Tuesday, 25 January 2022 : 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 celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, marking that significant moment in the history of the Church when Saul, one of the greatest bane and enemy of the faithful, its arch-persecutor turned to become one of the Church’s greatest champion and the Lord’s greatest and most passionate defender, from a man who could not stop in his zeal to destroy the Christian faith and persecute all Christians who followed the Lord to a man who courageously stood up against the world in the defence of his true faith in God.

In our first reading we heard the account of what happened when St. Paul was converted, the moment when the young and overzealous Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus, came to be a follower of Christ. Saul of Tarsus was a member of the elite among the Jewish community as he was not only just a member of the Pharisees, one of the two most powerful influential groups at the time, but he was also a Roman citizen and not only that, he was a Roman citizen by birth, signifying that he was truly an individual of an astounding background, a great rising star among the Jewish people.

He was misguided by his intense zeal in following the ideas of the Pharisees, in their misunderstanding and stubborn refusal to believe in the Lord and His truth despite all the signs and the proofs that He had revealed to them in many occasions. The Pharisees and many among the elders and the teachers of the Law viewed the Lord Jesus as a false Messiah and even a blasphemer and traitor to their nation, as a threat to their power and influence. And the young Saul therefore followed in this mindset and took action to strike at those who believed in the Lord.

Hence, Saul was responsible for the many often violent mob actions against the early Christians, including that of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church, whose martyrdom was the first mention of his name and presence. It was mentioned how he approved of the stoning and killing of St. Stephen, and then later on, went on to carry out many more acts of violence against Christians, trying to eradicate the Christian faith and the Lord’s followers which then rapidly spread throughout Judea, Galilee and beyond.

That was why it was truly amazing when God chose and called Saul to be His follower and servant, as He came to Saul who was on his way to Damascus to eradicate the Christians there. The Lord came to Saul and revealed Himself and told him all the truth, and Saul, blinded by that vision, was eventually restored in his eyesight and together with it came a new resolution in life as he asked to be baptised in the Name of the Lord, by Ananias, one of the disciples of the Lord whom the Lord called to heal Saul and to open his mind to the truth of God.

St. Paul therefore came to become a most faithful and dedicated servant of the Lord. He changed his name from Saul to Paul to indicate this change in his way of life, as at that time, customarily the change in name indicate a major change or shift in life, just as when Simon was given the name Cephas or Kephas, meaning Rock, which we know as Peter. There were others who had also received or adopted a new name to signify the change in their path in life among other things.

Thus, as we have heard in our Gospel passage today, how the Lord commissioned His disciples to go forth to the world and proclaim the Good News, He has called on many to follow Him and to be His witnesses, so that many more people may come to believe in Him as well. He calls on all of us to embrace His truth and to show that same truth to others by our own life and dedication. St. Paul had committed himself and his life to follow the Lord in this way, in giving his life to serve the Lord and abandoning all the prospects and good life he once had earlier on.

Through what St. Paul had gone through, his conversion experience and his later complete dedication to the Lord, all of us are reminded that each and every one of us have been given many opportunities by the Lord to embrace Him and to find our path to Him, and at the same time, also given the chances to contribute to the works and missions that He has entrusted to each and every one of us as His disciples.

And if any of us are hesitant or think that we are unworthy of doing so, then we should consider how Saul, the great enemy and bane of Christians, a great sinner and a most unlikely candidate had been chosen by God to be His own greatest champion. Throughout the history of Christianity and the Church, there had been many other great saints who were once great sinners. What matters is that, each and every one of them atoned from their sins and turned away from their evil ways, embracing the Lord wholeheartedly and served Him, becoming great beacons and witnesses of His light and truth.

Now, today as we recall the dedication that St. Paul had given throughout his life and as we look upon the good examples set by our many predecessors in faith, let us all therefore see in what way we can commit ourselves better to serve the Lord. We are called to follow Him and to be genuine in how we love Him and embrace His truth in our every moment. Are we willing and able to give our best to live our lives as Christians, in the best way possible? Are we capable of following God not just for appearances and as formality, but truly dedicated to Him in our hearts?

Let us therefore renew our commitment to the Lord and do our best to live our lives as those who call themselves as Christians, and strive to be faithful witnesses of Our Lord in the world today, in our respective communities. Let our actions, words and deeds inspire one another that we may indeed proclaim the glory of God and reveal His truth and love to more and more people. May God be with us always and may He empower each one of us to live ever more virtuously and be ever more courageous to live our lives in faith, always. Amen.

Tuesday, 25 January 2022 : 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.”

Tuesday, 25 January 2022 : 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.

Tuesday, 25 January 2022 : 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.

