Tuesday, 21 January 2020 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the words of the Scripture we are all reminded of the need for us to be truly faithful to God in everything and not just having superficial and empty faith. God wants us to love Him and to be focused on Him in our lives and not to be distracted by worldly temptations and desires, and what we heard in our Scripture passages today are a great reminder to that fact.

In our first reading today, we heard of the moment when the prophet Samuel was sent by the Lord to pick one of the seven sons of Jesse to become the new king of Israel succeeding Saul, the previous and first king of Israel who had disobeyed God and led Israel into sin. This brought Samuel to the land of Judah to find Jesse and he met six of his sons whom Jesse presented all before the prophet to find the one with whom God was pleased and had chosen.

Samuel thought that the first son was handsome and great in the sight of man, as was the other elder sons, with intellect, appearance and charisma that seemed to make them acceptable and likely to be God’s chosen one. But God told Samuel that despite what he had seen and thought, God had not chosen any one of them at all. Instead, it was David, the youngest and seventh son of Jesse, a young man still in his early youth, a shepherd of the field whom God had chosen to become the king over His people Israel.

What this passage is telling us is that God chose the one whom He deemed to be worthy and not the one who made himself or herself to be worthy of God. No one is truly worthy of God and the more pride, greed and ambition there are in our hearts and in our minds, the further we will end up being from God. Saul, the first king was overcome by his pride and greed, in wanting to do things in his own way and probably in wanting to gain worldly benefits that he ended up disobeying God and therefore was replaced as king by David.

In our Gospel passage, we heard something that is quite similar in nature as we heard of the exchanges between the Lord Jesus and the Pharisees who complained about the behaviour of His disciples as they picked the grains of wheat in the field on the Sabbath day, something that the Pharisees interpreted to be a grave sin and mistake to be done on the sacred day dedicated to God.

But the Lord then told the Pharisees the story of how king David and his followers when they were exhausted and completely hungry as they fled from their enemies, namely king Saul and his soldiers who wanted David dead, David and his followers went to the house of God and the High Priest gave them the bread that was normally reserved only for the priests. They ate and they had their fill and they then continued on their journey, eventually by God’s grace, succeeded in surviving and David succeeded Saul as king of Israel when the latter was killed in the battle with the Philistines.

Through that story, the Lord again wanted not just the Pharisees but also all of us to understand and to realise that the Law of God cannot be understood just superficially, and this also then requires us to have a faith that is deeper than just the superficial appearances. If outwardly we are good but inside our hearts and minds we are conflicted and not united with God, then we do not truly have genuine faith in God and can even be considered as hypocrites like the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law.

What God wants us to know is that we do not just obey the Law and fulfil its requirements just for the sake of doing it or for appearances. We must truly love God and have that love for God within our hearts underlying all of our actions and deeds. David was chosen not because of the superior nature of his physical build or appearances but rather because he truly had a genuine love for God. Although as a man he was not perfect and sinned, but as can see throughout his life, he remained faithful to the Lord and devoted his life and reign to His glory.

In the same manner, all of us as Christians we are all called to be truly faithful to God in all things and not to be merely superficial in our obedience to the Lord and to His Law. We are all called to love God with all of our strength and with all of our heart. And today, we can also look upon the examples set by the faithful St. Agnes, a holy martyr of the faith renowned to the whole Church.

St. Agnes was a beautiful Roman noble woman who was a Christian at the time of great persecution of Christians by the Roman Emperor Diocletian. She was chased after by many men whom she declined because she wanted to dedicate herself out of purity and maintain the sanctity of her holy virginity to God. As a result, those men who were rejected reported her to the authorities for her supposed Christian faith, and the prefect in charge at the time subjected her to arrest and suffering.

She was dragged naked through the streets to a brothel and made to be raped by men, but miraculously by God’s intervention, all those who attempted to do so were struck blind. It was told that the son of the prefect was struck dead and through the prayers of St. Agnes, he was revived, and the prefect, visibly touched by this, had to pass on the judgment to another person, who then condemned St. Agnes to die by burning at the stake.

Again, the flames would not burn her and she was completely unharmed. It was only when an officer stabbed her and beheaded her with his sword that St. Agnes was finally martyred for her faith. Despite all the sufferings she had to go through, she remained completely faithful to God, because she truly had faith and genuine love for God from her heart, and her faith was not just merely superficial or only for appearances. This is why all of us should also be inspired by the faith that St. Agnes had and strive to live our lives faithfully from now on as she once had lived hers.

