Weekly Reflection (16 Jan 2022)

2nd Sunday Year C

Isaiah 62:1-5
1 Corinthians 12:4-11
John 2:1-11

True joy stems from fulfilling relationships.

Marriage is a central institution of our human culture. It brings together two humans to form a new family unit; brings their respective families into kinship; and God willing, brings forth children into the family. Marriage establishes human relationship like no other human institutions. From the relationship between husband and wife spawns the relationships between parents and their children; relationships among the siblings; and with the wider family. Marriage is important to us because relationships are important to us. And relationships are important to us because relationships are the essence of God. We are created in God’s image (Gen 1:26). For what is the essence of God but a relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, bound together by love? Hence, it is no surprise that human relationships are the source of much of our joy; or if mishandled, the source of much of our misery.

Human relationships are God’s gift to us, given to us to mirror the relationship of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Healthy relationships help us achieve the fullness of life. I feel fulfilled if I enjoy fruitful relationships with my loved one. I feel miserable if my relationships are estranged. A fulfilling relationship is when two persons love each other, and express their love for each other through mutual service and sacrifice for each other. A fulfilling relationship is when two persons sacrifice their worldly ambitions and pursuits for the each other. True love is when I sacrifice for another person without counting the cost. However, in these modern times, more and more so, our culture has become utilitarian in nature – everything, even relationships, are measured in terms of how useful it is to the me. Relationships are measured against the importance of other world goals like fame and money. So, instead of sacrificing for my worldly ambitions and pursuits for my relationships with loved ones, the opposite of true. With a utilitarian mindset, I measure how useful a relationship to me, and often sacrifice the relationship for my worldly endeavours. This is why many relationships break down. It is especially painful if relationships break down within the family, between husband and wife, parents and children; and among siblings. A wise man once said, there is no limit to the good we can do if we do not care about getting the credit. The reverse is also true. That is, there is no limit to the harm I can do, if all I care about is how something can be of use to me.

The Gospel this week tells the story of the Wedding at Cana. At the centre of this story is a marriage. To show us the key to fulfilling relationships, especially so the marital relationship, we have Jesus and Mary showing us great examples of love, self-sacrifice and sensitivity. In the story, the wedding couple ran out of wine in the middle of the wedding reception. Mary, ever observant and sensitive to the needs of the wedding couple, said to Jesus, “They have no wine.” (verse 3) So eager and insistent in helping the couple that when Jesus said, “My hour has not yet come.” (verse 4), Mary simply told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (verse 5). It was not yet the time for Jesus to manifest Himself to the public. It was also not Mary’s time. For they both knew, once Jesus manifested Himself, there is no going back for both mother and son. Yet for the love of the couple, they were prepared to make this great sacrifice. This is an example of Jesus and Mary as a model of service to others. Earlier, we saw another example of Mary’s helpfulness in the story of the Visitation. On hearing that her cousin Elizabeth was six-month pregnant in her advanced years, even though she herself was carrying a child, Mary “set out and went with haste” (Lk 1:39) to visit Elizabeth. Mary’s home town was Nazareth in Galilee; whereas Elizabeth was living in “a Judean town in the hill country” (Lk 1:39). Scholars have speculated this town to be either Ein Karem or Hebron in Galilee. A check on the Internet reveals that even with today infrastructure, Ein Karem is some 140km south of Nazareth on foot, with an elevation of 300m above Nazareth. Hebron is even more challenging – 180km south of Nazareth, with an elevation of 580m above Nazareth. Hence, in spite of her own pregnancy, Mary travelled well over 100km, trekking uphill to visit Elizabeth. This would not have been a comfortable trip for Mary. And that is not all. Mary did not go to Elizabeth just for a casual visit. On the contrary, “Mary remained with her about three months” (Lk 1:55), possibly till the birth of John the Baptist, helping Elizabeth throughout the late stage of her pregnancy.

My brothers and sisters, love and self-sacrificing services are keys to fulfilling relationships. And the truth is, fulfilling relationships are not an end in itself. When husband and wife have a loving relationship, they lay the foundation for the children building fulfilling relationships themselves – with their siblings, their friends and in time to come, their spouses. In other words, a loving relationship between the husband and the wife lays the foundation for the children’s lifelong happiness. Alas, the reverse is also true. Disharmonious relationship and selfishness in the husband and wife can do great harm to the children’s future happiness. We must show examples to our children. Our children learn from what we do, not what we say. Whether we are parents, catechists or priests, we have a grave responsibility to our children. The truth is, bringing our children to church services every Sunday and bringing them to religious classes every week does not automatically make our children fall in love with God or become better people. If I want my children to love God, I need to show them I love God. If I want to my children to serve the community selflessly, I need to show them how I serve selflessly. And if I need my children to show selfless love, forgiveness and meekness in their future marriages, I need to do the same in my own marriage. Conversely, if I show my children selfishness, vengefulness, pettiness, then my children will bring these same qualities into their own relationships. And if I am materialistic and utilitarian in my outlook in life, if I sacrifice my relationships for my worldly pursuits, then I ingrain these same values into the conscious and subconscious mind of my children. If I am called to serve the community but I refuse to answer the call, my children will do the same. The truth is, whatever fruits I reap in my relationships, good and bad, it is likely my children will reap the same fruits from their relationships.

