Wednesday, 3 March 2021 : 2nd Week of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scripture we are presented with the importance for us to realise that as Christians, we are called to follow the Lord with sincerity and commitment, and that we will likely encounter challenges and difficulties, trials and opposition along our way and journey towards the Lord.

In our first reading today, we heard the account from the Book of the prophet Jeremiah detailing how there were many of those who sought to bring Jeremiah down, plotting against him and seeking to kill him. This was a reflection of the true state of things during that time, when the kingdom of Judah was at its ending and the prophet Jeremiah ministered there, calling on the people to turn away from their sins and return to God.

But the people were stubborn and refused to listen to the Lord and His prophet Jeremiah. They preferred to listen to the lies and the falsehoods spread by those false prophets and leaders who claimed to know the will of God and pretended to speak on His behalf, further leading the people to their downfall. Jeremiah was resented and shunned for daring to speak the truth of God.

That was why Jeremiah was persecuted and opposed, what he earned and suffered from remaining true to his faith and calling. This is what the reality of being a follower of the Lord is, not to expect good and pleasant life in this world just as what some Christians ended up believing, but instead, to expect struggle and challenges that may be part of our life and journey as we move forward in life.

In our Gospel passage today, that was highlighted yet again by the Lord as He spoke to the two of His disciples, St. James and St. John, the sons of Zebedee, whose mother came to Him asking for special favours for her children, that they be granted special positions of power by the Lord’s side, to be favoured over all the other disciples and followers. This highlighted the fact that many of those who followed the Lord, ultimately still considered worldly desires and ambitions.

At that time, the Lord Jesus was seen as the Messiah and Saviour of the people of Israel, and in the minds of the people, as well as in the popular belief, the Messiah was seen as someone who would liberate the people of Israel from their enemies and overlords, who would free them from the bondage and rule by the Romans, and ultimately would restore the kingdom of Israel and rebuild the Temple of God in Jerusalem.

Therefore, when St. James and St. John together with their mother came to the Lord seeking and asking for such special favour, it was made with this in mind, that they expected the Lord would reign as King, and when He reigns, they would want to have a position of trust and honour by His side, especially considering that both of them, together with St. Peter, were often brought by the Lord on many important occasions.

But the Lord revealed to them that to be His followers did not mean that they would earn worldly glory, power, honour and any sorts of influence or prestige. Rather, to be His followers would mean that they may have to suffer just as He would suffer, to be rejected and oppressed just as He Himself would be rejected and oppressed. The Lord reminded the two disciples of this stark reality, of the ‘cup of suffering’ that they would share with Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to these readings from the Scripture we are therefore reminded that first of all as Christians we have been called to follow the Lord and to dedicate our lives to Him. But we also must realise that if we are to remain true to Him and keep our faith in Him, sometimes we may find ourselves troubled, in dilemma and being challenged by the society among all the other difficulties that we may face. Of course this does not mean that there is no joy in life to be gained from following the Lord, but if we are expecting a blissful and free of trouble life then we must realise the reality of what it means to be Christians.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore this Lent make a difference in our lives and in the way we live our lives from now on. Let us no longer be driven by worldly desire and by the temptations of worldly glory and power, of wealth and fame, but instead, anchoring ourselves on the Lord and renew our faith and devotion to Him, now and always, forevermore. May God bless us all in our good endeavours. Amen.

Tuesday, 2 March 2021 : 2nd Week of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scripture we are called to seek the Lord with contrite heart and to seek forgiveness for our many sins before it is too late for us to do so. This season of Lent is the perfect time for us to reorganise our lives and to reflect on our lives thus far, on whether we have lived our lives in accordance to the Lord’s way or not, or whether we have strayed away from His path and fell into the sway of worldly temptations.

In our first reading today we heard from the Book of the prophet Isaiah at the very beginning of that Book in which the prophet Isaiah spoke of the very grim words of reality, of the Lord speaking to the rulers and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah that if they persist in their sinful and wicked ways that they would be crushed and judged to damnation by those sins. But there was also words of hope and consolation that if they were to change their ways and turn towards the Lord, they would be forgiven and be blessed by the Lord.

Contextually, when the prophet Isaiah was speaking about the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, both cities as per how they were referred to were no longer existent by the time of Isaiah’s life and ministry. In truth, when the Lord spoke of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, it was a figurative reference to those cities that had been destroyed a long time before because of their wickedness, which was so infamous that Sodom and Gomorrah until today were almost synonymous to vice and evil in reference.

The Lord therefore made a mention of those two cities as a reminder to the people of Israel back then how they would end up if they continued on persisting in refusing to follow His ways and in rebelling against Him. He wanted them to repent and change their ways, and seek to be reconciled to Him or else they might face condemnation and destruction for their faults and mistakes. He did not want them to be stubborn and be lost from Him as a result.

By the time of the prophet Isaiah, the northern kingdom of Israel had been destroyed by the Assyrians, their cities destroyed and their home region depopulated, with most of the people brought off into exile in faraway lands of Mesopotamia and Assyria, while the foreigners were sent in to stay at where the people of God used to live in. This was therefore a stark reminder of what the Lord had just said, that should the people continue to live in sin, they would be destroyed and be condemned for those sins, much like that of Sodom and Gomorrah, and which the northern tribes of Israel had suffered.

