27 May 2017


acts 1:1-11; ephesians 1:17-23; matthew 28:16-20

leonardo da vinci was working on a large canvas in his studio… with his inimitable genius: he chose the subject, sketched the outline, applied the colours. then he stopped, summoned one of his students, and invited him to complete the work. the horrified student protested that he was unworthy and unable to complete the work which his master had begun. but da vinci silenced him: «will not what i have done inspire you to do your best?» 

our master began his work of proclaiming the good news by what he said and did, and by his passion, death and resurrection. then he stopped and summoned his disciples to complete the work. 
will his life not inspire us to do our best? this is the thrust of the ascension. jesus gives his disciples a program (witness to him) and a promise (the holy spirit). 

in the gospel, jesus commissions his disciples to teach all nations and to make disciples of them. he promises to be with them «always, until the end of the age.»
in the first reading, the program and the promise is similar. jesus calls his disciples to be his «witnesses in jerusalem, throughout judea and samaria, and to the ends of the earth» and promises them the power of the spirit.

there are three aspects about christian witness.
- in a court of law, a witness cannot give hearsay evidence; it must be his/her personal experience. a christian testifies to a personal experience of GOD. 
- witness is not of words but of deeds. 
- the greek word for witness and for martyr is the same: «martus». to be a witness means to live the mission of christ no matter what the cost.

christian witness sounds a tough task. and it is… if we attempt it alone. that’s why jesus promises his presence and the spirit to strengthen us. 
like da vinci’s disciple we think we are unworthy and unable to complete the work. the life and the work of our master ought to inspire us.
how will i witness to jesus and carry on his mission? will i live the program and rely on the promise?

20 May 2017


acts 8:5-8, 14-17; 1 peter 3:15-18; john 14:15-21

home alone. the real life experience, not the movie, of several people. here’s just one story: 
i am sixteen. a year ago, i lost the most important person in my life, my grandmother. she was my world, and suddenly she was gone. i was alone. i cried for days, cursing GOD, her, and even myself for her death. i had no idea how to get through my freshman year of high school, but somehow i did. now i remember her and do what i know she would want me to do… help people.

alone. on their own. that’s perhaps the way the apostles felt during the last supper.
jesus, the most important person in their lives, has repeatedly told them about his death. the apostles cannot understand this talk of death and going away. 
jesus promises them his spirit to comfort and lead them: «the father... will give you another advocate to be with you always... i will not leave you orphans.»
and he reminds them: «if you love me, you will keep my commandments… whoever loves me will be loved by my father, and i will love him and reveal myself to him.»
a promise and a reminder! the promise of the eternal comforting, abiding, and advocating presence of the spirit. the reminder that they will experience the full presence of the spirit when they love… because the spirit is love.

we see the promise and the reminder unfold in the first reading: with the power of the spirit and with love, the disciples go out to proclaim christ to the people of samaria. like the sixteen year-old, when they reach out, they are alone no longer.

we, too, have been given this gift of the spirit. why do we still feel lonely and troubled? perhaps because we have forgotten the reminder. 
am i open to the comforting and guiding presence of the spirit? do i keep the commandment of love? then… i will not be alone. i will not feel «orphaned».

13 May 2017


acts 6:1-7; 1 peter 2:4-9; john 14:1-12

a little boy was scared to sleep alone. he called out to his dad:  «i’m scared. couldn’t you stay in here with me?»
dad said: «son, nothing will happen to you. mom and i are in the next room.»
«i know, daddy. but i’m scared.»
«there’s no reason to be scared. GOD is here with you.»
«i know that, also, daddy. but i want someone with skin on.»

the little boy’s fear is similar to the disciples’ fear. jesus—their master, for whom they left everything—is leaving them. they are afraid to face the world alone; they fear staying in their «room» alone. 

jesus assures them that there is no need to be afraid, and gives them three fear busters.
faith in GOD and his son is the first fear buster: «you believe in GOD, believe also in me.» 
jesus tells philip: «whoever has seen me has seen the father… i am in the father and the father is in me.» the second fear buster: in and through his son, GOD is with us, is present with skin on, is deeply involved in the events and crises of our world.
jesus says: «i am going to prepare a place for you.» GOD has a special place for each one of us in the church and in the world. we need to find that place/mission/role. finding our mission and place in life is the third fear buster.

this does not mean there won’t be problems. the first reading describes the problems the fledgling church has in the food distribution system! 
the fear busters help the church overcome this problem: faith in GOD and jesus keep the apostles from getting overwhelmed. they find their place and role in the church: the apostles focus on preaching; they appoint deacons to look after the administration… and the church grew.

the little boy’s fear is similar to our own. problems assail us, the darkness of our nights frighten us… and we need someone—with skin on—by our side. 
do i have faith in GOD? do i believe that he is with me in his son and in people? what am i doing to find my place in life?

