Saturday, 15 December 2018 : 2nd Week of Advent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we draw ever closer to Christmas day, which is just ten days away from now, the Scripture passages remind us all of the need to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord, which is in tandem with the nature of this season of Advent, that is the preparation and the expectation for the coming of Christ. The readings today are comparing between two servants of God, namely the prophet Elijah from the time of the Old Testament and St. John the Baptist from the time of the New Testament.

The prophet Elijah came at a time when the faithful people in Israel, in the kingdom descended from David and Solomon, had been dwindling in number, persecuted and oppressed for their faith. The prophet Elijah was sent to the people of the northern kingdom of Israel, consisting of the ten tribes that rebelled against the authority of the house of David in Judah. In that kingdom, the kings have not been faithful to the Covenant that God has made with His people Israel. Instead, they have led the people to the worship of the pagan idols like Baal and Asherah.

The prophet Elijah had to contend alone against the king, his nobles, all the influential and powerful people in the society, all of whom were on the side of the pagan idols and gods. For example, Elijah was alone when he had to contend against four hundred and fifty priests of Baal at the Mount Carmel before the king and the people of Israel, seeing whom between the Lord YHVH and Baal is the one and only true God.

And God proved His power before the assembled people, when He sent fire to burn the offering provided by Elijah from heaven itself, while the followers of Baal attempted furiously without success, to call on Baal, the imaginary and false god of the pagans at that time. Elijah was the instrument through whom God exercised His might and revealed His truth before His people, as he performed that miraculous deeds, with many others recorded in the Old Testament.

Elijah brought with him the deliverance from God, the promise of salvation and liberation, for the people who have been blinded by sin, and for those who have been oppressed because of their belief in God. He essentially prepared the way for the coming of God’s kingdom to come, and anointed his successor Elisha the prophet to continue his work among the Israelites. Yet, his work was not yet complete, for he was taken up in a flaming chariot before Elisha into heaven.

Since then, among the people of Israel, it was said that Elijah the prophet would come again one day and be among God’s people once again. It was said that Elijah would come again to prepare the way for the Messiah or the Saviour which God has promised to His people. And this was fulfilled when St. John the Baptist came into this world, just before the coming of the Messiah, preparing His way and straightening the path for Him.

St. John the Baptist, in the Lord’s own words, is the second coming of the prophet Elijah, and whether he was truly Elijah or not, is indeed a mystery of God’s will. But nonetheless, he did what the Lord commanded him to do, to bear witness to the Saviour Who was to come, and to proclaim to all, the coming of God’s mercy and forgiveness, for all those who are willing to repent and to turn away from their sinful ways. He baptised many, countless thousands in the River Jordan.

Therefore today, as we reflect on the works and the lives of the two great servants of God, Elijah and St. John the Baptist, we must indeed come to realise just how great God’s love is for us, that He gave us all these devout and hardworking servants, through whom He endeavoured to reveal the greatness and the boundless nature of His love. His love for us is vast and never-ending, and this is also even when we have constantly disappointed Him and refused to listen to Him and His messengers.

Sadly, many of us continued to be stubborn in our refusal to listen to God, and that is caused by our inability to resist the many temptations in life, the temptations of worldly honour, glory, wealth and power, the temptations of pleasure, of fornication and impure lives. We have too many distractions that we indulge in, which prevented us from realising first of all, how wicked and sinful we have become, and also failing to know God’s love for us, and the mercy He is willing to show us.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we going to continue to disobey the Lord as many of our forefathers have done? If we choose to do so, then we must be prepared and be fully aware that the outcome for us may be nothing less than eternal damnation and suffering, of our own volition and free will, in choosing to turn away from God’s love and mercy. Now, we still have the opportunity to make a difference in our own lives, that God is calling on us to turn away from sin and to return to Him.

What should we do, brothers and sisters in Christ? We should spend the remaining time this Advent season to grow closer to God, and to rediscover that true joy of Christmas that all of us should find, that is the joy of having Christ as our Lord and Saviour, the source of all of our hope and the one trus desire of our lives. This is what we should aim for this Advent, beginning from ourselves, by spending more time in prayer, to be ever closer to God and to know His will for us.

May the Lord continue to love us and may He forgive us our sins, as we come to seek His mercy and forgiveness. O Lord, You Who are most loving and merciful, have mercy on us and make us all to grow ever deeper in our love for You, knowing just how much You have loved us, that You have done everything for us, even to suffer and die for our sake on the cross. May You bless us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

Saturday, 15 December 2018 : 2nd Week of Advent (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 17 : 10-13

At that time, the disciples of Jesus asked Him, “Why do the teachers of the Law say that Elijah must come first?”

Jesus answered, “So it is : first comes Elijah; and he will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come; and they did not recognise him; and they treated him as they pleased. And they will also make the Son of Man suffer.”

Then the disciples understood that Jesus was referring to John the Baptist.

Saturday, 15 December 2018 : 2nd Week of Advent (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 79 : 2ac and 3bc, 15-16, 18-19

Listen, o Shepherd of Israel, You, Who sit enthroned between the Cherubim. Stir up Your might and come to save us.

