Tuesday, 17 December 2019 : 3rd Week of Advent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we begin entering the seven days period leading to Christmas, with the special liturgical readings from the Scripture that are meant to direct our attention to the One Whom we are celebrating in Christmas. It began therefore with the account from the Book of Genesis in our first reading today of Jacob blessing his sons, with a special blessing to Judah, through whom eventually the Messiah would come into this world.

And in the Gospel passage today we heard from the first chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew on the long genealogy of Our Lord Jesus Christ, all the way from the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, linked to what we heard from the Book of Genesis, as the Lord descended through Judah, and then to David, the famous King of Israel, through whom God also promised to make the house of David to last forever and to reign as king for eternity.

All these are leading to the coming of Christ, the Messiah or Saviour of the whole world which had been long prophesied and promised. Everything was fulfilled when Christ was born in Bethlehem as prophesied, more than two millennia ago, in a poor and dirty stable, born as the King of Kings and the King of Israel, the Heir of David and the Saviour of all. And this is the essence of true Christmas joy and what we are celebrating, Christ as the focal point of all our celebrations and festivities.

How are we then, brothers and sisters in Christ, as Christians, spend our time preparing ourselves for Christmas and its festive season, given that it is now just about one week away? Are we going to do what the rest of the world have been doing all these while, by spending our time shopping and buying the latest Christmas merchandises and goods, by busying ourselves in getting gifts for the celebrations or worrying about what decorations we are going to put up?

We can see just what kind of enormous marketing and advertising going on every year for the Christmas season, endlessly promoting more and more of the secular Christmas cultures and celebrations, all the paraphernalia on Santa Claus, all the Christmas traditions and folklore customs, the fairies and elves, and all sort of things not founded on the true meaning and intention of Christmas.

It is not that we cannot celebrate Christmas as how the world celebrates it. Indeed, if we can spread the joy of Christmas and even spread the true meaning of Christmas by sharing in the joy of this period, then perhaps that will make our Christmas celebrations even more meaningful and wonderful, not just for ourselves but also for others, even for those who do not belong to the Church.

The issue here is that we should not allow ourselves to be swallowed up by the excessive consumerism and materialism that are behind the secular celebrations and festivities surrounding the worldly Christmas. We should not be affected or swayed by the temptations to seek more pleasures and happiness for ourselves, by vying for the best Christmas gifts or celebrations, and most importantly, as we have discussed earlier, our celebration must be centred on Christ.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we quickly approach the time of Christmas this year, are we able to challenge ourselves that we may celebrate Christmas this year with full understanding of its true purpose and intention, its meaning and truth? Are we able to celebrate Christmas with newfound love for God and dedicate ourselves to Him anew beginning from now if we have not done so?

And now, let our Christmas joy be complete, as we turn ourselves away from the meaninglessness and futility of the worldly pursuits of glory, happiness and satisfaction in all the sorts of things that the world has always promoted, and instead, let us all turn towards the Lord with all of our heart and love Him from now on with all of our strength. May God be with us all and guide us through this journey of faith, that from now on, Christmas will truly be a blessed celebration of God’s love for us. Amen.

Monday, 16 December 2019 : 3rd Week of Advent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we are reminded of the many wonderful blessings and works which God has bestowed and done among His people all throughout time, just as we heard the story from the Book of Numbers in which we listened to the story of the prophet and holy man of God named Balaam, who was hired by one of the enemies of Israel during their Exodus and journey from Egypt to the Promised Land of Canaan.

Balaam was hired to curse the Israelites and to give their enemies an edge over them, but as we heard in our first reading passage today, instead of cursing the people of Israel, Balaam blessed them and prayed over them for good bounty and prosperity to the dismay of the enemy of Israel, as God had spoken and delivered His will through him and Balaam obeyed God’s will to the end.

It was a wonderful providence and reassurance from God, how He will always be faithful to His Covenant, that even curses intended for His people turned into blessings. And Balaam also in fact prophesied of the coming of the Star of Jacob, as a prophecy of the coming of the Messiah to come, even though it was still a long time away by then. This Star coming forth from Jacob, referred to a vision of the Almighty, was none other than Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour.

