Ash Wednesday

First Reading
Joel 2:12-18
Return to the Lord for he is merciful.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 51:3-6b,12-14,17
Create a clean heart in us, O God, and be merciful.

Second Reading
2 Corinthians 5:20—6:2
Be reconciled to God; now is the day of salvation.

Gospel Reading
Matthew 6:1-6,16-18
Jesus teaches that almsgiving, prayer, and fasting should be done in secret.

Background on the Gospel Reading

Today we celebrate Ash Wednesday, the first day of the liturgical season of Lent. In this season, we prepare ourselves to celebrate the high point of our Christian life, Easter. Each year, the readings for Ash Wednesday are the same. They call us to a change of heart and teach us about the traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These disciplines are to be part of the Christian life during every season, but during the season of Lent, we renew our commitment to them.

The meaning behind tracing a cross on our foreheads with ashes (the liturgical sign of Ash Wednesday) is a summary of our Christian life. On one level, the ashes remind us of our origin and our death. (In the words of the prayer said when we receive ashes: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”) The ashes are also the sign of our victory: the cross of Christ. In his death and resurrection, Christ conquered death. Our destiny as Christians is to receive the victory over death that Christ won for us. We acknowledge that victory when we “[t]urn away from sin and [are] faithful to the gospel,” words from the alternative prayer when we are signed with ashes.

Today’s reading is part of the Sermon on the Mount. In the sermon, Jesus warns his followers against acting for the sake of appearance. When Jesus’ disciples give alms, pray, and fast, they are to do so in such a way that only God, who sees the heart and knows what is hidden, will know. Although our Lectionary reading omits the Lord’s Prayer, we can recall that Matthew presents that prayer as a model for the disciples’ prayer (Matthew 6:9-15). – loyolapress.com

Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C

First Reading
Sirach 27:4–7
In his conversation is the test of the man.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 92: 2–3,13–16
The just shall flourish like a palm tree.

Second Reading
1 Corinthians 15: 54–58
Thanks be to God who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Gospel Reading
Luke 6:39–45
Each tree is known by its yield.

Background on the Gospel ReadingThe third and final section of Luke’s Sermon on the Plain begins: And he told them a parable. There are actually four parables, three of which we read today. They are all about how to be a good disciple.

The blind cannot lead the blind. And a disciple cannot be a good disciple unless he or she has learned from the teacher. Everyone who is fully trained is like the teacher who knows how to cure the blind. Before you can be a good disciple and teach others you must take care of yourself. Do not try to take a speck out of your brother’s eye until you have taken the board out of your own. Finally, only when you have purified yourself can you produce the good works that the teacher requires. Discipleship asks us to produce good deeds. But to produce them requires the integrity and purity of heart found in the teacher. When people see your good deeds they will know that this is because you have a good heart. 

The final parable, which we do not read today, is about building on the solid foundation of rock and not on sand. This is the only way to face the difficulties a disciple will encounter and survive.

Pope: Machines are useful but they do not think

Francis receives the participants in the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life, meeting in plenary to discuss “Roboethics. People, machines and health “. Technology is useful if at the service of man, machines are used for the development of society and the planet “.

Vatican City – Artificial devices that simulate human capabilities “are inextricably devoid of human quality. It must be taken into account to guide the regulation of their use, and the research itself, towards a constructive and equitable interaction between human beings and the latest versions of machines. In fact, they spread in our world and radically transform the scenario of our existence. If we can also put these references in practice, the extraordinary potential of the new discoveries will radiate their benefits on each person and on the whole of humanity,” said Pope Francis this morning.

He was receiving the participants at the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life which is celebrated this year on the 25th anniversary of his birth. The pontiff opened his speech by thanking the presidents and the members of the Academy who – in these first 25 years – have carried out a “competent service” with “generous commitment” for the protection and promotion of human life. Immediately after, Francesco addressed the plenary topic: “Roboethics. People, machines and health”.

