Monday, May 21, 2018

7th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday, 22-05-18

James 4:1-10 / Mark 9:30-37

We may have enough of life experiences to say that nothing is a coincidence. Everything happens for, and with, a reason.

For example, today's two readings are not put together by coincidence, even though it may not have been planned that way.

Even in the 1st reading, St. James didn't write about the wars and battles in the Christian community by coincidence.

He was addressing a startling reality that has, surprisingly, infected the Church, and all because the fundamental factor is forgotten.

He puts it in this way: Don't you realize that making the world your friend is making God your enemy? Anyone who chooses the world for his friend turns himself into God's enemy.

And that was also the same spiritual infection that Jesus was addressing in the gospel with His disciples.

The disciples were also fighting among themselves for status and power and glory.

Isn't this same spiritual infection also affecting us? And the disease may have gotten so serious that the poor and lowly, the humble and the helpless, end up as casualties in this battle and war of darkness.

Let us heed the spiritual advice of St. James in the 1st reading - Give in to God then; resist the devil, and he will run away from you. The nearer you draw to God, the nearer He will come to you.

Yes, let us humble ourselves before the Lord and before others, and God will lift us up.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Mary, Mother of the Church, Monday, 21-05-18

Acts 1:12-14 / John 19:25-27

In the 1st reading, we heard that after Jesus was taken up to heaven, the apostles returned to Jerusalem and went to the upper room where they were staying

There they devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus.

That was the last mention of Mary. After that there was no more mention of her in the rest of the Bible.

This last mention of Mary is significant because that was also her purpose after Jesus was taken up to heaven.

Mary stayed with the apostles and she was with them in prayer. She was doing this because she was obedient to what Jesus entrusted to her while He was on the cross.

Because Mary remembered what Jesus told her when He was on the cross: Woman, behold your son.

Though she did not reply, her silence was her consent. She not only agreed to be the mother of the disciple that Jesus loved, she understood that she was to be the mother of all the disciples of Jesus.

Today's memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church, is a new addition to the liturgical calendar of the Church.

That title of Mary, Mother of the Church, was officially given to Mary during the Second Vatican Council by Pope Paul VI.

So from Mother of God, she is now also the Mother of the Church. And if we are obedient to what Jesus said on the cross, then we too must embrace Mary as our Mother, which most of us would be more willing to do.

But for us, Mary is not just our Mother, but we would also want to carry out what Jesus entrusted to us and we want Mary to be the Mother of all peoples.

As we celebrate this memorial, let us make our Mother known to all peoples, for in doing so, we are also making Jesus known to all peoples.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Pentecost Sunday, Year B, 20.05.2018

Acts 2:1-11 / 1 Cor 12:3-7, 12-13 / John 20:19-23
Usually the meanings of words don’t change much, or at least not so much of a drastic change. Anyway if the meanings of words change too much and too often, then language is no more a means of communication. Nobody will understand each other anymore.

Yet there are some words that have a totally different meaning or a new meaning from what was originally meant.

Today’s feast of Pentecost is one good example. “Penta” is the Greek word which means “five”. “Pentecost” means “fiftieth day”. But it points to the Jewish “feast of the harvest”, which is 50 days after the Passover feast.

But for the Church, the feast of Pentecost does not have any of those meanings. Rather for the Church, Pentecost means the day that the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles as we heard in the 1st reading.

So on that day, while the Jewish feast of the harvest was going on, a new Christian feast was about to take place. And we can say that it really began in a dramatic way.

Well, at first the apostles met in one room and they didn’t expect anything much to happen, or so they thought. 

Then suddenly, there was a powerful wind from heaven. And then something appeared to them like tongues of fire that come to rest on the head of each of them. 

Somehow they knew they were filled with the Holy Spirit and they began to speak foreign languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them the gift of speech. And they went out preaching about the marvels of God, and the people heard them in their own language.

So it was a dramatic happening day as the Church burst into birth and that’s why Pentecost is sometimes called the birthday of the Church.

But today as we gather in Church for the feast of Pentecost, there are no apparent dramatic happenings. In fact it is solemn and sober. Yet the feast of Pentecost celebrates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit no less.

So where is the presence of the Holy Spirit? In the Bible, the Holy Spirit is commonly manifested in five forms.

First is the powerful wind as we heard in the 1st reading, or the breath of God which gave man life as recorded in Genesis 2:7. It was the same breath that Jesus breathed on His apostles as He said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit”.

The second form of the Holy Spirit is fire. It was the pillar of fire in Exodus 13:21 that guided the Israelites in the desert. In the 1st reading it was the tongues of flame that rested on the heads of the apostles.

The third form of the Holy Spirit is oil. In the Old Testament, oil was used to anoint priests, prophets and kings. In the New Testament, oil was used to anoint the sick and to bring about healing.

The fourth form of the Holy Spirit is water. Water is a profound sign of the Holy Spirit as it quenches thirst, cleanses and washes wounds and impurities.

The fifth form of the Holy Spirit is in the form of a dove. After the flood, it was a dove that brought an olive branch to Noah (Genesis 8:11) and he knew that the waters have subsided and the earth was dry. The Holy Spirit also descended on Jesus after His baptism in the form of a dove. The dove is also a sign of docility and humility.

So the feast of Pentecost reminds us that the signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit are always present to us. As we come into the church, we mark ourselves with the sign of the cross with Holy Water. That’s already an acknowledgment of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Holy Water.

