Sunday, 15 December 2019 : Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Rose (Gaudete Sunday) or Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, the third one in the season of Advent, you may have noticed a difference in the vestments of the priests and the celebrants of the Mass as we use the rose colour instead of violet, the decorations of the Church and the music, because on this day we celebrate what is known as Gaudete Sunday, which came from the Introit of today’s liturgical celebrations, ‘Gaudete in Domino semper…’, with the word ‘Gaudete’ meaning rejoice.

That is why on this particular Sunday of Advent, we focus on the theme of ‘Joy’, after we have focused on ‘Hope’ on the first Sunday of Advent, and ‘Peace’ on the second Sunday. On this day, we have some sort of reprieve from the relatively sombre and penitential nature of Advent, and assume temporarily the more joyous and festive atmosphere, not because it is already the time to embrace the fullness of the joy of Christmas, but rather because we look forward to that ‘Joy’ in Christmas that we rejoice today.

On this day, this Gaudete Sunday we are all reminded what the true meaning and joy of Christmas are all about. That is because many of us have forgotten what the true joy and meaning of Christmas is, and have become swallowed by the way the world perceives Christmas, the celebrations and festivities we often see all around us especially throughout this month and holiday season, which is focused not on the true joy of Christmas but instead on false, worldly joys.

This is why the world has often led us astray and distracted us from finding the true joy of Christmas. What is this true joy of Christmas, brothers and sisters in Christ? It is Christ Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of all and the One after Whom Christmas was named. It is indeed such an irony that most of us treated Christmas as just another festivity and another holiday, forgetting the very One we should be celebrating about.

That is why it is indeed timely that we are reminded of Who we are celebrating for this coming Christmas, so that we may no longer forget about Him and may have the right direction and way of celebrating Christmas with true joy and happiness, not the glamour and pleasures of the holiday spirit and celebrations of Christmas all around us, not all the gifts we receive and all the food we are going to feast in, but rather in welcoming the Lord, our Saviour into our midst.

All of us rejoice because in Christmas lies the fulfilment of our long wait and desire for salvation and reconciliation with God. As our first reading today from the Book of the prophet Isaiah stated, the coming of the Lord and His salvation would indeed be a joyful one, a time when God would heal His people and reach out to them, when He would bring them true freedom and happiness by revealing His way and His truth to all of them, that is all of us mankind.

The Lord has always been faithful to His people and to all the promises that He has made with them. At the time of the prophet Isaiah, the people of Israel had indeed suffered, humiliated and beaten by their enemies, and the entirety of the northern kingdom had been destroyed by the Assyrians and the inhabitants of the northern lands had been brought into exile in far-off lands. Therefore the prophecy of the prophet Isaiah must have indeed brought great relief to the people of Judah, the southern kingdom, as a reassurance of God’s providence and love.

And this was reaffirmed in our Gospel passage today, as the Lord Jesus quoted that very same prophecy of the prophet Isaiah as a word of confirmation to St. John the Baptist, the one sent to herald the coming of the Messiah, that He, Jesus, was indeed the One and only Messiah of God, promised to all of mankind, through all the miracles and wonderful things He had done. All these fulfilled what God had spoken in the past, and for this all of us ought to rejoice.

But at the same time, this happiness and joy must be tempered with patience as St. James wrote in his Epistle, which is mentioned in our second reading today. St. James spoke of how the Lord is indeed coming, and we must be patient to wait for His coming, the time when He will fulfil completely all that He has promised to us. What St. James spoke about was the promise which Christ had made as He ascended to heaven, that He will come again at the end of time, to gather all of His faithful flock to Himself.

That is why we have in fact two joyful celebrations in this upcoming Christmas, the first one of which all of us must have known, in celebrating the historical birth of Our Lord and Saviour in Bethlehem, the moment two millennia ago when Jesus was born of His mother Mary in the poor and dirty stable just outside the town of Bethlehem as prophesied by the prophets. But then, at the same time, we also then rejoice because of the expectation of His second coming, which will come at the time that only God knows.

