Wednesday, 1 July 2015 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day, we heard the readings from the Book of Genesis, telling us how the son of Abraham by his slave, Hagar, was banished together with his mother, the slave Hagar, as there was only one place for the promise of God which would be fulfilled, that is through Isaac, the son of Abraham and his wife, Sarah.

It may be somewhat confusing, given that we may ask why the Lord was so cruel to this young son of Abraham, Ishmael, who was cast out together with his mother, Hagar into the desert to fend off on their own. However, if we read the passages more carefully, we should notice how God cared for them and loved them too, giving them means to survive and live on their own, promising even that the sons of Ishmael would become great nations on their own.

What would be more significant was that the two sons of Abraham by different mothers would represent two different covenants and traditions, a fact which St. Paul himself had noted and stated in his epistles. There had indeed been two covenants, one that was the former covenant, which God had established with Abraham and his descendants, while the other covenant dealt with the covenant that our Lord Jesus Christ Himself established through His death on the cross, the New covenant and promise of God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the banishing of the older son of Abraham represented the banishing of the old order, the old covenant that no longer had power and authority, for it had been superseded by the new covenant which God established through Jesus our Lord, by His suffering and death on the cross. The older son of Abraham also represented by the men possessed by the demons in Gadara, for yet another interpretation of its meaning.

Just as God allowed Ishmael to live for a time with Isaac before he was banished, thus the same also applied to the demons who inhabited the men before they were cast out. They were asking Jesus why He came to torture and destroy them before their time came. The dominion of the demons, Satan and all of his angels over us came about because of our sins, and because we have sinned, then we fell under the tyranny of Satan and his angels, through our sins.

And the time which the demons mentioned, was the time of reckoning, when God would reclaim all those who have been lost to Him and reclaim them for His glory. This time would come at the end of time, when God would cast down Satan and his fellow fallen angels, together with all those who have rejected His salvation, into the eternal suffering and destruction in hellfire.

Those of us who believe in the Lord, have accepted Him in the covenant which He had brought to us, the new covenant of our Lord Jesus Christ. No longer would we be under the old covenant which had been broken by our own sinfulness and rebelliousness, represented by the banishment of Ishmael, but we are now the partakers of the Lord’s new covenant which He established with us by His death on the cross.

And therefore, the blessing of God comes to us who belong to this covenant, and the grace of God fills us to the brim, just as God blessed Abraham and his descendants through Isaac. This new covenant has been fulfilled in has and sealed with the Blood and Sacrifice of our Lord. The wholeness of its rich gifts and blessings will be ours, if we keep our end of the covenant, that is by being faithful to the Lord our God.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all be partakers of the new covenant which our Lord had established with us with His love. Let us all receive the fullness of God’s love and grace, which He offers freely to all those who keep His Law and commandments, and therefore keep their end of the covenant alive and strong. May God bless us all and keep us in faith to Him. God be with us all now and forever. Amen.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Matthew 8 : 28-34

At that time, when Jesus reached Gadara, on the other side, He was met by two men, possessed by devils, who came out from the tombs. They were so fierce that no one dared to pass that way. Suddenly they shouted, “What do You want with us, You, Son of God? Have You come to torture us before the time?”

At some distance away there was a large herd of pigs feeding. So the demons begged Him, “If You drive us out, send us into that herd of pigs.” Jesus ordered them, “Go!” So the demons left and went into the pigs. The whole herd rushed down the cliff into the lake and drowned.

The men in charge of them ran off to the town, where they told the whole story, also what had happened to the men possessed with the demons. Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus; and when they saw Him, they begged Him to leave their area.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Psalm 33 : 7-8, 10-11, 12-13

When the poor cry out, the Lord hears and saves them from distress. The Lord’s angel encamps and patrols to keep safe those who fear Him.

Revere the Lord, all you His saints, for those who fear Him do not live in want. The mighty may be hungry and in need, but those who seek the Lord lack nothing.

