Monday, 26 February 2018 : 2nd Week of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the Scripture readings which message to us is very clear, a call to repentance, to turn away from our sins, and for us to practice forgiveness and mercy in our own lives as Christians. This is essential especially as this season of Lent is a time for us to take stock of our lives thus far, and to reevaluate our life priorities and choices.

In the first reading today, taken from the Book of the prophet Daniel, we heard how Daniel represented the people of Israel in their combined sorrow and regret for their sinful ways, for their wickedness, and for their refusal to listen to God and to the warnings and reminders which He had given to them through the prophets. They continued to sin and to disobey God, worshipping pagan gods and idols instead of the Lord their God, and as a result, they were left to the hands of their enemies.

After having their cities destroyed and the whole population brought off to the faraway Babylon, into a life of misery and exile, having experienced the destruction of the Temple which had stood since the day of king Solomon, the people of Israel longed again for the days in which God once showed great graces and blessings to His people, when they were faithful to Him and followed His ways.

Yet, despite all the sins they have done, all the repeated offences they have committed again and again, their stubbornness and hardened hearts, God did not harden His heart against them. Despite His anger against them, ultimately what He hated from them was their sins and their disobedient actions. He still loved them very much, each and every one of them as a loving Father Who created them and made them.

In the Gospel passage today, from the Gospel of St. Luke, we heard from the Lord Himself, the same truth He had shown to His people earlier on. God is merciful and forgiving, especially with us His beloved sons and daughters, as He is Our loving Father, and He provides us with opportunities, one after another, to be forgiven from our sins, providing that we are willing to do whatever is necessary to receive and accept God’s generous offer of mercy.

He led His people Israel back to the land promised to them and to their ancestors, after the time of Daniel, after they had shown remorse and regret for their sins. He renewed the Covenant He had made with their ancestors, through the prophets Ezra and Nehemiah, and they became His beloved ones once again, and He became their God, and the Temple was rebuilt in Jerusalem.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, during this time of Lent, we are called to be merciful as Our Lord and Father has been merciful to us, having forgiven us our many sins and trespasses because He loves each and every one of us, desiring greatly to be reunited with us. However, it is sad to note that it is we ourselves who refused God’s offer of mercy, by constantly and continuing to sin against Him, living in selfishness and succumbing to our human desires and wants for the pleasures of the body.

And we ourselves were not able to be merciful, showing anger and keeping grudges against each other. We easily become angry against our fellow brethren, even against our own beloved ones, our own families and relatives. How can we then show mercy against our enemies and those who hate us, if we cannot even forgive and show mercy to those who are dear and close to us?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the reason for many of these grievances and unfortunate actions are our ego, our pride and our selfishness. We live in a world where the individual reigns supreme, and the needs and wants of our individual, the ‘I’ and the ‘Me’ reign supreme above everything else. That is why when someone insults us or make us angry, we often lash out back at the person with anger and keep grudges against that person.

But that is not what all of us are taught to do as Christians. Being Christians means that we follow the example of Christ, and Christ’s example is one of forgiveness and love. He forgave the woman caught with adultery, telling her not to sin again. He forgave those who condemned Him to death on the cross, and prayed for their sake. He told His disciples to do the same, and one of His followers, St. Stephen, imitated the Lord’s examples, forgiving those who killed him with stone.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard all these as reminders for us as Christians that we need to practice mercy in our lives and show love to one another just as much as we need to love God before everything else, especially before we love ourselves and put ourselves lower in priority than God and our fellow men. Let us make this to be our Lenten resolution and commitment to be an ever better and devoted Christian.

May the Lord be with us all, that He may continue to awaken in our hearts, the strong desire to love Him and to serve Him with love, by caring for all those around us who are in need of His love. May the Lord bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Sunday, 25 February 2018 : Second Sunday of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, the second one in the season of Lent, we are called to reflect on the meaning of obedience to God, which is something that many of us may not have done with our own lives, as we live our daily lives without realising of the obligations and duties which we have as those who believe in God and walk in His ways.

