Friday, December 30, 2011

A Year of Blessings

Solemnity of Mary Mother of God Year B
New Year’s Day


You know what they say about the Chinese … OK, its not just the straight hair … we are unrepentant story tellers. Here’s an old story that comes from my tradition. Some of you may be familiar with this.

A father and his son were poor farmers. The only prized possession they had apart from the small piece of farm land which they tilled was an old horse. One day the horse ran away.
“How terrible, what bad luck, Mr Lim” said the neighbours.
“Good luck, bad luck, who knows?” replied the wise old farmer.
Several weeks later the horse returned, bringing with him four wild mares.
“What marvellous luck, Mr Lim” said the neighbours.
“Good luck, bad luck, who knows?” replied the old man.
The son began to tame and train the wild horses, but one day he was thrown and broke his leg.
“Oh dear! What bad luck,” said the neighbours.
“Good luck, bad luck, who knows?” replied the farmer.
The next week the army came to the village and conscripted all the able bodied young men in the village. The farmer’s son was still disabled with his broken leg, so he was spared. “So … Good luck, bad luck, who knows?”

So what’s in store for this coming New Year? Good luck or bad luck? As we stand at the threshold of a new year, it is natural that many would attempt to divine their fortune for the following year. We would certainly like to ward off the misfortune that we had experienced in the past year and pray for a real break in fortune for the next. You don’t have to grab an almanac or get the latest Lillian Too’s feng shui book for 2012 in order to get your annual predictions. Today’s liturgy and readings provides us with all the projection that is necessary.

On the first day of the New Year, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God. But this feast isn’t really about Mary. It’s about Jesus. By celebrating this feast of Mary and affirming that she is Mother of God, we are also affirming that Jesus is God. Mary is not only the mother of Jesus, she is also the mother of God. Jesus is God. The baby that was born on Christmas day, the baby whom some call the Son of Mary, today we acknowledge as the true Son of God.

We may be wondering as to what significance this knowledge brings to us. The answer lies in the second reading. St. Paul writes: “When the appointed time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born a subject of the Law, to redeem the subjects of the Law and to enable us to be adopted as sons.” That’s it. God’s Son became man so that we can become sons and daughters of God. Our salvation did not only take place on the cross. Our salvation begins with Christmas – when God became man. Today’s feast of Mary, Mother of God, confirms this central faith of Christians everywhere … our Saviour is not just some great human personage or enlightened soul, our Saviour is God. Christmas is the feast where we celebrate and proclaim our faith that this immortal Deity took on the flesh and mortality of a human person in order that all humanity may assume the divinity of his nature. Son of God became man in order that men may become sons of God.

Thus, if we were to wonder whether the following year will be filled with blessings or curses, we already have the answer. This is our greatest blessing – being called children of God. We often pray that God will bless us with good luck, or with riches, or with good results at our exams, or with good children, or a good bonus or win fall, or with success. But we often forget that his greatest blessing isn’t in all these things. God’s greatest blessing isn’t found in good luck or riches or in success. His greatest blessing comes in the form of our adoption as his children. We can call him “Abba Father” and he calls us his sons and daughters. This is our most precious blessing.

Mary understood the meaning of this truth – that our greatest blessing lay not in fortunes, good luck, and perfect conditions but in our new relationship with God. Today, in the gospel we read of how “Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” What were some of the things she treasured? Instead of having rich and powerful visitors, she was contented with the visit of poor and humble shepherds. The shepherds were not rich or powerful but their presence was far greater than the presence of any king or rich man because the shepherds could recognize the blessing of God in the baby Jesus, while others couldn’t. Any mother could have wished that they could have delivered their baby in a clean hospital or a comfortable house, but Mary was contented with the stable and the animals who shared their home with the holy family. Although rejected by men, the animals welcomed the Son of God.

How was Mary able to recognize these blessings in midst of what appears to be misfortune? Mary provides us with the example of prayerful reflection. Prayerful reflection allows us to walk by faith and not by sight. Prayerful reflection allows our vision to penetrate the darkness of misfortune in order for us to behold the face of God who continues to shine on us in both good times and bad. When we are unable to savour silent prayer, meditation and contemplation, we will find ourselves impoverished. When we recognize God’s greatest gift and blessing in the person of Jesus who made us sons and daughters of God, then we will be contented with whatever we have. If we are sons and daughters of God, then we are also his heirs. What is the inheritance that we will receive? Our inheritance is eternal life, in that which is imperishable and not in the worldly possessions that are perishable. We don’t have to wait till after death to claim it in heaven. This inheritance is already ours – Now! We are children of God, that is a treasure in itself – and we have no need for any other.

So, what’s my two cents worth of prediction for the following year? Would it be a good year or a bad year? Let me tell you without any doubt – it’s going to be a splendid year, a great year, a marvelous year – a year of blessings. A year where we can continue to be assured of our inheritance that has been won for us in Christ.

And so as we rejoice with Mary over the treasure of her son, Jesus, the Son of God, I pray that you will receive God’s every blessing, especially the blessing of being called children of God. Using the words of Moses, let me say to you:
“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.”

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Greatness wrapped in humility

Christmas Dawn Mass Year B

If you had attended last night’s midnight service you would have heard the words of the angel who announced the good news of Christ’s birth to the shepherds. The sign by which they are to identify the saviour would be this, “You will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."

Not much of sign. Truth be told, it would actually seem to be an anticlimax for many who had awaited for Israel’s salvation. After the powerful announcement made last night with a full angelic choral presentation - a more dramatic entry would have been expected at this morning’s mass – with lots of pyrotechnics, trumpets blaring, distinguished and influential audience present to witness the event. The only witnesses of this event apart from the Holy Family seemed to have just been a disparate group of shepherds and some dumb animals in a stable.

The discovery of the shepherd when they came to the place where the infant was born and now lay wrapped in swaddling clothes parallels another discovery made at dawn, the breaking of light after the long darkness of night – the women disciples of Christ who came early to the tomb where their master was laid were also surprised to discover an empty tomb. In both scenarios, one that comes at the beginning of the story whereas the other at its very end, story writers would have opted for a more dramatic presentation. But the lack of accouterments and frills is deliberate, at least from a theological perspective. It highlights rather than dims the profound significance of this event – the mystery of Christmas.

So what is the mystery revealed by this epiphany? Greatness is wrapped in humility. Power is couched in vulnerability. The presence of God is concealed in his seeming absence. In the Day mass for Christmas, we will hear the beautiful prologue of John’s Gospel declare, “And the Word was made flesh and made his dwelling among us.” This is the same Word , who is God for all eternity, by whom all creation was made, and who chooses to become flesh, and become a helpless child wrapped in swaddling clothes to lie in a feeding trough of animals rather than some gilded cot in a palace. “Flesh” or ‘sarx’ in Greek evokes not only humanity but also weakness, fragility and mortality. It connotes being human and mortal with all its limitations and weaknesses.

In various times and in many different ways, God reveals himself to the people of Israel through signs and wonders. He reveals himself in his power and transcendence. But in time, God reveals himself in weakness: he becomes a man – a weak child born into a poor and non-influential family, a child who will grow to be man who will be crucified, sentenced to death as a heinous criminal. He accepts the limitations of human nature and the risk of hostility and rejection.

Christ’s descent to our ‘flesh’ and our fragility is the ultimate manifestation of God’s love: it enables us to rise with him. God became weak that we might become strong. St Athanasius of Alexandria puts it beautifully, “He became what we are that he might make us what He is.” Or in a more audacious statement, St John Chrysostom declares, “God became man in order that we might become gods.” In the third Christmas preface, we hear these words, “God has become one with man, and man has become one again with God.” It goes on to say that when the eternal Word took upon himself our human weakness, he gave our mortal nature immortal value.

So, today, we are invited to follow the shepherds to hurry to the manger of the Lord and to behold the beauty of God’s love manifested in the Christ Child. There is no need for accouterments, pyrotechnics, drum rolls, trumpet blasts and cannon salutes, just silent adoration as we kneel before our king, the Lord of all ages now wrapped in swaddling clothes. In our silence, we may perhaps hear the inspired words of an ancient Egyptian Christian who penned these words as if they were the words of Christ himself, “I became little so that in my littleness I could carry you to the height from where you have fallen. I will carry you on my shoulders.”

Light shines brightest in Darkness

Christmas Midnight Mass Year B

When I was a child I used to be afraid of the dark. I shared a room with my older brother but that was no consolation. My brother would take great delight in aggravating my night fears by making spooky noises and sounds in the next bed. He would often tell me stories of ghosts, vampires and witches that will snatch me from my bed and whisk me away into the night. Sometimes I’ll pull the covers over the head to prevent the vampires from sucking my blood dry in the night. I had my revenge – well, at least in my dreams. My dreams often contained a simple narrative where he turns into a werewolf or vampire and then pursues me round the house. The story would, however, always have a happy ending. The both of us would end up in the kitchen where I would take my mom’s vegetable chopper and gleefully chop him to pieces! I also had another manner of revenge. I would plead with my parents to keep a small light lit throughout the night. Of course, my brother hated to sleep with the lights on. But, then it’s payback time!

