Tuesday, 11 October 2016 : 28th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. John XXIII, Pope (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Popes)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law in how they propagated and practiced their faith, and He also rebuked them for their behaviour and in how they oppressed and misguided the people of God with their way of observing the commandments of the Lord.

He criticised them using the example of a cup and a dish, which He compared to the Pharisees as those who have cleansed the outside of the cup and the dish so that they looked good and clean to those who saw them, but leave the insides dirty and unwashed. It does not make sense at all, since if we have a cup or a plate, we are using the inside and not the outside. They may appear good from the outside, but if the inside is dirty, then what use will they have?

What Jesus used as a comparison today is a comparison of our own beings, like what He had told the people about the Pharisees, the elders and the teachers of the Law. These people were the elites in their society, and they often walked around proudly, proud of their status and their influence in the governance over the people. They wore their vestments as the symbol of their superiority, and they often looked down on others.

They prayed loudly and with gestures in order to be seen by the people, and they had no qualms to criticise those who did not follow their ways and teachings, as mistaken and misguided as they were. And they were adamantly unrepentant of their behaviours, forcing the people to accept their way of observing the Law of God, focusing solely on the outward appearances, on the menial matters even such as washing of the hands and feet, the way to do them properly to the smallest details, the imposition of no work during the Sabbath days and others.

But in their hearts, in truth, they did not have God in them. They were so full of themselves that God did not take any priority for them. They always tried to bring themselves to the fore of the society, despising all those whom they considered as threats to their power and influence. And that is why, if you are wondering why these Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who were supposed to be intelligent and the most educated especially about the laws and ways of the Lord, were to refuse Jesus when He came to this world.

Human ambitions and greed can indeed be very dangerous, and very powerful at the same time. Just as what we heard today in the Epistle that St. Paul wrote to the faithful in Galatia, where he rebuked those who pretended to be righteous and just in their ways, and yet in reality, they have fallen further and further away from the Lord and His salvation. They have only obeyed the Lord in their exterior application, but inside they remain rotten and unchanged.

That is why we should follow the example of the holy saint, Pope St. John XXIII, one of the Popes of the last century, whose life has been exemplary in his faith and dedication to the Lord. Through him we can see the example of how the faithful ought to live their faith, and be thoroughly devoted of their ways to the Lord both in their exterior and interior, and not just their exterior as what the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had done.

Pope St. John XXIII was born as Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, the son of a poor farmer in a poor family in the northern region of Italy. At that time, life was simple and hard for him and for his relatives. His father wanted him and his siblings to continue his work as farmers, but with the help of a relative, Angelo Roncalli was able to attain education in a seminary in the nearby town, where gradually he felt the calling of the Lord.

Even though his father initially refused to allow him to become a priest, but eventually with some help, he was able to make it and thus he became a priest of the Lord, serving the poor and caring for the people, both spiritually and in material terms. In one occasion, when there was a riot in the diocese where he was serving as a priest, due to the unfair labour laws, Angelo Roncalli helped his local ordinary, the bishop who was supportive of his flock and calling for greater equality and fairer treatment of the workers.

He was then appointed as the Papal representative to Bulgaria, where he became one of its first Apostolic Delegate, caring for the people of the faith who lived there, and became the representative of the Vicar of Christ to them. Many did not welcome him as he was representing the authority of the Roman Church, while many Bulgarians belonged to the separatist Eastern Orthodox churches. However, through his persistence and many charitable works, including helping out when a major earthquake struck the country won him many people’s support.

Even in his later works as the Apostolic Delegate to Greece and Turkey, the future Pope St. John XXIII helped many people, including the Jews who suffered under the NAZI Germany rule, where on one occasion it was told that he helped many Jews to escape by persuading the German soldiers and commanders that the train did not carry Jews but instead pilgrims to Turkey.

Eventually he was elected to be the leader of the Universal Church, and there were even more good things he had done in leading the faithful people of God, helping to reduce the Cold War tension between the superpowers which at that time was at the breaking point due to what happened in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. He wrote and published the Papal Encyclical ‘Pacem in Terris’ dedicated t world peace. He also convened the Second Vatican Council to address some unfinished issues in the Church.

