Friday, 3 January 2020 : Weekday of Christmas Time, Memorial of the Most Holy Name of Jesus (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate the feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, Our Lord and Saviour, recalling the words of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary, the mother of Our Lord at the Annunciation. The Archangel Gabriel told Mary that her Son, Who would be conceived by the Holy Spirit, is the Son of God, and He would be known as Jesus, that according to St. Paul in the second chapter of his Epistle to the Philippians, is the Name above every other names.

That is why today we celebrate this special occasion in which we recall this important fact of how by this Name, this special Name of the Lord all of us have been saved. There is no other names by which we have received salvation and only at the Name of Our Lord Jesus, we have received Him Who is our Saviour and Liberator, the One Who freed us from bondage to sin and to the punishment of death.

And we will understand its significance better when we know how in the historical past, the Holy Name of God, written in the Hebrew Tetragrammaton as YHVH, often translated into Yahweh in the modern use of the English language, is a Name that is taboo and not to be uttered in any way, for the Holy Name of God is so holy that uttering the Name was a grave sin and breach of the Jewish traditions and laws, and even more so if the Name was used in vain.

That is why, based on this historical precedent, the Church has never used the Holy Name of God in the form of YHVH or Yahweh unlike what some others have adopted or used, and instead preferring to use the title ‘Lord’ to refer to God in the Biblical context whenever the Holy Name is invoked and recorded. But it is kind of different with the Name, ‘Jesus’ which we focus on today, as this Name is indeed the Name of God too, because we believe that Jesus, the Son of God, is God. But yet, unlike the name ‘YHVH’ mentioned earlier, the Name Jesus can be used.

Why is that so? That is because if we understand it more clearly, we can make the link with how God, Who was once invisible and beyond our ability to grasp and perceive, has chosen to make Himself apparent and available to us, appearing in the Flesh; in the form of Man, by the incarnation of the Divine Word, the Son, into the humanity that He united to His divinity, in Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour.

Since the beginning of time, God has given each and every one of us our identity, beginning with the naming of our first ancestors, Adam, who in turn named his wife, Eve. All mankind have been known by their names, and upon the birth of a baby, each and every one of them receive a name to distinguish themselves from one another. And just as how Adam named the animals and plants of the earth, we mankind also use names to identify objects and living things around us, in our own diverse languages.

Therefore, as Jesus was born as the Son of Man through His mother Mary, He also received this Name, Jesus, just like all of us have received our names. But what makes this Name so special and so far beyond any other names is the fundamental fact that Jesus is not just Man, but also fully God, incarnate in the Flesh. And that is why, if the name ‘YHVH’ was considered to be so holy and a grave taboo to be mentioned, the Name ‘Jesus’ is also holy and sacred.

That was why Pope Gregory X at the Second Council of Lyons in the year 1274 proclaimed that all Christians ought to bow reverently at the every mention of the Holy Name of Jesus, the Name special above all other names, the Name by which all of us have received our salvation and promise of eternal life, in accordance to what St. Paul had also written in his Epistle to the Philippians in our first reading today, that at the Name of Jesus, all knees shall bend, those on earth, in heaven and in the place below earth, that is hell and more.

Pope Gregory X mentioned this venerable practice and tradition of bowing at the Holy Name of Jesus which should be done reverently because if we can truly bend our heads to bow at the Name of Our Lord, inwardly this will indeed affect our hearts that will also bow and submit ourselves in humble obedience and love towards Him, for bowing is indeed a sign of humility, of love and of great respect and veneration, all of which we should give to God for the love He has shown to us all.

Unfortunately the sad reality is how few of the faithful practice this still mandatory and important practice of bowing at the Holy Name of Jesus, not to mention the related rule to also bow, although less profound, at the name of Mary, and also the saints on their feast days. Many among the priests and bishops themselves no longer practice this, and as a result, the respect once accorded to the Holy Name gradually became lost. We end up seeing how the Holy Name of Jesus was used in vain in many occasions, not just in secular use but even within the Church.

We make use of the Name of Jesus so lightly and at occasions when it is really inappropriate for us to mention His Name. Do we realise that in doing so we actually sin against God and cause even greater propagation of this lack of respect and adoration we ought to give God through His Holy Name? That is why we have this Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, which had been instituted almost three hundred years ago in the year 1721 by Pope Innocent XIII. It is to remind us of the sanctity and the importance of the Holy Name of Jesus to us all.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, in the Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we have God Who has made Himself tangible to us and accessible to us all, by extending His love to us dwelling among us in the Flesh. By His incarnation, all of us are now able to call Him by Name, just as we are also able to call Him Father, because of Christ, Who is our brother, sharing in the same Father as He is, and becoming God’s adopted sons and daughters.

