Saturday, 14 September 2019 : Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day the whole Universal Church celebrate together the great Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, remembering that moment when the Lord’s one and holy True Cross was discovered in the city of Jerusalem. At that time, just two decades or so after the Edict of Milan in the Year of Our Lord 313, the True Cross was discovered by St. Helena, the Empress Mother of the Roman Empire.

At that time, the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, famous as the Emperor who first adopted the Christian faith for himself and also for the Empire, had finally triumphed over all of his rivals and enemies, having finally reunited the whole Empire under one reign and liberating the whole people of God, communities of Christians who were still persecuted from time to time by the rival rulers of the Emperor Constantine who supported or courted the support of the pagans.

As the Holy Land and the city of Jerusalem was under the control of the rival Emperors, it was then that finally, after the reunification of the whole Empire under the rule of the Emperor Constantine the Great that the whole land knew peace again after decades of continuous strife and conflict. The Christian population in particular finally had a reprieve after almost constant persecution from the very early days of the Church.

The Emperor’s mother, St. Helena, who was already a Christian long before that of her son, went to the Holy Land for pilgrimage, and it was told by tradition that in Jerusalem she discovered three crosses at the place near the site where the historic Crucifixion of the Lord took place when the pagan temples that once stood over the sites were demolished. The three crosses therefore correlated with that of the Lord’s Cross and the two crosses used to crucify the two thieves who were with Him that day.

In order to find out which of the three crosses is the one True Cross of the Lord, St. Helena brought a woman who was suffering from terminal illness, and when she touched one of the three crosses, she was completely healed from her issues, indicating that the one which the woman touched, was the one and holy True Cross. The discovery of the True Cross was not just a very significant event in the whole history of the Church, but it is also a very symbolic event marking the triumph of Christ over that of the enemies of the Church.

And even more so than just merely marking the victory of Christianity over the pagans and their false pagan gods, the gods of the Romans and Greeks and the many other peoples of the Empire, but the Cross of the Lord itself is a powerful and real symbol of victory of mankind against their greatest enemy, that is sin. Sin has always been our great enemy, as sin leads to death and separation from God, the Source of all our lives.

And by His Passion, suffering and death on the Cross, Our Lord Jesus Himself has conquered sin and death. He has been victorious and triumphant in the battle against them, and through Him, all of us mankind have received the assurance of eternal life and salvation. Thus, through the Cross, God has shown His light and a new hope to all of us, as a victorious and conquering sign against all of our enemies and all those who sought our destruction.

When we then look at the Cross again, we must understand the context in how God made use of this humble and simple instrument to be the ultimate weapon and means by which the final victory and triumph against sin would be won. For the Romans who ruled all of Judea and the whole lands around the Mediterranean at that time, the cross was the symbol of ultimate humiliation and fear, as crucifixion was a punishment reserved only to the worst of all criminals, to those who betrayed the state and those who committed unforgivable crimes.

But God converted that symbol of ultimate shame and indeed defeat, into a symbol of ultimate victory, hope and glory, by what He has willingly done in embracing the Cross to be crucified despite Himself being totally blameless and faultless. And in parallel to what we have heard in our first reading today from the Book of Numbers, through the Cross, Christ changed the ultimate symbol of our defeat into the ultimate symbol of victory.

At the time of the Exodus, as recorded in the Book of Numbers, the people of Israel frequently and constantly rebelled against God, in refusing to believe in Him and in rejecting the truth and the laws which He has laid before them. They chose to follow their own selfish paths, worshipping pagan gods and doubting all that they have been shown through Moses. Because of all these disobedience, the people sinned against God.

The fiery serpents sent against them were actually representative of mankind’s sins, our own sins. St. Paul mentioned in one of his Epistles, the Epistle to the Corinthians that ‘the sting of sin is death’, clearly alluding to this moment depicted and recorded in the Book of Numbers, when the fiery serpents bit many of the Israelites and killed them. And then, God asked Moses when the people begged Him for forgiveness, to build a bronze serpent and to place it on a tall pole that everyone might see the bronze serpent and live.

Prior to His Passion, suffering and crucifixion, the Lord Himself had revealed to Nicodemus, one of the Pharisees who was sympathetic to Him, that this was a prelude and prefigurement of the moment of Christ’s Crucifixion. Just as the bronze serpent, representing the fiery serpents that killed the Israelites was raised up high, the Lord told Nicodemus that He Himself would be raised up on the Cross for all to see.

