Sunday, 16 August 2020 : Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday each and every one of us are called to listen to the Lord and to open our hearts and minds to welcome Him, for He has indeed called all of us to follow Him, from all the nations, without bias and without prejudice based on race, culture, or by any other parameters and traits we often categorise people in. God wants us to know that we are all equally beloved by God, without exception.

In order to appreciate better the significance of our Scripture readings and the context of our reflection today, we need to understand that for many of the Israelites and their descendants, up to the time of the Lord Jesus and beyond, they saw themselves as God’s chosen ones, as the only ones who deserve salvation and the glory of God, while other peoples, the pagan nations and peoples, all of them would be destroyed and crushed, unless they accepted the Law of Moses in its entirety, essentially becoming one with the Israelites in culture and way of life.

In our first reading today, we heard the words of the Lord spoken through His prophet Isaiah, in which it was explicitly mentioned that the Lord has called foreigners, those so-called pagan people to follow Him and to walk in His path, to preserve His Law and commandments, and how His House will become the house of prayer for all the nations. He spoke of the time where people from all the places and from all countries will come together to glorify God, no longer divided by the mark of their race, origin or by any other parameters.

In our Gospel today, we heard something related when we listened to the story of the Lord Jesus and His interactions with a Syro-Phoenician woman, a non-Jew and Gentile, who came to Him begging Him to heal her daughter who was tormented and suffered from a demonic attack. But the Lord strangely seemed aloof and ignored her pleas saying that He was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel, and even sounded very patronising to her and said bluntly, “It is not right to take the bread from the children and give it to the puppies or dogs.”

This has the strong connotation and example of how the Jewish people looked at their neighbours and treated them, so much so that the non-Jewish people were even treated as less than human and insultingly referred to as dogs. But the Lord did not intend to hurt or humiliate the woman when He said such things, rather He actually wanted to make an example of just how terrible were the prejudice and biases that existed in the community at that time.

And the Lord also wanted to show all the people and His disciples that the woman, despite the supposed ‘humiliation and degrading treatment’ still had faith even more powerful than the faith of those who called themselves the children of Israel. She trusted the Lord and had faith in Him and even humbled herself before Him and everyone saying, that even puppies and dogs eat of the crumbs of the bread that fall from the master’s table. This is a faith that surpassed the lack of faith showed by many among the Jews who had witnessed the Lord and His works, and refused to believe or even opposed Him.

Then, in the second reading today we heard from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Church and the faithful in the city of Rome, of the Apostle speaking of his calling as the Apostle to the pagan nations and peoples. St. Paul is known as the Apostle to the Gentiles precisely because of this, as he put his emphasis in evangelising to the pagans, in reaching out not only to the Jews, but also the Greeks, the Romans and all the people to whom he had ministered during his many years of travel all around the Mediterranean region.

St. Paul spoke of how he called many among the pagans to embrace the ways of the Lord, and the frustrations he had in the refusal of many among God’s own people, the Jews and the others living in Judea, Galilee and the Jewish diaspora to believe in God and in His truth. Some among the Jews became the earliest Christians and they, indeed, the Apostles and many of the important disciples of the Lord, were the first foundations of the Church.

But there were great opposition from the chief priests, from many among the members of the Sanhedrin, that is the majority of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, who were opposed to the Lord Jesus, His teachings and works, who adamantly refused to listen to the words of the truth, and preferred to oppress those who spoke of the truth, that is the followers of the Lord. And it was these things that truly frustrated St. Paul, as it was also evident that many among the Jews took great pride in their status as a chosen race as mentioned earlier.

This prevailing attitude made it difficult for the early Christians as if we read the Acts of the Apostles, as the Jewish converts to the Christian faith initially demanded that all the observances of the laws of Moses and the rigour of the Pharisees’ way of observing the Law be kept as a fundamental aspect of the Church teachings and laws. The problem being that to demand of such imposition to the Gentiles or the non-Jewish people were impractical and impossible.

For example, the practice of circumcision and dietary restrictions would be very difficult to implement among the non-Jewish peoples, as the former in particular was seen as a barbaric practice by the Greeks and the Romans, and which in fact had caused tension between the two peoples in the past before. And the strict dietary restrictions of the old Jewish laws were often not compatible to the practices and customs of the Gentiles.

To demand that the Gentiles adopt the practices of the Jewish people wholesale was in fact tantamount to the lingering feeling of superiority that the Israelites and their descendants had in relations to the other, often considered pagan peoples. They argued that unless they adopted the ways of the Jews, then the Gentiles were not worthy of the salvation and grace of God. And this is what St. Paul wanted to dispel, and the whole Church agreed under the leadership of the Apostles, not to impose the excessive old Mosaic laws, but only the most fundamental aspects of the Law, as revealed to the Church by Christ.

And St. Paul also did not condemn his people, the Jews, unlike what many Christians later on would wrongly practice. Many misunderstood the context of the Church teachings and the words of the Apostles into actions against the Jewish people which resulted in centuries of suffering and oppression for many among them. Instead, as he said in our second reading today, that his people, by their ‘jealousy over the the success of the ministry of St. Paul and the Apostles in bringing to righteousness the pagan peoples’ might themselves be saved as well.

Yes, and this means that while the people of Israel were the first ones called and chosen by God, they are by no means the exclusive benefactors of God’s grace and blessings. God created the entire human race because He loved all of them, and through and from the people of Israel, He therefore raised His Saviour, His own Son, Jesus Christ, to be the bearer of the Good News of salvation, calling everyone, all the children of man, to the reconciliation with God.

One fundamental value that we must always keep in mind is the fact that each and every one of us are equal before God and are equally beloved by God. It is therefore not right for any one of us to be prejudiced, to be biased and act in ways that cause hurt and suffering for others just because we consider ourselves as superior or better compared to the other person, race or nation. And it is especially all the more important that as Christians, as God’s own beloved children, we put this as one of the cornerstones of our lives and actions.

This means that as the followers of Christ, we must treat one another equally, with love and with genuine concern for each other. We must not fall into the temptations of pride, ego and greed, all of which encouraged us to look inward, being selfish and self-promoting, seeking our personal joy and satisfaction over that of others. And it is sad indeed to see the history of our world, how people have acted unjustly on one another, persecuted and oppressed others, manipulated and extorted others.

Many people had suffered and died in the various racial and ethnic genocides that happened, wars and conflicts fought over our preference to focus on our differences and disagreements. People hurt one another because they deemed themselves to better and looking down at the others. In such a condition, obviously how can anyone expect to live peacefully and harmoniously with each other? As our long history has proven it, there had been so much sorrow and pain suffered all these while.

And in our world today, it is sad to see a rising tide of intolerance and selfishness once again, worst still at a time when we all need to be more united than ever. When the terrible pandemic swept all over the world, killing many and ruining many people’s livelihood, we saw how people are attributing blame on each other, and targetted people who had historically been discriminated against, and blamed or even attacked those who are different from them, deemed inferior and less worthy.

