(Holy Week) Sunday, 9 April 2017 : Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we mark the beginning of the Holy Week, the very significant and indeed holiest moment in the whole of the liturgical year, when we are commemorating and celebrating the final events in the earthly life, work and ministry of Jesus, the last week of His time when He endured all that He had to endure in order to fulfil God’s plan for our salvation to its perfection.

And it all began with the triumphal entry of Jesus into the Holy City of Jerusalem, when He was glorified and praised as a triumphant King, coming to enter His city, the city where God had made His dwelling, and He came riding on a donkey, much as the prophet Zechariah prophesied about the Messiah and King Who would come on the donkey into the city, thus fulfilling completely what God had promised His people.

And that is why we have the blessing of the palms and the procession of the palms, to commemorate that moment when the people of Jerusalem welcomed the Lord Jesus coming into the city, singing loudly and courageously, “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna to the Son of David!” They were welcoming the Messiah Who came to take up possession of His kingdom and His city, as the Heir of David, to whom God had promised that his kingdom would last forever.

Yet, we may wonder, why is it that we begin with the Gospel reading at the start of the celebration of the Holy Mass at the triumphal procession, and then suddenly, as we progress on to the readings, we then read about the Lord and Messiah Who would suffer for the sake of all people, as mentioned in the book of the prophet Isaiah, speaking about the suffering Servant of God, Who would offer Himself to be tortured and punished for our faults.

And in the second reading, in the famous passage from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Philippians, the Apostle wrote about how Jesus had been exalted and given Name above every other names, because He has obeyed the will and the commands of His Father perfectly and completely, by taking up His cross and emptying Himself, allowing Himself to be the perfect sacrifice of love, to be the ultimate source of salvation for all of us mankind.

And we end up with the long Passion reading, when we heard one of the three accounts of the Passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, which for this year is taken from the Gospel of St. Matthew. We heard how the Lord Jesus spent the last day from the time of the Last Supper, to His agony in the garden of Gethsemane, to His betrayal by Judas Iscariot, to His trial before the chief priests and before Herod, and how then He was tortured and put to death by false accusations before Pontius Pilate the governor of Judea.

We heard how the Lord Jesus took up His cross, having to walk the path of suffering from Jerusalem to the hill of Calvary among two other criminals. He was condemned to death like a criminal even though He was completely innocent. People mourned for Him, while many others mocked Him, jeered Him and rejected Him, throwing insults after insults, spittle after spittle on the way, and He ascended the cross, nailed onto it at Calvary, and died for all of us.

Why is it that a people who have greeted and welcomed the Lord Jesus as King and cried out, “Hosanna! Hosanna to the Son of David!”, then within just a time span of less than one week, were also the ones who cried out, “Crucify Him!” and “We have no king but Caesar?” That is because we mankind, by our nature, are weak, brothers and sisters in Christ. We are all weak and vulnerable, easily falling into temptation.

Through falsehoods and false promises of pleasure and goodness, the devil, our great enemy, are planting in us the seeds of doubt, the seeds of evil and wickedness, and all these resulted in our lack of faith. Thus, the same people who believed in the Lord Jesus as Saviour and Master, easily turned away from Him and rejected Him, when they saw Him fallen from grace and arrested by His enemies. Those who would once call Him friends, left Him behind and abandoned Him.

Indeed, His own disciples abandoned Him when He was arrested, as they cowered in fear and were at loss on what to do. And one of His own twelve most trusted disciples betrayed Him for a mere thirty pieces of silver, tempted by the allure of money and worldly possessions. This is what had caused many of us to sin as well, to fall into darkness and wickedness.

Through this, all of us must realise that each and every one of us have sinned, be it small or great sin, but all of us have disobeyed God. At one point or more in our lives, we have walked away from our God, abandoned Him, betrayed Him and left Him behind for the pursuit of money, worldly temptations and all the false allures of the devil, which he had placed in our path to make us stumble, as what had indeed happened to all of us.

All of us have acted as the people of Jerusalem, as the disciples of Jesus, as Judas Iscariot, as the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. We have been like them, in how we welcome the Lord and shout His Name for joy, praising Him and glorifying Him, but then, very quickly, when temptations come, when doubt entered into our hearts, when fear and other things arose, we abandoned the Lord and left Him behind.

Let us reflect, brothers and sisters in Christ, on what had happened throughout this Holy Week, this time when Jesus our Lord did all that He had done for the sake of our salvation. We have been the ones to condemn the Lord to His death, by our sins and by our faults. Yet many of us do not realise this fact and continue to carry on with our lives as if nothing had happened. We have often taken the love of God for granted.

If all of us can just come to the realisation that each and every sin that we ever committed in life are the wounds and the sufferings of Christ, Who has suffered and died for us, then all of us would have been very ashamed and would not commit any more sins. But the reality is that many of us have been oblivious and ignorant to the sins that we have committed, and some of us have even been desensitised to sin, because we have committed so many sins, that it feels just normal for us to sin.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all spend some time today, at the beginning of the Holy Week, to reflect on how fortunate we are, to have One Who loved each and every one of us so much that He was willing to give up His own life for us, He Who was willing to forgive us our transgressions and sins. He has called us to accept His mercy and to share in the burden of His cross, if we believe in Him and what He had done for us.

The question is, are we willing to be forgiven? Are we willing to accept God’s mercy and forgiveness? Are we willing to change ourselves and sin no more? The disciples may indeed have abandoned the Lord, but they all, except Judas Iscariot, turned back to God and sought His forgiveness. Peter, who denied Jesus three times, confessed his devotion and love before the Lord three times, as a sign of his atonement and commitment to be with God. Judas did not repent and change his ways, and that was why Satan used him as a tool to try and undo the good works of Jesus by betraying Him. God gave him chance but he refused to take it up.

