27 December 2014

SEMPER FI - ALWAYS FAITHFUL

THE HOLY FAMILY
genesis 15:1-6, 21:1-3 or sirach 3:2-6; 12-14; hebrew 11:8, 11-12, 17-19 or colossians 3:12-21; luke 2:22-40

on 23 october 1983, a bomb explosion at the marine barracks in beirut killed 220 us marines and 21 other personnel, and wounded several others.
a few days later, paul kelly, marine corps commandant, visited the wounded in hospital. among them was corporal jeffrey nashton. he had suffered a broken leg, collapsed lungs, a crushed arm and a fractured skull. as kelly neared him, nashton motioned for a pen and piece of paper, wrote briefly, and passed the paper to his commandant. it had but two words: «semper fi» (always faithful), the motto of the marines. 
with those two words nashton spoke for the millions who have remained faithful despite and in the face of adversity. later, nashton said he didn’t know why he did it, but his wife said: «he thought he was dying and he wanted to make contact with another marine, to tell him not to give up, not to lose faith.»

semper fi! two words which sum up the thrust of today’s readings, and speak for each character in them.
the first and second readings extol the faith of israel’s first family. GOD promises abraham many descendants. abraham, though old and childless, «put his faith in the LORD.» GOD asks abraham to leave his homeland, and to sacrifice his son. abraham is unconditionally and forever faithful.
the gospel recounts the faith of the holy family. joseph and mary, who present their son in the temple «just as it is written in the law of the LORD.» they did and would undergo difficult times, and their son—simeon tells them—«is destined for the fall and rise of many in israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted.» they remain forever faithful. 
simeon and anna are idealized portraits of the faithful remnant of israel awaiting the messiah’s coming.


semper fi! that’s the challenge to our families today… despite all the pressures, tensions and crises—political, economic, social and peer—we face. 
further, we need to widen the boundaries of our family: the homeless, the sick and dying, the lonely, the battered, the drug addict, the prisoner… and the hindu/ muslim/ jew/ zoroastrian/ sikh/ jain/ buddhist/ atheist/ agnostic… are all children of GOD and members of our family. 
will you and i remain faithful to GOD and to one another despite and in the face of troubles?

24 December 2014

TRANQUILLITY AMIDST TURMOIL; CELEBRATION AMIDST CHAOS

CHRISTMAS
mass during the night: isaiah 9:1-6; titus 2:11-14; luke 2:1-14
mass during the day: isaiah 52:7-10; hebrews 1:1-6; john 1:1-18

a city commissioned two artists to paint their conception of peace. a panel of distinguished judges would select one to display in the city square.
the first artist unveiled his painting: a beautiful family scene with a farmer back home after a hard day in the fields, with his wife by his side, and his children playing around the hearth; all at peace in a beautiful home. 
the judges decided that the picture depicted peace but looked at the other rendering anyway: it was a raging waterfall under dark skies! in a nook in the craggy rocks there was a tiny branch. on the end of the branch was a bird’s nest with a mother bird, covering her fledglings with her wings and singing in the midst of the turbulence.
the judges thought for a moment, then said: «this is peace and celebration in the midst of turmoil.» 

that picture is a portrayal of peace; it also realistically depicts christmas!
christmas is the birth of the prince of peace… but the peace that JESUS brings is not the quiet of an ideal and idyllic home; it is peace despite and amidst problems.
that’s the reassurance we and our world need right now: the coming of GOD brings tranquillity in the midst of turmoil—he covers us with his wings—and that’s reason to celebrate in the midst of chaos.

what we experience today—brutal violence, the killing of innocents, fear—is reminiscent of what happened in bethlehem two millennia ago.
after the birth of JESUS, the angels announce «on earth peace to people of goodwill.» but soon an angel tells joseph to «take the child and his mother, flee to egypt,» and herod orders «the massacre of all the boys in bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under.» 
peace on earth? then? now?

yes! peace on earth! we believe—and we must proclaim—with st john: «what came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race… and the darkness has not overcome it.»
AND we must live as people who have seen the light, as people who live by the light, as people whom «he gave power to become children of GOD.» we cannot live in the darkness; we cannot surrender to and imitate the darkness; we cannot relinquish our privilege and our duty to love.


we need christmas right now, but the christmas we need is the courage to live as children of the light, and as brothers and sisters of the prince of peace. the christmas we need is the courage to oppose violence and injustice with a love that comes from GOD.
may you and i and our world experience tranquillity amidst turmoil and celebration amidst chaos. amen.

20 December 2014

GOD’S MYSTERIOUS AND INEXPLICABLE CHOICES

IV SUNDAY OF SUNDAY
2 samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; romans 16:25-27; luke 1:26-38

long ago, a prince yearned to win the heart of a princess. he had everything—looks, fame and fortune—and tried everything but failed in his quest. the princess had her eyes and heart fixed elsewhere, and married a penniless woodcutter who did nothing to win her favour! the princess chose the woodcutter because of the mysterious preference of her love.

oh yeah… that happens only in fairy tales! right, it happens in fairy tales and in GOD’s tales! the first reading and the gospel highlight GOD’s choice of people.

in the first reading GOD reminds david of his transformation from shepherd to king through GOD’s choice and grace: «i took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people.» it was a mysterious choice! jesse did not even line him up before samuel; david, the youngest, was tending sheep! but GOD knew whom he was choosing, and did great things through david.
the gospel recalls GOD’s choice of mary as the mother of his son. again, it was a mysterious choice! mary lacked the credentials one would think are needed for such an important task; everything was against her: age, gender, marital status, power. GOD knew whom he was choosing; his grace transformed mary from maiden to mother of GOD.
GOD’s choice required of david and of mary a simple «yes»… which st paul, in the second reading, calls «the obedience of faith.» 

