Reflections

SFX Bulletin, 1 March 2015 Most of us can relate to many of the events in Jesus’ life.  We can relate to his temptations in the desert, his rejection by various groups of people and his abandonment by his apostles for we, too, encounter such trials although not to such intense degrees as Jesus did (Mk.1:13;6:16;14:50).

However, there is perhaps one event in Jesus’ life – his transfiguration (today’s gospel) - that may be difficult for us to grasp. What happened and what is the significance of that event for us as Jesus’ followers?

Mark tells us that when Jesus was transfigured, “his clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than any earthly bleacher could make them” (Mk.9:3).  Seeing this, Peter, James and John “were so frightened” (Mk.9:6).   
SFX Bulletin, 22 February 2015 Has the Church always celebrated Lent? What exactly is this 40-day period of fasting, prayer and almsgiving (or similar works of sacrifice and love) supposed to lead to?

The word Lent itself simply means “Spring” or “March” in Anglo-Saxon.  It refers to the time of the year when the Lent-Easter season usually occurs.  The earliest reference to Lent is in a letter from St. Ireneaus (d.203) to Pope St. Victor I about Easter, “The dispute is not only about the day, but also about the actual character of the fast. Some think that they ought to fast for one day, some for two…some make their 'day' last 40 hours on end.” (Eusebius, History of the Church, v24).  By the 4th century, the 40-day period of fasting had become the norm as preparation for Holy Week and Easter.  Nevertheless, the number “40” is not to be taken literally.  It symbolizes a long time of testing or trial as in the long period that Israel wandered in the desert before entering the Promised Land (40 years) or Jesus’ time in the desert (40 days) - which is our gospel text for today.
SFX Bulletin, 11 January 2015 While Scripture is to be prayerfully read as sacred text and not always as literal history, bible scholars almost all agree that the baptism of Jesus which is recorded in all four gospels (Mt.3:13-17; Mk.1:9-11; Lk.3:21-23; Jn.1:29-33)  is an event that actually took place – it is as true as Jesus’ crucifixion.  For many of us, Jesus’ baptism  never fails to make us pause and ponder.   Why did Jesus, who has no sin, ask John for this rite of repentance? 

Reflecting on this event, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, said, “Jesus did not need to be baptised, but the first theologians say that, with his body, with his divinity, in baptism he blessed all the waters, so that the waters would have the power to confer baptism.  And then, before ascending to Heaven, Jesus told us to go into all the world to baptize.  And from that day forward up until today, this has been an uninterrupted chain: they baptised their children…And today this chain continues” (Angelus, 13 January 2013).
SFX Bulletin, 4 January 2015 The Greek word “Epiphaneia” from which we get the English word “Epiphany” means “appearance” or “manifestation” of a divine reality.  The Church celebrates this as a Feast marking the revelation of Jesus Christ as the Son of God not only to the Jewish people but to the whole world – to “the nations” as prophesied by the prophet Isaiah (Isa.60:3).  The wise men from the east in seeing this revelation made true before their eyes in the child Jesus with his mother Mary, fell to their knees and “did him homage…opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh” (Mt.2:11).

Today, many of us feel the need to verify the historicity of the magi.  We want to know which countries “from the east” these wise men originate; we question their “wisdom” since their occupation seems to be star-gazing;  were they really called Casper, Melchior and Balthazar; were there only three wise men since only three types of gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh are mentioned.  All these questions on literal details miss the point of what the gospel writer wants to say – that in encountering Jesus and coming to know that God is now in our midst most intimately in the community of believers called the church - one has received an epiphany that is beyond words – a joy so deep that the only appropriate response is adoration and submission symbolized by the wise men falling on their knees and paying homage and in the Psalmist’s declaration that in coming to know and experience the saving help of the Lord “all nations shall fall prostrate” (Ps.71:11).
SFX Bulletin, 28 December 2014 Nativity scenes invariably depict Baby Jesus in a manger with Our Lady and St. Joseph gazing in wonder and adoration.  While revealing not only Mary and Joseph’s marvel at God made flesh but so humbly trusting and vulnerable like any normal human infant, this scene also reveals God’s desire for every child to be in a family unit – to have a father and a mother who would protect and nurture the child.

In speaking of the family, the Catechism tells us that the family is a “natural society” where human beings associate with one another to develop human qualities like initiative and responsibility (CCC1882); it is the “original cell of society” in which “authority, stability and a life of relationships…constitute the foundations for freedom, security and fraternity within society” (CCC2207) and it is also a “privileged community” for it is within families that one first experiences an affinity of feelings, affections and other interests (CCC2206).

