Sunday, 17 February 2013 : 1st Sunday of Lent (Scripture Reflection)

Today, again we listened to the Word of God, and found that if we stay faithful to God, despite all the temptations and the challenges facing us in our journey towards Him, God will reward us greatly, and in heaven our reward is great indeed. God loves us, and He does listen to us when we call on Him, and if we keep Him in our heart, we will not lose Him, for He is faithful.

Our modern world is filled with many things, tempting indeed for us, and many of these are so attractive that they divert our attention away from God, and into them. Worse still, these temptations made us forget about the love God has on us, how He died for us on the cross to save us from death and sin. Instead, we sin even more, and cause the Lord to grief over our continued rebellions against His ever-gracious mercy. For today, we learn indeed that there are three main forms of obstacles against us, against us in our journey towards the Lord. These are greed, power, and pride. These also translate as the three sources of temptations that affect us terribly, namely, commercialism, the world, and ourselves, our sinful beings.

First of all, when the devil tempted Jesus to turn the stone into bread, in order to fulfill His hunger, the devil tapped into our own weakness to greed and for more. For hunger is a natural occurrence in our lives when we do not intake any food for a while, but many of us who are in great abundance, not only fail to resist the temptation of the devil, and place our stomach above all the rest. Just look at all the greed in all the excessive eating habits, the high rates of obesity in many developed nations, where people eat without abandon, and eat like as if there is no tomorrow.

Not only in the matter of food, but also in fact with regards to possessions and wealth, where there are many who dedicate their whole lives solely for the pursuit of wealth, and more wealth, and affluence, and then more affluence. These people may even stop at nothing to gain what they want, including hurting others in the process, especially those they see as competitors to their goal. This is how sin and evil permeate into the hearts of all the people, including even among the faithful today. Jesus told us the way to overcome this, that is to focus on the Word of God, for we do not live from bread alone, but indeed what is most important is the spiritual food that we have, that is the Scripture. Read the Scripture, reflect on it, share it, and understand it, and you will find that you will find fulfillment greater than food, wealth, and affluence can offer.

For food, wealth, possessions, and affluence will pass away, and they will not be with us after we die. There are many out there in the world who suffer from hunger and poverty, and yet many of the rich and even those who are in the middle class who are too busy with their worldly pursuits, to offer a helping hand. The Church, which is also the world’s largest humanitarian agency, had done much to help these people, the least among the least, the last, the shunned, and the weakest.

However, there is only so much the Church can do, and ultimately it depends on us to also extend our helping hand. After all, through the word of God in the Scripture, we now know that when we give aid to these least among us, to those shunned and rejected by the society, we have done it for Christ. For Christ too is rejected by many, and hated by the world. But we, who believe in Him, if we cling strongly to Him, we will gain our due reward when the time comes.

Then the second obstacle, which is power and the offer of worldly power indeed. The very well-known phrase of “power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely” is the perfect illustrator of this condition, in which power can corrupt us and twist us into a power-hungry beings seeking to gain more power or preserve our own power or control over others. This does not mean that power cannot be handled responsibly, but again, who do we then base that power on? Is it based on the Lord? or is it based on the evil one?

For indeed, a power that is of the Lord is also humble, and is also loving, for those wielding power responsibly, and belonging to the Lord will also know justice and love, and will not wield that power to cause suffering for others. Yet many use power and misuse that for their own purposes, and often cause suffering in others. The world offer a great temptation for many who has power, to always seek more and more in power and others, which is linked to that of the first obstacle, greed.

The quest for power has brought many destruction in the past, although also many constructive ones. Many people have died in wars and conflicts, especially those brought up by personal ambitions of certain people who seek ultimate power. They achieved it but for what? For power too does not last, and it is only temporary, either they are overthrown or they lose that power upon their death. Power is something that God entrusted to us, and therefore let us seek to use that authority responsibly, and not to misuse them for our own personal benefits and the detriment for others.

Then again, Jesus fought the devil and taught us that we should focus ourselves on the Lord and give the devil no attention, and base our own authority and power indeed in God and His teachings, that we can truly become wise, responsible, and just stewards of this power God has bestowed on us, for the good of others around us.

