Weekly Reflection (5 Dec 2021)

2nd Sunday Of Advent Year C

Baruch 5:1-9
Philippians 1:4-6,8-11
Luke 3:1-6

Am I happy? Am I at peace? If not, it is time I truly accept Jesus into our heart let Him transform me.

My brothers and sisters, we have entered into the second week of our four-week preparation period for Christmas. This week, let us ask ourselves a few simple questions: Am I happy? Do I find fulfilment and contentment in daily life? Am I at peace? The truth is, many of us are not at peace. Many of us work hard in our job and in our faith communities. We strive hard for recognition for influence for wealth and for power. Yet we cannot quite achieve what we want. We feel insecure. And then there are the human relationship challenges that affect us. We have conflicts at home and at work; we have estranged relationships; we harbour past hurt and even vengeful thoughts. Even as we put up a façade of happiness in public, deep down, we know we are not at peace. We are not happy.

What is the source of all the unrest? It is sin. Some of us may deny it but this is the reason why Jesus came into the world. As St John wrote, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 Jn 1:10) Hence, in the First Reading this week, the prophet Baruch said, “Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on for ever the beauty of the glory from God. Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God” (verse 1-2) That’s right, my brothers and sisters. The remedy for our restlessness is to free ourselves from the clutches of our sins and put on righteousness. But this is easier said than done. There are seven cardinal sins that are the root sins of all other sins: anger, lust, pride, greed, gluttony, envy and sloth. These sins have a hold on all of us. The only differences among us are the severity of each sin and our susceptibility to one sin relative to another. So I ought to ask myself, is there a sin that has such a hold on me that I find it hard to break free? Perhaps it is so ingrained in me that I find it hard to even acknowledge it as a fault. Or perhaps I find myself always justifying my actions when I commit this sin. And if I feel this way, that itself is the sin of pride at work. How am I going to free myself from the clutches of my sins if I am not even able to admit it?

Chapter 4 of the Book of Baruch describes how the Israelites provoked God: “For you provoked the one who made you by sacrificing to demons and not to God.” (Bar 4:7). As a result of their disobedience, God lifted his protection over the Israelites. They were consequently conquered by a foreign power and exiled to Babylon. While their physical bodies were exiled to Babylon, their souls too were far from God. Their souls too were exiled – exiled to spiritual wilderness. Many of us are like the Israelites. While we might be physical present in church, we are spiritually exiled from God and finding it hard to come back. That is why when the disciples asked Jesus who can be saved, Jesus answered, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” (Mt 19:26) In other words, I cannot conquer my sins on my own strength. I need the grace of God.

The sad truth is, our sins does not just affect our own happiness. It affects others around us, especially our loved ones. In fact, without realising it, our sins lay the foundation for the unhappiness of our own children. This is the true meaning of God’s warning when enunciating the First Commandment to Moses, He said, “I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me” (Ex 20:5). No, we do not have a vengeful God who punish our children for our sins. Rather, our unrepented sins cause our children to make the same mistakes as us, inflicting the same harms upon themselves. For example, we know that children from divorced families have a higher chance of experiencing broken marriage in their own life. Similarly, children with broken childhood stemming from the criminal history of the parents have a higher chance of becoming criminals themselves. And even if our marriage are intact and we do not commit crimes, many of our lives are plagued by unhealed anger, lust, pride, greed, gluttony, envy and laziness, we risk passing on the same plagues onto our children.

We are in the middle of a global pandemic. Hardly a day goes by without the word “vaccine” being mentioned. Before the advent of the modern vaccines that we see today, old-fashion vaccines work by injected the person with a weaken strain of the virus, enabling to the body to build up resistance, resistance to the more potent strain of the virus that the person may encounter in the future. It is not easy to say this, but by our poor examples, many of us are “vaccinating” our children against the lifesaving teachings of Jesus. We profess Christianity, yet our life sets a poor example. Hence, like the old fashion vaccine, we gave our children a weak strain of Christianity, making them resistance to the potent strain of Christianity later in their life. Hence, while this is not the only reason, we see many young people today with Christian upbringing who no longer believe in God. Many no longer go to church. For those who goes to church, many do not truly know Jesus. In truth, they have been de-evangelised.

But do not despair. As part of our preparation to welcome our Lord Jesus at Christmas, this week’s readings offer us a chance at redemption from sin. The Scripture urges us to repent our sin, so that Christ may enter our hearts once again. The prophet Baruch promises us in the First Reading, “see your children gathered from west and east at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that God has remembered them. For they went out from you on foot, led away by their enemies; but God will bring them back to you, carried in glory, as on a royal throne.” (verse 5-6)

Just as we the parents are often the problem in the first place, we also hold the key to the solution. It starts with us. We need to listen to the message of St John the Baptist in the Gospel. “He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (verse 3). Yes, my brothers and sisters, it starts with us adopting a contrite heart, repent our sins and seek healing from Jesus. And Jesus will say to us, as He said to the adulterous woman, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” (Jn 8:11) It is only when we truly repent for our failure to God that we can have the courage to put on humility, approach our children, and apologise for our failure to them. Say to our children the words of St Paul in the Second Reading, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.” (verse 6, 8) Only then, we can free our children from the enemies that led them away, and once again live as the children of the light.

But the devil will put many obstacles in our paths and the paths of our children. We need to call upon the grace of God. As the prophet Baruch said in the First Reading, “For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.” (verse 7) Echoing these words, St John the Baptised said in the Gospel, “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (verse 5-6)

My dear friend, the Christmas season is the season of hope. Let the coming of Jesus rekindles the hope that is in our heart. But this hope is not passive hope. But we need to do our part. By our repentance, by our humility and our love of God, we become His instruments rather than His obstacles. Let this be our reflection for the week: As I prepare for the coming of the Christ-Child, let me challenge myself to lead true Christian lives. Let me repent, let me be humble, and let me love as Jesus does. Amen.

Weekly Reflection (28 Nov 2021)

1st Sunday Of Advent Year C

Jeremiah 33:14-16
1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2
Luke 21:25-28,34-36

Is my life more holy now compare to the last year? Let us assess ourselves and strive for holy living.

My brothers and sisters, Christmas is but four weeks away. As is normal this time of the year, we enter into a frantic preparation period for the festival ahead – shopping, decorations, gifts, parties, food, restaurant bookings, holidays, etc. As is most things in our secular life, we give a lot of attention to our physical well-being during the upcoming festive period. But what about our spiritual preparation? After all, what is the reason for the season but the birth of our saviour Jesus to the world. This week, on the Catholic Liturgical Calendar, we enter the Season of Advent, a four-week preparation period for Christmas. Dear brothers and sisters, in addition to our usual secular preparations, let us commit ourselves in the next four weeks to reflect on the Scripture, to prepare ourselves well spiritually.

