Monday, 18 May 2020 : 6th Week of Easter, Memorial of Pope St. John I, Pope and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we heard the Good News the Scripture and Gospel passages, we are called to trust in God and to follow Him wherever He leads us to. We are called to be true Christians in our lives and our every words and deeds, so that by all of them, people may truly realise, know and understand that we are God’s beloved ones, and that His love will also be extended to them should they choose to follow us and walk down the same path that we have walked.

In our first reading today taken from the Acts of the Apostles, we heard how the Apostle St. Paul and his companion travelled to the land of Macedonia in the northern region of Greece following the vision he has received from God, when he heard the call of some people calling them to the Macedonian lands to preach the Good News and proclaim the salvation of God there. St. Paul preached the word of God, and went to find some of the faithful where they usually gathered, and as we heard, managed to gain the trust of a God-fearing woman, Lydia of Thyatira, and also some others.

They heard the words of the Lord and believed, and gave themselves to be baptised by the hands of the Apostles. It was likely that the Apostles preached with such wisdom and great courage, testifying on whatever they had experienced and encountered during their journey that the people were convinced and turned to believe in God. Most importantly, they must have believed because they were convinced by the genuine words and actions of the missionaries of the faith.

The Apostles, the disciples and the early Christian communities lived according to the way that the Lord had shown them, as beacons of light, hope and truth in the midst of the darkness and wickedness rampant all over the world. Especially in the communities at that time which did not know God or follow His ways, steeped in plenty of hedonism and worldly excesses, immoral and selfish behaviours, the truth of God, His Law and love are bright revelation that in the end, were sought by many seeking truth and meaning to their lives.

This is what the Apostles had been called to do, to bring the love of God into the world, to reveal to them the path of truth and the way towards salvation, and as revealed in our Gospel passage today, to proclaim Christ, the True Vine to all the people of all the nations, calling them to be part of the Vine of the Lord, the Church by which all will be saved. And as shown in the Acts of the Apostles, while there were many who rejected the truth of God, there were also those like Lydia and those who were open to the Lord’s truth who chose to accept Christ as their Lord and Saviour.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, to be part of the Vine, that is to follow the Lord, our True Vine means that each and every one of us must draw life and strength from God, as indeed, separated from the True Vine, we shall wither and perish. Many may be wondering how our Christian faith and the Church was able to survive over the past two millennia with all the challenges, trials and troubles we encountered along all those years, but in truth, the answer is really clear, that as long as we are connected and attuned to the True Vine, our Lord, we shall endure and triumph in the end.

Today, all of us are called to reflect on what the Apostles had done, all the efforts of the missionaries in reaching out to the many communities and people who had not yet known God at that time, and did their best to bring God’s truth and salvation to them. They have all sacrificed time and effort to fulfil what they had been called to do, and we will do well to remember their great faith and dedication to God, their commitment to evangelisation and the salvation of many souls.

Now, we are all the successors and inheritors of their many good works, and we are called to dedicate ourselves much as the Apostles and the many faithful servants of God, the saints and martyrs, who had devotion and spent much time and effort to reach out to the ones who have not yet heard of God, His salvation, love and many good works. There are still many things left undone and incomplete in the works of Church, and we are the ones who ought to carry on these missions and shoulder the responsibilities of our Christian calling.

Today, we celebrate the feast of one of these holy predecessors, namely Pope St. John I, a great and courageous leader of the Universal Church and a holy martyr of the Church and the faith. Pope St. John I was the Pope during the turbulent years following the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, and in which time the Arian heresy still had strong influences over some of the barbarian states that took over the rule over parts of the Christendom at that time. Pope St. John I presided over the Church especially in the West, under the reign of the Ostrogoths under King Theodoric the Great, who was a firm Arian in his belief.

King Theodoric charged Pope St. John I with a very difficult task of trying to get concessions for the Arian position and faith with the Roman Emperor in Constantinople, and this was particularly difficult since first of all, Arianism had been condemned as a dangerous heresy, and the relationship between the Ostrogothic Kingdom and the Roman Empire had not been good for the years of Pope St. John I’s Pontificate, and it was getting worse as the religious issues became entangled in the socio-political matters.

Nonetheless, Pope St. John I did his best to accommodate and bridge between both parties, in his role as the Pontifex Maximus or the Supreme Pontiff, in ‘building bridges’ between the communities of the faithful with one another and with God. It is likely that Pope St. John I hoped that by gaining concessions for the Ostrogothic King, eventually the King might be brought to reason and may be more open to accept the true and orthodox Christian faith free from heretical ways and thoughts.

