Dec 3, 2016
At this time of the year, with preparations underway for the Christmas festivities, the holiday lights that adorn some of our homes of course only make sense when the sun goes down and it's dark outside. The usual string of lights often serve to draw our attention away from the scrapes and scratches on the door, the streaks on the glass of the window and the dead leaves in the gutters that, thank God, nobody sees, unless they are up a ladder! As beautiful and charming as the holiday lights are and a welcome delight to see, communicating to the outside world a hint of warmth and festive cheer, they do not always reflect that same ideal spirit working behind the scenes, inside the house, in the kitchen, living room or dining room for example. At times, the lights are on, but nobody’s home!
Maybe this is why the images painted by the Prophet Isaiah in the first reading are so beautiful to imagine - the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, the calf and the young lion grazing together guided by a little child - but we know instinctively that’s not going to happen anytime soon. And even on this side of the aisle the adornment of this sacred space, the particular colors we choose, the placement of the candles and lingering waft of incense, are all very visible to our eye and simulate our senses to look upward and beyond. But sometimes they too can betray the hidden tension, the struggles and challenges we often live with in the secret of our heart and souls.
Light and darkness are not always opposed to each other. Sometimes, they actually compliment each other, work with each other, making visible subtle details, texture, adding shape and dimension of what might otherwise be presumed as flat and uninteresting. The interplay between light and darkness, even in our own lives, defines our heart and soul - our character.
To help tease this out, the prophet John the Baptist takes center stage in the Gospel this Sunday. To the untrained eye one might think of him as an uncompromising short of guy. Far from it! It is unfortunately sometimes easy, if not convenient, to build up an image a holy man in “black and white” terms, for then I have already made up my mind. I have a readymade excuse just to listen to his words without reflecting upon the deeper meaning of what he is saying to me. With God’s grace, what in my conscience, in my soul, is awakened, aroused when I not only listen, but reflect on his message? Maybe my own arrogance has allowed me to see only what I want to see and hear only what I want to hear!
But there is something quite tender in the message of John the Baptist. Whereas we can use stones to build up great structures to protect ourselves, or use stones to throw at people, John the Baptist reminds us that God can also use these very same hardened stones - and turn them into children! What does that say? God seeks to transform the hardened heart into a complex and intricate heart of flesh - for it is a heart humble and contrite He will never turn away.
But finally, because we need, not a tug of war, but instead a sacred sense of tension in our hearts, John the Baptist provides us with an image of a mighty axe that seems poised and ready to do its job. Yet even while bringing it so near in a mighty swoop, it stops short, inches away from the root of the tree, as if frozen in time. Maybe that is because God’s grace comes to us, not like a lightning bolt to tear us apart but rather like an unquenchable flame that we can warm up to gradually - allowing it to comfort, as well as slowly cleansing us of all our impurities outside as well as inside. So, let us ask God to rescue us, even from ourselves, by finding a hidden way into our hearts and souls so that, with His grace, we might judge wisely the things of earth in all their goodness while holding on to the things of heaven that are eternal.
Nov 28, 2016
I have lived a life of 50 years. That’s more or less 18,000 days. Hoping my calculations are correct, during that time, I have slept, more or less, 54,000 hours. That’s roughly 2, 276 days. I have therefore been asleep for 6 years! Maybe you have been asleep longer or less than me. For the most part, I have had my fair share of dreams and nightmares, of tossing and turning and of being as “snug as a bug in rug”!
But for most of us who are busy during the day and trying to get as much done as we can, sleep is the ultimate heresy. It tells us to stop doing what we are doing. It reminds us that we cannot be in control 24 hours a day. Maybe that’s the reason why so many people do not sleep well. I know of only one man who was able to sleep soundly in a small fishing boat while it was being tossed around by a raging storm, and that was on the Sea of Galilee!
So how we approach the morning of a new day, very much depends on a good night’s sleep. So, this evening, before we go to bed, we should want to put to rest the sins that can keep us up all night and make us restless throughout the following day. It’s not just the body and the mind, in preparation for the challenges of new day, that needs to rest. The soul likewise does. So, tonight, after we send our sins to their final resting place through the Sacrament of Confession, may the following words from Scripture that speak of the Advent of the Lord’s arrival, but only after a good night's sleep, be welcomed, in anticipation of a new day -
A Reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans
"Brothers and sisters: You know the time;
it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.