06 May 2017


acts 2:14a, 36-41; 1 peter 2:20b-25; john 10:1-10

a native american and his friend were walking in midtown new york. decibel levels were deafeningly high… people chatting, vehicles moving, and horns honking.
suddenly, the native american said: «i hear a cricket.» his friend said: «what! you’re crazy. you couldn’t possibly hear a cricket in all this noise!» 
the native american insisted that he had heard a cricket. he listened carefully, walked across the street to a big plant, looked under the branches and… found a cricket. 
his friend was stunned: «that’s incredible! you must have superhuman ears!» the native american said: «my ears aren’t different from yours. it depends on what you’re listening for. my ears are attuned to natural sounds. let me demonstrate.»
he pulled out a few coins from his pocket, and dropped them on the sidewalk. every head within twenty feet turned to see if the money that had tinkled on the pavement was theirs!
«see what i mean!» said the native american. «it depends on what’s important to you.»

today’s liturgy highlights the importance of having ears attuned to GOD and his word.
the gospel has two parables. in the first, the imagery is of a sheepfold into which the shepherd and a prowler seek to enter. the second parable concerns the relationship between the sheep and the shepherd, and between the sheep and a stranger. 
the first parable is a challenge to israel’s religious authorities: will they listen to and heed jesus’ message? jesus can offer no external credentials for his authority; in the second parable, a small group respond in faith to his message because they hear in it the authentic voice of GOD. 
both parables make the same point: jesus provides his people his word and sacraments, and gives them abundant life… provided they listen to him.

the first reading portrays the second parable! the people listen to peter’s admonishment. «they were cut to the heart», and ask what they must do. they again heed peter’s voice: they repent and are saved.

if jesus and his word are important for us, we will hear him above the bustle of our lives, above the noise of consumerism and materialism. if our ears are attuned to power, prestige and pleasure, we will hear those. 
the quality of our life indicates to what our ears are attuned! if we do not live «abundantly», we are listening to and following not the shepherd but a stranger. 
whom do i follow? to whom/what do i listen? do i still hear the shepherd?

29 April 2017


acts 2:14, 22-33; 1 peter 1:17-21; luke 24:13-35

the film «the miracle worker» is the story of helen keller and anne sullivan. it depicts how sullivan broke through keller’s isolation, confusion and anger imposed by a near complete lack of language. for 49 years she journeyed with keller… first as teacher, and then as companion. she showed keller the meaning of words, and helped keller blossom into a world-famous speaker, author, and advocate for people with disabilities. 

the two disciples on their way to emmaus had a journey similar to keller. they went from despair to hope, from looking downcast to having burning hearts… after the risen jesus journeyed with them as teacher—he explained the meaning of the word to them; and companion—he broke bread with them. after this walk, they became messengers of hope to the other disciples.
in the second reading (an excerpt from 1 peter written for christians in asia minor whose acceptance of the gospel alienated them from society), peter bolsters their faith. he tells them that during the time of their sojourning, the risen jesus sojourns with them.

«GOD walking with us» is a recurrent theme in the bible: he walked with adam and eve in the garden; he walked with the israelites in the desert; he walked with the exiles; he walked the shore of galilee healing the sick and comforting the anguished.

GOD still walks with us in our times of anguish and despair, confusion and pain.
do i recognise him? or do discouragement and despair prevent me from recognising him? does this walking transform me? do i walk with others?
may you and i be aware of GOD walking with us on our «emmaus» journeys! may opening the scriptures and breaking the bread strengthen us to walk with others to bring them hope.