But, my brothers and sisters, we are fallen beings. Even the best of us is not exemplary in how we conduct our relationships, at least not all the time. We are sinful people with a broken nature. This is where we need divine help. We need the humility to admit to our failings, that we need the grace of God. This is the reason, God sends us His Spirit to empower, guide and unite us. In the Second Reading, St Paul wrote, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.” (verse 7-10) These are the gifts of the Holy Spirit to help us build fulfilling relationships. The prophet Isaiah listed seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: knowledge, wisdom, understanding, counsel, piety, fortitude and fear of the Lord. Hence, where my fallen human nature leads me astray, I must open my heart to correction by the Holy Spirit. But this requires me to train my heart so that I am open to God’s prompting. This is where the most important of all relationships come to bear – that between God and me. For without a relationship with God, I cannot tame my human pride. For without a relationship with God, God’s prompting – often coming to me via the wise words of a friend, a priest or a reflection piece like this – will go unheard.

My dear friends, let us close our reflection this week the same way we started, by reflecting on the institution of marriage. God is the author of the institution of marriage. Because human relationships flowing from the marriage is so central to our happiness and fulfilling, God emphasise the importance of marriage from the beginning of time till the end of age. In the beginning, God instituted marriage when He created our first parents. He commanded them, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28). At the end of time, the people of God would become the bride of Christ (Rev 19:7, 21:2). The First Reading this week describes how God took delight in the people, His bride: “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (verse 4-5).

My brothers and sisters, we are all at different stages of our spiritual journey. Some of us are closer and more attentive to God’s voice. Others less so. But wherever we are in our spiritual journey, be assured of God’s love. The author of the universe takes delight in us. How do I respond to this love? Let us reflect on this for the rest of this week. May God’s peace be with you.

Weekly Reflection (9 Jan 2022)

Baptism Of The Lord, Year C

Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11
Titus 2:11-14,3:4-7
Luke 3:15-16,21-22

Let us reclaim our baptismal grace. Let us turn back to God.

We are in the second Sunday after Christmas. We have just celebrated Christmas. For many of us, it was a very busy time of the year. There were family gatherings to arrange, gifts to wrap, house to clean, trips to plan, etc. etc. For most of us, now is the time when we can finally take a rest from the hustles and bustles. Hence, this weekend presents an opportune time for us to reflect on our faith and the Good News that the birth of Jesus brings. Appropriately, the Church invites us to reflect on our baptism.

For those of us who are cradle Christians, our baptism was an event we were too young to remember. There was no conscious choice on our part, let alone a spiritual reflection of the decision. Often, the lack of spiritual reflection is the case even for the parents of the baptised child. For many parents, baptism or christening is a family tradition. Like Christmas, we spend a lot of time planning the logistics but little time reflecting on its spiritual significance. In fact, for many non-practicing Christian parents, baby baptism or christening is one of the very few occasions in their lives they step into a church! For those of us who were baptised as adults, our baptism tends to take on more spiritual significance. There is often a spiritual preparation process prior to the baptism. For example, in the Catholic Church, the Rite of Christian Initiation (RCIA) is a year-long process to help new members prepare for their baptism.

So then, what is the spiritual significance of my baptism? Let us start by reflecting on the First Reading of this week. After the Babylonian conquest of the Israelite kingdom of Judah in 605BC, many Israelites were taken from their homeland and exiled to Babylon. The First Reading was written in the context of that exile. In that time, many second-generation Israelites got comfortable with their lives in Babylon and lost the zeal to return to their homeland. The passage reignites the people’s hearts by explaining how the Lord will smoothen their path back, where valleys would be filled in, hills laid low, and cliffs became plains. “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.” (verse 3-4) For many of us, our spiritual states are like the Israelites. Whether we are regular or occasional church-goers, many of us are distanced from our spiritual homeland. I am in the wilderness, trapped under the weight of my sins, unable to find my way back. Contemplate this for a moment: let me search my heart and reveal the sins that I have been struggling with. Some of us will find it difficult to identify our sins. This is not because I am morally impeccable. Rather, sometimes, having been immersed in these sins for so long, like the Israelites in Babylon, I become too comfortable and complacent. I am numb to my sins. To help us reflect, let us turn to the Second Reading.

