Bible Reflection (19 May 2024)

Pentecost, Year B

Acts 2:1-11
Galatians 5:16-25
John 15:26-27,16:12-15

Open our hearts to the Holy Spirit. Let Him heal our relationships, our Church, and our society.

“Am I happy in life?” The truth is, if we answer this question honestly, most of us have elements of unhappiness in our lives. And for most of us, one of these would be our difficult relationships – with our family, loved ones, friends, colleagues and others. Often, we do not have good relationships because we do not communicate well. To use a Catholic term, there is no communion between us and the other party. We do not enjoy communion with one another because most times, we keep our communication superficial. Most times, our communication does not proceed beyond small talks. Because our communication is superficial, our relationships are consequently also superficial. For many of us, this is true even with my spouses, loved ones and friends.

How have we become so poor in communicating? Afterall, there is no language barrier of the kind we read in the First Reading this week. Alas, even as we speak the same language, today, communication is often difficult. While we can physically hear and understand what each other is saying, the message is not getting through. Why? Because no one is listening to the other. This is especially so when two parties have different viewpoints. In our polarised culture, we have lost the ability to hold difficult discussions. We have lost the skills to hold a respectful discourse of different opinions. We do not tolerate dissenting views and hold those whose views are different from ours in contempt. We even undermine and alienate those we disagree with. And this disaccord in our personal relationships flows on to the greater society. In our society, cancel culture is rife. People label those they disagree with with words such as “hateful” and silent them by taking away their rights to speak. In our universities, students are chanting “from the river to the sea” without understanding that they are calling for the annihilation of the entire nation of Israel. As they rightfully protest the destruction of lives in Gaza, they could not bring themselves to condemning Hama’s terrorist acts on Israel’s innocence. And most times, people could not bring themselves to listening to others with a different viewpoint. We need to be more ready to listen to others with different viewpoints from ours.

At the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9), on account of their sins, God confused the people’s language causing them to lose their ability to communicate with each other. Indeed, today, like the people at the Tower, on account of our sins, we have lost our ability to communicate with each other. This week, we celebrate Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit. More than ever, we need the Holy Spirit to come down upon us, to open our ears to listen to each other, to communicate, to enjoy communion with each other. Because, for many of us, the source of our intolerance of others is that we have allowed the desires of our flesh have overpowered the desires of our spirit. We have let the sins of pride, anger and envy took over us. It is just as St Paul said in the Second Reading this week, “For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.” (verse 17) St Paul warned, “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.” (verse 19-21) Sadly, this is not just happening to our society, but it is also happening in our church communities and the Universal Church. It is no wonder that our Church is more divided than ever. To continue this way is to court nothing but destruction. St Paul did not mince his words when he said, “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (verse 21). Let us heed St Paul’s warning.

This week, at the Feast of Pentecost, the First Reading this week gives an account of this momentous event. We read how the Holy Spirit came down upon the people, undoing the plague they suffered at the Tower of Babel. We read, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” (verse 4) The Holy Spirit enable the people to communicate once again. In the Gospel this week, Jesus promises us the Holy Spirit: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (verse 12-13). More than ever, we need Holy Spirit to come into our community, our Church and our lives, to once again unite us. In the First Reading, after the Holy came upon the disciples, the people were saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?” (verse 7-8) Indeed, let us invite in the Holy Spirit. And be prepared to be amazed. But this requires a receptive heart. Am I prepared to be receptive? Or do I prefer to hold on to my sins of pride, anger and envy?

Indeed, my brothers and sisters, we need to let the Holy Spirit takes over, to help us communicate, and most importantly, convey love in all things we say – even it is to put forward a different viewpoint. It is only then that we can experience the fruits of the Holy Spirit. In the Second Reading, St Paul enumerated: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (verse 22-23) Reading on from the First Reading in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, it is clear the disciples have reaped these fruits as they minister to the people. My dear friends, today, as we celebrate Pentecost, let us ask ourselves: Do I desire the Holy Spirit as the disciples did? In the midst of our communication breakdowns, poor relationships and a general deprivation of joy, am I open to the Holy Spirit to come upon me? Do I desire Him to come and change me? Yes, it is to change me – not to change others but me. Indeed, if I sincerely want to truly communicate with a friend or a loved one once again, let it start with me taking the initiative to listen. Let me invite the Holy Spirit to come upon me – but on His terms, not on my terms.

Come Holy Spirit, come!

Bible Reflection (12 May 2024)

The Ascension Of The Lord, Year B

Acts 1:1-11
Ephesians 4:1-13
Mark 16:15-20

Our call to persevere and serve.

