Monday, 25 January 2021 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Acts 22 : 3-16

Paul spoke to the Jews in Jerusalem, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up here, in this city, where I was educated in the school of Gamaliel, according to the strict observance of our law. And I was dedicated to God’s service, as are all of you today. As for this Way, I persecuted it to the point of death and arrested its followers, both men and women, throwing them into prison.”

“The High Priest and the whole Council of elders can bear witness to this. From them, I received letters for the Jewish brothers in Damascus; and I set out to arrest those who were there, and bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment. But, as I was travelling along, nearing Damascus, at about noon, a great light from the sky suddenly flashed about me.”

“I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me : ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?’ I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me : ‘I am Jesus, the Nazorean, Whom you persecute.’ The men who were with me saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of the One Who was speaking to me. I asked : ‘What shall I do, Lord?’”

“And the Lord replied : ‘Get up and go to Damascus; there, you will be told all that you are destined to do.’ Yet, the brightness of that light had blinded me; and so, I was led by the hand into Damascus by my companions. There, a certain Ananias came to me. He was a devout observer of the law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who were living there.”

“As he stood by me, he said : ‘Brother Saul, recover your sight.’ At that moment, I could see; and I looked at him. He, then, said, ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know His will, to see the Just One, and to hear the words from His mouth. From now on, you shall be His witness before all the pagan people, and tell them all that you have seen and heard.’”

“‘And now, why delay? Get up and be baptised, and have your sins washed away, by calling upon His Name.’”

Alternative reading

Acts 9 : 1-22

Meanwhile, Saul considered nothing but violence and death for the disciples of the Lord. He went to the High Priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues of Damascus that would authorise him to arrest and bring to Jerusalem, anyone he might find, man or woman, belonging to the Way.

As he travelled along and was approaching Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute Me?” And he asked, “Who are You, Lord?” The voice replied, “I am Jesus, Whom you persecute. Now, get up, and go into the city; there, you will be told what you are to do.”

The men who were travelling with him stood there speechless : they had heard the sound, but could see no one. Saul got up from the ground and, opening his eyes, he could not see. They took him by the hand and brought him to Damascus. He was blind; and he did not eat or drink for three days.

There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias, to whom the Lord called in a vision, “Ananias!” He answered, “Here I am, Lord!” Then the Lord said to him, “Go, at once, to Straight Street and ask, at the house of Judas, for a man of Tarsus named Saul. You will find him praying, for he has just seen in a vision that a man named Ananias has come in and placed his hands upon him, to restore his sight.”

Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man, and all the harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem; and now, he is here, with authority from the High Priest, to arrest all who call upon Your Name.”

But the Lord said to him, “Go! This man is My chosen instrument, to bring My Name to the pagan nations and their kings, and the people of Israel as well. I, Myself, will show him how much he will have to suffer for My Name.”

So Ananias left and went to the house. He laid his hands upon Saul and said, “Saul, my brother, the Lord Jesus, Who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me to you, so that you may receive your sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from his eyes and he could see; he got up and was baptised. Then he took food and was strengthened.

For several days Saul stayed with the disciples at Damascus, and he soon began to proclaim in the synagogues that Jesus was the Son of God. All who heard were astonished and said, “Is this not the one who cast out, in Jerusalem, all those calling upon this Name? Did he not come here, to bring them bound before the chief priests?”

But Saul grew more and more powerful; and he confounded the Jews living in Damascus when he proved that Jesus was the Messiah.

Sunday, 24 January 2021 : Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Sunday of the Word of God, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday which is the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time we also mark the occasion of the Sunday of the Word of God, and this year we celebrate the second time this occasion of the Sunday of the Word of God, after our Holy Father, Pope Francis instituted it in his Apostolic Letter Aperuit Illis on 30 September 2019.

This institution of the Sunday of the Word of God is an important reminder for all of us that the Sacred Scriptures, in which is contained the very Word of God, and which is the Word of God itself, is very important and central in our Christian faith and living. We cannot be true Christians unless we appreciate, understand and internalise the Word of God into our hearts and live our lives according to it.

Why is it important then that we appreciate, understand and internalise the Word of God in our lives, brothers and sisters in Christ? That is because if we do not know what the Word of God is, then how can we say that we know about our Christian faith? Our faith is more than just attending the Mass and doing our various devotions. Unless we deepen our understanding of the Word of God, then it will be difficult for us to remain faithful to God.

What do I mean by this? It means that without the Word of God in our lives, then our faith will be just like a house built on weak foundation, just as the Lord’s parable on the two houses, one built on sand and the other built on a firm rock foundation had illustrated this. If we do not know of this parable, or any other parables, or any other words of the Lord, the sayings of the prophets and the Apostles, then it shows just how lacking our knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures are.

Many people have criticised and spoken about us as Catholics that have not enough or appreciable knowledge about the Scriptures. Regardless of the context and intention, the sad reality is that this is the truth for quite a few of us. However, this problem in fact also extends to all Christians, regardless of denomination, for knowing the Scriptures also often does not equate to understanding the Word of God.

