Sunday, 26 January 2020 : Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Sunday of the Word of God (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, the third Sunday in Ordinary Time beginning from this year onwards, our Holy Father and Vicar of Christ Pope Francis has declared the institution of the Sunday of the Word of God, to be celebrated on the third Sunday of Ordinary Time every year. The purpose of this celebration of the Sunday of the Word of God is a very important reminder to all of us as Christians that the Scriptures are very important and integral in the development of our faith.

The Scriptures are none other than the Word of God, as God spoke to us through them, and those who had contributed and written the books in the Scripture were divinely inspired by God and the Holy Spirit to pass down the message of God’s truth to us. The Church has also authoritatively decided the books that are to be kept as part of the official canon of the Scripture, and from then on, we have the Bible as what we now have today.

And this emphasis on the Word of God today on this Sunday is very important to all of us the faithful people of God as the Word of God is our daily sustenance and the source of our strength and faith. When the Lord Jesus was tempted by the devil in the desert, the devil wanted to tempt the Lord Who was hungry that He should turn the stones into bread for Him to eat. The Lord rebuked Satan sternly saying that ‘man does not live on bread alone, but on every words that come from the mouth of God’.

But the Word of God in this case does not just refer to the Scriptures, as the Word of God as we know it, also refers to the Christ Himself, because Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour is also known as the Divine Word Incarnate, the Son of God Who assumed the flesh and nature of Man for our salvation. While the Father is the Creator in the Holy Trinity and the Holy Spirit passes through all creation, the Son is the Word by which God created the world.

And this same Word of God has become incarnate, appearing in the flesh, as Jesus our Lord and Saviour. This makes the Scriptures even more significant, as the Scriptures become the manifestation of the truth of God, as we all know that the Bible consist of two main parts namely the Old Testament and the New Testament. In the Old Testament, the Word of God was revealed through the elders and the prophets who passed on parts of the revelation of God’s truth. And then in the New Testament, all that had been revealed and spoken in the Old Testament were confirmed in the truth of Christ.

In the New Testament, we heard the word of God from the Son Himself, the authentic and true Word revealing the truth of God’s will and plan for us. And those who wrote the Holy Gospels and the letters of the Apostles were divinely inspired through the Holy Spirit and by the experiences they encountered, to bring to us this sustenance in the Word of God, the sustenance of our soul, our mind, our heart and indeed of our whole being. Without this sustenance, our spiritual life will be empty and dead, and it will be easy for us to lose our faith.

That is why it is absolutely necessary for us to appreciate this great gift and blessing we have received in the Word of God, through the Sacred Scriptures easily and readily accessible and available for us. In the Second Vatican Council, through the Apostolic Constitution Dei Verbum, which means ‘Word of God’, the importance of the Sacred Scriptures was once again highlighted with the emphasis placed on the propagation of the Word of God among the people and the regular reading and exposure to the Scriptures by all segments of the Universal Church.

But in the same Apostolic Constitution Dei Verbum, the importance of Sacred Tradition as an inseparable part of the Church teachings and Christian truth together with the Sacred Scriptures is also highlighted and emphasised. This means that the Sacred Scriptures, the Word of God cannot be studied, read or used independently of the Sacred Traditions and the magisterium authority of the Church. This is a firm rejection of the ‘Sola Scriptura’ position of those who argued that the Bible alone is the foundation of our faith.

Rather, the Bible and the words of the Lord in it must be appreciated and understood in the context of Church teachings and the Sacred Traditions of our predecessors, passed down and preserved for us from the time of the Lord and His Apostles themselves. It is this treasure of the faith that we have been blessed with and which is now highlighted in importance by our Holy Father Pope Francis as a way to stop the rapidly declining quality of our faith and relationship with God as what we can clearly see in our Church today.

If we do not expose ourselves to the truth of God in His words, how can we know more about Him? And if we are ignorant of His truth and the meaning of His words, how can we then understand and appreciate His love? As long as we do not know Him, are ignorant of His love and blind to His truth, we cannot be truly God’s disciples and our hearts and minds will always be far away from Him. In time this will lead us further and further down the path of sin and darkness.

That is why today, on this Sunday of the Word of God, we are challenged first of all to be more active in making use of the Word of God, the Sacred Scriptures which we have received from the bounties of the Church, and be regular in our reading, study and appreciation of God’s words contained within the pages of the Scriptures. We should spend more time trying to deepen our knowledge of our faith, reading from the wisdom of the Lord contained within both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

And as we do this, we also have to keep the reference to the official teachings of the Church as contained within the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the official Church documents and proclamations, all the guidelines and officially approved teachings of the faith as maintained by the magisterium of the Church and the deposit of the faith. By deepening our faith through closer interaction with the Word of God contained within the Scriptures and by keeping ourselves within the bounds of our Sacred Tradition, we will grow closer to God and be more faithful with each passing moments.

