it to my grandma who is sick. Grandpa would want grandma to have the apple so that she can eat the apple and get better. Grandma wouldn’t keep the apple for herself too; she would give it to her favourite grandchild, which is me. But I wouldn’t eat the apple too. I would give it to mummy, who stands at the street corner every day to sell newspapers. She must be very thirsty after standing under the sun the entire day. The apple will quench her thirst. But mummy wouldn’t keep the apple for herself too. She would give it to daddy who travels to the city to work at the construction site every day. Daddy cannot afford to buy apples, mummy would want daddy to have it. So, everyone in the family will have an apple.
The teacher awarded this girl full marks for this question.

Jesus is the King of Truth and Love. He will make all things right as He did on the cross. 

The inscription that was meant to be a condemnation became a confirmation of who He really is. 
As for the lies and other sins that we have committed, the 2nd reading has this to tell us: You will have in you the strength, based on His own glorious power, never to give in, but to bear anything joyfully, thanking the Father who has made it possible for you to join the saints and with them to inherit eternal light.

As we repent of our sins and acknowledge Jesus to be our King and Saviour, may we also hear Him say to us: Indeed I promise you, today you will be with me in paradise.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

33rd Ordinary Sunday, Year C, 13.11.2016

Malachi 3:19-20 / 2 Thess 3:7-12 / Luke 21:5-19

Whatever we may remember of our history lessons in school, we may remember this one fascinating topic. 

It is about the 7 wonders of the ancient world. It may not be that fascinating to us in the modern world, but it was surely fascinating enough to the people in the ancient world.

We may remember vaguely what were the 7 wonders of the ancient world. The classic seven wonders were: the Great Pyramid of Giza; the Hanging Gardens of Babylon; the Statue of Zeus at Olympia; the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus; the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus; Colossus of Rhodes; Lighthouse of Alexandria.

The 7 Wonders of the Ancient World is the first known list of the most remarkable creations of classical antiquity; it was based on guidebooks popular among the ancient sightseers and only includes works located around the Mediterranean rim. The number seven was chosen because the Greeks believed it represented perfection and plenty, and because it was the number of the five planets known anciently, plus the sun and moon.

But time and tide had taken their toll on those ancient seven wonders and they have succumbed under the ravages of earthquakes, fire and the elements of nature, such that all have perished, leaving behind some ruins and records of their former existence.

But there is one that is still standing to this day. The only ancient world wonder that still exists is the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. It is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one to remain largely intact.

Built around 2560 BC as a tomb for the pharaoh, it is a remarkable engineering feat, and it remained the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3,800 years.

One structure that could have made it to the list of the 7 wonders of the ancient world was the Temple that king Solomon built in 850 BC. That Temple was impressive because of the amount of gold that was used to decorate it and it was often called the 8th wonder of the ancient world.

That Temple was destroyed in 586 BC but another Temple was later built on the same site. That Temple was the one that the gospel was referring to. It was a remarkable Temple with fine stonework.

And yet Jesus had this to say about it: All these things that you are staring at now – the time will come when not a single stone will be left on another: everything will be destroyed.

And indeed, that Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, and the only thing that remained was the retaining wall which is now called the Western Wall, aka the Wailing Wall. 

Certainly, when something that we are proud of and precious to us is destroyed or broken, we will be really sad and will even wail about it.

And Jesus does not seem to very consoling as He hammers in the hard and stark truth that all things will pass with time. Still, we grapple and struggle to understand that truth.

There is this story about a monastery in the outskirts of a village.
News came that invading troops were plundering the other nearby villages.

The abbot and his monks urged the villagers to flee to the mountains to save their lives.

But the villagers wanted to stay and fight the enemy.

The abbot and the monks had no choice but to leave and take refuge in the safety of the nearby mountains.

From there, they watched the enemy troops coming and plundering the village.

As they watched the carnage that was happening, the abbot said:  I wish I were God.

His monks asked:  So that you can stop that tragedy?
The abbot replied: No, so that I know why that is happening.  So that I can understand why that is happening.

Yes, we wish we can understand as we wonder about what is happening around us as we see the death and sickness, poverty and hunger, plagues and famine, wars and natural disasters.

We see bad things happening to good people, evil being returned for good, and we wonder if God sees, if God knows what is happening.

But God may also be asking us if we can really see and really understand what is happening around us.

A group of students were asked to list what they thought were the present "Seven Wonders of the World." Though there were some disagreements, the following received the most votes: Egypt's Great Pyramids; the Taj Mahal; the Grand Canyon; the Panama Canal; the Empire State Building; St. Peter's Basilica and China's Great Wall.

While gathering the votes, the teacher noted that one student had not finished her paper yet. So she asked the girl if she was having trouble with her list. 

