Monday, 27 January 2020 : 3rd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Angela Merici, Virgin (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Holy Virgins)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard from the Scriptures the beginning of David’s reign over the whole kingdom of Israel as described in the first reading today and how he managed to conquer the city of Jerusalem from the Jebusites who lived there and made it the capital of Israel. And then in our Gospel passage today we heard of the tension and conflict that happened between the Lord Jesus and the Pharisees who criticised Him and His works.

In our first reading today, the context of what happened was that David was finally accepted as king over all the people of Israel after for seven years, he was only the king over the tribe of Judah in Hebron. The other eleven tribes of Israel chose to side with the family of Saul after Saul was killed at the battle of Mount Gilboa against the Philistines. Ishboshet or Ishbaal, one of the surviving sons of Saul was made king over the eleven tribes and for years, division and conflict occurred between the two opposing kings.

However, God was not with Ishbaal despite him having the support of the much larger portion of Israel, as God has earlier on chosen David as His rightful king and as the rightful successor of king Saul. This is something that Saul himself had tacitly accepted and acknowledged towards the end of his reign, but the supporters of Saul probably pushed on to prevent the ascension of David as king and thus placed Ishbaal on the throne.

As God was with David, it was recounted in the passage of the Scripture that David became more powerful and beloved over time, while the support towards the house of Saul gradually declined. Eventually Ishbaal was killed by two of his own captains, and the whole community of Israel eventually agreed to overcome their disagreements and chose David to be the rightful king and ruler over all of them.

This part here will be very important as we should then link it to what we have heard in our Gospel passage just now, when the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law criticised the Lord Jesus publicly as they deemed that His miraculous powers and works were nothing else but the works of the evil spirits, done in collaboration with Beelzebul, one of the chief princes of demons.

The Lord then spoke up strongly against what the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had said and thought that He has done everything by the power and in collusion with the prince of demons. He spoke of how a kingdom and nation that is divided will be destroyed and will not be able to stand, alluding to how first of all, that if the Pharisees had been right, then Beelzebul was himself divided against the other demons and evil spirits. Had that been the case, they would have all been too busy arguing, bickering and fighting among themselves to be able to threaten us.

That is as far as it was from the truth. The devil and all of his wicked forces are in fact more united than ever in trying to bring about our downfall, and that is why his favourite tactic is in fact to sow the seeds of dissension, disagreement, anger, jealousy, and all sorts of things that cause us to strike at another person. And when we are divided among ourselves, it will be easy for the devil and his fellow fallen angels and wicked spirits to come in for the kill.

Like the supporters of the house of Saul who were divided among themselves, culminating in the two trusted captains of Ishbaal who killed their own lord and king, those who are divided among themselves will be weakened and will be truly vulnerable. And unless we realise this, then the devil is really going to have a very good time at bringing about the downfall of many, many souls in this world, all those who are vulnerable to his lies and coercions.

The Lord also spoke up so strongly against those who criticised Him falsely because they have doubted the work of God among His people, which clearly and definitively could not have been the act of the forces of evil. What the Lord had done was genuinely for the good of His people, and even though the devil and his forces were very good at deceiving us with many lies and tricks, but he cannot hide his true nature, and he will not be able to show true love, compassion and genuine care for us, like what the Lord Himself had done for us.

When the Lord spoke of the ‘sin against the Holy Spirit’ as sin that cannot be forgiven, that is because although God is indeed loving and merciful, but to doubt and to disregard, to belittle and to blatantly make a lie against the obvious works of the Lord through His Holy Spirit, by which the Lord Jesus has performed His works and miracles, is a great sin that is borne out of voluntary and stubborn rejection of God’s constant offer of love, mercy and compassion.

The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were jealous and fearful of Jesus, Whom they saw as a great threat to their status, privileges and honour within the community of the people of God. They were afraid that everyone would flock to Him instead of listening to them and they then would lose everything they had gained thus far, all the honour, respect, privileges and authority they had. That was how the devil worked through them, through their words and actions, causing divisions and disagreements to enter the hearts of the people of God.

Having heard all of these, let us now then reflect on our own lives and how we have lived up to our faith thus far. Have we acted in the way those Pharisees had been, in sowing dissension, distrust and preventing God’s good works from being done for whatever reasons we have? Have we been telling lies, making gossips and doing things to create division and disagreement within our communities? Have we been doing things for our own selfish gain and desires, causing others to suffer in the process?

I am sure that all of us, in one way or another, in one part of our life or another, have erred before and fell into this trap of the devil, causing us to be divided against each other, being angry and jealous that led us into actions that cause us to be hurt, to hate and to make others suffer. And because of that, we need to heed what we have just discussed earlier on, how the devil is using this as an opportunity to bring us down. How do we then get out of this situation?

