Enjoy the present

I sent a photo this week to a friend of a place we visited sometime ago. To which I had a simple but profound reply, “Enjoy the present”. We do not live enough of the present. We regret or are haunted by our past. Then we are too anxious for our future, stress accompanying our modern lifestyle. In between those, we are lost to the present. We forget and are not present to each passing minute, each passing moment.

“‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said be done to me.’” (Today’s Gospel)

When Mary said this, she was not letting her past bother, or the future worry her. In this declaration, she decided on trusting his Providence and chose to always live in the present acknowledging the constant presence of God in her. Her questions about tomorrow were answered internally by her acceptance of what the angel said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you”. God acts in our present more so than we really know. Why? Because very often we are absent from the present.

We have become chronically ill. Much of this illness is self-inflicted although we can handily blame our mobile devices. We struggle to have conversations without glancing at our phones. We see groups of people, families or friends, sharing meals together. Brilliant at the start but not long after, we are multi-tasking having a conversation and eating while also being present to our phones. There are a lot of distractions these days taking us away from the present.

Then there is this incessant need of photo-taking. I know because I am like that too. Photos record the present for the future. While doing so, they also take us away from the experience of a breath-taking present. A beautiful landscape is best enjoyed by being present to it. A few minutes spent marveling creation is a good tonic to appreciate life. Then there are events, a wonderful concert or a pulsating football match, events that call out to us to live the present but instead we try to record it for the future. Simple, innocent everyday fun but they can take us far away.

But above all what matters most is our spiritual life. We stuck ourselves into the past when we harbour grudges allowing them to swell into unforgiveness causing us to bicker and fight. We are also stuck with past hurts that hardened into stones of bitterness immobilizing us to move into the present. Christmas is the coming of our Lord into our personal life. It is in the present, not the past or future, where we experience this Emmanuel, of God dwelling in our relationships: A presence that will heal us from our past.

This Christmas gift that awaits us. But we must become present to the present to enjoy this present. Like Mary it begins deep inside us to fully trust the presence of God in our daily life. Let this Christmas be that acceptance. “Be it done unto me according to thy will”. Let us embrace this healing for our past.

4th Sunday of Advent

The wilderness of our past

I was sat in an armchair in this unpretentious café. In today’s descriptions, not a very ‘Instagram-worthy’ place. But for me a real place for a real cuppa. The armchair has seen better days. In its past it was one of the more sought-after sofa, primed in design and comfort. Then there were the Christmas decorations, again its looks suggesting it had been in and out of the cupboard for a great number of years. It was the setting to reflect on the past.

The Gospel of this past Sunday was again on John the Baptist. A friend shared before mass that in the Orthodox Church John the Baptist is known as John the Forerunner. The forerunner for Christ, the one who pointed Christ to others. I like this very much, for me somewhat a more accurate description than the Baptist. It is easier for our humbles selves to accept that we too through our life lived can be forerunners of Christ to others.

“The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken”. (Last Sunday’s First Reading)

Christmas can be a lonely time for some people. Outward rejoicing but inward anxieties. Maybe this year more so because of the consequences of the pandemic. Some of us have no more jobs. Christmas can also be a time of regret for some. Outward rejoicing but inward hurt; people hurt by events in their past, trapped because they have not been healed. As we wrap our gifts for Christmas, can we think of hearts that are broken that we can help bind up? After all we are forerunners of Christ, the gift we should be giving.

A picture of a shepherd rescuing a sheep entangled in a thorny bush comes to mind. Sometimes we need to accompany someone to go back into their past. It is too painful for them to go back alone. A painful past cannot be simply locked away. An unhealed past creates an unsure future because we are still entangled in a mix of negative emotions. This Advent let us venture into the wilderness of the past as a forerunner and help someone to meet Christ and begin the process of healing.

Maybe this “someone” can be our self too. If so let us not hesitate to grab the hands of the shepherds around us, people who we trust and have a stronger faith life. They are our forerunners. Let us gift our self the important gift of healing. Let us banish the past by responding to the voice that cries out in our wilderness and emerge from it.

“He was not the light, only a witness to speak for the light.” (Last Sunday’s Gospel)

On that first Christmas night, it was the shepherds who were first to come to pay homage. Then they went out to tell their world of family and friends. They were the first forerunners; we are not the light, only witnesses to speak for the light. This morning my friends in Singapore shared the rush online to book limited seats for Christmas mass. This has a parallel to the past, that first Christmas, summoned as shepherds to come to pay homage, summoned online.

