Wednesday, 22 November 2017 : 33rd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today all of us heard the continuation of the story of the Maccabees rebellion against the Seleucid Empire as part of our first reading, and we also heard another story, from our Gospel passage, when Jesus told His disciples and the people about the parable of the silver pounds or silver talents according to the other Gospels.

In the first reading, we heard a particularly sad and tragic story of a family, specifically a mother with her seven sons who were arrested because they refused to abandon their faith and Jewish traditions, and were brought to the king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who ordered that all the Jewish people in his kingdom must abandon their faith and belief in God, and instead, obey the king and follow his religious customs.

The mother and her seven sons persisted in their adherence to the faith, and steadfastly refused to follow and obey the king’s commands for them to do what were against the commandments of God. Even though the king offered the brothers many generous gifts and the lucrative promises of position, prestige and honour as friends of the king, they still refused to listen to him.

As a result, they were martyred one by one, and to the very end, to the last of the seven brothers, and then to the mother herself, they remained true to their faith in God, and they did not abandon Him by sinning and submitting to the temptations of worldly power and pleasures. They had become examples for all the other Jewish people of their time, of how they should live faithfully even in the midst of great persecutions and tribulations, and remain true to their faith.

In the Gospel passage today, the Lord spoke about the parable of the talents in which three servants were given different amounts of silver talents depending on their respective abilities as judged by their master. The master left for a long journey, and found that upon his return, two of the three servants had been investing the silver talents, and thanks to their hard work and acumen, they managed to double the silver talents attained in return.

On the other hand, the lazy servant who refused to do anything with the silver talent hid it, and returned it to the master exactly as how it was given to him. As a result, he was severely punished by his master for his laziness and lack of action, while the two servants who had worked hard with the silver given to them were rewarded and entrusted with the master’s great favour and inheritance.

Then, what is the lesson which we can learn from the Scripture passages that we have heard today? First of all, the silver talents that the master granted his servants, are representative of the faith which God, Our Lord and Master has granted to us, His people. And it is our responsibility and duty, that we use that faith, and live according to that faith, or else, like the lazy servant, that faith will do nothing good for us at all.

The mother and her seven sons in the first reading today showed their way of being faithful to God, remaining true to their faith amidst persecution and challenges, refusing to sin rather than earning the wrath of God. They showed all of us the inspiration of how to be true disciples of the Lord, that is by no longer being ambivalent or ignorant about our faith, and doing what the Lord had commanded us to do in our lives, that our faith is really alive and not merely a formality.

Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Cecilia, a faithful woman and a holy servant of God, who chose to die for her faith rather than to abandon her faith in Him, and she exemplified the true nature of God’s faithful disciples, that is complete and total surrender of oneself to the will of God. She gave herself and dedicated herself to God, and maintained a state of holy virginity despite being forced to marry a pagan nobleman, who she managed to convert to the faith through her zeal and piety.

She was martyred for her faith during one of the great persecutions of the faithful, choosing to remain faithful to God rather than to surrender to the temptation to sin, much like the mother and her seven sons from the time of the Maccabees. All of these have shown us, brothers and sisters in Christ, that we must be truly faithful to God, and this does not mean that we must lay down our lives like theirs, but we must give our all to God.

Let us therefore draw closer to God, and seek to be ever more faithful and dedicated from now on. Let us grow stronger in our faith, and learn from the examples of our holy predecessors, the holy saints and martyrs, St. Cecilia and many more, how to be ever true to our faith in God, and how to bear rich fruits of God’s grace, and be rewarded as the master rewarded his two diligent and hardworking servants in the Gospel passage today. May God bless us always, now and forever. Amen.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017 : 33rd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate the feast of the presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Our Lord and God, Jesus Christ. On this day, parallel to the presentation of her Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord, which we celebrate on the second day of February, we see the venerable custom of the Jewish people, commanded by God in the Law, that all of the firstborn children of the people of God ought to be offered to God, to be sanctified before Him.

Through the Blessed Virgin Mary, God wanted to show all of His beloved people, His love and also hope for our salvation. Through her, the Saviour of this world has been born, the Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man through His mother Mary. Mary indeed has been prepared especially for this role, as the Church and our faith believes that she was conceived without sin, immaculate and pure from the moment of her conception.

Why is that so? That is because she was to be the one who bear the Saviour in her womb, as the one who would bear the Master of all the universe Himself, Who is all good and perfect. She is the new Ark of the Covenant, and as the old Ark which is made of precious metals and materials, the new Ark was even better, as compared to the old Ark which was the product of man’s craftsmanship, the new Ark was God’s craftsmanship alone, as all of us have been made in the image of God.

