Christmas is here once again… We are invited that we keep our focus more closely and more especially on the coming of Christ. Christ is the real reason for this season. It is because of Christ in the first place that this season makes sense. We endeavour to celebrate this season with joy, of giving, loving, caring, and celebrating our faith surrounded by family and friends because of the many gifts we receive from God in the first place including those gifts given to us even us without asking.
When we walk about, drive around or just strolling by, we can sense that Christmas is indeed in the air. But let us not just focus on how we celebrate Christmas or who are we celebrating it with, but more so on why do we celebrate Christmas.
Christmas is called so because of Christ- the child lying in the manger- the real reason for the season. Yes there are people who would suggest (for the sake of inclusiveness they’d argue) that this time is a special holiday.
But there is no denying that when we take on this holiday season, it is because it’s Christmas.
Let me share with you once again, a definition of Christmas by an Irish priest, Fr Flor McCarthy (SDB).
C for Christmas ‘stands for Christ. If we leave him out of Christmas, it is like celebrating a wedding without the
H stands for the hope he gives us- the hope of a life without end.
R stands for the revolution he began: turning hate to love, war to peace, and everyone into everyone’s neighbour.
I stands for Israel, the land where he was born. But it also stands for me. For Christ could be born a thousand times
in Bethlehem, but it would all be in vain unless he is born in me.
S stands for the salvation he brought: those who lived in darkness saw a great light.
T stands for thanks- [giving] thanks to God the Father for the gift of his Son. The best way to say thanks is to make
room for him in our hearts.
M stands for Mary who (through her amazing Yes and trust in God’s will) brought Jesus to birth.
A stands for the angels who at his birth sang: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth.’ It
was the sweetest music ever heard on earth.
S stands for the star that led the wise men to Bethlehem. Now Christ is the star we follow. His light will guide us
through the night until the sun of eternal day dawns upon us.
Hope you all have a very Happy Christmas and a grace-filled new year.
Homily 19th Sunday year A 2017
In our gospel today, we find the disciples on the boat in the middle of the lake being caught up in the storm. Even though some of them are seasoned fishermen we can still imagine how terrifying it must have been for them. They were battling against the strong wind far out on the lake.
But this narrative is not just about the disciples on the boat in the midst of a storm, it is as Pope Francis would say: ‘an effective image of the Church: a boat which must brave the storms and sometimes seems on the point of capsizing. What saves her is not the skill and courage of her crew members, but faith which allows her to walk, even in the dark, amid hardships. Faith gives us the certainty of Jesus’ presence always beside us, of his hand which grasps us to pull us back from danger. We are all on this boat, and we feel secure here despite our limitations and our weaknesses. We are safe especially when we are ready to kneel and worship Jesus, the only Lord of our life.” (Pope Francis Angelus Message 10 August 2014)
Remember in another part of the gospel Jesus assured to Peter that even the gates of hell will not prevail over his Church. Also in another part of the gospel, he promised to the disciples: ‘I will be with you till the end of time.’
In other words, if Jesus is with us, no storm is powerful enough to topple us over. If Jesus is the anchor of our life, no wind strong enough to uproot us. With Jesus on our side, there is nothing to be afraid even those who can kill our body, but can’t do anything on our souls.
In this gospel, Jesus assured us of two certain things: In life, HE is our LIFEGUARD and in our life of faith, he is as our HELPING HAND.
This calls us therefore to put our TRUST in Jesus rather than on any other form of god or gods we may have in our lives and in our society in general.
Just reflect on this:
How many Australian factory workers sacrificed and lost their jobs for the god called ‘PROFIT?’
How many trees, rivers, lands exploited for the god called ‘PROGRESS?’
How many poor people, communities and culture suffered and neglected for the god called ‘GREED?’
How many people, children included, sacrificed, denied of basic rights for the god called ‘SELF-GRATIFICATION?’
How many innocent men & women, voiceless & vulnerable, denied of due process & right to live, sacrificed for the god called ‘SELF- PRESERVATION or NATIONAL SECURITY?’
How many people of goodwill, important social services, institutions, agencies and people of faith who are to bear persecutions, at risk of being alienated and denied of fundamental freedom for the god called ‘MARRIAGE EQUALITY?’
