Sunday, 18 August 2019 : Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday we listened to the words of the Scriptures through which God wants us to remember that being followers of His, as Christians, as those who have faith in Him will inevitably lead us to face difficulties, challenges and sufferings in life, in whatever form that we may encounter these. We must be prepared to face the trials and opposition throughout our lives as faithful Christians and we cannot expect to have an easy and comfortable life.

There are those among us who think that becoming Christians mean for us to have good, blessed life, as after all, does God not love all of us and does He not provide for all of our needs? And because God loves each and every one of us, then how can we not be happy and good in everything, blessed and be abundant with all kinds of riches and good things in this world? This is what some are thinking wrongly, as what some label as the ‘Prosperity Gospel’ among other labels.

First and foremost, we have to understand that yes, God does love each and every one of us very much, and He has blessed us all wonderfully, first and foremost with the precious gift of life. If God has not loved us, then we would have not existed in the very first instance, and He would not have patiently cared for us, because all of us are sinners, disobedient and rebellious in our ways. And yet, because of His love, God constantly forgives us and wants us to be reconciled to Him.

But just as God has given us so much love, so many blessings and wonders in this world, we mankind inherently allow ourselves again and again to fall into the temptations to sin, to disobey God and to follow instead the path of evil and wickedness. We have listened to the words of Satan and his false lies instead of the truth and the love of God. And that is why there are so much suffering and challenges in this world, especially those facing us Christians.

We all know how Satan hates seeing us being saved from destruction, for ever since the beginning of time, he had plotted for our downfall, right up from the time when he struck against our first forefathers, tempting them to sin and therefore fall from the grace of God. It was him who tempted Cain to kill his own brother Abel when the former became jealous of the latter, and it was him who tempted the people to be proud and build the tower of Babel.

It was him who moved the hearts of the people to sin, to cause the brothers of Joseph to send him into slavery because of the same jealousy they had, it was him who tempted the Israelites throughout the ages and through many years, as they fell again and again into sin, succumbing to the temptations of worldly desire, pride and greed, opposing the good works of those prophets whom God had sent among His people to keep them in the right path.

And that is what we have heard in our first reading today, from the Book of the prophet Jeremiah, in which the plots against the prophet Jeremiah were mentioned, and how those enemies of Jeremiah almost in fact managed to kill him by their plotting. The prophet Jeremiah was among the last prophets to work in the kingdom of Judah, the last of the successor kingdoms of Israel, just before the kingdom and the city of Jerusalem fell to the hands of the Babylonians and were destroyed.

The prophet Jeremiah had many enemies, even though he had faithfully served the Lord and spoke His truth among the people. Many of the people, including those powerful nobles were angry with him because they saw him as a troublemaker and as a doomsayer. But Jeremiah was merely conveying the Lord’s warnings and truthful words, rebuking the wicked behaviours of the people of Judah at that time, who had fallen deeper and deeper into the path of sin.

Thus, we heard how the prophet was thrown into a dark cistern totally unfit for human dwelling, where his enemies hoped to condemn this faithful prophet to death. Many earlier prophets had suffered that fate, being tortured, persecuted and killed for their faith and dedication to God. There were also many false prophets who spoke the words of falsehoods, the agents of Satan who opposed the good works of God and misled the people.

But amidst all of that, we also heard in the same first reading passage today of the actions of some of those who were still upright and faithful, who counted Jeremiah as a friend. They tried to protect him and to save his life, by pleading with the king to intervene and prevent the enemies of Jeremiah from having their way with the prophet and killing him. And they managed to get the prophet out of his predicament and protected him from further danger.

All of these things serve to highlight exactly what the Lord Jesus told His disciples in our Gospel passage today, and also to dispel some of our own misconceptions and the false ‘Prosperity Gospel’ I have mentioned earlier. The Lord Jesus clearly stated in His discourse in the Gospel passage that His coming into this world would bring about divisions and struggles, conflicts and troubles for all those who believe in Him.

For the context of what the Lord had said, we have to understand that most of the Jews if not all of them believed at that time that the Messiah’s coming would lead them into an eternal new era of joy and happiness, of the restoration of the glorious kingdom of Israel as how it was at the time of king David and king Solomon, when the people would once again be powerful and be free from all of their troubles.

The Lord pointed out clearly that this was not to be the case. And very importantly, we must understand that this is not because of the Lord’s own doing or intention. It is very easy for us to misunderstand what the Lord said in today’s Gospel, becoming confused and even disillusioned at what He had said about bringing conflict and division, struggles and persecutions into our midst. Rather, it was by the works of the same Satan that caused all these things to happen.

