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.

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

Liturgical Colour : White

Acts 22 : 3-16

Paul spoke to the Jews in Jerusalem, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up here, in this city, where I was educated in the school of Gamaliel, according to the strict observance of our law. And I was dedicated to God’s service, as are all of you today. As for this Way, I persecuted it to the point of death and arrested its followers, both men and women, throwing them into prison.”

“The High Priest and the whole Council of elders can bear witness to this. From them, I received letters for the Jewish brothers in Damascus; and I set out to arrest those who were there, and bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment. But, as I was travelling along, nearing Damascus, at about noon, a great light from the sky suddenly flashed about me.”

“I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me : ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?’ I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me : ‘I am Jesus, the Nazorean, Whom you persecute.’ The men who were with me saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of the One Who was speaking to me. I asked : ‘What shall I do, Lord?’”

“And the Lord replied : ‘Get up and go to Damascus; there, you will be told all that you are destined to do.’ Yet, the brightness of that light had blinded me; and so, I was led by the hand into Damascus by my companions. There, a certain Ananias came to me. He was a devout observer of the law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who were living there.”

“As he stood by me, he said : ‘Brother Saul, recover your sight.’ At that moment, I could see; and I looked at him. He, then, said, ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know His will, to see the Just One, and to hear the words from His mouth. From now on, you shall be His witness before all the pagan people, and tell them all that you have seen and heard.’”

“‘And now, why delay? Get up and be baptised, and have your sins washed away, by calling upon His Name.’”

Alternative reading

Acts 9 : 1-22

Meanwhile, Saul considered nothing but violence and death for the disciples of the Lord. He went to the High Priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues of Damascus that would authorise him to arrest and bring to Jerusalem, anyone he might find, man or woman, belonging to the Way.

As he travelled along and was approaching Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute Me?” And he asked, “Who are You, Lord?” The voice replied, “I am Jesus, Whom you persecute. Now, get up, and go into the city; there, you will be told what you are to do.”

The men who were travelling with him stood there speechless : they had heard the sound, but could see no one. Saul got up from the ground and, opening his eyes, he could not see. They took him by the hand and brought him to Damascus. He was blind; and he did not eat or drink for three days.

There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias, to whom the Lord called in a vision, “Ananias!” He answered, “Here I am, Lord!” Then the Lord said to him, “Go, at once, to Straight Street and ask, at the house of Judas, for a man of Tarsus named Saul. You will find him praying, for he has just seen in a vision that a man named Ananias has come in and placed his hands upon him, to restore his sight.”

Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man, and all the harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem; and now, he is here, with authority from the High Priest, to arrest all who call upon Your Name.”

But the Lord said to him, “Go! This man is My chosen instrument, to bring My Name to the pagan nations and their kings, and the people of Israel as well. I, Myself, will show him how much he will have to suffer for My Name.”

So Ananias left and went to the house. He laid his hands upon Saul and said, “Saul, my brother, the Lord Jesus, Who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me to you, so that you may receive your sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from his eyes and he could see; he got up and was baptised. Then he took food and was strengthened.

For several days Saul stayed with the disciples at Damascus, and he soon began to proclaim in the synagogues that Jesus was the Son of God. All who heard were astonished and said, “Is this not the one who cast out, in Jerusalem, all those calling upon this Name? Did he not come here, to bring them bound before the chief priests?”

But Saul grew more and more powerful; and he confounded the Jews living in Damascus when he proved that Jesus was the Messiah.

Sunday, 25 January 2015 : Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate the great feast of the conversion of the great Apostle St. Paul, who was once known as Saul, the great enemy and persecutor of the Church and the faithful ones of God. God made him to be an Apostle and the great champion of the Faith, spreading the Good News of the Gospel to the farthest ends of the known world at the time. By his works, many followed in his footsteps and were converted as well.

This is in line with the readings we heard today in the Holy Scriptures, the first reading taken from the Book of the prophet Jonah spoke of the repentance and penitence shown by the people of Nineveh, the great capital of the Assyrian Empire, which God had marked to be annihilated for their sins and wickedness. The people, from the king to the lowest servants and slaves immediately repented from their sins after they listened to the warnings of the prophet Jonah.

This is to highlight God’s nature, that is His love and mercy, which He freely gives to all those who put their trust in Him and those who want to be forgiven for their wickedness. Thus, He forgave those who have come to His throne and mercy, and most importantly, those who dedicated themselves to change their way of life and committed to a life free from sin and to walk in the way of the Lord from then on.

Thus was Paul forgiven and called by God, to change his ways of sin and wickedness, the sin of the rejection of Christ and of the persecution of the faithful ones of God, into one that is devoted to the salvation of souls and total faith and trust in God. Indeed, even today, we can only be truly amazed at how God called one of His greatest servants and defenders from among the sinners and among those who have once hated Him so much so as to swore to destroy His entire Church.

And in the Gospel today, the theme is repeated yet again, for God through Christ called the servants whom He would make to be His greatest servants and witnesses in the world, the Holy Apostles, who have been given the authority to teach and preach the Good News, the power to heal and to forgive sins, just as the Lord gave them all these.

