Friday, 4 December 2020 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John Damascene, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Priests)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scripture, we are all reminded that God will be our Redeemer and He will liberate us from all of our trials and troubles. He is our Hope and the Light that will lead us the way out from the darkness. The Lord is what we should be focusing on, and we should dedicate ourselves to Him just as He has dedicated Himself to us and loved us so much, all these while.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, of the prophecy about the Lord’s salvation, the coming of the time of His glorious days when He will bring forth all that He has promised to us, His beloved people. In that prophecy, the Lord promised that He will lead His people from their predicament, from their fallen state and from their wretched existence.

Hence, with all these prophecies, from Isaiah and the other prophets, the people of Israel, who had faced lots of trials and tribulations, challenges and troubles, they truly looked forward to the coming of the salvation of God, in the Messiah or Saviour that the Lord had promised to them. They have all suffered and endured much humiliation because of their own sins and disobedience, and therefore, they yearned and longed for that liberation.

This then relates to our Gospel passage today, in which we heard of the account of the Lord’s healing of the two blind men whom He encountered during His ministry. Those two blind men sought for the Lord and begged Him to heal them from their blindness. To be blind is truly a very terrible experience, and imagine that now we are able to look at all the wonders of the world, and not to be able to see all of that, is truly horrible.

And the Lord asked them, whether they believed in Him and in what He could do for them. Through their faith, and their commitment to their belief in Him, the Lord healed them from their blindness, opened their eyes and restored their ability to see once again. Therefore, they have been freed from their physical darkness, allowing them to see the light and the world again. Imagine someone who have suffered for so long in the darkness, without hope and without light, now finally able to see again, there must be such a great joy in them.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we go through this season of Advent, we look forward to the great celebrations and joy that will come in Christmas, as an important reminder of why we ought to celebrate joyfully because in Christ, we have seen the Hope and the Salvation promised to all of us, all these that had been prophesied by the prophets and which the Lord Himself had revealed to us. He has shown His love in person, by reaching out tot us, touching us and healing us from all of our predicaments.

Just all those blind men suffering from their blindness, we all too are suffering from the affliction of our sins. Even though we may be perfectly healthy in our body and physique, but our souls are still afflicted and corrupted by sin, which is a disease that afflict us, strike at us, and unless we rid ourselves of these afflictions, they will drag us down the path to damnation. Fortunately for us, the Lord loves each and every one of us, and is willing to forgive us our sins and heal us from our afflictions.

The question is then, are we willing to embrace the Lord’s love, mercy and forgiveness? Or do we prefer instead to continue living in the darkness and sin? The Lord wants to forgive us our sins, but do we want to be forgiven? Let us see the examples of those two blind men. They were healed because they believed in the Lord and had faith in Him, and they wanted to be healed. Unless we are willing to open ourselves to God’s forgiveness, grace and mercy, there can be no forgiveness, as we must accept the forgiveness and act in repentance of our past sins to be fully forgiven.

This season of Advent through the Scripture readings we are all constantly being reminded to love God because of the love that He Himself had shown to us all these while. We are all called to redirect our focus and attention on Him, and prepare ourselves so that we may truly celebrate Christmas with full appreciation of its importance. Let us fill ourselves with the joy of expectation of the Lord’s coming, remembering first of all His coming in the past, the coming of His salvation, and also then His promise of return at the end of time, when He will lead us all His faithful into His eternal kingdom.

How do we make best use of this season of Advent? It is by deepening our spirituality and our relationship with God. We can look upon the examples of the saints, all those holy men and women who had gone before us, and by whose lives God had been glorified. Today in particular, we celebrate the feast of one of those holy saints of God, namely St. John of Damascus, also known as St. John Damascene. He was a truly devout and faithful servant of God, whose lives and actions were truly exemplary and should serve as inspirations for all of us to follow.

St. John of Damascus lived in Syria which was why he was often called after the city of Damascus where he lived for most of his life. At that time, as a Christian living in Syria under the rule of non-Christians, St. John of Damascus was born into a family of Christian courtiers of the rulers of the Umayyad Caliphate, which capital was in Damascus. He was a renowned polymath and philosopher with wide range of knowledge in various topics.

