Wednesday, 14 December 2022 : 3rd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures, we are all reminded of our calling as Christians to be focused on God, Our Lord and Saviour, and remember everything that He had done for us, and for all the wonderful things that He had done to us, His beloved people. God has done all sorts of wonderful things for His people despite of their constant rebelliousness and stubbornness, their betrayal of Him for pagan idols and gods, and their hardened hearts and closed minds. God still reached out to them, loved them and showed them that truly, He is the one and only true God, and they ought to turn away from their wicked and evil ways, and embrace His love and truth once again.

In our first reading today, taken from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, we heard of the words of the Lord for His people, reminding all of them that all of creation, all their lands, their kingdoms and dominions, everything that happened all around them are due to the Lord’s works. God is the reason for all things and the centre of everything that have ever existed, and He shows forth His might before the people to remind them that they are His people and that they should keep in mind that they ought to walk in His path and obey His Law and commandments, trusting in Him and His providence, not to be swayed or easily distracted by the temptations of the world, and the many obstacles that the devil and all of his allies have placed in our path, preventing us from returning towards God.

The Lord has called upon all of His people to return to Him, rejecting the path of evil and sin, and He sent unto us all the salvation and deliverance through His Son, Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, Who came into this world, born of His mother Mary and becoming unto us the source of Hope and Light that pierced through the darkness and the hopelessness of our wretched lives and existences. He fulfilled all the promises He had made to our ancestors, all the promises He made of saving all of them and liberating them from their hardships and troubles. He sent them His Son, the Divine Word Incarnate, to redeem all of us and to lead us all back to Himself, to be our Shepherd Who is calling on us to embrace Him once again, and to be lost from God no more.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard the Lord performing His miracles and wonders, how He healed the sick and those afflicted with various conditions like blindness, deafness, mute, and also possession by evil spirits and demons among other things. We heard how the Lord rescued all of those people from their troubles and difficulties, and when those people sent by St. John the Baptist asking Him whether He was the One Who was promised, essentially, they could witness for themselves that everything which the prophets had spoken about, all came true with Christ, His coming into this world and His works. And today as we listened to these words, we are reminded that this Advent, all of us are preparing ourselves to welcome this same Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour, as our Redeemer and King.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, as we reflect upon this season of Advent and what it means for us to prepare ourselves for the glorious celebration of Christmas, of its true meaning and purpose, let us all contemplate on whether we have been using this time well and good for the purpose of reorienting ourselves and our focus on the Christmas preparations so that we do not end up preparing ourselves in the wrong way. Many people have spent a lot of time trying to celebrate Christmas in the secular and worldly way, spending a lot of time trying to outdo each other in how lavish and great we can celebrate Christmas with all of its festivities and merrymaking. But in doing so, we often forget and neglect why it is that we should celebrate Christmas in the first place. We forget that in the end, Christmas is not about all the celebrations and rejoicing, in the manner that we are often presented in all around us this time and season.

Yes, I am sure we can see just how ubiquitous the secular Christmas all around us are, in everywhere we go to, and in all of the festivities arrayed everywhere. However, amidst all of these, we must always keep in mind what the true reason for Christmas is, the true joy and happiness which has come to us through Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. It is not in all the merrymaking and festivities that we can find our true Christmas joy, but in the salvation which our Lord has brought into our midst. And that is why as Christians, each and every one of us should have a profound change in our way of life as well as our way of celebrating and preparing ourselves for Christmas. This is what we should be doing, to show others what it truly means to be joyful in Christmas, and what Christmas is all about.

Today, we have the example and role model in St. John of the Cross, whose life and actions can be great example for us all. St. John of the Cross was one of the founders of the Discalced Carmelites order together with St. Teresa of Avila, another great and renowned saint of the Church, and both of whom are considered as Doctors of the Church for their many contributions and works, writings and inspirations in their commitment to reform the Church and the Carmelites order. Back then, the Carmelites had fallen under a period of disrepair and waywardness, as excesses of worldly corruptions and ways had crept into the order and caused its members to be veering further and further away from the path which the founders of the Carmelites had once envisioned for the order. Hence, both St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila, together with the other reformers all worked together to reform the order and the Church.