The Lord has come into this world, revealing His salvation to all the nations, through none other than Jesus Christ, Son of God and Saviour of all. And Satan worked hard to undermine His works, by trying to tempt Him, by trying to dissuade Him through His Apostles and disciples, speaking through them at times to weaken His resolve, and tempting Him in the Gardens of Gethsemane during the time of His agony.

But when all these failed, Satan struck through those who condemned Jesus to death, death on the Cross, thinking that by killing the Messiah of God just as he had managed to make the people to persecute and kill the prophets in the earlier days, he could finally bring mankind to ruination and destruction as he has always intended. Yet, it was through that same Cross that Satan was handed the ultimate and greatest defeat, for Christ triumphed with His Cross, delivering the salvation of God by His act of ultimate sacrifice.

Satan has indeed been defeated, but he is still always ever desperate, for he knows that even though salvation has been delivered to us, but as long as temptation is around us, he can still strike at us through those same temptations by which he has seduced our race for time immemorial. Many had fallen into his allure and temptations, and through all of the means in his disposal, he strikes especially at those whom the Lord had gathered from the nations, that is all of us Christians.

And that is why Christians throughout the history of the Church has been persecuted in various circumstances and conditions, facing difficulties and oppressions, rejections and ridicule, having to endure humiliation and difficult trials and even unto martyrdom. Many Christians have paid dearly for their faith with their lives, as the lives of the many martyrs of the Church can tell us. Many of these are those who were mentioned in our second reading by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews.

In that passage, we heard the encouragement spoken by the author of the Epistle, of the innumerable witnesses of the faith which have been present and who have shown their undying faith, even in the face of the toughest persecutions and difficulties. Many of them have been rejected and persecuted even by those who were closest to them, and yet, they persevered and showed love instead of hatred towards their enemies.

And first and foremost among all of them was the Lord Himself, Who showed us what the true meaning of suffering is. The Lord suffered all the painful punishments intended for us because of our sins, but He bore them all willingly because He loves each and every one of us, and that love allowed Him to endure through the many bitterness and sufferings, and how He can also forgive even those who have condemned Him to such suffering and death.

Are we then able to have the same faith and commitment to God, even knowing that we will encounter difficulties and challenges in our path, even from those who are close and dear to us, brothers and sisters in Christ? Being Christians truly mean for us to embrace Christ fully in our lives as Our Lord and Saviour, and we can only do so by truly and wholeheartedly believing in Him through words, deeds and actions. And often, to stand by our faith in Christ means going against the norms and ways of this world.

The Lord wants us all to realise this, and how He has also done so much for us, out of His so great love for us, that He was willing to shoulder the burden of His Cross, suffer and die for us sinners. If He has suffered in such a way, then it is just right that we will likely to suffer as well, for Satan strikes at all those who are faithful and good, and all these persecutions and trials come about because of him and his wicked allies. But we must not lose hope and we must be courageous and strong in faith, for God is truly always by our side.

And let us all also follow the examples of those who have helped Jeremiah to escape his terrible predicament, realising that as fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord, all of us as Christians should take good care of one another and be concerned with each other, showing care and concern for those among us who are less fortunate and are in difficulty. Let us all journey together as one family of believers, as the members of God’s one Church, that we may truly find our way to God, our loving Father and Creator.

May the Lord continue to guide us and may He strengthen in us the faith which we should have for Him. May He continue to empower us to persevere through the difficulties and obstacles we may face on our way. Let us all look forward instead to the eternal glory and true happiness that God promised all of those who remain true and faithful to Him to the very end. Amen.

Sunday, 18 August 2019 : Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Luke 12 : 49-53

At that time, Jesus said to the people, “I have come to bring fire upon the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what anguish I feel until it is finished! Do you think that I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on, in one house five will be divided : three against two, and two against three.”

“They will be divided, father against son and son against father; mother against daughter and daughter against mother; mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

Sunday, 18 August 2019 : Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Hebrews 12 : 1-4

What a cloud of innumerable witnesses surround us! So let us be rid of every encumbrance, and especially of sin, to persevere in running the race marked out before us.

Let us look to Jesus the Founder of our faith, Who will bring it to completion. For the sake of the joy reserved for Him, He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and then sat at the right of the throne of God. Think of Jesus Who suffered so many contradictions from evil people, and you will not be discouraged or grow weary.

Have you already shed your blood in the struggle against sin?

Sunday, 18 August 2019 : Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Psalm 39 : 2, 3, 4, 18

With resolve I waited for YHVH; He listened and heard me beg.

Out of the horrid pit He drew me; out of deadly quicksand, He settled my feet upon a rock and made my steps steady.

