Posts Tagged ‘be a beacon’

Morning Prayer for Thursday, August 30, 2018 — Practice Prayer as You Do Other Virtues

August 30, 2018

“Quiet your heart and mind and, for the next few moments, be present to the One True Presence.”

Invoke your Higher Power. Pledge yourself to his power and care. Share a few moments of silence. Just as anxiety is the great scourge of our age, prayer and silence are the bane of anxiety.

“Oh God, rid of us anxiety and the disorders that follow. Be our guiding light always. Take away the darkness and fear.”

Prayer is the main building block of “Peace of Soul.”

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“Each of us is called to ‘Be a Beacon,” the one saint I knew told me. “Be a beacon. A beacon of calm in the storm. A beacon of strength amongst weakness. A beacon of prayer and virtue among despair and wretchedness.”

John Francis Carey
Peace and Freedom

Related:

   (Includes more on the virtues)

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It is only by and through the gift of the Holy Spirit that we are able to connect to God. It is His Spirit who lives in us and prays through us, linking us to our heavenly Father.

We need to connect to Him constantly (“Pray without ceasing,” as noted in 1 Thessalonians 5:17), because we are, sadly, very leaky vessels.

How do we do that? By continuously glancing heavenward, giving God a smile and telling Him, “I love You.” It’s like throwing “little straws upon the embers,” (according to St. Therese of Lisieux) and by taking “prayer pauses” throughout the day.

In honor of this Year of Mercy, I thought I would share with you what St. Faustina had to say about prayer in her diary, “Divine Mercy in My Soul,” and then, invite you to pray some very beautiful prayers (all taken from my favorite prayer book, “Hearts of Fire, Praying with Jesuits”).

“Prayer — A soul arms itself by prayer for all kinds of combat. In whatever state the soul may be, it ought to pray. A soul which is pure and beautiful must pray, or else it will lose its beauty; a soul which is striving after this purity must pray, or else it will never attain it; a soul which is newly converted must pray, or else it will fall again; a sinful soul, plunged in sins, must pray so that it might rise again. There is no soul which is not bound to pray, for every single grace comes to the soul through prayer.” — St. Faustina Kowalska, 146 (69)

https://www.lifezette.com/2016/05/prayer/

Related: Billy Graham’s Daughter: Prayer Trumps All

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Holy Trinity Sunday: God Is Love — The mystery of the Holy Trinity simplified — God’s simplicity — Are we seeking ‘Oneness’? — Am I a beacon of love?

May 27, 2018

Fr Matthew Jarvis delights in the mystery of the Holy Trinity, The Triune God who, as a beacon of Love, draws us ever further into glory.

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‘Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ Or more literally: ‘into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ That’s also what the original Creed says: ‘I believe into God the Father… and into the Son… and into the Holy Spirit.’ We are on a journey into God, a journey into the dynamic life of the Holy Trinity. It’s a journey into love.

‘I love you.’ Three of the simplest words in the world, but we use them to express an inexhaustible mystery in our human relationships. 

‘God is love.’ Again, three simple words but they open up the infinite mystery of the Trinity.

‘The Lord is God indeed,’ we read in Moses today, ‘he and no other.’ Reason finds no problem in thinking of God as the Absolute, the One, but we need revelation to teach us about the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is Three and God is One; both are true mysteries, and they are connected. To appreciate why we cannot fully comprehend the mystery of the Holy Trinity (God’s personal threeness), it helps to remember that we really cannot grasp the mystery of the Divine Simplicity (God’s substantial oneness) either.

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The doctrine of divine simplicity states that God is not complex (made up of parts) in any way. Father, Son and Spirit are not parts of God, but One God. Easier said than understood! G. K. Chesterton recounts the story: ‘A lady I knew picked up a book of selections from St Thomas [Aquinas], with a commentary; and began hopefully to read a section with the innocent heading, The Simplicity of God. She then laid the book down with a sigh and said: “Well, if that’s His simplicity, I wonder what His complexity is like.”’

But God is not complex. The Platonists understood that simplicity is found at both the highest and lowest realities, both in the mere potentiality of ‘pure matter’ and in the luminous glory of the One. Is this what a modern American writer, variously cited as Ralph Waldo Emerson or Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr, is also saying? ‘I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.’

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God’s simplicity is not like pure matter, because God is pure Actuality, white-hot Light, total and unconditional Love. This actuality envelops and drives everything, as its source and goal, the Alpha and Omega. I’m deliberately mixing philosophical language with Scriptural images, because both reason and revelation should guide us on our journey into the mystery of the Triune God.

Our journey into God’s simplicity will not take us back again to square one, empty-handed, but instead we will discover that a fullness has sent us out and a fullness will receive us home, transformed. There is a fullness in the simplicity that encloses complexity, like there is a fullness in the God whose eternity encloses time and is not enclosed by it. So, our journey into the Trinity is an attraction to the divine simplicity, not a stagnation in human simple-mindedness.

After all, there is a lovely simplicity in genius that differs from simple-mindedness. Often a beautiful object is found to have a simple rationale, despite its manifold appearance, whether it’s the mathematical iteration of the ‘Hofstadter butterfly’ or the musical unfurling of a Bach fugue.

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We cannot draw the Trinity or compose its theme-tune, but there’s a decent medieval attempt in the simple yet profound pictogram called the Scutum Fidei (Shield of Faith) that summarises: the Father is God, the Son is God, the Spirit is God, yet the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Spirit and the Spirit is not the Father.

The Trinity does not undermine the simplicity of God, because there’s nothing simpler nor stronger than persons united in love. The unity of God is a perfect communion of persons. And then St Paul pronounces God’s extraordinary invitation to us: receive the Spirit of God, let God dwell within you and make you his child, his heir, and take you into his glory.

The Light is too bright for our eyes right now; it’s too pure and simple, but it beckons us, a beacon of Love, drawing us ever further into glory – into the Father, and into the Son, and into the Holy Spirit.

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Deut 4:32-34, 39-40  |  Rom 8:14-17  |  Matt 28:16-20

Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP of the ‘scutum Fidei’ depicted in a window in the church of St Denis in Hanover, MA.

https://www.english.op.org/torch/journeying-into-love

Related:

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Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, April 8, 2018 — “We have everything we need.” — “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed!”

April 7, 2018

Second Sunday of Easter
(Or Sunday of Divine Mercy)
Lectionary: 44

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Doubting of Thomas – Carl Heinrich Bloch – 1881

Reading 1 ACTS 4:32-35

The community of believers was of one heart and mind,
and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own,
but they had everything in common.
With great power the apostles bore witness
to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus,
and great favor was accorded them all.
There was no needy person among them,
for those who owned property or houses would sell them,
bring the proceeds of the sale,
and put them at the feet of the apostles,
and they were distributed to each according to need.

Responsorial Psalm PS 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24

R. (1) Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, his love is everlasting.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Let the house of Israel say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
Let those who fear the LORD say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
R. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, his love is everlasting.
or:
R. Alleluia.
I was hard pressed and was falling,
but the LORD helped me.
My strength and my courage is the LORD,
and he has been my savior.
The joyful shout of victory
in the tents of the just:
R. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, his love is everlasting.
or:
R. Alleluia.
The stone which the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
By the LORD has this been done;
it is wonderful in our eyes.
This is the day the LORD has made;
let us be glad and rejoice in it.
R. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, his love is everlasting.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Reading 21 JN 5:1-6

Beloved:
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God,
and everyone who loves the Father
loves also the one begotten by him.
In this way we know that we love the children of God
when we love God and obey his commandments.
For the love of God is this,
that we keep his commandments.
And his commandments are not burdensome,
for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.
And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.
Who indeed is the victor over the world
but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?This is the one who came through water and blood, Jesus Christ,
not by water alone, but by water and blood.
The Spirit is the one that testifies,
and the Spirit is truth.

AlleluiaJN 20:29

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
You believe in me, Thomas, because you have seen me, says the Lord;
Blessed are those who have not seen me, but still believe!
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

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Doubting Thomas, ART: The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio.

Gospel JN 20:19-31

On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve,
was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”
But he said to them,
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands
and put my finger into the nailmarks
and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”Now a week later his disciples were again inside
and Thomas was with them.
Jesus came, although the doors were locked,
and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples
that are not written in this book.
But these are written that you may come to believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and that through this belief you may have life in his name.
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Monastery of Christ in the Desert
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Reflection from The Abbot in the Desert
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My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed!  Jesus is clear in his words to Saint Thomas.  On the other hand, he accepts the doubts of Thomas, allows Thomas to touch Him and continues to be the friend of Thomas.

There are so many ways in which we could be closer to our Lord Jesus.  We cannot do everything at once.  Like Thomas, we must accept our defects and also acknowledge them before the Lord.

The first reading today is from the Acts of the Apostles and the basic teaching is this:  The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and they had everything in common.

We also know that this ideal state did not last for long before some began to withdraw from it or even to misuse it.  There are still religious communities today which try to live this way.  Most of us, however, share our goods with the causes that we find to be good.  Sometimes it is good to reflect that God shares Himself with both the good and the evil.  God gives to all.

The second reading is from the First Letter of Saint John.  The words that might touch us deeply today are these:  “The love of God is this, that we keep his commandments.”  Today so many people reject any kind of commandment, any kind of imposition from without.  If we ever want to know God, we must be open to allowing Him into our hearts.  God always brings commandments of one type or another.  If there are no commandments, then we are deluding ourselves about God.

Today’s Gospel is from Saint John.  Jesus has just been raised from the dead.  Now Jesus begins to appear to various of his followers.  He appears to His disciples and gives them the Holy Spirit.  This Gospel relates to us that Thomas was not present and would not believe the testimony of those who were.  This Thomas is hard headed.  So are so many of us today.  We find it difficult to accept the testimony of others, especially if we have doubts about what they are saying.  We want to see and touch and decide on our own and not just believe because someone else told me so.  This lack of faith has always been present, both within the Church and outside the Church.

Our Christian faith is handed down by others.  We come to know Christ, normally, from the testimony of others.  We can accept the New Testament writing about Christ, but all of them are the testimony of others.

This first week of the Resurrection, we place our lives and our faith in the hands of others and ask that they may learn and we may learn:  all for the glory of God.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip

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First Thoughts From Peace and Freedom
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Around where I live we have a motto: “We have everything we need.”
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What that means is, after you have encountered Jesus Christ, what else are you waiting for?
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Once we believe that our Lord is all loving and all forgiving, what could we possibly need?
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“Jesus came and stood in their [our] midst.”
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Easter and the celebration of Christ’s resurrection fulfills us totally.
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All we have to do is believe!
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The scripture reveals all we’ll ever need. On this site, use these search terms:
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“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

This little “anti-anxiety” prayer was a part of every Catholic Mass for centuries:
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Deliver us, Lord, from every evil,
and grant us peace in our day.
In your mercy keep us free from sin
and protect us from all anxiety
as we wait in joyful hope
for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
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Another anti-anxiety prayer is this one:
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God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help
of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
Thank you, God, Amen!
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Related:
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Praise Jesus for St. Teresa of Ávila who gave us one of the simplest and finest prayers, “Let Nothing Disturb You” –
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Let nothing trouble you,
let nothing frighten you.
All things are passing;
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
He who possesses God lacks nothing:
God alone suffices.
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Nada te turbe;
nada te espante;
todo se pasa;
Dios no se muda,
la paciencia todo lo alcanza.
Quien a Dios tiene, nada le falta.
Solo Dios basta.
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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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08 APRIL, 2018, Divine Mercy Sunday
MERCY AND COMPASSION AS THE KEYS TO BUILD COMMUNITY

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Acts 4:32-35Ps 1181 Jn 5:1-6;  Jn 20:19-31]

In the first reading, we read how the early Christian community was “united, heart and soul; no one claimed for his own use anything that he had, as everything they owned was held in common.”  Indeed, “None of their members was ever in want, as all those who owned land or houses would sell them, and bring the money from them, to present it to the apostles; it was then distributed to any members who might be in need.”  This was how united they were, taking care of each other’s needs and sharing the same love for God, the same vision and values of the gospel.

They were able to love so freely and unconditionally because they had encountered the power of the love of the Risen Christ in His passion, death and resurrection.  If the Lord had conquered hatred and death through His resurrection from the dead, what is there for them to be afraid of since even death is overcome. (cf Rom 8:37-39)

In response to God’s love for them in Christ Jesus, they in turn could love each other the way that God loved them. This is what St John wrote, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ has been begotten by God; and whoever loves the Father that begot him loves the child whom he begets.”  It is true in life that we love those whom we love and those whom they love.  So if we love God the Father, then St John says, we should also love His Son.  And if we love His Son, we will also love those whom the Son loves.  And who does He love?  He said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”  (Mt 25:40)

As a consequence, the early Christians were living as the first faith community in history. They were deeply in love with God and as a consequence, in love for each other.  Caring for each other, looking after each other’s interests rather than one’s own, sharing all that we have is what will make this world a better place.  Where there is genuine love and sharing, there will be peace and unity.  And what do we all wish for if not a world and a society that is gracious, caring, loving and united.  Such is the dream of every man and woman.  This is the ideal world that we are called to build.

But the ideal world is far from the reality.  The truth remains that we are living in a very wounded world.   Even for those of us who are baptized and the elect, they would fall into sin, often not by choice but out of human weakness.  The Old Adam does not die completely when we are baptized but latent and sleeping in us, waiting to resurrect when we are not conscious of God’s presence in us.   Because of our disoriented will which is not healed completely after baptism, even though our sins are forgiven, we will still be inclined to sin.  Our fears and selfishness will surface.  We will still have to continuously struggle against sin.    That is why love is not sufficient to build a community because our love is imperfect.

Over and above love, we need mercy to build a new community.   This was why in the first Sunday of Easter, we celebrated new life through the love of God expressed in His passion and resurrection.  The second Sunday of Easter we focus on Divine Mercy.   Mercy is more than compassion by caring for the poor and the hungry.   Mercy means compassion and forgiveness for those who fail in Christian charity, honesty and integrity.  This was what Jesus did upon His resurrection.  The disciples were hiding in shame of Jesus and in fear of their enemies.  They were hiding behind closed doors.  But Jesus came to bring them out of their fears by extending His forgiveness and offering them the gift of peace.  Twice, He greeted them, “Peace be with you!”  Peace comes from forgiveness.

Today, many of us are also locked up in our fears, manifested in resentment, anger, coldness of heart, retaliation, backbiting and gossiping.  That is why we are vindictive and revengeful.  We are also imprisoned by our insecurity because we feel our interests are at stake.  We see others as our competitors and even enemies rather than as fellow collaborators or better still, our brothers and sisters who care for us more than they care for themselves.   So how can we break out of the walls that we have erected for ourselves?

The truth is that unless we have encountered His divine mercy, we cannot show mercy the way He showed us.   We need to first receive His divine mercy.   This was what the Lord did for the disciples.  After reconciling them with Himself, He said, “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.” Without receiving His unconditional mercy for our sins, we cannot forgive those who sin against us.   A case in point was the apostles of our Lord.  We read in the gospel, Thomas was adamant in not believing what the rest of them said about the fact of the resurrection. They did not judge him but showed great tolerance for his incredulity.  This was because they had already encountered Jesus’ mercy.   Indeed, the early Christians could exercise mercy because they were moved by God’s mercy. (cf 1 Pt 1:3f)

How, then, can we receive this divine mercy today?  St John wrote, “Who can overcome the world? Only the man who believes that Jesus is the Son of God; Jesus Christ who came by water and blood, not with water only, but with water and blood; with the Spirit as another witness – since the Spirit is the truth.”   Water is a symbol of baptism, blood a symbol of the Eucharist, and the Spirit of truth and witnessing is given in the Sacrament of reconciliation.

To enter into Divine Mercy, we must be like Jesus who, at His baptism, identified with us sinners even though He was without sin and need not be baptized.  (cf 2 Cor 5:21) But He did it so that He could carry our sins in His body.  (1 Pt 2:24)  Indeed, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”  When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”  (1 Pt 2:22f)  That was how Thomas was converted when he saw the wounds of Jesus.  Thomas believed not because He saw the Risen Lord but he was overwhelmed by Christ’s love for him through the wounds that He suffered for them.  He was overcome more by God’s mercy and love than the sight of Jesus.  And his immediate response to the wounds of the Crucified Lord was, “My Lord and my God!”   In Christ crucified, God’s mercy is power in love.