Shall we choose to be like Judas or to be like the other disciples of Christ? That is a question that we need to ask ourselves. Let us ponder on this as we go on throughout this Holy Week celebrations, that whatever we do, we may do it with understanding and that we may benefit from them. May all of us find our way to the salvation in our God, and share in the love and mercy with which He had rescued us from death because of our sins.

May the Lord, our loving God, Who suffered and died for us, taking our place in suffering and bearing upon Himself our crosses, bless us all and keep us all in His grace and love at all times. May we all draw closer to Him and to His love, and may we find succour and redemption by the loving sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, and accept wholeheartedly the love which He had given us all. May God be with us all, now and always. Amen.

Sunday, 2 April 2017 : Fifth Sunday of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day of our Lord we heard the story of Lazarus, the friend of Jesus and the brother of Martha and Mary, our Lord’s companions, whom we all certainly are familiar with, as the one whom Jesus raised from the dead in front of many witnesses, showing all of them that He is the one and only Lord over life and death.

Lazarus was sick and then he died, just as all mankind will one day eventually die because that is the consequence of their sins. All of us have sinned against God and disobeyed His commandments, and that is why we have received death as the just punishment for those sins. And we by our nature fear death, because death is something that we do not desire, causing us to be separated from all the things we know and love in this world.

To that extent, many of us tried to extend our life and to preserve our youth, worrying that as we grow older, we draw closer to death and all the things we do not desire. We want the pleasures of our worldly life to remain forever, and we want to enjoy all the things that this life has to offer. Many of us even try to manipulate life itself, trying all sorts of methods to keep us away from dying.

But in reality and truth, it does not matter what we have done, nothing that we have done will be able to extend even a single moment of our life, as the Lord Himself mentioned, that in accordance with His will, all of our lives had been measured and determined. We cannot make it last longer or shorter, for it is not us who are in control of our lives, but it is the Lord Who is the Master of all life, and also the Master of death.

Jesus showed us all that by His power and authority, being the Master over life and death, just as much as death has power over us because of our sins, but it does not have the final say. St. Paul in his Epistle to the Church and the faithful in Corinth mocked death, saying, “Death where is your victory, o death, where is your sting?” For he knew that there is One Who is able to defeat death, and He Himself had shown it by His own victory against death.

Yes, we see for ourselves, through the witness passed down to us from the Apostles and those who have witnessed the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead, and also those whom saw Jesus risen in glory from the depth of hell, where He descended to during the time after He died on the cross. We saw how death can be overcome, if we put our trust in the One Who had conquered death, Christ Himself, our Lord and Saviour.

This Sunday is the last Sunday before the beginning of the Holy Week, the holiest time of the liturgical year, when we celebrate the very centre of our faith, the Passion and death, and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the very reason for our faith and what we believe in. Therefore, through the readings on Lazarus’ resurrection, and also the passage from the first reading, where God promised His people through the prophet Ezekiel, that He would give them life, we are all reminded that our life is in the hands of the Lord.

By the baptism which we have received, we have in fact shared in the death of our Lord Jesus on the cross. We have been made to die to our past life and ways we once had. As I mentioned, we often spend a lot of time trying to preserve our life and our youth, but as we do so, we have committed things that are sinful and wicked in the sight of God. We neglect the duties and responsibilities we have, by not extending our hands to help all those who are in need around us, and instead being preoccupied with ourselves.

As we received the Sacrament of Baptism, we have been washed and made clean again, purified from the taints of our past sins, and we have received the promise of eternal life from the Master of life Himself. He Who have raised Lazarus from the dead, will also raise us from the dead, on the time of judgment, as He had promised all of us. It is the life in the world to come that we have to look out for, and not our current life in this world.

Jesus mentioned in another occasion that, we ought to seek not the treasures of this world, but instead, we should seek and build up for ourselves the treasures in the world that is to come. Why is that so? That is because all the things that we have in this world will not last, be it money, possessions, fame, influence, appearances and any other things that we often crave for, desire and wish for.

All of these things will easily perish and disappear, and it is often that despite all the things we do to keep them, we ave to realise that, first of all, these do not give us true satisfaction, and even more importantly, none of these will be carried by us over when we die. No matter how rich, powerful or influential we are, all of us will die because of our sins.

But when we live in the Lord, believing in Him and in His promise of salvation, all of us will have a new hope in us, because we know that if we remain faithful in Him, we shall live forever with Him in glory, and enjoy forever the fullness of love and grace of God. We shall no longer feel sadness, sorrow and any other forms of fear. We shall be satisfied and joyful, because the Lord is with us, and He provides us all with all that we ever need.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we approach the end of the season of Lent and coming close to the celebration of the Holy Week, let us spend some time to reflect on our lives thus far. Are we too busy and preoccupied in our lives trying to accumulate for ourselves more money, more worldly possessions, more fame and influence, and more of other things we want and desire in life?

Are we too busy thinking about the days to come, all the plans we have prepared for our lives? Are we too busy with all these things that we forget about all that we need to do in life, as our Lord had commanded us to do? And what is that, brothers and sisters in Christ? What is it that we need to do? It is to love God with all of our strength and with all of our heart, and to show that same love to our brethren, especially to those who have no one to love them.

Yes, that is precisely our obligation as Christians. We ought to love each other, as the Lord Himself has loved us. God has given us all His love, and we ought to show the same love to one another. Let us all make the commitment to love and to care for each other, instead of being selfish and being preoccupied with ourselves. Remember, the Lord alone has power over life and death, and for all of us who have believed in Him, and having received the holy Sacrament of Baptism, our salvation is assured.

There is no need for us to worry about anything, as the Lord Himself will take care of everything for us. God will not abandon all those who have faith in Him. He will care for them and protect them, and provide them all they need. Let us all renew our efforts to be true disciples and followers of our Lord, beginning from today onwards so that we may draw closer to God, and at the same time, also help all those who are lost along the way, that they too may find their way to the Lord.

