Friday, 5 June 2020 : 9th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Boniface, Bishop and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, through our Scripture passages today, we have heard of the reality of what it means to be a follower of Christ as Christians, and that often involves suffering and challenges. We have heard in our first reading from the Epistle that St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy, how persecution, trials and challenges had followed St. Paul all throughout his missionary journeys and efforts, and many of those occasions he was almost killed by all those who disagreed with him and refused to believe in the truth of God.

And St. Paul mentioned the truth clearly to St. Timothy, his godson and one of the early successors of the Apostles as the leaders of the Church, that all who follow Christ will suffer the persecution that Christ Himself had suffered, they will be rejected and ridiculed much as the Lord Himself had suffered humiliation, pain and the rejection of the world, and St. Paul wanted St. Timothy to know that, should he suffer for his faith and encounter difficulties during his missionary efforts and works, he was not alone in all that.

St. Paul used this opportunity to reaffirm the faith in his fellow servants of the Lord, giving them the courage and strength to carry on with their mission, in this case, St. Timothy himself. St. Paul used the example of how he himself had faced such bitter struggles and opposition, and yet, still survived to tell the tale, and still even had strong faith in the Lord, if not even stronger and more committed than before, to show all of us the faithful people of God, that we must not lose faith in Him and trust in Him.

We should not allow fear to lead us away from the path that the Lord has shown us, or make us to hide in fear and ignore our calling in life as God’s people, bearing the truth of His salvation to the nations. It was because of St. Paul and the many other Apostles and disciples of the Lord, as well as their successors, St. Timothy and many others, their courage and commitment to the Lord that many Christians were able to persevere in their faith despite the many challenges they encountered.

Many of the Apostles, disciples, and their successors met painful sufferings and martyrdoms, and yet, they still continued to give their best to serve the Lord and their brethren, the flock entrusted under their care. And all of these were because they trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ, His truth and love for each and every one of us, His beloved people, Who has brought into this world the pure and undeniable truth of God’s desire to save us all from certain destruction, and lead us into the new life and existence through Him.

This is why in the Gospel today, we heard why a lot of people still followed the Lord Jesus even though His ideas and truth might sound very difficult for certain segments of the society to accept, such as His identity as the Son of David and the Heir of the Kingdom of Israel, the Saviour or Messiah of the people, and even more so, being the very Son of God Most High Himself, the Divine Word of God incarnate in the flesh. Many of the people were touched by the truth, and stirred to know more about the truth because they had not closed their hearts and minds.

That was why, even though St. Paul and the other Apostles and disciples encountered many challenges, difficulties, ridicule and rejection throughout their ministry among the people, but there were also many people who were willing to listen to them and many eventually became believers and were baptised as Christians. These were the seeds of faith sown even through the most bitter and difficult years of persecution against the Christian faith, and by the faith and courage of those faithful servants of God, the Church and the faithful persevered through those difficult years.

Today, we also mark the feast of St. Boniface, a renowned bishop and Martyr of the Church. St. Boniface was remembered for his many works of mission among the pagan peoples in what is now modern day Germany. He worked very hard, much like St. Paul and the Apostles in the early days of the Church, in order to establish the foundations of the Church and the Christian faith in the vast lands of Germania, then still mostly pagan and ripe for the harvest of the faith.

St. Boniface went on many missions to convert the pagan peoples, preaching to them about the Lord and His Good News, patiently teaching them all about the Lord, and travelling from places to places bringing the Good News to more and more people. He was also renowned for his felling of the sacred oak of the pagans, known as Donar’s Oak, to which many of the newly converted Christians still went to worship as part of their old pagan practices. St. Boniface fell the tree down with an ax, and despite the curse from the people who witnessed it, the whole oak miraculously split apart and came down crashing, and the wood used to build a church in honour of St. Peter the Apostle. Many of the people who witnessed the event became true believers from then on.

St. Boniface worked hard to establish the Church in the land of Germania and was also committed to the reform of Church practices and disciplines, reducing clerical excesses and secular interference. He encountered much difficulty throughout his ministry, much like St. Paul and the other Apostles, disciples and servants of God. But those things did not stop St. Paul from dedicating himself to the cause of the Lord. In the end, waylaid by Frisian bandits during one of his journeys, St. Boniface faced death in martyrdom defending his faith against the wicked ones.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we all inspired to live our lives from now on with faith, following the great examples set by our holy and dedicated predecessors? Let us place our focus rather on the potential of glorious things to come rather than fearing the trials and persecutions of the world. Are we able to commit our time, effort and attention to serve the Lord from now on with greater fidelity and commitment, with greater sincerity and love for God and for our fellow men alike? Let us all discern these things carefully, and dedicate ourselves from now on, to the greater glory of God, now and always. May God bless us all. Amen.

Thursday, 4 June 2020 : 9th Week of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard from the Sacred Scriptures a very powerful and important reminder for each and every one of us of our supreme duty as Christians to be people of love, acting with love and dedicating ourselves to the cause of love, not love that is selfish but rather pure and self-giving, following the examples of none other than the Lord Himself, Who has shown us what love truly means for each one of us.