Back then, it was also a time of great turmoil for the Church, having gone through a difficult period with the Church being attacked from outside and within, as threats from the external invaders and those opposed to the Christian faith in the case of the threat of the Ottoman Turks, as well as the splintering and fraying of Church unity and communities due to the Protestant reformation, which raged all around Christendom back then. St. John of the Cross joined the reform efforts initiated by St. Teresa of Avila, purifying and returning the Carmelites back on the right track, facing many oppositions and obstacles along the way. Through his persistence and efforts, there were quite a few people who were inspired and touched by the efforts of the reformers, and came to join the reformed order, henceforth known as the Discalced Carmelites.

St. John of the Cross had to face a lot of trials and challenges in the midst of all of his efforts, having to endure even incarceration and prison, ridicule and humiliations from other friars, and all other people who were opposed to his works and his efforts at reform. Yet, that did not prevent him or discourage him from continuing to devote his time and efforts in serving the Lord to the best of his abilities. This should also therefore be a source of inspiration and example for all of us to follow so that we may all grow ever stronger in faith and love for God, and that we may draw ever closer to Him, and be reconciled to Him thoroughly as we ought have, and reorientate our lives particularly making good use of this time and season of Advent to rediscover our faith in God, and our true joy in Christ.

May the Lord continue to guide and strengthen us in our journey of faith through life, and may He empower each and every one of us to walk ever more faithfully in His ways, reminding us all of His guidance, protection and providence throughout the way. May we make good use of this season of Advent to prepare ourselves well to celebrate Christmas worthily, inspired by the examples of the holy saints and martyrs, especially that of St. John of the Cross, whose life and works we have just reflected upon. May God bless us all in our every good efforts and endeavours, all for His greater glory, now and always. Amen.

Wednesday, 14 December 2022 : 3rd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Luke 7 : 19-23

At that time, John the Baptist sent two of his disciples to the Lord with this message, “Are You the One we are expecting, or should we wait for another?” These men came to Jesus and said, “John the Baptist sent us to ask You : Are You the One we are to expect, or should we wait for another?”

At that time Jesus healed many people of their sickness and diseases; He freed them from evil spirits and He gave sight to the blind. Then He answered the messengers, “Go back and tell John what you have seen and heard : the blind see again, the lame walk, lepers are made clean, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the poor are given Good News.”

“Now, listen : Fortunate are those who meet Me, and are not offended by Me.”

Wednesday, 14 December 2022 : 3rd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 84 : 9ab and 10, 11-12, 13-14

Would that I hear God’s proclamation, that He promise peace to His people, His saints. Yet His salvation is near to those who fear Him, and His Glory will dwell in our land.

Love and faithfulness have met; righteousness and peace have embraced. Faithfulness will reach up from the earth while justice bends down from heaven.

The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its fruit. Justice will go before Him, and peace will follow along His path.

Wednesday, 14 December 2022 : 3rd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Isaiah 45 : 6b-8, 18, 21b-25

From the rising to the setting of the sun, all may know that there is no one besides Me; I am YHVH, and there is no other. I form the light and create the dark; I usher in prosperity and bring calamity. I, YHVH, do all this.

Let the heavens send righteousness like dew and the clouds rain it down. Let the earth open and salvation blossom, so that justice also may sprout; I, YHVH, have created it.

Yes, this is what YHVH says, He Who created the heavens, – for He is God, Who formed and shaped the earth, – for He Himself set it : “I did not let confusion in it, I wanted people to live there instead!” – for I am YHVH and there is no other.

