Call to be pastoral

Sapped and deflated, more than a year on, we are still here. Curfews and lockdowns. In Bangkok this week, we have been registering new highs in cases almost every day. In Singapore, untimely and unfortunate, new clusters have emerged. Indonesia and Malaysia, South-East Asia. It feels like a noose tightening around us. This time around, it seems much worse than last year. A new variant, more contagious and deadly is causing more worries and anxiety.

A year on, the situation is a lot tougher. Aid, relief, resources, and savings have all been depleted. Lockdowns work better for the middle to upper class, those who can afford space at home, social distance in comfort, and are not at risk of financial hardship. It does not work so well for the lower income, who are daily waged, living in cramp conditions and literally from hand to mouth. For them it is not about longer-term safety but immediate survival.

Again, the message this virus brought us is repeating itself. We are all inter-connected and no one is to be left behind. The lifestyles of the ‘haves’, affect the lives of the ‘have-nots’. We suffer consequences of each other’s actions or inaction. Both Thailand and Singapore’s current situation came out of KTV lounges and night clubs. God has given us the freedom of choice, and so we cannot blame him for the consequences of our choices. Today, we know that somebody’s singing can sadly have a deadly effect.

“He took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd”. (Today’s Gospel)

All of us, poor or rich have been impacted by this, highlighting our inter-connectedness. Some are torn by grief from the loss of loved ones. Some are in despair, desperate for having lost their incomes. The virus affects us all in different ways and situation leaving us confused, anxious and afraid. We wonder about the big IF, “What IF I get infected, and not survive?” Our Christian belief tells us that God is watching us from above. From that vantage, he must be moved with pity and see us his sheep scattered.

It is in this inter-connectedness where God acts. This inter-connectedness brings to life the practical message of the Gospel: love one another. Being pastoral is to look out for one another, and that no one should be left behind. We each have our days of worries but by God’s grace, we do also have our days of strength. In this inter-connectedness, we find that we are both sheep and shepherd.

But during such challenging times, faith is not necessarily strengthened. In fact, much is lost. For many it can be hard to find God in this pandemic. He remains unseen, but we know hidden in each of us, behind the call to be pastoral to one another. This is a time to be church, a new church perhaps to some of us, to embrace our responsibility to be shepherd to the other. When we do this, we make God real and seen in the realities of life.

In times of adversity, hope sprouts. Being pastoral makes fertile this soil of adversity. The birthplace of faith is in the harsh realities of life. There are today many new births out there in our world. It is time to be church, to be pastoral, to reach out to these.

“I will gather together the remnant of my flock and raise up shepherds for them”. (First Reading)

This is another picture that hangs over my writing desk. I got this from a shop in Hanoi. I like this because it shows a boy way back in the background shepherding the sheep. It reminds me of our call to be shepherds. In this picture it is a massive task for the little boy. Our role as shepherds can be intimidating too but ahead, leading the sheep, is the Good Shepherd, unseen.

16h Sunday in Ordinary Time

We are priests with a small ‘p’

We were discussing ministry when my friend wittingly quipped, “We are priests with a small ‘p’. Let the commissioned officer handle it. We didn’t sign on for this”. In today’s passage, the Twelve were commissioned. Long after them, through the course of salvation history, you and I came along. Are we also expected to set off to preach repentance, cast out devils and anoint sick people and cure them?

From that apostolic beginning, our understanding and expression of faith life have evolved through each generation. They have evolved simply because the purpose of God’s free love, a constant since the beginning of time, must be made relevant to the present. Because God is “I AM”. You and I are still being sent, maybe not commissioned to pick up serpents and cast our demons along the way, but to address, especially, the pastoral needs of each other in this time and day.

The prophet Amos said, “I was a shepherd, and looked after sycamores: but it the Lord who took me from herding the flock, and the Lord who said, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel’”. (First Reading)

Every week we are invited to gather as a community to celebrate the Mass. The Mass is our faith practice that has evolved from the apostolic days. We come together to celebrate God: “his free gift to us in the Beloved, in whom, through his blood, we gain our freedom, the forgiveness of our sins”. (Second Reading). At the end of each Mass, we are sent, again and again, to preach this love to one another through the life we live. We are sent to be priests and prophets in everyday life.

