Category Archives: Scripture

Hidden in Plain Sight

But Jesus said to them,
“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place
and in his own house.”
And he did not work many mighty deeds there
because of their lack of faith.
—Matthew 13: 57–58

IMG_1987This Gospel reading is an extension of the message from the previous week’s reflection, of the idea that our own disposition will affect how God is able to work in us. As we read last week, if our soil is rocky, the Word will not be able to grow unless we first allow God to till the soil. In today’s Gospel, we read of Jesus’s failed attempt to preach in His hometown. If we, like the people in today’s reading, are closed off to the very idea that God might work through the ordinary details of our everyday lives, then His attempts to work miracles in us will be futile. If our hearts are stubborn, if we turn our heads away from the divine in-breaking of grace, then we are refusing to receive His miracles.

The truth is that God often enters into our lives in the ways we least expect. We might anticipate chariots and thunder, when really He’s trying to get our attention through our next-door neighbor. If it seems mundane to us, it is only because we’ve lost the perspective that God cherishes each tiny detail of His creation. He works within the intricacies of the world He created, gently and earnestly appealing to us in the most ordinary moments.

Jesus’s neighbors didn’t recognize that the Messiah was in their midst. Think about your own neighbors: perhaps there is a saint among you, hidden in plain sight. Don’t miss out on the gift of their presence. God give us eyes to recognize the miraculous when it comes in the trappings of the familiar.

Originally posted at Frassati Reflections.

Miracles & Mysteries

2 Kings 4:42-44, Psalm 145, Ephesians 4:1-6, John 6:1-15

When Jesus performed the multiplication of food, the people immediately adored Him: “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the hills by himself.” (Jn 6:15)

Similarly when Jesus walked on water, His Apostles revered Him: “Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going” (Jn 6:21).

However, after Jesus taught about the Eucharist and that we have to eat His flesh, most of his followers deserted Him: “After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.” (Jn 6:66).

It was easy for the people to believe in simple signs and truths, like witnessing the multiplication of food or Jesus walking on water. However, the moment Jesus teaches something seemingly controversial, i.e to eat His flesh, everyone left Him.

This alone speaks volumes of the Hard Truth of the Eucharist. Sometimes, it’s not about what we want, but what Jesus wants. Often times, we pick a church because of the service structure or how charismatic a particular priest or pastor is. We also tend to pick doctrines which we agree with and chuck the rest out.

However, that was never what Jesus wanted for us. Christ clearly established in the scriptures how He wanted to be worshiped and how He wanted His disciples to live. The perennial question is, are we able to assent even though we don’t understand certain mysteries?

___

Originally posted on Instagram.

Studying Theology

I’ve had some people come up to me and ask:
“What do you study in theology?
“Do you just study the Bible?”

Believe me, I had all these questions too before I embarked on any sort of theological study.

So allow me to clear the air. It’s not just about studying the Bible. It’s more than that. For sure, the Bible is a key source — for it is God’s Word revealed to us, it is His way of communicating to us mere mortals, to help us continually grow in love with God.

The (i) Holy Bible, in addition to (ii) Sacred Tradition, (iii) our reason, and (iv) our human experience (4 loci/sources of mediation between theologian and God) all function to help us in relating to God.

The job of a theologian is this: To articulate the true meaning of God as revealed to us through different eras, social milieu, contexts.

The revelation of God is not to be seen as a mere historical revelation, but one that is continuing today and very much alive in the presence of the Church.

For those of you desiring to embark on any sort of theological study, do not be afraid! If God brings you to it (He has, after all, planted some seed of desire in you!), He will bring you through it.

