Posts Tagged ‘Prayer and Meditation’

Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, February 25, 2018 — Abraham’s Sacrifice of Isaac — The Transfiguration — What Origen Says About Lent — A paschal faith therefore requires us to take the path of suffering

February 24, 2018

Second Sunday of Lent
Lectionary: 26

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Abraham’s Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio

Reading 1  GN 22:1-2, 9A, 10-13, 15-18

God put Abraham to the test.
He called to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am!” he replied.
Then God said:
“Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love,
and go to the land of Moriah.
There you shall offer him up as a holocaust
on a height that I will point out to you.”When they came to the place of which God had told him,
Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it.
Then he reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son.
But the LORD’s messenger called to him from heaven,
“Abraham, Abraham!”
“Here I am!” he answered.
“Do not lay your hand on the boy,” said the messenger.
“Do not do the least thing to him.
I know now how devoted you are to God,
since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.”
As Abraham looked about,
he spied a ram caught by its horns in the thicket.
So he went and took the ram
and offered it up as a holocaust in place of his son.Again the LORD’s messenger called to Abraham from heaven and said:
“I swear by myself, declares the LORD,
that because you acted as you did
in not withholding from me your beloved son,
I will bless you abundantly
and make your descendants as countless
as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore;
your descendants shall take possession
of the gates of their enemies,
and in your descendants all the nations of the earth
shall find blessing—
all this because you obeyed my command.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 116:10, 15, 16-17, 18-19

R. (116:9) I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.
I believed, even when I said,
“I am greatly afflicted.”
Precious in the eyes of the LORD
is the death of his faithful ones.
R. I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.
O LORD, I am your servant;
I am your servant, the son of your handmaid;
you have loosed my bonds.
To you will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and I will call upon the name of the LORD.
R. I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.
My vows to the LORD I will pay
in the presence of all his people,
In the courts of the house of the LORD,
in your midst, O Jerusalem.
R. I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.

Reading 2 ROM 8:31B-34

Brothers and sisters:
If God is for us, who can be against us?
He who did not spare his own Son
but handed him over for us all,
how will he not also give us everything else along with him?

Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones?
It is God who acquits us, who will condemn?
Christ Jesus it is who died—or, rather, was raised—
who also is at the right hand of God,
who indeed intercedes for us.

Verse Before The Gospel CF. MT 17:5

From the shining cloud the Father’s voice is heard:
This is my beloved Son, listen to him.

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Related image
The Transfiguration by Pieter Ykens

Gospel MK 9:2-10

Jesus took Peter, James, and John
and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them,
and his clothes became dazzling white,
such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.
Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses,
and they were conversing with Jesus.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply,
“Rabbi, it is good that we are here!
Let us make three tents:
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified.
Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them;
from the cloud came a voice,
“This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone
but Jesus alone with them.As they were coming down from the mountain,
he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone,
except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
So they kept the matter to themselves,
questioning what rising from the dead meant.
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On the Second Sunday of Lent, the church places together the story of Abraham and Isaac on Mt. Moriah with the story of Jesus and three disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration.  Together, these stories teach us the meaning of Lenten sacrifice.

Everyone knows that Lent is about sacrifice. So it’s fitting that the first reading in the second Sunday of Lent recounts one of the most famous sacrifices of all time.

ISAAC – ABRAHAM’S LAST HOPE

Here’s the background. Abraham really only desires one thing–a son who will lead to descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky.

The only problem is that his wife is barren and advanced in years. So he tries to solve the problem in his own way, and produces a son by a slave girl. This does not prove to work out very well. Next God intervenes, works a miracle, and causes the elderly Sarah to conceive and bear a son. Isaac, then, is not only Abraham’s first-born, but also his last hope. There is absolutely nothing more precious to Abraham than his son. Indeed, to give up his son would be to give up himself.

TRUE MEANING OF SACRIFICE

This, by the way, is the true meaning of sacrifice in the ancient world. God deserves everything because he has given us everything. So ancient peoples instinctively knew that authentic sacrifice could never be just a casual nod to God. The sacrifice owed to the Creator must be big and precious enough to represent our entire lives.

That’s why human sacrifice was so prevalent in ancient times–the offering of the firstborn was seen as the only adequate worship of the gods responsible for our very existence. In Genesis 22, God stops Abraham before he slays his son. The command to sacrifice Isaac was a test to see if Abraham was truly devoted to God in faith, obedience, and gratitude. God does not want Isaac’s blood, only Abraham’s heart. So he provides a substitute, a ram, which shows the true meaning of all authentic sacrifice – we give to God something precious that represents our very selves.

THE WOOD, THE RAM & THE LAMB

But the image of Isaac carrying the wood of the sacrifice up the slope of Mt. Moriah should tip us off that this story points beyond itself to a future sacrifice beyond all comprehension. The ram caught in the thicket is not the true substitute, and the true sacrifice does not take place upon Moriah.

It is the Lamb, not the ram, God’s Son, not Abraham’s, that is offered. Like Isaac, he carried the wood of the sacrifice up the slope of Mt. Calvary. But unlike Isaac, he did so freely, knowing what that sacrifice would cost him. And his sacrifice accomplishes what no animal sacrifice possibly could – the eternal salvation of all willing to accept this free gift of love.

GOD’S SACRIFICE OF LOVE

 

Actually, this is what the whole story is about. From Genesis to Revelation, the theme is the astonishing love of God. The love of the Father for his Incarnate Word: “This is my Son, my Beloved” (Mark 9:7). The love of the Father who sacrifices that beloved Son for us (John 3:16). The love of the Son who leaves behind the glory of heaven and the brilliant cloud of Mt. Tabor for the agony of Calvary.

Though it is we who owe everything to God, it is He who sacrifices everything for us. Our love for Him can only be a faint echo of His generous and unstoppable love for us. “Is it possible that he who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for the sake of us all will not grant us all things besides?” (Romans 8:32).

OUR SACRIFICE, LISTENING PRAYER

So this is the true meaning of Lenten sacrifice. We renew and deepen our dedication to Him and express that by sacrificing something meaningful to us. But as we go about our fasting and almsgiving, let’s not forget to give him some extra time in prayer. After all, in the story of the Transfiguration, God did not ask us to give up chocolate. But, after identifying Jesus as his beloved Son, he did give us a very clear command. He said “listen to Him!”

https://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/media/articles/sacrifice-of-isaac/

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Origen here treats of the Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac on Mount Moriah. It is a good example of the “spiritual interpretation” of the Old Testament whereby persons, places, and things are recognized as prefiguring Christ and the realities of the New Covenant. This spiritual exegesis sees the ram and Isaac as figures or types of Jesus Christ.  Abraham is seen as a type of God the Father.

Abraham took wood for the burnt offering and placed it upon Isaac his son, and he took fire and a sword in his hands, and together they went off. Isaac himself carries the wood for his own holocaust: this is a figure of Christ. For he bore the burden of the cross, and yet to carry the wood for the holocaust is really the duty of the priest. He is then both victim and priest. This is the meaning of the expression: together they went off. For when Abraham, who was to perform the sacrifice, carried the fire and the knife, Isaac did not walk behind him, but with him. In this way he showed that he exercised the priesthood equally with Abraham.

What happens after this? Isaac said to Abraham his father: Father. This plea from the son was at that instant the voice of temptation. For do you not think the voice of the son who was about to be sacrificed struck a responsive chord in the heart of the father? Although Abraham did not waver because of his faith, he responded with a voice full of affection and asked: What is it, my son? Isaac answered him: Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the holocaust? And Abraham replied: God will provide for himself a sheep for the holocaust, my son.

The careful yet loving response of Abraham moves me greatly. I do not know what he saw in spirit, because he did not speak of the present but of the future: God will provide for himself a sheep. His reply concerns the future, yet his son inquires about the present. Indeed the Lord himself provided a sheep for himself in Christ.

Abraham extended his hand to take the sword and slay his son, and the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said: Abraham, Abraham. And he responded: Here ai M. And the angel said: Do not put your hand upon the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God. Compare these words to those of the Apostle when he speaks of God: He did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. God emulates man with magnificent generosity. Abraham offered to God his mortal son who did not die, and God gave up his immortal Son who died for all of us.

 lamb-of-god ecce agnus dei

And Abraham, looking about him, saw a ram caught by the horns in a bush. We said before that Isaac is a type of Christ. Yet this also seems true of the ram. To understand how both are figures of Christ–Isaac who was not slain and the ram who was–is well worth our inquiry.

Christ is the Word of God, but the Word became flesh. Christ therefore suffered and died, but in the flesh. In this respect, the ram is the type, just as John said: Behold the lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. The Word, however, remained incorruptible. This is Christ according to the spirit, and Isaac is the type. Therefore, Christ himself is both victim and priest according to the spirit. For he offers the victim to the Father according to the flesh, and he is himself offered on the altar of the cross.

Origen was one of the greatest Christian writers of the third century and is included by many in the ranks of the Early Church Fathers.

This excerpt from a homily on Genesis 22 (Hom. 8,6 8. 9: PG 12, 206-209) by Origen treats of the Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac on Mount Moriah. It illustrates the spiritual exegesis of the Old Testament whereby the ram and Isaac are seen as s figures or types of Jesus Christ and Abraham is seen as a type of God the Father.  It is used in the Roman Catholic Divine Office of Readings for Tuesday in the Fifth (5th) week of ordinary time with the accompanying biblical reading taken from Galatians 2:11-3:14.

Origen, born into a Christian family from Alexandria Egypt around 185AD, was only a teenager when he witnessed his father, Leonidas, dragged from his home by Roman soldiers and ultimately martyred. He was inspired by his father’s heroic example to dedicate himself to a strict life of prayer, fasting and study. The bishop of Alexandria, Demetrius, recognized the talent and holiness of this young man and named him head of the catechetical school of this great center of early Christianity. Origen ultimately became one of the greatest Scripture scholars and preachers of the early Church. Though he began his teaching ministry as a lay catechist, Origen was ultimately ordained a priest and wrote commentaries and homilies that influenced subsequent Early Church Fathers from both East and West. Though he did not receive the grace of martyrdom, Origen was imprisoned and brutally tortured for his faith during the persecution that took place under the emperor Decius. Weakened by his ordeal, he died a few years later in 254 AD. Though several of Origen’s teachings were condemned after his death by Church authorities, it must be remembered that his erroneous opinions were expressed in matters that had not yet been defined by official Church teaching. In his lifetime, Origen was always a loyal son of the Church whose correct opinions far outnumbered his errors. Origen’s writings were profuse indeed, though only a limited number survive. He wrote commentaries on almost every book of the Bible, with his treatise on Song of Songs, Romans, and many homilies on the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) surviving either intact or in large portions. He was the author of one of the earliest attempts at textual criticism of the Old Testament, the Hexapla, and was responsible for the first attempt at systematic theology in his famous De Principiis (On First Principles). His two works of spiritual theology, Exhortation to Martyrdom and On Prayer were widely read in the Early Church and are still read today, with many excerpts used in the Roman Office of Readings.

https://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/media/articles/abrahams-sacrifice-of-isaac-origen/

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Homily From The Abbot

Monastery of Christ in the Desert

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Let us give all to the Lord and receive from the Lord whatever He sends us.  That is the invitation of the readings today.  Give all and receive whatever is given back.

Although we want to give all the Lord, we often find that what the Lord wants of us seems more than we can give.  Most of us don’t have the faith that we see in Abraham in the first reading today from the Book of Genesis.  We should recognize that even the early Christian commentators on this passage found it difficult.  Would God actually ask a father to kill his own son?  This is God asking something immoral from a human.  The only answer to this difficulty is that God does not actually, in the end, ask Abraham to kill his own son.

The point of the account in Genesis is not about God asking Abraham to do something immoral, but about Abraham being willing always to do the will of God.  Abraham is called “our father in faith” because of his complete dedication to doing whatever God asks of him.

We may doubt at times what God might ask of us.  We find it difficult to accept the evil that is in our world, the bad things that happen to good people, the atrocities against people that go unpunished, the school shootings.  Always people ask how a good God can allow such evils to happen.  Yet such questions are truly not about God but about us humans with our sinfulness.  We are broken beings who don’t always choose what is right and good.  God gave us this freedom.  And we misuse our freedom.

The real question is this:  why don’t we humans always choose what is good and what is right?  The only answer is that something is broken in us.  What do we do about the brokenness?  All the laws in the world are unable to redeem us and to force us to choose good.  Only salvation from God brings about a true conversion.

And how difficult that is!  The Letter to the Romans, from which is taken the second reading today, speaks to this problem:  “Christ Jesus it is who died–or, rather, was raised—who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.”  The only way of redemption is to embrace the path of God, who gave His own Son for us.

The Gospel today, from Saint Mark, is the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus.  Jesus is changed in front of his own followers, at least some of them, so that they can believe that He is truly God even when they see Him undergo crucifixion.  At the heart of our Christian believing is this deep awareness that Jesus is born for us, that Jesus dies for us and that Jesus has indeed been raised to life for us.  This is not a philosophical argument but an experienced reality of the early Christians that we later Christians have come to see as true because of their testimony.

So our readings today are clear:  seek to do the will of God in all things, believe that Christ died and was raised from the dead for us and see in the Transfiguration of Christ that we also can be transfigured by our complete belief in Him.  Let us give all to the Lord and receive from the Lord whatever He sends us.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip

https://christdesert.org/

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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25 FEBRUARY, 2018, Sunday, 2nd Week, Lent

A PASCHAL FAITH ENABLES US TO CATCH A GLIMPSE OF THE RESURRECTION

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [GN 22:1-29-1315-18ROM 8:31-34MK 9:2-10 ]

This life is a mystery.  Life is full of ambiguities and paradoxes.  On one hand, we are blessed with many gifts, successes and happiness.  On the other hand, we know we have so many problems yet unresolved.  We live in sin and yet we know that we are not that bad to be classified as a condemned sinner. Yes, we are not perfect.  In our frustration and anxiety to put things straight, we become impatient and dissatisfied.  How are we to learn to accept such bi-polarities in life without feeling discouraged or complacent?  Indeed, we are invited today to walk by faith, not by sight; to see life dimly as though through a glass.

How are we to live our life in the face of so many dilemmas?  The answer that pervades all the readings is faith.  We are called to share the faith of Abraham, the faith of Paul and that of Jesus.  But what kind of faith is a saving faith?  It is the faith of the paschal mystery.  It is the faith that through sufferings, we come to the resurrection.  Only a paschal faith can help us to walk through the paradoxes of life.  This faith proclaims that as we walk through the journey of life, we will catch a glimpse of the resurrection.  Indeed, if the disciples were told not to tell anyone what they saw until after the resurrection, it was simply because the power of the resurrection cannot be known or experienced without the prior need of carrying our cross and embracing the sufferings of life.

A paschal faith therefore requires us to take the path of suffering.  The gospel of Mark is against an epiphany Christology.  In other words, St Mark is weary of Christians who focus too much on the glory and miracles of Jesus.  Noticeably, St Mark, unlike Luke and Matthew, did not mention the transformed face of Jesus at the Transfiguration, but only emphasized the whiteness of Jesus’ garments.  So in Mark’s understanding, the divine manifestation of Jesus can only be found at the end of that journey.  This explains why the disciples were bewildered when Jesus predicted His death and why they were instructed to keep silent about the incident until after the resurrection.

To disclose the Transfiguration before the death and resurrection of Jesus would be a wrong expression of Christology, involving glory without the cross.  The blatant truth is simply this:  No cross, no crown!  The full and final disclosure of the glory of Jesus could come only after His death and resurrection.  Hence, there is a kind of spirituality that we must avoid, a spirituality that only speaks of miracles, healings and blessings.  It is a spirituality that promotes an easy life, a life of comfort without suffering. This is false spirituality. For the passion and death of Jesus reminds us that no one can escape the path of suffering and death if he or she truly wants to find the fullness of life.

How then can we cultivate this paschal faith so that we can go through life bearing our cross and sufferings cheerfully and with certain hope that we will be victorious in the final outcome?

Firstly, the faith that is required from us is a discerning faith.  Abraham thought in his naivety that God wanted the life of His son. However, God is not a sadistic God. Of course, the intuitive faith of Abraham, even if he had perceived wrongly, was still exercised in good faith.  God does not judge our actions but our intentions.  Of course, faith today requires us to discern properly the Lord’s call.  Indeed, the story of Abraham sacrificing his son was an implicit disapproval of a primitive practice of human sacrifice.