In our Gospel reading today, we heard of the conversation between the Lord Jesus and a teacher of the Law who was curious of the Lord’s teachings and words and wanted to find out more on His opinion regarding the Law of God. To the teachers of the Law, and also the Pharisees, the Law was a very important part of their lives and daily activities, and serve as the focus of their teachings and their way of life. However, in their often zealous and sometimes stubborn pursuit of such efforts, they became engulfed in obsession over the way of life they have preserved for years.

That was how the Lord Jesus and His disciples often ended up in conflict and disagreement with the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who saw the actions and the teachings of the Lord Jesus to be contrary to the strict adherence and interpretation of the Law revealed through Moses. For over the centuries since the revelation of the Law, the people had lost sight over the true purpose and significance of why the Law was given to us from God.

What was meant to be the guide and help for the people in their journey towards the Lord, had become instead chains that kept them oppressed and pressured, living in strict and yet, empty and dead faith. What was meant to free mankind from their attachments and the chains of sin and wickedness, ended up being misused by those who failed to appreciate the real purpose and meaning of the Law of God, because they did not have real and genuine love for God.

But as we can see, there are those among the teachers of the Law and also the Pharisees who were touched by the truth that the Lord has brought into our midst. They wanted to know more about the Law, and the Lord helped them to understand what the Law truly means, not just the strict way of observing the Law that matters, but rather, why we need to obey the Law of God in the first place. Those who misunderstood the Law did so because they only see the Law in its ‘letters’ but fail to appreciate the ‘spirit’ of the Law.

The Law of God, as summarised by the Lord, is in its essence about love, love that is pure, selfless and giving, and first of all, to love the Lord our God, our Creator and Master, the One Who loves us all so perfectly that He had created us out of that love, and Who has given us His inheritance and blessings, that we may live our lives in this world, filled with every graces and heavenly blessings. God has loved us so much and yet, we mankind often overlook and ignore His love.

In the same way, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were so engrossed in trying to fulfil all the demands of their own strict interpretation and observance of the Law that they became distracted and ended up acting to preserve their own ego and pride, as they revelled in the respect and adulation they received for their efforts. They turned their gazes inward and into themselves rather than connecting themselves to the love of God as they should have done.

God has shown us His pure love, and there is no greater love indeed, in His own words, than for someone to give his or her life for his or her friends. And God showed this by His own concrete example, when He came down into this world Himself, born as the Son of Man through His mother Mary. And through His incarnation into this world, the Lord has shown His ultimate love for us, and which He carried on all the way to Calvary, as He bore His cross and died for us, the ultimate sacrifice of love.

As the Lord has showed us His love so amazingly and so wonderfully with such a great dedication, that we too, as Christians have to follow His examples, and show the same love to the Lord as He has loved us. Are we able to commit ourselves to love Him sincerely from now on? Are we able and willing to deepen our relationship with the Lord, putting Him as the priority over our lives? Let us all not be easily distracted by the many temptations present all around us, and let us not lose sight of the need for us to have a genuine loving relationship with God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, at the same time, just as the Lord said, then we must also show the same love towards our fellow brothers and sisters, caring and showing genuine love to them, wanting for the good of everyone. This is what we need to do in our actions and our lives as Christians. If we have not done so yet, then perhaps we need to do what we can to begin following the path that God has set before us.

Let us all therefore follow the true Law of God from now on, appreciating that through the Law, we are all called to show genuine and sincere love. Let us all be filled with love in all things, and devote ourselves to God and to the care of our fellow brethren, with all of our hearts from now on. May God bless us all in our good endeavours, now and always. Amen.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020 : 9th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard the words of the Lord speaking to us and reminding us of the need for us to be faithful to God and to dedicate ourselves to Him despite the challenges, trials and persecutions we may encounter through life, and this is because the Lord has always been faithful to the Covenant that He has established with each and every one of us. We have nothing to fear and trust that a great and wonderful future and inheritance have been prepared for us by the Lord.

In our first reading today, we heard what St. Paul wrote in his Epistle to St. Timothy, one of the earliest leaders of the Church as bishop and successor to the Apostles. St. Paul encouraged and strengthened St. Timothy as his mentor in the faith, that he ought not to lose courage and hope even in the midst of challenges that he might face throughout his own ministry given how often St. Paul had to endure persecution and ridicule during his missionary journeys.

St. Paul encouraged St. Timothy to continue in his mission and dedicate himself to the service of God, to ‘fan into flame’ the zeal and the Spirit that God had given unto them, referring to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which St. Paul had received from the Apostles, and which St. Timothy had also received together with other members of the faithful. St. Paul uttered the powerful and encouraging words, that ‘God had not given us the spirit of fearfulness, but the spirit of strength, love and good judgement.’

St. Paul reassured St. Timothy and as such all of us as Christians, that he trusted completely in the Lord that no matter what, as he knew that for all the sufferings he had to endure, in the very end, the Lord will vindicate him and grant him and all the faithful ones, true joy and eternal glory, and St. Paul emphasised how the Lord Jesus Christ, Saviour of the world had triumphed against sin and death, darkness and evil, and showed us all the path to freedom from all of these, through Christ.

