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.

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.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Our Lady of Guadalupe)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate together the feast of the Marian apparition which was one of the first apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary to be recognised and approved by the Church, that is of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Mary appeared to a local Christian, who is also now a saint, St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, showing herself to him in a vision on a hill called the Tepeyac hill, where now a great Basilica stands in her honour, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to St. Juan Diego a few times over a series of visions, in which she spoke to St. Juan Diego about who she was, and on the ninth of December, the now feast of St. Juan Diego, Mary made her first appearance before him. This happened in the year of Our Lord 1531, just slightly more than a decade after the conversion of Mexico and many parts of the New World to the true faith in God.

Mary identified herself in St. Juan Diego’s own native language, revealing that she is the mother of the One True God, Who is Jesus Christ, Our Lord. She also asked him for a church to be built at the site in her honour. When St. Juan Diego spoke of this to his Archbishop, the latter requested him to ask the Lady for a miraculous sign as a proof of her authentic apparition. Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to St. Juan Diego again and agreed to provide a sign.

When St. Juan Diego’s uncle was very sick, and St. Juan Diego seeking to find a priest to minister to him on his deathbed, again Our Lady appeared to him and chided him with the now famous words, “Am I not here, I who am your mother?” and promised that St. Juan Diego’s uncle would be healed, and also asked him to gather some flowers from Tepeyac hill to be shown as a sign to the Archbishop.

When St. Juan Diego presented the flowers to the Archbishop, the latter was surprised with what he saw in the tilma or cloak in which St. Juan Diego had carried the flowers. The very image of Our Lady of Guadalupe who appeared to St. Juan Diego was imprinted on the tilma, which is kept until today in the great Basilica, as the proof of Our Lady’s miraculous apparition in Guadalupe.

Ever since then, Guadalupe became a centre of intense devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, through which many of the faithful came seeking for petitions and favours from the Mother of God. And Mary did also appear several more times in various other places, of which those that had been recognised include Fatima, Lourdes, La Sallette, and many others. Through all these apparitions, Mary sought to remind us, as the mother of Our Saviour, that we ought to be faithful to her Son.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, Mary is the Mother of Our Lord and God, Jesus Christ, and as we have just celebrated a few days ago, she was special amongst all of us mankind, for she has been conceived without the taints of sin, the Immaculate Conception, as the one whom God had bestowed His fullness of grace and as the one who would bear the Messiah in her, as the New Ark of the New Covenant.

Mary is special to us because she is the role model for all of us mankind, as the perfect disciple and follower of God, having lived her whole life in total devotion and commitment to the Lord, and having dedicated her life to the love and care of her Son, seeing Him taking up the cross and dying for the sake of all of us mankind, fulfilling the role which the Lord had sent Him to do in this world. And at the very end, He entrusted her to us all, through St. John, His disciple, and vice versa, entrusting us all to her in the same way.

Mary is the mother of us all, and as a mother loves her children, thus, that is why Mary is also loving to each and every one of us. She certainly does not want us to fall into damnation, and thus away from her and from her Son for eternity. Mary has appeared many times throughout the years for this purpose, reminding us again and again of the need for genuine repentance and change of hearts and attitude in our minds.

She appeared in Guadalupe to help us, His people to become closer to Him through her. By following her examples in life and by devoting ourselves just as she had devoted her own, we can be closer to God, and be able to reach out to the salvation which He has promised all of us. Now, we are called to reach out also to the blessed Mother of Our Lord and God, Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, asking her to intercede for our sake, that we may received the grace of God in our own lives.

O Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, you who have been conceived without sin, the Mother of God, pray for us all sinners, and bring us ever closer to the saving grace and love of Your Son. May God bless us all, and may He continue to love us, now and forevermore. Amen.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of Pope St. Damasus I, Pope (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scripture showing us just how great God’s love is for each and every one of us, that He is willing to do everything in order to be reconciled with us, that we may be saved from the predicaments caused by our sins. He loves each and every single one of us, without exception and without any prejudices. He used a parable to deliver this truth about His love to the people, as we heard in the Gospel passage today.

In that passage, we heard about the parable of the lost sheep, in which He told them a story of a shepherd who has a hundred sheep and one of those sheep strays from the flock. He told them how the shepherd will leave the ninety-nine who are safely together behind, and do all he can in order to track and find the stray sheep, and bring it back to the flock. This is what the Lord exactly used in His own way of reconciling with His people, those represented by the lost sheep.