If the Second Reading sounds familiar, it is because it was the Second Reading used for the Christmas midnight mass. It is as appropriate a reflection for Christmas as it is for baptism. In the passage, St Paul said to his friend Titus, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions” (verse 2:11-12). My brothers and sisters, let us ask ourselves, what “impiety and worldly passions” am I enslaved to? Do I carry latent anger from my past? Am I lustful? Is my pride hurting my relationships with others? Does greed motivate my life and my quests? Am I envious of others – of their intelligence, their possessions, their fame and their friends? Do I secretly rejoice if misfortune befalls upon them? Last but not least, am I so used to these sinful acts that I no longer think there is anything wrong with them? These verses in Tt 2:11-12 are particularly worth pondering indeed. The Jerusalem Bible text of these same verses reads, “God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race and taught us that what we have to do is to give up everything that does not lead to God, and all our worldly ambitions.” Indeed, my brothers and sisters, we are to give up “everything that does not lead to God” and “all our worldly ambitions”.

This brings us back to the question: why do I baptise? Firstly, my baptism cleanses me of all my sins. Yet, it has to be asked: has my baptism healed me of my sins? Or are the lures of sin so strong, my conscience so numb, that I am constantly drawn back into sins? The coming of Jesus at Christmas is a wake-up call to me from my immersion in sins. It is time that I start embarking on the journey back to God. My sins are the reasons Jesus was born to me. God loves me so much that He took on human flesh; with all its pains and limitations. The secondl reason for my baptism is that baptism claims me as a child of God. But do I live my life as a child of God, with dignity and joy? I am a child of the Light. Yet, do I live my life as a child of darkness instead, with the shame and sadness brought on by my sins?

The Gospel this week tells the story of the Baptism of our Lord. It was a dramatic moment, “when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’” (verse 21-22) If we examine the purposes of baptism, it would seem that Jesus need not be baptised. The first purpose of Baptism is to be cleansed of sins – Jesus did not need that as He is sinless. Secondly, baptism makes us the adopted children of God – Jesus did not need that either as He is God. So, why did Jesus approach John the Baptist for baptism? He did so in recognition of his messianic mission. To minister to us sinners, He would first be identified with us. “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) This is the mercy and love of God for me, that in order for me to recognise my sins, to save me from my immersion in sins, Jesus took upon my sins upon Himself, an act that would lead to Him paying the ultimate price on Good Friday. As St Paul wrote, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” (Ph 2:6-8)

My brothers and sisters, led by Jesus, let us return to God from the wilderness. As Isaiah urges us in the First Reading, “He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” (verse 11) But this takes effort. Jesus cannot lead me unless I know Him. And there is no magical wand to make that happen. I need to devote time, praying to Him, reading His words, encountering Him. There is no shortcut. Attending a good talk or a retreat can help and that is only a start. It is no substitute for ongoing efforts to build a relationship with Jesus. It is like any human relationship. Having a really good one-off conversation does not grow our relationship with a person. We need to put constant effort into communicating, sharing our stories, sharing our hearts. And this is what Jesus wants from us as well. With His cross and His words, Jesus has made the initial approach. How do I respond? My dear friends, it is time to live up to our baptismal grace, as St Paul declared in the Second Reading, “when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” (verse 3:4-5) And just as God spoke to Jesus in the Gospel, we will hear Him say, “you are my child, my beloved, with you I am well pleased”.


Weekly Reflection (2 Jan 2022)

Epiphany Of The Lord

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

God reveals himself to believers and non-believers alike. He calls us to be true believers, to have a personal encounter with Jesus.

This week, we celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord Jesus. The Solemnity of Epiphany celebrates the revelation of God to gentiles or non-believers, symbolised by the visit of the wise men to baby Jesus. These “wise men from the East” (verse 1) were not Jews or believers, yet as we read in the Gospel this week, “going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage.” (verse 11) It is significant that the Gospel of Matthew is only Gospel giving an account of the visit of these gentile wise men. The target audience of Gospel of Matthew were not gentiles or non-believers but were in fact the Jews. Yet in St Matthew’s account, one of the first people to accept Jesus as the Lord were these gentile wise men from the east! What was St Matthew telling us?