Why do we become Christians? Being Christians does not mean that all our problems would go away. In fact, in today’s secular culture, being Christians often invites ridicule or even persecution. So, what do we do? Why would we still remain committed to our Chirstian faith? For some Catholics, in times of difficulties, we would give up or take things into our own hands. This was what Abraham did when the child God promised him did not eventuate at the time of his choosing. He took in his slave girl Hagar and conceived a child with her (Gen 16:1-4). For his disobedience and impatience, Abraham’s action brought him and his family much disaccord. In times of difficulties, though it may be counter-intuitive to us, the Lord calls us to stay the course and await further prompting and revelations from Him. This was what Jesus commanded His disciples to do in the First Reading: “While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This,’ he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; for John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.'” (verse 4-5) To put this into context, at that time, many of Jesus’ followers were being persecuted in Jerusalem. It was understandable that some might want to escape from Jerusalem. Others might want to spread the faith elsewhere, where they would be more welcome. But Jesus told them “no”, at least “not yet”. Our Lord did not explain the reason for His instructions. The disciple just have to show faith and trust Him. Often, we are called to do the same. Have we done so?

With the benefit of hindsight, we now know it was God’s plan that the disciples would eventually spread out from Jerusalem and bring the faith to wherever they go (Acts 8:1). But this was not to happen before God equipped them. Jesus promised His disciples in the First Reading that He will equip them for the mission ahead: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (verse 8) St Paul, understanding how God has equipped and called him to service, said in the Second Reading: “But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” (verse 8) He added: “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (verse 11-12). In the Gospel, Jesus promised the same to his followers as He prepared them for the mission ahead: “And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (verse 17-18)

But even when we understand that God has a plan for us; and our current challenges are but a stepping stone that God will use to fulfill His divine plan, it is still difficult to stay the course. For as mere humans, we often could not see beyond our current predicaments. In the Second Reading, St Paul urges us to persevere: “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (verse 1). But how do we gain this kind of perseverance that St Paul demonstrated in his life? The answer lies in us encountering the triumphs of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Without encountering Jesus’ triumphs, it is very difficult to persevere indeed. How do we encounter Jesus, or more specifically His triumphs? We do so by regular reflection of the Bible, by regular contemplation and meditation. Bible study helps us to reflect on God’s Word; contemplation helps us to discern His will; and meditation helps to experience His presence. In truth, if I do not prepare my heart in this way, Jesus’ resurrection and ascension do not just come to a passive heart. I need to put in the effort to encounter Him – to open myself to His grace; to learn how to be docile and receptive to Him. There is no shortcut, no magical rituals, just plain old relationship building – just we would when building up any human relationship.

It is worth noting that, being the Feast of Ascension, all three Scripture passages this week ended with an account of Jesus’ ascension into heaven (Acts 1:9, Eph 4:10, Mk 16:19). This is pertinent. It means that post-ascension, we are now the hands, feet and mouth pieces of Jesus. It means He would fill us with the Holy Spirit and equip us to carry out His mission. It means that our faith is not a passive faith, but one where we are called to bring the Good News to the world, in partnership with Jesus. It means that it is now up to us, to invite Jesus into us and have Him act through us. Whether it is in charitable work, in evangelisation, or in showing love, mercy and forgiveness to others, we are partners in Jesus’ mission.

My dear friends, let us persevere. Let us be docile and accept His will for us. Let us go forth to love and to serve. Amen.

Bible Reflection (5 May 2024)

6th Sunday of Easter Year B

Acts 10:25-26,34-35,44-48
1 John 4:7-10
John 15:9-17

What makes a good Christian? Are there criteria and prerequisites?

My brothers and sisters. Have we ever asked ourselves: Am I a good Christian? What is my answer; and on what criteria do I based my answer on? Some of us consider ourselves good Christians and good Catholics because of our strict adherence to God’s Commandments and the various Catholic rituals. However, in our strict adherence and observation, we can also become stumbling blocks to other coming to know Jesus. How so? For example, we may become self-righteous, so much so that we exclude certain people from our Church and our communities – others whom we deem are less holy and whom we seem are sinners. Perhaps, it is because they do not come to church regularly; perhaps they dress inappropriately to church; perhaps they do not show reverence in church; or even worse they struggle with morality issues such as sexuality, greed, envy, etc.

The First Reading this week tells the story of St Peter visiting the Cornelius family. Cornelius was a Roman centurion. He and his family does not come from a bloodline of believers, but he is nevertheless “a devout man who feared God” (Acts 10:2). We read in the First Reading: “While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God.” (verse 44-46) On witnessing the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on a household of uncircumcised, Peter concluded, “‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptising these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ So he ordered them to be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ.” (verse 47-48) To many people of Biblical days, Cornelius and his household are not worthy of salvation. To put this in modern context, to be uncircumcised in those days was equivalent to not being baptised or not belonging to a faith community. Furthermore, to be a member of the Roman conqueror is seen as the enemy, a member of an evil and oppressive cohort, an unholy people. So, in this sense, many of us are no different to the narrow-minded people of Biblical days. Like them, we set certain prerequisites for someone to be granted salvation, to be considered good Christians – baptism, belonging to a faith community, living a holy life, etc. But in truth, when we do so, we are forcing God to adhere to our standards; rather than us adhering to God’s. As we witness in the First Reading, God’s grace does not work in our narrow-minded ways. In the same vein, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.” (CCC 1257)

Of course, this does not mean that we may dispense of spiritual practices and God’s Sacraments. Quite the contrary, on the necessity of the Sacrament of Baptism, CCC 1257 states, “Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude”. We can extend this principle to the graces that the other Sacraments bestow upon us – healing (Anointing of the Sick, Reconciliation), spiritual strength (Confirmation), fidelity in vocation (Matrimony, Holy Orders), union with God (Eucharist). But God is not restricted by His own Sacraments. In situation where the ministering of a Sacrament is not possible or practical, God may nevertheless bestow upon us the same grace without a Sacrament. God instituted the Sacrament for us but He Himself is not bound by them.

