Saturday, 14 December 2019 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the message of the Sacred Scriptures, we heard today the readings on the prophet Elijah both from the Old and the New Testament, speaking about this particular prophet who was among the greatest of the prophets of old. The prophet Elijah was the archetype of the many prophets whom God had sent to be among His people, and his works among the Israelites were recorded in the Book of Kings.

Why do we then focus on the prophet Elijah today and what is the significance of this to all of us, brothers and sisters in Christ? That is because if we look more deeply into the readings we have just heard and understood what the Lord had said in our Gospel passage today, we will appreciate better the nature of the readings of the Scriptures today, which in fact mentioned to us the fulfilment of the long promised salvation of God as fulfilled through those whom He had sent into this world.

For the prophet Elijah was among the few of the children of man who did not experience death at the end of his earthly life, a fate which he shared with Enoch from the Book of Genesis, one of the earliest patriarchs and ancestors of man, as well as with Mary herself, the Mother of God, who according to our faith, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory and did not experience death in the way that we mankind experience it.

The prophet Elijah was taken up into heaven in a great flaming chariot as seen by his successor, prophet Elisha, who continued the works of the prophet Elijah after he left this world. It was then told that the prophet Elijah would one day come again to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah, the Saviour of God. It was popularly believed by the Israelites that Elijah would indeed come again at the appointed time of God, to announce God’s salvation to all.

This is where the prophet Elijah often became associated with St. John the Baptist, the one whom God had sent into this world just prior to the arrival of the Lord and Saviour Himself, born of Elizabeth, the relative of Mary, the Mother of Our God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. St. John the Baptist was compared to the prophet Elijah and was mentioned as having the spirit of the prophet Elijah. In any case, through St. John the Baptist and his works, what has been prophesied about God’s salvation came to fulfilment.

God was making all that He has promised to be fulfilled, as He has promised. Everything that God has said will come true exactly as He has said it, only that the time of the fulfilment is known to God alone and not to us. That is why we must put our trust in Him alone and not worry, for God will save us all His people and fulfil what He has promised to us without doubt. The issue is that many of us have not been faithful to Him and we chose to ignore His truth and His offer of salvation.

Many of us have become too preoccupied with worldly matters, desires and concerns that we end up getting more and more distant from God. And our faith became a mere formality and we do not practice our faith with genuine sincerity, as we chose rather to advance our own worldly ambitions and desires, rather than putting our trust and faith in God. And that is why our faith became empty and many of the celebrations of faith like Christmas has become just another one of worldly joys and pleasures.

That is why it is prompt and timely for all of us to be reminded by what we have heard in our Scripture passages today, as we are reminded of what Christmas truly means to us, the coming of the Saviour of God into this world in order to save us, just as He has promised and which He proclaimed through His servant, St. John the Baptist, the one who had in him the spirit and power of the prophet Elijah and bearing the mission to proclaim God’s salvation to all, preparing His way for Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, how do we then as Christians prepare ourselves well during this time of Advent that we may reorientate our lives to be aligned once again with God and with His ways? It is by turning ourselves to God wholeheartedly and purifying ourselves of our greed and desires, our attachments to this world and our pride and ego in us. And we should look upon the good examples set by our holy predecessor, whose feast we celebrate today, namely St. John of the Cross.

St. John of the Cross was a great saint, a holy man and a member of the Carmelite Order, known for his great role in the reform of the well-known religious order together with St. Teresa of Avila, and eventually led to the foundation of the Order of the Discalced Carmelites. At that time, the Carmelite Order had become wayward in the practice and customs of their livelihood, work and direction, and as a result, some began to call for a reform of the way the Carmelite Order ought to proceed.

St. John of the Cross helped St. Teresa of Avila to reform the Carmelites at a challenging time for the Church and the faith, when many people were leaving their faith and the Church at the height of the Protestant reformation, and also caused by the rampant corruption within the Church in general. St. John of the Cross and his fellow reformers wanted to restore sanctity and purity to the revered Carmelites order to help in the efforts to oppose the impacts of the reformation in what is to be known as the Counter-Reformation.

They all set forth to purify the Carmelites from the corrupt practices and ways accumulated in the past years and steering the order back to its original path and way, and of course all these were not without stiff opposition and challenges, as there were many of those within the order who opposed St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila and their reform effort. He was attacked, criticised and ridiculed, and yet, he remained firm in his commitment and his faith in God.

Eventually this led to the foundation of the Discalced Carmelites order as the newly reformed segment of the Carmelites who embraced the reforms of St. John of the Cross and his fellow reformers. Eventually the original, old Carmelites order itself was also reformed by others in the subsequent years, leading its members back towards God and their love and devotion for Him rather than worldly attachments that had corrupted the order in the past.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, having heard of the life, works and examples set by St. John of the Cross, let us all also reorder and reorientate our lives if we have been wayward and disobedient all these while, if we have allowed the many concerns and attachments of the world to mislead us into the false paths. Let us all turn towards God with faith and with zeal, with vigour and energy as what was once shown by St. John of the Cross, our model in faith.

May the Lord continue to guide us in this journey of faith, and may all of us have a blessed season of Advent, making best use of the time and opportunities to seek God for healing and forgiveness, and to love Him once again with all of our hearts and with all of our might. Amen.

Saturday, 14 December 2019 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

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, 14 December 2019 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 79 : 2ac and 3b, 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, 14 December 2019 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

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.

