Weekly Reflection (2 Feb 2020)

The Presentation of the Lord

Malachi 3:1-4
Hebrews 2:14-18
Luke 2:22-40

Theme of the week: What to do when my intellect conflict with a Church teaching? Do I question? Do I reject? What is the right response in faith?

The First Reading foretell the coming of one who “sit as a refiner and purifier of silver”, refining humankind “like gold and silver” (verse 3). He is none other than our Lord Jesus, who is God Himself. In today’s feast, we celebrate the presentation of the baby Lord Jesus at the temple.

The Gospel describes the episode that is the centre of today’s feast – the Presentation of the Lord. According to Jewish custom, the mother of a new born boy is considered unclean. Hence it is necessary for her to be purified by presenting the newborn baby at the temple when he is 40 days old. But this is no ordinary boy. He is Jesus who is God Himself. Why would Mary and Joseph subject Jesus to the Jewish custom? Don’t they know Jesus is greater than the custom? Not only has ancient prophets like Malachi in the First Reading foretell about Jesus the Lord, Mary herself have heard the angel declared Jesus to be “the Son of the Most High”, one whom “the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David” (Lk 1:32). And didn’t the angel also declared Mary to be “full of grace” (Lk 1:28)? How could one who is “full of grace” be uncleaned having just given birth to “the Son of the Most High”? Do I feel like that sometime, when a Church teaching does not sit well with my intellect?

We belong to a Church that is two thousand years’ old. It is rich in teachings and customs handed down to us through the generations. We live in an age where the education level of the general population has risen considerably since the founding of the Church. Today, many of us have good education and are highly intellectual in our thinking. More so than in Gospel times, this creates an environment where individual intellect is often pitted against ancient Church teachings. Have you had such an experience? When my intellect is pitted against ancient Church teachings and customs that I do not understand or agree, what is my response? Do I question the teachings and customs; sometimes even rejecting them outright? What is the right response in faith?

In presenting the Lord Jesus according to the Jewish custom, Mary and Joseph provided us a great example. In spite of them being well aware of who Jesus is, respectfully and with great humility, they follow the custom and presented Jesus at the temple. When there is a conflict between a Church teaching and my intellect, reflecting on the example of Mary and Joseph, am I too able to humbly accept Church teachings that are inspired by God and have stood the test of time?

By accepting what was required of them by their faith, Mary and Joseph brought forth a great outpouring of grace. Simeon and Anna, the two holy person who encountered Jesus, had their faith greatly enriched that day. By presenting Jesus at the temple, Mary and Joseph also become the foreshadow of Christ’s ministry on earth. For as the Second Reading explains, Christ shares our humanity (verse 14), he is like us in every respect (verse 17) except sin (Heb 4:15). Just as his parents submit themselves to laws of the human world, Christ submits Himself to the natural law of being a human, accepting suffering and death. It was through death that Christ destroys “the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (verse 14). By His death, Christ reconcile us to God, bringing us closer to the source of all truths.

Is there a Church teaching that sit uneasily with you? Rather than questioning or reject it, are we prepared to humbly accept that perhaps we have either misinterpreted the teaching or simply not understand it fully? And just as Simeon and Anna encountered the Holy Family at the temple, be rest assured that our submission will be a channel of grace, bringing us closer to God’s truth. May the Holy Spirit be with you.


Weekly Reflection (26 Jan 2020)

3rd Sunday Year A

Isaiah 8:23-9:4
1 Corinthians 1:10-13,17
Matthew 4:12-23

Theme of the week: Is my faith life weighed down by disharmony and politics? Let me be that catalyst of positive change, to bring about unity to all who profess the love of Christ.

There is an old saying, “Birds of the same feather flock together.” In society and organisations, it is common that close-knit group of people form themselves into cliques. While closer social interaction of like-people are harmless; cliques can be damaging if their formation creates unhealthy politics that distracts them and others from the common goals of the organisation. In our church, cliques can be very damaging when the ensuing politics distracts us from our Christian mission. Even more so, the negative perception our church politics will dissuade non-believers from accepting our faith and our God. In the end, it is not Christ they reject, but it is the image of Christ we portray that they reject.

