Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Sacred Scriptures, each and every one of us as Christians are called to be righteous and good, worthy of our Lord, virtuous and full of God’s grace in all things. All of us are called to be humble and good disciples and followers of our Lord, doing His will and committing ourselves to His cause first and foremost in our lives, and not giving in to the many temptations all around us, the temptations of pride and our human ego, and of worldly greed and desires, which can lead us down the wrong path of sin and evil. This is particularly timely and apt considering that we are going to begin the season of Lent tomorrow with Ash Wednesday, and hence, today we should spend some time to reflect on what we have just heard in the Scriptures.
In our first reading today, we heard from the prophet Sirach the words of reminders and encouragement which he spoke to the people of God regarding the matter of following the Lord and obeying His Law and commandments. The prophet Sirach told the people of God that they ought to be righteous and to do good always in their lives, in their every actions, and that they should be ready to endure challenges and trials for the sake of the Lord and for their faith in Him. He reminds all the faithful that their calling as the people of God is to keep their faith and trust in God even in their darkest and most difficult moments in life, and they ought to remain focused on God and His path despite the many temptations, pressures and coercions to do otherwise.
Contextually, the Book of Sirach was written by the author about two centuries prior to the birth and life of Our Lord Jesus Christ, a few centuries after the destruction of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile to Babylon. During all those centuries and right up to the time of the prophet Sirach, the people of God had often been disobedient and rebellious against God, often not following the Law and commandments that He has set before them and preferring to do things in their own way, and allowing themselves to be led by their own wicked desires and ambitions, their pride and ego, which led them to their downfall. The prophet Sirach himself lived at a time of renewed difficulty for the faithful as it was during the beginning of the persecution of the faithful by the Greek authorities of the Seleucids, which would eventually lead to the Maccabean Revolt.
Hence, the prophet Sirach’s words were timely reminder to the people of his time and even to all of us that they must always remain true to their faith in God despite the many trials and challenges that they might have had to face along their life and journey. The prophet told them all to remain strong in faith and to do what the Lord had taught and commanded them to do so that in all things they would be truly worthy of God, and be righteous and good examples in the midst of their own community and as inspirations and good role models for many others all around them. All of them are reminded to be humble in accepting God’s help, grace and guidance in every single moments of their lives. They should inspire others to live their lives faithfully as well and not instead be sources of scandal for the Lord and their faith because of their actions.
In our Gospel passage we then heard of the Lord speaking to His disciples and teaching them that, in order for them to truly become His disciples, they all must be ready to abandon their prideful and ambitious thoughts, and their many temptations of worldly glory and status, power, influence, fame and more, among many other things. This happened just after the disciples failing to cast out the evil spirits from a boy who was possessed and struck deaf and mute, as we heard in the Scripture readings yesterday. The disciples were unable to do so because they were lacking in faith, and were likely swayed by pride and hubris, thinking that all the miracles and wonders they performed were due to their own powers and abilities, and forgetting that they did all that by the grace and power of God.
They were all reminded that in following the Lord they must be humble and obedient to God, and to put themselves after Him and others around us. Basically, pride, hubris, ego, ambition, greed and all those things will not bring us any good things at all. It will only end up leading us down the wrong path in life, bringing us further and further away from the righteousness of God. All of us as disciples and followers of the Lord must be like what the Lord Himself said, as He took up one child and told them that their faith ought to be like that of the little child. Why is that so? That is because the faith of a child is truly pure, pure in faith and purpose, as unlike all of us who are laden with worldly concerns, desires and attachments, a child had none of that yet. Essentially as Christians, all of us are reminded to have the same kind of faith and life, wholly centred on the Lord and His truth.
Today, the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Peter Damian, a great saint and Church father, whose life and works can truly inspire all of us to be faithful to the Lord in many ways, as he himself led a good and devout life, filled with faith and dedication to God. St. Peter Damian was a great intellectual and theologian who gave up the greatness of secular and worldly life to become a Benedictine monk. He was renowned for his great piety and dedication to his mission and works, in his efforts in reforming the Church and Christian faithful, beginning with his own Benedictine community, and then in tandem with the efforts of a few Popes of that time, beginning with Pope Gregory VI and up to Pope St. Leo IX and his friend, Pope St. Gregory VII.
Back then, the corruptions of worldly vices, attachments, ambitions and sins have slowly crept up into the Church and into its various communities, affecting both the clergymen and the laity alike. St. Peter Damian helped to reform the Church through his great vision and desire to root out from the Church those worldly corruptions and vices which had caused so many scandals and for so many of the faithful to fall into sin and evil ways. He rooted out corrupt practices and helped to straighten the ways of many of the faithful, in his various capacities as Papal envoy and legate, and as a member of the College of Cardinals, his role as a Cardinal and hence close Papal confidant and advisor was crucial in the reestablishment of order and virtue in the life of the Church of that time. And despite his high office and influential position, St. Peter Damian remained humble and thoroughly committed to his calling, and not swayed by worldly temptations of power and glory.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all discern what we have just discussed, including the life and examples of St. Peter Damian in remembering that as Christians each and every one of us are also expected to live our lives with genuine faith in the Lord, and root out from ourselves, from our hearts and minds, the corruption of sin and temptations of pride, ego, ambition, hubris, greed and others. Let us all remind ourselves of this as we are embarking on the journey through the season of Lent beginning tomorrow on Ash Wednesday, that through this penitential time and season, we may always be growing ever closer to God and distance ourselves from sin and its wickedness. May God bless us in our every good efforts and endeavours, all for His greater glory, now and always. Amen.