Monday, 30 November 2020 : Feast of St. Andrew, Apostle (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today all of us celebrate the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, one of the Twelve Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ and also the brother of St. Peter the Apostle, the Vicar of Christ. St. Andrew is also often known as St. Andrew the First-Called, due to his background as the likely disciple of St. John the Baptist before becoming a follower of Christ, and according to tradition, one of the two disciples to whom St. John the Baptist proclaimed, ‘Look, there is the Lamb of God!’ referring to the Lord at His baptism.

St. Andrew therefore was indeed the first-called of the Lord’s disciples, and he was the one who introduced the Lord to his brother, St. Peter, as well as the brothers St. James and St. John, the sons of Zebedee. Those three would be among the closest of the Lord’s disciples, and would often accompany the Lord on important events of His ministry like the Transfiguration and the moment of His Agony in the Gardens of Gethsemane.

St. Andrew himself was also mentioned at the feeding of the five thousand, when he was the one who brought the boy with loaves of bread and fish to Him, that He might give them to the people all waiting in hunger. At that time, St. Andrew did not yet understand what the Lord would do, but the Lord overcame his doubts that those meagre amount of food could feed the whole multitudes of people through the great miracle of the feeding of the five thousand men and thousands more of women and children.

In time, St. Andrew would continue to faithfully serve the Lord through His ministry, and was there throughout His Passion, suffering, death and Resurrection from the dead. From the beginning when he was first called by the Lord to be His follower, St. Andrew had dedicated himself just as his brother and the other Apostles and disciples of the Lord had done, ministering to the people and proclaiming the Lord’s coming. And even after the Lord had ascended into Heaven, he continued to preach the faith in a renewed ministry and calling.

St. Andrew brought the faith to many lands, including those areas now known as Ukraine and Russia, the Balkans and Greece among other places. He laboured hard like the other Apostles and disciples of the Lord, spreading the Good News to many people, to those who had not yet witnessed and heard about the Lord and His salvation. Many were converted by his works and efforts, and many more were inspired by his ministry.

St. Andrew established the Church in many places and built the foundation for the Christian communities in those places, and most importantly, in the place where a great city now stands, the city of Constantinople, St. Andrew was the first Bishop of the Christian community there. At that time, the place was just a small historic city of Byzantium, at the juncture and crossroads between Asia and Europe. It was there that St. Andrew would henceforth be well remembered as the founder of the See of Constantinople, once Byzantium was rebuilt as Constantinople, the new capital of the Roman Empire.

And just like most of the other Apostles and many other disciples of the Lord, St. Andrew faced persecution and sufferings, and during his ministry in the land of Greece, he was arrested, put to great suffering, and was eventually martyred by crucifixion, being crucified on an X-shaped cross, which would therefore be known as the Cross of St. Andrew, in memory of his faith and dedication to the Lord to the very end.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, in St. Andrew we have seen a great disciple and follower of the Lord. St. Andrew the Apostle is our inspiration and role model in how he followed the Lord and responded to His call. Are we able to follow his good examples, and respond to the Lord’s call to all of us as well? The Lord has called us all to follow Him and serve Him, and to devote and our attention to bring greater glory to His Name.

Yet, many of us have not realise and appreciate this calling, and many of us remain lukewarm in our faith and passive in how we lived our lives. To be a Christian means we must be ready to face challenges, trials and persecutions as the Apostles and the disciples of the Lord had faced, and as the many martyrs of the Church could attest before us all. There are still so much indeed that we can do as Christians, and as members of God’s Church and as His disciples.

Let us all respond well to the Lord’s calling in our respective lives and in whatever contributions we can make in our communities, families, among our circle of friends and more. We do not need to do great and marvellous things, and it is through our little dedications and commitments everyday, through our simple actions, through our words and ways of interacting with each other, that communicates our genuine faith and love for God, which will be the best preaching of the Good News, and we will become like St. Andrew, inspirational example of faith for all of our fellow brethren to follow.

Let us all pray for the good of the Church, and ask St. Andrew to intercede for all of us. In particular, we pray for the full unity of the Church, as the Church of Constantinople and the Eastern Orthodox Communion centred on the See of his successor in Constantinople, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, that they together will continue their journey towards full reunion and reconciliation with the Universal Church, with St. Peter and his successors, the Vicar of Christ, all fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord. Amen.

Monday, 30 November 2020 : Feast of St. Andrew, Apostle (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Matthew 4 : 18-22

At that time, as Jesus walked by the lake of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come, follow Me; and I will make you fish for people.”

At once they left their nets and followed Him. He went on from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John, in a boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. Jesus called them.

