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.

Saturday, 25 January 2020 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle (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.”

Saturday, 25 January 2020 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle (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.

Saturday, 25 January 2020 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle (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.

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.

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

Liturgical Colour : White

Mark 3 : 13-19

At that time, Jesus went up into the hill country, and called those He wanted, and they came to Him. He appointed Twelve to be with Him, and He called them ‘Apostles.’ He wanted to send them out to preach; and He gave them authority to drive out demons.

These are the Twelve : Simon, to whom He gave the name Peter; James, son of Zebedee, and John his brother, to whom He gave the name Boanerges, which means ‘men of thunder’; Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alpheus, Thaddeus, Simon the Canaanean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him.

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

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 56 : 2, 3-4, 6 and 11

Have mercy on me, o God, have mercy; for my soul takes refuge in You; I will find shelter in the shadow of Your wings, till the disaster has passed.

I call on God the Most High; on God, Who has done everything for me : may He send from heaven, a Saviour, and put my oppressors to shame. May God send me His love and faithfulness.

Be exalted, o God, above the heavens! Your glory be over all the earth! For Your love reaches to the heavens, and Your faithfulness, to the clouds.