Friday, January 29, 2010

Prophet of God's Truth

Fourth Ordinary Sunday Year C

Who is a prophet? Many people often think that a prophet is someone who foretells the future. Sometimes, the prophet does this but this isn’t the main task of the prophet. So who then is a prophet? A prophet is the messenger of God. He is the mouthpiece (spokesman) of God. He is a man who has been filled with the Holy Spirit and the Word of God through daily meditation and studying of the scriptures. It is through this studying of the scriptures that he comes to recognize the will of God for his time – what God is trying to say to his people in this time, under these circumstances and in this place. A prophet is not one who keeps silent. Once received, the message of God must be proclaimed. If not, God will raise other prophets to undertake the task.

The task of a prophet is not easy. Sometimes, the prophet is asked to give a message of hope and encouragement to God’s people. This is often welcomed. What is not easy to accept is the fact that the prophet is also given the task to challenge and condemn the people for their sinfulness. He is the conscience of the nation. It is here that the prophet faces opposition and rejection. Everyone likes to hear praises and words of encouragement. No one likes to hear criticism. But such criticism is necessary in order for us to grow. If we are not open to criticism, if we are not honest with ourselves, we would then be blind to the direction which God wants to lead us.

In today’s gospel, Jesus speaks of the many prophets in Israel’s history who were rejected by their own people and yet sometimes welcomed by others who were not Jews. Jesus too is such a prophet. When he speaks words of encouragement, like what he did in last week’s gospel reading, he receives people’s admiration. But in today’s gospel, Jesus chooses to reprimand his listeners. The Word of God is a double-edged sword. It cuts both ways. We must be prepared to hear not only words of encouragement but also words that would challenge our present way of life. In doing so, Jesus too is rejected.

What of us? Are we people who only like to hear praises and good things said about us? Or are we also able to accept a challenge to our present way of life? At the time of your baptism, each one of you was anointed to be a priest, prophet and king just like Jesus. Are you able to live up to this mission which you received at the time of your baptism?

Taking the prophetic role is difficult. No one wants to be the bad guy. That is why it is much easier to talk about people behind their backs then to confront them. As a prophetic people, we too are called to confront and challenge each other. Confrontation does not mean that we have no love. On the contrary, love is the reason why we must confront and act the prophet. In the second reading, we have the beautiful passage about love. Love is always patient and kind, it is never jealous, never boastful or conceited, or rude or selfish. Yes, all this is true. But the list also states that love delights in the truth. A prophet is not someone who is harsh and heartless. Rather, he is a person so full of love for God and his people that he is prepared to risk being rejected by his own people in speaking the truth to them.

Today, we are challenged to become such prophets. Love must be our motivation. Without love, we cannot be true prophets – we are only complainers and critics. Let us pray for the strength and the courage to speak the truth, but always to do so with love.

Clergy Annual Pastoral Assembly 2010

The Presbyterium of the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur came together in Bayu Beach Hotel, Port Dickson, from the 26th to the 28th of January, for the Clergy Annual Pastoral Assembly (CAPA). In conjunction with the Year of the Priest and the PMPT theme which focused on the missionary aspect of discipleship, the theme chosen for this year's CAPA was "The Priest as Leader of the Missionary Community."

The theme was addressed from various angles: the priest's personal understanding of his own priesthood, people's perception and expectation of the priesthood, the leadership of priests in the light of Church documents and teachings, the fraternal community of the presbyterium, and finally the person of St. John Marie Vianney, seen as the model for priests. The process involved personal testimonies by priests from a cross section of the presbyterium, small group sharing, report on survey conducted by The Herald, theological reflections,movie review highlighting the spirituality of St. John Marie Vianney, and para-liturgical action of feet washing. The clergy generally felt that there was a need to find an integral balance between the relational and ministerial aspect of their priesthood, between pastoral and mission-oriented focus of their ministry, between the 'identity' (being) and 'ministry' (doing)that characterises their priesthood, between being leaders of faith communities and being part of a community of fellow priests.

More photos on Facebook.

Friday, January 22, 2010

This text is being fulfilled today ...

Third Ordinary Sunday Year C

What does the Bible mean to you? Whenever you hear the readings during the Liturgy of the Word, what are your feelings? Do you feel encouraged by these readings or challenged by them? Do you really pay attention to the readings or are you just waiting to receive holy communion? If we have never really paid attention to the readings read during the Liturgy of the Word or taken the trouble to read and study the bible, we may, perhaps, have left out one of the most important aspects of the Mass – the Liturgy of the Word. The liturgy of the Word is no less important than the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Both are equally important. Jesus who is truly present in the blessed sacrament is also present in the word proclaimed during the first half of the mass.