At once, they left the boat, and their father, and followed Him.

Monday, 30 November 2020 : Feast of St. Andrew, Apostle (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 18 : 2-3, 4-5

The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament proclaims the work of His hands. Day talks it over with day; night hands on the knowledge to night.

No speech, no words, no voice is heard – but the call goes on, throughout the universe, the message is felt to the ends of the earth.

Monday, 30 November 2020 : Feast of St. Andrew, Apostle (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Romans 10 : 9-18

You are saved, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and, in your heart, you believe that God raised Him from the dead. By believing from the heart, you obtain true righteousness; by confessing the faith with your lips, you are saved.

For Scripture says : No one who believes in Him will be ashamed. Here, there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; all have the same Lord, Who is very generous with whoever calls on Him. Truly, all who call upon the Name of the Lord will be saved.

But how can they call upon the Name of the Lord without having believed in Him? And how can they believe in Him, without having first heard about Him? And how will they hear about Him, if no one preaches about Him? And how will they preach about Him, if no one sends them?

As Scripture says : How beautiful are the feet of the messenger of Good News. Although, not everyone obeyed the Good News, as Isaiah said : Lord, who has believed in our preaching? So, faith comes from preaching, and preaching is rooted in the word of Christ.

I ask : Have the Jews not heard? But, of course, they have. Because the voice of those preaching resounded all over the earth, and their voice was heard, to the ends of the world.

Saturday, 25 July 2020 : Feast of St. James, Apostle (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate the great feast of one of the Lord’s holy Apostles, namely St. James the Apostle, also known as St. James the Greater to distinguish him from St. James the Lesser, who was either referring to St. James son of Alpheus or St. James, one of the first leaders of the Church of Jerusalem and brother of the Lord. St. James the Apostle was the elder brother of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, both sons of Zebedee the fisherman.

St. James was called together with his younger brother when they were fishing at the lake of Galilee, likely near Capernaum where the Lord began His ministry after His baptism. Consequently, he was among the first of the Apostles to be called by the Lord, together with St. Peter and St. Andrew, who were also brothers and fishermen. He followed the Lord together with the others who were called and left everything behind, beginning a life of faithful service to God.

St. James was also considered to be among the closest ones to the Lord as showed throughout the Gospels that during many occasions in the ministry of the Lord, he together with St. Peter and St. John, his younger brother, were often by the side of the Lord, during His Transfiguration, during the time when He raised the dead daughter of an official, as well as during the last moments before His arrest during His agony in the Gardens of Gethsemane.

As such, it was not surprising that as we heard in our Gospel passage today, the mother of both St. James and St. John came up to the Lord and asked Him for special favours and positions of honour for her sons. At that time, as it is still today, to be able to sit at the left and right hand side of an important person is truly a great honour, one that is not easily earned or given, and usually is a sign of immense honour or relationship with the person being mentioned.

The other disciples were angry when they heard of this seemingly unfair power-grabbing effort from the two Apostles and their mother, but the Lord firmly revealed what it truly meant to be His followers and disciples, both to the mother of St. James and St. John, to the two Apostles themselves, and to the other disciples. To be a follower of Christ is not like being followers of the other lords, kings and leaders of this world, as the latter sought for power and influence, for fame and glory, and for other worldly pursuits.

The Lord Himself told St. James and St. John, that if they follow Him, then they must be ready to drink from the cup that He was to drink, and at that time, the two of them did not truly understand what the Lord meant by this expression. In truth, this cup is the cup of suffering that the Lord also spoke of again just before He was to be arrested and suffered the pain of crucifixion, the suffering of the rejection of the world, the persecution from those who refused to believe in Him, and the agony of enduring the burden of the sin of the whole world.

And the Lord said to the two Apostles, that indeed, they would share in the cup that He was to drink, and this was a brief but important revelation that to follow the Lord is not meant for the pursuit of fame, influence, worldly glory, power, wealth, and many other things we usually desire when we follow someone. Instead, to follow the Lord meant suffering, to be prepared to endure the sufferings that may come our way, and following the Lord may also mean difficulties and challenges may come our way as we carry out the will of God.

St. James himself was the one who experienced this firsthand at the earliest opportunity, for according to the Acts of the Apostles and also Church tradition, St. James was the first if not among the earliest ones of the Twelve Apostles to suffer martyrdom for the sake of the Lord. In the Acts of the Apostles, it was mentioned that king Herod Agrippa arrested St. James and put him to death in prison, before arresting St. Peter seeing that this action pleased the Pharisees and many among the Jews.

