Saturday, 25 February 2023 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we continue to progress through the season of Lent, each and every one of us are reminded through the Scripture passages today of the need for all of us to heed the Lord’s call for us to return to Him, abandoning our sinful actions and stubborn attitudes, listening to Him calling us to follow Him and to return once again to His loving embrace. Each and every one of us as Christians have been given the privilege of receiving the truth of God and we have witnessed this same truth being delivered and passed down to us through the Church and by the Wisdom given to us through the Holy Spirit. That is why all the more we should be more obedient to the Lord and dedicate ourselves and our time more to Him, and being more faithful to Him. But the reality is that, many among us Christians are lukewarm in our faith.

In our first reading today, taken from the Book of the prophet Isaiah,we heard the prophet speaking to the people of God about how if they were to stop committing sins and wickedness in their lives, distancing themselves from the many actions they had done in the past which were unworthy of their status as God’s chosen people. Historically and contextually, the prophet Isaiah made this comment and reminder to the people of God during a time when the people had been facing a lot of hardships and trials, difficulties, challenges and troubles. Back then, the remnants of the people of God only remained in Judah, the southern part of the once great and glorious kingdom of David and Solomon, as the northern kingdom that had separated and then committed grievous sins against the Lord had finally been destroyed, and most of its people were brought away by their Assyrian conquerors to distant lands in exile.

Then, the same forces of the Assyrians came up against Judah and Jerusalem itself, and almost conquered the city and the kingdom, bringing the same fate to all of the people of God there if not for God’s most timely and loving intervention. God crushed the forces of the Assyrians upon the prayers of the faithful king of Judah, King Hezekiah and the people of Judah, and through the intercession of the prophet Isaiah himself. Through all these experiences and examples, the Lord wanted all of His people to know that if they chose to remain in their state of sin and rebellion against Him, they would suffer the same fate as those who had rebelled and sinned against God. The Lord reminded all of them that on the other hand, if they were to repent from their sins and turn back to Him, they would receive the grace and blessings, the wonderful things that their faithful predecessors had once received.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard of the Lord calling one particular tax collector named Levi, whom He called to follow Him, to become one of His disciples. This Levi as we all should know, would become St. Matthew, one of the Twelve Apostles and the Four Evangelists. Back then, the tax collectors were greatly hated and reviled by most of the society, and especially by the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who deemed them as irredeemable sinners, wicked and greedy, and even as traitors to the Jewish nation, as their roles in collecting taxes and money for the Romans and the other rulers of the land, made them complicit in the minds of the people in betraying their own people to these rulers and conquerers. They were therefore often ostracised and rejected, hated and despised by much of the community of the people of God.

It was exactly to these people that the Lord went to minister, reaching out to them and calling on them to follow Him, just as He had done with Levi. While those Pharisees and teachers of the Law shunned and reviled the tax collectors and others whom they deemed as wicked sinners and those unworthy of God, God came straight at those people and reached out to them, showing them His love and kindness, the desire to be reconciled and reunited with them. He showed that He loved us all equally, and everyone had the same chance to be reconciled with the Lord and be saved, and in fact, as the Lord Himself said, it was those who were seemingly the furthest away from His salvation who needed the most help. That was why the Lord went straight at them and called them to come back to Him, and the response was truly amazing, as those tax collectors and others came to the Lord, and for St. Matthew, he even dedicated himself wholeheartedly to Him.

On the contrary, many among those Pharisees and teachers of the Law refused to believe in the Lord, all because they were full of pride and ego, thinking that they were superior and better than all others, and that they could not have been wrong in their way and judgments, and as such, they viewed the Lord’s actions negatively, in line with their prejudices and biases that they maintained, and refused to let go. They hardened their hearts and minds against the Lord and His teachings, His truth and Wisdom and hence remained in the state of sin and darkness, being dragged down by their own pride and wicked desires and greed for power, fame and glory. All these are reminders for each one of us that we should not let ourselves be swayed by those temptations, and we should instead follow the example of Levi, in rejecting the wickedness of sin and return to the Lord with faith.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we continue to progress through this season of Lent, let us all therefore reflect and discern carefully on our lives so that we may learn to walk down the right path in life, and journey well in faith. May all of us continue to live our lives with renewed zeal and dedication to God, keeping in mind what we do and say, so that we do not end up walking down the path of sin and wickedness. Let us remind ourselves that sin and disobedience against God will lead us down the path of ruin, while obeying God and persevering in faith in Him will lead us to true justification and happiness with God. Let us choose the right path and commit ourselves to follow the Lord, becoming good and worthy examples of our faith for others to follow, so that more and more may be inspired to follow the Lord through us, just as St. Matthew and many other innumerable saints turned sinners had done to inspire us.