GOD makes another mysterious choice today: he chooses you and me! he chooses us to be a part of the project of which mary was a part; to be entry points for his love into the world. he transforms us as he transformed david and mary. it might sound like a fairy tale; it’s not. it’s GOD’s story… of his mysterious choice.
am i willing to say «yes»? am i willing, like mary, to be the servant of the LORD? to allow the holy spirit to overshadow me and transform me? to believe that nothing is impossible with GOD and that he is indeed with me?

13 December 2014

REJOICE IN THE LORD

III SUNDAY OF ADVENT
isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11; 1 thessalonians 5:16-24; john 1:6-8, 19-28

a king instructed his gardener to plant trees to represent prosperity, beauty, victory, strength, duty and joy to show the world that the king had made his reign fruitful. the gardener planted a palm to symbolise joy.
when the king saw the palm, he said: «i thought you would typify joy with a flowering tree like the tulip or magnolia. how can the palm symbolize joy?»
the gardener replied: «flowering trees get their nourishment from open sources in orchards or forests. i found this palm in a desert; its roots had found some hidden spring far beneath the burning surface. then, thought i, highest joy has a foundation people cannot see and a source they cannot comprehend.»


how true that is! the foundation and source of our joy is GOD.
that’s the emphasis of the readings on «gaudete sunday» which urges us to rejoice… in the LORD.
the first reading from isaiah invites us to rejoice in GOD because he clothes us with salvation and justice. this invitation is heart-warming because we are the broken-hearted GOD heals; the poor who receive the glad tidings; the captives he liberates.
in the second reading, paul urges the thessalonians to rejoice because the one who calls them is faithful. 
in the gospel, john’s response to the pharisees highlights the primary reason for our joy: JESUS has already come into our world as our saviour.

the readings also give us a mission: to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and—above all—to testify to the light.

what is the source of my joy: the pleasures of the world or GOD and his liberating and healing love? will i rejoice in the LORD and joyfully testify to his presence in my life? or will i give in to a sense of unworthiness? 

john gipson was listening to his car radio. a singer was belting out «i can’t get no satisfaction.» gipson didn’t like the song. he changed the station but thought about the many people who cannot find satisfaction and joy; and wondered whether they even know where to look.
we know where to find joy! let us rejoice in the LORD!

06 December 2014

PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD

II SUNDAY OF ADVENT
isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; 2 peter 3:8-14; mark 1:1-8
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/120714.cfm

we are one week into advent, and many of us are preparing for christmas. our facebook walls have photographs of cribs and home decor, announce carol-singing events, advertise cakes and cookies…
but that’s not quite the preparation scripture and the advent liturgy recommend!

isaiah, in the first reading, assures the exiles in babylon that their desperate wait for freedom is almost over; GOD will lead them, like a shepherd, back home. but the exiles have a task: to prepare the way of the LORD, in the desert, by the filling the valleys and levelling the hills.
mark, in his gospel, has the same message and task. john the baptist invites the people to straighten the pathways of their lives.

in the second week of advent, we need to put the c’s (cribs/carols/cakes/cards) on the back-burner and focus on the s’s: spend time in the «wilderness/desert» of our lives; straighten the pathways in our hearts; and share the glad tidings that our GOD is coming with power to care for us.

will i spend time in the «wilderness»? what areas of my life need straightening: what are the valleys that need filling; which are the mountains that need levelling? how and with whom will i share the good news of the LORD’s coming?

a collegian failed all his college work. he texted his mother: «failed everything; prepare papa.» his mother texted back: «papa prepared; prepare yourself.»
this is the our advent task: our «papa» is prepared (with his loving mercy); we need to prepare ourselves for the coming of GOD in our midst.

29 November 2014

WAITING… IN HOPE

I SUNDAY OF ADVENT
isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7; 1 corinthians 1:3-9; mark 13:33-37
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/113014.cfm

waiting is part of life. outside schools, parents wait to pick up their children. at bus stops and railway stations, people wait for their loved ones; in hospitals, patients wait for their families. all waiting for someone to come. all they can do is wait… in hope!
waiting is part of life. all of us waited to be born, waited to be nourished, waited to be loved. we learned, soon enough, that not everything is available «instant». and so we have to wait.

advent is a time and season of a more profound waiting… a waiting for GOD… to reveal himself; to come to us.
the first reading graphically portrays a people waiting for GOD. recently returned from captivity in babylon, they hope that GOD will again adopt them as his children. but jerusalem is a heap of ruins; there is no sign to confirm their hope.
the people remember what GOD did for them in the past: «you, LORD, are our father… no ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any GOD but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him.» this memory makes the people pray to GOD to come among them as he did on mount sinai. this memory gives the people hope as they wait.

the gospel and the second reading give us attitudes for this waiting period: be responsible and dutiful servants; stay awake to the signs of the kingdom around us and to the opportunities to serve others; stay firm to the end though GOD’s grace and gifts.

