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We are on special: not as discounted but as PRICELESS

Homily for Christmas Mass  year A 2016

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Church Shepherd’s Fields, Bethlehem

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
.

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Mary and Joseph (in the Nativity Scene)

Homily for 4th Sunday of Advent 2016 AD

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Church in the Shepherd’s Field near Bethlehem

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.

 

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Fourth Sunday of Advent 2016 AD

Christmas is in the air. Christmas ‘buzz’ is all around us.
On this 4th Sunday of Advent, we are reminded to keep
our focus more closely and more especially now to the
coming of Christ. 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.
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,
it is because it is Christmas.
Let me share with you a definition of Christmas by an Irish
priest, Fr Flor McCarthy (SDB). I have shared this at the
Carols by Candlelight at the Park last Sunday.
The:

C for Christmas ‘stands for Christ. If we leave him out
            of Christmas, it is like celebrating a wedding without the
            groom.
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 week of joy and blessings.

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Reflection on the 7 sorrows of Mary

Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows
1. The Prophecy of Simeon: (Lk 2:34-35 ‘You see this child: he is 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 your own soul too-so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare’)

Reflection: Let us reflect on Mary’s sorrow upon hearing of the pain and sufferings Jesus, her son, is to go through.

Prayer: Let us pray for the many parents (or mothers, fathers) who are suffering for and deeply hurt by their own children.

“Father, assure them of your comfort, protection and healing, through Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.”

2. The flight into Egypt: (Mt 2:13-14 ‘Get up, take the child…and escape into Egypt…because Herod intends to search for the child and do away with him…So Joseph got up, and taking the child and his mother with him, left that night for Egypt…)

Reflection: Let us reflect on the pain and the sorrow of May upon having to leave in a hurry, their home, carrying only the things they could carry and which they badly needed, to save the life of Jesus.

Prayer: Let us pray for the many refugees and asylum seekers who had to leave their homes and homeland, risking their lives, to save their own lives, especially the lives of their children.

“Father, assure them of your guidance and care through the collaborative efforts of world’s leaders and citizens to welcome them and offer them refuge. Through Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.”

3. The loss of the Child Jesus in the temple: (Lk 2:43-45 ‘When they were on their way home…the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, without his parents knowing it. They assumed he was with the caravan, and it was only after a day’s journey that they went to look for him among their relations…When they failed to find him they went back to Jerusalem looking for him everywhere)

Reflection: Let us reflect on the worry, the anxiety, the distress, and the fear of Mary and Joseph, on the thought of their 12 year-old child who was lost in a foreign land, who knew no one and with no provision for himself.

Prayer: Let us pray for those mothers and fathers who have to bear the distress of having lost their child or children through death, separation, abandonment, indifference and neglect by their children, or through other forces like drug and alcohol addiction, or mere ingratitude.

“Father, assure them of your unconditional love and your never-ending care, through Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.”

4. The meeting of Jesus and Mary on the Way of the Cross: (Lk 23:27 ‘Large numbers of people followed hi, and of women too, who mourned and lamented for him’)

Reflection: Let us reflect on the heartbreak of Mary upon seeing the sufferings of her Son, who was sentenced to death in a very cruel, unjust and shameful manner.

Prayer: Let us pray for those people, mothers, fathers, like Mary who are to face the painful sight and circumstance of their child or children or loved ones, being treated cruelly and unjustly, being bullied endlessly and even being put to jail without due process of the law.

“Father assure them of your truth that sets us free, the truth that gives us life and happiness forever, through Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.”

5. The Crucifixion: (Jn 19:18, 25-27 ‘They crucified Him. Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala…Jesus said to his mother, ‘Woman, this is your son.’ Then to the disciple he said:. ‘This is your mother’)

Reflection: Let us reflect on the sorrow of Mary having witnessed the dying moments of her son and having heard his last words.

Prayer: Let us pray for those mothers and fathers who are by circumstance, witnessing the death of their child or children due to terminal illness, or due to death inflicted by violence.

“Father, console them with the promise of the resurrection wherein they will be reunited with their loved ones once again, and where they will live together forever in heaven, through Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.”

6. The taking down of the Body of Jesus from the Cross: (Mk 15:43, 46 ‘Joseph of Arimathaea, a prominent member of the Council…boldly went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Joseph took Jesus down from the cross, wrapped him in the shroud and laid him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock.’)

Reflection: Let us reflect on the pain of Mary of having had to bury her own son.

Prayer: Let us pray for those people, parents especially who have to face the hard truth of burying their own son or daughter, due to early death, or due to death inflicted by external forces or elements.

“Father, console them through the likes of ‘Joseph of Arimathaea’, who would take the bold moves, even put his life at risk and even gave up his personal insurance to give the dead a dignified funeral and burial, through Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.”

7. The burial of Jesus: (Jn 19:41-42 ‘At the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in this garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been buried…they laid Jesus there’)

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.
Prayer: Let us pray for those people who until now are still struggling to come to terms with the death of their loved ones, especially those mothers who have lost their one and only child.

“Father, comfort them with the promise that for ‘your faithful, life is changed, not ended’ through Christ, your Son our Lord, Amen.”

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus.
Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

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Rest, retreat, re-energize with God

Homily for 16th Sunday in Ordinary time year B

2012-01-06_13-08-59_19Two 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.”

(source: http://www.ellenbailey.com/poems/ellen_345.htm)

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.

 

 

 

 

At the office with St Benedict

The 11th of July is the feast of St Benedict. Some years back, on this day, I had a chat  with this great saint (in my prayer and reflection) and posted it on 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, thank you for this great privilege of knowing you and ‘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, simple and practical way.  Could you please tell us something about yourself?

St Benedict: Certainly. 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 who was deposed around the year 476.

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 might call it now ‘a housekeeper.’

Junjun Faithbook: Fancy that! You’re spoiled! And how was 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 away 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 find peace in that wild and rocky countryside 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: After leaving you to settle, did this monk Romanus leave you on your own?

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 and let down by a rope over the rock and into my cave.

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 and who were under my direction.

Junjun Faithbook: So in that way,  you’ve actually established your monastery there as a firm and stable community?

St Benedict: In a way, yes. But I actually did it just set things in order.

Junjun Faithbook: What do you mean?

St Benedict: When I saw it certain that they could manage on their own, 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 which 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. And 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 the importance and the great value of balancing work and prayer, charity and moderation, community life and recreation, and how to make these aspects of our life, a way for our sanctification. 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.

 

 

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The beauty of God as a friend

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.

Amen.