And finally, let us all pray for all those who are about to be baptised in this Easter, that they too may share the life God had promised and given us all. May God bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Sunday, 26 March 2017 : Fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or Rose (Laetare Sunday)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today is the celebration of the Fourth Sunday of Lent, or also known as Laetare Sunday, coming from the word “Laetare” in the beginning of today’s Introit, “Laetare Jerusalem” or “Rejoice, o Jerusalem”. As we celebrate the joyous aspect of Lent, as we await the true joy of Christ coming unto us, that is why the vestments and the liturgical colour used today is rose instead of the usual violet, representing the reality that while Lent is a season of penance, but it is also a season for expecting the coming of the joy of Christ.

Why do we celebrate this joyous occasion, brothers and sisters in Christ? That is because at the same time that we remember the upcoming struggles, sufferings and pains that our Lord had to endure during His Passion on the Cross, and throughout the way of suffering, we also remember that all of those had to happen so that we may receive true joy, that is the joy of our salvation and redemption from our sins.

Christ is our true Joy, for He came into this world bearing us hope, the true hope that He alone could bring, and not the false joys present in this world. And we rejoice in Him, because through Him, we have been able to see the light of God shining upon our path, guiding and leading us on our way, that we may be able to find our way and at the same time, freeing ourselves from the attachment and the association we have thus far with the darkness of this world.

Through His light, all of us who believe in Him have been purified from the darkness within us, and in our baptism, we received the lighted candle, which flame came from the Paschal candle, a representation of the light of the Lord’s Resurrection, as the light that overcame the darkness of the world, as on Easter Sunday, the world which once had not known hope, then finally is able to hope again upon the Lord and His light.

In today’s Gospel, we heard how Jesus healed the man who was born blind on the sabbath. He made him able to see once again, and the man was truly filled with joy. He was not able to see, and he could not see the light as most of us could. We always know this world as it is because we are able to see the light around us coming into our eyes. But imagine what would it be like, had we been born blind as the man whom Jesus had healed.

Imagine living in a world where we could not see at all, where no light can be seen, because our eyes were not able to see it. Imagine what kind of joy we would have if our eyes were opened and light entered into our eyes for the very first time. Only then that we can appreciate how joyful it is for the blind man to be able to see again. And he therefore believed in Christ and all that He had done for him.

Let us contrast this with the actions of the Pharisees and the actions of the teachers of the Law who were also there, and who have not just witnessed that miracle, but many other miracles that Jesus had performed among the people, also in their presence. Yet they have refused to believe in the Lord Jesus, out of all others who have believed in Him. They have seen and yet they rejected the Lord and His good works.

They had not believed because in their pride and arrogance, they have hardened their hearts against God. They were jealous against the Lord Whom they thought to be a rival to their power and influence. As a result, they were blinded by all these prejudices, by all the negativities and all the wickedness they had in their hearts, so that even though they could see with the eyes of their body, the eyes of their hearts were in reality, blind.

They could see light through the eyes of their body, the ones on their head, but they could not see the true Light of the world, which Jesus had brought into this world, Himself. They allowed darkness to enter their hearts and blind them, and thus, they did all the things in opposition to the Lord and His works because of that. As a result, they were not to be the recipients of God’s grace, love and forgiveness.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is what we need to reflect on as we continue to progress through the season of Lent. Have we been open to receive God’s forgiveness in this season and time of mercy? This Lenten season is a time for mercy, and we are always urged to receive God’s mercy, which He gives to all without hesitation and with much love, and we are also urged to forgive one another, yet many of us often forget that while God wants to forgive us and love us once again, but it is we ourselves who are often the greatest obstacles to our forgiveness and therefore, our salvation.

Why is this so? We just have to look at the examples of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. These were the elites in the society back then at the time of Jesus and His earthly ministry two millennia ago. They were those who were considered as the nobilities and leaders of their time, and they were physically fit if not very healthy compared to the others in the society, well to do in their lives and were able to provide with themselves without any difficulties.

They looked down on others because they considered themselves superior to them, by their upbringing and by what they saw that they were the guardians of the law of God, the laws of Moses, wearing their long robes and chanting their prayers daily in the marketplaces and in the open areas. They thought that they alone had the grasp over God and His truth, and that was why they oppressed the poor, the sinners like the prostitutes and the tax collectors, thinking that these were people unworthy of God, but they were wrong.

They allowed their pride and arrogance to get in their way, and they closed their hearts when the Lord came to speak the truth to them. They forgot that they too, were sinners and were in need of God and His forgiveness as well. Instead, they committed even more sins, by closing the doors of God’s mercy on those who need them the most. They condemned others as sinners and rebels, while it was their attitude who showed the most rebellious attitudes of all.

They judged others by their appearances, and they also judged themselves by their appearances. But if they can just remember the Book of the prophet Samuel, when God chose His chosen king, David, from among the sons of Jesse, our first reading passage today, they would realise that God sees not by appearances, but He looks deep inside each and every one of our hearts. He knows us all completely inside and outside, and nothing can be hidden from Him.

It is not by our appearances that God had chosen those whom He wishes to call, and we do not choose ourselves to be those whom God will choose. Rather, God chooses whoever He wants to be chosen, and He calls those whom He deems to be worthy to be called. He called David not because he is the strongest or the best among his brothers, in whatever categories that the world commonly attribute to those who are usually chosen, but because God saw in David’s heart, mind and soul, a true and genuine love for Him.

