Sunday, 9 December 2018 : Second Sunday of Advent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, the second one in the season of Advent, we continue to prepare ourselves for the upcoming celebration and joy of Christmas. The Scripture passages today all spoke of the coming of a time of grace and happiness, hope and redemption for the people of God, for all those who have kept the faith and remained true to the Lord.

The first reading today was taken from the Book of the prophet Baruch, which speaks of the coming deliverance for Jerusalem, which represent the people of God, Israel, who have been suffering for many years, if we understand the context and history in which all these took place. The glorious kingdom of Israel, of David and Solomon was by the time of the prophet Baruch, a distant memory, and the people of God had been fragmented and scattered, overcame by their enemies and enslaved once again.

The Psalm today spoke of the same deliverance that was to come from God for the people of Israel, the coming deliverance of Zion, that by the power of God a new era would come, where the exile of the people would come to an end, and they would once again be reunited with one another and with God. This was made in the context of the exile of the Israelites after the destruction of their kingdoms, both the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah.

At that time, the people of God who once proudly called themselves the chosen people of God and as the people of David’s kingdom, could no longer looked at themselves with pride, for they have been downtrodden and left to suffer many injustice, indignation, pain and tribulations, all because of their own disobedience against God and His ways. Because of their sins, they have sundered themselves from God’s grace.

But God, as seen through what we have heard, and what He has done for the sake of His people, is a truly patient and loving God, Who does not desire our destruction and damnation. He loved us all very much, and that was why He created us in the first place. If He has not loved us, He would not have created us. It is unfortunate that through our disobedience we have made ourselves to fall into this predicament.

That is why God gave us a way out of this predicament, by the promise and the sending of the Saviour, none other than Jesus Christ our Lord, Whose birth we celebrate every Christmas. But many did not recognise Him or accept Him as their Lord and Saviour. At the time of Jesus, there were many who doubted Him and refused to listen to Him, and instead persecuted and oppressed Him and His disciples.

And that is because the people hardened their hearts and minds, and stubbornly therefore refused to listen to God’s words and truth. That was why they remained in sin and committing more of the deeds that caused them to fall even further away from God. But God did not give up easily, and that was why He sent St. John the Baptist, whose words in the Gospel passage today rang very clearly in our minds, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make His path straight!”

St. John spoke up strongly against the sins of man and called the people to turn away from their sins, repenting sincerely from their erroneous path. And for those who hardened their hearts, like the Pharisees and king Herod, he had harsh words reminding them of the sins in their actions and in their hearts that prevented them from being able to serve the Lord and to follow Him as they should have done.

And that is, brothers and sisters in Christ, unfortunately what many of us today are suffering from as well. Throughout history, and until this very day, many of us, sons and daughters of man, have not been able to resist the many temptations of the world, the temptations of money, of power, of glory and fame, of pleasures of the flesh, immoral behaviour and many other forms of aberrations and wicked deeds that are abhorrent in the sight of God.

It was because of these sins that we have drifted further and further away from God, and unless we make the effort to allow God to forgive us our sins and to change our ways to be more in accordance to His ways and His will, then we are at risk of suffering the fate of eternal damnation, if we are found to be unworthy of God’s eternal glory and grace. And this time of Advent, this season of reorientation of our lives and recollection of our actions, is the best time for us to begin to make a difference.

We should begin by examining once again how we are preparing ourselves for the upcoming celebrations of Christmas. Many of us celebrate Christmas as how the world around us celebrate it, with much revelry and partying, with rejoicing and excesses. We flaunt our wealth and prosperity to one another, by trying to outdo each other in decorating our houses and places, in the lavishness and value of our gifts.

And we often grumble when our Christmas gifts are not up to our expectation, and if our celebrations are not as what we have prepared and expected. We worry a lot about what we are to cook up for our Christmas dinners, lunches and parties, about what we are to wear for the celebrations, and yet, while we worry about all these things, and think about how to outdo one another in our celebrations, do we realise that there are those, even in our midst, who have no means to celebrate Christmas?

There are those who are poor and penniless who cannot even celebrate Christmas, and even more so, they cannot even think of what is to come tomorrow, for they have little to even survive for the day’s meal. And then, there are also those who because of various reasons, especially oppression and persecutions, cannot even celebrate Christmas openly with joy and revelry. They live in constant fear of persecution and even death just for being a believer and follower of Christ.

And today, all of us are called to think of all these brethren of ours, even as we also need to reevaluate our lives and beginning from understanding better what Christmas and its significance is for our lives. Christmas is all about Christ and His saving love and grace for each and every one of us. God loves each and every one of us that He is willing to give everything, even His own Son, to suffer and die for our sake, by bearing the cross of our sins.