I can’t remember when I finally slept without the lights on. It seems that I just grew out of it. I had prayed that the darkness would just go away. But eventually learnt to live with it with the sure confidence that I would not be consumed by it and there was always the certain hope of the next day’s dawning light. But being an adult doesn’t mean that we have grown out of all our fears. In fact, many adults have acquired more fears than when they were children. There are many things that we are fearful of, and I’m not even speaking of neurotic phobias. These fears resemble the darkness of our childhood. Such fears can range from fear of creepy crawlies to fear of what appears to be oddly ordinary, such as persons and flying. Still others are frightened of the unknown. Many are frightened of death. Today, most of us continue to live in fear. We fear the uncertainty of the future. We fear that our loved ones will leave us. We fear failure. We fear that people will laugh at us. We fear that no one will love us, and so we try to please everyone in order to make them like us or love us. We fear the changes that are taking place: our children growing up; our friends moving away; losing a job. And because we live with so much fear, we too look for that light in the darkness that will reassure us that everything is fine.

The darkness has come to symbolize everything that doesn’t seem right in our lives – our frustrations, our setbacks, our losses, our failures, our pains and hurts. We try to break free of the darkness on our own, but sometimes the prison in which we find ourselves encased in seems too formidable or large for our very best efforts. But the experience of the darkness has also brought about a greater appreciation of its antithesis. In a way, darkness has taught me to appreciate the light. One often fails to appreciate or recognize the light unless one sees the stark contrast when it is juxtaposed against the dark.

On this Christmas night, we see the interplay of light and darkness. The Prophet Isaiah in the first reading prophesied that a people who live in darkness will see a great light. The fulfillment comes in the gospel story of shepherds caring for their flock in the fields on that first Christmas night. These shepherds are away from the hustle and bustle of urban living, away from the light pollution of the cities that dim our vision of the stars. They truly live and work in darkness. But it is not just physical darkness that we are speaking of. The shepherds were often regarded as the scum and refuse of society. They were frequently stereotyped as petty thieves, cheats, and were regarded ritually unclean by their more pious and righteous neighbours. The darkness in their lives encompassed both sin and alienation. They were proverbially ‘the people who lived in darkness.’ It may seem strange and out of place to see that the angels chose to appear before them to bring good news of the birth of a new King. It would not be surprising, however, if we can understand how light stands out brighter in the midst of darkness. The city folks who were often enamoured by other bright attractions and those others who had everything together that very night, would pay little attention to a strange constellation of stars. The artificial lights of their lives had blinded them to seeing the true light. Only those who live in darkness and could recognize their very situation could hope, long and expect to see the light.

Today, Our Saviour has been born to us! He is that light in the darkness! He is the Messiah long promised by God through the prophets! He is the Prince of Peace and the Lord of Lords! In today’s gospel, the angels announce his arrival with these words: “Do not be afraid!” “Do not be afraid” because a child is 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.”

All of these do not make any sense to someone who seem to have it all together. Who looks for a Saviour unless one feels the need to be saved? Who searches for the light unless one is experiencing darkness? Who strives for peace unless they are undergoing turmoil? Who cries out for strength unless one knows fear? We often come to a sorry conclusion that Christmas isn’t Christmas till it happens in your heart – a song that tends to equate our subjective feelings with the essence of Christmas. There is often an erroneous presumption that unless everything is perfect or goes according to plan, then our Christmas will be disaster. If this is really the criteria by which Christmas should be judged, then the first Christmas would be a massive catastrophe – the census came at a wrong time, the delivery room was a sanitary nightmare and the birth could have happened under better times and circumstances. Yet, it in spite of so many things going wrong, it remained nevertheless the first Christmas, the greatest Christmas ever celebrated. A celebration of light in the midst of darkness.

This is what Christmas is all about. Christmas isn’t about the absence of darkness, but being able to see the light in spite of the darkness, a light which the darkness can never consume, a light which will prevail, a light which will show us the way. We, who have walked in darkness, in the darkness of sin, in the darkness of our fears, in the darkness of our failures, loss and disappointments, have now seen a great light. It is Jesus Christ. St. Paul tells us in the second reading: “He sacrificed himself for us in order to set us free from all wickedness and to purify a people so that it could be hive very own and would have no ambition except to do good.” Therefore, “Do not be afraid.”

If you are afraid of being alone, if you are afraid of growing old alone, “do not be afraid” because you will never be alone, God is with you. If you are afraid of the future, if you are anxious about what is going to happen to you, “do not be afraid” because God has already established his kingdom of peace, and nothing will prevail against it. If you are afraid of making certain difficult decisions, if you are afraid of standing up for the truth, “do not be afraid” because “God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race and taught us that what we have to do is to give up everything that does not lead to God … that we must be self-restrained and live good and religious lives here in this present world.”

On that first Christmas Day, the angels announced this news of great joy to the shepherds. Today the angels and the saints and the entire Church announces this same good news to you: “Today a saviour has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord.”

Saturday, December 17, 2011

天主给的礼物

将临期第四主日

我们都知道圣诞期间是给予的时期。 我们忙着为他人买礼物。 我们尽量为对方物色适合的礼物。 但,事实上,我们通常所选的都是我们所喜欢的。因为我们所喜欢的礼物,我们也以为那人必会喜欢。

这也是读经一中的达味王所想的。 这时的达味王已年老并打了无数的胜战,他想可以退休享受晚年了。然而,他感到内疚因没有为天主做些什么。 为此,达味王决定为天主建筑一座殿宇按放约柜。这是他给天主的礼物。他没想到这并不是天主所要的。

原本是达味王愿为天主建筑殿宇的。现在反过来却是天主祝福了达味王并许下他的王权,家室永远存在。达味王原想建殿宇为光荣天主,反而是天主光荣了达味王使他在万邦中成名。

我们常以为要做个好基督徒,我们必须把宝贵的献给天主。 我们以为我们可以以我们的礼物贿赂天主。事情并不是这样的。一个好基督徒,首先而最重要的是要学习接纳天主所愿赐给我们的一切。

这就是玛利亚的特质。玛利亚没有什么可奉献给天主。她只不过是一位十四岁的女孩。没有人会认真看待一位孩童或青少年。她可以奉献什么给天主呢?而她是一个女人。在犹太的社会里,女人只是二等公民 - 她们的地位只比佣人稍高一点。玛利亚一无所有,没有才能,没有能力奉献什么给天主。 天主却拣选她做他圣子的母亲并降福她。 玛利亚在天主眼中获得宠幸因为她随时“聆听”。 玛利亚之伟大皆因接纳领受天主赐给她的一切。

今天,我们或许认为没什么可献给天主。那可是真的 - 我们所献的并无所值。我们所有的都是天主所赏赐的。我们所能给于的并不重要。问题是我们必须问我们自己 - 我们是否准备从天主手中接纳一切?做个领受的人而不是给予的人并将自己放在施与者的权下。我们不能有所选择。我们只能选接受或拒绝所给于的。有时,这引起恐惧。但是没什么可怕的。我们被召把我们的生命交在天主的手里。我们必须让天主掌管我们的生命。

让我们与玛利亚齐声向天主说:“我是上主的婢女” - “我们只是上主的仆人”。 “愿照你的话成就于我!”

Giving and Receiving

Fourth Sunday of Advent Year B

We all know that Christmas time is a time for giving. We are busy buying presents for one another. We try to choose the gift that will suit the person. But the truth is: many of us actually choose gifts that we would like. Because we like the gift, we often think that the other person would like it too.

This was what King David in the first reading thought. Being old now and having fought many wars, He thought that he could now retire and enjoy his life for the rest of his years. And yet, he felt guilty that he had not done enough for God. Therefore, David decided to build a temple to house the ark of the Covenant. It was his gift to God. Little did he realize that that was not what God wanted from him.

Instead of King David making a gift of the temple to God, the reverse happened – God blessed David and promised him a dynasty, a house, that will last forever. Instead of David attempting to glorify God by building the temple, God chose to glorify David – to make him great in the midst of all nations.

Many of us think that if we want to be good Christians, we must be able to give something which is precious to God. We think that we can bribe God with our gift. This is not so. Being good Christians, first and foremost, means learning to receive and accept from God’s hands whatever he wishes to give us.

This was the quality of Mary. She had nothing to give God. She was a young fourteen year old girl. No one takes a child or a teenager seriously. What could she offer God? She was a woman. In Jewish society, women were second class citizens – they were only a little higher than the servants. She had no possession, no talent, no power to offer to God. Yet God chose her as the mother of His Son and He blessed her. She had won God’s favour only by being attentive to God’s will. She had won God’s favour only because she was ready to ‘listen.’ Mary is great because she learnt how to receive and accept from the hands of God whatever He wished to give her.

Today, we may think that we have nothing to give God. That may be true – no gift of ours is worthy. Everything that we have comes from God. What we are capable of giving isn’t that important. The question we must ask ourselves- are we prepared to receive from God’s hands? To be the receiver instead of the giver places us in the power of the giver. We can’t choose the gift. We can only choose to accept or reject whatever is given to us. Sometimes, that can be frightening. But there is nothing to be afraid off. We are called to place our lives in the hands of God. We must allow God to take control of our lives.

Let us unite our voices with the voice of Mary: “I am the handmaid of the Lord” – “We are merely the servants of God”. “Let what you have said be done to me.”

