Sunday, 31 May 2020 : Solemnity of Pentecost Sunday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday we celebrate the great Solemnity of the Pentecost or Pentecost Sunday, which from its name marks the fiftieth day after the occasion of the Passover in the original Jewish tradition, and later on, gain the much more important meaning as the fiftieth day after the Resurrection of the Lord and the day when the Holy Spirit of God descended on the disciples of Christ as has been promised to them. On this day we recall that moment when the Holy Spirit descended and began the sequence of events that has impacted the world so much through the Church.

Why is that so? That is because on this day we mark the very beginning of the Church that we know of, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. It is One because through the Lord, He has established His one and only Church in this world on the Apostles’ as the pillars of the foundation of the Church, and the foundation was on St. Peter, the ‘Rock’ as the Lord Himself said that, ‘You are Peter, and on this ‘Rock’ I will build My Church’, and the Church is Holy, because the Holy Spirit itself has sanctified the Church and the Church has divine origins.

And the Church is Catholic because it is Universal, embracing all peoples and all the children of God, uniting through itself all the scattered people of God, who have been scattered because of their sins and disobedience against God. The Church teachings are also Universal, embracing all peoples without exception, and lastly, it is Apostolic, because through the Holy Spirit, the Church has become missionary and is reaching out to the world, to bring forth the truth of God and to make disciples of all peoples of all the nations.

On that day, on the very first Pentecost, as the Holy Spirit come down descending on the Apostles, the Church was born and became tangible, as the Apostles, inflamed and encouraged by the strength, courage and wisdom of the Holy Spirit went out from their hiding place and went before the whole people gathered in Jerusalem for the Festival of the Pentecost, and preached before them the truth about God and His salvation through Jesus, the Saviour of all the whole world.

That is why we refer to the Pentecost as the birthday of the Church because looking back in time through the history of the Church we can find the pivotal moment of the first Pentecost when the Apostles began their evangelising mission and works in earnest, casting aside their fears and doubts, and began working among the people, gaining their trust and baptising the very first converts, more than three thousand people on that Pentecost day alone, which marked the beginning of the Church and the first Christian community.

Through the Pentecost, by the power of the Holy Spirit, many people found a new life and existence in God, and they received a new life, no longer of darkness and sin. They received the Holy Spirit from the hands of the Apostles, who themselves had received the same Spirit from the Lord. By the gift and reception of the Holy Spirit, they have embraced God’s love in its fullness, and began to bear the wonderful fruits of the Holy Spirit, inspiring one another to live righteously at all times.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, through our own baptism we have also received the same Holy Spirit, passed down to us from the successors of the Apostles through the ages, namely the many bishops and priests who have faithfully served the Church. And those among us who have also received the Sacrament of Confirmation have been deemed worthy and mature enough in the faith, that we have the fullness of the gifts and the wonders of the Holy Spirit, and therefore are called to follow in the footsteps of the Apostles and the missionaries of the Lord.

What does this mean, brothers and sisters in Christ? It means that all of us must be active in living up to our faith as dedicated Christians, as the members of this one Church of God that was founded on Pentecost. We must bear rich fruits of the Holy Spirit, bountiful produce of what we have been given, all the gifts and wonders, the wisdom and knowledge that the Holy Spirit had granted us. But too often we have ignored these gifts, and we are often too busy and preoccupied with various worldly matters and concerns that we failed to bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, today let us all go through all the fruits of the Holy Spirit, of which there are nine of them, nine being the number that is both holy and associated with perfection, completeness and the goodness of God. These seven fruits of the Holy Spirit are, according to St. Paul, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. All these are the signs and concrete markers of how our Christian communities live in the way of the Lord. If we bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit, then it means that we have been good and faithful.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we go through the fruits of the Holy Spirit together, let us all begin with the most important of all of them, that is love. For love is the most important of the fruits of the Holy Spirit just as it is also the most important of all the Christian virtues. Without love, St. Paul said, all the good things, talents and deeds we have mean nothing, as with all of our abilities and talents, with all the great things we can and have accomplished, without love, it means nothing.

How do we then practice love so as to bear this fruit of the Holy Spirit richly? It is by putting our brothers and sisters always foremost in our minds, caring for them, thinking about them and be compassionate towards them. There are many people out there who have not experienced real love, and many in our world today are too distracted by various worldly concerns and their selfishness that they ended up hurting each other and causing suffering to one another. Let our actions then bear the love of God to our fellow men, by showing genuine care and concern, and the desire to see others happy and joyful, glad and be filled with God’s grace.

Now, then, let us all go to the second fruit of the Holy Spirit, that is joy. Joy is something that all of us Christians must have with us, as we are truly the children of God, and first of all, God has shown us the path to eternal life, joy and happiness through Him, and He has reassured us again and again that all these will be ours if we are faithful to Him. Yet, many of us have not felt this real joy or are even stressed and saddened, because once again, we have been too distracted by the false pleasures and joys of the world.

Too many of us are looking for satisfaction of the world, to gain more money and properties, wealth and income, to gain more fame and recognition among the many other things we mankind commonly desire for. We live in a world filled with materialistic lifestyle and the pressure to follow this way of life are all around us. How can we then, as Christians, live our lives so as to bear the joyful fruit of the Holy Spirit?