Monday, 24 January 2022 : 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, today as we listened to the words of the Lord in the Scriptures, we are called to remember the love that God has shown upon us, His beloved people that He raised for us His Saviour, born of the House of David, the great King of Israel just as He has promised and revealed through the various prophecies, in Jesus Christ, Son of God and Heir of David. We are reminded from the Scripture readings today what it means for us to follow the Lord and to be faithful to Him.

In our first reading today, we heard from the the second book of the prophet Samuel regarding the time when David was elected and affirmed as the King over all of the Israelites. For the context, David had earlier on been chosen by God as the new King over all Israel to replace Saul, the first and previous King of Israel. But Saul and David ended up in conflict and rivalry, in which Saul attempted in several occasions to kill David and remove him as a threat to his rule.

When later on King Saul was killed at Mount Gilboa during a battle with the Philistines, the people were divided between those who supported David to be King of Israel and those who supported Ishbaal, Saul’s son. The conflict lasted for a while in a brief civil war before finally the whole nation was united under the leadership of David. The elders and the whole people asked David to be their king, and he finally led the Israelites to many years of glory.

He built his kingdom and the great city of Jerusalem, to be the place where God would dwell, as he himself planned for the House of God, that would eventually be built by his son, Solomon. The Lord provided for His people and guided them, and gave them great prosperity and happiness so long as they obeyed him and listened to Him and His words, as they did during the reigns of David and Solomon, and other good kings. But the people fell again and again into sin and disobedience against God.

Yet, the Lord still patiently loved His people, all of us His beloved children and creation. He Who created us all out of love would not want to see us destroyed and crushed under the sins and evils we have committed, and therefore just as He has chosen David to be the leader, shepherd and King over His people, thus, He sent His own Son, the Divine Word, to be born and incarnate in the flesh, born into the House of David to fulfil the promises He had made to His people and to David long ago.

Through Christ, God had endeavoured to lead us all out of the misery of evil and darkness, and provided us all with a sure and certain path into the light of His presence. He revealed His truth and love to us, and yet, as we have heard in the Gospel passage today, there were still people who hardened their hearts against Him, despite everything that He had done for them all. We heard how the teachers of the Law were accusing the Lord of colluding with Beelzebul, the prince of demons in order to perform His miracles.

That was something that happened due to the pride, ego and arrogance of the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees, who thought that they knew it better, and they could not accept the fact that someone not from within their ranks could have gotten such great popularity, spoke with such great wisdom, truth and authority, that they felt threatened and they gave in to their desires and temptations which resulted in them foolishly opposing the good works of the Lord.

Many of us are often like that too, brothers and sisters in Christ. Many of us often hardened our hearts against the Lord and ignored Him and His love, and many of us had done things to spite the Lord, rejecting His compassion and kindness for worldly things and ambitions, for other things that distracted us from the truth about just how much God has loved us and how precious all of us are to Him.

Today, all of us should be inspired by the faith and the good examples set by St. Francis de Sales, a great saint, bishop and Doctor of the Church, whose life and dedication to the Lord can inspire us to be better Christians and better followers and witnesses of His truth and love. St. Francis de Sales was the Bishop of Geneva during the height of the Counter Reformation efforts in countering the divisions in the Church and among the Christian faithful due to the reformation earlier on.

He was born a noble, but encounters with the Lord and some questions about the faith eventually led him to seek the Lord more closely and he then chose to become a priest. Against initial family opposition, St. Francis de Sales finally gave up his rights and inheritance and became a priest. He dedicated himself a lot for the people he was working with, and in everything he had been entrusted to do. And later on as the Bishop of Geneva, he tirelessly involved himself in reaching out to many Christians and including those who have separated themselves from the Church.

St. Francis de Sales also wrote extensively about the faith which influenced and impacted many even long after his passing. His enormous contributions eventually led him to be declared a saint and a Doctor of the Church. Through his dedication and lifetime of service to God, all of us ought to be inspired to follow his great examples in walking the path of God faithfully ourselves.

Let us all therefore renew our commitments to be faithful to the Lord. Let us be committed and full of love for Him, and do whatever we can to glorify the Lord and His Name through our every acts, words and deeds, in every opportunities in our lives. Let us glorify our Lord and King, He Who has chosen and raised David to be King over His people, and Who has come down upon us Himself, to be our King forever. Amen.

Monday, 24 January 2022 : 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 : 22-30

At that time, the teachers of the Law, who had come from Jerusalem, said, “He is the power of Beelzebul : the chief of the demons helps Him to drive out demons.”

Jesus called them to Him, and began teaching them by means of stories, or parables, “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a nation is divided by civil war, that nation cannot stand. If a family divides itself into groups, that family will not survive. In the same way, if Satan has risen against himself and is divided, he will not stand; he is finished.”

