Friday, 4 December 2020 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John Damascene, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Priests)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scripture, we are all reminded that God will be our Redeemer and He will liberate us from all of our trials and troubles. He is our Hope and the Light that will lead us the way out from the darkness. The Lord is what we should be focusing on, and we should dedicate ourselves to Him just as He has dedicated Himself to us and loved us so much, all these while.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, of the prophecy about the Lord’s salvation, the coming of the time of His glorious days when He will bring forth all that He has promised to us, His beloved people. In that prophecy, the Lord promised that He will lead His people from their predicament, from their fallen state and from their wretched existence.

Hence, with all these prophecies, from Isaiah and the other prophets, the people of Israel, who had faced lots of trials and tribulations, challenges and troubles, they truly looked forward to the coming of the salvation of God, in the Messiah or Saviour that the Lord had promised to them. They have all suffered and endured much humiliation because of their own sins and disobedience, and therefore, they yearned and longed for that liberation.

This then relates to our Gospel passage today, in which we heard of the account of the Lord’s healing of the two blind men whom He encountered during His ministry. Those two blind men sought for the Lord and begged Him to heal them from their blindness. To be blind is truly a very terrible experience, and imagine that now we are able to look at all the wonders of the world, and not to be able to see all of that, is truly horrible.

And the Lord asked them, whether they believed in Him and in what He could do for them. Through their faith, and their commitment to their belief in Him, the Lord healed them from their blindness, opened their eyes and restored their ability to see once again. Therefore, they have been freed from their physical darkness, allowing them to see the light and the world again. Imagine someone who have suffered for so long in the darkness, without hope and without light, now finally able to see again, there must be such a great joy in them.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we go through this season of Advent, we look forward to the great celebrations and joy that will come in Christmas, as an important reminder of why we ought to celebrate joyfully because in Christ, we have seen the Hope and the Salvation promised to all of us, all these that had been prophesied by the prophets and which the Lord Himself had revealed to us. He has shown His love in person, by reaching out tot us, touching us and healing us from all of our predicaments.

Just all those blind men suffering from their blindness, we all too are suffering from the affliction of our sins. Even though we may be perfectly healthy in our body and physique, but our souls are still afflicted and corrupted by sin, which is a disease that afflict us, strike at us, and unless we rid ourselves of these afflictions, they will drag us down the path to damnation. Fortunately for us, the Lord loves each and every one of us, and is willing to forgive us our sins and heal us from our afflictions.

The question is then, are we willing to embrace the Lord’s love, mercy and forgiveness? Or do we prefer instead to continue living in the darkness and sin? The Lord wants to forgive us our sins, but do we want to be forgiven? Let us see the examples of those two blind men. They were healed because they believed in the Lord and had faith in Him, and they wanted to be healed. Unless we are willing to open ourselves to God’s forgiveness, grace and mercy, there can be no forgiveness, as we must accept the forgiveness and act in repentance of our past sins to be fully forgiven.

This season of Advent through the Scripture readings we are all constantly being reminded to love God because of the love that He Himself had shown to us all these while. We are all called to redirect our focus and attention on Him, and prepare ourselves so that we may truly celebrate Christmas with full appreciation of its importance. Let us fill ourselves with the joy of expectation of the Lord’s coming, remembering first of all His coming in the past, the coming of His salvation, and also then His promise of return at the end of time, when He will lead us all His faithful into His eternal kingdom.

How do we make best use of this season of Advent? It is by deepening our spirituality and our relationship with God. We can look upon the examples of the saints, all those holy men and women who had gone before us, and by whose lives God had been glorified. Today in particular, we celebrate the feast of one of those holy saints of God, namely St. John of Damascus, also known as St. John Damascene. He was a truly devout and faithful servant of God, whose lives and actions were truly exemplary and should serve as inspirations for all of us to follow.

St. John of Damascus lived in Syria which was why he was often called after the city of Damascus where he lived for most of his life. At that time, as a Christian living in Syria under the rule of non-Christians, St. John of Damascus was born into a family of Christian courtiers of the rulers of the Umayyad Caliphate, which capital was in Damascus. He was a renowned polymath and philosopher with wide range of knowledge in various topics.

