Friday, March 10, 2017

2nd Sunday of Lent A – Life begins at the end of your Comfort Zone


(Mt. 17:1 ff) Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up a high mountain. There he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun. And obviously Peter felt the security of being with Jesus.  Then Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. And Peter felt he too was ‘one of boys.‘ He felt familiarity with them. Then Peter said, "Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, let’s pitch our tents here.” – meaning let’s stay here for good. Peter felt security.  But Jesus answered ‘no’ because Peter had fallen into his comfort zone and sooner or later he had to step out of it.  What then is this comfort zone?

Soren Kierkegaard told a parable about a flock of geese. Each Sunday these geese would gather in the shade of the barn eat food given to them and listened to the gander who preached of the glorious destiny of geese. He would describe the grand purpose for which they were created - flying.  Week after week they were enthralled by his messages about soaring above the clouds. Meanwhile, the geese were getting more and more plump from just eating and listening- they had gotten so used to their comfort zone that they had not learned to fly… Christmas time came and they were eaten and none of them ever experienced the joy of flying.

A comfort zone is a state/condition you find yourself in which things feel familiar to you;  and being familiar, you are at ease because you have control of your environment; and because you have control of your environment, you experience low levels of anxiety and stress. Being inside  the comfort zone implies familiarity, safety, and security. (It’s like the blanket of Linus!)It keeps you relatively comfortable and calm, and helps you stay free from anxiety and worry to some degree.  But remaining inside the comfort zone, you miss out on new experiences, new challenges, new risks. If you do not step out of your comfort zone, then growth will never be possible for you.

But experiencing a little stress and anxiety now and then is a good thing, too. If all you ever do is strive to stay wrapped up in your little cocoon, keeping warm and cozy, you may be missing out on quite a lot---maybe no new experiences, no challenges, and no risks. And looking at the bigger picture of life, if you can’t step out of your comfort zone you may experience difficulty making change or transitioning, growing, transforming; in other words, all those things that define who you are and give your life personal meaning.

The March 3, l992 issue of Houston Chronicle told about an English lady, Joan Abery who died at 70. When she was 35 her fiancé abandoned her at the altar.  From that moment on she spent the rest of her life in her garden!  She built herself a shelter from trees, twigs and brightly colored umbrellas in the front garden of her home and furnished it with car seats and briefcases. She had left her house in southern England unchanged since the day the wedding should have taken place. She lived and died in a comfort zone designed to protect her from her emotional pain. She had gotten stuck on a mistake and was not able to move beyond it.  

Very simply, what we fear most about challenging ourselves is that we may fail and/or get hurt in the process. But truth be known, most of us have the ability to rise to the occasion, overcome hurdles and obstacles, and actually succeed in accomplishing something new and challenging. 

Back in 2006 Detlef Federsohn, 23, was released from prison in Vienna, Austria after serving two years for theft. Around an hour later, the police were called because they thought there was a suspected prison break after they saw someone on the roof of the jail. But no one was trying to break out of prison, instead it was just Federsohn who  was trying to get back in!   So they asked him why he would want to get back in prison. He said, “Life is so much easier on the inside. They feed you, do your washing and let you watch TV, which is a lot more than my mom does for me at home.”

Life begins only at the end of your comfort zone. 

Your real life is out there waiting for you. Your real life is the sum total of ALL of your experiences, not just the ones you are comfortable with.

Out of your comfort zone you push yourself to dip into your store of untapped knowledge and resources. You have no idea what you are made of unless and until you venture outside of your own familiar world.

Taking risks are growth experiences. Even if you make mistakes or don’t get it right the first time there’s always these experiences you’ve had to tap into for the future. There really is no such thing as ‘fail’ if you got something out of the experience. Your challenges and experiences are cumulative. And remember, FAIL re-framed means first attempt in learning.

Leaving your comfort zone helps you to deal with the inevitable unavoidable changes in life. Life transitions are all about change. Each time you transition you move to another level. And these life transitions transform you. 