And among the best way to do that, is by paying close attention during the homily of the Holy Mass, when the priests explain the meaning and context of the proclaimed Word of God to us. Our priests have been prepared for many years in the seminaries and even many more years of experience during their priesthood to explain the truth in the Word of God according to the teachings of the Church. And this is why we also need to pray for all of them too, that they may remain faithful and true to their ministry.

It is important that we pay attention during the homily because if we do not understand, appreciate and adhere closely to the teachings of the Church, we will end up being like what happened in the early Church, divisions and struggles that appeared between the segments of the Christian faithful which threatened to tear the Church apart. It was so bad that St. Paul had to intervene through his letter, rebuking all those who put their own self interests first before serving the interest and purposes of God.

That was why we heard of the conflicts between those who declared themselves the followers of Paul and others who claimed that they followed Apollos. Both Paul and Apollos were great leaders of the early Church and they performed many good works for the evangelisation of more people. However, as their followers began to grow rapidly, those followers ended up beginning to seek their own individual agenda and interpret the Scriptures for their own benefits and selfish desires. And that was how, unfortunately, so many so-called denominations of Christianity exist because each person is free to interpret the Word of God as he or she wishes it.

That is why today, the second important thing that we need to take note of is besides deepening our understanding and knowledge of the Word of God, we must also continue to put our trust and faith in God through His Church, the one and only Church He has established in this world. As what He Himself said that if we are separated from Him, the True Vine, we who are His branches will perish because we have no life from Him and through Him if we separate ourselves from this unity with Him that exists in the Church.

And then, lastly, we are also called today to live and embody the Word of God in our daily living and in our faith. God has called us just as how He has called His disciples to follow Him as described in our Gospel passage today. We are all the successors to the works of the Apostles in continuing the mission which God has entrusted to them, that is the evangelisation of the whole world. But in order to do so, we have to first of all, be attuned to the Word of God, be faithful to the teachings of the Church and be willing to venture forth and be good witnesses of our faith to others.

And how do we become good witnesses of Our Lord? How do we proclaim the Word of God in a good way? It is not by preaching in public places or quoting phrases and words from the Scripture, but first of all, we must first live out what we truly believe in. This means that our every actions and deeds, our words, every words that come out from our mouths and our thoughts must be aligned with God’s truth as contained within His words in the Scriptures.

If we do not live in the manner compatible with what we speak, how can people believe in us? We are nothing better than hypocrites who say one thing but do and act in a different or even contradictory manner. That is why, our challenge today is for us to truly allow God’s words to enter into our lives and that we do not just read His words at a surface level or just through our brains. Instead, we must go deeper, in allowing those words to penetrate the depths of our hearts and souls.

And then, are we willing to allow God to change and transform us by the power of His words and truth? If we are willing, then surely we will, in time, be good examples of our faith and others who see us, hear us and witness our every actions will believe in God because of us. That is how we become the true disciples and followers of Christ, by being the beacons of Christ’s light in this world filled with the darkness of sin.

Let us all today renew our conviction and desire to love and serve the Lord, by deepening our relationship with Him through deeper and better understanding of the Word of God in the Scriptures, that we may proclaim God’s truth by our lives and actions, and bring more and more people to God’s saving grace. May God, the Divine Word Incarnate, continue to strengthen us in faith by His encouragement and love. Amen.

Saturday, 25 January 2020 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate a great feast in the Church as we recall the important moment when the Lord called St. Paul, then known as Saul, a young and zealous Pharisee who had once been a great enemy of the Church and the faithful. Saul was very adamant on hunting all the followers of Christ and strove to put them all into prison, and approved even their killing as what has happened to St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church.

Saul was in the midst of this zealous pursuit when he went to Damascus in trying to eradicate all the faithful people of God who had taken refuge and lived there. The fact that Saul was even willing to venture far outside the land of Judah and even Galilee, was a testament to just how persistent he was in trying to destroy the Church and the Christian faith. Or so he thought, as in the end, he never managed to fulfil what he had planned and wanted.

As we heard in our first reading today, when Saul was still on his way to Damascus, God appeared to him in a great vision in which He revealed Himself to Saul as the One Whom he has been persecuting all the while when he was on a misguided rampage and attack against those who followed the Lord. Saul must have certainly been struck by that experience, and he was also struck blind by that vision.