Again, it is by putting God at the very centre of our existence, that everything we do, we do for His sake, knowing that in Him, we have everything we need, and true joy is ours to have. And particularly, these days, when the whole world and so many people are sorrowful and even despairing, having lost their loved ones or are suffering from the effects of the pandemic, we can share our joy with them, consoling them and being with them in their time of great need.

Then, we go now into the third fruit of the Holy Spirit, that is peace. Peace is something that all of us mankind are always looking out for, wanting to have either a peace of mind, peace in our lives and in our families, peace with our friends and everyone else, and peace with those who hated us and persecuted us. Yet, peace is often elusive and illusory, because again, we are often too preoccupied with our desires, our conflicting aims, goals and targets, that we end up being in conflict with each other all the time.

We rarely find peace because we often always have aspirations, desires, wants, and all these often overlap and we find conflict and divisions among us all because of these. We disagree and are angry against each other because we cannot let go of all these temptations and the pull of our desires and ego. How do we then as Christians bear the rich fruits of peace of the Holy Spirit? How do we practice peace and attain peace in our daily living?

It is by first having peace with ourselves, as we often are too proud to admit our weakness and vulnerability, and we are often too engrossed with all the tempting offers of the world that we forget what we live our lives in this world for. It is to glorify God by our lives and to help one another in our journey towards Him, and not to bring each other down by jealousy and pride. As Christians, whenever we see others in conflict, we should be peacemakers and not agitators, be open to dialogue and be good listeners, and that too, will eventually help us to find true peace in God.

The fourth fruit of the Holy Spirit is patience, something that many of us often lack, and this is in itself related to peace and joy, the earlier fruits we have just discussed. We are not patient because we have that urge and desire in us to get things done the way we wanted it, and if things are not going according to what we like or desire, then we become angry and impulsive in our actions. And unfortunately, we live in a world where instant gratification is something that is ever-present all around us.

Without patience, it is likely that we will have neither peace or joy as well. Our lives will be miserable as every day will just pass by us as we worry and are concerned over trivial matters of life, all sorts of desires and temptations around us. How do we then, as Christians, live our lives so as to bear the fruit of the patience of the Holy Spirit? We should temper our desires and impatience with prayer, and with deeper relationship with God, to see that all the pursuits of worldly glory and power are in the end, futile and meaningless. Instead, let us be thankful for what God has blessed us with, and thank Him and enjoy every single moment we have in our lives.

The fifth and sixth fruits of the Holy Spirit are kindness and goodness respectively, and both of them are related because to be kind to others is to show our good intentions and to act in the good and benefit of our fellow brethren. We may think that it is easy to be kind and good, but reality has often shown us otherwise. We must realise that kindness and goodness must come from within us, from our hearts sincerely to others, and not just a mere facade or act.

To be filled with kindness and goodness require us to have an altruistic heart modelled after the Lord’s own loving Heart, in His love and compassionate care for each and every one of us. If we love just as how the Lord Himself had genuinely and sincerely loved each and every one of us, naturally we will show kindness in our actions towards our fellow brothers and sisters, and we will be filled with goodness at every step we take in our lives, in our every words, actions and deeds.

The seventh fruit of the Holy Spirit is faithfulness, which actually means for us to have genuine faith and trust in God, to keep God at the centre of our lives as I have mentioned earlier on. It is not easy for us to have this genuine faith, for when things go bad for us, and we encounter difficult times, challenges and persecutions, who is it that we are going to turn to first? Is it God that is the anchor and foundation of our lives? Our predecessors were able to persevere through the harsh persecutions against them because of this faithfulness they had in God.

The eighth of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is gentleness, to be gentle in heart and in our actions. Gentleness itself is related to love and kindness, as well as peace and joy among others. If we are filled with love and kindness, and if we are at peace with God, with ourselves and with our fellow brothers and sisters, having true joy in us, then naturally we will be acting with gentleness as well. Let us all not be filled with harshness, anger or hatred towards one another.

And this is where self-control, the ninth and last of the fruits of the Holy Spirit come in, as without self-control, it is easy for us to wander off and end up getting lost and swayed by the demands of the world, the temptations of our desires and various other things that will lead us to sin and darkness. As Christians, endowed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we must temper our desires and discipline ourselves, or otherwise, it is very easy for us to end up being controlled by those desires.

God has given us His wisdom, and He has also showed us the way going forward, guiding us through His Holy Spirit. As such, if we find it difficult to persevere and control ourselves through the temptations and challenges, then once again, I want to highlight the importance for us to be connected and attuned with God, and in order to do this, we must have that strong and good relationship with Him, and that is why as Christians, we must be active in living up our faith, and we cannot be lukewarm in our faith life.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we have just heard and discussed the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit. Now, what are we going to do then? Are we going to ignore the Lord’s call to follow Him and walk in His path? Or do we want to follow the examples of our courageous predecessors, the Holy Apostles, the innumerable saints and martyrs, whose lives have become great sources of inspirations for how we ourselves should live our lives? Let us all spend some time to carefully discern what path we are to take going forward in our lives.