And if God has loved us so much, then now, brothers and sisters in Christ, we are called then to love Him back with the same effort and sincerity. We are called to serve Him and to be as what He wants us to be, righteous and just in His presence. Thus, we should shun all forms of sin and disobedience that we have done so far in life, all the worldly excesses and resist the temptations to sin further.

We should also reflect and show the same love to our brethren, especially those who are poor and weak, those who are oppressed and in grief and sorrow. This is the true spirit of Christmas, that we, as God’s children, can show the same love that God, Our loving Father has shown us. And also, for all those who have done fault to us and hurt us, let us also forgive them their mistakes and sins against us.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore, today, as we continue this Advent journey, let us first and foremost realise our sinfulness, and ask God to heal us and to forgive us from those sins and faults. Let us all draw ever closer to God and find our way to serve Him and to commit ourselves, through our love and generosity to our fellow brethren, by our way of life, upholding at all times the tenets of our faith in all of our daily actions and deeds. May God bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Sunday, 2 December 2018 : First Sunday of Advent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we begin the new liturgical year and the season of Advent, the season and the time that the Church has put in place, in order for us to prepare ourselves for the coming of the time of Christmas. In this season of Advent, we are commemorating a two-fold time of expectation, remembering first of all the historical arrival of the Lord and Saviour of the world, and then, even more importantly, now we are also expecting and preparing for the coming of Our Lord at the end of time.

Thus, if at the end of the liturgical year we commemorate the Solemnity of Jesus Christ the King, celebrating the glorious kingship of Our Lord, then at the beginning of the liturgical year, in the season of Advent, we anticipate that coming of the glorious King to come, Our Lord and Saviour, He Who has once come into this world, and Who will come again as He promised us all. That is the essence of Advent, which came from the word Adventus, which means, ‘coming’, reminding us of the focus of this important season before Christmas.

It is important that each and every one of us are aware of the importance of the season of Advent before we progress into the celebrations of Christmas time or season, or else we can easily lose our focus and be distracted by the many improper and inaccurate ways of how Christmas has often been celebrated all around the world. Otherwise, our celebration of Christmas will become increasingly meaningless and its true nature be forgotten and overlooked.

In our world today, Christmas has become ever increasingly commercialised and becoming more and more materialistic in nature. And that is the secular Christmas as we are often familiar with, with all of its glamours and celebrations, revelries, parties and with all sorts of joyful and pleasurable activities, a time in the year that we often always look forward to, as a time of rejoicing and happiness together with our family and loved ones.

However, there are more and more evidences of increasing secularisation and commercialisation of Christmas, in the expansion of merchandises and gifts, objects and goods being linked and related to Christmas. We look towards Christmas as a time for shopping, for parties and gatherings, and even for time when we are able to show off our preparations and ways of celebrating Christmas to others. But in the midst of all that, we forget the One Whom we truly should rejoice and celebrate with, that is the Lord Himself, Our God.

Now, let us imagine, if in a birthday party and celebration, there are plenty of revelries, rejoicing and merrymaking, but the one whose birthday is celebrated is left out, forgotten and ignored by all those who take part in the celebration, is that something that is right? Of course it is not. How can we ignore the most important person whose celebration is all about? But that is exactly what we have done, in how Christmas is often celebrated.

We do all of our Christmas preparations and celebrations, and yet, we overlook Christ in all of those preparations. Instead of remembering that Christmas is primarily and mainly about the celebration and joy for the birth of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, we focus on other matters such as how to enjoy our Christmas vacation, and what we are to buy during the festive seasons. We put our focus on materialistic and worldly things instead of focusing ourselves on the Lord as we should have.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we ought to reexamine our own preparation for Christmas, and how we are planning to celebrate it. First and foremost, we must put Christ once again at the very centre of our lives and at the heart of our every celebrations. That is how we make Christmas meaningful to us, and how we become more appreciative of what we are celebrating every year.

Indeed, Christmas is a time for rejoicing and to be happy, but we must take care that our rejoicing and happiness do not become excessive and lacking the focus on the Lord. Many of our celebrations are too materialistic in nature, where everyone are trying to please one another, to look good in front of each other, and where demands for gifts and revelries become ever increasingly excessive and inappropriate.

And we often celebrate Christmas long before the actual day of Christmas. There is a reason why Christmas season itself only begins with the Christmas day, and not before, and that is because, the time of Advent that we are entering into now, is the time for us to prepare ourselves in our hearts, minds, and in our whole beings, that we will be able to celebrate Christmas with the right intention, purpose and with the right mindset and understanding of what it is that we are celebrating.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, as we now enter into the season of Advent, let us spend more time with the Lord, and try our best to reconnect ourselves to Him, through more time and effort to be spent in prayer, and in living our lives closer and closer in accordance to His will. Let us make the upcoming season and celebration of Christmas to be a more meaningful and fruitful one.

