Jan 15, 2022

The Baptism of the Lord

The Baptism of the Lord

Some time ago I had led a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to visit the historical sights associated with Christ. 

A rare opportunity was opened for us to also visit the river Jordan in whose waters Jesus was baptised, as we read in the Gospel today. We had even planned to wade into the river, to renew a sense of our own baptism in the waters that Christ had once been baptised in. 

As we approached the banks, we looked at the river. It was filthy! Parts of it were stagnant. You could see trash and plastic objects floating in it, even here and there a shimmer of oil on the surface. The water was brown and smelly, flies and insects danced on its surface. Even an occasional dead fish floated by! God only knew what lay beneath it. It was repugnant. Instinctively, I knew this place was a major health hazard.

Was I going to even touch this water, even dip my finger into it, to at least bless myself?  

I read and meditated on the Gospel we have just heard, recalling Christ being baptised in this river. It then occurred to me, during Christ’s time this very river that flowed into the desert was used by towns and villages upstream to dump their human waste. Now that I looked into this filthy dirty water before me, I realized how disgusting and vile it must’ve been 2000 years ago, used as a floating dumpster for humanity. What was Christ getting himself into?

As pilgrims, passing through this world, we can visit the sites associated with Christ’s life, death and resurrection but we can keep ourselves clean, sanitized, on the outside looking in or reviewing our Lord’s life like a picture book, a movie or walking through a museum. 

God did not tiptoe through the murky waters or walk carefully across stepping stones from one side of the river Jordan to the other. No. The word “baptism“ literally means “immersion”. 

God was no tourist to earth or a pilgrim visiting sites. The pure and the holy, the divine and sinless one, totally immersed Himself, plunged himself completely into the filth and horror, into the physical and spiritual (dare I call it…) waste of the human condition, into the dark depths, into the very bowels of human sin. He was baptized, not only into our life, but into our sickness, our diseases, our sins, our death. 

Do we as Christians remain on the riverbank peering in from a distance, astonished, removed, or from the sidelines, simply full of admiration for what Christ did? Can we hear His voice again that calls to us saying, “come follow me”. What? Follow you into your baptism, that baptism? 

That’s why we can not simply sit on the riverbank, or observe Christ’s life from a safe distance like tourists simply passing through. The grace initiated in our life when we were first baptised, still runs through us. Is that water still clean?  That’s why it is also so important to regularly examine our inner life. Doing so safeguards us slipping or falling down a muddy bank into an uncharted river whose contents and direction we know not.

With the closing of the Christmas season now upon us, meditate on how God immersed himself into the complexities of our human lives. But do not be afraid to immerse yourself deeper and deeper into his, so that we may come to share in the heights of his divinity because He dared to plunge Himself into the depths of our humanity. 

Dec 31, 2021

New Year of Grace 2022


Mary, Mother of God

As we are still within the Season of Christmas, the enduring image of the baby Jesus remains very much with us. It is "captured" in the manger scene before us. Indeed, for a whole week, Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the ox, and the donkey haven't moved one inch! They seem to have frozen in time as they gaze into the crib where the child has been perfectly positioned as if someone has pressed the pause button. Rather than listening to the conversations, real or imagined, that take place inside the Bethlehem stable, or listening to the music of angels in the background, we are allowed instead to meditate on the relationships between each of those present.

Today, at the beginning of a New Year, we reflect on the most natural relationship a baby can have with anyone. We see this again and again in the enduring image of Mary holding the Christ child, close to her. Mary's femininity can never be divorced from her motherhood - bringing this child into the world is what every cell in her body has prepared for.

Even though her arms cradle the little child, God's Word that has now become Flesh in Jesus does not speak in sentences, sermons or soundbites. At least, not for now. This baby must first be nurtured, fed, loved, allowed to grow strong in earthly wisdom and strength to become the world's savior. This does not happen overnight nor within a vacuum. It begins within the natural embrace of this holy mother and child and the trust that deepens and evolves between them.

