Sunday, 3 May 2015 : Fifth Sunday of Easter, Feast of St. Philip and St. James, Apostles (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the key and heart of the messages of today’s readings is simple, that we are nothing without God, and we cannot survive on our own without God, and detached from God, or if we are cast out of His grace, then we truly have nothing and will perish, no matter how many possessions we have in life. For our Lord is the source of all life, and the source of all the things that made us who we are.

He is the true Vine, from which all the branches came from. In a plant, the true Vine means the roots and the stem, that is the core body of the plant. The branches in the plant, the leaves, the fruits and the flowers are all coming out from that stem, and gain their water and supplies from the bountiful earth from the roots through the stem. And it is with this analogy and perfect comparison that Jesus taught His disciples and the people, what it means to be the disciples of the Lord.

Jesus compared Himself with the Vine, while God the Father as the Vinegrower. The Vinegrower tends for the Vine and gives It life through the care He has given. And therefore, by the loving care of the hands of the Father, He brought forth the Son in Jesus Christ, and through Jesus, He gives life also to the world. This is precisely just as the Vinegrower gives life to the branches through the care of the Vine.

Without the vine, the branches will die and not live. All the branches must be connected to the vine or the stem, just in the same way that our limbs and organs are all attached together to the same body. All are members of the same body, that is the Mystical Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, universal and united to our Lord.

Why is this important, brethren? That is because our world grows ever more individualistic, selfish and filled with ego and wickedness. The way of this world speaks volumes on the glorification of the self and self-praising attitudes. We often think in ways that bring glory to ourselves. In the many things that we do, we often were raised up to think that we are the only ones who have done them and the success, if there is any, is solely attributed to our own efforts.

And this is how we often forget God and His role in each of our lives. This is how we forget to give thanks to Him who have given us this life and opportunity to live out that life on every single day. Without God, we would not have any life, and our life would have been devoid of meaning. It is to give praise to God, for all the wonders of His grace and works, that we live our daily lives.

I recently visited a farm and observed how the farmers treat their plants and crops. The plants were treated very well, given all the nutrients and water they need to grow healthy and strong. Those plants that bear good fruits and healthy in appearance are taken care of even more, and the workers pruned the plant in order to maximise the yield of the fruits. The parts that are not so productive are pruned off and cut, so that the plant can focus its attention to the parts bearing good fruits.

What does this mean, brothers and sisters in Christ? This means that while we have our lives from God, we also have been given grace and blessings, gifts and talents by the Lord for us, each unique to ourselves. These gifts and blessings are not meant to be kept within ourselves and left idle. These gifts and blessings are like the nutrients which the farmers had provided the plants, and thus, it is like all the graces that God had given us.

All the plants have a purpose, that is to bear good fruits, so that the good fruits may be harvested and gathered, and when sold, the fruits may bring decent and good profits to the farmers. The plants that bear bad and rotten fruits or no fruit at all, or if the plants are sickly and dying, or infested with many pests and diseases, they all will not be favourable to the farmers. They would uproot them and then throw them away to die and rot, and the place given to other plants that show more promise.

Thus, if we also produce bad fruits, or do nothing to bear fruits that befit what God had given us in His love and blessings, then we too shall not be able to enjoy God’s favour, as then there is no need for us and our existence indeed. Worse still if the rotten fruits cause the downfall to the fruits that are healthy and good. These diseases and sicknesses are causes by our sins and disobedience against God. And thus as a result, we did not bear good fruits, but rather, the fruits which had been tainted by evil.

If we profess to be the children and servants of our God, then all of our words and actions must show this very fact. And we also cannot be idle, thinking that believing in God is enough, or just being passive is enough. If we ignore the plight of others around us, and ignore those who live in the darkness while we are in the position to bring them succour and relief, then it will be the same as the plants that bear no fruit or bad fruits.

All of these Jesus had also summed up in His parables, one on the fig tree, where the fig tree that produces no fruit, He cursed and it withered and died, as well as the story which we heard today itself, on the vine and its branches. We are all born good and endowed with many good things, for we are anchored on the good vine, the true Vine, that is Jesus our Lord. But what matters is how we make use of all that goodness and develop it for the benefits of all, of everyone around us and not just ourselves.

In the first reading we heard how the great enemy of the faithful, Saul, who had been converted by the Lord Himself on the way to Damascus, and from someone who would arrest anyone who believed in Jesus at sight and persecute them to no end, into someone who now would not hesitate to preach a testimony of faith in front of the people, professing openly and teaching the people that Jesus is the Lord and Saviour of all.

