Jan 21, 2018

2D to 3D Conversion


Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, were well-seasoned fishermen. I wonder how long our Lord watched them casting their nets into the sea; how many times He went down to the the shore watching them, day in and day out, predictably and right on cue, pushing their boats out, setting the sails, throwing their nets over, dragging them through the water, hoisting them up into the boat, inspecting the catch, then sailing out deeper, again throwing their nets over, dragging them through the water, bundling the catch, hoisting them up into the boat, inspecting the catch. Then sailing out deeper, again throwing their nets over, dragging them through the water, bundling the catch, again, and then again, the again.  

For some, a life of routine might be boring, for others, exciting, others still a reason to get up in the morning. Maybe for some this is the only thing they ever know, a rhythm, a pattern of life that they have been doing, for some they having been doing it generation after generation without question, maybe even passed down through the family. 

For the fishermen, Simon Peter, James and John, there was probably a security in their daily routine, a loyalty to what their forefathers had done and passed on to them. They lived, worked, and probably prayed in the same manner as generations before them had. And if they experienced hard times, they probably expected themselves to simply make more sacrifices, work more harder and pray harder still until the storms passed when they could return back to their daily rhythm of life. And then, maybe they hoped that, like their father Zebedee, they would enjoy retirement one day to sit around the harbor, telling stories of younger days, and keeping out of the wife’s hair, by busying himself mending fishing nets as his own father and grandfather had also probably done before him in retirement.

It’s a safe picture I have just painted. And maybe for many of us, we too can spend a whole lifetime looking for a pattern to life, a predictable rhythm of life, or if enduring hardships and making personal sacrifices to do so for the sake of a future nest egg we might dream about for the future.

But Christ is walking by. As with the fishermen, He has been watching you and me, day in and day out. All our history, our movements, our daily pattern of life is known to Him.  And maybe the question He asks, “What motivates you? Why do you do what you do? Do you even know?”

And then, “Repent and believe in the Gospel”. When you hear these words, especially when a preacher uses them, the first impression one might have is being told “Stop sinning and take up your bible, start reading it and doing what it says”. 

As important and as necessary as that might be, when we interpret “Repent and believe in the Gospel” that way alone, for the most part we think, ‘okay, I have to work on these particular sins to cut them out of my life, so that I can be a nicer person and be a better Christian.” 

But repentance is not just cutting out particular sins and faults as if you’re trying to remove a stain for from the clothes you wear every day so that you can better live with yourself and be more presentable to God and the world. Repentance is not spiritual cosmetics. It is changing everything, breaking out of a pattern, or a predictable way of living. 

One repents, not because you are bored and you need a change, a new start or a fresh break. It comes from the realization, an awakening, that everything you had presumed gave you a reason to live, or a sense of certainty, or the feeling of security, as important as it might be, is, in itself, no longer a valid reason to live. In fact, Repentance, is an epiphany that you have to break free or you will die of boredom or exhaustion. 

But, I’ve thrown you a curveball! Our Lord did not first say “repent and believe in the Gospel”. That would be like Him going up to you and saying, I want you to smash your smartphone with a hammer!”  Rather, Christ first said “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand”. Maybe it would be more like Christ saying to someone like Simon Peter and Andrew who were living their life inside a two dimensional world - almost like living inside a comic script or picture book - He says to them, to us, “You have been searching. But I have searched for you. Follow me, I can complete you. Not your family, as important as they are, not your work as essential as it is, but follow me, do my work”. Particularly clear in this Eucharistic meal, the Mass, Christ calls out to us. He says, “I am your deepest hunger. Now is the time to be full, complete. The Kingdom of God is at hand.”

Christ is the true fisherman. If we recognize that He is substantially present in this Sacrament of the Altar and respond to His voice, then we risk being hooked for life upon a secure line that will pull us onwards and upwards towards the shores of heaven. Take the bait!