Paul encountered this exact situation at the Corinthian church, where Christians have formed factions and are in argument with each other. In the Second Reading, Paul addresses the divided church in Corinth, to those who professed: “‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas [i.e. Peter],’ or ‘I belong to Christ’” (verse 12). In the passage, Paul urges Christ’s followers to unite: “Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?, for there is only one Christ and Christ is not divided.” (verse 13) To heed Paul’s call, we must resist temptations to widen our divisions, but instead work earnestly on our common ground. After all, isn’t Christ our one common heritage? Isn’t Christ greater than all our differences combined? Otherwise, if we let our pride and petty church politics eclipse our Christian mission, in spite of Christ’s great sacrifice on the cross, we would be emptying the cross of its power! (verse 17)

At the time of the writing of the First Reading, Israel was under the repressive rule of the Assyrians, hence the analogies of the “yoke”, “bar” and “rod” (verse 9:4). While we may not be living under oppressive rulers today, when we let our human politics overshadows our Christian mission, we let our self-centredness and narcissism become the yoke, the bar and the rod that weighs over our Christian values. To lift the yoke of oppression, Isaiah foretold the arrival of a “great light” (verse 9:2), one who would confer glory on “the way of the sea”, in “the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali” (verse 9:1). He is Chirst who deliver us. On our parts, we must accept Him, not just on our lips but in our hearts and manifested through our actions.

The prophesy of the First Reading came to fulfilment in the Gospel passage. In the Gospel, we were told that Jesus made his home in Capernaum (verse 12). This fulfils the Old Testament prophesy, for Capernaum sits by the Sea of Galilee in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali. The second part of the passage describes the calling of the first four disciples, Peter, Andrew, James and John. Their reaction to the Lord’s calling is noteworthy: they immediately left their nets behind (signifying their old lives) and followed Jesus. We too are often weighed down and entangled by the values of the world – in our social lives, our family lives, and even our church lives. The first disciples show us how this entanglement may be lifted from our faith lives. Am I prepared to leave my nets behind and follow Him?

“May they all be one, just as, Father, you are in me and I am in you” (Jn 17:21, NJB) Let me be that catalyst of positive change, to bring about unity to all who profess the love of Christ. May the wisdom of the Holy Spirit be with you. Shalom, my brothers and sisters.

 



Weekly Reflection (19 Jan 2020)

2nd Sunday Year A

Isaiah 49:3,5-6
1 Corinthians 1:1-3
John 1:29-34

Theme of the week: We are called to a personal encounter with Jesus; to be his messengers; and to receive his healing touch.

What is it like to be called by God? In the Scripture Readings this week, we hear the stories of three messengers of God – Isaiah in the Old Testament, Paul in the New Testament and John the Baptist in the Gospel. In our modern times, when we think of being “called by God”, we might think of priests, religious or perhaps someone holding a position in a religious organisation. But what about me? Am I numbered among the called? Absolutely! But … have I heard God’s call? If not, why? May be his voice is being drown out by the noise in my life? Or, if I have heard his call, what am I doing about it?

The First Reading recalls Isaiah’s calling to be an evangelist (verse 5). Given the mission even before he was born, Isaiah was asked to bring Israel back from its physical exile to Babylon. At a spiritual level, many today are in spiritual exile from God. This could be a person I meet on the street, a lapsed Christian at work or even the person sitting next to me in church. Like Isaiah, we are called to bring everyone to a personal encounter with Jesus. We are called to reach out to not just the lapsed Christian at work, but to “the ends of the earth” (verse 6). By our baptism, this is our calling. Have I heard it? Am I living it? If not, why not? Is it because my secular pursuits of wealth, power, fame is taking precedence over my spiritual pursuits? While I may come to church every Sunday and even serve in church ministries, could it be that I myself is living in spiritual exile? God is calling all of us to a personal encounter with Him. What is my response?

