Saturday, 15 December 2018 : 2nd Week of Advent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we draw ever closer to Christmas day, which is just ten days away from now, the Scripture passages remind us all of the need to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord, which is in tandem with the nature of this season of Advent, that is the preparation and the expectation for the coming of Christ. The readings today are comparing between two servants of God, namely the prophet Elijah from the time of the Old Testament and St. John the Baptist from the time of the New Testament.

The prophet Elijah came at a time when the faithful people in Israel, in the kingdom descended from David and Solomon, had been dwindling in number, persecuted and oppressed for their faith. The prophet Elijah was sent to the people of the northern kingdom of Israel, consisting of the ten tribes that rebelled against the authority of the house of David in Judah. In that kingdom, the kings have not been faithful to the Covenant that God has made with His people Israel. Instead, they have led the people to the worship of the pagan idols like Baal and Asherah.

The prophet Elijah had to contend alone against the king, his nobles, all the influential and powerful people in the society, all of whom were on the side of the pagan idols and gods. For example, Elijah was alone when he had to contend against four hundred and fifty priests of Baal at the Mount Carmel before the king and the people of Israel, seeing whom between the Lord YHVH and Baal is the one and only true God.

And God proved His power before the assembled people, when He sent fire to burn the offering provided by Elijah from heaven itself, while the followers of Baal attempted furiously without success, to call on Baal, the imaginary and false god of the pagans at that time. Elijah was the instrument through whom God exercised His might and revealed His truth before His people, as he performed that miraculous deeds, with many others recorded in the Old Testament.

Elijah brought with him the deliverance from God, the promise of salvation and liberation, for the people who have been blinded by sin, and for those who have been oppressed because of their belief in God. He essentially prepared the way for the coming of God’s kingdom to come, and anointed his successor Elisha the prophet to continue his work among the Israelites. Yet, his work was not yet complete, for he was taken up in a flaming chariot before Elisha into heaven.

Since then, among the people of Israel, it was said that Elijah the prophet would come again one day and be among God’s people once again. It was said that Elijah would come again to prepare the way for the Messiah or the Saviour which God has promised to His people. And this was fulfilled when St. John the Baptist came into this world, just before the coming of the Messiah, preparing His way and straightening the path for Him.

St. John the Baptist, in the Lord’s own words, is the second coming of the prophet Elijah, and whether he was truly Elijah or not, is indeed a mystery of God’s will. But nonetheless, he did what the Lord commanded him to do, to bear witness to the Saviour Who was to come, and to proclaim to all, the coming of God’s mercy and forgiveness, for all those who are willing to repent and to turn away from their sinful ways. He baptised many, countless thousands in the River Jordan.

Therefore today, as we reflect on the works and the lives of the two great servants of God, Elijah and St. John the Baptist, we must indeed come to realise just how great God’s love is for us, that He gave us all these devout and hardworking servants, through whom He endeavoured to reveal the greatness and the boundless nature of His love. His love for us is vast and never-ending, and this is also even when we have constantly disappointed Him and refused to listen to Him and His messengers.

Sadly, many of us continued to be stubborn in our refusal to listen to God, and that is caused by our inability to resist the many temptations in life, the temptations of worldly honour, glory, wealth and power, the temptations of pleasure, of fornication and impure lives. We have too many distractions that we indulge in, which prevented us from realising first of all, how wicked and sinful we have become, and also failing to know God’s love for us, and the mercy He is willing to show us.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we going to continue to disobey the Lord as many of our forefathers have done? If we choose to do so, then we must be prepared and be fully aware that the outcome for us may be nothing less than eternal damnation and suffering, of our own volition and free will, in choosing to turn away from God’s love and mercy. Now, we still have the opportunity to make a difference in our own lives, that God is calling on us to turn away from sin and to return to Him.

What should we do, brothers and sisters in Christ? We should spend the remaining time this Advent season to grow closer to God, and to rediscover that true joy of Christmas that all of us should find, that is the joy of having Christ as our Lord and Saviour, the source of all of our hope and the one trus desire of our lives. This is what we should aim for this Advent, beginning from ourselves, by spending more time in prayer, to be ever closer to God and to know His will for us.