How many vulnerable adults and elderly people and their families at risk of having their fundamental rights and basic freedom, being abused and denied for the god called ‘ASSISTED SUICIDE?’
How many people, families torn apart, friends becoming worst enemies, relationships broken and sacrificed for the god called ‘MONEY?’
Brothers and sisters, to win over these kind of storms in our lives we need to put our trust in Jesus.
How many holy men and women, adults and children, who willingly took the risk of trusting Jesus, laying their own lives even, for the faith, showing us that faith in Jesus is worth dying for, assuring us that Jesus, indeed is the Son of God?
There are thousands of them, putting their trust in Jesus, keeping the faith no matter what storm they might be into, because for them Jesus is worth all that they have. In Jesus alone they could find the answer to all their questions, the realisation of their dreams and aspirations and the fulfilment of their lives.
It is my prayer that we all follow their example of amazing trust in Jesus and thus to be added on to the list of the saints in glory.
Trusting in Jesus means that we allow ourselves to be guided by Jesus himself, by his word and by his example.
Trusting Jesus as members of his Church means acknowledging in humility that there are things in our life that only Jesus can make it happen, that there are teachings in our Church and in our faith that only Jesus has the power to change, and that there are things we would like done that only Jesus has the the power to do.
We can only reflect on what happened to Peter. For a moment, he believed he could walk on the water too, unaided by Jesus. But we know, when he tried to go through the storm without the help of Jesus, he started to sink. When Peter tried to do things only Jesus has the power to do, he didn’t succeed. But when he called on Jesus, he was saved. It is just as simple as saying: ‘Lord, save me!’ But it also means humility and trust in Jesus, not on our own.
Only Jesus has the power to calm the storm in our lives. We just have to be strong in our faith in him, humble ourselves, call on him to save us, reach out for his hand, and let him into our life’s boat. With him in our boat, we may still have to be shaken or threatened by trials and challenges but, we know, he can’t allow us to perish.
Remember, the boat the disciples were in was a hundred times smaller than the Titanic and built by some ordinary boat-builder using ordinary piece of wood, while the Titanic was built by professionals and is made using the best kind of materials.
It is not on how big our boat or how beautiful it is therefore, that can save us from sinking but on how much faith and trust we have in Jesus. It is not WHAT can save us but WHO can save us—Jesus, the Christ. Amen.
In the year 614 AD, Jerusalem was captured by the Persians (a predominant ethnic group from Modern-day Iran). Many Churches in the Holy Sites, were destroyed. One site spared from destruction though was the Church of the Nativity for the reason that the invaders found a mosaic on the inside walls depicting the three wise men in Persian clothing.
For me it is an interesting snippet of history not only because today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany which celebrates the story of the manifestation of God to all the world as symbolized by the ‘wise men from the east’ visiting the child Jesus, but also because, the story of the Church being spared from the invaders somehow echoes the story of the child Jesus being spared from Herod’s mandate to kill all the children in Jerusalem.
There is indeed a Divine plan at work in here. God is with us indeed! When it is God’s plan and divine design, no human being, nor human institution can ever block it. God will always find his way and if we look through the eyes of our faith, we can see the beauty of God’s presence and how God reveals himself to us even now.
We celebrate today the feast of the Epiphany- “the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel, Son of God and Saviour of the world.” (CCC 528). Again a Divine plan.
Matthew in the gospel tells us of this manifestation of Jesus to all the world as represented by ‘some wise men from the east.’
St Paul would go even further, in his letter to the Ephesians, by sharing his understanding of the mystery of God’s revelation as an assurance that ‘pagans now share the same inheritance‘, that is, the Jews and Gentiles are all included in God’s plan of salvation.
So indeed, with the Psalmist we can rightly pray and say: ‘Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.’
So now let us reflect on what happened on the Epiphany or how do the wise men experience the manifestation of God in their lives?
First: The wise men found Jesus because they allowed themselves to be guided by a star that brings them to Jesus. This is a call to humility—willingness to learn and listen, as well as a call to be wise and reflective in our lives.
