Friday, 14 August 2020 : Vigil Mass of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, tonight we celebrate the Vigil of the great Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, remembering the moment when Mary, the Mother of God at the end of her earthly existence, was brought up body and soul into the glory of heaven, what is known as the ‘Assumption’ of Mary. Tonight we celebrate the moment when Mary enter the heavenly glory prepared for her by her Son, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

When we talk of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, sometimes we confuse it with the Ascension of the Lord Jesus. The difference between the two is such that while the Lord ascended into Heaven by His own power, will and might, Mary is assumed into Heaven, by the will and power of God, and not by her own power, will or might. She received this great grace by virtue of her motherhood of the Lord, her being the Mother of God Most High, the Son of God and Saviour of all.

For the Lord Jesus is the conqueror of sin and death, by His suffering and death on the cross, in which He offered Himself as the perfect and loving sacrifice in atonement for our sins and faults. He triumphed over death through His Resurrection, showing that death, which is the consequence of sin, has no more power over us as long as we put our trust in God as Our Lord and Saviour. He has showed us the path forward beyond death and into a new life of eternal glory prepared for us.

And because of this, according to the traditions of the Church from the earliest history and beginning of the Church, Christians have always believed that Mary, the Mother of God, did not suffer death unlike all of us, as after all, how can the Mother of the One Who conquered death and triumphed over it by His resurrection be herself subjected to the same death? This is also linked to the strong belief in Mary’s Immaculate and sinless state, as from the earliest days of the Church, it has also been a belief of the Church that Mary was conceived without sin, the Immaculate Conception, and remained free from sin afterwards.

Mary was unique and special, by the singular grace of God because she was to be the new and infinitely better Ark of the Covenant. And just as the original Ark was crafted from the finest and most precious of earthly materials, thus, the New Ark, of the New Covenant was to be far exceeding the old Ark, by the pure and sinless state of this perfect New Ark, crafted not by the hands of any man, but by the hands of God Himself. Thus, that is why later on the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, and in turn the Dogma of the Assumption of Mary came to be formalised by the Church.

The Assumption is a logical outcome of the belief in the Immaculate Conception, again because death is the consequence for sin, and although every man has to suffer death because we have sinned, no matter how small our sins are, but Mary, having been conceived without sin, was never tainted or corrupted by sin at all, and therefore, logically death did not just have any power over her, but she should not suffer death because she never sinned in the first place.

There are two major schools of thought on what exactly happened in the Assumption of Mary into heaven, both with Mary ending up in the glory of Heaven, by the side of her Son, interceding for us as she is still doing to this day. One is that Mary did die, because she shared in the death of her Son, and not death because of the punishment or consequence for her sins, which did not exist. She loved her Son so much that she shared in her Son’s death, but her body did not rot or perish. Rather, she was put to sleep and then, body and soul, assumed into Heaven.

Another school of thought is that, Mary was directly assumed into Heaven, body and soul, without even passing through any form of death at all. But regardless of how exactly the Assumption of Mary happened, the fact is that Mary is now up there in Heaven, having been assumed body and soul, and reigning with her Son as the Queen Mother of Heaven, seated by her Son’s side as His confident and beloved Mother, and as our greatest intercessor.

Through Mary, His mother, the Lord wants to show us and affirm to us that faith in Him will only lead to an eternal glory and a new and eternal life, one that is free from the taints and shackles of sin and death. And through the Assumption, the Lord wants to show us the foretaste of heavenly glory for us, as it is told that in the end of days, all of us will be raised from death, and in body and soul, joining God in the eternity of glory, while those who reject God and His mercy, will be thrown, body and soul into eternal darkness and suffering.

Mary is the shining beacon of hope reminding us all what will happen to those who are virtuous and faithful, as Mary did not just merit this great honour because she is the Mother of God and conceived without sin, but because throughout life she remained free from sin, and completely dedicated to God because of the love she has for Him, obeying His Law, and later on, giving herself completely and committed herself to loving her Son, following Him all the way to the foot of the cross.

