Monday, December 11, 2017

2nd Week of Advent, Tuesday, 12-12-17

Isaiah 40:1-11 / Matthew 18:12-14

December 12, 1531 was a very special day in the history of the Catholic Church and Mexico.

Prior to that, on December 9,1531, a poor and humble Aztec Juan Diego saw an apparition of a young girl at the Hill of Tepeyac, near Mexico City, and he recognized her as the Virgin Mary.

Juan Diego told his story to the Spanish Archbishop of Mexico City,  who instructed him to return to Tepeyac Hill, and ask the "lady" for a miraculous sign to prove her identity.

The first sign was the healing of Juan's uncle who was suffering from a deadly illness. Then Mary told him to gather flowers from the top of Tepeyac Hill.

Although December was very late in the growing season for flowers to bloom, Juan Diego found Castilian roses, not native to Mexico, on the normally barren hilltop.

Then Mary arranged these in his peasant cloak or tilma. When Juan Diego opened his cloak before the Archbishop on December 12, the flowers fell to the floor, and on the fabric was the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

With that, and also within a short time, about six million native Mexicans were baptized and Christianity grew from then onwards. It also brought about a reconciliation between the Spanish conquerors and the natives.

Indeed, the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is nothing less than a divine piece of art by the divine painter.

Yes, God wants us to know that He is always present among us, not only through the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, but also in our Advent preparations, as we prepare for the Word to be made flesh in our lives again.

May we also give Jesus the authority over our lives so that we will be living images of His presence to others.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

2nd Week of Advent, Monday, 11-12-17

Isaiah 35:1-10 / Luke 5:17-26

To be exiled would generally means to be away from one's home and country, and forbidden to return and even threatened with imprisonment or death upon return.

Usually the exile is forced upon an individual or a group or a nation, and it also usually means a deportation outside the country of residence.

Israel experienced one such exile in 586 BC when the Babylonians captured Jerusalem and razed the Temple to the ground and the inhabitants were exiled in Babylon.

It is difficult to understand the sufferings of the exile. It is enough to say that it was tragic with everything and all hope being lost.

But the 1st reading was precisely for the exiles in Babylon to give them the hope that God had not abandoned them nor forgotten them.

Triumphant and encouraging words were used: Courage! Do not be afraid. Look, your God is coming, vengeance is coming, the retribution of God; He is coming to save you.

In a way, we can say that the paralysed man in the gospel was in some form of exile - an internal exile.

He might have been forgotten and abandoned but he still had the support of some friends who brought him to Jesus, even though it took more effort than they expected.

Yet in the end, the paralysed man was healed and liberated from that internal exile.

As for ourselves, we are also called to look into our hearts and into our lives to see if we are living in some kind of spiritual exile, as in that we have chosen to stay away from God because of some anger or bitterness or resentment.

But God wants to save us and liberate us. The 1st reading would describe those who are freed and liberated as "shouting for joy, everlasting joy in their faces; joy and gladness will go with them and sorrow and lament be ended".

May we too experience such joy and gladness in our Advent journey towards Christmas.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

2nd Sunday of Advent, Year B, 10.12.17

Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11 / 2 Peter 3:8-14 / Mark 1:1-8

By now the unmistakable sounds of Christmas music will be dominating the airwaves.

As early as the beginning of November and even before the Orchard Road light-up, Christmas music is heard in supermarkets and shopping malls.

And the repertoire can be anything from party-music “Jingle Bells” to the holier “Little Town of Bethlehem”.

For those of us (like myself) who are from the CD era when we collected music on compact discs, we would be taking out those discs and playing our favourite Christmas songs or converting them to MP3.

And it is a nice, warm, sentimental feeling, hearing those songs. After all, it is only at this time of the year that we play this kind of music.

And these Christmas songs are like the evergreens of holly and pine. We don’t seem to get tired of hearing them. I too, have my favourite collection of Christmas songs, I play them year after year, I am so familiar with them but I still love to hear them over and over again.

But more than just a nice, warm sentimental feeling, these Christmas songs bring about some reflection and reminiscing.

They give a portrait of how we have celebrated, or survived, past Christmases, and they also prepare us for a Christmas that is to come, 14 more days, to be exact.

Maybe there is a voice in those Christmas carols or songs, a voice that reminds us of the past as well as reminds us that there is a future.

