Sunday, 15 September 2019 : Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday a very powerful recurring theme throughout the readings of the Scripture is reminding us all that God is so great in His forgiveness and mercy, in His desire to be reconciled with us by forgiving us from our many sins and wicked actions and deeds throughout our lives. There is no sin that God cannot forgive, but when we mankind refuse God’s free and generous offer of love and mercy, then we are truly not going to be forgiven.

God has always been ready to welcome us back and He has always been patient, trying again and again hoping that we will have a change of heart and turn back to Him. He knows just how stubborn and how attached we are to our sinful and wicked ways, but He also know that each and every one of us are not yet lost as long as we have not completely rejected and refused His love. God still loves each and every one of us as dearly as always.

If He has not loved us so much, then He would not have created us in the first place, as God has never had any need in His perfection and perfect love, and He created us because He wanted to share that perfection of love that is in Him with us. And that love He has for us remains even after we have betrayed Him and abandoned Him for Satan and his many temptations. Had His love been diminished or been gone after we have sinned against Him, then God would have destroyed and crushed us very easily with a mere thought of His will.

But He did not do so, and instead He gave us chances one after another, again and again despite us being so stubborn and so rebellious that we continuously disobeyed Him even after He has forgiven us many, many times and sent us reminders again and again, wanting us all to be reconciled to Him by forgiving us our sins. And there is no sinner, no man in this world that has sins too numerous or too great for Him to forgive, as after all, God is all powerful, Almighty and omnipotent, and He can do everything including forgiving us of all of our sins.

That was what happened in the time of the Exodus as our first reading passage today taken from the Book of Exodus tells us. At that time, the people of Israel had been so wicked in their actions, just right after God had brought them out of the land of Egypt and just after He had punished the Egyptians and their Pharaoh so severely for refusing to let the Israelites go free. Instead of being thankful and being deeper in commitment towards God, the Israelites became wayward.

They built for themselves a golden calf, crafted likely in the image of the pagan Egyptian idol, which they took for themselves to be the ‘god’ who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. Rather than putting their trust in God and in His servant Moses through whom He has revealed His plans for them and His assurances of the promise that He has given them, in bringing them to the rich lands promised to them and to their ancestors.

They chose to follow the whims of their desires and the temptations of worldly pleasures, worshipping pagan idols and gods, following their ways and thoughts, and in succumbing to the demands and ways of the world. They abandoned their faith in God in exchange for temporary satisfaction and joy, for worldly comfort and satisfaction of their stomachs and bodies. And even after that occasion, the Israelites would go on to disobey and betray the Lord many more times.

That is why it is understandable why God’s anger was directed at His people, for their constant faithlessness and stubbornness. Yet, He still loved them all and wanted them to be forgiven despite His anger against them. Moses was the one who also stood by the people before the anger of God and the sinful Israelites, beseeching God to reconsider when He wanted to bring destruction upon them and to wipe out the whole nation save for Moses who remained faithful.

God forgave His people and made a Covenant with them, forgiving their disobedience and sins, except for all those who willingly and consciously rejected Him totally and refused to repent. And that was in fact a prelude to a far greater act of mercy and love that God has done for us, in the renewal of the Covenant He had made, and how He established forever a New Covenant that is everlasting, by the sending of His own Son to be our Saviour.

And much like that of Moses in the time of the Exodus, the Lord Jesus also stood by the breach between God and us mankind. And just like the Israelites of that time, all of us mankind have disobeyed God and sinned against Him. Because of this, we should have been doomed to destruction and eternal damnation that was our certain fate, for because of sin we have been cast out of God’s grace and love.

Yet, it was His constant and infinite love for each and every one of us as illustrated in our Gospel passage today which allowed Him to continue to love us and to forgive us, and through what He has shown us by the sending of His own Beloved Son, He wants to forgive us and to be reconciled with us just as what Christ Himself has revealed to the people through the use of the parable of the prodigal son in our Gospel passage today.

In that parable, which we are surely quite familiar with, the prodigal son left behind his father after demanding his portion of the inheritance and squandered off all of his wealth and possessions in sinful living, and only when he had nothing left then the prodigal son came to realise just how meaningless and useless all of his pursuits for worldly things had been, as all those who were his friends were only befriending him for his money and possessions.

In the end, in the midst of his suffering, the prodigal son remembered his father and the love which he used to enjoy from his father, and comparing it to the then miserable and despicable state he was in at that time, having to stoop down to the worst possible condition, being a helper in a pig farm, feeding food to the pigs, food that not even he could take, essentially being treated less in importance even to the pigs, an animal which was already treated badly in the Jewish traditions.