That man who was born blind, might not be able to see the light through the eyes of his body, but the eyes of his heart was truly open and were capable of seeing the light of Christ, which the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had failed to do. Now let us ask ourselves, have we been like David or the man born blind in our attitudes in this life we have? Or have we been more like the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law instead?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, in this time of Lent, we are all called to the Lord’s mercy, healing and forgiveness. But we need to overcome all the things that have become obstacles on our way to achieve God’s mercy and grace. We have to overcome our human pride, our fear and our stubbornness, and open the path for God to enter into our hearts and transform us completely.

Let Him enter into ourselves, and let Him heal us just as He had healed the man who was born blind, so that while once we saw everything through the veils of darkness and sin that had engulfed us, now we may be able to pierce through those veils that blinded us, and thus capable of seeing the true light coming from the Lord our God, and now therefore we are able to find our way to the salvation in God. Let us all have that great joy in us, finally being able to see the hope of salvation through Christ.

Let us also help one another, especially those who are still lost on their way to the Lord. Let us all devote our time and effort to draw ever closer to God, and to find the way to the Lord and to be more like Him in all of our words, deeds and actions. Let this be our Lenten commitment and work, and from now on let us all be ever more devoted servants and people of God, Who has loved us all so much, and wants us all to also love Him in the same manner. May God bless us all. Amen.

Sunday, 19 March 2017 : Third Sunday of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, as we progress through the third Sunday of this season of Lent, today we are reminded of God’s love and grace, which He had given us all so generously to all of us His people from time to time, and through which He had granted us the grace of salvation by sending none other than His own Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, into this world, so that all who believe in Him may be saved and have eternal life through Him.

In today’s first reading, we heard about the rebelliousness of the people of Israel who grumbled and complained against God and His servant, Moses, complaining that they would suffer to death from hunger and thirst in the desert. They were angry against Moses and God for having brought them out of the land of Egypt, where they had suffered for over four hundred and fifty years in slavery, but in that instance, many of them wondered that if they had stayed in the land of Egypt, then they would at least have food to eat and water to drink.

They doubted God’s love and providence, even after they had seen how God had liberated them with His mighty power, bringing down the proud Pharaoh and the Egyptians, humbling them with His ten plagues over Egypt, and even after He had opened the Red Sea before them, allowing them to walk barefoot through the seabed, and crushed their enemies before them by allowing the sea to go back to its place as the Egyptian chariots passed through.

They doubted His love even after He had taken care of them for very long during their journey through the desert, even after He had fed them daily with the sweet manna, bread from Heaven itself, and also gave them large birds and fowls every evening to eat. He also gave them water even from the rocks, the clearest and finest quality water to drink in the middle of the desert, where nothing should have existed, not even water and food.

But they were not thankful to God, and instead, they grumbled and complained, and even wanted to kill Moses. They also raised even a golden idol, precisely a golden calf to be god over them when they were impatient waiting for Moses who went up the mountain of God at Horeb for forty days and forty nights. These are just among the many things which showed the disobedience of Israel throughout their time in the desert.

They have placed the desires of their flesh ahead of their faith in God. They placed the demands of their stomachs and bodies beyond their obligation and responsibility to worship the Lord and remaining true to Him in all things. They abandoned God just because they were not able to restrain the demands of their flesh, the desire to eat and drink, and of all other worldly things, which had tempted them to sin.

In this time of Lent, all of us are called by God to reevaluate our lives, our priorities and all of our actions. Let us all ask ourselves, what is it that we are living for in this world? Many of us have spent many hours working and indeed, toiling hard worrying about how we are to eat and drink everyday, and what we are going to do with our lives, with our wealth and possessions, worrying about our hard-earned wealth and even desiring more of what we already had.

This is what many of us mankind often do, and we are so preoccupied with our daily living that we are unable to see that in all of our pursuits for these things, we have lost the focus of our lives, and we are looking for the wrong things in life. What do I mean with this, brothers and sisters in Christ? It means that while we seek to build for ourselves worldly treasures, we often forget that all the things we now possess will not last forever.

Whatever we have now, can be gone in just a flash of a moment. We are concerned with the demands of our flesh and our bodies, much as the Israelites had done in the past, but we forgot that while we worry about this and that, in reality, we do not really need all of these. Many of the things we now enjoy in this world are illusions and diversions that keep us away from finding the true joy that can be found in God alone.

That is because, even though we worry about many things in life, all that we need in life have been taken care of by none other than the Lord our God Himself. He has provided us all that we need, the life we have, which is a gift from Him, and also all the other times that He had blessed us with all the good things in life, but which we did not notice to be the grace given to us from God.

Like the people of Israel, who have been blessed bountifully by God, many of us often do not realise that God had done so much for us. We often take God, His love and grace for us for granted, and when we are in trouble, we often complained that God has not been there for us, which is exactly as what the Israelites had done, and like what we often do as well. How often is it that we feel angry at God for not giving us what we want?

This is where we must realise that what we want is often not God truly willed for us. We have always sought for things of this world, for food, for sustenance, for money, for pleasures of the flesh and the body, for sexual gratification, for recognition among the people, for fame and renown, and for all other things which we often crave and desire for, but which cannot satisfy us.

For we all should know that all of these worldly things bring no lasting satisfaction because when we have a taste of these things, we will desire and crave for even more. Such is the extent of our human greed and desire. And that is why in the Gospel today, when Jesus was speaking to the Samaritan woman, He pointed out that she had had five husbands, and the current one that she had was not even her husband!

When we mankind are unable to restrain ourselves, and place our trust in the things of this world, in our wealth, in our money, in our appearances and bodily pleasures, that is when we start to slide into the quicksand of sin which pulls us steadily deeper and deeper until we are unable to escape, unless we make the conscious effort to stand up and say no to sin and to our weaknesses.

Jesus said that those who believe in Him will be able to draw living water from Him, for He is the Living Water, the source of all life and satisfaction, which refers also to the time when Israel was in the desert and God gave them all that they need. If only that they placed their complete trust in God, instead of grumbling and complaining because they could not get what they wanted, they would have been perfectly happy living in the grace of God.

