Saturday, 14 December 2019 : 2nd 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, on this day as we listened to the message of the Sacred Scriptures, we heard today the readings on the prophet Elijah both from the Old and the New Testament, speaking about this particular prophet who was among the greatest of the prophets of old. The prophet Elijah was the archetype of the many prophets whom God had sent to be among His people, and his works among the Israelites were recorded in the Book of Kings.

Why do we then focus on the prophet Elijah today and what is the significance of this to all of us, brothers and sisters in Christ? That is because if we look more deeply into the readings we have just heard and understood what the Lord had said in our Gospel passage today, we will appreciate better the nature of the readings of the Scriptures today, which in fact mentioned to us the fulfilment of the long promised salvation of God as fulfilled through those whom He had sent into this world.

For the prophet Elijah was among the few of the children of man who did not experience death at the end of his earthly life, a fate which he shared with Enoch from the Book of Genesis, one of the earliest patriarchs and ancestors of man, as well as with Mary herself, the Mother of God, who according to our faith, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory and did not experience death in the way that we mankind experience it.

The prophet Elijah was taken up into heaven in a great flaming chariot as seen by his successor, prophet Elisha, who continued the works of the prophet Elijah after he left this world. It was then told that the prophet Elijah would one day come again to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah, the Saviour of God. It was popularly believed by the Israelites that Elijah would indeed come again at the appointed time of God, to announce God’s salvation to all.

This is where the prophet Elijah often became associated with St. John the Baptist, the one whom God had sent into this world just prior to the arrival of the Lord and Saviour Himself, born of Elizabeth, the relative of Mary, the Mother of Our God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. St. John the Baptist was compared to the prophet Elijah and was mentioned as having the spirit of the prophet Elijah. In any case, through St. John the Baptist and his works, what has been prophesied about God’s salvation came to fulfilment.

God was making all that He has promised to be fulfilled, as He has promised. Everything that God has said will come true exactly as He has said it, only that the time of the fulfilment is known to God alone and not to us. That is why we must put our trust in Him alone and not worry, for God will save us all His people and fulfil what He has promised to us without doubt. The issue is that many of us have not been faithful to Him and we chose to ignore His truth and His offer of salvation.

Many of us have become too preoccupied with worldly matters, desires and concerns that we end up getting more and more distant from God. And our faith became a mere formality and we do not practice our faith with genuine sincerity, as we chose rather to advance our own worldly ambitions and desires, rather than putting our trust and faith in God. And that is why our faith became empty and many of the celebrations of faith like Christmas has become just another one of worldly joys and pleasures.

That is why it is prompt and timely for all of us to be reminded by what we have heard in our Scripture passages today, as we are reminded of what Christmas truly means to us, the coming of the Saviour of God into this world in order to save us, just as He has promised and which He proclaimed through His servant, St. John the Baptist, the one who had in him the spirit and power of the prophet Elijah and bearing the mission to proclaim God’s salvation to all, preparing His way for Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, how do we then as Christians prepare ourselves well during this time of Advent that we may reorientate our lives to be aligned once again with God and with His ways? It is by turning ourselves to God wholeheartedly and purifying ourselves of our greed and desires, our attachments to this world and our pride and ego in us. And we should look upon the good examples set by our holy predecessor, whose feast we celebrate today, namely St. John of the Cross.

St. John of the Cross was a great saint, a holy man and a member of the Carmelite Order, known for his great role in the reform of the well-known religious order together with St. Teresa of Avila, and eventually led to the foundation of the Order of the Discalced Carmelites. At that time, the Carmelite Order had become wayward in the practice and customs of their livelihood, work and direction, and as a result, some began to call for a reform of the way the Carmelite Order ought to proceed.

St. John of the Cross helped St. Teresa of Avila to reform the Carmelites at a challenging time for the Church and the faith, when many people were leaving their faith and the Church at the height of the Protestant reformation, and also caused by the rampant corruption within the Church in general. St. John of the Cross and his fellow reformers wanted to restore sanctity and purity to the revered Carmelites order to help in the efforts to oppose the impacts of the reformation in what is to be known as the Counter-Reformation.

They all set forth to purify the Carmelites from the corrupt practices and ways accumulated in the past years and steering the order back to its original path and way, and of course all these were not without stiff opposition and challenges, as there were many of those within the order who opposed St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila and their reform effort. He was attacked, criticised and ridiculed, and yet, he remained firm in his commitment and his faith in God.

Eventually this led to the foundation of the Discalced Carmelites order as the newly reformed segment of the Carmelites who embraced the reforms of St. John of the Cross and his fellow reformers. Eventually the original, old Carmelites order itself was also reformed by others in the subsequent years, leading its members back towards God and their love and devotion for Him rather than worldly attachments that had corrupted the order in the past.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, having heard of the life, works and examples set by St. John of the Cross, let us all also reorder and reorientate our lives if we have been wayward and disobedient all these while, if we have allowed the many concerns and attachments of the world to mislead us into the false paths. Let us all turn towards God with faith and with zeal, with vigour and energy as what was once shown by St. John of the Cross, our model in faith.

May the Lord continue to guide us in this journey of faith, and may all of us have a blessed season of Advent, making best use of the time and opportunities to seek God for healing and forgiveness, and to love Him once again with all of our hearts and with all of our might. Amen.

Saturday, 14 December 2019 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 17 : 10-13

At that time, the disciples of Jesus asked Him, “Why do the teachers of the Law say that Elijah must come first?”

Jesus answered, “So it is : first comes Elijah; and he will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come; and they did not recognise him; and they treated him as they pleased. And they will also make the Son of Man suffer.”

Then the disciples understood that Jesus was referring to John the Baptist.

