Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows
Reflection: Let us reflect on the how irreparable the loss Mary must have felt, on how much void the death of Jesus must have left in the heart of Mary.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus.
Homily for 16th Sunday in Ordinary time year B
Two of the many stresses I had on my training to the priesthood are writing essays and exams. Getting over those things are very stressful for me I felt that once I finished them, I could really felt a big burden was lifted up from me. My friend and I used to celebrate the after-exam and after-essays moments- regardless of our marks– by going to the movies. I used to book the movie online to choose a good seat in the cinema. I remember one time, I was so excited when I booked the movie that I didn’t realize I booked in the cinema some 600 kilometres from where we were. I said to my friend: “I think, we’ve got a situation here. I’ve booked in Bathurst (NSW), when we were in Melbourne (VIC). I don’t think, we’ll get there on time for the movie.” I was just making light of the situation of course, after learning I have to wait for another couple of days for my booking to be refunded.
Another time, having not learned from my previous mistake, out of excitement once again, I booked for the movie in Adelaide, South Australia. Anyhow, we’ve sorted it out in the end and we still ended up going to the films. We really enjoyed those times, though the bookings at first gave me stress.
Friends, to get on with life, we need more than just doing many things, even good or even amazing things we do. We need to find ways to get out of our ‘busyness’. As a motivational writer Dr. Wayne Dyer would wisely say: ‘I am a human BEING, not a human DOING.’
Jesus in the gospel ( Mk 6:30-34) would recommend to his disciples more or less the same thing. After sending his disciples for a mission, they had come back, happy, excited and eager to report to him what they had done. Obviously they must have done a lot, amazing things perhaps, preaching, healing, being with the people. The people even loved them because, they were following them still as the gospel today suggests.
Jesus must have been very happy and even ‘proud’ of them. Yet, he understood that his disciples are not just human ‘doings’. They are also human ‘beings’. So, he urged them: ‘You must go away to a lonely place.’ In effect, he is saying to them: ‘Go, make a little retreat. Reflect on your lives. Put your mission into perspective. Reflect on who you are now, rather than just thinking on what you have done recently.’
Jesus also said to them: ‘Go by yourselves.’ This is an invitation to re-energize, to rest and to draw positive energy either on our own or with positive, like-minded people, with those people we are familiar and comfortable with- our friends. It’s amazing how much moments like these get the stresses out of ourselves.
I remember in one of those after-exam moments, I rang my friend, who was then assigned in a parish (Mount Gambier, some hundreds of kilometres away from Melbourne) for his pastoral placement, if he liked to go to the movies. Coincidentally, he had also some things to do in Melbourne the following day, so he obliged and drove all the way from Mount Gambier and we went to see Avatar. Though he was late, we still went to see the film an hour after it started. The attendant there said to us: ‘Sir, are you sure you still want to go in? The movie started an hour ago.’ My friend said: ‘Not a problem. It’s a three-hour movie anyway and besides, I drove all the way from Mount Gambier to be here.’ That was really a good way to relieve our stress.
The other thing Jesus would tell his disciples after their mission is to go and spend quality time with God in prayer, as he himself would always do. ‘Prayer may not be everything’, as the late Bishop Joe Grech would say, ‘but it is the first thing.’ In prayer, we can experience in a more real and personal way the hand of the Lord at work in us. Prayer assures us of the hand of the Lord, our Good Shepherd guiding us to the right path, the path that is restful, the path of peace and serenity, the path of life and love (cf Psalm 22/23).
It is always a challenge for us to spend some times with God, especially when we think we still got plenty of things to do or to attend to. But even when we go on a holiday, we also tend to give God a break by not taking an effort to attend mass or to pray.
Few weeks ago, a woman came to me and said: ‘Father, my family is going on a holiday in the outback Australia. I don’t know if there is Catholic Church or a mass available nearby. What could we do if we can’t find a Catholic Church there?’ I said to her: ‘If it is really impossible (note: impossible), to attend mass, just remember the time you usually attend mass here and use that time, half-an hour perhaps, to gather together as a family in prayer, as a spiritual communion with the parish.’
I am just so inspired by this mother’s motive to make sure God is part of their family holiday. It is very inspiring to see people really making an effort to spend time with God amidst busyness in life.