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. 
Continuing our gospel story: After Jesus asked Peter and the others to step out of their comfort zone… this means they would now have to leave behind these glorious things they have seen and heard. Then they now have to get down the mountain and face life as it truly is without its glitter and full of its pain and failure.  Life for Jesus means going down the mountain and heading straight to Jerusalem where he will suffer and face certain death. And he wants his disciples to follow him.

A little later Jesus told his disciples: “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And the passage continues with: And they were greatly distressed. (Mt. 17:22) It was difficult for the disciples to leave their comfort zone to the point where Peter previously had responded to this by saying: "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!" And Jesus scolded Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but on man's." It is only by stepping out of our comfort zone will we be able to see God’s interests and his bigger plan for us. So did Peter step out of his comfort zone…

Interestingly, in the gospel according to Matthew, Peter is mentioned in 24 verses. In 11 of them he is doing or saying the wrong thing. In Mark it is in 11 out of 20 verses, in Luke 7 out of 18 and in John it is 10 out of l9 verses.  Here’s a guy who seems to have about a 50% chance of doing the wrong thing. And we know Peter in spite of his faults and failures will go ahead and become the leader of Christ’s church… all because he left his comfort zone.

I’d like to end with the story of the first reading where Abraham was already content with his life and the Lord commands him:  "Go forth from the land of your birth, from your father's house to a land that I will show you.
(and) Abram went as the LORD directed him.” He stepped out of his comfort zone and the Lord’s promise was fulfilled. And this promise extends to us if we too will do our part.

"I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.
All… everyone shall find blessing in you." (Gen. 12:1-4)

Bingaman, E. (2013). Breaking out of your comfort zone. Pleasant View.

McKinney, M. (2012). Why didn’t the geese fly?  Foundations Magazine.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

4th Sunday Ordinary A - The Origin of Happiness

Two songs that I really like which immediately perks up the room are:
(1)  Pharrell William (Happy): Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof/ Because I'm happy.  /Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth/ Because I'm happy

(2) Bobby Mcferrin (Don’t worry, be happy): In every life we have some trouble/ When you worry you make it double/ Don't worry, be happy
Why are these songs famous? I think it’s hardwired within us; everyone wants to be happy.

It was reported that a newspaper in England once asked this question to its readers: “Who are the happiest people on the earth?” The four-prize winning answers were: (1) A little child building sand castles, (2) A craftsman/artist whistling over a job well done, (3) A mother bathing her baby after a busy day and (4) a doctor who has finished a difficult and dangerous operation that saved a human life. The editors of the newspaper were surprised to find virtually no one submitted kings, emperors, millionaires or others of wealth and rank as the happiest people on earth. What is the secret to being happy?

In today’s gospel Jesus talks about beatitudes - macarius in Greek or beatus in Latin which literally means “happy” or “blessed.” It’s used in the same way we wish others well like in Happy Chinese New year (means happiness and prosperity), Happy birthday, Happy Valentine’s, or Happy trip. And whenever we do this, we brighten up faces as we remind them of the lighter side of life and they feel happy.

Our God wills us to be happy. It is interesting to note that the first miracle of Jesus happened in a wedding party at Cana where everybody was enjoying the occasion, the wine and the food. He chooses such kind of occasion of joy to make His first miracle in order to show that He was a happy person who could laugh and enjoy Himself. He wanted to show too that each of us has a right to happiness. But please don’t use this as an excuse to get drunk.

Happiness is not wrong or a sin since joy is one of the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit. A happy person does not fall into sin very easily. Satan stays away from happy and joyful people and they are too hard to tempt.

But now let’s talk about Jesus’ formula for being happy –the beatitudes. The beatitudes respond to the natural desire for happiness that God has placed in every heart. They teach us the final end to which God calls us, -  the coming of God’s kingdom (Matt 4:17), the vision of God (Matt 5:8; 1Jn 2:1), entering into the joy of the Lord (Matt 25:21-23) and into His rest (Heb 4:7-11).

