Sunday, 25 August 2019 : Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, we listened to the Lord speaking to all of us through the words of the Sacred Scripture focusing on this one important question that we may have often asked ourselves, “Who is it that can be saved?” Or sometimes we may also ask ourselves the same question in a different way but with similar meaning, such as “Are we worthy or good enough to be saved?”

In what we have heard in today’s Scripture passages we are all reminded that unless we are truly faithful and try our best to do what the Lord wants from us, we will not have any part in the promised inheritance of God which He has promised to all those who are faithful to Him. To do that, we will have to show that we are truly faithful and good in our faith by our conscious and constant actions grounded on this faith that we have.

In our first reading passage today from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, we heard a great prophecy by Isaiah made with regards to the gathering of many nations and peoples from all origins to come to worship the Lord, the prophet spoke of how those people will come to glorify God and to praise Him, and surprisingly, how God will choose even the priests and the Levites from among them, people who were used to be considered as pagans and unworthy of God.

And this is closely related to what the Lord Jesus revealed in our Gospel passage today from the Gospel of St. Luke in which He spoke to the people with regards to the matter of salvation, and how people who assumed that they were saved by God and worthy will be disappointed to know that they are not counted among those whom God will invite to enter his eternal kingdom of glory. Conversely, there will be those people whom the earlier group considered to be unworthy and yet manage enter the kingdom of God.

In fact, the Lord Jesus was criticising the actions and attitudes of the people of Israel, who since the ancient times had been proud of their unique heritage and status as the chosen race and people of God since the time of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They looked down on the pagan peoples and the races of people outside the direct inheritance of Israel, considering those people to be inferior, unworthy, unclean and as sinners.

Yet, they failed to look at themselves and realise just how they themselves have been unworthy, unclean, sinful and rebellious in their attitudes towards God, in their refusal to obey Him and their stubbornness in rejecting the truths and the messages of the prophets sent into their midst to remind them to be faithful to God. They assumed their salvation to their status as the descendants of God’s faithful servants and treated it as their birthright.

But that is not how God’s salvation works, brothers and sisters in Christ. Through today’s Scripture passages, God wants each and every one of us to know that first and foremost, all of us, each and every one of us are equally beloved by God and we are all equal without distinction and without prejudice, for God is good to all of those whom He loves, even to all of us sinners. He does not distinguish between us but continues to love us all regardless and always tries to reconcile us to Himself.

It was just that He called some first from among the multitudes of His people, to be His first chosen ones and first-called, but He never meant to exclude everyone else, and with the end goal in mind of the salvation of the whole race of man. God desires that all of us who have been sundered and separated from Him will eventually be reunited with Him through repentance and by the power of the love which He has shown us, through which He hopes to bring a change in our hearts, minds, attitudes and way of life.

Yet, many of us are often unaware of this loving aspect of our God, His desire to love us and to show His merciful forgiveness to us, despite of all the things we have done, all the wicked and unbecoming behaviours and attitudes of sinful people. In the second reading today, taken from the Epistle to the Hebrews, we heard how God is represented like that of a father who loves his children, who cares for them and their needs.

And in the same passage, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews also described how the father who cares for his children will chastise the children whenever it is necessary to do so. This is done not because the father does not love the children, but rather precisely because he loves the children that he wants them all to be good and to walk in the right paths, and not to fall and remain in the wrong paths because of wrong thoughts and influences.

That was why God chastised His people, the Israelites many times throughout history, if we explore through the many chapters of the books of the Old Testament. Ever since God had made and renewed the Covenant He established with them and their ancestors, He has always tried to guide them and to discipline them along their journey, by punishing and chastising them as necessary and by weeding out all those who had no love for Him at all, those who were totally unrepentant.

The people living at the time of the Lord Jesus were no different, and it was to them that the Lord addressed what He has revealed to the people in today’s Gospel passage. Many of them professed to believe in God and to be pious, and yet, they did not truly have faith in Him, and their beliefs and piety were often just empty gestures and meaningless because ultimately, in their hearts, God did not have the most important place at all.

They became proud because they thought of themselves as the privileged and chosen people, and those who were most afflicted were those with power and authority, intelligence and knowledge, such as the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, many of whom took great pride in their piety and observance of the laws of Moses, and looked down even on the other people of Israel, especially those whom they considered to be sinners and unworthy.

But they forgot that it was not them who determined whether they are worthy or not. It is truly only God Who is capable and worthy of judging the worthiness of a person. And we have to remember this fact, that it is not we who make ourselves worthy before God, but rather, He calls us to be worthy for Him. He has called us again and again, reminding us and wanting us to seek Him and to be righteous and just once again, free from sin and from all corruptions of our past wickedness.

Contrasting the attitudes of the Pharisees, the teachers of the Law and many among the people of Israel at the time of the Exodus, who doubted the Lord and refused to believe in Him, in His prophets and in His truth, these people who often took great pride in their status, in their privileges and supposed superiority, paled in faith and in righteousness as compared to those people mentioned throughout the Scriptures as the righteous people from the pagan nations.

Take for example, Rahab, the Canaanite woman who helped the scouts of Israel to escape the city in their time of great predicament, and then Ruth, a Moabite whose faith and dedication to God was exemplary and eventually became one of the ancestors of the great king David of Israel. And we also heard of Naaman the Syrian, who although initially was skeptical of the Lord’s power, but devoted himself wholeheartedly after he was healed from his leprosy, and many others who have shown great faith in God.

And in the New Testament, we heard of the faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman who dedicated herself and trusted the Lord so much that despite the apparent rejection and humiliating insults the Lord spoke to her, she remained truly faithful and adamant that the Lord was capable of healing her daughter. This faith mirrored that of the widow of Zarephath at the time of the prophet Elijah, as she took care of the prophet during difficult years.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us are reminded through what we have heard from the Scriptures and what we have discussed throughout today’s discourse, that God’s love is truly great and boundless, sincere and true, never-ending and not being biased. He loves each and every one of us equally without being prejudiced or biased by any of our worldly parameters, the parameters that we often use to divide ourselves into different groups and cliques.

