Wednesday, 27 May 2020 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Augustine of Canterbury, Bishop (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the words of the Scripture, we heard the continuation of this week’s discourse on the prayers of St. Paul and the Lord Jesus, as we heard more of what the Apostle prayed and said in the presence the elders and the community of the faithful in Ephesus just before he was about to embark on his last journey to Jerusalem, which eventually would lead to his journey to Rome and martyrdom there. Similarly, in our Gospel we heard the prayer made by the Lord Jesus just before His suffering and Passion.

In our first reading today we heard St. Paul exhorting the elders and the leaders of the Church in Ephesus to be faithful in their calling and ministry, especially as leaders and shepherds of the flock of the faithful people of God. He reminded all of them to be vigilant and to be strong in their faith that they will not end up in the wrong path, or swayed by false teachings, as he predicted very accurately how false teachers and shepherd would come from among them to mislead the faithful.

What St. Paul said at that time was indeed prophetic, as very soon before long, divisions and disagreements would come to divide the Church and caused many to fall into the falsehoods of heresies and wrong teachings. Ephesus, along with many other centres of the early Christian Church in the Eastern Mediterranean would become places from which various heresies and erroneous teachers and teachings propagate, and many people fell into the temptations of these falsehoods.

Take for example, Arianism, one of the most dangerous of the early Christian heresies, as well as Gnosticism in the early centuries, the threat of Monophysitism, among with other much less well-known heresies and aberrant teachings, many of which came from priests and even bishops and elders of the Church who had a different idea and way of thinking from the truth of the Church, and propagated it among their followers, many of whom followed into heresy and caused bitter divisions in the Church.

Many of these heretics and false leaders misled the people because of their pride, their arrogance and personal ambition, their inner desires to gain more of worldly glory and acceptance, which unfortunately led to them having craved even more glory and fame, and hardened their hearts and refusing to listen to reason or truth, and therefore, persisted in their heresy and rebellion against the true faith and against God.

And this is linked to what we then heard in our Gospel passage today, as the Lord Jesus in His prayer to the Father asked Him to keep those whom He had given to Him, and called to salvation. The Lord asked the Father to make them one and keep them one just as they are one and indivisible. This is the famous prayer for unity of the Christian Church, in the words, ‘That they may be One, just as We are One.’ Through this, we can see how the Lord had actually foreseen and knew of the divisions that would come to His Church and flock, and He wanted us all to be reconciled to one another and be united.

Then, how should we then act so as to avoid these divisions, disagreements and conflicts among us? Throughout the ages, we have had many courageous missionaries and people who went out of their way to reach out to the separated brothers and sisters, explaining the truth of the faith and trying to convince them to return to the Holy Mother Church. There were of course also many unsuccessful attempts, and there were even martyrs caused by these unfortunate divisions and conflicts within the Church.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, realising that even in our time and age, there are still many out there who have followed false teachings and heretical Christian thinking, false and wicked ideas, we should embrace our calling to be good bearers of the Lord’s truth to all of them. By our baptism, that is what each and every one of us had been called to. Yet, at the same time, we must also realise that the best way to do this is not through force or coercion, but rather through genuine communication and dialogue, through love, care and compassion.

Essentially, we should do our best that our lives may truly be exemplary and good, filled with obedience to God and the desire to serve Him, to live our lives to the fullest with the guidance from God. And that is how we become examples for one another, to help and guide our path as we walk together in this journey of faith towards the Lord. And perhaps, we should gain inspiration from St. Augustine of Canterbury, a holy saint of God and a devoted missionary whose piety and humility can help us in our path to seek greater relationship with God.

St. Augustine of Canterbury was the renowned saint credited with the restoration of the Christian faith and hierarchy in the lands now known as England, such that the See of Canterbury until today remain as the pre-eminent See of all England. Although Christianity had arrived and been established in the British isles prior to the coming of St. Augustine of Canterbury, but the chaos of the fall of the Roman Empire, invasion by the pagan Anglo-Saxons disrupted much of the Christian communities there.

Therefore, Pope St. Gregory the Great at that time sent St. Augustine, then a prior and monk of a monastery in Rome, to evangelise to the Anglo-Saxons and reestablish Christian hierarchy and communities in England. St. Augustine gradually was able to Christianise the land of England, and more and more people came to be baptised. Of course St. Augustine of Canterbury did not have it easy, as there were many of those who refused to accept the Christian faith and even persecuted missionaries. Yet, he did not let all these dampen his enthusiasm and commitment to serve the Lord and His Church.

St. Augustine of Canterbury was remembered for the great piety he had shown, his courage and fearlessness in the face of opposition and challenges. He dedicated himself to the mission in re-Christianising England, and at the end of his life and ministry, this aim had largely been fulfilled although it did take many more years before the Church was firmly established in the whole community. His courage and dedication should be source of inspiration for us all on how we ought to live up to our Christian faith and calling.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all discern how we are to continue living our lives after we have heard all of these today. God has called us all to follow Him and to put our trust in Him. Let us all follow the good examples set by St. Paul the Apostle, the other Apostles and disciples of the Lord, St. Augustine of Canterbury, all the saints and everyone who have shown us the way to follow God. Let us all get rid from ourselves all the taints of pride and arrogance, all hubris and greed, desire and all the obstacles that had prevented us from being able to commit ourselves fully to the Lord. May the Lord help us and be our guide, in our renewed journey of faith from now on. Amen.

