Friday, 29 May 2020 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of Pope St. Paul VI, Pope (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard from the Sacred Scriptures the moment when St. Paul was about to embark to Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire after he appealed to the Emperor against judgements and charges set up against him by the Jewish authorities. We heard the conversation between king Agrippa, one of the rulers of the Jewish lands and Festus, the procurator or governor of Judea regarding the matter.

In that occasion, king Agrippa went through with Festus the background of the conflict between St. Paul and the Jewish Council, while as we heard in today’s portion, Festus recalled his frustration as the Jewish leaders wanted St. Paul to be condemned to death, although to the Roman governor, St. Paul did not do anything wrong at all, and less still, deserve anything that resemble a punishment, for it was considered religious disagreements and bickering among the Jews.

But the Jewish leaders insisted, and when Festus was caught in quandary, St. Paul as a Roman citizen, a very great privilege and position at that time, made use of his privilege to be tried in Rome before the Emperor and let the Emperor to be his judge. This was to be St. Paul’s last missionary journey, as God had called him, to be the bearers of the Good News to the people in Rome, and it was in Rome that both St. Paul and St. Peter, who had been in Rome earlier as the first Bishop of Rome and Pope, would be martyred.

In what we have heard today on the case and trial of St. Paul, we may feel a great sense of familiarity, as we surely can relate what had happened to St. Paul with what the Lord Jesus Himself had faced, as He stood before the Sanhedrin, being accused of the faults and crimes He did not commit, and given false accusations and testimonies by false witnesses. Like his Lord and Master, St. Paul faced the same trial and challenge, and eventually, he too would follow Him into his own death for the sake of glorifying Him.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard the Lord calling His Apostle St. Peter by the lake of Galilee, after the moment when He appeared to His disciples shortly after His Resurrection as promised. The disciples were out fishing in the lake and gained nothing, and when the Lord told them to follow His instructions, immediately they gained so many fishes, and they recognised the Lord. Then, the Lord spoke to St. Peter as we heard in our Gospel today, commending to him the care and guardianship over His Church and His flock.

Earlier on, before His suffering, crucifixion and death, the Lord had entrusted to St. Peter the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, and said to him how he would be the ‘Rock’ on which He would establish His Church. And then, with His threefold questions to St. Peter, it was symbolic of not just that the Lord had forgiven him for his threefold denial at the moment of His arrest and suffering, but also that, the Lord reaffirmed His entrustment of His Church and His flock at the hands of St. Peter, the first Pope and leader of the entire Universal Church.

St. Peter was also called to a great ministry that he would fulfil faithfully over many years and decades, which ended in the city of Rome like St. Paul. St. Peter also established the important Church in Antioch, becoming its first Bishop, before heading to Rome and establishing the Church there as its first Bishop as well. In the end, as the Lord Himself had told him, in St. Peter’s old age and end of ministry, he would be chained and arrested, and eventually martyred under the Roman Emperor Nero during one of the brutal early Christian persecutions.

Today then we also celebrate the feast of one of his successors as the Pope and Supreme Pontiff, as Bishop of Rome and leader of the entire Universal Church, Pope St. Paul VI, born Giovanni Batista Montini, formerly Metropolitan Archbishop of Milan. He was renowned as a holy man and dedicated servant of God who was committed to the care of the flock entrusted under his care, from the early days of his priesthood ministry, to his days as the Archbishop of Milan, and finally in his fifteen years Pontificate.

Pope St. Paul VI also encountered tremendous challenges from outside and from within the Church. He was tasked with bringing the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council began by his predecessor, Pope St. John XXIII into a successful conclusion. Often he had to tread the middle ground between those who advocated strict adherence to the ancient customs and ways, from the extremists who sought to disband and dismantle much of the Church teachings and tenets.

Pope St. Paul VI was also instrumental in continuing the efforts of his predecessors in restoring Church unity that culminated with the Common Declaration with the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople, leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church in annulling the common declarations of anathema and excommunication that happened between the Churches East and West over nine centuries earlier in the Great Schism of the year 1054. Both leaders faced criticism and opposition for these works.

Pope St. Paul VI was also known for his great encyclicals, most well-remembered one is the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, on the sanctity of all human life, opposing all those, both within and outside the Church who tried to impose and influence the Church and the faithful to adopt contraception and artificial reproductive methods like birth control that are against Church teachings and violating human rights and the sanctity of life. Pope St. Paul VI again faced bitter opposition and ridicule from not just many in the world, but even from among his own flock.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, from what we have heard in today’s readings, as well from the lives of the saints, we can clearly see that to follow God will often require us to give our all and often we have to endure suffering and challenges as well along the way. If we want to commit ourselves to the Lord, then we should not be half-hearted or be lukewarm about it. Instead, following the examples of our holy predecessors, we should be willing to dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly from now on.

