Thursday, December 31, 2009

Treasure all things and ponder them in your heart

Solemnity of Mary Mother of God
New Year's Day

The great philosopher, Socrates, once wrote: “An unreflected life is not worth living.” A person who does not pause once in a while to evaluate his life, to ponder on where he is going and where is God leading him, would soon find life burdensome.

Today, as we start a new year, we are given the example of Mary, Mother of God, who “treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” The New Year is often celebrated with parties and activities. Everyone is so busy having fun that they sometimes forget to follow the example of Mary to treasure and give thanks for all the things they received in the past year and to ponder on where God is leading them.

Today, let us take some time to reflect over the past year. We are called to remember not only the good things that happen to us. If we remember these good experiences, let us thank God for them. But if we also remember painful and sad experiences, we should also thank God. God has been given you the strength to go through these experiences. The fact that you are here today means that God has not abandoned you inspite of the many difficulties which you have experienced.

One needs to reflect on one’s life because it is only through reflection and prayer that we will understand God’s plan for us. Perhaps, we are not able to see clearly at this point of time. Perhaps, there are many uncertainties that lay in the future. But we believe that God is our constant guide. He continually speaks to us through the events of our lives. If we do not take time to pray and reflect, we will find ourselves moving from one activity to another, aimless and without purpose. It is only with prayer and reflect that we can come to recognize the presence of God even in our painful and difficult experiences.

As we begin a new year, let us put off our old selves, our old bad habits, our old selfish ways. Let us begin this new year with renewed faith in God as Mary did. We the priests of this parish also pray that you will continue to receive God’s blessings throughout this year. This is our prayer for you, the prayer of Moses:
“May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace.”

Saturday, December 26, 2009

God at the Centre: The Holy Family

Holy Family Year C

Which is the greatest school of life? Is it the primary school where you attended classes from Standards 1 to 6? Is it the secondary school or for some of you the university where you continued your studies? Not one of these is the greatest school of life. Not even the Church where we receive our faith education and catechism. The family is the greatest school of life. It is in the family where we learn what it means to be a person, to be a citizen, to be a Christian, and to God’s children.

The family is the place where we learn to trust in and depend on others. The family is the place where we are loved and we learn to love. Today, the family as the school of life is under threat. We see so many broken families; families where husbands and wives are not communicating to each other; families where children are not communicating with their parents. The rate of divorce is on the increase. When people are not able to find happiness in their own marriage, they look for other partners. Many are sending their elderly parents into homes for the aged because it is too inconvenient to care for them. Children see more of their maids and babysitters than their own parents. There is so much pain, anger and frustration in our families. Parents give up on educating their own children especially when they become teenagers and often leave it others, to the school and the church, to deal with their problems. Do all of these sound sad and hopeless? Well, today’s feast of the Holy Family reminds us that all is not hopeless. All is not hopeless when we are prepared to make God and our faith the center of our lives again.

The Holy Family was not a perfect family. They too had their problems. For example, we hear of one incident in today’s gospel where Jesus’ goes missing. Joseph and Mary must have been both worried as well as angry. Any ordinary parent would? It’s not wrong to be angry especially when wrong things are done. It’s not wrong to discipline our children. In fact, it is the responsibility of parents to discipline their children and teach them the right values. Mary in today’s gospel also reprimanded Jesus: “My child, why have you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you.” The Holy Family is just like any other ordinary family – we remember them as the ‘holy’ family and not as the ‘perfect’ family. It is most likely that they had their disagreements and arguments, just like all other families. They may have experience disappointment and tension, just like all other families. But, what sets them apart from other families is their faith in God. They understood that a family is never truly a family unless God is made the center of it.

When God becomes the center of the family, we become to treat each other with true love because God is Love. How can there be love in a family if God is absent? No family can survive without love. The love of God reminds us that our children are not our possession, they belong to God. The love of God reminds us that our husbands and our wives are not our property, they belong to God. The love God reminds us that love is primarily about giving, even when one doesn’t seem to receive anything in return.

If we make God the center of our lives and the lives of our family, does this mean that all our problems will be solved? No. We will continue to have problems, but we believe that the God will not abandon us. He is ever faithful. If we remain faithful to him, he will remain faithful to us. And it is the faithfulness of God that will help you to overcome every obstacle and problem that you may face as a family.

My dear parents, today, I ask you to recommit yourselves again to one another as husbands and wives. Remember the promises you’ve made to one another on the day of your wedding. Today, I also want you to recommit yourselves to your children as parents. I hope you remembered the promise you made to God and his church on the day of your child’s baptism – the promise to bring them up according to the Catholic Faith. This calls for you to live up to your identity as Catholics. This calls for you to deepen your faith so that you can be an example of faith to your children. This calls for you to pray as a family. So many problems arise in today’s family when they stop praying together as a family. If you have failed to allow God to be center of your lives, if you have failed to remember him especially in your relationships to one another as a family, ask God for forgiveness and the strength to recommit yourselves to family life.

My dear children, the Lord reminds you today to listen and honour your parents. But more importantly, you must constantly listen to God. Make God the center of your lives. One day, you too will become parents and start your own family. I hope that God would also be the center of your family life.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Word made flesh

Christmas Day

Throughout your life you may have heard these words many times: “I love you.” We hear it from our parents. We hear it from our brothers and sisters. We hear it from our friends. We hear it from our wives and husbands. Sometimes, some its difficult to say these words; “I love you.” Many Asian parents find it difficult to tell their children that they love them. My parents found it hard to tell me. But they know how to show those same words through action. Although my parents seldom say those words to me, but I know they really love me because of the many sacrifices which they have made for me. Therefore, love can be expressed through both words and actions. But actions are always more powerful than words although it would be nice to hear those words once in a while.

Today, we celebrate Christmas. It is the day God tells us that He loves us. He loved us so much that he was prepared to send his only Son to become one of us. Jesus, the Word of God, is not just an empty promise or mere words. This Word took flesh and became man. This Word spoke and performed miracles to demonstrate the love of God for us. But finally, this Word was made real on the cross. This Word died on the cross so that we may live. We can no longer doubt that God loves us. He died on the cross for us. That’s the greatest proof of his love for us. We don’t have to ask for any further proof. Jesus is proof enough of God’s love.

Today, Jesus has been born to us. He is the Word of God. He is the promise of salvation. He is the word of love, the love letter which God has written to each and everyone of us. We are given a choice - to accept him or to reject him. He has promised us that those who accept him “he gave power to become children of God” (gospel). If we have received the Word of God, we must now share it for others. A word unless it is shared is of no use. Words are meant for communication and for building communion.

Therefore, Christmas is not only a time to receive presents, sing carols and put up Christmas decorations. It is a time where we are asked to share the Word of God that we have received. We must share Jesus with others. This is the greatest gift that we can offer to one another. Let us continue to share him with everyone we meet so that “all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”

Wishing friends, parishioners and loved ones, "a Blessed and Joyous Christmas"!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Today, a Saviour has been born to us!

Christmas Midnight Mass

Many of you have come home for the holidays. Many of you have come home to celebrate Christmas with your family. Many of you are present here because of your loved ones. Tonight is a night that no one wants to be alone. It’s a night we want to be with our loved ones, our family members and friends. It’s a night we want to feel welcomed and a place to belong.

Today, if you are here with your family, friends and loved ones, you are very lucky. It’s not always the same for everyone. It wasn’t like this on the first Christmas night for Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. They too returned to Joseph’s hometown, Bethlehem. But instead of experiencing hospitality and a warm welcome from friends, family and the town’s people, they were turned away. They had no place to call home. They had no friends or relatives to welcome them. They were lonely, tired, hungry, cold and unwelcome on the night the Saviour was born. Jesus was born into a world that did not recognize him or wanted him. Everybody was too busy with their own problems and affairs. No one had time to think about the greatest event in the history of man – the day God became man and was born into this world.

Today, we may also have forgotten about the main reason of our celebration. We may be so caught up with our own needs and desires. We may have been so busy preparing for Christmas by cooking, putting up decorations, caroling, shopping and buying presents that we have forgotten the main reason for today’s celebration. It is Jesus. Are we going to make the same mistake again as the inhabitants of Bethlehem on that first night of Christmas? Have we been so caught up with the darkness of worldly pleasures, the pursuit of riches and fulfillment of our ambitions that we have failed to see the great light of Christ’s coming? Have we been so blind that we do not recognize that Jesus continues to come to us in the form of the poor, the homeless, the elderly, the lonely, the mentally ill, the sick and the weak?

