Thursday, 25 January 2018 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate a great occasion in the history of our faith. In the history of the Church, as recording in the Scripture passages, we heard of the moment when a great enemy of God and His faithful ones, Saul, was converted to the faith, renouncing his former life and sinful past, and embracing the Lord as his Master, he eventually became a great defender and champion of the faith, St. Paul the Apostle.

Today we remember the moment of the conversion of St. Paul, when he was called by God from the depth of the darkness and into the new path in the light as the Lord had shown him. This is the pivotal moment in the history of the Church and our faith, as St. Paul would go on to perform many good works for the sake of the Church, ministering to many of the faithful in many cities throughout his journeys and travels across the Mediterranean, and in his many letters and writings to the faithful.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the calling and conversion of St. Paul is a reminder for each and every one of us as Christians, that all of us at one point in our own lives have also been called by the Lord in the same manner. We might not have experienced such a miraculous occasion as what St. Paul experienced, but surely God has also called all of us to follow Him, and by being Christians, it means that we have responded to His call.

Yet, many of us do not know what being a Christian truly mean. Some of us even went to the point of ridiculing and looking down on others just because they have not become Christians like ourselves. However, we did nothing in order to bring the Lord closer to the people mentioned. In fact, by our actions, our haughtiness and our indifference, we ended up distancing more and more people from God by our own actions.

First of all, we have to realise that God is calling everyone to Himself, to reconcile all those who have been sundered and separated from His love. We are all sinners and unworthy, and we are just like St. Paul who was once a great persecutor of the faithful, and sinned greatly against the Lord. Many other saints were also once great sinners, like St. Augustine, who once fell into a life of debauchery and sin during his youth days, even to the point of fathering a child out of wedlock.

But God called all of them, and they responded to God’s call in various ways. But what distinguished persistent sinners from saints, is the very fact that they allowed God to work His wonders in them, and they turned away from their sinful way of life, embracing a new way as shown to them by the Lord. They were deemed worthy because of their newfound commitment to God and to His people, and that was how they were made saints of the Church.

St. Paul was just one amongst the many other people who have experienced similar experience of conversion, but his is often highlighted simply because of his impact to the Church in its early years, and therefore, his critical importance and significance to the Church and the faithful as a whole. Certainly, no one who have lived during those years and times when St. Paul was still known as Saul, could have imagined that the fanatical and overzealous Pharisee could have become a great champion of God’s people.

Yet, that was what actually happened. And this is therefore an appropriate time for us to reflect on our own respective lives, based on what we know and from what we have heard with regards to the conversion of the great Apostle, St. Paul. It is a reminder that each one of us have also been called to a renewed life, turning away from our waywardness and from our sins.

What does this mean, brothers and sisters in Christ? It means that all of us, while sinners, can become saints as well, if we are to follow the Lord and put our trust completely in His guidance. It is through our actions and deeds, by which we show our genuine faith in God, that we can draw ever closer to Him, and that we can follow in the footsteps of our forefathers in faith, all those deemed worthy by the Church to be saints and blesseds.

All of us are called to continue the mission entrusted by the Lord to His Apostles and disciples, which is the propagation of the Good News of His salvation, and by calling all to the same repentance and forgiveness, through baptism in the Holy Name of the Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. This mission is still ongoing, and there are still many people out there, who have yet to receive the Good News, and worse still, many more who have fallen away from the faith.

Let us all therefore do what we can, to follow in the footsteps of St. Paul the Apostle, in his courage and determination to live faithfully, by preaching the Good News of salvation, not only through words alone, but also through deeds, filled with love and genuine care for all of our fellow men. Let us all show love in our actions, by showing our care and concern for all those who are in need, especially those who are in most need of God’s love and mercy.

May the Lord continue to guide us and protect us on our way, that we will always walk faithfully in His path, and that day after day, we will draw ever closer to Him, so that by the end of it all, we may be worthy of sharing the glory of His saints, all those who were once sinners like us, and yet, by their determination and commitment, having received the crown of glory from the Lord, Who blessed them for their wonderful dedication and life consecrated to Him. St. Paul the Apostle, pray for us all sinners, that we may be strengthened by God to be ever faithful to Him. Amen.

Thursday, 25 January 2018 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (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.”

Thursday, 25 January 2018 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (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.

Thursday, 25 January 2018 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (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.

Sunday, 25 January 2015 : Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate the great feast of the conversion of the great Apostle St. Paul, who was once known as Saul, the great enemy and persecutor of the Church and the faithful ones of God. God made him to be an Apostle and the great champion of the Faith, spreading the Good News of the Gospel to the farthest ends of the known world at the time. By his works, many followed in his footsteps and were converted as well.

This is in line with the readings we heard today in the Holy Scriptures, the first reading taken from the Book of the prophet Jonah spoke of the repentance and penitence shown by the people of Nineveh, the great capital of the Assyrian Empire, which God had marked to be annihilated for their sins and wickedness. The people, from the king to the lowest servants and slaves immediately repented from their sins after they listened to the warnings of the prophet Jonah.

This is to highlight God’s nature, that is His love and mercy, which He freely gives to all those who put their trust in Him and those who want to be forgiven for their wickedness. Thus, He forgave those who have come to His throne and mercy, and most importantly, those who dedicated themselves to change their way of life and committed to a life free from sin and to walk in the way of the Lord from then on.

