Sunday, 4 June 2017 : Solemnity of Pentecost Sunday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday all of us celebrate the great Solemnity of the Pentecost Sunday, the day when it was told that the Holy Spirit of God came down from heaven, and descended upon each and every one of the Apostles and the disciples of the Lord. And filled with the Holy Spirit, they went forth out of their hiding place, and openly proclaimed the truth of God and His Good News.

That is why, this occasion is a very important one in the history of the Church, for indeed, it is not an exaggeration to say that today we mark the time of the beginning and birthday of the Church. For before the Pentecost, if we read through the Gospels and the first part of the Acts of the Apostles, all the disciples of the Lord met in hiding places, hidden from view, because they feared the oppression by the Jewish authorities. But after the Pentecost, all of them courageously set forth, to do what the Lord had commanded them to do.

And on that day, three thousand people were also made new disciples of the Lord, by the baptism which the Apostles administered to them, whose hearts have been touched by the Holy Spirit of God. It was from that moment, that the Church began to grow and flourish, with more and more people turning to the Lord day after day, the sign of the work of the Holy Spirit, as the Scripture says, ‘Send for Your Spirit, o Lord, and renew the face of the earth.’

Indeed, as the passage said, the descent and bestowal of the Holy Spirit from God transformed the disciples of the Lord so completely that all who saw and heard them must have been completely amazed. Here were people who had once hidden themselves and ran away from the Lord, abandoning Him when He was arrested during His Passion, and yet, after the Holy Spirit was given to them, they were willing to even shed their blood and lay down their lives for the sake of the Lord.

They have devoted their whole lives thereafter to serve the Lord, preaching the Good News with zeal and commitment, even though they were mostly uneducated and illiterate. Yet, the Holy Spirit guided them and gave them the wisdom and knowledge, such that even the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were amazed by their great wisdom and by the authority with which they preached about the Lord Jesus Christ.

And the same Holy Spirit which God had given to them, had been passed on through generations after generations of the disciples of the Lord, through His Church, as it grew and developed, and more and more people came to know of the Lord and followed Him. The Holy Spirit does its work through the Church, and it gave courage and strength to many followers of the Lord in times of difficulty and challenges, and comfort in times of sorrow and sadness.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Holy Spirit is often portrayed either as a white dove, or tongues of flame, as in the Gospels, the moment when Jesus our Lord was baptised, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit descended as a Dove over Jesus, as the Father spoke to all about His Son, His Beloved One. And then, at the time of the Pentecost, the tongues of flame, the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles and inflamed their hearts with zeal, just as the Lord Jesus inflamed the hearts of the two disciples who were on their way to Emmaus.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of life, which God has given to give a new life to His people, a new and blessed life, as seen by the prophet Ezekiel. In the Pentecost Vigil readings, one of them spoke about the vision which the prophet Ezekiel saw of a vast valley filled with dry bones, which the breath of God filled them with new life, and the bones became new people, a vast throng of the people of God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, if we all receive the Holy Spirit, we shall receive this new life from God, a new life that is no longer bound and chained by sin, but one that is free, as the life of those who have lived in the Spirit. We are no longer people of the flesh, living by the desires of our flesh and bodily existence, but instead, we have become people of the Spirit of God.

And the Holy Spirit, as our faith and the Church taught us, has seven gifts which It has bestowed us, the gift of wisdom, the gift of understanding, the gift of counsel, the gift of fortitude, the gift of knowledge, the gift of piety and the gift of the fear of the Lord. These are the gifts which had been given to us, as the Holy Spirit descended upon us who have been received the Sacrament of Baptism, and reaffirmed in us through the Sacrament of Confirmation.

However, these gifts are just like seeds sowed in the field, which will not germinate, blossom or bear fruits if they are not taken care of properly. That is also what the Lord Jesus spoke of in His parable of the sower, when He spoke of how the seeds of faith are sowed, but only in a fertile and good soil, that they will grow properly and bear rich fruits, in many multiples, hundredfolds and more from what have been sowed.