May the Lord always be with us and may He continue to strengthen us all in our journey of faith. May He through the intercessions of St. Agnes, holy virgin and martyr, continue to guide us all and bless us in everything we do, that we may be courageous in faith and in loving God with all of our heart from now on. Amen.

Tuesday, 21 January 2020 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Mark 2 : 23-28

At that time, on one Sabbath Jesus was walking through grain fields. As His disciples walked along with Him, they began to pick the heads of grain and crush them in their hands. Then the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Look! They are doing what is forbidden on the Sabbath!”

And He said to them, “Have you never read what David did in his time of need; when he and his men were very hungry? He went into the House of God, when Abiathar was High Priest, and ate; the bread of offering, which only the priests are allowed to eat, and he also gave some to the men who were with him.”

Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Master even of the Sabbath.”

Tuesday, 21 January 2020 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 88 : 20, 21-22, 27-28

In the past, You spoke in a vision; You said of Your faithful servant : “I have set the crown upon a mighty one; on one chosen from the people.”

I have found David My servant, and, with My holy oil, I have anointed him. My hand will be ever with him; and My arm will sustain him.

He will call on Me, “You are my Father, my God, my Rock, my Saviour.” I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.

Tuesday, 21 January 2020 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

1 Samuel 16 : 1-13

YHVH asked Samuel, “How long will you be grieving over Saul whom I have rejected as king of Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have chosen My king from among his sons.”

Samuel asked, “How can I go? If Saul hears of this, he will kill me!” YHVH replied, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to YHVH.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice and I will let you know what to do next. You shall anoint for Me the one I point out to you.”

Samuel did what YHVH commanded and left for Bethlehem. When he appeared, the elders of the city came to him asking, fearfully, “Do you bring us peace?” Samuel replied, “I come in peace; I am here to sacrifice to YHVH. Cleanse yourselves and join me in the sacrifice.” He also had Jesse and his sons cleansed and invited them to the sacrifice.

As they came, Samuel looked at Eliab the older and thought, “This must be YHVH’s anointed.” But YHVH told Samuel, “Do not judge by his looks or his stature for I have rejected him. YHVH does not judge as man judges; humans see with the eyes; YHVH sees the heart.”

Jesse called his son Abinadab and presented him to Samuel who said, “YHVH has not chosen this one either.” Jesse presented Shammah and Samuel said, “Nor has YHVH chosen this one.” Jesse presented seven of his sons to Samuel who said, “YHVH has chosen none of them. But are all your sons here?”

Jesse replied, “There is still the youngest, tending the flock just now.” Samuel said to him, “Send for him and bring him to me; we shall not sit down to eat until he arrives.” So Jesse sent for his youngest son and brought him to Samuel. He was a handsome lad with a ruddy complexion and beautiful eyes. And YHVH spoke, “Go, anoint him for he is the one.”

Samuel then took the horn of oil and anointed him in his brothers’ presence. From that day onwards, YHVH’s Spirit took hold of David. Then Samuel left for Ramah.

Monday, 20 January 2020 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Fabian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Sebastian, Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Lord through the Scriptures that remind us all of the need for us to change our lives and follow the Lord wholeheartedly in all things. We must obey Him and do whatever it is that He has shown and taught us to do, and abandon our past life of wickedness and evil. This is what all of us as Christians are called to do with our lives, that we may truly glorify God by our lives in this world.

In our first reading today, we heard of the exchanges between the prophet Samuel and the first King of Israel, Saul, whom God had called and chosen from among His people to be the king over all of them. Samuel anointed Saul himself and Saul was faithful in leading the people of God to victory against their enemies, especially the Philistines who oppressed them. But it was not long before Saul began to disobey God and followed his own will rather than God’s.

In that occasion, the Israelites went up in war against the Amalekites, their old enemies, who were defeated in battle by the Lord’s grace and strength. The prophet Samuel had instructed Saul on God’s will, not to allow anyone or anything from the Amalekites to survive, their whole people and their whole possessions and herds. Yet, Saul thought it better on his own decision to spare not just the herds of the Amalekites but even the king of the Amalekites, Agag.

