Saturday, 11 July 2020 : 14th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Benedict, Abbot (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today all of us heard first of all from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, the description of a great vision that Isaiah received, as he saw the marvellous glory of God, the magnificent Throne of God and His divine majesty, enthroned among the Seraphim and Cherubim, the greatest among the Angels of God. The Lord showed Isaiah that vision to strengthen him and to make him know how He has chosen him to bear His words to the people and to proclaim His truth and prophesy in His Name.

And therefore, from then on, Isaiah after he enthusiastically answered God’s call with, ‘Here I am! Send me!’, went on to serve the people, speaking God’s words among them, encouraging them as shown at the moment when king Sennacherib of Assyria came up to besiege Jerusalem with a mighty army and mocked both God and the king, Isaiah reassured both the king of Judah and the people, that God would be with them and that for all the boasts and hubris of the Assyrian king, he was nothing compared to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Sure enough, no sooner that the Assyrian king had made his boast, blaspheming against God, that the Lord sent His Angels against the king’s mighty army, and wiped them all out with a great disaster and plague, that when morning broke, hundreds of thousands were dead and the Assyrian king Sennacherib had to abandon his siege and retreat back to his lands in shame. Through this, God showed that He is truly the One in charge, and the Master over all things.

And through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord has also promised His people that He would bring them salvation and liberation, as He renewed His promise of the coming of the Messiah or Saviour, Who was extensively spoken about in many of Isaiah’s prophecies. Through all these assurances, the Lord again wanted His people to have faith in Him and to keep their trust in Him, that despite everything that they might have suffered and endured because of their sins, their wickedness and disobedience, but God was always ready to welcome them back and be reconciled with them.

This reconciliation came about and was fulfilled through Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, the One Whom the prophet Isaiah had been prophesying about. Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour, the whole world has seen the salvation of God, and the world that was once filled with darkness and uncertainty, have seen the light and hope of God, finally revealed to all. And Christ reiterated again and again, including in what we have heard in our Gospel today, how we are truly fortunate to have God Who loves us all dearly and considers us precious.

In today’s Gospel, the Lord spoke of the trust that we ought to have in God because of just how precious we are in the sight of God, how beloved we are and how fortunate we are because every single one of us are blessed and important to God, no matter how small or insignificant we may think we are. The Lord has shown again from time to time, throughout history, how He has protected His faithful ones and provided for them in their time of need. And even at the darkest and the most vulnerable moments, when we mankind have no where else and nothing and no one else to turn to, the Lord is and will always be there for us.

But are we willing to accept Him? Are we even aware that He is always there for us, providing for us and granting us what we need? The Lord has shown us His ever present love and attention, but many of us have abandoned Him, left Him for other things, for worldly comforts and desires, for all sorts of temptations that made us more and more distant, and became more and more separated from God. That is why today we are reminded through these Scripture passages, to turn once again towards God if we have forgotten about Him or abandoned Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today all of us have to remember how we are truly beloved by God and precious to Him, and then, even more importantly, we are called by God to do His will, to follow in the footsteps of the prophet Isaiah and help others to find their way back to God, and to remind them all of how great and loving God has been towards us. All of us have been called and share in this calling through our baptism, that we all are charged with spreading the word of God, to lead others to Him.

St. Benedict, holy Abbot and great father of Christian monasticism in the Western Christendom can be our great source of inspiration, as we celebrate his feast day today. St. Benedict, also known as St. Benedict of Nursia, was a great and holy servant of God, renowned for his piety and commitment to live a life of purity and prayer dedicated to God. He was born in a Roman noble family and had a good upbringing and life, but as he continued his education in Rome, the immorality and wickedness he witnessed made him to want to seek God.

As a result, he and his sister, St. Scholastica, began to seek God through prayerful life and retreat away from the world. Through his efforts and example, the foundations for Christian monastic practices in the Western Christendom were established, as he inspired many others to follow him in a life of asceticism and prayer dedicated to God, living in a close-knit community, and wrote the rule which would be remembered for many centuries and generations since, the Rule of St. Benedict, which would also inspire the rules in the many other monastic orders.