In the same manner, without proper action, all of the gifts which the Holy Spirit has given us will not materialise if we do not do anything, worse still if we do what is contrary to what the Lord had taught and told us to do. That is what the Lord mentioned as the fate of all those seeds which fell away from the fertile soil, be it that temptations choke away the faith we have, or that we become ignorant of the truth which the Lord Himself brought us.

Therefore, it is important that all of us Christians understand fully what it means to become a Christian, that is as those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, as our Lord, Master and Saviour. And it is important for us that we do as Christians ought to do, or else, we will scandalise our Lord, our faith and His Church. And then instead of bearing good fruits of the Holy Spirit, we will only bring about condemnation upon ourselves.

How do we then lead our lives? It is by looking at the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit and have them as our inspiration. First of all, we must have the gift of wisdom, the wisdom to discern the things good from bad, to choose what is right from what is wrong, and of course, secondly, the understanding that if we do what is right and just in the sight of the Lord, we will never falter and fall into damnation, for it is by doing what is wrong and evil that have brought us further away from God and His salvation.

Third of all, we need to have the gift of counsel, and nurture it, and what does it mean? It means that now that we have the wisdom and understanding of what is right and wrong, what is just and wicked, now we need to be examples for others and encourage others to do what is right and just, and avoid all sorts of wickedness and evil in our respective lives. We must give good counsel and guidance to each other, and help one another to avoid the temptations and false promises of the devil, which he designed to bring us to destruction.

And then, fourth, we must have the gift of fortitude, the ability to remain strong amidst the temptations and challenges that we are sure to face in the midst of staying faithful to God. There will be pressure and persuasion for us to divert ourselves from the way towards the Lord. However, if we remain firmly faithful to the Lord, we will not be disappointed, for God Himself will bless us and give us His eternal grace.

There will be persecutions and difficulties, but which one do we want to choose, brethren? A temporary false happiness that result in an eternity of damnation and suffering, or a temporary suffering and pain that lead into an eternity of true joy and happiness with God? That is why fifth of all, the gift of knowledge is important, that we know what lies ahead of us. We have to know what the Lord wants us to do with our lives, and what He is leading us to, that is the path towards salvation.

And sixth of all, the gift of piety and the last, the gift of the fear of the Lord is important, for it is indeed easy for us to lose our way in life, and lose focus on what we are to do in this life, but if we remember first of all, that the Lord is our Master, and the One Whom we ought to love for His love and kindness, and yet at the same time, fear because of His anger against our sins and wickedness, then we will definitely think twice before we are to commit any sorts of actions that bring about sin into our hearts.

And last of all, in all these gifts, the greatest gift the Holy Spirit has given us all, is the gift of love. For it is the love of God that had made everything possible, that He has given us life and created us, from nothingness He made us all, because He loves each and every one of us and cares for us wholeheartedly. He gave us His Spirit so that we may have life in us, and not just any life, but true life that He blessed and made perfect.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, as we rejoice today in remembrance of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and the Church, let us all remember that the same Holy Spirit has been given to each and every one of us, with all the gifts and blessings that has been granted to us. It is now then time for us to do whatever we can, through our righteous and just actions in life, to provide the best conditions for ourselves, so that the fruits of the Holy Spirit may be brought up from us, and we may be bountiful in graces before the Lord.

May the Holy Spirit be with us, inflame our hearts with zeal, love and devotion, so that we may grow to love the Lord with ever greater effort and commitment. May the Holy Spirit give us the courage to continue our good works, in loving and caring for our fellow brethren, and may the Holy Spirit transform us all completely as what had happened to the Apostles and the disciples of the Lord, that we who were once timid and ignorant of our faith, may now become brave and courageous workers of the faith.

May God bless us all, brothers and sisters in Christ, and may He continue to watch over us and keep us in His love at all times. Let us all be the modern day Apostles and disciples of the Lord, bearing His light and salvation to more people of all the nations, by our actions and by our deeds. Come, Holy Spirit, come and inflame us with Your light. Amen.