There is a poem about not giving time for God in worship or prayer and it is worth reflecting. We may have fallen into this few times before. The title is ‘No time to pray’
I knelt to pray but not for long,
I had too much to do.
I had to hurry and get to work
For bills would soon be due.
So I knelt and said a hurried prayer,
And jumped up off my knees.
My Christian duty was now done
My soul could rest at ease.
All day long I had no time
To spread a word of cheer.
No time to speak of Christ to friends,
They’d laugh at me I’d fear.
No time, no time, too much to do,
That was my constant cry,
No time to give to souls in need
But at last the time, the time to die.
I went before the Lord,
I came, I stood with downcast eyes.
For in his hands God held a book;
It was the book of life.
God looked into his book and said
“Your name I cannot find.
I once was going to write it down…
But never found the time.”
One reason not to pray, I sometimes hear from people is that God is boring, irrelevant, out of touch, deaf to our prayers, etc. Yes, it is indeed a challenge. Yet as my good friend said: ‘God is like a healthy food. You may not like it, because it is dull, boring, tasteless. But if you take it, it is good for you.’
Today, Jesus is inviting us to do less, and be more. For Jesus it is not about how much we have done, no matter how amazing they may be. Rather for him, it is how much love we put in what we do. We can only realize this, if we step back from the busyness of our lives, make a retreat and see where is God and where is the love in all that we do. Let us do this and our stress be lessened and our life becomes more worth-living. Amen.
The 11th of July is the feast of St Benedict. Three years ago on this day, I had a chat with him (in my prayer and reflection) and posted it in my Faithbook. I am re-posting this conversation today to remind us of this great saint in the 5th century, whose example, legacy and spirit, are still of great relevance for us in the 21st century.
Junjun Faithbook: St Benedict, it is indeed a great privilege for me to have this opportunity of chatting with you. It is always very affirming to my faith to be able to have a glimpse of someone who lived out the gospel in a more real, personal and practical way. Could you please tell us something about yourself?
St Benedict: Certainly. Well, I was born around the year 480 at Norcia in Italy. My parents were in a manner of saying coming from a distinguished family. But enough of that. I was born just four years after Romulus Augustulus, the last of the emperors of the Western Roman Empire was deposed in 1976.
Junjun Faithbook: Wow! You are indeed part of the great moments in our human history.
St Benedict: By the grace of God, yes.
Junjun Faithbook: Anyhow, could you tell us about your Educational background?
St Benedict: Well, I was on my teenage years when I was sent to Rome to get ‘liberal education’, that included literature and law, and you won’t believe this, I was accompanied by my own ‘nurse’ or perhaps you would call it now ‘a housekeeper.’
Junjun Faithbook: Fancy that! You’re spoiled! And how is it like being in Rome?
St Benedict: It wasn’t really that consoling.
Junjun Faithbook: What do you mean?
St Benedict: I don’t like the influences around me. My companions were living in such a low moral standard, that I decided to leave Rome for good.
Junjun Faithbook: How did you get out of there?
St Benedict: With the help of my ‘housekeeper’ or ‘nurse’ I escaped without telling anyone.
Junjun Faithbook: And where did you go?
St Benedict: We went to the village of Affile, in the mountains about 30 miles from Rome.
Junjun Faithbook: Did you find peace there?
St Benedict: At first yes. Only because I thought then that if I could get away from the temptations of Rome, I would be alright. However, I realized I was called to something deeper.
Junjun Faithbook: You felt you have discovered your vocation then?
St Benedict: Sort of. So I went alone to a much higher place, on the hills of Subiaco.
Junjun Faithbook: And did you found peace in that wild and rocky country at last?
St Benedict: Not that immediately, I would say. I met a monk there by the name of Romanus. I told him everything my heart desired. I also told him then that I wanted to live a life of a hermit.
Junjun Faithbook: Did he help you in discerning about it?
St Benedict: Absolutely! He assisted me. He even ‘clothed’ me with a sheepskin habit and led me to a cave in the mountain. There I lived on my own.
Junjun Faithbook: So the monk Romanus left you on your own since then?
St Benedict: Not really. For three years, he was the only one who knew my whereabouts. He kept it secret from anyone.