Ultimately, the measure of faith and grace is not determined by the efficacy of the rituals but by the purity of the love that is in the person. As St John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, wrote in the this week’s Second Reading, “everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (verse 7-8). This same principle of love governs our keeping of God’s Commandments. We do not keep the Commandments to demonstrate to ourselves and others how much we love God. For if that is our motive, then we have already broken the Commandments already, committing the sin of pride. On this subject of pride, in the First Reading, we read that upon arriving at Cornelius’ house, “Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshiped him. But Peter made him get up, saying, ‘Stand up; I am only a mortal.'” (verse 25-26) St Peter understood that all glory be unto God. Peter regarded himself as a mere instrument of God. My brothers and sisters, rather being judgemental upon others, we will do well to remember and emulate Peter’s humility in our lives.

In truth, the keeping of God’s Commandments should simply be a reflection of our love for God. As Jesus Himself said to the disciples in the Gospel this week, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” (verse 10) And just as the Commandments are a reflection of our love for God, they are also the means by which we love one another: “I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” (verse 17) And no form of love is more powerful than self-sacrificial love. Jesus says in the Gospel this week, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (verse 13)

My brothers and sisters, let us conclude by revisit the question I pose at the beginning of this reflection: What makes a good Christian? On what criteria do I base my answer on? If we ever feel tempted to disparage others because their attendance at church, the way they dress, or their morality, let us exercise love instead. Jesus said to Nicodemus “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) Or in the words of St John in this week’s Second Reading, “God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.” (verse 9) And last but not least, in the words Mother Theresa, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” Shalom.

Bible Reflection (28 April 2024)

5th Sunday of Easter Year B

Acts 9:26-31
1 John 3:18-24
John 15:1-8

Persevering in the Lord’s vineyard.

Have you ever been in a situation where someone doubts your sincerity? For example, you may offer your service to a volunteer organisation, but perhaps because you were unknown to that organisation, others questioned your motives? This was precisely the experience of Paul, when after his conversion, he came to Jerusalem and tried to join the disciples. We read in the First Reading this week: “When he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.” (verse 26) In our own encounter, there may even be times when not only are people suspicious of us, they may even want to cause us harm! This was also the experience of Paul in this week’s First Reading. We read how the Hellenists wanted to kill Paul. “He spoke and argued with the Hellenists; but they were attempting to kill him.” (verse 29)

In truth, the experience of Paul is not new or unique. Indeed, this is a common strategy of the devil to undermine the good works of the those who labour in God’s vineyard. The devil wants to discourage us, causing us to become disillusion and give up. Of course, on our part, when we have such an encounter, we also have to self-reflect. In other words, we need to ask ourselves: Are my motives pure? When people are suspicious of me, are they justified in doing so? In situations where our motives are pure and our treatment unjustified, in the Second Reading St John assures us, “whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” (verse 20) Hence, whenever the devil wants to discourage us and cause us to give up, we must never fail to draw assurance from God and stay true to our vocation. As St John encouraged us in the Second Reading, “if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God” (verse 21)

In times of difficulties and persecution, we draw comfort that God is not just with us in spirit, He is with us physically too. Indeed, for us Catholics, God invites Himself to become part of our very being through the Eucharist. The problem is that many of us do not partake in the Eucharist with a discerning heart. To many of us, the act of communion is a mere ritual. Jesus said in the Gospel this week, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (verse 4-5) In the Second Reading, St John reminds us of the significance of the Eucharist by his use of similar Eucharistic language. He wrote, “All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them.” (verse 24) So, my brothers and sisters, let us ask ourselves, in times of difficulties, do I abide in Jesus? Do I realise He abides in me?

The Eucharist and our faith sustain us in times of trouble, but we also need practical help. Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians, “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Cor 10:13) The psalmist similarly promises us God’s help: “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and rescues them from all their troubles.” (Ps 34:17) Indeed, when we are undergoing trials, we need help from others. The problem for some of us is that we are too proud to admit that we need help and support from others. But not Paul in the First Reading. When the disciples rejected him, we read: “But Barnabas took him, brought him to the apostles, and described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus.” (verse 27) Barnabas’ testimony for Paul was vindicated when Paul “went in and out among them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.” (verse 28) Later, when the Hellenist wanted to harm Paul, God sent him help again: “When the believers learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.” (verse 30)

My brothers and sisters. Let us keep faith with God – by us persevering in our conviction and helping others to persevere in theirs. We may not think that what we are doing amount to much, but little do we realise, God often uses our meagre five loaves and two fish to great effect (Mt 14:17-21). In the First Reading, what Paul, Barnabas and others perhaps did not realise is the positive cascading effects of what they and other like-minded people were bringing about. We read, “Meanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.” (verse 31) As Jesus promised us in the Gospel this week, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” (verse 7-8) Trust in the Lord!