To reflect more deeply on the story of the wise men, we first need an appreciation of the Jewish belief at the time of Jesus. The term “gentile” literally refers to someone who is not of the Jewish race. The significance is that the Jews believe that only those who were members of the Jewish religion may be saved. Gentiles therefore cannot be saved. Some Jews took it one step further by looking down on those they deem were unworthy of redemption. Take for example how the Jews treated the Samaritans. The Samaritans were half-breed Jews, brought on by the conquest of Samaria by foreigners many generations ago in 722BC. A Jew would not mix with a Samaritan (Jn 4:9); and the Jews barred the Samaritans from coming to Jerusalem to pray (Jn 4:20). On the other hand, by virtues of the Jews’ observation of the 613 strict Mosaic laws, the Pharisees taught that these scrupulous religious practices would earn them a place in heaven, even if the person leads an immoral life. In a situation not unlike today, hypocrisy was rife among some who are religious. Take for example the abuse of the Corban law. Some Jews would avoid supporting their aging parents by siphoning their money to a temple fund called the Corban (Mk 7:11). In this way, the money was kept out of reach of the parents but still remained accessible to the one who contributed it. Not only were the practice immoral, it was undertaken with the knowledge of the religious authorities.

In truth, the situation then is no unlike the situation today. Today, some Christians believes by proclaiming Jesus as our Lord; by coming to church every week; by giving some loose change to charity from time to time; our salvation is assured. But in truth, many Christians while professing the religion, do not believe in God or have a personal encounter with Jesus. So, what is the difference between practicing a religion and actually believing in God? The truth is, having a religion and having knowledge of God does not equate to believing in God. In fact, even for a person who possesses in-depth theological understanding of God, the best that can be said is that the person knows a lot about God. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “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) Human understanding of God, no matter how profound, can only scratch the surface of who God really is. Thankfully, we need not know everything about God in order to believe in Him, to personally encounter Him. To illustrate this point, let us consider this. For those of us who are interested in doing so, we can find out a lot about a certain celebrity – a sports personality, a movie star or a politician. But does that mean we know that celebrity personally? Of course not. It is the same with God. The fact that I have an in-depth knowledge about God does not mean I have a personal encounter with Him. Hence my brothers and sisters, we ask ourselves: Have I encountered Jesus personally; or do I just know about Him? I may attend church regularly, know all the prayers and liturgies or perhaps even serve in church ministries. But, who is Jesus to me really? The truth is, many of us have not truly encountered Jesus and do not know Jesus personally.

In fact, let us go a step further and be truly honest. For many of us, our life is a dichotomy. My life in church and outside the church are very distinct and different. In church, I put up a facade of being pious and holy. Outside the church, in my business and social life, I am unscrupulous, self-serving and vengeful. So we ask ourselves: Do I live a double life, appearing pious and holy in church but lead a sinful life outside the church? Do I look down on the non-believers? Do I gossip? Do I lie? Am I lustful? Am I unforgiving to those who wrong me; and yet do not seek forgiveness from those whom I wrong? And above all, am I so desensitised by these sins that I find excuse to justify them and are no longer ashamed of them? St John said, “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true” (1 Jn 1:5-6). In other words, I cannot truthfully say I have encountered Jesus personally and yet live a life contrary to His teachings. For to know Jesus personally is to live like Him, love like Him, forgive like Him and sacrifice like Him.

Salvation is not something we can earn for ourselves. Contrary to what the Jews believed, salvation is not an exclusive privilege given to a particular race or religion. Salvation is a free gift from God to all of humanity. As St Paul said in this week’s Second Reading, “In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (verse 5-6) It is in this context that all of us believers should take heed of St Matthew’s story of the wise men. St Matthew, writing to the Jews of his time, lauded these foreigners who worshipped Jesus truly with their hearts. It is a warning to those of us who are self-righteous and presumption in our faith, but are yet blind to our own sins. Later in the Gospel, recalling the teaching of Jesus at the Mount, St Matthew wrote, “Or how can you say to your neighbour, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.” (Mt 7:4-5) And perhaps the most dire of his warning, “the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.” (Mt 21:31)

So then, how do we personally encounter Jesus? In the Gospel, on encountering baby Jesus, the wise men presented Him with the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. As the king of metal, gold symbolises Jesus’ kingship. Frankincense is used in religious worship and hence symbolises Jesus’ divinity. Finally, myrrh, a spice used for preparing the body for burial, symbolises Jesus’ Passion and sacrifice. Like the wise men in the Gospel, let us seek out Jesus, and encounter Him by presenting to Him our gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. In presenting Jesus with our gold, we present to Him our victories and accomplishments in thanksgiving. In presenting Jesus with our frankincense, we present to Him our worship and praise him in adoration. Most importantly, we present to Him our myrrh. As we come to Jesus, let us die to our old unscrupulous, self-serving and vengeful self, as we present to Him our failures, our sins, our insecurity, our hurt and our pains – in repentance.