Jan 14, 2018

Course Correction


St. John the Baptist had attracted many people by his message of repentance and the need for conversion in preparation for their encounter with Christ. Now as the Lord has entered into the scene, John points his own followers in the direction of Christ. John, having attracted thousands of people now retreats back into obscurity. He has fulfilled his mission, to prepare the way for the Lord. 

He could have joined Christ, and the two of them could have been a powerful force together, but no. Because John was a man of prayer, a man who was not afraid of self-denial, a man who would not allow himself to be distracted by the false comforts the world offered, John was graced to authentically know himself, and was therefore happy to accept the God-given purpose of his life.  

There are times, when we are asked by God to take the "back seat", to sit something out, to change gear.  None of us likes to be told we are dispensable. Indeed the graveyard is full of indispensable people!  Our roles and responsibilities can often change, even when we least expect. Parents are often faced with this when, for example, their children grow up and leave home and become independent. Roles change.  Or when, for example, if you have a particular expertize in something or maybe you might be expecting something like a promotion, and you are passed over. 

Or it could be that having reached a point on your life, you are forced to realise that we are not as young and strong as you thought you were!  St. John the Baptist can encourage us to see that God's grace and peace in our lives does not depend on the great things that we do ourselves. Inner peace and grace from God comes from not allowing our ego to get in the way of God's plan - that God does not need to ask my permission for the unfolding his plan.  He doesn't need my advice, even though I am often quick to give it!  "Here I am Lord, you come to do my will" .

Whereas St. John the Baptist was graced early on in his life to know what is God-given role and purpose in life was, for most of us, God does not tell us what he needs of us in such a direct manner.  Neither does the Almighty God bully us to submission or intimidate us with this all-powerfulness so that he can have us accomplish his will. 

Instead, he plants deep in our hearts a holy longing to seek him out, a restlessness of the soul.  Getting to know Him, takes time - often a whole life time, and so it is never on our own terms or according to our own agenda. The portion of the Gospel we have listened to spells this out: just when we get used to following Christ, he will turn around and ask us what we are looking for?  He does not allow us to follow him on cruise control.  He asks us to examine our conscience and our intentions.

How do we do this practically? Regular preparation for the Sacrament of Confession allows us to respond to Christ's question, "What are you looking for?".  It allows us to examine our conscience, to discern if we have unwittingly or on purpose put another savior before Him. The grace of Confession allows us to ask Christ, with genuine interest and childlike curiosity, "Where are you staying - where do you live?"  and to then hear His voice - "Come and See". This is Christ's invitation - to spend time with Him.  (In preparing couples for marriage, I will often tell them to spend time, waste time with each other, be curious, never be content that you think you know everything about them, and that you have nothing more to offer, no more sacrifices you can make).  

Don't be afraid of wasting time in prayer, getting to know Christ deeper and deeper. During the coming months, we will talk more about prayer, about finding the right words to talk to God with, and at times, using no words at all - simply spending time in His presence, allowing him to reveal more and more of himself - relationships are always two way.  And of course, our Blessed Mother will help us. If we come across her, she will always point us to where Christ is staying and give us good directions how to get to His house. She knows Christ intimately. And she is happy to share him.

Jan 8, 2018

Speechless in Bethlehem


The event described in the Gospel underscores the far reaching effects of God's grace rippling out out in every direction from that one central event that began in Bethlehem with the birth of Jesus Christ.


The following ten points (or some of them) are worth some reflection. Each one of them could be expanded into various homilies. However, the final point might serve as the one simple premise, the "real homily" I believe everything must first be built upon. To that end, I hope there's something for everyone!


1.  With the direct intervention of God in human history, nature herself can not remain silent. The star announced the birth of Christ. An eclipse of the sun and an earthquake proclaimed his death. A garden welcomes his resurrection. God speaks to us through nature and its elements. This could be a homily on our respect for God's creation.