The psalmist calls us to wake up to this beautiful truth: “Today a saviour has been born to us; he is Christ the Lord.” As the Prophet Isaiah foretold long ago: “For there is a child born for us, a son given to us and dominion is laid on his shoulders; and this is the name they give him; Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”

Today, if you are feeling lonely because your family and friends are not present with you at this mass or at home, rejoice and be glad. Stay close to Jesus. Accompany him on this night. He and his parents too experienced loneliness and rejection. Today, if you feel trapped by your problems and things have not been going so well for you, rejoice and be glad. Jesus, the light of the world, has broken into our darkness. He is our salvation and our liberation. Today, if you feel that you are poor and that you have nothing much to celebrate, rejoice and be glad. Jesus, the Saviour of the World, was also born in a poor manger among animals who were his guardians. His visitors were not the great kings of the earth but poor shepherds who had to work even on such a night. Today, if you are weighed down by sorrow, rejoice and be glad. For our saviour has broken “the yoke that was weighing on (us), the bar across (our) shoulders and the rod of the oppressors.”

Tonight, we are also asked to think not only of ourselves and our own needs. Tonight, we are invited by Christ to think of others, especially those who are poor, the homeless, the elderly, the lonely and the sick. Let us bring this good news today, the good news announced by the angels: “Glory to God in the highest heave, and peace to men who enjoy his favour.” Wishing you all a happy Christmas.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hospitality and Peace

Fourth Sunday of Advent Year C

One of the greatest desires of every person is that of peace. We constantly hear this all the time. We realize that money cannot always buy happiness. We experience that conflicts and misunderstandings are part and parcel of life. But there is one thing we always hope for is peace. Firstly, it is peace for ourselves and then peace for others – our family, our society and the world.

But in world that is so filled with violence, hatred and wars, where we see conflicts occurring not only in society but also in our own families, we may start to think that peace is only a dream. It is easy to be disillusioned and to feel that peace can never be attained. The problem lies with our incorrect understanding of what peace really means. Peace is not to absence or the cessation of violence and conflict. Peace is possible even in the midst of conflict. Peace is not only an external reality but something that must take root in our hearts. If there is no peace in our hearts, we can never experience peace outside of ourselves.

A great deal of unrest is caused by the unrest in our hearts. There can be no rest in our hearts as long as we constantly want to have things according to our ways. The problem with wanting things according to our ways is that we are never in control of the situation. We want our children to grow up and be successful. We want them to marry good wives and husbands. But we are not in control of these things. When we don’t get things our way, we will not be happy. We won’t have peace in our hearts. The only way in which we can find peace is to allow God to take control of our lives. In the second reading, we are given the example of Christ, who came to obey the will of God the Father. When we are prepared to allow God have his ways and not our ways, then we will have peace in our hearts. It is only when we have peace in our hearts that we can become peacemakers.

It doesn’t take much to be a peacemaker. Today’s gospel gives us one simple way of making peace – hospitality. When we offer hospitality to one another just like Mary and Elizabeth offered hospitality and friendship to one another, peace takes place. It is when we refuse to offer hospitality to another person or when we refuse the hospitality given by another person that causes the lack of peace. We don’t have to begin by trying to solve all the problems of the world. We don’t have to wait till countries stop producing weapons of war. We don’t have to wait for violence to end. Peace can be a possibility today. All it takes is a simple word of encouragement, a kind act, a loving offer of help. Peace begins when we believe we can make a difference, beginning with ourselves.

A little baby that was born 2000 years ago to a poor family made a difference. In the face of so much opposition and where so much hate and violent exists, one man who spoke of peace made a difference. When so many people were unable to forgive one another for the injury that they have done to one another, a single man on a cross was able to make a difference by forgiving his executors. That man is Jesus. He is the Prince of Peace. Jesus was able to change the course of history, world events and lives of so many people without lifting a gun, starting a war or ruling a country. If today you feel that you are just one person, don’t worry. You too can make a difference. Start by allowing God to take control of your lives. Surrender your life to him and you will find peace, peace even in the midst of problems and difficulties.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Joy of Giving

Third Sunday of Advent Year C

The Third Sunday of Advent is also called Gaudete Sunday. The theme of joy is more pronounced this week. For many of us, we too are feeling the joy of the season as we approach Christmas. We are joyful not because all our problems have been solved. We are joyful not because life is perfect. We are joyful not because we think that Santa Claus is coming to give us a big present. No. Our joy is based on the fact that the Lord is very near; our salvation is near. St. Paul exhorts us to be happy in the second reading for this very reason: “I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord; I repeat, what I want is your happiness. Let your tolerance be evident to everyone: the Lord is very near.”

Waiting for the coming of the Lord does not mean that we should just sit down and wait for death. This expectation calls for action and conversion. In today’s gospel, three groups of people ask John the Baptist what must they do. John exhorts them to share with those who are needy, be just and fair in our dealings; to refrain from intimidation and extortion to acquire what we want and finally to be satisfied with what we have. In other words, as we await the coming of Christ, we should not be selfish or greedy and think only of our own needs and wants. On the contrary, as Christians we are called to put others first before ourselves.

Many people find it hard to be generous. It is much easier to be selfish than to share our belongings with someone else. The most likely reason for this is that we are worried that what we have is not enough if it is shared between two or more persons. Again, St. Paul reminds us “that there is no need for worry; but if there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it with prayer and thanksgiving, and that peace of God, which is so much greater than we can understand, will guard your hearts and your thoughts, in Christ Jesus.”

Therefore it is hard to be happy and joyful when you are greedy and ambitious. When you are never satisfied with what you have, when you are always afraid of losing what you have, when you are jealous of other’s prosperity – it’s really hard to be happy. It is only the man who has discovered God as fulfilling his every heart’s desire who will be happy. Only God can fill the emptiness in our hearts. Only God can satisfy our deepest longings. Only God can be the source of everlasting joy.

Let us then welcome our Lord and God. As the prophet Zephaniah tells us in the first reading, our God is “a victorious warrior. He will exult with joy over you, he will renew you by his love; he will dance with shouts of joy for you as on a day of festival.” When we allow the God of joy to fill our lives with his love, joy and peace, nothing can take away these things. Life need not be perfect and our problems may not be solved, but with God as the Lord and center of our lives, nothing can take away the joy of being his son and daughter.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Give us Joy over Happiness

Second Sunday of Advent Year C

Is there a difference between Christian joy and the feeling of happiness? Certainly. A big difference. Happiness is no guarantee of joy, whereas one can still experience joy in the midst of sorrow. There is a story told about St. Francis. One day, one of the brothers asked St. Francis: What is perfect joy? St. Francis gave this answer: Once, I thought that perfect joy meant that all the kings and queens of Europe would be converted to Christ and live exemplary good Christian lives. I thought that was perfect joy. But now I know that if this really happened, it would still not be perfect joy. Then, I thought that if the Great Caliph and all the Mohammedans accept Christ and were baptized, then I would experience perfect joy. But now I realize that this was not so. There was also a time when I had wished that all the Christians of the world joined my congregation and became Fransiscans. I thought that would be perfect joy. But now I realize that that too will not be perfect joy. Finally, I realize the answer. I can imagine one day coming home to one of my religious houses, tired, hungry, thirsty, hoping to find shelter and welcome among my brothers. But instead of welcome, they do not recognize me and I’m thrown out of the house. If I can remain joyful throughout this experience without complaining to God or curse my brothers, then that would be perfect joy!!

This then is perfect joy. It is the knowledge that God “who began this good work in you will see that it is finished when the Day of Christ Jesus comes.” It is a joy based on what God can do rather than what we can achieve. This is the joy of the apostles and the saints, even when they experienced persecution, rejection and met their death at the hands of their enemies. These were definitely not happy occasions. Happiness and sorrow are feelings. Feelings are always beyond our control. But Christian joy is a choice. It is decision based on faith and hope. Christian joy is based on the knowledge that God will not abandon us, no matter what happens. God did not promise us an easy life, free from sorrows, pain, illness, obstacles, problems or even death. But God promised us that he will be with us throughout all these experiences. And God is faithful to what he has promised. In today’s gospel reading, we read the fulfillment of one such prophecy. St. Luke quotes the words of the prophet Isaiah: “All mankind shall see the salvation of God.” It is Jesus who is the salvation of God. It is Jesus who is our salvation, promised from of old. He is the source of our joy and our hope.

With such a joy, we should no longer live lives as if we are defeated. We should no longer live as if we are victims of tragedy. Yes, we may have undergone failure. Yes, we may have experienced pain, disappointment and encountered many problems. But our joy lies in knowing that God has already won the victory for us. We may not see the signs of God’s victory at this point of time but it is there. This is God’s promise. God will be faithful to it. We may experience all these obstacles, but nothing can take away the love of God for each and everyone of us.