Pope St. John I carried out his mission dutifully and conscientiously despite the challenges he had to endure. He was highly respected by the Emperor and received a grand welcome when he visited the Emperor’s court in Constantinople, the Imperial capital, but he did not manage to get the concessions desired by the Ostrogothic King. As a result, upon his return to Rome, the King arrested the Pope and put him in prison, and it was told that the Pope died a martyr for defending his faith and his Church, remaining true to his mission to the very end.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the examples set by Pope St. John I showed us that even a Pope and leader of the Church also had to endure great sufferings and challenges as part of his ministry and works, in the efforts of evangelisation and the salvation of souls. How can we then ignore our own part and not embrace our own calling to do what the Lord has commanded us to do, that is to proclaim His truth and salvation to all the peoples? Let us reflect on this and discern what we can do with our lives to fulfil our Christian calling and mission.

Let us all turn towards God, our True Vine, the source of all of our lives and our strength, the font of all wisdom and hope that we may remain hopeful even amidst these difficult times we are living through now. All the Apostles and the holy saints and martyrs had put their trust in God and dedicated themselves to Him. They were able to persevere through the challenges and trials because of this trust and faith, which we also now need to have with us. Are we able then to commit ourselves to the Lord with a renewed faith and with zeal?

May the Lord help us and guide us in our journey, and may He strengthen each and every one of us that we may remain steadfast and firm in our conviction to love God and our fellow brothers and sisters in every opportunities in our respective lives. May God bless us all and may He bless our good works and endeavours, now and forevermore, and may Pope St. John I and the holy Apostles, God’s saints and martyrs pray for us sinners. Amen.

Monday, 18 May 2020 : 6th Week of Easter, Memorial of Pope St. John I, Pope and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White or Red (Martyrs)

John 15 : 26 – John 16 : 4a

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “From now on the Helper, the Holy Spirit Whom the Father will send in My Name, will teach you all things, and remind you of all that I have told you.”

“Peace be with you! I give you My peace; not as the world gives peace do I give it to you. Do not be troubled; do not be afraid. You heard Me say, ‘I am going away, but I am coming to you.’ If you loved Me, you would be glad that I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.”

“I have told you this now before it takes place, so that when it does happen you may believe. It is very little what I may still tell you, for the prince of this world is at hand, although there is nothing in Me that he can claim. But see, the world must know that I love the Father, and that I do what the Father has taught Me to do. Come now, let us go.”

“I am the True Vine and My Father is the Vinegrower. If any of My branches does not bear fruit, He breaks it off; and He prunes every branch that does bear fruit, that it may bear even more fruit. You are already made clean by the word I have spoken to you. Live in Me as I live in you.”

Monday, 18 May 2020 : 6th Week of Easter, Memorial of Pope St. John I, Pope and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White or Red (Martyrs)

Psalm 149 : 1-2, 3-4, 5-6a and 9b

Alleluia! Sing to the Lord a new song, sing His praise in the assembly of His saints! Let Israel rejoice in his Maker, let the people of Zion glory in their King!

Let them dance to praise of His Name and make music for Him with harp and timbrel. For the Lord delights in His people; He crowns the lowly with victory.

The saints will exult in triumph; even at night on their couches. Let the praise of God be on their lips; this is the glory of all His saints. Alleluia!

Monday, 18 May 2020 : 6th Week of Easter, Memorial of Pope St. John I, Pope and Martyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White or Red (Martyrs)

Acts 16 : 11-15

So we put out to sea from Troas and sailed straight across to Samothrace Island, and the next day to Neapolis. From there we went inland to Philippi, the leading city of the district of Macedonia, and a Roman colony. We spent some days in that city.

On the sabbath we went outside the city gate to the bank of the river where we thought the Jews would gather to pray. We sat down and began speaking to the women who were gathering there. One of them was a God-fearing woman named Lydia from Thyatira City, a dealer in purple cloth.

As she listened, the Lord opened her heart to respond to what Paul was saying. After she had been baptised together with her household, she invited us to her house, “If you think I am faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us to accept her invitation.

Thursday, 30 April 2020 : 3rd Week of Easter, Memorial of Pope St. Pius V, Pope (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard the story of the conversion of the Ethiopian official by the Apostle St. Philip when the Apostle encountered the official who was on his way back to his homeland after a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. At that time, it had been a thousand years since the coming of Queen of Sheba, who was told to be the ruler of the country at the region later known as Ethiopia, when she visited Jerusalem and paid homage to king Solomon of Israel.

As a result, the relations between the lands of Israel and Ethiopia had been established for many centuries since then, as they were definitely involved in trade and economic cooperation, as well as even religious encounter and exchanges. That was why the Ethiopian official was reading the passage from the prophet Isaiah’s prophecies and records, as it was likely that there were also some Jews and descendants of the Israelites who settled in Ethiopia and based on the history of relations between the two countries, it is likely that the Hebrew Scriptures have been widespread and read by many.

