Monday, 2 May 2022 : 3rd Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures, we are presented with the nature of our faith, this faith that we have in the Lord Jesus Christ, Our Saviour. Each and every one of us as Christians are called to proclaim the Lord and His truth through our lives and actions, in everything we say and do. We ought to do what the Apostles and all the holy men and women of God had done before us, in proclaiming the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the One from Whom the salvation of the world had come from.

In our first reading today, we heard of the story of the time when St. Stephen, one of the seven first deacons of the Church, was confronted by the opponents of the Church, those who refused to believe in God and His truth as revealed through the Lord Jesus and His Apostles. The Sanhedrin and all those who have arrested and oppressed the Apostles tried a lot of effort to suppress the rapidly spreading Christian teachings and faith. And in order to do that, they even chose to employ false witnesses and other methods to try to persecute the disciples of the Lord like St. Stephen.

Hence, St. Stephen encountered great difficulty in going against the plots of those who sought to destroy him, against the authorities with the power to persecute him and who turned the people against him. Yet, he remained firm in his faith and convictions, not fearing the repercussions and threats against himself, but instead, inflamed by the Holy Spirit, encouraged and strengthened, he preached about the Lord and Saviour, openly proclaiming Him before the people, revealing all that God had done to them through His Son, Whom they had recently persecuted and gave to the Romans to be crucified, died and then risen in glory for the salvation of all the people.

Those false witnesses employed against him tried to bring St. Stephen down, and they used increasingly desperate means to discredit him, and yet, the great wisdom and courage that St. Stephen had shown would overpower whatever wicked means and plots arrayed against him. The Lord was working through His servant, and now, many years after his martyrdom, we are still inspired by the great courage and dedication that St. Stephen had shown, in facing even persecution, suffering and death squarely in the face, never once flinching or giving in to his fears and doubts, because he trusted fully in the Lord and His providence.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard of the interactions between the Lord Jesus and the multitudes of people who had followed Him and tried to follow Him wherever He went. They followed the Lord and He pointed out that they followed Him because of their desires to be satisfied and fulfilled, by the amazing miracles that He performed, particularly that of the miraculous feeding of the five thousand men and many more. The Lord knew that in the hearts and minds of those people, there were still yet doubts and lacking in genuine faith, and hence, He wanted to convince and persuade them to truly believe in Him and His truth, and not just superficially showing their faith.

This reminds all of us of the very important mission that God has entrusted to us as Christians, that each and every one of us ought to proclaim the Lord, our God and Saviour, His love and compassionate mercy, His kindness and His truth to all the people, to everyone we encounter throughout life. We are all called to be the ministers of God, following in the footsteps of St. Stephen, the Apostles and the many other saints and martyrs, all those who have devoted their time and life, who have often suffered for the sake of the Lord, His Church and His people. We are all called to continue their efforts and works in our own ways.

Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Athanasius, the great and renowned Church father and Doctor of the Church, who was especially remembered for his dedication in defending the orthodox and true Christian faith and teachings against the dangerous influence and the falsehoods of the many heresies and false teachings that were running rampant during his time and ministry, threatening to destroy the unity and harmony within the Church, and also threatening to mislead countless souls down the path towards damnation. Against this, St. Athanasius persevered faithfully, committing his time and effort to go against those who proclaim those falsehoods, much like how St. Stephen himself had courageously proclaimed the Lord before those who persecuted him.

St. Athanasius was the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria whose tenure of work and ministry happened after the important Ecumenical Council of Nicaea. He led the Church in Alexandria and beyond against the heresy of Arius, the popular preacher who initiated the Arian heresy and controversy, who amassed a large following and support even amongst the bishops and the powerful rulers of the Roman Empire. However, that did not deter St. Athanasius from persevering in his efforts to bring the people of God and the Church out from the erroneous teachings of heretics like Arius among others, and even though he had to endure about seventeen years in various exiles from his See due to the opposition against him, he endured in his faith and struggle to the very end.

