Sunday, July 05, 2015

Celebrating Failure


14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
(Mass@Retreat for RGS)


Sisters and brothers, what are the things that usually make you happy? What do people usually celebrate? When you walk into someone’s office, for example. What do you usually find hanging on their walls? Well, apart from artwork and family photos, one other thing you might find are academic diplomas and other certificates of achievement. Some people may even display their graduation photographs.

These are the things that typically make us happy. Give us joy. We usually celebrate and take pride in our accomplishments and successes. Not in our failures. And this is as it should be. Nothing wrong with that. Yet this natural tendency of ours to rejoice in our successes can make it very difficult for us to understand the prayers and readings for our Mass today.

You will remember what we asked God for in our opening prayer just now. Fill your faithful with holy joy, we said. For on those you have rescued from slavery to sin you bestow eternal gladness. Joy and gladness. This is what we are praying for at Mass today. But I’m sure you have also noticed that our readings are not about the things that usually make us joyful. The things that usually make us glad. Our readings are not about success and accomplishment. But about failure and disappointment.

In the gospel, Jesus preaches in the synagogue in his hometown. But, even though he impresses the people with his wisdom and power, they reject him. And we’re told that he could work no miracle there. We find something similar in the first reading. Here God sends Ezekiel to bring God’s message to rebels who have turned against God. To people who will very likely refuse to listen to him. Both the first reading and the gospel speak not about success but about failure. Not about achievement but about disappointment.

The second reading goes even further. For not only does St. Paul write about his own failure. He even celebrates it! Takes pride in it! For some time, the apostle has been suffering from something he calls a thorn in the flesh. Scripture scholars are unsure what exactly Paul is talking about. It could be a physical illness of some sort. Or a temptation. Or perhaps some ongoing persecution that he’s been experiencing. Whatever it is, this weakness is something over which Paul has no control. He is helpless to overcome it.

And yet, after praying to God to take it away from him. And failing to receive a favourable response. Quite incredibly, Paul is still moved to write these astonishing words: I shall be very happy to make my weaknesses my special boast. It’s as though the apostle were choosing to display a certificate on the wall of his office, proudly announcing his thorn in the flesh to everyone. Unlike most of us, Paul celebrates and rejoices not just in strength, but also and especially in weakness. Not just in success, but also and especially in failure. Not just in achievement, but also and especially in disappointment.

I’m not sure about you, sisters and brothers. But this is something that I find very difficult to understand. Let alone to imitate. My usual reaction to failure and disappointment, to weakness and helplessness, is not one of joy and celebration. But of anger and embarrassment and discouragement. Instead of celebrating my failures, I usually choose to hide them. And not just from others. But even from myself. I try not to think about them. To avoid getting depressed.

All of which may indicate that perhaps the joy and gladness I usually experience is somehow different from what we are praying for today. What we are praying for is not just any kind of joy but holy joy. Not just any kind of gladness but eternal gladness. What’s so special about holy joy and eternal gladness? In what way is it different from the ordinary kind?

St. Paul gives us the answer in the second reading, when he tells us the reason why he is able to celebrate his weakness. It’s not because it feels good to be helpless. But because God’s power is at its best in (human) weakness. When all human efforts have failed, then it becomes clear that only God alone could be responsible for whatever success may come.

Ordinary joy comes when our own efforts meet with success. But holy joy comes even in failure, because we trust and hope that God will somehow bring success out of our failure. Even though we may not see or understand how and when this could happen. In ordinary joy, my attention is fixed on the results of my own efforts. On monitoring and measuring them. And congratulating myself for them. In holy joy, my attention is fixed not on my results. Much less on myself. But on God. And on what God wants me to do. And I continue to fix my eyes on God, even if my efforts seem to bear no visible fruit to speak of. No human achievement to boast about. As the psalmist says, our eyes are on the Lord till he shows us his mercy.

Our eyes are on the Lord. Not on ourselves. This is what sets apart holy joy from the ordinary kind. And this is an important lesson for us to keep in mind especially today. When it sometimes seems that the only kind of joy we know is the kind that comes from measuring and monitoring tangible results. Today, when the language of strategic planning and key performance indicators has made its way from corporate boardrooms into church circles. Today, when we sometimes find ourselves obsessively counting baptisms and anxiously projecting future Mass attendance. Nothing wrong with that, of course. We do have a duty to do our best. But we also need to carefully bear in mind these enlightening words from Pope Francis’ The Joy of the Gospel:
Sometimes it seems that our work is fruitless, but mission is not like a business transaction or investment, or even a humanitarian activity. It is not a show where we count how many people come as a result of our publicity; it is something much deeper, which escapes all measurement. It may be that the Lord uses our sacrifices to shower blessings in another part of the world which we will never visit. The Holy Spirit works as he wills, when he wills and where he wills; we entrust ourselves without pretending to see striking results. We know only that our commitment is necessary. Let us learn to rest in the tenderness of the arms of the Father amid our creative and generous commitment. Let us keep marching forward; let us give him everything, allowing him to make our efforts bear fruit in his good time (The Joy of the Gospel, 279).
Sisters and brothers, what we are praying for today is holy joy. The kind that comes from keeping our eyes fixed on the Lord. And not on ourselves. Where are your eyes fixed? What are the things that you choose to hang on the walls of your office today?

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Meanings of Life


13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Picture: cc georgereyes

Sisters and brothers, if I were to ask you to imagine a bowl of rice, what image would come to your mind? Well, it depends, doesn’t it? When I think of rice, the image that I see is a bowl of fluffy white rice. Freshly cooked and recently scooped. With the steam still gently rising from it. Invitingly ready to eat. And I would be right. That is indeed what a bowl of rice looks like. But that is not the only possible image, right?

When asked to imagine rice, someone else might just as easily think of a bowl of uncooked rather than cooked rice. Or brown rice instead of white. Or rice porridge. Or even glutinous rice. The kind that’s used to make bak chang (meat dumplings). And that person would not be wrong. These are all correct ways of imagining a bowl of rice. For, in the English language, there’s really only one word that refers to all these different things. Rice.

In contrast, I’ve been told that Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines, has more than seven different words for rice. There’s one for white rice. One for unpolished rice. One for cooked rice. One for rice porridge. One for fried rice. Even one for burned rice. And one for left-over rice. These different words help Filipinos to speak more precisely. But, when speaking English, we have to be more careful. We have to remember that the same word can mean many different things. So that, if someone talks to us about rice, we really should ask them which kind they mean. Or risk being greatly mistaken.