The First Reading this week describes a similar scene to the wise men paying homage to Jesus. It recalls how multitude of gentile nations coming to worship God (verse 3). “A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come.” (verse 6). The Feast of Epiphany celebrates the evangelisation of the unbelievers. But today as in the olden days, unbelievers are not just those outside the religion. There are many Christians who are also unbelievers in essence. As St Paul said to the Galatians, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28) Regardless of the state of our faith life, we are all sons and daughters of God. Epiphany is a call to conversion, those outside the faith and those inside the faith. Amen.

Weekly Reflection (26 Dec 2021)

The Holy Family Year C

Ecclesiasticus 3:2-6,12-14
Colossians 3:12-21
Luke 2:41-52

May our families be holy families, filled with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.

Christmas blessings to all our brothers and sisters! This week, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. The Holy Family is the family of Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Together, they give us a model of a family living in holiness, with God at its centre. So, we ask ourselves: How closely does my family model the Holy Family? Is my family holy? Is God at its centre? Is my family filled with love, understanding, sacrifice and forgiveness? In truth, many of our Christian families fall short of the ideal.

Many of our Christian families are under stress today. Why is that so? Part of this is due to the pressure of modern living. Our careers, finances and other social activities often interfere with our family life, giving us less and less time to cultivate family relationships founded on God’s love. To counter this immense pressure and competition for our time, we ought to consciously devote more attention and priority to our spiritual well-being, making effort to devote more time to our familial relationships. However, the opposite is true for many of us. So we ask ourselves: Am I devoting less and less attention to spiritual well-being, both as an individual and as a family? Is my spiritual endeavour often limited to an hour of church attendance on a weekend? And perhaps sometimes I do not even do that – as I occasionally sacrifice my Sunday worship for other less spiritual pursuits. And while I am physically in church, is my mind focused on God, on my worship, on His teachings? Or am I just robotically following the rituals of the service? If so, the rituals are without meaning to me, incapable of transforming my life.

The truth is, right from the beginning, God has predestined a holy family as a basic building block of a holy society. After God created Adam, he decreed, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” (Gen 2:18) He created Eve and commanded the couple to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28). Yes, my brothers and sisters, our families are predestined by God to be fruitful. However, fruitfulness must not be interpreted as just being physically reproductive. This is a very narrow interpretation. Fruitfulness means to bear fruits, not just in a reproductive sense. As members of my family, I must bear spiritual fruits in and through my family. In this way, even a childless couple can have the most fruitful of families. As St Paul said, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Gal 5:22-23) My brothers and sisters, let us ask ourselves: is my relationship with the loved ones bearing these fruits? Am I loving, joyful, peaceful, kind, generous, faithful, gentle and full of self-control? Extending on this teaching, St Paul urges us in the Second Reading this week, to clothe ourselves “with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” (verse 12) For ultimately, these qualities are manifestations of God’s love. We are to clothe ourselves “with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (verse 14). Think about it, how many of us experience difficult relationships in our families because of unforgiveness? Forgiveness is sometimes not easy. Yet with God’s love in the centre of our holy family, it is not hard to find forgiveness in our hearts, for it is by His love that God forgives us. As St Paul teaches us in the Second Reading, “forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (verse 13)

My dear friends, love always flows both ways. A truly loving relationship is one that is reciprocated. In the family, this starts with the father and mother. St Paul continues in the Second Reading, “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly.” (verse 18-19) As the head of the family, parents set the example and the tone for all other familial relationships, starting with the parent-child relationship: “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is your acceptable duty in the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, or they may lose heart.” (verse 20-21) Sadly, many families today are not living up to this ideal. As the sins of anger, lust, pride lay claim to the parental relationship, the sins permeated to all other relationships in the family. So much so that, whereas it was inconceivable only a few decades ago, today, divorce is common place in our modern society. And that is not all. Driven by non-spiritial priorities, some children find caring for their aging and sick parents too much of a burden. So, whereas it was inconceivable only a few decades ago, today, euthanasia is legal in many countries. We need to take heed of what the prophet Ben Sirach wrote in the First Reading this week, “Those who honour their father atone for sins, and those who respect their mother are like those who lay up treasure.” (verse 3-4) “My child, help your father in his old age, and do not grieve him as long as he lives; even if his mind fails, be patient with him; because you have all your faculties do not despise him.” (verse 12-13)