God went out all of the way just so that He could reclaim us, His lost ones, who have been lost and sundered from Him since the day we first disobeyed Him and chose to follow Satan and his temptations rather than to be faithful and fully in love with Him. Satan is the false shepherd, the wolf is sheep’s clothing that is ever ready to distract us and to lure us away into our downfall, by separating us from our loving shepherd.

And that is exactly how the devil works, brothers and sisters in Christ, by the means of persuasions and false promises of worldly glories, pleasures and other forms of enjoyment of the flesh and the body, or of the mind. He presents to us a path that seems to be easier and less challenging, more profitable and enjoyable for us. And thus, many were tempted to abandon the path of righteousness, and instead embracing the ways of sin.

But God did not give up on us, and instead, as He Himself said, that He is the Good Shepherd, He truly loves us and cares for us, even to the point of doing everything so that we may be saved, even if that requires Him to suffer and to be persecuted for our sins, suffering the blows and punishments that should have been ours. He, our Good Shepherd, stands between us and our destruction, offering up Himself for our sake, that we do not perish.

That was what the Lord has done for us, by what He has done, all that we believe in our faith, in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Whom God has sent into this world in order to be our Saviour. He willingly took up the appearance and substance of Man, to be crucified for us, bearing the cross to Calvary, and by gathering all of our sins to Himself, offering up His own perfect offering of His Body and Blood, He, our Good Shepherd, is gathering all of us, God’s lost sheep, back to the loving embrace of God, our loving Father.

Sadly, it was our reluctance and stubbornness, our predisposition and vulnerabilities to sin, that have prevented many of us from taking full advantage of this love which God has shown us. We are like those lost sheep that stubbornly run away from our loving shepherd, and instead, seeking those seemingly more enticing and enjoyable opportunities elsewhere, without knowing that those false leads are efforts by the devil and his forces to prey on us, waiting for our downfall.

Many of us are too busy with those temptations and allures of worldliness, that we fail to notice God’s love for us, and we continue to dwell in our state of sin, which unless we repent from it, we are at risk of falling into eternal damnation and separation from God, when even all of our regrets will have no use at all. This is not what God wants to happen to us, and certainly, He wants as many of us to be rescued and to be recovered from our lost state.

That is why, it is important that today, as we continue to progress through the season of Advent, roughly halfway towards Christmas as of now, we need to recalibrate our lives and reflect on our actions and deeds in life thus far. We are called to find the true meaning of our Christmas celebrations, that we may be able to enrich our own lives, with genuine faith and understanding of God’s love. Do we truly know what Christmas is about?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, Christmas is in fact the moment when the tangible reunion between God and man is made possible, through the coming of the Messiah, Our Lord Jesus Christ, born on Christmas day in the manger, the One Who would save all of us by His death on the cross. It is a time of joy, not because of all the parties and merry-making, all the merchandises and shopping we can enjoy, but instead, because in Christ, we have seen the hope and fulfilment of our salvation.

Today, let us all discern on our lives and how we can live it better to be more in accordance to God’s ways. Let us all see God’s great love for us, and find that courage and desire to love Him, and to be reconciled with Him. Today, as we also celebrate the feast of Pope St. Damasus I, a holy Pope and a devout servant of God, who contributed greatly to the unity of the Church and the salvation of many souls, by his tireless efforts to combat heresy and by giving his support to the Latin translation of the Bible by St. Jerome, let us ask for his intercession, that we may find the humility and the desire to love God, to return to Him, our loving Father and Good Shepherd.

May the Lord Who loves us so dearly continue to love us and to reach out to us, just as we also make the conscious effort to seek Him out, to realise how much He has loved us and given Himself for us on the cross. Let us turn away from sin, sin no more, and become devoted children of God, our loving Father, from now on. May this blessed season of Advent be a time for us to rediscover our love for God. Amen.

Monday, 10 December 2018 : 2nd Week of Advent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the Lord Who extended upon us the wonders of His merciful love and the forgiveness that He is willing to give us, His beloved ones. He has given us good hope in the midst of the darkness and the uncertainty surrounding our lives in this world. Yet, unfortunately, the sad reality of this world is that, many of us are still ignorant of God’s love and mercy being ever present in our midst.