And what is true of the word rice, is true of other English words as well. Another good example is the word that our Mass readings invite us to ponder today. Not the word rice. But the word life. As you may have noticed, our readings are all about life and death. In the first reading, we’re told that God takes no pleasure in the extinction of the living. God does not create human beings for death, but for life. Indeed, the reading goes so far as to say that God made human beings imperishable. Or indestructible. Immortal. And that it is the devil who brought death into the world. By successfully tempting us to sin.

The gospel focuses our attention on the same thing. Here Jesus brings back two people from death to life. One is a twelve-year-old girl who dies of a sudden illness. The other is a grown woman who, although still alive, is actually gradually losing her life. For she has been experiencing some sort of bleeding for twelve long years. And, as you know, the people of that time believed that a person’s life resided in the blood. So to keep bleeding in this way would be the same as to gradually be drained of one’s life. To be dragged, slowly but surely, into the jaws of death. Thankfully for these two people in the gospel, the touch of Jesus brings them both back from death to life.

But what does all this mean for us? At one level, the meaning seems quite obvious doesn’t it? God made us for life. We experience death only because of sin. Jesus comes to lead us out of sin and death, and into life. So, if we want to live forever, we have only to turn away from sin and believe in Jesus. That’s what our readings are telling us to do. Simple enough, right?

Well, if it really were all that simple, then why do we still celebrate Christian funerals? Why do even very devout and saintly Christians, people who have spent their lives following Christ, still suffer and die? Shouldn’t they live forever? Or are we to believe that they had some secret sin that we don’t know about? A sin serious enough for them to be condemned for it. Or was their faith simply not strong enough? Or, if they didn’t sin, and their faith was strong enough, then maybe the message in our readings is simply false? Belief in Jesus doesn’t really enable us to conquer death and to live forever. We’re being fooled.

Sisters and brothers, as you may have guessed, the problem doesn’t really lie with our readings. Nor does it lie with those who have died. The reason why we find it difficult to match what our readings are telling us with our own experiences of life, is because the life that our readings are talking about is not quite the same as what we often understand life to be.

When we hear the word life, we tend to think immediately of one, and only one, thing. Biological life. Physical life. Material life. Life that has to do with breathing in and breathing out. With eating and drinking. With buying and selling. But the scripture scholars tell us that the biblical understanding of life is quite different. They say that the New Testament talks about, not one, but three kinds of life. Each expressed by a different Greek word. The first kind is the one we are most familiar with. Biological or physical life (bīos). The second is psychological life (psychē). What we may consider the quality or meaningfulness of life. And, finally, the third and most important is divine or transcendent life (zoē). What the gospel of John calls eternal life. The life that God communicates to us. Not just after we are dead. But even now, while we are still physically and psychologically alive. The life that Jesus talks about when he tells us that he came to bring us life in abundance (John 10:10).

The reason why we find it difficult to match our readings with our experience is because we are thinking only of biological life. But our readings are really more concerned about eternal life. Transcendent life. Life in Christ. However saintly or sinful, however faithful or faithless we may be, our biological life will eventually come to an end. Death comes to us all. But if we cling to Christ. If we allow ourselves to be touched by Christ. If we live as Christ lived, then we are already living life in eternity. Life that does not end. Even if we may suffer a physical death.

But what does this third kind of life look like? And how do we know we are living it here and now? The second reading helps us to answer these questions by inviting us to think about how Christ lived his life on this earth. Remember how generous the Lord Jesus was: he was rich, but he became poor for your sake, to make you rich out of his poverty. Christ was rich in divinity. But out of love for us, he emptied himself to take on a physical and psychological life like our own. To become a human being like us. And then, having done that, he emptied himself even more. By laying down the same physical and psychological life he had taken up for us. By dying on the Cross. So that God raised him high. Gave him the name that is above all names. (Ph 2:6-11)

This is what eternal life looks like. Christ on the Cross. This is the image our readings are painting for us. This is God’s gift to us. A gift we receive by first remembering what Christ has done for us. As we are doing in this Mass. And then by being inspired and energised to do as Christ did. Laying down our lives for others. Especially by performing works of mercy for those most in need. And so to be raised up to life in its fullness.

Sisters and brothers, if I were to ask you to think of an image that best expresses your life right now? What would your image look like? What kind of life are you really living today?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

By The Stormy Sea


12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Picture: cc Lawrence OP

Sisters and brothers, do you remember the legend of St. Augustine and the boy by the sea? It is said that, while the saint was writing his book on the Holy Trinity, he found himself stuck. Unable to fully comprehend how God could be both one and three at the same time. So he took a break and went to the beach. Where he noticed a little boy doing a strange thing. He was running back and forth between the sand and the sea. Curious, the saint went to take a closer look. He saw that the boy had a seashell in one hand. Which he was filling with seawater. And then pouring the water into a hole he had dug in the sand.

What are you doing, little one? Augustine asked. Can’t you see? The boy replied. I’m emptying the ocean into this hole. At which the saint smiled, and said, But that’s impossible! The mighty ocean is far too large to be contained in this tiny hole. Yes, said the boy. But not more impossible than your own attempts at containing the greatness of God within the tiny confines of your puny mind. After saying this, the boy vanished.

The legend is obviously meant to teach us a lesson. But what exactly is this lesson? Some may think that it is this. That since we can never fully comprehend God, we should simply give up trying. If you can’t empty the ocean, then walk away from it. But, if this is true, then it would seem that Augustine never really learned his lesson. For, not only did he complete his book on the Trinity, he also became one of the greatest theologians in the history of the church. Whose many writings are still read and studied even today. Why bother to speak and to write so much about something that you can’t completely understand?

I’m not sure, sisters and brothers. But I think that the true lesson of the legend is something different. The proper human response to the Mighty Ocean of God’s Mystery is not to try to empty it into the tiny confines of our mind. Neither is it to walk away from it in frustration and despair. The proper human response to the Ocean of Mystery is to walk courageously into it. To allow ourselves to be carried along by its currents. Even if we do not fully understand where it will take us. Trusting that wherever it does take us is exactly where we are meant to be. Where we find true and lasting joy and peace.