May the Lord continue to love us and may He forgive us our sins, as we come to seek His mercy and forgiveness. O Lord, You Who are most loving and merciful, have mercy on us and make us all to grow ever deeper in our love for You, knowing just how much You have loved us, that You have done everything for us, even to suffer and die for our sake on the cross. May You bless us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

Saturday, 15 December 2018 : 2nd Week of Advent (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 17 : 10-13

At that time, the disciples of Jesus asked Him, “Why do the teachers of the Law say that Elijah must come first?”

Jesus answered, “So it is : first comes Elijah; and he will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come; and they did not recognise him; and they treated him as they pleased. And they will also make the Son of Man suffer.”

Then the disciples understood that Jesus was referring to John the Baptist.

Saturday, 15 December 2018 : 2nd Week of Advent (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 79 : 2ac and 3bc, 15-16, 18-19

Listen, o Shepherd of Israel, You, Who sit enthroned between the Cherubim. Stir up Your might and come to save us.

Turn again, o YHVH of hosts, look down from heaven and see; care for this vine, and protect the stock Your hand has planted.

But lay Your hand on Your instrument, on the Son of Man, Whom You make strong for Yourself. Then, we will never turn away from You; give us life, and we will call on Your Name.

Saturday, 15 December 2018 : 2nd Week of Advent (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Sirach 48 : 1-4, 9-11

Then came the prophet Elijah, like a fire, his words a burning torch. He brought a famine on the people and in his zealous love had them reduced in number. Speaking in the Name of the Lord he closed down the heavens, and on three occasions called down fire.

How marvellous you were, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds! Who could ever boast of being your equal? You were taken up by a whirlwind of flames in a chariot drawn by fiery horses. It was written that you should be the one to calm God’s anger in the future, before it broke out in fury, to turn the hearts of fathers to their sons and to restore the tribes of Jacob.

Happy are those who will see you and those who die in love, for we too shall live.

Friday, 14 December 2018 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scripture speaking to us about the reminder from God to each one of us that we must be righteous in our ways, following and obeying God’s commandments and laws, as taught and revealed to us through the Church. We heard from the readings of the prophet Isaiah and the Gospel passage today two lamentations from God for His people.

In the first reading today, we heard from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, the lamentation that God delivered to His people through His prophet, about the people themselves. It was a lamentation of what should have happened if the people of God, Israel, had remained faithful to the Covenant which God has established with them with their forefathers. God stated that had they been faithful to His Covenant, they would have prospered and not suffered as they had.

For the historical context of what happened, the people had chosen freely to abandon God and His Covenant, and instead, putting their trust in the worldly goods, strength and power they had. They chose rather to trust in their attachments to sin and the temptations of life, worshipping the pagan gods and idols of their neighbours and following their wicked ways. As a result, they became divided among themselves and bickered, and as they fell further away from God, they fell into disarray and their downfall.

All those who trusted in the powers of the world only ended up being disappointed, for in the end, nothing of their power, glory and prestige remained. Israel placed their trust in those wicked idols, and yet, those idols did nothing to prevent them from being delivered into the hands of their enemies, and from the dismantlement of their country and nation, the destruction of their cities and their exile into the faraway foreign lands.

God lamented all these, which could have been prevented, had the people were willing to listen to the word of God. But they hardened their hearts and closed off their minds and ears to God calling them to repent and to turn away from their sins and to return to Him. And in the Gospel passage today we also heard the same lamentation made by Jesus, Our Lord and God, showing how the people had not changed their ways and had not learnt the lesson from their forefathers’ mistakes.

That is because even when St. John the Baptist had called for the conversion of the people and to prepare the way for the Lord, but there were still tough opposition from those within the community, especially the rich and the powerful, such as the influential Pharisees and the Sadducees, the nobles and the king’s men, who refused to listen to the word of God. Many of them even doubted and questioned the authority of the saint, just as they would later also oppose the works of the Lord Jesus.

Thus, it was only right and just that the Lord Jesus made the same lamentation just as God has done all these while. He is lamenting the fact that even though He has consistently and continuously loved us and is always willing to forgive us our sins and overlook our trespasses against Him, should we desire to be forgiven and to repent from them, but our stubbornness and unwillingness to repent caused us to continue to fall again and again into sin.