What must we do to experience this joy? We must prepare a way for the Lord. In other words, we must experience conversion in our lives. We must reject sin and our old selfish ways. My prayer for you and our prayer for each other must be like the prayer of St. Paul in the second reading. He prays that “your love for each other may increase more and more and never stop improving your knowledge and deepening your perception so that you can always recognize what is best. This will help you to become pure and blameless, and prepare you for the Day of Christ, when you will reach the perfect goodness which Jesus Christ produces in us for the glory and praise of God.”

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The End is Near! What shall we do?!

First Sunday of Advent Year C

Today the Church begins a new liturgical year. In many cultures and traditions, we often find their new year celebration as an opportunity to remember and give thanks to God for all the blessings of the past year. More importantly it is a time to pray for a good year ahead. We Christians have a slightly different way of celebrating our liturgical new year. We celebrate this event not by looking to the past or to the following year but we are asked to focus on the end of time – the end of the world. This may seem extremely strange especially when we often regard the end of the world as something frightening.

The first part of today’s gospel does present a frightening picture of the end of the world – “There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars; on earth nations in agony, bewildered by the clamour of the ocean and its waves; men dying of fear as they await what menaces the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken.” Natural calamities, like earthquakes, tsunami, typhoon, floods etc. often bring about this experience of fear and anxiety. On the other hand, science tells us that these natural calamities are the result of an earth which is growing and evolving. It is signs of life rather than of death. Planets that no longer have such natural calamities – no earthquakes, no storms, no volcanoes – also have no life. Nothing can live on such planets. They are dead planets.

So, Jesus very often uses the image of natural calamities to describe the end of the world in order to show that something new is about to be born. These are birth pangs. These are not signs of death but rather of life. If we begin to view the end of the world in this perspective, then today’s celebration and this season of Advent will become a celebration of hope rather than a celebration of fear.

We should not ask the question: “When will all of these happen?” When and how is not important. The question that we should be asking is this: What shall we do as we await this final day. Today’s scriptures are full of lessons for us.

First of all, even if there is a lot of confusion, things are not going according to our plans, nobody should lose heart. Jesus tells us: “When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand.” We must not be anxious because Jesus is coming. This is certain. He is our saviour. Today, we face many problems – family problems, financial problems. Many feel like giving up. Jesus reminds us – do not lose heart – stand erect and hold your heads high because your liberation is near at hand.

Secondly, when faced with obstacles and so much evil in the world, we are often tempted to run away or to look for excuses or fake solutions. Some people turn to alcohol while others to sex in order to find some satisfaction. Jesus reminds us: “Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life, and that day will be sprung on you suddenly, like a trap.” Remember that no one can escape judgment. Everyone will be asked to give an account of their action. Jesus assures us of this: “For it will come down on every living man on the face of the earth.”

Thirdly, we must “stay awake and pray”. This does not mean that we should be hiding in the church 24 hours a day. On the contrary, true prayer leads us closer to God and to others. Through prayer, the Lord will increase our love and make us love one another and the whole human race as St. Paul writes in the second reading. Staying awake means that we must take our spiritual development seriously. If our faith is still at the level of a primary school child, we will not be ready when the time comes for us to meet God face to face. St. Paul urges each and every one of us to continue growing in our faith life.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

YWCA of Negeri Sembilan celebrates World Week of Prayer and Fellowship

SEREMBAN, Malaysia (Nov 24) - The Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) of Negeri Sembilan celebrated World Week of Prayer and Fellowship with a talk by Rev. Fr. Michael Chua, who is the Parish Priest of the Church of Visitation, Seremban, and the Ecclesiastical Assistant of the Archdiocesan Ministry of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur. Fr. Chua spoke on theme, "Striving for Global Citizenship for All."

Fr. Chua started by explaining both the positive and negative effects of globalisation. Globalisation has brought about the growth of cross cultural contacts and the spread of multiculturalism. On the hand, he cautioned that globalisation may also result in cultural imperialism and extinction of authentic cultures in the East and the South, as they are overwhelmed by an onslaught of Western popular culture through the media and the free market system.

"One of the major barriers to building a multicultural community is ethnocentrism" he added. He explained ethnocentrism as "the assumption that the worldview of one’s culture is central to all reality." He then explained the various forms and levels of cultural sensitivity and insensitivity, some more subtle than others.

He then proposed a method of building relationships with people from other cultures and beliefs: "Creating space and respecting space." There is close connection between the need to take risks in making space for others and the need to respect the legitimate boundaries of others. If not, any efforts in building relationships will devolve into disrespectful intrusion.

The YWCA of Negeri Sembilan is a member of the gloabl network of the YWCA, a movement of women working for social and economic change around the world. It advocates for young women’s leadership, peace, justice, human rights and sustainable development, both on a grassroots and global scale. It is the the largest women’s organization in the world, and the second oldest organization of its kind, second only to the Relief Society.

The original Christian focus is still strong in many of the national associations, but some have changed their focus to social programs and services and mission-based topics. The YWCA of Negeri Sembilan, however, has taken on a multireligious and multicultural composition, made up of Christians from various denominations, Hindus, Buddhists and even some Muslims. This talk was attended by over 50 members who consisted not only of Christians, but also Hindus, Buddhists, and a Muslim.

The World Week of Prayer and Fellowship is an annual event of the World YWCA. It presents an opportunity to pray and act together on a shared issue. This year’s theme is ‘Striving for Global Citizenship for All’ presents an opportunity for reflection on what makes good citizens, and how our contribution as individuals and a movement can create a safe and secure world.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Don't expect a Certificate!

Christ the King Year B

At the end of a course, we usually expect a certificate to proof that we have completed the course. The certificate would also sometimes include a record of our performance. For example, at the end of our studies in school, we get a certificate to show the grades we received in our final exam. Today is the last day of the Church’s liturgical year. Perhaps, we would also be expecting some form of certificate to proof that we have been living good lives according to the teachings of the Church. If our performance has not been so well, if we feel that we have not live as good Catholics, we may feel a bit embarrassed about this certificate.

I’m sorry to disappoint you because the values of God are not the same as the values of the world. Jesus reminds us of this in today’s gospel. In answer to Pilate’s question about whether he is the king of the Jews, Jesus replies: “Mine is not a kingdom of this world.” But Jesus is king, though of a different kind. He says: “Yes, I am a king, I was born for this, I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.”

Just say that if we were to receive a certificate from Jesus, what would be points that would really matter to him and God. Well, the certificate would not be a record of our successes – how well we have done this or that. What matters is not success but faithfulness – have we been faithful to God? Have we been faithful to Jesus’ call to be his disciples? Have we been faithful to all that Jesus has taught us?

Secondly, the certificate would not be concerned with our status or position. Power and status have no place in the kingdom of God. It is only service that matters. Jesus is King but not a king who lords it over others. He is a Servant king. Have we served our brothers and sisters, especially those who are weak and the poor? Have we given them our time and our assistance without expecting anything in return?

Thirdly, the certificate would not record the number of times we pray or attend masses or formations. These things are important. But more important than these is the conversion that must take place within our lives. As we look back this entire year, do we see changes within ourselves? Have we become more committed Christians? Have we been able to overcome some area of sin which we were struggling with before this?

Today, as we celebrate this Feast of Christ the King, let us echo the words found in today’s second reading taken from the book of the Apocalypse: “Jesus Christ is the faithful witness, the First-Born from the dead, the Ruler of the kings of the earth. He loves us and has washed away our sins with his blood, and made us a line of kings, priests to serve God and Father; to him, then, be glory and power for ever and ever.” Let us be witnesses of Christ the King by allowing him to be king and lord of our lives.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Reverend-Know-It-All on the kind of priests we want

Dear Rev. Know-It-All,

Is there an Encyclical or a Papal Teaching on how the lay person is required to respect their priests? We have someone in our lay community, who does not like the way her pastor gives homilies and is constantly criticizing him. We know this is wrong, but we don't know how to correct her without hurting her. Especially now, in the Year of the Priest, I would think there would be something from Rome.

Please help.

Clara Qalysm


Dear Clara,

First, the simple answer to your question: Yes. There is something recently written, Pope Benedict’s letter of June 16 inaugurating the Year of the Priest. That said, I am delighted to hear that some one is upset by the sermons in your parish. Hopefully, she is upset for the right reasons.

Somehow we have gotten the impression, (I think it started somewhere in the 1950's) that we are supposed to like priests. What an odd assumption. If a priest is doing his job, he should make us feel at least a little nervous, if not downright uncomfortable. We assume that Mass should be entertaining and that sermons should be enjoyable. The job of the priest is not to entertain. It is to do what Jesus did. Certainly you don’t believe that Jesus was crucified because He was such a nice fellow. It seems they didn’t have to look far to find a mob that was willing to shout “Crucify Him!” He must have irritated a few people. The job of the priest is to continue the work that Jesus did. Certainly, preaching and teaching were part of it, but so were healing the sick and casting out demons. However, Jesus’ ultimate work was to offer Himself as a sacrifice in reparation for the sins of the world.