Finally, as parents, we need to remember that our children do not belong to us. They belong to God. We must therefore not allow ourselves to become stumbling blocks to our children’s answering of God’s call. What is God calling my child to be? How is my child called by God to serve humanity and society? The Gospel this week tells the story of Mary and Joseph finding the child Jesus in the temple. When they found him, Jesus was “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” (verse 46-47) Mary asked Him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” (verse 48) Understandingly, having lost the child for a day, Mary and Joseph were worried. But Jesus said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (verse 49). Once she overcome her worry, Mary understood. She loves Jesus but she understood she was but a custodian of her child. Her child was not for her to keep. Mary understood that her motherly role was to nurtured her child, in readiness for the calling of God. Hence, when her child said He must be in His Fathers house, Mary “treasured all these things in her heart.” (verse 51) As parents, we need to model our parenthood to that of Mary.

My brothers and sisters, let us model our families to the Holy Family, filled with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Let us pray often as a family. No, I do not mean just following some rituals blindly, but really connects with God through our prayers, rituals or not. Let us heed the advice of St Paul in the Second Reading, and pray “with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.” (verse 16) And most importantly, whether in our victories or in our struggles, never cease to give thanks: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (verse 17)

May God bless our families this Christmas. Amen.

Weekly Reflection (19 Dec 2021)

4th Sunday Of Advent Year C

Micah 5:1-4
Hebrew 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-45

Let us invite His Word in our hearts; His Presence into our body; and connect our hearts to His through prayers. Amen.

We are into the final week of our four-week preparation period for Christmas. In the First Reading this week, we read about yet another Old Testament prophecy on the birth of the Messiah: “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel” (verse 2). Ephrathah was the name of the clan from which king David came from. It is also another name for the village of Bethlehem. The First Reading foretold that it is from this little village that a new King will be borne to God’s people. Tracing Jesus’ ancestry to David, the passage tells us that the new King’s “origin is from of old, from ancient days” (verse 2).

Last week, we reflected on how Jesus is a warrior for our heart against secularism; and how He defend our hearts against sin. As the First Reading proclaimed, we will be delivered at “the time when she who is in labour has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.” But in spite of Jesus’ incarnation, many of us are still secular; many of us continue to be enslaved to sin (Jn 8:34). Why is this so? Was Jesus ineffective? The truth, my brothers and sisters, is as Jesus said, “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mt 26:41) Faith does not just magically comes to us when we are baptised. Faith is not a passive endeavour. Neither does faith comes to us from mere participation of religious rituals. Participation in religious rituals by itself does not bring us closer to God. Faith is an active encounter of the heart. Only then can Jesus can work wonders in us.

Sadly for some of us, worship, masses and church services are nothing more than rituals. Hence, in spite of our frequent participation, Jesus is not in our hearts. And worse, like the Pharisees and scribes in Gospel times, some of us think that by virtue of our ritualistic observations, we are guaranteed salvation. We become complacent and even arrogant. We even despise those whose faith we deem is not as strong as ours. Jesus warned us, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” (Mt 23:2-4). Am I guilty of the same behaviour? Do I look down on those who does not attend church regularly? Do I look down on divorced and remarried couples, especially if the second marriage is not sacramental? Do I look down on those who had abortions or are same-sex attracted? And if I have a family member with such struggles, do I even deem the person spiritually inferior to me and refuse to accept them? In doing so, I create a rift in the family, causing pain and hurt. As a result, relationships are broken – between us and God, and among the people of God. And the ironical part is, the resulting broken relationships run counter to Christian love.

Sadly, the above situation is more common than we care to admit. In the Second Reading this week, referring to the old Jewish ritual of yom kippur, Jesus said to St Paul, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings”, even though “these are offered according to the law” (verse 8). In the ritual, the priest sprinkles blood of animals in the temple. These sacrifices are made year after year, yet did not take away the sins of anyone. “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Heb 10:4) So, it is true, if our faith remains at the ritualistic level, the rituals by themselves do not make us sin less. They do not make us holy. They cannot mend our broken relationships. And in fact, as explained above, if we become complacent and arrogant on account of our participation in the rituals, the opposite can be true – we are drawn into sins.

The truth is, the rituals are not the root of problem. The root of the problem lies in us. My brothers and sisters, we are only one week away from Christmas? As I drawn closer to the birth of Jesus, spiritually, am I any closer to Him? If not, it is never too late. So what must I do? For the rituals to achieve their intended effects, I must first truly open my heart to Jesus and actively encounter Him there. Only then, can the rituals come alive, becoming the physical manifestations of the faith that is in my heart. How do I actively encounter Jesus in my heart?