St. John of Damascus was remembered for his great intellect and service to the Caliph in Damascus, and he was also known for his great faith and wisdom, as a priest and monk in a monastery in that area. After leaving the public service, he dedicated himself to a life of prayer and devotion, and his many writings on the matters of the faith were very influential in his defence of the true faith especially at that time against the false heresy of iconoclasm, supported by the Roman Emperor himself and his nobles.

St. John of Damascus wrote fervently and courageously even against those who opposed the true faith, not fearing for himself. He did what he could to prevent more and more souls from falling into the wrong paths, and he dedicated the latter half of his life doing that and leading a prayerful and pious life as a priest and monk. His contributions to the Church were enormous, and he continued to inspire many people long after his passing.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we able to follow in the footsteps of St. John of Damascus? Are we willing to dedicate ourselves to serve the Lord faithfully and wholeheartedly as he and the multitudes of other saints had done? Let us all ponder on these questions and ask ourselves, what are we going to do especially during this blessed season of Advent in order to prepare ourselves well for the coming of Christmas.

Are we going to continue living just as per usual? Celebrating Christmas just as usual, in the same manner as how others have celebrated it all around the world? Or are we going to have a profound change in how we live our lives, and re-centre our whole existence around God, the true Light and Hope of Christmas? Our true Joy and the source of our Salvation? Let us all seek the Lord this Advent with renewed vigour and strength, brothers and sisters. Amen.

Friday, 4 December 2020 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John Damascene, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Priests)

Matthew 9 : 27-31

At that time, as Jesus moved on from the place where He resurrected the daughter of the official, two blind men followed Him, shouting, “Son of David, help us!” When He was about to enter the house, the blind men caught up with Him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do what you want?” They answered, “Yes, Sir!”

Then Jesus touched their eyes and said, “As you have believed, so let it be.” And their eyes were opened. Then Jesus gave them a stern warning, “Be careful that no one knows about this.” But as soon as they went away, they spread the news about Him through the whole area.

Friday, 4 December 2020 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John Damascene, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Priests)

Psalm 26 : 1, 4, 13-14

The Lord is my Light and my Salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the Rampart of my life; I will not be afraid.

One thing I ask of the Lord, one thing I seek – that I may dwell in His house all the days of my life, to gaze at His jewel and to visit His sanctuary.

I hope, I am sure, that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Trust in the Lord, be strong and courageous. Yes, put your hope in the Lord!

Friday, 4 December 2020 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John Damascene, Priest and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Priests)

Isaiah 29 : 17-24

In a very short time, Lebanon will become a fruitful field and the fruitful field will be as a forest. On that day the deaf will hear the words of the book, and out of the dark and obscurity the eyes of the blind will see. The meek will find joy and the poor among men will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.

For the tyrant will be no more and the scoffers gone forever, and all who plan to do evil will be cut down – those who by a word make you guilty, those who for a bribe can lay a snare and send home the just empty-handed.

Therefore YHVH, Abraham’s Redeemer, speaks concerning the people of Jacob : No longer will Jacob be ashamed; no longer will his face grow pale. When he sees the work of My hands, his children again in his midst, they will sanctify My Name, they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and stand in awe of the God of Israel. Those who err in spirit will understand; those who murmur will learn.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John Damascene, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Priests)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scripture in which we heard of the wonders of God’s love for each and every one of us, as we pass through this season of Advent, preparing us to celebrate worthily the joyous season of Christmas. God has loved us all so much that He has given us all the perfect gift in His own beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

That is why in our first reading today we heard of the beautiful vision and prophecy as relayed to us through the prophet Isaiah, of the wonderful promises of God as He promised all of His beloved and faithful ones that they will all enjoy the fullness of His bountiful blessings and the fruits of His providence, in a world where there is no more pain or sorrow, no more tears and sadness, no more suffering but only true joy and happiness with God.

That is the hope with which God has strengthened us all His people, giving us hope and strength at the times when life may be at our darkest, and when the outlook of things seems to be gloomy and without hope. The Lord gave us the encouragement to go through the sufferings and difficulties by letting us all know that it is in Him and through Him alone that we will be able to gain relief and true freedom from suffering and the sorrows of this world.

And we are reminded of this fact, and also of the love of God through what we have heard in our Gospel passage today, in which we heard how the Lord ministered to the multitudes of people who came to him, seeking to listen to His teachings and His words, or to be healed from their physical and bodily complaints and illnesses, to be cared for and protected from the attacks of the evil spirits and demons.