Secondly, a paschal faith must be a trusting and obedient faith.  This is the faith of Abraham.  One would think that Abraham’s faith was great already, because he was willing to leave his homeland for a far distant country.  But to sacrifice Isaac, his only son whom he loved so dearly, which ironically was also the reward for his faith and obedience, is certainly the extreme test of faith.  Hence, Abraham is praised not so much because he was willing to sacrifice his only son but because of his total trust and obedience in God.  Abraham trusted God totally, regardless whether he understood His plan for him or not.

It is this trust that gave Abraham the courage to submit in obedience to His word.  Without trust, there can be no real obedience.  That is why obedience is not simply a blind obedience or irrational decision, but an obedience of the heart because one believes from the depth of one’s being.  Disobedience is always due to the lack of trust.  So it is Abraham’s deep intuitive trust in God’s providence and love that rendered him to submit in obedience to His divine plan.

Thirdly, the paschal faith entails a Christocentric faith.  This is the faith of St Paul.  In the face of persecutions and trials, St Paul was certain of the hope that lay before him.  He did not succumb to the sufferings in his ministry.  For he knew that in spite of his sinfulness and weaknesses, he has been reconciled to God in Christ, liberated from sin and death, empowered by the Spirit and is destined for glory.  The basis for this assurance of salvation and victory in Christ is founded on the gift from God of His only Son.  Stating his case, he said, “with God on our side who can be against us? Since God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all, we may be certain, after such a gift, that he will not refuse anything he can give.”

Indeed, so great is the love of God in Christ that He sacrificed His son to save us. It clearly means that God cannot be outdone in love and generosity.  When we think that we have given a lot to God or have suffered so much in this world, then stop again to think that God has suffered even much more than any of us.   When we realize this, resting on the love of God in Christ, we can be sure of a triumphant end to our sufferings in this life.

To arrive at a paschal faith, which is a discerning, trusting, obedient and Christocentric faith, we need to follow Jesus in acquiring an affective and contemplative faith.  If Jesus could follow through His mission, it was because of His absolute trust in His Father, which came from His intimacy with Him.  It is the experience of the Father’s unconditional love that empowered Jesus to go through the passion and death.

That is why the Father invites us to listen to His beloved Son.  Listening is the first step in creating trust and obedience.  We need to listen anew to what God is saying about the gift of Jesus, His only Son to us.    But we cannot listen unless we go to the mountain where, in our aloneness, God is present.  To listen is a necessary stage to prayer and contemplation.  Only in prayer, can we be enlightened and bask in the presence of God and His love, like Jesus.

When we listen and contemplate, we will be empowered. Empowerment comes from a deep encounter with God, an encounter that assures us personally that God loves us and is with us.  Only such an encounter can enable us to give ourselves to God and His will in total trust and confidence because we have a glimpse of the resurrection, so to speak, because we have experienced the overwhelming love of Jesus in our hearts and the enlightenment He has given to us to in our lives.

It is through prayer and contemplation that, like the disciples, we will behold the glory of God, not in its glory now, but the glory of God in the face of the crucified Christ.  Only because we have faced the cross with Jesus, can we proclaim to the world that the earthly life of Jesus in the world is the epiphany of the glory of God.  This we do by courageously enduring the struggles in our own lives without losing faith in sufferings.  When others see us as people of faith, not because we are successful but because we remain faithful and confident in sufferings, they will see the glory of God in our goodness, weaknesses and sinfulness.  For in us, they can see God’s strength in our weakness; and that when sin increases, grace abounds all the more.  Yes, God manifests Himself in human weakness and imperfection. By perceiving His glory in this state, we are encouraged to live our lives with great fidelity, strength and hope.

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Prayer and Meditation for Saturday, February 24, 2018 — “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

February 23, 2018

Saturday of the First Week of Lent
Lectionary: 229

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Moses And The Ten Commandments by Giora Eshkol

Reading 1  DT 26:16-19

Moses spoke to the people, saying:
“This day the LORD, your God,
commands you to observe these statutes and decrees.
Be careful, then,
to observe them with all your heart and with all your soul.
Today you are making this agreement with the LORD:
he is to be your God and you are to walk in his ways
and observe his statutes, commandments and decrees,
and to hearken to his voice.
And today the LORD is making this agreement with you:
you are to be a people peculiarly his own, as he promised you;
and provided you keep all his commandments,
he will then raise you high in praise and renown and glory
above all other nations he has made,
and you will be a people sacred to the LORD, your God,
as he promised.”

Responsorial Psalm  PS 119:1-2, 4-5, 7-8

R. (1b) Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!
Blessed are they whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the LORD.
Blessed are they who observe his decrees,
who seek him with all their heart.
R. Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!
You have commanded that your precepts
be diligently kept.
Oh, that I might be firm in the ways
of keeping your statutes!
R. Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!
I will give you thanks with an upright heart,
when I have learned your just ordinances.
I will keep your statutes;
do not utterly forsake me.
R. Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!

Verse Before The Gospel  2 COR 6:2B

Behold, now is a very acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.

Gospel MT 5:43-48

Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies,
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers and sisters only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
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Reflection From Peace and Freedom
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Did you ever skip to the end of the book to see how the story comes out? Or fast forward to the end of the movie to see the conclusion without waiting?
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I admit: sometimes I do that even with a Gospel. The truth is, just about anyone can tell you the Gospel story after reading the FIRST few lines. It takes real work to identify the story from THE LAST LINE.
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But for today’s Gospel (Matthew 5: 43-48) the last line is, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
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That line reminds me of “The Imitation of Christ.”
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That little book by  Thomas à Kempis is a Christian devotional book —  first composed in Latin ca. 1418–1427, according to Wikipedia. The truth is, monks carried that little book for centuries in an effort to become people that lived like Christ! They hoped to “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” To live in accord with the Will of God!
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Every Christian should have one. A priest told me, “You are a damned fool if you don’t have one!” I know some very salty priests!
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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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24 FEBRUARY, 2018, Saturday, 1st Week, Lent
CONVERSION AS RESTORATION AND PERFECTION OF THE DIGNITY OF OUR SONSHIP IN CHRIST

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [DT 26:16-19MT 5:43-48  ]

In the first reading we are reminded that we are chosen to be God’s people. Like the Israelites, we were nobody, but God called us.  “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Pt 2:10)  But we are not only called to be God’s people and His subjects, but also His sons and daughters.  “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” (Rom 8:16f)

To be called God’s people and His children is a great privilege.  But it entails obligations arising from our dignity as God’s people and His children as well.  Office always comes with responsibility.  So what are the implications of being the people of God?  As the people of Godwe must show ourselves as God’s people by our way of life.  How?

In the first place, we must remember that we are chosen and saved, not as individuals but as a people.  The covenant that God made with Moses was not with some individuals but with a community.  The plan of God is that we will be His people so that He will be our God. Necessarily, the first obligation as a member of the Chosen People of God is to strive to live a life of unity and charity among ourselves, which is reflective of the Trinitarian inner life of God.  We are called to be a covenanted people, living a covenanted life; a life based on justice, equality and above all, charity and compassion.  Only by subscribing to such fundamental values of the Covenant, can the community be preserved in love and unity.

Indeed the purpose of the commandments that God gave to the people through Moses is to help them to live in unity. They are guidelines to provide them direction in their relationship with God and with each other.  Commandments therefore are not the ends themselves, but they are at the service of love and unity, otherwise, the commandments become means to discriminate people and penalize those who fail.

Secondly, we must recognize His Lordship over us.  If we are God’s people, we must realize that God is our Lord and our king, we are His subjects.  Hence, we must surrender everything to His Lordship. We must obey Him in all things.  We cannot claim Jesus as our Lord so long as we continue to control our lives according to our whims and fancies.  ‘Jesus is Lord’ is more than just a verbal acclamation but it means subjecting ourselves to the kingdom values as enunciated in the Sermon of the Mount (cf Mt 5-7) on how, as Christians, we are expected to conduct ourselves.

Thirdly, we must be consecrated to Him. We must consecrate our whole life, soul and being, returning to Him what He has given to us.  To be consecrated to the Lord is to be called to holiness.   “Be holy because I am holy.” (Lev 11:45 cf 1 Pt 1:16)  Holiness is to be set apart.  This means that we must set ourselves apart for the service of our Lord and king.  All that we have, all that we are, our thoughts, our will and love must totally be given to the Lord for the service of His Kingdom and His people.  Whether we are working in the Church, at home or working in the world, what makes us holy is when we do everything for the glory of His name and for the love of Him and His people.  A person is holy when he recognizes that all he has comes from God and belongs to God alone.  Because everything comes from Him and we all belong to Him, it is only right that we give everything back to God.

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

Yesterday’s gospel says that our virtues must go deeper than the scribes and Pharisees, otherwise we cannot enter the Kingdom of God.  We must not conduct ourselves in a legalistic manner like the Jewish leaders and end up being self-righteous and judgmental of others.  We are to go beyond the mere observance of the laws to the spirit of the laws.  For all laws in the final analysis is for the service of love.  St Paul says, “Avoid getting into debt, except the debt of mutual love.  If you love your fellowmen, you have fulfilled the laws.” (Rom 13:8)

This means that we must love like the Father.  He is the Father of all humanity.  As sons and daughters of the Father, we must consider others as our brothers and sisters.  It is not enough, as Jesus said, to love our loved ones or even our fellow Christians.  But our love must be given to all, regardless of language, race or religion.  Everyone is to be regarded as our brother and sister if we dare to claim that God is our Father.  As Jesus said, “For if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even the tax collectors do as much, do they not?” Unfortunately, most of us tend to restrict our love to those who are our friends, those who think like us, perhaps our fellow Christians, but we disregard others who do not share our faith or our interests.  Even within Church ministry, members tend to be cliquish and would only mix with their own members; or worse still, only with selected friends within the ministry.

However, even if we love our brothers and sisters, we are still not anywhere near the perfection of God.  We are called to forgive and love our enemies so that they do not come under the reign of Satan.  Jesus said, “You have learnt how it was said: You must love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; in this way you will be sons of your Father in heaven, for he causes the sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike.”  This was the very life of the Father and the attitude of Jesus towards His enemies.  Even when we reject God again and again, He would forgive us and embrace us.  Jesus, in His passion and death, shows us what it takes to love our enemies.  On the cross, not only did Jesus forgive His enemies, but He prayed for them.  As if it was not sufficient proof of His love for us, He even made excuses for His enemies “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”  (Lk 23:34)  The call to love our enemies, to forgive and do good to those who can’t repay us, is in order that we reflect the glory of God in us.

How can this be possible? Perfection is only possible by inserting ourselves into the paschal mystery of Christ, sharing in His death and resurrection at baptism. By baptism too, we share in Christ’s sonship and receive His Spirit to act like sons.  Through baptism, we belong to the new people of God.  The Church, which is the community of grace and the body of Christ, will assist us to live out our identity as God’s children.  Indeed, we need each other to live out this calling to be God’s people and His children.

We must now reclaim our gift of sonship through repentance, prayer and Christian living, and most of all, by reflecting on God’s perfect love for us during this season of Lent.   God’s love for us is everlasting.  To reflect the glory of God is to live a life that claims this love of the Father for our parents, friends and fellow human beings.  This love is especially seen in Christ who is the love of God in person.  Jesus is the compassion and forgiveness of God.

At the same time, we are aware that we are only living out our finite and conditional love in life which is founded in God’s love.  We cannot love perfectly as parents, children and friends.  We cannot love with unlimited and unconditional love.  Human love will always be inadequate and often disappointing.  But that should not throw us into despair because God’s unconditional love will heal us.  We also become more compassionate, but we should not expect that we can love exactly like God.  What is important is that we are trying to perfect our love after our heavenly Father.  That is why we should, and we can, forgive each other in our failures in love, since we too fail in our love for God and for our fellowmen occasionally.

Lent is a time to prepare us to renew our baptismal calling. The focus is not on fasting and prayer alone.  The spiritual exercises are means to help restore our dignity as baptized Christians, called to be the people of God and sons and daughters of God.  This necessitates a greater awareness of what our calling entails.  Let us therefore, whilst fasting, praying and doing works of charity, come from a consciousness of who we are before God, His chosen people and His children.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh
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Prayer and Meditation for Friday, February 23, 2018 — “If the wicked man turns away from all the sins he committed if he keeps all my statutes and does what is right and just, he shall surely live, he shall not die.”

February 22, 2018

Friday of the First Week of Lent
Lectionary: 228

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Pharisee shake down Jesus for tribute money — Lithograph James Tissot

Reading 1  EZ 18:21-28

Thus says the Lord GOD:
If the wicked man turns away from all the sins he committed,
if he keeps all my statutes and does what is right and just,
he shall surely live, he shall not die.
None of the crimes he committed shall be remembered against him;
he shall live because of the virtue he has practiced.
Do I indeed derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked?
says the Lord GOD.
Do I not rather rejoice when he turns from his evil way
that he may live?And if the virtuous man turns from the path of virtue to do evil,
the same kind of abominable things that the wicked man does,
can he do this and still live?
None of his virtuous deeds shall be remembered,
because he has broken faith and committed sin;
because of this, he shall die.
You say, “The LORD’s way is not fair!”
Hear now, house of Israel:
Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?
When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies,
it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die.
But if the wicked, turning from the wickedness he has committed,
does what is right and just,
he shall preserve his life;
since he has turned away from all the sins that he committed,
he shall surely live, he shall not die.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-7A, 7BC-8

R. (3) If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, who can stand?
Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;
LORD, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to my voice in supplication.
R. If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, who can stand?
If you, O LORD, mark iniquities,
LORD, who can stand?
But with you is forgiveness,
that you may be revered.
R. If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, who can stand?
I trust in the LORD;
my soul trusts in his word.
My soul waits for the LORD
more than sentinels wait for the dawn.
Let Israel wait for the LORD.
R. If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, who can stand?
For with the LORD is kindness
and with him is plenteous redemption;
And he will redeem Israel
from all their iniquities.
R. If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, who can stand?

Verse Before The Gospel  EZ 18:31

Cast away from you all the crimes you have committed, says the LORD,
And make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.

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Fiery Gehenna

Gospel  MT 5:20-26

Jesus said to his disciples:
“I tell you,
unless your righteousness surpasses that
of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.”You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother
will be liable to judgment,
and whoever says to his brother, Raqa,
will be answerable to the Sanhedrin,
and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar,
and there recall that your brother
has anything against you,
leave your gift there at the altar,
go first and be reconciled with your brother,
and then come and offer your gift.
Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court.
Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge,
and the judge will hand you over to the guard,
and you will be thrown into prison.
Amen, I say to you,
you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”

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An uprightness which surpasses that of the Pharisees.

This first verse presents the general key of everything which follows in Matthew 5, 20-48. The word Justice never appears in the Gospel of Mark, and it appears seven times in that of Matthew (Mt 3, 15; 5, 6.10.20; 6, 1.33; 21, 32). This has something to do with the situation of the communities for which Mark wrote. The religious ideal of the Jews of the time was “to be just before God”. The Pharisees taught: “Persons attain justice before God when they succeed to observe all the norms of the law in all its details!” This teaching generated a legalistic oppression and caused great anguish in persons, because it was very difficult to be able to observe all the norms (cfr. Rm 7, 21-24). This is why Matthew takes the words of Jesus on justice to show that it has to surpass the justice of the Pharisees (Mt, 5, 20). According to Jesus, justice does not come from what I do for God observing the law, but rather from what God does for me, accepting me as his son, as his daughter. The new ideal which Jesus proposes is the following: “Therefore, be perfect as perfect is your Heavenly Father!” (Mt 5, 48). That means: You will be just before God when you try to accept and forgive persons as God accepts and pardons me, in spite of my defects and sins.

• By means of these five very concrete examples, Jesus shows us what to do in order to attain this greater justice which surpasses the justice of the Scribes and the Pharisees. As we can see, today’s Gospel takes the example of the new interpretation of the fifth commandment: You shall not kill! Jesus has revealed what God wanted when he gave this commandment to Moses.

• Matthew 5, 21-22: The law says: You shall not kill!” (Ex 20, 13). In order to observe fully this commandment it is not sufficient to avoid murdering. It is necessary to uproot from within everything which, in one way or another, can lead to murder, for example, anger, hatred, the desire to revenge, insult, and exploitation, etc.

• Matthew 5, 23-24. The perfect worship which God wants. In order to be accepted by God and to remain united to him, it is necessary to reconcile oneself with the brother, the sister. Before the destruction of the Temple, in the year 70, when the Christian Jews participated in the pilgrimages in Jerusalem to present their offerings at the altar and to pay their promises, they always remembered this phrase of Jesus. In the year 80, at the time when Matthew wrote, the Temple and the Altar no longer existed. They had been destroyed by the Romans. The community and the communitarian celebration became the Temple and the Altar of God.

