Friday, 28 August 2020 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we heard the words of the Lord through the Scriptures, we are brought to attention on the matter of ‘wisdom’. What is wisdom to us, brothers and sisters in Christ? What is the significance of wisdom to us? Wisdom is, according to its definition, the ability to discern something with great understanding and grasp of the matter, and to have the ability to make good judgment based on what we know of the situation.

Therefore, once again, what is wisdom to us, brothers and sisters in Christ? The Scriptures placed before us the contrast between divine and human wisdom, between the wisdom of the world, the knowledge and the ways, the understanding and all the combined efforts of people throughout the centuries in trying to figure out more and more about their lives and about the world around them. But, looking at it all, we have never been able to attain true understanding, that is if we keep God out of the equation.

In our first reading today, as St. Paul wrote in his Epistle to the Church and the faithful in the city of Corinth, clearly addressed to both the Jewish and the Greek converts to the Christian faith, he focused on the matter how the Lord confounded the expectations and the wisdom of man through whatever He has revealed through His Son, Jesus Christ, and which His Apostles and disciples then spread throughout the whole world.

To the Jews, whom having been brought up through the centuries fearing God and His punishments and laws, and the supreme authority of God over all things, many of them could not comprehend the fact that He has come down into this world as a Man, to share in their humanity and to live just in the same way that they had lived. They therefore found it hard to believe, and as St. Paul said, demanded miracles again and again to prove to their confounded beliefs and minds that the Lord Jesus is truly the Messiah and Son of God.

To the Greeks, who valued knowledge and learning above many other things, proven by just how many philosophers, thinkers and politicians came out from their ranks at the time, it seemed foolish and nonsense to believe in the Lord Jesus as they thought that they had known all that there was to be known, in their gods and deities, to which they attributed their understanding of the nature and the world around them, and which is why, their pantheon represent closely the world, both in the behaviours of the Greek gods and goddesses that mimic closely human behaviours, and also their actions.

The Greeks could not comprehend how a mere Man, born of a woman like Mary, could be the most powerful, Almighty God, far beyond all of their own gods and goddesses, and how their understanding, learning and knowledge could have been wrong. But this was exactly where St. Paul, throughout his long years of ministry to the various Greek communities and cities throughout the Mediterranean region, helped to dispel the falsehoods and reveal to them the truth about God.

And while many of the earliest Christians were Jews, but many among the Jewish people still then refused to believe in Christ and His teachings. But nonetheless, the efforts of the Apostles and the disciples did bear fruit, as more and more among those who initially refused to believe eventually were willing to listen to the truth and believe in God. Those who refused to believe clung on to their own wisdom and understanding, such as many among the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who thought that they could not have been wrong and condemned Jesus as a blasphemer and false Messiah.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, through all of these we have seen how the Lord wanted us to understand that it is often our stubbornness and pride that prevented us from being able to seek out and approach the Lord with faith, as we clung to our own interpretations, intellect and wisdom, rather than to trust in the wisdom of God we have heard and which have been revealed to us. We must understand, brethren, that our wisdom and intellect are limited, and are nothing compared to God’s wisdom and truth.

Today, all of us also celebrate the feast day of the great St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the four original and greatest of the Doctors of the Church and one of the most influential early Church fathers and leaders of Christendom. St. Monica, his mother was celebrated in her feast day yesterday, as we heard how her persistence, constant prayer and effort to seek her son’s conversion eventually led to St. Augustine’s conversion, and today, we focus our attention on the great saint himself.

St. Augustine of Hippo was born to St. Monica, a Christian woman and a pagan father, and his early life was surrounded by the many wickedness of the world. And as he grew up, he began to be attracted by philosophical pursuits and learning, which was then dominated by pagan philosophers, prominent among the Greeks as mentioned earlier. The young St. Augustine was curious for knowledge, and he was seeking for truth and satisfaction on knowledge and understanding.

