Friday, 31 July 2020 : 17th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Priest (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listen to the words of the Scripture we are reminded that we have often been stubborn and rebellious before God, and we have often ignored the Lord’s genuine love and call for us to return to Him, as history and Scriptural records and truth had revealed to us. As it had once happened at that time, so it has happened again at present and will happen again in the future.

In the first reading today, taken from the passage of the Book of the prophet Jeremiah, we heard of the words of the Lord that He spoke through Jeremiah and which He asked of the prophet to convey to the people of Judah, calling them all to repent and turn away from their sins, that He might forgive them and stay His wrath from them all and rescind the punishments for the many sins that the people had committed all those while.

And the Lord also reminded His people that unless they repent from their sins, then what happened to the sanctuary of Shiloh would also happen to them all, as a kind and loving reminder that God still yet gave more and more chances to His people to repent and turn away from their sins. For the context, the sanctuary of Shiloh historically had been important religious centre for the Israelites since the days of the Judges before the rise of the kingdom of Israel.

And Shiloh was likely the place where the then Judge and High Priest Eli had his seat and where the Ark of the Covenant was kept under the Holy Tent. When the two wicked sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas led the Israelites against the Philistines who raided and attacked them, they brought the Ark of the Covenant with them, thinking that they would win and triumph over the Philistines. On the contrary, they suffered a terrible defeat, the wicked Hophni and Phinehas were killed and the Ark of God was taken away by the enemy.

The story of the sanctuary of Shiloh was a great tragedy and humiliation for the Israelites, and the utterance of the place was the way for the Lord to convey the message to the Israelites that if they continued on in their path of wickedness and sin, just as it had happened before, then it would happen again. And this was proven correct later on, as within about two decades, both Judah and Jerusalem would be destroyed by the Babylonians, the Temple destroyed and the Ark went missing since then.

It was a humiliation on a perhaps much greater scale than the humiliation of Shiloh, but it could have been prevented had the people then been more humble and accepting of God’s love and mercy. But they hardened their hearts as we heard from our first reading today, opposing Jeremiah and protesting publicly against him and whatever he had said and done, while refusing to reinspect and relook once again at their own lives and actions, their lack of faith and sin.

In the Gospel today, we heard a parallel story in how Jesus was doubted and rejected by none other than His own townspeople, those who had seen Him grow up in their midst, His neighbours and even perhaps friends. Those were the same people who expressed doubt and disbelief at the Lord after hearing Him speak and performing miracles. They had seen Him grow up in a poor carpenter family just like many of them, in a poor backwater village in Galilee. Therefore, it could even be seen as the people being jealous and refused to believe that the Lord Jesus could have been genuine.

It is sad how these attitudes are leading people away from God, and they kept so many people in their ego and pride, their hardened hearts and closed minds that they ended up being ever more and more distant from God. Yet, God has always been patient in reaching out to us and calling on us to follow Him despite our many transgressions and disobedience. And just as the path of disobedience leads to our downfall and annihilation, should we turn away from sin and be reconciled with God, then a bright future awaits us.

Today, we remember the memory of one of such converts, a great saint and holy man of God, devout as priest and champion of Christendom against its many troubles and enemies. Yet, when this holy man of God was young, he was not at all devout, and treated God as someone insignificant and distant, preferring to seek worldly ambitions and dreams of glory and might, as the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus or the Jesuits can tell us.

St. Ignatius of Loyola was born into a minor noble family in northern part of what is now Spain. He was brought up in the common norm of the time as part of the nobility, surrounded by wealth, power and privileges, and the young St. Ignatius of Loyola dreamt of great pursuits and noble, chivalrous deeds as was expected of many among the nobles then. To that extent, in the pursuit of glory and power, St. Ignatius of Loyola joined the military, and at that time, wars and conflicts characterised many parts of Christendom as kings fought for power and influence.

In one of the sieges, St. Ignatius of Loyola was badly injured and he had to stay in the hospital to treat his terrible wounds. As he was bedridden for a while, he was initially restless and wanted to resume his previous military career. But his almost life-threatening injury ended his military life, and he went through profound spiritual conversion through reading the lives of the Lord and the saints. As he continued to explore this newfound interest and passion, St. Ignatius of Loyola left behind the worldly pursuits and desires he once had, and instead, he sought to imitate the holy lives of the saints and serve the Lord.