Indeed, when we labour the Lord’s vineyard, we must be mindful to always labour in faith and in trust. Amen.

Bible Reflection (21 April 2024)

4th Sunday of Easter Year B

Acts 4:8-12
1 John 3:1-2
John 10:11-18

Reorientating our self-worth, getting to know ourselves and getting to know God.

Many of us are leaders – at our work places, in our churches, at our social clubs, etc. As leaders, were there times when another person came along and did a such a good job that others said the person is outperforming us? This happens often across all organisation types. How do we feel when we are outperformed by someone? Do we feel happy that there is a capable person we can partner with? Or do we feel threatened by the person’s ability? In the First Reading this week, we read of such a situation.

Following Peter’s healing of a man who was lame from birth, Peter and John were arrested and questioned by the elders, scribes and high priests. Amazingly, instead of marvelling at the miracle before them, they became insecure. They were worried that Peter and John might gain popularity at their expense. So the high priests questioned Peter’s and John’s legitimacy. They asked Peter and John, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” (Acts 4:7) In this week’s First Reading, we read Peter’s bold response. Peter reprimanded his interrogators while proclaiming Jesus as the saviour. He said, “let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.” (verse 10) Peter then depicted the healing of the lame man as a sign of salvation, saying, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” (verse 12)

Like the high priests, we too often feel insecure. Why do we feel insecure? It is because, in a secular world, we often assess our self-worth by the job we hold, the possession we have, or the accolades we receive. As a result, when someone comes along and outshines us, we feel our self-worth diminished. Hence we feel insecure. Feeling threatened, we might even resort to unscrupulous measures so as to maintain our position and prestige. So, we sin. If this is me, how do I improve? How do I stop sinning in this way? We need to change the way we view our self-worth. We need to measure our self-worth not by our earthly achievements, but by the fact that we are children of God. Indeed, the fact that we are God’s children is a given, irrefutable fact. St John wrote in the Second Reading, “we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” (verse 2) Indeed, being children of God, there are great potentials in all of us.

But, how do we unleashed these great potentials in us? Firstly, we need to recognise ourselves for who we are, that is, children of God. Secondly, we also need to know God. Jesus said in the Gospel this week, “just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.” (verse 15) Jesus knows His identity as the Son of God; just as He also knows the Father. And it is upon these dual awareness that Jesus is able to accomplish great things, including sacrificing Himself for the sake of humanity. His self-worth is not diminished by the torture and humiliation He was subjected to. In fact, because of His closeness to the Father, His self-worth was enhanced through the trial.

But, what about those of us who are still attached to earthly accolades; still struggling to know ourselves and to know God? Be assured, God is merciful, as He promised us in the Gospel, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (verse 16) But we do not become included as one flock magically. We need to do our part. Imagine we made a new friend, how do we get to know each other better? We converse and interact with each other of course! It is the same with God. How do we know ourselves and know God better? We need to interact with Him. We do so by reading His word through the Bible; conversing with Him through prayers; and spending quality time with him through meditation. Many of us might say that we have no time to do these things. However, just as developing our human relationships requires investment of time and efforts, so too does our relationship with God. There is no shortcut, no magic pudding. But we can start modestly. For example, we can start by doing something as simple as spending 10 minutes reflecting on God’s word before our Sunday worship each week. Gradually, we can increase the duration and frequency of our time with God; introducing additional elements such as regular prayers and medication – until interacting with God becomes a regular routine in our daily life. This is when we start to enter into the fold of God, as Jesus promised us in the Gospel this week.

My dear friends, Easter season is a time of renewal and growth. This Easter season, let us take the initial steps to reorientate our self-worth, get to know ourselves and get to know God. Amen.

Bible Reflection (14 April 2024)

3rd Sunday of Easter Year B

Acts 3:13-15,17-19
1 John 2:1-5
Luke 24:35-48

Guilt, healing and new hope.

Many of us carry guilt in our lives. We know Jesus’ death on the cross washes away our guilt. His resurrection brings us healing and gives us new hope. This sense of renewal and hope is none more accentuated than in the season of Easter. But how real is this to us really?