When I was a young priest many years ago, I was given a new assignment as an assistant pastor. Shortly before I arrived to take up my new duties, St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, came to me in a dream and told me that I would have to pray a lot in this new assignment.

When I arrived at my new rectory, I noticed a beautiful wood carving of St John on the mantelpiece in the front room.

A few weeks later, I noticed that the statue of St. John was gone, and in his place was a mechanical monkey.

It seems the pastor had taken his vacation in Las Vegas, where he had won the little wind up monkey in a game of chance. When he needed a refill at the bar, he just switched on the monkey who banged a little pair of cymbals and the bar maid would fill his glass, and he would switch the monkey off, until pressed into service once again.

Thus, it was that the patron saint of priests was replaced with a mechanical monkey.

In the 20th century, we became accustomed to the priest as headman of the immigrant community. That changed into a kind of social director which has developed in our times to “pious bureaucrat.” The priest goes to meetings, conducts programs, fills out forms, visits the school, and glad hands everybody in the vestibule. He does weddings for young couples who have been living in sin for the past two years, then goes to the banquet where he gives the blessings at the beginning and end, thus giving the whole thing a veneer of sanctity. He conducts funerals, reassuring us that perhaps there is life after death and, doubtless, God, who is merciful, will overlook Uncle Mortimer’s gun running business and countless adulteries. After all, Old Mort had a kind heart.

A priest should be good with young and old, but not too good with young. He should be kind and pastoral and never critical he should preach a nice, though brief, sermon. He should go to all the events, the wakes the weddings, the men’s club, the women’s club, the youth group, and having done all that he should be a man of prayer, or at least appear to be. He must have the wisdom of age and the energy of youth, and be ready to rush to the hospital in the middle of the night to give the “last sacraments” to some reprobate who has not darkened the door of the church since his First (and last) Communion.

Above all, the priest makes sure that the fund raising is on schedule and the buildings are in good repair. Keep banging the cymbals, Father. At least keeping up the buildings has something to do with the ministry of Jesus. He was, after all, in the building trades for about 18 years.

In his letter of June 16th, on the year of the priest, it doesn’t seem that the Holy Father is urging people to celebrate the priesthood as much as he is urging priest to remember their calling. The letter is mostly a meditation on the life of my old friend, St. John Vianney. He was the Curé (the Pastor) of Ars, a small town in the south of France. After the French Revolution, the faith in France was in terrible shape, almost as bad as it is now. St John was to this little village of perhaps 250 souls, few of whom practiced their faith. He was not well received. In fact, they hated him.

For years, a group of women offered a special Mass intention. After a while, Fr. Vianney asked what they were praying for. They told him, “For a new pastor.” He went right on praying for their special intention. When he arrived in the parish, he prayed “Lord, grant me the conversion of my parish; I am willing to suffer whatever you wish, for my entire life!” He then went around for a month meeting his parishioners, getting to know the life of his little village, then he went to the pulpit and denounced their sins, especially their dances, which were nothing more than seduction.

As the pastor of Ars, Father Vianney realized that the Revolution's aftermath resulted in religious ignorance, due to many years of the destruction of the Catholic Church in France. At the time, Sundays in rural areas were spent in the fields working, or spent dancing and drinking in taverns. In modern America we work, run errands, go to sporting events and watch soft core pornography on our televisions. Vianney reminded his parishioners that Sundays were meant for the worship of God. Father Vianney began by giving sermons referring to the tavern as "the devil's own shop, the market where souls are bartered, where the harmony of families are broken up, where quarrels start and murders are done." No wonder they hated him.

I wonder what he would have to say about the way people come dressed when they bother to come to church at all. I bet he would have a few thing to say about video games and television programming as well. We live in an age when the Catholic Church is being systematically attacked from without and within. The ignorance of children regarding the faith and the sacraments is appalling. The torrent of pornography to which children are exposed is unfathomable, and that’s just prime time TV.

Our entertainments have corroded our sense of right and wrong just as they did in Ars 150 years ago. I am genuinely shocked when young people come to arrange a marriage and they are not living together. No one thinks twice about what in a former time would be called adultery or perversion, in fact it is celebrated. Parents are at a loss, unable and sometimes unwilling to do anything. God forbid the priest should fail to be in step with the times. We priests have been so in step that many of us have been swept away in the same river of filth and narcissism that is currently engulfing the world.

The problem then, as I see it, is not that someone in your parish is critical of the priest, but that only one person is critical of the priest. People want to love their priests because they are such nice fellows and give such nice homilies. This is a mistake. The priest is to be valued because he absolves sins and offers the sacrifice of Calvary, the only sacrifice which can make up for the barbarities of the age. In his own life, the priest is called to offer the sacrifice of the Mass as an expiation for his sins and the sins of his congregation, even if the congregation believes itself sinless, and worse still if the priest refuses to acknowledge his own weakness and sinfulness. The priest is supposed to be the one who leads his people to repentance, having himself wholeheartedly repented.

Allow me to quote from the Pope’s letter as he quotes St. John “The great misfortune for us parish priests – (St. John Vianney) lamented - is that our souls grow tepid"; meaning by this that a pastor can grow dangerously inured to the state of sin or of indifference in which so many of his flock are living. He himself kept a tight rein on his body, with vigils and fasts, lest it rebel against his priestly soul. Nor did he (St. John) avoid self-mortification for the good of the souls in his care and as a help to expiating the many sins he heard in confession. To a priestly confrere he explained: "I will tell you my recipe: I give sinners a small penance and the rest I do in their place". Aside from the actual penances which the Cure’ of Ars practiced, the core of his teaching remains valid for each of us: souls have been won at the price of Jesus' own blood, and a priest cannot devote himself to their salvation if he refuses to share personally in the "precious cost" of redemption.

We want to like the priest for the same reason we like the softball coach, the scout leader and Santa Claus. Again quoting St. John Vianney, the priest is to be valued for a quite different service, “Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we would not have the Lord. Who put Him there in that tabernacle? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of your life? The priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for its journey? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, bathing it one last time in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest, always the priest. And if this soul should happen to die [as a result of sin], who will raise it up, who will restore its calm and peace? Again, the priest. ... After God, the priest is everything! ... Only in heaven will he fully realize what he is. 'O, how great is the priest! ... If he realized what he is, he would die.' (St. John Mary Vianney)

If only a few more priests would take these words to heart and forget what their congregations thought of them.

Rev. Know-It-All

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What's an introvert? Look at ME!!!

"Introverts don't outwardly complain, instead roll their eyes and silently curse the darkness." Just so. (think that's me lah!!)
By Jonathan Raush (who is one of course)

Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice?

If so, do you tell this person he is "too serious," or ask if he is okay? Regard him as aloof, arrogant, rude? Redouble your efforts to draw him out?

If you answered yes to these questions, chances are that you have an introvert on your hands—and that you aren't caring for him properly. Science has learned a good deal in recent years about the habits and requirements of introverts. It has even learned, by means of brain scans, that introverts process information differently from other people (I am not making this up). If you are behind the curve on this important matter, be reassured that you are not alone. Introverts may be common, but they are also among the most misunderstood and aggrieved groups in America, possibly the world.

I know. My name is Jonathan, and I am an introvert.

Oh, for years I denied it. After all, I have good social skills. I am not morose or misanthropic. Usually. I am far from shy. I love long conversations that explore intimate thoughts or passionate interests. But at last I have self-identified and come out to my friends and colleagues. In doing so, I have found myself liberated from any number of damaging misconceptions and stereotypes. Now I am here to tell you what you need to know in order to respond sensitively and supportively to your own introverted family members, friends, and colleagues. Remember, someone you know, respect, and interact with every day is an introvert, and you are probably driving this person nuts. It pays to learn the warning signs.

What is introversion? In its modern sense, the concept goes back to the 1920s and the psychologist Carl Jung. Today it is a mainstay of personality tests, including the widely used Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Introverts are not necessarily shy. Shy people are anxious or frightened or self-excoriating in social settings; introverts generally are not. Introverts are also not misanthropic, though some of us do go along with Sartre as far as to say "Hell is other people at breakfast." Rather, introverts are people who find other people tiring.

Extroverts are energized by people, and wilt or fade when alone. They often seem bored by themselves, in both senses of the expression. Leave an extrovert alone for two minutes and he will reach for his cell phone. In contrast, after an hour or two of being socially "on," we introverts need to turn off and recharge. My own formula is roughly two hours alone for every hour of socializing. This isn't antisocial. It isn't a sign of depression. It does not call for medication. For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating. Our motto: "I'm okay, you're okay—in small doses."

How many people are introverts? I performed exhaustive research on this question, in the form of a quick Google search. The answer: About 25 percent. Or: Just under half. Or—my favorite—"a minority in the regular population but a majority in the gifted population."