For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed;
the night is advanced, the day is at hand.
The Word of the Lord
As I will now point my brother priests to their places to assure you individually of the mercy of God, it remains for me to wish you a very good night and to sleep well!
Nov 26, 2016
Psalm 122 (121) 1-9
For hundreds of millions of years, God gently allowed the universe to quietly awake and gently stretch out - reaching out to touch heaven itself. And yet, He who created time, never fails to see it all - the past, the present and the future, even in its final glory and beauty.
But we are often caught in a blind spot - time and time again, seeing our lives and world as a continuously repeating rhythm of coming and going. It sometimes feels like we are caught in a hamster’s wheel, unable to escape or fearing that it will eventually wear out, becoming dislodged and sending us head-over-heels.
So, during this Holy Season of Advent, the message we should hear loud and clear and never forget, is “Trust in God’s grace to break free and make a run for it! His hand is stretched out. Grasp it!”. (cf. Collect for First Sunday of Advent)
At the same time, He knows our fears, our anxieties and the burdens we carry. God doesn't force us to make the jump. He does not throw on all the lights at once. That might overwhelm us. We might freeze in fear. Instead, like the gentle colors of the dawn, He gives us the necessary time to carefully wake up. But be warned; if you hit the snooze button, you’re back on the hamster’s wheel!
Maybe like the chirping of birds that we hear first thing in the morning as they greet the approaching new day, God likewise provides us with various messengers. They are like coaches, mentors, who from their high place first signal to us the approaching light. These early morning messengers alert us to get ready, to prepare for our run towards our heavenly goal.
Our first guides this morning are the prophet Isaiah, a psalmist and St. Paul. Isaiah asks us to enter into the vision of a new day that will lead us on a journey to a place where the earth will touch heaven. The psalmist is our day-planner showing us the path and where the day will lead us. But in that morning hour when you are tempted to stay in bed and dream upon these beautiful visions, St. Paul, in the second reading comes knocking on the door calling out with a note of urgency, “Brothers and sisters: You know the time; it is the hour for you to awake from sleep!”
Christ reminds us through the Gospel, that we should treat every day as our only day- a day that will point us, without fear, to a day that will never end. That means that this Holy Season of Advent is not simply four weeks every year to remind us that Christmas is coming. Advent begins every single morning as we open our eyes - that gentle dawn of the morning is God’s quiet invitation to break free from an old, repetitive day that alone should be put to rest.
Nov 23, 2016
This day has come to be held sacred in the fabric of our nation’s identity since the day it was established as a national holiday in 1777. However, the ritual of a thanksgiving meal goes deeper. It is especially ingrained into the very heart and soul of every Christian after the manner of Christ, “for on the night he was betrayed, he himself took bread, and giving thanks, he said the blessing”.
For two thousand years, we have done likewise within the context of the Mass, which we also call “Eucharist” which literally means “Thanksgiving”. It is founded, not simply on giving thanks “for” our blessings, but giving thanks “to” our heavenly Father “through Christ our Lord, through whom [he has] bestow on the world all that is good”.
Always mindful of this sacred duty, the first wave of Europeans who came to these shores, they being the Spanish pilgrims, did likewise. When they arrived in Florida on September 8th, 1565, at what is now the city of St. Augustine, the first thing they did was to fast from the night before and, once they set foot on the land celebrated the Eucharist in the open air. Immediately afterwards, the priest, Father Francisco Lopez arranged for the Spanish settlers and the local native American Timucua tribe to sit around a common table for a first thanksgiving meal to be offered in our nation’s history. Not turkey and stuffing, but more likely tortillas and pulled pork!
But is that not the nature, the flavor of the word that describes our Christian character - the word Catholic? It simply means, all inclusive, universal, everyone’s included - it’s what distinguishes us from denominational groups - for around our table, whether they eat our food or bring their own, for two thousand years there’s always been room for every culture, language, tribe and nation.