God did not divide us or loved us based on prejudices by skin colour, or language, or height, or our appearances. All these things do not affect His love for us in any way, and as I mentioned many times today, God loves each and every one of us equally without distinction, and each and every one of us have been given opportunities after opportunities, chances after chances to turn away from our sins and to return to our Lord’s loving embrace.

And the number one obstacle that often prevented us from doing so is our pride. As mentioned earlier, those who claimed to know the Lord and claimed salvation to be their own, and even looking down on those whom they deemed to be inferior or less worthy than them, are all due to the pride that are in our hearts. And the more we entertain this pride present within us, the more this pride will grow and suffocate the faith present in us.

Now, we are called by God, as we have been called many times thus far. If we have responded to Him and walked in the path that He has shown us, then it is good and we should continue our journey. But if we have not yet responded to His call and instead we have been so busy and preoccupied, so full of our pride, arrogance, greed and all sorts of things that have prevented us from truly being faithful and from truly loving God, then we should do something at once with our lives.

Instead of being proud and arrogant, let us all be humble, knowing that after all, we are all sinners, and no matter whose sins are more or less serious than the other, all of us have been made corrupt and unworthy by those sins. And those whose sins are greater and repent wholeheartedly will be saved, while those with lesser sins and yet proudly refuse to repent will not be saved. While sin made us corrupted and separated from God, what matters is our desire to repent from those sins and our willingness and sincerity to love God, our loving Father and Creator.

Are we willing to allow God’s love, compassion and mercy to enter into us and make a difference in our lives? Or are we often too full of ourselves, with too much pride and worldly desires that we have not allowed God to enter into our lives and transform them into new lives of grace? We are all called to be true Christians, and the path for us have been shown to us, and the best way to start is for us to be humble, and to be open to the Lord entering into our hearts, into our minds and into the deepest parts of our beings, that from now on, we exist no longer for ourselves, but for the love and for the greater glory of God.

May the Lord continue to guide us in this journey of faith, and may His love continue to sow in us all the same genuine and strong love that He Himself has shown us first, and which we are now called to do the same as well. Let us all be witnesses of God’s love, and show this same love in our interactions with one another, that truly we will be ever righteous and just, and in the end, God will welcome us all into His eternal kingdom and glory. Amen.

Sunday, 18 August 2019 : Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday we listened to the words of the Scriptures through which God wants us to remember that being followers of His, as Christians, as those who have faith in Him will inevitably lead us to face difficulties, challenges and sufferings in life, in whatever form that we may encounter these. We must be prepared to face the trials and opposition throughout our lives as faithful Christians and we cannot expect to have an easy and comfortable life.

There are those among us who think that becoming Christians mean for us to have good, blessed life, as after all, does God not love all of us and does He not provide for all of our needs? And because God loves each and every one of us, then how can we not be happy and good in everything, blessed and be abundant with all kinds of riches and good things in this world? This is what some are thinking wrongly, as what some label as the ‘Prosperity Gospel’ among other labels.

First and foremost, we have to understand that yes, God does love each and every one of us very much, and He has blessed us all wonderfully, first and foremost with the precious gift of life. If God has not loved us, then we would have not existed in the very first instance, and He would not have patiently cared for us, because all of us are sinners, disobedient and rebellious in our ways. And yet, because of His love, God constantly forgives us and wants us to be reconciled to Him.

But just as God has given us so much love, so many blessings and wonders in this world, we mankind inherently allow ourselves again and again to fall into the temptations to sin, to disobey God and to follow instead the path of evil and wickedness. We have listened to the words of Satan and his false lies instead of the truth and the love of God. And that is why there are so much suffering and challenges in this world, especially those facing us Christians.

We all know how Satan hates seeing us being saved from destruction, for ever since the beginning of time, he had plotted for our downfall, right up from the time when he struck against our first forefathers, tempting them to sin and therefore fall from the grace of God. It was him who tempted Cain to kill his own brother Abel when the former became jealous of the latter, and it was him who tempted the people to be proud and build the tower of Babel.

It was him who moved the hearts of the people to sin, to cause the brothers of Joseph to send him into slavery because of the same jealousy they had, it was him who tempted the Israelites throughout the ages and through many years, as they fell again and again into sin, succumbing to the temptations of worldly desire, pride and greed, opposing the good works of those prophets whom God had sent among His people to keep them in the right path.

And that is what we have heard in our first reading today, from the Book of the prophet Jeremiah, in which the plots against the prophet Jeremiah were mentioned, and how those enemies of Jeremiah almost in fact managed to kill him by their plotting. The prophet Jeremiah was among the last prophets to work in the kingdom of Judah, the last of the successor kingdoms of Israel, just before the kingdom and the city of Jerusalem fell to the hands of the Babylonians and were destroyed.

The prophet Jeremiah had many enemies, even though he had faithfully served the Lord and spoke His truth among the people. Many of the people, including those powerful nobles were angry with him because they saw him as a troublemaker and as a doomsayer. But Jeremiah was merely conveying the Lord’s warnings and truthful words, rebuking the wicked behaviours of the people of Judah at that time, who had fallen deeper and deeper into the path of sin.

Thus, we heard how the prophet was thrown into a dark cistern totally unfit for human dwelling, where his enemies hoped to condemn this faithful prophet to death. Many earlier prophets had suffered that fate, being tortured, persecuted and killed for their faith and dedication to God. There were also many false prophets who spoke the words of falsehoods, the agents of Satan who opposed the good works of God and misled the people.

But amidst all of that, we also heard in the same first reading passage today of the actions of some of those who were still upright and faithful, who counted Jeremiah as a friend. They tried to protect him and to save his life, by pleading with the king to intervene and prevent the enemies of Jeremiah from having their way with the prophet and killing him. And they managed to get the prophet out of his predicament and protected him from further danger.

All of these things serve to highlight exactly what the Lord Jesus told His disciples in our Gospel passage today, and also to dispel some of our own misconceptions and the false ‘Prosperity Gospel’ I have mentioned earlier. The Lord Jesus clearly stated in His discourse in the Gospel passage that His coming into this world would bring about divisions and struggles, conflicts and troubles for all those who believe in Him.