It is by putting our focus in life once again on God, meaning that in everything that we say and do, God should be at the heart of everything. If God is the focus of our life, the likelihood for us to be tempted or misled by the devil will be less, and through God, if we allow Him to help us and transform our lives, our strong relationship will keep us firmly rooted in Him no matter what obstacles the devil and his allies are always trying to put in our path forward in life.

Today, we can also heed the good examples set by our holy predecessors, particularly that of St. Angela Merici, a holy virgin who dedicated her life to God and who had a difficult life in her youth, being orphaned at the age of fifteen and having to lose her sister who passed away in her teenage years. She was noted to be very beautiful, and many men wanted to suit her, so St. Angela Merici purposefully dyed her hair with soot to detract her suitors as she wanted to devote herself to God completely.

She gathered like-minded women who then called themselves as the Company of St. Ursula, which eventually would become the modern religious order of the Ursulines. St. Angela Merici inspired the growing group to consecrate themselves to God and to serve Him by devoting their time and attention to the needs of those in the community, particularly in the area of education of girls. St. Angela Merici kept her faith and dedication to God and did not allow herself to be tempted by worldly desires, as we heard earlier how she voluntarily give up her physical attractiveness to devote herself totally to God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore renew our faith in God and put Him once again at the very centre of our existence and trust Him with all of our heart as St. Angela Merici and also king David had done. Let us not be distracted and be divided anymore by the machinations of the evil one, and resist him and all of his lies from now on. May the Lord, through the intercession of St. Angela Merici, give us the strength and courage to be ever more faithful to God, at all times. Amen.

Monday, 27 January 2020 : 3rd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Angela Merici, Virgin (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Holy Virgins)

Mark 3 : 22-30

At that time, the teachers of the Law, who had come from Jerusalem, said, “He is the power of Beelzebul : the chief of the demons helps Him to drive out demons.”

Jesus called them to Him, and began teaching them by means of stories, or parables, “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a nation is divided by civil war, that nation cannot stand. If a family divides itself into groups, that family will not survive. In the same way, if Satan has risen against himself and is divided, he will not stand; he is finished.”

“No one can break into the house of a strong man in order to plunder his goods, unless he first ties up the strong man. Then indeed, he can plunder his house. Truly, I say to you, every sin will be forgiven humankind, even insults to God, however numerous. But whoever slanders the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. He carries the guilt of his sin forever.”

This was their sin when they said, “He has an unclean spirit in Him.”

Monday, 27 January 2020 : 3rd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Angela Merici, Virgin (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Holy Virgins)

Psalm 88 : 20, 21-22, 25-26

In the past, You spoke in a vision; You said of Your faithful servant : “I have set the crown upon a mighty one; on one chosen from the people.”

I have found David My servant, and, with My holy oil, I have anointed him. My hand will be ever with him; and My arm will sustain him.

My faithfulness and love will be with him; and, by My help, he will be strong. I will set his hand over the sea, his right hand over the rivers.

Monday, 27 January 2020 : 3rd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Angela Merici, Virgin (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Holy Virgins)

2 Samuel 5 : 1-7, 10

All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your bone and flesh. In the past, when Saul was king over us, it was you who led Israel. And YHVH said to you, ‘You shall be the shepherd of My people Israel and you shall be commander over Israel.’”

Before YHVH, king David made an agreement with the elders of Israel who came to him at Hebron, and they anoint him king of Israel. David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned for forty years : he reigned over Judah, from Hebron, seven and a half years; and over Israel and Judah, from Jerusalem, for thirty-three years.

The king and his men set out for Jerusalem to fight the Jebusites who lived there. They said to David, “If you try to break in here, the blind and the lame will drive you away,” which meant that David could not get in. Yet David captured the fortress of Zion that became the “city of David.”

And David grew more powerful, for YHVH, the God of Hosts, was with him.

Sunday, 26 January 2020 : Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Sunday of the Word of God (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, the third Sunday in Ordinary Time beginning from this year onwards, our Holy Father and Vicar of Christ Pope Francis has declared the institution of the Sunday of the Word of God, to be celebrated on the third Sunday of Ordinary Time every year. The purpose of this celebration of the Sunday of the Word of God is a very important reminder to all of us as Christians that the Scriptures are very important and integral in the development of our faith.

The Scriptures are none other than the Word of God, as God spoke to us through them, and those who had contributed and written the books in the Scripture were divinely inspired by God and the Holy Spirit to pass down the message of God’s truth to us. The Church has also authoritatively decided the books that are to be kept as part of the official canon of the Scripture, and from then on, we have the Bible as what we now have today.