We heard how Saul had to be helped and assisted, as his whole world turned into darkness for three days without being able to do anything at all. But God then sent Ananias to heal Saul, and after Ananias prayed over him, Saul was healed and received baptism in the Name of the Lord. This was a very significant moment in the history of the Church as the one who used to be a great enemy and persecutor of the Church had in a short moment become its greatest defender instead.

Saul had been called by God and had a moment of great revelation which entirely changed his life and direction. What he had once firmly believed in and championed in defending the purity of the Jewish customs, tradition and faith against the then thought to be ‘heretical’ teachings of Jesus Christ, had instead been overturned completely and the truth was revealed to him that in fact Jesus was the One Who had been right all along.

In the end, Saul became a Christian and as we can see throughout most of the Acts of the Apostles, he became a great champion of the Christian faith. He was known as the Apostle to the Gentiles, through his tireless and extensive missionary journeys throughout the Mediterranean and in his visits to the many communities of the faithful at that time. He also wrote and communicated extensively with those communities by letters, many of which are preserved in our New Testament.

Saul took up the name Paul eventually as a very symbolic act of total conversion as he left behind completely his past life as an enemy of Christ and His followers and embarked on a journey of total devotion to God, suffering so many trials and tribulations, rejected by many and were almost stoned to death and killed on more than one occasion, because he served the Lord and did nothing else than to glorify God.

We have heard and known of how remarkable this conversion that had happened to Saul, becoming St. Paul and had a complete turnover in his life, called to serve God from being a great sinner and enemy of the Lord’s faithful. But what is the real significance for us? How does this real life story of the conversion of St. Paul has to do with us? And the answer is that all of us are just like St. Paul in one way or another.

We must all understand that every single one of us are sinners, and God sees us all equally and we are all the same and equal before Him. He is not prejudiced at all with us, regardless whether we have the greater or lesser sins. In the end, sins, no matter how great or small, significant or insignificant, are still sins that we need to be forgiven from by God. And because we are all sinners, we all need God’s healing and mercy, which He will readily extend and give to us.

If God Himself has called Saul, a great sinner and someone who had caused so much suffering and misery in the lives of many of the early Christians, it means that He must have forgiven him completely and did not take his many sins into account after he had had a change of heart and mind. Through baptism, Saul had been reborn into new life that God has called him into, the new Christian life that he dedicated himself, as Paul from then on. Then, all of us too have been called by God to follow the example of St. Paul.

We must not despise or judge anyone just because we think that we are better than them in any way, especially with regards to sin. If a very terrible sinner like Saul could change and be converted, then so can the worst of sinners as long as they are willing to open their hearts and minds to allow God to enter into their lives and transform them as He once did with Saul. And before we judge or be prejudiced against anyone, we should first look at ourselves.

In this Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, all of us are also called by God to reflect on the conversion of this great saint so as to emulate it in our own respective lives. If we have not been faithful to God, if we have forgotten about Him in the midst of our very busy life schedules and works, if we have abandoned Him and preferred something else to Him, not being thankful to Him for all the love and care that He has shown us, and if we have been being angry at Him just because we thought that He did not listen to our prayers, then I am sure that we need this time to contemplate.

I am certain that each and every one of us, being sinner and imperfect, need God’s healing grace and mercy. But we often closed our hearts and minds against Him that we ended up acting as how Saul once acted in the years of his youth, zealous and very energetic but completely misguided and misled by blind faith and blind obedience. In the same manner, we have often acted out of disobedience and we fell into sin because we prefer to follow our own ways and disregard God’s will.

All of that led us to be lost and separated from God. We must realise that there are still lots of temptations and forces out there trying to keep us away from God and His salvation. Are we then able to commit ourselves to the Lord in the same manner as St. Paul has committed his? He has shown us what it truly means by a genuine conversion, that his whole life was changed for the greater glory of God as he lived for the sole purpose of glorifying God from the moment of his conversion.

How about us, brothers and sisters in Christ? Are we willing to allow God to transform us as well? Are we able to go through a genuine and wholehearted conversion in life, changing our attitude from now on? If we have been lukewarm in our faith, may we be more faithful from now on and love God more. And if we have been distant from God, let us all strive to be closer to Him and to renew our relationships with Him. If we have been sinful all these while, let us all sin no more and seek to live our lives from now with faith.

May the Lord, through the intercession of His Apostle St. Paul, continue to bless us all and guide us in our respective journeys in life. May He strengthen us all and empower each and every one of us to live ever more faithfully in His presence. May God be with us all, now and always. Amen.