Friday, December 9, 2011

Joy is the fruit of Hope, not naive optimism

Third Sunday of Advent Year B

Today, I opened the newspapers and just like any other ordinary day of the week I’m confronted with a whole range of bad news, disasters and tragedies. Even if we were to come across some piece of good news, one isn’t really sure whether it’s the truth or just another propaganda churned out by the establishment. The politics in this country is really so bad that I don’t think I would even vote in the next elections. What’s the point? All the candidates would be equally abysmal. There is simply no hope that things are going to get better. The economy is going to the dogs and there is nothing I can do about it. My job is at risk, I’m not sure if I will be retrenched or whether I will be able to find a job after that. I can’t even migrate since I don’t have the money to do so and all these countries where my friends have migrated to have since imposed conditions that are impossible to fulfil. My doctor just diagnosed me with cancer and tells me that I’ve got a few more months to live. What am I complaining about? Perhaps, this is the best news yet. It would mean that I wouldn’t have to endure any more dreary years of pain and suffering. Recently, I’ve lost someone very dear to me and no amount of grieving is going to take away the pain of the loss. Sigh ….

This litany of sorrows and woes is just a simple demonstration to show that it is not difficult to see the negative, the dark and gloomy and to find ourselves stuck in a mire of despair. It is no wonder that so many people in our society are depressed, cynical and suicidal. Joy, on the other hand, is something elusive. We experience fleeting moments of happiness but then the looming darkness, which never really disappears, returns to burst the bubble of our naïve optimism.

Against this tide, not just a tide but a tsunami of despair, today’s liturgy shouts out this refrain: “Rejoice! Exult for Joy! Be happy at all times!” Our senses seem to want to shout back: “What’s there to be joyful about?” “Is the Church blind?” “Is God blind to our troubles?” Well, you need to understand that Joy is the central theme throughout the readings this Sunday. Indeed, the Third Sunday of Advent is called “Gaudete Sunday.” “Gaudete” is the Latin word meaning ‘rejoice.’ What joy can there be in the midst of so much pain, suffering, gloom and darkness? It is certainly not the joy that emerges from some false optimism on our part that things are going to get better – too often, we can attest to this, things in fact get worse. Neither is it the joy that comes from creating an illusory world in our minds where pain and suffering is denied. So what is this joy which the readings are speaking of? The answer lies in Christ. It is the joy of knowing that our Lord, the light of the World, is coming. He is coming to dispel the darkness of our lives.

We are called to rejoice, because the Lord is coming – he is coming to save us, to liberate us, and to give us new life. Many of us may be experiencing some form of darkness in our lives. We find ourselves in the midst of problems without any apparent solution. We see ourselves ‘captives’ of our difficult circumstances, there seems to be no way out. Our hearts may be broken because of rejection or we have been hurt by the actions and words of others. We see ourselves poor, hungering and thirsting for friendship, understanding and a sense of belonging. Some of us find ourselves trapped in the darkness of sin.

If we see ourselves in any of these situations, rejoice and be glad, because the today’s readings promise good news. This is the promise of God, as St. Paul tells us in the second reading: “God has called you and he will not fail you.” God is always faithful. God keeps his promise. God will not fail you. This is the good news of the prophet Isaiah in the first reading: The Spirit of the Lord has been given to us – it is good news to the poor, healing to the broken hearted, freedom to the captives, a message of blessing for everyone. The Good news is that which is announced by John the Baptist in the gospel – Jesus has come – he is the Light of the World – and he is waiting to enter into your hearts and into your lives once again.

Thus, Joy surprises us. It shows up in unexpected places. It goes against the tide. We often think that being pessimistic is realistic. It is joy which gives a realistic vision of life. When I speak of joy, here it is not the false optimism that things are going to get better in the near future or that you would find an answer to your predicament. Rather, this joy is one which springs from faith and hope – it is based on our hope and belief that God has not abandoned us even when we do not see him in the midst of our troubles.

St. Paul says, "Rejoice always!" It's not a suggestion, like "cheer up, " or "look on the sunny side." It is, rather, a command, "Rejoice." Not only when things are going well. Not just when I am getting my way - but always. "Rejoice always." St. Paul can command joy because joy requires a conscious choice. Thus, joy is not just the consequence of your surrounding circumstances – when thing are going well for you. Rather, joy is always a deliberate choice. You can choose to be joyful even when things don’t seem to be going according plan.

So, what’s the formula for this joy? Do we need to whistle a tune or sing Bobby Mcferrin’s ‘Don’t worry be happy’? Do we need to escape into an imaginary world so that we can consider all pain and suffering as illusory? St Paul in today’s second reading gives us the answer: to pray without ceasing, to give thanks on all occasions and to avoid sin and evil.

Joy comes to those who pray without ceasing, to those who are committed to pray not only in moments of joy but also in times of sorrow, who are able to pray in the midst of troubles, confusion and the even during the dark night of the soul, where our prayers seem unanswered. Prayer is giving voice to our hope. It is a hope that does not disappoint because it is based on our firm belief that God has not and will not abandon us. Therefore, Christian hope has nothing to do with the false optimism or wishful thinking that our sickness will be healed, the problem will be solved, the obstacle would be removed, and the pain would be relieved. All these things may continue to accompany and harangue us, and yet we believe that they do not mark an end to life and joy. We will be delivered in one way or another. God has promised something far greater than the momentary relief we seek in this present life. God has promised us eternal life. This is our confident expectation.

How do we know that our hope will not be in vain? It is through the virtue of gratitude. Gratitude is remembering how God has delivered us from past evils, how God has intervened in a situation that seemed hopeless, how God has sustained us to endure the greatest of trials and how God remains faithful to his promises. Hope is firmly anchored in the history and narrative of Scriptures. Gratitude brings to mind the memory of God’s faithfulness which pierces the misty veil created by our present difficulties.

Finally, joy comes to those who persevere in their pursuit of holiness, who choose to avoid sin and evil in their daily lives. Mankind constantly searches for the sociological, economic, political or even philosophical reason and cause for suffering. What man often forgets is that suffering has its roots in a theological cause – it is sin and evil that brought suffering into this world. No amount of motivational programming, counseling, socio-economic-political reform will be able to rid this world of suffering unless man is prepared to address the issue of sin and evil.

Rejoice and be glad, the good news is that God has not abandoned us. He is here present among us. There is joy in knowing that God waits for us although we may have forgotten him. God waits for us although we may have stopped waiting for him. He keeps a lantern lit in the window, so that we who are lost would find our way home. This is true joy – knowing that no matter what happens in life, no matter how bad the situation may become, God’s love for us will endure and will triumph at the end.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Prepare the Way of the Lord

Second Sunday of Advent Year B

"Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths." The monumental feat which is implied by this text may be entirely lost on us unless we have travelled along one of these mountainous winding roads, especially those that cut across treacherous terrain. As we stand in awe of such magnificent engineering, a question often crosses our mind would be this, “How in the heavens did they manage to do this?!” Today, modern technology has vastly simplified the construction of tunnels, bridges and roads with the invention of dynamite, excavators, tractors, tunnel drills and other engineering equipment. Despite all the technological know-how and heavy machineries, any engineer or contractor would still tell you that it is anything but an easy feat. But now try to imagine the same feat accomplished by human hands with only the aid of axes, hammers and stone.

Understanding the biblical allusion, the historical context, and the phenomenal physical challenge of the project would help us understand and appreciate the call of John the Baptist in today’s gospel.

First, the passage is a quotation, with minor alterations, from the Old Testament. Although, he attributes everything to the prophet Isaiah, St Mark is actually quoting two different biblical references to speak of the ministry of John the Baptist and the content of his message. The first part of the prophecy which refers to the ministry of John the Baptist as the messenger is actually a paraphrase taken from Malachi 3:1 which speaks about the prophet Elijah returning to prepare the way presumably for the Messiah. Later, St Mark would provide a detailed description of the clothing and diet of John the Baptist which is almost identical with that of the prophet Elijah, the Tishbite, mentioned in the First Book of the Kings. With Elijah’s reappearance, the long awaited Messiah would not be too far behind. When that day finally arrives, Israel’s liberation and vindication would be at hand.

But it is the second part of the text when it speaks of the voice and the message announced that draws our attention to the preparation needed to welcome the Lord. Again here, we see another paraphrase of the Old Testament, in this case from Isaiah 40, which we had heard in today’s first reading. Isaiah 40 was written as a message of hope to Israelites and Judeans who were in exile in Babylon, promising them that they will return home to the Promised Land from their long exile, a journey that will take them over the desert sands. Thus at one level, it is message that promises liberation from captivity – good news that the Israelites who have lived as prisoners in exile will now finally experience freedom and be able to return to their beloved homeland. At a second level, it speaks of their foundational experience, liberation from slavery in Egypt and their journey in the desert for forty years under the guidance of the Lord.

But the text still has another older historical allusion. The idea is taken from the practice of eastern monarchs, who, whenever they entered upon an expedition or took a journey, especially through desert and unchartered territory, sent harbingers before them to prepare all things for their passage, and pioneers to open the passes, to level the ways, and to remove all impediments. This was usually done during times of peace. In times of war, the hazardous or difficult terrain often offered a natural defense or barrier against the enemy. The king or his country would not gain any advantage by remodeling the terrain to facilitate an easier passage. But during times of peace, especially after the king had won a great victory, his victory procession returning to his capital would be supplemented with an exaggerated ceremonial pomp and pageantry. It would be unsightly and unbecoming if the king had himself to maneuver across these natural barriers and obstacles. Thus, the leveling of the hills, the filling of the valleys and the straightening of the paths became symbolic of his victory not only over his enemies but also over the forces of nature. It was a great homecoming.

