Weekly Reflection (11 Jul 2021)

15th Sunday Year B

Amos 7:12-15
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:7-13

God’s grace awaits those who truly accept Him.

Has God touched my heart? As Christians, this is a legitimate question, yet we do not ask that of ourselves often enough. Many of us come to church every Sunday. We listen to the Word of God proclaimed and preached. Occasionally, we may even be inspired by the preaching. But we should ask ourselves: Has the Word of God touched my heart? When I speak the words of the liturgy, do I speak them like rhetoric without meaning them? And when I hear an inspiring sermon, am I just entertained, without my heart being transformed? As I listen to the Word of God proclaimed and preached, have I become more like Jesus? Am I more loving, more compassionate, more forgiving, more generous? Or am I the same person day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year?

Take for example the Second Reading this week. These words of St Paul are familiar to us. But the words can only touch us if we open our hearts to them. In fact, if we pay attention to them, they are very profound indeed. Yet, because the teaching is so familiar to us, our hearts are not moved. The old saying “familiarity breeds contempt” holds true indeed. Let us take a moment to listen to St Paul. He said, God “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love” (verse 4). In other words, out of His love for us, God wanted us to be perfectly pure, to be perfectly happy. He adopted us as His sons and daughters (verse 5). But we rejected Him by our sins. Through our sins, we brought destruction and sadness into our lives. Yet God did not give up on us. He reached out to redeem us from our sins. He did so by sacrificing His very own Son (verse 7). Through Jesus, the grace of God has been revealed to us (verse 9). As His redeemed sons and daughters, God shared His inheritance with us (verse 11, 14). This inheritance is none other than perpetual happiness with Him in heaven. This is His very plan for us from the beginning (verse 10). My brothers and sisters, I invite you to read and reflect on these words of St Paul. Let them sink in and take them to heart.

Am I truly touched by these Word of God? Am I ready to accept God’s redemption of me? The truth is, redemption presupposes healing. Healing presupposes the rejection of sins. This takes courage. How so? The truth is, God’s teachings are often challenging. Jesus teaches us to love and pray for our enemies (Mt 5:44); to forgive those who hurt us unlimited number of times (Mt 18:22); to come to the aid of our enemies (Rom 11:20); to give everything we have to God (Mk 12:17,42-44); to attended to the afflicted (Mt 15:30); to remain faithful to our marriage (Mt 19:6); and to acknowledge and repent our wrong-doings (Mt 3:2). Do we have the courage to response in these ways? These teachings are challenging indeed. As is often the case when we are challenged, pride tends to set in. Instead of acknowledging our faults, we try to justify ourselves. We try to justify what we do is ok because of our particular circumstances. Or worse, we question the validity of Jesus’ teachings. We try to convince ourselves that Jesus did not mean what He said; or perhaps the Church misinterpreted what Jesus said. This was what happen in Jesus’ time. The chief priests, scribes, and elders questioned Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” (Mk 11:28) In last week’s Gospel, the crowd even questioned His upbringing, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” (Mk 6:3)

The rejection Jesus encountered is the same rejection Old Testament prophet Amos encountered in this week’s First Reading. Amos lived in a time when the Holy Land was divided into the northern kingdom of Israel and the Southern kingdom of Judah. Amos, a native resident of the Southern kingdom of Judah, was called by God to preach to the people of the northern kingdom of Israel. He preached against social injustice propagated by the established religious institutions. This angered Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, who rebuked him for not having received any authority from the established religious bodies. Amaziah rejected Amos; asked him to leave Israel and return to Judah. By his pride and insecurity, Amaziah rejected God. My dear brothers and sisters, how about us? By my pride, have I rejected God?

In the Gospel last week, the crowd rejects Jesus by questioning His upbringing. In response, “he could do no deed of power there” (Mk 6:5). This is truly a tragedy. By our rejection, we shut off the flow of grace to us. By the sins of my anger, lust, pride, greed and envy, I hurt those dear to me; I destroy my relationships with my loved ones, I live in bitterness and vengefulness. I do not have contentment or peace in my heart. I am unhappy. And as I continue to embrace sins and reject Jesus, He cannot heal me. God cannot restore me to live the fullness of life. He could do no deed of power in my life (Mk 6:5). Our redemption is hampered.

In the Gospel this week, Jesus sent off the Twelve to preach. He is similarly sending messengers in my life today, like the Apostles in the Gospel and Amos in the First Reading. Who are His messengers? God could be reaching out to me through a friend, a priest, a family member or a reflection like this. What is my response? Do I refuse to hear Him? (verse 11) Or do I welcome God into my life, and let His Word touch my heart? In the Gospel, for those who are receptive, the Apostles “cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them” (verse 13). What the demons in my life that need to be cast out? Am I spiritually sick and am in need of healing and anointing? Am I open to God to transform my life?

As Jesus said to the deaf man in the Gospel of Mark, “Ephphatha”. It means “Be opened” (Mk 7:34) Amen. Amen indeed.

Weekly Reflection (4 Jul 2021)

14th Sunday Year B

Ezekiel 2:2-5
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Mark 6:1-6

Living out God’s call involves hardship. Am I prepared?

Before Jesus was taken up to heaven, He commanded his disciples, “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.” (Mt 28:19-20) Most of us know this verse well. But how many of us actually live it? Do I go out and spread the Good News? Do I bring people to Jesus? Do I teach them what Jesus commanded? Do I myself even obey what Jesus commanded? How many of us can truthfully answer ‘yes’ to the above questions? If not, why not?

All baptised Christians are tasked by our Lord to spread the Good News, to be beacon of light in this darkened world. But many of us do not live up to this. Why? Many of us will cite one or more of the following reasons: “I have no time”, “It is not something I think about much”, “I do not know Christian teachings well enough” and for some of us who are really honest, “I do not lead an exemplary Christian life”. If we are serious about living Jesus’ call, there are in fact sensible remedies to all the reasons cited above. We can undergo spiritual formation; develop a closer relationship with Jesus; be more aware of Jesus’ presence in my life and His calling to me; and so on. But even if we have done all that, there is still one reason, often uncited, that stops us. It is the phenomenon we called Cancel Culture.

