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29 Dec, Sunday – Pilgrims Searching for Love and Home

29 Dec 2019 – Feast of the Holy Family

[Let us adore Christ, the Son of God, who made himself obedient to Mary and to Joseph.]

The feast of the Holy Family offers the opportunity to reflect on the mystery of family life. Every family and community share the perplexing, frustrating, demanding challenge Luke described. Put most simply, Mary and Joseph faced the difficult discovery that Jesus was not going along with them every step of the way. It is a real story of a family conflict and is symbolic of all kinds of relationships.

We know what it is like when family members do not go along with us on the journey. When Mary and Joseph confronted Jesus in the Temple, they confronted the fact that he would have to discover his own path in life. No matter what they might hope for him, he did not belong to them.

The story reminds us that love is rooted in profound reverence for the mystery of the other. Such reverence cultivates profound respect for the other’s mysterious freedom. In that, we learn to desire that the other will become who they are meant to be rather than what we would have them be.

Excerpt taken from: Feast of the Holy Family: The Mystery of Love (https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/scripture-life/feast-holy-family-mystery-love) 

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Ecclesiasticus 3:2-6,12-14

He who fears the Lord respects his parents

The Lord honours the father in his children,
  and upholds the rights of a mother over her sons.
Whoever respects his father is atoning for his sins,
  he who honours his mother is like someone amassing a fortune.
Whoever respects his father will be happy with children of his own,
  he shall be heard on the day when he prays.
Long life comes to him who honours his father,
  he who sets his mother at ease is showing obedience to the Lord.
My son, support your father in his old age,
  do not grieve him during his life.
Even if his mind should fail, show him sympathy,
  do not despise him in your health and strength;
for kindness to a father shall not be forgotten
  but will serve as reparation for your sins.

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Colossians 3:12-21 

Family life in the Lord 

You are God’s chosen race his saints; he loves you, and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same. Over all these clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love. And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts, because it is for this that you were called together as parts of one body. Always be thankful. 

Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you. Teach each other, and advise each other, in all wisdom. With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God; and never say or do anything except in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. 

Wives give way to your husbands, as you should in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and treat them with gentleness. Children, be obedient to your parents always, because that is what will please the Lord. Parents, never drive your children to resentment or you will make them feel frustrated.

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Matthew 2:13-15,19-23

The Flight into Egypt and the return to Nazareth

After the wise men had left, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you, and escape into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, because Herod intends to search for the child and do away with him.’ So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, left that night for Egypt, where he stayed until Herod was dead. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken through the prophet:

 I called my son out of Egypt.
After Herod’s death, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you and go back to the land of Israel, for those who wanted to kill the child are dead.’ So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, went back to the land of Israel. But when he learnt that Archelaus had succeeded his father Herod as ruler of Judaea he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he left for the region of Galilee. There he settled in a town called Nazareth. In this way the words spoken through the prophets were to be fulfilled:

 

‘He will be called a Nazarene.’

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May the peace of Christ reign in your hearts… Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you.

I was prepared to write my reflection on this Feast day more than a week ago but I could not put words to my thoughts as I was facing struggles of my own in my family. I was dumbfounded to be assigned this specific day, and while I knew intellectually, that God had a message for me in here, it took some wresting within for me to finally sit down to listen to Him.

We are Pilgrims

In three days, my family would be collecting a new set of keys to our rental apartment. We had been praying to find a new home in Singapore after moving back from Hong Kong. By the new year, this would be the fifth house that I will setting up home in, notwithstanding the many interim roofs we have temporarily rested our heavy-laden bodies to rest in. All these moves were made within the span of three years, over three countries. Some of them are moves related to jobs, while some were a result of grave illnesses within our families that required us to either ‘stay-put’ or ‘return-home’.

Whenever I behold the idea of packing up house again, I am seized with anxiety first, and then sadness for the home my family will soon be leaving behind. All the memories and efforts to dream up and personalise a blank space…must be let go. As my two-year old son is old enough to remember our various homes, I have been met with puzzling questions of “where is mummy-daddy house?” or “is this mummy-daddy house?” or “let’s go home!” even if ‘home’ is just a room for one week. I have held up hopes of stability as well as shed many tears for each of these homes. God knows that my heart aches for a place to sink roots in.

