Monday, 21 September 2020 : Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate the feast of the great Apostle, St. Matthew, who was one of the Twelve Apostles and also one of the four Evangelists or the writers of the Four Gospels. St. Matthew was originally known as Levi, one of the tax collectors who responded to the Lord’s call, left behind everything in order to follow Him. And thus, St. Matthew came to be, a faithful disciple of the Lord and a great evangeliser by words and by his writings.

The story of St. Matthew is truly an inspiration and hope for each and every one of us, a kind reminder from the Lord that there is no one beyond the reach of God’s mercy and love, and there is no sin great enough that cannot be forgiven by God. When someone is condemned for his or her sins, that is because that person has consciously rejected God’s love and mercy, and chose to remain in sin rather than to walk in the path of God’s Light.

At the time of Jesus’ life and ministry, the tax collectors were seen very negatively by many segments of the community, particularly by the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. First of all, the tax collectors were seen as collaborators to the Romans who then had become the overlords of the lands of Judea, Galilee and other lands where the Jews lived in. They were even considered as traitors to the nation because they were deemed to have ‘sold off’ their fellow countrymen by their line of work.

But all these were mistaken perception and generalisation of all the tax collectors, who the Pharisees particularly despised, as the Pharisees looked highly on themselves as the pious guardians of the people’s faith and the Law, and to them, the tax collectors, prostitutes and also those who were unclean and possessed were the worst of the worst, sinful and unworthy of God’s love, and were to be shunned and rejected.

The Lord Jesus therefore did the unthinkable, and what the Pharisees and teachers of the Law must have been surprised with, as He spent time with those who had been mentioned earlier as the sinful and unclean, and in this case, even called one of those tax collectors to be His disciple and even become one of the Twelve Apostles. Some others like St. Mary Magdalene might have had dubious and less than ideal background as well, as in some traditions, she was once a prostitute who then repented and followed the Lord.

Levi, the tax collector whom the Lord called, chose to leave everything he had, his profession and income, his livelihood and others, and followed the Lord wholeheartedly from the moment when he was called. Levi also invited the Lord to have a dinner with him and his fellow tax collectors, and by doing so, in fact, he had done his first act of evangelisation, calling on all the other tax collectors, and introducing the Lord to them all.

The Pharisees were quick to strike at the Lord for His actions, how He approached and even had a meal at the house of those ‘unclean’ and sinful tax collectors. At that time, even going to the house of sinners could make one ‘unclean’, and for the Lord to go to the house of such sinner, was truly unprecedented. But as the Pharisees were busy criticising Him and His actions, the Lord immediately rebuked them and their elitist attitude, revealing to us all just how God loves every one of His children without discrimination.

What does this mean, brothers and sisters? It means that the Lord never wants to lose any one of us, and to Him, each and every one of us are equally important, from the greatest man to the humblest and lowliest in stature and in standing, all are equal before Him, equally beloved and equally shown mercy and forgiveness. Even the worst of sinners, should they repent sincerely with all their heart and with all of their strength, they will be forgiven all their sins.

This is why the saying by St. Augustine of Hippo is true, that ‘there is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.’ signifying how all of us, first of all are sinners before God, and every one of us have sinned and failed God by disobedience, but God’s generous mercy will rid us of those sins should we respond to His call for repentance, and that we commit ourselves to be forgiven from those sins. This is the future that was mentioned by St. Augustine, himself was a great sinner, who found God and was converted, and became a great servant of God and saint.

Levi experienced the same conversion, as did many other saints, and for Levi, later known as Matthew, he dedicated himself to the service of God, first of all for his efforts in compiling and writing down the accounts of the ministry of the Lord and His revelations of truth, in the Gospel named after himself, the Gospel according to St. Matthew. Through this Gospel, many countless souls throughout the history of the Church had discovered God, known about His love and mercy, and were converted to the faith.

And not just that, as St. Matthew also ministered among the Jewish people in Judea, preaching the Word of God and His Good News to them, as was also evident in how his Gospel were also written primarily being addressed to the Jewish people. This showed that St. Matthew had taken it upon himself to evangelise the truth about Christ among the Jews and to call more of the Lord’s first chosen people to follow Him into the fullness of truth in the Christian faith.

