Sunday, 10 February 2013 : 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Chinese New Year) (Psalm)

Psalm 137 : 1-2a, 2bc-3, 4-5, 7c-8

I thank You, o Lord, with all my heart, for You have heard the word of my lips. I sing Your praise in the presence of the gods. I bow down towards Your holy Temple and give thanks to Your Name.

For Your love and faithfulness, for Your word which exceeds everything. You answered me when I called; You restored my soul and made me strong.

O Lord, all kings on earth will give You praise, when they have heard Your words. They will celebrate the ways of the Lord, “Great is the glory of the Lord!”

With Your right hand You deliver me. How the Lord cares for me! Your kindness, o Lord, endures forever. Forsake not the work of Your hands.

A great article from the weekly bulletin of Church of St. Francis Xavier, Archdiocese of Singapore on Chinese New Year and Its Significance to Chinese Christians

This article was excellently written, especially when trying to harmonise and find the common ground between the Chinese culture and the Christian faith, which although they have their fundamental differences, there are similarities that we should not ignore.

It is fitting indeed that Chinese New Year celebration this year falls on Sunday, 10 February 2013, which is also the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, whose readings have parallels with the core of the Chinese New Year celebrations.

Please spend some time to read this article, and especially for Chinese Christians out there, to make the Chinese New Year celebrations we have, into a truly Christian celebration. Not just of partying and feasting, but also to show and spread love and joy, and sharing them with one another, giving thanks to Christ who made all things possible.

Pope Benedict XVI to canonise 813 Martyrs of Otranto, and religious Mother Laura and Mother Lupita in October 2013

Pope Benedict XVI will canonise the blessed Martyrs of Otranto, 813 of them in total, whose skulls can still be seen in the Cathedral of Otranto behind the main altar. These martyrs lost their lives defending their faith during the Ottoman invasion and raid on southern Italy in 1480, 27 years after the fall of Constantinople.

These 813 brave martyrs chose death rather than turning their back on the Lord, and were massacred by the Ottomans by beheading on the hill after refusing conversion to Islam.

Mother Laura and Mother Lupita are Latin American saints-to-be, with Mother Laura being the very first Colombian saint, and Mother Lupita as the second Mexican saint. Mother Laura and Mother Lupita were noted for founding religious congregations, namely Missionaries of St. Mary Immaculate and St. Catherine of Siena, and Handmaids of Saint Margaret Mary and of the Poor respectively.

(Pope Benedict XVI has canonised 45 Saints to date, and with these new 815 Saints, in October 2013, Pope Benedict XVI will have canonised 860 new Saints of the Church. His predecessor, Pope John Paul II canonised 483 Saints during his Pontificate.)

Let us ask the intercession of these holy peoples, that as they are being recognised finally as saints, due to their merits in life, in defending the Faith, all of us too, can follow in their footsteps, in nurturing our faith and love of God. Amen.

(Update : Since Pope Benedict XVI will retire effective at the end of February 2013, we are waiting for the election and confirmation of the next Bishop of Rome to preside over this canonisation ceremony)

Sunday, 10 February 2013 : 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Chinese New Year) (First Reading)

Isaiah 6 : 1-2a, 3-8

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted; the train of His robe filled the Temple. Above Him were seraphs, each with six wings.

They were calling to one another : “Holy, holy, holy is YHVH Sabaoth. All the earth is filled with His Glory!”

At the sound of their voices, the foundations of the threshold shook and the Temple was filled with smoke. I said, “Poor me! I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips, and yet I have seen the King, YHVH Sabaoth.”

Then one of the seraphs flew to me; in his hands was a live coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. He touched my mouth with it and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”

Then, I heard the voice of the Lord, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” I answered, “Here I am. Send me!”

Saturday, 9 February 2013 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time (Scripture Reflection)

God, is our shepherd, and He is the good shepherd who gave none other but Himself for the sake of His sheep, all of us here in this world, past, present, and the future. We do not entrust ourselves on simply any being, but the very Son of God Himself, whose Precious Blood redeemed us from our sins. Jesus as the good shepherd laid down His life for His sheep, and it is through His obedience of the Father’s will to die on the cross, that all of us today have hope of everlasting life. Without Christ and His Sacrifice, we cannot be so sure of our victory over sin and over evil. Christ, as our shepherd, bought us with nothing else other than His Blood, precious and priceless as it is.