In the face of so much impermanence and instability, it is my faith that holds my fragile emotions together – however imperfectly. I humbly and wistfully recognise that my little family of three walks a shared path with the Holy Family. This is a realisation that struck me after I spent two successive Christmases accompanying a loved one in hospital over a cancer diagnosis – one with my husband and one with my mother. Surely Mary and Joseph must have struggled with the question of “not again, God?” when each time an angel forewarned them to “hasten and pack up, for you must leave this place.” Even if they had great faith, each blow of news and the logistics of being on the move must have been daunting – with a donkey or not.

How do we understand these difficult times? In my experience, I realise my efforts at understanding always fall short. The greater the effort I make, the more my heart and mind are fixated on the framework I have, and my framework is always too human, too limited, and too impatient. I perceive the things that have to be done and the answers I am seeking to be resolved in hours and days… but God is not limited by my perception of time. God’s plan exists in the dimension of eternity.

This is why the words of the prophets are never accepted in the present and can only be understood looking backwards: “He will be called a Nazarene.” This is why Herod and his son would fail to locate the Holy Family. God’s plan would still be carried out because God is above and beyond our human manipulations and frantic calculations.

I am learning to accept my family’s pilgrim state, as well as to embrace this sojourn of often being ‘homeless’ and always seeking a resting place, because I recognise this as an invitation from God to be very, very close to His chosen family – Jesus, Mary, Joseph. The privilege of too much earthly stability and permanence can turn out to be a grave distraction from seeking and desiring Eternal truths. Truths that will save our souls.

In Search for Love and Home

What are we really seeking in our lives? In the face of diagnoses of inexplicable illnesses, our fragile mortality, the sudden loss of a young life, the loss of a home, we realise how helpless and incapable we really are to make anything of true value happen without God’s grace. Evidently, we are human and not God. This is the ultimate truth that will strike at the heart of even the most stubbornly atheistic amidst us. Why does God permit this to happen to those whom He loves? Is this the kind of God whom I should place my hopes and trust in?

Our answers to this question will depend very much of what we understand about love, and ultimately the nature of God. For God is Love in its most perfect sense – more perfect, more profound, and vastly more giving than our minds can conceive. As St Thomas Aquinas said, “To love is to will the good of another.” Just as a parent would discipline a young child for the child’s own good, even if it involves certain pain or deprivation, so it is even more evident that God our loving Heavenly Father would desire the same for each of us in relation to our souls. We have a Father who suffers with us.

We need only look to the suffering person of Christ to understand the extent of God’s sacrificial love for us mankind. ‘For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that anyone who believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life’ (John 3:16). A God who would give the gift of His own self, to be born as flesh in the infant Jesus, and Himself choose to take on the sins of others and die on the cross for this purpose, in order to bring us into eternal communion with Him in heaven… who could this God be?

In the face of all earthly suffering and our perplexing unanswered questions, let us look to these images: the vagrant and obedient Holy Family, Christ the pilgrim boy and mocked messiah, and Christ the suffering saviour, who, with his wounds, points us to His Father – who is also our most loving Father. How beautiful it is to truly and intimately know this God who suffers alongside me, and who loves me so.

In Him all of our journeys end. With Him lies our final, eternal, most perfect Home.

(Today’s Oxygen by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Pray with me please, dear friends, as I journey with the ones I love on the difficult paths of pain and healing. Pray for the grace to see our lives as God sees, for consolation that will be tangible, for hope that will carry us beyond the physical senses. Pray for hope and an increase in faith. As we pray, I believe that many among us who need these words shall also be healed.

Thanksgiving: Let us give thanks and delight in joyful praise for each and every day we are given. To live, to love, to forgive and seek forgiveness, to mend and heal, to laugh and breathe deeply. The best and only life we have is right now. Let us give thanks with a grateful heart.

23 February, Saturday – Faith in spite of Fear

23 February 2019

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Hebrews 11:1-7

Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen. It was for faith that our ancestors were commended.

It is by faith that we understand that the world was created by one word from God, so that no apparent cause can account for the things we can see.