To this extent, St. Ignatius of Loyola came to practice spiritual discernment and experiences that he would later also be famous for, as the Ignatian spirituality. And as he met and gathered like-minded people, who wanted to serve the Lord and the Church particularly during the troubled times at that time when the Church and the faithful were threatened from both the outside by the rising power of the Ottomans that persecuted Christian communities and conquered many nations, to the rapidly growing heresy of Protestantism that divided many communities of the faithful and led many astray from the true faith.

Therefore, St. Ignatius of Loyola together with several other men founded the Society of Jesus and became in time, the spearhead of the Church’s efforts in countering the threats faced at that time by the faithful. Led by St. Ignatius of Loyola, many Jesuits would go to various places throughout Christendom and through many years of labour and loving commitment, brought countless souls back to salvation in God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we heard how St. Ignatius of Loyola had been transformed by the chance experience he had when he was injured, and how he opened himself to the Lord and desired to seek Him as he went on to learn more and more about Him. And this is what we should all be doing as well in our lives. This is what each and every one of us have been called to do, to allow God to lead us in our lives to the right path, and for us to follow Him wholeheartedly, rejecting sin and evil for good and righteousness.

Let us all follow in the footsteps of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and remember his motto, ‘Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam’ meaning ‘For the greater glory of God’. Let our lives and actions be transformed and changed by God, that in everything we say and do, in our every interactions, we will glorify God and be inspiring role models for one another, that we all may become ever closer to God and His salvation. May God bless us always in everything we do, now and forevermore. Amen.

Friday, 31 July 2020 : 17th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Priest (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 13 : 54-58

At that time, Jesus went to His hometown and taught the people in their synagogue. They were amazed and said, “Where did He get this wisdom and these special powers? Is He not the carpenter’s Son? Is Mary not His mother and are James, Joseph, Simon and Judas not His brothers? Are not all His sisters living here? How did He get all this?” And so they took offence at Him.

Jesus said to them, “The only place where prophets are not welcome is their hometown and in their own family.” And He did not perform many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

Friday, 31 July 2020 : 17th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Priest (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 68 : 5, 8-10, 14

More than the hairs of my head are those who hate me for no reason; mighty are those who attack me, many are my enemies without cause. What I did not steal I am forced to restore.

Since I am held in contempt for Your sake, and shame has covered my face. I have become a stranger to my kindred, an alien to my mother’s sons. Zeal for Your House consumes me, as fire, and those who insult You, insult me as well.

But I pray to You, o YHVH. At a time most favourable to You, in Your great love, o God, answer me, with Your unfailing help.

Friday, 31 July 2020 : 17th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Priest (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Jeremiah 26 : 1-9

At the beginning of the reign of Judah’s king Jehoiakim son of Josiah, the word of YHVH came to Jeremiah : YHVH says this, “Stand in the courtyard of YHVH’s House and say to all who come from the towns of Judah to worship in YHVH’s House – all that I command you to say; do not omit anything! Perhaps they will listen to you. Perhaps each one will turn from his wicked ways. Then I will change My mind and forget the destruction that I have planned to inflict on them because of their wicked deeds.”

“Tell them : This is what YHVH says : ‘You have not obeyed Me and you have failed to walk according to My law which I have set before you. You have not heeded My servants, the prophets, whom I have persistently sent to you. If you stubbornly close your ears to them, I will treat this House of Mine as I treated the Sanctuary of Shiloh and let all the nations see that Jerusalem is a cursed city.’”

The priests, the prophets and all the people heard what Jeremiah said in YHVH’s House. When Jeremiah finished saying all that YHVH had commanded, he was besieged by the priests and prophets saying, “You are bound to die! How dare you speak in YHVH’s Name telling us that this House will be treated like Shiloh and this city is to become a deserted ruin.” And all the people gathered around Jeremiah in the House of YHVH.

Thursday, 30 July 2020 : 17th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Peter Chrysologus, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we heard in our Scripture readings today firstly the words of the prophet Jeremiah speaking about the Lord as the Potter, our Potter as One Who moulds us and shapes us as He desires and wills, while in the Gospel passage today we heard about the Lord speaking to His disciples and explaining the kingdom of heaven to them with a parable, the parable of the fishes and the kingdom of God.