In what he would later be well known for, St. Athanasius was credited with the authorship or as the inspiration for the later codified Athanasian Creed, the expanded version of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed that emphasised heavily on the true nature of God, the relationship of the Members of the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, against the erroneous heretical teachings, particularly that of Arius and his Arian heresy and which is recited especially on this day, his feast day. St. Athanasius showed all of us, just as St. Stephen had done, what being true Christians is all about, to stand up for our faith and proclaim the truth of God, faithfully and courageously even amidst opposition and oppression.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we able to commit ourselves in the same way as St. Athanasius, St. Stephen and the many other holy servants of God had done? Are we able and willing to follow the Lord faithfully and wholeheartedly, and making use of the various talents, gifts and opportunities that He had provided for us, so that we may glorify the Lord by our lives, by our words, actions and deeds? Let us all reflect carefully on how we can be ever better and more committed disciples of His, from now on. May God be with us always, and may He strengthen us that we will remain faithful and true to our calling, and be courageous in proclaiming our faith in our respective lives, now and always. Amen.

Monday, 2 May 2022 : 3rd Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

John 6 : 22-29

At that time, the next day after Jesus fed the five thousand men, the people, who had stayed on the other side, realised that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with His disciples; but rather, the disciples had gone away alone.

Bigger boats from Tiberias came near the place where all these people had eaten the bread. When they saw that neither Jesus nor His disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found Him on the other side of the lake, they asked Him, “Master, when did You come here?”

Jesus answered, “Truly, I say to you, you look for Me, not because of the signs which you have seen, but because you ate bread and were satisfied. Work then, not for perishable food, but for the lasting food which gives eternal life. The Son of Man will give it to you, for He is the One on Whom the Father has put His mark.”

Then the Jews asked Him, “What shall we do? What are the works that God wants us to do?” And Jesus answered them, “The work God wants is this : that you believe in the One Whom God has sent.”

Monday, 2 May 2022 : 3rd Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 118 : 23-24, 26-27, 29-30

Although princes conspire against me, Your servant will observe Your decrees. Your laws are my delight, my counsellors who uphold me.

When I explained my ways, You responded; instruct me then in Your precepts. Explain to me all Your ordinances, and I will meditate on Your wondrous deeds.

Keep me away from deceitful paths; be gracious and teach me Your law. I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart upon Your laws.

Monday, 2 May 2022 : 3rd Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Acts 6 : 8-15

Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. Some persons then came forward, who belonged to the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia and Asia. They argued with Stephen but they could not match the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.

As they were unable to face the truth, they bribed some men to say, ‘We heard him speak against Moses and against God.’ So they stirred up the people, the elders and the teachers of the Law; they took him by surprise, seized him and brought him before the Council.

Then they produced false witnesses who said, “This man never stops speaking against our Holy Place and the Law. We even heard him say that Jesus the Nazarean will destroy our Holy Place and change the customs which Moses handed down to us.” And all who sat in the Council fixed their eyes on him, and his face appeared to them like the face of an Angel.

Saturday, 26 December 2020 : Feast of St. Stephen, Protomartyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Acts 6 : 8-10 and Acts 7 : 54-59

Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. Some persons then came forward, who belonged to the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia and Asia. They argued with Stephen but they could not match the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.

When the Council heard the reproach Stephen made against them, they were enraged and they gnashed their teeth against him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, fixed his eyes on heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus at God’s right hand, so he declared : “I see the heavens open and the Son of Man at the right hand of God.”

But they shouted and covered their ears with their hands and rushed together upon him. They brought him out of the city and stoned him, and the witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they were stoning him, Stephen prayed saying : “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

Saturday, 2 May 2020 : 3rd Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the words of the Scripture we are all reminded that to believe in God is not really as easy as we may think it is. It is often that believing in God require us to go against the norms and the conventions of this world. Our faith in Christ will require us to go beyond logic and merely worldly forms of understanding and knowledge, for this indeed requires us to have genuine faith to be able to believe in God.