In the first reading today, we heard first of all, the story of how God called upon Abraham, His faithful servant, with whom He had created a Covenant with, to bring his son, Isaac, to the Mount Moria to be sacrificed to Him. God promised in His Covenant with Abraham that He would give him a son, as Abraham was once childless even unto his old age. His wife Sarah was unable to bear a child, and he had to resort to a slave woman to provide him a son.

But God fulfilled His promises to Abraham, proven by Sarah’s pregnancy in her old age, and the birth of Isaac, the promised son, through whom God had promised Abraham that he would have descendants as many as the stars in the heavens and the sand grains at the seashore of the world. Then it must have come as a surprise for Abraham to hear such a command from the Lord, asking him to bring his beloved son Isaac to Mount Moria to be sacrificed.

How can God say such a thing? How can He, Who is good, demand a human sacrifice, more so that of a young child? How can He be like the pagan gods of my ancestors, who demanded human sacrifices? How can He do this to me? I thought that He has promised me a son, and now that I finally have received the son I was promised, and saw him grew up all these while, only for God to ask for him to be sacrificed to Him? How can this be?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, all of these are the thoughts and concerns which must have been in Abraham’s mind the moment he heard the Lord’s strange command, and it must have continued to trouble him throughout the journey towards Mount Moria. After all, Abraham is a human being just like us, with all of its flaws and worldly concerns and thoughts. I am sure that Abraham also had doubts about what the Lord had asked him to do.

Yet, regardless of all that, Abraham remained true to his faith in God, and chose to trust God in all that He had called him to do. St. Paul in one of his Epistles mentioned about this matter, speaking about Abraham and his faith in not holding back even his beloved son, Isaac, to be given to God if He so wished, as he had complete trust that God would be able to raise Isaac his son from the dead if He wanted it. Abraham therefore placed himself in God’s hands.

In the end we saw how God was only testing the faith that Abraham had in him, and as he has devoutly fulfilled his part of the Covenant, not withholding even his own son from God, the one he loved so much, thus God saw there was no blame in Abraham, and as a result, affirmed Abraham in all that He had promised him that He would do. From Isaac, many nations would come forth, including the Israelites, the ones whom God had chosen to be His first beloved people.

Just as Abraham did not hesitate not to hold back his own son from being given up to God as an offering, then we see just how amazing our Covenant with God is, as we clearly should have remembered, just how God did not hesitate, equally, to give us His own most beloved Son, Jesus Christ, Our Lord, to be our Saviour, by none other than the offering of His life on the cross. By His cross, all of us have been saved and made worthy.

In the Gospel passage today, we heard a different story, and yet, one that is incredibly similar and showed a great parallel to what we have heard in the first reading today. In that passage, we heard about how the Lord Jesus brought up His three most trusted disciples, St. Peter, St. James and St. John the Apostles, up to the Mount Tabor in Galilee. Already in this, we can see a parallel with the story of Abraham going on a journey with Isaac to the Mount Moria.

The Lord Jesus went up Mount Tabor, and He was glorified and transfigured before the eyes of His disciples, shining with His divine glory and majesty, revealing before all those who saw Him, the true nature of Jesus Christ, as both Son of Man, as well as the Son of God, the Divine Word of God incarnate into flesh. Moses and Elijah also appeared on the Mount Tabor, and spoke with the Lord Jesus.

The symbolism of the appearance of these two most prominent among the servants of God cannot be underestimated, as they together represent what the Lord Jesus came into this world for, and what He represented. Moses was one the greatest of the leaders of the people of Israel in the past, through whom God passed down to His people the Law and the commandments, which the Israelites preserved through the ages. Meanwhile, the prophet Elijah was among the greatest and most prominent among the prophets and messengers that God had sent to His people.

Therefore, they affirmed the Lord’s arrival in this world as the perfect fulfilment of all that God Himself has promised to His people through His prophets, and even Moses also prophesied about the coming of the Messiah, saying that the Lord would raise up a Leader from among His own people, that is Jesus, Who was born into the people of Israel, a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well as the heir of David, king of Israel.

