Thursday, 25 January 2018 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate a great occasion in the history of our faith. In the history of the Church, as recording in the Scripture passages, we heard of the moment when a great enemy of God and His faithful ones, Saul, was converted to the faith, renouncing his former life and sinful past, and embracing the Lord as his Master, he eventually became a great defender and champion of the faith, St. Paul the Apostle.

Today we remember the moment of the conversion of St. Paul, when he was called by God from the depth of the darkness and into the new path in the light as the Lord had shown him. This is the pivotal moment in the history of the Church and our faith, as St. Paul would go on to perform many good works for the sake of the Church, ministering to many of the faithful in many cities throughout his journeys and travels across the Mediterranean, and in his many letters and writings to the faithful.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the calling and conversion of St. Paul is a reminder for each and every one of us as Christians, that all of us at one point in our own lives have also been called by the Lord in the same manner. We might not have experienced such a miraculous occasion as what St. Paul experienced, but surely God has also called all of us to follow Him, and by being Christians, it means that we have responded to His call.

Yet, many of us do not know what being a Christian truly mean. Some of us even went to the point of ridiculing and looking down on others just because they have not become Christians like ourselves. However, we did nothing in order to bring the Lord closer to the people mentioned. In fact, by our actions, our haughtiness and our indifference, we ended up distancing more and more people from God by our own actions.

First of all, we have to realise that God is calling everyone to Himself, to reconcile all those who have been sundered and separated from His love. We are all sinners and unworthy, and we are just like St. Paul who was once a great persecutor of the faithful, and sinned greatly against the Lord. Many other saints were also once great sinners, like St. Augustine, who once fell into a life of debauchery and sin during his youth days, even to the point of fathering a child out of wedlock.

But God called all of them, and they responded to God’s call in various ways. But what distinguished persistent sinners from saints, is the very fact that they allowed God to work His wonders in them, and they turned away from their sinful way of life, embracing a new way as shown to them by the Lord. They were deemed worthy because of their newfound commitment to God and to His people, and that was how they were made saints of the Church.

St. Paul was just one amongst the many other people who have experienced similar experience of conversion, but his is often highlighted simply because of his impact to the Church in its early years, and therefore, his critical importance and significance to the Church and the faithful as a whole. Certainly, no one who have lived during those years and times when St. Paul was still known as Saul, could have imagined that the fanatical and overzealous Pharisee could have become a great champion of God’s people.

Yet, that was what actually happened. And this is therefore an appropriate time for us to reflect on our own respective lives, based on what we know and from what we have heard with regards to the conversion of the great Apostle, St. Paul. It is a reminder that each one of us have also been called to a renewed life, turning away from our waywardness and from our sins.

What does this mean, brothers and sisters in Christ? It means that all of us, while sinners, can become saints as well, if we are to follow the Lord and put our trust completely in His guidance. It is through our actions and deeds, by which we show our genuine faith in God, that we can draw ever closer to Him, and that we can follow in the footsteps of our forefathers in faith, all those deemed worthy by the Church to be saints and blesseds.

All of us are called to continue the mission entrusted by the Lord to His Apostles and disciples, which is the propagation of the Good News of His salvation, and by calling all to the same repentance and forgiveness, through baptism in the Holy Name of the Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. This mission is still ongoing, and there are still many people out there, who have yet to receive the Good News, and worse still, many more who have fallen away from the faith.

Let us all therefore do what we can, to follow in the footsteps of St. Paul the Apostle, in his courage and determination to live faithfully, by preaching the Good News of salvation, not only through words alone, but also through deeds, filled with love and genuine care for all of our fellow men. Let us all show love in our actions, by showing our care and concern for all those who are in need, especially those who are in most need of God’s love and mercy.