In the First Reading, the prophet Jeremiah said, “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” (verse 14) What is this promise? The Prophet continued, “In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” (verse 15) This is but one of the many promises God made regarding the coming of Jesus Christ our Saviour, descended from the family line of King David. Many of us are familiar with God’s many promises of a saviour prevalent through all of the Old Testament. Beginning with the Book of Genesis, after our first parents succumbed to sin, God speaking to the serpent, promised, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Gen 3:15) In the allegorical sense, the “woman” God was referring to here is Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus. Then during the time of the divided Jewish kingdoms, God promised King Ahaz of Judah, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” (Isa 7:14) It is significant that the Greek term for “young woman” used here also means virgin. Later, with the kingdoms united under King David, God promised the king, “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever.” (2 Sam 7:12-13) Many Christians know these prophesies well. These prophesies were made through history spanning thousands of years. For people of ancient times, they create a great sense of anticipation. However, in these modern days, in a case of familiarity breeds contempt, we are so familiar with them that we often do not pay much attention to them, not even while we are frantically preparing for the Christmas!

While The First Reading reminded us of the ancient prophecies on the First Coming of Jesus, the Second Reading and Gospel focus on the Second Coming of Jesus. This is when human race’s time on earth will come to an end. In many ways, our preparing for Christmas, the First Coming of Jesus, is a microcosm for our preparation for end time, the Second Coming of Jesus. Hence, the Church has wisely provided Scripture Readings during the Advent Season to help us prepare for both. Speaking to the people of Thessalonica, St Paul said in the Second Reading, “And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” (verse 3:13) What did St Paul mean by strengthening our heart in holiness? To live in holiness means to live our life as Jesus has shown us. Jesus was always close to God – through his frequent prayers and doing of God’s will – even if it comes at great personal cost to Him. Even though He is the Son of God, He never portrayed Himself to be superior to others. Quite the opposite, He reached out to sinners and befriended them, calling them back to God. And most of all, He is the personification of love. Unreservingly, Jesus loves everyone – his family, His friends, those who come to Him for help and even those who persecuted Him. To His disciples and followers, He teaches them His ways, just as He is teaching us today. My brother and sisters, let us be honest and ask ourselves: Am I living my life in holiness as Jesus has shown me? Am I close to God? Do I pray often? Do I do God’s will even if it comes at a great cost to me? Do I assume a superior complex to those I deem less holy than me? Or do I reach out to them, call them to holiness while remaining humble at all time? Do I love as Jesus does – even loving those I find hardest to love? Is my life a good example of Christian living to others, especially the younger members of my family and church community? In fact, this is exactly what the Saints have shown us through the ages – they encouraged us by presenting their lives as examples of holy living to us. As St Paul urged us in the Second Reading, “learned from us how you ought to live and to please God” (verse 4:1).

On His Second Coming, Jesus spoke of the Last Day in the Gospel this week. In an age where the celestial bodies were used tell time, Jesus’ mention of “signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars” (verse 25) indicates the end of time. He continued, “People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.” (verse 26-27) On that day, many will be frightened by the signs. But not those who have been living in holiness. Jesus encouraged the holy ones, “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (verse 28)

There is a deep connection between the First Coming and Second Coming of Jesus. If we continue to strive closer to holy living day or day, year after year, then Advent and Christmas become an opportunity time for us to assess and reflect on our life. We ask ourselves at this time: What advances have I made in the last year? Is my life closer in holiness to those of the Saints and that of our Lord Jesus? If I do, I may look forward to the Second Coming, when Jesus would say to us, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” (Mt 25:23) Whereas, for those of us who have taken our life and Jesus’s teaching for granted, then we would have nothing to show for the year. Especially for those of us who window-dress our life, constantly putting on a show for others to see, I might be saying to Jesus, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?” (Mt 7:22) Then, to my dismay, Jesus would say to me, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.” (Mt 7:23) This is why Jesus warned us in the Gospel this week, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.” (verse 34-35)

It will be a great tragedy indeed, that we are so caught up with worldly pursuits that we are not ready when Jesus comes. If this is me, it is never too late. This Advent, let me wake up from dissipation and drunkenness and put on love, in preparation for the Coming of Jesus – at Christmas and at the end of time. Peace be with you, my brothers and sisters.

Weekly Reflection (21 Nov 2021)

Christ The King, Year B

Daniel 7:13-14
Apocalypse 1:5-8
John 18:33-37

Earthly kingdoms or heaven kingdom. Which should I choose? What am I choosing now?

This week, we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. Appropriately, the Scripture passages urge us to reflect on Jesus’ kingship. What is the difference between earthly kingdoms and the heaven kingdom of Jesus Christ? There are three key differences.

Firstly, earthly kingdoms, no matter how powerful they are, eventually come to an end. Earthly kingdoms are by nature transient. In a passage immediately prior to this week’s First Reading, the Prophet Daniel described a vision where he witnessed four beasts rising from the sea. These represented the rise of four successive earthly kingdoms of the Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman. (Dan 7:1-8) Earlier, the Book of Daniel described a similar vision coming to Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar through a dream (Dan 2:31-45). As powerful as they were, these kingdoms rose, and they fell away. In contrast to these earthly kingdoms, Jesus’ heavenly kingdom is eternal. As the First Reading proclaimed, “To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.” (verse 14) Or as the Prophet Samuel prophesised to King David on the coming of Jesus, “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” (2 Sam 7:12-13)

Secondly, earthly kingdoms always seek to rule and control. In Old Testament times, the Assyrian and Babylonian kingdoms decimated the Jewish nations of Israel and Judah respectively. Leading up to the Maccabean revolt, the Greek Empire imposed their culture and religion on the people of God. During Jesus’ time, the Roman Empire imposed a ruthless rule over the people. The “kingdoms” of today are no different. These are the powerful nations and large multinational corporations of today. Like the kingdoms of old, the powerful nations of today have strong economies and mighty military, which they use to subdue smaller nations. Meanwhile, big social media corporations control our thoughts and speeches – often subtly through their selective censorship and selective publication, controlling what we see on our social media apps and our Internet searches. Other corporations monopolise sectors of the economies, effectively controlling our consumption and spending habits. In contrast, the heaven kingdom of Jesus does not seek to control us but instead free us. As a believer, when I submit myself to the Jesus’ heavenly kingdom, I do so of my own free will – I freely choose to love, to serve and to live under God’s law.

