Friday, 28 August 2020 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we heard the words of the Lord through the Scriptures, we are brought to attention on the matter of ‘wisdom’. What is wisdom to us, brothers and sisters in Christ? What is the significance of wisdom to us? Wisdom is, according to its definition, the ability to discern something with great understanding and grasp of the matter, and to have the ability to make good judgment based on what we know of the situation.

Therefore, once again, what is wisdom to us, brothers and sisters in Christ? The Scriptures placed before us the contrast between divine and human wisdom, between the wisdom of the world, the knowledge and the ways, the understanding and all the combined efforts of people throughout the centuries in trying to figure out more and more about their lives and about the world around them. But, looking at it all, we have never been able to attain true understanding, that is if we keep God out of the equation.

In our first reading today, as St. Paul wrote in his Epistle to the Church and the faithful in the city of Corinth, clearly addressed to both the Jewish and the Greek converts to the Christian faith, he focused on the matter how the Lord confounded the expectations and the wisdom of man through whatever He has revealed through His Son, Jesus Christ, and which His Apostles and disciples then spread throughout the whole world.

To the Jews, whom having been brought up through the centuries fearing God and His punishments and laws, and the supreme authority of God over all things, many of them could not comprehend the fact that He has come down into this world as a Man, to share in their humanity and to live just in the same way that they had lived. They therefore found it hard to believe, and as St. Paul said, demanded miracles again and again to prove to their confounded beliefs and minds that the Lord Jesus is truly the Messiah and Son of God.

To the Greeks, who valued knowledge and learning above many other things, proven by just how many philosophers, thinkers and politicians came out from their ranks at the time, it seemed foolish and nonsense to believe in the Lord Jesus as they thought that they had known all that there was to be known, in their gods and deities, to which they attributed their understanding of the nature and the world around them, and which is why, their pantheon represent closely the world, both in the behaviours of the Greek gods and goddesses that mimic closely human behaviours, and also their actions.

The Greeks could not comprehend how a mere Man, born of a woman like Mary, could be the most powerful, Almighty God, far beyond all of their own gods and goddesses, and how their understanding, learning and knowledge could have been wrong. But this was exactly where St. Paul, throughout his long years of ministry to the various Greek communities and cities throughout the Mediterranean region, helped to dispel the falsehoods and reveal to them the truth about God.

And while many of the earliest Christians were Jews, but many among the Jewish people still then refused to believe in Christ and His teachings. But nonetheless, the efforts of the Apostles and the disciples did bear fruit, as more and more among those who initially refused to believe eventually were willing to listen to the truth and believe in God. Those who refused to believe clung on to their own wisdom and understanding, such as many among the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who thought that they could not have been wrong and condemned Jesus as a blasphemer and false Messiah.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, through all of these we have seen how the Lord wanted us to understand that it is often our stubbornness and pride that prevented us from being able to seek out and approach the Lord with faith, as we clung to our own interpretations, intellect and wisdom, rather than to trust in the wisdom of God we have heard and which have been revealed to us. We must understand, brethren, that our wisdom and intellect are limited, and are nothing compared to God’s wisdom and truth.

Today, all of us also celebrate the feast day of the great St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the four original and greatest of the Doctors of the Church and one of the most influential early Church fathers and leaders of Christendom. St. Monica, his mother was celebrated in her feast day yesterday, as we heard how her persistence, constant prayer and effort to seek her son’s conversion eventually led to St. Augustine’s conversion, and today, we focus our attention on the great saint himself.

St. Augustine of Hippo was born to St. Monica, a Christian woman and a pagan father, and his early life was surrounded by the many wickedness of the world. And as he grew up, he began to be attracted by philosophical pursuits and learning, which was then dominated by pagan philosophers, prominent among the Greeks as mentioned earlier. The young St. Augustine was curious for knowledge, and he was seeking for truth and satisfaction on knowledge and understanding.