In our lives, we are following stars in some ways. People whom we are looking up to, people whom we believe are shining. But like the wise men, we have to be wise. We need to pray for wisdom and ask ourselves:
(1) Are our stars leading us to the right way of living? (2) Are they serving as the light of our way?
(3) And lastly, are they leading us to Jesus?
Let us remember this: A true STAR is
– Someone who would
-Take us/teach us to
-Realization of our true dreams and true selves.
Second, they brought him gifts, gifts that are of great significance to the recipient—to the child Jesus. They gave him Gold, frankincense and myrrh.
In biblical interpretation and tradition, the gifts of the wise men, signify the humanity, the divinity and the kingship of Jesus. According to a Jesuit priest, Mark Link, the “three gifts of the magi reveal three truths about Jesus. First, the myrrh symbolizes the humanity of Jesus [for Myrrh later on would be used for his burial]. Second, the frankincense symbolizes the divinity of Jesus [for incense is usually used in the temple rituals, worship and adoration to God]. Third, the gold symbolizes the kingship of Jesus. Jesus came among us to lead us, to inspire us, to invite us to join him in bringing about God’s Kingdom on earth- a kingdom of love, and kingdom of peace, a kingdom of hope.”
For us now, there are at least three gifts we could gift to Jesus (3H’s): Head that is wise yet humble, Heart that is repentant and loving, and Hands that are welcoming and generous. In other words, let us be people of integrity, one whose thoughts, words and deeds, whose beliefs and actions are in sync not contradicting each other.
Third, the wise men went back to their own countries by a different way. They didn’t go back to Herod. This means they prefer loyalty to the true king of heaven rather than the earthly king. This also means change of hearts- conversion of our lives.
Today Jesus invites us to experience his presence and manifestation in our lives and in our world.
Like the wise men, let us look up to and follow the star or stars in our lives that lead us to Jesus.
Let us also endeavour to offer God the rights gifts we could offer to him: to be a person who thinks wisely, loves heartily and unconditionally, and gives generously.
Lastly, let us respond to God’s call to conversion (i.e. repentance of our sins and resolve to do good and avoid evil) for it is or it is our insurance for eternal life.
If we take this to heart, like the wise men, we can also experience the beauty of the presence of God among us and even encounter God at work in our lives. Amen.
After my New years Eve Mass and dinner with Filipinos in one of my parishes, I went home at around 11 pm. Upon arriving home I decided I would just wait for the fireworks display to be broadcast live on TV. While waiting I turned on the TV, and of course, one of the things people were talking about while waiting for the countdown is about New Year’s resolutions.
To join in the trend, I tried to re-visit my new year’s resolution I made in January this year. I made a resolve to lose weight. And as you could see: ‘I lost 12 months’. I made a resolve to lose my belly fat. ‘I lost my belly button.’ (pun intended).
So this new year I made another resolution, something more realistic and doable. Today the 31st of December I have decided, is going to be my last day on Facebook (for the year 2016). I will come back sometimes on the 1st of January 2017. Again pun intended. It’s good to start the New Year with humour.
New Year’s resolution is pretty commonplace this time, but more often, it just remains a thought, not an action, it just remains a plan not implementation. In short, it doesn’t happen. We can only laugh at it at the end of each year.
Perhaps we need to go deeper in our new year’s resolution though. We need to go further than just looking physically well and healthy. We need to go deeper than how we live this new year. We need to go deeper into how we can live for eternity. We need to have a spiritual resolution that would benefit us not just in this life, but forever.
To realize this, we need to know Jesus more personally and we need to follow him more closely. Because only Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. The bible also reminds us this: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved,” but Jesus. Acts 4:12.
Each New year’s day, the Church celebrates the Feast of Mary as the Mother of God. Through our reflection on this feast, we can get to know Jesus more personally and follow him more intimately.
But first let us try to understand how can Mary be the Mother of God, when she is just one of God’s creatures.