How about us, brothers and sisters in Christ? As I said earlier, God has shown us the sure promise of eternal life, a new life and existence no longer darkened by sin and suffering, filled with true and everlasting joy. However, all of these will only come to be when we follow the Lord and commit ourselves to Him wholeheartedly the way Mary has done in her own life. We can certainly do this if we strive and try our best, but the important question is, are we willing to do it?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we mark the Vigil beginning this great celebration of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, let us all reinspect our lives and look deep into ourselves, into our every actions and how we have lived our faith life all these while. Let us all look forward with hope to our own future entry into the eternal life of glory with God, by taking the concrete steps to live righteously with faith in God just as Mary had done in her own life.

May the Lord be with us and guide us, and through Mary, His mother’s constant intercession and help, more and more of us, the children of mankind, may come closer to God and receive the love and grace of God, and come closer to achieving the desired reconciliation and reunion with God, by which we will forever enjoy the fullness of God’s love. O Mary, Holy Mother of God, assumed in glory, body and soul into Heaven, pray for all of us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Friday, 14 August 2020 : Vigil Mass of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Luke 11 : 27-28

At that time, as Jesus was speaking, a woman spoke from the crowd and said to Him, “Blessed is the one who gave You birth and nursed You!”

Jesus replied, “Truly blessed are those who hear the word of God, and keep it as well.”

Friday, 14 August 2020 : Vigil Mass of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

1 Corinthians 15 : 54b-57

When our mortal being puts on immortality, the word of Scripture will be fulfilled : Death has been swallowed up by victory. Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?

Sin is the sting of death, to kill, and the Law is what gives force to sin. But give thanks to God, Who gives us the victory, through Christ Jesus, our Lord.

Friday, 14 August 2020 : Vigil Mass of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 131 : 6-7, 9-10, 13-14

Then came the news, “The Ark is in Ephrata, we found it in the fields of Jaar.” Let us go to where He dwells and worship at His footstool!

May Your priests be arrayed in glorious mantle; may Your faithful ones shout in gladness. For the sake of Your servant, David, do not turn away the face of Your Anointed.

For YHVH has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His dwelling : “This is My resting place forever; this I prefer; here, will I dwell.”

Friday, 14 August 2020 : Vigil Mass of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

1 Chronicles 15 : 3-4, 15-16 and 1 Chronicles 16 : 1-2

Then David gathered all Israel together in Jerusalem to bring the Ark of God up to the place he had prepared for it. David called together the sons of Aaron and the sons of Levi. And the Levites carried the Ark of God with the poles on their shoulders, as Moses had ordered according to the command of YHVH.

David then told the leaders of the Levites to assign duties for some Levites to sing and play a joyful tune with their various musical instruments : harps and lyres and cymbals. They brought the Ark of God in and put it inside the tent that David had prepared for it; and they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings to God.

And when David had finished offering the sacrifices, he blessed the people in the Name of YHVH.

Friday, 14 August 2020 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we are all reminded that we need to listen to God and put our trust in Him, and appreciate the wonderful love with which He has blessed us all these while, loving us so tenderly and generously that despite our many infidelities, our many betrayals and disobedience against Him, He still looks out for us and cares for us, and still wants us all to walk down the right path in life.

In our first reading today, all of us heard from the Book of the prophet Ezekiel in which the Lord spoke at length about how His people had sinned greatly against Him, how they had disobeyed Him and sold themselves to the pagan idols and gods, worshipping those abominations instead of worshipping the true God, how they had persecuted His prophets and all those whom He had sent to them to remind them and call them to return to Him.

And yet, despite all of these, the Lord said through Ezekiel, that even in their most vulnerable moments, when they were completely troubled, humiliated and naked, He came by their side, clothed them and took care of them, just as how He had patiently watched over them for all those years without fail. And yet again, although God had blessed His people such and made them wonderful, but they chose to squander their blessings and beauty to commit sin against God and all sorts of evil.

Through all of these we can see how God had been so caring and patient towards us that He is willing to endure all these nonsense from us, and still provide for us and give us what we need. He will always uphold the Covenant that He has established with us as He has promised and nothing can separate us from the love and mercy of God, that is except our own stubborn rejection of His love and mercy, by which we closed ourselves from God and continued to fall deeper and deeper into sin.