In the Gospel, Jesus reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He attributes what he has read to himself. He is the Word of God. He is the Word made flesh. He is the Word of life. This is the purpose of the Word of God: “to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.” If we have not really been paying attention to the readings every Sunday, we may perhaps have lost out on these promises. If we turn our ears away from hearing God’s word, we will only hear ‘bad news’ – the bad news which society and our experiences feed us with everyday of our lives. The good news of the Bible is this – that in spite of all the evil that we see, hear and experience in this world of ours, God’s salvation is far greater. The good news is that Jesus, the Word of God, has conquered evil and death. Yes, we continue to experience many problems and difficulties, but we believe that God has already won the victory through Jesus Christ. This is our good news. We are no longer poor because Jesus has promised us the treasures of heaven, treasures that will not eaten by moth or turn to dust – everlasting life.

Those who fail to listen to God’s word continue to be trapped and imprisoned by their fears and addictions. Jesus promised us that he has come to proclaim liberty to the captives. If we listen to him, we too can experience this liberation. The most important freedom is internal freedom – it is only eternal freedom that can promise lasting joy. Those of us who fail to listen to God’s word will continue to be blind. We will continue to be blind to our own mistakes and our sinfulness. We will continue doing things as if everything was alright. A blind man is in a worst position when he doesn’t realize that he is blind. If you feel that everything is going wrong in your life, if you feel that the burden of tragedies and problems after problems, Jesus has come to set you free. Jesus has come to set the downtrodden free and to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.

In Asian society, the teacher has a place of high standing in society. We are to treat our teachers with reverence as how we treat our parents. Likewise, within the Church, those members who have been given the position of teaching and instructing and of spreading God’s word are given the first place. This does not mean that they are to be treated as better than others in the community. The reason for giving them the first place is because of the Word of God which has been entrusted to them. The Word of God must have a central and prominent place within the community. Likewise, the Word of God must also be the basis of each of our lives. It is not enough to recite prayers and attend mass. These are good. But what is far better, is the need to study and read the Bible so that the Word of God can become our daily guide. When we constantly read the bible and listen attentively to the readings at every Mass, the Word of God will find fulfillment in our lives. Then, we can echo the words of Jesus as he says: “This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.”

Thursday, January 14, 2010

When the wine runs out ...

Second Ordinary Sunday Year C

St. Paul in today’s second reading tells us: “There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit; there are all sorts of service to be done, but always the same Lord; working in all sorts of different ways in different people; it is the same God who is working in all of them.” Do we agree with this statement? If we agree with this statement, can we see it happening in our own parish? Do we see a variety of gifts manifested in different ways in our parish? Do we see God’s spirit working in this parish through the many people who volunteer for ministry? Are you using your gift for the service of the community and the Church?

If God wishes his church and his community to grow stronger, he will certainly provide it with all the gifts necessary to do so. God will not fail his community. Nevertheless, we sometimes fail God and the community. This happens when we do not acknowledge our gifts and the gifts of others in the community. A community can only flourish if its members are able to recognize their own gifts and are able to affirm one another gifts. A community is in real danger of being destroyed if its members are only always expecting something from others and who are not prepared to give or share. A community is in real danger when its members are constantly criticizing and finding fault with one another. A community is in real danger when the gifts of its members are suppressed rather than identified and nurtured. A community is in real danger of being destroyed when the wine runs out.

Today’s gospel tells the story of the wedding at Cana. This joyous occasion nearly ended in tragedy because the most important element that was keeping the party going had finished – they ran out of wine. Sometimes, when we see the same people serving in the Church growing older and older with each passing year without any successor, we begin to think that the wine is also running out. No Wine, no new leaders, no new plans, no new members, no Holy Spirit! The END! Do you think that our parish, is heading in this direction? Do you think that our wine is running out and we are about to ‘close shop’?

Thousands of years ago, the people of Israel also thought that the destruction of their country meant the end of everything. They were called the “Forsaken” and “Abandoned” People. But Isaiah in the first reading gives an entirely different message. It is a message of hope. All is not lost because God will return to redeem them. They will be called by a new name, they will receive a new glory, they will be called “My Delight” and “The Wedded” for God has taken delight in them again. God has renewed his covenant with them – God has wedded them again. What brought about the change? They realized that glory and blessings came from God alone. No human power, riches or glory will last. Eventually all these things will run out. Only God’s blessings remain. Only God can ensure that the wine will never run out.

All is not lost! The wine need not run out. This community still has a chance to grow and become stronger. Firstly, we must recognize that we need conversion. We need God and Christ to become the center of our lives. We can no longer think that we can solve all our problems through human efforts. If we have the ability to solve problems, it is the ability which is given none other by God. If this community is to survive and grow, each of us must experience a conversion of heart. We need to be re-evangelised. If we have become complacent and satisfied with what we have, its time to wake up. It’s not enough to maintain the things that we have. The community and the church must grow; if not, it will die. Let us then pray that our community will be renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit and that we will come to recognize our gifts and how we can use these gifts in the service of the Church.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Driven by Love

Feast of Baptism of the Lord

What is the thing that you want most in life? Big car … good family … loving husband or a loving wife … filial children. Whatever it is you want most in life – that thing is the thing which you believe will bring the greatest happiness into your life. In other words, the thing which we want most in life is happiness. Pursuit of happiness is the driving force of life.