Through his life, St. Benedict inspired many people to turn once again towards the Lord, some of whom decided to follow his way of life and become an ascetic and monk, while others endeavoured to lead a better life more connected to God, through greater charity, life more attuned to God and more righteous and just in all of their dealings. Are we able to inspire others just as St. Benedict had done? That is why we need to follow God wholeheartedly and make our lives a great reflection of our Christian faith.

May the Lord be with us always, and may He make us all great instruments of His presence in this world. May He grant us the strength and courage to be ever faithful, dedicated to Him as how the prophet Isaiah and the many other prophets, and as St. Benedict of Nursia and the many other holy saints, holy men and women of God had done before us. May all of us be ever faithful, and be great and committed disciples of the Lord, in words, deeds and actions, now and always. Amen.

Saturday, 11 July 2020 : 14th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Benedict, Abbot (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 10 : 24-33

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “A student is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. A student should be content to become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If the head of the household has been called Beelzebul, how much more, those of his household! So, do not be afraid of them!”

“There is nothing covered that will not be uncovered. There is nothing hidden that will not be made known. What I am telling you in the dark, you must speak in the light. What you hear in private, proclaim from the housetops. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but have no power to kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of Him Who can destroy both body and soul in hell.”

“For a few cents you can buy two sparrows. Yet not one sparrow falls to the ground without your Father knowing. As for you, every hair of your head has been counted. Do not be afraid : you are worth more than many sparrows! Whoever acknowledges Me before others, I will acknowledge before My Father in heaven. Whoever rejects Me before others, I will reject before My Father in heaven.”

Saturday, 11 July 2020 : 14th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Benedict, Abbot (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 92 : 1ab, 1c-2, 5

YHVH reigns, robed in majesty; YHVH is girded with strength.

The world now, is firm; it cannot be moved. Your throne stands from long ago, o YHVH; from all eternity You are.

Your decrees can be trusted; holiness dwells in Your House, day after day, without end, o YHVH.

Saturday, 11 July 2020 : 14th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Benedict, Abbot (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Isaiah 6 : 1-8

In the year that king Uzziah died I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted; the train of His robe filled the Temple. Above Him were Seraphs, each with six wings : two to cover the face, two to cover the feet, and two to fly with. They were calling to one another : “Holy, Holy, Holy is YHVH Sabaoth. All the earth is filled with His glory!”

At the sound of their voices the foundations of the threshold shook and the Temple was filled with smoke. I said, “Poor me! I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips, and yet I have seen the King, YHVH Sabaoth.”

Then one of the Seraphs flew to me; in his hands was a live coal which he had taken with tongs from the Altar. He touched my mouth with it and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for Us?”

I answered, “Here I am. Send me!”

Friday, 10 July 2020 : 14th Week of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard the assurance of love and mercy from God, the assurance that no matter what, God will always be by our side regardless of whatever that had happened or will happen to us, and we can be sure of the Lord’s guidance and protection. That is because, if all else fail and all else fall apart, the Lord alone can be fully trusted and depended upon. His everlasting and enduring love for us is the reason for all these.

In our first reading today, as we heard from the Book of the prophet Hosea, after many days listening to God’s anger at His people’s constant disobedience and sins, their lack of faith and stubbornness in worshipping idols and performing what were wicked in the sight of God, today we heard that despite all of these, the Lord still truly loved His people, and called on all of them to return to Him, to repent from their sins, turning away from their wickedness and once again embrace God’s righteousness.

The Lord wanted all of them to throw away the shackles of their sins, to put their trust once again in Him instead of all the idols and other worldly powers that they had entrusted themselves to at that time, as many of the people turned instead to Baal, Ashtaroth, and other pagan gods for direction and guidance, instead of turning to God, and they trusted more in politics and worldly connections rather than to trust in God.

