Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rules, Laws and the Church

Twenty Second Ordinary Sunday Year B

Many people complain that Christianity and the Catholic church have too many rules and prohibitions. They often would use the excuse that if Jesus were alive today, he would abolish all these rules. They would argue that it is enough to do good and avoid evil. This is a very dangerous statement. More often than not it is an excuse to do what we want without reference to anything or anyone else. Very often, we can do a great deal of evil while we intend to do good. On the other hand, we are often corrupted by our own selfish desires that it would be hard to choose what is good rather than what is evil.

Today’s readings remind us that the law is given for our benefit. It is a guide to help us become better persons. It is guide to help us become mature and responsible Christians. The Book of Deuteronomy tells to “keep them, observe them, and they will demonstrate to the peoples your wisdom and understanding.” St. James in the second reading speaks of the law of God as “all that is good, everything that is perfect, which is given to us from above.” It is given to us in order that we become the “first fruits of all that he had created” – in other words, the persons that he had created. Without God’s law to guide us, we will be guided by our own pride and selfishness. Therefore, the laws of God and his church are meant to help us become free from our own selfish motives and intentions instead of taking freedom away from us.

James continues to remind us that we need to “accept and submit to the word which has been planted in you and can save your souls. But you must do what the word tells you, and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves.”

On the other hand, we must also avoid the other extreme. There are many who slavishly follow these church rules without understanding their intent. So much so that we find these people often very judgmental of others. They see themselves as the perfect guardians of the Law and take it upon themselves to be the watchdogs of morality. Some of them are very quick to point out to others or to the priest how so-and-so is living in an irregular marriage, how this person should not be receiving communion, how we should bar other sinners from coming forward for communion etc. The Pharisees and scribes in the gospels were like these. In today’s gospel, we hear Jesus reprimanding this group of people. He called them ‘hypocrites’ while describing them as this: “This people honours me only with lip-service, while their hearts are far from me.”

In order to be good Christians, it is not enough to just follow the laws. Sometimes we follow laws blindly. We do it only because we fear punishment. That’s not how we should follow these laws. The laws of God are based on the law of love. If we do something out of love, there is never any compulsion. In order that we might be good Christians, we must follow God’s law out of love and not because we fear punishment.

We are able to act out of love when there is a real conversion from within. We must remember the words of Jesus in today’s gospel that “nothing that goes into a man from outside can make him unclean; it is the things that come out of a man that make him unclean.” Let us then pray that God will cleanse our hearts from all evil intentions so that we may not only listen to his word but also do what he tells us to do.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Twenty First Ordinary Sunday, Year B

Do we really love God? Some of you may say “Yes” immediately without any hesitation. But saying that you love God isn’t always exactly the same as really loving God. That’s the same with our family members and friends. If we say that we love our wife or our husband, that we love our parents, or our children, then we must prove it through our actions.

If we love someone, we will try to see the person as frequent as possible. It is only people whom we do not like that we try to avoid. Is this the explanation for the behaviour of some Catholics who come to church only once in a while? Are they trying to avoid God? But if we love God, we will try to meet him as often as possible.

If we have decided to love God, how do we show it? The bible tells us that we must love him with all our heart, all our mind, all our being. What does this mean? It means that we must serve him and only him alone. We must not have any other gods before him. When things get bad, when we are facing problems in life, where do we run to? Do we go back to God or do we run to the nearest temple, medium or bomoh? To say that we love God and that we want to serve him is a lie when we continue to worship and pray to other gods when we are in trouble. The bible speaks of it as a form of adultery. St. Paul gives us the image of a married couple to illustrate the relationship between God and us. If we pray to other gods, then we will be committing adultery against God like how we would commit adultery against our spouses when we are unfaithful to them.

This is the kind of love which is needed. It is a love that calls for commitment. It is a love that calls for fidelity, whether in good times or in bad. In today’s gospel, we hear how many of Jesus’ followers left him because they were not able to accept his teaching. If we say that we love Jesus and God, then we must accept his teachings. We cannot choose to believe only those parts of his teachings that suit us or make us feel comfortable. We must take God as he is and not as how we would want him to be. We must choose God over and above all other gods, whether it be money, power, or other deities.