We work hard, we choose friends and the person we want to marry, we try to get good grades in school, good jobs – hoping that at the end of it all we will be happy. We try to please others hoping that they will come to accept us and love us. But let me tell you the truth – happiness is not something that we can achieve. Happiness is never the reward of doing something well. We can never buy happiness.

Rather, happiness is a gift from God. It is a gift freely given by God to those open to receive it. Happiness is knowing in the depths of one’s heart that one is truly loved by God. Happiness is knowing that we are loveable and that we are precious in the eyes of God. No matter how others may see us, no matter how others may judge us, nothing can change this single reality – we are loved by God.

This knowledge was the driving force behind Jesus. At his baptism, Jesus received this beautiful words from God the Father – “This is my Son, the Beloved, my favour rests on him.” Knowing that he was loved by his Father in heaven, Jesus began his mission to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God. Although he faced many setbacks, although he was criticized and hated by many people, although he was rejected by his own relatives and neighbours, although he was betrayed by his own disciples, Jesus never waivered in his resolve. Only one thing mattered to him – knowing that he was loved by God and nothing … absolutely nothing can change that. On the cross, in the midst of his pain and loneliness, Jesus was sustained by the knowledge of God’s love for him and that God will never abandon him at this moment of his greatest need.

This is what God wants to tell each of you: “You are my Son. You are my daughter. You are precious. I love you very much!!!” We don’t have to prove ourselves to God. We don’t have to show him that we are good or that we are perfect. God loves us in spite of our sins and weaknesses.

If we live each day with this knowledge of God’s love for us, we will not easily give up especially when we are faced with criticism from others. Whenever we celebrate the Mass, we are reminded again and again that we are loved by God. It was because of love, that God sent his only Son to die for us. Jesus, who gives his body and blood, is living proof of this. The mass is proof of God’s love. Because we are loved by God, let us now share this love with every other person.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Star is Born

Have you ever dreamt of being a movie star? Have you ever wished you could be a famous singer, or at least a famous karaoke singer? Even if you didn’t have these ambitions, there must be some time in your life when you wanted to be the center of attention. You wanted to be a star. For example, young children often cry or act naughty to get the attention of their parents. Adults are no different. We sulk and we throw tantrums in order to get attention. We feel jealous whenever other’s get the attention.

Today’s gospel is also about stars – many different stars but only one true Star. We have the bright star shining in the sky indicating to the wise men of the East the place where the Messiah was to be born. Was this the Star, the one true Star? No. This star only showed the way. Then we have the wise men. On the feast of the Epiphany, we usually place the statues of the three kings in the crib to indicate the visit of the wise men, who were not actually kings. Many people often think that these kings or wise men are the stars of today’s celebration. But they’re not the stars of the day. They were searching and making their way to the true star. Then there is King Herod. King Herod had great ambitions. He wanted to be the greatest king of his dynasty. He wanted to rival King David and Solomon. It is true that he controlled the largest territory in his dynastic line. But, he was still an insignificant vassal ruler in the massive Roman empire. King Herod wanted to be a star. He wanted to be THE Star but fell far short of it. When you are insecure and frightened of losing your position and power, you will make sure that there are no other rivals. This is the reason why Herod wanted to know the location of the Messiah so that he could get rid of his rival. Herod felt that there can only be one star and it had to be Herod himself.

King Herod was partly right. There has to be only one Star. One star which lights the way. One star that brightens the darkness. One star that points the way to salvation. One star where we can place all our hopes and aspirations. Jesus is that Star. Today’s feast is precisely about Jesus. It is not Herod, nor the wise men, nor even the star which should the way to find Jesus. Today’s feast about Jesus, the star which brightens the darkness of our lives and shows the way to salvation for all mankind. If Jesus is the Star of our lives, we cannot have other stars. Power, money, riches, feng shui, idols, charms – these can no longer be ‘stars’ in our lives. There is only one Star and he must be Jesus.

Three things are revealed about Jesus in today’s gospel. The three gifts are symbolic of this revelation. The gift of gold symbolizes the kingship of Christ. Jesus Christ is a king, but not like any other kings. His kingdom is not of this world. It is the kingdom of justice, peace and love. It is the kingdom which is established in the hearts of every man or woman who open themselves to God and allow God to be the Lord of their lives. It is the kingdom of humble service rather than of power. The second gift is the gift of frankincense. Incense is used in worship This gift symbolizes the divinity of Christ. Christ is no mere human person. He is God. He is God made man. He is God with us. Finally, we have the gift of myrrh which is used for burial. This last gift points to the passion of Christ. Christ must suffer and die in order for the world to be saved. This is his destiny. We as his followers must also be prepared to follow his way of living and even follow him on the way to the cross.

Today, we too pay homage to the greatest Star that was ever born. He is not any famous singer or actor. He isn’t a great king or a philosopher. He is so much more than all these things. He is Jesus. He is our Lord. He is our Saviour. He is our King.