Tuesday, 14 August 2018 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s Scripture readings the Lord spoke to the prophet Ezekiel in our first reading, giving him a scroll containing His words to the people, and asking him to eat the scroll, tasting sweet as honey and then commanding him to go forth and tell His words, as well as His will to the people of Israel. Thus, Ezekiel went on and preached God’s words to His people in exile in Babylon.

And this is related to what we heard in today’s Gospel reading, taken from Gospel according to St. Matthew. The Lord Jesus spoke to His disciples when they were likely bickering among themselves about who would be greater than the other, and who was the greatest in the eyes of the Lord. This was not mentioned specifically in today’s Gospel, but a similar, likely to be the same event, was mentioned in greater detail in another Gospel account.

The Lord rebuked them all by bringing a child to Himself and saying to them, that unless they had faith like that of a child, they would have no part in Him and would not be worthy of Him. What He meant was that, as a child who came to Him and believed in Him, the faith that the child has was purer and greater than that of the disciples, who bickered and fought among themselves for influence and worldly power.

All of us who have seen a child before and observed how they behaved can witness how their innocence is pure and how they are still very impressionable and mouldable. If they come to believe in something at that age, they believe wholeheartedly and without reservation, unlike those who are of the older ages. Once we reach a certain age, our minds and thinking begin to be influenced by many factors and considerations in life, ever present in this world.

And therefore, what is the significance of today’s Scripture readings, brothers and sisters in Christ? First of all, as Christians, all of us must be pure in our faith and in our desire to love God. We must follow what the Lord had said, that each one of those who follow Him must have faith like that of a child, and that means, our faith must be truly something that is genuine and sincere, coming from our heart, desiring to be with God and to love Him at all times.

We should not have a kind of conditional love towards God, loving Him just because we want power, convenience, prestige, and all the things many of us often desire in life. All of these are in fact obstacles for us in our journey of faith towards God, and are hindrances that prevent us from truly being able to follow God’s will in our daily lives. We must be sincere and true in our commitment to God, at all times.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, then, secondly, today’s Scripture readings also pointed out our obligations as Christians, to be good guides to one another in the matter of faith. In the first reading, God told the prophet Ezekiel to go to the exiled people of Israel in Babylon, to speak to them all that He would speak to them through him, and he obeyed despite the challenges he had to encounter.

And in the Gospel passage, the Lord Jesus warned the disciples sternly that they should not misguide the young ones in faith, and this shows that all of us have the responsibility to keep one another in good faith in the Lord, and to live our lives with good adherence to our faith, so that in everything we say and do, we will not create any scandal or things that lead others to lose their faith and belief in God.

Instead, we must do what we can, to be exemplary in faith and in life, and to devote ourselves in all that we do, that we may keep one another in good faith, and bring even more souls to God’s love and saving grace. This is our responsibility and duty as Christians towards our fellow brethren. And perhaps we should follow the examples shown by the renowned saint, St. Maximilian Kolbe, whose feast day we celebrate today.

St. Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish Franciscan friar, priest and missionary, who spent years in mission in Japan and other places, preaching the faith and being actively involved in evangelising works through the Militia Immaculatae organisation, before returning to Poland during the time just before the Second World War due to his poor health.

Despite his partial German ancestry and ability to claim privilege as a German during the time of the occupation of Poland by NAZI Germany, St. Maximilian Kolbe refused to do so, and continued doing his evangelising works until he was arrested and his printing and publishing house in the monastery was forced to close down together with the monastery itself. St. Maximilian Kolbe was imprisoned and eventually brought to the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp.

In Auschwitz, St. Maximilian Kolbe continued to minister to the people who were suffering grievously, lifting up their spirits by his inspirational sermons and by his continued celebration of the Holy Mass. And when some people ran away from the camp and the prison guards selected some men to be killed as a punishment, St. Maximilian Kolbe volunteered to take the place of one of the men who exclaimed with fear as he had wife and children.

Thus, St. Maximilian Kolbe gave his life in exchange for another, and the man was spared from death. St. Maximilian Kolbe willingly embraced death, knowing that by doing so he had given a new hope to the man who was so concerned that he would never see his loved ones again. St. Maximilian Kolbe was thus a holy martyr of the faith and the Church, died defending his faith to the very end against the wicked and unjust ways of the world.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, St. Maximilian Kolbe has indeed acted with such great love, that he has imitated the love which Christ has for us so well, sparing nothing for the sake of the loved ones, even with the price of one’s own life. Now, are we able to follow in the footsteps of these holy martyrs and followers of God? Let us all therefore be good guides of faith for one another, by imitating the love that Christ has for us, and which St. Maximilian Kolbe has shown, that we may be ever more committed to live our lives with faith and devotion to God.

Let us all show good examples for our fellow brethren in faith, and help each other to find our way to the Lord, having faith pure as children’s faith, and placing the Lord as the very centre and heart of our daily lives and activities. May God bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Matthew 18 : 1-5, 10, 12-14

At that time, the disciples came to Jesus and asked Him, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Then Jesus called a little child, set the child in the midst of the disciples, and said, “I assure you, that, unless you change, and become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble, like this child, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and whoever receives such a child, in My Name, receives Me.”