However, no matter how much he tried to find solace and satisfaction in human wisdom, and in his adoption of the Manichaean heresy in his youth, in his hedonistic lifestyle and pursuit of worldly pleasures, none of these were able to satisfy him. It was then that the prayers and efforts of his mother, St. Monica, led him to St. Ambrose of Milan, another one of the four great Doctors of the Church and charismatic leader of the faithful, who began to plant the seeds of faith in St. Augustine.

Eventually, St. Augustine discovered God and His truth, and having found the true wisdom and the truth itself, far surpassing all forms of human and worldly knowledge, he converted to the true faith. St. Augustine had been baptised earlier in his life, but lapsed and resisted for many, many years before finally embracing his faith fully, with the constant and never-ending support from his mother, St. Monica.

And later on, as St. Augustine wrote his most renowned treatise on the Most Holy Trinity, known as ‘De Trinitate’, it was told that as the saint wandered on the seashore looking for inspiration on what to write on this most mysterious and difficult of the divine aspects to be explained, St. Augustine saw a young boy trying to pour water from the sea using a scallop shell into a hole in the sand.

When St. Augustine approached and asked the young boy, the boy said that he wanted to empty the entire ocean into that small hole in the sand. When St. Augustine said that such thing is impossible as the ocean is so vast while the hole in the sand is so small, the young boy, whom in truth was God in disguise, spoke to him, that it was thus the same for the mysteries of God, the concept of the Holy Trinity and others that are just so infinitely great and far beyond the ability of our small human minds to fully appreciate, symbolically shown through the action of trying to empty the ocean, representing the fullness of God’s mysteries, into the small hole, representing our minds and human wisdom.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, through what we have heard in our Scripture readings today therefore, all of us are called to reflect on our own lives and our faith. Have we placed our faith and trust in God as we move along in life, or have we instead put our trust more in our own strength and wisdom, in our own limited perception and understanding of things around us? More often than not, we falter in our journey of life and faith because we did not trust enough in God.

Let us all pray therefore for the grace to listen to God and His will, and pray that we will always be strengthened in faith so that we may trust Him more and more, and follow Him ever more faithfully, as St. Augustine had done. And as St. Augustine himself had discovered, let us all find our true joy and satisfaction in life in God, and not in other pleasures of the world, that may be joyful, but are temporary, false and are mere distractions preventing us to find the true joy in God. May God bless us always, and guide us, now and forevermore. Amen.

Friday, 28 August 2020 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 25 : 1-13

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “This story throws light on what will happen in the kingdom of heaven : Ten bridesmaids went out with their lamps to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were sensible. The careless bridesmaids took their lamps as they were, and did not take extra oil. But those who were sensible, took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom delayed, they all grew drowsy and fell asleep.”

“But at midnight, a cry rang out, ‘The bridegroom is here, come on and meet him!’ All the maidens woke up at once, and trimmed their lamps. Then the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, ‘Give us some oil, for our lamps are going out.’ The sensible ones answered, ‘There may not be enough for us and for you. You had better go to those who sell, and buy some for yourselves.'”

“When the bridegroom came, the foolish maidens were out buying oil, but those who were ready went with him into the wedding feast, and the doors were shut. Later the other bridesmaids arrived and called out, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered, ‘Truly I do not know you.'”

“So stay awake, for you do not know the day nor the hour.”

Friday, 28 August 2020 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 32 : 1-2, 4-5, 10-11

Rejoice in the Lord, you who are just, praise is fitting for the upright. Give thanks to Him on the harp and lyre, making melody and chanting praises.

For upright is the Lord’s word and worthy of trust is His work. The Lord loves justice and righteousness; the earth is full of His kindness.

The Lord frustrates the plans of the nations and brings to nothing the peoples’ designs. But His plan stands forever, and His heart’s design through all generations.

Friday, 28 August 2020 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

1 Corinthians 1 : 17-25

For Christ did not send me to baptise, but to proclaim His Gospel. And not with beautiful words! That would be like getting rid of the cross of Christ. The language of the cross remains nonsense for those who are lost. Yet for us who are saved, it is the power of God, as Scripture says : I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and make fail the foresight of the foresighted. Masters of human wisdom, educated people, philosophers, you have no reply! And the wisdom of this world? God let it fail.