Now let us all ask ourselves, is God at the centre of our lives? Is He the reason why we continue to do our work and our action in this life, from day after day? If God is not at the centre of all the things we say and do, we will soon realise that whatever we are doing are meaningless and mundane, and that is when we begin to lose faith in God and in our life. Do we want to be like those who are never able to be satisfied, constantly seeking something better for themselves, or do we rather want to be with God, and enjoy His grace and love?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, in this blessed time and season of Lent, all of us are called to repent from our sins and turn from our worldliness, from all the things that have kept us away from God and His love. We are called to let go of our human pride, from our desires, from our selfishness, all the things that have become serious obstacles on our path to God’s grace.

Let us reorientate our lives completely, so that Jesus our Lord is at the heart of our very being and existence. Through our penance and repentance, let us humbly seek forgiveness for all the times that we have been angry at Him, thinking that He had ignored us and our pleas. Let us all realise just how much He had loved us all, and through understanding of God’s love, let us show the same love to each other, through our almsgiving and kindness to those who are less fortunate than us.

Let us realise that because God lives in us, and because He is with us, we can do all things in He Who strengthens us, which is the words spoken by St. Paul in praise of God, the source of our life and our strength. May this time of Lent become the time for our redemption and for us to rejuvenate our faith in the Lord, that as we grow ever stronger in our faith, we may draw strength to persevere in this life and be ever righteous to the end. May God, the source of our life, the eternal Spring of Life, be with us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

Sunday, 12 March 2017 : Second Sunday of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, as we gather together to celebrate the occasion of the Second Sunday of Lent, each and every one of us are reminded by the passages from the Scriptures today that we have been called as Christians, to follow the Lord and walk in His path, following the examples of our forefathers in faith, in the footsteps of Abraham the just, the examples of the prophets, as well as the Apostles and disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In the examples we heard from the Scripture passages today, we have been given many examples of how God called His people, choosing them out of the world, calling them towards Himself, and in the process, transforming each and every one of them to be His servants, to be those who are worthy to be called the people of God, and indeed, to become His own children.

Let us begin from the example of Abraham, our father in faith. Out of the many people who have descended from Noah after the Great Flood, God called Abram, from the land of Ur in Babylonia and Mesopotamia. He was just a normal man, who had a wife and a family, living amongst his people in that area of Ur, a decently wealthy man with possessions of many animals and lands.

And most importantly, he did not have any child to continue his name or to inherit his wealth and possessions. At that time, all the other people would have looked down on Abram because he did not have a child. It was considered a curse and something bad not to have a child and to be barren, a shame and curse which surely also fell on Sara his wife. But Abram is faithful to God, and he believed in God when God called him and revealed to him what He had intended for him.

Otherwise we would be wondering why God chose such a man, who was without a child and merely just a man, not choosing the kings and the mighty ones among those who lived during the time of Abram. This is because God saw what is inside the heart and not by appearances, and He saw in Abram, something that is different from all the others. And that thing which differentiated him from others is faith.

God called Abram and he listened to that call. He followed the Lord, leaving everything behind and went on with his wife, Lot, his cousin and his belongings to the land of Canaan, far away from his ancestral land of Ur. He could have ignored the calling of the Lord, as it is much easier for him to remain in the land of his ancestors, and with what he had at that time, surely he had more than enough in order to make himself a comfortable life.

Instead, he travelled the perilous road on the journey towards the land which God promised to him and to his descendants, taking into account the difficulty of travel at that time, when travel was not as efficient and easy as it is today. He followed the Lord’s commands wherever He wanted him to go, and he remained faithful to Him. It was only in one occasion that he faltered, when he was impatient of getting a child for himself, and tried a shortcut by having a child with his slave Hagar. But God chastised Abram for his lack of faith, and reassured him that He would fulfil His promise.

Abram was rewarded for his faith with the gift of the promised child, Isaac, through whom Abram would become the father of many nations, from a man who was considered barren most of his life, to become the ancestor of many people, of kings and lords, and even of the Lord and Saviour of the world, Jesus Christ, born the Son of Abraham through His mother Mary. And as a sign of the fulfilment of that covenant, Abram received a new name, that is Abraham.

Let us then link this to our baptism, the moment when each and every one of us received our faith and become part of the Church, either as an infant or as an adult. Each of us received the baptism of water that cleansed us from the taints and corruptions of our original sins, and were received into the Church of God, becoming God’s own children, His own sons and daughters. And we also receive a new name, in honour of the holy saints and martyrs of God.

The saints and martyrs were themselves just like us, brothers and sisters in Christ. They were sinners just as we are. However, they have been called and chosen by God, and they answered God’s call much in the same way as Abram had done, and were transformed by that faith he had in God. God transformed His servants from the creatures of sin and darkness, into the creatures of the light.

In that process, we may have to leave behind the comfort of the life we know of, just as Abram had once done, leaving behind the comfort of his past life, all certainties and goodness in life, and instead following the Lord to the unknown future he was being led into. This is what we also heard in the Gospel today, the account on the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In that account, we heard how the glory of our Lord Jesus was revealed to the world through His disciples on Mount Tabor, when He was shown in the fullness of His Divine glory and majesty, before His disciples. The glory of God was revealed in all of its fullness, and Moses and Elijah appeared and talked to Jesus on that mountain. This is the first message that we can learn from this Gospel passage, that just as Christ has been transfigured in His glory, all of us therefore will also be transformed by the Lord when we answer His call and obey Him, and we shall share in the glory of all of His saints.

But then we should also take note of what happened next. It contains an equally important message and reminder for us all. As the glory of God was so great, the disciples were awed by what they had seen, and St. Peter suggested to Jesus that they all ought to remain there up on the mountain, and three tents should be established each for Him, and for Elijah and Moses.

