Tuesday, 11 December 2018 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of Pope St. Damasus I, Pope (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scripture showing us just how great God’s love is for each and every one of us, that He is willing to do everything in order to be reconciled with us, that we may be saved from the predicaments caused by our sins. He loves each and every single one of us, without exception and without any prejudices. He used a parable to deliver this truth about His love to the people, as we heard in the Gospel passage today.

In that passage, we heard about the parable of the lost sheep, in which He told them a story of a shepherd who has a hundred sheep and one of those sheep strays from the flock. He told them how the shepherd will leave the ninety-nine who are safely together behind, and do all he can in order to track and find the stray sheep, and bring it back to the flock. This is what the Lord exactly used in His own way of reconciling with His people, those represented by the lost sheep.

God went out all of the way just so that He could reclaim us, His lost ones, who have been lost and sundered from Him since the day we first disobeyed Him and chose to follow Satan and his temptations rather than to be faithful and fully in love with Him. Satan is the false shepherd, the wolf is sheep’s clothing that is ever ready to distract us and to lure us away into our downfall, by separating us from our loving shepherd.

And that is exactly how the devil works, brothers and sisters in Christ, by the means of persuasions and false promises of worldly glories, pleasures and other forms of enjoyment of the flesh and the body, or of the mind. He presents to us a path that seems to be easier and less challenging, more profitable and enjoyable for us. And thus, many were tempted to abandon the path of righteousness, and instead embracing the ways of sin.

But God did not give up on us, and instead, as He Himself said, that He is the Good Shepherd, He truly loves us and cares for us, even to the point of doing everything so that we may be saved, even if that requires Him to suffer and to be persecuted for our sins, suffering the blows and punishments that should have been ours. He, our Good Shepherd, stands between us and our destruction, offering up Himself for our sake, that we do not perish.

That was what the Lord has done for us, by what He has done, all that we believe in our faith, in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Whom God has sent into this world in order to be our Saviour. He willingly took up the appearance and substance of Man, to be crucified for us, bearing the cross to Calvary, and by gathering all of our sins to Himself, offering up His own perfect offering of His Body and Blood, He, our Good Shepherd, is gathering all of us, God’s lost sheep, back to the loving embrace of God, our loving Father.

Sadly, it was our reluctance and stubbornness, our predisposition and vulnerabilities to sin, that have prevented many of us from taking full advantage of this love which God has shown us. We are like those lost sheep that stubbornly run away from our loving shepherd, and instead, seeking those seemingly more enticing and enjoyable opportunities elsewhere, without knowing that those false leads are efforts by the devil and his forces to prey on us, waiting for our downfall.

Many of us are too busy with those temptations and allures of worldliness, that we fail to notice God’s love for us, and we continue to dwell in our state of sin, which unless we repent from it, we are at risk of falling into eternal damnation and separation from God, when even all of our regrets will have no use at all. This is not what God wants to happen to us, and certainly, He wants as many of us to be rescued and to be recovered from our lost state.

That is why, it is important that today, as we continue to progress through the season of Advent, roughly halfway towards Christmas as of now, we need to recalibrate our lives and reflect on our actions and deeds in life thus far. We are called to find the true meaning of our Christmas celebrations, that we may be able to enrich our own lives, with genuine faith and understanding of God’s love. Do we truly know what Christmas is about?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, Christmas is in fact the moment when the tangible reunion between God and man is made possible, through the coming of the Messiah, Our Lord Jesus Christ, born on Christmas day in the manger, the One Who would save all of us by His death on the cross. It is a time of joy, not because of all the parties and merry-making, all the merchandises and shopping we can enjoy, but instead, because in Christ, we have seen the hope and fulfilment of our salvation.

Today, let us all discern on our lives and how we can live it better to be more in accordance to God’s ways. Let us all see God’s great love for us, and find that courage and desire to love Him, and to be reconciled with Him. Today, as we also celebrate the feast of Pope St. Damasus I, a holy Pope and a devout servant of God, who contributed greatly to the unity of the Church and the salvation of many souls, by his tireless efforts to combat heresy and by giving his support to the Latin translation of the Bible by St. Jerome, let us ask for his intercession, that we may find the humility and the desire to love God, to return to Him, our loving Father and Good Shepherd.

