Sunday, 18 October 2020 : Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, as we reflect on the Word of God in the Scriptures, we are all reminded to do our part as Christians, as those who believe in God and follow the Lord. As Christians, all of us are God’s beloved people, and we have received His truth through the Church. If we truly believe in the Lord, then we must act and do things in ways that are in accordance to His teachings. Otherwise, if we do not do so, then we are hypocrites.

In our first reading today, taken from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, we heard the Lord proclaiming His salvation of His people through Cyrus, the then future king of the Persians. At the time of the prophet Isaiah, it was still two centuries or so before the time of king Cyrus. Yet, the Lord had proclaimed the coming of His salvation even at that time, in advance, that when His people who by then had become wayward and fallen into sin, and humiliated and humbled when their city, country and the Temple were destroyed, they were ultimately still beloved by God in the end.

When the Babylonians came and destroyed Jerusalem and Judah, looted and destroyed its Temple, the House of God, and brought most of the people off into exile in Babylon and far-off lands, it must have been very despicable and terrible for the descendants of the Israelites then, who had to endure such shame and humiliation, suffering and persecutions, as aliens and foreigners without any homeland. But God showed all of them that He still cared for them and loved them, and sent them a deliverer through Cyrus.

Cyrus, the ruler of Persia rose to power and eventually came to destroy the reign of the Babylonians and their tyranny, overthrowing them and their king, and brought about a new reign and era. King Cyrus was remembered for his upright and just rule, and for his revolutionary advancement of the rights of peoples and nations. He respected the rights of the various peoples and nationalities that existed in the vast Persian Empire he created, and his successors respected this same custom and practice.

It was this same Cyrus, whom God had revealed beforehand through prophecy, that freed the descendants of Israel from their bondage and exile, after many, many decades. They were allowed to return to their homeland, to regain the lands and places they had lost, and they were allowed to freely practice their faith once again. This is unusual as at that time, usually the ruler of the kingdoms got to decide what the people believed in, and usually persecuted foreign beliefs and practices.

Thus, Cyrus was considered a righteous among the nations, even though he did not belong to the Israelite nation, and even though he did not worship God the way that the Israelites worshipped Him. Cyrus obeyed God’s will and did everything that God had entrusted him with, as a just ruler and as the liberator of God’s oppressed people. Cyrus became a paragon and example among the Israelites henceforth, and he therefore is a good example for us all as well.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard the Lord Jesus as He spoke with the Pharisees, who at that time wanted to trap the Lord with cunning trickery, as they asked Him with sweet but insincere words, seemingly praising Him for being honest and upright, and then attempting to trap Him by asking if it was lawful and fine for the people to pay the taxes to Caesar, that is to the Roman government.

This was truly a very cunning and tricky attempt in trying to discredit and even harm the Lord. The Lord was in fact would end up in deep trouble had He answered either that the people must not pay the taxes or that they should obey and pay their taxes. This was because, the matter of Roman taxes was a very divisive and dangerous one at the time, with most of the people resenting the taxation, the money that they had to pay to their Roman overlords.

That was why the people resented the tax collectors very much and reviled them as one of the lowest in the community, treated with contempt and branded even as traitors to the nation. They were seen as collaborators who got rich and had good life due to their connections with the Roman government and its apparatus, and the people came to resent this very deeply. Thus, had the Lord answered that the people ought to pay taxes to the Romans, then the Pharisees would have severely discredited Him and made Him hated by the people.

On the other hand, had the Lord said that the people must not pay taxes, then the Pharisees would have used the opportunity to strike at Him by reporting Him to the Romans, just as they would eventually do together with the Sanhedrin when they handed the Lord to the Romans for the crucifixion. Not paying taxes was one of the most severe faults that the Romans would definitely punish very harshly. After all, the Romans had treated traitors and treasonous activities with the great harshness throughout its history.

Instead, the Lord wisely manouevred His way out of the predicament by first rebuking the Pharisees for their wicked attempt in trying to trap and discredit HIm, and then saying that on that matter, then everyone ought to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and in the same way, give to God, what belongs to God. In this way, the Lord neither said that the people must submit to the Romans for their taxes, or that they should not pay taxes. On the contrary, they give whatever is due to each.