The Pope noted: “We live in a world full of contrasts, and we see a dramatic paradox: just when humanity possesses the scientific and technical capacities to achieve a fairly widespread well-being, according to God’s mandate, we observe instead an exacerbation of conflicts. and a growth in inequality. The enlightenment myth of progress is dwindling and the accumulation of the potential that science and technology have provided us do not always give the desired results. In fact, on the one hand, technological development has allowed us to solve problems that were insurmountable until a few years ago, and we are grateful to the researchers who have achieved these results; on the other hand, difficulties and threats are sometimes more insidious than the previous ones “.

The “being able to do”, he adds, “risks obscuring the person doing it. The technocratic system based on the criterion of efficiency does not respond to the most profound questions that man poses; and if on the one hand it is not possible to do without its resources, on the other it imposes its logic on those who use them. Yet the technique is characteristic of the human being. It should not be understood as a force that is alien and hostile to it, but as a product of its ingenuity through which it provides for the needs of living for oneself and for others. It is therefore a specifically human way of inhabiting the world “.

But this brings with it a serious problem: “Instead of delivering the tools that improve their care to human life, there is the risk of giving life to the logic of the devices that decide its value. This overturning is destined to produce nefarious outcomes: the machine is not limited to driving alone, but ends up guiding man. Human reason is thus reduced to an alienated rationality of effects, which cannot be considered worthy of man “.

After denouncing the serious damage to the environment created by a mad rush to innovation, Francis recalled the message he sent to the Davos Forum in January 2018: “Artificial intelligence, robotics and other technological innovations must be used to serve humanity and to protect our common home instead of the exact opposite, as unfortunately they provide some estimates. The inherent dignity of every human being must be firmly placed at the center of our reflection and action “.

The Pope noted that there is a very real risk “that man is being technologized, rather than technology humanized: so-called ‘intelligent machines’ are hastily attributed skills that are properly human. We need to understand better what the intelligence, the conscience, the emotionality, the affective intentionality and the autonomy of moral action mean in this context. In fact, artificial devices that simulate human capabilities are devoid of human quality. It must be taken into account to guide the regulation of their use, and the research itself, towards a constructive and equitable interaction between human beings and the latest versions of machines. In fact, they spread in our world and radically transform the scenario of our existence. If we can also put these references in practice, the extraordinary potential of the new discoveries will radiate their benefits on each person and on the whole of humanity “. – AsiaNews

A robot that does homework sparks controversy in China

The case of a student in Harbin who used a device to copy texts hundreds of times sparks controversy. The issue has been read 13 million times in social media in a country caught between innovation and tradition.

Beijing – The case of a Chinese schoolgirl buying a so-called copying robot to write her homework has got many social media users chattering.

The girl, anonymous for privacy reasons, bought a device that perfectly copies a person’s writing. This enabled her to avoid copying herself.

Copying text hundreds of time is common practice and is considered essential to memorise the classics and improve spelling.

The girl’s mother, surnamed Zhang, was angered by her daughter’s trick and smashed the machine. “It can help you with homework, but can it help you on tests?” she was quoted as saying.

The issue made its way onto social media where users are divided. Some view the use of the device as legitimate, whilst others see it as a scam.

On Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, the topic was read over 13 million times by 19 February.

One user, using the online alias Rain, said that she was a teacher and had been using the machine for over a year.

She explained that she had spent a week writing thousands of characters to create her own font, and added that nobody could tell the difference between what the robot wrote and her own work. – AsiaNews/Agencies, 02/25/2019

Pope’s Lenten Message calls for conversion

In his message for Lent, Pope Francis warns that once God’s law is forsaken, the law of the strong over the weak takes over.

Vatican – Pope Francis is calling on the faithful not to let the Lenten season of grace pass in vain, and to live as children of God acknowledging and obeying His law, in particular in regards to our brothers and sisters and to creation.

In this year’s Lenten message, the Pope invites believers to prepare to celebrate the paschal mystery with mind and heart renewed, warning that “Sin leads man to consider himself the god of creation, to see himself as its absolute master and to use it, not for the purpose willed by the Creator but for his own interests”.