However, no matter how much he tried to find solace and satisfaction in human wisdom, and in his adoption of the Manichaean heresy in his youth, in his hedonistic lifestyle and pursuit of worldly pleasures, none of these were able to satisfy him. It was then that the prayers and efforts of his mother, St. Monica, led him to St. Ambrose of Milan, another one of the four great Doctors of the Church and charismatic leader of the faithful, who began to plant the seeds of faith in St. Augustine.

Eventually, St. Augustine discovered God and His truth, and having found the true wisdom and the truth itself, far surpassing all forms of human and worldly knowledge, he converted to the true faith. St. Augustine had been baptised earlier in his life, but lapsed and resisted for many, many years before finally embracing his faith fully, with the constant and never-ending support from his mother, St. Monica.

And later on, as St. Augustine wrote his most renowned treatise on the Most Holy Trinity, known as ‘De Trinitate’, it was told that as the saint wandered on the seashore looking for inspiration on what to write on this most mysterious and difficult of the divine aspects to be explained, St. Augustine saw a young boy trying to pour water from the sea using a scallop shell into a hole in the sand.

When St. Augustine approached and asked the young boy, the boy said that he wanted to empty the entire ocean into that small hole in the sand. When St. Augustine said that such thing is impossible as the ocean is so vast while the hole in the sand is so small, the young boy, whom in truth was God in disguise, spoke to him, that it was thus the same for the mysteries of God, the concept of the Holy Trinity and others that are just so infinitely great and far beyond the ability of our small human minds to fully appreciate, symbolically shown through the action of trying to empty the ocean, representing the fullness of God’s mysteries, into the small hole, representing our minds and human wisdom.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, through what we have heard in our Scripture readings today therefore, all of us are called to reflect on our own lives and our faith. Have we placed our faith and trust in God as we move along in life, or have we instead put our trust more in our own strength and wisdom, in our own limited perception and understanding of things around us? More often than not, we falter in our journey of life and faith because we did not trust enough in God.

Let us all pray therefore for the grace to listen to God and His will, and pray that we will always be strengthened in faith so that we may trust Him more and more, and follow Him ever more faithfully, as St. Augustine had done. And as St. Augustine himself had discovered, let us all find our true joy and satisfaction in life in God, and not in other pleasures of the world, that may be joyful, but are temporary, false and are mere distractions preventing us to find the true joy in God. May God bless us always, and guide us, now and forevermore. Amen.

Friday, 28 August 2020 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 25 : 1-13

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “This story throws light on what will happen in the kingdom of heaven : Ten bridesmaids went out with their lamps to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were sensible. The careless bridesmaids took their lamps as they were, and did not take extra oil. But those who were sensible, took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom delayed, they all grew drowsy and fell asleep.”

“But at midnight, a cry rang out, ‘The bridegroom is here, come on and meet him!’ All the maidens woke up at once, and trimmed their lamps. Then the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, ‘Give us some oil, for our lamps are going out.’ The sensible ones answered, ‘There may not be enough for us and for you. You had better go to those who sell, and buy some for yourselves.'”

“When the bridegroom came, the foolish maidens were out buying oil, but those who were ready went with him into the wedding feast, and the doors were shut. Later the other bridesmaids arrived and called out, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered, ‘Truly I do not know you.'”

“So stay awake, for you do not know the day nor the hour.”

Friday, 28 August 2020 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 32 : 1-2, 4-5, 10-11

Rejoice in the Lord, you who are just, praise is fitting for the upright. Give thanks to Him on the harp and lyre, making melody and chanting praises.

For upright is the Lord’s word and worthy of trust is His work. The Lord loves justice and righteousness; the earth is full of His kindness.

The Lord frustrates the plans of the nations and brings to nothing the peoples’ designs. But His plan stands forever, and His heart’s design through all generations.

Friday, 28 August 2020 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

1 Corinthians 1 : 17-25

For Christ did not send me to baptise, but to proclaim His Gospel. And not with beautiful words! That would be like getting rid of the cross of Christ. The language of the cross remains nonsense for those who are lost. Yet for us who are saved, it is the power of God, as Scripture says : I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and make fail the foresight of the foresighted. Masters of human wisdom, educated people, philosophers, you have no reply! And the wisdom of this world? God let it fail.