The Lord is indeed most loving and merciful, but we must not take His love and mercy for granted. As long as we are still drawing breath, then there is still hope for each and every one of us in this world. But if we delay and tarry, wait and are indecisive, then we may come to regret not having acted earlier on and for delaying when we could have done something to bring ourselves closer to God. It is not too late for us to heed the Lord’s call, repent and change our sinful ways, before it is too late for us.

What we heard then from our Gospel passage today is a reminder for us that the great obstacle for us in the path we traverse on the way to the Lord’s salvation and grace is that of our pride and worldly desires, as the Lord told His disciples how the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who were entrusted with the guardianship of the Law and also the responsibility over the people had not been truly faithful in how they have lived their lives, as they were focused and concerned more over their own desires and their own prestige and status over that of others’ well-being.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, in our Gospel passage today the Lord is reminding us not to give in to the temptations of pride and vanity, the desire and temptation to be important and be recognised by others, to indulge in the many pursuits of this world, the pursuit of money and happiness, of pleasure and worldly joy. Let us instead be humble and be filled with the meekness and charity in our hearts. Let us love the Lord with ever greater devotion and show that same love to our fellow brothers and sisters as well.

May the Lord continue to guide us throughout this journey of life and may He strengthen and bless us all in life, that we may truly be able to follow Him and dedicate ourselves anew to Him especially through this time of renewal and reconciliation in Lent. Let us all not be afraid and hesitant anymore to follow the Lord and His path, and be good and virtuous Christians from now on. May the Lord forgive us our sins and may He continue to love us all, now and always. Amen.

Monday, 1 March 2021 : 2nd Week of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we continue to progress on through the season of Lent we are called to remember God’s most amazing love and boundless mercy, His compassion and all the patience that He has shown to us, His beloved people. The Lord has shown us great love and is willing to forgive us from our many sins, provided that we are willing to embrace Him and His love, and turn away from our sinful ways and disobedience.

In our first reading today, all of us heard the words of the prophet Daniel, the famous prophet who lived in exile in Babylon after the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem by the Babylonians, and after many of the remnants of the people of God were brought there by the Babylonians into many decades of exile. The prophet spoke of God’s great mercy and forgiveness, and how the people had been sinful and wayward in their path which resulted in their misfortune then.

They have abandoned the Lord and followed the foreign and pagan idols, disobeying the commandments and laws of the Lord and persecuting His prophets. They and their kings had not listened to the Lord and to those whom He had sent to remind them and help them to find their way back to Him. As they all were humiliated and had to suffer being exiles among the nations, led by the prophet Daniel and others like Ezra, Nehemiah and all the post-Babylonian conquest figures, the people of Israel began to walk the long path of repentance from their sins.

Eventually, the people would return to their homeland, after the Persian King Cyrus declared emancipation for the exiles of Israel, allowing them to return to their homeland. The city of Jerusalem and the Temple of God were rebuilt in due time and the people once again lived in the grace of God. All these happened a few hundred years before the coming of the Lord Jesus, the Saviour of the world. And as time and history had shown, the people of God fell again and again into sin, disobeying the Lord and not following the path He has shown before them.

The Lord Jesus in our Gospel passage today was reminding the people of His time again of the great mercy and love of God by which He desired to reconcile us all to Himself. And He also told the people to be merciful just as the Lord, their Father has been merciful to them. For if they themselves had been shown mercy by God for our serious and grievous transgressions and faults, then how can we not do the same with our fellow brothers and sisters for far lesser and far smaller faults and misgivings?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today’s Scripture passages remind us all that first of all we are called to reexamine our way of life and look deeper into our actions in life, and how we have behaved as the followers of Christ. If we have not obeyed the Lord’s will, disobeyed His laws and commandments, disregarding His reminders and ignoring His love and mercy, then we are reminded that God’s mercy and love are always available for us, but we must not take these for granted.

If we do not repent from our sins and continue to be wayward in our lives, then know that we shall be judged by whatever sins we have committed, as well as by all the failures in doing what the Lord has told us to do. Only God can forgive us our sins, and we need to show genuine repentance, regret from our sins and show the desire to love the Lord and to be faithful to Him so that we may receive pardon from God, our loving Father and be reconciled with Him.

That is why in this season of Lent we are all called to turn back towards the Lord with contrite hearts, to return to Him with newfound love and dedication to our Lord, and with the strong desire to reject sin and all of its evil allures. And we are also called as the Lord Himself told His disciples, to be merciful just as the Lord has been merciful to us. In this season of Lent, let us all strive to forgive one another whatever misgivings, misunderstandings, faults and issues that are present between us which prevent us from finding a common ground and from being reconciled to one another.

Let us all forgive one another our shortcomings and faults, and show love, care and compassion on those who need them so that we may understand the importance of being forgiven ourselves from our sins, and that we may grow ever stronger in love for God and for our fellow men without being burdened by hatred and by other obstacles and stumbling block caused by sin and the many temptations found in the world. May God be with us and may He strengthen us all to live faithfully ever in His presence, now and always. Amen.

Sunday, 28 February 2021 : Second Sunday of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday is the Second Sunday in the season of Lent, and we heard from our Scripture readings today about the Covenant that God has made with us all, His beloved people, and the connection between the story in the first reading today from the Book of Genesis of the action of Abraham obeying God in offering his own son Isaac to Him at Mount Moriah, with the story of the Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, at Mount Tabor before three of His disciples.

