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?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Dream Home


Wedding of Philip & Wendy

Readings: Genesis 1:26-31; 1 John 3:18-24; John 15:9-12
Picture: cc  Mark Moz

Philip and Wendy, my dear friends. If it was completely up to you, where would you wish to live? Where would you choose to call home? Would you live in Singapore? Or in another country? In a house? Or in an apartment? And what would your dream home look like? How many rooms would it have? How many floors? Would it have a garden? A verandah? A driveway? And what would you be willing to do in order to find and to keep living in this place? How hard would you work? What sacrifices would you make? How much money would you spend?

Wendy and Philip, I’m not sure if you are aware of this. But, by your choice of scripture readings today, you are actually sharing with us your answers to these questions. You are telling us where you wish to live. What you want your home to look like. And what you are prepared to do to keep living in this place.

In the first reading, from the book of Genesis, after creating the first man and woman, God gives them the whole world for them to live in. Now this may not seem surprising to us. Of course, you have to choose to live in the world. Where else can you live? But God doesn’t just tell the first man and woman to live in the world. God also teaches them how to make the world their home. Be fruitful, God says, multiply, fill the earth and conquer it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all living animals on the earth…

But what does this mean? What does it mean to be fruitful? To be masters of the earth? Is it just a matter of bearing more and more children? Or simply to be able to make everything else in the world do whatever we want? Is that all it takes to be at home on this earth? As you know, my dear friends, later on in the story, the first man and woman do eventually have children. But they do not feel at home in the world. In fact, out of jealousy, their first child, Cain, kills the second one, Abel. And then, as punishment, Cain is made wander homeless over the face of the earth.

In the same way, we can live in the world, but still not feel at home in it. We may even live in a big house. Drive an expensive car. Wear nice clothes. Have plenty of children. But still feel as though something important was missing. Still feel like homeless people. So what must we do to be at home here on this earth? Where and how exactly must we live? Jesus gives us the answer to these questions in the gospel. As the Father has loved me, he says, so I have loved you. Remain in my love.

Remain in my love. My dear friends, this is the house that Jesus has prepared for us. The place he wants us to call home. The love that he has for us. The love that he showed us when he chose to come among us as an innocent and helpless baby. When he died for us on the Cross. And was raised to life on the Third Day. This is the love that Jesus means. The place we can truly call home. Where we can find lasting joy. Even on this earth. Even when we may face difficulties. Even in the midst of trouble of any kind. As Jesus says, I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete. The love of Christ, the Son of God, who gave his life to set us free. This is the place that you, Philip and Wendy, are choosing to call home.

But how do we find this place? And what must we do to keep living there? The second reading tells us that our love is not to be just words or mere talk, but something real and active. It is, of course, important to tell people that we love them. And we hope that you, Wendy and Philip, will never stop telling each other that. But, as we all know, love is shown more in deeds than in words. It’s quite pointless, for example, for me to keep telling my spouse and children that I love them, if I never feel the need to spend quality time with them. Similarly, we show our love for God not just by talking, but by also by acting. By doing what God wants. By making time and space, in our daily lives, for God and for others. To live the way Jesus lived. Lives of loving service.

This is what you, Wendy and Philip, are committing yourselves to do. This is the place that you are choosing to make your home. Not just a particular country or district. Not just a big house or a posh condominium. Not just a residence that can be bought and sold. More than anywhere else, the place that you are choosing to call home is the love of God, shown to us in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And, by our presence here today, the rest of us are committing ourselves to help you live in this special place. To support you by our friendship. Especially in times when it becomes difficult to remain in love. Times when the thrill of the honeymoon may have slipped away from memory. And the burdens of daily routine may seem too heavy to bear. Especially in times like these, we all need people to help remind us of the promises we have made. People who are themselves also trying live where we have chosen to live. To live in love. To live in Christ. To live in God.

This, my dear friends, is what we are celebrating today. Not just a union of two lives. But also a community’s commitment to keep living in the same place. To keep sharing a common home.

Philip and Wendy, my dear friends, what are we prepared to do to continue living in the joyful home of God’s love today?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Spiritual Makeover


3rd Sunday of Easter (B)

Picture: cc David Pacey

Sisters and brothers, do you sometimes feel bored with your life? Have you ever felt like you’re stuck in a rut? Needing to experience something new? To break out of your dull routine? What do you do? How do you go about renewing yourself? Some people get a makeover. They change their appearance. They dye their hair. Do their nails. Draw their eyebrows. Change their wardrobe. Diet and exercise… And then there are others who, instead of changing the way they look, change the things they own. They get a flashier car. A bigger house. A newer phone. Maybe even a younger wife... Or a richer husband…

But what if all these changes are just not enough? What if you still feel stuck? What if you need more than just a renovation of your looks? Or an updating of your belongings? What if what you need is a spiritual makeover? What do you do then?

I believe this is the question that our Mass readings help us to answer on this 3rd Sunday of Easter. In the gospel, it’s quite clear that the disciples are badly in need of a spiritual makeover. We know this from the way they react to the appearance of the Risen Christ. The reading tells us that they were in a state of alarm and fright, because they thought they were seeing a ghost.

A ghost, as you know, is a creature that is stuck. Something that’s supposed to be dead and gone. But that refuses to leave. Is unable to leave. Remaining, instead, to haunt places and people. To cause a disturbance. To act as a painful reminder of unfinished business. Of stubborn grudges and suppressed guilt. Of squandered opportunities and bitter regrets. Of unmourned losses and ignored pain. In the gospel, the disciples are haunted. Not just by the death of Jesus. But also by how they abandoned and denied him. Their Master and Friend. In the gospel, the disciples are stuck in the rut of their own guilt and shame. Unable to move on.