Take for example the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. These people were very knowledgeable about the Torah and could probably have memorised the entire verses of the Old Testament, the sayings of the prophets, and even learnt it all by heart. However, they did not understand fully the meaning of those words and the intention of those Word of God, and ended up making their own interpretations and following the flawed understanding of the Law, which made them to oppose much of the good works of God.

Therefore, in a similar way, unless we really make the effort to understand and internalise the Word of God into our lives, and learn of the true meaning, intention and purpose of God’s words, then it will be difficult for us to live a truly Christian way of life. And we cannot do this unless we make the effort to bring the Word of God, the Sacred Scriptures into our lives, by spending time to read and reflect on them.

We must appreciate the fact that the Word of God is now so easily and readily available to us because in the past, there was no such thing as a printed Bible available for every single Christians and for the multitudes of the people. The Bible is easily one of the most if not the most printed literary work out there, and it is all the more special because the Bible is itself, the Word of God contained through the revelations of the prophets, the authors and the Apostles inspired by the Holy Spirit.

However, we also have to keep in mind that while first of all of course we must make the effort to read the Scriptures and spend time to know more about the contents of the Bible, the Word of God, we must also understand it properly and meaningfully. Otherwise, we will end up like the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who misinterpreted the Word of God and the Law, and like the many people who had fallen into various heresies in the history of the Church.

It is very easy for us to misunderstand the true purpose and meaning of God’s words, just as Satan himself showed us during his temptation of the Lord Jesus, when he tried to use the verses of the Scripture and twisting its meaning and intention in order to try to persuade the Lord to fall into temptation and stop His works in saving us all mankind. But the Lord immediately rebuked the devil with other words of the Scriptures and defeated him, while revealing the wickedness of the devil’s intentions.

That is why, brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we celebrate the Sunday of the Word of God, we are reminded of the gravity of our responsibility as Christians, first of all to familiarise ourselves with the Word of God, and there is no better way to do that than to read the Scriptures and spend quality time in reading through the words written about the works of the Lord among His people, and the truth that He has revealed to us through Christ, Our Lord and Saviour.

However, we cannot just read the Scriptures separately on their own, or else, we may end up misinterpreting, misunderstanding and even worse still misusing the words of the Scriptures for the wrong purposes and intentions. Throughout history, that was how many different heretical sects had caused so much division within the Church and caused bitter struggle between the members of the faithful people of God.

That is why, all of us need to adhere closely to the teachings of the Church, the Magisterium of the Church, through which the Lord has preserved the truth that was contained within our Christian faith, as passed on to us through the Apostles and their successors. That was how the Church has persisted and persevered in maintaining the truth of God despite all the divisions and heresies that had happened throughout the past two millennia.

We must remember that the Sacred Scriptures and the Sacred Traditions of the Magisterium of the Church are the two important pillars of our faith, and they cannot be separated from each other. The Sacred Scriptures themselves came about by the authority of the Church and the Magisterium, who deliberated and decided on the list of the books and portions considered as ‘Canonical’, while rejecting many others of dubious origins and quality, or incoherent in its message.

At the same time, the Church and its Magisterium must remain true and faithful to the truth contained within the Word of God, the revelation of truth by Christ Himself, the Logos, the Divine Word Incarnate. Thus, both the Sacred Scriptures and the teachings of the Church together become the pillar and foundation of support for our genuine and authentic Christian faith and expression.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, through what we have heard in today’s Scripture readings we can clearly see how each and every one of us as Christians are called to follow the Lord and to be His true disciples and faithful witnesses in our respective communities, much as the prophet Jonah was sent to the people of Nineveh, calling on all to repent and turn back towards God.

All of us are the parts of the Church and therefore, we share in its mission to bring forth the truth and the Word of God to all the peoples of all the nations, following in the footsteps of the Apostles that the Lord had called and chosen. By our baptism, we too have been called and chosen to the same purpose and ministry. If we think then that we are unworthy or incapable of such deeds, then we need to realise that it is God Who makes us worthy, and as long as we trust in Him and put our faith in Him, then we have nothing to worry about.

And we do not need to do great and mighty things, as even the smallest and seemingly least significant of actions are what it takes for us to contribute to the cause of the Lord and His Church. Each and every one of us should therefore deepen our understanding and appreciation of the Word of God in the Scriptures, and make the effort to know more about the teachings of the Church, so that we will uphold the two pillars of our faith.

Through all these, we shall be true disciples and followers of the Lord, and by our actions and examples, we can inspire one another and so many other people, and through us, the Lord shall call many more to follow Him. Let us all therefore be the bearers and witnesses of God’s truth and be filled with the Word of God in all of our lives, in each and every one of our actions, now and always.

May God, the Divine Word Incarnate, Who has revealed to us His truth and love, continue to guide us and be with us always, and may He bless us all in our every good works and endeavours, in proclaiming His Word through our lives and actions. May God be with us all. Amen.