He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and be awed and put their trust in YHVH.

Though I am afflicted and poor, yet the Lord thinks of me. You are my Help and my Saviour – o God, do not delay!

Sunday, 18 August 2019 : Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Jeremiah 38 : 4-6, 8-10

Then the officials told the king, “This man should be put to death, because he is weakening the will of the fighting men and the people left in the city. In fact he is not out to save the people but to do harm.”

King Zedekiah said, “His life is in your hands for the king has no power against you.” So they took Jeremiah and pushed him into the cistern of Malchiah, the king’s son, in the guard’s court. They lowered him by means of ropes. There was no water in the cistern but only mud; and Jeremiah sank into the mud.

Ebedmelech, an Ethiopian official of the king’s house, heard that they had lowered Jeremiah in the cistern. While the king was sitting at the Benjamin Gate, Ebedmelech went and spoke to him, “My lord king! These men have acted wickedly in all they did to Jeremiah the prophet. They threw him into the cistern where he will die.”

So the king ordered Ebedmelech the Ethiopian : “Take three men with you from here, and draw Jeremiah the prophet out from the cistern before he dies.”

Thursday, 15 August 2019 : Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate together as a whole universal Church, the great Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Most holy Mother of God. On this day we commemorate the moment when Mary was raised to the glory of heaven, in body and soul, by the grace of her Son, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. This Solemnity of the Assumption has its parallel in our Eastern Christian brethren in the Feast of the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin.

This Assumption of Mary into heaven refers therefore to the taking up of Mary, God’s own beloved mother, into heaven directly in the whole of her being, body and soul. There are those who according to the various traditions ascribed Mary having gone to ‘sleep’ and was reunited with her Son in the heavenly glory He has prepared for her, and also those who ascribed her disappearing from this world for she has been taken up body and soul into heaven.

But the key message and consideration in this great celebration of the Solemnity of the Assumption is the fact that Mary has been saved from death, unlike other men and women, all of us who have to face death at the appointed time, time which we will never know, a time of God’s choosing and will, the moment when we end our worldly existence and move on into the life that is to come and give an account of our life before God.

And death, as St. Paul mentioned in his Epistle to the Church and the faithful in Corinth, is the sting of sin. It means that because of sin, which is itself caused by disobedience against the will of God and against His laws and commandments, have caused us to suffer the consequence that is death, the ending of our mortal and worldly existence in this world. That is just also because life is a gift from God to us, and sin makes us to be separated from God.

Thus, because of our sins, death is a natural consequence of our disobedience against God, and hence all of us are mortal, will eventually face death in the face. However, what if someone is so virtuous and great, and so pure and immaculate so as to be worthy of God and to escape death altogether? Is that possible, brothers and sisters in Christ? The Scripture provides us with an answer, in several individuals known to have been brought up to God without going through death.

First of all from the Book of Genesis we have Enoch, one of the early descendants of Adam who was described as a very virtuous and righteous person who is a friend of God, and after spending three hundred and sixty-five years in this world, was taken up to God’s side, and no longer walked on earth among men. And then we also heard of the prophet Elijah whom God took up into heaven on a flaming chariot in the Book of Kings.

And last and greatest of all, was Mary herself, who by Apostolic tradition of the Church, passed into the realm of eternal glory in the same manner, for among all men and women, surpassing all others, save that of her Son alone, she has been prepared and made worthy to be the one to bear the Saviour of the world and the Master of all the universe in her. And that is why Mary was assumed into heaven and celebrated today in this most Solemn feast of the Assumption.

For we heard in the Scripture reading for the Vigil Mass of the Assumption that the Ark of the Covenant was brought into the city of Jerusalem led by king David, the king of Israel. The Ark of the Covenant is the holiest object and the centre focus of all the whole nation of Israel, because in the Ark of the Covenant was contained the two tablets of the Law of God, the Ten Commandments, the rod of Aaron used by Moses during the Exodus and the manna, bread from heaven that God has given to His people during that time.

And God’s presence came down frequently on the Ark of the Covenant as mentioned in the Book of Exodus and the subsequent books mentioning about the moments when the Israelites journeyed through the desert on their way to the Promised Land. The Ark of the Covenant occupied the centre place in the entire community at the centre of the Holy Tent of Meeting, as the symbolic representation of God being present in the midst of His people.

That was why the Ark of the Covenant was made from the finest materials, from gold and most precious wood and best of earthly matters available, to be the throne of God Himself on earth among His people. And in one incident just before the Ark was brought into the city of Jerusalem, one of the priests who accidentally touched the Ark during its transfer was struck dead because of the misdeed. All of these served to show just how sacred and great that Ark of the Covenant, the throne of God’s Holy Presence is.

