Saturday, 14 December 2019 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the message of the Sacred Scriptures, we heard today the readings on the prophet Elijah both from the Old and the New Testament, speaking about this particular prophet who was among the greatest of the prophets of old. The prophet Elijah was the archetype of the many prophets whom God had sent to be among His people, and his works among the Israelites were recorded in the Book of Kings.

Why do we then focus on the prophet Elijah today and what is the significance of this to all of us, brothers and sisters in Christ? That is because if we look more deeply into the readings we have just heard and understood what the Lord had said in our Gospel passage today, we will appreciate better the nature of the readings of the Scriptures today, which in fact mentioned to us the fulfilment of the long promised salvation of God as fulfilled through those whom He had sent into this world.

For the prophet Elijah was among the few of the children of man who did not experience death at the end of his earthly life, a fate which he shared with Enoch from the Book of Genesis, one of the earliest patriarchs and ancestors of man, as well as with Mary herself, the Mother of God, who according to our faith, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory and did not experience death in the way that we mankind experience it.

The prophet Elijah was taken up into heaven in a great flaming chariot as seen by his successor, prophet Elisha, who continued the works of the prophet Elijah after he left this world. It was then told that the prophet Elijah would one day come again to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah, the Saviour of God. It was popularly believed by the Israelites that Elijah would indeed come again at the appointed time of God, to announce God’s salvation to all.

This is where the prophet Elijah often became associated with St. John the Baptist, the one whom God had sent into this world just prior to the arrival of the Lord and Saviour Himself, born of Elizabeth, the relative of Mary, the Mother of Our God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. St. John the Baptist was compared to the prophet Elijah and was mentioned as having the spirit of the prophet Elijah. In any case, through St. John the Baptist and his works, what has been prophesied about God’s salvation came to fulfilment.

God was making all that He has promised to be fulfilled, as He has promised. Everything that God has said will come true exactly as He has said it, only that the time of the fulfilment is known to God alone and not to us. That is why we must put our trust in Him alone and not worry, for God will save us all His people and fulfil what He has promised to us without doubt. The issue is that many of us have not been faithful to Him and we chose to ignore His truth and His offer of salvation.

Many of us have become too preoccupied with worldly matters, desires and concerns that we end up getting more and more distant from God. And our faith became a mere formality and we do not practice our faith with genuine sincerity, as we chose rather to advance our own worldly ambitions and desires, rather than putting our trust and faith in God. And that is why our faith became empty and many of the celebrations of faith like Christmas has become just another one of worldly joys and pleasures.

That is why it is prompt and timely for all of us to be reminded by what we have heard in our Scripture passages today, as we are reminded of what Christmas truly means to us, the coming of the Saviour of God into this world in order to save us, just as He has promised and which He proclaimed through His servant, St. John the Baptist, the one who had in him the spirit and power of the prophet Elijah and bearing the mission to proclaim God’s salvation to all, preparing His way for Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, how do we then as Christians prepare ourselves well during this time of Advent that we may reorientate our lives to be aligned once again with God and with His ways? It is by turning ourselves to God wholeheartedly and purifying ourselves of our greed and desires, our attachments to this world and our pride and ego in us. And we should look upon the good examples set by our holy predecessor, whose feast we celebrate today, namely St. John of the Cross.

St. John of the Cross was a great saint, a holy man and a member of the Carmelite Order, known for his great role in the reform of the well-known religious order together with St. Teresa of Avila, and eventually led to the foundation of the Order of the Discalced Carmelites. At that time, the Carmelite Order had become wayward in the practice and customs of their livelihood, work and direction, and as a result, some began to call for a reform of the way the Carmelite Order ought to proceed.

St. John of the Cross helped St. Teresa of Avila to reform the Carmelites at a challenging time for the Church and the faith, when many people were leaving their faith and the Church at the height of the Protestant reformation, and also caused by the rampant corruption within the Church in general. St. John of the Cross and his fellow reformers wanted to restore sanctity and purity to the revered Carmelites order to help in the efforts to oppose the impacts of the reformation in what is to be known as the Counter-Reformation.

They all set forth to purify the Carmelites from the corrupt practices and ways accumulated in the past years and steering the order back to its original path and way, and of course all these were not without stiff opposition and challenges, as there were many of those within the order who opposed St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila and their reform effort. He was attacked, criticised and ridiculed, and yet, he remained firm in his commitment and his faith in God.

Eventually this led to the foundation of the Discalced Carmelites order as the newly reformed segment of the Carmelites who embraced the reforms of St. John of the Cross and his fellow reformers. Eventually the original, old Carmelites order itself was also reformed by others in the subsequent years, leading its members back towards God and their love and devotion for Him rather than worldly attachments that had corrupted the order in the past.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, having heard of the life, works and examples set by St. John of the Cross, let us all also reorder and reorientate our lives if we have been wayward and disobedient all these while, if we have allowed the many concerns and attachments of the world to mislead us into the false paths. Let us all turn towards God with faith and with zeal, with vigour and energy as what was once shown by St. John of the Cross, our model in faith.

May the Lord continue to guide us in this journey of faith, and may all of us have a blessed season of Advent, making best use of the time and opportunities to seek God for healing and forgiveness, and to love Him once again with all of our hearts and with all of our might. Amen.

Saturday, 14 December 2019 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 17 : 10-13

At that time, the disciples of Jesus asked Him, “Why do the teachers of the Law say that Elijah must come first?”

Jesus answered, “So it is : first comes Elijah; and he will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come; and they did not recognise him; and they treated him as they pleased. And they will also make the Son of Man suffer.”