22 April 2017


acts 2:42-47; 1 peter 1:3-9; john 20:19-31

after a lecture on mental health, karl menninger—the famous psychiatrist—answered audience questions.  one person asked: «what would you advise a person to do if he/she felt a nervous breakdown coming on?»
duh! the obvious answer: see a psychiatrist.
menninger caught everyone off guard with his response:  «lock up your house, go across the railway tracks, find someone in need, and do something to help that person.»

brilliant advice! and it applies to all sorts of breakdowns: when you have problems of your own, get out of yourself.
that’s what the risen jesus advises and commissions his disciples to do when he finds them «on the evening of that first day of the week» behind closed doors «for fear of the jews»! he sends them out… with the spirit to proclaim GOD’s love and forgiveness.
a week later, he finds them still behind closed doors. little wonder, then, that thomas refused to believe that jesus was risen. they were—in pope francis’ idiom—the first «christian bats»!
they eventually do go out of the closed room. the result? they «suffer through various trials» (second reading). They also experience fellowship—sharing of material resources and spiritual moments—and growth (first reading).

a natural reaction when we are afraid is to lock doors and focus inward. sometimes the «unnatural» works better!
moreover, our closed doors do not stop jesus; he comes to us in our fear, doubts, confusion… with his peace and with his spirit. further, he keeps returning week after week... in the word, in the bread and the wine. and he keeps sending us out of our closed rooms into a world that needs his gifts of life and peace.

what are the fears that keep me behind closed doors? what makes me a christian bat?
may i live in the awareness that jesus is always with me. may i get out, help those in need, and proclaim GOD’s love and forgiveness

15 April 2017


readings for the easter vigil
genesis 1:1—2:2; genesis 22:1-18; exodus 14:15—15:1; isaiah 54:5-14; isaiah 55:1-11; baruch 3:9-15, 32—4:4; ezekiel 36:16-28
romans 6:3-11; matthew 28:1-10

readings for mass during the day
acts 10:34a, 37-43; colossians 3:1-4 or 1 corinthians 5:6b-8; john 20:1-9

in one of his lighter moments, benjamin franklin penned his own epitaph: 
the body of b. franklin like the cover of an old book
its contents torn out, and stripped of its lettering and gilding,
lies here, food for worms.
but the work shall not be wholly lost:
for it will, as he believ’d, appear once more 
in a new and more perfect edition, corrected and amended by the author.

franklin’s epitaph is a near-perfect summary of the transformation that the resurrection brings! 
recall the transformation that happened to jesus. his resurrected body was radically different from his earthly body! it was so radically different that his own disciples could not recognise him, and he was able to move about as he desired, and through closed doors.

we will experience this radical transformation of our bodies on the last day; our bodies will appear in a new and more perfect edition. 
there is another transformation that happens now… a transformation at the personal level. look at the transformation in the disciples!
- from fear to joy and bold proclamation
- from doubt to belief 
- from people who fought for position and greatness to people who were of one heart and one soul
after the resurrection, in the words of the second reading, they became «a fresh batch of dough»!

do i live like an easter person… with joy, with belief, and in solidarity with others? if not, what are my fears and doubts that keep me from living as an easter person and witnessing to the resurrection? what must i do to become «a fresh batch of dough»?

easter is a time of hope and new beginning, and a message that we are created not to die but to journey to the fullness of life. may you and i experience this new beginning, live transformed lives, and participate one day in the fullness of life. amen.

08 April 2017


matthew 21:1-11
isaiah 50:4-7; philippians 2:6-11; matthew 26:14-27:66

gene smith’s book «when the cheering stopped» tells the tale of us president woodrow wilson. after world war i, wilson was an international hero. on his first visit to europe after the war, cheering crowds greeted him everywhere.
after a year… at home, wilson ran into opposition; his league of nations was not ratified. his party was defeated in the elections. in europe, political leaders were more concerned with their own agenda than with lasting peace. as long as he «spoke» peace, woodrow wilson was heralded as the new messiah. when he called for change that would lead to peace, the cheering stopped. wilson became a broken man and a failure.

it’s a sad but not unfamiliar story. jesus faced something similar during his journey to jerusalem!
as long as jesus fed the hungry and healed the sick, he was popular. as long as the people saw him as a political messiah, they gave him a royal welcome. 
when jesus emphasised that he was a king of love-peace, and not a conquering military hero, when he showed that he would rule through humble obedience, when he broke social and religious barriers, when he became a threat to the religious authority and political standing of some people, when he loved all people unconditionally and challenged people to do the same, when he called people to change… the cheering stopped. it turned to jeering. on the cross, jesus became (literally) a broken man and a human failure. 

one who makes people feel good is popular. when one tries to translate ideals into reality, when one wants to change «feel good» to «do good», when one challenges people to amend attitudes and action… the cheering stops.
will i be the popular guy who makes people feel good or am i ready to be the unpopular guy who challenges people to be good? what will i do if/when the cheering stops?

the jesus «story» does not end on the cross; there is the empty tomb. it does not end on friday; it begins a new chapter on sunday. 