In the end, looking at the examples that Pope St. John XXIII and the many other holy saints and people of God had done, we ourselves should be inspired to follow in their footsteps and do the same. We should not be like the Pharisees whose faith are for appearances only, but instead, we should practice what we believe through our own actions. May the Lord help us to be more devoted to Him, and may He bless us in all that we do, that we may receive glory with Him at the end of our days with the glorious saints. God bless us all. Amen.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016 : 28th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. John XXIII, Pope (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Popes)
Luke 11 : 37-41

At that time, as Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked Him to have a meal with him. So He went and sat at table. The Pharisee then wondered why Jesus did not first wash His hands before dinner. But the Lord said to him, “So then, you Pharisees, you clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside yourselves you are full of greed and evil.”

“Fools! He Who made the outside, also made the inside. But according to you, by the mere giving of alms everything is made clean.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016 : 28th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. John XXIII, Pope (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Popes)
Psalm 118 : 41, 43, 44, 45, 47, 48

Give me Your unfailing love, o Lord, Your salvation as You have promised.

Take not the word of truth from my mouth, for I would also lose my hope in Your word.

May I always keep Your word forever and ever.

I shall walk in freedom, having sought out Your laws.

For I delight in Your word, which I fear.

I will lift up my hands to You, and meditate on Your commandments.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016 : 28th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. John XXIII, Pope (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Popes)
Galatians 5 : 1-6

Christ freed us to make us really free. So remain firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. I, Paul, say this to you : if you receive circumcision, Christ can no longer help you. Once more I say to whoever receives circumcision : you are now bound to keep the whole Law.

All you who pretend to become righteous through the observance of the Law have separated yourselves from Christ and have fallen away from grace. As for us, through the Spirit and faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. In Christ Jesus it is irrelevant whether we be circumcised or not; what matters is faith working through love.

Friday, 25 March 2016 : Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today is Good Friday, and we all know that today marks the very special moment in the history of our faith and of our salvation, because on this day we celebrate together the love of our God, the great and infinite love which He had for every single one of us, by bearing our own sins and iniquities upon Himself, and ascending to the hill of Golgotha, He bared Himself before all to see, and though rejected and ridiculed, He persevered to the end for our sake. Yes, so that by His suffering and death on the cross, He may bring us all out from the darkness and into the eternal light.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, one might be asking, that given the gravity of the situation of the day, of what we commemorate, then why we do call this day Good Friday? Should it not be one of sorrow and sadness, remembering how our Lord and Saviour was hated, rejected, cast out and sentenced to death on the cross? But this is where exactly we have to understand the meaning of our Lord’s works and His greatest work of all, that by sacrificing Himself and offering Himself on the cross, He has brought us all a new hope, and as well as a new life. Today is Good for us, because if not for this day, all of us would have no hope, and our existence in this world would have been meaningless.

Yes, we have ever suffered in this world, suffered pain and bitterness, sorrow and sadness, and all the other forms of sufferings because of the consequences of our sins and disobedience against God. We have betrayed our Lord, broken our promises to Him, failing to keep His laws and covenants, and by listening more to the words of Satan the deceiver and also to our own human desires, pride, greed and submitting ourselves to sin, rather than to obey the Lord and to live in accordance with His will. It was our destiny and fate for us to face persecution and punishment at the end of our earthly lives, an eternity of suffering and separation from the Lord our God in hell.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, God does despise our sins and He was angry at us with our disobedience. But we must not forget that just as much as He was angry with our sins and wickedness, He also still loved us with equal and even greater intensity, for all of us are beloved in His eyes, and He had created all of us out of love, to enjoy forever the blessings and graces that He had promised to all of us. Yet, because of our disobedience, we have been sundered from Him, separated from those blessings and graces intended for us, and that is why we suffered, because of our sinfulness.

And therefore to that extent of helping us and to keep us away from our fate of being destroyed for our disobedience, God Himself intervened for our sake, by sending to us His Deliverer, the Saviour Who would bring all mankind out of their sins and their misery, and bring them from the darkness of sin and into the light of righteousness in Him. And for this purpose He would send no mere man or any mere servant, but He sent to us His own Son, the very Lord God and Creator of all life and all the universe. He sent to us as a Redeemer, the Word of God, He Who is part of the Trinity, One God and Lord of all things, and yet, in all these, He was willing to empty Himself and came down to us in the form of a humble Man.