And this emphasis on the Word of God today on this Sunday is very important to all of us the faithful people of God as the Word of God is our daily sustenance and the source of our strength and faith. When the Lord Jesus was tempted by the devil in the desert, the devil wanted to tempt the Lord Who was hungry that He should turn the stones into bread for Him to eat. The Lord rebuked Satan sternly saying that ‘man does not live on bread alone, but on every words that come from the mouth of God’.

But the Word of God in this case does not just refer to the Scriptures, as the Word of God as we know it, also refers to the Christ Himself, because Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour is also known as the Divine Word Incarnate, the Son of God Who assumed the flesh and nature of Man for our salvation. While the Father is the Creator in the Holy Trinity and the Holy Spirit passes through all creation, the Son is the Word by which God created the world.

And this same Word of God has become incarnate, appearing in the flesh, as Jesus our Lord and Saviour. This makes the Scriptures even more significant, as the Scriptures become the manifestation of the truth of God, as we all know that the Bible consist of two main parts namely the Old Testament and the New Testament. In the Old Testament, the Word of God was revealed through the elders and the prophets who passed on parts of the revelation of God’s truth. And then in the New Testament, all that had been revealed and spoken in the Old Testament were confirmed in the truth of Christ.

In the New Testament, we heard the word of God from the Son Himself, the authentic and true Word revealing the truth of God’s will and plan for us. And those who wrote the Holy Gospels and the letters of the Apostles were divinely inspired through the Holy Spirit and by the experiences they encountered, to bring to us this sustenance in the Word of God, the sustenance of our soul, our mind, our heart and indeed of our whole being. Without this sustenance, our spiritual life will be empty and dead, and it will be easy for us to lose our faith.

That is why it is absolutely necessary for us to appreciate this great gift and blessing we have received in the Word of God, through the Sacred Scriptures easily and readily accessible and available for us. In the Second Vatican Council, through the Apostolic Constitution Dei Verbum, which means ‘Word of God’, the importance of the Sacred Scriptures was once again highlighted with the emphasis placed on the propagation of the Word of God among the people and the regular reading and exposure to the Scriptures by all segments of the Universal Church.

But in the same Apostolic Constitution Dei Verbum, the importance of Sacred Tradition as an inseparable part of the Church teachings and Christian truth together with the Sacred Scriptures is also highlighted and emphasised. This means that the Sacred Scriptures, the Word of God cannot be studied, read or used independently of the Sacred Traditions and the magisterium authority of the Church. This is a firm rejection of the ‘Sola Scriptura’ position of those who argued that the Bible alone is the foundation of our faith.

Rather, the Bible and the words of the Lord in it must be appreciated and understood in the context of Church teachings and the Sacred Traditions of our predecessors, passed down and preserved for us from the time of the Lord and His Apostles themselves. It is this treasure of the faith that we have been blessed with and which is now highlighted in importance by our Holy Father Pope Francis as a way to stop the rapidly declining quality of our faith and relationship with God as what we can clearly see in our Church today.

If we do not expose ourselves to the truth of God in His words, how can we know more about Him? And if we are ignorant of His truth and the meaning of His words, how can we then understand and appreciate His love? As long as we do not know Him, are ignorant of His love and blind to His truth, we cannot be truly God’s disciples and our hearts and minds will always be far away from Him. In time this will lead us further and further down the path of sin and darkness.

That is why today, on this Sunday of the Word of God, we are challenged first of all to be more active in making use of the Word of God, the Sacred Scriptures which we have received from the bounties of the Church, and be regular in our reading, study and appreciation of God’s words contained within the pages of the Scriptures. We should spend more time trying to deepen our knowledge of our faith, reading from the wisdom of the Lord contained within both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

And as we do this, we also have to keep the reference to the official teachings of the Church as contained within the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the official Church documents and proclamations, all the guidelines and officially approved teachings of the faith as maintained by the magisterium of the Church and the deposit of the faith. By deepening our faith through closer interaction with the Word of God contained within the Scriptures and by keeping ourselves within the bounds of our Sacred Tradition, we will grow closer to God and be more faithful with each passing moments.

And among the best way to do that, is by paying close attention during the homily of the Holy Mass, when the priests explain the meaning and context of the proclaimed Word of God to us. Our priests have been prepared for many years in the seminaries and even many more years of experience during their priesthood to explain the truth in the Word of God according to the teachings of the Church. And this is why we also need to pray for all of them too, that they may remain faithful and true to their ministry.

It is important that we pay attention during the homily because if we do not understand, appreciate and adhere closely to the teachings of the Church, we will end up being like what happened in the early Church, divisions and struggles that appeared between the segments of the Christian faithful which threatened to tear the Church apart. It was so bad that St. Paul had to intervene through his letter, rebuking all those who put their own self interests first before serving the interest and purposes of God.