• Matthew 5, 25-26: To reconcile oneself. One of the points on which the Gospel of Matthew exists the most is reconciliation. That indicates that in the communities of that time, there were many tensions among the radical groups with diverse tendencies and sometimes even opposed ones. Nobody wanted to cede before the other. There was no dialogue. Matthew enlightens this situation with the words of Jesus on reconciliation which request acceptance and understanding. Because the only sin that God does not forgive is our lack of pardon toward others (Mt 6, 14). That is why, try to reconcile yourself before it is too late!

http://ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-divina-matthew-520-26

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From:

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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23 FEBRUARY, 2018, Friday, 1st Week, Lent
DIVINE JUSTICE IS A MATTER OF RELATIONSHIP, NOT DEEDS

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ EZEKIEL 18:21-28PS 130:1-8MT 5:20-26 ]

Today’s first reading from the prophet Ezekiel is a challenge to our human way of understanding justice.  His thought is revolutionary and scandalizing, not just to his listeners but even to the modern man who hears this message.  Most of us can wholeheartedly agree in the first instance that “If the wicked man renounces all the sins he has committed, respects my laws and is law-abiding and honest, he will certainly live; he will not die.”   In itself, some might not even accept that a sinner could have his sins forgotten without incurring punishment as the Lord says, “All the sins he committed will be forgotten from then on; he shall live because of the integrity he has practiced. What! Am I likely to take pleasure in the death of a wicked man – it is the Lord who speaks – and not prefer to see him renounce his wickedness and live?”

But what was shocking to his audience was his prophecy that “if the upright man renounces his integrity, commits sin, copies the wicked man and practices every kind of filth, is he to live? All the integrity he has practiced shall be forgotten from then on; but this is because he himself has broken faith and committed sin, and for this he shall die.”  Like them, we too may object and cry foul, “What the Lord does is unjust.”  How could a good man, who all his life loved God and his fellowmen but at the end of his life gave up on God, be condemned to eternal death?  Surely the past deeds and merits of this good man should be taken into account and not rendered void and useless!

In other words, our measure of justice is based on merits and punishments.  We are rewarded or punished according to our good deeds or evil deeds.  By so doing, we have reduced the justice of God to human justice, which is based on the principle of what we sow is what we reap.  It is the same measure that the world uses, namely, the Key Productivity Indicators (KPIs).  So a worker is rewarded according to what he or she brings into the company.  The company is not interested in his intentions or his character, or whether he is ethical, but it is concerned only with profits at the end of the day, because that is what the shareholders are interested in.

That is precisely what Jesus is warning us about such superficial judgment and assessment of people and their actions.  He said, “If your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.”  Our judgment should not be based just on the actions of a person but also the motives as well.  At the end of the day, the real measure of divine justice is not necessarily our merits, not how much we do, whether good or evil.  It is ultimately concerned with right relationships with God, self and others. The actions in themselves are not proofs that we have a right and authentic relationship with God, self and others.  Like the Pharisees, we could be doing the right things for the wrong motives. In the eyes of the world, such actions may appear good and noble, but only God can know the real intentions of the person who does good.  He might be seeking for attention, glory, support, or even using them to buy people to gain power and control.   So KPIs do not mean much to God because He judges the heart, not just the external actions or the outcomes.

Does it mean that such good works or merits have no place in the life of a Christian and are redundant?  Not at all!  We are not denying the importance of good works or the gravity of evil deeds that we do.  What the gospel wants to underscore is that these are at most, merely indicators of the heart of a person in his relationship with God and with others, including himself.   In themselves, they do not mean much, unless they are performed from the right motives of selfless love and service.  This is true for sinners. Without exonerating their part in the sin, some keep falling into sin because of circumstances and upbringing.

So good works and evil deeds are mere indicators of how much the person is in love with God, his neighbours and self.  It shows the fundamental option of the person, what he is choosing: God and others or self?  Good works have its proper place in Christian life, but at the end of the day, God is not going to weigh the scales in judging us, to see how many good works we do and how many evil actions we do.   Love cannot be weighed and measured simply by good deeds.  In the civil courts, if mitigation is allowed, it is not that we hope the judge will make right and be lenient in punishing the offender because he has done good all his life.  Rather,  mentioning the person’s good deeds is but a way to say that the person is not all that evil; that he does have a good heart towards others and not as selfish as the offence indicates.  This is true in the way God judges us.  Not a kind of extrinsic justice based on facts but the judgement of God is the judgement of the heart, the depth of our love for God, for others and for self; not what we do but how intense our relationships are.

It is for this reason that God is ever ready to forgive us when we sin.  What He wants is a restoration of relationship.  This is what the responsorial psalm says, “If you, O Lord, should mark our guilt, Lord, who would survive? But with you is found forgiveness: for this we revere you. Because with the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption, Israel indeed he will redeem from all its iniquity.”  He is not interested in our merits or our performance.  He is concerned with whether we are in deep relationship with Him and with others.  He measures us by the love we have for Him and for our neighbours.  As Ezekiel says, He desires us to live not just biologically but to live the fullness of life and love.

This principle is clearly illustrated in today’s gospel.  Jesus goes beyond the superficial laws of Moses.  He says, “You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not kill, and if anyone does kill he must answer for it before the court. But I say this to you: anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court; if a man calls his brother ‘Fool’ he will answer for it before the Sanhedrin, and if a man calls him ‘Renegade’, he will answer for it in hell fire.”   For Jesus, it is not just killing that is wrong, but when we are angry with our brothers, pass presumptuous judgement on them by calling them “fool” or a “renegade”, we are equally at fault.   In the first instance, the “fool” refers to one who is brainless or stupid.  This would be an act of contempt and arrogance.  How often have we criticized people, call them “stupid, idiot”, etc.   Contempt for others who are less than us is pride and arrogance. It will only destroy a person’s confidence.   To call a brother “renegade” is even more serious because we are calling a brother “fool”, not an intellectual fool but a moral fool, that means, a sinner living an immoral life.  By so doing, we are destroying the person’s reputation.  For Jesus, destroying and tarnishing a person’s character and dignity is a very serious wrong.

So for Jesus, anger has different degrees.  It can be in the mind, then expressed in words of contempt and it can even lead to killing.  When a person is angry, he is opening the door to greater sins.  Whether he commits them actually or not, by contemplating the evil action, that person has already given birth to the thought or that anger in his heart. When the opportunity arises or when tempted, or when not in a state of sobriety, he is likely to act on it.  The depth of our anger with our brothers and sisters in our hearts would be the decisive judgment of the intensity of relationship we have with them.  The actions, if they happen, would be the expression of what is going on already inside our minds and hearts.

Thus, Jesus brings home the all-important consideration that justice means to be in right and just relationship with God, others and self. “So then, if you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering.”  In other words, what God wants is that we are in union with Him and with our brothers and sisters.  He wants us to be reconciled and be in communion with Him and with our fellowmen.  Divine justice will forgive us for all our wrongs and mistakes we made, so long as we are ready to be reconciled with God.  But before we can be reconciled with God, Jesus demands that we put right our relationships with our fellowmen.

There is a warning that if we do not make right our relationships with God and with our neighbours, we will only harm ourselves because the anger and resentment will be further aggravated.  It would no longer be merely hot anger that comes and goes off as soon as the emotions are settled, but it will become a smoldering anger, one that relishes, nurtures and plots revenge.  Hence, Jesus advises us, “Come to terms with your opponent in good time while you are still on the way to the court with him, or he may hand you over to the judge and judge to the officer and you will be thrown into prison. I tell you solemnly, you will not get out till you have paid the last penny.”

So if we want to be given divine justice, let us first and foremost forgive those who have hurt us.  If we repair our relationships with them, forgive them from our heart and seek reconciliation with them, then God, who has already forgiven us, will ensure that the grace of forgiveness we have received will have its full effects on us.  We will be set free from anger, hatred and most of all, from our wounded memories which have a hold over us.  Without forgiveness and a right and just relationship with others, we will not have peace or joy in our hearts.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh
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Prayer and Meditation for Thursday, February 22, 2018 — The Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I shall want

February 21, 2018

Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, Apostle
Lectionary: 535

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Reading I 1 PT 5:1-4

Beloved:
I exhort the presbyters among you,
as a fellow presbyter and witness to the sufferings of Christ
and one who has a share in the glory to be revealed.
Tend the flock of God in your midst,
overseeing not by constraint but willingly,
as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly.
Do not lord it over those assigned to you,
but be examples to the flock.
And when the chief Shepherd is revealed,
you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 23:1-3A, 4, 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;
Beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side
With your rod and your staff
that give me courage.
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.

Verse Before The GospelMT 16:18

You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church;
the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.

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Peter holding the keys at The Vatican

Gospel MT 16:13-19

When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi
he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore

29 JUNE, 2017, Thursday, 12th Week, Ordinary Time

CAN THE CHURCH WITHSTAND THE ONSLAUGHT OF THE WORLD?

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Acts 12: 1-11Ps 33:2-92 Tim 46-817-18Mt 1613-19  ]

We are living in a world of rapid changes.  The world is moving and changing so fast that what we see today was unimaginable 30 years ago.  Technology, mass media and digital communications have changed the world radically.  The way we communicate, the way we live, our lifestyles, whether it is at work, in the family, social or religious life have changed.  

But it is not just changes in technology; economic, political and social life, and ideology have changed as well.  Indeed, today, we are paralyzed by the many choices in life.  Even buying a phone is not an easy decision as there is a whole range of choices, all with different capabilities.   Watching television or going for a movie is equally daunting as there are a plethora of choices to choose from. So too with regard to the different ideologies of how life should be lived. All opinions seem to have their valid points.  With so much information it is difficult to make sense of what is truly right or wrong.  In a society that is so steeped in relativism, it has become difficult for anyone to talk about morality.  Pragmatism and individualism rule the day.  At the other extreme end of the pendulum, those who resist change express themselves in fundamentalism which can become violent, especially among religious fanatics.

In the midst of these changes, the Church presents herself as the spokesman for what is truth in the world.  The Church in the person of the Holy Father is seen as the moral spokesman for humanity.  The Church regards herself as the bulwark and pillar of truth.  But the Church is also under attack from the onslaught of those who disagree with the teachings of the Church.  There is much opposition not just from without but also from within.

Can the Church withstand the change of time in the light of extreme ideologies such as relativism, secularism and fundamentalism? The common lamentation of our young people is that the Church is no longer relevant in their lives.  We seem to be speaking a different language and they cannot sync with the Church’s language both in terms of style, content and communication.   Indeed, will the Catholic Church be reduced to a minority, as Pope Emeritus Benedict warned us during his pontificate?  We have the new Herods persecuting the Church today for political gains.  In the first reading we read that King Herod “beheaded James the brother of John, and when he saw that this pleased the Jews he decided to arrest Peter as well.”

Many political and even religious leaders are pandering to the wishes of the majority regardless of whether those things they ask for are good or bad for them.  Instead of leading the people into the fullness of truth, they are being led by the people.  This is the consequence of democracy, truth by consensus.   Or rather, a pragmatic approach to life.  Give them whatever they want.  The leader is reduced to a coordinator, no longer one who leads.   The truth is that most people behave like little children.  In a world of technology and consumerism, we must get what we want quickly.  We cannot wait.  So, do we pander to the desires of our children even when they ask for things that could harm their future?  But this is what we do for the so-called adults in the world today.  The world is no longer ruled by truth but by consensus and desires.

So as leaders, how can we lead if we do not know the truth, what is truly good for our people, not just for today but for tomorrow? As in the gospel, the people during the time of Jesus held different views about Him.  We get nowhere if we base the truth on consensus.  Reason is important for finding the truth, but truth has its limits and must be supplemented by faith.

How can we be sure that we have the truth to life and love if not because of our faith in Christ as the Son of the Living God?  This is the foundation of truth.   Jesus assured Peter, “So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it.”  Unless our faith is founded on the Church’s faith in Christ as the Son of the Living God, we cannot claim that we have the truth.  Anything less than this confession of faith expressed by Peter will not give us the courage to withstand the onslaught of the world and the diverse worldviews.

By extension, as Catholics, we also believe that the rock that Jesus refers to is not just the rock of faith but Peter as the leader among the apostles.  He is also that little pebble, “Petra” in which the Church is built upon.  This is because the Lord has entrusted the keys of heaven, that is the authority, to St Peter to decide on matters pertaining to faith and morals for the Church.  The Lord said, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.”  For this reason, good Catholics will abide by the teachings of the Pope, together with the bishops. The magisterium is considered as the authentic, authoritative teacher of the Church.  When Jesus promised the Church that He would be with us until the end of time, obviously, it cannot be merely with the individual but the Church as a whole, led by the apostles and their successors.

Indeed, if obedience is lacking today, it is because faith is lacking.  This is the cause of disobedience at every strata of life.  Today, obedience to authority is no longer taken seriously even in priestly and religious life.  Everybody trusts only in his or her opinions and claims to have personal revelation from God.  There is a distrust in authority because of scandals and corruption.  So, whilst it is understandable why people have lost faith in authority, none of us must lose faith in Christ.  We must hold fast to the promise of Christ that He will somehow protect His Church from the Evil One.  Hence, obedience requires us to surrender in faith even when we do not understand.

Faith in Christ can overcome all things.  Christ will protect His Church.  This was the faith of Peter in Christ.  We read how the Lord sent an angel to deliver him from his enemies.  The angel set him free from his chains and led him out into safety.  It was such a miraculous event that caught Peter by surprise.  So, too, the Lord came to Paul’s aid in his trials. “The Lord stood by me and gave me power, so that through me the whole message might be proclaimed for all the pagans to hear; and so I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.”  So we might suffer a temporary setback and have to deal with some scandals affecting the Church.  But we can be sure that the Lord will also set us back and lead us forward to the future with even greater zeal and growth in holiness and in strength.

But Peter and Paul’s faith in Christ is not limited to being delivered only in this life but in the life to come.  Although their lives ended in death, they knew that even death could not overcome them because the last word is life eternal.  Life and love will triumph over death and hatred.  That was why they were also not afraid of death. St Paul was confident of final victory which is even more important than temporary victory.  He wrote, “All there is to come now is the crown of righteousness reserved for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that Day.”

As we celebrate the Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul, we are called to imitate them for they are the pillars of the Church.  Like them, we are called to be faithful to the Lord even unto death.  In the first reading, we have St Peter who was ever ready to witness to the Lord even when threatened with imprisonment by King Herod and the Jews.   St Paul too spoke of his life as a libation offered for Christ and the Church.  He wrote, “My life is already being poured away as a libation, and the time has come for me to be gone. I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith.”  Both Peter and Paul gave their life for Christ and His Church.  Both were martyred in Rome.

If we want to have the same courage and fidelity to Christ, then we need to strengthen our faith in Christ as the Son of the Living God.  This faith is given through grace, for the Lord said, “Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven.”  We can only pray for this faith of revelation.  But we must, like Sts Peter and Paul, cooperate with His grace given to us, doing all that we can within our strength and then surrender everything else unto the Lord who will complete the task for us.

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

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore

22 FEBRUARY, 2018, Thursday, Chair of St Peter, The Apostle

SUSTAINING THE ZEAL OF THE SHEPHERD

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 1 Peter 5:1-4Psalm 23:1-6Matthew 16:13-19 ]

St Peter made it clear from the outset that to be a shepherd is to be a witness to the sufferings of Christ.  He said, “I have something to tell your elders: I am elder myself, and a witness to the sufferings of Christ.”  This is something we do not think much about.  Many of us tend to focus on the privileges, the limelight and the glory of being a shepherd of Christ.  Some might even think that priesthood can be an escape from the responsibilities of married life; that it is just another form of a bachelor lifestyle with an iron rice bowl.   Indeed, this is the way the priestly and religious vocation is sometimes being promoted.  They show you pictures of the joy of ministering to the people of God and living like brothers and sisters in the community.  It is the same for marriage as well.  Often, married life is presented in such a blissful and loving manner, one is persuaded to believe it to be the ideal life, a lifelong romance every day.

But they do not tell you as Jesus did, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”. (Mt 16:24) Indeed, it is only when you have become a priest, a religious or when you get married, that you realize that the ideal and the reality do not match.  It is only a goal to be reached and to strive for.  Unless we are prepared, many of us will become disillusioned, whether we enter a priestly and religious state of life or get married.  We see many marriages start so well, but when the reality of building strong relationships sets in, clouded by financial and work issues, in-laws and children, sickness and the elderly, etc, some cannot take it and want to divorce.  So too many priests suffer disillusionment and burn out when they get into the thick and thin of the ministry; and some eventually leave the priesthood.