And He, the Sinless and Perfect One, willingly took up all the sins of the world, gathering to Himself all the burdens, the sufferings, the pains and tortures of the sins we should have endured and faced, and took them upon Himself. He lowered Himself such that, while He had done nothing wrong at all, He willingly accept total humiliation and nakedness, total rejection and pain, of being treated less than a human being on the Cross.

It was so painful and terrible to see the suffering Christ on the Cross, that even before He was crucified, as He was carrying His Cross, the women of Jerusalem wailed and wept for Him. All those who saw the Lord at that time would have been terrified and struck with fear and sorrow seeing just how much He has suffered. Yet, that was not the end, as we all know that the death of Christ is not the end of it all.

Instead, by His glorious resurrection on the third day, the Cross, a symbol of the ultimate shame, punishment and sorrow has been transformed into the symbol of ultimate victory and triumph. For at long last, death and therefore sin no longer has the final say over man. The Son of Man and Son of God Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ, has conquered death and rose in glory. And in parallel to what had happened in the time of the Exodus, all those who come to believe in the Lord, will not die but live.

That is why, brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us have the Crucifix, the Holy Cross of Our Lord as the centre of our faith as is the Eucharist. For it is by shedding His Blood and Body on the Cross, the Bloody Altar of God’s sacrifice, that He brought unto us the salvation through His death and resurrection by which He defeated death and sin. It was His great and undying love for each and every one of us that has allowed Him to endure the sufferings for our sake.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day, as we recall the triumphant Cross of Christ, how it was rediscovered by St. Helena and all that the Lord had done in bringing about our salvation through His Cross, all of us as Christians should reflect deep into our own respective lives, in our actions, words and deeds. Have we all loved God just as God has loved us all so much and so unconditionally? Have we devoted ourselves wholeheartedly to Him just as He has done so for us?

In a world today filled with darkness and many uncertainties, temptations and sins, we must hold true to that Cross, the Cross of our hope, the Cross by which the Ultimate Victory has been won by Our God. Let us all not be disheartened but be hopeful and be strong, always fixing our gaze on Him Who has suffered on the Cross. And let us all remember that He suffered because of our sins, every single one of our sins and disobedience.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, are we able to commit ourselves anew to the Lord from now on? Are we able to turn away from being sinful and disobedient against God, in each and every moments of our lives? Are we able to love God ever more unconditionally through our every words, deeds and actions from now on? May the Lord bless us all and continue to guide us in this journey of life, and may He be with us all our days through reminding us of the glory of His triumphant Cross. Amen.

Saturday, 14 September 2019 : Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

John 3 : 13-17

At that time, Jesus said to Nicodemus, “No one has ever gone up to heaven except the One Who came from heaven, the Son of Man. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”

“Yes, God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him may not be lost, but may have eternal life. God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world; instead, through Him the world is to be saved.”

Saturday, 14 September 2019 : Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 77 : 1-2, 34-35, 36-37, 38

Give heed, o My people, to My teaching; listen to the words of My mouth! I will speak in parables; I will talk of old mysteries.

When He slew them, they repented and sought Him earnestly. They remembered that God was their Rock, the Most High, their Redeemer.

But they flattered Him with their mouths; they lied to Him with their tongues, while their hearts were unfaithful; they were untrue to His Covenant.

Even then, in His compassion, He forgave their offences and did not destroy them. Many a time He restrained His anger, and did not fully stir up His wrath.

Saturday, 14 September 2019 : Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Numbers 21 : 4b-9

The people were discouraged by the journey and began to complain against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is neither bread nor water here and we are disgusted with this tasteless manna.”

YHVH then sent fiery serpents against them. They bit the people and many of the Israelites died. Then the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, speaking against YHVH and against you. Plead with YHVH to take the serpents away.”

Moses pleaded for the people and YHVH said to him, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a standard; whoever has been bitten and then looks at it shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a standard. Whenever a man was bitten, he looked towards the bronze serpent and he lived.

Alternative reading

Philippians 2 : 6-11

Though He was in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking on the nature of a servant, made in human likeness, and in His appearance found as a Man.

He humbled Himself by being obedient to death, death on the cross. That is why God exalted Him and gave Him the Name which outshines all names, so that at the Name of Jesus all knees should bend in heaven, on earth and among the dead, and all tongues proclaim that Christ Jesus is the Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015 : 24th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of our Lady of Sorrows (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day, we continue the narrative of yesterday’s celebration of the Triumph of the Holy Cross with the memorial of our Lady of Sorrows, the sorrowful mother of our Lord, who waited on her Son at the foot of the cross, where Jesus hung upon between the heavens and the earth. She waited patiently there, looking up as her Son expired and breathed His last, and His earthly work was done at last.