Turn again, o YHVH of hosts, look down from heaven and see; care for this vine, and protect the stock Your hand has planted.

But lay Your hand on Your instrument, on the Son of Man, Whom You make strong for Yourself. Then, we will never turn away from You; give us life, and we will call on Your Name.

Saturday, 15 December 2018 : 2nd Week of Advent (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Sirach 48 : 1-4, 9-11

Then came the prophet Elijah, like a fire, his words a burning torch. He brought a famine on the people and in his zealous love had them reduced in number. Speaking in the Name of the Lord he closed down the heavens, and on three occasions called down fire.

How marvellous you were, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds! Who could ever boast of being your equal? You were taken up by a whirlwind of flames in a chariot drawn by fiery horses. It was written that you should be the one to calm God’s anger in the future, before it broke out in fury, to turn the hearts of fathers to their sons and to restore the tribes of Jacob.

Happy are those who will see you and those who die in love, for we too shall live.

Saturday, 8 December 2018 : Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today together with the entire Universal Church we rejoice together to celebrate the great Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Our Lord and God, Jesus Christ. On this day we focus on our belief that Mary, as the Mother of God, was granted that singular grace by God to be conceived without a single taint by sin, and therefore, remained also without sin through her birth and life.

That is why the Church has placed the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the eighth day of December, full nine months prior to the Solemnity of her Nativity on the eighth day of September. And these solemnities and feasts highlight to us the incredible life of Mary, the one whom God has chosen to be the Mother of the Lord and Saviour of the world.

And why is this special focus on Mary, brothers and sisters in Christ? That is because all of mankind, save for Mary and her Son, Jesus, have been corrupted by sin from the moment of their conception, because of the taint of the original sin of our forefathers, beginning from the time of Adam and Eve, as mentioned in our first reading passage today. Satan tempted Eve and then Adam to disobey God, and through their disobedience sin entered into our midst.

And sin is a great corruption on our whole being, affecting our entire self, from the physical, to the mental and spiritual parts of ourselves. Therefore, if we are corrupted by sin, then, we cannot be with God and be in His presence, for God is all good and perfect, without corruption and without sin. We will be destroyed because of our sins, and unless we purify ourselves, we cannot be with God.

That is why, if we read through the Old Testament, in the Book of Leviticus and in other traditions of Israel, the people of God have to purify themselves first prior to coming to the presence of God. This was also why the Temple of Solomon and the succeeding Temple of Jerusalem has large basins designed for the containing of water for ritual purification for the people and the priests offering the sacrifices.

And in the original Temple of Solomon, and earlier on, the Tent of Meeting, was housed the Ark of the Covenant, within which were the two slabs of stone on which the Ten Commandments were written, the staff of Aaron and the sample of manna, the heavenly bread. All of these were the concrete signs of God’s presence in the midst of His people, as part of the Covenant that God has sealed with His people, thus naming the Ark as the Ark of the Covenant.

The Ark of the Covenant was made from the finest materials, crafted with the finest details from gold, as the most precious vessel for the Lord’s presence, and placed within the holiest part of the Lord’s Temple, the Holy of Holies, veiled and not easily visible to the people from the outside. All of these symbolisms and details served to show the people, how God is all powerful and mighty, and unless we are worthy to be in His presence, we will perish.

And if that Ark of the Covenant, filled with the memorial of God’s Covenant as written in the two slabs of the Ten Commandments and the proof of God’s power in the staff of Aaron and the manna, then how all the more wonderful is the New Ark of the Covenant, which is none other than Mary herself, chosen by God to be the Vessel through which He would send into this world, the fulfilment of His promise of salvation, the New Covenant that He would establish with all of us His people, once and for all.

The choice of a woman to be the bearer of the Saviour of the world has been revealed to the world itself, in fact, ever since the time when man first fell into sin, as mentioned in our first reading today. Although men were punished for their disobedience against God, and thus deserving death and damnation, but God still loved them and wanted them to be saved, for in the end, it was because of Satan’s evil machinations that men fell, and thus, He proclaimed before man and Satan, that while Satan would continue to strike at the sons and daughters of man, but through the Woman, who is to come, Satan’s dominion and reign over man’s fate will come to an end.

That woman is Mary, whom God chose from among all the sons and daughters, descendants of Adam and Eve, all sinners, to be the one who would bear the Messiah. And this is where our faith and belief in the Immaculate Conception of Mary must be linked to what we have just discussed earlier about the corruption of sin, and about the Ark of the Covenant, how holy it was and how precious the materials that were used in its construction.

For God willed that Mary alone out of all those born of man and woman, would not have the taint of sin, which is the corruption of our body, mind, heart and soul. Mary alone would be granted the singular grace of this immaculate nature, coming from the word immaculate that means ‘pure’. Mary was specially designed by God to be pure and perfect in all things, as how He created them at the beginning before sin came into our midst.

