Wednesday, 22 October 2014 : 29th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. John Paul II, Pope (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Popes)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate together for the very first time, the feast of a great saint, and one whose memory is certainly still very clear in the minds of most of us, except for the very youngest ones among us. If we are at an age of adulthood or above, that is eighteen or beyond, we would have remembered how we once know of Pope John Paul II as our Pope, and thus as the Vicar of Christ and the Successor of St. Peter the Apostle.

And just earlier this year in April, that together with another great Pope of the last century, Pope John XXIII, the Pope who initiated the Second Vatican Council that they were together raised to the glory of the Altar of God as the holy saints of the Church, worthy of heaven, of praise and also worthy of being asked for intercessions from, to pray for us sinners still in this world.

To many of us, Pope St. John Paul II was our Pope, the Pope who had filled so much of our faith life. His very long reign, the second longest among the verified reigns of Popes, third if St. Peter himself is included, the reign of twenty-seven years certainly is of a very significant to the whole Universal Church. Many of us did not even know any other Pope than this saint, until he passed away just less than a decade ago.

However, even though many of us knew him, and even though many of us think that he was a great man and a great Pope, how many of us actually knew who he was and what he had done for the Church and for the faithful people of God? It is likely that many of us do not have the full image and idea of who he really was and what he has done. And many of us might have wrong impressions about him through misinformations and miscommunications of the world and the media.

That is why, let me share a bit first on who Pope St. John Paul II was. He was a Pole, the first ever Pope to originate from Poland, an Eastern European country, which at that time had the unfortunate fate of being overrun by the two great powers that were its neighbours. Pope St. John Paul II was born Karol Jozef Wojtyla in Krakow, Poland, just two years after Poland regained its independence from the Russian Empire after a period of more than a century.

But as the life of Pope St. John Paul II would testify, Poland was to be subjected to a series of unfortunate and very grim events, subjugation first by the forces of the NAZI Germany and then later under the dominance and hegemony of the Communist Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the one fact most if not all of us knew well was that the central role which Pope St. John Paul II would play in bringing down the dreaded Communism, not just in Poland, but also in almost the whole world.

Pope St. John Paul II himself did not have an easy life, as his mother died young when the then Karol Wojtyla was still very young, and he quickly lost his siblings to various reasons, including his elder brother whom he respected a lot, to a disease. His father passed away just at the start of the great miseries to befell Poland, and Pope St. John Paul II, Karol Wojtyla was left all alone in the world, without a family, but yet with God and His Blessed Mother at his side.

If we are wondering why Pope St. John Paul II chose the motto which would be famously accredited and associated to him, then we do not need to look further from the fact how he had persevered through many sufferings and difficulties, left all alone in the world, but he made it through the help and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God.

His motto was Totus Tuus, the abbreviation of the full motto of Totus Tuus suum Maria, or ‘Blessed Virgin Mary, I am all yours’. This motto showed the great devotion which Karol Wojtyla, later Pope St. John Paul II had for Mary, and he was indeed known as one of the great Marian Popes who highly promoted the veneration and devotions to the Blessed Virgin.

This is the same kind of attitude which we should also have in our faith life and in our lives in general. We have to devote ourselves to the Lord and also to His Blessed Mother Mary, fully and completely if we are to allow God to come and work His wonders in us, and through us He can indeed do many things for the benefit of the world and for His people, as He had shown through how He worked through the person of Pope St. John Paul II, who should indeed be the role model for all of us in living our faith.

He endured difficulties after difficulties, persecutions after persecutions, and he frequently brushed closely with death. Yet, God had indeed had a plan for him, and every time, the Lord and His Blessed Mother guided him and delivered him from harm’s path. He suffered indeed, but he knew that he suffered for the sake of the Lord, who would indeed be bound to listen to the pleas of His people and take action.

He stood up for the faithful, when he, as the Metropolitan Archbishop of Krakow, one of the most influential and outspoken Archbishops and prelates in Poland and in Communist-dominated Eastern Europe, defended the right of his sheep, the flock of God for a place to worship God, a church to be built in the vicinity of the city of Krakow, at a locale known as Nowa Huta, the new city, supposedly the hallmark in the Communist government’s project to establish a utopian Communist city without a church building.

The then Archbishop Karol Wojtyla led the faithful people of Nowa Huta in a defiant rally and celebration of the Holy Mass, commemorating the establishment of a church building in that city championed by the Communists as the model of a utopian society without the faith. He gave the people the foundation stone of the church building, originating from the catacombs of St. Peter the Apostle, the rock upon whom the Lord had established His Church, and blessed by Pope Paul VI, now known as Blessed Pope Paul VI, beatified just last Sunday by our current Pope, Pope Francis.