And all these are related to what we have heard in our Gospel passage today, as we heard of the encounter and exchanges between the Lord and the members of the Sadducees, one of the two most powerful and influential groups within the Jewish community at that time. While the Pharisees represented those who zealously guarded the traditions and spiritual life of the people, the powerful intellectual and religious elite who had great influence over the society, the Sadducees represented the secular and powerful societal elites who were mostly irreligious and worldly in their attitudes and bearing.

The Sadducees rejected spiritual aspects of the Jewish customs and teachings, refusing to believe in the presence of Angels and the Spirit, as well as the concept of the afterlife. They rejected the notion that there is life after death and Resurrection after death into a new life. To them, this life on earth is the only life they have and are living through, and no other things matter more than to enjoy the world as it is, and thus, they tend to live an excessive lifestyle, and had self-serving and selfish attitudes.

But the Lord rebuked them well when they came up to Him and tried to test Him with the trick question, asking if seven brothers all shared a woman as their wife, as according to the Jewish laws and customs, when a man died without having any descendant to continue his name and lineage, it was his brother’s responsibility and obligation to take the widow of the deceased man to be his own wife, and the firstborn child of the union would be considered as the child of the deceased brother.

Based on what we have heard, the Sadducees showed their disdain and lack of belief in anything spiritual, on the matter of afterlife and faith, by their worldly way of thinking, desiring for worldly pleasures and joys, including having wives and therefore perhaps other forms of worldly desires and wants. Their preoccupation with such matters showed that their attachments to the world prevented them from being able to follow the Lord and have faith in Him.

This is why, brothers and sisters in Christ, in this world, all of us as Christians are challenged to overcome our excessive attachments to the world and to be more trusting in God and allow Him to guide us in our path. St. Paul had shown this in our first reading today, as he reminded all of us not to worry about worldly trials and persecutions, or even to suffer and to endure ridicule and rejection from the world as we live our lives in a most Christian manner. Instead of worrying about our lives now, let us instead focus our attention on the assurance of the life that is to come, the fullness of life and true joy in the kingdom of God.

Today, coincidentally we celebrate the feast of saints whose lives and examples essentially explain what we have been discussing today. The Holy Martyrs of Uganda, namely St. Charles Lwanga and his many companions, missionaries and local converts to the Christian faith, martyrs of brutal persecutions against them, show us what it truly means for us as Christians to remain faithful to the Lord even amidst opposition, and at times, danger and threats to our livelihood and existence.

At that time, as Christian missionaries began to come to the region now known as Uganda, those missionaries were quite successful in their efforts and quite a few people came to believe in the Lord and gave themselves to be baptised as Christians. Before long, the missionary works and efforts led to conversions among the local populace, and quite a few of the local nobles and high-ranking officials also converted. Unfortunately, this caused members of the faithful, the missionaries and the local converts to be caught up in the bitter political struggle for control at that time.

Very soon, the king who was suspicious and wary of the rapid growth of the Christian faith and its rapidly growing followers, began to persecute the Christians from all walks of life, from the common men right up to even those among the nobles and the officials. Christian objections and opposition to some of the immoral attitudes and actions of the king and the then still pagan members of the community made opposition and persecution against them to become even more rampant and powerful.

It was at Namugongo just outside of modern day Kampala, the capital of Uganda, that dozens of Christians, including St. Charles Lwanga, the chief page or servant of the king, were burnt to death because of their refusal to recant their Christian faith and embrace the immoral actions ordered by the king. As the chief page, St. Charles Lwanga often did his best to protect the victims of the king’s immoral actions and behaviours from his efforts and advances at fornication and sin with them. St. Charles Lwanga became a Catholic and baptised many hundreds of his fellow compatriots in the faith secretly, even from the time when he himself was just merely a catechumen.

When the Christian converts refused to abandon their newfound faith in God, they were tortured and brutally put to death, mostly by burning on the stake. Their courage in standing up for their faith, their steadfast refusal from abandoning their faith and safeguarding their own personal desires and safety, knowing that God was always with them and standing by them, became a great source of inspiration and example for many Christians over the years. At the site of their martyrdom now stands a great Basilica, the Basilica of Holy Ugandan Martyrs at Namugongo which draw regularly over two million pilgrims every year.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, having heard and seen the faith of St. Paul the Apostle, the courage and faith of the Holy Martyrs of Uganda we are all called to reexamine our way of life and our faith. Are we able to trust in God and to have faith in Him as our holy predecessors had shown us all? Are we able to detach ourselves from worldly excesses, from worldly temptations and the allures of worldly pleasures? Let us all reorientate our lives so that from now on, we live no longer for the purpose of attaining our own selfish desires, but rather to glorify God with every single actions and deeds in life.

May the Lord be with us always and may He be our guide, that we may always have that courage and strength in us to carry on living with faith even though we may endure ridicule, suffering, pain and even persecution because of our dedication to the Lord. Let us all be ever more genuine followers of Christ from now on. O Holy Martyrs of Uganda, St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, pray for us all your brothers and sisters in faith, that we too may have the strength and courage to follow the Lord as you have done. Amen.