In the Second Reading, Paul recognises that he was “called to be an apostle” (verse 1). More broadly, Paul recognises that all are “called to be saints” (verse 2). When we think of saints, we may conjure up the image of someone clothed in a heavenly white gown with a halo over the head. Not so! Paul made the point that the Corinthians, who are non-Jews hence not the original chosen people, are “called to be saints” – for Jesus Christ is “both their Lord and ours” (verse 2). We are all called to be saints. Let us pause and reflect: God is calling me to an intimate personal encounter with him. What is stopping me? Perhaps it is my secular pursuits; perhaps I am carrying the hurt of a broken relationship; or perhaps I simply have been in spiritual exile for too long that it has become habitual. Whatever it may be, it takes courage to acknowledge our wounded nature and take that first step towards Christ.

In the Gospel, like Isaiah and Paul, John the Baptist recognises his role in ushering in the coming of Jesus Christ into the people’s hearts. In verse 29, John made the proclamation that Jesus is the Lamb of God. To Jewish ears, John’s proclamation immediately reminded them of the original Passover lamb from the time of Moses, who died so that the people may live. Jesus is the Lamb of God, not just for the Jews at the First Passover, but for all of humanity. He died so that all children of God may live – believers and non-believers alike. Jesus is waiting for me. Whatever the obstacles that is holding me back, let us pray for courage. Encounter Jesus in a personal way, let his healing grace touch my heart. May the Lord be with you.

 



Weekly Reflection (12 Jan 2020)

Baptism Of The Lord, Year A

Isaiah 42:1-4,6-7
Acts 10:34-38
Matthew 3:13-17

Theme of the week: Let us live our baptismal call, be proclaimers of truth and love.

We live in a world where individualism and relativism reign supreme. In a world, there is no absolute moral truths, each individual can decide what he or she want to believe and that becomes the truth for that person. All moral values are negotiable and relative. What is our Christian response to that?

There are typically two types of responses you see from Christians:

  • The majority will lie low, keep quite and take no action, perhaps other than wring their hands and exclaim, “What is the world coming to?”
  • A small minority will put forth the viewpoint of Christian morality boldly, and sometimes loudly.

By our baptism, we are all called to proclaim the truth. Hence, the first response is not consistent with our baptismal calling. As for the second response, if you prepare your facts well, you can win a few arguments, perhaps even silent a few individualists and relativists. But while you may win the intellectual argument, you will seldom win the opponent’s hearts. The latter is the more important mission – to win their souls for Christ. To do that, we need to recognise that our work is not about us versus them or about proving we are right and they are wrong. Our work, at its heart, is about love. For that, we need a third response.

The First Reading provides us a formula to win the argument but not lose the soul.

  • First, I need to recognise that I am not doing this for myself. It is the Lord who has put His Spirit upon me, to “bring forth justice to the nations” (verse 1,3).
  • That I exercise the quality of humility and meekness. There is no need to “cry or lift up [my] voice, or make it heard in the street” (verse 2).
  • With the Spirit of God in me, I must draw courage from Him. I must not “grow faint or be crushed”, in spite of the difficulties I face (verse 4).
  • It is only then that, for those who could not see the truth, I may open their eyes; for prisoners who “sit in darkness”, I may free them (verse 7).

These are qualities that Jesus demonstrated during his earthly life. For his meekness and calling back of sinners, others grew jealous of Jesus and crushed him. Though he was sinless, Jesus suffered the price of sins. This, in essence, is that meaning of Jesus’ baptism. The Gospel tells the story of the Baptism of Jesus. If we examine the purposes of baptism, it would seem that our Lord Jesus need not be baptised. The first purpose of Baptism is the acceptance of the baptised into God’s family – Jesus did not need that as he is God. The other purpose of Baptism is to be cleansed of sins – Jesus did not need that either as he is sinless. However, “for our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (1 Cor 5:21) Jesus’ main mission is not to prove his distractors wrong. His main mission is love. To show us God’s love, He willingly took on the punishment reserved for a sinner. Like a sinner, he presents Himself to be baptised. Like a sinner, he presents Himself to be crucified. It is such sacrificial love that wins the hearts of our opponents!