01 April 2017


ezekiel 37:12-14; romans 8:8-11; john 11:1-45

in may 1988, we moved to jamnagar. the town had been facing a drought for three years. it was dismal when we arrived: the trees were charred; everything had a black or dark brown hue. two days after our arrival, it rained. and the trees began to sprout new leaves. it was an amazing sight: black with specks of green! what seemed dead soon came back to life.

today’s readings are a vivid description of how GOD transforms what is lifeless and a powerful reminder that he constantly does so. 

ezekiel tells the exiles—dead in heart and spirit—that GOD will open their graves, raise them, and put his life-giving spirit in them. it’s a message of hope: this maybe your «friday»; your «sunday» will come!
paul writes to the romans that GOD’s spirit gives life to our mortal bodies.
the gospel is the pathos-filled story of the death and raising of lazarus. the story tells us the kind of GOD we have: our GOD
- does not intervene every time to remove pain/suffering and death;
- is with us in the midst of our suffering; he is not only GOD-with-us but also one with us, all-compassionate and empathetic;
- gives us life.

GOD gives individuals and communities new life. 
do i believe that GOD enlivens my lifeless and listless self? am i ready to receive this new life? 
how can i give that life to others who are without hope and life? will i empathetically be with them?

25 March 2017


1 samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a; ephesians 5:8-14; john 9:1-41

author john h. griffin was blinded in an explosion during world war ii. twelve years later, walking down a street near his parents’ home, he suddenly began to see what he described as «red sand». a specialist later told him that a blockage of blood to an optic nerve had abruptly cleared causing him to see. commenting on his experience, griffin said: «you can’t imagine what it is like for a father to see his children for the first time.» 

the blind man of the gospel had an experience similar to griffin’s: after jesus anoints the man and he washes in the pool, a son saw his parents for the first time! he saw more than his parents; he saw jesus as his LORD.
while his physical sight was instantaneously restored, his spiritual sight grew in stages. for him, jesus is «the man called jesus», «a prophet», «a man of GOD»… and finally he makes a simple act of faith: «i do believe, LORD». 
paradoxically, the pharisees/jews make an opposite journey; they become increasingly blind. they expel the man from the synagogue. even his parents disassociate themselves from him out of fear.

for the evangelist, this is not merely another miraculous cure. john is writing to a community that is experiencing rejection from jewish society. through this sign, he presents the blind man as a model of spiritual growth to encourage them to continue to «see» jesus as their LORD.

like the blind man, we have been anointed and washed in the waters of baptism. 
have I grown in my faith response to jesus: do i «see» him as my LORD… or is he merely a man, a prophet, a man from GOD? 
am i ready to risk rejection in my desire to see jesus?

18 March 2017


exodus 17:3-7; romans 5:1-2, 5-8; john 4:5-42

several years ago, i had gone trekking with a group of friends. by mid-day, after trekking six hours, we were half-way to our destination. we were also out of water! there was no water source or human habitation in sight. after another three hours, we chanced upon a tiny stagnant pool of water. we were tired and thirsty. and so, though the water was dank, we drank.

thirst! this was the condition of the wandering israelites. 
it was thirst that made them grumble against moses; lament their liberation from egypt; and question GOD’s presence among them.
GOD’s response? he gave them life-giving water, a reminder of his continued and powerful presence among them

thirst! this was the condition of the samaritan woman.
it was physical thirst that made her come to the well in the noon-day sun; emotional thirst which took her through six relationships; spiritual thirst which made her dialogue with a jew.
GOD’s response? he gives the woman life-giving water. he satisfies her deep longing for love and understanding; he treats her as a human person, with respect and dignity. through a seven-part catechesis, jesus guides her from ignorance to faith; she grows progressively in her knowledge of jesus’ identity: «a jew,» «sir,» «prophet,» and «messiah.» she goes from being a social outcast to becoming a disciple and a missionary!

thirst! this is our condition. 
we, too, have physical, emotional, spiritual thirsts. GOD’s response to our thirst is similar to his response to the thirst of israel and the samaritan woman. he fills us with living water. we need not go back to the well because the source of living water is within us… from our baptism.

do i still go to other wells, or do i allow the living water to be my thirst-quencher? 
in what way can i, like the woman, invite people to «come and see» and encounter jesus, and drink of the living water that i have drunk?