Saturday, 14 December 2019 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 79 : 2ac and 3b, 15-16, 18-19

Listen, o Shepherd of Israel, You, Who sit enthroned between the Cherubim. Stir up Your might and come to save us.

Turn again, o YHVH of hosts, look down from heaven and see; care for this vine, and protect the stock Your hand has planted.

But lay Your hand on Your instrument, on the Son of Man, Whom You make strong for Yourself. Then, we will never turn away from You; give us life, and we will call on Your Name.

Saturday, 14 December 2019 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Sirach 48 : 1-4, 9-11

Then came the prophet Elijah, like a fire, his words a burning torch. He brought a famine on the people and in his zealous love had them reduced in number. Speaking in the Name of the Lord he closed down the heavens, and on three occasions called down fire.

How marvellous you were, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds! Who could ever boast of being your equal? You were taken up by a whirlwind of flames in a chariot drawn by fiery horses. It was written that you should be the one to calm God’s anger in the future, before it broke out in fury, to turn the hearts of fathers to their sons and to restore the tribes of Jacob.

Happy are those who will see you and those who die in love, for we too shall live.

Friday, 14 December 2018 : 2nd 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, on this day we listened to the words of the Scripture speaking to us about the reminder from God to each one of us that we must be righteous in our ways, following and obeying God’s commandments and laws, as taught and revealed to us through the Church. We heard from the readings of the prophet Isaiah and the Gospel passage today two lamentations from God for His people.

In the first reading today, we heard from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, the lamentation that God delivered to His people through His prophet, about the people themselves. It was a lamentation of what should have happened if the people of God, Israel, had remained faithful to the Covenant which God has established with them with their forefathers. God stated that had they been faithful to His Covenant, they would have prospered and not suffered as they had.

For the historical context of what happened, the people had chosen freely to abandon God and His Covenant, and instead, putting their trust in the worldly goods, strength and power they had. They chose rather to trust in their attachments to sin and the temptations of life, worshipping the pagan gods and idols of their neighbours and following their wicked ways. As a result, they became divided among themselves and bickered, and as they fell further away from God, they fell into disarray and their downfall.

All those who trusted in the powers of the world only ended up being disappointed, for in the end, nothing of their power, glory and prestige remained. Israel placed their trust in those wicked idols, and yet, those idols did nothing to prevent them from being delivered into the hands of their enemies, and from the dismantlement of their country and nation, the destruction of their cities and their exile into the faraway foreign lands.

God lamented all these, which could have been prevented, had the people were willing to listen to the word of God. But they hardened their hearts and closed off their minds and ears to God calling them to repent and to turn away from their sins and to return to Him. And in the Gospel passage today we also heard the same lamentation made by Jesus, Our Lord and God, showing how the people had not changed their ways and had not learnt the lesson from their forefathers’ mistakes.

That is because even when St. John the Baptist had called for the conversion of the people and to prepare the way for the Lord, but there were still tough opposition from those within the community, especially the rich and the powerful, such as the influential Pharisees and the Sadducees, the nobles and the king’s men, who refused to listen to the word of God. Many of them even doubted and questioned the authority of the saint, just as they would later also oppose the works of the Lord Jesus.

Thus, it was only right and just that the Lord Jesus made the same lamentation just as God has done all these while. He is lamenting the fact that even though He has consistently and continuously loved us and is always willing to forgive us our sins and overlook our trespasses against Him, should we desire to be forgiven and to repent from them, but our stubbornness and unwillingness to repent caused us to continue to fall again and again into sin.

And this season of Advent is the time which God has prepared and provided for us, in order to relook and reflect on our lives thus far. It is a time for us to think again of how we have lived our lives thus far, on whether we have been faithful to God, or whether we have allowed sin to reign over our lives. And this is the opportunity which God has given to us, and by the lessons and experiences made from observing and listening to our predecessors, we should do well to heed the Lord’s call.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. John of the Cross, the holy and devout servant of God whose life should become inspiration for us all. He was a Carmelite friar and priest who was remembered for his role in reforming the Carmelite order together with another holy saint, St. Teresa of Avila. He devoted his whole life to God, and committed himself to a life of sanctity and preached the faith to many people, many of whom were touched by his words and returned to the faith.

St. John of the Cross lived at a time when there had been irregularities and laxity in the way that the priests and the religious, including the Carmelites, lived their lives and ministry. Therefore, through his contributions and hard works, and despite the challenges he and his contemporaries had to face, he pressed on nonetheless, and continued his many good works for the greater glory of God and for the salvation of His people.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we willing to follow in the footsteps of St. John of the Cross and the many other holy men and women who had gone before us to the glory of God? Let us not make the same mistakes as those who have turned away from God and sinned without repentance, and let us all make use this blessed opportunity this Advent, to turn towards God with all of our hearts, minds, and strength. May God bless us all. Amen.

Friday, 14 December 2018 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 11 : 16-19

At that time, Jesus said to the people, “Now, to what can I compare the people of this day? They are like children sitting in the marketplace, about whom their companions complain : ‘We played the lute for you, but you would not dance. We sang a funeral song, but you would not cry!’”

“For John came fasting, and people said, ‘He is possessed by a demon!’ Then, the Son of Man came. He ate and drank; and people said, ‘Look at this Man : a glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet, wisdom is vindicated by her works.”

Friday, 14 December 2018 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 1 : 1-2, 3, 4 and 6

Blessed is the man who does not go where the wicked gather, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit where the scoffers sit! Instead, he finds delight in the Law of YHVH and meditates day and night on His commandments.

He is like a tree beside a brook producing its fruit in due season, its leaves never withering. Everything he does is a success.

But it is different with the wicked. They are like chaff driven away by the wind. For YHVH knows the way of the righteous but cuts off the way of the wicked.