And when Mary was offered at the Temple to the Lord, it also symbolises the complete surrender and dedication to God, which all of us mankind are supposed to be doing with our lives as well. Mary kept herself in the service of God all her life, and she obeyed Him and followed Him in what He wanted to do with her life. She listened to God’s will and allowed Him to perform His wondrous works through her life, the most important of which was her acceptance of the role to be the Mother of God.

In the Gospel passage today, Jesus was speaking to the people about who is truly His brothers and sisters, His mother and His family. At the first glance, it might seem that Jesus was rebuking His own family and His own mother no less, as they were looking for Him and wanted to speak to Him, and yet He apparently refused to even acknowledge them as His family.

Yet, in reality, He was using the opportunity to teach the people and to reveal to them, that because of Himself, Who has come into this world, as the Son of God born of the Virgin and became Man, all of mankind who share in the humanity of Christ have also been called to become God’s children. But many of us have been wayward and refused to obey Him, and instead, we follow other leaders and other ways, falling into sin in the process.

This is where Jesus showed us the way to go forward, that is the best way for all of us to reach out to Heaven. And it is none other than through Himself, by His sacrifice on the cross, which bridged the once unbridgeable gap between us mankind and God, and this way passes through His mother, Mary. Thus, the saying, ‘ad Iesum per Mariam – To Jesus through Mary’, which signifies that Mary, the Mother of Our God is the best and easiest way for us to reach out to the Lord and His saving grace.

When Jesus mentioned in the Gospel today, that those who listen to the Lord and obey His will and commands are considered to be God’s family, He was in fact pointing out that Mary, is the best embodiment of that obedience, for her entire life, as I have mentioned earlier, has been dedicated to God and His service. Mary is the finest example for all of us Christians to follow, on how to be true disciples and followers of the Lord.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, as we celebrate together today as the whole entire Church, with joy for the remembrance of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, let us all renew our conviction and commitment to live faithfully, and filled with sincere and wholehearted faith, that in each and every one of our actions, we will always be ever faithful to God, following the examples of Mary, in her obedience and commitment to God.

Let us all also devote ourselves and indeed, resolve to present ourselves to the Lord, even though we are sinners and unworthy, so that through our renewed commitment and effort we will draw ever closer to Him, and be eventually ready to receive His everlasting grace. May God bless us always, and may His loving mother Mary intercede for our sake always. Amen.

Monday, 20 November 2017 : 33rd Week of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s reading, we begin the discourse from the Book of the Maccabees, in which we heard how the king of the Seleucid Empire, king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, persecuted the Jewish people living in his territory, as the Holy Land was then under Seleucid rule, and he also tried to enforce the Greek customs upon the Jewish people.

The suffering and dilemma faced by the Israelites at the time was truly great, as they were forced to choose between obeying God’s Law and suffer to the point of death, or to abandon the customs of their ancestors and the Law of God and live, receiving great honours and favours from the king and his court. Many of the Jewish people at the time were unable to resist the temptation to avoid suffering, and they abandoned their faith.

The Greek king even led his forces to capture the Temple of God in Jerusalem, desecrating it and built pagan idols within its compounds. Many were forced to worship those pagan idols and abandon their old faith to God. And such were the Jewish people scandalised by the great sins committed by the king, yet, there were many of those who resisted and persevered through the difficult times.

And the ones who led them in resistance were the namesake of this book, the Maccabees family, led by their father, Mattathias, who refused firmly against the king’s order to abandon their faith in God. Led by his sons, the people of Judea would rise up against the king, and through the help and grace of God, through many difficult years, persecutions and further troubles, they succeeded and triumphed against their enemies.

In the Gospel passage today, the Lord healed a man who was blind, who begged Him many times as He passed through near his place, that He might want to heal him from his blindness. He kept on trying and shouted begging for Jesus to have mercy on him, despite many people around him who told him to shut up.

Jesus had mercy on the man, and with His compassionate love, He healed the blind man from his affliction. In this we can see, as we relate it to the first reading, the story of the Maccabees rebellion, that God never abandoned His people. He is always ever faithful, even though we have often been unfaithful to Him. He always loved us no matter what.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, there will be plenty of times when we will feel that we are alone against the world, and that no one is around to help us, and not even God. That is why we give up on God, give up on everything, on our faith and all else, and give up to the demands of the world, much as how many of the Jewish people gave up to the demands of king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who demanded that they abandon their God.

Let us remember what we have heard this day, and keep in our minds and our hearts at all times, that we are always beloved by God, no matter what. He is always around for us, and He will guide us and help us according to His will. Sometimes, yes, we did have to suffer for a time, but if we remain faithful, our reward in God will be great.