Vima Dasan in his book His Word Lives writes that the Beatitudes are golden rules for happiness. It is because the blessed may be poor in riches but they don’t mind it because they trust in a caring God and so they are happy. The blessed may happen to be materially rich but because they are poor in spirit the result is that God becomes so dear to them that wealth means nothing to them and therefore they are happy.
They say that: “The poorest person on earth is not the one without money, but is the one without Jesus.”
People who are poor in spirit are those who trust God instead of being greedy; those who are humble instead of being proud; those who forgive instead of taking revenge; those who are just instead of being unfair; those who are merciful instead of being judgmental; those who are pure of hearts instead of giving in to the flesh and those who are take part in advocacies instead of being lazy. The beatitudes should be our attitudes if we want to be called blessed by God. Only when we put them into practice can we experience and find true happiness.

Pedro Pablo Sacristan has this children story entitled: “The origin of happiness.” (click on picture if you want to hear the audio book)

The Origin of Happiness (audio version)

There was once a boy who hardly had any toys or money. Nevertheless, he was a very happy little boy. He said that what made him happy was doing things for others, and that doing so gave him a nice feeling inside which he could not explain. However, no one really believed him; they thought he was crazy.  He spent all day helping others, bringing food or clothes to those in the street, and looking after abandoned animals. Very seldom did he ever do anything for himself.

One day, he met a famous doctor who thought the boy's case was so peculiar that he decided to investigate him. So, with a complex system of cameras and tubes, the doctor managed to record what was happening inside the boy. What he discovered was surprising.

Each time the boy did something good, a thousand tiny angels gathered around the boy's heart and started tickling it.  That explained the boy's happiness, but the doctor continued studying until he discovered that we all have our own thousand angels inside us. Unfortunately, he found that, for those who do few good things, their angels spend most of their time wandering about, bored.

And so it was that the secret to happiness was discovered. Thanks to that little boy we now know exactly what we have to do to feel our hearts being tickled. Now we know the origin of happiness. But that’s for the children.

But for us Christians, it was Jesus who on top of that hill told the story of the origin of happiness and we call this story in today’s Gospel: The Beatitudes.

Beitez, J. (2011) Justmehomely’s Blog. Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A).

Sacristan, P. Bedtime Stories. The origin of happiness.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

3rd Sunday Ordinary A – The Streetlight Effect

The Streetlight Effect – The key is in the dark but the search is where the light is. 

  I’m sure all of you have heard this popular story:
“A policeman sees a drunk man searching for something under a streetlight and asks what the drunk has lost. He says he lost his keys and they both look under the streetlight together. After a few minutes the policeman asks if he is sure he lost them here, and the drunk replies, no, and that he lost them in the park. The policeman asks why he is searching here, and the drunk replies, "this is where the light is."

This is called the streetlight effect -  this term was coined by David Freedman in 2010 book Wrong.  (However the story and concept has been used by social scientists way back in 1964 like Abraham Kaplan who referred to this as the principle of the drunkards search.)  The streetlight effect  simply points out to us that people tend to look and search for something where it is easiest. In short it is an observational bias.

But in todays gospel there is a turnaround (Mt. 3:12-23).  There is this prophecy of Isaiah which was fulfilled: Land of Zebulun! Land of Naphtali! Way of the sea on the far side of Jordan, Galilee of the nations! The people that lived in darkness has seen a great light; on those who dwell in the land and shadow of death a light has dawned.  And by now after all those Christmas season celebrations we know and we believe that Isaiah refers to the true Light of the World, none other than Jesus Christ. And that passage is followed by: From that moment Jesus began his preaching with the message, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand. Simply put, Jesus tells us: I am the Light, dont go into the darkness because that is not where you will find what you are looking for. Search into the light. Follow the  true light.  Follow me.

Like the sreetlight effect it is so easy for us to agree to following Christ by our words because we think it would be easy and definitely favorable for us. We were like those fishermen Jesus found tending their boats.As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea.  He said to them, Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.  At once they left their nets and followed him.  He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.  They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets.  He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.