Let us all realise that as the members of God’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church through baptism, and our adoption as God’s own beloved sons and daughters, each and every one of us share in the same ministry and calling, the mission entrusted by the Lord to His Apostles and disciples, to go forth to the nations and proclaim His Good News, calling on all to be reconciled with God and to be baptised in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And we can do this best by making use of the gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit, our many talents, abilities and the various opportunities we encounter.

May the Lord Jesus Christ, our Lord, God and Saviour bless each and every one of us, and may He continue to strengthen us through the Holy Spirit He has bestowed on each one of us. Come, o Holy Spirit, and fill the hearts of Your faithful ones, that we may be strong, courageous and be filled with the deep love for God and for our fellow brethren, that we may bear very rich and bountiful fruits of the Holy Spirit by our lives, the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Amen.

Saturday, 30 May 2020 : Vigil Mass of the Solemnity of Pentecost Sunday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this night we celebrate the Vigil of the Solemnity of Pentecost Sunday, as we are about to celebrate the great Feast of the Pentecost which marked the conclusion of the fifty days of Easter. On this night we begin the celebration of this great Solemnity, which had been celebrated since the ancient days by the Israelites and their descendants as the celebration of the fifty days after the Passover. But what happened then transformed the meaning of this celebration into a new beginning for the Church and all Christians.

For on this day, we commemorate the descent and coming of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of the Lord, just as He had promised them all on several occasions before He was crucified and after He had risen from the dead. The Holy Spirit came upon the disciples who were then afraid and fearful, locking themselves in their place in fear of the Jewish authorities. And the coming of the Holy Spirit marked a new beginning for all of them because as I said earlier, this day truly marked the birth of the Church.

That is because on this day, the Church was no longer just a concept but had become a reality with what the Apostles, inflamed by the courage and wisdom of the Holy Spirit did on that day. They went out of their hiding place and courageously went before the large crowds gathered from many places for the Festival of the Pentecost, proclaiming the Good News and the truth of God to all of them. Many people believed in the Apostles and followed them, and over three thousand people gave themselves to be baptised, forming the very first community of Christians and bringing about the first tangible existence of the Church of God.

In our first reading today, in the reading from the Book of Genesis, we heard of the story of the Tower of Babel. Many of us are surely familiar with this story of how our first ancestors began to build an ambitious project to build a tower that reached to the heavens, aspiring to aim to be greater than God. In their pride and arrogance, they have overstepped their bounds, and as a result, God scattered all of them and confused their languages, spreading them to the many nations, a division caused by the sins of mankind and their pride.

Then from another alternative reading for our first reading today, taken from the Book of the prophet Ezekiel, we heard of the moment when the prophet saw a vision of a valley filled with enormous quantities of dried bones of the dead, symbolic of the dead Israelites and the people of God who had perished because of their sins and disobedience against God. And God spoke to the prophet Ezekiel, asking him to command those bones to be restored to life.

And then we heard how the bones began to come together again and be restored in the flesh and appearance of men, but they were not yet alive, as there were no Spirit in them. And God asked the prophet again to speak on His behalf, commanding them to return to life through the Spirit. The Holy Spirit of God Himself descended on the bodies of the people, and as a result what was once a great valley filled with dried bones and death, became a great valley filled with enormous numbers of the living.

All of these are great symbolisms to remind each and every one of us, that God truly has played a great role in our lives and He has given us such a great gift in the Holy Spirit Whom He had sent down to us to be our Helper, our Advocate and our Guide. As we all know that on the first Pentecost, fifty days after the Resurrection of the Lord, the Apostles received the Holy Spirit that strengthened them and gave them wisdom and the ability to speak in many languages to the people gathered in Jerusalem, making them all to hear the truth of God in their own languages.

As we can see here, while disobedience and sin led to the divisions and the conflicts and diversity in languages and thoughts as the Tower of Babel incident told us, the Holy Spirit came down unto us to restore our unity, to redeem us from our divisions and heal our fractured and divided existences. The Holy Spirit has come unto us bearing God’s love and truth, gathering all of the scattered people of God back together again, and as we remember what happened at Pentecost, all those people who were baptised that day marked a new beginning, a new Church through which all of God’s people are reunited again with God.

Therefore, those whom the Lord had gathered through His Holy Spirit and by the works of His Apostles have been called into a new life and to receive a new life through the Holy Spirit, much like the vision of the prophet Ezekiel, in which the prophet saw the vast numbers of dry bones transformed into the living people of God, and the Church welcoming all the people into a new life in God through baptism and the descent of the Holy Spirit is the fulfilment of what God had shown the prophet Ezekiel.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, do we all realise just how significant Pentecost Sunday is for us all in our faith? It is indeed the birthday of the Church, the moment marking that very important time and event when the Church and the Apostles no longer looked inward but outwards, going forth and fulfilling the Great Commission which the Lord Jesus had given to them before He ascended into Heaven, and that is to go forth to the nations and to all the peoples, calling on all to be baptised in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

All of us have shared in this same common baptism, through which all of us have become God’s beloved children and as members of His Church. And now, having received the Holy Spirit of God through our baptism and also strengthened for those of us who have received the Sacrament of Confirmation, the same Holy Spirit we have received as the Apostles and the disciples of the Lord had received on the very first Pentecost. Therefore we all share their mission and are called to the same calling to be witnesses of the Lord in this world.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what is it then that we need to do? We are all called to make good use of the gifts that the Lord had given to us and be courageous in proclaiming His Good News and truth in our respective communities and to all those whom we encounter in life. And often we do not even need to say or preach out anything. Rather, it is by our authentic and genuine lives lived in good Christian faith that others will come to see the truth of God. And that is what true Christian discipleship is all about, to live our lives faithfully and to follow the Lord with all of our hearts.

