Sunday, 30 June 2019 : Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the whole theme of this Sunday’s Scripture passages, if we go through them again, is actually about being called to follow the Lord. We are all called to be His servants and followers, and because of that, the Lord wants us to follow Him wholeheartedly without being distracted or without being overshadowed by any other concerns in life. If we want to be God’s followers, we must be truly sincere and genuine.

In our first reading today, we heard of the story from the First Book of Kings in which God told Elijah, one of His faithful prophets to anoint Elisha, the one whom God had called and chosen to be the successor to Elijah. At that time, in the northern kingdom of Israel, the kings of Israel like Ahab had been very wicked and sinful, disobedient against God and led the people to sin by their pagan and idol worship and through their own decadence and wickedness.

The prophet Elijah was one among the very few prophets who were left to go against the wickedness of the king and the people. Surely we have heard of another story where the prophet Elijah went up alone against four hundred and fifty priests of Baal in Mount Carmel, where he alone went up against the multitudes of his enemies in the presence of the people, and God was with him, sending fire from heaven to prove that He and not Baal is the true God.

It was for this purpose that God chose and called Elisha to be the one to continue the many good works that Elijah the prophet had done earlier. It was in our first reading passage that Elijah came up to Elisha speaking to him about what God had willed and revealed to Elisha the responsibilities that he was about to undertake. Elisha responded with faith and dedication, and leaving everything behind, he followed Elijah and eventually became his successor.

Elisha would go on to perform many good works and glorifying the Lord in his own ways, obeying the commands and the will through which God has called him to do the many things that he has been sent to do. And the same calling has been made in our Gospel passage today, to the disciples whom Our Lord Jesus had called. When a man came up to the Lord saying that he wanted to follow Him, the Lord asked from him his commitment and sincerity in following Him.

Yet the man said that he still had matters that he wanted to settle and he wanted to go back to his family to say his goodbyes first. The Lord’s response to the man might indeed then seem to be quite harsh, as He said that those who look back and have second thoughts about following Him are not fit for the kingdom of God. But we have to understand the purpose and context in which Our Lord spoke those words.

What the Lord wanted the man, His disciples and all of us to know is that following God is something that each and every one of us must do seriously and with commitment. We cannot say that we want to follow God and yet we are divided and uncertain in our hearts and minds with regard to following Him. What He wants each and every one of us to know is that God must always be the first and foremost in our every thoughts and living moments, and we must learn to trust in Him rather than in our own human concerns and desires.

He did not mean by His words that we should leave behind our families and everything behind, as what the prophet Elisha had done when God called him to succeed the prophet Elijah. If every Christians were to leave behind everything and all of their families behind, then in the end, who would be left behind? Who will take care of the young and other members of the Church who need those who give them care and provision?

Rather, the Lord wants us to do our best in our own respective ways, wherever we are in our lives, so that in everything we say and in everything we do, we will glorify God and put His interests and obeying His will to the best of our abilities. To each and every one of us God has given unique and wonderful gifts that we must make good use of in order to be truly Christians in how we live our lives.

There are also of course those whom God had called to be His servants in the way that He has called the prophet Elisha and His Apostles, to leave everything behind and to commit themselves wholly to His cause. And these are those who have given themselves to the consecrated and holy lives, those who have responded to the Lord’s call and become His holy priests and servants.

We should pray for all of them and support them in whatever way we can, for their works are set up for them, and there are many challenges that they will have to face just as we also have our own challenges and trials to face in life. Let us all pray that God will give them the strength, the courage and the conviction to carry on their mission and their calling with all of their abilities even in the midst of persecution and challenges, just as the prophets Elijah and Elisha had done.

And for ourselves, let us all pray to God, that He will continue to inspire us and to be our source of strength, so that according to what St. Paul had written in his Epistle to the Galatians which is our second reading today, we may truly be free from the slavery of sin and from the bondage to our human desires and concerns, and walk instead faithfully and courageously in the way of the Spirit.

Let us all devote our energy, our time and effort to live righteously in God’s presence, doing whatever it is that He has taught and called us to do, that even through our own little ways and little contributions, we may be genuine and sincere in our faith and in our desire to follow God, with all of our hearts and with all of our strength, and not be distracted by the many concerns and temptations in life.

May the Lord guide us always, and may He continue to give us the encouragement and strength to live always in His grace and to walk in His path from now on, becoming good role models and inspirations for everyone around us, that our lives be truly exemplary and be shining examples of our Christian faith at all times. May God bless us all and our every endeavours from now on. Amen.

Sunday, 30 June 2019 : Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Luke 9 : 51-62

At that time, as the time drew near when Jesus would be taken up to heaven, He made up His mind to go to Jerusalem. He sent ahead of Him some messengers, who entered a Samaritan village to prepare a lodging for Him. But the people would not receive Him, because He was on His way to Jerusalem.

Seeing this, James and John, His disciples, said, “Lord, do You want us to call down fire from heaven to reduce them to ashes?” Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went on to another village.

