Thursday, October 01, 2015

My Sacerdotal Ordination Thanksgiving Speech.

“The Lord has done marvels for me, holy is his name”. 

It is with great joy in my spirit that I stand before all of you today to declare of God’s faithfulness. All glory, praise and thanksgiving to God our Father, His son Jesus our Lord and savior and to the Holy Spirit for giving me this great opportunity to serve as priest.  As we often say, God works in marvelous ways. In 2007 and 2008, God put me to the test and this experience has greatly humbled me. But this test wasn’t meant to humiliate or degrade me but has made me even more faithful and ever loving to Him for it was during this difficult period that I experienced His immense love and mercy. The Lord had never abandoned me, He instead molded me according to His plans and will to face those trials so that I may emerge as a better, wiser and stronger individual in carrying out His works. Just as clay is in the hands of the potter, I have surrendered myself to God’s hands, to be molded according to his will. I pray that the Lord will continue to mold and make me a priest who works with the mercy, love and righteousness of Christ; a priest after the sacred heart of Jesus.  

Speaking of righteousness, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank a certain individual who is a firm believer in justice. Bishop Paul Tan who had personally guided me out of these trying times by accepting me into the diocese and for believing in me. I thank you Bishop for your grace and understanding and for  ordaining me today.
I was once asked to leave the seminary. But I did so with my head held high for I spoke out against injustice. I will continue speaking up against injustice and for the poor, marginalized and unwanted. But from this experience through the dialogue and discernment I had  with Bishop Paul and Fr. Norris, I have come to know of better means in doing it now. It is also with a most humble heart, as my first duty as an ordained priest, that I want to once again sincerely apologise to all parties affected by this incident.

I would also like to thank my brother priests from the diocese of Melaka Johor for welcoming and supporting me. Thank you too to all the priests, deacons and religious who came to share our joy, Your presence have made this ordination extra special for us. I thank my seminary formattors and Spiritual directors from college general and SFX seminary, Singapore and especially my professors from the Loyola School of Theology, AdMU, Names that I must mentioned here is Fr. Benedict Yung, Fr. Rene Repole both who were my Fr. Guardian, Fr. Arnel Aquino my SD and Fr. Timoteo Ofrasio my professor in liturgy and sacraments who helped draw my ordination theme logo.  A special thank you to Fr. Cyril Manayagam, my seminary classmate who stood by me and constantly reminded me of my calling and never allowing it to fade. Fr. Mark O’Keefe from Australia, Fr. Louis Ponniah, Fr. Anthony Naden and the late Fr. Benedict Saverimuthu my parish priest who recommended me to the seminary. Fr. Andrew Kooi, who had composed the tune for the psalm.  Thank you to all the bishops present here, Bishop Emeritus James Chan, Archbishop Emeritus Soter Fernandez who first sent me to the seminary, Archbishop Julian, who comes from my home parish, the Church of Visitation Seremban. Bishop Richard Ng and Bishop Simon Poh.   

To the parishioners from the historical churches of St. Peter and St. Francis Xavier and its various chapels who organized this ordination headed by Fr. Michael M.  a very big thank you to you. Although John and I asked for a simple celebration, Fr. Michael has made it so grand but only with the help, dedication and sacrifices of the many parishioners here. (History is made today, for I am told that this is the 1st sacerdotal ordination in this oldest existing and functioning church in Malaysia, for ordinations were previously held at the hall or the ordination carried out as a diaconate. It is therefore a great honor and privilege to be assigned to serve in this historic parish with such passionate parishioners and alongside Fr. Michael M, a distinguished clergyman from whom I have learned so much and will continue to learn from.  

To the many who have traveled near and far and to those who would like to be here but cannot do so due to certain commitments, I thank you for your kind support, thoughts and prayers. I give my gratitude to those who have traveled to support me today. Most of you have known me for a long time, some of you have known me for a good amount of time, a few of you have known me for only a short time, and a couple of you are probably wondering who I am. But I thank all of you for being part of my life. Today is actually your day, not mine, for it is with your persistent prayers and support that preserved my vocation. And today God blesses you all with two priests.

My journey does not end here today. It is merely the beginning. So with a joyous and humble heart I ask that you to continue journeying with me with your unconditional love, support, prayers and kindness as we continue carrying out God’s will and the building of His kingdom here on earth. Thank you all, God bless and I wish you safe journeys.

