Friday, 8 March 2019 : Friday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 9 : 14-15

At that time, the disciples of John came to Jesus with the question, “How is it, that we and the Pharisees fast on many occasions, but not Your disciples?”

Jesus answered them, “How can you expect wedding guests to mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The time will come, when the Bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then, they will fast.”

Friday, 8 March 2019 : Friday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 50 : 3-4, 5-6a, 18-19

Have mercy on me, o God, in Your love. In Your great compassion blot out my sin. Wash me thoroughly of my guilt; cleanse me of evil.

For I acknowledge my wrongdoings and have my sins ever in mind. Against You alone, have I sinned.

You take no pleasure in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, You would not delight in it. O God, my sacrifice is a broken spirit; a contrite heart, You will not despise.

Friday, 8 March 2019 : Friday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Isaiah 58 : 1-9a

Cry out aloud for all you are worth; raise your voice like a trumpet blast; tell My people of their offences, Jacob’s family of their sins. Is it true that they seek Me day after day, longing to know My ways, as a people that does what is right and has not forsaken the word of its God?

They want to know the just laws and not to drift away from their God. “Why are we fasting?,” they complain, “and You do not even see it? We are doing penance and You never notice it.” Look, on your fast days you push your trade and you oppress your labourers. Yes, you fast but end up quarrelling, striking each other with wicked blows. Fasting as you do will not make your voice heard on high.

Is that the kind of fast that pleases Me, just a day to humble oneself? Is fasting merely bowing down one’s head, and making use of sackcloth and ashes? Would you call that fasting, a day acceptable to YHVH? See the fast that pleases Me : breaking the fetters of injustice and unfastening the thongs of the yoke, setting the oppressed free and breaking every yoke.

Fast by sharing your food with the hungry, bring to your house the homeless, clothe the one you see naked and do not turn away from your own kin. Then will your light break forth as the dawn and your healing come in a flash. Your righteousness will be your vanguard, the glory of YHVH your rearguard. Then you will call and YHVH will answer, you will cry and He will say, I am here.

Thursday, 7 March 2019 : Thursday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, Martyrs (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day each and every one of us are reminded of the need for us to dedicate ourselves to the Lord wholeheartedly, and be ready to commit ourselves to His path. On this day, the day after Ash Wednesday, we continue to uphold our resolve to live through this blessed season of Lent, spending our time to be closer to God, carrying our crosses with Him.

In the first reading today from the Book of Deuteronomy, God through His servant Moses communicated clearly to the people the choice that they had before them, as they went through their forty years of journey in the desert while waiting to enter into the land promised to them by God. Many of them had disobeyed the Lord and refused to follow His ways and His commandments, preferring to follow their own, sinful ways, and hardening their hearts and minds against Him.

And thus, through this we are reminded that we too have been given a choice, that is either for us to live in God’s way and obey His laws and commandments, or for us to abandon Him and turn instead to the ways of the world that is full of temptations and are seemingly easier and less challenging for us. We are presented with the choice between the seemingly tougher and less appealing way that God showed us, and the seemingly more enjoyable path of this world.

We are no strangers to the alternative path shown to us by the world, for indeed, we are surrounded by many of the temptations. At the time of the Israelites in the days of the Exodus, the people of Israel constantly grumbled before God and before Moses, complaining that they were hungry without good food, or thirsty without water and good drinks to enjoy. They refused to budge even after they have seen many of the miraculous deeds God performed before them through Moses.

They desired to return to Egypt, saying that it was better for them to go back to Egypt and suffer again under slavery, as they would at least be able to eat decently and not having to worry about dying in the desert without food or drink. They complained and refused to comply to the Lord’s will, just because they had little faith in God. If only they know just how much God loved each and every one of them, as He gave them everything they needed, and yet even those were not enough for those stubborn people.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we can see the parallel between their examples and our own lives in this present world today. The path of the world seems to be easier to us, and it seems to be less arduous, less challenging and more promising to us, as this is the effort by the devil and all of his forces, trying to tempt us into sin, into disobedience against God, by presenting all sorts of wicked temptations that go straight into our pride and ego, our desires and our hearts’ greed.

