22 July 2017

DON’T JUMP TO CONCLUSIONS

XVI SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
wisdom 12:13, 16-19; romans 8:26-27; matthew 13:24-43 or 13:24-30

a bishop was sailing on a transatlantic ocean-liner. when he went aboard, he found that he was sharing a cabin with another passenger. after he unpacked his bags, he went to the purser to inquire if he could leave his valuables in the ship’s safe. he explained that he was afraid that his co-passenger might not be trustworthy. the purser smiled, accepted the valuables, and remarked: «bishop, i’ll be very glad to keep your valuables in safe custody. the other man has just been up here and left his valuables for the same reason!»


jumping to conclusions is an exercise most of us get! we are quick to judge; we are intolerant and want to do away with wrong-doers… all without knowing circumstances/ facts/ motives. 

this sunday’s liturgy strongly challenges these attitudes. 
the first reading asserts that GOD is patient and merciful even with sinners; he gives people time to change. he asks his people to act with patience and tolerance towards one another, even their enemies.
the psalmist describes GOD as a GOD of mercy and compassion, who is slow to anger!
GOD’s patience with imperfection appears also in the gospel in the parable of the wheat and the darnel: the workers want to uproot the weeds. but the owner knows that wheat and darnel look identical to one another… until they ripen! and so he cautions the workers: «wait till all the facts are in; don’t jump to conclusions! else you might uproot wheat.» 

today’s readings counsel patience… in the face of our failures; amid our urge to fix things; in the face of our tendency to judge others and to act on those judgments. 

in which areas do i need to be patient with myself? with whom do i need to be patient? 
GOD is patient with us. let us be patient with ourselves, with others, with the world! let us stop jumping to conclusions.

15 July 2017

KEEP SOWING THE SEED

XV SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
isaiah 55:10-11; romans 8:18-23; matthew 13:1-23 or 13:1-9

«i’m quitting!» said a priest companion as he and i were vesting for the eucharist. before a stunned me could respond, he said his province was quitting a missionary region because even after thirty plus years of ministry, they were not seeing the fruit of their labour. they planned to relocate in places where the people were more receptive.

it is frustrating to work and not see the results of our labour. parents, educators, mentors… we’ve been there and felt it. we want to throw our hands up and say: «that’s it! i’ve had enough.» 


today’s word is addressed to those who want to quit: keep sowing… because GOD’s word is efficacious.

let’s situate today’s parable of the sower. the disciples are disheartened. jesus has had very little «success». the pharisees are against him. the crowds come to him, but only to benefit from his power. 
every israelite listening to the parable could identify with every detail: some seed necessarily fell on hard ground; much of their land was limestone, and beneath a few inches of soil there was rock; the soil which looked clean could have fibrous roots of weeds. every detail was commonplace except one: the size of the harvest. a farmer who reaped a fivefold harvest was considered fortunate; a sevenfold harvest was a bounty attributable to GOD’s blessing, and reason to celebrate. a thirty-fold harvest? unheard of. sixty-fold, hundred-fold? impossible!
when we sow GOD’s word, there will be miraculous success despite initial frustration. 

the first reading gives us reason for confidence in an abundant harvest: just as rain inevitably brings forth fruitfulness, GOD’s word is efficacious. 

the sower knows soils are different. he accepts that the seed will grow differently. he sows anyway; he sows everywhere. 
and so we ought. in an age that looks for quick results, we need to sow the seed with patience and in hope that what we sow will—in the end—produce a harvest… even when it appears pointless, even when it appears that every inch of ground is worthless. keep sowing the seed… because GOD’s word is efficacious. 
will i quit or will i keep sowing?

08 July 2017

COUNTER THE CULTURE

XIV SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
zechariah 9:9-10; romans 8:9, 11-13; matthew 11:25-30

an extract from ellen goodman’s editorial, «battling our culture is parents’ task»† in the «chicago tribune»:
one of your main jobs as a parent is to counter the culture. what the media deliver to children by the masses, you are expected to rebut one at a time. we need parents who know how to say «no». but the call for «parental responsibility» is increasing in direct proportion to the irresponsibility of the marketplace. parents are expected to protect their children from an increasingly hostile environment. are the kids being sold junk food? just say no. is tv bad? turn it off. are there messages about sex, drugs, violence all around? counter the culture.
parents see themselves in a struggle for the hearts and minds of their own children. it isn’t that they can’t say no. it’s that there’s so much more to say no to. they are expected to raise their children in opposition to dominant cultural messages.
it’s what makes child-raising harder. it’s not just that families have less time with their kids, it’s that we must spend more of this time doing battle with our own culture. 


what society is compelling parents to do today is what jesus challenged his disciples to do: counter the culture!

the indicators of this counter-cultural way: 
▪ GOD’s revelation is not to «the wise and the learned» but to the «little ones»;
▪ freedom from labour and burdens comes not from escapism but from surrendering to the easy-fitting yoke of jesus;
▪ the blessed in the kingdom are those the world considers unfortunate.

our reason/motivation for being counter-cultural: our GOD is a king 
▪ who rides not a horse but a colt, a symbol of peace; who proclaims not war but peace to the nations; who does not build weapons of destruction but destroys weapons (cf. first reading); 
▪ who took the form of a slave and was born in human likeness;
▪ who calls us to learn from his meekness and humility.

will i imitate my GOD and counter the culture? will i learn from him… who is meek and humble of heart??

