Saturday, 21 December 2019 : 3rd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Peter Canisius, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate the feast of one of the holy Doctors of the Church, who was also a member of the Society of Jesus or the Jesuits, and also a great priest and champion of the Counter Reformation efforts of the Church. St. Peter Canisius is truly a great inspiration and role model that many of us Christians can look upon as we ourselves progress in our own respective journeys of faith.

St. Peter Canisius lived at the time when the Church and Christendom were at a crossroads, at a time of great challenges and trials for the Church and the faithful, when many of the faithful began to walk away from the true faith at the time of the Protestant reformation, when many different alternative thoughts and teachings brought segments of the faithful to splinter away from the Holy Mother Church.

It was there then that St. Peter Canisius, as one of the earliest members of the Society of Jesus founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola, was instrumental in the efforts to counter the divisions within the Church, in what was called the Counter Reformation. St. Peter Canisius was one among the Jesuits tasked with the works of re-evangelisation of traditional lands of Christendom such as in what is now Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the Nordic countries among others.

St. Peter Canisius was remembered particularly not just for the zeal with which he carried out his mission, but also the love and gentleness with which he performed his works and ministries among the people of God, even in difficult and challenging times. He advocated clarity in doctrine and preaching and discouraged attacks and insults against the Protestant populations, arguing that such methods made the spiritually sick and needy to become incurable.

Instead, spearheading the efforts of the Counter-Reformation and the gradual implementation of the reforms of the Ecumenical Council of Trent which rooted out many of the ills and corruptions then affecting the Church, St. Peter Canisius contributed immensely to the efforts of the Counter-Reformation by his courageous efforts and tireless devotion to serve the Lord by his outreach to those who have separated themselves from the Church, focusing on clarifying the confusion within the Church and explaining more clearly the truth of the Church.

To that extent, St. Peter Canisius wrote and authored the three volumes of what would be known as the Catechisms in the Latin and German language, the language of those who have been most affected by the reformation. This was one of his most renowned contributions to the Church, which was part of the reason why he was canonised as a saint and made as one of the Doctors of the Church in the year 1925 by Pope Pius XI. His contributions in leading the Counter-Reformation in Germany, reclaiming many areas to the Church was also a contributing factor.

And not just that, as St. Peter Canisius was also renowned for his deep devotion to Mary, the Mother of God, and his contributions to the area of Mariology which helped to deepen the then developing spiritual devotion to Mary, in which again he is remembered for his lasting contribution of adding the final part of the Ave Maria or the Hail Mary prayer with the final prayer and petition of ‘Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen’.

As we can see, the inspiring examples of St. Peter Canisius in everything he has contributed to the Church and his important role in the renewal of faith especially among those who have lapsed in their ways, should be important reminder for us all as well, in how we ourselves should rediscover our faith in God and deepen our relationship with Him, especially through a deeper relationship with His mother Mary, to whom St. Peter Canisius and many of our holy predecessors had deep devotion for.

As we approach the moment of Christmas in just a few days’ time, it is perhaps timely that today’s commemoration of the memory of the glorious St. Peter Canisius reminds us of the need for us to be reconnected with God, and how as Christians all of us have that obligation and calling to be witnesses for Christ within our own communities, friends and families.

Just as how it was during the time of St. Peter Canisius, when many had fallen away from the faith, there are also today many people who had lapsed from their faith and became wayward in their lives. Have we become like one of them, when we allowed our faith to become lukewarm? We have lost the faith if we have allowed ourselves to treat our faith as merely just a formality, and especially, if Christmas has no further meaning to us than just another holiday.

If this is the case, then there is a need for us to reexamine our lives and reconnect ourselves to God. We need to seek the Lord again with a new love and zeal just as how we heard from our first reading today in the Book of Song of Songs, like that of a lover seeking his or her long lost lover. And once we have regained that connection with God, then our challenge is such that, we need to follow in the footsteps of St. Peter Canisius, and bring others back into the faith just as we have done.

And how do we do that, brothers and sisters in Christ? Not through confrontation or by being condescending as what St. Peter Canisius had said, that if we do so, we will end up making those who have rejected God to close themselves against Him even more. Instead, we should be role models of our faith, just as St. Peter Canisius has been a great role model for us. Live our lives full of faith, and practice what we believe in our actions, words and deeds, and in time, all those who see us, hear us and meet us will be touched by our faith.