I mention this because I think that, like Augustine, we too find ourselves standing before an Ocean of Mystery today. If not exactly the Mystery of the Trinity, then the mystery of human suffering. As you know it’s only about a fortnight ago that a sudden earthquake in Sabah took the lives of 18 people. Including 7 children from Singapore. Between the ages of 12 and 13. Then, just two days ago, we heard of yet another shooting in the United States. In Charleston, South Carolina, 9 people were killed in a church, where they had gathered to worship God. And these are only two tiny drops in a vast ocean of global suffering.

Sisters and brothers, how do these reports affect you? Perhaps a single all but irresistible question arises in at least some of our minds. The question why or how. Why did or how could God allow all this to happen? A question that is no easier to answer than the question how can God be both one and three at the same time? It is ultimately a Mystery. A vast ocean, impossible for our tiny minds to comprehend.

And, faced with this stormy sea, we may be tempted to do one of two things. Either to offer pat answers like: It’s God’s will. Or: God is punishing us for our evil ways. Or to give in to the temptation to despair. Unable to reconcile our belief in an all-powerful and all-loving God with the reality of suffering in our world, we may decide either to close our eyes to the suffering, or to deny the existence of God altogether. In either case, we choose to walk away from the Mystery.

But how can we avoid these two extremes? Neither trying to empty the ocean nor walking away from it. But, instead, immersing ourselves more deeply in it’s dark waters. And what does this even mean? What does it look like to wade into the Ocean of Mystery? These, my dear sisters and brothers, are the questions that our Mass readings help us to ponder today.

In both the first reading and the gospel, we find a stormy sea. In the gospel, the storm is a literal one. A very violent one. One that threatens to capsize the disciples’ boat. And to drown everyone on board. In the first reading, the storm is also a figurative one. As you know, although Job is an upright and God-fearing man, he experiences terrible suffering. In a string of disasters, he loses first his wealth, then his children, and even his health.

These external storms provoke great interior turmoil. Both in the disciples and in Job. Turmoil expressed in that poignant question that the disciples pose to Jesus with such urgency: Master, do you not care? Which is not much different from the question that we may find ourselves asking as well. Lord, why did you let this happen? People are suffering. Your people. Suffering for no apparent reason. In some cases, suffering precisely because they have chosen to follow you. Master, do you not care?

What is God’s response to this heartfelt plea? In the first reading, instead of providing an answer, God helps Job to reframe the question. From why? to who? Who pent up the sea...? Or who is this God whom you are presuming to question in this way? In the gospel too, we find a reframing of the question. After Jesus calms the storm at sea, the disciples are moved to ask, who can this be? Even the wind and the sea obey him. Quite strikingly, our Mass readings begin and end with the question who?

And the second reading follows up the question who? with the question what? Presuming that we all know who Jesus really is. The Son of God himself. The reading invites us to recall also what this same Jesus has done for us. For you and for me. We know the answer to this question. With great love, Christ has given his life for us on the Cross. And to remember the immense love of Christ, as we are doing at this Mass, is to be overwhelmed by it. To be encouraged and empowered by it. Given the strength not only to bear our own sufferings. But also to reach out in mercy to others who suffer. And even to those who cause suffering. Much like how the family members of the victims of the Charleston Shooting have taken the trouble to meet the shooter. And to tell him that they have forgiven him.

To live no longer for ourselves, but for him who died and was raised to life for us. To see the world no longer according to the standards of the flesh, but of the Spirit. To allow ourselves to become a new creation. No longer trying to contain or to deny God. But happy simply to follow Christ wherever he leads. And so to enter more fully into God’s love. For us and for the world.

Sisters and brothers, what must we do to immerse ourselves more deeply in the vast Ocean of God’s love today?

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Allure of Need



Wedding Mass of Jonathan & Grace

Readings: Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 33; Colossians 3:12-17; Matthew 5:1-12
Picture: cc leniners

Jonathan and Grace, my dear friends, what exactly is it that attracts you to someone? What are the things that might make you consider entering into a relationship with that person? Even to marry him or her? Perhaps some of us are attracted to a person’s strengths and achievements. The gifts that the person has to offer. Like musical talent, for example. Or the ability to make us laugh. But isn’t it true that there is something else that may attract us even more? Can you guess what this is?

I’m not sure, since I’m not an expert in such things. But I think that what’s perhaps even more attractive than a person’s strength is perhaps his/her weakness. Isn’t it true that many of us, whether we care to admit it or not, cannot help but be drawn to people who need us? People who are vulnerable in some way. And who are not afraid to show us that vulnerability. To open up a space for us in their lives.

I mention this, because this attractiveness, this allure of weakness, seems to be something that characterises the love story that we have gathered here to celebrate. As some of you already know, Jonathan and Grace first met at the 2011 Tri-Varsity Games. Where they happened to be teammates representing NTUCSA in the Ultimate Frisbee competition. (There may be a valuable lesson to be learned here.) But it wasn’t really their frisbee skills that got their relationship started. According to Jonathan, during the post games makan, his attention was drawn to (in his own words) a quiet, bespectacled, nerdy-looking girl who was using her phone. Quite interestingly, it was her shyness that drew Jonathan to Grace. So he struck up a conversation with her by pointing out that they both had phones of a similar make and model.

But that’s not all. For even though they didn’t exchange contacts during that first meeting, Grace somehow managed to get in touch with Jon some time later. And how did she signal her interest in him? How did she move the relationship along? You guessed it. By demonstrating her need for him. She asked him to help her increase the speed of her phone. After that, Jon was hooked. No turning back anymore…

Again, I’m not sure my dear friends, but I think that there is an important lesson here. Something that this lovely couple, Grace and Jon, are trying to share with us today. The lesson that good, strong and lasting relationships need to be built not just on strength. But also on weakness. Isn’t this also the message that we find in the readings that they have chosen for the occasion?

In the first reading, we find the account of how God creates the first relationship between humans. How does this come about? It begins with a need. A weakness. It is not good that the man should be alone, God says. The man needs a suitable companion. But he is unable to find one on his own. He needs God’s help. And God helps by first putting the man to sleep. By silencing his ego. So that the man can give away a part of himself. And, in the process, the first human relationship is born. Born as much out of human weakness as the power of God.

The second reading has a similar message. St. Paul reminds his readers that, as God’s chosen race, there is a certain uniform that they need to put on. Certain clothes that they need to wear. The virtues of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and, ultimately, love. Which is another way of saying that they need to put on Christ himself. Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you. But how are we to put on Christ, if not by first acknowledging our own nakedness. Recognising that the clothes we often wear, the clothes that the world gives us to wear, the garments of self absorption and anxious self assertion, are nothing more than rags. We are able to put on Christ only by acknowledging our need for him.

