Sunday, 18 February 2018 : First Sunday of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, the first one in the season of Lent, all of us are gathered together to celebrate the Eucharist and having heard the word of God from the Scripture passages today, we are all called to remember what we all need to do during this time of Lent, the time of renewal and rejuvenation of our spiritual, mental and physical existence.

The season of Lent spans the forty days period between Ash Wednesday and Holy Thursday, marking a special season and time of preparation and contemplation, during which time we also practice fasting and abstinence, namely the practice of restraining our physical bodies by means of reducing our intake of food to just one full meal and two smaller meals, as well as not eating certain kind of food such as meat during Fridays in remembrance of Our Lord’s sacrifice on Good Friday.

This is a special time set aside by the Church for the good of all the faithful, because all of us indeed need to be fully prepared to celebrate the most important mysteries and tenets of our faith which culminates during the Holy Week and Easter, when we commemorate the suffering, death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour, Who died on the cross that all of us who believe in Him may live.

Why do we need to prepare ourselves to celebrate those important events of our faith? That is because we should not and indeed must not be giving lip service for our faith, and if we come to the celebrations of the Holy Week and Easter without preparing ourselves first, in body, mind, heart, spirit and soul, we are shortchanging ourselves and not helping ourselves in our journey to seek God’s salvation.

Each and every one of us must take it seriously upon ourselves, to prepare ourselves spiritually throughout this season of Lent. The time of Lent itself, spanning forty days has a very rich biblical background and roots, if we refer back to what we have heard in today’s readings and from our understanding of the Scriptures. The number forty has a very significant meaning, often found throughout the Scriptures representing a significant length of time linked with a time used for preparation before a certain holy occasion.

For example, Moses spent forty days atop the mount Sinai with God, as he listened to Him speaking His words and passing down His laws and commandments as part of the Covenant He made with them, and then the prophet Elijah also spent forty days and forty nights in journey through the desert as he travelled to meet God after he was terribly persecuted in the land of Israel. When Elijah met God, He made it clear to him what He wanted him to do for the sake of His people, to call them to conversion and repentance.

In our first reading today, we heard about the Great Flood which happened at the time of Noah, in the early years of mankind’s history. Much of the world were then filled with wickedness and sin, and Noah alone among all those people, the descendants of Adam and Eve, remained faithful to God and His ways. The Lord sent the flood through non-stop rain and the seas which lasted for forty days and forty nights before it stopped and the water starting to recede after that.

Again, in this case, we see the importance attached to the number forty as a period of time spent, as a major event in the history of our faith took place. Then, later on, in the Book of Exodus, we may also remember how the people of Israel spent forty years in the desert, as they waited for the opportunity to enter the Promised Land after their Exodus from Egypt. The journey should not have taken that long, but the people of Israel rebelled against God, and as they continued to be stubborn and refused to obey Him, God punished them to wander off in the desert for forty years.

In all these, we see the journey and the progression made during that period, be it forty days or be it forty years in the case of the Israelites. From a state of sin, disobedience, wickedness, unworthiness and from the clutches of darkness, those who were involved were transformed by their respective experiences, into a new state, a state of grace, of obedience, of righteousness, of joy and entering into a new Covenant with God.

In the first reading today, God made a Covenant with His servant Noah, after the end of the forty days and night of rain and after the Great Flood receded. He promised him and his descendants that He will never again send any flood to destroy the earth and its entire inhabitants as He had done at that time. He put the bow in the sky, the rainbow as the sign of His covenant and as a remembrance of His saving love, having spared Noah and his descendants, including all of us from total destruction, because of their faith.

And God renewed the Covenant He made with Israel after they had survived the forty years of journey in the desert and entered into the lands which He had promised to them and settled there. It was a time of renewal and a time of renewed grace, which was once lost because of the disobedience of their forefathers. Those who have disobeyed the Lord perished in the desert and were left behind, while those who were faithful were allowed to enter into the Promised Land and settle there.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, how are all these readings and references I brought from the Scriptures relevant to us? They are indeed important for us, to be remembered and to be reflected upon, as we embark on our own forty days of preparation during this season of Lent. The first thing that we must ask ourselves is, ‘What have we done or what do we have in mind, in order to make our observation of Lenten practices more meaningful and fruitful?’

We do not need to look any further than the examples set by the Lord Jesus Himself, Whom in the Gospel today mentioned about His temptation by the devil in the desert as He fasted there for forty days. Again, in this yet another occasion, the number forty made its appearance. This time, it represents the time spent by the Lord right after His baptism by St. John the Baptist before He began His earthly ministry.

The devil tempted the Lord Who was hungry after going for forty days without food and sustenance, telling Him that He could just turn the stones into bread, and His hunger would have been easily satisfied. But the Lord rebuked Satan, saying that ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ Through those words, the Lord Jesus is indeed speaking to us and calling on us to be faithful to Him in this season of Lent.

And how do we do that? In this season of Lent, as mentioned, all of us fast and abstain on certain times and periods, with the purpose of resisting the temptation of greed, of human desires and wants. But do we realise that fasting and abstaining alone is not enough, if we do not fully comprehend its significance? If we just do those practices for our own benefit, then I fear that we may not be doing it right.

Instead, we should heed what the Lord said, ‘but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’ as reminders that we should do our fasting, abstinence and other forms of piety and Lenten observances because ultimately we love the Lord, and we want to listen to Him and do His will, and obey Him in everything that He has commanded us to do. This is what all of us should be doing as Christians.