May the Lord be with us always, and may He continue to guide us through this journey of life, that in this season of Advent, we may become ever closer to Him, and that we may be able to distance ourselves from the many temptations of the world. Let us all turn towards Him with a renewed faith and commitment to live our lives, each and every day, more and more attuned to His will. Amen.

Sunday, 25 November 2018 : Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, Thirty-Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday we celebrate the last Sunday in our current liturgical year, and more importantly the great Solemnity of Jesus Christ the King, King and Master of all the Universe, Lord of all creation. Today we celebrate the divine and true kingship of Christ, which corresponds to the authority which Our Lord has over all things, and above all worldly and earthly authorities.

In the first reading today, taken from the Book of the prophet Daniel, we heard about the vision which Daniel received of the heavenly glory of God, in which He saw the revelation of the Holy Trinity, the One of Great Age Who is the Father, giving all power and authority over all things, over all of the world, all dominion and glory to the Son of Man, the Son, Jesus Christ, Who has been sent into the world to bring all things to Himself, Lord and King of all.

Through that vision, the fact of the kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ is eternal and unrivalled, and that He is the One True King of all, from whom ultimately, all authority, power, and honour came from. God Who is the Creator of all things, naturally has the jurisdiction and authority over all creation. And thus, He is both our Creator and our King, the very centre and focus of our whole lives.

This is what the Lord Himself reiterated in the Gospel passage we heard today, of the account of the encounter between the Lord Jesus and Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea, just before the Lord was to be sentenced to die on the cross. When asked if He was the King of the Jews, not only that the Lord reaffirmed that He is the King, and not just any king, for His kingship transcends any earthly kingdoms and dominions.

And therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, today, as we rejoice together as one universal Church, for our glorious and ever mighty King, let us all spend some time to reflect on our own lives and actions thus far. A king is not a king without a country and without its people, and in a kingdom, the people obey the laws and the regulations and rules as decided by the king and his advisors.

Therefore, if we are indeed God’s people, and if we acknowledge Him as our Lord and King, then naturally and rightfully, we must follow and obey God’s Law, as the Lord has commanded it and revealed it, through His Son, Jesus Christ, Our King Himself, and passed on to His Church through His Apostles and their successors, which constitute the Church of God, preserving the truth and the commandments of God down through the ages till this day.

Yet, unfortunately, in how we act and behave, many of us Christians have not been exemplary and good in how we lived our lives. We have not obeyed the Lord’s commandments and laws, and instead, lived our lives in accordance to how we liked to live them, especially following the ways of the world, the ways of pride, greed and human desires. We have chosen to side with the world and with the forces of the evil one, rather than with God, our true King.

Pope Pius XI through his Encyclical Quas Primas published in the year of Our Lord 1925 established this Feast and Solemnity of Jesus Christ Our Lord, the King of the Universe, just several years after the end of the Great War, later to be known as the First World War, at the time when the world was going through great upheavals and changes, where the authority of Christ as the true Lord and King of all mankind was being challenged, by all those who championed atheism such as the Communist states, and also from those who wished to secularise the society, by distancing God and the Church from the people’s daily living.

If we really consider God as our Lord and King, then naturally we should strive to do what the Lord has commanded us to do, and do our best to follow His ways. Unfortunately, this is not something that can easily be done, as temptations and challenges are plenty, and there are always pressures and forces that are trying to pull us away and to distract us from our focus on God.

This is why, it is important that we now make the conscious effort to focus our attention on God, and to resist those temptations, of power, of wealth, of pleasures of the world and other forms of worldly attachments and glories, which can become serious obstacles in the way of our faith and obedience to God. Satan knows very well what he needs to do in order to keep us away from attaining salvation in God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we are called to reflect seriously on our lives and our actions, as we approach the end of the current liturgical cycle. Are we going to continue on living our lives in whatever way we see fit, succumbing to the temptations of the world, and therefore, treating not God but Satan as our king? Or are we willing to make the effort to turn once again towards God with a renewed faith and commitment to live our lives from now on, in accordance with God’s will?

If we truly consider God as King, then we must indeed allow Him to exercise His kingship over our lives, and over our every actions, that in all the things we do, we bring greater glory to God, and remain centred on Him in all that we think, say and do. We must keep Him at the centre of our existence, and carefully discern our way of life in accordance with what He has revealed to us and taught us, through His Church.