First of all, the story of the first reading today showed how Abraham, who after receiving joyfully the fulfilment of the prophecy of the promised son, in the form of Isaac, was asked by the Lord to offer that very son for a sacrificial offering on the Mount Moriah, as an offering for the Lord. Contextually, Isaac was the long awaited son and heir to Abraham, who had waited for a very long time but failed to have any children with his wife Sarah. But God promised Abraham and made a Covenant with him, that he would be the father and progenitor of many nations through the son that he would have with Sarah.

Thus, we can just imagine what must be in Abraham’s mind the moment he heard of the Lord asking him to do what could be considered as impossible for him, to sacrifice the very son whom he had been longing for, to offer him as a burnt offering for the Lord when the Lord had promised this son to him. Yet, as we heard from the story, Abraham obeyed unconditionally and trusted in the Lord, and told the same to Isaac, that ‘The Lord shall provide’ when Isaac was wondering why there was no sacrificial animal brought with them as they went up Mount Moriah.

Abraham obeyed God wholeheartedly although he might indeed be wondering why God would ask him to do something like that. As St. Paul later on would comment on this matter in his Epistle to the Galatians, that Abraham had such trust and faith in God that even if he were to offer Isaac, God would provide and He would do what was impossible, and that His Covenant would last no matter what, and it was this unshaken faith that was rewarded by God when He told Abraham not to harm Isaac, as He had seen how truly faithful Abraham was, even to give his most beloved son to Him without hesitation.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, how is it then that this story of the offering of Isaac at Mount Moriah can be related to what we heard in our Gospel passage today, of the Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus Christ? On a quick glance, the two stories may not seem to be related, but in truth, the parallel between the two go on truly much deeper than just what is evident on the surface. The offering of Isaac on Mount Moriah was in fact a prefigurement of what the Lord Himself would do to show His faith and commitment to the Covenant that He has made with all of us.

First of all, the Transfiguration takes place at Mount Tabor, one of the renowned mountains of Israel, just like Mount Moriah. At that time, as it was throughout the history and tradition of the people of Israel, mountains are sacred places of worship of the Divine, and the Lord was worshipped in those mountains. Just as Moses ascended up Mount Horeb when he first met the Lord in the burning bush, and later on, ascending Mount Sinai when he received the Ten Commandments and renewed the Covenant of God with Israel, and as the prophet Elijah also travelled to the same mountain to meet with God, thus appreciating the symbolism of Mount Moriah and Mount Tabor is very important for us to understand today’s Scripture passages.

When Abraham went up Mount Moriah, it was to offer Isaac to the Lord just as how the others at his time offer sacrifices on the mountains to the Divine. Now, when the Lord Jesus and His three disciples went up to Mount Tabor, none of those disciples could have predicted what they would witness at that mountain, when the Lord revealed the full truth about Himself as He unveiled His divinity before them, appearing in the fullness of His heavenly glory together with Moses and the prophet Elijah.

As the Lord appeared in His glory as the Son of God, Divine Word Incarnate before Moses and the prophet Elijah in the full sight of the three disciples, St. Peter, St. James and St. John, He was in fact revealing before all of them that He truly is not just a mere Son of Man, but also the Son of God Most High, the salvation of Israel and the Holy One of God, sent into the world in the flesh, God’s own Son given to us as the perfect gift of love, to redeem us and save us from the tyranny of sin and death, and to reconcile us all to Himself.

Here is where the connection between the sacrifice at Mount Moriah and the Lord Jesus came full circle, as later on, we know how the Lord would go on to pick up His Cross and go up the Mount Calvary just outside of Jerusalem during His Passion and suffering. This is significant because Mount Moriah was according to the tradition, located at where Jerusalem now stands, and therefore the offering of Isaac on Mount Moriah can indeed be compared directly to the offering of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, on Calvary in Jerusalem.

There we see the Lord Jesus, the Promised Saviour of Israel, the Son of God, Who just like Isaac, the promised son of Abraham, was tied and brought up to the mountain, bearing the wood of sacrifice, to build up the altar of the sacrifice, and for the Lord’s case, the Wood of the Cross is His Altar, the Altar of His sacrificial offering of love, where He, as the High Priest of all, offered Himself as the worthy offering for every single one of us, on the Altar of the Cross that day, when He suffered and died for us.

And that is the ultimate proof of God’s enduring love for us, His commitment to the Covenant that He has made with all of us, that has been renewed and made anew through His Son, Who offered Himself as the Mediator of this New Covenant and as the perfect and unblemished Paschal Lamb of sacrifice, offered for the atonement of all of our sins. His Most Precious Blood was spilled on the Altar of the Cross and hence, purified us who believe in Him from our sins and all the corruptions of those wickedness that have been enslaving us all these while.

What is also significant is how God saved Isaac from being sacrificed at Mount Moriah by telling Abraham to stop and provided a ram to replace Isaac for the sacrifice. This is an allusion to how Christ has become the Lamb of sacrifice Who went through the suffering and death instead of us, that He died on the Cross so that we may live and not perish because of all those sins. The Lord truly loves each and every one of us and wants nothing less than for us to be reconciled to Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what do we need to do then? First of all, as we heard in our Gospel passage today, when the three disciples of the Lord did not want to go away and down the mountain from the blissful experience they had on Mount Tabor, even suggesting to the Lord that three tents be made for Him, Moses and the prophet Elijah, the Lord reminded His disciples that it was not meant to be that way. He had to go through the suffering and the crucifixion in order to save all mankind. And the voice of the Father could be heard, telling the disciples to listen to His Son.

