Tuesday, 11 February 2020 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes and World Day of the Sick (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

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

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, celebrating one of the most famous apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Lourdes in southern part of France. At that time, Mary appeared to a young girl named Bernadette Soubirous in a grotto within the forest nearby the small village town of Lourdes. The Blessed Virgin revealed herself to be the Lady of the Immaculate Conception. But before that revelation, she appeared as a figure of a woman dressed in white and bedazzled with light.

Bernadette Soubirous, later on to be known as St. Bernadette Soubirous was an uneducated peasant young girl, whose words no one initially took seriously, including the local parish priest to whom St. Bernadette had reported her vision of the apparition. Initially the priest was skeptical as was others, who thought that the young St. Bernadette must have been hallucinating. Yet, more and more apparition came through and the Blessed Virgin continued to make herself visible to St. Bernadette and some others who came to visit the grotto with her.

In one occasion, St. Bernadette was asked to show a sign by the people, and the Blessed Virgin guided her by asking her to dig the ground at a spot that she showed her. As St. Bernadette dug the ground, the ground felt damp and wet, and immediately a gush of spring water came out of the ground. This would eventually become the origin of the now famous Lourdes holy springs of water that had healed many people who came to Lourdes seeking to be healed by the grace of God through His mother Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes.

When the local priest and others still doubted the authenticity of the apparition, St. Bernadette asked the apparition of her name, and the Lady responded with ‘I am the Immaculate Conception’ as I mentioned earlier. St. Bernadette brought this response to the priest who was completely taken by surprise at what he had heard. For at that time, in the year 1858, the year of the apparition, it was just four years after the declaration of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Blessed Pope Pius IX.

As such, due to the constraints of technology and communication at that time, as well as the obvious fact that St. Bernadette was just an illiterate, poor, uneducated young peasant girl, there could have been no way that St. Bernadette could have known of that fact beforehand if not for the fact that the apparition was indeed of the Blessed Virgin Mary herself. And since then, the priest would become a great champion for the cause of the apparition to be made officially approved and recognised by the Church, with the cooperation with the local bishop.

In the meanwhile, the crowds of people coming to the site continued to grow especially as several miracles were attributed to the spring water of Lourdes. Several people were healed of their illnesses and became perfectly well again. And eventually when doctors and psychologists came to investigate the miraculous occasion, the apparition and St. Bernadette herself, they could not explain all that happened there except with the eyes of the faith.

It would be several more years before the Church officially recognised the apparitions at Lourdes by the Blessed Virgin Mary, but ever since then, Lourdes have always been popular with numerous pilgrims from all over the world, especially the sick and the dying who were seeking God’s help through the intercession of His blessed Mother, Mary, who had made this recourse available for us mankind. And all of these indeed have its roots in what we have heard in our Scripture readings today.

In today’s Gospel text, we heard the famous account of the Wedding at Cana, the moment when Our Lord performed His very first miracle, turning water into wine for the sake of the couple who were married that day. As mentioned, the couple ran out of wine, and we have to understand that in the Jewish tradition, for a wedding to run out of wine while the celebration was still ongoing, it would be a terrible shame and embarrassment for the couple.

That was why the couple was having such a predicament, and Mary noticed their trouble, and she went to her Son Jesus, asking if He could do something to help the couple out of their trouble. The Lord responded that it was not yet His time, but nonetheless, Mary still went out of her way and told the servants to listen to whatever Jesus would be saying to them. Most likely moved by His mother’s compassion and concern for the couple, her plea for Him to help, Jesus moved and told the servants to follow His instructions, and as we all know, the water in the jars turned miraculously into the finest wines.

From what we have heard in this account from the Wedding at Cana and also what we have just talked about, the story of the apparition of Mary at Lourdes, we can clearly see how Mary, God’s own Mother, has always been concerned for us, and she has always tried to show us compassion and getting her Son, Our Lord, to help us from our troubles and predicaments. Just as the wedding couple faced potential shame and embarrassment from having not enough wine in their wedding, we too are beset by many troubles, including sickness and sufferings from many diseases.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all remember that at the moment of His crucifixion and as He was about to die, the Lord Jesus entrusted His own mother Mary to St. John, His Apostle, and in doing so, He symbolically entrusted her to all of us His disciples and His Church. And at the same time, we have all also been entrusted to her as her own adopted children as well. That is why our Blessed Mother always looks upon us with loving and tender care, seeking our happiness and true joy in God, her Son.