St. Matthew also evangelised in distant lands, preaching the Good News to many people, and it was told that he went to Ethiopia, who had by then began to receive the Christian faith and had growing communities of the faithful. St. Matthew, according to one tradition, was martyred after he rebuked the local king who lusted and desired for her own niece, while the latter had also dedicated herself to a holy virginity dedicated to God. It was told that St. Matthew was martyred while celebrating the Holy Mass on the Altar.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we see how God’s power of love and forgiveness are so great and wonderful. Sinners He has called and transformed into great saints, those who have impacted the lives of many among the faithful. And this therefore gives us the hope that all of us shall also share in the same joy, as long as we are faithful and embrace God’s mercy, repenting sincerely from our past sins and waywardness.

Let us all therefore follow the examples of St. Matthew, St. Augustine and all the other holy men and women of God, transforming our lives into ones that bring glory to God, through our daily actions and deeds. Let us all turn towards God’s mercy and love, and seek to be forgiven from all of our unfaithfulness, our wickedness and waywardness, our sins and shortcomings that had prevented us from finding our way to the Lord all these while.

May the Lord help us and guide us in our journey of faith, and may He guide us into His everlasting kingdom, and help us that we may grow ever stronger in faith, not to be swayed by greed and pride, and also showing the same concern and love that He has showed us, in how we interact with each other, with our fellow Christian brothers and sisters. May St. Matthew also intercede for us and inspire us to be courageous witnesses of our faith in our respective communities, that more and more may come to believe in God, by witnessing our own dedication and authentic living of our faith. Amen.

Monday, 21 September 2020 : Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Matthew 9 : 9-13

At that time, as Jesus moved on from the place where He cured a paralytic man, He saw a man named Matthew, at his seat in the custom house; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And Matthew got up and followed Him.

Now it happened, while Jesus was at table in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners joined Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is it, that your Master eats with sinners and tax collectors?”

When Jesus heard this, He said, “Healthy people do not need a doctor, but sick people do. Go, and find out what this means : What I want is mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Monday, 21 September 2020 : Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 18 : 2-3, 4-5

The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament proclaims the work of His hands. Day talks it over with day; night hands on the knowledge to night.

No speech, no words, no voice is heard – but the call goes on throughout the universe, the message is felt to the ends of the earth.

Monday, 21 September 2020 : Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Ephesians 4 : 1-7, 11-13

Therefore, I, the prisoner of Christ, invite you, to live the vocation you have received. Be humble, kind, patient and bear with one another in love. Make every effort to keep among you, the unity of spirit, through bonds of peace. Let there be one body, and one Spirit, just as one hope is the goal of your calling by God. One Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God, the Father of all, Who is above all, and works through all, and is in all.

But to each of us, divine grace is given, according to the measure of Christ’s gift. As for His gifts, to some, He gave to be Apostles; to others, prophets, or even evangelists; or pastors and teachers. So, He prepared those who belong to Him, for the ministry, in order to build up the Body of Christ, until we are all united, in the same faith and knowledge of the Son of God. Thus, we shall become the perfect Man, upon reaching maturity, and sharing the fullness of Christ.

Sunday, 20 September 2020 : Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday all of us are called to seek God with all of our strength, and to purify ourselves from sins and wickedness, as mentioned in our Scripture today. The prophet Isaiah in our first reading passage today spoke of this call for all of us mankind to turn to God and to trust in the Lord in all that He had planned for us, responding to His call and follow Him into the path of righteousness.

Contextually, the prophet Isaiah was addressing a people who had had plenty of history of disobedience and unfaithfulness against God, as they frequently abandoned God for false idols and pagan gods and goddesses, living wickedly and indulging in the excesses of the worldly pleasures. Prophets and messengers had been sent to their midst from time to time to call them back and to repent from their sinful ways.

And it is truly reminiscent of what we heard in our Gospel passage today, as the Lord spoke of a parable that related the story of a vineyard owner that was seeking for workers to work in his field. He went out to seek those workers, and as he found some of them, he called them to work in his fields. Those workers and people gathered from many places represent those whom God had called to Him, including all of us.

In that parable, the vineyard owner went out and gathered some people to be his servants and workers in the field. And as time moves on, the owner continued to look for more workers, and went out all the way to seek for the workers, and called those whom he gathered to work in the field. And he continued doing so until the eleventh or the final hour, in which he again went out to gather workers from those who were by the roadside and from other places.

In this, we heard how the vineyard owner went out of his way, gathering as many workers as possible for his vineyard. The vineyard owner represents the God Himself, our Lord and Master, while as mentioned, all those whom the owner called represent all of us. And thus, in all these, we heard how God is reaching out to us, His beloved people, sending messengers, prophets, and all those servants to call us, to remind us that we may be reconciled and reunited with Him.