This is to show us that God does not want to punish us sinners and rebels against His will, even though rightfully and justly we should have been punished very severely for the disobedience we have committed against the Lord. Yes, just as St. Paul who once as Saul became a scourge for the faithful, getting hundreds or maybe even thousands or more of the faithful of the early Church to become martyrs, and yet God was willing to forgive him and embrace him back into His love.

That is why we have to always remember that God truly loves us sinners, but He hates entirely our sins, our wickedness and all the filthy things we have committed in this life. Condemn not the sinners but the sin. That said, we must not have the false attitude of showing mercy to those who have committed sin but without seeking for their repentance and changing of their ways.

And why is this so important, brothers and sisters in Christ? If we look at what St. Paul himself wrote in the second reading, which was taken from his letter to the faithful in Corinth, he wrote about the imminence of the coming of the end, of the coming of the kingdom of God, and therefore, as we all should be aware of, that is the imminence of the coming of the last and final judgment of all creation, of all mankind.

Are we not too concerned of the fate of our fellow brethren? Are we all too selfish and concerned only about ourselves that we forget about others who still linger in the darkness and in sin? Are we proud of ourselves having been saved by the Lord and do we look down on those who are still filled with the filth of sin, without us offering a hand to help them out of their sinfulness into grace?

If our answers to all of this self-reflecting questions are yes, then we really have to look into ourselves, and ask us what is our faith truly about? Our faith in God is about believing in the Lord who have so much love for us sinners, that despite of all the filth of sin surrounding us, He still resolved to help and rescue us, and that was why He gave us Jesus His Son, to be our Redeemer.

Those of us who heard of the Good News of God and believed, and chose to accept Him as our Lord and Saviour, had been bathed and cleansed from the taints of our sins, of original sins and of our own sins, by the Blood of the Lamb of God, Christ who sacrificed Himself on the cross for us. By His death we were cast free from the suffering of death, and by His resurrection we are brought to a new life, life filled with the grace of God.

We have to realise that even great saints were themselves sinners once. No one was born a saint, except perhaps the Blessed Mother of our Lord, Mary, who was born clean and immaculate, free from sin, in order to prepare her in her role as the bearer of the Almighty God and Saviour, and of course our Lord Himself, born a Man and yet free from sin. All saints and holy people of God were once sinners too.

Yes, some saints were once murderers, adulterers, and we knew how St. Augustine lived in his youth, in debauchery and in the midst of worldliness, that his mother St. Monica prayed day and night with tears for the conversion of her son. And that is the attitude we should all have, to pray fervently for those around us who still sin, that they may receive the call and grace of God, and hope that they will turn their ways and embrace God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Like St. Paul, who had done so much great evils and sins in his youth, had he not been called, or if he had been rejected by God, and had he been rejected by the community of the faithful, then surely many countless souls would have been lost, those whom he had directly and indirectly touched throughout his long mission and service to God, whom without him would likely not have heard the word of God, spoken through St. Paul, the faithful servant, and the repentant sinner.

Therefore, shall we all realise that our action and proactive act are necessary for us to help our brethren to also find their way to the Lord? That is true Christian faith and true love, as Christ had taught us, that we embrace those who have hated and persecuted us because of our faith, those who have sinned and refused to believe in God, and by our actions, in which we show and infuse God’s love and mercy, we may bring them to realise the gravity of their sins, and the threat of eternal death they are facing, and therefore, immediately to turn their ways to find the Lord our God and their God, before it is too late for them.

May all of us be strengthened with the new Spirit of God, in the evangelisation and conversion of the world, so that many more people and many more souls can be saved and will be saved from the clutches of Satan, through our actions, be it through direct acts, or through our words and our loving acts to them, or even if it is through a simple prayer, prayed for their sake.

Let us all no longer be indifferent or ignorant of the plight of others around us who still dwell in sin, but let us free them, just as the Lord freed Saul from his sins and called him to be His servant, and thus let us help one another, to become holy people of God, saintly and devoted, that in the end, as many as possible are saved and brought into the Holy Presence of God. God be with us all, and forgive us sinners from our sins. Amen.

Sunday, 25 January 2015 : Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Mark 1 : 14-20

At that time, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee and began preaching the Good News of God. He said, “The time has come; the kingdom of God is at hand. Change your ways and believe the Good News.”

As Jesus was walking along the shore of Lake Galilee, He saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net in the lake, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fish for people.”

At once, they abandoned their nets and followed Him. Jesus went a little farther on and saw James and John, the sons of Zebedee; they were in their boat mending their nets. Immediately Jesus called them and they followed Him, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men.

Sunday, 25 January 2015 : Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

1 Corinthians 7 : 29-31

I say this, brothers and sisters : time is running out, and those who are married must live as if not married; those who weep as if not weeping; those who are happy as if they were not happy; those buying something as if they had not bought it, and those enjoying the present life as if they were not enjoying it.

For the order of this world is vanishing.