A well documented example of this monumental engineering feat is that of the funeral procession of Alexander the Great, whose body was transported in a golden pavilion pulled by sixty over mules from Babylon in the East to the distant oasis town of Siwa in Egypt in the West. Historians record that an army of craftsman, labourers and engineers had been sent ahead of the funeral cortege in order to ‘prepare the way’ that was befitting for a man, an emperor who had united the known world from the East to the West.

Having looked at both the scriptural and historical allusions, we still have to consider one last feature, which is the enormous physical challenge of the project. Why did Isaiah and later the gospel writers choose this imagery? It is apparent that these were not minor public works like the periodic repairs and maintenance conducted by our JKR. Rather, it involved reshaping the terrain on a monumental scale. Thus when both the Prophet Isaiah and John the Baptist made this call, it can only be understood as a call to re-landscape our lives. It is a call for radical conversion. This is reinforced by the image of the desert. The desert, in any event, can be a formidable foe. The desert changes anyone who dares to accept its challenge. The Israelites traverse the desert for 40 years after their departure from Egypt before they could arrive in the Promised Land. The 40 years did not only symbolised a whole generation, but a radical transformation of these people from being just slaves, no-people, a people without identity or nationality into God’s own people.

Thus, both the physical challenge of the project of landscaping and the desert imagery emphasises the extent of the change required to welcome the King. Conversion is anything but easy. Rearranging your furniture is much easier than changing persons. It is not enough to make cosmetic changes to our life, for example, stop or reduce your smoking; becoming a bit more patient with the people you live with, coming for Mass on Christmas Day, or making little changes here and there. In order to prepare for the coming of Jesus, our lives must undergo a deep and thorough conversion. It involves dying and being reborn. There is a need for repentance, a turning away from our sins, a rejection of our old way of life especially when that was leading us away from God.

Thus, the readings for us are a call to make preparation through repentance and conversion. We need to sincerely identify the obstacles that impede the coming of the Lord into our lives. Selfishness, sloth, greed, lust, vanity, indifference and sin marks the mountains, the valleys and the crooked ways which form an obstacle to Christ making his way into our hearts and into the world.

Today, these themes of liberation, peace, victory, homecoming and conversion converge in St Mark’s introduction to the gospel, the good news, of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist, the harbinger of the king, the new Elijah, the herald and forerunner of the Anointed one, appears on the scene to call for this radical and monumental work in preparation for the coming King. This time, it would be no ordinary mortal that we are awaiting for. It is no human king who would eventually witness the disintegration of his kingdom, as Alexander posthumously did. This is a king that could only be judged by radically different categories as John the Baptist pointed out – “One that is mightier than I is coming … I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Spirit.” So let us “prepare the way of the Lord, and make straight his paths” because our liberation is coming, he is the Prince of Peace and our Victorious King.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Waiting for God...

First Sunday of Advent Year B

Today’s readings remind me of the highly cryptic and absurdist play written by Irish Nobel laureate and novelist, Samuel Beckett, “Waiting for Godot.” It is a tale that involves two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, who wait endlessly and in vain for someone named Godot to arrive. They divert themselves while they wait expectantly and in vain for the play’s namesake to arrive. They claim him as an acquaintance but in fact hardly know him, admitting that they would not recognise him were they to see him. To occupy themselves, they eat, sleep, converse, argue, sing, play games, exercise, swap hats, and contemplate suicide – anything "to hold the terrible silence at bay." At the end of the story, Godot does not appear, thus reinforcing the futility of the waiting. If fact, one may be led to think that Godot may actually not exist.

Godot's absence, as well as numerous other aspects of the play, have led to many different interpretations, including scriptural and theological allusions. Some may read the play as a parody of humanity who waits in vain for the coming of God, who chooses not to reveal himself at the end. It doesn’t take an Einstein to note that the name ‘Godot’ sounds too oddly familiar and similar to ‘God.’ Thus, the play can be read as a post-modernist critique of Christian hope. There is no point waiting for Christ coming, he isn’t coming, no one’s coming to deliver you, don’t waste your time, God may not even exist, there is no HOPE!

It is interesting that such a play, brilliant as it may be, with an equally bleak setting, should be voted the most significant English play of the 20th century. Is this an indication of how far we have descended into a state of hopelessness? Does it reveal a society that has grown cynical with waiting for divine deliverance from its present woes and sorrows?

Today, we begin the season of Advent not with a bleak message that we will be experiencing darker and more depressing times. Prophecies of doom abound from both economists and political analysts. The Advent message is not one which mirrors the storyline of the abovementioned play that we are waiting in vain for a person who will eventually not show up. No, the message of Advent is one of expectant joy, a message of true Christian hope that our waiting will not be vain. The person, whom mankind is waiting for as its saviour will come, in fact he has already come. Why? Because St Paul tells us, “God is faithful.”

Advent celebrates primarily two comings – the first coming of Christ in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago. The incarnation, the Word of God taking flesh, seems to be a fulfillment of what the Prophet Isaiah writes in today’s first reading – it is the prophecy of how the Lord “would tear the heavens open and come down.” The whole of humanity who had waited for aeons for the coming of its deliverer, its new Joshua who will lead them to the Promised Land, is not disappointed, as the Saviour has indeed come – He is Jesus the Christ. But Advent does not only prepare us for that first coming which we commemorate every year at the Feast of Christmas but also points us to the future, to Christ’s second coming in glory, to judge and deliver the world from sin, evil and death.

Our Christian faith is eschatological to its core. What do I mean by eschatological? The word ‘eschatology’ refers to the Last Things that we had learnt in our catechism – heaven, hell, death and judgment, the four eschata. But the real focus of eschatology is the Last Thing, which is not exactly a thing, in the sense of being an event or an object – it is God himself, the Eschaton. God is the source and summit of our lives, he is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega. Eschatology is not purely confined to these vague, deeply profound and theological concepts of the future. Eschatology has everything to do with our present lives. This eschatological vision shapes our Christian world-view. It reminds us that our objective and purpose in life does not reside in the past or even in the present, it is posited in the future. The final solution would not be found here in this life – the final solution can only be found in God. It provides us with a new benchmark of evaluating our priorities in life – are our preparations only for this earthly life or are they for eternal life? And finally, this eschatological dimension of our faith points to our basic orientation and disposition in life – how do we respond to Christ’s coming? The answer is this - It is through watchfulness.

What does it mean to be watchful? What does Jesus mean when he tells his disciples to ‘be on (their) guard,’ and ‘stay awake’? Humans are great voyeurs. We enjoy watching, especially what pleases the eye. A beautiful woman or a handsome man would often elicit a second look or even a prolonged gaze. We watch for market trends in order to ensure that we are ahead of things economically and financially. We watch for pitfalls and obstacles especially when we are negotiating a difficult path or engaging in a new project. Some of us enjoy watching for the faults of others and gleefully jump at the opportunity to catch them when they make a mistake.

But is this the kind of watchfulness which Jesus is speaking of? I guess that these are more distractions rather than authentic watchfulness. We are invited by the readings to watch for the Lord, and especially for his coming. Firstly, this requires patience because as Jesus noted, ‘you never know when the time will come.’ The problem is that our attention span is often too short. We constantly look for distractions or loose interest when results are not immediately forthcoming. In a world that seeks immediate gratification, quick final solutions are the only acceptable options. Patience teaches us to respect God's time and not dictate it.

Watchfulness calls for fidelity or faithfulness to our duty. Take note that in today’s gospel, the image of the master entrusting the servants with a duty to watch for his coming, reminds all of us that being watchful is not just merely an individual vocation. The servants’ lack of watchfulness may cost the entire household its property or even the life of its members. We are called to be watchful not only for ourselves, but also for our family members, our children, future generations, our neighbours, our BEC members, our non-Christian friends, colleagues and everyone else. If we let down our guard, others apart from us will suffer too.

The third aspect of this watchfulness is expounded by St Paul in the second reading. He exhorts the Corinthians that while waiting for the Lord’s coming, to keep ready and without blame until the last day.’ Staying awake and being watchful means that we need to guard against sin. Sin dulls our senses to the promptings of God. Sin blinds us from recognizing Christ in our lives. Sin distracts us from waiting and watching for the Lord. That is why Advent is also a penitential period for the whole Church. It is a time for us to honestly search our hearts, seek the Lord’s forgiveness, celebrate His mercy and the gift of repentance in order to make ready the way for the Lord’s coming.

Unlike Vladimir and Estragon who seem to have waited in vain for the mysterious Godot whom they do not know, Christians, on the other hand, are waiting in hope for Christ whom they do know. Our Christian waiting is never in vain. Christ will come. But will he find us ready, on guard and awake? Rather than to fill our time waiting with activities and distractions that will “hold the terrible silence at bay,” let our season of Advent be one of watchfulness, fidelity, patience and finally contrition that we may find within the silence of our hearts the voice of God, who sends his son to be our liberation and our salvation.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Christ the King


Christ the King Year A

Dies iræ! Dies illa Solvet sæclum in favilla:
The day of wrath, that day will dissolve the world in ashes …

Quantus tremor est futurus, Quando iudex est venturus,
Cuncta stricte discussurus!

How much tremor there will be, when the judge will come,
investigating everything strictly!

Iudex ergo cum sedebit,Quidquid latet, apparebit:
Nil inultum remanebit.

When therefore the judge will sit, whatever hides will appear:
nothing will remain unpunished.