“No one can break into the house of a strong man in order to plunder his goods, unless he first ties up the strong man. Then indeed, he can plunder his house. Truly, I say to you, every sin will be forgiven humankind, even insults to God, however numerous. But whoever slanders the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. He carries the guilt of his sin forever.”

This was their sin when they said, “He has an unclean spirit in Him.”

Monday, 24 January 2022 : 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 88 : 20, 21-22, 25-26

In the past, You spoke in a vision; You said of Your faithful servant : “I have set the crown upon a mighty one; on one chosen from the people.”

I have found David My servant, and, with My holy oil, I have anointed him. My hand will be ever with him; and My arm will sustain him.

My faithfulness and love will be with him; and, by My help, he will be strong. I will set his hand over the sea, his right hand over the rivers.

Monday, 24 January 2022 : 3rd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Francis de Sales, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

2 Samuel 5 : 1-7, 10

All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your bone and flesh. In the past, when Saul was king over us, it was you who led Israel. And YHVH said to you, ‘You shall be the shepherd of My people Israel and you shall be commander over Israel.’”

Before YHVH, king David made an agreement with the elders of Israel who came to him at Hebron, and they anoint him king of Israel. David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned for forty years : he reigned over Judah, from Hebron, seven and a half years; and over Israel and Judah, from Jerusalem, for thirty-three years.

The king and his men set out for Jerusalem to fight the Jebusites who lived there. They said to David, “If you try to break in here, the blind and the lame will drive you away,” which meant that David could not get in. Yet David captured the fortress of Zion that became the “city of David.”

And David grew more powerful, for YHVH, the God of Hosts, was with him.

Sunday, 23 January 2022 : Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Sunday of the Word of God, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday we mark the special occasion of the Sunday of the Word of God, on which we recall the importance of the Word of God in our lives, the central role of the Sacred Scriptures in our life as Christians, which cannot be separated from our daily life. The Word of God is central as part of our Christian way of life and we have to put it as the centre and focus of our whole existence. That is the great importance and significance of the Word for us.

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis instituted this Sunday of the Word of God just recently a few years ago to remind us of this importance, so that as Christians we do not end up sidelining the centrality of the Scriptures. We cannot be true Christians unless we have appreciated and understood the Scriptures, spent the time to read them and to put them into our hearts and minds. Each and every Christian families, all of us must put our effort to read and study the Scriptures together. We must always strive to help one another to understand the Scripture better.

However, too many of us sidelined the Scriptures, not spending the time to even read the Bible at all. Many of us always find excuses trying to justify why we couldn’t do so. We were either too busy with our work and career, or with whatever it was that fancied our thoughts and minds, not being able to focus ourselves on the Lord and His words. And we also find excuses saying that reading the Bible is boring and not interesting at all, because we prefer to read other things that excite us more.

That is what happened when we do not have the genuine faith and desire to love God. We put other things instead of God as the focus of our lives then easily we will end up forgetting about Him and His truth, and His words have no place inside of us. It is time for us to reflect on this before it is too late for us and since each and every one of us are called today this Sunday to reflect on the importance of this Word of God, we should make the effort to read the Scriptures more, spending the time to deepen our understanding of God’s words and truth, and also how He has done so much throughout our history of salvation.

Let us now also look through our Scripture readings today, as we first recall the words of the prophet Ezra to the people of Israel in the Book of Nehemiah. At that time, the people of Israel had just returned from their exile in the land of the Babylonians, as they were allowed to return to their homeland by King Cyrus the Great of the Persians. The Lord had touched the king’s heart to allow His people to return to their homeland. Therefore, they took the journey to return to their homeland, and they went back to the ruins of Jerusalem and their cities to begin rebuilding their homeland in earnest.

The priest and prophet Ezra led the people in the reading of the Law of God, the Law, commandments and the rules which God had laid down to His people through Moses. Those Law and commandments had long been neglected, and through the years of the kingdom of Israel and Judah they had often been ignored and disregarded. The Lord’s people had abandoned Him and persecuted His prophets and messengers, and as a result, they had to suffer the consequences of their infidelity, to be humiliated among the nations.

But God still had mercy and compassion and them, and He still loved them no matter what. That was why He sent Ezra to the people, and assisted by Nehemiah, the servant and scribe of the Persian King, to remind the people to know the Law and the commandments. For all those time when their ancestors had neglected the Law, it was even possible that they did not bother to get to know the Law and the truth of God more. They did not make the effort to know the Lord more even though the Law and the words of the Lord had always been available to them. To all of us, we have also received these same Law and commandments in the Scriptures. The same Law that Ezra spoke of that day, is the same one that is contained in our Sacred Scriptures.