2. As nature likewise groans for salvation, so does all humanity. As a people who live in darkness longs for daylight, the Epiphany of the Lord fills us with hope and optimism that a new day dawns for humanity. This could be a homily on the aspirations for justice and freedom and the Herods of our day who oppose it.


3. We are very familiar of the picture postcard of the three wise men and the iconic gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  This could be a homily on the nature of Christ as King, as God, as the sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sins of the of the world.


4.  The mysterious magi, who they actually were, what lands did they really come from? Their arrival on the scene of the birth of Jesus reveals the countless multitudes of peoples, nations and cultures searching for God. This could be a homily on multiculturalism and universal salvation.


5.  The events of the Epiphany demonstrate that the chief priests and scribes knew the Hebrew Scriptures inside out, even concerning the prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. But they are unmoved, and the birth of Christ seemed uninteresting to them. Unlike the Magi, they missed the clues and obvious hints God had prepared them for. This could be a homily discerning the signs of the times.


6.  We are likewise presented with the theatrics of Herod who pretends to want to find Christ so he can pay tribute to the new-born messiah. This could be a homily on the dangers of false devotion and trying to appear to be holy but instead wanting to keep everything the status quo.


7.  What the Magi found at the end of their journey following the star was no doubt a surprise they did not anticipate nor could they have predicted. This could be a homily on the need to journey outside our comfort zones and to be open to the God of surprises.


8.  When the Wise Men encountered the Christ-child and were later warned that Herod was out to destroy the newborn, they could have offered to take the holy family back with them to their own kingdoms, giving them protection and offering the child a place in their best schools of the orient. This could be a homily on how God's ways are not necessarily our ways, despite our best intentions and objectives.


9.  The Gospel story of the Epiphany is full of biblical codes and prophecies, astronomical readings and calculations.  As interesting as it all is, the goal of our Christian Faith is not to provide quick answers and remedies, or scientific proofs or explanations. This could be a homily on the relationship between faith and reason.


10.  Finally, when the Magi arrived in God's little house, what did they see and experience there and then? They saw a helpless but adorable newborn baby lifted up out of the rags by an exhausted virgin mother and a young nervous husband. The Wise Men could only but gaze in wonderment, even joyful astonishment. They instinctively bowed to the ground in profound and humble adoration - no questions asked.  


And now the "real" point of the homily in the context of the Eucharist!

Before we extrapolate and theorize the theological, social and global consequences of the manifestation of Christ to the world, maybe it is worth reflecting that the kings of the orient and shepherds of Bethlehem have in common, that is, what the intellectual and the uneducated, the rich and the poor, the employer and the employee, the native and the foreigner, have in common - amazement that God's plan of salvation very simple - it's right before our eyes. Let's not complicate it too much. 

Every Sunday we are allowed to come face to face with the Son of God lifted up for adoration from the bedrock of an altar through the veil of the Eucharist. His divine personality is hidden from us behind the simple and unassuming "garments" of bread and wine, and after Mass, secured in our midst within the protective embrace of a loving tabernacle, a golden manger. Likewise, we too bow to the ground, in profound and humble adoration - no questions asked - only prayers and whispers of thanksgiving and petition.
 
Instead, in quiet amazement of how easily it is for the humble and the unassuming, and how difficult it is for the proud and arrogant, let's start off together - on bended knee before God's presence in response to the invitation, "Oh Come let us adore Him!"

