Prayer and Meditation for Tuesday, June 20, 2017 — Are we in the service to the holy ones? — Do we pray for those who persecute us? — Can we hug the lepers?

Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 366

Image result for hugging the leper, art, pictures

We are called upon to hug and love the lepers — and all the “marginalized.”

Reading 1 2 COR 8:1-9

We want you to know, brothers and sisters, of the grace of God
that has been given to the churches of Macedonia,
for in a severe test of affliction,
the abundance of their joy and their profound poverty
overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.
For according to their means, I can testify,
and beyond their means, spontaneously,
they begged us insistently for the favor of taking part
in the service to the holy ones,
and this, not as we expected,
but they gave themselves first to the Lord
and to us through the will of God,
so that we urged Titus that, as he had already begun,
he should also complete for you this gracious act also.
Now as you excel in every respect,
in faith, discourse, knowledge, all earnestness,
and in the love we have for you,
may you excel in this gracious act also.

I say this not by way of command,
but to test the genuineness of your love
by your concern for others.
For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that for your sake he became poor although he was rich,
so that by his poverty you might become rich.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 146:2, 5-6AB, 6C- 7, 8-9A

R. (1b) Praise the Lord, my soul!
or:
R. Alleluia.
Praise the LORD, my soul!
I will praise the LORD all my life;
I will sing praise to my God while I live.
R. Praise the Lord, my soul!
or:
R. Alleluia.
Blessed he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD, his God,
Who made heaven and earth,
the sea and all that is in them.
R. Praise the Lord, my soul!
or:
R. Alleluia.
Who keeps faith forever,
secures justice for the oppressed,
gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets captives free.
R. Praise the Lord, my soul!
or:
R. Alleluia.
The LORD gives sight to the blind.
The LORD raises up those who were bowed down;
the LORD loves the just.
The LORD protects strangers.
R. Praise the Lord, my soul!
or:
R. Alleluia.

Alleluia JN 13:34

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I give you a new commandment:
love one another as I have loved you.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel  MT 5:43-48

Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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20 JUNE, 2017, Tuesday, 11th Week, Ordinary Time
BE PERFECT IN GIVING

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 2 Cor 8:1-9; Ps 145:2,5-9; Mt 5:43-48 ]

In the first reading, we read of Paul’s passionate appeal to the Corinthians to help the Mother Church in Jerusalem which was going through very difficult times especially financially.  The Mother Church was poor and in need of financial assistance. They would have failed in their duty if they did not support the Mother Church that gave birth to the local churches.  Indeed, it is only right that all churches are called to help the Mother Church.  Today, this is still being done.  The local Church remits money to the Mother Church in Rome.  The parishes continue to support the archdiocese in her activities both financially and in activities.   Besides supporting the Mother Church, local churches have a duty to help sister churches that are also in need.

What is the basis for giving generously to churches that are in need?  Firstly, Paul underscored the importance of gratitude to God’s generosity.  Paul reminded the Corinthians of their blessings.  He said, “You always have the most of everything – of faith, of eloquence, of understanding, of keenness for any cause, and the biggest share of our affection – so we expect you to put the most into this work of mercy too.”   Indeed, the Corinthians had received much from God.  They had all the blessings of both material and spiritual wealth.  They should not be selfish and be concerned with just their own community.

Consequently, those who have been blessed more should give more.  This is the basic principle of giving.  Everything we have comes from God; our talents, our health, our resources, our career, our business and our friends.  The responsorial psalm reiterates this truth.  “He is happy who is helped by Jacob’s God, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who alone made heaven and earth, the seas and all they contain.  It is he who keeps faith forever, who is just to those who are oppressed. It is he who gives bread to the hungry, the Lord, who sets prisoners free. It is the Lord who gives sight to the blind, who raises up those who are bowed down, the Lord, who protects the stranger and upholds the widow and orphan.”  So most of what we have were given, even before we can cooperate with the gifts that God has blessed us with.  Whilst we might have worked hard to be where we are today, without the prior gifts of health and opportunities, we would never have made it to where we are today.  Since God has blessed us, we have a responsibility to bless others with what we have received.

Giving is also a sign of our appreciation and gratitude to God.  Paul wrote, “It is not an order that I am giving you; I am just testing the genuineness of your love against the keenness of others.”   If we are truly grateful for what we have received, then we will want to share it with others.  This is the test of gratitude and true love of God.   We cannot claim that we are deeply in love with God if we do not care for His larger family, His brothers and sisters who are deprived of their needs.  How can any member of the family be living in plenty and in luxury when there are members within his family who are in poverty?  So if we love God and Christ’s Church, His mystical body, then we must endeavor to support our sister churches, particularly, the Mother Church.