Thirdly, earthly kingdom is about attaining earthly gratifications – wealth, power, influence, and most of all, lordship over other people’s lives. To this end, we often create earthly kingdoms of our own. At our work places, organisations and families, we form cliques of allies to promote our agendas, often to the detriment of the organisation. We do the same even in our churches and faith communities, bringing our worldliness into the spiritual realm. In so doing, our spiritual worldliness disenchants others who are genuinely seeking God’s love and spiritual closeness with God. This is especially detrimental if I hold a leadership role in my faith community – a priest, pastor or ministry leader – as my actions can affect a great many. As Jesus warned us, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Mt 18:6) In contrast, Jesus’ heaven kingdom is the opposite. Rather than seeking His own gratifications, Jesus is the heavenly King who sacrificed Himself for our sins. And in so doing, as the Second Reading explains, Jesus “made us to be a kingdom” (verse 6). Whereas in my earthly kingdom where I confer power and influence upon myself, Jesus the heavenly King confers His royalty upon the people. This is counter cultural, for what earthly king would share his royal inheritance with his subjects? And here is the challenge for us all: because Jesus made us to be his kingdom, because He share His royalty with us, we are called to do the same. My brother and sisters, let us reflect: when was the last time I sacrifice myself gravely for the well-being of others?

The truth is, the lure of the earthly kingdom is strong. To resist its lure and submit ourselves to Jesus’ heavenly kingdom, we need to form ourselves spiritually and form ourselves well. Just coming to church every weekend is not sufficient. Just following the rituals of worship is not sufficient. Just gaining head knowledge of the teachings of Jesus without a conviction of the heart is not sufficient. To gain a conviction of the heart, we need to spend quality time with Jesus, to be close to him. Just as we cannot fall in love with someone without spending quality time with the person, we need to do the same with Jesus. We need to read and reflect on the Word of God regularly. We need to pray regularly. By praying, I do not mean just rattling off a laundry list of what we want Him to do for us, but actually connecting with Him – in adoration, contrition and thanksgiving. In Catholic traditions, we have the wonderful practice of Eucharistic Adoration, where we spend quite contemplative time in the presence of Jesus – Jesus present in His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. In the Gospel this week, Pontius Pilate asked Jesus if He is the King. Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” (verse 34) My brother and sisters, it is not important who reveals the truth to us. The important thing is that we come to the truth. And just as important is our response. Jesus revealed the truth to Pilate in the Gospel this week. How did Pilate respond? What about me? How do I respond to the truth?

In the Gospel this week, Jesus explained to Pontius Pilate that His heavenly kingdom is “not from this world” (verse 36). As royalty in the heavenly kingdom, we are called to resist serving the values of the world, of not taking the political convenient way out. Think about it, how many times have I shy away from my faith for fear of offending the world. How many times I am even afraid to acknowledge that I am a Christian in public, let alone defending the tenets of my faith – in issues such as the sanctity of life, sanctity of the marriage, freedom of religious expression? In the Gospel, Jesus convinced Pilate of his innocence and assured him that he is no threat to the Roman Empire by declaring His kingdom is not from this world. Jesus then proclaimed the truth to Pilate: “for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” (verse 37) In this way, Jesus ironically turned the table on Pilate such that Pilate became the one on trial. Pilate had to make the choice: execute Jesus to please the crowd; or release him to please his conscience. In the end, Pilate took the cowardly decision of sentencing Jesus to death. In the process, Pilate took the trouble to disown this decision by washing his hands, saying “I am innocent of this man’s blood.” (Mt 27:24)

My dear brothers and sisters, in deciding whether we follow the world’s earthly kingdoms or Jesus’ heavenly kingdom, we too are on trial. How do I plea? Guilty or innocent? Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” (Jn 18:38) Indeed, my brothers and sisters, what is the truth? Is the truth what the world proclaims it to be? Is the truth what is political convenient at the time, and therefore depends on the circumstances and my company? Or as the relativists advocate, there is simply no such thing as the truth – that the truth is whatever each individual believes it to be. As a subject of the heavenly kingdom, have I courageously asserted that there is indeed absolute truth in moral and in faith – the truth of the heavenly kingdom? Have no doubt, proclaiming the kingdom of God often comes at a price. Let us reflect upon this for a moment. Like Pilate, I will face challenges in proclaiming the truth. Often proclaiming the truth will extract a personal price of me – be it alienation, ridicule, criticism or other forms of persecution. What do I do? Do I have the courage to make the morally correct decision; or do I take the easy way out like Pilate and then blame others for my bad decision?

St John observed in the Second Reading, “Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him” (verse 7). Indeed my brother and sisters, the day will come when the truth will be revealed to the world. Then, even those who persecuted the Lord will realise their errand ways. But it might be too late for some. The question is: what about me? Will it be too late for me? May our Lord bless us with wisdom and courage. Shalom.

Weekly Reflection (134 Nov 2021)

33nd Sunday Year B

Daniel 12:1-3
Hebrews 10:11-14,18
Mark 13:24-32

Be well-prepared for death. Be well-prepared for life.

The Catholic liturgical year is a cycle that begins with the Season of Advent, marking a four-week preparation period before Christmas, and ends with the Feast of Christ The King a year later. We are approaching the end of the current liturgical year. Next weekend, we will celebrate the Feast of Christ The King. With the end of the year approaching, the Scripture passages take us on a reflection of “the end”. It is rhetorical to say that the end of a period always precedes the beginning of something new, e.g. a new liturgical year, a new year of 2022, etc. Most of us do not worry too much about the end of a year, for we know that after 2021 there will be a new year 2022, and after that another new year 2023. In fact, we are rather desensitised with the end of a year and the beginning of a new one – hence, we live this year just like the last, and the next year just like this one. And so, as we approach the end of yet another year, we should ask ourselves: Am I living my life to its full potential? Or am I merely existing? In other words: Do I bright joy to others? Am I at peace with myself and with God? Do I feel fulfilled and contented? Is my life meaningful? These are the questions the Scripture poses to us this week.

Our life is God’s great gift to us. We need to live our life to its full potential. Similarly for us believers, our faith is also a great gift from God. We need to live our faith to its full potential. But in truth, while many of us observe the rituals and practices of our faith, we do not truly live our faith. In the Second Reading, St Paul recalled how “every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins.” (verse 11) This verse reminds me of our penitential practices in the Catholic faith. In the Catholic Mass, we have the Penitential Rite at the beginning of the Mass that cleanse us of our minor sins. For more serious sins, God gave us the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In each of these rites, to help us bring the effect of the rites to bear, the Church provides us a formula. However, at these rites, do I mean the words I say, or are the words just a routine for me? Indeed, this is the reason why many of us carry baggages in our life. As St Paul explained, through His sacrifice on the cross, Jesus “perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (verse 14). In spite of this grace that God have gifted us, we are unable to heal from our past hurts. Some of us avoid thinking of hurtful events in the past. Some of us avoid people who hurt us. Some of us even bear thoughts of vengeance and getting even. These are signs that a wounded heart that is not healed. So my dear friend, we ask ourselves: Have I truly opened my heart to God’s graces? Have I forgiven others who hurt and betrayed me? Have I sought forgiveness from those I wronged? Have I forgiven myself? St Paul concluded in the Second Reading, “where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin” (verse 18).