We are part of the unbroken link from the apostolic days. We each have our part to play to pass on the faith, from one to the other, from one age to the next. Not all of us can teach with intellectual conviction, but all of us, in humility, can be preachers with a small ‘p’. “Your words are spirit Lord, and they have life” (Acclamation), it is through addressing our pastoral needs of each other where this Word come alive. Today, this pastoral expression is the most relevant and urgent part of our Christian faith. Into this, we are sent.

We are to take nothing for the journey going two by two signifying a shared agenda with God. We empty ourselves of self, going only with the richness of grace, trusting the Holy Spirit to fill us up and be used as instruments for God. We go as Amos was, a shepherd. For to become a prophet in somebody else’s life is to make tangible the compassion and mercy of God for them. For most of us, we have been commissioned for this, to be a priest with a small ‘p’.

When we involve ourselves in the life of others, we try to help them see this presence of God in life. We are sent as a small but important part of God’s process of reconciliation and healing for them. We are not the miracle worker, God is. The timetable is not ours, but His. We are part of their life journey, not the whole. But we have our part to play according to the gifts we have.

“And if any place does not welcome you and people refuse to listen to you, as you walk away shake off the dust from under your feet as a sign to them.” (Gospel)

This is not a shake of condemnation, nor a deposit of resentment. As we are to carry nothing of our own for the mission, we are to let go of our feelings, maybe such of disappointment when we experience rejection. We must leave every Christian encounter with faith and hope that our small part is perhaps just to plant a seed. In time, it will germinate through their life experiences, and another two from us will be sent to harvest.

We all have our little parts. God does not commission us for the big and dangerous bits. He loves us too much for that. We are priests, prophets and preachers with small ‘p’s.

“And he instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no haversack, no coppers for their purses. They were to wear sandals but, he added, ‘Do not take a spare tunic.’”

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time


Encounter, from last week, leads into transformation. Transformation obviously changes us, internally at first, and as we morph it begins to show externally in our behavior. People around us, family and friends have a pre-set identity of us. They like us to be the person that fits into their space, their expectations. When our behavior change, we disrupt this acceptance.

We are a group of guys that talk football over beers. Our finest hour is happy hour. The banter is usually loud and crude. This is group behavior and wanting to belong often mean that we alter our behaviour for acceptance. Then out of the blue, one of us had an encounter, and experiences transformation. In between football and beer, he starts to talk church. Happy hour is threatened. Not everyone in the group is ready to share football with church. Eventually the group avoids that person.

‘A prophet is only despised in his own country, among his own relations and in his own house’ (Today’s Gospel).

We have probably experienced both sides of this; rejecting a prophet amongst us or being rejected because all we want to talk about is church. God calls us to be his prophets. And there is a time and a season for you and me, but rarely do our times coincide. We have different timetables, departing at various life stages from one another. Our transformation begins with an encounter with the Spirit.

“The spirit came into me and made me stand up, and I heard the Lord speaking to me ….. I am sending you to them, to say, “The Lord says this.” Whether they listen or not, this set of rebels shall know there is a prophet among them.’” (First Reading).

I may be taking a big passage from the Book of Ezekiel, and in my simplistic way try to turn it into bite size evangelization. When God calls, he normally also sends. When we transform, we embrace a new identity, shed away old ones. And in this process, we must move on to new environments to fulfil our new identity. Often it means a departure from old routines and spending less time on old topics with family and friends. ‘Church replace football’.

We move on because transformation pulls us along. It is the work of the Spirit who puts us into new environment amongst new people, where our new identity has a niche. We may be part of a ministry preparing adults for baptism, where we assume the role of teacher, sponsor, and sharer. Or in any other ministry where our talents fit. Here our identity is sought after, has a place, and fits. Our new identity finds acceptance. It is the place for the prophet in us.