Secondly, Paul gave the wonderful example of the Christians in Macedonia.  They were going through great trials and sufferings themselves, yet they were constantly cheerful and ironically, even in their “intense poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity.”  They did not wallow in self-pity.  On the contrary, because of their own sufferings and poverty, they could feel for the Mother Church in Jerusalem even more.  It is true that often the most generous people are not the rich but the poor people.  This is because unless you have been poor, you will never fully understand the meaning of poverty and deprivation.  These are just concepts without experience.  But those of us who have been poor before tend to be more generous because we feel for the poor.  Now that we are better off, we feel the need to help them just as we had been helped by God.  No one should ever say that he or she is too poor to help.  This is because even if we are poor, there will be some who are even poorer than us.  That makes us richer than them!

But the Christian churches in Macedonia were not only generous but they sincerely gave from the heart.  Paul wrote, “I can swear that they gave not only as much as they could afford, but far more, and quite spontaneously, begging and begging us for the favour of sharing in this service to the saints.”   They were giving not because they were compelled to give or even obliged, but simply because they sympathized with the poor Mother Church in Jerusalem and they truly wanted to send relief to their brothers and sisters in the faith.  It was considered a great privilege for them to participate in this work of mercy.  Such was the generosity and kindness of the Christians in Macedonia.

But what was the secret of the Macedonians’ generosity?  Paul said, “What was quite unexpected, they offered their own selves first to God and, under God, to us.”  From them, we learn another principle of giving.  Before we give things or resources or time to others, we must first offer ourselves to God.  All giving ultimately is giving to God.  Once we are clear that we are giving to God in thanksgiving and gratitude, and as a sacrifice of love, we will then decide practically how much to give.   When we give, the question should not be, “how much should I give?”  This is a secondary question.  The primary question is “have I given myself to God completely?”  Only when we have done so, may we then ask the secondary question, “how much should I give” in the context of our limited resources and responsibility towards those under our charge.

The exemplar of all giving is Christ Himself.  Paul said, “Remember how generous the Lord Jesus was: he was rich, but he became poor for your sake, to make you rich out of his poverty.”  Christ emptied Himself of His divinity and became poor for our sake.  He came to identify Himself with us so that He could be the compassionate high priest, one who has been with us in every way, including temptation, except sin.  (cf Heb 4:15)  “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  (Heb 4:16)  Because Jesus had shared our sufferings, we can be sure that He would be most compassionate towards us as well.

But we still have not arrived at the heart and depth of giving.  The greatest act of giving is for-giving. We can give away material things and share our resources with others.  But it is very difficult to forgive our loved ones and those who have hurt us badly.  True giving is when we forgive our enemies and love them.  This is what Jesus asks of us in the gospel. “You have learnt how it was said: You must love your neighbour and hate your enemy.  But I say to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’  To bless and love our enemies is the highest form of giving anyone can give.  This is why Jesus is the perfect example of giving.  He came to give not only of Himself through the Incarnation, His works of mercy, the miracles of healing and exorcism.  But He came to forgive us our sins and reconcile us with His Father by His death on the cross, praying and justifying us by saying, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”  (Lk 23:34)

In so doing, Jesus demonstrated the perfect love of His Father.  “You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  His perfection in giving is seen by the way He “causes his sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike.”  Thus, Jesus remarked, “If you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit?  Even the tax collectors do as much, do they not?  And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional?  Even the pagans do as much, do they not?”  So if we want to be known as sons of our Father in heaven, then we must perfect ourselves in love through giving and forgiving.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh
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Commentary on Matthew 5:43-48 From Living Space

Today’s passage, like yesterday’s, comes from the Sermon on the Mount. The two are not unrelated: both speak of dealing with people with whom we have difficulties.

It is a passage which many find difficult, too idealistic or just downright meaningless. The Mosaic Law said that one must love one’s neighbour. It does not actually say we should hate our enemies but in practice such hatred was condoned. Jesus rejects that teaching outright for his followers. We are to love our enemies and pray for them.

How can we possibly do that? It is important that we understand what ‘love’ here means.

In Greek it is the word agape , a deep concern for the good of the other that reaches out even if there is no return. It is not sexual, physical love (eros) nor is it the mutual love of intimate friendship or that between marriage partners (philia).