There is a Christmas purpose. Summoned to be forerunners as shepherds to rescue our family and friends trapped in the wilderness of their past. Unwrap the gift of healing with love.

For the 3rd Sunday of Advent

Making visible the invisible

We the lay faithful have this mission to make the invisible visible. Christmas trees have sprouted everywhere in Bangkok. The pandemic cannot stop this spirit. I was at dinner with a group of Thai friends and mentioned was made that Christmas is their favourite time of the year. Yet, they asked me a Christian to tell them what Christmas actually signified. That was an Advent awakening for me to realise that this spirit of Christmas seeps into every pore of humanity and it is up to us the lay faithful to rise and point to the reason for the season.

Advent is this season of preparation for the coming of our Lord. It isn’t only about the birth of Jesus and the ensuing celebrations. It is also about our preparations for our end time. But of most significance to us as lay faithful, it is the coming of Christ, the presence of our Almighty God, humbled into the reality of our daily life. Many people cannot see this presence and so it is left to us the lay faithful to make visible the invisible.

“Look, I am going to send my messenger before you; he will prepare your way. A voice cries in the wilderness: Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.” (Today’s Gospel)

The Gospel passage speaks of John the Baptist. Today’s Gospel is Mark’s. In the Gospel of John there was a scene following next week’s passage where John the Baptist was with two disciples and saw Jesus walking by and he pointed out exclaiming, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” Advent is this preparation to recognize the presence of Christ in our daily life and if we are disciples, the lay faithful, then it must be that we are called to be “John the Baptist” to the people in our life, to point out this presence to those who do not know and cannot see.

“Console my people, console them” (First Reading). “Let us see, O Lord, your mercy, and give us your saving help.” (Responsorial Psalm).

We point out Jesus to others. How? Everyone has a story. Our life journey is uniquely personal. God is present in every story, in every person. Emmanuel, God with us, is the promised gift of Christmas to every person. But not everyone sees or feels this presence for various reasons. We must always exchange our stories and as lay faithful listen with compassion. In every story we will see Jesus in the chapters, in the turning points, in blessings and consolations. These we must point out otherwise they will not realise who Jesus is.

These days, the human mind seeks out experiences to be gratified and convinced. Our stories are our personal experiences in life. Seeing Jesus in our personal chapters is experiencing and encountering Him. And it gratifies.

This Christmas in this age of the new normal, give this gift of change. Many people share a common misconception of our Almighty God. They cannot get their minds around the fact that God, almighty as He is, comes into the midst of the little details of our personal life. Who me? We are called to make real for others this presence of God in their life. Small, little constant acts of good for one another make God real and visible.

Christmas trees always bring cheer to everyone even to those who do not know the meaning of Christmas. The joy is contagious. We are the lay faithful called to sprout in the life of others radiant and bright like a Christmas tree.

The Second Sunday of Advent

Waiting for the Christmas party

Advent, the season of anticipation. We prepare and wait for Christmas, the coming of our Lord into humanity. For many of us, it is also to anticipate and prepare for Christmas parties, baking the fruit cake and stocking the wine. Maybe more so this year than any other. With this pandemic, we really want to have a good time, to take a break from the virus. And there ain’t nothing wrong with this, for Christ want to be present in the realities of our life, in our merry making too.

The obvious preparation here is to prepare for the coming of Christ. In our immediate sight, the Christmas tree and the birth of Jesus. But Advent today began with the reading of Isaiah, more related to the Second Coming of Christ, when the reality of this world ends, and we are finally judged. Those who are awake enter heaven. Not quite the Christmas we anticipate but a reminder that our Christmas parties are part of this longer spiritual journey.

Between these two comings, the birth and the second, is what Christmas is truly about. Emmanuel – God coming down into the realities of our life to be with us and to accompany us on this longer spiritual journey. We are called to “stay awake” not to anticipate our death but to embrace this presence that is to give us life to the full.

“So stay awake, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming, evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn; if he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake!” (Today’s Gospel)

I awake everyday before the sun rise. Not to pray or read scripture, just age catching up. Just like the need to breathe, I now need my mobile phone to stay alive. It’s the first thing I reach for. I go into it for my football scores then read a bit of news, no longer sharing concern for the world but rather to see if any would have a direct impact on me. Then I enter Facebook to see what’s happening in the world of my friends. Each day as I wake up, I immediately go into a slumber, drowsy by all the distractions, unable to focus on what is good for my spiritual life.