We would find that our family and friends had also moved on. They would not be stuck in the same environment we left them because the Spirit has also been looking out for them. They too would have become prophets in their own time. Or accepted a prophet in their midst, someone else who did not have the same endearing pre-set identity they saw in us that they had wanted to cling on to.

We are all called into this transformation, to try to be prophet to each other. It takes us away from our comfort zones just so that we can be a blessing to a stranger who accepts our identity. Then, one day we will again gather for happy hour and talk about our faith adventures over beers. We will surprise at how loud and rich it is to be. Happy new beer, happy new life.

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time


Above my desk hangs a replica of this painting. Titled “Encounter”, by Daniel Cariola, it depicts today’s Gospel passage. I was part of a pilgrim group to the Holy Land. We were in the Encounter Chapel* where the original dominates the wall behind the altar. We sat on the stone bench and soon enough this painting lured us into a contemplative presence. Something stirred in that chapel. What? It is hard to describe. But many of us pilgrims came away sensing we had a powerful spiritual experience.

“Now there was a woman who had suffered from a haemorrhage for twelve years; after long and painful treatment under various doctors, she spent all she had without being any the better for it, in fact, she was getting worse. She had heard about Jesus, and she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his cloak. ‘If I can touch even his clothes,’ she had told herself ‘I shall be well again.’ And the source of the bleeding dried up instantly, and she felt in herself that she was cured of her complaint.” (Today’s Gospel)

‘*The Encounter Chapel, is dedicated to Jesus’ encounter with all of us, as illustrated by the large painting, titled “Encounter”, in the back of the chapel. The floor is that of the original first century marketplace of the Magdala port’. (Magdala, Holy Land)

As Christians, encounters are necessary for our faith life. Encounters add flesh to the words of knowledge, for ours is a living faith, a faith that is a lived experience. Yet, I find it a struggle to describe ‘encounter’, and to make another understand. But once we experience an ‘encounter’, our faith is lived in an added dimension. Central in this painting is a spark, lighted up by touch. And being ‘touched’ is central to ‘encounter’.

An encounter can only be felt. It is an experience that most times happen inside us. There is a gentle stirring within, that eventually get a grip on our emotions. It reaches the backs of our mind, the depths of our heart, the issues running in the background that affects us. It can be an intellectual question about life, or an emotional argument about our challenges. An encounter leads us into a conviction of our faith or an affirmation of being loved in our challenges. It is the Spirit moving us, touching us with reassurance that one day leads to healing.

Our faith tells us that Jesus is readily available, so encounters cannot be elusive. The encounter between the haemorrhaging woman and Jesus was likely to have taken place in a busy place like the market of a fishing port. There was a large crowd following and they were pressing on him. Jesus was on the move. So was the woman. It made that one touch difficult, elusive. And so, it is such with our daily life, our busy-ness, crowded focus and distractions. Our life is dynamic, full of moving parts, always on the move. In that Chapel, the pilgrims came to a silent stillness, the parts stopped moving and they experienced an encounter.

Silence and stillness reside deep in the depths of our heart. Here we store our disbeliefs, doubts and hurts. It is here where we are most vulnerable, here where the Spirit touches that will trigger our emotions. It is here where ‘encounters’ take place.

We do not need to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. But we need to go on a journey from our head to our heart. And the door to this journey is opened by humility and vulnerability. Central in our heart, a spark will light up with a touch, an encounter.

Photo credit: Veronica Soon, a fellow pilgrim to the Holy Land.

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Faith, a flimsy shelter

It was starting to drizzle as I passed this scene. Ingenuity mixed with hospitality; it is an honest effort by the simple hawker. I wondered what it would shelter. It was too small and flimsy to shelter man from the scorching lunch time sun or a heavy drizzle, or from strong winds or the thick dust from the Bangkok traffic. Perhaps it is just to shelter the bowl of noodles from something that may drop in from above.

Life has been good to many of us. Easier to state this if we live in an affluent society. The price of comforts in life is faith, or rather, the weakening of our faith life. Affluence comforts us, but it can also complacent us. Beginning with innocent hope, we are fattened by expectations and grown obese in our demands. Self-entitlement is like a triglyceride coursing through the veins of our spiritual life. It is a modern-day ailment that affects our value system.