This relationship that we have with God and the relationship between Christ and his church must also be reflected in our families and community. Do we show our love to our husband or wife in the way that we should love God? Do we love our children as how God loves us? Today, many families are facing difficulties. Adultery and divorce is becoming more rampant. Domestic violence is on the rise. Instead of loving their wives, we hear of husbands hitting their wives and children and treating them in way which is worse than animals. Today, the Lord is giving you an opportunity to change your ways. If this is a problem that you are facing in your family, then it is time to seek for help. Not doing anything about it will be a sign of hypocrisy.

Love calls us to change. Love calls us to commitment. Love calls to choose between what God wants and what we selfishly desire. Let us pray in today’s mass that we will make the right choices in life. Let us also pray that God will strengthen our faith in him and our relationship with one another especially in the family and in the community.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Hari Orang Asli - Kampung Sebir

By resolution 49/214 of 23 December 1994, the United Nations General Assembly decided that the International Day of the World's Indigenous People shall be observed on 9 August every year during the International Decade of the World's Indigenous People. The date marks the day of the first meeting, in 1982, of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations of the Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.

The Desk for Orang Asli Affairs at the Archdiocesan Office of Human Development (AOHD) organized the first local celebration of this event under the title “Hari Orang Asli” in Kampung Orang Asli Tekir, Jalan Labu, Seremban in 2007. After a lapse of one year, the Orang Asli community of Kampung Sebir, Jalan Labu (located about 6 km away from the last venue), organized and hosted this year’s celebration on the 9th of August 2009. The event not only showcased the community’s rich culture in dance, song, games, art and craft but was also an opportunity for the older generation to inculcate in the younger members of the community a deeper appreciation of their heritage and traditions which are threatened by both modernization and globalization.

With the support of the Integral Human Development Ministry of the Church of Visitation, Seremban, this year's event has also been an occasion to bring together the members of the community that hail from different religions, Catholic, Protestants, Muslims and Traditional Religionists. It was an authentic exercise of both the dialogue of deed and life (culture), which led the denominational and religious barriers to be set aside while allowing for the deeper roots of culture and tradition (adat) to bridge the divide.

The theme for this year's celebration is "The Jungle and the Land: Hearbeat of Indigenous Peoples" resonates with their struggle. The residents of Kampung Sebir has been fighting a long–standing battle to preserve both their traditional heritage and reservation lands from encroachment by outsiders. The ongoing activities of a nearby quarry have caused irreparable damage not only to the surrounding environment but also to the health and livelihood of these people. In this matter, the multi religious members of this small community of Orang Asli are united in defending their legitimate interests against these encroachers. They recently had their land surveyed by a license surveyor to determine the actual boundaries of their reservation land which has apparently confirmed such encroachment. The next stage would be a legal battle to regain what is rightfully theirs.

This year’s celebration also saw participants and visitors from neighbouring Orang Asli Villages, such as the previous hosts, Kampung Tekir and another settlement along the road to Mantin, Kampung Belihoi, thus strengthening the bonds of friendship and culture between the three different villages.

Traditional handicraft weaved from recycled paper.

The Batin of Kampung Sebir with the children of the village

Friday, August 14, 2009

Twentieth Ordinary Sunday, Year B

What is wisdom? Is it the same as intelligence? Does wisdom mean that something needs to make sense before we can come to accept it? A lot of people equate wisdom with intelligence. A clever person is often seen as a wise person. If a child scores perfect ‘As’ in his exams, he would be considered smart, but would he be wise? If a person is able to make lots of money, would he be considered wise? If a person knows how to cheat others without being caught, would he be considered wise? If a person knows how to lie or control others, would he be considered wise?

Perhaps, the world would regard these people as intelligent. On the other hand, society would often regard someone who sacrifices all that he has to help someone else who is ungrateful as stupidity. Society would view someone who gives up his time to help the poor or serve the church as a waste of time. Clever people would often use their time to make more money.