Let us all remember that the Church is truly a hospital for sinners, and that even the worst of sinners who turn to the Lord and repent sincerely from their sins will be forgiven, and can become the greatest of the saints. Let us all look forward to a life truly worthy of the Lord and journey well through this holy and blessed season of Lent. May God be with us always and may He empower and strengthen us so that we may always be true to Him, and be strong in facing and enduring the many challenges of this world. Amen.

Saturday, 25 February 2023 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 5 : 27-32

At that time, after Jesus healed a paralytic man, He went out, and noticing a tax collector named Levi, sitting in the tax office, He said to him, “Follow Me!” So Levi, leaving everything, got up and followed Jesus.

Levi gave a great feast for Jesus, and many tax collectors came to his house, and took their places at the table with the other people. Then the Pharisees and their followers complained to Jesus’ disciples, “How is it, that you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

But Jesus spoke up, “Healthy people do not need a doctor, but sick people do. I have not come to call the just, but sinners, to a change of heart.”

Saturday, 25 February 2023 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 85 : 1-2, 3-4, 5-6

Listen, o YHVH, and answer me, for I am afflicted and needy. Preserve my life, for I am God-fearing; save Your servant who trusts in You.

Have mercy on me, o YHVH, for I cry to You all day. Bring joy to the soul of Your servant; for You, o YHVH, I lift up my soul.

You are good and forgiving, o YHVH, caring for those who call on You. Listen, o YHVH, to my prayer, hear the voice of my pleading.

Saturday, 25 February 2023 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Isaiah 58 : 9b-14

If you remove from your midst the yoke, the clenched fist and the wicked word. If you share your food with the hungry and give relief to the oppressed, then your light will rise in the dark, your night will be like noon.

YHVH will guide you always and give you relief in desert places. He will strengthen your bones; He will make you as a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters never fall. Your ancient ruins will be rebuilt, the age-old foundations will be raised. You will be called the Breach-mender, and the Restorer of ruined houses.

If you stop profaning the Sabbath and doing as you please on the holy day, if you call the Sabbath a day of delight and keep sacred YHVH’s holy day, if you honour it by not going your own way, not doing as you please and not speaking with malice, then you will find happiness in YHVH, over the heights you will ride triumphantly, and feast joyfully on the inheritance of your father Jacob. The mouth of YHVH has spoken.

Friday, 24 February 2023 : Friday after Ash Wednesday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures, all of us are called to focus on the matter of fasting as highlighted throughout the Scripture readings today. During the season of Lent, there are two days in which we are all required to fast, which is the Ash Wednesday at the very beginning of Lent, and then on the Good Friday of the Passion of the Lord, the day when we commemorate our Lord Jesus Christ’s suffering and death on the Cross just before Easter. We are also called to Abstinence on those two same days, and all Fridays throughout the season of Lent and throughout the entire year. This practice of fasting as well as abstinence are all meant to help us to redirect our lives and attention towards the Lord and away from the many temptations and wickedness of sin and evil all around us.

In the past, the Church practiced a much stricter regime of fasting and abstinence than it is today, which is still actually practiced by our brethren in the Eastern Catholic Churches as well as our separated brethren in the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox faith. They fasted essentially for the entire season of Lent and adopted a stricter form of abstinence in which unlike our current practice of only not allowing the consumption of red meat in Abstinence, they all abstain from all consumption of meat and fish, and also even egg and milk during the whole duration of the season of Lent, in conjunction with fasting right up to the glorious moment of Easter Vigil. This practice of fasting did have its roots from the Jewish traditions and the customs of the Apostles and the early Church fathers, as a means to self-mortify one’s body and flesh so as to restrain the temptations of the flesh and the worldly pleasures, and help one to refocus their attention towards the Lord, as intended.