But this is not just the natural trust between a mother and her child. It is a divine trust as this child is the physical embodiment of "God with us". God does not simply use Mary as a means to enter into our world. That would make Mary simply a surrogate. Instead, God entrusts himself, his physical well being to her. God trusts her with Himself. He allows Himself, as a small and vulnerable child, to be subject to her, to be influenced by her, to be taught by her.

Under her supervision, the Son of God will learn to pray in the Jewish tradition and how to read the Sacred Scriptures. Under her watchful eye, the Son of God will learn the social skills to engage with other children, families, elders, friends, and strangers. God allows Himself to be mothered. In doing so, God trusts Himself and His whole plan of salvation for humanity completely to Mary's motherhood and in doing so allows her to cooperate in our salvation.

For each of us who are baptized, our baptism is not a simple membership status in the Church.  Through baptism, we take upon ourselves the image of Christ himself. We become Christ to others, to the world. We are not self-made Christians. With so many influences around us, before us, in front of us, each providing so many lessons of how to live the Christian life, let us not forget that Christ is not an orphan child. He is the Son of God the Father and the Son of Mary His Mother.  

And if we are likewise to grow and mature into the image and likeness of Christ by God’s grace, will not Mary's motherhood also extend to us because she sees her son in you and me, and she loves him still, she loves us too. If God can trust her motherhood, what stops us allowing her to be also our own mother, to reach out to us, to hold us and teach us as she taught her Son - how to pray, how to listen, how to walk, and how to speak and proclaim the message of salvation to the waiting world.

Oct 2, 2021

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sunday Eucharistic Themes to keep in mind to apply to one’s life:
He took (choose), blessed, broke and gave.

See these Four Actions reflected in Christ’s life and yours. They are all united through, in and with the Sacrifice of Christ the Bridegroom out of love for the Church His Bride.

Meditation on the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time:

In days long ago, when a woman went into labor, no one knew for sure if the baby, about to be born, was a boy or a girl.  After the newborn emerged, you had to wait for the doctor, the nurse or midwife will enthusiastically declare, “It’s a boy! It’s a girl!”

Today, with the invention of ultrasound technology, an unborn baby's gender can be simply ascertained my an image on a screen. In short, using old-fashioned way or with modern science, you can tell simply by looking!

For each one of us here, as difficult as it is to imagine, our parents were once babies. Your mother was a little baby girl - your father, was once a little baby boy!

But the purpose of being a baby boy or baby girl is not to remain a baby. Within the safe environment and natural love of a family, we are mentored along the way, by fathers and mothers to arrive into adulthood. But the journey does not end there. the journey continues.

The First Reading tells us what happens next. That "a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh”. In other words, a boy becomes a man so that he can leave home and become a father. A girl becomes a woman so that she can leave home and become a mother.

But not so fast! Notice that the Sacred Scriptures tell us that when a man leaves his father and mother, we are told he is to cling, not simply to a woman, any woman but to “his wife”.  If the woman you are clinging to, or the man you are clinging to is not your husband, it is offensive to the sacred language of marriage. God defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman, of a husband to his wife in order, and here we go again, to take their own turn to be a mother and father – a family!

By his words and actions, Christ defines and clarifies the nature of this sacred and permanent relationship we call the sacrament of marriage.

Is there an indication that Christ was ever married?  Yes! From the cross, Christ the Bridegroom gave his life completely and without holding back anything – he gave his life to his Bride – the Holy Church. He continues to do so through the Sacrifice of the Mass. This is why we call the Eucharist the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

Notice that Christ reminds us in today's Gospel, that in the language of God concerning marriage, there is no talk of divorce. It may be in the civil language and indeed at Calvary, the civil voices called out to him to come down from the cross, to save himself. But breaking promises is not the language of God. Christ will never divorce himself from his bride.

And even though we have often times been unfaithful, Christ the Bridegroom has and always is faithful. He will never take back the ring! In good times, in bad times, in sickness or in health, for richer, for poorer, he is always faithful, even until death, death on a cross.  

It is for this reason that it is often a tragedy when the civil language of divorce threatens the sacred unity of a sacred marriage and the harmony of a family.  