In our Gospel passage today, the Lord spoke to His disciples on the matter of divorce, as some among the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were asking Him on the matter of divorce and what ought to be done as the Law of God handed down to Moses did allow for divorce to be done. And then the Lord immediately revealed how the allowance for the divorce was made only because the people was so stubborn in their ways and in refusing to follow the Lord’s ways, and some concessions were probably made to prevent the people from falling even further into sin.

But the Lord showed how God never intended for the people to treat their lives and actions into mere formality, as He wants all of them to love and to be true to their faith in whatever that He has called them to. This means that all of us are called to lead a God-centred life in our respective calling and way of life, just as He presented in today’s Gospel passage, in calling on all of us to do what the Lord has called us to do in our lives, in our various callings and vocations in life.

The Lord said how there are those who are destined for married life, while others were destined for a life of virginity and singlehood, dedicated to God, and all of these callings and vocations of life are all noble and good in their own accord, as how the Lord meant for them to be. What matters is that we love God, and devote ourselves to Him by being righteous, good and virtuous in life, and today, we have a perfect inspiration on how to do this, through the examples set by St. Maximilian Kolbe, a renowned holy saint and martyr of the faith.

St. Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish priest and member of the Conventual Franciscans, who was chiefly remembered for his death in the concentration camp under the NAZI Germany tyranny. He was a longtime missionary, working for many years in distant lands after he joined the Franciscans and became a priest. He worked in Japan for quite a few years, evangelising and spreading the word of God, continuing the efforts he had begun when he was in Poland with the organisation Maria Immaculata, aimed at opposing the enemies of the Church and calling them to repentance through faith.

St. Maximilian Kolbe established monasteries in Japan and also in India during his missionary years, before he returned to Poland not long before the outbreak of the Second World War which would come to engulf not just Poland but the entirety of Europe and much of the world. As we know today, this war surpassed all others in ferocity and brutality, as millions and many more perished from many brutal actions of states and all those who disregarded the sanctity of human life and existence.

Although St. Maximilian Kolbe himself had German ancestry, which could have earned him the right of equal treatment with the citizens of NAZI Germany at the time, he refused to cooperate with the oppressors and those who brutally treated and killed many, and worked to hide and provide shelter to many of those who were oppressed, especially the Jews who were unable to escape, and were prime targets in the ethnic cleansing and genocide efforts of the NAZIs.

This led to the eventual forced closure of the monastery in which St. Maximilian Kolbe operated, together with some other friars, he was arrested and put into prison for the secret anti-German activities they carried out in defending the dignity of human life and also their opposition to war and the German actions. He was then transferred to the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp, and there, he continued to minister to the people imprisoned there in the camp as a priest, despite the harassments and humiliations he had to endure daily.

And when a prisoner managed to escape from the concentration camp, the Germans forced ten people to be punished by starving to death to deter further attempts at escape. A Polish man who was selected cried out ‘My wife! My children!’, knowing that he was about to die, only for St. Maximilian Kolbe to step in and offered himself in exchange for the man. St. Maximilian Kolbe chose freely to die, in his love for his fellow brother, who was grieving over not being able to see his family anymore, and thus, died in martyrdom, a martyr of justice and faith, a martyr of love and mercy.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, St. Maximilian Kolbe has shown us all what true Christian love and true Christian faith are all about. He showed us the same love that God has shown us, one that is pure, genuine and selfless, the love with which He has cared for us, provided for us and being patient with us all despite our infidelities and lack of faith. Are we able to love God with the same love and dedication? Are we able to love one another in the same way too?

These are the questions that we really should ask ourselves as we evaluate our direction in life, in our approach towards righteousness and in distancing ourselves from our past sinfulness and all the things that had brought us into sin. Let us all be inspired by the faith and love showed by St. Maximilian Kolbe and strive hard to be true and faithful disciples of the Lord, filled with love for God, first and foremost, and for our fellow brothers and sisters. May God be with us all and bless us, now and always. Amen.

Friday, 14 August 2020 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Matthew 19 : 3-12

At that time, some Pharisees approached Jesus. They wanted to test Him and asked, “Is a man allowed to divorce his wife for any reason he wants?”

Jesus replied, “Have you not read that, in the beginning, the Creator made them male and female? And the Creator said : Therefore, a man shall leave father and mother, and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one body. So, they are no longer two, but one body. Let no one separate what God has joined.”