This means that all of us as Christians have also been called by God, called to listen to Him and to obey Him. We are called to follow the Lord and as He Himself said, to be His followers, we have to pick up our crosses and follow Him, which means that we should dedicate our lives and our actions, to serve Him and to do what He has willed for us and what He has called us all to do. And just as the Lord Himself has not held back giving us His own Son to be Our Saviour, to suffer and die for us on the Cross, then we should not hold back either on giving ourselves to Him.

Let us all be inspired by the faith that Abraham, our father in faith had in obeying God and in putting his full trust in the Lord, the Covenant that God had made with him and in the providence of His love. Let us all be ever more faithful to the Lord in this season of Lent, spending more time with God through prayer, listening to Him and understanding His will, dedicating ourselves ever more to His cause day by day through our own actions in life.

Are we willing to make the sacrifices and the commitment to follow the Lord wholeheartedly, brothers and sisters in Christ? The Lord has called us all to follow Him, and if He Himself has not held back in giving His all for us by giving us Christ to be our Redeemer, and if our forefather Abraham had not hesitated in giving even Isaac, his promised son and heir to the Lord when asked, then how about us? Are we willing to give our hundred percent to the Lord, beginning from now if we have not yet done so?

In this season of Lent therefore we are all called to be better Christians, not just in name but also in deed. This means that just as much as we dedicate ourselves to the Lord and be obedient to Him, we must then show love to our fellow brothers and sisters, our fellow neighbours and all those whom we encounter in life. We are all called to be more generous in giving, not just in giving of money and material help, but even more importantly in giving more of our time and attention to others, our generosity in love, care and compassion to those who need them.

We have to remember that whatever we do to the least of our brethren, to those who are in need, we are doing it for the love of God and for our love for our fellow men. This is the kind of faith that God wants from us, and this is the kind of fasting that the Lord also seeks from us, that we do not just fast from food or abstain from meat only, but even more importantly, fast from selfishness and greed, from self-importance and vanity, and abstain from all wickedness in thoughts and deeds, in exchange for true and genuine faith in the Lord.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all thus seek the Lord with all of our heart, with all of our might and redirect our attention back towards Him, with contrite heart and with regret for all of our many sins. Let us all be thankful that He has loved us all these while, caring for us and blessing us, being patient with us even as we continue to sin against us. He even sent us His own Son to be our Saviour, dying for us that by sharing in His death through our common humanity, we may share in His resurrection and enter into a new life and existence free from sin and filled with His grace.

May the Lord continue to guide us and help us, and may He empower us all to walk faithfully in His presence always. May all of us have a blessed and most fruitful time and season of Lent, that we may draw ever closer to God and find the path to His salvation and be worthy of Him. May God be with us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Saturday, 27 February 2021 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Gregory of Narek, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the words of the Scripture, we are reminded of the importance of obeying the Law and commandments of the Lord in our lives, to be obedient to God and to commit ourselves wholeheartedly to His cause. The Lord has called us all to follow Him and this is what we should be doing with our lives, to walk in His path faithfully and to do what He has asked us to do.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Book of Deuteronomy the account of the moment when Moses spoke to the people of Israel with regards to the Law and the Commandments that God has revealed to them through him. God has given His people those laws and commandments in order to help and guide the people in their path and journey that they may remain firm and faithful to the path that He has shown them and not fall instead to the false ways and the temptations of the world.

Moses reminded the people to obey the ways of the Lord and to keep faithfully His precepts within their hearts, to understand and appreciate what it means to be God’s beloved and chosen people, that is to be those whom God had favoured and blessed. God has established His Covenant with Abraham, their forefathers and their other ancestors, and thus, as part of the Covenant that God had made and subsequently renewed with them, the people of Israel had to keep the Law and the commandments faithfully.

However, as history showed it through the accounts of the Scripture and others, the people of Israel did not always remain faithful. They fell again and again into sinful ways, abandoning God for the comforts of life and the allures of pagan idols and gods, and they forsake the Law and the commandments which they and their ancestors had sworn to keep as part of the Covenant between God and them.

Yet, as we can see throughout the Scriptures in the Old Testament, the Lord did not give up on His people as He kept on sending messengers and prophets, one after another to remind the people and to help them in finding their path back towards Him. The Lord then sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour, to our midst to be the fulfilment of all the prophecies and the promises He has made, in saving those whom He loved, the sons and daughters of mankind.

And in our Gospel passage today we heard how the Lord told His disciples to show love to one another generously, especially towards those who have despised and been angry towards them, those who had persecuted them and made their lives difficult. The Lord wanted them all to show true love and generous charity, care and compassion towards one another, in the same way that He has loved them, for indeed, that is the true essence, meaning and purpose of the Law which He has imparted to all of them through Moses and the prophets.

Through the Lord and His revelation of truth, the waywardness of the people and all those who professed to follow the Law like many among the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had been exposed. Instead of just merely focusing on the superficial and the minute details of the Law and its many rules and regulations, but not understanding the true meaning and purpose of the Law, the Lord wanted all of us to be able to truly understand what His Law is all about, and ultimately how we can bring ourselves closer to Him through our true and wonderful obedience to His Law and commandments.