Let us all seek the Lord with all of our hearts then, and endeavour to love Him more as we are about to celebrate the glorious celebration of Christmas in just a few days’ time. We should not allow Christmas to be just another holiday or festivity, but instead, let us all immerse ourselves in the true meaning and joy of Christmas in our Lord’s coming, and share the love which He has shown us to one another. May God be with us all and with our blessed Christmas preparations. Amen.

Saturday, 21 December 2019 : 3rd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Peter Canisius, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 1 : 39-45

Mary then set out for a town in the hill country of Judah. She entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leapt in her womb.

Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and, giving a loud cry, said, “You are most blessed among women; and blessed is the Fruit of your womb! How is it, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? The moment your greeting sounded in my ears, the baby within me suddenly leapt for joy. Blessed are you, who believed that the Lord’s word would come true!”

Saturday, 21 December 2019 : 3rd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Peter Canisius, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 32 : 2-3, 11-12, 20-21

Give thanks to YHVH on the harp and lyre, making melody and chanting praises. Amid loud shouts of joy, sing to Him a new song and play the ten-stringed harp.

But His plan stands forever, and His heart’s design, through all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is YHVH – the people He has chosen for His inheritance.

In hope, we wait for YHVH, for He is our help and our shield. Our hearts rejoice in Him, for we trust on His holy Name.

Saturday, 21 December 2019 : 3rd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Peter Canisius, Priest and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Song of Songs 2 : 8-14

The voice of my Lover! Behold He comes, springing across the mountains, jumping over the hills, like a gazelle or a young stag. Noe He stands behind our wall, looking through the windows, peering through the lattice.

My Lover speaks to me, “Arise, My love, My beautiful one! Come, the winter is gone, the rains are over. Flowers have appeared on earth; the season of singing has come; the cooing of doves is heard. The fig tree forms its early fruit, the vines in blossom are fragrant. Arise, My beautiful one, come with Me, My love, come.”

“O My dove in the rocky cleft, in the secret places of the cliff, let Me see your face, let Me hear your voice. Your face – how lovely! Your voice – how sweet!”

Alternative reading

Zephaniah 3 : 14-18a

Cry out with joy, o daughter of Zion; rejoice, o people of Israel! Sing joyfully with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem! YHVH has lifted your sentence and has driven your enemies away. YHVH, the King of Israel is with you; do not fear any misfortune.

On that day, they will say to Jerusalem : Do not be afraid nor let your hands tremble, for YHVH your God is within you, YHVH, saving warrior. He will jump for joy on seeing you, for He has revived His love. For you He will cry out with joy, as you do in the days of the feast. I will drive away the evil I warned you about.

Friday, 20 December 2019 : 3rd Week of Advent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scripture reminding us all of the wonderful gift of God this Christmas, which is a reminder of just how loving God has been and how wonderful His love that He sent us His own Son as our Saviour and the One to deliver us all from our fated destruction. The Lord gave us all the ultimate and best gift of all, that by His coming into this world we may have hope and joy once again.

In our first reading today, we heard of the encounter between the prophet Isaiah and king Ahaz of Judah in which the prophet Isaiah asked the king to ask for a sign from God, as Ahaz was not a firm believer in God, leading a life of sin and disobedience against God. But Ahaz demurred and refused to ask for a sign from God, which in fact was not due to his humility by rather because he did not have enough faith in God.

The prophet Isaiah then proclaimed the famous prophecy declaring how the Messiah would come through a woman, and this Saviour would be known as Emmanuel, or ‘God is with us’, a prophecy of what God would do for the sake of His people, as fulfilled finally in our Gospel passage today, in the accounts of the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel came to Mary proclaiming that she would be the very woman whom the prophet Isaiah had spoken about.

Mary heard how she would become the Mother of God, as the Child she was to bear in her would be known as the Son of God Most High, Jesus Christ, the Saviour of all. This was how God fulfilled the prophecy of the Emmanuel, for God has Himself come down to dwell in our midst, in the flesh by His divine incarnation, through Mary, His mother, that He became Son of God and Son of Man alike, two natures, fully divine and fully human each, perfectly united in the person of Jesus Christ, the Saviour.