11 March 2017


genesis 12:1-4a; 2 timothy 1:8b-10; matthew 17:1-9  

a king once received a gift of two peregrine falcons, the most magnificent birds he had ever seen. he gave the falcons to his head falconer to be trained.
months later, the head falconer informed the king that though one falcon was flying majestically, the other bird had not moved from its branch. the king summoned sorcerers from all the land; no one could make the bird fly. the king then ordered his chief minister to get a farmer… someone from the countryside.
the next morning, the king was thrilled to see the falcon soaring high above the palace. he summoned the farmer, and asked: «how did you make the falcon fly?» the farmer replied: «your highness, i only cut the branch where the bird was sitting.»

if we want to find our place in life, we need to get off our branches, we need to leave our comfort zones. this is the thrust of today’s readings.

in the first reading, GOD tells abram (later abraham) to leave his homeland and his father’s house (his «branch»), and journey to the unknown. while abram experiences difficulties and sufferings because of this «leaving», the result is a life of blessing and glory.

in the verses preceding today’s gospel text of the transfiguration, matthew tells us «jesus began to show his disciples that he must… undergo great suffering… and be killed and on the third day be raised.» and today’s passage ends: jesus commanded them: «do not tell the vision to anyone until the son of man has been raised from the dead.»
matthew thus indicates that there is a close and necessary connection between suffering and glory, death and life. he skilfully highlights this point: the three disciples who are at the transfiguration will be at jesus’ agony at gethsemane! to experience life, we have to experience, paradoxically, suffering and death.
however, it is not easy to leave our comfort zones; our very natural impulse is to stay in a comfort zone. surrounded by magnificence and glory, peter wants to remain: «i will make three tents»! but peter must listen to jesus’ teaching that the way to fullness of life is through suffering and death, through a scary unknown.

am i ready to leave behind my comfort zone; am i ready to journey through uncertainty and difficulty? what are the «branches» i must leave/cut to live my identity and experience new life?

04 March 2017


genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7; romans 5:12-19; matthew 4:1-11

at a first communion liturgy, the celebrant asked the candidates whom they wanted to imitate. there were different answers: one wanted to imitate hrithik roshan, another priyanka chopra, and one said «jesus».

the liturgy of the first sunday of lent presents jesus as the hero to imitate and follow. 

unfortunately, most of us imitate other heroes… especially adam (and eve)!
adam and eve succumbed to temptation in the garden. temptation came to them at three levels: physical (good for food); emotional (a delight to the eyes); and intellectual (to be desired to make one wise). 
but the foundation of the temptation (and the fall) was the doubt about GOD’s word that the serpent planted in eve’s mind: «did GOD say?»; and the blatant denial of that word: «you will not die.» 
and instead of enjoying all that was «very good», they chose the forbidden.

like adam, jesus was tempted. unlike adam, jesus does not succumb. after his baptism, he is clear about his identity as the son of GOD, and does not make choices which preclude him living his identity.
further, the three temptations in matthew’s account mirror the three tests israel faced in the desert. while israel—called son by GOD—failed each test, jesus is obedient son, does not. jesus
- refuses to mistrust GOD and to exploit his power to provide himself with bread, and manifests his total dependence on GOD. 
- refuses to seek proof of GOD’s presence with him; 
- affirms his uncompromising loyalty to GOD. 

our needs and desires—physical, emotional and intellectual—could become channels for temptation. 
how/when do my legitimate needs become channels for temptation? what triggers make me choose the forbidden instead of the good?

adam and eve failed in the garden. israel failed in the desert. they chose the easy way out, and failed to live their identity as GOD’s children. jesus did not fail in the desert; he is the obedient son.
what prevents me from living as GOD’s son/daughter? whom do i imitate: adam (and eve) or jesus?