The girl replied, "Yes, a little. I couldn't quite make up my mind because there were so many." 

The teacher said, "Well, tell us what you have, and maybe we can help." 

The girl hesitated, then read, "I think the 'Seven Wonders of the World' are: 1. to see; 2. to hear; 3. to touch; 4. to taste; 5. to feel; 6. to laugh; 7. and to love."

The room was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop. The things we overlook as simple and ordinary and that we take for granted are truly wondrous!

So even as Jesus reminds us that all things will pass, He also reminds us that our faith will help us endure and eventually win us our lives.

The 7 wonders of the ancient world have passed and only one is still remaining. The wonders of our present world will also pass along with time, and with that we too will pass.

But the most precious and wonderful things in life cannot be built by hand or bought by man. 

To see, to hear, to touch, to taste, to feel, to laugh and to love are indeed wonderful. Let us wonder at these and we will realise how wonderful God is and how wonderful He wants our lives to be.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

32nd Ordinary Sunday, Year C, 06.11.16

2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14 / 2 Thess 2:16 – 3:5 / Luke 20:27-38

If we are around the front entrance of the church and if we bother to look up, we will see something odd, something that shouldn’t be there.

Everything that needs to be there is there, but in that beautiful and majestic façade, there is something that disturbs the view.

Because up there on the roof, we see something growing. Call it weeds, call it wild plants, or whatever they are called, those wild plants present two difficult questions.

Just how did they grow up there? No one planted them there; they just grew from “don’t-know-what”.

And just how did they keep growing? Up there is just concrete. There is no soil. So where did those wild plants get the stuff to keep growing?

And someone can tell me that she thought we put some plants up there to decorate the roof! 

But something needs to be done and something is going to be done about those plants up there. We cannot let those plants keep growing into bushes.

Talking about bushes, the gospel mentioned something about a bush and it is connected with Moses. We will remember that episode in the Book of Exodus about Moses and the burning bush.
For Moses, that encounter with the burning bush was just the beginning of a very dramatic mission of leading God’s people out of slavery from Egypt. 

One of the highlights of that mission was the parting of the Red Sea, where the Israelites crossed dry-footed but the Egyptian army perished when the waters closed in on them.

That scene is retold in art and in movies but of course there are people who are skeptical about it.

A boy was reading the Bible and his uncle came along and asked what was so interesting in there. "Hey uncle," said the boy in return with a bright laugh, "Don't you have any idea what God is able to do? I just read that God opened up the waves of the Red Sea and led the whole nation of Israel right through the middle." 

The enlightened man laughed lightly, sat down next to the boy and began to try to open his eyes to the "realities" of the miracles of the Bible. "That can all be very easily explained. Modern scholarship has shown that the Red Sea in that area was only 10-inches deep at that time. It was no problem for the Israelites to wade across." 

The boy was stumped. His eyes wandered from the man back to the Bible that was lying open in his lap. The man, content that he had enlightened a poor, naive young boy to the finer points of scientific insight, turned to go. Scarcely had he taken two steps when the boy began to praise God loudly. 

The man turned to ask the reason for this unexpected reaction from the boy. "Wow!" Exclaimed the boy happily, "God is greater than I thought! Not only did He lead the whole nation of Israel through the Red Sea, He topped it off by drowning the whole Egyptian army in just 10 inches of water. Wow!”

So for those who believe, no explanation is necessary. But for those who don’t believe, no explanation is possible.

And for us who believe in the resurrection, Jesus has this to tell us – God is God, not of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all men are in fact alive.

And for us who believe that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, St. Paul has this to tell us in the 2nd reading: May our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father who has given us His love and, through His grace, such inexhaustible comfort and such sure hope, comfort you and strengthen you in everything good that you do and say.

The God that we believe in, is a living God and the God of the living, and in God we find comfort and hope for our lives. The Lord is faithful and He will give us strength and guard us from the evil one.

During World War II, a US marine was separated from his unit on a Pacific Island. The fighting had been intense, and in the smoke and the crossfire he had lost touch with his comrades. 

Alone in the jungle, he could hear enemy soldiers coming in his direction. Scrambling for cover, he found his way up a high ridge to several small caves in the rock. Quickly he crawled inside one of the caves. Although safe for the moment, he realized that once the enemy soldiers looking for him swept up the ridge, they would quickly search all the caves and he would be killed. 

As he waited, he prayed, "Lord, if it be Your will, please protect me. Whatever Your will though, I love You and trust You. Amen." 

After praying, he lay quietly listening as the enemy began to draw close. He thought, "Well, I guess the Lord isn't going to help me out of this one." Then he saw a spider begin to build a web over the front of his cave. 

As he watched, listening to the enemy searching for him all the while, the spider layered strand after strand of web across the opening of the cave. 

