Saturday, 6 July 2013 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Maria Goretti, Virgin and Martyr (Scripture Reflection)

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord is with us, He is around us, and He is within us. He is the bride of the Church, and therefore, He is also our bridegroom, and we are united intimately with Him. That was why Jesus told the disciples of John the Baptist, that His disciples did not fast the way that they and the Pharisees had done, because the Lord Himself walked among them, the disciples, that they should indeed rejoice for being given such a privilege. And indeed, why lament, or be sorrowful, or fast when the Lord Himself is with us? We should indeed be happy and joyful.

And even the more reason we have today to rejoice in the presence of our Lord, because our Lord Jesus Christ had died for us, and is risen, triumphant over evil, sin, and death. He redeemed all of us, without exception, from our fate that is death, because of our sinful rebellion. That is the even greater reason why we should be joyful and rejoice over such a great victory, the victory over sin. If we accept the salvation offered freely by our Lord Jesus Christ, death will no longer have any power and hold over us, and we will enjoy life eternal with our Lord in heaven.

The Lord Jesus today talked about the wineskins and the clothes in today’s Gospel reading, and these parables are a very strong indication and teaching to us, that when we accept Christ, as our Lord and Saviour, we must be renewed, rejuvenated, into a new life in Christ, and abandon our old life, the old life of evil and sin. That old life, that sinful existence before we accepted Christ is the old wineskin, old wine, and the old cloths, while the new life in Christ is akin to the new wineskins, new wine, and the new cloths.

So incompatible evil is with our Lord, who is Love, perfection, and the ultimate good, that indeed, just as Christ had said to His disciples, that we cannot patch old cloths with new cloths, neither can we put old wine into new wineskins, or new wine into old wineskins. We have to transform ourselves so that we can truly belong to Christ. For Christ will descend upon us and dwell within us through the Holy Spirit, that our bodies should be transformed into the Temple of the Holy Spirit.

Upon our baptism, our old sins and the sins of our forefathers, of the rebellion of man against the love of God, are erased. This is the purification of our body and our soul from evil, from the slavery of Satan, into the holiness of Christ. That is why, we must ever be vigilant, and ever remember that our bodies, our hearts, our minds, and our souls must always remain as clean as possible from the taints of Satan and his darkness.

For Satan certainly does not sit idly by while we are saved by the Lord. He will use all of his power and all the tools in his possession in order to corrupt us back and allow us to fall back into his fold, thus preventing our salvation and instead bringing about our eternal damnation with him in hell. Dear brothers and sisters, we must always be vigilant, because Satan is a trickster, and his ideas are many. While what Jacob did in order to gain inheritance from his brother Esau in the first reading should not be a condoned act, although it was indeed in God’s plan, it can give us a good insight on the kind of trick that Satan can play on us, with Satan being Jacob, and us being Isaac, who could no longer see, and thus was tricked by Jacob’s trickery and gave him the blessing intended for Esau.

Today, yet another reminder of the need to keep ourselves pure and worthy of our Lord, so that we will not fall into damnation but eternal life, exists in the person of St. Maria Goretti, whose feast day we are celebrating today. Many of us know the story of the short life of St. Maria Goretti and her tragic death in defense of her faith and obedience to the laws and to the will of God.

St. Maria Goretti was still only 11 when she died, in a horrific attack in a rape attempt by Alessandro, a boy whose family lived together with St. Maria Goretti’s family. St. Maria Goretti rejected Alessandro’s advances and attempts, and constantly reminded him that what he was trying to do is a sin, and doing so would cause him to be condemned into hell. St. Maria Goretti also said that it is better for her to die rather than to betray her faith and dedication to the Lord, and rather than to sully her purity.

Despite being attacked and ravaged by Alessandro’s wrath, which eventually caused her death, St. Maria Goretti forgave her assailant, and prayed for his salvation, and for him to eventually join her in heaven. She died soon from her wounds, but her good works did not end there. Alessandro, her murderer, eventually regretted his deeds and renounced his past sinful ways and reformed himself in the Church, eventually dying in peace and love as one of God’s servants. He is now certainly with St. Maria Goretti in the glory of heaven and eternal life.