In the First Reading this week, recalling the people’s sin in crucifying Jesus, Peter reprimanded the crowd, “But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you”. (verse 14) So my brothers and sisters, let us ask ourselves, have I rejected goodness and righteousness in the same way? Through my rejection of goodness and righteousness, have I suffered guilt, the type that weighs heavily on my conscience through the years? Such guilt robs us of true joy and true peace. Indeed, we need the promise of healing and new hope that accompanies the Easter season. In the First Reading, Peter emphasised to the crowd that God is merciful and patient: “And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance” (verse 17). In the same vein, St John wrote in the Second Reading, “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (verse 1-2)

The world teaches us to be self-reliant. “Do this and achieve this!” While this may be the driving force of an aspirational and meritocratic society, it is also one reason God’s mercy and healing touch do not feel real to us. For the wounds in our hearts, we cannot self-heal. We cannot offer ourselves mercy. It needs to be received. To receive this mercy, we need a docile heart to accept it. St Peter said the crowd, “Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out” (verse 19). A docile heart is one who truly knows God, not through lip services but one who knows God from the heart. It is only with such a heart that we may subsume our will under God’s and obey His Commandments. As St John wrote in the Second Reading, “Whoever says, ‘I have come to know him,’ but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist” (verse 4). This is the question the Scripture asks of us this week: Is my heart ready to acknowledge my failures? Is my heart ready to accept the forgiveness from Jesus? For until we do, we cannot heal from our past failures. My brother and sisters, let us reflect: What are my past failures that I need to heal from?

The theme of guilt and redemption continues in the Gospel his week. We read the story of how the Emmaus disciples, upon returning to the Apostle, bore witness to Jesus’ resurrection. It is interesting that on the road to Emmaus, the two disciples were so downcast that they did not recognise Jesus when our Lord appeared before them – not until the breaking of the bread. (Lk 24:30-31) Like many of us who are laden with past guilt, our hearts are closed from Jesus. The breaking of bread was a symbol of Jesus being broken for us. For the Emmaus disciples, it was not until they witnessed Jesus being broken for them that they recognised Jesus before them. It was not until then that they realised that Jesus was present before them. Isn’t this the case with us too? Laden with guilt of our past failures, we feel God is absent even though He was right in our midst. So, how can our senses be awakened to His presence? Like the Emmaus disciples, we need to witness His Passion and sacrifice. For without the cross, there can be no resurrection. Without living through the cross, we cannot experience the resurrection.

This was the case of the Apostles. In those early days, many were unsure whether Jesus has indeed resurrected. So, in the Gospel this week, to help them, Jesus appeared among them to remind them of His Passion: “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations” (verse 46-47). And in spite of their failures, Jesus offered them peace, as He said to the Apostles, “Peace be with you.” (verse 36) My dear friends, for our failures, let us too accept peace from Jesus. For only the peace of Jesus can drive out our shame.

This Easter season, let us reflect on His Passion and resurrection. Let us welcome the resurrected Jesus into our hearts. Let Him in, let Him heal us. Amen.

Bible Reflection (7 Apr 2024)

Bible Reflection (2nd Sunday of Easter Year B)

Acts 4:32-35
1 John 5:1-6
John 20:19-31

Is my life a testimony to the resurrected Jesus?

My brothers and sisters, we have entered the Easter season. We are Easter people. We are resurrection people. But, how real is the resurrection to me? Do I proclaim it? Do I live it? Do I even believe it? In the First Reading this week, we read this of the post-resurrection Christian community: “With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” (verse 33) Inspired by the Lord’s giving of His own life, this was a generous community. It was a community who shared what they have: “no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.” (verse 32) And this: “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” (verse 34-35) In honesty, most of us do not have generous hearts such as these. Our attachment to our wealth and possessions varies. Some of us would give away substantial sums to charity; others give some loose change from time to time; and others not at all. In truth, to most of us, our wealth and possessions are our security. But in truth also, most of us hold on to more than what we need to. Hence, what was it that made the early Christian community more generous than I? It is this: whereas I find security in my wealth and possessions; the early Christians found it in the resurrected Lord. Hence, this Easter, we ask ourselves: How real is the resurrected Jesus to me?

The crucified Jesus is a concrete sign of His love for us. The resurrected Jesus is a concrete sign of His sacrificial love triumphing over a cynical and loveless world. If we allow ourselves to be imbued with the spirit of the resurrected Jesus, we cannot help but love as He does. Indeed, when we truly love, then God’s way becomes a natural part of our life. In this way, obeying God’s Commandments comes naturally. Filled with the grace of God, it is no longer something we struggle to obey. On the other hand, if our faith is no more than habitual practices and ritualistic observations, then the resurrected Jesus is not in our consciousness. God’s love has not taken root in our hearts. His way is not part of our being. As such, observing God’s Commandments become a constant struggle, a struggle between our fallen nature and God’s way. As St John wrote in the Second Reading, “For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.” (verse 3-4)

