Friday, 29 December 2017 : Fifth Day within Octave of Christmas, Memorial of St. Thomas Becket, Bishop and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day from the first reading taken from the Epistle of St. John, we listened to the exhortation made by St. John to the people, about the matter of obedience to God’s laws and commandments. All of us must believe in God’s commandments and obey Him if we are to be truly belonging to Him, and if we want to call ourselves as true Christians.

We cannot consider ourselves to be devoted to God on one hand, and then on the other hand, perform actions and deeds that are contrary to God’s laws and commandments. If we do such a thing, basically what we have done is an utter disgrace and scandal upon our faith, as well as a wicked thing in the eyes of the Lord. St. John himself did not mince his words in the passage today, as he said that those who did not follow God’s laws and yet claim to be His disciple is a liar.

In the Gospel passage today, we then listen to another reading, from an account of the moment when Our Lord Jesus was presented as a Baby eight day after He was born in Bethlehem, at the Temple of Jerusalem, in accordance with the laws which God had revealed to His people through His servant Moses, that all the firstborn sons of Israel ought to be presented and offered to Him to be consecrated to God.

Mary and Joseph obeyed the law faithfully and presented the Baby Jesus as prescribed by the law. There they met Simeon, an old man who was renowned for his faith in God, and who then told Mary about the fate that awaited her as well as her Son Jesus. God told Simeon that he would not die until he gazed his eyes on the Saviour of the world, the Messiah, and so he did. And as we heard in the Gospel today, Simeon revealed a prophecy to Mary.

Simeon told her that the Baby would become a Sign to Israel, and indeed, the Sign of God’s salvation, for it was through Him that mankind has been saved from sin and death, because of the loving and ultimate sacrifice He made on the cross at Calvary. And at the same time, Simeon gave Mary a premonition to Mary, about her own great sorrow because of what was to happen to her Son.

He said to her that a sword would pierce her own heart, which is a figurative and symbolic way of representing the great sorrow which Mary experienced at the moment of the suffering and the crucifixion of her Son, Jesus Christ, as He went through His Passion. And as a loving mother who loved her Son greatly, it must have been very painful for her to witness what was happening to Him on the cross.

And yet, all of us should follow the example of Our Lord Jesus, Mary His mother and Joseph, His foster father, the Holy Family, as we link it back to what we have heard in the first reading today. All of them are the epitome and best examples of faith and obedience to God, as Jesus was obedient to His Father’s will, and obeyed Him even to the point of accepting death on the cross.

For Mary, she obeyed the Lord and followed His will, even though she knew that she would have to go through a lot of difficult hardships and challenges, she had to encounter many obstacles, and she had to see her Son being rejected by the very people He was sent to save. She had to witness Him being persecuted and tortured, and eventually die a most painful death on the cross. Yet, she remained faithful, all the way, and yes, all the way to the foot of the cross.

And Joseph also faithfully devoted himself to protect the Holy Family, bringing the Baby Jesus and Mary to Egypt for exile when king Herod wanted Him dead. He brought them back to Nazareth when it was safe, and helped to bring up Jesus and guide Him during His younger years, as a loving father, even though Jesus was not his biological Son.

We can see the great faith and dedication in the members of the Holy Family. And today, we celebrate yet another saint and servant of God, whose faith and dedication to the Lord led to his brave defense of the faith and holy martyrdom in that same faith, refusing to disobey the Lord and betray Him. He is St. Thomas Becket of Canterbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury who lived and reigned as Archbishop approximately eight centuries ago.

St. Thomas Becket was the Chancellor to the King of England, king Henry II. King Henry appointed St. Thomas Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury, as the leader and Primate of All England, hoping that by doing so, he would be able to control the Church in his dominions and bend it to his will, as St. Thomas Becket was his good friend and also his close confidant.

However, St. Thomas Becket had a renewal of heart and he was called by God to a greater purpose. He turned his life around and abandoning all of his former wicked lifestyle, he began to walk faithfully in God’s path from then on. In the end, he had to stand up against the king and his nobles who were increasingly manipulative and hostile to the works of the Church.

St. Thomas Becket refused to give in to the demands of the king, and when a nobleman killed a priest of the Church, St. Thomas Becket excommunicated the nobleman even when the king showed his great displeasure and anger at this action. In the end, the king called for his removal, and some of his noblemen went to St. Thomas Becket in his Cathedral, and murdered him in cold blood.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, all those servants of God, the members of the Holy Family, Our Lord Jesus Himself have shown us how we ought to be faithful to God’s laws and commandments, and we must not allow worldly temptations and desires to distract and lead us astray. We should be faithful and be courageous in our faith, and live in accordance with God’s ways from now on, if we have not done so yet.

May the Lord bless all of us and may He strengthen us in our faith, that we may always walk in the footsteps of His faithful servants, and in the path set by His own Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. May God be with us always, now and forever. Amen.

