Friday, June 29, 2007

Solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul, Apostles
Dreaming unto Reality


Readings: Acts 12:1-11; Psalm 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18; Matthew 16:13-19

Some of us may have had the experience of suddenly awaking from a dream and then, if just for a moment, not being sure whether we are awake or still dreaming. Peter seems to have a somewhat similar experience in the first reading today. He’s sleeping under heavy guard in the equivalent of a maximum-security prison. There is a soldier to the left and one to the right of him. Suddenly he finds himself being led to safety by an angel. And we are told that he thought he was seeing a vision. Even so, he follows the angel’s instructions and sees that the experience is real. God has rescued him from certain death at the hands of Herod.

And, if there is one central message highlighted in our readings today, this is it: that our God is a God who rescues God’s people. Paul says as much in the second reading: the lord will rescue me from all evil attempts on me, and bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. And we ourselves proclaimed it in the response to the psalm: from all my terrors the Lord set me free.

Yet, even as we hear and proclaim these words, might we not still find ourselves wondering if what they refer to is real or only a dream? After all, we know that both Peter and Paul died martyrs’ deaths. One was crucified and the other beheaded. And in our own experience, we probably continue to have to bear with trials and tribulations of one sort or another. Indeed, we may even have to bear these precisely because we believe in the One who rescues those who revere him. Might we not be forgiven then, for wondering if what our readings proclaim to us today is really real or only a dream? Might we not be excused if we hesitate to imitate Peter in following the instructions of the angel of God, whatever these may be?

Even so, the readings provide us with a way out of our difficulty, a way for us to awaken from our dream and to see things as they really are. The path to wakefulness has Jesus posing to us the same question he asks his disciples in today’s gospel: who do you say I am? Against the background of all that we know of the earthly life of Jesus – especially of his passion and death and resurrection – who do we say that he is? On our answer to this question depends our response to the angel’s summons. On our answer to this question depends the path that we choose to walk. It was so for Peter and Paul. Clinging to Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God, holding fast to their dream of a God who continually rescues God’s people, they found the wisdom and the courage to live the reality of life in its fullness, such that even their deaths were deaths unto glory.

How are we, in our turn, being called to dream unto reality today?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Thursday in the 12th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Memorial of St. Irenaeus, Bishop and Martyr
Building on Rock


Readings: Genesis 16:1-12, 15-16 or 16:6b-12, 15-16; Psalm 106:1b-2, 3-4a, 4b-5; Matthew 7:21-29

Why, we may wonder, would someone be so foolish as to build a house on sand rather than on solid rock? It simply doesn’t make sense. And yet we probably know from experience how difficult it is to follow Jesus’ instructions. We know how difficult it is to enter through the narrow gate, to walk the hard road, to do the will of the Father, to build our lives solely on the solid rock of God’s word. Indeed, our first reading illustrates for us how even someone no less than Abram, our father in faith, found it difficult.

We know that God had earlier promised Abram a multitude of descendants, as many as the stars in the sky. But it’s already been ten long years since Abram settled in the land of Canaan. And God doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to even begin fulfilling that promise. Abram and Sarai remain childless. How are they to build their house on the rock of God’s promises? They’re not getting any younger. Should they not try to hurry things along, try to take matters into their own hands? After all, doesn’t God help those who help themselves?

We are then given an account of the results of their misguided efforts. We first see a lack of respect for Hagar’s human dignity. She is used and valued merely for her ability to produce an heir. And, quite ironically, this treatment of her as an object, this valuation of her solely in terms of her fertility, backfires on Sarai, who now feels the humiliating insecurity of her barrenness. The story thus begins to degenerate into a cycle of violence and alienation, of pain and suffering. In other words, rains come down, floods rise, gales blow and strike Abram’s house-building project. And it threatens to collapse with a mighty crash.

Yet, in all this, God remains faithful. Not only does God reach out a compassionate hand to save Hagar and the son in her womb, but God also continues to remain faithful to Abram and Sarai. God chooses to bless the fruit of their folly and, in so doing, preserves for them the possibility of once more building their house on the solid rock of God’s promises to them.

Our own house-building projects will likely come in different shapes and sizes. Even so, are we not all called to recognize and trust in God’s guiding hand?

How are we being asked to build our houses on solid rock today?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Wednesday in the 12th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
From Looking to Tasting


Readings: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 105:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8-9; Matthew 7:15-20

There does seem to be a contradiction between what Jesus says to us in the today’s gospel and what he said on Monday. As we may recall, on Monday, we were told not to judge, because the judgments you give are the judgments you will get… Yet, today, Jesus tells us to beware of false prophets, clearly implying that we should learn to distinguish between the voices of true and false prophets. Could Jesus be speaking with a forked tongue?

Or is he not rather helping us to refine our understanding of his message? Consider some differences between what he said on Monday and today. There is first a difference in aim. The aim of the judging that Jesus spoke against on Monday is to try to change others, to try to make them conform to what we think they should do. This is quite different from what Jesus wishes us to do today. In learning to distinguish between true and false prophets, we are being taught to recognize which voices to follow and which to reject or to ignore. The focus today is on the path we are to walk.

More importantly, there is also a difference in the standard, or criterion, upon which we are to rely. When we judge others, the criterion we often use is nothing other than our own apparently objective standards, our own preconceived notions, of how people should conduct themselves. We seek to impose these on others without really caring about what their particular situations are like. The benchmark Jesus uses today, however, is quite different. As we will hear in the gospel tomorrow, the good fruit that Jesus is asking us to look out for consists in doing the will of my Father in heaven. The standard is set by God and not by us. But what does this mean and how do we recognize it when we see it?

Here it is useful, perhaps, to consider the different metaphors Jesus uses. On Monday, Jesus used the metaphor of sight. Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye… Today, in using the metaphor of good and bad fruit, Jesus implies the need to rely on another sense. For we can only really be sure about the quality of fruit when we have tasted for ourselves. As they say: the proof of the pudding is in the eating. In order to learn to recognize whether someone is likely to be doing God’s will we ourselves need to have some idea of what God’s will looks and feels like. We learn to distinguish between good from bad fruit only to the extent that we are continually learning to acquire the taste for God. This implies relating to God not only from a distance but more intimately. It implies a striving to live out of the Covenant that God makes with us in Christ. For it is only then that we learn, as Abram learns, what true love looks, feels and tastes like. It is only then that we have a felt knowledge of the radical generosity of God toward us – count the stars if you can. Such will be your descendants – and of God’s undying commitment to us – the Lord remembers his covenant forever. To distinguish between good and bad trees, true and false prophets, we need to move from curious onlookers to active participants in the mystery of God’s love for us. We need to move from looking to tasting.