Even after he was elected to the Papacy, to succeed as the Vicar of Christ and the Successor of St. Peter the Apostle, Karol Wojtyla, then on known as Pope John Paul II, continued his works for the good of the Church as he had always done, defending the orthodox and true teachings of the faith, and also to help the people of God suffering persecution in the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe.

We knew how Pope St. John Paul II had survived an assassination attempt, although he was grievously injured by it, on the day of our Lady of Fatima’s apparition in 1981. He attributed his survival to the ever caring and loving Mother of God, to whom he had devoted himself fully to, and to His Son, that he was again brought from the brink of death to continue to serve the people of God. We also knew how he forgave the one who tried to assassinate him.

And even to the end of his life, suffering from Parkinson’s disease which increasingly debilitated him and made it very difficult for him to continue to work as the leader of the Universal Church, he persevered on, and in his suffering, through which he share the suffering of Christ, he became a source of priceless inspiration for countless numbers of the faithful.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, after that summary of the life and the actions and contributions of Pope St. John Paul II, how are they relevant to the readings we had heard today, and how ultimately does do they relate to our own lives? It is in fact quite obvious that while every one, every single children of God will encounter different things on their respective journeys to God, but the actions of Pope St. John Paul II, Karol Wojtyla can indeed be a model and inspiration for all of us.

In the First Reading, St. Paul in his letter to the Church and the faithful in Ephesus revealed what had been entrusted to him in the graces and wisdom of God, that he might enlighten and show that wisdom to the people of God, so that all those who heard his words may be moved within their hearts and souls, and decide to seek the Lord their God with all of their hearts’ devotion.

In the same way therefore, Pope St. John Paul II, his predecessors and successors, the bishops and priests who had given themselves completely to the service of God, also received the same graces and wisdom to teach the Lord’s words and laws to His people, so that through them, many would be saved. But this does not mean that they alone are the ones who can do this.

Yes, brothers and sisters in Christ, each one of us at our own baptism, when we were welcomed into the Church of God, and now as a member of that one and only Church, we all have our own parts to play in the salvation of souls and in the good works of evangelisation done by the Church. We have been given the same graces, wisdom and blessing, and indeed it is part of our responsibility to bring the people of God, especially those who still live in darkness, into the light of Christ.

This is also what Christ had done, by bringing together the separated people of God, and grant them His peace. Ever since mankind had disobeyed God and followed their own desires, they had walked their own paths and in contrary to each other, each following their own hearts’ desires and inevitably leading to conflicts, violence and many other evils. Ever since the day of the Tower of Babel, mankind had been divided against one another and peace as well as harmony were lost.

It was therefore the peace of Christ, which He made by His works and His sacrifice on the cross, which offered mankind a new hope, that they may abandon their old lives of sin and darkness, of disobedience and injustice, of hatred, fear and violence, so that they may receive the love and peace of the Lord, by following Jesus and walking in the path He had prepared for them.

And in the Gospel, this responsibility which we have as members of the Church is reiterated yet once again by the parable of Jesus our Lord, on the master and the steward. This parable tells us clearly that we are indeed stewards appointed by God, and with a certain purpose, that is to love one another, and to spread the Good News which had been given to us by God, to those who still have yet to hear it.

That is what the faithful servants will do, unlike the unfaithful servants, which examples are the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, when they failed not only to lead the people in faith by example, but they have cast obstacles in the path of the people of God, and in their selfishness, they abused their power and authority, like the unfaithful and bad servants. And when the Master comes back, that is the Lord, He will rebuke them without mercy and cast them out of His presence, precisely what He did with those Pharisees and hypocrites.

Therefore, this is a stern and clear reminder for us to avoid following the path of those Pharisees and avoid succumbing to our human desires, greed, pride, arrogance, hatred, lack of love, unfaithfulness, sloth and many others. Instead, we should open wide the doors of our heart to Christ our Lord, inspired by the words of Pope St. John Paul II, ‘Aprite le porte a Christo!’ which means, ‘Open wide the doors to Christ!’.

When we open wide the doors of our hearts to Christ, in essence we allow Him to enter into our hearts and transform us from within, allowing His love to fill us up, and therefore, it will affect our actions and deeds, which will then be based no longer on our own selfish desires, but instead upon the love of God. We must not be afraid to seek the Lord for help, and indeed we should entrust everything we have to God and to His Blessed Mother Mary just as Pope St. John Paul II had done.