We live in a secular and relativist world. We like to present a facade of harmony by agreeing with everyone, even if what I am agreeing to are polar opposites of each other. This is the essence of relativism. In this world where there is an appearance of consensus on everything, there is actually no consensus on all the major things, yet no one dare to be openly different. Occasionally, when someone dare to articulate a heart-felt but different point of view, the tyranny of superficial consensus is unleashed upon the person. The individual is trolled on social media; has his/her reputation dragged to the mud; and pressure is applied to the person’s employer with the ultimate aim of threatening the person’s livelihood. This, my brothers and sisters, is the insidious modus operandi of the Cancel Culture. This ultimately is the reason many Christians are afraid to put their Christian values on display publicly. In the world today, being a Christians is not a cool thing any more, especially among our young people. To use the LGBT terminology “coming of the closet”, more and more Christians are entering into the closet, becoming “closet Christians”.

This is the same problem faced by the prophet Ezekiel in the First Reading. In the late 6th Century BC, the Babylonian conquered the Jewish kingdom of Judah. Subsequently, many Jews were taken into exile in Babylon. The prophet Ezekiel was among them. It was a dark time in Jewish history, like the present time, it was a time when many of the Jewish people have abandoned God. Amidst this darkness, God called Ezekiel. God gave Ezekiel the very difficult task of becoming His messengers to the people who have abandon Him (verse 5). My dear brothers and sisters, God is commanding us today as he commanded Ezekiel in the First Reading: “Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’” (verse 3-4)

Just as in Ezekiel’s time, professing Christian values today will draw a dissenting response from the secular world. As we challenge behaviours such as drug abuse, sexual immorality, personal irresponsibility, abortion, euthanasia and materialism, we make people feel uncomfortable. The fact is, we cannot point out the errors of others while pretending to endorse their choices and lifestyle. Whereas the term “Cancel Culture” is a modern term, it is actually not a modern phenomenon. Jesus drew the resentment many while He was on earth. Take the Gospel this week for example, the people took offence at Jesus’ teaching. So they tried to discredit Him by questioning his family background: “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” (verse 2-3) In another episode, after Jesus drove the demon out of a possessed man, He was accused to be in cahoot with Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons (Mt 12:22-24).

Living out Jesus’ call often exacts a personal cost on us. Keyboard warriors troll us on social media; colleagues turn against us at the workplace; and even family members turn against us in our homes. This is why Jesus said to us, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Mt 10:34-38) Truly, to be a true Christians today is to be sheep in the midst of wolves (Mt 10:16).

The great disciple St Paul experienced his fair share of Cancel Culture in his time. Before his conversion, St Paul was a well-respected Jewish scholar who trained under the renowned Gamaliel. Furthermore, he was conferred many privileges by virtue of his Roman citizenship. Upon his conversion, all these were taken from him. For living out Jesus’ calling, St Paul suffered much, as he recounted, “Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.” (2 Cor 11:24-27) In our church communities, many clamour for leadership roles because of the attention it attracts and the status it confers. But are these leaders as forthcoming with our Christian identity outside the walls of the church? Indeed, as St Paul shown us, there is nothing glamorous about being the Lord’s messenger. In this week’s Second Reading, he lamented, “to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated” (verse 7). In truth, to be a disciple of Jesus is to carry our cross daily.

Jesus is the King who wears a crown of thorns. For us Christians too, the crown of thorns is our crowning glory. St Paul recognised this. He said, “I am a better one: with far greater labours, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death” (2 Cor 11:23). In the Second Reading, he said, “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (verse 10). St Paul lived the hardship of discipleship till the very end. At the end of his life, he said, “I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day” (2 Tim 4:6-8)

What about me? Does the life of Jesus and the life of St Paul inspire me? Am I ready to walk in their footsteps? “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:20) My brothers and sisters, in living out our calling, let us always remember this promise. May the Lord be with you.

Weekly Reflection (27 Jun 2021)

13th Sunday Year B

Wisdom 1:13-15,2:23-24
2 Corinthians 8:7,9,13-15
Mark 5:21-43

Be not afraid.

St John, the beloved disciples of our Lord, wrote, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn 4:18). My dear brothers and sisters, do you harbour fear? The world has much to be afraid of. There are many in the world who strive to attain power, wealth and possessions. Their quests continue even to the extent that the quests have become unhealthy, causing them to become selfish, self-centred, irrational and alienating them from families, friends and the community. Yet their quests continue unabated. Why? Because they are insecure. The truth is, “fear of missing out” (FOMO) is one of the greatest sins throughout history, especially in this secular world. And this fear does not just inflict the unbelievers. It is equally inflicted upon believers. Fear inflicts you and me.

It is easy to give lips services to the contrary. Do you know that the phrase “be not afraid” is the most commonly repeated phrase in the Bible? According to one source, the phrase is quoted in the Old Testament for more than 100 times and in the New Testament for 44 times (see https://catholic-resources.org/Bible/HaveNoFear.htm). It is easy to rattle off the words of St John, that “perfect love casts out fear”; or any of the 100 times “be not afraid” appears in the Bible. It is equally easy to lay claim that as Christians, with faith and love, we have nothing to fear. But let us ask ourselves honestly, do I truly believe this in my heart? Let us be truthful and ask ourselves. Am I afraid? Do I suffer from FOMO? Do I only help others only when my own needs and safety are secured? The truth is, many of us are afraid. The pandemic of fear inflicts many of us. Not only are we afraid, we are also afraid to admit that we are afraid. So we hide our fear under some pretexts, pretending it is not fear that motivates our actions.