Are we able to do this, brothers and sisters in Christ? Let us all touch the lives of many other people and bear rich fruits of the Holy Spirit, the fruits of goodness and love, the fruits of joy and peace, the fruits of patience, kindness and faithfulness. And by our own genuine faith and good Christian life, is how we truly bear forth the fullness of God’s gift of the Holy Spirit, and make a difference in our world today. That is our Christian calling and what we need to embrace from now on if we have not done so yet.

May the Lord continue to strengthen us through His Holy Spirit, and may this Pentecost Sunday be truly a meaningful and great celebration to all of us, that we all may realise how as Christians, each and every one of us have important roles to play, in bringing the love of God to all men, and to restore the unity and to reconcile all to the Lord, to bring back to God all the scattered flock of His in this world, His beloved ones. May God help us and strengthen us, now and always. Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful with Your Wisdom and Love. Amen!

Saturday, 30 May 2020 : 7th Week of Easter (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 heard of the end of St. Paul’s long missionary journey as he settled in Rome, at the end of his fourth missionary journey across the Mediterranean. He had gone there to appeal to the Roman Emperor for the accusations brought up against him before the governor of Judea by the Jewish Sanhedrin or the High Council. God has called on him to be the bearers of the Good News of God to the people in Rome.

We heard of how St. Paul arrived in Rome after quite a tumultuous journey, if we had read the parts preceding his arrival in Rome. He was quite warmly welcomed by the Jewish community there and also from the growing Christian community in the capital. St. Paul stayed on for two years in Rome in a house which would eventually be the site of the great Roman Church of the Papal Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls, built exactly on the site were St. Paul used to stay in Rome.

In our Gospel today we then heard something seemingly unrelated as we heard of the moment when in the Last Supper, the disciples were talking with one another and with the Lord. They were all wondering who was to betray the Lord as in that occasion, the Lord Himself had said that one of them was to betray Him to His enemies. Although it was indeed Judas Iscariot who would betray the Lord, but it was completely unknown to the disciples then, and they were all wondering among themselves who this traitor could have been.

Then St. Peter asked about the disciple whom the Lord Jesus loved, in this case His seemingly favourite disciple, namely St. John the Apostle. In truth, the reason why St. Peter and the other disciples wondered about this was because at that time, they were all still thinking in human and worldly terms, and undeniably, they were jealous of the relations between St. John and the Lord Jesus, and it did not help that if we recall, in one occasion, the mother of St. John and his brother St. James asked the Lord specifically to grant her sons positions of honour and favour.

What is the connection between these two readings, brothers and sisters in Christ? It is the fact that all of those who followed the Lord had been given specific tasks and were called to a diversity of purpose and ministries. And it is often that we do not realise this calling and the purpose to which we have been called by God. As the Lord Himself said to the disciples when they wondered why He said that the favoured disciple, St. John would not die before the Lord came again, all were in fact to fulfil what God would do through each and every one of His disciples.

There are many possible interpretations of these words of the Lord, but the most common one is that because St. John was entrusted with the great revelation which he received while he was exiled to the Island of Patmos in his old age, the Lord was speaking figuratively, as He showed St. John everything that was to happen and will happen in the future, as the world is to come to an end, all the persecutions of the followers of Christ and eventually, with the coming of the glory of the Lord and the New Jerusalem. Indeed, St. John did not die before he saw the vision of the glorious Second Coming of the Lord.

If we look carefully at what had transpired here, we can see that there are often too many things that we do not understand, and we have to learn to trust in God, and follow and obey Him in everything that He has told us to do. Are we able to follow Him wholeheartedly and commit ourselves to Him in faith, brothers and sisters in Christ? That was what St. Paul had done, entrusting himself to the Lord and followed Him wherever He had led him to go, and it was by God’s will that he ended up in Rome.

If we think in worldly terms, it might have been stupid for St. Paul to go to Rome, as after all, he could have hid himself and avoid having to go through suffering as he endured from the Jewish elders in Jerusalem, the ordeals of his travel to Rome, having his ship battered by a great storm that sank the ship and almost killed him, and eventually to face his martyrdom in Rome. But St. Paul humbly obeyed and did whatever the Lord had told him to do, and in the process, he had helped the cause of the Lord further, strengthening the Christian community in Rome by his presence and work there.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we are about the celebrate the Solemnity of the Pentecost Sunday tomorrow and therefore come to the end of the glorious season of Easter, we are now reminded through these Scripture passages that each and every one of us as the followers of the Lord and His faithful people have also been called to the various vocations and callings in life. God has entrusted us with many talents, abilities and opportunities to be His good, courageous and faithful witnesses in our various communities.

