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Dust You Are, To Dust You Return - A Lenten Reflection

posted Mar 23, 2017, 7:50 AM by Risen Christ   [ updated Mar 23, 2017, 8:21 AM ]

Two years ago, I made a silent retreat which was also a discernment retreat with the Capuchin Friars in Malaysia which lasted for three days. Throughout this period my spiritual eyes were opened whilst discerning if God was calling me to the priesthood or to another vocation. Within the retreat itself there were aspects that were extremely pertinent to the season of Lent which I would come to in a short while, but first let’s go back to where we began throughout the three days. There wasn’t much to do on the first day as it was spent mostly spontaneously planning out the next two days. The friars had invited us to Midday prayer followed by lunch and then the first of a series of talks on discernment.

As the retreat proceeded to the second day, the friars gave us a tour of the friary and refectory. I was asked to help the seminarians out in their manual labor. We were weeding the garden and sweeping up leaves. Later on that afternoon, the postulants and their brother friars who were also priests brought their pet dogs out for a walk in the afternoon, the dogs were mostly feral but they had been spayed and neutered.

We passed a cemetery that wasn’t Christian on the outskirts of the friary and while the pets of the friars were frolicking with each other and the friars and seminarians were conversing among themselves, I began to realize that at the end of our lives, the grave exemplified the fact that we are mere dust and ash as our souls go back to God and our corporeal bodies become food for the daffodils.

“For dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19)

These words uttered by God to Adam in the garden by the Church to every Christian at the beginning of the Lenten season on Ash Wednesday. Dust, the ashes imposed on our foreheads by the priest, has no substance; the lightest breath would disperse it, Ashes are a veritable symbol and reminder of our nothingness. Everything in us is nothing. Our lives are drawn from the creative power of God, by His infinite love which willed to communicate His being and His life to us. Our pride and arrogance has blinded us to grasp this veritable truth.

Lent is a time to enter into the desert with Christ as our master and we his humble apprentices. It is also a time of dying in a sense that we must let go of something and get a good hold on God. Lent is also a time to divest ourselves from our own diversions. We need to sacrifice the superficial so that the depth may rise and in stilling the chatters around us in the desert God’s voice would then begin to resonate within.

It is painful and bitter indeed to suffer death but unless we crucify our passions, egos and other things, we can never truly experience the joy at Easter when Christ broke the prison bars of death and rose victorious from the underworld.

~ Andrew, Media Team

Growing Up

posted Oct 8, 2016, 8:38 AM by Risen Christ

The Lord’s favour fell upon my wife and me when we became parents of two wonderful girls. I used to remember when I opened the outer gates of my house after a hard day’s work, and as mom announced to our daughters one, six years old and the other four years old, that dad has come, they would then peep from the doorway at me and then run to the sofa in the living room to sit down and laugh as I enter the house.

Parenthood is a gift from God. No amount of money can buy and no amount of human wisdom can create. It is important therefore to value and treasure it like all the other talents and skills that we have learnt in our lives. Though we have put considerable efforts to learn our skills, yet sometimes we forget that our intelligence, skills and talents are God-given and we must be grateful to Yahweh for his blessings.

Then, comes the part known commonly as “bringing up the children”; How much love to give? Spare the rod? Be strict? etc. My wife and I came up with some basic rules such as no favouritism, different approaches for each child, recognizing their different cognitive abilities, etc. However, we made it a practice that they share the same room and bed. Thus, they also share their time with one another.

We made it a point to know who their friends are and invited their friends to our home. The Convent girls are a close knit community. Till today, they share their time and activities together.

Understanding their study methods and their pace of absorption of knowledge is vital to reducing the anxiety and tension that comes with schooling. Talking to them about their school days on a regular basis helps us to appreciate their school life. We used to go for the CHIJ carnivals and feast days and relatively immerse ourselves in some of the school celebrations. During these moments, we manage to meet their teachers and learn more about our children.

My two daughters do not miss their catechism classes and Sunday masses. We remind them that they are not just our children but also precious children of our Father God. We hope their faith is built on rock, as our Lord wants, and not on sand. We trust that their unshakeable faith will guide them and bring them closer to Jesus in their daily activities.

As they now outgrow their teenage years, we as parents, pray for their well-being. At this point of time, the choices they make will significantly affect them. The main one is the choice of their career; perhaps not just a how to earn a living but more generally how to contribute to society and the common good. I always remind them of what St James said in James 2: 17 – “So you see, it isn’t enough just to have faith. Faith that doesn’t show itself by good deeds is no faith at all – it is dead and useless”. We also encourage them to join the Ministries in our parish and serve our Lord.

