Thursday, February 22, 2018

1st Week of Lent, Friday, 23-02-18

Ezekiel 18:21-28 / Matthew 5:20-26

Back in the year 1497, the famous painter Leonardo da Vinci finished the mural of the famous Last Supper.

A rumour surrounding the painting was that the same model was used for both Jesus and Judas.

The rumour was that an innocent-looking young man, a baker, posed as Jesus.

Some years later Leonardo discovered a hard-bitten criminal as the model for Judas, not realizing he was the same man.

But that was just the rumour and there is no evidence that Leonardo used the same model for both figures and the story also overestimates the time it took Leonardo to finish the mural.

Whether rumour or otherwise, the reality of life often shows us that when the good become bad, they become the worst of all.

That is also the what the 1st reading is saying.

The good people who have experienced love and goodness are committing a grave sin when they choose to do wrong. Because they sin against the love and goodness of God.

It is also so drastic that all their earlier good deeds are wiped away.

It sounds shocking and "unjust" as the people would complain. But that is the serious consequence of sin isn't it?

Good people should know what evil is, and they should know how disastrous the consequence of sin is.

It can even distort the physical appearance of a person, as the rumour of the painting of the Last Supper goes.

It is also a contradiction when we come before the altar of the Lord with sin in our hearts.

Jesus tells us in the gospel to be reconciled with God and with our neighbour first, if we really know what we are offering.

Let not sin be hardened in our hearts but let love and forgiveness be shown on our faces.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Chair of St. Peter the Apostle, Thursday, 22-02-18

1 Peter 5:1-4 / Matthew 16:13-19

Today's feast of the Chair of St. Peter is a profound celebration that has three intertwined dimensions - decision; revelation; appointment.

Firstly, there is the question of decision. Jesus asked His disciples this point-blank question: Who do you say I am?

After following Him for a time, they had to come to a decision about who He is. They cannot borrow answers from what others think or say He is; they have to decide who He is.

Then comes a revelation from Peter that Jesus is the "Christ, the Son of the living God". Jesus confirmed that it was indeed a revelation from God and not a logical deduction by Peter.

And finally comes an appointment - Jesus appointed Peter to be the rock on which He will build the Church.

From then on to this present age, the Church has traced her origins and her authority and her apostolic succession to this divine appointment of St. Peter to Pope Francis. 

So today we offer special prayers for Pope Francis and pledge our obedience and union with him. At the same time, the Church in Singapore also rejoices and give thanks to God for Archbishop William Goh as he celebrates his episcopal ordination anniversary today.

Let us unite ourselves in prayer for him and for the Church in Singapore and also for the universal Church throughout the world.

Let us march confidently forward in faith and love to fulfill the mission that God has entrusted to us.

Let us also put our hope in Jesus and remember His words to Peter: The gates of the underworld can never hold out against the Church.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

1st Week of Lent, Wednesday, 21-02-18

Jonah 3:1-10 / Luke 11:29-32

The name Jonah is a Jewish name and it means "a dove".

A dove is a symbol of docility and gentleness.

But Jonah was neither docile nor gentle.

In fact, he hated the Ninevites, the archenemy of Israel, because they annihilated the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

So when Jonah opened his mouth to speak what God told him to say, he was not gentle at all. In fact, he was blunt and provocative.

Yet, his message was heeded and the Ninevites started repenting.

Jesus had all the signs - his miracles over nature, over diseases and over demons.

Yet, when He proclaimed His message of repentance and conversion, he met with rejection and hostility. But, Jesus did not give up.

He knew that His message would bring about conversion, eventually.

We the Church are the fruit of that conversion.

It is for us to continue listening to this message of repentance and conversion.

Because we the Church are called to be the sign and hope of conversion, especially the conversion of the world.

We are to show the world how to move from sinfulness to holiness.

Monday, February 19, 2018

1st Week of Lent, Tuesday, 20-02-18

Isaiah 55:10-11 / Matthew 6:7-15

There is this proverb that goes like this: Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.

Quite true on the superficial level, but not true at all in the deeper level.