The Church proposes to us the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph as a powerful role model for the struggles and joys of family life.  Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI says that while the Holy Family is “unique and unrepeatable”, it is nevertheless “a “model of life” for every family because Jesus, true man, chose to be born into a human family and thereby blessed and consecrated it…God wanted to be born and to grow up in a human family. In this way he consecrated the family as the first and ordinary means of his encounter with humanity” (Angelus, 26 Dec. 2006; 31 Dec. 2010 – italics are the Pope’s).
SFX Bulletin, 21 December 2014 We celebrate today the fourth and last Sunday of Advent. With the preparation season of Advent coming to a close and the vigil celebration of   the Nativity of Our Lord just three days away, we are invited today to consider if our spiritual preparation are in tandem with the change in liturgical seasons. At Christmas, we celebrate not only Jesus’ birth as Saviour but the riches of grace won for us and the joyful hope he has given us to look ahead to his Second Coming – this time as Judge over the world where “each man’s relationship with God will be laid bare” (CCC1038).

The Church reminds us unceasingly that we are living in a time of God’s immense grace to be made ready for Judgement and for heaven.  This reminder comes again as we light the fourth candle of the Advent wreath today.  Often called the Angel’s Candle or the Candle of Love, this candle is so named because God’s love for man and his plan of grace was first proclaimed or heralded by an angel to Mary.  This took place at the Annunciation – an event we meditate on in our daily Angelus and the First Joyful Mystery of the Rosary and is presented today to us for our gospel reflection.
CFSM Newsletter, Dec 2014:
Here is the story of Joan, who stood firm by her unborn child, in spite of ...

I was 39 when suffering from menstrual type pains and bleeding I was diagnosed with multiple fibroids by a doctor of a reputable hospital. He also concluded that infertility would be one result, and that there is a near zero chance that I would ever conceive. The doctor strongly recommended the removal of my womb, consoling me that it is not a “major type operation”. As I was not willing to have my womb removed, I was prescribed pain killers.

When I was 40, I conceived. Believing that I was “infertile” I did not realize that I was pregnant. I just thought that my weight gains and missed periods were symptoms of the work and life stresses I was experiencing at that time. I saw a GP and was shocked when the pregnancy tests came back positive. I was already 7 months pregnant, and soon after I started to bleed again, and was hospitalized. After 5 days the first doctor who spoke to me pressurized me to abort the baby, telling me that both my baby and I would die due to the fibroids, which are bleeding. When I refused, he sent a lady doctor associate and 2 nurses who at different moments of the day came and piled pressure on me to abort. I was frightened, felt threatened, and furious. I demanded to be discharged. The lady doctor made me sign an indemnity to protect their hospital should I face “complications” in future.
CFSM Newsletter, Dec 2014: Here is the story of Joan, who stood firm by her unborn child, in spite of ...


I was 39 when suffering from menstrual type pains and bleeding I was diagnosed with multiple fibroids by a doctor of a reputable hospital. He also concluded that infertility would be one result, and that there is a near zero chance that I would ever conceive. The doctor strongly recommended the removal of my womb, consoling me that it is not a “major type operation”. As I was not willing to have my womb removed, I was prescribed pain killers.

When I was 40, I conceived. Believing that I was “infertile” I did not realize that I was pregnant. I just thought that my weight gains and missed periods were symptoms of the work and life stresses I was experiencing at that time. I saw a GP and was shocked when the pregnancy tests came back positive. I was already 7 months pregnant, and soon after I started to bleed again, and was hospitalized. After 5 days the first doctor who spoke to me pressurized me to abort the baby, telling me that both my baby and I would die due to the fibroids, which are bleeding. When I refused, he sent a lady doctor associate and 2 nurses who at different moments of the day came and piled pressure on me to abort. I was frightened, felt threatened, and furious. I demanded to be discharged. The lady doctor made me sign an indemnity to protect their hospital should I face “complications” in future.

While I understand her point of view, I felt unsafe, for these doctors did not seem to value the life of the unborn child. To add to my burden, my husband agreed with the doctors, adding that at my age we might have a deformed or defective child.

I went to a 3rd hospital to seek help from a renowned gynecologist. This lady doctor also feared complications and when she realized that I would not be able to afford her bills she sent me to a “less expensive” doctor. So I went to this subsidized clinic which was not specialized in high-risk pregnancies. In this place I met more doctors that I have ever seen in my life.

Thank God, among them was a lady doctor who was willing to help me deliver my child. She did not talk about money.
Finally, when the time came I gave birth to my baby by Caesarean section,

In my semi-conscious state I heard the doctor said that I was bleeding. Another doctor came and helped stop it. The surgery lasted two and a half hours, instead of the usual 40 minutes.

When my baby was placed next to me I cried and cried for joy.

God works miracles!

Joan, mother in 2012.