Such was the complete transformation of Saul, from someone whose life once was driven by false zeal and by the desires of worldly praise, power and accomplishment, into a life that is transformed as a light for others, carried out in humility and true zeal, that one pursue no longer the desire of his own, but the desire of the Lord who had called him out of the darkness to be the servant to carry out His word to the masses.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore, today, as we celebrate together this Holy Mass, this holy day of the Lord, all of us witness the reminders from the Holy Scriptures, that we all should indeed put our whole attention to the Lord our God, and stop being so inward looking and so concerned about ourselves and our desires. It is in our nature to be selfish to the exclusion of others, but as we have heard, we are part of one big family, one whole body of the community of all the faithful ones, all united through Christ our Lord.

We also must heed our Lord’s will and do things in accordance to what He had taught us. If we want to remain part of the Lord and continue to remain in His grace, then we truly should focus on our actions, words and deeds. Have we been faithful in all of them, and have we practiced our faith in our daily life? Or have we idled and did nothing to show the faith which we have for God? Remember, if we do nothing to act according to our faith, then we are the same as those plants that bear little or no or bad fruits.

God often gives us chance and opportunities to change our ways of life, and indeed, if we have not done according to His will up to now, then now is indeed the time to take concrete action and devote ourselves anew on the new path, a path blessed by God. There are many temptations for us to do things against this, as Satan certainly does not want us to be saved. He would do all things in his power to distract us and lure us away from salvation.

God is our true Vine, the source of all our life and all of our goodness and blessings. He is also our Shepherd and Guide, who leads us to the true path. Let us from now on, if we have not done so, or have not done enough, help one another, and keep each other in faith, as members of the same Body, the Church, united in Christ. It is that eventually all of us may gain eternal life and salvation, liberation from all the consequences of sin, by having life through our Lord.

Let us all pray, that God will strengthen our faith, and help us so that we may be courageous in living up to our faith, and bear plentiful fruits, good fruits of faith, by loving one another, walking righteously in life, rejecting all the lies of the devil and helping each other to keep the faith living and strong. May Almighty God bless us this day and from now on, forevermore. Let us all be one in Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, 3 May 2015 : Fifth Sunday of Easter, Feast of St. Philip and St. James, Apostles (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

John 15 : 1-8

Jesus said to His disciples, “I am the True Vine and My Father is the Vinegrower. If any of My branches does not bear fruit, He breaks it off; and He prunes every branch that does bear fruit, that it may bear even more fruit.”

“You are already made clean by the word I have spoken to you. Live in Me as I live in you. The branch cannot bear fruit by itself, but has to remain part of the vine; so neither can you, if you do not remain in Me.”

“I am the Vine and you are the branches. As long as you remain in Me and I in you, you bear much fruit; but apart from Me you can do nothing. Whoever does not remain in Me is thrown away, as they do with branches, and they wither. Then they are gathered and thrown into the fire and burned.”

“If you remain in Me and My words in you, you may ask whatever you want, and it will be given to you. My Father is glorified when you bear much fruit : it is then that you become My disciples.”

Sunday, 3 May 2015 : Fifth Sunday of Easter, Feast of St. Philip and St. James, Apostles (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

1 John 3 : 18-24

My dear children, let us love not only with words and with our lips, but in truth and in deed. Then we shall know that we are of the truth and we may calm our conscience in His presence. Every time it reproaches us, let us say : God is greater than our conscience, and He knows everything.

When our conscience does not condemn us, dear friends, we may have complete confidence in God. Then whatever we ask we shall receive, since we keep His commands and do what pleases Him. His command is that we believe in the Name of His Son Jesus Christ and that we love one another, as He has commanded us.

Whoever keeps His commands remains in God and God in him. It is by the Spirit God has given us that we know He lives in us.

Sunday, 3 May 2015 : Fifth Sunday of Easter, Feast of St. Philip and St. James, Apostles (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 21 : 26b-27, 28, 30ab, 30c-32

I will fulfill my vows before all who revere You. The lowly will eat and be satisfied. Those who seek the Lord will praise Him. May your hearts live forever!

The whole earth will acknowledge and turn to the Lord; the families of nations will worship Him.

Before Him all those who rest in the earth will bow down, all who go down to the dust.

My soul will live for Him. My descendants will serve Him and proclaim the Lord to coming generations; they will announce His salvation to a people yet unborn, “These are the things that He has done.”

Sunday, 3 May 2015 : Fifth Sunday of Easter, Feast of St. Philip and St. James, Apostles (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Acts 9 : 26-31

When Saul came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples there, but they were afraid of him because they could not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the Apostles. He recounted to them how Saul had seen the Lord on his way and the words the Lord had spoken to him. He told them also how Saul had preached boldly in the Name of Jesus.

