Wednesday, 25 January 2023 : 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 the whole Church marks the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, in which we remember the moment when St. Paul the Apostle, then known as Saul, turned away from his path of persecuting the followers of Christ in the earliest days of the Church, and then became one of the Lord’s greatest champions and defenders instead. This Feast marks that moment when even such a great sinner and enemy of the Lord and His people could turn away from his wrong path and walk in the path of God’s righteousness. The example of St. Paul the Apostle and his conversion is a classic and very good example that no sinner is truly beyond God’s help and grace, as long as the sinner is willing to make amends and listen to the Lord calling on him or her, and turn back towards Him.

As Saul, in his earlier life, St. Paul was a young and overzealous Pharisee who was convinced to try to eradicate the Christian faith and all Christians throughout Judea and beyond. He was the leader of the efforts to persecute and destroy Christian believers, arresting and torturing them, and striking at them in conjunction with the Pharisees and the chief priests. Saul caused great harm to many among the faithful and he probably led to the suffering and death of many earliest Christians. He was present at and approved the martyrdom of St. Stephen, one of the Church’s seven original Deacons and the first of the martyrs of the Church. No one therefore could have believed that it was possible for one like Saul to embrace the Christian faith, less still to become one of the Lord’s chief defenders and servants.

Yet, that was what happened. The Lord called Saul on his way to Damascus to arrest and eradicate the Christians living there. He was called by the Lord in a miraculous and dramatic encounter between the two of them, as he saw and witnessed the Lord appearing to him, and revealing to him the truth, of the mistake he has committed in persecuting and arresting the Lord’s followers. Saul experienced for himself the encounter with the Lord and ever since then, through his baptism and miraculous healing via the assistance of Ananias, a disciple of the Lord, Saul’s life was completely changed and made anew, as he embarked on a new life that was faithful to the Lord, giving his best, all of his efforts and hard work to serve the Lord and to glorify Him, becoming one of the Lord’s greatest disciples and champions.

That was how Saul turned to eventually become St. Paul the Apostle, from a great enemy of Christians and the Lord Himself, to a great disciple and a most faithful servant of God, one of the Apostles and a great missionary who devoted his whole life, a lot of time and effort for the sake of proclaiming the Lord and His truth to more and more people all throughout the world. St. Paul’s example, faith and dedication ought to inspire all of us that even if we have sinned against God, or think that our sins made us to be unworthy of Him and His love, we have the hope of salvation and eternal life all the same. God’s love for us is far greater than all of our sins and wickedness, and in St. Paul’s own words, in one of his Epistles, nothing can separate us from the love of God. Undoubtedly, St. Paul was referring to his own example as the great example of how even great sinners can become great servants of God and saints.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we celebrate this Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle all of us are reminded that we are all also called by the Lord for the same purpose and mission in our own lives. Each and every one of us as members of the Church are parts of the Church’s works and missions in proclaiming the truth of God and evangelising the whole world. All of us are successors of the works entrusted by the Lord to His Apostles and disciples, the missions that the Lord entrusted to His Church. The works of St. Paul and the other Apostles and disciples of the Lord are still aplenty and ongoing, as there are ever more people out there who have not yet known the Lord and His truth. St. Paul the Apostle showed us the way forward in life, in how we should commit ourselves to God’s mission and works.

Now the question is, are we willing to do our best to follow the Lord in the way that St. Paul himself had done? Are we willing to embrace the Lord and His mercy and forgiveness once again, as He continued to reach out to us, calling us to turn away from our sinful and wicked ways? Are we willing to embrace God’s love and grace in showing us His mercy even when we have often disappointed Him? All of us should appreciate the things that God has done in patiently embracing us despite of our constant stubborn attitude and rebelliousness. He has always loved us and wanted us to be reconciled with Him, and gave us the means to do so through His Son, Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. By His suffering, death on the Cross and by His Resurrection, the Lord has opened for us the gates of Heaven and shown us the path towards Him.

Now, what each one of us need to do is to reflect on how St. Paul embraced the Lord wholeheartedly and humbly accepted that he was mistaken and wrong in his youth, and allowing the Lord and His other Apostles, as well as the Holy Spirit to help and guide him down the wrong path. Too often many of us continue to sin and disobey God because we are too proud to admit our mistakes and faults, and we are unwilling to let the Lord to correct us. For all that St. Paul had done in his youth as Saul to persecute Christians, he was humble enough to accept the truth of the Lord and embrace His mercy and compassionate love. Are we also willing to embrace God’s truth and love with humility and faith? The choice is ours alone to make. If we continue to walk with pride and refusing to accept our errors and mistakes in life, we will likely end up continuing down the wrong path.