Sunday, 4 June 2017 : Solemnity of Pentecost Sunday (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red
John 20 : 19-23

At that time, on the evening of the day when Jesus rose from the dead, the first day after the Sabbath, the doors were locked where the disciples were, because of their fear of the Jews. But Jesus came, and stood among them, and said to them, “Peace be with you!” Then He showed them His hands and His side. The disciples kept looking at the Lord and were full of joy.

Again Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.” After saying this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit! Those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; those whose sins you retain, they are retained.”

Sunday, 4 June 2017 : Solemnity of Pentecost Sunday (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red
1 Corinthians 12 : 3b-7, 12-13

No one can say, “Jesus is the Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. There is diversity of gifts, but the Spirit is the same. There is diversity of ministries, but the Lord is the same. There is diversity of works, but the same God works in all.

The Spirit reveals His presence in each one with a gift that is also a service. As the body is one, having many members, and all the members, while being many, form one body, so it is with Christ. All of us, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, have been baptised in one Spirit to form one body and all of us have been given to drink from the one Spirit.

Sunday, 4 June 2017 : Solemnity of Pentecost Sunday (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red
Psalm 103 : 1ab and 24ac, 29bc-30, 31 and 34

Bless the Lord, my soul! Clothed in majesty and splendour; How varied o Lord, are Your works! The earth full of Your creatures.

You take away their breath, they expire and return to dust. When You send forth Your Spirit, they are created, and the face of the earth is renewed.

May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in His works! May my song give Him pleasure, as the Lord gives me delight.

Sunday, 4 June 2017 : Solemnity of Pentecost Sunday (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red
Acts 2 : 1-11

When the day of Pentecost came, the disciples of Jesus were all together in one place. And suddenly out of the sky came a sound like a strong rushing wind and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. There appeared tongues as if of fire which parted and came to rest upon each one of them. All were filled with Holy Spirit and began to speak other languages, as the Spirit enabled them to speak.

Staying in Jerusalem were religious Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered, all excited because each heard them speaking in his own language. Full of amazement and wonder, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? How is it that we hear them in our own native language?”

“Here are Parthians, Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and foreigners who accept Jewish beliefs, Cretians and Arabians; and all of us hear them proclaiming in our own language what God, the Saviour, does.”

Saturday, 3 June 2017 : Vigil Mass of the Solemnity of Pentecost Sunday (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red
John 7 : 37-39

At that time, on the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to Me; and let the one who believes in Me drink, for the Scripture says : Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”

Jesus was referring to the Spirit, which those who believe in Him were to receive; the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet entered into His glory.

Saturday, 3 June 2017 : Vigil Mass of the Solemnity of Pentecost Sunday (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red
Romans 8 : 22-27

We know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pangs of birth. Not creation alone, but even ourselves, although the Spirit was given to us as a foretaste of what we are to receive, we groan in our innermost being, eagerly awaiting the day when God will give us full rights and rescue our bodies as well.

In hope we already have salvation. But if we saw what we hoped for, there would no longer be hope; how can you hope for what is already seen? So we hope for what we do not see and we will receive it through patient hope. We are weak, but the Spirit comes to help us. How to ask? And what shall we ask for?

We do not know, but the Spirit intercedes for us without words, as if with groans. And He Who sees inner secrets knows the desires of the Spirit, for He asks for the holy ones what is pleasing to God.

Saturday, 3 June 2017 : Vigil Mass of the Solemnity of Pentecost Sunday (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red
Psalm 103 : 1-2a, 24 and 35c, 27-28, 29bc-30

Bless the Lord, my soul! Clothed in majesty and splendour; o Lord, my God, how great You are! You are wrapped in light as with a garment.

How varied o Lord, are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all – the earth full of Your creatures. Bless the Lord, my soul!

