Sunday, 11 February 2018 : Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday we commemorate the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, the Marian apparition to St. Bernadette Soubirous in what is now famous as the pilgrimage site of Lourdes in southern part of France. The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God appeared to the young St. Bernadette Soubirous, calling mankind to repentance and to be forgiven from their sins, by sincerely turning away from their past wickedness and embrace God’s mercy.

And during those apparitions, the Blessed Virgin showed St. Bernadette the place of a spring which gushed forth from the ground, and have ever since been gushing out water, which is holy and blessed, and have for the past one and a half century since the apparition, shown miraculous properties, and healed many of those who came to visit Lourdes on pilgrimage. Pope St. John Paul II himself went on a pilgrimage to Lourdes just a year before his passing, having long suffered from his illnesses.

That is why it is all the more fitting that today’s Scripture passages match so well with the occasion of the World Day of Prayer for the Sick, celebrated every year on the eleventh day of February, the commemoration of Our Lady of Lourdes as mentioned earlier. In the first reading today we heard what God instructed to Moses and Aaron with regards to the disease most feared in those days, namely leprosy, while in the Gospel passage today, we heard the Lord Jesus Himself healing a leper.

In the Old Testament, God gave to Moses the laws which He had established to be followed and obeyed by the people, which included many aspects of societal life, including what to be done when a person fell ill with diseases, in particular leprosy, which was likely a highly contagious version of the leprosy as we know it today, easily spreading from one person to another, unless certain measures were taken to prevent the outbreak of a pandemic.

Understanding the Law which God has passed on to Moses require us to look carefully into what had happened at that time, the historical and societal background of the Israelites at the time when the laws were given to them. At that time, Israel were travelling on the long journey from Egypt towards the Promised Land, travelling in a desert where staying together in a closely knitted community would be essential to survival.

Wandering off alone in the desert would bring about great risks to the people, who could end up getting lost or struck by predators without being able to get the necessary help. However, staying close together in camps and tents within the community of Israel at the time, which numbered in the hundreds of thousands if not more, exposed the whole community to great risk of disease outbreak.

That is the reason why God made the rule for the occasion such that, all those who contracted contagious disease such as leprosy were obliged to leave the camp and live outside the community until his disease and all of its symptoms have been healed. Otherwise many more people in the community would be infected by the contagious disease, and many more would have suffered.

Yet, this did not mean that those lepers who were obliged to live outside the community were forgotten. God did include the rule that should their condition improved and their disease were cured, they would be able to return to the community of the people of Israel, after having presented themselves to the priests who would then judge whether the person was to be allowed to return or not.

In the Gospel passage today, it is evident that whatever the practices were during the time of Jesus, it was no different from the practices at the time of Moses. The lepers were feared and shunned, just as it was in the past, forced to live away from the people and outside of the community until they were able to show that they have recovered from their leprosy. And it was on that occasion mentioned in the Gospel passage today that Jesus met one of those lepers who asked Him to heal him.

Indeed, He had mercy on the man and healed him from his leprosy. That is what God truly wanted with His people, for He loves each and every one of them without exception, equally and without prejudice. That was why He wanted them to be healed from their pains and sufferings, including the stigma and suffering caused by the leprosy the man and many others contracted.

This is what each of us should know, brothers and sisters in Christ, that we are all afflicted and sick. We may be perfectly healthy in the physique and the body, and we may be surprised that truly, we are all sick at the moment. You may not believe what I have just said, but what I meant is that, we are sick because of our unworthiness, our wicked actions, our disobedience against God and therefore, our sins.

Sin is the culprit for all of our sufferings and sorrows, ever since mankind first fell into sin, beginning with our first ancestors, Adam and Eve, who failed to resist the temptations of Satan. Sin is therefore a disease that strike at our soul, at the very depths and innermost part of our beings. If we are not careful, sin will eventually swallow us up entirely, just as we can succumb to the diseases that strike at our flesh and body. And sin is much worse than any of our physical illnesses, as sin defiles everything and destroys everything.

Parallel to what we have discussed earlier about the treatment of those who fell ill with leprosy, forced to live outside of the community of the Israelites until they were healed, and certified as such by the priests, then it is not different at all with all of us mankind, who suffer from the disease of the soul, that is our sins. If we read the Book of Genesis, surely we would have remembered how Adam and Eve, our ancestors, were driven out of the gardens of Eden, from the presence of God, because they have sinned against God.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us reflect and ask ourselves this question, ‘What is it that we want from God?’ and ‘Do we want to be healed by God?’. These questions serve as reminders for us that in our sickened state, and as we suffer the consequences of our disobedience in this world, we are indeed in need of healing, and that we are not in a good condition at all.

Unfortunately, many of us are too proud to admit that we have been wrong, that we are in need of help and assistance. We refused to listen to God speaking to us in our hearts and through those who we encounter in life, and many of us stubbornly continued on in our way of life, filled with sin, with greed and desires of the world, with violence and jealousy for one another, and all sorts of things that kept us away from reconciliation with God.

