29 August 2015


deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8; james 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27; mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

one sunday, jim and JESUS were walking around in heaven. JESUS showed jim the earth below… and his church at home where the eucharist was being celebrated. jim watched for a while; then something began to puzzle him: he could see the priest move his lips; he could see lectors read, the choir sing, and the organist thump the keyboard. but he couldn’t hear a sound. was there something wrong with heaven’s amplification system or with his ears? he turned to JESUS… who explained: «we have a rule that if they don’t do things on earth with their hearts, we don’t hear them here at all!»

we «do» many things as part of our «religious practices»… often without our hearts.
the readings of today remind us that religion is not about externals and obligations; religion is living GOD’s word from and with our hearts.

in the first reading, moses urges the people to be faithful to GOD’s laws, which expressed their relationship with GOD, and were to be a source of life and wisdom. but over the years, the elders added regulations to govern every action and situation of life. the focus moved from love of GOD and neighbour to the exact external fulfilment of the law.
it is one of these numerous «traditions» that the disciples broke: they ate without the ritual washing of hands. the dialogue that ensues between the pharisees and JESUS highlights an essential difference between two mind-sets: for the pharisees, religion was a performance, a meticulous carrying out of external regulations sans any concern for attitudes. for JESUS, religion was a matter of the heart, and about love of GOD and care for one’s fellow humans. this is also the thrust of the second reading: true religion is listening to and acting on GOD’s word, and caring for the weak and oppressed.

like the jewish elders, i can make religion a ritual while my heart is far from GOD and neighbour. the attitudes that motivate my actions, the way i associate with my neighbour… this is the heart of religion.
i need to undergo a «heart test» to check who and what i really am before GOD and neighbour. to what do i give importance: clean hands or clean heart; ritual or relationship? is my heart in all that i say and do? bring on the heart sanitizer!

22 August 2015


joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b; ephesians 5:21-32; john 6:60-69

1924. a few weeks before the paris olympics. the favourite in the four-man canoe race: the us of a. one team-member, bill havens, faces the toughest decision of his life: his wife is expecting their first child about the time of the event… should bill go to the olympics or be with his wife? a very tough choice! bill’s wife urged him to go but he decided to be with her. 
the us won the gold medal. and ironically, the child was born much after the due date. bill could have competed in the event, and returned in time for the birth. but he had no regrets. he had made a commitment to be with his wife always; he was faithful to that commitment.

bill havens’ story is a story of one man paying a high price to fulfil a commitment. it is a story that illustrates how we should be committed to our choices.

the first reading describes the covenant renewal at shechem before the israelites entered the promised land. joshua gathered the people together, declared his choice to serve the LORD, and asked them to make their choice: to follow the GOD of their ancestors or the gods of the land. the people made their choice: «we will also serve the LORD, because he is our GOD». every generation (and every person) must freely choose to live up to its commitment.

in the second reading, st paul urges husbands and wives to be faithful to their marriage commitment. this fidelity is based on CHRIST’s fidelity and love for his church. 

the gospel, too, features commitment! JESUS offers his disciples the choice to be with him or to join the ranks of the unbelievers. he had been a popular man: the wonder worker; the healer; the feeder of the 5000! but then he started talking tough; many disciples are first confused at his teaching (about the bread of life), then find it intolerable/unacceptable, and finally choose to leave him. we have one of the saddest lines in the gospels: «many of his disciples drew back and no longer went with him.»
then, JESUS gives the twelve the choice: to remain with him or to leave; to be the faithful minority or to follow the majority! peter – the spokesperson of the twelve – tells JESUS that they cannot turn to anyone else. they have made their choice and remain committed to that choice.

the word of god challenges us to make our choice for GOD and to be committed to that fundamental choice… every day.

do i remain faithful to GOD in times of difficulty and trials… when my integrity is tested? or do i «no longer go with him»? do i opt for him in the daily choices i make? am i faithful to my commitment to my family? in what aspects do i need to renew my commitment to GOD and my family?

ps: there is a sequel to the story of bill havens. 
twenty eight years later, bill received a cablegram from his son, frank, from helsinki, the venue of the 1952 olympics: «dad, i won. i’m bringing home the gold medal you lost while waiting for me to be born.» frank havens won the gold medal for the united states in the canoe-racing event, a medal his father had dreamed of winning but never did because he lived his commitment.
there is a sequel to our acts of commitment too! may we stay committed our fundamental choices, to GOD and to one another.

15 August 2015


proverbs 9:1-6; ephesians 5:15-20; john 6:51-58

there are two birds that fly over deserts: the vulture and the hummingbird. the vulture thrives on the rotting meat; the hummingbird looks for colourful blossoms. the vulture lives on the past, and fills itself with what is dead; the hummingbird lives on the present, and fills itself with life. each bird chooses its food, and finds what it is looking for. we all do! 

this is the thrust of today’s readings.

the first reading portrays wisdom as a woman who sends her servants to invite people to her banquet. subsequent verses describe dame folly who invites passers-by to her meal of stolen bread and water of deceit. banqueting at the feast of lady wisdom brings life and new perception; eating at the table of dame folly brings death.

in the second reading st paul gives the ephesians three «be-attitudes»: be wise, be sober, and be thankful. 
on this justice sunday, these are «be-attitudes» we need to choose: be wise to understand that the cause of injustice and lack of peace in our world lies in our selfish quest to grab more for ourselves; be sober in using the goods of the world so that there is an equitable distribution of the world’s resources; be thankful for his blessings. 

the gospel contrasts the manna in the desert with the bread that JESUS gives: the manna that was not eaten within the day had to be thrown away; it was no longer any good. after JESUS fed the five thousand, twelve baskets of fragments were gathered and saved. with him things are different: he gives (and is) bread which lasts. moreover, the manna belongs to the past. JESUS is the new manna, the bread from heaven that lasts forever and nourishes us with everlasting life. «whoever eats this bread (a choice!) will live forever.»

on the bicentenary of don bosco’s birth, we ought to remember the choice he made: working for poor and abandoned youth versus accepting privileged positions elsewhere!

what are the choices i make: 
do i like the vulture seek a culture of death or like the hummingbird seek life?
am i wise, sober and thankful? 
am i satisfied with the junk food with «empty calories» the world offers or do i feast on JESUS the living bread?
may you and i make the right «dietary» choices; they affect our destiny! shalom!