Even the Pilgrim Fathers would be taught this lesson when they arrived at Plymouth Rock. The first Thanksgiving meal enjoyed by the Puritans was incredibly and surprisingly, arranged in fact by a Catholic! He had went out of his way to ensure the pilgrims were fed, properly sheltered for the fast coming winter and stayed to teach them how to farm the inhospitable land. He was not an Italian nor an Irishman! He was, in fact, a native American. His name, as historians tell us, was Squanto, also also known as Tisquantum, from one of the New England Wampanoag tribes.
Six years before the Pilgrims arrived, Squanto, probably in his late 20’s, had been kidnapped by an English explorer who had every intention of selling him to the Spanish as a slave. However, Catholic clergymen who opposed slavery and human trafficking, intervened and rescued him. He later received instruction in the Christian Faith, was baptised, and became Catholic and was sent home.
It was on Squanto's ancestral tribal lands that the Pilgrims arrived to establish their colony. Unlike any other native American, Squanto took it upon himself to help them, not only to settle in their new surroundings. He negotiated a peace between the pilgrim settlers and the local natives. It was celebrated by a joint meal of gratitude. Overlooked in many of our history books, the nation owes a debt of gratitude to this one, solitary Native American Catholic, who set the stage for, and also set the menu for the first Thanksgiving Day dinner in 1622.
So as we gather for our Sacred Eucharist, and maybe like our Native American Catholic brother, Squanto, we, in this parish family setting, can also be forever grateful to God for putting deep into our hearts and souls a sacred hunger for the food that comes from the Table of the Lord. The menu for this meal, the Resurrected and Heavenly Body and Blood of Christ, can secure us on our own pilgrim journey into eternity. Let us therefore give thanks for this sacred gift and praise for the Giver of every good gift, through Christ our Lord. Amen
Nov 19, 2016
There are two famous landmarks that, from a distance, look remarkably the same. One is relatively modern. Built in the 19th century, it stands 555 feet tall on the grounds of the National Mall. It is the Washington Monument - the tallest single stone structure in the world, this colossal obelisk was built to honor our first president. No building in Washington D.C. is permitted to be built higher. (Maybe that’s the reason the Trump Tower which stands at a hundred feet taller was built in New York, and not in our nation's capitol!)
If it had eyes, the Washington Monument would have witnessed the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln as president, wept over a nation torn apart by civil war, listened attentively to Martin Luther King, and gazed down upon the hundreds of thousands braving the cold winters for the annual March for Life.
The other monument, remarkably similar in structure, is an ancient Egyptian obelisk, built in the 19th century before Christ was born. If it had eyes, it would have watched curiously the arrival to Egypt of the young exile Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers. It would have welcomed the sons of Jacob who fled to the land of the pharaohs as refugees. It would have also stood silently in the background watching Moses negotiating the liberation from slavery of the Hebrew people. It would have witnessed the Exodus of the Chosen People, as they departed Egypt for their arduous journey to the Promised Land. And it would waited patiently for over a thousand years to welcome a young family with a baby who travelled a long and dangerous journey from Bethlehem seeking protection in Egypt as exiles - of course they were Joseph and Mary and Christ himself.
Of that Egyptian obilex, a few years after Christ was crucified and rose from the dead, the Romans transported it with great effort and presented it as a gift to the emperor to adorn an arena in Rome. Now it was forced to watch the blood sports of the gladiators mercilessly slaughtering thousands, including countless Christians martyred for their faith. And it would also became the silent witness to the crucifixion of St. Peter, the Galilean fisherman to whom Christ gave the Keys of the Kingdom of heaven.
Remarkably, this Egyptian obillex remained intact after Rome burned and when the Roman Empire collapsed and crumpled around it. But today, it stands in the middle of St. Peter’s Square, and the People of God from around the world, of every language, from every culture and tradition gather around it every Sunday united in prayer with the successor of St. Peter.