They all look to You for their food in due time. You give it to them, and they gather it up; You open Your hand, they are filled with good things.

You take away their breath, they expire and return to dust. When You send forth Your Spirit, they are created, and the face of the earth is renewed.

Saturday, 3 June 2017 : Vigil Mass of the Solemnity of Pentecost Sunday (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red
Genesis 11 : 1-9

The whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved from east, they found a plain in the country of Shinar where they settled. They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and bake them in fire.” They used brick for stone and bitumen for mortar. They said also, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top reaching heaven; so that we may become a great people and not be scattered over the face of the earth!”

YHVH came down to see the city and the tower that the sons of man were building, and YHVH said, “They are one people and they have one language. If they carry this through, nothing they decide to do from now on will be impossible. Come! Let Us go down and confuse their language so that they will no longer understand each other.”

So YHVH scattered them over all the earth and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel, because there YHVH confused the language of the whole earth and from there YHVH scattered them over the whole face of the earth.

Alternative reading
Exodus 19 : 3-8a, 16-20b

The Israelites camped there in front of the mountain, but Moses went up to God and YHVH called to him from the mountain, saying, “This is what you are to say and to explain to the Israelites : You have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I carried you on eagle’s wings and brought you to Myself.”

“Now if you listen to Me and keep My covenant, you shall be My very own possession among all the nations. For all the earth is Mine, but you will be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” And He added, “This is what you are to say to the people of Israel.”

So Moses went and summoned all the elders of the people and related to them all that YHVH had commanded him to say. All the people responded with one voice, “All that YHVH has said, we will do.”

On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning and a dense cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast was heard. All the people in the camp trembled. Moses then made the people leave the camp to meet God and stand at the foot of the mountain.

Mount Sinai was completely covered in smoke because YHVH had come down in fire, and the smoke rose as from a furnace. The whole mountain shook violently, while the blast of the trumpet became louder and louder. Moses spoke and God replied in thunder. When YHVH had come down to the summit of Mount Sinai, God called Moses who went to the summit.

Alternative reading
Ezekiel 37 : 1-14

The hand of YHVH was upon me. He brought me out and led me in spirit to the middle of the valley which was full of bones. He made me walk to and fro among them and I could see there was a great number of them on the ground all along the valley and that they were very dry.

YHVH said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live again?” I said, “Lord YHVH, only You know that.” He then said, “Speak on My behalf concerning these bones; say to them : Dry bones, hear the word of YHVH! YHVH says : I am going to put spirit in you and make you live. I shall put sinews on you and make flesh grow on you; I shall cover you with skin and give you My Spirit, that you may live. And you will know that I am YHVH.”

“I prophesied as I had been commanded and then there was a noise and commotion; the bones joined together. I looked and saw that they had sinews, that flesh was growing on them and that He was covering them with skin. But there was no spirit in them.”

So YHVH said to me, “Speak on My behalf and call on the Spirit, son of man! Say to the Spirit : This is the word of YHVH : Spirit, come from the four winds. Breathe into these dead bones and let them live!” I prophesied as He had commanded me and breath entered them; they came alive, standing on their feet – a great, immense army!

He then said to me, “Son of man, these bones are all Israel. They keep saying : ‘Our bones are dry, hope has gone, it is the end of us.’ So prophesy! Say to them : This is what YHVH says : I am going to open your tombs, I shall bring you out of your tombs, My people, and lead you back to the land of Israel.”

“You will know that I am YHVH, o My people! When I open your graves and bring you out of your graves, when I put My Spirit in you and you live. I shall settle you in your land and you will know that I, YHVH, have done what I said I would do.”

Alternative reading
Joel 3 : 1-5

In the last days, I will pour out My Spirit on every mortal. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even upon My servants and maidens, I will pour out My Spirit on that day.

I will show wonders in the heavens, and on earth blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun will darken and the moon turn to blood, at the approach of the great and dreadful day of God.