And the meaning of this parable, its subtle details are truly significant, if we come to realise how God loves us all so much that He constantly tried to call us and to bring us back to His embrace, then we must truly be grateful and appreciate the many opportunities that He has given to us all these while. But unfortunately, many of us are not aware, ignorant and not being thankful for the love that God has shown us.

Instead, we still continue to live in sin, and we ignore God’s reminders and patient efforts to reach out to us. Nonetheless, God did not easily give up on us. Until the very last moment, to the very last hour, as long as we are still breathing and living, it is never too late for us to repent with all of our heart, and we can still be forgiven by God, and be reconciled completely to Him. And in this case, I can bring one example of a real encounter between a woman and St. John Vianney, the famous saint and priest.

At that time, a woman came to St. John Vianney, just as many thousands others did, and this particular woman wanted to tell him and confide in him that she was devastated and worried because her husband had committed suicide by jumping down from a bridge into the water and perished. Suicide is a mortal sin for taking one’s own life in direct disobedience against God Who is the Lord and Master of all life, and taking one’s own life is truly a serious sin because our lives are not ours to take.

St. John Vianney was very popular and the queue for the people to see him was always very long. The wife of the man who committed suicide wanted to give up after queueing for many hours, when suddenly St. John Vianney exclaimed joyfully, addressing that particular woman, that her husband had been saved from the fires of hell normally reserved for those who committed mortal sins like suicide.

When the woman kind of did not believe in him, St. John Vianney once again stressed it out and repeated it clearly to her, that her husband has been saved, and had entered into Purgatory, where he would remain for a while to be purified from his sins, but with the ultimate destination and assurance of Heaven in the end. St. John Vianney likely received a heavenly and mystical vision he was also known for, seeing and knowing what happened even before the woman even approached him.

And truly, that man who committed suicide was really fortunate that he has been spared from the utter and eternal suffering and destruction. And all of these were because the man, just right before he hit the water, had managed to make a genuine act of contrition, regretting sorrowfully and wholeheartedly his many sins before God, and he was forgiven. This is the true and real definition of the pardon at the very last hour, just like those workers whom the vineyard owner gathered at the very last moment.

From this we can see yet again the power of God’s love and mercy, His compassionate care for us, and His desire to be reconciled with us. That is why, we must not wait until it is too late for us. The man who committed suicide in St. John Vianney’s case was fortunate to have a change of heart at the very last moment, but no one, no one at all knows the moment when our lives will be taken from us, the end of our earthly lives.

If until the very last moment we still refuse to repent and remain in our disobedience and sins, then it is by that stubborn refusal and by our own sins that we will be judged against, and thrown into hell and suffer for eternity. This is not so much because God is wrathful or fearsome, but rather, it is the just result and outcome of our own conscious choice to ignore, reject and spurn the very generous love He has lavished on us, and all the opportunities He has given us to repent and be reconciled with Him.

And then, besides this, what we heard in our Gospel passage today is also a reminder, that each and every one of us, all of us are in this journey of faith together, having been called into this new life, our new Christian life and existence through baptism. This was represented by all the workers who have been gathered through many hours of search and calls, and all of them shared in the same reward from the owner, one piece of silver coin.

What does that represent? It represents to us the fact that, in the end of our journey, all of us will receive the same inheritance and reward, that is eternal joy and true happiness, all in the perfect bliss of heavenly glory with God. Regardless of how early the timing is, or the circumstances of our conversion and reconciliation with God, all of us are to receive the same inheritance, nothing more and nothing less. For indeed, there is nothing greater than what we are to receive from God through our dedication and faith.

But we must also be vigilant that we do not end up like those workers who had been employed earlier by the vineyard owner and grumbled seeing that those who had been called and employed much later than they were, received the exact same reward in the end. This is somewhat similar to another well-known parable, the parable of the prodigal son, in which the elder son complained and became angry when the father welcomed back the sinful and wicked younger son with a great party when he returned in remorse and complete repentance.

This attitude was also reflected in many among the Pharisees, the teachers of the Law and many of the members of the Sanhedrin, who looked at themselves as being more worthy of the Lord than others, especially those who were deemed unclean and sinners like tax collectors and prostitutes. And unfortunately, this attitude persists even in our Church, down throughout time, and to this very day.