To my family who has been a major influence in my vocation to the priesthood, thank you. A very big thank you to my mother Magdalene, and father Francis, of whom I owe and love the most. I will never be able to repay your kindness and love in dollars and cents, but I will do so by sharing your love and kindness to everyone around me.

My siblings who supported me all the way, nephews, nieces, uncles, aunties, cousins and all my relatives, thank you. Thank you too to my bro-in-law, Julian for taking care of my parents and for seeing to their cares and needs. Your presence is needed even more now since my older brother and I will continue being away from home.

I still vividly recall the day I left home for the seminary in 2001. My mother, as she often does, blessed me with the sign of the cross on my forehead and told me “Adrian do not worry, for Mother Mary will be there in my place to look after you”. We are blessed, for we have Mama Mary who continues interceding for us. She has indeed been looking after me and I have seen her maternal hands protecting and guiding me through her intercessions.  So I ask you all to please stand and join John and I in giving thanks to her and ask of her to continue praying for us.    

Sunday, May 03, 2015

5th Sunday of Easter (Year B) - Abiding in Jesus

Gospel - John 15: 1-8

When someone is about to leave us or when their on their death bed, we would want to hear their last words of advice and wishes, and if possible we would do our very best to fulfill them.

For the coming 2weeks, the Gospel readings including those of Sunday would be on the last discourse of Jesus to his disciples before he was put to death, taken from the Gospel of John as a preparation for us for the feast of the ascension and Pentecost. We as disciples of the Lord are once again reminded to take heed of his words and see how we can fulfill his wishes for all humanity.

The words of consolation and encouragement which our Lord spoke to his Apostles on Holy Thursday night were intended to console and encourage all his followers for all time. They encourage and console us today, and we need encouragement to persevere on the road to heaven. Living a truly Christian life is never easy. We have always the attraction of the world and thus leading us to temptations where we make bad choices and eventually face consequences of our wrong choices. There are also sufferings, trials and persecutions that a Christian faces and this is so real especially in our present time. The Christians of our generations faces more persecutions in many various forms than those Christians of the early centuries. I am sure, you are all aware and also seen on news and reports on the IS movements at the Middle East and their persecutions to others especially Christians. The crucifixions, beheading, rape and abuses by them have angered many and left us all in a state of despair and shock that such crimes are still taking place in our modern and develop world. We are not far from all this, back home in our country, the scene is same though the forms of persecution are different. The restrictions of certain words and religious symbols can also be considered as a kind of persecution.

Now for a normal follower of a cult, or a philosophy or beliefs system they will feel so angry, frustrated and annoyed that they have to face such trials and tribulations, but for a good Christian, though this religious journey in life can be at times frustrating and difficult to bear, nevertheless they take it on gladly and in good faith and these Christians willingly give up their comforts even to the extent of giving up their life. These Children of God, the martyrs who gives up their life for the love of God and all people to  becomes witnesses of the Kingdom of God had expresses their love not by mere words and talk but something real and active in their life as mentioned in the 2nd reading today.

Have you ever wondered how these witnesses are able to take up their crosses and still be able to follow Christ? Does it surprised you that there are martyrs that freely step forward on behalf of others to be burned alive or to be beheaded. Dear friends, they are able to face all trials and tribulations due to their good and close relationship with God. The relationship with God is their strength.    

This shows that Christianity is not mere a religion but a relationship with God. And one of Jesus’ most vivid and powerful illustrations for the believer’s relationship with him is the vine and branches. Just as branches can only bear fruit if they abide in the vine, so the only way believers can glorify the Father through fruitful lives is by abiding in Jesus.

To abide has to do with the concept of 'being' instead of 'doing'. Doing in relation to the Christian life is: reading your Bible, going to church, praying, witnessing, doing good works, fleeing sin, etc. These are all good things to do as a Christian. These are things we should be doing. If we are not doing these things our walk with God and others will suffer.

However, if we are doing these things just because we are suppose to, or we are doing them in our own strength, we will not have victory or peace and miss out in having an intimate relationship with Christ. If we are not careful, we can become works oriented instead of Christ oriented. For an example a parish leader or youth leader or even a legion of Mary leader can go all around ‘doing’ good works, but then goes around slandering and causing chaos among members, is that a witness of abiding in relationship with God?