Does this sound familiar to any of you? Well, if you had listened carefully to the English translation, you would have realized that this Latin poem evokes a frightening image of the Day of Judgment – it describes it as a Day of God’s wrath, a day when the world will be dissolved into ashes, a day when God sits as judge firmly and strictly investigating everything. Nothing will be hidden from his sight, no evil will remain unpunished. This frightening image of the Last Day, the Day of Judgment, would obviously not sit well with anyone today. In fact, this medieval Latin hymn, Dies Irae, which was a characteristic part of the Catholic Requiem Mass before the renewal of the liturgy after Vatican II, was removed from the present Catholic funeral liturgy, because some felt that the hymn was saturated with negative spirituality inherited from the Middle Ages. They felt that the song had overemphasized judgment, fear and despair whereas the funeral liturgy should actually be focusing on the hope and joy of the resurrection. So, the song got the boot!

But, the issue does not just boil down to a song. It is the idea or the image of God that lies behind the song. An image that would obviously not sit well with a crowd of Catholics today, who would be expecting Jesus to look something like the picture of the Divine Mercy and the Sacred Heart, a Jesus with a kind, compassionate and gentle face with arms outstretched to welcome all of us, even the most wretched among us. We find it hard to reconcile a Jesus who is merciful and loving with a Jesus who sits in judgment of us. In today’s language, we will protest: “This just doesn’t jive!” Perhaps, they would even draw inspiration from today’s gospel and say, “Look at today’s Gospel. In the parable of Jesus, Jesus identifies entirely with the weak, the poor and the marginalized.” This is the kind of Jesus whom we would expect to be our friend, in fact our BFF – Best Friends Forever, Our Buddie for Life, the Jesus who seems to be just ‘an ordinary Joe’, not a cosmic universal king who will act as our final judge. This last image seems too alien and distant from us.

Before, we come to a conclusion about the kind of Jesus whom we would like to worship, let’s listen to the rest of this hymn, especially to this next stanza.

Inter oves locum præsta, Et ab hædis me sequestra,
Statuens in parte dextra.

Grant me a place among the sheep, and take me out from among the goats,
setting me on the right side.

It’s quite clear now that this hymn is describing the scene in today’s gospel, the story of how Jesus separates the sheep from the goats. Read on any other occasion, it would not be too hard for someone to conclude that the whole crux of the story is this: all it takes to get to heaven is to offer a cup of water to someone who is thirsty, because you may actually be offering a drink to Jesus, himself. It is certainly a nice interpretation to the story that reminds us of the responsibility of fraternal charity. There is nothing wrong with this reading, but is it adequate?

Do remember that this is a parable of judgment. More importantly, Christ is presented as a cosmic all-powerful king sitting on his throne and as a judge summoning the accused to trial. Perhaps, this setting is entirely lost to most of us because the gravity and seriousness of the Day of Judgment is no longer emphasized in our modern liturgy. In fact, the parable of Jesus presents two images of Christ, both seemingly at opposite ends of a spectrum. One image is that of a God who is transcendent, who is distant from us, who sits as king in judgment of us. The other image is an image of a God who is immanent, who dwells among us, who is in complete solidarity with us, and who identifies with us. In other words, one presents us a God hidden behind the clouds and another, a God who looks just like us. The parable reminds us that both these images of Christ are not mutually exclusive. One does not cancel out the other.

Our preferences for the more gentle image of Jesus betrays a certain erroneous belief on our part. The idea of a remote or formal king does not resonate with us. What we want is one whom we can identify with, one who is like us; an approachable, compassionate and gentle king. Unfortunately, it is not a matter of choosing one image over the other. Jesus is that cosmic king seated on his throne of judgment – and there is a chasm which separates us lowly creatures from his august presence. Majesty which deserves worship and adulation is always marked by distance. You admire and worship someone only when you admire them from a distance, not when they are standing next to you and doing the same things as you. At the same time, this is a Jesus who has chosen to cross that chasm, knowing that no man nor woman will be able to make that journey; this is the supreme judge who understands that no mortal is able to bear the sentence for which he is accused, and who finally chooses to cross the distance from the bench to the gallery to take the place of the accused, the condemned in the dock, and to be punished and executed in his stead. It is one thing to know that someone has died for you. It is another thing entirely to know that a king or a God has chosen to do this.

It is easier to understand why the world requires a loving and compassionate king, a king who soothes us when we fall, a king who embraces us when we are lonely, a king who kisses our wounds to make the pain go away. Who wouldn’t want to have this kind of a king? But I believe Jesus came not merely to act as life’s panadol, a painkiller, for us. Jesus came to show us how God must ultimately be lord and master of our lives, there lies our salvation.

The world is in need of a king who calls and challenges them to greatness rather than mediocrity. The world is in need of king who gives them a chance to experience the perfection and the holiness of the divine rather than just being satisfied with our human weakness. The world is in need of a king who demands a radical self-giving and loving and not only when it suits us. The world needs a king to inspire us, not a king who looks and behaves just like us.

Today, in our attempt to make God and the divine more accessible, for example, by transforming the sanctuaries of our churches into empty spaces barren of beauty, in the removal of communion rails, in the singing of music that approximates the kind of music we listen to in our daily mundane existence, there is something about the character of the liturgy that is lost – we loose focus of the object of our liturgy, which is to worship God. In place of this, man is worshipped in his stead. But it is not just liturgy which suffers. Christian life suffers too when we choose to depict Christ merely as an ordinary Joe. There is no challenge to aim for loftier goals. At the end of the day, when Christ becomes ordinary, he will soon be forgotten, since he only acts as a functional implement or tool whenever we need him.

As a priest friend of mine once said, “if we erase the distance, wipe away the blood and hide the painful suffering of the crucifixion and demythologise the divinity of Christ, we sanitise the image of our King to the point of an empty symbol.” We have reduced Christ to a mere panacea or an intoxicant that serves to make us feel good in our otherwise miserable existence. But, this is Christ, King of the Universe, the one whom we must subject ourselves to. This is Christ, the Judge, who will call us to account for our actions, and who would demand evidence that we had recognised him in his people. This is Christ, our Lord and God, who chooses to come among us,God who becomes man in order that men may become gods. This is Christ who inspires us and reminds that we are made in his image and likeness, a royal priestly people called to give glory to God. Let us not make the mistake of reducing him into nothing more than an image of ourselves.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Losers are not born

Thirty Third Ordinary Sunday Year A (2nd Homily)

In today’s gospel, we encounter the literary genre called the folkloric threesome. What is a folkloric threesome? Storytellers throughout the ages have discovered that three events, characters or issues in a story provide an importance access point for the hearer. There is often some emphasis, climax or concentration of attention directed to the last character of the series. And so we have the familiar fairytales of the three bears and Goldilocks, the three pigs and the Big Bad Wolf, Cinderella and her two sisters. The twist in the story is that the last and third character, who is often depicted at the beginning to be the least likely to succeed, would eventually spring a surprise at the end of the story by emerging triumphant. Thus, the use of the folkloric threesome seeks to turn the perception and values of the audience upside down.

In today’s gospel, Jesus gives us the parable of the three servants who have been entrusted by their master with different levels of responsibility, one with 5 talents, another with 2, and the last with only one. One would expect, that the story would follow the traditional folkloric threesome ending. The one entrusted with one talent, the least likely to succeed, would emerge champion and prove himself to be the most trustworthy servant of all. But the stories of Jesus do not necessarily have to follow the normal schema of things. In fact, this poor man, perhaps not thought of so highly by his master, which explains the entrusting of just one talent, would actually have to live out the self-fulfilling prophecy of being a loser.

This parable has often been used to illustrate the point that we must all use our God-given talents. This is certainly one of the points which Jesus wishes to make here. But there is something much more profound here – it speaks to us about what it means to be prepared, it speaks to us about how we should respond to the graces we have received especially in the sacraments, and finally it speaks to us of the importance of gratitude.

Today’s parable comes after last week’s parable of the ten bridesmaid, five who were wise and five who were foolish. Both these parables are eschatological parables – in other words, they both speak of the end times. Both these parables provide us with clues as how to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord. If last week’s parable spoke about keeping enough oil for the lamp to be burning, this week’s parable emphasises the need to invest our talents. Or using last week's terminology, oil is meant for burning not for keeping. The oil in last week’s gospel parable referred to something which was internal – our inner life, our spiritual life, our faith relationship with God which is nurtured by prayer, contemplation, the sacraments, devotion and sacrifices. However, the inner life would finally have to find expression in our external actions and behaviour. So, this week’s gospel reminds us that the inner life that we had cultivated must be translated into action – we must always be committed to the mission of Christ. Faithfulness to this mission, symbolised by the other two servants investing their talents and gaining more, will be rewarded. However, a lackadaisical or indifferent attitude to our mission will also be repaid at the end, as in the case of the third servant.

The parable of the talents also speak about the grace of God. One may judge the master as someone unjust who seems to favour some servants over the other. Another way of looking at it is that it points to God’s gratuity, his abandoned generosity – that he would even risk granting a boon, a grace to the third servant, even though he knew that this man would not amount to much. Thus, the real difficulty here is not that God had not given his graces to all three, he did, but to each according to his needs. God’s justice is not egalitarian – everyone is placed on a level playing field. Neither is God’s justice based on merit – to every man or woman what he or she deserves. No. God justice is this: to every man or woman what he or she needs. God still dispenses graces to those who don’t deserve it. But grace is both a gift and a response. God pours out his graces on us through the sacraments of the Church, but calls on us to respond to that gift by growing in personal sanctification or holiness.

