Saturday, 27 June 2020 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us are reminded of the need for all of us to seek God’s mercy, forgiveness, kindness and compassion. We are all reminded just how we are all truly sinners and unworthy of God and yet, all of us have been so fortunate and blessed to enjoy the graces of God and to be given many opportunities, yet again and again just that we may be reconciled with God.

Continuing from the previous few days’ discourse from the Old Testament in which we heard of the final days of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and how both kingdoms were destroyed because of the disobedience and sins of the people who chose to trust in their worldly designs and other worldly supports and matters rather than trusting in God, today, all of us heard in our first reading the part from the Book of Lamentations, which as the title holds, is filled with sorrow and regret for the sins that people have committed before God.

In that passage we heard of the destructions that had ravaged through the land, the destruction of Jerusalem and the entire kingdom of Judah and Israel centred in Samaria, which have been this week’s topic. And we heard how the Lord had laid the people humbled and low, shamed for their actions, disobedience and all. But at the same time, the author of the Book of Lamentations also called on the people to seek to return to God, to cry out for His mercy and forgiveness, to beg for His compassion and love to allow them to be reconciled with Him.

Then, we remember what we have then heard in our Gospel passage today, as the Lord encountered an army captain, whose servant had fallen sick and perhaps was on the verge of death. And being an army captain or centurion at that time, it was likely that this army captain was a member of the Roman army, and could very well have been a Roman himself. At that time, it was also quite common for the Jewish people to look down on the pagans and people whom they deemed to be unworthy of God’s kingdom, like the Samaritans as well as the Greeks and the Romans.

That was the context behind what the Lord then uttered when the army captain humbly sought the help of the Lord to heal his sick servant. And when the Lord wanted to go to his house, the army captain politely declined, and instead, spoke in a very interesting if not intriguing manner, saying that since in his position as an army captain, a mere word of his would be translated into direct order to be completed without fail, thus, if the Lord were to just speak the words, then the army captain believed that his servant would immediately be well.

First of all, visiting the house of a Gentile or a non-Jew especially if the Gentile is a pagan was truly a sensitive matter at the time, and many considered interacting with the Gentiles would make them unclean, going to the house of a Gentile made it even more unclean for them, and thus, was frowned upon by the society. The army captain might have been aware of this and wanted to avoid the Lord getting into controversy by visiting his house to heal his servant.

And then, what the army centurion said to the Lord also underlined his great and genuine faith in God, as contrasted to those who have seen the Lord’s works, heard His words and teachings, and yet, continued to doubt Him and demanded to see more signs and miracles, the army captain did not need to see the sign or witness for himself whatever the Lord was going to do. Instead, he believed that by the will of God alone, such a feat was possible and would be accomplished.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, that is exactly the kind of faith that all of us must have as well. The faith that leads us to seek God wholeheartedly, to be humble before Him and to love Him above all else, and not to allow the pride, ego, hubris and our desires from intervening and swaying us into disobedience and sin against God. In the past it was all these things that had brought the ancestors of the people of God into their downfall through sin and disobedience.

Are we able and willing to commit ourselves to God with new strength and hope, with new courage and desire to love God even more? That is why today we should also take courage and inspiration from one of our holy predecessors, namely St. Cyril of Alexandria, a great Church father and leader of the Church in Alexandria, and as its Patriarch, is one of the members of the Pentarchy, the five most senior leaders of the Church at time, and he was busy dealing with many issues facing the Church at that time.

St. Cyril of Alexandria was a courageous defender of the true Christian faith against the errors and the heresy of Nestorianism, which at that time was endangering the unity of the Church, with the false ideas being promoted by the then Patriarch Nestorius of Constantinople, the Imperial Capital of the Roman Empire. Nestorius claimed that the humanity and divinity of Christ were separated and not united together, creating a dual personality that were distinct, in contrast to the true teachings of the Church.

As Nestorius had his support from yet another powerful leader, the then Patriarch of Antioch, he had great sway over the Church and the faithful, and being the leader of the See of Constantinople, he had great influence over the secular Empire and its leadership as well. But this did not deter St. Cyril from trying his best to oppose the efforts of the heretics from gaining influence and further ground in the Church and among the faithful. He had to endure much suffering and opposition for his efforts.