There is a logic about this that goes: ‘Mary is the mother of Jesus. Jesus is God. Therefore, Mary is the Mother of God.‘ This has always been a belief in the Church even from the earliest centuries. One of the Fathers of the Church for example, Irenaeus, said: “The Virgin Mary, being obedient to his word, received from an angel the glad tidings that she would bear God” (Against Heresies, 5:19:1 [A.D. 189]). Also Hippolytus, Gregory the Wonderworker, Peter of Alexandria, Methodius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Ephraim the Syrian, Athanasius, Epiphanius of Salamis, Ambrose of Milan, Gregory of Nazianzus (“If anyone does not agree that holy Mary is Mother of God, he is at odds with the Godhead” (Letter to Cledonius the Priest 101 [A.D. 382]). Jerome, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Cyril of Alexandria, John Cassian, Council of Ephesus [A.D. 431]), Vincent of Lerins, these Fathers of the Church all taught that Mary is the Mother of God. (source: Catholic Answers)
Mary as the Mother of God though doesn’t mean that Mary is older than God or that she is the source of Jesus’ divinity. No. “She is the Mother of God in the sense that she carried in her womb a divine person—Jesus Christ, God “in the flesh” (2 John 7, cf. John 1:14)—and in the sense that she contributed the genetic matter to the human form God took in Jesus Christ.” (Source: http://www.catholic.com/tracts/mary-mother-of-god). There is no denying Mary is the Mother of Jesus Christ.
For us followers and believers of Christ, we can then go to Christ through Mary’s help. Mary is the help of Christians.
As the mother of Jesus, Mary brings Jesus to us. As our mother too, she brings us to Jesus.
Through Mary we can know Jesus more personally and follow him more closely.
Three things we can learn from Mary as the Mother of Jesus/Mother of God.
First, her faithfulness to God and to her specific mission in life is worth imitating. Even if at times things are hard to understand for her, or don’t make any sense, she nevertheless, remained faithful and obedient to God’s will.
Second, her availability to God and to others is selfless. What Mary showed us in terms of our relationship with God is that devoting most if not all of our time to God and to others, are not lost times for us, they are not times gone to waste, they are times of grace and blessings for us. And because her of her amazing availability to God, we have encountered our Lord Jesus who let his face shine on us and who is gracious to us. And it is through Mary, that God has sent his Son, to be born a subject of the law according to St Paul, to redeem us as the subjects of the law and to enable us adopted sons of and daughters of God.
Third, her humility, prayerfulness and openness to life and all that it brings is worth reflecting and worth learning. In humility she accepted who she is before God, no pretence. In her constant prayers she is sustained in her faith. In her openness to life she is an ideal mother, who would do everything, take all the risks just for her son to live.
As our spiritual resolution therefore for the new year, let us ask Mary to pray for us that like her we may be faithful to what God is calling us especially in life, to make ourselves available for God and for others, and to grow in humility, prayerfulness and openness to life.
So I pray: May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord uncover his face and bring you peace. Amen.
Homily for Christmas Mass year A 2016
I went to the supermarket the other day, and I could see there are many things on special. It made me think, that actually one reason we celebrate Christmas is because we are special too, not ON SPECIAL as in ‘discounted’ but SPECIAL as in PRICELESS.
To realize this makes our Christmas even more meaningful.
We are special, not in the eyes of the world but because God makes us to be so. The world might say to us, we can only be special if we lived in a house of luxury, if we went to a luxurious holiday, if we are rubbing elbows with the rich and the famous, or if we have the fame and the popularity ourselves.
But God looks through our hearts. We are special for him not because we are rich, or have the things that we wanted to have, but because our true value is in our hearts not on the externals. Just like Christmas presents. What’s important is not the wrapping but what’s inside.
For God, we are worth every penny, we are worth risking for and we are worth dying for.
God loved us human beings so much that he wanted to become like us to experience what it is to be really human. Such is the depth of God’s love for us as St Paul reflects that Christ ‘sacrificed himself for us in order to set us free from all wickedness and to purify a people so that it could be his very own and would have no ambition except to do good.’ (Tit 2:14)
If we were not special, he wouldn’t bother to be born like one of us so that we would become like him– a resident of his heavenly kingdom. If we were not special for him, he wouldn’t take the risk of stripping himself of his glory and majesty and chose to be born in a lowly manger on top of hay.