Which also helps us to understand what Jesus is teaching in the gospel. The beatitudes present us with a list of needy people, whom Jesus proclaims to be blessed. People who are blessed precisely in their weakness. For God delights in coming to satisfy their need for him. As the psalmist tells us: The Lord fills the earth with his love. All we need to do is make a space in our hearts and in our lives to receive the love that God has to offer us. And we do this by humbly recognising and acknowledging, perhaps even proclaiming, our need for God. Not unlike how Grace captured Jonathan’s heart by asking for his help to upgrade her phone.

Jonathan and Grace, I’m not sure, but I think that this is the invaluable lesson that you are sharing with us today. Even as we gather to celebrate your love for each other. The lesson that there is a charming, perhaps even irresistible attractiveness to weakness and vulnerability. And that it is often precisely in courageously acknowledging and even professing our need for one another and for God that true love is born. Again and again. Among us. And into our world.

My dear friends, even as we rejoice with Jonathan and Grace, even as we offer them our friendship and love, our prayers and good wishes, perhaps we need also to consider our own need for one another. Our own need for love. Our own need for God.

Sisters and brothers, do you perhaps have a phone that needs upgrading today?

Saturday, May 30, 2015

From Biodata To Birthday


Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (B)

Picture: cc Manu Dreuil

Sisters and brothers, do you know the difference between biodata and a birthday? What do I mean? Well, imagine a family looking for a new domestic helper. A new maid. They go to an agency, where they are given several thick folders to browse. In these folders they find the biographical information of many people looking for work. Page after page of photographs, names and addresses, dates of birth, employment histories, and so on. The family has never met any of these people. But this is how they first get to know their new maid. Their initial impression of the kind of person she might be. By reviewing impersonal information found in a folder. By looking at biodata.

Now flash forward to five years later. The family’s chosen maid has been living and working with them for all this time. And it’s been a very good fit. The maid is hardworking and responsible. And she’s treated very well. Even as a member of the family. Today is the maid’s birthday. And everyone gathers for a celebration. Each family member gives thanks for the gift of the maid. For all that she is and does for them. As they did when they first visited the employment agency five years earlier, the family reviews their maid’s life. But they are doing it in a very different way. No longer only from a distance. No longer merely by browsing impersonal facts in a folder. But instead on the basis of a close personal relationship. Five years of living together has allowed the family and their maid to move from merely browsing through biodata to truly celebrating a birthday.

I mention this because I think we are called to experience a similar shift today. The solemn feast of the Holy Trinity is, of course, meant to be a celebration of God’s life. But it’s possible for us to treat it as we would a page of biodata. As though we were reviewing a collection of impersonal information about someone we’ve never met. Facts about one god who is supposed to be made up of three persons: Father, Son and Spirit. Of course, if we’re honest, we’ll admit that we don’t really understand exactly how God can be both one and three at the same time. But that’s not really a problem for us. Most of us have learned simply to accept it as a mystery. By which we mean something that we don’t need to bother ourselves too much about. Something that shouldn’t be allowed to hinder us from simply getting on with the rest of our lives. Until the next time Trinity Sunday comes around again.

But the approach in our readings is quite different. In the first reading, Moses addresses the people of Israel, just as they are about to enter the Promised Land. And what Moses invites Israel to do is not much different from what people might do when they celebrate a family birthday. He reminds them of all that God has done for them in the recent past. He encourages them to recall their own experience of the power of God’s word, especially in the Exodus. How, with mighty hand and outstretched arm, God freed them from slavery in Egypt. And gathered them to himself. Adopting them as God’s own family. Enabling them to cry out joyfully in the words of the psalmist: Happy the people the Lord has chosen as his own. Empowering them to live the way God wants them to live. In ways that befit the members of God’s own family. By keeping God’s laws and commandments.

The scene in the gospel is similar. Just as Moses gathers Israel, before sending them into the Promised Land. So too does Jesus gather his disciples, before sending them out into the world. Reminding them of all that God has done for them. Except that, in the gospel, Jesus is not just the new Moses. He is himself also the Word-of-God-Made-Flesh. It is through the Mystery of Jesus’ Dying and Rising, that God has brought about a new Exodus. Freeing a people from the slavery of sin and death. And not just the people of Israel. But all the nations of the earth. Including you and me. In Christ, God has adopted us as God’s very own family. This is what Jesus means when he says, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. And it is the good news of this merciful act of adoption that all of us are sent into the world to proclaim. Go… and make disciples of all the nations…

Nor is this wonderful work of God only a thing of the past. Only something that Jesus did two thousand years ago. No. We continue to experience the power of this great Mystery today. For even though Jesus has ascended into heaven, he remains present to us just as he promised. Present in the Holy Spirit. Who, as the second reading reminds us, is a Spirit of adoption. A Spirit that bears witness to our new status as children of God, and co-heirs with Christ. How does the Spirit do this? By giving us the wisdom and courage to live as members of God’s family would live. In the same way that Jesus himself lived. As adopted daughters and sons of God. Sharing the Lord’s sufferings so as to share his glory.

My dear friends, isn’t this how Trinity Sunday is meant to be celebrated? Isn’t this why we locate this feast on the first weekend following the great season of Easter? Immediately after our celebration of the Death and Resurrection of Christ, and the coming of the Holy Spirit? For us, Trinity Sunday is not meant to be just a review of impersonal information about someone we have never met. It is, rather, more like a birthday celebration of the head of our household.

A time to remember all that God, our loving Father, has been and continues to be, has done and continues to do, for and in us. Through the Son. In the Holy Spirit. Recalling not just memories that we all share in common. But also memories that are unique to each one of us. Memories of the many and different times in which we have experienced God’s care and concern for us. The many and different ways in which God has protected and provided for us. Inspiring our hearts to think the right thoughts. Strengthening our hands to do the right things. Guiding our steps to walk the right paths. Writing straight with the often crooked lines of our lives.

And as we do this. As we remember and count our many blessings. Something mysterious happens to us. We experience anew the energy that comes to the children of God. The power that is our birthright. We find new inspiration, new wisdom, new strength. So that we can continue to be sent out into our Promised Land. Into this broken yet beautiful world in which we live. To proclaim to all, by the lives that we lead, the love and joy, the peace and justice, of the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.

Sisters and brothers, on this solemn feast of the Holy Trinity, how are we being called to continue moving from merely reviewing biodata to truly celebrating a birthday today?