___

Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.
Image: PD-US

The Tiller

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Hear the parable of the sower.
The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the Kingdom
without understanding it,
and the Evil One comes and steals away
what was sown in his heart.
The seed sown on rocky ground
is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy.
But he has no root and lasts only for a time.
When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word,
he immediately falls away.
The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word,
but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word
and it bears no fruit.
But the seed sown on rich soil
is the one who hears the word and understands it,
who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

—Matthew 13:18–23

Rosa_Bonheur_-_Le_laborage_(1844)The parable of the sower is a reminder that our own interior disposition will affect how we receive the Word of God. If we are hardened and resistant, it will not find root within us. But if we are pliant and willing, the Word will grow and bear fruit in us, making of us an outward sign of God’s abundant grace.

It is important for us to also remember that God does not simply toss the seed and walk away, leaving us to either flourish or wilt based on the merits of our soil. If we want to try our luck alone, of course, He will leave us be, never imposing Himself upon us. But if we let Him, He will gladly go deeper and till the soil of our hearts—removing the rocks, untangling the thorny ground, protecting the precious seed He has sown.

Johannessen_-_Pflügen_im_Frühjahr_-_1916-18Most likely, our soil is imperfect. We might have some rich, verdant areas here and there, but there are also the rocky mounds, the dried-out patches of dirt, the weeds that prevent anything else from growing. We want to receive God’s Word, but we also know that there is work to do within our hearts to remove all the disordered attachments, sinful habits, and unloving attitudes that prevent us from truly embracing it. But we need not despair. If we have the will to improve, God will meet us where we are, and He will do the work in us. All we need is patience and perseverance—for this process won’t be simple or easy, but it will absolutely be worth it. At first, the soil will appear broken and raw as He reaches in and pulls out the rocks and brambles. But if we remain open to His grace, a verdant landscape will sprout up before our eyes.


1. Rosa Bonheur, Le laborage / PD-US
2. Aksel Waldemar Johannessen, Plowing in the Spring / PD-US

Originally posted at Frassati Reflections.

Silent Retreat: Prayer

Spending 2.5 days in silence was certainly a new and enriching experience for me and my spiritual life. I wrote and read so much, it’s difficult to summarize all my thoughts succinctly.

What I would say though, is that there is true wisdom in Jesus’s advice to be still, find a quiet place, and pray. Time was tremendously slowed and I felt like I was Adam in the Garden of Eden (before the Fall) during the retreat.

The place was beautiful and the moment I stepped foot inside, I experienced peace and serenity. The retreat center sported a huge garden with birds, rabbits and flowers. A 15 minutes walk outside would take me to the Chiang Mai lake and waterfalls.

I felt like it was Heaven on Earth. In my experience, all Christians should find time to turn contemplative instead of consistently remaining active, especially in stressful Singapore. All should at least once in their life, be still and retreat to a lonely place.

It is easy to find God in Silence, and even easier to pray unceasingly. By silencing ourselves, we are forced to listen, to read, to reflect, to contemplate. Moreover, the beautiful nature there helped sharpen my focus. I’ll share a few scriptural verses that best describes my entire experience, in order:

Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while. (Mk 6:31)

But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray. (Lk 5:16)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. It will be a healing for your flesh and a refreshment for your body. (Prov 3:5,8)

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you would wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Mt 6:25-26)

Bless the Lord, O my Soul. O Lord my God, you are very great. You are clothed with honor and majesty. (Ps 104:1).

Better is the end of a thing than its beginning; the patient in spirit are better than the proud in spirit. (Eccl 7:8)

___

Originally posted on Instagram.

Something Greater

I say to you, something greater than the temple is here.
If you knew what this meant, I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
you would not have condemned these innocent men.
For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.

—Matthew 12:6–8

Cross_in_the_Wilderness_by_Frederic_Edwin_Church,_1857_AD,_oil_on_canvas_-_Museo_Nacional_Centro_de_Arte_Reina_Sofía_-_DSC08680Throughout Scripture, we find stories where God asks someone to give up everything for Him. Countless prophets and disciples are asked to separate themselves from earthly attachments, leave their old lives behind, and start from scratch. Why does the God of mercy require such extreme sacrifice from His people?