It was indeed fitting that as we come gradually closer to the celebration of Christmas within just slightly more than a week from now, we are reminded yet again of the One Whom we are celebrating for in this Christmas. Not the glamour and festivities, not the merrymaking and gifts, but rather, for the love and compassion of God, by which He gave us a new Hope through the giving of His own beloved Son, to be our Saviour.

That is the true meaning and purpose of Christmas, the joy that we celebrate for the coming of the glorious Saviour through Whom we have been saved and brought out from the darkness of sin into a new life filled with the grace of God. However, it is sad to note how many among us mankind, even among us Christians who have not understood or realised this truth, and treat Christmas as merely just another holiday or time to party and be merry.

As we heard in our Gospel passage today, the Temple authorities, the chief priests and the elders, the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees all rallied against the Lord, with the context of His earlier action in driving all the cheating and greedy merchants and money changers out of the courtyards of the Temple, questioning Him on whose authority that the Lord had acted in that way, for they saw in Him a threat to their own power and authority.

At that time, the priests and elders of the Temple benefitted from the presence of the merchants and money changers, as probably they gained from the rental fees and other costs incurred for those merchants to use the Temple courtyard, and they also provided the necessary means for the worship at the Temple by selling the animal sacrifices for the Temple worship. However, those merchants likely profited immensely from such endeavours, overcharging the pilgrims and worshippers for their products and services.

And the Temple authorities also benefitted in the same manner, and when the Lord acted justly in driving out all those who brought corruption and the defilement of sin into the holy House of the Lord, they became angry because they saw not the Lord acting as how He and everyone who had faith in God should have acted, but rather, they saw the loss of their income and their many other worldly concerns.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, how is this then related to us? It is in fact exactly what often happen to us in our own lives. Too many times we often sidelined the Lord in our lives, preferring to put our priorities to gain things and benefits for ourselves, in our pursuits for power, glory, wealth and all the other things that we seek in this world that made us to forget about God. We ended up living for the world and forgot about the love which God has lavished upon us, all these while.

Through today’s Scripture readings, through Balaam’s blessings of Israel and the rejection of Jesus by the Temple authorities, we are all called to remember God’s love and blessings for us, in each and every moments of our lives. God has loved us so much and yet we often disappointed Him by our refusal to detach ourselves from our ego and many desires in life, in our repeated fall into sin and living in a state of sin all these while.

But God is ever loving and ever merciful, brothers and sisters in Christ, and this time of Advent is truly the best time for us to take a stock of our lives, to reevaluate our direction and current heading in life. Let us all make a new commitment from now on, that we will try our best to live our lives with ever greater faith, each and every days of our lives, and draw ever nearer to God and His love through our every living actions.

May the Lord bless our journey of faith this Advent, that we may indeed make the best use of these few remaining days left in this time of sacred preparation that we may prepare ourselves well, not just for the coming of Christmas, but also for our conversion to be better and true disciples of the Lord in all things. May God be with us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

Sunday, 15 December 2019 : Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Rose (Gaudete Sunday) or Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, the third one in the season of Advent, you may have noticed a difference in the vestments of the priests and the celebrants of the Mass as we use the rose colour instead of violet, the decorations of the Church and the music, because on this day we celebrate what is known as Gaudete Sunday, which came from the Introit of today’s liturgical celebrations, ‘Gaudete in Domino semper…’, with the word ‘Gaudete’ meaning rejoice.

That is why on this particular Sunday of Advent, we focus on the theme of ‘Joy’, after we have focused on ‘Hope’ on the first Sunday of Advent, and ‘Peace’ on the second Sunday. On this day, we have some sort of reprieve from the relatively sombre and penitential nature of Advent, and assume temporarily the more joyous and festive atmosphere, not because it is already the time to embrace the fullness of the joy of Christmas, but rather because we look forward to that ‘Joy’ in Christmas that we rejoice today.

