Saturday, 8 August 2020

CELEBRATING THE EUCHARIST IN PERSON

On 28 June 2020, we reopened our Parish for Public Masses. Since the reopening, we have been extending our invitation to all the 34 Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) within our Parish jurisdiction. Many of our BEC leaders have been taking the initiative to register their respective BEC members for the Weekend Mases according to the schedule laid down. We started off with only one mass on Sunday at 9am.

However, from the beginning of August, we have been celebrating two Masses every weekend (Saturday Sunset Mass at 6pm and Sunday Mass at 9am). This included a Tamil Mass on Sunday (2 August) at 9am. We will continue to celebrate Mass in Tamil on the first Sunday of each month so that the Tamil-speaking Parishioners will be able to participate. The first Tamil Mass saw a total of 190 Parishioners in attendance out of the 216 who registered. 

The Parish Response Team (PRT) will introduce another category for our Weekend Mass participation apart from the BECs and Tamil-speaking Parishioners. This new category of Parishioners will include all Catechism teachers and their high school students, RCIA facilitators and the candidates, as well as the youth. They will be invited to join Sunday Mass at least once a month. These Parishioners have always been involved in the various activities of our Church before the Movement Control Order (MCO) and quite a number of them have been unable to attend Mass in person since the start of the restrictions. By including them as a group for Mass once a month, this will create an opportunity for them to be in the presence of the Eucharist in-person, instead of just watching the live-stream mass.

Ever since the suspension of catechism classes, the teachers have taken the initiative to reach out to their students by conducting online classes, while parents are encouraged to assist, connect and cultivate faith education at home, since parents are the primary faith-educators of their children. Taking into consideration the need to connect and integrate our children with their faith in the Catholic Church, the PRT has taken the initiative to gather them for Mass this Sunday, 9 August 2020. The targeted groups or ministries include:

i)            Catechetical Ministry – Catechism teachers and their students who are 13-years old and above.

ii)      Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) – The facilitators and candidates of year 2019/2020. These candidates are waiting to receive their Sacraments of Initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist which will take place by the end of August 2020.

iii)      EduCare Ministry – There are several teachers who volunteer themselves helping out students from underprivileged families to cope with their school subjects. 

iv)              Youth ministry – Young adults from colleges and universities and working single adults.

The Catholic Bishops of Peninsular Malaysia have suspended all religious or faith education, all meetings, gatherings, formations, RCIA sessions, activities and events in the Church due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Even though schools have reopened in our country, the Church in Peninsular Malaysia has decided not to restart sessions/classes for these most vulnerable group of students, for the time being. We simply do not want to put “at risk placing further pressure on our heavily strained health services,” (Pastoral Letter from Catholic Bishops of Peninsular Malaysia, 12 March 2020).

“Parents have the first responsibility for education of their children,” (CCC #2223) and parents also have responsibility in educating their children in religious sentiments in line with the Church by guiding them in the light of the Church. “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6).

Photo: 2018
Photo: February, 2020

Sunday, 2 August 2020

HAVING THE HEART OF COMPASSION

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2020 (HOMILY)


Ever since, I was assigned to the Church of St Joseph, one of the ministries that I am always fascinated by is the Parish Integral of Human Development (PIHD). Under this PIHD umbrella, we have few sub-ministries and one of them is Ministry of the Poor. In these six years, we have reached out to the needs of poor families, especially to assist them meet the basic provision like groceries, twice in a month, household items and other necessities. Besides that, we have meaningfully and successfully carried out various projects and events, celebrating as a parish family with the poor. Most of these families reside around our vicinity, and what did we do? We distributed many things like school uniform and celebrated the World Day of the Poor and Parish Family Day.

 

The successful-ness of the work is because we have a group of effective, efficient, highly motivated and inspired leaders and parishioners in their outreaches to these families. They have taken the great task fully in their hands and stepped forward in their outreach. The key word here is “having the heart of compassion”.  I strongly believe that they have this heart from none other than – our Lord, Jesus Christ! This heart of compassion must have moved our team to get closer and to meet the need of the poor families, eye to eye.

 

In today’s Gospel (Matt 13: 14-21), Jesus fed the five thousand people. Jesus was moved with compassion once He saw the hungry crowd. His humble heart led Him to perform the miracle of multiplication of the five loaves and two fish.