Finally, let us examine the cause of the third servant’s failure to respond to his master’s gift. The answer can be found in his own defence of his actions. He saw the talent not as a gift but as a curse. The real reason for his inability to respond like the other two servants was his lack of gratitude. Gratitude or the lack of it shapes the way we view life. When we lack gratitude, then life seems to be a curse. We begin to see ourselves as victims of injustices, both real and imagined. For someone who lacks gratitude, life would always seem unfair. We refuse to take responsibility for our lives and continuously find some reason or cause to blame someone or even God. We eventually grow despondent and cynical. In many ways, we are digging a little hole for ourselves and calling it quits even before the end. Looking at life through the lenses of gratitude, however, changes everything. Every moment becomes an opportunity for growth rather than another obstacle to be avoided or a curse to be rid off. Gratitude helps us to appreciate what we have rather than to gripe about what we lack. In that way, gratitude becomes the basis for real joy, for hope and finally for faith, as it helps us to live under the providence of God.

Each of us has been entrusted with talents till the day we have to give an account of them. These talents are for investing, not for safekeeping. Our inner life needs to be translated into our commitment to mission. These talents are given to all of us through the sacraments as they demonstrate God’s generosity and love for us. It comes with a challenge to respond to this gift by growing in it. And finally, we will never be able to appreciate these talents unless we have cultivated a deep sense of gratitude, a deep sense of thanksgiving. The word Eucharist comes from two Greek root words – ‘Eu’ which means ‘good and ‘charis’ which means grace. Thus, the Eucharist is a moment of thanksgiving or of celebrating our gratitude for the good graces we have received from God.

Friday, November 11, 2011

履行天主所赋予的使命

常年期第三十三主日

你们决定了吗? 你们准备好了吗? 上主日的读经教导我们真正的智慧是随时准备好去见天主。 你们现在是否已准备好了呢? 或许,你们已忘了上主日所读的。 如果你们真的忘了,今天的读经重复并加强同样的信息。

这一星期的读经让我们深入了解所谓的准备。 随时准备好并不仅是确保我们临死时办妥告解,随时准备好并不仅是尽量避免犯错,随时准备好也不是坐着等死,这一切都不够的。随时准备好意谓着我们应该经常守在服务的岗位上,履行天主所赋予的使命。我们每一个人都委以各别的才能。我们每一个人都身负各别的责任:… 我们负有为人父母或孩子或工人或一个团体的成员或一位教友的职责等等。这些才能来自天主的恩赐并赋予责任。为此我们该用来完成使命。

许多人活过一生没有善用他们的潜能。 许多人对做得最底限度而心满意足。 他们的哲学理念是“多做不如少做!” 天主并不为我们只活了一小部分的一生而造我们。 如果我们只活出一成的生命,那另外九成是白费了。 随时准备好意谓着为天主的光荣献上我们的一切。 我们可能不能做什么。 我们可能不能做好一切。 我们可能不能在我们的一生中完成我们的目标。 不过,无论我们做什么,只要我们为了天主的光荣尽力而为就够了。
在读经一中利用了贤淑的妇女做为门徒的榜样。 贤淑的妻子明白“姿色是虚幻,美丽是泡影。”最主要的是她能完成一个尽职的妻子应尽的义务。“她一生岁月,只叫他幸福,不给他烦恼”,她常为家务忙碌,不无所事事于闲话及无聊的事情上。 这贤淑的妻子是我们每个人的榜样。我们都是为了天主的光荣并不是为了给人制造麻烦而造。我们都赋予天份与才能为能完成今世的使命。

同样,在福音中描述了三个仆人,从他们的主人手中领受了不同的才能。数量的多寡不重要。有时,我们觉得别人有的比我们多。我们感到这是不公平的。我们永远不会知道其中的原因。但我们知道他领受的多对他的指望更大。那些赋予多的有责任为天主的光荣和别人的益处而善用天份才能。如果我们只埋怨我们没有足够的,如果我们不善用我们仅有的一点点,那么,连我们所有的,也要由我们手中夺去。

善用你们的生命罢!你们或许是富有的;或许是贫穷的,你们或许是美丽的平凡的,善用你们的一生罢!为了天主的光荣善用他所赐给你们的一切天份才能罢!不要再犹豫了,因为圣保禄在读经二中告诉我们说:“主的日子要象夜间的盗贼一样来到”,所以我们该当醒悟清醒。

Constantly at our mission

Thirty Third Ordinary Sunday Year A

Are you ready? Are you prepared? … Last week’s reading taught us that true wisdom is being always prepared to meet the Lord at any time. Are you prepared now? Perhaps, you may have forgotten what was read last Sunday. Just in case you’ve forgotten, today’s reading repeats and reinforces the same message.

This week’s reading gives us a little more insight on what it means to be ready. Being ready is not merely making sure that we have made our confession before our death. Being ready is not just merely avoiding wrong doing as much as possible. Being ready doesn’t mean just waiting for death to happen. These are insufficient.

Being ready means that we must be constantly at our mission, fulfilling the vocation that God has given us. Each of us is entrusted with certain talents. Each of us have been given certain responsibilities – we have responsibilities as a parent or as a child or as a worker or as a member of the community or as a Catholic etc. These talents are gifts from God and come with a responsibility. We are to use them for the mission which has been entrusted to us.

Many people go through life without living out their full potential. Many people are satisfied with only doing the bare minimum. Their philosophy is “Why do more when you can do less!” God did not create us to live only a fraction of our lives. If we only live 10% of what we are capable of living, then the other 90% is wasted.

Being ready means giving our all for the glory of God. We may not be able to do everything. We may not be able to do all things well. We may not even be able to achieve within our lifetime all our goals. Nevertheless, whatever we do, if we do it to the best of our ability and for the glory of God, is enough.

The first reading uses the symbol of a wise wife or the perfect wife as the model of a disciple. A wise wife knows that “charm is deceitful and beauty empty.” What is important is that she is able to fulfill her role and responsibility as a dutiful wife – bringing “advantage and not hurt to her husband all the days of her life.” She is always busy at work and has no time for idleness, gossip and unfruitful activity. The wise wife is thus a model for all of us. We are made for the glory of God and not to bring hurt to him or to others. We are created with gifts and talents in order for us to realize our mission and vocation in this life.

Similarly, the gospel tells the story of the three servants who receive different amount of talents from their master. The amount that they received is not important. Sometimes we may feel that others have more than we have. We feel that this is unfair. We may never know the reasons for this. But we know that the more one receives, the more is expected of that person. Those who have been given more have a greater responsibility to use those talents and gifts for the good of others and for the glory of God. If we just complain that we do not have enough, if we do not do anything with the little that we have, then even what we have will be taken away.

Make the best of your life. You may be rich or you may be poor, you may be beautiful or you may look ordinary, make the best of your life. Use whatever talents or gifts the Lord has given you for his greater glory. Don’t hesitate any longer because as St. Paul tells us in the second reading “the Day of the Lord is going to come like a thief in the night”, so stay wide awake and sober.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Be Prepared for the Coming of the Bridegroom

Thirty Second Ordinary Sunday Year A (Second Homily)


Daima Hazir
Parau ha’amanaora
Laging Handa
Siempre Listo – para servir
准备
Toujour Pret
Allzeit bereit

Do any of these sound familiar? Well, in Malaysia, you may hear this: “Selalu Bersedia”. It is the immortalized Scout Motto, in various languages, that has been used by and inspired millions of Scouts around the world since 1907. In English, this motto is most commonly rendered as “Be Prepared”, and it is no coincidence that this motto can be shortened to B.P. which could also be the acronym of the surname of the founder of the movement, Robert Baden-Powell.

In the third part of his handbook for scouts, Baden Powell explains the meaning of the scout motto – “Be Prepared which means you are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to your duty.” Then he goes on to unpack this definition. According to Baden Powell, being prepared in mind means disciplining yourself to be obedient to every order, and also by having thought out beforehand any accident or situation that might occur, so that you know the right thing to do at the right moment, and are willing to do it. Corresponding to the mental preparation, is the physical bodily preparation which is intended to make you strong and active and able to do the right thing at the right moment, and do it. To be prepared, a scout who understands and lives the motto recognizes that the call of duty extends beyond donning the uniform of the scouts. He is called to serve and to assist whenever a situation presents itself. And then Baden Powell, throws the challenge that goes beyond what would normally be required of a youth group – “Be prepared to die for your country if need be, so that when the moment arrives you may change home with confidence, not caring whether you are going to be killed or not.”

This earthly piece of wisdom is given a monumental redressing in today’s gospel of the wise and foolish virgins or bridesmaids. If someone like Baden Powell could think of being prepared in a limited temporal human context, what greater gravity could be given to the expression when we begin to think of it in cosmic proportions. Thus the motto of a Christian could be this – “Be Prepared for the Coming of the Bridegroom.” – “Be Prepared for the Coming of Christ.”

Many have focused on the element of wakefulness in today’s parable. But it is important to take note that verse 5 of the passage records that ‘all’, meaning both the wise and foolish, “became drowsy and fell asleep.” The crucial difference between the wise and the foolish has to do not with staying awake but with having sufficient oil. In unraveling the mystery and the symbolism of the oil, we can perhaps begin to understand the depth and meaning of being prepared in the Christian context.