We build our life on hopes, and most of these are on worldly things. There is nothing wrong with those except that we don’t usually get everything we hope for. Life will toss us around. We will all in time be hit by waves of crushing disappointments and sufferings. Our desires can spin into a gale force wind or swell into a 10-foot wave that will come crashing down on us. We cannot escape storms in our personal life. We are offered the shelter of faith, flimsy as it may seem to us at those moments.

“Then it began to blow a gale and the waves were breaking into the boat so that it was almost swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep. ‘Master, do you not care? We are going down!’ He woke up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Quiet now! Be calm!’ And the wind dropped, and all was calm again. Then he said to them, ‘Why are you so frightened? How is it that you have no faith?’” (Today’s Gospel)

True hope is God centred. Believing in God does not prevent storms from happening in our life. If there is a God, why is there suffering, why is there a pandemic? Faith gives us an inner calm and patience to wait for the storm to pass. Faith tells us of the promise of eternal life without suffering. This is the one true hope that we must centre all our other, worldly hopes on. As our boats journey towards eternal life, through all unavoidable storms, we know we will always be buoyed by this promise provided it is in this faith and hope that we seek shelter.

Jesus is asleep on our boat. He is asleep because he has already set the course for our journey. He knows the personal storms ahead of us. He has prepared us, sometimes in special, unique ways. Some of us are called into baptism as adults or have returned to church after decades away. On being baptised or returned, we embrace new life in him. “And for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here”. (Second Reading) In other words, our belief system and values are now anchored in this faith and hope.

And then the storms come. We look to the heavens with our flimsy faith and accuse Jesus, “Master, do you not care? We are going down!”. Only when the storms settle that we can look back and understand that Jesus called us through baptism or to return to Church so as to come under the shelter of faith and hope to weather the storms that were ahead.

Today we are in a pandemic. Some people are experiencing the worst storms in their life. Faith tells us that Jesus is on their boats. For others, we were at the gates of our lockdown waiting for it to open to bolt out only to be hit by another wave. Such is the nature of this storm. Today we are perhaps in the eye of the storm. It is a good time for us to find this faith and hope to shelter under for our personal storms ahead.

“From the heart of the tempest the Lord gave Job his answer.” (First Reading)

Life is best enjoyed with humility, like a simple bowl of noodles with a drop of faith from above.

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Green shoots

Buried deep in each of us are our experiences of life. Some are from events that occurred, others from deeds or even words of people in our life. Like the trinity in Thai flavours, they are sweet, sour, and spicy. Not always happy, some leave us stewing in bitterness. Who we are on the outside is not always who we are inside. We are graced with courage to bravely continue to live life as best as we can.

“The seed is the word of God, Christ the Sower; whoever finds this seed will remain forever.” (Today’s Gospel Acclamation)

Experiences shape our life, they lend direction. Some that leaves us bitter will lead us deeper into our inner self and entombed us, snuffing out the oxygen of love, making us live life without the light of hope. In this spiritual darkness, we stew until grace lead us to find this seed that had been sown in us since our beginning. This seed is to lead us through life. The word of God is the unconditional love that germinates our experiences in life.

“Jesus said to the crowds: ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man throws seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know. Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the crop is ready, he loses no time: he starts to reap because the harvest has come.’” (Gospel)

We will spend a lot of time in the soil of our inner selves. In our heart, there are reactions and responses to everything that life throws at us. We surrender, we stay our ground in defiance. But the seed works in us in ways we do not know, nor comprehend. It takes root in these experiences. And by grace it pushes out above the soil like young, green shoots of growth and new life.

Last Friday, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, and in the reading, this grace is granted so that we “be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God”.

