Wednesday, 25 January 2017 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we mark the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, the remembrance of the moment when St. Paul was called by God to become His follower and Apostle. St. Paul the Apostle was once known as Saul, the Pharisee and a highly educated member of the Jewish elite who was a great enemy of Jesus and His teachings, a great persecutor of the faithful and the Church, and a terror in the hearts of many of the earliest Christians.

And therefore, he was indeed one of the least likely of those who would one day become one among the greatest champions of the faith, and as one of the greatest defenders of the faithful. Certainly no one would have expected someone who have committed so many great sins, caused so much sufferings against the faithful and the Church would become one of its own, and less so as one of its greatest servants and members.

But it is in this that we can see the great loving and merciful heart of our God, as He showed His tender mercy to all those who have been willing to repent and change their ways, by opening the way for them to approach the throne of His mercy and to accept His grace and love. God is willing to welcome back all those who have gone wayward and then later on desiring to return to Him.

In fact all those who have become saints and considered great in the sight of the Church and the faithful, all of them were also sinners at one point in their respective lives. This was just indeed as all of mankind were born as sinners, susceptible to sin, and also predisposed to sinful activities. It is in our nature to be tempted and persuaded to disobey the Lord and to do things that are against the will of God, and therefore to sin.

No one escaped from this reality, except for Christ Himself, Who was born into this world without any taint of sin, for He is God Who is all good, and also for His mother Mary, who alone amongst the sons and daughters of mankind were without any sin. All the rest of us have been sinful, have been wicked and unworthy, corrupted beings and souls before God, unworthy of His love and presence.

And yet, it is from us sinners whom God had chosen His saints and servants, to be those whom He set apart as examples for others, so that they too may be able to follow in the same path that these people had walked on. It was from among the feeble, the sinners, the wicked and the abandoned ones whom God had chosen to be His followers and disciples. We may think that God is really being unpredictable in this matter, but truly, His way is different from our human ways, and is often far beyond our understanding.

God did not choose those who would expect themselves to be chosen, namely those who thought that their abilities, prestige, position, honour and all other worldly parameters would matter, as God sees not in worldly terms and appearances, but instead in terms of what He truly sees in our hearts, in our potential for good and for obedience to His will. He sees through us all, to the deepest depths of our hearts, knowing everything in us, our minds and hearts, for He had created us Himself.

That is why He chose people like Saul, who had faith in God, but was misled by the wrong teachings and subverted by the overzealousness and hot-headedness of his youth into committing grievous errors and crimes against the faithful and God’s Church. But God saw the faith in him, and through him therefore, He wanted to bring His Good News and salvation to many more of His people, using his talents and skills, and thus, calling upon Saul, He called him to turn away from his mistaken path and repent, and then follow Him.

He chose people of various backgrounds, from humble fishermen who were often looked down by many others in the society for their frequently poor background and upbringing, their illiteracy and lack of intelligence. He chose the upright and just people, educated and intellectuals. He chose tax collectors who were reviled by many others for their supposed betrayal of their own people being the tax collectors for the Romans, and also even prostitutes, zealots and even thieves like Judas Iscariot.

He chose all of them with the single intent of calling all of them to change their way of life and to be redeemed from the multitudes of their sins. And hopefully through their repentance, they may set good examples and become inspirations for many others to follow, so that many more people will also change their lives and choose to follow the way of the Lord, and therefore be saved.

Not all whom God had called will be saved. It depends on ourselves, and all those others whom He had called. If people like Judas Iscariot refused to change themselves, and continued down their path of dishonesty, betrayal, wickedness, sinfulness and all the vices they had done before they follow the Lord, then in the end, they will not be made just by all the wrongs they have committed. Instead, they will be judged by those sins they made, unless they genuinely and thoroughly repented from them all.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as Christians, all of us ought to be like St. Paul, who turned away from his past, sinful life. He made a genuine and complete turnaround, and dedicating his whole life thereafter to God, he courageously stood up for his faith, even to go the extra mile to serve Him and to help spread the Good News by preaching it from town to town, across the seas, and even endured persecutions and terrible sufferings, rejection and humiliation along the way.

We should follow in his footsteps, in his strong conviction and commitment to the Lord, and to the obedience he had shown in following what the Lord had led him to do. This is what each and every one of us as Christians must do, and we have to reflect on this, as we celebrate today’s Feast of Conversion of St. Paul. If Saul had become Paul, from a great sinner to a great saint, then nothing is impossible for us, for we too can be like him.