In the Gospel this week, Jesus provides us a vision of the end time. In addition to this week’s Gospel of Mark passage, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke also provide us two accounts of the end time (Mt 24:4-31 and Lk 17:20-35). In His end time account in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus warned us of “the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel” (Mt 24:15). Jesus was referring to the end time prophesy of Daniel, part of which we read in the First Reading this week. My brothers and sisters, what are the “desolating sacrilege” of my life? If my religious practices become merely lip services that do not come alive in my life, are they in fact “desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place”? Following the First Reading this week, the Prophet Daniel warned us about this “desolating sacrilege” (also translated as “desoluting abomination”) in Dan 12:11. In fact, our “desoluting sacrilege” is not confined to our empty religious practices. It is also our spiritual worldliness. Let us reflect: Are my earthly pursuit of wealth, fame, power and recognition overshadowing my spiritual pursuits? And worse, do I pursue the same worldly quests of wealth, fame, power and recognition within my faith life and my faith community, disguised as spiritual quests? This is in fact not uncommon among those of us who are regular church-goers. We practise spiritual worldliness.

So, how do I truly live my life and my faith? How do I be well-prepared for life? Ironically, to be well-prepared for life, I must first be well-prepared for death. I need to meditate on “the end”. I need to perform death meditation often. One way of doing death meditation is to imagine my life on earth coming to an end in a month. How would I live that month? Most likely, I will start to live my life and my faith to their full potentials. It is when I meditate upon death that the Scripture passage this week become most relevant. For the end of my life on earth is no longer some future event that I conveniently sweep under the carpet, to be put out of sight and out of mind. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus reminded us, “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. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Mt 24:43-44) And in the Gospel of Luke, our Lord warned us, “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking, and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed all of them. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot: they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and sulphur from heaven and destroyed all of them – it will be like that on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.” (Lk 17:26-30) No, my brother and sisters, “the end” is not a future event to be cast out of our consciousness. We must be ready always, for “the end” will come at an unexpected time. The Gospel this week tells us, “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (verse 32) Am I ready? Is my life ready?

My dear friends, we often assume there is a continuity of the present, that the year 2021 will be followed by 2022 and after that 2023. This is an illusion. My brothers and sisters, we do not know the time or hour we will bid this world farewell. Hence, for a believer, merely existing is not an option, we must live our life to its God-given potential. As we approach the end of yet another year, let this be our new year resolution, one that actually bring us true fulfilment. Let us be well-prepared for the end. Let us be well-prepared for life. Amen.

Weekly Reflection (7 Nov 2021)

32nd Sunday Year B

1 Kings 17:10-16
Hebrews 9:24-28
Mark 12:38-44

Am I generous? Do I give out of my abundance; do I give out of my essentials; or do I give away myself?

My dear friends, let us ask ourselves: am I generous? When we attend church on a weekend, many of us would give some money to the church. Occasionally, there may be a charity asking us for donation, and we would give away some money. So for many of us, we would consider ourselves generous. But are we really? This week’s Scripture Readings challenge us with this question: Am I giving out of my abundance; am I giving out of my essentials; or am I giving away myself?

First, let us be clear of one thing. Giving out of our abundance is not a bad thing. In today’s world, there is such disparity between the haves and the have nots that what we give out of our abundance could be something a poor person needs to say alive. Thus, we can do a lot of good without even making a great sacrifice ourselves. As St Paul said to the Corinthians, “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, ‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.’” (2 Cor 8:13-15)

Of course, if we are honest about it, there are some of us who are misers. I may find it hard to give away my money, even if it is out of my abundance. And when I do give, I find it hard to give away anything more than the loose change in my pocket. In the parable of Lazarus and the Dives (which means “rich man”) (Lk 16:19-31), Lazarus was a poor stricken man languishing outside the door of Dives. While Dives was enjoying his life of luxury behind closed door, he was impervious to Lazarus’ languishing just outside. When they both died, Lazarus went to heaven but Dives went to hell. Why did Dives end up in hell? What wrong has he done? The parable did not suggest that the Dives’ wealth was acquired unlawfully, neither was there any suggestion that he was responsible for Lazarus’ misfortunate. All he did was being insensitive to Lazarus’ sufferings. Well, Dives must have seen Lazarus many times as he walked in and out of his house. He could have relieved Lazarus’ suffering by sharing some of his abundance, but he did not. My brothers and sisters, our wealth is a blessing from God. God bless us with wealth so than we may use it to serve our community, the society and the broader humanity. The truth is, in a society of the haves and have nots, both the rich man and the poor man need each other. The poor man needs the rich man to restore his dignity; the rich man needs the poor man to open his heart to goodness. But Dives in the parable could not do that. He has committed the sins of greed and gluttony. And here is the honest truth: there is a Dives in most of us.

So this is our Scripture challenge this week. If I find myself behaving like Dives, then I ought to learn to open my heart. I can start by giving out of my abundance. It is an easy way to start – for giving out of my abundance does not impose any real hardship on me or my loved ones. On the other hand, if I am already giving out of my abundance, let us learn to develop a sense of detachment to our wealth so that we may give out of our essentials. This was the same calling Jesus gave to the rich young man, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Mt 19:21) The man went away sad, as “he had many possessions” (Mt 19:22). The young man was not able to answer God’s call. On the other hand, the two widows in this week’s First Reading and the Gospel gave out of their essentials.

In Biblical times, widows are the deprived underclass of the society. The husband is the breadwinner and protector of the family. With no husband, the widow and her children have no financial or no physical security. In the First Reading, on being asked by Elijah, the widow of Zarephath used up her last remaining flour and oil to make the Elijah some bread. She gave out of her essentials without knowing where her next meal would come from. As a reward for her great generosity, “the jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail” (verse 16). We don’t know how this came to be – whether the flour and oil were miraculously multiplied or someone show the widow kindness by replenishing them. But that is not important. The important lesson we draw from this story is that the widow gave out her essentials. As St Paul promised, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Cor 10:13)

In the Gospel, we read of another poor widow who gave her last two copper coins to the temple. The two copper coins were everything she had (verse 44). She could have kept one coin for her own use but she gave both away – she gave out of her essentials. The Gospel did not tell us what happened to the widow. But we can be assured that her generosity did not go unanswered. As promised by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” (Luke 12:22-23,29-31) Indeed, my brothers and sisters, let us learn to be detached from our earthly wealth. Strive for God’s kingdom, and have trust and faith in God

While giving out of our essentials is noble, our Scripture challenge this week does not end here. As hard to believe as it is, giving out of our essentials is not the highest form of giving. The highest form of giving is giving away ourselves, in some cases, it involves even giving our lives. This is the highest form of giving. It is a sign of great love to be able to give ourselves away. But this is precisely the kind of generosity our Lord Jesus has shown us: “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9) For the love of humanity, Jesus, though He is God, allowed Himself to be born as a lowly human. And we know His sacrifices did not end there. For at the appointed time, though He is Himself sinless, He took on all the sins of humanity and allowed Himself to be punished for all our inequities. As the Second Reading explains, “he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself” (verse 26). This form of giving is powerful and transforming – for both the giver and the recipients. In truth, watches giving away Himself can soften the most hardened of hearts. This is why the crucifix is a very powerful symbol of Christian love. For those of us with hardened hearts, who find it difficult to live a righteous life, if we let it, the crucifix will inspire us to give generously, to love reservingly, to forgive unconditionally. As St Paul bluntly put it, “Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Heb 12:3-4)

My brothers and sisters, may we always give generously – out of our abundance, out of our essentials, and even giving away ourselves. Let us end this week’s reflection by contemplating on the Generosity Prayer, given to us by St Ignatius of Loyola:

Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve as you deserve,
To give and not to count the cost,
To fight and not to heed the wounds,
To labour and not to seek to rest,
To give of my self and not ask for a reward,
Except the reward of knowing that I am doing your will.