like the newly-returned exiles, we are between the first and second comings of JESUS; we sometimes feel anguish and frustration when GOD seems absent from our lives.
what is the attitude which characterizes my waiting: optimism or desolation? joy or anguish? hope-filled service or despairing passivity? what are the gifts GOD has given me? how can i use them as a responsible servant for the task he has given me?

an anecdote to end!
while on a south pole expedition, sir ernest shackleton left a few men on elephant island, and promised them he would return. each time he tried to return, huge icebergs blocked his way. one day, an avenue opened in the ice, and shackleton got through. his men, ready and waiting, quickly scrambled aboard. no sooner had the ship cleared the island than the ice crashed together behind them. shackleton said: «it was fortunate you were all packed and ready to go!» they replied: «we never gave up hope. whenever the sea was clear of ice, we rolled up our sleeping bags and said, ‘he may come today.’»

like shackelton’s men, may we be ready for the coming of the LORD; may we be alert to the signs of his presence everywhere: in every checkout counter, every bus/train station, every waiting room…

22 November 2014

REACHING OUT TO AND IDENTIFYING WITH THE LEAST

JESUS CHRIST THE UNIVERSAL KING
ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; 1 corinthians 15:20-26, 28; matthew 25:31-46
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/112314.cfm

according to a jewish legend,  a man went to heaven in a dream and watched at the gates.
a rabbi came and made his claim to enter: «day and night i studied the torah.» the angel at the gate said: «wait! we will investigate whether your study was for its own sake or for the sake of honours.»
a zaddik next approached: «i fasted much; i underwent many ritual cleansings; i studied the mystical commentary on the torah day and night.» the angel said: «wait until we have completed investigating your motives.»
then a tavern-keeper drew near and said: «i kept an open door and fed without charge every poor man who came into my inn.» the angel opened the gates for him.

the jewish legend has the same thrust as the gospel parable of the final judgment: GOD judges us not upon our acts of religiosity but upon the little acts of mercy we show (or do not show) to the least—the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the ill, and the imprisoned. more important, whenever we serve these least ones, we serve him, who identifies himself with them.
in the first reading, through ezekiel, GOD promises that he will reach out to the lost, the strayed, the injured, and the sick, and he will shepherd them. in the gospel, he challenges us—who have experienced his shepherding love—to be the shepherds and to do the reaching out to the least.

we come to the end of another liturgical year.  today’s solemnity of CHRIST the universal king invites us to examine how the LORD has loved and cared for us in the past year, and how we have reached out to «the least brothers and sisters» of his.
am i aware of the numerous ways in which GOD has reached out to me and shepherded me? how will i reach out to and identify with the least of his brothers and sisters?



15 November 2014

BE HI-FI CHRISTIANS WHO SPREAD HIS «TALENTS»

XXXIII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR 
proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; 1 thessalonians 5:1-6; matthew 25:14-30
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/111614.cfm

as a child, norman geisler—the famous apologist, theologian and author—went to a vacation bible school because some neighbourhood children invited him. he returned to the same church for sunday school. each week a bus driver picked him up. week after week, for eight years, he attended church, but never committed his life to GOD. finally, during his senior year in high school, after being picked up for church over 400 times, he committed his life to CHRIST. what if the bus driver had given up on geisler at 395? what if the bus driver had said: «this kid is going nowhere spiritually, why waste any more time on him?» (cf. max lucado, GOD came near)

that unknown and unsung bus driver (or drivers) was a hi-fi (high-fidelity) christian! he stuck to the task entrusted to him; he was faithful to his responsibility!

that’s the challenge JESUS puts before us in this sunday’s gospel: fidelity to our GOD-given mission.
the parable of the talents is NOT about using/multiplying our skills and gifts (though we need these for the mission, and GOD gives us a mission based on our capacities)!
a talent was about fifteen years’ wages, and—in the parable—symbolises something of great value to the LORD, something that belonged to him, and that he entrusted to his servants.
the talents represent his word (also: his love, forgiveness, sacraments…). those who transmit it find that it multiplies; those who study it find their understanding of it deepens (recall that isaiah 55:10-12 tells us that GOD’s word, when invested, always brings a return!)… and those who bury it find its value diminishes.

the first reading has a similar thrust: it glorifies «a worthy wife» not for her talents and gifts but for her fidelity to her responsibility.

the gospel and the first reading promise a reward for such fidelity: «enter into the joy of your master» and «give her a reward for her labours».

am i faithful to my GOD-given mission of doing my daily duty and of proclaiming his word? or does fear (of failure, rejection, judgement…) prevent me from being faithful?
on world communications day, may i be a hi-fi christian and faithfully communicate GOD’s love, word and forgiveness to all people. amen.