"Ha!” he thought. "What I need is a brick wall and what the Lord has sent me is a spider web. God does have a sense of humour." 

As the enemy drew closer, he watched from the darkness of his hideout and could see them searching one cave after another. As they came to his, he got ready to make his last stand. To his amazement, however, after glancing in the direction of his cave, they moved on. Suddenly, he realized that with the spider web over the entrance, his cave looked as if no one had entered for quite a while. "Lord, forgive me," prayed the young man. "I had forgotten that in You a spider's web is stronger than a brick wall." 

We all face times of great trouble. When we do, it is so easy to forget the victories that God would work in our lives, sometimes in the most surprising ways.

But that’s when we encounter the living God, just as Moses encountered the living God in the burning bush and in the parting of the Red Sea.

So when there are burning issues in our lives, whether it is wild plants growing on the roof, or the question about the mystery of the afterlife, let us listen to the voice of the living God.

It is in listening to the voice of the living God that we will come alive and live our lives in the ways of the Lord.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

31st Ordinary Sunday, Year C, 30.10.2016

Wisdom 11:22 – 12:2 / 2 Thes 1:11 – 2:2 / Luke 19:1-10

There is a fruit that is peculiar to this part of the world. The characteristics of this fruit are these: it has a strong smell, it has a hard spiky shell, but its flesh is soft and a bit sticky to the fingers.
Yes, the fruit that we are talking about is the durian! Some will die for it, but some might die from it. 

And it’s all because of the smell. It is said that the durian  "smells like hell but tastes like heaven". Again that is also debatable. For some it smells like heaven and tastes like heaven; for others it smells like hell and tastes like hell.

Another peculiarity about the durian is that it cannot be plucked. When it is ripe, the spiky hard-shell fruit will fall off naturally from the tree.

Durian die-hard fans will even wait for the fruit to fall in order to get their prize. The yellowish flesh of the durian is almost worth its weight in gold.

But waiting for the durian to fall from the tree can be a risky business. Let’s say, if a bowling ball, a coconut, and a durian all fall down and hit your head. Which one hurts the most? 

Answer: Your head!

The lesson from nature about the durian is that fruits taste best when they are ripe. But most of the fruits from the shops and supermarket were plucked when they are half-ripe so that they still can have a shelf-life.

Although the difference might just be a few days or a few weeks, yet it makes a lot of difference when it comes to a naturally ripe taste and a forced ripe taste.

In today’s gospel, we heard of a wealthy senior tax collector called Zacchaeus who climbed a sycamore tree in order to have a look at Jesus.

He was anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was, so he climbed on the tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus who was to pass that way.
When Jesus came to that spot, he looked up and said to him: Zacchaeus, come down; hurry because I must stay at your house today.

It seemed that all of a sudden, things happened so fast for Zacchaeus. But things happened for a reason, and a good reason.

In the first place, why was Zacchaeus curious about Jesus? Maybe because he heard that one of his followers was Matthew, the former tax collector.

Maybe he heard how Jesus was friendly with tax collectors and sinners and those despised and rejected by society.

Zacchaeus may be materially rich, yet he also longed to be spiritually fulfilled. He may have realized that he had material riches but not true riches.

And Zacchaeus may not have realized it but when he climbed the sycamore tree, he was already ripening.

He was just ready to be called by Jesus to begin the road of conversion and repentance. It may have taken some time, but it’s all in the Lord’s time.

And the 1st reading has this to say about God’s mercy: Little by little therefore, You correct those who offend. You are merciful to all, because You can do all things and overlook men’s sins so that they can repent.

So when Jesus reached the spot He looked up and spoke to him: “Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I must stay at your house today.” And he hurried down the tree and welcomed Jesus joyfully.

When Zacchaeus came down from the tree, it was like the durian falling to the ground. But it was also a ground shaking moment, because that was the moment when the sinner fell into the mercy of God. But all this happens in God’s time and when it happens it is wonderful to see.

There is a story about an elephant and a dog that became pregnant at same time. Three months down the line the dog gave birth to six puppies. Six months later the dog was pregnant again, and nine months on, it gave birth to another dozen puppies. The pattern continued.

On the eighteenth month the dog approached the elephant questioning, "Are you sure that you are pregnant? We became pregnant on the same date, I have given birth three times to a dozen puppies and they are now grown to become big dogs, yet you are still pregnant. What’s going on?"

The elephant replied, "There is something that you must understand. What I am carrying is not a puppy but an elephant. I only give birth to one in two years. When my baby hits the ground, the earth feels it. When my baby crosses the road, human beings stop and watch in admiration. What I carry draws attention. So what I'm carrying is mighty and great."

Indeed what the pregnant elephant is carrying is mighty and great, and when the time comes for its birth, and when it hits the ground, the earth feels it. Because weighing about 110kg at birth, the earth certainly feels it.

