Saturday, August 19, 2017

20th Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 20.08.2017

Isaiah 56:1, 6-7 / Romans 11:13-15, 29-32 / Matthew 15:21-28

When it comes to persistence and perseverance, the one example that might come to mind is how some people chase after their luck at the 4D, by betting on those elusive four numbers that generates so much of excitement.

For some, it goes beyond excitement to even investment, as they put in their money on the combination of their “lucky” four numbers and hope to strike a fortune.

It seems to be simple enough. Just pick four numbers that seem to be lucky and then go to the bookie and then wait excitedly.

And when it comes to picking those four numbers, there are plenty of options: car-plate number, house number, IC number, hand-phone number, birth date, etc.

What keeps the excitement and the persistence going is not so much when they strike the first prize (which actually is far and few between) but those near-misses – that one digit, or the incorrect combination, or like how they say it “didn’t buy that number this week and it came out as first prize, so next week must continue to buy”

So the excitement and the persistence continue, and they keep on investing and chasing that elusive four-digit first prize. That being said, betting on 4D is a form of gambling, which is a vice that will cause moral and spiritual problems. The Church has spoken out against gambling in all its forms. 

The only thing to say about this is that the persistence and perseverance is quite commendable. Otherwise, 4D or gambling will create difficult problems and should be discouraged.

In the gospel, we heard of a very persistent and persevering woman, a Canaanite, a non-Jew. But she was not looking for some lucky 4D number to strike the first prize.

She came before Jesus to ask for the healing of her daughter who was tormented by a devil.

This gospel passage would catch our attention because we would have noticed a very different attitude of Jesus.

At first He answered her not a word. Then the disciples seem to plead for her, but that was because she was shouting after them.

And then Jesus gave some kind of exclusive nationalistic reply by saying that He was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.

And that Canaanite woman had to stop Jesus in His tracks by coming before Him and kneeling at His feet and made her desperate plea with “Lord, help me.”

Even with that, Jesus seemed still reluctant and even said that it was not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house dogs. That doesn’t seem to be the Jesus that we are familiar with, the Jesus who is kind and compassionate, and loving and merciful.

At this point that Canaanite woman could have felt insulted and despised and she could have hit back at Jesus. After all she was in her own territory and Jesus was in a foreign land.

But instead of being vindictive, she chose to give a witty reply. She agreed with Jesus and was willing to take whatever scraps that fall off from the table. She was sure that there can be something for her.

And for that Jesus commended her for her faith and granted her wish and from that moment her daughter was well again.

So it was a happy ending. It might be the persistence, perseverance and wit of that Canaanite woman that impressed us, but it was the faith of that woman that impressed Jesus and He commended her for that.

It was her faith that told her not to give up with just one rejection. She actually got three rejections from Jesus. 

One rejection does not mean it is the final decision, just as one winter does not mean that there is no summer.

There was a man who had four sons. He wanted his sons to learn to not judge things too quickly. So he sent them each, in turn, to go and look at a fruit tree that was a great distance away. The first son went in the winter, the second in the spring, the third in summer, and the youngest son in the autumn.

When they had all gone and came back, he called them together to describe what they had seen. The first son said that the tree was ugly, bent, and twisted. The second son said it was covered with green buds and full of promise. The third son disagreed, he said it was laden with blossoms that smelled so sweet and looked so beautiful, it was the most graceful thing he had ever seen. The last son disagreed with all of them; he said it was ripe and drooping with fruit, full of life and fulfillment.

The man then explained to his sons that they were all right, because they had each seen but only one season in the tree's life. He told them that they cannot judge a tree, or a person, by only one season, and that the essence of who they are and the joy and love that come from that life, can only be measured at the end, when all the seasons are up.

If we give up when it's winter, then we will miss the promise of our spring, the beauty of our summer, the fulfillment of our autumn. So don't let the pain of one season destroy the joy of all the rest.

So in the face of an apparent rejection from Jesus, the Canaanite woman persevered, persisted and was witty, and she also taught us something about prayer.

She interceded with Jesus not for herself but for her daughter. But of course, the healing of her daughter also benefitted her. 

Which makes us think about who and what is the priority in our prayer list. If it is “me, I and my needs” then that is a bit like betting on 4D and hoping to strike the first prize. We might just be left waiting for a long time.

Yes, prayer should be persisting, persevering and even witty, but it must be for others, for Christians as well as for non-Christians, for all peoples, because as we come to church today, God is telling us this in the 1st reading: For my house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

Just as the Canaanite woman interceded for her daughter, her faith in God was also strengthened.

When we pray for others, we are actually asking God to feed them first and that we will be satisfied with whatever that falls off the table.

That may sound rather sacrificial, but as Pope Pius XII said: The salvation of many depends on the sacrifices and prayers of a few.