At first, God spoke the language of wisdom, and the world did not know God through wisdom. Then God thought of saving the believers, through the foolishness that we preach. The Jews ask for miracles and the Greeks for a higher knowledge, while we proclaim a crucified Messiah. For the Jews, what a great scandal! And for the Greeks, what nonsense! But He is Christ, the power of God, and the wisdom of God, for those called by God among both Jews and Greeks.

In reality, the “foolishness” of God is wiser than humans, and the “weakness” of God is stronger than humans.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine of Hippo, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we continue on from yesterday’s discourse regarding the improper actions and attitudes of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law which were the theme of the passages in the past three days from the Scripture. On this day we heard again of the Lord rebuking the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law of their hypocrisy, mincing not His words as He struck at them for their empty and meaningless faith.

And He also made mention of how they acted just in the same manner as their ancestors, those people of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah of old who have persecuted the prophets and refused to listen to the words of truth and wisdom which they had brought with them. Those people had hardened their hearts and closed their minds off from the Lord and His words, and that was why they had little faith in Him.

In the first reading today, then, we heard St. Paul exhorting the Church and the faithful in the city of Thessalonica to embrace a good and faithful life, one that is dedicated to the greater glory of God, in serving Him and in proclaiming His truth in everything they do, by their every actions and deeds, by their every words and interactions, through which they become the witnesses of their faith in God.

Essentially, from what we have heard in today’s Scripture readings, we are all reminded of the way we live our lives and how as Christians, all of us must remember that should we act in ways that are not in accordance with what we believe, it will truly scandalise our faith, and how can we expect others to believe if we ourselves acted and lived as if we did not believe in God? In fact, we may even mislead others by our hypocrisy just like what many of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had done.

Looking at the examples of those people, they all fell into the temptations of their pride, their ambition and worldly desires. They all wanted to be affirmed, to be praised, to be honoured and glorified by their peers, by the people around them. And as they received all those good things, they became even more filled with desires, wanting to gain more of what they thought they deserved.

That was why they acted to preserve their own ego, to satisfy their desire for power, for fame and affluence, for admiration and fame as they showed their public forms of piety and devotions, their observances of the laws and customs of the Mosaic law. Yet, in their hearts, so filled up with ego and pride, with desire and greed, the Lord truly did not have any place to dwell in. They have sidelined the Lord for their own selfish desires and purposes.

And that is a very important lesson for us to take note in how we should live our Christian lives meaningfully. We must not let the desires of our flesh and the many temptations of this world to pull us away from the path of righteousness and salvation in God. If we allow ourselves to be tempted and to be swayed by those temptations and seductions of worldliness made by the devil and all of his wicked allies, we will end up being hypocrites in faith like those whom the Lord had rebuked.

Today, as the whole Universal Church we celebrate together the feast of St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the original Four Doctors of the Church and a very important Church father and leader of the Christian faith and Western Christianity in general. St. Augustine of Hippo is celebrated often together with his mother, St. Monica, whose feast we celebrated just yesterday, as their lives were truly intertwined, the love between a mother and her child.

St. Augustine however was not always holy and devout throughout his life as we may have thought otherwise. Born to a pagan father and a Christian mother, St. Augustine was not always righteous, but in fact was wicked early on in his life, living a debauched and wicked lifestyle, adopting the heretical and syncretic Manichaean religion and sought all sorts of worldly pleasures, and he even committed adultery with a married woman.

But St. Augustine was touched by the great efforts that his mother, St. Monica had, in trying to pull her son away from his wicked path and sins. St. Monica ceaselessly prayed for the sake of her son and wished for the conversion of his heart. And her effort eventually caused not just St. Augustine to turn away from his sinful life, but even managed to bring her own husband, St. Augustine’s father into the Christian faith prior to his death.

St. Augustine turned towards God through the means of St. Monica’s prayers, and his own desire for knowledge and satisfaction, which was the reason why he went around seeking all sorts of worldly desires and pleasures, in the pursuit of philosophy and intellectual discourses, in the pursuit of the pleasures of the flesh and glory, all without avail. Eventually, his encounter with the Christian faith made him to discover God, the One Who gave him the answers and the true joy that he had been seeking all those while.