When Zacchaeus came down from the sycamore tree, the earth felt it.

Jesus had waited for this moment, and hence He came to seek out and save what was lost.

The durian fruit matures roughly three months after pollination. The gestation period of a baby elephant is about 23 months.

As for the appointed time of mercy to turn a person back to God, that is in God’s hands and in God’s time.

Meanwhile as we pray for the conversion of sinners and those who do evil, let us be patient and trust in the Lord.

When the time is ripe, people will climb trees just to look for Jesus.

When they come down, may we also receive them with arms of compassion and kindness.

May we continue the mission of Jesus to seek out and to save what was lost.

May we also realize that we too are sinners, and may the ground-shaking mercy of God open our hearts to conversion and repentance.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Mission Sunday, Year C, 23.10.2016

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

At the beginning of the week, we gathered all Mass offering envelopes that were in the boxes and we began recording the Mass offerings.

While we were going through the Mass offering envelopes, there was one particular envelope that we thought was rather peculiar. 

The Mass was for thanksgiving, and it was offered for a taxi driver.

The person who offered the Mass did not write down his or her name. There were no other details in the Mass offering envelope.

That sparked off a discussion about why the Mass is offered. We wondered if the taxi driver had asked the person to offer a Mass. 

Or could it be that the taxi driver had went out of his way to serve the person and so the person offered a thanksgiving Mass for him.

Whatever it is, it inspired us to pray for that taxi driver and all taxi drivers and their passengers safe on the road.

That might also bring to mind a joke about a taxi driver and a priest who died and went to heaven. The angel greeted them. He takes the taxi driver to a large mansion, then takes the priest to a smaller house. "Wait," said the priest, "Why does the taxi driver get a nicer house than me?" The angel looked at his book and said, "It says here that when you preached, people slept, but when he drove, people prayed!"  : )

Well, let us also pray for taxi drivers who bring us safely to our destinations.

Taxi drivers have this responsibility and mission to give us a comfortable ride and bring us safely to our destination.

And when we think about it, then we as Christians also have a responsibility and a mission.

Today the Church celebrates Mission Sunday and we are reminded of this responsibility and mission. And it is none other than Jesus who reminds us of this.

We heard Him say in the gospel: Go out to the whole world, proclaim the Good News to all creation.

And He continues with this: These are the signs that will be associated with believers: in my name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and be unharmed should they drink deadly poison; they will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover.

As much as it may sound exciting, we may just end up wishing, wishing that we could see these signs, wishing that we can also perform these signs. And it is rather embarrassing to say that we may not have even accomplished any one of those signs.

For example, we pray for the sick and lay our hands on them. We can only hope they recover. And if they don’t then we just shrug our shoulders and we leave it at that.

But can there be more than that? Because Jesus tells us to go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News. 

And the essence of the Good News is that we must believe the good that God has planted in us and it is with this goodness in us that we can give a Christian response to evil and danger and sickness.

There is this story on the television program “60 minutes”. It was about a family with a religiously devout mother, a rather shy father, and their 10 year-old daughter who was wheelchair bound due to some spinal deformity.

Every year, the family make a pilgrimage to Lourdes, where healing is reported to occur. They were being interviewed by a reporter who was a typical sophisticated, secular man, and he was giving the family a hard time for being so gullible to miracles.

At one point, the reporter turned to the little girl and asked: When you pray, what do you pray for?

She replied: I pray for my daddy that he won’t be so shy because it makes him quite lonely.

That stopped the reporter for a few seconds, but he pressed on ahead, questioning the family’s purpose, and saying to the mother that they spend so much money every year going to Lourdes and there is still no miracle.

Then looking at her husband and her daughter, the mother answered: Oh you don’t get it. We have our miracle.

So do we get it? Do we know what miracle the mother is talking about? Or are we like the reporter who doesn’t seem to get it?

When we think about it, the good that God has planted in us is the miracle, and it is with the goodness that is within that we proclaim the Good News.

Today, we have 17 young children who will be receiving Holy Communion for the first time.

For these 17 young children, they will receive Jesus into their hearts and be filled with the goodness of God.

Indeed, a miracle is happening to them, and a miracle is also happening to us as we too receive Holy Communion.

We too are being filled with the goodness of God so that we can see the good in everything and give thanks for everything.

Yes, we give thanks to the parents and catechists who prepared these children for their First Holy Communion.

We give thanks that even in our struggles and difficulties and sickness, we can still see the miracles that God is working in us and through us.

We give thanks for simple things like taxi drivers who give us a comfortable ride and bring us safely to our destination.

It is in giving thanks that the Good News is proclaimed.

So let us proclaim the Good News at all times, use words if necessary, but give thanks always, because that is what is Good News is all about.