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Bus-Stop Basics


Pentecost Sunday (B)

Picture: cc Daniel Lee

Sisters and brothers, do you remember the last time you went to a bus-stop? What was it like? And even if you don’t frequent bus-stops, because you travel in your own car, you can probably still remember what bus-stops are for, right? And how they are meant to be used. Of course, bus-stops can be used in many different ways. We can meet a friend at a bus-stop. We can go there to seek shelter from the rain. We can even choose to spend a whole day sitting quietly at a bus-stop. Watching the world go by.

Yes, it’s possible to use bus-stops in all these different and interesting ways. But that’s not really what they are for. We all know that bus-stops are built for one purpose: transportation. We are not really supposed to remain at a bus-stop for an extended period of time. No. We go there to catch a bus. To be transported to another location. Bus-stops are all about movement.

And in order for us to use a bus-stop effectively, there are at least three things that we need to know how to do. The first is recognition. We need to know how to identify the right bus. The one that will take us to our intended destination. We need to know the service number of the bus we’re taking. And, second, when that bus arrives, we need also to know how to flag it down and board it. But that’s not all. A third thing we need to know is, of course, how to wait.

For there will usually be other buses arriving at our stop. Buses that won’t take us to where we wish to go. When these wrong buses show up, we need to know how to ignore them. How to calmly and patiently let them pass us by. Which can be frustrating. Especially if we’ve been waiting a very long time for the right bus. While watching all the wrong ones go by.

Movement and recognition, waiting and boarding. These are what bus-stops are all about. And, strange as it may sound, these are also some of the things that make up Pentecost as well. Consider, for example, the first reading’s description of what it was like when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples. Very likely, our attention will be drawn most of all to the impressive sights and sounds. We’re told that the Spirit’s coming sounded like a powerful wind. And that it appeared… like tongues of fire. But what’s even more important than the sights and sounds are the powerful effects of the Spirit’s coming.

The reading describes these effects in terms of movement. Of transportation. When the Spirit descends upon them, the disciples are transported out of the room in which they had gathered. They are moved. Not only to leave the room. But also to speak powerfully and passionately. Preaching… about the marvels of God.

And not only the disciples, but also their listeners. We’re told that, at the Spirit’s coming, all the devout people living in Jerusalem, people from every nation under heaven, were moved to come together. They all assembled. They were also moved to amazement and astonishment that they could understand, in their own respective native languages, everything that the disciples were saying.

Not unlike a bus-stop, Pentecost is all about movement. Movement from fear to courage. From silence to speech. From division to unity. From confusion to understanding. From being scattered to being gathered together again. Nor does the similarity end here. Also like a bus-stop, Pentecost requires recognition. For the Holy Spirit is not the only thing that moves us. It is not the only bus arriving at our stop.

The second reading presents us with a contrast between two different movements. That of the Spirit of God on the one hand, and that of self-indulgence on the other. And we are taught to distinguish these movements by their opposing effects. By the different directions in which they transport us. When self-indulgence is at work, we’re told, the results are obvious: sexual irresponsibility… idolatry... jealousy... disagreements... envy... and similar things. In contrast, what the Spirit brings is very different: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Like a bus-stop, Pentecost is also about learning how to recognise different movements. Different impulses. Different bus services, if you like. The right ones to board. The wrong ones to ignore. And even to resist. But why do we do this? What is our ultimate intended destination? Where exactly do we wish to go? The answer to these questions is found in the gospel. And what an awe-inspiring answer it is. When the Spirit of truth comes, Jesus says, he will lead you to the complete truth. But what is this complete truth? What does it look and feel like?

The gospel reading is taken from the 15th and 16th chapters of John’s gospel. A little earlier, in chapter 14, Jesus had already told Thomas that Jesus himself is the way, and the truth, and the life (v. 6). So if Jesus is himself the truth. And the Spirit leads us to the complete truth. Then, it follows that where the Spirit is leading us is to Jesus himself. The Spirit recreates in us the life of Jesus. The Spirit reproduces in us the Mystery of the Lord’s Dying and Rising. The same joyful Mystery that we have been pondering most intensely in this great season of Easter that is now drawing to a close. This is the wonderful destination at which we all hope to arrive. The Lord Jesus himself. Present to us. Present in and among us. Present even to the rest of the world.

Isn’t this, my dear sisters and brothers, what Pentecost is really about? Recognising different movements. The wrong ones to ignore and to resist. The right ones to accept and to follow. But, if this is true, then surely Pentecost doesn’t just happen once a year. On the last day of Easter. Although we may celebrate the solemn feast on this particular day, Pentecost actually happens every day of every year. For, at every moment of every passing day, we all find ourselves at our respective spiritual bus-stops. Waiting for the right bus to arrive. So that we can allow it to take us to where we are meant to go.

Of course, we may not see and hear spectacular sights and sounds. No roaring winds from heaven. No dramatic tongues of flame. But what is more important are the movements. The impulses we experience. Some transporting us in the direction of selfishness and sin. Others in the direction of love and service and sacrifice.

Sisters and brothers, if Pentecost is indeed about transportation, then what are the buses arriving at your stop? And which ones will you be choosing to board today?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Why Did The Christian Cross The Road?


6th Sunday of Easter (B)

Picture: cc Megan Trace

Sisters and brothers, are you familiar with that series of riddles that have to do with a chicken crossing the road? For example, why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side. Or why did the turkey cross the road? To prove that she wasn’t a chicken. Or why did the horse cross the road? Because it was the chicken’s day off. Sounds rather silly. But it could be a serious question too, right? After all, it can be a very dangerous thing for a chicken to cross the road. And if, despite the danger, the chicken still insists on crossing the road, then we might be forgiven for wondering at its exact reasons for doing so.

There are, of course, no chickens in our Mass readings today. But there is someone crossing a road of some sort. In the first reading, we find Peter crossing a rather big road. Perhaps even an expressway. It is the road that divides Jew from Gentile. The clean from the unclean. And not only is it against the law to cross this road, it is also a potentially dangerous thing to do. Who knows what his fellow Jews might think? Who knows how they will react? After all Jews, as you know, believed Gentiles to be unclean. And yet here is Peter, not only speaking to a Gentile, but visiting his home. And, subsequently, even staying there for some days. What are Peter’s reasons for doing this? Why does he cross the road? Why should any Christian bother to cross the road? This, my dear sisters and brother, is the question that I believe our Mass readings are helping us to answer today.