And because Mary is the mother of God, by our faith we believe that she sits even now by the side of her Son’s throne in heaven. Historically, the mother of the king has always held great influence in the court and the king has also often listened to his mother’s counsel and words. In the same way therefore, Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes, is always interceding and praying for us, and her Son, Our Lord and King, will listen to His own mother’s words and prayers.

That was how so many people who had faith in God and in the intercession of His mother, Our Lady of Lourdes, were healed from their many afflictions and sicknesses. Let us therefore today, which is also designed as the World Day of the Sick, focus our prayer and intentions on all our sick ones, for all those who are suffering from all sorts of physical, mental and spiritual sicknesses of all kinds. Let us also pray especially for this moment, those who are currently suffering from the terrible effects of the current novel Coronavirus, 2019-nCov, that all those who suffer may, by the grace of God and through the intercession of Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes, be healed from all of their sufferings, pains and troubles.

May the Lord continue to watch over us, and may His blessed mother, Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes continue to look after us, that each and every one of us who are suffering from sickness one way or another, may be healed and made whole, and having been made good and whole again, may we all be brought together in God’s love and embrace, forevermore. Amen.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes and World Day of the Sick (Gospel Reading)

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

Mark 7 : 1-13

At that time, one day, the Pharisees gathered around Jesus, and with them were some teachers of the Law who had just come from Jerusalem. They noticed that some of His disciples were eating their meal with unclean hands, that is, without washing them.

Now the Pharisees, and in fact all the Jews, never eat without washing their hands, for they follow the tradition received from their ancestors. Nor do they eat anything, when they come from the market, without first washing themselves. And there are many other traditions they observe; for example, the ritual washing of cups, pots and plates.

So the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders, but eat with unclean hands?” Jesus answered, “You shallow people! How well Isaiah prophesied of you when he wrote : ‘This people honours Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. The worship they offer Me is worthless, for what they teach are only human rules.’ You even put aside the commandment of God to hold fast to human tradition.”

And Jesus commented, “You have a fine way of disregarding the commandments of God in order to enforce your own traditions! For example, Moses said : Do your duty to your father and your mother, and : Whoever curses his father or his mother is to be put to death. But according to you, someone could say to his father or mother, ‘I already declared Corban (which means “offered to God”) what you could have expected from me.’”

“In this case, you no longer require him to do anything for his father or mother; and so you nullify the word of God through the tradition you have handed on. And you do many other things like that.”

Alternative reading (Mass of Our Lady of Lourdes)

John 2 : 1-11

At that time, three days after Jesus called Nathanael, there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus was also invited to the wedding with His disciples. When all the wine provided for the celebration had been served, and they had run out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.”

Jesus replied, “Woman, what concern is that to you and Me? My hour has not yet come.” However His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” Nearby were six stone water jars, set there for ritual washing as practiced by the Jews; each jar could hold twenty or thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them to the brim. Then Jesus said, “Now draw some out and take it to the steward.” So they did. The steward tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing from where it had come; for only the servants who had drawn the water knew. So, he called the bridegroom to tell him, “Everyone serves the best wine first, and when people have drunk enough, he serves that which is ordinary. Instead you have kept the best wine until the end.”

This miraculous sign was the first, and Jesus performed it at Cana in Galilee. In this way He let His glory appear, and His disciples believed in Him.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes and World Day of the Sick (Psalm)

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

Psalm 83 : 3, 4, 5 and 10, 11

My soul yearns; pines, for the courts of YHVH. My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.

Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young, at Your altars, o YHVH of Hosts, my King and my God!

Happy are those who live in Your House, continually singing Your praise! Look upon our shield, o God; look upon the face of Your Anointed!

One day in Your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be left at the threshold in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.

Alternative reading (Mass of Our Lady of Lourdes)

Judith 13 : 18bcde, 19

My daughter, may the Most High God bless you more than all women on earth. And blessed be the Lord God, the Creator of heaven and earth, Who has led you to behead the leader of our enemies.

Never will people forget the confidence you have shown; they will always remember the power of God.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes and World Day of the Sick (First Reading)

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

1 Kings 8 : 22-23, 27-30

Then Solomon stood before the Altar of YHVH in the presence of all the assembly of Israel. He raised his hands towards heaven and said, “O YHVH, God of Israel, there is no God like You either in heaven or on earth! You keep Your Covenant and show loving kindness to Your servants who walk before You wholeheartedly.”