What does this mean, brothers and sisters in Christ? At that time, as Jesus continued through His earthly ministry, He knew that He would eventually be betrayed by one of His own disciples, and handed Him to the hands of His enemies, to all those who cried out for His death. And He knew just how much He had to suffer as He went through all of that, and yet despite all these, He obeyed the will of His Father completely and perfectly.

He knew that if He were to descend that mountain, He would go on to Jerusalem, and from there to His Passion and suffering, and death on the cross. To remain on that mountain in His glory is something that He could have done. After all, He did not have to go and suffer for the sake of all mankind, for they have disobeyed Him and became wayward through sin. He is God, and He could just destroy all those who have sinned against Him by His will alone.

But that was not what He had decided to do, brothers and sisters in Christ. He was so filled with love for the sake of each and every one of us that He was willing to empty Himself and humble Himself, emptying Himself from all the glory of His divinity and embark on the path of His Passion, that is the path of the cross. And although mankind had disobeyed Him and sinned, He showed an example for all, through love and perfect obedience, following the will of His Father. And through Him, all have been saved.

That is what God had done for us, obedient even unto death so that He may undo from us the damages caused by our disobedience, our sins. And He has called each one of us, all of His beloved children scattered throughout the world, that we may come to believe in Him, that we may follow Him, abandon our past ways of sin and wickedness, embracing the righteousness and justice found in God alone.

That is why, brothers and sisters in Christ, having heard the passages and words from the Scriptures today, each of us as Christians must know that all of us have been called from the world. We have been called by God to follow Him, to embark on a great journey with Him, to go into the unknown, to the destination which only the Lord alone knows. And we need that faith to go forth and embark on this journey, putting our complete trust in God as Abram had once done.

All of us have been called to follow in the footsteps of the saints and martyrs, those who have dared to venture forth and go to the places that God had called them to go to, remaining faithful and true to Him to the very end, even when the whole world itself was against them. Jesus Himself showed by example, stepping down from His glory at Mount Tabor and descending with His disciples, who were following Him to His Passion and death at Jerusalem, the complete fulfilment of His mission in this world, that is our salvation.

And how do we then respond, brothers and sisters in Christ? It is by taking up our crosses and follow the Lord Jesus, not in terms of physical crosses, but to be true and faithful to the teachings of our Lord, and to stand up for our faith in Him, being true and faithful witnesses to Him and to His truth by our actions, by our words and by our deeds. This means for us to practice love, compassion, grace and mercy in all that we say and do.

Through all that we have faithfully said and done in accordance with the will of God, obeying the Lord as Jesus had once done Himself, all of us will be transformed from the creatures of darkness and sin that were once all of us, into beings of light and righteousness, worthy to be called sons and daughters of God. We all will share in all the glory and the inheritance God had promised Abraham and more, and we will revel in the eternal glory of His saints and holy Angels.

Therefore, in this time of Lent, let us begin if we have not begun, to be charitable and loving to others, especially to those who are in need, not just in terms of material goods, but even more importantly in terms of spiritual needs and the need to be loved and cared. There are many people out there who are in need of our love. Let our Lenten season be meaningful and fruitful, by our actions, through which not only that we restrain our desires and temptations, but also by doing more in what we can do to help others, to love others, and to give ourselves for the sake of all those who need us, just as Jesus Himself had done.

May the Lord be with us in this season of Lent, and may He help us in our journey of faith, so that each and every one of us whom He had called, may listen to His call, and do something that we walk in His path ever more faithfully, putting our complete trust in Him, so that in the end, we may merit to share in the glory which God had prepared for all those who are faithful and true to Him. May God bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Sunday, 5 March 2017 : First Sunday of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we mark the occasion of the First Sunday of Lent, when we heard the customary readings from the Scripture about the fall of mankind, our first ancestors Adam and Eve, and also the reading from the Holy Gospels on the temptation of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who was tempted by the devil during His forty days of fasting and preparation in the desert after He was baptised and before He began His earthly ministry.

In today’s readings, we heard about how frail we mankind are, beginning since the time of our very first ancestors, whom God had created out of love and placed in the Gardens of Eden. We were not intended for a life of suffering and pain, and we were not intended to suffer death at the end of our lives. Indeed, everything was created good and perfect then, and mankind were supposed to live out their days in perfect bliss and harmony with God forevermore.

God has blessed us mankind with many things, and He has put us in charge over all the things that He has created in this world. And yet, as we have heard, seen and witnessed, they were not satisfied with what they had received. That is why we fell prey easily to the temptations of Satan, our great enemy who despised us and wanted to see us destroyed and crushed because of our own folly.

Satan was once known as Lucifer, a great and mighty Archangel of God, who was told to be the greatest and most brilliant of all the Angels of God, but he became proud and filled with greed and desire, thinking of going beyond what was his due, and claimed to be greater than God His Creator, desiring nothing less than the throne of Heaven itself, and led many Angels in rebellion against God. He was defeated and cast down out of Heaven, and became what we know as Satan, the devil, the evil one.

So much had he resented his downfall and defeat, that he resolved to bring ruin upon those whom God had loved most of all the things He had created, that is us all mankind. He played upon our human desires and vulnerabilities, and tempted us with the same vices that he himself had. He tempted us with the knowledge of good and evil, lying that by eating the fruits of the forbidden tree, we will gain power and knowledge much like that of God’s, and therefore became like God Himself.

It is in our disobedience and in our inability to restrain ourselves that we have sinned, not just Adam and Eve with their original sins, but also down throughout time and ages, when mankind frequently and constantly acted waywardly and committed wickedness before God and men alike. We have fallen into sin, which corrupted our hearts and minds and defiled our bodies and souls, preventing us from attaining true grace in God.

