Thursday, 25 January 2018 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate a great occasion in the history of our faith. In the history of the Church, as recording in the Scripture passages, we heard of the moment when a great enemy of God and His faithful ones, Saul, was converted to the faith, renouncing his former life and sinful past, and embracing the Lord as his Master, he eventually became a great defender and champion of the faith, St. Paul the Apostle.

Today we remember the moment of the conversion of St. Paul, when he was called by God from the depth of the darkness and into the new path in the light as the Lord had shown him. This is the pivotal moment in the history of the Church and our faith, as St. Paul would go on to perform many good works for the sake of the Church, ministering to many of the faithful in many cities throughout his journeys and travels across the Mediterranean, and in his many letters and writings to the faithful.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the calling and conversion of St. Paul is a reminder for each and every one of us as Christians, that all of us at one point in our own lives have also been called by the Lord in the same manner. We might not have experienced such a miraculous occasion as what St. Paul experienced, but surely God has also called all of us to follow Him, and by being Christians, it means that we have responded to His call.

Yet, many of us do not know what being a Christian truly mean. Some of us even went to the point of ridiculing and looking down on others just because they have not become Christians like ourselves. However, we did nothing in order to bring the Lord closer to the people mentioned. In fact, by our actions, our haughtiness and our indifference, we ended up distancing more and more people from God by our own actions.

First of all, we have to realise that God is calling everyone to Himself, to reconcile all those who have been sundered and separated from His love. We are all sinners and unworthy, and we are just like St. Paul who was once a great persecutor of the faithful, and sinned greatly against the Lord. Many other saints were also once great sinners, like St. Augustine, who once fell into a life of debauchery and sin during his youth days, even to the point of fathering a child out of wedlock.

But God called all of them, and they responded to God’s call in various ways. But what distinguished persistent sinners from saints, is the very fact that they allowed God to work His wonders in them, and they turned away from their sinful way of life, embracing a new way as shown to them by the Lord. They were deemed worthy because of their newfound commitment to God and to His people, and that was how they were made saints of the Church.

St. Paul was just one amongst the many other people who have experienced similar experience of conversion, but his is often highlighted simply because of his impact to the Church in its early years, and therefore, his critical importance and significance to the Church and the faithful as a whole. Certainly, no one who have lived during those years and times when St. Paul was still known as Saul, could have imagined that the fanatical and overzealous Pharisee could have become a great champion of God’s people.

Yet, that was what actually happened. And this is therefore an appropriate time for us to reflect on our own respective lives, based on what we know and from what we have heard with regards to the conversion of the great Apostle, St. Paul. It is a reminder that each one of us have also been called to a renewed life, turning away from our waywardness and from our sins.

What does this mean, brothers and sisters in Christ? It means that all of us, while sinners, can become saints as well, if we are to follow the Lord and put our trust completely in His guidance. It is through our actions and deeds, by which we show our genuine faith in God, that we can draw ever closer to Him, and that we can follow in the footsteps of our forefathers in faith, all those deemed worthy by the Church to be saints and blesseds.

All of us are called to continue the mission entrusted by the Lord to His Apostles and disciples, which is the propagation of the Good News of His salvation, and by calling all to the same repentance and forgiveness, through baptism in the Holy Name of the Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. This mission is still ongoing, and there are still many people out there, who have yet to receive the Good News, and worse still, many more who have fallen away from the faith.

Let us all therefore do what we can, to follow in the footsteps of St. Paul the Apostle, in his courage and determination to live faithfully, by preaching the Good News of salvation, not only through words alone, but also through deeds, filled with love and genuine care for all of our fellow men. Let us all show love in our actions, by showing our care and concern for all those who are in need, especially those who are in most need of God’s love and mercy.

May the Lord continue to guide us and protect us on our way, that we will always walk faithfully in His path, and that day after day, we will draw ever closer to Him, so that by the end of it all, we may be worthy of sharing the glory of His saints, all those who were once sinners like us, and yet, by their determination and commitment, having received the crown of glory from the Lord, Who blessed them for their wonderful dedication and life consecrated to Him. St. Paul the Apostle, pray for us all sinners, that we may be strengthened by God to be ever faithful to Him. Amen.

Thursday, 25 January 2018 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, 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.”

Thursday, 25 January 2018 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, 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.

Thursday, 25 January 2018 : Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, 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, 24 January 2018 : 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 we listened first of all about the word of God which He delivered to His servant, David, the king of Israel through the prophet Nathan. What actually happened, brethren? At that time, king David, having settled all accounts with his enemies and secured the entirety of the boundary of his kingdom of any further discord and conflict, wanted to establish for the Lord a new House in which He might dwell among the people.

At that time, the Lord dwelled in the Ark of the Covenant, as the earthly vessel of His most Holy Presence. The Ark of the Covenant was the tangible symbol of God’s presence among His people, as the epicentre of the community of Israel, most visibly during the time of the Exodus, when the Ark was housed in the Tent of Meeting. The priests would periodically go up to the Holy Presence of God and offer sacrifices there.

