Wednesday, 6 August 2014 : Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord (Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate a significant and very important feast day in our Church, that is the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. Today we celebrate the occasion when Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour was glorified on Mount Tabor, when He revealed His glory and the true nature of divinity to His disciples, the one and only time He did so before His death and resurrection.

To the disciples who witnessed it, Peter, James and John, this was truly a moment of brief showcase and foretaste of the glory of God that is to come through Jesus Christ. Yet at that time, they have yet to be able to understand what it means by the Transfiguration, and the significance of the events and the actions which Jesus took with the two great prophets of God.

The two prophets and leaders of God’s people, Moses and Elijah are the preeminent ones among many others, in that they were the chief amongst all others whom God had sent into the world in their respective missions. To Moses, whom God had appointed as the leader and guide for His people Israel, He had imparted the very Laws that He had established with mankind, the Ten Commandments and the accompanying laws and statutes as encoded in the Law of Moses.

Thus, Moses represented the Law, which God had given to mankind to guide them and govern them in their attitudes and behaviour, that they may conform more closely to the way of the Lord. Meanwhile, the prophet Elijah, whom God appointed to prophesy to the people of the northern kingdom of Israel was the greatest among the prophets, and representing the prophesies of God, which promised the people the coming of the salvation in the Messiah.

And why did both of them appear to Jesus at the Mount Tabor on the Transfiguration? That is because Jesus is the perfect fulfillment and completion of the Law and the prophecies of the prophets. He was the fulfillment of all that God had revealed to men as well as all the things unrevealed and hidden from men, perfecting and unveiling the true full meaning of the Law, and the fulfillment of the long awaited prophecies by the prophets of old.

Therefore, the two great servants of God made their appearance in what is likely to be a very significant and symbolic meaning in the history of God’s plan for the salvation of mankind, but it is most likely that they also came to give strength and support for Jesus as He embarked on the final part of His mission on this world, that is towards His suffering and death on the cross in Jerusalem, the Holy city of God.

They were there to affirm Jesus in His mission, to encourage Him and give Him support, as surely all of heaven, all the angels and the holy men and women who had departed the world at the time were all in full awareness of the supreme importance of this singular mission that Jesus Christ was about to undertake for the sake of salvation of all mankind.

Yet, indeed, the Feast of the Transfiguration also reminds all of us of an important fact, that life is not all happy and good, and neither will it be all smooth and easy. And we are bound to have to face up to the challenges in life and the difficulties that are to be part of our lives. We are like the disciples on that mountain. When Peter said to Jesus, for them to build three tents for Himself and the two great servants of God, it showed reluctance to leave all things that are good.

But God made it plain to the disciples, and showing in His majesty, He made them listen to the will of His Son, who told them to come down with Him from the mountain where He showed His glory and majesty. From then on, He walked down that mountain towards the valley of His death, the suffering and rejection in Jerusalem. But the Lord did not fear, and therefore neither should we.

This Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord therefore does not just show us the true nature of our Lord, Saviour and God, Jesus Christ, whom the prophet Daniel in the first reading had described in his vision of the things that was to come and be fulfilled in Jesus. But, as mentioned, this Feast of the Transfiguration also reminds all of us that we too should also walk the same path as Christ, and not to be afraid of facing the difficulties and challenges awaiting us if we walk the path towards God.

May our Lord continue to shine on our path, that we may continue to follow Him, taking up our own crosses, and to suffer the persecution and rejection of this world as He had once done, so that eventually in the end we will receive the crown of everlasting honour and glory, the deserved reward we should receive as part of our heavenly inheritance.

May Almighty God, Transfigured and Revealed in His glory and majesty be aith us, protect us and remain with us forever. Amen.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014 : 14th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine Zhao Rong, Priest and Companions, Martyrs (Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today’s readings from the Holy Scriptures are truly appropriate for the occasion of the day. For today we celebrate the feast of many martyrs of the faith, that is the Chinese martyrs, who died defending their true faith zealously despite persecution and oppression from their own countrymen and authorities who viewed them as their enemies.

The Chinese martyrs are led with St. Augustine Zhao Rong, one of the first Chinese native priests, who was brought up in the faith, together with many others who were converts to the faith, and who zealously defended their faith, even unto the point of death. The Chinese martyrs, or more appropriately termed the martyr saints of China were a large group of holy martyrs, both native Chinese faithful and many missionaries from different countries who committed themselves to the spreading of the Word of God.

However, the situation and the general condition in China during the times when these martyrs lived, that is between the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, and some to the early twentieth century coincided with the reign of the Qing Dynasty in China, which was highly isolationist and suspicious of any threat to its rule, as they themselves were the conquerors of China and were not safe in their reign, beset by numerous rebellions.