The first reason why Peter decides to cross the road is because he has come to a certain realisation. The truth I have now come to realise, Peter tells his listeners in Cornelius’ house, is that God does not have favourites. Peter crosses the wide road that separates Jew and Gentile, because he has come to realise the same truth that Paul writes about in the 1st letter to Timothy. That God desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (2:4).

Now this is a radical shift in thinking. Especially for someone who believes himself to be a member of a chosen people. And that is true also for the rest of us Christians. We too believe ourselves to be a chosen people. But it’s important for us to understand the nature of this choice. God indeed chooses us. But not in a way that excludes others. We are not members of an elite club. God has no favourites. God wants everyone to be saved. Which is why, like Peter, every Christian is called to cross the road. To share the good news we have received with others.

But how did Peter come to this realisation in the first place? He didn’t arrive at it on his own. It was revealed to him. And that is the second reason why Christians cross the road. Revelation. In Peter’s case, the revelation had come in the form of a vision he experienced even before he was invited to Cornelius’ house. In this vision, Peter had heard God telling him that what God had made clean, he was not to call unclean.

What’s more, while at Cornelius’ house, Peter receives yet another revelation. With his own eyes and ears, he witnesses the power of the Holy Spirit at work. For only just after he begins to speak to his hosts, and even before he has had a chance to pray for them, his listeners suddenly start speaking strange languages and proclaiming the greatness of God. With this new revelation, any remaining doubts Peter may have had before are now dispelled. God really does wish even Gentiles to be saved. Could anyone refuse the water of baptism to these people?

But that’s not all. The second reading reminds us of an even earlier, more foundational, revelation than these. God’s love for us was revealed, we’re told, when God sent into the world his only Son so that we could have life through him. This is the foundational revelation. The revelation in which Jesus crossed the infinitely wide road separating heaven from earth. Creator from creation. Divinity from humanity. Holiness from sin. Life from death. Revelation. The second reason why Christians cross the road. The revelation of God’s deep love for us. Granted by the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.

The gospel gives us one more reason for crossing the road. If you keep my commandments, Jesus tells us, you will remain in my love… What I command you is to love one another. The third reason why Christians cross the road is so that they may remain in the love of God. May remain in the God who is love. For to cross the road for others, is also to imitate Christ, who crossed the road for us. It is to love as we have first been loved. And so to live in God, as God lives in us.

Realisation, revelation, and remaining. These are the 3 key reasons why we Christians cross the road. Even when it’s inconvenient. Even when it may be a dangerous thing to do. These are the reasons why we love, even our enemies. Why we share the Good News, even with strangers. Why we reach out to the poor and the needy, even when our efforts may go unnoticed or unappreciated. The reasons are clear enough. This is what our readings do for us. They give us the answer to the question why do Christians cross the road?

But there is another question that we need to ask, isn’t there? The answer to which we do not find in our readings. For even if we know why we should cross the road, we need also to know what exactly are the roads that each of us needs to cross at this particular point in time. Perhaps there is someone against whom we have been bearing a grudge. Or who has been bearing a grudge against us. Could this be the time for us to cross the road from conflict to reconciliation? Perhaps there is a situation of injustice that we know of, but have been keeping quiet about. Could this be the time for us to cross the road from silence to speech? Perhaps, like Peter, we too know a Cornelius. Someone who might be interested in Christ. Could this be the time for us to cross the road from apathy to evangelisation?

Sisters and brothers, not unlike that notorious jay-walking chicken in the riddles, we Christians have been given more than enough reasons to cross the road. But what exactly is the road that you are being asked to cross today?

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Caring For The Elephant


Wedding of Ian & Gillian

Readings: Genesis 1:26-28, 31a; Psalm 118; 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:8; Mark 10:6-9
Picture: cc Amanderson2

Ian and Gillian, dear friends, do you still remember the story of the blind men and the elephant? As the story goes, several blind men had never seen an elephant before. So they found one and felt it with their hands to discover what it was like. But each person touched a different part of the animal, and so drew a different conclusion. The guy who felt the ear said the elephant was like a huge fan. The one who felt the tail said it was like a piece of rope. The one who felt the trunk said it was like a snake. And so on. Since their experiences were different, they could not agree as to what the animal was really like.

Which of them was right? Well, anyone who can see will be able to tell them that they are all right to some extent. But since they can’t see, the blind men don’t know that. They can only judge from their limited experience. Does this mean that they are doomed to argue forever? Does this mean that they can never be friends? Not really, right? For although they may disagree over what the animal is like, they can agree on at least one thing. They can agree that it is indeed an elephant that each of them is touching. They can agree that the animal is real. That, in itself, is a significant point of agreement.

And this is already more than enough for them to come together to cooperate on a single project. To care for that elephant. To make sure that it has enough to eat and to drink. To make sure that it lives a happy life. What’s more, as the blind men work together, perhaps it’s possible for them to go even further. Perhaps each of them can share his experiences of the elephant with the others. So that they can each learn to better appreciate where the others are coming from. And, in the process, learn to live peacefully with one another, without having to argue all the time. Perhaps they will even start an organisation of blind men, devoted especially to the care of orphaned elephants...

There is, of course, no elephant among us today. And thank goodness for that. But there is a question that some of us may be asking. As we gather on this joyous occasion, when Ian and Gillian are united as husband and wife. The question is this: How did this day come to pass? How did this happy couple meet and fall in love? How did they decide to get married?

I don’t propose to tell the whole story. I’ll leave you to ask the happy couple for the details. If you don’t already know them. As far as I know, there’s actually more than one way to tell the story. According to one version, it all began 14 years ago. With a very helpful catechism classmate by the name of Bertrand. Whose remarkable teenage efforts at matchmaking are finally bearing fruit today. (Is Bertrand here by any chance?)

But Bertrand is not the only one we have to thank. For his efforts would have come to naught if Gillian and Ian hadn’t struck it off. If they hadn’t found a mysterious connection with each other that has lasted all these years. Through various separations and reunions. So... thanks to Bertrand… But not just to Bertrand. According to another version of the story, something bigger than Bertrand was at work. Something that goes by various names. Some call it fate or kismet. Others luck or fortune. The idea that this relationship is somehow written in the stars.

And then there is, of course, the Christian version of the story. A version told in the readings that we just heard. According to this version, the story dates back, not just to 14 years ago, but way back to the very beginning of creation itself. The first reading tells us, that when God created the human race, God decided to create not just individuals, but relationships. From the beginning of creation God made them male and female. And God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good.