To Abide in Christ is to be in the 'being' mode. We still are doing the things that God has called us to, but we are doing it in His strength. Abiding in Christ is about having an intimate relationship with Him. The relationship is more important than the things we do or don't do. The more we are abiding in Him, the more we will be faithful. We will hear His voice clearer, not be works oriented, and have more peace in our life. To abide is to experience His presence. And when we are abiding in God’s love we will bear good fruits in our life, ministry and with those people around us.

This picture of the vine and branches is a rich metaphor that needs unpacking. The vine is Jesus, while we (believers, disciples) are the branches. The Father, Jesus says, is the vinedresser (v. 1) – that is the gardener who tends the branches. He prunes the fruitful branches so they will bear more fruit (v. 2), and takes away the unfruitful branches, throwing them into the fire (v. 2, 6). The unfruitful branches appear to be nominal disciples: people who outwardly follow Jesus for a time, but fail to bear fruit.  The fruit we are called to bear includes both the fruit of transformed character and fruitfulness in evangelism as we bear witness to Jesus and his work.

There are two things implied when we say we have to abide in Jesus as branches in the vine. They are:  connection, and dependence.

1. Connection
Abiding in Jesus first of all means having a life-giving connection to him. A branch is connected to the vine, and a vine to the branch. This is what theologians frequently describe as “union with Christ.” Notice that this connection, this union, is mutual. We abide in him and he abides in us (v. 4). If there is no connection, there is no life, no fruit.

2. Dependence
The branch is dependent on the vine, but the vine is not dependent on the branch. The branch derives its life and power from the vine. Without the vine, the branch is useless, lifeless, powerless. Sap flows from the vine to the branch, supplying it with water, minerals, and nutrients that make it grow. And believers receive the “sap” of Christ’s grace through our life-giving connection to him. We are completely dependent upon Jesus for everything that counts as spiritual fruit (v. 4). Apart from him, we can do nothing (v. 5).

Dear friends, never grow tired of abiding in God. In fact let us strive all the more to abide in him. And when while growing in the vineyard of the Lord but we still encounter some sort of trials and tribulations, fear not, for as the Gospel says today; even those branch that does bear fruit, God still prunes to make it bear even more fruit. So let us pray, that we may remain in him, we may abide in His love and all that we do and say is for the Greater Glory of God’s name, for God’s kingdom.  

Sunday, April 26, 2015

4th Sunday of Easter (Year B) - The Good Shepherd

1st Reading - Acts of the Apostles 4:8-12
Ps. 117
2nd Reading - 1st John 3: 1-2
Gospel - John 10:11-18
Every year on the 4th Sunday of Easter, the Gospel is always on the theme of the Good Shepherd. That is why it is also known as The Good Shepherd Sunday.

The image of Christ as our Good Shepherd has always appealed to human nature. We are all very familiar with it. Many of our homes and prayer cards have this image. In fact one of the oldest Christian representations of Jesus is that of the Good Shepherd. Picture of Jesus carrying an injured sheep on his shoulders were found in the catacombs of Rome, painted by Christians who were being hunted down by the Roman soldiers because of their faith in Christ. In this most difficult and trying times, the persecuted Christians got their courage in their belief that their Lord and Savior was watching over them like a Shepherd who watches over his sheep. And this is so true even in our times, for an example, when there is a death, when someone looses a loved one, they feel so lost, confused and in despair. They are then asked to reflect on psalm 23 which gives the assurance that ‘the Lord is our (my) Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want’. This psalm is frequently prayed and sung at funerals.

Another example I would like to share is with my encounters with sailors and those working on the cruise and offshore. I gave some of them bookmark containing Psalm 23 and even told them to bring along their bible and pray that particular psalm. They have shared with me that it has helped them a lot in their life and especially when they face severe storms and bad sea conditions and even when they feel alone and far away from their family members. They were assured that Jesus the Good Shepherd is there with them, they need not fear. This is a manifestation of love which touches our innermost feelings. We do not mind being likened to sheep in this context. There is something guileless about a sheep, and at the same time a lot of foolishness. I believe with these examples, we can all accept why Jesus gave us such an image as we have just heard in the Gospel. 