Firstly, I need to read and reflect on His Word regularly. As I read the Bible, I ask Him to speak into my heart. But do not make the mistake of equating Bible reading as a theological study of the Bible. Theology is an academic discipline that feeds the head but not necessarily the heart. In fact, the great theologian St Augustine once said that theology is faith seeking understanding. In other words, for theology to be more than an academic endeavour, I first must have faith in our heart. To let God touch our hearts, a good model for Bible reading method is the ancient study model of Lectio Divina. Lectio Divina can be used either in small group settings or for personal study. Through a four-step process of Lectio, Contemplatio, Oratio and Meditatio, we invite God to speak to our heart through the word of the Bible. There is no need to engage in deep theological study. Rather, we just be our humble self, and let God speak to us in our present situation – in our joy, in our struggles, and in our victories. There are many Lectio Divina guides on the Internet that can guide you. If you are not familiar with Lectio Divina, I invite you to try it. There are two important keys to successful Bible reading. The first is persistent. Make a commitment to do it regularly. Form cell groups among your friends or family members and meet regularly. The second is to start with modest expectation. To get started, treat it just as a regular catch-up conversation with Jesus. Let our Lord lead you to grow over time. Over time, your Bible reflection will grow into something that touches your heart deeply.

Secondly, I need to invite Jesus Presence into our body. We need to make the Eucharist comes alive us, so that more than a ritual, it becomes a real spiritual nourishment. In the Gospel this week, we read how Mary, as the living tabernacle carrying the Body and Blood of Christ, visited her cousin Elizabeth. “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (verse 41). The Church teaches that the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). So we ask ourselves: each time I receive the Eucharist, how do I feel? Does our soul leap in joy the same way John the Baptist leaped in Elizabeth’s womb? If not, let us prepare ourselves better before we approach the Eucharistic table; let us create a spiritual hunger in us. And after we receive our Lord, let us be constantly remind ourselves that we carry Jesus in us – in our very being. Jesus said, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:4-5)

Thirdly, I need to connect my heart to Jesus through regularly prayers. To have a health relationship with any person, I need to maintain constant communication with that person. It is the same with God. Prayer is my heart-to-heart connection to God. Like Bible reading, I need to find a quiet period in my day to do it, and I need to do it regularly. Otherwise, like any relationship without ongoing communications, the relationship dies. There are four forms of prayers – adoration, contrition, thanksgiving and supplication. While supplication prayers, i.e. asking God for favours, is the most natural form of prayer to many of us, I must recognise that supplication is also the most inward looking form of prayer. By over-emphasising on supplication and ignoring adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, I reduce God to a mere dispenser of heavenly favours. Not only that, it reduces my relationship with God into a utilitarian one. Sadly, there are many Christians who walked away from their faith because God did not grant them the favours they ask for or in the manner they ask for them. As God revealed through the prophet Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa 55:8-9) Let us ask ourselves: when I pray, am I listening to God? Or am I asking God to listen to me?

My brothers and sisters, this Advent, let us make a spiritual resolution. Let me inviting His Word in my heart; His Presence into my body; and connect my heart to His through prayers. If you do this constantly, I promise you, it will change your life. Have a blessed Christmas. Amen.

Weekly Reflection (12 Dec 2021)

3rd Sunday Of Advent Year C

Zephaniah 3:14-18
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:10-18

God is with us, invite Jesus into our hearts, share our blessings with others and derive true joy.

Dear brothers and sisters, we have now entered into the third week of our preparation for Christmas. Christmas is only two weeks away. How have your preparation been? No, I do not just mean preparing our gifts, decoration and party needs. The more important preparation is: are we spiritually prepared?

The First Reading this week is taken from the Book of Zephaniah. This book is widely believed to be written during the period of the Divided Kingdom, when King Josiah reigned over the Southern Kingdom of Judah (640-609BC). Unlike many of his predecessors, King Josiah is a good king who truly worshipped the Lord. In the First Reading, the prophet Zephaniah creates a sense of expectancy for the arrival of the Lord, with two mentions of the phrase the Lord “is in your midst” (verse 15 and verse 17). At a superficial level, prophet Zephaniah was referring to the new found reverence of the monarchy in the Lord, that God has found a home in the heart of the king. However, taking a deeper allegorical meaning, we realise that the phrase “in your midst”, or Emmanuel, is in fact the name of our Lord Jesus. Hence, allegorically, the passage foretells the birth of the Jesus, when God Himself would come and live among us.

The arrival of Jesus on earth is an event unprecedented in human history – that God allowed himself to be incarnated on earth and live among us. This is the meaning behind the name Emmanuel, which means God is with us. As prophet Zephaniah wrote in the First Reading: “The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory” (verse 17) It is interesting that Zephaniah referred to this King that would be born in our midst as a “warrior”. While many of us are familiar with Jesus as the Emmanuel, but warrior? What kind of warrior is Jesus? What is He fighting for? In truth, my brothers and sisters, Jesus is fighting for a share of our hearts.

