Wednesday, 19 December 2018 : 3rd Week of Advent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scripture speaking to us about two great servants of God, whose life and events surrounding his life are related or are parallel to one another. In the first reading today from the Book of Judges, we heard of the amazing birth of a son to a couple who had not been able to have any children, because the wife was barren for many years. This son was Samson, one of the famous Judges or leaders of the people of Israel after Moses and before the days of the kings.

Meanwhile, in the Gospel passage from the Gospel of St. Luke, we heard of the account of the miraculous conception and birth of another servant of God, St. John the Baptist, to his father and mother, who had also not been able to conceive any child previously because Elizabeth, his mother was barren. St. John the Baptist would go on to become the Herald of the Messiah, the one who called the people to repentance and baptism, in order to prepare the way for the Lord’s coming.

In both instances, both servants of God were born to two sets of parents, each of whom had not been able to have any child. But God proved that everything was possible for Him, and in fact, there was also another servant of God, namely Samuel, the one who anointed kings Saul and David of Israel, who was also born from a barren mother. In all of those instances, the child miraculously conceived and born, were given to the Lord to a life of commitment, consecrated to God’s cause.

Each one of them was called by the Lord to different missions, but eventually, all of them were for the good of the people of the Lord, with Samson’s role being crucial at the time when the people of Israel were oppressed by the Philistines, liberating them from the tyranny of their oppressors with his mighty strength, while St. John the Baptist came just before the coming of the Messiah, preparing the way for the coming of the Lord, by calling the people to repent from their sins, and therefore, opening their hearts and minds to God Who was about to come to them.

If we read on about their lives and ministry among God’s people, we will notice that even though they have been blessed with power and wisdom by God, but it was not that their lives or ministries became any easier. On the contrary, they encountered great challenges and difficulties, temptations and persecutions. For Samson, he was tempted by a woman whom the Philistines asked to help for defeating him by cutting off his hair and thus remove his enormous strength. Meanwhile, for St. John the Baptist, he was opposed by the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, and also by the king, and he also doubted for a while in his mission.

But in the end, both of them remained true to their mission, and paid with their lives, their commitment to follow God to the very end. Samson, having been betrayed by Delilah, blinded and bereft of his strength, prayed to God for one final strength to defeat his enemies, the Philistines. He pulled off the pillars of the place where many Philistines gathered to mock him, and the whole place collapsed, killing numerous people among the unbelievers.

Meanwhile, St. John the Baptist was arrested by king Herod after he accused him of adultery with his brother’s wife, Herodias. St. John the Baptist remained firm in his conviction despite being imprisoned, and Herodias plotted to have him killed, by tricking Herod, and successfully managed to get the head of St. John the Baptist, when Herod made vows before his guests and officials that he could not undo.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, why is it that we listened to the story of these two servants of God today? That is because, as Christmas is quickly approaching now, we are all called to reflect on our own lives, on our actions and deeds in life, and on how we have lived our lives so far. Have we been faithful to God all these times? Or have we instead allowed ourselves to be taken over by the many temptations of this world?

We are called to a life that is attuned to the Lord’s will and follow the good examples set by the two holy servants of God whose life we have heard about. This is our calling for this Christmas, to appreciate better God’s love for each and every one of us, which is so great, that He was willing to provide everything to reconcile us back to Himself, and liberate us from the tyranny of our sins.

If God has loved us so much, then it is only right that we also love Him equally, and devote ourselves to Him from the depth of our hearts. Let us turn our minds and hearts to Him, and let us be more willing to listen to God speaking in our hearts, deepening our relationship with Him through prayer, and by loving one another as He has commanded us to do. Let this Christmas be the moment of a profound change in our lives, that we may be converted from sin to righteousness, and be forgiven from our sins snd faults.

May the Lord continue to guide us, and may He bless us in all of our good endeavours and works. May He bless us in our preparation for Christmas in this blessed season of Advent. Amen.

Tuesday, 18 December 2018 : 3rd Week of Advent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we continue the discourse on the coming of the hope for the people of God, in the Messiah promised by the Lord, which is the core of our Christmas joy and celebrations. We heard from the prophet Jeremiah the prophecy of the coming of the Saviour, a King of the line of David, Who would be the One to save His people, reunite and gather them back from the many places where they had been exiled to.