That was how St. Augustine was turned to the Lord and repented from his old, sinful way of life. St. Augustine thereafter dedicated his life to the Lord and devoted himself wholly to His cause. His many writings and inspirational testimonies of his faith became a benchmark for many Christian authors and teachers for many generations after his passing. His treatises and books, including the famous ‘City of God’ brought a great development of Christian theology and faith.

And one of the famous stories linked to St. Augustine of Hippo was one of the moment when St. Augustine was walking by the seashore while reflecting and trying to comprehend the mystery of God’s Holy Trinity and saw a child who tried to pour the entire ocean using a seashell into a small hole in the sand that the child had made. When St. Augustine remarked of the futility of such an effort to the child, then the Child, who was in fact God in disguise told St. Augustine that it is therefore also futile for man to try to comprehend the vastness of God’s truth and mysteries.

In the same manner therefore, it is also futile for us mankind to try to seek for the glory of this world, for the satisfaction of the flesh and for worldly fame, influence, power and all sorts of things that we are often preoccupied about in our lives. We are called therefore to put more trust in God and to put Him at the very centre of our lives, and as the focus of all of our attention and efforts from now on.

Let us all be truly faithful to God and be exemplary in how we live our lives from now on, in our every words, deeds and actions so that by them all we may become witnesses to our faith and will be examples for others to follow in their own lives, that many more will come to believe in God through us. May God bless us all and may He empower us all to live faithfully in His presence always. Amen.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine of Hippo, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 23 : 27-32

At that time, Jesus said to the people and to His disciples, “Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, beautiful in appearance; but, inside, there are only dead bones and uncleanness. In the same way, you appear religious to others, but you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness within.”

“Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets, and decorate the monuments of the righteous. You say : Had we lived in the time of our ancestors, we would not have joined them in shedding the blood of the prophets. So, you, yourselves, confess to be the descendants of those who murdered the prophets.”

“And now, finish off what your ancestors began!”

Wednesday, 28 August 2019 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine of Hippo, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 138 : 7-8, 9-10, 11-12ab

Where else could I go from Your Spirit? Where could I flee from Your presence? You are there, if I ascend the heavens; You are there, if I descend to the depths.

If I ride on the wings of the dawn, and settle on the far side of the sea, even there, Your hand shall guide me, and Your right hand shall hold me safely.

Shall I say, “Let darkness hide me, I prefer the night as my light?” But darkness, for You, is not dark.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine of Hippo, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

1 Thessalonians 2 : 9-13

Remember our labour and toil; when we preached the Gospel, we worked day and night, so as not to be a burden to you. You are witnesses, with God, that we are holy, just and blameless toward all of you who now believe. We warned each of you, as a father warns his children; we encouraged you, and urged you to adopt a way of life worthy of God, Who calls you to share His own glory and kingdom.

This is why we never cease giving thanks to God for, on receiving our message, you accepted it, not as human teaching, but as the word of God. That is what it really is, and, as such, it is at work in you who believe.

Monday, 28 August 2017 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to God speaking to the people, condemning the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law for their hypocrisy in their faith, in how they have not been truly faithful to God, and how they have not obeyed God in His laws and commandments, through their mistaken interpretation and application of the Law entrusted to them as the teachers and the leaders of the people of God.

That is because the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had not been faithful in keeping the commandments, and their duty was to ensure that the people of God obeyed those laws and through those laws learn to love the Lord as He had commanded, and then show the same love towards their fellow men and women. That is the essence of the Law which the Lord Jesus had spoken to His people and revealed to them, as the real intention of the Law God gave to them.

Yet, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law misused their authority and teachings to suit their own desires and to seek their own personal and worldly glory. They used the Law to suit their own needs and wants, and allowing certain practices that were not in line with the Law, but which brought about convenience to them, as well as benefits. They turned around a blind eye to unlawful practices and wickedness, including those of their own, and yet punished those who genuinely and sincerely desiring to love God.

