Saturday, 30 May 2020 : 7th Week of Easter (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the words of the Scripture, we heard of the end of St. Paul’s long missionary journey as he settled in Rome, at the end of his fourth missionary journey across the Mediterranean. He had gone there to appeal to the Roman Emperor for the accusations brought up against him before the governor of Judea by the Jewish Sanhedrin or the High Council. God has called on him to be the bearers of the Good News of God to the people in Rome.

We heard of how St. Paul arrived in Rome after quite a tumultuous journey, if we had read the parts preceding his arrival in Rome. He was quite warmly welcomed by the Jewish community there and also from the growing Christian community in the capital. St. Paul stayed on for two years in Rome in a house which would eventually be the site of the great Roman Church of the Papal Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls, built exactly on the site were St. Paul used to stay in Rome.

In our Gospel today we then heard something seemingly unrelated as we heard of the moment when in the Last Supper, the disciples were talking with one another and with the Lord. They were all wondering who was to betray the Lord as in that occasion, the Lord Himself had said that one of them was to betray Him to His enemies. Although it was indeed Judas Iscariot who would betray the Lord, but it was completely unknown to the disciples then, and they were all wondering among themselves who this traitor could have been.

Then St. Peter asked about the disciple whom the Lord Jesus loved, in this case His seemingly favourite disciple, namely St. John the Apostle. In truth, the reason why St. Peter and the other disciples wondered about this was because at that time, they were all still thinking in human and worldly terms, and undeniably, they were jealous of the relations between St. John and the Lord Jesus, and it did not help that if we recall, in one occasion, the mother of St. John and his brother St. James asked the Lord specifically to grant her sons positions of honour and favour.

What is the connection between these two readings, brothers and sisters in Christ? It is the fact that all of those who followed the Lord had been given specific tasks and were called to a diversity of purpose and ministries. And it is often that we do not realise this calling and the purpose to which we have been called by God. As the Lord Himself said to the disciples when they wondered why He said that the favoured disciple, St. John would not die before the Lord came again, all were in fact to fulfil what God would do through each and every one of His disciples.

There are many possible interpretations of these words of the Lord, but the most common one is that because St. John was entrusted with the great revelation which he received while he was exiled to the Island of Patmos in his old age, the Lord was speaking figuratively, as He showed St. John everything that was to happen and will happen in the future, as the world is to come to an end, all the persecutions of the followers of Christ and eventually, with the coming of the glory of the Lord and the New Jerusalem. Indeed, St. John did not die before he saw the vision of the glorious Second Coming of the Lord.

If we look carefully at what had transpired here, we can see that there are often too many things that we do not understand, and we have to learn to trust in God, and follow and obey Him in everything that He has told us to do. Are we able to follow Him wholeheartedly and commit ourselves to Him in faith, brothers and sisters in Christ? That was what St. Paul had done, entrusting himself to the Lord and followed Him wherever He had led him to go, and it was by God’s will that he ended up in Rome.

If we think in worldly terms, it might have been stupid for St. Paul to go to Rome, as after all, he could have hid himself and avoid having to go through suffering as he endured from the Jewish elders in Jerusalem, the ordeals of his travel to Rome, having his ship battered by a great storm that sank the ship and almost killed him, and eventually to face his martyrdom in Rome. But St. Paul humbly obeyed and did whatever the Lord had told him to do, and in the process, he had helped the cause of the Lord further, strengthening the Christian community in Rome by his presence and work there.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we are about the celebrate the Solemnity of the Pentecost Sunday tomorrow and therefore come to the end of the glorious season of Easter, we are now reminded through these Scripture passages that each and every one of us as the followers of the Lord and His faithful people have also been called to the various vocations and callings in life. God has entrusted us with many talents, abilities and opportunities to be His good, courageous and faithful witnesses in our various communities.

But are we willing, ready and able to give our lives and commit them to His greater glory in His service? Are we able to glorify God by our daily living and our actions? We must realise that Easter does not end with the Pentecost and then we go on with our usual lives. Rather, the Solemnity of the Pentecost tomorrow is a reminder that each and every one of us are the Easter people, living with hope and strength through the Lord’s glorious Resurrection, by which He has shown us the path to eternal life.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all be willing witnesses of the Lord and let our every words, actions and deeds bear the truth of God to all peoples, so that everyone who hears us, listens to us, and witness our actions and lives may also come to believe in the Lord, our God and Saviour. May God be with us always, and may He guide us in our lives and help us to be ever more faithful to Him. Amen.