At first, God spoke the language of wisdom, and the world did not know God through wisdom. Then God thought of saving the believers, through the foolishness that we preach. The Jews ask for miracles and the Greeks for a higher knowledge, while we proclaim a crucified Messiah. For the Jews, what a great scandal! And for the Greeks, what nonsense! But He is Christ, the power of God, and the wisdom of God, for those called by God among both Jews and Greeks.

In reality, the “foolishness” of God is wiser than humans, and the “weakness” of God is stronger than humans.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine of Hippo, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we continue on from yesterday’s discourse regarding the improper actions and attitudes of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law which were the theme of the passages in the past three days from the Scripture. On this day we heard again of the Lord rebuking the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law of their hypocrisy, mincing not His words as He struck at them for their empty and meaningless faith.

And He also made mention of how they acted just in the same manner as their ancestors, those people of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah of old who have persecuted the prophets and refused to listen to the words of truth and wisdom which they had brought with them. Those people had hardened their hearts and closed their minds off from the Lord and His words, and that was why they had little faith in Him.

In the first reading today, then, we heard St. Paul exhorting the Church and the faithful in the city of Thessalonica to embrace a good and faithful life, one that is dedicated to the greater glory of God, in serving Him and in proclaiming His truth in everything they do, by their every actions and deeds, by their every words and interactions, through which they become the witnesses of their faith in God.

Essentially, from what we have heard in today’s Scripture readings, we are all reminded of the way we live our lives and how as Christians, all of us must remember that should we act in ways that are not in accordance with what we believe, it will truly scandalise our faith, and how can we expect others to believe if we ourselves acted and lived as if we did not believe in God? In fact, we may even mislead others by our hypocrisy just like what many of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had done.

Looking at the examples of those people, they all fell into the temptations of their pride, their ambition and worldly desires. They all wanted to be affirmed, to be praised, to be honoured and glorified by their peers, by the people around them. And as they received all those good things, they became even more filled with desires, wanting to gain more of what they thought they deserved.

That was why they acted to preserve their own ego, to satisfy their desire for power, for fame and affluence, for admiration and fame as they showed their public forms of piety and devotions, their observances of the laws and customs of the Mosaic law. Yet, in their hearts, so filled up with ego and pride, with desire and greed, the Lord truly did not have any place to dwell in. They have sidelined the Lord for their own selfish desires and purposes.

And that is a very important lesson for us to take note in how we should live our Christian lives meaningfully. We must not let the desires of our flesh and the many temptations of this world to pull us away from the path of righteousness and salvation in God. If we allow ourselves to be tempted and to be swayed by those temptations and seductions of worldliness made by the devil and all of his wicked allies, we will end up being hypocrites in faith like those whom the Lord had rebuked.

Today, as the whole Universal Church we celebrate together the feast of St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the original Four Doctors of the Church and a very important Church father and leader of the Christian faith and Western Christianity in general. St. Augustine of Hippo is celebrated often together with his mother, St. Monica, whose feast we celebrated just yesterday, as their lives were truly intertwined, the love between a mother and her child.

St. Augustine however was not always holy and devout throughout his life as we may have thought otherwise. Born to a pagan father and a Christian mother, St. Augustine was not always righteous, but in fact was wicked early on in his life, living a debauched and wicked lifestyle, adopting the heretical and syncretic Manichaean religion and sought all sorts of worldly pleasures, and he even committed adultery with a married woman.

But St. Augustine was touched by the great efforts that his mother, St. Monica had, in trying to pull her son away from his wicked path and sins. St. Monica ceaselessly prayed for the sake of her son and wished for the conversion of his heart. And her effort eventually caused not just St. Augustine to turn away from his sinful life, but even managed to bring her own husband, St. Augustine’s father into the Christian faith prior to his death.