It goes without saying, that preparation for marriage is crucially important and can never be entered into casually or impulsively, or as a matter of convenience.

 There were many times when Christ could have conveniently given his life for the sake of our salvation. He didn't do a practice run. Nor did he test out the cross for a while to see what it was going to be like. Instead, he chose his hour and his day, after much prayer, patience, preparation, and soul-searching so that he could do so freely. And to engaged couples who enter into the marriage covenant with Christ who rose from the dead, he assures them of supernatural help in good times and in bad times.

Never be afraid of the sacred language of marriage.  Never play it safe to simply be comfortable partners, even to cruise control into being a husband and wife or parents. Holy Marriage never stifles but always points toward cooperating with God in his work of creation, to be motherly and fatherly together. That's why, in the same breath, as our Lord clarifies the marriage relationship (in the Gospel today), he then says, “Let the children come to me, do not prevent them”.

So, let us pray in particular for our children and our young people, that they will be inspired by the examples of heroic man and women who become husbands and wives.  May they learn from our example how to be fatherly and motherly, not just for their own sake, but especially for the sake of future generations to come. May we all find a welcome and a place within the family home of Jesus in the company of Mary and Joseph.

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

(Catechism of the Catholic Church 369-373, 1601-1605, 1612-1617, 1638 ff)

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48 

Often times, when he hear the Scriptures read during the Mass, it can often seem that they appear out of thin air. Regretfully, not many of us can place the text in the "context" of the sequence of events or see the episode in the light of the big picture. And this is very important. 

So, regarding the first reading from the Old Testament (Numbers 11:25-29), for those of us who need a refresher, here's the scene. Single handedly, Moses has been looking after the. Hebrew people - remember he was the one who was chosen by God, not only to negotiate their release from slavery, he had also to, practically, lead them by the hand through the treacherous terrain towards the promised land. But one thing was for sure. Even though Moses had a personal relationship with God, he realized his own limitations in the very practical areas of life. 

He was one man, looking after thousands, trying to respond to their needs, their complaints, the fights that would at times break out among them, trying to restore hope in the midst of uncertainty, boosting the morale of the camp, in the midst of hunger and boredom. It is not surprising that Moses got so desperate at times, pulling his hair out and nearly driven to despair from the constant badgering and complaints of the ungrateful "chosen people"! 

Moses is physically tired, mentally exhausted. But there is something in his life, which can not be touched, or weakened by the world around him or the demands of the crowd. Because he was the chosen instrument by God to point his people in the direction of true freedom, Moses was privileged to have a particular friendship with God, a unique understanding. Moses was exposed to the glory of God, like no one other, and it showed. Every time he went away and rendezvoused with God, such as on Mount Sinai where he received the Ten Commandants, or in the tent of the Ark of the Covenant where he would enter, he always came back radiating that unique Spirit of God. 

It was that Spirit of God that gave Moses his faith, his courage, his resolute to lead the people forward. But at the same time, again and again along this difficult and often treacherous journey as he "pulled" the chosen people behind them, urging them continuously to "catch up", Moses was reminded of his own frailties, weaknesses and limitations - and we are not here talking about sin. 

There are just some things that we can not physically do - the burden is too much. There are challenges in life that we must face in order to fulfill our responsibilities, but we can find ourselves mentally or physically unable to respond. God provides help according to our needs. And we see that clearly spelt out in the Scriptures. The Spirit given to Moses was tailor made for him. But, to lighten its burden upon the body, that Spirit was freely shared with certain other individuals who understood his mission and his ministry. 

Christ can not offer the gift of true freedom to the world without our cooperation with him, not according to our own terms, but according to his. As a Christian, each one of us has been chosen, hand picked by Christ to extend to the world, a message which everyone must be able to hear and have the opportunity to respond to. Through people like you and me, the Spirit of Jesus has been given. But too often, we have become observers rather than receivers of his spirit. When we feel the pressures and obligations of being a Christian are too heavy, then how easy it is to look to the world, our culture, our society to provide the relief with so many of its appetizers. 