The First Reading this week recalls the temptation of Adam and Eve. The author wrote, “the dominion of Hades is not on earth” (verse 1:14) and that “God created us for incorruption” (verse 2:23). What do these verses mean? It means that when God created humankind in His image and likeness, He created us to be immortal like him. The First Reading further explains that death was brought upon the world by the devil’s envy. The devil is the prince of envy. He was envious of God and rebelled against Him. Then the devil saw how God have created human being and given him a body, and through the body, God shares his power of creation with human beings through human procreation. The devil was again envious. So he instilled fear into Adam and Eve. He enticed them with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Fearful of missing out, Adam and Even succumbed to the devil’s temptation, disobeyed God and brought death upon themselves. (See Gen 3:1-6)

Fast forward to the present time. The world has ben plagued by the COVID virus. We have been blessed by the rapid response of the medical science with the simultaneous development of multiple vaccines. But many of us are in fear of the COVID vaccines. Let us examine the facts. We know that from history that mass vaccination programmes have eliminated many dreadful and deadly disease such as small pox. We know that vaccines work by herd immunity; and through herd immunity, even those who are not vaccinated are protected from the virus. We know that there are members of our community, the most vulnerable, who for medical reasons genuinely cannot receive the vaccine. We know that some countries in the world, like Israel, are approaching herd immunity, that vaccination are limiting the spread of the virus significantly. When travelling is open again, for protection of their population, it would be reasonable for countries to limit visitors to those who have been vaccinated. Similarly, it would also be reasonable for facilities such as aged care homes to limit visitors and employments to those who have been vaccinated. Furthermore, we know that like most medical interventions, vaccines have side effects – from the very common symptoms like headaches to the very rare conditions like blood clots. On the subject of blood clots, we know that in the case of the AstraZeneca vaccine commonly used in Australia and many parts of the world, it affects 1 in 250000. We know that with timely intervention, blood clots are often non-fatal. We also know that we risk ourselves to similar blood clot condition each time we get into a plane, about 1 in 6000 flights, about 8000 times more likely compared to the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Yet many of us, including many Christians, are afraid of the vaccine. We use excuses like COVID is not spreading in our Australian community, so I will not be vaccinated. We say that because I am not planning to travel, I will not be vaccinated. We say that it is my basic human rights to not receive the vaccine; yet in the same breadth, I oppose the so-called “vaccine passport” – that I have the rights to visit anywhere I like, work anywhere I like, even though I have not been vaccinated. I ignore the fact that by my actions and beliefs, I am exposing the most vulnerable in my community to the risk of COVID. In truth, the real reason for this irrationality is fear. In my selfishness, I forgot about my Christian duty to my brothers and sisters. Afraid to acknowledge my fear, I hide under various pretexts.

The First Reading this week tells us that we brought death upon the world by our sins. But Jesus redeemed us from death by His own death. My brothers and brothers, it is time to ask ourselves: Am I afraid of death? Do I truly have faith in God? Do I truly trust God? Do I trust that even in death, God’s providence is truly presence in my life? Continuing on the message of death from the First Reading, the Gospel tells the story of Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter. We read that some people came and said to Jesus and Jairus, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” (verse 35) These are the ones without faith. They do not believe that even in death and sufferings, God’s providence can be manifested. Just as many of us are afraid of the risks and side effects of the COVID vaccine. To those of us who live in fear, if we are truly open to Him, Jesus seeks to free us by these words, “Do not fear, only believe” (verse 36).

The virtue of faith is further revealed in the story of the woman with haemorrhage. Jesus was among a crowd. The woman came behind Jesus, touched his cloak and was healed. Jesus sensed this and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” (verse 30). His disciples thought that to be an odd question, as Jesus was walking among a crowd and many people would have come into physical contact with his clothes (verse 31). Even though many would have touched Jesus’ cloak, only the woman received healing. Thus, when Jesus asked who has touched his clothes, he is in fact asking, “Who of great faith has touched my clothes”? Indeed, it is through her faith that the woman was healed. That is why Jesus he said to the woman, “your faith has made you well” (verse 34). Do I have faith? Do I believe that my faith will make me well?

Finally, for those of us truly gifted with faith, we have a duty to assured our brothers and sisters who are afraid. We have a duty to say to them, in the words of St John, “perfect love casts out fear”. Just as Jesus administered to the disadvantaged, we are asked to administer to others in the same way. Truly, fear-conquering faith is a gift from God. As the Second Reading explained, this is about sharing our God-given gifts with others – faith, speech, knowledge, utmost eagerness, and love (verse 7). “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) This is an act of extreme generosity, that Jesus suffered and died so as to share his divinity with you and me (c.f. verse 9). Such is the power of communion – what Jesus shares with me, I now share with my brothers and sisters. It is through this communion that we help each other in growing our fear-conquering faith; as we journeyed toward our spiritual home in heaven, where suffering, death and fear will be banished for all eternity. May the peace of Jesus be with you, my dear friends.

Weekly Reflection (20 Jun 2021)

12th Sunday Year B

Job 38:1,8-11
2 Corinthians 5:14-17
Mark 4:35-41

As we face the storms of our lives, have no fear, but have faith.

In the Gospel this week, Jesus and the disciples were in a boat. “A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.” (verse 37) The boat is like our Church, it is constantly battling great storms. It is not only storms from outside, but also storms brewing from within our ranks. This is none more so than in the present age. Outside the church, the secular world accuses Christians of lacking in compassion and flexibility, as we affirm Jesus’ teaching on the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage – over issues such as abortion, euthanasia, contraception, divorces, same-sex union, etc. Within the Church, we have some clergy and laity nudging the Church to change its teachings on these fundamental tenets of Christianity. Of course, let us not forget also the politics and scandals that engulf the Church from within – corruption, paedophilia, power struggle, etc. Indeed, the boat is being swamped.

Amidst these challenges, it is legitimate for us to ask: where is God? The disciples in the boat must be wondering the same thing as well. Their boat was being swamped by the wave, but where is Jesus? And to their astonishment, they found Him “in the stern, asleep on the cushion” (verse 38). To the disciples, this must have been a discouraging discovery. Was Jesus “sleeping on the job”? So it is with us today. Sometimes we cannot help but wonder, with all the persecution and scandals plaguing the Church, all the challenges and accusations we face, where is God in all these?

Rest assured, my dear brothers and sisters, Jesus is not “sleeping on the job”. The truth is, the source of our anxiety does not lie with Jesus, it lies with us. Often, we would like God to behave at the exact time and in the exact way we want Him to. We all want an easy life. We all want God to intervene whenever there is a problem so that the problem would go away quickly. It is the same when I was a young child growing up. When I was cold, I wanted my parents to intervene immediately by putting a blanket over me. When I was hungry, I wanted my parents to intervene immediately by putting food on the table. As I grew older, in spite of my greater ability to care for myself, I continue to expect my parents’ timely intervention to every challenge in my life – to help with my school work; to ferry me from places to places; to provide financial help; etc etc. Wiser parents would withhold or at least delay interventions, to allow the child to grow, to mature and to learn resilience. For often, it is only when we experience and overcome challenges that we gain resilience and learn problem solving skills. And the eventual triumph is all the more sweeter as well.