We too must be identified with the sufferings and sinfulness of our fellow brothers and sisters.  We should not be judgmental and unforgiving for their negligence and sins.  We are all human beings and we sin now and then.  We should therefore be empathetic and tolerant of each other’s faults and weaknesses.  This is what a gracious society is all about, not just caring for each other but accepting each other’s human frailties and encouraging each other on the road to holiness of life.

The second way to celebrate the Divine Mercy is in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  This explains why the Lord, after His resurrection, empowered the apostles to remit sin. “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those who sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.”  This is the most powerful form of healing of the human soul, more than any amount of counselling and psychiatric treatment we can have.  The soul will have no peace unless he or she feels that God has forgiven him or her.  The priest, as the representative of Christ, offers that forgiveness in His name and assures us of His unconditional love and mercy.   The priest is called to be the Father of mercy and compassion when he celebrates the sacrament of reconciliation.  He is called to be the image of God’s forgiving love.  Hence, we must not deprive ourselves of this Sacrament of Reconciliation, especially the new baptized.  They should frequent this sacrament so that they can encounter God’s mercy.

Finally, we can experience God’s mercy through the Eucharist.  That was what the early disciples did.  “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42)  By celebrating the Eucharist together, we are joined to Christ and His Church, especially through the Word of God and the Sacrament of the Eucharist.  Receiving the Eucharist with thanksgiving and gratitude brings about a change of heart in our lives.  Listening to the Word of God that is preached and shared will ignite us to live like Christ.  This explains why receiving the Eucharist brings about the forgiveness of venial sins through the strengthening of spiritual life.  But equally important is that we need the Christian fellowship to keep us united in mind, soul and heart.  This happens through the sharing of the Word of God and the mutual love of the community.

So let us build the Christian community into a sacrament of love and unity despite our imperfections and sinfulness by exercising mercy and compassion towards each other.  In the creed, we say the Church is Holy because of Christ, but we are sinners becoming and growing to be more like Him.   So let us be signs of God’s mercy and compassion to each other through our compassion for the poor, the sick, the marginalized and for those who have sinned against us.  Through such signs, they may “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this they may have life through his name.”

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore

Prayer and Meditation for Monday, February 12, 2018 — “Why does this generation seek a sign?”

February 11, 2018

Monday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 335

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Reading 1 JAS 1:1-11

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
to the twelve tribes in the dispersion, greetings.Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters,
when you encounter various trials,
for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
And let perseverance be perfect,
so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
But if any of you lacks wisdom,
he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly,
and he will be given it.
But he should ask in faith, not doubting,
for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea
that is driven and tossed about by the wind.
For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord,
since he is a man of two minds, unstable in all his ways.

The brother in lowly circumstances
should take pride in high standing,
and the rich one in his lowliness,
for he will pass away “like the flower of the field.”
For the sun comes up with its scorching heat and dries up the grass,
its flower droops, and the beauty of its appearance vanishes.
So will the rich person fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

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Christ wants each of us to be a beacon….

Responsorial Psalm  PS 119:67, 68, 71, 72, 75, 76

R. (77a) Be kind to me, Lord, and I shall live.
Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I hold to your promise.
R. Be kind to me, Lord, and I shall live.
You are good and bountiful;
teach me your statutes.
R. Be kind to me, Lord, and I shall live.
It is good for me that I have been afflicted,
that I may learn your statutes.
R. Be kind to me, Lord, and I shall live.
The law of your mouth is to me more precious
than thousands of gold and silver pieces.
R. Be kind to me, Lord, and I shall live.
I know, O LORD, that your ordinances are just,
and in your faithfulness you have afflicted me.
R. Be kind to me, Lord, and I shall live.
Let your kindness comfort me
according to your promise to your servants.
R. Be kind to me, Lord, and I shall live.

Alleluia JN 14:6

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I am the way and the truth and the life, says the Lord;
no one comes to the Father except through me.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MK 8:11-13

The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with Jesus,
seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him.
He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said,
“Why does this generation seek a sign?
Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”
Then he left them, got into the boat again,
and went off to the other shore.

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Reflection for  Jas 1:1-11

Today we return to the New Testament and for the next two weeks we will be reading from the Letter of James. There is a refreshing directness about this letter. It does not beat about the bush and pulls no punches in calling Christians to order. The emphasis is very much on doing – actions speak louder than words.

The letter is addressed to the “twelve tribes in the dispersion (or diaspora)”, that is, to Jewish Christians scattered over the Mediterranean countries. James sends them greetings of joy. In spite of what he is going to say, he is not to be seen as a pourer of cold water.

In today’s reading he makes three related points:

A, He begins by addressing his readers as “brothers (and sisters)”. He does so 15 times in this short letter. He may need to rebuke them but he does so in a spirit of fraternal love.

First, he urges his readers to see in their trials as Christians a source of joy – “The testing of your faith produces perseverance.” We see the same when Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount said: “Happy are you when people insult you and persecute you… because you are my followers” (Matt 5:11). Speaking from his own experience, Paul said the same: “We also boast of our troubles, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance brings God’s approval and his approval creates hope” (Rom 5:3). The trials that James mentions here are those that come from outside. In tomorrow’s reading he will speak of the inner trials of temptation to wrongdoing.

“We don’t want failure, humiliation, sickness, powerlessness, poverty or inferiority of any kind,” write Fr Ron Rolheiser, “yet these, more than success and glamour, are what produce character and depth inside us.” Obviously, we do not go out of our way to look for such things but, when they come, their long-term results can be beneficial both for ourselves and others.

We can get upset sometimes when we see the Church attacked or rubbished in the media. Yet experience has shown again and again that nothing strengthens and matures one’s faith than to have it challenged. When things go too easily our faith becomes flabby and weak. The Church is always strongest where it is the object of persecution and attack.

St Ignatius Loyola once said he hoped that the Jesuits would always experience persecution; for him, it was a sign they were doing their job of proclaiming the Gospel. We should not be worried when the Church is attacked, only when it is ignored. Then we really know that the salt has lost its taste.

B, James tells us pray for wisdom. Wisdom here is not something abstract and academic. It is not just a vast knowledge of Church doctrine. Rather it is a deep insight into how to live the Gospel and do God’s work. It is the gift to know that even in suffering and setbacks the love of God may be guiding and strengthening us. For those who ask, it will be given simply and unreservedly. But it needs to be asked for in faith, that is, with a deep trust that God always wants the best for us.

We are not to be like a wave on the sea driven here and there by the wind. Through our faith and trust, the Letter to the Ephesians tells us “we shall no longer be children, carried by the waves and blown about by every shifting wind of the teaching of deceitful people… Instead, by speaking the truth in a spirit of love, we must grow up in every way to Christ, who is the Head” (Eph 4:14-15).

This search for wisdom is to be done with confidence, sure that God will give this gift which we need to be followers of Jesus. It gives us a certain self-confidence which does not mean that we possess all the truth. But we know what we know and are ready to learn more. The vacillating person will not get anywhere.

In times of trial this wisdom is greatly needed so that we can respond in an appropriate way, in truth and love.

C, Thirdly, the poor man should be aware of his special status in the eyes of God. “Happy are the poor in spirit for they truly belong in the Kingdom of God” (Matt 5:3). With nothing of their own, their total dependence is on God. Throughout the letter the author reaffirms the teaching of Jesus that worldly prosperity is not necessarily a sign of God’s favour, as the people of the Old Testament and even Jesus’ own disciples tended to believe in their early days with Jesus (cf. Mark 10:24-26). See also the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).

The rich man – if all his dependence has been on his material wealth – is really in a lowly position in spite of his status and power. For he will pass away “like the flower of the field” and will leave this world with nothing. The rich man needs to be aware of how vulnerable and weak he is. His wealth can evaporate in the same way the hot midday sun makes the grass and flowers droop in its heat. The truly rich are not those who have the most but rather those whose needs are the least.

James will have a lot more to say to the poor and the rich as the letter proceeds.

https://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/o2062r/

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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12 FEBRUARY, 2018, Monday, 6th Week, Ordinary Time
GROWING IN WISDOM THROUGH THE TRIALS OF LIFE

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ JAMES 1:1-11MK 8:11-13  ]

What is the difference between knowledge and wisdom?  Knowledge is acquired through study; wisdom, through life experiences.  Knowledge will not change us from within but wisdom will.  Knowledge remains extraneous to us and awaits to be proven in and through experience.  Until the person who has the knowledge experiences it in his or her life, he or she will remain only superficially convicted and can change his or her mind very quickly.

Knowledge cannot bring about a real change in life.  This explains why even people who have subscribed to a particular religion for years, can embrace another religion overnight, all because of a deep religious encounter.  This is the same for issues of morals and ethics.  Just knowing morals and ethics will not change lives.   We all know the laws and the right things to do.  Yet, we all fail to observe the laws because they are not written in our hearts but only on tablets!

Wisdom, however, is gained through life experiences. The deeper the experience the more radical is the conversion.  Because experience touches every aspect of the person’s being, head, heart and body, a personal experience brings about a complete change in the way the person looks at life.  Indeed, our views, horizon of life, values, interests and convictions are often moulded by the experiences of the past.  For this reason, there are some things logical thinking alone and argument cannot convince a person. He or she will remain skeptical and indifferent until he or she experiences it for himself or herself .

How then does one acquire wisdom?  Most wisdom is acquired through the trials and mistakes of life.  St James wrote, “My brothers, you will always have your trials but, when they come, try to treat them as a happy privilege.”  Indeed, the trials of life are the means by which we grow in wisdom.  Even the letter of Hebrews says, “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered;  and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 4:8f)  We learn wisdom best through our sufferings that come from trials and our mistakes.

In suffering, we have time to think through.  Success is often just a one-off event that we celebrate.  But suffering often is a process.  It does not end in a day.  The consequences of our mistakes could be felt for days, months and even years.  Whether it is a failed relationship, a broken marriage, an accident, an illness, a scandal, a crime or a separation, we go through days asking what happened, how it happened and why it happened.  We go through the process of grieving by denial, bargaining with God, resignation and then acceptance.  That is why suffering is the means by which God disciplines us.  “’My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him; for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts.’ Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline?”  (Heb 4:6f)

A case in point that St James highlights is the pursuit of honour, riches and wealth.  He wrote, “It is right for the poor brother to be proud of his high rank, and the rich one to be thankful that he has been humbled, because riches last no longer than the flowers in the grass; the scorching sun comes up, and the grass withers, the flower falls; what looked so beautiful now disappears.  It is the same with the rich man: his business goes on; he himself perishes.”  The truth is that many of us are deceived into thinking that honour and wealth will bring us happiness.  Yet, the irony is that we spend years trying to become someone of status in society and work hard to build up our financial nest.  When we reach the top of society and have more than enough money to spend for the rest of our lives, we will come to realize that these do not bring happiness in themselves.  Honour becomes a form of slavery and a loss of freedom.  Money becomes a burden resulting in a loss of true friends.  It is just a number if we cannot spend it.

That is why many who arrive at the peak of their success in life realize that only what is given away can bring true happiness.  Position, social connections and status cannot bring happiness unless they are used to help society, especially those who are poor or in need.  Money too cannot bring happiness unless it is given away to develop society.  This was what Solomon discovered after his long years as a King who had all and more but found life a vanity.  “So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem; also my wisdom remained with me.  Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil.  Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”  (Eccl 2:9-11)  It will be a rude awakening for those who spend a lifetime pursuing the world, only to realize at the end of their days that they were just chasing after the wind.

This is also true when it comes to sin. Many of us just do not want to follow the laws of God.  We are stubborn and we want to have things our ways.  We choose the way we want to live.  But as a consequence, we hurt ourselves and our loved ones.  When we see the consequences of how our actions have caused our loved ones, friends and colleagues to suffer, we sink in regret for what we have done.

In the face of divine punishment, we can either repent or resist.  There are those who resent the judgement of God.  They become vindictive and angry with God and the rest of the world.  Such negative reaction to their sufferings will only cause them to suffer even more, make more mistakes and pay a higher price for their sins.  Indeed, many resist change, even when the Word is preached to them, like the Pharisees during the time of Jesus. “They demanded of him a sign from heaven, to test him.  And with a sigh that came straight from the heart he said, ‘Why does this generation demand a sign?  I tell you solemnly, no sign shall be given to this generation.’”

But if, like David, we accept the consequences of our sins, then we will learn and grow from the pains that we bear.   A positive approach to the sufferings that come from our trials will make us stronger and better rather than bitter.  The psalmist says, “It was good for me to be afflicted, to learn your statutes. The law from your mouth means more to me than silver and gold.”   When we begin to accept the sufferings that come our way positively instead of fighting against it, we will suffer less and begin to understand the truth of God’s laws.  So long as we are angry and resist, we will not be able to have the humility to know the wisdom of God’s laws.

Most of all, we will accept that God’s judgement is right and wise.  “Lord, I know that your decrees are right, that you afflicted me justly.”  So, believing that the sufferings that God permit to befall on us is ultimately for our growth and for our good is the way to grow in wisdom.  David, after his sin with Bathsheba, said, “I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.”  (Ps 51:4)  With the psalmist, we can say, “Before I was afflicted I strayed but now I keep your word.  You are good and your deeds are good; teach me your statutes.”   God’s ways are always perfect and they are all meant to help us find healing and salvation.

By seeing the wisdom of God in the trials that He permits us to go through, we also open our eyes to God’s way of consoling us.  The psalmist says, “Let your love be ready to console me by your promise to your servant.”  Hosea said, “It is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up.” (Hos 6:1)  Job shared the same sentiment, “For he wounds, but he binds up; he strikes, but his hands heal.”  (Job 5:18)  In turn, we learn to forgive ourselves and forgive others as well.  This is why St James wrote, “you understand that your faith is only put to the test to make you patient, but patience too is to have its practical results so that you will become fully-developed, complete, with nothing missing.”   Just as we forgive ourselves for our folly, we too will learn to be patient with others who are ignorant and even incorrigible because like us, they are blinded by their pride and greed.

In the final analysis, true wisdom does not come simply from our trials alone but from God who sends us His Holy Spirit to give us His wisdom and counsel in prayer.  This explains why St James wrote, “If there is any one of you who needs wisdom, he must ask God, who gives to all freely and ungrudgingly; it will be given to him.  But he must ask with faith, and no trace of doubt, because a person who has doubts is like the waves thrown up in the sea when the wind drives.  That sort of person, in two minds, wavering between going different ways, must not expect that the Lord will give him anything.”  Faith in God, no matter what, is the ultimate wisdom.  Trusting in His divine providence, in His mercy and love is what will help us to go through the vicissitudes of life, joy and sorrow, success and failures, health and illness, plenty and in want.  When we enter into prayer, we share the mind and heart of Jesus looking at life the way He sees life.  We will then be able to have the same attitudes of Jesus as He taught us in the be-attitudes at the Sermon on the Mount. (cf Mt 5:1-11)

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, November 26, 2017 — Are We Christ-Like? — What you did not do for one of these least ones you did not do for me.”

November 25, 2017

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Lectionary: 160

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Reading 1 EZ 34:11-12, 15-17

Thus says the Lord GOD:
I myself will look after and tend my sheep.
As a shepherd tends his flock
when he finds himself among his scattered sheep,
so will I tend my sheep.
I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered
when it was cloudy and dark.
I myself will pasture my sheep;
I myself will give them rest, says the Lord GOD.
The lost I will seek out,
the strayed I will bring back,
the injured I will bind up,
the sick I will heal,
but the sleek and the strong I will destroy,
shepherding them rightly.As for you, my sheep, says the Lord GOD,
I will judge between one sheep and another,
between rams and goats.

Responsorial PsalmPS 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6

R. (1) The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
Beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

Reading 2 1 COR 15:20-26, 28

Brothers and sisters:
Christ has been raised from the dead,
the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
For since death came through man,
the resurrection of the dead came also through man.
For just as in Adam all die,
so too in Christ shall all be brought to life,
but each one in proper order:
Christ the firstfruits;
then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ;
then comes the end,
when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father,
when he has destroyed every sovereignty
and every authority and power.
For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
When everything is subjected to him,
then the Son himself will also be subjected
to the one who subjected everything to him,
so that God may be all in all.