All these were done, so that by His humble and perfect offering before God His Father, the Lord God may accept His offering, and use it as the redemption and grace for all of us mankind who have ever lived, from the days of Adam to the days of the last man at the end of time. God offered Himself on the cross for us, that all of us who have a share in His suffering and death, may receive the gifts of eternal life and redemption from our sins. This was a sacrifice beyond all other sacrifices and offerings, for if in the past, the people of Israel offered the blood of goats and doves in order to absolve them temporarily from their sins, but God Himself offered His own Flesh and Blood, the perfect and spotless offering beyond all others, which was the only one worthy to redeem the whole multitude of our sins, every single taint of original sin that had held us back from our salvation and reunion with our loving God.

And if He had loved us so much, then what are we all supposed to do, brothers and sisters in Christ? Christ had chosen to die for all of us, for all mankind, from the least of sinners to the greatest among them, and from the humblest and smallest person, to the great and the mighty. He did not choose from us, and neither was He biased against a certain group or towards a certain person, but He offered His love, mercy and salvation to all. It is our choice now then, whether we are to accept that rich offering of love and mercy, or whether we want to reject them and instead continue to proceed on with our own lives.

Today we are all reminded that the cross that our Lord bore on His way to Calvary, and the cross on which He was nailed to, and hung between the heavens and the earth is a cross of love, the cross of mercy, the cross of forgiveness. For it was through that cross, that God made His love evident to all, and it was through that love, that He endeavoured to gather all of His beloved children to Himself, and took for us, for our sake, the punishments intended for us. And that cross is also the cross of victory, of the triumph against evil and sin, and of the triumph against death. For we know that His death was not forever, and neither did death had any power over Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, but we also have to realise that the cross of Christ is also a cross of suffering, as well as a cross of responsibility. Jesus Himself had said to His disciples, that all those who want to follow Him ought to take up their own crosses and follow Him. So, all of us mankind also have the same obligation to carry up our crosses with us, if we are to follow Him. This is what Jesus told us about how by becoming His followers and disciples, life will be difficult for us, because of all the opposition by the world, and by all the forces of darkness that did not desire to see us saved from our fated destruction.

And just how do we carry our crosses, brethren? It is by remembering that the cross itself is a symbol of love, a bridge between God and mankind, which our Lord Jesus had built for us. For once because of our sins, a great and wide chasm had existed between us and God, and none of us could go to the Lord without crossing that chasm, which was impossible. But our Lord Jesus made it all possible by His death on the cross. For we all who share in His cross, dying to ourselves and our sins, share with Him the glorious joy of His resurrection and brought into a new life of righteousness worthy of our Lord. It was through this that God Himself made the bridge between Him and ourselves, that is the cross of Christ.

Therefore, in order to carry our crosses, we ought to remember that the cross itself is a joining between two components, the vertical bar and the horizontal bar. The vertical bar represents the love and the relationship we have with God, while the horizontal bar represents the love and the relationships we have with one another, with our fellow men. And hence, if we are to be faithful to the Lord, and to be worthy of the salvation which He had offered us through His cross, we ought to remember to obey His covenant and His laws, that is by loving Him with all the might of our bodies, minds, hearts and soul, and do the same to our fellow brethren around us.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all use this opportunity to reflect on our own lives. Have all of us been faithful to the Lord, and obeyed all of His laws and commandments? Or have we instead been more faithful to our whim and desires? Have we been loving and merciful in our interactions with our brethren around us, showing them acts of love and mercy, of care and compassion, of tenderness and justice? Let us all do so, if we have not done so yet. Let us all go forth in celebrating this Easter Triduum and the whole joyful season of Easter, by bringing forth the joy that God brought us, and share it with others who have little or none. May God bless us and keep us, and may through His holy Cross, He brings us to eternal life in Him. God be with us all, now and forever. Amen.