Then the last one, is the most difficult obstacle of all, that is the pride within our own being, and ourselves. We who are weak in flesh, are constantly tempted, and though our spirit is strong, but temptation of the flesh can indeed lead us astray from the path towards the Lord, but nothing is more difficult to conquer than that of pride. We humans are prideful in our nature, and pride is what has become the downfall of many. For pride prevented us from seeing in ourselves the defects that we have, and in pride too, we grow to seek more for ourselves, and hence greed, and also the quest for more power, that hunger also began from pride, pride in ourselves and our own abilities.

It is perfectly fine to be proud of our achievements if we also give what is due to the Lord, since it is with the Lord’s help that we can accomplish many things that we otherwise cannot accomplish on our own. Pride, undue pride in particular, is the main obstacle blocking us from giving what is due to God, to thank Him for His great blessing and kindness. Remember, the devil himself was the greatest, brightest, and most brilliant angels in all heaven, who was Lucifer, the light-bringer. But in pride, he has allowed himself to indulge in his own vanity, in his beauty and might, that he aspires to ascend and become God himself, challenging God the creator who created all including him. In his pride, he fell, and became the devil. We too, in our pride, can fall, and from the beautiful ones we are upon our creation by the Lord, we can fall to become nothing better than the servants of the devil in our pride and our hubris.

For pride prevents us from bowing down before the Lord, from acknowledging our sins and faults, and from approaching the Lord most merciful with a humble and contrite heart. Jesus taught us to be humble, and to not challenge the Lord our God in our pride, but to rather open ourselves to God’s love and mercy. Read the Scripture, understand the Word of God, and share our faith with one another, that we can learn more on the values and virtues of humility, simplicity, responsibility, and love itself.

Let us therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, in this Lenten season, strive to make this time a fruitful one, where we learn to wield power and authority we have responsibly, and to extend our hands to help those needy around us, those who hunger for food, those who hunger for love, and those who hunger for God. Bring to them what they need, and show God’s enduring love for all of them. Then let us also approach God with great humility, acknowledging our sins and weaknesses, and ask the Lord for His forgiveness, which He will be happy to do so, if only we approach Him with broken, humble, and contrite heart. A heart that longs for God and His love alone.

Let us like Jesus, confidently reject Satan, devil, Lucifer, the fallen angel out of pride, with a solid commitment to God, rejecting all his temptations and all his offer of corrupting goods and powers, and rather put ourselves completely in God’s hands and entrust ourselves to Him with all our hearts, our minds, and our souls. May all of us have a blessed Lent, and be prepared to commemorate our Lord’s Passion this coming Holy Week. Amen.

Friday, 15 February 2013 : Friday after Ash Wednesday (Scripture Reflection)

Today, and many other days in this season of Lent, we are asked to do penance, and repent, and truly focus our attention back to the Lord. Also today being friday, we usually do the practice of abstinence, that is to abstain from eating meat, particularly red meat today. We also have the practice of fasting, which all of us Catholics must do on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, on which day we fast, by eating only a full meal and up to two smaller meals or snacks.

Have we done our part in doing these fasting and abstinence practices? These are the practices highly recommended for us to be done during this season of Lent. One may ask, then why don’t we fast like those Muslims or other religions do? That when they fast, they do not eat for long hours of the day, and fast for a whole month, then why don’t we just fast for the whole of the 40 days, and eat only once per day? Does it not fit better with the description of Lent as a season for fasting?

No, the reason we do not fast for such periods is because, we do not want to lose the focus of fasting, that fasting should not be done for the sake of fasting, that fasting should indeed be done out of sincere love for God and desire to turn back fully to the Lord. Fasting should be a facilitator of our repentance and a vessel through which we can better focus our attention to God. For in the reading today, the Lord tells us that He do not desire our fasting and abstinence, but rather our hearts, our broken and sinful hearts, that truly change and repent into renewed and sanctified hearts through our complete transformation, not only physically, but most importantly, the transformation of what is inside us.