Many of our predecessors had not been faithful because they failed to understand that in order to have true and genuine faith in the Lord, we need to practice what we believe in within our own lives, to show the love we ought to have for God and to love Him just as He has loved us all these while. And the same love we should also show to our fellow brethren, to all those whom we encounter, and even, as the Lord Himself said, to show love to those who have not loved us and despised us. This is our calling as Christians, to be holy in life and to be exemplary in how we act towards one another.

And today we can also imitate the good examples set by St. Gregory of Narek, an Armenian saint and Abbot just recently elevated to the position of a Doctor of the Church by Pope Francis and inserted in the General Roman Calendar for celebration in the Universal Church. St. Gregory of Narek was renowned for his piety and great contributions to the faith in Armenia where he was a priest and abbot, especially for his works on the literature work of the Book of Lamentations, a great compilation of poetry and other literary expressions of the love for God.

St. Gregory of Narek also worked on other literary pieces of work, and he was renowned for his piety as well, which inspired so many people throughout history. He showed his love for God through his own unique way, and we too can follow in his dedication and desire to love God in our own way of life. Are we willing and able to commit ourselves to that, brothers and sisters in Christ? Let us all consider this carefully throughout this season of Lent so that we may make best use of this time to glorify the Lord anew through our lives.

May God bless us all and may He strengthen each and every one of us so that we may always persevere in faith despite all the challenges and the many temptations that we face daily in life. May God be with us all, now and always. Amen.

Friday, 26 February 2021 : 1st Week of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scripture we are called to reflect on what it means for us to be Christians, that is to be followers of Christ, Our Lord and Saviour. To be Christians mean that we are all called to action, to be truly righteous, good and just in our every actions and dealings, in our words and interactions with one another. Otherwise, we are no better than hypocrites that have no real faith in God.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Book of the prophet Ezekiel a very important and clear explanation of what it means for us to be a follower of the Lord and how our actions and choices in life can either be good or terrible for us, and all that we say and do, are all ultimately accountable to the Lord in the end. We shall be judged for all the good things we have done, just as we shall be judged for all the bad and the failures in our lives. All these will determine whether we will end up being with God for eternity or whether we will end up in eternal damnation.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the prophet Ezekiel spoke firmly of how the righteous, if they committed sins and wicked deeds, they shall be held accountable by those things, and they would even face damnation were those deeds be great enough to merit damnation and punishment. On the other hand, even the wicked would be saved and blessed by God should they commit their lives to the Lord and turned a new leaf, in embracing the Lord’s ways and rejecting their sinful past.

What does this mean, brothers and sisters in Christ? And how is this significant and important for us? It means that there is always a way out for us from sin, and that is through God’s grace and forgiveness. If we are sincere in our desire to repent and in our regrets for our many sins, and if we want to be forgiven by God for those sins, then we shall be forgiven. Otherwise, if we do not make the effort to seek God’s forgiveness and mercy, how can we then expect to be forgiven?

The Lord told His disciples in our Gospel passage today that they all had to be more faithful and more genuine in their faith and lives than the Pharisees, or else they could not enter into the kingdom of heaven. This comment and words were made with the context that the Pharisees at that time were mostly self-righteous in the way that they saw and perceived themselves, thinking that their piety and actions gave them the privileged status among the community.

Those Pharisees and teachers of the Law professed to be faithful and exemplary in the way they lived their lives and faith, however, they did not have a genuine love and dedication to the Lord. They loved themselves and were more concerned about their own standing and appearances, status and privileges rather than truly being faithful. They were more concerned with their own privileges and benefits rather than with the responsibility placed on their shoulders as the guide of the people.

That was why they showed little to no concern of the wellbeing of the people, especially those whom they should be on the lookout for. Instead, by burdening the people with harsh and strict laws and rules of the Law, they made it difficult for others to seek the Lord, and they also purposefully closed the doors to salvation to the people like tax collectors, the prostitutes and all those considered as the lowest and the worst of all. This was why the Lord was looking for all these people instead, to help and lead them on down the path towards eternal life.

That is why the Lord mentioned how the faithful need to be more faithful and dedicated than those Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, or else they would not be able to enter the kingdom of God. Linking this with the first reading from the Book of the prophet Ezekiel, we are reminded how even those who were considered and considering themselves as righteous could be dragged down by their own pride and vanity, their own greed and desire as what happened to the Pharisees, while those who were great sinners could be redeemed should they sincerely desire to repent and be forgiven, as what happened to many tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners touched by the Lord Jesus.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, through all of these we are reminded that each and every one of us must be truly faithful to God and must be filled with genuine and sincere love for Him, with the sincere and true desire to follow the Lord with all of our hearts. And we should not be proud with ourselves or looking down on others just because we think that we are better than them. On the contrary, we should inspire one another to be ever stronger in faith and to persevere through the challenges we may encounter in life.

May the Lord be our guide, and may He strengthen us all in our journey of faith so that as we progress through this blessed season and time of Lent, we may rediscover the love we have for God and we may grow ever more devoted to Him with each and every passing moments. Amen.

Thursday, 25 February 2021 : 1st Week of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we are all reminded of the power of God’s love and providence, and how fortunate we all truly are for having the Lord by our side, constantly loving us and providing for us, as He has also showed to all those who have been faithful to Him. And we only have to ask Him and seek Him for help, to put our trust in God and to have faith in Him and His providence.