Advent is this awakening, to be aware that God literally dwells in us, to be conscious and awake to God’s presence in each breathing moment of life. Advent reminds, and prepares us for this. What we need to do is to simply focus on this truth of Christmas. We must tune our minds and take a decision of wanting to experience these God moments, and they will come even in the baking of the fruit cake. We will find him in our satisfaction. And God will also be present in our Christmas parties in the wines we serve as a sharing of love and joy. Keep our focus on the simple because he comes in a manger, in uncomplicated ways.

“And yet, Lord, you are our Father; we the clay, you the potter, we are all the work of your hand.” (First Reading)

Advent is to reclaim this focus, to allow the presence of the Infant King to rule our life. When we are opened each moment to his presence, we put ourselves into the hands of God. Every moment we have the opportunity to encounter Him, each moment when we are focus, we follow his promptings as he leads us through our earthly journey. We are the clay, and you are the potter, and you will eventually shape us into a being that will anticipate with joy your second coming.

Christmas parties will not distract us if we continue to stay awake to this presence. Emmanuel, God is with us and he too will come to our parties.

1st Sunday of Advent

Christ decrese, I increase

Last week we were miles away from the centre of Bangkok and chanced upon a bakery famed for its croissant. Curious, we went in. There was a waiting room full of people, seated much like in a hospital waiting to see the doctor. Only that it was more crowded. The ‘doctor’ should be available in an hour. We turned to the takeaway queue. It was serving number 19 and ours was 164. We left.
 
Time is life. What would have motivated me to spend an hour of my life in a queue for a croissant? This is not to detract from anyone who will. One day I might too. Rather I went away curious about how our behaviours have changed as we progressed in time. There is the factor of affluence and then also the allure of social media. Our behaviours have altered with our mobile devices. Innocent as it is fun, it would be nice to upload a photo of being at a trending place.
 
Today we celebrate Christ the King, the last Sunday of the liturgical year before we welcome the new year with Advent. “You will call him Emmanuel”. God with us. Soon our thoughts and schedules will be filled with Christmassy things. And we will welcome the new calendar year with a hangover. So, it may be good to choose this week to look back at our spiritual life and make our resolutions going forward. A good place to reflect on is perhaps how has social media (and wealth, if you have) altered “my behaviour”? Have I left my spiritual life somewhere as a backdrop and who and what is my King?
 
The internet and social media have really opened the world up. There is an amazing wealth of information. Google maps and apps have made places once remote, now accessible and known. Increasingly life is about experiences, queuing an hour for a croissant or eating a local egg breakfast in a remote Thai village. But if we are not conscious, these progressive developments can also make our world a lot smaller.
 
When I was a kid, I bought a weekly football magazine to follow my team. That was all I had to follow my team. As I suffered this poverty of information, I read every word in that magazine and as a result I had a wide knowledge of football. My world was big. Today I have the luxury of clicking on my specific club. That one click eliminates everything else, paradoxically making my world much smaller than it should be. In our hands we have this dangerous tool of becoming too engrossed only with our ‘self’. In today’s world, it is easy to be, “Christ decrease, I increase”.
 
Today’s first reading is good fodder for our reflection. Christ the King is there too in our internet world. He is the good shepherd always looking out for us, wanting to lead us back onto the right path, after we are being scattered by our pre-occupation of self. The reading tells us that God initiates, and He is always present in our midst, an always changing presence in our changing world. Emmanuel, God is with us.
 
“For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you drink? And the King will answer, “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.”” (Today’s Gospel)

Every time this passage comes along, I go back to a previous sharing of when the ministry I belonged to was running a special Sunday canteen service. The special that day was selling every item for a dollar. I was privileged to experience an elderly couple come up to me to thank us saying that they would not have been able to enjoy such items if we did not sell them for one. Basking in a sea of happy faces, perhaps self-engrossed milking the gratitude, I missed the significance of that encounter. Only that night as I lay in bed, this passage came to me. Yes King, I saw you in the canteen.

Emmanuel, you are in our midst. We must keep focus and not be distracted. Not to be blinded by the kingship of self. Then we will see and know our true King.

Solemnity of Christ the King

Bottoms up

I actually mean bottom up.

