Tuesday, 27 December 2022 : Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we gather together as a Church, we honour the memory of one of the great servants of God, His beloved Apostle, one of the Twelve, namely that of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, the one who lived the longest among the Apostles and according to tradition was both the youngest among them during the Lord’s ministry as well as the only one who did not die in martyrdom, but still suffered greatly nonetheless for his faith and good works in God. St. John the Apostle and Evangelist lived to a long old life, even as he endured arrest, prison and exile in the island of Patmos, where he received the vision from God regarding the end times, as written in the Book of Revelations of St. John.

This Apostle was the younger brother of St. James the Greater, another one of the Twelve Apostles. Both of them were often referred to as the sons of Zebedee, and were fishermen at the lake of Galilee together with St. Peter and St. Andrew. All the four of them were among the first that the Lord had called to become His disciples, and St. John together with his brother, St. James and also St. Peter were often present in many of the important events throughout the ministry of the Lord Jesus such as the Transfiguration, the resurrection of the sick daughter of the synagogue official Jairus, as well as the moments of the Passion of the Lord like the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. All the three of them including St. John were present at those important events, and hence he truly must have had a great knowledge of what had happened during the Lord’s work and ministry.

In the Gospel passage we heard today, we heard of the story from the Gospel written by St. John himself of the moment when the Lord was risen from the dead. At that occasion, it was told that when St. Mary Magdalene came bearing the information that the Lord has risen and disappeared from the tomb, St. John was among the first of the Apostles, together with St. Peter, who went to check the truth of what they have just heard. St. John believed in what he had seen and heard, and had faith in God, which had kept him going throughout all those years afterwards when he had to endure a lot of trials and hardships as a missionary and a worker of the Lord, carrying out His will in faraway places and lands, and facing both successes and challenges throughout all those occasions and years.

In our first reading today, the Epistle that St. John himself had written, to all the faithful people of God, we heard St. John yet again testifying about the Lord, highlighting how the Love of God has manifested in the Lord Jesus Christ, the One Whose every works and good deeds, wonders and miracles, wisdom and teachings he had witnessed and heard. St. John hence shared of what he had experienced and believed in, and placed particular emphasis on the Incarnation of the Word, the Divine Word of God, the Son, in the flesh, to come down into our midst as the Saviour of all. Like that of another of very popular quote from his Gospel, St. John wrote of the exchanges between the Lord Jesus and the Pharisee, Nicodemus in which Jesus said that, ‘For God so loved the world that He gave us all His only beloved Son, so that all those who believed in Him may not perish but have eternal life.’

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we heard from these Scripture passages today, as written and recorded by St. John himself, we are reminded that each and every one of us are also witnesses and bearers of this same truth which St. John had himself received from the Lord, and just like St. John who had to labour and faced a lot of trials over the many years that he had spent in his ministry and calling as an Apostle and also an Evangelist, all of us as God’s holy people, the members of His same Church and part of that same one flock should therefore also carry out the respective missions, vocations and callings that each one of us have received as disciples and followers of the Lord. We cannot be ignorant of the responsibilities that each one of us as Christians have in being good bearers of the truth of God and as the beacons of His light and hope.

Yes, brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we rejoice together and celebrate the memory of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, remembering all the great deeds he had done for the sake of the Lord and His people, all of us are reminded that the works that the Lord had begun and entrusted to His Church through His Apostles like St. John are far from being completed. On the contrary, there are always many more opportunities and occasions where there may be a lot of chance for us to be the bearers of God’s truth and love in our communities today, or within our own families and circles of friends, with acquaintances and even strangers we encounter daily in life. And this Christmas season is one of those occasions in which we can reach out to our fellow brethren with pure and genuine Christian love.

That is why it is important that each one of us understand the true meaning and importance of Christmas, knowing that Christmas is truly the manifestation of God’s Love, just as St. John had stated in various occasions, of the Divine Word and Son of God incarnate, taking up upon Himself our humble human nature and existence, so that by this action, He might accomplish everything that had been planned and prophesied for us, our salvation and liberation from the bondage of sin, evil and death. The question is whether we understand and appreciate this truth, and even more importantly, whether we show it in our way of celebrating Christmas, by putting Christ at the centre of all of our rejoicing, celebrations and festivities, or whether we have allowed the excesses of the secular form of Christmas, all the worldly merrymaking and parties to distract us from the true meaning of Christmas.

That is why we should reflect well on this, and if we have not done so, we should change our emphasis and focus in the way we celebrate Christmas. Christmas should no longer be about ourselves or be about our pleasures and happiness, while forgetting about others and those who are suffering around us. Instead of a selfish celebration and excessive merrymaking and feasting, we should be ever more committed as the followers and disciples of the Lord, in showing one another what true Christian love is all about, sharing the same love that Christ our Lord had come bearing with Him into this world, by reaching out to the less fortunate and all those who are not able to celebrate Christmas the way we do. Let us also seek reconciliation and forgiveness from one another for all the past faults we have made as well.

May the Lord through the examples and life of His faithful servant and Apostle, St. John, continue to strengthen and inspire us to be ever more dedicated and faithful in all things. May He help us to appreciate and understand better what He had Himself done for us so that we too may become good witnesses and bearers of His love, His truth and His ways. May God bless our every efforts and endeavours, our every actions and good works at all times, now and forevermore. Amen.

Tuesday, 27 December 2022 : 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.

Tuesday, 27 December 2022 : 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.

Tuesday, 27 December 2022 : 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.