“See that you do not despise any of these little ones; for I tell you, their Angels in heaven continually see the face of My heavenly Father. What do you think of this? If someone has a hundred sheep and one of them strays, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hillside, and go to look for the stray one? And I tell you, when he finally finds it, he is more pleased about it, than about the ninety-nine that did not go astray.”

“It is the same with your Father in heaven. Your Father in heaven does not want even one of these little ones to perish.”

Tuesday, 14 August 2018 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 118 : 14, 24, 72, 103, 111, 131

I delight in following Your laws, more so than in all riches.

Your laws are my delight, my counsellors who uphold me.

Your law is more precious to me than heaps of silver and gold.

How sweet are Your promises to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Your statutes are my heritage forever, they are the joy of my heart.

I gasp in ardent yearning for Your commandments that I love.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Ezekiel 2 : 8 – Ezekiel 3 : 4

God said to Ezekiel, “Listen then, son of man, to what I say, and do not be a rebel among rebels. Open your mouth and take in what I am about to say.”

I looked and saw a hand stretched out in front of me holding a scroll. He unrolled it before me; on both sides were written lamentations, groaning and woes. He said to me, “Son of man, eat what is given to you. Eat this scroll and then go; speak to the people of Israel.”

I opened my mouth and He made me eat the scroll; and then He said to me, “Eat and fill yourself with this scroll that I am giving you.” I ate it; and it tasted as sweet as honey. He said, “Son of man, go to the Israelites; speak to them with My words.”

Saturday, 3 December 2016 : Feast of St. Francis Xavier, Priest and Patron of Missions (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we commemorate together the feast of St. Francis Xavier, a renowned Jesuit priest and missionary, whose hard work in evangelisation throughout especially South, Southeast and East Asia had led to the foundation of the roots of the Church in the many countries existing there today, where many millions upon millions of the faithful now live, a growing and thriving Church.

And for what he had done, he was named as the Patron of Missions, as the patron saints for all missionaries and their mission areas, for his pioneering work and dedication in establishing many of the buds of the faith in those far flung areas. And he did not have it easy, because such a task at that time was indeed very monumental and challenging to be done.

First of all, St. Francis Xavier lived during a time of great difficulties in the Church, a time of turmoil, both within and outside the Church, where conflicts and wars were rampant. At that time, from outside, the Turks who reigned in the Ottoman Empire were resurgent and powerful, seizing lands after lands from Christendom, putting many of the faithful under the rule of these pagans. As a result, great suffering occurred and also a great fear arose to threaten the Church, as then, there was a real threat that the Ottoman Turks would be able to overcome all of Christendom.

And at the same time, from within, there were divisions among the faithful, where false prophets and heretical teachings arose in the population, heresies such as Hussites and later on, during the time of St. Francis Xavier, the heresy known as the Protestant ‘reformation’, where many people rebelled against the authority of the Church and established splinter groups on their own, with their own teachings that are deviant and in contradiction with the teachings of Christ through His Church.

And within the Church itself, there was plenty of corruption and immorality, where many of the members of the clergy, even to the higher ranks were corrupt and wicked. They engaged in corrupt practices, demanding money and worldly goods for the absolution of sins, a practice known as indulgence, but which was twisted and corrupted by these irresponsible Church leaders and officials.

Amidst all of these challenges and difficulties facing the Church at that time, St. Francis lived through a time of great change and renewal within the Church, known as the Counter-Reformation, spearheaded by his contemporaries, and which he was also part of, through the Society of Jesus or the Jesuit religious order which was established by St. Ignatius of Loyola. Through their hard work, the Church began to purify itself from all its excesses and corrupt practices, and brought back many to the true faith.

It was told that at first, St. Francis Xavier was reluctant to join the effort, and he had aspirations of worldly glories and achievements. Initially St. Ignatius of Loyola and some other of these saints also had similar condition, where they sought for personal glory and achievement and ignored God’s calling at the beginning. But through persistence and constant guidance, who was said to quote to St. Francis Xavier at one time the saying of Jesus, “What would it benefit a man if he gains the whole world, but lose his own soul.” Eventually, he became convinced and decided to dedicate himself to the Lord.

Henceforth, St. Francis Xavier together with the saints of the Counter-Reformation, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Peter Canisius, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Philip Neri and many others, St. Francis Xavier helped to rejuvenate the faith in many people, and he led the efforts to spread the Good News of God to those areas of the world which have yet to hear it. For at that time was a time of great discovery, the Age of Exploration, where new lands were discovered, and the Christian nations have the opportunity to evangelise to the peoples who have for the past one and a half millennia no chance to listen to the teachings of the faith.

But at that time, travel was not as convenient and easy as it is now. If it is now possible to go from one end of the earth to the other end in a mere day or less, and with relative comfort and little risk, at that time, the only available method of travel was either by land or by sea. The sea route was the faster route, but it was rife with danger, as storms and strong gales could cause the ships to be broken up and sink, and at the fastest, the journey took many months to complete.