Wednesday, 27 May 2020 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Augustine of Canterbury, Bishop (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

John 17 : 11b-19

At that time, Jesus prayed to God His Father, “Holy Father, keep those You have given Me in Your Name, so that they may be one, as we also are. When I was with them, I kept them safe in Your Name; and not one was lost, except the one who was already lost, and in this, the Scripture was fulfilled. And now I come to You; in the world I speak these things, so that those whom You gave Me, might have joy – all My joy within themselves.”

“I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world, I do not ask You to remove them from the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth.”

“I have sent them into the world as You sent Me into the world; and for their sake, I go to the sacrifice by which I am consecrated, so that they too may be consecrated in truth.”

Wednesday, 27 May 2020 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Augustine of Canterbury, Bishop (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 67 : 29-30, 33-35a, 35b-36c

Summon Your power, o God, with the strength You have wielded for us. To Your Temple in Jerusalem, kings will come with gifts.

Sing to God, o kingdoms of the world; sing praises to the Lord, to Him Who rides the ancient heavens, and speaks in the voice of thunder. Proclaim the might of God.

He is great in Israel, powerful in heavens. Blessed be God!

Wednesday, 27 May 2020 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Augustine of Canterbury, Bishop (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Acts 20 : 28-38

Keep watch over yourselves, and over the whole flock the Holy Spirit has placed into your care. Shepherd the Church of the Lord that He has won, at the price of His own Blood. I know that, after I leave, ruthless wolves will come among you and not spare the flock. And, from among you, some will arise, corrupting the truth, and inducing the disciples to follow them.

Be on the watch, therefore, remembering that, for three years, night and day, I did not cease to warn everyone, even with tears. Now, I commend you to God, and to His grace-filled word, which is able to make you grow and gain the inheritance that you shall share with all the saints.

I have not looked for anyone’s silver, gold or clothing. You, yourselves, know, that these hands of mine have provided for both my needs and the needs of those who were with me. In every way, I have shown you that by working hard one must help the weak, remembering the words that the Lord Jesus Himself said, “Happiness lies more in giving than in receiving.”

After this discourse, Paul knelt down with them and prayed. Then, they all began to weep and threw their arms around him and kissed him. They were deeply distressed because he had said that they would never see him again. And they went with him even to the ship.

Tuesday, 26 May 2020 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Philip Neri, Priest (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in what we have heard in our Scripture passages today, we heard of the ‘farewells’ made by two different people, both following the will of God, in fulfilling their part in their calling and ministry, as both were going on to encounter great sufferings and persecutions, which eventually would lead to their respective deaths. Today we heard of the story of St. Paul who was in Ephesus just before he was to depart for Jerusalem to confront his final ministry, and we also heard about the prayer of the Lord Jesus for His disciples which He made during His last moments before He embarked on His Passion.

In our first reading today, St. Paul met with the elders and leaders of the community of the faithful in Ephesus, as he was on his way back from his extensive missionary journey towards Jerusalem, the early centre of Christendom and the capital of the Jewish people at the time. At that time, St. Paul already had received revelation from God that his journey to Jerusalem this time would be his very last one before he was to be tried for his alleged crimes and sent to Rome to appeal to the Emperor, and he would not have the chance to see the elders and the community in Ephesus again.

For someone so dedicated to the cause of the faith, filled with so much enthusiasm in preaching the Good News like that, it must have been difficult for St. Paul to say farewell to all the people, some of whom must have been known to St. Paul for many years during his almost three decades of missionary works, in which he passed through Ephesus quite a number of times. We must not forget that St. Paul also wrote Epistles or letters to the Church in Ephesus, showing that the Church there must have been close to his heart.

But St. Paul was greatly encouraged knowing and believing that God would be with all of them and ensure the continued growth of the Church there even long after he had gone and departed from this world. St. Paul therefore also prayed over the elders and the community of the faithful, praying that God would continue to guide them and remain with them through their good and bad times. And St. Paul also uttered the words to the elders in Ephesus as what he also uttered in another occasion to St. Timothy, for which he is now famous, that, ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.’

Our first reading today, as well as even our Gospel today can basically be summarised by that phrase. Both St. Paul and the Lord Jesus had done wonderful works among the people, making countless people to believe in God through them, performed miracles and wonders, and brought God’s truth and salvation closer to many. And that they were both coming to the end of their earthly journey and ministry, both of them thanked God for having been with them throughout, as St. Paul thanked and praised God for His constant guidance, and the Lord Jesus also thanked His heavenly Father for the same.