We heard how communities were threatened with rifts and disagreements, riots and troubles that occurred, when historic hurts and pains of unequal treatments, of prejudices and biases came to the surface again especially when everyone is under great pressure during these days. At the time when we need to be more united than ever, the devil is reaping dividends by sowing seeds of dissension and conflict among us. And unfortunately, many of us Christians are part of these as well.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, today, as we reflect upon the passages of the Scripture and internalise their message, we need to re-evaluate our lives and way of living, especially if we have discriminated against others before, looking down on others and thinking highly of ourselves and our faith. Let us first of all remember that the Lord loves every one of us equally and without bias or distinction. If God has done so, then why can’t we do the same then?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all as Christians be exemplary in our actions, in genuinely loving and caring our fellow brothers and sisters without bias and prejudice. Let us all seek the Lord with all of our hearts and minds together, that we truly may serve Him with faith, and together as one people, one Church of God envisioned by St. Paul, let us all go joyfully to God and His heavenly kingdom. May God, our loving Father continue to love us and bless us, now and always. Amen.

Saturday, 15 August 2020 : Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate the great Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, remembering the moment when Mary, the Mother of God at the end of her earthly existence, was brought up body and soul into the glory of heaven, what is known as the ‘Assumption’ of Mary. This day we celebrate the moment when Mary enter the heavenly glory prepared for her by her Son, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Pope Pius XII declared the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the year of Our Lord 1950, just 70 years ago, but this did not mean that the Assumption of Mary is a new concept of our faith. Rather, it is a formal declaration that this important tenet of our faith is truly and undeniably part of our Christian deposit of faith, which our brethren in the Eastern Church also celebrate as the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, essentially the same in concept and purpose.

When we talk of the Assumption or the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, sometimes we confuse it with the Ascension of the Lord Jesus. The difference between the two is such that while the Lord ascended into Heaven by His own power, will and might, Mary is assumed into Heaven, by the will and power of God, and not by her own power, will or might. She received this great grace by virtue of her motherhood of the Lord, her being the Mother of God Most High, the Son of God and Saviour of all.

For the Lord Jesus is the conqueror of sin and death, by His suffering and death on the cross, in which He offered Himself as the perfect and loving sacrifice in atonement for our sins and faults. He triumphed over death through His Resurrection, showing that death, which is the consequence of sin, has no more power over us as long as we put our trust in God as Our Lord and Saviour. He has showed us the path forward beyond death and into a new life of eternal glory prepared for us.

And because of this, as I mentioned earlier, according to the traditions of the Church from the earliest history and beginning of the Church, Christians have always believed that Mary, the Mother of God, did not suffer death unlike all of us, as after all, how can the Mother of the One Who conquered death and triumphed over it by His resurrection be herself subjected to the same death? This is also linked to the strong belief in Mary’s Immaculate and sinless state, as from the earliest days of the Church, it has also been a belief of the Church that Mary was conceived without sin, the Immaculate Conception, and remained free from sin afterwards.

Mary was unique and special, by the singular grace of God because she was to be the new and infinitely better Ark of the Covenant. And just as the original Ark was crafted from the finest and most precious of earthly materials, thus, the New Ark, of the New Covenant was to be far exceeding the old Ark, by the pure and sinless state of this perfect New Ark, crafted not by the hands of any man, but by the hands of God Himself. Thus, that is why later on the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, and in turn the Dogma of the Assumption of Mary came to be formalised by the Church.

The Assumption is a logical outcome of the belief in the Immaculate Conception, again because death is the consequence for sin, and although every man has to suffer death because we have sinned, no matter how small our sins are, but Mary, having been conceived without sin, was never tainted or corrupted by sin at all, and therefore, logically death did not just have any power over her, but she should not suffer death because she never sinned in the first place.

There are two major schools of thought on what exactly happened in the Assumption of Mary into heaven, both with Mary ending up in the glory of Heaven, by the side of her Son, interceding for us as she is still doing to this day. One is that Mary did die, because she shared in the death of her Son, and not death because of the punishment or consequence for her sins, which did not exist. She loved her Son so much that she shared in her Son’s death, but her body did not rot or perish. Rather, she was put to sleep and then, body and soul, assumed into Heaven.

Another school of thought is that, Mary was directly assumed into Heaven, body and soul, without even passing through any form of death at all. But regardless of how exactly the Assumption of Mary happened, the fact is that Mary is now up there in Heaven, having been assumed body and soul, and reigning with her Son as the Queen Mother of Heaven, seated by her Son’s side as His confident and beloved Mother, and as our greatest intercessor.

Through Mary, His mother, the Lord wants to show us and affirm to us that faith in Him will only lead to an eternal glory and a new and eternal life, one that is free from the taints and shackles of sin and death. And through the Assumption, the Lord wants to show us the foretaste of heavenly glory for us, as it is told that in the end of days, all of us will be raised from death, and in body and soul, joining God in the eternity of glory, while those who reject God and His mercy, will be thrown, body and soul into eternal darkness and suffering.

Mary is the shining beacon of hope reminding us all what will happen to those who are virtuous and faithful, as Mary did not just merit this great honour because she is the Mother of God and conceived without sin, but because throughout life she remained free from sin, and completely dedicated to God because of the love she has for Him, obeying His Law, and later on, giving herself completely and committed herself to loving her Son, following Him all the way to the foot of the cross.

How about us, brothers and sisters in Christ? As I said earlier, God has shown us the sure promise of eternal life, a new life and existence no longer darkened by sin and suffering, filled with true and everlasting joy. However, all of these will only come to be when we follow the Lord and commit ourselves to Him wholeheartedly the way Mary has done in her own life. We can certainly do this if we strive and try our best, but the important question is, are we willing to do it?

Especially more than ever, during these difficult days and times, when the whole world is facing so many great challenges and trials, so many people were without hope and light in their lives, the Assumption of Mary is the beacon of hope that after everything that happened, we must not give in to those fears and uncertainties, but all the more we must trust in God and have faith in Him, looking at our blessed Mother, Mary for inspiration and example.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we mark this great and wonderful celebration of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, let us all reinspect our lives and look deep into ourselves, into our every actions and how we have lived our faith life all these while. Let us all look forward with hope to our own future entry into the eternal life of glory with God, by taking the concrete steps to live righteously with faith in God just as Mary had done in her own life.

May the Lord be with us and guide us, and through Mary, His mother’s constant intercession and help, more and more of us, the children of mankind, may come closer to God and receive the love and grace of God, and come closer to achieving the desired reconciliation and reunion with God, by which we will forever enjoy the fullness of God’s love. O Mary, Holy Mother of God, assumed in glory, body and soul into Heaven, pray for all of us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Friday, 14 August 2020 : Vigil Mass of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, tonight we celebrate the Vigil of the great Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, remembering the moment when Mary, the Mother of God at the end of her earthly existence, was brought up body and soul into the glory of heaven, what is known as the ‘Assumption’ of Mary. Tonight we celebrate the moment when Mary enter the heavenly glory prepared for her by her Son, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

When we talk of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, sometimes we confuse it with the Ascension of the Lord Jesus. The difference between the two is such that while the Lord ascended into Heaven by His own power, will and might, Mary is assumed into Heaven, by the will and power of God, and not by her own power, will or might. She received this great grace by virtue of her motherhood of the Lord, her being the Mother of God Most High, the Son of God and Saviour of all.