Then Saul began to live with them. He moved about freely in Jerusalem and preached openly in the Name of the Lord. He also spoke to the Hellenists and argued with them, but they wanted to kill him. When the believers learnt of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

Meanwhile, the Church had peace. It was building up throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria with eyes turned to the Lord and filled with comfort from the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, 2 May 2015 : 4th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today first we heard the indignation of the Jews and the refusal of many of them to listen to the word of God and believe in Christ, although some did listen and follow the Lord, but most of them did not and even incited trouble and difficulties for the Apostles. What we heard today is just one of the many occasions when these had occurred to the Apostles and the other disciples of the early Church.

On the contrary, many of the Gentiles, or the non-Jewish people, mainly the Greeks and the Romans believed in the Good News which the Apostles had preached, and they followed the Lord and His ways. These people together formed the nucleus and the heart of the burgeoning and rapidly growing early Church at that time, with more and more believers rising up every day.

In the Gospel, our Lord Jesus Christ spoke about His equality with the Father, and how if we believe in Him, then all of our actions and deeds should reflect that we are truly faithful and devoted to the Lord, and not just paying merely lip service and having superficial faith. We cannot profess to have the faith in God and yet our actions and words either indirectly or directly going against that faith.

The servants of the Lord do His will and walk in His path, and yet as shown by the attitudes of the Jews, both at the time of Jesus, and throughout the works and journeys of the Apostles, they refused to believe in the truth which Jesus had brought into the world, and in their actions, they did not put into practice the faith which they professed to have. Indeed, not all of the Jews were like that, but quite a great majority of them were.

Today, we also celebrate the feast of a saint, whose attitude and works showed an unbending and uncompromising attitude to all those who were trying to deceive the faithful and spread lies among the faithful and to join them in heresy. He is St. Athanasius, a faithful servant of God and Bishop of the Church. This faithful servant of God had gone through many trials and difficulties, and he remained faithful and committed to the cause of the Lord.

At that time, the Church was greatly assailed by the many heresies, born from mankind’s inability to resist the temptations and falsehoods of Satan, and ending up trying to confuse many of the faithful, luring them to heresy, and as such, fulfill either intentionally or unintentionally the wishes of Satan, that is to divide the Church and the faithful against each other. And St. Athanasius was one among the few who rose up and stood up against the tide of these wickedness.

St. Athanasius spoke out against the heresy of Arianism, which proposed that Jesus Christ was a mere creature and not God, denying the divinity of Christ, who is truly fully God and fully Man at the same time, with the two natures united perfectly in Christ, distinct but united. This is the true faith that the Church had uphold since the days of the Apostles in the early Church, the fundamental truth that the devil tried to destroy with his lies sowed among men.

For speaking up the truth, St. Athanasius often had to suffer, as some of the heretics have friends and influence at the pinnacle of power of the Roman Empire at the time. He was cast out of his diocese, and was exiled more than once. And yet, he did not give up or fear any sort of persecution threatened and arrayed against him. For him, to suffer for the sake of the Lord and for the sake of His people’s souls is worth a suffering.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us should heed the example of St. Athanasius in our own lives. We must be able to stand up for our faith and speak up the truth that many will come to resent, and yet necessary for their salvation too. And thus, so that more people will be turned to the Lord, we ourselves too, as the children and servants of God, should act in the way that is clearly the way of our Lord. And we can do this by practicing our faith and meaning it in every word we speak and in every action we do.

Remember what Jesus told His disciples, that all who follow Him and profess to be His disciples will also act and do the same things that He had done? That means, if we want to be truly recognised and found worthy as Christ’s followers, therefore we must also obey His will and preserve the truth which He had brought into the world. This is precisely what St. Athanasius had done, and what all of us are expected to do as well.

May Almighty God strengthen us in our faith, empower us and be with us, that in all the things that we say and do, we may bring ever greater glory to Him. God bless us all. Amen.

Saturday, 2 May 2015 : 4th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

John 14 : 7-14

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “If you know Me, you will know the Father also; indeed you know Him, and you have seen Him.”

Philip asked Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and that is enough.” Jesus said to him, “What! I have been with you so long and you still do not know Me, Philip? Whoever sees Me sees the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’ Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me?”

“All that I say to you, I do not say of Myself. The Father who dwells in Me is doing His own work. Believe Me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; at least believe it on the evidence of these works that I do.”

“Truly, I say to you, the one who believes in Me will do the same works that I do; and he will even do greater than these, for I am going to the Father. Everything you ask in My Name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. Indeed, anything you ask, calling upon My Name, I will do.”

