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.”