Why is that so? That is because we mankind are often too distracted by the many temptations and allures of worldly things that prevent us from realising just how much God loves us. We put our trust easily in things such as money, power, fame and influence, societal positions and honour, adulations and human ambitions, which give us satisfaction and pleasures of the body and mind, but which in truth, continue to enslave us to sin.

And that is how sin continues to reign over us mankind, ever since we started to disobey God and instead follow the temptations of Satan. And sin has become like a veil that darkened our sight and prevent us from seeing in righteousness and realising the love of God. And it is also a very dangerous disease that will continue to affect us and grow ever stronger in its hold in our whole being, corrupting us body, mind, heart and soul.

That is why, many of us are sick, although we may appear to be perfectly healthy in the body. Yes, that is because although our physical body may be healthy, but the sin present in us is the true sickness that is often overlooked and ignored, until the time when it is too late for us to rectify this major problem we have in our lives, that is when we look back with regret for having indulged in our sinfulness right to the last day when judgment comes for us.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, unlike any other worldly and earthly diseases and sickness that can be cured or even if incurable, affects only the physical body and not the soul, sin affects all aspects of our life, and unless we get rid of sin from our lives, then sin will continue to harm us and affect us. Sin is the fruit of disobedience against God, and so long as we remain in the state of sin, we cannot be with God.

The only healing for sin, is God’s grace and forgiveness. He alone is capable of forgiving sins, as the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law rightly pointed out in today’s Gospel passage. However, the one important fact that they failed to realise is that, while they criticised Jesus for seemingly healing the blind man by forgiving his sins and saying that God alone could forgive sins, they failed to see that Jesus is that one and only True God, from whom everyone can receive forgiveness for their sins.

And do we all realise that God has also extended this forgiveness through those whom He has appointed in this world to be His ministers and servants? He established His Church in this world, and entrusted to St. Peter, the keys of the kingdom of heaven, by the words, “And I give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, for whoever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whoever you unbind on earth will be unbound in heaven.”

This was the authority given by the Lord to all of His priests, His bishops, all those who have followed in the footsteps of the Apostles to whom He imparted this power and authority, the power to forgive sins. Each of the bishops in the Church trace their authority to the unbroken line of succession right from the Apostles themselves, and similarly, the priests are also ordained by those same bishops.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, as we continue to proceed through this time of Advent, the Scripture readings today are in fact inviting us to listen to the Lord calling upon us to return to Him, to be reconciled with Him and to be forgiven from our sins. The opportunities have been given to us, and we can readily find priests and anyone who have been given the authority to forgive our sins. But the next question then is, are we willing to be forgiven and are we able to commit to follow God’s path and abandon our past sins from now on?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us spend some time to reflect on how we can make a difference in our lives from now on, and how we can devote ourselves with a new commitment to love God with all our hearts and minds, with all of our efforts and strength form now on? Let us all spend this Advent season to love the Lord more and to devote ourselves to Him, seeking forgiveness from all the sins we have committed by going to confession, and regularly taking part in the Holy Mass. May the Lord be with us all, now and always. Amen.

Sunday, 9 December 2018 : Second Sunday of Advent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, the second one in the season of Advent, we continue to prepare ourselves for the upcoming celebration and joy of Christmas. The Scripture passages today all spoke of the coming of a time of grace and happiness, hope and redemption for the people of God, for all those who have kept the faith and remained true to the Lord.

The first reading today was taken from the Book of the prophet Baruch, which speaks of the coming deliverance for Jerusalem, which represent the people of God, Israel, who have been suffering for many years, if we understand the context and history in which all these took place. The glorious kingdom of Israel, of David and Solomon was by the time of the prophet Baruch, a distant memory, and the people of God had been fragmented and scattered, overcame by their enemies and enslaved once again.

The Psalm today spoke of the same deliverance that was to come from God for the people of Israel, the coming deliverance of Zion, that by the power of God a new era would come, where the exile of the people would come to an end, and they would once again be reunited with one another and with God. This was made in the context of the exile of the Israelites after the destruction of their kingdoms, both the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah.

At that time, the people of God who once proudly called themselves the chosen people of God and as the people of David’s kingdom, could no longer looked at themselves with pride, for they have been downtrodden and left to suffer many injustice, indignation, pain and tribulations, all because of their own disobedience against God and His ways. Because of their sins, they have sundered themselves from God’s grace.