So, how do I make the resurrected Jesus real? How do I attain spiritual maturity? To achieve spiritual maturity like this, we need trials. In the case of Jesus, without the cross, there would be no resurrection. It was the same with the Apostles. On the night Jesus was arrested, it was not just Judas who betrayed Jesus. They all did. On that night, all of them abandoned Him (Mk 14:50). Later, many would repent and through their trials, grew in their faith. For example, Peter wept bitterly after he denied Jesus three times (Mt 26:69-75). In this week’s Gospel, we read of another betrayal – that of the unbelieving Thomas. We read how our resurrected Lord appearing before the Apostles. Thomas, who was not in the room on the first occasion, struggled to believe in the resurrected Jesus. He said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (verse 25) This was in spite of the testimonies of his fellow apostles: “We have seen the Lord.” (verse 25) Fortunately for Thomas, in spite of his lack of faith, he has a receptive and docile heart. Hence, when Jesus appeared to him later, Thomas exclaimed before Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” (verse 28)

God is always patient with us. Indeed, the Apostles each grew to have such strong faith that all except St John gave their lives for the faith. Perhaps reflecting on the faith and fate of his companions, in his old age, St John wrote in this week’s Second Reading, “This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood.” (verse 6) Indeed, it is upon the cross that we build our faith.

This Easter season, like the father of a possessed child, let us say to Jesus. “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24) The truth is, many of the us, in spite of the Easter experience and testimonies of others, do not believe in and hence do not live the resurrection in our lives. To help us, Jesus bestowed the Holy Spirit upon us. In the Gospel, “he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'” (verse 22) My friends, let us ask ourselves: Do I live the resurrection of Jesus in my life? In other words, am I joyful? Am I filled with hope? Am I receptive and docile to Jesus? Do I submit my will under His will? When He called me to serve, do I serve unreservingly, even when it is hard? Jesus is saying to me today, as He said to Thomas in the Gospel, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (verse 29) Let us invite the Holy Spirit in. Let us knell before Jesus and exclaim as St Thomas did: “”My Lord and my God!” (verse 28) Let us proclaim and live the resurrection. Alleluia!

Bible Reflection (31 March 2024)

Easter Sunday Year B

Acts 10:34,37-43
1 Corinthians 5:6-8
John 20:1-9

With new spiritual sight, let us gaze upon the our resurrected Lord.

My brothers and sisters, we have entered the Easter season. Easter is a season of newness, a season of removing the decaying and the old, and replacing it with what is good and new. But the question is, do I know what is decaying and old in my life? If I have been reflecting sincerely over the season of Lent, I would know. If I have not, then chances are, I am living in denial.

In this week’s Gospel, we read that even Mary Magdalene, as someone with great faith, was initially living in denial of the resurrection. She came to the tomb, could not find Jesus’ body, and concluded, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” (verse 2) Many of the disciples had similar challenges, for example St Thomas (Jn 20:24-29). In this week’s Gospel, we read that St John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, went to the empty tomb, and “he saw and believed” (verse 8). Sometimes, like St John and St Thomas, we need to see to believe. For we are weak in our faith. This is one of the reasons why the Eastern Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil is so important in our faith life. The Church invites us to come, see, and believe. But we should not just come to observe the rituals blindly. If so, we would have gained nothing from the Triduum. We must see it with our spiritual sight. We are asked to “walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7)

Hence we ask, how is my spiritual sight? In the First Reading, we read how St Peter preached fearlessly and with authority. This contrasts with the Peter who denied Jesus three times in the Sanhedrin courtyard. Why was Peter able to do that? Peter was able to grow because God was patient with him. And after the event of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13), Peter has begun to gain spiritual sight. He began to understand he is a child of God, loved and forgiven by God! In the First Reading, we hear him proclaimed, “He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (verse 42-43) My brothers and sisters, how about us? Alas, many of us are spiritually blind. For many of us live in denial of our sins, our wrongdoings and our fallen nature. Why? Because like the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, we are in fear. And just like Peter in the Sanhedrin courtyard, we live in fear that others might know our weaknesses and our flaws; that others might look down upon us; that others might expose us. So, we live in denial of our identity, just like Peter at Sanhedrin, who denied Jesus. In denying Jesus, Peter was denying his very identity. Like Peter, we too need to learn that we are children of God, loved and forgiven by Him.

The truth is, if I continue to live in denial, I do not just rob myself of happiness. My example may cause my loved ones – those who look up to me – to follow my example. In addition, my facade may create a false impression of bliss that creates a kind of “peer pressure” to others. By my facade, others might feel compelled to similarly portray a false image, to live in denial. This is especially true among the young people of today, who are adversely affected by the false impression of bliss that their friends portray on social media. So, in more ways than one, I am not just robbing myself of joy, but also denying joy from those around me. This is just like what yeast does to a batch of dough – it spreads. In Biblical language, yeast is used to symbolise sins. Jesus said, “beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod” (Mk 8:15). Or as St Paul wrote in the Second Reading this week, “Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?” (verse 6) Hence, because of the cascading nature of its ill-effects, we are called to “Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch” (verse 7) The question is, am I prepared to?

My dear friends, Easter is a season of rebirth. Let us deny no more! This Easter Season, let us open our spiritual eyes and see our resurrected Lord. Let us see how He has loved and forgiven us. We have nothing to be ashamed of. Like the blind man on the roadside, let us say to Jesus, “Lord, let me see again.” (Lk 18:41) This Easter, let us gaze upon our resurrected Lord and hear Him proclaims “Ephphatha!” (Mk 7:34), which means “Be Open!” Amen.