Friday, 24 January 2020 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Francis de Sales, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard of the great story of the moment when David, chosen to be the king of Israel by God and anointed by the prophet Samuel, refused to take the excellent chance and opportunity to strike at Saul, his predecessor who have fallen from grace and yet, as David rightfully mentioned, Saul was still the anointed king of Israel.

Although all the men who were accompanying David persuaded, begged and kept asking David to strike at Saul when he was at his most vulnerable in that cave when Saul came into the cave and rested, not knowing that David and his men were also inside, but David firmly refused to do so. Although those who accompanied David even persuaded him by saying that God had brought Saul into his hands and gave him the opportunity to kill Saul there and then, but David still firmly refused to lay a finger on Saul.

Saul had indeed been affected and tempted by the evil spirits and the devil himself as he felt insecure, angry and jealous at David, plotting to have him killed and destroyed to avoid this upstart to threaten his own authority and kingship. But David would not allow himself to be affected in the same manner, the same trick by which the devil definitely tried to bring down David as well.

David did not allow his pride and his desire to overcome his faith in God, his righteousness and commitment to do what God has shown him to do. He remained steadfast although it must have indeed been hard to resist such a powerful temptation right there and then with so many pressing and persuading him to kill Saul and be freed from everything that he has been suffering from that time.

Yes, we must not forget that it was because of Saul that David had to become a fugitive, running from place to place and living in the wilderness, even having to resort to flee to the territory of the Philistines with some of his followers just that he might escape from Saul and his wrath against him. He was also a rightfully anointed king as Saul was, and had he killed Saul then, he would have no issue in getting the legitimate claim over the kingship of Israel. But then, if he had done so, he would have sinned and stained his life with Saul’s blood.

David gave us a very good example of what we should do as a follower of Christ. As a follower of the Lord, we have been called as Christ called and chosen His Apostles in our Gospel passage today. And we should put God above all else, obeying Him and listening to Him, doing His good works and whatever it is that He has entrusted to us to do. David has done this well, resisting the temptations to fulfil his desires and satisfy his own personal vendetta and agenda.

It is something that we will likely encounter in our lives as well, the moments when we will be tempted to follow our own desires rather than to obey the Lord. Are we able to resist those temptations and do what king David had once done? Let us also not forget how the Apostles of the Lord were surely faced the same temptations, that eventually they fell too into those temptations, one of them betraying the Lord for money, that is Judas Iscariot, while others abandoned Him in the hour of His greatest agony and misery.

Yet, in the end, except for Judas Iscariot, all the rest remained true to their faith and almost all of them gave their lives to the Lord in martyrdom during their many years of ministry in establishing the Church of God. They put God and His greater glory ahead of their own desires and pride, as King David did. And today, we have yet another one of our holy predecessors whose memory we venerate, that is St. Francis de Sales, a holy bishop and a Doctor of the Church.

St. Francis de Sales was renowned for his role as the Bishop of Geneva in what is now present day Switzerland, at the height of the Protestant reformation, when many of the people left the Church for various heretical and dissident leaders who persuaded them to follow their ideas instead of the truth in the Church. St. Francis de Sales was a great preacher and teacher, and he ministered in that area with great patience and love, facing lots of trials and difficulties as most of the people were not initially interested in what he came to offer.

From the earlier days of his ministry prior to his time in Geneva, St. Francis de Sales had seen how the deteriorating morale and faith among the rulers and the people contributed to the decline in the quality of faith and life, and subsequently leading to further divisions and misunderstandings within the Church. And this is why St. Francis de Sales worked so hard in trying to evangelise with love and compassion as he carried on his missions, first as priest and then as the Bishop of Geneva.

St. Francis de Sales faced much opposition, persecution, challenges and threats during the duration of his ministry, but all these did not dim his passion in reaching out to God’s people including all those who were opposing and rejected him. He preaches with love and care for all those whom he reached out to, as was his motto, ‘those who preach with love, preach effectively’. His care, understanding and mild-mannered behaviour were remembered by many who were touched by his dedication and passion.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as St. Francis de Sales and his life example has shown us, it is indeed not going to be easy to be a faithful disciple and follower of Christ. But we must persevere and put our trust in God for He will definitely not abandon us and will always be with us no matter what. Let us follow then the good examples of king David and St. Francis de Sales, in serving the Lord with all of their hearts and strength and not allowing their pride and desire to interfere as they lived their lives with faith.

