Thursday, 27 December 2018 : Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if yesterday we celebrated the feast of the first martyr or protomartyr of the Church, St. Stephen, then today, the second day after Christmas we celebrate the feast of another great disciple of Christ, namely St. John the Apostle and Evangelist. St. John was one of the Twelve Apostles together with his brother St. James the Greater and also one of the four Evangelists who wrote the Holy Gospels.

St. John was one of the closest disciples of the Lord, who was often present at the many important events in the life and ministry of Our Lord, such as the Transfiguration, the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, the resurrection of the daughter of the synagogue official Jairus, and many others. He was also one of the two Apostles, together with St. Peter, as mentioned in the Gospel passage today, who went immediately to the tomb where the Body of the Lord had been buried after His crucifixion, when they heard of the Lord’s resurrection.

St. John was also the author of the Epistle from which we heard our first reading passage today about God’s love being present in our midst, and He also wrote the Book of the Revelations, in which he wrote all that he had seen in the heavenly visions of what was to come, about the end of time, when Christ is to come again in glory to judge all the living and the dead. St. John received these visions towards the end of his life, when he was exiled in the island of Patmos in what is today Greece.

St. John was the only one among the Twelve Apostles who did not suffer death in martyrdom for his faith, but instead, died in a very old age many decades after the resurrection of the Lord, likely the last of the Apostles to depart from this world. His works through the Gospel and the Epistles he wrote, his life and ministry among the people of God were essential in the early years of the Church, in strengthening the faith of those who lived in persecution. St. John himself endured many persecutions and exiles, and was likely imprisoned many times for his dedication to God.

Today, the Church celebrates the feast of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, because we are all called through God’s Church, to imitate the examples, the faith and the dedication which St. John had in the Lord. St. John stayed by the Lord even when all the other disciples fled at the moment when Jesus was betrayed by Judas and handed over to the Sanhedrin. He followed Him with Mary, the mother of God, all the way through to Calvary and was at the foot of the cross with her.

And St. John was the one to whom the Lord Jesus entrusted His mother Mary, at the moment just before He was about to give up His Spirit and die, and at the same time, He also entrusted St. John to the care of Mary, to be her own son. In this case, St. John represents all of us humanity, which God has entrusted to be under the care of His mother, Mary; to be our mother as well, and Mary has been entrusted to us, as our beloved mother.

Today, this mission which the Lord Jesus entrusted to His disciples, and especially to St. John the Apostle, remain in us, that each and every one of us, first and foremost must love God, and must have that living and true faith in us, as St. John himself had throughout his life. And we are also called to love His mother, Mary, who is also our mother, for if we love the Son, we must definitely also love the Mother, and vice versa.

Have we, in our respective lives, showed this faith and love that we ought to have for God? If we have not done so, then during this time and season of Christmas, it is imperative that we rediscover this love and devotion which we must have for God. Otherwise, I am afraid that we still have not yet understood the true meaning of Christmas. For Christmas is the embodiment of God’s infinite and boundless love for us, that He chose to come into this world as one of our own, and to suffer and die for the sake of our salvation.

Let us all seek to grow deeper in our love for God and in our faith and devotion in Him. After all, He has loved us first, so much, despite of our constant disobedience and refusal to love Him. He is always ever patient, wanting us to return to Him and to be reconciled with Him. Let us also ask for the intercession of St. John, His beloved Apostle and also His mother Mary, that we mankind, all of us who are sinners, may come to find peace in God, and grow to love Him more and more with each and every passing day. May God bless us and our Christmas joy. Amen.

Thursday, 27 December 2018 : Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

John 20 : 2-8

At that time, Mary of Magdala ran to Peter, and the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and she said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid Him.”

Peter then set out with the other disciple to go out to the tomb. They ran together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down and saw the linen cloths lying flat, but he did not enter. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and entered the tomb; he, too, saw the linen cloths lying flat.

The napkin, which had been around His head, was not lying flat like the other linen cloths, but lay rolled up in its place. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in; he saw and believed.

Thursday, 27 December 2018 : Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 96 : 1-2, 5-6, 11-12

The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice; let the distant islands be glad. Clouds and darkness surround Him; justice and right are His throne.

The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, the Lord of all the earth. The heavens proclaim His justice, all peoples see His glory.

He sheds light upon the upright, and gladness upon the just. Rejoice in the Lord, you who are blameless, and give praise to His holy Name.

