Sunday, 20 August 2017 : Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday we listened to the words of the Sacred Scriptures speaking to us a very important message which all of us should heed, that we as Christians will be better able to appreciate our faith and understand it. It is about God calling all of His people to His salvation, to receive the mercy, forgiveness and love from His own hands, through their repentance and coming to Him.

This is the theme of this Sunday’s Scripture passages, that God as the Lord of all the nations and all the peoples are calling us to follow Him, that no matter what race belong to, what background or nationality we have, and no matter whether we are rich or poor, powerful or weak, famous or unknown, all these do not matter at all before the Lord. What matters is that, all of us mankind are considered by God to be His children, His beloved ones, and He wants us all to be reconciled to Him.

In the Gospel passage today, we heard of the interaction between the Lord Jesus and a Canaanite woman, or a Syro-Phoenician woman, as that woman came not from the land of Judea, where the Jewish people live, and neither did she belong to the nation of the Jews, not counted among the direct descendants of Jacob or Israel. And as the woman begged the Lord Jesus to heal her daughter who had been tormented by a demon, it must have seemed very strange indeed that the Lord Jesus would refuse her request.

And even more so, He also seemingly denigrated her and mocked her by saying the words such as, ‘It is not right to take the bread from the children, and throw it to the puppies, or dogs.’ Did Jesus just compare the woman to a mere animal as opposed to a human being? Were we right in what we have just listened to? Was there a mistake in the writing of the Scriptures and the Gospels?

No, brothers and sisters in Christ, this is not the case. In fact, this is where we should take note of the real intention of the Lord as He said those words to the Canaanite woman, in front of His disciples and the people. As the Lord Who knows everything in the minds and in the hearts of His people, Jesus clearly know what it is that the woman believed in, and how she would respond to His words. And Jesus wanted to show His disciples and the people, how foolish it is for them to believe in what they were believing in at that time.

For you see, that the Jewish people at that time believed that they were the ones whom God had chosen just as their ancestors have been God’s chosen people, from the time of Abraham to his descendants, and then to the time of the Exodus from Egypt and finally to the time of the kingdom of Israel and Judah. They were the descendants of the Israelites and the people of Judah, and therefore, they were very proud of their heritage and history.

However, over time they ended up becoming proud and egoistic about their special privileges and status, and they looked down on the other peoples, those pagan peoples living around them, treating them as inferior to themselves, and even as those who are not worthy of the love and grace of God. They considered those people to be hopeless and without any opportunity to be saved by God. They became exclusivist in their faith and closed the doors of the faith from others.

That was why they showed that attitude, the haughtiness and the lack of respect for others, which the Lord Jesus wanted to point out to the people, through His interaction with the Canaanite woman. What Jesus showed the people through His own words was that they often thought that they alone were worthy of God’s goodness and salvation, and that they treated others literally like that of dogs, or less than humans, as Jesus showcased it perfectly through His interaction with the woman.

At that time, for someone of Jewish origin to sit together or be around a Gentile, or a non-Jew was considered to be inappropriate. The Jews did not want to have anything to do with the Gentiles, and rejected them and dismissed the faith that they actually had in the Lord. The Jews were not even allowed to enter into the house of the Gentiles and also to the house of those considered as sinners.

That was why the army centurion, likely to be a Gentile or non-Jew, kindly requested the Lord to just say the word to heal his servant, as he considered himself unworthy to have a Jew like Jesus to enter his house, considered taboo at that time among the Jewish society. And in the same manner, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law criticised Jesus severely when He went to eat in the house of tax collectors and prostitutes.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, yet, those people forgot that God is not just God over the people of Israel, but in fact, He is God over all of mankind, over the entire race of man. He is the Lord and Master of all, and He created all of us out of love, without exception. Otherwise, why would He create us in the first place if He does not love us or have concern about us?

