Saturday, 22 February 2020 : Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us celebrate together with the whole Church the feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle. It must have been quite bewildering for some of us why the Church chose to celebrate the feast of a chair, but in this case, the chair mentioned here as being the Chair of St. Peter, was more than just of any physical chair, for the meaning and significance of this Feast today is tied very much to the history and the foundation of our Church.

For the Chair being referred to here, while it represents the actual chair and seat of the Apostle St. Peter, the Cathedra Sancti Petri which by tradition is the wooden chair encased in gold and enshrined at the Altar of the Chair of the Basilica of St. Peter as the chair which St. Peter himself once used as his Cathedra, it also symbolically represents his teaching authority and the powers which God has entrusted to St. Peter as the Chief Apostle and His Vicar on earth.

Just like for the bishops of the Church, who has their seat of authority, or the Cathedra located at the church which is then named and known as the Cathedral of their respective dioceses, St. Peter as the chief of all the bishops and all the disciples of the Lord also has his Cathedra, both as the actual seat as well as the symbolic authority of his leadership as the shepherd of the whole entire Universal Church, which we celebrate and focus on today.

In our first reading today, taken from the Epistle of St. Peter, we heard of the Apostle speaking to the faithful with regards to the roles and responsibilities of the elders or the bishops in the community of the faithful. And St. Peter in today’s passage addressed those same elders or bishops directly with the exhortation and reminder that they, as the shepherds of God’s flock must lead God’s people to His truth and salvation, and they must labour hard and give their best for the sake of the flock entrusted to them.

It was through the authority which Christ has entrusted to St. Peter that the latter, as the Vicar of the one and true Head of the Church, and as the Shepherd of all the shepherds of God’s flock, that St. Peter spoke, inspiring those bishops who had been appointed to succeed the works of the Apostles and the first bishops of the Church. That was how the Church of God began and continued to flourish in its very beginning, as more and more people came to follow God and more and more people were called to serve them as deacons, priests and bishops.

The role which St. Peter played in the early history of the Church was indeed very crucial and important as several occasions in the Acts of the Apostles showed us how St. Peter was clearly the leader of the Apostles and the disciples, settling disputes and problems within the growing Christian communities, and as the one indeed who had been entrusted by Christ Himself with the governance of His Church in this world.

This was what we heard in our Gospel passage today, in the account of the establishment of the Church by God, through the words He Himself had spoken, as He was acknowledged by St. Peter as the Son of the Living God and Messiah of the world. The Lord Jesus spoke to St. Peter, saying that thus, he is Peter, whose name means ‘Rock’, and upon that same ‘Rock’ He would establish His Church that will prevail over all trials and tribulations that even the gates of hell cannot stand against it.

And Christ also entrusted the keys of the kingdom of heaven to St. Peter, which is now the symbol of Papal authority of the two crossed keys, representing what Christ had said, that the very authority to loosen or bind souls on earth and in heaven has been given to His Church through St. Peter, His Vicar, the first Pope and Bishop of Rome, as the leader of the entire of the whole Universal Church supported by the other Apostles who are the pillars of the Church.

We have to also note how Christ chose this man, St. Peter, who was then named Simon, son of John, who was the most unlikely of candidates to be chosen for such an important role. Simon was merely a poor, illiterate and brash fisherman from the lake of Galilee, whom the Lord called to follow Him. Simon followed, and Jesus gave him a new name, that is Peter, a symbolic grant of a new life and vocation, by which indeed later on he would be the ‘fishers of men’ together with his fellow Apostles and disciples.

Through the Holy Spirit, God guided St. Peter and turned him from the illiterate, uneducated and emotional man he was once before, cutting off the ears off a Temple servant in anger and denied knowing the Lord three times, into the great Apostle and Pope he was to become, as he gave his life to the service of God and ministered to the people throughout his many years of journeying to many parts of the world and resolving disputes between communities of the faithful.

Today therefore, we commemorate this great celebration and Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle as the reminder for each and everyone of us that our Church is indeed the one that Christ Himself has established in this world, as the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. And we therefore recall this very important Communion that we have as one Church and one Body of Christ, as we are united with St. Peter and his successors, our Popes and Vicars of Christ, who sit on the Cathedra or throne of St. Peter, as the Shepherd of shepherds of God’s people, entrusted with the care of the Universal Church.