And this brings us to the Letter of Saint James, our second reading. He says, in so many words, "if you could only see yourself and how you handle the stresses of life" - how you respond. Instead of reaching out to Christ or simply obeying his commandments as the true solution to the pains of life, you instead put more faith in how you look in front of the mirror, or what you put into your body to give it a buzz, or the investments or things you buy in the attempt to, in some sort of way, "feel" secure. 

None of these are built to last. But if anyone dares tell you that the way you handle the stresses of life is immoral, or that the way you give into looking after your own needs is sinful, corrupt - then St. James predicts accurately how we would react. We will silence that voice so that it offers us no resistance, no shame or embarrassment. The best way to silence someone when we do not want him or her to unmask our selfishness, is "character assassination". It's effective. 

We shot the messenger to silence the message because the message is a threat to our guarded freedom. The freedom to feed ourselves until we burst, to spend until we can't pay back, to do whatever we want because we have to power to do it and get away with it - until we die. Too often we expect others to live our types of lifestyles and our values or silently accommodate us so that we can get on with life the way we want to live it. ill its most purest form the true power of freedom is to be able to, surprisingly, say no when you could easily say yes to any of the appetizing opportunities that this world, or our own little world, offers us to indulge in. 

True freedom, offered by Christ provides the self­discipline necessary so that we can resist the attractiveness to sin. The Gospel message is clear. Hell does exist, but it's not worth the risk. Do not be afraid to make sacrifices in order that Christ comes first in all things. 

If you truly do belong to Christ, then you will hear his voice, understand what he is asking of you and freely chose to live according to his standards. Psalm 19 sets all of this in context. "The Law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul". If you are assured that God's law offers you the best possible way of living life, then into·that life, you will also invite others to participate. 

The Spirit of Moses the Prophet was shared with the seventy elders, for them to join with him in leading the people from slavery to freedom. The Spirit of Christ the Priest has been shared with me and many men like me, so that I may share in the life of the Shepherd and there, to freely find the strength, the grace to lead this flock through the dangers of this world, to the safety of greener pastures, the place of true refreshment. Together, not as individuals who share each other's space, but as priest and priestly people sharing the body and blood of Christ, may we truly recognize our common responsibilities to each other, in our own particular way, for our own salvation and the salvation of the world which is in our hands.

Knowing our place


Click here for First Option Diocesan Homily and Resources on the Eucharist

Mark 9:30 - 37 

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

After Labor Day,  the season of summer unofficially comes to a close - the fall will officially begin.  Even with the arrival of cooler and darker mornings and longer shadows in the evenings, I get the sense that summer does not want to be put in it's box. 

Maybe, because it knows that it is, like a child, time to bed, it's not leaving without a heated protest (and we felt that last week).  And I'm sure that in the coming months of the fall, and even during the winter, with what we call the Santa Ana winds, the summer we thought was sleeping quietly, wakes up every so often and blows hot air at us.     

So, why do I bring this up?  It is because, the church calendar is very much in tune with the seasons.  Because the natural only makes sense when we see it in its relationship with the supernatural, our soul also senses changing patterns in our environment and surroundings. So, as we anticipate the the Last Rites and death of summer, the Church gives us today's selection of Scriptures for the Mass, so that we can meditate on how prepared we are to face the cold darkness - in all it forms, both visible and invisible. 

As if to assess our "readiness for the fall and winter", today's Entrance Antiphon spoke of crying out to the Lord in distress, in tribulation. The first reading from the Book of Wisdom has us meditate on the enemy's dark strategy. Psalm 54 comes from the anguish of a heart that fears betrayal. The Second Reading from St. James explores the internal origin of wars and conflicts. And the Gospel has Christ predicting his death and his resurrection.  But rather than issuing us with armor to go to the front lines or a defense strategy to prevent the fall, Our Lord presents us with a child - a child shall be our standard bearer. And then he embraces this little child in his arms? What does this mean?