Mary knew that the day would come when she as a mother would have to see and feel the pain of seeing her Son suffering and dying before her own eyes. This had been prophesied by the prophet Simeon at the time when Jesus was only eight days old, when He was offered to the Lord as the first Son in the Temple of Jerusalem. At that time, Simeon and Anna the prophetess foretold Mary what would happen to her Son, and what it would mean to her in the time to come.

As a mother who loves her Son very greatly, as all mothers should, Mary certainly felt the great and inconsolable pain of seeing the suffering that her Son endured for the sake of all mankind. He was made to suffer for the faults and mistakes that He did not do, and He was sentenced to death even though He was innocent and without blame. And as He was led like a Lamb brought to the slaughterhouse in silent obedience, His mother also looked upon all these in silence.

This is why we also know Mary as the Mother of sorrows, our Lady of Sorrows, as the sorrowful heart of hers had to endure the death of her own Son, and an unjust and unreasonable one at that, for He was blameless and judged wrongly by His enemies who cried out for His death. And no mother should indeed witness the death of her own child, for she was supposed to live in happiness and see her children happy and prosperous around her.

But Mary is a great example to all mothers, and to all of us as well. She took all these with patience and with a great heart, and more importantly, she kept a great and unfailing faith in the Lord. She knew her part in the plan of salvation which God had revealed to her, even though not in full, but she knew that all that Jesus, her Son, had to go through, is for the better future of all mankind.

Thus, she persevered and pushed on, and painful as it was, she walked along her Son, following Him step by step as He walked down that path. And she faithfully stood by at the foot of the cross, committed and dedicated to the end. And Jesus knew how committed and dedicated His mother was, just as she had dedicated her entire life for Him. That was why He entrusted her to all of us mankind through His disciple John.

And in that way, He entrusted His mother to us, that she shall be our mother, and we become her children, as God also entrusted us all through John His disciple to Mary His own mother. And through this, Mary became our greatest help and intercessor who is constantly praying for us, interceding for our sake, and this is because of her own loving instinct as a mother, and our mother in that.

Shall we therefore, today, on this celebration in honour and memory of the sorrowful mother of our Lord, our Lady of Sorrows, Mary most faithful and devoted, pledge ourselves to dedicate ourselves more and more to her, and thus, through her we will be able to reach out to her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and attain the salvation which He had promised to all those who keep their faith in Him.

Mary, our mother is always concerned about us, for we have been entrusted to her, and just as she had witnessed the great pain and suffering which Jesus her Son had endured for our sake, she would certainly not want to witness us falling into sin and then suffering the same sufferings which her Son had worked so hard to liberate us from, and therefore, she constantly prays for us, and we too should work together with her, and do our best in our own lives to make ourselves worthy of the Lord.

May Almighty God, and His sorrowful mother, who is faithful and devoted to Him at all times, help us to find our way to Him, and guide us so that we may not lose our path but be able to reach Him and the salvation and eternal life which He had promised us. God bless us all. Amen.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015 : 24th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of our Lady of Sorrows (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

John 19 : 25-27

Near the cross of Jesus stood His mother, His mother’s sister Mary, who was the wife of Cleophas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw the mother, and the disciple whom He loved, He said to the mother, “Woman, this is your son.” Then He said to the disciples, “There is your mother.” And from that moment the disciple took her to his own home.

Alternative reading

Luke 2 : 33-35

The father and mother of Jesus wondered at what was said about the Child. Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary, His mother, “Know this : your Son is a sign, a sign established for the falling and rising of many in Israel, a sign of contradiction; and a sword will pierce your own soul, so that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed.”

Tuesday, 15 September 2015 : 24th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of our Lady of Sorrows (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 30 : 2-3a, 3bc-4, 5-6, 15-16, 20

In You, o Lord, I take refuge, may I never be disgraced; deliver Me in Your justice. Give heed to My plea, and make haste to rescue Me.

Be a rock of refuge for Me, a fortress for My safety. For You are My rock and My stronghold, lead Me for Your Name’s sake.

Free Me from the snare that they have set for Me. Indeed You are my Protector. Into Your hands I commend My Spirit; You have redeemed Me, o Lord, faithful God.

But I put My trust in You, o Lord, I said : “You are My God;” My days are in Your hand. Deliver Me from the hand of My enemies, from those after My skin.

How great is the goodness which You have stored for those who fear You, which You show, for all to see, to those who take refuge in You!