On this day, this Gaudete Sunday we are all reminded what the true meaning and joy of Christmas are all about. That is because many of us have forgotten what the true joy and meaning of Christmas is, and have become swallowed by the way the world perceives Christmas, the celebrations and festivities we often see all around us especially throughout this month and holiday season, which is focused not on the true joy of Christmas but instead on false, worldly joys.

This is why the world has often led us astray and distracted us from finding the true joy of Christmas. What is this true joy of Christmas, brothers and sisters in Christ? It is Christ Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of all and the One after Whom Christmas was named. It is indeed such an irony that most of us treated Christmas as just another festivity and another holiday, forgetting the very One we should be celebrating about.

That is why it is indeed timely that we are reminded of Who we are celebrating for this coming Christmas, so that we may no longer forget about Him and may have the right direction and way of celebrating Christmas with true joy and happiness, not the glamour and pleasures of the holiday spirit and celebrations of Christmas all around us, not all the gifts we receive and all the food we are going to feast in, but rather in welcoming the Lord, our Saviour into our midst.

All of us rejoice because in Christmas lies the fulfilment of our long wait and desire for salvation and reconciliation with God. As our first reading today from the Book of the prophet Isaiah stated, the coming of the Lord and His salvation would indeed be a joyful one, a time when God would heal His people and reach out to them, when He would bring them true freedom and happiness by revealing His way and His truth to all of them, that is all of us mankind.

The Lord has always been faithful to His people and to all the promises that He has made with them. At the time of the prophet Isaiah, the people of Israel had indeed suffered, humiliated and beaten by their enemies, and the entirety of the northern kingdom had been destroyed by the Assyrians and the inhabitants of the northern lands had been brought into exile in far-off lands. Therefore the prophecy of the prophet Isaiah must have indeed brought great relief to the people of Judah, the southern kingdom, as a reassurance of God’s providence and love.

And this was reaffirmed in our Gospel passage today, as the Lord Jesus quoted that very same prophecy of the prophet Isaiah as a word of confirmation to St. John the Baptist, the one sent to herald the coming of the Messiah, that He, Jesus, was indeed the One and only Messiah of God, promised to all of mankind, through all the miracles and wonderful things He had done. All these fulfilled what God had spoken in the past, and for this all of us ought to rejoice.

But at the same time, this happiness and joy must be tempered with patience as St. James wrote in his Epistle, which is mentioned in our second reading today. St. James spoke of how the Lord is indeed coming, and we must be patient to wait for His coming, the time when He will fulfil completely all that He has promised to us. What St. James spoke about was the promise which Christ had made as He ascended to heaven, that He will come again at the end of time, to gather all of His faithful flock to Himself.

That is why we have in fact two joyful celebrations in this upcoming Christmas, the first one of which all of us must have known, in celebrating the historical birth of Our Lord and Saviour in Bethlehem, the moment two millennia ago when Jesus was born of His mother Mary in the poor and dirty stable just outside the town of Bethlehem as prophesied by the prophets. But then, at the same time, we also then rejoice because of the expectation of His second coming, which will come at the time that only God knows.

All of us rejoice because of this hope, and today, as we focus on this aspect of joy on Gaudete Sunday, we are also asked to reflect on how patient we have been as the disciples and followers of Christ all these while. Have we followed the Lord patiently, knowing that He has loved us all so much and blessed us all these while? Many of us are often too impatient and expect immediate satisfaction, happiness and joy.

That is exactly why many of us fell into the many temptations of the world, and why many of us have forgotten about the true joy of Christmas in Christ. We seek the instant joy and pleasure in our lives, which the world readily provided for us, in the many amenities and comforts we enjoy throughout life, in the many perks and things that we have all around us, in our often consumeristic and materialistic lifestyle.

On the contrary, if we want to be true and faithful Christians, we must then be ready to deny ourselves and all of these pleasures, the attachment to the many tempting things found in this world. We must be ready to suffer and face ridicule, rejection and difficulties, as what the Scripture readings today had alluded, as St. James wrote of the suffering of the prophets and all those who had come earlier on bearing God’s truth.