Therefore today, let us all pray for our current Pope, His Holiness Pope Francis, the Vicar of Christ and Bishop of Rome. Let us pray for him that he will be able to carry on his ministry as the successor of the Prince of the Apostles, St. Peter, in guiding the entire Universal Church forward with the support of the bishops and priests, as well as all the lay members of the Church. Let us also support our Pope and the Church in our ever growing efforts in evangelisation and missionary works, in our numerous charitable outreach and works, and the many other efforts of the Church.

May the Lord continue to bless His Church and provide for us in everything, particularly through difficult and challenging moments. May He bless our Pope with courage and strength, with faith and perseverance as He once blessed St. Peter, the Prince and Chief of the Apostles. St. Peter, Holy Apostle, Pope and Vicar of Christ, pray for us all. Amen.

Saturday, 22 February 2020 : Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 16 : 13-19

At that time, Jesus came to Caesarea Philippi. He asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They said, “For some of them You are John the Baptist, for others Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”

Jesus asked them, “But you, who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “It is well for you, Simon Bar-Jona, for it is not flesh or blood that has revealed this to you, but My Father in heaven.”

“And now I say to you : You are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church; and never will the powers of death overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven : whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you unbind on earth shall be unbound in heaven.”

Saturday, 22 February 2020 : Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 22 : 1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.

He guides me through the right paths for His Name’s sake. Although I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are beside me : Your rod and Your staff comfort me.

You spread a table before me in the presence of my foes. You anoint my head with oil; my cup is overflowing.

Goodness and kindness will follow me all the days of my life. I shall dwell in the house of the Lord as long as I live.

Saturday, 22 February 2020 : Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

1 Peter 5 : 1-4

I now address myself to those elders among you; I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ, hoping to share the Glory that is to be revealed.

Shepherd the flock which God has entrusted to you, guarding it not out of obligation but willingly for God’s sake; not as one looking for a reward but with a generous heart; do not lord it over those in your care, rather be an example to your flock.

Then, when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will be given a crown of unfading glory.

Saturday, 25 January 2020 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate a great feast in the Church as we recall the important moment when the Lord called St. Paul, then known as Saul, a young and zealous Pharisee who had once been a great enemy of the Church and the faithful. Saul was very adamant on hunting all the followers of Christ and strove to put them all into prison, and approved even their killing as what has happened to St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church.

Saul was in the midst of this zealous pursuit when he went to Damascus in trying to eradicate all the faithful people of God who had taken refuge and lived there. The fact that Saul was even willing to venture far outside the land of Judah and even Galilee, was a testament to just how persistent he was in trying to destroy the Church and the Christian faith. Or so he thought, as in the end, he never managed to fulfil what he had planned and wanted.

As we heard in our first reading today, when Saul was still on his way to Damascus, God appeared to him in a great vision in which He revealed Himself to Saul as the One Whom he has been persecuting all the while when he was on a misguided rampage and attack against those who followed the Lord. Saul must have certainly been struck by that experience, and he was also struck blind by that vision.

We heard how Saul had to be helped and assisted, as his whole world turned into darkness for three days without being able to do anything at all. But God then sent Ananias to heal Saul, and after Ananias prayed over him, Saul was healed and received baptism in the Name of the Lord. This was a very significant moment in the history of the Church as the one who used to be a great enemy and persecutor of the Church had in a short moment become its greatest defender instead.

Saul had been called by God and had a moment of great revelation which entirely changed his life and direction. What he had once firmly believed in and championed in defending the purity of the Jewish customs, tradition and faith against the then thought to be ‘heretical’ teachings of Jesus Christ, had instead been overturned completely and the truth was revealed to him that in fact Jesus was the One Who had been right all along.

In the end, Saul became a Christian and as we can see throughout most of the Acts of the Apostles, he became a great champion of the Christian faith. He was known as the Apostle to the Gentiles, through his tireless and extensive missionary journeys throughout the Mediterranean and in his visits to the many communities of the faithful at that time. He also wrote and communicated extensively with those communities by letters, many of which are preserved in our New Testament.

