Thursday, 14 December 2017 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard again about St. John the Baptist in the Gospel passage today, as Our Lord Jesus exalted this faithful servant of God, in his faith and conviction to serve Him, being the one who has been trusted with the mission of proclaiming the coming of the Saviour of the world, preparing the way for His coming and entry into this world.

He proclaimed the Good News which was long awaited by all mankind, as through the Saviour all of us have been saved from our fated destruction because of our sins and disobedience against God. In the book of the prophet Isaiah, from which is taken our first reading today, we heard God’s promise to His people, that He will help His people and will no longer turn His back against them.

And this prophecy was fulfilled completely and perfectly in the Lord Jesus Christ, Our God and Saviour, by Whose coming and entry into this world, and later on by His death on the cross and glorious resurrection from the dead has delivered us all from death into life, for He fulfilled His promise to those who have faith in Him, that He will redeem them and protect them from their enemies, and gather them as He gathers all of His flock to Himself.

And St. John the Baptist was the important servant of God, who became His mouthpiece and messenger, calling upon the people to repent from their sins and turn back towards their Lord. He revealed to them that the Lord would soon come and redeem His people as He promised, and they should prepare themselves for His coming. That is why St. John the Baptist laboured hard among the people, devoting himself completely to God.

St. John the Baptist is the epitome of the discipleship in Christ, as he obeyed the Lord and His will, and faithfully carried out the mission which he has been entrusted with. He did not sway away from the purpose of his mission, and as we witness in the Gospels, when asked whether he was the Messiah, he could have been tempted to claim that he was the One. Yet, he did not do so, and he humbly mentioned that he was not the One Who was to come after him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we prepare for the coming of Christmas season, we need to heed the examples of St. John the Baptist in his faith, devotion and commitment to the Lord. We should also listen to what he has also preached, calling on us to repent from our sinful ways to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord. For as I have mentioned a few times in the past month, as we prepare for Christmas, we do not just recall His historic birth in Bethlehem, but we should also remember that He will come again the second time, at the time of the final judgment.

Are we ready to welcome Him should He come again at a time we do not expect at all? The coming of the Lord will be sudden and swift, catching many by surprise. Surely we do not want to be counted among those who are caught unprepared if this happens. Then, we should follow the examples and faith of St. John the Baptist, in his humility and commitment to the Lord.

And we should also heed the examples of St. John of the Cross, the saint whose feast day we celebrate today. St. John of the Cross was known as a holy and devout priest, who together with St. Teresa of Avila were remembered for their roles in reforming and purifying the religious order of the Carmelites. Through the reform, both saints sought to return the religious order and its members to a more faithful observation of a devout spiritual life, filled with prayers and devotions to God, deepening their commitments to God.

Through his many works and writings, St. John of the Cross inspired many others to seek a deeper understanding of their faith, and to walk more faithfully in the ways of the Lord. His pious examples and simple lifestyle, and humility echoed that of St. John the Baptist, whose life we just discussed earlier on today. That is how all of us Christians should also be, putting our trust in God, and be ever humble before the Lord, remembering that without the Lord, we are truly nothing.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore, as we approach the time of our Christmas celebrations, let us reform our lives, that we throw away the excesses of this world, as well as all sorts of temptations and other things that have become obstacles in our ability to love the Lord and to devote ourselves wholeheartedly to Him. May He continue to bless each and every one of us, that we may draw ever closer to Him, and be found worthy to receive His eternal glory when He comes again. St. John the Baptist and St. John of the Cross, pray for us always. Amen.

Thursday, 14 December 2017 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 11 : 11-15

At that time, Jesus said to the people, “I tell you this : no one greater than John the Baptist has arisen from among sons of women; and yet, the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven is something to be conquered; and violent men seize it.”

“Up to the time of John, there was only prophesy : all the prophets and the Law. And if you believe Me, John is indeed that Elijah, whose coming was predicted. Let anyone with ears listen!”

Thursday, 14 December 2017 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 144 : 1 and 9, 10-11, 12-13ab

I will extol You, my God and King; I will praise Your Name forever. YHVH is good to everyone; His mercy embraces all His creation.

All Your works will give You thanks; all Your saints, o YHVH, will praise You. They will tell of the glory of Your kingdom; and speak of Your power.

That all may know of Your mighty deeds, Your reign, and its glorious splendour. Your reign is from age to age; Your dominion endures, from generation to generation.