Alleluia MK 11:9, 10

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come!
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

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Jesus: Whatever you did for the least of my brothers

Gospel MT 25:31-46

Jesus said to his disciples:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
and all the angels with him,
he will sit upon his glorious throne,
and all the nations will be assembled before him.
And he will separate them one from another,
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right,
‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will say to them in reply,
‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Then he will say to those on his left,
‘Depart from me, you accursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me no food,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
a stranger and you gave me no welcome,
naked and you gave me no clothing,
ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’
Then they will answer and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty
or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison,
and not minister to your needs?’
He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you,
what you did not do for one of these least ones,
you did not do for me.’
And these will go off to eternal punishment,
but the righteous to eternal life.”
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From The Abbot

Monastery of Christ in the Desert

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Christ the King!  Christ is king of our hearts and of our lives.  Many of us today no longer think of actual kings but we can still understand the idea of a king.  We should think of the struggle in the Old Testament, the Jewish Scriptures, when the Jewish people decided to ask for a king on this earth, rather than just staying with their covenant with God.

Christ the King as a solemnity is about our covenant with God.  Perhaps we don’t often think that we have a covenant with God.  Often we only think of our Jewish ancestors and their covenants with the Lord God.  But our Scripture are called the New Testament and they refer to the New Covenant with the Lord God.  The point where we made that covenant is our baptism:  we were baptized into Christ and into the New Covenant with Him.

The first reading today comes from the Prophet Ezekiel and speaks of God as shepherd:  “The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy, shepherding them rightly.”  Always the strong words of the Old Testament cause dismay for people today.  The Prophet Ezekiel, speaking in the name of God, tells us”  “the sleek and the strong I will destroy.”  This is not about God wanting to get rid of some of us.  Rather it is the destruction of a person so that the person can be reformed in God’s image.  The sleek and the strong live in illusion because the only strength in this life is Jesus the Lord.  The illusions need to be destroyed so that the sleek and the strong can form with God the same covenant as all the others.  We must rely on God.  None of us is strong in himself or herself.

The second reading comes from the First Letter to the Corinthians and speaks about the true goal of life is living in Christ and sharing the Resurrection of Christ.  In the end, everything will according to the will of God and living according to God’s plans.  So why do we have freedom?  So that we can freely give ourselves to the Lord and to the following of the Lord’s ways.  God is so patient with us and so willing to keep working with us, even when that work means destroying the parts of us that resist His will and His plans for us.

Today’s Gospel is from Saint Matthew and tells us that the way that we treat others is the way that we treat Jesus Christ Himself.  We know that intellectually but oftentimes pay no attention to it in our daily lives.  We are challenged to see Christ in each other person, especially those who most irritate us and cause us negative feelings and reactions.  That is why Jesus always tells us to love our enemies.  It is easy to love our friends.

So if Christ is our King, then we need to live our Covenant with Him.  We need to walk humbly in His ways and to trust in loving others that we ourselves will know God’s love in our lives.  This solemnity is not just about looking to God as our King or looking to Christ as our God-King.  No, it is about our Covenant with our God and King and a deep commitment to live as He wants us to live:  loving all because we love Him.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip

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The Good Samaritan by William Henry Margetson (1861-1940)

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
26 NOVEMBER, 2017
Sunday, Christ the King
THE JUDGEMENT OF MERCY

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ EZ 34:11-12,15-171 COR 15:20-2628MATT 25:31-46]

If we want to live a meaningful and purposeful life, we need to know our origin, purpose and destiny.  Hence, the three most important questions in life are:  Where did I come from? What is the purpose of our life here on earth?  Where do I go after my life on earth?  Today, we arrive at the final question.  Where do we go after death?

We have reached the last Sunday of the liturgical year, in which we celebrate the feast of Christ the King.  In the creed, we pray “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead” and “his kingdom will have no end.”  Indeed, the last four things in Church doctrines are death, judgment, heaven and hell.  The parable of the Last Judgement presents the last act of history, the universal judgement where we will be placed in heaven or hell.  In contrast to the scene at His passion when He stood before the rulers of the world in chains, when men and history judged Christ, at the final judgment, He is seated on the throne judging men and history.  He will pronounce judgement, rendering justice to good and bad alike.

When we hear of the final judgment, we can respond in three ways.  A common response of those who are faithful to God is fear.  We are afraid that we will not pass the test and be sent to hell forever.   Surely we do not want to hear these words from our Lord, “Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”  For those who lived good lives, they will welcome the day of judgment because it means liberation and reward for all their sacrifices and sufferings that they endured.   For them, it is a day of reckoning, a day when justice is done.

But for this modern generation, the parable of the Last Judgment is met with indifference.  Many would just conclude that it is a story, a joke just to frighten some children and naïve people.  Indeed, among modernists have no faith in life after death, much less about judgment, hell or heaven.  Hence, such threats of eternal punishment are not taken seriously.  They are scorned at because for such people there is no hope beyond this world.  Life ends at death.  Even those who might see this as a possibility take consolation that it will not happen in their time.  They can wait.  But the Lord warns us. “Fool! This night your soul is required of you.” (Lk 12:20)   Whilst there is a universal and final judgment, let us not forget that there is an immediate judgment upon death.

Regardless how we take the final judgement, it must be noted that the judgment of God from beginning to end is one of mercy.  Indeed, even the final judgement is an act of mercy to restore things back to order.  It is not meant so much to punish but to give sense to world history, otherwise this history lacks meaning, finality and purpose.  Hence, as people of faith, we should be looking for the fulfillment of history when the kingdom of God will be brought to its completion.  This is the hope of Christians when St Paul wrote, “For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order: Christ the first fruits; then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ; then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father, when he has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”   Freed from all that lords over us, and restricting our freedom to love, this final judgement will reconcile us with each other and everyone will live in love and unity because we will all be in God and God will be all in all. “And when everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will be subject in his turn to the One who subjected all things to him, so that God may be all in all.”

Not only is the judgement an act of mercy, the criteria for the judgement is also determined by mercy.  Today’s Gospel provides us the criteria for judgment when the King said: “For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.”   It is significant that at the final judgement, we will not be asked whether we, as Catholics, have fulfilled our Sunday Obligation but whether we have fulfilled the obligation to love our neighbours.   Jesus will ask each of us whether we love Him enough to love His brothers and sisters. The needy would include Christians and non-Christians alike.  The needy are not just those who need physical, material and financial help but also those who are spiritually sick through worldliness and sin, ambition and greed.  So to help the needy would involve both corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

This is because the poor and the weak are identified with the Lord who is our Good Shepherd.  “Then the virtuous will say to him in reply, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome; naked and clothe you; sick or in prison and go to see you?’ And the King will answer, ‘I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.’”  In the first reading, we read of God as our Good Shepherd.  The images of the Good Shepherd from the book of Ezekiel speaks of the heart of God for His sheep, especially those who are sickly, wounded, hungry and lost.  This is what the Lord said, “I shall rescue them from wherever they have been scattered during the mist and darkness. I myself will pasture my sheep, I myself will show them where to rest. I shall look for the lost one, bring back the stray, bandage the wounded and make the weak strong. I shall watch over the fat and healthy. I shall be a true shepherd to them.”

He is the model of how we should live our lives in such a way that we are ready for judgement.  He goes after the lost sheep, the weak and the wounded.  He is the model and exemplar of a shepherd who gives up His life for His sheep.  He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  Indeed, with the psalmist, we pray, “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want. Fresh and green are the pastures where he gives me repose.  Near restful waters he leads me, to revive my drooping spirit. He guides me along the right path; he is true to his name. You have prepared a banquet for me in the sight of my foes. My head you have anointed with oil; my cup is overflowing. Surely goodness and kindness shall follow me all the days of my life. In the Lord’s own house shall I dwell for ever and ever.”

But how do we reconcile that Jesus is our Good Shepherd and yet He is also the judge?  The creed says, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”  How could a merciful God not forgive sinners even at the last judgement?  The truth is that it is not God who cannot forgive but that the sinner will be too proud to ask for forgiveness or to accept forgiveness.  When God judges, He judges by the norm of Love, that is Christ Himself.  The individual judges himself or herself against Christ as the measure of love.  He or she would be the one to reject Christ both on earth and at the end of history.  This is because in living a sinful and evil life, the sinner is consumed with self-centeredness and hatred.  Just like those who cannot forgive on earth, he or she also cannot forgive even at death.  He hangs on to his envy, anger, resentment and selfishness.

Hence, it is our choice whether we want to be goats or sheep.   Goats by temperament are aggressive, domineering and defensive of their territory.  They tend to walk alone without the others.  They are egocentric and do not want to live in friendship with others.  Those who cannot love are those in hell because hell is a state of alienation from others.  Sheep, on the other hand, are docile.  They follow their shepherd.  They like to group together. They love fellowship and company.  They represent the community of the just in heaven, for saints are those who care for each other as much as themselves.

On this feast of Christ our King, let us renew our pledge of loyalty to Him.  Let us resolve to free ourselves from self-will and put ourselves at His service of love.   To claim that Jesus is our king is more than just sentimental words.  It is to subject our lives to His rule of love and mercy so that we can be transformed to love like Him.  Allowing the love of God to rule our hearts is the key.  We must allow Him to touch our hearts through prayer, meditation on His love and mercy, and most of all, ask for the grace to see Him in those who are suffering.  Only the love of God will free us from the inordinate love of self.  We must continue to allow the Good Shepherd to touch our hearts so that when the time comes, we will be ready to embrace Him in our fellowmen.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore

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Prayer and Meditation for Tuesday, November 21, 2017 — “I will prove myself worthy of my old age and I will leave to the young a noble example.”

November 20, 2017

Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Lectionary: 498

Reading 1 2 MC 6:18-31

Eleazar, one of the foremost scribes,
a man of advanced age and noble appearance,
was being forced to open his mouth to eat pork.
But preferring a glorious death to a life of defilement,
he spat out the meat,
and went forward of his own accord to the instrument of torture,
as people ought to do who have the courage to reject the food
which it is unlawful to taste even for love of life.
Those in charge of that unlawful ritual meal took the man aside privately,
because of their long acquaintance with him,
and urged him to bring meat of his own providing,
such as he could legitimately eat,
and to pretend to be eating some of the meat of the sacrifice
prescribed by the king;
in this way he would escape the death penalty,
and be treated kindly because of their old friendship with him.
But Eleazar made up his mind in a noble manner,
worthy of his years, the dignity of his advanced age,
the merited distinction of his gray hair,
and of the admirable life he had lived from childhood;
and so he declared that above all
he would be loyal to the holy laws given by God.He told them to send him at once
to the abode of the dead, explaining:
“At our age it would be unbecoming to make such a pretense;
many young people would think the ninety-year-old Eleazar
had gone over to an alien religion.
Should I thus pretend for the sake of a brief moment of life,
they would be led astray by me,
while I would bring shame and dishonor on my old age.
Even if, for the time being, I avoid the punishment of men,
I shall never, whether alive or dead,
escape the hands of the Almighty.
Therefore, by manfully giving up my life now,
I will prove myself worthy of my old age,
and I will leave to the young a noble example
of how to die willingly and generously
for the revered and holy laws.”Eleazar spoke thus,
and went immediately to the instrument of torture.
Those who shortly before had been kindly disposed,
now became hostile toward him because what he had said
seemed to them utter madness.
When he was about to die under the blows,
he groaned and said:
“The Lord in his holy knowledge knows full well that,
although I could have escaped death,
I am not only enduring terrible pain in my body from this scourging,
but also suffering it with joy in my soul
because of my devotion to him.”
This is how he died,
leaving in his death a model of courage
and an unforgettable example of virtue
not only for the young but for the whole nation.

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Responsrial Psalm PS 3:2-3, 4-5, 6-7

R. (6b) The Lord upholds me.
O LORD, how many are my adversaries!
Many rise up against me!
Many are saying of me,
“There is no salvation for him in God.”
R. The Lord upholds me.
But you, O LORD, are my shield;
my glory, you lift up my head!
When I call out to the LORD,
he answers me from his holy mountain.
R. The Lord upholds me.
When I lie down in sleep,
I wake again, for the LORD sustains me.
I fear not the myriads of people
arrayed against me on every side.
R. The Lord upholds me.

Alleluia 1 JN 4:10B

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
God loved us, and sent his Son
as expiation for our sins.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
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Art: Zacchaeus – The Tax Collector Who Turned to Jesus

Gospel LK 19:1-10

At that time Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.
Now a man there named Zacchaeus,
who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man,
was seeking to see who Jesus was;
but he could not see him because of the crowd,
for he was short in stature.
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus,
who was about to pass that way.
When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said,
“Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house.”
And he came down quickly and received him with joy.
When they saw this, they began to grumble, saying,
“He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,
“Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor,
and if I have extorted anything from anyone
I shall repay it four times over.”
And Jesus said to him,
“Today salvation has come to this house
because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.
For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost.”

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Commentary on Luke 19:1-10 From Living Space

Today we have one of the most delightful stories of Luke and indeed of the whole Gospel. It follows immediately – and not by accident – after the healing of a blind man as Jesus enters the city of Jericho, to the northeast of Jerusalem.

The central figure is Zacchaeus, who, Luke tells us, was a chief tax collector and a rich man. This is the only reference in Scripture to a ‘chief tax collector’. It probably means he was responsible for a district or region with other tax collectors answerable to him. The region at this time was prosperous so more tax collectors were needed.

Knowing he was a chief tax collector it was hardly necessary to mention that he was wealthy. Tax collectors were studiously avoided and despised by their fellow-Jews. They made contracts with the Roman authorities to collect taxes and made sure that they got from the public what today we might call generous “commissions”. After all, it was a kind of business and they had to make a living. And, if an ordinary tax collector could do well, it is easy to imagine how much a chief tax collector might make. One commentator refers to him as a ‘creep’.

Apart from forcing people to part with their hard-earned money, they were seen as traitors to their own people by taking their money and giving it to the pagan Roman colonialists occupying their country. One can see how Jesus could cause great offence to the religious-minded by sitting down and eating with such ‘scum’.

Zacchaeus heard that Jesus was in town and he was very curious to see what Jesus was like. Already we have here an echo of yesterday’s story, because Zacchaeus too wants to see. However, at this stage, it seems to be only a kind of curiosity. He just wanted to get a glimpse of a person of whom he undoubtedly heard people talk. Maybe he had even heard that Jesus had a name for mixing with people like himself.

Because he was a small man (in more ways than one?), he could not see over the large crowd of people surrounding Jesus. So he ran on ahead and climbed into the branches of a sycamore tree to get a better look. A sycamore tree can grow to a height of 10 to 15 metres, with a short trunk and spreading branches and hence easy to climb and easily capable of carrying a grown man.

Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus but he did not expect that Jesus would see him. He must have practically fallen out of the tree from surprise when he heard Jesus look in his direction and say, “Zacchaeus, hurry down. I want to stay in your house today.” What beautiful words! And yet it is a self-invitation that Jesus constantly extends to us. It is right there in our First Reading for today: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). Is my house ready, is my door open to let him in?

Zacchaeus could hardly believe his ears. He rushed down and delightedly welcomed Jesus into his house. Immediately those around began to grumble. “He has gone to a sinner’s house as a guest.” Of all the people in Jericho, Jesus picks the house of the one person in the town who was regarded as a social and religious outcast.

But, as usual, Jesus sees beyond the public image to the real person. Zacchaeus may be a chief tax collector but he is ready to give half of his property to the poor and, if he has cheated anyone, he promises to pay them back four times what they lost. Fourfold restitution was demanded by Jewish law, but in one case only, the theft of a sheep (Exodus 21:37). Roman law demanded such restitution from all convicted thieves. Zacchaeus, however, promises to pay in any case of injustice for which he has been responsible.

Some commentators read the passage as saying that Zacchaeus has already been making these forms of restitution and sharing his wealth with the poor. In which case, Jesus is able to see beyond the stereotype which makes Zacchaeus the tax collector an outcast. He was not going to the house of a sinner but to that of a good man. Jesus always sees the real person and goes beyond the label. Can we always claim to do the same?

Whatever the interpretation, we can see that, though Zacchaeus may have belonged to a discredited profession, his heart was in the right place, in the place of compassion and justice.