Let us all therefore strive to renew our faith and lives by our humble obedience to the Lord and the willingness to change ourselves by listening to God’s will and words. Let us all be growing ever stronger in our faith and relationship with the Lord in the way that St. Paul had done himself. Let us be converted in life and draw ever closer to the Lord, and be good role models in our lives and actions, that we may inspire many others to live worthily of the Lord. Let us trust in God’s love that is so great that not even the greatest of sinners are beyond God’s mercy and forgiveness. May God continue to strengthen our faith and may He bless us in our everyday lives and actions. May God bless us in our every endeavours, efforts and good works for His greater glory, now and always. Amen.

Wednesday, 25 January 2023 : 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 His disciples, “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 2023 : 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 YHVH, all you nations; all you peoples, praise Him.

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

Wednesday, 25 January 2023 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Acts 22 : 3-16

Paul spoke to the Jews in Jerusalem, “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 Nazorean, 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 people, 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 the 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.

Wednesday, 18 January 2023 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures all of us are called to heed the love that God has given to us in the Person of Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour, Who is His most beloved and only begotten Son. Not only that, but we are reminded today that Christ is also our one and only True and Eternal High Priest, as the One Who interceded, made amends and reconnected us to the Lord, our most loving God and Father. By His coming into this world, He has bridged the once vast and immense gap that existed between God and us mankind, all because of our disobedience and sins against Him. And thanks to that, all of us now can look with great hope, to the Light of our Lord’s salvation and the promise of eternal life, which He has made to us and which He will fulfil, if we remain firm in our faith in Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, in our first reading today, we heard from the Epistle to the Hebrews in which the author of this Epistle spoke of the High Priesthood of Melchizedek, a rather mysterious figure mentioned in the Book of Genesis during the occasion when Abraham, the father of nations and the Israelites, offered a tenth of his materials to God. High Priest Melchizedek was described as the High Priest of the Most High God, or even as the High Priest and King of Salem, with some Biblical scholars relating this Salem with the historical Jerusalem. And as mentioned by the author of the Epistle of the Hebrews, who was not really discreet in making the connections between Melchizedek and Jesus Christ, Melchizedek was mentioned as One Who was without a father, mother or any genealogy, and the author also mentioned how Melchizedek was the figure of the Son of God.

Regardless of who Melchizedek really was, and what his nature and origin was, as truly many things were beyond even the knowledge and understanding of the prophets and the messengers of God, the writers of the Scriptures and even the Church fathers, what matters is that Melchizedek truly indeed was a prefigurement of the Lord Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour, in what He would do for the sake of each and every one of us, in bringing the salvation of God into our midst. As the High Priest of God, Melchizedek interceded on behalf of Abraham and offered his offerings to the Lord, and in the same way, the Lord Jesus as our one and true Eternal High Priest also offered on our behalf a most perfect and worthy offering to the Lord, His Heavenly Father, the offering and sacrifice of His own Body and Blood, as the slain and sacrificed Paschal Lamb of God.

And that was exactly how the Lord Jesus had become the Mediator of the New Covenant which God has created and established with us mankind, that Christ has become our link and the means for us to be reconciled with God, by reaching out to us and being present in our midst, showing us God’s love manifested in His Person, and by showing us all that God truly wants us all to return to Him and find comfort, liberation and true joy through Him. We heard of how the Lord healed a man who had a paralysed hand, allowing him to make use of his hand again. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who were present there frowned upon the actions of the Lord as it happened on the Sabbath, a day that was meant to be a day of rest according to God’s Law. On that day, people rested from work and should not be doing any work, and spend the time to be with God.

Back then, we must understand that the Pharisee and the teachers of the Law were those who were very particular about the way how the Law of God was obeyed and lived, that they paid a lot of attention on the details and rituals involved. They have also enforced a very strict interpretation of the Law on the people, especially on the matter of the Sabbath laws and customs. No one was supposed to do any work or action, even for doing what is good and right, according to the beliefs and rules imposed by those considered as elders and guides of the people. That was where the Lord rebuked them and showed them His anger and indignation at those who showed no compassion and love for their fellow brethren, and those who had made it difficult for many to be good and faithful disciples and followers of God, all because of the excessive burdens they had imposed on the observance of the Law.