And the Lord Jesus was indeed also a Prophet, the greatest of all the Prophets, for while all the other prophets spoke on the authority granted to them by the Lord, the Lord Jesus spoke on His own authority, revealing to the people the will of God and telling them the truth and teaching them about the Law of God. He spoke with the combined authority of the prophets. And as Moses represented the Law, the Lord Himself is the Law, through which He wanted everyone to know how to love, as the essence of Law is about loving God and loving one another.

That was why God called Abraham to Mount Moria, testing him with the demand to sacrifice his own son, Isaac, whom surely Abraham loved beyond anything else. Abraham obeyed God and listened to Him, despite all the concerns, doubts and questions he might have of God’s command. This showed Abraham’s love and devotion for God, which surpassed anything else, even for his son and for any of his worldly riches and power.

And Jesus, in our Gospel passage today, showed the same obedience as what Abraham had done, as He listened to the will of His Father, that despite all the glory He experienced at Mount Tabor during His Transfiguration, He knew that the purpose of His coming into the world was for the salvation of mankind. And in order to do that, He would have to suffer and be condemned to death, the most painful death on the cross.

Thus, when St. Peter and the other Apostles told Jesus that they would build three tents for Him and for Moses and Elijah, God rebuked them by reminding them that they must listen to Him and follow the examples shown by Jesus, Who showed perfect obedience to the will of His Father even unto accepting death on the cross, for the sake of our salvation.

Why did St. Peter tell such a thing to Jesus? It is the devil that spoke through St. Peter, just as he tempted the Lord three times during His fasting of forty days in the desert, our last Sunday’s Gospel passage. Again we see how the devil might tempt us in various ways, as what I have mentioned earlier today, with all the questions and doubts that Abraham had regarding God’s orders.

St. Peter said that, ‘It is good that we are here’ which refers to the blissful moment they spent at that mountain. They wanted to stay there forever, because they feel satisfied and happy, and the pursuit of happiness and personal satisfaction is the main way through which the devil is trying to bring us down through temptation and persuasion, that we fall into sin and disobedience against God.

If they went down the mountain, they would suffer persecution and challenges from the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, the priests and elders who hounded them and harassed them at every possible opportunity. It is our human weakness and frailty which bring about our desire to seek happiness, profit and enjoyment for ourselves. And the devil exploits these at every possible opportunity.

The Lord resisted the temptation to avoid the sufferings and difficulties which He had to face if He obeyed the Father’s will. He went down the Mount Tabor with His disciples, fully knowing that He was going down to His suffering and death on the cross, on Calvary. And the disciples obeyed Him and followed Him, and even though some faltered and they were scattered when the Lord was arrested, but they persevered on, and went on to follow Him, eventually to martyrdom as they kept their faith in God firmly.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what is it that each and every one of us must take away from today’s Scripture passages and reflection we have just had? First of all, to be a Christian, we must be God-centric and not self-centric. God must be the priority of our respective lives, and there can be nothing else more important for us than to glorify God through our words, actions and deeds. And as Christians we must obey the Lord and follow His will in everything we do.

And it is inevitable that in our lives we will encounter difficulties and persecution, challenges and obstacles, just as the Lord and His disciples had encountered, and just as Abraham surely had encountered in his own life. The Lord Jesus Himself did not call His disciples to a life of happiness, joy, prosperity and comfort, as what we surely want to have with our lives. No, He called us to a life filled with both joy of serving the Lord, as well as the realisation of suffering, by calling us to ‘take up our crosses, and follow Him.’

In this season of Lent, we are called to rediscover our true priority in life, that is God. That is why we fast, so as to restrain ourselves, as well as abstinence, that we may look beyond all sorts of earthly goodness and sources of happiness as familiar to us, known to us since we were born. We have been inundated with the various happiness that we may gain from the world, be it prestige, wealth, fame, pleasures of the body, sexual pleasures, pleasures of the stomach, good food, and many others. But are these really true sources of happiness that will last?