Junjun Faithbook: And how did you get your daily sustenance?
St Benedict: The monk Romanus brought bread to me daily who drew it up in a basket let down by a rope over the rock.
Junjun Faithbook: That’s what I would call fraternal dedication and concern.
St Benedict: Indeed! And I am always thankful to God for that.
Junjun Faithbook: And so, you must have enjoyed the solitude there?
St Benedict: At the beginning, yes. But people started coming to gather around me. Their reason was that as they confided to me, they were attracted by my holiness and by miraculous powers.
Junjun Faithbook: Saints always shine indeed. And you just can’t deny yourself of that privilege so to speak. By the way, who were these people who came to you?
St Benedict: Some of them were just wanting to flee from the world. And some were solitaries who were living among the mountains.
Junjun Faithbook: Did you gather them then as one community?
St Benedict: I tested them if they would obey me. I asked them to settle in ‘twelves’ into a twelve wood-built monasteries, and assigned a prior to each of those monasteries.
Junjun Faithbook: So you didn’t really have to oversee all of them?
St Benedict: No, except those monks I have trained especially for something, so they were under my direction.
Junjun Faithbook: So in that way, you’ve established your monastery there as a firm and stable community?
St Benedict: In a way, yes. But I actually just set things in order.
Junjun Faithbook: What do you mean?
St Benedict: When I saw it certain that they could manage, I withdrew from Subiaco to Monte Cassino.
Junjun Faithbook: Why there?
St Benedict: It is a solitary elevation on the boundaries of the Campania, commanding on three sides, narrow valleys running up towards the mountains.
Junjun Faithbook: It really sounds very convenient for solitude.
St Benedict: Certainly! In fact, I initiated the building of the two chapels there, around which lay the foundation of a great Abbey.
Junjun Faithbook: And what year was this built?
St Benedict: Around the year 530.
Junjun Faithbook: You must have been in your middle age by then? And you must have enjoyed being a hermit there?
St Benedict: For a certain time, yes, but then people who wanted to follow my lifestyle started coming to Monte Cassino too.
Junjun Faithbook: And you welcomed them?
St Benedict: I couldn’t turn them away. So I gathered them together in one community, appointed a prior over them and deans as well. Yet they still looked up to me for general supervision.
Junjun Faithbook: And besides your disciples, did you also take other people into your Monastery? As guests perhaps?
St Benedict: Yes, hospitality is one of our major works. And indeed, it had become necessary for us to build more guest rooms to accommodate those people?
Junjun Faithbook: Are they basically lay people who were attracted to your simple and well-ordered lifestyle?
St Benedict: There were also dignitaries of the Church who would come and ask advice at times.
Junjun Faithbook: People would come to you because of your reputation of holiness, wisdom and even miracles. Have you realized that?
St Benedict: I just did what God wants me to, and I was just being myself as a channel of God’s graces.
Junjun Faithbook: How about the famous Rule of St Benedict that is being followed now by Benedictines and Cistercians around the world, did you compose that around your time in Monte Cassino?
St Benedict: Around that time yes.
Junjun Faithbook: It really had made such an impact to people. The people in your time then, especially those who were living in the surrounding country would testify that you cured their sick, relieved their distress, distributed alms and food to the poor, and even said that you raised the dead on more than one occasion, did not all these make you proud of yourself?
St Benedict: It is God who made all those things to happen through me. So what am I to be proud of?
Junjun Faithbook: How about the story that you even told your disciples your imminent death six days before it actually happened to you, and thus you asked them to make a grave ready for you?
St Benedict: Again, it is God’s doing.
Junjun Faithbook: Let’s praise God for his great love revealed in you St Benedict. Thank you so much for your life and example. Through your famous Rule, we have learned so much how to balance prayer and work, charity and moderation, and how to make these basic elements of our life, a way for our sanctification. And please pray for us always that like you we may end up in heaven too.
On the last day of St Benedict’s life, he received the Body and Blood of the Lord. With the help of his brothers in the monastery, he was able to stand up in the chapel, with his hands uplifted towards heaven, and breathed his last on the year 547. In 1965, Pope Paul VI declared him Patron Saint of Europe.
St Benedict of Nurcia, pray for us.