Shall we strive to look for eternal joy that we can find in God alone, and not in the temporary and illusory false joy that this world offers? Let us remain true to our faith, and commit ourselves, our whole lives to God, by doing what He has asked us to do in our loves. May the Lord be with us always, for we are all His beloved children, those whom He will bless and protect at all times, against all evils. Amen.

Sunday, 19 November 2017 : Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday we heard from the Sacred Scriptures, the word of God reminding all of us Christians that each and every one of us must be active and dedicated Christians, meaning that we cannot be complacent and lukewarm in our faith, and more so, in how we live our lives according to that faith. This is what we must constantly remind ourselves, each and every days of our life.

In the Gospel today, the Lord Jesus spoke to the people and taught them with the well-known parable of the talents. In that parable, the Lord told them about three servants who were entrusted with silver talents, a lot of wealth for that time, and each of them were given different amount of talents by their master, who was about to go far away and was making preparations.

Through this parable, the Lord Jesus wanted to teach the people about the importance of being active and engaged in their faith, that they should not ignore what they have been called to do in their respective lives. The master who entrusted the silver talents to the three servants was none other than the Lord Himself, the Source and Master of all things.

Meanwhile, the servants represent all of us mankind, God’s people, who ought to follow Him and obey His commandments. And the silver talents represent the gifts, abilities, and indeed our specialties and talents in life, and just as the three servants have received different amounts of silver talents, we all know that all of us have been given different kinds of talents and skills.

Now, we have to discern what the servants had done after they received the silver talents, and understand how they relate to each one of us. The two servants who received five and two silver talents were hardworking, and immediately, after they have received the silver, they invested them and put them to good use, and thanks to their acumen and skill, they managed to earn double the amount of silver they have received.

Then, the lazy servant who had received one silver talent, did not do anything to the silver talent. He hid the silver and did nothing to it, until the time when the master returned to get an account of how his servants had been doing while he was away. This lazy servant represents all of us whom God had granted blessings, gifts, abilities, skills and talents, and yet, we refuse to do anything with them, or refuse to use it in the right manner.

What does this mean, brothers and sisters in Christ? It means that all of us need to do what the Lord had asked each one of us to do, that is to invest the gifts which He has given to us. And how do we do that? We must not keep all the things we have received to ourselves, but instead, we should share the joy and blessings with our brothers and sisters in need. Otherwise, when the Lord comes again, He will condemn us just as the master punished the lazy servant.

That is the first lesson that all of us should take note of. We cannot ignore the plight of others who are around us, and we have to show them care, compassion and love. That is how we invest the ‘talents’ that God had entrusted to us. Have we all heard of the saying, that ‘joy that is shared is double the joy’ and ‘sorrow that is shared is half the sorrow’? This is what we need to take this phrase into our hearts, and understand its meaning.

Then, secondly, each and every one of us are called to be generous in giving of ourselves to each other, and not to be worried about giving too much. As mentioned in the parable of the talents, the one who had received five talents and did well with it to earn five more talents, was given even more. This means that, the more we have been given by God, the more generously we should be in giving and sharing our joys with each other.

We often think that if we give away our blessings, and part with our money and possessions, we end up losing and will have less happiness. However, in reality, if we are to build for ourselves immense wealth and possessions in this world, and we do not share it with others, selfishly keeping everything for ourselves, as what the lazy servant had done, then to the Lord, we will be considered as fruitless and lacking in faith. For Him, if we have done this in our lives, we will have no treasure in Him, no matter how much we have in this world.

None of these will be with us, on the day when the Lord calls us to Him, at the end of our lives or at the end of our time, at the judgment of the souls of all mankind, when the Lord will judge us based on our deeds. Do we want to end up like the lazy servant, who was severely punished and cast out because of his lack of faith and action, when he should have used whatever it was that the master gave to him, that it may bear fruit and profits?

Finally, last of all, we should take note that, even the one who was given only one silver talent was expected to have his returns. What does this mean? That means, we should not be hesitant or be prejudiced when we ought to be generous to others. It does not mean that we are poor, then we cannot be generous to others. There are indeed many sad instances around the world, where the poor are oppressing the poor, just so that they may be able to gain more for their living.

Let us therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, as the followers of Our Lord, as Christians, heed the message of today’s Scripture passages, and be ever more generous and willing to share our joy with one another, and also to console those who are sorrowful, and care for those who have no one to care for them. Let us all show true Christian love in our actions and be genuine in our faith and dedication to the Lord. May God be with us always, and may He continue to bless all of our endeavours. Amen.