For the context of what the Lord had said, we have to understand that most of the Jews if not all of them believed at that time that the Messiah’s coming would lead them into an eternal new era of joy and happiness, of the restoration of the glorious kingdom of Israel as how it was at the time of king David and king Solomon, when the people would once again be powerful and be free from all of their troubles.

The Lord pointed out clearly that this was not to be the case. And very importantly, we must understand that this is not because of the Lord’s own doing or intention. It is very easy for us to misunderstand what the Lord said in today’s Gospel, becoming confused and even disillusioned at what He had said about bringing conflict and division, struggles and persecutions into our midst. Rather, it was by the works of the same Satan that caused all these things to happen.

The Lord has come into this world, revealing His salvation to all the nations, through none other than Jesus Christ, Son of God and Saviour of all. And Satan worked hard to undermine His works, by trying to tempt Him, by trying to dissuade Him through His Apostles and disciples, speaking through them at times to weaken His resolve, and tempting Him in the Gardens of Gethsemane during the time of His agony.

But when all these failed, Satan struck through those who condemned Jesus to death, death on the Cross, thinking that by killing the Messiah of God just as he had managed to make the people to persecute and kill the prophets in the earlier days, he could finally bring mankind to ruination and destruction as he has always intended. Yet, it was through that same Cross that Satan was handed the ultimate and greatest defeat, for Christ triumphed with His Cross, delivering the salvation of God by His act of ultimate sacrifice.

Satan has indeed been defeated, but he is still always ever desperate, for he knows that even though salvation has been delivered to us, but as long as temptation is around us, he can still strike at us through those same temptations by which he has seduced our race for time immemorial. Many had fallen into his allure and temptations, and through all of the means in his disposal, he strikes especially at those whom the Lord had gathered from the nations, that is all of us Christians.

And that is why Christians throughout the history of the Church has been persecuted in various circumstances and conditions, facing difficulties and oppressions, rejections and ridicule, having to endure humiliation and difficult trials and even unto martyrdom. Many Christians have paid dearly for their faith with their lives, as the lives of the many martyrs of the Church can tell us. Many of these are those who were mentioned in our second reading by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews.

In that passage, we heard the encouragement spoken by the author of the Epistle, of the innumerable witnesses of the faith which have been present and who have shown their undying faith, even in the face of the toughest persecutions and difficulties. Many of them have been rejected and persecuted even by those who were closest to them, and yet, they persevered and showed love instead of hatred towards their enemies.

And first and foremost among all of them was the Lord Himself, Who showed us what the true meaning of suffering is. The Lord suffered all the painful punishments intended for us because of our sins, but He bore them all willingly because He loves each and every one of us, and that love allowed Him to endure through the many bitterness and sufferings, and how He can also forgive even those who have condemned Him to such suffering and death.

Are we then able to have the same faith and commitment to God, even knowing that we will encounter difficulties and challenges in our path, even from those who are close and dear to us, brothers and sisters in Christ? Being Christians truly mean for us to embrace Christ fully in our lives as Our Lord and Saviour, and we can only do so by truly and wholeheartedly believing in Him through words, deeds and actions. And often, to stand by our faith in Christ means going against the norms and ways of this world.

The Lord wants us all to realise this, and how He has also done so much for us, out of His so great love for us, that He was willing to shoulder the burden of His Cross, suffer and die for us sinners. If He has suffered in such a way, then it is just right that we will likely to suffer as well, for Satan strikes at all those who are faithful and good, and all these persecutions and trials come about because of him and his wicked allies. But we must not lose hope and we must be courageous and strong in faith, for God is truly always by our side.

And let us all also follow the examples of those who have helped Jeremiah to escape his terrible predicament, realising that as fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord, all of us as Christians should take good care of one another and be concerned with each other, showing care and concern for those among us who are less fortunate and are in difficulty. Let us all journey together as one family of believers, as the members of God’s one Church, that we may truly find our way to God, our loving Father and Creator.

May the Lord continue to guide us and may He strengthen in us the faith which we should have for Him. May He continue to empower us to persevere through the difficulties and obstacles we may face on our way. Let us all look forward instead to the eternal glory and true happiness that God promised all of those who remain true and faithful to Him to the very end. Amen.

Sunday, 11 August 2019 : Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday our attention is brought to the need for us all to be faithful, to be prepared and to be committed to God, at all times throughout our lives so that we may truly be ready and be worthy of Him. Through the passages we have heard, we received the assurance from God that all those who have been faithful to Him shall not be disappointed, because He has loved them all very well and blessed them.

In our first reading today, taken from the Book of Wisdom, we heard of an assurance for the people of God, relating to them the memory of their ancestors, the Israelites during their time of slavery in Egypt. By linking the experience to the well-known story of how God saved His entire people and liberated them from slavery, God wanted His people to know and to remember that even in their darkest moments, God always remembers those whom He loves.

The reference to the Passover in that passage is a reference to how the Passover is passed on year after year, from generation to generation, as a reminder of the moment of salvation for God’s people, when God intervened personally to save His people, holding them by hand out of the land of Egypt, foiling the plots their slavemasters and enemies had on them, and saved them by the gift of His love.

And then in the second reading today, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, the author who wrote to the audience who were likely the Jewish converts to Christianity, spoke of even more examples of how God rewarded His faithful servants and how He remained true to the promises which He has made to His beloved ones. The examples of Abraham and Sarah were given in that passage, detailing how Abraham followed God faithfully and constantly, despite of the journey and challenges he had to face.

God made a great Covenant with Abraham because of his faith, promising that his descendants will be great and numerous, countless like the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the seashore. And God remained true to that Covenant, being with Abraham and his descendants, with the people who have come from among his descendants, right to this very day, caring for all of us and protecting us, providing for us and loving us dearly.