And then, we should also be always vigilant lest the devil tempt us in many other ways, as he had done to the Lord Himself. The devil tempted the Lord with power and pride, when he asked Him to leap down from the top of the Temple of Jerusalem, arguing that the Angels would not let His feet to hit the ground. Satan tempted the Lord with pride, knowing that it is pride that was the greatest of his own sin, having been proud with his own greatness, once the greatest and most brilliant among the Angels, Lucifer, fallen from grace because of his pride.

But the Lord would not fall into the temptation, and rebuked Satan for his attempt to test God with that act. Yet, Satan is not a being who would just easily give up. If he could not tempt the Lord, he would just continue to tempt us as he had always done, tempting us with pride, and also with power and worldly glory, as how he showed Jesus with all the kingdoms and the glories of the world, saying that he would give it to Him if only He would worship him. The Lord rebuked him and cast him away, saying that God alone is worthy of worship.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, during this time of Lent, we are called to spend our time well, on a time of preparation, on a time of spiritual renewal and the rediscovery of our faith, by means of prayer, by being closer to God, and by resisting the temptations with which Satan and his allies are trying to subvert us and to snatch us away from God and His saving grace.

Are we able to stay strong in our faith and resist the temptations of our flesh, imitating the examples shown by Our Lord Himself? Are we able to move beyond worldly matters and concerns, and grow to love the Lord ever more strongly, as we deepen our prayerful and love-filled relationship with Him? Are we able to show the same love to our brethren as well? There are many out there who are in need of our help and our love.

When we fast and abstain in this season of Lent, instead of just omitting the meal and the food, let us all use the spare food, the blessings and graces we received to be more charitable for the need of those who have little or none on their own. While we restrain our human greed, ambition and desires, let us remember how our greed and our desires have caused many to suffer, from hunger, from lack of love, from destitution and more.

Let us pray, that all of us Christians throughout the world, within our families and among our friends, we may all benefit greatly from this season of Lent, drawing ever closer to God’s grace, and be worthy to receive His love, mercy and compassion. May we spend these forty days with full understanding of how by growing stronger in spirituality and in our relationship with God will enable us to be better disciples and followers of the Lord. Let us all be more charitable, generous with our giving and loving for our brethren, especially those who are in need.

May the Lord be with us throughout this forty days of prayer and contemplation, throughout this season of Lent, that we will be able to make best use of it, for the sake of the salvation of our souls, that we will be worthy in the end, to receive the fullness of God’s promise as He has made through His Covenant with us, made through the sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the cross, the reason why we fast and why we abstain, to prepare ourselves to commemorate the greatest event of our faith, Our Lord’s suffering, death and glorious resurrection. May God bless us all. Amen.

Sunday, 11 February 2018 : Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday we commemorate the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, the Marian apparition to St. Bernadette Soubirous in what is now famous as the pilgrimage site of Lourdes in southern part of France. The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God appeared to the young St. Bernadette Soubirous, calling mankind to repentance and to be forgiven from their sins, by sincerely turning away from their past wickedness and embrace God’s mercy.

And during those apparitions, the Blessed Virgin showed St. Bernadette the place of a spring which gushed forth from the ground, and have ever since been gushing out water, which is holy and blessed, and have for the past one and a half century since the apparition, shown miraculous properties, and healed many of those who came to visit Lourdes on pilgrimage. Pope St. John Paul II himself went on a pilgrimage to Lourdes just a year before his passing, having long suffered from his illnesses.

That is why it is all the more fitting that today’s Scripture passages match so well with the occasion of the World Day of Prayer for the Sick, celebrated every year on the eleventh day of February, the commemoration of Our Lady of Lourdes as mentioned earlier. In the first reading today we heard what God instructed to Moses and Aaron with regards to the disease most feared in those days, namely leprosy, while in the Gospel passage today, we heard the Lord Jesus Himself healing a leper.

In the Old Testament, God gave to Moses the laws which He had established to be followed and obeyed by the people, which included many aspects of societal life, including what to be done when a person fell ill with diseases, in particular leprosy, which was likely a highly contagious version of the leprosy as we know it today, easily spreading from one person to another, unless certain measures were taken to prevent the outbreak of a pandemic.

Understanding the Law which God has passed on to Moses require us to look carefully into what had happened at that time, the historical and societal background of the Israelites at the time when the laws were given to them. At that time, Israel were travelling on the long journey from Egypt towards the Promised Land, travelling in a desert where staying together in a closely knitted community would be essential to survival.

Wandering off alone in the desert would bring about great risks to the people, who could end up getting lost or struck by predators without being able to get the necessary help. However, staying close together in camps and tents within the community of Israel at the time, which numbered in the hundreds of thousands if not more, exposed the whole community to great risk of disease outbreak.

That is the reason why God made the rule for the occasion such that, all those who contracted contagious disease such as leprosy were obliged to leave the camp and live outside the community until his disease and all of its symptoms have been healed. Otherwise many more people in the community would be infected by the contagious disease, and many more would have suffered.

Yet, this did not mean that those lepers who were obliged to live outside the community were forgotten. God did include the rule that should their condition improved and their disease were cured, they would be able to return to the community of the people of Israel, after having presented themselves to the priests who would then judge whether the person was to be allowed to return or not.

In the Gospel passage today, it is evident that whatever the practices were during the time of Jesus, it was no different from the practices at the time of Moses. The lepers were feared and shunned, just as it was in the past, forced to live away from the people and outside of the community until they were able to show that they have recovered from their leprosy. And it was on that occasion mentioned in the Gospel passage today that Jesus met one of those lepers who asked Him to heal him.

