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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mission Sunday, Year B, 21.10.2012

Isaiah 53:10-11/ Hebrew 4:14-16/ Mark 10:35-45

Church of St Teresa 1928

This church was built in 1928. So even after 84 years it still looks as elegant and beautiful as when it was first built.

Officially known as the Church of St. Teresa (of the Child Jesus), we would also fondly call it the “Kampong Bahru church”.

This is also the first rural church that was built in Singapore, keeping in mind that was in 1928, and “Kampong Bahru” in Malay means “new village”.

So we can say that this is the first outstation church in Singapore at that time, because the other churches were in the city area.

As for the locality and the design of the church, we will have to look at the two founding fathers of the parish – Fr. Emile Mariette and Fr. Stephen Lee. 

Fr Emile Mariette
Fr. Mariette credited the acquisition of the land through the intercession of St. Teresa who was canonized in 1925, and hence this church was dedicated to her.

The architecture of this church was inspired by the Romano-Byzantine design of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Paris.

Since the church was on a high ground, the founding fathers thought that it should be a stately gracious white building with steeples and a dome topped with a cross.

Probably Fr. Mariette and Fr. Lee had hoped that the church would be what was described of the Temple of the Lord in the 1st reading.

“The mountain of the Temple of the Lord shall tower above the mountains and be lifted higher than the hills. All nations will stream to it, and they will say : Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, the Temple of the God of Jacob, that He may teach us His ways and that we may walk in His paths.”

Certainly, this church stands as a witness to God’s presence and an instrument for the proclamation of the Good News of salvation.

Today as the whole Church celebrates Mission Sunday, we are reminded of the Great Commissioning.

Jesus commissions us to proclaim the Good News to the whole world and that He will confirm our message by the signs that will accompany it.

And today we are gathered as the People of God; we are also gathered as a sign and we are also gathered in the sign.

And what is this sign? Well, this church is the sign. This church was built and pioneered by Fr. Mariette and Fr. Lee and the Catholic community that grew from it and grew with it.

Yes, we must not forget them and we must remember the faith that they had even in the face of challenges and difficulties and even tragedies.

Well, to build a church like this in those days certainly required a princely sum. But it was certainly well built, as we can see it even today.

Certainly raising money for the land and subsequently for the building wasn’t easy but it was indeed an act of faith that was expressed in charity and generosity from Catholics that made it possible. It was a sign, a good sign.

Yet having said that, there were also setbacks and tragedies. Fr. Mariette who was the driving force behind the church-building project died tragically when a falling plank hit him on the head while he was inspecting the construction work.

Certainly his tragic death was a setback but the work has to go on and Fr. Stephen Lee immediately took over.

Yes, the mission to build a place of worship for Catholics continued, and Fr. Lee even managed to establish a school nearby and also the Carmelite Monastery.

Again we could see the Lord giving signs to encourage the Church to continue with the mission.

In the pastoral area, Fr. Lee kept detailed dairies of his work and events and everything that went on around him. We have him to thank for in this unfolding of the rich history and missionary work of the Church of St. Teresa.

There is this rather interesting entry in one of his diaries :
“Margaret Tan who was baptized with one of her sisters at the Church on 24th December 1929, was from July 1930 gravely ill from unknown causes, and thought to be possibly inflicted by evil spirits. I was called for and gave her confession, Communion and administered Extreme Unction (anointing of the sick). After this she became delirious and groaned pitifully. She was immediately sent to the hospital where the doctor said that “she was suffering from typhoid and pneumonia which was so serious, there was very little hope of recovery”. She was sinking rapidly and her mother begged me to make a Novena to St. Teresa to cure her daughter. I then gave her a relic of the hairs of St. Teresa. Seeing this, Margaret began biting at the relic cover, and soon after that got better and fully recovered. Thanks to St. Teresa of the Child Jesus, for in reality all hope was lost of her recovery.

Call it amazing, call it incredible, but certainly in the early days of the parish, there were signs of repentance and conversion, deliverance and healing.
Fr Stephen Lee

Such was the missionary spirit of this parish in the early days and when the Church in Singapore was still rather young.

