Saturday, 8 December 2018 : Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today together with the entire Universal Church we rejoice together to celebrate the great Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Our Lord and God, Jesus Christ. On this day we focus on our belief that Mary, as the Mother of God, was granted that singular grace by God to be conceived without a single taint by sin, and therefore, remained also without sin through her birth and life.

That is why the Church has placed the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the eighth day of December, full nine months prior to the Solemnity of her Nativity on the eighth day of September. And these solemnities and feasts highlight to us the incredible life of Mary, the one whom God has chosen to be the Mother of the Lord and Saviour of the world.

And why is this special focus on Mary, brothers and sisters in Christ? That is because all of mankind, save for Mary and her Son, Jesus, have been corrupted by sin from the moment of their conception, because of the taint of the original sin of our forefathers, beginning from the time of Adam and Eve, as mentioned in our first reading passage today. Satan tempted Eve and then Adam to disobey God, and through their disobedience sin entered into our midst.

And sin is a great corruption on our whole being, affecting our entire self, from the physical, to the mental and spiritual parts of ourselves. Therefore, if we are corrupted by sin, then, we cannot be with God and be in His presence, for God is all good and perfect, without corruption and without sin. We will be destroyed because of our sins, and unless we purify ourselves, we cannot be with God.

That is why, if we read through the Old Testament, in the Book of Leviticus and in other traditions of Israel, the people of God have to purify themselves first prior to coming to the presence of God. This was also why the Temple of Solomon and the succeeding Temple of Jerusalem has large basins designed for the containing of water for ritual purification for the people and the priests offering the sacrifices.

And in the original Temple of Solomon, and earlier on, the Tent of Meeting, was housed the Ark of the Covenant, within which were the two slabs of stone on which the Ten Commandments were written, the staff of Aaron and the sample of manna, the heavenly bread. All of these were the concrete signs of God’s presence in the midst of His people, as part of the Covenant that God has sealed with His people, thus naming the Ark as the Ark of the Covenant.

The Ark of the Covenant was made from the finest materials, crafted with the finest details from gold, as the most precious vessel for the Lord’s presence, and placed within the holiest part of the Lord’s Temple, the Holy of Holies, veiled and not easily visible to the people from the outside. All of these symbolisms and details served to show the people, how God is all powerful and mighty, and unless we are worthy to be in His presence, we will perish.

And if that Ark of the Covenant, filled with the memorial of God’s Covenant as written in the two slabs of the Ten Commandments and the proof of God’s power in the staff of Aaron and the manna, then how all the more wonderful is the New Ark of the Covenant, which is none other than Mary herself, chosen by God to be the Vessel through which He would send into this world, the fulfilment of His promise of salvation, the New Covenant that He would establish with all of us His people, once and for all.

The choice of a woman to be the bearer of the Saviour of the world has been revealed to the world itself, in fact, ever since the time when man first fell into sin, as mentioned in our first reading today. Although men were punished for their disobedience against God, and thus deserving death and damnation, but God still loved them and wanted them to be saved, for in the end, it was because of Satan’s evil machinations that men fell, and thus, He proclaimed before man and Satan, that while Satan would continue to strike at the sons and daughters of man, but through the Woman, who is to come, Satan’s dominion and reign over man’s fate will come to an end.

That woman is Mary, whom God chose from among all the sons and daughters, descendants of Adam and Eve, all sinners, to be the one who would bear the Messiah. And this is where our faith and belief in the Immaculate Conception of Mary must be linked to what we have just discussed earlier about the corruption of sin, and about the Ark of the Covenant, how holy it was and how precious the materials that were used in its construction.

For God willed that Mary alone out of all those born of man and woman, would not have the taint of sin, which is the corruption of our body, mind, heart and soul. Mary alone would be granted the singular grace of this immaculate nature, coming from the word immaculate that means ‘pure’. Mary was specially designed by God to be pure and perfect in all things, as how He created them at the beginning before sin came into our midst.