St. John of Damascus was remembered for his great intellect and service to the Caliph in Damascus, and he was also known for his great faith and wisdom, as a priest and monk in a monastery in that area. After leaving the public service, he dedicated himself to a life of prayer and devotion, and his many writings on the matters of the faith were very influential in his defence of the true faith especially at that time against the false heresy of iconoclasm, supported by the Roman Emperor himself and his nobles.

St. John of Damascus wrote fervently and courageously even against those who opposed the true faith, not fearing for himself. He did what he could to prevent more and more souls from falling into the wrong paths, and he dedicated the latter half of his life doing that and leading a prayerful and pious life as a priest and monk. His contributions to the Church were enormous, and he continued to inspire many people long after his passing.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we able to follow in the footsteps of St. John of Damascus? Are we willing to dedicate ourselves to serve the Lord faithfully and wholeheartedly as he and the multitudes of other saints had done? Let us all ponder on these questions and ask ourselves, what are we going to do especially during this blessed season of Advent in order to prepare ourselves well for the coming of Christmas.

Are we going to continue living just as per usual? Celebrating Christmas just as usual, in the same manner as how others have celebrated it all around the world? Or are we going to have a profound change in how we live our lives, and re-centre our whole existence around God, the true Light and Hope of Christmas? Our true Joy and the source of our Salvation? Let us all seek the Lord this Advent with renewed vigour and strength, brothers and sisters. Amen.

Friday, 4 December 2020 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John Damascene, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Priests)

Matthew 9 : 27-31

At that time, as Jesus moved on from the place where He resurrected the daughter of the official, two blind men followed Him, shouting, “Son of David, help us!” When He was about to enter the house, the blind men caught up with Him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do what you want?” They answered, “Yes, Sir!”

Then Jesus touched their eyes and said, “As you have believed, so let it be.” And their eyes were opened. Then Jesus gave them a stern warning, “Be careful that no one knows about this.” But as soon as they went away, they spread the news about Him through the whole area.

Friday, 4 December 2020 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John Damascene, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Priests)

Psalm 26 : 1, 4, 13-14

The Lord is my Light and my Salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the Rampart of my life; I will not be afraid.

One thing I ask of the Lord, one thing I seek – that I may dwell in His house all the days of my life, to gaze at His jewel and to visit His sanctuary.

I hope, I am sure, that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Trust in the Lord, be strong and courageous. Yes, put your hope in the Lord!

Friday, 4 December 2020 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John Damascene, Priest and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Priests)

Isaiah 29 : 17-24

In a very short time, Lebanon will become a fruitful field and the fruitful field will be as a forest. On that day the deaf will hear the words of the book, and out of the dark and obscurity the eyes of the blind will see. The meek will find joy and the poor among men will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.

For the tyrant will be no more and the scoffers gone forever, and all who plan to do evil will be cut down – those who by a word make you guilty, those who for a bribe can lay a snare and send home the just empty-handed.

Therefore YHVH, Abraham’s Redeemer, speaks concerning the people of Jacob : No longer will Jacob be ashamed; no longer will his face grow pale. When he sees the work of My hands, his children again in his midst, they will sanctify My Name, they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and stand in awe of the God of Israel. Those who err in spirit will understand; those who murmur will learn.

Thursday, 3 December 2020 : Feast of St. Francis Xavier, Priest and Patron of Missions (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today the Church commemorates the feast of the great saint, St. Francis Xavier, known widely throughout the Church especially in the mission areas of the Eastern Hemisphere, where he laboured for many years as the missionary of God to proclaim the Gospel and the Good News of God to the many people who had not yet ever heard of the Lord.

St. Francis Xavier was one of the earliest and founding members of the Jesuit order, also known as the Society of Jesus, founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola. At that time, like minded men and those with fervour and zeal to reform the Church and spread the faith joined St. Ignatius of Loyola in what was soon to become a great struggle and plenty of work in advancing the cause of the Christian faith both within the Church and outside of the Church.