How are we being invited to do so today?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tuesday in the 12th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Simply Living Together


Readings: Genesis 13:2, 5-18; Psalm 15:2-3a, 3bc-4ab, 5; Matthew 7:6, 12-14

They had too many possessions to be able to live together…

It’s not easy to live together. It’s difficult enough to live under the same roof with the members of our immediate family, let alone to exist harmoniously on the same planet with people of different races and religions, of diverse languages and life-experiences. Yet, if our readings today are anything to go by, our differences are not the only or even the primary thing that makes living together difficult. The main reason given for Abram and Lot’s separation in the first reading is that they had too many possessions. How strangely ironic that wealth can actually make living together difficult, even impossible.

And yet we have only to reflect a little more deeply on our situation to see the truth of the matter. On a global scale, the experts tell us that, for all its wealth-generating benefits, our current preferred economic model is causing an ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor (see for example the article by Harvard Professor Laurence Summers in today’s issue of the Straits Times). Closer to home, those who are old enough can probably testify to how improved standards of living have often also come with a greater sense of physical and emotional distance between neighbours. The open door of the kampong cottage has given way to the highly barricaded style of private housing and high-rise condo-living. And our possessions are not just material. They also come in less tangible forms such as our reputations and the different ways in which we look at and relate to the world. We know how differences of opinion can also become causes of conflict, as can concern with what others might be thinking and saying about us. Whatever our possessions might be, it does seem that living together often becomes more difficult the more tightly we cling to them.

As a way out of this predicament, Jesus offers us the well-known Golden Rule: always treat others as you would like them to treat you… And we see Abram putting this into practice in the first reading, when he offers Lot the first choice of where to settle. By doing this Abram demonstrates that he is a just person who enjoys the company of the Lord. And the Lord blesses him with a gift of land. Indeed, how painfully ironic it is that this same piece of land, which was originally a reward for charity shown to another, has today become an object of dispute and division, a cause of violence, bloodshed and much suffering.

Perhaps what we are being invited to consider today is the difference it can make when people set aside their reliance on riches in order to live under the economy of God. Perhaps we are being invited to continually relax our hold on our possessions so that we might cling more tightly to God; and, in so doing, to find our way to one another.

As someone has said, might we not learn to live simply, so that others might simply live?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Monday in the 12th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Leaving the House of Judgment


Readings: Genesis 12:1-9; Ps 33:12-13, 18-19, 20 and 22; Matthew 7: 1-5

Today we are led to consider two difficult journeys. We first have the journey that Abram is asked to make in the first reading. He’s already 75 years old, yet God asks him to leave your country, your family and your father’s house... And Abram’s advanced age is not the only difficulty, for God doesn’t quite tell him his final destination. All he is told is that he must leave for a land I will show you...

The interior journey that Jesus invites us to undertake in the gospel is no less difficult. Do not judge, says Jesus. Easier said than done. And isn’t a large part of the difficulty due to the fact that we’re so familiar with Jesus’ message and can very quickly recognize its truth? We know well what Jesus means when he says the judgments you give are the judgments you will get. We know what it’s like to judge others even as we ourselves continue to return to the confessional with the very same sins time and time again. In judging others we effectively judge ourselves. We find ourselves being held to the very same standards we apply to others. And when this happens we may either fool ourselves into thinking that all is well or else we come face to face with our own weakness. Isn’t this why Jesus invites us to consider first the planks in our own eyes? By paying attention to our own wretched condition, our own inability to live up to the very standards that we set for others, we are able to hear God’s invitation to us to leave this place of self-reliance, self-deception and self-condemnation, to depart from this house of judgment. But where are we to go? And how are we to find the strength to travel? Abram’s experience is instructive.

Although his final destination is not revealed to Abram at the start, God does tell him something very consoling. If only he sets out on this journey, God will bless him, and even make his name a blessing for others. And precisely because he doesn’t know where exactly he is going, Abram clings to this promise of God. He leaves his father’s house for the land of blessing that God promises to show him. He places his hope neither on his own wealth nor on his own virtue, both of which are considerable. Instead, as we heard in the responsorial psalm, Abram places all his hope in God alone. And his devotion is very clearly expressed in how, at each stage of his journey, Abram erects an altar to God.

On our own interior journey, are we not called to something similar? Are we not called to leave the house of judgment for the land of blessing that God promises to show us? Are we not invited to rely no longer only on our own resources, our own virtue, our own understanding, important as these are, but to place our hopes on God alone? Are we not asked to imitate Abram in dedicating every stage of our journey to the God who promises to bless us and to turn us into blessings for others?

What journey are we being invited to undertake today?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Breaking the Word will be taking a break this week. See you soon... :)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
The Righteousness that Comes through Faith


Readings: 2 Samuel 12:7-10, 13; Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 7, 11; Galatians 2:16, 19-21; Luke 7:36—8:3 or 7:36-50

What makes a person righteous is not obedience to the Law but faith in Jesus Christ… So says Paul to us in today’s second reading from the letter to the Galatians. It’s quite a shocking statement, isn’t it? Especially because, being Singaporeans, we can all appreciate how important the law is. We know that we must not be too quick to dismiss the law, whether it be civil or religious. Consider what happens when there is an utter lack of respect for the law. Consider, for example, the shocking report in yesterday’s Straits Times of the so-called slave scandal in China’s Shanxi province. According to the report, most of the victims – many of whom were teenagers and even children – had been kidnapped and then forced to work in brick kilns without pay and under horrific conditions. They were awakened at five in the morning and then made to work till midnight. They were forced to carry hot bricks with their bare hands. One worker was even allegedly beaten to death for not working hard enough. The extent of the scandal points to the likelihood of official corruption. Whether this is true or not, the case does serve as a stark reminder to us of the importance of the law.

Even so, important as the law is, Paul is right to remind us that, on its own, the law is not enough. Consider yet another report from yesterday’s Straits Times. The Special Report on En Bloc Blues took up the whole Saturday section of yesterday’s paper. If the first report serves to highlight the importance of the law, this second one underlines for us its insufficiency. It is not against the law, for example, for a savvy speculator in real estate to purchase a condominium unit and then to start agitating for an en bloc sale. It is not against the law to push through such a sale, not if at least eighty percent of the homeowners decide to sign on the dotted line. Never mind if among those who refuse to sign are many elderly residents whose lives will be severely disrupted as a result of the sale: who will face considerable difficulties not only in finding new homes in a rising property market, but also in adapting to new surroundings and new neighbours. And never mind too that hidden among those who do vote for the sale are not a few voiceless tenants who will be forced to move out and to face the shark invested waters of the property market. All this doesn’t really matter. There are millions of dollars to be made. And no laws have been broken.

Still, even if everything is legal and aboveboard, might a Christian not be drawn to question the righteousness or otherwise of this whole en bloc craze? Does the mere fact that something is legal make it all right?