As mentioned in the passage today, what was spoken was truly prophetic, as Assyria mentioned in that passage as one of those to whom the Israelites had turned to for support, would in short time, ended up becoming the very one that would destroy the kingdom, its capital Samaria and brought its people into exile. All those who had sought to seek Assyria’s help and support, particularly in the context of the ever-bitter rivalry between the northern kingdom and the neighbouring country of Aram-Damascus would eventually be disappointed as both kingdoms were crushed by the rising Empire.

The Lord through His prophet Hosea was reminding His people that He alone has the power to guide them all to the true happiness and joy, and save them from their predicament and trouble. For He is truly the One with the power and authority to rule over all things, and there is no other things in this world that we can rely on or trust besides the Lord. Unfortunately, we are often too busy or preoccupied, distracted and ignorant to realise just how fortunate we have been, to have been so beloved by God, Who has always been ever so patient towards us.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, in our Gospel passage today, the Lord spoke of this same reassurance to His disciples, as He encouraged them and strengthened them, in saying that they should not fear of worry about themselves, should they encounter trials and challenges during their ministry and faithful commitment to His cause. He said all these to strengthen them and prepare them for what they were to experience. Many among the Apostles and disciples would endure prison, torture and suffering, and even death. Many others would endure trials and persecution, rejection and opposition.

The Lord reassured them that He would be with them, standing by them even through their most difficult moments. They would never be alone, or face their oppressors and challengers on their own accord. If they trust in the Lord, the Lord would be their strength and consolation, their guide and protector, and His Spirit would be with them, giving them wisdom and courage, brilliance and perseverance, just as most prominently we can see in St. Stephen’s martyrdom.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this past year alone, and especially this year, we have seen, witnessed and likely experienced for ourselves, how our usual trust and dependance on worldly matters and things have been shaken and our trust in them destroyed. We see how our society and respective communities were affected badly by all the negative implications of the current pandemic, troubles and conflicts affecting our whole world. When what we have thought all these while to be stable are gone and can no longer be trusted, who or what then can we turn our attention to?

Of course it is the Lord, He Who is ever constant and faithful, Whose love for us is ever present and enduring, even amidst all of our infidelities and lack of faith. God has shown us yet again and again, how He is ever patient, in calling us to return to Him and to be reconciled to Him. Yet, at the same time, we also have to realise that He is calling us to repent and turn away from our sins and wickedness, for if we constantly being stubborn and refuse His mercy, then it is by those sins that we will be condemned and judged.

Let us all turn towards God with a renewed love and dedication, that from now on we will draw ever closer to God, and be filled with deeper and more genuine faith in Him from now on. May the Lord be with us always, and may He be our inspiration, strength, guide and protector as we continue to journey through life with faith. May God bless us always, in all of our good works, now and forevermore. Amen.

Friday, 10 July 2020 : 14th Week of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Matthew 10 : 16-23

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Look, I send you out like sheep among wolves. You must be as clever as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard with people, for they will hand you over to their courts, and they will flog you in their synagogues. You will be brought to trial before rulers and kings because of Me, so that you may witness to them and the pagans.”

“But when you are arrested, do not worry about what you are to say, or how you are to say it; when the hour comes, you will be given what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father, speaking through you.”

“Brother will hand over his brother to death, and a father his child; children will turn against their parents and have them put to death. Everyone will hate you because of Me, but whoever stands firm to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next. I tell you the truth, you will not have passed through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”

Friday, 10 July 2020 : 14th Week of Ordinary Time (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Psalm 50 : 3-4, 8-9, 12-13, 14 and 17

Have mercy on me, o God, in Your love. In Your great compassion blot out my sin. Wash me thoroughly of my guilt; cleanse me of evil.

I know You desire truth in the heart; teach me wisdom in my inmost being. Cleanse me, with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, I shall be whiter than snow.