Tuesday, 2 June 2020 : 9th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Marcellinus and St. Peter, Martyrs (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the words of the Sacred Scripture we are presented with the calling for us to deepen our relationship with God, to follow Him and to obey His Law and commandments. We are called to reflect on our lives’ actions and whether they truly proclaim God’s glory and whether we have been faithful in doing what God has commanded and taught us to do in our lives.

In our first reading today, we listened to the words of St. Peter the Apostle reminding the faithful to remain steadfast in their faith, not to be deceived by the words of the false prophets and teachers, that they hold fast to the true and authentic Christian faith and truth as had been taught and revealed to them by the Apostles. Indeed, in time to come, there would be many who spread heresies and falsehoods among the people, causing confusion and division, because these people did not have strong and genuine faith in God.

Many of them put their own human and worldly desires, wants, and ambitions ahead and above their faith and obligation to stay true to that faith in God. They propagated their own ideas and false ways, and in the end, causing division and bitterness among the members of the Church, the faithful people of God. St. Peter therefore in his Epistle today forewarned of what would happen to the faithful community, and reminded them all to keep their faith.

Then in our Gospel passage today we heard about the Lord speaking to the Pharisees, sent by the elders and the teachers of the Law to set Him up and test Him, as the latter group wanted to find a reason to have Christ arrested and sentenced for His ways and teachings which the Jewish elders and the elites found to be unnerving and against their own way and teachings. At that time, the Pharisees used the matter of paying taxes in order to trick the Lord into a seemingly inescapable situation.

Why is that so? That is because no matter what the Lord supported of doing, it would end up hurting Him and His credibility, and through the Pharisees, the elders and the teachers of the Law wanted to use this opportunity as strong evidence against the Lord. At that time, paying of taxes was a topic that could bring about bitter argument, disagreement and violence among the people. Many people at that time despised paying taxes and only did pay grumblingly.

That is because many among the Jewish people did not like being ruled by the Romans, who had recently taken over control of Judea and the surrounding regions. And no one likes to have their incomes taxed and burdened with fees that they have to pay, less still to the so-called conquerors and overlords. That was why at that time, the tax collectors were also often hated and reviled in the society. If the Lord answered that the people ought to pay taxes to the Romans, then the Pharisees could gather strong evidence against Him by the people.

In addition, as the taxes must be paid with the Roman coins, in denarius or sestertius at the time, which were casted with the image of the Roman Emperor, to some among the Jews, it would be tantamount to acknowledgement of the Emperor’s divine status and also a form of idolatry which made the matter even more complicated. Thus, if the Lord had supported the paying of taxes, He could have landed Himself in a very big trouble.

On the other hand, if the Lord had said that the people should not pay the taxes, then the elders could quickly construe that as an act of disobedience and rebellion against the Romans, and as the Romans took acts of treason and disobedience, less still rebellion, very seriously, it could have led to a very adverse and troublesome ending for the Lord and His disciples. But the Lord solved the situation in a very ingenious way that certainly none of His opponents had expected.

He simply said that, ‘Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God’. This means that the denarius and sestertius coins used in the tax payment indeed belong to man, and since the government decreed it that way, that all the citizens and other people living in the Empire must pay their due to the state and the Emperor then they ought to obey it. And in the same way, if we obey the law of the state and give what the state demands, then we must also obey the Lord and give to Him what He has asked from us.

It is something that all of us ought to discern carefully and consider, whether we have been truly faithful to God or not in our lives. Have we given Him what we should have given Him, our love, our faith, fidelity and obedience, our commitment and dedication? Or have we instead been distracted by various worldly concerns and desires, by the many temptations of life that we end up forgetting our obligations and responsibilities as Christians?

As what St. Peter had reminded the faithful of the need for us to put our faith in God and to stay steadfast in our devotion to Him, this is where we have been called and challenged to do so, in our daily living. And today, we also celebrate the feast of two great saints and martyrs, whose life examples, courage and faith can inspire us to be good Christians on our own. St. Peter, who was named after St. Peter the Apostle, and St. Marcellinus were two renowned martyrs of the Church.

Both of them were known as faithful servants of God who died during the particularly harsh persecution of Christians under the rule of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. St. Peter and St. Marcellinus were faithful to the Lord and even though there was not much known about them, but their life stories and commitment must have been so powerful and moving for many, that their commemoration were widespread and they were respected as faithful servants of God to the very end of their lives.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us are called to reexamine our lives and how we have lived them all these while. We have our holy and dedicated predecessors, like St. Marcellinus and St. Peter to show us their courage and commitment, that they were willing to suffer and die for their faith amidst the tough and challenging persecutions of their faith by the Roman Emperor and the administration. Let us do our best, in our own lives, to be good servants of God, to be faithful in all things, and at the same time, be good citizens of this world, obeying the rules and laws of the land as long as they do not contradict our Christian Law and commandments.

May the Lord help us and give us the strength needed for us to persevere in faith from now on, following the examples of the saints and martyrs, and become inspirations ourselves for our fellow brothers and sisters. Let us all listen to the Lord, and follow His advice, ‘to give to the world, what belongs to the world, and most importantly, give to God, what belongs to God, that is our hearts, our whole existence, our whole beings.’ May God bless us in our every good endeavours. Amen.