The oil which the wise virgins possess is not something external- like food or clothes or money. Rather the oil refers to an inner quality – e.g. honesty, fairness or integrity. I can share my food or clothes with you but I cannot impart on you the qualities and virtues of honesty or integrity. Thus, the oil which is used in this parable is a symbol of inner spirituality, virtue, and the faith life of a person that has been nurtured carefully with prayer, the sacraments, spiritual practices, devotions and a commitment to living the Word of God. Just as if I can lend you a book on prayer, but you would have to set aside the time for your relationship with God. That’s something which I cannot give you. That is why we hear that the wise virgins did not share their oil with the foolish ones. They could not, not because they were selfish, but because the oil spoke about personal sacrifice and conversion that could only be obtained through faithfulness to prayer and the sacraments.

Thus being prepared in the context of today’s gospel means that one needs to have the following qualities in order that our lamps will always be ready to be lit, our oils ready for the lighting.
The first quality is that of Foresight. Earlier, I spoke about how Baden Powell describes being prepared. He explains that it requires disciplining oneself to be obedient to every order and also having thought out beforehand any situation that might occur, so that we may know the right thing to do at the right moment. Often we lack foresight. We are often preoccupied with immediate goals which are apparent but forget to pay attention to the long term goals or to the bigger picture. We focus on the little concerns in our daily life, securing good education, securing a good job and securing a good spouse; but we fail to see that ultimately life’s ultimate goal is securing salvation. We have great plans for our children and their future. Tuition classes, music lessons, swimming tutorials etc. And yet, we seldom lack the foresight to see beyond this – are we preparing them merely for life or for eternal life?
The second quality is faithfulness. Having good intentions are good but never enough – we need to translate these into actions. Having actions, activities and projects are good, but the real question is this – are they lasting or just short term? Foresight eventually leads us to faithfulness – its holding out for the long run till the very end. The foolish virgins in the parable possessed lamps and oils but failed to possess enough oil to keep their lamps burning. We may be full of excitement and enthusiasm at the present moment – just before we get married, when we start serving in ministry, when we decide to embark on a project. But do we have enough oil to keep burning till the very end. This calls for faithfulness to prayer and the sacraments. We go for mass and continue to pray not only because we feel good. Sometimes, we don’t feel anything at all when we do these things. But we believe that the sacraments and prayer is what keeps our jar of oil full when we need to use it to light our lamps. During times of darkness and doubt, it is the light from these oil lamps that will keep us going.
Ultimately, faithfulness leads to the third quality – it is patience. We often have very little patience for things. We are prone to seek immediate results and quick solutions. Today, we hear that the bridegroom was delayed in coming. We need patience to wait for his coming. There are times when we allow impatience to get the better of us and thus we let our guard down.

Just like the scouts of Baden-Powell’s imagination and dream, we too are called to be the vanguards of Christ, who is the Bridegroom, whom we await to consummate the story of salvation. We must be ever ready to serve, ever ready to wait, and ever ready to heed the call of our Lord when he comes. We are called to be ready, not just now or for short period of time. We are called to ready at all times – to have foresight, faithfulness and finally patience in waiting for the Lord. We are called to be ready not just in an ordinary sense, but ultimately in a heroic sense. “So that finally, we are called to be prepared to die for not for our country if need be, but for the Lord, so that when the moment arrives you may change home with confidence, from our earthly life to the heavenly, not caring whether you are going to be killed or not.”

Friday, November 4, 2011

真智慧

常年期第三十二主日

每一个文化都各有整套的谚语格言。我们可能记得一些。 例如:三人行,必有我师; 满招损,谦受益; 虚心使人进步,骄傲使人落后; 胜不骄,败不馁; 逆水行舟,不进则退;除此之外。 我们的长辈也常劝导我们说: “人不可貌相;己所不欲,勿施于人; 失败是成功之母;胜败乃兵家常事;天有不测风云,人有旦夕祸福;前事不忘,后事之师; 他山之石,可以攻玉; 知错能改,善大莫焉;天下无难事,只怕有心人。而我们华人把智慧与学问及高明的经营本领相提并论。 某人若擅长储蓄,懂得投资;因他的努力及智力而赚了很多钱,人们就会认为他是个明智的人。

这一些谚语格言在我们的生活中有一定的作用。 然而,持守某一些会使我们忽视最重要的智慧。 智慧告诉我们一切的智慧来自天主也回归天主。 也就是这智慧提醒我们人生最重要的事并不是广交朋友,拥有众多子孙,财富及运气。 这一切都重要但它们只是短暂的而最重要的是我们对那给我们许下永生的天主的信赖,这是永恒的。 明了这一点就是真智慧。

许多人很会投资 - 购买正确的股票,做正确的生意判断。 但是,许多人却的确是差劲的神修的投资者。 我们辛苦一生为了自己及我们的后代有好日子过,但,在生命结束时,我们一无所获。 我们为生活的一切 … 教育,工作及家庭而做准备却不为永生也就是说不为死亡而做好准备。这也是今天福音中的比喻的意义。 耶稣用糊涂的童女和明智的童女做对比。 明智的与糊涂的分别在于明智的随时准备好迎接新郎的到来。 而糊涂的却想她们有足够的油,有足够的时间。

主内的弟兄姐妹们,你们的灯有足够的油吗? 你们准备好随时迎接主吗? 它可能是今天,明天,这星期,下个月或明年。 你有做出正确的投资吗? 你为你的永生付出多少? 或者你只着重在世俗的福乐财富,抱负,名誉和权势。 主内的弟兄姐妹,你或许拥有这一切 - 权势,财富和名誉但它在你临终时却毫无益处。

当人们告诉我们要明智不要糊涂时,让我们留心他们的忠告。 同时,也让我们明白智慧的真意。 真正的智慧是投注在永恒的生命不是现在的生命,不是财富,不是财产。 全都不是。 真正的智慧是随时准备好迎接那召叫我们回家的主。“所以,你们该醒悟,因为你们不知道那日子,也不知道那时辰”主要到来。

True Wisdom

Thirty Second Ordinary Sunday Year A

Each culture has developed a whole collection of wise sayings and proverbs. We also grew up with lots of advice from our elders. “Don’t judge a book by its cover;” “Take care of one’s needs first before thinking of others;” “Don’t put all your eggs into one basket” etc.

Being ethnically Chinese, I have come to realise how we have often equated wisdom with knowledge and also good business acumen. A man who knows how to save, how to make good investments, who becomes rich as a result of his own hard work and intelligence, he is regarded by society as a wise man.

All these wise sayings have their place in our lives. However, holding onto some of them may cause us to loose sight of the most important wisdom of all. The wisdom that tells us that all comes from God and all will return to God. It is this wisdom that reminds us that the most important things in life are not just having friends, having lots of children or grandchildren, prosperity and luck. All these are important but they are temporary. The most important thing is our faith in God who has promised eternal life to us, and this is for eternity. To understand this is true wisdom.

Many people are good at making investments - buying the right shares, making the right business judgments. However, many people are really bad at making spiritual investments. We work so hard in life in order to make life easier for ourselves and our children and we end up at death with nothing. We are prepared for any eventuality in life – education, business, family life – but we are not prepared for eternal life – we are not prepared for death.

This is the meaning of the parable in today’s gospel. Jesus contrasts the foolish bridesmaids with the sensible bridesmaids. What distinguishes the sensible ones from the foolish ones are that they are prepared to meet the bridegroom at any time. The foolish ones thought that they had enough oil, they had enough time, but they were ill-prepared.

My brothers and sisters in Christ. Do you have enough oil burning in your lamp? Are you prepared to meet the Lord at any time? It could be today, tomorrow, this week, next month or next year. Have you made the right investments? Have you invested for eternal life? Of have you put all your investments in looking for worldly pleasure, riches, ambition, fame, and power. My brothers and sisters in Christ, you may have all these things – power, riches and fame – but they will serve you no good at your death.

When people tell us to be wise and not be foolish, let us heed their call. But let us understand what is true wisdom. True wisdom is investing for eternal life, not this life, not in riches, not in possessions. No. True wisdom is being always prepared to meet the Lord who may call us home at any time.

“So stay awake because you do not know either the day or the hour” when the Lord comes.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Heroes of Faith

All Saints Day (2nd Homily)

Tonight, it may seem out of place for the Catholic Church to speak about saints when the globalised world, enamoured by American culture, seems to pay greater attention to glorifying ghouls, ghosts, demons and villains. Where do we even begin if we wish to talk about saints? I guess it would be important to understand what a hero is, because saints are described as men and women who display heroic faith.

So, what is a hero? A hero, in Greek mythology and folklore, was originally a demigod, their cult being one of the most distinctive features of ancient Greek religion. In other words, being a hero meant divine origin. They were men and women who were the stuff of gods. Later, with the demythologizing of the concept, hero (male) and heroine (female) came to refer to characters who, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, display courage and the will for self sacrifice—that is, heroism—for some greater good of all humanity. The separation of humanity from the divine had begun. In an ironic sense, heroes came to replace the vacuum that was left by the dearth of gods. The idea of human heroes became a defiance of divine providence and intervention.

But the traditional concept of a hero has suffered a greater blow in recent times due to popular culture. It is no longer novel to be just a hero – the story of gallant and noble hero who rescue the helpless maiden in distress has been told countless times. This is just too boring for a world that craves for innovation and the unfamiliar. Therefore, we are beginning to see emerging in cinematography, literature and music, a glorification of the bad, the demonic and the villainous, which were originally seen as the antithesis of heroism. Thus the anti-hero has been canonized in songs like, “I’m Bad, I’m Bad” by Michael Jackson, Vampires in the TV series, True Blood, Casper in the cartoons, the demon Hell Boy in comic books and witches and wizards in the Harry Porter stories.