Streetlight effect – they thought Jesus could offer something more than fish to them, a life better than they could imagine – fishers of men – what a nice title.  But later on they would realize that following the light of the world – Jesus - would not be easy. Now this is the challenge of Jesus for them and for us which is different from the streetlight because under that false light you will never find what you are looking for. Jesus on the other hand, lights your way – a way which might be rough and filled with temptations and difficulties. But unlike the streetlight that stays put, Jesus will accompany you to the darkest corners of the earth to find whatever you are searching for.  But for that to happen you have to respond to his call no matter how hard it may be You have to follow his Light even if it takes you to the darkest valleys of your life as you journey through your darkest nights.

The gospel today ends with:

“He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people. His light shone through the darkness.” The apostles he called followed him, all would experience persectutions in doing so, but the Light of Christ would see them through. 

We too will be called to do difficult things- perhaps join the choir,  read in church, or perhaps give your share to help our less privileged Cambodian brothers and sisters in this school. Be sensitive to the call. Do not hide in the darkness or try to find what you are looking for under the streetlight. The answer is already in front of us – it is He we will receive in a few moments in Holy Communion. He is the light of our soul with Him we cannot be lost and will always find what we are looking for…. But always with a price … a sacrifice on our part. 


David H. Freedman (2010). Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0-316-02378-7.

Freedman, D. ( 2010). Discover Magazine. Why Scientific Studies Are So Often Wrong: The Streetlight Effect.

Yohan, J. (2016)Axis Praxis. The Streetlight Effect.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Epiphany A - Star light, star bright

A little boy returned from Sunday school with a new perspective on the Christmas story. He had learned all about the Wise Men from the East who brought gifts to the Baby Jesus. He was so excited that he could hardly wait to tell his parents.

As soon as he arrived home, he immediately began, “I learned all about the very First Christmas in Sunday school today! There wasn’t a Santa Claus way back then, so these three skinny guys on camels had to deliver all the toys!”

He further continued, “And Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with his nose so bright also wasn’t there yet, so they had to have this big spotlight in the sky to find their way around!

Today is the feast of the Epiphany which means “God revealing himself to all” – And the word was made flesh and dwelt among us. Did you know that Christians first celebrated Christmas on this date?  It was only later that it was changed to December 25 because this Pope named Gregory changed the whole calendar into what we know it now. But many Catholics especially of the Eastern rite still celebrate Christmas during this feast. Anyway this feast is also always associated with its leading men – the Magi – the three wise men. But this feast in reality is all about their journey – their journey of faith, their journey to Jesus Christ. And in that journey it was always the light of the Star that guided them until they found what they were looking for. The star pointed the way.

One of the first songs I learned was:
Twinkle twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high  like a diamond in the sky.

This too was first song of the Magi on the journey… they followed the star without really knowing what they would find… it was a leap of faith.  Believing that the star would lead them to something more precious than a diamond… something more glorious than the star itself. The star gave them faith.

One of the first poems I memorized as a child was:
Star light, star bright, First star I see tonight,
I wish I may, I wish I might, Have this wish I wish tonight.

This is the poem of the three wise men as they journeyed.  They had a dream of finding someone very important, someone who would change their life. As they wished upon the first bright star they saw, they hoped, they wished that they may find this someone – the fulfilment of their wish. The star gave them hope.

A song in the movie I could always recall is that one in Pinocchio:
When you wish upon a star makes no difference who you are. Anything your heart desires will come to you.

When finally the star pointed at the manger where the child Jesus lay, the three wise men saw that for this child it makes no difference who you are- all were humbled by the presence of this baby.  They realize now that all who search for Jesus in their hearts will always find Him. And so they kneel before him offering their gift of  myrrh- the myrrh of their humility (this perfume is used for burial and when we die we become dust – humus… humility). Then they offer their gift of frankincense – their frankincense of adoration (incense is until now used for worship, for reverence, for adoration). Finally their gift of gold… the gold of their love (gold the most precious of metals you give to your most loved one).