It was at that time when the prodigal son was at his lowest that he decided, definitely after going through a lot of thinking and struggles, to go back to his father and humbling himself like a servant, beseeching and begging him to take him in not as a son, but rather as a servant and slave. He would rather be taken in as a servant and slave rather than to suffer forever in the distant place away from his father.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the prodigal son is a representation of all of us, each and every one of us who have sinned against God. The father of the prodigal son is God Himself, Who constantly loves His beloved children, but truly is saddened to see the prodigal son going off with his inheritance, tempted by the temptations of worldly goods and things, fame and glory, wealth and pride. This is what we have experienced ourselves, as those temptations pulled us away from God and His righteous path.

But this is then that we have to realise through the story of the prodigal son, and also looking back at the story of the Israelites at the time of the Exodus, when they built the golden calf idol for their own, on how we should proceed from now on, in our journey to be reconciled back with God. As I mentioned earlier, God, our loving Father and Creator is always full and rich of mercy and love, compassion and tenderness. He is just like the father who immediately embraced the prodigal son the moment when he saw the son returning from the faraway lands.

In that same passage we also heard of a similar comparison with that of the lost sheep, whom the shepherd naturally looked for, leaving behind the other sheep which were already safe in the flock. That He was willing to go all out looking for us is proof enough of His dedication and love for us all. Unfortunately, brothers and sisters in Christ, it is often we who reject His generous offer of mercy and love, and that is because of the ego and pride within us.

Look at the prodigal son again, brethren, and let us all discern why he did what he had done. He could have remained proud and stubborn even in his moment of distress, thinking that he could not have done anything wrong, and he could have tried to resolve everything by his own power. Yet, he chose to humble himself and throw away all of his ego and pride, and returning to the father in shame, he won for himself instead true and lasting happiness.

And this is where Our Lord Jesus Christ comes in again. Remember that God has sent Him into the world to be our Saviour? He was in fact assuming the role of the prodigal son in the moment of His Passion, death and resurrection, and this whole parable is in fact a premonition of what He was going to do in order to save all of us. Through the humanity which He has assumed in the flesh, He took up upon Himself, all of the punishment and sufferings due for our sins, and put it on Himself through the Cross.

He emptied Himself of all glory and dignity, power and respect, and became the lowest of all beings, treated far less than that of a human, rejected and made to suffer the most humiliating and painful death. He was stripped almost naked and made an example before all who saw Him, a bloodied and battered Body, as the ultimate supplicant on our behalf before God His Father in heaven.

It is then by offering Himself in perfect love and humility that Christ won for us, like that of the prodigal son, a reconciliation between us and God our loving Father. Through His Cross, Christ has rediscovered for us the path that lies between us and God, which had once been destroyed by our sins and rebelliousness. Through Him, God has restored hope for us and showed us the path to full reconciliation and true happiness in Him.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, are we all ready to follow the path that Christ has shown us all? Are we ready and able to follow Him in all humility and throwing away all of the ego, pride and greed in our hearts and minds just like what the prodigal son had done? As I mentioned at the start of today’s discourse, God is always generous with His love and is always willing to forgive us, and yet, unless we truly repent from our sins and desire to turn away from those wickedness, we cannot be truly forgiven.

Let us all spend some time to think about this and discern well what we are going to do from now on. Let us all remind ourselves if we are still living in the state of sin and doing whatever it is that God has forbidden us to do or taught us to avoid, all sorts of fornications and sinful conduct, all sorts of selfish and immoral behaviours, and all things that are against His truth and His love. God has given us all these many opportunities again and again and He is always ever patient in waiting for us to return to Him.

Thus, what are we waiting for, brothers and sisters in Christ? It is indeed easier said than done for us to humble ourselves and to throw away the great ego and pride in our hearts, but let us all begin from those small sins and all the hurtful and wicked things we have done in our daily lives. Let us all recognise that through these and many other sins we have committed, we have been made corrupted, dirty, unworthy and deserving to be destroyed, and yet, God through His infinite love for us continues to love us all the same.

Let us all renew our conviction and faith in God from now on, brothers and sisters in Christ. And let us all turn our hearts, minds and indeed our whole being towards God with love, devoting ourselves wholeheartedly from now on to Him. May the Lord continue to guide us and bless us all in our daily lives, and may His loving mercy continue to come down upon us, His beloved children. Amen.