Sarah was also mentioned, as having a son that she and Abraham had waited for a long, long time. She remained faithful to God in the end, although during the many years of waiting, according to the Book of Genesis, she faltered a few times, in her attempt to get a son through her slave Hagar, in how she doubted initially when the Lord came to Abraham and her telling them that she would have a son within the year, even in her very old age.

We see in that occasion, of how God is so generous and ever-loving, ever-patient, in caring for His beloved people, even giving chances to those who have faltered, as Sarah had done, and as later on, the Israelites themselves had done. In the rest of the Books of Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, we can see how the Israelites often rebelled and disobeyed against God, and how God punished them many times. But in the end, He continued to care for them and loved them.

Now, having heard so much about how God loved His people, and if we read on through the rest of the Scriptures, we can see even more examples of such love and faithfulness from God to His people, to the Covenant He has made with them. And God gave us the perfect proof of His love by giving us the ultimate gift in Christ, His own Beloved and Begotten Son, to be Our Saviour and Our Liberator.

And through Christ, God has once again brought His people to freedom, and this time, not just the people of Israel, but the whole race of man, for through Christ, Who is the Divine Word Incarnate, God made Himself incarnate in the flesh of Man, fully Man and fully Divine, all of us have come to share in the humanity of Christ and therefore become God’s adopted children, and as the children of Abraham by faith, for Christ is also born of the race of Abraham.

God fulfilled the promises He made to His servants, establishing the descendants of Abraham, that is all of us who have been faithful to Him, and granting us the promise of eternal glory and inheritance He has kept and prepared for us. He has blessed His people and made us great once again, rescuing us from the fated destruction and promised us that at the end of time He will come to gather all of us to Himself.

And that is what we are reminded of through the Gospel passage today, when the Lord Jesus Himself used a parable to remind all of His disciples and followers to be ever faithful and to be ever vigilant in faith so that they would not be taken by surprise if the Lord comes once again, in fulfilment of the promise which He has made, and which He had adequately forewarned to all of us, that is the timing of the Last Judgment and the end times.

As we have heard and discussed earlier, God is ever patient, ever forgiving and ever loving, giving us many opportunities, again and again, one after another, just because He truly loves us all that much. But we must not take His love ever for granted, as the time will come for us to have to reckon for our decisions and commitments in life, whether we follow God or refuse to walk in His path.

The Lord has always been faithful to His words, He is ever true and ever just, and therefore, if He has promised of His second coming in glory, to judge all of us according to our deeds and to our faith, then it will eventually happen, at a time not of our choosing but at a time we will not expect at all. God alone knows when the exact time of this moment of reckoning will happen, and what each and every one of us should do is that we must be prepared for Him.

In the parable that the Lord used to teach His disciples, He spoke of two types of servants and stewards, one are those who are faithful to the commands of the master, obeying his will and doing whatever they can to fulfil the works of the master, being diligent and hardworking, ever prepared and ever ready, while the other stewards are those who delayed and were being complacent and lazy in their work, thinking that their master would not come back so soon.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, each and every one of us are those stewards whom the master has entrusted with his household, that is this world, entrusted by God, Our Lord and Master, to be our responsibility. The Lord has also given us all the free will to choose between obedience and disobedience, between faith and impiety, between the path He has shown and the path of temptations and sin showed to us by Satan.

Are we then able to commit ourselves to a wise choice, thinking carefully and discerning well on what we are to embrace in our lives from now on? Should we choose the Lord Who has been faithful to us all these while, ever loving and ever forgiving, ever compassionate and generous in everything? Or should we choose the way of this world, all the false offerings and temptations of the devil?

Beware, brethren, for the lure of the devil is very powerful indeed, and unless we have genuine and true faith and love for God, we will be easily trapped by the devil’s lures, and end up falling into disobedience and sin, and therefore into damnation and eternal suffering. Are we able to commit ourselves to the path that Christ our Lord has shown us? This requires us to be persistent and resilient, to persevere through the temptations and challenges we may face through this journey in our lives.

Today, all of us are called to be dutiful and good stewards, to be always exemplary in our lives and be ever prepared and ready for the Lord. And this means that we should be faithful just as Abraham, Sarah and all other faithful servants of God have been faithful. And we should not be afraid of failures or being distracted in our journey of faith, as no one in this world is perfect, and because of that, it is perfectly normal for us to falter or to encounter obstacles from time to time.

However, the most important thing here is for us to pick ourselves up and remain strong despite the challenges we encounter, despite the failures we have encountered and all the downfalls we have experienced. Remember that God always loves us, and He has always given us chances after chances, and He is always willing to help us up through those challenges. If He has not given up on us, then all the more we should not give up on ourselves. We must persist and remain strong in our journey, so as to draw ever closer to God and to be worthy of Him when He comes again.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all pray asking God for the courage and the strength to go through these respective journeys of our lives, that we may bear the crosses and trials of our lives with faith, with courage and with determination and passion, burning love for God. May God continue to guide us throughout this journey and may He empower us all to live ever more faithfully in His presence from now on. God bless us all. Amen.

Sunday, 4 August 2019 : Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday all of us are brought, through the Sacred Scripture passages we have heard, to reflect on our own respective lives, and what pursuits and attention we have given to the various desires we have in life all these while. The Scripture passages today have a very clear direction and meaning, that is to remind us of our own mortality, smallness, imperfections and powerlessness precisely because of our mortality.

In the first reading today, taken from the Book of Ecclesiastes or Qoheleth, we heard about the author mentioned about the many meaninglessness in life, in the gaining of knowledge, in the toiling and hard labour in work and efforts for sustenance and perhaps for income and money, among many others. It is meaningless not because those things themselves are meaningless, but rather, we have to understand that the author focused on the impulsive and often overly addictive pursuits for these things among us mankind.

These are the things that are presented very well and clearly by the Lord Jesus in our Gospel passage today, in which He spoke of the parable of the rich man and his wealth to His disciples and to the people who were gathered before Him. It stemmed from a question and request from a man who wanted the Lord to persuade and to advice his brother to share with him the family inheritance, a common issue that often face the members of our many families.

