Monday, 21 September 2020 : Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate the feast of the great Apostle, St. Matthew, who was one of the Twelve Apostles and also one of the four Evangelists or the writers of the Four Gospels. St. Matthew was originally known as Levi, one of the tax collectors who responded to the Lord’s call, left behind everything in order to follow Him. And thus, St. Matthew came to be, a faithful disciple of the Lord and a great evangeliser by words and by his writings.

The story of St. Matthew is truly an inspiration and hope for each and every one of us, a kind reminder from the Lord that there is no one beyond the reach of God’s mercy and love, and there is no sin great enough that cannot be forgiven by God. When someone is condemned for his or her sins, that is because that person has consciously rejected God’s love and mercy, and chose to remain in sin rather than to walk in the path of God’s Light.

At the time of Jesus’ life and ministry, the tax collectors were seen very negatively by many segments of the community, particularly by the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. First of all, the tax collectors were seen as collaborators to the Romans who then had become the overlords of the lands of Judea, Galilee and other lands where the Jews lived in. They were even considered as traitors to the nation because they were deemed to have ‘sold off’ their fellow countrymen by their line of work.

But all these were mistaken perception and generalisation of all the tax collectors, who the Pharisees particularly despised, as the Pharisees looked highly on themselves as the pious guardians of the people’s faith and the Law, and to them, the tax collectors, prostitutes and also those who were unclean and possessed were the worst of the worst, sinful and unworthy of God’s love, and were to be shunned and rejected.

The Lord Jesus therefore did the unthinkable, and what the Pharisees and teachers of the Law must have been surprised with, as He spent time with those who had been mentioned earlier as the sinful and unclean, and in this case, even called one of those tax collectors to be His disciple and even become one of the Twelve Apostles. Some others like St. Mary Magdalene might have had dubious and less than ideal background as well, as in some traditions, she was once a prostitute who then repented and followed the Lord.

Levi, the tax collector whom the Lord called, chose to leave everything he had, his profession and income, his livelihood and others, and followed the Lord wholeheartedly from the moment when he was called. Levi also invited the Lord to have a dinner with him and his fellow tax collectors, and by doing so, in fact, he had done his first act of evangelisation, calling on all the other tax collectors, and introducing the Lord to them all.

The Pharisees were quick to strike at the Lord for His actions, how He approached and even had a meal at the house of those ‘unclean’ and sinful tax collectors. At that time, even going to the house of sinners could make one ‘unclean’, and for the Lord to go to the house of such sinner, was truly unprecedented. But as the Pharisees were busy criticising Him and His actions, the Lord immediately rebuked them and their elitist attitude, revealing to us all just how God loves every one of His children without discrimination.

What does this mean, brothers and sisters? It means that the Lord never wants to lose any one of us, and to Him, each and every one of us are equally important, from the greatest man to the humblest and lowliest in stature and in standing, all are equal before Him, equally beloved and equally shown mercy and forgiveness. Even the worst of sinners, should they repent sincerely with all their heart and with all of their strength, they will be forgiven all their sins.

This is why the saying by St. Augustine of Hippo is true, that ‘there is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.’ signifying how all of us, first of all are sinners before God, and every one of us have sinned and failed God by disobedience, but God’s generous mercy will rid us of those sins should we respond to His call for repentance, and that we commit ourselves to be forgiven from those sins. This is the future that was mentioned by St. Augustine, himself was a great sinner, who found God and was converted, and became a great servant of God and saint.

Levi experienced the same conversion, as did many other saints, and for Levi, later known as Matthew, he dedicated himself to the service of God, first of all for his efforts in compiling and writing down the accounts of the ministry of the Lord and His revelations of truth, in the Gospel named after himself, the Gospel according to St. Matthew. Through this Gospel, many countless souls throughout the history of the Church had discovered God, known about His love and mercy, and were converted to the faith.

And not just that, as St. Matthew also ministered among the Jewish people in Judea, preaching the Word of God and His Good News to them, as was also evident in how his Gospel were also written primarily being addressed to the Jewish people. This showed that St. Matthew had taken it upon himself to evangelise the truth about Christ among the Jews and to call more of the Lord’s first chosen people to follow Him into the fullness of truth in the Christian faith.