All of us rejoice because of this hope, and today, as we focus on this aspect of joy on Gaudete Sunday, we are also asked to reflect on how patient we have been as the disciples and followers of Christ all these while. Have we followed the Lord patiently, knowing that He has loved us all so much and blessed us all these while? Many of us are often too impatient and expect immediate satisfaction, happiness and joy.

That is exactly why many of us fell into the many temptations of the world, and why many of us have forgotten about the true joy of Christmas in Christ. We seek the instant joy and pleasure in our lives, which the world readily provided for us, in the many amenities and comforts we enjoy throughout life, in the many perks and things that we have all around us, in our often consumeristic and materialistic lifestyle.

On the contrary, if we want to be true and faithful Christians, we must then be ready to deny ourselves and all of these pleasures, the attachment to the many tempting things found in this world. We must be ready to suffer and face ridicule, rejection and difficulties, as what the Scripture readings today had alluded, as St. James wrote of the suffering of the prophets and all those who had come earlier on bearing God’s truth.

St. John the Baptist himself had to endure and suffer in prison, as what we heard today from the Gospel passage, how he sent message to the Lord Jesus from prison. As dedicated and committed St. John the Baptist was, he was still human, and he must have also felt some despair and the pain and bitterness of suffering in prison, and that was why he asked, if the Lord Jesus he believed to be the Messiah was truly the One he and all the others had waited for.

Similarly therefore, all of us will also likely face challenges and trials somewhere in our journey of faith, in varying degrees and difficulties. But we must not give up our faith and resolution to follow through this journey of faith, just as the prophets of old remained true to their mission and calling, despite the people’s opposition and challenges, and just as how St. John the Baptist remained firm and faithful until he was martyred.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, that is why as we celebrate this Gaudete Sunday today, while we rejoice at the expectation of the coming of Christ and the joy of Christmas, but we must also learn to be patient and to endure the trials and challenges we may face in this world with patience and faith, and not to seek or yearn for instant joy or gratification without having to endure the pains and crosses of life.

After all, the Lord has called us to follow Him and to carry our own crosses and walk in His path. Yes, we will find true joy and happiness in God, but it does not mean then that our life at present in this world will be free of sorrow and sufferings, because as long as sin exists in this world, and as long as mankind continue to walk in sin and in disobedience against God, abusing the freedom He has given us, in living our lives wickedly and in succumbing to our many desires, to our greed and ego, there will always be troubles, trials and sufferings to endure in this life.

This is where then we need to realise that, out of all these challenges, difficulties, trials and darkness in life in this world, there can be no true way out besides that of following the Lord and through His saving grace, by which He will bestow on us true joy and freedom from all the chains and trials that we are facing and will be facing in life. It is in Christ, our Lord and Saviour, Whom we celebrate this coming Christmas, that we have our hope and our salvation, the one and only source of Joy for us.

And last of all, as we look forward to the true joy of Christmas, let us also endeavour to remember our fellow brothers and sisters and share our joys and blessings to one another this coming Christmas. Let our festivities and celebrations be done with the right intentions and purpose, and not be selfish in keeping all the happiness and joy just for ourselves and leaving others to suffer while we rejoice. Let us remember that there are those in our midst, sometimes even within our families and friends, who are not able to celebrate Christmas with joy for various reasons.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all bear witness to Christ through our Christmas preparations this Advent, and by celebrating Christmas this year and from now on with the right focus and intentions in mind, that Christ is always and will be the centre and focus of our Christmas joy and celebration, because it is by His coming into this world, that joy has been given to us all once again. May the Lord bless us all and be with us through this journey through the remaining days of Advent. Amen.

Sunday, 15 December 2019 : Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Rose (Gaudete Sunday) or Purple/Violet

Matthew 11 : 2-11

At that time, when John the Baptist heard in prison about the activities of Christ, he sent a message by his disciples, asking Him, “Are You the One Who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus answered them, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see : the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are made clean, the deaf hear, the dead are brought back to life, and Good News is reaching the poor; and how fortunate is the one who does not take offence at Me!”