And most importantly, is that both of them accepted their roles in the works of salvation and what would happen to them as God has revealed to them. St. Paul accepted his eventual martyrdom for the sake of his faith, and willingly went on to Jerusalem to accept the punishment from the Jewish authorities, for which accusations he decided to claim the right for appeal to the Emperor which led him to go to Rome, to be martyred but also with the opportunity to preach and work among the community in Rome. In the same way, the Lord Jesus also accepted the role that He had to suffer and die on the Cross for the salvation of all.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, what do all these then show us? It is that as Christ’s followers and disciples, all of us must be ready to detach ourselves from worldly desires and concerns, from the attachments to worldly matters and all the things that prevent us from being able to fully give ourselves to the service and the greater glory of God. Too often we have allowed ourselves be swayed and tempted by all these worldly matters and concerns that we have ended up down the wrong path.

St. Paul could have evaded issues, troubles and sufferings by staying in Ephesus or at other places he was welcomed or having friends in, but he chose to face his challenges, departing for Jerusalem where he knew all his enemies were gathered to give witness to his faith and to proclaim the Lord to more people especially in Rome, to where God had sent him to evangelise. In the same way, the Lord Jesus could also easily have evaded His arrest, trial, torture and crucifixion, but He chose to obey the will of His Father, and devoted Himself to His Passion.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is what we also have to take note of, that we have to be ready to follow the Lord, to listen to Him and to trust in Him rather than to be distracted, tempted, and pulled down by various worldly desires and concerns. We have to keep our focus clear, to trust in the Lord and the path He has set before, and do our best through whatever He has given us to contribute to the greater good of the Church and for God’s greater glory.

Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Philip Neri, one of the very famous saints of the Church, famously known as the Second Apostle of Rome who was remembered for his extensive works in establishing important congregations and religious orders, especially the Confraternity of the Holy Trinity and Congregation of the Oratory. St. Philip Neri himself was born into a noble and wealthy family, but he chose to abandon everything after God had called him into a life dedicated to His service.

St. Philip Neri was remembered for his great labours among the poor and the sick in the city of Rome, ministering to even prostitutes and others normally shunned by the rest of the community. All of his hard work and efforts are what made him to be called the ‘Second Apostle of Rome’ as mentioned earlier, following in the footsteps of both St. Peter and St. Paul, who went to Rome, ministered there and were eventually martyred for their faith. St. Philip Neri dedicated himself to the congregations he founded, and was remembered for his intense personal piety.

All of these inspired many others to follow his good examples, and many joined his congregations which grew rapidly and played important roles in the rejuvenation of the faith among the faithful, especially those who have lapsed from their faith. The examples of St. Philip Neri should inspire us all to follow his examples, and to live our lives from now on, following what God has called us to do, and follow Him with zeal and commitment, and with the desire to love Him more and to serve Him faithfully.

Are we willing and able to entrust ourselves to the Lord, and be ever more devoted to Him as our holy predecessors had done? We do not have to abandon the world as what St. Philip Neri had done, or to follow St. Paul into his sufferings and persecutions. Rather, what we are called to do is for us to live our lives as good and devout Christians that in everything we do in our respective areas, in whatever calling and vocations we have been called to, in our families and in our communities, we will always focus our attention on God, and that we do everything for the sake of God and following whatever He has shown and taught us.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all live an ever more genuine Christian living from now on, and let us dedicate more of our time, effort and attention to walk in the path of Christ, following the inspiring examples of our Lord Himself, of St. Paul the Apostle, St. Philip Neri and many other holy saints and martyrs of God. May God be with us always throughout this journey of faith in life, and may He strengthen us all that we may follow Him wholeheartedly. May God bless us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

Tuesday, 26 May 2020 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Philip Neri, Priest (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

John 17 : 1-11a

At that time, after Jesus said all that He had said to His disciples, He lifted up His eyes to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come! Give glory to Your Son, that the Son may give glory to You. You have given Him power over all humanity, so that He may give eternal life to all those You entrusted to Him. For this is eternal life : to know You, the only true God, and the One You sent, Jesus Christ.”

“I have glorified You on earth and finished the work that You gave Me to do. Now, Father, give Me, in Your presence, the same glory I had with You before the world began. I have made Your Name known to those You gave Me from the world. They were Yours, and You gave them to Me, and they kept Your word. And now they know that whatever You entrusted to Me, is indeed from You.”

“I have given them the teaching I received from You, and they received it, and know in truth that I came from You; and they believe that You sent Me. I pray for them. I do not pray for the world, but for those who belong to You, and whom You have given to Me. Indeed all I have is Yours and all You have is Mine; and now they are My glory.”

“I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I come to You.”

Tuesday, 26 May 2020 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Philip Neri, Priest (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 67 : 10-11, 20-21

Then You gave a rain of blessings to comfort Your weary children. Your people found a dwelling and in Your mercy, o God, You provided for the needy.

Blessed be the Lord, God our Saviour, Who daily bears our burdens! Ours is a God Who saves; our Lord lets us escape from death.