Wednesday, 25 January 2023 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today the whole Church marks the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, in which we remember the moment when St. Paul the Apostle, then known as Saul, turned away from his path of persecuting the followers of Christ in the earliest days of the Church, and then became one of the Lord’s greatest champions and defenders instead. This Feast marks that moment when even such a great sinner and enemy of the Lord and His people could turn away from his wrong path and walk in the path of God’s righteousness. The example of St. Paul the Apostle and his conversion is a classic and very good example that no sinner is truly beyond God’s help and grace, as long as the sinner is willing to make amends and listen to the Lord calling on him or her, and turn back towards Him.

As Saul, in his earlier life, St. Paul was a young and overzealous Pharisee who was convinced to try to eradicate the Christian faith and all Christians throughout Judea and beyond. He was the leader of the efforts to persecute and destroy Christian believers, arresting and torturing them, and striking at them in conjunction with the Pharisees and the chief priests. Saul caused great harm to many among the faithful and he probably led to the suffering and death of many earliest Christians. He was present at and approved the martyrdom of St. Stephen, one of the Church’s seven original Deacons and the first of the martyrs of the Church. No one therefore could have believed that it was possible for one like Saul to embrace the Christian faith, less still to become one of the Lord’s chief defenders and servants.

Yet, that was what happened. The Lord called Saul on his way to Damascus to arrest and eradicate the Christians living there. He was called by the Lord in a miraculous and dramatic encounter between the two of them, as he saw and witnessed the Lord appearing to him, and revealing to him the truth, of the mistake he has committed in persecuting and arresting the Lord’s followers. Saul experienced for himself the encounter with the Lord and ever since then, through his baptism and miraculous healing via the assistance of Ananias, a disciple of the Lord, Saul’s life was completely changed and made anew, as he embarked on a new life that was faithful to the Lord, giving his best, all of his efforts and hard work to serve the Lord and to glorify Him, becoming one of the Lord’s greatest disciples and champions.

That was how Saul turned to eventually become St. Paul the Apostle, from a great enemy of Christians and the Lord Himself, to a great disciple and a most faithful servant of God, one of the Apostles and a great missionary who devoted his whole life, a lot of time and effort for the sake of proclaiming the Lord and His truth to more and more people all throughout the world. St. Paul’s example, faith and dedication ought to inspire all of us that even if we have sinned against God, or think that our sins made us to be unworthy of Him and His love, we have the hope of salvation and eternal life all the same. God’s love for us is far greater than all of our sins and wickedness, and in St. Paul’s own words, in one of his Epistles, nothing can separate us from the love of God. Undoubtedly, St. Paul was referring to his own example as the great example of how even great sinners can become great servants of God and saints.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we celebrate this Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle all of us are reminded that we are all also called by the Lord for the same purpose and mission in our own lives. Each and every one of us as members of the Church are parts of the Church’s works and missions in proclaiming the truth of God and evangelising the whole world. All of us are successors of the works entrusted by the Lord to His Apostles and disciples, the missions that the Lord entrusted to His Church. The works of St. Paul and the other Apostles and disciples of the Lord are still aplenty and ongoing, as there are ever more people out there who have not yet known the Lord and His truth. St. Paul the Apostle showed us the way forward in life, in how we should commit ourselves to God’s mission and works.

Now the question is, are we willing to do our best to follow the Lord in the way that St. Paul himself had done? Are we willing to embrace the Lord and His mercy and forgiveness once again, as He continued to reach out to us, calling us to turn away from our sinful and wicked ways? Are we willing to embrace God’s love and grace in showing us His mercy even when we have often disappointed Him? All of us should appreciate the things that God has done in patiently embracing us despite of our constant stubborn attitude and rebelliousness. He has always loved us and wanted us to be reconciled with Him, and gave us the means to do so through His Son, Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. By His suffering, death on the Cross and by His Resurrection, the Lord has opened for us the gates of Heaven and shown us the path towards Him.

Now, what each one of us need to do is to reflect on how St. Paul embraced the Lord wholeheartedly and humbly accepted that he was mistaken and wrong in his youth, and allowing the Lord and His other Apostles, as well as the Holy Spirit to help and guide him down the wrong path. Too often many of us continue to sin and disobey God because we are too proud to admit our mistakes and faults, and we are unwilling to let the Lord to correct us. For all that St. Paul had done in his youth as Saul to persecute Christians, he was humble enough to accept the truth of the Lord and embrace His mercy and compassionate love. Are we also willing to embrace God’s truth and love with humility and faith? The choice is ours alone to make. If we continue to walk with pride and refusing to accept our errors and mistakes in life, we will likely end up continuing down the wrong path.

Let us all therefore strive to renew our faith and lives by our humble obedience to the Lord and the willingness to change ourselves by listening to God’s will and words. Let us all be growing ever stronger in our faith and relationship with the Lord in the way that St. Paul had done himself. Let us be converted in life and draw ever closer to the Lord, and be good role models in our lives and actions, that we may inspire many others to live worthily of the Lord. Let us trust in God’s love that is so great that not even the greatest of sinners are beyond God’s mercy and forgiveness. May God continue to strengthen our faith and may He bless us in our everyday lives and actions. May God bless us in our every endeavours, efforts and good works for His greater glory, now and always. Amen.

Wednesday, 25 January 2023 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Mark 16 : 15-18

At that time, Jesus told His disciples, “Go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News to all creation. The one who believes and is baptised will be saved; the one who refuses to believe will be condemned.”

“Signs like these will accompany those who have believed : in My Name they will cast out demons and speak new languages; they will pick up snakes, and if they drink anything poisonous, they will be unharmed; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will be healed.”

Wednesday, 25 January 2023 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 116 : 1, 2

Alleluia! Praise YHVH, all you nations; all you peoples, praise Him.