May God be with us always throughout this journey, and may He help us in our way, that we may remain firm and faithful, filled with conviction and dedication to serve God with all of our hearts despite the challenges and trials we may face along our journey. May God bless us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

Friday, 29 May 2020 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of Pope St. Paul VI, Pope (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

John 21 : 15-19

At that time, after Jesus and His disciples had finished breakfast, He said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You.” And Jesus said, “Feed My lambs.”

A second time Jesus said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” And Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Look after My sheep.” And a third time He said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”

Peter was saddened because Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love Me?” and he said, “Lord, You know everything; You know that I love You.” Jesus then said, “Feed My sheep! Truly, I say to you, when you were young, you put on your belt and walked where you liked. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will put a belt around you, and lead you where you do not wish to go.”

Jesus said this to make known the kind of death by which Peter was to glorify God. And He added, “Follow Me.”

Friday, 29 May 2020 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of Pope St. Paul VI, Pope (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 102 : 1-2, 11-12, 19-20ab

Bless the Lord, my soul; all my being, bless His holy Name! Bless the Lord, my soul, and do not forget all His kindness.

As the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His love for those fearing Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove from us our sins.

The Lord has set His throne in heaven; He rules, He has power everywhere. Praise the Lord, all you His Angels.

Friday, 29 May 2020 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of Pope St. Paul VI, Pope (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Acts 25 : 13b-21

As King Agrippa and his sister Berenice were to stay in Caesarea several days, Festus told him about Paul’s case and said to him, “We have here a man whom Felix left as a prisoner. When I was in Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews accused him and asked me to sentence him.”

“I told them that it is not the custom of the Romans to hand over a man without giving him an opportunity to defend himself in front of his accusers. So they came and I took my seat without delay on the tribunal and sent for the man. When the accusers had the floor, they did not accuse him of any of the crimes that I was led to think he had committed; instead they quarrelled with him about religion and about a certain Jesus Who has died but whom Paul asserted to be alive.”

“I did not know what to do about this case, so I asked Paul if he wanted to go to Jerusalem to be tried there. But Paul appealed to be judged by the Emperor. So I ordered that he be kept in custody until I send him to Caesar.”

Friday, 22 May 2020 : 6th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Rita of Cascia, Religious (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day, all of us heard the words of the Scripture, we are all reminded by God to keep up, to have hope, and to trust in Him, never to worry or to be afraid, but to be faithful because God Himself will help us and provide for us, and He will bring us out of the darkness and evil into the new life of light and joy. This is what the Lord has promised us and what He will grant us through our faith in Him.

In our first reading today we heard of the Lord reassurance to St. Paul as he carried out his mission in the region of Greece as he visited several places carrying out works of evangelisation and preaching the Good News to the people in those places. He had encountered difficulties and challenges from both the pagans who refused to believe in him and ridiculed his revelation to them of the monotheistic faith in the one True God. Some among the pagans were receptive of the truth, but there were many who refused to believe.

In addition, St. Paul also encountered a lot of challenges and problems from the Jewish communities of the Jewish diaspora in many of the cities and towns that he had visited. Some of the Jews, like some among the pagans, were receptive of the Apostle and the message of truth that he brought to them, but many others persecuted the Apostle and the other Christian missionaries as well as the Christian converts in their midst. This was part of the conflicts among the Jewish elites who saw Christianity as an aberration and heresy because of the teachings of Jesus Who had been condemned by the Sanhedrin to death.

Amidst all of these situations, it must have seemed very daunting for St. Paul to continue with his mission, as he was often alone against so many people who were against him, were rude to him, and had his life threatened on not just once, but a few separate occasions. He could have given up and returned to safer places, but God reassured St. Paul and said that He would be with him along his journey and while he might encounter difficulties, but he would not be harmed.

In that same passage from the Acts of the Apostles we heard then the very proof of God’s providence, how God saved St. Paul from trouble when he was faced with all these oppositions and troubles. And when the governor to whom the Jews had complained about St. Paul refused to indict the Apostle based on their complaints against him, they became desperate and even plotted further by trying to incite a riot with the beating of one of the leading man of the synagogue.

