Friday, 6 December 2019 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Nicholas, Bishop (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Bishops)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the words of the Scripture and progress through the season of Advent, we are again constantly being reminded of God and His loving presence in our lives, how He is with us and providing us help for what we need, and how He promised all of His people that the time of His salvation will come, the time when all those who are faithful to Him will be gathered to God’s loving embrace.

In our first reading today, we heard of how the promise of God’s salvation to His people was being revealed as He spoke in the prophecy He relayed through Isaiah, His prophet. We heard of how the prophet Isaiah described clearly the coming of the time when the people of Israel will no longer be ashamed or suffer, those who are righteous will no longer be oppressed, and they will see the salvation of God.

The Lord will also heal His people from their afflictions and sickness, their pains and troubles, and give them the new strength and life in Him, blessing them abundantly as He has always done. It has all been fulfilled then through the Messiah or Saviour, Who is none other than Our Lord and God, Jesus Christ. In our Gospel passage today we heard how He healed all the multitudes of the sick who were brought to Him and how He cast out demons from them and blessed all of them.

We heard how He also opened the eyes of the blind, among many others, feats that are impossible for human beings, and only serve to show us all how truly Jesus is the Messiah of God, His own beloved Son sent into the world to save us all, His beloved ones. God showed forth His love and just how wonderful and patient that love has been through Christ, the fullness of God’s love manifested in our world. And through the Lord Jesus, God’s truth and love have been propagated through His disciples.

And we celebrate the memory of one of those who succeeded the Apostles and carried forth the loving examples of God’s love to us, namely that of St. Nicholas of Myra, a holy bishop who lived and ministered to his faithful flock in Myra in what is now Anatolia or Asian part of Turkey in the early century of the Church around the time of the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in the early fourth century.

St. Nicholas was also in fact the origin of the now ubiquitous Santa Claus, which arguably had become much, much more famous than his original namesake. Many did not even know of who St. Nicholas of Myra was, or what his life and works had been like, as they were much more aware of Santa Claus, the modern day, sort of secularised and fictional depiction of St. Nicholas, an old man who is generous in giving, delivering gifts to the children and families on the eve of Christmas.

This came forth from the actions of St. Nicholas of Myra, who was remembered for his actions in giving to the children of his flock, caring especially for the poor and the unloved ones. St. Nicholas of Myra however, was also a fierce and courageous defender of the faith, a fact that even many among those who knew St. Nicholas of Myra did not really know. It was told that St. Nicholas punched the heretic Arius in the face when the latter spoke of his heretical thoughts and teachings so blatantly at the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea.

The love which St. Nicholas had shown, which inspired the modern story and representation of Santa Claus is a reminder to all of us that as the disciples and followers of the Lord, we must always show love, care and concern in our lives and therefore bring forth the wonderful love that God has brought to us, to our own fellow brothers and sisters. But then, his courageous and fierce defence of his faith is also then a reminder for us to anchor ourselves in the Lord.

This means that, for every actions we do and for every words we utter and for every interactions we make to one another, we are all called to centre ourselves on God and put Him at the centre focus of our whole lives and existences. We are all called to give our very best to love the Lord and to dedicate ourselves to Him, as after all, through what we have heard in today’s Scripture passages, God has loved us all so wonderfully in the first place.

Let us all pray that we can thus be strengthened in our faith and in our conviction and desire to love God from now on with all of our heart and with all of our strength. Let us all also then show the same love to our fellow brethren without fail as well, showing genuine and tender love in everything we say and do, at all times, following the good examples set by St. Nicholas of Myra and the many other saints whose lives have inspired us. Amen.

Friday, 6 December 2019 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Nicholas, Bishop (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Bishops)

Matthew 9 : 27-31

At that time, as Jesus moved on from the place where He resurrected the daughter of the official, two blind men followed Him, shouting, “Son of David, help us!” When He was about to enter the house, the blind men caught up with Him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do what you want?” They answered, “Yes, Sir!”

Then Jesus touched their eyes and said, “As you have believed, so let it be.” And their eyes were opened. Then Jesus gave them a stern warning, “Be careful that no one knows about this.” But as soon as they went away, they spread the news about Him through the whole area.