 

Compassion refers to the “inner part” of our body that arises to a strong inner feeling or desire, to reach out to someone who is suffering with the goal to relieve that suffering. When we feel compassionate towards someone, then we tend to enter into the person’s life empathetically, and with all we can – help that person out.

 

Here, Jesus heard and listened to the need of the huge crowd and He responded to their needs as how we as leaders and parishioners, have reached out to the needy with compassionate heart through our outreach to the poor. Jesus realised the needs are so great for the poor. We ourselves have seen and heard of the hunger of the poor, and hopefully – we have brought some hope into their lives. We shall continue to carry out our mission of hope to the poor.

 

God is asking us to be a part of His plan by being compassionate towards the poor.  We need to cultivate this spirit of compassion in reaching out or giving something in order to meet the physical or spiritual needs of our neighbours, as well. When we take this challenge as individuals or communities by bringing forward what we have, it doesn’t matter how small it would be, we can bring happiness in the life of others. As we take the opportunity to love and serve our neighbours, we are fulfilling the Commandments, “You shall love neighbour as yourself.”

 

By being kind, compassion and love towards the need of others or doing something for others is to bring the love of Christ and to make the difference in the life of our brothers and sister. God of providence provides our need and in return we need to take care of others. As leaders and as Christians we should act with kindness and care deeply for the needs of others and in return God will take care of our needs. In the Second reading, St Paul’s letter to the Romans reminds us, “with God on our side, who can be against us?” With God is on side, nothing can separate us, or take away or lessen His love as we show our love for those who are in need.

Photo: 2014


MAKE A CONNECTION THROUGH COMPASSION

On 26 July 2020, the Church celebrated the feast of Sts Joachim and Anne, parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary and grandparents of Jesus. This year, the Holy Father Pope Francis, wished for all young people to reach out and show an act of tenderness and kindness “to the elderly who are most alone in their homes or retirement residences.” There are many elderly people who are alone - either at home or in care facilities - who are longing for companionship, love and care. They could be parents or even grandparents who have been abandoned for many months or sometime years. The Holy Father urged young people not to neglect their elderly.

The Holy Father also encouraged us to “make telephone calls, video calls, send text messages and send them hugs.” It would also be very kind and thoughtful if we could spend time listening to them, talking to them, having meals with them and most of all, being physically present by frequently visiting them, while adhering to healthcare guidelines.

Pope Francis also said, “An uprooted tree does not grow or bear flowers or fruit.” He has connected the elderly as our “roots” and we should always stay bonded and united with them, as how a tree remains connected to its roots. Through our social interaction and communication we stay united and rooted in them, bringing joy into their lives and ensuring they do not feel lonely or alone due to the absence of companionship.

I didn’t have much time with my grandparents. They died when I was young, but I still remember my grandmother taking care of me while my parents were at work. During my early years in the seminary, I had an awesome exposure programme called “Works of Mercy” with the elderly and the sick in homes and hospitals in Penang. I truly enjoyed serving and visiting them.

The Holy Father’s words should inspire not only young people but every one of us, to show kindness and love for the elderly people in our lives. They are a living source of family history, memories of happiness and struggles, as well as wisdom. They look to us for kindness tenderness, love, care and companionship. Our gestures should also go beyond our family circle - to include the homeless and even to those who are begging on the streets. I am sure that many of us have seen or come in contact with these people or perhaps even experienced working with them. A compassionate heart is all it takes to connect to those most in need.

Homeless people are often ignored and their existence overlooked. We hardly share a smile or say a warm “hello” when we pass them. If possible, we don’t even want to have eye contact with them, nor do we stop and enquire about them. We are afraid to start a conversion and we walk away as quickly as we can.

The next time we encounter a beggar or stranger on the street, just stop and say “hello” to that person. When we have a short conversation with them or say something to a stranger, we are making a personal connection with that person. Although we may be inclined to give them a small amount of money or share some food with them, we should always remember to keep them in our prayers. Pray that their basic needs as a human being are met, and that they are living their lives with the dignity every person deserves.

We can also seek the intercession of St Martin of Tours – the Patron Saint of the homeless and those people who are on the streets - to pray for them. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you made me welcome, lacking clothes and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me,” (Matt 25:34-35).