That was why we heard of the conflicts between those who declared themselves the followers of Paul and others who claimed that they followed Apollos. Both Paul and Apollos were great leaders of the early Church and they performed many good works for the evangelisation of more people. However, as their followers began to grow rapidly, those followers ended up beginning to seek their own individual agenda and interpret the Scriptures for their own benefits and selfish desires. And that was how, unfortunately, so many so-called denominations of Christianity exist because each person is free to interpret the Word of God as he or she wishes it.

That is why today, the second important thing that we need to take note of is besides deepening our understanding and knowledge of the Word of God, we must also continue to put our trust and faith in God through His Church, the one and only Church He has established in this world. As what He Himself said that if we are separated from Him, the True Vine, we who are His branches will perish because we have no life from Him and through Him if we separate ourselves from this unity with Him that exists in the Church.

And then, lastly, we are also called today to live and embody the Word of God in our daily living and in our faith. God has called us just as how He has called His disciples to follow Him as described in our Gospel passage today. We are all the successors to the works of the Apostles in continuing the mission which God has entrusted to them, that is the evangelisation of the whole world. But in order to do so, we have to first of all, be attuned to the Word of God, be faithful to the teachings of the Church and be willing to venture forth and be good witnesses of our faith to others.

And how do we become good witnesses of Our Lord? How do we proclaim the Word of God in a good way? It is not by preaching in public places or quoting phrases and words from the Scripture, but first of all, we must first live out what we truly believe in. This means that our every actions and deeds, our words, every words that come out from our mouths and our thoughts must be aligned with God’s truth as contained within His words in the Scriptures.

If we do not live in the manner compatible with what we speak, how can people believe in us? We are nothing better than hypocrites who say one thing but do and act in a different or even contradictory manner. That is why, our challenge today is for us to truly allow God’s words to enter into our lives and that we do not just read His words at a surface level or just through our brains. Instead, we must go deeper, in allowing those words to penetrate the depths of our hearts and souls.

And then, are we willing to allow God to change and transform us by the power of His words and truth? If we are willing, then surely we will, in time, be good examples of our faith and others who see us, hear us and witness our every actions will believe in God because of us. That is how we become the true disciples and followers of Christ, by being the beacons of Christ’s light in this world filled with the darkness of sin.

Let us all today renew our conviction and desire to love and serve the Lord, by deepening our relationship with Him through deeper and better understanding of the Word of God in the Scriptures, that we may proclaim God’s truth by our lives and actions, and bring more and more people to God’s saving grace. May God, the Divine Word Incarnate, continue to strengthen us in faith by His encouragement and love. Amen.

Sunday, 26 January 2020 : Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Sunday of the Word of God (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Matthew 4 : 12-23

When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, He withdrew into Galilee. He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum, a town by the lake of Galilee, at the border of Zebulun and Naphtali.

In this way the word of the prophet Isaiah was fulfilled : Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, crossed by the Road of the Sea, and you who live beyond the Jordan, Galilee, land of pagans : The people who lived in darkness have seen a great Light; on those who live in the land of the shadow of death, a Light has shone.

From that time on, Jesus began to proclaim His message, “Change your ways : the kingdom of heaven is near.” As Jesus walked by the lake of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come, follow Me, and I will make you fish for people.”

At once they left their nets and followed Him. He went on from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John in a boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. Jesus called them. At once they left the boat and their father and followed Him.

Jesus went around all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom, and curing all kinds of sickness and disease among the people.

Alternative reading (shorter version)

Matthew 4 : 12-17

When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, He withdrew into Galilee. He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum, a town by the lake of Galilee, at the border of Zebulun and Naphtali.

In this way the word of the prophet Isaiah was fulfilled : Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, crossed by the Road of the Sea, and you who live beyond the Jordan, Galilee, land of pagans : The people who lived in darkness have seen a great Light; on those who live in the land of the shadow of death, a Light has shone.

From that time on, Jesus began to proclaim His message, “Change your ways : the kingdom of heaven is near.”

Sunday, 26 January 2020 : Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Sunday of the Word of God (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

1 Corinthians 1 : 10-13, 17

I beg of you, brothers, in the Name of Christ Jesus, our Lord, to agree among yourselves and do away with divisions; please be perfectly united, with one mind and one judgment.

For I heard from people of Cloe’s house about your rivalries. What I mean is this : “I am for Paul,” and others, “I am for Apollo,” or “I am for Peter,” or “I am for Christ.” Is Christ divided or have I, Paul, been crucified for you? Have you been baptised in the name of Paul?

For Christ did not send me to baptise, but to proclaim His Gospel. And not with beautiful words! That would be like getting rid of the cross of Christ.