Saturday, 2 May 2015 : 4th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 97 : 1, 2-3ab, 3cd-4

Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done wonders; His right hand, His holy arm, has won victory for Him.

The Lord has shown His salvation, revealing His justice to the nations. He has not forgotten His love nor His faithfulness to Israel.

The farthest ends of the earth all have seen God’s saving power. All you lands, make a joyful noise to the Lord, break into song and sing praise.

Saturday, 2 May 2015 : 4th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Acts 13 : 44-52

The following Sabbath almost the entire city gathered to listen to Paul, who spoke a fairly long time about the Lord. But the presence of such a crowd made the Jews jealous. So they began to oppose with insults whatever Paul said.

Then Paul and Barnabas spoke out firmly, saying, “It was necessary that God’s word  be first proclaimed to you, but since you now reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we turn to non-Jewish people. For thus we were commanded by the Lord : ‘I have set you as a light to the pagan nations, so that you may bring My salvation to the ends of the earth.'”

Those who were not Jews rejoiced when they heard this and praised the message of the Lord, and all those destined for everlasting life believed in it. Thus the Word spread throughout the whole region. Some of the Jews, however, incited God-fearing women of the upper class and the leading men of the city, as well, and stirred up an intense persecution against Paul and Barnabas.

Finally they had them expelled from their region. The Apostles shook the dust from their feet in protest against this people and went to Iconium, leaving the disciples filled with joy and Holy Spirit.

Friday, 1 May 2015 : 4th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Joseph the Worker (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate a great feast of the Church, that is of St. Joseph, the foster-father of our Lord Jesus Christ. If we are wondering why we are celebrating this feast day again so soon after another feast day of St. Joseph on the nineteenth of March, then we should reflect on the importance of the figure of St. Joseph in our faith.

St. Joseph is the foster-father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that is the adopted father of our Lord by his marriage to the mother of Jesus, Mary. And even though he is not the real or biological father to our Lord, but in his role as the legal father to our Lord, as his earthly father, he has been a great father and a role model for all fathers and for all families.

St. Joseph in this day is celebrated in his aspect as the Patron Saint of all workers, and all who labour. Today we commemorate the memory of this humble and yet God-fearing and hardworking carpenter of Nazareth, whose exemplary life and actions, as well as total devotion and obedience to the will of God marked him different from the rest among his profession and from among his people.

Jesus was mocked by His own people, His own townspeople in Nazareth, because they thought of Him as a mere carpenter’s Son, who somehow impossibly gained such a great and vast wisdom that could not be explained by His background and upbringing. This is because even though a carpenter’s work is a noble and honest one, but no one looked up at carpenters and other manual labourers, whom people often looked down at and ignored.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, if we heeded the earlier readings we heard, then we know that our Lord Himself had worked when He created the heavens and the earth, when He created all the things living on the earth, in the seas and on the sky. He laboured and toiled to create all these things, and He rested on the seventh day. This shows us that working is part of the nature of this universe, and no one who slacks and does nothing can gain anything or be any part of the Lord’s design.

And thus, today, we celebrate the feast of St. Joseph, whose works and dedicated efforts remind us that there is no place in our faith and in our Church for people who idles and slacks. Firstly, as I have often mentioned, our faith requires active action and commitment, that we do not just pay lip service to God, but that we must also practice that same faith in our own actions and deeds.

And then, secondly, that as we work, we have to remember that we labour not for our own glory nor it is just for us to gain more money and possessions for ourselves, but rather, it should be for us to help one another and give glory to God through all of our works. This is where the phrase, Ora et Labora, comes to my mind. Prayer and work, and indeed, faith and works. These two are indispensable and inseparable elements of our lives.

As we know, our faith is one that requires inner spirituality, as well as outer action. Our faith is dead without action and work, as without action, our faith is meaningless, empty and superficial. And without faith and devotion, all of our works are meaningless as well. This is because our works without faith and devotion, would inevitably lead to the glorification of the self and the fulfillment of one’s own desires. And it is in selfishness and greed that our destruction is present at.

As we continue to live our lives in this world, let us all be awakened to the realities of our faith, that there are so many things which all of us can do, in order to make this world to be a better place. There are so many things which we can do, in order to help our brethren around us, especially those who are in need, and if we are able to help. Let our faith be one that is real, concrete, vibrant and filled with love and devotion towards one another.

May Almighty God, our Lord and Father awaken in us the spirit of workmanship and dedication, the spirit of respect for all workers, and to be filled with vigour and strength to carry out all of our works of faith, that we may be like St. Joseph, as brave and dedicated servants of our Lord. God bless us all. Now and forever. Amen.