Friday, 6 December 2019 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Nicholas, Bishop (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Bishops)

Psalm 26 : 1, 4, 13-14

The Lord is my Light and my Salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the Rampart of my life; I will not be afraid.

One thing I ask of the Lord, one thing I seek – that I may dwell in His house all the days of my life, to gaze at His jewel and to visit His sanctuary.

I hope, I am sure, that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Trust in the Lord, be strong and courageous. Yes, put your hope in the Lord!

Friday, 6 December 2019 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Nicholas, Bishop (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Bishops)

Isaiah 29 : 17-24

In a very short time, Lebanon will become a fruitful field and the fruitful field will be as a forest. On that day the deaf will hear the words of the book, and out of the dark and obscurity the eyes of the blind will see. The meek will find joy and the poor among men will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.

For the tyrant will be no more and the scoffers gone forever, and all who plan to do evil will be cut down – those who by a word make you guilty, those who for a bribe can lay a snare and send home the just empty-handed.

Therefore YHVH, Abraham’s Redeemer, speaks concerning the people of Jacob : No longer will Jacob be ashamed; no longer will his face grow pale. When he sees the work of My hands, his children again in his midst, they will sanctify My Name, they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and stand in awe of the God of Israel. Those who err in spirit will understand; those who murmur will learn.

Thursday, 6 December 2018 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Nicholas, Bishop (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Bishops)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scripture, speaking to us about the strong faith and trust that we all must have to the Lord our God. God alone is our trustworthy hope and the one and only foundation of our lives that we can depend on, and not the many other forms of so-called foundations and assurances that are of this world.

What are these things that we mankind often trust above that of the Lord? It is our attachment and obsession over money, material goods, power, fame, worldly glory and human assurances, praise and adulations, that led us to put our trust in all these things, that are unfortunately, temporary and impermanent in nature. But many of us do not realise this, and we continue to depend on them and put on excessive trust in them.

We think that all of our worldly powers, might and whatever we accumulate in life, our prestige, honour, glory, wealth and influence can do us something good in the end. But, do we realise the shortness of our lives and the mortality of our bodies? It is a known fact that we cannot live forever, and all of us will die at one point in our lives. Some of us have a long life, while for others they may be short.

Few of us can understand the fragility of our lives. And many of us live our lives as if we will not see the end of our days anytime soon. Instead, we grow even more in our excesses and deeper in our desires for worldly pleasures and accompaniments. And this is when Satan sees a great opportunity in turning us to fall into the traps he has prepared for us, to bring about our downfall.

First of all, when we have all these worldly things, money, power, prestige, glory, fame and all else, we are often not satisfied, and we grow deeper in our longing for more of what we already have. This is because Satan and his forces are tempting us and presenting us with all these obstacles in order to prevent us from being able to realise how distant we have become from God and His path.

And during this season of Advent, it is even more fitting that we reflect on this reality, especially when we see all around us just how many temptations and distractions are present in our midst. Take for example, all the increasingly aggressive and secularistic way that Christmas is being celebrated in our world today, within our communities. In fact, in many of the Christmas celebrations and revelries, if we do take some time to notice, we will realise that Christ has often been overlooked and omitted from the celebrations.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas of Myra, a well-known saint and bishop, a Church father and a faithful defender of the faith. But do you know that St. Nicholas is also the prototype of the even far more well-known fictional figure of Santa Claus? In all of our Christmas celebrations, marketing and advertisements, I am sure we can never fail to find Santa Claus in all of them.

We know of Santa Claus as an elderly figure dressed in red and white, with a long, white beard, riding on a chariot driven by flying reindeers, carrying with him a large sack filled with all sorts of presents and gifts for all the children. All of us I am sure are familiar with this story, how we ought to hang socks over the fireplaces, where Santa will magically come at Christmas Eve to fill those with gifts.

But brothers and sisters in Christ, as we can see, this is first of all a gross misinterpretation and materialistic interpretation of Christmas, and secondly, if we know who St. Nicholas truly is, he is nothing like Santa Claus, and I want all of us to reflect on his life and his devotion to God, a true defender of the Faith. St. Nicholas of Myra is truly a role model for us all.

