Tuesday, 9 June 2020 : 10th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Ephrem, Deacon and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Deacons)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the words of the Scripture, all of us heard of the story of the prophet Elijah and the widow of Zarephath in our first reading today, and followed by the parable of the Lord, the famous parable of the salt of the earth and the light of the world in our Gospel passage today. Through all these, all of us as Christians are reminded to be ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light of the world’ in all of our words, actions and deeds.

In our first reading today taken from the First Book of Kings, we heard of the story of how the prophet Elijah went to the region of Sidon, during the time of the three years of great drought and famine, in which the whole land of Israel and the surrounding regions were deprived of any rain, with the whole land in drought and lacking water, and hence, are in great suffering for the lack of food. But the people remained stubborn in sin, especially the king Ahab, which caused the prophet Elijah to have to flee to the neighbouring territories.

It was in this occasion that the prophet Elijah encountered a widow in the town of Zarephath, who was also having difficulty herself, as she was bereft of hope and despairing, hoping that she could just have one last meal for herself and her son before they died out of food and income from the famine and drought. But the prophet Elijah told the widow to have faith in God, and to provide for him with food as he had requested, for the Lord would definitely take good care of her and provide for her for her faith.

The widow trusted Elijah and did as the prophet asked of her. Miraculously, the flour she used to make the bread for the prophet Elijah did not run out, as with the oil she used to make the bread. God provided for both His prophet Elijah, as well as for the widow of Zarephath and her son, whom at that time belonged to the non-Israelites living outside the bounds of the land of Israel. She was a pagan, and yet, she chose to believe in God and open her heart and mind to the Lord’s words and truth.

Through the love and the compassion, the kindness that the prophet Elijah showed to the widow, he himself had been blessed by God. And in later occasion, still during the drought as Elijah stayed for some time with the widow, the son of the widow fell seriously ill and died. The widow was very distraught at the loss of her son, but the prophet Elijah reassured her and entrusted the dead son to the Lord’s mercy and love. And through his prayers, the Lord resurrected the son of the widow and returned him to life.

Certainly, through all these, the widow must have become a firm believer in God, in contrast to the lack of faith among the Israelites and their king, Ahab. And in this way, the prophet Elijah had indeed showed us what it means for us to be ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light of the world’. Why is that so? That is because in the depth of her despair and darkness, the prophet Elijah had shown the path to liberation and salvation, to a new hope in God, even though he himself had been in difficulty himself.

In our Gospel today, we heard these two parables the Lord mentioned, on the salt of the earth and the light of the world, two very important commodities especially at that time. Salt was a very important preservative that helped to keep a lot of food produce from spoilage and was also important in its use in giving flavour to the food, while light was crucial in a society before the advent of cheap and easily obtainable light sources using electricity, in a world where darkness was often feared, and how light was so essential for many people’s livelihood.

Therefore, the Lord is calling on each and every one of us to be the bearer of this new hope and strength, courage and perseverance to one another during times of great difficulties and challenges. This is especially relevant this year, considering the numerous troubles, trials, dangers and problems we have encountered in the first few months of this year alone. How have we as Christians acted in the midst of all these challenges? Have we borne hope and light into our communities, and helped one another to shore up hope amidst despair and strength amidst weakness? Or have we instead been preoccupied with fear ourselves, and failed to put our trust in God, and ended up causing even more darkness, negativities and evil?

Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Ephrem the Deacon, a holy man of God, whose life can be additional inspiration for us on how we ought to be ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light of the world’. St. Ephrem the Deacon lived during the early years of the acceptance of Christianity as the widespread religion and faith of the Roman Empire, and he was remembered for the immense collections of his many writings, poems and works, many of which inspired countless people to follow the Lord with greater zeal and faith.

St. Ephrem might not have had wonderful and mighty deeds filled with miracles and glory, and yet, in his tireless efforts and works in writing, in composing and creating inspiration and faith-filled contents in his numerous books, works and poems, he has become that ‘salt of the earth’ by enriching the lives of others, and the ‘light of the world’ by showing the light of God to those who were still in darkness and ignorance of God’s truth and love.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we able to dedicate ourselves to the Lord as the ‘salt of the earth’ and the ‘light of the world’ from now on? Let us all commit ourselves anew and be inspired by the good examples of our holy predecessors, and be good Christians from now on in words, actions and deeds, at all times. May the Lord bless us all and guide our path, now and always. Amen.