Saturday, 30 May 2020 : 7th Week of Easter (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

John 21 : 20-25

At that time, Peter looked back and saw that the disciple Jesus loved was following as well, the one who had reclined close to Jesus at the supper, and had asked Him, “Lord, who is to betray You?”

On seeing him, Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain until Income, does that concern you? Follow Me!” Because of this the rumour spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus had not said to Peter, “He will not die,” but, “Suppose I want him to remain until I come.”

It is this disciple who testifies about the things he has written here, and we know that his testimony is true. But Jesus did many other things; if all were written down, I think the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.

Saturday, 30 May 2020 : 7th Week of Easter (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 10 : 4, 5 and 7

The Lord is in His holy place – our God Whose throne is in heaven. He looks down to earth to observe the race of Adam.

The Lord searches both righteous and wicked. He hates those who delight in violence, for the Lord is righteous; He loves justice. The upright will see His face.

Saturday, 30 May 2020 : 7th Week of Easter (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Acts 28 : 16-20, 30-31

Upon our arrival in Rome, the captain turned the prisoners over to the military governor but permitted Paul to lodge in a private house with the soldier who guarded him. After three days, Paul called together the leaders of the Jews.

When they had gathered, he said to them : “Brothers, though I have not done anything against our people or against the traditions of our fathers, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. They examined me and wanted to set me free, for they saw nothing in my case that deserved death.”

“But the Jews objected, so I was forced to appeal to Caesar without the least intention of bringing any case against my own people. Therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I bear these chains.”

Paul stayed for two whole years in a house he himself rented, where he received without any hindrance all those who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught the truth about Jesus Christ, the Lord, quite openly and without any hindrance.

Friday, 29 May 2020 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of Pope St. Paul VI, Pope (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard from the Sacred Scriptures the moment when St. Paul was about to embark to Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire after he appealed to the Emperor against judgements and charges set up against him by the Jewish authorities. We heard the conversation between king Agrippa, one of the rulers of the Jewish lands and Festus, the procurator or governor of Judea regarding the matter.

In that occasion, king Agrippa went through with Festus the background of the conflict between St. Paul and the Jewish Council, while as we heard in today’s portion, Festus recalled his frustration as the Jewish leaders wanted St. Paul to be condemned to death, although to the Roman governor, St. Paul did not do anything wrong at all, and less still, deserve anything that resemble a punishment, for it was considered religious disagreements and bickering among the Jews.

But the Jewish leaders insisted, and when Festus was caught in quandary, St. Paul as a Roman citizen, a very great privilege and position at that time, made use of his privilege to be tried in Rome before the Emperor and let the Emperor to be his judge. This was to be St. Paul’s last missionary journey, as God had called him, to be the bearers of the Good News to the people in Rome, and it was in Rome that both St. Paul and St. Peter, who had been in Rome earlier as the first Bishop of Rome and Pope, would be martyred.

In what we have heard today on the case and trial of St. Paul, we may feel a great sense of familiarity, as we surely can relate what had happened to St. Paul with what the Lord Jesus Himself had faced, as He stood before the Sanhedrin, being accused of the faults and crimes He did not commit, and given false accusations and testimonies by false witnesses. Like his Lord and Master, St. Paul faced the same trial and challenge, and eventually, he too would follow Him into his own death for the sake of glorifying Him.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard the Lord calling His Apostle St. Peter by the lake of Galilee, after the moment when He appeared to His disciples shortly after His Resurrection as promised. The disciples were out fishing in the lake and gained nothing, and when the Lord told them to follow His instructions, immediately they gained so many fishes, and they recognised the Lord. Then, the Lord spoke to St. Peter as we heard in our Gospel today, commending to him the care and guardianship over His Church and His flock.

Earlier on, before His suffering, crucifixion and death, the Lord had entrusted to St. Peter the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, and said to him how he would be the ‘Rock’ on which He would establish His Church. And then, with His threefold questions to St. Peter, it was symbolic of not just that the Lord had forgiven him for his threefold denial at the moment of His arrest and suffering, but also that, the Lord reaffirmed His entrustment of His Church and His flock at the hands of St. Peter, the first Pope and leader of the entire Universal Church.

St. Peter was also called to a great ministry that he would fulfil faithfully over many years and decades, which ended in the city of Rome like St. Paul. St. Peter also established the important Church in Antioch, becoming its first Bishop, before heading to Rome and establishing the Church there as its first Bishop as well. In the end, as the Lord Himself had told him, in St. Peter’s old age and end of ministry, he would be chained and arrested, and eventually martyred under the Roman Emperor Nero during one of the brutal early Christian persecutions.