Mary obeyed the Lord and allowed Him to fulfil His promised works through her, and for nine months thus she bore within her the Saviour of the world. If we contrast this with what we heard in our first reading today, in the lack of faith shown by King Ahaz of Judah, we can see how Mary on the other hand had such a great faith in God that she responded so wholeheartedly in accepting God’s will for her.

This is a reminder to all of us as Christians, how we all need to follow the example of Mary in her faith in our own lives. Mary is our role model in how she dedicated herself and her entire life to the purposes of God, showing us all what it truly means for us to be Christians. Are we able to walk the path that Mary has walked as we journey along in faith with God? And especially since Christmas is rapidly approaching us, we need to ask ourselves, how have we prepared ourselves to celebrate it?

Are we going to be like Ahaz in our attitude, in lacking the faith and in immersing ourselves in worldly pleasures and revelries commonly associated with Christmas? We can see just how prevalent excessive consumerism and materialism are in our Christmas celebrations, where everyone’s concerns are about satisfying themselves and their desires, their wants for more glamour and seeking more glory for themselves.

Ironically, the One Whom we ought to be celebrating has been forgotten and sidelined, the Child promised by God through His prophets including that of Isaiah as mentioned in our first reading today, conceived and born through Mary, His mother. This is why many of us have fallen deeper and deeper into sin, and further and further away from God and His path, precisely because God is no longer at the centre of our lives and existence.

If God is not within our hearts or if we have sidelined Him for other, worldly pursuits in life, then are we not just like Ahaz, who preferred to remain as he was, seeking worldly justification and not following the path of the Lord, leading his people into sin? We should instead be inspired by Mary, the Mother of God as I have just mentioned earlier, in her good examples of faith and dedication.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, now that Christmas is just less than a week away, are we able to say ‘yes’ to the Lord calling on us to be faithful to Him and to follow Him on the path that He will show us? Are we able to centre ourselves and our existence once again upon Him, entrusting ourselves to His providence and love? Let us all spend some time from now until Christmas, to prepare ourselves well so that we may indeed worthily celebrate Christmas with true meaning, intention and purpose.

May God be with us in this journey of faith, and may He bless us all in our good endeavours and works, and may He provide us with the courage and strength to walk faithfully ever in His presence, and help us in our moments of weakness and struggles in life, that we will always be firm in our conviction to love Him at all times. Amen.

Friday, 20 December 2019 : 3rd Week of Advent (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 1 : 26-38

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

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

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

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

Friday, 20 December 2019 : 3rd Week of Advent (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 23 : 1-2, 3-4ab, 5-6

The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord, the world and all that dwell in it. He has founded it upon the ocean and set it firmly upon the waters.

Who will ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who will stand in His holy place? Those with clean hands and pure heart, who desire not what is vain.

They will receive blessings from the Lord, a reward from God, their Saviour. Such are the people who seek Him, who seek the face of Jacob’s God.

Friday, 20 December 2019 : 3rd Week of Advent (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Isaiah 7 : 10-14

Once again YHVH addressed Ahaz, “Ask for a sign from YHVH your God, let it come either from the deepest depths or from the heights of heaven.”

But Ahaz answered, “I will not ask, I will not put YHVH to the test.” Then Isaiah said, “Now listen, descendants of David. Have you not been satisfied trying the patience of people, that you also try the patience of my God? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign : The Virgin is with Child and bears a Son and calls His Name Immanuel.”

Thursday, 19 December 2019 : 3rd Week of Advent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we progress closer through the last one week just before Christmas, we are being reminded yet again of the great works and wonders of God’s salvation as we heard in our Scripture passages of the stories of two of His great servants whom He has sent into this world to bring forth the salvation and the good promises that He has given them.

In our first reading today from the Book of Judges we heard the story of the Judge Samson, the one who was renowned for his great and mighty strength, that God sent to His people when they were oppressed and overcome by the strength of the Philistines. Samson was sent to free the people of Israel from the tyranny of the Philistines, and by his great might, he led the Israelites to great triumphs against the forces of the Philistines.

Meanwhile in our Gospel passage we heard of the coming of St. John the Baptist, another great servant of God whom He sent just ahead of the coming of His Saviour or Messiah, His own Son Whom He sent into the world in order to be the Saviour of all. St. John the Baptist also had a very important role, as he prepared the hearts and minds of many to welcome the Lord into their midst, calling them to repentance.