It is therefore in this holy season of Lent, the forty days of preparation we have before the celebration of Easter that we are all called to reflect on the state of our sinfulness and wickedness. We have been called to conversion by God, a conversion from our past sinfulness and waywardness, so that we may turn our back against all the disgraceful and selfish acts we had done, which had brought about our separation from God.

What we heard in the Gospel today, on the temptations of the devil upon Jesus our Lord in the desert is a clear reminder for each one of us as we proceed through this season of Lent. Among what we have heard in the temptations, it is a reminder for us to keep our guard up against the sin of gluttony, the sin of greed and desire, and finally the sin of pride.

First of all, Jesus was tempted by the devil who tried to manipulate His hunger and desire for food. He has fasted for a whole forty days and nights without any food or drink, and certainly then, as human as He was, He must have been really hungry. Just imagine for ourselves, that if we just skip one meal in a day, it would have been intolerable for us, not less still missing the meal for the entire day, and even more so for forty days and nights.

And that was what brought down many of the Israelites as they journeyed through the desert. They complained against Moses and against God, because they were hungry and then became angry against Moses and God for having led them out of Egypt, as they would rather live in slavery and had their bellies filled with food, the food of the Egyptians, rather than living in freedom and obeying the will of God their Lord and Master.

Let us all reflect on this, brothers and sisters in Christ. Is it not the same with us? Is it not like just what we mankind often do in our world, both past and present? Many of us are unable to resist the temptations of our flesh, the pangs of hunger and desire of our stomachs. Many of us live lavishly and eat food and drink as if there is no tomorrow. We feast and party among ourselves, while there are many people in this world who cannot even make ends meet, and who hunger for food and are starving to death.

Many of us worry about what we are to eat and drink daily, and we worry about our well-being, but how many of us realise just how much we have been blessed by God day after day? And yet, we are not satisfied and always desire for more things for ourselves. Jesus rebuked Satan and castigated him, saying that food is not all that we need in order to live, but really to obey the Word of God and to listen to His will.

What does this mean, brothers and sisters? It means that we must not allow ourselves to be controlled by the whim of our desire. This is linked to the sin of greed and desire I mentioned earlier on. Gluttony is a result of our desire, and so is lust and greed. We must overcome the temptations of our flesh, and learn to control ourselves. Jesus was tempted by Satan in his third temptation, with the offer of the whole kingdom and wealth of the whole earth, if only that He would worship him as a god.

But Jesus rebuked him once again, saying that God alone is worthy of worship, and He alone is God. It is our desire that had led us astray from God, and instead of obeying the will of God, we end up listening to the will of our own flesh, the will of our own desires, which lead us into committing acts that are abhorrent and wicked in the sight of God and mankind alike.

After all, that is what happened when we mankind fight against each other over prestige, over honour, over wealth and possessions, even over food and basic necessities of life. Wars had been fought and conflicts had raged over something as trivial as human pride and ego, over human desire for more wealth and commodities. The greed and desire of mankind had indeed led to the rich, mighty and powerful to oppress those who are poorer and weak.
But let us not be mistaken, brothers and sisters in Christ. For God is not against the rich and the powerful just because they are so. Do we realise that even the poor often oppress others who are poor like them, just because they have more power, more strength and advantage against those who are weaker from them? Indeed, in this season of Lent, we are all called to restrain our human desires, our greed, the desire of lust, for forbidden pleasures of the flesh, and also to be charitable.

Those who have been given more need to share their blessings with those who have less. And this is what God had commanded His people to do. In this season of Lent, besides fasting and abstinence, through which we restrain ourselves and our desires, we are also asked to do the works of mercy as our penance, loving our brethren and give generously through almsgiving, helping those who have little or even nothing to support themselves and their families.

And finally, it is a moment for us to resist the sin of pride, the most dangerous of it all. As I have mentioned at the beginning of this discourse, it is pride that had brought down even the mighty Angel Lucifer, whose pride overcome him and made him to desire the power and glory of God for himself. Pride and ego is indeed the source of all vices. For it is the ‘I’, the ego we have in us, that led us to selfishness, to desire and to all other things, among which had led our ancestors to sin against God.

When we are so focused on ourselves, and when we are so full of ego and arrogance, it is when we end up selfishly thinking about ourselves, desiring more and more for ourselves, even if these would mean that others may not get a share in what we desire, and if these lead others to suffer just so that we may enjoy what we want.

Satan himself tempted Jesus to jump from the top of the Temple, alleging that the Angels would not let Him to hit the ground and would lift Him up. It is a great temptation for Jesus to show Himself and His might to others, as God and Master of all. But Jesus did not succumb to the temptation of pride, just as He did not succumb to desire, greed, gluttony and others. He rebuked Satan and cast him away from His presence.

All of these are important lessons for us to take note of during this season of Lent. It is an example for us all to follow, that during this penitential season, and indeed from now on, even beyond the end of this season of Lent, that we ought to throw away our ego, far far away from us. We must not be arrogant, be egoistic and selfish, but instead, we must be humble in all of our ways.

Let us all pray to the Lord, that He will give us the grace to be humble, especially as we progress through this season of Lent. Let us pray that He will open our hearts to His love, that we may love generously and share our blessings generously and kindly upon others, giving alms and help to those who need it, and restrain our desires, our selfishness, and instead learn to be selfless and loving to all our fellow brethren. Let us indeed follow the examples of Christ, our Lord, Who was humble and obedient to the will of His Father, and Whose obedience had brought about our salvation, reversing the sin of the disobedience of Adam and Eve.

May the Lord help us all as we progress through this season of Lent, that we may grow ever closer to Him, and grow ever more righteous, just and worthy of Him through all that we have said and done in our lives. May God bless us all and our families, and may He strengthen in us our faith and our desire to love Him above all else, and love His people, our brethren just as we love Him. God be with us all. Amen.

