Wednesday, 31 January 2018 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. John Bosco, Priest (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day, we listened to the Scripture passage relating to us about what happened to David, the king of Israel in his later years, after God has granted him rest from the troubles and challenges in the early years of his rule as king. David then asked Joab, his commander of the army, to conduct a great survey of the whole realm, and count the numbers of his people.

We might not understand what was the problem with this request done by David, but if we are to think about it more carefully, what David has done is a natural reaction by many of us mankind, because of our human greed and prideful nature. By asking such a command to be done, David fell into sin as he became enamoured by the power and influence he commanded at the time, as his kingdom grew in might, wealth and power.

When he wanted to count the number of his subjects, it is not different from us, when we have gained a lot of money or earned something substantial, and we want to count them all. That is because when we have them, we desire for even more, and as we count what we possess, be it in terms of money or in terms of other material goods, we actually feel, deep in our hearts, a sense of pride and arrogance because we think that it was by our own power and ability that we have achieved all that we gained.

God was angry at David because of that short, momentary occurrence of pride and arrogance. He has allowed himself to be swayed by that pride and the temptation of the flesh, as those were what had led many people into their downfall, into committing sins against God. Thus, God reminded David of his errors and corrected him by means of admonition and just punishment.

And David’s reaction was truly admirable, as he humbled himself before God and admitted all the wrongs which he had done. He accepted the just punishments that God had meted out against him and against his kingdom. He recognised that he was a sinner and that he had gone astray in his path, and resolved to return to the right path. Such was the behaviour which God loved in David, His servant, and He continued to bless him henceforth.

In the Gospel passage today, we heard about the Lord Jesus Who went to His hometown, likely the village of Nazareth, where He performed miracles and taught among them in the synagogue, and yet, He was not well accepted by them. The people quickly grumbled and spoke among themselves, questioning His credibility and doubting all that He had done and performed among them.

They used their human prejudices and judgments to look upon the Lord and His actions. As such, they doubted Him simply because He was the Son of a mere carpenter, a person whose job was not well respected at the time, and considered to be uneducated, poor and generally as people who were looked down upon at that time. That is why they had that preformed judgment in their minds, and they therefore stubbornly closed their hearts and minds to the Lord.

What they have done is not different from what king David had once done. If king David was proud of his own achievements and greatness, the vastness and glory of his kingdom, then the people of Nazareth doubled down on their pride and trust in their own human judgments rather than allowing the Lord to speak to them through His actions. And they refused to listen to Him, and hardened their hearts against Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, essentially, what we have heard in today’s readings are reminders for us that each and every one of us will always and indeed, have always faced temptations, challenges and difficulties in our lives. In various ways, we have been burdened by those difficult moments and obstacles, and we may have fallen many times into the temptation to sin. However, we have to persevere and resist through those temptations and overcome those challenges we face along the way.

As Christians, all of us are called to live righteously, filled with courage and dedication, that we devote ourselves wholeheartedly to the Lord, and spend our energy and time doing what the Lord had commanded us to do, what He has shown us and taught us. And perhaps, we should follow an exemplary role model, whose life has been shaped by the Lord, and whose devotion to Him can be good examples for us to follow.

St. John Bosco was the founder of the religious order now known as the Salesians of St. John Bosco or the Salesians, one of the largest religious orders in the world today. Members of the religious order dedicate themselves to follow in the footsteps of St. John Bosco in his missionary outreach and efforts, as well as in his dedicated service to the people of God, particularly to the youths, to the underprivileged and to the weak among the people.

St. John Bosco was an Italian priest renowned for his efforts in educating the youths and the homeless in his community, establishing schools and dormitories for young boys who were homeless and without occupation, getting them to be educated and bringing them up in the right way, giving them the opportunity to be good and contributing members of the community.

St. John Bosco wanted to do more, and he wanted to embark on missionary works to evangelise the faith among the people, and therefore, he established with several others who were inspired by St. John Bosco, in a new religious congregations which eventually became the Salesians we know of today. Through the good examples set by St. John Bosco, which was followed by many of those who have dedicated themselves to God in the same manner, many have been saved.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all commit ourselves to the Lord in the same way as St. John Bosco has committed himself. Let us all turn towards the Lord, and rededicate ourselves completely to Him, just as king David turned away from his folly and admitted his mistakes before God. Let us all be true Christians, filled not with pride and arrogance, or with the greed of our human desires, but instead be filled with love, care and compassion, especially for our brethren, those who have less and are not as fortunate as us to have a good and comfortable life.

May the Lord strengthen each one of us, that we may live in accordance with His ways, and devote ourselves ever more strongly and genuinely to Him. St. John Bosco, pray for us all, that each and every one of us may be strengthened to live our lives with faith as you have done with your own. May God bless us all. Amen.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. John Bosco, Priest (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Mark 6 : 1-6

At that time, leaving the place where He raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead, Jesus returned to His own country, and His disciples followed Him. When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue, and most of those who heard Him were astonished.