Who announced this from the beginning, who foretold it in the distant past? Is it not Me YHVH? There is no other God besides Me, a Saviour, a God of justice, there is no other one but Me. Turn to Me and be saved, all you from the ends of the earth, for I am God and there is no other. By My own self I swear it, and what comes from My mouth is truth, a word I say will not be revoked.

Before Me every knee will bend, by Me every tongue will swear, saying, “In YHVH alone are righteousness and strength.” All who have raged against Him will come to Him in shame. But through YHVH there will be victory and glory to the people of Israel.

Tuesday, 14 December 2021 : 3rd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures, we are called to remember our duty and responsibility to listen to the Lord, to obey Him and follow His ways and teachings. The Lord has shown us all the way, and He calls on us to follow Him that we may become His people, His disciples and followers. And through His truth, He shall gather us all into His presence and free us from the fetters and chains of our bondage to sin and evil.

In our first reading today, as we heard from the Book of the prophet Zephaniah, in that occasion, God spoke to His people through the prophet who lived during the time of King Josiah of Judah, one of the last kings of Judah who happened to be also the last among the righteous kings. At that time, so that we can understand better the context of the words of the Lord, the people of God had been scattered and divided among the nations, as the former northern kingdom of Israel had been crushed and destroyed, while the southern kingdom of Judah had gone through many periods of difficulties and defeats against their enemies.

And all these happened because the people had not always stayed faithful to the Lord, as their kings and lords led them to sin and disobey the Lord, false prophets and teachings going rampant all over the whole land. They had strayed from the guidance shown by the prophets and the messengers of God, and they had turned a deaf ear against those who had called on them to return to the Lord and to repent from their sins. They had not heeded the Lord’s call that He had made repeatedly calling on them to return to Him with faith.

That was why God smote His people who had been rebellious against Him, that all those who disobeyed Him knew what it meant for them to go against His will and for walking in the path of wickedness and evil. While God is always loving, compassionate and merciful, but we must not forget that He is also a just God Who upholds justice and truth. No sin and evil can stand before Him unaccounted for and unless we have sought Him for forgiveness and mercy, then we will need to account for our sins and wickedness.

Yet, He still loved us nonetheless and still wanted all of us to be reunited and reconciled with Him, as He fulfilled His promises made through the prophets, promising all of us that salvation would come in His Messiah, Whom He later revealed to be none other than His own Son, Himself descended in the flesh and taking up the form and existence of Man. In Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, God has extended to us the loving hands and outreach of His ever generous love, compassion and mercy. Despite our constant stubbornness and delinquency, our persistence to sin and disobey Him, God still wants us to come back to Him.

That is why in our Gospel passage today we heard the Lord speaking to the people using the parable of a father and his two sons, reminding all of us that what is important for God is for us to follow Him, in not just words but also actions, as there is no point for us to speak of faith in the Lord and yet in our actions, we are not doing what someone faithful to God should be doing. And without God being truly present in our hearts, without true and genuine love for the Lord, then our faith is dead, meaningless and empty. We are no better than hypocrites.

Today, all of us should follow the great examples set by St. John of the Cross, whose feast day we are celebrating this day. St. John of the Cross was a famous co-founder of the Discalced Carmelites together with St. Teresa of Avila, another great saint of the Church. They worked together and did their best to reform the then corrupted and divergent Carmelite order, to return to the original designs and aims of the order’s founders and eliminate the excesses and creeping worldly corruptions.

St. John of the Cross was also a great figure in the Counter Reformation, in his efforts and works to bring many of those who have fallen to the sway of heresy and false teachings to return to the Mother Church. Through his writings, numerous theological works, sharings of his mystical experiences, preaching and tireless dedication, gradually more and more of the faithful began to be touched by his great piety and devotion to God, and many others who have erred and lost their path came back to the Lord with repentance.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all be inspired to follow the Lord, to be faithful and obedient to Him as St. John of the Cross had done, that is with genuine faith and devotion, and not with false and empty promises and merely superficial faith. Let us truly love the Lord, our most compassionate, loving and patient God, Who has done everything to reach out to us and to save us all from our fated destruction because of our many sins. Let us all look up to His love and generous mercy, and dedicate ourselves anew to Him, now and always. Amen.