Saturday, 25 July 2020

THE TREASURE AND THE PEARL

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time - (Homily)

Today’s first reading from the 1st Book of Kings, God appeared to Solomon in a dream, “Ask what you would like Me to give you,” (1 Kgs 3: 5). Solomon said that “I am a very young man, unskilled in leadership,” (v, 7) and he asked God “an understanding mind,” – wisdom “to discern what is good and evil,” and to govern God’s people. Solomon didn’t ask for a long life or riches beyond imagination, but simply only wisdom. God rewarded Solomon with the gift of wisdom, making him the wisest person that ever lived.

God is willing to grant us any wish, like  how He granted to Solomon. Most of the time we ask for long life or riches or many other worldly things. First and foremost we must wise up to ask Him what we want in our lives. We must ask God for wisdom to know His ways and the desire to do His will, and to discern what is good and what is bad like Solomon. Very often we have a tendency to choose the wrong things to request. That is why we need wisdom to discern His will and to choose good always.

In today’s Gospel (Mt 13: 44-52), we see the first two parables giving us the same lesson. Both persons had discovered “the field” and “pearls” and they had decided to sell everything in order to purchase them.

Just before joining the seminary, I was doing quite well in my life, by standards set by people and environment me, but I felt that there was something lacking in me, still. I was searching for it, that special something, so that I could treasure it my whole life. In the search, the desire to become a priest became irresistible. After almost four years of discerning I had decided to join the seminary, with the initial reluctance. Finally, I decided to let go, starting with some of my possessions, my job, and finally my family. My 8 years discernment and studies, was finally that something for me. To choose Priesthood became that treasure for me.

So, in relation to today’s Gospel, becoming a priest is the gift that God has given me, liken to that “treasure hidden in a field” founded by someone, and “the pearl of great value” was found by a merchant. Yes, Priesthood is my treasure and I treasure it till now and I pray to keep this treasure till the end of my life. Jesus is my “treasure” and He is my “fine pearl”. His Church is my treasure. His people are my treasure. This gives me joy, every day and I pray for the gifts of wisdom and understanding to discover and rediscover Jesus as my treasure, always.       

When you have your spiritual longing and searching for spiritual truth, just spend your lives pursuing God. I am sure one day you will  find the deepest longings of your heart and all other things will fade away becoming secondary. You will find joy and satisfaction on what exactly you were looking for in your lives.

This treasure is just “hidden” in you and you may just walk by it every day. Once you find it and you will realise the value of the treasure, that will be your ultimate goal.

We are called to imitate the two great men in the Gospel today, who surrender all their earthly possessions in order to inherit the eternal life. In this shortness of life, just discern about the value of the Kingdom of God and what is pleasing to God. Do good and cease evil and your life is definitely going to be purposeful. In all things that you do, place your trust in Jesus and surrender to Him.