Bible Reflection (24 March 2024)

Palm Sunday Year B

Isaiah 50:4-7
Philippians 2:6-11
Mark 14:1-15:47

This Holy Week, let us develop a greater sense of spiritual awareness. Let us be uplifting to others; let us listen to others and persevere in our trials and sufferings.

My brothers and sisters, we have embarked upon our Holy Week journey. This is a time of the year when the Church invites us to heighten our spiritual senses, to witness, to contemplate, to reflect and to grow spiritually.

Let us begin our reflection with the First Reading. In this text, the prophet Isaiah exalts three spiritual virtues, that is, to uplift, to listen and to persevere in our trials.

  1. On uplifting, the prophet wrote, “The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.” (verse 4) So we ask ourselves: In my relationships with others, have I been spiritually uplifting to others? Jesus shows us a great example when He said to the centurion, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.” (Mt 8:10)
  2. On listening, prophet Isaiah wrote this about God: He “wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.” (verse 4) So we ask ourselves, In my relationships with others, have I provided a listening ear to others, to listen and to empathise with their challenges and their joy? Or have I been too self-absorbed with myself? Again, Jesus shows us a great example in His encounter with the woman at the well (Jn 4:4-26). In the Gospel of John, we read how Jesus listened attentively to the woman, on how she, in spite having many relationships, had failed to find happiness. Having listened to her, Jesus then showed her the way to true happiness. We read how the woman, having found true joy, experienced a conversion that was so immediate, genuine and profound, that she left her buckets, immediately ran into town to evangelise to her townsfolk.
  3. And finally, on perseverance in our trials – probably the most challenging of the three virtues – the prophet Isaiah wrote, “I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.” (verse 6) But how do we learn to persevere like this? Let us turn to the Second Reading and the Gospel.

To persevere in our trials and sufferings, it takes humility. Once again, Jesus shows us the way. As St Paul wrote in the Second Reading, ‘though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” (verse 6-7) Humility leads to obedience. And it is with obedience that we are able to look beyond the immediate pain of our trials and adopt the attitude of an obedience servant. As St Paul wrote of Jesus, “he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” (verse 8) And we reflected last week, it is with obedience and perseverance in suffering that we are able to convert hardened hearts and lead ourselves and others to salvation.

Reading the account of Jesus’ Passion in the Gospel this week, we witness many examples of those lacking in humility and obedience. Let us recall some of these as we reflect:

  • Wanting things his ways, and not preparing to follow God’s will, Judas betrayed Jesus: “Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them.” (verse 14:10) We reflect: Am I similarly disobedient? Rather being submissive to God’s will, do I similarly take thing into my hands when they do not suit me?
  • Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” (verse 14:18) But Peter was over-confident, saying, “Even though all become deserters, I will not.” (verse 14:29) But Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” (verse 14:30) And our Lord was right. For as soon as Peter was put under pressure at the Sanhedrin, he too betrayed Jesus by denying Him (verse 14:66-72). We reflect: Gifted with a good education, intelligence, a stable job, am I similarly over-confident, thinking I have everything under control? Perhaps, I might even think that I do not need God! And when God reveals to me how inadequate I really am, do I deny Him? Or do I accept my failure as Peter did: “And he broke down and wept.” (verse 14:72)
  • At the hours when Jesus needed them most, Peter, James and John repeatedly fell asleep at the Garden of Gethsemane. (verse 14:37-41) We reflect: Have I similarly failed someone when the person needed me most? Do I accept and admit to my failures?
  • In perversion of justice, many in the Sanhedrin conjured lies and bore false witness against Jesus (verse 14:55-59). And later in Pilate’s courtyard, they even requested that the violent criminal Barabbas be released instead of the innocent Jesus. (verse 15:6-11) We reflect: Have I promoted or undertaken a course of action that perverted justice? Do I reflect on this failure? Do I feel sorry? Or am I in denial and look for excuses for my actions?
  • At the cross, the chief priests and the scribes gloated at their victory, of having administered the great injustice upon their perceived enemy, Jesus, an innocent man. “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” (verse 15:31-32) Similarly, the passersby, with hardened hearts, being unable to perceive the injustice and innocent human sufferings before them, taunted Jesus. “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” (verse 15:29-30) We reflect: Am I similarly blind to the injustice and innocent human sufferings before me? Perhaps it is homeless person, perhaps it is a friend, or perhaps it may be even a loved one? By my insensitivity, have I damaged my relationships with others? Have I been a true disciple of Jesus?