Which is why the Risen Christ appears to them in the first place. To get them unstuck. To give them a spiritual makeover. And it’s helpful for us to pay close attention to how Jesus does this. Notice that he takes great care to convince the disciples that he is not a ghost. Touch me and see for yourselves, he says. A ghost has no flesh and bones as you can see I have. He even takes the trouble to eat a piece of fish in front of them. By doing this, Jesus shows the disciples that the damage caused by the Crucifixion has been repaired. The One who died has now been raised. More importantly, he doesn’t hold a grudge against them, for their weakness and cowardice.

A ghost appears to haunt and to frighten. To accuse and to blame. But the Risen Christ is not a ghost. He is not stuck. He is not a thing of the past. But a promise for the future. He comes to bless and to console. To reconcile and to renew. Peace be with you! All the disciples have to do, to get unstuck, is to humbly accept this gift. The precious gift of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. To receive it and to bear witness to it before the whole world.

And this is exactly what Peter does in the first reading. He bears witness to the Resurrection. And notice how he does it. Notice that he follows the same steps that Jesus takes. He first proclaims the marvellous news of how the terrible effects of sin have already been reversed. You killed the prince of life, he says. God, however, raised him from the dead. Peter does not act like a ghost. He doesn’t haunt the people. Doesn’t just recall their faults to make them feel bad about their past. Instead, he points them to the future. He shares with them the incredible news that their ruptured relationship with God has already been renewed. All they have to do now is to claim the gift for themselves. To repent and turn to God. So that their sins may be wiped out. So that, like Peter and his companions, they too can become unstuck. Pointed in a new direction. Given a spiritual makeover.

But what does it mean to repent and turn to God? What does repentance look like in practice? Is it just a matter of being baptised at the Easter Vigil? Or going to confession in Lent? Or coming to Mass once a week? Or saying our prayers every day? All these things are important, of course. But they are not enough. The second reading tells us what more is required. We can be sure that we know God only by keeping his commandments. By doing what God wants. By living, everyday, according to the wishes of God.

And this includes acting the way Peter acts in the first reading. Doing what the Risen Christ does in the gospel. Helping the people around us to get unstuck. Teaching them how to move on. Not by haunting and accusing them. Or judging and blaming them. But by encouraging and inspiring them. By reminding them that the Crucified Christ has already been raised. And because Christ has been raised, their sins have already been forgiven. Forgiven not because they deserve it. But because God insists on loving them. On renewing their lives. On being their friend.

This is what it means to repent and to turn to God. Not just to try our best not to do wrong. But also to help others to do what is right. To obey the command of the Risen Christ to go and bear witness to the Resurrection. To proclaim the good news of God’s love and mercy and compassion. For it is only when we do this that our own lives can truly be renewed. It is only when we help others to get unstuck that our lives are given a new direction. As the second reading tells us, when anyone does obey what he has said, God’s love comes to perfection in him. We enjoy more fully the benefits of God’s love by sharing it with others. We enter more deeply the Mystery of the Resurrection by bearing witness to its power in our world.

Isn’t this what the Easter season is about? It’s a time for us to deepen our appreciation of God’s love for us shown in the Dying and Rising of Christ. First, by remembering and celebrating how our own sins have already been forgiven. As we are doing now at this Eucharist. How Christ has already gotten us unstuck. Has already pointed us in a new direction. And then, by going out and sharing this good news with others. With our family and friends. With our colleagues and acquaintances. And even with our enemies and strangers. With anyone who needs to experience the power of the Resurrection.

Sisters and brothers, Easter is a time of renewal. God wishes to refresh us. To point our lives in a new direction. Do you need a spiritual makeover today?
 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

When In Rome...



2nd Sunday of Easter
(Divine Mercy Sunday)

Picture: cc Joe Ross

When in Rome-dot-dot-dot. 

Sisters and brothers, can you complete the sentence for me? Of course you can, right? It’s simple. When in Rome... do as the Romans do. We’re all familiar with this proverb. We know what it means. When in a foreign place, try your best to blend in. To follow what everyone else is doing. That’s good advice. At least for the most part. It helps us to learn from the locals. And to avoid trouble. But surely the proverb holds true only for the most part. And not all of the time. Not in every situation. Why do I say that?

Well, what if the Romans happen to be cannibals? What if they feast on human flesh? And what if they practice human sacrifice? What if they even offer the lives of their own children in worship to their local gods? What are we to do then? Are we still to do as the Romans do? Shall we simply continue to imitate them? Just for the sake of blending in? Just to avoid trouble?

Of course, that is one option we can choose. To go to a foreign place and do exactly what the people there do. But that’s not the only option. We can also refuse to imitate them. Refrain from doing what we consider to be wrong. We can choose to continue keeping to what our conscience teaches us to be right. And we can do this in two ways. Or rather at two locations. First, we can choose to do this from the safety of our own home. That’s to say, we can refuse to travel to Rome in the first place.

Which is, of course, the easier option. The far safer choice. The one that avoids trouble. The other option is much harder. Which is to actually insist on keeping to our own values while living in a foreign land. Among a strange people. Even if it gets us into trouble. To choose this last option is really to rewrite our proverb. And to do it not just with our lips. But with our lives. No longer when in Rome, do as the Romans do. But when in Rome, keep doing what your conscience says is right. No matter the cost.

If this last option sounds really stupid and reckless. Then we can perhaps begin to understand how the disciples must be feeling in the gospel today. As they huddle together in that room with the doors closed, for fear of the Jews. They have just witnessed the horrible fate of their Lord and Master and Friend. He travelled from his heavenly home to a foreign land. To their own sin-soaked world. On a mission of mercy. To teach people how to live differently. How to act no longer out of selfishness and fear. But out of love and compassion. And so to enter into the fullness of life. Yet, for all his trouble on their behalf, they sent Jesus to his death. A most painful and disgraceful death.