May the Lord bless us and help us all, so that in our lives, we too may be like St. Paul, to be thoroughly changed and converted in our ways, so that we may also be righteous and just, becoming an inspiration for others to follow, so that they themselves may become inspirations of their own to others who see them, and therefore, through all these, the good works of the Church and the people of God become an unstoppable rippling force, spreading out, touching more hearts and souls, and calling more people to the salvation in God.

May the Lord be with us all, and may He bless all of our good endeavours, and help us to remain faithful to Him, as St. Paul himself once had been. Amen.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White
Mark 16 : 15-18

At that time, Jesus told the Eleven, “Go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News to all creation. The one who believes and is baptised will be saved; the one who refuses to believe will be condemned.”

“Signs like these will accompany those who have believed : in My Name they will cast out demons and speak new languages; they will pick up snakes, and if they drink anything poisonous, they will be unharmed; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will be healed.”

Wednesday, 25 January 2017 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White
Psalm 116 : 1, 2

Alleluia! Praise the Lord, all you nations; all you peoples, praise Him.

How great is His love for us! His faithfulness lasts forever.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White
Acts 22 : 3-16

I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up here in this city where I was educated in the school of Gamaliel, according to the strict observance of our Law. And I was dedicated to God’s service, as are all of you today. As for this way, I persecuted it to the point of death and arrested its followers, both men and women, throwing them into prison.

The High Priest and the whole Council of elders can bear witness to this. From them I received letters for the Jewish brothers in Damascus and I set out to arrest those who were there and bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment. But as I was travelling along, nearing Damascus, at about noon a great light from the sky suddenly flashed about me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?”

I answered, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said to me : ‘I am Jesus the Nazarean Whom you persecute.’ The men who were with me saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of the One Who was speaking to me. I asked : ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord replied : ‘Get up and go to Damascus; there you will be told all that you are destined to do.’ Yet the brightness of that light had blinded me and so I was led by the hand into Damascus by my companions.

There a certain Ananias came to me. He was a devout observer of the Law and well spoken of by all the Jews who were living there. As he stood by me, he said : ‘Brother Saul, recover your sight.’ At that moment I could see and I looked at him. He then said, ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know His will, to see the Just One and to hear the words from His mouth.”

“From now on you shall be His witness before all the pagan peoples and tell them all that you have seen and heard. And now, why delay? Get up and be baptised and have your sins washed away by calling upon His Name.”

Alternative reading
Acts 9 : 1-22

Meanwhile Saul considered nothing but violence and death for the disciples of the Lord. He went to the High Priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues of Damascus that would authorise him to arrest and bring to Jerusalem anyone he might find, man or woman, belonging to the Way.

As he travelled along and was approaching Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute me?” And he asked, “Who are You, Lord?” The voice replied, “I am Jesus Whom you persecute. Now get up and go into the city; there you will be told what you are to do.”

The men who were travelling with him stood there speechless : they had heard the sound, but could see no one. Saul got up from the ground and, opening his eyes, he could not see. They took him by the hand and brought him to Damascus. He was blind and he did not eat or drink for three days.

There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias, to whom the Lord called in a vision, “Ananias!” He answered, “Here I am, Lord!” Then the Lord said to him, “Go at once to Straight Street and ask, at the house of Judas, for a man of Tarsus named Saul. You will find him praying, for he has just seen in a vision that a man named Ananias has come in and placed his hands upon him, to restore his sight.”

Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man and all the harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem, and now he is here with authority from the High Priest to arrest all who call upon Your Name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go! This man is My chosen instrument to bring My Name to the pagan nations and their kings, and the people of Israel as well. I Myself will show him how much he will have to suffer for My Name.”

So Ananias left and went to the house. He laid his hands upon Saul and said, “Saul, my brother, the Lord Jesus, Who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me to you so that you may receive your sight and be filled with Holy Spirit.” Immediately something like scales fell from his eyes and he could see; he got up and was baptised. Then he took food and was strengthened.

For several days Saul stayed with the disciples at Damascus, and he soon began to proclaim in the synagogues that Jesus was the Son of God. All who heard were astonished and said, “Is this not the one who cast out in Jerusalem all those calling upon this Name? Did he not come here to bring them bound before the chief priests?”

But Saul grew more and more powerful, and he confounded the Jews living in Damascus when he proved that Jesus was the Messiah.

