Tuesday, 27 August 2013 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Monica (Scripture Reflection)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today Jesus yet again rebuke the Pharisees, casting to them the woes that troubled them, and therefore, troubled the people of God. The Pharisees and the chief priests were the religious leaders of Israel, the people of God, and their misbehaviour caused much harm to all of God’s children. It is like the blind leading the blind, and it leads to both the leader and the follower to fall into death, yes, into damnation.

Jesus did not just rebuke the Pharisees and the leaders out of thin air, as He truly had a very strong and concrete evidence that the Pharisees were indeed hypocrites, outwardly appearing to be pious and devout servants of God and His law, while in fact, deep inside, they have no love, and no God inside them. They love the Law and serve the Law but not God, and even worse still, most of these laws were in fact made by man, yes, by the Pharisees themselves, and by the teachers of the Law over the centuries.

They served their law first before they served God and His people. They abandoned their charge and their duties in the search of human vanity and worldly glory, and in doing so, they have sinned before the Lord their God, our God. They had not been faithful ministers of the Lord, in the way that St. Paul had explained to the people of God in Thessaly through his letter in our First Reading today. To be faithful disciples and ministers of the Lord involve much more than just merely following the law, doing the law, and obeying the law.

Indeed, to follow the Lord and to do His will involves a great investment and effort from us, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. We must be active participants and active stakeholders in this plan of salvation, and not just be idle bystanders and assume that everything will just come to us. What investment are we talking about here? It is love, the love within our hearts, expressed outwards through our actions, our words and our deeds. Love is important, brothers and sisters in Christ, as it is a potent weapon we can use to fight against the devil and all his evil advances.

Yes, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the devil is up against us with all of his forces and his powers. He will not be satisfied before we fell into his traps and follow him into damnation. And that is why we must be ever vigilant, and ever mindful, of the dangers facing us, of the oppositions facing us on this path towards salvation. Not a straight and easy road, but one with many roadblocks and obstacles.

Let us not fall into temptation like those Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, many of whom fell into the trap of the devil and gave in to their human weaknesses, and to the devil’s lures. They gave in to their pride, and to their human greed, greed for power, greed for renown, and greed for influence among many others. They sought the glory of man and the praise of man, instead of divine praise, and that was what Jesus also found faulty in them.

Let us not boast of our own human strengths and abilities, but instead seek to use them humbly for the sake of God, and for the betterment of our fellow men and women, our brethren. Let us put God first before everything else, and before our own selves. Let us also our brethren in need, and their needs ahead of our own needs. Do not be quick to criticise as the Pharisees had done, but instead seek to find the good and the love in everyone. No one is worthy of damnation, and we can indeed do our part to make sure that no one will fall again into the traps of Satan.

Today, brothers and sisters in Christ, we celebrate the feast of St. Monica, who is also well known as the mother of the great saint and pillar of the Church, that is St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the four original and therefore one of the greatest of the Doctors of the Church. St. Augustine would not have attained such stature nor would he had done so much for the sake of the Church and for God, had his mother not given her all to ensure that things happened as they had.

St. Augustine was born into a life of privilege and as he grew, he was exposed to the world and all its temptations, and he became a great sinner, who embraced many of the things that God is displeased with. He became wayward and sought the pleasures of the world, and became a Manichaean, a heretical teaching widespread throughout the Roman Empire during the time of St. Augustine and St. Monica. He gave in to the temptations of the devil and embrace fully the pleasures of the world, and therefore was supposed to be doomed to damnation with the devil and his angels.

However, St. Monica his mother would not let his soul fall into damnation or fall into the hands of the devil. She worked hard, prayed hard, and hoped hard, that her son will return to the ways of the Lord and be converted back into the faith. She continued to support her son despite his waywardness. Eventually, her prayers and her devotion to both God and her son made a change in St. Augustine’s heart, and he returned into the fold of the Lord, and not only that he returned, but he even became a great apostle, a great preacher, and a great teacher.

St. Augustine would not have been the pillar of the Church and one of the four great Doctors of the Church, had it not been for his mother, St. Monica. It is her prayer and devotion to him, and to God, that had made the difference. We too, brothers and sisters should follow the example of St. Monica, her love and devotion for God, not in empty words and rites as what the Pharisees had done, much words but no true love for God, and instead, follow the way of St. Monica, who showed her love, perseverance, and true dedication and love for God and His children, especially in St. Augustine her son. We too can make a difference, brothers and sisters, through our own words, actions, and deeds.