In our first reading today, we heard of the prayer of Queen Esther of Persia asking for the Lord’s help and intervention for the sake of her people. Queen Esther herself was a Jew, and by the grace of God she was chosen out of many to be the Queen of Persia, then the mightiest power in the world. At that time, many of the descendants of the Israelites, the Jewish people, were scattered all across the lands of the Persian Empire, and some among them were living in the lands of the Persians, including Queen Esther and her relative, Mordechai.

Queen Esther sought God’s help because the enemies of the Jewish people, led by Haman the Agagite and his family plotted the downfall of the Jewish people, making use of Haman’s powerful position and connections, as well as the animosity and ill-feeling that many had against the Jewish people, as previous generations of Jews had been favoured by the rulers of Media and Persia, and therefore earned the ire and animosity of others. The prophet Daniel for example, had been challenged and encountered opposition from his enemies during his lifetime.

At that time, Haman and his plots managed to result in the king declaring solemnly in the irrevocable formal law of the land, for the destruction of the entire nation and people of the Israelite descent, for the Jewish people to be eradicated completely. And thus, the existence of the entire people of God was under dire threat at the time, and they had no one else to turn to but God. Mordechai, Queen Esther’s relative came to her asking for her help in the matter, and Esther therefore prepared herself to meet the king for the showdown.

Esther’s position was especially precarious because in doing so she would be disobeying her husband, the King. Her predecessor, Queen Vashti was deposed and exiled for precisely the same reason, for her refusal to obey the King and for acting contrary to the orders of the King. As she was not allowed to come to the King uninvited, to do so would be tantamount to her walking the same path as Queen Vashti, therefore risking her position, life and everything she had.

But Esther was ready to do it all for the Lord and for her people, and she asked for the courage, for strength and guidance to walk the path that she was about to take. And God did guide her and help her, with wisdom and strength, and the love that the King had for Esther prevailed, as together Esther and him managed to defeat and overturn Haman’s plots against the Jewish people, allowing the latter to fight back against all those who sought to destroy them.

As we can see here, and as reiterated clearly in our Gospel passage today, God truly is our loving Father Who cares for us and Who desires nothing else other than our own good. If only that we ask Him, seek Him and entrust ourselves to Him, then He shall give us what we need, He shall guide us and strengthen us with wisdom and proper guidance. Alas, many of us were often too impatient, or think that God does not listen to us simply because we thought that He did not grant us what we want and what we desire. But God gives what we truly need, and not what we wanted.

The question is, are we willing to trust the Lord and to entrust ourselves to Him? Are we willing to seek the Lord and to make the effort to find Him and to follow Him wherever He leads us to? Do we have the courage and the love of God, as well as the faith and dedication like that of Queen Esther? Esther has shown us all that if we trust the Lord and ask Him, He will surely provide for us, and we have nothing to fear at all. We may encounter challenges, trials and indeed, suffer a lot, but in the end, we shall be triumphant together with God.

Therefore, these days, as we navigate through the many challenges of life and the various trials we encounter in life, let us all renew our devotion to God, our faith and trust in Him. Let us all not be afraid to seek the Lord and ask Him for protection and guidance. And let us also trust Him when He leads us forth into the journey He has shown us. Let us all follow the Lord from now on and commit ourselves wholeheartedly to His path, now and always. Amen.

Wednesday, 24 February 2021 : 1st Week of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the words of the Scripture, we are presented with the great story of forgiveness from God as represented in the conversion of the city Nineveh, its humility and meekness before God, that they sought God’s mercy and they were spared the destruction that should have happened to them.

In our first reading today, we heard of the story of the time when the prophet Jonah was sent to the great city of Nineveh to proclaim God’s judgment and punishment over it, for their transgressions and many sins they have committed. The city of Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire and was a great and powerful city, rich and populous. However, their wickedness had also been a notorious one, and God sent Jonah to them to put them in their place.

Initially Jonah himself was also reluctant and did not want to follow the Lord’s orders, and he tried to flee far away from the Lord on a ship, only for the ship to be swept by a great storm, which only subsided and calmed when Jonah had himself thrown overboard by the shipmen. The Lord sent a great whale that took Jonah and brought him ashore, after which he dutifully carried out what the Lord had told him to do.

As we heard, when Jonah proclaimed God’s words before the people of Nineveh, the whole city, from the great king down to the lowest of the people all took notice and humbled themselves before God, declaring a period of mourning and sorrowful repentance hoping that God would spare them the destruction that He has revealed to them. God saw how the city of Nineveh and its people behaved, and how they were indeed sincere in seeking to be forgiven and to be spared from destruction.

And God withheld His anger and wrath, and forgave the people of Nineveh, sparing the city from the destruction that He had intended upon them earlier on. When Jonah became angry that God did not carry out what He had intended to do with the city of Nineveh, God told Jonah that ultimately, He loved all those people in Nineveh, all the multitudes of the one hundred and twenty thousands of all of them, without exception. Through this, God wants us to know that though we may be sinners, but He still loves us and wants us to be reconciled to Him.