Today’s readings, however, paint a different picture of wisdom. St. Paul warns us in the second reading, “Be very careful about the sort of lives you lead, like intelligent and not like senseless people. This may be a wicked age, but your lives should redeem it. And do not be thoughtless but recognize what is the will of the Lord.” That’s it. That’s real wisdom. It is not one’s cleverness that matters. It is thinking with the mind of God. It is God’s wisdom that really matters.

Therefore, human intelligence can sometimes be at odds with divine wisdom. Perhaps, one of the best examples we can give is the Eucharist. We Christians believe that Jesus is truly present in the consecrated bread and wine. The bread may continue to look like bread. It may continue to taste like bread. But our faith tells us that it is no longer bread. It is Christ himself. This is something really hard to understand or accept.

It wasn’t also easy to do this at the very beginning. Jesus announces that he is the living bread from heaven and that anyone who eats this bread will live for ever. In addition to this statement, Jesus tells his audience that his “flesh” is that bread of life. The reaction of the Jews is understandable. It is the reaction of logical intelligence. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Love need not be necessarily logical. Neither would it always appear reasonable to us. But love is the logic of God. Love embodies the wisdom of God. Jesus gives his own life for us on the cross, not only for the righteous but also for sinners, for those who have rejected him, for those who were his enemies, for those who refused to believe in him. This isn’t logical but it is wisdom based on the love of God. When Jesus challenges us give up everything for the kingdom of God, to be humble, to forgive our enemies, to take up our cross daily and follow him, this doesn’t sound logical. But it is wisdom in the eyes of God. When we Christians come to the mass and receive communion, it is Jesus that we are receiving, his flesh, his body, his life, his mission. This may sound like foolishness to the world, but for us it is wisdom. Jesus is the only food that can satisfy all our wants and desires.

Being smart is not enough. Being intelligent cannot bring solutions to all our problems. More importantly, we must pray for wisdom – divine wisdom. With God’s wisdom, we will come to understand and appreciate the things that really matter.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Solemnity of the Assumption of Our Lady - 15th August 2009

In 1950, the Pope declared that the Assumption of our Lady should be treated as a dogma of the Church. What is the significance of the date? What happen prior to 1950? … Yes, World War II had just ended lest than 10 years ago. Nevertheless, the whole of Europe and many parts of Asia and North Africa were still in ruins. It was only after the war that the people came to know the extent of atrocities committed. Millions of people were dead, either victims of fighting or the result of the concentration camps. More were dying due to the lack of amenities, nutrition and shelter. Although the Germans in Europe and the Japanese in Asia were defeated, there was a general feeling of hopelessness.

The questions many people asked were these: Where was God when all of this happened? Is there more to this human life of suffering? Is human life precious and valuable? What must we do in the face of overwhelming evil?

The Church’s answer to these questions came in the form of the dogma of the Assumption. The dogma and the Feast of the Assumption was, above all, a message of hope. It is hope especially for those who seem hopeless. It is hope for those who are weak. It is hope for those who seem to be overwhelmed by the power of evil. It is hope for those who are close to defeat and failure. It is hope for those who have suffered much.

In today’s first reading, we see the vision of the writer of the book of Apocalypse. It is a vision of a confrontation between to unequal parties. We have the woman – a symbol of powerlessness and weakness. Her vulnerable position is made worse by the fact that she is in labour. On the other side, we have the picture of the fearsome of dragon. The dragon towers over the woman. It appears that nothing can withstand the power of the dragon. But God intervenes. God saves the woman and allows her to bring a child into this world- a simple child who will be the real ruler of the universe and not the dragon. At the moment when all appeared to be lost, at the moment of certain defeat, God ensures victory for those who are weak and afflicted.

Mary understood this in her life. This is reflected in her beautiful song of praise to God, the magnificat. She sings of how God will defend the cause of the weak and defeat the powers of the world: “He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away.”