The Second Reading is a speech by Peter on the occasion of the baptism of Cornelius and his household. Peter emphasised our baptismal call when he said, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” Reflect upon this for a moment. By my baptism, I too have been anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power, so that I too may do good and heal all who are oppressed by the devil. Remember, the individualists and relativists are not our real enemies, for they too are sons and daughters of God. The real enemy is the devil, the master of all deceptions.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Mt 28:19-20

 


Weekly Reflection (5 Jan 2020)

Epiphany Of The Lord

Isaiah 60:1-6
Ephesians 3:2-3,5-6
Matthew 2:1-12

Theme of the week: God reveals himself to believers and non-believers alike, so that all may inherit His Kingdom. Am I an “unbeliever”?

At the feast of Epiphany, we celebrate the revelation of our Lord to the non-believers. Who are the non-believers? Certainly, they are those who do not know Christ and are yet to be baptised into the faith. However, what about those who are baptised into the faith and do not yet have a relationship with Christ? While they may attend church regularly, know all the prayers and liturgies or perhaps even serve in church ministries; but are their hearts with God? And before we assume the judgement seat and start thinking about who might these be in our church, let us pause and reflect. Ask ourselves this: Am I one of them? Do I live a double life, appearing pious and holy in church but lead a sinful life outside the church? Do I look down on the non-believers? Do I gossip? Do I lie? Do I pirate software and music? Am I lustful? Do I forgive those who wrong me; and seek forgiveness from those I wrong? Am I so desensitised by sins that I find excuse to justify them and are no longer ashamed of them? If so, let the Lord reveal himself to me on this Feast of Epiphany.

The historical background of the First Reading is the period when the Jews had just returned from their exile to Babylon. The sight that confronted them upon their return must have been rather disheartening – their city ruined and the temple destroyed. This passage offers the people a word of encouragement – that the Lord will once again lead them to greatness. Through my sins, am I in exile too? If so, do not be disheartened. “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (verse 1). In the passage, as the Jews renewed their relationship with God in verse 6, they are joined by Gentiles coming from Midian, Ephah and Sheba, coming with gifts to pay homage to the Lord. Do not look down on the non-believing and non-practising, for they too are the sons and daughters of God. The Jews do not believe in the universality of salvation, instead believing that only those who were members of the Jewish religion may be saved. This is not unlike what some Christians believe today, that only members of the Christian religion may be saved. The Second Reading proclaims that salvation is offered to believers and non-believers alike. Verse 6 tells us that “the Gentiles [non-believers] have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel”. Know that this message does not just go out to the non-believers. It also goes to those of us in the faith who live lives inconsistent with our faith. Epiphany is a call to conversion, those outside the faith and those inside the faith.

The Gospel tells the story of the Magi (or wise men) from the east coming to pay Jesus homage, gifting Him with gold, frankincense and myrrh. We do not know where exactly these Magi came from, but what we do know is that they are Gentiles and in-line with the message of Epiphany, they are among the first people to accept Jesus as Lord. In contrast, King Harod (a Roman, and hence a Gentile too) conspired with the Jewish chief priests to try and harm the child Jesus. From this popular Christmas story, we learn that one does not earn salvation through one’s racial, cultural or even religious heritage; rather we are saved by what we believe and how we live out those beliefs. At Epipanhy, let us walk closer with Christ and help others develope a closer relationship with Him.

Have a blessed New Year, everyone.

 



Weekly Reflection (29 Dec 2019)

The Holy Family Year A

Ecclesiasticus 3:2-6,12-14
Colossians 3:12-21
Matthew 2:13-15,19-23

Theme of the week: May our families be holy families, filled with forgiveness, respect, gentleness, understanding and love.

