Friday, 23 August 2019 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Rose of Lima, Virgin (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Virgins)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of God speaking to us through the Scriptures first of all through the story of Ruth, one of the ancestors of David, the king of Israel and therefore also the ancestor of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Ruth was actually not counted among the people of Israel, but was a Moabite, one of the people considered as pagans by the Israelite.

At that time, and as it was up to the time of Jesus, the Moabites and many of the Canaanites were often looked down by the Israelites, as the latter took great pride in themselves being the chosen people of God. They considered the other people and races and nations to be unworthy of God and that they were superior to those other races and nations. And yet, we have heard from the Book of Ruth, how Ruth loved God and dedicated herself to Him through her dedication to her mother-in-law, Naomi.

Ruth did all these even though she was not related at all by blood to Naomi, and her husband, the son of Naomi had died without leaving any child behind. Technically and legally at that time, Ruth could have freely left her mother-in-law and return to her homeland, which even Naomi, her mother-in-law insisted her of doing. Yet, Ruth stayed with her and committed herself to God and to the people of Israel.

This is how this wonderful woman came to become the one through whom the great king of Israel would be born eventually, by the grace of God in which Ruth bore her husband, Boaz, a son Obed who was the grandfather of king David, the king of Israel. It was the love, faith and dedication of Ruth which made everything possible. She was faithful and dedicated to her newfound faith, and her examples are exactly what God wants us to emulate in our own lives.

In our Gospel passage today we heard of the Lord Who was confronted by the Pharisees who wanted to test Him using the Law and the commandments of God, trying to trap Him in His words and responses. They asked what the most important Law in the commandments was, and the Lord spoke it plainly and clearly, summing up the entirety of the Law into two main facets, namely, loving God with all of our strength, might and effort, and also loving our fellow brothers and sisters around us in the same way.

The context of this passage was that at that time, the Pharisees and the Lord has plenty of disagreements with regards to the matter of obeying God and following His laws and commandments. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law believed in a very strict interpretation of the laws and rules of Moses, and they enforced this way on the rest of the people of God, causing a lot of difficulty and also misunderstanding of the true meaning of the Law.

Why is that so, brothers and sisters in Christ? That is because although the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law professed to believe in God and even took great pride in being so observant and particular in their way of following the rules and rigour of the laws of Moses, but for many of them, truly their hearts and minds were not centred on God. They did what they have done out of pride and desire for worldly recognition and power.

But for the example which we have discussed earlier, Ruth, who was a foreigner and an alien in the land of Israel, had more faith and true dedication to God than all those Pharisees and teachers of the Law, because she truly loved God with all of her heart, with all of her mind and with all of her strength, and she also loved her fellow men in the same manner. She was devoted to her aging mother-in-law who would have been left all alone to fend for herself should Ruth had decided to leave her. Instead, she took care of her mother-in-law and dutifully did all that she could to help her.

And during the time of Jesus, although not mentioned in today’s Gospel passage, yet another woman and foreigner put all those Pharisees and teachers of the Law to shame, because she had greater faith than all of them. While the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law doubted the Lord and refused to believe in His truth and message, a Syro-Phoenician woman who came to the Lord with great faith did not even mind being humiliated and had so much faith in Him that she trusted Him so much.

Today, we also celebrate yet another servant of God whose life has been similar to what we have heard about Ruth and the Syro-Phoenician woman. St. Rose of Lima was known as the first of the New World saints, meaning that she was the first saint hailing from the continent now known as the Americas. In what is today modern day Peru, St. Rose of Lima was a lay member of the Dominican Order, who was renowned for her great piety and charity for the poor and the needy in her society.

St. Rose of Lima had led a very virtuous life from her youth and she has always desired to join a religious order, dedicating her life to God, meeting opposition from her family. In the end, she joined as a member of the Third Order of St. Dominic, but persevered in her commitment to a life of purity and chastity dedicated solely to God. She was known for wearing a heavy silver crown with small spikes inside on her head, emulating the crown of thorns worn by the Lord at His crucifixion.

St. Rose of Lima has shown her great love and dedication for the Lord, devoting herself wholeheartedly towards Him. Are we able to do the same as well, brothers and sisters in Christ? Are we able to commit ourselves like what all those people we have mentioned today had done? We are all called to follow the Lord with faith, and in order to do so, we must truly put God at the very centre of our lives.

Let us all make God the very reason why we live, and the very focus of our every efforts and works. Let us all turn towards Him with all of our strength and from now on, let us all walk faithfully in His presence. May God be with us always and may He strengthen us all in faith. Amen.

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