For the Lord Jesus is the conqueror of sin and death, by His suffering and death on the cross, in which He offered Himself as the perfect and loving sacrifice in atonement for our sins and faults. He triumphed over death through His Resurrection, showing that death, which is the consequence of sin, has no more power over us as long as we put our trust in God as Our Lord and Saviour. He has showed us the path forward beyond death and into a new life of eternal glory prepared for us.

And because of this, according to the traditions of the Church from the earliest history and beginning of the Church, Christians have always believed that Mary, the Mother of God, did not suffer death unlike all of us, as after all, how can the Mother of the One Who conquered death and triumphed over it by His resurrection be herself subjected to the same death? This is also linked to the strong belief in Mary’s Immaculate and sinless state, as from the earliest days of the Church, it has also been a belief of the Church that Mary was conceived without sin, the Immaculate Conception, and remained free from sin afterwards.

Mary was unique and special, by the singular grace of God because she was to be the new and infinitely better Ark of the Covenant. And just as the original Ark was crafted from the finest and most precious of earthly materials, thus, the New Ark, of the New Covenant was to be far exceeding the old Ark, by the pure and sinless state of this perfect New Ark, crafted not by the hands of any man, but by the hands of God Himself. Thus, that is why later on the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, and in turn the Dogma of the Assumption of Mary came to be formalised by the Church.

The Assumption is a logical outcome of the belief in the Immaculate Conception, again because death is the consequence for sin, and although every man has to suffer death because we have sinned, no matter how small our sins are, but Mary, having been conceived without sin, was never tainted or corrupted by sin at all, and therefore, logically death did not just have any power over her, but she should not suffer death because she never sinned in the first place.

There are two major schools of thought on what exactly happened in the Assumption of Mary into heaven, both with Mary ending up in the glory of Heaven, by the side of her Son, interceding for us as she is still doing to this day. One is that Mary did die, because she shared in the death of her Son, and not death because of the punishment or consequence for her sins, which did not exist. She loved her Son so much that she shared in her Son’s death, but her body did not rot or perish. Rather, she was put to sleep and then, body and soul, assumed into Heaven.

Another school of thought is that, Mary was directly assumed into Heaven, body and soul, without even passing through any form of death at all. But regardless of how exactly the Assumption of Mary happened, the fact is that Mary is now up there in Heaven, having been assumed body and soul, and reigning with her Son as the Queen Mother of Heaven, seated by her Son’s side as His confident and beloved Mother, and as our greatest intercessor.

Through Mary, His mother, the Lord wants to show us and affirm to us that faith in Him will only lead to an eternal glory and a new and eternal life, one that is free from the taints and shackles of sin and death. And through the Assumption, the Lord wants to show us the foretaste of heavenly glory for us, as it is told that in the end of days, all of us will be raised from death, and in body and soul, joining God in the eternity of glory, while those who reject God and His mercy, will be thrown, body and soul into eternal darkness and suffering.

Mary is the shining beacon of hope reminding us all what will happen to those who are virtuous and faithful, as Mary did not just merit this great honour because she is the Mother of God and conceived without sin, but because throughout life she remained free from sin, and completely dedicated to God because of the love she has for Him, obeying His Law, and later on, giving herself completely and committed herself to loving her Son, following Him all the way to the foot of the cross.

How about us, brothers and sisters in Christ? As I said earlier, God has shown us the sure promise of eternal life, a new life and existence no longer darkened by sin and suffering, filled with true and everlasting joy. However, all of these will only come to be when we follow the Lord and commit ourselves to Him wholeheartedly the way Mary has done in her own life. We can certainly do this if we strive and try our best, but the important question is, are we willing to do it?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we mark the Vigil beginning this great celebration of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, let us all reinspect our lives and look deep into ourselves, into our every actions and how we have lived our faith life all these while. Let us all look forward with hope to our own future entry into the eternal life of glory with God, by taking the concrete steps to live righteously with faith in God just as Mary had done in her own life.

May the Lord be with us and guide us, and through Mary, His mother’s constant intercession and help, more and more of us, the children of mankind, may come closer to God and receive the love and grace of God, and come closer to achieving the desired reconciliation and reunion with God, by which we will forever enjoy the fullness of God’s love. O Mary, Holy Mother of God, assumed in glory, body and soul into Heaven, pray for all of us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Friday, 14 August 2020 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we are all reminded that we need to listen to God and put our trust in Him, and appreciate the wonderful love with which He has blessed us all these while, loving us so tenderly and generously that despite our many infidelities, our many betrayals and disobedience against Him, He still looks out for us and cares for us, and still wants us all to walk down the right path in life.

In our first reading today, all of us heard from the Book of the prophet Ezekiel in which the Lord spoke at length about how His people had sinned greatly against Him, how they had disobeyed Him and sold themselves to the pagan idols and gods, worshipping those abominations instead of worshipping the true God, how they had persecuted His prophets and all those whom He had sent to them to remind them and call them to return to Him.

And yet, despite all of these, the Lord said through Ezekiel, that even in their most vulnerable moments, when they were completely troubled, humiliated and naked, He came by their side, clothed them and took care of them, just as how He had patiently watched over them for all those years without fail. And yet again, although God had blessed His people such and made them wonderful, but they chose to squander their blessings and beauty to commit sin against God and all sorts of evil.

Through all of these we can see how God had been so caring and patient towards us that He is willing to endure all these nonsense from us, and still provide for us and give us what we need. He will always uphold the Covenant that He has established with us as He has promised and nothing can separate us from the love and mercy of God, that is except our own stubborn rejection of His love and mercy, by which we closed ourselves from God and continued to fall deeper and deeper into sin.

In our Gospel passage today, the Lord spoke to His disciples on the matter of divorce, as some among the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were asking Him on the matter of divorce and what ought to be done as the Law of God handed down to Moses did allow for divorce to be done. And then the Lord immediately revealed how the allowance for the divorce was made only because the people was so stubborn in their ways and in refusing to follow the Lord’s ways, and some concessions were probably made to prevent the people from falling even further into sin.

But the Lord showed how God never intended for the people to treat their lives and actions into mere formality, as He wants all of them to love and to be true to their faith in whatever that He has called them to. This means that all of us are called to lead a God-centred life in our respective calling and way of life, just as He presented in today’s Gospel passage, in calling on all of us to do what the Lord has called us to do in our lives, in our various callings and vocations in life.

The Lord said how there are those who are destined for married life, while others were destined for a life of virginity and singlehood, dedicated to God, and all of these callings and vocations of life are all noble and good in their own accord, as how the Lord meant for them to be. What matters is that we love God, and devote ourselves to Him by being righteous, good and virtuous in life, and today, we have a perfect inspiration on how to do this, through the examples set by St. Maximilian Kolbe, a renowned holy saint and martyr of the faith.

St. Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish priest and member of the Conventual Franciscans, who was chiefly remembered for his death in the concentration camp under the NAZI Germany tyranny. He was a longtime missionary, working for many years in distant lands after he joined the Franciscans and became a priest. He worked in Japan for quite a few years, evangelising and spreading the word of God, continuing the efforts he had begun when he was in Poland with the organisation Maria Immaculata, aimed at opposing the enemies of the Church and calling them to repentance through faith.

St. Maximilian Kolbe established monasteries in Japan and also in India during his missionary years, before he returned to Poland not long before the outbreak of the Second World War which would come to engulf not just Poland but the entirety of Europe and much of the world. As we know today, this war surpassed all others in ferocity and brutality, as millions and many more perished from many brutal actions of states and all those who disregarded the sanctity of human life and existence.

Although St. Maximilian Kolbe himself had German ancestry, which could have earned him the right of equal treatment with the citizens of NAZI Germany at the time, he refused to cooperate with the oppressors and those who brutally treated and killed many, and worked to hide and provide shelter to many of those who were oppressed, especially the Jews who were unable to escape, and were prime targets in the ethnic cleansing and genocide efforts of the NAZIs.

This led to the eventual forced closure of the monastery in which St. Maximilian Kolbe operated, together with some other friars, he was arrested and put into prison for the secret anti-German activities they carried out in defending the dignity of human life and also their opposition to war and the German actions. He was then transferred to the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp, and there, he continued to minister to the people imprisoned there in the camp as a priest, despite the harassments and humiliations he had to endure daily.

And when a prisoner managed to escape from the concentration camp, the Germans forced ten people to be punished by starving to death to deter further attempts at escape. A Polish man who was selected cried out ‘My wife! My children!’, knowing that he was about to die, only for St. Maximilian Kolbe to step in and offered himself in exchange for the man. St. Maximilian Kolbe chose freely to die, in his love for his fellow brother, who was grieving over not being able to see his family anymore, and thus, died in martyrdom, a martyr of justice and faith, a martyr of love and mercy.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, St. Maximilian Kolbe has shown us all what true Christian love and true Christian faith are all about. He showed us the same love that God has shown us, one that is pure, genuine and selfless, the love with which He has cared for us, provided for us and being patient with us all despite our infidelities and lack of faith. Are we able to love God with the same love and dedication? Are we able to love one another in the same way too?

These are the questions that we really should ask ourselves as we evaluate our direction in life, in our approach towards righteousness and in distancing ourselves from our past sinfulness and all the things that had brought us into sin. Let us all be inspired by the faith and love showed by St. Maximilian Kolbe and strive hard to be true and faithful disciples of the Lord, filled with love for God, first and foremost, and for our fellow brothers and sisters. May God be with us all and bless us, now and always. Amen.

Thursday, 13 August 2020 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Pontian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Hippolytus, Priest and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us are reminded of God’s wonderful love and mercy, and just how fortunate and blessed each and every one of us are that God has extended to us His forgiveness and reached out to us to show His love and compassion. We have sinned against God by our disobedience, our wickedness and constant failure to resist the temptations of the devil, and we should have been crushed and destroyed if not for God’s mercy and love.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Book of the prophet Ezekiel in which the prophet spoke of the Lord’s premonitions and words regarding the downfall of the sinful and all those who have disobeyed and refused to believe in Him. The Lord told Ezekiel to do as He said, to show all those who had been carried off into Babylon in exile, that the final days of the kingdom of Judah and Jerusalem were at hand.

Ezekiel showed what would happen to the prince of the city of Jerusalem and the rest of the people, as how king Zedekiah, the last king of Judah would flee from the besieged city of Jerusalem after years of siege, and tried to flee from the Babylonians, only to be caught and humiliated, and the rest of the people enslaved and brought into exile. The city of Jerusalem was destroyed and the Temple of God, long defiled by the sins of the people, was torn down in the conquest, its many vessels and goods brought into Babylon as spoils of war.

And this is the consequence of the sins that the people of God had committed, as they abandoned God for the pagan idols and for their futile pursuits of worldliness, to satisfy their ego, greed and ambitions. They lost everything, their pride and their land, their livelihood and all that they had, humiliated and treated less than men, to serve the needs of their masters and conquerors. Yet, they lived, and this showed that God still loved them, cared for them, regardless of their many sins.

This is then what the Lord told His disciples in our Gospel passage today as He spoke of them on the matter of forgiveness when the Apostle St. Peter asked Him how many times we must forgive our enemies and those who have wronged us, and the Lord said, ‘seventy times seven times’. The connotation of seven and seventy was in fact a reference to the need for one to be constantly forgiving, as seven is a number of perfection, and seventy times seven show complete perfection, meaning forgiveness without end in this case.

The Lord also used the parable to highlight this matter to His disciples, as He spoke of a rich lord who had many servants, and whose servants owed him quite a fair amount of money, and they were supposed to pay back what they owed or face the consequences. One of the servants who owed ten thousand pieces of gold, a relatively large amount that time, begged his lord and master to give him more time to be able to pay back the debt, and not to levy punishment on him or his household.

The lord, moved with pity, did not just listen to what the servant asked and begged for, but even more, he cancelled out his entire debt, which means that the servant did not have to pay off the entire huge debt of ten thousand pieces of gold. The servant, definitely being happy, then went off and then, met another servant who owed him money, a sum of a hundred pieces of silver. This is a much, much smaller amount than what the servant once owed his lord and master and had been forgiven from.

Yet, the servant forced the other servant to pay him back and threatened him, and even when the other servant begged for him to forgive him or at least give him more time to pay back his debt, the servant refused and sent the poor other servant into prison. And this came to the knowledge of the lord, who became very, very upset at the servant, who showed complete ingratitude at what he had been so fortunate and blessed with. He was forgiven his massive debt and yet, could not forgive a much smaller debt owed him.

This was representative of what God, our Lord and Master has done for us and what He is expecting all of us to do in our own lives. The lord in the parable represents the Lord Himself, and the servants of the lord being each and every one of us. The debts represent the sins and faults, the mistakes and hurt we have caused one another, the large debt represents the debt we have towards God, our sins caused by our disobedience and wickedness, while the smaller debt represents the faults and hurts we committed to one another, to our fellow brothers and sisters.

The essence of today’s Scripture readings therefore is to point out to us that, if God has been able to forgive us our sins, just as how enormous and incomprehensibly large the extent of those sins are for each one of us, then why can’t we forgive one another our sins and faults, our mistakes and hurts we have caused each other? That is because we are often too filled up with ego and pride that we cannot see ourselves humbling and stepping down to forgive, seeing forgiving others as a sign of weakness.

And our desires made the better of us, by tempting us to seek for satisfaction and good things for ourselves, for things we want and crave like money and material possessions, often at the expense of others. That is why we get angry at others, or demand others to give in to what we want, and not forgiving them their debts and mistakes, not realising that we have been forgiven even greater debts by the Lord.