Homily for Easter Vigil 2015
A priest friend of mine shared with me recently an amazing story about his friend, a priest in a certain missionary country. This priest went to a meeting one day. One of those who were there was a man who is blind and he had his guide dog with him sitting by his feet. Upon seeing the dog, the priest tried to pat it but the owner said: ‘No, don’t touch him, he’s working.’ If the priest would have touched the dog, he would have been attacked. Such was the loyalty of the dog to its owner that his attention is solely focused to master. After the meeting though, the owner patted the dog, and said: ‘You can relax now, your work is finished.’ And the dog began to roam around the room and would now allow other people there to touch him.
The priest was amazed of the dog’s dedication to his master. But what the owner said was even more amazing. The blind man said: ‘You know Father, if God would let me choose whether to have perfect eyesight or my dog, I would still choose the dog.’
It’s just an amazing thing that the master would rather still choose to have his personal defects than missing the company of his dog.
In a way, this is a kind of Easter story.
God, the master, the creator of all the universe, most holy, and the source of all perfections, would rather be one like us through Jesus Christ- a subject to death, taking on our imperfect and sinful conditions, than leaving us die in our own sins and imperfections.
God has it all you know. In fact, God could have chosen not to have anything to do with us. Yet, when he found us in sin, abusing his goodness, disrespecting his creation, denying him at times, not believing him, or disappoint him at times, he didn’t abandon us. It’s not that He can’t. He just won’t abandon us forever.
If I were God, I would have decided: “Okay, it’s not my loss anyway. You people go on your own sinful ways. I don’t care about you anymore. I’ll focus now my attention to something else, somewhere.”
But no, God would even do much more that we can imagine. Through Jesus Christ, his own Son, He would rather take on the ultimate punishment of our sins- death, in order for us to live, in order to enjoy our company with him forever in heaven.
This is one message of Easter- that God enjoys our company so much so that he would break down the enormity of our sins, the gates of hell and the power of death- those things that would separate us from him.
Yes, God, as we have seen in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, enjoys our company, that he would never give up on us even if at times we try to give up on him in exchange of temporary happiness, greed, false security and worldly honour.
Furthermore, Jesus would never let us down even if at times we let him down. Jesus never came down from the cross even if his closest disciples, let him down. See, they had been with him for three years, seeing every wonderful thing he, did, hearing every comforting word he said, witnessed and experienced amazing events he was in, yet they left him on his own to face his imminent death- his death on the cross, all except John and his mother- Mary. How disappointing would it have been for Jesus not to see his disciples in his final moments.
But, no he didn’t back off. He loves us so much that not only he would take on himself the punishment due to us for our sins, he would also justify us before God the Father as he prayed while hanging on the cross: ‘Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.’ Wow! Amazing God!
This one of the final words of Jesus on the cross is one of the most comforting passages in the gospels, in fact in the whole of Scriptures. This just assures us that God, our God is a loving God, a forgiving God, a God of mercy. He is the kind of God- the father of the prodigal son, who was looking out the window day by day for the coming back of his son. This God is that father who would rather take on the ridiculous situation of running towards his son and threw his arms around his son, despite what his son had done to him previously.
As Pope Francis would say: “God never tires of forgiving us, never… The problem is that we get tired, we don’t want to, we get tired of asking forgiveness. Let us never get tired. He is the loving Father who always forgives, who has that heart of mercy for all of us.”
Moreover, God enjoys our friendship that he would take all that it costs for this friendship to work out. As Jesus has shown, He lay down his life for his friends.
In addition, God never stops believing us, even if at times we stop believing in him. I just like this beautiful statement I found on our kitchen table this morning that says: ‘Though I’m not perfect, but Jesus thinks I am to die for.’ Wow!
That’s how much we meant for our God. That’s how much Jesus cares for us.
It is just right and fitting that we celebrate this Holy Week, more particularly the Easter triduum with such solemnity, with prayerful reflections, and with ceremonies full of symbolism.