In order to understand better how significant the words of the prophet Jeremiah were, we must know the context in which the prophet spoke to the people of God, at that time when the last kingdom of the Israelites was on the verge of collapse and destruction. For the prophet Jeremiah was active during the last years of the kingdom of Judah, the southern half of the ancient kingdom of Israel of David and Solomon. At that time, the northern kingdom, also called Israel, had been destroyed decades earlier by the Assyrians.

The people of the northern kingdom has been brought into exile by the Assyrians, their lands taken over by pagans and foreigners brought in to replace the Israelites exiled to the faraway lands of Mesopotamia and beyond. And then, at the time of the prophet Jeremiah, the Babylonians were rising in power, and were threatening the people of Judah. They had lived at the mercy of their neighbours, and having seen the fate of their northern brethren, they too, would have feared destruction of their kingdom and exile from their homeland.

Unfortunately, the same fate would befall the people of Judah, because they and their king refused to believe in God and refused to listen to the word of God as spoken through the prophet Jeremiah. The kingdom of Judah was destroyed by the Babylonians, and the city of Jerusalem together with its Holy Temple was destroyed. The people of Judah was brought into exile in Babylon just like their northern brethren.

Thus, if we read through the book of the prophet Jeremiah, we can see how all these have been predicted and prophesied by the prophet, and how much of his prophecy is about the upcoming doom for Judah and its people because of their sins. However, as the segment of the book that became our first reading passage today showed us, God also showed His love and faithfulness to His people, by revealing through Jeremiah, the salvation and liberation that He would bring them.

God had loved His people many times, and again, and again, He rescued them from their troubles and difficulties, beginning with the Israelites, the people God first chose, by liberating them from their slavery in Egypt, by the Egyptians and their Pharaoh. And then, after the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem mentioned earlier, God would move the heart of the King of Persia, Cyrus the Great, to free the people of God and allow them to return to their homeland.

But God’s people were still then not free, as in the end, in all we have discussed earlier today, we have seen how the disobedience of man have caused our own downfall, because disobedience against God breeds sin, and sin leads to death and damnation in hell, unless we are freed from this slavery to sin and the tyranny of death. And it is God alone Who can free us from sin and death. He alone can forgive us our sins.

That is why, He fulfilled all of His promises and renewed the Covenant He made with us all, through the coming of His Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Beloved Son He sent into the world, the Divine Word Incarnate, to be born of the family of St. Joseph, the heir of David. St. Joseph was a direct descendant and likely the direct heir of David, as the rightful successor of the last king of Judah.

And even though the Lord Jesus was not born from St. Joseph, but directly by the power of the Holy Spirit, but as the legal father according to the law of the Israelites, Jesus was the legal Son of St. Joseph, and thus, fulfilling God’s promise to His people, He is the Son and Heir of David promised as the King Who was to come. Jesus is the King Who was promised, and the King Who would gather all of the people of God, every single children of Adam, to be reunited with God.

It is this joy in the fulfilment of the promises God had made, the perfect sign of His love for us, His faithfulness to the Covenant He made with us, that is the true meaning of our Christmas joy. This is why we rejoice this Christmas, and not because it is a good holiday season, or a time for shopping or revelries and festivities, but because Christ, Our Lord and Saviour, has come into this world, and will come again, to gather us all, to be worthy to enter into the eternal glory and joy in Him.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, are we ready then to celebrate Christmas? It is just a week away from the date of Christmas, and if we are not yet ready to do so, then we should do all that we can to prepare ourselves. And preparing ourselves does not mean doing all the Christmas decorations and preparing for the parties we are going to have, but rather, preparing ourselves spiritually and in our whole being, that we are properly attuned to the true spirit of Christmas.

Let us all go to confession when we are still able to, to prepare ourselves for the Lord’s coming in joy. Let us be reconciled with God, and therefore, we will be able to welcome the Lord with the fullness of joy, no longer burdened by sin. And let us all heed the past precedents and examples, of the downfall of Judah and its people, to rectify our own way of life, and turn ourselves from sin, devoting ourselves to God from now on.

May the Lord continue to guide us on our way and bless us, now and forevermore. May God be with us, and may He bless us in our preparations for the true joy of Christmas in Him. Amen.