Are introverts misunderstood? Wildly. That, it appears, is our lot in life. "It is very difficult for an extrovert to understand an introvert," write the education experts Jill D. Burruss and Lisa Kaenzig. (They are also the source of the quotation in the previous paragraph.) Extroverts are easy for introverts to understand, because extroverts spend so much of their time working out who they are in voluble, and frequently inescapable, interaction with other people. They are as inscrutable as puppy dogs. But the street does not run both ways. Extroverts have little or no grasp of introversion. They assume that company, especially their own, is always welcome. They cannot imagine why someone would need to be alone; indeed, they often take umbrage at the suggestion. As often as I have tried to explain the matter to extroverts, I have never sensed that any of them really understood. They listen for a moment and then go back to barking and yipping.

Are introverts oppressed? I would have to say so. For one thing, extroverts are overrepresented in politics, a profession in which only the garrulous are really comfortable. Look at George W. Bush. Look at Bill Clinton. They seem to come fully to life only around other people. To think of the few introverts who did rise to the top in politics—Calvin Coolidge, Richard Nixon—is merely to drive home the point. With the possible exception of Ronald Reagan, whose fabled aloofness and privateness were probably signs of a deep introverted streak (many actors, I've read, are introverts, and many introverts, when socializing, feel like actors), introverts are not considered "naturals" in politics.

Extroverts therefore dominate public life. This is a pity. If we introverts ran the world, it would no doubt be a calmer, saner, more peaceful sort of place. As Coolidge is supposed to have said, "Don't you know that four fifths of all our troubles in this life would disappear if we would just sit down and keep still?" (He is also supposed to have said, "If you don't say anything, you won't be called on to repeat it." The only thing a true introvert dislikes more than talking about himself is repeating himself.)

With their endless appetite for talk and attention, extroverts also dominate social life, so they tend to set expectations. In our extrovertist society, being outgoing is considered normal and therefore desirable, a mark of happiness, confidence, leadership. Extroverts are seen as bighearted, vibrant, warm, empathic. "People person" is a compliment. Introverts are described with words like "guarded," "loner," "reserved," "taciturn," "self-contained," "private"—narrow, ungenerous words, words that suggest emotional parsimony and smallness of personality. Female introverts, I suspect, must suffer especially. In certain circles, particularly in the Midwest, a man can still sometimes get away with being what they used to call a strong and silent type; introverted women, lacking that alternative, are even more likely than men to be perceived as timid, withdrawn, haughty.

Are introverts arrogant? Hardly. I suppose this common misconception has to do with our being more intelligent, more reflective, more independent, more level-headed, more refined, and more sensitive than extroverts. Also, it is probably due to our lack of small talk, a lack that extroverts often mistake for disdain. We tend to think before talking, whereas extroverts tend to think by talking, which is why their meetings never last less than six hours. "Introverts," writes a perceptive fellow named Thomas P. Crouser, in an online review of a recent book called Why Should Extroverts Make All the Money? (I'm not making that up, either), "are driven to distraction by the semi-internal dialogue extroverts tend to conduct. Introverts don't outwardly complain, instead roll their eyes and silently curse the darkness." Just so.

The worst of it is that extroverts have no idea of the torment they put us through. Sometimes, as we gasp for air amid the fog of their 98-percent-content-free talk, we wonder if extroverts even bother to listen to themselves. Still, we endure stoically, because the etiquette books—written, no doubt, by extroverts—regard declining to banter as rude and gaps in conversation as awkward. We can only dream that someday, when our condition is more widely understood, when perhaps an Introverts' Rights movement has blossomed and borne fruit, it will not be impolite to say "I'm an introvert. You are a wonderful person and I like you. But now please shush."

How can I let the introvert in my life know that I support him and respect his choice? First, recognize that it's not a choice. It's not a lifestyle. It's an orientation.

Second, when you see an introvert lost in thought, don't say "What's the matter?" or "Are you all right?"

Third, don't say anything else, either.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Consequence of Our Lives

Thirty Third Ordinary Sunday Year B

There are consequences to the way we live. Every action of ours has a consequence. Sometimes we see the consequences of our actions in our present life. For example, when we drink and smoke without restraint, we see these habits have an effect on our health. If we have not paid our attention to our studies when we were young we would most likely have to struggle on a low pay for the rest of our lives. When we steal and cheat, we would soon be exposing ourselves to the law.

But there are some consequences that we may not see in this life. Some people are able to live rich and comfortable lives in spite of their sinful lifestyle. Others seem to get away with the crimes they have committed without being caught by the police. Still many others go through life without thinking of God or placing him last on our list of priorities. But that doesn’t mean that our actions have no consequences. In fact, we are reminded by the readings today that it is to these actions that we must pay special attention. Ultimately we will be called to account for our every action or omission. If not now, then on Judgment Day.

The problem that we often face is this: because we don’t see the consequences of our negative actions in our present life, we may erroneously believe that there are no consequences. Many people live their lives with this misconception. Unless we wake up to the truth that we shall be accountable for our every action, we will die without the opportunity to mend our ways. All will be judged on the Last Day. All our actions, our mistakes, our good deeds, our sins, our failures, our successes would be made clear on that day. In spite of the mercy of God, no one can escape judgment.

The first reading from the prophet Daniel reminds us that “of those who lie sleeping in the dust of the earth many will awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting disgrace. The learned will shine brightly as the vault of heaven, and those who have instructed many in virtue, as bright as stars for all eternity.” Let us hope and pray that on the Last Day we will rise to everlasting life and glory and be able to shine as bright stars in heaven for all eternity. But we are also reminded that unless we take our faith seriously, unless we begin to live up to our identity as Christians, another fate may await us – we may wake up to shame and everlasting disgrace.

We are approaching the end of the year. There is still time to amend our ways now. Don’t wait till tomorrow or next month or next year. As Jesus reminds us in the gospel today: “but as for that day or hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son; no one but the Father.” For some of us the Day of Judgment will come sooner than others. Be ready to give an account of your life when you called to meet the Lord.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

How much are we prepared to give?

Thirty Second Ordinary Sunday Year B

How much are we prepared to give to God? Here’s a story that may help us to understand. One day, three clerics, a Protestant minister, a Catholic priest and a Jewish rabbi were having a discussion on who gave the most to God. The Protestant minister proudly said that he only took ten per cent of the Sunday collection. The rest of the money was used for the Church’s work and mission. The Catholic minister didn’t want to be outdone. He said that the entire collection was given to God and his Church while he only took RM10.00 as his stipend. The Jewish rabbi turned to the both of them and laughed. “You men of little faith”, he exclaimed, “I on the other hand give everything to God. At the end of every Sabbath I take the whole collection and throw it up as an offering to God and whatever God allows to fall back down is mine!”

How much are we prepared to give to God? I don’t think that any of us are ready to give even 10% of whatever we earn. At least we see among the Protestants this willingness to contribute 10% of their earnings to the mission and work of the Church. Perhaps our Sunday offering may just be a dollar, which is less than one percent of what we earn. And yet, we often forget that all that we have is a gift from God. God has given us everything that we need and yet we often find it so hard to give back to him. We give back to God not only by our monetary contributions to the Church. We give back to God also through helping the poor, through our sacrifice of time and effort to further the Church’s mission. How much are we prepared to give to God?

The challenge given in today’s readings is really great. God is challenging us to give our all, to give our best and to give our lives to him. We have two stories to illustrate this. In the first reading, we have the story of the non-Jewish widow who is asked to share her last meal with the prophet Elijah. The prophet and God rewards her generosity by performing a miracle allowing her food to never be totally spent. In the gospel, Jesus takes the example of another poor widow to illustrate this need for total self-giving. This poor widow puts in only two small coins, which is nothing compared to big sums donated by the rich. And yet Jesus praises her action because “she from the little she had has put in everything she possessed, all she had to live on.”

In the second reading, Jesus himself is given as an example for giving. It is not money or material goods that is being given here. Jesus gives his own life as a sacrifice in order that we may be saved. Jesus has given his 100%, he has held nothing back.

Back to the question that I’ve been asking from the start: How much are we prepared to give to God? Are we very calculative? Are we trying to hold back many things because they give us security? Are we forgetting that Jesus has given himself entirely to us? Have we forgotten that God has given us everything we need? How much are we prepared to give to God?

Today, let us reflect over our own willingness or unwillingness to make sacrifices for God. How much time have we given to him? How much have we contributed to the Church through our talents? Or have we only been coming here to beg favours from God as if we were beggars? Today, let us pray that we will be able to give back to God what God has given to us everyday of our lives.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rejoice and be Glad!