As we just had it- we started the blessings of the fire outside. Then we lit the paschal candle. Then we lit our little candles from the Paschal candle- to remind ourselves of God’s intervention into the story of our salvation as the light of Christ that drives the darkness away. Then we heard the beautiful chant- the Exultet, a summary of the history of our journey with God from the slavery to freedom, inviting us Church to rejoice, because in Christ, God has assured us of our salvation. Then we re-called the history of our salvation through the many readings that tell us of God’s care for us and intervention into our human story. Then we blessed the water, the symbol of our Christian baptism, wherein we not only die with Christ but also rise with him in glory.
We do all these and we celebrate these holy days with such solemnity, because these days remind us that God enjoys our company and that he wants to be part of his circle of friends in heaven.
As we celebrate this Easter season with renewed heart and renewed life, let us also remember those people who courageously spoke up as friends of God- as Christians, especially the victims of the recent massacre in Kenya and in many parts of the world. As we pray for their eternal rest in God, let us learn from their courage in proclaiming the faith.
Let us always remember: In Jesus, we see God that enjoys our company and friendship that He would rather be not only in company with us sinners but really that He would pay the price of our sins in full- through his death on the cross- thus assuring us of eternal life, happiness, peace and friendship with him forever in heaven.
I hope and pray, you all have a holy and a happy Easter.
Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family 2014
A boy went to a priest and asked: ‘Father, what is a devil?’ The priest replied: ‘The devil is an evil spirit and comes from hell.’ The boy gasped: ‘Oh, so I must be from hell then?’ Surprised, the priests asked: ‘Why did you say that?’ ‘Well’, the boy explained, ‘my mum always calls me ‘you little devil.’
It is a sad fact, but true that though God has ordained a human family from which we all are born into, as good and thus for the good of all members, yet some of us would make ‘hell out of it.’ It is unfortunate that there are some of us who just can’t live out the ideals of family life as God has designed it to be from the beginning.
I believe one reason why God has chosen not only to become ‘flesh’, human like us, but also he chose to be born in a human family is to help us see the importance, the value, the beauty, the real meaning of a human family. As God as he is, he could just have come out of the blue. As God as he is, he could have just appeared anywhere and wherever he wants, in whatever way and whatever form he likes to be. But, no, he chose rather to be born as human, and to be born into a human family, to be cared for, nurtured and raised by a human father and mother, just like any of us.
Such is the dignity of the human family. Such is the significance of our families. So to remind us this, today the Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Family in Nazareth. We are now broadening our perspective from just looking at the baby in the manger, we now are to look at the whole nativity scene- the image of a family.
We are to reflect on the Holy Family and as we have it in our opening prayer, we are to ‘imitate them, in practicing the virtues of family life. We can imitate the Holy Family not because they are the perfect family, but because they are the ideal family. I dare to say that the holy family is not the perfect family in terms of our human standards of perfection: i.e. they are poor (Joseph’s job was a carpenter); they could only afford a poor family’s offering for the sacrifice in the temple- a pair of turtledoves (Lk 2:22-40); Mary’s pregnancy is ‘unnatural’; they almost lost Jesus when they left him in the temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2:41-52); they had their ups and downs too as any human family would have.
Indeed, there is no perfect family in this world, but there could be an ideal family. As Pope Francis would say to the engaged couples at St Peter’s Square during the Valentines day this year: “We all know that the perfect family does not exist, nor a perfect husband or wife…(then he paused a moment) we won’t even speak about a perfect mother-in-law.”
The Holy family though is an ideal family for at least three good reasons and in these they are worth imitating.
First, they were grounded in God. They opened their hearts to God and allowed God to be part of their life, of their day to day works and decisions. The last line of our gospel today can assure us this when Jesus “grew to maturity, and he was filled with wisdom; and God’s favour was with him.” (Lk 22:40). If God wasn’t real and true, and not welcome in the family of Mary and Joseph, theirs wouldn’t have love in there too, because as St John would say: “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” If love is absent, a family is impossible, that’s where ‘hell is made.’
Second, they were grounded in faith. Such is their faith in God and in one another that even if things are not really that clear for Mary and Joseph, even scary and tedious, if you like, they remained firm, they remained grounded. If Mary’s faith is that shallow, she would have trembled in fear and would have done something to prevent what Simeon, the prophet in the temple has said about Jesus as: ‘destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected – and a sword will pierce [her] own soul too.’ I can only imagine Mary’s reaction as I am reminded of that news months ago about a baby with down syndrome, born in Thailand by a surrogate mother, not taken by the foster parents. If Mary had no faith of what God has done and would do still for her, she would have opted to do away with Jesus if only later on He would only give her such pain, shame or disgrace so to speak. But no Mary, remained faithful to what God has willed for her. So with Joseph, they did their best to raise their child no matter what it takes, no matter what it costs them and no matter how much pain Mary had to bear later on.