If the Almighty God who created the immense universe out of nothing and filled it with so much, in all its splendor and all its terrifying and most beautiful complexity - If God, to whom the whole cosmos is but a speck of dust, became smaller still and allowed himself to be vulnerable, not afraid even to be mothered by a young girl, God asks us too, do not be afraid of becoming little. And as if to assure us even more, Christ places his arms around the little child. Allow Christ to protect you. If God who is unimaginably bigger than the whole universe can humble himself to become a man, can we not humble ourselves to be like a little child - his little child? 

The humility of God is his greatest strength. Our humility before the strength of God is his greatest gift to us. 

Back to the language of nature.  To paraphrase St. Augustine:  “Consider a tree: how as it grows, it must reach down deep into the earth so that it might shoot forth upwards. It anchors its roots deep in the ground so that it may reach the heavens.  Is it not from its humility (hidden from public view) that the tree can rise to great heights?  Without humility, there is no growth. Without deep and secure roots, yes, you might rise tall, but you easily collapse in the winter storm.”

The autumn will now teach the summer that if it is to see the springtime, it must step aside, be humble and even die to itself. May we not be afraid to do likewise, being held secure within the strong arms of the Lord.

Sep 15, 2021

Take Up Your Cross

Today’s Gospel (according to Mark) was written at a time when early Roman Christians were being arrested and tortured. Many of them suffered horrifying deaths, many of them were brutally crucified or thrown into cages to be ripped apart by lions and wild beasts.  

Let’s not forget, if you could, the cruelties inflicted upon our brothers and sisters in the Middle East, and those sadistic videos of hostages in orange jumpsuits being publicly executed for the whole world to see. With something like this going on in the background, the early Christians would listen to the same words of Christ we hear today,

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. "

Think about it. At the time of Christ, the cross was a reminder of what happened when you antagonized the authorities.  You were publicly crucified to death. The image of a cross was the reminder of a death sentence. Who goes into the battlefield handing the enemy the means to crucify them? Does it not seem logical to instead go to the front lines waving swords and plowing down anyone who stood in our way?

But how does the Enemy, in fact, defeat us? The enemy wants us to separate Christ from his Cross. It's the old trick of divide and conquer. It's when the devil pits one against the other. For example -   

1.  We place value on freedom, respect, on being tolerant, looking after the stranger, looking out for the poor. And this is commendable.

2.  We also place value on hard work, on making sacrifices, on long hours, on physical endurance, fighting against the odds, investing in our future, and often times at a great personal cost. These are noble qualities indeed.

We are at our best when these two values meet each other, cooperate together, value each other, rather than being pitted against each other. A household divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:25).

How does this translate into our Christian discipleship within the Church? We cannot be part of the Church, a disciple of Christ without carrying the cross. Christ will never allow himself to be separated or detached from it. Because the Church is Christ’s Body, as a Church we have to embrace the cross, the sins of the world, our own sins, the sins of the members of the Church.

But when the Enemy gets into our mind, we are often tempted to purify Christ and his Church from the very cross he is attached to.

When we are tempted to embrace Christ without his Cross, we can keep him all nice and beautiful, not a hair out of place - no pain, no suffering, no discipline, no sacrifice. He becomes a gentle teacher. The substitute teacher! A Christ without his cross, a Christian without embracing their own Cross, is weak, soft and nonessential. The Church without a cross becomes a simple social science project.  

When we are tempted to embrace the Cross without Christ, our pride will tell us we have all the strength we need to carry it ourselves. Why do we need Christ or God's grace, when we can be self-made superheroes who can lift the cross up high and threaten to drop it on the heads of our enemies. A cross without Christ is a logo, a brand mark to be designed, marketed and mass produced.

In the words of a third-century North African saint, St. Cyprian of Carthage, before he was beheaded on the shores of the Mediterranean by a politically driven lynch mob, some of them former disciples, he asked “how can anyone think themselves a Christian when they are afraid or ashamed to live as a Christian? How can a Christian hope to be with Christ in heaven someday, when they are embarrassed or afraid to belong to Christ and his Church on earth this very day?”

Let us ask our Blessed Mother for a share in her Good Friday strength. It allowed her not only to courageously stand beside the cross of her Son. At the same time, she fully opened her immaculate heart to the grace of God's sacrificial love for all of humanity. May we, with God's grace, do likewise.