In our first reading today, we heard the prophet Jeremiah speaking metaphorically using the example of a potter, a common profession at that time making clay products used for various purposes in the community. Those clay products come in many different shapes and forms, from jugs and drinking cups to basins and containers, as well as decorative pots and vases for many purposes. And the shapes vary widely depending on the fashion at the time.

The prophet used the example of a potter to compare the Lord’s work on His people, as if a potter is not happy with the product he created, he would reshape it and remould it while it was still soft and mouldable. The potter would reshape the clay patiently and change it to suit the intended final product, before heating the completed product in the oven and the clay harden into the final shape due to the heat. But once the clay has already hardened, should there be a mistake or defect, then there is no other way to rectify it other than to crush it and destroy it.

By this symbolism, the Lord is saying to His people how He has been so patient all that while reaching out to them and calling on them to repent and return to Him with faith. The Lord has always been patient in trying to remould and change the hearts and minds of His people, despite all of their stubbornness and rebelliousness. But of course, as with the potter’s clay and pottery works, there will come a time when it will be the end of the line, when it is too late for us, if we constantly refuse to be changed and remoulded by God by continuing to follow down the path of rebellion and sin.

In the Gospel reading today, we heard a related reading in which the Lord used the parable to explain the same intention to His people, by comparing the kingdom of heaven to a large fishing net in which good and bad fishes were all caught and gathered together. Only the good fishes would be gathered and kept, while the bad and poor quality fishes would be thrown away and discarded, unwanted and rejected.

Through this, the Lord wants us all to know that everyone is welcome in His Church, the Church often being symbolised and represented as a boat, and the fishes being all of us. God calls on all of us, whether big or small, good or bad, regardless of our background, our character, our race or origin, all of us are called and welcome in the kingdom of God. And God has given us all many chances to change ourselves and to turn towards Him once again with faith, rejecting all sorts of falsehoods and evil.

Are we going to ignore that, brothers and sisters in Christ? God’s ever great generosity and love for us? Let us not wait until it is too late for us to realise that we have spurned so much of His love and mercy, when we stand by the gates of hell from which there is no hope and escape any longer. Those who end up in hell are those who by their conscious choice, chose sin over good, chose wickedness and evil over righteousness, and chose the path of Satan over God’s path.

Today we also have the inspiration from one of our holy predecessors, whose life and inspiring works can be a role model for us all in how we ourselves ought to live our lives moving on from this point onwards. St. Peter Chrysologus, a renowned preacher and bishop, a great Doctor of the Church has inspired many with his life’s examples and actions, and hopefully he can inspire all of us as well.

He was known by the epithet and name ‘Chrysologus’ meaning the ‘Golden-mouthed’ precisely because of his very inspirational and wise preaching, that drew many people to the Lord and helped to gain salvation for many souls during his ministry as priest and later on as the Bishop of Ravenna in the late Roman Empire era. His inspirational homilies and preaching touched many people deeply, with the style being simple and relatable to the people and yet also rich in theological truth.

He was also renowned for his great and deep piety and devotion to God, that further encouraged many of his listeners to turn towards God and to avoid the falsehoods and heresies that were very rampant at that time. Through his life, obedience to God and faith, St. Peter Chrysologus inspired many to be good and true Christians and to turn to God before it was too late for them. Are we able and willing to do the same too, brothers and sisters in Christ?

Now, let us all discern how we are to proceed in life from now on, keeping in mind that the Lord has given us generously many opportunities to be reconciled to Him, to reject sin and evil, and to embrace His love. Let us all seek the Lord with renewed spirit and vigour from now on, that in the end, we may indeed be worthy to enter into His most glorious kingdom, to enjoy forever the promise of eternal life and happiness, the joy everlasting free from sin and evil.

May the Lord be with us in this journey and may all of us be ever more devoted, and be willing to commit ourselves to be good Christians in all words, actions and deeds. May the Lord strengthen us all in faith that we may persevere through even when we encounter many obstacles and temptations in life preventing and blocking our path and progress forward. St. Peter Chrysologus, holy saint of God, faithful and devout servant of our most loving God and Father, pray for us all sinners, now and always. Amen.