Yet, God saved St. Paul and prevented harm from coming to him. The plots and efforts of all those who were against the faithful servants of God could not stop the zeal and the dedication which they showed us through their commitment and devotion. They trusted fully in the Lord because as the Lord Himself reassured them, that their pains, sorrows, sufferings and troubles were merely temporary, and in the end, they would receive the promise of eternal glory and true joy.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard the Lord reassuring His disciples using the metaphor and comparison to the woman who was about to give birth, suffering and enduring the bitter pain of the birth process, and yet, once the whole process ended, the woman would be happier and felt more wonderful with the joy that her newborn brought her, helping her to overcome all the pain and sorrow that had come earlier on. In this same way therefore, our faithful predecessors, from the days of the earliest Christians, focused their attention on the reassurances of Christ’s coming glory, enduring the challenges and trials in their path.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we are now living through a truly unsettling and challenging times, in the midst of great economic crises, societal instability and divisions, brought about mainly by the current pandemic, as well as the conflicts and disagreements between nations and communities among others, it must have been tough for us to remain hopeful and strong amidst all the challenges that we and our families are facing. Some of us have people we know and love who are suffering and sick, and some even had lost our loved ones, or are separated because they are our frontline healthcare workers and other essential workers.

Quite a few people had also lost their means of income and employment, losing what was once stable and certain iron rice bowl of income. Many are still unsure of their future, as although they have retained their employment, but they have faced great pay cuts and reductions, put on no-pay leave for indefinite length among others. We have many people having difficulties in seeking their first-time jobs due to the lack of demand in the job market, and many other problems that may make everything seem to be very bleak.

Yet, we must not lose hope, brothers and sisters in Christ. We must stay faithful in God and give Him our trust, for everything that we are facing now, are indeed truly temporary and will not last forever. We must keep our focus and attention on God and His sure promise of eternal joy and glory with Him, that while we may suffer and face challenges now in this world, all of these troubles and challenges combined cannot compare to the great things we are to receive later.

Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Rita of Cascia, one of the saints who had truly difficult life, having married into a difficult family involved in the late Medieval Italian conflicts among feuding families, which led to the murder of her husband. St. Rita of Cascia had a difficult life filled with abuse, insults and humiliation, but before her husband’s murder by a rival family, her steadfastness in faith and efforts to convert her husband bore fruit as her husband had at least become a much better person by the time of his death.

And when her husband’s greater family wanted her sons to take part in revenge action against the rival family for the murder of their father, despite St. Rita of Cascia’s efforts in keeping her sons faithful and away from the wicked activities, eventually, she prayed to God asking Him humbly to take them away from the world. It must have been very hard and painful for a mother to ask God to take her own sons away, but she did so knowing that it would be better for them to be taken away, rather than for them to commit grave sins through revenge and more, and end up in hell for eternity.

After the deaths of both of her sons due to sickness, St. Rita of Cascia became a religious and dedicated the rest of her life in prayerful service to God, living a virtuous and piety-filled life as she had done earlier on in her life. Her great and exemplary life inspired many others, and eventually made her to be venerated as a great saint many years after she has passed on. And now, all of us can also emulate her virtues and good examples in each and every one of our lives too.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we able to trust in God more and focus ourselves more to Him, entrusting ourselves so completely like St. Paul as well as St. Rita of Cascia had done? There will indeed be lots of trials and pains we may have to endure in our respective journeys of life, but unless we have that firm faith in God, then it will be very easy for us to fall into despair and darkness, to give up on our lives and everything just because we lose sight on God and His love.

Let us all discern on this and spend some time reevaluating our lives, our choices of action and our direction as we progress on in our lives. Let us all be more faithful from now on, trust God more, and every importantly, deepen our relationship with Him, spending more time with Him in prayer, through charity and action, loving our fellow men and understanding more what our role is as Christians in our world today. May the Lord help us all to be strong in our faith, and may He give us the courage to go on and strive harder despite the trials and challenges we may face going forward. Amen.

Friday, 22 May 2020 : 6th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Rita of Cascia, Religious (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

John 16 : 20-23a

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly, I say to you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy. A woman in childbirth is in distress because her time is at hand. But after the child is born, she no longer remembers her suffering because of such great joy : a human being is born into the world.”

“You feel sorrowful now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice; and no one will take your joy from you. When that day comes you will not ask Me anything.”

Friday, 22 May 2020 : 6th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Rita of Cascia, Religious (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 46 : 2-3, 4-5, 6-7

Clap your hands, all you peoples; acclaim God with shouts of joy. For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared; He is a great King all over the earth.

He brings peoples under our dominion and puts nations under our feet. He chose our inheritance for us – the pride of Jacob whom He loves!

God ascends amid joyful shouts, the Lord amid trumpet blasts. Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!