This was where then that St. Philip the Apostle came in, as he came up to the Ethiopian official who was reading the particular passage from the prophet Isaiah regarding the Suffering Servant or the Suffering Messiah. No doubt during that time, as he visited Jerusalem during those days, it was quite likely that he had also witnessed or at least heard about the events that had been happening in and around Jerusalem regarding Jesus the Messiah, Who had been condemned to death and crucified, and yet was told to have been resurrected from the dead.

Thus, St. Philip explained to the official what the passages of the Scriptures and the prophecies of Isaiah truly meant, explaining with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, the revelations of God’s truth and also the personal experiences he had when he was travelling and journeying along with the Lord. And thus the Ethiopian official allowed himself to be persuaded and believed in the truth of Christ. He asked to be baptised at a nearby water source, and once he had been baptised by St. Philip, the Apostle was spirited away from him, and the official joyfully went back to his country, likely to be the first Christian among the Ethiopians, and establishing the seeds of the faith in that land that are to remain till to this day.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard of the Lord Jesus speaking to the people that He is truly the Bread of Life Who has come down from Heaven itself, the very One Whom the prophets had spoken and prophesied about. And He spoke of His relationship with the Father, how all can only know the Father through Him as He was the only One Who had come down from Heaven, revealing the truth of God into this world and among us all, God’s beloved people. He has come into this world to save us all from certain destruction.

Through what we have read in our Gospel today, we are therefore brought to pay attention to our faith in God, just as Christ has spoken to us all as a reminder that no one can come to the Father except through Him. And all of us have been called by Christ to be His followers as we received His truth through His Church. Like that of the Ethiopian official and many other people of all the various nations and races, all have been called by God to follow Him and to be His people.

Are we appreciative of what the Lord had done for us? Are we able to recognise just how much the Lord had loved us all these while, that even when we are all still sinners, rebellious and indignant in our attitudes, we are all still beloved by Him and God still did all He could to save us, that is by His selfless sacrifice on the Cross. God has called us all to follow Him, and we are all called to be witnesses of His truth, to proclaim this truth to our fellow brethren, through our lives and actions.

How do we do this, brothers and sisters in Christ? It is by our faithful witness through virtue and love, through real dedication and trust in the Lord. And we should also have a great zeal for the Lord, like that of the Apostle St. Philip, whose conviction and faith, wisdom and devotion persuaded the Ethiopian official to believe in God. The Lord will always be by our side, guiding us and helping us, but we need to trust in Him and open ourselves to His providence, guidance and strength.

Today, all of us should look upon the good examples set by one of our holy predecessors, namely Pope St. Pius V, one of the great Popes and leaders of the Church. At that time, with the Church and Christendom under great threat from both within and without, Pope St. Pius V helped to lead the Church and the Christian faithful through those difficult times. His personal piety, dedication to the reform of the Church and the faith, as well as his leadership and commitment to the Lord allowed the Church and the faithful to endure the worst years successfully.

When the Christian world was threatened by the forces of the infidels and unbelievers under the Ottoman Empire, Pope St. Pius V helped to raise a great alliance of the faithful forces and handed the enemies of the Church and the Lord a great defeat at the Battle of Lepanto. And facing the great challenges of the heresies of Protestantism in much of Christendom, Pope St. Pius V helped to bring the instrumental Council of Trent to a successful conclusion, and helped to enforce the much needed reforms that reinvigorated the Church and the faithful, in a strong Counter Reformation effort that reversed much of the damages in the past decades.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we can see in the great dedication and efforts put in by Pope St. Pius V, let us all as Christians be ourselves inspired to follow in his footsteps, as well as in the footsteps of the Apostles, to be cheerful and courageous bearers of Christ’s truth and light to all the peoples of all the nations. May the Lord be with us always, and may He continue to guide us and bless our many good endeavours for His greater glory. Amen.

Thursday, 30 April 2020 : 3rd Week of Easter, Memorial of Pope St. Pius V, Pope (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

John 6 : 44-51

At that time, Jesus said to the Jews, “No one can come to Me unless he is drawn by the Father Who sent Me; and I will raise Him up on the last day. It has been written in the Prophets : They shall all be taught by God. So whoever listens and learns from the Father comes to Me.”

“For no one has seen the Father except the One Who comes from God; He has seen the Father. Truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the Bread of Life. Though your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, they died. But here you have the Bread which comes from heaven, so that you may eat of it, and not die.”

“I am the Living Bread which as come from heaven; whoever eats of this Bread will live forever. The Bread I shall give is My flesh, and I will give it for the life of the world.”

Thursday, 30 April 2020 : 3rd Week of Easter, Memorial of Pope St. Pius V, Pope (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 65 : 8-9, 16-17, 20

Praise our God, o nations, let the sound of His praise be heard, for He has preserved us among the living and kept our feet from stumbling.

All you who fear God, come and listen; let me tell you what He has done. I cried aloud to Him, extolling Him with my tongue.

May God be blessed! He has not rejected my prayer; nor withheld His love from me.