But in the end, the efforts of St. Cyril of Alexandria bore fruits, as he managed to gain the support of the Church and many among those who remained true to the Orthodox faith, that the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus was convoked and in that Council, the true nature of Christ, his two natures, divine and human jointly united though distinct in the person of Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour, was affirmed and the heresy of Nestorianism was condemned.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, having seen and heard what St. Cyril of Alexandria had done, all that he had done for the greater good of the Church, let us all devote ourselves, our time and attention, our faith and commitment to God from now on, that we may truly be able to follow God wholeheartedly from now on, following the good examples set before us by the army captain who professed his faith publicly before the Lord, as well as St. Cyril of Alexandria, the faithful servant of God.

May the Lord continue to guide us all through life, and may He strengthen us in faith and in the resolve to continue living our lives with faith from now on. May God bless us all and all of our good endeavours, at all times, now, always and forevermore. Amen.

Saturday, 27 June 2020 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops)

Matthew 8 : 5-17

At that time, when Jesus entered Capernaum, an army captain approached Him, to ask His help, “Sir, my servant lies sick at home. He is paralysed and suffers terribly.” Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”

The captain answered, “I am not worthy to have You under my roof. Just give an order and my boy will be healed. For I myself, a junior officer, give orders to my soldiers. And if I say to one, ‘Go!’ he goes; and if I say to another, ‘Come!’ he comes; and if I say to my servant, ‘Do this!’ he does it.”

When Jesus heard this, He was astonished; and said to those who were following Him, “I tell you, I have not found such faith in Israel. I say to you, many will come from east and west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob at the feast in the kingdom of heaven; but the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown out into extreme darkness; there, they will wail and grind their teeth.”

Then Jesus said to the captain, “Go home now. As you believed, so let it be.” At that moment, his servant was healed. Jesus went to Peter’s house and found Peter’s mother-in-law in bed with fever. He took her by the hand and the fever left her; she got up and began to wait on Him.

Toward evening, they brought to Jesus many people possessed by evil spirits; and with a word, He drove out the spirits. He also healed all who were sick. In this way, what was said by the prophet Isaiah was fulfilled : He bore our infirmities and took on Himself our diseases.

Saturday, 27 June 2020 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops)

Psalm 73 : 1-2, 3-5a, 5b-7, 20-21

O God, have You rejected us forever? Why vent Your anger on the sheep of Your own fold? Remember the people You have formed of old, the tribe You have redeemed as Your inheritance. Remember Mount Zion, where You once lived.

Climb, and visit these hopeless ruins, the enemy has ravaged everything in the Sanctuary. Your foes have roared triumphantly in the holy place, and set up their banner of victory.

Like lumbermen felling trees, they smashed the carved panelling with hatchets, hammers and axes. They defiled Your Sanctuary and set aflame the dwelling place of Your Name.

See how they keep Your Covenant, in the dark caves of the land. Do not let the oppressed be put to shame; may the poor and needy praise Your Name.

Saturday, 27 June 2020 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops)

Lamentations 2 : 2, 10-14, 18-19

Without pity YHVH has shattered in Jacob every dwelling. He has torn down in His anger the ramparts of Judah’s daughter. He has thrown her rulers and her king to the ground, dishonoured.

The elders of the daughter of Zion sit in silence upon the ground, their heads sprinkled with dust, their bodies wrapped in sackcloth, while Jerusalem’s young women bow their heads to the ground. With weeping, my eyes are spent; my soul is in torment because of the downfall of the daughter of my people, because children and infants faint in the open spaces of the town.

To their mothers they say, “Where is the bread and wine?” as they faint like wounded men in the streets and public squares, as their lives ebb away in their mothers’ arms. To what can I compare you, o daughter of Jerusalem? Who can save or comfort you, o virgin daughter of Zion? Deep as the sea is your affliction, and who can possibly heal you?

Your prophets’ visions were worthless and false. Had they warned of your sins, your fate might have been averted. But what they gave you, instead, were false, misleading signs. Cry out to the Lord, o wall of the daughter of Zion! Oh, let your tears flow day and night, like a river. Give yourself no relief; grant your eyes no respite.

Get up, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches! Pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord. Lift up your hands to Him, for the lives of your children, who faint with hunger at the corner of every street.

Friday, 26 June 2020 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us heard of the story of the destruction of Jerusalem, the downfall of the final kingdom of the Israelites, as the northern kingdom centred in Samaria had been destroyed and conquered by the Assyrians almost a hundred and fifty years earlier on. Then, the city of Jerusalem, its Temple and the southern kingdom of Judah were conquered and destroyed by the Babylonians, most of its population brought into long exile in Babylon and Mesopotamia.

All of these happened because the people and their king consistently and continuously disobeyed God, rejected His mercy and forgiveness, spurned and turned away from His love, worshipping pagan gods and idols, and entrusting themselves in the hands of mortal beings rather than to trust in God. The last king of Judah, Zedekiah, chose to rebel against the Babylonians who at that time was the overlord of Judah, because he counted on the support of allies such as the Egyptians, who in the previous occasions had not intervened in Judah’s sake.