Sunday, 15 September 2019 : Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Luke 15 : 1-32

At that time, tax collectors and sinners were seeking the company of Jesus, all of them eager to hear what He had to say. But the Pharisees and the scribes frowned at this, muttering, “This Man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So Jesus told them this parable :

“Who among you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, will not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and seek the lost one till he finds it? And finding it, will he not joyfully carry it home on his shoulders? Then he will call his friends and neighbours together, and say, ‘Celebrate with me, for I have found my lost sheep!’ I tell you, in the same way, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner, than over ninety-nine decent people, who do not need to repent.”

“What woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one, will not light a lamp, and sweep the house in a thorough search, till she finds the lost coin? And finding it, she will call her friends and neighbours, and say, ‘Celebrate with me, for I have found the silver coin I lost!’ I tell you, in the same way, there is rejoicing among the Angels of God over one repentant sinner.”

And Jesus continued, “There was a man with two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Give me my share of the estate.’ So the father divided his property between them. Some days later, the younger son gathered all his belongings and started off for a distant land, where he squandered his wealth in loose living.”

“Having spent everything, he was hard pressed when a severe famine broke out in that land. So he hired himself out to a well-to-do citizen of that place, and was sent to work on a pig farm. So famished was he, that he longed to fill his stomach even with the food given to the pigs, but no one offered him anything.”

“Finally coming to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will get up and go back to my father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against God, and before you. I no longer deserve to be called your son. Treat me then as one of your hired servants.’ With that thought in mind, he set off for his father’s house.”

“He was still a long way off, when his father caught sight of him. His father was so deeply moved with compassion that he ran out to meet him, threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. The son said, ‘Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.'”

“But the father turned to his servants : ‘Quick!’ he said. ‘Bring out the finest robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! Take the fattened calf and kill it! We shall celebrate and have a feast, for this son of mine was dead, and has come back to life; he was lost, and is found!’ And the celebration began.”

“Meanwhile, the elder son had been working in the fields. As he returned and approached the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what it was all about. The servant answered, ‘Your brother has come home safe and sound, and your father is so happy about it that he has ordered this celebration, and killed the fattened calf.'”

“The elder son became angry, and refused to go in. His father came out and pleaded with him. The son, very indignant, said, ‘Look, I have slaved for you all these years. Never have I disobeyed your orders. Yet you have never given me even a young goat to celebrate with my friends. Then when this son of yours returns, after squandering your property with loose women, you kill the fattened calf for him.'”

“The father said, ‘My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But this brother of yours was dead, and has come back to life; he was lost, and is found. And for that we had to rejoice and be glad.'”

Alternative reading (shorter version)

Luke 15 : 1-10

At that time, tax collectors and sinners were seeking the company of Jesus, all of them eager to hear what He had to say. But the Pharisees and the scribes frowned at this, muttering, “This Man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So Jesus told them this parable :

“Who among you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, will not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and seek the lost one till he finds it? And finding it, will he not joyfully carry it home on his shoulders? Then he will call his friends and neighbours together, and say, ‘Celebrate with me, for I have found my lost sheep!’ I tell you, in the same way, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner, than over ninety-nine decent people, who do not need to repent.”

“What woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one, will not light a lamp, and sweep the house in a thorough search, till she finds the lost coin? And finding it, she will call her friends and neighbours, and say, ‘Celebrate with me, for I have found the silver coin I lost!’ I tell you, in the same way, there is rejoicing among the Angels of God over one repentant sinner.”

Sunday, 15 September 2019 : Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

1 Timothy 1 : 12-17

I give thanks to Christ Jesus, Our Lord, Who is my strength, Who has considered me trustworthy, and appointed me to His service, although I had been a blasphemer, a persecutor and a fanatical enemy. However, He took mercy on me, because I did not know what I was doing when I opposed the faith; and the grace of Our Lord was more than abundant, together with faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

This saying is true and worthy of belief : Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first. Because of that, I was forgiven; Christ Jesus wanted to display His utmost patience, so that I might be an example for all who are to believe, and obtain eternal life.

To the King of ages, the only God, Who lives beyond every perishable and visible creation – to Him, be honour and glory forever. Amen!

Sunday, 15 September 2019 : Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Psalm 50 : 3-4, 12-13, 17 and 19

Have mercy on me, o God, in Your love. In Your great compassion blot out my sin. Wash me thoroughly of my guilt; cleanse me of evil.

Create in me, o God, a pure heart; give me a new and steadfast spirit. Do not cast me out of Your presence nor take Your Holy Spirit from me.