Tuesday, 14 December 2021 : 3rd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 21 : 28-32

At that time, Jesus went on to say, “What do you think of this? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said to him, ‘Son, go and work today in my vineyard.’ And the son answered, ‘I do not want to.’ But later he thought better of it and went.”

“Then the father went to his other son and gave him the same command. This son replied, ‘I will go, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did what the father wanted?” They answered, “The first.” And Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you : the publicans and the prostitutes are ahead of you on the way to the kingdom of heaven. For John came to show you the way of goodness, and you did not believe him; but the publicans and the prostitutes did. You were witnesses of this, but you neither repented nor believed him.”

Tuesday, 14 December 2021 : 3rd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 33 : 2-3, 6-7, 17-18, 19 and 23

I will bless the Lord all my days; His praise will be ever on my lips. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the lowly hear and rejoice.

They who look to Him are radiant with joy, their faces never clouded with shame. When the poor cry out, the Lord hears and saves them from distress.

But His face is set against the wicked to destroy their memory from the earth. The Lord hears the cry of the righteous and rescues them from all their troubles.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves the distraught. But the Lord will redeem the life of His servants; none of those who trust in Him will be doomed.

Tuesday, 14 December 2021 : 3rd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Zephaniah 3 : 1-2, 9-13

Woe to the rebellious, the defiled, the city that oppresses. She did not pay attention to the call nor accept the correction; she did not trust YHVH nor did she approach her God.

At that time I will give truthful lips to the pagan nations that all of them may call on the Name of YHVH and serve Him with the same zeal. From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia they will bring offerings to Me. On that day you will no longer be ashamed of all your deeds when you were unfaithful to Me; I will have removed from your midst the conceited and arrogant and My holy mountain will no longer be for you a pretext for boasting.

I will leave within you a poor and meek people who seek refuge in God. The remnant of Israel will not act unjustly nor will they speak falsely, nor will deceitful words be found in their mouths. They will eat and rest with none to threaten them.

Monday, 14 December 2020 : 3rd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we heard today from the Scriptures the words of the Lord proclaiming the salvation which He has promised to His people even from long before the Saviour came into the world. In our first reading today, we heard this in the words of the holy man and servant of God named Balaam as recorded in the Book of Numbers. And in the Gospel we heard then of the confrontation between the Lord and those chief priests, Jewish authorities and teachers of the Law who refused to believe in Him and questioned His authority.

In our first reading from the Book of Numbers we heard of the blessings and good words that Balaam, a holy man and a diviner whom the king of Moab, king Balak, recruited and asked for help in cursing the people of Israel who at that time had defeated some other kings in the region and were about to pass through the lands of Moab and the eastern part of the Jordan River from the desert during their Exodus from Egypt. King Balak was an enemy of the Israelites and saw the Israelites as a great threat. He knew that Balaam was a renowned seer and diviner, and thus, wanted him to lay a curse on his enemies.

But Balaam knew God and only wanted to obey Him and follow His commands. He initially refused to go and do what king Balak wanted as it was not in accordance to God’s will. But the king constantly coerced and forced Balaam to come, and in the end, he relented, but made it clear to the king that he would only speak of what the Lord commanded him to speak and nothing else. Hence, Balaam spoke of the Lord’s intentions for His people in our first reading today, and we heard how God would bless His people wonderfully just as He has promised.

And God also revealed briefly through Balaam, of a Figure that would come in time, in the future, a great Star that would come forth from Jacob with a staff in hand, clearly referring to One Who would shepherd and lead the people of Israel, and the other nations, to be born of the children of Israel. We all know now that this refers to Christ, the Saviour of the world, born the Son and Heir of David in Bethlehem, Whose title among many was the Star of David, and a great Star also proclaimed His coming, that was seen by the Magi or the Wise Men.