Create in me, o God, a pure heart; give me a new and steadfast spirit. Do not cast me out of Your presence nor take Your Holy Spirit from me.

Give me again the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit. O Lord, open my lips, and I will declare Your praise.

Friday, 10 July 2020 : 14th Week of Ordinary Time (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Hosea 14 : 2-10

Return to your God YHVH, o Israel! Your sins have caused your downfall. Return to YHVH with humble words. Say to Him, “Oh You Who show compassion to the fatherless forgive our debt, be appeased. Instead of bulls and sacrifices, accept the praise from our lips. Assyria will not save us : no longer shall we look for horses nor ever again shall we say ‘Our gods’ to the work of our hands.”

I will heal their wavering and love them with all My heart for My anger has turned from them. I shall be like dew to Israel like the lily will he blossom. Like a cedar he will send down his roots; his young shoots will grow and spread. His splendour will be like an olive tree. His fragrance, like a Lebanon cedar.

They will dwell in My shade again, they will flourish like the grain, they will blossom like a vine, and their fame will be like Lebanon wine. What would Ephraim do with idols, when it is I Who hear and make him prosper? I am like an ever-green cypress tree; all your fruitfulness comes from Me.

Who is wise enough to grasp all this? Who is discerning and will understand? Straight are the ways of YHVH : the just walk in them, but the sinners stumble.

Thursday, 9 July 2020 : 14th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine Zhao Rong, Priest and Companions, Martyrs, Holy Chinese Martyrs (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today all of us are first confronted with the great wickedness of the people of Israel who refused to believe in God and committed all sorts of sin, despite everything that God had done for their sake. He has protected them many times, brought them out of their troubles, as the Exodus from Egypt was mentioned, the time when God liberated the Israelites and freed them from their slavery and gave them their own land to live in.

In all those years God had patiently cared for His people, sending them help and protection, provision and guidance when they encountered troubles. When the Israelites faced troubles and persecution from their neighbours and when their enemies rose up against them and subjugated them, God raised up Judges one after another to lead the people and free them from their oppressors. And still yet, they did not remain faithful and instead, worshipped idols, disobeyed His Law and commandments.

He has sent prophets after prophets, messengers after messengers to lead His people down the right path, and even after all these, they still refused to believe, and many among them openly disregarded His messages and reminders, persecuting and even killing His prophets. It was with these background and history that we then heard the words of the Lord through His prophet Hosea, sent to the Israelites in the northern kingdom during its final days.

For the past more than one week during the weekdays we have been listening to the words of the prophet Hosea, as we heard the words of God’s anger and dissatisfaction with the constant disobedience showed by the people, and the upcoming judgment, reckoning and consequences they had to suffer for their sins. And all those things were about to happen, as not long after the prophet Hosea spoke of those words, the northern kingdom was destroyed in the conquest by the Assyrian Empire, and many of its people brought into exile in far-off lands.

But we have also then heard, strangely, in between the anger and the premonitions of destruction that were to come, the words of soothing love, compassion and mercy. And all these underlie the true intention of the Lord, and why He has always been so patient with His people despite their constant rebellion and disobedience. That is because He was always filled with love for all of us, His own beloved children. He has created us all for a good reason, and that is His ever-present love for us.

In God, we truly have a loving Father and Master, as One Who has always been concerned about us, and that was why, despite our constant waywardness and disobedience, we are still indeed beloved by God, and God patiently sent His messengers and servants to help guide us out of the wrong path, as He ultimately did through sending us the finest gift of all, His own begotten Son, Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Through Christ, all of us receive the assurance and guarantee of God’s most wonderful love and providence, and all these He has freely given and revealed to us, sending out His Apostles and disciples two by two to go and proclaim the words of God’s truth, His wonderful love to many more people among us. But for all these, many among us His people refused to follow and stubbornly opposed Him, as their ancestors had done in the past.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, that is just how unfortunate the state of world truly is, with people refusing to believe in God even though He has always ever been so patient and loving, caring and forgiving. And for all these, many of the Lord’s servants, His Apostles and disciples, His prophets and messengers had suffered from the rejection and persecution that they had to endure for many occasions and through their many years of good service.