As we look around at the sanctuary, we see the lighted lamps fueled by blessed olive oil. Fire and oil are signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

The breath of God proclaiming the Word of God gives us the Word of life, which in the Eucharist becomes the Bread of life for us.

And docile to God’s will, we worship God with humility, and filled with the Holy Spirit, we go forth to proclaim the wonders and marvels of God.

And with that we become the most profound sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit. But the indicator of whether we are a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit is to look into our hearts and see if we are at peace.

In the gospel, when Jesus appeared to His disciples, His first words are “Peace be with you.” They were filled with joy and then Jesus breathed on them the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus wants our hearts to be at peace. He wants to forgive our sins and heal our wounded hearts. He wants to fill us with joy so that as He breathes the Holy Spirit upon us, we will be raised to a new life with meaning and with direction.

All the means are available to us for our hearts to be healed and to be at peace – the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Holy Eucharist, and all those other signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit, who comes to help us in our weakness.

So let us breathe in the breath of God, and to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, so that we will proclaim the wonders and marvels of God, with peace and joy in our hearts.

Friday, May 18, 2018

7th Week of Easter, Saturday, 19-05-18

Acts 28:16-20, 30-31 / John 21:20-25

If we were in a supermarket just to buy something, we might be tempted to browse around and see what else we can get.

We might end up getting quite a lot of stuff but forgetting to get what we actually wanted.

In that sense, a shopping list is important to help us stay focused in getting what we actually needed, and also to prevent us from going on a shopping spree.

In the gospel, Jesus had just commissioned Peter to take care of the early Church.

But just as quickly, Peter got distracted and was curious about the other disciple whom Jesus loved.

In a very firm and pointed manner, Jesus addressed the issue: What does it matter to you? You are to follow me.

In other words, Jesus was saying to Peter: Mind your own business, stay focused and follow me.

Even in the 1st reading, St. Paul did not lament about being in chains despite his innocence, but he took the opportunity to proclaim the Kingdom of God despite wearing those chains. He stayed focused on Jesus.

So Peter's distraction and Paul's predicament have taught us to focus our minds and hearts on Jesus and to follow him.

Nothing else really matters.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

7th Week of Easter, Friday, 18-05-18

Acts 25:13-21 / John 21:15-19

During these days of the Easter season, we have heard quite a lot about St. Paul, about the zeal that he had and how anxious he was about the early church that they stay faithful to Jesus.

In the 1st reading, we learnt about St. Paul's conviction in just one short sentence from the governor Festus.

Festus referred to Jesus as someone whom St. Paul alleged to be alive.

It was not just St. Paul's conviction, but also his most profound experience of the Risen Christ, even though he had not seen the Risen Christ with his own eyes.

But that experience earned him the title of apostle.

That experience also led him to make statements like "Nothing matters to me but Christ alone" and "It is not I who live but Christ who lives in me".

That was also what Jesus wanted to know from St. Peter, when He asked him: Do you love me more than these others do?

Even from His own hand-picked apostles, Jesus wanted to know how committed were they in their love for Him.

And from us, Jesus also wants to know our convictions and our commitment in our love for Him.

So, either Jesus is our all in all in our love, or He is not at all in our lives.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

7th Week of Easter, Thursday, 17-05-18

Acts 22:30; 23:6-11 / John 17:20-26

To a great extent, the Catholic Church shows a unity in many aspects.

We have a hierarchy with the Pope as the head of the Church.

We have a defined body of teachings.

We have a common form of worship, even though the language might be different from place to place.

So in many ways, these aspects reinforce our unity as Church.

But the unity that Jesus prayed for is not just about external uniformity.

Jesus prayed for the unity between persons and between peoples.

He used Himself and the Father as a model of that unity.

It is a unity of heart and mind; it is a communion of love.

But the human tendency is to be divided rather than to be united; to be separated than to be connected.

Jesus prayed for unity. His prayer will be fulfilled by the Spirit which binds hearts and minds in a communion of love.

And when things get messed up and even heated up as we heard in the 1st reading, then let us remember these words of wisdom:

In the essentials, let there be unity.
In the non-essentials, let there be liberty.
In all things, let there be charity.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

7th Week of Easter, Wednesday, 16-05-18

Acts 2028-36 / John 17:11-19

In the gospel of Matthew 10:16, Jesus said, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves."

In just one sentence, there are three types of animals, each of different characteristics.

The sheep listens to the voice of the shepherd. So if Jesus sends us out only to be surrounded by fierce and raging wolves, then we also must remember that we are not alone. 

Because the Shepherd will be with his sheep, and so we are assured that Jesus will be with us even though we are surrounded by the wolves.

The wolf is the biblical symbol of the persecutor, and St. Paul said in the 1st reading that when he had gone, fierce wolves will invade the Christian community and will have no mercy on the flock.

But in the face of these fierce and raging wolves, whether they are from without or even from within, we need to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.

We need to be wise enough to know that Jesus is watching over the Church and that the Church teaches the truth instead of being swayed by the travesty of truth by individuals or groups who want to induce us to follow them.

We also need to be humble and docile to the promptings of the Holy Spirit who is our Advocate and who will help us follow the truth and walk the way of Jesus.

Let us pray that we, the Church, will be always protected by our Good Shepherd and that we will listen to His voice in the Church so that He will lead us to rest in the green pastures even in the midst of the howling of the fierce wolves.