Saturday, 25 November 2017 : 33rd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

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

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to two stories, one from the Book of the Maccabees, where we listened to the continuation of the tale of the struggle of the Jewish people who were faithful to the Law of God against the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, and then in the Gospel we heard of the argument that arose between the Sadducees and Our Lord Jesus regarding the belief in the resurrection from the dead and the afterlife.

In the first reading, we heard about what happened to king Antiochus IV Epiphanes during the time of the Maccabees rebellion. According to history, the Seleucid king was a man who sought to reclaim the lost glory of his ancestors, and that was why, if we read the Book of the Maccabees, he attacked Egypt, a rival kingdom at the beginning of the first book of the Maccabees. His initiatives to unite his kingdom under one worship of the Greek pagan gods were likely also part of this effort.

Yet, in the end, we heard of how the faithful Jews under the leadership of the Maccabees family managed to overturn the king’s orders and undid all the abominable and wicked deeds he had committed. And then, he also failed in his effort to gain for himself more power, through worldly efforts, and he then laid dying. And in the first reading today, we heard of the regret which the king had as he laid dying, failing in many of the things he had wanted to do.

This will be relevant to what we heard in the Gospel passage today, but let me briefly go through the historical perspective linking the Scripture readings today. Ever since the time of the Seleucid persecution of the Jews, the Jewish society has been polarised into two groups, one of which proposed close collaboration with the king, abandoning the laws and customs of their ancestors, namely the Hellenic party. Meanwhile, the others, represented by the Maccabees, opposed the king and wanted to remain true to the laws and customs of Moses.

Eventually, even after the defeat of the Seleucids, this division would continue on to the time of Jesus, and this we see throughout the Gospels, two prominent major groups, one of which is the Pharisees, who are the ones inheriting the thoughts and ways of the Maccabees, holding tightly to the customs and laws of Moses. This is also why the Lord Jesus encountered so much trouble from the Pharisees, because the Pharisees misunderstood and misjudged the Lord’s intent, and saw Him as a rival and dangerous influence on the people.

Then, how about the Sadducees? The Sadducees had similar mindset as the Hellenised Jews, who was the rather worldly and practical group of people, who did not believe in many aspects of the faith of the Jews at the time. They rejected concepts such as the afterlife, spirits, Angels, heaven, and all other spiritual things that their worldly senses could not perceive. They were people who were rich and influential in the society, and enjoyed plenty of benefits and goodness from the world.

They were against the Lord and His teachings, especially because He kept on mentioning about the resurrection of the dead, which the Sadducees firmly refused to believe in, as with any other spiritual matters. The Sadducees were very practical and worldly in their views, and as a result, today in the Gospel we heard how they argued heatedly with Jesus about the resurrection, using the example of a woman who had seven husbands who died, and asked Him who was the man that the woman would be wife to.

They thought in worldly terms and treasured the worldly things they possess over anything else. That is why they did not believe in anything beyond death, because to them, death is a truly horrible thing that all people had to endure, and it separated them from what they loved, all wealth, prestige, fame and worldly glory they had attained. And the Lord Jesus spoke of exactly what they despised, as He taught the people that they must not seek for themselves treasures in this world, but instead build for themselves treasures in heaven.

The Lord rebuked the Sadducees and showed them that the way of this world is different from the ways of the Lord, and what seems to be common and acceptable to the world may not be what is acceptable for the Lord. They put their trust in man’s power and abilities, and yet, none of these will be available to them, at the time when they are to meet with their Lord and give an account of their lives, unless they have been faithful and done what the Lord has commanded them to do.

Linking this to what we have heard in the first reading today, we remembered how all the plans of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes came to ruin and bore nothing, despite all of his power and riches, all of his fame and glory, and despite all the means by which he had assembled for himself a great majesty and greatness among the other kings. In the end, he had to remember his own mortality, that he is just a mere man, a creation of God, who would have to render an account of his life to God.

Today, we celebrate also the feast of St. Catherine of Alexandria, a holy woman and virgin, who dedicated her life to the Lord. She lived during difficult time in the history of the Church, when the Roman Emperor Diocletian persecuted the faithful and the Church greatly, and many suffered and died. St. Catherine of Alexandria was known for her intellect and great beauty, so much so, that it was told that her beauty captivated the Roman Emperor’s attention.

Her wisdom inspired by God was such that no matter what the Emperor tried to do, he could not overcome her great intellect, and was soundly defeated in the debates regarding the faith. And no amount of persuasion or worldly riches, as it was told in some accounts that the Emperor wished to marry her, was able to turn St. Catherine from her faith in God. She remained steadfast in faith to the very end, towards her martyrdom.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore, let us today spend some time to reflect on our own lives. Have we thus far been spending too much time trying to gain for ourselves a great standing, fame, recognition, wealth and satisfaction from the world? Or have we instead been active in building up for ourselves the true treasures in God? What does this mean? That means, have we been spending some time amidst our busy daily schedules, in order to show love and care for our fellow brethren, instead of just being so focused and distracted with our own needs and wants?

Let us ponder on this matter even as we move forward in life. Let us waste no more time in trying to reach out to the Lord and His salvation. May the Lord be our Guide on our way towards His everlasting glory, that each and every one of us as Christians may be able to do our best in our lives, what the Lord wants each one of us to do, by being truly faithful to Him, loving Him and placing Him at the centre of our lives, and then, by loving one another as well. May God bless us all. Amen.