But they said, “How did this come to Him? What kind of wisdom has been given to Him, that He also performs such miracles? Who is He but the Carpenter, the Son of Mary, and the Brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? His sisters, too, are they not here among us?” So they took offence at Him.

And Jesus said to them, “Prophets are despised only in their own country, among their relatives, and in their own family.” And He could work no miracles there, but only healed a few sick people, by laying His hands on them. Jesus Himself was astounded at their unbelief. Jesus then went around the villages, teaching.”

Wednesday, 31 January 2018 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. John Bosco, Priest (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 31 : 1-2, 5, 6, 7

Blessed is the one whose sin is forgiven, whose iniquity is wiped away. Blessed are those in whom YHVH sees no guilt and in whose spirit is found no deceit.

Then I made known to You my sin and uncovered before You my fault, saying to myself, “To YHVH I will now confess my wrong.” And You, You forgave my sin; You removed my guilt.

So let the faithful ones pray to You in time of distress; the overflowing waters will not reach them.

You are my Refuge; You protect me from distress and surround me with songs of deliverance.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. John Bosco, Priest (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

2 Samuel 24 : 2, 9-17

The king said to Joab and the commanders of the army who were with him, “Go through all the tribes of Israel from Dan to Beersheba and count the people that I may know how many they are.”

Joab gave the total count of the people to the king : eight hundred thousand warriors in Israel and five hundred thousand men in Judah. But after he had the people counted, David felt remorse and said to YHVH, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done, but now, o YHVH, I ask You to forgive my sin for I have acted foolishly.”

The following day, before David awoke, YHVH’s word had come to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, “Go, and give David this message : I offer you three things and I will let one of them befall you according to your own choice.”

So Gad went to David and asked him, “Do you want three years of famine in your land? Or do you want to be pursued for three months by your foes while you flee from them? Or do you want three days’ pestilence in your land? Now, think and decide what answer I shall give Him Who sent me.”

David answered Gad, “I am greatly troubled. Let me fall into the hands of YHVH Whose mercy is abundant; but let me not fall into human hands.” So YHVH sent a pestilence on Israel from morning until the appointed time, causing the death of seventy thousand men from Dan to Beersheba. When the Angel stretched forth his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, YHVH would punish no more and said to the Angel who was causing destruction among the people, “It is enough, hold back your hand.”

The Angel of YHVH was already at the threshing floor of Araunah, the Jebusite. When David saw the Angel striking the people, he spoke to YHVH and said, “I have sinned and acted wickedly, but these are only the sheep; what have they done? Let Your hand strike me and my father’s family.”

Thursday, 21 December 2017 : 3rd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Peter Canisius, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the Scripture passages which remind us that we are God’s beloved ones, as those whom He has created out of love, and He is willing to free us from our sufferings and tribulations, caused by our own lack of faith and disobedience against Him. God still loves us despite our stubborn rebellion against Him, and He wants us to be reconciled with Him.

And that was why the celebration of Christmas is truly about a new hope for all of us mankind, that despite our fallen state through sin, which ought to have merited condemnation and eternal suffering in hell, but God is willing to forgive us and embrace us back should we allow ourselves to be forgiven. And we do so through sincere and genuine repentance from our sinful ways, leaving behind our wicked past and walking from now on, on the path of righteousness.

Then, we should also reflect on the importance of Christmas to ourselves. The timing of Christmas itself is truly symbolic, as in most of the places where Christmas is celebrated, it happens in the midst of the winter season. In fact, tomorrow is the date of the winter solstice, the time of the year when the sun is at the lowest in the sky and when daytime is at its shortest. After that, the time of day is starting to lengthen again and the time of the dark night shortens.

In the past, during the time of the later Roman Empire, the date for the celebration of Christmas used to be a pagan festival worshipping the Unconquered Sun or Sol Invictus, a cult that gained popularity during the later years of the Roman Empire. It celebrated the triumph of the sun as in the past winter is always associated with darkness and cold weather. And the day when the sun starts to appear for longer again in the sky was thus celebrated.

But with the coming of Christianity and its triumph against the false pagan gods and idols, including that of the Sol Invictus cult, the celebration that was once celebrating the sun, gained a far greater and more important significance as the celebration of the birthday of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord and Saviour of all mankind. There is even a Biblical and traditional explanation as to why we celebrate His birth around this time of the year.

And what is this explanation? It is that the birth of Christ is also related to the birth of the Paschal lambs or the Passover lambs according to the Jewish tradition, which must be a young lamb less than a year old, and at that region, lambs usually give birth in the midst of winter, around the time of Christmas. And we all believe as Christians that Christ is our Paschal Lamb, the Lamb of God, Who willingly sacrificed Himself that through His death all of us who believe in Him may have life in us.

This is the how our historical Christmas celebrations came about, and why we celebrate it at this time. But even more important than all of that is the fact that Christmas is the celebration, not of the sun worship I mentioned earlier, and not of some secular event or mere merrymaking, but instead it is the birthday of the One through Whom God made His love for us evident.