CFSM Reflections:
1. Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God. ……… no one can therefore claim for himself the right to destroy an innocent human being.” (CCC.2258)

2. “God made man in his image” – ( Genesis 9.6)

3. Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception…… (CCC.2270)“Before I form you in the womb I knew you.” (Jerem 1,5) (Psalm 139,15).

4. Since the 1st Century, the Church has affirmed the moral evil of abortion….. “abortion is an abominable crime..” (Didache 2,2 ……CCC.2271)

5. A person who procures a completed abortion incurs ex-communion…. The Church makes clear the gravity of the crime committed…..” (CCC. 2272)

6. The moment the civil “law” deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the State is denying the equality of all before the law. When the State does not place its powers at the service of the rights of each citizen (specially the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a State based on Law are undermined…” (CCC.2273)

Action:
1. If we stand for life, Think of one way where you can stand by the voiceless or the defenseless in your place of work or in your neighborhood.

2. Let us teach our children that the right thing to do is to stand by, to help, to protect the weak, the most vulnerable persons in their class or their circle of friends.

3. As friends of our social circle, as neighbors, as citizens, how do we stand up for life, for the weak? Decide on one action and just do it.

article and reflections by Fr. A. Christophe

SFX Bulletin, 14 December 2014 Is being happy “at all times” (1 Th.5:16) truly possible?  For many of us, it seems to be more a wishful dream than a real possibility.  To guard against becoming cynical over the elusiveness of happiness, we often resort to various self-made “happiness principles”.  For example, telling ourselves that some degree of happiness is good enough because 100% happiness is too elusive; or having a list of “happy” things to do like shopping, eating or any other activity that helps ward off the emptiness that constantly haunts us and makes us unhappy.

St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians began by reminding them of the Spirit-inspired joy they had manifested when they first welcomed the Good News.  The Thessalonians were so faith-filled that they became “a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia” (1 Th. 1:7).  However, persecution over their conversion to Christianity had caused some to begin to doubt that Jesus would ever return in a Second Coming so that they could “be with the Lord forever” (1 Th. 4:17).  St. Paul, therefore reminded them to hold fast to Jesus’ promise and continue living holy lives steeped in prayer and thanksgiving,  “…pray constantly, and for all things give thanks to God, because this is what God expects you to do in Christ Jesus” (1 Th. 5:17-18).
SFX Bulletin, 7 December 2014 In many of our offices, we have tiered trays for what needs our immediate attention and what can wait.  Memos needing immediate attention are placed in the “Urgent” tray while everything else usually ends up in “Pending”.  “Pending” documents almost always never get attended to and if they are acted on, it is usually because someone has called up to enquire on its progress or completion.

In this season of Advent, Mother Church is that “someone” prompting us to check again if our spiritual lives should be in “Urgent” rather than “Pending”.  She reminds us not to be caught up with the temporal but to live with life’s end in mind.  As such, we are reminded time and again, just as we are in today’s gospel, to live in the new reality of the Good News - that “Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mk.1:1) has come to earth to help us in our earthly pilgrimage by giving us the Holy Spirit but are we co-operating with him in a prayer-filled life? (cf.Mk1:8).
SFX Bulletin, 30 November 2014 “Jolly” would be the expected word for this well-known carol.  However, when we listen to Jesus’ words in today’s gospel telling us four times to “Stay awake” and “be on your guard” (Mk. 13:33,34,35,37),  we cannot help but consider if this seasonal “jolliness” is what Jesus is alerting us to and what Our Lord feels may be wrong with some festive lightheartedness?

When we examine the lyrics of this popular carol, we find Our Lord’s warning justified.  Composed in the 19th century with the pub-dance rhythm for its music, the original lyrics of the carol was set around indulgent merry-making – “drain the barrel…laughing, quaffing all together” – hardly the type of song any parent would want their child to learn.  These lyrics on hearty drinking were later replaced with dressing up, “don we now our gay apparel”. One would expect a Christmas carol to sing of the Christ-child or the awesome wonder that God had indeed “torn the heavens opened and come down” (cf. Isa. 64:1) to be our perfect atoning sacrifice to offer to God.
SFX Bulletin, 23 November 2014 City-dwellers like us may find it difficult to relate to today’s Solemnity which presents Jesus as King.  “Kings” are almost historical due in part to the domination style of leadership.  Jesus’ Kingship, however, is different.   It is more like the tender zealous love of the Shepherd for his sheep as described in the first reading from the prophet Ezekiel.

In the prophecy given through Ezekiel, the shepherd loves and cares for his sheep so much that he is not afraid of the watchfulness needed, “I am going to look after my flock myself and keep all of it in view”; his sheep are so dear to him that he would risk his life to rescue them, “I shall rescue them from wherever they have been scattered…”; he is zealous for their well-being,  “I myself will pasture my sheep…”; he wants to restore every single sheep that had been hurt while it had wandered off,  “I shall look for the lost one, bring back the stray, bandage the wounded and make the weak strong” (Ez.34:11-16).
SFX Bulletin, 16 November 2014: Whether we like it or not, it will come.  The Lord alerts us today to Judgement Day – the time when we have to account for what we have done with the “talents” God has entrusted to us (cf. Mt. 25:19).