A Homily for All Saints Day: 1st November

Happy are you … Blessed are you … Rejoice … Be joyful. Seems strange and inappropriate to say these words to one who is poor, or someone down and out, or when one is mourning for the loss of a loved one. And yet Jesus, doesn’t pause for a moment to exclaim … happy are you … blessed are you … rejoice … be joyful.

What is this joy that Jesus speaks of? Is joy something that you get when your needs and wants are fulfilled? Is this joy something that we can experience now or only in the next life, after we die? Can there be joy in the midst of troubles, sorrow, pain and suffering?

In the eyes of the world, sorrow and joy are two separate matters. People tend to say: “When you are glad, you cannot be sad, and when you are sad, you cannot be glad.” In fact, our contemporary society does everything possible to keep sadness and gladness separated. We try to hide and forget about death, illness, human brokenness.

But the beatitudes, Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God, gives us an entirely different picture. Jesus shows, both in his teachings and in his life, that true joy often is hidden in the midst of our sorrow. His life, death and resurrection alone is proof of this reality. The cross is a symbol of death and of life, of suffering and of joy, of defeat and of victory. In the cross, both joy and sorrow can exist together. That isn’t easy to understand, but when we think about some of our life experiences, such as being present at the birth of a child or at the death of a friend, great sorrow and great joy are often seen to be parts of the same experience. Often we discover the joy in the midst of the sorrow.

And so we come to understand that true joy is not the same as happiness. We can be unhappy about many things, but joy can still be there because it comes from the knowledge of God’s love for us. In other words, joy is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing – sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war or even death – can take that love away. We are, as St. Paul tells us in the second reading, the beloved children of God – this is our true identity – this is the source of our joy. To be a saint means to be joyful even in the midst of trials and sufferings.

When does this joy happen? The blessedness which belongs to the Christian is not a blessedness which is postponed to some future world of glory; it is a blessedness which exists here and now. True, it will find its fullness in heaven; but for all that it is a present reality to be enjoyed here and now.

Nothing happens automatically in the spiritual life. Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. It is a choice based on the knowledge that we belong to God and have found in God our refuge and our safety and that nothing, not even death, can take God away from us.

Throughout the year, we celebrate feast days in honour of the saints. They are the ‘name’ (famous) saints, the ‘big’ saints like St. Joseph, the Apostles, the martyrs. Today, we celebrate the unnamed saints, the ‘little’ saints. They are the people who quietly tried to lead good, Christian lives, and who in God’s plan never had the occasion to do anything really spectacular or extraordinary. These are the saints who look just like you and I.

Today in this Mass, we should praise and thank God for the little saints, past and present – even the saints that are present in our midst. Each of you have a baptism name, a name of a saint. Today is everyone’s feast day. Happy Feast Day to one and all of you!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Go our way or follow Jesus on the Way

Thirtieth Ordinary Sunday Year B

The story of Bartimaeus, the man who was once blind till he encountered Jesus, is a story of our journey in faith. Many of us, like Bartimaeus, are looking for something in life, some form of fulfillment, some kind of happiness, a meaning or direction in life, except that we feel absolutely helpless at times. We beg for love and attention, we beg for material things which we think will satisfy our longings, we beg for recognition and understanding. We wrapped ourselves in our own self-deceit, our own self-importance, our fears and our false sense of securities waiting for the answer to come along, someone or something who will free us from the bondage of our present condition.

Then Jesus comes along. Many voices stand in the way of discouraging us from reaching out to him. We hear the echoing voices of past failures reminding us of our folly and warning us of the grave possibility of repeating our mistakes. We hear the voices of cynicism that comes from past experiences of disillusionment. We hear other competing voices shouting out solutions and remedies. It’s hard to recognize the presence of Jesus in the midst of such cacophony. It’s easy to get lost and to just let Jesus pass by unnoticed.

But Bartimaeus was not discouraged nor daunted by these discouraging voices. He cried louder to Jesus. He cried so hard as if he had nothing to lose. He did have nothing to lose but so much more to gain. Someone once said that the only way in which we really get in touch with God is when we are down in the pits, when we come to terms that we are really and totally helpless and vulnerable. The drunkard who recognizes that he is no longer in control of his life, the sinner who realizes that he is totally loss without the light of God, the man who meets the dead end of his life and only has God as his only escape route.

Jesus invites Bartimaeus to come to him. It was as if everything led to this moment, and indeed it did. When asked by Jesus, “What do you want me to do for you?,” Bartimaeus had only one request, the only thing he had been seeking for all his life, his sight. But Jesus gives him more. It is ironic, that we often see the small picture and lose sight of the bigger. We imagine that we want this or that, and that if we received it, it would be the happiest moment of our lives. And yet, what we really need is God, the salvation which Jesus meant in today’s gospel. The joy is not so much in gaining what we had been looking for, but recognizing the hand of the giver, the Lord God of Israel whom Jeremiah sings has “delivered his people.”

Jesus then gives Bartimaeus a choice, “Go your way …” But Bartimaeus, who can now see not only physically but also spiritually, decides that there is a better way, following Jesus on the way. Bartimaeus will no longer be satisfied being a beggar, sitting by the side of the road, waiting for something to happen or someone to come along. It’s time to take to the road, and follow in the wake of Jesus. This is his new direction and purpose in life. This is what had brought him new sight. This is the source of his salvation and joy.

Today, we all continue to look to Jesus with our own different needs, big and small. We have been given a choice. We can continue to receive from the hand of Jesus and go our own way, or we can choose to follow him on the way. This is the difference between the blind beggar and the seeing disciple. Which way will we take?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Deepavali (Divali) - October 17

Living in multicultural and multireligious Malaysia is truly a blessing as we have the opportunity to learn a great deal about the cultural and religious celebrations of other Malaysians. Tomorrow, we celebrate one of Malaysia's great religious holidays, and for Hindu Indians it is their largest and best known holiday, Diwali (pronounced Di-vall-ee or dih-WAH-lee) or locally known as Deepavali, is popularly known as the "festival of lights"; however, its most noteworthy meaning in a spiritual sense may be "the awareness of the inner light".

Deepavali (தீபாவளி or Dīpāvalī,) (Hindi: दीपावली, दिवाली; Kannada: ದೀಪಾವಳಿ; Urdu: دیوالی; Tamil: தீபாவளி; Telugu: దీపావళి;Marathi and Konkani:दिवाळी) is a significant festival in Hinduism, Sikhism, and Jainism, and an official holiday in India and Malaysia.

Deepavali is a Tamil word meaning diyas in line தீபாவளி(deepavali) = தீபம்(deepam)+வளி(vali) (In tamil வளி(vali) = வரிசை(line))The word தீபம்(diyas) derived from the word தீ(fire).

Fundamental in Hindu philosophy is the belief that there is something beyond the physical body and mind which is pure, infinite, and eternal, called the Atman (pronounced in Sanskrit like Atma). Deepavali (Diwali) is the celebration of this inner light, in particular of the knowing that this light outshines all darkness (removes all obstacles and dispels all ignorance), and awakens the individual to their true nature, not as the body, but as an unchanging, infinite, immanent and transcendent reality. With the knowing of the Atman comes universal compassion, love, and the understanding of the oneness of all things.

In most regions, Diwali lasts for five days. It begins on the 14th day of the dark half of the Hindu calendar month of Asvina. (Hindu months are each divided into a light half, when the moon waxes, and a dark half, when it wanes.) In 2009, on the Gregorian calendar, Diwali begins on October 17th.

The story behind Diwali, as well as the length and specific details of the celebrations, varies widely from region to region; however, the essence is the same: to rejoice in the inner light (Atman) or the underlying reality of all things (Brahman) through festive fireworks, lights, flowers, the sharing of sweets and worship.

Deepavali celebrates this through festive fireworks, lights, flowers, sharing of sweets, and worship. While the story behind Dipavali varies from region to region, the essence is the same - to rejoice in the inner light (Atman) or the underlying reality of all things (Brahman).

Of the several events associated with it, the following are two important ones in Hinduism:

  1. Return of Rama to Ayodhya: Deepavali also celebrates the return of Rama, King of Ayodhya, with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana to Ayodhya after a 14 year exile, and a war in which he killed Ravana. It is believed that the people of Ayodhya lit ghee lamps along the way to light their path in the darkness. Since Ram traveled from South India to his kingdom in North India, he passed through the south earlier. This is the reason why the festival is celebrated a day earlier in South India. Deepavali usually comes 19 or 20 days after Dasara.
  2. The Killing of Narakasura: Celebrated as Narak Chaturdashi, one day before Deepavali day, it commemorates the killing of Narakasura, an evil demon who created havoc, by Krishna's wife Satyabhama. This happened in the Dwapara Yuga during this time of Krishna's avatar. In another version, the demon was killed by Krishna ( Krishna provokes his wife Satyabhama to kill Narshna defeating Indra: Govardhan Puja is celebrated the day after Deepavali. It is the day Krishna defeated Indra, the deity of thunder and rain. As per the story, Krishna saw huge preparations for the annual offering to Lord Indra and questions his father Nanda about it. He debated with the villagers about what their 'dharma' truly was. They were farmers, they should do their duty and concentrate on farming and protection of their cattle. He continued to say that all human beings should merely do their 'karma', to the best of their ability and not pray for natural phenomenon. The villagers were convinced by Krishna, and did not proceed with the special puja (prayer). Indra was then angered, and flooded the village. Krishna then lifted Mt Govardhan and held it up as protection to his people and cattle from the rain. Indra finally accepted defeat and recognized Krishna as supreme.