But we Christians must also be careful even as we might find ourselves moved to point our fingers at others. I know I myself must be careful. Don’t be mistaken. The danger I have in mind doesn’t come from the Internal Security Department. It springs instead from an awareness that we Christians also often operate purely at the level of the law. What do I mean? What is it like to be concerned only with the law? Isn’t it something like when parishioners ask questions such as: how late can we be for Mass in order to satisfy our Sunday obligation? Is it okay to arrive just before the gospel is read? Or do we have to be there even for the first reading? And can we not leave just after communion? Or must we wait till the final blessing? And, as I said, I myself am not spared either. I know there are times when I too seek refuge in the law, times when I ask what is the minimum number of times a priest should visit a sick person in the hospital or be present at a wake. That’s what a legal mindset is like, isn’t it? It tends to focus on the minimum that needs to be done, on what is valid and what is not, on the keeping of obligations.

And then Paul comes along in our second reading today and shocks us out of our complacency. No one can be justified by the law. In other words, we don’t get to heaven simply by fulfilling our obligations, important as they are. Are we surprised yet? If so, it may shock us further to find that the other two readings support Paul’s assertion.

In the first reading, the prophet Nathan confronts King David for his crimes. And his crimes are indeed serious. He has slept with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. And then he has had Uriah killed in order to cover up his adultery. Yet, Nathan’s accusation is not really a legal one. That would have taken all of two sentences: you are guilty of adultery and murder. I sentence you to… Isn’t that how the law often deals with those who infringe it? It convicts and it condemns. Instead, through Nathan, God tries to win David back by reminding him of all that God had done for him in the past, and of the dire consequences for him and his household if he were to persist in his folly. And the strategy works, David repents and God forgives him. The relationship is restored. Unlike the law, God’s concern is not so much to convict and to condemn as much as it is to rescue and to reconcile.

The gospel brings our meditation even further. Here we see a stark contrast between how two people relate to Jesus. Simon the Pharisee remains on the level of the law. He watches Jesus carefully to see if he keeps the law. And, as Jesus points out, in welcoming Jesus to his home, Simon only does the bare minimum. In contrast, the woman who had a bad name in the town is extravagant in her hospitality because she relates to Jesus not on the level of the law but of the heart. She realizes what Nathan helps David to realize in the first reading: that the Lord has done great things for her. She realizes that her own unworthiness is more than matched by God’s graciousness towards her. She knows she has been forgiven much and so she loves much. She doesn’t question whether it is an obligation to do what she does. In fact, according to the customs of the time, what she does is even quite scandalous. But such is her generosity born as it is of gratitude that she is oblivious to what others might say. And, in response, Jesus confirms the truth of what Paul says in the second reading: faith in Christ rather than fidelity to the Law is what justifies us. Your faith has saved you, he tells her, go in peace.

Sisters and brothers, quite obviously, we live in a world that needs constant reminders both that the law is important and that it is also insufficient. But we can only bear witness to this truth to the extent that our own lives are grounded not on the law but on faith in Christ. We need continually to allow all that we think and say and do to spring from a loving relationship with the Crucified and Risen Lord, in whom we have been reconciled and restored to right relationship with God.

Indeed, Paul goes so far as to say that he lives not with his own life, but with the life of Christ who lives in him. Even if we may not yet be able to say the same, how might we take a step in that direction today?

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
A Heart of P’s


Readings: Isaiah 61:9-11; (Psalm) 1 Samuel 2:1, 4-5, 6-7, 8abcd; Luke 2:41-51

A day after celebrating the love of God expressed in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we are invited to meditate upon what our response to that love might be. We are drawn to look at and to reflect upon the Immaculate Heart of Mary. We are drawn to consider what this heart looks like, the graces that it both contains and channels to those who approach it. We are drawn to this heart because it doesn’t simply present us with a litany of laws or a collection of ideals to live up to. We know how frustrating and unhelpful those can be. Rather does it show us a way, a way to open ourselves to God’s Spirit. What do we find when we gaze upon this heart of Mary?

Perhaps what’s most significant about this heart is that it is a heart of peace and of praise. The sentiments expressed in the first reading and the psalm are also to be found in Mary’s Magnificat. I exult for joy in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God. And this characteristic is even more striking when we consider that Mary praises God not because she knows no suffering, or not only when her troubles are ended, Mary praises God even before God’s promises are completely fulfilled.

As we find in the gospel today, the heart of praise that is Mary’s is also a heart that is pierced. We don’t have to wait till the crucifixion of her son to see this happening. Already when he is twelve years old, we find Mary’s heart pierced with anxiety and incomprehension. After three days of frantic searching, Mary’s question to her son echoes our own sentiments when we too lose sight of the Lord: why have you done this to us? And even when she finds her child, and even when he responds to her question, Mary still did not understand what he meant.

Yet, even though Mary’s is a pierced heart, a heart that knows suffering and loss, it is also a heart that perseveres and ponders. When her son is lost, Mary spares no effort in seeking him out. And even when she fails to understand what he is talking about, Mary continues to store up all these things in her heart, where she ponders them, giving them time to grow and to bear fruit unto fullness of life and love.

These then are some of the aspects of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Gazing upon it, might we too not find enlightenment and inspiration to receive and respond to the love of God made manifest to us in the Sacred Heart?

How might we continue to do this today?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Bridge Over Troubled Water


Readings: Ezekiel 34:11-16; Psalm 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6; Romans 5:5b-11; Luke 15:3-7

For the past couple of days our Mass readings have offered us the occasion to reflect upon the contrast between life according to the Law and life in the Spirit. And even though our celebration of the solemn feast of the Sacred Heart interrupts the cycle of weekday readings, the readings for this feast help us to continue and to deepen our meditation on the same theme.

We may consider the spiritual life to be concerned essentially with our relationship with God and also among ourselves. And these relationships involve both giving and receiving. When we live only according to the Law, however, these relationships often seem to revolve only around things. We seek God in order to receive from God the things we need to lead a comfortable, even affluent, life. And, we promise to give things back to God in exchange. Sometimes it feels not much different from a business transaction. We give of what we have, often things we can spare, so as to manipulate God into giving us what we want. The giving that we do at the level of the Law may perhaps be more accurately described as investment.

The life of the Spirit is quite different. And the difference is brought out most starkly in the readings for today’s feast. Today, we are invited to fix our eyes upon the image of the pierced heart of Christ and also upon the image of Christ the Good Shepherd. These remind us of the way in which God deals with us. Jesus highlights the difference in his description to the scribes and Pharisees of how the Good Shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep to seek out the lost one. Which of you would not do the same? Jesus asks. And the answer is probably all. It simply does not make good business sense, not when one is concerned primarily with things, not when one operates purely on the level of the Law.

