Sunday, 27 September 2020 : Twenty-Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time, World Day of Migrants and Refugees (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday we have heard from the readings of the Sacred Scriptures of the calling for us all to follow the path of the Lord, to listen to Him and obey His commandments, to follow His examples and to be faithful in our Christian way of life, and be genuine in how we live up to our faith by real actions and interactions with one another, and not just by mere words alone.

This means that we cannot have a faith that is empty and without real application in our lives, as a faith that is without application in good works and deeds, as St. James the Apostle put it, is a dead faith. It does not mean that by our deeds alone that we are earning our salvation, but rather, one who has faith cannot possibly be truly faithful without being committed in action in accordance to that faith.

Neither can one be good and do good, without that seed of faith planted in that person by God growing in him or her. Do all of us remember the parable of the sower? The different places where the seeds spread by the sower fell on determine whether those seeds grow and produce fruits or not. Only in those who has received the faith and acted on it, that the faith bear rich fruits, the fruits of our salvation.

As Christians, we are God’s chosen people, whom He has called and brought into His Church through Baptism. We have been made His own adopted and beloved children, and because of that, we are all expected to follow His will, to obey His Law and commandments. How can we do this if we do not live up our faith and if we do not act in ways that are in accordance to His teachings?

That is exactly the point that the Lord Jesus is trying to point out to His disciples and thus to all of us as described in our Gospel passage today. The Lord spoke to His disciples asking them who between two children were truly faithful, between one of them who said to their father that he would obey but did not obey by action in the end, and another who said that he would not obey but in the end, still did what the father asked for.

This is related to our first reading today, in which the prophet Ezekiel spoke of how the righteous would perish by their sins and disobedience, or how the wicked would be saved by their obedience and faith. This was a reminder from God to His people through Ezekiel, a prophet sent to the people of God at the time of their lowest and most sorrowful, having lost their Promised Land, conquered and humiliated among the nations, that should they change their attitudes and obey the Lord once again, they would be forgiven and be worthy of God’s love and grace again.

Similarly, it is a reminder that no one should be pretentious thinking that they had been chosen and saved, without the need for action, taking it for granted that they have received such a grace from God and therefore can just enjoy its benefits and without the need to do anything. Faith like that is merely superficial and for show, and not a genuine, living faith that God wants from us. And it is even worse still if we use this as an excuse for us to be judgmental on others as well, to look down on others just because we think that we are better or more faithful and pious than them.

That is why, we are reminded again and again, to be loving and to show care and compassion on one another, and to be Christians means that we should follow what St. Paul told the Church and the faithful in Philippi, to be filled with the love of Christ, not to despise or look down on others, not to be judgmental and vicious or harsh on those who are in need of our love and attention. We are called to love as Christ Our Lord Himself has loved.

In that same passage, we heard the famous lines from the Epistle to the Philippians, highlighting the humble obedience and the great love that the Lord Jesus, Our Lord and Saviour had shown, that He willingly humbled Himself and took upon Himself to bear the most painful burden of the Cross, on which lies our sins, the whole multitude of it, the punishment due for those sins. That is the kind of selfless love that each and every one of us have been called to show in our daily lives, as the sign of our living and true Christian faith.

Do we remember the Lord’s words, “All that you have done to the least of these, you have done it unto Me?” And He said before this, how these people were the least among the people, those who were naked, suffering, imprisoned, lonely, all those who were encountering misfortune in life. That is why this Sunday, as it coincides with the World Day of Migrant and Refugees, we remember all the plight of those suffering, especially the migrants and refugees in the world today.

Migrants are all those who have left their place of birth or the place where they used to live in, and moved to another place or country from various reasons. Some had to leave because they looked for better opportunities elsewhere, to have a better life for themselves and for their families, while others had to move because of unfortunate circumstances, separated from their family members, and in which it may overlap with refugees, who are those displaced and forced to leave their countries because of conflict, wars and even persecution and genocides.

Many of these migrants and refugees are suffering as they had suffered previously, throughout their time spent away from their homeland. Majority did not have much to survive on, and many had to sustain their families and children, while having to fend various challenges. Those who chose to settle permanently in their new homeland and countries faced rejection and prejudice, injustice and even attacks, having to endure racist attitudes and inequality at work among other things.

Refugees in particular often had to live in cramped and unsanitary refugee camps, with thousands packed in place that they had no choice but live in, for if they had remained in their original places, they might have suffered even worse or killed. And similarly, many of them are suffering from prejudice and injustice, and they are often rejected and shunned by the rest of the society in general.

Some of us argued that they deserved such treatment because they are different from us, or that there might be some bad people among them, which became especially worrisome in the recent years due to the rise of religious fundamentalism. But this has happened throughout history, and while some of them might indeed be bad, but let us all not forget in our first reading today, that the Lord said, even the righteous will die, perish and be condemned into hell if they sin and refused to turn away from that sin, and how the wicked would be saved if they embraced God’s forgiveness.

How are we acting as Christians then if we do not embrace those who are in need of love and help, compassion and assistance? And how Christ-like are we if we look down upon and condemn those whom we despise as our enemies and dismiss as hardline fundamentalists when Our Lord Himself has forgiven His enemies and prayed for them? This is why it is so difficult for us to be true and genuine Christians, for to be a true and genuine Christians, we need to reach out to these suffering brothers and sisters of ours, and overcome whatever prejudices and fears we have.

And we must not forget that we ourselves are migrants in this world, and in fact even refugees. After all, wasn’t it Adam and Eve, our very first ancestors who had been banished from Eden because of their disobedience and sins? They had to endure hardships and sufferings in this world just as those migrants and refugees suffer now. And many of our forefathers were probably migrants themselves, or even refugees fleeing from war and destruction.

