Wednesday, 25 January 2017 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we mark the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, the remembrance of the moment when St. Paul was called by God to become His follower and Apostle. St. Paul the Apostle was once known as Saul, the Pharisee and a highly educated member of the Jewish elite who was a great enemy of Jesus and His teachings, a great persecutor of the faithful and the Church, and a terror in the hearts of many of the earliest Christians.

And therefore, he was indeed one of the least likely of those who would one day become one among the greatest champions of the faith, and as one of the greatest defenders of the faithful. Certainly no one would have expected someone who have committed so many great sins, caused so much sufferings against the faithful and the Church would become one of its own, and less so as one of its greatest servants and members.

But it is in this that we can see the great loving and merciful heart of our God, as He showed His tender mercy to all those who have been willing to repent and change their ways, by opening the way for them to approach the throne of His mercy and to accept His grace and love. God is willing to welcome back all those who have gone wayward and then later on desiring to return to Him.

In fact all those who have become saints and considered great in the sight of the Church and the faithful, all of them were also sinners at one point in their respective lives. This was just indeed as all of mankind were born as sinners, susceptible to sin, and also predisposed to sinful activities. It is in our nature to be tempted and persuaded to disobey the Lord and to do things that are against the will of God, and therefore to sin.

No one escaped from this reality, except for Christ Himself, Who was born into this world without any taint of sin, for He is God Who is all good, and also for His mother Mary, who alone amongst the sons and daughters of mankind were without any sin. All the rest of us have been sinful, have been wicked and unworthy, corrupted beings and souls before God, unworthy of His love and presence.

And yet, it is from us sinners whom God had chosen His saints and servants, to be those whom He set apart as examples for others, so that they too may be able to follow in the same path that these people had walked on. It was from among the feeble, the sinners, the wicked and the abandoned ones whom God had chosen to be His followers and disciples. We may think that God is really being unpredictable in this matter, but truly, His way is different from our human ways, and is often far beyond our understanding.

God did not choose those who would expect themselves to be chosen, namely those who thought that their abilities, prestige, position, honour and all other worldly parameters would matter, as God sees not in worldly terms and appearances, but instead in terms of what He truly sees in our hearts, in our potential for good and for obedience to His will. He sees through us all, to the deepest depths of our hearts, knowing everything in us, our minds and hearts, for He had created us Himself.

That is why He chose people like Saul, who had faith in God, but was misled by the wrong teachings and subverted by the overzealousness and hot-headedness of his youth into committing grievous errors and crimes against the faithful and God’s Church. But God saw the faith in him, and through him therefore, He wanted to bring His Good News and salvation to many more of His people, using his talents and skills, and thus, calling upon Saul, He called him to turn away from his mistaken path and repent, and then follow Him.

He chose people of various backgrounds, from humble fishermen who were often looked down by many others in the society for their frequently poor background and upbringing, their illiteracy and lack of intelligence. He chose the upright and just people, educated and intellectuals. He chose tax collectors who were reviled by many others for their supposed betrayal of their own people being the tax collectors for the Romans, and also even prostitutes, zealots and even thieves like Judas Iscariot.

He chose all of them with the single intent of calling all of them to change their way of life and to be redeemed from the multitudes of their sins. And hopefully through their repentance, they may set good examples and become inspirations for many others to follow, so that many more people will also change their lives and choose to follow the way of the Lord, and therefore be saved.

Not all whom God had called will be saved. It depends on ourselves, and all those others whom He had called. If people like Judas Iscariot refused to change themselves, and continued down their path of dishonesty, betrayal, wickedness, sinfulness and all the vices they had done before they follow the Lord, then in the end, they will not be made just by all the wrongs they have committed. Instead, they will be judged by those sins they made, unless they genuinely and thoroughly repented from them all.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as Christians, all of us ought to be like St. Paul, who turned away from his past, sinful life. He made a genuine and complete turnaround, and dedicating his whole life thereafter to God, he courageously stood up for his faith, even to go the extra mile to serve Him and to help spread the Good News by preaching it from town to town, across the seas, and even endured persecutions and terrible sufferings, rejection and humiliation along the way.

We should follow in his footsteps, in his strong conviction and commitment to the Lord, and to the obedience he had shown in following what the Lord had led him to do. This is what each and every one of us as Christians must do, and we have to reflect on this, as we celebrate today’s Feast of Conversion of St. Paul. If Saul had become Paul, from a great sinner to a great saint, then nothing is impossible for us, for we too can be like him.