Indeed, He had mercy on the man and healed him from his leprosy. That is what God truly wanted with His people, for He loves each and every one of them without exception, equally and without prejudice. That was why He wanted them to be healed from their pains and sufferings, including the stigma and suffering caused by the leprosy the man and many others contracted.

This is what each of us should know, brothers and sisters in Christ, that we are all afflicted and sick. We may be perfectly healthy in the physique and the body, and we may be surprised that truly, we are all sick at the moment. You may not believe what I have just said, but what I meant is that, we are sick because of our unworthiness, our wicked actions, our disobedience against God and therefore, our sins.

Sin is the culprit for all of our sufferings and sorrows, ever since mankind first fell into sin, beginning with our first ancestors, Adam and Eve, who failed to resist the temptations of Satan. Sin is therefore a disease that strike at our soul, at the very depths and innermost part of our beings. If we are not careful, sin will eventually swallow us up entirely, just as we can succumb to the diseases that strike at our flesh and body. And sin is much worse than any of our physical illnesses, as sin defiles everything and destroys everything.

Parallel to what we have discussed earlier about the treatment of those who fell ill with leprosy, forced to live outside of the community of the Israelites until they were healed, and certified as such by the priests, then it is not different at all with all of us mankind, who suffer from the disease of the soul, that is our sins. If we read the Book of Genesis, surely we would have remembered how Adam and Eve, our ancestors, were driven out of the gardens of Eden, from the presence of God, because they have sinned against God.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us reflect and ask ourselves this question, ‘What is it that we want from God?’ and ‘Do we want to be healed by God?’. These questions serve as reminders for us that in our sickened state, and as we suffer the consequences of our disobedience in this world, we are indeed in need of healing, and that we are not in a good condition at all.

Unfortunately, many of us are too proud to admit that we have been wrong, that we are in need of help and assistance. We refused to listen to God speaking to us in our hearts and through those who we encounter in life, and many of us stubbornly continued on in our way of life, filled with sin, with greed and desires of the world, with violence and jealousy for one another, and all sorts of things that kept us away from reconciliation with God.

Yet, we are fortunate to have God Who is ever and always kind and loving towards us, Who is always ever generous with His mercy and forgiveness. His arms are always open towards us, waiting for us to return to His embrace that we may be fully reconciled with Him. But to be able to be fully reconciled with God, we must be willing to listen to Him and follow His ways, the examples through which He showed us to guide us to Him.

Let us all look at the action of the man whom Jesus had healed from his leprosy. Jesus strictly told him not to tell anyone that it was He Who healed him from his illness, but the man went on regardless, telling everyone that it was Jesus Who healed him. As a result, the people shunned Jesus and the priests made it very difficult for Jesus and His disciples to work among the people, barring Him from their towns and cities.

This was because they must have heard how Jesus approached the leper and touched him in order to heal him, which was taboo according to the laws of Moses. In a sense, God made Himself ‘unclean’ in the eyes of the law in order to make the man clean, and it was to that extent that He was willing to do, in order to care for mankind, to love us and to embrace us sinners.

God knew best what was to be done, and that was why He told the man not to tell anyone about what He had done. But it was likely the man’s pride and hubris that made him to falter, as if he had told the priests he was healed naturally as Jesus told him to do, that would be entirely ordinary and usual. Instead, while it was not mentioned in the Gospel passage, but from our human experiences, it is likely that the man told everyone because being healed in such a miraculous way is something to be boasted and proud about.

And that is exactly how mankind fell into sin, when we start to put the ‘I’ or the ‘We’ ahead of everything else. Pride, ambition, hubris, jealousy, desire, and all these other obstacles to our good and loving relationship with God which will result in our downfall. It is therefore important for us all to realise that we are in need of God’s healing and mercy, because all of us are unworthy, sinners and delinquents.

Let us all learn to distance ourselves from all of those obstacles I have mentioned just earlier, the obstacle of pride, of greed, of human ambition and worldly greed and many more. Let us desire to be healed and to be reconciled fully with God, through genuine conversion and change of heart, abandoning our past sinful ways and embracing fully God’s generous and everlasting love for us all.

Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us all, pray for us who are physically sick, and also all of us who are sinners, sick of this disease of the soul, our sins, that we may seek your Son, to be healed and to be made whole once again through our faith in Him. May God bless us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

Sunday, 4 February 2018 : Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday we listened to the Scripture passages which remind us of the mission which we all as Christians have received from the Lord. As Christians, all of us are called to follow in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus and His Apostles and disciples, whom He had sent to proclaim the Good News, to minister to the people who are in need, those who are sick, those who are poor.

And it is important for each and every one of us to remember that in all that we do in the Name of the Lord, we must do them for the right purpose, with the right intention and in the right manner. Otherwise we will end up losing the purpose and meaning of what we do, and instead of gaining grace and justification, we will end up receiving rebuke and condemnation because of our lack of faith and commitment.

In the first reading today, we heard the passage taken from the Book of Job. Job was a devout follower of God living several millennia ago, many years before Christ came into the world. It was told that he was a very rich man, blessed with a great and loving family, with many worldly and material properties, thousands of animals, flocks, camels and all sorts of things that mankind at that time would have desired.

Satan wanted to test Job and see if he would buckle under pressure of temptation and despair if he were to remove from Job all that were precious and important to him. Thus, Job lost his properties to thieves and brigands, and he lost his family due to tragic accidents in very short period of time. He was very unfortunate and in sad condition, and we can surely notice that in our first reading passage today.