The example of St. Maria Goretti should inspire us and invigorate us, to keep ourselves pure and clean from all traces of evil. Turn away from our sinful past, and all the things detestable to the Lord, that we had done all these while. Let us abandon the old wineskin, and embrace the new wine with the new wineskin. Our Lord is merciful and loving, and if we repent our sinful ways, we will surely be welcomed in His loving embrace.

Therefore, following the example of St. Maria Goretti, and in obedience to God’s will and commandments, let us fill ourselves with Christ, and reflect Christ in our daily actions, in all the things that we say and do, that we truly belong to Christ, and Satan no longer has any power or hold over us. May the Lord who loves us strengthen the faith and love that is inside all of us, that we will be saved, and will be with Him for eternity in the bliss of eternal life in love, joy, and hope.

St. Maria Goretti, pray for us, and ask the Lord for His mercy for all of us sinners, still walking in this world, that we will not go astray from the path that the Lord had pointed out to us. Amen.

Saturday, 6 July 2013 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Maria Goretti, Virgin and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Matthew 9 : 14-17

Then 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.”

“No one patches an old coat with a piece of unshrunken cloth, for the patch will shrink and tear an even bigger hole in the coat. In the same way, you do not put new wine in old wineskins. If you do, the wineskins will burst and the wine will be spilt. No, you put new wine in fresh skins; then both are preserved.”

Saturday, 6 July 2013 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Maria Goretti, Virgin and Martyr (Psalm)

Psalm 134 : 1-2, 3-4, 5-6

Alleluia! Praise the Name of the Lord. O servants of the Lord, praise Him, you who serve in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God.

Praise the Lord, for He is good, praise His Name, for It is beautiful; for the Lord has chosen Jacob as His own, Israel as His possession.

I know that the Lord is great, that our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the Lord pleases, He does – in heaven and on earth, in the seas and in their depths.

Saturday, 6 July 2013 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Maria Goretti, Virgin and Martyr (First Reading)

Genesis 27 : 1-5, 15-29

When Isaac was old and his eyes so weak that he could no longer see, he called Esau, his older son, and said to him, “My son.” “Here I am,” he answered. Isaac continued, “You see I am old and I don’t know when I shall die; so take your weapons, your bow and arrow, go out into the country and hunt some game for me. Then prepare some of the savoury food I like and bring it to me so that I may eat and give you my blessing before I die.”

Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau. When Esau went into the country to hunt game and bring it back. Then Rebekah took the best clothes of her elder son Esau that she had in the house and put them on Jacob, her younger son. With the goatskin she covered his hands and the smooth part of his neck, and she handed to him the bread and food she had prepared.

He went to his father and said, “Father!” He answered, “Yes, my son, who is it?” And Jacob said to his father, “It is Esau, your firstborn; I have done what you told me to do. Come, sit up and eat my game so that you may give me your blessing.”

Isaac said, “How quick you have been my son!” Jacob said, “YHVH, your God, guided me.” Isaac said to Jacob, “Come near and let me feel you, my son, and know that it is you, Esau my son, or not.”

When Jacob drew near to Isaac, his father felt him and said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” He did not recognise him, for his hands were hairy like the hands of Esau his brother and so he blessed him. He asked, “Are you really my son, Esau?” And Jacob answered, “I am.”

Isaac said, “Bring me some of your game, my son, so that I may eat and give you my blessing.” So Jacob brought it to him and he ate. And he brought him wine and he drank. Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come near and kiss me, my son.” So, Jacob came near and kissed him.

Isaac then caught the smell of his clothes and blessed him, saying, “The smell of My son is like the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed. May God give you the dew of heaven; and the richness of the earth; and abundance of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you and nations bow down before you. Be Lord over your brothers, and let your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone that curses you and blessed be everyone that blesses you!”

Friday, 5 July 2013 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony Zaccaria, Priest (Scripture Reflection)

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we reflect on the calling of Matthew, who was a tax collector, and according to the Pharisees, a sinner. He was called from his custom-house and followed Christ, eventually to become one of the Twelve Apostles and one of the Four Evangelists, who wrote the Gospel of Matthew, which passage we are reading today.

Why did the Pharisees consider the tax collectors as sinners? We should understand the history and condition of the region at the time, of the region called Palestine today, and Judea at that time. At the time of Jesus, Judea was still a semi-independent kingdom, led by a king, Herod Antipas at that time, the son of Herod the Great, who tried to kill Jesus as a baby. But despite the semblance of independence generated by the presence of a ‘king of the Jews’ in Herod, the Romans, which had become an Empire by that time, had the overall command and control as the master of the people of Judea.