Yes, they closed the gates of salvation to those who needed it most, by turning away prostitutes, tax collectors and other sinners, whom they despised, looked down upon, and sneered on. They themselves did not practice the Law of God and did not have the love of God in themselves, but they wanted to look down on others just because they thought that those people did not deserve to be saved because of their sins.

How is this relevant to all of us, brothers and sisters in Christ? The message of the Scripture passages today is that each and every one of us as Christians must not follow what the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had done. We must not think that all of us are better than others and that certain people are beyond God’s grace and salvation, for it is God’s prerogative to judge the soul of a person and not us.

And these readings we heard today perfectly match the holy saint whose feast we celebrate today, as we remember together the memory of St. Augustine of Hippo, a holy bishop and a well-known saint, known for his many works and writings in various matters of the faith, so much so that he was considered among the four original Doctors of the Church, whose contributions to the Church was indeed immense.

Yet, how many of us know that St. Augustine of Hippo was also a sinner, especially in his involvement with the Manichaean heresy and how he spent his early life in debauchery and wickedness, seeking the glory and the pleasures of the world, and certainly no one would have thought that St. Augustine, then a pagan philosopher whose life was filled with sin and wickedness, would be a Christian one day, less still a saint.

It was by the ceaseless prayers and efforts of his mother, St. Monica, a devout Christian, who prayed daily for his sake, and for the conversion of his soul, that God called St. Augustine to his service. St. Augustine of Hippo yearned in his heart to seek for fulfilment which he was unable to attain through all of his worldly pursuits for knowledge, for worldly glory and power, for the pleasures of the body and others.

Thus, eventually St. Augustine made a complete turnaround in his life, repenting from his past sins, and under the tutelage of another great saint, St. Ambrose of Milan, who would also be counted together with St. Augustine as one of the four original Doctors of the Church, St. Augustine was baptised as a Christian, and henceforth walked on the path that God had set for him.

From what we have heard in the Scripture passages today, and what we have heard in the story of St. Augustine of Hippo, a great sinner turned a great saint, much as St. Paul the Apostle himself was a great enemy of the Church and the faithful before his conversion, we see how God through His Church transformed men and women who were once sinners into saints and holy people, through the transformation of those who were willing to repent wholeheartedly from their sins, and opening themselves to God’s love and grace.

It means that as Christians all of us must not be like the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who despised those they deemed to be sinners and unworthy, but instead, we must love them and embrace them, and most importantly, we must call them to repentance and forgiveness for their sins through that sincere repentance.

All of us are also sinners, all in need of repentance and then God’s mercy. Therefore, let us all open our hearts and minds, allowing God to do His work in us, and through us as well, that by our work and effort, we may call ever more souls towards God and His light, delivering them from the darkness of sin and thus saving them from the fires of hell.

May the Lord bless us all His Church, that all of us who are sinners may come ever closer to Him, and have that strong desire in us to sin no more and to repent, wholeheartedly turning ourselves to His way. Let us all also help one another in our journey towards God, that in the end, no one will be lost from God, and all of us will receive from Him, the gift of eternal life. St. Augustine of Hippo, pray for us sinners. Amen.

Monday, 28 August 2017 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 23 : 13-22

At that time, Jesus said to the people and to His disciples, “But woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door to the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You, yourselves, do not enter it, nor do you allow others to do so.”

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You devour widows’ property; and as a show, you pray long prayers! Therefore, you shall receive greater condemnation. Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel by sea and land to make a single convert; yet, once he is converted, you make him twice as fit for hell as yourselves!”

“Woe to you, blind guides! You say : To swear by the temple is not binding; but, to swear by the gold of the temple is binding. Foolish men! Blind men! Which is of more worth : the gold in the temple, or the temple which makes the gold a sacred treasure? You say : To swear by the altar is not binding, but to swear by the offering on the altar is binding. How blind you are! Which is of more value : the offering on the altar, or the altar which makes the offering sacred?”

“Whoever swears by the altar, is swearing by the altar and by everything on it. Whoever swears by the temple, is swearing by the temple, and by God, Who dwells in the temple. Whoever swears by heaven, is swearing by the throne of God, and by Him, Who is seated on it.”