Tuesday, 26 June 2018 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the story of the king of Assyria, Sennacherib, who gathered a massive army and attacked the kingdom of Judah under king Hezekiah, and went on to besiege the city of Jerusalem. King Sennacherib boasted of his mighty army and his great accomplishments, in how he has conquered various nations and peoples with his army, and how their idols had not done anything to help them against the power of Sennacherib’s army.

And in that moment of great pride, king Sennacherib boasted against God, by comparing Him to the other idols of the conquered nations, that not even the Lord YHVH, the God of Judah and Hezekiah would be able to save Jerusalem and Judah against his mighty power. But Sennacherib failed to realise that he was going up against the Lord God, Creator of the universe and Master of all things.

And the Lord spoke to His people through His prophet Isaiah, who encouraged the king of Judah, Hezekiah and the people of Judah, who must have been terrified by the power of the king of Assyria. The Lord reassured them that the king of Assyria would not have what he wanted, and he would not conquer Jerusalem, as the Lord Himself would protect Jerusalem and His people, who at the time of Hezekiah had turned once again to the Lord in their hearts.

In the end, as we heard from the passage, the Lord sent His Angels and slaughtered more than a hundred thousand and eighty-five thousand men from among Sennacherib’s massive army. How they did that, whether through some form of calamities or deadly disease, is immaterial, but the impact was surely clear. The king of Assyria retreated back to his homeland in shame, and he was assassinated by two of his own sons.

Then, in the Gospel passage, we listened to the Lord Jesus speaking to His disciples and to the people, about how it is so difficult for man to pass through the narrow gate to enter into the eternal life promised to all those who have been faithful to God. This is actually showing the difficulties, obstacles and challenges that one will come to encounter during their journey of faith in this worldly life.

What all of us can, and indeed should learn from our Scripture passages today, is that, many of us were like king Sennacherib of Assyria in our lives and actions. King Sennacherib was proud and ambitious, because he had a vast empire, subjected many peoples and nations, and he had a mighty army that was without compare and competition, and literally, at that time, he could do everything he wanted.

However, he was humbled because he failed to realise that for all his greatness and power, all of those things were transitory, illusory and meaningless before God. All of his wealth, power, majesty and glory were nothing before God, and in the end, when he was murdered by his own sons, in the end, he had nothing, and he was just a mortal human being, who had to die and perish in his mortal body.

For us, it is a reminder that pride, ego, ambition and greed are serious obstacles and challenges that often prevented us from finding our way to God. If we do not make the conscious effort to resist the temptation of all these obstacles, then we will likely fall into temptation and end up sinning against God. That is why the Lord Jesus mentioned about the difficulty of entering into the eternal life, as a narrow gate, because there will indeed be a lot of challenges for us in our journey of life.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us ask ourselves, are we ready to pass through the narrow gate on our way to God? If we think that we are ready, then we must be ready to face the challenges and manage the obstacles that will be on our way. Let us all help each other in our way, and devote ourselves to the Lord with renewed fervour and zeal. May the Lord bless us all and be with us in this journey of faith, now and always. Amen.

Monday, 25 June 2018 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the account of the downfall of the northern kingdom of Israel, which fell to the onslaught of the Assyrian Empire, which burnt down its capital, Samaria, and ransacked the cities of the Israelites, carrying off their inhabitants to exile in faraway lands of Mesopotamia. This is the punishment that was due for the people who have repeatedly disobeyed the Lord and sinned in various ways.

This is after repeated reminders and helps which God had put in place through His many prophets and messengers, whom He sent to the northern kingdom of Israel, such as Elijah and Elisha among many others. Yet, the people and their kings refused to turn from their wicked ways and from their sins. In the end, their actions and wicked deeds justified their punishment, and God judged them according to those sins.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is the theme of today’s Scripture readings, that is on the matter of judgment, and not just any kind of judgment, but in particular, Christian judgment. And the most common misunderstanding which we have on this time and age is that, we misunderstood the Lord’s words and instructions in this Scripture passage, by saying that the Lord Jesus asked us that we must not judge or should not judge.

That is because we read the Gospel passage literally and understand what the Lord said and not trying to understand what He really wanted to deliver to us. The Lord did not actually say that we cannot judge anybody or anyone at any situation at all. Instead, what He wanted to tell us is that, before we judge, first of all we must always reflect first whether we ourselves have done the same or even worse than what we want to judge.