Now, then, let us all compare that old Ark of the Covenant, made by human hands using the best materials that the world can provide, and containing the old Covenant and Law of God as revealed through Moses, with the New Covenant that Christ has brought with Himself into this world, the fullness of the truth of God as He Himself revealed, the fulfilment of the Law and the prophecies of the Lord.

And Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant just as Jesus Christ her Son, our Lord is the New Covenant between us and God. That is why the Church from the time of the Apostles has held and taught the core belief that Mary has always been pure and free from the state of original sin, by the grace of God. She is called the Immaculate Conception because she alone has received the grace to be free entirely from the corruption of sin, and she remained pure throughout her life.

As mentioned earlier, God has made her to be special because she is truly the New Ark of the Covenant which far surpassed the old Ark of the Covenant. Through her, the Lord and Saviour of this world Himself came into this world, Who spent nine months in her womb. If the old Ark contained the tablets of stone of the Law and the bread of manna, then in Mary, the New Ark of the Covenant, was the Law Himself, the complete fullness of the Law and the Bread of Life.

As such, Mary has to be pure and spotless, without the corruption of sin and immaculate, to be the bearer of God Himself in her. For Jesus Christ her Son is not just the Son of Man, but also the Son of God, having in Him the two natures of God and Man. If the old Ark of the Covenant was so sacred, then Mary must indeed be special and sacred as well. And thus, it has implication in what we are celebrating today, the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary.

That is because at the start of today’s discourse, we mention about death being the sting of sin, meaning that it is because of sin that we have to endure and experience death. But then, Mary is immaculate and free from the taint of original sin, as the Mother of God and the Ark of the New Covenant. How can she then suffer the consequence for sin when she herself was free from the taint of sin throughout her life?

And how can the mother of the Saviour of the world, Who came into this world to deliver us all from the tyranny of sin and death be subjected to the same suffering and the pain of death that her own Son has conquered and triumphed against by His victory on the Cross and His glorious Resurrection from the dead? That is why, we all believe firmly and fervently that Mary truly has been granted the grace by God to pass over death itself and hence was assumed body and soul directly into heaven without experiencing death.

Today, all of us ought to look upon Mary, and see in her the perfect example of who we all as Christians should be in our own lives. Mary has been the faithful servant all her life, not just because she has been set aside by God to be pure and immaculate, free from sin, but even throughout her life, she has loved the Lord so much, and loved her Son with all of her strength, that she continued to live in a state of grace throughout to the moment of the end of her earthly presence at the Assumption.

We see in Mary a reflection of our own glorified persons, as the sure promise of the Lord to us when we are faithful to Him that He will do with us as what He has done with His mother. He has promised us all that all of us who are faithful and worthy will be with Him for eternity, to enjoy forever the true happiness and joy in His presence, and Mary is showing us the way forward to reach this state of grace with her Son.

And she is constantly helping us in reaching out to her Son, by her constant prayers and intercessions for our sake. Now that she is in the glory of heaven by the side of her Son’s Throne, Mary is truly the greatest of all saints, the one who is nearest to Our Lord and Saviour, being concerned all the time for us. For we must not forget that from His Cross, Our Lord has symbolically entrusted Mary to be our mother too through His Apostle St. John, and also vice versa, all of us as her children.

Let us all therefore pray together, brothers and sisters in Christ, and ask Mary, the glorious Mother of God assumed into heaven, to intercede for our sake always before her Son’s Throne, that we may always be persistent and courageous in living our lives with faith. Let us all also follow the examples of Mary’s obedience and faith in God, and be ever closer to her Son through her. May all of us be filled with God’s grace and be worthy of His inheritance. Amen.

Thursday, 15 August 2019 : Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Luke 1 : 39-56

Mary then set out for a town in the hill country of Judah. She entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leapt in her womb.

Elizabeth was filled with Holy Spirit, and giving a loud cry, said, “You are most blessed among women, and blessed is the Fruit of your womb! How is it that the mother of my Lord comes to me? The moment your greeting sounded in my ears, the baby within me suddenly leapt for joy. Blessed are you who believed that the Lord’s word would come true!”

And Mary said, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit exults in God my Saviour! He has looked upon His servant in her lowliness, and people forever will call me blessed.”

“The Mighty One has done great things for me, Holy is His Name! From age to age His mercy extends to those who live in His presence. He has acted with power and done wonders, and scattered the proud with their plans. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and lifted up those who are downtrodden. He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty.”

“He held out His hand to Israel, His servant, for He remembered His mercy, even as He promised to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants forever.”

Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months, and then returned home.