We have to consider ourselves lucky and blessed if we have a good life, but before we become prejudiced against others, or treat some worse than how we treat our loved ones, then let us remember that perhaps, our own forefathers, our grandparents, ancestors and all of them somewhere and sometime had once endured the other end of the prejudice and injustice, inequality and even persecution, even though they were all equally human beings, children of God all the same.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore keep these in mind and discern how we, as Christians can better live up to our Christian faith and calling, to be genuine and faithful as the followers of Christ, He Who loves us all equally and Who has lowered Himself to be in the position of a slave, bearing His Cross and suffering for us out of love, that we may be saved. Can’t we do the same for our fellow brothers and sisters, particularly those who are really in need of our help, those migrants and refugees?

Let us all be more empathetic to their suffering and listen more to their story and understand them better, rather than easily being swayed by false rhetorics and ideas that are unfortunately rampant in our increasingly xenophobic and individualistic world. Remember, that we too, are migrants and refugees in this world as I mentioned earlier, and what we do not want to happen to us, then let us not do on those who need our love and empathy, and not hurtful words, prejudices and worse still, persecution.

May the Lord, our loving God and Father, guide us in our journey of faith so that each and every one of us as Christians may come to walk more faithfully in His path, to be righteous in all of our deeds, avoiding actions of prejudice, showing hatred or being hurtful against others, and instead, to show genuine Christian love, showing the same love of Christ, pure and selfless love for our fellow brothers and sisters.

They may look different, talk in different language, has different cultural practices than ours, but they are our brothers, our sisters, our family, the same God’s beloved children. May God help us to love selflessly and generously, to give without counting the cost, and to show mercy when we are able to. May God guide us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

Saturday, 26 September 2020 : 25th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cosmas and St. Damian, Martyrs (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

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

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we are all reminded of the shortness of our lives, the temporary nature of our earthly existence, and how we are reminded not to lose ourselves in the pursuit of worldly matters and pleasures, just as we have been reminded in the past few days from this Book of Qoheleth or Ecclesiastes.

The author of this book clearly intended to remind the people of his time of the many excesses of worldly desires, their decadent lifestyle and refusal to obey the Law of God. And throughout history, we have seen how greed and attachment to desire had led to the conflicts that raged in wars and conquests, in the exploitation of the weak and the vulnerable, those who were poor and sick.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is what happens when we place our own selfish desires above our faith, and when we allow all these to tempt us and sway us to indulge in all sorts of worldly and materials pursuits. And we are reminded by these readings, including from our Psalm today, ‘Make us know the shortness of our lives, that we may gain wisdom of heart.’

Yes, often we may end up becoming foolish in our endless and persistent desire for all that I have mentioned earlier. We spent so much time to worry about all those things, and spent much of our energy to gain for ourselves all these so that we can gain satisfaction. And our greed makes us to desire for even more and more, never fully satisfying or fulfilling our needs and desires.

In the end, with all these accumulated in our hands, what are we going to do with it, brothers and sisters in Christ? Even the greatest piles of money and wealth can be destroyed or vanished overnight, as how past financial crises had showed us. Many despaired after the Great Depression after losing all that they had, even when they were very wealthy earlier on. And no amount of food, luxury and other goods can be lasting to us.

In the end, we must realise as how Job did, that naked we had been born into this world, empty and without any possessions, and thus in the same manner we shall depart from this world, from our earthly existence. We shall not bring any of our worldly possessions, or fame or glory with us. What we shall receive in the end, is either eternal glory and true joy with God, or eternity of regret and suffering, especially if we have rejected God for the sake of our worldly pursuits.

It is indeed a great folly for us to reject true happiness and joy that can be found in the Lord alone. But if we are wondering why this is the case, that is because we are easily tempted, and we often look for quick happiness and pleasure that all these false happiness are offering us. That is why many of us fell and failed in our journey of faith, as we prioritise our own selfish desires rather than our faith in God.

Today, all of us should look upon the examples of our holy predecessors to help guide us in what we should do in order to be faithful to God. We celebrate the feast of St. Cosmas and St. Damian, renowned saints, who were physicians by trade and according to some traditions, were twin brothers. They lived through the difficult years for the Christian faith, as the Roman Empire and its administration persecuted all the Christians, and forced them to abandon their faith on the pain of death.

They were renowned for their services as physicians, caring for the needs of the sick and all the diseased. And most notably, they refused to accept any payment or returns for their services, which they offered voluntarily and with much love and great care for those whom they treated. It was told that miracles even happened as there were those who were miraculously healed by their intercession.

When the Christian faith was persecuted even more harshly under the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, both of them were arrested and were tortured to force them to abandon their Christian faith. But St. Cosmas and St. Damian remained faithful and chose to suffer, which according to some accounts including being hung on a cross, stoned and shot by arrows and finally they were beheaded, dying a martyr’s death.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all look upon the exemplary faith of the brothers St. Cosmas and St. Damian, generous in love and compassion, putting God and their fellow brothers and sisters above their own needs and desires. Are we able and willing to follow that example? Let us all spend some time to discern carefully on these and do what we can to be ever more faithful and be genuine in how we live up to our Christian faith.

May the Lord be with us always, and may He guide us in our journey of faith. May He bless us and strengthen us, and empower us all to live virtuously and not be swayed or shaken by the many temptations of worldly matters. Let us all dedicate ourselves ever more faithfully to the Lord from now on and always. Amen.

Friday, 25 September 2020 : 25th Week of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us heard the long exhortation from the Book of Qoheleth or Ecclesiastes highlighting to us about the fact that there is time for everything, for every purpose, and everything will indeed happen as God wills it, and not up to us to decide what will happen to us, as there are indeed many things out there beyond our control and understanding, and we should not be impatient or impulsive, acting based on our desires and fears.

