Monday, 1 January 2018 : Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, Theotokos, World Day of Prayer for Peace (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day, the very first day of the new year, we always celebrate together with the entire Universal Church, the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. On this day we celebrate together for Mary, the holy woman whom God has appointed to become the Mother of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, and today’s celebration is very closely linked to a core tenet of our faith, and it was very significant in the development and history of the Church.

As Christians, all of us believe that Jesus Christ, the Messiah or Saviour of the world, is not just mere Man, but is also God Incarnate, united in the person of Jesus. We believe that He is the Son of Man, precisely because He was born of a woman, as do any other men or women. He was born of Mary in Bethlehem, and thus He was a member of humanity, and He did really exist in the flesh, able to experience human sufferings and emotions as hunger, sorrow, and were able to be tempted by the devil, and eventually, suffered pain and anguish, leading up to His death on the cross.

All of these would not have been possible should Jesus Our Lord is only a Divine being, and not Man. That is why there are many of those who cannot comprehend what the Church and our faith teach about the nature of Our Lord and Saviour, as both God and Man at the same time. That also lead them to the lack of faith and belief in the crucifixion of Christ, for if Jesus Christ is merely God and not Man, He could not have suffered or died. God could not have died, for He is omnipotent and omnipresent.

That is why we believe that He is truly a Man, for He was born of Mary, walked in this world, and experienced all the things that we mankind have also experienced, all the challenges and sufferings in life, except for the complete absence of sin, for Jesus is the perfect Man, the New Adam, through Whom God wanted to save us all from our sins. And He is also God, because no Man could have saved us mankind from our sins, and only God can forgive us from our sins. But then, why is it that today’s celebration is actually so important for our faith and for the Church?

That was because, there were so many different opinions and schools of thought in the Church during its early centuries, as well as private interpretations by several groups and charismatic priests and leaders that ended up causing divisions and serious disagreements within the Church at the time, especially the one concerning the nature of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, His nature and truth, His identity and reality, on whether He was just merely Man, or whether He was just God, or whether He was both Man and God, but again some were later divided on whether this humanity and divinity were separate or mixed together and indistinguishable.

And on the very first Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, the heresy of Arianism was condemned officially by the Church. This heresy, based on the teaching of the popular priest Arian, taught that while Jesus is the Son of God, but He is not equal to God the Father because He was created by the Father and not existing with Him from before the beginning of time. This heresy was officially condemned, and the Church stood by the truth that Jesus is the Son of God, and as the Divine Word incarnate, He is equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the Holy Trinity.

Then dispute quickly arose again regarding the nature of His divinity and humanity. While as we discussed just earlier, that Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour is both equally Man and God, but at that time, people disagree on whether the person Jesus Christ we see in the Gospels is just a Man, and distinct and separate from the divinity of the Son of God, a position which was championed by another heretic, Nestorius, or whether Jesus Christ is both Man and God, united in the person of Jesus.

This is the very reason for the Church to officially declare Mary as the Mother of God, or in Greek, Theotokos, as the one who bore God into the world, as His mother. The supporters of Nestorius preferred to call Mary as Christotokos, or the one who bears Christ. And they preferred this title because it suited their false theology separating the divinity from the humanity of Christ, by saying that Mary is merely just the mother of the human Jesus and not the divine Son of God.

We may think that such a squabble and conflict was unnecessary and meaningless, but in reality, it is very important, as if the wrong teachings about the nature of Mary as the Mother of God managed to triumph over the truth, it would definitely also affect the truth and the teaching about the nature of Our Lord and Saviour as well. Those who denied that Mary is the Mother of God naturally also denied the fact and truth that Jesus Christ Our Lord is God and Divine.

In the end, those who defended the truth triumphed, and until today, the Church preserved the truth, and now we celebrate this very important feast day, on the very first day of the year based on the ancient tradition that the first day of the month of January is dedicated to honour the motherhood of Mary. She is indeed the mother who gave birth to Jesus the Messiah, and because Jesus is both God and Man, having human and divine natures united in the person of Jesus, Mary is therefore also the mother of God.

And that is exactly why we honour Mary such as we exalt her above all that of the other saints. Yet, we also do not worship her as if she is a divinity. After all, even though she was conceived without sin by God’s will in order to be a worthy and perfect vessel for His Son, but she is still a human being just like us. Yet, she is the perfect role model for each and every one of us, as she obeyed the Lord faithfully and followed His commandments, surrendering herself completely to His designs and plans.

While our first ancestors Adam and Eve said no to the Lord by their disobedience, and even though many of us mankind refused to listen to Him and preferred to go on our own way and follow our own desires and designs, but Mary said yes to the Lord when He revealed to her the divine plan of salvation through the Archangel Gabriel. She lived righteously and devoted herself entirely to love her Son Jesus.

Thus again, we honour her such, because of her extraordinary faith, on top of her motherhood of God. And we are all indeed very fortunate to have this greatest among all saints and intercessors, who is constantly praying for our sake and interceding for us, as she is indeed the closest one to her Son, Our God, at the side of His heavenly throne and glory. And just like at the wedding of Cana, when Jesus listened to His mother, even though He was reluctant to perform a miracle there, He performed it because He also listened to His mother’s petition on behalf of the wedding couple in distress.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, as we begin a new year, which will be filled with its own unique challenges and opportunities, let us all seek to imitate the examples of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, in her faith and commitment to God. Let us all strive to become like her in our own respective lives. We have to be thankful that God has given her to us, as a great gift. When she was entrusted by her Son from the cross to St. John, He also entrusted us to her. We are her adopted children as well.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore, let us all pray that we may always live faithfully from now on, inspired by the faith of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, and we remember always this important tenet of our faith, and keep it faithfully with us, so that we may not fall into the temptation of false teachings which had so much divided the Church and our faith in the past.