Unlike the Washington Monument, as impressive as it is, this ancient stone monument in St Peter’s Square, which for nearly four thousand years witnessed the rise and fall of earthly powers and governments - this enduring obelisk has itself been conquered. For on top of it, there is now a cross. And chiseled deep into its granite, around its base are the words, "Christus Vincit, Christus Regnat, Christus Imperat. Christus ab omni malo plebem suam defendat." (Christ is the victor, Christ is the King, Christ is the ruler, May Christ defend His people from all evil).
My dear friends, on this commendation of Christ the King, let it remind us never to look to the powers of this world, be they political systems, ideologies or earthly personalities, to give us what only God can offer. As citizens of this earthly dominion, may we never forget that Christ Himself is always our true and merciful Shepherd always ready to forgive and heal the world, wounded by sin and the ambitions of men. May Christ, the strong and true foundation of our patience, our endurance and our determination always reign in our hearts and lives. For all time and all history belong to Him and no other. Viva Cristo Rey!
Nov 12, 2016
Where is our heart right now?
Malachi 3:19-20, Luke 21:5-19
The words of Scriptures that the Church has given to us today, as we fast approach the end of the year, might provoke in our hearts to a sense of “gloom and doom” regarding the future. On the other hand, one might take delight with “out with the old and in with the new”. Depending where you stand, one might be optimistic or pessimistic.
The first might say “Everything is good, and I am happy for change”. The pessimist might say everything is bad, and I am angry because of change”. But everything is not all good even though many rejoice. Not everything is all bad either, even though many despair.
Some will say that all the ills and conflicts we see are the result of sin and greed and that the guilty should be held accountable. Others will say that it is simply a test of our endurance, keep calm and carry on, it will all work out! However, the glee of optimism or the gloom of pessimism betray and obscure us from our most important obligation - each of us, all of us, live in a common home, share a common land, and live our lives according to a common law of the land. We may agree or disagree about interpretation. But we have a common responsibility to each other and to everyone’s happiness and salvation so that “God’s Kingdom will come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.
At the same time, our uniqueness, our ingenuity, our industry and our idealism are deeply rooted in a shared, common belonging to a bold experiment begun by our founding fathers. The gift of freedom and the pursuit of happiness enshrined into our nation’s soul, was not to be the exclusive possession of only those who lived in the original thirteen colonies. It was a gift to be passed on to all who would come after them - including generations of immigrants, exiles and refugees. We owe a debt of gratitude to everyone who made tremendous sacrifices before we even lifted a finger - to the countless individuals and their families who worked the land, bent the metal, poured the concrete, built up our nation brick by brick - from the farmer, the engineer, those in uniform to those in shorts and tshirts.
Regardless of challenges and opportunities, setbacks and even wars, the American dream always looks forward with hope. We do so, not simply for ourselves, not out of pride so that our nation would be the envy of the world. Like those who came before us, we do so because we are loyal to a great and wonderful ideal of what a free man can truly accomplish.
Given our present circumstances, it is of no service to our brothers and sisters when we are crudely pessimistic or unrealistically idealistic. The point is, that when you commit yourself to the wellbeing of another person, a spouse, a family or even a nation, it is not enough to simply approve of them. You have to love them too, along with all their virtues and their vices, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer - “I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”
Does God not do likewise with us? His love does not paper over our sins. God does not spray-paint a sinner with mercy. He loves the sinner, transforming you and me from the very core of our being, not only making us loveable, but also beautiful - pleasing even to the eye. An example in front of us - we have turned a wooden table from two thousand years ago, into a beautiful marble altar - not because we wanted to improve it or show it off. We transformed the table of the Lord’s Last Supper into a work of art. Because we loved that old wooden table, we honored it, and cherished it. Our love and our efforts transformed it into something incredibly beautiful.
Christians, after the manner of Christ, can never be content with a philosophy of live and let live. God’s grace has us embrace a theology of love - loving the God-given beauty and dignity that belongs, not only to creation but also to every single person, whatever race, creed or background. This love and our passion has the power to transform and reimagine. It demands of us, not simply civility and good manners, but also a profound respect and honor to be given to each other as common brothers and sisters made in the image and likeness of God. Is this not the common rule- “Love thy neighbor as thyself”, written by God into the hearts of everyone? This is why joyous gloating and rebellious anger are so evil - Neither attitude is able to love one's neighbor, they are too busy loving themselves - but that is not love -it’s instead selfishness, regardless of the rhetoric or excuse.