From what we have briefly heard being described in the Gospel passage, we can assume quite well that the man was having a dispute with regards to the family inheritance and possessions with his brother. This is something that we must have heard a lot of times, in families and communities all around us, and even perhaps in our own families, how the members of the family bicker, disagree and even fight against one another disputing and seeking, desiring and wanting a part of the family possessions, wealth and other things.

Thus, the Lord made it clear to the people, making use of the opportunity as a teachable lesson both for the man who asked Him to advice his brother, as well as the rest of the people and His disciples that seeking, desiring and wanting the worldly possessions and goods, wealth and other forms of worldly satisfaction is truly not worth what we may think they are, just as the author of the Book of Ecclesiastes mentioned earlier.

In the parable the Lord told the people, we heard of a rich man who was very proud of his achievements and wealth, his many granaries and riches stored in those granaries, and how he planned and thought a lot on how he could enlarge the granaries he had so that he could store even more of the grains harvested from his vast tracts of rich and fertile farmlands. He has planned in his mind how he wanted to gain even more riches and enjoy the many more years of living with all those riches.

And the Lord through that parable showed His people how futile their searches and many ambitions for power, worldly glory, wealth, fame and glamour are, as the rich man was destined to die that very night, and none of his numerous wealth and plentiful stored riches could have saved him from the inevitable. No one can escape death, and death is a certainty that we mankind have to face, and when we die, nothing that we gain for ourselves in this world, all the worldly treasures and goods will be brought with us through death.

Unfortunately, brothers and sisters in Christ, this is exactly what many of us have been doing wrongly all these while. We have put our focus, effort and attention so much on trying to gather for ourselves all these worldly goods, glories and achievements that we become intoxicated and addicted to them, and in our endless pursuits for these things, we end up forgetting why we live in this world and the reason for our existence all these while.

In our second reading passage today, St. Paul in his Epistle to the Church and the faithful people of God in the city of Colossae, he spoke of what each and every one of us as Christians are called to do in our lives, and that is to seek for greater things in Christ, and not to seek the false treasures and the futile pursuits for worldly glory in this world. He exhorted the people of God to follow the Lord faithfully, and to reject all sorts of immorality, sin and the many temptations being present in this world.

That is why today, all of us having heard and listened to the words of the Scripture passages that strongly urged and reminded us to seek the true treasures of our life, we are now called to reflect on how we have lived our lives thus far and how much progress we have actually made in trying to find this true treasure of our life. Have we been acting like that rich man who cared for nothing but for the greater glorification of himself and for the greater wealth of his own?

On this day we are called to reflect on how futile is the pursuit of wealth, glory, fame, worldly pleasures and all sorts of excesses of this world. And as I mentioned earlier in this discourse, we must be careful and not misunderstand that we must abandon everything that is worldly and all sorts of worldly possessions, wealth or anything related to this world. We must understand that we do still need to have these things, but it is just that we cannot be overly obsessed and preoccupied with them as what many of us often do.

While we live in this world, we should be smart and make good use of whatever resources and blessings that God has given each and every one of us. However, we must not allow these things to overcome us and rule over us instead. We make use of them and not they make use of us instead. Unfortunately, it is our weak human nature and predisposition to desire and greed that often brought us to fall into sin.

We are easily tempted by the many worldly glory, temptations, pleasures and all the things that cause us to forget about God and our true treasure in life. We seek for glory and happiness in this world that do not truly last, and often we are not able to overcome our attachment, and as a result, we fail to notice how we should go forward in life seeking true happiness and joy, and instead, are trapped in the endless cycles of desire.

We have to strive to look beyond the meaninglessness of our endless pursuits of power, glory, fame and all those things that often prevent us from finding our true treasure, which is nothing less than God, our true treasure and destination, the only One Who is capable of granting us true happiness and joy that is beyond anything else that this world can give us. For no matter how wonderful, joyful or great all the treasures of this world can be, and how good they may seem to be, they will not last.

In fact, much sufferings present in this world are caused by our own desire for all these things, and how our conflicting desires with one another cause us to bicker, to fight, and to exploit those who are weaker than us, so that we can gain for ourselves more of what we desire and want. And we can never be truly happy since whatever we do to gain all those desires, we will have inadvertently or even consciously caused unhappiness or suffering all around us.

As the Scripture says, ‘What does it gain for us to gain the entire world and yet lose our soul?’, we are reminded today that we must resist the temptations of false pleasures and happiness in this world. Satan, our great enemy knows this very well, and he is doing whatever he can in order to tempt us and to bring us to our downfall, by showing us all sorts of false pleasures in life that seem to be better, more enjoyable and more wonderful than the path leading towards God and His salvation.

Are we able then to make good use of whatever blessings and worldly goodness God has given us, but without being overcome by our desires and greed? Are we able to grow deeper in our relationship with God, and in our love for Him so that despite all those temptations and challenges we will have to face, we will always remain steadfast in faith and stay faithful in all things?

May the Lord guide us all and may He empower each and every one of us to live faithfully in His presence from now on, if we have not done so. May He continue to love us and bless all of our good works, that we may come to seek the true treasure and happiness in our lives, that lies in God alone, in being with Him and enjoying forever the glorious inheritance and blissful life He has promised us all. Amen.

Sunday, 28 July 2019 : Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday we heard from the Scripture passages on the matter of trusting in God and how each and every one of us can ask Him and approach Him, seeking for Him to help us and to provide us with what we need. This is in fact something that many of us as Christians may have taken for granted throughout our lives, not realising that God has always been by our side all these while without fail.

In our first reading today, we heard of the encounter and exchange between Abraham and God Himself, as He revealed to him what He had planned for the great wickedness of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. He would destroy the two cities for all the sins the people in them had committed and their stubborn refusal to repent from those sins and continuous living in wickedness and corruption.

Abraham naturally asked the Lord to show mercy, because first of all, we have to remember that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were also the places where Lot, Abraham’s relative has been living at that time after he and Abraham went on their separate ways. Surely Abraham wanted his relative and his whole family to be saved from such a destruction, and that was why Abraham pleaded for the sake of him and for the people of the city.