Monday, 17 December 2018 : 3rd Week of Advent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we draw ever closer to the coming of Christmas day and season, our focus and attention is brought directly to the very reason why we rejoice and why we celebrate Christmas in the first place. As we all should know, Christmas is the celebration of the birth or the nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the moment when He was born into this world about two thousand years ago in the small city of Bethlehem.

That is why today’s readings focus on this aspect of Christ’s coming into the world, particularly in His being born into our humanity, as the descendant of David, and because of that, also as the descendant of Abraham, the father of the people of Israel and many other nations, and though not mentioned in the whole list of genealogy that is our Gospel passage today, but He is therefore born as a Son of Adam, the first of all mankind.

And this is linked to the first reading passage we heard today, from the Book of Genesis, in which we heard of the moment when Jacob, also named Israel, the father of Israel, was dying and gathered all of his children before him to grant them a blessing each. And among all the blessings that Jacob gave to his sons, the progenitors of the twelve tribes of the Israelites, it was peculiar that Judah, though not the oldest, but he received a special blessing.

Again in that blessing we heard of something like a prophecy of what was to come. And it came true with David, of the tribe of Judah, who became the chosen king of Israel, to whom God promised that his house would remain in power forever, and that his house will be forever firm, a fulfilment of what Jacob has said to his son Judah in the blessing he gave him. And all of the prophecies and revelations are fulfilled completely in none other than Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

We heard of the history of mankind in today’s Scripture readings, because the Lord wants us all to recall all that He has promised us, all that He has given us and shown us throughout the long history since the beginning of time, and how faithful He has been to those promises, by the arrival of His salvation into this world, in the person of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man.

We need to understand, first of all, why we need salvation in the first place, and that goes back all the way to the time of the first man, Adam and Eve, whom at the beginning of creation, fell from grace and disobeyed God, because they chose to listen to the temptations and lies of Satan rather than to remain in God’s love. And because of that, sin entered into our lives, and because of sin, we have become separated from God’s love.

Sin has no place before God because God is all good and perfect, and sin is a stain and corruption that is abhorrent to God. And because of that, due to our sins, we cannot be in the presence of God and would have to suffer eternity in the darkness beyond God’s love, to suffer the absence of God’s grace in our midst, which is what hell is all about. And hell is truly very real, brothers and sisters in Christ. Unless we get rid of sin, there is no hope for us.

But we cannot get rid of sin, and the corruption and sickness that is sin cannot be healed and removed from us, save for God’s action alone. And since the beginning, although God had to send mankind into exile on earth for our disobedience, but He has promised us, that His salvation will come, and the time of reckoning will be there for us, through a Woman, through whom the power of the devil, the deceiver, will be forever broken.

Throughout history, God promised His people and renewed the promise He has made about His salvation. To His faithful ones, Abraham, David and all, He has made Covenants as proofs of His faithfulness and love for each and every one of us. And the final and perfect fulfilment of His promises, is none other than the coming of the Messiah that was promised. The word Messiah means Saviour, and while the people of Israel had different understanding and idea of what salvation God would bring to them, but He revealed it all, through Jesus Christ, Our Saviour.

He chose to assume the flesh of man, so that, according to St. Paul, He could become the New Adam, through Whom the race of man can be saved and absolved from their sins. While the first and old Adam disobeyed God, Christ, as the New Adam, would be the perfection of obedience to the will of God, His Father, and by that obedience, which He took even unto the point of suffering and death, is the source of our salvation.

In the Old Testament, the people of Israel were instructed to offer sacrificial offerings of animals in atonement of their sins, as the sin and burnt offerings before God. The priests took up the offerings and offer the offerings for the forgiveness of their sins as well as for the sins of the people. The blood of the offerings was sprinkled as the sign of the Covenant with God and the forgiveness of sins.

And Jesus Christ became our eternal High Priest, the One and True High Priest, Who offers not the body and blood of animals, but His own Body and His own Blood, for He is both God and Man united in His person, and that offering is the only perfect offering that is worthy for the atonement for all of mankind’s sins. And He offered this sacrifice on the Altar of the Cross, accepting the heavy burden of the cross, obeying His Father’s will, and thus attain for us the eternal life promised to those who have faith in Him.

