Thursday, 29 August 2019 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Mark 6 : 17-29

At that time, this is what had happened : Herod had ordered John to be arrested; and had had him bound and put in prison because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. Herod had married her; and John had told him, “It is not right for you to live with your brother’s wife.”

So Herodias held a grudge against John and wanted to kill him; but she could not, because Herod respected John. He knew John to be an upright and holy man, and kept him safe. And he liked listening to him; although he became very disturbed whenever he heard him.

Herodias had her chance on Herod’s birthday, when he gave a dinner for all the senior government officials, military chiefs, and the leaders of Galilee. On that occasion, the daughter of Herodias came in and danced; and she delighted Herod and his guests.

The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want and I will give it to you.” And he went so far as to say with many oaths, “I will give you anything you ask, even half my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” The mother replied, “The head of John the Baptist.”

The girl hurried to the king and made her request, “I want you to give me the head of John the Baptist, here and now, on a dish.” The king was very displeased, but he would not refuse in front of his guests because of his oaths. So he sent one of the bodyguards, with orders to bring John’s head.

He went and beheaded John in prison; then he brought the head on a dish and gave it to the girl. And the girl gave it to her mother. When John’s disciples heard of this, they came and took his body and buried it.

Thursday, 29 August 2019 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 70 : 1-2, 3-4a, 5-6ab, 15ab and 17

In You, o YHVH, I seek refuge; let me not be disgraced. In Your justice help me and deliver me; turn Your ear to me and save me!

Be my Rock of refuge; a Stronghold, to give me safety; for You are my Rock and my Fortress. Rescue me, o my God, from the hand of the wicked.

For You, o YHVH, have been my hope; my trust, o God, from my youth. I have relied on You from birth : from my mother’s womb You brought me forth.

My lips will proclaim Your intervention and tell of Your salvation all day. You have taught me from my youth and, until now, I proclaim Your marvels.

Thursday, 29 August 2019 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Jeremiah 1 : 17-19

But you, get ready for action; stand up and say to them all that I command you. Be not scared of them or I will scare you in their presence! See, I will make you a fortified city, a pillar of iron with walls of bronze, against all the nations, against the kings and princes of Judah, against the priests and the people of the land.

They will fight against you but shall not overcome you, for I am with you to rescue you – it is YHVH Who speaks.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine of Hippo, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we continue on from yesterday’s discourse regarding the improper actions and attitudes of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law which were the theme of the passages in the past three days from the Scripture. On this day we heard again of the Lord rebuking the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law of their hypocrisy, mincing not His words as He struck at them for their empty and meaningless faith.

And He also made mention of how they acted just in the same manner as their ancestors, those people of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah of old who have persecuted the prophets and refused to listen to the words of truth and wisdom which they had brought with them. Those people had hardened their hearts and closed their minds off from the Lord and His words, and that was why they had little faith in Him.

In the first reading today, then, we heard St. Paul exhorting the Church and the faithful in the city of Thessalonica to embrace a good and faithful life, one that is dedicated to the greater glory of God, in serving Him and in proclaiming His truth in everything they do, by their every actions and deeds, by their every words and interactions, through which they become the witnesses of their faith in God.

Essentially, from what we have heard in today’s Scripture readings, we are all reminded of the way we live our lives and how as Christians, all of us must remember that should we act in ways that are not in accordance with what we believe, it will truly scandalise our faith, and how can we expect others to believe if we ourselves acted and lived as if we did not believe in God? In fact, we may even mislead others by our hypocrisy just like what many of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had done.

Looking at the examples of those people, they all fell into the temptations of their pride, their ambition and worldly desires. They all wanted to be affirmed, to be praised, to be honoured and glorified by their peers, by the people around them. And as they received all those good things, they became even more filled with desires, wanting to gain more of what they thought they deserved.

That was why they acted to preserve their own ego, to satisfy their desire for power, for fame and affluence, for admiration and fame as they showed their public forms of piety and devotions, their observances of the laws and customs of the Mosaic law. Yet, in their hearts, so filled up with ego and pride, with desire and greed, the Lord truly did not have any place to dwell in. They have sidelined the Lord for their own selfish desires and purposes.

And that is a very important lesson for us to take note in how we should live our Christian lives meaningfully. We must not let the desires of our flesh and the many temptations of this world to pull us away from the path of righteousness and salvation in God. If we allow ourselves to be tempted and to be swayed by those temptations and seductions of worldliness made by the devil and all of his wicked allies, we will end up being hypocrites in faith like those whom the Lord had rebuked.

Today, as the whole Universal Church we celebrate together the feast of St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the original Four Doctors of the Church and a very important Church father and leader of the Christian faith and Western Christianity in general. St. Augustine of Hippo is celebrated often together with his mother, St. Monica, whose feast we celebrated just yesterday, as their lives were truly intertwined, the love between a mother and her child.

St. Augustine however was not always holy and devout throughout his life as we may have thought otherwise. Born to a pagan father and a Christian mother, St. Augustine was not always righteous, but in fact was wicked early on in his life, living a debauched and wicked lifestyle, adopting the heretical and syncretic Manichaean religion and sought all sorts of worldly pleasures, and he even committed adultery with a married woman.

But St. Augustine was touched by the great efforts that his mother, St. Monica had, in trying to pull her son away from his wicked path and sins. St. Monica ceaselessly prayed for the sake of her son and wished for the conversion of his heart. And her effort eventually caused not just St. Augustine to turn away from his sinful life, but even managed to bring her own husband, St. Augustine’s father into the Christian faith prior to his death.

St. Augustine turned towards God through the means of St. Monica’s prayers, and his own desire for knowledge and satisfaction, which was the reason why he went around seeking all sorts of worldly desires and pleasures, in the pursuit of philosophy and intellectual discourses, in the pursuit of the pleasures of the flesh and glory, all without avail. Eventually, his encounter with the Christian faith made him to discover God, the One Who gave him the answers and the true joy that he had been seeking all those while.

That was how St. Augustine was turned to the Lord and repented from his old, sinful way of life. St. Augustine thereafter dedicated his life to the Lord and devoted himself wholly to His cause. His many writings and inspirational testimonies of his faith became a benchmark for many Christian authors and teachers for many generations after his passing. His treatises and books, including the famous ‘City of God’ brought a great development of Christian theology and faith.

And one of the famous stories linked to St. Augustine of Hippo was one of the moment when St. Augustine was walking by the seashore while reflecting and trying to comprehend the mystery of God’s Holy Trinity and saw a child who tried to pour the entire ocean using a seashell into a small hole in the sand that the child had made. When St. Augustine remarked of the futility of such an effort to the child, then the Child, who was in fact God in disguise told St. Augustine that it is therefore also futile for man to try to comprehend the vastness of God’s truth and mysteries.

In the same manner therefore, it is also futile for us mankind to try to seek for the glory of this world, for the satisfaction of the flesh and for worldly fame, influence, power and all sorts of things that we are often preoccupied about in our lives. We are called therefore to put more trust in God and to put Him at the very centre of our lives, and as the focus of all of our attention and efforts from now on.

Let us all be truly faithful to God and be exemplary in how we live our lives from now on, in our every words, deeds and actions so that by them all we may become witnesses to our faith and will be examples for others to follow in their own lives, that many more will come to believe in God through us. May God bless us all and may He empower us all to live faithfully in His presence always. Amen.