Jan 3, 2018

Family


Having celebrated the birth of Christ, the Church now reflects that his birth was not “out of the blue”. Christ was born into a family – a family with true and real felt relationships. Christ experienced the relationship between Joseph and Mary as a husband and wife. As a child he grew up experiencing the sacred and natural bond one would expect between a mother and a child. And let’s not forget St. Joseph his legal father, his foster father. St. Joseph’s influence on the child helped Jesus to grow into an appreciation of the duties of manhood, the responsibilities needed to protect, provide and serve the family.
And let’s not forget the extended family of Joseph and Mary. Too often we only picture them as a threesome. This is hardly the experience of family life in the Middle East. Much like life family life in Hispanic or Mediterranean cultures, and indeed many cultures throughout the world, it is worth meditating that Christ had aunts and uncles, and cousins, first, second and third cousins who were all like brothers and sisters to him growing up. Let’s not forget his grandparents – Joachim and Anne, Mary’s parents. And from Joseph’s genealogy as recorded in St. Matthew’s gospel, Jesus also had a grandfather called Jacob.
A Christian “writes” the account of the family life of Jesus by the environment of their very own family life and home.  You can have Christ himself a part of all your family joys, sorrows, tensions and celebrations. That is what family that prays together accomplishes.
But I understand too the great challenges the modern family faces every day. The fragmentation of time and the greater efforts demanded of parents because of long work hours, the intrusion of electronic media, the inability or reluctance to incorporate family prayer into daily life, the challenges of deployment, families separated by state lines and national borders, children who have abandoned the faith, marriages and relationships that are challenged by fighting and frustrations  – this all takes it toll and looking for encouragement through difficult times often seems fought with one's reluctance to appear weak and vulnerable.
God could have simply appeared among us in the form of a strong and independent Jesus Christ. But he didn’t. Out of his love and concern for us, he was born weak and vulnerable into a human family challenged by circumstances beyond their control; he grew up within true and genuine relationships with all their joys and tensions.  It was from Mary and Joseph, that God first experienced in his humanity, the tenderness of human love and the necessity of family life – so much so that even from the cross, He has asked us to take His mother into our safekeeping – Mary becomes our spiritual mother!
As children of God and brothers and sisters to each other, let us pray for the strengthening of our family bonds, for the healing of relationships and the renewal of our identity as sons and daughters of our heavenly Father. May St. Joseph be always watchful over us and the angels and saints, the family of heaven, encourage and guide us.

Dec 27, 2017

Home for Christmas


Merry Christmas!  I would like to welcome you in particular if you are visitors to the church tonight. Maybe you have come from somewhere local, or you have travelled a bit to get here. One way or another, you have found your way to the local Catholic church. So you are most welcome to St. Margaret’s. You are part of the family!

The word “Catholic”, by which we describe our Christian family – the word Catholic means universal – all embracing – room for everyone, regardless of language, culture, whether you are young or old, married or single, whether you are working or not, at school or in the military – there is always room. It’s a big family. 

That’s why, our experience here on Sundays is very much the messiness of family life!  But as a pastor, it is a delight to stand back and watch what goes on in the piazza after Mass – Out in the piazza I see friendships being made, families connecting with other families, the children running in and out of the trees, swinging on the branches, the seniors sitting down and enjoying their coffee. Parents enjoying a bit of peace and quiet while the kids are at Sunday school. The church piazza is so important to our parish. It reflects the vitality and life of the community, our own little sacred biosphere.  It’s wonderful. 

What’s this got to do with Christmas? Well, strangely, Christmas is that rare time in the year when our church piazza after Mass is quiet. We don’t brew coffee or serve doughnuts at Christmas!  And you know, I think, deep, deep down, you know the reason why. 

Christmas, in a way stops the clock.  It is sacred time, a reminder of the importance of our personal relationships with family, friends, those we work with, even neighbors. But then you might say, that’s what Thanksgiving is for.  But Thanksgiving Day only touches the surface.  

Christmas is a time when we are forced to acknowledge that we are born hungry, not simply for company and good food. Christmas unlocks a glimpse of our soul’s longing, to hold in our hands a gift that will never fade – a gift that is everlasting – that gives hope and purpose to our lives – that allows our relationships to be meaningful, not just in a way that makes sense – but in a way that is eternal.  