‘Enemy’ here too means those who do harm to us in some way. It does not include the people we turn into enemies because we don’t like them. The true Christian does not have this kind of enemy.

The main reason Jesus gives for acting in this way is that that is what God himself does.

God has many friends and many who are opposed to him, yet he treats them all exactly the same, his agape reaches out to all indiscriminately just as the welcome rain falls and the burning sun shines with equal impartiality on every single person.

Elsewhere we are told that God IS love, it is his nature; he cannot do anything else. And that love is extended EQUALLY to every single person – to Our Lady, Mother Teresa, to the murdering terrorist, the serial killer, the abusive husband, the paedophile…

Image result for Mother Teresa, photos

Mother Teresa

The difference is not in God’s love for each of these people but in their response to that love.

Jesus tells us that we must try to love people in the same way. It is important to note that he is not telling us to be IN love with those who harm us or to like them or to have them as our friends. That would be unrealistic and unreasonable to ask.

But if we just care for those who are nice to us how are we different from others? Even members of a murder gang, people with no religion or morals do the same. But we are called to imitate the God in whose image we have been made.

And is it so unreasonable to love, to care for, to have genuine concern for our enemies and pray for them? One presumes, as we have said, they are enemies in the sense that they are hostile to us even though we have not provoked them in any way. True Christians, from their side, do not have enemies. For someone to be my enemy, it means that person really hates me and may wish to do harm to me or may already have harmed me in some way.

What do I gain by hating that that person back? Then there are two of us. Why should I allow another’s person’s hate to influence my feelings towards them? A person who hates, is a person who is suffering, a person who is doing more damage to himself – rather than to the supposed enemy. As the gospel says, another person can hurt my body but not my inner self.

And, if he/she does harm me, they only harm themselves as well, even if they get a twisted pleasure in the short term. If I have a true Christian spirit I will reach out in compassion to that person. I will want that person to be healed, healed of their hatred, healed of their anger, and to learn how to love.

Surely it is much better and makes more sense to pray for that person than to hate them back. To bring about healing and reconciliation rather than deepen the wound on both sides.

What Jesus is asking us to do is not something impossible or unnatural. It is the only thing that makes sense and will bring peace to me and hopefully in time to the person who is hostile to me. We can literally disarm a hating person by acting towards them in a positive and loving way and refusing to be controlled by their negative attitudes. “Bless are the peacemakers; they will be called children of God.”

“So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Obviously, this is an ideal that we can only reach out to. But it is a call to do our utmost to imitate God in extending our goodwill impartially and unconditionally to every single person. This is not just a commandment. When we reflect on it, it is simply common sense and it is as much in our own interest as it benefits others.

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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20 FEBRUARY 2016, Saturday, 1st Week of Lent
CONVERSION AS RESTORATION AND PERFECTION IN CHRIST

SCRIPTURE READINGS: Deuteronomy 26:16-19; Matthew 5:43-48In the first reading we are reminded that we are chosen to be God’s people.  Like the Israelites, we were nobody but God has called us to be His people.  We are not only called to be God’s subjects but also His sons and daughters.  To be called is a great privilege but also a great responsibility.  But this privilege brings with it the obligations arising from our dignity as God’s people.  Who we are requires us to live out our calling and our identity as the People of God.  Yesterday’s gospel reminds us that our virtues must go deeper than the scribes and Pharisees.

If we are God’s people, then necessarily, we have to live out the Covenant as taught to us by Moses and our Lord.  The people of Israel were reminded that it was not enough to claim that they were the People of God.  They were required to follow the Mosaic Laws so that they could live as a people united in love and in service, with each other and with God.  How could they do it unless they follow the commandments prescribed to them? Moses said to the people: “You have today made this declaration about the Lord; that he will be your God, but only if you follow his ways, keep his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and listen to his voice. And the Lord has today made this declaration about you; that you will be his very own people as he promised you, but only if you keep all his commandments; then for praise and renown and honour he will set you high above all the nations he has made, and you will be a people consecrated to the Lord, as he had promised.”