But before St. James was martyred, approximately a decade after the Lord’s death and resurrection, he had managed to do wonderful works for the Lord, and he was credited with the evangelisation of faraway lands, as far away as the Iberian peninsula, what is now parts of Portugal and Spain. St. James’ most famous shrine, the great Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain, was where this Apostle once preached to the local pagans and sowed the seeds of faith among them.

And we see how this Apostle of the Lord had been transformed from a humble mere fisherman, and from a man of the world probably seeking favour and glory of the world, into a faithful and devoted servant of God, who did all that he could do to bring the Good News of God’s salvation, His truth and love to all the people, even in faraway lands, a work that is without worldly honour and glory, and not just that, but also filled with danger and difficulties, and he himself suffered martyrdom for this cause he truly believed in and devoted himself wholeheartedly in. His brother, St. John the Apostle, although was the only one of the Twelve not to be martyred, but he endured decades of trials and challenges, exiles and prisons, for his equally great dedication to the Lord.

What then, is the significance of this to us all, brothers and sisters in Christ? St. James reminds us that each and every one of us have also been called by the Lord to follow Him, and by what we have discussed earlier, following the Lord means for us to walk in His path and put Him at the centre of our lives, and not to seek worldly glory and power, or fame or influence, or pleasure and convenience for us. Instead, following God is indeed not about ourselves, but about how we can serve Him and obey His will through our every words, actions and deeds in life.

Are we willing and able to follow in the footsteps of St. James the Apostle? Are we willing to follow him in his dedication to serve the Lord, to evangelise the people we h in life, not just through words, but more importantly, through our every actions and deeds? We need to devote our time and effort to be genuine Christians, not just in name but also in deed, and inspire many others to follow our example, that by our actions and examples, we may bring more and more people closer to God.

May the Lord be with us and guide us in our journey of faith that each and every one of us, that through the inspiration and intercession of St. James the Apostle, we may be stronger in faith and be more Christ-like and be more faithful in our every day living. Let us all be transformed from creatures of desire and greed, of ego and pride, into faithful and devout children of God, from now on. May the Lord bless us and our endeavours, our efforts and good works, now and forevermore. Amen.

Saturday, 25 July 2020 : Feast of St. James, Apostle (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Matthew 20 : 20-28

At that time, the mother of James and John came to Jesus with her sons, and she knelt down, to ask a favour. Jesus said to her, “What do you want?” And she answered, “Here, You have my two sons. Grant, that they may sit, one at Your right hand and one at Your left, in Your kingdom.”

Jesus said to the brothers, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They answered, “We can.” Jesus replied, “You will indeed drink My cup; but to sit at My right or at My left is not for Me to grant. That will be for those, for whom My Father has prepared it.”

The other then heard all this, and were angry with the two brothers. Then Jesus called them to Him and said, “You know, that the rulers of nations behave like tyrants, and the powerful oppress them. It shall not be so among you : whoever wants to be great in your community, let him minister to the community. And if you want to be the first of all, make yourself the servant of all. Be like the Son of Man, Who came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life to redeem many.”

Saturday, 25 July 2020 : Feast of St. James, Apostle (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 125 : 1-2ab, 2cd-3, 4-5, 6

When YHVH brought the exiles back to Zion, we were like those moving in a dream. Then, our mouths were filled with laughter, and our tongues with songs of joy.

Among the nations it was said, “YHVH has done great things for them.” YHVH had done great things for us, and we were glad indeed.

Bring back our exiles, o YHVH, like fresh streams in the desert. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs and shouts of joy.

They went forth weeping, bearing the seeds for sowing, they will come home with joyful shouts, bringing their harvested sheaves.

Saturday, 25 July 2020 : Feast of St. James, Apostle (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

2 Corinthians 4 : 7-15

However, we carry this treasure in vessels of clay, so that this all-surpassing power may not be seen as ours, but as God’s. Trials of every sort come to us, but we are not discouraged. We are left without answer, but do not despair; persecuted but not abandoned, knocked down but not crushed.

At any moment, we carry, in our person, the death of Jesus, so, that, the life of Jesus may also be manifested in us. For we, the living, are given up continually to death, for the sake of Jesus, so, that, the life of Jesus may appear in our mortal existence. And as death is at work in us, life comes to you.

We have received the same Spirit of faith referred to in Scripture, that says : I believed and so I spoke. We also believed, and so we speak. We know that He, Who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us, with Jesus, and bring us, with you, into His presence. Finally, everything is for your good, so that grace will come more abundantly upon you, and great will be the thanksgiving for the glory of God.