Come, listen to me, my children; I will show you how to fear the Lord. If you desire long life, if you want to enjoy prosperity.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Genesis 21 : 5, 8-20

Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. The child grew and on the day Isaac was weaned, Abraham held a great feast. Sarah saw the child that Hagar, the Egyptian had borne to Abraham, mocking her son and she said to Abraham, “Send this slave girl and her son away; the child of this slave must not share the inheritance with my son, Isaac.”

This matter distressed Abraham because it concerned his son, but God said to him, “Do not be worried about the boy and your maidservant. Listen to Sarah and do whatever she says, because the race which is called by your name will spring from Isaac. But from the son of your servant I will also form a nation, for he too is your offspring.”

Abraham rose early next morning and gave bread and a skin bag of water to Hagar. He put the child on her back and sent her away. She went off and wandered in the desert of Beersheba. When there was no more water in the skin, she pushed the boy under one of the bushes, and then went and sat down about a hundred yards away, for she thought, “I cannot bear to see my son die.”

But as she sat there, the child began to wail. God heard him and the Angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid. God has heard the boy crying. Get up, pick the boy up and hold him safely, for I will make him into a great nation.”

God then opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went and filled the skin and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy. He grew up and made his home in the wilderness and became an expert archer.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day the Church celebrates and commemorates the memory of its first martyrs, the first ones who shed their blood and lives for the sake of the Faith, and for the sake of the Lord. Today is a reminder to all of us, that our faith in God requires not just passivity and lip service, but real dedication and commitment, for all the challenges that we will encounter as part of our faith journey.

In the first reading, we heard about the famous destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, two cities infamous for their immorality and vice, where all their people were filled to the brim with sin and wickedness. God punished them all because they did not repent and change their ways, and they were destroyed and banished from the face of the earth forever, to suffer eternal punishment for their sins.

But God showed mercy on Lot and his family, who were the only ones to be found worthy from all the people in the two cities. They were rescued by the angels who led them out of danger into safety. Lot and his family had been persecuted for their righteous ways, and for sheltering the strangers who were truly angels, whom the sinful people in their lust desired to take upon themselves in sexual perversion.

In the Gospel, we see a parallel with Jesus and His disciples who were travelling through a great storm, and the boat was being rocked greatly by the wind and the waves, that the disciples feared that it would sink with them. They feared because they had little faith and Jesus rebuked them for their lack of faith. Jesus showed His power and authority, calming the storm before His disciples.

How does all these relate to what we celebrate today? It is because we have to remember the fact that this world and all its ways are diametrically opposite to that of the ways of our Lord. And Jesus Himself warned His disciples that the world that had rejected Him, will also reject and persecute His disciples and followers. And hence, so many of the faithful had been martyred throughout the ages, since the very beginning of the Church until now.

And what we heard in the readings today are our natural reactions to such difficulties, sufferings and persecutions. Like the disciples who were afraid of the storm, representing our challenges and the temptations of the world, we too have fear in our hearts, uncertainty and doubt. There are indeed times when we lack faith in God, and not understanding that He has the power to save us, we resort to methods to preserve ourselves, but more often than not, causing us to sink deeper into the troubles.

And we also often act like Lot’s wife, who turned and looked back at the city that was burning and being destroyed by the Lord, and she turned into a pillar of salt for her disobedience and inability to detach herself from the city. For it was likely that she enjoyed the life she had in the city of Sodom and Gomorrah, and running away into the wilderness seemed for her to be a path to uncertainty.

It is therefore her desire and her inability to part with that desire which led to her undoing, and the same also applies to us as well. We ought to therefore learn from the examples of the martyrs in this regard. They were offered the good offers of safety and goodness in the world, and they were offered good prestige and fame in the world, if only that they would abandon their faith in their God.

But they refused, for they knew that to do so would mean accepting temporary joy and happiness that do not last, and condemn themselves to an eternity of suffering, of having been separated from God. They persevered, and although they suffered, they received great consolation and the promise of eternal life which God had promised to all of us who are faithful. Their examples spurred many others to follow in their footsteps.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all follow the examples of the first martyrs and the other martyrs of the Church, those who have defended their faith in the Lord to the very end. May Almighty God bless us with faith and be with us always. Amen.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Matthew 8 : 23-27

At that time, Jesus got into the boat and His disciples followed Him. Without warning a fierce storm hit the lake, with waves sweeping the boat. But Jesus was asleep.