We can see here that the Lord wants to remind us that all of earthly possessions, all these things all belong to the world, and just as we have been blessed and given these possessions, some of us having more while others having less, we have to let them go and give them back whenever it is necessary. And then, all of us must remember that all of us ourselves, belong to God and to Him alone, and because of this, we ought to give to God what is due to Him, that is to love Him and dedicate ourselves to Him wholeheartedly.

The example of king Cyrus of Persia in our first reading today is a reminder that God has empowered in this world, governments and states, nations and rulers with the authority from Him, to govern and rule, to lead and guide, in tandem with the Church which He has established in this world. To those rulers, God had entrusted us His people who are still living in this world. This is why, as good and committed Christians, we cannot be disobedient or rebellious against those governments and rulers God had placed over us.

We have our part to play as obedient and dutiful citizens and peoples of the countries we are in. Of course this does not mean that we follow the rules blindly, as we have to obey the laws and teachings of the Church as well. But it means that as long as the rules of the land do not contradict the essence of Christian teachings and are in line with the virtues and values of our Christian faith, we should obey and follow them.

That is why, all of us as Christians, we must be good and virtuous in all of our actions and deeds. We have to be good Christians and followers of the Lord, just as we have to be good and law-abiding citizens as well. We must not be like the Pharisees and all those hypocrites, who outwardly showed piety and faith, and yet, they had no real and genuine love and dedication to God. In this way, they had not given to God, what belongs to God, that is their love and their obedience.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we see in king Cyrus, who was not even counted among the Israelites, and yet, highly regarded and praised for his actions, his righteousness and justice as a just ruler and liberator for many people including the people of Israel, all of us are called to follow in his examples, to follow the path of God, all the more that since we know of His truth and teachings, then we are expected to obey Him and to show our faith through our actions, at each and every moments of our lives.

This is the challenge that we have been presented with, brethren. Are we willing and able to commit ourselves to walk down this path of faith? God has called us all to follow Him, and to do what He has taught and shown us to do. We are all called to bear His truth and love, to be His faithful witnesses in our respective communities. And especially, during these difficult and challenging times, have we been good neighbours and friends to all those who are in need around us? Or have we been more interested in settling our own matters and desires?

We have seen how many people selfishly took care of themselves, or being disobedient for the sake of their personal freedom. And there had been occasions when we as Christians complained that we have been restricted in our freedom to worship especially in the last few months, and we disobeyed the government and regulations all amidst the terrible few months of this pandemic. This is the perfect example of why, as Christians, we must not forget that while we obey the Lord first and foremost above all else, but we also have a duty to be good and responsible citizens too.

Let us think of this, brothers and sisters in Christ, if by our actions then by refusing to wear mask, or by refusing to follow community gathering and restrictions currently in place, we cause harm to others, and make others to suffer more, and by prolonging this pandemic, we unnecessarily extend this pandemic’s impact, aren’t we being hypocrites and unfaithful, and worse still, being selfish and sinful? This is why, we must not lose ourselves to our own pride and desires, and be disobedient for the sake of being convenient for ourselves.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore from now on, especially during these difficult times, be exemplary in our actions and deeds, in being responsible in our daily actions, and in showing care towards others in need. Let us all help one another and play our part, doing the best we can to be first and foremost, dutiful and loving Christians, and also as contributing and law-abiding citizens of our respective states and realms.

May the Lord be with us always, and may He guide us with His wisdom that we may discern carefully our choice of actions, avoiding actions that bring about harm to others just that we feed our own ego and selfishness. Let us be guided by God and our Christian faith in our actions and way of life. May God bless us all and help us in our efforts and endeavours. Amen.

Sunday, 18 October 2020 : Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Matthew 22 : 15-21

At that time, the Pharisees went away, considering how they could trap Jesus by His own words. They sent to Him their disciples, along with members of Herod’s party, saying, “Master, we know that You are an honest Man; and truly teach God’s way. You are not influenced by others, nor are You afraid of anyone. So tell us what You think : is it against the Law to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

But Jesus understood their evil intentions, and said to them, “Hypocrites, why are you trying to trap Me? Show me the coin with which you pay taxes.” They showed Him a silver coin, and Jesus said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose name?” They answered, “Caesar’s.” Then Jesus replied, “So give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.”