In our first reading today, we heard about the works of St. Peter the Apostle, who went to the city of Lydda during his ministry and travel around in order to spread the Good News of the Lord. In that city, St. Peter performed a great miracle, in which he healed the sick man Aeneas, who had been paralysed and bedridden for over eight years without any hope, until the moment when through St. Peter, the Lord healed this man and made him whole again.

And then, St. Peter went to the town of Joppa and performed yet another great miracle, raising the faithful woman Tabitha from her death, just after she had passed on. Tabitha was restored to life by the grace and power of the Lord through His Apostle St. Peter, and witnessed by many people, who like at the healing of Aeneas in Lydda, all became believers and chose to be baptised as Christians. They believed because they truly saw how God had worked wonders in their midst.

All of these showed us just how the Lord has done things in ways that many would not have been able to comprehend using any of standard and conventional logic or intelligence of this world. Aeneas had been bedridden and paralysed for many years, something that even to this very day are still suffered by some people despite the great advancements in technology and science. None of these could completely heal the sick person in the way that Aeneas had been healed.

Similarly, the even more amazing resurrection of Tabitha defy any known logic and knowledge, as no human knowledge or ability were ever capable of overcoming death or even prolonging one’s life beyond what had been naturally determined by God. This, together with the resurrection of Lazarus and the dead daughter of a synagogue official by the Lord Jesus earlier in His ministry would serve as concrete proofs of how the Lord was truly the One sent by God to be the Saviour of the whole world.

Therefore, if we link these to what we have heard in our Gospel today, which from the sixth chapter of the Holy Gospel according to St. John on the conclusion of the discourse of the Bread of Life by Jesus to the people, then we will see how difficult it was indeed to be a follower of Christ. In fact, as we have heard, many of the followers of Jesus left Him behind after He spoke of Himself as the Bread of Life, with many of them refusing to believe Him and saying how can anyone believe in such hard truth and words?

That is the reality, brothers and sisters in Christ, that this faith in Christ, our Christian faith which we have is not something we should take for granted, as we may often find it difficult to remain faithful especially when we are confronted with arguments and realities that are opposite and in contrast to our faith. Yet, at the same time, it is entirely possible for us to continue to be faithful and to dedicate ourselves with all of our hearts for the Lord.

As the Lord Himself had shown us that no one can come to the Father except through Him, there were still some of those who trusted in Him and clung to Him, and these were probably considered as foolish and peculiar by others. Yet, in the end, all those who remained true to their faith in God were not disappointed, for the Lord was with them, guided them throughout their journey, and gave them all the promise of eternal glory for their commitment and faith in Him.

Today, we celebrate the feast of one saint who has been remembered as a great defender of the Christian faith, a champion of the true and orthodox faith of the Apostles and the Church fathers, himself a renowned Church father and elder, namely St. Athanasius, also known as a champion of Christian orthodoxy against various heresies, particularly against the Arian heresy that was then widespread and enjoyed support even among many bishops and the secular leaders.

St. Athanasius was the Bishop and Patriarch of Alexandria, and therefore was one of the most senior and influential leaders of the Church of his time. In response to the widespread Arian heresy both within his See and throughout the Church at the time, St. Athanasius led the efforts to counter the falsehoods of the Arians and tried his best to get rid of the heretical teachings both in his See and beyond. He was the rallying point and centre of the efforts to return to the true and orthodox Christian faith.

St. Athanasius had to endure a lot of trials and challenges for all of his efforts and his dedication to the truth of God, against all those who had chosen to believe in their own misguided and perverse version of the faith, which was how those heresies came to be in the first place. Those heretical teachings altered the truth of God and combined them with falsehoods and lies, which were perhaps more acceptable and palatable than the truth itself, but were wrong in essence and truth.

St. Athanasius had to go against both secular authorities and all those bishops, priests and lay supporters of the Arian heresy among others, and he spent many years in exile from his See of Alexandria, being exiled a total of five times no less. That was how St. Athanasius endured so much for being faithful and committed to the truth of God. St. Athanasius remained courageous and strong even despite all the oppositions against him and despite all the humiliations, attacks and other persecutions he had received.