Although I try not to go to much into detail about the history of China at the time, but it is very important for us to understand it briefly to know the reason why the faithful were tortured and had to suffer even death. The Chinese civilisation and the many dynasties ruling over the Empire of China had a very long and venerable history, and rich ensemble of achievements, as long as very long history of self-sufficiency and prosperity.

The Chinese people and the Empire in particular sees itself as the centre of the world, and the centre of all civilisations, as the Middle Kingdom, another name that China is well known of, a direct translation of what the Chinese people called their own state, even until today. The other civilisations, states and countries were considered inferior to the Chinese civilisation, and these were often regarded as barbarians.

When the first missionaries brought the faith to China, and in particular when the age of active missionary actions brought the faith to China a few hundred years ago, the faithful were seen with both contempt and suspicion by both the authorities and the people as a whole. The missionaries were valued by the authorities, including the Chinese Emperor, for their skills in science and other aspects of knowledge and learning, but regarding the faith, they were greatly restricted in their actions.

Yet this did not stop many from listening to the word of God, to the word of truth, and casting aside the falsehoods of the world, they chose to follow the Lord and became one of the faithful like us. But because of the prejudice and the hostility with which the others saw these faithful, they suffered greatly under persecution, both secretly and openly. And eventually many died and were killed under various circumstances, especially when the faithful were openly attacked and persecuted against.

St. Augustine Zhao Rong and many of his other companions in sainthood and martyrdom, coming from different era and times, encompassing several centuries, might have had different lives and different experiences of faith, but they all shared the same experience of defending their faith and their soul against damnation, in choosing to keep faithful to the Lord instead of apostasy for the sake of worldly safety and well-being.

Their examples showed us how martyrdom is not something confined to the past, to the times of the Ancient Rome or the Middle Ages, but is something that is real to us and to the faith. Persecution and martyrdom is common, especially in our world today, where intolerance against both our faith and we ourselves, the faithful is constantly on the rise, from various avenues and sources. Persecution and opposition against the faithful is getting more and more common, and even acceptable to the world.

But as we see in the Scripture readings today, the Lord called many to His side, and made them His disciples and Apostles, all with the sole intent of bringing His words and salvation to this world and all of the people living in it. God sent them first to His first chosen people, the direct heir and descendants of Abraham that is the people of Israel. Yet, the first among God’s chosen ones did not respond well, and thereafter, God sent all of His disciples to proclaim His words among all the nations, for the salvation of all peoples.

As rejection and opposition faced the disciples and the Apostles as they ministered with their Lord to the Israelites, the same kind of reception should also indeed be expected for all the servants of the Lord across the entire world, going about to preach the words of salvation and living their faith, just as what happened to saints and martyrs throughout the ages, including St. Augustine Zhao Rong and the others, the martyr saints of China.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all ask the intercession of the holy saints and martyrs of China, of St. Augustine Zhao Rong and his companions, so that they may pray to God to strengthen our own faith, that in our time today, we may always be true to our faith, and live our faith genuinely in full obedience to the Lord, rebuking Satan and all of his false promises and lies.

May the examples of the martyrs help us to live our own faith with zeal and love, for the good of all of us, and for the good of all mankind. May Almighty God bless us all. Amen.

Friday, 6 June 2014 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Norbert, Bishop (Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we heard about the calling and the commissioning of St. Peter the Apostle, when the Lord Jesus talked to him, heart-to-heart on the shore of the Lake of Galilee after His resurrection. He asked Peter three times whether he loved Him more than anything or anyone else, and Peter affirmed his love and faith in Jesus. And Jesus gave him His sheep to care for, as His vicar on earth, which is the position inherited by our Pope today as the successor of St. Peter the Apostle.

For those of us who do not realise the significance of such an action by Jesus in today’s readings, Jesus asked Peter three times for his answer whether he loved Him is exactly because, for the same number of times, Peter had betrayed His Lord by denying Him on that night when Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin, that is the Council of the elders and the chief priests to be condemned to death.

Peter surely knew that the Lord did such when He asked for his love three times, that the Lord knew of His denial, and how he had fallen as a disciple of His, but yet when Jesus asked him and affirmed his love for Himself, Peter had truly been forgiven by the most merciful Lord, and from then on, became the greatest servant of the Lord, leading the flock of Christ as His vicar on earth.

Today we focus on the Lord in His merciful and loving aspect, just as He is caring to all of us. But He also revealed today that to be His followers and servants is definitely not easy, and various challenges will await us if we decide to remain true to His path, as St. Peter himself had been told and what truly happened to him at the end of his life, as well as what had happened to St. Paul, who had to endure prison and incarcerations after incarcerations.

Jesus told Peter himself how he would die at the hands of the godless, and those who refused to listen to the truth of Christ. This was in fact the same fate that awaits all those who went on to preach the Good News, including the other Apostles and disciples of Christ, and St. Paul himself. They all met their deaths in various ways, but nevertheless, through their death, they brought glory to God, and through them more and more people came to know of the Lord and be saved.