As the messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John : “When you went out to the desert, what did you expect to see? A reed swept by the wind? What did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? People who wear fine clothes live in palaces. What did you really go out to see? A prophet?”

“Yes, indeed, and even more than a prophet. He is the man of whom Scripture says : I send My messenger ahead of You to prepare the way before You. I tell you this : no one greater than John the Baptist has come forward from among the sons of women, and yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Sunday, 15 December 2019 : Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Rose (Gaudete Sunday) or Purple/Violet

James 5 : 7-10

Be patient then, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. See how the sower waits for the precious fruits of the earth, looking forward patiently to the autumn and spring rains. You also be patient and do not lose heart, because the Lord’s coming is near.

Beloved, do not fight among yourselves and you will not be judged. See, the judge is already at the door. Take for yourselves, as an example of patience, the suffering of the prophets who spoke in the Lord’s Name.

Sunday, 15 December 2019 : Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Rose (Gaudete Sunday) or Purple/Violet

Psalm 145 : 7, 8-9a, 9bc-10

He gives justice to the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free.

The Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord straightens the bent. The Lord loves the virtuous, but He brings to ruin the way of the wicked. The Lord protects the stranger.

He sustains the widow and the orphan. The Lord will reign forever, your God, o Zion, from generation to generation. Alleluia!

Sunday, 15 December 2019 : Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Rose (Gaudete Sunday) or Purple/Violet

Isaiah 35 : 1-6a, 10

Let the wilderness and the arid land rejoice, the desert be glad and blossom. Covered with flowers, it sings and shouts with joy, adorned with the splendour of Lebanon, the magnificence of Carmel and Sharon. They, my people, see the glory of YHVH, the majesty of our God.

Give vigour to weary hands and strength to enfeebled knees. Say to those who are afraid : “Have courage, do not fear. See, your God comes, demanding justice. He is the God Who rewards, the God Who comes to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unsealed. Then will the lame leap as a hart and the tongue of the dumb sing and shout. For the ransomed of YHVH will return : with everlasting joy upon their heads, they will come to Zion singing, gladness and joy marching with them, while sorrow and sighing flee away.

Saturday, 14 December 2019 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the message of the Sacred Scriptures, we heard today the readings on the prophet Elijah both from the Old and the New Testament, speaking about this particular prophet who was among the greatest of the prophets of old. The prophet Elijah was the archetype of the many prophets whom God had sent to be among His people, and his works among the Israelites were recorded in the Book of Kings.

Why do we then focus on the prophet Elijah today and what is the significance of this to all of us, brothers and sisters in Christ? That is because if we look more deeply into the readings we have just heard and understood what the Lord had said in our Gospel passage today, we will appreciate better the nature of the readings of the Scriptures today, which in fact mentioned to us the fulfilment of the long promised salvation of God as fulfilled through those whom He had sent into this world.

For the prophet Elijah was among the few of the children of man who did not experience death at the end of his earthly life, a fate which he shared with Enoch from the Book of Genesis, one of the earliest patriarchs and ancestors of man, as well as with Mary herself, the Mother of God, who according to our faith, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory and did not experience death in the way that we mankind experience it.

The prophet Elijah was taken up into heaven in a great flaming chariot as seen by his successor, prophet Elisha, who continued the works of the prophet Elijah after he left this world. It was then told that the prophet Elijah would one day come again to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah, the Saviour of God. It was popularly believed by the Israelites that Elijah would indeed come again at the appointed time of God, to announce God’s salvation to all.

This is where the prophet Elijah often became associated with St. John the Baptist, the one whom God had sent into this world just prior to the arrival of the Lord and Saviour Himself, born of Elizabeth, the relative of Mary, the Mother of Our God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. St. John the Baptist was compared to the prophet Elijah and was mentioned as having the spirit of the prophet Elijah. In any case, through St. John the Baptist and his works, what has been prophesied about God’s salvation came to fulfilment.