In the 1st reading, as the people of God lived in the wilderness of exile, the prophet Isaiah is the voice of God as he spoke these words, “Console my people, console them” says your God. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and call to her that her time of service is ended, that her sin is atoned for, that she has received from the hand of the Lord double punishment for all her crimes.

The consoling voice of the prophet brings the Word of God to His people, and the voice of consolation also gives a direction: Prepare in the wilderness a way for the Lord. Make a straight highway for our God across the desert.

So, in the wilderness of exile where life is as barren as the desert, the Lord consoles His people and promises to bring them home. They just have to prepare themselves by making a straight highway for the Lord to bring them out of the land of exile and back to their homeland.

In the gospel, in the beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, it declared that God is going to send a messenger and he will prepare the way for His people. 

John the Baptist was the messenger and his voice cries out in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

But his call for repentance is also with a voice of consolation that though the past was in sin, the future is salvation.

It is the voice of consolation that gave the people their hope in God’s Word, and in repentance they turned towards salvation.

Over the past week, I had the privilege to be the voice of consolation for two people.

One was to a lady who, six months ago, was diagnosed with lung cancer. Six months ago, when she came to see me and talked about her situation, she raised this question: Will I do her funeral?

It was a difficult question but I knew I had to give her a reply and so I said yes. It brought her much consolation, but I remembered that I had to ask Jesus to help me fulfill this obligation.

Last Thursday was her funeral and I told her children I had come to fulfill a promise. It was not just my promise to her but the Lord’s promise to her. I can only thank God that I was able to fulfill it.

I told her children that their mother is going to spend her first Christmas in heaven and that consoled them.

On Wednesday evening, I went to visit Fr. John Baptist Tou in the hospital. He was in the ICU and critically ill. The doctors had earlier advised that Fr. Tou may not have much time left.

When I saw him, I too felt that there was not much time left for him, so I administered the Last Rites and I told him, though he was unconscious, to hold on to Jesus’ hand and He will bring him home. 

And I left a picture of the Sacred Heart next to his pillow. He passed on peacefully the next day. The funeral will be on Monday, at the Church of St. Bernadette.

In the wilderness of sickness, the Word of the Lord came upon those two people. Like John the Baptist, I was just the voice that brought them the consolation that they needed.

And like John the Baptist, I also knew that I am just the messenger who must proclaim the Word of God, for the voice of the messenger will fade and disappear but the Word of God will remain.

In this time of Advent, as we hear these Christmas carols, let us also listen to the voice in them. May that voice bring us consolation in the wilderness of our lives so that we will turn to the Word of God and find hope, and in turn let us be messengers of the Word of God and be a voice of consolation for others.

Friday, December 8, 2017

1st Week of Advent, Saturday, 09-12-17

Isaiah 30:19-21, 25-26 / Matthew 9:35 - 10:1, 6-8

We are always attracted to this phrase: Free of charge!   Of course we would rather be receiving it than to be giving it.

Indeed, we get a spurt of happiness whenever we get something free, and more so when it is something valuable.

As we think about it, let us also reflect about the free and valuable things that God has given us daily - the warm sunshine, the rain, the fresh air, the cool evening, the beautiful moon, etc.

Most of all, the life that is beating in our hearts and the love that we experience around us.

All these are certainly blessings from God. But what if God were to charge us for His blessings?

What if God were to charge us for the help He gave us, for the times He saved us from trouble and danger, for healing us when we were sick?

But God doesn't need our money nor does He want us to pay Him back anything.

God is all loving and generous and merciful and compassionate. Furthermore it is out of His great love for us that He created us in His image and likeness.

Jesus, the greatest gift from God wants us to know this and that is why He said in today's gospel: You received without charge, give without charge.

It is not just about the material blessings that we have received from God that we are called to share without charge with others.

Our greatest treasures are in our heart, and in there are the gifts of love, care, compassion, forgiveness, patience, understanding and all the blessings that God has given us free of charge.

Let us share these gifts and blessings without charge with the others around us.

That will be one way of preparing to celebrate Christmas, because at Christmas we celebrate the greatest gift of God.

We celebrate the gift of Jesus, who was given to us free of charge.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Immaculate Conception of the BVM, Friday, 08-12-17

Genesis 3:9-15, 20 / Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12 / Luke 1:26-38

The Immaculate Conception is the conception of Mary in the womb of her mother without any stain of sin.

