Thursday, 6 December 2018 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Nicholas, Bishop (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Bishops)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scripture, speaking to us about the strong faith and trust that we all must have to the Lord our God. God alone is our trustworthy hope and the one and only foundation of our lives that we can depend on, and not the many other forms of so-called foundations and assurances that are of this world.

What are these things that we mankind often trust above that of the Lord? It is our attachment and obsession over money, material goods, power, fame, worldly glory and human assurances, praise and adulations, that led us to put our trust in all these things, that are unfortunately, temporary and impermanent in nature. But many of us do not realise this, and we continue to depend on them and put on excessive trust in them.

We think that all of our worldly powers, might and whatever we accumulate in life, our prestige, honour, glory, wealth and influence can do us something good in the end. But, do we realise the shortness of our lives and the mortality of our bodies? It is a known fact that we cannot live forever, and all of us will die at one point in our lives. Some of us have a long life, while for others they may be short.

Few of us can understand the fragility of our lives. And many of us live our lives as if we will not see the end of our days anytime soon. Instead, we grow even more in our excesses and deeper in our desires for worldly pleasures and accompaniments. And this is when Satan sees a great opportunity in turning us to fall into the traps he has prepared for us, to bring about our downfall.

First of all, when we have all these worldly things, money, power, prestige, glory, fame and all else, we are often not satisfied, and we grow deeper in our longing for more of what we already have. This is because Satan and his forces are tempting us and presenting us with all these obstacles in order to prevent us from being able to realise how distant we have become from God and His path.

And during this season of Advent, it is even more fitting that we reflect on this reality, especially when we see all around us just how many temptations and distractions are present in our midst. Take for example, all the increasingly aggressive and secularistic way that Christmas is being celebrated in our world today, within our communities. In fact, in many of the Christmas celebrations and revelries, if we do take some time to notice, we will realise that Christ has often been overlooked and omitted from the celebrations.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas of Myra, a well-known saint and bishop, a Church father and a faithful defender of the faith. But do you know that St. Nicholas is also the prototype of the even far more well-known fictional figure of Santa Claus? In all of our Christmas celebrations, marketing and advertisements, I am sure we can never fail to find Santa Claus in all of them.

We know of Santa Claus as an elderly figure dressed in red and white, with a long, white beard, riding on a chariot driven by flying reindeers, carrying with him a large sack filled with all sorts of presents and gifts for all the children. All of us I am sure are familiar with this story, how we ought to hang socks over the fireplaces, where Santa will magically come at Christmas Eve to fill those with gifts.

But brothers and sisters in Christ, as we can see, this is first of all a gross misinterpretation and materialistic interpretation of Christmas, and secondly, if we know who St. Nicholas truly is, he is nothing like Santa Claus, and I want all of us to reflect on his life and his devotion to God, a true defender of the Faith. St. Nicholas of Myra is truly a role model for us all.

For St. Nicholas of Myra was devoted to his people, as bishop and shepherd of the faithful. He was bishop of Myra during the time when numerous heresies and difficulties were facing the Church. Although at that time, the Christian faith has been tolerated and even promoted throughout the Roman Empire and persecution ended, but the heresies threatened to divide the faithful and drag the souls of the just into damnation.

At that time, the famous preacher Arius spoke widely of his false ideas stating that the Lord Jesus Christ was not divine and Son of God, but merely just a Creation of God. In essence, this went against the tradition of the Apostles and the Church fathers who have, for centuries, maintained the truth of Christ that He is fully God and fully Man, united in the persona of Jesus Christ, one person, two natures, divine and human.

The Ecumenical Council of Nicaea was convened in the year 325 AD in order to address many issues of the faith and the Church, including the heresy of Arianism. At that time, many among the people and even priests and bishops who believed and sided with Arius and his teachings. It was told that during the Ecumenical Council, when Arius continued to speak his falsehoods and heresies, St. Nicholas of Myra could not hold his righteous anger anymore and punched the heretic in the face.

That, brothers and sisters in Christ, is who St. Nicholas of Myra is, a defender of the faith and a courageous and devoted servant of God, who did not fear to go into troubles and challenges just so that he could protect and make sure that his flock would not fall into the sin of heresy and error, and at the same time, caring for their needs. This is told to us that, St. Nicholas often liked to give gifts to young children in his diocese, and this is likely the source of the fictional story of Santa Claus, twisted over the centuries and misused by those who had little faith in God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, has the inspiring life of St. Nicholas of Myra inspired all of us? In this season of Advent, we should imitate the faith and commitment, the love that St. Nicholas has for God and for his fellow men. He placed his trust in God and not in worldly power and influences. And God is calling on us all, through His servant St. Nicholas, to abandon our sinful ways and our attachments and excesses on worldly things, rather turning ourselves to Him and loving Him more.