Today, as we reflect on the great love which God has for each one of us, that He was willing to endure all the pains and sufferings, the punishments for our sins, we should spend some time thinking about our own lives in this world. God is willing to forgive us our trespasses and faults, and He has given us the opportunity through His Saviour, Jesus Christ, Whose birth brought hope to a world filled with darkness of sin and despair.

And the celebration of Christmas is indeed about the joy for us for having that hope, which God has given us through Christ. But have we realised that many of us are still in need of healing and forgiveness for our sins? Many of us have not lived our lives as how we should have lived it, in obedience to God, and instead, we continued to live in the state of sin. But God is always patient, and He always remembers His love for us.

This Christmas, let us make our celebrations more meaningful, by preparing ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually to welcome and rejoice in God’s coming, by living our lives in a better way from now on, turning away from sin and becoming more obedient to God’s will, and grow deeper in our faith in Him. Let us also confess our sins to a priest at the soonest available opportunity, before the time of Christmas, so that we may find our peace with God, and be worthy to celebrate the true joy of Christmas.

May the Lord be our guide, and may He continue to strengthen us in our faith and resolve, so that we may come ever closer to Him, and find the true joy of our life, the joy of being reunited with God and being forgiven from our sins, this Christmas. May God bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Sunday, 16 December 2018 : Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Rose (Gaudete Sunday) or Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today is a unique occasion during the season of Advent, as we can notice from the difference in the liturgical colour used in the celebration of the Holy Mass, that is rose. The rose colour is only used on two occasions throughout the whole liturgical year, one that is during the season of Lent, on Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent, and then one that is today, the third Sunday of Advent, also known as the Gaudete Sunday.

The word Gaudete is the Latin word which means ‘joy’ and the name Gaudete Sunday comes from the beginning of the Introit of today’s Holy Mass, ‘Gaudete in Domino semper…’ which means ‘Rejoice in the Lord always…’. And this points out to the joyful nature that is present in this season of Advent. During this season of Advent, indeed, our celebrations are a bit muted as we focus more on the preparation of ourselves, our hearts and minds, in expecting the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

However, we must also not forget that in this season of Advent, we are expecting the fullness of joy that comes with the occasion of Christmas. Christmas is the moment when the fullness of God’s glory and the true joy He is bringing upon us is revealed in its wholeness. It is just like when a mother gives birth to a baby, as at the moment when the baby is successfully delivered, the joy that the mother and the whole family feels is truly overwhelming and impossible to quantify.

Yet, that does not mean the mother and the family was not joyful before the baby was born. For when the baby was still in the mother’s womb, surely the mother has all of the designs and wishes she has on the baby that is to come, all the joy that comes with the expectation of the fullness of joy to come. The whole family also has that suspense and joy knowing that the baby to come is to bring even greater happiness and joy after the baby is born.

We surely have seen and experienced how expectant mothers and the fathers-to-be planned in our families, among our friends and acquaintances, how they all did all they could to prepare for the eventual birth of the baby, their bundle of joy and blessing from God. Although it must have been challenging and difficult at times to prepare everything, especially for those who are first-time fathers and mothers, but somehow, we can see the energy and joy in them, that hidden joy in expectation.

Thus, this is the same joy that we are focusing on today, on the occasion of this Gaudete Sunday. We do not yet celebrate the fullness of joy that comes with Christmas, just as it is inappropriate for us to pre-empt Christmas celebrations by our revelry and partying during this season of Advent, unless circumstances require us to do so. On this Gaudete Sunday, we take some kind of a short break to the penitential and sombre nature of Advent, and focus on the expectant joy of looking forward to the fullness of joy of Christmas.

But now, then, we need to reexamine ourselves and look deep into our own lives and actions. What is joy for us, and specifically, what is the meaning and significance of Christmas joy for us? Have we actually ever given it a thought, or have we instead allowed ourselves to just follow the flow and all the formalities of Christmas, year after year, again and again? That is, brothers and sisters in Christ, unfortunately what many of us have been doing all these while.

The joy of Christmas, according to what many of us have experienced, is the joy of prosperity, of celebrations and parties, of often lavish and elaborate Christmas lunches and dinners, of going to multiple celebrations, of all the decorations we put in place to prepare for the parties that we are going to have, and of all the gifts we are going to exchange and receive from one another. To us, Christmas is joyful because it is a time of merrymaking and enjoying ourselves, looking at all the beautiful decorations and receiving all the satisfactions be it for our stomach, or for our other desires.