Saul took up the name Paul eventually as a very symbolic act of total conversion as he left behind completely his past life as an enemy of Christ and His followers and embarked on a journey of total devotion to God, suffering so many trials and tribulations, rejected by many and were almost stoned to death and killed on more than one occasion, because he served the Lord and did nothing else than to glorify God.

We have heard and known of how remarkable this conversion that had happened to Saul, becoming St. Paul and had a complete turnover in his life, called to serve God from being a great sinner and enemy of the Lord’s faithful. But what is the real significance for us? How does this real life story of the conversion of St. Paul has to do with us? And the answer is that all of us are just like St. Paul in one way or another.

We must all understand that every single one of us are sinners, and God sees us all equally and we are all the same and equal before Him. He is not prejudiced at all with us, regardless whether we have the greater or lesser sins. In the end, sins, no matter how great or small, significant or insignificant, are still sins that we need to be forgiven from by God. And because we are all sinners, we all need God’s healing and mercy, which He will readily extend and give to us.

If God Himself has called Saul, a great sinner and someone who had caused so much suffering and misery in the lives of many of the early Christians, it means that He must have forgiven him completely and did not take his many sins into account after he had had a change of heart and mind. Through baptism, Saul had been reborn into new life that God has called him into, the new Christian life that he dedicated himself, as Paul from then on. Then, all of us too have been called by God to follow the example of St. Paul.

We must not despise or judge anyone just because we think that we are better than them in any way, especially with regards to sin. If a very terrible sinner like Saul could change and be converted, then so can the worst of sinners as long as they are willing to open their hearts and minds to allow God to enter into their lives and transform them as He once did with Saul. And before we judge or be prejudiced against anyone, we should first look at ourselves.

In this Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, all of us are also called by God to reflect on the conversion of this great saint so as to emulate it in our own respective lives. If we have not been faithful to God, if we have forgotten about Him in the midst of our very busy life schedules and works, if we have abandoned Him and preferred something else to Him, not being thankful to Him for all the love and care that He has shown us, and if we have been being angry at Him just because we thought that He did not listen to our prayers, then I am sure that we need this time to contemplate.

I am certain that each and every one of us, being sinner and imperfect, need God’s healing grace and mercy. But we often closed our hearts and minds against Him that we ended up acting as how Saul once acted in the years of his youth, zealous and very energetic but completely misguided and misled by blind faith and blind obedience. In the same manner, we have often acted out of disobedience and we fell into sin because we prefer to follow our own ways and disregard God’s will.

All of that led us to be lost and separated from God. We must realise that there are still lots of temptations and forces out there trying to keep us away from God and His salvation. Are we then able to commit ourselves to the Lord in the same manner as St. Paul has committed his? He has shown us what it truly means by a genuine conversion, that his whole life was changed for the greater glory of God as he lived for the sole purpose of glorifying God from the moment of his conversion.

How about us, brothers and sisters in Christ? Are we willing to allow God to transform us as well? Are we able to go through a genuine and wholehearted conversion in life, changing our attitude from now on? If we have been lukewarm in our faith, may we be more faithful from now on and love God more. And if we have been distant from God, let us all strive to be closer to Him and to renew our relationships with Him. If we have been sinful all these while, let us all sin no more and seek to live our lives from now with faith.

May the Lord, through the intercession of His Apostle St. Paul, continue to bless us all and guide us in our respective journeys in life. May He strengthen us all and empower each and every one of us to live ever more faithfully in His presence. May God be with us all, now and always. Amen.

Saturday, 25 January 2020 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Mark 16 : 15-18

At that time, Jesus told His disciples, “Go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News to all creation. The one who believes and is baptised will be saved; the one who refuses to believe will be condemned.”

“Signs like these will accompany those who have believed : in My Name they will cast out demons and speak new languages; they will pick up snakes, and if they drink anything poisonous, they will be unharmed; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will be healed.”

Saturday, 25 January 2020 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 116 : 1, 2

Alleluia! Praise YHVH, all you nations; all you peoples, praise Him.

How great is His love for us! His faithfulness lasts forever.