BUILDING OUR IDENTITY IN CHRIST

Following relaxation of the Movement Control Order (“MCO”), the Health Ministry allowed many government and private sectors to gradually return to a new normal. Since the months of June and July 2020, our school and college students have returned to their institutes of learning after more than 4 months of being stuck at home. Despite a recent spike in COVID-19 cases from single to double digits, with new clusters, it is really wonderful to see all sectors happily reopen, albeit to a new normal.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) in Malaysia has been reporting double digit COVID-19 cases and the emergence of new clusters this past week. As we notice a spike in cases, MOH warns us once again of the need to pay extra attention to our Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) which we have been adhering to, since the implementation of the MCO in March 2020.
Individuals should make every effort to support each other as we face new challenges in our society. We need to be mindful of the need to wear our face masks, keep a one-meter distance from each other and wash our hands frequently, in order to stay safe and be in better physical health.
Life has to restart, although to a new normal. Wearing face masks, maintaining strict social distancing and frequent hand-washing, may be an inconvenience, or may appear odd and / or even perhaps create some form of paranoia, but these are necessary in this new normal. If we fail to adapt, then we may be at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. We need an ongoing “responsible attitude” in respecting another human person by being mindful of the well-being of others. Thus, it is very important for us to be in solidarity with one another, as we strive towards a common good.
This weekend we will end Phase Two of the reopening of our Parish. On behalf of the Parish Response Team (PRT) I would like to thank all my dear Parishioners for your collaboration and efforts during these past five weeks. We will step into Phase Three in August 2020 and we need to continue to be mindful of and attentive to, our requirements and guidelines, whenever we are within the Church premises.
Since the outbreak and spread of COVID-19, our greatest challenge was to experience the Sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist frequently and regularly. Even-though Masses have resumed in many Parishes, many still choose to keep themselves “distanced” from being in-person to participate at the Eucharistic celebration. Our participation and involvement will lead us into a deeper unity with Christ. Our Parishioners should not to be hesitant to participate in Public Masses and other Church-related activities and events. We cannot simply rely on live-streaming of Mass, but instead we must be connected with the Church in-person and remain united in the life of the Church.
We have completed two cycles of Sunday Mass, covering all 34 Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) within our Parish jurisdiction. Our statistics show that only 600-700 out of 4500 parishioners have attended Sunday Masses during the last five weeks. There are many more who are simply reluctant to register for mass for reasons unknown to us. I hope you will be in communion with our Church in-person - either in our Public Masses or other activities. It is very important, as it is part of building our identity in Christ and to love Jesus and His Church for the rest of our lives.
We will move from online worship to in-person worship practices and activities as we “Commit Ourselves into New Evangelisation” to embrace, care for and heal the Lost, the Last, the Least, the Little, and the Lonely (5Ls). Let us make every effort in our personal on-going conversion, as we move forward in this new-normal way of life.


Sunday, 19 July 2020

SEPARATE THE EVIL FROM THE GOOD

16th Sunday 2020 (A) - Homily (MATT 13: 24-30) 

Do you know what is CKT? It stands for Char Keoy Teow. I started loving Char Keoy Teow when I was in the first year of seminary in Penang, in 1995. Every Tuesday, we would have CKT for breakfast and our cook would put a lot of taugeys (beans sprouts) into it. I was always the last person to finish my breakfast, every Tuesday.

Some of my seminary Fathers told me to inform our cook, Ah Ee to separate my CKT before she mixed with taugey for the others. Actually, I didn’t like to trouble her so much, so I didn’t inform Ah Ee, but would always take my own sweet time in collecting or picking up taugey one by one, before I dug in the CKT. The rest of the seminarians would be watching me separating the taugey from the CKT. Till now, I will still separate them from my noodles.  

What does CKT and taugey to do with today’s gospel (Mt 13: 24-30)?

Imagine this. CKT is wheat, the good ones. Taugeys are the weed or darnel, the evil ones.  The taugeys always corrupt my taste for CKT. The parable illustrated to allow the wheat and weeds or darnel to grow together until the harvest, and that is why, I did not ask Ah Ee to separate the CKT and taugey. Good and evil exist, and side by side in our world – in the past, today and future.

This imagery for a harvest of the good and the bad, will be coming soon. God allows for both the good and bad to grow together until harvest day. On harvest day, which is the end of time, He will gather and bundle “the weed”, set them aside and throw them “into the blazing furnace,” (Matt 13: 50). The good ones, on the other hand, will be gathered into the barn and “be in Communion with all saints in Heaven,” (The Apostles’ Creed).

We must master our heart, with goodness. The book of Wisdom said – “after sin, you will  grant repentance,” (Wis 12: 19). God is patient, and He is very, very patient and He is "good and forgiving," (Ps 85). He awaits for us to repent and He desires that greatly. God knows what is good and what is evil, as St Paul says, “Do not be mastered by evil, but master evil with good,” (Romans 12: 21). The evil can stifle the growth of our goodness. The temptations are great. Evil can be difficult to put a stop to, but it is NOT impossible. In fact, it’s very simple! At time we need to be courageous enough to say, “Get behind me Satan!” (Matt 16: 23). Just rely and trust on Jesus full heartedly.

In these two Sundays, we saw Jesus as the Sower and Him as the Landowner. Jesus helps us in every trial and temptation. He knows what is going on inside of us. He will helps us separate the evil from the good. We have to remain faithful and obedient to God’s Words, even during our tough times – just be patient and be attentive. We must be patient and let God work His way in our lives. We have all the opportunities to repair or correct our ways. 

