Monday, 2 November 2015 : Feast of All Souls, Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Black or Purple

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate All Souls’ Day, when we commemorate and pray for the souls of all our brethren who have departed from this world ahead of us. We pray for the sake of their souls so that by the grace and the mercy of God, they may be found worthy of God’s everlasting kingdom. We pray that the souls in purgatory may be rid of their sins, and gain entry soon to the kingdom of heaven.

Today is not a day of sorrow and gloom, but a day of hope. For on this day, although we are reminded ever of our humanity and mortality, that all of us, without exception will succumb to death, but this death is not an everlasting death. It is because one Man had shown us the way, that death does not have the final say, for God has given us Jesus our Lord, to bring us from death into eternal life by His resurrection from the dead.

That means death is not an eternal separation, but a temporary one, where now we cannot see those who have departed physically in this world, but in the world to come, we shall see each other again and live a life filled with true joy in the presence of God for eternity. This is the hope brought about by our Lord’s resurrection, through which He has dealt death an ultimate defeat.

If yesterday, on the feast of All Saints, I spoke of a Universal Church that does not consist just of us all the faithful still living on earth, the Church Militant, but also consisting of the hole men and women deemed worthy of heaven, the saints of God, who are the Church Triumphant, and then also the souls of the faithful dead who are the Church Suffering, the souls in holy purgatory.

If you wonder, brethren, why ‘suffering’? This is because when someone reaches the end of his or her earthly and mortal life, there are three possible paths for them to go to from there. The first one, is the most difficult one to achieve, that is the path of the saints. This path is taken by those who lives have been filled with much piety, good deeds, faith and genuine love for God and for their fellow men. As a result, although they too are sinners, God deems that their venial sins have been completely overcome and absolved by their good deeds.

God blessed them and welcomed them into the glory of heaven. And the Church officially recognised some of them as saints, those who have been deemed worthy of heaven after their death. Then, there exists another path, which many had taken, that is the path of hell and eternal damnation. This is meant for all those who have been wicked in their lives, having committed mortal sins such as murder, disrespect for life and for the Lord, disrespecting the Church and its teachings, and other serious errors, from which they refused to repent.

These souls are lost from us and from the Lord forever, as these souls directly go into hell and without any hope for escape or redemption. They were unrepentant and therefore in His wrath, God also rejected them just as they have first rejected Him. Today, on this All Souls’ Day, these are not the souls whom we are praying for, for there is truly no benefit to pray for those who have been marked as eternally lost from us and condemned.

Of course, the fact is that we do not know who belong to this category, for it is only God, the true Judge of all, have the final decision of who is to receive eternal damnation and hell, and who to be given an opportunity or to receive the glory of eternal heaven. So we should not directly condemn so and so as evil, or deserving of hell, since all of us are sinners, and each and everyone of us are at the same risk.

Then, we come to the group in the middle, those who were not outrightly evil and wicked, so as to deserve hell and eternal damnation, and those who were also not sufficiently upright and holy so as to deserve eternal life and heaven right away, which ends up in the place called purgatory. It is in the teaching of the Church that the souls of the faithful dead, who have kept their lives mostly in line with the faith and in obedience to the Lord, but still having sufficient amount of venial sins have to spend some time in this place for the purification of their souls.

Why is this so, brethren? That is because we have to realise that while God loves us all and cares for all of us, but with us there still lies the obstacles of sin. Sin is an obstacle and a barrier that prevents us from our full and complete reconciliation with our Lord. It was because of sin, caused by disobedience, that had separated our ancestors from the grace and the blessings which God had intended to be ours for eternity.

God is good and perfect, and so good and holy such that no sin, even the smallest amount of sin should be ever present in His presence. A sinner that stands in the presence of God shall be subjected to the wrath of God and be destroyed immediately. Then, one may then ask, how about the saints then? Were they not once sinners too when they still walked on this earth?

Yes, indeed, they were once sinners too, but on the account of their great merits and their faith to God, their numerous good actions and deeds had been judged to be sufficient to atone completely for the sake of their sins. This means that all of the multitudes of their sins have been considered as being paid completely in full by their merits, as they placed their complete trust in the Lord Jesus.