Monday, 1 June 2020 : 9th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Our Lady, Mother of the Church, and St. Justin, Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as the whole Church all of us celebrate the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God, who is also the Mother of the Church, or Mater Ecclesiae. Pope Francis declared this day after the Pentecost Sunday as this Feast approximately over two years ago and this is the third time that we are celebrating this feast of Mary, Our Lady and Mother of the Church. But we must not then think that this title of the Mother of the Church as a modern invention or something new to our faith.

On the contrary, Mary has been known as the Mother of the Church since the earliest days of the Church along with the other titles like Theotokos or the Mother of God (or God-Bearer). Mary always had that special position within the Church and among Christians, and many always sought her intercession and help for their various needs, and the various devotions towards her rose and became popular over the centuries.

What then, is the Scriptural foundation of this Marian title and our devotion to her as the Mother of the Church? It is exactly what we have heard in our Gospel passage today, recounting to us the very moment just before our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ was about to die on the Cross for our salvation. Mary, His mother as well as His beloved disciple, St. John the Apostle was by the side of His Cross as He was about to offer His life and die for our sins.

It was at that moment that the Lord then entrusted to St. John, His own mother Mary to be under his care, while at the same time, He also entrusted St. John to the care of His mother Mary. It may seem to be quite strange that such double-entrustment happened, but if we understand the significance of this event and the importance of Mary to us Christians and the Church, then we will understand clearly why the Lord did as He did that day as He was hanging from the Cross.

St. John the Apostle in fact signifies and symbolises the Church, that is all of us Christians, as our representative in this new relationship we have with Mary, the Mother of God and the Mother of the Church. After all, the Church was established by Our Lord Himself and is His by right, and everything belongs to Him. If we call Mary as the Mother of God, then it makes perfect sense for her to be also accorded the title of the Mother of the Church.

We honour Mary as such with this title because first and foremost, she is truly the greatest of all the role models in faith that we have, greater than all the other saints, holy men and women of God. It was her faith, her dedication and commitment, her virtuous and pure life, dedicated solely to the greater glory of God that are such great inspirations for us, that for the many centuries after, the Church has accorded to her such honours and encouraged us Christians to follow in her examples and good life.

And because she is the Mother of the Church, our loving Mother, surely all of us as her beloved adopted children ought to listen to her and follow her good examples? Just as at Cana in Galilee where the Lord Jesus performed His very first miracle, in turning the water into wine, the Lord Himself listened to the pleas made by His mother Mary for help on behalf of the wedding couple in distress. And Mary at that same time also told the servants to listen to her Son and ‘do whatever He tells you to do’.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, that is exactly what we need to do as well in our own lives. Our mother is telling us and has always told us to listen to her Son, to follow Him and to be good Christians in our daily living. Are we able to listen to our mother’s advice and follow her good examples and faith? She has appeared many times to various people over time, all with reminders and call to everyone to return back to her Son and to repent from our sinful ways.

Today, as we honour Mary as our beloved mother and the Mother of the Church, let us all then listen to her and follow her own good examples and dedicate ourselves in walking down the path of faith from now on. Let us all entrust ourselves to the Blessed Mother’s care, and follow the Lord together with her leading the way. Let us all therefore continue our journey in faith and do what we have been called to do, to be faithful witnesses of the Lord’s truth, salvation and Resurrection.

May the Lord continue to guide us and give us the strength and courage to persevere in faith through life. May He bless us in all of our efforts and good endeavours, from now on. O Mary, Holy Mother of God and Mother of the Church, pray for us sinners, your beloved children, that your Son may continue to give us His strength to follow your good examples in faith, for each and every moments of our lives. Amen.

Sunday, 31 May 2020 : Solemnity of Pentecost Sunday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday we celebrate the great Solemnity of the Pentecost or Pentecost Sunday, which from its name marks the fiftieth day after the occasion of the Passover in the original Jewish tradition, and later on, gain the much more important meaning as the fiftieth day after the Resurrection of the Lord and the day when the Holy Spirit of God descended on the disciples of Christ as has been promised to them. On this day we recall that moment when the Holy Spirit descended and began the sequence of events that has impacted the world so much through the Church.

Why is that so? That is because on this day we mark the very beginning of the Church that we know of, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. It is One because through the Lord, He has established His one and only Church in this world on the Apostles’ as the pillars of the foundation of the Church, and the foundation was on St. Peter, the ‘Rock’ as the Lord Himself said that, ‘You are Peter, and on this ‘Rock’ I will build My Church’, and the Church is Holy, because the Holy Spirit itself has sanctified the Church and the Church has divine origins.

And the Church is Catholic because it is Universal, embracing all peoples and all the children of God, uniting through itself all the scattered people of God, who have been scattered because of their sins and disobedience against God. The Church teachings are also Universal, embracing all peoples without exception, and lastly, it is Apostolic, because through the Holy Spirit, the Church has become missionary and is reaching out to the world, to bring forth the truth of God and to make disciples of all peoples of all the nations.