What possible reason then can the disciples have for wanting to follow in the Lord’s footsteps. To die as he died. To be disgraced as he was disgraced. Surely, what happened to Jesus is proof enough that the proverb should be strictly followed. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Or else, don’t go to Rome at all. If you insist on doing what is right, then better to lock your doors and remain at home. Better to stay far away from all foreigners.

Sounds like good advice. Sounds like the prudent thing to do. And yet, that is precisely the mistaken choice that the Risen Christ comes to correct. To those who have been frightened out of their wits. Scared into hiding behind locked doors. Jesus comes on another mission of mercy. First to console. By word and by deed. He says to the disciples, Peace be with you. Then he shows them his hands and his side. And they are filled with joy. Their pain and sorrow transformed into gladness and delight. They rejoice because the One who had died lives again.

But Jesus doesn’t just console. He also commissions. As the Father sent me, so am I sending you. Sending you away from the apparent safety of home. Sending you out into the messy and dangerous world. On the same mission of mercy that I received from my Father. To live the same way I lived. The way I taught you to live it. And to do it with the courage and joy that I am now imparting to you. In the Holy Spirit. The courage and joy that comes from knowing that I am alive. The courage and joy that comes from believing that, even if you have to suffer, even if you have to lay down your life as I did, you too will be raised. You too will enter the fullness of life. And not just you. But also those who accept what you say. Those who choose to follow me.

To be consoled and commissioned. To be supported and sent out. To live, in this world, the values of the world to come. This, my dear friends, is the dangerous yet joyful experience of Easter. An experience that has concrete effects. Effects described for us in the first reading. Where we’re told that the whole group of believers was united, heart and soul. And this unity is shown in a very concrete way. Everything they owned was held in common. So that none of their members was ever in want. Social historians tell us that their works of charity and mercy were what set the early Christians apart from the rest of society at that time. The disciples lived in the world. But they did not do what the rest of the world did. And, as a result, they sometimes had to pay the price for standing out. Persecution. Suffering. Even death.

And yet, many persevered. Why? How? By holding firm to what the second reading teaches us today. That anyone who has been begotten by God has already overcome the world; this is the victory over the world–our faith. And this victory is shown in charity and mercy. In the willingness to be sent out into the world. To live no longer for ourselves but for others. To live differently from the world. So that the world might be saved.

Sisters and brothers, this is what Easter is all about. This is what the Resurrection means. Victory. The victory of mercy over selfishness. Of charity over indifference. Of life over destruction. This is the faith that our readings invite us to profess. And to live out. Joyfully and courageously. In our own world today. For, like the early Christians, we too live in a sin-soaked society. Which operates in ways contrary to the gospel. Ways that may even look like cannibalism and human sacrifice. Privileged people (including myself) maintaining our privileged lifestyles by feeding (knowingly or not) upon the broken bodies and difficult lives of the underprivileged. And grownups sacrificing their children (more or less knowingly) to the idols of money and success.

Sisters and brothers, can we deny that these things still happen today? In this modern world of ours? And if we can’t, then surely we must ask ourselves what we Christians are prepared to do about it. The options are clear. We can live in the world in exactly the same way as everyone else. Hiding our faith behind locked doors. Professing it only with our lips. Within the safe air-conditioned confines of this church. One to two hours a week. Or we can let ourselves be sent out by our Crucified and Risen Lord. To live in charity and mercy. In justice and peace. In courage and joy.

When in Rome-dot-dot-dot.

Sisters and brothers, how will you be choosing to complete this proverb with your life today?

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Through A Glass Darkly


Easter Sunday

Picture: cc Dave

Sisters and brothers, have you ever tried looking through a glass window or door? Like the doors of this church, for example? What do you see? Well, it depends, right? If the space on the other side of the glass is brightly lit, then you see whatever is there. But what if that space is dark? What if it’s much darker than your side of the glass? Well then, very likely, all you’ll see is your own image reflected back at you. Which can be quite frustrating. What do you do then?

Busybody that I am, I sometimes try to take a closer look. I go right up to the glass. Cup my hands around my face. And stare hard into the dark. Hoping to see something. But if even such extraordinary efforts don’t yield any results, I usually give up. I continue on my own merry way. On my side of the glass. Forgetting what might be there on the other side. Until, perhaps, the next time I happen to pass by again.

Looking through a darkened pane of glass. Isn’t this a good image of what life is like? Mostly, we go through our days so busy with our many concerns that we don’t bother to think about whether or not there may be another side to things. A deeper side. A side that can help us make sense of everything else. Of course, there are times when we may be drawn to pause. To take a break from our frantic dashing about. And to try to peer through the glass. To try to penetrate the meaning of life. But it’s not easy. All too often our view is clouded by the burdens and pleasures of daily living. So that all we see is our own reflection. And when that happens, it’s easy just to give up. To stop looking. To continue, merrily or not, on our usual way.

And yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that the desire to discover what’s on the other side of the glass doesn’t really leave us. It remains. Hidden somewhere at the back of our minds. Buried within the inner recesses of our hearts. Waiting for the right moment to surface. And there are times when this desire grows especially strong. Times of crisis, for example. A career setback, or a failed relationship. A serious illness, or a death in the family... But what can we do then? How are we to see through the darkened glass in a moment of crisis, if we haven’t already learned to do so in a time of relative calm?

Sisters and brothers, I think this is the question that our Mass readings help us to ponder, on this first day of Easter. In the gospel, Mary of Magdala and the other disciples are facing a terrible crisis. The man whom they were following. The one on whom they had pinned all their hopes. Whom they believed to be the Messiah. Has died. And he has died a most brutal death. An utterly disgraceful death. A death that puts into question everything they had believed him to be. What are they to do now? How will they carry on?

