Saturday, December 3, 2016

St. Francis Xavier, Patron of Missions, Saturday, 03-12-16

1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23 / Mark 16:16-20

It is interesting to note that the Major Seminary in Singapore is dedicated to the patronage of St. Francis Xavier.

In the first year of formation, the seminarians had to read about the lives of the saints, and St. Francis Xavier was one for compulsory reading.

And even priests and religious and missionaries who read about his life and his work will admit that he is one model that is very difficult to match up to.

His missionary zeal, his perseverance and his persistence in preaching the gospel amidst the political clutter, his courage and determination were all very inspiring.

And it seemed that he spent so much time in the East in places like Goa, Malacca, China and Japan and learning the local languages so that he could preach to the local people that he eventually forgot his own mother tongue (Spanish).

He took the trouble to learn the local languages and in that sense he really went out and preached everywhere.

In St. Francis Xavier, we can see the words of today's gospel being fulfilled.

And the words of the gospel, the Good News, will continue to be fulfilled in us as long as we are willing to proclaim the Good News in word and in action.

We must always remember that it is not so much our suitability for the task but rather our availability for the mission.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

1st Week of Advent, Friday, 02-12-16

Isaiah 29:17-24 / Matthew 9:27-31

In Singapore, we are used to efficiency and productivity. For a small country like ours that does not have much natural resources, that is what we can offer to investors in order to remain competitive.

But it is not just to investors that would be impressed with our efficiency and productivity. Any company, especially those in the service sector must be able to attend to a customer's request as quickly as possible, otherwise they will be left behind and left out.

We would think that Jesus would also be quick to attend to any request because He came to proclaim the love of God and this is especially manifested in His healing ministry.

In the gospel, we heard that two blind men followed Him shouting: Take pity on us, Son of David! But the gospel went on to say that it was only when He reached the house that the blind men came up to Him.

Why was it that Jesus did not attend to the two blind men immediately as He would usually do? Why did He make the two blind men, who already have the difficulty of making their way around, follow Him all the way to the house?

In a way, that is also much like how we felt about the way our prayers are going. We have offered prayer after prayer and the answer seems slow in coming, and at times we wonder if the answer would ever come at all.

But the experience of the two blind men tells us this - for prayer to be answered, it requires a combination of faith, perseverance and persistence.

On this First Friday as we gather in the Eucharist to pray for the petitions offered to the Sacred Heart, Jesus is also asking us this: Do you believe that I can do this?

Furthermore, the Advent season is a time of waiting in faith and hope for God to answer our prayers as He did for His people in the past.

And like how the two blind men replied Jesus, we too want to believe that Jesus will answer our prayers. It is not about how quickly, but about whether we believe. Let us believe and persist in believing.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

1st Week of Advent, Thursday, 01-12-16

Isaiah 26:1-6 / Matthew 7:21, 24-27

When we think about life, there are many lessons that we can learn from it.

For example, difficult roads always lead to beautiful destinations, as when we are climbing up a mountain and when we get to the summit we are rewarded with a beautiful vision and a sense of achievement.

One of the truths of life is that hard work will have its rewards.

Building something on rock is certainly not easy at all. Piling the foundations into the rock is going to be very hard work. But the reward is that the building will be stable and will stand firm.

Building something on sand can be easy but it will be risky. That is what Jesus is telling us in today's gospel.

But the example of building something on rock and on sand is to bring in the point about how we listen to the Word of God and act on them.

Following the teachings of Jesus and doing God's will is certainly difficult and entails a lot of hard work of denying ourselves.

But the reward will be what we heard in the 1st reading: That day, this song will be sung in the land of Judah: We have a strong city.

Facing the difficulties and challenges of our faith require a lot of hard work on our part but the reward will be that the foundations of our faith will be firm.

And God will guard us along the way as He sets wall and rampart about us. When we build our lives on God our Rock and stand firm with Him, He will stand firm with us. And Jesus promises us that we will not fall. Let us trust in Him and continue to build on the Lord our Rock.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

St. Andrew, Apostle, Wednesday, 30-11-16

Romans 10:9-18 / Matthew 4:18-22

We would like to be known and identified as who we are, and for who we are.

We may not like it that much when we are known and identified in relation and in connection with someone else.

For example, how would we feel if we are known as someone else's brother or sister, or someone else's nephew or niece, and at times our name is not even mentioned.

We may feel that we are not that important to be remembered by name or that we have to latch on to someone else's identity in order to be identified.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Andrew. He is often overshadowed by his brother St. Peter. Even when we have to talk about St. Andrew, we will mention that he is the brother of St. Peter. Otherwise some might wonder who are we talking about about.

But it must be remembered that it was St. Andrew who introduced St. Peter to Jesus. It was St. Andrew who pointed out the boy with the five loaves and two fish. It was St. Andrew who brought the Gentiles to see Jesus.

And it was St. Andrew who responded the invitation of Jesus to "Come and see" and he spent the whole day with Jesus.

So St. Andrew may not be that prominent as an apostle and not as famous as his brother. But he is remembered for those few moments in the ministry of Jesus.

We may not be prominent or famous people. But as Christians, Jesus has called us to be His presence in this world. May all that we do bring about the presence of Jesus to others

Monday, November 28, 2016

1st Week of Advent, Tuesday, 29-11-16

Isaiah 11:1-10 / Luke 10:21-24

Fairy tales make us smile, fairy tales like Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.

They make us smile because the ending is so rosy, so dreamy, so happily ever after, and we feel nice about it.

But the real world is not a fairy tale and we don't usually end up smiling or happy ever after. In fact ,it can be like happy never after.