He said that by whatever standards we judge, then we will also be judged by others. It is quite natural because if we judge others for their wrongdoings, and yet, we ourselves have done the same or even worse deeds, then others who see us and witness our actions and deeds will judge us in the same way. Do we want that to happen to us? Surely we do not want. Yet, this is what we mankind commonly do, day after day, again and again.

The Lord alone is the perfect Judge, for He Himself cannot be judged, for He is all perfect and good, and perfect in everything He has done. By whatever standards that we want to judge God, it is impossible to do so. That is why, God alone is worthy of judging us for our every actions, our every shortcomings, words, deeds and everything that we are. However, once again, this does not mean that we cannot ‘judge’.

The Lord Himself said in another occasion in the Gospels, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with a good judgment.” And St. Paul in his various letters to the Churches also mentioned the importance and the need for sound judgment in the Christian communities. What does this mean, brothers and sisters in Christ? It means that we must judge first and foremost basing our judgment not on our own prejudices or personal preferences, but instead on our Christian faith and truth.

For our personal preferences and prejudices are often not just and right, and in fact, they may be even worse and more wicked than what we want to judge. But the Christian truth and the faith as kept by the Church is unchanging and perfect, as long as we anchor our Christian judgment in God, Who is the source of all truth and Who is perfect in all of His judgments. This is what we must do, and not to judge wrongly.

And ultimately, it is about what we intend to do with the judgment. Most of the time, as is common for us man, is that we judge so as to condemn the other party for the mistakes or the faults that they have committed. But as Christians, we are instead called to judge, not because we hate the person or wanting to bring harm to the person, but instead, because we want the other party to realise the mistake that he or she has made, and make a change or difference for the better.

That is precisely what God has done, as He, first and foremost of all, loves each and every one of us, His most beloved creations, and certainly, He does not want us to be lost to Him, or to be cast down to hell for eternity. That is why He gave us opportunities, again and again, and sent us reminders through various means, from the Church, from even our families and from those who we encounter at various times and opportunities in our lives.

But we also have to remember, that there is ultimately a limit to God’s mercy and love, not that His mercy and love are limited, but rather, our mortal existence in this world is limited. All of us will ultimately encounter death, and that is the moment when we will face our particular judgment, when each and every one of us will have to answer for our every actions and deeds in life, and when our eternal fate will be judged.

If we refused to accept God’s generous offer of mercy, forgiveness and compassion, then it is by our sins, stubbornness and rejection that we shall be judged, and when we fall into the eternal suffering, separated from God’s love and grace forever, it is by our own actions that we are judged. And it is the right and just consequences for our own disobedience and refusal to repent.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, while we have the time and opportunity in this world, given to us generously by Our God, let us all make best use of them, by realising just how sinful we have been, and commit ourselves to a renewed faith filled with new love and dedication for God. And we are called to ‘judge’ one another with love, caring for the needs of our brethren, especially those who are in danger of falling into damnation because of their sins.

Hence, let us all not be judgmental in the wrong way, but judge with the right intention and method, so that each and every one of us as Christians may be able to help one another, to persevere through the various challenges and obstacles in life. Let us all pray for one another and help each other in this journey of faith, that we may eventually all find our way to God’s salvation and eternal life. May God be with us, and may He bless us and our endeavours, now and always. Amen.

Sunday, 24 June 2018 : Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday we celebrate the occasion on the twenty-fourth day of June, the Solemnity of the Nativity or the birth of St. John the Baptist, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, and cousin of the Lord Jesus Christ. St. John the Baptist was the one who was prophesied by the prophets to be the one who would prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah and God, Jesus Christ.

As such, he was the Herald of the Messiah and the one who announced the imminent coming of God’s salvation and kingdom into this world. This he did say, by calling the people to repent from their sins and to be baptised by him in the River Jordan, and hence, his name, St. John the Baptist. He announced that the coming of the kingdom of God was near, and that he was the voice calling out in the wilderness, just as the Scriptures had predicted.

St. John the Baptist was God’s servant from even before he was conceived in his mother’s womb, just as the Lord had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah. This prophet would be God’s instrument to speak to the nations, through whom the people of God, all mankind would come to hear the Good News of the coming of His salvation, which has finally arrived after the long awaited and expected Saviour has been prophesied for many ages.