Today, all of us commend to our memory the great faith and dedication showed by the holy saints and martyrs who suffered in the great land of China, all the missionaries and the laypeople who have believed in God and received the faith, and were persecuted for that same faith and for their dedication to serve the people. St. Augustine Zhao Rong and his many companions are truly great inspirations and examples for us, as to how we should live our lives as faithful Christians.

St. Augustine Zhao Rong was among one of the first Chinese to be ordained as priests, and he was sent out to serve the communities of the faithful, a truly difficult task not only for him but also for many other missionaries, as the Christian faith at that time was just barely tolerated at the very most, and in most circumstances, to be a Christian was frowned upon by the society as well as by the government. Many people had to practice their faith in secret, and many of the missionaries also had to spread the Word of God carefully.

At that time, the conflict between the Chinese court and the Christian faith had been a culmination of centuries of exchanges, in which misunderstandings and conflicting interests among various religious orders and missionaries sent to the mission in China led to the official persecution of the Church and Christians in China, as the instructions from the Church, misled by these misunderstandings led to great conflict with the authorities for many years.

St. Augustine Zhao Rong and many other Church missionaries and priests were persecuted, arrested and tortured, and eventually put to death for their constant dedication to the Lord, refusal to betray the Lord and abandon their faith. All of these persecutions were made worse in particular because they were complicated by the arrival of the foreign powers that quickly led to diplomatic and political conflicts. And as the Western powers continued to gain prestige, territories and privileges at the expense of the Chinese, the Christian missionaries, priests and the faithful were often caught in the crossfire and conflicts.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, all those faithful people of God, both missionaries, priests and laypeople alike, all were faithful and committed to God despite the challenges that they had to endure. Many of them had to endure prison, unimaginable torture and painful sufferings, and yet, they remained firm in their conviction. This is something that each and every one of us should also be inspired with, even as we carry on living our own lives as Christians, as those whom God had called to be His followers.

As we can see, there is still much darkness in this world, and there is likely to be even more darkness, as mankind continue to walk down the path of sin and disobedience against God. Therefore, now as Christians all of us are challenged to be true and genuine witnesses of the Lord’s truth, His love for each and every one of us, and His willingness to forgive us our trespasses and sins as long as we are willing to repent from those many sins and mistakes we have committed.

Let us all follow in the footsteps of our holy predecessors, the Holy Martyrs of China, St. Augustine Zhao Rong and his many companions. Let us all be shining beacons of light and hope in the darkness, especially amidst all the trials, challenges and difficulties we are all enduring throughout this year. May the Lord be our help and guide, and may He strengthen our resolve to be ever good and righteous in all our actions and to be able to devote ourselves more with each and every passing moments of our lives. May God bless us all, now and always. Amen.

Thursday, 9 July 2020 : 14th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine Zhao Rong, Priest and Companions, Martyrs, Holy Chinese Martyrs (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Matthew 10 : 7-15

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Go, and proclaim this message : The kingdom of Heaven is near. Heal the sick, bring the dead back to life, cleanse the lepers, and drive out demons. Freely have you received, freely give. Do not carry any gold or silver or money in your purses. Do not take a travelling bag, or an extra shirt, or sandals, or a walking stick : workers deserve to be compensated.”

“When you come to a town or a village, look for a worthy person, and stay there until you leave. When you enter the house, wish it peace. If the people are worthy people, your peace will rest on them; if they are not worthy people, your blessing will come back to you.”

“And if you are not welcomed, and your words are not listened to, leave that house or that town, and shake the dust off your feet. I assure you, it will go easier for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment, than it will for the people of that town.”