“Talents” are units of currency but 4th century Church Father, St. John Chrysostom, saw it symbolic of the abilities God entrusts to every man for the common good, “For the talents here are each person's ability, whether in the way of protection, or in money, or in teaching, or in what thing so ever... Let no man say, I have but one talent, and can do nothing…For you are not poorer than that widow; you are not more uninstructed than Peter and John, who were both unlearned and ignorant men; but since they showed forth zeal, did all things for the common good (and) attained Heaven. For nothing is so pleasing to God, as to live for the common advantage” (Homily 78).
SFX Bulletin, 9 November 2014: The Church celebrates today the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica – the oldest of the four Papal or Major Basilicas of Rome (the other three are St. Peter’s Basilica, Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls and the Basilica of St. Mary Major).

The name “Lateran” comes from the Laterani family who originally owned the palace and the grounds on which the Basilica is built.  Emperor Constantine gave the palace to Pope Miltiades in 313 – the same year that he granted Christians freedom to practice their religion thus ending centuries of persecution.  This, in turn, had come about from Constantine’s victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 which he attributed to a vision of the Chi-Rho (the first two letter of CHRIST in Greek).
SFX Bulletin, 3 November 2014: The passing away of loved ones, lives lost in wars or conflicts and natural disasters – they make us stop and ponder on the meaning of life, why there is death and evil and what happens after death.

The Church journeys with us in this reflection on All Souls’ Day.  We are reminded that death is not “natural” and is in fact “the wages of sin”.  The Catechism explains, “Even though man’s nature is mortal, God had destined him not to die.  Death was therefore contrary to the plans of God the Creator, and entered the world as a consequence of sin.  ‘Bodily death, from which man would have been immune had he not sinned’ is thus ‘the last enemy’ of man left to be conquered” (CCC1006;1008).

In today’s first reading, God promised to “destroy Death forever” (Isa.25:8).  True to His promise, Jesus came 800 years later to fulfil this promise and transform death in a radical way, “Jesus, the Son of God, also himself suffered death that is part of the human condition.  Yet despite his anguish as he faced death, he accepted it in an act of complete and free submission to his Father’s will. The obedience of Jesus has transformed the curse of death into a blessing” (CCC1009,cf.Rom.5:19-21).
SFX Bulletin, 26 October 2014: Many people view laws in general as limitations to freedom but for the Christian, laws from God give joy.   In fact, Christians can even speak of God’s “laws” in the singular – there is only the Law of Love.  This Law, in turn, has been fulfilled most perfectly by Jesus and when we receive him in the Eucharist, we receive his power and strength to live in God’s Love.  The more we contemplate the Eucharist or Jesus in us and desire to be conformed to him, the deeper our personal encounter with him and the more clearly others will be able to see divine power at work through us.

Jesus is truly the “easy yoke” and “light burden” that “sets us free” (cf. Mt. 11:30; Jn. 8:32).  More often than not, however, we get bogged down by the letter rather than make effort to understand the spirit of the law.  We end up slavishly obeying and becoming increasingly pedantic.  Today’s gospel illustrates this point.  The Pharisee, like all devout Jews, regarded the Torah (first five books) as containing 613 commandments - all of which had to be observed with equal care.  As such, when the Pharisee asked Jesus, “Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?” he was hoping Jesus would give an answer emphasising just one law – creating an opportunity for them to accuse Jesus of neglecting the Law in its totality by ranking one particular commandment above the others.
SFX Bulletin, 19 October 2014: World Mission Sunday was first celebrated by Pope Pius XI in 1927 making today the 88th World Mission Sunday.   The objective, as always, has been to remind us of our baptismal privilege in being able to encounter Christ so intimately through the Church’s sacraments.   In coming to know him so personally, we should all feel the urgency to tell others of God’s merciful love.  Our lives then, by our words and works, become a revelation of His love in us.

 Our Holy Father’s message for this year’s Mission Sunday begins by highlighting a spiritual void in the world, “Today vast numbers of people still do not know Jesus Christ…”.   This void is meant to be tackled by all the baptised members of the Church, “All the members of the Church are called to participate in this mission, for the Church is missionary by her very nature: she was born ‘to go forth’” (Ad Gentes 2, Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church).
SFX Bulletin, 12 October 2014: At Baptism, all of us received a white garment and a candle.  They are beautiful and meaningful symbols of our adoption as God’s children, “The white garment symbolizes that the person baptised has ‘put on Christ”, has risen with Christ.  The candle, lit from the Easter candle, signifies that Christ has enlightened them and the baptised are ‘the light of the world” (cf. CCC1243).