St. John the Baptist is the one who had done all the difficult tasks in order to prepare for the Lord’s coming. Why is that so? That is because many of the people were not ready for the Lord’s coming, and in fact, if we read throughout the Gospels and the New Testament, we should be able to see just how many among the people of God refused to believe in the truth that the Lord Himself had brought them, and stubbornly continued to live in their old ways of sin.

It was told that St. John the Baptist was the prophet Elijah who was sent again into the world to complete his mission. The prophet Elijah was taken up into heaven by God on a flaming chariot, and it was this that made the people to believe that the prophet had once again come into the world. However, whether St. John the Baptist was truly the prophet Elijah sent into the world, only the Lord knows, and is immaterial.

What is important is that, because of St. John the Baptist, many of the people turned to the Lord and sought genuine repentance, coming to him to be baptised and to listen to his teachings. And even in fact, some of Christ’s earliest disciples, including those among His Twelve Apostles, were the disciples of St. John the Baptist, such as St. Andrew and St. John the Evangelist, if not more others from among those earliest followers of the Lord.

It was to St. Andrew and St. John the Evangelist that St. John the Baptist told, “Here is the Lamb of God!” when the Lord Jesus Christ came to the River Jordan asking for baptism from St. John the Baptist. Those two disciples of St. John the Baptist and probably some others henceforth followed the Lord Jesus, and St. John the Baptist let them go on their way. This is one of the many great qualities of St. John the Baptist that all of us Christians must take note.

St. John the Baptist was a humble and devout worker of the Lord, devoting his entire life to the service of God. His holiness and commitment was likely noted since early in his life, not less because of the amazing manner of his birth as we heard in the Gospel passage today. An Angel of the Lord himself told Zechariah his father, of what St. John the Baptist would become, and he lived in the desert, preparing for the day of the Messiah’s coming.

St. John the Baptist did not seek glory and power for himself, and he did all the work for the greater glory of God, and not for his own. He could have declared that he was the Messiah or Saviour long awaited by the people of Israel, but he did not do so. When the Pharisees came to ask him about this, he openly said that he was not the One Whom they were waiting for, but that He would come soon.

And this must be understood in the context of the history of the time, as at that time, there were several influential and charismatic people among the Jewish community who rose up in rebellion against the Romans, claiming that they were the Messiah who was promised by God. But all of their uprisings and rebellions failed, as God was not with them. Yet, if St. John the Baptist wanted, he could have seized the opportunity and claim fame and glory for himself.

St. John the Baptist openly said that, while his disciples asked him what he would do about Jesus, Whose star was rising and more and more came to see Him instead of him, that he was in fact pleased with it, as it was how it was supposed to be, as he was merely the servant of God, awaiting for the coming of God’s Saviour to come, and was not the Saviour himself. He did not seek anything more beyond fulfilling what he has been called to do.

And then, St. John Baptist was also a fearless and committed follower of God, who did not shrink from his obligation and responsibility to the people of God, by even standing up to those who would cause others to lose their faith in God, as what the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had done with their actions and their behaviour. St. John the Baptist called the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law as brood of vipers in front of the people to show this disgust at their self-serving activities.

When king Herod, the ruler of the land, behaved wickedly by committing adultery with the wife of his deceased brother, Herodias, St. John the Baptist openly and fearlessly chastised the king for his sinful behaviour and attitude. He was imprisoned for that, and even when he was in prison, he would continue to chastise the king and rebuke him, not fearing for his life. In the end, he was martyred when Herodias, having grudge on St. John the Baptist, arrange for him to be killed.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we should follow in the examples of St. John the Baptist, just as today we rejoice celebrating the birth of this great messenger and servant of God. Have we been as devout and as courageous as St. John the Baptist in his faith and dedication to the Lord? Have we been as humble and as selfless in how we lived our lives as St. John the Baptist had been? Or have we instead been tempted by worldly temptations of power, wealth, glory and others?

Let today’s commemoration be a reminder for us, that each and every one of us as Christians are also called to follow in the footsteps of St. John the Baptist, in declaring the truth and the Good News which we ourselves have received from those who have shown them to us. We have to carry on the truth and the Good News with ourselves, and pass them on to more people, to others who have not yet received them.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, how do we then follow in the footsteps of the great St. John the Baptist? It is by being honest and sincere in our faith, putting God at the centre of our lives, instead of our ego, our pride, our ambition and greed. These are obstacles that commonly become stumbling rocks in our path towards God and righteousness in Him. And if we do not remove these obstacles, it is likely that we will stumble and fall, and that is sin.