† written in the nineties and still relevant.
for the whole editorial, click http://goo.gl/HPW0SS

01 July 2017

WELCOME HOME

XIII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
2 kings 4:8-11, 14-16a; romans 6:3-4, 8-11; matthew 10:37-42

i arrived home last sunday evening; my mum and brother were at the gate to welcome me. early the following morning, my sister and her family arrived from the states. my brother and i were on the main road to receive them; the rest of the family was in the apartment with open arms! it feels good to be welcomed so warmly.
what’s true for my sis and me is true for everybody. everyone wants and loves to be welcomed.


the prophet elisha (first reading), perhaps, felt the same when the shunemite woman welcomed him and was hospitable to him. 
the woman was childless. in a culture that saw barrenness a curse, she would have felt the negative opinion of her neighbours; she might have had a sense of guilt.
but she didn’t focus on her condition. instead, she welcomed elisha to her home, and extended hospitality to this «holy man of GOD». her hospitality was extravagant—not just food, she gave him a furnished room…. «so that when he comes to us he can go in there.»  how thoughtful, how sensitive, how generous! 
and, though her hospitality had no strings attached, she received her reward! GOD acted powerfully for the woman because she was kind to one of his own.

the message about hospitality finds an echo in the gospel. jesus continues to instruct his disciples before he sends them out. he reminds them about the cost of discipleship, and then encourages them not to worry. for, as they travel with his message, they will meet people, like the shunemite woman, who will recognize them as prophets, righteous men, and disciples. he reassures them that they will find a welcome and hospitality. 

the liturgy challenges us to be a welcoming and caring people. 
today we find people joining new sects. why? they feel welcome, they experience fellowship and love, care and concern.
we need to open our hearts to others and, like the shunemite woman, to build room for others… in our lives and hearts. we need to return to biblical hospitality!

let me pick one person whom i will welcome in my life, for whom i will build a room in my heart. how will i welcome and be hospitable to this person in the week ahead? 

24 June 2017

PERSECUTED, BUT NOT ABANDONED

XII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
jeremiah 20:10-13; romans 5:12-15; matthew 10:26-33

in march this year, fr tomy mathew was stabbed at his church in melbourne while preparing for mass by a man who said he should not celebrate mass because he was indian. last july in northern france, two men (who said they were from the isis) slit the throat of an 84-year-old priest, fr jacques hamel, during morning mass.
christians, priests and laity, are facing increasing persecution. people who proclaim the values of the gospel, people who stand up for what is right are inevitably ill-treated and persecuted. some give up; many fight on.


today’s first reading tells us about jeremiah who had a difficult mission: to denounce the abominations of the people and to warn them of GOD’s wrath. his friends discredited and denounced him; the army council threw him into prison and threatened him with death. 
perhaps, human that he was, jeremiah was afraid… but he did not allow fear to write his script. he refused to be intimidated. what sustained jeremiah was the profound belief that GOD cared for him and was on his side: «the lord is with me as a dread warrior.»

the gospel is a continuation of jesus’ commissioning of the apostles. in the verses preceding today’s text, he has warned them about imminent persecution. 
now he tells them to preach without fear: «do not be afraid.» but how can the apostles not be afraid in the face of persecution? 
the antidote to fear is GOD’s loving care! jesus uses the example of a sparrow to emphasise that the father cares deeply. sparrows were sold two for a penny and five for two pennies. «not one will fall to the ground without your father’s will.» the apostles are worth much more than a sparrow (the one thrown in free?). 

jeremiah and the apostles could face their persecutors with courage because they were deeply aware of GOD’s love for them.
we are called to be fearless prophetic voices—people who denounce what is wrong and stand up for what is right—in our places of work, in our communities… everywhere. 
am i willing to acknowledge jesus despite intimidation? what are the fears which keep me from witnessing to jesus and his values? do i believe that GOD cares for me?

17 June 2017

WE BECOME WHAT WE EAT

THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST
deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a; 1 corinthians 10:16-17; john 6:51-58

there are two birds that fly over deserts: the vulture and the hummingbird. the vulture eats the rotting flesh of dead animals. the hummingbird feeds on the colourful blossoms of desert plants. 
the vulture lives on the past; it fills itself with what is dead. the hummingbird lives on the present; it fills itself with freshness and life. each bird finds what it is looking for. each bird becomes what it eats. 

so do we! if we eat only fast/junk food, will we be healthy? no! to be healthy, we need to eat nourishing food and drink wholesome beverages. 
what applies to the body applies also to the soul! if we want to be spiritually healthy, we need to be nourished with spiritual food and drink: the body and blood of jesus… the word made flesh.