For St. Nicholas of Myra was devoted to his people, as bishop and shepherd of the faithful. He was bishop of Myra during the time when numerous heresies and difficulties were facing the Church. Although at that time, the Christian faith has been tolerated and even promoted throughout the Roman Empire and persecution ended, but the heresies threatened to divide the faithful and drag the souls of the just into damnation.

At that time, the famous preacher Arius spoke widely of his false ideas stating that the Lord Jesus Christ was not divine and Son of God, but merely just a Creation of God. In essence, this went against the tradition of the Apostles and the Church fathers who have, for centuries, maintained the truth of Christ that He is fully God and fully Man, united in the persona of Jesus Christ, one person, two natures, divine and human.

The Ecumenical Council of Nicaea was convened in the year 325 AD in order to address many issues of the faith and the Church, including the heresy of Arianism. At that time, many among the people and even priests and bishops who believed and sided with Arius and his teachings. It was told that during the Ecumenical Council, when Arius continued to speak his falsehoods and heresies, St. Nicholas of Myra could not hold his righteous anger anymore and punched the heretic in the face.

That, brothers and sisters in Christ, is who St. Nicholas of Myra is, a defender of the faith and a courageous and devoted servant of God, who did not fear to go into troubles and challenges just so that he could protect and make sure that his flock would not fall into the sin of heresy and error, and at the same time, caring for their needs. This is told to us that, St. Nicholas often liked to give gifts to young children in his diocese, and this is likely the source of the fictional story of Santa Claus, twisted over the centuries and misused by those who had little faith in God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, has the inspiring life of St. Nicholas of Myra inspired all of us? In this season of Advent, we should imitate the faith and commitment, the love that St. Nicholas has for God and for his fellow men. He placed his trust in God and not in worldly power and influences. And God is calling on us all, through His servant St. Nicholas, to abandon our sinful ways and our attachments and excesses on worldly things, rather turning ourselves to Him and loving Him more.

Let us remember this coming Christmas season and celebration that Christ is indeed the One Whom we should be celebrating and rejoicing about. Let all of our merrymaking, joy and happiness with our families and friends be always centred on Christ. And last of all, let us also remember the generosity of St. Nicholas in giving, and be generous with our charitable love for our fellow brethren, especially those who are in need. May God be with us all throughout this blessed Advent. Amen.

Thursday, 6 December 2018 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Nicholas, Bishop (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Bishops)

Matthew 7 : 21, 24-27

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My heavenly Father. Therefore, anyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts according to them, is like a wise man, who built his house on rock. The rain poured down, the rivers flooded, and the wind blew and struck that house. But it did not collapse, because it was built on rock.”

“But anyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act accordingly, is like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain poured, the rivers flooded, and the wind blew and struck that house; it collapsed, and what a terrible collapse that was!”

Thursday, 6 December 2018 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Nicholas, Bishop (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Bishops)

Psalm 117 : 1 and 8-9, 19-21, 25-27a

Alleluia! Give thanks to YHVH, for He is good, His loving kindness endures forever. It is better to take refuge in YHVH than to trust in the help of humans. It is better to take refuge in YHVH than to trust in the might of princes.

Open to me the gates of the Just, and let me enter to give thanks. This is YHVH’s gate, through which the upright enter. I thank You for having answered me, for having rescued me.

Save us, o YHVH, deliver us, o YHVH! Blessed is He Who comes in YHVH’s Name! We praise You from the house of YHVH. YHVH is God; may His light shine upon us.

Thursday, 6 December 2018 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Nicholas, Bishop (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Bishops)

Isaiah 26 : 1-6

On that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah : We have a strong city, He Himself has set up walls and fortifications to protect us. Open the gates! Let the righteous nation enter, she who is firm in faithfulness. You keep in perfect place the one of steadfast mind, the one who trusts in You.

Trust in YHVH forever, for YHVH is an everlasting Rock. He brought down those who dwell on high, He laid low the lofty city, He razed it to the ground, levelled it to the dust. Now it is trampled, the poor and the lowly tread upon it.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Nicholas, Bishop (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Bishops)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the readings of the Holy Scriptures telling us all about the love which the Lord, Our God, has shown us all His people, and the coming of the time when He will bring us into an eternity of joy and grace, no more sorrows and tears, at the time of His own choosing. We believe that this time will come in the future just as He has promised us.