Is such a thing possible? Of course, brothers and sisters in Christ, it is definitely possible, for nothing is impossible for God. God is almighty, omnipotent, all-powerful and all-knowing. Surely it is within His power to will a being without sin into creation, and thus, Mary was made, the perfect New Ark for the New Covenant, that is Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Mary is that new vessel through which the One Who would establish and seal the eternal Covenant between us and God would be born.

And the nature of this New Ark, Mary, is indeed marvellous. For unlike the old Ark, crafted by the hands of men out of worldly materials of gold and other precious materials, the New Ark, that is Mary, was made by the hands of God Himself, crafted in His own image and perfection. And therefore, this creation of God far surpassed the creation of man, and indeed, fitting, for this New Covenant is nothing like the old Covenant.

For in Jesus Christ, the New Covenant, God Himself came down in the flesh through Mary, His mother. Through Mary, God became incarnate into Man, assuming His human nature, which was then united but remained distinct from His divine nature, in the person of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, Son of Mary. Just as the Spirit of God hovered over the old Ark of the Covenant and the whole Temple of Jerusalem built by King Solomon at its consecration, the Holy Spirit came down on Mary and by the will of God, the Saviour, the Divine Word Incarnate was conceived in Mary’s womb.

Thus, after going through all these, surely we can see why God made Mary to be perfect and blameless, without a single taint of sin. Just as God is all good and perfect, and sin has no place before Him, then the Vessel that bears Him, for nine months in the womb, must also be blameless and perfect, free from any taints, including that of sin. That is why, God made Mary to be special, and affirmed by the Archangel Gabriel, who greeted her with the greeting, “Hail Mary, full of grace”.

Of course, this does not make Mary to be divine or a goddess, unlike what some would accuse the Church and us of doing. There has been plenty of misunderstandings and misrepresentations on the Marian Dogmas of the Immaculate Conception, of the Perpetual Virginity and the Assumption, in which certain people had this misconception that we worship Mary like as if she is a goddess. This is not true, and which all of us as Christians must be very clear about.

Mary is still an ordinary human being like us, but at the same time also special, because of the role for which God has prepared her to be. But we also venerate her and love her so much, because after all, she is none other and nothing less than the Mother of Our God Himself, and if we profess to believe in Jesus Christ, love Him and wanting to devote ourselves to Him, how can we then not love His mother, Mary, whom He Himself loved very much?

Today, as all of us rejoice together in this great Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, all of us are called to spend some time to reflect on our own lives, on our own actions in life, on whatever we have done to others, on every words and deeds we have given and shown. Are we able to call ourselves good disciples and followers of our God? Or are there many areas in which we can improve ourselves, in growing deeper in our relationship with God, and in turning away from our sins?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to imitate the examples of Mary, who is not just conceived and born, and lived without the taint of sin by the grace of God, but even more importantly, whose life is an inspiration to all of us. She suffered a lot in her life, and as a poor woman from Nazareth, surely she encountered many challenges throughout her life. Yet, she remained good in her faith in God, and remained committed to God, obeying His will and whatever He has planned for us through her.

Are we able to dedicate ourselves to the Lord in the same way as Mary had done? Are we able to say ‘yes’ to the Lord’s call and allow Him to do His wonders through us, just as Mary responded to the Good News proclaimed by the Archangel Gabriel with perfect humility and obedience, with her own words, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to His will”?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we continue to progress through this season of Advent, let us spend more time in prayer and in trying to deepen our relationship with God. Let us ask the Lord to reveal in our hearts and minds, in the silence of our prayers, what His will is for each and every one of us. May the Lord continue to watch over us and draw us closer to Him, and may His blessed mother Mary, the Immaculate Conception, continue to intercede for us, now and always. Amen.

Saturday, 8 December 2018 : Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Luke 1 : 26-38

In the sixth month, the Angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth. He was sent to a young virgin, who was betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the family of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

The Angel came to her and said, “Rejoice, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” Mary was troubled at these words, wondering what this greeting could mean. But the Angel said, “Do not fear, Mary, for God has looked kindly on you. You shall conceive and bear a Son, and you shall call Him Jesus. He will be great, and shall rightly be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the kingdom of David, His ancestor; He will rule over the people of Jacob forever, and His reign shall have no end.”

