Monday, 4 April 2022 : 5th Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Isidore, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Daniel 13 : 1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62

There lived in Babylon a man named Joakim, who was married to a very beautiful God-fearing woman, Susanna, Hilkiah’s daughter, whose pious parents had trained her in the law of Moses. A very rich man and greatly respected by all the Jews, Joakim was frequently visited by the Jews in his house adjoining a garden.

That year, two elders of the people were appointed judges, in whom this word of the Lord became true, “Wickedness has come forth from Babylon, through the elders appointed judges, who were supposed to govern the people.” These men frequented Joakim’s house, and all who had legal disputes used to come to them.

After the people had left at noon, Susanna would go into her husband’s garden for a walk. The two old men began to lust for her as they watched her enter the garden every day. Forgetting the demands of justice and virtue, their lust grew all the more as they made no effort to turn their eyes to heaven.

One day, as they were waiting for an opportune time, Susanna entered the garden as usual with only two maids. She decided to bathe, for it was a hot day. Nobody else was there except the two elders watching her from where they had hidden themselves. She said to the maids, “Bring me oil and ointments, and shut the garden doors while I bathe.”

When the maids had left, the two elders hurried to her and said, “Look, the garden doors are shut and no one sees us. We desire to posses you. If you refuse to give in, we will testify that you sent your maids away for there was a young man here with you.” Susanna moaned, “Whatever I do, I am trapped. If I give in to your desire, it will be death for me; if I refuse, I will not escape your persecution. I would rather be persecuted than sin in the eyes of the Lord.”

Susanna shrieked, but the old men shouted, putting the blame on her. One of them ran and opened the garden doors. Hearing the noise in the garden, the household servants rushed in by the side entrance to see what was happening. They were taken aback when they heard the elders’ accusation, for never had anything like this been said of Susanna.

The next day a meeting was held at Joakim’s house. The two elders arrived, vindictively determined to have Susanna sentenced to death. They ordered before all the people, “Send for Susanna, Hilkiah’s daughter and Joakim’s wife.” They sent for her, and she came with her parents, children and all her relatives. Her family and all who saw her wept.

The two elders stood up and laid their hands upon her head. Completely trusting in the Lord, she raised her tearful eyes to heaven. The elders started making their accusation, “We were taking a walk in the garden when this woman came in with two maids. She ordered them to shut the garden doors and dismissed them. Then a young man came out of hiding and lay with her. We were in a corner in the garden, and we saw this crime from there.”

“We ran to them, and caught them in the act of embracing. We were unable to take hold of the man. He was too strong for us. He made a dash for the door, opened it and ran off. But we were able to seize this woman. We asked her who the young man was, but she refused to tell us. This is our statement, and we testify to its truth.”

The assembly took their word, since they were elders and judges of the people. Susanna was condemned to death. She cried aloud, “Eternal God, nothing is hidden from You; You know all things before they come to be. You know that these men have testified falsely against me. Would You let me die, though I am not guilty of all their malicious charges?”

The Lord heard her, and as she was being led to her execution, God aroused the Holy Spirit residing in a young lad named Daniel. He shouted, “I will have no part in the death of this woman!” Those present turned to him, “What did you say?” they all asked.

Standing in their midst, he said to them, “Have you become fools, you Israelites, to condemn a daughter of Israel without due process and in the absence of clear evidence? Return to court, for those men have falsely testified against her.” Hurriedly they returned, and the elders said to Daniel, “Come and sit with us, for you also possess the gifts bestowed by God upon the elders.”

Daniel said to the people, “Separate these two men from one another and I will examine each of them.” When the two elders were separated from each other, Daniel called one of them and said, “How wicked you have grown with age. Your sins of earlier days have piled up against you, and now is the time of reckoning.”

“Remember how you have passed unjust sentences, condemning the innocent and freeing the guilty, although the Lord has said, ‘The innocent and the just should not be put to death.’ Now, if you really witnessed the crime, under what tree did you see them do it?”

The elder answered, “Under a mastic tree.” Daniel said, “Your lie will cost you your head. You will be cut in two, as soon as the Lord’s Angel receives your sentence from God.” Putting the first one aside, Daniel called the other elder and said to him, “You offspring of Canaan and not of Judah, you have long allowed yourself to be perverted by lust.”

“This is how you have dealt with the daughters of Israel, who out of fear have yielded to you. But here is a daughter of Judah who would not tolerate your wickedness. Tell me then, under what tree did you catch them committing the crime?”

The answer came, “Under an oak.” “Your lie has also cost you your head,” Daniel said. “God’s Angel waits to cut you both in two.” The whole assembly shouted and blessed God for helping those who hope in Him. They turned against the two elders who, through Daniel’s efforts, had been convicted by their own mouths. In accordance with Moses’ law, the penalty the two elders had intended to impose upon their neighbour was inflicted upon them. They were sentenced to death. Thus was the life of an innocent woman spared that day.