He recognised how our life is truly momentary and fleeting in nature, and he lamented on his then miserable state of life. But in the end, Job remained faithful to God, and despite his misery and despair, he did not blame God for what happened to him. He blamed himself instead, but God told him the truth about everything that had happened, and showed him how God’s purpose is far above even the best of human intellect and understanding.

In the second reading today, St. Paul in his Epistle to the Church and the faithful in Corinth mentioned that as someone who serve the Lord, he did it because he wanted to glorify God and to obey His will, not because he wanted to be rewarded or to gain from whatever it is that he was doing. Ultimately, all of his efforts and works were not about himself, but about serving the community and the faithful people of God.

St. Paul devoted himself wholeheartedly and spent his time to serve the people, making himself the servant of all. He was following in the footsteps of the Lord Himself, Who in the Gospel passage today went from place to place, preaching to the people and teaching them about God’s way, and healed many of their sick ones. Through all of these, we see how to be true disciples of the Lord, by devoting our time, effort and attention to God.

In our world today, it is very easy for us to be tempted and lose our way. There are plenty of temptations, from money, material possessions, power, glory, and all others that can prevent us from finding our way to the Lord, or from being able to give our very best in serving Him. When those who serve the Lord do not put God first and foremost in their mind, it is very easy for them to end up doing things for their own selfish gains and not for God’s sake.

Now, let us ask ourselves, have we been like those who are concerned only for their own benefits and good? Have we done all the things in our life being concerned only about increasing our own wealth, prestige, glory and all other things? Brothers and sisters in Christ, as Christians, all of us should not do this. We should be more like Christ, Who is humble, obedient and devoted to all that has been entrusted to Him.

Let us all pray and discern carefully how we should carry on living our lives from now on. Let us all humble ourselves and recognise that all the things we say and do, we should say and do them for the Lord’s greater glory and not for our own. He has loved us so much, and cared for us so much, that He gave us His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, that we may live. Ultimately, it is only by clinging on to Him that we will survive, and not in all of our worldly attachments, which are temporary and fleeting.

May the Lord awaken in us the courage and the strength to live faithfully according to His ways. May He empower us to do more for the sake of our brethren in need, those who are poor, those who are downtrodden, lonely and without hope. Let us show care and concern for them, that we may show them God’s love, that God is always there for all of us. May God bless us all and all of our good endeavours. Amen.

Sunday, 28 January 2018 : Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday as we gather together to celebrate the Holy Mass, let us all spend some time to reflect on what we have just heard in the Scripture passages today, beginning with the Book of Deuteronomy, our first reading, in which we heard Moses, the leader of the people of Israel during the time of the Exodus, spoke of a prophecy concerning the coming of a great prophet from among the people.

In fact, that prophecy was a premonition for the coming of the Messiah or Saviour promised by God to Israel, and to all of mankind, as the One in Whom God Himself would speak through, in Jesus Christ, the Divine Word Incarnate, the Saviour of the world and Son of God. But Jesus, as we all know, is also the Son of Man, as the One born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as the legal descendant and heir of David, rightful King of Israel.

And He came into the world, and fulfilled God’s promise of salvation to His people, as we heard in the Gospel passage today, when a man filled with evil spirits was at a synagogue where Jesus was teaching to the people. He taught with great authority and truth, unlike the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who were hypocrites and did not practice what they have preached. Jesus showed with true sincerity what it meant to become a disciple of God.

He had mercy on the man who was enslaved by the demons, and with authority He cast those demons out of the man, and the man was therefore healed from his sickness. The people who saw the miraculous occasion were astonished and they praised God and believed in Jesus, as they saw in Him a new hope and light amidst the darkness of the world. This had been foretold by Moses and the prophets, particularly the prophet Isaiah.

Unfortunately and ironically, those who were entrusted to safeguard the teachings and the messages of the prophets, and those who were educated and equipped with the knowledge of the coming of God’s salvation, did not enthusiastically welcome the Lord Who came into the world to save His people. Instead, they ridiculed Him and doubted Him, and even challenged His authority, failing to perceive that what Jesus taught the people was the truth.

And in fact, the evil spirits themselves recognised Jesus as Who He was, and they rightly feared Him. Why is that so? That is because even though they had power over men and that they were able to threaten us mankind and cause harm to us, just as their master Satan is able to, but they ultimately are also God’s creations, the once beautiful and just Angels who have since fallen from grace, as they followed in Satan’s rebellion, and therefore became evil spirits and demons.

It is sad to see how mankind have often refused to listen to God, and instead preferring to walk in their own path, following their own flawed judgments and desires. Right from the beginning of time, from the time of Adam and Eve, our ancestors, to the people of Israel, as recorded in the Books of the Old Testament, and also as mentioned earlier, the opposition faced by Jesus as told in the Gospels, all of these highlight the rebellious nature of man.

Yet, God has been so kind to us, so as to give us one opportunity after another, and having been patient with us, to the point of giving us the best of all gifts, by giving Himself to us mankind, that through Him, and eventually by His ultimate loving sacrifice on the cross, we may have hope through Him, and that we may be saved and forgiven from our sins. It was through Jesus that each and every one of us Christians have been saved.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, how should we then proceed from now on? How should we then live our lives so that we can be good followers of Our Lord? Then we should heed what St. Paul had mentioned in our second reading today, in his Epistle to the Church and the faithful in the city of Corinth. He asked all of the faithful to live a righteous life, dedicated and committed, centred upon God, and not upon themselves.

