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



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。



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
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



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.