Monday, 8 June 2020 : 10th Week of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scripture listening first of all to the account from the First Book of Kings in which we heard of the great drought and famine that occurred during the reign of king Ahab of Israel. At that time, king Ahab was infamous as one of the most sinful among the kings of Israel, as he and his wife, queen Jezebel did not just disobey God and led the people of the northern kingdom of Israel into sin, but their deeds such as the murder of Naboth the vinegrower was truly wicked and evil.

The drought and famine were not meant to make the people to suffer without reason or justice. Rather, the Lord wanted to remind them all that their wickedness and evil have not been in accordance with the natural law, and as a result, with nature out of balance, they had to suffer by their refusal to obey the Lord and by ignoring His calls for them to repent from their sins and return to Him.

Meanwhile, the prophet Elijah who was sent to minister to the people of Israel had to suffer a lot as well, as he was one of the few prophets who remained in Israel. Many of the other, earlier prophets had been persecuted and even killed, exiled and cast out from the land. Prophet Elijah was alone in his courageous efforts to turn the people back towards God, against not only just the king and the queen, but also against the worshippers of Baal and the other pagan gods, with the Baal priests alone numbering at least four hundred and fifty.

It would be difficult not to think that the prophet Elijah might have considered to give up his very difficult and challenging ministry, working among a people that were not open and willing to listen to his words and the words of God. But God reassured Elijah that those who remained faithful in Him would not be disappointed, for there would be justice given to them, just as the right justice and punishment would also be due to those who consistently and stubbornly refused to listen to Him.

In our Gospel reading today, then we heard of the famous Sermon on the Mount by the Lord Jesus, also known as the Beatitudes. These are a series of eight pronouncements by the Lord, as a very powerful reassurance to those who have listened to the Lord, followed Him, obeyed Him and walked in His ways. This is just what the Lord reassured the prophet Elijah with, and after hearing the punishment due to the wicked in our first reading, then we heard how being faithful to God is truly a good thing.

Therefore, as we heard, the Lord said that we are truly blessed if we are poor in spirit, mourn, gentle, hunger and thirst, gentle, merciful and being peacemakers, and these are reminders for all of us that as Christians, we are called to live our lives with virtues, obeying God’s laws, show love to our fellow brethren, and when we encounter challenges and difficulties, persecutions and troubles for being faithful then we must not give up our faith. All of us have to remain strong in our faith and stay committed to the end.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, through what we have heard in our Scriptures today, we are all encouraged and called to walk with the Lord and to follow Him. We are called to devote ourselves, our time and effort for the greater glory of His Name following the examples of the ancient prophets like Elijah, as well as our many saints and martyrs, our predecessors in the faith. And we are reassured by God, that no matter what, if we are faithful to Him, then we will be protected and strengthened.

Let us all therefore renew our commitment to be ever more faithful from now on, to be more Christian in our way of life, to be good examples of our Christian virtues and actions in our every way of life and in our every interactions with one another. May the Lord be our Guide, source of strength and provide us with what we need, just as He protected and guided the prophet Elijah in his perilous missions and journeys. Amen.

Sunday, 7 June 2020 : Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Trinity Sunday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, one week after the Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, or also known as the Trinity Sunday. On this day we celebrate this very important and crucial aspect of the Christian faith, one that distinguishes itself from all the other Abrahamic and monotheistic faith, because we believe in the One and only True God, Who manifested Himself in Three Divine Persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Since the very beginning of the Church, that is from the time of the Apostles, the Church had always believed in the Most Holy Trinity, through the truth that the Lord Himself had revealed to them, from the Father Who revealed to all and created all, and the Son, Who has descended into this world and revealed Himself in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, Whom the disciples had lived with, spoken with and interacted with, having seen His suffering and death on the Cross, and then His Resurrection and glorious Ascension into Heaven, and finally, the Holy Spirit Who came down upon them all on Pentecost.

The Church has always believed in the One and only True God in the Three Divine Persons, but for centuries, Church leaders and theologians debated and discussed the details of what this truly mean for the Lord Whom they all served. Unfortunately, there had been quite a view dissenting voices and ideas that came up from these disagreements over the nature of the Holy Trinity, which saw some rejecting the Holy Trinity altogether, or known as Unitarianism, a heresy that existed in different forms even to this very day.

Then there were also those like the Arians, who argued that the relationship between the members of the Most Holy Trinity is an unequal one, with the Father being superior over the Son, and the Son being subservient to the Father, as the Arians believed that the Son did not exist together with the Father from the very beginning, but rather, was merely the first to be created by the Father, and therefore, is inferior in nature to the Father. All of these false teachings came about from misunderstanding in the words of the Scripture which the Arians claimed as support for their argument, without understanding the whole truth.