Saturday, 18 November 2017 : 32nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the Dedication of the Papal Basilica of St. Peter and Papal Basilica of St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Dedication of a Basilica)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today the Church commemorates the feast of the dedication of the two Basilicas, of St. Peter and St. Paul, which together with the Cathedral of Rome, the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, and the Papal Basilica of St. Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore) form the four Major Papal Basilicas in Rome, the most important churches in Christendom.

And the Papal Basilicas of St. Peter in Vatican and St. Paul Outside the Wall are in particular to the city and the Church in Rome, because both St. Peter and St. Paul were the ones who helped to establish the Church in Rome, the heart of the Roman Empire at that time, and became the important pillars of the early Church. As we know, St. Peter is the Prince of the Apostles, the leader of all of Christ’s disciples and Apostles, and the first Pope and Bishop of Rome. Meanwhile, St. Paul is the Apostle to the Gentiles, the one who helped the Church to propagate the message of the Gospels to the non-Jewish people.

Thus, these two great Basilicas are tributes and monuments built for the memory of these two most faithful servants of God, who gave their all to serve the Lord, devoting their whole lives to the end, defending their faith and proclaiming Christ the Lord to all men. The sites chosen for the Basilicas were significant places, as where the Papal Basilica of St. Peter was built, was where St. Peter the Apostle most likely encountered his martyrdom, by being crucified upside down, and the site of the Papal Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls was where St. Paul stayed during his time in Rome, as mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles.

St. Peter as the first Bishop of Rome worked among the faithful, preaching the Gospels and the messages of Christ, which brought about the conversion of many to the faith, together with St. Paul the Apostle, who came to Rome after being persecuted in Jerusalem and throughout his journeys. Both of them led the Christians in Rome, amidst a difficult and turbulent time, culminating in the great persecution under the Emperor Nero.

The Christian population of Rome was accused and scapegoated by the Emperor, blamed for causing the fire that burnt much of the great city. As such, many Christians were tortured and arrested, pursued and had their lives made very difficult. St. Paul himself was martyred in this condition, beheaded for his faith during this great tribulation, and yet he gladly laid down his life for the Lord.

St. Peter was also martyred a few years after this, as the persecution of Christians continued. He was crucified by the Roman authorities at the Vatican hills, as mentioned, where now stands the Basilica of St. Peter in Vatican. But St. Peter felt that he was not worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, and therefore, asked to be crucified upside-down instead. That was how St. Peter glorified God by his faith and steadfastness to the very end.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we rejoice in the celebration of the anniversary of the dedication of these great Houses of God dedicated to His beloved two saints, the main pillars and foundations of His Church in this world, St. Peter and St. Paul, let us remember that their works and missions are still far from over. There are still many things that are not yet done, and there are still many more areas that require our attention.

We are the modern day successors of the Apostles and the disciples of the Lord, and the same commands which Our Lord had given to His Apostles to reach out to all the peoples of all the nations, preaching the Good News of God’s salvation and calling them to Him have therefore been passed on to us. Now, what matters is, for us to do what the Lord expects from us to do, that we walk in the path of the Apostles, particularly the glorious and faithful St. Peter and St. Paul. Pray for us, o Holy Apostles! Amen.

Saturday, 18 November 2017 : 32nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the Dedication of the Papal Basilica of St. Peter and Papal Basilica of St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Dedication of a Basilica)

Wisdom 18 : 14-16 and Wisdom 19 : 6-9

While all was in quiet silence and the night was in the middle of its course, Your Almighty Word leapt down from the royal throne – a stern Warrior to a doomed world. Carrying Your fearful command like a sharpened sword and stretching from heaven to earth, He filled the universe with death.

All creation in its different forms was fashioned anew at Your command, in order to protect Your people. The cloud covered the camp with its shadow, dry land emerged where water had been. A safe passage was opened through the Red Sea, the tempestuous flood became a green plain where the whole nation of those protected by Your hand passed across, witnessing Your astounding deeds.

They were like horses led to pasture, or like frolicking lambs, praising You, their Lord, Who had delivered them.

Alternative reading (Mass for Dedication of the Basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul)

Acts 28 : 11-16, 30-31

After three months, we boarded a ship that had spent the winter at the island. It belonged to an Alexandrian company, and carried the figurehead of Castor and Pollux as insignia. We sailed for Syracuse, staying there for three days; and, after circling the coast, we arrived at Rhegium.

On the following day, a south wind began to blow, and, at the end of two days, we arrived at Puteoli, where we found some of our brothers, who invited us to stay with them for a week. And that was how we came to Rome. There, the brothers and sisters had been informed of our arrival, and came out to meet us as far as the Appian Forum and the Three Taverns.