Therefore, today, let us all pray for one another, that each and every one of us may become ever closer and be ever more committed to God, and that God may be truly our King, not as a mere formality or in superficial terms only, but in our every actions and deeds, in every moment we live, and in our whole beings, that through us, not only that others may know that God is our King, but our lives also reflect the truth about Who our King is. After all, how can we call God our King if we do not act in the way as taught and shown by Him?

The Lord our God, our King, although He is a King, but He is also humble of heart, and is filled with love. Therefore, we should also fill ourselves with great humility and lots of love, in loving one another, and in ensuring that not our will be done, but God’s will instead. Let us all follow in the examples of Christ, Our Lord and King, in humble obedience to Him and in loving relationship with Him.

May the Lord Jesus Christ, Our Lord and King, be the King of our hearts, our minds, our bodies and over all of our beings, and may He continue to reign in our midst, His beloved people, that we may be ever faithful to Him, and grow ever closer in our faith and dedication to Him. May the Lord continue to be our guide and our strength, from now on, till forevermore. Amen.

Sunday, 18 November 2018 : Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. Peter and the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Wall, World Day of the Poor (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday we come closer to the end of our current liturgical year, and as a result, that is why the readings have that apocalyptic and premonition sense and tone. While the liturgical year itself is a cycle and will continue on to the next liturgical year, year after year, but at the same time, the end of the liturgical year is also symbolic of the coming of the end of time, as the Lord Himself had revealed.

The Lord revealed how the coming of the end of time will be swift and unpredictable, in the various occasions that He mentioned it throughout the Gospels, including what we have heard in today’s Gospel passage. No one knows the exact time when the Lord will come again, to enact the Last Judgment over all creation, over all of our souls, to determine our chosen fate, which we have chosen ourselves, out of free will. Whether we will join in God’s eternal glory in heaven, or whether we will be forever sundered from Him in the eternal damnation, all will be finalised at the Last Judgment.

In the Gospel passage today, the Lord mentioned that there would indeed be signs for the coming of the end times, as there would be increasing troubles and persecutions against those who are faithful to God. The account of the Book of Revelations according to St. John also confirmed this reality. And all agree that the Lord Jesus, the Son of Man, will come again at the end of time, and according to the Book of the prophet Daniel, His coming will also be heralded by St. Michael the Archangel, the Prince of the Heavenly Host.

The coming of that time will be joyful and bring probably indescribable happiness to all those who have kept their faith in God, for they have certainly suffered for many years and periods under the oppression and persecution by those who refused to believe in God. But for all those who have rejected God and refused to believe in Him and in all those who have spoken in His Name, there was only regret and eternal anguish, knowing that their fate had been decided by their own choice.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what is important for each and every one of us to take note is the fact that we have been given the gift of free will by God, to choose whether we want to continue to disobey Him and listen to Satan’s sweet words of lie and distortion, which he had done with us ever since he corrupted Adam and Eve, our first parents, or we have the choice to repent our sins, and turn towards God with all of our hearts and minds.

And we have been given the wisdom to understand the ways of the Lord as well as the ways of the world. We have been given the ability to understand how we ought to act in the face of all that we have witnessed, heard and seen for ourselves. And yet, many of us still choose the wrong path to take, the one that leads into separation from God, and into the eternal damnation and suffering in hell.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, why is that so? That is because, we mankind are truly weak, vulnerable and at risk, from all the insidious and evil works of the devil and all of the forces in his disposal. He is full of things that he can use to tempt us and to make us fall into sin. And through disobedience and sin, we end up going further and further away from God, and eventually unless we make the effort to move away from this destination, we will end up where we deserve.

All of us have received the truth of God from the Church, from our priests and bishops, all those who have kept the truth of God alive throughout all these times. And yet, why is it that even many of us Christians are unable to keep up the same faith and the same commitment as those who have gone before us and led a life of holiness? That is because of the ever increasing and ever present pressures from the forces of the evil one.

We need to make a decision, right now, and think of what will be our lot, when the time comes for us to be judged based on what we have done, and what we have not done in our lives. We will be judged based on the good and wicked things we have done, and whatever good things we could have done, and yet, failed to do. And it is important that we know of the truth, that unless we do what is right, we will end up falling into eternal suffering.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we need to reexamine our lives, and realign ourselves to God, especially if we have fallen away and been stumbling in our path towards Him because of sin and the many temptations to sin. Let us all turn ourselves, and make the good efforts to make our lives to be in accordance to what the Lord has shown us and commanded us to do.