St. Augustine turned towards God through the means of St. Monica’s prayers, and his own desire for knowledge and satisfaction, which was the reason why he went around seeking all sorts of worldly desires and pleasures, in the pursuit of philosophy and intellectual discourses, in the pursuit of the pleasures of the flesh and glory, all without avail. Eventually, his encounter with the Christian faith made him to discover God, the One Who gave him the answers and the true joy that he had been seeking all those while.

That was how St. Augustine was turned to the Lord and repented from his old, sinful way of life. St. Augustine thereafter dedicated his life to the Lord and devoted himself wholly to His cause. His many writings and inspirational testimonies of his faith became a benchmark for many Christian authors and teachers for many generations after his passing. His treatises and books, including the famous ‘City of God’ brought a great development of Christian theology and faith.

And one of the famous stories linked to St. Augustine of Hippo was one of the moment when St. Augustine was walking by the seashore while reflecting and trying to comprehend the mystery of God’s Holy Trinity and saw a child who tried to pour the entire ocean using a seashell into a small hole in the sand that the child had made. When St. Augustine remarked of the futility of such an effort to the child, then the Child, who was in fact God in disguise told St. Augustine that it is therefore also futile for man to try to comprehend the vastness of God’s truth and mysteries.

In the same manner therefore, it is also futile for us mankind to try to seek for the glory of this world, for the satisfaction of the flesh and for worldly fame, influence, power and all sorts of things that we are often preoccupied about in our lives. We are called therefore to put more trust in God and to put Him at the very centre of our lives, and as the focus of all of our attention and efforts from now on.

Let us all be truly faithful to God and be exemplary in how we live our lives from now on, in our every words, deeds and actions so that by them all we may become witnesses to our faith and will be examples for others to follow in their own lives, that many more will come to believe in God through us. May God bless us all and may He empower us all to live faithfully in His presence always. Amen.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine of Hippo, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 23 : 27-32

At that time, Jesus said to the people and to His disciples, “Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, beautiful in appearance; but, inside, there are only dead bones and uncleanness. In the same way, you appear religious to others, but you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness within.”

“Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets, and decorate the monuments of the righteous. You say : Had we lived in the time of our ancestors, we would not have joined them in shedding the blood of the prophets. So, you, yourselves, confess to be the descendants of those who murdered the prophets.”

“And now, finish off what your ancestors began!”

Wednesday, 28 August 2019 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine of Hippo, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 138 : 7-8, 9-10, 11-12ab

Where else could I go from Your Spirit? Where could I flee from Your presence? You are there, if I ascend the heavens; You are there, if I descend to the depths.

If I ride on the wings of the dawn, and settle on the far side of the sea, even there, Your hand shall guide me, and Your right hand shall hold me safely.

Shall I say, “Let darkness hide me, I prefer the night as my light?” But darkness, for You, is not dark.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine of Hippo, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

1 Thessalonians 2 : 9-13

Remember our labour and toil; when we preached the Gospel, we worked day and night, so as not to be a burden to you. You are witnesses, with God, that we are holy, just and blameless toward all of you who now believe. We warned each of you, as a father warns his children; we encouraged you, and urged you to adopt a way of life worthy of God, Who calls you to share His own glory and kingdom.

This is why we never cease giving thanks to God for, on receiving our message, you accepted it, not as human teaching, but as the word of God. That is what it really is, and, as such, it is at work in you who believe.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s Scripture readings we listened to the word of God speaking to us about the importance for us to stay true to our faith in the Lord, no matter what distractions or temptations that may come in our way. We should not be easily swayed by worldly desires and concerns, that we end up being corrupted by our greed and desires, by our ego and pride, and therefore end up falling into sin.

In the first reading today, St. Paul in his Epistle to the Church and the faithful in the city of Thessalonica in Greece stated to them that they must not easily be alarmed or be discouraged by what some people might be hearing, especially if these ran contrary to the Gospel and the truth that the Apostles had brought into their midst. He reminded them to be strong and to remain true to the faith which they have received from the hands of the Apostles.