Twenty centuries have gone-by since that first adoration of the Magi, and this long procession of the our world still continues to make its way to Christ. Through this feast of “The Epiphany of the Lord,” the Church proclaims the manifestation of Jesus to all mankind of all times, with no distinction of race or nation. “The Epiphany of the Lord,” is the feast of faith. It is a feast of our seeking & recognizing Jesus, and coming to him and worshiping him at this Mass with the gold of our love, the myrrh of our humility and the frankincense of our adoration. It is also the feast of God's challenge to each one of us may all one day sing together as the three wise men did (that’s why it’s three times): “O come let us adore him, O come let us adore him, O come let us adore him… Christ the Lord.”


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Christmas Day- That awesome baby

Once there was a king who would from time to time dress up like a regular person.  Then he would go out and walk around his city. When he was dressed like everyone else, no one recognized him as the king.  His ministers were worried that he could get robbed, beaten up or worse even get killed out there. And the good king answered: How can I know my people if I dont know who they are and how they truly live?
And that is exactly what Jesus, the son of God, did for all of us today.  He wanted to know what we are like and so he was born a baby just like all of us.  That my friends is Christmas- that awesome baby being born to us.

But why a baby? You see a baby can bring out the best in all of us.
You find yourself in a mall all strangers to each other, and you see a baby and people flock around the cute baby and they start talking to each other like they've known each other for a long time. You see a little baby could unite strangers.

Rough athletes who are very rugged and tough- you know they are not allowed to show any signs of weakness, right? Now bring a baby in their midst and they become gentle as lambs.  A baby could tame the wildest "beast."

Business minded finanzial wizards, stock brokers who would not even lift their gaze off the rise and fall of stocks in Wall street monitors. But in the presence of a baby they will watch Sesame street with the baby for hours instead. A baby could change the mindset of busy people.

Arrogant intellectual polyglots who would speak to you in different languages. Yet only a baby could make an intellectual humble and speak to the baby in cooing baby sounds. A baby could make those in high places come down to his/her level.

Perhaps that is why Jesus came to us as a baby to bring out the best in us. We have seen this in Lukes account of the Nativity – the birth of Jesus brought together, Jospeph and Mary, shepherds and kings, angels and even lowly animals. This Christmas story of a child a baby being born in a manger every year continues to inspire us.

But let us not forget another version of the Christmas story – that of  St John. This less sentimental version brings us into a mystery that forces us to view not only the cute little baby Jesus in a crib, but the reality that one day this baby will grow up and eventually be nailed in a not so cute cross.

Johns version gives greater meaning to that of Luke. St Johns story of the birth of Jesus does not begin in Bethlehem, rather it begins with eternity. Before time. A mystery without beginning or an end.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. This tells the story of a God who chose to go outside of Himself, to relate beyond, Himself, to transcend Himself.

And then follows: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.   The literal translation is; The Word became flesh and pitches his tent among us. He makes his home among us. He lives with us.  He stays with us.  His name is Emmanuel – God now lives, stays, and breathes among us ordinary people.  That my friends is Christmas.

Its that baby whose cuteness we could not refuse- has started living with us and staying with us. That for me is Christmas. And thats the way Jesus would like it for all of us. That today we share our presence not just presents with our loved ones and even with those we encounter along the way who would be less fortunate. In that way, we see in each and everyone the reason for the season – the baby that comes down to us and brings us together.
 Merry Christmas.

Bushell, S. (2013). Christmas Day homily 2013. St John the Baptist Parish.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

33rd Sunday Ordinary C - The Bucket List

What is a bucket list? The Urban dictionary defines it as: A list of things you would like to do before you die (that is before “kicking the bucket”) or before your world ends.

Today being the 33rd Sunday is the second to the last week before the Liturgical calendar ends. Next week will be the last and it will be celebrated with the feast of Christ the King. And so we are reminded during these last two weeks of the shortness of our life and that the world as we know it will end sooner than later.