As we mature, we must strive unceasingly to use the grace given us at baptism to become more and more like Christ – God’s perfect obedient Son. In doing what Christ did – revealing God’s mercy and saving help to others through words and deeds, we are preserving unstained the white garment of purity and holiness given us, making it a fitting “wedding garment” for the “messianic banquet” (v.12,2) - that reunion feast at the end of time which God has prepared for every single human being.
SFX Bulletin, 5 October 2014: “Do we welcome God?”  This may seem a silly question to ask especially when we are at Mass every Sunday (and perhaps even every day).  Our faithful attendance should be a clear sign that we do think about God – and is that not good enough?

Jesus’ Parable of the Vineyard, sometimes called the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, invites us today to ponder deeper on what being at Mass and being a Catholic really means.  Like many of us who come to Church willingly, the Tenants in the parable also willingly took up the lease of the vineyard.  The Tenants were to pay rent by giving back from the fine fruit that should come from this lovingly created vineyard.  The landowner had “fenced it round, dug a winepress..and built a tower” – imagery that tell us the vineyard was fenced off from harm, a plentiful harvest was expected to fill the deep winepress painstakingly hewned out from rock and even faraway threats could be anticipated and repelled with the erection of a tower (v.41).  With such a fine set-up, the parable seems set for a happy ending of having an abundant yield to pay the rent when the time comes.  Yet, not so.
SFX Bulletin, 28 September 2014: “Repent!” is not a word we like to hear.  Our pride is such that we like to think well of ourselves all the time. We may even blame God for our sins.  When we do this, we are not unlike the elders of Judah who were in exile in Babylon for 70 years from 586BC.  They blamed God for their sins and exile by citing what their forefathers had misread in the Hebrew Scriptures as an “intergeneration curse”.  God’s warning about the effects of sin - that it would go down “to the third and fourth generation” – came to be read as a “curse” sent by God rather than His concerned alert on the sorrowful and fatal effect of sin on the family and the community.  To justify themselves, the religious elders in exile also failed to acknowledge God’s encouragement given in the same passage to do good and avoid evil.  To those who love Him and keep His commandments, God promised to be with them “down to the thousandth generation” (Ex.20:5-6).

Through the prophet Ezekiel sent to the exiles, God emphatically refuted this persistent erroneous reading of His words.  No such “curse” existed - everyone is personally responsible for their own sin.  In fact, God is abounding in mercy, “when the sinner renounces sin to become law-abiding and honest, he deserves to live” (v.27), “all his past sins will be forgotten” (v.22).
SFX Bulletin, 20 September 2014: Whether we are conscious of it or not, we are always considering our own self-interests.  The question, “What’s In This For Me?” is always in our minds.  Like the first group of workers in today’s parable of the workers in the vineyard, we may even demand specifics – in this case, a denarius (cf. v.2).

In this parable, the “denarius” symbolise truth and eternal life (Eucharist).  The “bailiff” is Jesus who willingly gives of himself in the Eucharist to all whom God, the “landowner”, has called into the vineyard.  The vineyard is the Church.  The work in the vineyard is the harvesting of souls for holiness – the very work we celebrate today in Catechetical Sunday.  The marketplace is the world where many “stand idle” (v.6) until God calls them to toil and be rewarded in His Kingdom vineyard. 
SFX Bulletin, 7 September 2014: The gospel today is taken from a section of Matthew often called the “Ecclesial” or “Church” Discourse.  The word “church” is used only two times in the gospels (Mt.16:18; Mt.18:17) and in both instances, refer to the authority Jesus gives to “bind and loose”.  This authority, as the Catechism tells us, refers to “the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgements, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church” (CCC553).  It is an authority exercised with divine guidance as Jesus assured, “where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them” (v.20).
SFX Bulletin, 31 August 2014: How often must a Christian pray or think about God?   St. Gregory of Nazianzus (329-390AD) said, “We must remember God more often than we draw breath”.    The Catechism elaborates by saying, “Prayer is the life the new heart.  It ought to animate us at every moment.  But we tend to forget him who is our life and our all” (CCC2697).

More specifically, in thinking about God, St. Paul urges us to direct our thoughts and adoration to God’s forgiveness through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, “Think of God’s mercy…and worship him…”.  St. Paul encourages us then, to respond by consciously welcoming the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit – wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord (wonder and awe) and live “...in a way that is worthy of thinking beings”.  