Do not tarry and do not delay, for as much as God is merciful and loving, and as much as He desires to embrace us with His love and forgive us our sins, nothing good will come until we take the initiative and embrace His mercy first. Therefore, it is imperative that we realise that God hates sin and all wickedness, and if we delay and wait, and wait and wait, eventually time will catch up to us, and at the time that we do not know, the Lord will decide that our time is up, then no amount of regret or even repentance will help.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us help one another, working with one another to take care of ourselves, that we do not open ourselves to sin and evil, and so that we may allow the Lord to come into us, and to transform us with His love and grace. May Almighty God bless us, empower us and strengthen us, and through the intercession of Pope St. John Paul II, may all souls come eventually to salvation in God, with the help of His Blessed Mother Mary, the Mediatrix of all graces. Amen.

Sunday, 27 April 2014 : 2nd Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday, Canonisation of Pope St. John XXIII and Pope St. John Paul II (Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today is the Second Sunday of Easter, or since a few years ago, we also celebrate the greatness of our Lord’s merciful heart and love for us, in the Feast of the Divine Mercy. We celebrate today not just the joy of Easter and the resurrection of Christ, but the very love and mercy that God had shown us in giving us Jesus to be our Saviour and redeem us from certain death because of sin.

Today we have to reflect on this great mercy God had shown us through Jesus. Without this mercy, mankind would still dwell in darkness of this world and engulfed in sin, and therefore, condemned to damnation with Satan and his fellow fallen angels in the eternal torture of hell, bereft of God’s love and mercy in its entirety, where there is no longer any hope for us.

Instead, God who loves us resolved to let Himself be humiliated, scourged, tortured and mocked for our sake. He let Himself to be wounded and punished with the entirety of the weight of our sins, no matter how heavy they are. For our sins are the wounds that He bear, and His cross is our rebelliousness that He bore for our sake, that we may not suffer the consequences of our sins.

Today we celebrate the rising of two great and yet humble men to the Altar, that is our beloved Popes, the Successors of St. Peter, Blesseds Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. The now Saints Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II were great workers of love and mercy, proclaiming to the world the virtues of the Most Divine Mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Pope St. John XXIII was the great proponent and champion of peace, seeking peace in a world beset by conflicts and hatred between one another, building bridges of dialogue and reconciliation where there were anger, hatred and violence. This is one of the great aspect and essence of mercy, showing to the world that we mankind should shun evil and hatred, as well as violence and dispute, in favour of love, forgiveness, cooperation and genuine mercy.

Divine Mercy of our Lord was truly at work, when Pope St. John XXIII carried out his mission as the Successor of St. Peter as the head of the Universal Church. Even in his life prior to his election as Pope, Pope St. John XXIII had been the embodiment of our Lord’s Divine Mercy, by acting in accordance to the Lord’s love, reaching out in particular to those who are bereft and longing for the Lord’s beautiful mercy.

Pope St. John XXIII as Angelo Roncalli prior to his election as Pope was sent as the diplomat of the Holy See, representing the Pope and the Church in various countries where strife was rampant, and divisions were evident among the faithful people of God, as the Apostolic Delegate to Bulgaria, he helped to bridge the differences between the faithful belonging to the Church and our separated brethren of the Constantinopolitan communion or the Eastern Orthodox. He helped foster a good relationship among the faithful and did not fear to help out a fellow brethren in need.

In essence, therefore, he had exercised the merciful aspect of the Lord who is the Divine Mercy. Pope St. John XXIII has also emulated the same example of Christ’s mercy by helping the Jews who were hunted down by the NAZIs to be exterminated by working hard to arrange their escape when he was the Apostolic Delegate to Turkey, and when a trainload of Jewish exiles attempted to escape death through Turkey.

There were much mercy in this new saint’s actions, and that is why he is today elevated to the glory of the Altar and officially recognised by the Church as a saint worthy of heavenly glory and honour. The other saint elevated today, Pope St. John Paul II whom many if us dearly and fondly remembered as the Pope of our time, also was a great man of mercy and love.

Pope St. John Paul II and his predecessors worked on the vision of a religious sister, who is known now as St. Faustina Kowalska on the Lord as the Divine Mercy. The Lord appeared to St. Faustina Kowalska asking for mankind to repent and change their sinful ways, and cling to His most merciful heart, which became the origin for the devotion towards the Divine Mercy of God, and the origin for today’s celebration on the Feast of the Divine Mercy, which falls on the second Sunday of Easter.

Pope St. John Paul II himself, as many of us know, is a man of great mercy, whose works of love and perseverance for the sake of the faithful is well known throughout the world. When he met an assassination attempt in 1981, on the day of the Feast of our Lady of Fatima, he forgave his to-be-assassin, and visited him in the prison, reconciling himself with the assassin in love.