But when we encounter these challenges in life, do we then fear of failing or stumbling? It is part of our learning process to fail and to stumble. Certainly, St. John the Baptist himself had encountered many challenges, and even he, as a man, also had his doubts and fears. While in prison, as the Gospel recorded, he sent one of his disciples to the Lord Jesus, asking Him whether He was truly the Messiah or whether he should wait for another to come. But, in the end, he remained faithful and true to his calling, right down to his martyrdom.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore, let us all be inspired by the life and the dedication of St. John the Baptist in our own lives, and in how we devote ourselves to God from now on. If we have not been truly faithful in how we lived our lives, now is the time for us to turn ourselves wholeheartedly to God, doing our best to be faithful from now on, becoming worthy and good bearers of His truth, through our actions and deeds, by loving one another and loving God to the best of our abilities. May the Lord be with us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Saturday, 23 June 2018 : 11th Week of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scripture, beginning with the Second Book of Chronicles, detailing what happened during the reign of king Joash of Judah, the son of king Ahaziah of Judah and his queen Athaliah. In yesterday’s reading, we heard how Athaliah seized power after her husband Ahaziah died, and she tried to eradicate the entirety of the house of David, to secure the rulership and the kingdom for herself.

But by the grace of God, one of the scions of David survived, namely Joash, saved by his own nurse, who helped to hide him away in the Temple of God under the tutelage and protection of the High Priest Jehoiada. High Priest Jehoiada was an upright man, and was a devout person, who committed himself to God, unlike the kings and rulers, and many of the people of Judah.

Jehoiada himself had a son, Zechariah, who was mentioned in today’s first reading as well. When Joash was young, it was likely that he and Zechariah would have grown up together, and were probably good friends to each other. Then, when Joash was of age, and ready to take up the rightful kingship belonging to him, Jehoiada arranged with the military leaders and the people to overthrow the usurper, Athaliah.

That was how Joash rose to power as king, and it was told that as long as the High Priest Jehoiada was alive, the king and the people followed the Lord and turned towards Him with faith, repenting from the sins of their ancestors and predecessors. However, the moment the High Priest Jehoiada passed away, the king began to turn the people back to their old, sinful ways.

That was the background of how the situation came to the condition described in the first reading passage today. The king and his people had turned to pagan idols and worshipped those idols which the High Priest Jehoiada and the righteous faithful had thrown away and put aside, and the people began to sin once again to God through their disobedience of His laws and commandments.

Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada protested against the king, to remind him of the sins he had committed, and chastised Joash for turning away from the righteous path that his father Jehoiada had guided him into. But the king would not listen to reason, and instead, he continued doing what was wicked in God’s sight, and even, in the end, killed Zechariah who kept on criticising him.

And we heard how king Joash met his end at the hands of the Arameans, as God handed him over to his enemies, for his sins and lack of repentance. That was the fate that awaited all those who have not been faithful to God and His ways, and instead succumb to the temptations of the world, as the Lord Jesus mentioned in today’s Gospel Reading passage.

In that Gospel passage, the Lord chastised all those who worry about material goods, about food and about all things of the world which they desire and want in life. They worry and think a lot about all these things every day and every moment, and they forget that all of them are merely transient and temporary. God will surely, in His own way, and through those who are around us, provide for all that we need.

But we mankind are often easily tempted, tempted by the many temptations of worldly pleasures, of power, of wealth, of fame, of influence, of worldly glory and all other things that prevent us from being truly faithful to the Lord. We fall into those temptations just as king Joash also fell into his temptations. When the High Priest Jehoiada was still alive, there was a strong authority that kept the king’s mind and actions in check, but the moment he was gone, the king became uncontrollable and fell into sin.

Especially those who were entrusted with power, authority, wealth and influence are most vulnerable to the temptations that always come our way. But that does not necessarily mean that all those with power, authority, wealth and influence are wicked and evil. Rather, it means that the greater the blessings we receive, the greater indeed is the responsibility that we have in order to keep faithfully in us, the faith we have in God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all spend some time to think about our own lives. Have we been faithful to the Lord all these days? Or have we instead been so preoccupied with our own busy dealings and all the tempting things, that we worry about all those things, and forget that our primary objective in life is to serve God and to do our best through our actions to glorify Him?