They asked him, “Then why did Moses command us to write a bill of dismissal in order to divorce?” Jesus replied, “Moses knew the hardness of your hearts, so he allowed you to divorce your wives; but it was not so in the beginning. Therefore, I say to you : whoever divorces his wife, unless it be for immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

The disciples said, “If that is the condition of a married man, it is better not to marry.” Jesus said to them, “Not everybody can accept what you have just said, but only those who have received this gift. There are eunuchs born so, from their mother’s womb. Some have been made that way by others. But there are some who have given up the possibility of marriage, for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who can accept it, accept it.”

Friday, 14 August 2020 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Isaiah 12 : 2-3, 4bcd, 5-6

He is the God of my salvation; in Him I trust and am not afraid, YHVH is my strength : Him I will praise, the One Who saved me.

You will draw water with joy from the very fountain of salvation. Then you will say : “Praise to the Lord, break into songs of joy for Him, proclaim His marvellous deeds among the nations and exalt His Name.”

“Sing to the Lord : wonders He has done, let these be known all over the earth. Sing for joy, o people of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”

Friday, 14 August 2020 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Ezekiel 16 : 1-15, 60, 63

The word of YHVH came to me in these terms, “Son of man, make known to Jerusalem its sins. You say on My behalf : Your beginning was in Canaan; there, you were born. Your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. On the day you were born, your cord was not cut; you were not bathed in water to make you clean; you were not rubbed with salt, nor were you wrapped in cloth.”

“There was no one to look with pity on you; or compassionate enough, to give you any of these attentions. You were left, exposed, in the open fields; because you were looked upon with disgust, on the day you were born. But I passed by; and saw you, immersed in your blood. I said to you, in the midst of your blood, ‘Live!’”

“I made you grow, like a plant of the field. You grew up and became tall; and were becoming of marriageable age. Your breasts were formed and your hair had grown; but you were naked and exposed. I passed by later, and saw, you were at the age of love; and spread part of My garment over you, to cover your nudity. I made a Covenant with you with an oath – word of YHVH – and you were Mine.”

“Then I bathed you in water; I cleansed you of your blood and anointed you with oil. I clothed you with embroidered cloth and put soft leather sandals on your feet. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with jewelry, putting bracelets on your arms, a necklace around your neck and a ring in your nose. I gave you earrings and a magnificent crown for your head.”

“You were adorned with gold and silver; your clothing was fine linen, silk and embroidered cloth. You were fed on finest flour, honey and oil; you became very beautiful and rose to be queen. Your beauty was perfect; and your renown spread through the nations, because of the splendour I had given you – word of YHVH.”

“But you relied on your beauty; you trusted in your fame; and you began to give yourself to every passerby, like a prostitute. But I will remember My Covenant with you in the days of your youth, and, make in your favour, an eternal Covenant, so that you may remember, be ashamed, and never open your mouth again, because of your humiliation, when I have pardoned you for all you have done,” word of YHVH.

Alternative reading

Ezekiel 16 : 59-63

For thus says YHVH : “I will treat you as you deserve; you, who despised the oath and broke the Covenant. But I will remember My Covenant with you in the days of your youth, and, make in your favour, an eternal Covenant. You will be mindful of your ways and be ashamed, when I take your sisters, both the elder and the younger; and give them to you as daughters, without prejudice to My Covenant with you.”

“For I will uphold My Covenant with you; and you will know that I am YHVH, so that you may remember, be ashamed, and never open your mouth again, because of your humiliation, when I have pardoned you for all you have done,” word of YHVH.

Friday, 7 August 2020 : 18th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Sixtus II, Pope and Companions, Martyrs and St. Cajetan, Priest (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Priests)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today all of us are reminded that we have all been called to follow the Lord and to focus our attention on Him, as those whom He had called and chosen to be His people. And at the same time we are also reminded that to follow God and to be faithful to Him will often require from us dedication and commitment that may lead us down the path filled with obstacles and challenges.

That is why the Lord said to His disciples as described in our Gospel passage today, that for all those who want to follow Him must take up their crosses and follow Him. This means that we ought to share in the Cross and the sufferings that He had borne for our sake, and strive to seek the Lord and His righteousness above all other things, and to look beyond the false glory, pleasures and satisfactions of the world, resist the temptations and remaining faithful to God.