Continuing with the discourse from this week from this Book of Qoheleth, we are all reminded to be ever vigilant against the temptations of worldly desires and pleasures, the lure of pride and ego, the distractions that can keep us away from being faithful to God in all things. We must not allow ourselves be swayed by all these and forget our calling in life as Christians to be faithful to God.

We tend to worry about many things in life and we seek security and consolation, happiness and satisfaction by gathering for ourselves all sorts of worldly goods, fame, influence, glory and the desire to be accepted, acknowledged and respected by others. And in our world today, we have been raised and we have lived in a society that is often inundated with all these materialistic undertones, the pursuit of self-satisfaction and the glorification of the self.

But where does this lead us? All of these will never bring us true happiness. And the more we desire for all the satisfaction of the world, the even more we desire of whatever we have attained and received. That is because by our nature, it is difficult for us to be satisfied, and by all those riches of the world, they are just temporary and impermanent, illusory and unreal. They do not give us true and lasting happiness.

Then, let us all now see what the Lord told His disciples in our Gospel passage today. We heard the Lord speaking to His disciples as He asked them who they thought He was, and all of them spoke of what the others perceived of Him, as Elijah who came down from Heaven, as that prophet was taken up into Heaven at the end of his ministry, or that He was one of the prophets of God or holy man of God.

Then, when the Lord asked them again, of who they thought He was, St. Peter proclaimed the truth courageously before all, of what he and likely the other disciples professed of Him, as the Messiah and Holy One of God, the Son of God Most High. And the Lord immediately told them not to share with anyone that truth yet, and added grimly how the Son of Man must suffer many things, rejected and having to endure many trials before He was to be glorified and raised to life.

And we all know how the Lord Jesus, although the Divine Word of God, Son of God Incarnate, chose to empty Himself, humble Himself and suffer for our sake, taking up upon Himself the burden of the Cross, so that we may be saved from destruction due to our sins. And He did so in humble and perfect obedience to His Father’s will, dedicating Himself to do what His heavenly Father has entrusted in Him, the salvation of all mankind.

Our Lord Himself showed the perfect example of obedience, of the emptying of oneself from personal glory and the desire for that glory, for fame and for the other comforts of the world. Instead, as Christians, we are all called to follow in His examples in how we ought to be humble in life, be selfless in love, and always be concerned and caring for one another, that we put the best interests of the community above that our own.

Let us all practice our faith with sincere devotion and action, and let us all follow in the loving examples of Our Lord Himself, in giving of ourselves to each other, especially to those who are most in need of our love, care and compassion. May the Lord help us to grow ever stronger in our faith in Him, and to be more loving in the way that He Himself had loved us, from the beginning, to now the present, and to eternity. Amen.

Thursday, 24 September 2020 : 25th Week of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we are reminded that in God alone we ought to trust and put our faith, and not in any form of worldly powers, wisdom and greatness, not in any mortal man but in God, Who has revealed Himself, His love and salvation by sending unto us His own Beloved Son, Jesus Christ. It is futile for us to put our trust in the world and not in God, Who has created the world Himself.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Book of Qoheleth or Ecclesiastes beginning with a dramatic proclamation, ‘Meaningless! Meaningless! All things are meaningless!’ And the author of this Book of Qoheleth went on to say how there are many things out there in our world, that are beyond our comprehension and understanding. And God’s ways are indeed beyond our human ability to understand fully, and that is why we need to have faith and put our trust in Him.

In our Psalm today, we heard this presented with the words ‘Return o mortals! A thousand years in Your sight are just like a passing day’, highlighting just how small we are in the greater scheme of things, how many things that are elusive to our human perception and ability to understand. And yet again in our Gospel today, we heard how king Herod, who had killed St. John the Baptist in prison, was incredulous when he heard of the exploits of the Lord Jesus, trying to perceive this seeming return of John the Baptist, as if he had returned to life again.

This is what happened to those who try to put themselves above God, or those who have sidelined Him in their indulgence in worldly matters. They could not comprehend just how small they actually were in the greater scheme of things. To Herod, born into the family of kings, used to living in riches and excesses, it must have been incomprehensible that St. John the Baptist, and later on the Lord Jesus Himself would do so much for others, even to the point of sacrificing themselves for the greater good of the people and in obedience to God’s will.

Yet, unfortunately, this is what many of us are suffering these days, many of us who put worldly matters above all else, our pride and ego, our selfish desires, the desire for self-fulfilment and satisfaction above all else. And because of these, we forget that we live for God and it is by the grace of God that we have had our blessings in life. Instead, we become self-centred and desire everything for our own benefits regardless whether others suffer by our actions.

And this is also the reason why there are so many conflicts in this world today, people set up against one another, brothers against brothers, sisters against sisters, families torn apart and conflict raged within our communities. All of these were caused by our conflicting desires, the desires for worldly power and glory, for wealth and material possessions, for lust and comforts of the flesh among others.

In the end, what is the purpose and meaning of our pursuit for all these things, brothers and sisters? No matter how rich and powerful we are, none of these riches, power and glory would be brought with us when we die and depart from our earthly existence. That is why, we are constantly being reminded that we must not indulge on all those, but instead, trust it all in God, and do what we can in our lives, to serve His greater purpose rather than our own purposes.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we carry on living our lives daily, let us all discern what we can do and what we should do to be faithful to our identity and calling as Christians. Let us all turn wholeheartedly towards God, with a renewed faith and zeal that in everything we say and do, we will always proclaim the glory of God, at all times. May the Lord bless us all and our efforts, and help us in our journey of faith. Amen.

Wednesday, 23 September 2020 : 25th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Pius of Pietrelcina, Padre Pio, Priest (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we are reminded through the word of God in the Scriptures that we need to put our faith and trust in the Lord. And we have been called by God to be His witnesses and to reach out to others to proclaim His truth, His love and kindness to all. We are called to follow the examples of His disciples, all those whom He had called earlier on to be His witnesses.