Third, they remained grounded in their tradition. As we have heard in the gospel Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem with the child to undergo the purification ritual to offer a sacrifice for the Lord. This is their tradition-
It was a tradition and belief of the Jewish people of old that God is the source of life, and He would channel that life to human beings through blood. So, if a person came in contact with blood, he/she would be deemed to be coming in contact with God’s creative power, and that set this person apart from the ordinary world. This person then would have to undergo a certain ritual bath to go back to his/her ordinary and everyday life. Mary, of course upon giving birth, came in contact with blood and so before she could offer sacrifices to God she would have to go purification first.
This is just a glimpse of how the Holy family observed their traditions. We can see this again, when Jesus reached 12 years old and he was presented in the temple.
There are many challenges that families faced. One challenge for the family today is to uphold the traditional and ancient way of understanding marriage, i.e. between man and woman. Another one is the rise of domestic violence that divides families that leaves a traumatic and sometimes deep psychological wounds for the children. Surely enough there are families today that have fallen short of the ideals of family life.
Let us pray for them, as we pray for our families: that we may all go back to the Holy Family of Nazareth and learn from them how they keep their family grounded in God, grounded in faith and grounded in tradition. God, faith and tradition are the grounds that would prevent more families from collapsing, and effectively keeping our human society together.
As we pray for our families, I leave you with a recipe for a perfect family. I found this on a website called Tastebook. The ingredients are: 1 loving Father, 1 loving Mother, 4 wonderful children, 2 cute puppies preferably one much larger than the other one, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and cousins. Directions: 1 Mix together: (God, faith and tradition- my addition) 2 understanding 3 Patience 4 Laughter 5 Tears 6 Compassion 7 A dash of Humor 8 and a whole ’lotta love! 9 Blend well and serve generous portions, evenly to each and everyday
Homily for Christmas Mass 2014
Exactly, a month ago, there was a news on the daily telegraph, that really made me cringe. According to the daily telegraph: ‘The malnourished baby boy was found abandoned at the bottom of a 2.4m drain, covered by a concrete slab, after a cyclist and his daughter heard the baby’s screams early Sunday morning.” “A newborn baby”, the news goes on, “may have been trapped in a storm water drain on the side of a Sydney motorway for up to five days before he was found by passing cyclists…With temperatures tipped to peak above 40C in Western Sydney today there were concerns the child would have died if he had been found later in the day.” (source: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/)
Things like this really made me sick in the stomach. It made me question how could a mother abandon such an innocent, vulnerable, helpless, defenceless, voiceless human being? How could someone do such a thing?
Friends, I know it is Christmas, a time of joy and a time of peace, a time of giving, a time of sharing, a time of caring, and you might say, I should have chosen a better story than the one I mentioned above. However, I can’t help it, because the story of that little child is a modern Christmas story.
The boy was left to die in the drain. He was abandoned, left to the elements. Somebody heard his cry and came to his rescue. And now I hope he is assured to live with a beautiful story of redemption to tell later on.
That is the story of Christmas. This is our story too. In a way, we are like that little child, helpless, vulnerable, and defenceless against the evil one, groping in the dark gutter of sin and death, thrown in the drain of damnation, Yet, God hears our cry for help. He came down not only to help us out from the gutter of sin and death and leave us on our own once again, but to assure us of a brighter and better future ahead of us. He has come to show us the life reserved for us for all eternity. He came to be the great light for us who walked in the darkness and in the shadow of death.
Christmas means that God has come to be with us-Emmanuel. He is here as one truly like us, in all things except sin. He listens to our pleas for healing. He listens to our problems. He is sensitive to our needs. He cares for us. As St Paul would say in the Second Reading tonight: ‘He sacrificed himself for us order to set us free from all wickedness and to purify a people’ and called us to be his own.’