Church doctrine states that, from the first moment of her existence, Mary was preserved by God from the Original Sin and filled with sanctifying grace that would normally come with baptism after birth. Catholics believe Mary was free from any personal or hereditary sin.

The Immaculate Conception was proclaimed as a dogma in 1854 by Pope Pius IX. It means that it is to be accepted as an infallible statement of faith.

But why such a focus on Mary? Yet we must remember that any teaching about Mary must eventually point to Christ.

The teaching on the Immaculate Conception points to the grace of God which preserved Mary from sin at her conception in order that she will bear the divine Son of God in her at the Annunciation.

Although God removed sin from Mary at her conception, He did not remove her free will and her freedom of choice.

At the Annunciation, Mary made her choice for God's plan to be fulfilled in her.

We have been cleansed of sin at our baptism. It is for us now to remain in God's grace by choosing to do God's will always, just as Mary chose to do God's will.

On this feast of the Immaculate Conception, let us also ask for Mary's intercession for the grace to do God's will always.

Let us pray that prayer found on the Miraculous Medal, or otherwise also called the medal of the Immaculate Conception.

The prayer goes like this: O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

1st Week of Advent, Thursday, 07-12-17

Isaiah 26:1-6 / Matthew 7:21, 24-27

For those of us who have gone up to the highest floor of a really tall building, we would have enjoy the view from there.

It is really quite amazing that we can be so high up and seeing things that we don't usually have the opportunity to see.

And as we take in the sights, it will probably not cross our minds that we are not standing on the ground but that we are way up in the air in a building made of concrete and beams.

And it will also not cross our minds to question the stability of the building which we assume is safe even though it may be very tall.

But as much as we marvel at tall buildings, nothing is more assuring than having our feet on solid ground.

The 1st reading talks about a strong city that is guarded by wall and rampart. But that is only possible when the people in the city put their trust in the Lord who is the everlasting Rock.

Similarly, Jesus tells a parable of a sensible man who builds his house on rock and a stupid man who builds his house on sand.

The Advent question for today is what are we building and what are we reaching for?

Whatever it might be if the Lord is not our Rock that we are building on, then we are reaching out into thin air.

May we put our trust in the Lord our Rock for He came to show us how to build the kingdom of God so that heaven can be within our reach.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

1st Week of Advent, Wednesday, 06-112-17

Isaiah 25:6-10 / Matthew 15:29-37

In this particular season, whether we want to call it the festive season, or the Advent season or the rainy season, a famous figure will appear to bring some cheer, and a short popular description of this figure will tell us who this is.

He has a white bushy beard, quite roundish, dressed in red with white trimmings, and his famous quote is “ho, ho, ho”.

Yes, we are talking about Santa Claus, who appears around this time in the festive decorations and also in advertisements. But Santa Claus is not a clever figment of commercial imagination.

The name, Santa Claus comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas which means St. Nicholas.

St. Nicholas was a 4th century saint and the bishop of Myra (which is modern day Turkey), and his feast day is today, 6th December.

Many miracles were attributed to the intercession of St. Nicholas and he became known as Nicholas the Wonder Worker.

He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him. And so he became the model for Santa Claus.

One of his famous acts of charity was towards a poor man who had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them.

This would mean that they would remain unmarried and in the face of poverty, they might be forced into prostitution.

When St. Nicholas came to know about it, he decided to help the poor man secretly.

Under cover of night, he went to the poor man’s house and threw three small bags, each filled with gold coins, one for each daughter, through the window opening of the man’s house.

But later, the poor man found out about it and came to thank St. Nicholas. In humility, St Nicholas said that it was not him he should thank. Rather he should thank God and God alone.

Yes, thank God for the gift of saints like St. Nicholas to show His great love and His help to those in need.

And the words of today's readings are fulfilled: On this mountain, the Lord of host will prepare for all peoples a banquet of rich food , a banquet of fine wines, of food rich and juicy, of fine strained wines. On this mountain, he will remove the mourning veil covering all peoples. The Lord will wipe away the tears from every cheek.

And on the hills of Galilee, Jesus felt sorry for the people and fed them with more than enough.

God's compassion and love for us is renewed every Christmas and Advent is a time to realise God's love for us through people who show us His love.

May St. Nicholas pray for us that we too in turn will show God's love to those in need during this Advent.