The calling to be a disciple is not an easy one, and the Lord told them as described in our Gospel today, to bring nothing with them, no money, no food, no spare tunic and all other comforts, and to be prepared to face rejection and hardships, because there were bound to be failures and trials that they would have to endure during their journey and mission.

The Lord told them this so that they will depend not on their own strength and on the providence of the world, but rather to draw their strength from Him, from their faith in Him and their commitment to follow Him. And they faithfully followed the Lord and what He had tasked them to do. They endured all sorts of trials and difficulties in their mission, preaching the Good News of salvation and showed God’s love by their actions.

It was definitely a tough and yet fulfilling experience for many of the disciples of the Lord, the missionaries who have dedicated their lives to God. They strived for the Lord and not for themselves, and God guided them in their path, and led them on where they were to go. And more and more people came to believe in God because of them and their works, and in turn, many among these themselves became missionaries and witnesses of the faith.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, in our world today, there are many who have yet to believe in God, and there are many others who have also abandoned their faith and their God. And it is indeed up to us, as God’s followers, as Christians, to be the bearers of His truth and love in our world today, to be His witnesses and bear forth the love with which He has passed on to us, in our daily actions and living.

And how do we carry out this faithfully, brothers and sisters? Perhaps we should look up to the examples showed by the famous St. Pius of Pietrelcina, also more well-known as Padre Pio, the Franciscan priest and famous bearer of the stigmata renowned for his great piety and love for God as well as for his fellow brethren. St. Pio was a humble man who was dedicated to his calling as priest.

St. Pio had been pious since his youth and it was told that he had begun having spiritual visions and experiences since the early age, and he eventually joined the Capuchin Franciscans and became a priest. St. Pio was often sickly, but he devoted much of his time to serve the people in the community at San Giovanni Rotondo, where his great shrine is located at today. He spent many hours listening to the confessions of many who flocked to see him, day after day.

Story of miracles and wonderful supernatural experiences came to make St. Pio even more famous as time went on, and even more people flocked to see him and seek healing through him. Through well-attested testimonies, some had been freed from possession of demons when St. Pio performed exorcism on them, and others received much strength in their faith through their consultation with the saint.

St. Pio did not have it easy, as not only that he had to experience difficulties at times, having even his faculty of hearing confessions taken from him during the time when the authorities were against him for his spiritual experiences and even some thinking that he was a fraud. On top of all these, he also experienced attacks from the devil in several occasions, suffered from the pain of his stigmata.

Nonetheless, St. Pio remained faithful to his mission and committed himself wholeheartedly to what God has called him into. He remained pious and devoted, each and every day, ministering to the people and in being an exemplary person in faith. Many came to believe in God through him and many were strengthened in their faith through his works and piety. And he converted many through his efforts. Until his death, St. Pio never ceased his efforts in working and striving for the greater glory of God.

The Lord has called us all to follow in the examples of St. Pio and all the others who had given their time, effort and even lives for the greater glory of His Name and for the salvation of many souls through the Church. Are we willing and able to follow in their footsteps, brothers and sisters in Christ? Let us all be exemplary in how we live our lives with faith, so that others may be touched by our faith and believe in the Lord as well.

May the Lord help and guide us in our mission in life that each and every one of us may draw ever closer to Him, be ever more faithful in reaching out to our fellow men with faith. Let us be the courageous witnesses of our faith at all times. Amen.

Tuesday, 22 September 2020 : 25th Week of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the word of God in the Scriptures, we are all reminded that the Lord has called us to do His will, to walk in His path faithfully and just as He has set before us His laws and commandments through His Church, we are called to be faithful as good and active Christians in words and deeds, in all that we do.

In our first reading today, from the Book of Proverbs we heard of the Lord presenting to us all the reality of those who obey the Lord and those who disobey Him. And He presented before all of us how those who walk in His path, that they all will be good and honest in the eyes of all, without injustice and wickedness in their actions, while those who refuse to believe in Him and walk in His path show their waywardness in action.

The Lord has also told us that what He needs from us is genuine faith and obedience, real action and living faith rather than just empty gestures and appearances. And to be His followers, it requires us all to spend the time and effort to do His will, to reach out to one another with love, to be exemplary in how we carry out our daily lives in faith that we may inspire each other to be more faithful to Him.

This is what He has also reiterated through our Gospel passage today, as He said to those who told Him that His family were waiting on Him, that His brothers and sisters were also those that have listened to the Lord, obeyed His will and commandments. This statement meant no disrespect to the mother of the Lord or to His relatives, but rather a reminder that for the Lord, everyone else are also equally beloved and important, as many people tend to put their family above others.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we must consider ourselves as being truly fortunate because we have God on our side, Who is loving and ever committed to the Covenant which He had made with us all. God has always loved us and He will not abandon us no matter what. But have we loved Him in the same way? And have we come to appreciate what He has done for us? If we realise just how much He has loved us, then we ought to live our lives more faithfully from now on.

Brothers and sisters, as we remind ourselves of our Christian calling, let us all consider how we can be more active in living up to our faith in our respective communities. As Christians, we are called to be witnesses to God’s truth and love, and by committing ourselves to live in faith, we can inspire others to follow in our footsteps, to be faithful and committed to God as well and be worthy of His salvation.

Especially during these difficult and troubling times, when the world is facing so many problems and difficulties, how do we as Christians act in such a way that we inspire one another, especially those who are downtrodden, in despair and without hope? Have we reached out to those who need more love, care and concern, those who are in trouble and needy, those whom we encounter and in which we have the opportunity to help?

Brothers and sisters, for us to be faithful to God, and to do His will, we do not really need to do amazing and extraordinary deeds. On the contrary, it is in fact through our little actions in life, in our every day living, our small and little interactions with one another that we become faithful witnesses of the Lord, and it is through our lives and our actions that we will be known as God’s people, and by our actions, more and more people will come to know God and be saved, through us.