Let us all turn towards the Lord wholeheartedly from now on, and devote ourselves, our time, effort and attention to serve Him and to love all of His people, by being true Christians, truly faithful in all of our actions, words and deeds. May the Lord bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Friday, 22 June 2018 : 11th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Paulinus of Nola, Bishop and St. John Fisher, Bishop and Martyr, and St. Thomas More, Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops) or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the Scripture passage from the Book of Kings, in which the story of queen Athaliah of Judah was highlighted. Queen Athaliah was the wife of king Ahaziah of Judah, who was killed with the descendants of Ahab, as Elijah and Elisha had prophesied, by Jehu, the new king of Israel. And having heard that her husband was dead, Athaliah went on to seize power for herself, and eliminated all the immediate relatives of the king.

Yet what Athaliah had done was unjust and unlawful, as she was not supposed to gain the crown and rulership over Judah and Israel for herself, as she did not belong to the House of David. God had decreed that the house of David alone shall have the kingdom of Israel for theirs and their inheritance, forever and ever. But Athaliah did not hesitate to take action, and commanded a brutal massacre of all the possible threats to her rule.

It is likely that she was overcome with her ego, pride, and most importantly greed and desire for power. It does not explain otherwise why she would do such a vile action for the sake of gaining the rulership over the kingdom and worldly power. And indeed, it is such a dangerous desire, that ended up in her committing the killing of so many people, even young children.

This is related very well, then, to what we are hearing in our Gospel passage today. In that passage, the Lord Jesus spoke to His disciples about the futility of the treasures of the world that can perish and be destroyed, and how we mankind often seek to try to gain them all for our own use. And He also told them indirectly how those things could end up corrupting us, ending up with us engulfed by sin and darkness.

Perhaps we should examine today’s readings more closely in conjunction with the lives of the three saints whose feast we celebrate today. St. Paulinus of Nola was born into a rich Roman senatorial family, with bright prospects in the future, and he was well educated and intellectual, promising a good career in life. He was appointed as governor and ruler of a province, but slowly, the attraction of the faith was growing in him. He was still a pagan in his early years.

Eventually he was baptised and grew more and more religious and devout day after day. After he and his wife lost his only child at a young age, both of them dedicated themselves to God, and eventually St. Paulinus of Nola was ordained to priesthood, and later on became the bishop of Nola. He devoted much of his energy, time and effort to serve his flock and to improve their faith. He is truly the example of what the Lord mentioned in today’s Gospel, that is to seek a greater treasure than the worldly treasures.

Now, if St. Paulinus of Nola showed us the model of Christian living faithfully to the Gospel and to the Lord’s way, then the other two saints showed yet again, how mankind’s greed and desire could have wrecked such havoc due to their relentless pursuit of worldly treasures, influence, power and all sorts of wickedness, and then, they showed us, that as Christians we should remain firmly rooted in our faith despite the temptations to do otherwise.

St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher were the martyrs of the so-called ‘English reformation’, when king Henry VIII of England forcibly removed the Church in England from their obedience to Rome and from their part within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. For a background, king Henry VIII used to be a great defender of the faith, even defending vigorously the holy Catholic faith and the seven Sacraments from the heretics.

However, what led the king to commit such a heinous act? It was his obsession with the preservation of his dynasty and therefore legacy, and at that time, the measure of a man’s success is how much wealth and fame one could attain and amass, and most importantly, how lasting one’s family and dynasty is. King Henry VIII could not have a son from his first marriage, and he desperately wanted a son, as at that time, only a son could be seen as a successful heir, and not a daughter, although daughters were indeed allowed to inherit the kingdom.

He tried very hard to have his first marriage annulled so that he could remarry and produce a male heir to the throne of England. However, due to the complicated historical condition at the time, the Pope was unable to grant him the permission to do so. And in truth, such an action would have also scandalised the faith, as marriages could only be annulled for valid reasons, and not being able to produce a male heir was not one of those valid reasons.

But king Henry VIII persisted in his attempts, and eventually, he took the drastic and wicked action of sundering the entire Church in England from their part in the Universal Church. There were many who remained true to their faith and obedience to the Pope and the Universal Church, including St. Thomas More, who was actually king Henry’s Chancellor and St. John Fisher, the influential Bishop of Rochester and the former tutor of the king.