Mary does what her heart draws her to do. She goes back to the place where her master’s body was laid. Probably to mourn and to weep. But what she finds there shocks and upsets her. The stone had been moved away. In the darkness of her grief, Mary assumes the worst. They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don’t know where they have put him. Wrapped up tightly in the pain of her loss, Mary is unable to penetrate the Mystery of the Empty Tomb. Much like what happens when we try to look through darkened glass, all she sees is her own reflection.

And yet, to her credit, Mary does not give up. Her love is too great. There is no possibility of her simply walking away. She rushes off. But only to call for help. Then she returns to the darkness of the Empty Tomb. And, painful and confusing though it may be, she stubbornly continues to gaze into the depths of the Mystery. She stares into that darkened surface. Hoping that somehow, when the time is right, the light will begin to shine.

And it does. Gradually it does. In the reading, although the Risen Christ is still hidden from view, enough light is already shining for at least one of Mary’s companions to identify the signs of new life. The disciple whom Jesus loved gazes through the darkened glass of the Empty Tomb. And his eyes begin to penetrate the Mystery. He saw and he believed. And not just him. Shortly after this, Mary herself too will see. She too will believe. And life on this side of the glass will never be the same again.

For what the disciples see turns their lives around. Transforms them into the very thing that Peter claims to be in the first reading. No longer grieving orphans and fearful victims. But brave witnesses to the Crucified and Risen One. We have eaten and drunk with him after his resurrection from the dead, Peter exclaims. And he has ordered us to proclaim this to his people.

But that’s not all. The transformation is not just something that happens only once in the past. It is an ongoing process. A continual exercise of looking at things we do not understand. And learning to recognise signs of new life. Isn’t this what brings Peter to the home of Cornelius in the first place? Cornelius, as we may remember, is a gentile. A Roman centurion. Ordinarily, a good Jew would not visit such a person. Considering him unclean. But just before receiving the invitation to Cornelius’ home, Peter had seen a vision. In which the Lord had told him not to call unclean what God had made clean. The vision provides Peter with light to see gentiles like Cornelius with new eyes. So that the same thing that happened to the disciples at the Empty Tomb, now happens to Peter at the home of a believing gentile. He sees and he believes. He hears and he obeys. And a whole family is ushered into the fullness of life.

All of which helps us to better understand what is meant in the second reading, when it tells us to look for the things that are in heaven. To let our thoughts be on heavenly things, not on the things that are on the earth. It is not that we are forbidden to look at or think about whatever we may find in the world. That would be impossible. But we should look at our world always through the darkened glass of faith. Always through the Mystery of the Dying and Rising of the Lord. And we should do this especially with the things that confuse and upset us most. The things that we understand and value least. The various crises that we may encounter in our lives. The different classes of people whom we neglect. Or against whom we may be prejudiced. For here we find the Empty Tombs of our lives. Here are the places where the light of the Crucified and Risen One is waiting to shine. So as to transform us. And, through us, the rest of our waiting world.

Sisters and brothers, today, after 40 penitential days of Lent, we begin 50 joyful days of Easter. 50 days devoted to letting the light of Christ penetrate the darkness of our hearts and our world. 50 days of gazing into Empty Tombs and at believing gentiles. Waiting for the Risen One to enlighten and to transform. To inspire and to empower...

Sisters and brothers, what must you do to continue gazing steadily into the darkened glass today?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Death As Revelation


Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord (B)

Picture: cc Choo Yut Sing

Sisters and brothers, what has this past week been like for you? These last seven days of national mourning, following the passing of the late Mr. Lee Kuan Yew? For me, perhaps more than anything else, it has been a time of revelation. Of uncovering things that I didn’t know before. And not just about the man himself. His extraordinary intelligence. His boundless energy. His steadfast devotion. I think we more or less knew all of that already.

What I’ve found particularly striking about these days is what they have revealed about us. The people of Singapore. I used to think that we cared only about the more mundane and practical things. As well as the more trivial and nonsensical things. I thought that we would bother to queue up only for stuff like primary school places and lottery tickets. Or iPhones and Hello Kitty dolls. But I was wrong. The enormous outpouring of gratitude and grief that we’ve witnessed over these days have proved me wrong. People willing to stand in line for up to 8 hours in the hot sun. Just to pay their last respects. Old people. Sick people. People in wheel chairs. People with babes in arms. People weeping openly, unrestrainedly. People kneeling, and even prostrating themselves, in prayer...

Sisters and brothers, over these last seven days, something that was previously hidden, at least to me, has now been uncovered. The deep respect and admiration that Singaporeans have for their founding father. Mr. Lee’s passing has indeed been a time of revelation.

And if this is true of the death of someone who helped to build a nation only fifty years old. How much more must it be true of the death of Someone who announced the coming of an eternal kingdom? How much more will the dying of Christ, the Son of God, also be for us a time of revelation? Isn’t this what we find in our readings today? As Jesus goes to his Passion, his suffering and death on the Cross reveals hidden things about the people around him. It uncovers the jealousy of Jesus’ opponents. The chief priests and the scribes. Who plotted to have him killed in secret. So as not to cause a disturbance among the people. It lays bare for us the terrible disloyalty of Judas. The close friend. Who broke bread with the Lord. And then betrayed Him with a kiss. It exposes the cowardice of Peter and the other disciples. Who denied and deserted their Master. At the time of his greatest need. As well as of Pontius Pilate. The governor. Who was more anxious to placate the crowd than to save an innocent man.

