Saturday, 9 March 2019 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Frances of Rome, Religious (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we are all reminded that God is so full of love and mercy towards us, that He is willing to forgive us all our sins and to give us once again the wondrous graces and love, the promise of inheritance that we have once been entitled to, through the forgiveness of our sins. Although our sins may have indeed been very great, but God’s love for each one of us is even greater.

That is why He was willing to give it all to us, for our sake, that He willingly carried the heavy burden of the cross, so that by His suffering on the cross and by His death, He frees us all from the bondage of sin and death. The cross of Christ is the perfect symbol and evidence of His love for each one of us, of the great desire which Our Lord has for our salvation and for our turnaround from the path towards damnation, into reconciliation with Him.

God is calling on all of us to repent from our sins, and to turn away from our wicked paths, calling on us to abandon our past ways of disobedience and waywardness, our refusal to listen to Him and our stubbornness in following our own prideful and ambitious ways. God gives us opportunities, one after another, chances after chances, for us to turn back to Him, and to seek Him and His mercy before it is too late for us.

In the Gospel passage today, we heard of how the Lord Jesus confronted the Pharisees who criticised Him for His interactions with those whom they deemed to be sinners and to be unworthy of God’s grace and love. The tax collectors were among those who were at the bottom of the society’s regards and status, as they were widely viewed as betrayers and traitors to the nation for having apparently colluded with the Roman overlords.

But the Lord showed pity and mercy towards them, even when the Pharisees were criticising Him before the people for doing so. And the Lord made it clear that He came into the world seeking the healing and forgiveness of sinners, and those whose sins were greater, were those whom the Lord sought first, as He hoped to rescue them from the fate of eternal damnation. And many of the tax collectors were sorrowful and repentant of their sins, and they were forgiven.

And we heard how one among the tax collectors left everything behind and followed the Lord, the man who was known as Levi, later known as St. Matthew the Apostle, one of the Twelve Apostles and also one of the Four Evangelists. This example shows us how even great sinners can become great saints, as long as they turn away from their sinful ways and sincerely repented from their wickedness. Those who turn towards God and placed their trust in Him will indeed not be disappointed.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we must realise that none of us are perfect in our ways, and in some way or another, we have not been fully obedient and good, and therefore, sins have corrupted us and caused us to fall deeper and deeper into this trap, and being led further and further away in estrangement from the Lord. We should not follow the examples of the Pharisees, who took great pride in their supposed piety and righteousness.

Why is that so, brothers and sisters in Christ? That is because it does not matter how small or how great our sins are, as the fact remains that we are all sinners in need of healing and forgiveness. And it does not give any one of us the right to condemn or look down on others just because we think that our sins are lighter and smaller than others’ sins. It is not right for us to be judgmental on others just because we think that we are better than them.

Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Frances of Rome, a holy woman and religious Benedictine oblate who was remembered for her devotion and piety, despite her noble and privileged upbringing. St. Frances of Rome often took care of the sick and the poor that she encountered, and despite the various challenges that she and her family had to experience, she continued to live a holy life that is dedicated to the service of God, and in her charitable love for her brethren who were in need.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today, we are called to follow in the footsteps of our holy predecessors, in how they lived their lives with holiness, turning away from sins and wickedness. God is calling each and every one of us to holiness, to be forgiven from our sins, that we may be redeemed from our bondage to that great obstacle which prevented us from being able to be reunited with our God.

Let us all dedicate ourselves anew to the Lord, our time, effort and attention, to love the Lord our God and to serve our fellow brethren, to care for those who are in need. May the Lord be with us always, and may He strengthen us all in our love and dedication for Him. May God bless us all and our good works. Amen.

Saturday, 9 March 2019 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Frances of Rome, Religious (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 5 : 27-32

At that time, after Jesus healed a paralytic man, He went out, and noticing a tax collector named Levi, sitting in the tax office, He said to him, “Follow Me!” So Levi, leaving everything, got up and followed Jesus.

Levi gave a great feast for Jesus, and many tax collectors came to his house, and took their places at the table with the other people. Then the Pharisees and their followers complained to Jesus’ disciples, “How is it, that you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

But Jesus spoke up, “Healthy people do not need a doctor, but sick people do. I have not come to call the just, but sinners, to a change of heart.”

Saturday, 9 March 2019 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Frances of Rome, Religious (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 85 : 1-2, 3-4, 5-6

Listen, o YHVH, and answer me, for I am afflicted and needy. Preserve my life, for I am God-fearing; save Your servant who trusts in You.