This is one of the many examples of his acts of mercy, which is firmly founded on the foundations of faith, and his perseverance in fighting for the rights of the faithful against the Communist regime in Poland, his country, was truly remarkable. He did not fight the violence of the atheistic government with violence of his own, even when the people were on his side. He fought for the people with prayers and activism, promoting and championing for the faith through real action firmly grounded on the Christian faith.

Pope St. John Paul II was also well known for his championing of the Universal Call to Holiness, in which the faithful and people of God are encouraged to be models of the faith and walk in a life of holiness, which he helped encourage by the elevation of many holy men and women whose lives had been exemplary to be the role model for the faithful, that is for all of us to follow. These are the examples of the manifestation of the Lord’s love and mercy which came true in the lives of these holy men and women, including that of Popes St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II themselves.

In celebrating the elevation of these two great and yet humble Popes to the holy sainthood, we celebrate together with the entire Church for the propagation of the Lord’s Divine Mercy and love to all the peoples of all the nations, that from today on, through the examples in the lives of these two new saints and countless other holy men and women of God, we may learn of the Lord’s Divine Mercy and understand this great act of mercy.

God did not want us to suffer for the consequences of our sins, which entered our hearts and bodies and minds ever since Adam and Eve our first ancestors disobeyed the Lord and His will. That is why He sent us the greatest gift and help that He can provide us, in Jesus His Son, who suffered in our place, bearing our sins and all their burdens on His shoulders to the cross, where He laid down His own life for us, and by rising from the dead, He gave new hope of a new life to all of us who believe and who are ready to cast away our old lives of sin.

Yet we also have to remember at all times that God hates sin, in all its forms, no matter whether it is a small or a large sin. A sin is still a sin, and it separates us from being able to be perfectly reunited with the Lord who loves us. Sin is the barrier that prevents mankind from being free from the bonds and chains of death, and therefore, it is imperative for us to take the initiative to get rid of our sinfulness.

And the Lord who is also the Divine Mercy as He had revealed to St. Faustina Kowalska, has offered much mercy and opportunity for all of us to repent and turn again towards Him from our past sinful lives. It does not mean that God hates sin then we who have sinned will be condemned to perdition and death. It does not mean that we will be cast into hell immediately for our sins. Mankind are often very aware of their sins, but the danger of this is that because of this awareness, mankind became fearful of God and were afraid to seek God’s forgiveness and therefore fall deeper into sin.

We must not have this mentality or attitude towards God, because we know that the Lord is rich in mercy and slow to anger. Yes, just as much as He is wrathful and hateful against sins that we commit. What matters is for us to open our hearts to Him and allow His mercy to work wonders in us, and allowing His mercy to pierce to the greatest depths of our hearts that He may dwell in us and work His forgiveness in us.

Remember what Pope St. John Paul II had said to us? That we must not be afraid and open the doors wide to the Lord? And yes, therefore, we have to heed the words of this wise saint, and open wide the doors of our hearts to the forgiveness and mercy of God. Do not be afraid indeed, or else God’s mercy and forgiveness will not work its wonders on us, and we will remain in sin.

The problem with many of us and therefore mankind in general is that, not only that we fear the Lord and His wrath, but we also have great pride in us that we do not want to seek the Lord for forgiveness because of our ego. We keep our ego and heads held high, but for what? In the end, keeping our ego and pride will cost us dearly and we may be thrown into hell to suffer for eternity just because we refuse to lower ourselves before the mercy of God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore today, as we rejoice with the entire Universal Church for the elevation of the two new saints from among our Popes, let us follow their examples and heed their words, that we show mercy in our own actions and open our hearts to the Lord, that His mercy and love may be poured into us, and make us all truly worthy and holy children of His, showing the examples of mercy in all our words, actions and deeds.

O, Pope St. John XXIII, pray and intercede for us that we may be agents of peace in this world, to show love and mercy of God to all through our actions, that may all hatred and violence cease, and that men will be brought closer to God, just as you had once worked hard for the sake of peace and equality for all mankind before God.

O, Pope St. John Paul II, pray and intercede for us that we may have our hearts opened for the Lord to enter, that we will not shut tight our doors before the Lord who knocks daily at them. Pray for us that we will not be afraid to open ourselves for others and show love and mercy in all of our actions, that we will be witnesses of the Lord’s most Divine Mercy.

May the Lord show His infinite mercy to us on this day, that we who have sinned before Him may turn our back against our past and sinful lives, that we may take concrete and real steps towards full reconciliation with our God. O, most Divine Mercy and loving Jesus, forgive us sinners and bring us closer to Your most loving heart. Amen.