Let us all reflect on this, brethren, and let us cultivate in us a new respect and honour for the Holy Name of Jesus from now on. Let us spread the venerable practice, that is still in fact mandatory, to bow at every mention of the Name of Jesus in the Mass, and stop any form of profane and inappropriate use of His Name from now on in all occasions. May the Lord Jesus Christ, by the power of His Holy Name, guide us to the love of God, our heavenly Father. Amen.

Friday, 3 January 2020 : Weekday of Christmas Time, Memorial of the Most Holy Name of Jesus (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

John 1 : 29-34

At that time, the next day John saw Jesus coming towards him, and said, “There is the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world! It is He of Whom I said : A Man comes after me, Who is already ahead of me, for He was before me. I myself did not know Him, but I came baptising to prepare for Him, so that He might be revealed in Israel.”

And John also gave this testimony, “I saw the Spirit coming down on Him like a dove from heaven, and resting on Him. I myself did not know Him, but God, Who sent me to baptise, told me, “You will see the Spirit coming down, and resting, on the One Who baptises with the Holy Spirit.’ Yes, I have seen! And I declare that this is the Chosen One of God!”

Alternative reading (Mass of the Most Holy Name of Jesus)

Luke 2 : 21-24

On the eighth day, the circumcision of the Baby had to be performed; He was named Jesus, the Name the Angel had given Him before He was conceived. When the day came for the purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought the Baby up to Jerusalem, to present Him to the Lord, as it is written in the Law of the Lord : Every firstborn male shall be consecrated to God.

And they offered a sacrifice, as ordered in the Law of the Lord : a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.

Friday, 3 January 2020 : Weekday of Christmas Time, Memorial of the Most Holy Name of Jesus (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 97 : 1, 3cd-4, 5-6

Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done wonders; His right hand, His holy arm, has won victory for Him.

The farthest ends of the earth all have seen God’s saving power. All you lands, make a joyful noise to the Lord, break into song and sing praise.

With melody of the lyre and with music of the harp. With trumpet blast and sound of the horn, rejoice before the King, the Lord!

Alternative Psalm (Mass of the Most Holy Name of Jesus)

Psalm 8 : 4-5, 6-7, 8-9

When I observe the heavens, the work of Your hands, the moon, and the stars You set in their place – what is man, that You be mindful of him; the Son of Man, that You should care for Him?

Yet You made Him a little less than a god; You crowned Him with glory and honour and gave Him the works of Your hands; You have put all things under His feet.

Sheep and oxen without number, and even the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and all that swim the paths of the ocean.

Friday, 3 January 2020 : Weekday of Christmas Time, Memorial of the Most Holy Name of Jesus (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

1 John 2 : 29 – 1 John 3 : 6

You know that He is the Just One : know then that anyone living justly is born of God. See what singular love the Father has for us : we are called children of God, and we really are. This is why the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.

Beloved, we are God’s children and what we shall be has not yet been shown. Yet when He appears in His glory, we know that we shall be like Him, for then we shall see Him as He is. All who have such a hope try to be pure as He is pure. Anyone who commits a sin acts as an enemy of the law of God; any sin acts wickedly, because all sin is wickedness.

You know that He came to take away our sins, and that there is no sin in Him. Whoever remains in Him has no sin, whoever sins has not seen or known Him.

Alternative reading (Mass of the Most Holy Name of Jesus)

Philippians 2 : 1-11

If I may advise you, in the Name of Christ, and if you can hear it, as the voice of love; if we share the same Spirit, and are capable of mercy and compassion, then I beg of you, make me very happy : have one love, one spirit, one feeling, do nothing through rivalry or vain conceit.

On the contrary, let each of you gently consider the others, as more important than yourselves. Do not seek your own interest, but, rather, that of others. Your attitude should be the same as Jesus Christ had :

Though He was in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking on the nature of a servant, made in human likeness, and in His appearance found as a Man.

He humbled Himself by being obedient to death, death on the cross. That is why God exalted Him and gave Him the Name which outshines all names, so that at the Name of Jesus all knees should bend in heaven, on earth and among the dead, and all tongues proclaim that Christ Jesus is the Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Thursday, 2 January 2020 : Weekday of Christmas Time, Memorial of St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops and Doctors of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard the Scripture readings which at the same time inspired us with the faith and dedication of St. John the Baptist while also warning us of the false leaders and antichrists who will try to mislead the faithful into the path of sin and darkness, away from God’s salvation. Hence, today we are presented with the contrasts between those who truly are faithful to God and those who served the devil.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard of the words of St. John the Baptist that he spoke towards the priests and the Levites, likely the members of the Pharisees that would later oppose the Lord Jesus and His works, as these people also doubted the authority and veracity of St. John the Baptist, questioning him on the validity and the source of his teachings and works among the people as he baptised many people at the Jordan.