Today’s first reading from the prophet Malachi: The day is coming now, burning like a furnace; all the arrogant and evil-doers will be like stubble.  The day that is coming is going to burn them up, says the Lord of hosts. But for those who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will shine out with healing in its rays. The world or our world will definitely come to an end… even Jesus in the gospel says: All these things you are staring at now, the time will come when not a single stone will be left on another: everything will be destroyed.

And so if the world would end in two weeks…. What will you write on your bucket list? How would you like to spend the remaining two weeks of your life here on earth? 

A survey of 2000 people in the UK in 2012 had these results:
51 percent of respondents would spend this time with family.
22 percent wanted to travel and see the world
7 percent will quit their jobs and relax
6 percent will spend their time on parties
1 percent will spend their time being charitable
5 percent on other things

On Spending time with Family. A priest one Sunday was giving this homily about the end of the world. He said to the group, “What would you do if you knew you only had 2 weeks of life remaining before the Great Judgment Day?”
A gentleman said, ” I would go out into my community and with my money, feed the hungry and the homeless and give my clothes to them. That they may realize God is good to them also. “Very good!” said the priest, and all the parishioners agreed, that would be a very good thing to do.

One lady spoke up and said enthusiastically, “I would dedicate all of my remaining time to God, by staying in Church and praying.” “That’s wonderful!” the priest commented, and all the others agreed.

But one gentleman in the back finally spoke up loudly and said, “I will leave my wife and children in my house and go to my mother-in-laws house for those 2 weeks.”(Pope Francis once commented: “Families quarrel… Sometimes plates can fly. Children give headaches. I won’t speak about mothers-in-law.”) Everyone was puzzled by this answer, and the priest asks, “Why your mother-in-law’s home?”   
“Because that will make it the longest 2 weeks of my life!”

On Quitting jobs and relaxing. During the time of St. Paul, he won many converts in the city of Thessalonica by speaking of 'the end of the world.' He seriously believed that it was coming soon and talked a lot to his listeners about this point.  And they started making their bucket lists. However many of his followers misunderstood him. They thought that since the end was coming soon, they should spend their last days in prayer. Hence they quit their jobs and focused on meditation. Why build and plant if this world is about to be destroyed, they asked themselves. This won Christians a bad reputation as lazy people.

So St Paul told the Thessalonians: We order and call on people to go on quietly working and earning the food that they eat.
He further adds if they are unwilling to work, they should not eat.
So don’t stop working, and also don’t stop eating. Maybe something in your bucket list could be about eating something delicious you have never eaten before because you were scrimping on the money.

The Filipinos have an interesting expression after they have eaten a very delightful and delicious meal especially if they have never tasted this before. After eating they rub their tummies and say: “Haay pwede na akong mamatay.” (Now I can die peacefully already).  It’s like saying I have completed my bucket list and I’m ready for the end of life.

I think it’s good to have a bucket list because it makes you think of the things you would have missed if your life passes by and you would not have been able to do certain things that are worth living for.

For me the bucket list is not about awaiting death or the end of the world with fear but rather it’s about trying to live life to the full and continually appreciating what God has given us.  Whenever I officiate a funeral, I always wonder why when a person dies she receives so many flowers when she can no longer smell or appreciate this. I just wonder how many she received in her lifetime. And I also wonder why so many good things are told of this person when she can no longer hear what people are saying. On the contrary was she able to hear these beautiful words about her when she was alive from the people she loved?

So don’t miss out on those things that are still there – That is the message of the bucket list – that’s the reason you make one.  People say: There is no table of contents in the book called life. We do not know if we are at the beginning of a new chapter or at the end of the story. That is why we must be grateful everytime the page turns – it’s another day, another chance to tick off something from our bucket list or to be excited about doing one. And fear not, Jesus will always be there with us even after our book of life ends.


First Choice – Blog. “The end of the world bucket list”

Father Albert Lakra’s Blog. 33rd Ordinary Sunday (year c)