May the Lord continue to guide us all through our respective journeys of faith and life, and may through the intercessions of His servants, king David and St. Francis de Sales, all of us may be inspired to live ever more faithfully and be more dedicated in serving Him and in resisting the many temptations present in this world. May the Lord bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Thursday, 23 January 2020 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the words of the Lord through the Scripture, we are again reminded of God’s providence and love for each and every one of us that He would not let us to be destroyed by those who sought our ruin and destruction. As we heard in our first reading, God protected David, His chosen one from the plots and attacks from king Saul, while in the Gospel passage today we heard of how the Lord healed all those who were afflicted especially those possessed by the evil spirits.

King Saul was the first king of Israel who was chosen from among the people. He was initially good, faithful and obedient to God, but he ended up disobeying God and following his own will and desires, pursuing his own agenda and leading the people into sin. As he was not repentant and insisted on doing things his own way, God withdrew His support from him and chose David to be his successor as the king over the people of Israel.

David became very famous among the people after he defeated the giant champion of the Philistines, Goliath in single combat. And as David became more and more prominent through his many victories in battle, as the Lord was with him, the people began to laud him more and more and king Saul became jealous and felt very insecure over his position as king, probably knowing that Samuel the prophet had anointed David as the new king of Israel succeeding him.

That was how the devil entered into king Saul, as specifically mentioned in the Book of the prophet Samuel. The devil manipulated Saul and made him even more angry, jealous and insecure, and thus wanted to have David killed and destroyed before he became a threat to his kingship and rule. But God was with David, and as we heard in our reading today, he had a great ally in one of Saul’s own sons, Jonathan, with whom David had a great friendship with.

Through Jonathan, God helped David to escape from his predicament, as Jonathan helped David to get away from Saul and his plots against him. Jonathan helped David on several occasions and God also led him through the challenges and trials that he had to go through for years in the run from Saul, even when he had to wander among the Philistines and in the wilderness. God provided for the needs of His servant and remained with him until the day when David succeeded as king, and continued to bless him and his house afterwards.

In our Gospel passage today, we then heard of God Whom through His Son was healing many of the people who came to Him for all their sick and those who were afflicted in all sorts of ways. Those who were possessed by evil spirits, whom none other could have helped, sought the Lord and the evil spirits were cast out by Him. All those demons and spirits knew Whom the Lord Jesus was, but He would not allow them to reveal the truth as that might jeopardise His works and efforts.

Through all of these we have seen how God constantly cared for us and showed His generous love towards us. He does not want any one of us to fall into the traps of the devil and his wicked allies, and like how He cared and provided for David, He also provides for each and every one of us in His own way too. But too often we do not realise this, and we tend to forget about God and ignore His constant show of love and kindness towards us.

We have allowed ourselves instead to be made busy by the many temptations of pleasure, glory, materialism and all sorts of these things in this world. And this in fact is yet another sinister tactic by the devil in trying to bring us down with him into damnation, as he tries very hard to keep us away from reaching out to God and embracing the fullness of His grace, love and mercy. We really need to wake up and realise how it is very important for us to overcome these many temptations and redirect our attention back towards God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore seek to love the Lord more and more, just as David loved the Lord and dedicated himself to Him. Let us be ever more faithful and commit ourselves anew to the Lord from now on, being thankful and grateful for all that He has done for our sake. May God be with us all and may He bless us in everything we do. Amen.

Wednesday, 22 January 2020 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Vincent, Deacon and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the Scripture passages we are all reminded of the need for us to put our trust in God and allow Him to lead and guide us through to the right path. We have to do what is right according to God’s will even when at times we will face great opposition and challenges which will make us feel very discouraged at times because we are likely going to face daunting pressures and trials.

This is where we should look at what we have just heard today, from our first reading taken from the Book of the prophet Samuel as we continued from the discourse on the works of the prophet Samuel who had anointed David to be the new king of Israel. David was then still in his youth and not physically imposing in stature, and today he went face to face against his great enemy, the renowned Philistine giant and champion, Goliath.

The story of David and Goliath is one of the most well-known stories from the Scriptures as we all know how David beat Goliath despite him being so much smaller and weaker physically compared to the giant champion of the Philistines. David was not even wearing an armour unlike his heavily armoured opponent, and was armed with nothing more than a sling and some stones. David was even laughed at by the king and his advisors when he stood up and said that he wanted to fight Goliath when no one else dared to do so.

David trusted God completely and allowed him to be the instrument through which God worked among His people. When Goliath spouted much blasphemy against God, David allowed God to make use of his sling to strike at the giant, and God guided David in all that he do, such that David was able to defeat Goliath even though no one would have expected him to do so at all. David allowed God to guide him through later as well, when he became the king of Israel.