Saul thought that by doing what he had chosen to do, he was doing what God wanted, even arguing back against the prophet Samuel and trying to justify himself and his actions before God. But he did not realise that he has disobeyed God by his choice of actions and therefore led the people of Israel into sin. And his attempt to justify himself and arguing with Samuel showed that he was not remorseful or regretful over his action at first instance.

Saul was thinking in the manner of how he perceived the Lord would think, and many others also shared his perspective. To them, the Law that the Lord has given His people was to be obeyed to the letter, but they often failed to understand the true intent, meaning and purpose of the Law. Saul and others tried to go around the technicalities of the Law and even tried to benefit from it, because in his mind it was likely that he had the desire to gain from the spoils of war, that while some of them were to be offered to God, the rest would be his to possess.

That was how Saul led his people into sin and disobedience against God. He allowed his desires and pride to make him fall for the temptations of the devil. And this is the same predicament that we also see in the Gospel passage today, as we heard the argument between the Pharisees and the Lord on the matter of fasting which the Pharisees practiced fervently while they criticised the Lord and His disciples for not doing what they have done.

But the Lord rebuked them in turn because they failed to understand the true significance and meaning of fasting. The Pharisees, like Saul, fasted with some intention to gain attention for themselves, to satisfy their own personal desires for glory and honour, for fame and renown which led them to sin against God. They would not allow the Lord to go on with His works in peace and kept on opposing Him because their pride and desires led them to act in self-preservation to keep whatever privileges and good things they had gained, even if they actually went against God’s will.

This is what the Lord actually meant when He spoke using the parable of the new and old wineskins and cloth, and also the new and old wine. The incompatibility between the new wine and the old wineskin, vice versa and the new and old cloth highlighted the incompatibility between the ways of man, that is pride, desire, greed and selfishness with the ways of the Lord, which is love, humility, compassion, tenderness and mercy. As Christians we should embrace the way of the Lord and leave behind our past, worldly behaviour as described.

We are therefore also reminded today by the examples of king Saul and the Pharisees that we must be ever vigilant for it will be very easy for the devil to have his way with us if we are not careful and if we allow him to tempt us with the various desires and allures of the world, the lure of the glory of this world, the temptation of pleasures of the flesh among many others. We have to resist these temptations and do our best to overcome the devil and his lies.

Today, we are all fortunate to have two great saints whose feasts we are celebrating, namely that of Pope St. Fabian and St. Sebastian. Pope St. Fabian was one of the early Popes of the Church, who was elected under miraculous circumstances as it was told that a dove miraculously appeared and settled on him, which was interpreted as a sign of divine providence and made everyone assembled to elect him as the successor of St. Peter.

Pope St. Fabian led the Church in the era between persecutions and helped to stabilise the Church and grow, despite the rise of heresies and divisions in some segments of the Church. Pope St. Fabian sent bishops and missionaries to help settle this matter, and he dedicated himself passionately to the mission of the Church entrusted to him by God. And when the Roman Emperor Decius came to power, a new wave of brutal persecutions came to be, and Pope St. Fabian was among the first to be martyred for his faith.

Meanwhile, St. Sebastian was a high ranking Roman soldier, a captain of the Praetorian Guards, the Roman Emperor’s own bodyguards, who was a secret Christian at the time when being a Christian would mean certain suffering, persecution and death. St. Sebastian helped many Christians to escape torture and suffering under the persecutions of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, especially those who were condemned to death. Some of the people were even converted and strengthened by the faith of Sf. Sebastian while in prison

But eventually, St. Sebastian’s secret was discovered, and the Emperor, angry at this supposed betrayal by one of his closest confidants, made him suffer by tying him to a tree and made arrows to be shot at him many times until he was covered by them. Yet, miraculously, the arrows did not kill St. Sebastian. St. Sebastian miraculously recovered and reproached the Emperor for his persecution of Christians publicly. This was when St. Sebastian was beaten to death and finally had his martyrdom for his faith.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the great faith and examples set by Pope St. Fabian and St. Sebastian should inspire us all to also be faithful as they had been faithful, to follow God and to obey Him in every moments of our life. Let us all devote ourselves and be ever more faithful to God from now on, and let us grow ever stronger in faith and dedication to Him with each and every passing moments in our lives. May God bless us all, now and always. Amen.