Saturday, May 30, 2020

Pentecost Sunday 2020

Holy Spirit as Dove (detail)
Gian Lorenzo Bernini / Public domain

It is often remarked that the coming of the Holy Spirit is the counter to the Tower of Babel. In the story of the Tower of Babel, God scattered humanity throughout the world by giving human beings different languages. The effect of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost was that people from different places could understand the one message of the disciples.

When one considers the Christians living in different parts of the world, we are united under the banner of Christ because, like the people in Jerusalem that first Pentecost, we believe in the same one message of Christ. For Catholics, the signs of this unity is even more evident. When we go to a different country, e.g. Italy, where the culture and language are different, we find that we are able to follow in the Eucharistic celebration. The rites are the same, despite the differences in the language. We might not be able to recite the prayers in the same language, but we are reasonably sure that we are reciting the Lord’s Prayer, or the Lamb of God. It is the same Spirit that makes us children of God by the same one sacrament of baptism. When we sin, we estrange ourselves from God and other Christians, and are in need of reconciliation. In the gospel reading today, we hear Jesus breathing on the apostles and telling them to “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (Jn 20:23) Jesus continues to tell them that they have the power to forgive sins. Catholics believe that it is here that Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It can be seen that the Holy Spirit enables the obstacles to unity to be removed.

Many of the obstacles to unity are not physical ones. How often have we experienced being in a room of people and yet feel lonely? Connection to others may not be present because of shyness, and shyness is not a physical barrier. In this time when we are encouraged to practise social distancing for the good of everyone, we can use other means to connect. Although these ways of connecting may not be ideal, our care and concern for the common good and for others is a sign that we are connected. When we are indifferent to the situation, and are concerned only with our desires and opinions, we become obstacles to unity.

Feeling frustrated is perhaps normal during this difficult time of dealing with the pandemic. However, frustration can lead us to feel hopeless. When we feel this hopelessness, we stop trusting in God and start to suggest what God could do to make things better. Perhaps it would be better for us to allow the Holy Spirit to help us, especially in prayer, to have greater faith that God has things under control. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen our virtue of hope that despite the difficult times we are in, we are confident that God will lead us to where he wants us. Let us also open our hearts to the love that God the Holy Spirit wants to activate in us, so that this love may be the cause of the unity among us who profess Christ as saviour.

Have a Holy Pentecost!


Holy Spirit as Dove (detail)
济安·贝尼尼 / 公共领域






Sunday, May 24, 2020

7th Sunday of Easter 2020 (World Communications Day)

Cellular phone by mimooh

This weekend, I would like to share my reflections on the message that Pope Francis wrote early this year for the occasion of World Communications Day. This year he dedicated his message to the topic of story telling. In 2006, I was privileged to attend the Asian Mission Congress in Chiangmai, Thailand. The theme was “The Story of Jesus in Asia: a Celebration of Faith and Life.” The then Bishop Tagle (who is now Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples) made the keynote address entitled, “Mission in Asia: Telling the Story of Jesus.” Both this address and Pope Francis's message admit that human beings are story tellers. While Cardinal Tagle's address focused on the role of story telling in mission, Pope Francis focuses on the story itself.

Pope Francis's message focuses on five points. Let me share my reflections on each of these points.The first point is about weaving stories. The pope explains that our lives revolve round stories. We are influenced by them; we use them to tell others who we are; we use them to protect our lives; we use them to motivate ourselves in the challenges of life. My father was a great story teller. He was only fourteen when the Japanese attacked and eventually occupied Singapore. A few months before the Japanese Occupation, my grandfather had died and my father became the man of the house. He used to tell me about a family friend who was pursued by the Japanese soldiers and the various ways he eluded capture. He told me how he survived during the occupation when his family lived to Senai in Johore. Those stories told me the kind of experiences, both good and bad, that he had gone through. His stories convinced me not to complain too much. My life was more privileged than my father's. Whenever I can, I will relate my experiences in my homilies, hoping that they would help to motivate others to be more Christian despite the challenges in our present era. Yet, the stories we tell are double edged swords. They may reinforce our identities and they may leave us vulnerable to those who would wish to hurt us.