In our Gospel reading then, we heard of another Man Who had to face tremendous pressure and opposition, none other than the Lord Jesus Himself, Who had to go up against the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, very influential and powerful group of people at that time, as they were highly educated and were considered among the elites of the people. And the Lord Jesus was hated and often harassed by the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law throughout His ministry.

A particular thorny issue that came up between them was on the matter of the law of the Sabbath, as the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law applied a very strict interpretation of the Sabbath law saying that on the day God had made holy, no one could do anything at all as written in the Law. But the Lord Jesus rebuked the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, chiding them for failing to understand the true intent and purpose of the Sabbath laws.

The Sabbath was meant for God’s people to refocus their attention to God and to remind them in their daily, busy schedules that God was still central and should be the focus in their lives, and that was why one day was set aside out of the seven days of the week for the purpose of rest and for the time to be spent with God. Instead, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law zoomed in on the technicalities and legalities of the regulations rather than the meaning and purpose of the Sabbath.

And this was done even to the point of condemning good acts and deeds done for the greater glory of God on the Sabbath day when Scriptural and historical evidences clearly had shown the Law has not always been interpreted in the manner the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law interpreted it. And the Lord Jesus went against them nonetheless, healing the man who had been paralysed on the hand, showing God’s love and mercy to him.

All of these are reminders for us that as Christians, that means as all those who believe in Christ as Our Lord and Saviour, and as those who trust in God and love Him, we will likely encounter challenges and trials along the way. Our lives will not be easy and smooth if we want to continue living faithfully according to God’s will. But we must not give up or abandon our faith because of that. Let us instead take note and be inspired by the courage and faith showed by David as he went up against Goliath, and what the Lord Jesus had done in obedience to the will of His heavenly Father.

Today we also celebrate the feast of St. Vincent the Deacon, a renowned martyr of the faith. St. Vincent, like many other saints and martyrs, had to endure much suffering and trials for the sake of his faith in God and for his ministry in God’s Church. He was also known as St. Vincent of Saragossa, for his dwelling and ministry in his native area now known as Zaragoza in northeastern part of Spain.

At that time, Christians went through a particularly difficult time of persecution by the infamous Roman Emperor Diocletian who ordered all Christians to abandon their faith or else suffer and lose their lives. St. Vincent, as a devoted servant of God and deacon of the Church was also arrested and forced to abandon his faith, and it was told that he would be allowed to go free if only he would burn the Scriptures he had with him and reject the faith publicly.

Like David who stood up against Goliath and trusted completely in the Lord, St. Vincent courageously refused to abandon his faith and chose instead to suffer and die a martyr’s death. His defence of his faith was so vigorous and passionate that it made those who persecuted him and the other Christians to torture him even more, but the holy servant of God welcomed death in his unyielding faith.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, now that we have heard all of these inspiring stories from the Scriptures and from the history of our predecessors in faith, we are then challenged to live our lives faithfully in the same manner as what we have heard just now. Are we able to love God and to be faithful at all times, in every moments and in every parts of our lives? Are we able to give ourselves to God and to trust Him completely as we should?

Let us all contemplate on these and think how we can be better disciples of the Lord from now on. May the Lord continue to guide us and show the path going forward. May God bless us all in everything we do and protect us and deliver us from our trials, as how He once guided David and St. Vincent the Deacon, His holy servants. Amen.

Tuesday, 21 January 2020 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the words of the Scripture we are all reminded of the need for us to be truly faithful to God in everything and not just having superficial and empty faith. God wants us to love Him and to be focused on Him in our lives and not to be distracted by worldly temptations and desires, and what we heard in our Scripture passages today are a great reminder to that fact.

In our first reading today, we heard of the moment when the prophet Samuel was sent by the Lord to pick one of the seven sons of Jesse to become the new king of Israel succeeding Saul, the previous and first king of Israel who had disobeyed God and led Israel into sin. This brought Samuel to the land of Judah to find Jesse and he met six of his sons whom Jesse presented all before the prophet to find the one with whom God was pleased and had chosen.

Samuel thought that the first son was handsome and great in the sight of man, as was the other elder sons, with intellect, appearance and charisma that seemed to make them acceptable and likely to be God’s chosen one. But God told Samuel that despite what he had seen and thought, God had not chosen any one of them at all. Instead, it was David, the youngest and seventh son of Jesse, a young man still in his early youth, a shepherd of the field whom God had chosen to become the king over His people Israel.