Words can never hurt us physically, but words can hurt us internally and emotionally.

It can even cause psychological and spiritual hurt.

Words that hurt can start quarrels, damage self-worth, destroy reputations, cause sleepless nights.

Yet on the other hand, words can also heal, inspire dreams and bring hope, sooth pain and suffering and give birth to love.

Hence, words may come about freely but we have to use them under scrutiny.

The letter of James (James 1:26) warned that the man who thinks he is serving God, but has not learnt to control his tongue is deceiving himself.

The 1st reading tells us that God's Word would not return to Him empty without carrying out His will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.

That Word we heard in today's gospel, and that Word is about love and forgiveness.

The Lord's prayer is our love expression to God. Yet to love God means that we also must forgive others their failings.

If we don't forgive others their failings, we can never speak words of love, words that heal.

But when we forgive others and cleanse our hearts, then out of the fullness of our heart, we will speak words of love.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

1st Week of Lent, Monday, 19-02-18

Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-18 / Matthew 25:31-46

It was said that the Great Wall of China was the only man-made structure that can been seen from the moon.

Whether it is true or not, the fact is that the Great Wall is a massive and impressive structure.

It was built to keep out the enemy and so it was built to be impregnable.

Yet it was breached, and many times too, simply because of traitors and betrayers; in other words, it was a case of the enemy within.

The enemy brewed from within not because of big crises but rather from small issues like welfare, honesty, integrity and respect.

Those might seem to be like small issues but they can become powerful enough that even the Great Wall cannot stop them.

Jesus also talked about paying attention to the small issues of the Christian life, issues like feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked and visiting those in prison.

Those are small issues that won't make the headlines but they are important to God.

In the 1st reading, God commands His people to be holy just as He is holy.

The expression of holiness is in paying attention to the small issues of life.

These small acts of love cannot be seen from the moon, or for that matter of fact, might seem even too trivial.

But they count in God's eyes, and they count for eternity.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

1st Sunday of Lent, Year B, 18.02.2018

Genesis 9:8-15 / 1 Peter 33:18-22 / Mark 1:12-15
We have already begun the season of Lent on Ash Wednesday, and today is the 1st Sunday of Lent. But with the CNY beginning on Friday and spilling into the weekend, the Year of the Dog is barking with festive celebrations instead of fasting and penance.
Anyway we have already done our fasting on Wednesday, so we can do with a bit of feasting (more than a bit …)

By now we should know that according to the Chinese zodiac, the New Year has ushered in the Year of the Dog. So for those who born in the Year of the Dog, and for dog-lovers, let us see what the Bible has to say about dogs.

Dogs are frequently mentioned both in the Old and New Testaments. Dogs were used by the Hebrews as watchdogs for their houses (Isaiah 56:10), and for guarding their flocks of sheep (Job 30:1). These are domesticated dogs. 
But there were also then, as there are now, packs of semi-wild and wild dogs that wander about devouring dead animals and even dead bodies. So these kinds of dogs were considered unclean and they can be quite fierce.

In one gospel passage about the exchange between Jesus and the Canaanite woman, the word "dogs" are used.

In response to her pleas to drive off the devil from her daughter, He answered by saying, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." (Mt 15:26) In this instance Jesus was referring to the wild dogs.

But the woman replied, "Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." (Mt 15:27) Her reference was to the domesticated dogs or the pet dogs. And with that Jesus granted her wish.

So in the Bible, there are generally two categories of dogs -  the wild dogs, and the domesticated pet dogs which at times are considered “a man’s best friend”.

In the gospel, we heard that the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness and He remained there for 40 days and was tempted by the devil. He was with the wild beasts and the angels looked after Him.

So during those 40 days in the wilderness of the desert, Jesus faced two dangers. One was the temptations of the devil and that challenged Him in the spiritual realm, as to test whether He will stand firm on the side of God or not.

The other danger was on the physical realm. With the wild beasts roaming around and maybe among them were some wild savage dogs, would He succumb to fear and run off to safety and give up His mission?