St. Matthew also evangelised in distant lands, preaching the Good News to many people, and it was told that he went to Ethiopia, who had by then began to receive the Christian faith and had growing communities of the faithful. St. Matthew, according to one tradition, was martyred after he rebuked the local king who lusted and desired for her own niece, while the latter had also dedicated herself to a holy virginity dedicated to God. It was told that St. Matthew was martyred while celebrating the Holy Mass on the Altar.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we see how God’s power of love and forgiveness are so great and wonderful. Sinners He has called and transformed into great saints, those who have impacted the lives of many among the faithful. And this therefore gives us the hope that all of us shall also share in the same joy, as long as we are faithful and embrace God’s mercy, repenting sincerely from our past sins and waywardness.

Let us all therefore follow the examples of St. Matthew, St. Augustine and all the other holy men and women of God, transforming our lives into ones that bring glory to God, through our daily actions and deeds. Let us all turn towards God’s mercy and love, and seek to be forgiven from all of our unfaithfulness, our wickedness and waywardness, our sins and shortcomings that had prevented us from finding our way to the Lord all these while.

May the Lord help us and guide us in our journey of faith, and may He guide us into His everlasting kingdom, and help us that we may grow ever stronger in faith, not to be swayed by greed and pride, and also showing the same concern and love that He has showed us, in how we interact with each other, with our fellow Christian brothers and sisters. May St. Matthew also intercede for us and inspire us to be courageous witnesses of our faith in our respective communities, that more and more may come to believe in God, by witnessing our own dedication and authentic living of our faith. Amen.

Monday, 21 September 2020 : Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Matthew 9 : 9-13

At that time, as Jesus moved on from the place where He cured a paralytic man, He saw a man named Matthew, at his seat in the custom house; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And Matthew got up and followed Him.

Now it happened, while Jesus was at table in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners joined Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is it, that your Master eats with sinners and tax collectors?”

When Jesus heard this, He said, “Healthy people do not need a doctor, but sick people do. Go, and find out what this means : What I want is mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Monday, 21 September 2020 : Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 18 : 2-3, 4-5

The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament proclaims the work of His hands. Day talks it over with day; night hands on the knowledge to night.

No speech, no words, no voice is heard – but the call goes on throughout the universe, the message is felt to the ends of the earth.

Monday, 21 September 2020 : Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Ephesians 4 : 1-7, 11-13

Therefore, I, the prisoner of Christ, invite you, to live the vocation you have received. Be humble, kind, patient and bear with one another in love. Make every effort to keep among you, the unity of spirit, through bonds of peace. Let there be one body, and one Spirit, just as one hope is the goal of your calling by God. One Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God, the Father of all, Who is above all, and works through all, and is in all.

But to each of us, divine grace is given, according to the measure of Christ’s gift. As for His gifts, to some, He gave to be Apostles; to others, prophets, or even evangelists; or pastors and teachers. So, He prepared those who belong to Him, for the ministry, in order to build up the Body of Christ, until we are all united, in the same faith and knowledge of the Son of God. Thus, we shall become the perfect Man, upon reaching maturity, and sharing the fullness of Christ.

Monday, 14 September 2020 : Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate the great Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross or also known as the Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross. This day marks the glorious and joyful moment when the True Cross of Jesus Christ, the very wooden cross on which our Lord and Saviour had been hung on, was discovered by St. Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great, who was also the first Christian Roman Emperor.

St. Helena was a devout Christian woman whose love and devotion for both of her husband and son, the future Emperor Constantine probably helped the then young Emperor to eventually become a Christian, as a good influence always being present and well-respected by her son. St. Helena, although the Empress Mother of the Romans, she remained humble and devout, charitable and dedicated to the cause of the Lord.

To this end she embarked on a mission to the Holy Land, to discover the instruments of the Lord’s Passion, most especially the Cross of Our Saviour itself, and which she managed to discover in Jerusalem. There were three crosses in that place just as there were three crucified on that fateful day, the Lord and two convicted criminals sentenced to death. And in order to find out which one was the Cross of the Lord, St. Helena touched the Cross to a very sick person. And the one that instantly and miraculously healed the dying person is the True Cross of Christ.