Then Mary said to the Angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” And the Angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the Holy Child to be born of you shall be called Son of God. Even your relative Elizabeth is expecting a son in her old age, although she was unable to have a child; and she is now in her sixth month. With God nothing is impossible.”

Then Mary said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me as you have said.” And the Angel left her.

Saturday, 8 December 2018 : Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Ephesians 1 : 3-6, 11-12

Blessed be God, the Father of Christ Jesus our Lord, Who, in Christ, has blessed us from heaven, with every spiritual blessing. God chose us, in Christ, before the creation of the world, to be holy, and without sin in His presence.

From eternity He destined us, in love, to be His adopted sons and daughters, through Christ Jesus, thus fulfilling His free and generous will. This goal suited Him : that His loving-kindness, which He granted us in His beloved might finally receive all glory and praise.

By a decree of Him, Who disposes all things, according to His own plan and decision, we, the Jews, have been chosen and called, and we were awaiting the Messiah, for the praise of His glory.

Saturday, 8 December 2018 : Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 97 : 1, 2-3ab, 3bc-4

Sing to YHVH a new song, for He has done wonders; His right hand, His holy arm, has won victory for Him.

YHVH has shown His salvation, revealing His justice to the nations. He has not forgotten His love, nor His faithfulness to Israel.

The farthest ends of the earth all have seen God’s saving power. All you, lands, make a joyful noise to YHVH, break into song and sing praise.

Saturday, 8 December 2018 : Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Genesis 3 : 9-15, 20

YHVH God called the man saying to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard Your voice in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.” God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree I ordered you not to eat?”

The man answered, “The woman You put with me gave me fruit from the tree and I ate it.” God said to the woman, “What have you done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me and I ate.”

YHVH God said to the serpent, “Since you have done that, be cursed among all the cattle and wild beasts! You will crawl on your belly and eat dust all the days of your life. I will make you enemies, you and the woman, your offspring and her offspring. He will crush your head and you will strike his heel.”

The man called his wife by the name of Eve, because she was the mother of all the living.

Friday, 7 December 2018 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we come together listening to the word of God in which we heard about the coming of God’s healing, mercy and forgiveness, which we heard from the prophet Isaiah, the Psalm and the Gospel passage of today. We ought to look up to the coming of God’s kingdom of peace, love and harmony and put our hope in Him, especially during the time of preparation in this season of Advent.

First of all, in the reading taken from the Book of the prophet Isaiah we heard about the promise of liberation and salvation which would come to the people of God, Israel. It was a promise and hope that the people were looking forward to, especially if we understand the history and the context behind what the prophet Isaiah has proclaimed before the people of Israel.

At that time, during the latter years of the kingdom of Judah, the southern half and division of the ancient kingdom of Israel, while the kingdom was prosperous and led by the good and faithful king Hezekiah, but the northern kingdom of Israel has been destroyed and its people brought into exile and scattered by the Assyrians. And the Assyrians themselves came up all the way to Judah and besieged Jerusalem.

If not for God’s intervention that caused the Assyrians to leave the city of God aside after the Angel of God slaughtered almost the entire Assyrian army, the kingdom of Judah itself would have suffered the same fate as its northern brethren. And the kingdom and people of Judah also had many other often hostile and powerful neighbours who always sought for the opportunity to destroy them.

With the understanding of this historical context, now we should be able to appreciate better just how important and good the hope which the prophet Isaiah has given the people with what he proclaimed to them as recorded in the Book. That hope is anchored in the mind of the people of God with the expectation of the coming Messiah or Saviour that God has promised His people, the One Who was said that He would be the Son of David.

And in the Gospel passage today we heard just exactly what had been fulfilled in our Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of David and Son of God, Who came into the world to fulfil the Lord’s promises to His people. He healed all those who came to Him with sicknesses and problems, those who have been possessed by evil spirits and in other forms of trouble. He healed them all and provided them the fullness of God’s love and compassionate mercy.