But what exactly was so very good about this relationship between the man and the woman. The answer is found in the second reading, which speaks to us of love. Not just any kind of love. Not just the love that we may have for shopping at Takashimaya. Or for eating durians. Or for collecting Hello Kitty dolls. The reading tells us that this love is what makes life worth living. Without this love, we can even give our bodies to be burnt, and it will do us no good. After all, don’t suicide bombers do the same? This love is different. It is always patient and kind… never jealous… boastful or conceited… never rude or selfish... This love never comes to an end.

And the reason it doesn’t come to an end is because it doesn’t originate with us. It comes from God. It is out of this love that God creates the human race. It is out of this love that God sent his only Son, Jesus, to save us from our selfish ways. It is out of this love that God has seen fit to unite Ian and Gillian as husband and wife. And what God has united, man must not divide.

So there we have it. Different versions of the same story. Different opinions as to how this joyous union we are celebrating came to be. Different ideas about whom we have to thank. Bertrand. Kismet. God. But which version is true? Which version do you believe? Very likely each of us here will believe something different. And none of us has the means to prove the others wrong. But that’s okay. For even if we don’t agree about when, how and by whom this connection between Ian and Gillian came to be. We can at least agree that these two young people are truly very much in love. We can at least agree that they do experience some mysterious connection with each other. A connection strong enough to give them the courage to commit their lives to each other. For the rest of their days.

And because we can agree about this, the rest of us can come together to cooperate with each other. To commit ourselves to doing whatever we can to ensure that this beautiful relationship continues to survive and to thrive in the days ahead. Isn’t this also something that we are celebrating today? Not just the union of two individuals. Of Ian and Gillian. But also the coming together of various very different people. With very different beliefs. Yet bound together by a common bond. A common concern. A common friendship. A common love. For Gillian and for Ian. Something that unites us in spite of our differences. Something that may even lead us to share our experiences with each other. To learn from one another. And to live fuller lives as a result.

Ian and Gillian, my dear friends, what are you prepared to do to continue caring for the elephant in the days ahead?

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Sponsorship & Space



5th Sunday of Easter (B)

Picture: cc John

Sisters and brothers, what is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word sponsor? What does sponsorship mean to you? If you’re like me, you’ll probably think of the phrase, And now a word from our sponsors... You’ll think of the provision of resources, especially money. And it’s true. Very often, to sponsor something is to finance it. To sponsor someone is to provide her with monetary support. But doesn’t sponsorship have another meaning? One that involves more than money?

When someone applies for citizenship or permanent residency in a foreign country, for example. The applicant is often required to name a sponsor. A citizen of that country, who is willing to take responsibility for the conduct and character of the applicant. And this is true not just of the countries of the world. It’s also true of the community that is our church. As you know, every new inquirer joining the RCIA is assigned a sponsor. A baptised Catholic who accompanies the person through the process. Someone who takes responsibility for him. Someone who sees to her needs. Who teaches him the way things work.

More than provision, sponsorship is also about inclusion. More than just the supply of resources–be it in money, or in kind–sponsorship is also about the offer of hospitality. It’s about making space for newcomers. It’s about helping strangers to find their place in a community. To sponsor someone is to allow the person the privilege of making a new home among us.

And haven’t we all had some experience of the importance of sponsorship in this sense? Don’t we all know what it feels like to be a newcomer? Whether in school or at work. In church or at a party. We all know what it’s like to be on the outside looking in. We all know that feeling of immense gratitude and relief, when someone on the inside takes the trouble to come out to receive us. To ease us into unfamiliar surroundings. To introduce us to new people. To quiet our anxieties. To make us feel at home.

Sisters and brothers, we all know the importance of sponsorship. Of hospitality and inclusion. Isn’t this why we find Barnabas  such a likeable person? In the first reading, Saul is the obvious newcomer to the Christian community in Jerusalem. He is the outsider. And not just any ordinary newcomer. Saul has a history of persecuting Christians. It’s no wonder that everyone is scared of him. Unwilling to welcome him into the community.

Fortunately for Saul, someone on the inside intervenes on his behalf. The reading tells us that Barnabas took charge of Saul, introduced him to the Apostles, bore witness to his conversion to Christ and to how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. In effect, what Barnabas does is to act as Saul’s sponsor. He helps Saul to find a place in the church in Jerusalem. If not for Barnabas, perhaps Saul would never go on to become the great apostle Paul.

But he does. And we see the beginnings of this radical transformation already in the first reading. Where we’re told that Saul started to go around with them in Jerusalem, preaching fearlessly in the name of the Lord. But what is really happening here? Isn’t Saul doing the very same thing that Barnabas had done for him? Through his preaching, Saul offers his listeners a new home in the community of believers. He speaks of their inclusion in the communion of saints. Just as Barnabas had sponsored him, so now Saul looks to sponsor others.

But that’s not the whole story, is it? That’s not quite the complete picture. If it were, then the church would not be that much different from any other group of people looking to recruit new members. Even credit card companies do this, don’t they? By preaching the good news that membership has its privileges. But the Christian community is not a credit card. The sponsorship we provide is not inclusion in an elite group. A gathering of people richer, or smarter, or more socially connected than everyone else. What then is the Christian version of sponsorship? What are we really members of, if not an elite group?

We find the answer in the gospel. Where Jesus speaks about being the true vine, in whom we, his disciples, are the branches. Jesus is, of course, using an image from agriculture. And yet, what the vine does for the branches is not that different from what the sponsor does for those who are sponsored. Like the sponsor, the vine is the place of hospitality and inclusion. The location onto which foreign branches can be grafted. Where they can make a new home. Where they can find new life. Except that this is no ordinary home. This is not just any ordinary human life. Instead, what we believe is that, in Christ the True Vine, we the branches gain entry into the very life of God! As the second reading reminds us, whoever believes in Christ and keeps his commandments, lives in God and God lives in him.

By telling us that he is the vine, Jesus is offering himself to us as our true sponsor. The one who includes us, who makes a privileged space for us, in the very life of God. This is the marvellous Mystery that we are celebrating, especially in this joyous season of Easter. The Mystery of the life, death and resurrection of Christ. By which, we have all been given a place, a home, in God.