This is so even for Jesus Himself. At the Garden of Gethsemane, on the eve of His crucifixion, Jesus prayed for the Father to take the cup away from Him. At that moment, Jesus Himself was like us in some ways, wanting the difficult trial to go away. Importantly, Jesus added this vital caveat: “yet, not my will but yours be done.” (Lk 22:42, c.f. Mt 26:39) Jesus knew that His crucifixion must necessarily precede His resurrection. For He said, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (Jn 12:24) For it is in dying to ourselves that we often see the bigger picture. That our lives are all interconnected. The death I die and the sufferings I bear can serve a greater good. We take inspirations from the Saints of our Church. The death of St Maximilian Kobe in Auschwitz uplifted the spirit of his fellow prisoners; the self-sacrificing service of St Teresa of Calcutta inspired the sisters of the Missionaries of Charity to serve the poor. This is the reason St Paul said in the Second Reading this week, “he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them” (verse 15).

My dear friends, let us reflect. Were there times in my life that I was so engross to my own challenges that I forgot to help myself; that I forgot there were others that were less fortunately than I who needed my help? Have I ever complained that a sore on my foot is stopping me from putting on my favourite pair of shoes; that I forgot there are people in this world with no feet to wear shoes? This week Scripture Readings urge us to never lose faith, even as life’s challenges may seem unbearable at times. This is the story of Job in the First Reading. Job lost everything he owned and was stricken with painful sores. In spite of his sufferings, Job kept his faith and continued to praise God. Finally, God revealed His might to Job, proclaiming his power over all of creation. In the First Reading, God affirmed his power as the omnipotent God, who reigns over the clouds and the raging sea (verse 8). Eventually, God restored Job’s health and his fortune. Figuratively speaking, Job was resurrected.

In the Gospel story, Jesus “woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm” (verse 39). My brothers and sisters, as the Church faces its storms and we face the personal storms of our life, let us remember the words of Jesus. He is speaking to us as he spoke to the disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” (verse 40). Have no fear, my dear friends. Have faith.

Weekly Reflection (13 Jun 2021)

11th Sunday Year B

Ezekiel 17:22-24
2 Corinthians 5:6-10
Mark 4:26-34

In my endeavours, do I walk by faith? Or do I walk by sight?

All of us have our fair share of successes and failures in life. This applies to our commercial endeavours; it equally applies to our ministry work. My brothers and sisters, what emotions and thoughts run through you when you encounter successes? Do you feel elated? Do you congratulate yourself for a job well done? Do you stop and admire your achievements? Conversely, what emotions and thoughts run through you when you encounter failures? Do you feel deflated? Do you feel demoralised? Do you blame yourself?

Many of us are like that in our commercial endeavours. We are so even in ministry work. When we encounter success, we like to take credit for it. When we encounter failures, we feel so discouraged that we give up. This sort of feelings can be especially detrimental in ministry work. In success, we bask ourselves in glory. In failure, we lose heart and walk away. Why do we feel like that? In truth, it is because we have locked God out of our work. There are two possible reasons we do this. For some of us, it is because of our pride. Often, I forget who I am doing the work for. Am I doing the work for God, or am I doing it for myself? Whether it is evangelising God’s word, feeding the poor, raising fund for a cause or promoting religious freedom, I want to be front-and-centre of the project. If anyone offer his/her help, they must sing to my tune. The second I lock God out of my work is because of I do not trust God. I do not believe that God will help me and bless my work. So I become over-dependent on myself. And so, if the outcome is a successful one, it is because of my ingenuity and intelligence. On the other hand, if the outcome is a failure, even though I have tried my best, I feel discouraged or even shameful. These are clear signs that I am not doing the work for God but for myself. And if I am doing the work for myself, who really is my god? In truth, I have become my own god.

There is a popular Chinese saying: “The planning lies with human; the outcome lies with God.” There is also an equivalent English idiom: “Man proposes, God disposes.” In other words, to avoid the aforementioned pitfall, I must always approach my work with the First Commandment firmly planted in my heart. In other words, in everything that I do, God must come before everything else.

The first reading this week give us an example how not to act. It flows from the historical events of successive Jewish king’s failure to put God first. To appreciate message of the First Reading, it has to be read in the context of its preceding text. The passage was written in the time of Babylonian invasion of the Jewish Kingdom of Judah, when successive Jewish leaders were taken to Babylon in exile. Ezek 17:3-4 spoke of a great eagle (symbolising Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar) who took the topmost shoot of the top of the cedar (symbolising King Jehoiachin of Judah) and took it to exile in a city of merchants. King Zedekiah, Jehoiachin’s successor, then made the mistake of trusting himself instead of God. Instead of remaining faithful to God and relying on His providence, Zedekiah formed an alliance with the pagan nation of Egypt, “another great eagle” (Ezek 17:7). This ended in disaster. The failures of these Jewish kings were not due to their lack of military endeavours. Rather, they rely on their own human endeavours – thus rendering the blessings of God unnecessary. Without God by his side, Zedekiah suffered a tragic end (2 Kgs 25:7).

Hence, in the Second Reading, St Paul advised us, “walk by faith, not by sight” (verse 7). We are urged to rely on faith even though faith in God is an unseen quality. The healing of the man born blind in Jn 9 offers us another example. In the story, even though “since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind” (Jn 9:32), the doubters would not believe. The Pharisees did not want to believe because they rather rely on their strict Sabbath laws and Mosaic traditions (Jn 9:16,28). The parents of the blind man did not want to believe because they feel the need to protect themselves, rather than relying on God’s protection (Jn 9:20-21). In the final analysis, we realise that while others “walked by sight”, it was the blind man who “walked by faith” (Jn 9:38) The others who chose to walk by sight has no faith in God.

For those of us discouraged by our human failures, God offers us a ray of hope and faith in the First Reading. Amidst the doom and gloom, God made the promise that out of line of kingship of Judah, He will raise a messiah, a true king who will bring salvation to the world. God promised that He Himself will take a shoot from the top of the cedar and plant it on the high mountain, where it will flourish and provide shelter to all who come under it (verse 23). As for all the other shoots planted by others, symbols of all our human endeavours without the blessings of God, nothing good will result from them – the high tree will be made low and the green tree will be made dry (verse 24), just like the fate of King Zedekiah.