Then there were also those who claimed that the Holy Spirit was also inferior, or was merely an ‘energy’ and not a Divine Person, essentially limiting the Persona into the duality of the Father and the Son. All of these were also rejected by the Ecumenical Councils of the Church, which prevailed over the heresies mentioned, and the Church fathers, after an often bitter and long struggle, managed to defend the true, orthodox and genuine Christian faith as we have it today, the faith of the Apostles themselves.

St. Athanasius the Great, the Patriarch of Alexandria in the fourth century in particular was renowned for his steadfast defence of the true faith against the encroachment of heresies, especially that of Arianism, which at that time were especially prevalent and had many support from many among the clergy, even many among the bishops. But the impassioned defence of the true faith from the faithful bishops and priests, led by St. Athanasius helped to turn the tide of battle against the heretical ideas.

St. Athanasius himself encountered plenty of difficulties and challenges throughout his ministry, having to go into exile a few times and facing opposition not only from the rebellious and heretical bishops and priests in his See and beyond, but even from the secular nobility, the powerful and at times, even the Emperors at Constantinople themselves. Yet, he remained resolute and firm, dedicated and faithful in his struggle to keep the truth and orthodoxy in the Christian faith, writing one of his famous contributions to the Church, the Athanasian Creed, in full support of the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Although some argued that he was not the actual author of the Creed, but the ideas contained within the Creed speak volumes of the ideas of St. Athanasius, which is why he was credited with the origin of this venerable Creed.

I am sure all of us are familiar with the Nicene or the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, as well as the Apostles’ Creed. Yet, definitely there are only a few of us who may be aware of what the Athanasian Creed is, less still being able to recite it with faith. For this Athanasian Creed itself is much longer and a lot more detailed even compared to the Nicene Creed, containing the basic essence of the Creed, but with special and really particular emphasis on the Trinitarian nature of our Christian faith, stressing and emphasising the relationship between each members of the Holy Trinity to each other.

As the Athanasian Creed has it, the Holy Trinity is described as, ‘And the Catholic faith is this: that we worship One God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Essence.’ And this part emphasises how there is only One God, and yet, the same One God exists in the form of Trinity of Unity, where each of the members of the Holy Trinity are distinct from one another, but yet equal to each other, and are perfectly united in Essence that they are at the same time, indivisible, for removing even one will diminish that Oneness of God.

And then it continues with ‘For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all One; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal.’ And this part show us yet again the Unity between the Three Divine Persons of the Most Holy Trinity, which are also at the same time, easily distinguished one from the other without confusion, each with equal Glory and Majesty, and all Co-Eternal with each other, from before the beginning of time, through all time, to the end of time and forevermore.

The Creed keeps on going, repeating several times with very strong and firm affirmation that each of the members of the Holy Trinity are the same One God, equally God, none superior or inferior over the other, ‘the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God’ and ‘And yet They are not three Gods but One God’. And the relationship between each of the members of the Holy Trinity is explained clearly in that same Creed, as the Son is begotten by the Father, not created and co-eternal with Him, showing how the Son already existed from the very beginning, and the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father through the Son.

That last portion regarding the Holy Spirit had also divided Christianity even until this very day, as our brethren in the Orthodox Communion refused to accept the fact of this ‘proceeding’ of the Holy Spirit through the Son from the Father. This they argued because of the misunderstanding in the language and the fine differences in the literary understanding of the word ‘proceeding’. Historically, in the Greek language, the word ‘proceeding’ showed a clear subordinate relationship between the one that proceeded to the one it is proceeding from. Yet, no such subordination existed in the Latin language.

Thus, we, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church has always believed in the Holy Spirit that came to us from the Father, and proceeded through the Son, Jesus Christ, all being co-equal and co-eternal with each other, none being subordinate or superior over the other, the Holy Spirit merely passed through the Son to us, in the same manner the Lord Jesus breathed over His disciples and said ‘Receive the Holy Spirit, whomever sins you forgive, they are forgiven, and whomever sins you retain, they are retained.’

Brothers and sisters in Christ, such was the deep mystery and detail in the very nature of our God, One and yet existing in Three Divine Persons, distinct, co-equal and co-eternal with each other, that there had been many misunderstandings both from within the Church itself, and from those who were outside the Church. There had been many who mistakenly accused Christians as polytheists and worshipping three Gods instead of One, but this is because they did not understand what it means by the Holy Trinity. How about us, brothers and sisters in Christ? Have we ourselves understood the meaning and importance of the Most Holy Trinity?