That was the root and origins of this celebration of the Exaltation or Triumph of the Holy Cross, celebrating the rediscovery of the True Cross, and even more significantly, is the timing of its happening. The True Cross was rediscovered just not long after the Christian faith itself has finally gained a reprieve from centuries of persecutions and trials, in the Edict of Milan, the very first edict of toleration of their faith, jointly declared by the aforementioned Emperor Constantine the Great.

The Church and many among the faithful who had borne a lot of martyrs through the constant and at times, terrible persecutions, had finally triumphed, and this began with the memorable Battle of Milvian Bridge, which likely inspired Emperor Constantine the Great to adopt the Christian faith later on in his life. At that battle, the Emperor, outnumbered by his rival and enemy, saw a great vision from God, in which either he saw a cross, or the symbol of the Chi-Ro, the symbolic representation of Jesus Christ, the Greek letters Chi and Ro that are the short form of the Name of the Lord.

As the Emperor Constantine saw the vision, accompanying the image of the cross or the Chi-Ro is the words, ‘In hoc signo vinces’ which means, ‘By this sign, you shall conquer’. The Emperor went on to be triumphant against his enemies, and eventually also won against all those that persecuted the Christian faithful and communities. And this also marked a new beginning for the Church and the faithful alike, as persecution gave way for favour and acceptance, and eventually wide adoption of Christianity but most of the Roman Empire and beyond.

And more profoundly, the triumph of the Cross is not just limited to the triumph of the faith against persecutions and trials, but even more importantly so, as our Scripture passages today indicated to us, that the exaltation and triumph of the Holy Cross refers to the triumph it brings us against the forces of evil and darkness. For it was through the Cross that our Lord has triumphed against Satan and all of his malice and evil, and showed us all His salvation.

The cross has always been, up to the time of Christ, associated with defeat, shame and humiliation. For the cross is not just used to punish any criminals, but reserved by the Romans to punish the worst of criminals, those considered as traitors and worst of all criminals in the nation. The use of the cross is the most humiliating and painful method of punishment, and not only that the victim is exposed and bared before all, without a shred of dignity left, but for the Lord’s case, in which He was nailed to the cross, it was even more painful.

That is because vast majority of crucifixions in fact did not involve the use of nails, and the criminals were just left hanging on the cross for even days on end. The use of the nails were reserved to those who were considered the worst of the worst, and thus, our Lord truly suffered a most excruciating and terrible death on the cross. But through His suffering and death, the Lord transformed this once shameful and humiliating symbol, into a symbol of victory and hope, and into the genuine manifestation and proof of God’s ever enduring love for us.

In the first reading today, we heard the occasion when the sins of the people of Israel as they travelled from the land of Egypt into their Promised Land, caused many of them to perish from the fiery serpents that came into their midst. When they rebelled against God and refused to listen to Him, grumbled and complained, and even threatened God’s servant, Moses, they sinned against Him. And those fiery serpents represent the punishments that are due for those sins.

And it is a reminder that the ‘sting’ of sin is death, according to St. Paul, who called death as the ‘sting’ of sin. For sin is the product of disobedience against God, and because of that sin, we are made corrupt and unworthy of God’s grace and love. Sin separates us from God, and separated from God, we have no life in us. When we consciously chose to sin and disobey God, then we may end up being judged and damned for those sins.

But that is not the end, brothers and sisters in Christ, for in the same passage, we heard of the love of God, which remained for us unchanged, and when Moses pleaded for the sake of the people for mercy and when they had regretted the errors of their ways, God asked Moses to craft a bronze serpent on a tall staff, and through that, all those who were bitten by the serpents and were dying, lived on if they saw the bronze serpent.

This is referred to by Christ Himself when He spoke with the Pharisee, Nicodemus, on the night when Nicodemus, secretly a believer of Jesus, asked Him about God’s truth and plans for mankind. The Lord told him how the Son of Man, referring to Himself, would be lifted up high for all to see, just as the bronze serpent of Moses was lifted up for the Israelites as the symbol of hope and salvation, and those who put their trust in Him would live just as their ancestors who saw the bronze serpent did not die or perish.