Both Samson the Judge and also St. John the Baptist were those who have been dedicated to God and offered as what was called the Nazirites, those who lived solely for the purpose of obeying God and His commands, dedicating their lives to God. That was why St. John the Baptist and Samson both kept their hair long and lived in the wild, as what the Nazirites commonly did, not touching any alcoholic beverages and devoting themselves to God.

Through these two faithful servants of God all of us are again reminded of the One Whom we truly celebrate about this Christmas, that is our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ and not the false celebrations of merrymaking, excessive partying and revelries, or of expensive and glamorous Christmas gifts and celebrations, Santa Claus and all forms of the over-hyped secular celebrations of Christmas that are often plenty all around us this time of the year.

The two servants of God, Samson and St. John the Baptist also remind us that being disciples of the Lord is not an easy task, as both of them suffered and died a holy defender of faith each. Samson was tricked by a woman sent by the Philistines to tempt him and in the end, he was captured, blinded and humiliated by the Philistines. But Samson remained faithful and he prayed to God to give him one last burst of strength to defeat the enemies, and he brought down the whole place with him and many hundreds of the enemies of the Lord.

The faith of St. John the Baptist was also exemplary, as he spoke firmly and courageously against the wickedness of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, and also against the adulterous behaviour of king Herod of Galilee, which ended up with him being imprisoned. Eventually, by the wicked act and will of Herodias, the woman whom king Herod was in adultery with, St. John the Baptist was beheaded in prison, remaining faithful to the very end.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we recall the good and faithful lives of the judge Samson and also St. John the Baptist, how are we doing with our own lives as God’s followers and servants? The two holy predecessors of ours have dedicated their lives to God, even through trials and difficulties to the very end. Are we able to dedicate ourselves to God in the same way that they had done with their lives?

We are all called to centre our lives, all of our efforts and works on God from now on. And let us begin by remembering the focus of our upcoming Christmas celebrations. If we have been too engrossed in our preparations for all the merrymaking and joyful celebrations, then let us all put Christ in the middle of all of our joys, so that our happiness and joyful celebrations is not for our sake alone, but rather to rejoice because God has loved us all so much that He has given us His Son, to be our Lord and Saviour.

May God bless us all now and always, and may He guide us in our journey of faith, that we may faithfully walk in His path, inspired by the examples set by His servants, Samson and St. John the Baptist. May God be with us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Thursday, 19 December 2019 : 3rd Week of Advent (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 1 : 5-25

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there lived a priest named Zechariah, belonging to the priestly clan of Abiah. Elizabeth, Zechariah’s wife also belonged to a priestly family. Both of them were upright in the eyes of God, and lived blamelessly, in accordance with all the laws and commands of the Lord, but they had no child. Elizabeth could not have any and now they were both very old.

Now, while Zechariah and those with him were fulfilling their office, it fell to him by lot, according to the custom of the priests, to enter the Sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. At the time of offering incense, all the people were praying outside; it was then, that an Angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. On seeing the Angel, Zechariah was deeply troubled and fear took hold of him.

But the Angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, be assured that your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and you shall name him John. He will bring joy and gladness to you, and many will rejoice at his birth. This son of yours will be great in the eyes of the Lord. Listen : he shall never drink wine or strong drink; but he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb.”

“Through him, many of the people of Israel will turn to the Lord their God. He, himself, will open the way to the Lord, with the spirit and power of the prophet Elijah; he will reconcile fathers and children; and lead the disobedient to wisdom and righteousness, in order to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Zechariah said to the Angel, “How can I believe this? I am an old man and my wife is elderly, too.” The Angel replied, “I am Gabriel, who stands before God; and I am the one sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news! My words will come true in their time. But you would not believe; and now, you will be silent and unable to speak until this has happened.”

Meanwhile, the people waited for Zechariah; and they were surprised that he delayed so long in the Sanctuary. When he finally appeared, he could not speak to them; and they realised that he had seen a vision in the Sanctuary. He remained dumb and made signs to them. When his time of service was completed, Zechariah returned home; and, some time later, Elizabeth became pregnant.

For five months she kept to herself, remaining at home, and thinking, “This, for me, is the Lord’s doing! This is His time for mercy, and for taking away my public disgrace.”