Thursday, 14 December 2017 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Isaiah 41 : 13-20

For I, YHVH, your God, take hold of your right hand and say to you : “Fear not, I am your assistance.” Fear not, Jacob, poor worm, and you, people of Israel, so frail. I am your Redeemer, says YHVH, the Holy One of Israel, your Helper.

I will make you a thresher, new and with sharp double teeth : you will thresh hills and mountains, crushing them and reducing them to chaff. You will winnow them, the wind will carry them off and the storm will scatter them. But you will rejoice in YHVH and glory in the Holy One of Israel.

The poor and the afflicted seek water, and find none. Their tongues are parched with thirst. But I, YHVH, will hear them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will open up streams over the barren heights and let the rivers flow through all the valleys; I will turn the desert into lakes and brooks and the thirsty earth into a land of springs.

I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle and the olive; I will plant in the wasteland fir, cypress and pine – that all may see and know, consider and understand, that the hand of YHVH has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it.

Thursday, 7 December 2017 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us heard from the Scripture passages, of what it means for us to be faithful in God and to put our trust in Him, as opposed to trust in our own human strength, intelligence and abilities and ignoring His teachings. Those who does not listen to God or listened to Him and yet does nothing will be judged by their lack of faith and they will meet their deserved end.

In the Gospel passage today, the Lord Jesus spoke to the people with a parable, showing them the comparison between two people who built their houses on two different types of foundations. One built his house on a foundation of solid rock, firm and immovable, and no rain, or wind, or wave or any forces were able to dislodge or shake the house from its firm foundation. Jesus compared this with those who listened to the word of God and acted accordingly upon hearing it.

Then, He also mentioned about the one who built his house on a shaky foundation of sand, which has no strength, depth and cohesiveness. As a result, when rain, or wind, or wave, or any forces were exerted on the house, these caused the house to be destroyed and toppled over, because even though the house might be well-built, but no matter how good the house was, the foundation was weak and not firm. And the Lord compared this with those who listened to the word of God and did nothing with it.

The houses those men built represent our own respective lives, our livelihood and everything we experienced in this world. The foundations represent our faith in God, and how strong and steady that faith is. If our faith in God is not strong, then it will be shaky as the sandy foundation, which brought about calamity to the person who built the house on it. Thus, we should indeed spend the time now to reflect what it truly means for us to have a strong faith.

As the Lord mentioned in the Gospel passage today, not those who always call out ‘Lord! Lord!’ will be heard and be worthy to enter into the kingdom of heaven. To do that without a concrete expression of our faith means nothing, as our faith is not alive and existent, but dead. That is why, while we believe that we are saved through faith, it cannot be just any kind of faith, worse still, just something like, ‘Lord I believe in You’, and we are assured of eternal life and salvation.

What God requires and wants from each one of us is true and living faith, not a dead faith. And what constitutes a true and living faith? It is faith made real and concrete through our actions, words and deeds, which support our faith and all that we believe in God. If our actions and deeds are not representative of what we believe in, or worse still, contrary and in opposition to our faith, then we have scandalised ourselves in the eyes of God and men alike.

How do we, then, have a living and genuine faith in us? It is by strengthening the foundations of our faith, through which we resolve to do what the Lord has commanded us to do, which is to love. It may seem easy to be done, as we need just to show love through our actions and deeds. However, as we all know, loving someone is not as easy as what it seems. True love requires commitment from us, effort and the giving of oneself.

We are all called to love the Lord, Our God, with all of our hearts, minds, with all of our strengths and capabilities. This is the first and the most important of all of God’s teachings and commandments. Yet, many of us in our daily lives do not place God as the most important One in our lives. Instead, we tend to put Him aside, and forgot about Him, until the time when the need arise for us to seek Him, because we are in need, and we ask God to help us to get out of our predicament.

And then, we are also called to love one another, fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, not just those who loved us back, but all, even our enemies, those who hated us and persecuted us. This is again, not something that can be easily done, as it is in our human nature to bear grudges and to be angry at someone else, to be unhappy with others. Are we able to do what the Lord taught us to do? To forgive our enemies, and to pray for those who persecute us?

That is why we should put our trust in God, and follow His examples. There is no better example than Our Lord Jesus Himself, Who has shown His exemplary love. As St. Paul mentioned in his Epistle to the Romans, Christ died for all of us, out of His love for us, while we are all still sinners. He mentioned that few of us would want to lay down our lives for a good friend, less so, an enemy or someone so wicked or unworthy that we would loath to be even near the person.