In our Gospel passage today we heard of the same mention of what happened in Nineveh, and we heard of the mention of the Queen of the South, referring to the Queen of Sheba who came to Jerusalem to find king Solomon of Israel and listen to his wisdom and to see his greatness. Through this, we have seen how people from faraway, like from Sheba and from Nineveh, who have not yet listened to the Lord, and yet, chose to humble themselves and come to seek the Lord, to listen to Him and to follow His path.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, through what we have heard in today’s Scripture passage therefore, of the conversion of the city and people of Nineveh, and also as we heard in the Gospel passage today, of the Queen of the South, we are reminded of the great power and reach of God’s forgiveness and mercy. God has loved us so much that He has called us to be reconciled to Him and to be worthy once again to live in His presence. But are we willing to commit ourselves to Him, brothers and sisters? Are we willing to dedicate ourselves, our time and efforts to follow the Lord and to serve Him?

Let us all then make good use of this time and opportunity given to us in this season of Lent, that we may come to a better and holier life, to a more faithful existence in God. Let us all make the conscious effort to seek the Lord and to ask Him for His forgiveness and mercy just as the people of Nineveh had once done, and to seek His wisdom as the Queen of the South once sought the wisdom of Solomon. Let us all sin no more, and delay no further, doing whatever we can to make good use of the chances given to us that we may find the fullness of grace in God.

May God be with us always and may He guide all of us that in all and everything we do, say and act, we may always bring glory to His Name and that we will always strive to be His true disciple. May all of us be good examples to one another so that by our faith we may receive the gift of everlasting and true joy, and eternal life together with the Lord, our living God. Amen.

Tuesday, 23 February 2021 : 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 as we listened to the words of the Scripture, we are reminded of God’s amazing and most wonderful love by which He generously cared for us and provided for us and our needs. He has loved us all as a father loves all of his children, and to that extent, He has given us the assurance of true happiness and eternal joy through His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is our Lord and Saviour.

And in our first reading today from the Book of the prophet Isaiah we heard the prophecy of the coming of Christ, Who is indeed the very Word of God mentioned in that passage of the prophet Isaiah. The prophet spoke of the Lord sending His Word into the world and how the Word would not return to Him before He has done the will of His heavenly Father, which is to bring about the salvation to all peoples of all the nations. The Lord sent His Son to reveal to us His most wonderful mercy and love, and to gather us all in, as a Shepherd gathering all of the lost sheep.

And thus, we have seen the glory and love of God revealed to us through Christ, the Son of God and the Divine Word Incarnate, Who by assuming our humble human nature and existence, united us to Himself, and by sharing in our humanity, has made us all the adopted sons and daughters of God, our heavenly Father. Just as Christ is the Son of God, and as the Son of Man is like a brother to us, that we have shared in the relationship that He has with His Father in heaven, and thus, become those whom God had favoured and called to be His own ones.

And gathering us all in, the Lord Jesus also taught us what it means for us to be a true disciple and a follower of His, to be devoted to God, His laws, ways and commandments. Then, in our Gospel passage today, we heard the Lord speaking to His disciples and teaching them all how to pray to their heavenly Father, to the Lord, their God. This is the prayer that we now know as the Lord’s Prayer, being taught by the Lord Himself, or the Pater Noster in various languages, which means ‘Our Father’.

Through the prayer that the Lord taught us, He wanted to teach us that to pray is for us to speak, communicate and interact with our own beloved Father, the One Who had loved us so much. And the essence of prayer is one of communication and the willingness to engage in a meaningful conversation and spending time with God, to praise Him and to thank Him for all the wonderful things that He had done for us, and to seek His forgiveness for our many faults and wrongdoings.

All these were contained in the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer that is all of thanksgiving, petition, glorification of God and communication all in one. Through that prayer, the Lord Jesus wanted to teach us to pray in the right way, not to pray as if we are seeking for things to magically and miraculously happen to us by asking the Lord to do things for us. The Lord is not a miracle granter or wish granter that we can just ask for something or even worse still, demand for something.

And with this, brothers and sisters in Christ, we are all reminded and asked to reflect on our own faith and lives thus far. Have our way of life thus far been truly reflective of true Christian discipleship? Have we had a good and healthy relationship with the Lord, a regular life of prayer and constant communication with God? Or have we allowed our faith to wither and go to waste, to remain idle and lacking in genuine commitment to love the Lord?

Have we remembered God only in times of desperation and great need, brothers and sisters in Christ? Or have we consistently and constantly been making the effort to strengthen our relationship with Him through prayer and charity, by listening to Him in the depth of our hearts and in speaking to Him, to know what it is that He has been calling us to do with our lives? Today we are all called to reflect on this carefully as we discern how to move forward in life.

As we progress through the season of Lent, we have been given this excellent opportunity to reevaluate our lives and to reconsider how our way of living our Christian faith has been. Are we willing to commit ourselves anew to the Lord, by deepening our spiritual existence through prayer, through generosity and charity in all of our dealings in life? Today we are all called to follow the examples of one of our holy predecessors in faith, namely that of St. Polycarp, in how he had lived his life virtuously and courageously.

St. Polycarp was one of the early Church fathers and the Bishop of Smyrna in Asia Minor, renowned for his links to the early leaders of the Church such as St. John the Apostle, who was still alive during the lifetime of St. Polycarp, as well as St. Ignatius of Antioch, the successor of St. Peter in the important See of Antioch. St. Polycarp himself was also remembered for his interactions with the then Pope and Bishop of Rome, Pope St. Anicetus, for his writings and correspondences with other bishops in the region.

