Wednesday, 1 January 2020 : Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and World Day of Prayer for Peace (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day, the first day of this new year, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Theotokos, or Mary as the Mother of God. This is celebrated on the eighth and last day of the Christmas Octave, to remember the very important and crucial role that Mary played in the history of our salvation and in Christmas, because she became the Mother of God by bearing Jesus Christ, Son of God in her.

This teaching and dogma of the Divine Motherhood of Mary, the Theotokos or Mother of God was formalised and made official at the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in the year 431, out of the great debate of whether Mary was just the Mother of Jesus Christ the Man, or whether she was also the Mother of God because Jesus Christ is both God and Man, having both human nature and divine nature united in His one person.

During that time, the disagreements in the Church was led on one side by the Patriarch of Constantinople, Nestorius, who championed the preference to call Mary as Christotokos or Christ-Bearer or Mother of Christ rather than Theotokos or God-Bearer or Mother or God. Although it may have seemed trivial to us as merely involving a variation in the honorary names and titles of Mary, but theologically the two titles highlighted a very fundamental and critical difference in a very core part of our Christian faith.

I am referring to the fact that by denying Mary the title of Theotokos and preferring Christotokos as proposed by the supporters of Nestorius actually also affected the nature of Christ as if Mary is not the Mother of God, but only the mother of Christ the Man, then Jesus’ humanity and divinity cannot have been united in His one persona, but are distinct and separate. This is the view and school of thought championed by Nestorius and his supporters.

The opponents of Nestorius and the champions of orthodoxy held the view that as Christ has two natures which are distinct and yet united in one person of Christ, then Mary who bore Him in her womb and gave birth to Him must also be the Mother of God, as if the humanity of Christ is united perfectly with His divinity, though distinct, then one cannot accept that Jesus is both Man and God without also proclaiming His mother Mary as the Mother of God.

To say that Mary is just the mother of Christ or Christotokos rather than the Mother of God goes against the logic that Mary bore Christ into this world fully in being, giving birth to Jesus Christ, her Son, both God and Man, and she could not have just borne Christ the Man without also bearing His divinity. To imply in any way that Mary is not the Mother of God also in truth denies Christ’s unique two natures united in one person as the true, orthodox faith of the Apostles had always held.

Therefore the debate surrounding the dogma of Theotokos or the Mary as the Mother of God was truly serious as it affected the nature of Christ and His salvation, as heresies of that time had threatened to break the Church apart, with some contending that by Nestorius’ proposition, only Jesus the Man suffered and died on the Cross as God could not have suffered or died, contrary to the true teaching of the faith. This was brought about by the disagreement over the nature of Christ’s humanity and divinity which extends to whether Mary was the Mother of God or just the Mother of Christ.

We may think again that these disagreements may sound trivial and small in importance, but we must really understand and appreciate that the faith as we know it today came about only after many rounds of challenges, divisions, disagreements and heresies trying to misled members of the faithful throughout the long history of the Church, including this disagreement on the Theotokos or Mary as the Mother of God.

During those especially early critical years of the Church, many heresies came about because of the existence of many divergent schools of thought and idea that often disagreed on each other on the nature of Christ’s divinity, on whether His humanity and divinity are united inseparably, or separate into two different and disunited existence, or whether as what we hold in our true faith, that His humanity and divinity exists, though distinct, but united perfectly in the one person of Jesus.

The bitter divisions and divergence in the teachings were threatening the unity of the Church and the salvation of many souls, and that was why, the Ecumenical Councils of the Church, beginning with the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, and eventually to the one we focus on today, the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus, began codifying and underlining the true and fundamental truths and orthodoxy in faith which we preserve in the Church until today.

Eventually, the supporters of Nestorius lost and the heresy was officially condemned in the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus which made canon and officially declared Mary as Theotokos, the Mother of God. And we rejoice today because of this great blessing which God has bestowed on us all through His mother, the very Mother of God so many of us Christians for ages have entrusted ourselves and devoted ourselves to.

Imagine, brothers and sisters in Christ, how we have the Mother of God herself as our greatest intercessor, as the one who constantly loves us and cares for us, that she, who sits closest to her Son’s throne in heaven, always constantly intercedes for our sake. And being the Mother of God, therefore, it means that she is truly honoured, just as how the kings of Israel and Judah of old honoured their mothers.

We devote ourselves to Mary and ask her for her intercession because we know that through Mary, we have the surest and most direct path to her Son, Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. God Himself entrusted His mother Mary to us from the Cross, when He entrusted her to the care of His disciple, St. John, representing us the Universal Church, and then also entrusted him, again representing the Church, to Mary, His mother.