So what are the implications of being the people of God for us, the New People of God?  We must show ourselves to be really God’s people by our way of life.  As God’s people and members of the Body of Christ, we must live a life of charity and unity among ourselves.  Unless we are united with each other, we are merely a bunch of individuals.   We cannot say that we are God’s people and members of the Household of God with God as our Father when the children are living separate and individualistic lives.  The Church for that reason is called a Communion.  We are called to communion with each other in Christ.  This is what we pray and say at the very beginning of the Eucharistic celebration when the Presider says, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

To help us all to be in communion, we need order, guidelines and rules so that we can live in mutual respect.   Indeed, the purpose of commandments is to help us to live in unity and provide a common direction for the community as to what are the essentials of community life. This is reinforced in the responsorial psalm, “They are happy whose life is blameless, who follow God’s law! They are happy who do his will, seeking him with all their hearts.”   So laws are given not to enslave us or make our life miserable but to provide order and unity.  In every community, we need to have proper structures and forums to ensure that there is proper communication and order.

Secondly, we must recognize His Lordship over us.  If we are God’s people, we must realize that God is our Lord and our king, we are His subjects.  Hence, we must surrender everything to His Lordship. We must obey Him in all things.  This is what Moses says, “You have today made this declaration about the Lord; that he will be your God, but only if you follow his ways, keep his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and listen to his voice.”  We cannot claim that God is our Lord when we do not follow His ways and His direction in whatever we do.   We must listen to His voice, which is the Word of God.

Thirdly, we must be consecrated to Him.  We must consecrate our whole life, soul and being, returning to Him what He has given to us.  Moses told the people “you will be a people consecrated to the Lord, as he had promised.”  In whatever we do, we want to offer ourselves to Him.   Being consecrated to the Lord is to offer our entire being for His service and for His mission.   Whatever we have, our talents, our resources and our gifts must be surrendered for His service and for the good of the community.

But God is not contented to choose us as His people.  He wants us to be more than merely His subjects.  As Christians we are His sons and daughters because He is our Father and we share in His divine nature.  He wants each of us to reflect the perfection of Himself.  The implication is to reflect the face of God.  “You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”   This perfection is not a moral perfection, which is impossible for us to attain.  It is perfection in terms of compassion and forgiveness.   We must reflect the glory of God in us.  Hence, we must go beyond just observance of the laws in the way God loves us.

This means that we must love like the Father.  He is the Father of all humanity.  As sons of the Father, we must consider others as our brothers and sisters.  We must go beyond loving only our own kind.  We must reach out beyond our community, our family and our loved ones.  Christianity must embrace everyone, regardless of race, language or religion.   We are called to share God’s love and message with all.   Jesus made it clear when He remarked, “For if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even the tax collectors do as much, do they not? And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? Even the pagans do as much, do they not?”  Christian love is a love without conditions and certainly not cliquish and inward looking. There are many Catholic groups.  They appear to be active in Church but they do not reach out beyond their members.  Many of our church groups do not even know each other and some are competing with each other for glory and power when we are supposed to be one Church, all working in different ways to glorify God by our lives.

The perfection of love would also mean that we are called to love not just beyond our own kind, but even our enemies.  Jesus has shown us what it means to love all the children of His Father when He forgave and loved His enemies on the cross.  What He taught us, He lived out Himself in His life.   “You have learnt how it was said: You must love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; in this way you will be sons of your Father in heaven, for he causes the sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike.”  Loving our enemies means feeling with them, forgiving them for their weaknesses and praying for their conversion.  Unless we have prayed and fasted for our enemies and those who make life difficult for us, we have not really loved them yet.  But if we do, then we will come to empathize with them and feel sorry for them that they are hurting as much as they are hurting others.

How can this be possible? Perfection in Christ can only be attained by inserting ourselves into the paschal mystery shared by His death resurrection and the Holy Spirit which is given to us at baptism.  By baptism too, we share in Christ’s sonship and receive His Spirit to act like sons.  By virtue of our baptism, we belong to the new people of God.  The community of grace will assist us and help us to live out our sonship and daughtership.  That is why, no Christian needs to journey alone.  We need each other to live out this calling to be God’s people and His children.   At the same time, we must always remember that we cannot live out the unconditional love of God in our lives unless we are founded on God’s love.  We cannot love perfectly as parents, children and friends.  We cannot love with unlimited love.  Human love will always be a broken love.  But that should not throw us into despair because God’s unconditional love will heal us and empower us.  We must now reclaim our gift of sonship through repentance, prayers and works of charity.

Lent is a time to prepare us to renew our baptismal calling. The focus is not on fasting, although such spiritual exercises are useful means to help us identify with the poor, the suffering and reinforce some self-discipline when it comes to the weakness of the flesh.  Lent is a time to restore our dignity as baptized Christians called to be the people of God and children of God.   Ultimately, Lent wants to prepare us to live out the freedom and joy of the children of God who are capable of love, forgiveness and compassion.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh
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