We are in the Christmas season. This is a good time to reflect on our relationships with our loved ones, especially those closest to us – my spouse, children and parents. Our Church teaches that my relationship with my spouse is a foreshadow of my heavenly union with Christ; while the Fourth Commandment commands that I treat my parents and children with honour and love. So I ask myself: do my relationships with those closest to me reflect the love of Christ? If not, what must I do to truly bring spirit of Christmas in my relationships with others?

The literal text of the Fourth Commandment states “Honour your father and your mother” (Ex 20:12, Deut 5:16). We must be careful not to take this or any other Commandments at their literal meaning, or we risk taking the narrowest interpretation, missing the full meaning of the Commandments. The First Reading presents us a fuller and more encompassing interpretation of the Fourth Commandment. In the First Reading, we are taught honouring our parents does not just mean obedience to our parents, but it also means lending our parents dignity and respect in their old age. In fact, the term “honour” in verse 4 has been interpreted as “comfort” in some ancient text. As typical of the writings of that male-dominant age, the passage is laden with reference to the father. Interpreting in today’s context, we should extend the same honour and respect to both our parents. Observed faithfully, this commandment is the foundation of a holy family dedicated to the ways of the Lord.

We are all flawed in our own ways. When you take a number of flawed people; throw them in the same household; add sins to the mix; what do you get? It is not surprising that many families experience constant conflicts, frictions and disharmony. It takes the grace of God to see beyond the flaws of those closest to us, and realise that they are God’s gifts to us. Especially when they are in their weakest and when they are most plagued by human flaws, if we allow it, these are moments when the grace of God can flow into our relationships. These are moments for us to emulate Christ’s unconditional love. For without the grace of God, sins beget sins. For example, when my child disappoints me with his/her behaviour, I react in anger. This drives resentment in the child, who in turn vent the negativity on a sibling, who in turn vent it on another person. The result is a string of broken relationships rippled through our household and beyond. Sins beget sins.

The Second Reading provides some practical tips for us to break the vicious cycle of sins in our family, so that we may build a God-fearing holy family.

  1. That we should forgive each other just as the Lord forgives us (verse 13). Doing so brings us closer to the Lord.
  2. That we should do everything in the Lord’s name (verse 17). Doing so reminds us that we are His people.
  3. Verse 18-21 expresses bias of the time, expressing the husband’s dominance over his wife; and parents over their children. A more encompassing interpretation would require each party to treat the other the same way – with respect, gentleness, understanding and love. As Paul teaches in Eph 5:21, “be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

It is often said that the family is the smallest church, the church that is closest to our hearts. Inspired by the Scripture text of this week, let us reflect: what kind of church is my family? Is my family a holy family, where every member experience forgiveness, respect, gentleness, understanding and love? This is not easy in the modern family, constantly facing busy schedule, financial pressure and work pressure. It was not easy for the Holy Family either. Let us take inspirations from the Holy Family of Mary, Joseph and Jesus.

As if the pressure of virgin conception, travelling while heavily pregnant, and having no room in the inn to give birth weren’t enough, the Gospel describes the story of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt. Immediately after baby Jesus was born, the angel told Joseph that King Harod was trying to kill the child. So, “Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt” (verse 14). In so doing, the evangelist quoted from the Old Testament verse of Hos 11:1 to emphasise that Jesus is the fulfilment of the Jewish age-old prophesy. Jesus going to and returning from Egypt traced the path taken by the Jewish people, during their exile and return (at the time of Joseph and Moses respectively). The Egyptian Exile is a period when the Jewish people underwent a spiritual journey, during which they prospered, rejected God, suffered, and were finally reconciled to God. Viewed in this context, many of us would find parallels in our own lives. Jesus is the embodiment our aspirations, sufferings and deliverance. Let me take His grace and spread it in my family, so that my family too may be a holy family. Amen.

 


Weekly Reflection (22 Dec 2019)

4th Sunday Of Advent Year A

Isaiah 7:10-14
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-24

Theme of the week: We called to mission to others as Christ did, carrying our crosses along the way.