It is up to us, whether we truly make our faith in God truly alive, truly vibrant with life. That it is a living faith and not an empty, dying faith. Our faith in God is measured by how much love we have for Him and for our fellow men, and our true dedication and attention to Him, not by the length and grandness of our appearances or prayers. Prayers are important, brethren, but it is the prayer that comes from our hearts that matter, and not that merely come from our mouth. God be with us all, and may He continue to shower us with His love. Amen.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Monica (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

1 Thessalonians 2 : 1-8

You well know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not in vain. We had been ill-treated and insulted in Philippi but, trusting in our God, we dared announce to you the message of God, and face fresh opposition. Our warnings did not conceal any error or impure motive, nor did we deceive anyone.

But as God had entrusted His Gospel to us as to faithful ministers, we were anxious to please God who sees the heart, rather than human beings. We never pleased you with flattery, as you know, nor did we try to earn money, as God knows. We did not try to make a name for ourselves among people, either with you or anybody else, although we were messengers of Christ and could have made our weight felt.

On the contrary, we were gentle with you, as a nursing mother who feeds and cuddles her baby. And so great is our concern that we are ready to give you, as well as the Gospel, even our very lives, for you have become very dear to us.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time (Scripture Reflection)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, being a good person, and a good child of God is never easy. It is much easier to follow the path of the world, and immerse ourselves in its corrupting influence and take in all the pleasures and temptations that it offers us, rather than to follow the Laws of God and the teachings of the prophets.

It is much more difficult to become the followers of Christ and to follow the teachings of Christ and His Apostles rather than becoming the disciples of this world, that is the disciples of evil. For the world, for all its goodness, belongs to the evil one, who will certainly utilise all within his power to corrupt the children of God, that is all of us.

That is why Christ had said that the path that leads to the Lord is a narrow one, a narrow path, and a narrow gate indeed. Because it is very difficult to go to the Lord, and it is easier for one to stumble along the path, that narrow path, and fall into damnation than to successfully reach the Lord at the end of that way, at the other side of the narrow gate.

Difficult as it is to reach the Lord in that journey, along that path, God has given us His help, in none other than the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, His own Son, whom He sent to all of us to be our Redeemer, and our Saviour, He rescued us from our own damnation, from the hells that is our fate, for our rebellion against God since the beginning of time.

The story of Abraham and Lot, his cousin, which all of us are well aware of, is another example of the difficulty facing us in our journey towards the Lord. Abraham and his cousin, Lot, are God-fearing peoples, and they obey the will of the Lord in all that they do. They do not fall astray of the narrow path that God has given them. But the same cannot be said of the people who were living with them, and around them.

As we all know, Lot was involved in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the names which still resonate in our minds even today, as the example of God’s wrath and punishment that awaits those who defy Him and those who do not obey His words and His will. The sins of Sodom and Gomorrah were enormous, and that was why those who fell astray from the narrow path of salvation, if they do not repent, will face eternal damnation as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah once did.

The temptations of pleasure and the lure of wealth easily corrupts mankind, both their bodies and their hearts. Once corrupted by the sins of the world, they would be easily led astray from the path of salvation into damnation. That was exactly the sort of problems faced by those people of Sodom and Gomorrah, and even the people of Israel throughout their history, and ultimately, all of us.

God loves us, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, and He wants to forgive us, if we repent from our faults and our sins. But He is also a just and avenging God, who hates sin and all forms of evil that is unworthy of His presence and His love. He detests sin and evil, and great is indeed the suffering of those who refuse to follow the way of the Lord and instead follow the teachings of this world.

But that is exactly why God sent so many prophets to us, to the people of Israel, so that hopefully through their ceaseless calls for repentance and their teachings, the people of God will once again open their hearts to God’s love, and discard all things that make them unworthy of the Lord. And that is why He even sent His own Son into this world, because He loves us, and He wants all of us saved from the fate of death that awaits us, if we do not repent from our sinful ways.

But yet, we remain in our own rebellious nature, and continuing to rebel against His compassion and love, many of us slaughter His prophets and saints, and preferring to listen to the devil than God, we shut our hearts from the words and encouragement of the prophets and the saints that does none other than to push for our own redemption. That was why we even rejected Christ, who offered Himself willingly for all of us, that we may live, and no longer fall under the thrall of sin.