All of these bring about the reality about our faith. For too long we have indeed been complacent in our faith, and we often take a laid-back attitude about it, pretending that we have easy and blissful life all the time in this world. On the other extreme is also that we are afraid to seek the Lord and ask for His forgiveness whenever we have committed sins in our respective lives. We therefore become isolated and do not receive the Lord’s forgiveness and instead we fall into even greater darkness, committing even greater evils.

We have to realise, brothers and sisters in Christ, as today’s Scripture readings had highlighted it to us, that we have to accept the realities it presented to us, that first, God is loving and merciful, for to those who have the will and desire to love God, He will grant them pardon and rich blessings. And secondly, that His way is different from the ways of the world, and this is why, suffering and persecution will be a part of the lives of those who keep their faith in God.

But God is always with us, and He will guide us, if we remain faithful, and that He assured the disciples and the Apostles, and rich indeed would be their reward for keeping the faith in heaven. And today, brethren, we also commemorate yet another faithful servant of God, that is St. Norbert, a bishop of Germany, who lived during the middle of the Medieval era Europe, and was also known as St. Norbert of Xanten, for he was born in that city.

St. Norbert led a very holy and religious life, and a life of simplicity and humility, especially after an incident which almost took his life, which he attributed to divine protection, and ever since, he deepened further his spirituality and dedication to the Lord. He established and strengthened religious orders and helped to spread the teachings of the faith to many people, and gained great following in the process.

He was a great reformer of the Church and the faith, adamant and strong in his principles in reforming the Church for the better, especially after he was appointed as the Archbishop of Magdeburg, an important position in the Church. And in conducting and pushing forward with his reforms, he made many enemies, many of whom sent assassins after him. Nevertheless those attempts failed, and St. Norbert continued to carry out his good deeds and works until his passing from this world.

We have to realise, brethren, that we have many graces awaiting us if we allow God to come to us, and do not close ourselves to the loving hands of the Lord, which He extends freely to us, offering us forgiveness and everlasting love. May St. Norbert intercede for us, that we may be brought ever closer to reconciliation with our God, and receive great blessings in our lives. Let us also face the challenges and opposition in life with joy and happiness, knowing that God is always with us, His beloved children. God bless us all. Amen.

Thursday, 22 May 2014 : 5th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Rita of Cascia, Religious (Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the love of God is eternal, and it is non-discriminatory, for God loves all, without looking at whether we are this or that certain race or upbringing or background. He knows all of the things inside our hearts and minds, and He knows all of us perfectly, and thus to those whom He know that we are obedient and true to His will, He will grant us His love and grace.

The Apostles in the first reading, revealed to the people, how the Lord loved all without differentiating between them, and how He loved the Gentiles as much as He had loved the Jews, so long as they believe in the Lord, and trust in His ways. The Lord blesses all who put their trust in Him and walk in His ways. He shows His favour to all of them.

Brethren, this is why it is essential for us to listen to God’s will and be with Him in all our dealings and actions in the future. We must adhere to the commandments and precepts of the Lord that we may always remain in the favour of God. Focus on the obedience of our hearts and minds more than the obedience of our bodies. This is because as I mentioned yesterday, the purity of the heart matters much more than mere purity of the exterior.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Rita of Cascia, a holy, pious and fervent religious who was also a wife and a mother, who decided to join the consecrated life to God after the death of her husband and her sons. St. Rita of Cascia is truly an example to all peoples through her actions, as although she had a very wicked and immoral man as a husband, and enduring the torture and abuse that her husband heaped on her, she managed to convert him through her exemplary actions and deeds, which brought about a conversion in her husband into a much better man.

St. Rita of Cascia had quite a difficult life, as she lived through a period in Italy when feuds were very common among leading aristocratic families in different city-states of Italy. The feuds claimed the life of her husband, and while her husband’s family desired for revenge and they encouraged her sons to take revenge for their father, but St. Rita of Cascia tried in vain to persuade them not to do so.

She prayed to God to take her sons away rather than seeing them commit a mortal sin in their revenge and risk falling into hell. Her prayers were answered by the Lord who took them away when they died of dysentry just a year after that. In that, they were taken away to God’s presence and did not commit a sin that would have resulted in them falling into hell.

St. Rita of Cascia devoted herself to God after all that, and in her love, she united and reconciled the feuding families that had been involved in the death of her husband and many others in the city where she lived. She lived as a religious nun faithfully until the end of her life on earth. She received in a vision, the mystical and spiritual wound of Christ, the stigmata of our Lord Jesus Christ, on her forehead, at the site where the Lord wore His crown of thorns during His Passion.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, St. Rita of Cascia showed us, that we have to love, and propagate that love, and also promote forgiveness of others, especially those who had hurt us and caused troubles for us. We too should ask for forgiveness from others whom we have hurt and caused troubles for. We must not discriminate between peoples, but love all equally, for we are all children of the same God.