Amidst all of these challenges, St. Francis Xavier was one of the first pioneers of the works of evangelisation in that time, bringing the Good News of the Gospel to many countries along the route of his travel, from India to the Malayan Archipelago, to the region of China and the Philippines, and as far as Japan to the furthest part of East Asia.

St. Francis Xavier visited all of these places, sometimes by himself, and sometimes with his fellow brother priests and missionaries, planting the seeds of the faith among the indigenous population, sowing the seeds for the growth of the future Church that would be established in those areas. Some welcomed him openly and willingly, while some others viewed his teachings and the Christian faith with suspect, and still some others outrightly banned the faith and persecuted its followers.

But amidst all these difficult challenges, nevertheless St. Francis Xavier persevered on, visiting many places and countries on his way, preaching to the people wherever he landed on and stopped by on, guiding the priests and missionaries and helping to delegate these faithful servants of God in their mission to bring the salvation of God to these people.

It was told that one time, St. Francis Xavier travelled in a boat with some others, and a great storm occurred, with huge waves that threatened to sink the boat. All of the people in the boat feared for their lives, save for St. Francis Xavier who prayed to the Lord fervently asking for His help. He put a crucifix into the water and the waves and the wind calmed down. But the crucifix was lost as it slipped through his fingers.

When he landed in one of the islands of the Moluccas Islands, it was told that a crab appeared from the water, with a crucifix marked on its back, and holding onto the crucifix which St. Francis Xavier had used earlier on and lost. And St. Francis Xavier thanked God and blessed the crab. This crab does exist and is indeed prevalent in the Malayan Archipelago where St. Francis Xavier once did extensive works.

There are many other miraculous works attributed to St. Francis Xavier, and this is related to what we heard in the Gospel today, that the Lord Jesus said that all those who do His work and bring the Good News to others will perform wondrous works, not necessarily be miracles, but most importantly, as St. Francis Xavier had proved and done, many millions upon millions up to this day have been saved from hell, and many among them were saints and martyrs themselves.

Today, as we all commemorate the feast of this holy and courageous, hardworking and diligent Patron saints of all missionaries and the Mission itself, let us all look again at all the examples which St. Francis Xavier had done, some of which we have discussed earlier on, and then let us ask ourselves, are we able to do what he has done, and contribute to the good works of the Church in preaching the faith to many others?

We may be thinking that in this world today, where all the peoples are easily connected to each other and where travel is so commonplace and easy that everyone would have heard of the Good News, but the reality is that, there are still many people outside the bounds of the Church, either because they rejected the Good News, or were ignorant of the Good News, or received the wrong messages because of false prophets and messengers in our midst.

And within the Church itself, there are many who have slipped away from their faith, because they were lukewarm and also for some, lazy, as they did not live out their faith with zeal, but instead, were what we often call as nominal Christians, those who call themselves as Christians, and they are indeed Christians, but in their actions in life, they do otherwise.

If we look at it, the situation today is pretty much just as how it was five and six centuries ago, at the time of St. Francis Xavier and his fellow saintly contemporaries and martyrs, all the holy missionaries who went through a great deal of suffering and persecution, difficulties and inconveniences to bring the Good News and the truth of God to many people. But because of their dedication, many were saved.

Shall we not then do the same, brethren? Shall we not follow in the footsteps of the Apostles and these saints? Jesus our Lord has given all of His disciples and followers that final command before He left them to ascend into His heavenly glory, that all of us should go to the nations, and preach the Good News to all the peoples, that all may believe in God and give themselves to be baptised in the Lord’s Name. And it is also important that we have people who have that quality in their faith.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what shall we do then? How do we do what the Lord had asked us? We do not have to start from very big things. We can and indeed should begin from ourselves. Live our lives faithfully with real care and mercy for our brethren, showing concern for our neighbours and those who are suffering. Let us all through our actions show one another and all the people of God, that the Lord Jesus calls all to repentance and to turn our hearts towards Him, that in the end, all may be saved through Him.

May God bless us and help us in all of our endeavours. May He strengthen our faith and show our commitment to Him, that like St. Francis Xavier and all the good workers of the faith, missionaries of the Good News, we may continue the works that they have started, and by our works, we may awaken the faith in many people who are in need of God’s salvation. May the Lord be with us all. Amen.

Saturday, 3 December 2016 : Feast of St. Francis Xavier, Priest and Patron of Missions (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White
Mark 16 : 15-20

At that time, Jesus told His disciples, “Go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News to all creation. The one who believes and is baptised will be saved; the one who refuses to believe will be condemned.”

“Signs like these will accompany those who have believed : in My Name they will cast out demons and speak new languages; they will pick up snakes, and if they drink anything poisonous, they will be unharmed; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will be healed.”

So then, after speaking to them, the Lord Jesus was taken up into heaven and took His place at the right hand of God. The Eleven went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.

Saturday, 3 December 2016 : Feast of St. Francis Xavier, Priest and Patron of Missions (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White
Psalm 116 : 1, 2

Alleluia! Praise the Lord, all you nations; all you peoples, praise Him.

How great is His love for us! His faithfulness lasts forever.