Today then we also celebrate the feast of one of his successors as the Pope and Supreme Pontiff, as Bishop of Rome and leader of the entire Universal Church, Pope St. Paul VI, born Giovanni Batista Montini, formerly Metropolitan Archbishop of Milan. He was renowned as a holy man and dedicated servant of God who was committed to the care of the flock entrusted under his care, from the early days of his priesthood ministry, to his days as the Archbishop of Milan, and finally in his fifteen years Pontificate.

Pope St. Paul VI also encountered tremendous challenges from outside and from within the Church. He was tasked with bringing the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council began by his predecessor, Pope St. John XXIII into a successful conclusion. Often he had to tread the middle ground between those who advocated strict adherence to the ancient customs and ways, from the extremists who sought to disband and dismantle much of the Church teachings and tenets.

Pope St. Paul VI was also instrumental in continuing the efforts of his predecessors in restoring Church unity that culminated with the Common Declaration with the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople, leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church in annulling the common declarations of anathema and excommunication that happened between the Churches East and West over nine centuries earlier in the Great Schism of the year 1054. Both leaders faced criticism and opposition for these works.

Pope St. Paul VI was also known for his great encyclicals, most well-remembered one is the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, on the sanctity of all human life, opposing all those, both within and outside the Church who tried to impose and influence the Church and the faithful to adopt contraception and artificial reproductive methods like birth control that are against Church teachings and violating human rights and the sanctity of life. Pope St. Paul VI again faced bitter opposition and ridicule from not just many in the world, but even from among his own flock.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, from what we have heard in today’s readings, as well from the lives of the saints, we can clearly see that to follow God will often require us to give our all and often we have to endure suffering and challenges as well along the way. If we want to commit ourselves to the Lord, then we should not be half-hearted or be lukewarm about it. Instead, following the examples of our holy predecessors, we should be willing to dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly from now on.

May God be with us always throughout this journey, and may He help us in our way, that we may remain firm and faithful, filled with conviction and dedication to serve God with all of our hearts despite the challenges and trials we may face along our journey. May God bless us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

Friday, 29 May 2020 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of Pope St. Paul VI, Pope (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

John 21 : 15-19

At that time, after Jesus and His disciples had finished breakfast, He said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You.” And Jesus said, “Feed My lambs.”

A second time Jesus said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” And Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Look after My sheep.” And a third time He said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”

Peter was saddened because Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love Me?” and he said, “Lord, You know everything; You know that I love You.” Jesus then said, “Feed My sheep! Truly, I say to you, when you were young, you put on your belt and walked where you liked. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will put a belt around you, and lead you where you do not wish to go.”

Jesus said this to make known the kind of death by which Peter was to glorify God. And He added, “Follow Me.”

Friday, 29 May 2020 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of Pope St. Paul VI, Pope (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 102 : 1-2, 11-12, 19-20ab

Bless the Lord, my soul; all my being, bless His holy Name! Bless the Lord, my soul, and do not forget all His kindness.

As the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His love for those fearing Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove from us our sins.

The Lord has set His throne in heaven; He rules, He has power everywhere. Praise the Lord, all you His Angels.

Friday, 29 May 2020 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of Pope St. Paul VI, Pope (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Acts 25 : 13b-21

As King Agrippa and his sister Berenice were to stay in Caesarea several days, Festus told him about Paul’s case and said to him, “We have here a man whom Felix left as a prisoner. When I was in Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews accused him and asked me to sentence him.”

“I told them that it is not the custom of the Romans to hand over a man without giving him an opportunity to defend himself in front of his accusers. So they came and I took my seat without delay on the tribunal and sent for the man. When the accusers had the floor, they did not accuse him of any of the crimes that I was led to think he had committed; instead they quarrelled with him about religion and about a certain Jesus Who has died but whom Paul asserted to be alive.”

“I did not know what to do about this case, so I asked Paul if he wanted to go to Jerusalem to be tried there. But Paul appealed to be judged by the Emperor. So I ordered that he be kept in custody until I send him to Caesar.”

Thursday, 28 May 2020 : 7th Week of Easter (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we are all presented with the occasion when St. Paul stood alone in Jerusalem facing the entire Sanhedrin or the Jewish High Council, whose members wanted him destroyed and eliminated, much as how they had once also acted against his Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, a few decades earlier, when they condemned Him to death and handed Him over to the Romans to be crucified.