May the Lord continue to guide us and protect us on our way, that we will always walk faithfully in His path, and that day after day, we will draw ever closer to Him, so that by the end of it all, we may be worthy of sharing the glory of His saints, all those who were once sinners like us, and yet, by their determination and commitment, having received the crown of glory from the Lord, Who blessed them for their wonderful dedication and life consecrated to Him. St. Paul the Apostle, pray for us all sinners, that we may be strengthened by God to be ever faithful to Him. Amen.

Thursday, 25 January 2018 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Mark 16 : 15-18

At that time, Jesus told His disciples, “Go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News to all creation. The one who believes and is baptised will be saved; the one who refuses to believe will be condemned.”

“Signs like these will accompany those who have believed : in My Name they will cast out demons and speak new languages; they will pick up snakes, and if they drink anything poisonous, they will be unharmed; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will be healed.”

Thursday, 25 January 2018 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 116 : 1, 2

Alleluia! Praise YHVH, all you nations; all you peoples, praise Him.

How great is His love for us! His faithfulness lasts forever.

Thursday, 25 January 2018 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Acts 22 : 3-16

Paul spoke to the Jews in Jerusalem, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up here, in this city, where I was educated in the school of Gamaliel, according to the strict observance of our law. And I was dedicated to God’s service, as are all of you today. As for this Way, I persecuted it to the point of death and arrested its followers, both men and women, throwing them into prison.”

“The High Priest and the whole Council of elders can bear witness to this. From them, I received letters for the Jewish brothers in Damascus; and I set out to arrest those who were there, and bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment. But, as I was travelling along, nearing Damascus, at about noon, a great light from the sky suddenly flashed about me.”

“I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me : ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?’ I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me : ‘I am Jesus, the Nazorean, Whom you persecute.’ The men who were with me saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of the One Who was speaking to me. I asked : ‘What shall I do, Lord?’”

“And the Lord replied : ‘Get up and go to Damascus; there, you will be told all that you are destined to do.’ Yet, the brightness of that light had blinded me; and so, I was led by the hand into Damascus by my companions. There, a certain Ananias came to me. He was a devout observer of the law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who were living there.”

“As he stood by me, he said : ‘Brother Saul, recover your sight.’ At that moment, I could see; and I looked at him. He, then, said, ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know His will, to see the Just One, and to hear the words from His mouth. From now on, you shall be His witness before all the pagan people, and tell them all that you have seen and heard.’”

“‘And now, why delay? Get up and be baptised, and have your sins washed away, by calling upon His Name.’”

Alternative reading

Acts 9 : 1-22

Meanwhile, Saul considered nothing but violence and death for the disciples of the Lord. He went to the High Priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues of Damascus that would authorise him to arrest and bring to Jerusalem, anyone he might find, man or woman, belonging to the Way.

As he travelled along and was approaching Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute Me?” And he asked, “Who are You, Lord?” The voice replied, “I am Jesus, Whom you persecute. Now, get up, and go into the city; there, you will be told what you are to do.”

The men who were travelling with him stood there speechless : they had heard the sound, but could see no one. Saul got up from the ground and, opening his eyes, he could not see. They took him by the hand and brought him to Damascus. He was blind; and he did not eat or drink for three days.

There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias, to whom the Lord called in a vision, “Ananias!” He answered, “Here I am, Lord!” Then the Lord said to him, “Go, at once, to Straight Street and ask, at the house of Judas, for a man of Tarsus named Saul. You will find him praying, for he has just seen in a vision that a man named Ananias has come in and placed his hands upon him, to restore his sight.”

Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man, and all the harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem; and now, he is here, with authority from the High Priest, to arrest all who call upon Your Name.”

But the Lord said to him, “Go! This man is My chosen instrument, to bring My Name to the pagan nations and their kings, and the people of Israel as well. I, Myself, will show him how much he will have to suffer for My Name.”

So Ananias left and went to the house. He laid his hands upon Saul and said, “Saul, my brother, the Lord Jesus, Who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me to you, so that you may receive your sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from his eyes and he could see; he got up and was baptised. Then he took food and was strengthened.