Thankfully, however, cowardice and deception are not the only things that the Lord’s death uncovers. As Jesus goes to his Passion, there are also those who courageously step forward to show their care and concern. There is the unnamed woman at Bethany, for example. Who lovingly prepared Jesus’ body for burial. There are the other women. The two Marys, Salome and their companions. Who watched his Crucifixion from a distance. And there’s Joseph of Arimathea. Who boldly went to Pilate and asked for his body.

Like the passing of Mr. Lee, the Passion of Christ too is a time of revelation. It reveals something about the people around him. Who they are. What they stand for. And what the Lord’s Passion does for these people, it can also do for us. In this holiest of weeks, as we accompany Jesus on the Way of the Cross, his Passion and Death can reveal to us something of ourselves as well. Of who we are. And what we stand for. This can be a time for the Lord to uncover for us the true extent of our commitment to him. Of the place that he holds in our hearts and in our lives. A time for him to lay bare our generosity and our courage. As well as our cowardice and deception. Not to accuse or to condemn us. But to free and to transform us. To challenge us to do better.

For the dying of Someone great is not just a time of revelation. It is also a time of inspiration. Of being called and empowered to rise above ourselves. To build on foundations already laid for us. Foundations revealed by the Life, Death and Resurrection of Christ. He is the Suffering Servant of the first reading. The One who makes no resistance to those who humiliate and torture him. He is the Humble Slave of the second reading. Who, though equal to God, freely empties himself. Even to the point of accepting death on a Cross. He is the Crucified One of the gospel. Whom, at his death, a soldier identifies as a son of God.

Sisters and brothers, in the days ahead, as we remember the Lord’s sacrifice for our sakes, as we allow his Passion to uncover who we really are, we can also be inspired to follow the Way that he walked. To patiently bear our own crosses. For love of God and neighbour. And to reach out to those who may struggle more painfully to carry theirs. The people around us who suffer and who need our help. People who have less than we do. Both materially and spiritually. Those who need someone to help them with their crosses. As Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus with his.

Sisters and brothers, as we enter this holiest of weeks, what is the Passion and Death of Christ revealing to you about yourself today?

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Between Achievement and Art


4th Sunday in Lent (B)


Sisters and brothers, do you ever think about the things that make you happy? What are they? When do you experience joy? I’m not sure, sisters and brothers. But I tend to think that, especially here in Singapore, many of us associate joy with success. With personal achievement. So I feel happy when I get a promotion, for example. Or receive a pay-rise. Or do well in an examination. Or succeed in getting the person I like to go out with me. In all these situations, I feel happy because I can take pride in my own achievement.

And I experience this kind of joy even when the achievement is not properly mine. I may take pride in the success of my children and grandchildren, for example. Or rejoice when my favourite soccer team wins the championship. Or when my old school has the most number of straight-A students. These are actually the successes of other people. But I’m happy all the same, because I somehow claim the achievements as my own.

All this is fine and good for those of us who happen to be super-achievers. High fliers. Those for whom everything we touch turns to gold. But what if our efforts keep meeting with failure? What if we keep encountering disappointment? One after another? Is it impossible then for us to be happy? When we have nothing to boast about? Are we doomed to be forever depressed?

The answer, of course, is no. No, we are not doomed to depression, just because we encounter failure. Yes, it is still possible to be happy, even in the face of disappointment. And that’s because the joy of achievement is not the only kind of joy. Not even the purest kind. There are other joys. There is, for example, the joy we experience when we see a beautiful sunset. Or when someone does something nice for us. Something that we don’t even deserve. Or the joy that comes from knowing that we are loved and accepted as we are. Even though we fail.

Sisters and brothers, the joy of achievement is not the only kind of joy. And it’s important for us to remember this especially today. As you know, sisters and brothers, the 4th Sunday of Lent is also called Laetare Sunday. From the Latin word that means rejoice! I’m not sure about you, sisters and brothers, but I sometimes find it very puzzling that here, in the middle of Lent, we are invited to rejoice. Halfway through a season in which we do penance for our sins and shortcomings, when we struggle to turn away from our failures and infidelities, what do we really have to be happy about? Nothing really. At least not if we are looking for the happiness that comes from our own successes. But the joy of Lent is not the joy of achievement. The joy of Laetare Sunday is of a different kind. It comes from a source other than ourselves.

Our readings help us to better understand, and to enter more deeply into, this joy. To begin with, the first reading tells the story of the people of Judah, around the time of their Exile in Babylon. It begins as a very tragic tale. A sad sad story of failure and disappointment. Repeatedly the people sinned against God. Kept worshipping false gods. Added infidelity to infidelity. And yet, God remained ever faithful. God never forgot them. Refused to abandon them. Continued to keep them in mind. Even while they were in exile in Babylon. Eventually, God raised up Cyrus king of Persia, who defeated the Babylonians. And allowed the people to finally return to their home. To their own land. To rebuild the Temple. This is the joy that the first reading invites the people to experience. Not the joy that comes from their own achievements. For they have none to boast about. But the joy that comes from the unwavering love and mercy of God.

And what the first reading does for the people of Judah, the second reading and the gospel do for us. For the history of our relationship with God is not much different. Like the people of Judah, we too have sinned and broken faith with God. We too worship false gods. Like money and success. Or popularity and prestige. Or even anger and resentment. Yet God never forgets us. Refuses to abandon us. Just as Cyrus is raised up in the first reading. So too, in the gospel, we are told that the Son of Man must be lifted up. Raised up high upon the Cross. Where he lays down his life for us. Setting us free from our exile in sin.

This, my dear friends, is the true reason for our joy. Not our own achievements. For we have none worth talking about. But the love and mercy shown to us by God in Christ Jesus. As the second reading reminds us, it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit. We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning he had meant us to live it.