Let us remember this coming Christmas season and celebration that Christ is indeed the One Whom we should be celebrating and rejoicing about. Let all of our merrymaking, joy and happiness with our families and friends be always centred on Christ. And last of all, let us also remember the generosity of St. Nicholas in giving, and be generous with our charitable love for our fellow brethren, especially those who are in need. May God be with us all throughout this blessed Advent. Amen.

Thursday, 6 December 2018 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Nicholas, Bishop (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Bishops)

Matthew 7 : 21, 24-27

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My heavenly Father. Therefore, anyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts according to them, is like a wise man, who built his house on rock. The rain poured down, the rivers flooded, and the wind blew and struck that house. But it did not collapse, because it was built on rock.”

“But anyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act accordingly, is like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain poured, the rivers flooded, and the wind blew and struck that house; it collapsed, and what a terrible collapse that was!”

Thursday, 6 December 2018 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Nicholas, Bishop (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Bishops)

Psalm 117 : 1 and 8-9, 19-21, 25-27a

Alleluia! Give thanks to YHVH, for He is good, His loving kindness endures forever. It is better to take refuge in YHVH than to trust in the help of humans. It is better to take refuge in YHVH than to trust in the might of princes.

Open to me the gates of the Just, and let me enter to give thanks. This is YHVH’s gate, through which the upright enter. I thank You for having answered me, for having rescued me.

Save us, o YHVH, deliver us, o YHVH! Blessed is He Who comes in YHVH’s Name! We praise You from the house of YHVH. YHVH is God; may His light shine upon us.

Thursday, 6 December 2018 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Nicholas, Bishop (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Bishops)

Isaiah 26 : 1-6

On that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah : We have a strong city, He Himself has set up walls and fortifications to protect us. Open the gates! Let the righteous nation enter, she who is firm in faithfulness. You keep in perfect place the one of steadfast mind, the one who trusts in You.

Trust in YHVH forever, for YHVH is an everlasting Rock. He brought down those who dwell on high, He laid low the lofty city, He razed it to the ground, levelled it to the dust. Now it is trampled, the poor and the lowly tread upon it.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018 : 1st Week of Advent (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 of the love of God and all the graces which He is willing and wanting to bless us with, each and every moments of our life and existence. He loves each and every one of us, and what we heard from the two readings and the Psalm today, are just as much proof as we need to see how God loves all of us, His beloved people.

In the first reading today, taken from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, God spoke through Isaiah about the coming of the time of happiness and grace, a foreshadowing of the world that is to come. In that world of joy, in the presence of God, all sorrows and pain will no longer be present, and everyone will live with fullness of joy and happiness in God’s presence. That is in fact what the Lord has always intended for us to be, to live with Him forever.

But it was because of our disobedience, that we have been sundered from this intended life which God has planned for us all. God loves us and He created us because of that love, and thus, in no circumstances that He had wanted us to suffer, but it was by our own free will and the abuse of that free will through disobedience, that we have sinned and thus fell into the suffering and pains of this world.

Yet, it was exactly for that love, that God has given us many ways and opportunities for us to be reunited with Him, by opening pathways for us and calling us to return to Him, so that we may be completely reconciled with Him and be worthy to stand and live once again in His presence. But such a state can only be achieved with a genuine conversion of heart and with a strong desire to love God above anything else.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is what the essence of Advent is all about, of a penitential, repentant and expecting nature, when we mankind are looking forward to a reunion with our God, our loving Father, Shepherd and Master, Who loves us so much that despite our constant transgressions and sins, He is still willing to forgive us, should we come to Him asking Him for forgiveness with fullness of sincerity of heart.

But all these require us to have that desire for repentance and to be forgiven from our sins, and also commitment from us to live our lives from now on, in accordance to God’s ways and in obedience to His will. God is our loving Shepherd and Father, Who knows us well and wishes for us to follow Him, Who is always thinking for our good and for our well-being. That is why He is calling on us to follow Him and to walk with Him once more.

In what we heard from the Gospel passage today, we witnessed all the wonderful things the Lord had done in the midst of His people, how He healed them from their sicknesses and how He fed multitudes of people, caring for their physical needs, and even more importantly, their numerous spiritual needs. He blessed them and forgave them their sins, and many sought to be forgiven and healed by Him.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, are we able to do what we need to do in order to be forgiven our sins? Are we able to make that step forward in our life and dedicate ourselves anew to the Lord with faith? We are called in this season of Advent, and indeed, the Church has given us this great opportunity of Advent, to reevaluate our lives and to change our way of life. Are we then open to the Lord coming into our lives and transform it into what He wants us to be? To be good and faithful children of His?

Today, we are called to look up to the hope which we have in God, and in the providence and love that He has shown us. Let us therefore turn towards Him this Advent, with a new spirit and desire to serve God with a new heart and with great courage, to glorify Him with our every actions and deeds in life. May God bless us all, now and always. Amen.