Alternative reading (shorter version)

Daniel 13 : 41c-62

Susanna was condemned to death. She cried aloud, “Eternal God, nothing is hidden from You; You know all things before they come to be. You know that these men have testified falsely against me. Would You let me die, though I am not guilty of all their malicious charges?”

The Lord heard her, and as she was being led to her execution, God aroused the Holy Spirit residing in a young lad named Daniel. He shouted, “I will have no part in the death of this woman!” Those present turned to him, “What did you say?” they all asked.

Standing in their midst, he said to them, “Have you become fools, you Israelites, to condemn a daughter of Israel without due process and in the absence of clear evidence? Return to court, for those men have falsely testified against her.” Hurriedly they returned, and the elders said to Daniel, “Come and sit with us, for you also possess the gifts bestowed by God upon the elders.”

Daniel said to the people, “Separate these two men from one another and I will examine each of them.” When the two elders were separated from each other, Daniel called one of them and said, “How wicked you have grown with age. Your sins of earlier days have piled up against you, and now is the time of reckoning.”

“Remember how you have passed unjust sentences, condemning the innocent and freeing the guilty, although the Lord has said, ‘The innocent and the just should not be put to death.’ Now, if you really witnessed the crime, under what tree did you see them do it?”

The elder answered, “Under a mastic tree.” Daniel said, “Your lie will cost you your head. You will be cut in two, as soon as the Lord’s Angel receives your sentence from God.” Putting the first one aside, Daniel called the other elder and said to him, “You offspring of Canaan and not of Judah, you have long allowed yourself to be perverted by lust.”

“This is how you have dealt with the daughters of Israel, who out of fear have yielded to you. But here is a daughter of Judah who would not tolerate your wickedness. Tell me then, under what tree did you catch them committing the crime?”

The answer came, “Under an oak.” “Your lie has also cost you your head,” Daniel said. “God’s Angel waits to cut you both in two.” The whole assembly shouted and blessed God for helping those who hope in Him. They turned against the two elders who, through Daniel’s efforts, had been convicted by their own mouths. In accordance with Moses’ law, the penalty the two elders had intended to impose upon their neighbour was inflicted upon them. They were sentenced to death. Thus was the life of an innocent woman spared that day.

Sunday, 3 April 2022 : Fifth Sunday of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we gather together to celebrate this Fifth Sunday of Lent, we are all called yet again to embrace God’s ever wonderful and patient love and mercy, His enduring desire to be reconciled with us and to love us wholeheartedly. He has called us to abandon our sinful ways and our wicked deeds, and to come to Him with contrite hearts and the desire to love Him once again. We are all reminded of this call to repentance and holiness this Sunday, as we continue to progress ever closer to Holy Week and Easter.

In our first reading today, taken from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, we heard of the words of the Lord to His people reassuring them of His providence and love. He reminded them of everything that He had done in the past in rescuing them from their predicament. He spoke of the moment when He brought their ancestors out from Egypt, opening the sea before them and destroying their enemies, the armies and chariots of the Pharaoh before their own eyes. The Lord reminded them of everything that He had done for their sake, and not only that, He reassured them that He would do even more things in the future to come.

He will send to them the promised deliverance and salvation, by sending them His own beloved Son as the Saviour to all of them, a promise to be fulfilled by the coming of Christ, the Son of God into this world. He would gather all of mankind, all His beloved ones to Himself, and they shall enjoy forever the bounty and grace of eternal life and true happiness of being together with Him in the glory of Heaven. The Lord has always intended for us all to enjoy the true happiness and joy of this wonderful world that He had created, and He did create us out of love that He has for each one of us.

We were never intended to endure the bitterness of suffering in this world. However, our inability to resist the temptations to sin essentially ruined all of that. We fell into the temptations of our own desires and fell to the devil’s lies and temptations as he tempted our first ancestors to follow him and his advice instead of believing in God as they should have. By sin we have been separated and sundered from the presence of God, cast out of Eden as our just punishment and the consequence for our sins. Yet, that was not the end for us. God could have destroyed and crushed us for our sins and wickedness. But, His love for us surpassed even His disgust for our sins.

Nonetheless, the reality is that no sin can remain unaccounted for, and we have to answer for every one of these taints and corruptions on our very own souls and beings. As long as sin taints us, we will have to answer for every single one of them, and those who pass on from this world with sins still unforgiven and unaccounted for will be judged by those sins we have committed, as well as by those sins of omission we made when we ignored the opportunities when we could have done good things with our lives, be it for the benefit of our fellow brothers and sisters or for the greater community.

That is why in our Gospel passage today we are reminded through the well-known interaction between the Lord Jesus and the woman who had committed adultery and were caught in the midst of doing so, and also how the Lord interacted with the crowd assembled there, some of whom with the malicious intent of using the opportunity to try to put the Lord into a trap and to get Him into a corner and to find reasons to persecute and condemn Him. Why so? That is because the whole event was likely the effort of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law in trying to discredit or even persecute the Lord, Who was well-known for His frequent interactions and works among those considered as sinners, such as the tax collectors, the prostitutes and people who were possessed, ill and had disabilities.