the readings on the feast of the body and blood of christ highlight the importance of spiritual nourishment. 
jesus’ teaching in the gospel takes place at the beginning of the feast of unleavened bread, which recalled how GOD nourished the people with manna in the desert (and with his word).
jesus emphasizes that the bread he gives is different from the manna in the desert!
- the manna that was not eaten within the day had to be thrown away; it was no longer any good. however, after jesus multiplied bread and fed the five thousand, twelve baskets of fragments were gathered and saved. this means that this bread lasts. 
- the manna was limited and only for the jews. the bread which jesus gives is for always and for all people. 
- the manna nourished the people only during the journey to the promised land. the bread of life nourishes us with eternal life. 
- those who ate the manna in the desert died. those who eat the living bread will live forever. 

jesus—the word made flesh and the living bread—nourishes us for always by giving us his word, and his body and blood… in the eucharist.
am i like the vulture eating rubbish or am i like the hummingbird that eats fresh food? am i satisfied with the junk food the world offers or do i feast on jesus the word and the living bread? 

10 June 2017

GOD LOVES AND FORGIVES

TRINITY SUNDAY
exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9; 2 corinthians 13:11-13; john 3:16-18

thomas a. edison was working on his crazy contraption—the «light bulb». it took his team twenty-four hours to put together each bulb. once, after the team finished crafting a bulb, edison gave it to a young boy to carry up to the store-room. the youngster took each step with extreme and watchful caution. at the top of the stairs, the poor chap dropped the priceless piece of work. it took the team another twenty-four hours to make a second bulb. when they finished it, and it had to be carried upstairs to the store-room, edison gave it to the same boy.

why would edison forgive someone who destroyed his handiwork? it’s bizarre. it defies understanding.
so does the reality that our GOD always forgives us though we constantly and repeatedly destroy his handiwork.


the readings on the solemnity of the trinity (surprisingly) are not incomprehensible theology/ doctrine explaining the trinity. they emphasize something more incomprehensible yet deeply consoling and hope-filled:  GOD’s forgiving love! his love is not a sentimental love but a non-condemning and forgiving love.
the first reading describes the incident after the debacle of the golden calf. GOD is willing to renew the covenant with israel despite its incessant infidelity. why? he tells moses that he is «a merciful and gracious GOD, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.» this succinct poetic description of GOD is an oft-repeated statement of israel’s belief, and describes GOD’s relationship with his people.
the gospel is a summary and the core of the good news! JESUS tells nicodemus that GOD sent his son because he loved the world and wanted us to have eternal life… life with him.
in the second reading, paul gives us a program to imitate our trinitarian GOD: «encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace.»

do i forgive and love like GOD does? whom will i forgive and love in the week ahead?

03 June 2017

SHAPED BY THE WIND OF GOD

PENTECOST
acts 2:1-11; 1 corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; john 20:19-23

a parish priest narrates a conversation he had with a funeral director about the effect the wind has on things! the director said that, over time, trees that stand out in the open become shaped in the direction the wind is blowing. unless there are other trees around to block it, a tree will eventually be shaped by the force and direction of the wind. then, the funeral director began to point out tree after tree that had been shaped in this way… the cemetery was literally filled with them! all shaped by the wind!


something similar happened to the apostles on the day of pentecost. they were shaped by the wind of GOD—the holy spirit. 
the apostles were afraid after jesus’ crucifixion, and confused by his post-resurrection appearances; they shut themselves «in one place together». 
at pentecost, the spirit shaped them: from being fearfully behind closed doors, they moved with bold freedom into the open; from being silent spectators, they became vibrant and fearless preachers of the gospel; from being a cluster of individuals, they became a community and a church with a definite mission and mandate to be agents of peace and reconciliation.

the same spirit—which jesus «breathed on» the apostles and which descended on them «like a strong driving wind»—is with us. he helps us move from fear to freedom; from silence to proclamation; from being individuals to being community; from division to reconciliation… when we stand out in the open and allow ourselves to shaped by the wind of GOD.

do i as an individual, and we as a congregation, show any evidence of being shaped by the wind of GOD? if not, what blocks the action of the spirit in my life?

27 May 2017

THE MISSION 2: CONTINUING THE WORK OF THE MASTER

ASCENSION SUNDAY
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

NOT ALONE!

VI SUNDAY OF EASTER
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

FEAR BUSTERS

V SUNDAY OF EASTER
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

DO I STILL HEAR THE SHEPHERD?

IV SUNDAY OF EASTER
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

GOD WALKS WITH US

III SUNDAY OF EASTER
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

STILL BEHIND CLOSED DOORS?!

II SUNDAY OF EASTER
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

TRANSFORMED!

EASTER SUNDAY
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

THE CHEERING STOPPED…

PALM SUNDAY
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

LIFE-GIVER

V SUNDAY OF LENT
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

FROM BLINDNESS TO SIGHT

IV SUNDAY OF LENT
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

THIRST QUENCHER

III SUNDAY OF LENT
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

LEAVE YOUR COMFORT ZONE

II SUNDAY OF LENT
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

JESUS, THE HERO TO IMITATE

I SUNDAY OF LENT
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

FEAR NOT FOR GOD CARES

VIII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
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?