In his second point, Pope Francis reminds us that evil can enter into stories. Stories laced with half truths can lure us into a false security which can lead to tragic results. Stories that tell us that wealth is the only thing that can lead us to happiness are not telling us the complete truth. I remember one man who worked very hard to provide comforts for his family. Then, within a week, his business failed and he lost almost everything. He had been the owner of a business but now he had to seek employment. He had to sell his detached house to pay his debts. During the few weeks he was going and out of the house for interviews, he had the opportunity to spend time with his young children. His young son remarked that he was happy despite not having a big house because he was having fun with his daddy. This struck the man very hard because, as he explained to me later, he had never realised that his children preferred to spend time with him rather than having nice things. This man’s sharing has strengthened my understanding of Jesus's beatitude: Happy are the poor in spirit. It has also reminded me that there are falsehoods in the marketing statements in many advertisements. There is no certainty that using a certain product or brand will bring about happiness or success.

The third point Pope Francis writes about is the Scriptures. He calls it the Story of Stories. As Catholics, we believe that God is the creator of all, including the stories of the summit of God’s creation: humanity. If our own stories help us forge our own identities, then the Story of Stories forges our identities, not merely as God’s creatures but as God’s children. As Catholics we believe that the Bible is the Word of God. We believe that the Bible is God’s revelation of Himself. Instead of waiting for us to seek Him out, God seeks us out and tells us about Himself. He tells us how much He loved His chosen people, Israel, in the Old Testament. The Gospels relate the story of Jesus. Jesus Himself uses stories in the form of parables when teaching. The acts of Jesus reveal to us the just but compassionate Son of God. Through the Gospels, we are able to come to know the person of Jesus. When we use the Gospel  to pray, we develop and, in time, strengthen our relationship with Jesus.

The fourth point reminds us that there are generations of people who have had connected with Jesus in faith. The first persons were the apostles which we read in The Acts of the Apostles. The letters that form part of the New Testament also reveal the stories of the first Christians and how they relied on Jesus. From there, in history, we have many saints that have lived their lives connected to Jesus. Their stories can also help us in our relationship with God and His Son. The Pope also mentions more recent titles that were not written by saints but help us understand the human condition.

Finally, the Pope arrives at the point of stories and communication. Our stories are not pre-written. The way our stories move depends on the decisions in our lives. There would be wrong decisions that might cause our lives to become more tragic. However, there are also decisions that we can make that might bring more light to the story we weave. In his words, the Pope reminds us that even though our lives may seem like a boring tragic drama found in many of the fictitious stories that flood the world today, we can re-direct our stories by making decisions with God and Jesus. God has given us many opportunities to redeem ourselves by the redemptive grace won for us by Jesus. A quarter of a century ago, I stood in front of the late Archbishop Gregory Yong, making promises that could be easily broken. In fact, every time I allow a lustful thought to enter my mind, I am transgressing the vow of celibacy that I made. Every time I grumble about a decision my superior makes, I am breaking the promise of obedience to the bishop. Yet, God has continued to be part of my story, enabling me to remain a presbyter despite the struggles I experience in my life. Without admitting God and Jesus in my story, my story would have been the predictable tragedy that we can read in cheap novels. However, with God, I can still hope that there would be a happier ending to the story that is me. Every time we make use of the cellphone or the internet to tell our story, we make use of the modern tools of communication to evangelise.