Let us all therefore seek the Lord with all of our hearts from now on, and let us all devote ourselves to serve the Lord and proclaim His Good News by our dedication and faithful life. May the Lord help us and guide us in this journey that we may draw ever closer to Him, and find our path to the true joy and eternal glory in Him. May God bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Monday, 21 September 2020 : Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate the feast of the great Apostle, St. Matthew, who was one of the Twelve Apostles and also one of the four Evangelists or the writers of the Four Gospels. St. Matthew was originally known as Levi, one of the tax collectors who responded to the Lord’s call, left behind everything in order to follow Him. And thus, St. Matthew came to be, a faithful disciple of the Lord and a great evangeliser by words and by his writings.

The story of St. Matthew is truly an inspiration and hope for each and every one of us, a kind reminder from the Lord that there is no one beyond the reach of God’s mercy and love, and there is no sin great enough that cannot be forgiven by God. When someone is condemned for his or her sins, that is because that person has consciously rejected God’s love and mercy, and chose to remain in sin rather than to walk in the path of God’s Light.

At the time of Jesus’ life and ministry, the tax collectors were seen very negatively by many segments of the community, particularly by the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. First of all, the tax collectors were seen as collaborators to the Romans who then had become the overlords of the lands of Judea, Galilee and other lands where the Jews lived in. They were even considered as traitors to the nation because they were deemed to have ‘sold off’ their fellow countrymen by their line of work.

But all these were mistaken perception and generalisation of all the tax collectors, who the Pharisees particularly despised, as the Pharisees looked highly on themselves as the pious guardians of the people’s faith and the Law, and to them, the tax collectors, prostitutes and also those who were unclean and possessed were the worst of the worst, sinful and unworthy of God’s love, and were to be shunned and rejected.

The Lord Jesus therefore did the unthinkable, and what the Pharisees and teachers of the Law must have been surprised with, as He spent time with those who had been mentioned earlier as the sinful and unclean, and in this case, even called one of those tax collectors to be His disciple and even become one of the Twelve Apostles. Some others like St. Mary Magdalene might have had dubious and less than ideal background as well, as in some traditions, she was once a prostitute who then repented and followed the Lord.

Levi, the tax collector whom the Lord called, chose to leave everything he had, his profession and income, his livelihood and others, and followed the Lord wholeheartedly from the moment when he was called. Levi also invited the Lord to have a dinner with him and his fellow tax collectors, and by doing so, in fact, he had done his first act of evangelisation, calling on all the other tax collectors, and introducing the Lord to them all.

The Pharisees were quick to strike at the Lord for His actions, how He approached and even had a meal at the house of those ‘unclean’ and sinful tax collectors. At that time, even going to the house of sinners could make one ‘unclean’, and for the Lord to go to the house of such sinner, was truly unprecedented. But as the Pharisees were busy criticising Him and His actions, the Lord immediately rebuked them and their elitist attitude, revealing to us all just how God loves every one of His children without discrimination.

What does this mean, brothers and sisters? It means that the Lord never wants to lose any one of us, and to Him, each and every one of us are equally important, from the greatest man to the humblest and lowliest in stature and in standing, all are equal before Him, equally beloved and equally shown mercy and forgiveness. Even the worst of sinners, should they repent sincerely with all their heart and with all of their strength, they will be forgiven all their sins.

This is why the saying by St. Augustine of Hippo is true, that ‘there is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.’ signifying how all of us, first of all are sinners before God, and every one of us have sinned and failed God by disobedience, but God’s generous mercy will rid us of those sins should we respond to His call for repentance, and that we commit ourselves to be forgiven from those sins. This is the future that was mentioned by St. Augustine, himself was a great sinner, who found God and was converted, and became a great servant of God and saint.

Levi experienced the same conversion, as did many other saints, and for Levi, later known as Matthew, he dedicated himself to the service of God, first of all for his efforts in compiling and writing down the accounts of the ministry of the Lord and His revelations of truth, in the Gospel named after himself, the Gospel according to St. Matthew. Through this Gospel, many countless souls throughout the history of the Church had discovered God, known about His love and mercy, and were converted to the faith.

And not just that, as St. Matthew also ministered among the Jewish people in Judea, preaching the Word of God and His Good News to them, as was also evident in how his Gospel were also written primarily being addressed to the Jewish people. This showed that St. Matthew had taken it upon himself to evangelise the truth about Christ among the Jews and to call more of the Lord’s first chosen people to follow Him into the fullness of truth in the Christian faith.

St. Matthew also evangelised in distant lands, preaching the Good News to many people, and it was told that he went to Ethiopia, who had by then began to receive the Christian faith and had growing communities of the faithful. St. Matthew, according to one tradition, was martyred after he rebuked the local king who lusted and desired for her own niece, while the latter had also dedicated herself to a holy virginity dedicated to God. It was told that St. Matthew was martyred while celebrating the Holy Mass on the Altar.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we see how God’s power of love and forgiveness are so great and wonderful. Sinners He has called and transformed into great saints, those who have impacted the lives of many among the faithful. And this therefore gives us the hope that all of us shall also share in the same joy, as long as we are faithful and embrace God’s mercy, repenting sincerely from our past sins and waywardness.

Let us all therefore follow the examples of St. Matthew, St. Augustine and all the other holy men and women of God, transforming our lives into ones that bring glory to God, through our daily actions and deeds. Let us all turn towards God’s mercy and love, and seek to be forgiven from all of our unfaithfulness, our wickedness and waywardness, our sins and shortcomings that had prevented us from finding our way to the Lord all these while.

