Saturday, 5 April 2014 : 4th Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Vincent Ferrer, Priest (Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Brothers and sisters in Christ, from today’s Scripture readings we are told that we should not doubt the Lord our God who came in Jesus to be our Messiah and the source of our salvation. We should not follow the path of the Pharisees who were adamant and stubborn in their ways and pride. They refused to listen because they remained in their rebelliousness and fallen ways.

They plotted against God and His Saviour because they were set in their ways and their thoughts, and they would not want to give way to, nor recognise the mistakes they had committed and the jealousy they felt as they saw this contender to their power and glory, grew high and great before the Lord. They were not able to loosen their heart because they were deeply trapped within their own pridefulness and arrogance.

It is in our nature, brethren, that we think first about ourselves and care only about our own well-being, and for us to have a powerful ego and desire, is only natural for us all mankind. And in this holy season of Lent we are always reminded of the need for us to first die to our ego, pride and selfishness before we are able to fully appreciate the love of God.

That is why I keep on emphasizing, along the line of the Scripture readings, of the need to listen and to be humble. Yes, that is to be open for suggestion by others and to accept willingly any comments and suggestion by others. We are by our sinful nature, proud and unbending. And we are also prone of selfishness, of thinking for our own good and benefits before the good of others, and even it is often that we trample on others as we march on to secure our own benefits.

That is why, in this season of Lent, we are called to take a step back and reflect on our own lives, whether we have been humble and listening to God’s will or whether we have been indignant and hardened our hearts against the love of God, opposing the Lord at every turn just as the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had done in their pride and jealousy against Jesus.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this season of Lent is the perfect time, yes, the time indeed, for us to take charge of our lives and our salvation, that our lives may be changed and renewed, no longer one that is based on our own inner desires, our emotions and our wants. Instead let this be the opportunity for us to make our lives to conform and adhere to the will of God and to His principles, that we no longer follow our own will and desire, but instead the will of God.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Vincent Ferrer, a saint of the early Renaissance era Spain. He was a Dominican priest and preacher, who were well known for his piety and powerful charisma and ability in preaching. St. Vincent Ferrer worked hard for the sake of the Lord and His people, converting thousands for God. He brought many people and lost sheep of the Lord back to their Master.

His works included many forays into the areas and the rural countryside, preaching about the Lord to them and opening their minds and hearts to God’s love and bringing them to the gates of salvation. It was in his great commitment and works for the least of God’s people that he was remembered for. Brothers and sisters in Christ, the life of St. Vincent Ferrer is the example for all of us to follow. He is the role model of our faith, the model for all Christians.

Yes, this Lenten season is the perfect opportunity for us to change our ways and turn towards God, and help others to do the same. And we should not be fearful nor be ashamed of our faults and our sinfulness, because it is in fact when we have fully acknowledged our own frailty and weaknesses that we may be able to turn for the better.

Let us therefore commit ourselves for the sake of God and His people, much as St. Vincent Ferrer had done. May we be better servants of our Lord in this holy and wondrous season of Lent, that we may all together be saved, helping one another as we approach and reach out to the Lord our God. May God bless us all and remain with us always. Amen.

 

Saturday, 22 February 2014 : Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle (Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate a very important feast in our Church and in our faith, that is the feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle. Some of you may ask, why do we celebrate the feast for a chair? What is its importance? That is because the Chair mentioned here is the Cathedra of St. Peter, the Cathedra Sancta Petri, the seat of St. Peter which is today at Rome, at the heart of Christendom.

The Cathedra symbolises the seat of the bishop, and therefore represents the teaching authority of the bishop in teaching the faith. This also applies therefore to St. Peter, who was the very first Bishop of Rome, and the Vicar of Christ, leader of all the Universal Church, the one whom Jesus had entrusted to lead and guide His beloved people, the faithful ones in the Church.

Therefore today, we commemorate the faith of Peter, the teaching authority and the very authority that had been granted to Peter by the Lord Himself. Peter had been set aside by the Lord to be the universal shepherd, the one and only leader of all His faithful, because of his frank and sincere profession of faith, which he made and which we witnessed in today’s Gospel.

Peter showed his faith by proclaiming without fear that Jesus is truly the Lord, the One whom God had sent into this world to save it. Peter is the rock upon which God had established His Church, to be the strong foundation for that Church, and as a focal point for all of His faithful, a point of reference and unity. That is why, our Pope, as his successor, is the leader of the entire Universal Church.