God loves each and every one of us, and wants everyone to love Him with equal intensity and zeal. In fact, as the Gospel showed us, the love and faith which the supposedly pagan and non-Jewish Canaanite woman was greater than the faith which many of the Israelites had shown towards Jesus. While many of the Jews were skeptical and some were even downright hostile in opposition against Jesus, His teachings and His truths, the woman put herself completely in the hands of God, trusting that Jesus would hear her and heal her daughter. This shows that what matters is faith, and not one’s origins or backgrounds.

The same applied to the army centurion, and many other cases of the Gentiles and the pagans who came to love and be faithful towards God, even exceeding beyond what the Jewish people themselves had done. In this manner, God wanted to show them, and also all of us, that He does not favour anyone by the manner of their racial background, by their appearances, status, or by their worldly standings, or by their connections, but rather, by the faith which the people have in Him, and by the righteousness that they have shown in life.

God wants to remind each and every one of us, that we must not be shortsighted in life, that we become prejudiced against others just because we think that we are better than so and so because of our wealth, riches, power, privileges and all the other things that led us to be biased and be prejudiced against our brethren. This is what we must not do, brothers and sisters in Christ, because as Christians all of us are called to love one another equally as fellow brothers and sisters, children of the same God.

This is important as in our world today, as it had been in the past, mankind have caused great grievances and sufferings because of their prejudice and hatred, bias and anger against each other. We have seen how people used race and background as an excuse to oppress others, to impose one’s will on another, and to exploit and manipulate those who are weak, less fortunate and less powerful. We have seen just how the NAZIs and the many other wicked organisations in our history had committed blatant and great injustice against all humanity, in their genocidal pursuits, destroying the livelihood of others in the name of their prejudices.

And we have certainly heard of what had just happened very recently in the city of Charlottesville in the United States of America, where violent riot had arisen because of the actions of those who championed prejudice and injustice in order to advance their own selfish and irresponsible desires. We heard about those who used racism, prejudice and hatred against people of different backgrounds and beliefs, even those who do not shy away from violence while doing so.

And what should we do then, brothers and sisters in Christ? Perhaps the Scripture readings we heard today and the recent events are reminders sent to us by God, in order to tell us that as Christians it is our duty and obligation to stand up against all these attitudes and wickedness, against all those who have shown prejudices, biases and racist or divisive acts in their lives. We cannot be silent or be ignorant against all these people, and we cannot remain quiet in the face of those who cause suffering on others because of their wicked and distorted way of life.

At the same time, we should also inspect our own lives and recall our actions and deeds in life. Have we been prejudiced against others because we thought that we are better than them? Have we ever been angry against others as we saw them receive things we did not have, because we thought they did not deserve it and we deserved it better than them? If we have done all these, then perhaps it is time for us to move on and turn away from all those jealousies, prejudices and hatred, and instead embrace each other in love, peace and harmony.

Let us all from now on be bearers of God’s love into this world, reminding ourselves always that God loves each and every one of us without exception, and all of us are created and considered equal before Him. Let us all not be filled with our ego, our pride and haughtiness, thinking that we are in any way superior to others, but instead let us be loving and be compassionate to others, especially those who are struggling in their faith. Let us stand up to be different from those who advocated hatred and prejudice, and pray for them, that God may change their darkened hearts into new hearts filled with love. May God bless us all and bring us to grow ever stronger in our faith in Him. Amen.

Sunday, 20 August 2017 : Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Matthew 15 : 21-28

At that time, leaving that area, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from the area, came and cried out, “Lord, Son of David, have pity on me! My daughter is tormented by a demon.”

But Jesus did not answer her, not even a word. So His disciples approached Him and said, “Send her away! See how she is shouting after us.” Then Jesus said to her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the nation of Israel.”

But the woman was already kneeling before Jesus, and said, “Sir, help me!” Jesus answered, “It is not right to take the bread from the children and throw it to puppies.”

The woman replied, “That is true, Sir, but even puppies eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus said, “Woman, how great is your faith! Let it be as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

Sunday, 20 August 2017 : Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Romans 11 : 13-15, 29-32

Listen to me, you who are not Jews : I am spending myself, as an Apostle to the pagan nations, but I hope my ministry will be successful enough to awaken the jealousy of those of my race, and, finally, to save some of them. If the world made peace with God, when they remained apart, what will it be, when they are welcomed? Nothing less than, a passing from death to life.