And that is what exactly the problem is with how we celebrate Christmas and how we prepare ourselves for Christmas. We have often been swayed too much by the currents of the world, in how the secular Christmas celebration is perceived. It is indeed sad to note that while Christmas is a very popular celebration worldwide, but at the same time, it is also one of the most secularised and commercialised celebration of our faith.

We just need to look all around us, and we can easily see all the usual paraphernalia and items associated with Christmas, from all the lights and decorations, the Christmas trees and the ubiquitous Santa Claus, the Christmas candies and cakes, bells and all other things we are surely very familiar with, every time we celebrate Christmas. Yet, in all these, many of us have forgotten what the true joy of Christmas truly is.

The practices of using lights and Christmas tree originally came from the desire to honour Christ Himself, as He is the Light of the world, Light that comes to vanquish the darkness present in the world, and He is the Lord of life, ever living and He has vanquished death by His resurrection, symbolically represented with the Christmas tree, made from the evergreen pine trees. In many countries where our Christian faith traditionally existed, the time of Christmas coincided with the peak of the winter season.

And Christmas happened just right after the winter solstice, the time of the longest night in the year. The darkness and the cold that winter brings usually cause most of the vegetations and plants to become barren during that time, but not for the evergreen trees used for the Christmas trees. This again symbolises Christ and the Light He is bringing to the darkened world, and the hope and joy of a new life He is bringing with Him, overcoming the darkness of sin and death.

A lot of our Christmas traditions in fact have relations and origins from the desire to honour Christ, and to expect the joyful coming of Christ, but in the twists of time, the meaning and purpose have been overlooked and forgotten. And in the end, what we have is a twisted, materialistic, hedonistic and self-serving celebration that feeds instead on our ego, pride and greed within us.

We are familiar with the figure of Santa Claus, or also known as Father Christmas. We often know him as the figure who comes bearing gifts for children during the Christmas time. But we end up becoming greedy for the gifts and for the many goods we expect to enjoy during this time of celebration. But if we look deeper into the original figure of Santa Claus, he actually came about from St. Nicholas of Myra, a renowned saint, whose love and charity for those who have little or nothing was truly remarkable.

Instead of focusing on what we are to receive, how about if we instead be inspired by what St. Nicholas of Myra had done, in how he gave generously to the poor and those who have little to celebrate? Instead of expecting to receive even more when we already have plenty, how about if we instead share the joy we have with those who have less than us, and even more for those who do not have the joy?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not forget that there are still many out there who cannot celebrate Christmas in the way that we do. There are those who have to celebrate in hiding or in fear because of persecutions, in places where Christmas cannot be celebrated openly. In those places, each and every day may even be a time of life or death for some of them, and we need to keep them in mind, as we prepare for the joy of Christmas.

Today, let us all rediscover for ourselves what the true joy of Christmas is for us, and realise that behind all of the merrymaking and the happy celebrations we are preparing, we often forget the One Whom we truly ought to be joyful for, and that is Christ, Our Lord, the One born and celebrated in Christmas. Let us all turn ourselves towards Him and put Him once again at the centre of our celebrations this Christmas.

Let us be generous in giving and in sharing our Christmas joy with everyone around us, and be mindful especially for the needy and for all those who have not been able to celebrate the joy of Christmas for various reasons. Let us be the bearers of Christ’s joy and bring the light of hope He has brought into our midst, that each one of us can be the sources of joy for our fellow brethren, for our families and friends, for those who are around us, and for the poor and the needy in our midst. May the upcoming joy of Christmas be the true joy that inspire us all, to be ever more devoted and loving to God, Our loving Father. Amen.

Saturday, 15 December 2018 : 2nd Week of Advent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we draw ever closer to Christmas day, which is just ten days away from now, the Scripture passages remind us all of the need to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord, which is in tandem with the nature of this season of Advent, that is the preparation and the expectation for the coming of Christ. The readings today are comparing between two servants of God, namely the prophet Elijah from the time of the Old Testament and St. John the Baptist from the time of the New Testament.