The duties of a shepherd are many, and these include having to feed the flock, the sheep, and to guide them to avoid predators and seek good sources of water and food, for the multitudes of sheep in the flock. Therefore, Christ too, during His ministry in this world, was overcome with the great love He has for us, since above all, He as our shepherd truly loves His sheep, and not like those who are paid to take care of the sheep, Christ, as the good shepherd stood ready to give His life up for us, that all of us will have hope, that is of eternal life in God.

In our world today, there are many forms of temptations and easily, if we do not anchor ourselves strongly in faith in God, and in God’s divine love, we can be led astray by these temptations and succumb to worldly desires, rather than following the path the Lord wants for us. In that state, we are indeed likened to sheep wandering around without a shepherd, running around randomly, just following the current and the flow of the modern society, wherever it brings us to. No, we should strive to take up a stand, in order to stand up to our faith, and give testimonies of our faith in our good shepherd, that we, the sheep, love the Lord too, just as He loves us.

God is so selfless in giving Himself up to pay for our own rebellion against Him. We, who deserved death and eternal separation from Him, were not only given another chance, but were given also the very chance to be the part of creation into which the Lord was incarnated into, as Jesus, as a part of the great effort God has undertaken for the salvation of all mankind.

Despite our rebellious nature, just like the people of Israel, whom, if we read the Old Testament, were very difficult to satisfy and always caused troubles to our Lord by their worship of foreign gods and idols, the Lord was ever-ready to welcome them back if His beloved children are truly repentant, and willing to embrace Him again in love, and this, was sealed as a new Covenant, by the Sacrifice Christ made on the Cross, that justify all of us who believed in Him.

In our own lives, all of us can become shepherds too, to one another. There are many of our dear brothers and sisters, who are still lost and did not know their way, in the darkness of the world. They have yet to receive the light of the Lord, which will illuminate their path. Let us therefore, imitate the example of Christ as the good shepherd, who brought His sheep into good and fertile places, and ensured that they all have ample to eat.

Let us share with one another, the Word of God, our spiritual food, which when shared, we too share in the Lord’s ministry as a shepherd to our fellow brethren in Christ. Support one another in faith, and in love, and do not leave anybody behind in sorrow and hopelessness. Rather, help one another in our way towards Christ, that eventually, all of us, will be reunited with God, who is our Brother, our Good Shepherd, and our loving Father at the same time.

May God bless us all in our daily lives, and give us the courage to live according to our faith, and to share God’s love with all mankind. Amen.

Porta Fidei, the Door of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio – Apostolic Letter released in conjunction with the Year of Faith

For those who have yet to see this magnificent letter from the Pope with regards to the Year of Faith and what it is about, and what we should do to immerse ourselves in this rare chance to greatly deepen our faith, you may read the article in English in the link provided above.

This Year of Faith began last year on 11 October 2012, on the 50th Anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, and will last until the Feast of Christ the King this year on 24 November 2013.

During this year, we will also celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the passing of Blessed Pope John XXIII (3 June 1963) and the 50th Anniversary of the election of the Venerable Pope Paul VI (21 June 1963). Under these two great popes, the crucial Second Vatican Council was begun and proceeded to reform the Church, of which reform still occur even until today, through the ‘reform of the reform’.

Let us take action to make this Year of Faith meaningful if we have not done so. The 2013 World Youth Day will also be held this July in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil(23-28 July 2013), and for those who are planning to go, this is a great chance to rediscover and renew your faith in God.

Let us take the concrete step to pass through the ‘Door of Faith/Porta Fidei’ and reach out to God, who loves us all.

Saturday, 9 February 2013 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Mark 6 : 30-34

The apostles returned and reported to Jesus all they had done and taught. Then He said to them, “Go off by yourselves to a remote place and have some rest.” For there were so many people coming and going that the apostles had no time even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a secluded area by themselves.

But people saw them leaving, and many could guess where they were going. So, from all the towns, they hurried there on foot, arriving ahead of them.

As Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He had compassion on them for they were like sheep without a shepherd. And He began a long teaching session with them.