This is one, if not the main reason of all of our Christmas celebrations and Christmas Do’s.
Christ, has come to light our lives. Let us welcome him to be our light, to be at the centre of our lives.
To welcome him this Christmas and more importantly in our lives, is to visit him in the manger/ on the crib. We are to spend time in prayer and reflection before the nativity scene. We begin reflecting on Mary and how she would have felt having given birth not only in the foreign land, but also not in her house, or in the hospital, not even in a proper bed. She gave birth, with Joseph and no other, not even with close friends. She gave birth in the manger- the place to keep the animals at night. Let us also reflect on Joseph, who stood by Mary, no matter how incomprehensible his situation is, no matter how much would it take him to be the human Father of Jesus.
Let us also reflect on the shepherds, humble, and simple people, loyal workers, no particular voice in the society, no privileged position in their community, just like many of us here tonight, yet readily went to pay a visit to the new-born child once they heard the good news of his birth.
Let us reflect on the lowliness, the poverty, the ordinariness, the simplicity of the manger, that hosted the most important, the most influential, the most powerful person not only in the whole world, but in all of creation, the richest person, the best of all philanthropists- God himself, who was made flesh for us.
To welcome Christ this Christmas also means we give him a place in our dining tables, in our Christmas parties, and celebrations. Even to say grace in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, to acknowledge the presence of God in our homes, to give thanks to God for the blessings he gave us for the past year, would be pleasing to God and a way to give a birthday treat for the birthday boy- the child Jesus.
The question is: Do we even say grace still before or after meals/ Do we still make the sign of the Cross, or say the Trinitarian formula in the name of the Father, and of the Son when we sit down for meals? No matter how short or how simple a prayer of thanks would that be, it matters a lot, because it is a prayer of gratitude. I found some of this simple prayers and feel free to use this.
Our Heavenly Father, we thank you for this food, and humbly request that you perform a miracle and remove the calories from dessert.
Lord, please bless this sumptuous feast, and bless the pizza guy who delivered these.
Our heavenly Father, we thank you for this food we are about to receive…well, everything except the liver and maybe the cauliflower.
Lord bless my family and may they be nice when they realize I dropped the food on the floor twice.
To welcome Christ this Christmas is to recognize him and welcome him when we meet him on the streets or in our workplaces, or even in our homes. He may be the homeless man looking for an accommodation or some change to get through the night. He may be the old man in the nursing home with no family and friends to spend Christmas with. He may be the young woman who was looked down by her male colleagues at work. He may be a boy or a girl at home who are surrounded by beautiful toys and the like but never listened to, or seldom appreciated. He may be the person with disability next door living on his or her own, and often abused verbally, physically. He may be the old widow in the neighbourhood who had no one to talk to, or had nobody cared for him.
Christ has come for all of us and for each of these. The challenge for us is to recognise him and make him feel welcome.
Let us make Christ alive in our hearts…this is what Christmas is all about.
With peace and blessings from the Most High, I wish you all a Happy Christmas and Blessed New Year…
Homily for the feast of the Dedication of St John Lateran Basilica
One thing that makes me love the Catholic Church more and more is the fact that our faith and our Catholic tradition have withstood the test of time, have braved through the centuries of persecutions, heresies, dark ages, and modernization. It is just an amazing thing to see that for two millennia now, the Catholic Church is still standing on the Apostolic pillars laid down by Jesus Christ himself. Yes, the ‘journey’ wasn’t really that smooth. There have been ups and downs, joys and sorrows, trials and challenges. Yet the Church thrives on. Thanks be to the Holy Spirit who inaugurated this Church at Pentecost and continually guides, sustains, and enlivens us all throughout. And thanks be to the Holy Spirit, the Church has produced countless saints.
Not intending to sound too triumphalistic or un-ecumenical here, I just share my thoughts and my feelings on this because what and where we are now as a Church is a great testimony that our Lord indeed is true to his words when he ordained Peter as the rock upon which he would build his Church and which even ‘the gates of hell’ shall not prevail (Mt 16:18).
The St John Lateran Basilica in Rome, dedicated on this day and which we celebrate is one great witness to the fulfilment of our Lord’s promise to Peter and to us as his Church. I say it is a great witness because this is the first public building constructed by Emperor Constantine after his conversion to Christianity in the early 4th century. It is a notable thing because this was the first public place of worship for the Christians after 300 years of worshipping in homes, catacombs or in hiding due to terrible persecutions by the emperors in those times.