Sunday, 26 February 2017 : Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday all of us heard the words of the Scriptures telling us about the need for all of us to have our priorities in life right, that we do not get distracted by the many temptations of life, and that we will be able to discover the true peace and harmony in God. The readings today give us the assurance that God loves all of us His people, and He will not abandon us in our time of need.

In those readings, we are presented with the realities of our world today, that we mankind are often distracted by our many worldly concerns, the concern of our needs and wants, the concerns of our desires, and we often get troubled and focused on our human and worldly concerns, worrying about ourselves and trying to preserve and care for our own needs.

In all these, we have forgotten that above all these things, we have been given the great gift beyond all of the other gifts from God, namely our very own lives. God had graced us with life-giving spirit, and we have received this life we have thanks to Him Who granted them to all of us. God had also provided each and every one with what they need in life, and no one has any need to have any wants or desires, for God had given each and every one enough for themselves.

But we mankind are not easy to be satisfied and pleased, as since the very beginning, we have been tempted by many things, and Satan himself took advantage of this fact. God had created us all mankind with all the things that we need, and we have been placed in the blessed Eden to enjoy forever the rich blessings of God, but we were not content. Instead, we desired for more.

And that was what led Eve to be bought over by the temptations and the sweet lies of Satan, who lied to her telling her that if she would just eat from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, she then would become like God, by knowing what is good and evil. She and her husband Adam succumbed to the temptation, and we know of what happened after that. Not only that they have not received what they wanted, but they have been deprived of their original blessings because of their disobedience.

Throughout the Scriptures and in our daily lives, we witnessed to the many times when humanity, the people of God erred in their ways. We witnessed how a person would fight with another person debating and disputing over material wealth, over food, over money, over all sorts of worldly goods. We see just how wicked we mankind can be, in our desire to seek for more things for ourselves.

And this would never end, if we ourselves do not restrain our desires. We have seen in many occasions how mankind will always demand for more, seeking for more, wanting for more. That is also how corporate and business world usually operates, by seeking profit and revenue over anything else. And when a certain profit, revenue and good thing are attained, then it is natural for the demand for even more profits to appear.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we live in a world that is saturated with materialism, and often unbridled capitalism and mercantilism. It is a world also filled with selfishness, individualism and also human greed. That is why we see so many people being exploited by those who are in power, by those who are with influence and wealth. That is why we see so much injustice in our world today.

We see so many people being deprived from their daily needs, just so that the necessary resources could be given over to the mighty and the influential, to serve their own purposes. We live in a world today where in the hearts of many people, God had no place at all. Many of the people have abandoned God, seeking instead the pursuit of money, of material possessions, and other forms of worldly satisfaction.

This is where all of us as Christians have been challenged by the Lord Jesus, Who calls all of us to be His witnesses before the world, to be those who would carry on His message and truth, and to be examples for many others to follow through our own actions, words and deeds. We as Christians are supposed to be the role models for others, be exemplary in how we carry out our daily lives, that others may come to realise their mistakes and come to repentance.

First of all, as Christians, we are challenged to put God at the centre of our lives. God must be at the most prominent part of our lives, and in fact everything we say and do, must have their origins in God. What does this mean, brothers and sisters in Christ? It means that all of us must be obedient to God, and we must be filled with righteousness and justice in accordance with God’s ways.

We should not proclaim ourselves as Christians if we do not act in the same manner as a Christian should have done. Otherwise, we will create a scandal for our faith, for the Church and for the Lord, and it is a great sin before God and men alike. Many called themselves Christians, and yet they were greedy, filled with jealousy, anger, wrath, arrogance, selfishness and all other things that are unbecoming of our Christian identity.

Secondly, all of us are called to put our trust in the Lord, which means giving our complete and full trust to Him, knowing that He will take good care of us and bless us with everything that we need. We may think that this can be easily done, but often we are mistaken about this. It is actually not easy for us to put our trust in God, when we mankind often doubted the Lord, doubting and refusing to believe in His love and grace.

Many of us failed to see God’s love and faithfulness because we are too busy worrying about ourselves, about various things that we should really not be worried about. All these stemmed once again from what we have just discussed earlier on, about our inability to restrain our human desires and greed, which led to our fall into sins and darkness. As Christians, we are all called to overcome our worries and fears, and learn to put God ahead of everything else.

Lastly, all of us as Christians are challenged to take action, and to look beyond ourselves and our needs and wants. We must not be overcome and be distracted by our desires, by the temptations of this world. We must be selfless and think about others before ourselves. That is what is being a true Christian is like, that is to be more like Christ. Remember that Jesus Himself had placed Himself completely in the hands of His Father, and obeyed Him completely, and through that, all of us have been saved.

We must be those who would stand up and speak up against injustice and wickedness, against all sorts and forms of evil, and all the greed and desires of man. As Christians we must be daring and be willing to commit ourselves wholeheartedly for the betterment of our brethren, especially to all those who are downtrodden, who have been abandoned and without hope. We have to be a light of hope for others, reflecting the Lord Who is the true Light of the world.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore today let us all pray together, that each and every one of us will be strengthened in our faith, so that in all the things we say and do, we will always proclaim the glory of God, and place God at the centre of our lives, and in the centre of everything we have. Let us not allow our selfishness and the obstacles that Satan placed in our path to prevent us from doing what we ought to be doing as Christians, that is to give ourselves out of complete love for one another, just as our Lord Himself had done.

May the Lord help us all to overcome the weaknesses of our flesh, and help us to devote ourselves wholeheartedly to Him. May He empower us all to become His children, that we may prove to all others who see us, that we are Christians, as people who believe in the Lord, not just in name only, but also through real and true commitment. Let us all be examples for others to follow, that many more people may be saved, and let us be champions against injustice and wickedness in this world. May the Lord be with us all, and bless us all forevermore. Amen.