Thursday, 27 December 2018 : Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

1 John 1 : 1-4

This is what has been from the beginning, and what we have heard and have seen with our own eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, I mean the Word Who is Life…

The Life made Itself known, we have seen Eternal Life and we bear witness, and we are telling you of it. It was with the Father and made Himself known to us. So we tell you what we have seen and heard, that you may be in fellowship with us, and us, with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.

And we write this that our joy may be complete.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018 : Feast of St. Stephen, Protomartyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day, the day after the Christmas day, every year, we celebrate the feast of the holy Protomartyr, St. Stephen. St. Stephen was one of the original seven deacons chosen by the Church, to be ministers to God’s people, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, and he was a person filled with grace, and with wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit. In the Acts of the Apostles, the story of his last stand and defence for the faith, and his martyrdom were written, how he eloquently stood up for the Lord before his accusers, and accepted death with faith.

We must be wondering why is it that in such a time and season filled with joy and celebration that is this Christmas, then suddenly just right the day after the glorious and joyous day that is Christmas itself, then we are celebrating the feast of a great martyr of the faith, whose account of his suffering and death was truly one that is terrible and painful at the same time. He was falsely accused by his enemies and all those who sought to silence him, and was stoned to death.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the reason why we celebrate the painful death of a great martyr of the Church, the first to be martyred after the foundation of the Church, and hence, St. Stephen’s title of protomartyr, is because we must remember, that Christmas in itself, all the joy and celebration associated with it, is far more than all the revelries and celebrations that we often associate with Christmas, in how this world celebrate Christmas.

In truth, as we all should have known, Christmas is all about Christ and His coming into this world, with a special mission, and that is the salvation of us all. He is God, Who willingly embraced us mankind, by humbling Himself to take up the form and appearance of Man, being conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of His mother Mary. He was born into this world, God Who became incarnate into Man, Son of God and Son of Man, two distinct and yet inseparable natures, in the person of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.

It is this truth which St. Stephen had to suffer and die for, the truth that the Messiah has come, as God Himself, incarnate in the flesh, fully God and yet at the same time also fully Man. He proclaimed before the people gathered, the truth about the Messiah, Jesus Christ, Whom they have rejected and crucified, and yet, Whom St. Stephen proclaimed to be the Saviour that God had promised His people, and Who had not died, but rose from the dead into His heavenly glory.

The Pharisees, the teachers of the Law and many of those who refused to believe in Christ and His truth, were angered by St. Stephen’s wisdom and revelation before them, his stand for his faith and for his God and Saviour, even when faced with a certainty of death amidst the throng and many people who wanted his death for the supposed blasphemy. St. Stephen courageously stood by his faith and became inspiration for countless generations of Christians even to this very day.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today, as we continue to progress through the season of Christmas, we ought to reflect on the life and the works of St. Stephen, his love for God and his courageous stand for his faith in Him. How can St. Stephen have that courage to stand before his many accusers and all those who were obviously hostile against him and his faith in God? That was because St. Stephen had great faith and love for God.

He truly believed in the salvation which Christ had brought with Him, Who emptied Himself of all glory and majesty, to suffer a most painful death on the cross, all for the sake of the salvation of us, His beloved people. And although St. Stephen knew that the people who went up against him were unlikely to listen to him, but he did what he could, and what he must do, in proclaiming the truth about the Messiah.

In the end, conversion did come for some among them, most importantly and prominently, St. Paul the Apostle, whom in his previous persona of Saul, was one of those who stoned St. Stephen to death. God called Saul, and he went through conversion to the faith, and became like St. Stephen, in devoting the rest of his life to God, and suffered martyrdom in Rome for his courageous faith.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us should realise that Christmas is a reminder for us, that we are all those who believe in God, Who came into this world as a Man, as a Child born in the town of Bethlehem, Who has come to save the world, and yet many refused to believe in Him, persecuted and rejected Him as well as His disciples and followers. Throughout the history of the Church, many thousands and more have suffered from their devotion and faith to God, even to this very day.

Therefore, let us all pray, that our brethren in faith who are still constantly persecuted for their faith in various parts of the world, will remain strong in their commitment to God, and will not fall away from the faith. And let us also remain strong and committed ourselves, in our faith, by living our lives with true love and sincere faith in God, by sharing our Christmas joy with one another, especially with those who are in need and are suffering.