We go for mass on Sundays. Well, that was the routine pre-pandemic. And we belong to a parish. We are part of a congregation and like it or not, one in a community. We are the lay faithful. We are the church. Not a building, but people entrusted to make relevant the Gospel in our own life, and life that we share with others. We still are whether we go on Sundays or not. This is our personal responsibility.

Our universal Church is structured and organised. We are one among millions of Catholic Christians in life. In an institution where authority is necessary to lead, guide and shape, we the lay faithful sit at the bottom of the structure. We are entrusted to do only small things, unique to who we are and what talent we have. In the small circle of life that we share with others, it is our Christian responsibility to make the Gospel relevant.

“The kingdom of Heaven is like a man on his way abroad who summoned his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to a third one; each in proportion to his ability. Then he set out.” (Today’s Gospel)

We each have a unique talent or talents. Some have five, others two or maybe less, one. As Christians, we are to use these talents in a responsible way because at the end of our time we are accountable for them. We are to use them primarily to serve the needs of the Gospel.

We are the lay faithful in a parish setting. The organized structure although necessary for administrative needs is really intended to serve the pastoral needs of the people. Fulfilling these needs cannot be dripped down from the top through layers of hierarchy and authority. We are church that necessitated the institution and not an institution that houses a church. We are the lay faithful, the church, meaning to mission to one another.

Fr. John Murray*, our priest at the Cathedral here in Bangkok wrote this week, “If we want a church of mission that is alive and thriving, it must come from bottom up, it must rise from the faithful and their dreams, vision and needs”.

This is my vision of a vibrant parish. We must start small fires within our parish community. The fires are lit because of needs and vision, our talent the matchstick used to start the fire. It could be to start a ministry to address a certain pastoral need such as to start a Sunday canteen. We each have different talent suiting liturgical, pastoral and prayer needs. We start small pockets of fire within the congregation. Fires here and there that are small but will spread to link up and set the whole parish ablaze.

If we all do that as the lay faithful, wherever we are, the universal Church will eventually be ablaze! This does not work from top down but bottom up.

Fr. John* wisely concluded, “The way to go is to give the faithful space, let them share their dreams, listen to them and let them do it for themselves. No need to urge control, just allow for good order and give people freedom to be and act for the Gospel. Long live the revolution of the Gospel!”

I will “bottoms up” to that.

*Fr. John’s blog:

http://sanctasophiafan.blogspot.com/2020/11/its-about-them.html?m=1

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Happy are we

On Saturday, I took a walk in the neighbourhood of a poorer community. I came across this store, it jolted my memory back to a childhood 50 years ago. In today’s expression, this would be called a convenience store. It seemed like time had left this store behind. There it appeared somewhat frozen in a time capsule. Only the old couple aged along with the passage of time. I greeted them and wondered if they ever found happiness in life.

Later that day, I read a write-up about the plight of urban refugees in Bangkok, their situation worsened with this pandemic. They are mainly Pakistani Catholics fleeing various forms of persecution. They are destined to spend years of their life as refugees, each turn of the year bringing fresh hope, each year end adding another stroke to its count. They look to the future, wondering if they have one. They do not have much, only the hope their faith offers. They are not able to eke out a living. Can they eke out happiness in life?

“How happy are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. (Sunday’s Gospel). To be “poor in spirit” means to live our life dependent on God. Hence to be poorer in spirit means to be even more trusting in God that everything will be okay. So, happy will we be, and happy are we when we are poor in spirit. Ours is the kingdom of heaven.

So, what is true happiness? It is true that money does buy happiness. It is a human reality that material comforts do make us happy. The old couple and the urban refugees are likely to agree. We cannot deny this worldly happiness. But we will also need a form of spiritual happiness because we are all humans with an inner being, a soul. Our worldly life is a reality, and its our nature to be always trying to eke out happiness out of it.

From the Gospel of two Sundays ago, there are two sides to the coin, our worldly life, and our spiritual life. But it is one coin. It is inseparable. Being one coin, we understand that worldly life and spiritual life are inter-linked. Our worldly life is a pilgrim’s journey, the pilgrim being our soul, where the pilgrim must navigate to search for her way home to the Creator. The first reading today described this homecoming:

“One of the elders then spoke, and asked me, ‘Do you know who these people are, dressed in white robes, and where they have come from?’ I answered him, ‘You can tell me, my lord.’ Then he said, ‘These are the people who have been through the great persecution, and they have washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb.’” (First Reading)

All of us are being drawn through the passage of life to reach the eternal glory of heaven. The passage of worldly life is a soul’s journey. It is a narrow path to keep the balance between worldly and spiritual happiness. Living the Beatitudes is living a life dependent on God, a Christian lifestyle. Sometimes our lifestyle will seem to be stuck in time, our poverty in spirit making us refugees of modern lifestyles that question the existence of our Creator. But onwards we journey, saints we become.