The Catholic Church’s celebration of the feast day of saints, its continued practice and tradition of canonizing ordinary men and women as saints, certainly goes against the tide of this prevalent trend. Almost everyday of the liturgical year is dedicated to a saint. In other words, during an entire liturgical year, the Church provides us with so many heroic examples of faith and holiness. Pope John Paul II, during his tenure as pope, had canonized more saints than all his predecessors. When asked why he did so, his reply was this: “In a world that is faithless, we need more models of faith. In a world that is hopeless, we need examples of hope. In a world that is so full of violence and death, we need shining beacons of peace.” In other words, by venerating and honouring the saints, the Catholic Church restores to the concept of heroism, its original characteristic of being linked with the divine.

The statement “The glory of God is man fully alive,” which is attributed to St Ireaneus, taken out of context can be deceiving. It seems to imply that the way to glorify God is to just be yourself and follow your heart. Now, being yourself is very important — just look at what happens when you try to be someone else — but it’s important to remember that the only way to truly be yourself, a created being, is through and for the One who created you. The glory of God is man fully alive, but man fully alive is man glorifying God.

That’s who saints really are – they show all of us, not only Christians, what it means to be fully human, to be heroes and heroines. But unlike the humanized version of a hero or the recent aberration of the anti-hero, these Christian heroes are mirrors which allow us to see the goodness, the greatness and the love of God. They are like windows which allow the light of Christ to pass through them and shine through them. It isn’t their own light. They have no light of their own. Saints don’t have any ambitions to draw people to themselves. They are not saviours nor the source of light. The light which shines through them is that of Christ. And it is to Christ, that saints draw others.

Saints are not superhuman beings. They are not great spiritual experts or angelic beings who have gotten rid of their humanity. No. The saints are fully human just like you and me. The saints are heroic because their lives demonstrate that they are fully grounded in their own humanness. They are fully human because they are in touch with human pain and suffering. They undergo pain and suffering and yet emerge victorious because they have not allowed despair to overtake them. They truly understand the meaning of the beatitudes in today’s gospel: “How happy are the poor in spirit, theirs is the kingdom of heaven … Happy those who mourn: they shall be comforted …Happy those who are persecuted in the cause of right: theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” They are fully human, because they have learnt the purpose of our earthly existence is to glorify God whatever may be the circumstances they find themselves in.

They have undergone trials, difficulties, loneliness, failure, pain, suffering, tears of frustration, and even death but they have not allowed these to make them hard and resentful. They have not allowed these experiences to define them. Ultimately, they have discovered that it is the love of God which surpasses all these things which defines them. These experiences have allowed them to learn how to be more patient and gentle. Because they have experienced pain and grief, they have know how to bring peace and comfort to others. They have also learned how to be satisfied with what they have and depend entirely on the providence of God.

These are the saints whose feast we celebrate today. They are ordinary persons who have learned how to be loved by God and to love others extraordinarily. At our baptism, we too were given the names of these saints so that we too may become like them one day. All this will not take place in a single day. Neither does it require us to have superhuman strength or powers. And yet, the lives of the saints remind us that sanctification and holiness is open to all of us. There is no need for great or even momentous display of miracles. The miracle can be seen every day of our lives, throughout our whole lives, where we will be reminded by the saints to die a little to our own selfishness, our pride, our self-absorption so that we can gradually allow the light of Christ to shine through us.

Monday, October 31, 2011

你们是有福的… 欢喜踊跃罢

诸圣节


你们是有福的… 欢喜踊跃罢!... 欢乐罢! 对着贫穷,沮丧, 刚丧失亲人的人, 这些话听来很奇怪也不恰当. 但是耶稣从不犹豫地大声说: “…你们是有福的…欢乐罢…踊跃罢!”

耶稣所讲的喜乐是什么呢? 喜乐是不是在你需要的时候所得到的满足呢? 这份喜乐是不是我们现在或只有在我们死后的来世才能体验到的呢? 喜乐是否可以在困境, 不幸, 痛苦, 苦难中找到呢?

在世俗的眼光中, 悲伤及欢乐是两回事. 人们总会说: “当你快乐的时候, 你不可能伤心的, 同样你伤心时你不可能快乐的.” 事实上, 我们现时的社会尽可能把悲伤及欢乐分开. 我们尽量掩饰和忘却死亡, 病痛, 破碎的人性.

然而, 真福八端, 耶稣对天主的国的憧憬, 给我们完全不同的画面. 耶稣本身在他的教导, 生活中显示真正的快乐隐藏在我们的痛苦中. 耶稣的生活, 死亡及复活就是活生生的例子. 十字架是死亡及生命, 痛苦及喜乐, 失败及胜利的象征. 在十字架上, 喜乐及痛苦可以同时存在. 这是不容易理解的. 但是我们想到人生的经验是, 例如面对生与死,往往喜悦与忧伤都是人生的经历. 很多时候喜悦常在悲伤中发现.

为此, 我们明白真正的喜悦是不同于辛福. 我们可以对许多事情不满意, 但仍有喜悦因我们知道天主爱我们. 换句话说,喜悦是你知道天主无条件地爱你而没有任何 – 病痛, 挫折, 情绪上的困扰, 压迫, 战争甚至死亡 – 都不能夺去这份爱. 正如圣保禄在读经二中说我们是天主的子女 – 这就是我们真正的身份 – 也就是我们喜悦的根源. 成圣的意义是不论在试探或困苦中依然满怀喜悦.

喜悦在什么时候产生呢? 基督徒的福分不是可寄托在荣耀的未来世界而是临在此时此地的. 当然, 它的圆满是在天上, 它应在当下享有.

在灵修生活中是没有自然而然发生的事. 喜乐是不会白白来到我们身上. 我们必须每天不断地选择喜乐. 它是建立在我们属于天主的意识上的一份抉择及在天主内找到我们的庇护和保障并且没有任何东西甚至死亡能是我们与天主隔离.

整年中, 我们敬礼圣人们而庆祝他们的庆典. 他们是著名的圣人如大圣若瑟, 宗徒们, 殉道者. 今天, 我们庆祝寂寂无名的小圣人. 他们是一群默默地过着圣善的基督徒生活, 在天主的计划中不曾有国任何显赫或超凡壮举. 这些圣人就像你和我.

在今天的弥撒中, 我们应该为过去及现在的小圣人们赞美感谢天主 – 尤其是在我们当中的圣人. 我们每个人都拥有以圣人的名字作我们领洗的圣名. 今天是我们每一个人的庆日, 在此祝你们 “庆节快乐!”

Happy are you … Blessed are you

All Saints Day


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!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

基督徒领袖

常年期第三十一主日

许多人认为社会是分成两组人 - 领袖和百姓。 领袖统治他们的百姓;百姓必得服从他们的领袖。 许多天主教徒也常认为教会同样分为两种的人 - 领袖和跟随者。 主教,神父,其助手,平信徒领袖都属于前者而普通教友是属于后者。 领袖管理教会而跟随的人只跟就是。

主内的弟兄姐妹们,只有一组人罢了――我们全是基督的门徒。 当然,在基督奥体内,教会,我们全都有不同的职责。 我们都有一个共同的身份 ―― 我们是天主的忠实子民。 身为基督的门徒,我们每一个都以不同的方式去服务我们的弟兄姐妹。 在教会里是没有睡觉和不活跃的信徒的。 所有的信友都蒙召积极服务。 所有的信友都蒙召积极领导。 是的,我们全都蒙召成为领袖。

今天的读经告诉我们,基督徒领袖,基督门徒应执行职务。 这些读经并不只是指神父或你们华文促进会的领袖或基信团协调员。 读经所指的是我们每一个人。 我们都是基督的门徒蒙召去服务有如耶稣一样。

基督徒领袖或门徒的首要条件是必须听从天主有如玛拉基亚先知在读经一所提醒我们的。听从天主的意思是,我们只关注承行天主的旨意不是我们的。 当我们在祈祷中没有听从天主,我们将滥用我们的权力,我们会坚持自己的意愿,我们会尝试归功于自己而不是天主。 听从天主也指我们承认一切权威来自天主。 不论我们有什么才能都来自天主。 而这些赋予的才能是为团体的益处。

基督徒领袖的第二个条件是我们的领导应该是牧职性的。 换句话说,我们应该对所服务的团体怀有爱心。 圣保禄在读经二借用母爱来形容他对教会所怀的爱。 我们的行动该出于爱的动机。

基督徒领袖的第三个条件是我们的事奉该是服务不是权力。 耶稣在今天的福音中谴责法利塞人滥用他们在团体中的领导和导师的身份地位控制人民及榨取利益。 耶稣提醒他们一切的权力来自天主。 身为基督徒领袖,我们蒙召成为仆人,谦卑自己为我们的弟兄姐妹所需服务。 我们不该寻求光荣或期待别人给予荣誉。

在今天的弥撒中,让我们祈求上主使我们实践天主给我们的信息。耶稣是我们的模范和导师。 他指示我们该怎样成为一个真正的领袖。 他是个祈祷的人常常承行天主的旨意。 他爱我们甚至为我们在十字架上牺牲自己的生命。 虽然是天主子,天主,他却贬抑自己为服务他的门徒。 让我们留意他的召叫,跟随他