May the Lord help us and guide us in our journey of faith, and may He guide us into His everlasting kingdom, and help us that we may grow ever stronger in faith, not to be swayed by greed and pride, and also showing the same concern and love that He has showed us, in how we interact with each other, with our fellow Christian brothers and sisters. May St. Matthew also intercede for us and inspire us to be courageous witnesses of our faith in our respective communities, that more and more may come to believe in God, by witnessing our own dedication and authentic living of our faith. Amen.

Sunday, 20 September 2020 : Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday all of us are called to seek God with all of our strength, and to purify ourselves from sins and wickedness, as mentioned in our Scripture today. The prophet Isaiah in our first reading passage today spoke of this call for all of us mankind to turn to God and to trust in the Lord in all that He had planned for us, responding to His call and follow Him into the path of righteousness.

Contextually, the prophet Isaiah was addressing a people who had had plenty of history of disobedience and unfaithfulness against God, as they frequently abandoned God for false idols and pagan gods and goddesses, living wickedly and indulging in the excesses of the worldly pleasures. Prophets and messengers had been sent to their midst from time to time to call them back and to repent from their sinful ways.

And it is truly reminiscent of what we heard in our Gospel passage today, as the Lord spoke of a parable that related the story of a vineyard owner that was seeking for workers to work in his field. He went out to seek those workers, and as he found some of them, he called them to work in his fields. Those workers and people gathered from many places represent those whom God had called to Him, including all of us.

In that parable, the vineyard owner went out and gathered some people to be his servants and workers in the field. And as time moves on, the owner continued to look for more workers, and went out all the way to seek for the workers, and called those whom he gathered to work in the field. And he continued doing so until the eleventh or the final hour, in which he again went out to gather workers from those who were by the roadside and from other places.

In this, we heard how the vineyard owner went out of his way, gathering as many workers as possible for his vineyard. The vineyard owner represents the God Himself, our Lord and Master, while as mentioned, all those whom the owner called represent all of us. And thus, in all these, we heard how God is reaching out to us, His beloved people, sending messengers, prophets, and all those servants to call us, to remind us that we may be reconciled and reunited with Him.

And the meaning of this parable, its subtle details are truly significant, if we come to realise how God loves us all so much that He constantly tried to call us and to bring us back to His embrace, then we must truly be grateful and appreciate the many opportunities that He has given to us all these while. But unfortunately, many of us are not aware, ignorant and not being thankful for the love that God has shown us.

Instead, we still continue to live in sin, and we ignore God’s reminders and patient efforts to reach out to us. Nonetheless, God did not easily give up on us. Until the very last moment, to the very last hour, as long as we are still breathing and living, it is never too late for us to repent with all of our heart, and we can still be forgiven by God, and be reconciled completely to Him. And in this case, I can bring one example of a real encounter between a woman and St. John Vianney, the famous saint and priest.

At that time, a woman came to St. John Vianney, just as many thousands others did, and this particular woman wanted to tell him and confide in him that she was devastated and worried because her husband had committed suicide by jumping down from a bridge into the water and perished. Suicide is a mortal sin for taking one’s own life in direct disobedience against God Who is the Lord and Master of all life, and taking one’s own life is truly a serious sin because our lives are not ours to take.

St. John Vianney was very popular and the queue for the people to see him was always very long. The wife of the man who committed suicide wanted to give up after queueing for many hours, when suddenly St. John Vianney exclaimed joyfully, addressing that particular woman, that her husband had been saved from the fires of hell normally reserved for those who committed mortal sins like suicide.

When the woman kind of did not believe in him, St. John Vianney once again stressed it out and repeated it clearly to her, that her husband has been saved, and had entered into Purgatory, where he would remain for a while to be purified from his sins, but with the ultimate destination and assurance of Heaven in the end. St. John Vianney likely received a heavenly and mystical vision he was also known for, seeing and knowing what happened even before the woman even approached him.

And truly, that man who committed suicide was really fortunate that he has been spared from the utter and eternal suffering and destruction. And all of these were because the man, just right before he hit the water, had managed to make a genuine act of contrition, regretting sorrowfully and wholeheartedly his many sins before God, and he was forgiven. This is the true and real definition of the pardon at the very last hour, just like those workers whom the vineyard owner gathered at the very last moment.

From this we can see yet again the power of God’s love and mercy, His compassionate care for us, and His desire to be reconciled with us. That is why, we must not wait until it is too late for us. The man who committed suicide in St. John Vianney’s case was fortunate to have a change of heart at the very last moment, but no one, no one at all knows the moment when our lives will be taken from us, the end of our earthly lives.

If until the very last moment we still refuse to repent and remain in our disobedience and sins, then it is by that stubborn refusal and by our own sins that we will be judged against, and thrown into hell and suffer for eternity. This is not so much because God is wrathful or fearsome, but rather, it is the just result and outcome of our own conscious choice to ignore, reject and spurn the very generous love He has lavished on us, and all the opportunities He has given us to repent and be reconciled with Him.

And then, besides this, what we heard in our Gospel passage today is also a reminder, that each and every one of us, all of us are in this journey of faith together, having been called into this new life, our new Christian life and existence through baptism. This was represented by all the workers who have been gathered through many hours of search and calls, and all of them shared in the same reward from the owner, one piece of silver coin.

What does that represent? It represents to us the fact that, in the end of our journey, all of us will receive the same inheritance and reward, that is eternal joy and true happiness, all in the perfect bliss of heavenly glory with God. Regardless of how early the timing is, or the circumstances of our conversion and reconciliation with God, all of us are to receive the same inheritance, nothing more and nothing less. For indeed, there is nothing greater than what we are to receive from God through our dedication and faith.

But we must also be vigilant that we do not end up like those workers who had been employed earlier by the vineyard owner and grumbled seeing that those who had been called and employed much later than they were, received the exact same reward in the end. This is somewhat similar to another well-known parable, the parable of the prodigal son, in which the elder son complained and became angry when the father welcomed back the sinful and wicked younger son with a great party when he returned in remorse and complete repentance.