My brothers and sisters, let us reflect the mindset we take to our work. In my work, both commercial work and church work, who do I rely on? Do I walk by sight, relying on what I can see and touch; or do I walk by faith? For the one who walk by faith is like the sower in Jesus’ parable this week. He scatters the seeds and sleeps in peace (verse 26-27). He just do his part and leave the rest to God. He believes that if God is willing, the smallest seed can yield the richest harvest. Just like the mustard seed, which is “the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade” (verse 31-32). Not only does the seed germinates and grows, it brings shelter and shade to all around it. So it is with my work if I can let go of my pride and distrust; if I can bring myself to truly relying on God. Then, God will make my work bears fruits in ways I could not even imagine.

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa 55:9)

Weekly Reflection (6 Jun 2021)

The Body and Blood of Christ Year B

Exodus 24:3-8
Hebrew 9:11-15
Mark 14:12-16,22-26

The Eucharist is God’s new covenant.

In our daily life, we enter into contracts all the time. There are formal contracts, such as a bank loan; and the less formal contracts, such as buying an item from a shop. A contract is an agreement between two parties that establishes the mutual obligations of the parties, for example, providing a loan, providing goods or services, payment of interest, payment of an agreed price, etc. Sometime, a party fails to fulfil the obligations. In which case, the contract stipulates the remedies that may be sought, failing which what penalties will apply.

The Bible often speaks of covenants. Covenants in the Bible are often described as “contracts”. Commercial contracts and Biblical times covenants are similar in some ways. To understand what a covenant is, we need an understanding of how a covenant were made in Biblical times. In Biblical times, when two parties make a covenant, they would cut animals in half and walk between the two halves. The severed animals signify the fate of a party should it breaks the covenant. (Talk about penalty!) It is with this understanding that we can better appreciate God’s covenant with Abraham. In Gen 15, God promised to make Abraham’s descendants into a great people (Gen 15:5); that they shall inherit the land (Gen 15:7); that God will protect and reward them (Gen 15:1). Then God asked Abraham to prepare some animals cut in halves (Gen 15:10). God made Abraham fall into a deep sleep and unilaterally sealed the covenant by walking between the severed animals (Gen 15:17).

The First Reading describes another occasion when God made a covenant with his people. The people promised to be obedient to God’s commandments (verse 7). As in the case of Abraham, blood was spilled as animals were sacrificed. To seal the covenant, half the blood of the bullocks was showered on the altar (signifying God); and the other half on the people.

In spite of the elaborate sealing of the covenant, have the Israelites been faithful to the covenant? No they have not. In fact, throughout history, there were frequent instances of disobedience by the Israelite people. They worshipped other gods and indulged in immoral acts. This is where God’s covenant differs from commercial contracts. Unlike commercial contracts, a covenant is not legalistic and impersonal agreement. In fact, God’s covenant establishes an intimate relationship between God and His people. In commercial contracts, the party who broke the terms of the contract pays the price. Whereas in God’s covenant, when the people were disobedient, it was God who paid the penalty. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (Jn 3:16-17) As a God who intimately loves us, God establishes a covenant with us unilaterally; and when we broke the covenant, He unilaterally paid the price of our disobedience. He died on the cross to atone for our sins.

As Jesus spilled His blood on the cross, He became “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). As St Paul explained in the Second Reading, “he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (verse 12) But Jesus’ blood on the cross is not just Him paying the penalty of the old covenant. In spilling the blood of the Lamb, a new covenant is established by God. As the prophet Jeremiah foretold, “And you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” (Jer 30:22) As St Paul said in the Second Reading, “For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant.” (verse 15)

However, as in the case of the covenant with Abraham, when Jesus gave up His Body and His Blood on the cross, He established the new covenant unilaterally. However, unlike Abraham’s covenant, we the people of the new covenant have the option making a conscious choice of becoming a party to the new covenant – a chance to seal the covenant. As St Mark recalled in the Gospel this week, “While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.’” (verse 22-24) In Luke’s account of the event, Jesus said “Do this in remembrance of me.” (Lk 22:19) My brothers and sisters, this is the true significance of our “Amen” at the Eucharistic table, for the Eucharist is Jesus’ true Body and His true Blood. As the priest or Eucharistic minister proclaimed “the Body of Christ”, “the Blood of Christ”, I answer “Amen”. My Amen is more than a proclamation of my acceptance of the doctrine of transubstantiation – that I accept and believe in His True Presence. More than that, it is an active act on my part in sealing the new covenant. I am now “a party to the contract”, so to speak.

On the new covenant, Jeremiah said, “this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jer 31:33) This leads us to the most challenging part of this week’s reflection. My brothers and sisters, let us ask ourselves: as I approach the Eucharistic table, is God’s law in my heart? In other words, am I serious in my intent to seal the covenant? The Israelite worshipped false gods. Who are my false gods? Do I place my pursuit of wealth, fame, glory above God? Do I worship my career, my achievements rather than God? Do I worship other humans? Do I idolise celebrities, political leaders, church leaders or even my love ones, more than I worship God? The Israelites committed immoral acts. What about me? Do I gossip? Do I injure other’s reputation? Am I vengeful and unforgiving? Am I lustful, proud, greedy, envious or lazy? The truth is, many of us partake in the Eucharist more as a routine than as a covenant. We do not reflect, we do not harbour what Pope St John Paul II called “Eucharistic amazement”. St Paul warned us, “For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.” (1 Cor 11:29) Hence, St Paul encourages us, “many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.” (1 Cor 11:30-32)

A commercial contract often stipulates the remedies available when one party fails to honour the contract, before the penalties apply. When I fail to honour God’s covenant, what are the remedies? Many of us might cite the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This is correct. However, as in the case of the Sacrament of Eucharist, we too often partake in Reconciliation more as a routine. And if I do that, I bring further judgement upon myself. This is why the Church wants us to examine our conscience prior to Reconciliation. For it is only with a truly contrite heart that I may experience true healing and true restoration.

Peace be with you, my brothers and sisters.