Thus, as Christ has been lifted up high on the cross, He gathered to Himself all the sins of the world, bearing those burden for us, being humiliated and punished for us, just as the bronze serpent is a reminder of how deadly those serpents had been in killing so many among the Israelites from their sins. When we look at the crucifix, the Cross of Christ, what do we see, brothers and sisters? We are looking at a very important reminder that we are sinners, wicked and unworthy for God because of our disobedience.

And yet, Our Lord and Saviour came to us, calling us to His salvation with love, taking up upon Himself the multitudes of our sins and faults, and humbling Himself unto suffering and death, He changed that Cross by His ultimate, selfless loving sacrifice into the ultimate symbol of triumph and victory, from what was once a symbol of humiliation, defeat and destruction. He broke the power of sin and death by His own death and resurrection, proving that neither sin nor death can overcome us.

The Cross is the sign of triumph, and more than just the triumph that the Emperor Constantine gained, or the triumph that Christians gained over those who persecuted them, because in the end, far more importantly, the Cross brings us triumphant against sin, and leads us into the final victory, that by the power of the Cross, we are no longer bound and enslaved by sin, and have been freed from the tyranny of death.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we rejoice in the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, let us all remind ourselves of the great love of God by which He has loved us, done everything so much for us even up to the extent of sacrificing Himself for our sake, that we are no longer burdened by sin, and no longer bound by it, but free and triumphant, because of His Cross and the wounds that He had endured and bore for us.

Let us all glory in the Cross of Christ, praise the Lord for His ever amazing love and dedication to us. And let us therefore dedicate ourselves, our time and effort, our attention and our whole being to love God, to follow Him, and to be faithful at all times, bearing the Cross of Christ with pride and joy, and knowing that we have been saved through the Cross, proclaim God’s Good News and salvation that more and more can be saved. Amen.

Monday, 14 September 2020 : Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

John 3 : 13-17

At that time, Jesus said to Nicodemus, “No one has ever gone up to heaven except the One Who came from heaven, the Son of Man. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”

“Yes, God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him may not be lost, but may have eternal life. God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world; instead, through Him the world is to be saved.”

Monday, 14 September 2020 : Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 77 : 1-2, 34-35, 36-37, 38

Give heed, o My people, to My teaching; listen to the words of My mouth! I will speak in parables; I will talk of old mysteries.

When He slew them, they repented and sought Him earnestly. They remembered that God was their Rock, the Most High, their Redeemer.

But they flattered Him with their mouths; they lied to Him with their tongues, while their hearts were unfaithful; they were untrue to His Covenant.

Even then, in His compassion, He forgave their offences and did not destroy them. Many a time He restrained His anger, and did not fully stir up His wrath.

Monday, 14 September 2020 : Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Numbers 21 : 4b-9

The people were discouraged by the journey and began to complain against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is neither bread nor water here and we are disgusted with this tasteless manna.”

YHVH then sent fiery serpents against them. They bit the people and many of the Israelites died. Then the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, speaking against YHVH and against you. Plead with YHVH to take the serpents away.”

Moses pleaded for the people and YHVH said to him, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a standard; whoever has been bitten and then looks at it shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a standard. Whenever a man was bitten, he looked towards the bronze serpent and he lived.

Alternative reading

Philippians 2 : 6-11

Though He was in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking on the nature of a servant, made in human likeness, and in His appearance found as a Man.

He humbled Himself by being obedient to death, death on the cross. That is why God exalted Him and gave Him the Name which outshines all names, so that at the Name of Jesus all knees should bend in heaven, on earth and among the dead, and all tongues proclaim that Christ Jesus is the Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Monday, 7 September 2020 : 23rd Week of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today each and every one of us are called to reflect on the words of the Scripture in which we are reminded to get rid from ourselves the corruption of sin and evil, to purify ourselves and to embrace the righteousness of God in our lives, to sin no more and to be faithful at all times, following what the Lord had taught and commanded us to do, through His Church and from the examples He has shown us.