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, shall we make best use of this time of Lent to rediscover our faith, and understand why is it that we need to be faithful to God and to put Him above all else, following the examples that Abraham our father in faith has shown us, and the Lord Jesus Himself showed us. After all, if God has always been faithful to His Covenant with us, not holding back His own Son, Jesus Christ, to be crucified for us, that we may live, in the manner of Abraham’s faith, why should we not show the same commitment and faith to the Covenant God had made with us?

Let us all draw ever closer to God and follow His ways. Let us seek to be ever more faithful to Him, and obey Him as far as possible in all the things that He has commanded us to do. May the Lord bless us all in our journey of faith, that we may grow in our relationship with Him, and find our way to His everlasting grace. Amen.

Saturday, 24 February 2018 : 1st Week of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the passages from the Scripture, speaking to us about obeying the laws and commandments set by God and which He has revealed to us, His beloved people. God has set those laws and commandments that we may walk in the right paths and do what is pleasing to Him, and as we have been made God’s own people, and adopted as His own children, we must do what God, Our Lord and Our Father, has done and taught us.

But what does it mean for us to obey God’s laws and commandments? What is it like for us to be truly faithful to Him? Is it that we have to follow the rules and regulations as set by the Church and all of the teachings passed down unto us through the bishops and the priests? Is it that we have to attend and participate in the Mass every Sundays and also on the days of obligation as set by the Church?

If we have done all of these and nothing else, then I am afraid that we may not have gotten the essence of what it truly means to be Christians. It does not mean that we should not have done what we have done. In fact, it is absolutely necessary that we fulfil our obligations to the rules and the requirements that the Church has clearly stated for us. However, have we done our duty as Christians and fulfilled our obligations with the right purpose and intention in mind?

If we did not do all our actions with the right purpose and intention, even if we obey the Lord’s laws and commandments, it is likely that we will end up getting no better than the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, those whom the Lord Jesus rebuked and condemned for their hypocrisy and lack fo faith, as they obeyed the laws and commandments, and in fact, strictly enforced a rigid and excessive obedience to the laws as taught by Moses and preserved by the elders of Israel.

But they have not done these for the greater glory of God, or because they truly love God or His people. They did not have God or His people in their minds, and they even misused their authority to gain more prestige, power and approval for themselves. Whatever they have done, have not been considered to be righteous in the sight of God, but instead wicked and sinful, as God is not at the forefront of their minds.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what is it that we need to do, with our lives, that we may be faithful to the Lord in all the things that we do? We have to realise that the Law of God is not mere formality or empty without meaning. Instead, God gave us the Law and the commandments, because He wants each and every one of us to know about love, that is first and foremost, the love which He has for each and every one of us, His beloved children.

The Law of God is not about all the rules and regulations which the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law often enforced on the people, without understanding, realising and appreciating the true meaning and purpose of those laws. The Law of God is about love, loving God, the One Who created us and loved us, with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and indeed our entire being and effort. That is the essence of the first three commandments of the Ten Commandments.

And then, after having loved God sincerely and tenderly, then we should also show the same love to our brothers and sisters, to those who we encounter in our lives, our friends and neighbours, our relatives and family members. But the Lord in the Gospel passage today challenged us even further, calling on us to also love those who have wronged us and considered us as enemies. He called on us to forgive those who have wronged us and trespassed against us, and show them love, mercy and compassion.

That, brothers and sisters in Christ, is the true essence of discipleship, that is Christian discipleship, following the Lord with all of our strength, and doing our best to love our brethren, in the same way, with all of our hearts, and pray for the sake of and forgive our enemies, in the footsteps of Our Lord Himself, Who forgave all of those who have condemned Him to death on the cross, and prayed for the sake of those who cried out for His death.

Let us all strive, that in this blessed season of Lent, a season of forgiveness and realisation of God’s most abundant mercy, we may come ever closer to the Lord, and reexamine our life’s actions, so that in everything we do, in everything we say and act, we may come ever closer to God’s ways and be ever more worthy of Him, day after day, as we turn away from our sinful past, and embrace God’s love ever more, and share that love with one another.