And so Jesus tells Zacchaeus that “salvation”, wholeness and integrity has come to his house. In spite of his despised profession he is “a descendant of Abraham” because his behaviour is totally in harmony with the requirements of the Law and in fact goes well beyond it. For Jesus, too, no social status closes the door to salvation. For this is what it means to be a “son of Abraham”, namely, to be a loving, caring person full of compassion and a sense of justice and not just a keeper of ritualistic observances.

Zacchaeus, who had originally just wanted to have an external glimpse of Jesus, has now come to see Jesus in a much deeper sense. A seeing that changed his whole life as it did that of the beggar in yesterday’s story.

Further, in answer to the accusation that he has entered the house of a sinner, Jesus says, “The Son of Man has come to search out and save what was lost.” As he said on another occasion, the healthy have no need of a physician but only the sick. Jesus is the good Shepherd leaving the well-behaved 99 and going in search of the single one that has gone astray.

As we read this story, there are a number of things we could reflect on. We too want to see Jesus in the deepest possible sense. Only then can we truly become his disciples. We need to hear him saying to us, “I want to stay in your house today.” Let us open the door and welcome him in.

And we need to be careful in judging people from their appearance or their social position or their occupation. As a Church, we could spend a lot more time looking for those who are lost instead of concentrating on serving the already converted. In fact, only when people become active evangelisers themselves can we speak of them as “converted”, as “good Christians”.

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From The Abbot in the Desert
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Monastery of Christ in the Desert, Benedictine monastic community, near Abiquiu, New Mexico
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My sisters and brothers in the Lord,

We return to the Gospel from Luke today and meet Zacchaeus, a short man who is the chief tax collector and a wealthy man.  We can note immediately that Zacchaeus is not a proud man.  Think of this short man running ahead of Jesus and climbing a tree to see him.  How undignified and comic!  We can hope that we might have this enthusiasm to know the Lord, to see Jesus.  Jesus never turns people away.  There are times when Jesus tests those who come to see him, such as the foreign woman in the Gospel of Matthew to whom he replies that he cannot give to the dogs food for those at table.  But Jesus knows the people and knows how far He can test them.

We need to  have this enthusiasm of Zacchaeus and the strength of character of the foreign woman when we come seeking Jesus.  Zacchaeus is ready to give a lot (we can note that he does not offer to give up everything!) in order to follow Jesus.  How much are we willing to give to the Lord?  Are we willing to make fools of ourselves so that we can see Jesus?  Are we willing to seek wisdom?

Let us give whatever we can give at this moment, even if it is not yet all!  Let us walk with the Lord and ask Him to help us.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip

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Related:

Today’s Gospel is one of our favorites because Zacchaeus “Goes to any length” to get what’s he’s after and what he needs. He even climbs a tree so he can see the Lord…..

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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21 NOVEMBER, 2017, Tuesday, Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
DEDICATING OURSELVES TO THE LORD WITH MARY

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ZECHARIAH 2:14-17MT 12:46-50 ]

This feast was celebrated in Jerusalem in the sixth century.  A Church was constructed to honour this aspect of the life of Mary.  Historically, our knowledge of Mary’s presentation in the Temple, as also in her birth, is found only in apocryphal literature.  Such unhistorical accounts, although not considered as inspired scriptures, do offer us insights into the life of Mary and the contemplation of the Church on her role in the economy of salvation.   In the Protoevangelium of James, it was recounted that Anna and Joachim dedicated Mary to God in the Temple when she was three years old in fulfillment of the promise made to God when Anna was still childless.  This act of consecration of course reminds us of Hannah offering Samuel back to God at the Temple after she had weaned him. (cf 1 Sm 1:21-28)

Why is this feast so important in the eyes of the Church?  How does this celebration help us to live out our faith?  Even though this feast lacks historicity, it serves as an encouragement and model for us to live out our faith as Mary did.  It tells us that Mary from the very beginning of her life was dedicated to God.  Her life was lived in consecration to God at every moment.  This is what the Lord said of her.  “’Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand towards his disciples he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother.’”   Mary’s life was lived in such a way that she was obedient to the Word of God.  We too are called to consecrate our lives to God. 

This is possible first and foremost if we have good parents like Joachim and Anne. For parents, it means that their children do not belong to them.  Many of us think that our children are our property.  We can do as we like with them.  We form them according to our image and likeness.  We make them choose a career that we ourselves like, a career that brings lots of money, fame, prestige and power.   We think that they will be happy in that manner.  When we form them to be worldly people, we have failed in our responsibility.   The truth is that they are God’s children, not ours.  We are just the care-givers and the guardians like St Joseph who looked after our Lord.  The children were given to us as gifts from God.  But the gift of parenthood entails that we raise our children to be children of God.  “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.  And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”  (1 Jn 3:1-3)

As parents, our task is to help them to become true children of God. “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.”  (Rom 8:29)  In whatever, they do in life, they are called to become like Christ in their way of life, according to their profession and status in life.  What is important is not that they become rich and famous but whether they become loving and generous people who live for others and not for themselves.  “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”  (1 Jn 3:16)

Parents who wish their children to be dedicated to do God’s work according to their vocation in life must therefore imbue them with the right gospel values.  It is not enough for parents to care only about their academic education and other related skills.  What is even more important to look after is their faith and moral values.  If their life is not founded on God and morality, whatever they do will be for themselves and not for others.

Today, we thank Joachim and Anne for their initiative and example of offering Mary to the Lord from a tender age.  We can be certain that the faith and lives of Joachim and Anne were exemplary for Mary.  She lived in the ambience of God’s love mediated through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit.  Whilst it is true that Mary was under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to consecrate herself to God, whether at the Temple or gradually in her life, it was also the good example of her parents that helped her to desire to love God and serve Him all her life.  Whether we like it or not, parents and adults are mentors for our young people.  We can either be a scandal to them and their faith or be an inspiration.  This is the power of influence of parents and leaders.  We can either influence them for good or for evil, depending on how we live our lives.

As a consequence, Mary became a greater Temple than any other earthly temple constructed by men.  Because of her availability to the Lord, the Lord came to dwell within her.  She was the daughter of Zion whom the prophet said, “Sing, rejoice, daughter of Zion; for I am coming to dwell in the middle of you – it is the Lord who speaks.”  She carried the child Jesus in her womb as His tabernacle. John the Baptist leapt for joy when he encountered the Lord in the same way King David leapt for joy when he met the Lord in the Ark of the Covenant.  “As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord.”  (2 Sm 6:16 cf Lk 1:44)  The Lord was with her because of her docility to His love and His will.  To consecrate means to put ourselves at the disposal of the Lord.  That was what she said at the Annunciation.  “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38)  When we make ourselves available to the Lord, He will always do great things for us. “He has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”  (Lk 1:48f)  The more we abandon ourselves to the Lord, the more He will work in and through us.

Not only did she become a Temple of God, Mary also became a channel of grace to the Lord, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah.  “Many nations will join the Lord, on that day; they will become his people.  But he will remain among you, and you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you.  But the Lord will hold Judah as his portion in the Holy Land, and again make Jerusalem his very own. Let all mankind be silent before the Lord! For he is awakening and is coming from his holy dwelling.”  Through Mary, many have been brought to the Lord Jesus.  She continues to play a critical role in making us all children of God.  Her blessing was not for herself but given to us, her children, as well.  If, like Mary, we follow the will of God, we too become His mother, brothers and sisters, as Jesus promised.   So if we want our children to also be channels of God’s love to others, let us groom them well according to the gospel values.  Most of all, we must allow them to encounter the Lord so that His Spirit can fill them with His love.

In the final analysis, we must realize that holiness of life is not just our effort but basically, it is the work of God in us.  In celebrating the feast of the Presentation of Mary, we are saying that the holiness of Mary’s life was the work of the Holy Spirit in her, beginning with her Immaculate Conception to her birth and continuing through her early childhood to her teenage years and until her death.  The Holy Spirit was with her to keep her holy and faithful to the Word of God.   This is the power of the grace of God in transforming Mary to be a channel of grace to our Lord.  If we, especially priests and religious, offer ourselves to the Lord as Mary did, then God will also make use of us for His glory and for His people.

Let us all, regardless of whether we are parents, priests, religious or children, imitate Mary in consecrating our lives, plans and ambition to the Lord.  Let us live for the Lord and His people.   Let us live in Him so that He can live in us, as St Paul says “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”  (cf Gal 2:20).  Only in total dedication and self-oblation with Mary, can the Lord use us mightily for His service.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Prayer and Meditation for Saturday, August 19, 2017 — “If it does not please you to serve the LORD, decide today whom you will serve.”

August 18, 2017

Saturday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 418

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Art: Joshua’s Army Marches Around Jericho

Reading 1  JOS 24:14-29

Joshua gathered together all the tribes of Israel at Shechem,
and addressed them, saying:
“Fear the LORD and serve him completely and sincerely.
Cast out the gods your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt,
and serve the LORD.
If it does not please you to serve the LORD,
decide today whom you will serve,
the gods your fathers served beyond the River
or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are dwelling.
As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

But the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the LORD
for the service of other gods.
For it was the LORD, our God,
who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt,
out of a state of slavery.
He performed those great miracles before our very eyes
and protected us along our entire journey and among all the peoples
through whom we passed.
At our approach the LORD drove out all the peoples,
including the Amorites who dwelt in the land.
Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.”

Joshua in turn said to the people,
“You may not be able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God;
he is a jealous God who will not forgive
your transgressions or your sins.
If, after the good he has done for you,
you forsake the LORD and serve strange gods,
he will do evil to you and destroy you.”

But the people answered Joshua, “We will still serve the LORD.”
Joshua therefore said to the people,
“You are your own witnesses that you have chosen to serve the LORD.”
They replied, “We are, indeed!”
Joshua continued:
“Now, therefore, put away the strange gods that are among you
and turn your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel.”
Then the people promised Joshua,
“We will serve the LORD, our God, and obey his voice.”

So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day
and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem,
which he recorded in the book of the law of God.
Then he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak
that was in the sanctuary of the LORD.
And Joshua said to all the people, “This stone shall be our witness,
for it has heard all the words which the LORD spoke to us.
It shall be a witness against you, should you wish to deny your God.”
Then Joshua dismissed the people, each to his own heritage.

After these events, Joshua, son of Nun, servant of the LORD,
died at the age of a hundred and ten.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 16:1-2A AND 5, 7-8, 11

R. (see 5a) You are my inheritance, O Lord.
Keep me, O God, for in you I take refuge;
I say to the LORD, “My Lord are you.”
O LORD, my allotted portion and my cup,
you it is who hold fast my lot.
R. You are my inheritance, O Lord.
I bless the LORD who counsels me;
even in the night my heart exhorts me.
I set the LORD ever before me;
with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.
R. You are my inheritance, O Lord.
You will show me the path to life,
fullness of joys in your presence,
the delights at your right hand forever.
R. You are my inheritance, O Lord.

Alleluia SEE MT 11:25

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth;
you have revealed to little ones the mysteries of the Kingdom.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 19:13-15

Children were brought to Jesus
that he might lay his hands on them and pray.
The disciples rebuked them, but Jesus said,
“Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them;
for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
After he placed his hands on them, he went away.

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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19 AUGUST, 2017, Saturday, 19th Week, Ordinary Time
RENEWING OUR COMMITMENT TO THE LORD AND HIS PEOPLE

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Jos 24:14-29Ps 16:1-2,5,7-8,11Mt 19:13-15 ]

Today, it is difficult to find people who are committed to their vocation in life or the work they do.  This is particularly true of relationships.  Marriage is no longer a lifelong commitment.  People marry with great skepticism that the marriage would last.  What is true of marriage is also true of vocation.  The number of priests and religious leaving the ministry is increasing each day.  Some leave just a couple of years after their ordination.  Even those who stay are doing so for security reasons as they have lost their zeal in serving the Lord and His people.  This is even truer of jobs.  Very seldom do we have a worker who is loyal to the company for life.  The moment they find a better job, they leave.

Joshua who led the people into the Promised Land was fully aware of the temptations ahead of them. Upon settling down in the land of Canaan, they would become rich and influenced by the Canaanite culture and religion.  In the desert, they had nothing and no one to rely on except God alone.  But once they have settled down in the Promised Land, they would be able to plant their own crops and be self-sufficient.  For this reason, Joshua felt the need to have the people reaffirm their commitment to the Lord.  They were asked to renew their decision to follow the Lord with all their heart.

Today, we too are called to renew our commitment to the Lord.  This commitment could be our priestly or marriage promises or religious vows.  This is particularly relevant especially when we celebrate our anniversary.  It is an occasion to renew our promises and vows to the vocation that we have chosen.  What does it take to renew our commitment to the Lord and His people? 

Firstly, we need to put away our false gods.  If the Lord is our God, then we must destroy in us what makes us worship the alien gods in our lives.  It means that we put away every form of idolatry, such as pride, insecurity, greed, jealousy, and the vain pursuits of the world.   Instead of listening to the world, we listen only to the Lord.  “Joshua said to all the people: ‘Fear the Lord and serve him perfectly and sincerely; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if you will not serve the Lord, choose today whom you wish to serve, whether the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are now living.”   Indeed, we need to examine how much we have strayed from the living God.  The truth is that many of us say “yes” to God, but along the way, like the Israelites, we turn away from the living God because we are attracted by the illusions of the world, power, glory and materialism.

Secondly, we need to encounter the Lord’s mercy and power.  We cannot commit ourselves to the Lord unless we know that He is indeed the Lord.  The decision to commit themsleves to the God of Israel was not just based on blind faith.  On the contrary, they had seen the powers and mercy of God. “The people answered, ‘We have no intention of deserting the Lord and serving other gods! Was it not the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors out of the land of Egypt, the house of slavery, who worked those great wonders before our eyes and preserved us all along the way we travelled and among all the peoples through whom we journeyed? What is more, the Lord drove all those people out before us, as well as the Amorites who used to live in this country. We too will serve the Lord, for he is our God.’”  The strength of our commitment to serve the Lord is affected by how we see the Lord at work in our lives, in our vocation, in our marriage and in our commitment.  When we see that what we are doing with the help of His grace is bringing fruits to those for whom we are laboring, that gives us the impetus to do even more and to trust Him more.

Thirdly, we need exemplary models like Joshua.  If there is a lack of commitment in vocation and relationships, it is because we have poor mentors.   Many of us join the priestly and religious vocation because we have observed the good mentors before us who gave up their lives to serve God and His people. It is the same for marriages as well.  But today, we lack mentors who live up to their commitment with fidelity, joy and passion.  Joshua, the leader of Israel, led not by using power over the people but by his own example.  With conviction, he unwaveringly declared, “As for me and my House, we serve the Lord.”   Regardless of what the others might choose, Joshua was definite about his choice, which was to serve the Lord.  This decision he made was not just a verbal decision but one that he lived out for the rest of his life.

Fourthly, we must consider the implications of our choice.  Joshua reminded the people of their decision.  He said, “You cannot serve the Lord, because he is a holy God, he is a jealous God who will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you desert the Lord to follow alien gods he in turn will afflict and destroy you after the goodness he has shown you.”   It is not enough simply to say “yes” without thinking of the implications.  Getting married is easy, staying married is difficult.  Indeed, there are serious implications when those who take promises and vows do not live up to them.  This is true of priests, religious and married people, or those appointed for leadership.  What we do does not only affect us but the community whom we are called to serve.  So the failure to live up to our commitment will not only hurt us but hurt everyone as well.

In the light of these challenges, how then can we live up to our promises and commitments knowing how difficult it is?  We must give our whole heart to the Lord.  “Joshua said to the people, ‘You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.’ They answered, ‘We are witnesses.’ ‘Then cast away the alien gods among you and give your hearts to the Lord the God of Israel!’ The people answered Joshua, ‘It is the Lord our God we choose to serve; it is his voice that we obey.’”  To give our whole heart to the Lord means that we will obey His will in all that we do.  It means that we will do everything for the love of Him and the glory of His name.  Is the Lord the center of our lives?  Do we pledge total allegiance to Him above all things and persons?  The strength of our commitment and surrender will determine how much we will be faithful to Him.

Like the psalmist, we must be able to declare that the Lord is our portion. “You are my inheritance, O Lord.  Preserve me, God, I take refuge in you.  I say to the Lord: ‘You are my God.’  O Lord, it is you who are my portion and cup; it is you yourself who are my prize. I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel, who even at night directs my heart.  I keep the Lord ever in my sight: since he is at my right hand, I shall stand firm. You will show me the path of life, the fullness of joy in your presence, at your right hand happiness for ever.”  Unless God is our inheritance and not the world, we cannot give ourselves utterly to our commitment.