God uses these experiences of sacrifice not as punishments but to prune our hearts and allow us to grow into who we were created to be. He asks us to let go of our attachments in order to prepare us for a greater mission; to increase our dependence upon Him; to replace our earthly perspective with a heavenly one; and to give us a testimony of the God Who has walked with us and sustained us through every desert, Who has shouldered the crosses we bear.

Jesus does not desire sacrifice for its own sake but to make room for something greater. He sacrificed everything for us as a means to show His mercy. He endured torture, betrayal, wrongful conviction, and death for love of us. He entered into our human condition, sharing with us an intimate closeness. And in doing so, He has redeemed all of our sacrifices, transforming them into pathways of His mercy.

In light of Jesus’s sacrifice, our sufferings are not burdens holding us back but graces lifting us upward toward the Cross of salvation. Sometimes, He requires us to let go of good things so that our hands are open to receive great things. His claim is a bold one: that He Himself is greater than the temple. Greater than the temple! What seemed like blasphemy to the Pharisees is in fact a profound truth: there is no offering more sacred than the Body of Christ, no sacrifice greater than the Mass, and no act of devotion more powerful than His Passion.


Image: Frederic Edwin Church, Cross in the Wilderness / PD-US

Originally posted at Frassati Reflections.

Thoughts on Catholicity & the Blessed Sacrament

During my retreat, I had the privilege to attend Daily Mass. Despite our different ethnic backgrounds, it was a big treat to witness all 8 ‘retreatants’ from Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, UK, and Australia all coming together to celebrate the same Mass and read the same readings as all other Catholics in the world. This is why the Catholic Church is one; united in doctrine, mind and worship.

There is a running joke that being a Catholic entitles you to a ‘global passport’. You can be overseas, but every mass celebrated around the world in a Catholic Church is the same. This is one of the main reasons why I am proud to be Catholic! Truly; the meaning of the name is fully embodied (Catholic means Universal); and as Christ Himself said — one flock, one shepherd (Jn 10:16, 17:21-22).

One of the other major moments for me during the retreat was spending dawn, noon and night in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus Christ Himself. Although being in nature had a sense of beauty, I personally felt that I could focus best when I was with Jesus, kneeling in front of my King and Savior.

In any Catholic Adoration chapel; one would find a small ‘cupboard’ which we humbly call the Tabernacle, acknowledging our Jewish roots. Every Catholic Tabernacle in the world contains consecrated bread and wine by an ordained priest. This Bread and Wine is truly the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in its totality: physically and spiritually (c.f. Jn 6:51-54).

This is signified by a burning candle lit at the side of every tabernacle (see pics). As long as Jesus is inside, this candle must be lit to symbolize the Light of the World being truly present (Jn 8:12). This is an ancient and beautiful practice dated way back to the 4th Century!

As a lover of history, I find it fascinating that just as the ancient Israelites in the OT believed the Holy of Holies resided within their Holy Tabernacle, Catholics today also believe that Jesus Christ Himself is present inside each modern Tabernacle in the form of consecrated bread and wine!

___

Originally posted on Instagram.

True Food

Exodus 16:2-15, Psalm 78, Ephesians 4:17-24, John 6:24-35

In these readings, the Church juxtaposes the two instances in history where supernatural food was given to men.

The first account is way back in the Book of Exodus during the wanderings in the desert, where the Israelites were given “bread rained down from heaven” (Ex 16:4, Ps 78:24). Many ancient church fathers called this the Bread of the Angels, because it was heavenly food.

The second account is in A.D 30+, during the time of Jesus. Here was when Jesus ‘upgraded’ and fulfilled the OT by giving us His own flesh when He instituted the Eucharist. No more Angelic food! This time, we would be eating the Bread of Life Himself (Jn 6:35, 51-58). That’s how close in proximity Jesus wants to be with us!

It is in John 6 that Jesus fervently teaches this hard Truth, that the Eucharist is truly His real flesh and precious blood, which we must eat to inherit eternal life (Jn 6:51-58).