Thus in the readings we heard today, we heard all that we should reflect on throughout this blessed time of Advent, in the lead-up to Christmas. Advent is a time for us to reorientate ourselves and our lives, and to refocus our attention and focus on God, the One Whom all of us are expecting in this season. We remember both of His historical coming into this world as mentioned in the Gospel passage today, all that He has done, but also the upcoming eternal kingdom of God at the end of time.

All of us are people who are afflicted and in suffering, just as the people of Judah in Isaiah’s time suffered from the various conditions mentioned earlier in today’s discourse, and just as the blind men in the Gospel and the other people with various problems who came to Jesus for healing and mercy. We are afflicted like them, because of our sins. Sin is the worst affliction of all, as sin strikes at the deepest part of ourselves, and there is no healing for sin, except for the mercy and forgiveness from God.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, are we willing to go and seek God’s mercy, and reorientate our lives during the opportunity that God has given us during this season of Advent? Are we going to let this upcoming Christmas season be just like the other Christmas seasons that have passed, if we have not been celebrating it right, and with the wrong focus and intention? God is calling us to repent from our sins and to return to Him.

Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Ambrose, whose life and inspiration, whose dealings with sinners can be a good example for us to follow. St. Ambrose was the famous bishop of Milan, who was considered among the four original Doctors of the Church, for his great intellect and wisdom, his great leadership of the Church, both in Milan and beyond, and for his many other contributions to the Church.

St. Ambrose was born of a Roman noble family, and rose to the rank of governor of the province of what is now northern Italy, because of his many talents and good works. He was beloved by many of the people because of his great contributions and commitment to serve the people. And when the Arian heretic bishop of Milan died, St. Ambrose was chosen by acclamation to be the new bishop of Milan from all the people even when he was not even a priest yet.

St. Ambrose dedicated himself to the ministry of the episcopate and the shepherding of the people of God. He spoke out strongly against heresies and against all those who sought to oppose the good works of the Church. And in one notable event, St. Ambrose himself went up against the powerful Roman Emperor, Theodosius the Great, when the Emperor ordered a massacre in the city of Thessalonica in Greece.

St. Ambrose excommunicated the Emperor for the blatant act of sin in the massacre, in the killing of many innocents amidst the massacre. And the Emperor acceded to the demands of St. Ambrose for a public show of repentance and penance. The Emperor publicly admitted his errors in sackcloth, and was welcomed back into the Church by St. Ambrose, who thereafter continued to serve the people of God until his death.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we are called to prepare ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually to be closer again to God, as we prepare for the upcoming season of Christmas during this Advent. Let us all spend more time in prayer and devotion to God, looking up with hope towards God, in Whom alone lies the hope of eternal glory and salvation. May the Lord, through the intercession of His servant St. Ambrose, bring us ever closer to Him, that we may be worthy of the eternal life He has promised all those who are faithful to Him. Amen.

Friday, 7 December 2018 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

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, 7 December 2018 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

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, 7 December 2018 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

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, 6 December 2018 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Nicholas, Bishop (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Bishops)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scripture, speaking to us about the strong faith and trust that we all must have to the Lord our God. God alone is our trustworthy hope and the one and only foundation of our lives that we can depend on, and not the many other forms of so-called foundations and assurances that are of this world.

What are these things that we mankind often trust above that of the Lord? It is our attachment and obsession over money, material goods, power, fame, worldly glory and human assurances, praise and adulations, that led us to put our trust in all these things, that are unfortunately, temporary and impermanent in nature. But many of us do not realise this, and we continue to depend on them and put on excessive trust in them.

We think that all of our worldly powers, might and whatever we accumulate in life, our prestige, honour, glory, wealth and influence can do us something good in the end. But, do we realise the shortness of our lives and the mortality of our bodies? It is a known fact that we cannot live forever, and all of us will die at one point in our lives. Some of us have a long life, while for others they may be short.

Few of us can understand the fragility of our lives. And many of us live our lives as if we will not see the end of our days anytime soon. Instead, we grow even more in our excesses and deeper in our desires for worldly pleasures and accompaniments. And this is when Satan sees a great opportunity in turning us to fall into the traps he has prepared for us, to bring about our downfall.