Jesus Christ is the proof of God’s love, for as in the Gospel of St. John, He mentioned Himself that, God so loved the world, that He gave us His only Son, that all who believe in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. And yet, many of us are not aware of this great love which God has shown us, and which we should be grateful for. There is no one and nothing else that loves us as much as Our God does.

But mankind prefers to follow the ways of this world, by their merrymaking and festivities which exclude Christ from the celebrations. Our Christmas celebrations become a celebration of human and worldly vanity, greed, ambition and desire for pleasure and glory. We spend our Christmas trying to outdo one another in glamour and prestige of our gifts and revelries, trying to show off ourselves and achievements.

And all of these are fuelled further by worldly temptations and all the materialistic attitudes surrounding the secular celebrations of Christmas around us. We see all the branded goods and items, all the good shopping deals and discounts being paraded and shown all around in shopping malls and many markets, and many of us throng those places in order to get good bargain on good items.

Some of us are worrying on what kind of new clothes or accessories we should be getting this Christmas, while some others worry about how to decorate their houses and places in the best way possible to impress others who come to see our homes. And we also worry about we are to give and to receive in our Christmas gifts, and we are worried that we will be getting less than that of the previous years.

And where is Christ in all of these? He is nowhere to be found. He has often been overlooked and forgotten in our celebrations and revelries. He has been sidelined and replaced by other familiar figures like Santa Claus, the reindeers, the snowman and all of the other usual secular Christmas paraphernalia. This is what all of us as Christians should reflect on, as we progress towards Christmas. Have we done all these in how we celebrate this important event of our faith?

It is time that we rediscover our reason of celebrating Christmas, and there is no better way than putting Christ back at the centre of our Christmas joy and celebrations. It is because of Him that we have Christmas, and it is because of Him that we can rejoice in Christmas. He is the very reason of our joy, because we have once been deemed as lost and fallen from grace, without hope in the darkness. But through Christ, all of that have been changed through His light, with a new hope and way out from our predicament has been provided.

Perhaps we should follow in the footsteps of one of our great and holy predecessors, whose faith and devotion to the Lord can become an inspiration to each and every one of us that we may aspire to live our lives ever more faithfully. He is St. Peter Canisius, a member of the Society of Jesus or the Jesuits, a priest and later eventually made a Doctor of the Church for his great contributions to the Church and the faith.

St. Peter Canisius lived during a tumultuous and difficult time for the Church, being assailed from within and from outside by those who sought its destruction. At the time, the Ottoman Turks were threatening the entire Christendom and were invading into the domains of Christian rulers and conquering many parts of the Christian world, and then, religious unrest due to the rise of the Protestant heresies in many parts of northern and central Europe threatened to cause the destruction of Christendom.

That was why several people, gathered and inspired by St. Ignatius of Loyola, founded the new society of priests, named the Society of Jesus, to be at the forefront of the Counter Reformation effort, and many of them were also sent to the foreign lands as part of evangelisation to the new lands then recently discovered due to the rapid expansion in European discovery. St. Francis Xavier and Matteo Ricci were some of the famous ones among these missionaries.

Meanwhile, St. Peter Canisius worked hard among the areas affected by the false teachings and heresies, encouraging the people through words and actions, through his pious devotion and careful explanation of the true teachings of the faith as espoused by the Church. As a result, thousands and tens of thousands returned to the embrace of the Holy Mother Church and were reconciled with the Lord.

St. Peter Canisius was well known for his writing of the Catechisms of the Christian faith, which became a gold standard in catechism and teachings of the faith to many catechumens and other candidates who were willing to embrace the Christian faith. He was also remembered for his great devotion to Mary, the holy Mother of God, and his Mariology was among the best that has been compiled. For all these great contributions he had done, he was bestowed with the title of Doctor of the Church several centuries after his passing.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, witnessing the examples shown by St. Peter Canisius and his courageous and zealous compatriots in faith, the early pioneers of the Jesuit order, we should follow in their footsteps and commit ourselves to the Lord in the same manner. We should renew our focus and attention to the Lord, and one good way that we can do it at the moment, is as I have mentioned, by restoring Christ to the centre of our Christmas joy and celebrations.

Let us ask St. Peter Canisius to intercede for each and every one of us, that we may grow ever more faithful and devoted, day after day, drawing strength from our commitment to the Lord, and becoming ever closer to Him and walk always in His ways. May our Christmas celebrations be meaningful for us, and may we be thoroughly prepared to celebrate it with all of our hearts attuned to God, the reason for our joy this Christmas. May God bless us always. Amen.

Thursday, 21 December 2017 : 3rd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Peter Canisius, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 1 : 39-45

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 the 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!”

Thursday, 21 December 2017 : 3rd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Peter Canisius, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 32 : 2-3, 11-12, 20-21

Give thanks to YHVH on the harp and lyre, making melody and chanting praises. Amid loud shouts of joy, sing to Him a new song and play the ten-stringed harp.

But His plan stands forever, and His heart’s design, through all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is YHVH – the people He has chosen for His inheritance.

In hope, we wait for YHVH, for He is our help and our shield. Our hearts rejoice in Him, for we trust on His holy Name.