But at the same time, we have to also take note that Abraham could have just asked God directly to spare the lives of Lot and his family, instead of asking God to spare the lives of everyone in the two cities. After all, weren’t the people living in those cities very wicked and sinful? They surely had deserved death while Lot and his family deserved to be saved. Why is that, brothers and sisters in Christ?

That is because Abraham must have firmly believed that God is so loving and merciful that He would not have done what He had revealed to Abraham He would do to Sodom and Gomorrah. Just as Abraham himself had been so beloved by God, he must not have been able to believe that God wanted to bring such a fate of destruction on so many people living those two cities. That was why, he continued to plead for the sake of the two cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, asking God to spare the city should there be fifty, forty-five, forty, and so on until if there were even only ten righteous people living there.

And God did listen to Abraham, brothers and sisters in Christ, just as He was patient listening to his many pleas in His presence. Linking with what we have also heard in our Gospel passage today, in which the Lord Jesus taught His disciples who asked Him how they ought to pray, and making comparison of God as One Who will listen to those who ask of Him, Abraham in our first reading today is truly like a child asking for favours from his father.

The Lord Jesus was making a comparison between God and His actions with those of a friend and to a father of a child. He was mentioning to His disciples how even a friend, no matter what happens, will move to help should we ask for help, even when that causes that friend discomfort and unhappiness, just because by helping that friend of ours can get rid of our constant nagging and requests. And God, in truth, is much more than just a friend to us.

And a father, no matter what, will not give something that will harm his child, or give whatever that is totally contrary to what the child has been asking for. And God indeed is our Father, our heavenly Father and Creator, Who created us all out of His perfect love for each and every one of us. He is far more than all of our earthly fathers, and because of that, His love for us is truly genuine, true and powerful beyond comparison.

Now, as highlighted just earlier, prayer is the way how we communicate and ask God, our loving Father and Creator. But then now, we need to spend some time reflecting on prayer, on how we pray and if we have even made our prayers faithfully in our own respective lives so far. Have we made our prayers with the right intentions and purposes in mind? Or have we fallen into the same mistake that so many of us have done in making our prayers?

Many of us have this misconception and misunderstanding that prayer is like a magic and works like magic, fulfilling whatever we wanted. And many of us may have thought that God will listen to us no matter what and that He will fulfil every single one of our prayers. Consequently, we reduced our prayers into the ones consisting of litanies of requests or even demands. And when God did not fulfil what we wanted, we ended up being angry at God or left Him behind for other ‘gods’.

We have to understand that, first of all, we cannot reduce God into One that is subservient to us, since He is after all, the Creator, Lord and Master of all the universe, and He is the Master of us all. How can we act in our prayers as if He is our slave that will heed all of our every biddings and demands? This is a wrong attitude and way of praying, and if we are guilty of this, then we should reflect again on the Scripture passages today.

If we read on after the part taken for today’s first reading from the Book of Genesis, we should know that eventually, Sodom and Gomorrah would still be destroyed by God, with a rain of fire and brimstone from the heavens. Then we may be wondering, did Abraham not ask the Lord to spare those two cities for the righteous who lived in them and for the sake of Lot and his family, Abraham’s own relatives?

We must then understand that everything that happens in this world and indeed, in the whole universe and creation, must follow the will of God and all that God had intended everything to be. It does not mean that God does not listen to His people and to our prayers. He did listen and He is a much better listener than all of us are. He answered Abraham’s prayers by rescuing Lot and his family through His Angels that He Himself sent to Sodom and Gomorrah to rescue them.

But it was fated and by God’s will that the two cities were destroyed because not even ten righteous people could be found in them, like Abraham requested from God. Only Lot and his family, who were less than ten in number, could be considered as righteous, from what we read on from the Book of Genesis’ accounts. And in that occasion, when Lot begged God through His Angel to spare the small town of Zoar because he was afraid that he would not be able to reach safety in time, God listened to him and spared the small town.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us then recall what the Apostle St. Paul wrote in his Epistle to the Church and the faithful in Colossae, our second reading today, when he mentioned about our baptism and the wonderful gifts that God had given us from that baptism. This is significant because by baptism, all of us have not just received pardon and forgiveness from all of our sins as mentioned in that Epistle, but even more so, that we have been made nothing less than sons and daughters of God Himself.

And that is because through baptism, we become sharers in Christ’s Passion, suffering, death and Resurrection. We share in the glory of the Cross, by dying to our past sins and by embracing Christ and believing in the glory of His Resurrection. Just as Christ is the Son of God, we share through His humanity as the Son of Man, the same relationship with God, our loving heavenly Father.

Today, let us all realise that the best way to pray and communicate to God, our loving Father, is to follow the example of Christ, Who prayed to His heavenly Father in the purest and best prayer known to us, which we all know as the Pater Noster, or the Lord’s Prayer. In that prayer, all the four essence and intentions of prayer is covered, namely that of ‘Adoration’, ‘Thanksgiving’, ‘Atonement’ and ‘Petition’.

Rather than beginning His prayer with petition after petition, or request or demand one after another, the Lord showed us all that we begin by glorifying and adoring God, thanking God for everything that He has done for us, for all the wonders and glories He had shown us, and also admitting that after all, God’s will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven, not our own will or desire.

The Lord’s Prayer is a model upon which our personal prayers should be made, as prayer is in its pure essence, as all of us must realise, is an intimate form of communication between God and us, much like how Abraham communicated in private with God as shown in our first reading today. A true communication is two-way between the two parties, and not unidirectional. That was why, in prayers, we must open our hearts and minds to God just as God listens to us.

Even with all of our concerns and petitions that we wish to make in our prayers, first and foremost we must understand and realise that everything will ultimately be in God’s hands, and His will shall be done. And we must make our petitions with the openness in mind and heart at all times, allowing God to make known to us what His will is for us, just as we pray and ask Him to intervene for our sake, whatever it may be.