Weekly Reflection (31 Oct 2021)

31st Sunday Year B

Deuteronomy 6:2-6
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 12:28-34

Forming our children.

We live in a morally challenged world. Today, many practices that were once considered immoral are widely accepted in the secular society – greed, materialism, self-centredness, pornography, promiscuity, divorces, homosexual acts, abortion, euthanasia, the list goes on. And it is not just the secular society, but many Christians accept these as normal as well. This is especially true for many of our young people. While many of them have grown up in the church, we have not spiritually formed them. As a family, the church is just a routine on a Sunday. Little attempt is made to build a relationship with God. Worship is something we say with our lips, almost like a robot, with nothing from our heart. In truth, many of us are believers in name only. We do not believe or practice the teachings of our Christian faith. We do not teach our children or show them good examples. Hence, many of our young people grew up in a moral vacuum. And as they reach the age of reason, helped by secular friends and social media, that moral vacuum is quickly filled with the secular values of the world. And as they grow older, as the church, we continue to fail them. Whether I am a priest, pastor, teacher, parent or grandparent, I continue to refrained from speaking God’s truth. Why do I stay silent? I stay silent in order to avoid conflicts; I stay silent so as not to offend; I stay silent so as to keep the peace. Meanwhile, with the values of the world unchallenged and often reenforced by secular friends and society, our children walk further and further away from God’s truth. Eventually, they leave the church and live their life in moral-free territories. My brothers and sisters, this is the inconvenient truth. For long before “cancel culture” become prevalent in our society, we the church have “cancelled” ourselves for many years. Let us ask ourselves: Does this de-evangelisation process happen in my family? If so, let this week’s Scripture be a wake-up call to me.

In Deuteronomy 5:6-21, God gave the people the Ten Commandments. The text of the First Reading follows shortly after that. In it, Moses summarised God’s Commandments as follows:

  1. “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.” (verse 4)
  2. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (verse 5)

In the years that follow, the Pharisees expanded on God’s Commandment to 613 Mosaic Laws and preached strict adherence to them. By Jesus’ time, the scrupulous application of these 613 laws became a huge burden to the people. So much so that the original intent of the laws, which is the propagation of God’s truth, was lost. My brothers and sisters, we are no different from the Pharisees. We are doing the same with our church routines, our robotic prayers and practices. In the Gospel this week, in answering a question from a scribe, Jesus teaches us to shift our focus back onto God’s truth. The scribes asked, “Which commandment is the first of all?” (verse 28) The Gospel of Matthew has a similar account of this story (Mt 22:34-40) but with a Pharisee asking the same question. In this week’s Gospel, as in Matthew’s account, Jesus pointed the people to Moses’ teachings in the First Reading.

First, referring to Deut 6:4, Jesus said, “the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (verse 29) In other words, the Lord is our God. We worship God and God alone. In our secular living, we violate this Commandment often, putting money, lust, individualism, and personal pleasure before God. Secondly, referring to Deut 6:5, Jesus commanded us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (verse 30) But we do not do that. In our daily life, we devote all our heart, soul, mind and strength to secular vices. Only after we fulfill these pursuits that we devote our leftover attention to God. By our examples and our silence, we teach our children to do the same. Hence the great de-evangelisation begins. It is in this context that that we must pay special attention to the third commandment Jesus added to Moses’, that is, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (verse 31). How does this commandment fit in?

Jesus is telling us that our love of God comes in three forms, with each in its proper order. First, we must recognise the Lord as our God above all else (verse 29). Secondly, we must devote all our energy to worshipping Him and Him alone (verse 30). Only then, can we love our fellow human beings properly (verse 31). The problem with many of us is that not only we love money, lust, individualism, and personal pleasure before God. We also love our friends, our children more than we love God. We flip the order of Jesus’ Commandments. So, we do not speak God’s truth to our children, and in acts of misguided love, we approve all the things that they do, no matter how immoral their actions are. So, when my children are obsessed with greed and materialism, I affirmed them as having healthy ambition. When my children are promiscuous or engage in unnatural sexual acts, I tacitly approve their behaviours by keeping silent. When my children’s disregard for God led them down the path of abortions and divorces, I implicitly supported their decision by saying nothing. When euthanasia law was being debated in our Parliaments, religious groups raised the danger of the law being abused by adult children to kill off their aging sick parents. My brothers and sisters, consider this – as this could happen to you and me. After a lifetime of silence on our children’s spiritual formation, if a time comes that we are lying unconscious on our bed and our children make the decision to euthanise us, it would be too late for us to speak out then! Do not blame our children. For to them, their decision to euthanise us might be one that is acted out of love. So we have only ourselves to blame, for we have not formed our children spiritually, so much so that they do not realise that euthanasia is not love.

My brothers and sisters, we need to realise that we are our children’s priest, pastor, teacher, parent or grandparent. We are not their social media friends clamouring for “likes”. For the formation of our children, we need to put on the heart of Jesus. Jesus was not concerned about being liked, He was more concerned about being right – right with our children, right with God. It is only when we are not afraid to teach our children the truth that we can be blameless ourselves. In Old Testament traditions, the head of the family is the family priest, responsible for the moral formation of the family. My brothers and sisters, take courage! Let us be that blameless priest of our family. Let us become more like Jesus. Like St Paul said in the Second Reading this week, “For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.” (verse 26) To compensate for our human weaknesses, we have the perfect high priest in Jesus Christ to model ourselves to. St Paul continues, “For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.” (verse 28)

“But you, take courage! Do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded.” (2 Chr 15:7) May the Holy Spirit guide us. Amen.

Weekly Reflection (24 Oct 2021)

30th Sunday Year B

Jeremiah 31:7-9
Hebrews 5:1-6
Mark 10:46-52

What do I want Jesus to do for me?