The Lord wants us to do the same with our fellow brothers and sisters, to forgive them their debts and mistakes, their sins and faults to us, just as He has forgiven us all our sins and trespasses. Isn’t this what we always pray for in the Lord’s Prayer? ‘Forgive us our trespasses just as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.’ And in order to do this, we need to get rid from ourselves the taints of pride and ego, the temptations of greed and worldly desires among other things.

Are we able to do so brothers and sisters in Christ? Are we willing to commit ourselves to be forgiving to one another and also accept God’s forgiveness in our lives? We are called to devote our time, effort and attention to serve the Lord faithfully and to be loving just as He is loving, forgiving and be compassionate just as He is forgiving and compassionate. And today, let us all also gain the inspiration from our holy predecessors, namely Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus, whose feasts we celebrate today.

At that time, Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus were rivals in the influence within the Church, with St. Hippolytus apparently having been elected as the ‘Antipope’ in opposition to several Popes, as the former accused the latter of heresies and infidelities. St. Hippolytus was supported by the Greek-speaking Christians in Rome while Pope St. Pontian and his immediate predecessors were supported by the Latin-speaking Christians. The division lasted for quite a few years, and in the meantime new round of persecutions against Christians occurred.

It was then that the Roman Emperor and the government imposed a new persecution that led to the arrest of both Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus, who were sent into exile and hard labour in Sardinia, and it was there that both of them were reconciled to each other, forgiving one another what had transpired and happened between them for the sake of unity in the Church. St. Hippolytus likely gave up his contention as an ‘Antipope’ while Pope St. Pontian also resigned from the Pontificate to allow for the election of a new Pope to commence, as his arrest meant that it was unlikely that he would ever be able to resume his duties.

Both saints eventually died in martyrdom, defending the truth of their faith, but not before showing all of us the power of forgiveness and reconciliation, of forgiving each other no matter how bitter we may have been over the disagreements and divisions we have between us. Ultimately, we must remember that God forgave us all and is still forgiving us even when we have committed so many sins against Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all turn towards the Lord with a new heart of love and hope, and seek for forgiveness from Him for our every sins and weaknesses. Let us all be loving as He has been loving, and be inspired by the story of forgiveness of Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus, forgoing their differences and embracing a new existence in love through God. May God be with us always, now and always. Amen.

Wednesday, 12 August 2020 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Jane Frances de Chantal, Religious (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Religious)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the passages from the Sacred Scriptures, we are all reminded of our duty as Christians and therefore as God’s people to follow the Lord and to obey His will and His laws, to be righteous and good just as He is good, and to be exemplary in our conduct and actions. For if we do not act as we have been called to act, and if we disobey God, then it is by our own disobedience and therefore sins that we will be judged.

In our first reading today, taken from the Book of the prophet Ezekiel we heard of the great vision of Ezekiel witnessing God’s glory upon His Throne of Angels, surrounded by the mighty Seraphim and Cherubim. What the prophet Ezekiel described of what he had seen was likely the best that he could do to describe within the limitations of the human expressions and perceptions of the great and infinite glory of God that he had seen, and through this, both Ezekiel and the people to whom he was sent were all reminded of the One Who had revealed all the truth they received.

The prophet Ezekiel saw what happened when the glory of God departed from the Temple and the city, where bloodshed and destruction would happen, a premonition of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of God by the Babylonians, as seen by Ezekiel who was then in exile in Babylon. Through the vision, God showed how His grace and presence among the people would leave the city and the House He had chosen and dwelled in, all because of the wickedness and evil of the people who refused to change their sinful ways.

The prophet Ezekiel’s message is parallel to what the Lord Jesus Himself told His disciples in our Gospel passage today. In that occasion, the Lord said that if someone had erred, then it is the duty, obligation and responsibility for that one’s fellow brothers and sisters in faith to correct and guide the one who erred back to the truth. And therefore, this is a reminder that each and every one of us have this responsibility to be faithful to God and to be examples for one another, and help lead each other down the right path.

However, God also said in that same occasion, that if the attempt to regain the faith in the one who erred fails, and the person stubbornly refused to change his ways, then that person ought to face condemnation for his or her own conscious refusal to obey the Lord and follow His ways. This is also what happened to the people of Israel and Judah, after they continued to disobey God and refused to listen to the many prophets and messengers God had sent to them. They were conquered, crushed and humiliated by their enemies, suffering for their own sins.

This is why, brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us are reminded today through these Scripture passages that disobedience against God leads to sin, and sin lead us to suffering and separation from God. And thus we should strive to be faithful at all times and we should do our best to resist the temptations to walk the path of sin. Today, we celebrate the feast of a holy woman and servant of God whose examples can inspire us in our own journey of faith.

St. Jane Frances de Chantal was the founder of the religious order, the Order of the Visitation of Mary, born into an influential family and married her husband, Baron de Chantal, with which she had a short but happy married life. When her husband passed away from an accident, the baroness was heartbroken and she chose to dedicate herself and her time to God as a religious sister. She forgave those who caused her husband’s premature death and gave herself to pious works and efforts.

St. Jane Frances de Chantal founded the religious order of the Order of the Visitation of Mary which was unique in that they gathered and accepted all those women who had been rejected by the other religious orders and congregations because they were considered too sickly or too old. Inspired by the faith and dedication of St. Jane Frances de Chantal, the members of the order spent much time caring for the needs of the people of God, especially those who were poor and less fortunate.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we can see how this holy woman and servant of God obeyed God and did what she could to fulfil His will and His commandments. How about us, brothers and sisters in Christ? Are we going to follow in her footsteps or are we going to be stubborn and refuse to change our ways, and continue to sin by our pride and greed, by our ego and ambitions, our selfish desires?

Let us all spend some time to discern about all these, and let us consider how each and every one of us can be more devoted and true in our faith and how we can follow the Lord with ever greater sincerity and commitment, no longer clinging stubbornly to our past ways of sin, but instead embrace fully the love of God in each and every moments of our lives. May the Lord be with us and may He guide us in our journey of faith that we may find the true path to salvation in Him. May God bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Tuesday, 11 August 2020 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Clare, Virgin (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us are reminded to be faithful and to be humble in our everyday lives, to be obedient to God and follow His ways. And this is what we need to do so that we may find the path towards the salvation in God, just as the Lord has done plenty in reaching out to us and calling on all of us to return to Him, seeking out for us and guiding us on the path towards reconciliation and redemption.

Unfortunately, we are often too busy with our lives and too proud and filled with ego to be able to live with genuine faith. And this is what we have been reminded through our Gospel passage as well, as we heard of the Lord’s words to His disciples, that unless we have the faith of children, be like them and welcome them into our midst, then we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven and be part of the inheritance and glory promised to all of us.

Why is this so, brothers and sisters in Christ? That is because unlike adults and those who have grown up, children are still innocent and pure, blameless and committed in whatever they believe in. When children believe in something, they will believe it wholeheartedly without doubt and without being distracted by various considerations, as what adults often do. When they believe in the Lord therefore, they will believe with all of their hearts, and given the right guidance, they will all be strong in their faith and love for God.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what many of us are lacking, as we live our lives filled with worldly desires and temptations that distract us and prevent us from finding our way towards God. We have often been swayed and tempted by the false promises of glory and pleasure by the devil and his allies, and as a result, we end up being lost from God. We fall into sin and sin led us further astray, away from the right path.