But God deals with us on the level of the Spirit. Instead of only giving us things – and surplus things at that – God gives us of God’s very self>: I myself will shepherd my sheep. Even to the point of dying for us while we were still sinners. Instead of giving us things in order to manipulate us into giving something back, God gives what we need to be truly happy -- God's self. The sheep that are lost and astray, the Good Shepherd gathers back into the security of his flock. Those who are hungry, he nourishes. Those who are sick and wounded he heals. This is what we celebrate today. This is what the Sacred Heart reminds us of: a God who operates on the level of the Spirit, who continually gives us of God’s self, whose love is poured into our hearts through the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. In the words of the well-known Simon and Garfunkel hit: like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down… Over the troubled waters of our lives, the Good Shepherd lays down no other bridge than himself…

How are we being invited to cross this bridge today?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Thursday in the 10th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Piercing the Veil


Readings: 2 Corinthians 3:15—4:1, 3-6; Psalm 85:9ab and 10, 11-12, 13-14; Matthew 5:20-26

Continuing from where we left off yesterday, our attention remains focused today on the contrast between living according to the Law and living in the Spirit. I’m reminded of a question that someone asked me a couple of weeks ago when I was speaking at the parish confirmation camp on the topic of prayer. I was telling the young people about the importance of cultivating a habit of prayer, which prompted a fifteen-year-old girl to ask a question that I think gets to the heart of our reflection today. She asked whether if we were to pray purely out of habit wouldn’t our prayer become routine and mechanical, wouldn’t it lose its meaning? Of course, we know that the answer is not necessarily. But that implies that it can happen. As we all know, it is possible to keep performing the same religious practices purely on the level of routine, or even of duty and obligation, without actually letting it touch our hearts and our lives.

Isn’t Saint Paul telling us something similar in the first reading when he speaks of the veil that blinds us from seeing the light shed by the Good News of the glory of Christ? This veil of which Paul speaks refers firstly to the veil that Moses used to cover his face, when it became too radiant for the people to look at when he descended from his encounter with God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:33). But Paul is also using the term to refer to the things that keep people from seeing the implications of the gospel for human living. We can come to Mass everyday, listen to the scriptures being read from the ambo, participate in the eucharistic sacrifice at the altar, and still not see the connections between our worship and our lives. Paul speaks of the god of this world who blinds the minds of unbelievers. And we may think immediately of the materialism and selfishness that can blind us to the sufferings of others. Witness what's going on with the recent en-bloc craze, for example. But the veil may also take the form of very natural human reactions that arise within us in the course of our dealings with one another. These are the emotions that Jesus speaks about in the gospel, emotions that may lead us to bear grudges against others, or to speak ill of them, or simply to harbour ill-feelings against them, or they against us. These too can become veils that prevent our religious practices from achieving their desired effect on our lives, in our hearts and in our world. What to do?

Probably all of us who have tried to remove the veil on our own will be able to testify to how difficult it is. Let us be honest. How many of us -- and how often -- can truly claim to be able to come before God in prayer with unveiled faces? How many of us can claim to be free of all difficulties in our relationships. Yet, even in our weakness, we are reminded of yet another veil, the veil of the Temple that enclosed the holies of holies. We are reminded of how, at the moment of Christ's death on the cross, this veil was torn in two from top to bottom (see Matthew 27:50-51). If then there is one lesson we can learn from our readings today, it’s the need for us to bring our veils to the Lord in prayer, openly acknowledging our weaknesses before him, and humbly praying for the grace to overcome them.

How are we being invited to allow Christ to pierce our veils for us today?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Wednesday in the 10th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Memorial of St. Anthony of Padua,
Priest and Doctor of the Church
Climbing the Ladder


Readings: 2 Corinthians 3:4-11; Psalm 99:5, 6, 7, 8, 9; Matthew 5:17-19

Our two readings for Mass today may at first seem to contradict each other. On the one hand, Paul tells us that the written letters (of the Law) bring death, but the Spirit gives life. Yet, on the other hand, Jesus insists that he comes not to abolish but to complete (the Law and the Prophets). He even says that the one who keeps and teaches the Law will be considered great in heaven. How to understand this apparent contradiction?

For the last couple of weeks those of us who frequent Kingsmead Hall will have noticed a ladder leaning against the roof over where the big black table is. Workers have been using that ladder to climb up onto the roof to refresh the waterproof coating on it. If I were the contractor hired to do the job, there’d probably be two kinds of workers I wouldn’t want to hire. The first are those who refuse to climb up that ladder. Maybe they are afraid of heights, or maybe they’re just plain lazy. It doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t hire them, because they wouldn’t get the job done. In the same way, I also wouldn’t be interested in workers who – assuming there are such workers – were so attached to the ladder that, instead of using it to get onto the roof, they preferred to sit on it the whole day long. Perhaps they may have an obsession with ladders. They may even use their own money to buy more ladders so that they could sit on one after the other. I wouldn’t hire them either, because they wouldn’t get the job done.

In a way, the Law is like that ladder. It’s valued not so much in itself as much as for its ability to help us get to the roof, to help us to climb out of our own selfishness in order to get closer to God and to one another in relationships of love. We don’t want to ignore the Law, but neither do we want to cling to it too tightly. We actually know this principle quite well. Consider the practice of abstaining from meat on Friday. We know the spirit behind it. We know that it’s meant to help us to remember and to be in solidarity with the Passion of Christ as well as with the poor of our world. Yet, we also know that sometimes it’s simply not practical to abstain, as when we happen to find ourselves at a family celebration. To insist on abstaining might well dampen the spirit of the occasion. On the other hand, of course, we all know and laugh at the hypocrisy inherent in the practice of abstaining from meat at the same time in which we indulge in shark’s fin soup or buttered lobster. Separated from love, the Law has no useful meaning.

Our readings take us even further. As Paul reminds us, we are not qualified in ourselves to claim anything as our own work: all our qualifications come from God. Try as we might, on our own strength, we are quite incapable of climbing the ladder to get to the roof. And, aware of our weakness, God sends us his only Son, who becomes for us the living ladder, who lowers himself down among us, suffers and dies for us, and so leads us to the heights of life and love in all its fullness. Here at last is a ladder to which we can truly cling. Here is the One who is at once the path and the destination. Here, in Christ, is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Clinging to Christ we find ourselves empowered by the Spirit to mount the heights of love.

How are we being invited both to climb up and to cling onto this Ladder today?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Tuesday in the 10th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Question and Answer


Readings: 2 Corinthians 1:18-22; Psalm 119:129, 130, 131, 132, 133, 135; Matthew 5:13-16

Our readings today call to mind a simple song that the Charismatics like to sing. The song begins: Christ is the answer to all my longing, Christ is the answer to all I need…

When we are little, we quite naturally place our trust in people. We quite naturally accept everything that people say to us. It’s as if we simply assume that they are on our side. And then, as we grow up, the circumstances and complexities of life teach us to be more cautious, even suspicious. We begin to doubt others. We begin to ask many questions before accepting what people say. And this is not a bad thing. We need to protect ourselves too. Not everyone is worthy of our trust.