Am I totally contented with my life? For most of us, we would say no. This is in spite many of us living in a peaceful country, having a stable job, a roof over our head and food on the table. Why is that? Mostly, it is because we live in a materialistic and individualistic world. We are lured by the glitters of the secular world and we are ambitious. Hence, no matter how rich, how powerful or how successful I am, there is always the next thing I want – a bigger house, a flashier car, a promotion, more wealth, more power, more influence. Many spend their whole life chasing one quest after another, and yet never finding contentment even until the day they die. Without true contentment, we remained unfulfilled and unhappy all of our life. This is a great tragedy. So we ask ourselves: Why is my heart so restless? How do I find rest, contentment and true happiness? My brothers and sisters, this is precisely the reason Jesus came into the world. He promised us, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” To us Christians, these words are not foreign to us. But yet, why am I still not finding contentment? What am I missing?

In the previous week’s Gospel, we heard how James and John came to Jesus with a request. And Jesus asked them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” (Mk 10:36). In this week’s Gospel, in a story that follows immediately from last week’s, a blind man called Bartimaeus came to Jesus with a request. And Jesus asked him the same question, “What do you want me to do for you?” (verse 50). James, John and Bartimaeus are on a quest, and they wanted something from our Lord. My brothers and sisters, we too are on a quest. Let us ask ourselves, what would my answer be today if Jesus asks me this same question: “What do you want me to do for you?” Would I ask for more wealth, more power and more influence? In fact, these were what James and John asked for. They wanted to sit at the right and left side of Jesus in His glory (Mk 10:36). We may ask, what is wrong with a quest for heavenly glory? While the quest for heavenly glory may seem noble enough, but that was not James and John were asking for. Think about it, when we enter heaven as children of God, we become joint heirs with Jesus (Rom 8:16-17). At that time, we would be completely fulfilled. We cannot ask for anything more as we would be completely satisfied. The truth is, heavenly glory was not what James and John were really asking for. What they were asking for was something very earthly and secular – they wanted lordship over the rest of the heavenly citizens. That is why “when the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John.” (Mk 10:41)

In many ways, we are like James and John. They have been following Jesus for a while now, but they were unable to break free from their secular mind sets. Just like James and John, we have been coming to Church to worshipping God; and just like them, many of us are unable to break free from secularism. And just as James’ and John’s worldliness created division among the Apostles, many of us take our worldliness into our church communities, creating conflicts and power struggles. In truth, many of us are Christians in name only. While we say our prayers and are familiar with our Bible verses, these are but head knowledge to us. The words of God are not in our hearts. We are no different from the world.

So what must we do instead? In this week’s Gospel, in answer to the same question “What do you want me to do for you?”, Bartimaeus replied, “Let me see again” (verse 51). Bartimaeus did not ask for more wealth, more power or more influence. He simply asked for sight. My brothers and sisters, Jesus is asking us the same question now: “What do you want me to do for you?” Like Bartimaeus, let us ask for sight. But what is it that I want Jesus to help me see? Firstly, some of us habour hurt from the past and we are unable to see past that. For the person who hurt and betrayed us, we are unable to recognise that this person too is a son or daughter of God, loved by God. By His love, Jesus commanded us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Mt 5:44). If we are unable to see past our past hurt, we will find ourselves unable to forgive, unable to move on and continue to hurt. Secondly, some of us are unable to see past our own sins. May be we are not well-formed enough to know we are wrong; or more likely, too proud to admit we are wrong. As we continue to sin, we are unable to reconcile with others that we hurt. We are unable to reconcile with God. In this way, the Reconciliation Rite we celebrate with God become mere rituals, unable to transform us, unable to help us put on a heart like Jesus. Thirdly, some of us are unable to see past our shame. We did something we are shameful of; we hurt somebody; and we are unable to say sorry – not to the person we hurt and not even to ourselves. While God had forgiven us, we are unable to forgive ourselves. So we live in perpetual sorrow. We are stuck at the crucifixion on Good Friday, unable to move on to the joy of resurrection on Easter Sunday.

My brothers and sisters, in truth, a quest for sight is a quest to see the truth. It is the truth that we are all sinners and yet loved by God; that there is beauty in everyone of us, even our enemies; that all of us need God’s mercy. For what is God’s mercy but Jesus dying on the cross? In the Second Reading this week, St Paul describes how the earthly high priest “is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness” (verse 2). Unlike the earthly high priest, Jesus our heavenly high priest is sinless. Yet as St Paul explained to the Corinthians, “for our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21) Like the earthly high priest, Jesus too deals gently with us sinners because He too is subject to weakness – except it is not His own weakness he is subject to but ours. This is mercy.

The First Reading takes place in the context of the Israelites’ exile to Babylon. Because of their sins, God allowed the Israelites to go into exile and to suffer in the hands of the Babylonians. In the context of the revelation of Jesus, the Israelites’ sufferings must not be seen as a vengeful God punishing the people for their sins. Rather the exile is a time of reflection and purification for Israelites, to help them turn away from sins and return to God. The First Reading foretold the return of the Israelites from their exile to return to the Promised Land. By their repentance and sufferings, the Israelites’ earlier disobedience was atoned. God showed His mercy and led the people back to their homeland. For those of us who cannot see past our worldly quest of wealth, power, influence, like the Israelites, we too are in exile. We too are in need of reflection and purification. Like Bartimaeus, let us ask Jesus for spiritual sight. For the Israelites, they need to see past their hurt, sins and shame before they can be restored to their homeland. So it is with us. We can only overcome our past hurt, our sins and our shame through repentance. “With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble” (verse 9).

My brothers and sisters. Let us embrace the truth. Let my heart be restless no more. As St Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Amen.

Weekly Reflection (17 Oct 2021)

29th Sunday Year B

Isaiah 53:10-11
Hebrews 4:14-16
Mark 10:35-45

The virtue of redemptive sacrifice.

My brothers and sisters, what does the word “sacrifice” mean to us? In a narcissistic world, a world that champions a “me first” mentality, the concept of sacrifice is counter-cultural. For to sacrifice is to willingly accepts sufferings upon ourselves for the greater good of others. Most of us who are parents would understand the concept of sacrifice well. From the moment they conceive a baby, parents make sacrifices. Many put aside their lives, their careers, their leisure, their financial and physical well-being so as to give their children the best possible upbringing. Most do not do so expecting a reward, unlike what we do when we make a financial investment. For sacrifice is inexplicably tied to love. And even if some of our children become ungrateful to us in their adulthood, parents often remain faithful. We continue to love our children unconditionally. Jesus exalted sacrifices. He said, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.” (Lk 6:32-35)

This week’s Gospel tells the story of the ambitious Zebedee brothers. They have no doubt made sacrifices to follow Jesus. But they expected rewards. They tried to make the best out of their discipleship to Jesus by asking for glorious positions in the afterlife. Jesus aptly rejected the request and preached to his disciples: “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptised, you will be baptised” (verse 39). The cup and baptism Jesus were referring to was his sacrifice, His impending Passion and baptism in blood. Jesus continued, “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant” (verse 43). Becoming a servant means to be of service to others. In other words, the crowning trait of following Jesus is not to attain glory, but to follow in his footstep in servantship and sacrifice.