They woke Him and cried, “Lord save us! We are lost!” But Jesus answered, “Why are you so afraid, you of little faith?” Then He stood up and rebuked the wind and sea; and it became completely calm. The disciples were astonished. They said, “What kind of Man is He? Even the winds and the sea obey Him.”

Tuesday, 30 June 2015 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Psalm 25 : 2-3, 9-10, 11-12

Prove me, o Lord, put me to the test; examine my soul and my heart. For Your love is ever before my eyes, and I live in truth and faithfulness.

Let me not share the fate of sinners, nor lose my life with the violent; their hands are guilty of crimes, their right hands are weighed down with bribes.

But I will walk in integrity, redeem me, o God, be gracious to me. My foot stands firm in the straight path, I will praise You, o Lord, in Your assemblies.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Genesis 19 : 15-29

At daybreak, the Angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and two daughters who are here, lest they perish because of the sin of the town.” As he hesitated, the men took him by the hand and his wife and two daughters with him, because YHVH had mercy on him. And they led him outside the town.

When they were outside, the men said to him, “Flee for your life and do not look back and do not stop anywhere in the plain. Flee to the mountain lest you perish.” But Lot replied, “My lords, your servant has found favour with you, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life.”

“But I cannot flee to the mountains for fear the disaster will overtake me and I die. See, there is a town near enough for me to flee to and it is a small one. Let me flee there : it is very small (that is why the town is called Zoar). So I will be safe.” And the angel answered, “I grant you this favour as well by not destroying the town you speak of. But flee fast for I can do nothing until you arrive there.”

The sun had risen on the earth when Lot reached Zoar. Then YHVH rained on Sodom and Gomorrah burning sulfur out of the heavens from YHVH, and He completely destroyed those towns and all the valley and all the inhabitants of the towns and everything that grew there.

Lot’s wife looked back and she became a pillar of salt. Early next morning Abraham returned to the place where he had stood before YHVH. He looked towards Sodom and Gomorrah and towards all the land of the valley and he saw smoke rising from the earth like the smoke from a furnace.

So when God destroyed the towns of the plain He remembered Abraham and made Lot escape from the catastrophe while He destroyed the cities where Lot had lived.

Monday, 29 June 2015 : Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostle, Great Feast of the Church of Rome (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day and great occasion, we celebrate together the grand solemnity of the two principal Apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, the two main pillars of the Church, namely St. Peter the Apostle, Chief and Prince of all the Apostles, the Vicar of Christ on earth and the sole Leader of the entire Universal Church, as the leader of all the faithful in the Church of God, and then also St. Paul the Apostle, the Apostle to the Gentiles and the great evangeliser, whose many letters or epistles form the bulk of the New Testament.

Why do we celebrate these two saints greatly? What is so important from them? That is because it is firstly through St. Peter that God had established His one and only Church, which encompasses all of the faithful, which He built on the firm foundation of the rock of faith, which is St. Peter, as symbolised by his name, Peter or Petrus or Cephas, which literally means ‘rock’.

And then God had also called St. Paul to be one of His great servants, that through him the testimony of faith might be sounded loud and clear, of the conversion of one who was once a great enemy of God and His faithful ones, by the impatience and mistaken zeal of youth, to be one who then courageously and ceaselessly proclaiming the truth about God to all the peoples, Jews and Gentiles alike.

These two great Apostles ended up in Rome at the end of their lives and missions, and it was where they met their martyrdom, defending their faith in God even if that meant losing their lives. They stood bravely and courageously as the leaders of the Church, even until the end. St. Peter was crucified upside down, because he thought himself as unworthy to die in the same manner as his Lord and God, while St. Paul was beheaded with an axe.