‘Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.’

All Saints Day

Irrigated by love

Humankind seem to be at major crossroad of change, just another in her long history. This pandemic, in what is tangible, has threatened to push us into a new normal. But like a film negative from yesterday, the pandemic is merely the chemical used in the developing process turning hard-to-make-out negatives into bright, colourful, detailed photos. Today’s photo exposes who we have become.

It says a lot that while we wait for human ability to give us a vaccine, we are reduced to simple individual actions to fight it. And these actions are small acts like mask wearing and social distancing, but they highlight the impactful contribution we seemingly insignificant individuals can make. This situation is crying out, “We all matter, we must look out for one another”. It says even more when individuals resist this, standing tall in protest for individual rights. But they too are not to be blamed as individuals. It is merely how humankind has processed and developed into who we have become.

“‘Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?’ Jesus said, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets also.’” (Sunday’s Gospel)

There is one constant that has survived every change in the history of humankind. This is the unconditional, ever-flowing love of God that flows pleadingly without judgement. Christian or non, believer or not, “love your neighbour” seem to be a very viable vaccine. But yes, as part of our development process we have also push religion out of the dark room. However, it would be incredibly naïve to expect the world to be any different from who she is today. We are who we are. God understands and will continue to pour his love into us to help us navigate life.

God pours love into us and it flows amongst us like an irrigation system. This flow will find its way into cracks and brokenness. The bigger the crack, the more it flows into it. Our life is such. No one journeys through life without crises. Often enough we find ourselves cracked and broken. In the biggest crisis we find ourselves sunken into our deepest self, feeling alone and abandoned, scrounging around for hope. Hope is like a crack in the darkness of despair, and into this crack this love will flow.

The love of God will always seek us out. It is said that we grow, mature and become better through crises. There are many stories out there testifying to this healing and restorative love of God. This unconditional love of God desires for us more than what we ourselves desire. As our brokenness is irrigated by the flow of this love, we find ourselves restored into a new normal of the fullness of life. In a way, God is harvesting us from our sufferings, and we emerge with new-found faith believing that love cannot be kept to one-self alone, for it will die. When it flows, it multiplies.

We have become who we have become. At this particular crossroad we know that little individual actions will count. Pope Francis said that this pandemic is a call for us to live differently. Maybe it is time to bring back into the dark room this chemical of love to process the negative of today to develop a better photo for tomorrow. Let love flow.

“In a way, God is harvesting us from our sufferings”

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Choices

There was a period when I felt strangely unsettled. Strange because it happened at a time when I should have been at the happiest; a young happy family and a job that afforded us a few luxuries. Ironically, it was the efficient, routine grind of work, repeating week after week, that probed my inner space, puncturing any elation, actually leaving me close to depression. “Is this life?” was a question that tormented my inner self for almost 2 years then. I was in a mid-life crisis.

I felt restless but I didn’t know why. I was full of what life had to offer, yet I felt a grave emptiness. I was wondering, without realising I was searching. I was doing new things to thrill but each choice fell flat. There were many loud choices but as each fell away, I saw a choice somewhat staying quietly in the distant. It was a choice to serve in the parish, something I had never done as an adult. I ignored it, “I don’t feel that is me at all. And I have better things to do”.

“‘Tell those who have been invited’ he said ‘that I have my banquet all prepared, my oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, everything is ready. Come to the wedding.’ But they were not interested: one went off to his farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his servants, maltreated them and killed them.” (Today’s Gospel)

A friend asked this week, “Is the purpose of our life here really just to ‘go along’ with whatever comes?” Mid-life is a good time to take stock. We have accumulated enough of a past to debate about God being a choice in our life. Life climbed us up some paths we never chose. Tired, disillusioned, we are told to let go, accept and trust God. “Is there no other perspective than to go along with God?” We may feel upset that God is in the way preventing us from doing what we like. It is no surprise that we keep refusing to go for the banquet.