As Jesus explained in Lk 6:32-35, as Christians, we are called to not just serve those we love. We are to serve everyone, including our enemies. As Christians, we are called to serve our family, our community, our society and the whole of humanity. While we serve, we need to ask ourselves: Why do I serve? Do I perform acts of service and sacrifice with altruistic intentions? Or do I do them expecting reward, rewards such as glory, praise, recognition, influence and money? While service and sacrifice are virtuous acts, it is important that we serve with the heart of Jesus. And the true test of whether we are serving with the heart of Jesus is when we are faced with difficulties in our service. Difficulties come in many forms. Many of us have limited time and resources; and we are often called upon to go the extra mile to serve. At times, the people we serve are ungrateful to us. Sometimes, they criticise us unjustly. What do I do in the face of such difficulties? Do I walk away? Or I we reflect, improve, keep serving, keep sacrificing, and grow through that experience?

We need to model ourselves to Jesus. What was Jesus’ attitude when he performed acts of service and sacrifice? Of course, Jesus did enjoy His share of admiration and praise. After Jesus cast out a demon, He earned the admiration of a woman who said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” (Lk 11:27) Jesus’ popularity reached fever high when came into Jerusalem on a donkey. “A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’” (Mt 21:8-9) But Jesus did not let fame and popularity gets to his head. In fact, shortly after entering Jerusalem in triumph, He went to the temple, and seeing how the merchants had turned the temple into a “den of robbers” (Mt 21:13), “he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves” (Mt 21:12). Jesus was not afraid to stand up for what is right and true, even as the act costed him public support and popularity. In fact, this act set off a chain of events that eventually costed Him his life. This was Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice.

Like Jesus, my acceptance of injustice is a worthy sacrifice in its own right. How so? For when I accept such suffering, it can bring about the redemption of others – possibly the redemption of that same difficult person that has caused me so much grief in the first place. In the beatitude, Jesus taught us, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Mt 5:5-6) It can take time, but make no mistake, meekness in sacrifice touches hearts like nothing else. It can bring about conversion. In an individualistic world darkened by sin, for a soul that is wounded and broken by past hurt, my sacrifice can touch the most hardened of hearts. This is called redemptive sacrifice. It is a high call from God. For to accept our redemptive sacrifice is to follow in the footsteps of Christ to Calvary, when suffering from excruciating pain, he prayed to his Heavenly Father for the forgiveness of those who wronged him (Lk 23:34).

The sacrifice of the suffering servant in the First Reading mirrored that of Jesus. We read that the Lord allowed the Servant to be crushed with pain, so that “through him the will of the Lord shall prosper” (verse 10). Thus, if I am suffering pain in the midst of my service to the Lord, rest assured that my sacrifice is not without purpose. As God declared in the First Reading, “The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.”

Sacrifice is not easy. That is why Jesus did it first, so that we may follow in His footsteps. As St Paul said in the Second Reading, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” (verse 15) And when my redemptive sacrifice touches hearts, when someone who has caused me grief in the past seeks to reconcile with me, I must once again put on the heart of Jesus. I might not receive an outright apology, but that is ok. Understand this, for a harden heart to reach out to me in friendship, it means that the Holy Spirit has already touched that heart. Do not demand an apology, do not condescend, do not reject the hand of friendship. Rather, remain meek and extend my hand of mercy just as Jesus extends His hand of mercy to me. Be merciful, “so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (verse 16).

My brothers and sisters, may the Lord grant us His peace, the peace that the world cannot give (Jn 14:27). Amen.

Weekly Reflection (10 Oct 2021)

28th Sunday Year B

Wisdom 7:7-11
Hebrews 4:12-13
Mark 10:17-30

For the words of God to touch my heart, I need the wisdom to forego my earthly attachment.

Is there a famous person in history that you admire? What does the world do when an admired person passes away? They compile the life stories and famous quotes from the person into books and web sites. They form societies promoting the beliefs and causes of that person. We do the same with an admired person in our families. We retell the stories and sayings of that person to younger generations, so that we can continue to grow in wisdom by the life, teachings and examples of the person.

It is the same with God. In Old Testament time, many holy men and women were inspired by God and recorded down His teachings and His deeds. In New Testament times, the disciples of Jesus did the same with Jesus’s teachings and deeds. Other disciples like St Paul, St Peter and St John authored letters that were passed down the generations. Hence, we call the Bible the written words of God. Like the words of a famous person in history, we ought to treasure these writings and grow in wisdom through them. Especially for us Christians, the Bible ought to be the most treasured book on our book shelves. But in truth, many of us do not treasure the Bible. We hear passages of Bible read out to us often, through church services, talks and sermons. But the irony is that, because we hear the text of Bible read out to us so often, we become numbed and accustomed. Indeed, familiarity breeds contempt.

But the Bible is more than just a historical recording of God’s teachings and deeds. It is in fact God’s living words. As St Paul said in the Second Reading, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart”. But most of us are not moved when we read the Bible, or when the Bible is read to us? Why? It is because we erect barriers, consciously or subconsciously, that while the words of the Bible can reach our eyes and our ears, it cannot reach our hearts. What are some of these barriers?

For some of us, it is familiarity. As mentioned earlier, familiarity breeds contempt. We are so used to the stories and teachings that the words do not draw our attention. We block the words from our consciousness whenever we encounter the Bible. So we ask ourselves: What is blocking the words of God from my heart? For some of us, it is sin. My sin of pride tells me that is a sign of weakness if I let the words of the Bible move me. I tell myself that others will see how inadequate I am if I let the words change me. Another manifestation of pride is when I so scrupulously study the theology of the Bible that it only feeds my head but not my heart. Head knowledge is but cerebral knowledge. It does not change my life. Taken to the extreme, I become so proud of my intellect that I close our heart to God’s transforming words. Then there is the sin of anger. Some of us harbour past hurt. My sin of anger is so overwhelming. I am angry at those who wronged me; and I am angry at God for letting bad things happen to me or my loved ones. So I turn away from His words in protest. Then there are those of us who are materialistic. I am so consumed by the sins of greed and envy that I prioritise all other earthly pursuits over God’s words. I do not make time for God. I am always too busy with work, studies, socialising, sports, entertainment, leisure, and so on. But Jesus said, “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt 6:33).

This was what happen to the man in the Gospel this week. He was not a bad person. In fact, as he told Jesus, he has been a scrupulous follower of the Commandments since he was a young man (verse 19-20). However, in spite of him being a good person, a rich person and a follower of the Commandment, there is something missing in his life. He was not happy and he did not know what it is that he lacks. Like many of us, his secular pursuits became a barrier such that Jesus’ words could not enter his heart. Jesus’ instruction to the man was simple: he need to free himself of his attachment (verse 21). But alas, the man could not do that. So he “went away grieving” (verse 22). The story ends on a tragic note.