On that day, on the very first Pentecost, as the Holy Spirit come down descending on the Apostles, the Church was born and became tangible, as the Apostles, inflamed and encouraged by the strength, courage and wisdom of the Holy Spirit went out from their hiding place and went before the whole people gathered in Jerusalem for the Festival of the Pentecost, and preached before them the truth about God and His salvation through Jesus, the Saviour of all the whole world.

That is why we refer to the Pentecost as the birthday of the Church because looking back in time through the history of the Church we can find the pivotal moment of the first Pentecost when the Apostles began their evangelising mission and works in earnest, casting aside their fears and doubts, and began working among the people, gaining their trust and baptising the very first converts, more than three thousand people on that Pentecost day alone, which marked the beginning of the Church and the first Christian community.

Through the Pentecost, by the power of the Holy Spirit, many people found a new life and existence in God, and they received a new life, no longer of darkness and sin. They received the Holy Spirit from the hands of the Apostles, who themselves had received the same Spirit from the Lord. By the gift and reception of the Holy Spirit, they have embraced God’s love in its fullness, and began to bear the wonderful fruits of the Holy Spirit, inspiring one another to live righteously at all times.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, through our own baptism we have also received the same Holy Spirit, passed down to us from the successors of the Apostles through the ages, namely the many bishops and priests who have faithfully served the Church. And those among us who have also received the Sacrament of Confirmation have been deemed worthy and mature enough in the faith, that we have the fullness of the gifts and the wonders of the Holy Spirit, and therefore are called to follow in the footsteps of the Apostles and the missionaries of the Lord.

What does this mean, brothers and sisters in Christ? It means that all of us must be active in living up to our faith as dedicated Christians, as the members of this one Church of God that was founded on Pentecost. We must bear rich fruits of the Holy Spirit, bountiful produce of what we have been given, all the gifts and wonders, the wisdom and knowledge that the Holy Spirit had granted us. But too often we have ignored these gifts, and we are often too busy and preoccupied with various worldly matters and concerns that we failed to bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, today let us all go through all the fruits of the Holy Spirit, of which there are nine of them, nine being the number that is both holy and associated with perfection, completeness and the goodness of God. These seven fruits of the Holy Spirit are, according to St. Paul, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. All these are the signs and concrete markers of how our Christian communities live in the way of the Lord. If we bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit, then it means that we have been good and faithful.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we go through the fruits of the Holy Spirit together, let us all begin with the most important of all of them, that is love. For love is the most important of the fruits of the Holy Spirit just as it is also the most important of all the Christian virtues. Without love, St. Paul said, all the good things, talents and deeds we have mean nothing, as with all of our abilities and talents, with all the great things we can and have accomplished, without love, it means nothing.

How do we then practice love so as to bear this fruit of the Holy Spirit richly? It is by putting our brothers and sisters always foremost in our minds, caring for them, thinking about them and be compassionate towards them. There are many people out there who have not experienced real love, and many in our world today are too distracted by various worldly concerns and their selfishness that they ended up hurting each other and causing suffering to one another. Let our actions then bear the love of God to our fellow men, by showing genuine care and concern, and the desire to see others happy and joyful, glad and be filled with God’s grace.

Now, then, let us all go to the second fruit of the Holy Spirit, that is joy. Joy is something that all of us Christians must have with us, as we are truly the children of God, and first of all, God has shown us the path to eternal life, joy and happiness through Him, and He has reassured us again and again that all these will be ours if we are faithful to Him. Yet, many of us have not felt this real joy or are even stressed and saddened, because once again, we have been too distracted by the false pleasures and joys of the world.

Too many of us are looking for satisfaction of the world, to gain more money and properties, wealth and income, to gain more fame and recognition among the many other things we mankind commonly desire for. We live in a world filled with materialistic lifestyle and the pressure to follow this way of life are all around us. How can we then, as Christians, live our lives so as to bear the joyful fruit of the Holy Spirit?

Again, it is by putting God at the very centre of our existence, that everything we do, we do for His sake, knowing that in Him, we have everything we need, and true joy is ours to have. And particularly, these days, when the whole world and so many people are sorrowful and even despairing, having lost their loved ones or are suffering from the effects of the pandemic, we can share our joy with them, consoling them and being with them in their time of great need.

Then, we go now into the third fruit of the Holy Spirit, that is peace. Peace is something that all of us mankind are always looking out for, wanting to have either a peace of mind, peace in our lives and in our families, peace with our friends and everyone else, and peace with those who hated us and persecuted us. Yet, peace is often elusive and illusory, because again, we are often too preoccupied with our desires, our conflicting aims, goals and targets, that we end up being in conflict with each other all the time.

We rarely find peace because we often always have aspirations, desires, wants, and all these often overlap and we find conflict and divisions among us all because of these. We disagree and are angry against each other because we cannot let go of all these temptations and the pull of our desires and ego. How do we then as Christians bear the rich fruits of peace of the Holy Spirit? How do we practice peace and attain peace in our daily living?

It is by first having peace with ourselves, as we often are too proud to admit our weakness and vulnerability, and we are often too engrossed with all the tempting offers of the world that we forget what we live our lives in this world for. It is to glorify God by our lives and to help one another in our journey towards Him, and not to bring each other down by jealousy and pride. As Christians, whenever we see others in conflict, we should be peacemakers and not agitators, be open to dialogue and be good listeners, and that too, will eventually help us to find true peace in God.