The Pope’s Lenten message was released on Tuesday during a press conference at the Holy See Press Office. The theme chosen this year is “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God” (Rom 8:19)

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, 6 March, and will conclude on Holy Saturday, 20 April, the day before Easter.  

“Let us leave behind our selfishness and self-absorption, and turn to Jesus’ Pasch. Let us stand beside our brothers and sisters in need, sharing our spiritual and material goods with them”.

This is one of the key passages of Pope Francis’ Lenten Message for 2019. Reflecting on a verse from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, the Pope highlights how the season before Easter must be a time to “welcome Christ’s victory over sin and death into our lives”, and attract “its transforming power to all of creation”

Fasting, prayer, almsgiving

Appealing to the faithful to not allow this season of grace to pass in vain, Pope Francis says that if, “the Lent of the Son of God ‘was an entry into the desert of creation to make it become again that garden of communion with God” that it was before the original sin, Christians today are invited “to embody the paschal mystery more deeply and concretely in their personal, family and social lives, above all by fasting, prayer and almsgiving.”

Fasting, the Pope says, means turning away from the temptation to “devour” everything to satisfy our voracity; Prayer teaches us to abandon idolatry and the self-sufficiency of our ego; Almsgiving, whereby we escape from the insanity of hoarding everything for ourselves in the illusory belief that we can secure a future that does not belong to us.

If we follow this journey, he said it “is possible to rediscover the joy of God’s plan for creation and for each of us, which is to love him, our brothers and sisters, and the entire world, and to find in this love our true happiness”.

Conversion

The path to Easter, therefore, demands that “we renew our faces and hearts as Christians through repentance, conversion and forgiveness” the Pope said pointing out that it is a call that involves the whole of creation.

This “eager longing”, this expectation of all creation, Pope Francis says, will be fulfilled in the revelation of the children of God, that is, when Christians and all people enter decisively into the “travail” that conversion entails. Linda Bordoni

About 2000 join Archbishop John Wong at Christmas Open House

KOTA KINABALU – Surprise and joy registered on the face of the host for the Christmas Open House, Archbishop John Wong, each time a visitor came up to warmly greet him with the familiar salutary “Blessed Christmas”.

The annual tradition of hosting the Christmas Open House on December 25 has been receiving an increasingly warm response from the faithful and other well wishers over the years.

The festive celebration has been held at the Sacred Heart Cathedral Parish Hall since the last four years to accommodate more guests. Prior to that, it was held at the Bishop’s House.

As he welcomed his visitors, it was the opportune moment for Archbishop Wong to remind them of the purpose of getting together to celebrate Christmas.

He said “Because of Jesus, we celebrate Christmas.  It is not just for food that we come together, but more importantly, we share the gift of Jesus, who is born for us today.”

“Let us share this “gift”, this joy with one another, and give to whoever in our family, work place and parish,” added the archbishop.

The guests were treated to an array of dishes prepared by the Catholic Women’s League, while Christmas presentations by the various groups provided a festive ambience to send feet a-tapping.

 At the same event, a surprise cake-cutting was presented to Archbishop Emeritus John Lee to celebrate his 54th Sacerdotal Ordination Anniversary which falls on Dec 27. – CS

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

First Reading
1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9,12-13,22-23
David does not kill Saul.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 103:1-4,8,10,12-13
A song in praise of God’s mercy

Second Reading
1 Corinthians 15:45-49
As we bear the image of Adam, so we will bear the image of the one from heaven.

Gospel Reading
Luke 6:27-38
Jesus teaches his disciples to be merciful as God is merciful.

Background on the Gospel Reading

Today’s gospel reading is a continuation of the teaching that began in last Sunday’s gospel. We continue to hear Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. Recall that in Luke’s Gospel, this teaching is addressed to Jesus’ disciples. This is in contrast to the parallel found in Matthew’s Gospel, the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus’ words are addressed to both the disciples and to the crowds.