As they went on their way, a man said to Jesus, “I will follow You wherever You go.” Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” To another, Jesus said, “Follow Me!” But he answered, “Let me go back now, for, first, I want to bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their dead; as for you, leave them, and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

Another said to him, “I will follow You, Lord, but first let me say goodbye to my family.” And Jesus said to him, “Whoever has put his hand to the plow, and looks back, is not fit for the kingdom of God.”

Sunday, 30 June 2019 : Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Galatians 5 : 1, 13-18

Christ freed us, to make us really free. So remain firm, and do not submit, again, to the yoke of slavery.

You, brothers and sisters, were called to enjoy freedom; I am not speaking of that freedom which gives free rein to the desires of the flesh, but of that which makes you slaves of one another through love. For the whole Law is summed up in this sentence : You shall love your neighbour as yourself. But if you bite and tear each other to pieces, be careful lest you all perish.

Therefore, I say to you : walk according to the Spirit and do not give way to the desires of the flesh! For the desires of the flesh war against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are opposed to the flesh. Both are in conflict with each other, so that you cannot do everything you would like. But when you are led by the Spirit you are not under the Law.

Sunday, 30 June 2019 : Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Psalm 15 : 1-2a and 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11

Keep me safe, o God, for in You I take refuge. I say to the Lord, “O Lord, my inheritance and my cup, my chosen portion – hold secure my lot.”

I bless the Lord Who counsels me; even at night my inmost self instructs me. I keep the Lord always before me; for with Him at my right hand, I will never be shaken.

My heart, therefore, exults, my soul rejoices; my body too will rest assured. For You will not abandon my soul to the grave, nor will You suffer Your Holy One to see decay in the land of the dead.

You will show me the path of life, in Your presence the fullness of joy, at Your right hand happiness forever.

Sunday, 30 June 2019 : Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

1 Kings 19 : 16b, 19-21

God said to Elijah, “And Elisha, son of Shaphat, from Abel Meholah, you shall anoint as prophet in your place.”

Elijah left. He found Elisha, son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen; he was following the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak over him. Elisha left the oxen, ran after Elijah and said, “Let me say goodbye to my father and mother; then I will follow you.”

Elijah said to him, “Return if you want, do not worry about what I did.” However, Elisha turned back, took the yoke of oxen and slew them. He roasted their meat on the pieces of the yoke and gave it to his people who ate of it. After this, he followed Elijah and began ministering to him.

Saturday, 29 June 2019 : Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate the great Solemnity of two saints who are among the most important saints of the Universal Church and in particular of the Church of Rome, the seat of the Vicar of Christ, the Pope, the leader of the whole Church. Today we mark the Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul, two of the most prominent of the Apostles of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

St. Peter was the leader of the Apostles and the one to whom the Lord Jesus has entrusted the governance of His entire Church, to be the shepherd among shepherds, supported by the Apostles and the other disciples, as the pillars of the Church of God. It was on the faith of St. Peter, whose name means the ‘Rock’ from his name ‘Petros’ in Greek and ‘Cephas’ in the original Aramaic, that God Himself established the firm foundation of His Church.

Meanwhile, St. Paul was once known as Saul, and although he was once a fanatic Pharisee and enemy of the faithful, but God called him to be his Apostle, to be the one He sent to the people especially to those who are of the non-Jewish origin, also called the Gentiles. Hence, that is why St. Paul is also known by his title of the Apostle to the Gentiles, in the crucial role he played in delivering the faith and the message of God’s truth to many places.

We may then think that St. Peter the Apostle and also St. Paul and the other Apostles are like superhuman and mighty beings, unlike us all. But the truth is in fact that St. Peter, St. Paul and all the other Apostles are no more and no less as human as we are, as flawed and weak as we are, as vulnerable and as sinful as we are. They were called from their various backgrounds and origins, all with the same purpose, that is to serve the Lord.

In our first reading passage today, we heard about St. Peter and how he had been arrested by the order of king Herod who had earlier on put St. James the Apostle to the sword in martyrdom. And the same fate would have been St. Peter’s, and he waited for the day of his trial in the prison. Yet, the Lord had a different plan for St. Peter, as He sent His Angel to break him free of his chains and opened the way for him to escape back to the Christian community.

This was just one among the many trials, challenges and difficulties that St. Peter had to endure in the time of his service and work as an Apostle. And just imagine that St. Peter was initially just an uneducated, rough and unintellectual fisherman who sailed his fishing boat in the Lake of Galilee, a lowly profession, looked down upon and often ignored by the society as a whole. This same fisherman then became a great Apostle, travelling from places to places, preaching and revealing the truth of God to many people, Jews and Gentiles alike.

This was the same St. Peter, who was the one that denied the Lord not just once but three times, when the Lord was arrested by the Jewish authorities and despite having pledged his dedication and desire to serve the Lord and to even die for Him. At that moment, the faith and courage of St. Peter faltered and when confronted by the people who claimed that he belonged to the group of the Lord Jesus, he denied any involvement and denied knowing Him.

And if we look at St. Paul, at the time when he was still known as Saul, there could not have been a worse and more unlikely candidate to be the servant of God than him, for there he was, a young and fanatical Pharisee, whose methods in seeking for and arresting those who professed the Christian faith was particularly brutal and repressive, putting into prison and probably even killing those who have been known to be the followers of the Lord.