May the Lord bless us and help us all, so that in our lives, we too may be like St. Paul, to be thoroughly changed and converted in our ways, so that we may also be righteous and just, becoming an inspiration for others to follow, so that they themselves may become inspirations of their own to others who see them, and therefore, through all these, the good works of the Church and the people of God become an unstoppable rippling force, spreading out, touching more hearts and souls, and calling more people to the salvation in God.

May the Lord be with us all, and may He bless all of our good endeavours, and help us to remain faithful to Him, as St. Paul himself once had been. Amen.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White
Mark 16 : 15-18

At that time, Jesus told the Eleven, “Go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News to all creation. The one who believes and is baptised will be saved; the one who refuses to believe will be condemned.”

“Signs like these will accompany those who have believed : in My Name they will cast out demons and speak new languages; they will pick up snakes, and if they drink anything poisonous, they will be unharmed; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will be healed.”

Wednesday, 25 January 2017 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White
Psalm 116 : 1, 2

Alleluia! Praise the Lord, all you nations; all you peoples, praise Him.

How great is His love for us! His faithfulness lasts forever.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White
Acts 22 : 3-16

I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up here in this city where I was educated in the school of Gamaliel, according to the strict observance of our Law. And I was dedicated to God’s service, as are all of you today. As for this way, I persecuted it to the point of death and arrested its followers, both men and women, throwing them into prison.

The High Priest and the whole Council of elders can bear witness to this. From them I received letters for the Jewish brothers in Damascus and I set out to arrest those who were there and bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment. But as I was travelling along, nearing Damascus, at about noon a great light from the sky suddenly flashed about me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?”

I answered, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said to me : ‘I am Jesus the Nazarean Whom you persecute.’ The men who were with me saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of the One Who was speaking to me. I asked : ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord replied : ‘Get up and go to Damascus; there you will be told all that you are destined to do.’ Yet the brightness of that light had blinded me and so I was led by the hand into Damascus by my companions.

There a certain Ananias came to me. He was a devout observer of the Law and well spoken of by all the Jews who were living there. As he stood by me, he said : ‘Brother Saul, recover your sight.’ At that moment I could see and I looked at him. He then said, ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know His will, to see the Just One and to hear the words from His mouth.”

“From now on you shall be His witness before all the pagan peoples and tell them all that you have seen and heard. And now, why delay? Get up and be baptised and have your sins washed away by calling upon His Name.”

Alternative reading
Acts 9 : 1-22

Meanwhile Saul considered nothing but violence and death for the disciples of the Lord. He went to the High Priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues of Damascus that would authorise him to arrest and bring to Jerusalem anyone he might find, man or woman, belonging to the Way.

As he travelled along and was approaching Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute me?” And he asked, “Who are You, Lord?” The voice replied, “I am Jesus Whom you persecute. Now get up and go into the city; there you will be told what you are to do.”

The men who were travelling with him stood there speechless : they had heard the sound, but could see no one. Saul got up from the ground and, opening his eyes, he could not see. They took him by the hand and brought him to Damascus. He was blind and he did not eat or drink for three days.

There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias, to whom the Lord called in a vision, “Ananias!” He answered, “Here I am, Lord!” Then the Lord said to him, “Go at once to Straight Street and ask, at the house of Judas, for a man of Tarsus named Saul. You will find him praying, for he has just seen in a vision that a man named Ananias has come in and placed his hands upon him, to restore his sight.”

Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man and all the harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem, and now he is here with authority from the High Priest to arrest all who call upon Your Name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go! This man is My chosen instrument to bring My Name to the pagan nations and their kings, and the people of Israel as well. I Myself will show him how much he will have to suffer for My Name.”

So Ananias left and went to the house. He laid his hands upon Saul and said, “Saul, my brother, the Lord Jesus, Who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me to you so that you may receive your sight and be filled with Holy Spirit.” Immediately something like scales fell from his eyes and he could see; he got up and was baptised. Then he took food and was strengthened.

For several days Saul stayed with the disciples at Damascus, and he soon began to proclaim in the synagogues that Jesus was the Son of God. All who heard were astonished and said, “Is this not the one who cast out in Jerusalem all those calling upon this Name? Did he not come here to bring them bound before the chief priests?”

But Saul grew more and more powerful, and he confounded the Jews living in Damascus when he proved that Jesus was the Messiah.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017 : 3rd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Francis de Sales, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us are reminded by the Lord and His Church through the Scripture passages we heard today, of the need of obedience and action in order for us to be truly justified and worthy in the sight of the Lord. It is not enough that we should just practice external observances of our faith, but instead, we must embody everything we believe in our own actions and deeds.