Friday, 25 March 2016 : Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion (Passion Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

John 18 : 1 – John 19 : 42

At that time, when Jesus had finished speaking, He went with His disciples to the other side of the Kidron Valley. There was a garden there, which Jesus entered with His disciples.

Now Judas, who betrayed Him, knew the place, since Jesus had often met there with His disciples. So Judas took soldiers and some servants from the chief priests and Pharisees, and they went to the garden with lanterns, torches and weapons.

Jesus knew all that was going to happen to Him; He stepped forward and asked, “Who are you looking for?” They answered, “Jesus the Nazarene.” Jesus said, “I am He.” Judas, who betrayed Him, stood there with them. When Jesus said, “I am He,” they moved back and fell to the ground.

He then asked a second time, “Who are you looking for?” and they answered, “Jesus the Nazarene.” Jesus replied, “I told you that I am He. If you are looking for Me, let these others go.” So what Jesus had said came true : “I have not lost one of those You gave Me.”

Simon Peter had a sword, he drew it and struck Malchus, the High Priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the chalice which the Father has given Me?”

The guards and the soldiers, with their commander, seized Jesus and bound Him; and they took Him first to Annas. Annas was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was the High Priest that year; and it was Caiaphas who had told the Jews, “It is better that one Man should die for the people.”

Simon Peter with another disciple followed Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the High Priest, they let him enter the courtyard of the High Priest along with Jesus, but Peter had to stay outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the High Priest, went out and spoke to the maidservant at the gate and brought Peter in.

Then this maidservant on duty at the door said to Peter, “So you also are one of His disciples?” But he answered, “I am not.” Now the servants and the guards had made a charcoal fire and were standing and warming themselves, because it was cold. Peter was also with them warming himself.

The High Priest questioned Jesus about His disciples and His teaching. Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in places where the Jews meet together, either at the assemblies in synagogues or in the Temple. I did not teach secretly. Why then do you question Me? Ask those who heard Me, they know what I said.”

At this reply one of the guards standing there gave Jesus a blow on the face, saying, “Is that the way to answer the High Priest?” Jesus said to him, “If I have spoken wrongly, point it out; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike Me?” Then Annas sent Him, bound, to Caiaphas, the High Priest.

Now Simon Peter stood there warming himself. They said to him, “Surely you are also one of His disciples.” He denied it, and answered, “I am not.” One of the High Priest’s servants, a kinsman of the one whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you with Him in the garden?” Again Peter denied it, and at once the cock crowed.

Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the headquarters of the Roman governor. It was now morning. The Jews did not go inside, lest they be made unclean by entering the house of a pagan, and therefore not allowed to eat the Passover meal. So Pilate came out and asked, “What charge do you bring against this Man?”

They answered, “If He were not a criminal, we would not be handing Him over to you.” Pilate said, “Take Him yourselves and judge Him according to your own law.” But they replied, “We ourselves are not allowed to put anyone to death.”

It was clear from this what kind of death Jesus was to die, according to what Jesus Himself had foretold. Pilate then entered the court again, called Jesus and asked Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus replied, “Does this word come from you, or did you hear it from others?”

Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed You over to me. What have You done?” Jesus answered, “My kingship does not come from this world. If I were a king, like those of this world, My guards would have fought to save Me from being handed over to the Jews. But My kingship is not of this world.”

Pilate asked Him, “So You are a King?” And Jesus answered, “Just as you say, I am a King. For this I was born and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is on the side of truth hears My voice.” Pilate said, “What is truth?”

Pilate then went out to the Jews again and said, “I find no crime in this Man. Now, according to custom, I must release a prisoner to you at the Passover. With your agreement I will release to you the King of the Jews.” But they insisted and cried out, “Not this Man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.

Then Pilate had Jesus taken away and scourged. The soldiers also twisted thorns into a crown and put it on His head. They threw a cloak of royal purple around His shoulders; and they began coming up to Him and saluting Him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they struck Him on the face.

Pilate went outside yet another time and said to the Jews, “Look, I am bringing Him out, and I want you to know that I find no crime in Him.” Jesus then came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple cloak, and Pilate pointed to Him, saying, “Here is the Man!”