We are never left alone in our inner turmoil as this love of Christ seeks us out. This seed is busy sprouting and growing. Like a comforting balm, this love seeks out our wounded past for healing to prepare us for moving on. It prepares us for forgiveness, to comprehend that the love of God is always forgiving. We cannot let go, not because God does not forgive, but we cannot accept this forgiveness mainly because we falsely believe we are guilty or unworthy. We must forgive ourselves. Only then can we start to push through the soil and sprout like green shoots.

Like a green shoot, they appear on the ground seeking new life, new direction. Green shoots seek to know more of the God they encountered in their inner selves. Life experiences are catalysts for people to seek baptism or return to Church. But as church we must remember that they are fresh out of the soil and are therefore fragile and vulnerable. As church we must be sensitive in responding to their desire to want to know more and more about the kingdom of God. As church, we are the people expression of the love of God. So, we as church must put out big branches so that green shoots can find shelter in its shade.

The kingdom of heaven wants to sprout from among us. In each of us is a seed waiting its turn to become a green shoot, and eventually as disciples to be the big trees. We each have our time in life, a season to grow, and to become. We are meant for one another. This is the passage of life, our life through experiences, together, as seed, green shoot, and tree.

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021

Realising our true hope

This is an extract from the book, “Why go to Church?” by Father Timothy Radcliffe written with an uncanny foresight in 2008. “So, why cannot I belong to a virtual Christian community and remain attending masses online? No more can it be a substitute of our bodily gathering together than can emails and phone calls be the basis of a marriage”. Add to that video calls, Zoom, Instagram, Facebook, and other virtual apps. Why must we bother going for mass?

Today is the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Our focus is on the Holy Eucharist. Not a sign or symbol, as we believe in the Real Presence. This is a bodily Presence, a physical gift of the love of God. And to receive this, we must be physically there at mass.

My parents’ generation lived in times when the world was materially less comfortable. They even survived a world war. There were more hardship, grief, and suffering. Humility came hand in hand with poverty. In those hardy conditions, they had more of a sense for God. In Him, they placed hope. They would faithfully go for mass. Before Vatican II, it is unlikely they understood Latin, but they all understood the mass. In the mix of challenges and gratitude, they came to receive the Eucharist, for “This is my Body given for you”.

Fr Timothy situated the Eucharist in an everlasting context. For on the night before Jesus died, at the Last Supper, the Institution of the Eucharist, when Judas was about to betray, and Peter deny him, the rest about to run into hiding, the community scattered and as he himself faced with impending pain and death on a cross, what did Jesus do?

“And as they were eating, he took some bread, and when he had said the blessing, he broke it and gave it to them. ‘Take it,’ he said, ‘this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and when he had returned thanks he gave it to them, and all drank from it, and he said to them, ‘This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is to be poured out for many”. (Today’s Gospel)

That generation came to mass for this hope offered. They understood life to be one long journey towards their eternal home in heaven where hardship will be no more. This hope was clear, it rested on their resurrection of life. Receiving the Eucharist was receiving Jesus risen, love triumphant over death, victory over hardships, confirmation of the Resurrection. This is life’s ultimate destination. This is where hope is placed, where it is made true.

Today, somewhat spoilt by material progress, we have somewhat lost some of this sense for God. We divert our hope into wealth and power, marked with self-indulgence and immediate gratification. We lost that far sightedness of seeing our life as one long journey. Instead, we see life as a series of short stories, inspired by these misplaced hopes, each demanding a happy ending. But these hopes do not always deliver.

Challenges, grief, betrayal, pain, ill health, disappointments, broken relationships, failure and other different hardships are realities in life, existing through generations. Few escape them. They are natural, consequence of other people’s actions or self-inflicted. We learn as we live.

All these we bring to mass and place them on the altar. In the face of suffering, he broke bread, blessed, and gave to eat. In the face of all our challenges, we take, eat and rest in the everlasting true hope that will deliver. The Bread of Life.

Corpus Christi, 2021

Everyone has a story

Bangkok is a melting pot of many different cultures. Many nationalities fly our flags here. People from all parts of the world are settled here. Each had a reason why we came. Each have a reason why we choose to remain. These reasons may not always be cheerful, but they nevertheless fill the chapters of our life.  When we initiated a pastoral outreach, a friend remarked, “Everyone has a story”.