Sunday, 18 October 2020 : Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

1 Thessalonians 1 : 1-5b

From Paul, Sylvanus and Timothy, to the Church of Thessalonica, which is in God, the Father, and in Christ Jesus, the Lord. May the peace and grace of God be with you. We give thanks to God, at all times, for you, and remember you in our prayers. We constantly recall, before God, our Father, the work of your faith, the labours of your love, and your endurance, in waiting for Christ Jesus our Lord.

We remember, brothers and sisters, the circumstances of your being called. The Gospel we brought you was such, not only in words. Miracles, the Holy Spirit, and plenty of everything, were given to you.

Sunday, 18 October 2020 : Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Psalm 95 : 1 and 3, 4-5, 7-8, 9-10a and 10c

Sing to YHVH a new song, sing to YHVH, all the earth! Recall His glory among the nations, tell all the peoples His wonderful deeds.

How great is YHVH and worthy of praise! Above all gods, He is to be feared. For all other gods are worthless idols, but YHVH is the One Who made the heavens.

Give to YHVH, you families of nations, give to YHVH glory and strength. Give to YHVH the glory due His Name; bring gifts and enter His courts.

Worship YHVH with holy celebrations; stand in awe of Him, all the earth. Say among the nations, “He will judge the peoples with justice.”

Sunday, 18 October 2020 : Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Isaiah 45 : 1, 4-6

Thus says YHVH to His anointed, to Cyrus : “I have taken you by the right hand to subdue nations before you and strip kings of their armour, to open the gateways before you so that they will be closed no more.”

“For the sake of Jacob My servant, of Israel My chosen one, I have called you by your name and given you your mission although you do not know Me. I am YHVH, and there is no other; there is no God besides Me. I armed you when you did not know Me, so that, from the rising to the setting of the sun, all may know that there is no one besides Me; I am YHVH, and there is no other.”

Monday, 21 September 2020 : Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate the feast of the great Apostle, St. Matthew, who was one of the Twelve Apostles and also one of the four Evangelists or the writers of the Four Gospels. St. Matthew was originally known as Levi, one of the tax collectors who responded to the Lord’s call, left behind everything in order to follow Him. And thus, St. Matthew came to be, a faithful disciple of the Lord and a great evangeliser by words and by his writings.

The story of St. Matthew is truly an inspiration and hope for each and every one of us, a kind reminder from the Lord that there is no one beyond the reach of God’s mercy and love, and there is no sin great enough that cannot be forgiven by God. When someone is condemned for his or her sins, that is because that person has consciously rejected God’s love and mercy, and chose to remain in sin rather than to walk in the path of God’s Light.

At the time of Jesus’ life and ministry, the tax collectors were seen very negatively by many segments of the community, particularly by the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. First of all, the tax collectors were seen as collaborators to the Romans who then had become the overlords of the lands of Judea, Galilee and other lands where the Jews lived in. They were even considered as traitors to the nation because they were deemed to have ‘sold off’ their fellow countrymen by their line of work.

But all these were mistaken perception and generalisation of all the tax collectors, who the Pharisees particularly despised, as the Pharisees looked highly on themselves as the pious guardians of the people’s faith and the Law, and to them, the tax collectors, prostitutes and also those who were unclean and possessed were the worst of the worst, sinful and unworthy of God’s love, and were to be shunned and rejected.

The Lord Jesus therefore did the unthinkable, and what the Pharisees and teachers of the Law must have been surprised with, as He spent time with those who had been mentioned earlier as the sinful and unclean, and in this case, even called one of those tax collectors to be His disciple and even become one of the Twelve Apostles. Some others like St. Mary Magdalene might have had dubious and less than ideal background as well, as in some traditions, she was once a prostitute who then repented and followed the Lord.

Levi, the tax collector whom the Lord called, chose to leave everything he had, his profession and income, his livelihood and others, and followed the Lord wholeheartedly from the moment when he was called. Levi also invited the Lord to have a dinner with him and his fellow tax collectors, and by doing so, in fact, he had done his first act of evangelisation, calling on all the other tax collectors, and introducing the Lord to them all.