But are we willing, ready and able to give our lives and commit them to His greater glory in His service? Are we able to glorify God by our daily living and our actions? We must realise that Easter does not end with the Pentecost and then we go on with our usual lives. Rather, the Solemnity of the Pentecost tomorrow is a reminder that each and every one of us are the Easter people, living with hope and strength through the Lord’s glorious Resurrection, by which He has shown us the path to eternal life.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all be willing witnesses of the Lord and let our every words, actions and deeds bear the truth of God to all peoples, so that everyone who hears us, listens to us, and witness our actions and lives may also come to believe in the Lord, our God and Saviour. May God be with us always, and may He guide us in our lives and help us to be ever more faithful to Him. Amen.

Friday, 29 May 2020 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of Pope St. Paul VI, Pope (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard from the Sacred Scriptures the moment when St. Paul was about to embark to Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire after he appealed to the Emperor against judgements and charges set up against him by the Jewish authorities. We heard the conversation between king Agrippa, one of the rulers of the Jewish lands and Festus, the procurator or governor of Judea regarding the matter.

In that occasion, king Agrippa went through with Festus the background of the conflict between St. Paul and the Jewish Council, while as we heard in today’s portion, Festus recalled his frustration as the Jewish leaders wanted St. Paul to be condemned to death, although to the Roman governor, St. Paul did not do anything wrong at all, and less still, deserve anything that resemble a punishment, for it was considered religious disagreements and bickering among the Jews.

But the Jewish leaders insisted, and when Festus was caught in quandary, St. Paul as a Roman citizen, a very great privilege and position at that time, made use of his privilege to be tried in Rome before the Emperor and let the Emperor to be his judge. This was to be St. Paul’s last missionary journey, as God had called him, to be the bearers of the Good News to the people in Rome, and it was in Rome that both St. Paul and St. Peter, who had been in Rome earlier as the first Bishop of Rome and Pope, would be martyred.

In what we have heard today on the case and trial of St. Paul, we may feel a great sense of familiarity, as we surely can relate what had happened to St. Paul with what the Lord Jesus Himself had faced, as He stood before the Sanhedrin, being accused of the faults and crimes He did not commit, and given false accusations and testimonies by false witnesses. Like his Lord and Master, St. Paul faced the same trial and challenge, and eventually, he too would follow Him into his own death for the sake of glorifying Him.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard the Lord calling His Apostle St. Peter by the lake of Galilee, after the moment when He appeared to His disciples shortly after His Resurrection as promised. The disciples were out fishing in the lake and gained nothing, and when the Lord told them to follow His instructions, immediately they gained so many fishes, and they recognised the Lord. Then, the Lord spoke to St. Peter as we heard in our Gospel today, commending to him the care and guardianship over His Church and His flock.

Earlier on, before His suffering, crucifixion and death, the Lord had entrusted to St. Peter the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, and said to him how he would be the ‘Rock’ on which He would establish His Church. And then, with His threefold questions to St. Peter, it was symbolic of not just that the Lord had forgiven him for his threefold denial at the moment of His arrest and suffering, but also that, the Lord reaffirmed His entrustment of His Church and His flock at the hands of St. Peter, the first Pope and leader of the entire Universal Church.

St. Peter was also called to a great ministry that he would fulfil faithfully over many years and decades, which ended in the city of Rome like St. Paul. St. Peter also established the important Church in Antioch, becoming its first Bishop, before heading to Rome and establishing the Church there as its first Bishop as well. In the end, as the Lord Himself had told him, in St. Peter’s old age and end of ministry, he would be chained and arrested, and eventually martyred under the Roman Emperor Nero during one of the brutal early Christian persecutions.

Today then we also celebrate the feast of one of his successors as the Pope and Supreme Pontiff, as Bishop of Rome and leader of the entire Universal Church, Pope St. Paul VI, born Giovanni Batista Montini, formerly Metropolitan Archbishop of Milan. He was renowned as a holy man and dedicated servant of God who was committed to the care of the flock entrusted under his care, from the early days of his priesthood ministry, to his days as the Archbishop of Milan, and finally in his fifteen years Pontificate.

Pope St. Paul VI also encountered tremendous challenges from outside and from within the Church. He was tasked with bringing the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council began by his predecessor, Pope St. John XXIII into a successful conclusion. Often he had to tread the middle ground between those who advocated strict adherence to the ancient customs and ways, from the extremists who sought to disband and dismantle much of the Church teachings and tenets.

Pope St. Paul VI was also instrumental in continuing the efforts of his predecessors in restoring Church unity that culminated with the Common Declaration with the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople, leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church in annulling the common declarations of anathema and excommunication that happened between the Churches East and West over nine centuries earlier in the Great Schism of the year 1054. Both leaders faced criticism and opposition for these works.

Pope St. Paul VI was also known for his great encyclicals, most well-remembered one is the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, on the sanctity of all human life, opposing all those, both within and outside the Church who tried to impose and influence the Church and the faithful to adopt contraception and artificial reproductive methods like birth control that are against Church teachings and violating human rights and the sanctity of life. Pope St. Paul VI again faced bitter opposition and ridicule from not just many in the world, but even from among his own flock.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, from what we have heard in today’s readings, as well from the lives of the saints, we can clearly see that to follow God will often require us to give our all and often we have to endure suffering and challenges as well along the way. If we want to commit ourselves to the Lord, then we should not be half-hearted or be lukewarm about it. Instead, following the examples of our holy predecessors, we should be willing to dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly from now on.

