Friday, 9 February 2018 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Mark 7 : 31-37

At that time, again Jesus set out : from the country of Tyre He passed through Sidon and, skirting the sea of Galilee, He came to the territory of Decapolis. There, a deaf man, who also had difficulty in speaking, was brought to Him. They asked Jesus to lay His hand upon him.

Jesus took him apart from the crowd, and put His fingers into the man’s ears, and touched his tongue with spittle. Then, looking up to heaven, He said with a deep sigh, “Ephphata!” that is, “Be opened!”

And immediately, his ears were opened, his tongue was loosened, and he began to speak clearly. Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about it; but the more He insisted, the more they proclaimed it. The people were completely astonished and said, “He has done all things well; He makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.”

Friday, 9 February 2018 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Psalm 80 : 10-11ab, 12-13, 14-15

There shall be no strange god among you, you shall not worship any alien god, for I, YHVH, am your God.

But My people did not listen; Israel did not obey. So I gave them over to their stubbornness and they followed their own counsels.

If only My people would listen, if only Israel would walk in My ways, I would quickly subdue their adversaries and turn My hand against their enemies.

Friday, 9 February 2018 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

1 Kings 11 : 29-32 and 1 Kings 12 : 19

Once, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah of Shiloh found him on the road. The two of them were alone in the open country when Ahijah, who had a new garment on, clutched and tore it into twelve pieces.

He then said to Jeroboam, “Take ten pieces for yourself for this is the word of YHVH, the God of Israel : ‘I am about to tear the kingdom from Solomon’s hands to give you ten tribes. Only one tribe shall be left to him for the sake of My servant David and Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel.’”

So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to the present time.

Thursday, 8 February 2018 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Jerome Emiliani, and St. Josephine Bakhita, Virgin (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saints and Virgins)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we began our Scripture reflections with the story from the Book of Kings, telling us about how Solomon, the mighty and great king of Israel and son of king David, another famous king of Israel, fell from grace and fell into sin, due to his weakness and submission to the many demands of his wives and concubines, giving in to the temptations of the flesh, as well as the temptations of human pride and worldly greed.

He turned away from God and became enslaved to sin, and therefore, God withdrew from Solomon and from his descendants, the promise of glory and well-being which He has promised them. That is because they had not been faithful to their part of the Covenant which they made with God Himself. Rather than putting their trust in God, they had allowed Satan to enslave them and to rule over them through sin.

In the Gospel passage today, we heard of a different story, about a woman who came to Jesus begging for Him to heal her daughter who was beset by demons and evil spirits. The woman’s daughter suffered terribly under the enslavement of the evil spirits, and as such, the mother also suffered greatly as well. Knowing and indeed, believing that the Lord Jesus alone was able to help her and her daughter, the woman came to Him.

But the Lord was reluctant to help her, telling her that it was not right for Him to throw the bread intended for the children to eat, to the dogs to be eaten by them. What did He mean by this? It means that as at that time, the common belief was that the Messiah came only to save the people of Israel, then Jesus Who is the Messiah should not have dealt with non-Jewish people, including the woman who was a Syro-Phoenician woman.

Yet the woman persevered in her faith and commitment to see her daughter healed from her condition, and humbled herself such before God that she did not mind to accept what the Lord said to her, even though it might have sounded very insulting and demeaning to her. But in truth, the Lord did not mean to disrespect her, rather to show to all the people, having known what she would say to Him, that even among the non-Jewish people there was such a great faith.

We can see the contrast here, firstly of the famous king of Israel, Solomon, who willingly embraced the devil and his temptations to sin, going from a free state of being a son of God in good graces, into a state of slavery, because sin is indeed the enslavement of our souls under the forces of sin and evil. Then we see the contrast between that and the faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman, whose daughter was enslaved and wanted her to be freed from such slavery, and thus, begged the Lord to do so.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to reflect on ourselves and our lives as we internalise what we have heard from the Scripture passages today. We mankind have fallen into sin because of our failure to obey the Lord and His commandments, and we preferred to follow the rebellious ways of the devil, who thus enslaved us through sin and death ruled over us because of those sins.

Yet, throughout history, many of us have ended up like Solomon, failing to resist the temptations and the urges to sin, which are the stumbling blocks put in place by the devil, meant to be our downfall. We voluntarily enslave ourselves once again to sin, even though as we know, the Lord has liberated us all from sin, by His death on the cross. I am sure we can see just how ironic our actions sound like, when we come to think of it.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to be free, and indeed, desire strongly to be free, for unless our souls and our whole being are free from sin, we will still be enslaved to sin, and thus, in danger of eternal damnation. We need to take the concrete steps and make the conscious efforts to actively seek the Lord, just as the Syro-Phoenician woman had done, and beg the Lord to heal us and save us from our predicament.

Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, whose life and story truly fits into our narrative and theme today on humanity’s enslavement to sin and the need for liberation. St. Josephine Bakhita herself was a longtime slave during the early years of her life, living in the area now known as Sudan. From her young age, she had experienced slavery firsthand, having been snatched and abducted by slavers, sold as slave to the highest bidder in the slave market.

St. Josephine Bakhita went from master to master, and she suffered great indignities during her years of slavery, suffering and pain were her daily cup. Eventually, she came to be under the patronage of an Italian, who brought her away from the land of her suffering into Italy, where she eventually managed to obtain her freedom and she also came to accept the Catholic faith through faithful instruction, and eventually became a religious nun renowned for her great faith and piety.

St. Josephine Bakhita and her amazing story of conversion and liberation, not just from physical slavery of the body but also spiritual and mental slavery of sin is truly a very real and relevant example for us, as we reflect on what we have heard in today’s Scripture passage. Her experiences, together with that of the other saint we celebrate today, St. Jerome Emiliani, the patron saint of orphans renowned for his commitment to alleviating the sufferings of the poor and those who were orphaned, serve as reminders for us Christians.

All of us should first of all strive to be free from our enslavement to sin, by actively practicing our faith and shunning all that is wicked and evil from our own respective lives. And then, we should also help one another, especially when we see that some among us are in the danger of falling and slipping away into sin, that we should encourage one another to live faithfully and remind ourselves that we should resist the falsehoods and lies done by Satan to trap us.

Let us all pray, brothers and sisters, that all of us Christians may be truly free, free from all the chains and bonds of sin, which have prevented us from being able to be with God in all of our hearts, minds, souls and our whole beings. May the Lord be with us always, and through the intercession of the holy saints, particularly St. Josephine Bakhita and St. Jerome Emiliani, may we as sinners, come to seek the Lord’s most abundant mercy and receive His forgiveness. Amen.