But that is exactly the very reason why we must put our trust in God. Is it better to trust in men and all worldly things which are unreliable and are doubted in their ability to provide for us? It is indeed better to trust in the Lord, Who is ever loving and have been ever trustworthy, because He is faithful to His Covenant, which He had made with us, His people. Even though we have often been unfaithful, but God is ever faithful. He cannot deny the love that He has for each one of us.

Are we able then to follow the examples of Christ? Are we able to follow the example of His love and obedience to His Father? Perhaps then, we should also heed the examples from St. Ambrose of Milan, the renowned bishop and saint, who was a very influential Church leader at his time, and one of the original four Doctors of the Church, together with his protege and pupil, St. Augustine of Hippo.

It was told that St. Ambrose was born to an influential and Christian Roman noble family, who had an excellent education and upbringing, brought up in the various educations on law, rhetoric and law. Eventually, he rose up the ranks to become the governor of the province and region surrounding the city of Milan, then the effective capital of the Roman Empire in its western provinces. As such, he was a very influential and powerful person within the Empire.

At that time, there was a conflict between the factions of the Church, between those who held on to the Orthodox faith of the Church, and those who were swayed by the false heresy of Arius, the Arians. The dispute arose in deciding who was to succeed the previous bishop of Milan, who was an Arian. The different parties could not agree on a suitable candidate, until St. Ambrose’s name was brought up, and thus he was elected as the Bishop of Milan.

Initially, St. Ambrose was reluctant to take up the office, as at that time, he was not even baptised properly yet and was not a priest less so a bishop. Yet, after he has taken up his office, he pursued a very rigorous and zealous effort to rejuvenate the faith among his flock, devoting himself to many charitable works, and cared for the poor and the less privileged people in his diocese.

St. Ambrose was also known for his staunch defence of the true and Orthodox teachings of the Church, devoting much of his time and effort throughout his episcopacy, in trying to limit the influence of the heretical Arians, who had a lot of support among the Imperial aristocracy, even from the Emperor, Valentinian II and his mother, Empress Justina. He resisted for many years the efforts of the Arians in trying to gain possession of some churches in Milan for their use.

Eventually, after years of resistance, hard work and patience, St. Ambrose managed to steer his flock carefully and lovingly through those years of difficulties and challenges. The influence of the Arians and the other heretics greatly decreased from then on, and many more people repented from their heresy and turned back to the true teachings of the Church. St. Ambrose himself once said, “I am ready to submit (to the Imperial authorities), be it to prison or even to death, but I will never betray the Lord and His Church.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we can see, St. Ambrose of Milan has devoted all of his energy and strength trying to love God and to devote himself to Him wholeheartedly. And he has also devoted his time and effort in loving his fellow brethren, those entrusted under his care as bishop, ensuring that these people did not fall into heresy and sin.

Let us all follow in his footsteps, brethren, and resolve to live our lives more attuned to the will of God, and obeying His commands, trusting in Him, building upon the solid foundation of God and not upon the uncertain foundation of worldly glories and temptations. May all of us draw closer to God, and may He bless us all each and every day, in all of our good and faithful endeavours. Amen.

Thursday, 7 December 2017 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 7 : 21, 24-27

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My heavenly Father. Therefore, anyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts according to them, is like a wise man, who built his house on rock. The rain poured down, the rivers flooded, and the wind blew and struck that house. But it did not collapse, because it was built on rock.”

“But anyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act accordingly, is like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain poured, the rivers flooded, and the wind blew and struck that house; it collapsed, and what a terrible collapse that was!”

Thursday, 7 December 2017 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 117 : 1 and 8-9, 19-21, 25-27a

Alleluia! Give thanks to YHVH, for He is good, His loving kindness endures forever. It is better to take refuge in YHVH than to trust in the help of humans. It is better to take refuge in YHVH than to trust in the might of princes.

Open to me the gates of the Just, and let me enter to give thanks. This is YHVH’s gate, through which the upright enter. I thank You for having answered me, for having rescued me.

Save us, o YHVH, deliver us, o YHVH! Blessed is He Who comes in YHVH’s Name! We praise You from the house of YHVH. YHVH is God; may His light shine upon us.