Tuesday, 8 February 2022 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Jerome Emiliani, and St. Josephine Bakhita, Virgin (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saints and Holy Virgins)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Sacred Scriptures, we are all called to serve the Lord wholeheartedly and to love Him from the deepest depth of our hearts, to be genuinely faithful and filled with love for Him and not just an empty gesture or paying lip service to Him. We have to dedicate ourselves thoroughly and completely to walk in His path, to obey His will and commandments, and to answer His call with firm resolution in our hearts. That is our calling as Christians, what we need to do in our lives.

In our first reading today, we heard the prayer of King Solomon made on behalf of the people of Israel at the time of the dedication of the Temple of God in Jerusalem, the great Temple and House that Solomon had built and established for the glory of God and to be His dwelling place among His people. King Solomon had completed the House after seven long years of construction and brought the Ark of the Covenant with great fanfare and celebration, placing it in the Holy of Holies within the Temple, and God’s glorious Presence filled up the entirety of the Temple.

King Solomon prayed on behalf of the people giving thanks to God for His constant love and care for them, and for all that He had done, and for willingly coming to dwell with His people. He humbled himself for the unworthy House that he has built, no matter how grand it might have been, as no House could ever contain the great glory of the Almighty and Infinite God. He asked the Lord for His protection and continued guidance for himself and for the people so that they might remain faithful and dedicated to Him in their lives.

Then, in our Gospel passage today we heard of the confrontation between the Pharisees and the Lord as they scrutinised Him and how some of His disciples did not wash their hands in the manner that the Law of Moses had prescribed. They criticised the Lord and His disciples at the apparent failure to obey the commandments which were prescribed for all the people to follow, and which the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law enforced with great emphasis and even bordering on obsession.

The Lord then reminded them how foolish their preoccupation and obsession with their way of obeying the Law. This must be understood in the context of how the Law of God had grown very cumbersome with plenty of rituals and rules over the centuries as the Law was passed down from generations to generations, and the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law being those who expanded on the rules and requirements of the Law, making them extra stringent on the people of God. They placed a lot of emphasis on the details of the rules and regulations, and with regards to the matter of the washing of hands, they had a certain prescribed manner and steps to wash their hands before they were to eat or to do other activities.

It was not wrong for one to wash their hands prior to a meal, as we all know that hygiene in fact required us to do so. However, the issue was not about the washing of hands, but rather with the obsession and preoccupations which the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had on the extensive details and rituals required in each activities and in each of the requirements regarding that washing. All of these distract us from truly understanding why the Law is present in our lives. The people ended up doing the Law for the sake of fulfilling the requirements rather than because they love the Lord.

Today we also have two saints, our holy predecessors whose lives and works can become great source of inspiration for us to follow in how we ourselves should live our faith as Christians. They are St. Jerome Emiliani, a renowned holy man of God who was prominent for his works among the people of God particularly among the sick and the orphans, and then also St. Josephine Bakhita, a Sudanese slave who became a Christian and who upon her escape and freedom became a member of the Canossian religious order, and was exemplary in her conduct in faith and life.

St. Jerome Emiliani was a very renowned humanitarian, dedicating a lot of time and efforts to reach out to the poor and the orphans. He spent a lot of effort helping orphans and the needy, even taking out from his own expense to help them. St. Jerome Emiliani rented houses for taking care of these people in need, helping them as much as he could, and he inspired many others to join in his efforts, and eventually this came to be the foundation of the Congregation of the Regular Clerics, also known as the Somaschi Fathers who are dedicated for the same work initiated by St. Jerome Emiliani.

Meanwhile, St. Josephine Bakhita was a freed slave, who was abducted from her birth family in what is today Sudan, during her early youth in one of the many slave raids. She suffered throughout her period of enslavement, but by God’s grace, she ended up in the possession of a former Christian who was touched by her life, work and virtuous character, and in the end, both her and her master went back to Europe and St. Josephine Bakhita gained her freedom. St. Josephine Bakhita went to join the Canossians and worked hard for many years in serving the community of the Canossians as well as the local community.

Through the examples showed by St. Jerome Emiliani and St. Josephine Bakhita we can learn how we should follow the Lord wholeheartedly through our love for our fellow brothers and sisters, through our genuine care for those who are needy, and not to focus only on our own needs and wants, or only on our own personal piety and righteousness, just as how the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law often spent a lot of their time and effort on. We are all called to be genuine followers of Christ, to be full of love for Him and to have that dedication and commitment to Him.

Let us all therefore seek the Lord with renewed zeal and faith, and let us all do our best to follow Him by modelling ourselves on the virtues of our predecessors, and remind ourselves that we are called to be holy. Let us devote our time and effort to serve the Lord and to be exemplary in our actions. May the Lord be with us always and may He empower each and every one of us to walk ever more devotedly in His path, now and always. Amen.

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