But we only reap the benefits of this sponsorship, if we claim it for ourselves. If we continue to make our home in Christ. If we remain in him. And we do this by acting in the same way that Barnabas and Saul acted in the first reading. By taking the trouble to sponsor others. As the second reading reminds us, our love is not to be just words or mere talk, but something alive and active; only by this can we be certain that we are children of the truth… If the new life of the true vine flows in us, we will bear fruit. If we are truly members of the Church, the Body of Christ, then we will naturally desire to invite others to join our number. To experience our life. To share our home. To partake of our joy.

A joy that many around us are seeking so desperately. Without even realising it. People who may take pride in being the insiders of this world. But who remain outsiders in the kingdom of God. People who think they are living the good life. But who are really dying, bit by bit, with every passing day. If this is true, then is it not our responsibility as Christians to reach out to them? To usher them into the Body of Christ? To graft them onto the True Vine? To sponsor them so that they may share in the life of God?

Sisters and brothers, especially at Easter, we remember and we celebrate the wonderful way in which Christ has already gained for us a home in God. Do you know someone who needs to hear this good news? Someone who needs to come to know Christ?

Sisters and brothers, is there someone in your life who is still looking for a sponsor today?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Ultramarathon


4th Sunday in Easter (B)
(Good Shepherd Sunday)

Picture: cc Asiaone News

Sisters and brothers, imagine for a moment that you’re making a long journey. Maybe you’re running an ultramarathon. Like Mr. Yong Yuen Cheng and Mr. Lim Nghee Huat. Who have both decided to celebrate Singapore’s 50th birthday by running 50 km every day for 50 days. Or maybe you’re climbing a mountain. Or making a pilgrimage of some kind. Whatever it is, the journey is long and the way is hard. Can you think of some challenges you might face along the way? Obstacles that prevent you from completing your journey? I can think of three.

The first is exhaustion. If the journey is long and hard, it’s likely that, at some point, your body is going to start feeling the strain. Maybe your legs will go soft. So that you’ll need some place to rest. Or a source of support. Like a walking stick. Or a travelling companion.

The second challenge is discouragement. Especially when the going gets tough, and your body starts complaining, it’s likely that you’re also going to feel like giving up. Maybe you’ll find your mind drifting to the comforts of home. And maybe you’ll start questioning yourself. Asking why you were stupid enough to go on this journey in the first place. When this happens, you’ll need to be reminded of two things. Your reasons for setting out. As well as what is waiting for you at your destination. Remembering how your trip began, and where it will end, can encourage you to persevere. To continue on your way.

The third challenge is danger. Such as the danger of getting lost, or of being attacked. In such situations of danger, what you’ll need is a protector and a guide. Someone to show you the way when you don’t know which direction to take. Someone to defend you from whatever may threaten your safety.

Exhaustion, discouragement, and danger. Three challenges that people who make long journeys have to face. But why am I talking about all this on this 4th Sunday of Easter? When our church celebrates Good Shepherd Sunday? And when we’re supposed to pray for more vocations to the priestly and religious life? The reason becomes clearer when we recall what we prayed for at the beginning of Mass just now. We asked that we the humble flock may reach where the brave Shepherd has gone before. We asked God to help us to arrive at our destination. Which means that, whether we realise it or not, we are all meant to be on a journey. The same journey that Jesus, our Good Shepherd, has already made and completed. By his Cross and Resurrection. The journey from death into life. From selfishness into love. From darkness into light.

My dear friends, as followers of Christ, we are all called to make this journey. Whether we like it or not. This is our vocation. And it’s not easy. We face challenges. At times, we may find ourselves overcome with exhaustion. Too tired to go on. Especially when our temptations just don’t seem to go away. No matter how hard we struggle against them. What are we to do when this happens? Our first reading and the psalm remind us that, instead of giving up, we need to keep making Jesus our cornerstone. To keep leaning on him. To let him be the stable and solid support for our aching bodies and trembling knees. For it is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.

At other times, we may feel not just tired, but also discouraged. Especially when we are made to suffer for our beliefs. Times when, precisely because we choose to follow God’s ways, we end up losing out to those who don’t. So that we may ask ourselves why we are so stupid. Why we don’t just do what everybody else does. Why, for example, we continue to refuse to step on others, or to stab them in the back, just to get ahead.

At such times, the second reading reminds us of two important things. First, we are reminded of who we already are. We are already the children of God. We are already the brothers and sisters of Christ the Lord. The One who gave his life for us. This is the reason why we act the way we do. Why we live differently from others. We live as Christ our brother lived. We act as he acted. And we face the consequences the way he did as well. Second, we are also reminded of what we are to be in the future. That we shall be like him because we shall see him as he really is. This is the goal of our journey. Our final destination. And our greatest dignity. Far more precious than any earthly success. To be like God himself. To see him as he really is. To be reminded of these things–of who we already are, and of what we will become–is to find new courage in times of discouragement.

And then there are also times when we may find ourselves in danger. In danger of getting lost or misled. Times when, even though we very much want to do what is right, we just can’t seem to see clearly the direction we should take. Times when the line between right and wrong, between good and bad, or between good and better, seems too hazy for us to recognise.

At such times, we need to remember what Jesus tells us in the gospel. That he is the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. When we are in danger of getting lost, he is the One who continues calling out to us. Showing us, by his example, the way we should go. When we are in danger of being deceived, he is the One who keeps us safe from harm. What we need to do is to stay close to him. To keep asking him to teach us to recognise and to follow his voice. As he speaks to us in the silence of our hearts. As well as in the different people and situations that we encounter everyday.

A sure support in exhaustion. A timely reminder in discouragement. A reliable shepherd in danger. These are the things that we find in Jesus our Lord. These are ways in which he helps us to meet the challenges of our journey. So that we can persevere to the very end. But that’s not all. To follow Jesus on the journey is not just to receive help from him. It is also to reach out to others who need our help. To be a support for those who are exhausted. To be a reminder for those who are discouraged. And to be a shepherd to those who are in danger. To do what Peter is doing in the first reading.

To help others on their journey even as we continue to receive help from the Lord on our own. This too is our vocation. And we fulfil this vocation in different ways. Most of us do it as lay people. Married or single. Doing our best to shepherd the people we meet in the world. In our homes and workplaces. In our schools and on the streets. But we also need priests and religious. People who shepherd others in more religious settings. But whether we are married or single, priest, religious, or lay, we are all called to follow Christ in his dying and rising. And to be Christ to those who travel with us on the way.

Sisters and brothers, today the Good Shepherd continues to call us to follow him. What do you need to keep persevering on your journey today?
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