Therefore, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us reflect today, on the nature of our Lord’s salvation, and even more importantly, on His love, remembering always His care for us, His concerns for us, and His love for us, shown by no greater example than the ultimate sacrifice at Calvary, when He gave up His own life and shed His own Body and Blood, so that all of us who believe in Him may not die, but gain everlasting life with Him for all eternity. God bless us all. Amen.

Friday, 21 June 2013 : 11th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, Religious (First Reading)

2 Corinthians 11 : 18, 21b-30

As some people boast of human advantages, I will do the same. But if others are so bold, I shall also dare, although I may speak like a fool. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of  Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ? I begin to talk like a madman. I am better than day.

Better than they with my numerous labours. Better than they with the time spent in prison. The beatings I received are beyond comparison. How many times have I found myself in danger of death! Five times the Jews sentenced me to thirty-nine lashes.

Three times I was beaten with a rod, once I was stoned. Three times I was beaten with a rod, once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked, and once I spent a night and a day adrift on the high seas. I have been continually in hazards of travelling because of rivers, because of bandits, because of my fellow Jews, or because of the pagans; in danger in the city, in the open country, at sea; in danger from false brothers.

I have worked and often laboured without sleep. I have been hungry and thirsty and starving, cold and without shelter. Besides these and other things, there was my daily concern for all the churches. Who is weak that I do not feel weak as well? Whoever stumbles, am I not on hot bricks?

If it is necessary to boast, let me proclaim the occasions in which I was found weak.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013 : 7th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Rita of Cascia, Religious (First Reading)

Sirach 4 : 12-22

Whoever loves her loves life. Those who rise early in the morning in search of her will be filled with joy. Whoever possesses her will have glory and wherever he goes blessings will follow. Those who serve her are ministers of the Holy One; those who love her are loved of the Lord. He who listens to her will have good judgment. He who obeys her will rest in safety.

Whoever trusts in her will possess her and his children after him will inherit her. For in the beginning she will lead him by rough paths, causing him to fear and be terrified; she will plague him with her discipline until she can count on him; and she will put him to the test by her demands.

Then she will lead him on a level path, give him joy and reveal her secrets to him. But if he wanders from the path, she will abandon him and allow him to be lost.

In every situation weigh the pros and cons and avoid evil. A wrong kind of shame could harm you. There is a shame which leads to sin and there is a shame which merits praise and respect. Do not act against your better self to win favour from others. Do not let this kind of shame lead you into sin.

Sunday, 19 May 2013 : Solemnity of the Pentecost, Pentecost Sunday (Scripture Reflection)

Happy Pentecost, dear brothers and sisters in Christ! Today marks the end of the fifty days Easter season, and the end of the long celebrations of Christ’s glorious resurrection. Tomorrow will mark the beginning of the liturgical Ordinary Time again in the Church, with the seventh Ordinary week. But Easter does not end here, but it in fact continues and we should always rejoice in the resurrection of the Lord and continue to carry on the Easter spirit that is within us, to be witnesses of Christ’s resurrection and glory.

Pentecost is a very important day in the history of the Church and indeed is a crucial event that all of us who believes in Christ must treasure and understand. For Pentecost, as many of us would have known from our early days that it marks the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles in Jerusalem, when the Advocate, that is the Holy Spirit promised by Christ our Lord finally arrives and inflames the hearts of all the disciples, and teach them all that they need to know about the Lord.

Pentecost, through the Holy Spirit’s entry into the hearts of the disciples, transformed them from the weak, ordinary human that they were, to be the powerful champions of God and His presence in this world. Through the disciples, empowered by the Holy Spirit, the believers in Christ, which once was cowered in great fear and confusion by the death of Christ, exploded outwards and began the work of salvation of all mankind, which continues even to this day.

Today marked the birth of our Church, the Roman Catholic Church. This Church had begun on that day, with the conversion of more than three thousand souls to the cause of the Lord. That because Peter, the leader of the Apostles, filled with the flames of the Holy Spirit, rose up to defend the Lord and preach the truth to the people, without fear that once gripped the hearts of all the disciples. Gone were the fear and confusion, and with the Holy Spirit giving them all the knowledge of the faith, all were clear to them, and they preached the Gospels of the Lord, the Gospel of truth, and many accepted the Lord that day.