Yet, we are fortunate to have God Who is ever and always kind and loving towards us, Who is always ever generous with His mercy and forgiveness. His arms are always open towards us, waiting for us to return to His embrace that we may be fully reconciled with Him. But to be able to be fully reconciled with God, we must be willing to listen to Him and follow His ways, the examples through which He showed us to guide us to Him.

Let us all look at the action of the man whom Jesus had healed from his leprosy. Jesus strictly told him not to tell anyone that it was He Who healed him from his illness, but the man went on regardless, telling everyone that it was Jesus Who healed him. As a result, the people shunned Jesus and the priests made it very difficult for Jesus and His disciples to work among the people, barring Him from their towns and cities.

This was because they must have heard how Jesus approached the leper and touched him in order to heal him, which was taboo according to the laws of Moses. In a sense, God made Himself ‘unclean’ in the eyes of the law in order to make the man clean, and it was to that extent that He was willing to do, in order to care for mankind, to love us and to embrace us sinners.

God knew best what was to be done, and that was why He told the man not to tell anyone about what He had done. But it was likely the man’s pride and hubris that made him to falter, as if he had told the priests he was healed naturally as Jesus told him to do, that would be entirely ordinary and usual. Instead, while it was not mentioned in the Gospel passage, but from our human experiences, it is likely that the man told everyone because being healed in such a miraculous way is something to be boasted and proud about.

And that is exactly how mankind fell into sin, when we start to put the ‘I’ or the ‘We’ ahead of everything else. Pride, ambition, hubris, jealousy, desire, and all these other obstacles to our good and loving relationship with God which will result in our downfall. It is therefore important for us all to realise that we are in need of God’s healing and mercy, because all of us are unworthy, sinners and delinquents.

Let us all learn to distance ourselves from all of those obstacles I have mentioned just earlier, the obstacle of pride, of greed, of human ambition and worldly greed and many more. Let us desire to be healed and to be reconciled fully with God, through genuine conversion and change of heart, abandoning our past sinful ways and embracing fully God’s generous and everlasting love for us all.

Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us all, pray for us who are physically sick, and also all of us who are sinners, sick of this disease of the soul, our sins, that we may seek your Son, to be healed and to be made whole once again through our faith in Him. May God bless us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

Sunday, 11 February 2018 : Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Mark 1 : 40-45

At that time, a leper came to Jesus and begged Him, “If You want to, You can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I do want to; be clean.”

The leprosy left the man at once and he was made clean. As Jesus sent the man away, He sternly warned him, “Do not tell anyone about this, but go and show yourself to the priest, and for the cleansing bring the offering ordered by Moses; in this way you will give to them your testimony.”

However, as soon as the man went out, he began spreading the news everywhere, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter any town. But even though He stayed in the rural areas, people came to Him from everywhere.

Sunday, 11 February 2018 : Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

1 Corinthians 10 : 31 – 1 Corinthians 11 : 1

Then, whatever you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do it for the glory of God. Give no offence to the Jews, or to the Greeks, or to the Church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything. I do not seek my own interest, but that of many, this is : that they be saved.

Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.

Sunday, 11 February 2018 : Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Psalm 31 : 1-2, 5, 11

Blessed is the one whose sin is forgiven, whose iniquity is wiped away. Blessed are those in whom YHVH sees no guilt and in whose spirit is found no deceit.

Then I made known to You my sin and uncovered before You my fault, saying to myself, “To YHVH I will now confess my wrong.” And You, You forgave my sin; You removed my guilt.

Rejoice in YHVH, and be glad, you who are upright; sing and shout for joy, you who are clean of heart.

Sunday, 11 February 2018 : Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Leviticus 13 : 1-2, 44-46

YHVH said to Moses and Aaron, “If someone has a boil, an inflammation or a sore on his skin which could develop into leprosy, he must be brought to Aaron the priest, or to one of the priests, his descendants.”

“This means that the man is leprous : he is unclean. The priest shall declare him unclean; he is suffering from leprosy of the head. A person infected with leprosy must wear torn clothing and leave his hair uncombed; he must cover his upper lip and cry, ‘Unclean, unclean.’”

“As long as the disease lasts he must be unclean; and therefore, he must live away from others : he must live outside the camp.”

Monday, 1 January 2018 : Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, Theotokos, World Day of Prayer for Peace (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day, the very first day of the new year, we always celebrate together with the entire Universal Church, the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. On this day we celebrate together for Mary, the holy woman whom God has appointed to become the Mother of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, and today’s celebration is very closely linked to a core tenet of our faith, and it was very significant in the development and history of the Church.

As Christians, all of us believe that Jesus Christ, the Messiah or Saviour of the world, is not just mere Man, but is also God Incarnate, united in the person of Jesus. We believe that He is the Son of Man, precisely because He was born of a woman, as do any other men or women. He was born of Mary in Bethlehem, and thus He was a member of humanity, and He did really exist in the flesh, able to experience human sufferings and emotions as hunger, sorrow, and were able to be tempted by the devil, and eventually, suffered pain and anguish, leading up to His death on the cross.