Many of us compete against each other and also argue among ourselves, on who among us are more pious than the other, or how our pious practices are better than others. Even worse, in our Church ministries and in our communities, we end up giving in to slander and gossiping, jockeying for position and power instead of putting God at the centre of our lives. This is the sad reality for the Church and for our Christian communities.

What is it that we are really fighting, arguing and disputing with each other for, brothers and sisters? Is it for the Lord? Certainly not! And is it for our own good? Definitely not as well! It is to satisfy our own pride and ego, our own greed and ambition that we have done all these, and these are truly scandals to our Christian identity and faith. As Christians we cannot condone this kind of attitude and way of life, and we are called to be different from this.

And this is why, brothers and sisters in Christ, what we have heard today is very significant for us, not only just because we are reminded to turn away from our sinful ways and sincerely repent from those sins, but we are also reminded that instead of focusing on ourselves and being selfish, on the contrary, we need to reach out to our fellow brethren, and especially to all those who have lost their way rather than to despise them or to look down on them.

Remember, brothers and sisters, that each and every one of us are equally sinners before God, unworthy and weak, ought to be condemned, but instead, by God’s love and grace, He has called us to turn towards Him, repent from all of our sinful ways, and embrace once again the fullness of His love. Therefore, let us all as fellow children of God, show love on each other, care for each other and help those who are struggling and together we move forward in this journey towards God.

Let us all be thankful for the life that God has given us, and be grateful for all the love and mercy He has shown us. May He strengthen us all in our faith that we may draw ever closer to Him, and in the end, receive from Him the crown of eternal glory, and the eternal life of pure bliss and joy, in His presence, forever and evermore. Amen.

Sunday, 20 September 2020 : Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Matthew 20 : 1-16a

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “This story throws light on the kingdom of heaven : A landowner went out early in the morning, to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay each worker the usual daily wage, and sent them to his vineyard.”

“He went out again, at about nine in the morning, and, seeing others idle in the town square, he said to them, ‘You also, go to my vineyard, and I will pay you what is just.’ So they went. The owner went out at midday, and, again, at three in the afternoon, and he made the same offer.”

“Again he went out, at the last working hour – the eleventh – and he saw others standing around. So he said to them, ‘Why do you stand idle the whole day?’ They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ The master said, ‘Go, and work in my vineyard.'”

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wage, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’ Those who had gone to work at the eleventh hour came up, and were each given a silver coin. When it was the turn of the first, they thought they would receive more. But they, too, received one silver coin. On receiving it, they began to grumble against the landowner.”

“They said, ‘These last, hardly worked an hour; yet, you have treated them the same as us, who have endured the heavy work of the day and the heat.’ The owner said to one of them, ‘Friend, I have not been unjust to you. Did we not agree on one silver coin per day? So take what is yours and go. I want to give to the last the same as I give to you. Do I not have the right to do as I please with what is mine? Why are you envious when I am kind?'”

“So will it be : the last will be first.”

Sunday, 20 September 2020 : Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Philippians 1 : 20c-24, 27a

Christ will be exalted through my person, whether I live or die. For to me, living is for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I am to go on living, I shall be able to enjoy fruitful labour. Which shall I choose?

So I feel torn between the two. I desire greatly to leave this life and to be with Christ, which will be better by far, but it is necessary for you that I remain in this life. Try, then, to adjust your lives according to the Gospel of Christ.

Sunday, 20 September 2020 : Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Psalm 144 : 2-3, 8-9, 17-18

I will praise You, day after day; and exalt Your Name forever. Great is YHVH, most worthy of praise; and His deeds are beyond measure.

Compassionate and gracious is YHVH, slow to anger and abounding in love. YHVH is good to everyone; His mercy embraces all His creation.

Righteous is YHVH in all His ways, His mercy shows in all His deeds. He is near those who call on Him, who call trustfully upon His Name.

Sunday, 20 September 2020 : Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Isaiah 55 : 6-9

Seek YHVH while He may be found; call to Him while He is near. Let the wicked abandon his way, let him forsake his thoughts, let him turn to YHVH for He will have mercy, for our God is generous in forgiving.

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, My ways are not your ways, says YHVH. For as the heavens are above the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts above your thoughts.

Saturday, 28 September 2019 : 25th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Wenceslaus, Martyr, and St. Lawrence Ruiz and Companions, Martyrs (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day through the readings of the Sacred Scriptures we have heard about how God has revealed to us the greatness of His love and all that He has planned for each and every one of us. He wants us to know that no matter what challenges and difficulties, tribulations and trials we may have to face, as long as we remain true to our faith in Him and as long as we continue to do His will, we have nothing to fear.