However, in its implementation, this practice of fasting had veered off from its original intent, as the people of God fasted and did all that was asked of them, but it had not been done with true sincerity and understanding of why the fasting was done in the first place. As the prophet Isaiah highlighted it in our first reading today, the Lord lamented the actions of the people who did not have true faith and commitment to Him, as they continued to act in ways that were contrary to His Law and commandments. The people complained that God did not notice their actions, their fasting and other faith practices, but God countered with the detailing of how they had not been sincere in living their lives with faith, as was evident in how they continued to sin even though they fasted, and did what the Law prescribed them to do.

It means that the people were only doing all those for maintaining superficial appearances and formality of obedience to God’s Law and commandments. They were merely going through the motions when they practiced fasting and other expressions of their faith, while their hearts, minds and souls, their bodies and whole beings were still enslaved to sin and evil. They still did things that were against the Law of God, in acting selfishly and in hurting others, in doing things that brought about scandal to the Lord and to His Holy Name, among other things. All these show us that it is indeed possible for one to do everything that has been told to him or her to do, obey the Law and commandments of God, and yet, remaining in the state of sin and separated from God, because he or she has no real and genuine faith in the Lord.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard of the Lord Jesus speaking to the disciples of St. John the Baptist who came to Him asking why the disciples of the Lord did not fast in the manner that they and the Pharisees had done, and the Lord responded that they would indeed fast at the right and appropriate time, when the Lord would be taken away from them. Not only that, but those who follow the Lord and call themselves as His disciples will give Him the kind of fast that He desires. It means that unlike the Pharisees or the disciples of St. John, especially that of the former, for which fasting means observing and being particular about the details and the rituals of fasting, rather than to focus on the reason and purpose why they fasted in the first place, the Lord’s followers ought to remind themselves of why they fast, and they should fast because they desire to become closer to the Lord.

Hence, brothers and sisters in Christ, as we continue to progress through this season of Lent, let us remind ourselves that as we fast, abstain or do whatever practices that we are going to do throughout the duration of this holy and blessed season, we ought to do them not because we seek fame or praise for our actions, or because we feel obliged to obey the rules and laws regarding the Lenten practices, be it by the Church or the practices within our parishes and communities. Instead, we should do everything because we truly desire to rend our hearts, our minds and souls, our whole being, regretting all the sins and wickedness that we have committed in life, and for all our disobedience against God and the lack of faith in Him. We should make good use of this season of Lent to draw ever closer to God and to follow Him more wholeheartedly.

That is why, brothers and sisters, all of us are called to do whatever we can, even in the smallest things we do, in what we say and how we interact with one another, in bringing God’s love and truth, His light and hope to the midst of our lives and our communities. Let us all be more loving and forgiving towards others, and be more generous in giving, of both time, attention and maybe material help, to all those around us who are in need. God has placed them in our reach because it is through us that He expected us to share our blessings and good things, to help those who are less fortunate. That is why we should not ignore the calling that God has given to each one of us, to be more loving and charitable, especially to those who are less fortunate than us, in whatever way it is. We must remember what the Lord Himself had told His disciples, that whatever we do for the sake of our brothers and sisters, who are least and last among us, we do it for the sake of the Lord Himself.

May all of us therefore continue to grow ever stronger in faith, draw closer to the Lord and do whatever we can so that this season of Lent will be truly meaningful and fruitful for us, in helping and leading us on our way and journey back towards the Lord. May all of us become sources of inspiration and strength to one another so that each and every one of us may become ever more committed and faithful to the Lord, and help many more souls on their way to salvation. May God bless us all in our Lenten journey, in our every good works and endeavours. Amen.

Friday, 24 February 2023 : Friday after Ash Wednesday (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.”