If we were not special for God, he would have just left us completely groping in the dark of our sins and sinful human condition. But because we are so special God himself came to be the light for us ‘who walked in the darkness‘ as Prophet Isaiah would say in the first reading. (cf Is 9:1-7)
God loved us so, that he sent his only Son, Jesus– the one who would save us from our sins.
We are that special, that St Paul could say in our Second reading tonight: ‘God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race and taught us…to give up everything that does not lead us to God.’
This means that because we are special, God generously opened for us the source of his graces and the fountain of his riches.
If we were not that special to him, we wouldn’t have heard the ‘news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole world’: THAT GOD is born for us, that God has come in the flesh to show us that there is more to life than our sinful nature, ‘that today is born our Saviour, Christ the Lord.’ (Lk 2:11)
If we are special and if God gives us a special gift of himself as we have remembered and re-lived tonight, then this calls for a celebration and rejoicing. We are to celebrate our value, we rejoice indeed as we received the gift that God has given us- Jesus our Lord.
To rejoice let us first reflect on the child lying in the manger. He was not wrapped in fancy clothing. He wasn’t born from a rich family. He wasn’t born in the children’s hospital where every care he would need would be provided. He chose to be born in a humble, simple ordinary human family, so that we could identify with him quite easily, so that we could get access to him as we are, so that we could reach out to him quite easily without any royal protocols and all other pomposity.
The real present for all of us this Christmas is the child in the manger. But look at him. He wasn’t wrapped with fancy wrappings, he was wrapped in swaddling clothes, ordinary to remind us that the real value value of the gift is not on the fancy wrapping, or the size of the gift, but on what’s inside and what does it mean for us.
To receive the gift of God for us is to acknowledge our sins of poverty too. This means that we accept the fact that we need God, that we need one another, that we need a saviour, that we are weak, vulnerable, that we can’t really do whatever we want, however we want it, and that not everything is under our control.
Another way to receive Christ this Christmas is to open our hearts to the other Christs in the streets, in the homes, in our workplaces, everywhere- i.e. the people who like the child in the manger are weak, helpless, vulnerable, simple, and hungry for our love, our care, our support, our time and our compassion. I’m thinking particularly this time the many children in the world who are displaced with or without their families, in the detention centres, in the refugee camps, those people suffering in many countries due to famine, injustice, political conflicts, and greediness of the powerful and the influential.
This Christmas is an opportunity for us to realize that Christ is born for everyone, so we also have the task to look for him in everyone, and to let everyone know that God cares for them, that God is Emmanuel, He is with all of us, among us.
After this mass, as you go, you will be handed with a star on which a name of a country in the world is written. Please remember that particular country in your Christmas celebrations. Please pray for its citizens, especially the children. If you can and if it is possible when you go on holiday consider going to the country you are praying for.
Finally let us always remind ourselves as we sit around our dining table this Christmas, that the real star of Christmas is Christ. Christmas without even thinking of and thanking Christ for coming to us, does not make so much sense. Take the word Christ out of Christmas, what’s left is MAS. It doesn’t mean anything. In Spanish mas means more. Without Christ, we will just be craving for more and more and we will never be satisfied. Only Christ is the answer to all our dreams, aspirations, longings and plan. With peace and the blessings from the Most High, I wish you all a blessed and a solemn Christmas celebration.
Merry Christmas everyone.
Homily for 4th Sunday of Advent 2016 AD
Christmas is really now in the air. The Christmas buzz all around us. The Christmas blitz and do’s all happening. It is really exciting.
But we need to ask ourselves: ‘How’s our preparation for Christmas?‘
We may have already the perfect plan for our Christmas lunch. We may have already wrapped the presents and put them under the tree. We may have already organized for our Christmas party.
But we can get caught with these external preparations while neglecting our spiritual preparation which is what is more important. If we are just caught up with all the busyness of Christmas’ do’s and not even giving to reflect what is this season all about and pray, then we just end up exhausted, drained and lose the plot of this special season in our faith.