May the Lord bless us all, and may He empower each and every one of us to live ever more faithfully and appreciate the love with which Our God has shown us every day and every moment of our lives. May we be able to find our way to Him and to His redemption, that all of us as Christians may be worthy of His saving grace, at the end of time. Amen.

Friday, 23 February 2018 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day from the book of the prophet Ezekiel we heard about the salvation of God’s people and how it all depends not on how a person’s current standing or status, but on what the person has done and committed in life. The prophet Ezekiel made it clear through the example of a holy and devout man who sinned, and by whose sins the man would be judged and condemned, as well as sinners who would be redeemed if they would turn away from their sins.

This is related to what we heard in the Gospel passage, regarding the Lord’s teaching to the people about being faithful to God in the right way. The Lord mentioned how the people must be faithful more than how the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had been faithful in their ways or else they would not be able to enter into the kingdom of God.

In order to appreciate and understand the fullness of the meaning of these Scripture passages, we have to understand the context in which the Lord made such a comment about the two groups of people He mentioned. Otherwise we may end up failing to understand just how important they are to our own salvation and life.

The Pharisees were influential group of people who were highly educated by the standard of the time, as were the teachers of the Law, where the Pharisees were a political grouping of those who favour strict interpretation and enforcement of the laws of Moses among the people. Meanwhile the teachers of the Law taught those laws among the people and interpreted them in accordance to their beliefs.

These two groups of people were often considered pious and authoritative in terms of religion. And they basked in the praise and adulation they received from the people, even expecting them to follow what they were doing. But many of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law did not observe the Law for the right reasons. They did them to garner support and praise, and to advance their prestige and status rather than any genuine faith in God.

That was why the Lord often rebuked them for their hypocrisy in faith, saying to the people one thing and yet doing it in an entirely different manner and for different purpose. They expect the people to obey their strict interpretation of the laws of Moses, and yet, they did not perform their observances for the right reasons as mentioned. Is this what we have also done with our own lives? Remember what the prophet Ezekiel said, that even those who were considered pious will be judged should they fall into sin, exactly what the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had done.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us are called to be true disciples of the Lord, following and obeying what the Lord had taught us to do. We should not become like the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who did not follow the laws and commandments for the right reasons. When we follow the laws and the teachings of the Church, we must first and foremost do them with God first and foremost in our hearts and minds.

Otherwise, it is easy for us to fall into the same trap that the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had fallen into. God calls everyone to be faithful to Him, in their hearts, minds and whole beings. What He told the prophet Ezekiel is a reminder for us that no one is beyond God’s love, mercy and forgiveness. Even sinners, as all of us are, will be made and considered righteous for whatever good deeds we do in our lives, done with the right purpose and intention, that is with the intention of the greater glory of God.

Let us all follow the examples of St. Polycarp, holy bishop and martyr of the Faith. He was a bishop of the early Church, who led the faithful and God’s flock in the region of Smyrna in Asia Minor. He was a faithful successor of the Apostles, who converted many to the faith by his teachings and exemplary faith. He helped the spiritual growth of many people, and was martyred in his old age after many years of service, having refused to offer incense to the Roman Emperor who was then worshipped like a god.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us are called to do what the faithful St. Polycarp and our holy predecessors, the saints and martyrs had done. We have to dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly to the Lord, without being distracted by our worldly concerns and desires. We must learn to let go of our pride, our human desires and greed, and learn to put God first and ourselves second. Otherwise, we will end up like those who put their own interests ahead of God’s interests, and thus likely to fall into sin.

Let us all renew our faith, that we may live ever more faithfully day after day, in accordance with the way that the Lord has shown us, following in the footsteps of the saints, particularly remembering the memory of the good and faithful St. Polycarp the bishop and martyr. May the Lord strengthen our faith, and give us the courage to live our lives ever more in accordance with His will. May God bless us all, now and always. Amen.