All of these would not have been possible should Jesus Our Lord is only a Divine being, and not Man. That is why there are many of those who cannot comprehend what the Church and our faith teach about the nature of Our Lord and Saviour, as both God and Man at the same time. That also lead them to the lack of faith and belief in the crucifixion of Christ, for if Jesus Christ is merely God and not Man, He could not have suffered or died. God could not have died, for He is omnipotent and omnipresent.

That is why we believe that He is truly a Man, for He was born of Mary, walked in this world, and experienced all the things that we mankind have also experienced, all the challenges and sufferings in life, except for the complete absence of sin, for Jesus is the perfect Man, the New Adam, through Whom God wanted to save us all from our sins. And He is also God, because no Man could have saved us mankind from our sins, and only God can forgive us from our sins. But then, why is it that today’s celebration is actually so important for our faith and for the Church?

That was because, there were so many different opinions and schools of thought in the Church during its early centuries, as well as private interpretations by several groups and charismatic priests and leaders that ended up causing divisions and serious disagreements within the Church at the time, especially the one concerning the nature of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, His nature and truth, His identity and reality, on whether He was just merely Man, or whether He was just God, or whether He was both Man and God, but again some were later divided on whether this humanity and divinity were separate or mixed together and indistinguishable.

And on the very first Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, the heresy of Arianism was condemned officially by the Church. This heresy, based on the teaching of the popular priest Arian, taught that while Jesus is the Son of God, but He is not equal to God the Father because He was created by the Father and not existing with Him from before the beginning of time. This heresy was officially condemned, and the Church stood by the truth that Jesus is the Son of God, and as the Divine Word incarnate, He is equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the Holy Trinity.

Then dispute quickly arose again regarding the nature of His divinity and humanity. While as we discussed just earlier, that Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour is both equally Man and God, but at that time, people disagree on whether the person Jesus Christ we see in the Gospels is just a Man, and distinct and separate from the divinity of the Son of God, a position which was championed by another heretic, Nestorius, or whether Jesus Christ is both Man and God, united in the person of Jesus.

This is the very reason for the Church to officially declare Mary as the Mother of God, or in Greek, Theotokos, as the one who bore God into the world, as His mother. The supporters of Nestorius preferred to call Mary as Christotokos, or the one who bears Christ. And they preferred this title because it suited their false theology separating the divinity from the humanity of Christ, by saying that Mary is merely just the mother of the human Jesus and not the divine Son of God.

We may think that such a squabble and conflict was unnecessary and meaningless, but in reality, it is very important, as if the wrong teachings about the nature of Mary as the Mother of God managed to triumph over the truth, it would definitely also affect the truth and the teaching about the nature of Our Lord and Saviour as well. Those who denied that Mary is the Mother of God naturally also denied the fact and truth that Jesus Christ Our Lord is God and Divine.

In the end, those who defended the truth triumphed, and until today, the Church preserved the truth, and now we celebrate this very important feast day, on the very first day of the year based on the ancient tradition that the first day of the month of January is dedicated to honour the motherhood of Mary. She is indeed the mother who gave birth to Jesus the Messiah, and because Jesus is both God and Man, having human and divine natures united in the person of Jesus, Mary is therefore also the mother of God.

And that is exactly why we honour Mary such as we exalt her above all that of the other saints. Yet, we also do not worship her as if she is a divinity. After all, even though she was conceived without sin by God’s will in order to be a worthy and perfect vessel for His Son, but she is still a human being just like us. Yet, she is the perfect role model for each and every one of us, as she obeyed the Lord faithfully and followed His commandments, surrendering herself completely to His designs and plans.

While our first ancestors Adam and Eve said no to the Lord by their disobedience, and even though many of us mankind refused to listen to Him and preferred to go on our own way and follow our own desires and designs, but Mary said yes to the Lord when He revealed to her the divine plan of salvation through the Archangel Gabriel. She lived righteously and devoted herself entirely to love her Son Jesus.

Thus again, we honour her such, because of her extraordinary faith, on top of her motherhood of God. And we are all indeed very fortunate to have this greatest among all saints and intercessors, who is constantly praying for our sake and interceding for us, as she is indeed the closest one to her Son, Our God, at the side of His heavenly throne and glory. And just like at the wedding of Cana, when Jesus listened to His mother, even though He was reluctant to perform a miracle there, He performed it because He also listened to His mother’s petition on behalf of the wedding couple in distress.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, as we begin a new year, which will be filled with its own unique challenges and opportunities, let us all seek to imitate the examples of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, in her faith and commitment to God. Let us all strive to become like her in our own respective lives. We have to be thankful that God has given her to us, as a great gift. When she was entrusted by her Son from the cross to St. John, He also entrusted us to her. We are her adopted children as well.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore, let us all pray that we may always live faithfully from now on, inspired by the faith of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, and we remember always this important tenet of our faith, and keep it faithfully with us, so that we may not fall into the temptation of false teachings which had so much divided the Church and our faith in the past.

Let us all ask Mary, the mother of God for her constant intercession, that she will continue to watch over us, her beloved children, that all of us will be able to eventually find our way towards the Lord, our loving God, her Son. Let us all draw closer to God, through Mary, through whom we can find the best and straightest path to His salvation and grace. God bless us all. Amen.

Monday, 1 January 2018 : Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, Theotokos, 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.