Peter was not perfect, and he had his flaws just as all of us do. He had wavered in his faith many times, and as you all knew, that he even denied knowing his Lord, not once but three times. And yet he was still chosen, and the Lord forgave him after His resurrection, asking him three times to show his love for Him, and in doing that forgave him and gave him a new task in life.

And Peter, being appointed to such an elevated position, did not take pride in it, but instead remained humble and serve the Lord with zeal and humility. Peter gave himself completely to the service of God, until the end, when he gave up his life in martyrdom in Rome. He worked hard for the spread of the Good News and for the good of the people of God.

When he was persecuted and about to die, when the Roman Emperor Nero pressed hard on Christians, Peter accepted the death gracefully and with great humility. He remained faithful to the end, and showing his faith, love and devotion to the Lord, when he was about to be crucified, he asked not to be crucified in the same way as Jesus and thus was crucified upside down.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, in this humble little man, Simon Peter the fisherman of Galilee, God had found a great servant and a holy person. He was called by Jesus to follow Him, and without question, he went to follow Jesus. Despite all the tribulations, temptations and downfalls that he had experienced, Peter persevered, and became the beacon of light for all the faithful.

As is often mentioned in the Scriptures, it is not man who decide to be worthy of. God, but it is in fact God who made mankind worthy and chose them to be His instruments for the salvation of mankind. Such was why the Apostles, in particular Peter were chosen. In them, who were lowly and humble men, God found the love and dedication which others did not or did not yet have.

Today, we celebrate this feast of the Chair of St. Peter to commemorate that glorification of the humble man, taken from Galilee to be the chief servant of the Lord, and became the foundation upon which the Church we know of today was built on. This small man God had made to be His right hand man, and to be the chief of the shepherds of His people, to fish them from all over the world, and bring them to Him.

Such was indeed the very heavy responsibility that Christ had entrusted to Peter, to be the cornerstone and the foundation of the Church that He had established in is world. And that responsibility is passed on through his successors down to his current successor, currently our Pope Francis, the Vicar of Christ, and leader of the entire Universal Church.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us today therefore pray for the Pope and all those who support him in his works, that he may persevere in the mission which the Lord had given him, that is to continue the works of St. Peter the Apostle. Just as St. Peter had been told to be a fisher of man, our Pope as his successor too is a fisher of man, still continuing the same mission Christ entrusted to Peter as the mission of His Church.

Yes, and we also have part to play in that mission, brethren, to be the fishers of men as well. It is also our mission to be the ones to spread the Good News to all parts of the world, especially to those who have yet to see the light of God. Let us keep alive our faith in God, and let us obey the teachings of the Church, which Peter and his successors has kept throughout time.

Today we commemorate the authority of Peter as the leader of the faithful, and it also serves as a reminder to keep us faithful to the Lord as Peter had been. It is alright for us to falter at times, because just like Peter, we are all also human beings, we are imperfect and we sin, we make mistakes. What is crucial is, can we turn that imperfection to perfection in Christ? Can we devote ourselves fully to God and change our ways as Peter had done?

May our Lord Jesus Christ see our love and devotion, and bless us as He had blessed Peter His Apostle. May our faith too grow strong with a strong foundation, that we will never go astray from the path of the Lord, and remain faithful to Him all our lives, and may return to Him if we have fallen away from His path. God bless us all. Amen.

Why did Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI relinquished the Papacy? (My personal opinion)

In my personal opinion, why our beloved Pope Benedict XVI, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, had decided to step down from his position and relinquish the Papacy, is because of three main factors and events that potentially play major roles in shaping his decision. All of these factors are tied to the first factor, that is his health.

 

Here are the three factors and events that in my opinion made our Pope Emeritus did what he had done :

 

1. Health : The Pope’s failing health due to his old age is likely the main reason why he had decided to relinquish the Papacy. Although indeed, he is now at 85 being much more vigorous as compared to Blessed Pope John Paul II’s last years, but as the Pope has great tasks to be done, for the sake of the Lord, and His people, Pope Benedict chose humility and step aside for someone else to take over the good works he had started.

He realised that his increasing difficulty in walking, most likely due to osteoarthritis and the problems with his vision will eventually impair him and preventing him from exercising his ministry as the Bishop of Rome. It has also been reported that Pope Benedict too suffers from Parkinson’s, although likely a mild one or one that is still at an early stage. This disease is well known for the one that debilitated Blessed Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict, being very close to the previous Pope, would really want to avoid another of many years of debilitation, where the Pope instead of leading directly the Church, had to delegate most of his works due to his disabilities. It is a matter of choice of course. Blessed John Paul II chose to persevere to show us how suffering for the sake of the Lord is like, and our beloved Benedict XVI stepped down to show us what humility and virtue is like.