As renewed “thinking beings” baptised into Jesus’ death (cf. Rom.6:3), we should live each day “…offering our living bodies as a holy sacrifice, truly pleasing to God”.  This means being conscious that every action we take should draw us closer to God and not away from His presence.  St. Paul’s wise advice -  “Do not model yourselves on the behavior of the world around you, but let your behavior change, modeled by your new mind. This is the only way to discover the will of God and know what is good, what it is that God wants, what is the perfect thing to do” (Rom.12:1-2).  
SFX Bulletin, 24 August 2014: The number of groups calling themselves “churches” today can range from the tens to the tens of thousands depending on whether they are counted under mainstream Protestant groups or counted as standalones.  For the aspiring Christian, this can be so confusing.

We can therefore be so thankful that today’s gospel reveals how Jesus intended his church to be governed and to function.
 
The Greek “ekklesia” translated as “church” appears for the first time in Scripture in today’s gospel.  Meaning “called out”, Jesus uses the word for the new community of believers he would establish under Peter.  After Peter’s divinely-inspired confession of Jesus as “…Christ…the Son of the living God” (v.16), Jesus said to him, “…You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church…”.  Jesus then elaborates on the power and the authority of his Petrine-led church, “…And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven” (v.18-19).
SFX Bulletin, 17 August 2014: Every human being is made by God.  God unceasingly calls everyone – including non-Christians - into relationship with Him.  This unbreakable bond between the divine and the human opens the Catechism, “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God…God never ceases to draw man to himself.  Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for” (CCC27).

This “truth and happiness” experienced in finding God is what has attracted the saints to desire God’s constant presence.  It is key also to human dignity, “The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called into communion with God.   This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being.  For if man exists, it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence.  He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator” (Gaudium et Spes 19).
SFX Bulletin, 10 August 2014: Peter’s “little faith” (v.31) contrasts with the firm faith of Elijah and Paul in this week’s readings.  This “little faith” seems even more astounding when we consider that Elijah and Paul had never seen the incarnate God in Jesus while Peter had the “privilege” of being with Jesus through the three years of his public ministry.
 
In fact, before today’s near-drowning, Peter had seen Jesus miraculous heal the sick and multiply five loaves and two fish to feed well over five thousand people.  It was right before yet another miracle – that of Jesus walking on water - that Peter displayed his deep lack of faith and began to drown.  Despite being so hard to convince, Jesus still “put out his hand” and rescued Peter.  In an almost heartbroken way, Jesus said, “Man of little faith…why did you doubt?” (v.31).

While faith is “a gift from God, a supernatural virtue infused by him”, it also requires our reasoned and voluntary assent.  In his encyclical Faith and Reason, Pope St. John Paul II pointed out that “faith and reason…each without the other is impoverished and enfeebled” (Fides et Ratio. n.48).
SFX Bulletin, 3 August 2014: One cannot read today’s Liturgy of the Word without recalling Our Holy Father’s constant reminder that the Church must have “an open heart” especially towards those on the fringes of humanity.

In his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis said, “…the Church…is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.  If the whole Church takes up this missionary impulse, she has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbours, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, “those who cannot repay you” (Lk 14:14)…We have to state, without mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor”. (EG47, 48).
SFX Bulletin, 27 July 2014: Many of us are familiar with Jesus’ parables on the treasure hidden in a field and the fine pearl of great value.  Both the treasure and the pearl symbolize the “Kingdom of Heaven” as Jesus tells us (v.44&45).   In both parables, the “someone” and the “merchant” “sells everything he owns” just to own the treasure and the pearl.  The hierarchy of the church – bishops, priests and deacons – and those who have consecrated their lives to the faith – represent this “someone” and “merchant”.  They, “by the self-abnegation of a holy life” (Lumen Gentium 36), become radical followers of Jesus - the “treasure” and “fine pearl” they have been seeking.  In Jesus, they have found the “happiness” (cf. Mt. 13:44) that surpasses everything else.

Everyone’s happiness is intimately linked to a “holy life” – doing good and avoiding evil.  The Psalmist today sings, “Lord, how I love your law!”.  Guided by divine wisdom, he finds the power for good and to shun evil.
SFX Bulletin, 20 July 2014:  We live in an “instant” culture.  From instant foods like noodles, coffee, microwavables to technological “instants” like instant messaging and video streaming, we have become a people conditioned to instant gratification. 

While there is much good to these instant conveniences, the downside is that we have become an impatient people.    Impatience in prayer and scripture study can rob us of the peace and joy that God wants us to have in that time we are spending with Him.  When we expect a short “turnaround time” from God as we do for everything else in our lives, we can be frustrated that God is not the genie we want Him to be.  