Can we trust in God and believe in Him wholeheartedly from now on? God will never abandon us, and He will always provide for us, as the Lord Jesus Himself assured us all. If an evil person, or any ordinary person, or any fathers know how to do good and take care of those who are dear to them, what more will the Lord will do for us, as each and every one of us are truly dear to Him? Remember all that He had lovingly done for His servants throughout history, and what He had done to Abraham and in rescuing Lot and his family from destruction.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, God is always listening to us, and in truth, we do not even need to say anything at all. Of course God Who knows everything, has already known everything in our hearts and minds, even our deepest secrets and thoughts. But are we opening our hearts and minds to listen to God? Are we allowing Him to speak to us just as we speak to Him? Let us all reflect on this, and strive to improve our prayer life, so that we may truly spend the time in quality prayer with God, our loving Father.

Let us be ever more faithful from now on, and do not let the business of our life in this world, all sorts of worldly concerns and temptations to distract us from God. Let us all be open to God’s grace and be willing to listen to Him, by being ever more prayerful in our daily living. May the Lord continue to guide us and strengthen us all in faith, and may He empower us all to live in accordance with His will, as Abraham, our father in faith, has done. Amen.

Sunday, 21 July 2019 : Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, we are all reminded of the revelation of God’s truth to us, which He has reserved to all those who are willing to listen to Him and His truth, that all of us who listen to Him and come to believe in Him may come to embrace righteousness and justice in God’s truth. All of us are reminded that God has showed us all His love and generous compassion all these while, and how it is us mankind who are often ignorant of His love.

In our first reading today, we listened to the words of the Scripture speaking to us about the encounter between God and Abraham, His servant by the oaks in Mamre when Abraham stayed in Canaan. God appeared to Abraham to reveal to him that whatever He has promised to him in the Covenant He has made with him would be upheld, through the miracle of a son that Abraham would receive from God.

Even though Abraham had earlier on contravened God’s provision by the insistence of his wife Sarah, who tried a shortcut of having a son through her slave, Hagar, but God revealed to Abraham that His Covenant and promise would remain true as how He has planned it, and not as how man planned it. Although God did bless Ishmael, the son that Abraham had with Hagar, but the fullness of His promise and Covenant lies only in the promised son that Abraham then would have with Hagar.

Before we move on into the New Testament readings, it is important that we see what God has revealed to Abraham, and, although not included in the first reading passage today, exactly how Sarah, Abraham’s wife, responded to the revelation. Sarah did not believe in the words that the travellers spoke to Abraham, not knowing that those travellers were actually God Himself in person. She laughed secretly on hearing that she would have a child even though she had been very old then.

But God knew what was in her heart and mind, and asked Sarah why she laughed at what He has revealed to both her and Abraham. Sarah denied it, but God reminded her that He knew everything, and that to prove to her, she herself would indeed bear a son, and that son would be named Isaac, whose name means ‘he laughs’ in reference to the lack of faith of Sarah in God’s revelation of truth.

From what we have heard and discussed, we can see that Sarah did not fully trust in God and placed more faith in her own thinking and perceptions, in her own capability to sort things out, when she chose to take things into her own hands by using her slave to bear Abraham a son on her behalf, and then as mentioned, when she laughed at the words of God, probably thinking that it was ridiculous for anyone to have the notion that she could bear a son at such an age.

And now, let us all compare what we have heard in the first reading from the Book of Genesis to the Gospel passage today, in which the Lord Jesus interacted with two sisters, Martha and Mary, who ended up becoming those counted among His closest friends and disciples. In that occasion, Martha and Mary welcomed the Lord Who came into their house, and then we were shown the contrast in how the two of them welcomed the Lord.

Martha was busy preparing the house, getting ready for the meal and doing everything to show as hospitable a welcome as possible for the Lord. She did have good intentions in doing so, and most likely she believed that it was her best way of welcoming the Lord, as perhaps many of us would have also done. If a guest comes to our house, certainly we will do our best to prepare the house for the guest’s coming.

Meanwhile, Mary was with the Lord by His side, listening to Him preaching and teaching to her. Mary spent her whole time and focused all of her attention and effort to the Lord, unlike Martha who was preoccupied and busy with all of her preparations. Martha became angry at her sister and asked the Lord to tell Mary to help her in her preparations, justifying that she was so busy doing all the work by herself while Mary did not help out at all.

That was when the Lord reminded Martha that Mary has chosen a better path, one that is not clouded by our human and worldly fears and concerns, our desires and our prejudices. Mary focused her whole self on God and had total faith in Him, and that was all that matters. It was not that Martha was wrong in what she had been doing. Surely, Martha loved the Lord too, for otherwise she would not have even made the effort to prepare to welcome the Lord properly according to her standard of hospitality.

However, it was her great preoccupation and indeed, distraction caused by all of the things she was doing in the midst of her efforts and preparations that became obstacles for her in her effort to welcome the Lord into her heart. She was so busy trying to welcome the Lord into her house that she has forgotten to welcome Him into her even more important house, the house of her soul, that is her heart!

And that was what happened with Sarah in the Book of Genesis as well, because she was so busy and distracted being concerned of trying to have a son with her husband Abraham, that she had less faith in God and tried to have a shortcut instead by using her slave Hagar as a means to achieve her goal, and when as mentioned, God came up to her and told her what His plan was for her and Abraham, she did not believe, because she forgot to welcome God into her house properly, that is her heart.

Contrast that with Abraham, who like Mary, welcomed the Lord and brought Him into his own house, both literally and also figuratively, because Abraham trusted in God and believed in Him, and he listened to Him with all of his heart and attention. That was why in another occasion, when God asked Abraham to test his faith, by asking him to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice, Abraham listened to God and complied with faith.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, how about us then? Do we also act in the manner of Sarah and Martha, who were distracted by their business and concerns in life, or do we act in the manner of Abraham and Mary, who had true and sincere faith for God? Let us all reflect on our own lives, our own actions and deeds in life thus far. Have we been faithful as we should have been faithful? Have we made the effort to welcome God into our hearts, into our minds and into our beings?

This is a reminder for each and every one of us not to allow our busy schedules, the many distractions and temptations in life to prevent us from appreciating the faith which we have in God. Let us all overcome those temptations and turn ourselves wholeheartedly from now on to God, focusing our whole attention to Him just as Abraham and Mary had done. As St. Paul mentioned in his Epistle today, to all of us, God has revealed the wonderful truth of His love.