In the first reading today, taken from the Book of the prophet Zechariah, there were two main message that the Lord revealed to the people through Zechariah. First of all, it was a reminder of the punishment and consequences due to the sins which the people of God had committed at that time, and how their livelihood, their cities, represented by Jerusalem and its Temple would be destroyed by their enemies.

And yet, God also revealed to them the second of His intentions, and that is the salvation which He promised to them all, despite of their sinfulness and rebelliousness, how He would redeem them and gather them back from the nations, and how many more people will come to glorify God and praise His Name. This is a revelation that God’s love for us all is so great that despite our sins and wickedness, He is still willing to love us and forgive us our trespasses.

This is where I want to bring our attention to the Gospel passage today, in which the Lord Jesus spoke clearly before His disciples on the matter of how He would be betrayed to His enemies, and made to suffer for all of mankind’s sake. It was one of the several reminders and revelations which God had made to His disciples on the upcoming of His own Passion, suffering, death and eventually resurrection.

In what we have heard in our Gospel passage today, we have heard just how great God’s love is, that the ultimate proof of this love He has for us, is none other and nothing less than what He Himself has willingly done for us, by taking up the Cross willingly, and bearing for our sake, all of the punishments, consequences and terrible sufferings that we should have endured because of our sins.

Christ bore those sufferings willingly, to be betrayed and rejected, to be humiliated and treated far less than what befits any human being, to be oppressed and tortured, to be ridiculed and made to bear the burden of the Cross, all because of His great and undying love for each and every one of us. Every single one of us mankind are precious to God, and therefore, even though we have disobeyed Him, but His love for us brought Him to reach out to us and call us to redemption through Him.

Therefore, because God has been so faithful to the Covenant which He had made with us, and because He has devoted Himself so thoroughly for our sake, and provided for us so great a gift and path towards forgiveness and redemption, we should be grateful and therefore, endeavour and do our best to follow the path which Our Lord Himself has shown us, to be righteous and faithful in all things.

And today, as we celebrate the feast day of saints whose lives were truly holy and great in faith, we should then be inspired by them and gain the courage and the zeal to live our lives with greater faith and devotion to God from day to day, gradually so that we will draw ever closer to God. Today we celebrate both St. Wenceslas of Bohemia, a holy martyr of the faith, and also the Holy Martyrs of Japan, St. Lawrence Ruiz and his companions.

St. Wenceslas of Bohemia was the Duke of Bohemia during the early years of Christianity in Bohemia, a region now known as Czechia. He was a great ruler and a noble man in action and deed, caring genuinely for his people and supporting the Church and missionary works wholeheartedly. Opposed against him and his efforts were the pagan nobles and forces who remained against the Christian faith, and those plotted with the brother of the saint, eventually led to his assassination.

St. Wenceslas died as a martyr defending his righteous faith and total dedication to the Lord and His good works among the people. His righteousness and just rule inspired so many other people not just at his age and time, but even more so down throughout the centuries. His courage and zeal and incorruptibility inspired many other rulers and those in positions of power on how to be a good Christian ruler.

Meanwhile, St. Lawrence Ruiz, also known as St. Lorenzo Ruiz was a Filipino who fled to Japan when he was wrongly accused of murder. He boarded a ship that was bound for Japan, and reached there at a time when the Christian faith, once abundant and freely practised and growing rapidly, had been persecuted greatly by the change in the authorities’ mindset and opinion of the Christian faith.

St. Lawrence Ruiz, together with many Christians in Japan at that time suffered because they had to endure rejection, oppression and painful sufferings being under constant threat of arrest from the authorities. Many were martyred and killed for their refusal to abandon their faith. St. Lawrence Ruiz himself, together with missionaries and local Christians were executed with painful methods in Nagasaki, but they all refused to abandon their faith.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, now having heard of the inspiring faith and lives of St. Wenceslas of Bohemia, as well as St. Lawrence Ruiz and his companions, the Martyrs of Japan, how can we follow in their examples? How can we live our lives with faith just in the manner they have lived theirs? Let us think about this and let God transform our lives just as He had done so with those faithful saints and martyrs we are commemorating today. May the Lord continue to guide us and may He bless us all in our every good endeavours, always. Amen.