Wednesday, 4 March 2020 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Casimir (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we are reminded that we need to be humble and to have faith in God, through our Scripture passages which brought to our attention what our predecessors had done in the past. We heard first the story of the prophet Jonah in Nineveh, the mighty capital city of the Assyrian Empire in our first reading today, while in the Gospel we heard the Lord Jesus speaking in rebuke to the people who still doubted Him and asked Him to show them signs when He had done all those miracles before them.

In our first reading we heard the prophet Jonah who have arrived in Nineveh, after he tried to flee from the Lord and the mission He gave him earlier on, only to encounter a terrible storm that ended up with him asking to be thrown into the sea to spare the rest, and was saved in the belly of a whale for three days and three nights. Jonah then obeyed the Lord and proceeded with his mission to bring the message of doom and the upcoming judgment and destruction of Nineveh.

At that time, the city of Nineveh was one of the greatest cities in the world, with population as mentioned in the Scripture as being over a hundred and twenty thousand, which was a truly monumental population for the time. It was the capital and most important city of the vast and powerful Assyrian Empire, which had expanded rapidly and conquered many nations, and it was also the Assyrians who conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, destroyed its capital Samaria and brought the northern tribes of Israel into exile.

For all of these, and for all the wars and destructions that the Assyrians wrought, and the likely decadent lifestyle in the court of the King of the Assyrians, the sins of Nineveh and its people were truly numerous and terrible, well known to everyone, and it was Jonah who was tasked by God to proclaim His judgment and the upcoming destruction to the entire city and all of its people. No one in the city, from the King to the lowest slaves, even the animals would be spared.

Certainly we may remember another occasion in the Scripture where not just one but two cities were destroyed because of their sins, that is the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Both cities were destroyed with a mighty rain of fire and brimstones from the heavens, and save for the righteous Lot and his family, everyone in the two cities perished because of their sins. It was likely then that this fate would have befallen Nineveh and its people as well.

Yet, what distinguished Nineveh from the earlier case of Sodom and Gomorrah was that immediately after they heard the words and the terrible premonition of the prophet Jonah, the whole city of Nineveh went into great mourning and repentance before God. Everyone from the King, who issued the order to the whole city and its people to repent from their sins, right down to the lowest among the people, all humbled themselves, tore their clothes and wore sackcloth as a sign of penance.

God saw and knew the sincerity of their repentance and He spared the whole city and its people from the punishment they were about to suffer then. Compared to Sodom and Gomorrah, which did not repent from their sins but instead doubled down further in their wickedness, the repentance and humility of Nineveh had won for them the forgiveness and reprieve from God for their numerous, terrible sins and mistakes.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, it was these signs and actions that the Lord Himself then referred to as He addressed the people who doubted Him and demanded miraculous wonders and signs from Him as described in our Gospel passage today. Jesus Himself has performed many wonders and miracles openly before the people, and many had witnessed and seen for themselves the glory of God at work. Yet, unlike the people of Nineveh who repented and believed in God, many among the people of the time of Jesus, especially the Pharisees, hardened their hearts and refused to believe.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the important lesson from this for all of us is the reminder that humility is a very important trait we must have for us to achieve forgiveness and reconciliation with God. Conversely, pride is our greatest obstacle and our greatest enemy in our fight and struggle against sin and evil. As long as we have pride in us and we indulge in that pride, we will find it difficult to seek God’s forgiveness, mercy and love.

In this season of Lent, we are called to resist that pride in us, and instead grow in humility. Today, let us all look at the good examples and virtues set by one of our holy predecessors, namely St. Casimir, a holy noble and one of the heirs of the Kingdom of Poland and Grand Duchy of Lithuania, who was renowned for his great piety, personal humility and virtues, and for his great love and dedication to God and His Church.

Although St. Casimir was born as the heir of the two powerful realms which during that time was among the mightiest kingdoms in Christendom, but like the King of Nineveh, that did not cause him to be prideful and filled with hubris. Instead, he exhibited great piety and humility, known for his charitable efforts and works among the poor and the sick, caring for the needs of those who were less fortunate and ignored by the society.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us as Christians can also follow in the footsteps of St. Casimir, in humbling ourselves before God and in loving Him, by dedicating ourselves to the many works of mercy and love for our fellow brethren, which are indeed highly encouraged for us to do during this blessed season of Lent. Let us all then discern what we are going to do to enrich and make best use of our Lenten observation, and commit ourselves to God anew from now on.

May God bless us always, and may He strengthen our faith in us and may He help us to remain true and faithful to Him, and to be humble at all times following the humility and great piety of His servant, St. Casimir, holy prince and servant of God. St. Casimir, pray for us! Amen.