Jesus then went on to tell the disciples the parable of the camel and the eye of the needle. In ancient times, the eye of the needle is a small back opening in the city wall, used as a shortcut by merchants and their camels to enter the city. However, because of the relatively small size of opening, merchants often have to unload their camels before the animal could fit through the opening. Figuratively, the unloading of the camel is like us unloading the baggages we carry. These baggages are the barriers that prevent the Bible from touching our hearts. Like the man in the Gospel story, unless I can detach ourselves from these baggages, I too will go away grieving. My brothers and sisters, let us ask ourselves: what is it that I have to unload in order for God’s words to touch my heart?

We must pray for wisdom. We need wisdom to be able to let go of our barriers, so that we may invite God’s in. The First Reading is a hymn of King Solomon to God, in praise of wisdom. “I prayed, and understanding was given me; I called on God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me” (verse 7). When that happens, I will wonder why I did not get it before, when it is something so simple. To the author, God’s wisdom is more precious that gem, gold, silver, and yes, even health and beauty. It is only then we understand what true wealth is. As the Second Reading teaches us, “All good things came to me along with her, and in her hands uncounted wealth” (verse 11)

Is my heart ready to accept God’s word? As Jesus looked upon the rich man lovingly in the Gospel (verse 21), he is casting the same loving gaze upon you and me. Gaze back at Jesus lovingly. He is urging us to forego our earthly baggages and follow him. What is my response?

Weekly Reflection (3 Oct 2021)

27th Sunday Year B

Genesis 2:18-24
Hebrews 2:9-11
Mark 10:2-16

Disharmony in our marriage harms ourselves and our children. Let us seek healing from Jesus.

In our modern society, many marriages are in trouble – Christian marriages as well as non-Christian ones. Statistically, we know that one out of every two marriages ends in divorce. This is an alarming piece of statistics. As alarming as it is, what we do not see in this piece of statistics are two things:

  1. That many marriages which do not end in divorce are also in trouble.
  2. That all troubled marriages, divorced or not, bring great anguish to all parties concern.

On the first point, many husbands and wives live as strangers under the same roof. Many could not work out their differences but also decided not to end their marriage. This could be because of cultural taboo; or they are staying together “for the sake of the children”. In truth, the greatest gift the couple can give to their children is not merely staying together under one roof. As many children of disharmonious marriages would testify, the sheer act of the parents merely staying under one roof does not bring them happiness. The greatest gift a couple can give to their children is to live their marriage as God intended. Not only is this the greatest gift to the children, it is the greatest gift they can give to each other. A marriage lived by God’s original design is a source of great fulfilment and great joy, since God is original author of that marital union itself.

The First Reading tells the story of creation; and how God authored the marital union. After God created the man, God gifted him with possessions. God said to him, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden” (Gen 2:16). God also gave him power and authority over all His creation. We saw the man exercising this authority by naming all the animals. So the man had great possessions, power and authority. Yet he is not fulfilled. What is our modern-day solution to this problem? We seek more possessions, more power and more authority. Think about this, if possessions, power and authority cannot satisfy me, why would more of it make any difference? Alas, many husbands and wives today are obsessed with materialistic pursuits. They thought possessions, power and authority will bring them happiness. And when they are still not happy, they seek to acquire even more possessions, even more power and even more authority. In the process, they work even harder and make even greater sacrifice to their family life. Often, they sacrifice the one thing that can bring them true fulfillment – their family union and through it their union with God. In the First Reading, we hear that this family-God-union is exactly what God prescribed as the solution to the man’s unfulfillment problem. The man needed a soulmate. So God made a perfect helper and companion for the man, by fashioning a woman out of his rib. But the woman was not a separate new creation. By fashioning the woman out of the man’s rib, God had in fact divided the original human into two separate beings. And that is not all, in addition to the possessions, power and authority God has gifted humankind, He shared with humankind His greatest gift of all – the power of creation. God summed up His gifts by this command: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.” (Gen 1:28) This is why “a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (verse 24)

But because of our sins and weaknesses, many husbands and wives have lost sight of God’s original design for our marriages. St Paul advised us, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor 13:4-7) But instead living these values in our marriages, we are often proud and unforgiving toward our spouses. And when our marriage breaks down, out of even more pride, we make a virtue out of it. We say that we did a noble thing by staying together for the children. Or if our marriage ends in divorce, we blame everyone else but ourselves. We say that the Church is heartless in refusing the Eucharist to the divorce and remarried. Wasn’t this what the Pharisees was doing in the Gospel this week? They asked Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (verse 2) And just like us, they tried to make a virtue out of this line of questioning, disguising it as a quest for truth. They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” (verse 4) Not only were the Pharisees being self-righteous, they were in fact finding loop holes in the law to justify their lack in morality. My brothers and sisters, isn’t this what we do as well? But Jesus did not mince His words when he replied, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you” (verse 5). Jesus concluded his teaching on divorce with a simple command: what God has joined together, let no one separate (verse 9). Indeed, this is the foundation of the Church’s teaching on the indissoluble nature of marriage.

This brings us to the second point: a troubled marriage, divorced or not, causes great pains to all concerned – not just the couple. Friends and family of the couples are often dragged into the marital disharmony. The worst affected are the children. Young children do not know how to process the conflicts between the two people closest to them – their parents. What they cannot process, they bottle it up within them. Over time, while they may look fine from the outside, they built up a large deposit of latent anger within their hearts. This can manifest as behavioural problems for the child and often persist into their adulthood. It is thus not surprising many people who run foul with the law came from broken families. It is also not surprising many children from divorced family often end up being divorced themselves. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church taught us, “Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom. … Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them” (CCC 2223). My brothers and sisters, make no mistake, the disharmony in our family harm our children gravely, severely affecting not just their current happiness but likely their future happiness as well.

But what do I do if I am the offspring of a broken family? I might say, it is not my fault that I carry this great hurt and latent anger in me. So, should I simply resign myself to a lifetime of misery? The truth is, all our families are imperfect in some ways. To a greater or lesser extent, all of us carries baggages from our upbringing. We all need healing to shed ourselves of these baggages. Otherwise, these baggages will continue to torment our inner soul. We can sweep them under the carpet and pretend they are not there. But deep down we know they are always there, casting an over-bearing shadow on our life. This is the reason Jesus allowed Himself to suffer innocently. In the Second Reading, St Paul lamented that Jesus tasted death for sake of all of us (verse 9). Jesus took on our sufferings as our brother (verse 11). He suffered on my behalf so that I need not suffer anymore. This is why St Paul called Jesus’ suffering a grace of God (verse 9). He added, “It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” (verse 10) So if I am seeking healing from the baggages of my life, all I need to do is come to Jesus. I need to open my wounds to Him, and let Jesus the divine physician heal me. But this is not easy to approach Jesus like that. It takes courage, it takes trust; and most of all, it takes faith.

May the Holy Spirit gift us with courage, trust and faith. Amen.