As long as we continue to be stubborn and persist in the path of sin, we will find it difficult to be reconciled with God. In our first reading today, we heard from the Book of the prophet Ezekiel the words of the Lord that He spoke to His people through Ezekiel, as He called on them all to stop their rebellious ways and return to Him, and how wicked and terrible their rebellion had been. And yet, God still wanted to call on them and reach out to them, and through Ezekiel, He made His salvation known to them, the words of God’s salvation that is sweet as honey against the bitterness of the rebellion of those who have disobeyed God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, through today’s Scripture readings all of us are reminded to be faithful, to turn towards God with heart full of faith and love for Him, to seek Him with all of our hearts, and to be dedicated to Him once again, turning away from all forms of sin and disobedience against Him. We are God’s lost sheep, and we are truly fortunate that the Lord, our Good Shepherd, is willing to reach out to us, find us, and call us back towards Him.

And we need to learn to be humble and faithful once again just as the Lord had taught us all to do, and today we can look upon the examples shown to us by the holy servant of God, St. Clare of Assisi, a great example of faith for each and every one of us. St. Clare of Assisi was remembered for her great piety and love for God, was inspired by a life of prayer since early in her life and was called to follow the path showed by St. Francis of Assisi.

St. Clare dedicated herself to God and gave herself to His service, and despite the attempts made by her father to force her to abandon her commitment and new life, she refused to be dissuaded and remained firm in her conviction to lead a holy life dedicated to God. Eventually together with other women who wished to dedicate themselves to God’s service through prayer and holiness, they became the foundation of the religious order of the Poor Clares, as the group established to channel the women who wanted to follow in the charism and life of the Franciscan spirituality and way of life.

Eventually, St. Clare would become the abbess of the community of San Damiano where the sisters of Poor Clares were gathered and established in, and she was essential in maintaining the spiritual rigour of her congregation and inspiring all of them to live in poverty and in commitment and dedication to God. And miraculously, St. Clare also repelled the invasion of armies that tried to ransack the city and the monastery she and her fellow sisters were living in, by praying before the Blessed Sacrament and presenting the monstrance before the invading forces, that fled in fear witnessing great light that shone on them.

From the examples of St. Clare of Assisi, all of us are called to follow her inspiration to live her life filled with virtue and faith, to be pure in our love for God and to be sincere in our commitment, free from the taint of greed and worldly desires, free from the shackles of sin and evil, from pride and ego and worldly ambitions. But this path will not be an easy one for us, and we will need to resist the constant temptations present all around us.

Let us all have the faith of a child, a genuine faith and dedication, filled with love and the desire to seek God at all times. Let us all pray that the Lord will strengthen us and guide us in this journey, and give us the strength and the courage to serve Him wholeheartedly from now on. May God bless us all, now and always. Amen.

Monday, 10 August 2020 : Feast of St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate the feast day of St. Lawrence, Holy Deacon and Martyr of the Church, as one of the most renowned saints of the early Church. St. Lawrence was one of the deacons of Rome and as such was greatly involved in the many important decisions and works in the very heart and centre of Christendom, the Church of Rome, the seat of the Vicar of Christ, the successor of St. Peter.

And on this day whatever we have heard from the Scriptures are essentially what we have seen from the lives and examples of St. Lawrence, who in his capacity as one of the seven deacons of the Church of Rome, laboured tirelessly day and night in taking care of the needs of the people and ministering to the faithful, especially to those who are weak and poor, those who are less fortunate and needy. As the Archdeacon of Rome, despite his very important position, St. Lawrence remained humble and committed to his ministry.

At that time, the Church was going through a particularly tough and difficult persecution under the reign of the Roman Emperor Valerian who imposed strict and harsh measures against Christians, persecuting them, arresting many among them and even to the extent of making by the norms of Roman law of the seizing of the properties of those convicted by the state of crimes and penalties in order to condemn many among the Christians, from all walks of the society, and seize their belongings and assets.

As the Church did hold a considerable asset in its constant efforts to reach out and take care of those who are suffering, poor and less fortunate in the community, it quickly became a target by those who sought to gain the wealth and possessions of the Church for their own. The Emperor published a decree against the Church and its leadership, condemning all of the bishops, priests and deacons to death and that all of them were to be summarily executed, without trial.

Pope St. Sixtus II, the then Supreme Pontiff and Vicar of Christ was among the first to suffer from the bitter rounds of persecutions, as he was captured and arrested as he was celebrating the Holy Mass at the catacombs, and was immediately put to death by execution soon after. More and more bishops, priests, deacons and and many among the laity would come to suffer in the coming days, and eventually, as it was evident that the authorities would move to confiscate and gain the possessions of the Church, St. Lawrence as the Archdeacon and therefore the one in charge of the management and the distribution of the properties of the Church quickly acted to distribute the properties and disposable materials to the poor and those who need them so as to prevent them from falling into the wicked hands of those who sought to claim them for their own benefits.

St. Lawrence was confronted by the prefect, who demanded the surrender of all the Church properties and its material wealth. And in response, he gathered all the infirm, the sick and all those who were poor and destitute, and presented all of them before the Roman prefect as the true wealth of the Church. This further infuriated the prefect and St. Lawrence was arrested, imprisoned, and eventually was martyred by being roasted alive on a gridiron, which was made even hotter by the anger of the prefects over St. Lawrence’s defiance, which if we remember the Old Testament, was also what happened to the three righteous compatriots of Daniel who refused to bow down to king Nebuchadnezzar and his false golden idol.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, St. Lawrence showed us all the true meaning of Christian calling and virtue, which each and every one of us should also emulate in our own lives. St. Paul in our first reading today in his Epistle to the Church and the faithful in Corinth spoke of the great wonders awaiting all those who had been generous in giving and charity, in love and compassion towards the poor and the needy. St. Lawrence showed us the examples of these by his great generosity and love, genuine concern for the poor and those who need help in the community.

And St. Lawrence also gave generously to the Lord, his faith and dedication, spending his time and effort to serve the Lord and giving everything to help the Church and the faithful. He showed us all what true Christian life and charism is all about, to give generously from ourselves to one another, to love tenderly and care with compassionate hearts and minds, and to reach out to help those who are in need, and to be faithful in all times and situations, even when things may be challenging and difficult for us.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord said to all of us through His disciples, in our Gospel today, “Unless a grain of wheat falls onto the ground and dies, it remains just as a seed, but if it dies, it produces much fruits.” These represent what we need to do in order to follow the Lord’s will and commandments, and this is by dying to our greed and desires, our pride and ego, all the things that led us to selfishness and to close ourselves up against God and against our fellow men.