St. John Fisher defended the marital rights of the Queen and opposed the king, and while St. Thomas More was persuaded to give his support to the king’s cause in exchange of even greater wealth and power, he refused to do so. He would rather, with St. John Fisher and many other martyrs of the faith at that time, choose to suffer rather than to betray his faith in God and abandon the true Church.

Now, once again, we see how the actions of men who were overcome by greed and worldly temptations led to such great sufferings and tragedies for the faithful. And it also proved the Lord’s point about the futility of human and worldly material goods, as in the case of king Henry VIII, who would go on to marry a total of six times, had only one sickly son in the end, who eventually died at a young age after succeeding Henry, without any heir, ending the dynasty. But the harm had been done, and many were martyred defending their faith.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, through what we have discussed and heard, let us all reflect on our own lives. Have our lives been filled with holiness and faith in God, or have we rather been filled with desire, greed, pride, ego, hatred and all sorts of things that often tempt us in this life? As Christians, all of us must make the conscious effort to reject those temptations, especially for false worldly treasures, and turn to the Lord with all of our hearts.

May the Lord be with us always, and may He strengthen our faith, that we will be able to devote ourselves wholeheartedly to Him, following the examples of His holy saints, St. Paulinus of Nola, and the holy martyrs, St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher. Amen.

Thursday, 21 June 2018 : 11th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, Religious (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the story of the prophet Elijah being taken up into heaven, which we have also heard yesterday in the account taken from the Book of Kings. Today it is the prophet Sirach’s recollection of the events surrounding the last moments of the prophet Elijah on earth, before he was taken up on a flaming chariot into heaven.

The many works of the prophet Elijah was highlighted, how he had faced up even the powerful but wicked kings of Israel, Ahab and his sons, and his wife, Jezebel. He had to face many difficulties and challenges throughout his journey and mission, and he had to flee into the desert for the safety of his life. But God was with him, and he was well taken care of in the desert, and in the hands of the widow of Zarephath.

Yet, as mentioned by the prophet Sirach, despite the many successes Elijah had performed, in how he helped to bring down the wicked kings of Israel of the house of Ahab, and also ended the threat of foreign nations on Israel, and in anointing his successor, Elisha, to carry on his works, but many of the people of God still remained in sin and rebellion against God.

That is why the Lord sent His own Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, to bring into the world the completion of the works which He has begun in His prophets and messengers. He delivered into the world the message of love from His Father, and then, in today’s Gospel passage, we heard of Him teaching the disciples and the people how to pray to God, in the Lord’s Prayer.

We may be wondering what is the significance of the prayer that the Lord taught His disciples to our first reading and also to our own daily lives. However, first of all, we must understand and realise that prayer is central to all Christians’ life. Without prayer, and meaningful prayer that is, our Christian faith and life is likely empty and meaningless. This is what many of us have failed to realise.

That is because we do not truly understand what prayer is. Prayer is not just series of words and supplications, litanies of words to be uttered and said in churches and in our own homes. If we do not mean what we say in our prayers, and if we do not understand prayer and how we can use it appropriately, then we will end up having faith like the Israelites during the time of Elijah, and the faith of the Pharisees.

The Lord’s Prayer shows us what true prayer is all about. First of all, a prayer is a means of communication between us and God, where we open ourselves, our hearts and minds to God speaking to us, just as we also speak to Him. And prayer is not about making demands to God, as what we often would have done. Instead, it is about thanking God and praising Him for all that He has done for us, in times of good and in bad times.

Prayer is also about knowing what God wants us to do in our lives, by listening to His will being spoken in the depth and the silence of our hearts and minds. But too often, we are too preoccupied and busied by the many concerns and worldly things we have in life, in our career, pursuit for money, wealth, power, fame, influence and others, that we have not been able to listen to God speaking to us.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, in that case, let us all follow the examples set by a holy servant of God, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, whose feast we celebrate today. St. Aloysius Gonzaga was born as the eldest son in the influential Gonzaga family, where he was destined to inherit his father’s great wealth and influence. He was brought up with the best training and education to be successful in the world.

However, he experienced many of the excesses and wickedness of the Renaissance era lifestyle, and went through a conversion experience to the faith, especially under the guidance of St. Charles Borromeo, then Cardinal Archbishop of Milan. He went through a life of prayer and chastity, and desired even to become a priest and missionary. His father in particular was furious at the decision taken up by St. Aloysius Gonzaga.