One way to understand the concept of the Holy Trinity, its presence of three easily distinguishable aspects and yet unquestionable unity is by using the example of a burning flame. A burning flame has three important aspects that can be easily distinguished, namely the appearance and state of the flame itself, and then the heat generated by the flame, and finally the light given out by the flame. For all of us, I am sure we know that while each of these stimulates different parts of our senses, but we know that we cannot separate each aspect of the flame from the other.

What does this mean? It means that, if we remove the light of the flame, then we can no longer recognise the flame as it is. Similarly, if we see a flame and we can see its shape and the state of the flame, and yet feel no heat, it is no longer a flame as we know it. And then, if we can feel the state of the flame, that is because of the excited particles of the air heated up and filled with energy, and feel its heat, and yet, if the flame emits no light, then how can we believe that it is flame and not something else?

Another good example to compare this concept of the Holy Trinity, is that of honey, as honey is the product of bees collecting the various flowers’ nectar, which they mixed with their own secretions to create the ever-healthy and good honey, provided that it is naturally obtained and produced. In natural honey, we know that it is honey when we touch it, feel its viscosity and particular texture, and then taste its sweetness and unique, floral taste, and finally, smell its similarly floral and nice, unique smell. Each of these aspects help us to identify that this substance is honey and not something different.

Imagine if we have what is allegedly natural honey, and yet, when we touch, it feels so diluted and runny, so as to look like merely water? Will we believe if people told us that this is natural honey? Certainly not. Similarly, if we have what is allegedly natural honey, correct by feel and touch, having the right viscosity, and yet, tastes very differently or even taste horrible? And honey can also be fermented into alcohol under the right condition, and in that case, it is no longer honey, but mead! Lastly, in a similar way, if we have what is allegedly natural honey, and yet it smells very different, although it feels like honey and tastes like honey, then it is not honey.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, using these examples of the flame and honey, we can see how the concept of the Holy Trinity is not as difficult as it may seem to us to understand. Of course, being one of the most profound mysteries out there, there are still a lot about the Holy Trinity that we may not fully understand, but at least, a basic understanding of its concept is very important for us all as Christians to have strong and genuine faith in God. And often, it does not need to be very complicated and difficult to do so.

Historically, St. Patrick was also well-known for using the iconic three-leaf clover as the symbol of the Holy Trinity, teaching the concept to the pagans there about God, One in Unity and yet existing in Three Divine Persons. The united nature of the three-leaf clover’s three leaves makes it such that separating one of the leaf from the three-leaf clover makes it no longer a three-leaf clover, much like taking out the heat of the flame no longer make it recognisable as flame, or removing the taste from honey which makes it no longer recognisable as honey.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we celebrate this Trinity Sunday, let us all carefully study and understand the basics of the concept of the Holy Trinity, that we may understand and appreciate better what our Christian faith is all about, and Who our God truly is. Let us all renew our faith and conviction in serving Him, loving Him and when possible, share the truth about His Holy Trinity to others. Whenever there is confusion and misinformation, hopefully we ourselves can stand up for our faith, explaining briefly to dispel the misconception, perhaps by using the example of the ‘flame’, ‘honey’ or even St. Patrick’s three-leaf clover mentioned earlier.

Let us all renew our faith in the Lord, the Most Holy Trinity, in Whom we have been baptised, in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Let us be thankful and be appreciative of the love of the Father, be inspired and strengthened by the obedience of the Son, and be encouraged and filled with zeal by the power of the Holy Spirit. May all of us be genuine and strong Christians, in all aspects of life, now and always. Amen.

Saturday, 6 June 2020 : 9th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Norbert, Bishop (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops or Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard that as Christians, for us to love God and to devote ourselves to God, we do not need to seek to do ambitious things and achievements, and we do not need to think of the many things we desire and want, as serving the Lord does not mean that we focus the attention to ourselves. On the contrary, to be Christians mean that we ought to give our whole selves to God and to dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly and live our lives with the focus on God in everything that we say and do.

As Christians we ought to reflect carefully on what we have heard in our Gospel passage today as we heard of the account of the Lord Who spoke with regards to the people who came to the Temple of Jerusalem, there were the rich people making lots of offerings probably showing off what they were offering to each other and also to the other people around, while there was a poor, old woman who came by quietly and placed in two small coins to the Temple treasury.

