Friday, 4 March 2022 : Friday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Casimir (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures and as we embark on this journey of the Lenten season, all of us are called to remember why we observe this season of Lent, with plenty of fasting, abstinence and almsgiving. We are reminded that all that we have done, we did them not for ourselves or for our own satisfaction and convenience. All of these we have done because we desire to seek the Lord and to be forgiven from our many sins and faults, to be reconciled fully with our most loving and compassionate God.

In our first reading today, we heard from the prophet Isaiah, the words of the Lord chastising His people in the kingdom of Judah, where Isaiah was ministering in. The Lord chastised His people because they had not truly been faithful to Him, and those who professed to be faithful, did not truly follow Him in the way that they should have, as they merely paid lip service through their actions. It was mentioned how they fasted and yet at the same time, they oppressed the weak and the poor, bringing sorrow and hardships to others, all for their own personal benefits and glory.

This was what the Lord chastised His people for, which was their attitude that did not reflect true faith and commitment in the Lord and His path. He told them that they could not profess to believe in Him and yet, acted in ways contrary to what they have believed in. Otherwise, they would be hypocrites and lacking in true faith. They have to be truly faithful and not just doing things and obeying the rules and laws just for the sake of obeying them. If they fasted and yet, they bickered and oppressed others who were less fortunate, then whatever virtues and good things they have gained would have been nulled by the wickedness they committed.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard the Lord speaking to the disciples of St. John the Baptist who came to Him asking why His disciples did not fast the same way that they and the Pharisees had fasted. Contextually, we have to understand that the disciples of St. John and especially the Pharisees had followed a very strict interpretation of the Jewish laws and customs, and which particularly for the Pharisees, they took great emphasis and care in enforcing that fast and how the fast were to be done, and criticised all others who did not fast the way that they had done it.

This was where the Pharisees had ended up losing sight on the true intention and meaning of fasting, of why fasting was done in the first place. For as the Lord Himself had said in our first reading today, if we fasted and then yet, we oppressed, persecuted and made others’ life difficult, through how the Pharisees had criticised and persecuted the Lord, His disciples and the other people, then what they had done were not in accordance with God, His teachings and truth. They did not fast as how the Lord wanted them to fast.

For their fasting ended up serving their own desires, in wanting to be recognised and praised for their own piety, in their faith and virtues. They sought that glory and worldly fame, attention, influence and other things, that they ended up forgetting why they ought to have fasted, which was in fact contrary to what they had done. Fasting was meant to curb all those desires instead of embracing them, and fasting was meant to bring one closer to God and help one to focus on God rather than to end up focusing more on oneself and their own’s selfish desires.

That is why, today as we remember these words from the Scriptures, all of us are yet again reminded that in our Lenten practices and observances, we must not do them blindly and without understanding their true significance and importance. It means that we should not just fasted and abstained from meat like for example on this day, being a Friday, on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and any other Fridays, but we have to have an interior conversion and change of heart and mind. For fasting and abstinence must not just be an end on themselves, but they must lead to a genuine conversion and change of heart.

It means that we have to grow ever more in our faith in the Lord, and be sincere in our desire to follow the Lord. We must not merely pay lip service in our faith, and this Lent should be a great opportunity for us to embrace the Lord and His mercy and love. This Lenten season should be a time for us to grow more in humility and in our relationship with God rather than for us to show off our faith with pride or worse still, for us to compare with one another who is being more worthy and holier in our ways before the Lord.

Today we should be inspired instead by the good examples set by our predecessors, especially that of St. Casimir, whose feast we are celebrating today. St. Casimir was a prince of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania in the late Middle Ages, the second son of the King of Poland-Lithuania. Even in his youth, he was renowned for his great piety and faith in God, in his many charitable and generous actions for the poor and the sick, as he dedicated himself to the care of the less privileged. He also dedicated himself to a life of virtue and holiness, not indulging in the excesses of worldly living as what many of the royalty and nobles at that time often enjoyed.

Through his faith, life and dedication, St. Casimir, faithful servant of God has shown us all how we can also be faithful to the Lord in our own actions. Are we then willing and able to commit ourselves to the Lord in the same way, brothers and sisters in Christ? Can we be more humble in life, recognising our sinfulness and our vulnerabilities and weaknesses, and at the same time also growing ever more generous in loving and giving to others, in the manner that St. Casimir and many others of our holy predecessors had done?

Let us all make great use of this blessed time of Lent for us to reorientate our lives back towards the Lord, to return to Him and to embrace Him with genuine love once again. Let us all turn towards Him with faith, and commit ourselves to a new life of virtue and faith, renewed with zeal and courage, to take up our crosses in life and following the Lord, walking in the path that He has shown us all. May the Lord continue to guide us and strengthen us, and may He empower us all to be able to serve Him at all times, through our lives and examples. Amen.

Friday, 4 March 2022 : Friday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Casimir (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 9 : 14-15

At that time, the disciples of John came to Jesus with the question, “How is it, that we and the Pharisees fast on many occasions, but not Your disciples?”

Jesus answered them, “How can you expect wedding guests to mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The time will come, when the Bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then, they will fast.”

Friday, 4 March 2022 : Friday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Casimir (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 50 : 3-4, 5-6a, 18-19

Have mercy on me, o God, in Your love. In Your great compassion blot out my sin. Wash me thoroughly of my guilt; cleanse me of evil.