They asked if he had the authority to do what he has been doing and wondering if he was the Messiah that God has promised to His people. St. John the Baptist clearly told those who asked him that he was not the Messiah and that he was just the one who was sent into this world to prepare the way for the Messiah of God. Had anyone else been asked of this at that time, more likely than not they would have claimed that they were the Messiah promised by God.

As historical evidence had it, and which was recorded even in the Acts of the Apostles, there had been people at that time who claimed that they were the Messiah, gathered a following, large at times, and quite a few rebelled against the Romans and the authorities, only for them all to vanish when their leaders were arrested and condemned to death. Their supposed missions and Messiah title did not last because indeed they were not the Messiah.

St. John had the means to do the same, and he had a large following of people who themselves thought that he was the Messiah promised by God. They came to him and thronged to him because they believed in his words and sought reconciliation with God through baptism. St. John the Baptist’s great charisma and faith could have easily made him the cherished Messiah of the Israelites as other false Messiahs had done before him.

But that was not what St. John the Baptist had chosen to do, as he remained faithful completely to the task that he had been entrusted with, and he clearly stated publicly that he was not the Messiah, but only the one sent to precede the coming of the one and true Messiah, Jesus Christ. He proclaimed this before the priests and Levites sent to question him, and he also did the same before his disciples. And when the Lord Jesus came to him for His baptism, St. John the Baptist proclaimed Him as the Lamb of God and thus the Messiah to his own disciples.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we are called to look upon the good examples set by St. John the Baptist who placed himself completely in the hands of God, entrusting his whole self to the Lord’s providence and giving his whole life to God without regards for his own pride, ego and desire. This is contrasted to the attitudes of many among the Pharisees, the false Messiahs and the leaders who led the people astray.

And today, we have yet two more great examples of faith we can be inspired with, in St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen, as we celebrate their feast day today. Both of these saints also had to contend with the heretics and their powerful influence at their time, at a time when those false teachings and ideas threatened not only to destroy the unity of the Church, but also the salvation of many souls and the survival of the Church and faith itself.

St. Basil the Great was the Bishop of Caesarea in Asia Minor, who was the contemporary of St. Gregory Nazianzen, who was the Archbishop of Constantinople. They were strongly opposed to the erroneous and yet popular Arian heresy, as championed by the heretic priest Arius, who claimed that Jesus Christ was not the equal of the Father and that He was created by the Father rather than being co-eternal and co-existing with the Father from before the beginning of time as we believe in our Christian faith.

Arius was a very charismatic man, much like that of St. John the Baptist, but he chose to champion a view divergent and different from the Christian truth, and got a large following especially in the eastern parts of the Roman Empire and among the Germanic peoples beyond the boundaries of the Empire. The Arian heresy affected quite a large portion of the faithful and in fact many bishops took the side of Arius until the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea finally condemned the teachings of Arius as being heretical.

Nonetheless, the Arian heresy still remained for many decades and centuries after the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, and it was the vigorous efforts and works of both St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen in opposing this heresy among some other heresies like Apollinarianism and more, that the true Catholic and orthodox faith survived and many among the faithful who had been ensnared by the false teachings returned to the true faith.

In the course of their efforts, they encountered many trials and difficulties, oppositions from clergy and bishops who were favourable to the Arian heresy in particular, and even the hierarchy of the Imperial government and the Emperors themselves who were Arian in their profession of faith. Yet, St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen persevered in their faith and in their efforts, and their extensive writings on the truth of the Christian faith made them to be recognised as two of the original Doctors of the Church together with St. Ambrose of Milan and St. Augustine of Hippo.

All of them served the Lord and put Him first and foremost in their lives. Are we able to do the same with our own lives, brothers and sisters in Christ? Are we able to be faithful as St. John the Baptist, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory Nazianzen and all of our holy predecessors have shown us? This is the challenge that we have been given as we continue to live our lives and as we embark through the journey in this new year.

May the Lord continue to guide us through life and may He strengthen us always each and every moments of our lives that we may grow ever stronger in faith and that we may always seek the truth of God in all things, and not to allow our pride, ego and desire to overcome us. May the Lord bless each and every one of us, now and always. Amen.