The fourth fruit of the Holy Spirit is patience, something that many of us often lack, and this is in itself related to peace and joy, the earlier fruits we have just discussed. We are not patient because we have that urge and desire in us to get things done the way we wanted it, and if things are not going according to what we like or desire, then we become angry and impulsive in our actions. And unfortunately, we live in a world where instant gratification is something that is ever-present all around us.

Without patience, it is likely that we will have neither peace or joy as well. Our lives will be miserable as every day will just pass by us as we worry and are concerned over trivial matters of life, all sorts of desires and temptations around us. How do we then, as Christians, live our lives so as to bear the fruit of the patience of the Holy Spirit? We should temper our desires and impatience with prayer, and with deeper relationship with God, to see that all the pursuits of worldly glory and power are in the end, futile and meaningless. Instead, let us be thankful for what God has blessed us with, and thank Him and enjoy every single moment we have in our lives.

The fifth and sixth fruits of the Holy Spirit are kindness and goodness respectively, and both of them are related because to be kind to others is to show our good intentions and to act in the good and benefit of our fellow brethren. We may think that it is easy to be kind and good, but reality has often shown us otherwise. We must realise that kindness and goodness must come from within us, from our hearts sincerely to others, and not just a mere facade or act.

To be filled with kindness and goodness require us to have an altruistic heart modelled after the Lord’s own loving Heart, in His love and compassionate care for each and every one of us. If we love just as how the Lord Himself had genuinely and sincerely loved each and every one of us, naturally we will show kindness in our actions towards our fellow brothers and sisters, and we will be filled with goodness at every step we take in our lives, in our every words, actions and deeds.

The seventh fruit of the Holy Spirit is faithfulness, which actually means for us to have genuine faith and trust in God, to keep God at the centre of our lives as I have mentioned earlier on. It is not easy for us to have this genuine faith, for when things go bad for us, and we encounter difficult times, challenges and persecutions, who is it that we are going to turn to first? Is it God that is the anchor and foundation of our lives? Our predecessors were able to persevere through the harsh persecutions against them because of this faithfulness they had in God.

The eighth of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is gentleness, to be gentle in heart and in our actions. Gentleness itself is related to love and kindness, as well as peace and joy among others. If we are filled with love and kindness, and if we are at peace with God, with ourselves and with our fellow brothers and sisters, having true joy in us, then naturally we will be acting with gentleness as well. Let us all not be filled with harshness, anger or hatred towards one another.

And this is where self-control, the ninth and last of the fruits of the Holy Spirit come in, as without self-control, it is easy for us to wander off and end up getting lost and swayed by the demands of the world, the temptations of our desires and various other things that will lead us to sin and darkness. As Christians, endowed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we must temper our desires and discipline ourselves, or otherwise, it is very easy for us to end up being controlled by those desires.

God has given us His wisdom, and He has also showed us the way going forward, guiding us through His Holy Spirit. As such, if we find it difficult to persevere and control ourselves through the temptations and challenges, then once again, I want to highlight the importance for us to be connected and attuned with God, and in order to do this, we must have that strong and good relationship with Him, and that is why as Christians, we must be active in living up our faith, and we cannot be lukewarm in our faith life.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we have just heard and discussed the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit. Now, what are we going to do then? Are we going to ignore the Lord’s call to follow Him and walk in His path? Or do we want to follow the examples of our courageous predecessors, the Holy Apostles, the innumerable saints and martyrs, whose lives have become great sources of inspirations for how we ourselves should live our lives? Let us all spend some time to carefully discern what path we are to take going forward in our lives.

Let us all realise that as the members of God’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church through baptism, and our adoption as God’s own beloved sons and daughters, each and every one of us share in the same ministry and calling, the mission entrusted by the Lord to His Apostles and disciples, to go forth to the nations and proclaim His Good News, calling on all to be reconciled with God and to be baptised in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And we can do this best by making use of the gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit, our many talents, abilities and the various opportunities we encounter.

May the Lord Jesus Christ, our Lord, God and Saviour bless each and every one of us, and may He continue to strengthen us through the Holy Spirit He has bestowed on each one of us. Come, o Holy Spirit, and fill the hearts of Your faithful ones, that we may be strong, courageous and be filled with the deep love for God and for our fellow brethren, that we may bear very rich and bountiful fruits of the Holy Spirit by our lives, the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Amen.

Saturday, 30 May 2020 : Vigil Mass of the Solemnity of Pentecost Sunday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this night we celebrate the Vigil of the Solemnity of Pentecost Sunday, as we are about to celebrate the great Feast of the Pentecost which marked the conclusion of the fifty days of Easter. On this night we begin the celebration of this great Solemnity, which had been celebrated since the ancient days by the Israelites and their descendants as the celebration of the fifty days after the Passover. But what happened then transformed the meaning of this celebration into a new beginning for the Church and all Christians.

For on this day, we commemorate the descent and coming of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of the Lord, just as He had promised them all on several occasions before He was crucified and after He had risen from the dead. The Holy Spirit came upon the disciples who were then afraid and fearful, locking themselves in their place in fear of the Jewish authorities. And the coming of the Holy Spirit marked a new beginning for all of them because as I said earlier, this day truly marked the birth of the Church.