08 November 2014

BE A LIVE CHURCH AND A CHURCH THAT IS ALIVE

THE DEDICATION OF THE LATERAN BASILICA
ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12; 1 corinthians 3:9c-11, 16-17; john 2:13-22
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/110914.cfm

in 1953 reporters gathered at a chicago railway station waiting to meet the 1952 nobel peace prize winner… a big man, six-feet-four tall with bushy hair and a large moustache. reporters were excited to see him; cameras flashed; compliments were expressed.
suddenly, the man excused himself, and walked up to an elderly afro-american woman struggling to carry two large suitcases. he picked up her cases, escorted her to a bus, and then returned to the waiting reporters and apologised for keeping them waiting.
that was dr albert schweitzer, the famous missionary-doctor who had invested his life helping the poor and the sick in africa.
a member of the reception committee remarked: «that’s the first time i ever saw a sermon walking.»

dr schweitzer understood the meaning of being church: being live and alive! he was also alive to the reality around him!
on the feast of the dedication of the lateran basilica, (pope-emeritus) benedict xvi reminds us that «the temple of stones is a symbol of the living church, the christian community, which… is a ‘spiritual edifice,’ built by GOD with ‘living stones,’ namely, christians themselves.»

the readings highlight this fact.
in the first reading, ezekiel emphasises that the temple is the source of life-giving water.
through the cleansing of the temple, JESUS indicates that he is the new temple… the source of life and love.
st paul reminds the corinthians that they are GOD’s holy building with CHRIST as their foundation. and therefore, they need to build their lives carefully… and live lives worthy of their calling.

do i see myself—and other christians—as church? am i—and the community of believers to which i belong—a live church and a church that is alive to the realities around me? am i a source of life and love?

01 November 2014

WHAT LIES BEYOND…

THE COMMEMORATION OF THE FAITHFUL DEPARTED (ALL SOULS)
wisdom 3:1-9; romans 5:5-11; john 6:37-40

a dying man was scared about death. he asked his doctor—a christian—about what lay beyond. just then the doctor heard a scratching at the door. he paused and said: «do you hear that? it’s my dog. i left him downstairs, but he has grown impatient, and has come up. he has no idea what lies beyond the door, but he knows that his master is here. it is the same with me! i don’t know what lies beyond the door of death, but i know my master is there» (cf. bruce shelley, «christian theology in plain language»).


this is what christian faith and the readings for all souls’ day affirm: beyond the tomb, lies our master waiting to welcome us to our eternal dwelling.
the first reading from the book of wisdom is emphatic: «the souls of the just are in the hand of GOD… they are in peace.»
st paul assures the romans: «since we are now justified by his blood, we will be saved through him from the wrath» and «we shall… be united with him in the resurrection.»
in the gospel, JESUS promises the crowds: «everyone who sees the SON and believes in him
will have eternal life, and i shall raise him on the last day.»

shortly before he died, jean-paul sartre—the atheist philosopher—declared he had strong feelings of despair and he would say to himself: «i know i shall die in hope.» then in profound sadness, he would add: «but hope needs a foundation.»
christian hope has a foundation: the death and resurrection of JESUS. 

does my hope have this strong foundation? do i believe that my dear departed are at peace in the hand of GOD and will be raised on the last day?
eternal rest grant unto them, o LORD; and let perpetual light shine upon them. may they rest in peace. amen.

25 October 2014

ONE LOVE, THREE DIMENSIONS

XXX SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
exodus 22:20-26; 1 thessalonians 1:5c-10; matthew 22:34-40

when i was growing up, my father would say: «no matter who they are or what they do, treat your neighbours with love.» i didn’t understand what he meant until one sunday…
on our return from church, we spotted someone shovelling corn from our barn into a truck. we knew this man. he was known to steal but no one had caught him; no one had confronted him because of his temper. we’d caught him red-handed. 
dad got out of the car. what would he do? dad said: «take as much as you need. if that’s not enough, come back tomorrow.»
the man dropped his shovel and went away. he never stole again. perhaps he learned to be a good neighbour that day. i know i did (cf. louis lehman).

that sunday, lehman learned that being a christian meant loving GOD and neighbour, and being in right relationship with GOD and neighbour. 
this sunday, the readings challenge us to learn and practise three dimensions of the «greatest commandment»: love of GOD, of neighbour and of oneself.
in response to the scribe’s question—which commandment is the first of all?—JESUS gathers up the scripture of israel in one statement. the first part quotes the jewish creed, the shema, which every jew knew by heart: «hear, o israel: the LORD our GOD is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your GOD with all your heart, and will all your soul, and with all your might.» alongside this creed, he places a passage from leviticus: «you shall love your neighbour as yourself.» 
JESUS reminds the scribe that a combination of these texts makes the summary and essence of the law. in the first reading, from exodus, fidelity to the covenant with GOD is expressed in compassion towards the needy neighbour: the stranger, the widow, the orphan, the poor. 

will i practise the three dimensions of one love? how will i love GOD, my neighbour and myself in the week ahead?

18 October 2014

REPAYING GOD

XXIX SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
isaiah 45:1, 4-6; 1 thessalonians 1:1-5b; matthew 22:15-21

a young man, desperate for a job, prayed to GOD for a job. he promised that he would always give 10 percent of his income to the church. 
his prayers were answered. he got a job that paid $10 a week. he was overjoyed, and put $1 in the collection plate every sunday. soon, he moved on to a higher paying job at $100 a week; he dutifully put $10 in the plate. eventually, he earned $1,000 a week; while he still put $100 in the plate, he did it grudgingly. then he hit it big! he started earning $10,000 a week. 
that’s when he sought out the pastor, and told him about his promise: «when i made that promise, i earned only $10 a week. now… would you please release me from my promise to give 10 percent of my income to the church?»
the pastor thought about it and replied: «my son, i cannot release you from a promise you made to GOD. but i could pray that your income be reduced to the original $10 a week!»

giving to GOD… we find it difficult! GOD is not often on our «to do» list. and when he is, he is way down that list. 
this sunday, in response to the pharisees’ and herodians’ carefully-formulated and absolutely-loaded question—«is it lawful to pay taxes to caesar or not»—JESUS challenges us to «repay… to GOD what belongs to GOD.» repay! what belongs to GOD? in one word: everything! we, our whole life… everything belongs to GOD! 
JESUS illustrates this when he asks for a tax coin and then asks: «whose image is this?» the emperor’s image, stamped on the coin, showed that the coin belonged to the emperor. we are stamped with the image of GOD. we belong to him! and JESUS challenges us «repay» to GOD what is his: ourselves… our lives, our time, our resources and potential, our service.

how willing am i to give myself, my time and all i have to GOD? how am i going to give myself to GOD in the week ahead?
today is mission sunday. how will i give myself to the mission of proclaiming GOD, his goodness and his kingdom?