As Christ had once told His disciples in His sermon, He told them that the Holy Spirit brought with It various gifts to those whom the Spirit was willing to come and dwell within. The Holy Spirit gives courage to the hearts of mankind, and they encourage those who had been paralyzed by fear, and that was why the apostles suddenly became so forthcoming in proclaiming the truth of God, when they were just moments before so fearful of capture by the Jewish authorities that they were gathered in a locked room.

The Holy Spirit also gives the gifts of tongues, that is the ability to speak in various languages, and this was told in the first reading today that the apostles spoke various languages, praising the Lord, and were heard by the visitors from all over the world that were at the time gathered in Jerusalem for the Festival. This gift allows the disciples to preach to the people in their own native tongues and therefore greatly enhanced their ability to spread the Good News of the Lord to the peoples of various countries, and this itself also played a crucial role in the birth and growth of the Church of God.

The Holy Spirit also gives guidance to those who have uncertainty in their path, and this Holy Spirit becomes truly the Advocate, guiding the apostles in their missions throughout the Mediterranean, for the next few decades, particularly in the missions and travels of St. Paul the Apostle, who brought the Word of God to many people, Jews and Gentiles alike, that many of them became the believers in Christ. Through the Holy Spirit, many became the children of God and be saved.

The Holy Spirit remains at work in our Church today, and is evident in the many works of evangelisation by our courageous and tireless missionaries that preach the word of God in many areas of the world today, bringing the light of God to many in various nations. We too can play our part, as we too have been given the Holy Spirit through our own baptism and strengthened in our own confirmation.

We can help the process of evangelisation, by reflecting Christ in our actions, our words, and all our deeds, that through us, the light of Christ can be seen by those around us, and then they may believe and become followers of Christ too, just like all of us. But do not seek the gifts of the Holy Spirit with greed, just like what some ‘Christians’ like to do. Some like to claim the gift of tongues and languages, blabbering in unintelligible words, as if they truly speak in tongues. Be warned, brothers and sisters, the gift of the Holy Spirit does not always mean external displays and shows such as these, as if we are not careful, instead of the Holy Spirit, we may be dealing with the devil.

Rather, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us use the Holy Spirit within us, and the subtle gifts that It has given us, that is mainly love and hope. Love that inflames our hearts to zealously spread the Word of God to all those around us, through our words, and through our actions. The Holy Spirit also gives us hope and strength of mind, to be always ready and willing to evangelise in the Name of God. With these gifts in our hands, let us become modern missionaries of Christ, spreading the Good News to all nations.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, many people have yet listen to the Word of God, and many also have no chance of receiving the baptism of the Lord, because either they had no access to the Word, or no access to God’s message, or the Scripture, or because of external pressures and prejudice against the faith in the Lord that prevents many from becoming the children of God.

Let the Holy Spirit transform us and through us, let the Holy Spirit do His work in our world, to renew this world, bring the light of Christ into it, and make this world worthy of the Lord our God, when He comes again in His glorious Second Coming. May God strengthen us all with the Holy Spirit that He has sent through His Son, Jesus Christ, who gave the Holy Spirit as the breath of life, to His disciples, and from His disciples to our bishops and priests, and from them to us.

Sunday, 21 April 2013 : 4th Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday, World Day of Prayer for Vocations (50th Anniversary) (Scripture Reflection)

It is always sad when we hear about those who reject the Lord, and who refused to believe in God and His message through Christ our Lord, who had died on the cross and risen, and had shown Himself to many of the faithful, that many would have hope of eternal life in God. That was exactly what happened during the mission of St. Paul to the faithful in the pagan lands of Antioch and beyond, when the Jews, blinded in their hatred and jealousy, spread falsehood and lies in rejection of the Lord.

God is our Lord, and He is our shepherd, the Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for His sheep. He died on the cross, as our shepherd, that we, who are His sheep, may gain life through Him, and that the wolves, led by Satan, would not be able to attack us and snatch us from His hands. He as our shepherd gave Himself in sacrifice to the hands of the agents of Satan, so that we would be safe and would live.