Therefore, what matters this Lent is that we strive to make changes in our life, from those things that we have done in sin, slowly and surely we turn these into things done for the glory of God. For when we fast, it is to actually turn our focus and attention into our hearts, to look inside, whether we have done what is concrete to change from our sinful ways and walk into the light. For it is wrong when we fast or abstain, but we end up doing the opposite, for example, there are some who abstain on Fridays of the Lent, but then gather together and have a seafood BBQ or seafood party. Well technically you are not eating meat indeed, and fish is the alternative allowed, but then you are missing the point of fasting if you do so.

The same is also when you fast, but then during the fast, you grumble and think why should I waste my time with this fast, and look forward to the meal time, and when the meal time comes, you just devour as much food as you can. This is also missing the point on doing fasting during this holy period of Lent.

Therefore brothers and sisters in Christ, in this Lenten period, do fast, and do abstain, and if you like even not only on Fridays, but also on other days of the Lent if you want to, but most importantly, do not forget that what matters is to make sure that we are changed internally, and that we make use this time, to bring ourselves closer to God, closer to Him who loves us, and willing to accept us back into His embrace, if only we reject our sins and turn our face back towards the Light. May God bless all of us in this Lent, and have a blessed fast and abstinence everyone! Amen.

Thursday, 14 February 2013 : Thursday after Ash Wednesday (Scripture Reflection)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, to follow Jesus, our Lord is not easy, for in following the Lord, we are going to have to suffer and go through trials and tribulations, just as Christ Himself faced His great trial, and ultimately was crucified on Calvary for our sake. Christ asks us today to carry our own crosses together with Him, and to face together the persecutions and the oppositions against the Lord and His divine mission, that is to save all mankind from the slavery of evil and sin.

Let us stay straight on this path, led by Christ, towards God. Let us orientate our heart properly and appropriately that we will always keep the Lord as the focus of our life. For our short and temporary life in this world is indeed short and fleeting. It is just a fleeting moment in the history of creation, but for us, what we do in our lives are indeed important, and if we do not do anything to make sure that we are on the right path towards the Lord, we will not be able to reach Him in the end.

Christ made our journey back to the Lord possible, for it is through His death and resurrection that a great bridge, Christ Himself, appeared between us and the Father who loves us. This is why Christ had to suffer, had to suffer from pain and rejection, and ultimately had to die on the cross, because without the sacrifice of Christ, who is our High Priest and intermediate between us and the Father, there can be no reunion between us and God, for we are separated from Him by a huge and unbridgeable chasm of sin and death. Only Christ, the Lamb of God, is worthy of being the only bridge that crossed that chasm, and through Him, we have a path back to our loving Father in heaven.

No greater love than the one who lay down his life for his friends, and this is exactly what Christ did for us, for we are not just like friends to Him, as we are His brothers, and His sisters. He loves us so much that He was willing to endure, and out of full obedience of His Father, willing to carry the cross, and the burden of all our sins, to Calvary to die and liberate us from the evil one and his hold on us. Nevertheless, for exactly the same reason, the devil hates Him so, and therefore, also hates all who believes in Christ who has liberated us from him through His Precious Blood.

Evil has many things up his sleeve in order to detract us from our direct path to the Lord. Temptations of this world are especially effective weapon the evil one uses against us. False gods are abundant in our world of today, from money, pleasures of the body, commercial temptations, and many others. As Moses said in the first reading, we do have a choice, whether we embrace these temptations and therefore serve the false gods instead of the one, true God, and turn our back on Him, or we can reject these temptations, and continue faithfully to seek the Lord our God.

This path will not be easy, since the world, filled with evil, hates the Lord, and therefore, will do all it can to make us suffer through our journey to the Lord. This suffering can be manifest in many form, and do not have to be physical suffering, but also mentally. This does not mean that we must hate or shun the world in return. Rather, let us embrace those sufferings and pains, and turn them into joy, knowing that the Lord is always with us through our long journey towards Him, and we know that if we stay faithful to Him and face our heart ever towards Him, He will reward us with His love and the place in His Kingdom, that we deserved.