What Jesus our Lord did when He gave up His life for us on the cross, was that He took up all of the original sins and the wickedness that had tainted all of us, and offering Himself as the perfect offering and sacrifice for our sins, He had liberated us all from the darkness and the sins that afflicted us all. He gave us all a new hope of salvation, for He conquered death, the ultimate consequence of sin.

This means that while once we looked at death and eternal death as our fate, and hell is our destination, but with our Lord’s intervention, He has lifted us all up and gave us a chance to enter the glorious heaven and be recipients of the original graces and blessings intended for us. But of course, as mentioned earlier, there are those who rejected this offer, and indeed, hell is their reward.

Today, on this Feast of All Souls’ Day, the ones whom we are concerned with are those souls in purgatory, who are spending their time separated temporarily from their Lord and delayed in their entry into the glorious heaven because of their residual sins. They are suffering the flames of suffering in purgatory, not because they are unworthy or wicked, but rather because they need to suffer for a while the consequences of the sins that they had remaining in them before they can enter into the presence of God, purified and cleansed.

Through our genuine and sincere prayers for these souls in purgatory, we are able to help them to reduce their time spent in purgatory, and by asking God for His mercy and for His love for these souls, we hope that the souls of our beloved brethren currently will be able to enjoy soon the glories and the joys of heaven, in the presence of our loving God, who is just and merciful.

And remember, just as we pray for them, they are also praying for us. The souls in purgatory still remember all of us, and just as they have lived their earthly lives committing good deeds and sins, they realised how their sins have made them to suffer temporarily, and those sins prevented them from directly enjoying the blessings of God in heaven. Thus, they are praying for us, that we will realise our own sins, and repent so that we will not suffer the same suffering they encountered in purgatory.

May Almighty God therefore hear our prayers, and together with the saints, and the souls in purgatory, let us all pray together as one whole Universal Church, that more and more people will be brought closer to salvation, that all of us may escape the threat of hell, and be brought ever closer to heaven, the destination that we are all looking forward to. May God receive the souls of the faithful departed and give them the everlasting joy of heaven. Amen.

Monday, 2 November 2015 : Feast of All Souls, Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Black or Purple

Mark 15 : 33-39 and Mark 16 : 1-6

When noon came, darkness fell over the whole land and lasted until three o’clock; and at three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lamma sabachthani?” which means, “My God, My God, why have You deserted Me?”

As soon as they heard these words, some of the bystanders said, “Listen! He is calling for Elijah.” And one of them went quickly to fill a sponge with bitter wine, and putting it on a reed, gave it to Him to drink, saying, “Now let us see whether Elijah comes to take Him down.”

But Jesus uttered a loud cry and gave up His Spirit. And immediately the curtain that enclosed the Temple sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. The captain, who was standing in front of Him, saw how Jesus died and heard the cry He gave, and He said, “Truly, this Man was the Son of God.”

When the Sabbath was over, Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices so that they might go and anoint the body. And very early in the morning on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they came to the tomb.

They were saying to one another, “Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” But as they looked up, they noticed that the stone had already been rolled away. It was a very big stone. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man in a white robe seated on the right, and they were amazed.

But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified; He has been raised and is not here. This is, however, the place where they laid Him.”

Monday, 2 November 2015 : Feast of All Souls, Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Black or Purple

Romans 5 : 5-11

And hope does not disappoint us because the Holy Spirit has been given to us, pouring into our hearts the love of God. Consider, moreover, the time that Christ died for us : when we were still helpless and unable to do anything. Few would accept to die for an upright person; although, for a very good person, perhaps someone would dare to die.

But see how God manifested His love for us : while we were still sinners, Christ died for us and we have become just through His blood. With much more reason now He will save us from any condemnation. Once enemies, we have been reconciled with God through the death of His Son; with much more reason now we may be saved through His life.

Not only that; we even boast in God because of Christ Jesus, our Lord, through Whom we have been reconciled.

Monday, 2 November 2015 : Feast of All Souls, Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Black or Purple

Psalm 26 : 1, 4, 7-9, 13-14

The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the rampart of my life; I will not be afraid.

One thing I ask of the Lord, one thing I seek – that I may dwell in His house all the days of my life, to gaze at His jewel and to visit His sanctuary.