But, all too often, these doubts get transposed onto our relationship with God as well. Especially when faced with disappointments and setbacks, we may begin to doubt God’s love for us. We may question whether God is truly on our side. These questions can lead us further away from God. But they can also lead us closer. How do we regain our trust, especially when God doesn’t seem to be answering our questions?

Paul helps us by reminding us today that God really only has one answer to all the questions that life may pose. The Christ Jesus that we proclaimed among you… was never Yes and No: with him it was always Yes, and however many the promises God made, the Yes to them all is in him. Isn’t this simply another way of expressing what we hear in that song: Christ is the answer? If this is true, then perhaps the grace we need to ask for is gradually and continually to be able to see the connection between our questions and God’s answer to us in Christ.

More than that, today’s gospel invites to go further. We who are pride ourselves in being called Christian are called not only to find in Christ the answer to our own questions. We are also called to help others see the connection between Christ and their questions. More than simply seeking answers to our own questions, we are called, each in our own unique and irreplaceable way, to be part of God’s answer to the questions of the world. In the words of the gospel, we are called to be salt of the earth and light of the world.

How are we being called to do this today?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Memorial of St. Barnabas, Apostle
Fostering Busy-ness or Peace?


Readings: Acts 11:21-26; 13:1-3; Psalm 98:1-6. R. v. 2; Matthew 10:7-13

The readings for today’s memorial of Saint Barnabas speak to me of a lesson that I’m still trying to learn. I’m reminded in particular of two experiences of mine. The first is that of going on home-leave. Returning to the family home after being away for years at a time, one quite naturally felt the need to help out with the chores. One insisted on “helping” even when the family seemed too polite to accept one’s help. But then, after some time, one began to realize that the refusals were not purely out of courtesy. Rather was it more a case of them not wanting to have the additional work of undoing the “damage” caused by someone who didn’t quite know how things were usually done around the house. As the Chinese saying goes, it was more a case of “the more one helps the busier they become.” One really needed first to learn how things were done, what help was needed, before plunging in to lend a hand.

I had a similar experience when undergoing training (and in many ways I’m still undergoing training) to accompany people on retreat. At first, filled with all the information I had about “Ignatian Spirituality”, I went about trying to fit people into the structures that I had in my mind. In the process, however, I found that I was only making them “busier”. What I needed to learn was to first pay attention to how God was encountering them, to appreciate what they really needed, what helped and what hindered them, and then to follow the flow of God’s grace already at work within them.

We see a similar lesson being taught to us in the experience of Barnabas too. We are told in the first reading that Barnabas was listed among the prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch. We are also told that he spent a whole year there instructing a large group of people. But what’s more important to observe is what Barnabas does when he first arrives at Antioch. Instead of immediately engaging in teaching and telling people what to do, the reading tells us that he first saw for himself that God had given grace. It is only with that awareness of how God’s grace was already at work in Antioch that Barnabas began to speak, thus resulting in a large number of people being won over to the Lord.

And isn’t this approach simply another way of putting into practice Jesus’ instruction to the apostles to travel light? Although Jesus mentions only material things in the gospel, might the spirit of his exhortation not also include our own preconceived notions of what we can do to help? Isn’t this one important benefit of traveling light: that we might learn first to seek out and to depend more on God’s grace at work in a particular situation than on our own possessions, in whatever form these might take? And could it be that it is only to the extent that we learn to do this that we can truly foster peace among those to whom we are sent? Instead of simply making them “busier” than they already are?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Solemnity of The Body and Blood of Christ (C)
Going Through Mow-Shun


Readings: Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 110:1, 2, 3, 4; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 9:11b-17

Sisters and brothers, I don’t know if this ever happens to you. But, as you may have noticed, from time to time I tend to recall some obscure phrase that I might have heard someone say in the past. Today is one of those days. Today I’m reminded of something one of our platoon sergeants in the army used to yell at us. Perhaps some of us trainees might be sweeping the grounds of the camp, or cleaning the windows, or doing some other mundane task. And, of course, we would often, at the very same time, either be dreaming about what we would do once we got out of camp or simply be falling asleep. Then a loud voice would shock us out of our daydreaming. Don’t go through mow-shun!

Don’t be alarmed. The sergeant wasn’t referring to any of our natural bodily functions. What he meant to say was that we should not simply go through the motions of whatever it was we were doing. We should instead do it properly. Do it like we meant it. Don’t go through mow-shun! And the sergeant was quite an expert at spotting the telltale signs of trainees who were simply going through mow-shun. He’d somehow be able to find leaves on the ground even after we’d swept it, or smudges on the windows even after we’d wiped them. And then he’d make us do it all over again, with the shrill sound of his voice still ringing in our ears: don’t go through mow-shun!

Why, you may wonder, should such a strange, and perhaps even irreverent, memory pop into my head on a day like today? A day when we celebrate a feast as solemn as Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ?

Well, I think we have Saint Paul to thank for this. It’s probably not all that clear on a first hearing, but the second reading today is really part of Paul’s effort to remind the Corinthian Christians about the deeper meaning of the Eucharistic meal. Several verses earlier in the same chapter of his letter, Paul highlights some signs that things are not quite right in the Corinthian church. In verse 18 he says: when you all come together as a community, there are separate groups among you. And in verse 21 he notes that everyone is in such a hurry to start his own supper that one person goes hungry while another is getting drunk. For Paul, these are clear indications that when the Corinthians gather for the Eucharist it is not the Lord’s Super that they are eating (v. 20). Like our platoon sergeant, Paul has detected unmistakable signs that the Corinthians are simply going through mow-shun.

And I hope you forgive me for saying this, but it does seem that two thousand years on, the situation hasn’t changed all that much, has it? Why else, for example, do we find such frequent gentle and not-so-gentle reminders in the Catholic News, on our notice boards and even in our weekly bulletin telling us how to dress and behave appropriately at Mass? Aren’t these reminders simply different ways of saying the same thing? Don’t go through mow-shun! Remember what it is you’re doing. Do it like you mean it.

Even so, it’s important to note that Paul’s approach to the situation is quite different from that of our platoon sergeant. More than simply yelling at people and trying to force them to do something they don’t want to, Paul actually tries to help the Corinthians to remember the deeper significance of what they are celebrating when they gather for the Eucharistic meal. Indeed, isn’t this what this whole feast of Corpus Christi is about? It is an invaluable opportunity for each and all of us – certainly you who participate from the pews, but also we who minister at pulpit and altar. It’s a time for us all to remember what it is we are doing when we gather for Mass.