May the Lord Who loves us so dearly continue to love us and to reach out to us, just as we also make the conscious effort to seek Him out, to realise how much He has loved us and given Himself for us on the cross. Let us turn away from sin, sin no more, and become devoted children of God, our loving Father, from now on. May this blessed season of Advent be a time for us to rediscover our love for God. Amen.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of Pope St. Damasus I, Pope (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 18 : 12-14

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “What do you think of this? If someone has a hundred sheep and one of them strays, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hillside, and go to look for the stray one? And I tell you, when he finally finds it, he is more pleased about it, than about the ninety-nine that did not go astray.”

“It is the same with your Father in heaven. Your Father in heaven does not want even one of these little ones to perish.”

Tuesday, 11 December 2018 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of Pope St. Damasus I, Pope (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 95 : 1-2, 3 and 10ac, 11-12a, 12b-13

Sing to YHVH a new song, sing to YHVH, all the earth! Sing to YHVH, praise His Name; proclaim His salvation, day after day.

Recall His glory among the nations, tell all the peoples His wonderful deeds. Say among the nations, “He will judge the peoples with justice.”

Let the heavens be glad, the earth rejoice; let the sea and all that fills it resound; let the fields exult and everything in them.

Let the forest, all the trees, sing for joy. Let them sing before YHVH Who comes to judge the earth. He will rule the world with justice, and the peoples, with fairness.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of Pope St. Damasus I, Pope (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Isaiah 40 : 1-11

Be comforted, My people, be strengthened, says your God. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem, proclaim to her that her time of bondage is at an end, that her guilt has been paid for, that from the hand of YHVH she has received double punishment for all her iniquity.

A voice cries, “In the wilderness prepare the way for YHVH. Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley will be raised up; every mountain and hill will be laid low. The stumbling blocks shall become level and the rugged places smooth. The glory of YHVH will be revealed, and all mortals together will see it; for the mouth of YHVH has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry.” and I say, “What shall I cry?” “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty as the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower wilts, when the breath of YHVH blows upon it. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will forever stand.”

Go up onto the high mountain, messenger of Good News to Zion, lift up your voice with strength, fear not to cry aloud when you tell Jerusalem and announce to the cities of Judah : Here is your God! Here comes YHVH Sabaoth with might; His strong arm rules for Him; His reward is with Him, and here before Him is His booty. Like a shepherd He tends His flock : He gathers the lambs in His arms, He carries them in His bosom, gently leading those that are with young.

Thursday, 6 December 2018 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Nicholas, Bishop (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Bishops)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scripture, speaking to us about the strong faith and trust that we all must have to the Lord our God. God alone is our trustworthy hope and the one and only foundation of our lives that we can depend on, and not the many other forms of so-called foundations and assurances that are of this world.

What are these things that we mankind often trust above that of the Lord? It is our attachment and obsession over money, material goods, power, fame, worldly glory and human assurances, praise and adulations, that led us to put our trust in all these things, that are unfortunately, temporary and impermanent in nature. But many of us do not realise this, and we continue to depend on them and put on excessive trust in them.

We think that all of our worldly powers, might and whatever we accumulate in life, our prestige, honour, glory, wealth and influence can do us something good in the end. But, do we realise the shortness of our lives and the mortality of our bodies? It is a known fact that we cannot live forever, and all of us will die at one point in our lives. Some of us have a long life, while for others they may be short.

Few of us can understand the fragility of our lives. And many of us live our lives as if we will not see the end of our days anytime soon. Instead, we grow even more in our excesses and deeper in our desires for worldly pleasures and accompaniments. And this is when Satan sees a great opportunity in turning us to fall into the traps he has prepared for us, to bring about our downfall.

First of all, when we have all these worldly things, money, power, prestige, glory, fame and all else, we are often not satisfied, and we grow deeper in our longing for more of what we already have. This is because Satan and his forces are tempting us and presenting us with all these obstacles in order to prevent us from being able to realise how distant we have become from God and His path.

And during this season of Advent, it is even more fitting that we reflect on this reality, especially when we see all around us just how many temptations and distractions are present in our midst. Take for example, all the increasingly aggressive and secularistic way that Christmas is being celebrated in our world today, within our communities. In fact, in many of the Christmas celebrations and revelries, if we do take some time to notice, we will realise that Christ has often been overlooked and omitted from the celebrations.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas of Myra, a well-known saint and bishop, a Church father and a faithful defender of the faith. But do you know that St. Nicholas is also the prototype of the even far more well-known fictional figure of Santa Claus? In all of our Christmas celebrations, marketing and advertisements, I am sure we can never fail to find Santa Claus in all of them.