In the final analysis, we must surrender in faith like a child to enter the Kingdom of God.  When the disciples wanted to turn away the little ones from coming to Him for a blessing, Jesus said, “Let the little children alone, and do not stop them coming to me; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”  With a childlike faith, we are called to surrender our lives to the Lord and to our heavenly Father.  Only those who have experienced the Fatherly love of God can surrender in trust to Him.  Children trust in their parents and elders because they feel loved and protected.  Otherwise, they become suspicious of people, especially those in authority, if they have been abused or taken advantage of.   For this reason, we are called to have a special care for the young because how they are formed, guided and mentored in love will affect their ability to make their own commitments to God and their vocation in future.   If they have proper fatherly love and care, they would be able to be more stable in relationships and commitments.  Fatherly love on earth will help them to encounter the heavenly Father’s love for them in Christ Jesus.

Finally, let us remember our commitment to the Lord through the external sign, such as a wedding ring or a religious ring.  We need these external signs and ceremonies to keep our faith and promises alive.  Renewal of our commitment through the celebration of anniversaries are great moments to review and thank God for His commitment to us.  That was why, Joshua renewed the covenant by setting up a stone or an altar. “He took a great stone and set it up there, under the oak in the sanctuary of the Lord, and Joshua said to all the people, ‘See! This stone shall be a witness against us because it has heard all the words that the Lord has spoken to us: it shall be a witness against you in case you deny your God.’”

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore

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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
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Reflection

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• The Gospel today is very brief; only three verses. The Gospel describes how Jesus accepts the children.

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• Matthew 19, 13: The attitude of the disciples concerning the children. People brought little children to Jesus, for him to lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples scolded the mothers. Why? Perhaps because this was according to the severe norms of the Law of purity, the small children in the conditions in which they lived were considered unclean, impure. If they touched Jesus, he would become impure. Because of this, it was important to avoid that they should get close to him and that they touch him. Because it already had happened one time, when a leper touched Jesus. Jesus became unclean, impure and could no longer enter the city. He had to remain in deserted places (Mk 1, 4-45).

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• Matthew 19, 14-15: The attitude of Jesus: he accepts and defends the life of the children. Jesus reproved the disciples and said: Let the little children alone, and do not stop them from coming to me, for it is to such as these that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs”. Jesus does not care about transgressing the norms which prevent fraternity and acceptance to be given to the little ones. The new experience of God, the Father has marked the life of Jesus and gives him new eyes to perceive and to value the relationship between persons. Jesus gets on the side of the little ones, of the excluded and assumes their defence. It impresses when we see together everything which the Bible says regarding the attitudes of Jesus in defence of the life of the children, of the little ones:

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a) To give thanks for the Kingdom present in the little ones. Jesus’ joy is great when he sees that the children, the little ones understand the things of the Kingdom which he announced to the people. “Father, I thank you!” (Mt 11, 25-26) Jesus recognizes that the little ones understand more about the things of the Kingdom, than the doctors!

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b) To defend the right to shout or cry out. When Jesus, entered the Temple, he upset the tables of the money changers, and the children were those who shouted: “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Mt 21, 15). Criticized by the high priests and the Scribes, Jesus defends them and in his defence he recalls the Scriptures (Mt 21, 16).

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c) To identify oneself with the little ones. Jesus embraces the little ones and identifies himself with them. Anyone who accepts a little one accepts Jesus (Mk 9, 37). “In so far as you have done it to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me”. (Mt 25, 40).

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d) To accept and not to scandalize. One of the hardest words of Jesus is against those who are a cause of scandal for the little ones, that is, who are the cause why the little ones no longer believe in God. Because of this, it would have been better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around their neck (Lk 17, 1-2; Mt 18, 5-7). Jesus condemns the system, both the political one as well as the religious one, which is the reason why the little ones, the humble people, lose faith in God.

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e) To become like children. Jesus asks his disciples to become like children and to accept the Kingdom as children do. Without this, it is impossible to enter into the Kingdom (Lk 9,46-48). It indicates that the children are professors of the adults. That was not normal. We are accustomed to the contrary.

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f) To accept and to touch. (Today’s Gospel). The mothers with their children who get close to Jesus to ask him to bless the children. The Apostles react and drive them away. Jesus corrects the adults and accepts the mothers with the children. He touches the children and embraces them. “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them!” (Mk 10, 13-16; Mt 19, 13-15). According to the norms of that time, both the mothers and their small children, practically, lived in a state of legal impurity. Jesus does not allow himself to be drawn by this.

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g) To accept and to take care. Many are the children and the young people whom he accepts, takes care of and rises from the dead: the daughter of Jairus, who was 12 years old (Mk 5, 41-42), the daughter of the Canaanite woman (Mk 7, 29-30), the son of the widow of Nain (Lk 7, 14-15), the epileptic child (Mk 9, 25-26), the son of the Centurion (Lk 7, 9-10), the son of the public officer (Jn 4,50), the boy with five loaves of bread and two fishes (Jn 6,9).

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Personal questions

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• Children: what have you learnt from children throughout the years of your life? And what do children learn about God, about Jesus and his life, from you?
• Which is the image of Jesus which I give to children? A sever God, a good God, distant or absent?

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Concluding Prayer

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Lord, give me back the joy of your salvation,
sustain in me a generous spirit.
I shall teach the wicked your paths,
and sinners will return to you. (Ps 51,12-13)

http://www.ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-divina-matthew-1913-15

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Related:
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A theme repeated over and over again in the scriptures is, “Do not be afraid.”
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When someone today asks, “What do we get as Christians?” we might answer: “Do not be afraid. Everything is possible with God.”
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Related here on Peace and Freedom:
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God, I offer myself to Thee –
to build with me and do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love and Thy Way of Life.
May I do Thy will always!
Thank You God, AMEN!
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Survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan march during a religious procession in Tolosa on the eastern Philippine island of Leyte  over one week after Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the area. The United Nations estimates that 13 million people were affected by Super Typhoon Haiyan with around 1.9 million losing their homes. AFP PHOTO / Philippe Lopez (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images) When the going gets tough, we have to get our faith going!

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From Last Year…..

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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13 AUGUST 2016, Saturday, 19th Week of Ordinary Time
INTER-GENERATIONAL SIN

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [  EZ 18:1-10.13.30-32; MT 19:13-15 ]

The question of inter-generational sin and original sin has always been a source of contention and disagreement.  The objection lies in that if sin must be willingly committed by one who is free, then it is not fair that we suffer the sins of our parents and ancestors through no fault of ours.

The cause of such misunderstanding is due to the fact that the word “sin” is used analogously and not literally. Of course, we cannot inherit the sins personally committed by someone else.  Nevertheless, we can inherit the guilt as a consequence of their sins.

In the Old Testament, great emphasis was given to the collective sin of the community.  This was because salvation was always taken to be of a people or a nation.  People tended to see themselves as a community rather than as individuals.  The success or failure of one would have had repercussions on the rest of the community. More so, if the person who sinned was the head of the community, as his sin would have involved the whole nation.  Hence, the sin of the king or the leader of the tribe, or the father of the household, would cause all those under his care to suffer the punishment for his sins.

Thus, we can understand why the bible, since the time of Moses, speaks about the sins of our forefathers affecting us. We cannot deny that in some ways we are influenced by both the culture of the society we are born into and also the spiritual influence of our parents.  Although it would not be right to speak of genetic sin, certainly the emotions and the psychological state of our parents would have affected us even when we were in the womb of our mothers and when we were being brought up by them as well.  Therefore we must recognize that we do suffer the effects of the sins of our parents, although we do not and cannot inherit their sins.  Indeed, Ezekiel himself did not sin, but like the good and righteous ones of Israel, he too was in exile because of the sins of his fellowmen.

Of course, there is a danger that we can exonerate ourselves of all guilt and push the blame on our forefathers.  This is what Ezekiel sought to do in today’s first reading.  We must see sin in perspective. Ultimately, God does not condemn us for the sins of our parents, but only our personal sins.   So it is more important that we take cognizance of our own personal sins rather than blaming them on our parents. Yes, we suffer the consequences, but we have the freedom and the will to change the orientation.  The power to overcome our sins is within us.  We need not resign ourselves to committing the same sins our parents did.  In other words, the prophet is saying that we are responsible for our own sins.  “As I live – it is the Lord who speaks – there will no longer be any reason to repeat this proverb in Israel.  See now: all life belongs to me; the father’s life and the son’s life, both alike belong to me.  The man who has sinned, he is the one who shall die.”

Isn’t this what the doctrine of original sin, and by extension, that of inter-generational sin, wants to convey, namely, that we share the fallen nature of our parents?  This fallen nature has affected us physically, emotionally, spiritually and psychologically.  We are wounded right from the start.  Original sin itself strictly is not yet a sin, except insofar as the fact that right from the start of our conception we are not in union with God.  However, soon it will become a sin in a real sense because we will then reenact what our parents had done by our personal sins.

Of course, inter-generational healing does not exclude our asking forgiveness for our own personal sins.  The responsorial psalm and the prophet made it clear that we must repent of our personal sins and not lay all the blame on our relations.  Like the psalmist, we must seek sincere repentance for our sins and ask the Lord to cleanse us and recreate in us a new heart.

In the same vein too, baptism also takes away our sins insofar as we are separated from God.  Through baptism, we are reconciled with God. Our sins, original and personal, are forgiven.  As a consequence of the grace of Christ, we experience an inner renewal of body, mind and spirit.  We should not have any doubts about the power of the sacrament of baptism to free us from sin and the Evil One.  The grace given to us at baptism is always there.

How is it possible that our sins are taken away at baptism?  The same principle holds with regard to the vicarious death of Christ.  Jesus, as the New Adam, rescinded all that was lost by the First Adam.  As St Paul says, “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.  Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” (Rom 5:17-19).  Jesus as the head, and we being His body, enables us to share in His victory over sin and death.

However the Council of Trent also teaches that concupiscence still remains in us in spite of our baptism. Nevertheless it is not a sin, but a tendency to sin remains.  Our human nature remains weak but with the grace of Christ we can overcome temptation to sin.  Hence, we are now in communion with God in principle.  We are renewed in Him and we are His children.  But the warfare still carries on and the battle against sin must continue to be fought with the grace of God.  So, existentially we all remain sinners even after baptism.  After all, who does not sin after baptism; unless we are baptized before death!  Metaphysically however, we are saints.  To preserve our holiness, we must strengthen our prayer and spiritual life; frequent the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.

The importance and relevance of inter-generational healing, therefore, is that it is not a matter of asking forgiveness for the sins we have inherited from our parents, rather, it is to ask God to forgive their sins on one hand; and on the other, we choose to forgive them for the effects of their sins upon us.   Through forgiveness we help the departed souls to rest in peace and return to the Lord; at the same time we free ourselves from curses, guilt and our bondage to their past.  So generational healing is the practical application of the grace of Christ given to us at baptism to heal our wounds, especially emotional and psychological traits inherited from our wounded forefathers and those who have had an influence over us directly or indirectly.

The gospel text today brings to light the relevance of generational healing.  If Jesus reprimanded the disciples for forbidding the children to go to Him, it was because He understood how we can influence our children for better or for worse.  Knowing that we come from dysfunctional and imperfect parents, they too, need prayers to be healed of the negative traits they received from their parents and relatives.  Of course the other meaning of blessing the children is to remind us that unless we are innocent, receptive and trusting in God, like children, we cannot share in the life of God.

As parents, we must therefore consider carefully what we do and say and how these will affect our children for better or for worse.  Recognizing how much influence we can have over our loved ones, let us strive to live a life of holiness so that we can impart goodness to them instead of evil.  On our part, recognizing that we are wounded from our past, we must continually seek the Lord for inner healing and at the same time, pray for the forgiveness of the souls of the faithful departed, that they too will embrace the loving mercy of God’s forgiveness and be united with the Lord in heaven.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore

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Prayer and Meditation for Monday, June 19, 2017 — “Behold, now is a very acceptable time!” — “Go the extra mile.”

June 18, 2017

Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 365

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Jesus Teaches the People by the Sea by James Tissot

Reading 1 2 COR 6:1-10

Brothers and sisters:
As your fellow workers, we appeal to you
not to receive the grace of God in vain.
For he says:

In an acceptable time I heard you,
and on the day of salvation I helped you.

Behold, now is a very acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.
We cause no one to stumble in anything,
in order that no fault may be found with our ministry;
on the contrary, in everything we commend ourselves
as ministers of God, through much endurance,
in afflictions, hardships, constraints,
beatings, imprisonments, riots,
labors, vigils, fasts;
by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness,
in the Holy Spirit, in unfeigned love, in truthful speech,
in the power of God;
with weapons of righteousness at the right and at the left;
through glory and dishonor, insult and praise.
We are treated as deceivers and yet are truthful;
as unrecognized and yet acknowledged;
as dying and behold we live;
as chastised and yet not put to death;
as sorrowful yet always rejoicing;
as poor yet enriching many;
as having nothing and yet possessing all things.

Responsorial Psalm PS 98:1, 2B, 3AB, 3CD-4

R. (2a) The Lord has made known his salvation.
Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done wondrous deeds;
His right hand has won victory for him,
his holy arm.
R. The Lord has made known his salvation.
In the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness
toward the house of Israel.
R. The Lord has made known his salvation.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation by our God.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
break into song; sing praise.
R. The Lord has made known his salvation.

Alleluia PS 119:105

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
A lamp to my feet is your word,
a light to my path.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 5:38-42

Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.
When someone strikes you on your right cheek,
turn the other one to him as well.
If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic,
hand him your cloak as well.
Should anyone press you into service for one mile,
go with him for two miles.
Give to the one who asks of you,
and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.”

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore

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19 JUNE, 2017, Monday, 11th Week, Ordinary Time

TALL ORDER

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 2 Cor 6:1-10; Ps 98:1-4; Mt 5:38-42 ]

St Paul in the first reading reminds us that we are all God’s fellow workers in His vineyard, regardless what vocation we have in life.  By virtue of our baptism, which is our common vocation and calling, all of us have received the grace of God.  Yet, there is a real danger as St Paul urges us, “not to neglect the grace of God that you have received.”  Unfortunately, many of us take the graces and blessings of God for granted.  We forget that whatever the Lord has blessed us with; they are for the service of His kingdom and His people.  Regardless whether we are teachers, doctors, priests, entrepreneurs or government servants, we are called to use our talents and resources to build up the people of God.

The reality is that many of us are counter-witnesses to our faith.  If many have left the Church or do not join the Church, it is because we are not only not witnessing to Christ but worse of all, we are a scandal to non-believers and fellow Catholics.  That is why St Paul reminds us that we should “do nothing that people might object to, so as not to bring discredit on our function as God’s servants.” Indeed, many Catholics have left the Church because of the scandalous and contradictory lifestyle and unbecoming conduct of priests and religious. Lay leaders, ministry members and Church members are not exonerated.  Many are shocked and disgusted with how some active Church members behave towards their fellow Catholics; they are rude, arrogant, insensitive and always seeking glory and recognition, thinking about themselves more than others.

It is one thing to call ourselves the servants of God and another thing to be one. Many of us do not reflect the compassionate love and mercy of Christ.   Many of us call our spouse, our better half, but it is just empty words because if we really see them as our better half, we will always defer to our spouse. So too, many call themselves parents but they are more like disciplinary masters or financial controllers as they are totally disconnected with the lives of their children.  Some call themselves doctors but they do not put the saving of life above all other considerations.  Teachers are supposed to teach what is right, true and good but they impart the wrong messages to those under their care.

The scripture readings today provide us the high expectations required of God’s servants.  There are so many, as enumerated by St Paul.  So I would just single out a few for our consideration in today’s reflection.  Among these attributes, the first is that we must have a heart of compassion.  Jesus taught us, “If anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him.  Give to anyone who asks, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away.”  St Paul wrote, “We prove we are God’s servants by our purity, knowledge, patience and kindness.”  Compassion for our brothers and sisters means that we need to be identified with them in their aspirations, struggles, joys and sorrows. It is from a spirit of compassion that our hearts are open to others.