But again and again, the people would not listen to reason and they continued to be stubborn, sinning and sinning, again and again, and all of them have sinned and therefore suffered the consequences of their sins. The whole city of Jerusalem destroyed, the Temple built by king Solomon destroyed and ransacked, its holy vessels used for profane purposes by the Babylonians, and the entire population enslaved and brought into faraway lands. Yet, despite all these, God did not forget about His people.

On the contrary, God has always been patient and He has always remembered the love which He has for His people, and despite their stubborn and persistent disobedience and betrayal, His love for each and every one of them still remained, and that was why, He still yet sent prophets after prophets to remind them, to help them, to guide them and to call them back to Him, and in time, having suffered and realised their mistakes, the people of God were to return to their land once again, and Jerusalem and its Temple were rebuilt by the prophet Ezra and Nehemiah.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard of the healing of a leper by the Lord, as the leper came to see the Lord and said to Him, ‘Lord, if You want to, You can make me clean.’ Through these words, and linking with what we have heard earlier on in our reading from the Old Testament, we can see just how great and wonderful the power of God’s love and forgiveness are for us. Leprosy had always been feared and even hated by the Israelites, as the disease was considered to be dangerous and contagious, and hideous to the appearance.

That was why people who suffered from leprosy were shunned by the rest of the community, and by Law had to spend their lives away from the community, rejected and left to fend for their own in the wilderness. Was this not just like the Israelites who disobeyed God and sinned, and thereafter had to endure their exile and suffer in the foreign lands for quite some time? This was what they had endured, and yet, God rescued them and brought them back to their homeland in the end, just as the leper was healed by the Lord Jesus.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what is really important for us to take note here is how we can be forgiven from our sins, and how forgiveness itself works. Forgiveness requires us to make the commitment to change ourselves, to turn back towards God once again with all of our hearts and with all of our strength, just as the leper came to the Lord with faith, and knowing with faith that the Lord could heal him and make him better. This is what all of us must have as well, a strong and genuine faith.

Are we able and willing to dedicate ourselves to God and seek Him with a new faith and desire to follow Him? Let us all go and find the path to forgiveness from all of our sins and wickedness, and let us all be wholly committed to follow God with all sincerity and with the genuine desire to be loved by God and to love Him equally in the same way. For God so loved the whole world that He gave us His own only Begotten Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ to be our Saviour.

May the Lord continue to help us to walk faithfully in our path in life, and may He guide us that we will not fall again into the temptations to sin and the allure of worldly desires. May the Lord strengthen us and may He bless us in all of our good endeavours. Amen.

Friday, 26 June 2020 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Matthew 8 : 1-4

At that time, when Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him. Then a leper came forward. He knelt before Him and said, “Sir, if You want to, You can make me clean.”

Jesus stretched out His hand, touched him, and said, “I want to, be clean again.” At that very moment, the man was cleansed from his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you do not tell anyone; but go to the priest, have yourself declared clean, and offer the gift that Moses commanded as evidence for them.”

Friday, 26 June 2020 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Psalm 136 : 1-2, 3, 4-5, 6

By the streams of Babylon, we sat; and then wept, as we remembered Zion. When, on the poplars, we hung our harps.

Our captors asked for song. Our tormentors wanted songs of joy : “Sing to us one of the songs of Zion!”

How could we sing YHVH’s song in a strange and alien land? If I forget you, o Jerusalem, may my right hand fall useless!

May my tongue cleave to my palate if I remember you not, if Jerusalem is not the first of my joys.

Friday, 26 June 2020 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

2 Kings 25 : 1-12

In the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon marched with his entire army and laid siege to Jerusalem. They camped outside the city and built siege works all around it. The city was under siege up to the eleventh year of the reign of Zedekiah.

On the ninth day of the fourth month famine became a serious problem in the city, and throughout the land there was no bread for the people. When the city was opened by a breach in the wall, the Judean army fled through the gate between the two walls near the king’s garden, while the Chaldeans were still around the city; and they fled towards the Arabah. The Chaldeans followed in hot pursuit of king Zedekiah and caught up with him in the plains of Jericho. All his army deserted him and scattered.

The Chaldeans seized the king and led him away to Riblah in the territory of Hamath and there the king of Babylon passed sentence on him. There at Riblah the king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah in his presence. He then put out the eyes of Zedekiah, bound him with a double bronze chain and took him to Babylon.