Saturday, 9 February 2013 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time (Psalm)

Psalm 22 : 1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters, He restores my soul.

He guides me through the right paths for His Name’s sake. Although I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are beside me, Your rod and Your staff comfort me.

You spread a table before me in the presence of my foes. You anoint my head with oil, my cup is overflowing.

Goodness and kindness will follow me all the days of my life. I shall dwell in the house of the Lord as long as I live.

Saturday, 9 February 2013 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time (First Reading)

Hebrews 13 : 15-17, 20-21

Let us, then, continually offer through Jesus, a sacrifice of praise to God, that is the fruit of lips celebrating His name. Do not neglect good works and common life, for these are sacrifices pleasing to God. Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are concerned for your souls and are accountable for them. Let this be a joy for them rather than a burden, which would be of no advantage for you.

May God give you peace, He who brought back from among the dead Jesus our Lord, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, whose blood seals the eternal covenant. He will train you in every good work, that you may do His will, for it is He who works in us what pleases Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom all glory be forever and ever. Amen!

Friday, 8 February 2013 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Jerome Emiliani, and St. Josephine Bakhita, Virgin (Scripture Reflection)

We heard today of the tale of how St. John the Baptist was killed by Herod, out of Herod’s adulterous behaviour with his brother’s wife, and that wife’s hatred on John. St. John the Baptist, who had come before Christ to make straight the way for the Lord, met his death at the hands of the corrupt and immoral person who called himself the king of Judea at that time.

Who is John the Baptist? He is the cousin of Jesus, son of Elizabeth, miraculously conceived when Elizabeth was already old and barren, because the Lord desires that through her, a great prophet preceding Christ be born. St. John the Baptist indeed become the last prophet just before the coming of the Messiah, declaring to the world to repent and to be baptised at the River Jordan, in order to prepare themselves for the Messiah, who in fact at that time, had already walked on this world, in the form of Jesus, son of Mary, and Son of the Most High God.

John the Baptist’s call was heeded by many, who came to be baptised by John, and to truly repent from their sins. Nevertheless, the Pharisees and the scribes, just as they will later reject Jesus, they were also skeptical of John’s prophetic mission, and did not repent as many others do. But John managed to lay out the foundation for the later works of Christ and His disciples, just like a farmer plowing the soil preparing for it for the sower, who is Christ, who spreads the seeds on the plowed soil, fertile and ready, and thus are able to produce fruits hundredfold and thousandfold.

After Jesus was baptised by John, He arises in importance, which John in great humility said to his own disciples that just as the Lord for whom he has come to prepare the path for, is rising, he himself has to become lesser. His task in preparing the path for the Lord is complete, and in the last part of his life, which was told in the Gospel today, he was imprisoned for chastising Herod the king and his adultery with Herodias, his brother’s wife.

In ancient Jewish custom, this is actually not unacceptable for a brother to take care of a deceased brother’s wife, and take her as his own wife. Remember another story from the Bible, where the Saducees, who did not believe in the resurrection, asked the Lord about whose wife is the woman who was married to seven brothers, who died one after the other. Clearly, this custom is identified as the norm at that time, as the widow is perceived to be financially incapable of supporting herself, and therefore, it is justified for the brother to come in and take care of his sister-in-law by marrying her himself.

However, in this case, this is different because, just as Jesus later will stress, that marriage is a sacrosanct act, in which a man and woman is joined by God, and through God, this union, when made is eternal and cannot be dissolved by either man or even angels. For what God has made one, no man shall divide. This is the new commandment of the new covenant that Christ brought with His coming, and John, as the messenger of the Lord, did his last service to God by putting forward this teaching, against none other than Herod himself.

It is sad that today, many disregard the sanctity of marriage, and think that marriage is a trivial matter, and that divorce can be so easily contemplated and done. Divorce is something which should be avoided at all costs, as it directly violates what God has told us, that what He had brought together in marriage, which is a Sacrament on its own, no one, not even the husband and the wife themselves should divide back into two. It is sad that in our modern world, many take divorces lightly, and even marry again after the divorce. Many who did this, did so because they claim that they no longer love the wife, or worse that they have been tempted with lust and desire for another woman or man.