Today, all of us also heard in our Gospel passage today, the words of the Lord Jesus as He proclaimed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue of His own hometown. The people there were astonished when they heard how He spoke with such great Wisdom and authority, as He revealed the truth of God to all, how everything that the prophets had spoken would be fulfilled through Him. He was the One Whom the prophets had revealed, and all these were written in the Scriptures. But, the people often refused to believe in Him as they could not accept how He could be the Messiah of God.

And ironically it was the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who were often up against Him and His works, doubting Him and trying hard to undermine His credibility at every possible opportunities. Those were the ones who supposedly should have known the best about the Scriptures and the Law, and they should have been the first to recognise the Saviour of God when He came into this world. Yet, they were the ones who rejected Him and made His works difficult as they refused to believe that He was truly the One promised by God.

That was despite the fact that they had seen all that the Lord had performed before them, in healing the sick people and opening the eyes of the blind, releasing the tongues of the mute and opening the ears of the deaf, and in casting out demons among many other miracles He had performed, all of which were the words of the Scriptures, the prophets and messengers of God all coming to perfect fulfilment in Him. Why is that so, brothers and sisters in Christ? That is because they were too proud to admit that there could be One Who could be superior to them.

They might have known the letter of the Law and the contents of the Word of God, but they did not truly appreciate and understand its meaning and significance, and as a result that was why they ended up doing all sorts of things that were unbecoming of them as the guardians of the faith of the people. This is in fact a reminder for us that we ourselves can also fall to the same pitfall unless we are careful not to lose our vigilance and guard against our pride and ego, and all the worldly temptations and desires.

Then lastly in our second reading today, we heard how St. Paul mentioned in his Epistle and letter to the Church and the faithful in Corinth that the Church of God is truly the one united and indivisible Body of Christ formed from the unity of all the faithful people of God. That Church was founded by the Lord Himself, established in this world with Himself as its Foundation and Focus. The Church of God was founded upon this very Word of God made Flesh, the Divine Word Incarnate. The Church is founded on the base of the Sacred Scriptures, the Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church as the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Therefore, as we also celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity this week, we have to spend some time to reflect on what we can do to foster unity within the Church. But we cannot do this if we ourselves are weak and ignorant of the truth of God as contained within His Word in the Sacred Scriptures. We have to deepen our relationship with God first and our understanding of His words and His truth as contained within the Scriptures, if we are to seek true unity in the Church among all Christians everywhere. We are all called and challenged to seek the Word of God in every available opportunity and share it with others.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore make good use of this opportunity on the Sunday of the Word of God to renew our commitment to place the Word at the centre of our Christian lives and amidst our respective families. We are all called to be the bearers of the Word of God and be His witnesses in our respective communities and in the various places we are living in. Are we able to live virtuously and in obedience of the Lord’s commandments and Law as He has entrusted them to us?

These are the things that we have to consider as we reflect and discern on our path forward in life. Are we going to continue down the same path towards ruin as what those Israelites and the ones who had ignored the Word of God and His truth had done? Or shall we instead do our very best to live our lives in accordance with the Word of truth, and strive to be exemplary each day and every moments in life to be most committed in all things? Let us all strive towards true Christian Unity by solidifying our foundation of faith through the frequent study and appreciation of the Scriptures, the Word of God.

Let us all make good use of these opportunities that God has given to us, to be His most dedicated followers and disciples, now and always, that more and more may come to believe in God and His salvation. May God bless us all and our every good efforts and endeavours, now and always. Amen.

Sunday, 23 January 2022 : Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Sunday of the Word of God, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Luke 1 : 1-4 and Luke 4 : 14-21

Several people have set themselves to relate the events that have taken place among us, as they were told by the first witnesses, who later became ministers of the word. After I, myself, had carefully gone over the whole story from the beginning, it seemed right for me to give you, Theophilus, an orderly account, so that your Excellency may know the truth of all you have been taught.

At that time, Jesus acted with the power of the Spirit; and on His return to Galilee, the news about Him spread throughout all that territory. He began teaching in the synagogue of the Jews and everyone praised Him.

When Jesus came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, as He usually did. He stood up to read, and they handed Him the book of the prophet Isaiah.

Jesus then unrolled the scroll and found the place where it is written : “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me. He has anointed Me, to bring good news to the poor; to proclaim liberty to captives; and new sight to the blind; to free the oppressed; and to announce the Lord’s year of mercy.”

Jesus then rolled up the scroll, gave it to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. Then He said to them, “Today, these prophetic words come true, even as you listen.”