Rome was the capital of the Roman Empire, essentially the centre and heart of the world at the time, and it was there that St. Peter made his seat as bishop and leader of the Universal Church. It was as the Bishop of Rome that St. Peter consolidated the Church, and through his successors, all of the Popes throughout the ages until our current Pope, the Successors of St. Peter continued the works of God as His vicar on earth, the supreme leader of all the faithful representing Christ Himself as His vicegerent on earth.

And St. Paul concluded his many mission trips and journeys at Rome, and through his martyrdom together with that of St. Peter, they became the pillars and cornerstones of the Church. And even though they had gone before us, but their legacy continues with their successors, the Popes who led the faithful both in Rome and throughout the entire Church, leading them on the right path towards the Lord.

But if we look at these two great saints, we may think that they were some kind of superhuman and men beyond ordinary. We may have this prejudice and concept in mind thinking that what they have done was because they were great, powerful, mighty in things they have done, and we cannot be like them or emulate them, and instead only be awed by their works. This is a misconception all of us ought to erase from now on if we have it with us. God does not call great people to be saints, but ordinary people to be great saints!

God chose His servants and His beloved ones from among ordinary people, with all of their ordinary faults and weaknesses, just as they had their respective strengths. We have to realise that everyone makes mistakes, and that no one is perfect and without blemish, except that of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. All of us are bound to make mistakes at one point or another in our lives.

For example, when God spoke of establishing His Church on the firm foundation of the rock of faith that is the faith of St. Peter, was his faith such that it was extraordinary beyond belief? No, it was not. In fact, all of us should be familiar with the fact that St. Peter had denied Jesus three times during His Passion even after he had promised and vowed to Him that he will defend Him to the death.

And we also know that St. Paul was once a great enemy and persecutor of the Church, who persecuted countless hundreds and thousands, handing men, women and children over to be tortured and into suffering for their faith in God. Certainly, we may be wondering why God chose these men to be His Apostles. Why did He choose all of these ‘weak’ people?

That is because what they did afterwards that mattered. Although St. Peter wavered in his faith, but deep in his heart lies a greater love for God, a devotion that is stronger than many others, trapped under layers of fear, indecisiveness and guilt, which were therefore unable to emerge until the time when the Lord sent the Holy Spirit to affirm him.

It was the transformation that was truly amazing, and an example to us all. From a disciple riddled with fear and uncertainty, St. Peter became a vocal defender of the faith, a courageous and tireless leader of the faithful, and St. Paul was called, and turned around into a whole new life, from a persecutor of the faithful into their greatest defender and champion.

Today there are indeed two reminders for us, that all of us the members of the Lord’s one and only Universal Church are united as one, to the leadership of the Apostles, chief of whom is St. Peter, the foundation stone of the Lord’s Church, Vicar of His Presence in this world, which continues today through the Pope, our Leader. And also by the martyrdom of both St. Peter and St. Paul we are united in the blood of martyrs, for the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.

And then, secondly, God did not call extraordinary people to do His will. Rather, He calls us all sinful and weak men, and changing us to be great tools of His will, doing great things through our actions. He calls us to be new Apostles and disciples of this age, to continue the good works that He had begun long ago. There are still many people whose faith is weak and there are many more who still have yet to hear and witness the word of God.

It is therefore our duty and responsibility as members of the Church, to go forth and follow in the footsteps of the Apostles, especially that of St. Peter and St. Paul, to call many people to come to the Holy Presence of God, that they may repent, change their ways and walk thereafter in the way of the Lord and be saved. May this be what we are to do in our lives, from now on and forever. God bless us all. Amen.

Monday, 29 June 2015 : Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostle, Great Feast of the Church of Rome (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Matthew 16 : 13-19

At that time, Jesus came to Caesarea Philippi. He asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They said, “For some of them You are John the Baptist, for others Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”

Jesus asked them, “But you, who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “It is well for you, Simon Bar-Jona, for it is not flesh or blood that has revealed this to you, but My Father in heaven.”

“And now I say to you : You are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church; and never will the powers of death overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven : whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you unbind on earth shall be unbound in heaven.”