In order to maintain the sanctity of marriage, it is paramount that in the family, the faith in the Lord be kept strong, and that all actions should be carried out in love, and in accordance with God’s will. This is why it is important for couples and families, to come together and have meals together as best as they can everyday, so that they will stay close, despite challenges and temptations, and pray together, that the Lord will continue to bless them and strengthen their union, so that the evil one cannot come in between them and made them to decide to split.

Many couples are able to last for decades and many last beyond 50 years, and indeed, until death brought them apart, but not forever, since we know that we eventually will be reunited with the loved ones when we ourselves ascend to heaven at the end of our own lives. Indeed, their secret is no other than ensuring that couples constantly speak to one another from heart to heart, and coming together at all times, with their children, to pray regularly, to share the meal at the table. Remember that when more than two and three gathered in God’s name, He will be there, and will remain there with them, always.

Another story which I will bring to your attention, besides the already told story of John the Baptist, Herod, and Herodias, is the story of the divorces of King Henry VIII, the founder of the Anglican ‘church’ in his vain search for a male heir. King Henry VIII divorced his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, because she was not able to produce a male heir for him, although she did produce a daughter. His appeal to divorce her to the Pope was rejected, and King Henry VIII, displeased at the Papal disapproval went his own way and rebel from the Church, creating his own Anglican ‘church’.

St. Thomas More, King Henry VIII’s chancellor, refused to follow his king into rebellion from Rome, and chastised the king for his immoral behaviour in seeking to marry Anne Boleyn, who was to become the king’s second wife. He was asked to choose between loyalty to his king, and be given great wealth and influence as he always had before that, and thus even greater afterwards, or death if he remains faithful to the true Church. St. Thomas More abandoned all of his worldly wealth and fame, and chose to remain faithful to the Lord, and was therefore martyred.

Ultimately, King Henry VIII would kill Anne Boleyn after she herself failed to produce a male heir, and eventually married no less than four more times, with a total of having six wives and at least two mistresses, and all ultimately in vain, since even when there was a male heir, he died young, and the dynasty died out.

All that futile attempts was most damaging especially if we see how today, 80 million Christians who are in the Anglican Communion, are the direct product of this adulterous behaviour of King Henry VIII. This is an example on how if marriage is not kept as sacrosanct and indivisible in nature, not only it can affect just the two, but especially in King Henry’s case, it caused the destruction of the unity in the Body of Christ, that is the Church. Until today, we still pray and hope that all of them will eventually return soon to the true Faith and Church.

Today we also celebrate the feast of St. Jerome Emiliani, an Italian charitable man who cared deeply for the poor and orphans in early 16th century northern Italy, and died after in his pious work of service to the sick and the poor, he contracted a disease that killed him, and St. Josephine Bakhita, a Canossian nun, who was once a slave from Sudan, who after being freed from slavery, converted to Christianity and committed herself to the Lord by joining the Canossians as a nun. She was noted for her great faith in the Lord, and her dedication to Mary, His mother. She was also very much noted for her great heart and forgiving nature, seeking not revenge against her enemies, and even her former slavemasters, but rather seeking to forgive them and bless them instead.

Therefore, in the footsteps of these great saints, let us all strive, especially for those amongst us who are married, to keep our lives holy and meaningful, by doing what is good for the sake of others, just like St. Jerome Emiliani in service of the poor and the sick, by giving and sharing what we have more to those who need them more, and by our gentle and forgiving nature, following the example of St. Josephine Bakhita, who strive to keep herself pure and holy in the presence of God.

Let us pray also for the unity of all Christians, that especially for the Anglicans today, that their detachment from the Body of Christ that is the Church can soon be reversed, through our constant prayers to God, and through God’s actions, may the unity of the Church be restored. What damages King Henry VIII had done in his adulterous ways parallel to what Herod had done, in direct opposition to the Lord’s will on the sanctity of marriage, may we begin to heal through concrete attempts to reunite back the branches of the Body of Christ back onto its trunk, the Church.

Pray for us, St. Thomas More. And St. Jerome Emiliani, and St. Josephine Bakhita, pray for us all too. Pray for God’s holy Church that it will be one again, and indivisible, just like marriage, as the Lord has made His Church one, just like He and the Father is one and indivisible in the Holy Trinity. Amen.

+Ut Omnes Unum Sint+

(That they all may be One)