The Lord wants us all to know that what the Sabbath was all about, was meant to help the people to return their focus and attention once again on the Lord, and away from the many temptations present all around us, all of which could distract us from our relationship with God. That was why the Sabbath was instituted at the first instance, and that is for God’s people to dedicate at least one day for the Lord and to focus their attention and efforts on Him, on that Sabbath day, and not to spend all of their time and attention on their many worldly desires, preoccupations, works and other distractions in life. All of these were the reason why the Lord gave the Sabbath to His people so that they might learn to appreciate all that He has given them, and grow ever closer in faith and love in Him, as they spent more time with Him on that sacred day.

Instead, what happened was that the day became a source of misery for some, and prevented good deeds from being carried out. Like in other occasions when the Lord performed His healing and miracles, the Lord criticised the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law for their rigid and proud attitude, refusing to listen to the truth that God has delivered into their midst through His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. They preferred to remain in their stubborn attitude and hence failed miserably in their duties and responsibilities as the custodians of the Law and of the faithful people of God. Contrast this stubbornness and disobedience, pride and ego with the humility and obedience of Christ the Son, the Son of God Who willingly obeyed His Father’s will and allowed Himself to be stripped of all glory and honour, to be condemned to death like a criminal and put to death in a most painful and humiliating way.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us are henceforth reminded to first of all be appreciative and thankful of everything that the Lord had done for our sake, in Him loving us most generously and patiently despite our repeated disobedience and constantly stubborn attitudes. Then, let us also be thankful for our High Priest, our Lord and Saviour Who has offered Himself as the perfect and worthy offering for the absolution of our innumerable sins. He did all of these so that we may not perish but live, and that we may be truly reconciled with God. Can we therefore commit ourselves from now on to follow the Lord and His ways, just as He Himself has shown us in His perfect obedience? Can we show our true and living faith by doing what God has taught and commanded us to do, through His Church and His servants?

May the Lord, our Saviour and High Priest continue to strengthen and guide us in our journey of faith throughout life. May He empower each and every one of us so that we may indeed live our lives ever more worthily with each and every passing moments. May He continue to bless us in our efforts and endeavours each day and at every moments, all for His greater glory. Amen.

Wednesday, 18 January 2023 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Mark 3 : 1-6

At that time, again Jesus entered the synagogue. A man, who had a paralysed hand, was there and some people watched Jesus : would He heal the man on the sabbath? If He did, they could accuse Him.

Jesus said to the man with the paralysed hand, “Stand here in the centre.” Then He asked them, “What does the Law allow us to do on the Sabbath? To do good or to do harm? To save life or to kill?” But they were silent.

Then Jesus looked around at them with anger and deep sadness, because they had closed their minds. And He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was healed. As soon as the Pharisees left, they met with Herod’s supporters, looking for a way to destroy Jesus.

Wednesday, 18 January 2023 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Psalm 109 : 1, 2, 3, 4

The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand till I make Your foes Your footstool.”

From Zion the Lord will extend Your mighty sceptre and You will rule in the midst of Your enemies.

Yours is royal dignity from the day You were born in holy majesty. Like dew from the womb of the dawn, I have begotten You.

The Lord has sworn, and He will not take back His word : “You are a Priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.”

Wednesday, 18 January 2023 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Hebrews 7 : 1-3, 15-17

Scripture says that Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, came out to meet Abraham who returned from defeating the kings. He blessed Abraham and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything.

Let us note that the name Melchizedek means King of Justice, and that king of Salem means king of Peace. There is no mention of father, mother or genealogy; nothing is said about the beginning or the end of his life. In this he is the figure of the Son of God, the Priest Who remains forever.

All this, however, becomes clear if this Priest after the likeness of Melchizedek has in fact received His mission, not on the basis of any human law, but by the power of an immortal life. Because Scripture says : You are a Priest forever in the priestly order of Melchizedek.

Wednesday, 11 January 2023 : 1st Week of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures, each and every one of us as Christians are reminded yet again of the salvation and healing, redemption and reconciliation that all of us have received through Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour. All of us have received the assurance of eternal life and glory from the Lord, Who has sent us His Son to be our Saviour, delivering us from the precipice of destruction and annihilation. Because of Him, we now have hope once again, delivered from the path to eternal darkness, freed from the bondage to sin, evil and death. Christ’s light has triumphed and overcome the whole world, and overcome the dominion of the evil one, and all those who had kept us under the tyranny of sin and death.

In our first reading today, taken from the Epistle to the Hebrews, we heard the author of the Epistle regarding how all of us have shared in the same nature as Our Lord Jesus, all thanks to Him, Who is the Son of God, willingly taking up our human nature and existence, becoming Incarnate in the flesh as the Son of Man, coming down into our midst to gather us all into His loving embrace as our Good Shepherd, and reconcile us with His loving Father, our Master and Creator. Through Christ, all of us have received the assurance of eternal life by His suffering and death on the Cross, as well as by His glorious Resurrection, through which Christ has united us all to Himself and made us all to pass through into the new life and blessed existence, that is no longer of sin, but of the light of His grace.