St. John the Baptist himself had to endure and suffer in prison, as what we heard today from the Gospel passage, how he sent message to the Lord Jesus from prison. As dedicated and committed St. John the Baptist was, he was still human, and he must have also felt some despair and the pain and bitterness of suffering in prison, and that was why he asked, if the Lord Jesus he believed to be the Messiah was truly the One he and all the others had waited for.

Similarly therefore, all of us will also likely face challenges and trials somewhere in our journey of faith, in varying degrees and difficulties. But we must not give up our faith and resolution to follow through this journey of faith, just as the prophets of old remained true to their mission and calling, despite the people’s opposition and challenges, and just as how St. John the Baptist remained firm and faithful until he was martyred.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, that is why as we celebrate this Gaudete Sunday today, while we rejoice at the expectation of the coming of Christ and the joy of Christmas, but we must also learn to be patient and to endure the trials and challenges we may face in this world with patience and faith, and not to seek or yearn for instant joy or gratification without having to endure the pains and crosses of life.

After all, the Lord has called us to follow Him and to carry our own crosses and walk in His path. Yes, we will find true joy and happiness in God, but it does not mean then that our life at present in this world will be free of sorrow and sufferings, because as long as sin exists in this world, and as long as mankind continue to walk in sin and in disobedience against God, abusing the freedom He has given us, in living our lives wickedly and in succumbing to our many desires, to our greed and ego, there will always be troubles, trials and sufferings to endure in this life.

This is where then we need to realise that, out of all these challenges, difficulties, trials and darkness in life in this world, there can be no true way out besides that of following the Lord and through His saving grace, by which He will bestow on us true joy and freedom from all the chains and trials that we are facing and will be facing in life. It is in Christ, our Lord and Saviour, Whom we celebrate this coming Christmas, that we have our hope and our salvation, the one and only source of Joy for us.

And last of all, as we look forward to the true joy of Christmas, let us also endeavour to remember our fellow brothers and sisters and share our joys and blessings to one another this coming Christmas. Let our festivities and celebrations be done with the right intentions and purpose, and not be selfish in keeping all the happiness and joy just for ourselves and leaving others to suffer while we rejoice. Let us remember that there are those in our midst, sometimes even within our families and friends, who are not able to celebrate Christmas with joy for various reasons.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all bear witness to Christ through our Christmas preparations this Advent, and by celebrating Christmas this year and from now on with the right focus and intentions in mind, that Christ is always and will be the centre and focus of our Christmas joy and celebration, because it is by His coming into this world, that joy has been given to us all once again. May the Lord bless us all and be with us through this journey through the remaining days of Advent. Amen.

Saturday, 14 December 2019 : 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 as we listened to the message of the Sacred Scriptures, we heard today the readings on the prophet Elijah both from the Old and the New Testament, speaking about this particular prophet who was among the greatest of the prophets of old. The prophet Elijah was the archetype of the many prophets whom God had sent to be among His people, and his works among the Israelites were recorded in the Book of Kings.

Why do we then focus on the prophet Elijah today and what is the significance of this to all of us, brothers and sisters in Christ? That is because if we look more deeply into the readings we have just heard and understood what the Lord had said in our Gospel passage today, we will appreciate better the nature of the readings of the Scriptures today, which in fact mentioned to us the fulfilment of the long promised salvation of God as fulfilled through those whom He had sent into this world.

For the prophet Elijah was among the few of the children of man who did not experience death at the end of his earthly life, a fate which he shared with Enoch from the Book of Genesis, one of the earliest patriarchs and ancestors of man, as well as with Mary herself, the Mother of God, who according to our faith, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory and did not experience death in the way that we mankind experience it.