The prophet Elijah came at a time when the faithful people in Israel, in the kingdom descended from David and Solomon, had been dwindling in number, persecuted and oppressed for their faith. The prophet Elijah was sent to the people of the northern kingdom of Israel, consisting of the ten tribes that rebelled against the authority of the house of David in Judah. In that kingdom, the kings have not been faithful to the Covenant that God has made with His people Israel. Instead, they have led the people to the worship of the pagan idols like Baal and Asherah.

The prophet Elijah had to contend alone against the king, his nobles, all the influential and powerful people in the society, all of whom were on the side of the pagan idols and gods. For example, Elijah was alone when he had to contend against four hundred and fifty priests of Baal at the Mount Carmel before the king and the people of Israel, seeing whom between the Lord YHVH and Baal is the one and only true God.

And God proved His power before the assembled people, when He sent fire to burn the offering provided by Elijah from heaven itself, while the followers of Baal attempted furiously without success, to call on Baal, the imaginary and false god of the pagans at that time. Elijah was the instrument through whom God exercised His might and revealed His truth before His people, as he performed that miraculous deeds, with many others recorded in the Old Testament.

Elijah brought with him the deliverance from God, the promise of salvation and liberation, for the people who have been blinded by sin, and for those who have been oppressed because of their belief in God. He essentially prepared the way for the coming of God’s kingdom to come, and anointed his successor Elisha the prophet to continue his work among the Israelites. Yet, his work was not yet complete, for he was taken up in a flaming chariot before Elisha into heaven.

Since then, among the people of Israel, it was said that Elijah the prophet would come again one day and be among God’s people once again. It was said that Elijah would come again to prepare the way for the Messiah or the Saviour which God has promised to His people. And this was fulfilled when St. John the Baptist came into this world, just before the coming of the Messiah, preparing His way and straightening the path for Him.

St. John the Baptist, in the Lord’s own words, is the second coming of the prophet Elijah, and whether he was truly Elijah or not, is indeed a mystery of God’s will. But nonetheless, he did what the Lord commanded him to do, to bear witness to the Saviour Who was to come, and to proclaim to all, the coming of God’s mercy and forgiveness, for all those who are willing to repent and to turn away from their sinful ways. He baptised many, countless thousands in the River Jordan.

Therefore today, as we reflect on the works and the lives of the two great servants of God, Elijah and St. John the Baptist, we must indeed come to realise just how great God’s love is for us, that He gave us all these devout and hardworking servants, through whom He endeavoured to reveal the greatness and the boundless nature of His love. His love for us is vast and never-ending, and this is also even when we have constantly disappointed Him and refused to listen to Him and His messengers.

Sadly, many of us continued to be stubborn in our refusal to listen to God, and that is caused by our inability to resist the many temptations in life, the temptations of worldly honour, glory, wealth and power, the temptations of pleasure, of fornication and impure lives. We have too many distractions that we indulge in, which prevented us from realising first of all, how wicked and sinful we have become, and also failing to know God’s love for us, and the mercy He is willing to show us.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we going to continue to disobey the Lord as many of our forefathers have done? If we choose to do so, then we must be prepared and be fully aware that the outcome for us may be nothing less than eternal damnation and suffering, of our own volition and free will, in choosing to turn away from God’s love and mercy. Now, we still have the opportunity to make a difference in our own lives, that God is calling on us to turn away from sin and to return to Him.

What should we do, brothers and sisters in Christ? We should spend the remaining time this Advent season to grow closer to God, and to rediscover that true joy of Christmas that all of us should find, that is the joy of having Christ as our Lord and Saviour, the source of all of our hope and the one trus desire of our lives. This is what we should aim for this Advent, beginning from ourselves, by spending more time in prayer, to be ever closer to God and to know His will for us.

May the Lord continue to love us and may He forgive us our sins, as we come to seek His mercy and forgiveness. O Lord, You Who are most loving and merciful, have mercy on us and make us all to grow ever deeper in our love for You, knowing just how much You have loved us, that You have done everything for us, even to suffer and die for our sake on the cross. May You bless us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

Friday, 14 December 2018 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scripture speaking to us about the reminder from God to each one of us that we must be righteous in our ways, following and obeying God’s commandments and laws, as taught and revealed to us through the Church. We heard from the readings of the prophet Isaiah and the Gospel passage today two lamentations from God for His people.