Yet, God called Saul when he encountered Him on the way to Damascus to destroy the Christian community there. He came to see the truth of God and received the wisdom and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and from then on, became a committed and hardworking disciple and servant of the Lord, a total change and conversion from his previous life and principles. From a great sworn enemy of the Lord and His Church, into His greatest champion and defender.

That was the same change that the Apostles, including St. Peter experienced as they received God’s love and promise of the Holy Spirit, when at Pentecost they were bestowed the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit. And for the case of St. Peter, in the Gospels, we heard of how the Lord Jesus forgave him and called on him to renew his commitment, knowing that despite having denied him three times, he did so out of fear and uncertainty, but still with a heart that is focused, centred and filled with faith and love for Him.

That is why the Lord asked St. Peter three times, “Peter, do you love Me?” To which St. Peter responded with, “Yes, Lord, you know everything, you know that I love You.” This threefold profession of love by St. Peter is not only symbolic of how God has forgiven his threefold denial, but also a reaffirmation of what God has said in today’s Gospel passage, that He has established His very own Church on the firm foundation of the Rock of faith that is St. Peter.

And just as St. Paul who dedicated himself to the Lord so well and so courageously, in his many missionary and evangelising journeys throughout the cities of the Eastern Mediterranean region, enduring the worst persecutions and challenges, ridicules and humiliations, imprisonment and even threats to his life, St. Peter and St. Paul dedicated themselves, having been called and chosen by God to be the instruments of His good works among His own people.

St. Peter and St. Paul eventually would come to Rome as the last part of their earthly ministry and journey. St. Peter having established many Christian communities in the cities of Antioch among many others came to Rome to be the first of the bishops of Rome, as the elder and overseer of the Church community in Rome, and by virtue of his position as the leader of the Apostles and the Church, he became the first Pope, the first of God’s Vicar on earth.

Meanwhile, St. Paul came to Rome during his last missionary journey as part of his evangelising journey as he went for his last trial, being falsely accused by his enemies and the Jewish authorities, and he claimed the right he had as a Roman citizen to stand before the Roman Emperor and to be tried by him in Rome. St. Paul therefore came to Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire and according to the Acts of the Apostles, he ministered to the faithful there and helped to establish the Church.

Eventually, great persecution of Christians occurred, under the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero, who blamed the great fire that happened in the city of Rome to the Christians as scapegoats. And both St. Peter and St. Paul were martyred in that city, the city of Rome, as great witnesses of their faith for the Lord, glorifying Him in their death just as it had been by their lives and many good works for His sake.

St. Peter was arrested, imprisoned and sentenced to die by crucifixion in the area now known as the Vatican, where now the great Papal Basilica of St. Peter and the Vatican City is located at. St. Peter, with great conviction and humility, proclaimed that he was not worthy to die in the same manner as his Master, Lord and Saviour. Therefore, he asked to be crucified upside down on the cross, and he died glorifying God.

St. Paul was also imprisoned and made to suffer by the same persecution, and he was martyred by beheading in Rome, marking the end of his many years of service and struggle for the sake of the Lord. But similarly, by his death in martyrdom, he proclaimed the glory of God, and became a great inspiration, together with St. Peter and the other Apostles, for the faithful throughout the ages to follow.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, as we celebrate this great Solemnity in the memory of these two principal Apostles of the Church, the great St. Peter and St. Paul, holy servants of God, let us all reflect on our own lives. God has in fact called us all in many different ways, just as He has called St. Peter and St. Paul all those years ago. He has given us the same gift of the Holy Spirit and the many talents and abilities we have, and He has called us to be His servants and disciples just as the Apostles had been.

We are all called to be the successors to the works that the Apostles had done, which they had given their whole lives for, in glorifying God. And as I said earlier, God did not call these people from their great or even superhuman origins. Rather, He called ordinary people, from ordinary backgrounds and even from those that we may think or presume to be unlikely and impossible origins.

He called His Apostles and gave them the strength, courage and wisdom to do what He has called them all to do. That is exactly what we should be doing as well. In our own ordinary lives and in our daily living, we should therefore put our trust in God, and turn towards Him wholeheartedly so that we may truly be inspired by the courage and the examples showed by the Apostles that we may bring glory to God by our every actions in life.

Let us all be good and courageous witnesses of our faith in God, in each and every days of our lives. Let us all be like the holy Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul, in how we live our lives as great testimonies of faith so that hopefully many more people would be inspired and touched to follow the righteous path towards God’s salvation. Holy Apostles, St. Peter, Vicar of Christ and Prince of the Apostles, pray for us, and St. Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles, pray for us. Amen.

Saturday, 29 June 2019 : Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Matthew 16 : 13-19

At that time, Jesus came to Caesarea Philippi. He asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They said, “For some of them, You are John the Baptist; for others Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”

Jesus asked them, “But you, who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “It is well for you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for it is not flesh or blood that has revealed this to you, but My Father in heaven.”

“And now I say to you : You are Peter; and on this Rock I will build My Church; and never will the powers of death overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven : whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you unbind on earth shall be unbound in heaven.”