God was making all that He has promised to be fulfilled, as He has promised. Everything that God has said will come true exactly as He has said it, only that the time of the fulfilment is known to God alone and not to us. That is why we must put our trust in Him alone and not worry, for God will save us all His people and fulfil what He has promised to us without doubt. The issue is that many of us have not been faithful to Him and we chose to ignore His truth and His offer of salvation.

Many of us have become too preoccupied with worldly matters, desires and concerns that we end up getting more and more distant from God. And our faith became a mere formality and we do not practice our faith with genuine sincerity, as we chose rather to advance our own worldly ambitions and desires, rather than putting our trust and faith in God. And that is why our faith became empty and many of the celebrations of faith like Christmas has become just another one of worldly joys and pleasures.

That is why it is prompt and timely for all of us to be reminded by what we have heard in our Scripture passages today, as we are reminded of what Christmas truly means to us, the coming of the Saviour of God into this world in order to save us, just as He has promised and which He proclaimed through His servant, St. John the Baptist, the one who had in him the spirit and power of the prophet Elijah and bearing the mission to proclaim God’s salvation to all, preparing His way for Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, how do we then as Christians prepare ourselves well during this time of Advent that we may reorientate our lives to be aligned once again with God and with His ways? It is by turning ourselves to God wholeheartedly and purifying ourselves of our greed and desires, our attachments to this world and our pride and ego in us. And we should look upon the good examples set by our holy predecessor, whose feast we celebrate today, namely St. John of the Cross.

St. John of the Cross was a great saint, a holy man and a member of the Carmelite Order, known for his great role in the reform of the well-known religious order together with St. Teresa of Avila, and eventually led to the foundation of the Order of the Discalced Carmelites. At that time, the Carmelite Order had become wayward in the practice and customs of their livelihood, work and direction, and as a result, some began to call for a reform of the way the Carmelite Order ought to proceed.

St. John of the Cross helped St. Teresa of Avila to reform the Carmelites at a challenging time for the Church and the faith, when many people were leaving their faith and the Church at the height of the Protestant reformation, and also caused by the rampant corruption within the Church in general. St. John of the Cross and his fellow reformers wanted to restore sanctity and purity to the revered Carmelites order to help in the efforts to oppose the impacts of the reformation in what is to be known as the Counter-Reformation.

They all set forth to purify the Carmelites from the corrupt practices and ways accumulated in the past years and steering the order back to its original path and way, and of course all these were not without stiff opposition and challenges, as there were many of those within the order who opposed St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila and their reform effort. He was attacked, criticised and ridiculed, and yet, he remained firm in his commitment and his faith in God.

Eventually this led to the foundation of the Discalced Carmelites order as the newly reformed segment of the Carmelites who embraced the reforms of St. John of the Cross and his fellow reformers. Eventually the original, old Carmelites order itself was also reformed by others in the subsequent years, leading its members back towards God and their love and devotion for Him rather than worldly attachments that had corrupted the order in the past.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, having heard of the life, works and examples set by St. John of the Cross, let us all also reorder and reorientate our lives if we have been wayward and disobedient all these while, if we have allowed the many concerns and attachments of the world to mislead us into the false paths. Let us all turn towards God with faith and with zeal, with vigour and energy as what was once shown by St. John of the Cross, our model in faith.

May the Lord continue to guide us in this journey of faith, and may all of us have a blessed season of Advent, making best use of the time and opportunities to seek God for healing and forgiveness, and to love Him once again with all of our hearts and with all of our might. Amen.

Saturday, 14 December 2019 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 17 : 10-13

At that time, the disciples of Jesus asked Him, “Why do the teachers of the Law say that Elijah must come first?”

Jesus answered, “So it is : first comes Elijah; and he will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come; and they did not recognise him; and they treated him as they pleased. And they will also make the Son of Man suffer.”

Then the disciples understood that Jesus was referring to John the Baptist.