And we see God as a loving and caring God as He is, for He is Our Shepherd, Our Loving Father, Our Master and Creator. God did not create us mankind for no reason or purpose, or just for fun. God created each and every one of us in His image, because He loves us, and He wants to share the love that is in Him, for He is love, with all of us.

God has no need for our love in the first place, because He is already perfect in love. In the Most Holy Trinity He has been united with perfect love, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Yet, He wants to love us, and thus He created us and the whole world. But unfortunately, we mankind chose to follow the devil’s advice and temptation instead, and fell into disobedience and therefore, sin.

Yet, He still loves each and every one of us without exception. Sin is an obstacle that had to be overcome before we can be reconciled with Him, for sin brings about death, and also separation from Him, Who is the Lord and Master of life. And that is why, as the Lord Himself made it clear in the famous verse from the Gospel of St. John, chapter 3, ‘God so loved the world that He sent us His Most Beloved Son, that all who believe in Him will not perish but enter into eternal life.’

Thus, it is why a centre tenet of our faith is that God Himself has come down upon us and dwelled with us, as He has prophesied through the prophet Isaiah, that a Son would be born of the Virgin, and His Name will be Emmanuel, or ‘God is with us’. Jesus Christ, Our Lord, is the fulfilment of that prophecy, the Son of God, the Divine Word Who is God, with God since time immemorial, incarnate through His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, to be the Son of Man.

And through Jesus, God showed His extraordinary love to us, His people, all of mankind. In the Gospel passage today, when the people who followed Jesus were hungry, four thousand men and many thousands more of women and children, He showed compassion and love for them, and wanted to feed them Himself. With seven loaves of bread and some fishes He blessed and multiplied, all the multitudes of them received food and were filled to satisfaction, with much excess to spare.

This, and another occasion of feeding of the five thousand men with five loaves of bread and two fishes, and the many other miracles, healing wonders and all that the Lord had done among His people, showed His tender love and compassion for us, as our Shepherd, Who has been saddened by our waywardness, and in fact, He was angry also, at our stubbornness and refusal to believe in Him, as what He showed to the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who persistently opposed Him and His works.

God wants us to be reconciled with Him so much, and He desires to love us so much to the point that, as we know, He was willing to lay down His life for us. He Himself said, that there is no greater love than for one to lay down his life for his friends, and that was exactly what the Lord Jesus had done. He accepted death willingly, death on the cross, to suffer torture, whips and lashes, the heavy burden of the cross, bearing all of our sins, and die on that cross, so that all of us may be saved through Him and in Him.

And this, brothers and sisters in Christ, is why we celebrate Christmas. Christmas is the celebration of the birthday of Our Lord Jesus, but it will have no greater meaning should it not be linked to the very reason why Christmas existed in the first place. Why did God choose to be born as a Man? No other gods in other pantheons and traditions, false as they are, chose to humble themselves in this manner. No, only God, the Lord and Master of the universe, Our God, chose to do so. And that is because of His pure love for each one of us as I mentioned.

But sadly, as we have been discussing in the past few days of Advent, in our celebrations and preparations for the celebrations of Christmas, God Himself has often been forgotten and put aside, replaced by the commercial and worldly ways of Christmas celebrations and revelries. We all know of the dramatic commercialisation, materialism and secularism that surround much of our Christmas celebrations today, throughout the world.

That said, there are of course still places where we can see the true meaning of Christmas being celebrated, as there are still those who truly place Christ at the centre of their Christmas celebrations. Yet, the temptations can be truly great for us to conform with the ways of the world, and all the excesses of partying and celebrations, the desires for Christmas gifts, joys and pleasures, forgetting about Christ, the true focus of our celebrations.

Take for example, the extensive commercialisation of the figure now known as identical and symbolic of our modern day Christmas celebrations, namely Santa Claus, whose origins in fact came about from the saint of the Church whose feast day we celebrate today. We always remember Santa Claus as the old man with big belly and dressed in red and white thick sweater, with a matching pointy hat, and a thick white moustache and beard, which is now ubiquitous throughout the world and immediately identifiable with Christmas.