What we heard from the prophet Isaiah seemed to be like a fairy tale.

The wolf lives with the lamb, the lion eats straw like the ox, infant plays over the cobra's hole.

A picture of serenity, a picture of peace and harmony.

But can it be true, can it ever be true? Or is it  just  a dream and a fairy tale?

We might say that it is not possible, and that it because we, too often, have experienced the hard knocks of the real world.

In this hard and real world, there are no dreams or fairy tales.

The story of Vincent van Gogh, the great Dutch painter, is one such case.

He actually produced 1,700 paintings and drawings before he died in 1890. However in his lifetime, van Gogh sold only one painting, and that for only a miserable sum.

So in the hard real world, dreams and fairy tales just fizzle out and vanish. Or is it so?

It is into this hard real world and that Jesus came to help us dream again, and to give us hope and to help us believe that the Kingdom stories are not just airy fairy tales.

So as we begin our Advent preparation, let us also become like little children of the Kingdom, children who want to dream, children who dare to believe that stories can come true, children who dare to hope against hope.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

1st Week of Advent (Year A), Monday, 28-11-16

Isaiah 4:2-6 / Matthew 8:5-11

An average dictionary would have something like over 50,000 entries and with over 70,000 definitions.

That is quite a number of words with quite a number of definitions.

But despite their abundance, words still have a powerful effect on our lives and in our thinking.

A carefully chosen word or phrase can save a situation, whereas a careless choice of words can ruin everything.

So if the pen is mightier than the sword, then the spoken word can be as powerful as the action.

In the gospel, the centurion recognized the authority of Jesus and the power of His Word, the centurion being a man of authority himself.

He believed that what Jesus says is as good as being done already.

As the Church begins the season of Advent, we are called to reflect on what Jesus said and to prepare for how it will be fulfilled.

Jesus came 2000 years ago to bring about healing and forgiveness. He will come again to bring about restoration and salvation.

May we hold on to our faith in His Word as we continue to wait for the fulfillment of His promises.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

1st Sunday of Advent, Year A, 27.11.2016

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

If we have to make a choice between health and wealth, what would we be more likely to choose?

Surely, we would be more likely to choose health, because as the saying goes, health is wealth, but not necessarily the other way round.

But as much as we desire health, it is also the one thing that we often take for granted and often neglect. Until when we lose it.

One obvious sign of how healthy we are is how we feel when we wake up in the morning. No doubt we may not be that aware or alert to take note of how we feel. 

But that already in itself is a sign. If we need a couple of alarm clocks to wake us up, then obviously we are not having enough of rest, among other things. More critical would be when we sleep through a couple of alarm clocks and not even hear them at all. Then that is certainly a sign to tell us that we better go for a medical checkup.

Of course we can put it off, but ignoring the signs is a sure way of ending up in the wrong destination.

Let us take for example the warning signs before a stroke. It is put in an acronym F.A.S.T., and this what it means.

“F” stands for face drooping, as in one side of the face starts drooping. “A” stands for arm weakness – one arm will just drift downwards.

“S” stands for speech difficulty – the speech is slurred. And “T” stand for time – time to call the ambulance. 

Since stroke can be the cause of death or disability, when the signs are there, then every second counts, so act FAST!!!

The 1st Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of a new Church year. It marks the beginning of a “new time” so to speak.

In the gospel, Jesus talks about a time gone by and also about a time to come.

He talked about the time in Noah’s day, the time before the Flood when people were eating and drinking, right up to the day when Noah went into the ark, and they suspected nothing, until it rained and rained for 40 days and 40 nights.

The people saw the sign of Noah building the ark. If words are to the ears what signs are to the eyes, then the people just ignored the sign until it was too late.

That was a sign of a time gone by. But Jesus also talked about a time to come.

He said that if a householder had known at what time the burglar would come, he would have stayed awake and would have allowed anyone to break through the wall of his house.

And the 2nd reading has this to say: You know “the time” has come; you must wake up now; our salvation is even nearer than it was before.

Yes, the time has come, the signs are there, the first candle of the Advent wreath is lit, the colour of the vestments has changed, Christmas decorations are coming up or have already gone up in the shopping centers.

We can ask for more signs and God will give us all the signs we want, but ultimately, we will see what we need to see when we are ready to see it.

The signs from God as signs of His blessings so that He may teach us His ways and that we may walk in His paths.

The signs of God blessings are expressed in the teaching of Jesus in the Beatitudes when He said things like blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers, etc. 

On the other hand, the devil will also have his set of blemishes and these are the signs that we need to look out for so as not to fall into his trap. So let us take a look at the devil’s blemishes as opposed to the Beatitudes of Jesus.

If the devil were to write his Blemishes, they would probably go something like this:

Blemished are those who are too tired, too busy, too distracted to spend an hour once a week with their fellow Christians in Church — they are my best workers.

Blemished are those Christians who wait to be asked and expect to be thanked — I can use them.

Blemished are the touchy, with a bit of luck they may stop going to church — they are my missionaries.

Blemished are those who are very religious but get on everyone’s nerves — they are mine forever.

Blemished are the troublemakers — they shall be called my children.

Blemished are those who have no time to pray — they are easy prey for me.

Blemished are the gossipers, for they are my secret agents.

Blemished are those critical of church leadership — for they shall inherit a place with me, in my fate.

Blemished are the complainers — I’m all ears for them.

Blemished are you when you hear this and think it is about other people and not yourself — I’ve got you!

So we see the signs of blessings from God and we also see the signs of blemish that the devil wants to corrupt us.

The time has come for us to heed those signs and to decide what to do. Let us act FAST and act NOW, so that there will be No Opportunity Wasted.