The weeds, darnels can change their nature to keep attracting us. As human beings, we can repent, change or make conversion from our bad behaviours. We can be good and grow better. We must improve ourselves and separate ourselves from those weeds or darnels in our lives. It’s really possible (for those who have lost hope). Through His Grace, He will make the changes in us and in His time, He will make all things beautiful again! He promised us this.

Saturday, 18 July 2020

PHYSICALLY SAFE AND SPIRITUALLY HEALTHY

For almost four months (March to June 2020) I celebrated Mass without my Parishioners, as that was the new norm of celebrating the Eucharist for many of our priests. However, with the relaxation of the Movement Control Order (MCO), churches are reopening and holding public masses with proper guidelines and requirements in place. We have now moved to another new norm of celebrating Mass, with a limited number of people. I feel happy that this new norm has lifted up the face of the Church throughout the country once again. Although the congregation is small, I hear the voices of the Church through the participation of the faithful every Sunday.
The Church of St Joseph, Sentul, reopened for the Eucharistic celebration on Sunday, 28 June 2020. The Parish Response Team (PRT) comprising 7 members, and around 25 volunteers, have been working hard making preparations these past three weeks, and registering Parishioners for Sunday Mass. Of course, they have encountered various obstacles, challenges and hiccups along the way, but overall, the team has been efficient and effective. They have gone through a process of learning, planning, accommodating and adjusting to the requirements of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) which has been laid down by the Federal and State Government and the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur.
When we were planning for the reopening of our church, we decided to extend the invitation to the Basic Ecclesial Committees (BECs). Currently, our Parish has 34 BECs and on the first day of reopening, although 166 persons from BECs 1-9 confirmed attendance, only 159 persons turned up for Mass. The following Sunday (5 July 2020), we had 269 participants registered (from BEC 10-21) but only 216 turned up for Mass. Last Sunday (12 July 2020) we had 263 parishioners from BECs 22-34 who confirmed attendance, but only 217 members attended Mass. Besides our BEC members, we have also extended invitation to those Catholics who regularly attend Weekend Masses at our Parish, but do not belong to any of the BECs in our Parish.
Over these past few Sundays, I noticed that only a few catechism students aged 13 and above as well as young people, registered for the Sunday Mass. These teenagers and young people are probably very comfortable following the many online Masses, (which by the way, are available on various channels throughout the world) from the confines of their homes. I hope parents and the respective BEC leaders would play a greater role in encouraging this group of persons to attend the Sunday Eucharistic celebrations in-person.
We are still in Phase Two of the reopening for the Sunday Eucharistic celebration. We are glad that we have completed a whole cycle, having covered all 34 BECs under our Parish jurisdiction within these first three Sundays, with regards to attendance at mass. This Sunday, 19 July 2020, we have extended invitation once again to BECs 1-17 to attend Mass and the following weekend, invitations will be extended to BECs 18-34. Recently, we would have heard or read about the announcement made by our government that places of worship no longer need to operate at 1/3 capacity (July 10, 2020) but still need to enforce the minimum one-meter social distancing requirement. We will try our best to accommodate between 250-300 Parishioners at Sunday Mass in our Parish, while still ensuring adherence to the social distancing requirement. 
In August 2020, we hope to commence Phase Three by celebrating additional Masses in English – Sunset Mass on Saturday and one on Sunday at 9am. Once a month we will have Mass in Tamil for the benefit of our Tamil-speaking Parishioners. During Phase Three, we plan to celebrate the other Sacraments - Baptism for Infants, Matrimony and the Anointing of the Sick.
We have about 10 RCIA candidates for 2019/2020 who have yet to receive the Sacrament of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist). We will celebrate these Sacraments together with the Scrutiny at the end of August or at the beginning of September 2020. We also have our Confirmation students who will receive their Sacrament later this year. His Grace, Archbishop Julian Leow, will administer the Sacrament of Confirmation on our 24 students in October 2020 in our Parish. The respective teachers and facilitators will continue to conduct lessons online during the months of August and September. I hope the candidates and students will be more responsible and serious about their lessons and their final preparations, before receiving the Sacraments.
We hope to have the support and cooperation of all our Parishioners in order to ensure a smooth flow for our celebration of Jesus in our lives. Please adhere to the guidelines and SOPs when attending mass, and kindly follow the instructions of our PRT members and volunteers. We want you to be physically safe, and spiritually healthy.