At that time, associating with those people were often abhorred and discouraged, and this went even to the extent that coming close into contact with them causing someone to be considered unclean and unworthy. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law in particular were very convinced of their own piety, their righteous and worthy way of life, through their strict interpretation, enforcement and living of the ways of the Law of God. However, they failed to realise one very important thing that, in the end, it is not they who determine whether they are worthy of God or not. Instead, God is the One Who will determine all of that.

Through the example of the Lord’s interaction with the convicted adulterous woman, the Lord made it very clear that what He wants is not the destruction of sinners like us. Instead, as I mentioned earlier, that His love for us is indeed so great that it surpasses even the wickedness of our sins. Of course it does not mean that He condones or accepts our sins and evil actions. Rather, He wants us to distance ourselves from those actions and sins, to turn away wholeheartedly from those evil deeds and ways, and embrace wholly His love and mercy, walking ever always in His righteous path.

That was why the Lord told the woman that He did not condemn her, just as no one gathered there did not dare to do so either. When the Lord told the assembled people who pressed Him to take action against the woman, and He said that the one who was without sin ought to cast the first stone at her, it reminds us all that each and every one of us are sinners, no matter how small or insignificant, how great or serious our sins may be. Sin is sin, and as long as we have sin in us, we are unworthy of God and cannot come close to Him. And yet, it was God Who first made the move to close up the distance between us.

He told the woman that He did not condemn her either, but wanting her to turn away from those sins she committed, sinning no more and embracing fully His forgiveness and mercy. It proves that God hates not the sinner but the sin. He does not despise us as a person, but rather our attachment to sin, our stubbornness in remaining attached and obsessed over those worldly desires and all the other temptations that we often fail to resist and even indulge ourselves in. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were so fixated on their own sense of pride and self-righteousness that they failed to realise that they themselves too, were sinners.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, should we allow our pride and ego, our desires and the many other distractions in life to prevent us from finding our way to God and His salvation? We must not let ourselves be dissuaded and distracted by all those things that may end up getting us further and further away from the Lord’s path. And that is why we must remind ourselves yet again to seek the Lord with renewed faith, genuine desire to be reconciled with Him and with a contrite heart full of regret for our many sins and wickedness, with the commitment to make amends and to get closer to Him, Our Lord and Saviour once again.

As St. Paul said in our second reading today, in his Epistle to the Philippians, all of us have to seek Christ, Our Lord and Saviour, find Him and do whatever we can to walk with Him together, and we have to seek Him as in Him is worth everything and more than whatever we can find and gather in this world. He has willingly reached out to us, with plenty of mercy and compassion, willing to forgive us our sins if we desire to have them forgiven, and as long as we sincerely show contrition and regret over those faults and mistakes that we had done. What better reward and prize we can get as compared to these?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we gather together this Sunday in the Lord’s presence, let us all remind ourselves of our sinfulness and how we all are in need of God’s healing and mercy. We are all in need of this forgiveness for God alone can forgive us our sins. Otherwise, we will have to answer for every sins we have with us that are still unaccounted for and unforgiven as I mentioned. And if we do not change our ways, remaining in our state and path of sin, we will be judged by those same sins we committed. God generously wants to forgive us our sins, but it is often we who reject Him and His love.

And are we going to be like the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who gloated over those whom they deemed to be less worthy and more wicked than they were? This is a reminder that this is not the attitude that we should adopt at any point of time, as this kind of attitude truly prevents us from humbling ourselves and realising that we are always in need of God’s grace and forgiveness. While the tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners are all fast going forward in the path towards God’s forgiveness and eternal life as they realised their sins and made the efforts to be forgiven by God, those who kept their pride and ego will perish because of that pride.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us remind ourselves and one another to be humble before God, and to make good use of the time and opportunities that have been given to us, such that we may benefit from the gift of Our Lord’s ever generous mercy and compassion. He has proven to us again and again of how faithful He has been to the Covenant that He had made and sealed with us and our ancestors, while we have proven yet again and again, how unfaithful we have been to Him, and how terrible we have been in living our lives so far, in not following God’s path and in walking down our own paths towards doom.

Can we do our best and strive to reject those temptations to sin, brothers and sisters in Christ? Can we reject the devil and all the wicked things that he has been persuading us to do, and all the lies and falsehoods that he has presented before us? Let us follow the Lord’s advice and call, for us to sin no more and turn wholeheartedly towards Him, knowing that in God alone there is true happiness and satisfaction. Let us remember that while God loves us and does not despise us, He still despises our sins and wickedness. Let us do our best in the remaining time of this Lenten season, to purify ourselves and to make a good habit of living virtuously in God’s path, so that from now on we may be ever better Christians, ever more committed disciples of Our Lord.

May the Lord be with all of us as we journey together with Him, as we walk down the path of reconciliation and forgiveness. May He grant us the courage and strength to follow Him with commitment and strong desire to love Him in each and every moments of our lives, and may we also be good examples, role models and inspirations for one another in how we live our lives so that many more people may also share in God’s salvation and eternal life with us. Amen.