Is such a thing possible? Of course, brothers and sisters in Christ, it is definitely possible, for nothing is impossible for God. God is almighty, omnipotent, all-powerful and all-knowing. Surely it is within His power to will a being without sin into creation, and thus, Mary was made, the perfect New Ark for the New Covenant, that is Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Mary is that new vessel through which the One Who would establish and seal the eternal Covenant between us and God would be born.

And the nature of this New Ark, Mary, is indeed marvellous. For unlike the old Ark, crafted by the hands of men out of worldly materials of gold and other precious materials, the New Ark, that is Mary, was made by the hands of God Himself, crafted in His own image and perfection. And therefore, this creation of God far surpassed the creation of man, and indeed, fitting, for this New Covenant is nothing like the old Covenant.

For in Jesus Christ, the New Covenant, God Himself came down in the flesh through Mary, His mother. Through Mary, God became incarnate into Man, assuming His human nature, which was then united but remained distinct from His divine nature, in the person of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, Son of Mary. Just as the Spirit of God hovered over the old Ark of the Covenant and the whole Temple of Jerusalem built by King Solomon at its consecration, the Holy Spirit came down on Mary and by the will of God, the Saviour, the Divine Word Incarnate was conceived in Mary’s womb.

Thus, after going through all these, surely we can see why God made Mary to be perfect and blameless, without a single taint of sin. Just as God is all good and perfect, and sin has no place before Him, then the Vessel that bears Him, for nine months in the womb, must also be blameless and perfect, free from any taints, including that of sin. That is why, God made Mary to be special, and affirmed by the Archangel Gabriel, who greeted her with the greeting, “Hail Mary, full of grace”.

Of course, this does not make Mary to be divine or a goddess, unlike what some would accuse the Church and us of doing. There has been plenty of misunderstandings and misrepresentations on the Marian Dogmas of the Immaculate Conception, of the Perpetual Virginity and the Assumption, in which certain people had this misconception that we worship Mary like as if she is a goddess. This is not true, and which all of us as Christians must be very clear about.

Mary is still an ordinary human being like us, but at the same time also special, because of the role for which God has prepared her to be. But we also venerate her and love her so much, because after all, she is none other and nothing less than the Mother of Our God Himself, and if we profess to believe in Jesus Christ, love Him and wanting to devote ourselves to Him, how can we then not love His mother, Mary, whom He Himself loved very much?

Today, as all of us rejoice together in this great Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, all of us are called to spend some time to reflect on our own lives, on our own actions in life, on whatever we have done to others, on every words and deeds we have given and shown. Are we able to call ourselves good disciples and followers of our God? Or are there many areas in which we can improve ourselves, in growing deeper in our relationship with God, and in turning away from our sins?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to imitate the examples of Mary, who is not just conceived and born, and lived without the taint of sin by the grace of God, but even more importantly, whose life is an inspiration to all of us. She suffered a lot in her life, and as a poor woman from Nazareth, surely she encountered many challenges throughout her life. Yet, she remained good in her faith in God, and remained committed to God, obeying His will and whatever He has planned for us through her.

Are we able to dedicate ourselves to the Lord in the same way as Mary had done? Are we able to say ‘yes’ to the Lord’s call and allow Him to do His wonders through us, just as Mary responded to the Good News proclaimed by the Archangel Gabriel with perfect humility and obedience, with her own words, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to His will”?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we continue to progress through this season of Advent, let us spend more time in prayer and in trying to deepen our relationship with God. Let us ask the Lord to reveal in our hearts and minds, in the silence of our prayers, what His will is for each and every one of us. May the Lord continue to watch over us and draw us closer to Him, and may His blessed mother Mary, the Immaculate Conception, continue to intercede for us, now and always. Amen.

Saturday, 8 December 2018 : Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Luke 1 : 26-38

In the sixth month, the Angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth. He was sent to a young virgin, who was betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the family of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

The Angel came to her and said, “Rejoice, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” Mary was troubled at these words, wondering what this greeting could mean. But the Angel said, “Do not fear, Mary, for God has looked kindly on you. You shall conceive and bear a Son, and you shall call Him Jesus. He will be great, and shall rightly be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the kingdom of David, His ancestor; He will rule over the people of Jacob forever, and His reign shall have no end.”

Then Mary said to the Angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” And the Angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the Holy Child to be born of you shall be called Son of God. Even your relative Elizabeth is expecting a son in her old age, although she was unable to have a child; and she is now in her sixth month. With God nothing is impossible.”

Then Mary said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me as you have said.” And the Angel left her.

Saturday, 8 December 2018 : Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Ephesians 1 : 3-6, 11-12

Blessed be God, the Father of Christ Jesus our Lord, Who, in Christ, has blessed us from heaven, with every spiritual blessing. God chose us, in Christ, before the creation of the world, to be holy, and without sin in His presence.

From eternity He destined us, in love, to be His adopted sons and daughters, through Christ Jesus, thus fulfilling His free and generous will. This goal suited Him : that His loving-kindness, which He granted us in His beloved might finally receive all glory and praise.

By a decree of Him, Who disposes all things, according to His own plan and decision, we, the Jews, have been chosen and called, and we were awaiting the Messiah, for the praise of His glory.