Because the call of God, and His gifts, cannot be nullified. Through the disobedience of the Jews, the mercy of God came to you who did not obey God. They, in turn, will receive mercy, in due time, after this disobedience, that brought God’s mercy to you. So, God has submitted all to disobedience, in order to show His mercy to all.

Sunday, 20 August 2017 : Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Psalm 66 : 2-3, 5, 6 and 8

May God be gracious and bless us, may He let His face shine upon us; that Your way be known on earth and Your salvation, among the nations.

May the countries be glad and sing for joy, for You rule the peoples with justice; and guide the nations of the world.

May the peoples praise You, o God, may all the peoples praise You! May God bless us and be revered, to the very ends of the earth.

Sunday, 20 August 2017 : Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Isaiah 56 : 1, 6-7

This is what YHVH says : Maintain what is right and do what is just, for My salvation is close at hand, My justice is soon to come. YHVH says to the foreigners who join Him, serving Him and loving His Name, keeping His Sabbath unprofaned and remaining faithful to His Covenant.

I will bring them to My holy mountain and give them joy in My house of prayer. I will accept on My altar their burnt offerings and sacrifices, for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017 : Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate a great feast and solemnity of the Church, honouring the Blessed Mother of God, Mary, most holy and ever virgin, the one whom God had entrusted to be the one to bear the Saviour of the world, and therefore, she was special among every other human beings, as one set aside by God to be the instrument of His salvation through Jesus Christ, her Son.

We must be wondering why is it that we as Catholics and as Christians celebrate and honour Mary as such? Why is it that we glorify her above every other human beings, even though she herself is also a human just like us? There are many out there who because of their misunderstandings and lack of knowledge about what we truly believe, about Mary and many other tenets of our faith, had criticised the holy Catholic faith, charging us falsely with idolatry of Mary.

Yet, if one truly understands what our faith is really about, they will indeed immediately see the errors of their ways and beliefs, and turn themselves to our faith. They will give honour to Mary, the mother of our Lord and God, Jesus Christ as we all have done. That is not because we glorify her as an equal to God or as a goddess in her own right, but rather because of her position as the mother of our Lord, God and Saviour.

In the historical times, especially from the traditions of the kingdom of Israel, the position of the mother of the king of Israel is a significant one, as what is also common in the other kingdoms and states in history. The queen mother has a significant place of honour, not because of her own authority and power, but because she is the mother of the king, the one who bore the king into the world, and the one who took care of the growth of the king.

If we honour our own mother, love her, and are grateful for all that she has done for us, in bringing us up, caring for us, and if we want to thank her and give her the best that we can give her, then it is the same case for the king, as shown in the time of the old kingdom of Israel, particularly shown as Solomon, the king, honoured his mother, Bathsheba greatly and put her place in a position of honour just beside his throne.

And thus, in the same manner, is it not then the same for the mother of our Lord and God, the King of all kings and the Master of the entire universe? Surely the Lord Jesus also honours His mother just as all of us honour our own mothers, and surely He has also given her a position of honour in heaven, close to His own throne, just as the kings of the ages past and the kings of Israel had honoured their own mothers?

This is the first reason why we celebrate this day, to honour the Mother of our God. However, that is not the only and main reason why we honour Mary. Indeed, on this day, the Scripture passages from the Vigil Mass and today's Mass focus on the role that Mary played as the bearer of the Messiah and the bearer of the One Who has established a new Covenant between God and mankind, sealed by His loving sacrifice on the cross.

Therefore, as the bearer of the Lord Jesus, the New Covenant He had established with us mankind, Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant, just as the first Ark of the Covenant bore inside it the Covenant of God, in the form of His laws, passed down through Moses, the manna that is the symbol of God's love in feeding His people throughout their journey through the desert. And in Jesus, is found God's laws and love personified, for He is the Law and He is Love.