The Romans established an efficient taxation system throughout their Empire, and that made up the main source of their annual income, and Judea is no exception to the rule. The people of Judea, including the Jews, had to pay their taxes to the Roman authorities, and this was greatly despised by the Jews, particularly the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. Not just because it showed a subordination to the greater Roman authority, but it seemed that it also contradicted the fact that one should obey and give honour to the Lord alone.

The Roman coins used in the tax payment itself could be considered blasphemous by the Jews at the time, because every single coins were engraved with the facial image of the Emperor, and therefore could be considered as tantamount to idolatry, worship of the Emperor, as what was indeed happening in Rome at that time, as Emperors increasingly became more autocratic, they also attributed more divinity towards themselves, and would in time be established as the cult of the Emperors, where the Roman Emperors were worshipped as divine, living in the flesh.

All these sparked the notion that paying taxes to the Romans was a detestable idea at best, and the people did not like it for certain, for other than the religious reasons, taxes also burdened them financially, and that was why, out of all people, the tax collectors were always considered to be at the bottom of the society and were considered, particularly by the ‘pious’ Pharisees, to be morally corrupt and unworthy as well as incapable of redemption.

The tax collectors were treated and condemned as sinners, even though they might actually be good people. Remember that tax collectors often had no choice to be one, because they themselves had to earn a living, and it was indeed not an easy job to be done, as I had mentioned, being tax collectors meant that one had to endure the hatred and displeasure of the general population, the priesthood, and many other people, and endure the label of evil placed unfairly onto them.

The Jewish people themselves were very nationalistic in nature, and were very proud of their descent from Abraham, their forefather both in blood and faith. They kept mostly to themselves and married one another, in order to prevent themselves from being tainted by the pagans around them. This had happened since the time of Abraham himself, as you would have noted in our first reading today, who asked Eliezer his servant to find a wife for his son, Isaac, from among his own people, his own family, and not among the women of Canaan.

This had further made the contempt given to the tax collectors and other Roman collaborators even greater. They were barely tolerated in the society, cursed and rejected by many. They may be able to survive financially, but in terms of their lives, it was truly miserable. This was the condition that formed the backdrop of the situation as it was when Jesus called Matthew to be His disciple, and when He ate with him and his fellow tax-collectors in his house with the Pharisees.

Jesus then highlighted His mission in this world to His disciples, the Pharisees, and the tax collectors, that is to heal the world and those afflicted in this world, those who are condemned to damnation in hell, those who are suffering, those who are immersed deeply in the darkness of sin. That is because these are the ones who really need help and assistance in order to ensure that they will not fall into hell. God loves all, everyone, especially the greatest of sinners, who are in greatest need for God’s mercy and love.

That is because those of us who had been saved, and had been following the commandments of the Lord will remain safe, as long as we keep the Lord’s commandments and stay in His grace. As long as we remain faithful to the Lord, no harm can come our way. That is why it is those who are ‘sick’ from sin and evil would need much more assistance and help than we do. But we should not let Christ do that alone, but we ourselves, as the children of God, can also play our part in ensuring the salvation of all, especially those whose sins are the greatest.

The Pharisees themselves, who considered themselves most pious and blessed of all the children of God because of their strict adherence to the Law of Moses, were in fact in great need of salvation themselves. They had indeed observed ‘sacrifices’ so much that they had forgotten ‘mercy’, and forgotten love. God desires not sacrifices from man, but their love, both towards Him and towards His other children, our brothers and sisters.

The Pharisees did not love and do the true will of God, and instead became too focused on their own strict laws made by men, and even condemned those so-called sinners such as prostitutes and tax collectors as morally bankrupt and evil, while in fact, it is they themselves who were deep in the darkness, and worse still, blind to their own inadequacies and iniquities.

Today, brothers and sisters, we also commemorate the feast day of St. Anthony Zaccaria, a priest who lived in the late Renaissance era Italy. He was a priest who placed a great emphasis on the love of God and the teachings of the Church as espoused by St. Paul and the Apostles. He put the emphasis on acts of love and mercy, in addition to devotions and prayers, that made the faithful become even more devout and strong in their faith.