The Lord called us all to follow Him, and following Him means that we should shed from ourselves our personal agenda and desires, our ambitions and all the things that had led us astray all these while. And let us all follow Him just as St. Lawrence the Deacon and Martyr had done, he who gave his whole life for the service of the Lord and His Church. Are we willing and able to commit ourselves in this way, brothers and sisters in Christ? Are we willing to reach out to the needy and the less fortunate in our midst, in our community, especially during these difficult times and moments?

Let us all be inspired to walk in the path set before us by the saints, principally St. Lawrence whose memory we remember today. And let us all realise that through our generosity, faith and love, God will certainly bless us all and glorify us, and all that we do, all of these shall be counted for us on the day of judgment. Let us all be beacons of God’s hope and light in our communities, among our friends and loved ones and also among all those whom we encounter daily in life. May God bless us all, now and always. Amen.

Sunday, 9 August 2020 : Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday all of us are presented with the reminders that God has always been faithful and He will always be by our side no matter what, and although we may not perceive it or realise it, but the fact is that God is ever present in our lives and as we heard last Sunday from the words of St. Paul, ‘Who can separate us from the love of God?’ And therefore this is why we must all realise just how fortunate we are to be God’s beloved people.

Unfortunately, many of us often do not realise this truth, and we are often ignorant of the rich and wonderful love that He has given us all these while. The Lord has always been patient in loving us, but too often, we are too preoccupied and busy, and especially we are often blinded by our fears and uncertainties, our doubts and lack of strong faith and trust in God. And that is why we have often failed to recognise God when He had been there for us, and with us all these while.

In our first reading today, we heard of the story of the moment when the prophet Elijah came to meet with the Lord at Mount Horeb, after a long journey of forty days and forty nights from the land of Israel. At that time, for the context, the prophet Elijah had laboured among the people of the northern kingdom of Israel for some time, and went up against the king Ahab of Israel, his wicked queen Jezebel, and the many priests of Baal who all pushed for the worship of the pagan idols and gods.

The prophet Elijah stood alone in his struggle against the many enemies he had, and he often had to suffer and endure difficulties throughout all the years of his ministry, and even after he showed the might of God by the miracle of the fire on Mount Carmel, in which he humiliated the four hundred and fifty priests of Baal by their failure to prove the existence of the false god Baal, he was then hunted and persecuted especially by Jezebel who despised him and wanted him dead.

Elijah chose to flee into the wilderness and escape in hiding from the persecutions and the threats to his life. And the Lord for a time gave him food and water to drink, to give him the strength and called him to His mountain in the desert, and when he reached the mountain of God, as we heard in our first reading today, the Lord revealed Himself before Elijah, and this began with a great and mighty windstorm that came before the Lord, a great earthquake and then a great fire, and yet all of these were not where the Lord was.

Instead, God came after all of these mighty conflagrations and events, as a gentle breeze, or what some translations call as a ‘great silence’. The Lord came to Elijah in a moment of quietness, stillness and silence, as a reminder for us all, that first of all, amidst all the great challenges, trials, difficulties and ‘noise’ of this world, in the end, we will still find God in our midst in the depth of the silence of our hearts. Had Elijah fled from the great windstorm, the earthquake and the fire, he would not have perceived God’s presence.

This is echoed in what we heard in our Gospel passage today, in which we heard of the miraculous appearance of Jesus walking on the water in the middle of a great storm, with very strong winds and waves striking against the boat which the disciples were travelling in. The Lord was not with them because He sent the disciples ahead of Him while He went to pray alone to the Father in the mountains by Himself. And it was then that the Lord appeared to the disciples in the middle of the storm.

Although the disciples had seen all the miracles that the Lord had performed up to then, performing the impossible tasks of healing those who were sick, opening the eyes of the blind, loosening the tongue of the mute, opening the ears of the deaf, casting out demons and evil spirits from the possessed, and even raising up those who had been dead back into life, and heard all the words of wonder and wisdom that He had taught all of them, they still did not have firm faith in Him.

That was why they were very afraid when they saw Him in the middle of the storm, thinking that they had seen a ghost. They thought of this because they did not truly trust the Lord yet with all of their hearts and minds, and they still had those fears and uncertainties, probably thinking that as they feared for their lives because of the storm, they might have hallucinated and saw visions that were not there, and that was why, they thought they had seen a ghost. Indeed, when someone was about to die or experience similar kind of near-death encounters, history had shown that people could act erratically or hallucinate.

But in this case, it was truly the Lord Who appeared before them, walking on the water towards the disciples’ boats. He said to them all, “Do not be afraid! It is I!” And this is exactly what would also happen later when the disciples again saw the Lord suddenly appearing before them just after His Resurrection. Again that time, they thought that they had seen a ghost, but the Lord again told them, “Do not be afraid! It is I!” and showed them that He was not a ghost by eating before them, for ghost had no physical body and could not have eaten.

In both occasions, as we can see from our viewpoint of those who looked back into history, we see the doubt and fears in the hearts of the disciples and the uncertainties in their minds that kept them and prevented them from truly having a complete faith in God. They doubted and thought that, ‘No, the Lord could not have done that, or that could not be really Him, or how can He be there? I thought I was all alone in this suffering’ among other thoughts possibly running through their minds.

And St. Peter showed this sentiment further when he asked of the Lord, that if that was really Him, that He would enable him to walk on the water just as He did, and that he could come to Him through the water safely. St. Peter in this sense had more faith in the Lord because he still wanted to try and trusted in Him enough to want to walk on the water. And as he did miraculously walk in the water, it was later then the waves and the wind that returned the fear in his heart and mind, and as his resolve faltered he began to sink.

Yet the Lord reached out to St. Peter and helped him up, after a light rebuke of his still lacking in complete faith, to show that first of all, again, God will never abandon His beloved ones, all of us to fall and suffer alone in the darkness. He will lift us up, strengthen us, rescue us and empower us. This is what He had also done with the prophet Elijah from earlier on, when the prophet was also despairing over the toughness of the challenges of his work and ministry, how he was hated and persecuted, and even had his life clearly threatened.

The Lord reassured and strengthened Elijah, and gave him a new command, to return to the land of Israel and follow in whatever He would command him to do, to continue in reaching out to the stubborn people of the northern kingdom and call more of them back to be reconciled with God. And the Lord also reassured St. Peter and the disciples, both on the occasion in the middle of the storm, as well as at His appearance just after His Resurrection, that He was always with them, guided them along the way, and although they might have been shaken in faith, but He would never abandon them, and sent them to carry out His will, to spread the Good News to all people.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord wants us all to remember through all of these that even in our darkest moments, when we think we are all alone and without hope, He is still there for us, and will help us to get out of our troubles and trials. However, we need to realise just how the fears, uncertainties, doubts and all these obstacles in our hearts and minds often keep us from seeking the Lord and working with Him to get on the right path, and we need to overcome these, and grow in faith that we may trust the Lord ever more and put our faith more in Him.