Then all who call upon the Name of YHVH will be saved. For on Mount Zion there will be a remnant, as YHVH has said; in Jerusalem some will be saved – those whom YHVH will call.

Saturday, 3 June 2017 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today is the penultimate day of the Easter season, as tomorrow we will together as the whole Church celebrate the great Solemnity of the Pentecost, the birth time of the Church at the time when the Lord sent His Holy Spirit to all of His Apostles and disciples, sending them forth to all the nations and to all the peoples to preach His Good News and truth.

Yet, at the same time, we must also keep in mind, that to become a disciple of the Lord is not something that is very simple or safe. As the reality is that, as disciples of the Lord, there will always be challenges, difficulties, and times when we may feel to be alone amidst all those who are up against us, as what the Apostles and the disciples themselves had experienced.

As we heard in the readings today, the first reading taken from the Acts of the Apostles spoke of the life which St. Paul had in Rome during the last years of his life and ministry, a relatively peaceful time before what was told to be the first major official persecution of the Christian faith by the Roman Empire, when the city of Rome was engulfed in a massive firestorm, and blame quickly were laid on the Christian communities. It was told that St. Paul met his martyrdom by beheading at that time, the year of our Lord sixty-four.

Many Christians became victims of the persecutions, be it by the Jewish authorities, the chief priests and the Pharisees in the earliest days of the Church, or by the opposition and persecutions by the Roman authorities, including the one which I had just mentioned. And there were also resistance by those pagan priests and philosophers, who refused to see their old and traditional pagan worship to be replaced by the Christian faith.

But, at the same time, there were also many people, Jews and Gentiles alike, who were willing to receive the words of truth, and to accept the Lord Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. These people were willing to turn away from their past sinful ways, and become Christians, and thus strengthening the foundations of the early Church. Many of them eventually also met persecution, suffering and even martyrdom because of their faith, and also refusal to apostasise from their faith.

If not for their courage, the bravery and devotion of the Apostles, disciples, saints and martyrs who have laboured hard for the sake of the Lord and His Church, many souls would not have been saved, and many would have been lost to damnation in hell. We too, would not have received the faith we now have, if not for the hard work of all those who have passed down the faith to us, just as the Apostles passed down the teachings of the Lord to their successors.

Today, we remember the memory of St. Charles Lwanga and his companions, who were Christian converts in the country now known as Uganda. They became Christians after missionaries came to their area, bearing the word of God’s truth, and they converted to the faith, leaving their pagan and sinful ways behind them. However, this met with a great resistance by the king, who wanted to eradicate all traces of Christianity in his domain.

Therefore, the king ordered the arrest, persecution and also killing of many of the. Christian converts and missionaries, who suffered terribly under the great persecution. Yet, St. Charles Lwanga and many others who had been sentenced to death because of their faith refused to renounce the Lord and their newfound faith. They remained true to their devotion and as a result were executed. St. Charles Lwanga himself met his martyrdom by being burnt alive on a stake.

But their martyrdom inspired many more Christians to persist in their faith, and it was told that many of their persecutors eventually became Christians themselves, and including even the king. Through all these examples, all of us as Christians living in our world today must realise that, first of all, there are a lot of things that we still need to do, in order to bring the testimony of our faith to all those who have not yet known or even have rejected the Lord.

And then, we must remember that when we face difficulties and persecutions from the world, we have to stay firm and resolute amidst those challenges. If we give up or allow ourselves to be distracted by temptations of the world, then our failure to act will cause not just ourselves but also potentially many others to fall as well, and their damnation will be on our own, and we are the ones to be blamed for that.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all continue to strive to lead a holy and righteous life, by doing what the Lord had taught us to do, and by devoting ourselves completely, heart, body, mind and soul to Him, keeping in mind the zeal and the courage which the Holy Apostles, saints, and martyrs, including St. Charles Lwanga and his companions had shown in their respective lives. May the Lord be with us all, and may He bless all of our works and endeavours, now and always. Amen.