Sisters and brothers, the joy that our readings are inviting us to experience is not the joy of achievement. At least not our own achievement. It is, rather, the joy in God’s achievement. The joy of knowing that something marvellous has been done for us. And to us. Without our deserving it. It is the joy of being chosen by God to be God’s special work of art. The joy of being moulded by the hands of God into something beautiful and precious. Beautiful and precious not because we achieve great things. But simply because we are loved by God. Loved even to the extent that Christ would lay down his life for us.

And yet, sisters and brothers, we have to be honest with ourselves. It is not an easy thing for us to enter into this joy. This joy of being God’s artwork. Even though it is offered freely to us. With no strings attached. It is not easy because, more often than not, we keep clinging to our craving for success. We keep focusing only on ourselves. And on our achievements. Just like someone, who fails to rejoice in the beauty of a brilliant sunset, because s/he is too busy fiddling with the cellphone. Or too preoccupied with the business of daily living. We fail to rejoice in God’s love, because we are too busy trying to earn it.

Isn’t this why we continue to require the discipline of the season of Lent? Through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we allow God to refocus our attention. To help us to let go of our craving for success. Our need to take pride in our achievements. So that we can rejoice in what God has done and continues to do for us. And so that, by entering this joy, we can also begin to usher others into it as well.

Sisters and brothers, today is Laetare Sunday. Today we are invited to rejoice. What must we do, you and I, to deepen our experience of the joy of the Lord, and to share it with others, today?

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Trust Walk

2nd Sunday in Lent (B)
 
Picture: cc Melody Joy Kramer

Sisters and brothers, have you ever heard of something called a trust walk? Perhaps some of you have done it. It’s a kind of team-building exercise. A group of people is divided into pairs. One person in each pair is then blindfolded. And the other person has to lead the blindfolded person around an obstacle course. After the first person has completed the course, the roles are reversed. What do you think, sisters and brothers? Have you tried this before? Is it something that you’d be willing to do? Would you find it easy? Or difficult? Well it depends, right?

It depends on how much you trust your partner. That’s why it’s called a trust walk. The activity helps to test and to build up trust in the members of the group. So that they can work more effectively together. And, of course, the more dangerous the obstacles, the greater the trust required. If, for example, you knew that you only had to walk around an empty courtyard, then perhaps it wouldn’t matter who was leading you. But if I were to blindfold you and ask you to choose someone to lead you across that dangerous road in front of the church. Who would you choose? You’ll probably choose someone you know very well. Someone you trust. Maybe a relative or a close friend. Someone you know, from experience, to be trustworthy. You wouldn’t choose a stranger. Or, worse still, an enemy. The more dangerous the obstacle, the greater the trust required.

I mention all this because, in each of our Mass readings today, we find people being invited to go on something like a trust walk. In the first reading, God puts Abraham to the test. It’s as though Abraham is asked to enter a dangerous obstacle course blindfolded. But, to see the danger and the blindfold, we must first recall that, earlier in the story, God had promised to make Abraham the father of many nations. And this promise can be fulfilled only through Isaac. Since he is the only son of Abraham and his wife Sarah. But then, in the first reading, God does something that is very difficult to understand. Something that sounds crazy. God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. To kill the one person through whom God’s promise might be fulfilled.

To sacrifice Isaac is to put God’s promise in danger. Without a legitimate son to succeed him, how is Abraham to become the father of many nations? Abraham has no way of knowing the answer to this question. So the call to sacrifice Isaac is really an invitation to step out into the dark. To go on a trust walk. To allow God to lead him through a dangerous obstacle blindfolded. And this is a very difficult thing to do. Yet Abraham obeys. He proves himself willing to do whatever God asks of him. He lets himself be blindfolded. He braves the danger. He crosses the obstacle. He passes the test. How is Abraham able to do this?

The reason is because he already has a very close relationship with God. He knows, from experience, that God can be trusted. And so he is able to put his trust in God even when he is sorely afflicted. Even when he has to pass through great danger. Even when he has to sacrifice something most precious. Without knowing why. And without knowing how God’s promise to him will be fulfilled. In response, God rewards Abraham. God transforms the sacrifice into salvation. God turns the danger into a blessing. I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore… All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants... Not only will God bless Abraham, God promises also to make him a blessing for others.

In the gospel too, we find people preparing for a trust walk. The reading is taken from the 9th chapter of Mark’s gospel. Earlier, in chapter 8, Jesus had already told his disciples that he would soon have to suffer and die on the cross. And then rise again after three days. At this point in the gospel, Jesus has already started travelling in the direction of great danger. He is walking to Calvary. And he invites his disciples to renounce themselves, to take up their own crosses, and to follow him.

This is, of course, not an easy thing to do. It requires great courage. And deep trust. The disciples need to know that Jesus is actually worthy of their trust. Which is why, in the gospel, Jesus lets three of them experience his Transfiguration. By showing Peter, and James, and John, who he really is. By revealing to them his hidden identity as the glorious Son of God. Jesus is helping them to trust him enough to follow him into the danger of Calvary. He is showing them that he can be relied upon to lead them safely through the obstacle of the Cross.

Which is why, at the end of the experience, God the Father gives them this invitation: This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him. The Father calls them to trust in Jesus. To follow him into the darkness of the Cross. This is the true meaning of the Transfiguration. It is meant not just to give the three disciples a good time. But to strengthen their trust. So that they can find the courage to do what Abraham does in the first reading. To continue following Jesus. To continue trusting in God. Even when they are blindfolded. Even when they have to pass through a dangerous obstacle. Without knowing why.