11 October 2014

FIRST CATCH THE RABBIT!

XXVIII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
isaiah 25:6-10a; philippians 4:12-14, 19-20; matthew 22:1-14

a nineteenth-century recipe for rabbit pie begins with the injunction: «first catch the rabbit.» haddon robinson comments: «the writer knew how to put first things first. that’s what we do when we establish priorities; we put the things that should be in first place in their proper order.»

that’s precisely what the guests in this sunday’s gospel parable did not do!
it was jewish custom to prepare food according to the number who accepted an invitation (like today’s rsvp). when the feast was ready, the host would summon the guests to partake of the banquet. in the parable, the king sent his servants twice to summon the guests, but the guests «made light of it» and went about their business. they refused to honour the king’s invitation (which they had accepted earlier).
the jews had accepted GOD’s invitation on mount sinai. but when the LORD came and summoned them to his banquet, they refused to honour the invitation.

it’s important to note the reason for the guests’ refusal: they «went away, one to his farm, another to his business.» they were busy with something urgent: their livelihood.

but the wedding feast represents the messianic kingdom; it symbolises the important: salvation and eternal life. 
the guests got their priorities wrong: they left the important for the urgent; they gave up live for livelihood.

GOD invites us to the banquet of life. we accepted the invitation at our baptism. 
do i honour the invitation? do i have my priorities in order? or am i so engrossed in gathering the other ingredients for «rabbit pie» and i forget to «catch the rabbit»?

04 October 2014

TENANTS, NOT OWNERS

XXVII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR 
isaiah 5:1-7; philippians 4:6-9; matthew 21:33-43

the angel gabriel returned from surveying the earth, and reported to GOD: «you own a choice piece of real estate known as earth. but the tenants to whom you’ve leased it out are destroying it. in another few years, it won’t be fit to live in. they have polluted your rivers; fouled the air; degraded the soil; destroyed the rain-forests… by any rule of sound management, LORD, you have one option.» then raising his trumpet to his lips, gabriel asked: «shall i sound the eviction notice?»
GOD said: «no, gabriel! not yet. you are right, but i keep thinking if i give them a little more time, they’ll quit acting like they own the place!»

the readings of today
- portray us as tenants of GOD’s vineyard… and remind us not to act like we own the place. 
- highlight GOD’s generosity and trust: he provided everything the people needed—fertile land, hedge, winepress, tower—to produce a good vintage. GOD asks: «what more was there to do for my vineyard?» 
- tell us of GOD’s patience: he sends his servants several times to collect the produce, and finally sends his son. 
- remind us that GOD’s justice will prevail: the people yielded «wild grapes» (first reading); they refused to hand-over the produce, and treated the servants and the son violently. so GOD finally evicts the tenants: «the kingdom of GOD will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.»

we are tenants. GOD has given us a mission to accomplish. he has provided the means and the freedom to accomplish it… and in a most amazing «vineyard»! 

do i look after the vineyard, or do i ruin it though my selfish and materialistic consumerism? what kind of fruit do i bear: «wild grapes» or grapes of good vintage? do i hand over the produce to GOD, or do i act like i own the vineyard? 

27 September 2014

THE ENDGAME MATTERS

XXVI SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
ezekiel 18:25-28; philippians 2:1-11; matthew 21:28-32

last sunday at the asian games, india’s jitu rai was on target for a gold in the 10m pistol event. after the tenth round, he was tied with kim cheongyong. then, while preparing for his next shot, the audience’s clapping distracted him; he scored just 7.8 points. rai, the world no. 1, finished only fifth. his near-perfect shooting in the previous rounds and the gold in the 50m pistol (won the previous day) counted for nothing. the endgame mattered, and rai did not deliver.
for kuwait’s abdullah al muzayen, it was the reverse. in the squash final, he was down two games and a few points away from defeat. he played brilliantly to win that game, the next two,  and the gold. the endgame mattered, and al muzayen came through.

what true of sport is true of life and the spiritual life: the endgame matters. 
in the gospel, after narrating the parable of the two sons, JESUS is explicit that tax collectors and prostitutes—those the religious leaders considered transgressors of the law—were entering the kingdom of GOD before themselves. JESUS compares these sinners to the first son; they rebelled initially but repented when they heard john’s exhortation. the chief priests and elders are like the second son; they committed themselves to do GOD’s will but did not. JESUS implies that if they fail to repent, they will be left out of the kingdom.
it might seem outrageous! but the first reading from ezekiel emphasises that, for GOD, what matters a person’s state at the end of his/her life: if a wicked person turns away «from all the sins that he has committed, he shall surely live.» 