Often the laity do not understand the challenges and sufferings of their shepherds.  Conversely, priests and religious are guilty too of not being able to identify with the struggles of the ordinary man and woman, especially at work and family life.  This is understandable as we live in quite different worlds in terms of lifestyle, needs and struggles.   Although the situations are different, the feelings are similar.

When St Peter exhorted the elders to “be the shepherds of the flock of God that is entrusted to you” it is often taken for granted.  How many of us parents are always conscious of our role as shepherds of the flock under our care?  Do we see them as God’s children entrusted to our care, or do we see them as our children and property for us to dispose as we see fit?  The truth is that priests often forget that the people of God under their charge belong to God.  We are only caretakers.  They do not belong to us and therefore we cannot do as we wish with them, but only according to what the Lord wants of us.   As St Peter says, “because God wants it.”

This situation happens because we see them as strangers and workers.  There is a lack of intimacy between the shepherd and the sheep.  This can also happen between parents and children when the former are seen as financial providers and disciplinary masters.   Many parents are so absorbed in their career, business, work and their social life so much so they neglect to spend quality and personal time with their children.  So too for the priest.  He is more concerned with the work, the activities of the church, the administration, but he does not know the sufferings, the aspirations and the struggles of his people.  This is why sometimes shepherds lack empathy for the sheep.  They are treated like a case that should be gotten rid of quickly.

Secondly, St Peter exhorts the shepherd to “watch over it, not simply as a duty but gladly.”  Loving those who love us is easy. (cf Mt 5:46f)  But when those whom we love and sacrifice our life for take us for granted and even bite the hand that feeds them, it is a different take.   When they misunderstand our kindness and actions, slander us in public, complain about us and level charges against us that are not true, how do you continue to love them gladly?  When we are unappreciated, it is only natural for us to retaliate or at least give up loving them.  Isn’t this how parents and workers feel when they are unappreciated, or worse still, accused of things they never did?

Thirdly, St Peter says, in exercising authority as a shepherd, “never be a dictator over any group that is put in your charge.”   Indeed, there are cases when those in authority are dictatorial in the way they command those under their charge.  They make decisions without consultation and enforce rules against the will of the larger community.   But in many cases, the real dictator is not the shepherd but the sheep under his or her charge.  They are the ones demanding that the shepherd does this and that.  Whatever decisions the shepherd makes, he or she is condemned by his or her detractors and opponents.  Everyone wants his or her opinion not just to be heard but to be followed.  This is the greatest challenge in any community – fostering unity through persuasion to bring all to a common stance, because the truth is that it is impossible to please everyone.   That is why some just give up and stop taking initiative, because there are just too many opinions for just about everything.  But of course, they too will be condemned for being lazy and complacent.   So they resign from leadership!

This explains why shepherds – priests, leaders and parents – suffer disillusionment and low morale.   Instead of working for the love of the people, which was their initial motive, they do exactly what St Peter warns us, not to work “for sordid money, but because you are eager to do it.”  The zeal and eagerness is often lost because of the frustrations in leadership.  When they experience rejection, alienation, loneliness and fatigue, they start to look for compensation in their lives.  Some would indulge in worldly pleasures, socializing, eating and drinking, holidaying, or just hang out with close friends who could give them the consolation and support they need.  Others, fed up with the ministry, eventually leave and live their own lives.  Those who do not leave because they have no choice, become a problem to everyone, including themselves.  They end up as irritable, edgy, grumpy, angry and impatient priests.

How, then, can anyone who is in leadership truly live out the call of St Peter to “be an example that the whole flock can follow.”?   How can we be calm in the face of difficulties and challenges?  How can we remain patient and forgiving and not vindictive when we are accused falsely and misunderstood?  How can we continue to love and help those who are our enemies and who hurt us and our name?   It is indeed very challenging to repay good for evil, kindness for injury.

There is only one way, when the shepherds are in union with the Chief Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ.   Only when we are one with Christ our good shepherd, can we find solace and consolation.  We seek His consolation particularly in prayer and meditation.   With the psalmist, we say, “Fresh and green are the pastures where he gives me repose.  Near restful waters he leads me, to revive my drooping spirit.”  In prayer, we seek His wisdom.  “He guides me along the right path; he is true to his name.  If I should walk in the valley of darkness no evil would I fear.  You are there with your crook and your staff; with these you give me comfort.” Indeed, let our prayer be, “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.”

Secondly, with St Peter, shepherds need to confess from their heart, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Without this confession of faith in Christ, our faith will be weak and built on sand.  How else do we explain why priests, religious and very active and zealous Catholics leave the Church because they have been hurt or disillusioned?  This is because their faith is founded in human beings and in their activities, not on Christ as the Son of the Living God.  Only with this faith, could Jesus say to St Peter, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.”

Only because of our faith in Christ, can we submit in obedience to the Holy Father as the Vicar of Christ on earth even though we might disagree with him.   In humility, we recognize him as the Lord’s appointed vicar for the Church.  Being in union with the Holy Father, is what today’s feast is inviting us to do.  The chair of St Peter speaks of his authority to govern and rule the Church.  In the final analysis, he has been given the gift of revelation in authentic teaching as Jesus said, “Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven.”  By extension, the local Church is invited to be in union with the local bishop, just as he is in union with the Holy Father.

In the final analysis, let us realize that as shepherds we do not work just for this world but for the world to come.  This is our ultimate dream.  St Peter urges us in our suffering to think of the destiny ahead of us; to consider the future of the people we help and our future destiny.  St Peter asked us to keep our eyes on heaven.  Our suffering is not an end itself but for our glory.  St Peter consoles us, “I have a share in the glory that is to be revealed. When the chief shepherd appears, you will be given the crown of unfading glory.”  So we have only one life to live, let us live it well.  We have one love, for God and for His people, let us give all we can.

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

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http://www.catholic.sg/archbishop/scripture-reflection/

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St. Peter – Prince of the Apostles

Peter became the leader of the apostles, after Jesus’ ascension.

So many people want signs and miracles and yet even what is evidently happening in history and the present times, there is still spiritual blindness. Sometimes what we really need to know is already there in front of our eyes. It might mean that we must open our mind so we can understand from a different perspective. Our world is more than two dimensional. Our thought process is not lineal although help to connect information together. With the right information, we can see how everything fits together. We can expand on this as you will see here. There are layers of awareness and so nothing is every straightfoward. Nothing is ever quite as it seems. Nothing is coincidence either.

A previous article shows St. Peter’s and how this reveals a key. In this statue St Peter is holding Keys and also a scroll. There are two keys in his right hand. One key is silver plated and the other is gold plated. The scroll indicates that Peter received Divine Revelation and was guided directly from God with making decisions. For this reason he became an important figurehead of the church.

Old Saint Peter’s Basilica stood from the 4th to 16th centuries where the Basilica of Saint Peter stands today in Rome. Construction of the Basilica was built over the historical site of the Circus of Nero. Work began during the reign of emperor Constantine I ordered the contstuction between 326 and 333; that took 30 years to complete. The name Old Saint Peter’s Basilica to distinguish between the buildings of the Old and present time Bassilica.

Prayer and Meditation for Wednesday, February 21, 2018 — “This generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given…” — “Put a steadfast spirit within me, O God.”

February 20, 2018

Wednesday of the First Week in Lent
Lectionary: 226

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Jonah tells the people of Ninevah that they must repent of their sin.

Reading 1 JON 3:1-10

The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time:
“Set out for the great city of Nineveh,
and announce to it the message that I will tell you.”
So Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh,
according to the LORD’s bidding.
Now Nineveh was an enormously large city;
it took three days to go through it.
Jonah began his journey through the city,
and had gone but a single day’s walk announcing,
“Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed,”
when the people of Nineveh believed God;
they proclaimed a fast
and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth.When the news reached the king of Nineveh,
he rose from his throne, laid aside his robe,
covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in the ashes.
Then he had this proclaimed throughout Nineveh,
by decree of the king and his nobles:
“Neither man nor beast, neither cattle nor sheep,
shall taste anything;
they shall not eat, nor shall they drink water.
Man and beast shall be covered with sackcloth and call loudly to God;
every man shall turn from his evil way
and from the violence he has in hand.
Who knows, God may relent and forgive, and withhold his blazing wrath,
so that we shall not perish.”
When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way,
he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them;
he did not carry it out.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 51:3-4, 12-13, 18-19

R. (19b) A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.
R. A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.
R. A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
For you are not pleased with sacrifices;
should I offer a burnt offering, you would not accept it.
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
R. A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
Verse Before The GospelJL 2:12-13
Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart
for I am gracious and merciful.

Gospel  LK 11:29-32

While still more people gathered in the crowd, Jesus said to them,
“This generation is an evil generation;
it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it,
except the sign of Jonah.
Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites,
so will the Son of Man be to this generation.
At the judgment
the queen of the south will rise with the men of this generation
and she will condemn them,
because she came from the ends of the earth
to hear the wisdom of Solomon,
and there is something greater than Solomon here.
At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation
and condemn it,
because at the preaching of Jonah they repented,
and there is something greater than Jonah here.”
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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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21 FEBRUARY, 2018, Wednesday, 1st Week of Lent
THE UNCONVERTED CONVERTED

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Jonah 3:1-10Ps 51:3-4,12-13,18-19Luke 11:29-32 ]

The call to repentance and conversion is often heard and responded to by those who are non-Catholic and those who consider themselves great sinners; more so than by those who are already in the Church.  This precisely was the feeling that Jesus had when He tried to preach to His own people about conversion.  In spite of His preaching and the miracles He worked, the people remained unconverted, especially the Jewish leaders.  Indeed, the gospel says, “The crowds got even bigger and Jesus addressed them, “This is a wicked generation; it is asking for a sign.  The only sign it will be given is the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.”   Jesus was of course referring to His passion, death and resurrection, which would be the ultimate sign that He was from God. Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days, Jesus was in the tomb for three days before He rose from the dead.

But greater is the judgement on those who have had the privilege of seeing Christ and yet remain unconverted.  This was the warning of Jesus to His contemporaries.  “On Judgement day the Queen of the South will rise up with the men of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and there is something greater than Solomon here. On Judgement day the men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation and condemn it, because when Jonah preached they repented; and there is something greater than Jonah here.”

Indeed, this is the tragedy of life, that we do not appreciate what we have.  We tend to take our privileges for granted.  This is true for us Catholics as well.  We have 2000 years of testimony of God’s love in Christ.  We have 2000 years of tradition and spirituality in the Church where many have encountered the Lord.  We have all the means to salvation, especially the sacraments.  Many of us have easy access to the Eucharist, just a 5 to 10 minutes’ drive from our house.   In many Churches, there are talks and retreats and prayer services held.  In terms of knowledge and information, the internet gives all kinds of information about the Catholic faith, including homilies and talks on video and you-tube.  So we are not short of access and avenues to grow in the faith.

Yet many of us are indifferent to the call to repentance.  Our response is half-hearted.  We might go for Penitential service just before Christmas and Easter.  But it is merely a routine confession, saying the same old sins without making any effort to overcome them.  We are just happy to have a superficial confession, but there is no real examination of conscience, no serious preparation – just a routine.  This explains why such confessions will not change lives because our sins are forgiven only when we confess them fully and sincerely with a humble and contrite heart.  Like King David, we must be genuinely sorry for our sins in order to find the forgiveness of God.  “Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.  In your compassion blot out my offence.  O wash me more and more from my guilt and cleanse me from my sin. For in sacrifice you take no delight, burnt offering from me you would refuse, my sacrifice, a contrite spirit.  A humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn.”

This was the case of the Ninevites when they heard the preaching of Jonah.  They were pagans but when  they heard that Nineveh was going to be destroyed, “the people of Nineveh believed in God; they proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least. The news reached the king of Nineveh, who rose from his throne, took off his robe, put on sackcloth and sat down in ashes. A proclamation was then promulgated throughout Nineveh, by decree of the king and his ministers.”

Not only did they fast, but they also renounced their evil behaviour and the wicked things they had done.   They had confidence in God’s mercy saying, “Who knows if God will not change his mind and relent, if he will not renounce his burning wrath, so that we do not perish?”  Indeed, “God saw their efforts to renounce their evil behaviour. And God relented: he did not inflict on them the disaster which he threatened.”  A contrite heart is not simply one that feels remorseful for one’s sinful actions and past but it is a heart that takes the necessary actions as well to change one’s way of life.  Indeed, all that God wants of us is that we change our lives so that no harm would befall us.  God wants us to repent, not to punish us.  He allows us to suffer the consequences of our sins in order that we will stop doing things that will hurt us eventually.  Hence, it must be clearly understood that even the penance that is imposed on us after we make our confession is not to be seen as a punishment for the offences we committed.  Rather, they are means that the Church provides to help us make amends for our sins and to strengthen our spiritual life so that we can ward off future temptations.

Why, then, is it so difficult to preach repentance and conversion to those who are already coming to Church?  Firstly, many of us have spiritual pride.  We think we know much about the Church and the doctrines.   We have heard the same messages read and preached in different ways by the priests.  Intellectually, we might know much about the teaching and doctrines of the Church.  However, they are merely knowledge on the cerebral level.  Such knowledge does not engage our entire being.  It does not engage our heart.  Therefore our hearts are not moved.  What we do not feel, we remain detached.  Our hearts are hardened and numbed, like the Israelites and the contemporaries of Jesus.  Whereas for the real sinners and the common people, they take the Word of God to heart.  They recognize their failures in living up to the gospel life.   Like the early converts after hearing the first sermon of Peter, “they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’”  (Acts 2:37)

Secondly, because of familiarity.  Indeed, it is said that familiarity breeds contempt.  We often take for granted the love of our spouse, the care of our parents and our friends until they are taken away from us.  We do not appreciate the freedom of worship until one day we are deprived of it, as in some countries.  Not only does familiarity breed contempt, but it brings about the loss of the sense of the Sacred.  This is particularly true for Church ministers, including the lay ministers.  We handle the Eucharist and our sacred items so often that we lose the sense of the sacred.  When we lose our taste for the sacred and sacred things, we merely go through the motions; there is no real contact with God.  It is worship without a relationship.

Thirdly, it is because of routine.  Sometimes, we can be performing sacred actions without any real consciousness of what we are doing, be it celebrating the mass, hearing confessions or distributing Holy Communion.  We forget what we are doing and what we are celebrating, unlike our first encounter, when we felt the closeness of God.  Or when we are before the Blessed Sacrament for adoration or for mass.  Initially we may feel His presence, but when we get used to it, it can become just a routine. This is how Catholics behave.  They attend mass and say their prayers in a perfunctory manner.  This was how Isaiah condemned the people, The Lord said: “these people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote.”  (Isa 29:13)

So today, we are called to be humble and have a contrite heart.  Let us hear the message even if it were the same one, not just as words or something that we have heard before.  Christ is speaking to us directly. St Paul calls us to accept the Word of God that is preached, “not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.”  (1 Th 2:13)  Let the psalmist’s words be ours as well, “A pure heart create for me, O God, put a steadfast spirit within me.  Do not cast away from your presence.”   Let us be conscious of His love and mercy for us so that we can repent and treasure His presence once again.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh
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Commentary on Luke 11:29-32 From Living Space

Today’s readings are about doing penance for our sins and they are linked by the name of Jonah.

In Mark’s gospel the crowds are often shown as recognising God’s presence in Jesus better than the Scribes and Pharisees do. In Luke, however, they are sometimes shown as people curious to see signs and wonders but without any real commitment to following Jesus.

So today we are told that “the crowds got even bigger” and Jesus spoke to them. But what he said was not very flattering. “This is a wicked generation; it is asking for a sign.” The only sign they will get will be the sign of Jonah. Jesus, like Jonah, is a call to repentance and radical conversion. And Jesus implies that many of his listeners are not ready or willing to hear that call. They don’t need any signs; Jesus has been giving them an abundance of signs through his teaching and healing work.

On the judgment day, they, the chosen people of God, will be surprised to see the Queen of the South rise up because she, pagan that she was, came a long distance to listen to the wisdom of Solomon – and Jesus is someone far superior to Solomon. They will be surprised to see the people of Niniveh, pagans that they were, rise up because they repented at the preaching of Jonah – and Jesus is far greater than Jonah.

We too, who claim to be God’s People, may be surprised to see who will be called to God’s side on judgment day because they heard and followed God’s word according to their capacity. The question is: where will we be on that day? Thomas A Kempis, the writer of a famous medieval treatise, called The Imitation of Christ, asked that very same question. He was worried about whether he would persevere in serving Christ to the very end of his life. He said he was told in answer to his prayer: “Do now what you would like to have done then, and you will have nothing to worry about.”