Weekly Reflection (30 May 2021)

Feast of the Holy Trinity Year B

Deuteronomy 4:32-34,39-40
Romans 8:14-17
Matthew 28:16-20

Experiencing true love and true joy through the Holy Trinity.

My dear friend, what is love like? Can you teach love? Can you find a word that describes love? In truth, to know love, I must to experience it. I can experience love as a lover or as the one who is loved. And most of all, if I am the one who is both the lover and the loved, I am in the depth of love itself. This week, the Church celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity. The Holy Trinity is a mystery and a central tenet of our faith. St John said, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8) The Holy Trinity is in essence the deepest expression of God who is love Himself. God the Father is the lover; God the Son is the loved. And as the Father pours out all His love to the Son; the Son in turn pours all His loves to the Father, this eternal exchange of love between the Father and the Son is the Holy Spirit. My brothers and sisters, this is the essence of God – an eternal loving relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

For those of us who are parents, we love our children. We make great sacrifices for them; give them the best we can offer, sometimes even to the detriment of our own well-being. When our child is sick or is suffering, if we could, we would rather take on that suffering upon ourselves. And if our child makes bad company, has gone astray or even treats us badly, it does not diminish our parental love. Instead, we extend to the child our unconditional understanding and forgiveness. This type of love does not make sense, yet this is the way a parent loves a child. The truth is, for the love of a child, a parent would give the child a piece of himself or herself. This is also the way God loves me. St John continued, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 4:10)

In the Bible, there is another example of such love in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32). In the parable, the wayward son asked the father for his inheritance while the father was still alive. In Jewish and many other cultures, this would be equivalent to wishing death upon the father. The father must have been heartbroken at the request, but acceded to the son’s request anyway. The son then took the money and spent it all on a life of debauchery. With the money gone, the son was renegaded to a live of destitute and with no honour. He came to his senses and returned to the father. On seeing his son returned, the father extended to the son his unconditional understanding and forgiveness. The father restored the son his status of sonship and organised a celebration. In his own words, the father rejoiced because the son “was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” (Lk 15:32) In fact, some Scripture scholars called this the parable of the Prodigal Father on account of the forgiveness the father so lavishly showered upon the son.

If a human parent can love like this, what about God? In the First Reading, just as the Prodigal Father did, Moses explained to people how God took personal interest in the well-being of the people. Demonstrating great love and awesome power at the same time, God performed great miracles, taking the Israelite nation out from their enslavement in Egypt, turning the sea into dry land, feeding the people with manna from heaven and gave them His Commandments. God delivered the Israelites from the bondage of slavery in Egypt and made them a free people.

When we speak of Bible stories like those of Israelites above, we often said we are God’s people and He lavishly showers his love upon us. But God’s love is not like how a benevolent king would love his people; but rather, it is like the Prodigal Father showering his unconditional love upon the son. As St Paul explains in the Second Reading, we are “children of God” (verse 14). Through the Holy Spirit, we become God’s adopted children, addressing God intimately “Abba! Father!” (verse 15) For we are not adopted as some kind of second-class children. Rather, we are His true heirs, sharing the Father’s inheritance with none other than Christ Himself (verse 17). That we are adopted sons and daughters of God and joint-heirs with Christ is a teaching many of us have heard before. But the question is: while we know it in our head, do you feel it in our heart?

It is for this reason it helps for us to reflect on the Holy Trinity. For the love of a child, a parent would give the child a piece of himself or herself. God does the same by dying on the cross for us. On the cross, the Son cries out to the Father; the Father mourns the suffering of the Son; and the love between them hovered between heaven and earth as the Holy Spirit. God has given Himself to us in the Holy Trinity. In so doing, He shares with us his very essence, that He is love.

Through this Feast of the Holy Trinity, the Church wants us to experience an intimacy with God. Like the Prodigal Son who came to his senses, we are invited to reflect on our lives – all our unhappiness, failures, sadness and debaucheries – and say to God, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;” (Lk 15:21). Accepting God’s unconditional love and forgiveness, let us learn to experience God intimately in our heart. Let us experience the true joy of being adopted sons or daughters. I am the loved one; I am the lover; and I am the love itself in the image of God Himself. For as St John said, “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 Jn 4:8) To know God is to experience love. To experience God’s love is to experience true joy. Then let me spread this joy by bringing others into God family. Let me “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Gospel, verse 20). Make no mistake, when I am baptised, I become God’s adopted sons and daughters, sharing in His inner being – His love.

“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ex 36:26) Amen.

Weekly Reflection (23 May 2021)

The Ascension Of The Lord, Year B

Acts 2:1-11
Galatians 5:16-25
John 15:26-27,16:12-15

Open our hearts to the Holy Spirit. Experience true joy and true freedom.

We human beings are physical beings. We have physical needs, desires and aspirations. Whether it is a comfortable house, a flashy car, good food, music, enjoying performing art, exotic holidays, or physical intimacy; these physical enjoyments are important to us. But these often only offer fleeting satisfaction. They do not fulfill us. Consider this: What joy is there in living in a big comfortable house if I live in it all by myself without anyone to share or even anyone to visit me? What joy is physical intimacy if I do not connect with the soul of the person I am intimate with? In the morning after, as two intimate strangers, as we each go our own way, all that is left is a profound sense of emptiness.

The truth is, we are not just physical being; we are also spiritual beings. When God created us, He created us in His image and likeness. He placed in us an eternal and indestructible soul in the likeness of Himself. He then placed within our souls His Spirit, the Holy Spirit which is the love of God Himself. This makes us human beings a unique creation of God. Whereas the animals are physical bodies without souls and angels are pure spirits without bodies, God created human with both a physical body and a spiritual soul. This explains why while physical enjoyments are important to us, by themselves physical enjoyments cannot fully satisfy us. We have spiritual needs. We long for the intangibles – we seek love, we seek companionship, we seek connection, we ultimately seek inner fulfillment.

My brothers and sisters, that we have both physical and spiritual needs is something so basic and yet so elusive to many. This paradox has driven many to seek happiness in the wrong places. And the only reason this paradox even exists at all is because we have been deceived by the devil. In the beginning, when God created Adam and Eve, their physical and spiritual aspirations were in perfect alignment. Consider this: “the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.” (Gen 2:25) As Adam and Eve shared physical intimacy; they also shared a deep connection of their souls. The physical intertwined with the spiritual. It was beautiful. The thoughts of exploiting each other just for selfish physical gratification never crossed their minds. Then the devil deceived them to do exactly that; and sin enters the world. After their fall, they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths to cover themselves. And when God came looking for them, they hid themselves (Gen 3:7-8). The hid away from God, who is love (c.f. 1 Jn 4:8,16).