Now to better understand the purpose of a shepherd during the time of Jesus, it is helpful to realize that sheep are utterly defenseless and totally dependent upon the shepherd.
Sheep are always subject to danger and must always be under the watchful eye of the shepherd as they graze. Rushing walls of water down the valleys from sudden, heavy rainfalls may sweep them away, robbers may steal them, and wolves may attack the flock. Driving snow in winter, blinding dust and burning sands in summer, long, lonely hours each day—all these the shepherd patiently endures for the welfare of the flock. In fact, shepherds were frequently subjected to grave danger, sometimes even giving their lives to protect their sheep. And Jesus stresses this in the Gospel, for he says ‘those shepherds who does otherwise are just hirelings and not a shepherd for he abandons his sheep when he sees trouble’. 

Dear Friends, the image of the Good shepherd is not only to be emulated by Bishops and priests but also by each one of us who are called to be Shepherds after the heart of Jesus who is the par excellence of all shepherds, the Good Shepherd. If we actually reflect further, we see many of us are indeed shepherds already. Parents, teachers, lay leaders and so on, are shepherds to their children, students and members. But we need to ask this always; what sort of shepherd am i? The good, the bad, the ugly? Of course the ideal is to be the good shepherd, and if we are not, then maybe it is because we have fail to emulate Jesus the Good Shepherd.      

Now to help us imitate Him, let us then look at the duties and responsibilities of a shepherd. It is all about feeding the lambs and the sheep, bringing them to good pasture lands and water, grooming and clipping them, delivering new lambs, leading them and teaching them to stay together, going off after the wandering lost ones, and protecting the sheep in the field and in the fold. 

We must remember that those under our care are the sheep of the Lord, not our sheep.  We are caretakers of sheep that belong to the Master. Like the shepherd who chooses the best place for the sheep to graze, we as shepherds must lead our sheep to the green pastures of the word of God and not MTV, serial dramas, pop psychology and worldly methodology.  They must be fed on with the Word of God and nourished by the holy Eucharist.  

Water, in the Bible, is often used as an allusion to the Holy Spirit.  It certainly is in the case of baptism.  A shepherd will lead his flock to water regularly.  A good shepherd are called to roll away the stone of hard hearts and prepare those hearts to be receptive to the nourishment of the Holy Spirit.  This can only be accomplished by rolling away the stone of the "self" culture so the light of God's written Word can shine through teaching and proper exegesis, through prayer, and living in obedience to the commands of Jesus Christ.

A shepherd grooms his sheep, keeps them clean and free of contamination. We as shepherds are asked to take heed to the words of Jesus to go out and tell the world of God’s love. We then must prepare those under our care to be disciples, followers of the Good Shepherd, so they will, in turn, go out and minister to others.
Good Shepherd Sunday is also World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Pope Francis in his message for 2015 Vocation Sunday reminds all of us “to be a Church which evangelizes, goes out to encounter humanity, proclaims the liberating word of the Gospel, heals people’s spiritual and physical wounds with the grace of God, and offers relief to the poor and the suffering.” 

Sheep Shearing
At times sheep must be sheared.  This is a useful and profitable process for both the sheep and the shepherd.   For the benefit of all, the sheep must be sheared; in our term it is ... disciplined, encouraged and rebuked ... so as to keep them fit for the service to the Lord.

Delivering new lambs
It is indeed a joy for the shepherd when he delivers new lambs. We too will feel the same when we have a new member in our family or when there is productivity and success in our projects and endeavors. A couple of weeks ago, our church too was in joyful fulfillment when our elects were baptized. But it is not enough, we need to do more, many out there still do not know Jesus. We need to go out, as shepherd for the Lord, we need to go out and look for the lost, wondering and wounded sheep. In the Gospel we read today, Jesus tells us of his desire. He says; “ I have other sheep that are not in this fold; I must bring them also…. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd. It is a difficult task for the shepherd when his sheep scatters. It is the same in our church, when people instigate others to go against the teachings of the church and against pastors of the parish, the church suffers. 

Dear friends, We want to emulate the Good Shepherd, all the while realizing that only Jesus is the true shepherd and that we as leaders are also sheep under his care. Jesus is the one shepherd  that we can trust. We shepherds in God’s flock, however, should take note: before we can be good shepherds who lead the way for others, we must first be sheep who know and follow the Chief Shepherd’s voice ourselves. We pray that we may be sheep and shepherds after the heart of Jesus.