Friday, 3 July 2020 : Feast of St. Thomas, Apostle (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, one of the Twelve Apostles of the Lord Jesus. St. Thomas was mostly remembered in the Gospels as the one disciple who have always been skeptical and doubtful about the Lord, and was kind of lukewarm in his faith and in his commitment to follow the Lord. St. Thomas has always been kind of a dissident, and the last one to believe, including in His Resurrection.

St. Thomas doubted the Lord when He spoke of His coming persecution at the hands of His enemies, and when He mentioned that He wanted to go to Judea, St. Thomas sarcastically commented before everyone, that everyone ought indeed to follow Him, and follow Him to their certain deaths. And lastly as we heard in our Gospel passage, St. Thomas would not be convinced when the other Apostles told him that the Lord has risen from the dead.

St. Thomas was only convinced when the Lord Himself suddenly appeared again before him and the other disciples, and as St. Thomas earlier on challenged that he would not believe unless he could put his finger into the wounds and the side of the Lord, to know that He was truly the same Jesus Who suffered and died on the Cross and yet inexplicably rose from the dead, thus the Lord invited St. Thomas to do exactly what he had said that he would do.

It was then that St. Thomas declared before all, ‘You are my Lord and my God’, out of love for God and probably even ashamed and embarrassed for the lack of faith he has shown all those while. St. Thomas would then go on to serve the Lord faithfully, and his faith strengthened and no longer wavering, the Apostle has shown us all what it means by true conversion of heart, a profound change from one lacking in faith and filled with doubt into one ardent and firm in the love he had for God.

St. Thomas would later be remembered for his great contributions to the Church, especially for his ministry to the community in faraway region now known as the southern coasts of the Indian subcontinent, where unto this very day, the Christian communities are often called ‘St. Thomas Christians’ and the various communities traced their faith and the roots of their communities to St. Thomas and his courageous works of evangelisation as he preached the words of God’s truth in those mission lands.

Like the other Apostles, St. Thomas would also encounter martyrdom at the end of his earthly journey. But for all that he had done, for the sake of the Lord, he had certainly done a lot more than what he had once doubted about the Lord, being willing to suffer and die for the Lord’s sake, to endure bitter sufferings and hardships for His Holy Name and for His greater glory. And through all these, all of us should also be convinced and be ready and willing to follow the Lord all the same in our own lives.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, St. Thomas might once have doubted the Lord so much and stubbornly refused to believe in Him. But how are we then different from him? Are we not also often doubtful of the Lord, or else we also tend to forget about Him, ignore His words and truth and preferred instead to listen to the lies of the devil and follow his false leads and ways? Have we ourselves not been stubborn in refusing to follow the Lord and obey Him?

Let us all look upon ourselves and cast St. Thomas the Apostle as our model and guide, together with the many other Apostles, saints and martyrs of the Lord, the innumerable holy men and women of God. And even more importantly, let us all follow in the footsteps of these holy and dedicated people, and realise that indeed, there is no saints without a past and there is no sinners without a future. This means that all of us have sinned and erred at some point in our lives, but what matters is that we turn away from those sins, and embrace God’s love and mercy, be forgiven and reconciled to Him.

Let us all realise that each one of us are also unsteady in faith, having our own doubts and vulnerabilities, and that is exactly why we are easily tempted and pushed to turn into sin and rebellion against God. But we have to leverage on the fact that even the saints were once sinners, doubters, filled with sin and disobedience, and for some, even great sinners and wicked, and yet, in the end, they allowed God to enter into their lives and transform them for the better.

Are we willing and able to commit to this new path, brothers and sisters in Christ? Do we want to love God once again with renewed hope and strength, and do we want to dedicate ourselves to Him as the Apostles, the saints and martyrs had, particularly St. Thomas the Apostle, whose renewed faith and zeal led him to perform wonderful good works among the people of God even in distant lands?

Let us all be better Christians, be more dedicated and committed from now on, focusing our attention on God and spending time and effort to serve Him in whatever capacities and opportunities we have been given. May God bless us all and guide us in our journey, now and always. Amen.

Friday, 3 July 2020 : Feast of St. Thomas, Apostle (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

John 20 : 24-29

At that time, Thomas, the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with the other Eleven when Jesus came. The other disciples told Him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he replied, “Until I have seen in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in His side, I will not believe.”

Eight days later, the disciples were again inside the house and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see My hands; stretch out your hand, and put it into My side. Do not continue in your unbelief, but believe!”

Thomas said, “You are my Lord and my God.” Jesus replied, “You believe because you see Me, do you not? Happy are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”