Saturday, 14 August 2021 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Joshua 24 : 14-29

Joshua said to the people of Israel, “So fear YHVH, and be sincere and faithful in serving Him. Set aside those gods your ancestors worshipped in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Serve only YHVH. But if you do not want to serve YHVH, make known this very day whom you shall serve – whether they be the gods your ancestors served in Mesopotamia or the gods of the Amorites who formerly occupied the land in which you now live. As for me, I and my household will serve YHVH.”

The people answered, “May God not permit that we ever abandon YHVH to serve other gods! For it was He Who brought us and our ancestors out of Egypt, the house of slavery. It was He Who did those great wonders that we have seen; He protected us on the way and through all the land where we passed, driving away before us all the nations especially the Amorites who lived in this land. So we shall also serve YHVH : He is our God!”

Joshua asked the people : “Will you be able to serve YHVH? He is a holy God, a jealous God Who does not tolerate wickedness or faults. If you abandon YHVH to serve other gods, He will turn against you and just as He has done you so much good, so shall He punish you and destroy you.”

The people replied, “No, may it not be as you say. We will serve YHVH.” Joshua said, “You yourselves are witnesses that you have chosen YHVH to serve Him.” They answered, “We are witnesses.” Joshua then said, “Remove now from your midst any other gods and serve YHVH, the God of Israel, with all your heart.” The people answered : “We will serve YHVH, our God, and obey His commands.”

On that day at Shechem, Joshua made a Covenant with the people and fixed laws and ordinances. He also wrote down everything expressed in the book of the Law of God; he chose a great stone and put it under the oak tree in the sacred place of YHVH. Then Joshua said to the people : “This stone shall be a witness to all that YHVH said to us, for it heard all these words. It shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with YHVH.”

Joshua immediately sent the people away and everyone returned to his land. After all these deeds, Joshua, son of Nun and servant of YHVH, died at the age of a hundred and ten.

Friday, 13 August 2021 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Pontian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Hippolytus, Priest and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures, we are all reminded of the need for us all to remain faithful and to be obedient to God in all things. He has called on all of us to be truly faithful in Him and not be easily swayed by worldly temptations and desires that will end up misleading us down the wrong path, as we should heed from past examples of our predecessors on how we should be vigilant and careful in living our lives.

In our first reading today, we heard about the story of how Joshua gathered all the Israelites not long before he was to pass away, and as their leader, he reminded all of them of all the wonderful things that God had done for them and their ancestors, as he spoke to them and exhorted them to remain faithful to God. He reminded them to keep their faith in Him and to obey the Law and the commandments which God had placed in their midst. Joshua detailed all the things that God had done for the people He loved so much, and therefore, they ought to love Him in the same way as well.

As we heard from that passage, the Lord had repeatedly again and again cared for His people, showed His love and concern for all of them. He never abandoned them in their hour of need. He has always blessed them and helped them in their journey, even when those same people had wandered off, disobeyed and abandoned Him. He brought the Israelites themselves out of the land of Egypt, and in the Exodus, took care of them for the entire forty years of their journey before giving them all the lands that they now possessed. Hence, Joshua wanted to remind all of the people not to forget the love and deeds of the Lord for them.

In our Gospel passage today, we then heard of the Lord speaking to the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law when some of them questioned Him regarding His teachings and also wanted to test Him with regards to the Law of God as revealed through Moses. They asked the Lord regarding the matter of divorce, which according to their practice and ways, was allowed as long as a writ of divorce was produced, and in reality, the practice was very common, as the people and the Temple authorities used ways and even monetary incentives to accommodate the allowance of divorce, among other rules that had been modified and broken.

What is significant about this is that as the Lord Himself mentioned is, how mankind had twisted and changed the meaning of the Law and the commandments of God, that in their practice and application, they had forgotten the fundamental purpose and idea behind those guidance and path which God had given and revealed to His people, so that through those laws and commandments, the people of God might find their way back to their loving God and Father. Instead, after centuries and more years of misunderstanding and mismanaging the Law, the people had ended up losing sight of the true intention of the Law, and made loopholes and excuses to try and suit the Law of God to their own needs.

That included the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who often made the Law of God as an excuse to impose their desires and thoughts on the other people, and to gain popularity, power and influence through them. That was why the Lord often criticised those people for their lack of true and genuine faith for the Lord and His Law, and why He revealed to the people the true meaning, intention and significance of God’s Law, so that they may come to understand and appreciate what God wants from each one of them.

Today, brothers and sisters in Christ, we ought to reject these wayward paths and entrust ourselves to the Lord and His commandments. We ought to seek the Lord with new spirit of love and devotion, with renewed zeal and conviction, to love Him wholeheartedly and to commit ourselves thoroughly on His path. Let us all then, look upon the good examples of the two saints whose feasts we are celebrating, namely that of Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus. For those who were knowledgeable about the history of the Church, they would have known that these two saints had a long history between them, as they were rival candidates for the seat of the Bishop of Rome at that time.

St. Hippolytus opposed the efforts and views of the earlier Popes who had been more lenient in allowing pagan converts and others who had lapsed from the faith in returning to the Christian faith, belonging to the faction of those who saw themselves as embracing the purer aspect of Christianity. However, the Popes resisted the pressure from these segments, and kept the Church open towards those brethren who had repented their sins and wanting to return after having lapsed from the faith or away for a moment.

Pope St. Pontian was the succeeding Bishop of Rome, of whom St. Hippolytus went up against, as the story went that he was made an antipope against the authority of Pope St. Pontian by his efforts and the support of those who sided and agreed with him. Nonetheless, Pope St. Pontian acted in love and charity, and continued to do his best to bridge the divisions and overcome the misunderstandings within the Church. He led the faithful people of God during the difficult period of external persecution and internal divisions.

Eventually, Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus would both be arrested by the authorities and sent into exile, to do hard labour and eventually perished as martyrs both in their exile. But before he died, St. Hippolytus was known to reject his past ideas and opposition against the Popes and the Church attitude, and was reconciled to Pope St. Pontian, dying as a true Christian and defender of the faith together with his former rival and enemy, Pope St. Pontian.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all heed the great examples set by these two saints, that we may emulate them in our own lives. We are all called to seek Him wholeheartedly and commit ourselves anew, to be the faithful, righteous and worthy bearers of His truth and love, His light and hope in our world today. Let us all remember God’s love for us, and learn to love Him and our fellow brothers and sisters ever more in our daily living, now and always. May God be with us all and bless us, forevermore. Amen.