As Christ had said to the disciples and to the people in His teaching, that His sheep would know Him, just like the sheep knows the true shepherd, and not those paid to be shepherds or the thief, He said that to show that all of us who truly believe in Him and those who belong to Him would recognise Him as their shepherd, their Lord, and God.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in our world today, there are many false shepherds who would want to deceive the faithful and lead the sheep of the Lord away from the true path and pasture of the Lord. There are many temptations and evil in this world, that shake even faithful shepherds that the Lord had chosen for His sheep, His people. Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, be careful, that we will not fall into the trap of Satan that he sprang through his false agents and prophets, proclaiming falsehood instead of truth.

Today, we mark the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, and it is indeed appropriate, for the Fourth Sunday of Easter is also Good Shepherd Sunday, and priests, who we pray for today, and those aspiring to the priesthood and service of the Lord had been chosen by the Lord as shepherds for His people. Today happened to be the fiftieth anniversary of this prayer day, which was promulgated in 1963, during the Second Vatican Council.

Sadly, in recent decades, we saw the vocations to the priesthood in rapid decline, and the number of priests often no longer sufficient to serve all the needs of the faithful as it was in the past. Imagine a large flock of sheep with a single, poor shepherd to herd all of them and guide them! It is not an impossible task for them to do, but certainly many of our priests are burdened with ever greater task, both to administer to the growing number of the faithful in Christ, and on the other side, to combat the rising secularism and evils in our world today.

We need more good, holy, faithful, and dedicated priests to harvest the good harvest of the Lord, which had been bountiful in the wake of the evangelisation attempts of the past decades, especially in Asia and Africa, where our Church is rapidly growing, and with more and more people turning towards the Lord. The harvest is indeed plentiful, but the labourers are few. But the laity too can play a part in providing support to our shepherd priests in various ways and means available to us.

Parents should cultivate good faith and morale in their children, that they will grow up to be good and devoted children of God. Then in the future, these children will become good husbands and wives, caring for one another in love, and for their children. And if God wills it, some of those would be called to serve Him and the people of God either through the sacred priesthood or religious life.

We who are parents should be happy if one of our children are chosen by God to be His shepherds to guide His flock. The community too should provide care and support, ensuring that the children would grow up in a fertile soil for their faith, that would allow them later to be dedicated, faithful, and obedient shepherd of the flock of the Lord. Do not be judgmental and prevent your children from choosing the path of vocation, as if it is the Lord’s will that this happens, you will be against God yourself.

Many of us are too fixated with achievements in life, and therefore, placed too much emphasis on results and material possessions. This is one very major reason, especially in Asia, why many parents oppose, either openly or discreetly, on their children’s decisions to dedicate themselves to God. We are too fixated on the idea of our children’s success, which we often attribute to wealth and possessions, and affluence, to the point that we often dismiss priesthood as a ‘career’ that has no prospect, and therefore is not for our children to take.

There was a story of a young man who was rejected from entering the seminary, just because the decision to enter the seminary was not his own, but his own parents’, who decided that because he was rather ‘useless’ in life and unable to achieve anything of good, he should be entering the seminary and become a priest instead. While this may not be true anymore today, but I am sure, many of us whose children are aspirants to the priesthood and religious life are reluctant to ‘let them go’ because of reasons similar to the one mentioned.

Our priests and those who serve the Lord must be of good quality, well prepared and trained, and also having a good intellect and knowledge, both of the faith and the vocation which he is about to embark into, but most importantly, they must be dedicated, loving, and faithful, to God, and to His children to whom they are about to give themselves entirely to, as the bride of the Church of God.

Therefore, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today, as we commemorate this Good Shepherd Sunday, and the fiftieth anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, let us take a step back and reflect, that many of us are called to serve the Lord, in various ways, some of us as laity, and others as priests and servants of the Lord, through the Church.

Let us not say no to the Lord, and let us not close our hearts and our minds to His calling. Let us open ourselves fully to God’s love, and allow Him to lead us in our path, that we will be able to maximise the life that we had been granted, that in this life, we would be able to improve the life of others, through prayer and service, and through dedication into works of love, for the sake of our most beloved brethren.

Pray for one another, and pray for more vocations in the Church, pray for more good and holy priests to serve the Lord and His people, and never cease to continue our own roles and works in helping one another, physically and spiritually. When we see a growing vocation, let us support instead of chastising or badmouthing the person to the point that such a potential be wasted. Trust in the Lord, and do not worry, for God will take care of everything. He is our shepherd, and He cares for us. He will not leave us hungry nor thirsty, because by His death and resurrection, He gave us an eternal spring and bread of life. Amen.