Secondly, there must be generosity of heart.  This is the basic requirement for anyone who wants to serve God, whether as priests, religious or in Church ministry or NGO helping the poor and the marginalized. This generosity to serve, to give and to help is a pre-requisite.  If someone is not capable of generosity, he cannot be a servant of God.  No matter how talented he might be, or passionate about what he or she is doing, without generosity of heart, he would end up serving himself, not the people.  It is about himself, not others.

Thirdly, a servant of God must have a spirit of equanimity and detachment.  In other words, he sees everything from the perspective of love.  Things and possessions are only means by which we can help others.  They are not the ends themselves.  Whatever we have, we should not be not attached to them.  However, it does not mean that we be irresponsible with the gifts God has given to us.  We are merely stewards of God’s grace and blessings.  If we can use them for the good and service of others, then we are ready to part with our resources.  This is what St Paul meant when he wrote, “prepared for honour or disgrace, for blame or praise; taken for impostors while we are genuine; obscure yet famous; said to be dying and here are we alive; rumoured to be executed before we are sentenced.”  A servant of God is truly free only when he has a disinterested spirit with respect to things, resources, glory and honor. A person who is free from attachment to things is always joyful.  This is why St Paul could say that we are “thought most miserable and yet we are always rejoicing; taken for paupers though we make others rich, for people having nothing though we have everything.”

Fourthly, a servant of God must exercise “a love free from affection.”  In other words, our love is unconditional.   Romance and love for friends and our loved ones, whilst good, is mutual.  It is not the highest form of love because we receive as much as we give.  It is still a pagan love because we love those who love us.  But if we are servants of God, we are called to serve all peoples, regardless who they are. Like public and government servants, they are called to serve all regardless of race, language and religion.  To love without affection means to love without attachment and expectation of reward.  This is the highest form of love because it is “agape”, the love of God, given to all.  How many times have we been shown love and helped by strangers whom we would never be able to reciprocate or thank?  Such unconditional love makes the gift even more precious because we know that it was given to us without any strings attached.  It is pure love.

Fifthly, a servant of God must live “by the word of truth and by the power of God; by being armed with the weapons of righteousness.” He must be a man of integrity, live a just life and be fair to his fellowmen.  He stands up for the truth and he is not afraid to do the right thing, not the popular thing.  A leader who lacks impartiality, honesty and justice cannot be credible.  A true leader embraces all and does not practice favoritism and, least of all, do things to favor his own kind or for his personal interests and gain.

To do all these, we need the one virtue that will make us outstanding servants of God, namely, fortitude.  All the virtues mentioned are good but often we do not persevere, especially when we are persecuted, misunderstood, criticized or wrongly accused.  We give up serving and doing good simply because some people criticized our work.  We hear only negative voices that dampen our spirit and our resolve to get things done.  St Paul showed his valor when he said, “We prove we are servants of God by great fortitude in times of suffering:  in times of hardship and distress; when we are flogged, or sent to prison, or mobbed; labouring, sleepless, starving.”   Leaders must be willing to suffer for what is right and good even when grossly misunderstood.  If we are clear about our service and are free from personal gain or interests, we need not react to the negative criticisms and slanders of others.  Most likely, the reason is because what we are doing affects their personal interests.  That is why we must always serve with “purity, knowledge, patience and kindness.”  When we have nothing to profit from our service, there is nothing for us to defend.  This explains why Jesus could ask of us, “offer the wicked man no resistance.  On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.”  One who is pure in service does not react to opposition but simply keeps his focus on his mission and vision.  He keeps his head above those who oppose him simply because he has nothing to lose.

Indeed, at the end of the day, as servants of God, we must not think that it is in our power to live this kind of life or to do the things we want to do.  Servants must allow their master to bring about what they have been told to do.  It will be the power of the master that makes things happen.  We are only servants and his instruments.  So like St Paul, we do not rely on ourselves to be worthy servants of God, but we rely on His grace which is promised to us.  “For he says:  At the favourable time, I have listened to you; on the day of salvation I came to your help.  Well, now is the favourable time; this is the day of salvation.”  Again St Paul reminds us to live “by the word of truth and by the power of God.”  The psalmist declares; “Sing a new song to the Lord for he has worked wonders. His right hand and his holy arm have brought salvation. The Lord has made known his salvation; has shown his justice to the nations. He has remembered his truth and love for the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.”  It is the work of God, not the work of man!  As St Paul says, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.’  (2 Cor 11:30)

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh
 

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Commentary on Matthew 5:38-42 from Living Space

We continue Jesus’ interpretations of some commands of the Mosaic Law as he pushes that law to a higher level of understanding.

“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is not, as it may seem to be saying, an encouragement to take revenge. It is part of what is known as the lex talionis by which punishment for an assault was to be restricted to not more than the suffering experienced. So Exodus 21:23-24 says: “You shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stroke for stroke.”

Jesus calls for a very different kind of response. He tells us to offer the “wicked man” no resistance.

He makes the famous recommendation to turn the other cheek. If a man would take your tunic, give him your cloak as well. If someone asks you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to the one who begs and do not turn away a borrower.

It is not surprising that even in Christian circles not a great deal of time is given to this text. Is it to be taken literally? Are we really to allow people to walk over us and offer no resistance at all?

I think the answer is both Yes and No.

For many in our “macho”-idealised world, turning the other cheek seems the ultimate in wimpishness and cowardice. It is certainly not the way of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone and countless other “heroes” on our cinema and TV screens. Can you imagine them turning the other cheek?

But Jesus did. During his trial before the Sanhedrin “they spat in his face and hit him with their fists; others said as they struck him, ‘Play the prophet, Christ! Who hit you then?’” (Matt 26:67-68). What was Jesus’ response? Silence. This was turning the other cheek. Was this weakness or was it strength? Which is easier to do under great provocation: to practise self-restraint and keep one’s dignity or to lash out in retaliation? By lashing out one comes down to the same level as one’s attackers. (This is quite different from self-defence.)

In another account of Jesus’ trial (John 18:22-23), after having given an answer to a question, “one of the guard standing by gave Jesus a slap in the face, saying, ‘Is that the way to answer the high priest?’ Jesus replied, ‘If there is something wrong in what I said, point it out; but if there is no offence in it, why do you strike me?’” Here Jesus does respond to the attack but on a totally different level. The physical and unreasonable attack on an unarmed person is actively responded to on the basis of reason and non-violence. Jesus is not a victim here; he is in control. And this is true of the whole experience of the passion. His executioners behave in the most barbaric way but he never loses his calm and dignity right up to the very end.

And that is why we worship him as our Lord and Master. He asks us to follow in his footsteps.

Revenge, in all its various forms, is the easier way, the more instinctive way but it is not the better way. The way of active (not passive) non-violence is, in the long run, far more productive, far more in keeping with human ideals and human dignity. We have more than enough evidence in our world of the bankruptcy of a never-ending cycle of violence and counter-violence. We see it in the Middle East, in Northern Ireland. Violence does not pay; revenge is not sweet.

The example of Jesus has been followed by a number of outstanding people in our own time. Gandhi in India, Martin Luther King, and Rosa Parkes who inspired him, in the US, Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Nazi Germany, Dorothy Day in the US, Jean Goss and Hildegard Meyer of the active non-violence movement in Europe… All of these people were actively involved in the correction of seriously unjust situations.

There is a striking scene in the film “To Kill a Mocking Bird” where the lawyer (played by Gregory Peck) has been defending a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman. As a white man himself the lawyer earns the hatred and contempt of his fellow-whites for defending a “nigger” they have already condemned as guilty. In this scene one of the townspeople approaches the lawyer and spits into his face. The lawyer stands there, says nothing, and slowly wipes away the spit. For the film viewer the contempt immediately shifts to the man who spat. The positive non-action of the lawyer reveals the smallness of his assailant.

Turning the other cheek is not at all a sign of weakness. It requires great inner strength, self-respect and even respect for the dignity of one’s attacker. Jesus is calling us a long way forward and upward from “an eye for an eye”.

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From last year:
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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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13 JUNE 2016, Monday, 11th Week in Ordinary Time
MISPLACED LOVE AND LOYALTY

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 1 Kg 21:1-16; Mt 5:38-42 ]

In the first reading, we read about Queen Jezebel.  She is known as the wickedest lady in the Old Testament, together with her husband King Ahab.  Leaving aside the moral judgement on her actions, we must commend her for her total loyalty, commitment and love for her husband.  She would do anything to please her husband and to make him happy.  In today’s incident when Naboth refused to give Ahab his vineyard at any price, the king, like a pampered and spoilt child, wallowed in self-pity, anger and then fell into depression.  His wife seeing his condition and feeling sorry for him, said, “Get up and eat; cheer up, and you will feel better; I will get you the vineyard of Naboth of Jezreel myself.”  She must have been very devoted to the King and loved him much, so much so that she could not afford to see him suffering or sad.

This is true for many of us, whether as spouses or parents and even friends.  When we love someone, we want to make our beloved happy.  When we see them sad, suffering or hurting, we too are hurt and feel worried for them.  Indeed, when our loved one is sick or suffering from a prolonged illness or incurable sickness; or when our children are doing badly in their studies or suffer a failed relationship; or when our spouse is out of work or facing challenges at the work place, we feel much for them and wish we could alleviate their suffering and pain. For those whom we love, there is no sacrifice too big that we cannot make. Their joy and happiness is ours. Conversely, their sadness and discouragement is ours as well.  This is because we are so identified with them and for them.

Yet, like Queen Jezebel, quite often our love is misplaced and so is our loyalty.  Whilst we should do everything in our power to help our loved ones, we must not destroy them in the process.  We are to help them to become better, not worse!  Our task is not just to help them get what they want but to help them to grow in grace, maturity, wisdom, knowledge and love.  Although the Queen demonstrated herself to be faithful to her husband and would do anything for him, even planning to take the vineyard by force through murder, this was not the right thing to do.  By so doing, she caused her husband to sin with her and inflict injustice on Naboth and ultimately bring harm to the family and the nation.  In truth, she was not helping her husband, but by pandering to his whims and fancies, she brought about his and her destruction.

Therefore, when we are helping our loved ones, we must do the good and the right thing, and not just because they need it or want it.  Doing the homework for our children is not helping them to learn and acquire knowledge.  Doing the work of our colleagues when it is their responsibility is not helping them to be efficient and competent. Giving in to the demands and wants of our children and spouse can cause them to be lazy, materialistic and self-centered.  So whilst it is important that we should love them and help them, we must do it in a way that is for their good, not just now, but the future.   Our task is to help them grow in love, generosity, kindness and responsibility.  We do not help them to do evil things like Queen Jezebel, or help them to do immoral things like stealing, cheating, getting drunk, getting involved in orgies and debauchery.  Rather, we must help them to be virtuous, by reflecting with them their wants and needs; accompanying them patiently in their growth and allowing them to mature in grace and wisdom.  This is the kind of help and love we should demonstrate, rather than spoiling them and eventually making them lazy, selfish and irresponsible.  If we love them this way, we do not love them in truth but ourselves more, because we cannot bear to see them being purified in love.

However, the gospel seems to contradict what we have just been saying.  The Lord tells us to give in to our enemies and not to take revenge.  He even suggested that we do more rather than seek mere natural justice.  He said, “You have learnt how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.  But I say this to you: offer the wicked man no resistance.”  This principle in itself is not wrong but inadequate.  When this law was taught it was intended to be a guide to help those who administer justice.  The principle of an eye for an eye simply means that the punishment must fit the crime.  We should not punish a person more than the offence he has committed.  Thus, this principle offers a good guide in tampering justice with leniency.   In this way, we do not become over lenient or too harsh in imposing punishment on those who break the law.

But this principle cannot be applied literally, for it is only a guide.  In truth, an eye for an eye does not work because it is not truly fair.  Both eyes and teeth are different in each person.  Maybe one is losing his eyesight and the other still has a good eye. We remember the ludicrous example given by William Shakespeare in the play, “Merchant of Venice” where the man tried to exact a pound of flesh from one who could not pay his debt.  But the real problem was that if he were to cut a little bit more, then he would have caused a grave act of injustice as well.  The point is simply that in life, things are never that clear cut.

What is paramount for Jesus is that justice should be done by making the situation better, not worse like Queen Jezebel.  So Jesus is urging non-resistance towards our enemies because it will only make matters worse.  By taking revenge against each other, we will hurt not just our enemies but ourselves and the whole community.  There are some of us who want to take revenge.  They have no intention to heal the situation or to remedy a fault but their real intention is to make sure their enemies or those who have offended them to suffer.  This is not justice but revenge.

To improve the situation, what we need is to make our enemies our friends.  This is what Jesus meant when He said, “On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  And if anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him.  Give to anyone who asks, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away.”  By loving our enemies and accommodating them, we will cool down their anger and they will be more themselves.  So long as we are dealing with an angry man, there is no way to reason with him because he is vindictive and can only think of his pain and become oblivious to the suffering of others. This too is the same advice of St Paul when in the same vein he advised, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ So, if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:19-21)  Otherwise, we will become evil, angry, revengeful and resentful like our enemies as well!   We will be no better than them.  Revenge can only escalate to more retaliations and even killings.

Thus, we see that in two different situations, the rules are applied differently.  With regards to our loved ones and friends, we must not destroy them by pandering to their selfish demands and expectations.   In this case, we need to be loving, charitable and yet firm in love. On the other hand, with our enemies, we must give in to them for the sake of peace and, more importantly, to win them over to our side.  Once we become their friends, then we can help them to grow in grace, forgiveness, generosity and charity.  Indeed, all are called to love and show mercy but we must never do anything for short term gains, but do it for the overall good of the person and the community.  Hence, love must be true and truth is expressed in love.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh
 
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Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, January 15, 2016 — “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

January 14, 2017

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 64

Image may contain: plant, tree, outdoor, nature and water

Reading 1 IS 49:3, 5-6

The LORD said to me: You are my servant,
Israel, through whom I show my glory.
Now the LORD has spoken
who formed me as his servant from the womb,
that Jacob may be brought back to him
and Israel gathered to him;
and I am made glorious in the sight of the LORD,
and my God is now my strength!
It is too little, the LORD says, for you to be my servant,
to raise up the tribes of Jacob,
and restore the survivors of Israel;
I will make you a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.

Responsorial PsalmPS 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10

R. (8a and 9a) Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.
I have waited, waited for the LORD,
and he stooped toward me and heard my cry.
And he put a new song into my mouth,
a hymn to our God.
R. Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.
Sacrifice or offering you wished not,
but ears open to obedience you gave me.
Holocausts or sin-offerings you sought not;
then said I, “Behold I come.”
R. Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.
“In the written scroll it is prescribed for me,
to do your will, O my God, is my delight,
and your law is within my heart!”
R. Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.
I announced your justice in the vast assembly;
I did not restrain my lips, as you, O LORD, know.
R. Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.

Reading 2 1 COR 1:1-3

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
and Sosthenes our brother,
to the church of God that is in Corinth,
to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy,
with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.

AlleluiaJN 1:14A, 12A

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us.
To those who accepted him,
he gave power to become children of God.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel JN 1:29-34

John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said,
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
He is the one of whom I said,
‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me
because he existed before me.’
I did not know him,
but the reason why I came baptizing with water
was that he might be made known to Israel.”
John testified further, saying,
“I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven
and remain upon him.
I did not know him,
but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me,
‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain,
he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’
Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”

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Reflection from The Abbot in The Desert
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My sisters and brothers in the Lord,

Jesus is our Lord!  John the Baptist gives this testimony but it also reflects the testimony of the whole of Jewish Scripture, which we call our Old Testament.  Jesus is God with us, Emmanuel.  Jesus comes to take the burden of our sins on Himself and becomes the Paschal Lamb.  All of this simply reflects the fact that God loves us and give Himself to us and for us.  And we can respond:  Thanks be to God.

Our first reading today comes from the Prophet Isaiah.  We could think of this reading as the Lord calling for a people to serve Him.  We are used to vocations as individuals.  Some of us are called to be married, some single, some consecrated religious, some parish priests, some are called to work for social justice, some are called to seek out and serve the poor, and so on.  In our history, however, God has called the Jewish people to play a very special and particular role in the salvation of all of us humans.  The Prophet Isaiah sees that God has called the Jewish people to be messengers of salvation for all of humanity.  It is through the Jewish people that light has come into the world.