The prophet Elijah was taken up into heaven in a great flaming chariot as seen by his successor, prophet Elisha, who continued the works of the prophet Elijah after he left this world. It was then told that the prophet Elijah would one day come again to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah, the Saviour of God. It was popularly believed by the Israelites that Elijah would indeed come again at the appointed time of God, to announce God’s salvation to all.

This is where the prophet Elijah often became associated with St. John the Baptist, the one whom God had sent into this world just prior to the arrival of the Lord and Saviour Himself, born of Elizabeth, the relative of Mary, the Mother of Our God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. St. John the Baptist was compared to the prophet Elijah and was mentioned as having the spirit of the prophet Elijah. In any case, through St. John the Baptist and his works, what has been prophesied about God’s salvation came to fulfilment.

God was making all that He has promised to be fulfilled, as He has promised. Everything that God has said will come true exactly as He has said it, only that the time of the fulfilment is known to God alone and not to us. That is why we must put our trust in Him alone and not worry, for God will save us all His people and fulfil what He has promised to us without doubt. The issue is that many of us have not been faithful to Him and we chose to ignore His truth and His offer of salvation.

Many of us have become too preoccupied with worldly matters, desires and concerns that we end up getting more and more distant from God. And our faith became a mere formality and we do not practice our faith with genuine sincerity, as we chose rather to advance our own worldly ambitions and desires, rather than putting our trust and faith in God. And that is why our faith became empty and many of the celebrations of faith like Christmas has become just another one of worldly joys and pleasures.

That is why it is prompt and timely for all of us to be reminded by what we have heard in our Scripture passages today, as we are reminded of what Christmas truly means to us, the coming of the Saviour of God into this world in order to save us, just as He has promised and which He proclaimed through His servant, St. John the Baptist, the one who had in him the spirit and power of the prophet Elijah and bearing the mission to proclaim God’s salvation to all, preparing His way for Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, how do we then as Christians prepare ourselves well during this time of Advent that we may reorientate our lives to be aligned once again with God and with His ways? It is by turning ourselves to God wholeheartedly and purifying ourselves of our greed and desires, our attachments to this world and our pride and ego in us. And we should look upon the good examples set by our holy predecessor, whose feast we celebrate today, namely St. John of the Cross.

St. John of the Cross was a great saint, a holy man and a member of the Carmelite Order, known for his great role in the reform of the well-known religious order together with St. Teresa of Avila, and eventually led to the foundation of the Order of the Discalced Carmelites. At that time, the Carmelite Order had become wayward in the practice and customs of their livelihood, work and direction, and as a result, some began to call for a reform of the way the Carmelite Order ought to proceed.

St. John of the Cross helped St. Teresa of Avila to reform the Carmelites at a challenging time for the Church and the faith, when many people were leaving their faith and the Church at the height of the Protestant reformation, and also caused by the rampant corruption within the Church in general. St. John of the Cross and his fellow reformers wanted to restore sanctity and purity to the revered Carmelites order to help in the efforts to oppose the impacts of the reformation in what is to be known as the Counter-Reformation.

They all set forth to purify the Carmelites from the corrupt practices and ways accumulated in the past years and steering the order back to its original path and way, and of course all these were not without stiff opposition and challenges, as there were many of those within the order who opposed St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila and their reform effort. He was attacked, criticised and ridiculed, and yet, he remained firm in his commitment and his faith in God.

Eventually this led to the foundation of the Discalced Carmelites order as the newly reformed segment of the Carmelites who embraced the reforms of St. John of the Cross and his fellow reformers. Eventually the original, old Carmelites order itself was also reformed by others in the subsequent years, leading its members back towards God and their love and devotion for Him rather than worldly attachments that had corrupted the order in the past.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, having heard of the life, works and examples set by St. John of the Cross, let us all also reorder and reorientate our lives if we have been wayward and disobedient all these while, if we have allowed the many concerns and attachments of the world to mislead us into the false paths. Let us all turn towards God with faith and with zeal, with vigour and energy as what was once shown by St. John of the Cross, our model in faith.