And the Lord also mentioned of the excesses of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, warning His disciples against their behaviour and how they exercised and practiced their faith. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law often prided themselves in their privileged and highly respected position in the community, and showed off their faith, seeking important and privileged positions, basking in the praise and respect from the other people who saw them and their actions.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, essentially what the Lord had told us all is to be careful and vigilant against the temptations of ego and pride in our lives. We must focus our attention on God and put Him first and foremost in our lives, or else we will be easily swayed and tempted just as many of our ancestors had done in the past. Ever since the time of Adam and Eve in the Gardens of Eden, Satan has tempted us mankind with the temptation of pride, desires of our flesh and with the temptation of knowledge, and our great enemy definitely knows very well our vulnerabilities and weaknesses.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, we also have to understand that God was not against the rich and neither does He have any bias or prejudice against the rich and those who are wealthy, powerful and the elites of the society, and unlike what some would have argued otherwise, the Lord was not only concerned about the poor, the marginalised and the needy. For the truth is that, every single sons and daughters of mankind are precious to Him, and all of us, regardless of our background and origins, are equal before Him, and are equally beloved by Him.

What the Lord is warning us is rather the fact that we mankind are easily distracted and tempted, and the more attachments we have to worldly things and the more concerns we have, the more vulnerable we become. Instead, he wanted us all to develop more trust and faith in Him. He wants us to be like the old woman who entrusted herself to the Lord and gave from her heart, even if she had only very little to live on with. At this, all of us are called to believe in God in this manner.

We heard in our first reading today on the great courage shown by St. Paul, who recounted to St. Timothy, his protege, of the great sufferings he had endured for the sake of the Lord, all the things he had to go through as many opposed his good works and efforts, rejecting him and his message of God’s truth. St. Paul stood by his faith in the Lord and his famous words, ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.’ are reminders to us just how dedicated St. Paul had been throughout his missionary works and efforts to bring the Good News to many peoples, even to all those who have rejected these truths.

Today we also celebrate the feast of St. Norbert, a renowned German bishop and saint, who was once a nobleman and member of the elite of the then society, but an experience of the faith changed his life forever as he was saved from a near death experience, and he eventually joined the priesthood and led an ascetic, holy and simple lifestyle. He travelled around Christendom and saw the troubles and the lack of discipline as well as the need for reform in the Church.

St. Norbert founded the religious order known as the Canons Regular of Prémontré. Through his efforts and dedicated works, his piety and great, genuine love for God, St. Norbert rapidly expanded the religious order, and when he was appointed by the Pope as the Archbishop of Magdeburg in Germany, he continued the efforts he started in reforms and practiced the same practices he did among the Canons Regular to his diocese and the faithful in that diocese.

Through what the Lord’s followers had done, St. Paul and the other Apostles, the many saints and martyrs, like St. Norbert among many others, all of us have seen how the Lord’s followers have dedicated their lives to God, giving their all to the Lord with their lives and services, many of them giving even their lives in martyrdom in the defence of their faith. Are we able to follow in their footsteps, brothers and sisters in Christ? Are we able to follow their examples and courage, and inspire one another to follow the Lord in the same way?

Let us all devote ourselves anew, each and every days of our lives from now on. Let us give our very best to the Lord from the depths of our heart. May the Lord help us all and give us the strength to follow Him with all of our hearts from now on. St. Norbert, holy saint of God, pray for us all. Amen.

Friday, 5 June 2020 : 9th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Boniface, Bishop and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, through our Scripture passages today, we have heard of the reality of what it means to be a follower of Christ as Christians, and that often involves suffering and challenges. We have heard in our first reading from the Epistle that St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy, how persecution, trials and challenges had followed St. Paul all throughout his missionary journeys and efforts, and many of those occasions he was almost killed by all those who disagreed with him and refused to believe in the truth of God.

And St. Paul mentioned the truth clearly to St. Timothy, his godson and one of the early successors of the Apostles as the leaders of the Church, that all who follow Christ will suffer the persecution that Christ Himself had suffered, they will be rejected and ridiculed much as the Lord Himself had suffered humiliation, pain and the rejection of the world, and St. Paul wanted St. Timothy to know that, should he suffer for his faith and encounter difficulties during his missionary efforts and works, he was not alone in all that.

St. Paul used this opportunity to reaffirm the faith in his fellow servants of the Lord, giving them the courage and strength to carry on with their mission, in this case, St. Timothy himself. St. Paul used the example of how he himself had faced such bitter struggles and opposition, and yet, still survived to tell the tale, and still even had strong faith in the Lord, if not even stronger and more committed than before, to show all of us the faithful people of God, that we must not lose faith in Him and trust in Him.

We should not allow fear to lead us away from the path that the Lord has shown us, or make us to hide in fear and ignore our calling in life as God’s people, bearing the truth of His salvation to the nations. It was because of St. Paul and the many other Apostles and disciples of the Lord, as well as their successors, St. Timothy and many others, their courage and commitment to the Lord that many Christians were able to persevere in their faith despite the many challenges they encountered.

