Sunday, 16 August 2020 : Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday each and every one of us are called to listen to the Lord and to open our hearts and minds to welcome Him, for He has indeed called all of us to follow Him, from all the nations, without bias and without prejudice based on race, culture, or by any other parameters and traits we often categorise people in. God wants us to know that we are all equally beloved by God, without exception.

In order to appreciate better the significance of our Scripture readings and the context of our reflection today, we need to understand that for many of the Israelites and their descendants, up to the time of the Lord Jesus and beyond, they saw themselves as God’s chosen ones, as the only ones who deserve salvation and the glory of God, while other peoples, the pagan nations and peoples, all of them would be destroyed and crushed, unless they accepted the Law of Moses in its entirety, essentially becoming one with the Israelites in culture and way of life.

In our first reading today, we heard the words of the Lord spoken through His prophet Isaiah, in which it was explicitly mentioned that the Lord has called foreigners, those so-called pagan people to follow Him and to walk in His path, to preserve His Law and commandments, and how His House will become the house of prayer for all the nations. He spoke of the time where people from all the places and from all countries will come together to glorify God, no longer divided by the mark of their race, origin or by any other parameters.

In our Gospel today, we heard something related when we listened to the story of the Lord Jesus and His interactions with a Syro-Phoenician woman, a non-Jew and Gentile, who came to Him begging Him to heal her daughter who was tormented and suffered from a demonic attack. But the Lord strangely seemed aloof and ignored her pleas saying that He was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel, and even sounded very patronising to her and said bluntly, “It is not right to take the bread from the children and give it to the puppies or dogs.”

This has the strong connotation and example of how the Jewish people looked at their neighbours and treated them, so much so that the non-Jewish people were even treated as less than human and insultingly referred to as dogs. But the Lord did not intend to hurt or humiliate the woman when He said such things, rather He actually wanted to make an example of just how terrible were the prejudice and biases that existed in the community at that time.

And the Lord also wanted to show all the people and His disciples that the woman, despite the supposed ‘humiliation and degrading treatment’ still had faith even more powerful than the faith of those who called themselves the children of Israel. She trusted the Lord and had faith in Him and even humbled herself before Him and everyone saying, that even puppies and dogs eat of the crumbs of the bread that fall from the master’s table. This is a faith that surpassed the lack of faith showed by many among the Jews who had witnessed the Lord and His works, and refused to believe or even opposed Him.

Then, in the second reading today we heard from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Church and the faithful in the city of Rome, of the Apostle speaking of his calling as the Apostle to the pagan nations and peoples. St. Paul is known as the Apostle to the Gentiles precisely because of this, as he put his emphasis in evangelising to the pagans, in reaching out not only to the Jews, but also the Greeks, the Romans and all the people to whom he had ministered during his many years of travel all around the Mediterranean region.

St. Paul spoke of how he called many among the pagans to embrace the ways of the Lord, and the frustrations he had in the refusal of many among God’s own people, the Jews and the others living in Judea, Galilee and the Jewish diaspora to believe in God and in His truth. Some among the Jews became the earliest Christians and they, indeed, the Apostles and many of the important disciples of the Lord, were the first foundations of the Church.

But there were great opposition from the chief priests, from many among the members of the Sanhedrin, that is the majority of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, who were opposed to the Lord Jesus, His teachings and works, who adamantly refused to listen to the words of the truth, and preferred to oppress those who spoke of the truth, that is the followers of the Lord. And it was these things that truly frustrated St. Paul, as it was also evident that many among the Jews took great pride in their status as a chosen race as mentioned earlier.

This prevailing attitude made it difficult for the early Christians as if we read the Acts of the Apostles, as the Jewish converts to the Christian faith initially demanded that all the observances of the laws of Moses and the rigour of the Pharisees’ way of observing the Law be kept as a fundamental aspect of the Church teachings and laws. The problem being that to demand of such imposition to the Gentiles or the non-Jewish people were impractical and impossible.

For example, the practice of circumcision and dietary restrictions would be very difficult to implement among the non-Jewish peoples, as the former in particular was seen as a barbaric practice by the Greeks and the Romans, and which in fact had caused tension between the two peoples in the past before. And the strict dietary restrictions of the old Jewish laws were often not compatible to the practices and customs of the Gentiles.

To demand that the Gentiles adopt the practices of the Jewish people wholesale was in fact tantamount to the lingering feeling of superiority that the Israelites and their descendants had in relations to the other, often considered pagan peoples. They argued that unless they adopted the ways of the Jews, then the Gentiles were not worthy of the salvation and grace of God. And this is what St. Paul wanted to dispel, and the whole Church agreed under the leadership of the Apostles, not to impose the excessive old Mosaic laws, but only the most fundamental aspects of the Law, as revealed to the Church by Christ.