This attitude was also reflected in many among the Pharisees, the teachers of the Law and many of the members of the Sanhedrin, who looked at themselves as being more worthy of the Lord than others, especially those who were deemed unclean and sinners like tax collectors and prostitutes. And unfortunately, this attitude persists even in our Church, down throughout time, and to this very day.

Many of us compete against each other and also argue among ourselves, on who among us are more pious than the other, or how our pious practices are better than others. Even worse, in our Church ministries and in our communities, we end up giving in to slander and gossiping, jockeying for position and power instead of putting God at the centre of our lives. This is the sad reality for the Church and for our Christian communities.

What is it that we are really fighting, arguing and disputing with each other for, brothers and sisters? Is it for the Lord? Certainly not! And is it for our own good? Definitely not as well! It is to satisfy our own pride and ego, our own greed and ambition that we have done all these, and these are truly scandals to our Christian identity and faith. As Christians we cannot condone this kind of attitude and way of life, and we are called to be different from this.

And this is why, brothers and sisters in Christ, what we have heard today is very significant for us, not only just because we are reminded to turn away from our sinful ways and sincerely repent from those sins, but we are also reminded that instead of focusing on ourselves and being selfish, on the contrary, we need to reach out to our fellow brethren, and especially to all those who have lost their way rather than to despise them or to look down on them.

Remember, brothers and sisters, that each and every one of us are equally sinners before God, unworthy and weak, ought to be condemned, but instead, by God’s love and grace, He has called us to turn towards Him, repent from all of our sinful ways, and embrace once again the fullness of His love. Therefore, let us all as fellow children of God, show love on each other, care for each other and help those who are struggling and together we move forward in this journey towards God.

Let us all be thankful for the life that God has given us, and be grateful for all the love and mercy He has shown us. May He strengthen us all in our faith that we may draw ever closer to Him, and in the end, receive from Him the crown of eternal glory, and the eternal life of pure bliss and joy, in His presence, forever and evermore. Amen.

Saturday, 19 September 2020 : 24th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Januarius, Bishop and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

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

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we continue with the exhortation of St. Paul in his Epistle to the Church and the faithful in Corinth, as he tackled on the issue of the resurrection from the dead, both of the Lord’s own glorious Resurrection and also the belief that all the faithful would share in this resurrection after their death. Some segments of the community of believers disagreed with this and found it hard to believe in the resurrection.

That was why St. Paul went into great detail and with effort trying to explain the significance of resurrection and how it will truly happen for all the faithful, as the consequences of Christ’s sacrifice and death on the Cross, and through the revelation of the words of truth and the Holy Spirit that had been passed down to them and to the Church. This was made particularly against those who argued that there was no life after death.

Regardless of the reason why they did not believe in the resurrection after death, or any life after death, this refusal to believe in such a fact usually leads to the attitude of excesses and overindulging in life, as one would then believe that the earthly life was the only thing they had and nothing else, and this led one to sin and to be tempted away from the path of righteousness and into wickedness and evil, excesses and indulgence in life and in worldly pleasures.

The Lord has called us all to believe in Him and to reject these false ways and the desire to seek worldly pleasures in life. That is why He has called those Apostles and disciples through whom He has revealed His truth, and sowed the seeds of faith among innumerable people throughout history, through the Church. And this is aptly summarised in our Gospel passage today by the parable of the sower, in which the Lord sowed in the hearts of His faithful, the seeds of His faith.

This very well-known parable tells us of the seeds that is sowed by the sower, representing the Lord Himself, that fell on different places and had completely different outcomes depending on where they had landed, mainly because of the varying conditions experienced by the seeds in those places. The Lord used this parable to explain and convey His intentions because many among the people of the time were farmers, and many others would have also understood the terms used.

The seeds represent God’s truth and words, the faith which He has sowed, into the world, and which we have received. But we see how the seeds that fell on the roadside did not even have a chance to germinate and grow, as they were snatched and eaten up by the birds of the air. And this is how those who have rejected the words of God and His truth, and all these were snatched away from them, and they had nothing in them, no faith and no salvation.

Meanwhile, as we heard, those seeds that fell on the rocky ground germinated and grew, but was unable to grow deep and strong roots to keep themselves alive and in good health. This represents those who have indeed received the word of God, but put it aside and did not take it seriously, treating it without honour and are instead being busy with other things in life, and hence, the truth of God failed to take root in their lives, and did not remain in them.

And those seeds that fell on the soil where there were lots of thorns and bushes, weeds and other competitor plants, while the seeds did germinate and grow well, but they failed to grow properly and eventually perished because the budding plants were choked by those weeds and rivals that grew all around them. These represent those who did receive the truth of God, and believed, and yet, allowed temptations to get the better of them, and failed in their faith.

Only those seeds that fell on the rich soil which can germinate and grow well, healthy and good that they bore very rich fruits, many times fold of what had been planted in the first place. Those seeds were the only ones that were successful, and thus, that is what is the fate of those who have received the word of God, His truth, embraced them, believed wholeheartedly, and did what they could to provide the best and most optimum condition for the growth of their faith.

And how do we do this, brothers and sisters in Christ? It is by practicing our faith sincerely, walking with faith and devotion, by showing love in each and every moments of our lives following the examples that the Lord Himself had shown us, and which His disciples had also showed in their own lives and in their dedication in service to Him. The Lord had revealed to us His love, and His truth, and all of these are things that we should keep in mind as we progress forward in life.

As long as we allow ourselves be tempted and swayed by worldly pleasures and all sorts of temptations in life, it is likely going to be difficult for us to grow in faith and to grow in our love and devotion for God, just as those seeds that fell on the wrong places failed to grow and perish, because they did not have the right and optimum conditions to grow well in. This is also why, we should look upon the life and examples set by St. Januarius, the holy martyr and Bishop of Beneventum or Benevento in southern Italy and the patron saint of the Italian city of Naples, whose feast day we celebrate today.