Then, St. Polycarp was remembered for his courageous faith and defence of his beliefs in martyrdom, when he in his old age he was martyred for refusing to offer sacrifices to the Roman Emperor under the pain of suffering and death. He remained firm and resolute in staying true to his conviction and dedication to the Lord to the very end, and his example in faith inspired many others who came after him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore be inspired by the same courage and faith showed by St. Polycarp, in all that he had done for the sake of the Church and the faithful. Let us all seek the Lord with a renewed faith and zeal, and strive to dedicate ourselves to glorify the Lord by our lives, through our actions and deeds in life. Let us all deepen our relationship with the Lord, and let us be ever better Christians in life, making best use of this season of Lent to bring ourselves ever closer to God, to be His beloved and worthy children.

May God bless us always, and may He strengthen our faith and may He guide us all to the path to eternal life, true happiness and joy with Him. May God be with us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

Monday, 22 February 2021 : Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle, celebrating with the entire Universal Church the Primacy and Authority of St. Peter as the Vicar of Christ and the representative of the Head of the Church, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Today we focus our attention on the centrality of the role of St. Peter and his successors, the Popes, in the governance and leadership of the entire Church.

We may find it weird that we are celebrating the feast on a ‘Chair’ but the meaning and significance of the ‘Chair of St. Peter’ are in fact very great if we understand fully the importance of chair in the matter of governance and leadership, especially in the context of the early Christians. Chair is often the symbol and visible sign and proof of authority, the seat of the leader and the physical proof of the authority the leader held over the group he was in charge of.

For example, Pontius Pilate, as the Roman Procurator or Governor of Judea has his judgment seat, called the Gabbatha, when he was about to proclaim judgment on the case of the Lord during His Passion. It was from that seat that Pontius Pilate, representing the Roman Emperor, proclaimed his judgment that the Lord Jesus was to be condemned to death and be crucified.

The High Priests of old and other leaders also had their seats of authority, and for the kings and lords, these are called thrones, and even up to this day, thrones are symbol of the monarchical, royal and governmental power. Similarly therefore, for the bishops of the Church, their authority and power, entrusted to them by the Lord, are represented by their ‘seat of authority’, called the Cathedra. And aptly, the church where this Cathedra is located at, is called the Cathedral, the heart of the bishop’s diocese and the mother of all the churches in the diocese.

Therefore, that seat of the bishop symbolises not just the authority of the bishop over his diocese, but also the unity of the whole local Church and the Christian community to the bishop and therefore to the Universal Church, as then symbolises by the Chair of St. Peter, the Seat of the Pope as the Successor of St. Peter and the Vicar of Christ, as the leader of the entire Universal Church, the whole One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

By this virtue, the Pope has been entrusted with the care of the whole community of the faithful, to safeguard the truth and the teachings of the Lord, His commandments and laws as passed down faithfully through the generations. He also spoke with the authority of the Lord, as we have heard from our first reading today, in the Epistle of St. Peter, in which St. Peter spoke exhorting the bishops and leaders of the Church to be responsible and faithful in the exercise of their mission.

St. Peter reminded the bishops, then known as elders and overseers in the earliest days of the Church, that they ought to be exemplary in their conduct and faith, so that by their faith and obedience to God, they might be faithful and be good examples for their flock, helping and leading them down the right path towards God. Otherwise, they would be leading them down the wrong path, and then, much blame will be on them.

That is why some Church traditions held that the famous St. John Chrysostom, the Doctor of the Church and one of the most influential Church fathers, himself also a bishop of the Church, spoke of how the road to hell is paved with the skulls and bones of errant and terrible priests and especially bishops who led the faithful astray down the wrong path, either through their own immoral and unfaithful life, or through false teachings and ideas.

Today, all of us are called to pray for our bishops, as well as our priests, and first and foremost of all, for our Pope, the successor of St. Peter, that in the heavy responsibilities they held, they might remain strong in faith, and firm in their conviction and their beliefs, so as not to be overwhelmed by the many temptations and pressures surrounding them, or be swayed by false teachings and ideas that can lead them astray, and then lead all the flock astray as well.

Let us all give them our prayers, our support and love, brothers and sisters in Christ, that our Pope first of all, then the other bishops may imitate the faith and examples of St. Peter, whose faith in the Lord was unwavering to the end, and whose humility was indeed exemplary. Although St. Peter himself did make mistakes and famously denied the Lord three times, but in his imperfections, he remained filled with love for God, and was genuinely remorseful for his actions.

The kind of courage and faith, the genuine love that St. Peter had in loving God, in declaring His faith and dedication to the Lord, is something that all of us Christians should also have, and are especially important for the leaders of the Church, the shepherds entrusted with the care of the faithful. Therefore, as we celebrate together this Feast of Chair of St. Peter the Apostle, let us all renew our support and obedience to the Magisterium of the Church in our Pope and the bishops, and especially to our Pope, Francis, as the successor of St. Peter and the Vicar of Christ.

May the Lord continue to bless the Church, our Pope and the bishops, our own respective diocesan bishops and all others entrusted with the positions of leadership within the Church, that He will continue to guide them and protect them, and give them the wisdom and strength to lead and guide, to show the way to us, the flock of the Lord, that together as one Church, we may come to the Lord’s salvation, grace and eternal glory with Him. Amen.