But do not come to Him empty handed, since, there are many others out there who do not yet start their own paths towards the Lord, either lost, or even manipulated by the evil one to fight against God and us, His beloved children. Let us stretch out our hands and reach out to these lost brothers and sisters of ours. Remember, that Christ came to save all mankind, even those who rejected and cursed Him. He forgave them, and as long as they are willing to turn back towards Him, they too, will be given eternal life, together with us.

Let us humble ourselves and follow in the footsteps of the Lord, who has braved through death to save us from our own deaths. This Lent, let it be a fruitful and great season for our being, for our own faith, and for that of those around us. Let us make a solid choice towards the Lord, to attune ourselves fully with His great love, and sanctify ourselves, that when this season of Lent is complete, we are reborn anew, ever greater in faith, in hope, and in love, particularly in this holy Year of Faith. Amen.

Thursday, 14 February 2013 : Thursday after Ash Wednesday (First Reading)

(Note : Today is the Solemnity of the Anniversary of Dedication of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, Archdiocese of Singapore, 14 February 1897 – present) – readings remain the same throughout the world

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cathedral_of_the_Good_Shepherd

Deuteronomy 30 : 15-20

See, I set before you on this day, life and good, evil and death. I command you to love YHVH, your God and follow His ways. Observe His commandments, His norms, and His laws, and you will live and increase, and YHVH will give you His blessing in the land you are going to possess.

But if your heart turns away and does not listen, if you are drawn away and bow before other gods to serve them, I declare on this day that you shall perish. You shall not last in the land you are going to occupy on the other side of the Jordan.

Let the heavens and the earth listen, that they may be witnesses against you. I have set before you, life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life that you and your descendants may live, loving YHVH, listening to His voice, and being one with Him. In this is  life  for you and length of days in the land which YHVH swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013 : Ash Wednesday (Gospel Reading)

Mark 6 : 1-6, 16-18

Be careful not to make a show of your righteousness before people. If you do so, you do not gain anything from your Father in heaven. When you give something to the poor, do not have it trumpeted before you, as do those who want to be seen in the synagogues and in the streets, in order to be praised by the people. I assure you, they have already been paid in full.

If you give something to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your gift remains really secret. Your Father, who sees what is kept secret, will reward you.

When you pray, do not be like those who want to be seen. They love to stand and pray in the synagogues or on street corners to be seen by everyone. I assure you, they have already been paid in full. When you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father who is with you in secret; and your Father who sees what is kept secret will reward you.

When you fast, do not put on a miserable face as do the hypocrites. They put on a gloomy face, so that people can see that they are fasting. I tell you this : they have been paid in full already. When you fast, wash your face and make yourself look cheerful, because you are not fasting for appearances or for people, but for your Father who sees beyond appearances. And your Father, who sees what is kept secret, will reward you.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013 : Ash Wednesday (Second Reading)

2 Corinthians 5 : 20 – 2 Corinthians 6 : 2

So we present ourselves as ambassadors in the name of Christ, as if God Himself makes an appeal to you through us. Let God reconcile you; this we ask you in the name of Christ. He had no sin, but God made Him bear our sin, so that in Him we might share the holiness of God.

Being God’s helpers we beg you : let it not be in vain that you received this grace of God. Scripture says : “At the favourable time I listened to you, on the day of salvation I helped you. This is the favourable time, this is the day of salvation.”

Wednesday, 13 February 2013 : Ash Wednesday (Psalm)

Psalm 50 : 3-4, 5-6a, 12-13, 14 and 17

Have mercy on me, o God, in Your love. In Your great compassion blot out my sin. Wash me thoroughly of my guilt; cleanse me of evil.

For I acknowledge my wrongdoings and have my sins ever in mind. Against You alone have I sinned; what is evil in Your sight I have done.

Create in me, o God, a pure heart; give me a new and steadfast spirit. Do not cast me out of Your presence nor take Your Holy Spirit from me.

Give me again the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit. O Lord, open my lips, and I will declare Your praise.