What this passage is telling us is that God chose the one whom He deemed to be worthy and not the one who made himself or herself to be worthy of God. No one is truly worthy of God and the more pride, greed and ambition there are in our hearts and in our minds, the further we will end up being from God. Saul, the first king was overcome by his pride and greed, in wanting to do things in his own way and probably in wanting to gain worldly benefits that he ended up disobeying God and therefore was replaced as king by David.

In our Gospel passage, we heard something that is quite similar in nature as we heard of the exchanges between the Lord Jesus and the Pharisees who complained about the behaviour of His disciples as they picked the grains of wheat in the field on the Sabbath day, something that the Pharisees interpreted to be a grave sin and mistake to be done on the sacred day dedicated to God.

But the Lord then told the Pharisees the story of how king David and his followers when they were exhausted and completely hungry as they fled from their enemies, namely king Saul and his soldiers who wanted David dead, David and his followers went to the house of God and the High Priest gave them the bread that was normally reserved only for the priests. They ate and they had their fill and they then continued on their journey, eventually by God’s grace, succeeded in surviving and David succeeded Saul as king of Israel when the latter was killed in the battle with the Philistines.

Through that story, the Lord again wanted not just the Pharisees but also all of us to understand and to realise that the Law of God cannot be understood just superficially, and this also then requires us to have a faith that is deeper than just the superficial appearances. If outwardly we are good but inside our hearts and minds we are conflicted and not united with God, then we do not truly have genuine faith in God and can even be considered as hypocrites like the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law.

What God wants us to know is that we do not just obey the Law and fulfil its requirements just for the sake of doing it or for appearances. We must truly love God and have that love for God within our hearts underlying all of our actions and deeds. David was chosen not because of the superior nature of his physical build or appearances but rather because he truly had a genuine love for God. Although as a man he was not perfect and sinned, but as can see throughout his life, he remained faithful to the Lord and devoted his life and reign to His glory.

In the same manner, all of us as Christians we are all called to be truly faithful to God in all things and not to be merely superficial in our obedience to the Lord and to His Law. We are all called to love God with all of our strength and with all of our heart. And today, we can also look upon the examples set by the faithful St. Agnes, a holy martyr of the faith renowned to the whole Church.

St. Agnes was a beautiful Roman noble woman who was a Christian at the time of great persecution of Christians by the Roman Emperor Diocletian. She was chased after by many men whom she declined because she wanted to dedicate herself out of purity and maintain the sanctity of her holy virginity to God. As a result, those men who were rejected reported her to the authorities for her supposed Christian faith, and the prefect in charge at the time subjected her to arrest and suffering.

She was dragged naked through the streets to a brothel and made to be raped by men, but miraculously by God’s intervention, all those who attempted to do so were struck blind. It was told that the son of the prefect was struck dead and through the prayers of St. Agnes, he was revived, and the prefect, visibly touched by this, had to pass on the judgment to another person, who then condemned St. Agnes to die by burning at the stake.

Again, the flames would not burn her and she was completely unharmed. It was only when an officer stabbed her and beheaded her with his sword that St. Agnes was finally martyred for her faith. Despite all the sufferings she had to go through, she remained completely faithful to God, because she truly had faith and genuine love for God from her heart, and her faith was not just merely superficial or only for appearances. This is why all of us should also be inspired by the faith that St. Agnes had and strive to live our lives faithfully from now on as she once had lived hers.

May the Lord always be with us and may He continue to strengthen us all in our journey of faith. May He through the intercessions of St. Agnes, holy virgin and martyr, continue to guide us all and bless us in everything we do, that we may be courageous in faith and in loving God with all of our heart from now on. Amen.

Monday, 20 January 2020 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Fabian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Sebastian, Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Lord through the Scriptures that remind us all of the need for us to change our lives and follow the Lord wholeheartedly in all things. We must obey Him and do whatever it is that He has shown and taught us to do, and abandon our past life of wickedness and evil. This is what all of us as Christians are called to do with our lives, that we may truly glorify God by our lives in this world.

In our first reading today, we heard of the exchanges between the prophet Samuel and the first King of Israel, Saul, whom God had called and chosen from among His people to be the king over all of them. Samuel anointed Saul himself and Saul was faithful in leading the people of God to victory against their enemies, especially the Philistines who oppressed them. But it was not long before Saul began to disobey God and followed his own will rather than God’s.