These words from Jesus’ teaching are familiar to us. They constitute the crux and the challenge of what it means to be a disciple: Love your enemies, turn the other cheek, give to those who ask, do unto others, lend without expecting repayment, judge not lest you be judged.

There are several similarities between Luke’s and Matthew’s report of Jesus’ great teaching. Both begin with the Beatitudes. Matthew includes nearly all the content that Luke does; the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel is longer than Luke’s Sermon on the Plain. There are, however, differences in language and nuance. For example, Matthew presents this portion of the teaching as a contrast between Jesus’ teaching and the teachings of the law and the prophets. This is in keeping with Matthew’s concern to address his predominantly Jewish audience. It is likely that Luke omits this contrast because it was unnecessary for the Gentile believers for whom Luke is writing.

Another point of contrast between Matthew and Luke’s presentation is the terminology. In Luke, Jesus contrasts the behavior of his followers with the behavior of “sinners.” In Matthew, Jesus contrasts the behavior desired with the behavior of tax collectors and Gentiles. Matthew concludes the teaching about love of enemies with the admonition to be perfect as God is perfect; Luke concludes by emphasizing God’s mercy.

In both Gospels, Jesus’ words challenge those who would follow him to be more like God. God loves us beyond our expectations, beyond anything we can possibly imagine. In response to God’s love, we are to love as God loves, beyond expectations and with a depth beyond imagining. – loyolapress.com

Religious Vocation Awareness Seminar 2019

Purak, PAPAR – A total of 162 participants (62 males and 100 females),  from various parishes in the Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu, Diocese of Keningau  and even as far as from the neighbouring country Brunei attended the vocation Seminar held from 15 – 17 Feb 2019 at Pace Bene retreat Centre. This vocation Seminar was jointly organized by the Council of Religious (COR) in the Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu which is currently headed by Br.Thomas Paul, SG. 

According to Fr. Valentine Gompok (OFM Cap), one of the members of the organizing committee, the Council of Religious (COR), initiated this joint vocation Seminar 10 years ago as a way of collaboration among the various congregations serving in the archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu for vocation promotion. Five years later the COR extended an invitation to other congregations from other dioceses within Malaysia to come and participate in the Seminar. And for the first time this year, the Order of the Pious School (Piarist) (Sch.P) Philippines secured permission from the Archbishop to participate.

This yearly vocation seminar is intended to be an eye opener and give a kind of exposure to the youths of the various religious congregations presently serving in the archdiocese as well as other dioceses within Malaysia or even outside Malaysia. 

Six women religious congregations and eight male religious orders were present to showcase or share with the participants about their respective Charism and Mission: the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception (FSIC), Good Shepherd  Sisters (RGS), Daughters of St. Paul (FSP), Franciscan Missionary of Mary (FMM) Sisters from Petaling Jaya & Singapore, Sisters of the Divine Saviour (SDS) or Salvatorian, based in Melaka Johor Diocese, De La Salle Brothers (FSC), Brothers of St. Gabriel (SG), Marist Brothers of the School (FMS), Clerical Society of the Most Holy Trinity of Mirinae (SST), Order of Franciscan Friar Minor (OFM), Order of Franciscan Friar Minor Capuchin (OFM Cap), Order of the Pious School (Piarist) (Sch.P) and Society of Jesus also known as the Jesuits (SJ). And though not physically present, the Order of Discalced Carmelite Nuns (OCD) was with the team spiritually. A presentation on their Congregation’s Charism and Mission was done by Sr.Bibianah,fsp on their behalf.

The seminar started with the registration, followed by opening Mass, concelebrated by 6 priests from various orders. After dinner there were ice-breaker activities and then the logistic and safety briefing before the night prayer.

A talk on religious Vocation was given by Fr. Valentine, OFMCap, on the Second day. He explained to the participants about the importance of prayers in religious life and the 3 vows which they profess. A topic on Discernment and some practical and helpful examples on how to discern their religious vocation was also given by Br.Egbertus Jaikol, FSC.