But St. Aloysius Gonzaga eventually had his way, and renouncing all worldly titles, inheritance and rights, he entered the Jesuit novitiate and began his study to become a Jesuit. He was well known for his great piety and asceticism, and his prayerful life was an inspiration to many others in the community. And one day, when a deadly epidemic came to the city, St. Aloysius Gonzaga insisted to help out with the victims, and he fell sick from the epidemic, and died at a young age.

Yet, as we can see, St. Aloysius Gonzaga has shown us what being a true Christian is all about. He gave up everything for God, and followed God’s calling in his life. He devoted himself through deep and living prayer life, and loved his fellow men, caring for others who were sick and dying, at the cost of his own life. He should be our inspiration, brothers and sisters, in how we should live our own lives.

Now, let us pray, that God will continue to inflame in us the love for Him, and the sincere and strong faith, just as what St. Aloysius Gonzaga has shown in his own life. Let us all devote ourselves more faithfully to the Lord from now on, and turn towards Him with all our hearts, minds and love Him with all our might. Amen.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018 : 11th Week of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the story of how the prophet Elijah was succeeded by his successor, Elisha, and Elijah himself was taken up by God in a flaming chariot, after which he was no longer present in this world. He was one of the few, including Enoch from the Book of Genesis, who was taken up to heaven, for the latter, it was his righteousness and upright life that made him to deserve heaven.

Elisha would go on to continue the works that Elijah had done in the land of Israel, going from places to places, and at times, even he had to go up against kings and rulers. Yet, Elisha fulfilled his calling and mission as faithfully as Elijah had done, and his many exploits, miracles and works can be found in the rest of the Book of Kings. Certainly, the calling is one of hardships and challenges, where difficulties and oppositions awaited him, just as Elijah had suffered.

Then, in the Gospel passage today, we listened to the words from the Lord Jesus, Who warned His disciples and followers not to be haughty, proud or ambitious because of their actions, or because of the achievements that they have made in life. He told them not to trumpet and glorify themselves for all the great things they have done, and instead, they must do them for the right purpose and intention.

He said the same thing with the practice of fasting and almsgiving, in which again, He exhorted them to avoid doing them for the sake of glory, human praise or influence and fame within the community. Instead, again, they must be humble, and do those practices required by the Law, with the right purpose, intention, and indeed, understanding of how those practices could benefit them.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, in order to be able to understand what the Lord Jesus told the disciples, we have to understand the context and the audience involved at that time. The Lord was clearly criticising the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who had followed Jesus and tried to undermine His work, criticising Him at every turn. In one occasion, they asked why they and the disciples of St. John fast while the disciples of the Lord did not.

But in truth, they fasted because they wanted to be seen, and they did their almsgiving with much revelry and signs so as to be noticed by other people. The Lord also criticised the way they pray, so as to bring people’s attentions to them. Ultimately, they did not pray, fast, or do their almsgiving for the right intentions and purposes, but rather to satisfy their own personal greed and ego.

And the Lord was angered at this, because those were the ones who had been entrusted to guide the people of God, and they have been given the authority to do so, but they misused their power and authority to satisfy their own interests and desires. And that in fact, also made others to lose their faith, or to go into the wrong ways, by following the wrong examples of their leaders.

Take for example, the two prophets we mentioned earlier, namely Elijah and Elisha. Both of them had to undergo persecution and rejection from the people, from the kings of Israel, and especially for Elijah, he had to go into exile at times to avoid the persecution carried out against him and face challenges, compounded by the famine and the lack of rain that God sent against the Israelites at the time.

Had they been prophets to seek their own personal advancement, glory, fame or influence, they would not have wanted that path of great suffering, where the returns for themselves were not just minimal, but even their own lives and survival were under serious threat. Yet, they remained true and faithful, committed to their calling because they have real faith in them.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day, we are therefore all called to be truly faithful to God, by putting Him at the centre of our lives. That is how we become genuine and true Christians, in action, deeds and words, in all the things we say and do. We should not seek our personal glory and fame by being followers of Christ, but rather, let us be humbler, the greater we are, and as we are given positions of power and responsibility, let us exercise due caution to do our best, not for our personal gain, but for the well-being of everyone we work with.

May the Lord be with us all and may He continue to bless us all in everything we do, and guide us to His everlasting glory. Amen.