Friday, 27 December 2019 : Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate the feast of one of the great Apostles of the Church, one of the most prominent among the Twelve Apostles as he was also a writer of the Holy Gospels, counted both among the Apostles and the Evangelists. St. John the Apostle and Evangelist was known to be the youngest among the Apostles and also as the one beloved by the Lord.

St. John was also the younger brother of St. James the Greater, another one of the Apostles, and was one of the fishermen called by the Lord at the Lake of Galilee, to be one of the earliest of His Apostles and followers. St. John was present through many of the Lord’s most important moments in His ministry, often together with St. Peter and St. James, his brother. He was present at the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor as well as at the Agony of the Lord in the Gardens of Gethsemane.

It was also to St. John that the Lord entrusted Mary, His mother from the Cross as He was about to die for the salvation of all mankind. St. John took care of Mary from then on until the time when she was assumed into heavenly glory. And St. John, like the other Apostles, were also heavily involved in the formation of the Church, preaching the truth and salvation of God in many places, enduring challenges and trials in the process.

St. John eventually was arrested and exiled to the island of Patmos, where he received a series of heavenly visions of the world that is to come, as compiled in the Book of Apocalypse or the Book of Revelations of St. John, as the Apostle saw the vision of the future, of the time of the end, when the forces of the enemies of the Lord and the Antichrist persecuted the faithful people of God, and how God would then come again in glory to win the war and triumph over all evil once and forevermore.

St. John was the last of the Apostles to pass on from this world, and unique among all of them, he was the only one who did not die in martyrdom, but instead passing on from this earthly life in old age. Because of this, partly, the Gospel that was written by St. John was the latest of the four Holy Gospels and contained significantly different contents as compared to the Gospels according to St. Matthew, St. Mark and St. Luke.

It was fitting that the feast of St. John the Apostle is celebrated every year within the Christmas Octave within just two days from Christmas day, as this Apostle as mentioned, was indeed very close to the Lord and had a lot of knowledge of the Lord and His many works, as he recorded in his Gospel and the short Epistles he wrote, and also the aforementioned Book of Revelations that detailed the outlook of the future of the Church and the faithful.

And just as yesterday we commemorate the martyrdom of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church, and now today we celebrate the feast of St. John the Apostle, the Church wants all of us to know that as Christians, our celebrations of Christmas cannot be separated from Christ, that is Our Lord and Saviour, the very One for Whom St. Stephen and St. John the Apostle had laboured in faith, which is the same for all the other saints and martyrs as well.

They are reminding all of us that our celebration of Christmas must be centred and focused on the Lord, our Saviour, the very One for Whom we ought to rejoice because without Him, and without the love which He has shown us, there would have been no hope for us, and absolutely no reason for us to rejoice at all. We rejoice because knowing the love of God through the very courageous and brave examples of His servants like St. John the Apostle, other Apostles and disciples of the Lord, we know that all He had done for us is truly worth celebrating.

St. John the Apostle lived a very long and fruitful life, filled with both happiness and sorrows, sufferings and pains, all the trials and challenges he had to endure as a faithful servant of God and more. And yet, surely, St. John was satisfied at the end of it all, having served the Lord to the best of his ability and did everything he could to fulfil the mission entrusted to him and the other Apostles and disciples.

How about us, brothers and sisters in Christ? Have we been celebrating in this Christmas season with the right reason and intention, knowing that in everything we say and do, in all of our celebrations, Christ is always at the most prominent place. Are we able to follow in the footsteps of the Apostles and saints, especially that of St. John the Apostle who gave all of his life for the service and the greater glory of God?

Let all that we do from now on, particularly as we celebrate in this Christmas season, proclaim the Lord and His glorious wonders, His love for each and every one of us, as the reason for all of our joy and happiness. May the Lord be with us all, and may He strengthen our faith and love for Him so that we may be inspired to live in the manner that St. John had lived his life. Amen.

Friday, 27 December 2019 : 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.

Friday, 27 December 2019 : 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.

Friday, 27 December 2019 : 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.

Thursday, 26 December 2019 : Feast of St. Stephen, Protomartyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day, the day after Christmas, the Church celebrates the feast of St. Stephen, also known as the Protomartyr or the first Martyr of the Church. This came about because as recorded in the early part of the Acts of the Apostles, as we heard in our first reading today, this courageous and faithful servant of God faced great suffering and martyrdom just shortly after the establishment of the Church.

