Monday, 9 December 2019 : Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate the great Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God and Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is usually celebrated on the eighth day of December but since yesterday the eighth fell on a Sunday, which is the Second Sunday of Advent, this Solemnity is brought to the next day that is today, the ninth of December.

This celebration of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception refers to the time when Mary was conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Anne without any trace or corruption of original sin, and does not refer to the moment of her birth, her Nativity which is celebrated exactly nine months from now, on every eighth of September. This Immaculate Conception is a very significant belief of our faith, which was formalised as a Dogma by Blessed Pope Pius IX in the year 1854 in his Papal Bull, Ineffabilis Deus.

Although it has only been formalised as a Dogma relatively recently by the Church but in truth, the Church and the faithful since the earliest times and history of the Church has always believed that Mary, as the Mother of God was free from any taints of sin by the singular grace of God, because of the role that she has been entrusted to by the Lord Himself. Mary has been called and chosen to be the one who was to bear the Messiah in herself.

Through this, we can see essentially what is the significance of the Immaculate Conception of Mary to all of us, as her Immaculate Conception actually underlines the core tenets of our faith, the central focus of our beliefs in God. This is such that if we do not believe in the Immaculate Conception, or worse still, reject this Dogma, then we actually have done nothing less than to reject the basic and most important core beliefs of our faith itself.

That is because the belief of the Immaculate Conception, or Mary conceived without the taint of sin is rooted in the belief that Mary is none other than the new Ark of the Covenant. Why is that so? That is because the Ark of the Covenant was the historical relic and an actual receptacle, a large box made of the most precious materials to contain several objects that represent the Covenant which God has made with His people, the Israelites.

Inside the historical or the old Ark of the Covenant according to the Old Testament was the two stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written. These were the ones that Moses made to replace the ones written by God which had been destroyed when God became angry at His people’s disobedience in worshipping the golden calf idol. It therefore became a symbol of the Covenant of God renewed with His people.

Besides that, there were also a bowl of the manna, the miraculous bread of heaven by which God had fed His people through their forty years journey in the desert, yet another reminder of the Covenant of God, how God has been faithful in taking care of and loving His people all the way even though the people had often disobeyed and walked away from the path of God. And lastly, in the Ark was also the staff of Aaron, the staff used by Moses to perform the many plagues of Egypt and his many other miraculous works, to show the power of God among the people.

The Ark of the Covenant had always been, since the time of its creation, the most hallowed and blessed object in the world. It was made from the most precious materials and God also blessed and hallowed it, for it is on the Ark of the Covenant, placed at the Holy of Holies in the Tent of Meeting, and later on in the Holy of Holies of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, that God and His Holy Presence descended to dwell in the midst of His people.

It was so holy that no one was allowed to touch it, and when one of the priests accidentally touched it when it was about to be moved to Jerusalem during the time of king David, the one who touched it was immediately struck dead. And the Ark was always placed behind a veil, to represent the great holiness of God. No one except the High Priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, and even so, he was only allowed to enter into the Holy of Holies only once a year.

We can see just how holy, blessed and hallowed the old and historical Ark had been, which was still a creation of man, no matter how precious and amazing it had been. Then let us imagine just how much more wonderful, amazing and holy the new Ark of the Covenant is, because Mary was made not by the hands of any man, but by the hands of God Himself. There can be no creation of man, no matter how great can compare with God’s creation.

And while the inside of the old Ark was two slabs of stone, a bowl of manna and the staff of Aaron blessed by God’s presence, but the new Ark contained nothing less than God Himself present in the Flesh, God incarnate, Son of God, Jesus Christ. And that is why, if the people of Israel had treated the old Ark of the Covenant in such a hallowed manner, it is just perfectly logical that Mary would also have been hallowed and blessed by God.

It is as simple as how God Who is perfect and all good can never be paired together with any form of sin. No sin can ever stand in the presence of God. That is why, if He was to be born of a human being, through His incarnation in the Flesh, how can He Himself be borne into this world in a vessel so pure and blessed, free from any corruption, if all men had fallen into sin, are sinners and are tainted by sin? That is why, because of this, God gave Mary the singular grace of being immaculate, pure and free from sin.