Indeed, this will not be an easy task, as just the Lord encountered plenty of opposition and challenges from those who disagreed with Him and refused to believe in Him, was persecuted and forced to endure humiliation, punished for the punishment that He was innocent from, and bore the cross of condemnation, and we heard how these enemies also acted against His disciples, that is why as followers of Christ, we too are likely to suffer the same fate as the Lord, hated and despised by the world.

That is why, we are presented with the choice, whether we want to follow the Lord, taking up our crosses in life and walking with Him, or whether we want to follow the path of the world, to embrace the path of disobedience and sins against God. These are the paths and choices presented to us, and unless we have strong faith in God, it is very easy for us to fall into the temptation to walk away from God.

In our first reading today taken from the Book of the prophet Nahum, we heard of the Lord’s promise to His people that He shall crush the wicked and all those who have oppressed His people. It is the promise that the Lord will be faithful and will stand by His people in the midst of persecution and suffering. He will not abandon them to the darkness, and while for a while they might suffer, in the end, those who have kept their faith in Him will be triumphant while those who opposed Him and rejected Him will be crushed and destroyed.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is therefore a kind reminder for us not to easily give in to the temptation to sin and disobey God, although the path of faith may seem to be challenging and daunting. In the end, as the
Lord said, “What worth is it for man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” This shows us that it is better for man to lose the whole world and yet remain in God’s grace. For the pleasures and glory of this world is all but temporary, while the soul is eternal.

What worth is it therefore for us to gain the comforts and pleasures of this world if we end up losing in the battle for our souls? When the souls of the wicked and those who were unrepentant are judged and condemned, they will all suffer for eternity from which there is no recourse or any way out at all. All these for the temporary taste of worldly goodness and joy, and in the end, eternal suffering awaits us all.

And the devil and his forces are always active out there trying to pull us away from God’s path, by tempting us to follow the temptations of our desires, by presenting to us many forms of worldly pleasures and false leads, into which if we succumb to them, it will be difficult for us to get out and escape, unless we make the conscious effort to resist those temptations. What shall we do then? This is where we should thus look on the examples set by our predecessors in faith.

Pope St. Sixtus II, holy Pope and Martyr, together with his many companions were persecuted by the Roman Empire and the pagans, who tried to destroy the Church and crush the faithful. Pope St. Sixtus II led the Church during the turbulent days of the Church when persecutions were rampant, and even so, he dedicated his life and effort to unite the Church, and tradition stated that he successfully restored the relations between the Church in Greece and Africa that had been torn apart and divided by certain issues earlier on.

And to the very end, when the Roman Emperor Valerian continued the persecution of the Church and the faithful, Pope St. Sixtus II was among the many faithful arrested for refusing to abandon their faith in God, and despite the efforts to convince them otherwise, and the pressures, Pope St. Sixtus II and his companions in faith chose to remain faithful to the very end, dying as martyrs rather than to enjoy reprieve and comfort by giving in to the state.

Meanwhile, today we also celebrate the feast of St. Cajetan, a priest and also founder of the Religious Order of the Theatines, remembered very well for his care and concern for the poor and the needy, for those who were suffering especially from spiritual sickness and the lack of faith. He chose to dedicate his time, effort and attention to help all those who have lost their compass and guidance in life, and chose to spend much time to care for their needs and guide them back to the Lord.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we see from today’s saints’ examples, we can see how being faithful and doing what the Lord had asked us to do is not something that can easily be done, and we see just what kind of difficulties and trials that they all had to face, and how some had to endure even death in martyrdom for being faithful. But this is exactly what is meant by ‘taking up our crosses and following the Lord’, for being Christians is not one of inaction and comfort, but instead one of dedication and commitment.

Let us all therefore discern carefully from now on, how we will carry on living our lives, with all the opportunities that we have been given. Let us all grow ever stronger in faith and be ever more genuine and devoted in our love for God from this moment onwards. May the Lord, our loving God, continue to guide us and help lead us down the right path in life, giving us the strength to carry our crosses faithfully and follow Him wholeheartedly, all the days of our lives. Amen.