The Lord provided for their needs, healing them from their physical issues and also as presented in the Gospel passage, fed a large multitude of them with just a few loaves of bread miraculously. Through all of these, God wants us all to see just how precious each and every one of us are to Him, and just how great His love, His compassion and His desire to be reconciled fully with us are. And we are truly fortunate to have Him as our loving God.

Yet, it is sad that in fact, it is us mankind who have often disregarded God and abandoned Him, not listening to Him and preferring to follow our own ways and ideals rather than to follow the path that God has shown us. We spurned and rejected His love and His generous offer of mercy, even when He has constantly extended His generous love to us all these while. That is why many of us have been separated and sundered from Him, and many more are not living up to their faith as they should.

This Advent, all of us are challenged to reconnect and reconcile ourselves to the Lord, renewing our commitment to love God and to be more faithful to Him, that we may truly appreciate all that He has done for us, and as a result, we will also then grow to appreciate the true significance and importance of Christmas to all of us. It is at Christmas that we celebrate how God has given such a great and ultimate gift of love to all of us, His beloved people, that He gave us all nothing less than His own Son.

It is by His entry into this world, by assuming our humble humanity and existence that God has brought us all together as His faithful ones, and by His willing and loving sacrifice, taking up all of our sins and the consequences and punishments due to our sins, He suffered and died on the Cross and because of that, we are saved. It was because of Christmas that Easter is possible, and because of that, we should truly appreciate all that God has done for us, out of His enduring love.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, perhaps today we can be inspired by the good examples of faith set by one of our dedicated predecessors, namely St. John Damascene or St. John of Damascus, one of the holy saints and priests of the Church who devoted his energy, time, effort and attention to serve the Lord to the best of his capabilities. St. John of Damascus lived through difficult times of the Church as the faithful were struck with forces from both outside and within, with pressures to abandon the teachings of the faith for other faiths and also for false teachings and heresies.

St. John of Damascus was remembered for his great role in opposing the heresy of iconoclasm in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire and Christendom, when the heretics under support from the Emperor and the secular authorities destroyed many precious and holy icons and images of the Lord and His saints, and the holy saint St. John of Damascus launched a particularly strong defence of the veneration of the saints and holy images.

This courageous and holy servant of God did not fear oppression or suffering just because he stood up for his faith as he truly trusted in the Lord and knew how much the Lord loves all those who are faithful and true to Him. St. John of Damascus did his best throughout his life to defend the true and orthodox Christian faith, becoming a paragon and example of sanctity and dedication to all of his fellow men.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we able to follow in the footsteps of St. John of Damascus, and also many others of our holy predecessors, saints of God? Are we able to appreciate just how much God has loved us all these while and how much He has done for our sake, that we truly should love Him in the same way? Let us all heed the great example of piety and sanctity that St. John of Damascus has shown us, and follow his examples in how we ought to live our lives with faith from now on.

May the Lord continue to guide us as we progress through this blessed season of Advent, that we may truly be able to prepare ourselves wholeheartedly to celebrate the coming of Christmas, with fullness of faith in God and love for Him. May God bless us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John Damascene, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Priests)

Matthew 15 : 29-37

At that time, from the place where Jesus healed the daughter of a Canaanite woman, He went to the shore of Lake Galilee, and then went up into hills, where He sat down. Great crowds came to Him, bringing the dumb, the blind, the lame, the crippled, and many with other infirmities. People carried them to the feet of Jesus, and He healed them.

All were astonished when they saw the dumb speaking, the lame walking, the crippled healed, and the blind able to see; and they glorified the God of Israel. Jesus called His disciples and said to them, “I am filled with compassion for these people; they have already followed Me for three days and now have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away fasting, or they may faint on the way.”

His disciples said to Him, “And where shall we find enough bread in this wilderness to feed such a crowd?” Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They answered, “Seven, and a few small fish.”

Jesus ordered the people to sit on the ground. Then, He took the seven loaves and the small fish, and gave thanks to God. He broke them and gave them to His disciples, who distributed them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the leftover pieces filled seven wicker baskets.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John Damascene, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Priests)

Psalm 22 : 1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.

He guides me through the right paths for His Name’s sake. Although I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are beside me : Your rod and Your staff comfort me.

You spread a table before me in the presence of my foes. You anoint my head with oil; my cup is overflowing.