This is primarily why we honour Mary, the Mother of God and our Lord Jesus Christ so much. And that is why so many of us are so devoted to her, because not just that she is the Mother of God, and therefore the one closest to her Son, but even more so, that her own exemplary faith and life, her complete obedience to the will of God as shown in our Gospel passage today, is truly the best example for us all to follow in our own journey of faith.

Her acceptance of the great role as the mother of the Lord and Saviour of all, her humble obedience and readiness to respond to God through the Archangel Gabriel is indeed a very amazing example and inspiration for us all to follow, as it is indeed not easy for any one of us to bear the burden and the crosses that Mary herself had to bear in her own journey, in having to raise Jesus and then to see her own Son being condemned, tortured and died on the Cross before her very own eyes.

Now, all of us then have to realise that each and every one of us are called to follow the example of Mary, in our own journey of faith. Do you remember what I have just said earlier on, that no creation of man can ever compare to the creations of the Lord? Each and every one of us are God’s creations, brothers and sisters in Christ, and all of us are special even more so, because we have been made in the image and likeness of God.

While unlike Mary, we have been tainted by sin, and corrupted by the darkness of our sins and disobedience, but God has always intended for us all to be like that of His mother, in faith and purity, as He made all things to be good and holy. Sin was not God’s creation and was never intended to be part of us or our lives. This is why, brothers and sisters in Christ, we must all strive to be holy, just as Our Lord is holy, and resist all the temptations to sin.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore today as we honour Mary, the Mother of our Lord and God, for her wonderful faith and life, let us all ourselves devote ourselves anew to God, with a new faith and commitment, to be holy and to sanctify ourselves, by turning away from all of our sins, and by embracing a new life dedicated to serve God and to walk in His path alone. Let us all do our best and help one another in this journey together as one faithful people of God.

Mary, Holy Mother of God, conceived without sin, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Monday, 9 December 2019 : Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Luke 1 : 26-38

In the sixth month, the Angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth. He was sent to a young virgin, who was betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the family of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

The Angel came to her and said, “Rejoice, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” Mary was troubled at these words, wondering what this greeting could mean. But the Angel said, “Do not fear, Mary, for God has looked kindly on you. You shall conceive and bear a Son, and you shall call Him Jesus. He will be great, and shall rightly be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the kingdom of David, His ancestor; He will rule over the people of Jacob forever, and His reign shall have no end.”

Then Mary said to the Angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” And the Angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the Holy Child to be born of you shall be called Son of God. Even your relative Elizabeth is expecting a son in her old age, although she was unable to have a child; and she is now in her sixth month. With God nothing is impossible.”

Then Mary said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me as you have said.” And the Angel left her.

Monday, 9 December 2019 : Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Ephesians 1 : 3-6, 11-12

Blessed be God, the Father of Christ Jesus our Lord, Who, in Christ, has blessed us from heaven, with every spiritual blessing. God chose us, in Christ, before the creation of the world, to be holy, and without sin in His presence.

From eternity He destined us, in love, to be His adopted sons and daughters, through Christ Jesus, thus fulfilling His free and generous will. This goal suited Him : that His loving-kindness, which He granted us in His beloved might finally receive all glory and praise.

By a decree of Him, Who disposes all things, according to His own plan and decision, we, the Jews, have been chosen and called, and we were awaiting the Messiah, for the praise of His glory.

Monday, 9 December 2019 : Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 97 : 1, 2-3ab, 3cd-4

Sing to YHVH a new song, for He has done wonders; His right hand, His holy arm, has won victory for Him.

YHVH has shown His salvation, revealing His justice to the nations. He has not forgotten His love, nor His faithfulness to Israel.

The farthest ends of the earth all have seen God’s saving power. All you, lands, make a joyful noise to YHVH, break into song and sing praise.

Monday, 9 December 2019 : Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Genesis 3 : 9-15, 20

YHVH God called the man saying to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard Your voice in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.” God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree I ordered you not to eat?”

The man answered, “The woman You put with me gave me fruit from the tree and I ate it.” God said to the woman, “What have you done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me and I ate.”

YHVH God said to the serpent, “Since you have done that, be cursed among all the cattle and wild beasts! You will crawl on your belly and eat dust all the days of your life. I will make you enemies, you and the woman, your offspring and her offspring. He will crush your head and you will strike his heel.”