This year, more than ever, our faith and resolve had been tested to the maximum and even beyond by all that had happened. Not only that we have this terrible pandemic that still continues on claiming lives and causing many more to suffer in the hospitals, but all the collateral damages it caused to the economy by severe and almost complete disruption to the economy, supply lines and transportation, travel and hospitality industry, businesses and others caused so many among us to lose our source of income through unemployment or through severe pay cuts or pay freeze, and many others also suffer mentally from the combinations of these issues.

Amidst all these challenges and troubles, do we still have faith in God? Do we even still have hope in our hearts? Or have we instead been filled with fear and doubt, uncertainties and concerns? As I said earlier, many of us are inundated with all these obstacles that prevented us from appreciating and knowing just how close God is to us, and how He has always been with us, even through these most difficult moments of our lives. Many of us continued to fear and worry for the days to come, because our faith in God is not strong, and we allow the devil to sow even more fear within our hearts, that led us to act irrationally and selfishly, that inadvertently led to even more fear and suffering.

Take for example, the actions of many people who wanted to take care of themselves first amidst these terrible problems, as we saw people who tried to hoard essential goods for themselves, or important items like masks and gloves, and also those who allow their fear to turn into anger, and lash out on others, being uncaring and even violent when everyone are supposed to be helping one another in overcoming these difficult situations together. We must not allow fear, uncertainty, all the ‘storms’ and ‘waves’ in our lives from distracting us and being obstacles in our trust in the Lord’s providence.

Instead, brothers and sisters, as Christians all of us are called to be the beacons of God’s light and hope, His guiding light and strength, that through us, our words and actions, in how we interact with one another, we should help one another, awaken the hope in those who have been despairing and without hope. Let us all remind one another that God is always with us, ever faithful to the Covenant that He has established with us, and that in the end, all those who remain faithful in God will rejoice.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all remember that we are all God’s beloved people, the descendants of the holy patriarchs and all those holy men and women, saints of God and more, as St. Paul had said, and we will always be beloved by God. Let us all be inspired and strengthened, encouraged that God will lead us and He has called us to do His will. Let us all glorify Him by our deeds in life, and let us bring hope and light to this darkened and suffering world. May God bless us all and our good endeavours, now and always. Amen.

Saturday, 8 August 2020 : 18th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Dominic, Priest (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today, from the first reading in which we heard the words of the prophet Habakkuk, we heard of the words of anguish spoken by the prophet on behalf of the people highlighting their frustrations and desperation seeing how those who were righteous and faithful suffered and endured bitter trials while those who were wicked seemingly managed to live on without harm or trouble.

But the Lord reassured His people and told them that He will never abandon them no matter what, and that everything will happen as it has been deemed by God, and everything will happen in due time. When we think that why is it that those who were wicked rejoiced and lived while the righteous and the faithful suffered, then we must remember that every bits of sin, no matter how small, will be left untouched, when the Lord judges all of His people at the time of the Last Judgment.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard the Lord Jesus and His interaction with a man who approached Him begging on Him to heal his son, who had been afflicted with epileptic activity, which at that time was also one of the signs of the demonic possession. The man said that although he had sought the disciples, but they were not able to heal the child from his condition, and he therefore asked the Lord to help him.

The Lord rebuked His disciples and those who followed Him for their lack of faith, and after immediately healing the man’s child without issue, spoke of just how little faith they truly had in Him, that they doubted Him and doubted the ability and power by which He could have saved the child. We may indeed be a bit confused by everything that happened, but contextually, it was likely that first of all, the disciples thought that the miracles they performed were because of their own power and might, and not by God’s power.

And it was also likely and possible that the disciples themselves had doubts in their hearts and minds, and they had not yet trusted the Lord completely, as what the Apostle St. Thomas frequently showed during the days of his ministry with the Lord, as he constantly spoke out showing his doubt and disagreements with the Lord, in the midst of the other disciples. The other disciples, although they might not be as skeptical as St. Thomas had been in those days, but they were likely to have their doubts as well.

This is just like what the prophet Habakkuk, speaking the sentiments of the people as included in our first reading today, was exactly speaking about. The prophet’s words was a representation of the people’s doubts, and how those doubts in fact became themselves obstacles in the path of the people in realising that God truly cared for each and every one of them. God reassured His people and showed His love, that no power on earth or beyond earth, are capable of standing between us and Him.

Just as the Lord spoke of the coming of reckoning for Assyria and all the enemies of the faithful, thus, in our Gospel passage today, the Lord showed before all those who doubted Him, either intentionally or unintentionally, those with weak and wavering faith, that He is truly faithful to the Covenant He had made with us, and He will always uphold His words, as He liberated and healed the man’s son from his troubles, from whatever demonic possessions or other shackles he had been troubled with.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, how about us then? Do we still doubt the Lord and do we still lack the faith that God is always with us and by our side even in our darkest times and in our most challenging moments? Especially as many of us suffered during these past weeks and months, losing our jobs and livelihood, suffering in health, in body or in mind, and as we endure the continuing and depressing impacts of the global coronavirus pandemic, the associated economic collapse and troubles, among other things.

Are we still having faith in God, and believe that even in the midst of great challenges, that God is still there with us? If we do not, then perhaps it is because our relationship with God is not strong and good enough as it should have been. As unless we are deeply committed to God, and live in the midst of His love and grace, and appreciating His daily blessings, it is unlikely that our faith in God will be strong and enduring.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, that is why this day as we celebrate the feast of one of the most renowned saints in the Church, namely St. Dominic, also known as St. Dominic the Guzman, the Founder of the Order of Preachers, also famously known after their founder as the Dominicans, we ought to look upon St. Dominic as our great example and inspiration in faith. St. Dominic was remembered for his tremendous zeal and commitment in serving the Lord, his great piety and dedication he showed in serving the Lord and His Church.

St. Dominic had been renowned for his piety even from a very young age, when he was still very young and famine ravaged the lands. It was told that St. Dominic donated part of his possessions to help the poor and feed those who had been terribly afflicted by the great hunger. St. Dominic then dedicated himself to be a holy and devout priest, and dedicated his time to preach to the people, especially in his efforts to convert the Cathar heretics who have abandoned the true faith in the region now part of southern France.

As St. Dominic began his efforts in trying to convert the heretics, he began gathering the effort to establish a religious order of like-minded men who would reach out to those who have erred and fell away from the right path, as what the charism of the Order of Preachers is all about. St. Dominic led the efforts of the Dominicans as they were all came to be known for, in preaching the words of truth to the people and calling them to embrace once again the truth and love of God.

St. Dominic also helped the faithful to renew their faith and commitment in God through the deepening of their spiritual lives, most well-known being through the popularisation of the use of the rosary as a prayer, which eventually would become one of the most popular of devotions in the Church, helping to connect countless souls throughout the ages to the Lord, with the assistance of His blessed mother, Mary.

Through his many great contributions and his establishment of the Dominicans, St. Dominic showed us all that God can do so many great deeds before us, if only that we allow Him to act through each and every one of us just as He had done with St. Dominic. And this is only possible if we lead a life of virtue, faith and love as St. Dominic had done, and all of us are called to follow in his footsteps, in putting our trust and faith in God, and in obeying His will at all times, in our lives. May God bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.