Let us not wait or tarry any longer, because just as we do not know of the time when the Lord will come again and therefore when the Last Judgment is, we also believe that the timing of death is something that we will never know for ourselves. Death is a certainty for all of us because of sin, and yet the timing of death ia an uncertainty to all of us. No one knows of the exact time when their earthly end will come, and when it comes, we will also go through a particular judgment for each one of us, determining our fate for eternity to come.

May the Lord therefore be our Guide and may He continue to strengthen us, and show us the way, that we will not be easily tempted to turn away from Him. Let us also make the conscious effort to resist the allures and the falsehoods of Satan, and to be righteous and just in all of our actions, to the best of our abilities, from now on. May God bless us always, and may He continue to be with us, now and forevermore. Amen.

Sunday, 11 November 2018 : Thirty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in this Sunday’s Scripture readings we are reminded that as Christians, in following God, we must always be generous in giving, and not to be stingy or greedy, in keeping all that we have to ourselves. This is shown through the reading taken from the story of the prophet Elijah and the widow of Zarephath, the passage from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Hebrews relating to us the loving sacrifice of Christ, and finally the story of the giving of the old woman who gave two copper coins to the Temple in our Gospel passage today.

First of all, the story of the prophet Elijah and the faithful widow of Zarephath happened at the time when the whole of Israel and the region was suffering from a great drought and famine, where rain did not fall for several years. Without rain the crops could not grow, and hence man and cattle alike suffered in great hunger. And this came about because of the great sins which the people of Israel and their king had committed before God.

The king of Israel at that time, king Ahab, was notorious among the many other kings of Israel, then ruling only the northern half of the divided kingdom of David and Solomon. Many of the kings of the northern kingdom were wicked in their actions and lives, and did not obey God as they should have done. As a result they led the people to sin, and king Ahab was noted as the one who was particularly wicked, especially due to the influence of his queen, Jezebel.

King Ahab further spread the worship of the pagan gods such as Baal, Asherah and many other Canaanite gods that the Israelites were exposed to from their neighbours. And the king also persecuted the faithful and those whom God sent to help save His people, that is the prophets. He also persecuted the prophet Elijah, who had to flee the persecution for the king and his forces were after his life.

As the sign of divine displeasure at the wickedness which all of Israel at that time, the prophet Elijah showed a sign, by which there was to be no rain throughout the land for three years, for the sins committed by Israel and its king. And it was in this state of the land in drought and famine that the interaction between the prophet Elijah and the widow of the city of Zarephath took place.

Zarephath itself was a small town in Sidon, in the land which was not considered as part of the land of Israel. It was the land of the Phoenicians, and likely that widow was not an Israelite. At that time, a non-Israelite person was usually considered as a pagan, as unbelievers who did not believe in God. They were often looked at with disdain and dismissed as unworthy by the Israelites who took pride in their status as the chosen race and people of God.

Interestingly, this is parallel to what we have heard in our Gospel passage today, regarding the moment when the Lord Jesus and His disciples were ar the Temple of God, and saw how an old woman placed a mere two pieces of copper coins, which had a very small value at that time, as compared to the rich people, who put in a lot of offerings and rich gifts to the Temple of God. And consequently, people must have paid attention to what those rich men had been doing, and ignored or even looked down on the old woman who gave so little in comparison.

And yet, we see in both circumstances, we see how those who were proud and filled with ego, faltered in the end, and compared to the ones who were looked down upon, ostracised, marginalised and discredited against, the latter ones were the ones who were in truth, truly faithful to the Lord. They put their faith and trust in the Lord and gave generously from whatever it was that they had, even those that they needed for themselves to survive on.

Surely as was in the case of the widow of Zarephath, she did have and show her reservations, and she was indeed afraid that she did not even have enough for herself and for her son to eat one last meal, when the prophet Elijah asked her for some flour and oil to make him a bread to eat. But in the end, she chose to trust in God and in the words of the prophet Elijah. She took the flour and oil and obeyed God even if that meant taking something from what she could have made for herself and her son one last meal.

Like the poor old woman in the Temple, the widow of Zarephath chose to trust in God wholeheartedly and gave even from her poverty. For the widow of Zarephath, she gave whatever food she could provide for the sustenance of God’s servant, Elijah, and for the old woman in the Temple, she gave everything that she could give, possibly most of her wage and possessions, for the Lord.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, have we been touched by the examples of these courageous women, who were counted among those who were always maltreated, ignored and ostracised from within our own communities? And ultimately, the best of all, as mentioned in the Epistle of St. Paul to the Hebrews, the Jewish Christians, that the Lord Himself has given everything, in ultimate obedience to His Father.