If we are to read the message of the excerpt taken from his Epistle today, we may find it weird that St. Paul was actually discouraging the people from having marital relationships. But we have to understand what he said in the context of what the faithful believed at that time. At that time, the common consensus among many of the faithful, including among the Apostles and the disciples was that the Lord Jesus would soon come again into the world, within their lifetime. Therefore, that was why, St. Paul made such an advice to the people.

Nonetheless, what St. Paul said to the people is true, and indeed is a fact, except for his suggestion on married life. In order for us to be true disciples of the Lord, we have to centre our focus and attention on God, and He must be the focal point of our lives and our actions. St. Paul’s concern that those who have husband or wife might be distracted because they were divided between satisfying the needs of their husband or wife, and satisfying their obligations to the Lord, is also therefore justified.

In our lives today, many of us have known the Lord, thanks to the hard work of all those who devoted their lives, generation after generation, passing down the faith and the truth as preserved in the Church, and we keep alive this faith this very day, as all those who call ourselves as Christians, as those who accepted the Lord Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah as Our Lord and Saviour.

However, many of us are often indifferent to Him, or even ignorant of Him. Many of us fulfil our obligations to go to the Sunday Mass and other celebrations of our faith, but for the sake of fulfilling our obligations or even fearing of retribution and punishment. Many of us even find it a chore to spend time with the Lord, and how many of us can relate with the experience of those who keep on looking at their watches, being impatient waiting for the time when the Mass ends and then we can continue doing our daily activities?

Brothers and sisters, if we have done all of these in the past, then we should be ashamed if we remember what happened in the past, as told by the Scriptures to us. If the evil spirits themselves feared God and bowed low before Him, then why do we not also do the same? And if God has spared nothing less than to give the very best to us, giving to us the ultimate gift of love in Jesus Christ, His Son, Who laid down His life for us all on the cross, that we may be saved, then should we not do the same as well?

There have been so many instances when we mankind have not put God as the priority and main focus in our lives. There have been so many occasions when mankind set God aside and treat Him as nobody, and even nuisance. Many of us only remember Him when we need His help, and when we did not need Him, we left Him behind and forgot about Him.

Brethren, all of us gathered here should spend some time to reflect, to think and to internalise all these things which I have just mentioned. Let us ask ourselves, how are we better able to show our gratitude to God, through our commitment and dedication, and not just empty faith. Let us all seek to change our way of life, that we should no longer be distracted by the many temptations and pressures which the devil and all of his allies had given us in order to pull us away from God’s salvation.

May the Lord be with us always, so that through Him we may strive to live ever more faithfully in His ways. May He empower all of us, that we may persevere through whatever temptations, persuasions and challenges we may face along the way. May the Lord be with all of our efforts and endeavours, and bless all of us in everything we do. Let us all live our lives worthily in the Lord from now on, always. Amen.

Sunday, 21 January 2018 : Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, each and every one of us as Christians received the Word of God being spoken unto us through the Scripture passages, beginning from the passage taken from the Book of the prophet Jonah, telling us how Jonah was sent to Nineveh in order to warn it of the impending catastrophe which God planned to send to the city because of their wickedness.

In that passage, we heard of how the prophet Jonah preached to the people of Nineveh, telling them of the impending doom and destruction, and the people of Nineveh believed in him. Even the king of Nineveh itself, the mighty ruler of Assyrian Empire and conqueror of many nations believed in whatever Jonah said, and ordered a general repentance, mourning and penitential efforts, where everyone humbly admitted their sins and sought the Lord for His forgiveness and mercy.

And God saw their sincerity and desire to be forgiven, and He withheld the destruction He had intended for the city of Nineveh and its inhabitants. He showed His mercy to the people. Had the prophet Jonah not gone to them and warned them about their sins, they would not have turned away from their sins, and they would have fallen further into wickedness, and destruction would have been unavoidable for them.

In the second reading today, taken from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, we heard of the exhortation by St. Paul, calling the people to live a holy life, to live a fully devout life abandoning all sorts of worldliness and even relationships. This has to be understood in the context of how the faithful at that time understood the message about the imminent coming of the Lord.

At that time, many of the faithful including that of St. Paul believed that the Lord would be coming soon, and that the end of time would come in a short period of time. As such, he exhorted the faithful to abandon all of their earthly attachments and even married life and families, so as to prepare for the imminent second coming of the Lord. And although this did not happen as he had foreseen, but in truth, thanks to what St. Paul had done, many of the people abandoned their vices and committed themselves to God.

Then, finally, in the Gospel today, we heard about the calling of the Apostles by the Lord Jesus, Who came by the region of Galilee and saw four fishermen who were fishing by the lake of Galilee. They were two sets of brothers, St. Andrew and St. Peter, as well as the sons of Zebedee, St. James and St. John. Jesus saw them and called them from their boats to follow Him and become His disciples.

They left behind their nets and their boats and followed Him, leaving behind even their families and friends. From then on, they would serve the Lord and His purpose for many years and many decades, becoming the instruments of God’s work of mercy and salvation. Through them, many were saved from damnation in hell, and many souls were reconciled with God, even though these poor fishermen were truly of no significance and had little respect among the people at that time.

And after hearing all of these passages from the Scriptures, now it is time for us to think carefully about what we have just heard and received, and look into our own respective lives and ask ourselves, what is it that we, who are the followers of Christ, can do, in order to become ever more dedicated and true disciples of His? All of us as Christians are by default, Christ’s followers and disciples.