Variations notwithstanding, these stories share a common thread; that of the removal of evil, to be replaced by that which is good.

This sense of renewal is reflected in the way Hindus prepare themselves for Deepavali.

In anticipation of the celebration, homes as well as their surrounding areas are cleaned from top to bottom; decorative designs such as the kolam are drawn or placed on floors and walls; and the glow of lights, whether emitted from the traditional vilakku (oil lamps fashioned out of clay) or colourful electric bulbs, brighten up the abode of both rich and poor, signalling the coming festivities.

Temples are similarly spruced up with flowers and offerings of fruits and coconut milk from devotees, becoming more abundant and pronounced as the big day draws closer.

The spring cleaning and decorating are significant for they not only symbolise renewal but also prepare for the welcoming of Devi Lakshmi, the goddess of Wealth and Prosperity, who is believed to visit homes and temples on the day. It is said she emerged from the churning ocean only days after the new moon of Deepavali.

Besides the cleaning of homes and temples, Hindus also prepare themselves by cleansing their bodies and minds. Many among the devout fast, or observe a strict vegetarian diet, and spend hours during the preceding weeks in prayer and meditation.

The eve is usually spent making last-minute preparations for the next day. This is also the time when past quarrels are forgotten, and forgiveness is extended and granted.

On Deepavali morning, many Hindu devotees awaken before sunrise for the ritual oil bath. For some it is a symbolic affair (to signify purity) while others take full oil baths to remove impurities externally, as well as tone the muscles and nerves to receive positive energies. Then it's straight to the temples where prayers are held in accordance with the ceremonial rites.

The rest of the day is taken up by receiving guests, as is customary here in Malaysia. Most devout Hindus tend to be vegetarian, but that doesn't change the fact that Deepavali is the day to savour the many delicious Indian delicacies such as sweetmeats, rice puddings and the ever-popular murukku.

For the Jains: Diwali marks the attainment of nirvana by Lord Mahavira – the last of the Jain Tirthankaras – on October 15, 527 BC and is one of their most important festivals.

Mahavira is responsible for establishing the Dharma followed by Jains even today. According to tradition, the chief disciple of Mahavira, Ganadhara Gautam Swami also attained complete knowledge (Kevalgyana) on this day, thus making Diwali one of the most important Jain festivals.

Mahavira attained his nirvana at the dawn of the amavasya (new moon). According to the Kalpasutra by Acharya Bhadrabahu, 3rd century BC, many gods were present there, illuminating the darkness. The following night was pitch black without the light of the gods or the moon. To symbolically keep the light of their master's knowledge alive, the Gana kings illuminated their doors. It was reported that they had said: "Since the light of knowledge is gone, we will make light of ordinary matter."

Diwali (also called Bandi Chhorh Diwas or "the day of release of detainees") is a particularly important day because it celebrates the release from imprisonment in 1619 of the sixth Sikh Guru, Hargobind Ji.

Deepavali has been significant in Sikhism since the illumination of the town of Amritsar commemorating the return of Guru Har Gobind Ji (1595-1644), the sixth Guru of Sikhism, who was imprisoned along with 52 other Hindu kings at Fort Gwalior by Emperor Jahangir. After freeing the other prisoners, he went to the Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple) in the holy city of Amritsar, where he was welcomed happily by the people who lit candles and divas to greet the Guru. Because of this, Sikhs often refer to Deepavali also as Bandi Chhorh Divas - "the day of release of detainees."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Downward Mobility vs. Upward Mobility

Twenty Ninth Ordinary Sunday Year B

We humans are ambitious creatures. From a young age, we would have begun to fantasize the size and brand of our car, the type of house that we would want to live in, the amount of money that we would make. Once we have arrived at our goals, it just doesn’t feel enough. We want more. We want something better. We want to reach the sky. And in case, we are not able to fulfill our ambitions in our lifetime, we will then expect our children to fulfill those ambitions on behalf of us.

In today’s gospel, we see how the disciples of Jesus were also men of ambition. The two brothers, James and John approached Jesus and asked him for a favour, that is the honour to sit on his right and his left when Jesus comes to glory. The other disciples who heard the brothers’ request became envious of them too. Ambition has begun to erode the relationship of the disciples to one another and to Jesus too. Ambition had blinded them from their mission.

In the example given in the gospel, we can see how ambition can destroy us. Ambition breeds envy. It begins to spoil our relationship with others, even with those who are close to us. Friends can become competitors and enemies. Families can split up because of greed and ambition, everyone fighting for their inheritance or love and attention from parents.

Ambition also prevents us from accepting the crosses in our lives, the cup of suffering which Jesus offers to us. Most people are only happy to receive all the blessings and benefits from God. They are not prepared to drink from the cup of suffering nor are they prepared to take up their cross and follow Jesus. A discipleship that refuses to accept the cross, a discipleship that refuses to become last and the least of all, is not discipleship! It is mere human ambition and greed.

Jesus reminds his disciples and therefore all Christians that we should not copy the ways of the world in seeking for power and honour. Jesus reminds us that our way is different: “No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be slave to all. For the Son of Man himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The paradigm of Jesus is downward mobility and not upward mobility.

Today, we also celebrate Mission Sunday. We often forget that we all share in the one mission of the Church, the mission of Jesus Christ. Ambition may blind us to the gifts and talents of others in wanting to serve the Lord and the Church. We begin to compete with one another. We see ministry no longer as a form of service but as a source of power and symbol of importance.

Today, Jesus invites us to drink from his cup, the cup of suffering that represents the way of the cross, the way of discipleship. If we wish to be great, we must be servants of others; if we wish to be first, we must be slave to all.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Travelling Light for the Journey

Twenty Eighth Ordinary Sunday Year B

Most of us have our own favourite bible verses. Some remember one of the beatitudes. Others like the teaching on love. But there are some bible verses that make us feel uneasy. Perhaps, this is what the second reading from Hebrews is trying to say: “The word of God is something alive and active: it cuts like any double-edged sword …” This is what the word of God does. It does not only console us in moments of difficulty but also challenges us during moments of contentment. It does not only promise blessings but also spells out the curses which arise from our failure to be faithful to God.

Today’s gospel is one such of these difficult passages in the bible. Jesus in the first part of the story merely repeats the Ten Commandments. For many of us, keeping the Ten Commandments is difficult enough. But when the rich man asked Jesus what more can be done since he has already kept all the commandments, Jesus throws this additional challenge to him: “Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

Is Jesus asking this from each and every one of us? Does Jesus want each of us to sell everything we have and give all that we possess to the world? This seems like utter foolishness. But for us Christians, this passage contains the most profound wisdom that has ever been taught. The wisdom which Jesus is trying to teach here is this: The kingdom of God is far greater than the kingdom of men. The kingdom of men will fade away but the kingdom of God will be eternal. This is the wisdom of God: that the treasures which we will find in heaven outweighs the riches which will accumulate on this earth. Unless we are prepared to let go of these things on this earth, we will not be able to gain the treasures in heaven. When our concerns are only on the things of this life, things which are temporary, things which fade, things which we cannot take with us after death, then we are truly foolish.

Being rich is not a sin. This is not what Jesus is trying to say in today’s gospel. Rather, he is challenging us to give up whatever may be an obstacle to following him, an obstacle to the realization of the kingdom of God. Each man may have a different obstacle. Perhaps for one man, his riches are his stumbling block. For another man, perhaps, his greed for power is his stumbling block. In trying to be powerful, this man has forgotten that power and authority is given to us by God in order to serve the community and not to control it. For another person, it may be some possession or even person who is the stumbling block. These possessions and persons may distract him from his call to be a follower of Jesus.

In order, to follow Jesus, we must remove these obstacles and lighten our burden. This is the meaning of the parable of the camel passing through the eye of a needle. The eye of a needle was the name given to a rock formation near Jerusalem with a big hole in the centre. An ordinary camel can pass through this hole in the rock but a camel laden with goods and the belongings of its master will not be able to pass through. The moral of the story is that we must travel light. If we want to pass through the eye of the needle, if we want to enter the kingdom of God, we must be prepared to let go of the many obstacles that will prevent us from passing through – our riches, our pride, our possessions, our power.