Yes, we each have a unique and personalised story. And our story is always filled with drama, the lows and the highs, the pains and the laughter. The drama of this pandemic is still being written, the plot still unfolding, the same storyline having a different, unique impact on each of us. But each story will have the same ending, it ends with our last breath. In between birth and death, everyone has a powerful story because somewhere in those chapters, the story captures this mystery of God in us.  

“We hear them preaching in our own language about the marvels of God”. (First Reading)

Today is Pentecost. The locked door of our waiting room is thrown open. As believers, we are called to step outside our comfort zone and preach. But few of us are articulate with words, masters of language. And even fewer are equipped with precise knowledge. We are not called to climb onto ambos, or perch on social media platforms with a large following. But we each do have a story. Inside, the chapters hide this mystery of the almighty God’s presence in our midst. It is for us, our Pentecost, to tell.

Our personal story is a language on its own. It communicates beyond words. Real life experiences add flesh to words. Our stories speak of truths. Stories testify. They communicate hope, and faith. When we tell our story, we relive the drama of our life. When we wander down our own history, with a little bit of vulnerability and humility, we see God’s guiding and protective hand in all our chapters. The deeper we go, the more we find him. God is in the little details of our personalised stories. And our story will tell about the marvels of God.

Our world today need to hear the Good News in a different way, in a new language that effectively communicates today. Our world has developed in an era of information, science and technology so much so that intellectual logic questions this presence of God in our midst. Today’s lifestyles beg for experiences. In each of our own story, our chapters beg to be told. Emotions soften the hard edge of the intellect and in life realities, both co-exist. Everyone’s story can be the beating heart of our faith life.

“What the Spirit brings is very different: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Second Reading)

Today our world is very sick. The church is outside its closed doors. We are the church. “Be filled with the Holy Spirit”, step outside of your waiting room and tell your story. It will speak powerfully to the people who know us personally in our own little worlds. This is the image when everyone tells their story in their own worlds: it will be seemed like tongues of fire spread throughout the world.

Pentecost Sunday, 2021

Staying in

Our already wearied world is more anxious, now with variants, as covid numbers resume its upward trajectory. Here, they are reluctant to impose another national lockdown, so we create our own bubbles, staying in and social distancing, imposing our own personal lockdowns. It is like getting into a room to wait it out. This week also happens to be the few days before Pentecost; the apostles then were also in a room … staying in, waiting.

What exactly are we waiting for? We hope that (ideally?) when we emerge from our waiting rooms that the virus will be conquered, and life continues along the same road. What forms this ‘hope’, a wish? As we wait, we must remind ourselves that we are an Easter people, and true hope is in the Resurrection. Come what may, life goes on. We are today’s apostles, disciples anointed not to be victims of the virus but as opportunists of it, where we recognise that this world today is fertile ground for us to plant the seeds of the Gospel.

“My dear people, since God has loved us so much, we too should love one another.” (Second Reading)

Where the words of scripture cannot gently coax us, the virus will beat us into submission. As we stay in and remain in our bubble, we will realise it more and more that no one is safe until everyone is. The only way out is to work together for the common good of all. Yet again, like an urgent coincidence that keep repeating itself, the message this week is again the call to love one another. As Pope Francis said, A virus that does not recognize barriers, borders, or cultural or political distinctions must be faced with a love without barriers, borders or distinctions”.

“As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world”. (Today’s Gospel)

As the apostles of today, we are being prepared in our rooms to be sent into the new world ravaged by the virus. We will go out not with trumpets blare, but humbly like a colony of ants, each of us a tiny, seemingly insignificant worker ant, forming a long line, a procession where food is ferried for the common good of all. Only that we are tasked to ferry love. Here is a picture of the inter-connectedness that we humans must share, a sight of love in motion, love that is meant for the other. “God is love and anyone who lives in love lives in God, and God lives in him”.