Life is a tall mountain. Education, job, relationships, career, family, schooling, relationships, health, ageing and finally death. In between each climb, we stumble, fail and fall. We pick ourselves up. Dusting off the pain, God as a choice comes back again into our face. We are again invited for the banquet. And again, we have a choice to go or not to go.

“On this mountain, the Lord of hosts will prepare for all peoples a banquet of rich food. On this mountain he will remove the mourning veil covering all peoples, he will destroy Death for ever. The Lord will wipe away the tears from every cheek.” (First Reading)

This is the purpose of life. Our souls must find a way up the mountain of life back to our Creator. In our restless emptiness we ponder without knowing why, we search without knowing what. This is because God as a choice for our life is not a one-way choice. God chooses us too, hence the many banquet invitations. The choice for God does not start with you. It starts with God. It is not about us going to God in our mid-life muddle, but that God is coming to you. You didn’t move, He did. His choice pulled you. He wants to haul us up the mountain.

“When the king came in to look at the guests he noticed one man who was not wearing a wedding garment, and said to him, “How did you get in here, my friend, without a wedding garment?” And the man was silent. Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot and throw him out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen.’”

We have the freedom to keep refusing to choose God as a lifestyle choice. It is a common misconception that God judges us as we make our way through life. No. The generosity of God will come calling till our last breath. When we let go and let God, when we accept our situations and trust Him, when we let Him haul us up the mountain, we are allowing him to sew us a wedding garment, without which we might end up being thrown into the dark where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.

St. Augustine says, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds it’s rest in thee”.

Choices

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Our plot in the vineyard

Every time this passage comes around, I feel a little embarrassed. 30 years ago, I was a young upstart. I had turned around a desperate start to my work life. Unappreciative of it being a blessing, I became cocky and arrogant. I was thrashing the vineyard with my unruly behaviour. One day a Catholic colleague took me aside, not to admonish me, but to gently invite me to channel my energy into serving the Church. He did not deserve the answer I spewed out. I had killed the servant.

“There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard; he fenced it round, dug a winepress in it and built a tower; then he leased it to tenants and went abroad. When vintage time drew near he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his servants, thrashed one, killed another and stoned a third.” (Today’s Gospel)

The world is our vineyard. Each of us has a plot in the vineyard. We live our life in a situation, plot, unique to oneself. No two persons will have the exact same plot. This is the complexity of life. But it also means that God, the landowner, has for each of us a special and unique role in life. Our lives in this complexity is interlinked. We are seldom called to do big things, but little acts that only we can do in our unique situation, to impact the life of the other.

God has placed us in this world to do his bidding. We are to live good lives that will bear fruit and make good wine.

“Finally, brothers, fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honour, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise. Keep doing all the things that you learnt from me and have been taught by me and have heard or seen that I do.” (Second Reading)

We are sent as servants into the lives of our neighbours. We go into our neighbour’s plot when help is needed. God has meant for our lives to be intertwined like the vines in the vineyard. We are also sent as servants, like my colleague to me, to correct the behaviour of others in gentle ways. Because it will only be in such corrections where they will see the son of the landowner coming into their lives. If not they too will unknowingly reject the Son of God, and unwittingly prevent the seed of faith from taking root.

“It was the stone rejected by the builders that became the keystone.” (Gospel)

Thailand has vineyards. Who would expect this country to produce wine? The wines here will probably never get a high rating; the natural conditions are just too difficult to be conducive for good-rated wine. But with improving technology and know-how, they continue to try, maybe more in hope than in faith. Over the past years they have been producing better wine, maybe still not pleasing the palates of the judgemental world, but they have certainly pleased their landowners. There is fulfilment in effort.

God’s thoughts are not Man’s thoughts. God does not demand that we produce best-rated wines. That is his job. God only expect that we put in maximum effort in the little parts that we play in the vineyard of life. God himself will put all our efforts into the wine press to produce the best wine. Like every high-rated wine, every little complexity is vital. Our effort matters, even if they seem very small in the eyes of this judgemental world.

In our own plot, in the happenings of our life, we will discover the purpose of our daily toil. Accept and forgive ourselves our personal mishaps as I have done for myself. Age is a friend of wine. It is only with age when all our accumulated effort and experiences, both good and bad, will develop us into the best vintage. Not all of us are purposed to build wineries. For some we will spend our entire life merely to plant a seed. But the landowner will be equally pleased with both. He judges effort.

A figure of Buddha sits on the hillside overlooking a vineyard in Thailand.

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time