So how they spend their time, juggling with their careers, marriage, filial duties, etc does matter. Parents are the first role models for them. They look up to us and observe us from a very young age.

~ Gabriel Sebastian, Media Team

St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Virgin, Doctor of the Church (1st October)

posted Sep 30, 2016, 11:00 PM by Risen Christ   [ updated Oct 8, 2016, 8:40 AM ]

What is it about St Therese that thunders greatness? In her struggles in the spiritual life and its emptiness, she teaches us a new song of life. God triumphed within her because Therese had grown into a loving relationship with God. In spite of her spiritual desert in her final hours and in the absence of the Beloved and in her inability to utter any word of prayer, she continued without words saying “I just love him.” Love was at the center of St Therese’s vocation at Carmel though it wasn’t smooth sailing, Therese would often consult Sacred Scripture to conform her heart to love towards her sisters and sought to seek the truth and live it.

Therese’s Little Way is more than just a teaching. It’s a way of life living in the presence of God in humility allowing God to work in us in spite of our own imperfections and powerlessness in doing so she allowed the Lord to work in her greatly. The Little Way of St Therese is daily living in God’s presence and trusting in his mercy and love which transcends our fears and struggles. It also teaches us to live in the present moment trusting that God would hold our future in the palm of his hand. This sentiment is encapsulated in the fourth stanza of her poem entitled “Just For Today” where she writes: “Lord, what does it matter if the future is gloomy? -Oh pray for tomorrow, oh no, I cannot! Keep my heart pure, cover me with your shadow Just for today.”

May St Therese of Lisieux in her Little Way guide us towards perfect fulfillment of God’s will in our lives and enable us to trust in His love and mercy. Amen. St Therese of Lisieux, pray for us!

~ Andrew Lee, Media Team

Photo - By Unknown - scansione effettuata da me medesimo, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2963642

The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (15 August)

posted Aug 10, 2016, 7:46 AM by Risen Christ   [ updated Aug 10, 2016, 7:46 AM ]

As Catholics, we celebrate on the 15th day of August the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Defined as a Dogma of Faith on 1st November 1950 by Pope Pius XII, the Church believes that after the completion of her earthly life, Mary was assumed body and soul into the glory of Heaven; her body wasn’t allowed to corrupt and remain in the tomb. As we look back into the life of Mary, we can see the important role she played in the salvation history of mankind. Mary fulfilled the Old Testament prophesies of the coming Messiah. The Holy Spirit had chosen her to be the dwelling place of Jesus. In saying “Yes” to God’s plan for her to be the mother of Jesus, the Saviour of the world, Mary’s life became intertwined with that of her son’s life on earth. She became the only person to be with Jesus from the moment of his birth and up to the day of his crucifixion and death. As the mother, exemplary follower and ardent supporter of Christ, Mary was closely associated with all the mysteries of her son’s life. So close was she to Jesus on earth, she must be with him in heaven, both body and soul. To me Mary is, foremost, an exemplary follower and supporter of Christ, sharing a special closeness with the life and ministry of her son. Indeed, I, like many others, am brought closer to God by the Holy Spirit through Mary. Such closeness was manifested at the wedding feast at Cana.

When the supply of wine ran out for the invited guests, the wedding couple and their families faced an embarrassing situation. Mary intervened and approached Jesus for help. Jesus’s reply to her, “You must not tell me what to do. My time has not yet come” (John 2:4) indicated that he’d rather not perform any signs and manifest his divinity yet. Still, he granted her request. Mary, confident of her messiah son, was quick to ensure that the servants co-operated with Jesus. She told them “Do whatever he tells you”, and help paved the way for his first public miracle by turning water into wine. Here, as with Mary’s bidding, I see the importance of heeding the teachings of Christ Jesus so as to co-operate with God’s graces and avail of his favour and blessings in my life. The wedding feast at Cana also highlights the intercessory role Mary now has for us, as followers of her son. Through her maternal intercession, I have had many prayers answered. Among the most significant for me was her intercession in helping us find a buyer for our previous house, despite the challenging market conditions. Likewise, at the 11th hour before having to hand over our house to the new owner, she helped us to locate and secure an ideal home in which my family and I are happily residing now.

Mary’s role in the salvation history of mankind was first marked by her Immaculate Conception, when God’s intervened at her conception and preserved her from all stains of original sin. God bestowed on her sanctifying grace before sin could ever take effect in her soul. Hence, her whole being was filled with holiness from the very start, enabling her to ready for the role of being the mother of God made man, Jesus.

Mary’s life was marked by love, faith, obedience and acceptance to God’s will for her life. And like any mother, Mary was never separated from the sufferings of her Son (Luke 2:35). Scripture assures us that those who share in the sufferings of Christ will also share in his glory. Since she suffered an interior martyrdom at her Son’s passion and crucifixion, it is appropriate that Jesus would honor her with a unique glory – the glory of the Assumption.

Therefore, in celebrating this glorious feast of Mary’s Assumption, let us be reminded of God’s faithfulness to her and to those who seek and do his will, regardless of the sufferings and the cost - “This is a true saying: “If we have died with him, we shall also live with him. If we continue to endure, we shall also rule with him. If we deny him, he also will deny us. If we are not faithful, he remains faithful, because he cannot be false to himself.” (2 Timothy 2: 11-13)

~ John Png

What does the Year of Mercy mean to Me

posted Apr 22, 2016, 8:58 AM by Risen Christ   [ updated Apr 22, 2016, 9:04 AM ]

My Dad had a formidable task of raising his nine children in the 1960s. Although he was a Catholic, his faith was at most lacklustre. He had approached the Society of St Vincent De Paul ministry in his parish to seek material assistance. They had provided the assistance and he was grateful for it. Symbolically speaking, he had asked Jesus for help and Jesus stretched out his hands and held my Dad’s hands firmly and they walked together through all the difficulties that my Dad endured.

I came to realise that God is prepared to love us even if we do not deserve his mercy. That being so, what then is this mercy that does not differentiate one person from another and that does not pass judgement on the recipient? It has to be something so wonderful and so loving that it can be actually a mystery to all of us.

The mercy of God is depicted many times in the bible from the Old Testament to the New Testament. They include liberation of the people of Israel from the Egyptian rule, the story of the prodigal son and the forgiveness that Jesus showed on the immoral woman. The Word of God also emphasises more than once that God Almighty is rich in mercy and His mercy has no limits.

We are then told, rightly so, to be merciful as our Heavenly Father is merciful. Here lies the more difficult part. The pre-condition of mercy is to forgive the person who has hurt me. I may have hurt others or be a reckless sinner but those thoughts do not come to my mind but only what so-and-so has done to me. Thus Pope Francis says we have to start a journey of spiritual conversion. To achieve this aim, he has started this Jubilee of Mercy.

In these modern days, relationships have become very fragile due to various reasons. However, the most important contributing factor is lack of forgiveness and hearts that become as cold as ice. No mercy flows from such hearts and the result is tears and bitterness.

Let this Year of Mercy be the game changer for me. Let God come to me and remove the pain and bitterness in my heart so that I can forgive those who have hurt me since I myself am no better before the Judgement Seat of God. Once I am on this journey, Jesus promised me that he will walk with me and teach and guide me. I am worth more than a sparrow, says God.

~ Gabriel Sebastian

The Feast of Pentecost

posted May 25, 2015, 7:52 AM by Risen Christ   [ updated May 28, 2015, 7:56 AM ]

The Holy Spirit empowers and animates the Church

Jesus had come down from heaven to pay the price for man's sin. After he had completed his task, it was time for Jesus to return to the Father. But he had reassured his disciples that he was not abandoning them; instead, he was going back to the Father so that he can send the Holy Spirit to take God's mission of salvation into its next phase.

Pentecost celebrates the event in the history of the Church when the Holy Spirit came down on the Apostles and indeed on the whole Church. At that time, the Apostles were holed up in the Upper Room for fear of the Jews (John 20:19). But when the Holy Spirit swooped down on them in tongues of fire, the Apostles felt a mighty surge of power as they had never experienced before. They started speaking about the marvels of God. The people of different nationalities -- Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Phrygians, Pamphylians, Egyptians, Syrians and even Romans and those from other lands -- were amazed that they could hear them in their own native language. And since it was the first time that the Church became fully charged and fully animated, Pentecost is considered as the birthday of the Church.

The Role of the Spirit
During his earthly ministry, Jesus had tried to tell his disciples about the things of heaven and many other things, but his disciples lacked either the intellect or the faith to grasp what he was trying to say. Now the Holy Spirit transformed their hearts and minds to understand the more sublime things pertaining to God and the heavenly kingdom.

The Holy Spirit also injected a boldness and sense of purpose in the disciples so that they were prepared to make sacrifices to bring the good news of salvation to the ends of the world. Indeed, some of them took after Jesus and give their lives in extending the gospel message. From hiding in the Upper Room, they started fanning out to the far reaches of the ancient world.

The Gifts of the Spirit
The Holy Spirit is the dispenser of spiritual gifts. The Catechism of the Catholic Church names seven gifts: Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, Counsel, Fortitude, Piety and Fear of the Lord. However, the variety of gifts that God gives us through the Holy Spirit cannot be limited. Indeed, there are also the Charismatic gifts of Healing, Miracles, Prophecy, the Discernment of Spirits, Tongues, the Interpretation of Tongues and many others besides.

Some of the gifts such as piety and tongues are meant to enrich the individual; others such as prophecy, the Interpretation of Tongues and healing are meant to edify and benefit the larger Christian community.

The Fruits of the Spirit
If we live our lives fully in the Spirit, we will experience some, if not all, of the Fruits of the Spirit. The Book of Galatians mentions Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Faithfulness, Long Suffering, Modesty, Chastity and Self-Control (Gal 5:22-23). As with the gifts of the Spirit, there are countless other fruits which are not named.

The Holy Spirit of God is as present and active today as it was in the days of the Apostles. It is available to all baptised Christians for all time. But how effective the Spirit is in us depends on how fully we avail ourselves of its fellowship and its power.

We pray to the Holy Spirit to melt us, mould us, fill us and use us for the benefit of the Church and the glory of God.  “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth Your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.”

Advent, a time to reflect on the awesome message of Christmas

posted Dec 4, 2014, 2:49 AM by Risen Christ   [ updated Dec 4, 2014, 3:14 AM ]

Mention Christmas and many images come to mind -- the Christmas tree with its colourful trimmings, the holly wreath, the Nativity set, pineapple tarts and so on.  To the children, it's Santa Claus and Mister Snowman.  We love our Christmas!  In fact, we love it so much that we tend to skim through -- or even skip! -- the events leading up to it.  But that's a bit like going straight to the last chapter of a thrilling novel.  It's nice to know how the story ended.  But we miss so much of the story -- the intricate plots, the unexpected turns, the flashbacks, how the characters changed over the course of the story, and the mounting tension leading to the end of the story.  That's what happens when we skip Advent and dive straight into Christmas. 

The season of Advent is the period of spiritual preparation leading to Christmas. When we properly prepare our hearts (as no doubt we prepare our houses) to receive Christ at Christmas, we get the full value and essence of Christmas. 

Spend some time reflecting on the events that took place before Christ was born. 

Remember how it all began?  How awestruck and anxious Mary was at the appearance of the Angel Gabriel who told her that she, of all women, was chosen to be the Mother of God?  And how with simple straightforwardness she had replied to Gabriel, "I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to what you say."?  

That simple line was a major turning point in the history of man's salvation. 

We can imagine how awkward and uncomfortable it must have been for Mary to explain to Joseph that she is conceived by the Holy Spirit.  And how after much hesitation (and prompting from an angel) Joseph decided to take Mary's word as truth.  And we remember how Joseph took care of Mary during her pregnancy. 

We recall how the heavily pregnant Mary travelled for miles on the back of a donkey with Joseph to get to Bethlehem to be registered in the census called for by the Roman Emperor.  And how in Bethlehem Joseph had to look desperately for a place for Mary to give birth to Jesus.

God's plan of salvation for mankind was too lofty and too incredible for any human mind to take in -- even for Mary, a woman of great faith.  God had to send Mary some signs to confirm and to reassure her that what the angel Gabriel said to her truly came from God.  

The first confirmation came from her cousin Elizabeth.  It was God who put the words in Elizabeth's mouth as she proclaimed "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!  But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  The words were similar to what the Angel Gabriel had said to Mary earlier on. 

Later after the birth of Jesus, God was to send two more people (or groups of people) to reassure Mary of the identity of Jesus.  The first was the shepherds tending to their sheep on the plains of Bethlehem; the second was the Magi, traditionally known as the three Wise Men, who came all the way from the east to cast their eyes on the baby, who was God clothed in human flesh. 

We, too, need some time to reflect and to take in the awesome truth that "For God so loved the world that He gave his only son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish by have everlasting life." (John 3:16)

Have a fruitful Advent!

Let It Be Done Unto Me

posted Aug 28, 2014, 7:37 AM by Risen Christ   [ updated Aug 28, 2014, 7:38 AM ]

How incredulous Mary must have been when she first heard from the angel Gabriel that she had found favour with God. That she would bear a son, to be named Jesus {interpreted as “Yahweh saves”}, as He will save us from our sins, just as the Prophet Isaiah had foretold: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel” (Isa 7:14)

Mary’s enduring love for God translated to listening for His call, with complete obedience, acceptance and availability to God. She lived her faith by willingly accepting His call to be the mother of His Son. She did not allow general opinions nor cultural norms to affect her decision to follow where God asked her to go, even to agreeing to being with child before she was married, during a time where she would have been made an outcast or worse, stoned to death.

Not long after, her cousin Elizabeth calls Mary the “mother of my Lord”. Without much ceremony, Mary puts herself at the service of others, knowing that Elizabeth was elderly and would be in need of help. Emphasized by Jesus at the washing of feet, that the greatest love we can show others is to serve one another. Like Jesus who “comes to serve and not to be served,” (Matt 20:28) we are called to become servants of all. Mary is our model of discipleship. She tells us also to “do whatever He tells you to do” (John 2:5).

Being mother of our Lord, who is King over all creation, Mary would then be mother to us all, just as Jesus had declared on the cross. Being a mother means doing all she can to preserve love and unity amongst her children. As our mother, Mary is a powerful advocate for us in heaven. Just as Mary was able to ask Jesus to help at the wedding in Cana, we can be confident that when it is time, Mary would not hesitate to intercede for us. “Holy Mary mother of God pray for us sinners now and the hour of our death.”

The Feast of CORPUS CHRISTI

posted Jun 8, 2014, 9:06 AM by Risen Christ   [ updated Jun 8, 2014, 9:21 AM ]

God's real presence among us
Corpus Christi -- or the "Body of Christ" -- is one of the key events celebrated in the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church.   The feast day was created by Pope Urban IV in the year 1264 following the vision of St. Juliana of Leige (in Belgium), who had a great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.  In her vision, this Augustinian nun had seen a full moon with a stripe crossed diametrically over it.  It was revealed to her that the stripe represented the absence of a liturgical feast to commemorate the love of Christ in the holy Eucharist.

The holy Eucharist itself has its origins in Maundy Thursday.  At the last supper, Jesus, anticipating his terrible death on the cross, broke bread and shared it with his disciples telling them to take and eat it for it is his body which will be given up for the forgiveness of sin.  In a similar way, he took the chalice and told his disciples to drink from it because it contains his blood which will be shed for the redemption of mankind.

The Catholic Church upholds that we do not have to wait till we die to be with God since Jesus, who is God, is already present with us in the flesh in the Holy Eucharist.  Indeed as we consume Jesus in the Eucharistic host, we should with John the Baptist say, "He must increase, but I must decrease."

May is the month dedicated to Mary

posted May 6, 2014, 7:35 AM by Risen Christ   [ updated May 6, 2014, 7:47 AM ]


Since the eighteenth century the Catholic Church has dedicated the month of May to Mary. During this month, special prayers and devotions are held in parishes to honour the woman God had chosen to bring forth His son into the world. These include processions around the church, praying the rosary in front of the Marian grotto and little crowning ceremonies. Successive popes have exhorted the faithful to avail themselves of the graces to be gained from the various devotions.

But there's no need to fret if we cannot make it to church in time for the scheduled ceremonies. We can always perform our personal devotions to Mary in our own time.

The best thing we can do is to pray the rosary. It could be in front of our family altar or while walking through a quiet stretch, or even while travelling. There are four mysteries of the rosary, namely the Glorious, Joyful, Sorrowful and Luminous mysteries, the last one being the latest introduced by St John-Paul II in 2002 while he was pope. Going through the various mysteries while praying the rosary is a unique way of "recounting" with Mary the joys, the pains, the significant events and the victories she went through in the life of her son Jesus. The rosary is essentially a mental prayer - or a soaking prayer. Seasoned exponents of the rosary know that the real value of the rosary devotion lies not in the words of the prayers recited, but in the meaning and the essence behind those words.  [20140501]

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