St. Stephen, holy martyr of the Church, the first of those in the Church who died because of your faith in God, pray for us all sinners, pray for each and every one of us, that by your intercession, we too may be strengthened in faith, and that we may live our lives ever more faithfully and ever closer to God, our loving Father. Amen.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018 : Feast of St. Stephen, Protomartyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Matthew 10 : 17-22

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Be on your guard with people, for they will hand you over to their courts, and they will flog you in their synagogues. You will be brought to trial before rulers and kings because of Me, so you may witness to them and the pagans.”

“But when you are arrested, do not worry about what you are to say, or how you are to say it; when the hour comes, you will be given what you are to say. For it is not you who will speak, but the Spirit of your Father in you. Brother will hand over brother to death, and a father his child; children will turn again parents and have them put to death.”

“Everyone will hate you because of Me, but whoever stands firm to the end will be saved.”

Wednesday, 26 December 2018 : Feast of St. Stephen, Protomartyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 30 : 3cd-4, 6 and 8ab, 16bc and 17

Be a Rock of refuge for me, a Fortress for my safety. For You are my Rock and my Stronghold, lead me for Your Name’s sake.

Into Your hands I commend my spirit; You have redeemed me, o Lord, faithful God. I will rejoice and be glad in Your love, for You have seen my affliction.

Deliver me from the hand of my enemies, from those after my skin. Make Your face shine upon Your servant; save me in Your love.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018 : Feast of St. Stephen, Protomartyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Acts 6 : 8-10 and Acts 7 : 54-59

Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. Some persons then came forward, who belonged to the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia and Asia. They argued with Stephen but they could not match the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.

When the Council heard the reproach Stephen made against them, they were enraged and they gnashed their teeth against him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, fixed his eyes on heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus at God’s right hand, so he declared : “I see the heavens open and the Son of Man at the right hand of God.”

But they shouted and covered their ears with their hands and rushed together upon him. They brought him out of the city and stoned him, and the witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they were stoning him, Stephen prayed saying : “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

Tuesday, 25 December 2018 : Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, after the long wait and expectation during the Advent season, today finally we come to the great celebration and joy that is Christmas, celebrating together as the whole Church, the occasion of the birth or the nativity, of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world and all of us. Today marks the day when more than two millennia ago, our Saviour was born in a stable just outside the small town of Bethlehem, as prophesied throughout the Scriptures.

On this day, we remember and rejoice at the moment when the world that has been enslaved for a long time by the power of sin and death, in darkness and separated from God’s grace and love finally saw the Light of its salvation, as Our Lord and King, in Whom lies our salvation, has come at last, fulfilling His promises and the Covenant He had made with us, from the beginning of time, all because of His love for each and every one of us.

It is the essence of true joy and love that is in Christmas, that the Scripture passages today have described His coming into the world, the Saviour Who is the Lord, His Word, the Son, Who is equal, consubstantial and co-eternal with the Father, has taken up the flesh and appearance of Man, of us all, and uniting it to His divinity, that after nine months in His mother’s womb, just as all other men spend nine months in their mother’s womb, He was born and revealed into the world.

That is why, Jesus Christ Our Lord, born and celebrated on this Christmas day, more than two millennia ago, is both God and Man, united in His person, one person with two distinct and yet inseparable natures, Man and Divine. The One Who was born and celebrated in Christmas is not just a Man, for then His birth would have been an ordinary one among other births, and neither is He just a Divine, for how can God be born from man? Yet, this is the mystery of the Incarnation, that God willingly took up the fullness of man’s essence and appearance.

God chose to be born into this world, so that through His incarnation, He unites us all in our humanity, to His own humanity, and by sharing in the humanity of Christ, we share also in His obedience to the will of His Father, through which, He completed the mission which was given to Him, the salvation of mankind by His suffering and death on the cross. On the cross, the earthly mission of Christ that began with Christ, is completed.

Today, on Christmas day, we all ought to reflect on the great love which God has for each and every one of us. All of us are God’s most beloved, the pinnacle of all the things that He had created. He created us in nothing less than His own image, and gave us His Spirit and Wisdom. We have been intended to live in eternal bliss and joy with our God, but instead, we were overcome by pride and greed, tempted by Satan and fell into sin.