In the first reading today, we heard from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, the lamentation that God delivered to His people through His prophet, about the people themselves. It was a lamentation of what should have happened if the people of God, Israel, had remained faithful to the Covenant which God has established with them with their forefathers. God stated that had they been faithful to His Covenant, they would have prospered and not suffered as they had.

For the historical context of what happened, the people had chosen freely to abandon God and His Covenant, and instead, putting their trust in the worldly goods, strength and power they had. They chose rather to trust in their attachments to sin and the temptations of life, worshipping the pagan gods and idols of their neighbours and following their wicked ways. As a result, they became divided among themselves and bickered, and as they fell further away from God, they fell into disarray and their downfall.

All those who trusted in the powers of the world only ended up being disappointed, for in the end, nothing of their power, glory and prestige remained. Israel placed their trust in those wicked idols, and yet, those idols did nothing to prevent them from being delivered into the hands of their enemies, and from the dismantlement of their country and nation, the destruction of their cities and their exile into the faraway foreign lands.

God lamented all these, which could have been prevented, had the people were willing to listen to the word of God. But they hardened their hearts and closed off their minds and ears to God calling them to repent and to turn away from their sins and to return to Him. And in the Gospel passage today we also heard the same lamentation made by Jesus, Our Lord and God, showing how the people had not changed their ways and had not learnt the lesson from their forefathers’ mistakes.

That is because even when St. John the Baptist had called for the conversion of the people and to prepare the way for the Lord, but there were still tough opposition from those within the community, especially the rich and the powerful, such as the influential Pharisees and the Sadducees, the nobles and the king’s men, who refused to listen to the word of God. Many of them even doubted and questioned the authority of the saint, just as they would later also oppose the works of the Lord Jesus.

Thus, it was only right and just that the Lord Jesus made the same lamentation just as God has done all these while. He is lamenting the fact that even though He has consistently and continuously loved us and is always willing to forgive us our sins and overlook our trespasses against Him, should we desire to be forgiven and to repent from them, but our stubbornness and unwillingness to repent caused us to continue to fall again and again into sin.

And this season of Advent is the time which God has prepared and provided for us, in order to relook and reflect on our lives thus far. It is a time for us to think again of how we have lived our lives thus far, on whether we have been faithful to God, or whether we have allowed sin to reign over our lives. And this is the opportunity which God has given to us, and by the lessons and experiences made from observing and listening to our predecessors, we should do well to heed the Lord’s call.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. John of the Cross, the holy and devout servant of God whose life should become inspiration for us all. He was a Carmelite friar and priest who was remembered for his role in reforming the Carmelite order together with another holy saint, St. Teresa of Avila. He devoted his whole life to God, and committed himself to a life of sanctity and preached the faith to many people, many of whom were touched by his words and returned to the faith.

St. John of the Cross lived at a time when there had been irregularities and laxity in the way that the priests and the religious, including the Carmelites, lived their lives and ministry. Therefore, through his contributions and hard works, and despite the challenges he and his contemporaries had to face, he pressed on nonetheless, and continued his many good works for the greater glory of God and for the salvation of His people.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we willing to follow in the footsteps of St. John of the Cross and the many other holy men and women who had gone before us to the glory of God? Let us not make the same mistakes as those who have turned away from God and sinned without repentance, and let us all make use this blessed opportunity this Advent, to turn towards God with all of our hearts, minds, and strength. May God bless us all. Amen.

Thursday, 13 December 2018 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Lucy, Virgin and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today again from the book of the prophet Isaiah, we listened again to the message of consolation and hope from God, as the Lord spoke to His people for them not to worry and to place their trust in Him, for He Who loved them would take care of them and provide for them all that they needed. They would not need to be afraid anymore, for God would be their sure guarantee and strength amidst the challenges and trials in life.

At that time, the people of God suffered from the many opponents and enemies that surrounded them, at the time when the ancient kingdom of Israel had been splintered and the northern half, consisting of the ten tribes out of the twelve tribes of original Israel had been destroyed by the Assyrians, who carried off most of the people into exile. And even Judah, in the south where the prophet Isaiah was active, was also afflicted, having the Assyrians almost on the brink of conquering it if not for the intervention from God.