Where will I be on the Day of Judgement? The answer to that question can be decided by me this very day and every single day from now on.

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From March 8, 2017

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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TRUE REPENTANCE PRESUPPOSES A HUMBLE AND CONTRITE HEART

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ JONAH 3:1-10PS 50:3-4,12-13,18-19LUKE 11:29-32 ]

The message of Lent is a call to repentance as a prerequisite for the new life that Christ is offering us at Easter.  This is the first and essential step to take if we are to avail ourselves of the New life of Christ.  Otherwise, at the end of this Lenten season, there will be no experience of resurrection for us as we remain buried in our grave covered by sins.  But not many are ready to repent, just as many resisted the prophets of old when challenged to repent.  If Jesus was rejected then, should we be surprised that when we invite people to repent, they harden their hearts even more.

Ironically, the most difficult people to invite to repent are the new scribes and Pharisees of our days. These are the priests, religious and pious, active church members.  They live in self-righteousness.  We preach to everyone that they must repent but we ourselves are not repenting of our sins.  It seems the message of repentance is directed at everyone but ourselves.  We are more concerned about others repenting than we ourselves.  Perhaps this is because those of us who are supposedly religious and pious are so exposed to sacred things that we get jaded and lose the sense of the sacred.  It becomes a profession, doing and saying “religious” things perfunctorily without sincerely believing in what we say.  And because of the lack of honest and humble self-examination of conscience, we think we are quite holy anyway and that we have not committed any big sins, unlike the rest of the world. This was the case of the religious leaders in today’s gospel who rejected our Lord.

Then there are the real sinners who desire repentance but do not do anything about it.  They know they are living sinful lives.  They know that their life is not in order.  They know they are hurting themselves and others.  They know the law but they cannot obey the law.  In the depths of their heart they may desire to come back to God.  Alas, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.   They cannot find the impetus or strength to renounce their sins and turn back to God.

Why is it that people are not heeding the call to repentance?  The first reason is pride.  This is the cause of blindness, as in the case of the leaders of Israel.  Their pride was hurt and they were not willing to admit that they too were sinners.  They put up a good show for others to see.  Jesus was a threat to them.  Even with all the miracles and signs that Jesus performed, they could not see that Jesus was the Messiah.  When we are proud, we want to see things our own way.  We would not accept the Word of God.  Our ego often gets in the way of our welcoming the simple message of repentance that is preached.  We see this in the case of the Ninevites.  When they heard the message of the prophet Jonah, they immediately repented.  “They proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least. The news reached the king of Nineveh, who rose from his throne, took off his robe, put on sackcloth and sat down in ashes.”

The second cause of blindness is selfishness.  When we think only of ourselves, we cannot see the bigger picture.  Many of us are absorbed in our own needs and desires.  In our selfish pursuit of those things that entice and attract us, we do not weigh the cost of procuring those things.  That is why people cheat, steal and rob.  Many eat, smoke and drink excessively, causing hurt to themselves and their loved ones.  Indeed, one who cannot see beyond oneself will only do things for short term gains but long term pain.   Because of ambition and greed we ruin our health and integrity.

Then there is the third reason for blindness.  It is simply ignorance.  Many of us are hurting ourselves and our loved ones without knowing it.  Some parents think that if they have plenty of money, their children will be happy when what they really want is a loving family and the loving presence of their parents.  Some of us are slaves to pleasure and enjoyment, apparently oblivious to the consequences of our actions. We pursue dangerous activities but do we spare a thought for our loved ones who might have to look after us when we suffer a bad accident, and become crippled for life.  Do we really consider if what we do is really and truly good for us and our loved ones?  Do the means bring about the end that we desire, which is a loving and happy united family?

How, then, can we begin the path to repentance?  One way is fear, like the Ninevites.  For fear of the punishment of God, they repented. Well, this is not a bad motive but it is not the highest motive for true repentance.  If we repent out of fear of punishment, then when that possibility is taken away, we fall back into sin.  It is like little children who would only do what we tell them out of fear of punishment.  This way of thinking shows a lack of maturity in our decisions.

The only way to repent is as the responsorial psalm says, “A humbled, contrite heart, O God, you will not spurn.”  What is required simply is a humble heart that recognizes the sins committed, the hurts we have done to God, our fellowmen and ourselves.  Only true humility can bring a person to contrition.   When we think of the pain and suffering we have caused to others because of our sins, we will then repent.  When we steal, do we ever think how much we are depriving the person and his loved ones of their needs?  When we are unjust in our actions, do we spare a thought that someone is suffering because we have not been fair?

The most powerful motivating factor for repentance of heart is when we truly love Godour loved ones, our fellowmen and ourselves.  That is why Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”  (Lk 10:27)  True conversion must be motivated by love not by fear.  When we begin to understand how our sins affect others and hurt them, especially when they love us so much, then we will be contrite.  The more we fail in love towards our loved ones, the greater the contrition.  So being conscious of the love of God for us, especially in Christ Jesus’ death on the cross, should cause us to feel sorrow for our sins because our sins hurt the heart of God when He sees us hurting ourselves and His people.  Being conscious of the sufferings and anxieties of our loved ones because of our foolish acts will help us to avoid doing the wrong things.

Consequently, if we are seeking a new life in Christ, we must spend these weeks of Lent contemplating on the love and mercy of God in Christ; and the love of our loved ones so that we can be filled with compunction for our sins.   When we start thinking of all that we have done or failed to do, then we will feel remorse for our negligence or wrong done to them.  We need to withdraw to the desert during this Lenten season and spend time reviewing our relationship with God, with others and even the way we treat ourselves.  Are we doing justice to the life that God has given to us and the talents that He has blessed us with?  By coming to consciousness of our failings, we too can then pray, “Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.  In your compassion blot out my offence.”

Truly, the grace of repentance is given to all.  We need not wait for the penitential service to go for confession.  Whenever we are properly prepared and are ready, that is, having a humble and contrite heart, then we should go for the sacrament of reconciliation.  In fact, it is more effective to go for individual confession as you can confess your sins properly and be instructed by the confessor. If penitential service has been proven ineffective as a means of experiencing God’s mercy and effecting a true change of heart, it is because many go for the service without preparation.  They simply went for confession.  They did not hear the Word of God.  They did not spend time reflecting on their life, on all that they had done or failed to do.  So most go for a quick confession without serious and prolonged preparation. Such confession is more like going to a laundry service without any intention to keep the clothes clean for long.

Let us not miss out this grace of repentance.  We should individually make time to go through our life.  We have a few weeks to do so.  Reading the Word of God daily as provided in the mass text, and applying it to our lives will help us to come to a state of awareness and contrition.  Let us not delay but start now.  Give yourself at least half an hour of prayer and reflection every day.  Take note of your sins and your struggles so that when the time comes for confession, you are ready with a contrite heart.   And when you confess sincerely from your heart, you will be washed clean and God’s presence will return to you.  You will experience His joy, His love and, most of all, a new life.   Do not wait or delay longer, otherwise you will be condemned, as Jesus says in the gospel, by the Ninevites and the Queen of the South.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh
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Prayer and Meditation for Tuesday, February 20, 2018 — “The Lord’s Prayer” — Plus: “The Antidote to Fear is Faith”

February 19, 2018

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent
Lectionary: 225

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Reading 1 IS 55:10-11

Thus says the LORD:
Just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
And do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
Giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
So shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
It shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 34:4-5, 6-7, 16-17, 18-19

R. (18b) From all their distress God rescues the just.
Glorify the LORD with me,
let us together extol his name.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
R. From all their distress God rescues the just.
Look to him that you may be radiant with joy,
and your faces may not blush with shame.
When the poor one called out, the LORD heard,
and from all his distress he saved him.
R. From all their distress God rescues the just.
The LORD has eyes for the just,
and ears for their cry.
The LORD confronts the evildoers,
to destroy remembrance of them from the earth.
R. From all their distress God rescues the just.
When the just cry out, the LORD hears them,
and from all their distress he rescues them.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted;
and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.
R. From all their distress God rescues the just.

Verse Before The GospelMT 4:4B

One does not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.

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Gospel  MT 6:7-15

Jesus said to his disciples:
“In praying, do not babble like the pagans,
who think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Do not be like them.
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”This is how you are to pray:Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”If you forgive men their transgressions,
your heavenly Father will forgive you.
But if you do not forgive men,
neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”
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Henri Nouwen wrote about the all loving and all forgiving Father in this simple book…
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First Thoughts for Your Peace and Freedom
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I have a friend who suffers from great pain. Yesterday he said, “I am afraid of dying.”
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It had never occurred to him that “The Antidote to Fear is Faith.” We don’t have to accept our fears. In fact, this is one that we must all immediately reject.
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Lent is the time we talk about these things. If we fear death, why is that? We have confession available. God is all forgiving. He takes away our sins. He forgives. He Consoles. Run to Him. He is like the Father in the Prodigal Son parable — all forgiving and all loving.
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So if we are afraid of death, maybe we need to put our mind and our soul in order…. this Lent….
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The Antidote to Fear is Faith

The way to overcome our fears is to follow Jesus in faith. Our faith is what allows us to enter the future — not with a question mark — but with an exclamation point!

Faith is what allows us to declare in confidence that God is with us no matter what happens. We are certain God is for us and certain he has our best interests at heart.

Through faith, we know that God is working all things out for our good — if we love God and are following the commands of Jesus (Romans 8:28). If you are a believer, the Bible says all things are working together for good — not that all things are good — but working together for your good and the Glory of God.

There is no difficulty, dilemma, defeat, or disaster in the life of a believer that God can’t ultimately get some good out of – so what is there to fear, as we enter this Decade of Destiny?

When you face the future, what do you see?  Do you look at it with eyes of doubt?  With eyes of cynicism?  With eyes of expecting the worse?

You have two choices about the future –

  • You can either face the future as a cynic, a doubter, with negative thoughts, expecting the worse, or …
  • You can face the future expecting God to be with you and that His goodness and His mercy will follow you all the days of your life.

http://pastorrick.com/devotional/english/faith-is-god’s-antidote-to-fear

Related:

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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites

The Gospel today presents the prayer of the Our Father, the Psalm which Jesus has left us. There are two redactions of the Our Father, of Luke (Lk 11, 1-4 and of Matthew (Mt 6, 7-13). The redaction of Luke is briefer. Luke writes for the community coming from paganism. He tries to help the persons who are beginning a path of prayer. In the Gospel of Matthew, the Our Father is found in the part of the Discourse of the Mountain, where Jesus orientates the disciples in the practice of the three works of piety: alms giving (Mt 6, 1-4), prayer (Mt 6, 5-15) and fasting (Mt 6, 26-18). The Our father forms part of a catechesis for the converted Jews. They were used to pray, but they had certain vices which Matthew wanted to correct. In the Our Father, Jesus summarizes all his teaching in seven petitions addressed to the Father. In these seven petitions, he takes the promises of the Old Testament and orders to ask the Father to help us to realize them. The first three refer to our relationship with God. The other four have to do with the community relationship that we have with others.

• Matthew 6, 7-8: The introduction to the Our Father. Jesus criticises the persons for whom prayer was a repetition of magic formulae, of strong words, addressed to God to oblige him to respond to their petitions and needs. Anyone who prays has to seek, in the first place, the Kingdom, much more than the personal interests. The acceptance of prayer by God does not depend on the repetition of words, but rather on the goodness of God who is Love and Mercy. He wants our good and he knows our needs, even before we pray.

• Matthew 6,9a: The first words: “Our Father in Heaven!” “Abba, Father, is the name which Jesus uses to address himself to God. It expresses the intimacy that he has with God and manifests the new relationship with God which should characterize the life of people in the Christian communities (Ga 4, 6; Rm 8, 15). Matthew adds to the name of Father the adjective our and the expression in Heaven. The true prayer is a relationship which unites us to the Father, to the brothers and sisters, to nature. Familiarity with God is not intimist, but expresses the awareness of belonging to the great human family, in which all persons participate; of all races and of all creeds: Our Father. To pray to the Father is to enter in intimacy with him, it is also to be in harmony with the cry of all the brothers and sisters. It is to seek the Kingdom of God, in the first place. The experience of God the Father is the foundation of the universal fraternity.

• Matthew 6, 9b-10: The three petitions for the cause of God: the Name, the Kingdom, the Will. In the first part of the Our Father, we ask to restore our relationship with God. To do this Jesus asks (a) the sanctification of the Name revealed in Exodus on the occasion of the liberation from Egypt; (b) to ask for the coming of the Kingdom, expected by the people after the fall of the monarchy; (c) to ask for the fulfilment of God’s Will, revealed in the Law which was in the centre of the Covenant. The Name, the Kingdom, the Law: are three axis taken from the Old Testament which express how the new relationship with God should be. The three petitions indicate that it is necessary to live in intimacy with the Father, making his Name known, making him loved, doing in such a way that his Kingdom of love and of communion becomes a reality that his Will may be done on earth as it is in Heaven. In heaven, the sun and the stars obey the law of God and create the order of the Universe. The observance of the Law of God “on earth as it is in heaven” should be a source and a mirror of harmony and of well being for the whole creation. This renewed relationship with God becomes visible only in the renewed relationship among us, which on his part is the object of other four petitions: our daily bread, the forgiveness of debts, not to fall into temptation, to deliver us from evil.

Related:

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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20 FEBRUARY, 2018, Tuesday, 1st Week of Lent
LIVING OUT OUR PRAYERS

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ISA 55:10-11PS 34:4-716-19MT 6:7-15 ]

Today, we focus on the first pillar of our Lenten program, which is prayer.  Yesterday, the theme of the mass focused on the second pillar of the Lenten spiritual exercises, namely, on justice, charity and almsgiving. These two themes are closely related.  The goal of prayer is charity.  Prayer is not an end in itself but to enable us to be immersed in the love of God so that with that love, we can love others.

That is why right from the start, the Church warns of futile prayers that does no one any good.  Jesus warns us, “In your prayers do not babble as the pagans do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard.  Do not be like them; your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”  Indeed, some of us might think that we are holy and pious just because we increase our time for prayers and devotions, such as praying the rosary, attending the Stations of the Cross and other pious exercises.  Many of us could be doing all these things and yet our lives are not transformed in any way, including those who attend daily mass out of routine and devotion.

Because we do not pray with our hearts or even meditate with our minds, what we say is mere lip service, something that we rattle off, without consciously imbibing what we say, or pray, and without feeling what we express.  Indeed, sometimes, I wonder whether the pious devotional prayers, including the traditional Stations, that we pray at our churches are impacting lives.  We try to meditate quickly the 14 Stations in half an hour, so much so we hardly have any time to let the thoughts and the sentiments sink into our heads and hearts.  It is just touch and go.  So too, for the rosary and other devotions as well.  If only we take time to deepen our reflection, let the thoughts linger a bit longer and let our hearts be moved by the words, our lives will be transformed.  Indeed, the Stations of the Cross and the Rosary are some of the most powerful forms of devotional prayers that can be used for the transformation of lives.

In a special way, this is also true for all formula prayers, including the Lord’s Prayer that the Lord taught us in the gospel.  This prayer is the pattern of all prayers.  It is not so much that the prayer itself is inspired, beautiful and succinct, but because it provides us the way we should pray, and the principles that should guide our prayers.   Jesus only taught us one prayer and that is sufficient because it is the prayer that should help us to make our own prayers.

The Lord’s Prayer sums up the whole teaching of Jesus with regards to God, our neighbour and ourselves.  It is about relationship and trust and forgiveness.  It tells us how we should pray and what we should be praying for.  Many of us have the wrong disposition for prayer and often pray for the wrong things.  As St Paul said, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”  (Rom 8:26)  We need to pray in the Spirit, which is what the Lord’s Prayer seeks to communicate – the Spirit of Jesus at prayer.  The Lord’s Prayer, coming at the center of the Sermon on the Mount, is the heart of Jesus’ teaching, and summarizes what He wants to communicate to us.  In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus sums up His teachings and also the entire bible.  What the bible teaches us about God, life, providence, trust, mercy, forgiveness and charity are captured in the Lord’s Prayer.  Every verse of the Lord’s Prayer can be associated with the scripture texts elsewhere in the bible, especially in the psalms.  In the Liturgy of the Hours, the Church concludes the hour of praise and thanksgiving with the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, a fitting summary and conclusion to the prayers of the Church.