May the Lord continue to guide us in this journey of faith, and may all of us have a blessed season of Advent, making best use of the time and opportunities to seek God for healing and forgiveness, and to love Him once again with all of our hearts and with all of our might. Amen.

Friday, 13 December 2019 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Lucy, Virgin and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scriptures speaking to us and reminding us all that we need to remain faithful to God and stay true to His commandments. If we remain faithful to Him, God will bless us all and grant us all that He has promised to us from the beginning of time through the Covenant which He has established with each and every one of us.

God has made His Covenant with us because He truly loves each and every one of us, all of us without any exceptions. And because of that, we should indeed be grateful for all that He has kindly blessed us with, His generous kindness and love, His enduring patience for us that despite our constant disobedience and rebelliousness, He still loves us all and is willing to give us chances and opportunities to repent.

Our first reading today from the Book of the prophet Isaiah and the Psalm today, taken from the first chapter of the Psalm reminds us all of this fact, of how God will bless those who are righteous and who are walking in His path. But those who continue in their wicked and sinful ways, those who reject God’s kindness and love will have nothing but regret and hopelessness, for away from God truly we are nothing.

Unfortunately, the reality is such that in our world today, there are many more people following the path leading away from God, the path of sin and darkness which many people are following because they were unable to resist the temptations of the world. They allowed themselves to be swayed by the devil’s sweet lies and falsehoods, and the comforts and pleasures of life that they ended up being drawn further and further away from God.

This is why in our Gospel passage today, we heard of the frustrations which our Lord spoke against the people to whom He had been sent to, as the people rejected His message of truth and His offer of salvation, as they were too entrenched in their own ways and fallen habits that they were unable to comprehend the truth of God being brought into their midst. Just as they rejected St. John the Baptist, they would also reject the Lord.

The core of the message of today’s Gospel passage is that, to those who rejected God’s truth and ways because of their stubbornness in heart and mind, everything that God is trying to bring forth to their midst is meaningless as long as the doors of their hearts and minds are closed tight. When St. John the Baptist came forth in his blatant and ascetic way, preaching repentance and the call to change of life, the people criticised and doubted him, and when the Lord came, seeking sinners and trying to save them, He too was criticised and mocked.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we are called then to reflect on our lives and think about our actions. Are we going to continue to harden our hearts and minds against God? As long as we allow ourselves to be swayed and tempted, and to be attached excessively to worldly comforts and desires, we will likely end up distancing ourselves away from God and falling deeper into the snares of the devil.

Today, let us all look upon the good faith and examples set by St. Lucy, also known as St. Lucia of Syracuse, the famous martyr and saint, whose name was among those named in the Canon of the Mass, because of her truly exemplary faith and dedication to God, regardless of the challenges and difficulties she had to face at that time in remaining true to her faith in the Lord. She lived through a particularly difficult period of great persecution against the faithful by the Roman Emperor Diocletian.

St. Lucy was born to a rich family and she had dedicated herself to a holy virginity in God since her youth, desiring to love God. But her mother, not aware of St. Lucy’s vow and also suffering from a disease herself, and having lost her husband when St. Lucy was still young, arranged for her to marry into a wealthy pagan noble family to ensure their livelihood. St. Lucy persuaded her mother to seek recourse through the intercession of St. Agatha, another martyr whose shrine was visited by many pilgrims at that time, and St. Lucy’s mother was cured.

St. Lucy persuaded her mother to give generous donations of their great wealth to the poor and the needy, and many of the poor of Syracuse received their great alms. However, this generosity came to the attention of the pagan governor of Syracuse, who suspected of St. Lucy’s Christian faith, and ordered her to be arrested and tortured. But despite of the many tortures she had to endure, she remained firm in her faith in God.

It was told that when she was to be burnt at the stake, the firewood stacked below her refused to light up, and in the end, she had to be martyred by the sword. Nonetheless, through all those sufferings, the great faith and commitment of St. Lucy shone through and showed us all what being true Christian is all about. St. Lucy opened herself to God and allowed Him to enter her life and transform her.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we able to devote ourselves to the Lord much like what St. Lucy had done? Through her love both for God and for her fellow brothers and sisters, especially for the poor and the needy, we can be inspired and follow in our footsteps, changing and transforming our lives, from one that is filled with selfishness and ego, into one that is charitable, faithful and devoted to God.