25 February 2017


isaiah 49:14-15; 1 corinthians 4:1-5; matthew 6:24-34

the three-year old was happy in his father’s arms as dad stood in the middle of the pool. then dad, for fun, began walking towards the deep end as he chanted: «deeper and deeper…» as the water rose higher on the boy, his face registered increasing levels of panic, and his hold on dad grew tighter and tighter.
had junior been able to analyse his situation, he’d have realized there was no reason to panic. the water may have been rising but dad was not out of his depth, and he was safe in dad’s arms. even in the shallowest part of the pool, had he not been held up, he’d be under water; his safety anywhere in that pool depended on dad. 

so often, in the pool of life, we are like the three-year old! we feel we are «going deeper and deeper», and we become increasingly anxious. if/when we analyse our situation, we realise that there is no reason for our anxiety. we’re always held by GOD. he is never out of his depth, and therefore we’re always safe.

that’s the bottom-line of today’s readings! 
jesus urges us not to worry about life and its basic necessities. GOD—who looks after the birds of the air and the lilies of the field—loves us and cares for us, his sons and daughters. he knows our needs and provides for them (we need to work for necessities; we do not need to worry). we need to do the bare necessity: «seek first the kingdom of GOD and his righteousness» (aka doing his will); we need to serve him single-mindedly. 
in the first reading, GOD promises us he will never forget us. one reassuring sentence! «even if a mother forgets her suckling child, i will not forget you.»

a wise person wrote: «i am inwardly fashioned for faith, not for fear. i am so made that worry and anxiety are sand in the machinery of life; faith is the oil. i live better by faith and trust than by fear and anxiety. in anxiety and worry, my being is gasping for breath—these are not my native air. but in faith and confidence, i breathe freely—these are my native air.»

will i trust GOD and his providential love for me? will i seek and serve him, and live by faith not fear?

18 February 2017


leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18; 1 corinthians 3:16-23; matthew 5:38-48

on 25 february 1995, samandar singh—a hit man for some landlords—attacked sr rani maria in a bus in madhya pradesh; he then dragged her out and stabbed her to death. 
singh was sentenced to life imprisonment; however, his jail term was reduced after sr selmi paul (sr maria’s sister) and her family sought his early release. sr paul says she was angry with the killer at first, but soon pardoned him. she spoke with the nuns in her convent about forgiving him but they rejected the idea with contempt and said singh should be paid in the same coin. in 2002, she visited singh in jail, and tied a «rakhi» on his wrist on rakshabandhan.
this act of love and reconciliation transformed singh. after his release he has been helping the marginalised and tribals!

when someone insults/hurts/harms us, our natural inclination is to get even. sr selmi paul gave up this natural urge and reached out her sister’s killer… and made him a brother!

this what the readings challenge us to do: to reach out in forgiveness and love, without retaliating.
in the gospel, jesus calls his disciples to nonviolence and love of enemies. he quotes the eye-for-an-eye rule of the mosaic law, which was meant to mitigate the human instinct for unbridled retaliation, and rules out retaliation and revenge altogether.
however, he is not advocating that we become wimps and doormats! the examples he gives are instances of non­violent response to dishonour and oppression (context!), and to inspire similar forms of creative nonviolence (cf. the ways of mahatma gandhi and martin luther king jr). further, love is not affection; it is willing the good of the other, praying for our persecutors, and doing good to them.

why ought we to behave thus? 
because it helps us and them!
because it is the way GOD acts. we are made in his image and likeness, and we are called to imitate him: «be holy, for i, the LORD, your GOD, am holy» (first reading) and «be perfect, just as your heavenly father is perfect» (gospel). jesus is not calling his disciples to impossible flawlessness but to imitate GOD’s inclusive and universal love (some translations use the word «compassionate»)

when someone insults/hurts/harms me, what will i toss back—insults or love, retaliation or reconciliation? 
do i need to be reconciled with someone? if yes, how will i reach out to him/her? 
how will i strive to imitate GOD in holiness and compassion? 

11 February 2017


sirach 15:15-20; 1 corinthians 2:6-10; matthew 5:17-37

there were two junior executives in a company. both were diligent workers. one always went by the book and never erred. the other didn’t always follow the book, and sometimes made mistakes. when there was an opening for a senior executive position, the managing director promoted the second exec.
mr by-the-book was enraged and questioned a director about the decision! he always followed the book; he never made mistakes; he had a better record. the director replied: «yes. but what will you do when something comes up that isn’t in the book? you know the rules. he knows our rationale; he understands the mind of the directors.»