Due to the large number of participants, the organizing committee decided to divide the afternoon session on the second day into male and female categories. During this time, the various religious congregations accordingly took turns to present their respective charism and mission to the participants. On Sunday, another talk on Spiritual life was given by Fr. Raphael, OFMCap. He highlighted our connectedness with God in Spirit as we have been created in His image and likeness.

For the duration of the seminar, the schedule was arranged in such a way that the participants shared responsibility to clean the refectory and wash plates after each meal.  There was time for group dynamics, praise and worship, personal and community prayer, an hour of adoration, as well as allotted time for spiritual direction.  Before the Seminar ended a piece of paper with the list of the various congregations were distributed to the candidates and each candidate was encouraged to put a check on a particular congregation which they would like to know more and the next day return the filled up form to the congregation concerned. This way will be helpful to follow up the candidate and assist them to make further discernment in their vocation.

Jordan Juhakim from Stella Maris Parish, was grateful for having participated in the vocation Seminar. He came to understand better the life of religious priests, brothers and sisters. He said that he encountered various challenges on his way to Purak. He took a train to Papar and he lost his way. From the train station he had to walk for 2 hours 45 minutes to reach Purak. Notwithstanding the challenges along the way, it didn’t dampen his Spirit. Instead he learned patience and perseverance amidst challenges and he realized that Jesus is truly the way and the Truth and the life.

Likewise, Mary Kasmih from St. Peter Claver Church, Ranau, a first time participant expressed her joy and contentment for the opportunity to join in the Seminar. All the sessions had given her better understanding about religious life and she also learned many things from the various congregations.

After the closing Eucharistic celebration, Br.Thomas, SG, in his concluding speech thanked all the Franciscan Sisters, the staff and management of Pace Bene under the Supervision of Sr. Juliana, the superior of the Retreat Centre, who allowed the religious and participants to occupy the place for the weekend seminar free of charge. He also thanked all the various congregations as well as the participants of the vocation seminar from far and near who contributed to the success of the Seminar. It was surely a memorable moment for all especially those who participated in the Vocation Seminar for the first time. – kkdiocese.net

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

First Reading
Jeremiah 17:5-8
Put trust and hope in the Lord, not in human beings.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 1:1-4,6
Blessed are those who follow the law of the Lord.

Second Reading
1 Corinthians 15:12,16-20
Our hope for resurrection is sure because Christ has been raised from the dead.

Gospel Reading
Luke 6:17,20-26
Jesus teaches the crowd the way to happiness.

Background on the Gospel Reading

Last Sunday we heard Jesus call Peter to be his disciple. Jesus then travels with Peter and the other disciples. Luke reports acts of healing (a person with leprosy and a paralytic man) and the call of Levi, the tax collector. Jesus also replies to questions from the Pharisees regarding fasting and the observance of the Sabbath. In the verses immediately before today’s gospel reading, Jesus is reported to have chosen 12 men from among his disciples to be apostles. Apostle is a Greek word that means “one who is sent.”

Today’s gospel reading is the beginning of what is often called the Sermon on the Plain. We find a parallel to this passage in Matthew 5:1-7,11 that is often called the Sermon on the Mount. As these titles suggest, there are differences and similarities between these gospel readings.

When spoken from the mountaintop in Matthew’s Gospel, we can’t miss the impression that Jesus is speaking with the authority and voice of God. The mountaintop is a symbol of closeness to God. Those who ascend the mountain see God and speak for God; recall the story of Moses and the Ten Commandments. As Luke introduces the location of Jesus’ teaching, Jesus teaches on level ground, alongside the disciples and the crowd. Luke presents Jesus’ authority in a different light. He is God among us.