Friday, May 22, 2020


Cellular phone by mimooh







Saturday, May 16, 2020

6th Sunday of Easter 2020

Jesus and the disciples at the Last Supper

Jesus and the disciples at the Last Supper
Gustave Doré / Public domain

Our reflection this Sunday is from St. John's Gospel chapter 14. It begins with verse 15:
Jesus said to his disciples:
‘If you love me you will keep my commandments.’
If we are familiar with St. John’s Gospel, we would realise that Jesus only gave one commandment in chapter 13, verse 35:
I give you a new commandment:
love one another;
just as I have loved you,
you also must love one another.
He would repeat this commandment in chapter 15. So it is interesting that Jesus asks the Twelve to keep his commandments when, according to St. John’s Gospel, there is only one commandment that He has given explicitly. Yet, I believe that there were many more instructions that Jesus gave that could be considered commandments. St. John wrote the following at the end of his Gospel in chapter 21 verse 25:
There were many other things that Jesus did; if all were written down, the world itself, I suppose, would not hold all the books that would have to be written.
If the Gospel does not contain all that Jesus taught, then there would be other instructions or commandments. The most important and significant commandment would probably be the new commandment of love.

Returning to this Sunday’s Gospel, we read in verse 16 and 17:
I shall ask the Father,
and he will give you another Advocate

to be with you for ever,
that Spirit of truth
whom the world can never receive
since it neither sees nor knows him;
but you know him,
because he is with you, he is in you.
The word Advocate is the English word we use to translate the Greek παράκλητον from which we get the word Paraclete.  Paraclete refers to someone who is called to help another. A lawyer is called to help by representing his or her client in court. That is why the the lawyer is also called an advocate. The significant thing here is that Jesus says that the Father will give another Advocate. This means that there is already an Advocate present. From the context of what Jesus is saying, it is not difficult to see that Jesus is that Advocate. Jesus Himself pleads for his disciples. Jesus pleaded with the Father that we might be saved from our sins. His plea is the act of loving obedience when He allowed Himself to be crucified. This second Advocate from the Father will be with the disciples forever. He is the “Spirit of truth,” meaning that there are no deceptions. For St. John, “the world can never receive” this Spirit of truth because it is not aligned with God; it can neither see nor know him. For us who are aligned with God and Jesus, we will know the Spirit of truth because he is with us and in us.

The following verses, 18 to 20, reads:
I will not leave you orphans;
I will come back to you.
In a short time the world will no longer see me;
but you will see me,
because I live and you will live.
On that day
you will understand that I am in my Father
and you in me and I in you.
Jesus had informed his disciples at the beginning of chapter 14 (what we read last Sunday) that he was going away. Here, he assures them that he is not abandoning them. After His Passion, he will depart the world and He would not be with His disciples. Even though the world cannot see Him, the disciples will see Jesus when He resurrects. On Easter evening, we read that Jesus greeted his disciples with peace, or in Hebrew: Shalom. The word does not only mean the absence of conflict or war. It is used to express well-being: wishing that one’s life is whole and complete. For Jesus who has conquered death, that word shalom conveys the meaning of being fully alive. Thus, as his disciples, we will have life to the full. After the greeting, He gives the Holy Spirit to forgive sins. We know that only God can forgive sins. For Jesus to be able to grant that authority, it means that he is truly “in the Father.” St. Thomas, when he sees Jesus alive for the first time after the crucifixion, expresses this more explicitly when he utters the words, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28)

The last verse today is verse 21:
Anybody who receives my commandments and keeps them
will be one who loves me;
and anybody who loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I shall love him and show myself to him.
Again, Jesus refers to His commandments, in the plural. In verse 15, Jesus addresses His disciples: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” The disciples who were with Jesus would, with the help of the Paraclete, be able to remember all that Jesus taught (see Jn 14:26). In verse 21, the subject changes from the second person plural to an indefinite pronoun. Anyone who receives and keeps the commandments Jesus gives, that person loves Jesus. Through the Paraclete, that person is connected to Jesus. The Paraclete, the Spirit of truth, will enable that person to receive Jesus's commandments even though he or she had not been with Jesus like the disciples. Earlier, I mentioned that the Gospel of John does not contain all that Jesus did. This same Spirit of truth will also teach anyone all that Jesus had taught to anyone. The person would not have to rely solely on the recorded Gospel which does not contain all that Jesus had said and taught. As Catholics, we believe that the Holy Spirit preserves all that Jesus taught in the Church. The Holy Spirit will not allow the Church to fall into error with regard to Jesus’s teaching.