it’s not enough to go by the book. often in life—and always in the christian life—we need to go beyond the book. that’s the bottom line of today’s scripture.
it is not enough to keep the law; one needs to fulfil it, and live in communion with GOD and neighbour. it is not enough that one’s actions are correct; one’s attitude must also be correct. jesus challenges his disciples to surpass the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees.
he does this through six antitheses (four in today’s text) which have the form «it was said… but i say to you.» disciples must not only 
a) avoid murder but also avoid all attitudes and behaviour that inappropriately express anger and disrespect; 
b) avoid adultery but also have hearts free of lust;
c) avoid divorce but also remain faithful to the marriage covenant;
c) avoid false oaths but also avoid oaths (an oath calls on GOD to witness to the truth of one’s statement).

it’s not enough to know and keep the rules. we need to know the rationale for the rules and keep their spirit. we need to know why we are disciples and who we should be… by knowing JESUS, putting on his mind, and living his values. 
am i ready to go beyond «the book»? am i ready to imitate the ONE who came to «fulfil the law»?

04 February 2017


isaiah 58:7-10; 1 corinthians 2:1-5; matthew 5:13-18

a young lady went to her pastor: «i am the only christian in my office. there’s corruption and nepotism everywhere. i get nothing but taunts and sneers. i’m quitting.»
the pastor asked her: «where are lights placed?» the lady asked him bluntly: «huh? what’s that to do with my situation?» 
the pastor replied: «never mind. answer my question.» she said: «in dark places.»
«and that is why you are in that office where there is spiritual darkness and where there is no other christian to let his/her light shine.»
the young lady went back to work determined to let her light shine in that dark place! 

this is our mission as christians: to let our light shine. this is the mandate jesus gives his disciples in today’s gospel: to be salt and light… wherever we are.
by itself, salt tastes awful and is useless. salt is valuable when it associates with other things and transforms them: a little salt—invisible though it is—brings out the flavour of food; the little salt in our bodies helps control blood pressure, and regulates the function of muscles and nerves; salt purifies and softens, cleans and preserves. of itself, light is useless; we seldom look directly at a source of light. light is valuable when we look toward objects it illuminates; it warms and nurtures, sustains and cheers.
to be the «salt of the earth» is to associate with people to bring out the inherent goodness in them; to be the «light of the world» is to illuminate a dark and cold society with GOD’s presence.
the first reading gives us concrete ways to be the light: be just, alleviate need, and remove oppression.

how will i be salt? how will i let my light shine?

28 January 2017


zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13; 1 corintians 1:26-31; matthew 5:1-12a

one of the saddest songs i have heard is «nobody’s child»: a song about a blind orphan, who feels he is nobody’s child because nobody wants him. many come to the orphanage to adopt children, but – because he is blind – they leave him behind. he feels strongly the absence of love.

there are moments in our lives when we feel like «nobody’s children»: we feel unwanted, unloved, misunderstood, and rejected; we consider ourselves failures.
today’s readings tell us that we have no cause for despair… because GOD has a preference for the nobodies of the world!

in the first reading, zephaniah speaks of and to «a people humble and lowly». these –the remnant of israel (anawim) – are a small group of people who, despite difficulties and trials, have been faithful to GOD. while others turn to worldly wealth and power, these know that their power lies in GOD alone. hence, they shall know true peace: «they shall pasture… with none to disturb them»! 
the anawim are a concrete sign of GOD’s power working among the nobodies of the world.  

this is the thrust of the gospel beatitudes!
«blessed are the poor in spirit…» the ‘poor in spirit’ do not have the resources to meet their needs, and recognise that they depend on GOD completely. jesus does not justify/extol economic poverty; he calls his disciples to recognise their powerlessness and complete dependence on GOD. «… for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.» he assures them that when they are ‘poor in spirit’ they will experience deep communion with GOD now.
the second to the seventh beatitudes spell out aspects of being ‘poor in spirit’.
in the eighth beatitude, those declared ‘blessed’ are those persecuted for righteousness’ sake. righteousness, for matthew, is doing GOD’s will always.

the readings assure us that – however painful the circumstances – the anawim or the poor in spirit experience the grace of GOD and intimate communion with him… here and now and always.
in my darkest hour, in moments of intense isolation, in moments when i feel like nobody’s child, can i be ‘poor in spirit’? can i acknowledge my nothingness before GOD and my utter dependence on him? if yes, mine is the kingdom of heaven!

21 January 2017


isaiah 8:23 - 9:3; 1 corinthians 1:10-13, 17; matthew 4:12-23

on one of her trips to melbourne, mother teresa visited a poor and abandoned man. his room was dark and dirty. mother started cleaning the room. the man protested and asked her to leave it as it was. she kept cleaning. under a pile of rubbish, she found an oil lamp covered with dirt. she cleaned and polished it, and then asked him: «how come you never light this lamp?» he asked: «why should i light it? no one ever comes to see me. i never see anybody.» «will you light it if one of my sisters comes to see you?» «if i hear a human voice, i’ll light the lamp.»
two of mother teresa’s nuns began regularly visiting him. his situation and he gradually improved. then one day he told them: «sisters, i’ll manage on my own from now. but do me a favour. tell that first sister who came to see me that the light she lit in my life is still burning.»

what mother teresa did for that poor man (and countless others) was to continue the mission of jesus: to bring light to those in darkness.

the gospel announces the beginning of jesus’ ministry in galilee. it is significant that jesus begins his ministry in galilee, «in the region of zebulun and naphtali»:
for matthew, this is the fulfillment of isaiah’s oracle (first reading) concerning the messiah: the darkness of galilee’s assyrian captivity will end, and the «great light» of their deliverance will appear. 
further, galilee was home to jewish immigrants who, for centuries, were surrounded and influenced by gentiles. the judeans looked down on them. jesus begins his ministry among these outcasts, the «lost sheep of the house of israel».

jesus’ mission is to proclaim and establish the kingdom of GOD: a state of love, justice and peace, a reversal of darkness and oppression of every kind. he does this by teaching and healing people, and by calling them to «repent» (to change their attitude and behaviour to receive what GOD is offering them) and to follow him. 

we still live in darkness. we still face isolation and oppression. 
the LORD, who called simon and andrew, james and john, calls us to follow him to continue his mission to bring light to «the people who sit in darkness».
will i leave my «boat» and «nets» to follow him? what areas of my life need change? to whom and how will i bring light? 

14 January 2017


isaiah 49:3, 5-6; 1 corinthians 1:1-3; john 1:29-34

someone asked a missionary whether he liked what he was doing. his response was shocking: «do i like this work? no! i do not like dirt. i have reasonable refined sensibilities. i do not like crawling into dirty huts through dung…» he listed all the difficulties he endured. 
he continued: «but is a person to do nothing for christ he/she does not like? liking or disliking has nothing to do with it. i have orders to ‘go’ and i go. love impels me.»

today’s liturgy emphasises that love impels every christian missionary.
the first reading (the second servant song from isaiah) states that GOD forms his servant to bring back jacob and israel to himself, and to be a light to the nations.
in the second reading, paul affirms that he is «called to be an apostle of christ jesus». reading through the acts of the apostles and paul’s letters, it is clear that paul feels impelled to be an apostle. he has orders to «go» and he does… despite hardships and tribulation.
in the gospel, john the baptist spells out his mission: to reveal jesus to israel and to testify that he is the son of GOD. the fact that he did not know jesus is irrelevant; he «had» to witness to him.

love impels us! 
do i allow love to impel me? or do my likes/dislikes prevent me from witnessing to GOD’s love?
how will i be a light to «the nations»? how will reveal jesus to people around me?

07 January 2017


isaiah 60:1-6; ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; matthew 2:1-12

growing up as a fauji kid was an amazing experience of a life of communion! we hailed from different places and spoke different languages, professed different faiths and had different customs. despite our numerous differences, we shared a common bond. in sickness and in health, in sorrow and in joy, in mourning and in celebration, we were one people… members of one fauji family.

we are members of one family. this is the thrust of the readings on the feast of the epiphany. in his letter to the ephesians, paul writes that the manifestation (or epiphany) of GOD’s glory in jesus reveals GOD’s plan to make all people «members of the same body». 
in the first reading, isaiah invites jerusalem to «rise up in splendour» because the exile is over. her sons and daughters return to jerusalem; and so will the gentiles bearing «the wealth of nations» to praise GOD who has done wonders for all his people.
what isaiah proclaims in verse, matthew narrates in word! bethlehem is the destination of the pilgrimage of the magi bearing gifts to honour the king of the jews. jews and gentiles are one in praising and adoring the one GOD.

in a world which increasingly emphasizes division on the basis of gender, race, religion, nationality, class… the feast of the epiphany is a powerful reminder that we are one people whom the one GOD has created.
do i see myself as a member of the one human family? how will i manifest and celebrate my oneness with all people in the week ahead?