The second reading is from the First Letter to the Corinthians and is about the call of Saint Paul.  Here Paul tells us that he has been called to be an apostle.  He also tells us that the people of Corinth are called to be holy.  This holiness is about serving god just as the call of the Jewish people is to serve the Lord God.

The Gospel of Saint John speaks to us today about John the Baptist once more, but in a special way.  John the Baptist is called to point to the Lord, the Messiah.  Today John the Baptist is so clear:  Jesus is the One that I have been proclaiming.  Listen to Him.

Just as Jesus is called to fulfill the will of the Father, so also we are called to live in our personal lives the call that God has put within us.  Holiness is not about doing things but about responding to God because God has called us.  Jesus is also called, even as He is the one who calls.  Jesus always leads us to our Father.

What we must always remember is that the path which we are called to walk is always a path of suffering.  We must die to ourselves in order to live more in God and in Christ Jesus.  Most of are not happy about suffering and so we often do not embrace the Lord.  May this New Year help us all embrace the Lord fully and walk with Him on the way to salvation.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip

Monastery of Christ in the Desert

https://christdesert.org/

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Jesus Christ enthroned between the Virgin Mary and St John the Baptist, the Church of the Divine Wisdom at Aya Sofya, Istanbul. 12th Century Byzantine mosaic of Judgement day

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From The Abbot in the Desert, From His Homily for John 1: 29-34
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All of history and all of reality comes from the loving hand of God, who loves us.  God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are completely involved in this love story for each one of us personally and for our whole human reality.  God invites us to live completely.  In order to live completely, we are invited to understand how He created us, for what He created us and that His love for us is not burdensome.

With this Sunday celebration, we continue our journey back into Ordinary Time in the Church year and the readings reflect the beginnings of the public ministry of Jesus.  This is the time when Jesus begins to emerge from His hidden life in Nazareth and begins to preach the Kingdom of God.

The Gospel of John shows us this special relationship of Jesus and John the Baptist.  The stories of the childhood of Christ in the other Gospels have indicated that Jesus and John the Baptist are cousins.  Those Gospels have indicated that John the Baptist, even in the womb, somehow recognizes the role of Jesus Christ.  The Gospel of John is focused on showing us that John the Baptist recognized Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God.

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Relection by Bishop William Goh of Singapore

15 JANUARY, 2017, Sunday, 2nd Ordinary Week

BEING A WITNESS TO JESUS THE LIGHT OF HUMANITY


SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Is 49:3.5-6; Ps 39:2,4,7-10; 1 Cor 1:1-3; Jn 1:29-34    ]

In the second reading, St Paul was writing to the Christians in Corinth who were facing internal and external challenges.  There was division not just among the Church leaders as some rallied around Peter, Paul or Apollos.  At the same time, they had to face the challenges of immorality and worldly living. The city of Corinth was a center for trade and activities.  The prosperity of the city, like in most urban cities, also bred corruption of all sorts.  Idolatry, prostitution, sexual immorality and cheating were rife.

We are living in very challenging times.   Not only are we struggling against sin but we are confused over what is sin today!  In a world of relativism, with so much information in the mass media, finding the truth is very complicated.  We are not too sure what is right or wrong today.  Living in this world is rather bewildering because we are swamped with so many opinions all claiming to speak the truth that we no longer know what is the truth and who is speaking the truth or who has the truth.  Life in the olden days was easier as society was homogenous.  With globalization, all traditional and time immemorial truths and practices are put in question.  Even fundamental truths like the nature and identity of human beings, the institutions of sex, marriage, family, the dignity of the human person, the sacredness of life are being redefined.  We are not too sure even of the meaning of love.  Singles have told me that they would be ridiculed today if they were to tell anyone that they are virgin.

On one hand, the Church and all faithful Catholics who seek to live the truth of the gospel are being accused of being rigid, heartless and lacking compassion.  Understandably, the pastors are in a dilemma too. If they do not succumb to the relativistic trend of the current world based on contextual theology and situational ethics, they could be accused of being out of touch and even not hearing the voice of God speaking to us.  The worst is to be accused of lacking compassion and understanding when pastors seek to be true to the deposit of the faith of the Church passed on in scripture and tradition.  Some, out of fear of being unpopular, bend to the wishes of the majority.  The day when we say that the Church has been wrong in her doctrines, it means that nothing taught should be held seriously as it might change over time.  There is no longer a need to believe and hold common doctrines.  When the dogma of infallibility is put in doubt, all other institutions of the Church no longer have any real foundation.

When that happens, truth is left to the individual to decide “according to their conscience”.  This simple principle is rather ambiguous in itself as there are different levels of conscience, some erroneous, some culpably erroneous.  Even then, conscience must be based on objective truth, based on scripture and the teachings of the Church.  But some are so paralyzed by the web of information that no decision is possible.  When we can no longer say that no objective truth exists but everything is dependent on changing circumstances, then we can no longer say anything is right or wrong because at different times, what is supposedly the truth can turn out to be wrong and what was considered wrong is now acceptable.  That is why relativism and subjectivism are the “absolute truths” promoted by the world today.

It is within this context that St Paul reminds us that we are being sent.  We are called to be apostles of Christ.  He was conscious of his call when he wrote, “I, Paul, appointed by God to be an apostle.”  By virtue of our baptism, we too are given a special calling from God to preach the gospel according to our charisms and the state of life.

Every one of us, regardless of who we are, has a contribution to make in the proclamation of the gospel. Each one is given a role, a job, a ministry to partake in Christ’s mission to the world.  This mission can take place within the Church or without.  It can be direct or indirect witnessing.  But in all that we do, we must be ready, like St Paul, to make available our gifts, resources, talents for His service so that God’s plan for His Church and the world can be realized.  It does not matter what we do for God, but what matters is that we do everything for the glory of God and the service of the Church and of humanity.  The Lord said to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I shall be glorified.”

More than ever in the world today, we need Christians who are courageous in living lives contrary to the rest of the world.  We are called to live a life of chastity and fidelity to our state of life.  We are called to love faithfully and authentically.  The real tragedy among Catholics is that we all live a double life.  We are Catholics only in Church but we live a secular life with worldly values in our daily life.  The options and the choices we make are basically dictated by the world, whether it is sex, marriage, family, career, entertainment, education and other pursuits.  We share the desire for the illusory pleasures and pursuits of the world.  So, we are counter-witnesses of the gospel by the way we live our lives.  In church, we behave like saints but outside the church we indulge and subscribe to the immoral activities and wisdom of the world.

Indeed, like John the Baptist, we must not live double lives.  He did not pretend to be the Messiah.  Although he himself was a very popular preacher and prophet, attracting large crowds and disciples to himself, he knew when it was time for him to let go and take a back seat.  He was always conscious that he was only a voice of the bridegroom.  Christ is the Word.  When He came, it was time for the voice to fade out.  That is why, John the Baptist said, “He must increase and I must decrease.” (Jn 3:30)  Such was the humility of John the Baptist, his sincerity and his clarity of his call.  He was contented to do what God wanted him to do and let Christ be glorified.  This is what true service is all about, the basis for effective ministry, never to bring others to us even if it is through us.  Our task is to bring them to the Lord.   We must never keep Jesus away from others or take away His limelight.  John did not seek popularity but only the truth.

This call to glorify God comes in two ways. The call to service in the gospel is both ad intra an ad extra.  The Lord told the Suffering Servant, “It is not enough for you to be my servant, to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel: I will make you the light of the nations so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” In other words, we must be a witness within the Church and also to be a witness to Christ in the world.  It is a call to re-evangelize the gospel within and to evangelize to the world. 

We are called to point others to the Lord.  There are many people in the world seeking security, peace, love and joy.  Our calling is to show them that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  He is their savior and He is the One whom they are seeking to give them fullness of life.  We must not be misled into thinking that faith is a private matter. John the Baptist was ever ready to refer others to Jesus.  He said, “Look, there is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.”

The call to mission however must begin from within.  St Paul issued a personal invitation to all Christians to be holy.  He sent “greetings to the church of God in Corinth, to the holy people of Jesus Christ, who are called to take their place among all the saints.”  What a beautiful reminder to all of us that we are called to holiness.   A Christian’s universal call is the call to holiness.  To be holy is to be consecrated, to be set apart for the glory of God and for His service.  We are called to manifest His love, light and presence in the way we live our lives.  That is what it means to be called saints because a saint is one who reflects the presence of Christ in his or her life.

For this reason, we must first form our Catholics in the right values of the gospel.  If we are not evangelized ourselves and are not clear of what the gospel is teaching us, we will not be able to be convinced sufficiently to live them out, much less to share with the rest of the world.  The work of re-evangelizing our Catholics, to renew their faith and their personal relationship with the Lord through worship, prayer, the Word of God and formation is of utmost importance. Until this is done, the work of evangelization cannot be properly carried out.  Catholics must first be informed in their faith, reignite their relationship with the Lord and fall in love with the Word of God before they can be witnesses.

But we cannot accept the teachings of Christ unless we fall in love with Jesus and recognize Him as the Son of God and the Word of God.  This can only happen through the Holy Spirit because He is the One who leads us to Jesus. Catholics cannot be evangelizers and witnesses unless they are renewed in the power of the Spirit.  This is what St John the Baptist reminds us.  He could say, “Yes, I have seen and I am the witness that he is the Chosen One of God”, only because he had encountered the Lord personally.  John also declared, “I saw the Spirit coming down on him from heaven like a dove and resting on him.”

Only when we confess that Jesus is Lord can we then surrender our lives to Him even though we might not understand everything that the Word of God teaches us.  In the final analysis, the power of witnessing lies not in what we say but what we do.  If we wish to be true evangelizers in the world, we only need to do His holy will in our daily life.  This is what will convince people.  With the psalmist, we also must say, “Here I am, Lord! I come to do your will. You do not ask for sacrifice and offerings, but an open ear. You do not ask for holocaust and victim.  Instead, here am I.  In the scroll of the book it stands written that I should do your will. My God, I delight in your law in the depth of my heart.”


Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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https://www.catholic.sg/15-january-2017-sunday-2nd-ordinary-week/
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Commentary on John 1:29-34 from Living Space

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Yesterday we saw John the Baptist denying that he was the Messiah or any of the great prophets. Today he gives testimony to Jesus as the one he had been talking about.

The Baptist’s positive testimony about Jesus.

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The passage begins with “The next day…”. We mentioned already that the opening section of John up to the wedding at Cana represents a week, echoing the seven days of creation in Genesis. We will see that phrase occurring three more times in the first chapter and that brings us to the fourth day of the week. There is then a gap but the wedding at Cana is introduced as taking place “on the third day”, that is, after the previous four, and hence is the seventh day.

As John saw Jesus approaching he said to those around him, “Look, there is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Another feature of this first chapter is that the author introduces the various titles of Jesus which he uses later on.

Why the Lamb? The central feature of the Jewish Passover feast was the lamb which was eaten during the Passover meal. It recalled the lamb which the families of the Israelites ate on the eve of their escape from Egypt and whose blood was painted on the doorposts of their houses. When the angel of God came to destroy all the firstborn, it “passed over” the houses of the Israelites, which had been smeared with the lamb’s blood. This became then a symbol of liberation and one of the most important celebrations in the Jewish calendar.

For us, however, there is now a new symbol of liberation, a new Lamb. Jesus is both the offerer of the sacrifice and its victim and his death and resurrection inaugurate a New Covenant between God and his people. It is perhaps significant that in all the gospel accounts of the Last Supper there is no mention of a lamb being eaten during the meal. Because there was, of course, a new Lamb, who told his companions to take and eat, take and drink the bread and wine “handed over for you”. And it is through the blood of this Lamb that we find salvation and liberation.

The title Lamb of God also recalls the suffering servant led like a lamb to the slaughter which we read about in Isaiah (53:7,10). In Revelation, too, we read of the victorious apocalyptic lamb who will destroy the evil in the world (Revelation 5-7; 17:14).

The Baptist then indicates the superiority of Jesus over himself. “He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man existed before me’.” In the context of the Prologue we read earlier, this is an intimation of Jesus’ pre-existence as the Word with God. (For, chronologically, John was slightly older than Jesus.) John also explains why he was baptising; it was to make Jesus known to the people of Israel. His baptism did not have the power to forgive sin; this would be the prerogative of Jesus and his disciples. (He also says that up to this he had not known Jesus, which conflicts with the other gospels, where he is presented as a close relative.)

He then continues to talk about the baptism of Jesus, whereas the event itself is described in Matthew and Luke. He says he personally saw the Spirit of God come down on Jesus like a dove and it stayed with him, indicating the enduring relationship between God and his Father. The dove is a symbol of new life, recalling the dove which brought the olive branch back to Noah’s ark and indicated that the Flood was over. At the same time, the One who told John to baptise with water also said that the One on whom the Spirit came down would in turn baptise with the Holy Spirit. And the Baptist concludes: “Now I have seen and give witness that he is the Son of God.” Here we have another title of Jesus.

Each one of us has also received the same Spirit in our baptism. It was that Spirit which inspired Jesus in all his Messianic work climaxing in his death on the cross. May the same Spirit inspire us to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and join with him in his work to build the Kingdom.

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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites

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Reflection

• In the Gospel of John, history and the symbol join together. In today’s text, the symbolism consists above all in recalling texts of the Old Testament which we know and which reveal something concerning the identity of Jesus of Nazareth. In these few verses (Jn 1, 29-34) we find the following expressions which contain a symbolical density or depth: 1) Lamb of God; 2) Who takes away the sins of the world; 3) He existed before me; 4) The descent of the Spirit in the form of a dove; 5) Son of God.

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Lamb of God. This title recalls, brings to mind, the Exodus. The night of the first Passover. The blood of the Paschal Lamb, with which the doors of the houses were signed, was for the people a sign of liberation (Ex 12, 13-14). For the first Christians Jesus is the new Paschal Lamb who liberates his people (1 Co 5, 7; 1 P 1, 19; Rev 5, 6.9).

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Who takes away the sins of the World. This recalls a very beautiful phrase of the prophecy of Jeremiah: “There will be no further need for everyone to teach neighbour or brother: “You will know the Lord, they will all know me, from the least to the greatest, says the Lord; since I shall forgive their guilt and never more call their sin to mind” (Jer 31, 34).

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He existed before me. This recalls several texts of the Books of Wisdom, in which it is spoken about God’s Wisdom which existed before all the other creatures and which was with God, like a master of the works in the creation of the Universe and that, at the end, fixed her dwelling among the people of God (Pro 8, 22-31; Eccl 24, 1-11).

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The descent of the Spirit in the form of a dove. It recalls the creative action where it is said that the “Spirit of God sweeping over the waters” (Gen 1, 2). The text of Genesis suggests the image of a bird which flies over its nest. An image of the new creation in movement thanks to the action of Jesus.

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Son of God; this is the title which summarizes all the others. The best comment of this title is the explanation of Jesus himself: “The Jews answered him: ‘We are stoning you not for doing a good work, but for blasphemy: though you are only a man, you claim to be God”. Jesus answered: “Is it not written in your Law: I said: you are gods?

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So it uses the word ‘gods’ of those people to whom the word of God was addressed (and Scripture cannot be set aside), Yet to someone whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world you say, ‘You are blaspheming’ because I said, ‘I am Son of God’? If I am not doing my Father’s work there is no need to believe me, but if I am doing it, then even if you refuse to believe in me, at least believe in the work I do; then you will know for certain that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (Jn 10, 33-38).

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Personal questions

• Jesus offered himself, completely, for the whole of humanity, and I, what can I offer to help my neighbour?
• We have also received the Holy Spirit. How conscious or aware am I that I am his Temple?

Concluding prayer

Sing a new song to Yahweh,
for he has performed wonders,
his saving power is in his right hand
and his holy arm. (Ps 98,1)

http://ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-divina-john-129-34

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The Baptism of Christ by Guido Reni

Reni’s Baptism of Christ, created in the mid 1620s as a major masterpiece of his mature style, is based on principles of composition similar to those applied in The Massacre of the Innocents. The painting is built up into three clearly distinct planes. At the very front, Christ bows beneath the baptismal cup, which John the Baptist pours over him with his raised right hand. The Baptist is standing or, rather, slightly kneeling over Christ on the banks of the Jordan. Below the arc formed by these two figures facing each other in humility, we see two angels who, together with a third figure at the outside left, are holding Christ’s robes in readiness. Behind that, the trees, clouds and deep blue sky combine to create a sense of indefinable distance from which the Holy Spirit floats down in the form of a dove.