GOD is concerned about our present relationship with him. as far as the past goes, GOD has a very short memory! no matter how far we have strayed from GOD, it is never too late to turn back to a no-questions-asked welcome. remember the thief crucified with JESUS! he repents in the last moments of his life; and JESUS promises him: «today, you will be with me in paradise.»
the kingdom of heaven is for those prepared to answer GOD’s call today, no matter what happened yesterday.

like which son am i? am i willing to repent and do GOD’s will despite past failings?
the challenge is to be like the third son—JESUS—who was always faithful.

20 September 2014

ALL IS FAIR IN LOVE... AND FAMILY

XXV SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
isaiah 55:6-9; philippians 1:20c-24, 27a; matthew 20:1-16a

robert de moor in «the banner» writes:
«back in ontario when the apples ripened, mom would sit all seven of us down… with pans and knives until the mountain of fruit was reduced to neat rows of filled canning jars. she never bothered keeping track of how many we did… when the job was done, the reward for everyone was the same: the largest chocolate-dipped cone money could buy. 
a stickler might argue it wasn’t quite fair... but i can’t remember anyone complaining about it. a family understands it operates under a different set of norms than a courtroom.»


when we understand the kingdom of GOD as a family—with a different yardstick of fairness and equality—we will cease «complaining» about the parable of the vineyard workers!
the landowner seems unfair. human justice says those who work a full-day should be paid more than those who work less. 
the landowner pays those who laboured the whole day the agreed-upon full-day’s wage. he generously pays the «late-comers» what he thinks is just: a full-day’s wage (the «usual daily wage» was enough only for «daily bread» for a worker’s family. were the owner not to pay the late-comers the full daily wage, their families would go hungry).

further, the parable is about GOD’s invitation to collaborate in the work of the kingdom. 
the kingdom is not something that can be earned/achieved through human effort. true, we must do all we can to receive it: keep sowing the word, keep launching the boat and casting the net, keep loving with all our strength. GOD’s offer is for all people… an offer that is repeated often and throughout the «day». each receives what each needs: «daily bread» and fullness of life. GOD does not partition grace into different amounts for different people; he gifts his grace abundantly and equally to all… regardless of what hour they accept his offer.
unfair? the first reading reminds us: «my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.»

will i do my part and allow GOD’s grace to do the rest? will i begrudge GOD’s fairness to the late-comer… forgetting that i am a late-comer, too, and don’t merit his grace?

an anecdote that highlights the importance of grace vis-à-vis the kingdom:
a man dies and goes to heaven. st peter meets him at the pearly gates and says: «here’s how it works. you need 100 points to make it into heaven. you tell me all the good things you’ve done; i give you points for each act depending on its goodness. when you reach 100, you get in.» the man starts: «i was married to the same women for 50 years and never cheated on her, even in my heart.» «wonderful!» says peter, «that’s worth three points.»
he says: «only three points?  i attended church all my life and supported its ministry.» «terrific!» says peter, «that’s worth a point.»
«one point? well i started a soup kitchen and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans.» «fantastic, that’s good for two more points,» peter says.
the man cries: «at this rate the only way to get into heaven is by GOD’s grace of god!» and peter smiled: «that’s 100 points! come on in!»

13 September 2014

THE PAIN THAT BRINGS GAIN

THE TRIUMPH OF THE CROSS
numbers 21:4b-9; philippians 2:6-11; john 3:13-17

some years ago, i read a real-life story about a little girl who had severe burn injuries. every day, the medical team would take her for debridement. she suffered excruciating pain but never complained. instead she often remarked: «i know you are doing this so that i can get well.» this amazing kid knew that the pain was an essential part of her recovery. 

«pain brings gain» is an unwritten law of life. surgery is painful; it saves. a child’s departure from home is painful for parents and child; the child needs it to become his/her own person.

«pain brings gain» is the thrust of this sunday’s liturgy. 
in the gospel, JESUS leads nicodemus to the heart of his messianic mission: «the son of man must be lifted up as moses lifted up the serpent in the desert.» nicodemus would recall the «serpent event» during the sojourn in the desert: the israelites’ ungratefulness brought on GOD’s displeasure; poisonous snakes bit them. moses asked GOD for a way to save them. GOD did not take away the serpents. instead he had the people gaze at a bronze serpent which symbolised their sin. the symbol of their pain became the instrument of their salvation. 
JESUS says that he must become like the bronze serpent; he must be «lifted up» so that all who gaze upon him on the cross will be saved.

the snake was the pain and the gain. the cross was the pain that brought gain. 
can the things that are hardest in our life be the vehicles that bring us closest to GOD? what are the crosses i need to accept… to experience wholeness?
in moments of suffering, let us look to JESUS on the cross. may he strengthen us to live through and accept our sufferings. amen.

06 September 2014

BUILD BRIDGES, NOT WALLS

XXIII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
ezekiel 33:7-9; romans 13:8-10; matthew 18:15-20
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/090714.cfm

in «the great divorce,» c. s. lewis writes that hell is like a vast city inhabited only at the periphery; it has rows and rows of empty houses in the middle… empty because those who lived there quarrelled with their neighbours and moved. then, they quarrelled with their new neighbours and moved again. this process of quarrel-move-quarrel slowly left the old neighbourhoods empty. hell has gotten so large because everyone chose distance instead of honest confrontation when dealing with relationships.

lewis’ picture is as true as it’s stark! when someone hurts us, it’s either fight or—more often than not—flight! «let it be» is the preferred course of action… which has one minor problem: we do not «let it be»! we build walls, not bridges.