How did Christ do this to us? He did so by sharing in our humanity, by becoming Man like us, so that He can be the New Adam, leading us all towards God through His obedience and love for God, and breaking us free from the bondage of sin because of the disobedience of the first Adam, and Eve, our first ancestors, through which we have entered into the state of sin and separated from God in the first place. He led us all as our High Priest and as the perfect role model for us to follow, so that by His offering of Himself, His own Most Precious Body and Blood on the Cross, by His suffering and death, all of us may receive the pardon and absolution from all of the unimaginable extent of our innumerable sins and faults, and be reconciled fully with the Lord, our most loving Father and Creator.

That is what the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews had mentioned to the faithful, reminding them all that the Messiah, Jesus Christ, Who has come into the world, has brought into our midst the love of God, the compassionate mercy of the Father manifested in the flesh, becoming tangible and approachable by all of us. The Lord has revealed His most gracious love and kindness, just as we have also heard in our Gospel passage today, where we heard of the Lord Jesus and His ministry among the people of God, healing those who were sick and dying, and also those who were possessed and were troubled by evil spirits, healing the mother-in-law of His disciple and Apostle, St. Peter, among many other deeds that He had done. He went out still, to reach out to more of the people of God, in fulfilling the missions entrusted to Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we heard these readings from the Scriptures today, all of us are reminded that first of all, our lives as Christians ought to be focused and centred on our Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour and King, Who has come into our midst to deliver us from the sure destruction because of those sins and faults that we have committed. All of us have received the promise of salvation and eternal life from the Lord Himself, Who has reached out to us with His great and most gracious love, caring for us and gathering us all from being scattered all throughout the world, so that we may all be one people, of the one flock that He has assembled, His Church, the Body of Christ. By uniting all of us to Himself, He, as the Head of the Church, has made us all partakers and sharers of the eternal glory and joy that is promised for all those who are faithful to Him and all who belong to Him.

Through Him, all of us have received the healing and encouragement, strength and the power of God’s most gracious love and kindness, which we have now experienced and enjoyed. Now, all of us therefore are called as Christians to be ever more faithful to God and to obey His commandments and Law in the way that Christ, the Son of Man, the New Adam, our role model, has shown us. Each one of us have been called during this period and time to continue doing whatever we can in fulfilling our roles and obligations as those who follow the Lord, in doing what we can to proclaim God’s truth and love in the midst of our communities, among all the peoples, that more and more may also come to believe in God through us. This is our calling and responsibility as Christians, and one that we should embrace wholeheartedly.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we enter and progress through this first part of the Ordinary Time of the year, before we head into the season of Lent in over a month or so, let us all make good use of this time and opportunity that God has given us to do whatever we can in glorifying Him and in following Him wholeheartedly, so that this season and time will not be ‘ordinary’ in any sense. Instead, we have to make it truly ‘extraordinary’ by doing all that we can to glorify the Lord by our lives, our every actions, words and deeds. We should make sure that our examples may inspire others all around us to follow the Lord and to believe in Him as well, just in the manner that the Lord Himself and His saints have inspired us all to follow them in the path of righteousness and truth.

May the Lord be with us always, and may He strengthen each one of us in faith. May He empower all of us that we may always walk ever more confidently in the path that He has shown us and led us. May God bless our every works and deeds, all the endeavours and actions that we carry out in each and every moments of our lives. Wishing all of us a most blessed and fruitful Ordinary Time and season, each and every days of our lives, always. Amen.

Wednesday, 11 January 2023 : 1st Week of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Mark 1 : 29-39

At that time, on leaving the synagogue, Jesus went to the home of Simon and Andrew with James and John. As Simon’s mother-in-law was sick in bed with fever, they immediately told Him about her. Jesus went to her and, taking her by the hand, raised her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

That evening at sundown, people brought to Jesus all the sick and those who had evil spirits : the whole town was pressing around the door. Jesus healed many who had various diseases, and drove out many demons; but He did not let them speak, for they knew Who He was.

Very early in the morning, before daylight, Jesus went off to a lonely place where He prayed. Simon and the others went out also, searching for Him; and when they found Him, they said, “Everyone is looking for You.” Then Jesus answered, “Let us go to the nearby villages so that I may preach there too; for that is why I came.”

So Jesus set out to preach in all the synagogues throughout Galilee; He also cast out demons.