The missionary work of Fr. Mariette and Fr. Lee and the early parish community must not be forgotten as they laid the foundations, and on this Mission Sunday we remember them and give thanks to God.

It is for us now to continue what they have built up so that this parish will be a sign and an instrument of the Good News.

But what are we to do? What are our ideas and hopes and dreams in this missionary work?

Once upon a mountain top, three little trees stood and dreamed of what they wanted to become when they grew up. The first little tree looked up at the stars and said: "I want to hold treasure. I want to be covered with gold and filled with precious stones. I'll be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world!" The second little tree looked out at the small stream trickling by on its way to the ocean. "I want to be traveling mighty waters and carrying powerful kings. I'll be the strongest ship in the world!” The third little tree looked down into the valley below where busy men and women worked in a busy town. “I don't want to leave the mountain top at all. I want to grow so tall that when people stop to look at me they'll raise their eyes to heaven and think of God. I will be the tallest tree in the world.” 

Years, passed. The rain came, the sun shone and the little trees grew tall. One day three wood cutters climbed the mountain. The first wood cutter looked at the first tree and said, "This tree is beautiful. It is perfect for me." With a swoop of his shining ax, the first tree fell. The first tree said "Now I shall make a beautiful chest, I shall hold wonderful treasure!". 

The second wood cutter looked at the second tree and said, "This tree is strong. It's perfect for me." With a swing of his shining ax, the second tree fell. The second tree thought, "Now I shall sail mighty waters! I shall be a strong ship for mighty kings!" 

The third tree felt her heart sink when the last wood cutter looked her way. She stood straight and tall and pointed bravely to heaven. But the wood cutter never even looked up. "Any kind of tree will do for me." He muttered. With a swoop of his shining ax, the third tree fell. 

The first tree rejoiced when the wood cutter brought her to a carpenter's shop. But the carpenter fashioned the tree into a feed box for animals. The once beautiful tree was not covered with gold, or treasure. She was coated with saw dust and filled with hay for hungry farm animals. The second tree smiled when the wood cutter took her to a shipyard, but no mighty sailing ship was made that day. Instead the once strong tree was hammered and awed into a simple fishing boat. She was too small and too weak to sail to an ocean, or even a river, instead she was taken to a little lake. The third tree was confused when the wood cutter cut her into strong beams and left her in a lumberyard. "What happened?" The once tall tree wondered. " All I ever wanted was to stay on the mountain top and point to God..." 

Many days and nights passed. The three trees nearly forgot their dreams. But one night, golden starlight poured over the first tree as a young woman placed her newborn baby in the feed box. Her husband whispered, "I wish I could make a cradle for him." The mother smiled as the starlight shone on the smooth and sturdy wood. "This manger is beautiful." She said. And suddenly the first tree knew he was holding the greatest treasure in the world. 

One evening a tired traveler and his friends crowded into the old fishing boat. The traveler fell asleep as the second tree quietly sailed out into the lake. Soon a thundering and a thrashing storm arose. The little tree shuddered. She knew she did not have the strength to carry so many passengers safely through the wind and the rain. The tired man awoke. He stood up, stretched out his hand, and said, "Be still!" The storm stopped as quickly as it had begun. And suddenly the second tree knew she was carrying the king of heaven and earth. 

One Friday morning, the third tree was startled when her beams were yanked from the forgotten wood pile. She flinched as she was carried through an angry jeering crowd. She shuddered when soldiers nailed a man's hand to her. She felt ugly and harsh and cruel. But on Sunday morning, when the sun rose and the earth trembled with joy beneath her, the third tree knew that God's love had changed everything. It had made the third tree strong. And every time people thought of the third tree, they would think of God. That was better than being the tallest tree in the world.

So actually each of the trees got what they wanted, just not in the way they had imagined.

So when things don't seem to be going our way, always know that God has a plan for us. We just need to have faith and trust in Him. 
Church of St Teresa 2012

We don't always know what God's plans for us are. But we know He has a mission for us. 

Let us keep praying and be prepared for whatever God wants us to do.