Today, we continue to hide from God. My dear friends, reflect upon this for a moment. Do I seek joy and fulfilment in the wrong places? Am I obsessed with just satisfying my human physical needs? Does the fact that I need both physical and spiritual fulfilment remained elusive to me? And it is not just me who does that. Even the rich and famous people who seems to have everything does that too. Even as the materialistic world satisfy every of their physical needs, many are never fully satisfied. The truth is, all of us have a void in our soul that can only be filled with the spiritual. And in whatever form our spiritual quests come, God is the ultimate source of all spiritual fulfilment.

St Paul said in the Second Reading this week, “Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other,” (verse 16-17) Of course it does not mean, as the Manichaeism heresy suggests, that it is wrong to seek physical fulfilment. Rather, if I seek physical fulfilment to the exclusion of spiritual fulfilment, my desire becomes distorted and true joy will continue to elude me. St Paul continued, “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.” (verse 19-21) “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (verse 22-23).

My dear friends, it is often that we over-emphasise our physical quests. This extends beyond our quest for material goods. The First Reading recalls the first Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon a group of frightened disciples. Like us, the disciples were over-emphasised in the physical, in their case, their concern in their physical safety overrides their spiritual needs. It is just like the disproportionate fear we are currently witnessing regarding the COVID vaccine, even among many Christians. In Australia, AstraZeneca is the prevalent vaccine being administered. The chances of developing a blood clot from the vaccine is minute, about 1 in 250000. Yet many are disproportionately afraid. And here is another important fact. In our population, there is a small number of people with medical conditions that make them unsuitable to receive the vaccine. So, these vulnerable people can only be protected through herd immunity. In other words, a sufficient number of the rest of us need to be vaccinated in order to protect these our most vulnerable. Being vaccinated is in fact a way to show our love for our neighbour, a cornerstone Christian practice. Yet like the disciples who locked themselves in the upper room, many Christians are paralysed by fear.

Like the disciples in the upper room, I am called to open myself to let the Holy Spirit descended upon me. My brothers and sisters, this is indeed the meaning of Pentecost, to free ourselves from the constraints of the flesh, embrace God’s Spirit and be truly free. It is to come to the realisation that my spiritual well-being is paramount to my attainment of true happiness. And when this joy wells up in my heart, as Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, it becomes “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (Jn 4:14) When our hearts are truly filled with the joy of God, we cannot contain it. We are compelled to share it. The Samaritan woman “left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!’” (Jn 4:28-29) Similarly in the First Reading, when the disciples were no longer afraid, they left the upper room, went out into the open, speaking boldly (verse 4-6).

Jesus said in this week’s Gospel, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (verse 12-13) A true test of whether we have indeed received the Holy Spirit of God is whether we produce the good fruits of the Spirit in abundance: in the words of St Paul this week, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”. On the other hand, if we are indulging in selfishness and self-gratification, then bad fruits will surely follow: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.”

My dear brothers and sisters, this Pentecost, let us open our hearts to the Holy Spirit. Be truly joyful and be truly free. Peace be with you.

Weekly Reflection (16 May 2021)

The Ascension Of The Lord, Year B

Acts 1:1-11
Ephesians 4:1-13
Mark 16:15-20

Christian living in the secular world.

On Thursday this week, we commemorated the Ascension of our Lord Jesus to heaven. In some parts of the world, like Australia, the Ascension of The Lord is celebrated this Sunday, replacing the 7th Sunday of the Easter Season.

What does the Ascension of Jesus tell us how we should live as Christians? For many believers, Christian living is merely something we do on Sundays and special occasions like Christmas and Easter. We come to church, sing a few songs, say a few prayers, and the job is done. Outside that hour or so we spent in church each week, we are no different from the rest of the world. After church, we go back to living our secular life – we live, behave and speak just like anybody else. We do not read or contemplate on the Bible regularly; we do not pray regularly; and most importantly, we do not emit Christian joy in our daily living. In truth, if Christianity is merely what we do for an hour each Sunday, we are just nominal Christians.

Why is our faith lukewarm? There are many reasons. Firstly, some of us had our faith passed on to us from our parents. As a child, we would do what our parents do, say what they say, but often blindly. As we grew up, we never really reflected on the meaning of our beliefs and our practices. Consequently, our faith has not matured into an adult faith. Secondly, as we enter into adulthood, we were seduced by the glitters of life – by materialism, egoism and secularism. All of a sudden, God, who have never been close to us in our hearts, has become even more remote. Thirdly, even if God remained a presence in our heart (albeit a distanced one), in a highly secularised and relativistic world, it is often easier to not show our faith and be seen as a believer. We do not want our faith to attract attention, which are often negative attention. Consequently, we are reluctant to speak about our faith or our Christian values, lest we attract the wrath of the secular society.

But Jesus teaches us otherwise. Christianity is not what we do, Christianity is who we are. He said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Jn 10:10) The Ascension of Lord brings this promise to fruition. If we think it is hard being a modern-day Christian, have no doubt, it was not any easier in Jesus’ day. While Jesus walked on earth, He was often challenged, undermined and ultimately, He was put to an unjust death. But such is His love for humanity. Jesus does not just love his disciples and followers; he loves his enemies and would do anything to win over their hardened hearts. And it is only through His silent submission to injustice that He could (and in fact did) win over many hardened hearts. Indeed, as He gave up His spirit, the Roman soldiers who crucified Him exclaimed, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (Mt 27:54)

Hence, before Jesus can ascend, He must first descend. It is through His descend that He set free the captives – you, I and our hardened hearts. As St Paul said in the Second Reading, “When it says, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.” (verse 9-10) Jesus invites us to follow in his footsteps, to take up our individual crosses and follow Him (Mt 16:24). Only when we are prepared to descend with Him that we may ascend with Him. But to do this, we must first be freed. We must be prepared to contemplate the significance of the sacrificial act of Jesus on the cross, and open our hearts to His grace. Only then can we free ourselves from the captivity of materialism, egoism and secularism. As St Paul said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.” (verse 8)