And St. Paul also did not condemn his people, the Jews, unlike what many Christians later on would wrongly practice. Many misunderstood the context of the Church teachings and the words of the Apostles into actions against the Jewish people which resulted in centuries of suffering and oppression for many among them. Instead, as he said in our second reading today, that his people, by their ‘jealousy over the the success of the ministry of St. Paul and the Apostles in bringing to righteousness the pagan peoples’ might themselves be saved as well.

Yes, and this means that while the people of Israel were the first ones called and chosen by God, they are by no means the exclusive benefactors of God’s grace and blessings. God created the entire human race because He loved all of them, and through and from the people of Israel, He therefore raised His Saviour, His own Son, Jesus Christ, to be the bearer of the Good News of salvation, calling everyone, all the children of man, to the reconciliation with God.

One fundamental value that we must always keep in mind is the fact that each and every one of us are equal before God and are equally beloved by God. It is therefore not right for any one of us to be prejudiced, to be biased and act in ways that cause hurt and suffering for others just because we consider ourselves as superior or better compared to the other person, race or nation. And it is especially all the more important that as Christians, as God’s own beloved children, we put this as one of the cornerstones of our lives and actions.

This means that as the followers of Christ, we must treat one another equally, with love and with genuine concern for each other. We must not fall into the temptations of pride, ego and greed, all of which encouraged us to look inward, being selfish and self-promoting, seeking our personal joy and satisfaction over that of others. And it is sad indeed to see the history of our world, how people have acted unjustly on one another, persecuted and oppressed others, manipulated and extorted others.

Many people had suffered and died in the various racial and ethnic genocides that happened, wars and conflicts fought over our preference to focus on our differences and disagreements. People hurt one another because they deemed themselves to better and looking down at the others. In such a condition, obviously how can anyone expect to live peacefully and harmoniously with each other? As our long history has proven it, there had been so much sorrow and pain suffered all these while.

And in our world today, it is sad to see a rising tide of intolerance and selfishness once again, worst still at a time when we all need to be more united than ever. When the terrible pandemic swept all over the world, killing many and ruining many people’s livelihood, we saw how people are attributing blame on each other, and targetted people who had historically been discriminated against, and blamed or even attacked those who are different from them, deemed inferior and less worthy.

We heard how communities were threatened with rifts and disagreements, riots and troubles that occurred, when historic hurts and pains of unequal treatments, of prejudices and biases came to the surface again especially when everyone is under great pressure during these days. At the time when we need to be more united than ever, the devil is reaping dividends by sowing seeds of dissension and conflict among us. And unfortunately, many of us Christians are part of these as well.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, today, as we reflect upon the passages of the Scripture and internalise their message, we need to re-evaluate our lives and way of living, especially if we have discriminated against others before, looking down on others and thinking highly of ourselves and our faith. Let us first of all remember that the Lord loves every one of us equally and without bias or distinction. If God has done so, then why can’t we do the same then?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all as Christians be exemplary in our actions, in genuinely loving and caring our fellow brothers and sisters without bias and prejudice. Let us all seek the Lord with all of our hearts and minds together, that we truly may serve Him with faith, and together as one people, one Church of God envisioned by St. Paul, let us all go joyfully to God and His heavenly kingdom. May God, our loving Father continue to love us and bless us, now and always. Amen.

Sunday, 16 August 2020 : Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Matthew 15 : 21-28

At that time, leaving that area, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from the area, came and cried out, “Lord, Son of David, have pity on me! My daughter is tormented by a demon.”

But Jesus did not answer her, not even a word. So His disciples approached Him and said, “Send her away! See how she is shouting after us.” Then Jesus said to her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the nation of Israel.”

But the woman was already kneeling before Jesus, and said, “Sir, help me!” Jesus answered, “It is not right to take the bread from the children and throw it to puppies.”

The woman replied, “That is true, Sir, but even puppies eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus said, “Woman, how great is your faith! Let it be as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

Sunday, 16 August 2020 : Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Romans 11 : 13-15, 29-32

Listen to me, you who are not Jews : I am spending myself, as an Apostle to the pagan nations, but I hope my ministry will be successful enough to awaken the jealousy of those of my race, and, finally, to save some of them. If the world made peace with God, when they remained apart, what will it be, when they are welcomed? Nothing less than, a passing from death to life.

Because the call of God, and His gifts, cannot be nullified. Through the disobedience of the Jews, the mercy of God came to you who did not obey God. They, in turn, will receive mercy, in due time, after this disobedience, that brought God’s mercy to you. So, God has submitted all to disobedience, in order to show His mercy to all.