Let us all therefore walk with faith from now on, drawing ever closer to God, and ask for the intercession of St. Lucy that she may pray for all of us sinners still struggling in this world, that God will have mercy on us all and bring us into His eternal kingdom. May God be with us all through this journey of faith, now and always. Amen.

Thursday, 12 December 2019 : 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 the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas and the New World, widely venerated and celebrated not just in the American continent but also now all over the world. This devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe had its roots in the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the site of Tepeyac hill near Mexico City today, where Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to a native American, St. John Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin.

At that time, about five hundred years ago, just recently after the discovery of the New World, the American continent and the arrival of the Christian faith to the New World, Our Lady appeared on the ninth of December on the year 1531 to St. John Diego who was a native peasant who saw Our Lady speaking to him in his native tongue and explaining to him who she was and asked him to build a church over at that site in her honour.

Over the next few days, the apparition at the site of the Tepeyac hill continued and St. John Diego corresponded with the local bishop on the matter of the miraculous appearance and the vision he experienced of Our Lady. The Archbishop did not initially believed St. John Diego and it was only after St. John Diego again experienced the vision and related to him what he had seen, that the Archbishop inquired St. John Diego to go to the apparition of Our Lady to ask of her for a miraculous sign that could prove her identity.

At that same time, St. John Diego’s uncle was very sick, and as a result, St. John Diego was unable to meet Our Lady at the appointed time, and had to delay the meeting to the next day, and on that day, St. John Diego initially tried to avoid meeting Our Lady because he was still concerned of his uncle’s condition and then he was also ashamed of his failure to fulfil what she had asked of him in meeting her the previous day.

That was how then there was another encounter between Our Lady and St. John Diego as she chided him for not having put his trust in God through her intercession. In the words that are now famous, Our Lady spoke to St. John Diego, “Am I not here, I who am your Mother?” as a kind reminder not only to St. John Diego but also to all of us that we can indeed put our trust in her as our mother and the mother of our Lord, God and Saviour.

Then, Our Lady arranged some flowers and put them into the cloak worn by St. John Diego, flowers that are not common or native to the place, and asked him to bring them to the Archbishop to be shown as a sign. When St. John Diego came before the Archbishop bearing the flowers and showed him the miraculous flowers, what attracted the attention of everyone and the Archbishop was the image of Our Lady herself, imprinted on the cloak worn by St. John Diego.

From this tilma or cloak, we now have the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, as it had been for the past almost five centuries. The original tilma is still enshrined within the great Basilica now standing at the very place of the apparition, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, to which many millions of pilgrims and visitors came every year, devoting themselves and seeking for the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we celebrate this Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we are called to reflect on what we have just discussed earlier on about the occurrence of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. John Diego and the faithful, we should realise how all of us need to have greater faith in God through our greater love and devotion to Him as well as to His mother Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Just as she reminded St. John Diego to seek her and to ask for her intercession, we should also do the same.

For Mary, the Mother of God is indeed the one closest to her Son in heaven, being placed at His right hand as the Queen Mother of Heaven, much like king Solomon of Israel placed his own mother Bathsheba by his side. Through Mary, the greatest and most wonderful and blessed of all the saints and by her intercessions for our sake, probably countless souls have been brought closer to God by His grace, and saved from eternal damnation through her many works and efforts.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, are we going to seek recourse to our blessed Mother? Or are we going to overlook and ignore her as what we have done all these while? Let us all look upon our blessed Mother, whom Christ our Lord had in fact entrusted to us from the Cross just as He entrusted her to His beloved disciple St. John the Apostle, representing all of us the members of His Church. Let us all devote ourselves to God ever more deeply and lovingly by deepening our own devotion to His blessed mother Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, most blessed and honoured among all women, the greatest of all the saints and the Holy Mother of God, pray for us all sinners, that your Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ may look kindly upon us and have mercy on our wretched souls and beings. May you continue to intercede for us all, o Lady of Guadalupe, most blessed and loving mother of us all. Amen.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of Pope St. Damasus I, Pope (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Popes)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the words of the Scripture, each and every one of us are reminded that we can indeed put our complete and undivided attention and trust in the Lord, for it is in Him alone that we will find true joy and comfort, and we will not be disappointed should we decide to put our faith in Him, as He is always ever faithful to the Covenant that He has made with us.