I remember as a kid, my way of getting into the spirit of Christmas is to go on carolling with others kids in my neighbourhood to get some change for Christmas. One time, we went to this woman’s house and started singing. This woman was known to be grumpy and thrifty. Just as we started singing, I heard this voice from inside the house: ‘Go away you noisy brats! We are already sleeping in here. Don’t disturb us and the kids!‘
I thought: “If they were really sleeping, then why did she hear us? She must be dreaming of telling us off.”
I thought, she should have at least shown some consideration for us. It’s Christmas time first of all. Anyhow, we moved on. It’s amazing that yes generally gift-giving is one of the marks of Christmas spirit yet there are still people who refused to live up the spirit of Christmas.
But living up to the spirit of Christmas is more than just giving or receiving gifts. To experience the true Christmas joy is to realize that Christmas is not just about giving presents but being present (our presence). It is not just about giving cards, but showing that we care for one another. It is not just about fun with family and friends, but faith in and friendship with God. It is not just about shopping but worshipping the Emmanuel (the God-made-man). It is not just about something or some things, but someone. It is not just about kris kringle, it is about Christ.
And while waiting for the coming of Christ as part of our spiritual preparation for Christmas, as symbolized by the empty manger, let us reflect on the different figures in our nativity scene.
We reflect on Mary and Joseph, simple and unassuming couple, yet both could attest that if God is welcomed in our lives, if God forms a big part in our families, great things can happen before us. Even if things may not be different as we hoped to be, but with God we can see things in a different perspective.
First we look at Mary. And each letter in Mary’s name means something for her and more so for us.
M– Mary is a model believer in humility, trust and fidelity to God even if at times things are difficult, hard to understand or even if at times things seem not make any sense at all.
A– means that Mary is always available for those in need. She went in haste to assist her elderly and pregnant cousin Elizabeth. Nazareth is about 150 kms from where Elizabeth lived. Then it would take Mary about a week or so walking to get where Elizabeth and Zechariah lived.
R– Mary is a real mother. She walked with Jesus her son, from the womb to the tomb. She never left her son’s side till the end.
Y– Mary’s attitude to God’s will is always ‘YES’ and she yearns for heaven.
Secondly we look at Joseph. The Gospel never records of Joseph having spoken a word. But as the saying goes: ‘Action speaks louder than words’. And St Joseph’s actions is indeed very loud and throws us a challenge to take God seriously in our lives.
J– Just. The gospel describes him as a man of honour, a just man (doing what is right, just, proper and true). In Deuteronomy 22:20, the Jewish law says that if a woman is found to be with child before marriage, thus assumed to be no longer virgin before marriage, she is to be stoned to death in public. Joseph, as just man, wouldn’t want to break the law and he wouldn’t want put Mary into a public disgrace, shame and humiliation, so he decided to call the marriage off. A really good example of a just man- a person who does not only consider what the law says, but also consider how does the law affect the human person.
O– obedient to God’s will. As we have heard in the gospel, things were not that easy, or clear for Joseph at the beginning. In fact he wanted to get out of it. But this is amazing of our God. When we obey God’s will and commandments even if at times, we may find it hard to understand it, great things happen to us, amazing things happen right before us and we can appreciate more of the fact that God has chosen us personally to carry out his will not only for our good but for the good of others too.
S– silently yet faithfully doing his mission. The Church has survived for millenia now because of the many missionaries/Christians who were just silently carrying out their Christian duties day in and day out towards their families and communities. These are the people like Joseph who believed in this maxim: ‘It is better to have God approve than the world applaud.’
E– exceptional in keeping the Holy Family intact in the face of threats of it being destroyed by those in power. Our time now there are many things that break the families, or threaten to destroy the power of the families. Let us ask St Joseph to pray for us and our families we may stand up for whatever threats that come on our way.
P– prayerful, patience and persevering in overcoming trials and challenges that the Holy Family face. The Gospel tells us that the angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream. But this could be interpreted as happening in the context of prayer. He would have thought about it and prayed about it.
H– a humble husband and a man of hope. Humility means keeping our feet on the ground and true to our selves. Hope means and I like this: ‘Hang On, Pain Ends’.
Today, let us resolve to keep up with our spiritual preparation for Christmas learning from Joseph and Mary, in their humility, trust, obedience to God’s will, and faithfulness in their mission in life. Let this be our prayer. Amen.