When Paul saw them, he gave thanks to God and took courage. Upon our arrival in Rome, the captain turned the prisoners over to the military governor, but permitted Paul to lodge in a private house, with the soldier who guarded him.

Paul stayed for two whole years, in a house he, himself, rented, where he received, without any hindrance, all those who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God, and taught the truth about Jesus Christ, the Lord, quite openly and without any hindrance.

Friday, 17 November 2017 : 32nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Religious (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us are reminded that all of us must be vigilant at all times, for the coming of the Lord will come suddenly without warning, and even without signs or forewarning. It will catch and surprise many who are not ready for His coming, because all of them have been distracted by the many idols of this world.

In today’s first reading, taken from the Book of Wisdom, it was described how the people who worshipped the idols, pagan idols representing natural forces and wonders, such as worship of the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountains, the seas and the rivers, deserts, and many more of others, prevalent in numerous civilisations and cultures, have been preoccupied with the marvels of creation, and yet fail to recognise the Author of all of them, that is God.

That was why, instead of properly giving thanks or focusing to the One Who deserves all praise and honour, we mankind ended up being distracted by the marvels of the created things. And if we think that all these problems happened only in the past, then we are wrong. In our present day, the same issues still exist. If in the past it was the wonders of nature and creation, now we end up being distracted by our own human creations and worldly goods.

For example, our attachment to money and worldly possessions will end up distracting us from our faith, and turning us into immorality and greed. Many of us are distracted by our career and in that, our pursuit for more money, status, fame, worldly glory and possessions, that we have forgotten about the Lord our God. We spent so much time trying to gather for ourselves all these things that we end up spending little or no time for God.

That, brothers and sisters in Christ, is no different from the way how the people in those days worshipped the pagan idols and forgot about the Lord their God, as was evident in many occasions throughout the Old Testament. And that was why the Lord was angry at His people, because they have abandoned Him for those pagan idols, and many of us did not do any better with our own modern day idols.

What do we all, as Christians, need to do then? All of us need to reflect on each and every one of our lives, and what we have done, and how we have lived every single day. Have we been distracted in our way to the Lord by the many temptations in life? Have we done what we need to do in order to prepare for the Lord? In the Gospel today, we heard about how in the past, many people had been caught unprepared and unaware in sin, from the time of Noah to the time of Lot.

Those people who lived at the time of Noah and Lot lived wickedly, committing sins before God by immoral behaviours and by corrupting themselves with sinful acts, the worship of false and pagan idols, and many more. They rejected the Lord their God and settled for worldly pleasures and corruptions. That was how they met their downfall, when the great flood came at the time of Noah, and when the flames and sulfur rained down upon Sodom and Gomorrah, destroying all who refused to repent.

Having learnt of all these examples, how can we then avoid the fate of those who have gone to their just fate because of their sins? As Christians, all of us must put God first and foremost in our lives, to give our whole heart, love and attention to Him, and to no other. We cannot let the temptations of the idols present in our lives from distracting us in our journey towards God.

That said, money, power, fame and many other things I have mentioned are on their own not wicked or evil by their nature. These can be used for either good or evil purposes. Rather, it is our unhealthy attachment to them, our greed for them that led us to idolise these things and forget about the Lord our God. This is why many of us faltered in our faith, because we were not able to resist those temptations.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us strive to reorientate our lives and rethink our life choices and priorities. We should devote our time and effort towards God, and not to be too attached to worldly temptations of money, possessions, fame, glory and many others. And we should also perhaps follow the example of today’s saint, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, a renowned princess turned into a devout servant of God towards the end of her life.

St. Elizabeth of Hungary led a very virtuous and holy life, dedicated to God and to her family. Yet, she lost her husband at a relatively young age, and she became a widow. She encountered many difficulties and harsh treatments after that, and yet she persevered through all of them and continued to be charitable throughout the remainders of her life, caring for the poor and the sick, building hospitals and care houses for them.

The examples of St. Elizabeth of Hungary should be inspiration to all of us, that no matter what prestige, honour, glory and fame, monetary wealth or other things we have in life, we must first and foremost give our hearts to God, and love Him with all of our strength. Then, we also have to love our fellow brothers and sisters, particularly those who are in need of our help.

Let us all do our best, therefore, to become ever more devoted disciples of Our Lord, by practicing our faith with commitment throughout the rest of our lives. May He empower all of us to live courageously in His presence, and may we draw ever closer to Him. St. Elizabeth of Hungary, pray for us sinners as well. Amen.