All who say this is symbolic or metaphorical are incorrect. None of the early Church Fathers believed Jesus spoke symbolically, and none of the Apostles did — as we read very clearly from Peter’s response: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn 6:68-69)

In fact, this literal understanding is so obvious because we see that the Jews WALKED AWAY from Jesus because they wanted it to be symbolic (c.f. Jn 6:66)! If the Eucharist was just a symbol, then Jesus’s words would make no sense because angelic Bread supercedes earthly bread.

Think about it, if what we have today is just a mere piece of earthly wafer symbolizing Jesus, wouldn’t the REAL angelic bread way back in Exodus be greater? This is of course, absurd. Thus, there has and only been one Truth which the Catholic Church has been promulgating since A.D 33; that the Eucharist is truly the true flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.

Anyone who claims they love Jesus will obey His commandments, even if they do not understand them. The Mystery of the Eucharist is one such truth which all disciples of Jesus must accept in faith.

___

Originally posted on Instagram.

No Fear in Love

Today, my community did an exegesis of John 20-21.

What struck me the most is found in John 20:21 and 21:3.

When Jesus appeared to His disciples (who were hiding in fear, locked up in the upper room), He said “Peace be with you”.
These words were uttered to the very disciples who betrayed Him through denial; who fled the cross. Jesus didn’t reprimand them, neither did He bring up anything about the past. He simply said: “Peace be with you.”

This brings me so much hope. It is a prefigurement of Heaven. When we see Jesus face to face, I know that He will say “Peace be with you”.

Indeed, peace drives out fear. And in the past month of struggling, I’ve come to realize that peace cannot be attained until we surrender everything to Jesus — to simply say to Jesus “This is all I have, it’s not much. But take them. All I have is Yours.”

It is in the surrender to God and the vulnerability of our very selves that His love can penetrate our souls. Jesus can do nothing if our hearts are closed to His will. Often, I wonder: how do I know what is God’s will for my life? I’ve come to understand through experience that it’s probably the thing that brings most peace in your heart. You’ll know it when you feel it.

Back to the story of Jesus appearing to His disciples. After that encounter with Christ, they allowed the love and mercy of God to penetrate their hearts, and the very next day they were no longer fearful and stuck in that room; they went about their day and went fishing (Jn 21:3).

Indeed, God is love and He is the bringer of peace. Love indeed drives out all fear, only if we allow our hearts to be open and vulnerable and receive the peace that God has promised to us.

___

Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

Image: PD-US

Prudent Evangelization

Mark 12:18-27

Jesus’s dialogue with the Sadducees in today’s Gospel highlights prudence while evangelizing. What most people don’t know about the Sadducees is that despite being Jewish, they differed strongly in theological beliefs with other sects like the Pharisees, Essenes or Zealots.

The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. Apart from this, the Sadducees only accepted the first five books of the Old Testament, or what the Jews refer to as the ‘Torah’ or ‘Books of Law’. Basically, only Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy were considered inspired Scripture to them.

It is in this context that they desired to ‘trap’ Jesus by asking whose husband would a wife who has seven husbands belong to in heaven. The Sadducees’ intent was to mock the idea of a ‘life after physical death’.

Here is where it gets interesting. Jesus wisely answered NOT from the books of the prophets like Isaiah or from the historical books like Chronicles. Instead, Jesus drew upon THEIR ‘canon’ of Scripture and quoted from Exodus, stating that God is a “LIVING God, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

Still Life with Bible, Vincent van Gogh (1885)
Still Life with Bible, Vincent van Gogh (1885)

This is a subtle but important point to take away when it comes to sharing God’s Word. The Evangeliser has to go down to the level of the Evangelisee. If the Evangelisee is a non-believer, it would not be prudent to throw Bible verses at them. Instead, the Evangeliser should find out what the non-believer’s view of God is and reflect/point out the errors in his thinking. However, if the Evangelisee believes in Jesus and has at least Scripture as a starting point, then it becomes essential to quote Scripture with contextual history and logic.