Let us all ask Mary, the mother of God for her constant intercession, that she will continue to watch over us, her beloved children, that all of us will be able to eventually find our way towards the Lord, our loving God, her Son. Let us all draw closer to God, through Mary, through whom we can find the best and straightest path to His salvation and grace. God bless us all. Amen.

Monday, 1 January 2018 : Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, Theotokos, World Day of Prayer for Peace (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Luke 2 : 16-21

So the shepherds came hurriedly, and found Mary and Joseph, and the Baby lying in the manger. On seeing Him, they related what they had been told about the Child, and all were astonished on hearing the shepherds.

As for Mary, she treasured all these words, and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds then returned, giving glory and praise to God for all they had heard and seen, just as the Angels had told them.

On the eighth day the circumcision of the Baby had to be performed; He was named Jesus, the Name the Angel had given Him before He was conceived.

Monday, 1 January 2018 : Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, Theotokos, World Day of Prayer for Peace (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Galatians 4 : 4-7

But when the fullness of time came, God sent His Son. He came born of woman and subject to the Law, in order to redeem the subjects of the Law, that we might receive adoption as children of God.

And because you are children, God has sent into your hearts the Spirit of His Son which cries out : Abba! That is, Father! You yourself are no longer a slave but a son or daughter, and yours is the inheritance by God’s grace.

Monday, 1 January 2018 : Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, Theotokos, World Day of Prayer for Peace (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 66 : 2-3, 5, 6 and 8

May God be gracious and bless us; may He let His face shine upon us, that Your way be known on earth and Your salvation among the nations.

May the countries be glad and sing for joy, for You rule the peoples with justice and guide the nations of the world.

May the peoples praise You, o God, may all the peoples praise You! May God bless us and be revered, to the very ends of the earth.

Monday, 1 January 2018 : Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, Theotokos, World Day of Prayer for Peace (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Numbers 6 : 22-27

Then YHVH spoke to Moses saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons and say to them : This is how you shall bless the people of Israel; you shall say : May YHVH bless you and keep you! May YHVH let His face shine on you, and be gracious to you! May YHVH look kindly on you, and give you His peace!”

“In that way they put My Name on the people of Israel and I will bless them.”

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, 24 June 2016 : Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate the great feast and solemnity in honour of the great saint and Herald of our Saviour, St. John the Baptist, whom God had sent to walk before Him, in order to prepare the way for His own coming into the world in Jesus Christ. On this day we commemorate the birth of St. John the Baptist, faithful and devoted servant of God Most High, through whom God willed to reveal Himself to the world.

St. John the Baptist was told to be the return of the prophet Elijah to the world, as Elijah was taken up by God with the flaming chariots of God Himself, and just as the prophet Elijah was sent to the people of Israel to call them to repent from their sins and to turn their backs against the wickedness that they and their ancestors have committed, thus, St. John the Baptist also came into the world, called and chosen by God since within his mother’s womb, to be the one to call God’s people to repentance and forgiveness in God.

And God was with him as he grew up and became strong in faith. He wandered in the desert, preparing himself for the ministry to which he was called into, that is the ministry to proclaim the One and only Messiah and Saviour of the world, God Himself Who became Man for the sake of our salvation. He preached to the people, many of whom had been living in ignorance of God and His ways, calling them to repent their sinful ways and return to God in penitence.

Many came to follow him and listened to him. They gave themselves to be baptised by St. John through the baptism of water, that they might prepare themselves for the eventual coming of the Lord and Saviour. He also rebuked the Pharisees, the elders and the teachers of the Law for their hypocrisy in faith and pride, calling them brood of vipers, those who have neglected their duties in guiding the people of God for their own benefits.

But when the people thought that he was the Messiah and Saviour of God, he humbly rejected that opinion, and he told his disciples openly that he was not the Messiah. He told all of them that when the Lord and Messiah came, which would be soon at that time, he who was the greatest of the prophets of God and most honoured of all, would not even be worthy to untie the straps of the sandals of the Lord Who was coming into the world.

In all these examples, we can see the example of a great servant of God, who was devoted and totally committed to the mission he was called to by God, and yet was filled with humility and love for his Lord and Master. When mankind by their nature would give in to pride and to their human desires, and the tendency for them to follow their heart’s wishes, St. John the Baptist showed us all how to be a committed and good follower of our God.

What does this mean, brothers and sisters in Christ? It means that we as Christians must be true disciples of our Lord, in all of our words, deeds and actions. We cannot be calling ourselves as Christians and yet our actions prove to be otherwise. If that is so, then we are causing a great scandal both to our faith and to our Lord Himself.

Let us all today as we reflect on this occasion of the Solemnity of the birth of St. John the Baptist, the Herald of our Lord and Saviour, the one who made it known to all the world that God was coming to save the whole race of mankind, that we may give ourselves to the Lord in the same manner as St. John the Baptist himself had devoted himself to God.

May God help us in our endeavours and in our perseverance and commitment to live by His grace, that we may be inspired to follow and walk in the footsteps of St. John the Baptist, fully committing ourselves to God and remaining humble and loving in His presence. May we all as Christians be light for the world, and reveal the truth about Christ to the darkened world just as St. John the Baptist had once done. May God bless us all, now and forever. Amen.