Some of us may even think that just because we are Christians, then we should expect to have good lives full of graces and blessings, that we do not have to suffer but instead, with greater faith comes greater blessings in life, in physical and material terms. But this is the false ‘gospel of prosperity’ that is unfortunately adopted by some of our separated brethren in faith. We must not fall into that same trap of the devil, who tries to tempt us with worldly temptations.

The Lord made it clear, in our Gospel passage today, that He Himself was to suffer grievously at the hands of His enemies. This was fulfilled when He went through His Passion, suffering persecution and rejection, brutal pain and sufferings, as He was beaten and spat on, ridiculed and made to bear a heavy cross, stripped and nailed to that cross, and made to suffer and die for the sake of all of us mankind.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, that is the suffering that our Lord had to endure, and all of that is caused by His love for us, which is so great that He was willing to even endure those painful torture and experience just so that by His selfless and loving sacrifice, we may be saved from certain destruction. And He Himself said that if we are to be His disciples, then we must follow Him and have a share in the cross that He bore out of love for us.

It does not mean that we will suffer forever. Instead, our suffering now on earth is just a temporary prelude of the greater glory and joy that is to come. God has promised that all those who are faithful to Him will not be disappointed, for in the end of the journey it is nothing less than an eternity of glory and true happiness being in the presence of God forever, where we will not suffer any longer, and all that we need are no longer there, for God alone is enough for everything.

The devil knows this, and he does not want us to be saved. And that is why he is so hard at work, trying to prevent us from finding our way towards Him. He is always at work, trying to lure us away from the right path, and turn us away from righteousness and faith. In fact, we will realise that frequently, we will have to go up even against our friends and those who are dear to us, and we have to make often difficult choices, to choose between obeying God and suffer, or to obey the devil instead and receive satisfaction from him.

Today, we celebrate the feast of two famous martyrs of the Church, two courageous women who defended their faith in God to the very end with great dedication and courage. St. Perpetua was a noblewoman while St. Felicity was a slavewoman, both of whom shared the Christian faith. At that time, during the height of the Roman Empire, Christians have been harassed and persecuted again and again by the authorities, and many had to practice their faith in secret.

But eventually some were found out to be Christians, and put in prison and made to suffer with the hope that they would abandon their faith in God and sought safety and good assurance in life for themselves. Some did fall to the temptations or yielded to the strong pressures and abandoned their faith, but many remained firm in their faith in God, such as St. Perpetua and St. Felicity. These two women were firm in their conviction to remain faithful to God.

Having endured much suffering and pain, opposition and challenges, even from those who were close to them, St. Perpetua, who encountered great challenges from her family, who wanted her to recant her faith, as well as St. Felicity, who suffered in prison while being pregnant with a baby, both of them chose to remain true to their faith, and died as courageous martyrs and examples of true faith and dedication to God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today all of us are called to look upon the examples set before us by the holy saints and martyrs of God, particularly that of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity whose feast day we commemorate today. Are we able to make the same commitment and decision as they have done? They carried together the cross of Christ and endured the grievous sufferings just as the Lord had suffered, with the hope of eternal glory and salvation in the end of their earthly journey.

Let us all make good use of this season of Lent to reorientate ourselves and reorder our lives, so that from this moment onwards, we do not live any longer for ourselves, but rather, to serve the greater purpose of God, and to obey Him in all things, standing up to Him and remaining faithful to Him despite the challenges we may encounter in our daily lives. Let us all remain true to Him, and love Him ever more as we pass through this blessed Lent. May God be with us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

Thursday, 7 March 2019 : Thursday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, Martyrs (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 9 : 22-25

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “The Son of Man must suffer many things. He will be rejected by the elders and chief priests and teachers of the Law, and be put to death. Then after three days He will be raised to life.”

Jesus also said to all the people, “If you wish to be a follower of Mine, deny yourself and take up your cross each day, and follow Me! For if you choose to save your life, you will lose it; but if you lose your life for My sake, you will save it. What does it profit you to gain the whole world, if you destroy or damage yourself?”

Thursday, 7 March 2019 : Thursday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, Martyrs (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 1 : 1-2, 3, 4 and 6

Blessed is the man who does not go where the wicked gather, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit where the scoffers sit! Instead, he finds delight in the Law of YHVH and meditates day and night on His commandments.