Friday, 18 November 2016 : 33rd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the Dedication of the Papal Basilica of St. Peter the Apostle and the 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, on this day we commemorate together the memorial of the dedication of two of the great Papal Basilicas located in the holy city of Rome, dedicated to the two greatest of the saints of Christendom, the pillars of the Church, none other than St. Peter the Apostle, Prince and leader of all the Apostles of our Lord, and also St. Paul the Apostle, the Apostle to the Gentiles and writer of the many Epistles in the New Testament.

Both of them were martyred in Rome, and therefore were seen as the patron saints of the city of Rome, where their tombs were located at, and at that time, Rome was the heart of the Roman Empire, the heart and centre of the secular superpower that was the Roman Empire, and where the Caesars, that is the Emperors ruled with absolute authority, and demanded from all others obedience and also worship.

For the Emperors were worshipped as gods and as incarnation of the gods, and by elevating themselves to the divinity, they deemed themselves as above others, and thus the Imperial Cult of the Roman Empire was created. And against this, came the two Apostles of our Lord, who in their separate ways ended up in the city of Rome, continuing the missions entrusted to them by the Lord.

And they were not chosen by the Lord for their might, their greatness or their talents, unlike the Roman Emperors who boasted of their wealth, or their human and military prowess. Instead, God chose a diverse range of people, and many of them are just like us, common people with our own stories and unique origins. He called His disciples and chose His Apostles from among fishermen, bandits, even tax collectors and others.

And it was not that their faith was great, or that they were as intelligent as the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who at that time were those who were educated in the society, knowing the entirety of the laws of Moses. Most of the Apostles were uneducated and even illiterate, and yet, they went on to perform great deeds, some of which were told to us in the Acts of the Apostles. And why is that so? It was none other than because of the Lord and His works on them.

If we remember the passage from the Scriptures we heard today, and what we know of the Apostles, particularly that of St. Peter and St. Paul, certainly, they did not have an outstanding and great faith from the start. Both of them struggled and were troubled in their faith, and were also shaken at certain times, when doubt overpowered them and made them to tremble, and in the case of St. Peter, to sink in the waves, when he tried to walk towards Jesus, because he doubted.

The Apostles were afraid and doubtful when the elders and the chief priests sent guards to arrest Jesus, after He had been betrayed by one of His own Apostles, Judas Iscariot the traitor. The Apostles fled the scene and went into hiding when their Lord and Master was arrested, and we know how St. Peter himself, after having sworn to give his life for the sake of the Lord that very night, denied his Lord and Master three times in order to protect himself from harm.

I am sure that we also know how St. Paul grew up as a zealous and fanatical Pharisee, determined to hunt down as many followers of Christ as he could, arresting them and torturing them as he was misguided by his blind obedience to the false understanding of the Law of God. In fact, St. Peter and St. Paul were just like us, sinners and filled with doubt, indeed as what some of us would say, that we are unworthy of our Lord and His love.

But what made them different? In fact, what made our holy saints and martyrs to be different from us? It is because all of them went through a thorough and wholesome change in their lives, in how they lived their lives and in how they carried out their actions henceforth, and they turned from sinners and into God’s holy and devoted people, His saints.

St. Peter dedicated his whole life thereafter in the service of God, leading His fellow Apostles and the other disciples of Christ, coordinating the immense task of guiding and leading the early Church through moments of difficulties and through good moments when many became believers and therefore had to require new shepherds and guides, new bishops to be appointed to lead these.

St. Paul was converted when God called him on that fateful day when he was on his way to Damascus. God revealed His truth to him, and after having heard the truth and realising how wrong he was, St. Paul made that dramatic turnaround and from one of the greatest enemies of the Lord and His faithful people, he then became one of the Church and the Faith’s greatest champion and defender.

There is something that all of us can learn from this, brothers and sisters in Christ, that we did not choose to become servants of the Lord, but rather, He chose us and made us worthy. The Apostles, saints and many martyrs were ordinary men and women just like us, but they changed their ways of life and followed the Lord with conviction and commitment.

God transformed the holy Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul, from their humble and even sinful origins, to become His greatest tools, as His greatest servants in bringing the souls of many of His beloved ones closer to Him and allowing many through them to listen to the truth about His salvation. The same call is now therefore made upon us as well. Each and every one of us as Christians have been called to serve the Lord, and to evangelise and preach the Good News of God to all.

And this is related to our celebration today, remembering the moment when the two great Basilicas dedicated to these two Apostles were consecrated and dedicated, made holy and had incense and the holy oils applied to it and the Altar within the Basilicas, and through the blessing of the Almighty God, these two great edifices became more than just a space, but rather they become a place worthy to house the Holy Presence of God.