And this season of Advent is the time which God has prepared and provided for us, in order to relook and reflect on our lives thus far. It is a time for us to think again of how we have lived our lives thus far, on whether we have been faithful to God, or whether we have allowed sin to reign over our lives. And this is the opportunity which God has given to us, and by the lessons and experiences made from observing and listening to our predecessors, we should do well to heed the Lord’s call.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. John of the Cross, the holy and devout servant of God whose life should become inspiration for us all. He was a Carmelite friar and priest who was remembered for his role in reforming the Carmelite order together with another holy saint, St. Teresa of Avila. He devoted his whole life to God, and committed himself to a life of sanctity and preached the faith to many people, many of whom were touched by his words and returned to the faith.

St. John of the Cross lived at a time when there had been irregularities and laxity in the way that the priests and the religious, including the Carmelites, lived their lives and ministry. Therefore, through his contributions and hard works, and despite the challenges he and his contemporaries had to face, he pressed on nonetheless, and continued his many good works for the greater glory of God and for the salvation of His people.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we willing to follow in the footsteps of St. John of the Cross and the many other holy men and women who had gone before us to the glory of God? Let us not make the same mistakes as those who have turned away from God and sinned without repentance, and let us all make use this blessed opportunity this Advent, to turn towards God with all of our hearts, minds, and strength. May God bless us all. Amen.

Friday, 14 December 2018 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 11 : 16-19

At that time, Jesus said to the people, “Now, to what can I compare the people of this day? They are like children sitting in the marketplace, about whom their companions complain : ‘We played the lute for you, but you would not dance. We sang a funeral song, but you would not cry!’”

“For John came fasting, and people said, ‘He is possessed by a demon!’ Then, the Son of Man came. He ate and drank; and people said, ‘Look at this Man : a glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet, wisdom is vindicated by her works.”

Friday, 14 December 2018 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 1 : 1-2, 3, 4 and 6

Blessed is the man who does not go where the wicked gather, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit where the scoffers sit! Instead, he finds delight in the Law of YHVH and meditates day and night on His commandments.

He is like a tree beside a brook producing its fruit in due season, its leaves never withering. Everything he does is a success.

But it is different with the wicked. They are like chaff driven away by the wind. For YHVH knows the way of the righteous but cuts off the way of the wicked.

Friday, 14 December 2018 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Isaiah 48 : 17-19

Thus says YHVH, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel : I, YHVH, your God, teach you what is best for you; I lead you in the way that you must go. Had you paid attention to My commandments, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea.

Your descendants would have been like the sand, and those born of your stock like its grains, their names never cut off nor blotted out from My presence.

Thursday, 13 December 2018 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Lucy, Virgin and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today again from the book of the prophet Isaiah, we listened again to the message of consolation and hope from God, as the Lord spoke to His people for them not to worry and to place their trust in Him, for He Who loved them would take care of them and provide for them all that they needed. They would not need to be afraid anymore, for God would be their sure guarantee and strength amidst the challenges and trials in life.

At that time, the people of God suffered from the many opponents and enemies that surrounded them, at the time when the ancient kingdom of Israel had been splintered and the northern half, consisting of the ten tribes out of the twelve tribes of original Israel had been destroyed by the Assyrians, who carried off most of the people into exile. And even Judah, in the south where the prophet Isaiah was active, was also afflicted, having the Assyrians almost on the brink of conquering it if not for the intervention from God.

God was reassuring them through Isaiah that He would not abandon them, and on the contrary, He would in fact give them the way out of their predicament, because of His great love for them. Unfortunately, as if we know more about the later history, after the time of the prophet Isaiah and the righteous kings Hezekiah and Josiah, the people of Judah reverted back to their sinful ways, pagan worship and disobeyed God. That was why they too, were brought to exile by the Babylonians.

But then, yet again, God never gave up on His people, despite them having disobeyed, betrayed, abandoned and refused to listen to Him repeatedly many times. God continued to love them and desires that they should be saved, by sending to them, again and again, prophets one after another, messengers and all those who cry out asking for the people to repent from their sins and return to God.