He is like a tree beside a brook producing its fruit in due season, its leaves never withering. Everything he does is a success.

But it is different with the wicked. They are like chaff driven away by the wind. For YHVH knows the way of the righteous but cuts off the way of the wicked.

Thursday, 7 March 2019 : Thursday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, Martyrs (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Deuteronomy 30 : 15-20

See, I set before you on this day life and good, evil and death. I command you to love YHVH, your God and follow His ways. Observe His commandments, His norms and His laws, and you will live and increase, and YHVH will give you His blessing in the land you are going to possess.

But if your heart turns away and does not listen, if you are drawn away and bow before other gods to serve them, I declare on this day that you shall perish. You shall not last in the land you are going to occupy on the other side of the Jordan.

Let the heavens and the earth listen, that they may be witnesses against you. I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life that you and your descendants may live, loving YHVH, listening to His voice, and being one with Him. In this life for you and length of days in the land which YHVH swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Wednesday, 6 March 2019 : Ash Wednesday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we mark the beginning of this penitential season of Lent, the forty days period of preparation before the coming of the Holy Week and Easter. On this day, that is Ash Wednesday, we mark this dramatic change from the Ordinary Time into Lent by the imposition of blessed ashes on our foreheads, and also the first time in the entire Lent and Holy Week until the coming of Easter that the Alleluia is not sung, and also that of Gloria until the Holy Thursday.

There are many significance to these practices that we do during the season of Lent, and in particular today on Ash Wednesday, besides the imposition of ashes, we are also required by the Church to practice fasting as well as abstinence. Fasting is compulsory for all Christian adults of ages between eighteen and sixty, excusing only the very young and the very old. Meanwhile, abstinence is compulsory for Christians above the age of fourteen.

Fasting refers to the practice of not eating more than a full meal and two small collations or snacks each day, limiting our food intake to what is essential to maintain our lives and not indulging in the desires of our body. And abstinence usually involves refraining from eating meat, as well as from committing acts and deeds that are both wicked and sinful in nature, resisting the temptations to do our bad habits and actions that often led us to sin.

But the Lord is reminding each and every one of us, that we should not lose our focus on the intention and purpose why we observe the season of Lent, as a special time of preparation meant to reorientate ourselves and redirect our focus in life, so that we can be spiritually, physically and mentally ready for the celebration of the great mystery of Easter, the pinnacle of our faith and the story of our redemption from sin.

Why is it that the Church place this season of Lent before Holy Week and Easter? That is because throughout the Scriptures, whenever a person was about to go forth on an important mission or spiritual journey, that person usually would go through a certain period of preparation, just as what Moses did when he went up the mountain of God in Sinai, staying up there for forty days and forty nights prior to receiving the Law.

The same happened to the prophet Elijah, when he went to the desert seeking for the Lord after he was exiled from the land of Israel. He walked for forty days and forty nights without rest, with strength from the food provided by the Lord, until he reached the mountain of God in Sinai to meet the Lord and heard His will. Then, the people of Israel themselves travelled through the desert for forty years, going through a long period of self-rediscovery and atonement, after they have rebelled against God and refused to put their faith in Him, that they could not go immediately into the land promised to them, until they have completed that period of purification and waiting.

And it was told that Mary, the Mother of God spent a period of purification after her childbirth, as all women had to go through, when she was unable to enter into the Temple, due to the impurities then associated with the bleeding caused by childbirth. After a traditional period of forty days of preparation, she entered the Temple, which is still celebrated in the Traditional Calendar of the Roman Rite as the Feast of the Purification of Mary, forty days after Christmas on the second day of February each year.

And finally, the Lord Jesus Himself went to the desert right after His baptism at the Jordan River, spending forty days and forty nights fasting as a period of preparation before He officially began His earthly ministry, and which symbolically linked Him to the forty years of journey that the Israelites endured in the desert, as the atonement for their sins and disobedience against God.