May God be with us always throughout this journey, and may He help us in our way, that we may remain firm and faithful, filled with conviction and dedication to serve God with all of our hearts despite the challenges and trials we may face along our journey. May God bless us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

Thursday, 28 May 2020 : 7th Week of Easter (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we are all presented with the occasion when St. Paul stood alone in Jerusalem facing the entire Sanhedrin or the Jewish High Council, whose members wanted him destroyed and eliminated, much as how they had once also acted against his Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, a few decades earlier, when they condemned Him to death and handed Him over to the Romans to be crucified.

St. Paul went to Jerusalem willingly even though he knew fully that he would be persecuted by the Sanhedrin, many of whose members had been strongly against the Christian faith and also St. Paul’s efforts in converting both the Jews and the Gentiles alike in many places he had visited during his missionary journeys. St. Paul knew that he was heading to his suffering and death, but he accepted the role he was entrusted with by God, and entrusted himself to God completely.

And as he stood before the Sanhedrin, St. Paul exposed the ugly truth of their unjustified attempt to judge and condemn him. Much like that of the arrest and trial of the Lord Jesus, the Sanhedrin was bitterly divided, as many of its members could not agree with each other, and many of them could not reconcile their differing opinions and views, which resulted in them not being able to come up with a reliable and valid accusation, against either the Lord or St. Paul, and in the end, only through the High Priest’s manipulations that the Sanhedrin ended up condemning the Lord to death.

At the occasion of St. Paul’s trial, as immediately as St. Paul mentioned that he was a member of the Pharisees, great debate and conflict broke out among the members of the Sanhedrin. Those who belonged to the Sadducees group immediately rose in anger and became angry against the Pharisees in the Sanhedrin. The whole trial became chaotic and instead of focusing on St. Paul, they threw themselves at each other, showing that everything was just about matters of personal desire and ambition for them.

At that time, both the Sadducees and the Pharisees were two of the most dominant groups within the Jewish community, with the Sadducees representing the secular elite, the nobility and all those who favoured assimilation with the Hellenistic and Roman cultures and way of life. They did not believe in the Resurrection and other spiritual matters, in Angels and in the afterlife among others. On the other extreme, we have the Pharisees who were those zealously protecting the Jewish customs and traditions, representing the religious and intellectual elites.

Each of these groups had their own motivations and aims, their own conflicting desires, most of which revolved around influence, power, authority in the land of Judea and Jerusalem. They were fighting for influence and control over the people and the community, and when St. Paul highlighted this fact that he was a Pharisee, immediately the Sadducees became angry against the Pharisees, venting out their suppressed anger and hatred, while the Pharisees then used the opportunity to slam the Sadducees for their lack of faith in matters like Resurrection among other things.

In our Gospel today, we heard the Lord Jesus as He continued His prayer to His heavenly Father as we have also heard for the past few days’ Gospel passages. In today’s segment, we heard the Lord speaking to His Father about the unity of His people, His prayer that they all may be One, just as He and the Father are all united in the perfect unity of love in the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. And through this, God wants us all to know that as Christians, all of us are called to share in this unity in God and through God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, in our Church today, we have also people with differing opinions, groups and factions, both within the larger Church as well as in our own local Christian communities, parishes and societies. We have people being conflicted against each other, holding grudges and also involved in gossip and plotting. All of these things are exactly what the Pharisees and Sadducees had done, and what people who have not had faith in God were doing. If we truly call ourselves as Christians, then we all must realise that we cannot continue with this way of living our faith.

Instead, we should seek and strive our best for unity among each and every one of us. As Christians all of us must model ourselves on the Unity and Oneness present in God, for if we are all truly His people, His beloved children and loved ones, then we have to model ourselves, our relationships and interactions with God as our focus and role model at all times. Are we able to dedicate ourselves and seek to achieve this, brothers and sisters in Christ?

Let us therefore foster harmony and unity through our everyday life and actions, our interactions with one another that we may indeed a united people by our faith in the Lord. Let us all follow the Lord and unite our purpose from now on, to serve and glorify Him at all times by our lives, our actions and deeds. May the Lord bring us all to true unity and help us all that we may grow well in faith, at all times. May God bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Wednesday, 27 May 2020 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Augustine of Canterbury, Bishop (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 heard the continuation of this week’s discourse on the prayers of St. Paul and the Lord Jesus, as we heard more of what the Apostle prayed and said in the presence the elders and the community of the faithful in Ephesus just before he was about to embark on his last journey to Jerusalem, which eventually would lead to his journey to Rome and martyrdom there. Similarly, in our Gospel we heard the prayer made by the Lord Jesus just before His suffering and Passion.

In our first reading today we heard St. Paul exhorting the elders and the leaders of the Church in Ephesus to be faithful in their calling and ministry, especially as leaders and shepherds of the flock of the faithful people of God. He reminded all of them to be vigilant and to be strong in their faith that they will not end up in the wrong path, or swayed by false teachings, as he predicted very accurately how false teachers and shepherd would come from among them to mislead the faithful.