This is God’s gift.  He doesn’t send us a theory of life, or an ideal to live towards. Nor does God appear out of nowhere in a dazzling display of glory, power and triumph. Instead, God was quietly, even secretly, born into the helplessness, the vulnerability of a newborn baby, held within the protection of a human family. God allowed himself to be dependent on you and me.

As Christians, we do not take after the baby Jesus.  Jesus is no longer a baby. Do not treat him as one.  He is also not a figure from the past. Allow him instead to speak to you now, allow him to teach you now.  Allow him, with all his strength and comfort, to hold you and save you.   Allow him substance. How? 

Sunday after Sunday we revisit the Christ-event – not only his birth, but also his life, his death and his resurrection.  When we do so, it is a family event, as it is right now.  So, let us keep these family ties strong, not just with our loved ones, but with each other and especially with the One who loved us first – so much, that he was born into the family of mankind, so that we might be one day be together with him in the family of heaven where he lives and reigns forever and ever!

Dec 24, 2017

A Day before Christmas


I’m sure it’s happened before, but I can not remember a time when the Last Sunday of the Season of Advent that we are now observing within our usual Sunday Mass, has been so close to the Day of Christmas which begins (this time tomorrow/when the sun sets tonight). These two separate events are awkwardly close to each other - bumper to bumper. 

It seems impossible to focus on the here and now, when we are looking out the window and Christmas is peering right in at us. What do we do? Close the shades and pretend it’s not there? Press our nose up against the window and watch it coming up the driveway?  With only hours to spare between Sunday and Christmas, unlike the stage of a theatre that has quick hands to change the backdrop within seconds, as simple as they look when hanging, the Christmas lights take hours to put up especially when it's just one office hand and the pastor up a ladder! At least the stage is set for tomorrow’s/this evening”s festive Mass of Christmas. All that remains is for the baby to be placed in the manger located just inside the front doors of the church- and surprisingly, that is the most simplest, and the easiest - even a child can do it. 

But that little job is the most noble, the most sacred and the most essential untold work of Christmas. And maybe that’s why, before the Christmas Eve Mass begins with all its carols and pomp, before the ritual of incense and the solemnity of public worship begins, every year I always discreetly beckon to a unsuspecting little boy or girl and whisper to them that I have a very important job for them. I will place the Christ Child in their little hands and put my finger to my lips. Then I will quietly point over to the manger - and they know what to do. In that little secret moment when they place the Christ Child in its bed of straw, my own prayer is, in that instant, a childhood memory may be formed, a little glimpse of the truth and beauty of Christmas has been created and maybe locked away, even for many years, until it is sometime reawakened.

Because everyone seems to be busy, in a hurry, maybe trying to get the best seat in the church, making sure that we are all looking our best, shaking hands, catching up and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, nobody really notices this quiet ritual of a little boy or girl placing Christ in the manger. I must admit, there has been a few times when I, myself, got distracted just before Mass and didn't notice the manger was still empty. But a child has always come to the rescue, even at the last moment, and still, not everyone noticed!

On this brief Sunday of the Fourth Week of Advent, we are reminded in the First Reading from the Old Testament, after his successful career and great accomplishments, we see King David resting in his palace with his feet up surrounded by his admirers, telling him how great he was, even though the sacred Ark of the Covenant was left outside in a tent. God was the first to notice and did something about it. Did anyone notice an inner purity of the Virgin Mary? God was the first to notice and did something about it. Did anyone notice the fear and anxiety of Joseph and his uncertainty was to how his fiance became pregnant? God was the first to notice and did something about it.  

And so I appeal to you, at this last hour before Christmas, notice what is actually going on around you and ask God for the grace and courage to do something about it. Don’t be distracted by the big lights, the gifts and the compliments. It is easy to charm our way into relationships and positions of influence. But the cost is often the failure to notice what is truly lacking in our lives, in our relationships and the world, what is in true need of real healing with God’s grace.  