How is that so? Through the suffering that Our Lord Jesus Christ willingly endured for our salvation, He has placed Himself in complete trust to the will of His Father, despite the enormous and unimaginable sufferings and pains that He had to endure for our sake. Ultimately His even more unimaginably great love for each and every one of us is the reason why He was ready to take up the burden of the cross.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore do the same with ourselves, and learn to put our trust in God, by not fearing to give and share what we have for the greater glory of God, by sharing these blessings we have, in loving our fellow men and caring for those who are needy. If we do this, and if we have love for our fellow men, then we are doing what Christ Himself had done, and in doing so, we obey the Lord and love Him in the best way possible, remembering His own words, “that whatever you have done for the least among you, you have done it unto Me.”

Let us all therefore learn to love God with a new zeal and effort from now on. Let us turn to Him with our whole heart, imitating the great faith and dedication that the widow of Zarephath and the old woman in the Temple had shown us. Let us remember, that if we give it all to the Lord, and not worrying about the various concerns we may have over giving of ourselves to God, the Lord Himself will provide for us, as He did with the widow of Zarephath.

May the Lord bless us always, and may He continue to guide us in our path at all times. May He remain by our side, strengthening us and keeping us in His loving embrace, each and every moments of our lives. May God bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Sunday, 4 November 2018 : Thirty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, the readings from the Scriptures are about God’s Law, and the need for us all to listen to the Law of God, to accept them and to put them into practice in our own lives, but with good understanding and appreciation of what the Law is all about, and this is important because otherwise, we will end up falling into the same trap into which the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had fallen into.

What does this mean, brothers and sisters in Christ? It means that we should not follow the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who professed to believe in the Law and in fact, as the ones who regulated and enforced the Law, and yet, they did not know what is the true meaning and significance of the Law. Many of them observed the Law for the wrong reason and with the wrong intention.

The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law stressed a very strict application of the laws of Moses, which can be found in the book of Exodus and Leviticus in the Old Testament, as well as the traditions and practices which had been handed down the generations of the people of Israel. There were in total six hundred and thirteen set of laws, rules and regulations that the people of God had to obey and fulfil, down to the smallest details of how one should live their lives.

These laws had to be understood in the context of history and how the law came to be. The Law was given to the people of God, Israel, as part of the Covenant that God established with them, just right after He liberated them from their slavery at the land of Egypt. God gave them the Law through Moses, which showed them various aspects of how they ought to live and survive through the difficult and challenging times, at the time when Israel was still trying to find its identity and place among the nations.

For once, the Israelites were then a stubborn and obstinate bunch of people, who frequently and repeatedly rebelled against the Lord, as was evident from the accounts of the Exodus from Egypt. They had to endure a forty years detour and wait before they were allowed to enter the Promised Land of Canaan, after even though God had reassured them and showed them His providence and love throughout their journey, they chose willingly to abandon God and give in to their fears instead.

They failed to trust God, many times, as shown how just right after they were liberated from Egypt, they gave in to temptation, making a golden calf to be god for them, when Moses went up the mountain of Sinai to receive God’s commandments and Law. They grumbled and had many qualms, when the Lord had fed them daily with manna, the bread of Angels from heaven, and with large birds providing them with meat, and sweet, good tasting water from the rock.

Thus, in order to discipline a people that was so stubborn and obstinate, God gave them the Law in order to remind them to turn away from all their sins and wickedness, and for them to rediscover their love for God, by following the precepts and the rules of the Law. However, although the intention of the Law was good and the early application of the Law was meaningful, but in time, the elders, the priests and eventually the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law at the time of Jesus misunderstood and misinterpreted the Law, in its practice, meaning and intention.

They took the Law as a list of punitive regulations to be enforced among the people of Israel, and used them as benchmark of who was to be considered as faithful and who was to be considered as unfaithful. In time to come, this ended up creating divisions in the society, with the Pharisees, the teachers of the Law and the priests claiming themselves to be pious and good because of their observance of the Law, and looking down on the others, whom to them, were not as pious as they were.

Instead of bringing mankind closer to God as He intended, the Law was misused by those mentioned earlier, in keeping people away from God, by their judgmental attitude towards those whom they considered to be inferior to them in the matter of faith. They looked down on tax collectors, prostitutes and all others who suffered physical disabilities, such as blindness, paralysis and epilepsy.

To the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, those sicknesses and professions are signs of them being cursed and unworthy of God’s love and grace. To them, they were the only ones who were worthy of God, and all others had to obey the way of the Law they prescribed to, or else, they too would be cast out from God’s grace. They espoused a very exclusivist attitude and perspective of the Law, one that is not focused on God, but on themselves, their ego, pride and desire.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is why, we need to appreciate and understand the true meaning and intention of God’s Law, which He has revealed unto us, through none other than His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who revealed the truth of God to all of us, His people. This is summarised succinctly in the Gospel passage we heard today, revealing to us the whole truth about what God intends to do with us through His Law.