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sep 6, 2021

“O my word!”

Words are very important to God. His word is creative - “Let there be Light”. In a way, the darkness heard God’s Word. And there was Light!

Throughout the Old Testament accounts of the interaction of God and his people, God speaks. The People listen. They respond to his words. “Speak Lord, your servant is listening”. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts”.  
Hearing God’s word is very important.  But, too often our own words get in the way. Text messages, emails, tweets, blogs, social media, comments, responses, reactions, quotes, and even sermons. The printed and typed word or text we are so used to today doesn't come so much from the breath. They come more from the tapping or the thumping of a keyboard. Our words are easily copied, pasted, edited, translated, printed, posted, rehashed and even deleted.
Our own words can also come back to haunt us. Nearly 100 years ago, a Boston politician (Martin Lomasney) warned his young interns, “Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink”!  
But then, how do we interpret silence, innuendo, or an off the cuff remark? Case in point: Having a bad day, after feeling betrayed by his one-time close advisor, returning to his private quarters King Henry II of England lamented to himself out loud, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?” Some royal bodyguards overheard the remark, sought out the archbishop and brutally murdered him at the altar of his own cathedral! Learning what happened, the King was horrified and later begged God for forgiveness.
So, how do you interpret the words you hear? How do you use your words and the power of speech? Maybe this would have been an important question to ask the deaf man who had a speech impediment before he was brought to Christ who opened his ears to hear and loosened his tongue to speak? Maybe, years later his mouth might have got him into trouble! Maybe, when he would later hear Christ preaching, he could he have misinterpreted the Lord’s words he heard or thought he heard?

Often we will hear it say, “That’s my word against your word”.  But Christ himself will not enter into a family, partisan or tribal spat. He does not take my side nor yours. Instead, he offers himself as the ultimate Word, the final Word, the everlasting Word.

Unlike the way we use and hear words, God communicates to us in a new language that goes beyond the written or spoken words that come from his mouth. He offers to those on his side, a new way of speaking and hearing.

As if to illustrate this point, there are two dimensions going on in what we have read or listened to in the gospel text.  In the three dimensional world, the Lord physically sticks his finger into the deaf man’s ears, and then the Lord wipes the deaf man’s mouth with his own spittle. Our Lord then releases and big roar and, in his native language of Aramaic shouts out “Be opened!”

Now, it’s all very dramatic. Do you not think that Christ could have healed the man without going through all this drama? Yes, of course.  But sometimes we need God to be dramatic. We need poetry. We need art. We need a song. We need ritual.

God communicates to us through our senses, through touch, through smell, through color, through stuff.  Is this not what we call in church language, liturgy - liturgical language? In the most sacred context of the Mass, we use outward signs, a language that speaks to our senses in order to communicate the reality of invisible grace. The words we hear and speak within this sacred space, speaks to our soul. And from our soul, the Word of God is translated through every fiber of our body into good works of love and mercy.

Unfortunately, I could be the most polished speaker and the greatest listener, but after reflecting on the actions of Christ in the gospel, if I do not ask God to touch my ears - the ears of my soul… if I do not ask God to wipe my mouth with his own spit so that his words will come out from the depth of my soul, and not simply mine  - if I do not learn how to hear and speak this new sacred language, then indeed I am but superficial. I remain deaf to him and my words are simply secular.

There are not many words recorded by Our Blessed Mother in the Scriptures. The most words that have come down to us from her are not from a speech but from a song (Luke 1:46-55). If we were present when she sang her song in her own native language, at first, we probably would not have understood the words from her mouth. But at a deeper level, if we were listening from the depths of our soul, we would hear her soul singing of the glory of God and her spirit rejoicing with words of praise.  

May we learn again how to hear God’s Word resonating from deep within our soul and respond in ways that speak louder than any word, by good deeds that give God glory.

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Baptism of the Lord

The Baptism of the Lord Some time ago I had led a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to visit the historical sights associated with Christ.  A rare...