The Pharisees were quick to strike at the Lord for His actions, how He approached and even had a meal at the house of those ‘unclean’ and sinful tax collectors. At that time, even going to the house of sinners could make one ‘unclean’, and for the Lord to go to the house of such sinner, was truly unprecedented. But as the Pharisees were busy criticising Him and His actions, the Lord immediately rebuked them and their elitist attitude, revealing to us all just how God loves every one of His children without discrimination.

What does this mean, brothers and sisters? It means that the Lord never wants to lose any one of us, and to Him, each and every one of us are equally important, from the greatest man to the humblest and lowliest in stature and in standing, all are equal before Him, equally beloved and equally shown mercy and forgiveness. Even the worst of sinners, should they repent sincerely with all their heart and with all of their strength, they will be forgiven all their sins.

This is why the saying by St. Augustine of Hippo is true, that ‘there is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.’ signifying how all of us, first of all are sinners before God, and every one of us have sinned and failed God by disobedience, but God’s generous mercy will rid us of those sins should we respond to His call for repentance, and that we commit ourselves to be forgiven from those sins. This is the future that was mentioned by St. Augustine, himself was a great sinner, who found God and was converted, and became a great servant of God and saint.

Levi experienced the same conversion, as did many other saints, and for Levi, later known as Matthew, he dedicated himself to the service of God, first of all for his efforts in compiling and writing down the accounts of the ministry of the Lord and His revelations of truth, in the Gospel named after himself, the Gospel according to St. Matthew. Through this Gospel, many countless souls throughout the history of the Church had discovered God, known about His love and mercy, and were converted to the faith.

And not just that, as St. Matthew also ministered among the Jewish people in Judea, preaching the Word of God and His Good News to them, as was also evident in how his Gospel were also written primarily being addressed to the Jewish people. This showed that St. Matthew had taken it upon himself to evangelise the truth about Christ among the Jews and to call more of the Lord’s first chosen people to follow Him into the fullness of truth in the Christian faith.

St. Matthew also evangelised in distant lands, preaching the Good News to many people, and it was told that he went to Ethiopia, who had by then began to receive the Christian faith and had growing communities of the faithful. St. Matthew, according to one tradition, was martyred after he rebuked the local king who lusted and desired for her own niece, while the latter had also dedicated herself to a holy virginity dedicated to God. It was told that St. Matthew was martyred while celebrating the Holy Mass on the Altar.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we see how God’s power of love and forgiveness are so great and wonderful. Sinners He has called and transformed into great saints, those who have impacted the lives of many among the faithful. And this therefore gives us the hope that all of us shall also share in the same joy, as long as we are faithful and embrace God’s mercy, repenting sincerely from our past sins and waywardness.

Let us all therefore follow the examples of St. Matthew, St. Augustine and all the other holy men and women of God, transforming our lives into ones that bring glory to God, through our daily actions and deeds. Let us all turn towards God’s mercy and love, and seek to be forgiven from all of our unfaithfulness, our wickedness and waywardness, our sins and shortcomings that had prevented us from finding our way to the Lord all these while.

May the Lord help us and guide us in our journey of faith, and may He guide us into His everlasting kingdom, and help us that we may grow ever stronger in faith, not to be swayed by greed and pride, and also showing the same concern and love that He has showed us, in how we interact with each other, with our fellow Christian brothers and sisters. May St. Matthew also intercede for us and inspire us to be courageous witnesses of our faith in our respective communities, that more and more may come to believe in God, by witnessing our own dedication and authentic living of our faith. Amen.

Monday, 21 September 2020 : Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Matthew 9 : 9-13

At that time, as Jesus moved on from the place where He cured a paralytic man, He saw a man named Matthew, at his seat in the custom house; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And Matthew got up and followed Him.

Now it happened, while Jesus was at table in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners joined Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is it, that your Master eats with sinners and tax collectors?”

When Jesus heard this, He said, “Healthy people do not need a doctor, but sick people do. Go, and find out what this means : What I want is mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Monday, 21 September 2020 : Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 18 : 2-3, 4-5

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

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

Monday, 21 September 2020 : Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Ephesians 4 : 1-7, 11-13

Therefore, I, the prisoner of Christ, invite you, to live the vocation you have received. Be humble, kind, patient and bear with one another in love. Make every effort to keep among you, the unity of spirit, through bonds of peace. Let there be one body, and one Spirit, just as one hope is the goal of your calling by God. One Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God, the Father of all, Who is above all, and works through all, and is in all.