Thus was Paul forgiven and called by God, to change his ways of sin and wickedness, the sin of the rejection of Christ and of the persecution of the faithful ones of God, into one that is devoted to the salvation of souls and total faith and trust in God. Indeed, even today, we can only be truly amazed at how God called one of His greatest servants and defenders from among the sinners and among those who have once hated Him so much so as to swore to destroy His entire Church.

And in the Gospel today, the theme is repeated yet again, for God through Christ called the servants whom He would make to be His greatest servants and witnesses in the world, the Holy Apostles, who have been given the authority to teach and preach the Good News, the power to heal and to forgive sins, just as the Lord gave them all these.

This is to show us that God does not want to punish us sinners and rebels against His will, even though rightfully and justly we should have been punished very severely for the disobedience we have committed against the Lord. Yes, just as St. Paul who once as Saul became a scourge for the faithful, getting hundreds or maybe even thousands or more of the faithful of the early Church to become martyrs, and yet God was willing to forgive him and embrace him back into His love.

That is why we have to always remember that God truly loves us sinners, but He hates entirely our sins, our wickedness and all the filthy things we have committed in this life. Condemn not the sinners but the sin. That said, we must not have the false attitude of showing mercy to those who have committed sin but without seeking for their repentance and changing of their ways.

And why is this so important, brothers and sisters in Christ? If we look at what St. Paul himself wrote in the second reading, which was taken from his letter to the faithful in Corinth, he wrote about the imminence of the coming of the end, of the coming of the kingdom of God, and therefore, as we all should be aware of, that is the imminence of the coming of the last and final judgment of all creation, of all mankind.

Are we not too concerned of the fate of our fellow brethren? Are we all too selfish and concerned only about ourselves that we forget about others who still linger in the darkness and in sin? Are we proud of ourselves having been saved by the Lord and do we look down on those who are still filled with the filth of sin, without us offering a hand to help them out of their sinfulness into grace?

If our answers to all of this self-reflecting questions are yes, then we really have to look into ourselves, and ask us what is our faith truly about? Our faith in God is about believing in the Lord who have so much love for us sinners, that despite of all the filth of sin surrounding us, He still resolved to help and rescue us, and that was why He gave us Jesus His Son, to be our Redeemer.

Those of us who heard of the Good News of God and believed, and chose to accept Him as our Lord and Saviour, had been bathed and cleansed from the taints of our sins, of original sins and of our own sins, by the Blood of the Lamb of God, Christ who sacrificed Himself on the cross for us. By His death we were cast free from the suffering of death, and by His resurrection we are brought to a new life, life filled with the grace of God.

We have to realise that even great saints were themselves sinners once. No one was born a saint, except perhaps the Blessed Mother of our Lord, Mary, who was born clean and immaculate, free from sin, in order to prepare her in her role as the bearer of the Almighty God and Saviour, and of course our Lord Himself, born a Man and yet free from sin. All saints and holy people of God were once sinners too.

Yes, some saints were once murderers, adulterers, and we knew how St. Augustine lived in his youth, in debauchery and in the midst of worldliness, that his mother St. Monica prayed day and night with tears for the conversion of her son. And that is the attitude we should all have, to pray fervently for those around us who still sin, that they may receive the call and grace of God, and hope that they will turn their ways and embrace God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Like St. Paul, who had done so much great evils and sins in his youth, had he not been called, or if he had been rejected by God, and had he been rejected by the community of the faithful, then surely many countless souls would have been lost, those whom he had directly and indirectly touched throughout his long mission and service to God, whom without him would likely not have heard the word of God, spoken through St. Paul, the faithful servant, and the repentant sinner.

Therefore, shall we all realise that our action and proactive act are necessary for us to help our brethren to also find their way to the Lord? That is true Christian faith and true love, as Christ had taught us, that we embrace those who have hated and persecuted us because of our faith, those who have sinned and refused to believe in God, and by our actions, in which we show and infuse God’s love and mercy, we may bring them to realise the gravity of their sins, and the threat of eternal death they are facing, and therefore, immediately to turn their ways to find the Lord our God and their God, before it is too late for them.

May all of us be strengthened with the new Spirit of God, in the evangelisation and conversion of the world, so that many more people and many more souls can be saved and will be saved from the clutches of Satan, through our actions, be it through direct acts, or through our words and our loving acts to them, or even if it is through a simple prayer, prayed for their sake.

Let us all no longer be indifferent or ignorant of the plight of others around us who still dwell in sin, but let us free them, just as the Lord freed Saul from his sins and called him to be His servant, and thus let us help one another, to become holy people of God, saintly and devoted, that in the end, as many as possible are saved and brought into the Holy Presence of God. God be with us all, and forgive us sinners from our sins. Amen.

Sunday, 25 January 2015 : Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Mark 1 : 14-20

At that time, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee and began preaching the Good News of God. He said, “The time has come; the kingdom of God is at hand. Change your ways and believe the Good News.”

As Jesus was walking along the shore of Lake Galilee, He saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net in the lake, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fish for people.”

At once, they abandoned their nets and followed Him. Jesus went a little farther on and saw James and John, the sons of Zebedee; they were in their boat mending their nets. Immediately Jesus called them and they followed Him, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men.

Sunday, 25 January 2015 : Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

1 Corinthians 7 : 29-31

I say this, brothers and sisters : time is running out, and those who are married must live as if not married; those who weep as if not weeping; those who are happy as if they were not happy; those buying something as if they had not bought it, and those enjoying the present life as if they were not enjoying it.

For the order of this world is vanishing.