Then the disciples understood that Jesus was referring to John the Baptist.

Saturday, 14 December 2019 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 79 : 2ac and 3b, 15-16, 18-19

Listen, o Shepherd of Israel, You, Who sit enthroned between the Cherubim. Stir up Your might and come to save us.

Turn again, o YHVH of hosts, look down from heaven and see; care for this vine, and protect the stock Your hand has planted.

But lay Your hand on Your instrument, on the Son of Man, Whom You make strong for Yourself. Then, we will never turn away from You; give us life, and we will call on Your Name.

Saturday, 14 December 2019 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Sirach 48 : 1-4, 9-11

Then came the prophet Elijah, like a fire, his words a burning torch. He brought a famine on the people and in his zealous love had them reduced in number. Speaking in the Name of the Lord he closed down the heavens, and on three occasions called down fire.

How marvellous you were, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds! Who could ever boast of being your equal? You were taken up by a whirlwind of flames in a chariot drawn by fiery horses. It was written that you should be the one to calm God’s anger in the future, before it broke out in fury, to turn the hearts of fathers to their sons and to restore the tribes of Jacob.

Happy are those who will see you and those who die in love, for we too shall live.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of Pope St. Damasus I, Pope (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Popes)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the words of the Scripture, each and every one of us are reminded that we can indeed put our complete and undivided attention and trust in the Lord, for it is in Him alone that we will find true joy and comfort, and we will not be disappointed should we decide to put our faith in Him, as He is always ever faithful to the Covenant that He has made with us.

In our first reading today from the Book of the prophet Isaiah we heard the prophet Isaiah spoke again regarding of the promise of good life and salvation which all of us will receive from God, and in today’s passage, the prophet spoke of just how mighty and all-powerful God is, and everything is possible for Him, as He is truly almighty and omnipotent in all things. And yet, this almighty and all-powerful God wants to love each and every one of us mankind, whom He has made to be His own people.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard the Lord Jesus Himself said, as He called all of us to Him, offering His yoke to us, as the lighter yoke than that of the yoke of the world, and calling on us all who are weary and heavily burdened, that He will give us rest. This is indeed a message that brings great comfort to all of us just as how it must have brought great relief to all those who heard Christ right there and then.

Yet, if we notice carefully, the Lord did not say that He will immediately remove from all of us all obstacles and make our lives easy and good. In fact, by using the term ‘yoke’ which is the burden used to bind the cattle and beasts of burden at that time, the Lord indirectly referred to the fact that for those who follow Him, there will be trials and challenges to come, and to be a faithful Christian we must be prepared to stand up for our faith and defend it.

But this is still better compared to the alternative path, in which we may not suffer as much for now, and we may enjoy the journey more and be pleased more for now. That is because while the path of the Lord may seem to be more challenging and difficult for us to walk, but in truth, it leads us into the true and eternal rest in God, when we will receive the fullness of the inheritance, happiness and glory that God has promised us all.

On the other hand, if we choose the other path, the path of worldliness and the path advocated by the devil, it may seem to be less challenging and easier, and we will likely be more accepted and have more peace in life, but all these are just deceptions to prevent us from realising that this path is leading us into damnation and eternal suffering in hell. And this is why many people ended up falling into the same temptation and fell away from God’s path.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we continue to progress through the season of Advent we are all called to reflect on our lives and how we have lived them thus far. Have we been walking faithfully with God and putting our trust in Him, or have we instead sought the comforts and good things in life that as Christians we have been lukewarm in living our faith and been inactive and dormant in embracing our faith in God?

That is why today perhaps we should look upon the examples set by one of our holy predecessors, namely Pope St. Damasus I, whose feast we are celebrating today. Pope St. Damasus I was the Pope and leader of the Universal Church at a time when there were plenty of challenges and difficulties facing the faithful and the Church, as there were many heresies and false teachings threatening to divide the Church among many other issues.

Pope St. Damasus managed and led the Church through those difficult years. He spoke out firmly against the heresies and those leading the Church and the faithful into them. Pope St. Damasus had his hands full in managing all these issues and yet he continued to do his best to serve the faithful in his role as Pope and leader of the Church. He wrote extensively and also supported St. Jerome in compiling the Latin version of the Bible, namely the Vulgate.

Pope St. Damasus also worked hard to maintain good relations with the Church leaders in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire, and he even played a major role in the resolution of the leadership and succession disputes in the Eastern Patriarchates of Antioch and Alexandria. Truly, we can see just how busy Pope St. Damasus I must have been at that time and the kind of immense trials that he had to endure in being faithful to God and to the missions entrusted to him, yet he remained true to his faith and dedicated himself wholeheartedly.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore follow in the footsteps of Pope St. Damasus I, in being faithful to God and in putting our trust in Him, that we may walk courageously in the path that He has shown us even despite all the challenges and trials that we may have to face along the way. May the Lord guide us and help us throughout this journey and may He bless us all always. Amen.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of Pope St. Damasus I, Pope (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Popes)

Matthew 11 : 28-30

At that time, Jesus said to the people, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart; and you will find rest. For My yoke is easy; and My burden is light.”

Wednesday, 11 December 2019 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of Pope St. Damasus I, Pope (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Popes)

Psalm 102 : 1-2, 3-4, 8 and 10

Praise YHVH, my soul; all my being, praise His holy Name! Praise YHVH, my soul, and do not forget all His kindness.

He forgives all your sins and heals all your sickness; He redeems your life from destruction and crowns you with love and compassion.

YHVH is gracious and merciful, abounding in love and slow to anger. He does not treat us according to our sins, nor does He punish us as we deserve.