We know of Santa Claus as an elderly figure dressed in red and white, with a long, white beard, riding on a chariot driven by flying reindeers, carrying with him a large sack filled with all sorts of presents and gifts for all the children. All of us I am sure are familiar with this story, how we ought to hang socks over the fireplaces, where Santa will magically come at Christmas Eve to fill those with gifts.

But brothers and sisters in Christ, as we can see, this is first of all a gross misinterpretation and materialistic interpretation of Christmas, and secondly, if we know who St. Nicholas truly is, he is nothing like Santa Claus, and I want all of us to reflect on his life and his devotion to God, a true defender of the Faith. St. Nicholas of Myra is truly a role model for us all.

For St. Nicholas of Myra was devoted to his people, as bishop and shepherd of the faithful. He was bishop of Myra during the time when numerous heresies and difficulties were facing the Church. Although at that time, the Christian faith has been tolerated and even promoted throughout the Roman Empire and persecution ended, but the heresies threatened to divide the faithful and drag the souls of the just into damnation.

At that time, the famous preacher Arius spoke widely of his false ideas stating that the Lord Jesus Christ was not divine and Son of God, but merely just a Creation of God. In essence, this went against the tradition of the Apostles and the Church fathers who have, for centuries, maintained the truth of Christ that He is fully God and fully Man, united in the persona of Jesus Christ, one person, two natures, divine and human.

The Ecumenical Council of Nicaea was convened in the year 325 AD in order to address many issues of the faith and the Church, including the heresy of Arianism. At that time, many among the people and even priests and bishops who believed and sided with Arius and his teachings. It was told that during the Ecumenical Council, when Arius continued to speak his falsehoods and heresies, St. Nicholas of Myra could not hold his righteous anger anymore and punched the heretic in the face.

That, brothers and sisters in Christ, is who St. Nicholas of Myra is, a defender of the faith and a courageous and devoted servant of God, who did not fear to go into troubles and challenges just so that he could protect and make sure that his flock would not fall into the sin of heresy and error, and at the same time, caring for their needs. This is told to us that, St. Nicholas often liked to give gifts to young children in his diocese, and this is likely the source of the fictional story of Santa Claus, twisted over the centuries and misused by those who had little faith in God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, has the inspiring life of St. Nicholas of Myra inspired all of us? In this season of Advent, we should imitate the faith and commitment, the love that St. Nicholas has for God and for his fellow men. He placed his trust in God and not in worldly power and influences. And God is calling on us all, through His servant St. Nicholas, to abandon our sinful ways and our attachments and excesses on worldly things, rather turning ourselves to Him and loving Him more.

Let us remember this coming Christmas season and celebration that Christ is indeed the One Whom we should be celebrating and rejoicing about. Let all of our merrymaking, joy and happiness with our families and friends be always centred on Christ. And last of all, let us also remember the generosity of St. Nicholas in giving, and be generous with our charitable love for our fellow brethren, especially those who are in need. May God be with us all throughout this blessed Advent. Amen.

Thursday, 6 December 2018 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Nicholas, Bishop (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Bishops)

Matthew 7 : 21, 24-27

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My heavenly Father. Therefore, anyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts according to them, is like a wise man, who built his house on rock. The rain poured down, the rivers flooded, and the wind blew and struck that house. But it did not collapse, because it was built on rock.”

“But anyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act accordingly, is like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain poured, the rivers flooded, and the wind blew and struck that house; it collapsed, and what a terrible collapse that was!”

Thursday, 6 December 2018 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Nicholas, Bishop (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Bishops)

Psalm 117 : 1 and 8-9, 19-21, 25-27a

Alleluia! Give thanks to YHVH, for He is good, His loving kindness endures forever. It is better to take refuge in YHVH than to trust in the help of humans. It is better to take refuge in YHVH than to trust in the might of princes.

Open to me the gates of the Just, and let me enter to give thanks. This is YHVH’s gate, through which the upright enter. I thank You for having answered me, for having rescued me.

Save us, o YHVH, deliver us, o YHVH! Blessed is He Who comes in YHVH’s Name! We praise You from the house of YHVH. YHVH is God; may His light shine upon us.