First of all, all of us have been called to follow in the footsteps of the prophets and the Apostles, all those whom God had called and chosen to be the bearers of His Good News to the people. They have been called to minister to those who have been lost from the Lord, those who have disobeyed Him, those who have fallen into sin and wickedness.

That was why Jonah was sent to the city and people of Nineveh, and that was also why St. Paul was sent to the people of God, writing to the many churches throughout Christendom and exhorting them to live their lives faithfully, and lastly, the Apostles, members of the Twelve and many other disciples called by the Lord Jesus, to minister to the people and to preach His Good News to them.

If we then think that those people were great saints and servants of God, as those who we deem to be beyond our league, then we are truly mistaken. Let us all look at those whom the Lord called from among those we heard of today. The prophet Jonah was not eager in the beginning to obey the Lord, and in fact, I am sure we are familiar with the story how Jonah tried to run away from the Lord.

He travelled by ship to a faraway land, only for the ship to be struck with a great storm, and he had no choice but to throw himself into the sea to spare the other passengers and the ship, and carried in the belly of a great whale, he was brought to the seashore, from where he eventually decided to follow the Lord’s commands. It was not an easy journey from the beginning, and he was a reluctant follower at best.

Then, St. Paul was once Saul, the great enemy of the Church and all the faithful people of God, greatly feared by all Christians, as he went from place to place, violently rounding up all those who believed in Jesus and arresting them, bringing about much sorrow to the faithful. And yet, God called Saul and converted him, on the way to Damascus, where the revelation of truth was given to him, and he turned his back to his past as a great sinner, into a great defender of the faith.

And lastly, the Apostles themselves were not perfect either, they came from various background, called by the Lord to be His followers and chosen to be their leaders. Yet we know how even one among them betrayed the Lord, Judas Iscariot, who sold off his Master for a mere thirty pieces of silver to the high priests. And the other Apostles fled out of fear when the Lord Jesus was arrested, each to their own hiding places.

What is the lesson that all of us as Christians can learn from these? It is the realisation that God calls those who He deems to be worthy, not those who deem themselves to be worthy. That was why He did not call those who were proud and haughty, including the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who looked down on the sinners such as tax collectors and prostitutes and more.

Instead, God reached out His hands and brought all those who were sinners and considered unworthy, and called His servants from all kinds of people, from all backgrounds and not withstanding any worldly considerations. Those whom He called and accepted the calling, He would make them to be worthy of His Name, and He would be with them, even though they may indeed face difficulties, persecution and rejection.

This is a reminder for us that when the Lord calls us, we should not reject His call or pretend not to hear what He has called us for. Rather, we should listen to Him and pray, asking the Lord to tell us, what it is that He wants from each one of us. We are all called to walk in His ways and devote ourselves to Him in whatever way we can, giving our time, effort and attention.

Therefore, today, it is also a good time for us to remember our priests and all those who have dedicated themselves, their whole lives for the sake of the Lord. Let us pray for them that they may continue to persevere faithfully throughout their vocation and mission, as those to whom the Lord entrusted the governance and guidance over His people.

Let us all work together that the whole Church of God, all the faithful people of God will be able to coordinate our efforts as one united people, devoted to the Lord, and helping all of our priests and bishops, in their mission and works, that in the end, the Lord’s mercy and compassion may reach all those who are in need of that mercy, and therefore like the people of Nineveh, they may be saved from damnation and destruction.

May the Lord strengthen us all, that each and every one of us as Christians may be able to courageously carry out the mission entrusted to us, to be the bearers of the Good News of the Lord, through our words and even more importantly, through our actions. Let us inspire one another to walk faithfully in the way of the Lord, and be ever more committed to live a life consecrated and devoted to Him, loving Him through all of our every actions and deeds. May God bless us all. Amen.

Sunday, 14 January 2018 : Second Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday we gather together and we listened to the Word of God in the Scriptures, telling us all about the importance and the meaning of discipleship, meaning what it means to become a follower of God. We heard this through the calling of Samuel, prophet and judge of Israel, when he was still very young, and then also the calling of the first Apostles, at the side of the River Jordan.

In the first reading today, from the Book of the prophet Samuel, we heard of the moment when God called Samuel in his sleep, which the young Samuel misinterpreted as Eli, his guardian, calling him to his place. This happened three times, as Eli denied calling upon Samuel and asked him to go back to sleep, before Eli realised that it was God Who called the young boy.

At that time, the people of Israel had wandered off from the path which God had shown them, and instead, they followed the path of the pagan worship of idols, following the customs of their neighbours, and neglecting the obligation to follow and obey the Lord. And even the leaders of the people became corrupt and wayward. Hosni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli the judge led the people as priests, but they disobeyed the Lord and committed wicked corrupt acts before Him.

That was when God sent His servant, Samuel, whom He had chosen from among His people. He set him aside to be the instrument through whom He would liberate His people Israel from their sinfulness and wicked ways. And Samuel was dedicated to the Lord from a very young age, and today in our first reading, we heard of the moment when the Lord called him and began to work His wonders through him.

Samuel might be very young at that time, and he was truly innocent and pure, not knowing Who was the One calling him in the middle of the night. Yet, he was obedient to Eli, his guardian, and listened to him. And he responded to the Lord’s call, listening to whatever He told him. God spoke to Samuel about His anger at the current state of Israel, and foretold that Eli and his two sons would meet terrible end for their disobedience, and that Samuel would be the one through whom God would work His wonders.