And we see Santa Claus as a figure who delivers presents and gifts for people, especially children, riding on a magical carriage pulled by flying reindeers through the sky, entering through the chimneys of houses to put the gifts discreetly through the fireplaces. But do we all know, that Santa Claus is a horrible misrepresentation of a real person, and one who is a faithful and zealous defender of the faith, St. Nicholas (San Nicolaus – the origin of the name of Santa Claus) of Myra?

St. Nicholas of Myra was a bishop of the church in Myra, in what is now modern day Asian portion of Turkey, and he was known to be a loving and devout old man, always caring for his flock, and also known for his gifts to young children, through which the tradition of Santa Claus eventually came about through folklore and traditions twisted to suit what the world needs. But they choose what they want to see and believe, and not representing wholly who St. Nicholas of Myra truly was.

First and foremost, St. Nicholas of Myra is a staunch defender of the faith, who is a contemporary of the famous heretic, Arius. Arius was a very popular and charismatic preacher, who preached the heresy of Arianism, named after him, which basically stated the belief that Jesus Christ Our Lord, is not equal to God the Father, but was begotten and created by God. He denied the equality between each members of the Holy Trinity, a clear breach and break from the true teachings of the Church.

And unfortunately, many people were swayed to the teachings of Arius, and even quite a few priests and bishops as well. So much so that the heresy of Arianism lasted quite a few hundred years before it was finally defeated completely. And at the time of the inception of this heresy, the Church wanted to settle this issue once and for all, at the first Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, where the bishops of the Church, including St. Nicholas of Myra gathered to discuss about the many matters of the faith, including the teachings of Arius.

It was told that, when Arius spoke about his teachings and defended his ideas before the Ecumenical Council, St. Nicholas of Myra was so inflamed with zeal and righteous anger, that he went forward and punched the heretic Arius in the face for his blasphemy and false teachings of the faith, which had subverted and caused the loss of so many of the souls of the faithful.

Through what we have seen in the examples of St. Nicholas of Myra, we can see the real Santa Claus, and who he should have been, not the false image projected by the world as ‘Father Christmas’, engineered to further the materialistic attitude and distractions to keep us from finding the true focus and purpose of our Christmas joy and celebrations, that is Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Following in the footsteps of St. Nicholas of Myra, all of us as Christians should rediscover the purpose of our rejoicing and celebration this Christmas and from now on. We should indeed be happy and rejoice, together with our families and friends, but shall we now rejoice with the right purpose and intention, that is to remember just how much God has loved us, that He was willing to give us His only beloved Son, to be our Saviour and Redeemer?

Let us go through this season of Advent with a renewed faith and zeal, and prepare ourselves wholeheartedly, in our hearts, minds, souls, bodies, and indeed our whole beings, that we may appreciate much better from now on, the significance of Christmas to our salvation. For it was at Christmas, that God, Who had willingly made Himself to be like one of us, entered the world, and then later on, offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice on Calvary, on the cross, that through His loving sacrifice, all of us are saved through Him.

May the Lord bless each and every one of us, and may He empower all of us to live in accordance with His ways, so that in everything we do, we may always strive to bring glory to God and His Name. And may He also bless our Advent season, that for each one of us, this time will be fruitful and meaningful, for us to prepare ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually, to have a very wonderful and blessed Christmas in a few weeks time. St. Nicholas of Myra, the true Santa Claus, pray for all of us. Amen.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Nicholas, Bishop (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Bishops)

Matthew 15 : 29-37

At that time, from the place where Jesus healed the daughter of a Canaanite woman, He went to the shore of Lake Galilee, and then went up into hills, where He sat down. Great crowds came to Him, bringing the dumb, the blind, the lame, the crippled, and many with other infirmities. People carried them to the feet of Jesus, and He healed them.

All were astonished when they saw the dumb speaking, the lame walking, the crippled healed, and the blind able to see; and they glorified the God of Israel. Jesus called His disciples and said to them, “I am filled with compassion for these people; they have already followed Me for three days and now have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away fasting, or they may faint on the way.”

His disciples said to Him, “And where shall we find enough bread in this wilderness to feed such a crowd?” Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They answered, “Seven, and a few small fish.”

Jesus ordered the people to sit on the ground. Then, He took the seven loaves and the small fish, and gave thanks to God. He broke them and gave them to His disciples, who distributed them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the leftover pieces filled seven wicker baskets.