But this is not easy. For most of us, like the proverbial frog boiling in the pot, we are comfortable in our sins. Stepping out of that comfort zone of sin and into the light of Jesus calls for sacrifice. Two weeks ago, we reflected on how St Paul suffered much for his conversion. The Jews and Hellenists wanted to kill him and the disciples would not accept him as they were still suspicious of him. (Acts 9:25-29) Christian living is to live in this world but yet do not belong to it. Hence, rejection by the world, as St Paul experienced, is inevitable for a Christian. As Jesus prayed to the Father in the Gospel for the 7th Sunday of Easter, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” (Jn 17:14-15)

In a week’s time, we will celebrate Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit descended in the disciples. Jesus promised in this week’s First Reading, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (verse 8) When we received the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Confirmation, He gifted us with the gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. These are the gifts we need, not just to hold steadfast to our faith in this hostile world, but to live out our calling. St Paul said in the Second Reading, “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (verse 1-3) And further on, he said, “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” (verse 11-13)

My brothers and sisters, in truth, if we truly open our hearts to Him, we will be like the prophet Jeremiah who said, “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” With the zest of Jeremiah, Jesus commanded us in the Gospel, “go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (verse 15). This is exactly how the disciples felt after witnessing Jesus’ Ascension. In the Gospel of Mark we read this week, it describes the enthusiasm of the disciples, “And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.” (verse 20)

My brothers and sisters, let us ask ourselves: what about me? I too have been baptised in the Lord. I too have received the gifts from the same Holy Spirit. Am I ready to forego my reservation, go out and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ? And let us do so “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Second Reading, verse 2-3) Let us go forth. Amen.

Weekly Reflection (9 May 2021)

6th Sunday of Easter Year B

Acts 10:25-26,34-35,44-48
1 John 4:7-10
John 15:9-17

Perfect our love, so that our joy may be complete.

We often say we love Jesus. The love of Jesus beings us joy. In the Gospel this week, Jesus tells us, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” (verse 10-11). Hence, love of Jesus bring us complete joy. Yet often, this love of ours is imperfect. Consequently, our joy is also incomplete. Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48) But how do I love more perfectly so that my joy may be complete?

Continuing from His message in the previous week, Jesus says this week, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love,” (verse 10). Often when we speak of God’s Commandments, we think of the Ten Commandments: that we honour God, His name and His holy days; that we honour our parents; that we uphold the sanctity of human life and human sexuality; that we uphold honesty and truth. How do these Commandments relate to love? In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus explains that these Ten Commandments can be summarised into the two great Commandments of love – love of God and love of neighbour (Mk 12:30-31).

Let us reflect on the first of these two great Commandments – love of God. When I say “love of God”, I often think of it as me loving God. This is not wrong. Yet it is incomplete. To more completely experience “love of God”, I also need to allow myself to be loved by God. In my relationship with God, do I often behave like a little child trying to please my father? In doing so, do I subconsciously believe that if I am not a good enough child, God would not love me? Do I genuinely open myself to be unconditionally loved by God – in spite of all my sins and all my shortcomings? Do I realise that God’s love for me is not a consequence of me obeying His Commandments. Rather, my obeying of God’s Commandments is a consequence of His love for me. Jesus says in this week’s Gospel, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (verse 12) In other words, my ability to obey the commandment of loving my brothers and sisters draws its essence from Jesus’s love for me. In this way, love of God and love of neighbour are simply two aspects of the one great commandment of love.

Let us now reflect on the second of the two great Commandments – love of neighbour. How do I love more perfectly? Jesus showed us how by abiding in His Father’s love (Gospel, verse 10). In other words, he allows Himself to experience the unconditional love of His Father, as He then showers the same unconditional love onto us. (verse 12). Hence, to love more perfectly, I need to follow Jesus’ example, that I open myself to His unconditional love, as I then love my brothers and sisters unconditionally in the same way. St John, the beloved disciple of our Lord, explained it this way in the Second Reading, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” (verse 7)

So, how do I bring this love to perfection? “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Gospel, verse 13) Jesus perfected his love for me by dying for me. Can I exercise this type of sacrificial love to my brothers and sisters? This is really challenging. This gets even more challenging when we consider what St Paul said: “Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:7-8) Jesus extended His sacrificial love to me even while I am a sinner. In the same way, am I able to extend sacrificial love to a brother or sister whom I find hard to love? It could be someone I deem unworthy of my love; or perhaps someone who has hurt me badly. If we can find the grace to love in this way, then, just as Jesus’s love for us brought about our redemption, our love for our brothers and sisters will also bring about their redemption. This, my brothers and sisters, is how we perfect our love and complete our joy.

But this is very hard. How do we open ourselves to love like that? We need to open ourselves to the grace of God. St Peter gives us an example in this week’s First Reading. Cornelius was an upright Gentile man. But under the Jewish belief of that time, the Jews considered Gentiles as outcasts that are not worthy of salvation. Hence, they believe a man like Cornelius cannot be saved. Prompted by an angel, Cornelius invited Peter to his house. To help Peter overcome the social stigma of the times, God gave Peter a vision. In the vision, Peter was asked by God to eat unclean food. When Peter refused, God said, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” Right at this very moment, the men Cornelius sent to invite Peter arrived. (Acts 10:1-18) In verse 44-48, we heard how God further affirmed the vision He gave Peter, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Gentiles as He did on Pentecost day, prompting the unbaptised Gentiles to speak in tongues and proclaiming the greatness of God (verse 46). We read that “circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded” (verse 45). It was in response to this astonishing phenomenon that Peter conferred the Sacrament of Baptism on Cornelius’ Gentile family. With his Jewish upbringing, this new way of loving must have been uncomfortable for Peter initially. But because Peter was able to open his heart to the grace of God, his heart was converted.

Now let us do the same. My brothers and sisters, to help our hearts convert, I invite you to reflect on the cross often. But not just any cross but a crucifix. Spend a quiet moment everyday reflecting on how Jesus loves me to his death on that cross, in spite of me being a sinner. Then invite Him to come into my heart so that I may do the same. I assure you, when you are able to do that, your heart will be liberated. Peace be with you.