Sunday, 16 August 2020 : Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Psalm 66 : 2-3, 5, 6 and 8

May God be gracious and bless us, may He let His face shine upon us; that Your way be known on earth and Your salvation, among the nations.

May the countries be glad and sing for joy, for You rule the peoples with justice; and guide the nations of the world.

May the peoples praise You, o God, may all the peoples praise You! May God bless us and be revered, to the very ends of the earth.

Sunday, 16 August 2020 : Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Isaiah 56 : 1, 6-7

This is what YHVH says : Maintain what is right and do what is just, for My salvation is close at hand, My justice is soon to come. YHVH says to the foreigners who join Him, serving Him and loving His Name, keeping His Sabbath unprofaned and remaining faithful to His Covenant.

I will bring them to My holy mountain and give them joy in My house of prayer. I will accept on My altar their burnt offerings and sacrifices, for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations.

Saturday, 15 August 2020 : Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate the great Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, remembering the moment when Mary, the Mother of God at the end of her earthly existence, was brought up body and soul into the glory of heaven, what is known as the ‘Assumption’ of Mary. This day we celebrate the moment when Mary enter the heavenly glory prepared for her by her Son, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Pope Pius XII declared the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the year of Our Lord 1950, just 70 years ago, but this did not mean that the Assumption of Mary is a new concept of our faith. Rather, it is a formal declaration that this important tenet of our faith is truly and undeniably part of our Christian deposit of faith, which our brethren in the Eastern Church also celebrate as the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, essentially the same in concept and purpose.

When we talk of the Assumption or the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, sometimes we confuse it with the Ascension of the Lord Jesus. The difference between the two is such that while the Lord ascended into Heaven by His own power, will and might, Mary is assumed into Heaven, by the will and power of God, and not by her own power, will or might. She received this great grace by virtue of her motherhood of the Lord, her being the Mother of God Most High, the Son of God and Saviour of all.

For the Lord Jesus is the conqueror of sin and death, by His suffering and death on the cross, in which He offered Himself as the perfect and loving sacrifice in atonement for our sins and faults. He triumphed over death through His Resurrection, showing that death, which is the consequence of sin, has no more power over us as long as we put our trust in God as Our Lord and Saviour. He has showed us the path forward beyond death and into a new life of eternal glory prepared for us.

And because of this, as I mentioned earlier, according to the traditions of the Church from the earliest history and beginning of the Church, Christians have always believed that Mary, the Mother of God, did not suffer death unlike all of us, as after all, how can the Mother of the One Who conquered death and triumphed over it by His resurrection be herself subjected to the same death? This is also linked to the strong belief in Mary’s Immaculate and sinless state, as from the earliest days of the Church, it has also been a belief of the Church that Mary was conceived without sin, the Immaculate Conception, and remained free from sin afterwards.

Mary was unique and special, by the singular grace of God because she was to be the new and infinitely better Ark of the Covenant. And just as the original Ark was crafted from the finest and most precious of earthly materials, thus, the New Ark, of the New Covenant was to be far exceeding the old Ark, by the pure and sinless state of this perfect New Ark, crafted not by the hands of any man, but by the hands of God Himself. Thus, that is why later on the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, and in turn the Dogma of the Assumption of Mary came to be formalised by the Church.

The Assumption is a logical outcome of the belief in the Immaculate Conception, again because death is the consequence for sin, and although every man has to suffer death because we have sinned, no matter how small our sins are, but Mary, having been conceived without sin, was never tainted or corrupted by sin at all, and therefore, logically death did not just have any power over her, but she should not suffer death because she never sinned in the first place.

There are two major schools of thought on what exactly happened in the Assumption of Mary into heaven, both with Mary ending up in the glory of Heaven, by the side of her Son, interceding for us as she is still doing to this day. One is that Mary did die, because she shared in the death of her Son, and not death because of the punishment or consequence for her sins, which did not exist. She loved her Son so much that she shared in her Son’s death, but her body did not rot or perish. Rather, she was put to sleep and then, body and soul, assumed into Heaven.

Another school of thought is that, Mary was directly assumed into Heaven, body and soul, without even passing through any form of death at all. But regardless of how exactly the Assumption of Mary happened, the fact is that Mary is now up there in Heaven, having been assumed body and soul, and reigning with her Son as the Queen Mother of Heaven, seated by her Son’s side as His confident and beloved Mother, and as our greatest intercessor.

Through Mary, His mother, the Lord wants to show us and affirm to us that faith in Him will only lead to an eternal glory and a new and eternal life, one that is free from the taints and shackles of sin and death. And through the Assumption, the Lord wants to show us the foretaste of heavenly glory for us, as it is told that in the end of days, all of us will be raised from death, and in body and soul, joining God in the eternity of glory, while those who reject God and His mercy, will be thrown, body and soul into eternal darkness and suffering.