For I acknowledge my wrongdoings and have my sins ever in mind. Against You alone, have I sinned.

You take no pleasure in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, You would not delight in it. O God, my sacrifice is a broken spirit; a contrite heart, You will not despise.

Friday, 4 March 2022 : Friday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Casimir (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Isaiah 58 : 1-9a

Cry out aloud for all you are worth; raise your voice like a trumpet blast; tell My people of their offences, Jacob’s family of their sins. Is it true that they seek Me day after day, longing to know My ways, as a people that does what is right and has not forsaken the word of its God?

They want to know the just laws and not to drift away from their God. “Why are we fasting?,” they complain, “and You do not even see it? We are doing penance and You never notice it.” Look, on your fast days you push your trade and you oppress your labourers. Yes, you fast but end up quarrelling, striking each other with wicked blows. Fasting as you do will not make your voice heard on high.

Is that the kind of fast that pleases Me, just a day to humble oneself? Is fasting merely bowing down one’s head, and making use of sackcloth and ashes? Would you call that fasting, a day acceptable to YHVH? See the fast that pleases Me : breaking the fetters of injustice and unfastening the thongs of the yoke, setting the oppressed free and breaking every yoke.

Fast by sharing your food with the hungry, bring to your house the homeless, clothe the one you see naked and do not turn away from your own kin. Then will your light break forth as the dawn and your healing come in a flash. Your righteousness will be your vanguard, the glory of YHVH your rearguard. Then you will call and YHVH will answer, you will cry and He will say, I am here.

Thursday, 3 March 2022 : Thursday after Ash Wednesday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we listened to the words of the Lord in the Scriptures speaking to us regarding the matter of following God and His commandments, to obedient to Him, His Law and all that He has given and revealed to us through His Church. All of us as Christians are called to follow the Lord wholeheartedly, to devote ourselves, our lives and actions to adhere to His path. And as we begin this season of Lent, it is indeed most timely for us to consider this carefully.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Book of Deuteronomy in which the Lord spoke to His people, the Israelites, through Moses, the leader whom God had appointed and sent to free the Israelites from their enslavement in Egypt, bringing them all out through the power of God as they journeyed towards the Promised Land of Canaan. The Lord placed His Law and commandments to them all, passing them His Law and precepts to be followed and obeyed, that they might remain on the right path in life.

Unfortunately, as we all likely have known, no sooner that God revealed His Law, His Covenant and love for the people, that the same people disobeyed Him, refused to follow Him and fell back into their sinful path, as they forced Aaron to build a golden calf idol to be their god and master, just so soon after the Lord had liberated them from the slavery in Egypt and from the hands and forces of the Egyptians and their Pharaoh. Even though they had seen the love and the might of God, they still betrayed Him and abandoned Him for a pagan idol.

Thus, that was why Moses spoke to the Israelites, in that occasion, just as he was already getting old and having led the Israelites on their forty years of detour and journey in the desert due to the infidelity and the lack of faith that the Israelites had shown. He reminded the whole people of Israel how fortunate they were for having been chosen as God’s own people and how He has favoured them and guided them all the way. God has presented His Law, commandments and ways, and the choice was therefore the people’s, on whether they would want to follow Him or not.

In our Gospel passage today, we then heard how the Lord told His disciples very plainly that He was to suffer rejection and even death at the hands of His enemies and opponents, the ones who despised Him and would make it difficult for Him to perform His works and missions, namely many of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, the many members of the Sanhedrin, the chief priests and elders, the Sadducees and all those who opposed the truth and the wonders that the Lord had brought unto this world.

All those things happened because of the stubbornness of mankind, their attachments to worldly glory, power and fame, all that led to the people mentioned opposing the Lord and His good works, because they feared losing their influence and power in the society, the status and privileges that they had experienced and gained from the world. They saw the Lord as a rival and threat to all these, and that was why, despite being the ones who were the most knowledgeable about the Law, ironically they were the ones who rejected the Lord with the greatest fervour.

Just like the people of Israel of old, their ancestors, it was their desire for worldly things and their attachments that led them to disobey the Lord, and therefore fell deeper and deeper into the path of sin. Thus, the Lord reminded His disciples and all of us truly require that commitment and the genuine desire to follow Him wholeheartedly. We cannot truly call ourselves Christians and God’s disciples unless we are willing to carry our crosses together with the Lord, knowing fully that in following Him, sooner or later, we would face rejection and condemnation from the world, just as the Lord Himself had experienced.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, in this season of Lent, all of us are called to renew this commitment we have in the Lord, to purify our hearts, minds, bodies and souls, our whole entire beings, in following God from now on with greater fervour and dedication. All of us are called to make that conscious choice to stand with the Lord, willing and ready to carry our crosses in life, devoting our effort, time and attention to serve the Lord by being exemplary as Christians in life. We are all called to follow the path that God has shown us and definitively reject sin and all of Satan’s many temptations and efforts to turn us away from God.

May the Lord continue to be with us and bless us in our respective journeys of faith. May He continue to watch over us and grant us the strength to persevere through the challenges and trials of our faith and life, and help us that we may draw ever closer to Him and His salvation, from now on and always, that we may help and inspire one another to become ever closer to God and be better Christians, through this wonderful time and season of Lent. Amen.