But God, as seen through what we have heard, and what He has done for the sake of His people, is a truly patient and loving God, Who does not desire our destruction and damnation. He loved us all very much, and that was why He created us in the first place. If He has not loved us, He would not have created us. It is unfortunate that through our disobedience we have made ourselves to fall into this predicament.

That is why God gave us a way out of this predicament, by the promise and the sending of the Saviour, none other than Jesus Christ our Lord, Whose birth we celebrate every Christmas. But many did not recognise Him or accept Him as their Lord and Saviour. At the time of Jesus, there were many who doubted Him and refused to listen to Him, and instead persecuted and oppressed Him and His disciples.

And that is because the people hardened their hearts and minds, and stubbornly therefore refused to listen to God’s words and truth. That was why they remained in sin and committing more of the deeds that caused them to fall even further away from God. But God did not give up easily, and that was why He sent St. John the Baptist, whose words in the Gospel passage today rang very clearly in our minds, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make His path straight!”

St. John spoke up strongly against the sins of man and called the people to turn away from their sins, repenting sincerely from their erroneous path. And for those who hardened their hearts, like the Pharisees and king Herod, he had harsh words reminding them of the sins in their actions and in their hearts that prevented them from being able to serve the Lord and to follow Him as they should have done.

And that is, brothers and sisters in Christ, unfortunately what many of us today are suffering from as well. Throughout history, and until this very day, many of us, sons and daughters of man, have not been able to resist the many temptations of the world, the temptations of money, of power, of glory and fame, of pleasures of the flesh, immoral behaviour and many other forms of aberrations and wicked deeds that are abhorrent in the sight of God.

It was because of these sins that we have drifted further and further away from God, and unless we make the effort to allow God to forgive us our sins and to change our ways to be more in accordance to His ways and His will, then we are at risk of suffering the fate of eternal damnation, if we are found to be unworthy of God’s eternal glory and grace. And this time of Advent, this season of reorientation of our lives and recollection of our actions, is the best time for us to begin to make a difference.

We should begin by examining once again how we are preparing ourselves for the upcoming celebrations of Christmas. Many of us celebrate Christmas as how the world around us celebrate it, with much revelry and partying, with rejoicing and excesses. We flaunt our wealth and prosperity to one another, by trying to outdo each other in decorating our houses and places, in the lavishness and value of our gifts.

And we often grumble when our Christmas gifts are not up to our expectation, and if our celebrations are not as what we have prepared and expected. We worry a lot about what we are to cook up for our Christmas dinners, lunches and parties, about what we are to wear for the celebrations, and yet, while we worry about all these things, and think about how to outdo one another in our celebrations, do we realise that there are those, even in our midst, who have no means to celebrate Christmas?

There are those who are poor and penniless who cannot even celebrate Christmas, and even more so, they cannot even think of what is to come tomorrow, for they have little to even survive for the day’s meal. And then, there are also those who because of various reasons, especially oppression and persecutions, cannot even celebrate Christmas openly with joy and revelry. They live in constant fear of persecution and even death just for being a believer and follower of Christ.

And today, all of us are called to think of all these brethren of ours, even as we also need to reevaluate our lives and beginning from understanding better what Christmas and its significance is for our lives. Christmas is all about Christ and His saving love and grace for each and every one of us. God loves each and every one of us that He is willing to give everything, even His own Son, to suffer and die for our sake, by bearing the cross of our sins.

And if God has loved us so much, then now, brothers and sisters in Christ, we are called then to love Him back with the same effort and sincerity. We are called to serve Him and to be as what He wants us to be, righteous and just in His presence. Thus, we should shun all forms of sin and disobedience that we have done so far in life, all the worldly excesses and resist the temptations to sin further.

We should also reflect and show the same love to our brethren, especially those who are poor and weak, those who are oppressed and in grief and sorrow. This is the true spirit of Christmas, that we, as God’s children, can show the same love that God, Our loving Father has shown us. And also, for all those who have done fault to us and hurt us, let us also forgive them their mistakes and sins against us.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore, today, as we continue this Advent journey, let us first and foremost realise our sinfulness, and ask God to heal us and to forgive us from those sins and faults. Let us all draw ever closer to God and find our way to serve Him and to commit ourselves, through our love and generosity to our fellow brethren, by our way of life, upholding at all times the tenets of our faith in all of our daily actions and deeds. May God bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

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.