As in all things, God is always the first to notice and He wants to do something about it. So in the secret of your heart and soul, without anyone necessarily knowing, the true servant of God will always see what is lacking or missing and will cooperate with God in His mysterious grace to do something about it!

Dec 16, 2017

Unsolved Mystery


"Where in the world is Waldo?"

There is the story of a famous atheist, Bertrand Russell. On his deathbed, he was asked by a colleague, “Dr. Russell, you know that you are going to die soon. And you’ve been an atheist for most of your life. What if you were wrong? What if God does in fact exist? When you die and meet Him, what are you going to say to him?”

Dr. Russell pondered this question and replied, “Well, I would be forced to admit that my thinking was wrong. But I would then ask Him a little question. ‘Why did You not give us more evidence that You do in fact exist?”

It seems a very interesting question. How many times have we all asked God in a moment of doubt, or despair, or when we were afraid or confused, “Where are you? If You do exist, speak to me - send me a sign. Help me to believe that You really do exist”.

But maybe that’s the big difference between me and God. I might want to make a name for myself. I might want others to know everything about me. “I want to have an impact in this world, to be successful, admired, respected, to be taken seriously. What you see is what you get!”

God, on the other hand, does not follow my logic. He keeps Himself hidden and mysterious. He seems not to mind that most of the world doesn't know Him or that His message hasn't really made the world a better place. There are still wars, violence, crimes committed, suffering and despair. Why does He not simply “appear” in all His glory and power and put an end to it all.

Just imagine! God just has to pull back the clouds and the sky and show Himself directly. Then everyone, everyone - believers and atheists, agnostics, scientists, politicians, saints and sinners, even Hollywood actors, (even Bill Maher!) every single person would drop to their knees and believe in Him. And the world would never be the same again! One might ask, “God, don’t hide yourself. Revel yourself!”

If Christ is divine, the embodiment of the Eternal God in flesh and blood who walked among us, would it not have been easier for Him to, in a way like an undercover boss, to take off his disguise, to the astonishment of everyone who would the go down on bended knee before Him and a new era for humanity would immediately begin?

But that’s maybe what I would do if I were God. So, here is the difference. I am not God. Sometimes we tend to think that because I would do something this way, or think that way, then God would do and think the same way I do. God doesn’t.

John the Baptist hits the nail right on the head in the Gospel today, when he replies to those around him who are demanding answers as to where Christ is, when he says, “There is one among you whom you do not recognize”.

God does not impose Himself. He does not stand in front of you and me as say, “OK, I’m here. Get use to it.” He offers Himself, not as a blinding light all at once. But through little lights here and there, like the witness of John the Baptist. And John did not provide black and white answers or proofs. There was, instead, just something about him and what he was doing that intrigued everyone who came across him.

Why didn't John the Baptist provide clear and irrefutable theological answers? Maybe because we would replace “knowledge about God” with “actually doing God’s will”. We would then be content with having all the questions about theology answered because it would now make complete sense, and would be completely logical.

But what would then motivate me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to feed the hungry, to bandage the wounds of the injured, console the sick, to visit the lonely? It is often easier give them a pamphlet, to write about them or to give a talk on the evils of social injustice, than actually “doing” the mysterious will of God, and finding Him there in their midst.

God hides in the crowd, in the poor, among the uneducated, with the outcast and the sick, so that we who think we have all the answers might learn to swallow our own pride, be humble and look for Him were we logically least expect to find Him.

As Mother Mary sings for us the Responsorial Psalm “God fills the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” It was not her mind that rejoiced in God. It was her soul. Because she was humble and poor, Mary rejoiced in doing the will of God without needing to know why.


Let us ask God for the gift of the joy of His presence, even though, as in this Eucharist, He is outside the limits of our knowledge and beyond the horizons of our sight. No question there!

2D to 3D Conversion

Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, were well-seasoned fishermen. I wonder how long our Lord watched them casting their nets into the...