What St. Paul said at that time was indeed prophetic, as very soon before long, divisions and disagreements would come to divide the Church and caused many to fall into the falsehoods of heresies and wrong teachings. Ephesus, along with many other centres of the early Christian Church in the Eastern Mediterranean would become places from which various heresies and erroneous teachers and teachings propagate, and many people fell into the temptations of these falsehoods.

Take for example, Arianism, one of the most dangerous of the early Christian heresies, as well as Gnosticism in the early centuries, the threat of Monophysitism, among with other much less well-known heresies and aberrant teachings, many of which came from priests and even bishops and elders of the Church who had a different idea and way of thinking from the truth of the Church, and propagated it among their followers, many of whom followed into heresy and caused bitter divisions in the Church.

Many of these heretics and false leaders misled the people because of their pride, their arrogance and personal ambition, their inner desires to gain more of worldly glory and acceptance, which unfortunately led to them having craved even more glory and fame, and hardened their hearts and refusing to listen to reason or truth, and therefore, persisted in their heresy and rebellion against the true faith and against God.

And this is linked to what we then heard in our Gospel passage today, as the Lord Jesus in His prayer to the Father asked Him to keep those whom He had given to Him, and called to salvation. The Lord asked the Father to make them one and keep them one just as they are one and indivisible. This is the famous prayer for unity of the Christian Church, in the words, ‘That they may be One, just as We are One.’ Through this, we can see how the Lord had actually foreseen and knew of the divisions that would come to His Church and flock, and He wanted us all to be reconciled to one another and be united.

Then, how should we then act so as to avoid these divisions, disagreements and conflicts among us? Throughout the ages, we have had many courageous missionaries and people who went out of their way to reach out to the separated brothers and sisters, explaining the truth of the faith and trying to convince them to return to the Holy Mother Church. There were of course also many unsuccessful attempts, and there were even martyrs caused by these unfortunate divisions and conflicts within the Church.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, realising that even in our time and age, there are still many out there who have followed false teachings and heretical Christian thinking, false and wicked ideas, we should embrace our calling to be good bearers of the Lord’s truth to all of them. By our baptism, that is what each and every one of us had been called to. Yet, at the same time, we must also realise that the best way to do this is not through force or coercion, but rather through genuine communication and dialogue, through love, care and compassion.

Essentially, we should do our best that our lives may truly be exemplary and good, filled with obedience to God and the desire to serve Him, to live our lives to the fullest with the guidance from God. And that is how we become examples for one another, to help and guide our path as we walk together in this journey of faith towards the Lord. And perhaps, we should gain inspiration from St. Augustine of Canterbury, a holy saint of God and a devoted missionary whose piety and humility can help us in our path to seek greater relationship with God.

St. Augustine of Canterbury was the renowned saint credited with the restoration of the Christian faith and hierarchy in the lands now known as England, such that the See of Canterbury until today remain as the pre-eminent See of all England. Although Christianity had arrived and been established in the British isles prior to the coming of St. Augustine of Canterbury, but the chaos of the fall of the Roman Empire, invasion by the pagan Anglo-Saxons disrupted much of the Christian communities there.

Therefore, Pope St. Gregory the Great at that time sent St. Augustine, then a prior and monk of a monastery in Rome, to evangelise to the Anglo-Saxons and reestablish Christian hierarchy and communities in England. St. Augustine gradually was able to Christianise the land of England, and more and more people came to be baptised. Of course St. Augustine of Canterbury did not have it easy, as there were many of those who refused to accept the Christian faith and even persecuted missionaries. Yet, he did not let all these dampen his enthusiasm and commitment to serve the Lord and His Church.

St. Augustine of Canterbury was remembered for the great piety he had shown, his courage and fearlessness in the face of opposition and challenges. He dedicated himself to the mission in re-Christianising England, and at the end of his life and ministry, this aim had largely been fulfilled although it did take many more years before the Church was firmly established in the whole community. His courage and dedication should be source of inspiration for us all on how we ought to live up to our Christian faith and calling.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all discern how we are to continue living our lives after we have heard all of these today. God has called us all to follow Him and to put our trust in Him. Let us all follow the good examples set by St. Paul the Apostle, the other Apostles and disciples of the Lord, St. Augustine of Canterbury, all the saints and everyone who have shown us the way to follow God. Let us all get rid from ourselves all the taints of pride and arrogance, all hubris and greed, desire and all the obstacles that had prevented us from being able to commit ourselves fully to the Lord. May the Lord help us and be our guide, in our renewed journey of faith from now on. Amen.

Tuesday, 26 May 2020 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Philip Neri, Priest (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in what we have heard in our Scripture passages today, we heard of the ‘farewells’ made by two different people, both following the will of God, in fulfilling their part in their calling and ministry, as both were going on to encounter great sufferings and persecutions, which eventually would lead to their respective deaths. Today we heard of the story of St. Paul who was in Ephesus just before he was to depart for Jerusalem to confront his final ministry, and we also heard about the prayer of the Lord Jesus for His disciples which He made during His last moments before He embarked on His Passion.