Before a church, be it a small parish church, a large church, an important one such as Cathedrals and Basilicas, none of these can be used for the purpose of the celebration of the Holy Mass if they have not been consecrated and dedicated yet. And as I have mentioned in my homily for the Dedication of the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran just two weeks earlier, this has implication and relevance for us that we all should know and understand.

Undedicated and unconsecrated, the great Basilicas and cathedrals are just mere buildings, spaces with architecture without meaning. Through the consecration, it has been made into a worthy and holy Residence and House of God. In the same manner, through our own baptism, through the dwelling of the Holy Spirit by our confirmation, and through the reception of the Most Precious Body and Blood of our Lord in the Eucharist, each and every one of us, our bodies, minds, hearts and souls have been consecrated and dedicated to the Lord to be His holy Temples, where He shall dwell in us.

We are the Temple and the House of God, for God Himself has dwelled inside us, inside our mortal bodies and existence. And as a result, we should make sure that we live in accordance to the way of the Lord, obeying His laws and precepts, or else we would defile the sanctity of this Temple and House of God. God has transformed our humble and simple bodies and beings into His glorious residence, as much as those magnificent buildings and edifices has been transformed into the great places of worship.

Let us all therefore spend some time to reflect on this, thinking carefully of what each and every one of us should be doing in our respective lives. We should imitate the examples of the saints in their dedication and commitment, and follow the examples set by the Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul. Do not be discouraged if we think that our faith is easily shaken and weak, for the Apostles themselves were once filled with doubt as well.

Let us all open ourselves, heart, mind, body and soul, that God may come into each and every one of us, transforming us completely from being creatures of the flesh and darkness, into creatures of the light, into sons and daughters of our Lord, worthy of the eternal life He has promised to all of His faithful ones. St. Peter and St. Paul, pray for us sinners, that we may be like you and follow in your footsteps. Amen.

Friday, 18 November 2016 : 33rd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the Dedication of the Papal Basilica of St. Peter the Apostle and the Papal Basilica of St. Paul-outside-the-Walls (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Dedication of a Basilica)
Luke 19 : 45-48

At that time, Jesus entered the Temple area and began to drive out the merchants. And He said to them, “God says in the Scriptures, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have turned it into a den of robbers!'”

Jesus was teaching every day in the Temple. The chief priests and teachers of the Law wanted to kill Him, and the elders of the Jews as well, but they were unable to do anything, for all the people were listening to Him and hanging on His words.

Alternative reading (in Mass for Dedication of the Basilicas)
Matthew 14 : 22-33

At that time, immediately Jesus obliged His disciples to get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowd away. And having sent the people away, He went up the mountain by Himself to pray. At nightfall, He was there alone. Meanwhile, the boat was very far from land, dangerously rocked by the waves, for the wind was against it.

At daybreak, Jesus came to them walking on the sea. When they saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, thinking that It was a ghost. And they cried out in fear. But at once Jesus said to them, “Courage! Do not be afraid. It is Me!”

Peter answered, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You walking on the water.” Jesus said to him, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water to go to Jesus. But seeing the strong wind, he was afraid and began to sink; and he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately stretched out His hand and took hold of him, saying, “Man of little faith, why did you doubt?”

As they got into the boat, the wind dropped. Then those in the boat bowed down before Jesus, saying, “Truly, You are the Son of God!”

Friday, 18 November 2016 : 33rd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the Dedication of the Papal Basilica of St. Peter the Apostle and the Papal Basilica of St. Paul-outside-the-Walls (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Dedication of a Basilica)
Psalm 118 : 14, 24, 72, 103, 111, 131

I delight in following Your laws, more so than in all riches.

Your laws are my delight, my counsellors who uphold me.

Your law is more precious to me than heaps of silver and gold.

How sweet are Your promises to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Your statutes are my heritage forever, they are the joy of my heart.

I gasp in ardent yearning for Your commandments that I love.

Alternative reading (in Mass for Dedication of the Basilicas)
Psalm 97 : 1, 2-3ab, 3cd-4, 5-6

Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done wonders; His right hand, His holy arm, has won victory for Him.

The Lord has shown His salvation, revealing His justice to the nations. He has not forgotten His love nor His faithfulness to Israel.

The farthest ends of the earth all have seen God’s saving power. All you lands, make a joyful noise to the Lord, break into song and sing praise.

With melody of the lyre and with music of the harp. With trumpet blast and sound of the horn, rejoice before the King, the Lord!