Hear my voice when I call, o Lord, have mercy on me and answer. My heart says to You, “I seek Your face, o Lord.” Do not hide Your face from me nor turn away Your servant in anger. You are my Protector, do not reject me. Abandon me not, o God my Saviour!

I hope, I am sure, that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Trust in the Lord, be strong and courageous. Yes, put your hope in the Lord!

Monday, 2 November 2015 : Feast of All Souls, Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Black or Purple

Isaiah 25 : 6-9

On this mountain YHVH Sabaoth will prepare for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, meat full of marrow, fine wine strained. On this mountain He will destroy the pall cast over all peoples, this very shroud spread over all nations, and death will be no more.

The Lord YHVH will wipe away the tears from all cheek and eyes; He will take away the humiliation of His people all over the world : for YHVH has spoken. On that day you will say : This is our God. We have waited for Him to save us, let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.

Sunday, 1 November 2015 : Thirty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time, Solemnity of All Saints (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today is a major solemnity and feast day of the Church, where together with all of the entire Church, with all the faithful living here now on earth, we rejoice together for all the holy ones whom God had chosen and called from among us, to be those considered worthy to receive the glory of heaven. They are the saints, the holy men and women whom by the virtues of their lives and their actions have been found and deemed worthy by the Church.

Sainthood truly does not determine whether one goes to heaven or hell, or whether one is worthy of it. Despite the large number of saints we have today, thousands of them if not more, but if only the saints are worthy of heaven, then we have to remember that there have been countless billions and tens of billions of people who lived throughout history. Have the rest all went to hell and be condemned? The answer is no.

There are many countless other men and women whom by their lives’ virtues, their works and deeds are truly worthy of heaven, and their names have been written securely in the Book of Life for the day of judgment. It is just that the Church did not proclaim them officially as saints, as sainthood is in fact just an official recognition of one’s deeds, because of their outstanding and extraordinary quality, would become a great source of inspiration to others who look up to them as role models and examples.

Yes, the saints are our role models, and we ought to follow in their footsteps. After all, they have lived their lives to the fullest, and by close and exhausting scrutiny of these, the Church had found them to be exemplary and by the wisdom of God and the authority God has given His Church, It declares that so and so man or woman truly deserve and is without doubt, already a denizen and a dweller of heaven, enjoying the eternal grace of God.

Yet there are those who thought that we Christians are no different from the pagans because we apparently worshipped the saints and prayed to them. I have to admit that this is one area where even many members of the Church are still not properly instructed or educated in, and many are not aware of who saints truly are, and how they can help us.

Jesus did say that if we believe in the Lord and keep our faith in Him, we will be called the children of God, and St. Paul and the Church also taught us that if we die and leave behind our earthly life in justice and righteousness, we shall share in the glory and in the fullness of God’s grace, and having all of our sins shed away from us, we shall be glorious and mighty as we share together the divinity of Christ. However, this does not make us gods in our own right.

Rightfully therefore, the saints themselves are glorious and honoured not because they have ascended in might by their own power, and neither do they have any power on their own separate from the power and authority of God. They share forever God’s glory in heaven, and they shall not know any more fear, death or darkness, for God is with them, and they are with God.

Rather, what we have to know is that the saints are our intercessors, those who help us deliver our prayer to the Lord. Then, indeed, one may ask, why not we ourselves then ask for our own behalf, and why must we ask someone else to pray for us? Then, in order to answer this, we just have to look throughout the Holy Scriptures, how many people at different times and periods, asked for each other for prayers and intercessions.

Do you remember what did Jesus tell the people about gathering in prayer? He told them and His disciples that when two or more are gathered in His Name, He shall be present there and He shall listen to their prayers. Thus, shall it indeed not be more beneficial for us to have even more people praying for our sake? The saints, having ascended to the presence of God, now sees with the sight of God, and surely, having been sinners themselves, they also understood how grievous our sins are, all of us still living in this world.

And having shared the glory and joy of the Lord, they also now share the love of God, and having been righteous as they were, surely in their love both for God and for their fellow men, they are also greatly concerned about us who are still living and struggling in this world against wickedness, evil and all forms of sins. If we are not careful about this, and continue to dwell in the darkness, then we risk falling into the trap of eternal damnation and hell from which there can be no escape.

