Thursday, 21 December 2017 : 3rd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Peter Canisius, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the Scripture passages which remind us that we are God’s beloved ones, as those whom He has created out of love, and He is willing to free us from our sufferings and tribulations, caused by our own lack of faith and disobedience against Him. God still loves us despite our stubborn rebellion against Him, and He wants us to be reconciled with Him.

And that was why the celebration of Christmas is truly about a new hope for all of us mankind, that despite our fallen state through sin, which ought to have merited condemnation and eternal suffering in hell, but God is willing to forgive us and embrace us back should we allow ourselves to be forgiven. And we do so through sincere and genuine repentance from our sinful ways, leaving behind our wicked past and walking from now on, on the path of righteousness.

Then, we should also reflect on the importance of Christmas to ourselves. The timing of Christmas itself is truly symbolic, as in most of the places where Christmas is celebrated, it happens in the midst of the winter season. In fact, tomorrow is the date of the winter solstice, the time of the year when the sun is at the lowest in the sky and when daytime is at its shortest. After that, the time of day is starting to lengthen again and the time of the dark night shortens.

In the past, during the time of the later Roman Empire, the date for the celebration of Christmas used to be a pagan festival worshipping the Unconquered Sun or Sol Invictus, a cult that gained popularity during the later years of the Roman Empire. It celebrated the triumph of the sun as in the past winter is always associated with darkness and cold weather. And the day when the sun starts to appear for longer again in the sky was thus celebrated.

But with the coming of Christianity and its triumph against the false pagan gods and idols, including that of the Sol Invictus cult, the celebration that was once celebrating the sun, gained a far greater and more important significance as the celebration of the birthday of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord and Saviour of all mankind. There is even a Biblical and traditional explanation as to why we celebrate His birth around this time of the year.

And what is this explanation? It is that the birth of Christ is also related to the birth of the Paschal lambs or the Passover lambs according to the Jewish tradition, which must be a young lamb less than a year old, and at that region, lambs usually give birth in the midst of winter, around the time of Christmas. And we all believe as Christians that Christ is our Paschal Lamb, the Lamb of God, Who willingly sacrificed Himself that through His death all of us who believe in Him may have life in us.

This is the how our historical Christmas celebrations came about, and why we celebrate it at this time. But even more important than all of that is the fact that Christmas is the celebration, not of the sun worship I mentioned earlier, and not of some secular event or mere merrymaking, but instead it is the birthday of the One through Whom God made His love for us evident.

Jesus Christ is the proof of God’s love, for as in the Gospel of St. John, He mentioned Himself that, God so loved the world, that He gave us His only Son, that all who believe in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. And yet, many of us are not aware of this great love which God has shown us, and which we should be grateful for. There is no one and nothing else that loves us as much as Our God does.

But mankind prefers to follow the ways of this world, by their merrymaking and festivities which exclude Christ from the celebrations. Our Christmas celebrations become a celebration of human and worldly vanity, greed, ambition and desire for pleasure and glory. We spend our Christmas trying to outdo one another in glamour and prestige of our gifts and revelries, trying to show off ourselves and achievements.

And all of these are fuelled further by worldly temptations and all the materialistic attitudes surrounding the secular celebrations of Christmas around us. We see all the branded goods and items, all the good shopping deals and discounts being paraded and shown all around in shopping malls and many markets, and many of us throng those places in order to get good bargain on good items.

Some of us are worrying on what kind of new clothes or accessories we should be getting this Christmas, while some others worry about how to decorate their houses and places in the best way possible to impress others who come to see our homes. And we also worry about we are to give and to receive in our Christmas gifts, and we are worried that we will be getting less than that of the previous years.

And where is Christ in all of these? He is nowhere to be found. He has often been overlooked and forgotten in our celebrations and revelries. He has been sidelined and replaced by other familiar figures like Santa Claus, the reindeers, the snowman and all of the other usual secular Christmas paraphernalia. This is what all of us as Christians should reflect on, as we progress towards Christmas. Have we done all these in how we celebrate this important event of our faith?

It is time that we rediscover our reason of celebrating Christmas, and there is no better way than putting Christ back at the centre of our Christmas joy and celebrations. It is because of Him that we have Christmas, and it is because of Him that we can rejoice in Christmas. He is the very reason of our joy, because we have once been deemed as lost and fallen from grace, without hope in the darkness. But through Christ, all of that have been changed through His light, with a new hope and way out from our predicament has been provided.

Perhaps we should follow in the footsteps of one of our great and holy predecessors, whose faith and devotion to the Lord can become an inspiration to each and every one of us that we may aspire to live our lives ever more faithfully. He is St. Peter Canisius, a member of the Society of Jesus or the Jesuits, a priest and later eventually made a Doctor of the Church for his great contributions to the Church and the faith.

St. Peter Canisius lived during a tumultuous and difficult time for the Church, being assailed from within and from outside by those who sought its destruction. At the time, the Ottoman Turks were threatening the entire Christendom and were invading into the domains of Christian rulers and conquering many parts of the Christian world, and then, religious unrest due to the rise of the Protestant heresies in many parts of northern and central Europe threatened to cause the destruction of Christendom.

That was why several people, gathered and inspired by St. Ignatius of Loyola, founded the new society of priests, named the Society of Jesus, to be at the forefront of the Counter Reformation effort, and many of them were also sent to the foreign lands as part of evangelisation to the new lands then recently discovered due to the rapid expansion in European discovery. St. Francis Xavier and Matteo Ricci were some of the famous ones among these missionaries.

Meanwhile, St. Peter Canisius worked hard among the areas affected by the false teachings and heresies, encouraging the people through words and actions, through his pious devotion and careful explanation of the true teachings of the faith as espoused by the Church. As a result, thousands and tens of thousands returned to the embrace of the Holy Mother Church and were reconciled with the Lord.

St. Peter Canisius was well known for his writing of the Catechisms of the Christian faith, which became a gold standard in catechism and teachings of the faith to many catechumens and other candidates who were willing to embrace the Christian faith. He was also remembered for his great devotion to Mary, the holy Mother of God, and his Mariology was among the best that has been compiled. For all these great contributions he had done, he was bestowed with the title of Doctor of the Church several centuries after his passing.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, witnessing the examples shown by St. Peter Canisius and his courageous and zealous compatriots in faith, the early pioneers of the Jesuit order, we should follow in their footsteps and commit ourselves to the Lord in the same manner. We should renew our focus and attention to the Lord, and one good way that we can do it at the moment, is as I have mentioned, by restoring Christ to the centre of our Christmas joy and celebrations.

Let us ask St. Peter Canisius to intercede for each and every one of us, that we may grow ever more faithful and devoted, day after day, drawing strength from our commitment to the Lord, and becoming ever closer to Him and walk always in His ways. May our Christmas celebrations be meaningful for us, and may we be thoroughly prepared to celebrate it with all of our hearts attuned to God, the reason for our joy this Christmas. May God bless us always. Amen.

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