First of all, when we have all these worldly things, money, power, prestige, glory, fame and all else, we are often not satisfied, and we grow deeper in our longing for more of what we already have. This is because Satan and his forces are tempting us and presenting us with all these obstacles in order to prevent us from being able to realise how distant we have become from God and His path.

And during this season of Advent, it is even more fitting that we reflect on this reality, especially when we see all around us just how many temptations and distractions are present in our midst. Take for example, all the increasingly aggressive and secularistic way that Christmas is being celebrated in our world today, within our communities. In fact, in many of the Christmas celebrations and revelries, if we do take some time to notice, we will realise that Christ has often been overlooked and omitted from the celebrations.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas of Myra, a well-known saint and bishop, a Church father and a faithful defender of the faith. But do you know that St. Nicholas is also the prototype of the even far more well-known fictional figure of Santa Claus? In all of our Christmas celebrations, marketing and advertisements, I am sure we can never fail to find Santa Claus in all of them.

We know of Santa Claus as an elderly figure dressed in red and white, with a long, white beard, riding on a chariot driven by flying reindeers, carrying with him a large sack filled with all sorts of presents and gifts for all the children. All of us I am sure are familiar with this story, how we ought to hang socks over the fireplaces, where Santa will magically come at Christmas Eve to fill those with gifts.

But brothers and sisters in Christ, as we can see, this is first of all a gross misinterpretation and materialistic interpretation of Christmas, and secondly, if we know who St. Nicholas truly is, he is nothing like Santa Claus, and I want all of us to reflect on his life and his devotion to God, a true defender of the Faith. St. Nicholas of Myra is truly a role model for us all.

For St. Nicholas of Myra was devoted to his people, as bishop and shepherd of the faithful. He was bishop of Myra during the time when numerous heresies and difficulties were facing the Church. Although at that time, the Christian faith has been tolerated and even promoted throughout the Roman Empire and persecution ended, but the heresies threatened to divide the faithful and drag the souls of the just into damnation.

At that time, the famous preacher Arius spoke widely of his false ideas stating that the Lord Jesus Christ was not divine and Son of God, but merely just a Creation of God. In essence, this went against the tradition of the Apostles and the Church fathers who have, for centuries, maintained the truth of Christ that He is fully God and fully Man, united in the persona of Jesus Christ, one person, two natures, divine and human.

The Ecumenical Council of Nicaea was convened in the year 325 AD in order to address many issues of the faith and the Church, including the heresy of Arianism. At that time, many among the people and even priests and bishops who believed and sided with Arius and his teachings. It was told that during the Ecumenical Council, when Arius continued to speak his falsehoods and heresies, St. Nicholas of Myra could not hold his righteous anger anymore and punched the heretic in the face.

That, brothers and sisters in Christ, is who St. Nicholas of Myra is, a defender of the faith and a courageous and devoted servant of God, who did not fear to go into troubles and challenges just so that he could protect and make sure that his flock would not fall into the sin of heresy and error, and at the same time, caring for their needs. This is told to us that, St. Nicholas often liked to give gifts to young children in his diocese, and this is likely the source of the fictional story of Santa Claus, twisted over the centuries and misused by those who had little faith in God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, has the inspiring life of St. Nicholas of Myra inspired all of us? In this season of Advent, we should imitate the faith and commitment, the love that St. Nicholas has for God and for his fellow men. He placed his trust in God and not in worldly power and influences. And God is calling on us all, through His servant St. Nicholas, to abandon our sinful ways and our attachments and excesses on worldly things, rather turning ourselves to Him and loving Him more.

Let us remember this coming Christmas season and celebration that Christ is indeed the One Whom we should be celebrating and rejoicing about. Let all of our merrymaking, joy and happiness with our families and friends be always centred on Christ. And last of all, let us also remember the generosity of St. Nicholas in giving, and be generous with our charitable love for our fellow brethren, especially those who are in need. May God be with us all throughout this blessed Advent. Amen.