The entire scene, in its structure and colority, is of overwhelming simplicity. The act of baptism itself is entirely void of bright colours. The matt and shimmering flesh tones of the two nude figures stand out clearly against the middle ground and background, where everything is dominated by the solemn purity of the three primary colours red, yellow and blue. On another level, however, all the figures are closely linked in that expression of complete spiritual devotion that Reni could convey like no other artist.

Reni was able to create a balance of strictly disciplined compositional form and profound sentiment that his many imitators failed to achieve.

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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03 JANUARY, 2017, Tuesday, Weekday of Christmas Time
LOST IDENTITY

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [1JN 2:29–3:6; PS 97(98); JN 1:29-34 ]

Many people in the world no longer know their identity.  Indeed, even something so simple and clear, like sexual identity, is an issue today.  We do not know who we are.  A fundamental question is the nature of man.  Although the world speaks so much of human rights and the importance of life and the dignity of the human person, what is the basis for their claim?  What is the foundation of the dignity of the human person?  Why is the life of a human being more precious than that of animals and plants?  If it is true that we are just material beings, that is, simply matter without an immortal soul, why is human life so precious compared to other forms of life?  In the final analysis, this question can only be answered if we know our identity.

How is it that many people do not know their identity or are confused about their identity? St John gives us the reason. “Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us, by letting us be called God’s children; and that is what we are. Because the world refused to acknowledge him, therefore it does not acknowledge us.”   If we do not know that God is our Father, how can we know that we are His children?  Our identity is therefore dependent on our knowledge of God.  So acknowledgement of God as the source of life is the starting point of understanding our dependence on God as our creator.  We do not simply exist but we come from God who is the origin of life.

Why is it then that the world cannot acknowledge God as their creator or their Father?  This is because they are blinded by sin.  St John says, “Anyone who sins has never seen him or known him.”  Sin blinds us to the truth.  St Paul in his letter to the Romans diagnosed the sin of impiety as the cause of all other sins. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.”  (Rom 1:18f)  God gave us up to sin because He respects our freedom to reject Him.  “So they are without excuse;  for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened.”  (Rom 1:20bf)

How then can we overcome our blindness and ignorance of our sins?  We need Christ to save us from our sins.  Christ “appeared in order to abolish sin, and that in him there is no sin,” Only the Son of God, St John says, can reveal God to us.  “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.”  (Jn 1:18)  Accordingly, John the Baptist points out to us the One who would save us from our sins.  Of Jesus, he said, “Look, there is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. This is the one I spoke of when I said: A man is coming after me who ranks before me because he existed before me.”  In describing Jesus as the Lamb of God, St John was thinking of the Passover when the Passover Lamb was sacrificed in atonement for their sins.  So Jesus as the Passover Lamb is the One who will save us from our sins and give us eternal life.

But how does Christ take away our sins?  He shows us the misery and evil of sin.  Sin is destructive.  There can be no joy for those who sin and break the law.  St Paul says, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.”  (1 Cor 6:9-10)  We cannot be living in sin and darkness and yet live in the kingdom of light and love.

Secondly, Christ reveals to us our true dignity as the sons and daughters of God.  We must not behave like the Jews during the time of Christ who have the devil as their Father.  “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (Jn 8:44)  Rather “we are already the children of God but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed.”  This is our great dignity. It is for this reason that we cannot kill other human beings because they are children of God.  They belong to God, not to us.  Only God who is the author of life can decide our destiny.  We cannot take life into our own hands.  Abortion, destruction of human embryos, euthanasia and all forms of killing are evil, including wars and terrorism.

Thirdly, Jesus shows us the way out of this mess and confusion.  It is the way of love.  If we want to see God, St John says, “Surely everyone who entertains this hope must purify himself, must try to be as pure as Christ.”  To purify ourselves is more than ritual or obedience to the law.  “Anyone who sins at all breaks the law, because to sin is to break the law.”  To purify ourselves is to be purified in love.  Not breaking the law is not good enough but we must be sincere in love.  St Paul says, “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor.”  (Rom 12:9f)  So anyone who loves like Christ will be able to see God.  “No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”  (1 Jn 4:12)  Who is God if not the fact that God is love.   “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God.  He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. (1 Jn 4:7f)

How can this love of God be in us then, so that we can see God?  It is through the Lamb of God.  His suffering and death on the cross reveals to us the love and mercy of God.  “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.”  (1 Jn 4:9f)  That is why, John the Baptist proclaimed Christ as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  By contemplating on the love of God, we too can then love each other.  “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”  (1 Jn 4:11)  Only because Christ has loved us that He could also command us to love like Him.  He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  (Jn 13:34f)

Christ is more than an exemplar of the love of God and His loveof humanity, but He also gives us the inner capacity to love by sending us the Holy Spirit. John also declared, “I saw the Spirit coming down on him from heaven like a dove and resting on him. I did not know him myself, but he who sent me to baptize with water had said to me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and rest is the one who is going to baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Yes, I have seen and I am the witness that he is the Chosen One of God.”  Christ is the One who will give us the Holy Spirit, that same Spirit of the Father that gave Him the capacity to love and give Himself totally for us.  We too must therefore come to Jesus and ask for the Holy Spirit.  He Himself told us, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  (Lk 11:13)

So as we continue to contemplate on the meaning of the Incarnation, we cannot but also rejoice with the psalmist.  We too declare, “Sing a new song to the Lord for he has worked wonders. His right hand and his holy arm have brought salvation.   All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Shout to the Lord, all the earth, ring out your joy.”  In Christ, we know our identity.  In Christ we are forgiven and redeemed.  In Christ, we receive the Spirit of His Father.  In Christ, we recover our identity as God’s children.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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https://www.catholic.sg/03-january-2017-tuesday-weekday-christmas-time/
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 https://www.catholic.sg/archbishop/scripture-reflection/
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12th Century Byzantine mosaic of Judgement day with Jesus Christ enthroned between the Virgin Mary and St John the Baptist, the Church of the Divine Wisdom at Aya Sofya, Istanbul

Prayer and Meditation for Friday, December 16, 2016 — “Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come.” — “May he let his face shine upon us.”

December 16, 2016

Friday of the Third Week in Advent
Lectionary: 191

Lighthouse Digital Art - Lighthouse by Shawn Davis

Lighthouse. Digital artwork by Shawn Davis.

Reading 1 IS 56:1-3A, 6-8

Thus says the LORD:
Observe what is right, do what is just;
for my salvation is about to come,
my justice, about to be revealed.
Blessed is the man who does this,
the son of man who holds to it;
Who keeps the sabbath free from profanation,
and his hand from any evildoing.
Let not the foreigner say,
when he would join himself to the LORD,
“The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.”The foreigners who join themselves to the LORD,
ministering to him,
Loving the name of the LORD,
and becoming his servants–
All who keep the sabbath free from profanation
and hold to my covenant,
Them I will bring to my holy mountain
and make joyful in my house of prayer;
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be acceptable on my altar,
For my house shall be called
a house of prayer for all peoples.
Thus says the Lord GOD,
who gathers the dispersed of Israel:
Others will I gather to him
besides those already gathered.

Responsorial Psalm PS 67:2-3, 5, 7-8

R. (4) O God, let all the nations praise you!
May God have pity on us and bless us;
may he let his face shine upon us.
So may your way be known upon earth;
among all nations, your salvation.
R. O God, let all the nations praise you!
May the nations be glad and exult
because you rule the peoples in equity;
the nations on the earth you guide.
R. O God, let all the nations praise you!
The earth has yielded its fruits;
God, our God, has blessed us.
May God bless us,
and may all the ends of the earth fear him!
R. O God, let all the nations praise you!

Alleluia

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Come, Lord, bring us your peace
that we may rejoice before you with a perfect heart.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel JN 5:33-36

Jesus said to the Jews:
“You sent emissaries to John, and he testified to the truth.
I do not accept testimony from a human being,
but I say this so that you may be saved.
John was a burning and shining lamp,
and for a while you were content to rejoice in his light.
But I have testimony greater than John’s.
The works that the Father gave me to accomplish,
these works that I perform testify on my behalf
that the Father has sent me.”

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Commentary on Isaiah 56:1-3,6-8; John 5:33-36

From Living Space

GOSPEL

Today’s Gospel comes from John and, like those of previous days, the passage speaks of John the Baptist.  Again we see Jesus paying tribute to John the Baptist.  Jesus recognises that the Baptist bore witness to the truth, although it was a purely human testimony.  In Jesus’ case that is not so: “Not that the testimony which I receive is from man”.  Jesus speaks on a totally different level.  As we saw, he speaks with authority, an authority of which he is the only source.

Nevertheless, John “was a burning and shining lamp and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light”.  This reflects what was said at the beginning of John’s gospel, in his Prologue.  There it is said that the Baptist was not the Light but came to give witness to the Light.  Later, Jesus will declare that he is the Light of the world.  The Baptist would never make such a claim.  He was not worthy even to untie the sandals of Jesus.

So, says Jesus, “the testimony which I have is greater than that of John.”  And he continues, “these very works which I am doing, bear me witness that the Father has sent me”.   Jesus is a direct emissary of God.  He is the very Word of God.  And all that is clear from his carrying out the “works” which the Father sent him to do.

And all that begins from the moment that Jesus first appears as the tiny, helpless baby in the feeding box in Bethlehem.  In his very tiny-ness and helplessness, in his homelessness and poverty, he sends a powerful message to all of us.

We too, as John the Baptist was, are called to be “a burning and shining lamp” but our light is the reflection of the Light that is Christ.  We are the moon to his sun.  And we need to remember that, for most people, it is through the reflected light of his disciples that people are led to the experience of the Light that is Light.

Related:

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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16 DECEMBER, 2016, Friday, 3rd Week of Advent
GOD REVEALS HIMSELF TO US WHEN WE LIVE THE LIFE OF CHRIST
SCRIPTURE READINGS: ISAIAH 56:1-3,6-8; JOHN 5:33-36   ]

Christmas is around the corner.  Everywhere there is this festive mood of joy and celebration.   Is this just a social celebration, a time to have fun, food and merry making?   What is the basis of this joy if not the anticipation of Christ’s coming into our lives?  With His coming, there is this expectation of peace and joy.  With His coming, there is this certainty of hope for the future, for humanity and life after death.

The Good News of today’s first reading is that this peace and joy is given to all, not just to the People of God but to all people of goodwill. “Let no foreigner who has attached himself to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.’ Let no eunuch say, ‘And I, I am a dried-up tree.’  Foreigners who have attached themselves to the Lord to serve him and to love his name and be his servants, these I will bring to my holy mountain.”

Indeed, what is required for us to enter into the joy and peace of Christ is not just through merry making, which of course is one of the ways the Lord allows joy and love to enter into our lives, but more importantly, the joy and peace must first come from within us before we can share it with others.  Otherwise, what we see in many Christmas gatherings and parties and celebrations are merely external.  The people seem to be happy and joyful, but deep in their hearts, there are suspicions, fears, resentment, anger and hatred.

If we want to have a truly joyful celebration, we need to put our lives in order first.  This peace must come from within us so that it can radiate it to others.  The prophet says, “Have a care for justice, act with integrity, for soon my salvation will come and my integrity be manifest.  Blessed is the man who does this and the son of man who clings to it: observing the Sabbath, not profaning it, and keeping his hand from every evil deed.”  In other words, we must be sincere to what we believe.  If we say that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, then we must be ready to follow Him and not the values of the world.

I find it amusing that many of our Catholics are even challenging the truth of the Bible when they disagree with the moral teachings of Christ.  Instead, their point of reference is what the world thinks and how they feel, not what Jesus said or instructed us to do.  To them the Word of God is just a human word, a human opinion that they can discard or accept, depending on whether they agree with it.   This was the case of the Jewish leaders in the gospel.  They heard the testimony of John the Baptist with regard to the coming of the Messiah.  St John the Baptist testified to Christ as the Lamb of God and the light of the world.  “Jesus said to the Jews: ‘You sent messengers to John, and he gave his testimony to the truth: not that I depend on human testimony; no, it is for your salvation that I speak of this.  John was a lamp alight and shining and for a time you were content to enjoy the light that he gave.”  Yet, many refused to accept Jesus.  So too, many who call themselves Catholics and Christians, choose to live lives and adopt lifestyles that are contrary to the gospel life.  Although we have many Catholics, we do not have many Catholic “Christians”.

Secondly, if we want to experience the peace, we must seek to enter into the heart of Christ.   There can be no peace unless we live a life of justice.  We must be fair and honest in the way we conduct ourselves.  Cheating people, abusing them, discriminating them and causing them harm, ultimately takes away our peace.  Our conscience will haunt us and we create unnecessary enemies.  This is why the prophet Isaiah reminds us to be just to our fellow brothers and sisters.  Without justice, there can be no peace in the world.  If there is so much fighting it is because of injustices and oppression.  Peace is the fruit of justice.

Thirdly, if we want to enter into the joy of Christ at Christmas, then we must commit ourselves to a life of compassion.  If the Church encourages us to reach out to the poor during Advent and Christmas, it is because Christ, the Son of God, the King of Kings, stripped Himself of His majesty and glory, accepted to be born in a stable and emptied Himself so as to be one with us in our suffering.  The secret of Jesus’ joy and passion for life is His passion for us.  In giving us life, love and hope, He sees the joy, the peace and freedom in our faces.  Jesus comes to show us the face of His Father.  If we want to partake in the joy of Jesus, we must be courageous in reaching out and caring for the elderly, the sick, the lonely, the troubled and the poor.   Find time to bring out your elderly or the lonely to see the Christmas lights or for a meal.  Pay a visit to the sick and give a listening ear to the troubled.  In reaching out to them, we receive the joy of Christ from them.  The irony is that Christ comes to us in and through the poor!  By being born in a stable in Bethlehem, He continues to touch our hearts today.

Today, we are called to imitate the examples of Christ and John the Baptist.  John was true to himself.  He did not pretend to be the Messiah or the light, even though he was very popular and some thought he was the one.   John the Baptist refuted such suggestions in no uncertain terms.  He was contented to be the voice of the bridegroom.  He was contented to be just the forerunner.  Jesus similarly was contented to be the Son of the Father.  He was clear that His role was to lead us to His Father.  In whatever He did, He was to make the Father’s mercy and love present.  In plain words, He said, “the works my Father has given me to carry out, these same works of mine testify that the Father has sent me.”   Jesus and John the Baptist were people who were true to themselves and their vocation in life.  They sought to lead people to God through their words and life.

Today, we must no longer just claim that Christ is our Saviour but we need to live out our claims. It is not enough to say Christ has come to bring us peace if we are not people of peace.  The psalmist invites us to make our life a praise and glory to God simply because God shows Himself to be worthy of praise as He continues to bless us.  “Let the peoples praise you, O God, let all the peoples praise you.  O God, be gracious and bless us and let your face shed its light upon us.  So will your ways be known upon earth and all nations learn your saving help.  Let the nations be glad and exult for you rule the world with justice.  With fairness you rule the peoples,  you guide the nations on earth.”   So may our lives be a blessing to others around us, our family members and colleagues and friends.  Is your life a curse to others?  Check yourself!  Are you a blessing to everyone you meet each day or a pain?  From now on, make your life a blessing to the Church, your family, your office and society.

So let us begin by putting our life in order.   Let us renew our relationship with the Lord and make peace with Him in the Sacrament of reconciliation.  If you have not done so, please do not delay any longer.  The Lord wants to give you peace and joy within you so that in turn you will have the capacity to share with others, especially to forgive your enemies.  But do not celebrate this Sacrament hastily without due preparation.  Take time for this Sacrament by giving time to prayer and reflection on your life.   Advent is a time to be quiet, to be contemplative before making merry.  Otherwise, when Christmas time comes, there will only be empty noise, not the refrains and sound of true joy that comes from within our hearts filled with God’s love, peace and joy.   If you are still rushing and doing many things to prepare for Christmas except to prepare your hearts, then when Christ comes, His peace and joy will not stay with you.  So please cease your restless activities and spend some time in recollection, prayer and contemplation.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore

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