And it’s not just Abraham and Peter. It’s not just James and John. Who are called to do this. Isn’t life itself also very much like a trust walk? Every so often, after a time of relative peace and quiet, we may find our lives turned upside down by one challenging situation or another. Maybe it’s a major illness. Or a death in the family. Or a broken relationship. Or a setback in our career. Or a crisis of faith. An experience that worries our mind. And breaks our heart. Something that leads us to ask the question why? Why me? Why now? Why this? And, all too often, when faced with these experiences, the temptation is for us to think that God has forsaken us. So we too should forsake God.

And yet, our readings remind us that there is another way to look at such situations. That the trials we face may actually be a way in which God is testing us. Strengthening our faith. Building up our trust. Reminding us of what the second reading tells us. That with God on our side who can be against us? That Jesus has not only died for us – he has already risen from the dead, and there at God’s right hand he stands and pleads for us. This is our Transfiguration experience. The same experience that we are celebrating at this Mass. And that we are preparing to celebrate at Easter. By putting ourselves through the discipline of Lent. The glorious feast by which God changes death into new life. Transforms great danger into bountiful blessing. Lent is a time when we allow God to test us. To help us to grow in our knowledge of who God is. So that we can trust God enough to take up our crosses everyday. And to follow him on the road that leads through danger, to true happiness and lasting peace. Not just for us. But also through us, for the rest of our world.

Sisters and brothers, how is God inviting you to take a trust walk with him today?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

From Threat to Transport

1st Sunday in Lent (B)

Picture: cc Jason Jones

Sisters and brothers, do you know how to transform something dangerous into something useful? Have you ever tried, for example, to cross the road in front of this church? What’s it like? It’s dangerous, right? Dangerous, because the road is very wide. And the traffic moves pretty fast. And there’s also a bend in the road. So the drivers can’t always see you. That road is a dangerous place. But what if you were in a car? Or a van? Well, then the situation changes. In that case, the road becomes more than just a dangerous obstacle. More than just a threat to your safety. With the right vehicle, the road is changed into a means of transport. A way to get you to wherever you need to go.

And the same would be true if the road was replaced by a fast-flowing river. The waters of the river are a dangerous obstacle. A threat to our safety. To swim across the river, we would risk being swept away by the waters. Or attacked by the animals that live in them. But if we were in a boat. Or on a raft. Then the river is transformed. From a place of danger to a means of transport. A way that takes us to our destination.

Sisters and brothers, when we are in the right vehicle, dangerous obstacles become precious means of transport. This is the lesson that our readings teach us on this first Sunday in Lent. In the first reading, Noah has just passed through dangerous waters. Not the waters of a river. But a terrible flood. A flood so severe that it has wiped out every living thing from the face of the earth. Everything, except Noah and those with him. They alone have survived, because they took refuge in the right vehicle. They entered the ark. Not only did the ark protect them. It transformed the dangerous floodwaters into a means of transport. Bringing them safely into the presence of God.

But it wasn’t just the ark that kept Noah safe. It was really the love and mercy of God. The love and mercy that moved God to teach Noah to build the ark. The same love and mercy that now leads God to make a Covenant with Noah and the whole of Creation. Promising that there shall be no flood to destroy the earth again. This Covenant now becomes a new vehicle for Noah, and all that come after him. A vehicle that transforms dangerous obstacles into precious means of transport. All that is needed is for people to remain true to the Covenant. To continue living in the love of God.

In the gospel too, we find someone in a dangerous place. After Jesus had been baptised by John in the Jordan, the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness. Where he was tempted by Satan. But, somehow, Jesus manages to survive the danger. And not only does he survive. We’re told that he was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after him. The wilderness actually drew Jesus closer to God. And to the creatures of God. How did this happen? Was it not because, like Noah before him, Jesus continued to live in the love of God? Which became a vehicle for him. Transforming the wilderness from a place of danger to a means of transport.

And the wilderness is not the only dangerous place that Jesus enters. There is another. A place called Galilee. We know that Galilee is a dangerous place, because that’s where John the Baptist was arrested. And where he would be put to death. But Galilee is not just a physical location. It is also a spiritual place. The place where Jesus carries out the mission received from his Father. To preach the good news of God’s love for us all. And this is a dangerous thing to do. In carrying out this mission, Jesus will eventually find himself nailed to the wood of a cross.

And yet, for Jesus, Galilee is more than just a dangerous place. It also becomes a precious means of transport. A way to draw closer to God. And this happens because Jesus keeps travelling in the right vehicle. In all that he does, Jesus remains faithful to the love of his Father. And this love transforms the danger and destruction of Good Friday into the glory and resurrection of Easter Sunday. But that’s not all. The good news is that this transformation is not just something that happened to Jesus in the past. It continues to happen to each of us even today.

I’m not sure if you agree with me, sisters and brothers. But our world is a very dangerous place. And I’m not just thinking of those faraway places, like the Middle East and Ukraine, where deadly wars are still being fought. Even here, in relatively peaceful Singapore, the world can be a dangerous place. And not just because it’s possible to get knocked down by a car while crossing the road. Or to suffer a heart-attack while watching TV. Or to crash suddenly into the sea while flying from Surabaya to Singapore.

Our world is dangerous for us, in the same way that the wilderness was dangerous for Jesus. It is a place where we are constantly being tempted. Tempted to stray away from God. Tempted to set our hearts on things less than God. Not just obviously sinful things. But even apparently good things. Beautiful things. Things like a comfortable life and a successful career. There is nothing wrong with such things in themselves, of course. But it is possible to lose ourselves in them. To be so obsessed with working hard to get them. That we lose sight of God. And get swept away by the stresses and strains of daily living. What is more, the world is also dangerous for us the way Galilee was dangerous for Jesus. If we choose to remain true to the mission of Christ. To keep proclaiming the love of God wherever we go. Then it is likely that we will suffer. The world will reject us. We will have to walk the way that Jesus walked. The way of the Cross.