For several days Saul stayed with the disciples at Damascus, and he soon began to proclaim in the synagogues that Jesus was the Son of God. All who heard were astonished and said, “Is this not the one who cast out, in Jerusalem, all those calling upon this Name? Did he not come here, to bring them bound before the chief priests?”

But Saul grew more and more powerful; and he confounded the Jews living in Damascus when he proved that Jesus was the Messiah.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017 : Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate the feast of the holy Apostle St. John, the brother of St. James the Apostle, and who happens to be also one of the four writers of the Book of the Gospels, and thus he is also known as St. John the Evangelist. He was the disciple whom the Lord Jesus loved and was always at His side, because of his great faith and devotion.

St. John was the only one among the Twelve Apostles who did not die from martyrdom, but died a peaceful death last among all of them, around a century after the birth of Our Lord Jesus, many decades after the events surrounding His crucifixion, death and resurrection. St. John died after having received the vision of the end of time, which he wrote in the Book of the Apocalypse or the Revelations according to St. John, the last book in our Bible.

He was the one to whom the Lord entrusted His mother Mary, and she lived with him from the moment when Jesus entrusted her to him from the cross. At the same time, He also entrusted him to her, to be her adopted son. St. John was also featured prominently in the other parts of the Gospels, as the one who was often present during important events in the life of Jesus, with St. Peter the Apostle, the leader of the Twelve, and with St. James, the brother of St. John.

Why was that St. John featured so prominently throughout the Gospels? That is because, while St. John was the youngest among all the Twelve Apostles, yet, despite of his youth, he was very faithful and devoted to the Lord. He was always listening to the Lord and was loyal to Him, even to the very end, when He was betrayed by Judas Iscariot. In the Gospel of St. John, he stayed behind and fled only when he was chased by the Temple guards.

And as mentioned in the Gospel passage today, St. John was among the first to witness the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, along with St. Peter the Apostle, and of course the women who went to the tomb earlier on that Easter Sunday. And he believed in all that he saw, the stone that was rolled off the tomb entrance, the missing Body of the Lord Jesus, and His promise that He would rise from the dead.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, St. John the Apostle and Evangelist showed all of us the way to follow the Lord, through faith, dedication and obedience. He had a pure faith and a committed heart, dedicated to serve and worship the Lord, and until the end of his earthly life, enduring one persecution after another, and one exile after another, including the one to the island of Patmos where he received the visions of the end times, St. John continued to be faithful, and helped many of the early Christians to continue persevering in the faith.

Let us all imitate his examples, and as Christians let us all have that strong and genuine faith in the Lord. Are we able to dedicate ourselves, our whole lives, and commit them to the Lord? This is what we need to do, if we are to become true disciples of the Lord, like that of St. John, and through our faith, just like his, we will inspire many others to do the same, and more people will be saved by our good works of faith.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore, as we continue to rejoice in this wonderful and blessed Christmas season, let us all remember always of the reason of our joy, that is Christ, and with Christ as the focus and the centre of our lives, let us all always strive to live in accordance with His ways, and walk always in His grace. May the Lord bless all of us, and be with us always, all the days of our life. St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, pray for all of us sinners, that the Lord may eventually bring us to His eternal glory. Amen.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017 : Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

John 20 : 2-8

At that time, Mary of Magdala ran to Peter, and the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and she said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid Him.”

Peter then set out with the other disciple to go out to the tomb. They ran together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down and saw the linen cloths lying flat, but he did not enter. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and entered the tomb; he, too, saw the linen cloths lying flat.

The napkin, which had been around His head, was not lying flat like the other linen cloths, but lay rolled up in its place. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in; he saw and believed.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017 : Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 96 : 1-2, 5-6, 11-12

The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice; let the distant islands be glad. Clouds and darkness surround Him; justice and right are His throne.

The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, the Lord of all the earth. The heavens proclaim His justice, all peoples see His glory.

He sheds light upon the upright, and gladness upon the just. Rejoice in the Lord, you who are blameless, and give praise to His holy Name.