“But will God really live among people on earth? If neither heavens nor the highest heavens can contain You, how much less can this House which I have built! Yet, listen to the prayer and supplication of Your servant, o YHVH my God; hearken to the cries and pleas which Your servant directs to You this day. Watch over this House of which You have said, ‘My Name shall rest there.’ Hear the prayer of Your servant in this place.”

“Listen to the supplication of Your servant and Your people Israel when they pray in this direction; listen from Your dwelling place in heaven and, on listening, forgive.”

Alternative reading (Mass of Our Lady of Lourdes)

Isaiah 66 : 10-14c

Rejoice for Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her. Be glad with her, rejoice with her, all you who were in grief over her, that you may suck of the milk from her comforting breasts, that you may drink deeply from the abundance of her glory.

For this is what YHVH says : I will send her peace, overflowing like a river; and the nations’ wealth, rushing like a torrent towards her. And you will be nursed and carried in her arms and fondled upon her lap. As a son comforted by his mother, so will I comfort you. At the sight of this, your heart will rejoice; like grass, your bones will flourish.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020 : Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and World Day of Prayer for Peace (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day, the first day of this new year, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Theotokos, or Mary as the Mother of God. This is celebrated on the eighth and last day of the Christmas Octave, to remember the very important and crucial role that Mary played in the history of our salvation and in Christmas, because she became the Mother of God by bearing Jesus Christ, Son of God in her.

This teaching and dogma of the Divine Motherhood of Mary, the Theotokos or Mother of God was formalised and made official at the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in the year 431, out of the great debate of whether Mary was just the Mother of Jesus Christ the Man, or whether she was also the Mother of God because Jesus Christ is both God and Man, having both human nature and divine nature united in His one person.

During that time, the disagreements in the Church was led on one side by the Patriarch of Constantinople, Nestorius, who championed the preference to call Mary as Christotokos or Christ-Bearer or Mother of Christ rather than Theotokos or God-Bearer or Mother or God. Although it may have seemed trivial to us as merely involving a variation in the honorary names and titles of Mary, but theologically the two titles highlighted a very fundamental and critical difference in a very core part of our Christian faith.

I am referring to the fact that by denying Mary the title of Theotokos and preferring Christotokos as proposed by the supporters of Nestorius actually also affected the nature of Christ as if Mary is not the Mother of God, but only the mother of Christ the Man, then Jesus’ humanity and divinity cannot have been united in His one persona, but are distinct and separate. This is the view and school of thought championed by Nestorius and his supporters.

The opponents of Nestorius and the champions of orthodoxy held the view that as Christ has two natures which are distinct and yet united in one person of Christ, then Mary who bore Him in her womb and gave birth to Him must also be the Mother of God, as if the humanity of Christ is united perfectly with His divinity, though distinct, then one cannot accept that Jesus is both Man and God without also proclaiming His mother Mary as the Mother of God.

To say that Mary is just the mother of Christ or Christotokos rather than the Mother of God goes against the logic that Mary bore Christ into this world fully in being, giving birth to Jesus Christ, her Son, both God and Man, and she could not have just borne Christ the Man without also bearing His divinity. To imply in any way that Mary is not the Mother of God also in truth denies Christ’s unique two natures united in one person as the true, orthodox faith of the Apostles had always held.

Therefore the debate surrounding the dogma of Theotokos or the Mary as the Mother of God was truly serious as it affected the nature of Christ and His salvation, as heresies of that time had threatened to break the Church apart, with some contending that by Nestorius’ proposition, only Jesus the Man suffered and died on the Cross as God could not have suffered or died, contrary to the true teaching of the faith. This was brought about by the disagreement over the nature of Christ’s humanity and divinity which extends to whether Mary was the Mother of God or just the Mother of Christ.

We may think again that these disagreements may sound trivial and small in importance, but we must really understand and appreciate that the faith as we know it today came about only after many rounds of challenges, divisions, disagreements and heresies trying to misled members of the faithful throughout the long history of the Church, including this disagreement on the Theotokos or Mary as the Mother of God.

During those especially early critical years of the Church, many heresies came about because of the existence of many divergent schools of thought and idea that often disagreed on each other on the nature of Christ’s divinity, on whether His humanity and divinity are united inseparably, or separate into two different and disunited existence, or whether as what we hold in our true faith, that His humanity and divinity exists, though distinct, but united perfectly in the one person of Jesus.