Mary is the shining beacon of hope reminding us all what will happen to those who are virtuous and faithful, as Mary did not just merit this great honour because she is the Mother of God and conceived without sin, but because throughout life she remained free from sin, and completely dedicated to God because of the love she has for Him, obeying His Law, and later on, giving herself completely and committed herself to loving her Son, following Him all the way to the foot of the cross.

How about us, brothers and sisters in Christ? As I said earlier, God has shown us the sure promise of eternal life, a new life and existence no longer darkened by sin and suffering, filled with true and everlasting joy. However, all of these will only come to be when we follow the Lord and commit ourselves to Him wholeheartedly the way Mary has done in her own life. We can certainly do this if we strive and try our best, but the important question is, are we willing to do it?

Especially more than ever, during these difficult days and times, when the whole world is facing so many great challenges and trials, so many people were without hope and light in their lives, the Assumption of Mary is the beacon of hope that after everything that happened, we must not give in to those fears and uncertainties, but all the more we must trust in God and have faith in Him, looking at our blessed Mother, Mary for inspiration and example.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we mark this great and wonderful celebration of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, let us all reinspect our lives and look deep into ourselves, into our every actions and how we have lived our faith life all these while. Let us all look forward with hope to our own future entry into the eternal life of glory with God, by taking the concrete steps to live righteously with faith in God just as Mary had done in her own life.

May the Lord be with us and guide us, and through Mary, His mother’s constant intercession and help, more and more of us, the children of mankind, may come closer to God and receive the love and grace of God, and come closer to achieving the desired reconciliation and reunion with God, by which we will forever enjoy the fullness of God’s love. O Mary, Holy Mother of God, assumed in glory, body and soul into Heaven, pray for all of us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Saturday, 15 August 2020 : Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Luke 1 : 39-56

Mary then set out for a town in the hill country of Judah. She entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leapt in her womb.

Elizabeth was filled with Holy Spirit, and giving a loud cry, said, “You are most blessed among women, and blessed is the Fruit of your womb! How is it that the mother of my Lord comes to me? The moment your greeting sounded in my ears, the baby within me suddenly leapt for joy. Blessed are you who believed that the Lord’s word would come true!”

And Mary said, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit exults in God my Saviour! He has looked upon His servant in her lowliness, and people forever will call me blessed.”

“The Mighty One has done great things for me, Holy is His Name! From age to age His mercy extends to those who live in His presence. He has acted with power and done wonders, and scattered the proud with their plans. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and lifted up those who are downtrodden. He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty.”

“He held out His hand to Israel, His servant, for He remembered His mercy, even as He promised to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants forever.”

Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months, and then returned home.

Saturday, 15 August 2020 : Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

1 Corinthians 15 : 20-27

But no, Christ has been raised from the dead, and He comes before all those who have fallen asleep. A human being brought death; a Human Being also brings resurrection of the dead. For, as in Adam all die, so, in Christ, all will be made alive. However, each one in his own time : first Christ, then Christ’s people, when He comes.

Then, the end will come, when Christ delivers the kingdom to God the Father, after having destroyed every rule, authority and power. For He must reign and put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed will be death. As Scripture says : God has subjected everything under His feet.

When we say that everything is put under His feet, we exclude, of course, the Father, Who subjects everything to Him. As Scripture says : God has subjected everything under His feet. When we say that everything is put under His feet, we exclude, of course, the Father, Who subjects everything to Him.

Saturday, 15 August 2020 : Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 44 : 10bc, 11, 12ab, 16

At your right hand, in gold of Ophir, stands the queen.

Listen, o daughter, pay attention; forget your father’s house and your nation.

And your beauty will charm the King, for He is your Lord.

Amid cheers and general rejoicing, they enter the palace of the King.

Saturday, 15 August 2020 : Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Revelations 11 : 19a and Revelations 12 : 1-6a, 10ab

Then, the Sanctuary of God, in the heavens, was opened, and the Ark of the Covenant of God could be seen inside the Sanctuary.

A great sign appeared in heaven : a woman, clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant, and cried out in pain, looking to her time of delivery.

Then, another sign appeared : a huge, red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and wearing seven crowns on its heads. It had just swept along a third of the stars of heaven with its tail, throwing them down to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman, who was about to give birth, so that, it might devour the Child as soon as It was born.

She gave birth to a male Child, the One Who is to rule all the nations with an iron sceptre; then, her Child was seized, and taken up to God, and to His throne, while the woman fled to the desert, where God had prepared a place for her. Then, I heard a loud voice from heaven : Now has salvation come, with the power and the kingdom of our God.