So what are we to do? Should we try to escape from the world? To escape from the wilderness? To escape from Galilee? No. That is not God’s way. That is not Jesus’ way. And that is not our way. The Christian approach to danger is not to avoid it. But to enter into it. Just as God called Noah to enter the waters of the flood. Just as the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness. And then into Galilee. By our baptism, we too are called by God to brave the dangers of our world. So that we can transform it. From a threat to our safety to a means of transport. A way that leads to God. And we can do this only when we travel in the right vehicle. The vehicle of God’s love shown to us in Christ Jesus. The same love that we celebrate at this Mass. The love of the one who has entered heaven and is at God’s right hand. For it is only through him, and with him, and in him, that all our Good Fridays are transformed into Easter Sundays.

And isn’t this why we observe Lent? We enter the wilderness of prayer and fasting and almsgiving. Not to make ourselves suffer. Or to prove ourselves strong. But to take refuge in the vehicle of Christ’s love. Leading us into the presence of God.

Sisters and brothers, even now, God continues to change the dangers of our lives into a means of transport. What must we do to continue taking refuge in God today?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Beyond Backseat Driving



Chinese New Year

Readings: Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 89(90) 2-6, 12-14, 26, R: 17(b); James 4:13-15; Matthew 6:31-34
Picture: cc janeyhenning

Sisters and brothers, have you ever been in a car with a backseat driver? You know what a backseat driver is, right? It’s a passenger who insists on telling the actual driver how to drive. Which route to use. How fast to go. Whether or not to overtake… And if the one who is actually driving the car fails to follow the instructions, or is slow to do so, this passenger is likely to scold the poor fellow. See lah! I told you already not to go by this way. But you wouldn’t listen. See, now caught in traffic jam. Next time better let me drive…

And, of course, it’s not just in cars and on the roads that we find backseat drivers. We can find them almost anywhere. In the office or in school. At home or on vacation. Even here in church. We find people who seem to delight in telling other people what to do. People who seem to have a desperate need to arrange every little detail. Not just in their own lives. But also in the lives of everyone else. We have another name for such people, don’t we? We call them control freaks. Actually, sisters and brothers, before you think that I am pointing fingers at others, I must confess that I sometimes find similar tendencies in myself as well. At some level, I too am a backseat driver. I too am a control freak. Which leads me to ask the question why? Why do some of us do this? Why do we feel the need to control everything?

I’m not sure. But I think backseat drivers like me are under a couple of illusions. First, the illusion that we are the ones actually in control of the car. Not the driver. That it is our responsibility to tell the driver what to do. And this first illusion arises from a second, more deeply-rooted, one. The illusion that we must be in control of the car for the journey to go smoothly. Otherwise everything will go haywire. I’m not sure, sisters and brothers. But I sometimes think that we backseat drivers and control freaks act the way we do, because we are deeply insecure. And we compensate for our insecurity by trying to control everything. By acting as though it were possible for us to control everything.

Which is why I think our Mass readings on this first day of the Lunar New Year are very appropriate. As we look forward to the uncertainties that lie ahead. It is tempting for us to fool ourselves into thinking that we are in control. To act as though we have to be in control. But our readings remind us otherwise. First, they tell us who we are. What it really means to be a human being. Notice the images that are used. In the psalm, we are told the same thing that we were reminded of yesterday. Ash Wednesday. That we are dust. And that the time will come when God will turn all of us back into dust. That we are like a dream. Which dissipates as soon as the sleeper awakes. Or like grass which springs up in the morning. But by evening it withers and fades. The second reading even compares us to the mist that is here for a little while and then disappears. Together, these images remind us not just how short our lives are on this earth. But also that we are not in control. No more than the dust and the dream, or the grass and the mist, are in control.

No, sisters and brothers, we are not in control. And we need to avoid acting as though we are. We need to resist two temptations that spring from the illusion of control. The first is arrogance. The tendency to think and to act as though, just because things are going well for me now, they will continue to do so. As long as I remain in control. In control of my career. Or of my family. Or even of my relationship with God. Pope Francis calls this practical relativism. Acting as if God did not exist, making decisions as if the poor did not exist, setting goals as if others did not exist, working as if people who have not received the Gospel did not exist (EG, 80). And yet, as the second reading reminds us, you never know what will happen tomorrow. The second temptation is anxiety. The tendency to worry about what is to come. Perhaps because our experiences of the past have shown us just how uncertain, just how fragile, the future is. And yet no amount of worrying on our part can actually make us more secure.

What are we to do then? If we are neither to be anxious nor arrogant? If we have to stop trying to take control? What we have to do is first to accept that our lives are in the hands of God. That it is God who is in the driver’s seat. That it is God’s love and care for us that keeps us in existence. And to trust that God will continue to care for us. Will never abandon us. Which is not to say that we should not work hard. Of course we should. We should work hard with our hands. But we should also keep our hearts fixed, not on ourselves, but on God. Set your hearts on God’s kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given to you as well.

And it is precisely with our hearts set on God’s kingdom that we then beg for God’s blessing. Not just so that everything will go smoothly for us materially. Of course, we pray that it will. But, even more important, we also pray that, whatever may happen–in good times or in bad, in sickness or in health, in success or in failure, in poverty or in wealth, in life or in death–whatever may happen, God’s kingdom will come. God’s will may be done. In our lives. And in our world. Isn’t this what we mean–what we should mean–when we wish one another a Happy New Year?

Sisters and brothers, in this Year of the Goat, how shall we allow God to take firmer control of our lives? What must we do to stop being backseat drivers today?
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