That is why Mary was always present throughout the history of the Church, in her many apparitions, several of which have been officially approved by the Church, especially appearing at the important juncture in our history and in moments of great darkness, calling on us mankind to turn back towards her Son and to repent from our many sins and evils. And we have to be thankful for the love that she has shown us, the same love with which she loved her Son from all her loving heart.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we also look up to Mary as our greatest role model, for her great faith and obedience to the will of God throughout her life. We should imitate her example and faith, dedicating ourselves to God through her and by following her inspiring dedication, in giving her whole self to serve the Lord and to glorify Him in all things. Are we able to do this, brothers and sisters?

Today, we are also called to keep in mind peace in our world, as today we also mark the World Day of Prayer for Peace, as we begin this new year with a new hope for the whole world for the cessation of conflict and wars, which have brought the worst out of us mankind, causing untold sufferings and destructions. All these wars, conflicts and disagreements, just like the disagreements we just went through in detail earlier on the nature of Mary as the Mother of God, are caused by man’s pride and greed.

As long as we allow ourselves to be swayed by ego and pride, ambition and greed, to be tempted by the many temptations found in this world, listening to the lies and corrupt teachings championed by the devil and his allies and supporters, there will always be divisions, conflicts, sufferings and trials in our world. And this is where, by following Mary and devoting ourselves to her, to imitate her faith and examples, we can break the unending chain of suffering and conflicts.

Let us all ask for Mary to intercede for us, for the Church and for the world, that through her intercession, God may bring His peace into this world, for He is the Prince of Peace promised to us all. And let us all get rid from ourselves all sorts of ego, of pride, of hubris and ambition, of greed and desires, and instead, put God once again at the centre of our lives and make Him the reason of our existence in this world.

May God continue to bless us, bless His Church and bless this world He has created and provided for us. May His mother Mary, Theotokos, the Mother of God also continue to inspire us all His faithful ones, that we may follow in her footsteps and draw ever closer to her Son, Jesus Christ, Son of God, our Lord and Saviour. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020 : Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and World Day of Prayer for Peace (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Luke 2 : 16-21

So the shepherds came hurriedly, and found Mary and Joseph, and the Baby lying in the manger. On seeing Him, they related what they had been told about the Child, and all were astonished on hearing the shepherds.

As for Mary, she treasured all these words, and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds then returned, giving glory and praise to God for all they had heard and seen, just as the Angels had told them.

On the eighth day the circumcision of the Baby had to be performed; He was named Jesus, the Name the Angel had given Him before He was conceived.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020 : Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and World Day of Prayer for Peace (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Galatians 4 : 4-7

But when the fullness of time came, God sent His Son. He came born of woman and subject to the Law, in order to redeem the subjects of the Law, that we might receive adoption as children of God.

And because you are children, God has sent into your hearts the Spirit of His Son which cries out : Abba! That is, Father! You yourself are no longer a slave but a son or daughter, and yours is the inheritance by God’s grace.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020 : Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and World Day of Prayer for Peace (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

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.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020 : Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and World Day of Prayer for Peace (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Numbers 6 : 22-27

Then YHVH spoke to Moses saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons and say to them : This is how you shall bless the people of Israel; you shall say : May YHVH bless you and keep you! May YHVH let His face shine on you, and be gracious to you! May YHVH look kindly on you, and give you His peace!”

“In that way they put My Name on the people of Israel and I will bless them.”

Tuesday, 31 December 2019 : Seventh Day within the Octave of Christmas, Memorial of Pope St. Silvester I, Pope (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day, the last day of the Gregorian solar calendar and which is also the seventh day in the Octave of Christmas, all of us are called to reflect on what has transpired and happened in the past one year of our lives, as well as how we have celebrated Christmas all these while, now that it is approaching one week since the beginning of our Christmas festivities.

At Christmas, its season and celebrations, all of us are always called to reorientate and refocus ourselves and our lives to God. Today’s Scripture readings are no different, as proven by today’s Gospel from the first chapter of the Gospel of St. John, the very same reading used for the Mass celebration of the daytime Christmas. In that reading, used to be read at every celebrations of the Mass according to the Extraordinary Form or the Tridentine Roman Rite, called the Last Gospel, is contained the essence of the fundamental Christian truths we believe in.