That is why, brothers and sisters in Christ, fasting has long been associated with sorrow, mourning and regret. Those who fast often did so with dishevelled appearance and wearing sackcloth, a type of very coarse cloth used as sacks to contain rice and other matter, which is constantly itching on the skin and uncomfortable to wear, as a reminder of one’s physical shortcomings. Fasting is practiced as a means to reorientate one’s life to God.

However, in today’s Gospel passage, the Lord Jesus went through with the people of the dangers of misunderstanding the intention of these pious practices. This has to be understood in the context of the time, when the Lord was faced with the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, many of whom showed off their actions before the people to show just how pious and good they were, that they might be praised by the people for their actions.

Today we heard how the Lord pointed out the flaws in their actions and how they have not done their fasting with the right intention. They fasted and made themselves to look in a very obvious manner that they have been fasting, so that the people would be in awe towards them. In reality, much of their intention and the driving factor behind their effort to fast and to do all the things that they deemed to be in accordance with the laws and traditions of the Jewish people, was because of their pride and desire to be famous.

This is why the Lord rebuked them because of their lack of real faith in Him. The Lord told the people to listen to them and their teachings, but not in what they are doing, because the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law did not practice many of the things that they themselves had preached before the people. They professed to be faithful to God, and yet, their hearts were not filled with love for God, but instead with love for themselves, and desire for worldly acclamations and glory.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, it is very important that each and every one of us Christians today reflect on how we are going to observe this most holy and blessed season of Lent, the time and wonderful opportunity that God has granted to us, as a way for us to rediscover our faith and our love for Him. This is the perfect time for us to take stock of our actions in life thus far, looking into how we have lived our lives in the past year, all the good things we have done, and even more importantly, our shortcomings and sinfulness.

Each and every one of us are sinners, because of our disobedience against God’s will. As long as we allow ourselves to be tempted, and fall into those temptations, succumbing to our ego and pride, to our greed and the wicked desires of our hearts and of our flesh, we will continue to sin against God. And unless we turn away from those sins, there will be no way forward to us, as sin has become a great obstacle in our way towards the Lord and His promise of eternal life.

We are reminded that first of all, the Lord’s love and mercy is always readily available for all of us. He is always ever compassionate, loving and merciful towards us, and even though we have often been disobedient and wayward, but He is always ever faithful to the Covenant that He has established with us. That is why this season of Lent is meant as a time for us to truly stop and think, and discern carefully how we want to carry on living our lives from now on.

And we fast as well as abstaining from wicked deeds, not because we want to be praised and acclaimed by other people, as what many of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had done, but because we truly recognise how sinful each and every one of us are, and how weak we are in our flesh, easily tempted and easily falling into sin. Because of this, we want to restrain ourselves and learn to control our many avenues of temptation, by which we have fallen again and again, into disobedience against God.

Today, as the blessed ashes is imposed on our foreheads, let the blessed ashes be a reminder to each and every one of us, that we truly are mortals and sinners, and by our sins we have deserved to perish and die, and all of us will indeed one day have to face death, as a certainty that no one can avoid at all. But at the same time, let us remember that through the liturgy of Ash Wednesday God through His Church is also calling us to turn away from our sins and repent with sincerity.

As the blessed ashes came from the burning of the blessed palms used at Palm Sunday last year, they remind us of our own mortality, and of the urgency by which each and every one of us must act, to get rid from ourselves the sins that have tainted us. We will perish for sure unless we put our trust in God and turn towards His merciful love. And the blessed ashes is also placed on our foreheads in the shape of the cross, as a reminder that our fasting and abstinence in this season of Lent, is to prepare us to enter into the great mystery of the Holy Week and then Easter, when the Lord saves us by His ultimate sacrifice on the cross.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all begin this blessed season of Lent, by making use of every opportunities given to us, that we will not waste this chance that God has given us, for us to change and repent from our wicked ways. God wants us all to receive His salvation, and that is why, through His Church, He is preparing us in our hearts and minds, that we may rediscover our true love for Him, and distance ourselves from whatever is wicked and unworthy of Him in our every actions and deeds.

May God guide us always through our journey of faith in this season of Lent, and may our fast and abstinence help us to reorientate ourselves in life, and find for ourselves a new meaning in life, that is to love God and to serve Him every living moments of our life. Amen.