St. Stephen was one of the seven men chosen by the Apostles of the Lord to be those who were commissioned and ordained as Deacons, the originators and the first members of the venerable Holy Order of the Diaconate, as those who were tasked with the care of the needs of the faithful and the distribution of the common goods of the Church, helping the Apostles in their works and ministries.

St. Stephen was one of the seven men chosen from among the faithful, and he was a great and dedicated servant of God, filled with the grace of God and with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, which became evident as he stood trial for the false accusations of blasphemy that were levelled against him by those who deemed him and other Christians as enemies and threats. St. Stephen defended the truth of God courageously and with great wisdom before the Sanhedrin or the council of the elders of the Jewish people.

St. Stephen spoke at great lengths on the history of God’s saving works among His people and His plan for the salvation of us all. He spoke courageously and without fear on the arrival of the Messiah in Jesus Christ, Whom the Sanhedrin had just recently rejected and sent to Pontius Pilate to be condemned to death on the Cross. St. Stephen spoke of how God has performed His wonders and works of salvation despite the rejection and stubbornness showed by His people.

St. Stephen was hated and attacked because he courageously stood up for the truth, and he mentioned exactly what the Lord Himself had said when He was on trial before the Sanhedrin, that the Son of Man is seated at the right hand of God, which made the members of the Sanhedrin to become even angrier at him. They attacked and stoned St. Stephen to death, which he accepted gracefully, forgiving his enemies and killers just as the Lord Himself had done.

We may be wondering why we remember the painful and terrible martyrdom of one of God’s faithful servants just right after the joyful celebrations of Christmas. But in fact, this is a timely reminder for us all that Christmas itself cannot exist and do not have its full significance without linking it to the greater scheme of the whole plan of God’s salvation, and that includes the Passion, the suffering, death and eventually Resurrection of the Lord.

The same Child born in Bethlehem more than two millennia ago and celebrated every year in Christmas is the very same One Who in just thirty-three years later, would bear the most painful and terrible burden of the Cross. It was because of what happened during the Passion and the Resurrection of the Lord that made Christmas fully meaningful, for the Child born and celebrated on Christmas day is then not just like any other children, but the Child destined to be the Saviour of the world.

And to become the followers of Christ just as St. Stephen had done, and many others of our holy predecessors had done, it requires us to be ready to face persecution, oppression, rejection, suffering and all sorts of things that Our Lord Himself had endured. If the world has rejected the Son of God and its Saviour, the Lord Jesus Himself said that the same will also happen to those who follow Him.

Indeed, not all the time we will face trials and challenges. Throughout the long history of the Church there had been good times and moments too, when people enthusiastically welcomed the truth and salvation of God, kingdoms and nations were converted to the true faith among many other examples, but this must not then make us forget of the many sacrifices and challenges that our predecessors including that of St. Stephen had to endure throughout the history of the Church and the works of God’s salvation.

Today we celebrate this feast in honour of St. Stephen because we remember the courage he has shown and faith he has in the Lord, that he willingly endured the painful suffering and martyrdom for the sake of the Lord and His people, in becoming great witness of his faith. And at the same time we are also reminded that as Christians, all of us who believe in Christ, the Child born the Saviour of the world that we have just celebrated at Christmas, we must be ready to defend our faith in the manner that St. Stephen had done, not with confrontation or violence, but with wisdom of God.

The Lord Himself in our Gospel passage kind of foretold what would happen to St. Stephen and many others of His followers, as they would suffer for Him. And yet, He also reassured them of His providence and protection, and how the Holy Spirit Himself will be upon them all, giving them the strength, courage and wisdom, as what we have evidently seen in St. Stephen the holy martyr. Are we able to follow in his footsteps?

As we progress through this Christmas season therefore, let us all always remember the strength and spirit of St. Stephen in committing himself to the Lord, and let us all therefore always remember that Christmas and all of its joys came about because of the Lord Jesus, our Saviour, Who should be at the very centre and focus of all of our celebration and happiness in this blessed season.

Shall we renew our faith and rededicate ourselves to God this Christmas season, by endeavouring to love first of all, God with greater love and fidelity, and then also our fellow brothers and sisters, sharing our wonderful blessings and joy, the joy of Christmas, with one another? May the Lord continue to be with us and watch over us, His beloved people, and may He bless us all in our works and deeds. Amen.

Thursday, 26 December 2019 : 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.”

Thursday, 26 December 2019 : 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.

Thursday, 26 December 2019 : 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.”