Let us remember Jesus’s example of sharing the Truths of Christianity prudently at a level which others can relate to. Most importantly, the heart of Evangelisation is through small actions in our daily lives. If we radiate Christ through us, the world will notice and inquire automatically.

___

Originally posted on Instagram.
Image: PD-US

Hidden faith will turn into ruins

Jeremiah 13:1-11

In this reading, God instructed Jeremiah to hide the loincloth in a hole in the rock, and some time later Jeremiah was instructed to retrieve it, only to find it “worthless and of no use”.

The loincloth is the most intimate part of a man’s clothing. And this is a symbol of the people of Israel too — the people of Israel were God’s divinely-elected people, they were close to God’s heart and were called to be intimate with Him.

From this reading, two lessons can be gleaned:
1. When Jeremiah found the loincloth spoilt and good for nothing, it’s akin to when we keep our faith hidden from others — it will be good for nothing too!
2. The story also reminds us if we don’t keep ourselves close to the Lord but hidden away in a hole, we will lose our mission and what we were made to do.

As humans, we are called to give life to others and be gift to others. It is in the chaste giving of ourselves for others that we become fulfilled. If we hide away, we become inward looking, self-centered at end of the day. And we detract from the very missions that the Lord has called us each to embark on.

Let us not forget too that our calling to be instruments of God’s peace and love is not only for ourselves, neither is it merely for those around us, but to the whole world!

We are called to be ambassadors for Christ, and we need to bring those who don’t know Christ to come to know Him through our ordinary lives. That was what Israel was instructed to do — to be a people who will be light to the world!

May we never hide our faith and become good-for-nothings, but instead may we be fearless in the the sharing of our faith so that when others see us, they see Christ.

___

Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

Image: The Pursuit of  God — Know Your Bible

A Tiny Whispering Sound

At the mountain of God, Horeb,
Elijah came to a cave, where he took shelter.
But the word of the LORD came to him,
“Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD;
the LORD will be passing by.”
A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains
and crushing rocks before the LORD—
but the LORD was not in the wind.
After the wind there was an earthquake—
but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake there was fire—
but the LORD was not in the fire.
After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.
When he heard this,
Elijah hid his face in his cloak
and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.
—1 Kings 19:9–13

Johann_Wilhelm_Schirmer_Elia_am_Bach_KeritA tiny whispering sound. How gentle God is toward us. He is all-powerful; He created mountains and earthquakes and fire and wind. He could drop anvils and send down lightning to try and get our attention. And yet He speaks to us softly and tenderly.

He is the still, small voice within our hearts. He does not seek to control us; instead, He delights in watching us find our own way. He is always whispering words of guidance and love—and if we aren’t distracted by our own noise, we will hear His voice. But He does not force Himself upon us; rather, He pursues us with gentleness and care.

We are called to imitate this example of gentleness: to be both strong and kind, brave and humble, confident and caring. To be sensitive toward our neighbors without compromising our own strength. To respond to others without feeling as though we have to intimidate them or prove what we’re capable of. To be secure in the knowledge that withholding force is not a sign of weakness in us, but of composure and mercy.

Pier-Giorgio-PortraitLook to Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati as an example: a strong, active young man who approached the poor and downtrodden with the utmost care. This was a guy who was popular and athletic, who regularly climbed mountains for fun. And yet he didn’t go around flexing his muscles to try and impress people; rather, his true strength showed through in his tenderness toward those who were weak.

When we feel frustrated and wish God would send us a big, loud, obvious sign from above, let us remember that maybe we wouldn’t actually be able to handle such a bold response. God speaks to us softly so as not to intimidate us, but also to draw us closer to Him. In order to hear His gentle whisper, we must draw ever nearer.


1. Abraham Bloemaert, Landscape with the Prophet Elijah in the Desert / PD-US
2. Johann Wilhelm Schirmer, Elijah at the Brook Cherith / PD-US
3. Portrait of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati / Brandon Vogt

Originally posted at Frassati Reflections.