Have mercy on me, o YHVH, for I cry to You all day. Bring joy to the soul of Your servant; for You, o YHVH, I lift up my soul.

You are good and forgiving, o YHVH, caring for those who call on You. Listen, o YHVH, to my prayer, hear the voice of my pleading.

Saturday, 9 March 2019 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Frances of Rome, Religious (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Isaiah 58 : 9b-14

If you remove from your midst the yoke, the clenched fist and the wicked word. If you share your food with the hungry and give relief to the oppressed, then your light will rise in the dark, your night will be like noon.

YHVH will guide you always and give you relief in desert places. He will strengthen your bones; He will make you as a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters never fall. Your ancient ruins will be rebuilt, the age-old foundations will be raised. You will be called the Breach-mender, and the Restorer of ruined houses.

If you stop profaning the Sabbath and doing as you please on the holy day, if you call the Sabbath a day of delight and keep sacred YHVH’s holy day, if you honour it by not going your own way, not doing as you please and not speaking with malice, then you will find happiness in YHVH, over the heights you will ride triumphantly, and feast joyfully on the inheritance of your father Jacob. The mouth of YHVH has spoken.

Friday, 8 March 2019 : Friday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we are yet reminded again of the matter of fasting and how important this practice of fasting for each and every one of us. As Christians we practice fasting as well as abstinence at certain times in the year, and the practice of fasting have to be done with full understanding and appreciation of what it can do to us, if we truly practice fasting as well as abstinence with the right reasons and purpose.

What we heard today in our first reading taken from the Book of the prophet Isaiah as well as the Gospel passage today ought to jolt us and to make us realise that we do not fast or abstain from meat and from other things we want to abstain from, just because it is a formality and an obligation to do so. That is because it is easy for us to practice certain acts of piety and devotions, and yet, we did them not out of love for God, but because we want attention to ourselves, or that we want to satisfy our pride, ego and greed.

That was what happened to the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law during the time of Jesus. When the Pharisees asked the disciples why they did not fast just as they have done, the Lord answered them that they would fast when the time was right, when He was to be taken away from them, and then they would fast. They did not fast just because they wanted to be seen or to be praised for doing so, unlike the Pharisees who made a lot of fuss and brought plenty of attention to their activities and pious acts.

When they fasted, they did so mainly because they were swayed by their pride, ego, desire and ambition. They wanted the people to praise them and respect them because of the things that they did. God did not have place of honour in their hearts and minds, as He should have received. God should have been the focus and at the centre of our every actions and works. But without that genuine love and dedication that each and every one of us should have for Him, we will not be able to remain faithful to Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, during this time and season of Lent we are called to redirect our focus in life as well as our attention back towards the Lord, by means of fasting and abstinence. When we fast, we must have the right focus and attention at heart, which means that we fast because we want to restrain our inner desires, all the wicked temptations that are within our hearts and minds, that caused us to sin against God.

When we abstain, we also restrain our own predisposition to sin, our vulnerability to the disobedience against God. Thus instead of following the examples of the Pharisees who used their practice of fasting and abstinence in the entirely wrong direction and intention, using those as excuse to indulge in their own ego, desires and pride, we should reject those prideful thoughts and temptations inside our hearts and minds.

Satan is ever busy and ready to strike at us through these temptations, the desires and greed within us, and by turning our ego, ambition and pride against us. Unless we make the conscious effort to resist the pull of desire, pride, ego and ambition, and dedicate ourselves to reject the pull of sin, we will likely end up falling deeper and deeper into the trap of sin. And this is where, during this time and season of Lent, we should make use of these opportunities given to us to repent from our sinful ways.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. John of God, a holy and devout servant of God, whose life and examples should become inspiration for ourselves, in how we ought to live our lives faithfully before God. St. John of God was remembered well for his service to the people of God, especially for the sick, the poor and those who have suffered physically and in unfortunate conditions. St. John of God dedicated his life, his time, his efforts and works to care for all of them.

Are we able to follow in the footsteps of this holy saint, brothers and sisters in Christ? God has given us the time, opportunity and ability to give our talents and abilities to be of benefit to one another, especially those who are weak, poor, oppressed and unloved. We are called to love God in ways that St. John of God and many others of our holy predecessors had done. Are we able to do this, brothers and sisters in Christ?

Let us progress through this season of Lent, with a new commitment to love God, as well as to love one another. Let us all get rid from ourselves all the pride, the ego and ambition, the greed and worldly desired that can prevent us from truly attaining the fullness of salvation and grace in God. Let us all make good use of this time of Lent to rediscover our faith in God. May God bless us all and may He guide us in this journey of faith. Amen.