St. Paul went to Jerusalem willingly even though he knew fully that he would be persecuted by the Sanhedrin, many of whose members had been strongly against the Christian faith and also St. Paul’s efforts in converting both the Jews and the Gentiles alike in many places he had visited during his missionary journeys. St. Paul knew that he was heading to his suffering and death, but he accepted the role he was entrusted with by God, and entrusted himself to God completely.

And as he stood before the Sanhedrin, St. Paul exposed the ugly truth of their unjustified attempt to judge and condemn him. Much like that of the arrest and trial of the Lord Jesus, the Sanhedrin was bitterly divided, as many of its members could not agree with each other, and many of them could not reconcile their differing opinions and views, which resulted in them not being able to come up with a reliable and valid accusation, against either the Lord or St. Paul, and in the end, only through the High Priest’s manipulations that the Sanhedrin ended up condemning the Lord to death.

At the occasion of St. Paul’s trial, as immediately as St. Paul mentioned that he was a member of the Pharisees, great debate and conflict broke out among the members of the Sanhedrin. Those who belonged to the Sadducees group immediately rose in anger and became angry against the Pharisees in the Sanhedrin. The whole trial became chaotic and instead of focusing on St. Paul, they threw themselves at each other, showing that everything was just about matters of personal desire and ambition for them.

At that time, both the Sadducees and the Pharisees were two of the most dominant groups within the Jewish community, with the Sadducees representing the secular elite, the nobility and all those who favoured assimilation with the Hellenistic and Roman cultures and way of life. They did not believe in the Resurrection and other spiritual matters, in Angels and in the afterlife among others. On the other extreme, we have the Pharisees who were those zealously protecting the Jewish customs and traditions, representing the religious and intellectual elites.

Each of these groups had their own motivations and aims, their own conflicting desires, most of which revolved around influence, power, authority in the land of Judea and Jerusalem. They were fighting for influence and control over the people and the community, and when St. Paul highlighted this fact that he was a Pharisee, immediately the Sadducees became angry against the Pharisees, venting out their suppressed anger and hatred, while the Pharisees then used the opportunity to slam the Sadducees for their lack of faith in matters like Resurrection among other things.

In our Gospel today, we heard the Lord Jesus as He continued His prayer to His heavenly Father as we have also heard for the past few days’ Gospel passages. In today’s segment, we heard the Lord speaking to His Father about the unity of His people, His prayer that they all may be One, just as He and the Father are all united in the perfect unity of love in the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. And through this, God wants us all to know that as Christians, all of us are called to share in this unity in God and through God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, in our Church today, we have also people with differing opinions, groups and factions, both within the larger Church as well as in our own local Christian communities, parishes and societies. We have people being conflicted against each other, holding grudges and also involved in gossip and plotting. All of these things are exactly what the Pharisees and Sadducees had done, and what people who have not had faith in God were doing. If we truly call ourselves as Christians, then we all must realise that we cannot continue with this way of living our faith.

Instead, we should seek and strive our best for unity among each and every one of us. As Christians all of us must model ourselves on the Unity and Oneness present in God, for if we are all truly His people, His beloved children and loved ones, then we have to model ourselves, our relationships and interactions with God as our focus and role model at all times. Are we able to dedicate ourselves and seek to achieve this, brothers and sisters in Christ?

Let us therefore foster harmony and unity through our everyday life and actions, our interactions with one another that we may indeed a united people by our faith in the Lord. Let us all follow the Lord and unite our purpose from now on, to serve and glorify Him at all times by our lives, our actions and deeds. May the Lord bring us all to true unity and help us all that we may grow well in faith, at all times. May God bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Thursday, 28 May 2020 : 7th Week of Easter (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

John 17 : 20-26

At that time, Jesus prayed to God His Father, “I pray not only for these, but also for those who through their word will believe in Me. May they all be one, as You Father are in Me and I am in You. May they be one in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.”

“I have given them the glory You have given Me, that they may be one as We are One : I in them and You in Me. Thus they shall reach perfection in unity; and the world shall know that You have sent Me, and that I have loved them, just as You loved Me.”

“Father, since You have given them to Me, I want them to be with Me where I am, and see the glory You gave Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. Righteous Father, the world has not known You, but I have known You, and these have known that You have sent Me.”

“As I revealed Your Name to them, so will I continue to reveal it, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and also may be in them.”