As mentioned, the saints are not ‘gods’ in that they do not use or project their own might and power unlike those so-called pagan gods of old, where the people worshipped them as beings that could deliver them from trouble, provide them with something, dealing with things magical and supernatural, changing the world and the elements. No, the saints are not like these, and if we have had this misconception, then it is important that we now know the difference.

Those who pray to the saints and ask them for deliverance, or hoping that they can deliver them from trouble, or asking for favours from them in worldly things are misguided and mistaken in their understanding about the saints, who they are and how they work to help us in our way towards salvation. That is exactly who they are, our friends and our peers who had gone ahead of us, and now that they are close to God, they are our best allies and those whose prayers are most dear to God.

Remember what happened at the wedding held at Cana? That was where Jesus performed His very first miracle, turning the water into wine, and in the process, helped save the bride and the bridegroom and their families from great shame. Jesus was initially reluctant to help them, as He felt that it was not yet His time to reveal Himself by such work of miracles and power. Yet, it was through Mary, His mother and her persuasion of Jesus, that He allowed Himself to reveal to the people a portion of the truth of who He is.

Mary, the mother of our Lord, is the greatest, most honoured and most esteemed of all the saints, and in heaven, she is the closest one to the throne of God, her own beloved Son. Just as she had pleaded with her Son to help the couple at the wedding held at Cana, and He heard her, surely if we ask her to intercede for our sake and pray for us, He will be more willing to hear us and show His mercy to us.

The same applies for all the other saints as well, whom we ask daily to intercede for us on our behalf, that God will help us on our way, so that in times of challenge and difficulty, during times of persecution and extreme suffering, and in times when our bodies and even our minds are assailed by temptations of the devil and by his wicked tempters, God may send to us His angels and other forms of guidance to help prevent us from falling into sin and darkness.

In all these, we have to realise that we as the Church of God are not alone in this world and in the constant battle, the spiritual battle of our souls. Those who have departed from us are not gone from us, and they are still with us, unless they themselves have given themselves to be lost, namely those who have been thrown into hell and eternal damnation.

In fact, we know three Churches, the three aspects and parts of the Church Universal, that is the Church Militant, all of us living and still fighting against the devil and his works, and who are still constantly having a daily struggle in this world to uphold our faith and defend it against the wickedness of evil. And then, there are the saints and martyrs, who are the Church Triumphant, those who have gone before us and have been deemed as righteous and worthy of heaven. They are still there, with us and praying for us.

But we must not forget, just as tomorrow we shall celebrate All Souls’ Day, that there is the third part of the Church Universal, namely the Church Suffering, the good souls in purgatory awaiting for their entry into the glory of heaven. They are suffering the residual consequences of their sins, and as they suffer, they also want us all still living in this world to overcome our own sins and to get rid of them so that we will not suffer like they now do.

I will elaborate in greater detail on this in tomorrow’s homily, but in the end of the day, as we gather together to rejoice with all of the people of God, with all the saints and martyrs, with the angels and with all of creation, let us realise how good God is, and how much love He is showing and pouring down upon us. Let us ask the good saints, principally the mother of our Lord, Mary, to pray for us, all sinners and unworthy to be in the presence of God, so that God may awaken in us the courage and power to live our lives filled with faith and total devotion.

May Almighty God be with us, and may He guide us on our path, and help us so that we will have the courage to overcome our pride, our desires and all the things that have blocked our path towards the Lord. Let us not be overcome by evil and by our own shortcomings, but let us be ever more faithful and be more committed to the Lord our God. God bless us all. Amen.

Sunday, 1 November 2015 : Thirty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time, Solemnity of All Saints (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 5 : 1-12a

At that time, when Jesus saw the crowds, He went up the mountain. He sat down and His disciples gathered around Him. Then He spoke and began to teach them :

“Fortunate are those who are poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Fortunate are those who mourn, they shall be comforted.”

“Fortunate are the gentle, they shall possess the land. Fortunate are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied.”

“Fortunate are the merciful, for they shall find mercy. Fortunate are those with a pure heart, for they shall see God.”

“Fortunate are those who work for peace, they shall be called children of God. Fortunate are those who are persecuted for the cause of justice, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”

“Fortunate are you, when people insult you and persecute you and speak all kinds of evil against you because you are My followers. Be glad and joyful, for a great reward is kept for you in God.”