Friday, 13 December 2019 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Lucy, Virgin and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scriptures speaking to us and reminding us all that we need to remain faithful to God and stay true to His commandments. If we remain faithful to Him, God will bless us all and grant us all that He has promised to us from the beginning of time through the Covenant which He has established with each and every one of us.

God has made His Covenant with us because He truly loves each and every one of us, all of us without any exceptions. And because of that, we should indeed be grateful for all that He has kindly blessed us with, His generous kindness and love, His enduring patience for us that despite our constant disobedience and rebelliousness, He still loves us all and is willing to give us chances and opportunities to repent.

Our first reading today from the Book of the prophet Isaiah and the Psalm today, taken from the first chapter of the Psalm reminds us all of this fact, of how God will bless those who are righteous and who are walking in His path. But those who continue in their wicked and sinful ways, those who reject God’s kindness and love will have nothing but regret and hopelessness, for away from God truly we are nothing.

Unfortunately, the reality is such that in our world today, there are many more people following the path leading away from God, the path of sin and darkness which many people are following because they were unable to resist the temptations of the world. They allowed themselves to be swayed by the devil’s sweet lies and falsehoods, and the comforts and pleasures of life that they ended up being drawn further and further away from God.

This is why in our Gospel passage today, we heard of the frustrations which our Lord spoke against the people to whom He had been sent to, as the people rejected His message of truth and His offer of salvation, as they were too entrenched in their own ways and fallen habits that they were unable to comprehend the truth of God being brought into their midst. Just as they rejected St. John the Baptist, they would also reject the Lord.

The core of the message of today’s Gospel passage is that, to those who rejected God’s truth and ways because of their stubbornness in heart and mind, everything that God is trying to bring forth to their midst is meaningless as long as the doors of their hearts and minds are closed tight. When St. John the Baptist came forth in his blatant and ascetic way, preaching repentance and the call to change of life, the people criticised and doubted him, and when the Lord came, seeking sinners and trying to save them, He too was criticised and mocked.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we are called then to reflect on our lives and think about our actions. Are we going to continue to harden our hearts and minds against God? As long as we allow ourselves to be swayed and tempted, and to be attached excessively to worldly comforts and desires, we will likely end up distancing ourselves away from God and falling deeper into the snares of the devil.

Today, let us all look upon the good faith and examples set by St. Lucy, also known as St. Lucia of Syracuse, the famous martyr and saint, whose name was among those named in the Canon of the Mass, because of her truly exemplary faith and dedication to God, regardless of the challenges and difficulties she had to face at that time in remaining true to her faith in the Lord. She lived through a particularly difficult period of great persecution against the faithful by the Roman Emperor Diocletian.

St. Lucy was born to a rich family and she had dedicated herself to a holy virginity in God since her youth, desiring to love God. But her mother, not aware of St. Lucy’s vow and also suffering from a disease herself, and having lost her husband when St. Lucy was still young, arranged for her to marry into a wealthy pagan noble family to ensure their livelihood. St. Lucy persuaded her mother to seek recourse through the intercession of St. Agatha, another martyr whose shrine was visited by many pilgrims at that time, and St. Lucy’s mother was cured.

St. Lucy persuaded her mother to give generous donations of their great wealth to the poor and the needy, and many of the poor of Syracuse received their great alms. However, this generosity came to the attention of the pagan governor of Syracuse, who suspected of St. Lucy’s Christian faith, and ordered her to be arrested and tortured. But despite of the many tortures she had to endure, she remained firm in her faith in God.

It was told that when she was to be burnt at the stake, the firewood stacked below her refused to light up, and in the end, she had to be martyred by the sword. Nonetheless, through all those sufferings, the great faith and commitment of St. Lucy shone through and showed us all what being true Christian is all about. St. Lucy opened herself to God and allowed Him to enter her life and transform her.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we able to devote ourselves to the Lord much like what St. Lucy had done? Through her love both for God and for her fellow brothers and sisters, especially for the poor and the needy, we can be inspired and follow in our footsteps, changing and transforming our lives, from one that is filled with selfishness and ego, into one that is charitable, faithful and devoted to God.

Let us all therefore walk with faith from now on, drawing ever closer to God, and ask for the intercession of St. Lucy that she may pray for all of us sinners still struggling in this world, that God will have mercy on us all and bring us into His eternal kingdom. May God be with us all through this journey of faith, now and always. Amen.

Friday, 13 December 2019 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Lucy, Virgin and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Matthew 11 : 16-19

At that time, Jesus said to the people, “Now, to what can I compare the people of this day? They are like children sitting in the marketplace, about whom their companions complain : ‘We played the lute for you, but you would not dance. We sang a funeral song, but you would not cry!’”

“For John came fasting, and people said, ‘He is possessed by a demon!’ Then, the Son of Man came. He ate and drank; and people said, ‘Look at this Man : a glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet, wisdom is vindicated by her works.”

Friday, 13 December 2019 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Lucy, Virgin and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 1 : 1-2, 3, 4 and 6

Blessed is the man who does not go where the wicked gather, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit where the scoffers sit! Instead, he finds delight in the Law of YHVH and meditates day and night on His commandments.

He is like a tree beside a brook producing its fruit in due season, its leaves never withering. Everything he does is a success.

But it is different with the wicked. They are like chaff driven away by the wind. For YHVH knows the way of the righteous but cuts off the way of the wicked.