The temptations from the devil were subtle. In the other gospels, we hear of those temptations: turn stones to bread, to jump off the parapet of the Temple, to bow down to Satan. The depths of the Heart of Jesus was tested to see where He stood and who He was.

But while the temptations of the devil were subtle, the danger from the wild animals was real, because they can cause harm and injury.

St. Teresa of Avila once said: “I do not fear the devil. But I do fear his agents.” In other words, those agents of the devil are to be reckoned with because they are the physical weapons of the devil.

When sin entered the world, sin turned the world into a wild world. The peace of the Garden of Eden was broken and so were the relationships between God and man, and man and nature.

Jesus went into the wilderness to restore the brokenness and to reconcile man with God and man with nature. He fought off the devil’s temptations. He faced the wild animals, not to fight them but to tame them. And if there were any wild and savage dogs among them, then Jesus would also want to tame them and turn them into pet dogs.

It is said that when properly trained, a dog can be a man’s best friend. Now, listen to this twist: when properly trained, a man can be a dog’s best friend.

And indeed, the season of Lent is a season of grace and the Good News is that through repentance, this wild world can be made into the Kingdom of God.

The spiritual exercises of prayer, fasting and almsgiving are to help us to go back to the spiritual basics and to train us in the ways of God.

And here the humble pet dog can also show us a few things. (It is said that God loves dogs. Because “dog” is “God” spelled backwards. Maybe that’s why God is using the dog to show us a few things about life)

So what can the dog show us? For us who have pet dogs, we can immediately understand this:

1. Loyalty – a dog is naturally born with a sense of loyalty for its owner, and each dog displays this loyalty in its own unique way. And that reminds us that we are made to be faithful and loyal to God who is our Creator.

2. Compassion – no matter how sad or upset you are, a dog always knows how to give you love and comfort. It reminds us that God’s compassion for us is boundless.

3. Unconditional love – a dog loves with no strings attached. If that can be said of a dog, then what can we say about God’s love for us, especially when we look at the cross.

4. Selflessness – a dog's first focus is to provide you with its joy and it is not vain or selfish. If you show it love and kindness, it will be your ultimate selfless companion. But it also reminds us of what we are called to be for others.

5. Forgiveness – we humans have a hard time forgiving each other, we hold on to hurt and anger forever, but not a dog. He will forgive you for anything you do to him, even if you take it out on him. That is something we can learn from a dog.

Come to think of it, we are much more than dogs, because we are much more in the eyes of God.

Yet the humble dog can show us something of who we truly are. Of course we are not called to be like a dog, on the contrary, we are called to be like God.

And God will send His angels to help us just like how the angels looked after Jesus in the wilderness of the desert. Most angels have wings, but some may choose to have fur. 

So if you have a pet dog, then may you be the person that your dog thinks you are. 
If we don’t have a pet-dog, there is no need to go and get one. But let us remember many of the qualities that come so easily to a well-trained dog – loyalty, devotion, selflessness, love – seems to be so elusive to humans.

A well-trained dog can be a man’s best friend. But similarly a well-trained man can be a dog’s best friend. And a well-trained man can also be God’s best friend.

So let us go with Jesus into the spiritual wilderness and be trained by Him with prayer, fasting and almsgiving to fight temptation and to bring peace to a wild world.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Saturday after Ash Wednesday, 17-02-18

Isaiah 58:9-14 / Luke 5:27-42

The season of Lent has a penitential orientation for us.

It constantly reminds us of the need for repentance and conversion.

Of course that means that we are going to be reminded of our sinfulness.

Sinfulness might seem to be an abstract subject for reflection and self-examination.

But when we reflect on our inter-personal relationships, we would immediately come to see that there are areas in our relationships with others that we have crumbled.

The 1st reading mentioned two graphic images that we can easily identify with - the clenched fist and the wicked word.

Yet when we confess our sinfulness in our relationships with others as well as with God, then we shall become like a watered garden and a spring of water that will never run dry.

Indeed, during this season of Lent, Jesus wants us to know that He came to call sinners to repentance.

Sinfulness makes us sick in the spirit. Jesus is our Healer. Let us turn away from our sinfulness and follow Him as Levi did.