Let us be that few who will make that sacrifice and prayer, so that all peoples will come to know the love of God and be saved.

May we take some inspiration from that Canaanite woman and may she also pray for us.

Friday, August 18, 2017

19th Week, Ordinary Time, Saturday, 19-08-17

Joshua 24:12-29 / Matthew 19:13-15

To say that someone is going through a "second childhood" is certainly not that positive. In fact, it is rather insulting and demeaning.

Because a "second childhood" usually refers to a person of advanced age who talks and behaves in a childish manner that irritates others and also is a nuisance and causes inconvenience to others.

Furthermore, the deterioration of mental abilities would also aggravate the matter.

In the 1st reading, we heard that Joshua died at a hundred and ten years old. That was a really advanced age but his mental alertness and awareness were certainly not diminished.

He urged Israel in his exhortation to remember the marvels the Lord had done for them and he challenged the people to make a decision to choose who they wish to serve.

Joshua himself remembered what the Lord had done for him in empowering him to lead Israel to conquer the enemies before them and to occupy their land.

He had been a great military commander who had lead Israel to many victories but that was not important to him any more.

At a hundred and ten years old, he had come to a humility and a simplicity of a child and he knew that he and his household only wanted to serve the Lord and be His children.

As Jesus said in the gospel, the kingdom of God belongs to little children who have the humility and simplicity to trust in the Lord in all things.

Let us pray for the humility and simplicity of a little child to trust in the Lord. That is what is needed first in order to serve the Lord.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

19th Week, Ordinary Time, Friday, 18-08-17

Joshua 24:1-13 / Matthew 19:3-12

Fairy-tale marriages usually end with "and they lived happily ever after".

Of course we hope and pray that all marriages will be like that, and not just those fairy-tale marriages.

But it is not just with marriages, but in whatever state in life, whether single, or widowed, or religious or priesthood, we want to live happily ever after.

In the 1st reading, Joshua gathered all the tribes together with the elders, leaders, judges and scribes before the Lord.

They had already crossed into the Promised Land and  they have overcome their enemies and were beginning to settle down.

And that's when Joshua reminded them that it was not the work of their sword or their bow. Moreover, the Lord gave them a land where they had not toiled, they lived in towns they never built, they ate from vineyard and olive groves they never planted.

In short, God had entered into a covenant with them and blessed them. Where once they were a people wondering in the desert, now they have a land of their own. Once, they were eating only manna and quails. Now, they are in land flowing with milk and honey.

So they would live happily ever after. They should. What more could they ask for? But when we read the Old Testament as well as the New Testament, we know what happened when they were settled down.

They were unfaithful to God, they broke the covenant, turned to idolatry, and did all sorts of things that displeased God. They did not live happily ever after. and it was all their doing.

In the gospel, Jesus gave a teaching about marriage in response to a question about divorce. He reiterated that from the beginning God blessed marriage and married couples can live happily ever after.

But it is not just with marriage. In every vocation and in every state of life, we are also called to a life of happiness.

But this happiness can only be achieved when the building of God's kingdom is the objective and purpose in the vocation and state of life that we are in.

Then with God's blessings, we will live happily ever after.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

19th Week, Ordinary Time, Thursday, 17-08-17

Joshua 3:7-11, 13-17 / Matthew 18:21 - 19:1

To cross a river is certainly not an easy task. Rivers may vary in width but a river is still a river and there are also undercurrents that may not be noticeable on the surface of the water.

The 1st reading recalls the Israelites crossing the Jordan river into the Promised Land. Though it may not be as dramatic as when they crossed the Red Sea, nonetheless a river is still a river, and with the waters being stopped for the Israelites to cross over, then a miracle is still a miracle.

What is important is that it was the Lord who paved the way for them. It was He who stopped the flowing waters of the river when the priests carrying the ark of the covenant set their feet in the waters of the Jordan river.

And the ark of the covenant remained in the middle of the river until the whole nation had crossed over.

A spiritual aspect that can be drawn from this river crossing is that the Lord God must be our first, our last, and our in-between option whenever we have to make decisions as to which direction to take or what to do.

More often that not, we turn to the Lord as our last option, when all other options had failed for us.

But in the crossing of the Jordan river, the ark of the covenant carried by the priests, which represents the presence of the Lord God, was the first to step into the river, and the last to step out of it.

So in the various aspects of our lives, especially in the area of forgiveness, let us turn to the Lord God to step into our hearts and to soften it so that we can cross the waters of anger, resentment and bitterness towards the peace of forgiveness and reconciliation.

May we always turn to the Lord in all things, because He wants to be our first, our last and our in-between choice.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

19th Week, Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 16-08-17

Deuteronomy 34:1-12 / Matthew 18:15-20

Moses truly lived to a ripe old age. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, his eye undimmed, his vigour unimpaired.