“We can know that we are living in him and he is living in us because he lets us share his Spirit.” (Second Reading)

Staying in and waiting. In this wait, we begin to understand what it means to remain in God. It is to be a participant of Love, a recipient whose worker-ant duty is to pass it on. As we pass, life in God grows, and we grow, and we remain in God. It is the only place we can shelter from the virus. We recognise ourselves as Christian disciples ‘Staying in’ is not idle time but time to build courage to face what is before us. It is time to prepare and anticipate our Pentecost when we are sent to become the church outside in this time of desperate needs.

“The pandemic set before us a choice: either to continue on the road we have followed until now, or to set out on a new path.” (Pope Francis)

The new path has already opened. It is waiting for us to embark on it once we embrace the Spirit, pick courage up and leave our anxieties in our waiting rooms. This new path is for all of us to go out there to love one another “except for the one who chose to be lost(Gospel). Staying in is staying in God’s love.

7th Sunday of Easter 2021

What is in my bag?

As the situation in my world unfolds, I am expecting that things will get a lot worse before it (hopefully) gets better. I am marooned in a foreign city, separated from family, unable to reach the vaccine available in my home country because of work, quarantine and other travel inconveniences. Alone, darkness becomes darker. Between panic and being practical, I packed a small bag to take with me to hospital should the virus reach me. (Choy!) Inside are electronic gadgets to stay in touch with the family.

I read about India. I read about the shortage of oxygen. I read about choices being made as to who gets the oxygen. I read similar stories that happened a year ago in Europe. Why did we as humanity not learn? In my ponderings, I have always searched to listen to that inner voice. Last week it spoke about our inter-connectedness whether we are family or stranger. What if I end up being a choice in an oxygen shortage?

“This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you. A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.” (Today’s Gospel)

If we were asked to give up our oxygen, many, many of us will say no, only a few will say yes. Here is not a debate about whether we must say yes, or we can say no. It is rather to situate ourselves into this drama that occurs in the reality of our everyday life. We are faced with this opportunity to lay down our life for our friend, beginning in little, non-life-threatening choices. When we make this journey from no to yes, we give ourselves oxygen to our spiritual life to know what true love means and who God is.

“Anyone who fails to love can never have known God because God is love. This is the love I mean: not our love for God, but God’s love for us when he sent his Son to be the sacrifice that takes our sins away.” (Second Reading)

Love is initiated by God. It is the first thing he gives, even if we refuse. It is not an exchange for ours. Today, preaching this call to love one another is preaching into a world of doubt. A doubt generated by complacency and cockiness from generations of progress humanity made. Those changed our values. We know well about family love but cringe and feel awkward about this call to love the stranger. We have become pagan in the belief of this commandment because of this generation’s gearing towards self-importance. But this pandemic is carrying a message we will do well to heed.

“You did not choose me: no, I chose you; and I commissioned you to go out and to bear fruit, fruit that will last.” (Gospel)

As baptized Christians, we have been chosen by name especially in this pandemic to rise up as lay people. The preaching of the gospel is ours. It is time to bravely become church, which this pandemic has pronounced to be outside buildings and around us in everyday life. It is time to come out of our shells of family love and expand, to start calling colleagues and strangers around us “friend”. It is time to preach not by words but by doing the little acts of charity that will collectively become the big gospel of Love. God initiates, yes but the love can only flow if there are willing bodies to allow it to flow through from one to another. This is our discipleship, the reason why God chose us, calling you and me by name.

We must repack that bag. Gadgets to stay connected must be exchanged for values to promote the interconnectedness beyond family and commission strangers as friends. Disciples invest time into friends as acts to love to listen and comfort, and to share our material well-being with those who now have less.

The pandemic has changed the needs of the world. These needs are immediate in the persons immediate in our life who we know are suffering badly in this pandemic. We all know strangers who have lost income or are suffering emotionally. We are the ones God placed to reach them. It is time to call them “friends”.

Repack that bag. We are now disciples embarking on a new road to be church in a new era. We need to carry the oxygen that will give new spiritual life to the ‘pagans’ who do not know the fulfilment of bearing fruits that will last through the call to love one another.

6th Sunday of Easter