That is because on this day, the Church was no longer just a concept but had become a reality with what the Apostles, inflamed by the courage and wisdom of the Holy Spirit did on that day. They went out of their hiding place and courageously went before the large crowds gathered from many places for the Festival of the Pentecost, proclaiming the Good News and the truth of God to all of them. Many people believed in the Apostles and followed them, and over three thousand people gave themselves to be baptised, forming the very first community of Christians and bringing about the first tangible existence of the Church of God.

In our first reading today, in the reading from the Book of Genesis, we heard of the story of the Tower of Babel. Many of us are surely familiar with this story of how our first ancestors began to build an ambitious project to build a tower that reached to the heavens, aspiring to aim to be greater than God. In their pride and arrogance, they have overstepped their bounds, and as a result, God scattered all of them and confused their languages, spreading them to the many nations, a division caused by the sins of mankind and their pride.

Then from another alternative reading for our first reading today, taken from the Book of the prophet Ezekiel, we heard of the moment when the prophet saw a vision of a valley filled with enormous quantities of dried bones of the dead, symbolic of the dead Israelites and the people of God who had perished because of their sins and disobedience against God. And God spoke to the prophet Ezekiel, asking him to command those bones to be restored to life.

And then we heard how the bones began to come together again and be restored in the flesh and appearance of men, but they were not yet alive, as there were no Spirit in them. And God asked the prophet again to speak on His behalf, commanding them to return to life through the Spirit. The Holy Spirit of God Himself descended on the bodies of the people, and as a result what was once a great valley filled with dried bones and death, became a great valley filled with enormous numbers of the living.

All of these are great symbolisms to remind each and every one of us, that God truly has played a great role in our lives and He has given us such a great gift in the Holy Spirit Whom He had sent down to us to be our Helper, our Advocate and our Guide. As we all know that on the first Pentecost, fifty days after the Resurrection of the Lord, the Apostles received the Holy Spirit that strengthened them and gave them wisdom and the ability to speak in many languages to the people gathered in Jerusalem, making them all to hear the truth of God in their own languages.

As we can see here, while disobedience and sin led to the divisions and the conflicts and diversity in languages and thoughts as the Tower of Babel incident told us, the Holy Spirit came down unto us to restore our unity, to redeem us from our divisions and heal our fractured and divided existences. The Holy Spirit has come unto us bearing God’s love and truth, gathering all of the scattered people of God back together again, and as we remember what happened at Pentecost, all those people who were baptised that day marked a new beginning, a new Church through which all of God’s people are reunited again with God.

Therefore, those whom the Lord had gathered through His Holy Spirit and by the works of His Apostles have been called into a new life and to receive a new life through the Holy Spirit, much like the vision of the prophet Ezekiel, in which the prophet saw the vast numbers of dry bones transformed into the living people of God, and the Church welcoming all the people into a new life in God through baptism and the descent of the Holy Spirit is the fulfilment of what God had shown the prophet Ezekiel.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, do we all realise just how significant Pentecost Sunday is for us all in our faith? It is indeed the birthday of the Church, the moment marking that very important time and event when the Church and the Apostles no longer looked inward but outwards, going forth and fulfilling the Great Commission which the Lord Jesus had given to them before He ascended into Heaven, and that is to go forth to the nations and to all the peoples, calling on all to be baptised in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

All of us have shared in this same common baptism, through which all of us have become God’s beloved children and as members of His Church. And now, having received the Holy Spirit of God through our baptism and also strengthened for those of us who have received the Sacrament of Confirmation, the same Holy Spirit we have received as the Apostles and the disciples of the Lord had received on the very first Pentecost. Therefore we all share their mission and are called to the same calling to be witnesses of the Lord in this world.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what is it then that we need to do? We are all called to make good use of the gifts that the Lord had given to us and be courageous in proclaiming His Good News and truth in our respective communities and to all those whom we encounter in life. And often we do not even need to say or preach out anything. Rather, it is by our authentic and genuine lives lived in good Christian faith that others will come to see the truth of God. And that is what true Christian discipleship is all about, to live our lives faithfully and to follow the Lord with all of our hearts.

Are we able to do this, brothers and sisters in Christ? Let us all touch the lives of many other people and bear rich fruits of the Holy Spirit, the fruits of goodness and love, the fruits of joy and peace, the fruits of patience, kindness and faithfulness. And by our own genuine faith and good Christian life, is how we truly bear forth the fullness of God’s gift of the Holy Spirit, and make a difference in our world today. That is our Christian calling and what we need to embrace from now on if we have not done so yet.

May the Lord continue to strengthen us through His Holy Spirit, and may this Pentecost Sunday be truly a meaningful and great celebration to all of us, that we all may realise how as Christians, each and every one of us have important roles to play, in bringing the love of God to all men, and to restore the unity and to reconcile all to the Lord, to bring back to God all the scattered flock of His in this world, His beloved ones. May God help us and strengthen us, now and always. Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful with Your Wisdom and Love. Amen!