So what are the principles that we should bear in mind when we pray?  Firstly, we must be conscious that God is not just almighty and omnipotent.  He is our Father.  He is not someone whom we fear but someone whom we love.  He is a Father who cares for us all.  “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  (Mt 5:45)  And He looks after our needs.  “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”  (Mt 6:26)  He is the Father who is ever ready to forgive us when we fail, and to welcome us home.  We read this in the parables of the Prodigal Son, the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin.  (cf Lk 15)  The psalmist says, “I sought the Lord and he answered me; from all my terrors he set me free.”  Beyond recognizing that God is our Father, we must therefore regard all men and women as our brothers and sisters. “Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.”  (Heb 2:11)

Secondly, our whole life is for the glory of God.  This is what we pray, “may your name be held holy.”   We are called to glorify God by our lives.   This is what St Paul urges us, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Cor 10:31)  Jesus said, “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.”  (Jn 17:4)   Only by glorifying Him, can we also share in His glory.  “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”  (Jn 17:5)  “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity”  (Jn 17:22f)  This is what the psalmist says as well.  “Glorify the Lord with me.  Together let us praise his name.”

Thirdly, we give glory to God only by doing His will perfectly.  This is what the first reading asks of us. The prophet says, “As the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.”  When we do the will of God, then we know that God rules in our lives.  Jesus’ whole life was lived in obedience to God, doing His holy will. “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”  (Jn 4:34)  Most of all, at the Garden of Gethsemane, the Lord said, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”  (Mt 26:42)

Fourthly, we are called to trust in the divine providence of God.  “Give us today our daily bread.”  As Jesus tells us in the gospel, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  (Mt 6:33f)  We pray for what we need daily and what we need the most daily is the Word of God, the bread of life.  This daily bread refers not just to our daily needs but also the bread of life, the Word of God and the Eucharist, the bread of tomorrow.   This is also the faith of the psalmist when he says, “Look towards him and be radiant; let your faces not be abashed.  This poor man called, the Lord heard him and rescued him from all his distress.  They call and the Lord hears and rescues them in all their distress.  The Lord is close to the broken-hearted; those whose spirit is crushed he will save.”

Above all, the Lord asks us to pray for forgiveness, which is the heart of the gospel.  “And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven those who are in debt to us.”  This is the heart of prayer as well.  If we are not forgiving, we will impede the grace of God from flowing towards us.  A man with a vindictive heart will not be able to find peace in his life.  Indeed, Jesus reminds us, “Yes, if you forgive others their failings, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours; but if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your failings either.” As the psalmist says, “The Lord turns his face against the wicked to destroy their remembrance from the earth. The Lord turns his eyes to the just and his ears to their appeal.”  When we do not forgive, we hurt ourselves primarily because we are prisoners of our enemies.

Finally, every prayer must conclude with a prayer for the grace of God to protect us from all evil.  “And do not put us to the test, but save us from the evil one.”  Living a godly life is not solely dependent on our will and strength because we are fighting against the evil one.  We need to pray for God’s strength to resist temptations.  “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”  (Eph 6:10f)  This means that we should cooperate with His grace by avoiding the occasion of sin. Let us take heed of Peter’s advice, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  (1 Pt 5:6-8) Only when we seek to walk in His path, can we find peace and joy.

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

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!

Prayer and Meditation for Monday, February 19, 2018 — “Charity is the soul of the holiness to which all are called…”

February 18, 2018

Monday of the First Week of Lent
Lectionary: 224

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The shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

Reading 1

LV 19:1-2, 11-18

The LORD said to Moses,
“Speak to the whole assembly of the children of Israel and tell them:
Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.”You shall not steal.
You shall not lie or speak falsely to one another.
You shall not swear falsely by my name,
thus profaning the name of your God.
I am the LORD.

“You shall not defraud or rob your neighbor.
You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your day laborer.
You shall not curse the deaf,
or put a stumbling block in front of the blind,
but you shall fear your God.
I am the LORD.

“You shall not act dishonestly in rendering judgment.
Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty,
but judge your fellow men justly.
You shall not go about spreading slander among your kin;
nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake.
I am the LORD.

“You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart.
Though you may have to reprove him,
do not incur sin because of him.
Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 19:8, 9, 10, 15

R. (John 6:63b) Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The decree of the LORD is trustworthy,
giving wisdom to the simple.
R. Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
The precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart.
The command of the LORD is clear,
enlightening the eye.
R. Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever;
The ordinances of the LORD are true,
all of them just.
R. Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
Let the words of my mouth and the thought of my heart
find favor before you,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
R. Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.

Verse Before The Gospel  2 COR 6:2B

Behold, now is a very acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.

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 these 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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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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19 FEBRUARY, 2018, Monday, 1st Week of Lent
CHRISTIAN HOLINESS

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ LEV 19:1-2,11-18PS 19:8-10,15MT 25:31-46 ]

During the season of Lent, the constant invitation of the Church is the call to holiness.  “Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.”   What is holiness?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “charity is the soul of the holiness to which all are called: it ‘governs, shapes and perfects all the means of sanctification.’”

What, then, is the heart of God like?  In the first reading, we have a series of commandments that end with the words, “I am the Lord.” In other words, every commandment of God is but the expression of who He is with regard to us.  What He asks of us is what He Himself would do. These are more than just commandments but they tell us the heart of God. Everything that the Lord commands is what He Himself would do as well.  God does not command us to do what He Himself would not do!

So who is God?  He is identified with us especially in the neglected.  In a clear unambiguous declaration, Jesus said, “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.”  Being in right relationship with God means that we are in right relationship with our fellowmen.  All of us are sacraments of God in that God is in us and is identified with us even though we are distinct from Him.  Most of all, He is identified especially with the poor and the underprivileged.  “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.”   Indeed, if we want to see Christ today, He is found in our abandoned elderly, those with special needs, the sick, the poor, the hungry, the homeless and the wounded. This also means that Christian works of mercy cannot be reduced to mere humanitarian work.  We serve the poor out of love for Christ and when we do it out of love for Him, our service acquires a supernatural value because we see Christ in the poor, and we affirm that this person is our brother and sister.

Secondly, God’s kingdom is for everyone, especially the forgotten and neglected.  All of us are God’s children, brothers and sisters of our Lord.  God is the Father of us all.  He therefore cares for every one of His children.  His desire is that we love them as much as He loves us all.  Which father or mother on earth will not be happy if the children care for each other since every child is precious to the parents?  We read that in the final judgement, His criterion of judgement will be whether we have loved our brothers and sisters.   We will be judged on the degree and quality of our love.  As St John says, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death.”  (1 Jn 3:14)  The norm of judgement is the love of God.

Within this context, we are called to exercise justice in dealing with our neighbours.  This is what the first reading is calling us to do.  “You must not steal nor deal deceitfully or fraudulently with your neighbor. You must not exploit or rob your neighbour.  You must not keep back the labourer’s wage until next morning.  You must not be guilty of unjust verdicts.  You must neither be partial to the little man nor overawed by the great; you must pass judgement on your neighbour according to justice.  You must not slander your own people, and you must not jeopardise your neighbour’s life. You must not bear hatred for your brother in your heart.  You must openly tell him, your neighbour, of his offence; this way your will not take a sin upon yourself.”

Without justice, we cannot do charity.  There are some Catholics who give money to the Church and the poor but would not pay their workers a decent salary or contribute to the household expenses.  There are Catholics too who would give their time and services to the Church or charitable organizations but would neglect their responsibilities at home to their elderly parents, children and spouse.  We must first fulfill the obligations of justice before we can think of charity.  This is escapism and irresponsibility.  We do charity for another but commit a sin of injustice to those whom we are responsible for.  The sin of omission is as serious as the sin of commission.  This is what the Lord intends to teach us in the parable as well.  For the words of condemnation were spoken to those who neglect the poor.  “Then it will be their turn to ask, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, a stranger or naked, sick or in prison, and did not come to your help?’ Then he will answer, ‘I tell you solemnly, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me.’” Failure to care for others means leaving Christ unattended.

Beyond justice, we are called to do acts of charity and mercy.  A Christian is one who is not only just but he is also merciful.  We must go beyond doing our duty and our rights to reach out to those who are less fortunate than us.  We must never forget that Christ comes to us in a special way in our unfortunate brothers and sisters.  In one way, when we reach out to them, we bring Jesus to them.  By relieving them of their needs, pains and loneliness, we assure them that God has not abandoned them.  Loving them is the proof that we love God because we are called to love those whom He loves.  We cannot say that we love God or someone when we do not love as much those whom they love and care.  When the love of God is in our hearts, we love them not with our love but with His love in us.  “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”  (1 Jn 4:16)

And the great thing is that when we reach out to others in Christ, feel with them, and identify with their sufferings, we become more humane ourselves, more appreciative of what we have.  Instead of grumbling and lamenting that we lack this or that when we have more than enough, we learn contentment and gratitude.  When we reach out to these poor people, we realize that we do not need very much to be happy, contented and joyful.   Only when we turn outwards rather than inwards all the time, can we be liberated from self.  Most of the time, our misery comes because we tend to focus too much on ourselves, our needs, our pains, our lack, our sufferings, and we fail to realize that there are others who are in a much worse condition than we are in.

This is why God invites us to love as He loves us.  This is the way to share in His heart of joy and freedom.  The responsorial psalm says, “Your words are spirit, Lord, and they are life.  The law of the Lord is perfect, it revives the soul.  The rule of the Lord is to be trusted, it gives wisdom to the simple.” His commandments are not simply to be obeyed slavishly or reluctantly but they are means by which we can partake of the love and joy of God.  It is His invitation to us to be like Him.  Growing in holiness is to grow in our capacity to love God and our fellowmen.  Holiness is the perfection of love.  What is the perfection of love?  St Paul says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.”  (1 Cor 13:4-8)

Indeed, only charity will prove our love for God.  St John wrote, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”  (1 Jn 4:19-21)  St. Teresa of Avila gives us the discerning principle on whether we love God.  She wrote, “I think the most certain sign that we keep these two commandments is that we have a genuine love for others. We cannot know whether we love God although there may be strong reasons for thinking so, but there can be no doubt about whether we love our neighbour or no. We should watch most carefully over ourselves in this matter, for if we are faultless on this point we have done all. I believe human nature is so evil that we could not feel a perfect charity for our neighbour unless it were rooted in the love of God.” (Interior Castle, V, 8).

So let us be Jesus in the world and inspire others to do the same.  The universal call to holiness is the universal call to love all men and women.   This is our mission.  There is no holiness without mission. That is why contemplatives in the monastery are there not just to pray for themselves or seek to be protected from the world.  On the contrary, they are there not to escape from the world but to pray for the world.  This is their mission, of interceding for the Church in a life of prayer and mortification.  Holiness is not an end itself but an expression of love for God, Church and our fellowmen.

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

Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, February 18, 2018 — First Sunday of Lent — “Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

February 17, 2018

First Sunday of Lent
Lectionary: 23

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Reading 1 GN 9:8-15

God said to Noah and to his sons with him:
“See, I am now establishing my covenant with you
and your descendants after you
and with every living creature that was with you:
all the birds, and the various tame and wild animals
that were with you and came out of the ark.
I will establish my covenant with you,
that never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed
by the waters of a flood;
there shall not be another flood to devastate the earth.”
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God added:
“This is the sign that I am giving for all ages to come,
of the covenant between me and you
and every living creature with you:
I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign
of the covenant between me and the earth.
When I bring clouds over the earth,
and the bow appears in the clouds,
I will recall the covenant I have made
between me and you and all living beings,
so that the waters shall never again become a flood
to destroy all mortal beings.”

Responsorial Psalm  PS 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9.

R. (cf. 10) Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.
Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
teach me your paths,
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my savior.
R. Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.
Remember that your compassion, O LORD,
and your love are from of old.
In your kindness remember me,
because of your goodness, O LORD.
R. Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.
Good and upright is the LORD,
thus he shows sinners the way.
He guides the humble to justice,
and he teaches the humble his way.
R. Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.

Reading 2 1 PT 3:18-22

Beloved:
Christ suffered for sins once, 
the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, 
that he might lead you to God.
Put to death in the flesh, 
he was brought to life in the Spirit.
In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison, 
who had once been disobedient 
while God patiently waited in the days of Noah 
during the building of the ark, 
in which a few persons, eight in all,
were saved through water.
This prefigured baptism, which saves you now.
It is not a removal of dirt from the body 
but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, 
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
who has gone into heaven
and is at the right hand of God, 
with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.

Verse Before The Gospel  MT 4:4B

One does not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.

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Temptation in the Desert by Eric Armusik

Gospel  MK 1:12-15

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,
and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan.
He was among wild beasts,
and the angels ministered to him.After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
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First Thoughts from Peace and Freedom
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Even Jesus was subjected to human temptation. He knows what we go though because he went through it himself. Temptation. Longing. Pain. Suffering. Jesus was human like us — and he felt like us.
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This should give great solace all who walk this earth. We are not alone in our pain and suffering and temptation. In fact, man may be defined by his mind that comprehends pain and suffering and temptation differently from the animals. But in our humanness we also have love, desire and free will. We have choices to make and we must make them or perish.
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John Francis Carey
Peace and Freedom
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Jesus is tempted in the desert (Jésus tenté dans le désert)
By James Tissot
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At the 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,

Part of Lent is deepening our awareness that we people who have a Covenant with the Living God.  We are not just people who believe in God.  We are a people sought out by God, a people formed by God and a people with a special love relationship with God.  Only when we are deeply aware of His love for us can we truly begin to do penance in a Christian way.

The first reading today is from the Book of Genesis and recounts the establishment of the Covenant with Noah and his descendants.  Many times in the history of the Chosen People, God has made Covenants.  These Covenants mark important events in the life of the Chosen People and are a sign of God’s choosing this people and remaining faithful to His choice.  What happens always is that God remains faithful to the Covenant and we do not.  Yet we are called to look back at these Covenants and to let God change our faithlessness to faithfulness.

The second reading today is from the First Letter of Peter.  This portion of the letter refers us once again to the Covenant with Noah and explains even more clearly that we must return to faithfulness.  The letter points out that it is Christ who has died for our sins and that we cannot think that the death of Christ was simply a removal of dirt from the body.  Rather the death of Christ our consciences are made clean by our faith in Him.  Thus we are invited to choose Jesus Christ once again in this time of Lent and know that He is our salvation.

The Gospel of this First Sunday of Lent is always the Gospel of Christ in the Desert, the temptations of Christ fasting for forty days.  The account this year comes from the Gospel of Mark and is very, very short.  Saint Mark simply tells us that Jesus was in the desert forty days and was tempted and that angels ministered to Him.  When Jesus leaves the desert, he begins His ministry of preaching.  He preaches repentance and belief in the Good News of God.

We are invited to see that Lent is a time of Good News of God.  Lent is a time to believe more deeply in this God who loves us and comes to save us in every situation.  Lent is a time to listen attentively to the Word of God and to meditate on what this Word means in our lives.  We are invited to turn away from anything that misleads us and walk always the way of the Lord.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip

(In the photo above, Abbot Philip is at the far left)

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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18 FEBRUARY, 2018, Sunday, 1st Week of Lent

VICTORY OVER EVIL IN CHRIST JESUS

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [Genesis 9:8-151 Peter 3:18-22Mark 1:12-15  ]

Overcoming temptation is always a struggle for us all.  It is not that we are wicked people by nature.  Rather, we are all self-preservative.  We do what we can to protect our interests.  We are afraid of death, suffering and rejection.  That is why we grab, we hoard, we steal and we kill.  If not for the fear of suffering, death and rejection, we can be very generous and caring people.  Many who have sufficient in life and feel that they have more than enough would sacrifice their lives to do good, to help the poor and the Church.  As it is said, charity begins at home, but it does not end there.

Still, there are many other temptations that we cannot resist, not just money and wealth.  We cannot resist the sin of lust and the things of the flesh, food and beauty, because we are human beings with a spirit and a body.  So we give in to the sin of flesh easily because our body desires sensual and physical pleasure.  We are desperate for acceptance and recognition and so the sin of vanity and pride make us do things to gain praise.  Our ego will not let us rest, but make us fight to be seen as right and great.

The truth is that such temptations continue to remain with us even after baptism because whilst our sins are washed away and forgiven at baptism, the effects of original sin, namely concupiscence, stays with us.  This refers to the weakness of our disoriented will.  Although we are not depraved, our human nature is weakened and therefore the resistance to temptation is much weaker in us human beings.  Indeed, we read that immediately after the Covenant was made with Noah, upon leaving the Ark, Noah and his sons planted the vineyard.  Noah “drank some of the wine and became drunk, and he lay uncovered in his tent.  And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside.”  (Gn 9:21f)  Instead of behaving himself, Noah showed a bad example to his sons.