In particular, three things stand out for us in the readings today. In the gospel, we are reminded that when we come to Mass, we are not simply here to fulfill an obligation that someone else has laid down without first consulting us. We are here so that we might be fed. We may come here tired and anxious, harassed and hungry, or simply jaded and indifferent. And, as he does in the gospel, Jesus welcomes us and speaks to us about the kingdom of God. He accepts the meager offerings that we bring. Yes, he accepts the bread and the wine. But he also accepts what they represent: all our efforts at home and at work, our half- and un-fulfilled resolutions, the good intentions that we haven’t quite put into effect, all the messy and chaotic circumstances of our daily living, all these he takes and transforms into spiritual food and drink that nourish us unto fullness of life. But can we truly enjoy this nourishment if we are busy receiving and sending text messages, or planning our lunch appointment? Can we truly be fed if we are merely going through mow-shun?

And not only is the Mass a feeding, the first reading reminds us that it is also a thanksgiving celebration of victory in battle. This is what Abraham is doing in the first reading. And in the process of thanking God Abraham receives further blessings through the ministry of Melchizedek, the priest of God Most High. For us too, even though we might not actually be fighting a war, isn’t it true that life does often feel like an ongoing battle? Especially for those who take seriously our relationship with God and with one another, doesn’t it often feel like we are engaged in an ongoing struggle against the different forces that hinder us in our attempts to walk in God’s ways – forces that may come both from within and from without? And what are we doing when we come to Mass if not bringing these same struggles to the Lord, the supreme high priest (Hb 4:14) who blesses us with strength and courage to keep on struggling, confident that the victory has already been won.

Which brings us to the third, and perhaps most poignant aspect of our Eucharistic celebration highlighted in our readings today. Paul states it most clearly at the end of the second reading. Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming his death. There are two words that Paul leaves out probably because they are too obvious to require stating explicitly. The words are for us. Every time we gather for the Eucharist, we are proclaiming that Christ died for us. In the Eucharist, we are proclaiming that, in Christ, God has died that we might be fed. In the Eucharist, we are proclaiming that, in Christ, God has died that we might be victorious in battle. In the Eucharist, we are proclaiming that, in Christ, God has died so that we might have fullness of life.

Sisters and brothers, if this is what we are doing at Mass, if this is indeed the awesome mystery that we celebrate, can we afford to continue going through mow-shun?

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Saturday in the 9th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Combatting Donor Fatigue


Readings: Tobit 12:1, 5-15, 20; Tobit 13:2, 6efgh, 7, 8; Mark 12:38-44

I only recently learnt a new term: “donor fatigue”. It describes a condition that afflicts people when they are approached too frequently to make contributions to charity. This condition hampers the efforts of fundraisers because people feel “tired” of being asked to donate. And, consciously or not, they find ways to resist such invitations. What can fundraisers do? Of course, wherever possible, they may find better ways in which to spread out their campaigns, to give people enough time to recover. In addition, we may wonder whether, in addition to raising funds, more can be done to help people find the right motivations for giving.

Our readings today may be helpful in this regard by presenting us with two images. The first is one of shockingly open-hearted and open-handed generosity. The poor widow from the little she had put in everything she possessed, all she had to live on. Even as we listen to Jesus praise her, might we not wonder how she came to be so generous? Was it purely out of a sense of obligation? Was it only because she felt bad because someone in authority, or perhaps a charitable organization, kept hounding her and continually reminding her that it was her duty to give? We may well wonder…

The second image is to be found in the first reading. The feast thrown by Tobit for the Jews of Nineveh is over and Tobit begins to think of rewarding Azarias (Raphael) for all that he has done. And at first glance, it would seem that the angel suddenly turns into a fundraiser. Almsgiving saves from death and purges every kind of sin…, he says. But then he goes on to show us the true foundation upon which almsgiving, and indeed any kind of generosity, is based. He reveals to Tobit and Tobias who he really is and what he has been doing. He helps father and son to appreciate even more deeply how much they have been blessed by God right from the time when their family was in distress, the times of sorrow and privation, up to this present time of joy and plenty. The angel lays the groundwork for generosity by helping to cultivate a disposition of gratitude. Now bless the Lord on earth and give thanks to God.

These are the two images presented to us in our readings today, one of generosity and the other of gratitude. In our ongoing efforts to avoid “donor fatigue” we may well wonder whether there isn’t something we can all learn from a reflection upon the close connection between them. What practical differences might such a reflection make to our approaches toward almsgiving and fundraising?

Friday, June 08, 2007

Friday in the 9th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Blessings of the Son & Lord

Readings: Tobit 11:5-17; Psalm 146:1b-2, 6c-7, 8-9a, 9bc-10; Mark 12:35-37

Even the scripture scholars agree that our gospel passage for today is a “puzzle” because it seems to reject the belief that Jesus is descended from the line of King David, even though, in an earlier verse (Mark 10:48) the blind Bartimaeus refers to Jesus as "Son of David". The intention of the author is far from clear. Even so, might we not still draw fruit from the passage, especially when we listen or read it in conjunction with the first reading?

Might we not, for example, be struck by the numerous times in which the word “bless” and its variants are used in the first reading? And might we not also be moved by how although these blessings come ultimately from God, Tobit experiences them especially through his son Tobias. It is at the hands of Tobias that Tobit’s eyes are healed. It is also through the exploits of Tobias that Tobit sees his wealth restored and his family expanded. Can we not help but rejoice with Tobit as we listen to the description of his triumph and of the feast he throws for the Jews of Nineveh? How great indeed are the blessings that God has showered upon Tobit in his son.

And yet, Tobit’s experience pales in comparison to that of David. For in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, God’s blessings reach their climax. There is nothing more that God could give. In Jesus, David’s son and David’s Lord, God’s blessings are poured out far beyond the line of David, reaching out to the ends of the universe. Might this not be a possible reason why we are told that the great majority of people heard this with delight? In Jesus, the healing and restoration that Tobit experienced is also theirs to enjoy.

And it is also ours to enjoy as well. But we need first to recognize and to acknowledge the crucified and risen Lord in our midst, in the ordinary events and people we encounter. To do this, like Tobit, we need to submit our spiritual blindness to the healing touch of David’s Son and Lord, so that we might see the One who meets us and blesses us each day, especially in the Eucharistic feast that we share.

How are we being invited to acknowledge Christ as our Lord today?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Thursday in the 9th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Human Dignity in the Concrete

Readings: Tobit 6:10-11; 7:1bcde, 9-17; 8:4-9a; Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5; Mark 12:28-34

As I see it, at least two things stand in the way of our reflecting more deeply upon the gospel passage for today. The first is familiarity. We all know the first and second commandment very well. Or at least we think we do. We all know we are supposed to love God and to love our neighbour. Who needs another reminder? Yet this sense of familiarity may well be an illusion, an illusion that is linked with a second obstacle: generality. Why might we think we know what Jesus is talking about even if we don’t? Isn't it because we sometimes tend to think only in general? In general, we know we have to love God and our neighbour. Yet true love manifests itself in the specific, in concrete actions, or else it is not love. I know, in general, that I have to love my neighbour, but I can quite easily forget that that means not overloading my domestic help with work, for example, or taking the time to listen to someone who needs to talk.