St. Januarius, also known in Italian as San Gennaro, was a popular saint who was remembered chiefly for the miraculous occasion of the liquefaction of the relic of his blood which happens on his feast days and on some special occasions. He was born into an influential noble family and eventually rose to become Bishop of Naples and in some accounts also the Bishop of Benevento, both in southern parts of Italy.

This happened during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who was infamous as the Emperor during whose reign the last great systematic persecutions against Christians were carried out, causing many martyrs and countless members of the faithful to suffer from those persecutions. It was told that St. Januarius was a dedicated bishop, who committed himself to the care of his flock, and despite the terrible persecutions that grew worse each day, he hid many of his flock from their persecutors during those dark years.

It was not long that St. Januarius himself was arrested, while in the midst of his visit to the Christian convicts in prison, and he together with some other Christians were martyred, in some accounts by beheading. Thus, this faithful bishop and committed servant of God, who loved both God and his fellow brothers and sisters, chose to remain faithful to the very end, and even suffer rather than to betray his faith in God.

And the actions showed by St. Januarius ought to inspire us, for despite the obvious risks that he had to take in reaching out to his suffering flock, he did so nonetheless, caring for their needs, visiting those in prison and endangering himself while doing so, as a sign of his genuine love and therefore, authentic and genuine Christian faith. This is what we are also called to do, brothers and sisters, to be genuine as Christians in our way of life.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we rejoice in the memory of St. Januarius today, let us all discern carefully what it is that we can do in our daily lives in loving God, through our dedication and faith, through our righteous life, and in our love for our fellow brethren, that each and every one of us truly provide the best condition for our faith to grow, that these seeds of faith we have received from God may grow well, and bear rich and bountiful fruits in the end, that is the crown of glory and eternal life with God.

May the Lord be with us always, and may He strengthen us in our resolve to live our lives with faith from now on. May He give us the courage to walk in His presence day by day, with ever greater devotion and commitment, to be true to our faith in all things. St. Januarius, holy servant of God and martyr of the faith, pray for us all! Amen.

Friday, 18 September 2020 : 24th Week of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today all of us heard from the Scriptures one of the key tenets and foundational belief of our Christian faith, as we heard principally from St. Paul in his Epistle to the Corinthians in our first reading today, of the belief in the resurrection. At that time, St. Paul was addressing the community of the faithful in Corinth which then were divided on many issues, both communal and secular, as well as matters pertaining to their faith.

For at that time, there were both Jews and Gentiles among the early Christian converts throughout the Mediterranean and beyond, and Corinth was not an exception to the case. There were those who still found it difficult to accept that the Lord has risen from the dead, or that there is life after death. This could probably have also arisen from the members of the Sadducees, some of whom might have been converted to the faith, whose belief exclude any notion of spirituality and resurrection.

Some cultures, traditions and depending on the prior experiences of the converts also excluded resurrection from their belief systems, and therefore, the concept of someone rising from the dead was hard for some among the members of the community to accept. And it did not help that some among those who helped to propagate the faith also held this view, which St. Paul referred to as some of those who said that there is no resurrection of the dead.

That was why St. Paul wanted to remind them all that their Christian faith is fundamentally and essentially centred on the Christ crucified and Christ Who has risen from the dead. For if He has not been crucified or has not risen from the dead, then the Christian faith is empty, meaningless and is devoid of truth, just as the Jewish High Council or the Sanhedrin, the chief priests tried to suppress the truth by spreading lies that the disciples of Jesus had stolen His Body and claimed that He had risen from the dead.

Yet, all these falsehoods and attempts to suppress the truth had not been successful, as the courageous Apostles and the other disciples all spoke with one voice and all spoke with the same one truth, the truth of the Lord crucified and the Lord risen from the dead. And these were spoken and testified by those who had followed the Lord throughout His ministry, as mentioned in our Gospel passage today. Chief among His disciples were the Twelve, and not only that but also some women mentioned, including Mary, the Lord’s mother herself, and Mary Magdalene.

All of these had witnessed everything the Lord had done, all the miracles and wonders He had performed, saw His suffering and Passion, His death on the Cross, and witnessed His Risen Body appearing to them in the flesh, not a spirit or ghost, but truly risen and having conquered death, and they have received all the truth and wisdom He had imparted to them, and they have also received the Holy Spirit, that came down upon them on the Pentecost.

This same truth and revelation have also then been passed down to us through the Church, as the treasures of the faith, the deposit of the faith in both the Sacred Scriptures and in the Magisterium, the official teachings of the Church, have been passed down from generation to generation, from the Apostles to their successors, and from them to their own successors, right down to our Pope, the bishops, and the priests today, from whom we have heard the exact same truth.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us have received this truth, and have therefore become witnesses of our Lord’s Resurrection and love. That is why each and every one of us now have to be the faithful and dedicated witnesses of our true faith, in all of our actions and deeds, in our every words and in every moment in life. We are all called to give our very best in our daily life to love the Lord, to love our fellow brothers and sisters, to spread His Good News to all peoples.

Let us all spend some time to think and consider all these carefully. Let us all discern how we are going to live our lives from now on, walking faithfully and with ever greater devotion to God. Let us all be the beacons of His light and hope, the witnesses of His truth and His Resurrection, sharing the love of God to all of our fellow brethren, showing genuine love, care and concern for those who are suffering, just as the Lord Himself had loved us all, cared for us, all these while.

May the Lord, our ever loving God, continue to guide us in our journey, help us to be always faithful, to resist the temptations and false teachings, and remain firm in our faith at all times, being true and zealous in our daily living, at all moments of our lives. Amen.