In the Roman Catholic tradition we honour this day of dedication because this basilica is the Cathedral of Rome and the seat of the Bishop of Rome (currently Pope Francis), the point or centre of unity in the Catholic Church. And because of this particular distinction we call this Church as ‘Mother and Head of all Churches of the City and the World’ and that it is the ‘first Christian basilica’ to borrow the words of Fr Francis J. Moloney, SDB.
We might ask: Why does the whole Catholic Church celebrate the dedication of St John Lateran Basilica?
First, because the Church is the house of God and thus a holy ground, a place worthy of respect and honour. It is ‘my Father’s house’ Jesus would dare to say to the people in the temple as we heard in the gospel today. (Jn 2:13-22) It is also the place where we can experience and see for ourselves with the eyes of our faith, the meeting between the human and divine, the nourishing of the relationship between us and God. For us Catholics, it is the place, where we can a glimpse of the eternal banquet in heaven by sharing in the Eucharistic meal.
Second, because St John Lateran Basilica reminds us of the integrity and continuity of our Christian Catholic faith proclaimed by and handed on to us by the Apostles, through St Peter, the rock upon which Jesus Christ built his Church. How can a mere building preserve the integrity of faith, we may ask. Well, with this concrete point of reference we are able to trace our true heritage, i.e. our faith in Christ, that it is the same faith proclaimed by the Apostles, that faith which led many Christians to martyrdom, and that same faith proclaimed and handed on to us the early Church Fathers and to all who passed on the Christian faith faithfully through all generations.
Third, this feast also leads us to an appreciation of our own personal faith in Jesus Christ. Today, we are invited to re-examine, re-visit, re-affirm, and re-ignite our Catholic faith. And we can be aided by the knowledge, realization and conviction that St John Lateran basilica has become a symbol of the joys of our faith after terrible persecutions, as well as it is a symbol for us to see how the Catholic Church survived through and continued on with her mission in the world over the centuries of tempest, blows, trials, persecutions, modernizations, and even indifference. I call for an examination of our faith because as a Church we are not just a people gathered under a building we call Church. St Paul would say to us in the second reading (1 Cor 3:9-11, 16-17) that we are God’s building, God’s temple ourselves and that the Spirit of God is living among us.
Fourth, St John Lateran basilica is a symbol for us that indeed our faith is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. To understand these marks let us take heed to the Catechism of the Catholic Church as it explains to us what these marks mean:
The Church is one: she acknowledges one Lord, confesses one faith, is born of one Baptism, forms only one Body, is given life by the one Spirit, for the sake of one hope (cf. Eph 4:3-5), at whose fulfillment all divisions will be overcome. (CCC 866)
The Church is holy: the Most Holy God is her author; Christ, her bridegroom, gave himself up to make her holy; the Spirit of holiness gives her life. Since she still includes sinners, she is “the sinless one made up of sinners.” Her holiness shines in the saints; in Mary she is already all-holy. (CCC 867)
The Church is catholic: she proclaims the fullness of the faith. She bears in herself and administers the totality of the means of salvation. She is sent out to all peoples. She speaks to all men. She encompasses all times. She is “missionary of her very nature” (AG 2) (CCC 868)
The Church is apostolic. She is built on a lasting foundation: “the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rev 21:14). She is indestructible (cf. Mt 16:18). She is upheld infallibly in the truth: Christ governs her through Peter and the other apostles, who are present in their successors, the Pope and the college of bishops.( CCC 869)
So today as we celebrate the dedication of St John Lateran basilica let us thank God for the gift of our faith. Let us also thank God for the sacrifices of our fathers and mothers in the faith who passed on to us the same Christian faith they had with such integrity, value and meaning. Let us also thank God for the Sacred place he founded and laid down for us wherein we can worship him more freely, more personally and more meaningfully. Finally, let us thank God for gathering us as a Church, as his worshipping assembly and for giving us the opportunity everyday to prepare ourselves for the eternal celebration and for the banquet he has prepared for us in his kingdom. Amen.