If we read the Scriptures at the time of the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant is a very precious and holy container of God's Law, which mortal eyes cannot ordinarily look upon or touch with bare hands, such that it was veiled from sight by a veil, and carried upon its poles to avoid touching the Ark directly. The Ark itself represents God's holy Presence in this world, and therefore, in the Temple of Jerusalem, it is placed in the innermost and holiest of all its places, the Holy of Holies.

Therefore, that is why the Lord created His Ark of the New Covenant, Mary as holy and precious, because she bore in her womb, in her very own body, the New Covenant of God, in Jesus Christ. And there lies not the two slabs of rock on which God wrote His Law, but the Law Himself, for God Himself had taken the flesh of Man, and descended into this world, the Real Presence of His Being in this world, contained within the womb of Mary, who therefore became the New Ark.

That was why Mary was conceived without the taint of original sin, immaculate and pure, set aside from among all the other mankind. For the original Ark was made by human hands using the precious metals and materials adorning the container of God's original Covenant. But, there can be no better Ark than the creation of God, perfect and good, as all of us humans have been crafted by none other than God Himself.

It was just that we have been tainted and corrupted by sin, and we have been made unworthy by those wickedness and sins. That is the reason why God, accordance to our faith and belief, as per the knowledge passed down to us from the time of the Apostles, created Mary immaculate and free from those sins, making her the perfect vessel for the Messiah and Saviour, Lord of lords and King of kings, as the Ark of the New Covenant.

That is thus the second reason why we honour Mary, as the greatest of all the saints and all human beings, that while she is still human and not divine, yet, because of her special place in the story of our salvation, she deserves the honour being not just the Mother of God, but also because of the virtue of that position, also the new Ark, of the New Covenant of God in Jesus Christ.

And Mary remained true and righteous throughout her life, living in accordance with what the Lord commanded and willed her to do. She submitted humbly to the will of God, made known to her through the Archangel Gabriel in Nazareth, and become therefore the Mother of God by her humble acceptance. And she walked faithfully, caring for her Son, and following Him even to the foot of the cross, seeing Him as He laid there, hung on the cross, dying for the sake of us all mankind.

Mary therefore, as I have just mentioned, is the greatest of all the saints, and is our greatest intercessor in heaven. She is also our role model in life, an example for us to follow in faith and in how we ought to dedicate ourselves to the Lord. This is all the more reason why we love Mary, and why we honour her, just as her own Son loved her and honoured her greatly.

And because of that, we come to the reason why we rejoice and celebrate in today's Solemnity, that of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven. First of all, we must be clear at what the Assumption is truly about. The Assumption does not equate with the Ascension of our Lord Jesus, a common misconception had by many, as in the Ascension, our Lord ascended in His own glory and by His own power into heaven, while in the Assumption, by the grace of God, Mary was assumed or taken up into heaven, in the body and soul.

The reason for the Assumption is none other than because all mankind have suffered death as a consequence for their sins and wickedness, and there is no one who can escape death. And while Christ is without sin, He willingly accepted death to free all of us mankind from the threat of eternal death, through His sacrifice on the cross.

And because He wanted to free mankind from death caused by their sins and their disobedience, it is only proper and right that He would want His own mother, who was conceived without sin, and had been righteous throughout her whole life, and as the holy Ark of the New Covenant, to be free from death, and not to fall into the same death that had claimed many others because of their sins. And hence, He gave her the grace, to be assumed body and soul into heaven, at the end of her earthly life.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord Himself also said that the same thing will happen to us at the end of time, at the time of the Last Judgment when all of us will be brought up, in our glorified body and soul, into the eternal glory of heaven with God. Thus, as we celebrate this Solemnity of the Assumption today, it is also a foreshadowing of what will happen to us in the end, should we walk faithfully in the presence of God, and live in accordance with His will just as Mary had done.