David wanted to make a House and Temple for the Lord as he did not find it right for him to stay in a lavish and large palace and yet the Lord stayed in under a Tent. But God made it clear to David, that it was actually not up to him to build Him a house, but rather, God would give the grace to David’s son, Solomon, to be the one to complete a house for Him. God chose those whom He deems to be worthy, and it is by His grace that everything comes to be.

In the Gospel passage today, we listened to the Lord Jesus Who taught the people using the parables or stories, through which He taught them about the truth of God in easily understandable comparisons to real life situations and conditions. In today’s passage, we heard about the well-known parable of the sower, in which the Lord Jesus related to the people, the story about a sower who sowed seeds that fell on few different locations and their outcome.

In that story, the seeds that the sower spread represent the Word of God, and the sower represents God Himself, Who came to spread His word and His truth among His people on earth. Yet, the reactions to the Lord’s words and call are truly varied, just as varied as the conditions in which the seeds fell into. There are those who fell into difficult grounds, into rocky grounds and among thistles and brambles, and failed to grow. Those represent all those who received the Lord’s words, and yet, failed to live up to the expectations that come together with those words of salvation.

As Christians, all of us are called to follow in the footsteps of king David, because he was one of the few of those who followed the Lord, and obeyed Him in most of the situation, listening to His will and obeying whatever it is that he was told to do. When the prophet Nathan told David that it was not God’s will for him to build the House and Temple for His Presence, he obeyed it all, and continued to live righteously in the presence of God henceforth.

That is the example of those who have listened to the Word of God and allowed it to enter into their lives and transform them, just as those seeds falling onto rich and fertile soil grew to bear fruits in many multiples of what have been originally planted. This is what all of us as Christians should also be doing, imitating the good examples of our predecessors in faith. And that also includes the saint whose memory and feast we celebrate today, St. Francis de Sales.

St. Francis de Sales was the patron saint of the Salesians, a religious order now widespread throughout the world, all following the examples of their founder, who was the Bishop of Geneva in Switzerland, who was renowned for his great piety and commitment to the Lord. He ministered to many of the people, especially all those who have wandered away from God’s truth, falling into heresies and false teachings, and gently leading them back to the faith.

He devoted himself to God and walked faithfully in His ways, helping many who are trying to find their way to their Lord and Saviour. And he also did many works and wrote many letters and books through which many more people through the years after him were inspired to seek the Lord and to be forgiven from their sins. This is the example of true discipleship and what each and every one of us as Christians are expected to do in our own respective lives.

May the Lord be with us always, and may He empower each and every one of us to live faithfully in accordance with His will. Let us all dedicate ourselves to Him anew, and may He empower us all to become ever better and ever committed disciples. May the Lord be our Master and our Guide at all times, and bless us and all of our endeavours. Amen.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018 : 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 4 : 1-20

At that time, Jesus began to teach by the lake; but such a large crowd gathered about Him, that He got into a boat and sat in it on the lake, while the crowd stood on the shore. He taught them many things through parables. In His teaching, He said, “Listen! The sower went out to sow. As he sowed, some of the seed fell along a path; and the birds came and ate it up.”

“Some of the seed fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil; it sprang up immediately, because it had no depth; but when the sun rose and burnt it, it withered, because it had no roots. Other seed fell among thorn bushes; and the thorns grew and choked it; so it did not produce any grain.”

“But some seed fell on good soil, grew and increased and yielded grain; some seed produced thirty times as much, some sixty, and some one hundred times as much.” And Jesus added, “Listen then, if you have ears.”

When the crowd went away, some who were around Him with the Twelve asked about the parables. He answered them, “The mystery of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But for those outside, everything comes in parables, so, that, the more they see, they do not perceive; the more they hear, they do not understand; otherwise they would be converted and pardoned.”

Jesus said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How, then, will you understand any of the parables? What the sower is sowing is the word. Those along the path, where the seed fell, are people who hear the word, but as soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.”

“Other people receive the word like rocky ground. As soon as they hear the word, they accept it with joy. But they have no roots, so it lasts only a little while. No sooner does trouble or persecution come because of the word, than they fall. Others receive the seed, as seed among thorns. After they hear the word, they are caught up in the worries of this life, false hope of riches and other desires. All these come in and choke the word, so that finally it produces nothing.”

“And there are others who receive the word as good soil. They hear the word, take it to heart and produce : some thirty, some sixty, and some one hundred times as much.”

Wednesday, 24 January 2018 : 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 : 4-5, 27-28, 29-30

I have made a Covenant with David, My chosen one; I have made a pledge to My servant. I establish his descendants forever; I build his throne for all generations.

He will call on Me, “You are my Father, my God, my Rock, my Saviour.” I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.

I will keep My Covenant firm forever, and My love for him will endure. His dynasty will last forever; and his throne, as long as the heavens.