Tuesday, 17 January 2023 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the words from the Sacred Scriptures, we are all presented with the reminder of the faithfulness which God has shown to each one of us by the Covenant that He has established and constantly renewed with all of us. God has always ever been faithful to all the promises and oaths, vows and words that He has spoken to us, fulfilling and completing them as He had done, in His own time, and He has always reached out to us with ever patient and enduring love that despite our many stubborn actions and attitudes, and refusal to listen to Him, God has always been ready to welcome us back and to forgive us our sins when we come to Him seeking His mercy.

In our first reading today, from the Epistle to the Hebrews, we heard of the words of the author of the Epistle regarding the extent of the things that the Lord had done for us, even when He was not obliged to do so. He, the Almighty and All-Powerful Lord and Master of all Creation, is not bound to show His love for us all, or to be bound by any promises for us, and less still, to bind Himself in a Covenant with us, especially after we have disobeyed against Him and rebelled against Him, choosing to listen to the falsehoods of the devil instead of the path of God’s righteousness, virtues and justice. God has chosen to continue reaching out to us and patiently guiding us towards Himself despite all these, and established a Holy Covenant with us, binding Himself into this sacred vow, oath and arrangement, all because of His love for us.

God has always loved us all from the very beginning, and while He despised our sins and wickedness, what He hates was truly those sins and evils that we have committed, and not ourselves personally. After all, the very reason why He created this whole world and Universe is because of His love and He created us in His very own image, as He desired to share with us His overflowing love, to love us all most generously and sincerely, and to bring us all into His most Holy and loving Presence. We were never intended to suffer and to die, as we were created all good and perfect. We should have enjoyed an eternity of bliss and true happiness with God, if not for the failures of our ancestors and all of us in resisting and rejecting the temptations and allures of sin and evil. It was because of sin that we have been sundered and separated from God.

Yet, the Lord still persisted patiently and gave us opportunities, help and assistance, time and again so that we all may find our way to Him, to return to His path and to be reconciled with Him. He has always reached out to us, His lost sheep and scattered flock, that as our Good Shepherd, He went all the way, to the wilderness and to the peripheries, in searching out for us, finding us and returning us to the flock that He had gathered, all because He truly loved each and every one of us equally, and most dearly. It is through Christ Himself that we have seen, witnessed and experienced the Love of God firsthand, manifested and made real and tangible in our midst. And by Christ’s suffering, His Passion, His death on the Cross, He has shown us just how perfect and selfless God’s love for us has been, is, and will always ever be.

In our Gospel passage today, the Lord courageously spoke out against the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who criticised Him and His disciples, because of the latters’ actions in picking up the grains of the wheat from the field when they were all very hungry. Back then, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were truly notorious for their particularly hardline and rigid attitude in preserving and observing the Law of God, and the many customs and practices of the Jewish people. They were very strict in imposing their no-tolerance adherence and observance of the Law of God, the numerous laws, regulations and rules pertaining to the Jewish customs and practices, especially the one regarding the Sabbath day, the day of rest stipulated in the Law.

However, in their misguided zeal and fanaticism, those Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had overlooked the fact and forgotten that the Sabbath as it was originally revealed by God and intended by Him, was a day to remind all the faithful to turn back towards the Lord, and to take a break from their often overly possessive attachments to worldly matters and ambitions, their preoccupations and works, their desires and wants in life, among other things, which prevented them from loving God and serving Him as they should have done. The Sabbath was a day meant to help the people of God to return to Him after long periods of being distracted by worldly matters and all the troubles, problems and trials that they had in this world.

Unfortunately, those same Pharisees and teachers of the Law, were the very ones who made it difficult for many to come to embrace the Lord, because of their excessive focus and attention on themselves and their own attachments to pride, ego and ambition, to human praise and worldly glory among other things. They had made it difficult for many, especially those who in fact were in the greatest need for God’s mercy and forgiveness. Not only that, but the Pharisees and the teachers themselves forgot that they themselves were also in need of healing and God’s mercy, and by closing the gates of Heaven to many, that made their sins to multiply and became greater, not less. Their neglect of their role as stewards and guides for God’s people, to help them to return to the Lord, was their undoing.

The Lord Jesus hence reminded them and also all of us that the Law of God was meant to help us to find our way back to the Lord, and not to lay unnecessary burdens and hardships on us. The Law of God is love and is about God’s ever enduring and strong love for each one of us, so that He was willing to go through all those obstacles for us, on our behalf and to love us still even after we have disobeyed and refused to listen to Him so many times. Nonetheless, God continued to reach out to us, and through His Son, Our Lord and Saviour, all of us have been gathered from being scattered all throughout the world, and through Him and His love, we have been saved from our predicament and fate of eternal damnation. And it is only right therefore that we also dedicate ourselves to the Lord in the same way.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord has laid out His path and His graces upon us, and the choice is now ours whether we want to embrace Him and journey together with Him, or else, if we rather choose the comforts of the world and the temptations of glory and power. And we can also imitate and follow upon the good examples and works set by one famous saint and Church father, St. Anthony the Abbot, also known as the St. Anthony the Great, who was one of the earliest monastics of the Church, and living in the land rampant with bitter persecutions and hardships by the Roman authorities. St. Anthony devoted himself wholeheartedly to the Lord, spending his every living moments and breaths to glorify God by their work. He had to face a lot of struggles, but St. Anthony remained faithful and patient. He resisted the temptations of worldly glory and strived his best to lead a life of holy asceticism, focused solely on God, and gathered like minded people who followed his example, which was credited with the rise of the monastic practices in the Church.

For example, it was well known that the devil and other demons often came to torment St. Anthony, lifting him up and tempting him with all sorts of false and empty promises. He was under constant attacks from the evil one, and had to contend with the sufferings of this world as well as the pressures for us to conform and follow the ways of the world. Nonetheless, St. Anthony remained firm and strong in his faith, ministering to the needs of his community and other people who desired to seek the Lord and His forgiveness and grace, within his monastic communities as well as to the greater community, to his many visitors and contemporaries. Through his inspirational works, he has become our great model in how we should live our own lives, in being faithful and committed to God, and his writings inspired generations of good and holy priests, and holy people of God. The question is that, are we willing to spend the time and effort for us to change our ways for the better? The choice is ours alone.

May the Lord our most loving God and Creator continue to love us and care for us, and that may He continue to be patient with us, as we are progressing through our own respective lives. We should not take our faith, its many rules and precepts for granted anymore. That is why it is important that we have to grow to understand more about what our faith is all about, and how we should seek and strive to be humble before God, so that we may not be swallowed by our many worldly attachments and pride, and that we will always ever be patient in following God, and that we may always give Him thanks and praise for all the good things that He had done for us. May God bless us always, now and forevermore, in all the things we say and do. Amen.

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