St. Anthony Zaccaria showed to the people of his time that to love God, is to both worship Him in prayer and supplication, in the offering of the ‘sacrifice’ of our hearts, the true sacrifice that our Lord wants from us, and also to make our love evident through our own deeds and actions, so that the love that is in us will not be an empty love, but a vibrant love in both word and action.

Therefore, following the zeal and example of St. Anthony Zaccaria, let us be loving person, loving children of God our Father, who is Love. May all of us truly show our love for Him through our complete dedication to Him, and also our loving service to our neighbours, particularly those in greatest need of help.

May the Lord be with us and remain with us, blessing us with His love and mercy at all times. St. Anthony Zaccaria, pray for us. Amen.

Friday, 5 July 2013 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony Zaccaria, Priest (Gospel Reading)

Matthew 9 : 9-13

As Jesus moved on from there, He saw a man named Matthew at his seat in the custom-house, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And Matthew got up and followed Him.

Now it happened, while Jesus was at table in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners joined Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is it that your Master eats with sinners and tax collectors?”

When Jesus heard this, He said, “Healthy people do not need a doctor, but sick people do. Go and find out what this means : What I want is mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Friday, 5 July 2013 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony Zaccaria, Priest (Psalm)

Psalm 105 : 1-2, 3-4a, 4b-5

Alleluia! Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His love endures forever. Who can count the Lord’s mighty deeds, or declare all His praises?

Blessed are they who always do just and right. Remember me, o Lord, when You show favour to Your people.

Rescue me when You deliver them, let me see the triumph of Your faithful, let me share the joy of Your nation, and join Your people in praising You.

Friday, 5 July 2013 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony Zaccaria, Priest (First Reading)

Genesis 23 : 1-4, 19 and Genesis 24 : 1-8, 62-67

Sarah lived a hundred and twenty-seven years. She died at Kiriatharba – that is Hebron – in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went in to weep and mourn for Sarah. Abraham left his dead one and spoke to the Hittites, “I am only a stranger among you; give me a burial place among you, so that I may bury my dead.” After this Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave of Machpelah.

Abraham was now old and well on in years, and YHVH had blessed him in every way. Abraham said to his senior servant, who was his steward, “Put your hand under my thigh and you will swear to me by YHVH, God of heaven and earth, that you will not choose a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom we live; rather it is to my country and my kinsfolk that you will go to choose a wife for my son, Isaac.”

The servant said to him, “Perhaps the woman will not want to follow me to this country. In that case should I take your son to the country you came from?” Abraham said to him, “In no way you will take my son back. For YHVH, God of heaven and God of earth, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, spoke to me and swore to me that He would give this country to my race. He will send His angel before you, that you may find a wife for my son. But if the woman is unwilling to follow you, you will be free of this oath. In any case you are not to take my son down there.”

Now Isaac had come from the well of Lahai-roi, for he was living in the Negeb. As Isaac went out in the early evening to meditate in the field, he looked up and saw camels coming. Rebekah also looked up and when she saw Isaac she alighted from her camel and said to the servant, “Who is the man in the field coming to meet us?” He replied, “It is my master!” She then covered her face with her veil.

The servant related to Isaac all that he had done and Isaac brought Rebekah into the tent of Sarah, his mother. He made her his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

Thursday, 4 July 2013 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Elizabeth of Portugal (Scripture Reflection)

Dear brothers and sisters, the Lord loves us, He loves all of us without exception, and He wants us to be reunited with Him, but He also wants us to be free from the sins and evil that separate us from Him. That was why He sent us Jesus, His Son, that we may have hope of salvation, through His authority, for He, as the Son of God, one with the Father, has authority over all the creation, and over sin. That was why He was able to forgive those whom He deemed worthy, from their sins, such as the paralytic. The Lord loves us all, and He showed mercy to those who suffer.

Obedience to God and His will is important, because while He gave us free will in order to choose what we want to do for our lives, and He did also give us plenty of freedom in that regard. He gave us plenty of time and opportunities in order to live according to His commandments and His Law, just as Abraham had done his entire life.