And the heart and intention of the Law is love, and because of that, through the Law, God wants His people to rediscover the love which they ought to have for Him, and which they also ought to have for one another. The Lord came into this world, in order to dispel all the erroneous and false ways of the past elders and teachers of the Law, who had misinterpreted the Law of God and enforced an unjust and undue pressure on the people because of their misuse of the Law.

The Lord challenged all those who heard Him, to break free from that misunderstanding and the wrong ways in which they have done, in fulfilling the obligations of the Law. Instead of being self-centred and self-serving as the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had been, we are called to refocus our attention to the Lord. The laws, rules and regulations that has been given to us, now renewed through the Church, must not be seen as burden or formalities that we need to fulfil in order to gain ourselves righteousness.

Otherwise, that is why, even within our Church today, there are many who did what the Church had commanded us to do, and yet, in their hearts and minds, God did not truly have a place in them. Indeed, it is possible for someone to act justly and piously in accordance with the Law and the Church rules and regulations, and yet, for the same person to have little or no love for God. That was how most of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law acted, practicing the Law without understanding the spirit of the Law.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, that is why today, we are all called to turn ourselves wholeheartedly to the Lord once again, by rediscovering for ourselves what it truly means for us to be Christians. We must have love in us, and this is important as love is at the centre of our Christian faith and livelihood. Without love, for God and for others, then we will have no real and genuine faith in us.

The Lord Himself said that no matter how wonderful the things and the talents that we have, no matter what abilities we have, or even if we are able to speak in the tongue of Angels, but we have no love in us, then everything is meaningless. Without love, there can be no faith, for without love, how can we then believe in God Who is all about love? We call ourselves as Christians because we believe in Christ, Who is the personification of God’s ultimate love for us.

Let us all love one another just as the Lord Himself has loved us. Look at the example of Our Lord Jesus, Who gave Himself and His life for us, dying on the cross for our sake, willingly bearing the sins of ours because of His love for us, that He does not want us to be eternally separated from Him because of those sins. The Lord Jesus obeyed His Father’s will, and loved His Father, and because of that, He also loved us. In the perfect love which God has shown us, the perfect love between the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, all of us are called to emulate this love in our own living.

Let us grow deeper in the understanding of our faith, the practices and customs of our faith, and all that the Church had given us through its teachings, the commandments of God and the laws of the Church. Let us appreciate better how we can grow ever more in our love for God through these, by meaningful and genuine participation in the life of the Church, from active participation in regular Holy Mass, and many other forms of our Christian worship.

May the Lord continue to guide each and every one of us, that through His Law of love, we may be able to find our way to Him, and be able to turn ourselves to Him, that we may love Him ever more wholeheartedly from now on. May God bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Sunday, 28 October 2018 : Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Feast of St. Simon and St. Jude, Apostles (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday we listened to the words of the Lord in the Scripture passages, beginning with the promise of salvation which God would show His people, Israel, as He prophesied through His servant Jeremiah in the Old Testament, and then, what we heard from St. Paul in his Epistle to the Jewish Christians, about the coming of Christ, Who is the High Priest of all the faithful, in Whom is found the salvation of the world.

In the Scripture readings today therefore, we heard about the the love and mercy which God has shown to us all, to His beloved people, a reminder of the constant gift which the Lord has given us despite all of our disobedience, rebelliousness and the refusals we have made against Him. The prophecy made through the prophet Jeremiah had to be understood in the context of what happened at the time, when the people at the kingdom of Judah was suffering and was in the brink of annihilation, having been subjugated by their enemies, principally the Babylonians.

It was a time when everything seemed to be hopeless, and the enemies of Israel were mounting and plotting against them. Yet, the people of God still rebelled against Him and did what was wicked in the sight of men and God alike. They worshipped pagan idols, committing adulterous and wicked actions in life, and refused to listen to the words of the prophets sent to them to remind them of God’s love and mercy, including that of prophet Jeremiah.

The prophet had to suffer persecution from all those who resisted God’s will and those who turned a deaf ear to the word of God. The king and his nobles, the people and many of the members of the community continued to sin against God, and even considered Jeremiah as the bearer of bad and wicked news, when he continued to prophecy about the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem, as well as its Temple because of the sins of Israel. But Jeremiah through today’s passage, showed us that God, despite of His anger against the sins committed by His people, He still loved them and wanted them to be reconciled with Him.