In our first reading today from the Book of the prophet Isaiah we heard the prophet Isaiah spoke again regarding of the promise of good life and salvation which all of us will receive from God, and in today’s passage, the prophet spoke of just how mighty and all-powerful God is, and everything is possible for Him, as He is truly almighty and omnipotent in all things. And yet, this almighty and all-powerful God wants to love each and every one of us mankind, whom He has made to be His own people.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard the Lord Jesus Himself said, as He called all of us to Him, offering His yoke to us, as the lighter yoke than that of the yoke of the world, and calling on us all who are weary and heavily burdened, that He will give us rest. This is indeed a message that brings great comfort to all of us just as how it must have brought great relief to all those who heard Christ right there and then.

Yet, if we notice carefully, the Lord did not say that He will immediately remove from all of us all obstacles and make our lives easy and good. In fact, by using the term ‘yoke’ which is the burden used to bind the cattle and beasts of burden at that time, the Lord indirectly referred to the fact that for those who follow Him, there will be trials and challenges to come, and to be a faithful Christian we must be prepared to stand up for our faith and defend it.

But this is still better compared to the alternative path, in which we may not suffer as much for now, and we may enjoy the journey more and be pleased more for now. That is because while the path of the Lord may seem to be more challenging and difficult for us to walk, but in truth, it leads us into the true and eternal rest in God, when we will receive the fullness of the inheritance, happiness and glory that God has promised us all.

On the other hand, if we choose the other path, the path of worldliness and the path advocated by the devil, it may seem to be less challenging and easier, and we will likely be more accepted and have more peace in life, but all these are just deceptions to prevent us from realising that this path is leading us into damnation and eternal suffering in hell. And this is why many people ended up falling into the same temptation and fell away from God’s path.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we continue to progress through the season of Advent we are all called to reflect on our lives and how we have lived them thus far. Have we been walking faithfully with God and putting our trust in Him, or have we instead sought the comforts and good things in life that as Christians we have been lukewarm in living our faith and been inactive and dormant in embracing our faith in God?

That is why today perhaps we should look upon the examples set by one of our holy predecessors, namely Pope St. Damasus I, whose feast we are celebrating today. Pope St. Damasus I was the Pope and leader of the Universal Church at a time when there were plenty of challenges and difficulties facing the faithful and the Church, as there were many heresies and false teachings threatening to divide the Church among many other issues.

Pope St. Damasus managed and led the Church through those difficult years. He spoke out firmly against the heresies and those leading the Church and the faithful into them. Pope St. Damasus had his hands full in managing all these issues and yet he continued to do his best to serve the faithful in his role as Pope and leader of the Church. He wrote extensively and also supported St. Jerome in compiling the Latin version of the Bible, namely the Vulgate.

Pope St. Damasus also worked hard to maintain good relations with the Church leaders in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire, and he even played a major role in the resolution of the leadership and succession disputes in the Eastern Patriarchates of Antioch and Alexandria. Truly, we can see just how busy Pope St. Damasus I must have been at that time and the kind of immense trials that he had to endure in being faithful to God and to the missions entrusted to him, yet he remained true to his faith and dedicated himself wholeheartedly.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore follow in the footsteps of Pope St. Damasus I, in being faithful to God and in putting our trust in Him, that we may walk courageously in the path that He has shown us even despite all the challenges and trials that we may have to face along the way. May the Lord guide us and help us throughout this journey and may He bless us all always. Amen.