We should have suffered annihilation and destruction because of our sins, but this is where God’s love for us is so significant and powerful. He still loves us despite of our rebelliousness and refusal to appreciate His love and mercy. Sins of mankind do not change the fact that He loves us, for that is why He created us in the first place. If His love for us is not there, then there is no reason for us to be created in the first place.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, Christmas celebrates this love of God made Man, coming down upon us as the tangible and perfect show of His love for each and every one of us. In all of history we have seen how men are trying to be great, powerful and mighty, to become like God. That is how Satan made us fall, by drawing us to the pride, ego and greed that are within our hearts and minds.

But in this only occasion, of Christmas, we see for ourselves how God, the Lord and Almighty Master of all the universe, willingly humbled Himself and emptied Himself from all glory and majesty, that He, the Creator, out of love for us, assume the form of one of His own creation, in order to save us from our sins. He came into our midst, that we may share in His life, His suffering and death. He gathered our sins to Himself, and by offering, as the Eternal High Priest for all of us, His own Body and Blood, He brought for us eternal life and salvation.

That is why, just as we celebrate Christmas, we cannot forget that Christmas itself is linked very closely to another great feast of the Church, that is Easter. Without Easter there is no meaning to Christmas, and without Christmas, the celebration of Easter is not complete. And in that, we have received the revelation about the truth of God’s salvation, that He offered Himself on the altar of the cross, to be the source of atonement for our sins.

Unfortunately, as we see all around us, Christmas is getting more and more disconnected from its true purpose and reason. It is very sad to take note that while Christmas is the most popular celebration that is associated with our Christian faith, yet, at the same time, it is also the one that is most secularised in most of the celebrations we see around us. In many occasions, God is entirely absent and ignored in the Christmas celebrations and revelries, and the joy has become associated with materialism and human greed instead.

This is truly a sad state of affairs for us, brothers and sisters in Christ, as even many of us Christians are also celebrating Christmas in this manner. Many of us have been swayed by the temptations of the secular and worldly joys of Christmas, in all the merchandises, merrymaking and all the things that have become excessive, and unfortunately, also affecting us in how we celebrate our Christmas joy.

The truth is that, at Christmas, God is coming into our midst, and if we reflect on what has happened two millennia ago, we will be truly ashamed by many of our attitudes, our ambivalence and lack of interest in celebrating the true Christmas in our own communities and families. When Christ was about to be born in Bethlehem, have we noticed how so many of the inns and places where He could have come and stayed in, and be born in, were full or refused to accept Him? In the end, He had to be born in a dirty stable not even fit for human beings to be present in.

That, brothers and sisters in Christ, is a reflection of many of our hearts and minds, that have become so full of pride, greed and all other things that prevented us from being able to accept Him in our hearts, in our minds and into our beings. While God’s love for us is so great and vast, that He was willing to do everything, even to the point of humbling and emptying Himself to be born in such a state, and later on to suffer and die for us, but many of us have not loved Him in the same manner.

Instead, we love the temptations of power, of glory, of pleasure, of greed and of other things that are present in this world. We love all the merrymaking and all the excesses of the celebrations, we worry more about how we are going to show off our vanity and wealth to each other, boast about the gifts we are to receive and even what we are giving to others, instead of remembering why is it that we celebrate Christmas in the first place.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today, we are called to return to the true roots of our Christmas joy and celebration, that is by putting Christ once again in the centre of all of our merrymaking, celebrations and joy. We are called to remember the love by which we have been generously given by God, our loving Father and Creator. Then, we are also called to show the same love in our actions and interactions with those who are around us.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the true joy of our Christmas should be shared with those who have little or no opportunity to be joyful in this blessed time of Christmas. We should be sensitive to their plight, and be moved to help them just as the Lord had shown the same love and compassion towards us. And that is how we appreciate and live the true joy of Christmas, not the excesses and selfish desire to satisfy our own ego and pride and greed, but in the sharing of our joys and blessings.

Today, let us open our hearts and minds, with a renewed faith and love, day after day, from now on, that we will no longer close ourselves from God Who is willing to enter into our lives. Let us all turn towards Him filled with a newfound love for Him, and devote ourselves wholeheartedly to the Lord. May the Lord, Who was born into our midst more than two thousand years ago, in the town of Bethlehem, because of His great love for us, continue to love us all, and that we may also love Him in the same manner, from now on. May God bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.