The second reading today, as mentioned, is taken from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Hebrews. Again in that occasion, the Lord spoke to His people through St. Paul, His Apostle, reminding them of the great love and mercy which He showed them, by the perfect gift of Jesus Christ, His Son, Who was appointed the One and True High Priest of all, above all other High Priests of the people of God since the time of Aaron. Christ is the ultimate sign and symbol of God’s love.

How is that so? First of all, as mentioned by St. Paul, the High Priest appointed by God ever since the day of Moses and Aaron is supposed to be the one through whom God exercised His mercy and forgiveness of the sins of the people, by the means of offerings of sin offering and love offering on the Altar of God. The animal offering was meant to be atonement for the sins of the people, and since the High Priest himself was also a sinner, then he was also offering the sin offering for himself.

But the Lord Jesus, the One True High Priest is blameless and without sin, as He is both the Son of God and the Son of Man, having in Himself the perfection of divinity and the perfection of humanity, having two natures of divine and human united in His person. He also offered not the imperfect offering of lambs and goats, their blood and fats, which although according to the Law, only physically blameless and good quality animals should be chosen, but they paled in comparison to the offering that the Lord Jesus made.

For in the Lord Jesus, the Lord our God showed the perfection and the perfect manifestation of His love and compassion for us, His beloved people, whom He loved despite our sins and rebelliousness, as the example from the Old Testament had shown us earlier. God was patient and filled with love for us, His people, that despite the sins which Israel had done in the past, He forgave them and still brought them to the Land which He promised them and their ancestors.

And He forgave them many times, when He brought them back from exile in Babylon, and continued to take care of them, sending them prophets and messengers, one after another, to remind them of the promise of the salvation He has given to them, and calling on them to remain faithful and true to the Law and the teachings which He has revealed to them. And in Jesus, the Lord’s faithfulness and promises were fulfilled completely.

How is that so? The Lord Jesus came and showed the Lord’s mercy, when He healed the sick and the people who were dying, those who were ostracised and shunned by the society, and calling them back to the right path towards God, healing them both from their physical afflictions and spiritual sickness, caused by sin and disobedience. One example was what we have just heard in the Gospel today, as the Lord healed the blind man who called on Him for help and for healing.

But even more so, the Lord Jesus did not come just to heal and to perform all those miracles as He had done before the people, but He showed His love for us, so great and so amazing, in a way that He Himself had said to His disciples, that there is no greater love than for someone to lay down his life for his friend. He laid down His own life, by suffering on the Cross, that through that act, offering His own Flesh and Blood, to be the perfect offering for our sins.

Through that act of ultimate sacrifice and selfless love on the Cross, the Lord showed us all, that He is truly a loving and merciful God, Who was willing to endure such pain, such suffering, such tribulation and difficulty, just so that, by His death, we may be spared our fate of eternal death, because of our sins. Instead, by sharing in His death and united through His resurrection from the dead, we are freed from that terrible fate, and receive a new hope of a new life in God.

Today, all of us ought to spend some time to reflect on this reality, the love of God which He has shown so generously towards each and every one of us, that He willingly took up upon Himself our sins, and to bear them patiently, that as our True and Eternal High Priest, His prayers for our supplication and for the atonement of our sins are heard by God, His heavenly Father. Through the obedience of Christ, our High Priest and the New Adam, all of us who believe in Him are saved.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we also celebrate the feast of two of Christ’s Apostles, St. Simon and St. Jude, both of whom dedicated their lives after they accepted the calling to be an Apostle of the Lord, and they worked hard in evangelising and preaching in faraway lands, speaking the truth about God and His love, His sacrificial gift to all mankind, and the call to repentance, that all the children of God may be reconciled to their loving and merciful God.

St. Simon and St. Jude went to various places, spreading the word of God, suffering persecutions and troubles from those who refused to believe in the truth they brought with them. But they placed their trust in the Lord, and they were encouraged and empowered by the knowledge of the love which God had generously given to them and to all mankind. Truly, if God Himself had suffered for the sake of all men, then what was their suffering compared to God’s suffering?

Although St. Simon and St. Jude, Holy Apostles of Our Lord died in martyrdom against those who refused to believe in the Lord, but this inspired only even more people who wanted to follow the Lord through their courageous examples. Now, we are therefore also called to emulate their examples, and to live faithfully in accordance with the will of God. Are we able to devote ourselves in the same way as they have done?

Let us remember, brothers and sisters in Christ, that as Christians, we know how much God loves each and every one of us, and as a result, we should also love Him in the same manner. We can do so, by living a virtuous and courageous Christian life and distancing ourselves from sin. Let us all turn to God with a renewed faith and with a new love that comes from within us. May God be with us always, and may He continue to guide us in this journey of life. St. Simon and St. Jude, Holy Apostles of Our Lord, pray for us. Amen.