At that time, the Jesuits were at the forefront of the Counter-Reformation efforts throughout Christendom, particularly in Europe when they were working hard in stemming the tide of false teachings and heresies that sprung up with the reformation. Many members of the Jesuits were sent to various states and countries throughout the world in order to evangelise, preach and teach the faith to the people, and they often faced many challenges and trials.

While much of the attention was often given to the efforts of the Jesuits in Europe and in Counter-Reformation, but equally important is the Jesuits’ efforts in sending missionaries that became successful in their efforts to plant the seeds of the Christian faith in many distant places in the Far East as well as in the New World, the Americas, where St. Francis Xavier was the pioneer in this effort with his missions to India, Southeast Asia, Japan and also China. It was timely with the discovery of routes and improvement in naval technology that allowed the Christian missionaries to travel to all those places they had not been able to go to before.

St. Francis Xavier went on a long journey to India where he established the foundation of the Jesuit mission in several places, and became the lead for many more Jesuit missionaries as well as other missionaries from other religious orders in the centuries to come. He also then went to Malacca in Southeast Asia, in the present day Malaysia and travelled throughout the Indonesian archipelago, spreading the first seeds of faith and building up the first local Christian communities.

This was where the famous story of St. Francis Xavier and the crab named after him came to be, as it was told that during a great storm that hit his boat as he was travelling through the archipelago, the boat was about to sink when St. Francis Xavier prayed hard and threw his crucifix into the water with faith that God would calm the waters. Indeed, the storm stopped and the waves calmed, just as the Lord Jesus Himself had once calmed a storm before His disciples. A crab appeared, holding up the crucifix that St. Francis Xavier threw, and as he collected his crucifix and thanked the crab, he blessed it, and from there henceforth, the crab has the marking of a cross on its back.

This story, among many others showed just how tough the works of a missionary is, especially in those distant, unexplored territories that St. Francis Xavier had gone to, to the furthest reaches of Japan and East Asia, where he also established the foundation of a very successful Japanese mission where hundreds of thousands would be converted in the succeeding decades. At that time, missionaries had to endure a lot of hardships, and St. Francis Xavier was no exception.

Nonetheless, St. Francis Xavier remained firm in his conviction and in his efforts to serve the Lord, doing his very best to spread the word of God and showing by example what it means to be faithful to Him and what it truly means to be a Christian missionary. As he waited for the opportunity to enter China in Macau and Shangchuan island off the coast of China, he passed away, until the very end never ceasing to desire to work for God and His greater glory, seeking to convert many souls for the Lord in the great land of China.

St. Francis Xavier had been named as the Patron of Missions and as the role model for all the Christian missionaries, all those who dedicate themselves for the Lord and His mission to evangelise the Good News to all the peoples, of all the nations. St. Francis Xavier should also be our role model in faith because ultimately, the Lord’s commission has been given to all of us and not just to any one of us.

He told all of His disciples, ‘Go forth to the nations, and baptise all in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.’ And with that same commandment, all of us have also been called to reach out to our neighbours and to all others, and to show them what our Christian faith is all about, not necessarily by words, but even more importantly through our actions and deeds.

After all, if we say that we believe in the Lord and preach of Him, and yet, in how we behave and act, we are doing contrary to what we believe, just like what many among the Pharisees had done, how can we expect others to believe in us? We are no better than hypocrites and unbelievers in reality. Unless we become genuine and true Christians in all things, we will have no place in God’s kingdom.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all embrace our calling as Christian missionaries, in each and every moments of our lives. Let us all be role models of faith and be good examples of what it means to be Christians to all. Let us show by example and not just by words alone, as St. Francis Xavier had done, and let us all have the same fire and zeal in us as St. Francis Xavier had once shown.

May the Lord help us all that we may make best use of this Season of Advent to prepare ourselves spiritually for Christmas, as well as to strengthen our conviction to be good and exemplary Christians, from now onwards if we have not yet done so. Let us all commit ourselves ever more faithfully from now on, always and evermore. Amen.