On this joyful day, therefore, as we rejoice together with the whole Church, and honour the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, let us all renew our commitment to live in accordance with the will of God, imitating the examples shown upon us by Mary herself, in how she devoted her whole life and committed herself thoroughly to the Lord, no matter what difficulties and challenges she had to face, even the pain and sorrow of seeing her own Son being tortured and crucified.

Let us all change our lives and turn ourselves completely to the Lord, shedding off our sinful ways of life and all the wickedness and selfishness we have committed in life thus far, so that we may truly be worthy of the Lord, and in the end, we will also be worthy of living an eternity of joy and happiness, when the Lord will bring us up in body and soul to His heavenly glory at the end of time.

Let us ask for the intercession of our Blessed Mother Mary, she who has been assumed into heaven, and upon whom the Lord had bestowed the honorary title of the Queen of Heaven, the queen mother of all the universe, for she is indeed the closest to the throne of her Son in heaven, and as she had made known to us through her various apparitions, she is always constantly praying for us, for all of us sinners still living in this world. O Blessed Virgin Mary, Assumed into your glory in heaven, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Sunday, 13 August 2017 : Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in today's Sunday Mass readings, all of us heard from the Scriptures all about God appearing to His people in times of distress, to bring them out of their troubles and difficulties, for they are His people and He is their God. He has established His Covenant with them, and He will always be faithful to that Covenant which He had made with them. He will make them strong and give them the power and energy needed to remain faithful.

In the first reading today, we heard about how Elijah met God in the desert, at the holy mountain of God, after travelling there from the land of Israel for forty days and forty nights. The prophet Elijah had been in exile from Israel, after the king of Israel, king Ahab and his wife, Queen Jezebel, with all the pagan worshippers and the enemies of the Lord wanting for his death.

This was after what Elijah had done to the pagan Baal priests at the Mount Carmel, where God showed His might and showed that He is the True God. Four hundred and fifty Baal priests were killed that day by the Israelites, and the pagans wanted to get revenge on the prophet of God, Elijah. And thus, Elijah had to flee from Israel to the desert, where God took care of him and provided food and drink to him.

And He called Elijah to His holy mountain, where He revealed Himself to Elijah, in what we heard in our first reading today. God first sent a great windstorm that battered the rocks and the mountain, and then an earthquake that sundered and shook the entire mountain, and then a great fire that sizzles and burnt everything in its wake, but the Lord was not amongst all of these. Instead, Elijah recognised God being in the gentle breeze that followed, and covered himself before Him.

God spoke to Elijah, His prophet and servant, and commanded him to do what He willed for him, that he ought to go back to the land of Israel to continue the works which God had laid out for him amongst His people. God reassured Elijah of His providence and guidance, and strengthened the faith and commitment he had, that he returned to Israel to confront king Ahab and all those who have made themselves enemies of the Lord.

What Elijah went through at that time, was the same as what the disciples encountered at the time when they were in the boat, battered by the winds and the waves. That is what we have heard today from our Gospel passage. The disciples of the Lord were inside a boat, rocked by the winds and the waves, and they feared greatly for their lives. They encountered a great difficulty and a challenging moment in their life.

And Jesus appeared before them, walking towards them on the surface of the water. They did not believe that it was Him, as to them, it was impossible for any human beings to be able to walk on water, and less probable still in the midst of such a great storm. Their faith in Jesus was still weak, and as they were in such a situation, they faltered.

The boat also represents the Church, as the Church is often represented as a ship, carrying all the faithful, the people of God on it, as they journey through life, represented by the voyage embarked by the ship through the waters. And we are just like the Apostles and the disciples of the Lord on the boat. All of us are human beings just as they were, all sinners and weak in the flesh, and just they doubted and had fear, so do we in our own lives.

The storms and the waves are the troubles and challenges that the Church and all of us the faithful had faced, are facing, and will be facing as those who have kept the faith in Jesus our Lord. And it is the same challenges which the prophet Elijah has faced, in all the persecutions he encountered, the threats made to his life and safety. The prophet had endured those difficult moments, and there were surely times when there would be doubts and fears in him, as it had been for the Apostles.