And as mentioned in the Gospel passage today, one such figure was Elijah the prophet, who was sent to the Israelites in the years even before the time of Isaiah, in order to call on them to repent from their sins. He travelled from place to place, and had to go against even the king and his powerful supporters, those who championed the worship of pagan idols like Baal and Asherah. He was rejected, oppressed and persecuted, but that did not silence him.

In fact, he spoke all the louder and performed even more actions for the greater glory of God. For his commitment and dedication, he turned many hearts and minds back to the Lord, when he managed to prove that the Lord YHVH is indeed the one and only true God. On the mount Carmel he went up alone against four hundred fifty priests of Baal, and he showed God’s glory and power when Baal did nothing. God sent fire from heaven to burn the offerings on Elijah’s altar, and from there, God’s work and truth were vindicated.

The last of the great messengers of God, that is St. John the Baptist, was often compared with Elijah. For it was said in various parts of the Scripture, that he had in him the spirit of the prophet Elijah, or even that he himself was Elijah born into this world again. For Elijah, if we read the second Book of Kings, did not die, but was taken up by God into heaven in a flaming chariot. Nonetheless, regardless whether St. John the Baptist is Elijah or not, the fact remains that the former experienced and worked in much the same manner as the latter.

Again, at the time when St. John the Baptist came into the world to prepare the way for the Messiah, many among the people were again wandered off not following the path of the Lord. Some of them, like king Herod and his supporters lived in ways of sin, disobeying and disregarding God’s commandments. St. John the Baptist spoke harshly of the king and dared to do so, when king Herod committed adultery openly with the wife of his brother.

And still yet, some others who were seemingly pious and faithful, have also wandered off course, such as the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. Those people had a self-righteous attitude and looked down on others who they deemed to be less worthy than themselves. They liked to be praised for their show of piety, prayers and devotions in public, but in truth, they have allowed themselves to be overcome by desire and pride in their hearts and minds. God had no place in them.

St. John the Baptist was not afraid to rebuke the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law then, who came to him doubting his teaching and baptising authority. He called them rightly as brood of vipers, as those who were stubborn in their refusal to listen to the word of God. He had to suffer and even die in martyrdom at the hands of king Herod because of that, but all for the greater glory of God, and for the salvation of all of God’s people, fulfilling what the Lord had promised them.

Today, we celebrate the feast of a famous martyr of the Church, that is St. Lucy or St. Lucia the martyr and holy woman, whose life is again another reminder of the challenges and difficulties we will encounter as a follower and disciple of Christ. St. Lucy was a devout Christian who lived in the city of Syracuse during the time of the harshest persecution of Christians under the Roman Emperor Diocletian.

St. Lucy dedicated herself to God and consecrated herself as a holy virgin before Him. But her mother who did not know of this intention and fearing for her family’s future due to her failing health, arranged for her to marry a wealthy pagan noble. But St. Lucy managed to convince her mother to seek the intercession of St. Agatha and to distribute their riches and possessions to help the poor. This was detested by St. Lucy’s pagan betrothed, who reported her to the governor.

St. Lucy was persecuted harshly and she was even sent to a brothel to be defiled. But miraculously, she could not be moved even by a team of soldiers when they were about to bring her to the brothel. In the end, she suffered more persecutions and was martyred by the sword. The courage and purity of St. Lucy has inspired many throughout the ages, and consequently, should be a great inspiration for all of us as well.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we able to devote ourselves just as St. Lucy, the prophet Elijah and St. John the Baptist had dedicated themselves to God? They placed their complete trust in God, Who guided them to the right path and to eternal glory in Him despite their initial suffering on earth. Therefore, let us all endeavour to do the same with our own lives, and seek to glorify God through our actions from now on. May the Lord help us and be our guide in this journey of life. Amen.

Thursday, 13 December 2018 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Lucy, Virgin and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Matthew 11 : 11-15

At that time, Jesus said to the people, “I tell you this : no one greater than John the Baptist has arisen from among sons of women; and yet, the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven is something to be conquered; and violent men seize it.”

“Up to the time of John, there was only prophesy : all the prophets and the Law. And if you believe Me, John is indeed that Elijah, whose coming was predicted. Let anyone with ears listen!”