Let us now therefore pray, and with the intercession of St. Rita of Cascia that we may be genuinely transformed into beings of love, who follow the Lord in all His ways, seeking to love and to forgive, that we may ever bring goodness into this world. May God be with us and keep us in His grace, always. God bless us all. Amen.

Friday, 16 May 2014 : 4th Week of Easter (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Acts 13 : 26-33

Paul said, “Brothers, children and descendants of Abraham, and you also who fear God, it is to you that this message of salvation has been sent. It is a fact that the inhabitants of Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognise Jesus. Yet in condemning Him, they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath but not understood.”

“Even though they found no charge against Him that deserved death, they asked Pilate to have Him executed. And after they had carried out all that had been written concerning Him, they took Him down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb.”

“But God raised Him from the dead, and for many days thereafter He showed Himself to those who had come up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They have now become His witnesses before the people. We ourselves announce to you this Good News : All that God promised our ancestors, He has fulfilled for us, their descendants, by raising Jesus, according to what is written in the second psalm : ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You.'”

Wednesday, 7 May 2014 : 3rd Week of Easter (Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

This world is hostile against us, not the people, but the systems and the nature of the world itself, for evil is in this world, and evil hates us who are light in the darkness. That is what the devil tried to do when the faithful and the Church was still young, that is to snuff out the light that would banish the darkness away forever, and this was done through lies, persuasion and temptations.

Saul, the young man, zealous or in fact overly zealous as one would say, belonged to the group of the Pharisees, who strictly observed the laws of Moses and the other rules and regulations that had been brought up over the years by the people of God. This strict adherence, in addition to the persistent refusal by most of the chief priests and the elders of Israel to receive the truth of God as revealed by Christ the Messiah, caused someone like Saul to be born.

Yes, the archenemy of the faithful as one would have said it. The scourge of the faithful, the persecutor who brought great sufferings and miseries to those who believed in the truth and kept it alive and true. Saul hunted down hundreds, if not thousands of the people of God, just because they believed in the truth and Saul refused to believe in it, not least until the Lord Himself appeared to him and brought him to a new life of service to the truth.

Saul later would be known as Paul, the great servant of the Lord who would bring the Good News to all the peoples of the world, the Gentiles and pagans in particular, and through them, to us eventually. We all know what happened to Saul, his conversion and later works. And we know that he too, suffer from persecutions, rejections and oppositions to his good works, as he had once done to the people of God before his conversion.

Opposition and challenges is a staple of our lives if we choose to remain faithful to God and be the bearers of His Good News. The world, ruled by the evil one, hates the truth, for the truth of Christ is the key for our redemption and liberation, that we will no longer be in the dominion of death and sin, but instead be free forever in the light and love of God.

But do not fear, brothers and sisters in Christ, as the oppositions that pile up against us should not deter us from continuing our works and missions, but instead serve as a further reminder of how good and wonderful our Lord and God is. Why so? Because remember, in the Gospel today, the Lord Himself assured us all, that He will be by our side, and He will not abandon us to the powers of those who seek our destruction.

Yes, Jesus mentioned that all that the Father had given Him, none He will lose, and that includes all of us. Yes, we have been granted by the Father to Christ, through our baptism, when we, in faith, are sealed to be the possessions of the Lord, in His Most Holy Name. We who have been baptised have received the seal of faith, and the Lord dwells in us since the day of our baptism onwards.

But that does not mean then we can be complacent in our faith. While Christ assured us that those whom the Father had given Him, He would not lose, but if we changed our ways back to our old lives filled with sin, then that is tantamount to us rejecting this gift of the Father to His Son, and therefore, we made ourselves lost, and bereft of the holiness and worthiness of heavenly glory promised to us on the day of our baptism.

Hence, brethren, as we continue to proceed in this life and in this holy season of Easter, let us always constantly remind ourselves to keep our faith living and strong, and not to be worried about challenges and oppositions we may face along the way. Remember that God is always on our side, and ready to help us, if we too play our part and keep a good and faithful attitude in our lives.

May the Lord be with us, protect us, and keep us safe in His everlasting grace and infinite love. God bless us all. Amen.

Monday, 5 May 2014 : 3rd Week of Easter (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 118 : 23-24, 26-27, 29-30

Although princes conspire against me, Your servant will observe Your decrees. Your laws are my delight, my counselors who uphold me.

When I explained my ways, You responded; instruct me then in Your precepts. Explain to me all Your ordinances, and I will meditate on Your wondrous deeds.

Keep me away from deceitful paths; be gracious and teach me Your law. I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart upon Your laws.