In the end, St. Athanasius, his tireless efforts, his great personal piety and dedication to the Lord was instrumental as part of the greater effort by many others who also defended the true and unchanging Christian faith as upheld by the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea and the subsequent Ecumenical Councils. Arian heresy was eventually subdued, and the true faith triumphed at last. It did take many, many years before this victory was achieved.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all follow in the footsteps of St. Athanasius and be inspired by his faith and courage. Let us all stay firm in our dedication and commitment to the Lord, knowing that we may have to face opposition and challenges in our journey of faith, when our faith may be challenged by the temptations and the falsehoods that lie in this world and all around us, much as St. Athanasius himself had once experienced. Let us not be disheartened, for be assured that God Himself will be with us, and He will guide us through all these.

May the Lord be our help and may He strengthen us all to live our lives ever more faithfully from now on. May God be with us all and may He empowers us all to be courageous in being true Christians from now on. May God bless us all and our many good endeavours from now on for the greater glory of God. St. Athanasius, holy defender of faith and blessed servant of God, pray for us all. Amen.

Saturday, 2 May 2020 : 3rd Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

John 6 : 60-69

At that time, after the Jews heard Jesus, many of His followers said, “This language is very hard! Who can accept it?”

Jesus was aware that His disciples were murmuring about this, and so He said to them, “Does this offend you? Then how will you react when you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit that gives life, not the flesh. The words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and they are life. But among you there are some who do not believe.”

From the beginning, Jesus knew who would betray Him. So He added, “As I have told you, no one can come to Me unless it is granted by the Father.” After this many disciples withdrew and no longer followed Him. Jesus asked the Twelve, “Will you also go away?

Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We now believe and know that You are the Holy One of God.”

Saturday, 2 May 2020 : 3rd Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 115 : 12-13, 14-15, 16-17

How can I repay the Lord for all His goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the Name of the Lord.

I will fulfil my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people. It is painful to the Lord to see the death of His faithful.

O Lord, I am Your servant, truly Your servant, Your handmaid’s son. You have freed me from my bonds. I will offer You a thanksgiving sacrifice; I will call on the Name of the Lord.

Saturday, 2 May 2020 : 3rd Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Acts 9 : 31-42

Meanwhile, the Church had peace. It was building up throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria with eyes turned to the Lord and filled with comfort from the Holy Spirit.

As Peter travelled around, he went to visit the saints who lived in Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas who was paralysed, and had been bedridden for eight years. Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed!”

And the man got up at once. All the people living in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord. There was a disciple in Joppa named Tabitha, which means Dorcas or Gazelle. She was always doing good works and helping the poor. At that time she fell sick and died. After having washed her body, they laid her in the upstairs room.

As Lydda is near Joppa, the disciples, on hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter went with them. On his arrival they took him upstairs to the room. All the widows crowded around him in tears, showing him the clothes that Dorcas had made while she was with them.

Peter made them them all leave the room and then he knelt down and prayed. Turning to the dead body he said, “Tabitha, stand up.” She opened her eyes, looked at Peter and sat up. Peter gave her his hand and helped her up. Then he called in the saints and widows and presented her to them alive.

This became known throughout all of Joppa and many people believed in the Lord because of it.

Thursday, 26 December 2019 : Feast of St. Stephen, Protomartyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Acts 6 : 8-10 and Acts 7 : 54-59

Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. Some persons then came forward, who belonged to the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia and Asia. They argued with Stephen but they could not match the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.

When the Council heard the reproach Stephen made against them, they were enraged and they gnashed their teeth against him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, fixed his eyes on heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus at God’s right hand, so he declared : “I see the heavens open and the Son of Man at the right hand of God.”

But they shouted and covered their ears with their hands and rushed together upon him. They brought him out of the city and stoned him, and the witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they were stoning him, Stephen prayed saying : “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”