It is no coincidence also then that as this reading was used to be read at the end of every celebrations of the Holy Mass, and is still being read now by those who celebrate in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, that it is also being used today, at the very end of our solar calendar. This serves as a very important and timely reminder that God, Who was God, is God, and will always be God, the Word of God, has assumed the flesh of Man, and descended into this world, to become our Saviour.

And this truth is unchanging, just as God is always ever true through time immemorial, year after year, again and again. And as we progress on to the next year, beginning with tomorrow’s new year’s day, all of us are reminded of this truth which we have heard in our Gospel today, as we all believe in the One, Christ Who is the Divine Word incarnate, the Word made Flesh, by which He has gathered all of us to Himself and redeemed us by His sacrifice on the Cross.

It is this truth that we cherish and celebrate in Christmas, as we remind ourselves again of why we rejoice in this Christmas season, not for the merrymaking and gifts, or for the glamour and pleasures we receive from all the celebrations and parties, but rather because through our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, all of us have received the complete assurance of eternal life and salvation.

The same Child born in Bethlehem over two millennia ago and celebrated on Christmas, is the same One Who would be the Saviour of all, by voluntarily enduring for us all the sufferings and punishments intended for us because of our sins, and bearing all of them on His Cross, He brought us all the promise of a new life and hope in Him through faith. And yet, many of us have not believed in Him and His salvation.

As St. John told us through his Epistle in our first reading today, there are those who profess and proclaim different beliefs and truths from the truth which we have heard, and those are called the antichrists. Those antichrists work against the truth of God, the real and true Christ, through Whom we shall receive the fullness of God’s promise salvation, glory and life. But the forces of those arrayed against us, led by the antichrists and the devil, are powerful.

They have in their means and possessions, many tools to tempt us and lure us away from the path leading towards Christ. That is why St. John told us all to be vigilant and to be prepared, for the time will come, even as he has foreseen in the Book of Revelations, of the coming of the Lord and the final reckoning between good and evil. At that time, God will rescue all those who still remain faithful to Him and cast away from Him all those who reject Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore as we end this current solar year and begin a new year tomorrow, let us all reflect on our lives thus far and think of how we can progress in life with faith. And we should look therefore on the saint whose feast day we celebrate today, namely Pope St. Silvester I, one of the early Popes of the Church. Pope St. Silvester I was instrumental in his role in leading the Church into a new era after many centuries of persecutions.

At that time, the Church had just very recently survived through the most brutal era of persecution under the Roman Emperor Diocletian and which was partly continued by his successor, the Emperor Galerius. Just one year before the beginning of the reign of Pope St. Silvester, the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great and the Emperor of the East, Licinius agreed and signed the Edict of Milan in the year 313, proclaiming the toleration of Christians and ending of the many centuries of persecution.

Pope St. Silvester reigned for approximately twenty-one years, one of the longer reign among the Popes, leading the Church through this new era, a time when the Church began to receive support from the state and finally was able to celebrate publicly and freely the profession of their faith. Many important churches were built during this period and the foundations of the Church was strengthened by the efforts of Pope St. Silvester and his contemporaries.

He was also supportive of the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, the very first Ecumenical Council of the Church, which although he was unable to attend in person, but he did send delegates to the Council to support its works in declaring the objective Christian truth amidst the falsehoods of many of those who tried to lead the Church and the faithful astray, especially the heresy of Arianism, which Pope St. Silvester also courageously resisted and opposed.

As we have heard from the life and works of Pope St. Silvester, we can see how there are going to be lots of challenges and trials for us going forward in life, just as Pope St. Silvester encountered many challenges throughout his long twenty-one years pontificate. However, at the same time, just as he presided over a great new beginning of the Church and the faith, we too are called to look forward with faith and hope as we embark on this new year.

What is our resolution for this coming new year, brothers and sisters in Christ? If our resolution is all about gaining more wealth, glory and happiness for ourselves as many often do, year after year, or if we do not even have any resolution made or thought of at all, then I suggest that we resolve to enter this new year with a new faith in God, seeking to glorify Him from now on through our actions, and strive to follow Him and to be ever closer to Him, with each and every moments of our life.

Let us all give thanks to God for the year that has passed, for all its good and not so good things, for all that God has blessed us with. May the Lord continue to watch over us and bless us through the new year and beyond. May He be with us always, at all times. Amen.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019 : Seventh Day within the Octave of Christmas, Memorial of Pope St. Silvester I, Pope (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

John 1 : 1-18

In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God and the Word was God; He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing came to be. Whatever has come to be, found life in Him; life, which for human beings, was also light, light that shines in darkness, light that darkness could not overcome.