Overcoming temptation due to human weakness is made even more complex because the Devil, who is the Tempter, seeks to destroy us by manipulating our human weakness.  Knowing how weak we are to the flesh and the world, he tempts us with lust, food, glory and power.  Right from the outset of Jesus’ ministry, the devil sought to make Jesus fall through the threefold temptation of identity, pleasure and power.  We read in the gospel that “the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness and he remained there for forty days, and was tempted by Satan.”   We also read that “He was with the wild beasts.”  What are these wild beasts if not the devil who sought to tempt Him?  But for us, the wild beasts also refer to the brute nature in us seeking for pleasure, glory and power.

In the face of our temptations, the Lord promised to deliver us from our sins and win victory over the Evil One.  This is the covenant that God made with Noah.  “I establish my Covenant with you: no thing of flesh shall be swept away again by the waters of the flood. There shall be no flood to destroy the earth again.”  In other words, God does not seek to destroy us but to redeem us.  With the coming of Jesus, we are told that upon His death, “in the spirit he was raised to life, and, in the spirit, he went to preach to the spirits in prison.”  This could mean that Jesus, upon His death, went to save those that came before Christ and were waiting in Sheol.  It could also mean, as some scholars suggest, that Jesus went down to hell to proclaim to the devils that He was victorious and hence, everything was under His dominion.  St Peter said, He “has entered heaven and is at God’s right hand, now that he has made the angels and Dominations and Powers his subjects.”

How can we do it?  In Christ, we can overcome all evil.  Jesus showed us the Way, walked the Way and taught us the way.  How did He do it?  Firstly, He, as the Son of God, assumed our humanity.  He was truly a man in every way except sin.  “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning.”  (Heb 4:15)  Indeed, Jesus, more than anyone else, can feel with us.  He knows what it is to be tempted as a man.  “For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.”  (Heb 2:18) He can surely sympathize with us in our weakness more than our fellowmen who are judgmental.

Secondly, not only is He able to feel with us in our weakness in the face of temptations, He shows us the way.  The psalmist says, “The Lord is good and upright. He shows the path to those who stray, He guides the humble in the right path, He teaches his way to the poor.”  How does He show us the way?  First, by living out His sonship in obedience to His Father.  “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.”  (Heb 5:8f)  He walked the way of truth and of love.

He shows us the way by helping us to use the Word of God to protect ourselves. “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”  (2 Tim 3:16f)  To the Devil who tempted Him to change stones to bread, He cited from the scriptures, “Man shall not live by bread alone.”  To the temptation to worship Satan, Jesus cited the scriptures, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” And when asked to test the fidelity of His Father, He said that it is written, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.”

Thirdly, to conquer sin and temptation, Jesus invites us to die to ourselves.  St Peter wrote, “Christ himself, innocent though he was, died once for sins, died for the guilty, to lead us to God. In the body he was put to death, in the spirit he was raised to life.”  Dying to self is the only way in which we can rise to new life.  This is what baptism is all about.  It is more than just a washing of the physical dirt, as St Peter said, “but a pledge made to God from a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  St Paul in his letter to the Romans said, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”  (Rom 6:3-4; cf Rom 6:6-8)

Fourthly, we are called to overcome the fear of death, which is the cause of all sins.   All sins spring from the fear of death.  “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.”  Hence, all sins lead to death.  “But then what return did you get from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. For the wages of sin is death.”  (Rom 6:2123)   By His death, He destroyed death forever because He died so that He could rise from the dead to show us that death need not be feared, for it is not the last word, but eternal life with God.  “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.”  (Heb 2:14f)

Finally, to overcome the fear of death and punishment because of our inclination to sin, we must cling to Jesus’ unconditional love and mercy for us.  This is what the Good News is.  When Jesus said, “The time has come and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News”, He was saying that the forgiveness of God is here.  We have already been forgiven and we are all reconciled with the Father even before we make amends for our sins.  We are loved always by the Father no matter what we do.   (cf Rom 7:24f)

Realizing His love for us, we respond in love, not out of fear.  We must stop sinning, not because of the fear of punishment that comes from breaking the laws, but because it is a betrayal of love.  The psalmist says, “Remember your mercy, Lord, and the love you have shown from of old. In your love remember me, because of your goodness, O Lord.”  St Paul precisely responded in that manner.  “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose.”  (Gal 2:20)  St Peter also exhorted the newly baptized, “Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall.”  (2 Pt 1:10)

The First Sunday of Lent is to lead us through the whole journey of Lent to repent and reclaim our sonship and daughtership in Christ.  It calls for a renewal of our baptismal promises, foreshadowed in the story of Noah’s Ark and given to us at our baptism as St Peter wrote.  We must now live out the Covenant that has been given to us in Christ, as sons and daughters of God by staying away from sin and living the New life in Christ Jesus.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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As Bishop Goh says, Lent requires us to become like little children again. “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children….” (Matthew 18:2-4) — In Lent we confess our sins and try again to become totally dependent upon God and His Will (Not our own).  Notice Jesus says “unless” meaning we must do this to enter the kingdom of heaven….
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Prayer and Meditation for Saturday, February 17, 2018 — “If you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted Then light shall rise for you in the darkness.”

February 16, 2018

Saturday after Ash Wednesday
Lectionary: 222

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Art: Walk With Me by Greg Olsen

Reading 1 IS 58:9B-14

Thus says the LORD:
If you remove from your midst oppression,
false accusation and malicious speech;
If you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
Then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday;
Then the LORD will guide you always
and give you plenty even on the parched land.
He will renew your strength,
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring whose water never fails.
The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake,
and the foundations from ages past you shall raise up;
“Repairer of the breach,” they shall call you,
“Restorer of ruined homesteads.”If you hold back your foot on the sabbath
from following your own pursuits on my holy day;
If you call the sabbath a delight,
and the LORD’s holy day honorable;
If you honor it by not following your ways,
seeking your own interests, or speaking with malice
Then you shall delight in the LORD,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will nourish you with the heritage of Jacob, your father,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 86:1-2, 3-4, 5-6

R. (11ab) Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth.
Incline your ear, O LORD; answer me,
for I am afflicted and poor.
Keep my life, for I am devoted to you;
save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God.
R. Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth.
Have mercy on me, O Lord,
for to you I call all the day.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
R. Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in kindness to all who call upon you.
Hearken, O LORD, to my prayer
and attend to the sound of my pleading.
R. Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth.

Verse Before The GospelEZ 33:11

I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, says the Lord,
but rather in his conversion, that he may live.

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Image result for Jesus, Bible, art, pictures, And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him

Gospel  LK 5:27-32

Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post.
He said to him, “Follow me.”
And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him.
Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house,
and a large crowd of tax collectors
and others were at table with them.
The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying,
“Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.
I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”
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The Calling of Matthew
By Pope Benedict XVI
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The call of Matthew and his following of Christ confirm that God offers his grace to sinners, and the biggest sinners can become the best saints

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On Wednesday morning, 30 August, the Holy Father arrived by helicopter from his Summer Residence at Castel Gandolfo for the General Audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall. The Pope continued his Catecheses on the Church’s apostolic ministry, commenting this time on St. Matthew, the tax collector. The following is a translation of the Holy Father’s Catechesis, given in Italian.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Continuing the series of portraits of the Twelve Apostles that we began a few weeks ago, let us reflect today on Matthew. To tell the truth, it is almost impossible to paint a complete picture of him because the information we have of him is scarce and fragmentary. What we can do, however, is to outline not so much his biography as, rather, the profile of him that the Gospel conveys.

In the meantime, he always appears in the lists of the Twelve chosen by Jesus (cf. Mt 10:3; Mk 3:18; Lk 6:15; Acts 1:13).

His name in Hebrew means “gift of God”. The first canonical Gospel, which goes under his name, presents him to us in the list of the Twelve, labelled very precisely: “the tax collector” (Mt 10:3).

Thus, Matthew is identified with the man sitting at the tax office whom Jesus calls to follow him: “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, ‘Follow me’. And he rose and followed him” (Mt 9:9). Mark (cf. 2:13-17) and Luke (cf. 5:27-30), also tell of the calling of the man sitting at the tax office, but they call him “Levi”.

To imagine the scene described in Mt 9:9, it suffices to recall Caravaggio’s magnificent canvas, kept here in Rome at the Church of St. Louis of the French.

A further biographical detail emerges from the Gospels: in the passage that immediately precedes the account of the call, a miracle that Jesus worked at Capernaum is mentioned (cf. Mt 9:1-8; Mk 2:1-12) and the proximity to the Sea of Galilee, that is, the Lake of Tiberias (cf. Mk 2:13-14).

It is possible to deduce from this that Matthew exercised the function of tax collector at Capernaum, which was exactly located “by the sea” (Mt 4:13), where Jesus was a permanent guest at Peter’s house.

Offering God’s grace to sinners

On the basis of these simple observations that result from the Gospel, we can advance a pair of thoughts.

The first is that Jesus welcomes into the group of his close friends a man who, according to the concepts in vogue in Israel at that time, was regarded as a public sinner.

Matthew, in fact, not only handled money deemed impure because of its provenance from people foreign to the People of God, but he also collaborated with an alien and despicably greedy authority whose tributes moreover, could be arbitrarily determined.

This is why the Gospels several times link “tax collectors and sinners” (Mt 9:10; Lk 15:1), as well as “tax collectors and prostitutes” (Mt 21:31).

Furthermore, they see publicans as an example of miserliness (cf. Mt 5:46: they only like those who like them), and mention one of them, Zacchaeus, as “a chief tax collector, and rich” (Lk 19:2), whereas popular opinion associated them with “extortioners, the unjust, adulterers” (Lk 18:11).

A first fact strikes one based on these references: Jesus does not exclude anyone from his friendship. Indeed, precisely while he is at table in the home of Matthew-Levi, in response to those who expressed shock at the fact that he associated with people who had so little to recommend them, he made the important statement: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came, not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mk 2:17).

The good news of the Gospel consists precisely in this: offering God’s grace to the sinner!

Elsewhere, with the famous words of the Pharisee and the publican who went up to the Temple to pray, Jesus actually indicates an anonymous tax collector as an appreciated example of humble trust in divine mercy: while the Pharisee is boasting of his own moral perfection, the “tax collector… would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’”.

And Jesus comments: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 18:13-14).

Thus, in the figure of Matthew, the Gospels present to us a true and proper paradox: those who seem to be the farthest from holiness can even become a model of the acceptance of God’s mercy and offer a glimpse of its marvellous effects in their own lives.

St. John Chrysostom makes an important point in this regard: he notes that only in the account of certain calls is the work of those concerned mentioned. Peter, Andrew, James and John are called while they are fishing, while Matthew, while he is collecting tithes.

These are unimportant jobs, Chrysostom comments, “because there is nothing more despicable than the tax collector, and nothing more common than fishing” (In Matth. Hom.: PL 57, 363). Jesus’ call, therefore, also reaches people of a low social class while they go about their ordinary work.

Conversion: complete change

Another reflection prompted by the Gospel narrative is that Matthew responds instantly to Jesus’ call: “he rose and followed him”. The brevity of the sentence clearly highlights Matthew’s readiness in responding to the call. For him it meant leaving everything, especially what guaranteed him a reliable source of income, even if it was often unfair and dishonourable. Evidently, Matthew understood that familiarity with Jesus did not permit him to pursue activities of which God disapproved.

The application to the present day is easy to see: it is not permissible today either to be attached to things that are incompatible with the following of Jesus, as is the case with riches dishonestly achieved.

Jesus once said, mincing no words: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mt 19:21).

This is exactly what Matthew did: he rose and followed him! In this “he rose”, it is legitimate to read detachment from a sinful situation and at the same time, a conscious attachment to a new, upright life in communion with Jesus.

Lastly, let us remember that the tradition of the ancient Church agrees in attributing to Matthew the paternity of the First Gospel. This had already begun with Bishop Papias of Hierapolis in Frisia, in about the year 130.

He writes: “Matthew set down the words (of the Lord) in the Hebrew tongue and everyone interpreted them as best he could” (in Eusebius of Cesarea, Hist. Eccl. III, 39, 16).

Eusebius, the historian, adds this piece of information: “When Matthew, who had first preached among the Jews, decided also to reach out to other peoples, he wrote down the Gospel he preached in his mother tongue; thus, he aught to put in writing, for those whom he was leaving, what they would be losing with his departure” (ibid., III, 24, 6).

The Gospel of Matthew written in Hebrew or Aramaic is no longer extant, but in the Greek Gospel that we possess we still continue to hear, in a certain way, the persuasive voice of the publican Matthew, who, having become an Apostle, continues to proclaim God’s saving mercy to us. And let us listen to St. Matthew’s message, meditating upon it ever anew also to learn to stand up and follow Jesus with determination.

Taken from:
L’Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
6 September 2006, page 11

L’Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See.
The Weekly Edition in English is published for the US by:

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The Calling of Matthew By Caravaggio

The Calling of Saint Matthew Inspirations for the Work

The Calling of Saint Matthew Analysis

The Calling of Saint Matthew Critical Reception

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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17 FEBRUARY, 2018, Saturday after Ash Wednesday
REPAIRER OF BROKEN WALLS

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ISAIAH 58:9-14PS 86:1-6LUKE 5:27-32 ]

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”  How touching are these words spoken by our Lord.  He has come for the sick and for sinners.  This is a God who cares for us in our brokenness and in our sinfulness.  He came to heal us, body and soul.  He not only came to take away our infirmities but He came to take away our sins.   He came precisely for the tax-collectors and the sinners.  He came for the outcasts.  This is the reason for Jesus’ coming.   He is as what the first reading says, “Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”  Jesus came to reconcile us with God and with each other.  He came to repair our souls.

Levi the tax-collector was called by the Lord.  Jesus could have chosen better apostles and disciples to join Him.  But He came to call everyone irrespective of position and wealth.  Levi must have been moved by the Lord’s choice of him.  He was totally unworthy but the Lord counted him worthy.  This is how the Lord regards each one of us.  He wants us to follow Him.  No matter what our past was and our sins, the Lord is ever ready to forgive us and make us a new creation.  In His eyes, we are just ignorant and foolish.  He knows we are not conscious of our real identity as God’s children.

Hence, we should not be afraid to let go and allow Him to take over our lives.  This was what Levi did.   He “got up, left everything and followed him.”   Levi gave up his business and his security.  We can imagine the risk that Levi took in following Jesus.  He was giving up what sustained him all these years.  To give up one’s security and place our security in Jesus requires courage and faith.   Levi did that.  Without hesitation, when the Lord called him, he immediately responded and left his past and his security, his wealth and position to follow Jesus.  We, too, if we want to find new life, we must be ready to let go of our past and false security.   Many are not willing to give up their sins, their worldly pursuits and their pleasures because they think these give them happiness.  In fact, these are creating problems in their lives.  When we live in sin, we hurt ourselves and our loved ones.  When we are not living an honest life, there is no peace, joy or real security in this life.

The outcome of being loved and accepted by God is the feeling of joy, freedom and generosity.  We can imagine how Levi must have felt to be accepted by God.  All his life he was despised by his own people; and condemned as a sinner by the Jewish leaders.  Although he was making money, yet he had no friends.  He was considered an outcast and marginalized.  But with Jesus, he felt loved and accepted again.  This calls for a celebration. Any man who is in union with God is always joyful and at peace.  He wanted to celebrate.  For this reason, he called for a big banquet.

But Levi was not only celebrating for himself, he wanted his friends to celebrate with him.  So “Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them.”  Levi wanted very much to share his new-found joy and freedom with his other tax-collectors.  He too had become a “Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”  Having been reconciled with the Lord, he became a bridge builder and a reconciler.  This was the same feeling of St Paul when he wrote, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”  (2 Cor 5:18-20)   We who have been healed and reconciled must now do the same for others by reaching out to those who are alienated from the Lord.  We must be reconcilers.

How can we be reconcilers during this season of Lent? Firstly, we must be reconciled ourselves.  We cannot bring peace to others when our hearts are not at peace.  We must therefore make ourselves available for the Lord to heal us.  He wants to cure us especially of our pride and selfishness.  The religious leaders could not find healing and they were not at peace within themselves because they were hypocritical. They found Jesus to be a threat to their insincerity.  So, before we can be reconcilers, we must humble ourselves to look for the divine physician.   We must be ready to admit that we are wrong and that we need healing.  As Jesus reminds us, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”  So in all humility we must come before the Lord to seek forgiveness.