Another distinction found in Luke’s version is the audience. Luke’s Sermon on the Plain is addressed to Jesus’ disciples, although in the presence of the crowd; Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount is addressed to the crowd. In keeping with this style, the Beatitudes in Luke’s Gospel sound more personal than those in Matthew’s Gospel—Luke uses the article “you” whereas Matthew uses “they” or “those.” There is also a difference in number: Matthew describes eight beatitudes; Luke presents just four, each of which has a parallel warning.

The form of the Beatitudes found in Luke’s and Matthew’s Gospel is not unique to Jesus. Beatitudes are found in the Old Testament, such as in the Psalms and in Wisdom literature. They are a way to teach about who will find favor with God. The word blessed in this context might be translated as “happy,” “fortunate,” or “favored.”

As we listen to this Gospel, the Beatitudes jar our sensibilities. Those who are poor, hungry, weeping, or persecuted are called blessed. This is, indeed, a Gospel of reversals. Those often thought to have been forgotten by God are called blessed. In the list of “woes,” those whom we might ordinarily describe as blessed by God are warned about their peril. Riches, possessions, laughter, reputation . . . these are not things that we can depend upon as sources of eternal happiness. They not only fail to deliver on their promise; our misplaced trust in them will lead to our demise. The ultimate peril is in misidentifying the source of our eternal happiness.

The Beatitudes are often described as a framework for Christian living. Our vocation as Christians is not to be first in this world, but rather to be first in the eyes of God. We are challenged to examine our present situation in the context of our ultimate horizon, the Kingdom of God. – loyolapress.com

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

First Reading
Isaiah 6:1-2a,3-8
Isaiah describes his vision and call from the Lord.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 138:1-5,7-8
A song of thanks to God who saves us

Second Reading
1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (shorter form, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8,11)
Paul reminds the Corinthians of the gospel that he announced to them.

Gospel Reading
Luke 5:1-11
The fishermen (Simon, James, and John) leave their fishing boats and follow Jesus.

Background on the Gospel Reading

Last Sunday, we heard how Jesus was rejected in his hometown of Nazareth. In the verses that follow, Jesus travels to the town of Capernaum and begins his ministry of teaching and healing. While in Capernaum, Jesus cures a man possessed with a demon and heals Simon’s mother-in-law. After spending some time there, Jesus prepares to preach in other places. The fact that Jesus had previously been in Simon’s home and healed his mother-in-law suggests that this encounter is not the first between Jesus and Simon Peter. We can read today’s Gospel, therefore, as a description of the developing relationship between Jesus and Simon Peter.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches from Simon’s boat. Jesus turns to Simon and instructs him about where to lower the fishing nets. Simon and others have been fishing throughout the night and have not caught anything. Simon protests, claiming that such an effort would be futile. Simon ultimately obeys Jesus and lowers his nets into the deeper water as directed. Notice here that Peter calls Jesus by the title “master.” He already recognizes Jesus as a person of authority. They catch so many fish that the nets begin to tear; Jesus’ presence has created abundance out of scarcity, just as it did at the wedding feast at Cana, which we heard at Mass just a few weeks ago.

Simon Peter becomes a follower of Jesus immediately. He calls Jesus “Lord”—the title given to Jesus after his Resurrection—and protests his worthiness to be in Jesus’ presence. Today’s Gospel, therefore, marks a turning point in the relationship between Jesus and Peter.

Two of Simon’s partners are also named as witnesses to the event described in today’s Gospel: Zebedee’s sons, James and John. Yet Jesus’ words are addressed only to Simon. Jesus gives Simon a new job, telling him that he will become a different kind of fisherman. No longer will he catch fish; instead he will catch people. In these words, we hear the beginning of the leadership role that Peter will have within the community of disciples. Peter was chosen for this role. His task will be to bring others to Jesus. Already he is doing so; the Gospel tells us that all the fishermen with Peter also left their nets and followed Jesus.

We continue to speak of Peter’s leadership and influence in the Church today when we call the pope the “successor of Peter.” We participate in the mission of the Church when we bring people to Christ through the example and positive influence of our lives. – loyolapress.com

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