Monday, 26 December 2022 : Feast of St. Stephen, Protomartyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we come to this day after the Christmas Day, we celebrate together as the Church the Feast of St. Stephen, the Protomartyr or the very first Martyr of the Church. This means that St. Stephen the first one to die for his faith in God, in giving his life for the sake of the glory of God and in the midst of his mission. We may wonder why just immediately right after the most joyful celebration of Christmas Day we suddenly enter into this sombre occasion of the memory of the martyrdom of St. Stephen, but in truth, this celebration of St. Stephen and his martyrdom is an important reminder for all of us what Christmas is truly all about. St. Stephen reminds us all that Christmas is about celebrating the coming of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, Who brought into our midst the truth about the love of God for each one of us, and which truth is the reason why St. Stephen died courageously in defending that truth and Good News from those who tried to silence him and the Church.

Contextually, back then, when St. Stephen began his ministry as one of the first seven Deacons appointed to minister to the Church and to the people of God, it was still not long after the suffering, crucifixion and the death of the Lord Jesus on the Cross, as well as His Resurrection from the dead on the third day after the Crucifixion. The Sanhedrin, or the Jewish High Council which members were mostly opposed to the Lord and His teachings, tried to hide the truth by spreading lies and falsehoods, bribing the Roman soldiers sent to guard the tomb to speak up with the false words that the Apostles and the other disciples of the Lord had come to steal His Body from the tomb while the soldiers were sleeping. They tried to hide the truth of the Lord’s words, how everything happened just as He had predicted it, and hence, showing that what they had done in trying to persecute the Lord and His ministry, had been flawed and mistaken in the first place.

Yet, the High Priest and the other chief priests, many of the most influential members of the Pharisees and the Sadducees both continued to maintain their lies and attempted to silence the Apostles and the disciples of the Lord, persecuting the Church and arresting all those who professed to believe in the Lord and His Good News. The Sanhedrin commanded them all to stay silent and not to speak or teach anymore in the Name of the Lord, but they could not silence the courageous and most faithful servants of God. Those servants, including that of St. Stephen, the Apostles and the many disciples and followers of the Lord chose to continue to proclaim the Lord and His truth, the words of wisdom and the salvation that He has promised to all of us, even when they face a certainty of oppression, suffering and even death at the hands of their enemies.

That was how St. Stephen ended up facing his martyrdom, just as we heard in our first reading passage today. St. Stephen had been most vocal and active in his ministry among the people, distributing the goods to the faithful. That made him marked and targeted by his enemies who then plotted against him and tried to destroy him, just as we heard. They made false statements and accusations, but all of those could not hold against the wisdom of God found in St. Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit and the gifts that the Spirit bestowed on him. That was also the moment when St. Stephen courageously defended his faith before the whole assembly of the Sanhedrin and their supporters, sharing the wisdom and truth of God to dispel the falsehoods and lies they had spread.

That was exactly how the Lord Himself had predicted would happen to His disciples as we heard in our Gospel passage today, and how He told them all that they had no need to be afraid because God and His Holy Spirit would always be with them, and the Wisdom of God would guide and strengthen them against their enemies and all those who plotted against them. St. Stephen showed great courage despite facing certainty of suffering and death, and did what he could to defend his faith and the truth of God, proclaiming the words of truth before everyone and still hoping that they would finally listen to reason and turn away from their wicked ways. Although many of those people continued to harden their hearts and minds, and stoned St. Stephen to death, the servant of God died in peace knowing that he had done what he could for the Lord and His people.

The death of St. Stephen, his suffering and everything that he had to endure for the sake of the Lord all are reminders for us that this Christmas we are all called to be the witnesses of the Lord and proclaim His truth in our own communities, as those who have seen and received the fullness of truth just as St. Stephen had, through the gift and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, and through the teachings of the Church. Christmas is not just a time of great rejoicing and celebrations, but also a time for us to remember that Christ is the Love of God personified and manifested in the flesh, Who has come down into our midst to dwell among us and to gather us all into His presence and embrace once again. It is this same truth which St. Stephen had suffered and died from, defending it from all those who rejected the Lord as their Saviour.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all consider carefully as we progress through this Christmas season that we do not end up forgetting the real reason why we celebrate Christmas in the first place. Christmas is celebrated because we truly honour the Lord Who has come into our midst, reaching out to us sinners, as we see the love which He has for all of us, manifested in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, born that day in Bethlehem in Judea, fulfilling all the promises which God has made to us. And it is imperative that we stand by Him and His truth, and make Him the centre of our celebrations so that not only we rejoice in His coming, but more and more people may come to see the truth and love of God and therefore come to believe in Him as well. That is what St. Stephen had done, in reminding everyone, including all of us, of the reason why we celebrate Christmas.

Christmas is truly about a celebration of the love of God which has allowed us all to have hope today, because without God and His love, there can be no hope for us, and we would have been doomed to eternal damnation because of our disobedience and multitudes of sins. It was by the suffering, death and ultimately, the Resurrection of the Lord, our Saviour that we have received healing and rejuvenation, hope and new strength, which He has provided us through His coming into this world, His actions and providence by His ministry in the world, as He came offering us this new hope and the light that He delivers unto us all, and by which we have seen the Light of His salvation. And because God has loved us so much that He was even willing to suffer and die for our sake, should we not then love Him in the same way as well?

Christ’s love is what encouraged and strengthened St. Stephen, that guided by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, he chose to stand by his faith in God. Let us all therefore be inspired in the same way by the love of Our Lord and Saviour, which He has shown us from His Cross, and also by the courage of St. Stephen, holy martyr and most devout servant of God. May the Lord bless us all and may He grant us His strength to persevere against all the challenges and trials we may have to face in life, because of His love and truth. Amen.