The man called his wife by the name of Eve, because she was the mother of all the living.

Sunday, 8 December 2019 : Second Sunday of Advent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday we celebrate the Second Sunday in the season of Advent, and as we continue to progress through this special and blessed time of preparation for the celebration of Christmas, we continue our Advent journey and this Sunday we focus on Peace, as the second in the four theme set for each of the Sundays of Advent. Peace is also a reference to Our Lord and Saviour’s title as the Prince of Peace, as it was prophesied that His coming would bring about true peace into this world.

And that is what has also been alluded to in our Scripture passages today, especially in our first reading today which was taken from the Book of the prophet Isaiah. In that portion of the Book, the prophet Isaiah was speaking of the prophecies of the time of the coming of the Saviour or God’s Messiah, of the coming of the time of peace so wonderful and great that even ferocious animals would come and sit together with their prey in harmony.

This message of peace must have been truly satisfactory and pleasing to the people of Isaiah’s time, considering that at that time, as it was often in the past, mankind have often been involved in conflicts and wars, and many had to suffer because of those conflicts, losing family members and loved ones, losing their properties, houses and possessions, being looted and having to see their cities, towns and villages destroyed.

All these had been how the world went by since the beginning of time, as the powerful and mighty preyed on the weak, and how the rich and influential ones manipulated and exploited the poor ones. Suffering, pain and sorrow that were created can indeed be traced to how we mankind abused the free will that God has bestowed on us, as we chose to act in ways that seek our own satisfaction and happiness, to fulfil our needs and desires and if need be, over the suffering of others.

That is why peace has often eluded many of us all these time because we are by our nature selfish, because of our disobedience and sins, the corruption of sin which led us to think about ourselves first and not about what others think or need. That was how wars had been fought over resources, prestige, glory, and the many other worldly things we often seek in life. When peoples and nations, their leaders and all those involved in the conflicts seek to gain things for themselves and not minding the needs and happiness of others, that is why people suffer and peace is broken.

If we look at our world today, peace is more elusive than ever, as there are more and more parties in conflict and fighting against each others, groups being set against each other and divided against themselves. Governments and kingdoms are set against one another, setting up groups and alliances working to thwart their opponents and their goals. We also see how civil wars and conflicts arise from time to time, again and again, and even many instances when governments are brought down by divisions and wrecked by infighting.

And all these while, the Prince of Peace, Our Lord Jesus Christ has been present in this world ever since He came to our midst over two millennia ago, in the small town of Bethlehem, when He came proclaiming the coming of the Lord’s true peace. Yet, if we realise, that He has often been ignored by mankind, rejected and unwanted, as the world continued on with mankind’s relentless pursuits of maintaining their selfish desires and wants. He has spoken the truth to us, and yet, He was silenced, put to suffer and die on the Cross by those who hated and opposed Him.

That was what the many prophets and messengers of God had also suffered from, and in the Gospel passage today, we also heard how the one who was the Herald of the Messiah, St. John the Baptist, also suffered from the same rejection and oppression the Lord has suffered. Many prophets of the Lord had suffered and had to endure scorn and ridicule just because they stood by the missions which God has entrusted to them.

We heard how despite all the works that this faithful servant of God had done, his courageous faith and effort in calling many people to repent from their sins and wickedness, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law still opposed the saint and made it hard for him, doubting him and refusing to believe in the words he had spoken, and even doubting him and the authenticity of what he had done and spoken before the people.

That is exactly why the Lord was unable to make any progress with those who still attached themselves to worldly thoughts and desires, those who allowed their selfishness and pride, their greed and their attachments to the world to close their hearts and minds against the Lord’s truth and love. And that was how the true peace of God remain elusive for many of us, as it had been for millennia, as most of us did not truly welcome the Prince of Peace into our lives and into our hearts.

In our second reading today, St. Paul wrote to the Church in Rome and spoke of the peace of Christ and how the coming of the Lord into the world has brought forth the dawn of a new era of peace. And St. Paul also exhorted the faithful there to welcome one another and to make peace with each other, just as the Lord Jesus has brought the peace of God into the midst of the people He has touched, and thereafter passed on that same peace to those whom He has commissioned and called.