Many of the Apostles, disciples, and their successors met painful sufferings and martyrdoms, and yet, they still continued to give their best to serve the Lord and their brethren, the flock entrusted under their care. And all of these were because they trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ, His truth and love for each and every one of us, His beloved people, Who has brought into this world the pure and undeniable truth of God’s desire to save us all from certain destruction, and lead us into the new life and existence through Him.

This is why in the Gospel today, we heard why a lot of people still followed the Lord Jesus even though His ideas and truth might sound very difficult for certain segments of the society to accept, such as His identity as the Son of David and the Heir of the Kingdom of Israel, the Saviour or Messiah of the people, and even more so, being the very Son of God Most High Himself, the Divine Word of God incarnate in the flesh. Many of the people were touched by the truth, and stirred to know more about the truth because they had not closed their hearts and minds.

That was why, even though St. Paul and the other Apostles and disciples encountered many challenges, difficulties, ridicule and rejection throughout their ministry among the people, but there were also many people who were willing to listen to them and many eventually became believers and were baptised as Christians. These were the seeds of faith sown even through the most bitter and difficult years of persecution against the Christian faith, and by the faith and courage of those faithful servants of God, the Church and the faithful persevered through those difficult years.

Today, we also mark the feast of St. Boniface, a renowned bishop and Martyr of the Church. St. Boniface was remembered for his many works of mission among the pagan peoples in what is now modern day Germany. He worked very hard, much like St. Paul and the Apostles in the early days of the Church, in order to establish the foundations of the Church and the Christian faith in the vast lands of Germania, then still mostly pagan and ripe for the harvest of the faith.

St. Boniface went on many missions to convert the pagan peoples, preaching to them about the Lord and His Good News, patiently teaching them all about the Lord, and travelling from places to places bringing the Good News to more and more people. He was also renowned for his felling of the sacred oak of the pagans, known as Donar’s Oak, to which many of the newly converted Christians still went to worship as part of their old pagan practices. St. Boniface fell the tree down with an ax, and despite the curse from the people who witnessed it, the whole oak miraculously split apart and came down crashing, and the wood used to build a church in honour of St. Peter the Apostle. Many of the people who witnessed the event became true believers from then on.

St. Boniface worked hard to establish the Church in the land of Germania and was also committed to the reform of Church practices and disciplines, reducing clerical excesses and secular interference. He encountered much difficulty throughout his ministry, much like St. Paul and the other Apostles, disciples and servants of God. But those things did not stop St. Paul from dedicating himself to the cause of the Lord. In the end, waylaid by Frisian bandits during one of his journeys, St. Boniface faced death in martyrdom defending his faith against the wicked ones.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we all inspired to live our lives from now on with faith, following the great examples set by our holy and dedicated predecessors? Let us place our focus rather on the potential of glorious things to come rather than fearing the trials and persecutions of the world. Are we able to commit our time, effort and attention to serve the Lord from now on with greater fidelity and commitment, with greater sincerity and love for God and for our fellow men alike? Let us all discern these things carefully, and dedicate ourselves from now on, to the greater glory of God, now and always. May God bless us all. Amen.

Thursday, 4 June 2020 : 9th Week of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard from the Sacred Scriptures a very powerful and important reminder for each and every one of us of our supreme duty as Christians to be people of love, acting with love and dedicating ourselves to the cause of love, not love that is selfish but rather pure and self-giving, following the examples of none other than the Lord Himself, Who has shown us what love truly means for each one of us.

In our Gospel reading today, we heard of the conversation between the Lord Jesus and a teacher of the Law who was curious of the Lord’s teachings and words and wanted to find out more on His opinion regarding the Law of God. To the teachers of the Law, and also the Pharisees, the Law was a very important part of their lives and daily activities, and serve as the focus of their teachings and their way of life. However, in their often zealous and sometimes stubborn pursuit of such efforts, they became engulfed in obsession over the way of life they have preserved for years.

That was how the Lord Jesus and His disciples often ended up in conflict and disagreement with the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who saw the actions and the teachings of the Lord Jesus to be contrary to the strict adherence and interpretation of the Law revealed through Moses. For over the centuries since the revelation of the Law, the people had lost sight over the true purpose and significance of why the Law was given to us from God.

What was meant to be the guide and help for the people in their journey towards the Lord, had become instead chains that kept them oppressed and pressured, living in strict and yet, empty and dead faith. What was meant to free mankind from their attachments and the chains of sin and wickedness, ended up being misused by those who failed to appreciate the real purpose and meaning of the Law of God, because they did not have real and genuine love for God.