But the prophet Elijah showed us that in the face of opposition and worldly persecutions, all of us must remain strong and committed to our faith in the Lord, for he never gave up the fight and the struggle against the pagan worship and the lack of faith among the Israelites, but continuing to persevere faithfully through his actions and deeds. He recognised the presence of God in his midst, and humbly came before Him to listen to His will.

The Apostle St. Peter also made the same attempt, as he tried to walk on the water towards Jesus, but his faith was not strong and he faltered. He was sinking when the Lord Jesus came to pick him up by the hand, and saved him from sinking. This is what many of us Christians will encounter in our lives, through those moments when we encounter great difficulties and challenges, at which time, we may just feel that we would rather give up our struggles.

However, we must never forget the fact that God is ever there for us, guiding us, protecting us and providing for us all that we need. He is ever ready to bless us and to give us what we need to persevere. This He has given to the prophet Elijah, caring for him as he went through his exile, sending him ravens to provide him with food and drink, and then later on, in another occasion, He provided for him through the widow at the city of Zarephath, who then God also blessed and provided for, that none of them would ever be in need at a time when a great famine ravaged the land.

Through all of these, God wants to let us all know that first of all, as Christians we cannot expect to have a smooth sailing life without troubles or concerns. If our lives thus far have been good and without problems, then probably it is either because God has truly blessed us, or more likely, that we have not been truly faithful in our lives and in our actions. If we do not actively live up to what we believe in our faith, then it is no surprise that we have not been encountering opposition in our faith life.

Then secondly, There will definitely be those times when we will stumble and falter in our faith, as the disciples had been, meaning that at those times, we may end up questioning our faith and beliefs in the Lord. We will be like the Apostles who trembled in fear, even doubting that the Lord is there for us, and we will perhaps end up sinking like St. Peter, because we do not truly believe that God is there for us.

Yet, that is the reality which we must accept, that the Lord is always with us, no matter what happens, and He is forever faithful to the Covenant which He has established with us all, His beloved ones. This is what I have mentioned at the very beginning of this discourse today, and which is the key message which the Lord wants us to know, as we continue with our respective lives, and especially as we continue with the struggles and hurdles of our lives.

God is always faithful, even when we have not been faithful. If not, He would not have sent us His Son to save us, by the loving sacrifice He made on the cross for our sake. He has loved us even though we are sinners and rebels, all those who have refused to listen to Him and those who have disobeyed Him. What He wants us to do, though, is for us to be thoroughly converted to His cause, and to have a profound change in our lives.

How do we do this, brothers and sisters in Christ? We have to learn to trust the Lord, in His providence, by deepening our relationships with Him, through prayer and devotion, and by spending our time with Him. It is too often that we mankind had forgotten to spend time with God, just because we are too busy and preoccupied with our worldly matters, ending up getting more and more distant from the Lord. It is not surprising then that we doubt in God when difficulties and challenges arise, for in the first place, our faith in Him is lukewarm and weak.

And then, we should also practice and deepen our faith through real actions based on our faith. We do not need to do great and marvellous deeds, for indeed, any actions ought to begin from ourselves, from small and little deeds that we do in life. If we can learn to love our neighbours and all those people who come to us, needing our help and love, then surely we can also show love in even greater deeds. If we are able to be generous to others in small things, then we can be generous in even greater things.

Let us all therefore, be truly faithful and devoted to God, that no matter what tribulations and challenges that will come our way, we will always be able to persevere through them, following in the footsteps of the prophet Elijah and also the Apostles and disciples of the Lord, to whom the Lord had given the gift of faith. Let us no longer be afraid or be doubtful, but put from now onwards, our complete trust in God, for He is always faithful and loving to us, without ceasing.

May God be with us always, and may He bless all of our endeavours, that we will always be able to work together, as His one Church, united together on this journey, that we will reach out to Him and find our way to the eternal glory He has promised to all those who are faithful to Him. May God bless us always, forevermore. Amen.