Have God ever called you to a mission? God can call you through the words of a friend, a sermon or a reflection piece such as this. While God’s means of communication may be different, one thing is common – that God is calling you to serve Him for the greater good of others. Often, to carry out this mission, it exacts a cost from you personally, whether it is a small sacrifice like a personal inconvenience or something major like financial hardship or emotional trauma. How did I react to God’s call? Did I respond to Him affirmatively and bear the cross that came with the mission; or did I conveniently pretend I did not hear the call?

King Ahaz was the king of Judah and a descendant of King David. The First Reading happened at a time when Judah was being invaded by the kingdoms of Aram and Ephraim. Ahaz was in a panic. In an attempt to instil faith in Ahaz, Through the words of the prophet Isaiah, God offered a sign to Ahaz. But Ahaz did not want to hear the call of God. In spite of Ahaz’s refusal, the sign was given. The sign came in the form of a prophecy, commonly repeated at Christmas time, that the maiden will bear a son whom will be called Emmanuel (which means “God is with us”) (verse 14). At a superficial and physical level, this is a promise to Ahaz that his wife the maiden will soon give birth to a son, the future King Hezekiah. With God by his side (God is with us), Hezekiah would become a great king. At an allegorical and deeper level, God’s promise is not just addressed to Ahaz, but also to all generations of all times: that like Ahaz, at a time that we feel beseeched by evil of every kind, the Son of God, born of a virgin, will come live among us and deliver us from all evils. Imagine, for the lack of courage and faith on the part of Ahaz, the human race was nearly denied of this prophecy!

Most of us are familiar with the Gospel story this week; of how Joseph, upon the revelation of an angel, took Mary as his wife. Joseph must have been very confused. To save Mary from the shame of conceiving a baby out of wedlock, Joseph was originally planning to quietly divorce Mary. But the angel said to Joseph, “the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (verse 20). Reflect upon this for a moment. The most perfect woman in history has just conceived the most perfect man in history in her womb, and Joseph was called to be the husband and father of them. What a daunting mission! We can imagine Joseph being overawed by the task he was given and was understandably afraid.

Just as God sent the prophet Isaiah to assure King Ahaz, He sent an angel to assure Joseph. “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife” (verse 20), the angel said to Joseph. In spite of God’s assurance, Ahaz and Joseph reacted very differently to God’s call. While Ahaz turned down Lod’s offer; Joseph “did as the angel of the Lord commanded him” (verse 24).

Missions are never easy. I may be called to serve the vulnerable, attend to the sick, support a friend through difficulties or reconcile with an estranged family member. What is God calling me to do? Do not be afraid, for God is with you and He will equip you. Christ too has a mission. Christ brings salvation to the world, not just to the Jewish race, but as the Second Reading explains it, to all people including “all the Gentiles” (verse 5). The Second Reading explains to us how God equipped Christ in two important ways:

  1. Christ was born a descendent of David. This confers him earthly kingship (verse 3).
  2. Christ was proclaimed the Son of God by his resurrection. This confers him heavenly kingship (verse 4).

As we enter the final week before Christmas, in the midst of our busy preparation for Christmas, let us pause and reflect on the message in this week’s Scripture. God love us so much that he himself came to earth to live among us as one of us, and in due course, bear all our sins upon Himself on the cross. We are called to mission to others as He did, carrying our crosses along the way. Emmanuel – may God be with us.

 



Weekly Reflection (15 Dec 2019)

3rd Sunday Of Advent Year A

Isaiah 35:1-6,10
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

Theme of the week: Let us open our hearts to Christ and experience true fulfillment.

There is an old saying that goes, “Good things come to those who wait.” What is the deepest yearning of your heart? What is that yearning that you yet to achieve; and if you achieve it, you feel you will be completely satisfied? In the previous week, we reflected on human conflict – perhaps for you, it is peace among nations and people? For some, it may be a more secular pursuit, like fame, money or power perhaps?

The context of the First Reading is set in a time when the Jewish people were held in exile in Babylon. Enslaved, the people yearned for freedom, that they may one day return to their homeland. Addressed to the Jews in exile in Babylon, the First Reading encourages the readers not to lose hope, for their deliverance is close at hand. The Reading paints a poetic vision of a parched land receiving rain. Flowers will bloom out of wasteland; and the blind, deaf and lame will all be healed.