In our first reading today, we heard the words of St. Paul the Apostle in his Epistle to the Church and the faithful in Corinth, chastising the faithful for the immorality and corrupt behaviour among some of them, for practicing immoral actions that at the time could have even been abhorred by the pagans, with actions like taking one’s own stepmother as a spouse among other things. All of those were incompatible to the Christian faith, and St. Paul strongly reminded all of them to that extent.

St. Paul symbolically told the faithful using the examples of yeast and dough to make a good explanation to them, to make them understand how they cannot let themselves to be corrupted by the wickedness and sins all around them, and how, compared to yeast and the dough, that even the slightest amount of yeast will cause the dough to rise. This is linked to the use of unleavened bread for worship and for important celebrations, in which case, yeast is an undesirable matter.

That is why, in this case, the immorality, wickedness and sins of the people were likened to yeasts that would ruin the purity of the unleavened bread. And it was exactly because of this that St. Paul exhorted all the faithful to keep themselves free from the corruption of those sins and evils. This is because if we allow these to affect us and corrupt us, then it will lead us astray down the wrong path, as shown in one example in the Gospel passage today.

We heard in our Gospel passage of the rather heated confrontation between the Lord Jesus and the members of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who was in the synagogue and in fact having wicked thoughts in their minds. They purposefully went to see if the Lord would perform the healing miracle on a paralytic man who was there, and if He were to perform such a miracle, then they could accuse Him of disobedience against the Law and even blasphemy.

We can clearly hear and feel the frustration and disbelief in the Lord’s voice as He addressed those who were opposed to Him and His works, those who would mislead the oppress and suppress the truth and the good works of the faithful, just for the sake of their own selfish desires and wants, in sustaining their ego and their pride, their ambition and worldly attachments to power and influence in the community.

They imposed plenty of restrictions, rules and regulations on the people, imposing very strict interpretation of the Law which focused on the externals and appearances, which included that of the Sabbath laws. But as the Lord pointed out, their stubbornness and opposition to His works were without sound base, both logically and theologically, when understood with the eyes of faith and reason.

He said how it is folly to think of outlawing all things on the Sabbath, even for those things that bring about good and life, in saving others and in the preservation of life. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were blinded by their attachments and attention to details, to the excessive focus on the literal understanding of the Law without understanding its true intention, that is for us mankind to rediscover our love for God, to give us the opportunity to reserve a sacred time for the Lord, but one that certainly does not ignore the need to care for our own good as well.

That was why the Lord healed the man with the paralysed hand, to show His truth and His real intentions, the real intentions of His Law that is not to burden or oppress His people without good reason but rather, to bring them closer to Him and to His love, that they may follow Him faithfully and understand His ways, not by blind obedience or by following their own twisted agenda and misguided ways.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today all of us as Christians we are all called to turn away from sin, reject the temptations of pride and ego, of greed and human desires in our lives, that we must not allow all these to take root in our lives, or else we will end up like the many among Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, and those who have not lived their lives with genuine faith and devotion to God.

Let us all reflect on what the Lord has clearly laid before us, and which His Apostle, St. Paul had told us to think about, of the necessity for each and every one of us to love God with all of our strength and with all of our hearts, to trust in Him completely that we will not end up being tempted by the many persuasions or traps of the evil one trying to lead us to our downfall. Therefore, let us all live our lives faithfully from now on, as we grow ever stronger in our Christian faith, and devote ourselves day by day in God’s loving grace. May God bless us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

Monday, 7 September 2020 : 23rd Week of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Luke 6 : 6-11

At that time, on another Sabbath, Jesus entered the synagogue and began teaching. There was a man with a paralysed right hand, and the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees watched Him : Would Jesus heal the man on the Sabbath? If He did, they could accuse Him.

But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to the man, “Get up, and stand in the middle.” Then He spoke to them, “I want to ask you : what is allowed by the Law on the Sabbath? To do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” And Jesus looked around at them all.

Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored, becoming as healthy as the other. But they were furious, and began to discuss with one another how they could deal with Jesus.