But does this mean that we must be eternal optimists? No. For we are rational human beings. Is there and should there be a place for criticism? Of course there is. Christ Himself criticized many in His day, as He saw the persistent injustices against the poor by the rich, the mighty against the disenfranchised, between one race of people against another. He expressed His anger many times; He even took it to the temple and onto the streets! But He did so out of love, not out of ridicule, revenge or rage. His motive was not to punish or exile the sinner, but to save them. And it showed. For the love of Christ that we must imitate cannot be carefully measured or even rational. Like the love of God expressed in the Gospel today, our love, lit by the fire of God’s passion, can be as earth-shattering as it can be creative - a love which breaks down barriers, builds bridges, heals wounds and restores sinners for the sake of Kingdom of God. Because His love and mercy threatened the established order, Our Lord was condemned and crucified by the rich and poor alike, while at the same time He offered His passionate love to saint and sinner, to Jew and Gentile, and to friend and foe alike.
Therefore our love for God, for our nation, for our neighbor and for the stranger, cannot be simply political, intellectual, erratic or emotional. Our love has to be as revolutionary as the Cross of Christ and as powerfully beautiful as His resurrection from the dead.
So how can I pledge an eternal allegiance to God or a lifetime allegiance to the flag and at the same time my heart is hardened or stubborn, or is being tossed about by fear or uncertainty?
Every Sunday before we stand to profess our common faith through the words of the Creed we have to first call to mind our failings. We place our hand over our heart acknowledging three times we are sinners in need of God’s mercy. The next time we pledge our allegiance to our flag, do likewise. But this time, do so with a hand placed upon a compassionate and humble heart that has allowed itself to be moulded and shaped like Christ’s. Yes, it has been pierced through with the strategic thrust of a sword and punctured by an angry swarm of thorns, but it is a heart on fire with God's merciful love that endures forever and for everyone. Our tender heart must reflect His.
Nov 5, 2016
With the clocks going back one hour, daylight saving time has ended! This means that our daily routine will have the benefit of some extra sunlight in the morning. We could do with it, especially around now! I think it's best to begin each day welcoming the gift of light and sunshine, rather than rising each morning, cursing the lingering darkness. Dark mornings can sometimes be mistaken as an ominous sign - a kind of carrier of bad news. On the other hand, freshly squeezed orange juice in the morning always seems to appear a more refreshing sign of new life than a Sadducee’s pre-programed predictable pot of black coffee slowly stewing away in the darkness of a kitchen corner!
For the Christian, we can never become bored with a new day and the possibilities God invites us to discover. It can never simply be the monotonous repetition of the same-old yesterday. Maybe, that’s what Our Lord was hinting at when He said in today’s Gospel that the children of this present age, continually lend themselves to a pattern of simply getting married and then getting remarried, again and again - a kind of person who, easily unsatisfied and cringes at the first sign or hint of darkness, they simply repeat their lives over and over again, never open to surprises, new life, easily bored with the predictable, who dig themselves deeper and deeper into the same hole that will never see light, wasting away the gift of time, wasting life and opportunities God has in store for us each new day.
And we can be guilty of this - wasting too much time worrying about a tomorrow that will never come - worried too much about an election and forgetting that we are called to be the elect of heaven, worried too much about the state of our country and forgetting about the state of our souls, our relationships, worried too much about how the next four years will be and forgetting what one’s eternity might be.
At a time when our nation seems more divided than ever, and insults and fear-mongering have become like a new art of warfare, a Christian, while not ignoring the night they have left behind, or the valley of darkness we must at times pass through, we must also greet each new day (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, but especially when the sun rises on Wednesday morning !) as a gift.
And every time we anticipate that the sun will rise, a Christian can not let any gift of a new day begin with fear, anger or resentment. That is why the Lord’s voice in the Gospel we hear this Sunday is calling out to remind us that those “who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead...are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.” And rise to new life we must! May this Holy Mass, on the first day of the week, provide for us the strength of the Resurrected Body of Christ and food for the journey before us.