Ever since then, God worked wonders through Samuel, who went about from place to place, delivering God’s will and His words to many people, calling them to repent from their sinful ways, and even opposing the will of the people of Israel at times, because they refused to obey God and were rebellious. God was with him, and he worked many good wonders, even as he opposed the king of Israel, Saul, when he disobeyed God and chose to follow his own ways rather than God’s ways.

Samuel was called by God to a mission and to a vocation that is neither easy nor pleasant. He was not called to a leisure and enjoyable life, but to one that is filled with constant challenges and difficulties. He had to endure the scorn of many people, each with their own demands and desires, and their constant rebelliousness and stubbornness against God’s will, and he had to still love them and care for them, as the judge and leader of the people.

In the same manner, God called His disciples in the Gospel passage we listened to today. He called His first Apostles at the banks of the River Jordan just right after He was baptised by St. John the Baptist. St. John the Baptist was another one of God’s tireless servants, who devoted himself wholly to do God’s will, baptising many people and calling them to repentance, and even stood up against the Pharisees and king Herod, rebuking them for their wickedness.

St. John the Baptist revealed to all of his disciples that Jesus is the Messiah and the Lamb of God, long awaited and long prophesied by the prophets. And some of those disciples followed Jesus, including St. Andrew the Apostle, first among Christ’s Apostles, who then called his brethren, all fellow fishermen of Galilee. They listened to the Lord Jesus calling them as He made His way along the river banks, and they followed Him.

Similar as the calling made by the Lord to the prophet Samuel in the Old Testament, the Apostles in the New Testament were called not to a life of pleasure or to a glamorous and glorious vocation. They were called to follow a King, but He is a King not like the other kings and rulers of the world, for they were called mostly from among the poor, and after their calling they remain poor, and even they have to leave behind everything they had in order to follow the Lord.

They were called to a most noble mission of all, one that is filled with challenges and tribulations. Yet, it was thanks to the hard work of the Apostles that there had been so many souls, countless millions upon millions, billions upon billions of souls, who have received the assurance of God’s salvation, by their preaching and by their loving actions, which they then passed on to their successors. Ultimately, their mission as the ‘fishers of men’ continues today through the Church that God has established, through our bishops and priests, even today.

And what is our calling as Christians, brothers and sisters in Christ? It is the same! It is the same calling which God had made to us, as He had called Samuel and then His disciples in the past. When He called them, ‘Follow Me!’, Samuel answered with faith, and listened intently, and followed Him to wherever He led him to do His wonderful works. The Apostles and the other disciples of the Lord also followed Him, and went with Him wherever He went. Are we able to do the same as well?

Many of them had to endure rejection and persecution, the same one that had happened to their Lord and Master. They had to face opposition, even from loved ones and relatives, and many of them were persecuted, imprisoned, and many had to lay down their lives for the sake of the Lord and for their faith in Him. Yet, they did so willingly, never once giving up on their faith, and their dedication was the reason why all of us have the faith as we have it today.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we listened to the Scripture and remembering how Samuel the prophet and the disciples of Our Lord have given their lives to the Lord, committing themselves to Him, let us all reflect on our own lives, and how each and every one of us can devote ourselves to Him in our own way, and giving to Him whatever we can give Him in our own capacities.

Let us all renew our faith to Him, and let us rededicate our efforts, that from now on, all of the things we say and do, we do not do them for ourselves, but rather, first of all, for the sake of God, and for the sake of His people. Let us all be examples for one another, and helping one another in faith, that each and every one of us, eventually, will be able to find our way to the Lord and receive worthily His saving grace, the grace of eternal life and glory. May God bless us all. Amen.

Sunday, 7 January 2018 : Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we all celebrate the great feast and solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, which traditionally marks the end of the season of Christmas, and which begins the time of the Ordinary Time in the current Roman calendar, and the Weekdays after Epiphany in the Traditional calendar. On this great occasion, we remember the moment, when the Lord Jesus Christ, Saviour and God, was revealed to the whole world.

The word Epiphany itself comes from the Greek term Epiphaneia, which means manifestation or appearance. That is why this Solemnity, among the most ancient and historical in the traditions of the Church, celebrates the moment when the Lord and Saviour manifested Himself before the world, in the most extraordinary manner. He revealed Himself in ways that many people could not have expected or comprehended.

No, He did not appear before His people in His glory, showing His might and power, with bright light and unapproachable majesty. Had He done that, everyone on earth would have come to believe Him and fear Him right away then. But that was not what He intended to do, and that was not what He had done. No, He appeared in the most unexpected way of all, as a small, little, weak and vulnerable Baby lying down in a manger, in a small, cramped and dirty stable not fit for human beings, and less so for a King, and even less so for the Lord and Master of all creation.

Yet, that is how He has come into this world, assuming the humble appearance and reality of a Man, and as a vulnerable and weak Baby, needing protection and care from His earthly parents. And at the moment of His birth, His coming into this world was pronounced by the Angels of God to the shepherds of Bethlehem. And yet, that was not all that had happened, because especially the significance of today’s Solemnity of the Epiphany is that God wanted to love all of His beloved people, regardless of their status or background.

He came into this world not to save just the people of Israel, but also all of the other races and nations, the non-Jewish people or also known as the Gentiles. And all of these are highlighted in the Scriptures, as we heard the story of the Three Magi or the Three Wise Men, which takes central place in the celebration we have for this great Solemnity of the Epiphany.