 

2. WYD (World Youth Day) 2013 : The World Youth Day has been scheduled to occur in July 2013. It would have been in 2014, but because it will be held in Brazil, which will host the World Cup event in 2014, it was decided to hold the World Youth Day a year earlier. As the Pope’s health has made doctors to advise him strongly against transatlantic and difficult journeys, which would have limited him from visiting any countries outside of Europe, or even Italy in the coming years.

In 2012, his visits had been limited to Mexico, Cuba, and Lebanon, with only two major visits as opposed to the usual four or five visits per year, a clear sign that the Pope’s health is increasingly frail to travel far beyond Rome. As the World Youth Day 2013 will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, it is also possible that our beloved Benedict XVI chose to step aside that a more capable and vigorous new Pope can go instead to the event, that the new Pope can fully lead the event without the disabilities that increasingly had debilitated our beloved Benedict XVI.

 

3. Asia, the Church in Asia : Although Pope Benedict XVI had been known as someone who is particularly very attentive to the problems that the Church is facing in Europe and the West in general, which resulted in his numerous visits to the countries mostly in Europe, but he has also made several visits to countries in Latin America and Africa. Many would have criticised him for leaving out Asia, as although Middle Eastern countries like Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Israel had been visited rather often in his short pontificate, but he had yet to visit South Asia, Southeast Asia, and East Asia, where the Church, just as in Africa, had been growing very, very rapidly.

The Pope in fact, loved the Church in Asia, particularly the Church in China, which he had tirelessly worked at, in order that the believers in Christ there can be fully reintegrated into the One Body of the Universal Church, free from any form of external and governmental interventions.

Azerbaijan in Central Asia, was the last country in Central Asia visited by a Pope in 2002. But to truly look into Asia, we should go deeper into South Asia, that is India, and further east. The last time a Pope visited India and South Asia was in 1999 or 14 years ago, and the last time a Pope visited Southeast Asia was in 1995 (World Youth Day 1995, Manila, Philippines) or 18 years ago; and for East Asia, the last Papal visit was to Korea in 1989 or 24 years ago.

Several countries in Asia such as Singapore, Indonesia, Korea, Philippines, and some other Asian countries had also been graced with Papal visits only once or twice in the entire history of the Church, also owing to the recent expansion of the Church to Asia and that only beginning with Pope Paul VI, that the Pope began to travel again outside Rome and Italy after quite some time. Therefore, due to Pope Benedict XVI’s love for the Church, both in the elder Europe and the younger Church in Asia, and already that his debilitation had made him difficult to make transatlantic visits, including the upcoming World Youth Day in Brazil, but a travel plan to Asia would have made it much more difficult.

A younger and healthier Pope therefore will be able to visit Asia (South, Southeast, East Asia) perhaps as early as this year or next year, 2014. This is however not to say that an Asian Pope will be elected, just yet. The time has not come yet in this election for an Asian Pope. Only in the next election, which hopefully will be held in about a decade from now or more, that the first Asian Pope may be possibly elected.

 

In the end, it is Pope Benedict XVI’s love for God, and God’s people in the Church that made him to decide to step aside for the good of the Church and the good of God’s mission in this world. However, this is not at all interpreted that it will be permanently so or that such a stepping down will be customary for the Popes. The Papacy is not an office, and not an institution, which for example like the Archbishop of Canterbury of the Anglicans, which is rotated after every number of years in manner akin to the secular and the worldly prime ministers and presidents. No, the Bishop of Rome’s position, as Christ’s only Vicar on this world is far beyond that. Only the Pope himself can decide when and if he will resign at all, and only in extreme cases should this be done.

Let us all pray therefore for our beloved Pope Emeritus, His Holiness Benedict XVI, that God will continue to look after him in his retirement, that through his new life dedicated in prayer, he can lead the Church with the new Pope, his successor, whom we also pray for, to fight against the evils of this world. We also pray for those who attack the Pope, the institution of our Church, and those who attack the faithful in Christ, that first we forgive them, and ask the Lord to enlighten their hearts, that they will learn the truth about His Church and its teachings, that they too will believe and be saved through the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

May God bless all of us, bless His One and Universal Church, and bless the whole world. Amen!