Given such assets, we may wonder why the Lord God would only let him see the Promised Land but would not let him cross into it.

Surely he would be able to lead the people into the Promised Land and lead them for a while more till they are more settled.

But Moses did not protest against the will of God. Maybe he has seen enough and he had the clarity of vision to see that it is time to step down, and even though he may have the strength to continue, it was also time to take his rest in the Lord.

He also knew what a powerful instrument the Lord God had made him into - he worked signs and wonders in Egypt; he gave the people the Law of God; he lead them through the desert.

But it was time to return to the Lord and to let Joshua take on the leadership of the people as they cross into the Promised Land.

Indeed, with undimmed eyes and unimpaired vigour, Moses set his eyes on the Lord and made that final journey back to the Lord.

So it was not with sadness or regret that Moses cannot cross into the Promised Land. It was with joy that he knew his time with his people had come to an end and his time with the Lord was going to begin.

May we too with undimmed eyes see the plan and the purpose that God has for us. May we also love the Lord with all our strength and fulfill the plan and the purpose He has for us.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Assumption of the BVM, Tuesday, 15-08-17

Apocalypse 11:19; 12:1-6. 10 / 1 Cor 15:20-26 / Luke 1:39-56

When Jesus was hanging on the cross and just before He gave up His spirit, He turned to His mother and the disciple He loved standing near her, and He said to His mother, “Woman, this is your son.” (John 19:26)

Then to the disciple He said, “This is your mother.” And from that moment the disciple made a place for her in his home. After this Jesus knew that everything had now been completed. (John 19:27-28)

This beloved disciple, often identified as St. John, later took Mary to his home in Ephesus. From extra biblical sources, Mary lived there for many years before she died and was buried in a tomb.

But it didn’t just end there. These extra biblical sources also related that one of the Apostles, St. Thomas, was absent when Mary died and was buried.

When he came to Ephesus and wanting to pay his respect, he asked to see her body. But upon opening the tomb, Mary’s body was not there. Instead, there were sweet smelling flowers growing at where her body laid.

The rest of the Apostles attested that the tomb was not opened ever since Mary’s body was laid in it, and hence they concluded that God must have assumed her body into heaven along with her soul. And since they had witnessed the Ascension of Jesus into heaven, they concluded that the same thing happened to Mary.

And since Mary was conceived without sin, sin had not touched or defiled her soul, then God would not allow her body to turn to dust, but rather assumed her body to heaven to share in the glory of the Risen Christ.

Since then till now, it was the common belief in the Church that Mary’s body was assumed into heaven. But it was only in 1950, 15th August, that Pope Pius XII officially declared Mary’s Assumption as an article of faith.

In other words, the Church has boldly declared that Mary is in heaven, body and soul, a declaration that is definite and irreversible. It was a declaration not just on the authority of the Church but also under the authority of the Holy Spirit.

With this declaration, our faith in the saving power of God is reinforced. Mary is the first to be saved by the saving work of Jesus, and the first to enter heaven body and soul, hence assuring us that we too will join her one day.

At the same time, our faith in Mary’s intercession is also reinforced, because from heaven she continues to pray for us as our Heavenly Mother, a mission that she received at the foot of the cross and that she continues even in heaven.

So like the beloved disciple, let us make for Mary a place in the home of our hearts. Let us offer her our prayers and ask for her intercession.

And let us also pray with her for the salvation of all peoples. That’s what her Assumption means. That’s what being disciples of Jesus is all about.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

19th Week, Ordinary Time, Monday, 14-08-17

Deut 10:12-22 / Matthew 17:22-27

There are times when we find ourselves in this kind of a tricky and sticky situation - we say "Yes" to something and then we soon realize that we said yes to something that is not right.

Furthermore, we find ourselves stuck in between two parties who are unwilling to budge or give way over that matter.

Such was the situation with Peter in the gospel passage. The tax collectors told him to ask Jesus to pay the tax of the half-shekel.

He said yes to them without thinking, but then on his way to Jesus, he might have thought of kicking himself for shooting off his mouth. And now he had to face Jesus about the question of the tax.

And when he came to Jesus, he was put again into this question of taxes and again from his own mouth he found himself contradicting himself.

But fortunately for Peter, Jesus didn't want to be drawn into such a matter involving money and the paying of taxes.

And He saved Peter from being cornered in a sticky situation. But would Peter learn the lesson from this?

And would we learn a lesson from this too? The least we can learn is the 3 Ts : "Think Then Talk!"

But if we heed what Moses told the people in the 1st reading, then we can avoid those tricky and sticky situations.

"What does the Lord ask of you? Only this: to fear the Lord our God, to follow his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul, to keep the commandments and laws of the Lord that for your good that I lay down for you today."

So for today, let us think about what the Lord is asking of us and then we talk about what is the good and right thing to do.