This would come to be important as in time to come, there were many heresies and false teachings that came among the people of God, which brought down many of the faithful, and including even priests and bishops who came to believe in all those falsehoods and wrong teachings. Heresies and syncretic teachings such as Arianism, Gnosticism, Monophysitism, Manichaeanism, and many others, including more recent examples, have caused many souls to be lost to the Lord.

In the Gospel passage today, the Lord Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, in His series of condemnations for those who were entrusted with the care and guidance over the people of God. They were supposed to show care and concern for the fate of the Israelites, but they have failed to fulfil their obligation and supposed duty. Instead, they abused their power and influence for their own uses and selfish purposes.

They imposed harsh rules and regulations on the people, expecting them to follow their standard and practices of the Law, but they did all these, in order to be praised more by the people, to be respected and even feared, as the only authority that was available in teaching the people. Even though their interpretation of the Law and God’s commandments were wrong and misguided, but they refused to listen to the Lord Who came to right the wrongs they have committed.

Faced with such great challenges and difficulties, the Church and many of the faithful people of God struggled. Many people fell, and even from within the hierarchy of the Church itself fell into the heresies and became spreaders of the lies and terrible falsehoods instead. And yet, while many have fallen, but equally many have recovered from the fall and returned to the true faith in God.

And today we celebrate the feast of one great and renowned saint, whose life was the perfect example of that experience of falling into sin and to the lies of the devil, and returning back to the faith with a repentance and conversion of heart. St. Augustine of Hippo, also known as St. Augustine the Great is one of the most well-known and respected saints of Christendom, considered as one of the four original Doctors of the Church.

But early in his life, St. Augustine lived a life of debauchery, immorality and sin. He was not a Christian unlike his mother, St. Monica, whose feast we celebrated just yesterday. St. Monica prayed hard for the conversion of her son, who lived in a state of great sin and committing adultery, even to the point of having a son out of wedlock. But St. Monica did not give up on her son, and continued to pray for him, knowing that God would also never abandon His people.

St. Augustine turned to Manichaeanism following the examples of his peers and through the enticing nature of its worldly teachings. But in the end, he did not find true satisfaction and joy in the false ways of the Manichaeans, and through the works of St. Ambrose of Milan, another one of the four great Doctors of the Church and by St. Monica’s intercession, St. Augustine eventually repented his sinful ways and turned to the Lord.

It was through this long journey of repentance and faith, that many of the faithful living throughout the ages, even until this very day, benefitted through the many great works of St. Augustine of Hippo, who after turning away from his past, sinful ways, turned to be a great champion and protector of the true Christian faith or orthodoxy. He wrote extensively and preached in many occasions, inspiring many future generations of Christian leaders and teachers to continue keeping the fullness of truth as preserved in the Church.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, now, all of us are called to follow in their footsteps, in the courage of the saints and all of our predecessors. Let us all remain true to the fullness of truth of God, found in the Church alone, that by its sacred traditions and the preservation of the rightful interpretation of the Holy Scriptures through the Holy Spirit, by the teachings of St. Augustine and the many other holy and committed teachers of the truth, we may remain ever faithful and remain true in our dedication to the Lord, despite all the challenge we may encounter in life.

May the Lord be with us always, that each and every one of us will find the courage like that shown St. Augustine, to acknowledge just how sinful we have been, and how we are in need of God’s healing and mercy. Let us all turn to the Lord with all of our hearts, and live a renewed existence in faith. May God bless us all and our endeavours, now and forevermore. Amen.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 23 : 23-26

At that time, Jesus said to the people, “Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You do not forget the mint, anise and cumin seeds when you demand the tenth of everything; but then, you forget what is most fundamental in the Law : justice, mercy and faith! You should have done these things without neglecting the others. Blind guides! You strain out a mosquito, but swallow a camel.”

“Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You fill the plate and the cup, with theft and violence, and then pronounce a blessing over them. Blind Pharisee! Purify the inside first, then the outside, too, will be purified.”