Monday, 14 December 2020 : 3rd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we heard today from the Scriptures the words of the Lord proclaiming the salvation which He has promised to His people even from long before the Saviour came into the world. In our first reading today, we heard this in the words of the holy man and servant of God named Balaam as recorded in the Book of Numbers. And in the Gospel we heard then of the confrontation between the Lord and those chief priests, Jewish authorities and teachers of the Law who refused to believe in Him and questioned His authority.

In our first reading from the Book of Numbers we heard of the blessings and good words that Balaam, a holy man and a diviner whom the king of Moab, king Balak, recruited and asked for help in cursing the people of Israel who at that time had defeated some other kings in the region and were about to pass through the lands of Moab and the eastern part of the Jordan River from the desert during their Exodus from Egypt. King Balak was an enemy of the Israelites and saw the Israelites as a great threat. He knew that Balaam was a renowned seer and diviner, and thus, wanted him to lay a curse on his enemies.

But Balaam knew God and only wanted to obey Him and follow His commands. He initially refused to go and do what king Balak wanted as it was not in accordance to God’s will. But the king constantly coerced and forced Balaam to come, and in the end, he relented, but made it clear to the king that he would only speak of what the Lord commanded him to speak and nothing else. Hence, Balaam spoke of the Lord’s intentions for His people in our first reading today, and we heard how God would bless His people wonderfully just as He has promised.

And God also revealed briefly through Balaam, of a Figure that would come in time, in the future, a great Star that would come forth from Jacob with a staff in hand, clearly referring to One Who would shepherd and lead the people of Israel, and the other nations, to be born of the children of Israel. We all know now that this refers to Christ, the Saviour of the world, born the Son and Heir of David in Bethlehem, Whose title among many was the Star of David, and a great Star also proclaimed His coming, that was seen by the Magi or the Wise Men.

As you can see, even as early as the time of the Exodus, more than a thousand years before the coming of Christ, the Lord had in fact revealed His intentions, His plans for all of us. And He reiterated all these again and again through His prophets and messengers, through whom He told His people of the coming of His salvation, and in Christ all of His promises were fulfilled. Many believed in Him and in His message, but yet there were also many who refused to believe in Him, as we heard in our Gospel passage today.

The Lord were opposed by the Pharisees, the teachers of the Law, the chief priests and the Jewish authorities in the Temple as He was teaching the people. They all doubted Him and questioned Him sternly on why He acted in the way that He had done. And the Lord wisely dodged the question by asking them back on whether they considered the works of St. John the Baptist to have come from God or from man.

By asking that question, the Lord exposed the sad reality that the chief priests, the teachers of the Law and the Jewish authorities of that time had placed their own ego and desires, their jealousy and fears above that of the truth of God. They were also disapproving and were against the works of St. John the Baptist, for if they had believed in him, then they should have believed the Lord and supported Him, not working against Him instead.

But they did not dare to offend the crowd and get into trouble, and therefore, they refrained from answering and pursuing the matter any further. This nonetheless exposed just how unfortunate and sad the state of corruption of sin even among the elders and all those who had been entrusted with the guidance and spiritual leadership over the whole people of God. All these because of our inability to reject the many temptations of sin.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we see the contrast here between Balaam’s faith and the doubt of the chief priests and the teachers of the Law, and everything in fact boils down to the fact that we cannot both be faithful to God and indulge in our desires and all the worldly temptations of power, wealth and glory. If we allow all those to take root in us, then in time, we will be swayed further and further away from the path of the Lord.

That is why, today all of us have the perfect role model to follow as Christians, in St. John of the Cross, the great reformer of the Carmelite Order, who together with St. Teresa of Avila, helped to reform the Carmelite Order and returned it to the true and pure intentions of its original foundation as a religious order. St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila were both taken aback by the lack of spiritual discipline and the many excuses and shortcuts taken by the members of the Carmelite Order that brought in worldly corruption.

Both of them worked hard to restore spiritual discipline and to renew the Carmelite charism, that the many members of the Order may rediscover their true calling and vocation as those whom God had called and entrusted with the holiness and sanctity of their lives, as inspiration and role models for all their fellow Christian brothers and sisters as well as for many others who had not yet known God.

They encountered many difficulties and challenges throughout those many years they laboured in the reform of their Order, as well as in their contributions to the reforms that were then happening as part of the Counter-Reformation, also aimed at purifying the Church and the Christian community from the corrupting influences of the world. But they never gave up and did their best to achieve their goals, and as a result, many lives were changed by their works.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we have been called this Advent to focus our attention on the same Star that Balaam had proclaimed all those years ago, the Star of David, Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. And we are all called to renew our faith in Him and to rid ourselves of the corruptions of sin, of pride, ego, desire among others. Through the examples shown by St. John of the Cross, let us all turn towards the Lord with renewed faith and conviction to live a life truly blessed by God. Amen.

Monday, 14 December 2020 : 3rd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 21 : 23-27

At that time, Jesus had entered the Temple and was teaching, when the chief priests, the teachers of the Law and the Jewish authorities came to Him, and asked, “What authority have You to act like this? Who gave You authority to do all this?”

Jesus answered them, “I will also ask You a question, only one. And if you give me an answer, then I will tell you by what authority I do these things. When John began to baptise, was it a work of God, or was it merely something human?”

They reasoned out among themselves, “If we reply that it was a work of God, He will say, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ And if we say, ‘The baptism of John is merely something human’, we have got to beware of the people, for all hold John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.”

And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what right I do these things.”

Monday, 14 December 2020 : 3rd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 24 : 4-5ab, 6 and 7bc, 8-9

Teach me Your ways, o Lord; make known to me Your paths. Guide me in Your truth and instruct me, for You are my God, my Saviour.

Remember Your compassion, o Lord, Your unfailing love from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth, but in Your love remember me.

Good and upright, the Lord teaches sinners His way. He teaches the humble of heart and guides them in what is right.

Monday, 14 December 2020 : 3rd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Numbers 24 : 2-7, 15-17a

Balaam looked up and saw Israel camping, tribe by tribe; and the Spirit of God came upon him and he uttered this song : “Word of Balaam, son of Beor, the seer, the one who hears the words of God, and beholds the vision of the Almighty, in ecstasy, with eyes unveiled.”

“How goodly are your tents, Jacob, your encampments, Israel! Like valleys stretching far, like gardens beside a stream, like aloes planted by YHVH, like cedars beside the waters. His buckets are overflowing and His seeds are always watered. His king becomes stronger than Agag, and His kingdom grows.

Then Balaam pronounced his oracle : “Word of Balaam, son of Beor, the seer, the one who hears the words of God, who has the knowledge from the Most High, and sees the vision of the Almighty, in ecstasy, with eyes unveiled. I see a Figure, but not really. I behold Him but not near. A Star shall come forth from Jacob, He rises with a staff in His hand.”