How great is His love for us! His faithfulness lasts forever.

Wednesday, 25 January 2023 : 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.

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.

Wednesday, 30 November 2022 : Feast of St. Andrew, Apostle (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today the Church celebrates the Feast of one of the great Twelve Apostles of the Lord, namely that of St. Andrew the Apostle, also known as St. Andrew the First-Called because he was indeed one of the first if not the first one among the Twelve Apostles to be called by the Lord to be one of His followers. St. Andrew the Apostle was once a fisherman of the region of the lake of Galilee, together with his brother St. Peter, the chief of all the Apostles and first Vicar of Christ, as well as the sons of Zebedee, St. James and St. John, another two of the Twelve Apostles. Altogether, the four of them were the first of the Twelve Apostles to follow the Lord, and were the Lord’s first disciples, leaving everything behind in order to follow Him.

St. Andrew according to the Gospel of St. John and tradition was also one of the disciples of St. John the Baptist, and was one of the two disciples who became first followers of Christ because St. John the Baptist at the moment when he baptised the Lord Jesus at the River Jordan proclaimed, ‘Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world’, revealing that the One he had just baptised, was truly the One Whom God had promised, the Messiah and Saviour of the whole world. St. Andrew and the other unnamed disciple of St. John the Baptist therefore decided to follow the Lord from then on, and it was likely hence that St. Andrew was the one who introduced the Lord to his fellow fishermen, his brother St. Peter as well as the brothers St. James and St. John as mentioned.

St. Andrew the Apostle was often present at many important events in the Lord’s ministry as mentioned in the Gospels. He continued to carry out his ministry amidst the challenges and trials of the world, and all the persecutions facing the faithful after the Lord has suffered, died on the Cross and risen from the dead, and sent out His disciples and the Apostles to the many distant parts of the world to proclaim the Word of God and the Good News of His salvation to all the people in those places. St. Andrew himself according to Apostolic and Church traditions, went to the various regions in the distant north from the Holy Land, in places like Scythia, which corresponds to the modern day parts of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. He also ministered to the people in other places like the Balkans, establishing the See of Byzantium, which would later on became the principal See of Constantinople of his successors, and Greece among others.

St. Andrew later would suffer martyrdom as described by the traditions of the Church, as he was arrested and condemned to death in the region of what is now Greece. He was crucified on an X-shaped cross, which henceforth would be known as St. Andrew’s Cross. He remained firm in his dedication and faith in God, doing his best in fulfilling God’s missions and calling entrusted to Him. St. Andrew continued to persevere in the mission which the Lord has given him, to the very end. He chose to suffer and die rather than to abandon His mission and to endure the hardships of this world rather than to stay silent amidst proclaiming the words of God’s truth against the falsehoods and evils of this world. His examples, faith and convictions should inspire us in our own way of observing the Law of God and in following His path.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we reflect together on this Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle upon the actions and life work of this Apostle and holy man of God, let us all discern our own actions and way of life, in how we live our lives as Christians in our world today. Have we placed the Lord our God as the centre and focus of our lives, or have we instead allowed ourselves to be swayed by the many temptations and allures of this world that we end up being drawn further and further away from the Lord and His salvation? It is important that we reflect upon these today as we continue to progress through the season of Advent in preparation for the great celebrations at Christmas. That is because we must not be ignorant of our calling and mission as Christians, to be the beacons of God’s light and hope in our world today.

Often we may think that we are unworthy or incapable of doing what the Lord has entrusted to us to do, but this is because we do not realise or understand that it is not we who make ourselves worthy of the Lord or decide whether we are worthy or not. Instead, it is God Himself Who calls and has called upon all those whom He deems to be worthy. After all, He knows everything in us, all in our hearts and minds, even to the deepest of our secrets. Nothing is hidden from His All-Knowing might, and hence, He knows perfectly what we are capable of, and He empowers each one of us with unique and variety of gifts, blessings and opportunities to do His will, and to be fruitful in the missions that He has entrusted to each one of us. All of us should follow in the footsteps of St. Andrew the Apostle, and the other Apostles and saints.

The works that the Lord had entrusted to His Apostles and disciples are still far from being completed, brothers and sisters in Christ. There are still many areas where there are people who have not yet known the truth, wisdom and salvation in God, and there are many of those who can be called closer to God and His truth, His salvation and grace by our lives and actions. We have been entrusted with many things by the Lord, and sometimes we ourselves do not realise this, as we are often too preoccupied with worldly matters, our desires and ambitions that we end up being blindsided and unable to realise what a great opportunity that we have been given by God, and how we often squandered those opportunities and gifts, in ignoring and not answering to the call that the Lord has made upon us to follow Him.

Let us all therefore entrust ourselves to the Lord, following the examples that saints like St. Andrew the Apostle had done. Let us all allow the Lord to lead and guide us in our lives so that we may truly walk faithfully down the path that He has prepared for us. Let us all be active in the faithful living and carrying out of our Christian duties and obligations, in being true and shining beacons of God’s light and truth in our world today. Are we willing to commit ourselves to this path? And are we willing to commit our effort, time and attention to do what the Lord had called us to do and entrusted in our care? Let us ask St. Andrew to intercede for us, that God may always be by our side and strengthen us in whatever struggles and paths that He has called us to walk through, now and always, evermore. May our lives, and especially this time of Advent be a truly fruitful one. Amen.

Wednesday, 30 November 2022 : Feast of St. Andrew, Apostle (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Matthew 4 : 18-22

At that time, as Jesus walked by the lake of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come, follow Me; and I will make you fish for people.”

At once they left their nets and followed Him. He went on from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John, in a boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. Jesus called them.

At once, they left the boat, and their father, and followed Him.