Thursday, 22 February 2018 : Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, the Apostle (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we commemorate together the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle, one of the celebrations commemorating the leader of Christ’s Apostles and His vicar on earth, besides that of the Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul in the month of June. On this day, we are focusing on the Chair or indeed, better known as the Cathedra of St. Peter, the first Bishop of Rome and Pope.

Some of us might be wondering, why is it that we celebrate the feast of a chair, even if it is the Chair of St. Peter himself as the Vicar of Christ. That is because we must understand the importance of chair in the historical context of the Church. A chair is historically related as the symbol of power and authority, much as thrones are for kings and rulers. When a king or ruler is enthroned, he or she symbolically receives the power and authority to reign over his or her kingdom.

Similarly therefore, the chair for the bishops of the Church symbolises their authority, the authority to teach the Gospels and the truth of God to the people, as well as their administrative and spiritual authority over the flock and the people entrusted under his care. And throughout the dioceses in the world, there is a particular chair in each of the dioceses, in a particular church, named the cathedra as mentioned, as the seat of the bishop’s authority, and the churches with the cathedra are called cathedrals.

There is in fact an actual physical cathedra belonging to St. Peter in the Vatican, at St. Peter’s Basilica, where the chair that is supposed to be St. Peter’s actual chair of teaching is placed in the most prominent place above the high altar on the eastern end of the Basilica, underneath the famous and magnificent dove imagery representing the Holy Spirit. This signifies the authority of the Pope as the successors of St. Peter as the Bishop of Rome and as leader of the entire universal Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, nonetheless, the celebration today is much more than just the celebration of a physical and actual chair possessed by St. Peter at the Basilica of St. Peter in Vatican. In fact, this celebration is more about the authority which the Lord Himself has delegated to His vicar, St. Peter as well as to his successors as Bishop of Rome and Pope, in leading all the faithful people of God, His flock and faithful ones.

But if we imagine that St. Peter is someone who was amazing and great, glorious and mighty, then we ought to remember that he was once a mere poor fisherman trying out his best to make a living by fishing in the lake of Gennesaret or Galilee. It was as a poor, illiterate fisherman that the Lord Jesus encountered him and his brother, St. Andrew the Apostle. And many other Apostles and disciples of the Lord also came from humble and unremarkable origins.

Yet, the Lord chose them and called them to follow Him, and for some among them, He entrusted them to become the most important among all of His disciples as the Apostles because they had qualities in them which the Lord discovered, and which He deemed to be worthy. It was not us who make ourselves worthy, but God who makes those whom He called to be worthy.

And the tasks He entrusted to the Apostles were not easy ones, as challenges and difficulties were abound. They had to face persecutions and oppressions from various sources, from those who were against the Church, the teachings of the Lord and against whatever good works that they had done among the people. They had to endure prison, arrests and torture, sufferings and rejections from time to time.

St. Peter himself had to endure the same difficulties, as he travelled from place to place establishing the foundations of the Church in those places. When he was in Rome, Christians there were persecuted heavily at the reign of the Emperor Nero, and together with St. Paul, St. Peter himself was martyred during the reign of that Emperor. He suffered with his flock and remained true to his calling as a shepherd of the Lord.

He remained committed to the end, and humbly even requesting the Romans who were about to crucify him to put him on the cross upside down, as he felt it was not right for him to be crucified and died in the same manner and way as his Lord and Master. Through all of these examples, St. Peter had shown us how he is truly a devout and hardworking servant of God, who places his responsibility to the Lord above everything else.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all remember all the things that the Apostles had done, especially St. Peter in all the works he had done. Through him, the Lord had established His Church in this world, built upon the strong foundation of faith which he had, and upon the faith and commitment of the Apostles. But their hard works were not yet complete, and there are still many things that we can do in this world, fulfilling the vocation to which we have been called to.

Each and every one of us as Christians ought to follow the examples of our holy predecessors. And as we are all part of the one Church of God, which is the same Church that He established upon the foundation of His Apostles, especially St. Peter the Apostle, let us all do our respective parts, in order to work together as one Church, under the authority of the successors of the Apostles, the bishops, who themselves are united to the successor of St. Peter, our Pope, the leader of the Universal Church.