It was because of his faith that Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain, and for that he was declared to be righteous when God made acknowledgement of his offerings. Though he is dead, he still speaks by faith.

It was because of his faith that Enoch was taken up and did not have to experience death: he was not to be found because God had taken him. This was because before his assumption it is attested that he had pleased God. Now it is impossible to please God without faith, since anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and rewards those who try to find him.

It was through his faith that Noah, when he had been warned by God of something that had never been seen before, felt a holy fear and built an ark to save his family. By his faith the world was convicted, and he was able to claim the righteousness which is the reward of faith.

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Mark 9:2-13

Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone by themselves. There in their presence he was transfigured: his clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than any earthly bleacher could make them. Elijah appeared to them with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. Then Peter spoke to Jesus: ‘Rabbi,’ he said ‘it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say; they were so frightened. And a cloud came, covering them in shadow; and there came a voice from the cloud, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.’ Then suddenly, when they looked round, they saw no one with them any more but only Jesus.

As they came down from the mountain he warned them to tell no one what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They observed the warning faithfully, though among themselves they discussed what ‘rising from the dead’ could mean. And they put this question to him, ‘Why do the scribes say that Elijah has to come first?’ ‘True,’ he said ‘Elijah is to come first and to see that everything is as it should be; yet how is it that the scriptures say about the Son of Man that he is to suffer grievously and be treated with contempt? However, I tell you that Elijah has come and they have treated him as they pleased, just as the scriptures say about him.’

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Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen.

What is the weight of faith without being challenged or tested in the midst of fear and hardship? Life is certainly fraught with difficulties, trials, and sufferings. The weight of our faith can only be ‘measured’ by how much trust we place in the Lord – in spite of all that runs contrary.

But alas! Faith is a gift that is both given freely, but must first be sought out by the receiver. We who receive the gift of faith must first desire to seek and find and cherish. This is the essence of today’s scripture readings. In Hebrews we are reminded of the many Fathers of Faith who not only had faith, but held steadfast to their trust and reliance on God in the face of evidence that questioned whether God exists or was faithful to the promises He makes. With faith, we believe there is always more than meets the eye, that God is ultimately in control and He sees, knows, acknowledges, and blesses.

My husband has recently been diagnosed with Leukaemia, just at the cusp of our family relocating to another country for a new job. We were literally grounded. It has been a harrowing time for us and our families – and I cannot imagine how we would have managed in this whirlpool without our faith in God. The scripture readings today hit very close to my heart – like a mirror held up, asking, “How much faith do you have in the Lord?”

Sometimes, it seems that faith feels like a double-edged sword. In times of certain hardships, my faith had kept me afloat and steered my direction towards God. Those were times I had managed to grab on to Jesus’ staff with both hands and said, “Lord, guide me.”

Yet in other times, my reality is absolute chaos. Like now, when cancer strikes the family. We were without a roof over our heads, with our household belongings sailing as ship cargo, my little baby and I bouncing between grandparents’ homes, while my husband was bed-bound in hospital for weeks. In those moments, I wondered aloud many times, “Where are you, Lord? Is this a crazy joke?!” My world crumbled and I felt my circumstances were throwing us under the bus repeatedly, I could not seem to reconcile our painful reality with a good God. We were scared, suffering, and dealing with the grief of our lives being ripped apart from normalcy.

Still, we tried our level best and plodded on with a spark of faith which felt so tiny like the mere glow of a firefly in a dark, deep cave. The rough days and the hard moments come in choppy waves. At the same time, with one foot in front of the other, in spite of the fear and darkness, God led us into the light.

Indeed, like the scriptures today, our faith allowed us to trust in the “existence of the realities that at present remain unseen”. By God’s grace and merciful healing, my husband has been responding well to chemotherapy and it is amazing to realise how this period has not only brought my husband and I in deeper union in our marriage. It has also bestowed untold depths and texture to my husband’s faith life and relationship with Jesus. With God, everything is possible! 

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Abba Father, I pray for healing for my husband and all who are suffering from cancer and other critical illnesses. I pray you bind up their wounds and bind up their hearts and homes that are shaken with fear and sorrow.

Thanksgiving: I thank you Lord for the gift of faith that you first bestowed upon us which allowed us to hope for realities that at present seemed dim.