Which is why the ongoing story of Tobit and his family in the first reading is so useful. Today, in particular, it focuses our attention on one way in which love needs to be made manifest. It brings to mind yet another key principle in the Social Teaching of the Church: respect for the dignity of the human person. It does this at several levels. At a first level, we find a concern for the rights of a person as prescribed by the law. So Raguel tells Tobias: as prescribed by the Book of Moses, she is given to you, heaven itself decrees she shall be yours. Important as it is, however, the law is not everything. For even if Raguel may keep the letter of the law by letting Tobias marry Sarah, both he and Tobias might still infringe the spirit of the law by treating Sarah as a piece of property to be handed over from one person to another. And one may well wonder if this was how Sarah’s seven previous husbands met their doom. Could they have fallen prey to the worst of demons by failing to respect the human dignity of Sarah, by treating her as a piece of property to be used and discarded at whim?

Isn’t this why we are quite naturally impressed with the prayer of Tobias? I do not take my sister for any lustful motive, I do it in singleness of heart. This, at last, is the only firm foundation upon which a marital relationship, indeed any truly human relationship, can be built: a mutual love and respect of equals in the sight of God. Which leads our reflection on to the deepest level. Ultimately, respect for the human dignity of another is but an expression of one’s love and respect for God. For, as we were reminded only recently, it is in God’s image and likeness that we are all created. In the first reading then, especially in the example of the relationship between Tobias and Sarah, we see an image of what it looks like when people love God and love their neighbour. We also see the blessings that can result. Indeed, blessed are those who fear the Lord.

How are we being reminded to respect the dignity of God in others today?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Wednesday in the 9th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
God of the Living

Readings: Tobit 3:1-11a, 16-17a; Psalm 25:2-3, 4-5ab, 6 and 7bc, 8-9; Mark 12:18-27

He is God, not of the dead, but of the living…

It’s easy to mistake the exchange between Jesus and the Sadducees in the gospel as a purely academic discussion about the possibility of life in the hereafter. It’s easy to dismiss it as being of little relevance to us since, as followers of Christ, we all already believe in the resurrection from the dead. We profess as much when we recite the creed at Mass every Sunday. Yet we might well wonder at the content as well as the extent of our belief.

What does it really mean to believe in the resurrection? What good does it do for a person who does believe? What difference does it make in such a person’s life? Are the benefits of such a belief only to be enjoyed after we leave our physical existence in this world? Or should belief in the resurrection not have an impact primarily in the way we live our lives in the here and now.

If there is one gift that belief in the resurrection brings it is hope. And our first reading presents us with two images of what hope might look like.

Both Tobit and Sarah are in dire straits. Life has not been easy for them. Rather, at this point in the story, each of them is moved to think that it is better to die than to live in the face of trouble that has no pity. Indeed, Sarah is driven even to the brink of suicide. Yet, in the midst of their troubles, each one somehow finds the strength to pray a prayer of lamentation. Even as the last rays of hope seem to fade from the horizon, even as they are engulfed by the darkness of night, they continue to turn to God in prayer, if only to express what is in the painful depths of their broken hearts. And we are told that the prayer of each of them found favour before the glory of God… God hears them and sends Raphael, a name which means God has healed, to bring remedy to them both…

Isn’t this what belief in the resurrection looks like? It looks like people who continue to cling to God even when all seems lost, people who hope against all hope, people who lift up their souls to God in the midst of affliction. This is the same hope that Jesus himself demonstrated when he walked the road to Calvary, and when he cried out from the Cross: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Rather than a purely academic exercise, belief in the resurrection has very practical implications for daily living. The hope that it contains spurs us on to keep on keeping on even when all seems hopeless, to continue to face the challenges of daily Christian living even when all we feel like doing is to lie down and die. For our hope is in a God, not of the dead, but of the living.

How are we being invited to renew our belief in the resurrection today?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Tuesday in the 9th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Surprise in the One Box

Readings: Tobit 2:9-14
; Psalm 112:1-2, 7-8, 9
; Mark 12:13-17
This reply took them completely by surprise.

As we listen to this well-known passage from Mark’s gospel, perhaps it’ll be fruitful for us to focus our attention first on the surprise of Jesus’ interrogators. It’s not too difficult to figure out the reason for their reaction. Theirs was a very cunning question, one that gave them confidence that they had put Jesus in a tight spot from which there was no escape. It seemed our Lord was caught on the horns of a dilemma. He had only two choices: to say either that it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or that it was not. And either option would have serious, perhaps even fatal, consequences for Jesus. How then did Jesus slip so easily, even effortlessly, out of their trap?

For the Pharisees and Herodians, it would seem that there were, as it were, two boxes. One was marked Caesar and the other was marked self. You could only choose one or the other in which to put your money. And isn’t this one key characteristic of all difficult questions, especially practical, moral and political questions? At this level, there often seem to be two or more boxes among which one has to choose. And to choose one is often to have to forsake another – to deposit a ten-dollar bill in the bank is to be unable to place it in the collection box in church – with often unpleasant consequences for self and for others. How to choose well?

More than simply telling us to continue carefully separating our possessions, our time and our loyalties between different boxes, between Caesar and God, between State and Church, between secular and religious, between material and spiritual, Jesus’ response is surprising because it breaks through our dilemmas by bringing us to another level of reflection. While it may be true that at the level of the practical there are so many boxes to choose from, isn’t it true that at the level of the heart, everything belongs to God? What do we have that does not come ultimately from God? That does not bear the imprint of God’s handiwork? Are we ourselves not made in God’s image and likeness?

Isn’t it the case then that it is only when we are reconciled to this truth, when our hearts our centred on God alone, that we are able gracefully to negotiate the difficult decisions that confront us in daily living? Don’t we see this in the ongoing story of Tobit? Blinded by unfortunate circumstances, ostracized by his own people, finding it difficult even to make ends meet, Tobit continues to be careful not to accept goods that might rightfully belong to someone else. Blind though he is, he is able to discern clearly the appropriate box in which to place the things that come his way. That he can do this on a practical level is a clear sign that in his heart there is only one box in which everything belongs to God. Again, the response to the psalm describes his situation accurately: with a firm heart he trusts in the Lord.

In our hearts how many boxes have we? How is Jesus’ response surprising us today?

Monday, June 04, 2007

Monday in the 9th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Stewards of the Lord’s Vineyard

Readings: Tobit 1:3; 2:1a-8; Psalm 112:1b-2, 3b-4, 5-6; Mark 12:1-12

It should be quite clear to anyone open enough to appreciate the truth that we live in a world where there is an enormous gap between the rich and the poor. The best means to narrow that gap is probably a matter for economists and politicians to decide. But as Christians, we might ask ourselves what are the necessary dispositions that might motivate each of us to do our part, however small, in narrowing that gap.