The bitter divisions and divergence in the teachings were threatening the unity of the Church and the salvation of many souls, and that was why, the Ecumenical Councils of the Church, beginning with the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, and eventually to the one we focus on today, the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus, began codifying and underlining the true and fundamental truths and orthodoxy in faith which we preserve in the Church until today.

Eventually, the supporters of Nestorius lost and the heresy was officially condemned in the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus which made canon and officially declared Mary as Theotokos, the Mother of God. And we rejoice today because of this great blessing which God has bestowed on us all through His mother, the very Mother of God so many of us Christians for ages have entrusted ourselves and devoted ourselves to.

Imagine, brothers and sisters in Christ, how we have the Mother of God herself as our greatest intercessor, as the one who constantly loves us and cares for us, that she, who sits closest to her Son’s throne in heaven, always constantly intercedes for our sake. And being the Mother of God, therefore, it means that she is truly honoured, just as how the kings of Israel and Judah of old honoured their mothers.

We devote ourselves to Mary and ask her for her intercession because we know that through Mary, we have the surest and most direct path to her Son, Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. God Himself entrusted His mother Mary to us from the Cross, when He entrusted her to the care of His disciple, St. John, representing us the Universal Church, and then also entrusted him, again representing the Church, to Mary, His mother.

That is why Mary was always present throughout the history of the Church, in her many apparitions, several of which have been officially approved by the Church, especially appearing at the important juncture in our history and in moments of great darkness, calling on us mankind to turn back towards her Son and to repent from our many sins and evils. And we have to be thankful for the love that she has shown us, the same love with which she loved her Son from all her loving heart.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we also look up to Mary as our greatest role model, for her great faith and obedience to the will of God throughout her life. We should imitate her example and faith, dedicating ourselves to God through her and by following her inspiring dedication, in giving her whole self to serve the Lord and to glorify Him in all things. Are we able to do this, brothers and sisters?

Today, we are also called to keep in mind peace in our world, as today we also mark the World Day of Prayer for Peace, as we begin this new year with a new hope for the whole world for the cessation of conflict and wars, which have brought the worst out of us mankind, causing untold sufferings and destructions. All these wars, conflicts and disagreements, just like the disagreements we just went through in detail earlier on the nature of Mary as the Mother of God, are caused by man’s pride and greed.

As long as we allow ourselves to be swayed by ego and pride, ambition and greed, to be tempted by the many temptations found in this world, listening to the lies and corrupt teachings championed by the devil and his allies and supporters, there will always be divisions, conflicts, sufferings and trials in our world. And this is where, by following Mary and devoting ourselves to her, to imitate her faith and examples, we can break the unending chain of suffering and conflicts.

Let us all ask for Mary to intercede for us, for the Church and for the world, that through her intercession, God may bring His peace into this world, for He is the Prince of Peace promised to us all. And let us all get rid from ourselves all sorts of ego, of pride, of hubris and ambition, of greed and desires, and instead, put God once again at the centre of our lives and make Him the reason of our existence in this world.

May God continue to bless us, bless His Church and bless this world He has created and provided for us. May His mother Mary, Theotokos, the Mother of God also continue to inspire us all His faithful ones, that we may follow in her footsteps and draw ever closer to her Son, Jesus Christ, Son of God, our Lord and Saviour. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020 : Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and World Day of Prayer for Peace (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Luke 2 : 16-21

So the shepherds came hurriedly, and found Mary and Joseph, and the Baby lying in the manger. On seeing Him, they related what they had been told about the Child, and all were astonished on hearing the shepherds.

As for Mary, she treasured all these words, and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds then returned, giving glory and praise to God for all they had heard and seen, just as the Angels had told them.

On the eighth day the circumcision of the Baby had to be performed; He was named Jesus, the Name the Angel had given Him before He was conceived.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020 : Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and World Day of Prayer for Peace (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Galatians 4 : 4-7

But when the fullness of time came, God sent His Son. He came born of woman and subject to the Law, in order to redeem the subjects of the Law, that we might receive adoption as children of God.

And because you are children, God has sent into your hearts the Spirit of His Son which cries out : Abba! That is, Father! You yourself are no longer a slave but a son or daughter, and yours is the inheritance by God’s grace.