As you can see, even as early as the time of the Exodus, more than a thousand years before the coming of Christ, the Lord had in fact revealed His intentions, His plans for all of us. And He reiterated all these again and again through His prophets and messengers, through whom He told His people of the coming of His salvation, and in Christ all of His promises were fulfilled. Many believed in Him and in His message, but yet there were also many who refused to believe in Him, as we heard in our Gospel passage today.

The Lord were opposed by the Pharisees, the teachers of the Law, the chief priests and the Jewish authorities in the Temple as He was teaching the people. They all doubted Him and questioned Him sternly on why He acted in the way that He had done. And the Lord wisely dodged the question by asking them back on whether they considered the works of St. John the Baptist to have come from God or from man.

By asking that question, the Lord exposed the sad reality that the chief priests, the teachers of the Law and the Jewish authorities of that time had placed their own ego and desires, their jealousy and fears above that of the truth of God. They were also disapproving and were against the works of St. John the Baptist, for if they had believed in him, then they should have believed the Lord and supported Him, not working against Him instead.

But they did not dare to offend the crowd and get into trouble, and therefore, they refrained from answering and pursuing the matter any further. This nonetheless exposed just how unfortunate and sad the state of corruption of sin even among the elders and all those who had been entrusted with the guidance and spiritual leadership over the whole people of God. All these because of our inability to reject the many temptations of sin.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we see the contrast here between Balaam’s faith and the doubt of the chief priests and the teachers of the Law, and everything in fact boils down to the fact that we cannot both be faithful to God and indulge in our desires and all the worldly temptations of power, wealth and glory. If we allow all those to take root in us, then in time, we will be swayed further and further away from the path of the Lord.

That is why, today all of us have the perfect role model to follow as Christians, in St. John of the Cross, the great reformer of the Carmelite Order, who together with St. Teresa of Avila, helped to reform the Carmelite Order and returned it to the true and pure intentions of its original foundation as a religious order. St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila were both taken aback by the lack of spiritual discipline and the many excuses and shortcuts taken by the members of the Carmelite Order that brought in worldly corruption.

Both of them worked hard to restore spiritual discipline and to renew the Carmelite charism, that the many members of the Order may rediscover their true calling and vocation as those whom God had called and entrusted with the holiness and sanctity of their lives, as inspiration and role models for all their fellow Christian brothers and sisters as well as for many others who had not yet known God.

They encountered many difficulties and challenges throughout those many years they laboured in the reform of their Order, as well as in their contributions to the reforms that were then happening as part of the Counter-Reformation, also aimed at purifying the Church and the Christian community from the corrupting influences of the world. But they never gave up and did their best to achieve their goals, and as a result, many lives were changed by their works.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we have been called this Advent to focus our attention on the same Star that Balaam had proclaimed all those years ago, the Star of David, Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. And we are all called to renew our faith in Him and to rid ourselves of the corruptions of sin, of pride, ego, desire among others. Through the examples shown by St. John of the Cross, let us all turn towards the Lord with renewed faith and conviction to live a life truly blessed by God. Amen.

Monday, 14 December 2020 : 3rd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 21 : 23-27

At that time, Jesus had entered the Temple and was teaching, when the chief priests, the teachers of the Law and the Jewish authorities came to Him, and asked, “What authority have You to act like this? Who gave You authority to do all this?”

Jesus answered them, “I will also ask You a question, only one. And if you give me an answer, then I will tell you by what authority I do these things. When John began to baptise, was it a work of God, or was it merely something human?”

They reasoned out among themselves, “If we reply that it was a work of God, He will say, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ And if we say, ‘The baptism of John is merely something human’, we have got to beware of the people, for all hold John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.”

And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what right I do these things.”