But as we can see, there are those among the teachers of the Law and also the Pharisees who were touched by the truth that the Lord has brought into our midst. They wanted to know more about the Law, and the Lord helped them to understand what the Law truly means, not just the strict way of observing the Law that matters, but rather, why we need to obey the Law of God in the first place. Those who misunderstood the Law did so because they only see the Law in its ‘letters’ but fail to appreciate the ‘spirit’ of the Law.

The Law of God, as summarised by the Lord, is in its essence about love, love that is pure, selfless and giving, and first of all, to love the Lord our God, our Creator and Master, the One Who loves us all so perfectly that He had created us out of that love, and Who has given us His inheritance and blessings, that we may live our lives in this world, filled with every graces and heavenly blessings. God has loved us so much and yet, we mankind often overlook and ignore His love.

In the same way, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were so engrossed in trying to fulfil all the demands of their own strict interpretation and observance of the Law that they became distracted and ended up acting to preserve their own ego and pride, as they revelled in the respect and adulation they received for their efforts. They turned their gazes inward and into themselves rather than connecting themselves to the love of God as they should have done.

God has shown us His pure love, and there is no greater love indeed, in His own words, than for someone to give his or her life for his or her friends. And God showed this by His own concrete example, when He came down into this world Himself, born as the Son of Man through His mother Mary. And through His incarnation into this world, the Lord has shown His ultimate love for us, and which He carried on all the way to Calvary, as He bore His cross and died for us, the ultimate sacrifice of love.

As the Lord has showed us His love so amazingly and so wonderfully with such a great dedication, that we too, as Christians have to follow His examples, and show the same love to the Lord as He has loved us. Are we able to commit ourselves to love Him sincerely from now on? Are we able and willing to deepen our relationship with the Lord, putting Him as the priority over our lives? Let us all not be easily distracted by the many temptations present all around us, and let us not lose sight of the need for us to have a genuine loving relationship with God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, at the same time, just as the Lord said, then we must also show the same love towards our fellow brothers and sisters, caring and showing genuine love to them, wanting for the good of everyone. This is what we need to do in our actions and our lives as Christians. If we have not done so yet, then perhaps we need to do what we can to begin following the path that God has set before us.

Let us all therefore follow the true Law of God from now on, appreciating that through the Law, we are all called to show genuine and sincere love. Let us all be filled with love in all things, and devote ourselves to God and to the care of our fellow brethren, with all of our hearts from now on. May God bless us all in our good endeavours, now and always. Amen.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020 : 9th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard the words of the Lord speaking to us and reminding us of the need for us to be faithful to God and to dedicate ourselves to Him despite the challenges, trials and persecutions we may encounter through life, and this is because the Lord has always been faithful to the Covenant that He has established with each and every one of us. We have nothing to fear and trust that a great and wonderful future and inheritance have been prepared for us by the Lord.

In our first reading today, we heard what St. Paul wrote in his Epistle to St. Timothy, one of the earliest leaders of the Church as bishop and successor to the Apostles. St. Paul encouraged and strengthened St. Timothy as his mentor in the faith, that he ought not to lose courage and hope even in the midst of challenges that he might face throughout his own ministry given how often St. Paul had to endure persecution and ridicule during his missionary journeys.

St. Paul encouraged St. Timothy to continue in his mission and dedicate himself to the service of God, to ‘fan into flame’ the zeal and the Spirit that God had given unto them, referring to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which St. Paul had received from the Apostles, and which St. Timothy had also received together with other members of the faithful. St. Paul uttered the powerful and encouraging words, that ‘God had not given us the spirit of fearfulness, but the spirit of strength, love and good judgement.’

St. Paul reassured St. Timothy and as such all of us as Christians, that he trusted completely in the Lord that no matter what, as he knew that for all the sufferings he had to endure, in the very end, the Lord will vindicate him and grant him and all the faithful ones, true joy and eternal glory, and St. Paul emphasised how the Lord Jesus Christ, Saviour of the world had triumphed against sin and death, darkness and evil, and showed us all the path to freedom from all of these, through Christ.

And all these are related to what we have heard in our Gospel passage today, as we heard of the encounter and exchanges between the Lord and the members of the Sadducees, one of the two most powerful and influential groups within the Jewish community at that time. While the Pharisees represented those who zealously guarded the traditions and spiritual life of the people, the powerful intellectual and religious elite who had great influence over the society, the Sadducees represented the secular and powerful societal elites who were mostly irreligious and worldly in their attitudes and bearing.