In Rome at that time, which was the cosmopolitan and populous capital of the mighty and expansive Roman Empire, there were numerous peoples of different origins and backgrounds, of different cultures and traditions, as besides the Romans who were the lords of the land, there were also Greeks, Syrians, Jewish populations, Gauls, Germans, the peoples of the Northern African regions, Thracians, Dacians, Berbers, Arabs, Persians and even many others, of many different nations and languages.

Many of these people did not exist peacefully with each other, and it did not help that many among the non-Roman populations, especially in the city of Rome, were slaves. And the Romans were the largest landowners and also slave owners. Even among the Romans themselves there were often wide disparity in the wealth and property they owned, and all these divisions and categorisations among the peoples often led to conflict and unhappiness.

And the Christian faith interestingly managed to bridge these differences even in the earliest days of the Church. St. Paul was in fact exhorting and reminding the faithful to put aside their differences, whatever past animosities and unhappiness they might have had towards each other previously and instead focus themselves on peace, and to live with one another harmoniously, bonded together by a new bond of love born from God. This is how God’s coming into the world has therefore transformed His people, from people divided by many differences and identities, into a united people by faith.

Division and conflict is typical of mankind corrupted and afflicted by sin, but as God entered into our lives and touched us, peace also entered into our midst. The question now is, are we allowing God to enter into our lives and transform us with His love, peace and goodness? Are we open in our minds and hearts to embrace the peace of God in our lives? The fact and reality is that as long as we remain attached to our many worldly desires, remaining selfish and self-centred, proud and egoistic, it will be difficult for us to find true peace in our lives.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Christmas we are all challenged to return to the true essence of Christmas, and that is welcoming Christ, our Lord and Saviour into our lives, so that we may truly live in harmony, peace and love with one another. This is what Christmas is all about, and what we should prepare ourselves for in this blessed season and time of Advent.

Instead of focusing on excessive festivities and parties, merrymaking and joy without truly understanding why we celebrate Christmas in the first place, let us all bring our joy and celebrations by first of all, making peace with all those whom we have probably been angry with, feuding with all these while. Let us all learn to forgive one another, just as the Lord Himself has forgiven us all first from our sins. This is how we bring peace into our lives, and only with peace then we can truly celebrate Christmas in its fullness.

Let us all be peacemakers and strive to live in harmony and unity with one another. Let us all strive to die to our pride and to remove from us the traces of ego and selfishness, and instead allow God to enter into our lives and transform us, so that through all of us and our good works, peace and harmony will reign once again in our world wrecked by wars and conflicts. Let us all bring the Peace of Christmas to everyone, beginning from ourselves and our own families, and then to our communities and then to all the peoples of this world.

May the Lord, Our Prince of Peace give us His peace, that we may come to celebrate this Christmas joyfully as one people, no longer bickering and fighting over trivial matters of the world. Let us all be genuinely concerned of one another and show genuine love in our actions and interactions with each other. May God bless us always as we continue through this blessed season of Advent and guide us in our journey of faith, now and forevermore. Amen.

Sunday, 8 December 2019 : Second Sunday of Advent (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 3 : 1-12

In the course of time John the Baptist appeared in the desert of Judea and began to proclaim his message, “Change your ways, the kingdom of God is now at hand!” It was about him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said : A voice is shouting in the desert, ‘Prepare a way for the Lord, make His paths straight!'”

John had a leather garment around his waist and wore a cloak of camel’s hair; his food was locusts and wild honey. People came to him from Jerusalem, from all Judea and from the whole Jordan valley, and they were baptised by him in the Jordan as they confessed their sins.

When he saw several Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he baptised, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who told you that you could escape the punishment that is to come? Let it be seen that you are serious in your conversion, and do not think : We have Abraham for our father. I tell you that God can raise children for Abraham from these stones! The axe is already laid to the roots of the trees; any tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown in the fire.”

“I baptise you in water for a change of heart, but the One Who is coming after me is more powerful than me; indeed I am not worthy to carry His sandals. He will baptise you in Holy Spirit and fire. He has the winnowing fan in His hand and He will clear out His threshing floor. He will gather His wheat into the barn, but the chaff He will burn in everlasting fire.”