May the Lord be with us all, and may He bless the Church He has built, so that we may always stay together and remain strong in our faith and in our dedication to serve the Lord, and preach more and more of the Good News to the people who have not yet heard of it. Let us all deepen our faith and commit ourselves more wholeheartedly to fulfil the mission which the Lord had entrusted to His Church. May the Lord bless us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Peter Damian, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s readings from the Scripture we heard about the contrast between what happened in the time of the Old Testament, when the prophet Jonah came to the city of Nineveh, preaching to them that the Lord would destroy their city within forty days for their sins and wickedness, and with what we heard in the Gospel passage today, of the Lord Jesus and His unhappiness over the people’s lack of faith as they kept demanding for signs and miracles.

At the time of the prophet Jonah, the people and ruler of the city of Nineveh, which was a great city and capital of the Assyrian Empire, the mighty kingdom that conquered and destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel and subjugated much of the Middle East at its heyday, they came to believe in all that the prophet Jonah said before them, that God would punish them for their sinful ways, and they immediately showed great repentance.

And all of that happened without the prophet Jonah even performing any miracles or wonderful deeds at all. They realised their sinful ways and wickedness, and they simply came to believe in the prophet. This is despite the Assyrians, deemed as barbarians and pagans in the eyes of the Israelites, as they worshipped pagan idols and did not believe in God, and despite all of their wicked and heinous deeds, they believed in God when He came to punish them.

Yet, it is a great irony that the people of God, who were supposed to obey the Law and listen to the will of their Lord, were themselves the ones who refused to believe in Him, when He Himself came in person into this world, and not through the intermediary of a prophet as what was the case between the prophet Jonah and the people and city of Nineveh. And the Lord came with many signs and wonders before His people through His Son, Jesus Christ.

The Lord Jesus Himself performed many miracles and wonders, healing many who were sick, feeding multitudes of people by multiplying loaves of bread and fishes, casting out demons and many more, but the people still failed to believe. He has done so many wonders and yet, the people who had seen them kept asking for more signs and miracles, and for the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, they continued to doubt Him and refused to believe in Him.

Why is this so, brothers and sisters in Christ? That is because they hardened their hearts and refused to believe in God, no matter what amazing things and miracles He has performed before them. If the hearts and minds have refused to believe, then it does not matter how much the eyes, the ears, the noses and all the senses experience, we will end up not believing, just as what the people had done.

In this time and season of Lent, all of us go through this moment of exceeding grace when we are given the opportunity to reexamine our lives through the daily readings of the Scripture and by deepening our relationship with God. Are we all able to rend our stubborn minds and hearts that once refused to believe, and open the doors to our minds and hearts wide, to allow God to enter into them and speak His will inside us?

We are called to repentance and to a change in lifestyle, following the examples of the Assyrians living in Nineveh. God has called us all to repent, just as He has done through the prophet Jonah. Are we willing to humble ourselves as the people of Nineveh had done, or are we rather like the people of the time of Jesus, when He came into this world, and they rejected Him and refused to believe in Him because of their pride and their prejudices against Him?

Let us all follow the example of the great saint whose feast we celebrate on this day, namely St. Peter Damian, great and holy servant of God, as bishop and Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, an important figure in the Church at that time, who was remembered for his great piety and devotion, leaving behind everything he had to serve the Lord, and many followed his examples to life faithfully in God’s ways.

St. Peter Damian helped to reform the whole Church at that time, and he zealously sought for the renewal of the Church against the excesses of sin and wickedness which dominated many of the people at the time, even those who were among the clergy and the priests, those who were holding high and influential positions in the Church and among the faithful. St. Peter Damian was determined to get the Church to overcome the problem, and through his works, eventually the Church was able to overcome the problem it faced.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the zeal and commitment of St. Peter Damian should be reminder for us that we should also have the same kind of faith and devotion in our own life. Let us all during this season of Lent reflect on what he has done, and how he has devoted himself throughout his life to serve the Lord, abandoning the temptations of worldly power and glory, and sought nothing else other than the greater glory of God.