JESUS sets out guidelines for conflict resolution! he challenges us to seek reconciliation… by talking to the person instead of about the person! 
the first step is dialogue: «if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault…» dialogue is not a fault-finding, finger-pointing venture; it is an honest and specific sharing of and listening to perspectives and feelings.
if/when dialogue fails… if the other refuses to see his/her fault or rebuffs my attempts at reconciliation, step two is diplomacy: if your brother «does not listen, take one or two others along with you…»
if/when diplomacy also fails, move to step three: «let him be to you as a gentile and a tax collector.» since the gentile and tax collector were not considered members of the community, is step three dissociation? that would be perfect… but JESUS loved the gentile and the tax collector, and never ceased to associate with them.
so step three is deep love… that wills the good of the other. this is what paul tells the romans in the first reading: «owe no one anything except to love one another… love does no wrong to a neighbour.»

we can’t always make peace with those who hurt us, but we can and must still love them… unless we want to live in hell.
will i resolve hurts through  dialogue, diplomacy and deep love… and be reconciled with the people who have hurt me? will i construct walls or build bridges??

30 August 2014

THE MESSIAH AND THE DISCIPLE MUST SUFFER

XXII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
jeremiah 20:7-9; romans 12:1-2; matthew 16:21-27

islamic state militants have captured several christian (and yazidi) villages/cities in iraq. they gave the inhabitants a choice: convert, pay an exorbitant «infidel tax,» or die. refusing to renounce christianity, over 100,000 have fled… deprived of all their belongings—money, automobiles, even food and water—except their clothes. many—including children—have been killed. according to an arab news report, the militants have moved from beheading to burying people alive in mass graves. suffering, persecution and death is the lot of these christians.

these christians probably feel like jeremiah, who had a difficult time accepting the cost of being a prophet. 
the first reading describes jeremiah’s suffering in following his prophetic vocation. the people of judah and jerusalem hear his message as treason. he is attacked and tortured; he is isolated; he suffers so much that he tries voluntary retirement.

these christians probably feel like peter, who had a hard time accepting the cost of discipleship. he who protests the suffering, rejection and death that JESUS foretells the messiah must undergo. there is a certain necessity about JESUS’ suffering and death.
peter cannot understand! suffering has no place in his understanding of messiahship. the rock becomes a stumbling block! JESUS tells him to get behind him, to take his place as a disciple… behind the master. JESUS then challenges his disciples to walk with him to jerusalem and calvary: «if anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.»
like the messiah, the disciple must suffer.

but messiahship and discipleship are not only about the cross; there is also the crown. JESUS believes that GOD will vindicate him on «the third day» [that is, definitely/ultimately]. and he promises his disciples a share in his glory and life if they carry their crosses.
the gospel has two sides: the cross and the crown. if we embrace the glorious side, and reject the suffering side, we falsify the gospel. 

each one of us has a cross to carry. what are the crosses in my life? am i willing to carry these and follow JESUS to my jerusalem and calvary? 
let’s pray for christians in iraq, and elsewhere, who are being persecuted for their faith.

23 August 2014

PERFECTED IN WEAKNESS

XXI SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
isaiah 22:19-23; romans 11:33-36; matthew 16:13-20

duke ellington—american composer, pianist and conductor of jazz orchestras—composed with each musician in the band particularly in mind. he said: «you keep their weaknesses in your head as you write, and that way you astonish them with their strengths.»

perhaps, that’s the way GOD works with the people he chooses as leaders and with us: he keeps our weaknesses in mind and astonishes us with our strengths; he perfects us in weakness.
how else does one explain his choice of leaders? when studying church history, and reading about some infamous leaders and the scandals in the church, one question kept popping up: why does GOD allow such leaders in the church?
we have a response in this sunday’s gospel. 

in response to JESUS’ question about his identity, simon acknowledges JESUS as the CHRIST. JESUS blesses simon and gives him a new name—peter, and a mission—the rock on which JESUS will build his church.

what kind of a rock was peter? 
soon after being named rock, peter misunderstood the nature of JESUS’ mission.
at the last supper, peter boasted that he’d never deny JESUS, and a few hours later, denied him thrice.
after the resurrection, peter left the LORD and went back to his boat and nets.
twenty years later, when one would think he had finally managed to get things sorted out, peter withdrew from table fellowship with fellow christians merely because they were gentiles.
by nature, peter was definitely not rock!

but the weak and human peter becomes rock when he is open to divine revelation («blessed are you, simon…»), and when JESUS prays for him (peter, i have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail…»). after pentecost, peter fearlessly proclaimed the gospel. he was imprisoned, tried, tortured, forbidden to preach… he did not stop preaching! 
through grace, peter became rock.

there is something of simon in each of us. we misunderstand JESUS’ mission and words, deny him, get engrossed in our own business. GOD chooses us—keeping our weaknesses in mind—and strengthens us to be his church. he perfects us in weakness.

will i open myself to his revelation and grace? will i allow him to perfect me?