The Sadducees rejected spiritual aspects of the Jewish customs and teachings, refusing to believe in the presence of Angels and the Spirit, as well as the concept of the afterlife. They rejected the notion that there is life after death and Resurrection after death into a new life. To them, this life on earth is the only life they have and are living through, and no other things matter more than to enjoy the world as it is, and thus, they tend to live an excessive lifestyle, and had self-serving and selfish attitudes.

But the Lord rebuked them well when they came up to Him and tried to test Him with the trick question, asking if seven brothers all shared a woman as their wife, as according to the Jewish laws and customs, when a man died without having any descendant to continue his name and lineage, it was his brother’s responsibility and obligation to take the widow of the deceased man to be his own wife, and the firstborn child of the union would be considered as the child of the deceased brother.

Based on what we have heard, the Sadducees showed their disdain and lack of belief in anything spiritual, on the matter of afterlife and faith, by their worldly way of thinking, desiring for worldly pleasures and joys, including having wives and therefore perhaps other forms of worldly desires and wants. Their preoccupation with such matters showed that their attachments to the world prevented them from being able to follow the Lord and have faith in Him.

This is why, brothers and sisters in Christ, in this world, all of us as Christians are challenged to overcome our excessive attachments to the world and to be more trusting in God and allow Him to guide us in our path. St. Paul had shown this in our first reading today, as he reminded all of us not to worry about worldly trials and persecutions, or even to suffer and to endure ridicule and rejection from the world as we live our lives in a most Christian manner. Instead of worrying about our lives now, let us instead focus our attention on the assurance of the life that is to come, the fullness of life and true joy in the kingdom of God.

Today, coincidentally we celebrate the feast of saints whose lives and examples essentially explain what we have been discussing today. The Holy Martyrs of Uganda, namely St. Charles Lwanga and his many companions, missionaries and local converts to the Christian faith, martyrs of brutal persecutions against them, show us what it truly means for us as Christians to remain faithful to the Lord even amidst opposition, and at times, danger and threats to our livelihood and existence.

At that time, as Christian missionaries began to come to the region now known as Uganda, those missionaries were quite successful in their efforts and quite a few people came to believe in the Lord and gave themselves to be baptised as Christians. Before long, the missionary works and efforts led to conversions among the local populace, and quite a few of the local nobles and high-ranking officials also converted. Unfortunately, this caused members of the faithful, the missionaries and the local converts to be caught up in the bitter political struggle for control at that time.

Very soon, the king who was suspicious and wary of the rapid growth of the Christian faith and its rapidly growing followers, began to persecute the Christians from all walks of life, from the common men right up to even those among the nobles and the officials. Christian objections and opposition to some of the immoral attitudes and actions of the king and the then still pagan members of the community made opposition and persecution against them to become even more rampant and powerful.

It was at Namugongo just outside of modern day Kampala, the capital of Uganda, that dozens of Christians, including St. Charles Lwanga, the chief page or servant of the king, were burnt to death because of their refusal to recant their Christian faith and embrace the immoral actions ordered by the king. As the chief page, St. Charles Lwanga often did his best to protect the victims of the king’s immoral actions and behaviours from his efforts and advances at fornication and sin with them. St. Charles Lwanga became a Catholic and baptised many hundreds of his fellow compatriots in the faith secretly, even from the time when he himself was just merely a catechumen.

When the Christian converts refused to abandon their newfound faith in God, they were tortured and brutally put to death, mostly by burning on the stake. Their courage in standing up for their faith, their steadfast refusal from abandoning their faith and safeguarding their own personal desires and safety, knowing that God was always with them and standing by them, became a great source of inspiration and example for many Christians over the years. At the site of their martyrdom now stands a great Basilica, the Basilica of Holy Ugandan Martyrs at Namugongo which draw regularly over two million pilgrims every year.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, having heard and seen the faith of St. Paul the Apostle, the courage and faith of the Holy Martyrs of Uganda we are all called to reexamine our way of life and our faith. Are we able to trust in God and to have faith in Him as our holy predecessors had shown us all? Are we able to detach ourselves from worldly excesses, from worldly temptations and the allures of worldly pleasures? Let us all reorientate our lives so that from now on, we live no longer for the purpose of attaining our own selfish desires, but rather to glorify God with every single actions and deeds in life.

May the Lord be with us always and may He be our guide, that we may always have that courage and strength in us to carry on living with faith even though we may endure ridicule, suffering, pain and even persecution because of our dedication to the Lord. Let us all be ever more genuine followers of Christ from now on. O Holy Martyrs of Uganda, St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, pray for us all your brothers and sisters in faith, that we too may have the strength and courage to follow the Lord as you have done. Amen.