May each and every one of us draw ever closer to the Lord, and may we find in Him the source of true joy and happiness, and that we may turn our hearts and our whole being to Him, no longer held back by sin and by our refusal to listen to Him and by our stubbornness. May we grow to love Him more and more, every day of our lives. May God bless us all. Amen.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018 : 1st Week of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard from the Scriptures the unique relationship that Our Lord Jesus Christ has with His Father in heaven, as we listened to the reading from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, speaking to us about the Word which came from God, and which would not return to Him until that Word has accomplished all that God had willed to do through the Word.

We know that Jesus, Our Lord and Saviour is the Divine Word Incarnate, Son of God, through Whom the Father willed all creation into being, including all of us mankind at the beginning of time. And when the Father sent Him into the world, as we remember from the Gospel of St. John, ‘For He so loved the world, that He gave us His only beloved Son, that all who believe in Him may not perish, but have eternal life’, we gain for ourselves a loving Saviour and Lord.

And Jesus showed us all the example of a faithful and obedient Son, obeying the Father’s will in everything, which is summarised in His short but exceedingly beautiful prayer, which we pray as the Lord’s Prayer, Pater Noster, a prayer which we heard as part of our Gospel reading today, which summarises everything that a prayer should be and ought to be.

First of all, a prayer is a way for us to communicate with God, and that was what Our Lord did, speaking directly to the Father, calling upon Him and praising Him, for we have been given this great privilege, having shared in Christ’s humanity, to be able to call God as our Father. And as a child addressing and talking to his or her father, we too ought to speak to God through prayer, directly to Him, and He will listen to us.

However, many of us forget that the essence of prayer is not for us to demand from God anything, or to have our wishes and wants fulfilled. This is what many of us have misunderstood from prayer and from our devotions, as many of us think of God as a wonder worker Who can satisfy all of our needs and fulfil all of those things which we want and desire. No, this is not true prayer, as a true prayer is in essence, opening a two-way communication between us and God.

Many of us are able to speak with God, through our prayers and petitions. However, how many of us are actually able to listen to Him? It is too often that we are preoccupied in our concerns, our desires and thoughts, that we failed to listen to the Lord speaking in the depths of our hearts. The noise of this world, all of its temptations and concerns deafened us to the Lord’s words in our hearts.

And a prayer is not just about ourselves, as if we often notice that what truly distracted us from being able to listen to God was because we are so self-centred, thinking only about ourselves, about what we want in life, and we sometimes even demanded that God take action for our sake. This ego and desire, the focus on the ‘I’ and ‘Me’ are all that caused us to drift away from God and into sin.

Prayer is also about thanksgiving, for Jesus Himself thanked His Father for all the goodness He has blessed all of us with, but in our own prayers, how many of us remembered to thank God first for all the blessings which He had given us? We always remember God only when we are in need of His providence and help, and when He has given us all that we wanted and desired, we are very quick in forgetting Him and never thanked Him as we all should have.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day, as we proceed through the season of Lent, let us all strengthen our relationship with God, through prayerful life and committing ourselves to acts of charity and love for others. It is important that we learn how to pray in the right way, as we have just discussed, not prayer focused on ourselves and our selfish interests and desires, but prayer that is truly allowing us to speak to God and to have a proper conversation, that we also put forth a listening ear, open mind and open heart to listen to God speaking in our deepest selves.

Let us all follow the examples of Our Lord Jesus Himself, Who obeyed the will of His Father perfectly, doing what He had commanded Him to do and even to the cross at Calvary, by which we were saved. Let us learn to get ourselves rid off our pride, arrogance, stubbornness, and all the things which have become obstacles in our journey of faith towards the Lord. Let us instead grow to be humbler and more dedicated in our faith, doing whatever we can to live ever more in accordance with what the Lord had taught us.

May the Lord bless us all and may He continue to watch over us and protect us, every day of our lives. May our Lenten observance and efforts be good and meaningful to our spiritual growth, that we may grow ever closer to God, day after day. Amen.