In our first reading today, St. Paul met with the elders and leaders of the community of the faithful in Ephesus, as he was on his way back from his extensive missionary journey towards Jerusalem, the early centre of Christendom and the capital of the Jewish people at the time. At that time, St. Paul already had received revelation from God that his journey to Jerusalem this time would be his very last one before he was to be tried for his alleged crimes and sent to Rome to appeal to the Emperor, and he would not have the chance to see the elders and the community in Ephesus again.

For someone so dedicated to the cause of the faith, filled with so much enthusiasm in preaching the Good News like that, it must have been difficult for St. Paul to say farewell to all the people, some of whom must have been known to St. Paul for many years during his almost three decades of missionary works, in which he passed through Ephesus quite a number of times. We must not forget that St. Paul also wrote Epistles or letters to the Church in Ephesus, showing that the Church there must have been close to his heart.

But St. Paul was greatly encouraged knowing and believing that God would be with all of them and ensure the continued growth of the Church there even long after he had gone and departed from this world. St. Paul therefore also prayed over the elders and the community of the faithful, praying that God would continue to guide them and remain with them through their good and bad times. And St. Paul also uttered the words to the elders in Ephesus as what he also uttered in another occasion to St. Timothy, for which he is now famous, that, ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.’

Our first reading today, as well as even our Gospel today can basically be summarised by that phrase. Both St. Paul and the Lord Jesus had done wonderful works among the people, making countless people to believe in God through them, performed miracles and wonders, and brought God’s truth and salvation closer to many. And that they were both coming to the end of their earthly journey and ministry, both of them thanked God for having been with them throughout, as St. Paul thanked and praised God for His constant guidance, and the Lord Jesus also thanked His heavenly Father for the same.

And most importantly, is that both of them accepted their roles in the works of salvation and what would happen to them as God has revealed to them. St. Paul accepted his eventual martyrdom for the sake of his faith, and willingly went on to Jerusalem to accept the punishment from the Jewish authorities, for which accusations he decided to claim the right for appeal to the Emperor which led him to go to Rome, to be martyred but also with the opportunity to preach and work among the community in Rome. In the same way, the Lord Jesus also accepted the role that He had to suffer and die on the Cross for the salvation of all.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, what do all these then show us? It is that as Christ’s followers and disciples, all of us must be ready to detach ourselves from worldly desires and concerns, from the attachments to worldly matters and all the things that prevent us from being able to fully give ourselves to the service and the greater glory of God. Too often we have allowed ourselves be swayed and tempted by all these worldly matters and concerns that we have ended up down the wrong path.

St. Paul could have evaded issues, troubles and sufferings by staying in Ephesus or at other places he was welcomed or having friends in, but he chose to face his challenges, departing for Jerusalem where he knew all his enemies were gathered to give witness to his faith and to proclaim the Lord to more people especially in Rome, to where God had sent him to evangelise. In the same way, the Lord Jesus could also easily have evaded His arrest, trial, torture and crucifixion, but He chose to obey the will of His Father, and devoted Himself to His Passion.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is what we also have to take note of, that we have to be ready to follow the Lord, to listen to Him and to trust in Him rather than to be distracted, tempted, and pulled down by various worldly desires and concerns. We have to keep our focus clear, to trust in the Lord and the path He has set before, and do our best through whatever He has given us to contribute to the greater good of the Church and for God’s greater glory.

Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Philip Neri, one of the very famous saints of the Church, famously known as the Second Apostle of Rome who was remembered for his extensive works in establishing important congregations and religious orders, especially the Confraternity of the Holy Trinity and Congregation of the Oratory. St. Philip Neri himself was born into a noble and wealthy family, but he chose to abandon everything after God had called him into a life dedicated to His service.

St. Philip Neri was remembered for his great labours among the poor and the sick in the city of Rome, ministering to even prostitutes and others normally shunned by the rest of the community. All of his hard work and efforts are what made him to be called the ‘Second Apostle of Rome’ as mentioned earlier, following in the footsteps of both St. Peter and St. Paul, who went to Rome, ministered there and were eventually martyred for their faith. St. Philip Neri dedicated himself to the congregations he founded, and was remembered for his intense personal piety.

All of these inspired many others to follow his good examples, and many joined his congregations which grew rapidly and played important roles in the rejuvenation of the faith among the faithful, especially those who have lapsed from their faith. The examples of St. Philip Neri should inspire us all to follow his examples, and to live our lives from now on, following what God has called us to do, and follow Him with zeal and commitment, and with the desire to love Him more and to serve Him faithfully.

Are we willing and able to entrust ourselves to the Lord, and be ever more devoted to Him as our holy predecessors had done? We do not have to abandon the world as what St. Philip Neri had done, or to follow St. Paul into his sufferings and persecutions. Rather, what we are called to do is for us to live our lives as good and devout Christians that in everything we do in our respective areas, in whatever calling and vocations we have been called to, in our families and in our communities, we will always focus our attention on God, and that we do everything for the sake of God and following whatever He has shown and taught us.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all live an ever more genuine Christian living from now on, and let us dedicate more of our time, effort and attention to walk in the path of Christ, following the inspiring examples of our Lord Himself, of St. Paul the Apostle, St. Philip Neri and many other holy saints and martyrs of God. May God be with us always throughout this journey of faith in life, and may He strengthen us all that we may follow Him wholeheartedly. May God bless us always, now and forevermore. Amen.