A man came, sent by God; his name was John. He came to bear witness, as a witness to introduce the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but a witness to introduce the Light; for the Light was coming into the world, the true Light that enlightens everyone. He was in the world, and through Him the world was made, the very world that did not know Him.

He came to His own, yet His own people did not receive Him; but to all who received Him, He empowers to become children of God, for they believe in His Name. These are born, but not by seed, or carnal desire, nor by the will of man : they are born of God.

And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us; and we have seen His glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father : fullness of truth and loving-kindness. John bore witness to Him openly, saying, “This is the One Who comes after me, but He is already ahead of me, for He was before me.”

From His fullness we have all received, favour upon favour. For God had given us the Law through Moses, but Truth and Loving-kindness came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God-the-only-Son made Him known : the One, Who is in and with the Father.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019 : Seventh Day within the Octave of Christmas, Memorial of Pope St. Silvester I, Pope (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 95 : 1-2, 11-12, 13

Sing to the Lord a new song, sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless His Name. Proclaim His salvation day after day.

Let the heavens be glad, the earth rejoice; let the sea and all that fills it resound; let the fields exult and everything in them; let the forest, all the trees, sing for joy. Let them sing before the Lord.

He Who comes to judge the earth. He will rule the world with justice and the peoples with fairness.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019 : Seventh Day within the Octave of Christmas, Memorial of Pope St. Silvester I, Pope (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

1 John 2 : 18-21

My dear children, it is the last hour. You were told that an antichrist would come; but several antichrists have already come, by which we know that it is now the last hour.

They went out from us though they did not really belong to us. Had they belonged to us, they would have remained with us. So it became clear that not all of us were really ours. But you have the anointing from the Holy One, so that all of you have true wisdom.

I write to you, not because you lack knowledge of the truth, but because you already know it, and lies have nothing in common with the truth.

Monday, 30 December 2019 : Sixth Day within the Octave of Christmas (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we continue to rejoice in this season of Christmas, we are constantly being reminded that we need to have the right focus in our celebrations and in our direction in life, that is to centre our attention and focus on the Lord. We need to trust in the Lord and to love Him with all of our hearts, especially as what St. John told us in his Epistle, which is part of our first reading today.

St. John wrote to the faithful reminding them all to put their trust in God, Who had sent His Saviour into this world, Who is none other than Jesus Christ, His own beloved Son. St. John exhorted both the elders and the young members of the community to have faith in God and not to be swayed by the many temptations and desires found within the world that they would not fall into sin.

This ties in well with what we have heard in our Gospel passage today from the Gospel according to St. Luke in which the encounter between the prophetess Anna and the Lord and His family was recounted to us. At that time, Mary and St. Joseph brought the Lord Jesus to the Temple on the eighth day after His birth to be presented at the Temple according to the Jewish traditions and customs.

The prophetess Anna came, together with that of the old prophet Simeon, both speaking of Who the Child was, and how He would be the very Saviour of the whole world and all mankind, despite being still just a small Baby. Through her, the Lord wanted to reaffirm what He has told His people, of the coming of His salvation as the culmination of everything that He has planned for our sake.

And all of these are meant to remind us again that as we continue to progress through this season of Christmas, we should not treat Christmas just like any other holiday that passes on and gets along just like that, without understanding and appreciating its true significance, purpose and meaning. We should not let our Christmas celebrations be empty and meaningless, especially when we focus all the celebrations to ourselves and forgetting that truly, Christ is the One we are celebrating about.

Yet, the sad reality in our world today is how Christ has often been forgotten and overlooked, even by many of us Christians in our pursuit for worldly glory, power and satisfaction in life. Many of us sought for the relief and happiness found in indulging in all these things, those many temptations in this world, the temptation of fame, power, glory, pleasures of the flesh, wealth, ambition among many others. All these distracted us and turned us away from God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us remind ourselves and one another of the focus of our celebration this Christmas and in fact, the focus and centrepoint of our lives. Let us all live not for ourselves and trust excessively in worldly matters and provisions, but instead, let us trust God and put our faith in Him once again, and know that everyone who put their faith in God, as St. John said in his Epistle, will not be disappointed as while the world will fade and go away, the Word and truth of God is forever.

May all of us as Christians be genuinely faithful to God from now on. May all of us draw ever closer to Him and seek to be more dedicated and be good Christians, being inspirations for one another in how we lead a good and virtuous life in obedience to the will of God. May God bless us all and may He give us the strength and courage to live as committed Christians in each and every moments of our lives. Amen.