16 August 2014

GOD’S LOVE… ACROSS BORDERS, BEYOND BARRIERS

XX SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
isaiah 56:1, 6-7; romans 11:13-15, 29-32; matthew 15:21-28

in 1947, jackie robinson became the first afro-american to play major league baseball. he faced discrimination from teammates, derision by opponents, racial slurs from spectators. during one game in boston, when the slurs reached a peak, harry «pee wee» reese came over, and put his arm around robinson. there was silence in the stadium. robinson later said that gesture saved his career.

that gesture—immortalized in a bronze sculpture in keyspan park, brooklyn—also broke ethnic barriers.

in the gospel, no barrier could keep the canaanite woman away from JESUS… neither his indifferent silence nor his statement about his mission «only to the lost sheep of the house of israel» nor his apparent rebuke. her persistent faith persuaded JESUS to reach beyond ethnic/ geographical boundaries to cure her daughter.

the first and second readings set the stage for the drama in the gospel.
isaiah gives voice to GOD’s intention to extend israel’s privileges to all «foreigners who join themselves to the LORD.» GOD yearns to be in relationship with all peoples.
paul emphasises that GOD’s mercy is intended for all, whether jew or gentile.

pope francis symbolised this aspect of GOD’s love (and caused a furore among traditionalists!) when he washed the feet of two women and two muslims at a juvenile detention centre last year, and of disabled men and women of varied ethnicities and creeds.

do i reach out in love to all people irrespective of gender, caste, class, creed or ethnicity? will i imitate GOD and go beyond borders and barriers?

09 August 2014

STEPPING OUT ON THE WORD OF GOD

XIX SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
1 kings 19:9a, 11-13a; romans 9:1-5; matthew 14:22-33

br patrick nshamdze, director of  st joseph’s catholic hospital in liberia, died last saturday of  ebola. fr miguel parajes, dr kent brantly and nancy writebol, are fighting for their lives after contracting ebola while treating infected patients in liberia. nancy’s husband, david (who’s still in liberia) imagines he should be beside himself with worry but instead finds «in a very real and unexpected way... the peace and the comfort of GOD.»
these are but few heroes who have stepped out to care for ebola victims. they did not need to risk their lives. they did.


today’s readings feature two heroes, who stepped out… on the strength of GOD’s word. 

the first reading presents elijah.
elijah confronted the infidelity of the monarchy, and destroyed the false prophets of baal. then, overwhelmed by fatigue, he wanted to give up. but strengthened by GOD’s food and word, he journeyed to horeb where he encountered the LORD… in a still small voice. this encounter strengthened him to continue his mission.
elijah did not need to leave the comfort of his homeland tishbe. he obeyed GOD and stepped out on his word.

the gospel features peter and his walk upon the water.
in the midst of the storm, the disciples encountered JESUS, who calmed their fears. the impetuous peter dared to get out into the stormy seas.
peter did not need to get out of the boat. he did… on the strength of the LORD’s word.

elijah and peter (and patrick, miguel, kent, nancy and david) show us what happens when we respond to the LORD’s call: we triumph over the forces of chaos and meaninglessness; his power lifts us up and allows us to weather the storms of life.

which boats do i need to step out? on which stormy waters does the LORD call me to walk? will i risk stepping out on the word of GOD?
i can 
- risk, because i have a GOD who watches over me;
- trust, because i have a GOD who cares for me;
- step out because i have a GOD who saves me.

02 August 2014

COMPASSION ACCOMPLISHES THE UNBELIEVABLE

XVIII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
isaiah 55:1-3; romans 8:35, 37-39; matthew 14:13-21

on a farm near maine, lloyd bachelder was pinned under a 3,000-pound tractor. hearing him scream, arthur hinkley, his friend, lifted the tractor with bare hands for lloyd to wriggle out.  arthur’s compassion accomplished the unbelievable (cf. calvin miller, «rethinking suburban evangelism»).

we see such compassion in the readings of today.
the gospel opens with JESUS withdrawing to a lonely place after he hears of john’s beheading. but he has no time to be «by himself» for the crowds follow him. JESUS is faced with an unexpected demand on himself. 
there are two usual responses to such a situation. one: i completely ignore such demands because they conflict with my plans/needs. two: if i’m one who cannot say «no», i will always put aside my plans and respond to the call… even when i can’t/don’t want to respond. i play the «martyr»; the result is eventual burnout/frustration. neither response is appropriate.
JESUS’ response? he «had compassion on them» and responded to their need. BUT it is important to note that in john’s version of this story, JESUS goes away after satiating the people’s hunger because he does not want to make them dependent!
sometimes, compassion is helping people by giving them resources and myself; at other moments, compassion is helping people find their own resources and themselves. 

however, there is so much «hunger» for food, education, love… is it possible to satiate this hunger?
the first reading asks an important question: «why do you spend money for that which is not bread…?» if we use money for others’ basic needs, instead of spending on our wants and whims, we will help alleviate people’s hunger. 
further, the disciples had «only five loaves and two fish». JESUS multiplies this «only five loaves and two fish» and it becomes enough to feed the multitude. the «great crowd,» the «lonely place» and the feeding with «bread» remind us of the way GOD fed his people in the desert with manna, and assure us that GOD still satisfies his people’s hunger through the messiah and his disciples. 

today’s liturgy reassures us: GOD really cares for us; he can and will satisfy all our hungers. but he needs me to mediate his compassion.
am i ready to be compassionate… sharing my resources sometimes and helping people find their own resources at other moments? will i give my «five loaves and two fish» and allow the LORD to multiply them? am i willing to buy only what i need and to give the surplus so others can meet their needs?