In that occasion, the Israelites went up in war against the Amalekites, their old enemies, who were defeated in battle by the Lord’s grace and strength. The prophet Samuel had instructed Saul on God’s will, not to allow anyone or anything from the Amalekites to survive, their whole people and their whole possessions and herds. Yet, Saul thought it better on his own decision to spare not just the herds of the Amalekites but even the king of the Amalekites, Agag.

Saul thought that by doing what he had chosen to do, he was doing what God wanted, even arguing back against the prophet Samuel and trying to justify himself and his actions before God. But he did not realise that he has disobeyed God by his choice of actions and therefore led the people of Israel into sin. And his attempt to justify himself and arguing with Samuel showed that he was not remorseful or regretful over his action at first instance.

Saul was thinking in the manner of how he perceived the Lord would think, and many others also shared his perspective. To them, the Law that the Lord has given His people was to be obeyed to the letter, but they often failed to understand the true intent, meaning and purpose of the Law. Saul and others tried to go around the technicalities of the Law and even tried to benefit from it, because in his mind it was likely that he had the desire to gain from the spoils of war, that while some of them were to be offered to God, the rest would be his to possess.

That was how Saul led his people into sin and disobedience against God. He allowed his desires and pride to make him fall for the temptations of the devil. And this is the same predicament that we also see in the Gospel passage today, as we heard the argument between the Pharisees and the Lord on the matter of fasting which the Pharisees practiced fervently while they criticised the Lord and His disciples for not doing what they have done.

But the Lord rebuked them in turn because they failed to understand the true significance and meaning of fasting. The Pharisees, like Saul, fasted with some intention to gain attention for themselves, to satisfy their own personal desires for glory and honour, for fame and renown which led them to sin against God. They would not allow the Lord to go on with His works in peace and kept on opposing Him because their pride and desires led them to act in self-preservation to keep whatever privileges and good things they had gained, even if they actually went against God’s will.

This is what the Lord actually meant when He spoke using the parable of the new and old wineskins and cloth, and also the new and old wine. The incompatibility between the new wine and the old wineskin, vice versa and the new and old cloth highlighted the incompatibility between the ways of man, that is pride, desire, greed and selfishness with the ways of the Lord, which is love, humility, compassion, tenderness and mercy. As Christians we should embrace the way of the Lord and leave behind our past, worldly behaviour as described.

We are therefore also reminded today by the examples of king Saul and the Pharisees that we must be ever vigilant for it will be very easy for the devil to have his way with us if we are not careful and if we allow him to tempt us with the various desires and allures of the world, the lure of the glory of this world, the temptation of pleasures of the flesh among many others. We have to resist these temptations and do our best to overcome the devil and his lies.

Today, we are all fortunate to have two great saints whose feasts we are celebrating, namely that of Pope St. Fabian and St. Sebastian. Pope St. Fabian was one of the early Popes of the Church, who was elected under miraculous circumstances as it was told that a dove miraculously appeared and settled on him, which was interpreted as a sign of divine providence and made everyone assembled to elect him as the successor of St. Peter.

Pope St. Fabian led the Church in the era between persecutions and helped to stabilise the Church and grow, despite the rise of heresies and divisions in some segments of the Church. Pope St. Fabian sent bishops and missionaries to help settle this matter, and he dedicated himself passionately to the mission of the Church entrusted to him by God. And when the Roman Emperor Decius came to power, a new wave of brutal persecutions came to be, and Pope St. Fabian was among the first to be martyred for his faith.

Meanwhile, St. Sebastian was a high ranking Roman soldier, a captain of the Praetorian Guards, the Roman Emperor’s own bodyguards, who was a secret Christian at the time when being a Christian would mean certain suffering, persecution and death. St. Sebastian helped many Christians to escape torture and suffering under the persecutions of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, especially those who were condemned to death. Some of the people were even converted and strengthened by the faith of Sf. Sebastian while in prison

But eventually, St. Sebastian’s secret was discovered, and the Emperor, angry at this supposed betrayal by one of his closest confidants, made him suffer by tying him to a tree and made arrows to be shot at him many times until he was covered by them. Yet, miraculously, the arrows did not kill St. Sebastian. St. Sebastian miraculously recovered and reproached the Emperor for his persecution of Christians publicly. This was when St. Sebastian was beaten to death and finally had his martyrdom for his faith.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the great faith and examples set by Pope St. Fabian and St. Sebastian should inspire us all to also be faithful as they had been faithful, to follow God and to obey Him in every moments of our life. Let us all devote ourselves and be ever more faithful to God from now on, and let us grow ever stronger in faith and dedication to Him with each and every passing moments in our lives. May God bless us all, now and always. Amen.