Perhaps, you may be saying that this is impossible. Well, Jesus gives us this hopeful assurance: “For men it is impossible, but not for God; because everything is possible for God.” Let us ask God for this special grace to be able to give up all the attachments that will prevent us from following Jesus into the kingdom of heaven.

Demolishing the Tower of Babel: Dealing with our Ethnocentricity, Part 3 (Final)

By Rev. Fr. Michael Chua

Paving the way outward and forward

Exposing the fundamental myths that underlie our ethnocentricity is only the first stage, albeit a necessary one. In order to move beyond mere recognition and tolerance of differences to a position where diversity is celebrated, more needs to be done. Apart from the tasks that he had suggested earlier, Bennet also writes about the need to learn more about our own culture and to avoid projecting that culture onto other people's experience. This stage is particularly difficult to pass through when one cultural group has vast and unrecognized privileges when compared to other groups. This problem is so invisible that persons in the mainstream are often mystified when representatives of ethnic minorities begin to react to them in a negative way.

In order to begin building relationships with persons of other beliefs and cultures, one must move to the next level of acceptance. This next stage in Bennett's model requires us to be able to shift perspective, while still maintaining our commitments to our own values. He calls this stage “acceptance.” Acceptance does not mean that we have to believe in the same beliefs and values as the other person. What it does mean is accepting the fact that other people are entitled to hold different sets of beliefs and values from us.

Accepting and even respecting the right of others to their belief and values may prove insufficient when a person wishes to begin exploring deeper levels of dialogue and cross cultural communication. Bennet speaks of the next stage of intercultural sensitivity as “adaptation.” This allows the person to function in a bicultural capacity. In this stage, a person is able to take the perspective of another culture and operate successfully within that culture. Church documents often speak of this level as “inculturation” or more accurately “inter-culturation.”

Although, Bennet speaks of a sixth stage of cultural sensitivity which he calls “integration,” this may not be possible or even advisable in the context of religious beliefs. According to Bennet, at this last stage, the person can shift perspectives and frames of reference from one culture to another in a natural way. They become adept at evaluating any situation from multiple frames of reference. He, however admits, that some representatives in cross-cultural collaboration may reach this level, but most probably will not. In the context of religion, such integration often creates a synthesis of two or more religious traditions, thus resulting in a form of religious syncretism. Products of religious syncretism are often treated as new religious movements rather than as an ongoing process of dialogue and interculturation between parties in dialogue.

Dealing with our deep seated prejudices and aptitude to stereotype and vilify others is never easy. Few of us are even aware of every form of prejudice and ethnocentricity that we possess. Perhaps, we would never be rid of them in our lives. It would be a constant struggle of coming to terms with our inner demons, exposing them to the light of faith and reason and allowing God to restore and heal the image that He had intended for us. For some, this life long struggle may appear to be a curse. But for us Christians, it is an opportunity and a challenge to make space and constantly expand it for God and for others. Years of learning, understanding and articulating our faith through Catholic lenses will not be threatened or thrown out by our decision to encounter the ‘other’ as friend rather foe. On the contrary, we would soon discover our encounter with the ‘other’ will lead us to a deeper encounter with God, who as St. Paul reminds us is “the same Lord of all, enriching all who call upon him.” (Rom 10:12)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Demolishing the Tower of Babel: Dealing with our Ethnocentricity, Part 2 (of 3)

By Rev. Fr. Michael Chua

Levels of Cultural Sensitivity/ Insensitivity

The process of identifying our innate ethnocentricity and ability to move beyond it is much aided by the significant work of Milton Bennett, who authored the “Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity”. Bennett describes six stages of development in intercultural sensitivity: denial, defense, minimisation, acceptance, adaptation and integration. The stages provide a good framework for determining how to work with and improve the capacity for intercultural sensitivity, collaboration and dialogue. Based on the stages enumerated by Bennet, Eric Law, in his book “The Bush was Blazing but not consumed: developing a multicultural community,” presented some of the same ideas in the form of 7 myths, false beliefs that underlie our ethnocentricity.

“Difference does not exist.” This is what Bennet refers to as the first stage of denial. It means that people in this stage are very unaware of differences or choose to ignore differences. What would be some of the reasons leading to this myopic world view? One can imagine someone growing up in an environment that is isolated from others. This denial is caused by isolation (either social, economical, physical) in homogenous communities. One may not need to examine the case of a person growing up in a religiously or ethnically homogenous village. Some self-contained exclusive urban neighbourhoods may also create the same effect. A few years ago, the Japanese Prime Minister commented that the Japanese are able to function more effectively than their American neighbours due to the homogeneity of Japanese society to the ire of the native aboriginal people, who often seem invisible to the larger majority. The task of creating cultural sensitivity at this stage is merely to recognise differences – “Differences do exist!”.

“Difference is confined to broad categories.” Most Malaysians, although there are certainly exceptions, may not fall into the first category but may find themselves in this second category of ethnocentricity. This second stage cannot distinguish finer differences among large categories. “All Chinese have straight hair.” “All Indians like to be involved in politics.” These are forms of stereotyping, meaning that they are oversimplifications in which all the members of a group are considered to be definable by an easily distinguishable set of characteristics. Stereotypes often form the basis of prejudice and are usually employed to explain real or imaginary differences due to race, gender, religion, age, ethnicity, socio-economic class, disability, and occupation, among the limitless groups one may be identified with. The task at this stage is to begin to understand each individual on his own merits. To know that a person comes from a certain religious or ethnic background does not tell us where they fit in terms of values or behaviors; rather, it alerts us to possible arenas of miscommunication.

“You are different; therefore you are bad.” Bennet refers to this form of ethnocentricity as “defense.” In a certain way, this is an improvement from saying that difference is bad or minimal. But this negative evaluation of differences leads to defensiveness and judgmental perception of the other. The task at this level of cultural sensitivity is to recognise and to become more tolerant of differences and to see basic similarities among people of different religions or cultures.

“Its okay for you to be different, but I am better.” Racial supremacy emphasises the positive and superior qualities of one’s own cultural and ethnic status while implying that others are inferior. It is often used to justify many political ideologies and systems based on race, e.g. Apartheid in South Africa, Arianism as justification for Facism and Nazism in Germany etc. The task here is to recognise that everyone deserves equal respect. In the context of religion, equality here means reciprocity rather than equality of beliefs.

“I am different; therefore I am bad and you are good.” Sometimes, the opposite of the previous position happens when one begins to denigrate one’s own culture in order to “fit into” the mainstream. This usually happens among small minorities who begin to assume the dominant cultural group’s attitude and sense of superiority by putting down their own cultural values. It is a form of self-assimilation into the main-stream. Many Orang Asli begin to dress and present themselves as Malay as a result of this dynamic, thus rejecting their own cultural roots in order to acquire a culture of the mainstream which is perceived to be superior to theirs. This form of ethnocentricity can also be the product of globalisation. We can see examples of this in the way of contemporary youth culture, hair-dye colour, dressing, speech and lifestyle aping Western culture.

“If you don’t include like I do, you are bad.” On the surface, such a statement appears to be inclusive. However, this belief often causes the person or group to negatively judge others who do not share their same values or think like them. Thus, the surface inclusion becomes a subtle and often unnoticed front for deep-seated exclusivism. While I was in the United States for a short stint last year, I had the opportunity of sharing a Sabbath meal with a group of secular Jews who made no secret of their avowed liberalism. When discussion led to the account of how the son of one of them had recently shown a greater inclination to Republican (obviously perceived as more conservative) views, another guest at the table exclaimed, “Oh poor thing! That must be so difficult for you to accept!” I thought I had missed something in the conversation. It appears that becoming ‘conservative’ was synonymous to contracting some form of terminal disease.

“I know there are differences, but they are not important.” This corresponds with Bennet’s third stage which he calls “minimisation.” At this stage, persons often try to avoid stereotyping and even begin to see value in all systems. Persons at this level view many things as universal, rather than viewing them simply as part of their own ethnocentricity. I would actually rate this as the most subtle and ‘dangerous’ form of ethnocentricity. Although it obviously emphasises the commonalities and downplays the differences among groups, this kind of ethnocentricity is another way of preserving the centrality of their own worldview. ‘If I want to accept only the part of you that is like me, I am ignoring the rest of you that is different and I am not treating you as a whole person.’ In other words, only those values which correspond to mine, and thus regarded as universal, are of value. In my perception, any differences are of little value. “All religions are the same.” “We all basically believe in the same thing. Differences are man made.” “We are all believers in God and for Him there is no difference.” I often shudder at the casual mention of the last statement at interreligious functions, knowing that my Buddhist friends would again be excluded by such a sweeping generalisation.