Let us all therefore be faithful bearers and witnesses of God’s love, from now on, so that in our every actions and deeds, we will always be true and be dedicated in all things, devoting our every moments and opportunities to bring glory to God and to show His love and wonderful mercy to all of our fellow brethren in this world. May God bless us all and may He guide us in our journey of life. Amen.

Sunday, 14 July 2019 : Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, we listened to the Lord speaking to us about the matter of the Law of God being put inside our hearts and minds, that each and every one of us may know how to live our lives truly in accordance with what God has willed for us and with what He has taught us all to do. For God’s Law is not just a mere formality or law to be obeyed without understanding what the Law is all about, or else, our obedience will be without meaning and purpose.

In the first reading today, taken from the Book of Deuteronomy, we heard of the reminder from God to His people that He has given them His Law and His commandments, and He has revealed these to them so that they may come to be faithful and be obedient to the way which He has shown all of them. God showed them all how they could be righteous and upright in their words, actions and deeds.

Unfortunately, they frequently disobeyed Him and rebelled against Him, walked away from His path and turning away from His laws and commandments, preferring to follow their own volitions and obeying false gods and idols instead. And all these were because of their failure and refusal to listen to the will of God and to the Law of the Lord, which they thought as a restraint and oppressive regulations.

But they failed to understand what the Law truly means, as were their descendants, who preserved those very same laws and commandments, and failed to understand their meaning even until then. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law preserved the Law and enforced strict obedience to them on the people. They enforced hundreds of rules and regulations, and were focused on the details of the Law, but failed to know why the Law was there in the first place.

And the Gospel passage which we have heard today put our understanding of the Law into a new understanding, as what the Lord Jesus spoke to His disciples using the famous parable of the Good Samaritan can tell us. We know this story of a good Samaritan man who helped a person robbed on his way to Jericho, while two other people, a priest and a Levite ignored him and just passed him by without helping him.

Now, we should understand deeper the symbolisms that exist in this parable, as the Lord wanted His disciples and all of us to know that it was not external piety and obedience to the Law that matter, but rather, our internal disposition, alignment, understanding and harmony with the Law that actually matter. The reality is that at that time, the society and the people of God were quite biased and had quite a bit of prejudice on the three people mentioned in the parable by Jesus.

The priest is usually a very respected person, as the priest symbolised the unity and link between God and man, as the one who is not just knowledgeable about the Law and God, but also as the one who offer the people’s sacrifices to God. Priests were also anointed by God to be His servants, and therefore, they were very essential in the livelihood of the people of God, and thus, commanded a large amount of respect.

Meanwhile, the Levite belonged to the tribe of Levi, from which priests were usually selected from. They were so important and honoured in their role, chosen by God, that they were traditionally not counted among the twelve tribes of Israel because they were supposed to be dwelling in all places, wherever there were need for priests. They were the descendants of Aaron and the priestly caste, and therefore also commanded a great deal of respect.

But the Samaritan was usually treated with disdain and prejudice, indifference and even hostility at times, just because they were seen as outsiders, pagans and people who were unworthy of God and His grace. The Samaritans were those who lived in the region of Samaria, the former site of the northern kingdom of Israel and were descended from a mixed heritage of some of the northern tribes of Israel and those pagan peoples that were brought into that place when the Israelites were exiled.

As such, the Jewish people in Judea and Galilee were often very wary, prejudiced and opposed against the Samaritans, whom they deemed to be pagans and unworthy. But yet, in what the Lord Jesus presented in the parable, it was exactly the same Samaritan who the people despised and often treated badly that was moved by the plight of a person who was robbed and left to die on the roadside.

And we should understand this with the fact that the Jews would not even touch or talk to a Samaritan, as evidenced in another part of the Gospels when the Samaritan woman of the Samaritan town of Sychar found the Lord Jesus strange for willingly talking to her, a Samaritan while He was a Jew. But that Good Samaritan not only showed pity on the injured Jew, but even took him to an inn and paid for his whole stay and mended his wound.

If we compare the behaviours and actions of the three people mentioned, the priest, the Levite and the Samaritan, it is quite obvious that the Samaritan did what the priest and the Levite did not do or refused to do. The greatest irony is that the two people who were commonly highly respected and praised for their obedience and observance of God’s laws did not do what the Lord has commanded them to do.

And on the contrary, the person everyone thought the least likely to be obedient to God, namely the Samaritan, had shown true faith and obedience to God’s commandments, by loving one of his own brethren, even though he was a Samaritan and the injured man was a Jew. That is the true essence of the Law and what God has wanted us all to do ourselves. The Law of God is about love, love that is pure and true, genuine and does not discriminate.

There is no point for us to be externally pious and appear to be good and law-abiding, if in our hearts we do not internalise and understand the meaning of those laws. That was what the priest and the Levite had done, which the Lord also used to subtly criticise the lives and the actions of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who have lived their lives in such a way, focusing on the external applications of the Law but not understanding why the Law was given to us.

Instead, all of us are called to love generously and be truly creatures of love, imitating the examples of none other than our beloved Father, Our Lord and God Who has loved us so generously and patiently, caring for the needs of all those who are dear to Him. God cares for each and every one of us without exception, and even we have sinned against Him and even after we have been obstinate in our rebelliousness, He continued to love us all regardless.

This is what the true essence of the Law of God is about, the love which God has for us, and which we therefore should also have for Him. And the love which we have, we should also love our fellow brethren, our brothers and sisters in our midst. Let us all be true disciples of the Lord from now on, and show love in our every words and actions from now on, so that we will be filled with true faith and love for God.

Let us all therefore not be hypocrites in our faith, but instead be sincere in our faith and in everything we do from now on. Let us all put the Law of God, the Law of His love in our hearts and minds, and make ourselves the instruments of His love. May God, our loving Father, be our guide and be our example, that each and every one of us may follow in our own lives, living our faith with dedication and conviction. Amen.