Goodness and kindness will follow me all the days of my life. I shall dwell in the house of the Lord as long as I live.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John Damascene, Priest and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Priests)

Isaiah 25 : 6-10a

On this mountain YHVH Sabaoth will prepare for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, meat full of marrow, fine wine strained. On this mountain He will destroy the pall cast over all peoples, this very shroud spread over all nations, and death will be no more. The Lord YHVH will wipe away the tears from all cheeks and eyes; He will take away the humiliation of His people all over the world : for YHVH has spoken.

On that day you will say : This is our God. We have waited for Him to save us, let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation. For on this mountain the hand of YHVH rests.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John Damascene, Bishop (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard from the Scripture passages the revelation of God’s wonderful plan for each and every one of us. We heard from our first reading today, from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, in which the prophet spoke of the upcoming time of grace, in the presence of God, where peace and harmony, love and compassion will be the order of the day.

And this was spoken at the time when the world and the people of God were so full of hatred, divisions, injustice, warfare and conflict among themselves. People were divided among themselves and they refused to live peacefully. Instead, they sought to enrich themselves materially and to satisfy the many needs and desires of their body, the ego and the pride of their hearts. As a result, that was why there was plenty of suffering and sorrow.

Even to this day, surely we can see how mankind have not yet overcome that issue. In fact, they may have been even worse, as we can see how mankind are becoming ever more self-centred, materialistic and hedonistic, often thinking only about themselves first and not worrying about the sufferings of others, even those who are needy in their midst. Wars and conflicts have arisen because of this innate selfishness present in us.

We cannot overcome this tendency amongst us to bicker and fight with one another, exactly because we are burdened by our many worldly attachments in life. We are also swayed by that pride, ego and greed within us. As a result, we grow ever more and more conceited, proud and wicked in our actions, and we grow more distant from the Lord. This is exactly what Satan, our great enemy wanted with us.

Satan uses all of the means in his ability to trick us, to pull us away and to tempt us into following our desires and attachments to the many worldly goods and things we often find around us. Satan does this as he does not want us to be saved and to reach the eternal and true happiness and glory in God. God wants each and every one of us to turn away from all these wicked and unbecoming attitudes, for He loves us and wants us to find our way to reconcile with Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we must reflect on what the Lord Jesus spoke to His disciples in our Gospel passage today. He prayed to the Father, thanking Him in joy because of the revelation which He had made through the Holy Spirit to the disciples and the people, all those who followed Him, those who were often considered to be less intellectual, less wise, and less in the knowing of the matters of the world.

And all these happened while the wise and the learned refused to believe in Him or to follow His way. Many of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the priests and the teachers of the Law showed us this attitude. They stood by their pride, their ego and their intellect and understanding, refusing to listen to God trying to speak to them and make them see the truth. This is the same attitude I mentioned earlier, in how we mankind often give in to the many temptations of life.

Today, we celebrate the feast of St. John of Damascus, or St. John Damascene, a faithful bishop and servant of God who lived during the early Middle Ages in what is now Syria, where Christians lived under the rule of the enemies of the faith. St. John of Damascus lived at a challenging time when there were heresies and divisions in the Christian community just as they were also oppressed by their rulers.

But St. John of Damascus defended the faith as best as he could, be it from external threats and pressures, and also addressing the issue of internal divisions and heresies present among the people, especially that of iconoclasm, which at that time was supported even by the Roman Emperor and the highest secular and religious authorities. St. John wrote extensively in defence of the true faith and kept the people in good faith despite these challenges.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what we have seen from St. John of Damascus is the example for us to follow, in how we should live our lives. Instead of being so self-centred and focused so much on the many temptations of life, we should instead follow in the footsteps of the saints, like St. John of Damascus, in how we ought to live our lives, with faith in God and centred upon Him, and not in our own self-centred nature and egoism.

May the Lord continue to guide us through life, and may His blessings be with us, that in each and every things we do, in our every actions and deeds we will always bring greater glory to God, and may He continue to watch over us, that we may continue to grow in faith, day after day. Amen.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John Damascene, Bishop (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Luke 10 : 21-24

At that time, Jesus was filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit, and said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for You have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and made them known to little ones. Yes, Father, such has been Your gracious will. I have been given all things by My Father, so that no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son, and he to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.”

Then Jesus turned to His disciples and said to them privately, “Fortunate are you to see what you see, for I tell you, that many prophets and kings would have liked to see what you see, but did not see it; and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”