In truth, my brothers and sisters, all of us have failed in humility and obedience. Indeed, we are fallen beings. But just as the Passion story is challenging to us, there are also many episodes that inspire us. So, let us heed these examples:

  • Let us be like Simon of Cyrene, who carried the cross alongside Jesus, walking alongside Him. (verse 15:21) Let me walk alongside our brothers and sisters who are afflicted. As Jesus said, “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Mt 25:40)
  • Let us be like Joseph of Arimathea, who in doing what he could to ease the injustice, gave up his own tomb for Jesus. (verse 15:43-46) When I witness sufferings, let me be ready to make sacrifices, so as to ease sufferings and injustice.
  • Let us be forgiving like Jesus, that in spite of the injustice and sufferings inflicted upon Him, prayed that His perpetrators be forgiven: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34) Let me too have a forgiving and generous heart like Jesus, that I may learn how to love and forgive those who inflicted injustice upon me.

My dear friends, we have embarked on our Holy Week journey. Let us heighten our sense of spiritual awareness, let us prepare our hearts for Easter. May the Holy Spirit walks with us.

Bible Reflection (17 March 2024)

5th Sunday of Lent Year B

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Hebrews 5:7-9
John 12:20-33

This Lent, let us melt our hardened heart, learn obedience to God, and become God’s instruments of salvation to the world.

My brothers and sisters. We are but two weeks before Good Friday. So we ask ourselves: What is the spiritual significance of Good Friday to me?

The significance of Good Friday comes at many levels. One of the most significance aspects of Good Friday is that it is a new covenant that God is establishing with humankind. In the First Reading this week, God spoke about this new covenant, “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” (verse 31) But, what is difference of this new covenant from the Old Testament covenants that God made with Noah, Abraham and Moses? It is this: the new covenant is one that we the people would not break, but only if we are prepared to do what God invites us to do, that is, to write the covenant in our hearts. “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (verse 33) So my brothers and sisters, we ask: Is the new covenant of God in my heart? If not, like the Israelites of old, I will surely break it and walk away from God.

Indeed, a true conversion always come from the heart. The Bible often spoke of people whose hearts were hardened, such as the Pharaoh in Ex 9. My brothers and sisters, how about us? Do I too have a hardened heart? Do I feel sorry for the sins I committed; the people I hurt? Or am I unrepentant and give excuses for my sins? Am I forgiving for those who sinned against me and hurt me? Or am I vengeful and wanting to make the person suffer as much as I do? If I have a hardened heart, then God’s mercy and grace cannot come in. I need to soften my heart, so that I may be receptive to God’s grace. But how do I soften my hardened heart? It is through obedience. And what better way to learn obedience but through the example of our Lord Jesus Himself.

In the Gospel, hinting at the path that was ahead of Him, Jesus told Andrew and Philip, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (verse 24) Then showing the anguish of His impending suffering and death, Jesus said, “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say – ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.” (verse 27) This anguish culminated in the Garden of Gethsemane. At the garden, even though He was in deep anguish, Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” (Mt 26:39) Jesus was obedient to God – even to the point of death. Indeed, in our walk of faith, how many of us are able to submit ourselves in total obedience to God as Jesus did? Are we more likely to disobey God – in the ways we sin; and in the ways we fail to acknowledge our sins?

My brothers and sisters, we need to soften our hardened hearts. We know that Jesus was dreading His impending suffering and death. Yet He remained in obedience. Why? Precisely because He wants to melt our hardened heart. For the sake of us, in order to wash us clean of our sins, He took upon the sufferings of all of humanity’s sins upon Himself. As we read in the Gospel last week, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) He did it for me! Indeed, my brothers and sisters, It is only when we allow Jesus’ passion and death to touch and melt our hearts that God’s covenant is written in our hearts. And it is only then that we know it is a covenant that we will not break, for it is written in our hearts. It is only then that we can become the instruments of God, moving hardened hearts as Jesus does. And how do we move hardened hearts? We follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

Following the footsteps of Jesus requires us to take our obedience to God to the next level – one of sacrificial obedience. In fact, this is what all Christians are called to do. It involves dying to ourselves for the sake of others. We witness such show of obedience in history through the lives of the Saints. For example, St Lawrence was martyred for aiding the poor. St Maximilian Kolbe was martyred for defending a fellow prisoner in Auschwitz. And St Therese of Lisieux would allow herself to be wrongfully accused as her little ways of showing love to others. But even today, we see acts of sacrificial obedience. For example, when a parent sacrifices for their children for the sake of love; or when a volunteer sacrifices his/her own comfort for the sake of those in needs.

In the Second Reading, the author exalts Jesus’ obedience. The author wrote, “with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission” (verse 7) And what is it that Jesus on the cross said to His Father that the Father heard? He said this: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34) This is Jesus on the cross, taking upon Himself all our sins, and pleading to the Father to forgive us, for we do not know what we are doing! Let us contemplate and comprehend the gravity of this scene. For once we do, we cannot help but let the grace of God melt our hardened hearts. Then, we will be led to do likewise for others. Indeed, obedience leads to salvation, not just ours but also people whose lives we touch, just as Jesus’ obedience brought salvation to the world. “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (verse 8-9)

This Lent, let us melt our hardened heart, learn obedience, write God’s covenant into our hearts, and be God’s instruments of salvation to the world. Amen.