This is particularly relevant in the context in how these passages were written. At a time when disobedience against the rules and regulations imposed by the elders and the teachers of the Law were heavily discouraged and punishable, the people of God by then had lost the true meaning of the Law of God, which they had received through Moses, and obeyed them without understanding. And those who imposed them, forced the people to live strictly according to the Law also without knowing the intention of God’s Law.

The Pharisees, elders and teachers of the Law insisted that all the observances of the Mosaic laws must be adhered to, from rules on how a person should observe fasting, how one ought to wash his or her hands before a meal and when entering into another person’s house, as well as the laws regarding Sabbath and the strict instruction to avoid any works on that day, or else those who disobeyed would be expelled from the synagogues and shunned by the rest of their society.

In one count, there are approximately six hundred and thirteen set of laws, rules and regulations which the people had to obey, from the rituals of cleansing and purification, as well as ways to pray and fasting, right to the way for offering sacrifices, and the different purposes of each sacrifices of animal fats, blood, and others. These were imposed on the people, and became a great burden for them, because many of these were not what God intended for His people, but how the people themselves twisted the observances of the true Law, and utilised it to their own purposes.

That was why Jesus revealed to His people, what God actually intended for them, and what God wanted them to do for Him. It was not all the external observations of the laws that is important, but rather whether each person is able to commit themselves to God through the Law, and learn to give Him their love and commitment. It is no use for someone to observe the fullness of the rules and regulations, with the example of the Pharisees who openly displayed their observances before others, and yet God was not in their hearts.

It is pointless if we pretend to be pious, devout and holy, and yet in our hearts we store a greater malice of pride, arrogance and human greed. To want to be seen by others and be praised because of their deeds was the exact reason why Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law for their hypocrisy. They had no God in their hearts, but rather their own ego and selfishness.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what God wants from each one of us is simply our love, just as He had loved us first. His laws as summarised by Jesus our Lord is indeed simple, about love, the love of God shown upon mankind, and the expectation that we also love Him back equally, and to put Him at the centre of our lives, so that His love lives inside each one of us, and we therefore may live in Him.

Let us all follow the examples of St. Francis de Sales, whose feast we celebrate today. St. Francis de Sales was a devout bishop and holy man, whose deeds and works were renowned far and wide among the communities of the faithful during and after his time. But when he was young, he was born into a noble family and followed worldly pursuits as what was expected of someone of his class at that time.

However, as he continue through his education in a seminary, and going through various spiritual experiences, he discovered a moment of conversion and change, when he realised that God loves him and each and every men and women. And based on that fundamental truth, St. Francis de Sales dedicated his life to God from then on, and left behind the worldly pursuits and ambitions.

He left behind everything and became a priest, and was renowned from then on by his zeal and faith in God, by the clarity of his sermons and preachings about the faith to the people. And by explaining the love of God which He had shown through the Church, he managed to convince many to repent from their old ways of sin and enter into conversion and change just as he himself had done many years prior.

St. Francis de Sales was renowned for his patience and humility, his loving and caring nature, his gentle attitude, which are all the characteristics of God’s love. Therefore, based on his examples, all of us Christians must also follow in his footsteps, practicing our faith in our own lives, so that we too may have the Lord at the centre of our lives, and be transformed wholly from creatures of sin and wickedness into creatures of love.

Let us all devote ourselves, our time and our efforts to love God in all the things we do, and we can start this by thanking Him for all the blessings and graces we have received, and then sharing them with one another, loving and caring our brethren, and even strangers who are in our midst. Let us live our lives with purpose from now on, that is to obey the will of God, and therefore we will be found worthy when the Lord comes again as He had promised us. May God bless us all. Amen.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017 : 3rd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Francis de Sales, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White
Mark 3 : 31-35

At that time, the mother and brothers of Jesus came. As they stood outside, they sent someone to call Him. The crowd sitting around Jesus told Him, “Your mother and Your brothers are outside asking for You.”

He replied, “Who are My mother and My brothers?” And looking around at those who sat there, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers. Whoever does the will of God is brother and sister and mother to Me.”

Tuesday, 24 January 2017 : 3rd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Francis de Sales, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White
Psalm 39 : 2 and 4ab, 7-8a, 10, 11

With resolve I waited for the Lord; He listened and heard me beg. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.

Sacrifice and oblation You did not desire; this You had me understand. Burnt offering and sin offering You do not require. Then I said, “Here I come!”

In the great assembly I have proclaimed Your saving help. My lips, o Lord, I did not seal – You know that very well.

I have not locked up in my heart Your saving help, but have spoken about it – Your deliverance and Your faithfulness. I have made no secret of Your truth and of Your kindness in the great assembly.