Friday, 29 December 2017 : Fifth Day within Octave of Christmas, Memorial of St. Thomas Becket, Bishop and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Luke 2 : 22-35

When the day came for the purification according to the law of Moses, they brought the Baby up to Jerusalem, to present Him to the Lord, as it is written in the law of the Lord : Every firstborn male shall be consecrated to God. And they offered a sacrifice, as ordered in the law of the Lord : a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.

There lived in Jerusalem at this time a very upright and devout man named Simeon; the Holy Spirit was in him. He looked forward to the time when the Lord would comfort Israel, and he had been assured, by the Holy Spirit, that he would not die before seeing the Messiah of the Lord. So he was led into the Temple by the Holy Spirit at the time the parents brought the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the Law.

Simeon took the Child in his arms, and blessed God, saying, “Now, o Lord, You can dismiss Your servant in peace, for You have fulfilled Your word and my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You display for all the people to see. Here is the Light You will reveal to the nations, and the glory of Your people Israel.”

His father and mother wondered at what was said about the Child. Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary, His mother, “Know this : your Son is a Sign, a Sign established for the falling and rising of many in Israel, a Sign of contradiction; and a sword will pierce your own soul, so that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed.”

Friday, 29 December 2017 : Fifth Day within Octave of Christmas, Memorial of St. Thomas Becket, Bishop and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 95 : 1-2a, 2b-3, 5b-6

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. Recall His glory among the nations, tell all the peoples His wonderful deeds.

YHVH is the One Who made the heavens. Splendour and majesty go before Him; power and glory fill His sanctuary.

Friday, 29 December 2017 : Fifth Day within Octave of Christmas, Memorial of St. Thomas Becket, Bishop and Martyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

1 John 2 : 3-11

How can we know that we know Him? If we fulfil His commands. If you say, “I know Him,” but do not fulfil His commands, you are a liar and the truth is not in you. But if you keep His word, God’s love is made complete in you. This is how we know that we are in Him : he who claims to live in Him must live as He lived.

My dear friends, I am not writing you a new commandment, but reminding you of an old one, one you had from the beginning. This old commandment is the word you have heard. But, in a way, I give it as a new commandment that is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and true light already shines.

If you claim to be in the light but hate your brother, you are still in darkness. If you love your brothers and sisters, you remain in the light and nothing in you will make you fall. But if you hate your brother you are in the dark and walk in darkness without knowing where you go, for the darkness has blinded you.

Thursday, 21 December 2017 : 3rd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Peter Canisius, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the Scripture passages which remind us that we are God’s beloved ones, as those whom He has created out of love, and He is willing to free us from our sufferings and tribulations, caused by our own lack of faith and disobedience against Him. God still loves us despite our stubborn rebellion against Him, and He wants us to be reconciled with Him.

And that was why the celebration of Christmas is truly about a new hope for all of us mankind, that despite our fallen state through sin, which ought to have merited condemnation and eternal suffering in hell, but God is willing to forgive us and embrace us back should we allow ourselves to be forgiven. And we do so through sincere and genuine repentance from our sinful ways, leaving behind our wicked past and walking from now on, on the path of righteousness.

Then, we should also reflect on the importance of Christmas to ourselves. The timing of Christmas itself is truly symbolic, as in most of the places where Christmas is celebrated, it happens in the midst of the winter season. In fact, tomorrow is the date of the winter solstice, the time of the year when the sun is at the lowest in the sky and when daytime is at its shortest. After that, the time of day is starting to lengthen again and the time of the dark night shortens.

In the past, during the time of the later Roman Empire, the date for the celebration of Christmas used to be a pagan festival worshipping the Unconquered Sun or Sol Invictus, a cult that gained popularity during the later years of the Roman Empire. It celebrated the triumph of the sun as in the past winter is always associated with darkness and cold weather. And the day when the sun starts to appear for longer again in the sky was thus celebrated.

But with the coming of Christianity and its triumph against the false pagan gods and idols, including that of the Sol Invictus cult, the celebration that was once celebrating the sun, gained a far greater and more important significance as the celebration of the birthday of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord and Saviour of all mankind. There is even a Biblical and traditional explanation as to why we celebrate His birth around this time of the year.

And what is this explanation? It is that the birth of Christ is also related to the birth of the Paschal lambs or the Passover lambs according to the Jewish tradition, which must be a young lamb less than a year old, and at that region, lambs usually give birth in the midst of winter, around the time of Christmas. And we all believe as Christians that Christ is our Paschal Lamb, the Lamb of God, Who willingly sacrificed Himself that through His death all of us who believe in Him may have life in us.

This is the how our historical Christmas celebrations came about, and why we celebrate it at this time. But even more important than all of that is the fact that Christmas is the celebration, not of the sun worship I mentioned earlier, and not of some secular event or mere merrymaking, but instead it is the birthday of the One through Whom God made His love for us evident.

Jesus Christ is the proof of God’s love, for as in the Gospel of St. John, He mentioned Himself that, God so loved the world, that He gave us His only Son, that all who believe in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. And yet, many of us are not aware of this great love which God has shown us, and which we should be grateful for. There is no one and nothing else that loves us as much as Our God does.