The one enemy of our heart that Jesus is fighting against is our secularism. We live in a secular world. Many of us have secular needs. We need to be physically comfortable and financially stable. We want a successful career, we want to be respected, we want to be recognised. These needs are not bad by themselves. In fact, acknowledging this, Jesus said, “indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” (Mt 6:32). The problem with secular pursuits is that, often, they cause us to miss the wood for the tree. In other words, secular pursuits often become distractions that draw us away from God. That is why Jesus has to compete with the secular world for our hearts. In the Gospel of Matthew, after saying He understands our secular needs, He urged us to “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt 6:33).

My dear friends, we should never forget that our secular achievements are blessings from God. They are never our personal achievements. It is God who bless us with our intelligence, our education and the opportunity to apply ourselves such that we may attain these secular achievements. Have we asked ourselves: Why does God bless me with these secular achievements? Of course, I am entitled to enjoy the fruits of my labour, they are blessings from God after all. But if that is all we do, we miss the point. In truth, our material blessings are for us to share with others and serve others. For it is in serving and loving that we are truly fulfilled. As St Paul said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35). Enjoying the fruits of our labour is joyful, but this is an inward looking, self-centred kind of joy. We derive truly deep joy when we serve others with our gifts; when we bless others with our blessings. When we recognise our mission to serve others with our gifts, then our supplication prayers, i.e. prayers for our needs, become less about satisfying our unquenchable material needs and more about being thankful for God’s blessings. We should be thankful that God has chosen to bless us, so that we may become instruments to bring God’s joy to others. As St Paul said in the Second Reading this week, “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (verse 6).

Our secular achievements come in two forms – the tangibles and the intangibles. Tangible achievements are our wealth and our possessions. Intangible achievements include our positions in life, our reputation, power and fame. Used properly, both the tangibles and intangibles can bring great joy to others and also to ourselves. In the Gospel this week, St John the Baptist teaches us how to treat these tangible and intangible blessings from God. On tangibles, he said, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” (verse 11) My brothers and sisters, let us be honest and ask ourselves, how often do I give to charities and the poor? When I am asked to give, how often do I look away? And when I do give, what am I giving? Am I giving away God’s blessings to me, or am I giving away my leftovers? How often do I look into my wallet and were only prepared to give away my loose change?

On the intangibles, St John the Baptist continued, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages” (verse 14), that is, do not abuse the positions and power God blesses us with. We ask ourselves: How often am I not unsatisfied with what God has blessed me? Worse, do I abuse my positions in life, something God blesses me with to do good to others? During Gospel times, it is common for the Roman appointed tax collectors to abuse their positions. In addition to collecting taxes for the government, they collected some extra on the side for their own use. It is no difference today. Many of us abuse our positions in life. Instead of serving others, how often do I extract benefits for myself? In truth, my positions in life are a gift from God. If I abuse my positions to serve ourselves, then I am abusing a gift from God. I am corrupt.

So what must I do? I must reflect, acknowledge and change my ways. In the Gospel passage last week, St John the Baptist proclaimed “repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Lk 3:3) But this is not easy. Often, I am so used to sinful behaviours that I no longer think that they are wrong; or I find ways to justify my actions. This is when my sins have a stronghold on me. Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” (Jn 8:34) In other words, I am so used to my sins that I am desensitised. So I continue to commit sins. I am unable to say no to the lure of sin. I am unable to break free. This is what Jesus meant by saying we are enslaved to sin. So, what do we do? How do we break free?

We need the grace of God. My brothers and sisters, we cannot free ourselves from sin by our own strength. For Jesus is not just a warrior, He is also a defender. He helps defend our hearts against sins. As St Paul said in the Second Reading, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (verse 7) How does Jesus defend my heart? There is no magical wand. In order for Jesus to work wonders on my heart, I need to invite Jesus in. We do so by inviting His Word in our hearts; His Presence into our body; and connect our hearts to His through prayers. First, His Word. The Bible is the Word of God. Many of us do not read it often, let alone reflecting it with a contemplative and meditative heart. Secondly, His Presence. The Eucharist is the true presence of Jesus in His Body and Blood. How often do I open myself to His presence in me and let Him transform me? Finally, prayer. How often do I connect my heart to the heart of Jesus through prayers? Let us explore these more deeply next week.

In the meantime, let us open our hearts to Jesus as we walk closer with Him each day. Amen.

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.