Staying on the analogy of rain and plants, the Second Reading describes the expectancy of a famer waiting for his crop to yield. “The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains” (verse 7). Let us reflect once again: What is the deepest yearning of your heart? The problem with earthly yearning is that they can disappoint. The yearning may not materialise; or even if realised, the euphoria is short lived. Take the examples of earthly peace, fame, money, power or a rich harvest of crops, the happiness is short lived. In the end, we feel unfulfilled and our pursuit continues.

What is our true yearning then – something that will completely satisfy our hearts? St Augustine once said, “Our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you, Lord.” It is the complete happiness and fulfillment of accepting Christ into our hearts that completely satisfy our hearts. We have a heavenly void in our hearts that can only be filled by an heavenly host. This is the truth that cannot be verbally conveyed. It needs to be experienced. In the Gospel, Jesus described John the Baptist as the greatest of all those born of women (verse 11). Yet in spite of being such a great man, John sent his disciples to confirm with Jesus his identity. Is Jesus indeed “the one who is to come” (verse 3), or perhaps the people should “wait for another” (verse 3). Even John needs to experience Christ. Thus, instead of simply answering yes, Jesus replied by referring to the fulfilment of the prophecy in this week’s First Reading: the blind sees, the deaf hears and the lame walks (verse 5). The Lord is asking us to see, hear and walk with Him – the Messiah needs to be experienced.

After Jesus was taken into heaven, the angel promised his return. For the Christians in the First Century in the midst of persecution, they, like the exiled Jews in the First Reading, hoped earnestly for deliverance, for Christ to return and put an end to their persecution. The Second Reading urges these Christians to be patient (verse 7-8). As we encounter difficulties in our own lives, the passage speaks to us in the same way. Just like the farmer waits patiently for his crop to spring (verse 7), so too must we wait patiently for Christ to deliver us true happiness.

As we await the birth of the Chirst-Child at Christmas, let us open our hearts to experience Christ, to the experience of true and lasting happiness. Emmanuel.

 



Weekly Reflection (8 Dec 2019)

2nd Sunday Of Advent Year A

Isaiah 11:1-10
Romans 15:4-9
Matthew 3:1-12

Theme of the week: The path to true peace and salvation is through our hearts.

In the Responsorial Psalm this week, we pray “Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.” Have you ever wondered what does true peace look and feel like?

We tend to think of peace as a state where there is no conflict. The First Reading the previous week spoke of nations not lifting up sword against nations (verse Isa 2:4). The Second Reading this week speaks of peace at a more personal level, where under the grace of God, we may “live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus” (verse 5).

The First Reading this week gives us a poetic vision of what true peace feels like. David and his son Solomon were God-fearing wise kings. However, the same cannot be said of their descendants. The First Reading foretells a future great king to emerge out of David’s lineage, “the stump of Jesse” (verse 1) (Jesse was the father of King David). This great king will rule with wisdom, and true peace will prevail. This King is none other our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One. Elaborating on the eternal peace described in the previous week’s First Reading, the second part of this reading paints a poetic imagery of the kind of peace that God people will enjoy, where wolf and lamb co-exist peacefully and an infant can play safely over a cobra’s nest.

If we look at today’s world, harmony eludes us. Conflicts are everywhere – among nations, social groups and individuals. In the midst of these conflicts, how are we ever going to achieve harmony as portrayed by the Second Reading – harmony “in accordance with Christ Jesus” (verse 5)? The key phrase here is “in accordance with Christ Jesus”, for the root of all conflicts is sin. Many of our conflicts are rooted in human weaknesses – selfishness, pride, greed, anger and envy. Indeed, true harmony is only achievable if we constantly strive to live by Christ’s teachings. Hence, before we can achieve peace among nations, social groups and individuals, we must first achieve true peace within oneself. How do we do that? This is a three step process of reflect, renounce and repent.