But mankind prefers to follow the ways of this world, by their merrymaking and festivities which exclude Christ from the celebrations. Our Christmas celebrations become a celebration of human and worldly vanity, greed, ambition and desire for pleasure and glory. We spend our Christmas trying to outdo one another in glamour and prestige of our gifts and revelries, trying to show off ourselves and achievements.

And all of these are fuelled further by worldly temptations and all the materialistic attitudes surrounding the secular celebrations of Christmas around us. We see all the branded goods and items, all the good shopping deals and discounts being paraded and shown all around in shopping malls and many markets, and many of us throng those places in order to get good bargain on good items.

Some of us are worrying on what kind of new clothes or accessories we should be getting this Christmas, while some others worry about how to decorate their houses and places in the best way possible to impress others who come to see our homes. And we also worry about we are to give and to receive in our Christmas gifts, and we are worried that we will be getting less than that of the previous years.

And where is Christ in all of these? He is nowhere to be found. He has often been overlooked and forgotten in our celebrations and revelries. He has been sidelined and replaced by other familiar figures like Santa Claus, the reindeers, the snowman and all of the other usual secular Christmas paraphernalia. This is what all of us as Christians should reflect on, as we progress towards Christmas. Have we done all these in how we celebrate this important event of our faith?

It is time that we rediscover our reason of celebrating Christmas, and there is no better way than putting Christ back at the centre of our Christmas joy and celebrations. It is because of Him that we have Christmas, and it is because of Him that we can rejoice in Christmas. He is the very reason of our joy, because we have once been deemed as lost and fallen from grace, without hope in the darkness. But through Christ, all of that have been changed through His light, with a new hope and way out from our predicament has been provided.

Perhaps we should follow in the footsteps of one of our great and holy predecessors, whose faith and devotion to the Lord can become an inspiration to each and every one of us that we may aspire to live our lives ever more faithfully. He is St. Peter Canisius, a member of the Society of Jesus or the Jesuits, a priest and later eventually made a Doctor of the Church for his great contributions to the Church and the faith.

St. Peter Canisius lived during a tumultuous and difficult time for the Church, being assailed from within and from outside by those who sought its destruction. At the time, the Ottoman Turks were threatening the entire Christendom and were invading into the domains of Christian rulers and conquering many parts of the Christian world, and then, religious unrest due to the rise of the Protestant heresies in many parts of northern and central Europe threatened to cause the destruction of Christendom.

That was why several people, gathered and inspired by St. Ignatius of Loyola, founded the new society of priests, named the Society of Jesus, to be at the forefront of the Counter Reformation effort, and many of them were also sent to the foreign lands as part of evangelisation to the new lands then recently discovered due to the rapid expansion in European discovery. St. Francis Xavier and Matteo Ricci were some of the famous ones among these missionaries.

Meanwhile, St. Peter Canisius worked hard among the areas affected by the false teachings and heresies, encouraging the people through words and actions, through his pious devotion and careful explanation of the true teachings of the faith as espoused by the Church. As a result, thousands and tens of thousands returned to the embrace of the Holy Mother Church and were reconciled with the Lord.

St. Peter Canisius was well known for his writing of the Catechisms of the Christian faith, which became a gold standard in catechism and teachings of the faith to many catechumens and other candidates who were willing to embrace the Christian faith. He was also remembered for his great devotion to Mary, the holy Mother of God, and his Mariology was among the best that has been compiled. For all these great contributions he had done, he was bestowed with the title of Doctor of the Church several centuries after his passing.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, witnessing the examples shown by St. Peter Canisius and his courageous and zealous compatriots in faith, the early pioneers of the Jesuit order, we should follow in their footsteps and commit ourselves to the Lord in the same manner. We should renew our focus and attention to the Lord, and one good way that we can do it at the moment, is as I have mentioned, by restoring Christ to the centre of our Christmas joy and celebrations.

Let us ask St. Peter Canisius to intercede for each and every one of us, that we may grow ever more faithful and devoted, day after day, drawing strength from our commitment to the Lord, and becoming ever closer to Him and walk always in His ways. May our Christmas celebrations be meaningful for us, and may we be thoroughly prepared to celebrate it with all of our hearts attuned to God, the reason for our joy this Christmas. May God bless us always. Amen.

Thursday, 21 December 2017 : 3rd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Peter Canisius, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 1 : 39-45

Mary then set out for a town in the hill country of Judah. She entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leapt in her womb.

Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and, giving a loud cry, said, “You are most blessed among women; and blessed is the Fruit of your womb! How is it, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? The moment your greeting sounded in my ears, the baby within me suddenly leapt for joy. Blessed are you, who believed that the Lord’s word would come true!”

Thursday, 21 December 2017 : 3rd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Peter Canisius, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 32 : 2-3, 11-12, 20-21

Give thanks to YHVH on the harp and lyre, making melody and chanting praises. Amid loud shouts of joy, sing to Him a new song and play the ten-stringed harp.

But His plan stands forever, and His heart’s design, through all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is YHVH – the people He has chosen for His inheritance.

In hope, we wait for YHVH, for He is our help and our shield. Our hearts rejoice in Him, for we trust on His holy Name.