In today’s gospel, Jesus tells three parables which show us God’s power – not manifested in the genie-style of instant gratification but in the loving fatherly manner of patient mercy and gentle encouragement.  In the three parables, the “kingdom of heaven” is the “good seed”, the “mustard seed” and the “yeast”.  While seemingly powerless and insignificant (the “good seed” is choked by the darnel weed; the portion of yeast and the mustard seed are miniscule), Jesus says God’s Kingdom will have the effect of transforming the whole world as yeast leavens flour; becoming shelter for all like a huge shrub from a grown mustard seed and bursting forth in shining glory as healthy, wholesome wheat that have overcome the weed (cf. Mt.13:32,33,43).
SFX Bulletin, 13 July 2014: Over three Sundays starting from today, the gospel will be on God’s Kingdom which Jesus teaches through parables. Parables have been called “earthly stories with heavenly meaning”.  The word itself comes from the Greek “parabole”- a literary device used in Greek literature to inspire deeper thought and reflection.  As such, there will be images that amaze, puzzle and even disturb us.  Propelling us to deeper pondering, we will find the “heavenly meaning” – the saving truths needed in our conversion so that we can embrace that Beatitude of blessed happiness God desires for everyone.   

In today’s parable of the sower, we find that God’s loving wish for every person’s happiness can become obscured – especially if other things and not Him have priority.  Preferring a broad road and wide gate (cf. Mt. 7:13) of unrestrained “morality” unhindered by doctrinal and biblical truths, we may be keeping God on “the edge of the path” – putting Him on the periphery of our lives and treating Him like a life-buoy – to reach out to only when we are sinking.  
SFX Bulletin, 06 July 2014: What are the “things” (Mt.11:25) that Jesus thanked God for? Why was Jesus even thankful when there seemed to be a  “prejudice” that God had “hidden” some things from “the learned and the clever” but revealed them to “mere children”?

From the section before this passage, we realize that the “things” Jesus was referring to were the saving truths needed to enter God’s Kingdom.  The central truth rested on Jesus’ identity as mediator and the fullness of God’s revelation (cf. CCC65).  In other words, Jesus is God’s definitive savior for the world and no other messiah was to be expected. God authenticated this revelation by giving Jesus the power and authority in his teaching, preaching and healing (cf. Mt. 8&9 where nine miracles were recorded including the healing of a leper, the centurion’s servant and exorcisms).  However despite these miracles and Jesus’ profound wisdom, there was still widespread disbelief in Jesus’ identity as Son of God.  Jesus attributed proud self-adoration of being “learned and clever” as the obstacle to God’s loving outreach.
SFX Bulletin, 29 June 2014: Ensconced in secure Singapore, the martyrdom of Sts Peter and Paul, the pillars of the church, can seem like something from an era of blood-thirsty Roman emperors.
 
Both Peter and Paul are believed to have died under Emperor Nero before 68AD.  Church Father, Origen, said that Peter felt unworthy to die in the same manner as Jesus and, as he requested, was crucified with his head downward.  Paul was beheaded at the Ostian Way.  St. Peter’s Basilica, built over St. Peter’s tomb and the Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls where St. Paul was slain, are the monumental reminders of their sacrifice for the apostolic church we have today.

The word “martyr” from the Greek “martys” means “witness”.  Christian martyrdom inspired Church Father Tertullian’s conversion.   In 197AD he rallied in “Apologeticus” against the unjust cruelty of the authorities towards the Church, “your cruelty serves no purpose.  On the contrary, for our community, it is an invitation.  We multiply every time one of us is mowed down.  The blood of Christians is effective seed” (Apologeticus 50:13).  Many of us are familiar with the succinct form of his bold declaration, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” – as Christians chose death and Jesus rather than earthly life and the worship of Roman gods, their steadfast faith inspired others to this non-violent Way.
SFX Bulletin, 22 June 2014: Many of us know JRR Tolkien (1892-1973) as author of The Lord of the Rings books.  Not many of us, however, know that Tolkien was a devout Catholic.  His devotion extended beyond ritual actions.  He searched and pondered his faith and received in turn enlightenment and the power to love.  In a letter he wrote to his son about love and marriage, he shared how the Eucharist sustained his relationships:

 “Out of the darkness of my life…I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament.... There you will find romance, glory, honor, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that: Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste (or foretaste) of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man's heart desires” (The Philosophy of Tolkien by Peter Kreeft, pg 219).
SFX Bulletin, 15 June 2014: How are we to understand that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit - three Persons in one God?  What does this Trinitarian character of God mean?

In reflecting on this Solemnity, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, used analogy to explain this central mystery of the Christian faith.  To know the three Persons reveals to us that God is Love, “God is not something vague…but has a name: “God is love”. His is not a sentimental, emotional kind of love but the love of the Father who is the origin of all life, the love of the Son who dies on the Cross and is raised, the love of the Spirit who renews human beings and the world” (Angelus, 23 May 2013).

By this description, the Holy Father recalls the Trinitarian formula we all learnt in our Catechism classes that God is Creator, the Son is Redeemer and the Spirit is Sanctifier (cf. CCC.1).  It is also by this Trinitarian formula that we have all been baptized and by which we all sign ourselves before we enter the church – thereby reminding ourselves that we are loved by God and we desire to enter and worship because He loved us first even while we were still sinners (cf. 1 Jn.4:19; Rom.5:8).
SFX Bulletin, 8 June 2014: The Solemnity of Pentecost marks the end of the 50-day liturgical season of Easter. 

Papal household preacher, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, says that Pentecost is among the four most important events in human history, “The event of Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit, was an incredible event - one of the four most important events in the history of humankind. The first of these very crucial moments was creation. The second was the incarnation of the Son of God in the womb of Mary. The third was the resurrection when Jesus, on the cross, redeemed us, destroyed sin and renewed life. The fourth was when the Holy Spirit came upon the church”.
SFX Bulletin, 1 June 2014:  Just three or four days ago, we were all at Mass celebrating the Solemnity of the Ascension.  Like the apostles gathered in the Upper Room after witnessing Jesus’ Ascension, we, too, in this interim period, are awaiting “what the Father had promised” – to be “baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4-5). 

While all of us are, technically-speaking, already baptized and in-filled with the Holy Spirit, there is no end to growing more Spirit-filled while we are still here on earth.   As Church Father, St. Leo the Great (400-461AD) shares with us, it is “...not that the Spirit would only begin to work among men after Jesus had returned to the Father; he had been at work in the world since the dawn of creation. God's people were not to experience a hitherto unknown indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but those who already belonged to him would know a more abundant outpouring, an increase rather than a first reception of his gifts”.
SFX Bulletin, 18th May 2014: Very few would deny God’s existence outright.  Many may doubt institutionalized religion but admit the certainty of God.  This certainty however, is often accompanied by the question of whether as mortal man, one can ever see or know God as we see and know another person.

Jesus’ conversation with his disciples in today’s gospel affirm this intimate encounter with God as a real possibility.  In response to Philip’s request, “Lord, let us see the Father and then we shall be satisfied” (v.8).  Jesus responded, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?  To have seen me is to have seen the Father” (v.8-9).
Today, Jesus, too, invites us to have faith that he is God.  It is because Jesus is one of the three persons of the Trinitarian God that he is able to reveal God to man so intimately in his incarnation.  In this way, Jesus is truly “...the Way, the Truth and the Life” who brings us to God the Father.
What does it mean when we say we love God or we love Jesus?

SFX Bulletin, 25th May 2014: Some are sure they love God because they follow scrupulously the eternal moral law laid out in the Ten Commandments.  In fact, Jesus himself links “keeping my commandments” as the sign of loving him (v.15, 21).   Following on from that, however, he goes on to say, “I shall ask the Father and he will give you another    Advocate…that Spirit of truth…” (v.16). For those of us who think we are managing pretty well on our own, this “Advocate-Spirit” Jesus wants to send is probably meant for those whose “inability” to keep the commandments is evident for all to see – they are the ones disinterested at Holy Mass and perhaps not “properly dressed” for worship.
4 May 2014, SFX Bulletin: We have all experienced disappointments with the Church or with our faith. We may be upset that our fellow church-goers are “too holy” or “not holy enough” or we may wish that Jesus could be more visible so that it would be easier to believe in him. Whatever our disappointments, today’s gospel on the post-resurrection Emmaus journey gives us an important lead on how to overcome the challenges we all encounter in faith.

The gospel writer Luke tells us that Cleopas and another disciple had decided to put Jesus and Jerusalem behind them. They were going to nurse their disappointments in Emmaus – a place named after its “warm springs”. As Jesus joined them, (they could not yet recognize him in his glorified body), they revealed their disappointment over Jesus’ “failed” mission, “…Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free…”(v.21). For them, the news of the empty tomb brought by the women was yet another disappointment that started with Jesus’ arrest leading to his death on the cross.  
SFX Bulletin, 19 January 2014: Anthropologists have found cave-art going back 50,000 years to the time of the Neanderthals which showed that sacrificial rites existed way back then.  This, in turn, reveals that man uses sacrifice as his way of “talking” to God and seeking His favour. 

Yet, time and again, we find in the Old Testament that God had been sending prophets to reject this practice of sacrifice.   The prophet Isaiah’s message is perhaps the most emphatic, “What care I for the number of your sacrifices?...I have had enough of whole-burnt rams and fat of fatlings; In the blood of calves, lambs and goats I find no pleasure.  When you come in to visit me, who asks these things of you?” (Isa.1:11-12).

God has not asked for sacrifice from man.  What God wants from us is also clearly communicated through the prophets Samuel and Hosea, "Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams” (1 Sam.15:22); “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice: and the knowledge of God more than holocausts” (Hos.6:6).