  1. Many of us are reluctant to see our own faults. It is only through formation and honest reflection that we may realise our shortcomings. This takes great humility.
  2. Having realise our shortcomings, we need to make a genuine and sincere attempt to renounce our sins, to free ourselves from them. This takes great effort.
  3. The final step is to repent - to seek God’s forgiveness. This takes grace.

True peace originates from our hearts. Only when we achieve true peace in our hearts that we may extent peace to others around us, to the society and beyond. The Gospel tells the story of John the Baptist baptising at River Jordan. John’s blunt message to the Pharisees and Sadducees (verse 7-10) is an apt reminder to those us who assume that being called Christians is enough to earn us salvation. In the final judgement, it is not who we are that matters, but what is in our hearts. Indeed, salvation comes only to those who repent. Reflect, renounce and repentance – this is the path to true peace. In the Gospel, we heard of how people from all walks of life coming to John the Baptist to be baptised, to repent their sins. “Bear fruit worthy of repentance. … Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (verse 8, 10).

Christmas is almost upon us. Let us use these weeks of preparation to form our hearts. For the gift of true peace and universal salvation, alleluia!

 



Weekly Reflection (1 Dec 2019)

1st Sunday Of Advent Year A

Isaiah 2:1-5
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:37-44

Theme of the week: Acknowledge our sinful ways; abandon them. Let us put on righteousness, and always be prepared for the Coming of Christ.

For those of us who profess to be Christians; who come to church every week; may be even serve tirelessly in church ministries, let us ask ourselves this question: Am I complacent in my faith? Do I assume that my salvation is assured? If so, let this week’s Scripture serve as a walk-up call for all of us. As we prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas; as we prepare for the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time; let us reflect honestly on our daily thoughts and actions.

Ever since the dawn of time, there have always been wars – not just between nations, but also between social groups, families, and individuals. Even within Christian communities, there can be disaccord among the members – disagreement on procedural matters, policy matters, and even Christian teachings. What are the disaccords of my life? Even as I profess my faith in Jesus Christ, have I been Christ to others? Have I bore grudges and unhappiness towards those I disagree with? If misfortune befalls upon an enemy of mine, do I lend him my compassion, or do I secretly rejoice? In truth, even as we proclaim Christ on our lips, Christ is far from our hearts. The first reading describes the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time as an age of eternal peace, where “nation shall not lift up sword against nation” (verse 4). The precondition for this is for all people of God to come to “the mountain of the Lord’s house” (verse 2) to seek His teachings, for these wars would not have come about if all people live by God’s teachings.

As part of our reflection on our daily thoughts and actions, let us reflect on the sins of the flesh – substance abuse, gambling, cheating, and disordered sexual desires such as pornography, masturbation and contraception. In my complacency in faith, have I conveniently ignored these transgressions of mine? The Second Reading warns us that “salvation is nearer to us” with each passing day (verse 2). To prepare for His glorious coming, verse 12-13 urge us to live holy lives and give up sinful habits and behaviours. In reference to an earlier passage where Paul urges his followers to abandon the way of the flesh to pursue the way of the Spirit (Rom 8:3-9), verse 14 equate righteous living as not gratifying the desire of the flesh (verse 14). As we prepare to welcome the birth of the Christ Child at Christmas, with God’s grace, let us abandon these ways of the flesh and put on righteousness.

In the Gospel this week, Jesus urges us to be ready at all times. We recall the story of the great flood at Noah’s times, where people were “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” right up to the day they were destroyed (verse 38). Let this be our wake-up call – for we could be them, complacent in our faith. We must be ready at all times, for we do not know when the day will come, when we will be put to account the deeds of our lives. For “if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into” (verse 43). Be asleep no more, Paul urges in the Second Reading. “It is now the moment for you to wake from sleep” (Second Reading, verse 11).

To conclude our reflection, let us ask ourselves: am I ready if my time on earth runs out today? If not, what changes would I make to my life right now? With God’s grace, let us make the changes today and be always prepared. May the Holy Spirit be with us.