O YHVH, open my lips, and I will declare Your praise. O God, my sacrifice is a broken spirit; a contrite heart, You will not despise.

Sunday, 15 September 2019 : Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Exodus 32 : 7-11, 13-14

Then YHVH said to Moses, “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have quickly turned from the way I commanded them and have made for themselves a molten calf; they have bowed down before it and sacrificed to it and said : ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you out of Egypt.'”

And YHVH said to Moses, “I see that these people are a stiff-necked people. Now just leave Me that My anger may blaze against them. I will destroy them, but of you I will make a great nation.” But Moses calmed the anger of YHVH, his God, and said, “Why, o YHVH, should Your anger burst against Your people whom You brought out of the land of Egypt with such great power and with a mighty hand?”

“Remember Your servants, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the promise You Yourself swore : I will multiply Your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land I spoke about I will give to them as an everlasting inheritance.”

YHVH then changed His mind and would not yet harm His people.

Sunday, 8 September 2019 : Twenty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday all of us are called to reflect on the importance of trusting and putting our faith in the providence of God, and all of us are encouraged to discern more deeply about how we can be better disciples and followers of the Lord in our daily living. We are called to discern carefully what it truly means for us to be a disciple of Christ, Our Lord and Saviour.

To be a disciple of Christ, which means as Christians, all of us must be willing and committed to accept the cross of Christ as He Himself mentioned to His disciples in our Gospel passage today, that those who follow Him must carry their crosses in life. This cross that they carry is the cross of suffering united to the cross of Christ’s suffering, on which He has borne all of our punishments for our sins and died for our sake.

Through all of these that God had spoken to us through His words in the Sacred Scripture today, God wants each and every one of us to know that following Him is not going to be something that can easily be done or something that will be all pleasant and good. In fact, the reality is such that to be a follower of Christ will often mean that we will endure the same kind of rejection and suffering that the Lord Himself has suffered.

And that is why He put it plainly before all of us without sugarcoating any of the details. He put it clearly and plainly that being His disciples will often lead us to be in difficulty, in moments of trials and challenges, in rejection and persecution, all of which will lead us to doubt, or question or even wanting to give up our faith entirely. But we must not give in to those temptations and pressures, and instead we must learn to put our trust in God.

In our second reading today, in the letter which St. Paul had written to Philemon, this servant of God addressed himself as a prisoner of Christ, which highlighted the plight and suffering that he was then going through as someone being persecuted for his faith and dedication to the Lord. St. Paul has endured a lot of trials and challenges throughout his ministry as an Apostle during his evangelising missions.

He has been rejected by many people just as there were many others who accepted him and listened to him and his message of God’s truth. He has been cast out of towns and cities, ridiculed and almost stoned to death, persecuted and almost killed by his enemies and those who despised the Lord and the Christian faith. He has been betrayed and made to suffer pains in the physical, mental and spiritual dimensions, and yet, he remained true to his faith.

And why is that so? That is because St. Paul united his sufferings and trials to the very sufferings of Christ. He did not carry his cross all alone by himself, or just by carrying them with some others. In fact, as I have mentioned earlier, he carried his cross in union with Christ Himself, knowing that for everything he had suffered, the Lord has suffered infinitely a lot more, having had to endure the punishments for all of our sins.

There were also many other saints and holy servants of God who have suffered in the same manner as St. Paul or even more. Throughout the history of the Church there had been countless men and women who endured willingly those many pains and sufferings in the defence and witnessing of their Christian faith. They committed themselves to God, again knowing that they carried out their crosses in their respective lives and circumstances being united with Christ’s own sufferings.

There must have been a lot of questions that would have arisen amidst all those sufferings. Just as is in our human nature, it is bound for us to doubt, or to question or to wonder why is it that we have to suffer in this world, especially as those who believe in God and considered as God’s own beloved ones. It is common for us to hear questions such as ‘Why is there suffering if God is so good and loving?’ or ‘Why does God let His people suffer if He loves us all so much?’

This is where then we need to understand first and foremost why we have to suffer and carry our crosses in life as we follow the Lord in His path. Our sufferings come about because of the abuse of human freedom and our own stubbornness in refusing to listen to and to accept God’s truth. All of us are all beloved by God, every single one of us without any exception. Thus, by that nature, all of us ought to enjoy God’s full grace and love for eternity as He has intended.