Today we may be in the midst of a difficult situation, we may be facing a problem that seems so huge. Today, we may be ready to give up in the face of failure. Today, we may feel that our voice cannot be heard because we are a minority living in the country controlled by others. Today, the darkness and evil of the world may seem so overwhelming that there appears to be no way out. Yet, today, on this Feast of the Assumption, we are reminded that the power of God is much greater than any of these things. Evil and death can crush the body, but it cannot crush the soul. Others may take away our external freedom – freedom to speak out, freedom to change our religion – but they cannot take away our inner freedom, the freedom of our conscience. Problems may threaten us from every angle, but problems cannot overcome us. Today, we echo the hope of Mary in affirming the greatness of God – this is the God, who according to St. Paul, will put all his enemies including death under his feet.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Cool Youth Site: Disciples Now!

Disciples Now! is a super cool site for all schooling, College and working youth.

Disciples Now is the place for Catholic teens on the web, now with lots of new features. We are excited to share with you all the ways that Disciples Now can help you come, see and live our awesome Catholic faith!


Whether you’re active in your faith or just curious, come. Disciples Now is a place for you to ask questions, get answers and talk with other teens.


* Informative articles on youth culture, Church teaching, music and current events.
* Opportunities to ask your questions.
* Groups where you can hang out and share with other teens and adult youth workers.
* Sunday readings for Mass and reflections written with you and your life in mind.


Use what you find in this community to strengthen the good that you do where you already live and witness.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Nineteenth Ordinary Sunday Year B

Listening to so many confessions have taught me an important lesson: the greatest temptation is not the temptation to lie, to steal, to murder, to commit adultery or to do this or that, but to despair. Many people who come for confessions have told me how they feel like giving up. After coming repeatedly for confessions, they see themselves falling into the same kind of sins. They tell me: “What’s the point of coming for confession at all, I’ll continue to commit the same sins?”I will always explain to them that the greatest temptation is to despair and wanting to give up. This is coming from the devil. We are not perfect and until we die, there will always be the chance for us to repent and seek forgiveness from God. If we are already perfect, then we don’t need repentance, which means that we don’t need God.

We can also feel despair in respect of others, especially to those who hurt us. We have given them ample chances for conversion and change and yet they repeat their faults again and again. There are times when we also feel despair over our own personal situation. We are faced with a particular big problem or with many problems and we feel like giving up, ending it all and even taking our own lives.

Today, the readings give us a message of hope and consolation. The Lord is telling us today, “Do not give up. Press on. I will give you the strength.” In the first reading, we hear the story of the great prophet Elijah and how he felt like ending his own life out of despair. But God gives him the strength in the form of physical food and spiritual encouragement in order for him to continue his mission. I always believe that God will never abandon us as he has not abandoned Elijah when he was really ‘down and out.’ Perhaps, some of you may be feeling like Elijah or would have felt like him at one time or other. Remember this, God gives us the strength to carry on. God will pick us up when we are down. He will raise us up when we feel like giving up. He will strengthen us when we feel that we have no strength left for ourselves.

What about feeling despair in respect of others? What happens when we feel like letting go of a relationship or a friendship with someone who constantly hurts us and disappoints us? St. Paul gives us the remedy. “Never have grudges against others, or lose your temper, or raise your voice to anybody, or call each other names, or allow any sort of spitefulness. Be friends with one another, and kind, forgiving each other as readily as God forgave you in Christ.”

All this is beautiful and nice but is it possible? I would say that sometimes it is humanly impossible. But with God everything is possible. God will give us the grace to do so. God will give us the courage and the strength to forgive others and accept their limitations. God will seal and strengthen the bond of friendship between us. God will allow us to bounce back when we feel like giving up. Jesus himself has promised in today’s gospel: “No one can come to me unless he is drawn by the Father who sent me, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

This is why we need to come to celebrate mass every Sunday and as frequent as possible. It is at the mass that we receive the life giving bread of Jesus, his own body. It is at the mass that we come as broken people, sinners, people who have experienced failure and despair. It is at the mass that we will receive nourishment for our hunger, strength for our weakness, hope for our despair, and consolation for our sorrow. It is at the mass that we can receive the Spirit of God to begin once again. It is at the mass that we meet this God who draws us to himself and to Jesus. It is at the mass that we will receive new life.