But to each of us, divine grace is given, according to the measure of Christ’s gift. As for His gifts, to some, He gave to be Apostles; to others, prophets, or even evangelists; or pastors and teachers. So, He prepared those who belong to Him, for the ministry, in order to build up the Body of Christ, until we are all united, in the same faith and knowledge of the Son of God. Thus, we shall become the perfect Man, upon reaching maturity, and sharing the fullness of Christ.

Saturday, 25 April 2020 : Feast of St. Mark, Evangelist (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate the great feast day of the Evangelist, St. Mark, one of the Four Holy Evangelists, the writers of the Four Holy Gospels. St. Mark was a great disciple of Christ, and while he was not one of the Twelve Apostles, he was accorded the same honour and respect as the Apostles and he was also the founder of the very important See of Alexandria. Thus St. Mark was considered retroactively as the very first Patriarch of Alexandria, one of the five greatest centres of early Christendom.

And on this day we recall the great deeds of St. Mark in his efforts as one of the followers of Christ, not just in writing the Gospel according to St. Mark, but also in his evangelising and preaching ministry among many of the people, in Alexandria where he would establish the Church there, in Egypt as a whole and in other parts of the world such as in other parts of North Africa and also the Mediterranean, as he also accompanied St. Peter during some of his travels.

This relationship can be seen as part of our first reading today from the Epistle of St. Peter in which St. Peter referred to St. Mark as his ‘son’, alluding to the close Christian relationship that they had between them, and how St. Mark must have been an important companion to at least some of St. Peter’s travels and works. And in that same passage from St. Peter’s Epistle, the Apostle also reminded us all the faithful that we must be filled with virtues and humility, to serve God with all of our strength and to be vigilant against the temptations of evil.

In all of today’s readings therefore, including that of the Gospel in which the Lord Jesus after His resurrection described what His disciples would be sent out to do, and how the Lord would protect them from harm, all of us are reminded now therefore of this calling which God had called us into, the mission that He has shared with us and entrusted to us, which is the mission to save the whole world, to bring God’s salvation to them and to call them to embrace the fullness of His grace.

If God has called St. Mark and the Apostles, the many disciples He had called and chosen, then we must also realise that God has also called all of us, His faithful ones, to be His followers and to do what He desires of us to do in accordance with His will. And this means that we have been entrusted with the same mission which the Lord had given and entrusted to His Apostles and disciples, to go forth to the world and spread His Good News of salvation, and bring all souls to Him.

Are we willing and able to take up this mission that the Lord has entrusted to us? God wants us to follow Him and to contribute to the missions of the Church in whatever way we can. And the Lord had given us many gifts and abilities, talents and opportunities to follow Him and give all these for the sake of His greater glory. But many of us have not been using them properly as we should have, and many of us even abused and misused them for our own selfish purposes.

Today, all of us are called to discern carefully with our lives and our actions. We are called to follow in the footsteps of St. Mark the Evangelist and the other Apostles and disciples of the Lord, in their courageous and devout pursuit of service to God and His people. God has called all of us through our baptism, which we all share, to walk down the path of faith and to be His witnesses and workers, to be faithful to Him and to be inspirations for one another especially during these difficult times.

During these dark and challenging times, we are challenged to be bearers of hope and to be beacons of God’s wonderful light amidst the darkness that have been covering this world. We are now living through particularly difficult and dark times, and we see all around us all forms of sufferings and pains, conflicts and evil. Many among us have fallen into despair and gave in to our fears and uncertainties, our desires and selfishness, resulting in us acting and behaving in ways that often cause hurt and pain upon others.

Are we able to challenge ourselves to overcome these temptations of our desires and pride? Are we able to focus our attention instead on God and on His love and providence, rather than being obsessed and overcome by the pride and ego within us? Let us all spend some time to think about these matters, and let us all be inspired by the faith and the dedication of our holy predecessors that we, too, may follow in their footsteps and do our best to serve the Lord at all times. May God bless us all and our many good endeavours for our faith. May St. Mark intercede for us sinners too before our Lord and Master. Amen.