For grave sins, the Lord will say to us, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Many do not avail themselves of this sacrament of reconciliation, because of pride.  They know that they need to hear the words of forgiveness from God’s representative because they are human beings.  So let us not allow pride to imprison us.  We must not allow shame to have a hold over us for that is what the devil uses. We all need assurance from those appointed by God to know that our sins are forgiven.  We also need to unload and speak about our past and our sins so that we can be healed.  What is unknown and unspoken cannot be healed.  So, we must prepare ourselves so that with a contrite heart, we can make a good sacrament of reconciliation.  With courage and confidence, and with humility, we must pray for the grace of a good confession.  Find a good confessor and unload all your sins and you will find a peace and freedom that only God can give.

Secondly, we must be like Levi who became a bridge builder.  We must bring others to Jesus or bring Jesus to them.  Many are like the friends and colleagues of Levi.  They are lost, rejected and lonely.  Their lives are without meaning and purpose even though they might have all that they want.  We must find opportunities to introduce Jesus to such people.  We can be sure that many of Levi’s friends must have been touched by the Lord. We too can be the link between Jesus and those who are searching for the Lord.  If we have discovered Jesus and the difference He makes in our lives, it is only natural to introduce Him to others.  The failure to speak about Jesus to them means that we are not too sure whether Jesus can make any real difference in the lives of others.  Introducing them to Jesus is not proselytizing but just an offer, just as we tell people about a product that we bought and found to be good.

Finally, we can become healers of souls and bodies when we become the light that “rise in darkness.”  More importantly, we are now called to be living the life of Christ. This means that like Levi we must live a new life of justice and charity.  The Prophet Isaiah says, “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”   Instead of doing evil, oppressing people and blaming people for our woes, we should focus less on ourselves but on those who need our help.  Reaching out to those who are suffering will help us to identify with their pain and also to appreciate the blessings that we have received.  Charity covers a multitude of sins. (cf 1 Pt 4:8)

By doing good works, we help ourselves as much as we help others.  As we do good, our capacity to do more good will increase.  He will increase our capacity to do more.  “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”  So let our prayer be that of the psalmist, “Show me, Lord, your way so that I may walk in your truth. You are my God, have mercy on me, Lord, for I cry to you all the day long. O Lord, you are good and forgiving, full of love to all who call.  Give heed, O Lord, to my prayer and attend to the sound of my voice.”  With Levi, let us seek to follow Jesus and give glory to our God.  “If you call the Lord’s holy day honorable, if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord.”

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

Prayer and Meditation for Friday, February 16, 2018 — “We do not presume to be able to control our lives” — “We put our lives into God’s hands”

February 15, 2018

Friday after Ash Wednesday
Lectionary: 221

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Jesus Talks with the Pharisees. By K Lebedev

Reading 1 IS 58:1-9A

Thus says the Lord GOD:
Cry out full-throated and unsparingly,
lift up your voice like a trumpet blast;
Tell my people their wickedness,
and the house of Jacob their sins.
They seek me day after day,
and desire to know my ways,
Like a nation that has done what is just
and not abandoned the law of their God;
They ask me to declare what is due them,
pleased to gain access to God.
“Why do we fast, and you do not see it?
afflict ourselves, and you take no note of it?”Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits,
and drive all your laborers.
Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting,
striking with wicked claw.
Would that today you might fast
so as to make your voice heard on high!
Is this the manner of fasting I wish,
of keeping a day of penance:
That a man bow his head like a reed
and lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Do you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!

Responsorial Psalm  PS 51:3-4, 5-6AB, 18-19

R. (19b) A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.
R. A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
For I acknowledge my offense,
and my sin is before me always:
“Against you only have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight.”
R. A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
For you are not pleased with sacrifices;
should I offer a burnt offering, you would not accept it.
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
R. A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.

Verse Before The Gospel SEE AM 5:14

Seek good and not evil so that you may live,
and the Lord will be with you.

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Image result for Pharisees talk to Jesus, art, pictures

Gospel MT 9:14-15

The disciples of John approached Jesus and said,
“Why do we and the Pharisees fast much,
but your disciples do not fast?”
Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn
as long as the bridegroom is with them?
The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them,
and then they will fast.”
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Lectio Divina From The Carmelites

Today’s Gospel is a brief version of the Gospel on which we already meditated in January, when the same theme of fasting was proposed to us (Mk 2, 18-22), but there is a small difference. Today, the Liturgy omits the whole discourse of the new piece of cloth on an old cloak and the new wine in an old skin (Mt 9, 16-17), and concentrates its attention on fasting.

• Jesus does not insist on the practice of fasting. Fasting is a very ancient use, practiced in almost all religions. Jesus himself practiced it during forty days (Mt 4, 2). But he did not insist with the disciples to do the same. He leaves them free. For this reason, the disciples of John the Baptist and of the Pharisees, who were obliged to fast, want to know why Jesus does not insist on fasting.

• While the bridegroom is with them, therefore, they do not need to fast. Jesus responds with a comparison. When the bridegroom is with the friends of the spouse, that is, during the wedding feast, it is not necessary for them to fast. Jesus considers himself the spouse. The disciples are the friends of the spouse. During the time in which Jesus was with the disciples, is the wedding feast. One day will come in which the spouse will no longer be there. Then, they can fast if they so desire. In this phrase Jesus refers to his death. He knows and he becomes aware that if he continues along this path of freedom, of liberty, the religious authority will want to kill him.

• Fasting and abstinence from meat are universal practices which are actual. The Muslims have the fasting of the Ramadan, during which they neither eat, nor should they eat until the rising of the sun. Always more and for diverse reasons, persons impose upon themselves some form of fasting. Fasting is an important means to control oneself, and to dominate oneself, and this exists in almost all religions. It is also appreciated by sportsmen.

• The Bible has many reference to fasting. It was a way of making penance and of attaining conversion. Through the practice of fasting, Christians imitated Jesus who fasted during forty days. Fasting tends to attain the freedom of mind, self-control, a critical vision of reality. It is an instrument to maintain our mind free and not allow oneself to be transported by any breeze. Thanks to fasting, it increases the clearness of mind. It is a means that helps to take a better care of health. Fasting can be a form of identification with the poor who are obliged to fast the whole year and eat meat very rarely. There are also those who fast in order to protest.

• Even if fasting and abstinence are no longer observed today, the basic objective of this practice continues to remain unchanged and is a force which should animate our life: to participate in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Surrender one’s own life in order to be able to possess it in God. Become aware or conscious of the fact that the commitment with the Gospel is a one way journey, without returning, which demands losing one’s life in order to be able to possess and to find all things in full liberty.

http://ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-divina-matthew-914-15

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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16 FEBRUARY, 2018, Friday, Chinese New Year
ENTRUSTING OUR FUTURE INTO GOD’S HANDS

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [Num 6:22-27Ps 90:1-612-14,16-17James 4:13-15Mt 6:31-34  ]

Today, we enter into another Lunar New Year.  We have managed to survive the trials and challenges of the previous year.  Will we be able to face up to the challenges of the New Year?  Indeed, whilst we are happy to leave the Old Year behind, the year of the Rooster, we are anxious about the year of the Dog.

So we seek to control the future. That is why Chinese people are overly superstitious in daily life.  We believe that everything we do, from the food we eat to the colours we wear, will determine the future of our happiness and success in life.  So we wear red for good luck and happiness.  We eat sticky rice cake, Nian Gao, so that we can advance in life.  We take black moss seaweed for prosperity since it is called 髮菜; fàcài or ‘fat choy’ in Cantonese.  So, we have the greeting, “Gong Xi Fa Cai’.  Fish is a must at the table on Chinese New Year because the word 魚 (yú) has the same pronunciation as the word 餘, which is “remain or surplus.”   We exchange oranges because they are symbols of gold and wealth, since it has the pronunciation, 柑橘; gānjú.   Even numbers are important, especially the number eight, which symbolizes fortune.   Chinese also believe that our future is determined by which Chinese zodiac sign we are born in.  The year of the animal will determine our character and relationship with others.

Of course, for us, we Christianize the symbols as expression of our hope and our prayers to God who provides us and our daily needs.   We do not presume to be able to control our lives. The truth is that life is unpredictable.  We cannot control everything in life, whether by manipulating our stars or even using our human will.  In the play by William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar suggests, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” (1.2.138-140)

Man proposes, God disposes.  Everything might seem to be going on well in life for us but unexpected tragedy can happen, a terminal illness or a tragic accident.   No matter how powerful we are on this earth, we are still human beings, finite.  We can have all the riches and wealth and afford the best doctors and security in the world, but accidents and illness happen and no one can prevent such unforeseen circumstances. Indeed, only God is in full control.  This is what the responsorial psalm says, “You sweep men away like a dream, like grass, which springs up in the morning. In the morning, it springs up and flowers; by evening, it withers and fades.  Make us know the shortness of our life that we may gain wisdom of heart. Lord, relent!”  Many of us come to this wisdom of heart only when we meet with tragedy or challenges that make us totally helpless in spite of our knowledge and power.

Surrendering to God’s will is the advice of St James for those of us who seek security on this earth, in wealth, status and power in life.   “You never know what will happen tomorrow; you are no more than a mist that is here for a little while and then disappears. The most you should ever say is: ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we shall still be alive to do this or that.’”  If we want to live a life of joy and peace, we must seek to do His will.  God knows best.  We must trust in His divine providence.  (cf Isa 55:8f)  In His will is our peace.  When we are focused on living in accordance to His will for us, we can give our heart and soul into what we are doing.  God will somehow bless us in what we do and help us to make progress in our works.  He will not take away our struggles but He will give us the grace to overcome them.

For this reason, we are invited to enter into the New Lunar Year with peace of mind and freedom from anxiety.   If we allow our anxieties about tomorrow to control us, we will be crippled in our happiness in life.  The truth is that we do not know what will happen tomorrow. We can plan many things but not everything will work out according to our plans.  Jesus said to His disciples, “Do not worry; do not say, ‘What are we to eat? What are we to drink? How are we to be clothed?’ It is the pagans who set their hearts on all these things.”  Indeed, there are many people who are always thinking and planning for tomorrow that they forget to live today.  Instead of enjoying what they are doing each day, being with their loved ones and doing things that energize them, they are planning for happiness tomorrow.  Jesus advises us, “So do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  So learn to enjoy each moment and each day with all its challenges and joys.

The solution to all our worries is simply to seek God and His kingdom.  “Your heavenly Father knows you need them all. Set your hearts in his kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given to you as well.”  So what does it mean to set our hearts on His kingdom first as our purpose in life? What is the kingdom of God?  St Paul says, “the kingdom of God does not mean food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”  (Rom 14:17)  Happiness in life is more than merely having lots of money or power or influence.  Such things in themselves cannot make us happy but they are means by which we can use them for the service of God and humanity.  Happiness in life depends on whether we are living for meaning and purpose.  Indeed, we can be very happy if we have a purpose in life and find meaning in what we are doing.  All the other things are used to help us realize our meaning and vision.   They are not ends in themselves.

True meaning in life is found in love and relationship.  Indeed, science has discovered that those of us who live longest and enjoy healthy lives are those with meaningful relationships.  It is not enough to keep fit, go to the gym or keep a healthy diet.  What is of utmost importance is building good relationships with others.  Indeed, when we celebrate the year of the dog, we know that dogs are often man’s best companion.  They can feel with us and feel for us.  A dog gives us the consolation of his love and presence, sometimes even more than our friends who only know how to criticize us and condemn us.  That is why during the Lunar New Year, we visit each other to renew ties and friendships, especially those whom we have not met for quite some time.   New Year is not a time to run away and isolate ourselves from the larger community.  It is a time to reach out and to build ties with others.  In this way, life becomes worth living because we have good relationships with people.

This love is also expressed in selfless service and contribution to the good of others and society.  In the process of serving others, we build up ourselves and attain self-realization.  If we live for ourselves, we will eventually find ourselves useless and living an aimless life. We must maximize ourselves and grow through our contribution to society, otherwise we will rot.  The human body needs to be active to function and so is the mind.  Meaningful work and service to others give us joy and we keep ourselves alive not just physically but emotionally.   Service to humanity is the way to keep ourselves happy.

Secondly, Jesus tells us to seek righteousness.  This means that we are to live in right relationship with God, our fellowmen and with ourselves.  When we live responsible lives, doing what is right, living an honest and upright life, whether in our relationship with God, with others or with respect to ourselves, we find happiness.  In other words, we are called to live a life of integrity and justice.   Peace is found when we have lived an upright life.  When we have been responsible and do all we can for our fellowmen, our conscience is clear.  Peace comes from justice that we render to others.  In the gospel, Jesus taught us the golden rule.  (cf Mt 7:12) In another text, St Paul wrote, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? (cf 1 Cor 6:9f)  The Kingdom of God therefore is to live under the rule of God’s love.  Seeking righteousness, peace and joy is what makes us happy in life.

At the same time, to seek His righteousness is more than simply striving to live a moral life.  Ultimately, justice comes from God because no one can justify himself because we are all sinners.  This is what St Paul wrote, “For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (cf Rom 3:20-22)  St John consoles us by saying,  “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.  And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.  ” (1 Jn 3:18-20)

As for the future, we know that God’s grace will see us through.  When we desire to live the life of God, seeking to live a just life, a life of integrity and charity in accordance to His will, we can live each day in peace and with calmness, doing all that we can, according to our limitations and strength.   So long as we live fully each day, discharging our responsibilities well, we can live in peace knowing that we have not lived our lives in vain.  So let us seek God’s blessings and divine protection as what Moses did for His people.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore 
 
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Parable of the Bridegroom and the Wedding Guests
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Descriptive term for a short parable recorded by the three synoptic Gospels (Matthew 9:14-15; Mark 2:18-20; Luke 5:33-35). It was spoken probably on the occasion of the banquet given by Saint Matthew to Christ and His disciples along with many sinners and publicans, after his call to the Apostleship.

The parable was provoked by the question of the disciples of John the Baptist and some of the scribes and Pharisees asking “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but thy disciples do not fast?” Jesus replies in a similitude, asking if the companions of the bridal-chamber, whose special task it was to provide for the merrymaking at the feast, could be expected at the same time to mourn and fast. But, Christ adds, the days shall come when the Bridegroom shall be taken away from these wedding guests and then they shall fast.

The meaning of the parable was quite intelligible to His hearers. The disciples of the Baptist are reminded that their master had referred to Christ as the Bridegroom, and all the questioners are taught that the time of the visible presence of Jesus among His disciples should be for them a time of rejoicing and not of mourning and fasting; but when His visible presence is withdrawn, then they shall lament and be made sorrowful and then fasting and mourning shall be consistently their portion. The Fathers of the Church interpret the image of the bridegroom and bride as referring to Christ and His Church. Some explain it tropologically: as long as the Spouse is with us we are not able to mourn; but when by sin He departs then is the time for tears and fasting. Yet others apply the words of Christ to the Holy Eucharist. The parable does not condemn the strictness of John nor does it condemn fasting. The disciples of Christ kept the fasts prescribed by the Law but they did ignore those imposed by the Pharisees. This parable does stand against the spirit of the Pharisees who esteemed too highly external works and it shows to all that a new time had come and another spirit reigned in the Kingdom. It is held up as a splendid lesson on how to argue and how to convince.


Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”

And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”

– Matthew 9:14-15, Revised Standard Version

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”

And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.”

– Mark 2:18-20, Revised Standard Version

And they said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.”

And Jesus said to them, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.”

– Luke 5:33-35, Revised Standard Version

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Saint Francis in Meditation by Caravaggio, in the Museo Civico, Cremona.
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First Thoughts from Peace and Freedom
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The world is a place of the “haves” and the “have nots.” This was the case even in the time of Jesus, when rich Romans ruled over the Middle East.
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Christ reached out to the marginalized, the poor, the suffering and infirm. He wasn’t dining with Pontius Pilate but hugging and curing the lepers and showing us how to live.
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Christianity sometimes seems remote and foreign  to people of wealth and great excess. People with all their needs met often see no reason whatever to make sacrifices, to fast and to seek out a relationship with God.
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Why “afflict ourselves” as Isaiah suggests in the first reading? In nations with doctors and pharmacists ready to alleviate every pain, why would anyone seek to suffer — even with a tiny bit of fasting?
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Maybe because we are told over and over again to seek a stronger connection with our God through prayer and that small acts of humility and self-denial will make that job easier! Maybe it is because some of our self-denial is good for us — in the eyes of the Lord.
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 Isaiah also gives us a wonderful expression of how we are to live our lives through acts also put forward by Jesus during his “Sermon on the Mount.” We are to be about “Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.”
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Why on Earth would anyone do these things?
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Because our lives here on Earth are brief and limited. But the souls in us and of us will go into eternity.
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Lent calls us to return to the loving arms of the Lord. And each of us does that in his or her individual war. But Scripture gives us a way, and the Church gives us community and fellowship so we don’t have to be lost in ourselves.
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Related:
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