Why do we need another Advocate? As believers, we are tasked to continue the work that Jesus has left us. At our baptism, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit was given to us. As such, we are connected to Jesus, and our task is bringing the Good News to everyone. We fulfil our task first by keeping the most significant commandment: love one another; just as I have loved you, you also must love one another. (Jn 13:34) How do we discern the way Jesus loved us? From the Gospels, we already see the love of Jesus when he died on the cross. Is that the only occasion that Jesus loved us? Here is where the Advocate is needed. Without the help of the Holy Spirit, we would not be able to discern the love of Jesus in the events of our lives.

What is our response to Jesus’s love? We reciprocate. We do that by receiving and keeping His commandments. Have we been really keeping His commandments? Perhaps, in our frustration with not being able to come to the sacraments, we think, "What’s the use of obeying commandments when we are not receiving the sacraments?” This is one of the moments when we forget that it is God who loved us first. Jesus first loved us by emptying Himself. (see Phil 2:6-11) If we accept that love and wish to reciprocate, Jesus Himself gives us the way to do so: If you love me, you will keep my commandments. Let us continue to pray in this difficult time that we remember that obeying Jesus is merely the means of reciprocating the love Jesus has already given and is still giving us.


Jesus and the disciples at the Last Supper

古斯塔夫·多雷(Gustave Doré)/公共领域


「护慰者」是用来翻译希腊文的 παράκλητον。这希腊文字指的是一个被要求帮助他人的人。重要的是,耶稣说天父会给另一位护慰者。这表示已经有一位护慰者在场。依照耶稣所说的,不难发现耶稣就是那位护慰者。耶稣以恳求来帮助所有信祂的人。耶稣亲自为他的门徒恳求。耶稣向天父恳求,让我们从罪恶中被得救。他的恳求就是祂充满爱心地服从天父,使到祂自愿被钉死在十字架上。天父的另一位护慰者将永远与门徒同在。祂是「真理之神」,祂不欺骗。圣若望认为,世界「不能领受」这真理之神,因为它不跟从天主,既看不见也不认识祂。我们跟随天主和耶稣的,将认识真理之神,因为祂与我们同在,并在我们内。

你们在我内,我也在你们 内。



我们对耶稣的爱有何反应?我们报答。我们通过接受并遵守他的命令来做到这一点。我们真诚地遵守了耶稣的命令吗? 也许,由于对无法领圣事感到沮丧,我们心里想:「既然我们不领圣事,遵守又有什么用?」如果这样想,我们忘了是天主先爱我们。耶稣也是通过空虚自己先爱了我们(见斐2:6-11)。如果我们接受耶稣的爱并希望报答,耶稣赐给了我们该做的方式:「如果你们爱我,就要遵守我的命令。」让我们继续在这个困难的时候祈祷,祈求天主让我们记住,因为耶稣已经给予并仍在给我们祂的爱,服从耶稣只是我们该付出的回报。

Saturday, May 09, 2020

5th Sunday of Easter 2020

Old roman road, now bridle path, towards Bainbridge, Yorkshire

SarahReesJones / CC BY-SA (

When we consider the Gospel passage of this Sunday, we see at the centre, the well-known saying of Jesus, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” Notice that a question leads to this saying and a statement follows this saying. The question that leads to this saying is, “Lord we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus was talking about going away from his disciples to prepare them a place in the Father’s house. I believe it can be taken to mean that Jesus will depart to his Passion so that his followers would be able to enter heaven. St. Thomas was the disciple who asked the question. Many scripture scholars are in the opinion that St. Thomas was someone who preferred to deal with the tangible than with the intangible. That was why he wanted proof of Jesus’s resurrection. Similarly, he asked for the exact place Jesus was going. Yet, we see that he would move away from that way of thinking and embrace the fact that Jesus the man was also God when he uttered, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28).