On the seventh day of the fifth month in the nineteenth year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan, commander of the captain of the royal guard and servant of the king of Babylon, entered Jerusalem and set fire to the House of YHVH and the royal palace, as well as to all the houses in Jerusalem. The Chaldean army under the commander of the bodyguard completely demolished all the walls around Jerusalem.

Nebuzaradan, commander of the bodyguard, carried off into exile the last of the Jews left in the city, those who had deserted to the king of Babylon and the remainder of the artisans. But he left those among the very poor who were capable of working in vineyards and cultivating the soil.

Thursday, 25 June 2020 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us are reminded by the words of the Scripture that we must have firm faith in the Lord, and place all of our trust and hopes in Him, that we will then have a firm foundation upon which to lay our lives upon. Without this secure and firm foundation, it is likely that we will falter and fail in life, and suffer the consequences of our own choice, our own unwillingness to put our trust in God.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard of the Lord Jesus speaking to His disciples on the matter of those who would enter into the kingdom of God and therefore receive the fullness of grace, as those who have built for themselves a firm foundation, which the Lord likened with a parable to a house built on the firm foundation of rock-solid stone, and those who have little faith and no genuine love for God as those who have built their houses on the foundation of sand.

By using those examples in the form of a parable, the Lord wanted to show that the Lord is the sure refuge and firm foundation of our lives, a firm foundation that surpasses any other foundations we may have in life. There is no greater assurance or source of hope or strength we may have besides that of the hope and strength we will find in God and gain through Him. Those whom the Lord said as those crying out ‘Lord! Lord!’ were also subtle rebuke against the ones who have acted pious and good outwardly, and yet, in their hearts and minds, God was not found in them.

Linking what we have heard in our Gospel passage to our first reading today, we have the narrative from the Second Book of Kings telling us about what happened during the last years of the southern kingdom of Judah, first under its penultimate king, king Jehoiachin, and then ended with the last king, Zedekiah. For some background of this narrative, king Jehoiachin ruled a much diminished kingdom of Judah that had become the vassal and under the influence of the neighbouring Egypt and the growing power of Babylonian Kingdom at that time.

Jehoiachin revolted against the Babylonian king, likely thinking that he could win his independence by depending on the backing from Egypt or from other additional allies. But he was very wrong, as none of his expected help came about and the king of Babylon came up to Jerusalem with a mighty army, and king Jehoiachin surrendered. Together with much of the population of Judah, the king and important people were deported to exile in Babylon.

And later on, his uncle king Zedekiah, who replaced Jehoiachin as king, would also revolt with the same reason, definitely not learning the futility of trusting in earthly powers and means rather than the power of God. That time, the king of Babylon destroyed the Temple, the city of Jerusalem itself and Judah, blinded Zedekiah, killed his sons and brought most of the population that remained into exile in Babylon, an exile that was to last for many decades.

This was exactly what building a house on the foundation of sand meant, as experienced by the sons and daughters of Israel themselves, as those wicked and sinful kings disobeyed God and worshipped pagan idols, choosing to trust in the power of foreign kings and earthly powers than to trust in God. The support of earthly powers, means and resources are unreliable and cannot be fully trusted, as they could change with the change of human desires and other factors often beyond control.

But if we trust in God, we will not be disappointed, as God will always be faithful to the Covenant He has established with us, and we need only to trust in Him to lead us down the right path. Surely, the path going forward will not be an easy one, but if we trust in God and place ourselves faithfully in His hands, we will be preserved and strengthened, and in the end, we will be triumphant together with Him.

Let us all from now on, deepen our faith in God and commit ourselves anew to Him, striving to spend more quality time with Him, through prayer and other actions glorifying His Name. Let us all put God at the centre of our lives and make Him our firm foundation. May the Lord give us His strength and the courage to be ever faithful, with each and every moments of our lives. Amen.

Thursday, 25 June 2020 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Matthew 7 : 21-29

At that time, Jesus said to the people, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My heavenly Father. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not speak in Your Name? Did we not cast out devils and perform many miracles in Your Name?’ Then I will tell them openly, ‘I have never known you; away from Me, you evil people!’”

“Therefore, anyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts according to them, is like a wise man, who built his house on rock. The rain poured down, the rivers flooded, and the wind blew and struck that house. But it did not collapse, because it was built on rock. But anyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act accordingly, is like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain poured, the rivers flooded, and the wind blew and struck that house; it collapsed, and what a terrible collapse that was!”

When Jesus had finished this discourse, the crowds were struck by the way He taught, because He taught with authority, unlike their teachers of the Law.