Two principles from the Social Teaching of the Church come to mind, principles which seem to contradict each other. On the one hand, rejecting the Marxist approach, the Church affirms each individual’s right to private property. On the other hand, however, in stark contrast to a purely capitalist approach, the Church also speaks of the universal destination of goods – in other words, the belief that all the good things of this earth are ultimately to be directed to the common good. Obviously, these two principles need to be held in tension if we are to find the right motivation to combat global poverty. But what might such a healthy tension look like? Our readings shed some light on the issue by inviting us to reflect on the meaning of stewardship.

The parable of the vineyard shows us what failure to live the tension can look like. Forgetting that they are merely stewards of the landowner, the tenants manage the vineyard as though it is their own possession. They exclude others from enjoying its fruits. And their greed leads them to violence and murder.

In contrast, the first reading presents us with the story of a man who obviously appreciates what it means to be a steward. Tobit is very conscious of the fact that he belongs to a nation in exile. Even though he is lucky enough to have food on his table, his heart goes out to those who have none. He doesn’t even begin to eat before seeking someone to share his meal. And when he hears about a person who has been murdered and whose corpse has been left in the market place, he leaves his table to give the person the dignity of a decent burial.

What is it about Tobit that moves him to do all this, even at the expense of being ridiculed by others? Clearly he could quite easily sit down to enjoy his own meal without being in the least affected by the misfortunes of those around him. Yet his feelings and his actions indicate to us his deep appreciation of the bond between him and the others who live with him in exile. He realizes that theirs is a shared misfortune, that others have a claim on him, on his time, his energy, and his goods. Even more, he also realizes that ultimately all that he is and has belongs not only to him but to God, who always hears the cry of the poor. Tobit’s actions demonstrate that he is someone who knows what it means to be a true tenant of the Lord's vineyard. He is a man who fears the Lord.

Sisters and brothers in a world marked by an obscene contrast between blatant consumerism and abject poverty, how are we being called to be responsible tenants and stewards of the Lord’s vineyard?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Solemnity of The Most Holy Trinity (C)
God’s Saving Hands

Readings: Proverbs 8:22-31; Psalm 8:4-5, 6-7, 8-9; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

Sisters and brothers, the feast we are celebrating today is not easy to understand. We can understand how coffee powder, sugar and creamer can be mixed together to form three-in-one coffee. And we can understand how liquid soap, conditioner and aloe vera can be mixed together to make three-in-one shampoo. But how can God be both one and three at the same time? How can one plus one plus one equal one? Mathematically, it just doesn’t make any sense. But maybe our celebration today is not really about mathematics. Maybe it’s not so important to know how God can be both one and three, as much as it is to ask what God is like, what God does and where and how we can find God.

We all probably feel the need for God from time to time. Yet, in our experience, is it ever easy to find God? Or does it not sometimes seem very difficult? When things are going well, it’s very easy to forget our own need for God. When things are going badly, God may seem very quiet, even when we are crying out desperately for help. And then, there are also times when life seems so ordinary, when nothing seems to be happening, or times when we are just too busy with so many other things to care about God. We may go through the motions of saying our prayers or of going to Mass without actually sensing God’s presence. Where is God in all this? What is God doing? What has this to do with our belief that God is three and one, one in three?

The story is told of a spiritual guru who was walking one day with a few of his disciples along a river. As they strolled and chatted they happened to see a large spider trapped on a branch that had fallen into the water not far from the riverbank. It seemed only a matter of time before the branch would be swept away by the flowing waters and the spider would be lost. Without hesitation, the guru waded into the water and reached out his hand to rescue the spider. But the spider, mistaking the guru’s intentions, promptly bit him on the finger. The guru withdrew his hand in pain. But he did not give up. Once again he stretched out his hand to save the spider. And, once again, it bit him. It was only after suffering several painful bites that the guru finally succeeded in transporting the spider to safety. When he rejoined his disciples, one of them asked him why he was so set on saving the spider even when it was stupid enough to bite the very hand that was trying to rescue it. To which the guru replied, “In biting me the spider was simply acting according to its nature to defend itself. Why should I then not act according to my nature to want to save it?”

In some ways, this story reminds us of our relationship with God. Like the spider, we often find ourselves in trouble. We often find ourselves far away from God and in danger of being swept away by the fast-flowing waters of everyday life. But, in the midst of our trials, God constantly stretches out a hand to rescue us. This is because, like the guru, it is in God’s very nature to want to save us. Like the description of Wisdom in today’s first reading, whether we recognize it or not, God is present everywhere in the world, delighting to be with us and eager to save us from our difficulties.

We see this outstretched hand of God especially in Jesus, the only begotten Son of the Father, the second person of the Trinity. Like the spider in the story, the people in Jesus’ day did not recognize him as the saving hand of God. They felt threatened by him, by the things he said and did, by who he claimed to be, and so they tortured and killed him. And we are not much different are we? Don’t we often also fail to recognize God stretching out God’s hand to us in the various events and people that God sends into our lives? Of course, sometimes God’s hand, God’s blessings, are easily recognized. But haven’t we all also heard of blessings in disguise? Such blessings are difficult to accept, especially at first. We may have heard, for example, how the birth of a handicapped child might turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the parents. But how many of us would find it easy to receive this kind of blessing?

As we heard in the second reading, it is only by faith and through Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, that we can welcome such blessings in our life as gifts from the outstretched hand of God. And we can do this only when we truly believe in the story of Jesus, the story of how the darkness and death of the Cross led Him to the new light and life of the Resurrection. It is only when we cling to our faith in this story that we can learn to boast about looking forward to God’s glory. It is only when we truly believe in Christ, the second person of the Trinity, that we can learn to boast even in our sufferings.

But we do not do this by our own strength. Like the spider in the story, we are too easily threatened by new experiences. If we can learn to recognize the saving hand of God even in our sufferings it is because God teaches us to do so. As we heard in the second reading, the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. This is the Spirit of truth that Jesus speaks about in the gospel, the One who leads us to the complete truth. This is the third person of the Trinity. This is the other hand of God, the one with which the Father reaches into our own hearts, giving us wisdom, courage and strength in our difficulties.

This then is what we are celebrating today. More than a mathematical puzzle of how God can be both one and three, we are celebrating our belief in a God whose very nature is to save. We are celebrating a loving Father who stretches out His saving hand to us, first in Jesus Christ the Son, a hand that we see working especially in the people we meet and the events we encounter in daily life. We are also celebrating a Father who, in the Holy Spirit, stretches out his other hand into the depths of our hearts, teaching us to recognize Him.

Sisters and brothers, how is God the Father stretching out both His saving Hands to you and me today?
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