Like St. Thomas, many people in our era deal more with the tangible than the intangible. Empirical science is more convincing because it deals with the tangible. Religion does not always produce tangible answers. If one cannot produce physical proof of God’s existence, then God does not exist. Religious faith is thus a mere illusion because there is no physical proof. While many of us would profess that we have faith and do not doubt in the existence of God, we might still have doubts in our hearts. We might think, “If God loves me, why am I suffering?” Perhaps we might think, “If God loves me, why am I not at peace?” When we think this way, are we not saying that we need proof of His love?

Jesus does not chide St.Thomas; He gives St. Thomas an answer:
I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.

No one can come to the Father except through me.
Would St. Thomas have understood his answer? This saying of Jesus was not a direct answer to St. Thomas’ question. Jesus tells St. Thomas that to know where Jesus was going, he was to focus on Jesus Himself. Jesus was going to the Father and to know where that was, St. Thomas need only to focus on Jesus. If we want to go to the Father, we would need to focus on Jesus as well. In short, the person of Jesus would lead us to the Father; the words of Jesus would lead us to the Truth and the acts of Jesus in His Passion and Death would lead to true and everlasting life. This is reinforced by Jesus’s next words:
If you know me, you know my Father too.

From this moment you know him and have seen him.
When we focus on Jesus, we will come to encounter the Father and come to know Him. God is Spirit, not material. Thus, for us, who are physical and tangible, we are not able to perceive God with our physical senses. Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, has taken on a physical form so that we can perceive God with our senses. Thus. to know God the Father, we would need to know Jesus. The word “know” here would imply a relationship. However, St. Philip misses this point and interjects with the statement:
Lord, let us see the Father and then we shall be satisfied.
Imagine how Jesus must have felt. This was the last meal He was having with His disciples before his Passion, and they were not clinging to His words! They had been with Him for three years and they were still not able to discern the truth of His words.

Among us, there are those who were baptised just a year ago, there are those who have been Catholic all our lives. No matter how long we have been followers of Jesus, it is important that we cling to Jesus’s words. It is true that we should be stronger in our faith the longer we are Catholics but this is, sadly, not always true. The influence of the world sometimes lead us astray and we would need to find our way back to Jesus. When I say “clinging on to Jesus’s words,” I mean that we take Jesus’s teachings seriously. It is not about memorising the words by rote. Rather, I mean that we do what we can to understand the meaning and significance of His words. Do we pray when we read scripture? Do enquire when we are unsure of the meaning or the implications of His teachings? Are we ready to live His teachings authentically?

Jesus expresses his distress when he says to Philip:
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,

so how can you say, 'Let us see the Father?'

Do you not believe

that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?
These words remind us that Jesus is indeed the Way, the Truth and the Life. He is the way to know the Father. Jesus, the Truth, is the visible expression of what the Father wants to communicate with us. Jesus is the first, the archetype, of the Life the Father wants to give us in the Resurrection. Jesus reassures his disciples and all of us that what he says are not empty words.
I tell you most solemnly,

whoever believes in me

will perform the same works as I do myself,

he will perform even greater works,

because I am going to the Father.
The Acts of the Apostles bear testament to the fact that after the Ascension of Jesus, the apostles and those who had come to believe in Jesus achieved more than Jesus did with respect to the spreading of the Good News. Today, our Christian life has the potential of bringing salvation to others without the need of performing miracles. The grace of God enables us to show the love of God through our compassion and works of mercy. As long as we cling on to the fact that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and live it, our lives can bear witness to the message of the Good News. When we bring the Good News to others, we are evangelising as Christians.

(Chinese Translation below)



当我们瞩目于耶稣,我们将遇到天父并认识他。天主是神,不是物质的。 因此,对于我们这些身体和有形的人来说,我们无法利用我们的身体感觉来感知天主。耶稣,成了血肉的天主子,取了肉身的形式,使我们能认识天主。要认识天父,我们就需要认识耶稣。说到「认识」,指的是有一种关系。然而,圣斐理伯误解耶稣的意识,而说: