Are You the Loser?

(2nd Sunday of Advent)
When I was in primary school, I played with my friends after school at the beach if there was no order from my parents to go to the farm. We had lots of fun with the kind of traditional way of surfing. However sometimes we ended up fighting. My dad told me that he allowed me to fight but never allowed me to cry after fighting. He said one day: “You should not fight with your friends. However, if there’s a time when you can’t avoid the fight, go for it but don’t cry, no tears at all. It’s your choice so don’t cry for help. Crying is the sign of a loser. I don’t want you to show that you are the loser”. The words of my father influenced my life for about thirty years. I was not able to cry for many years. I recall the last time I cried after that warning, was when I was nine. Then I cried again for the first time after that when I was thirty-seven. Am I a loser when I cry? Of course, I am not.

The words of my father remind me of people in our contemporary world marked by the thunder of competitions. Everyone would like to be number one. No one wants to become the loser. Becoming the loser creates shame and is a sign of incapability. I was touched by the words of Alexander Zverev. He is the youngest top ten in the world rank today. In the last ATP final after defeated world number one Novak Djokovic, he said: “Thank you Novak for letting me win today. I know that you are the best player in the world today, and you can win any title you want. However today, you let me win”. I watched the match and I don’t think that Alexander was given the winning. He played really well to win the title, and yet he humbly admired the world number one by saying that he allowed him to win.

John the Baptist was a humble man that played an important role in preparing for the coming of the Messiah. When he appeared to the public, he was so popular which made people think that he was the messiah. When they asked who he was, He did not refuse to confess, but openly declared, “I am not the Christ.” (John 1:20), He could have easily told people that he is the Christ, the messiah, since he was so popular. Some other time he said: “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). Is he a loser? Indeed, he is not.

This weekend and next weekend, we are continuously reflecting on the role of John the Baptist. He is the one that was prophesied by the prophet Isaiah: “Voice that cries in wilderness: Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.” (Luke 3:4). Many people think that when you are humble and let other people be the first, you are the loser. The life of John the Baptist has shown us that humility is not equal to being a loser.

“Blessing of the Present Moment”

(1st Sunday of Advent)

Tuesday is my day off. Last Monday I decided to travel by train to Newcastle on Monday afternoon and spend over night there with a bit of reflection before entering into the Advent season. The next day, I went to the beach and had quiet time and reflection at the beach. It was great opportunity to encounter with my own self and God. It was indeed a great time to be with myself and to be myself before God. My reflection during that time was not so much about my ministry in the parish, but mostly about whom I am now and what God expects me to be.

Coming to the Advent season people tend to look forward to Christmas and it is true. Advent is indeed a preparation for the Lord’s coming (Christmas). However, looking towards Christmas can take us away from the present moment of Advent. While I am writing this reflection I recall the words of the parishioners, I met a few years back saying: “We spend so much time looking towards the future and contemplating the past, meanwhile we live in the present moment. The danger is that we are not aware of what is going on NOW”. We can miss the point of enjoying the present moment.

Last Tuesday, I really enjoyed my present moment with myself and God with the spirit of gratitude. I felt fresh, rejuvenated and energised. During the dinner with the “family group” of the parish on the same day some people gave the same comment on me: “You looked fresh”. I smiled at them with sense of happiness and whispered to my own heart: “I know the secret. Being myself and enjoy the present moment”.

This Sunday we begin our new liturgical year (C). This Sunday is the first Sunday of the four weeks of Advent. It is a rich and powerful season of the Church year. This is the time of “WAITING” but also a “time to be ALERT with ourselves”, time of RETREAT for the whole church.

Jesus is inviting us to take our time to encounter ourselves. He says: “Take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down …… praying that you may have strength ………to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21:34-35).

Enjoy your four weeks time of retreat. God bless you.

One Body, One Lord

This Sunday and the following Sunday our children are joining us at the table of the Lord for the first time. They will receive their First Holy Communion. It is a great moment of sharing our communion with God and with one another.

While writing this reflection, I am inspired by the first reading of daily mass of Friday 26th October 2018. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians mentions about the differences as a fact of our life. However, the important thing is not about the differences, but how to see beyond the differences. And it was very clear that beyond the differences there is one body, one Lord, one faith and one baptism (Eph 4:1-6). These are things that unite us.

The gospel reading of this weekend, informing us of a blind man who desired to see again. When Jesus asked what he wants, he made it clear: “Master, let me see again”. I suppose that Jesus was showing his compassion towards Bartimaeus based on his own feeling of being part of Bartimaeus’ journey of life. Jesus’ compassion shows that he is suffering with Bartimaeus. Every time I hear a parishioner is sick, I can’t help but feel like I’m a part of that person’s journey. It is disturbing and unpleasant but I thank God for that kind of feeling, because I feel like I am being united with that person. I cannot do anything about it except finding my time to visit and put that person’s name on my list for prayer.

I hope that the moment of celebration of the First Holy Communion would be a time to celebrate our communion with God and to one another not just “liturgically” but also in our daily living. Last Sunday in my homily when I shared about “clericalism” and read the letter of apology from my provincial, some of you might have seen that I was moved, saddened and in tears. After mass, some parishioners approached me and showed their love, caring and support. I experienced huge amounts of support from you. In my sharing with our MSC Community last week, I said: “In the middle of our brokenness and failures, there is enormous amount of support of our people who love us”. This is another way of sharing our communion with the suffering members and suffering Lord. Once again thanks for being so supportive. When we are united, we will be strong.

A Servant Leadership

Jesus, the Model Servant Leader

Reflecting on this weekend readings, I came across an article I read a few days ago titled: “Jesus: The Role Model for Christian Leadership” written by Thorsten Grahn on 08/11/2011. Some parts of it could be useful for our reflection this weekend.

“Jesus submitted his own life to sacrificial service under the will of God (Luke 22:42), and he sacrificed his life freely out of service for others (John 10:30). He came to serve (Matthew 20:28) although he was God’s son and was thus more powerful than any other leader in the world. He healed the sick (Mark 7:31-37), drove out demons (Mark 5:1-20), was recognized as Teacher and Lord (John 13:13), and had power over the wind and the sea and even over death (Mark 4:35-41; Matthew 9:18-26).

In John 13:1-17 Jesus gives a very practical example of what it means to serve others (see also “The King Who Led With a Towel”). He washes the feet of his followers, which was properly the responsibility of the house-servant. Examination of this passage shows that:

1. Jesus’ basic motivation was love for his followers (v. 1).
2. Jesus was fully aware of his position as leader (v. 14). Before the disciples experienced him as their servant, they had already experienced him many times before as Master, and as a strong and extremely powerful leader.
3. Jesus voluntarily becomes a servant to his followers (v. 5-12). He did not come primarily as their foot washer, but he was ready to do this service for his followers if needed.
4. Jesus wants to set an example for his followers to follow (v. 14-15).

From the teaching and example of Jesus Christ we learn that being a servant leader in the most general sense means being:

• A voluntary servant, who submits themselves to a higher purpose, which is beyond their personal interests or the interests of others,
• A leader who uses the power that is entrusted to them to serve others,
• A servant who, out of love, serves others needs before their own,
• A teacher who teaches their followers, in word and deed, how to become servant leaders themselves”.

Are we willing to learn from Jesus how to be good leaders in our own community?

“Evangelical Poverty is a Call for Everyone”

When I was reading this weekend Gospel, I remembered a friend who came with the whole family to Sydney to attend the son’s graduation at UTS. After graduation I had a chance to meet them and took them around to see some exotic places in New South Wales and Canberra. Since they were very much involved in the parish where they come from, they would know about priests. One of the comments addressed to me was, oh so you are religious therefore you have the vow of poverty, meanwhile diocesan priests have no vow of poverty. I said yes and no. Yes, I took that vow but “evangelical poverty” is addressed to everyone not just religious.

That is precisely what Jesus said in the Gospel today. At the end of his conversation with a man (not with a religious), he said: “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the Kingdom of God” (Mark 10:24). This doesn’t mean that people who have things are not worthy for the kingdom of God. What I explained to those friends of mine was that it is not about having things, but it is about allowing things to own us. And this message is to each one of us not just for those who pronounce their three religious vows publicly. Evangelical poverty frees us from “being owned” & “competing desire”: (Mat 4:20 – The disciples left everything). Mere things must not own us or block us from hearing divine call (Mat 19:16-30 – rich young man went away sad).

Evangelical poverty also helps me to have an attitude of solidarity. Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said: “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty”. And solidarity is the way to remedy this poverty.

“Good News”

The “Word of God” is also called “Good News” or in Greek εὐαγγέλιον • (euangélion). Reading the gospel of this weekend, especially the passage:

“ …if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell” (Mark 9:45-47).

I stopped for a while and thought: “is this what we call good news? Isn’t it that good news brings joy, peace, comfort and hope?” These couple of questions were with me for a couple of days until I had a great opportunity to be in solitude at Mount Schoenstatt Spirituality Centre in Mulgoa last Thursday afternoon. I brought up these two questions in my prayer. Then I felt strange that my memory went to a man who was my parishioner in 1993. At that time, I had some differences with some parishioners and I tended to show my “power” in dealing with them. I was even a bit arrogant which did not help to solve the problem, instead it made things worse. This wise man had the courage to talk to me and in our conversation he “challenged” me by saying: “Father probably you did not pray enough”. I was shocked with this kind of comment. I did not say anything but after sometime I realized that my prayer life was really dry. He had shot a bullet into my very “core issue”. And his “challenge” had become good news for me to shape up and be renewed.

At the end of my prayer in Mulgoa, I came to realize that “Good news is about peace, joy, comfort and hope, but also a challenge to bring the best out of oneself”. Jesus’ words today are not a condemnation or curse, instead they challenge us to shape up and to bring the best out of ourselves for the better world.

Dear Parishioners,

We just successfully hosted the MSC APIA (Asia Pacific Islands and Australasia) Mass and dinner on the 17 September 2018. I was congratulated by various groups, MSCs, parishioners and guests for this successful event. Most of them said: “Well done Alo”. I was feeling good for a few days. Reading this weekend‘s Gospel, I felt something different within me. The good feeling turned to a kind of embarrassment, since knowing that all the works were done by various people not just “me”. The disciples of Jesus argued about who is the greatest among them. Jesus came up with a very clear answer to that matter. He said: “If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all”.

Looking back at the recent event I mentioned above, I would like to say that those best wishes shouldn’t be addressed to me, instead to those who have been at service for the event. They are the greatest for being servants for others and making the event a successful one. Therefore, I sincerely thank those who have been planning, preparing, contributing and working tirelessly for that event. They are Liturgy Committee (Lena and friends), Mission and Outreach Committee (Jan Nicholas and friends), Building and Maintenance Committee (Claude Khoury, Stephen Chiew and friends), donors like Niji Restaurant and personal donors who have donated money, drinks and food. Those who gave their time to decorate the church and the hall like Sr Carmel OLSH. Those who were part of the liturgy such as John Allen (Smoking Ceremony), Henry Martin from OLR Primary School, OLSH College Choir, Patricia Reyes, Lily Murcutt, Moon Dunlop, Ricardo Sanchez and Jane Marmotta, Indonesian Community Angklung Choir, Amanda Janturi and the young Indonesian liturgical dancers, John, Susana and granddaughter (Tongan Family), Maria who worked behind the scenes and all others who helped.

You are all great among us. I sincerely and humbly thank you for your dedication and commitment to the life of the parish. Well done. Good on you.

“Khoi Nguyen MSC, New Shepherd of God’s Flock”

We are blessed to have one of God’s servants to be ordained a priest to the Catholic Church. Fr Khoi Nguyen MSC has responded to God’s call to be missionary of His Heart. Khoi’s ordination to the priesthood reminds us of our own call to be God’s people and to be shepherds in our own way of life. Priesthood is only one of the ways of shepherding God’s flock. However, in the midst of our secular society, responding to the radical call to leave everything to follow Jesus is a big step. We congratulate Khoi for such a big decision.

While thanking and congratulating Khoi, we also thank God for looking after “his flock” by sending shepherds in the middle of little hope. Inspired by Prophet Jeremiah, Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Exhortation “Pastores Dabo Vobis” which means “I will give you shepherds after my own heart” (Jer. 3:15), said: “In these words from the prophet Jeremiah, God promises his people that he will never leave them without shepherds to gather them together and guide them: “I will set shepherds over them [my sheep] who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed” (Jer. 23.4)”.

Today we are witnessing that God’s promise through Prophet Jeremiah has been fulfilled. Some people may say that being a shepherd is not necessarily limited to the call of priesthood. And I agree with that since we could see so many people who are playing the role of shepherd in our families, communities, and the society at large. It doesn’t reduce the meaning of the prophet’s message: “I will send you shepherds”.

As we particularly thank God for the gift of Khoi, we pray that his priesthood will be a blessing for God’s flock. That he may be a good shepherd, a priest who is sanctifying; a prophet who is proclaiming the Good News and King who is governing God’s flock with a compassionate heart.

Congratulations Khoi…..Good on you!

“Hidden Potentials of a Father”

A young lady goes overseas to see one of her parents who is sick and at the same time she would like to have a break. She was worry about her husband who she left behind with two beautiful children who are still in primary school. Now the husband has to do things that his wife usually does such as preparing meals for the family especially the lunch boxes for children, making sure that they study at certain times and some other housework. Interestingly that the husband would do those things even though he never did them when his wife was around. There are few possibilities why he didn’t do those things when the wife was around: firstly, maybe he did not know how to do those things, or secondly, he wouldn’t bother to do so since his wife could do, thirdly, because he is too busy with his work, so there is no time for that or fourthly, because he knows that his wife would do better that him. For the last reason, then we would say that the husband has hidden potentials. Therefore, we shouldn’t undermine Father’s role in our family.

Today we celebrate Fathers’ Day. A day of thanks for having a father as a special gift from God. They may not do things like mothers do, but they have played different roles in the family. Fathers are caring, protecting, supporting, patient and forgiving.

Children depend on their fathers for their spiritual, emotional, physical, financial and social well-being. Therefore, the role of father is to demonstrate a positive role model. Daughters see their fathers as the ideal man they intend to marry. Equally, for sons, a father is seen to be a ‘man of honour’ they intend to imitate as they grow older. Let’s remember fathers in our prayers every day. They deserve that.

“God our Father,
in your wisdom and love you made all things.
Bless those fathers who have taken upon themselves, the responsibility of parenting.
Bless those who have lost a spouse to death … or divorce
who are parenting their children alone.
Strengthen them by your love that they may be and become
the loving, caring persons they are meant to be.
Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen
Many times we think of single mother’s raising children, but there are also many single father’s raising children,….today we honor and pray for them, along with all the fathers this special day”.

“Stop Complaining, Be Grateful”

Sr Hiam Boroi, a good shepherd nun was my class mate when I did my Spiritual Director training in the Heart Spirituality Centre in Melbourne. Before she came to do the training, she worked for years in some parts of Middle-Eastern countries during war time. We can imagine that living and working in the middle of a war, we would indeed face some difficulties and we could even lose our life as well. While doing the course, she was staying with her community. She found the facilities were entirely luxurious and yet she continuously heard complaints from a couple of sisters who were not happy with things in the house such as not enough butter, cheese, bread and poor air conditioning during summer. For Sr Hiam, having a three course meal every day was like living in a king’s palace.

I was a missionary in Kiribati Islands a few years ago. Once a month I went to an island to say mass. The whole island would come to attend the mass. They were so happy to have a mass even only once a month. There were no complaints at all. It was contrary to the story of my priest friend who works in a parish in Australia together with two other priests from overseas. Instead of appreciating what the priests do in the parish; some parishioners always have something to complain about the priests. A lady parishioner came one day to say to the parish priest: “We have to pray hard”. The priest asked: “why?” The lady said: “We have to pray for more white priests. I hardly understand those two other priests”. The parish priest was so angry and said: “You should be grateful to have a priest saying mass to you. In some other parts of the world, people do not have mass for months even years”.

The gospel today tells us about Jesus who asked the Jews to stop complaining. They should open their eyes to the presence of God in Jesus. Jesus is asking us to have a positive attitude. There is a woman who always develops a very positive attitude towards things. She says:

“Lord, thank you for this sink of dirty dishes, we have plenty of food to eat. Thank you for this pile of dirty laundry, we have plenty of nice clothes to wear. And I would like to thank you, Lord, for those unmade beds. They were so warm and so comfortable last night. I know that many have no bed. My thanks to you, Lord, for this bathroom, complete with all the splattered mirrors, soggy towels and dirty lavatory. They are so convenient. Thank you for this finger-smudged refrigerator that needs defrosting so badly, it has served us faithfully for many years. It is full of enough leftovers for a few meals. Thank you, Lord, for this oven that absolutely must be cleaned today. It has baked so many things over the years. Lord, the presence of all these chores awaiting me says you have richly blessed my family. I shall do them all cheerfully and I shall do them gratefully. (Author Unknown)”