The three of them came from faraway lands, travelling for a long period just that they might come to pay homage to the King Who was to be born in Bethlehem, which they saw through the appearance of the bright new star on the sky, the Star of Bethlehem. There are many symbolisms associated with the Solemnity of the Epiphany, and these were just some of them.

The Three Magi represent the faithful people coming from all sorts of background, from distant lands as the premonition of the future, which is our present time and the history of the Church, as the faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ, through the Christian faith, came to spread to all parts of the world, even to the most distant corners and parts of the earth.

They came to Jesus through the Star of Bethlehem, which is a sign of the faith they had in God. Even though the Star of Bethlehem might have been a very wonderful and bright star, an unusual astronomical sign, but no one would have done anything more than admiring it, had they not had great faith in God. That was what the Three Magi had done, travelling very long distance to reach the Lord, even though they did not know Who He was.

When they reached Bethlehem and found the Baby Jesus lying in the manger, through the gifts they brought Him, they also made Him to be revealed to the world, witnessed by all those who were gathered there, and later on immortalised through the Holy Gospels, as what we have heard today, the moment when God called all of His people to Him, and revealed to them Who He really was, in Jesus Christ.

The Three Magi brought Jesus the three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Certainly these gifts are not what is common or usual as things to be given to a person, and less still, a newborn Baby. Yet, each of these gifts gives us greater insight to Who Jesus really is, and in fact, each of them highlight a different aspect of the Messiah or Saviour Who came into this world, two millennia ago.

Gold has been highly prized by humanity for a very long time, treasured for its useful properties. It does not rust or tarnish, and therefore it is adapted almost universally as a primary material in the crafting of coins and bullions, as methods for people to do monetary and trading transactions, as well as for the accumulation of wealth. The more gold someone has, the more prestige and honour he or she has.

And gold is also highly prized for its beautiful shine and lustre, which makes it the material of choice for kings and the divinities like gods and idols. Therefore, the gift of gold by the Magi to the Lord Jesus highlights His kingship, for He is indeed the King of all kings, Ruler of all rulers. Yet, this King came not in His grand regalia and wealth, and neither did He come with the showing of His power and majesty. Instead, He chose to come as the humble Son of Man, born of a humble and simple woman, married to a simple carpenter of Nazareth.

Then how about the frankincense? Frankincense is the best quality incense available in the world, the finest of all the finest incense materials made from aromatic natural sources such as hardened tree secretions and natural chemicals. Incense has been used for a very long time throughout the history of mankind for the purpose of divine worship and adoration. As such, it has only been used for the purpose of worship, and not for human beings, and therefore, it symbolises the divine nature of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The frankincense highlights that Our Lord and God is truly the one and only true God, high above any other beings of this world, above all the false idols and gods, and is the only one worthy of worship and praise. And we therefore recognise Jesus not only as just Man, but also God Himself, having two natures, one human and one divine, united in His person.

Last of all, is the gift of myrrh, a truly strange gift to be given to someone, as myrrh is the substance used during embalming and preservation of dead bodies, in order to prevent the dead bodies from decaying and decomposing. Yet, it is the same myrrh and mixture used at the time when Jesus was buried after His death on the cross and before He was placed in the tomb. Myrrh therefore represents the then upcoming fulfilment of God’s mission realised in Jesus, which is through His death on the cross.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the visit of the Three Magi paying homage to Our Lord Jesus is a reminder for each one of us, that Christ is indeed the focus of our Christmas joy, and the focus of our entire faith life. We cannot sideline Him or ignore Him if we are indeed truly Christians, not just in name, but also in action and reality. Unfortunately, there are many among us out there, who have forgotten this fact, and live our lives in absence of Christ in our lives.

We put our human desires, ambitions and all the other things that this world has offered us, ahead of our obligation to love the Lord and to heed His call, for us to come to Him. We always delay whenever He calls, and often we even pretend not to listen when He speaks with us, in the depth of our hearts. And this is one of the main reasons why there are so many of us Christians who are encountering deep crises in our faith, because we do not really embody what we believe in, and our faith becomes merely a formality, rather than reality.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us come to realise, by reflecting on the story of the Three Wise Men, the Magi, who embarked on a long and difficult journey to seek the Lord, and when they finally found Him, they were overcome with joy and gave Him the worthy homage and honour He deserved. And as we have discussed earlier, their actions, the gifts they gave to the Lord, became the source of revelation, that indeed, Jesus, the Baby lying in the manger two millennia ago in Bethlehem, is Our Lord and Saviour, the ultimate proof of God’s everlasting love for us.

That is why, as we reflect again on the significance of the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, we should remember God’s love for us, such that while He is God and King over all, but He willingly embraced us through His assumption of a human nature, and made Himself tangible and visible for us, through the gift of Jesus, His Son. And the gift of myrrh should remind us of that act of ultimate and incomparable love when He gave up His life on the cross, that we may live, and that all of us who believe in Him may receive the grace of eternal life.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all follow in the footsteps of the Three Magi, going forth on a new journey of faith towards the Lord bearing gifts. No, not the gift of gold, or any other worldly precious items, but rather, the gift of our loving hearts. God does not want anything else from us beside our love and commitment, and it is therefore time for us to begin loving Him, and giving Him our all, if we have not done so.

May the Lord, Who was revealed to all of us by the Three Magi bearing the gifts revealing His humanity and divinity, and the mission through which He saved us all, by His death on the cross, continue to guide us on our own respective journeys of faith, that eventually we may find our way to Him, and together with the Angels and the saints, we may give Him honour, praise and glory forevermore. Amen.