God was reassuring them through Isaiah that He would not abandon them, and on the contrary, He would in fact give them the way out of their predicament, because of His great love for them. Unfortunately, as if we know more about the later history, after the time of the prophet Isaiah and the righteous kings Hezekiah and Josiah, the people of Judah reverted back to their sinful ways, pagan worship and disobeyed God. That was why they too, were brought to exile by the Babylonians.

But then, yet again, God never gave up on His people, despite them having disobeyed, betrayed, abandoned and refused to listen to Him repeatedly many times. God continued to love them and desires that they should be saved, by sending to them, again and again, prophets one after another, messengers and all those who cry out asking for the people to repent from their sins and return to God.

And as mentioned in the Gospel passage today, one such figure was Elijah the prophet, who was sent to the Israelites in the years even before the time of Isaiah, in order to call on them to repent from their sins. He travelled from place to place, and had to go against even the king and his powerful supporters, those who championed the worship of pagan idols like Baal and Asherah. He was rejected, oppressed and persecuted, but that did not silence him.

In fact, he spoke all the louder and performed even more actions for the greater glory of God. For his commitment and dedication, he turned many hearts and minds back to the Lord, when he managed to prove that the Lord YHVH is indeed the one and only true God. On the mount Carmel he went up alone against four hundred fifty priests of Baal, and he showed God’s glory and power when Baal did nothing. God sent fire from heaven to burn the offerings on Elijah’s altar, and from there, God’s work and truth were vindicated.

The last of the great messengers of God, that is St. John the Baptist, was often compared with Elijah. For it was said in various parts of the Scripture, that he had in him the spirit of the prophet Elijah, or even that he himself was Elijah born into this world again. For Elijah, if we read the second Book of Kings, did not die, but was taken up by God into heaven in a flaming chariot. Nonetheless, regardless whether St. John the Baptist is Elijah or not, the fact remains that the former experienced and worked in much the same manner as the latter.

Again, at the time when St. John the Baptist came into the world to prepare the way for the Messiah, many among the people were again wandered off not following the path of the Lord. Some of them, like king Herod and his supporters lived in ways of sin, disobeying and disregarding God’s commandments. St. John the Baptist spoke harshly of the king and dared to do so, when king Herod committed adultery openly with the wife of his brother.

And still yet, some others who were seemingly pious and faithful, have also wandered off course, such as the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. Those people had a self-righteous attitude and looked down on others who they deemed to be less worthy than themselves. They liked to be praised for their show of piety, prayers and devotions in public, but in truth, they have allowed themselves to be overcome by desire and pride in their hearts and minds. God had no place in them.

St. John the Baptist was not afraid to rebuke the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law then, who came to him doubting his teaching and baptising authority. He called them rightly as brood of vipers, as those who were stubborn in their refusal to listen to the word of God. He had to suffer and even die in martyrdom at the hands of king Herod because of that, but all for the greater glory of God, and for the salvation of all of God’s people, fulfilling what the Lord had promised them.

Today, we celebrate the feast of a famous martyr of the Church, that is St. Lucy or St. Lucia the martyr and holy woman, whose life is again another reminder of the challenges and difficulties we will encounter as a follower and disciple of Christ. St. Lucy was a devout Christian who lived in the city of Syracuse during the time of the harshest persecution of Christians under the Roman Emperor Diocletian.

St. Lucy dedicated herself to God and consecrated herself as a holy virgin before Him. But her mother who did not know of this intention and fearing for her family’s future due to her failing health, arranged for her to marry a wealthy pagan noble. But St. Lucy managed to convince her mother to seek the intercession of St. Agatha and to distribute their riches and possessions to help the poor. This was detested by St. Lucy’s pagan betrothed, who reported her to the governor.

St. Lucy was persecuted harshly and she was even sent to a brothel to be defiled. But miraculously, she could not be moved even by a team of soldiers when they were about to bring her to the brothel. In the end, she suffered more persecutions and was martyred by the sword. The courage and purity of St. Lucy has inspired many throughout the ages, and consequently, should be a great inspiration for all of us as well.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we able to devote ourselves just as St. Lucy, the prophet Elijah and St. John the Baptist had dedicated themselves to God? They placed their complete trust in God, Who guided them to the right path and to eternal glory in Him despite their initial suffering on earth. Therefore, let us all endeavour to do the same with our own lives, and seek to glorify God through our actions from now on. May the Lord help us and be our guide in this journey of life. Amen.