Unfortunately, because we refuse to obey Him and chose freely to embrace the tempting fruits of sin and wickedness that Satan has presented to us, that we become corrupted and attached to those sins and temptations. And therefore suffering comes because we willingly chose to abandon God’s fullness of grace, love and providence, and preferred to walk down our own path to ruination. We chose the path of sin and disobedience and in doing so, we become reluctant to follow the Lord.

That is also why those who remained in sin and refused to believe in the Lord ended up persecuting their brethren who chose to believe in God. They refused to listen to the truth often because the truth pointed out to the defects and what are lacking in their hearts. Their pride and ego, their greed and desire for acknowledgment and superiority and unwillingness to let go of those negative things led them to persecute those who believe in the truth, that is us as Christians.

But, brothers and sisters in Christ, this is where then each and every one of us must truly contemplate what we should be doing with our lives from now on. Again in our Gospel reading passage today, God spoke to the people with regards to a parable He chose to portray and deliver His message to them. He spoke of a person building a house who ought to be thinking of what would be needed in order to build the house and complete it thoroughly or else, the house cannot be completed and the builder would be shamed.

Similarly then, the Lord spoke using the example of a king who was about to go into war with another king, who ought to discern and examine carefully the prospects of victory before engaging each other in battle. Essentially, using these two examples, the Lord wants us to discern carefully on our own respective lives as well, given that He has presented to us the truth of everything, and how each and every one of us have been given the free will to choose between following Him or to follow the path of the devil and the world.

Following God, as I have mentioned earlier, will often mean for us to suffer and to have to endure difficulties and challenges for His sake. Of course the extent of sufferings, trials and challenges will be different for each and every one of us, and no two same people will encounter the exact same conditions and sufferings as each other. Nonetheless, it is a fact and reality that the path that we have to take as faithful Christians will be an uphill one.

On the other hand, it is often so much easier for us to take the other path, that is the path of disobedience and sin, the path which Satan and his fallen angels, our tempters have presented to us all the time. This path is likely to be much more appealing and enticing to us than the path that God has shown us. Yet, the Lord also made it very clear and had revealed to us, that those who choose the path of sin and willingly and constantly going down that path has nowhere else to go but the damnation in hell, while those who persevered in the path of faith will receive the eternal and true glory of God.

Now, all of us have been given the wisdom and the ability to discern carefully what our course of action in life should be, that we have known what the two possible ultimate outcomes are. But a lot of times, we end up being distracted and fall into indecisiveness because we tend to worry, be concerned about ourselves and our worldly well-being, about being accepted by others and by the community.

This is where our first reading passage today from the Book of Wisdom should enlighten us and help us in our decision, as it was mentioned there that ‘our human reasoning is timid and our notions are misleading’ and how our ‘physical body weighs down on the active mind’. All of them reminds us of our own mortality and our own vulnerability to the temptations of the body and the flesh, the weakness of our body that become obstacles in our journey of faith.

That is why, because of our own weaknesses and inability to understand many things around us that we have to learn to put our trust in God and to focus our whole attention and our whole being on Him. The more we try to comprehend things or make decisions by considering all the concerns and thoughts we have, the more we will be confused and easily be trapped by the devil and his snares.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore, let us all pray and spend more time building a healthy and good relationship with God from now on, and trust in Him with all of our hearts and with all of our strength, knowing that He has provided us with everything that we need, and despite the sufferings, trials and challenges we may encounter in life, let us remember that He Himself has endured those same sufferings and worse, all for the love He has for each and every one of us.

Let us all therefore spend this time and moment to grow ever stronger in our faith, and to walk ever more faithfully in the path towards God. Let us be ever closer to God with each and every passing moment. May the Lord continue to guide us and journey with us, as we strive to carry up our crosses with Him, entrusting ourselves completely in His hands. May God bless us all and all of our good works and endeavours. Amen.

Sunday, 8 September 2019 : Twenty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Luke 14 : 25-33

At that time, when large crowds were walking along with Jesus, He turned and said to them, “If you come to Me, unwilling to sacrifice your love for your father and mother, your spouse and children, your brothers and sisters, and indeed yourself, you cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not follow Me, carrying his own cross, cannot be My disciple.”

“Do you build a house without first sitting down to count the cost, to see whether you have enough to complete it? Otherwise, if you, have laid the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone will make fun of you : ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'”

“And when a king wages war against another king, does he go to fight without first sitting down to consider whether his ten thousand can stand against the twenty thousand of his opponent? And if not, while the other is still a long way off, he sends messengers for peace talks. In the same way, none of you may become My disciple, if he does not give up everything he has.”