On seeing Him the chief priests and the guards cried out, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Pilate replied, “Take Him yourselves and have Him crucified, for I find no case against Him.” The Jews then said, “We have a Law, and according to the Law this Man must die because He made Himself Son of God.”

When Pilate heard this he was more afraid. And coming back into the court he asked Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. Then Pilate said to Him, “You will not speak to me? Do You not know that I have power to release You, just as I have power to crucify You?”

Jesus replied, “You would have no power over Me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed Me over to you is more guilty.” From that moment Pilate tried to release Him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who makes Himself a King is defying Caesar.”

When Pilate heard this, he had Jesus brought outside to the place called the Stone Floor – in Hebrew Gabbatha – and sat down in the judgment seat. It was the day of preparation for the Passover, about noon. Pilate said to the Jews, “Here is your King.” But they cried out, “Away! Take Him away! Crucify Him!” Pilate replied, “Shall I crucify your King?” And the chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar!”

Then Pilate handed Jesus over to them to be crucified. They took charge of Him. Bearing His own cross, Jesus went out of the city to what is called the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew Golgotha. There He was crucified, and with Him two others, one on either side, and Jesus in the middle.

Pilate had a notice written and fastened to the cross, which read : ‘Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.’ Many Jewish people saw this title, because the place where Jesus was crucified was very close to the city; and the title was written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek.

The chief priests said to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews’; but, ‘This Man claimed to be King of the Jews.'” Pilate answered them, “What I have written, I have written.”

When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took His clothes and divided them into four parts, one part for each of them. But as the tunic was woven in one piece from top to bottom, they said, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots to decide who will get it.” This fulfilled the words of Scripture : ‘They divided My clothing among them; they cast lots for My garment.’ This was what the soldiers did.

Near the cross of Jesus stood His mother, His mother’s sister Mary, who was the wife of Cleophas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw the mother, and the disciple whom He loved, He said to the mother, “Woman, this is your son.” Then He said to the disciple, “There is your mother.” And from that moment the disciple took her to his own home.

Jesus knew all was now finished and, in order to fulfill what was written in Scripture, He said, “I am thirsty.” A jar full of bitter wine stood there; so, putting a sponge soaked in the wine on a twig of hyssop, they raised it to His lips. Jesus took the wine and said, “It is accomplished.” Then He bowed His head and gave up the Spirit.

As it was Preparation Day, the Jews did not want the bodies to remain on the cross during the Sabbath, for this Sabbath was a very solemn day. They asked Pilate to have the legs of the condemned men broken, so that the bodies might be taken away.

The soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man and of the other man, who had been crucified with Jesus. When they came to Jesus, they saw that He was already dead, so they did not break His legs. One of the soldiers, however, pierced His side with a lance, and immediately there came out blood and water.

The one who saw it, has testified to it, and his testimony is true; he knows he speaks the truth, so that you also might believe. All this happened to fulfill the words of Scripture : ‘Not one of His bones shall be broken.’ Another text says : ‘They shall look on Him whom they have pierced.’

After this, Joseph of Arimathea approached Pilate, for he was a disciple of Jesus, though secretly, for fear of the Jews. And he asked Pilate to let him remove the body of Jesus. Pilate agreed, so he came and took away the body. Nicodemus, the man who at first had come to Jesus by night, also came and brought a jar of myrrh mixed with aloes, about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it in linen cloths with the spices, following the burial customs of the Jews.

There was a garden in the place where Jesus had been crucified, and, in the garden, a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And therefore, because the sepulchre was nearby, and the Jewish day of preparation was coming to a close, they placed the body of Jesus there.

Friday, 25 March 2016 : Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Hebrews 4 : 14-16 and Hebrews 5 : 7-9

We have a great High Priest, Jesus, the Son of God, who has entered heaven. Let us, then, hold fast to the faith we profess. Our High Priest is not indifferent to our weaknesses, for He was tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sinning. Let us, then, with confidence approach the throne of grace; we will obtain mercy and, through His favour, help in due time.

Christ, in the days of His mortal life, offered His sacrifice with tears and cries. He prayed to Him who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His humble submission. Although He was Son, He learnt through suffering what obedience was, and once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for those who obey Him.