Abraham did not withhold from the Lord even his only son, and this son is not just any son, but the very son that the Lord had promised him for a long time, and who had been made the heir of Abraham, as the son of Abraham and Sarah, his wife. Sarah gave birth to Isaac in her old age, in the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. Yet, then that child was requested by the Lord from Abraham, to be a burnt offering for Him.

One may only guess the emotions running within Abraham when he heard of the Lord’s request for Isaac to be a burnt offering. After all the promise and the difficulties that came before Isaac was finally born into the world, this young one was to be burned as a sacrifice for the Lord, and therefore, the entire hope and excitement over Isaac as Abraham’s heir would have been a waste. Certainly, such thoughts must have resonated within Abraham’s mind. Yet, he remained entirely faithful in God and in His plans, and His will, and he gave a full consent to God’s request, bringing Isaac to be sacrificed on the mountains of Moriah.

It is not easy to give up one’s most beloved one, especially to be killed as a sacrifice. But Abraham did it, and he proved his faith to the Lord and his obedience through that action, showing that Abraham valued nothing more than the Lord his God, and put even his own son, only son into risk for the sake of the Lord. But wait, even though we may think that Abraham had gone all the way in giving up his precious one for the Lord, there is indeed another, even far greater case and example of self-sacrifice that had happened in this world.

What is that? Yes, none other than the Lord Himself. He gave us His own Son, Jesus Christ, in sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice for all of our sins. Through His death came our redemption, and through His life, we are born again in a new life in God. He gave Himself as the ultimate offering for our sins, as His Blood, the Blood of the purest Lamb of all, the Lamb of God, is the only thing worthy for all the monstrosity of our sins, as great is our sins from our forefathers to us, and from us to our children.

Christ Himself taught that there is no greater love than those who gave their lives for their friends, and in giving up His own life, He showed the perfect nature of His love for all. He died for all without exception, and offered everybody His salvation, if only they would repent and believe in Him as their Lord and Saviour. Abraham too showed his great love through his offering of his only son, the promised son, Isaac, to the Lord. Brothers and sisters, we must always love God, and our brothers and sisters, most importantly those who are in great need for our care and our love.

Today, brethren, we also commemorate the memorial and feast of St. Elizabeth of Portugal. St. Elizabeth of Portugal was Queen consort of Portugal, and had been very devout in her devotion to the Lord and to the cause of the faith even before she was Queen, and when she became Queen, she became patron of numerous activities and organisations through which she did much effort to bring love and service to others, particularly those in need, and also preach the Gospel of Christ to those who were still in darkness.

St. Elizabeth of Portugal joined the religious life after she was widowed, and even though she was dowager queen, she did not hesitate to involve herself extensively in numerous acts of charity for the poor and sick, whom she had a special devotion to in her works. She is also a well-known peacemaker, having been a great diplomat and endowed with great intellect and charm. She brokered many peace agreements between warring parties, and even her assistance was asked after she had joined religious life, and even then, she showed her skills in ensuring peace between parties in conflict.

St. Elizabeth of Portugal is an example to all of us, brothers and sisters, that all of us should give love and life through our deeds and actions daily. We must show love in all the things that we do without exception, bringing love to those who need it, and care to those who are poor and suffering. We must also be peacemakers, to bring peace between brothers and sisters who are in conflict, that hate will never take hold in this world, and instead, in its place, love would occupy the hearts of men, that we will once again remember the love God had once given us, through the sacrifice of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, His expression of His ultimate and undying love for all of us.

May the Lord strengthen us and empower us with His love, that we will be always courageous and strong, in our increasingly darkened world, that we will become beacons of light, beacons of hope, and beacons of love. May God bless us at all times and be with us always. Amen.

Thursday, 4 July 2013 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Elizabeth of Portugal (Gospel Reading)

Matthew 9 : 1-8

Jesus got back into the boat, crossed the lake again, and came to His hometown. Here they brought a paralysed man to Him, lying on a bed. Jesus saw their faith and said to the paralytic, “Courage, My son! Your sins are forgiven.”

Then some teachers of the Law said within themselves, “This Man insults God.” Jesus was aware of what they were thinking, and said, “Why have you such evil thoughts? Which is easier to say : ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Stand up, and walk’? You must know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”

He then said to the paralysed man, “Stand up! Take your stretcher and go home.” The man got up and went home. When the crowds saw this, they were filled with awe, and praised God for giving such power to human beings.