Saturday, 20 July 2019 : 15th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Apollinaris, Bishop and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us are reminded of the promise of God’s salvation and His ever present loving kindness in our midst, because we are all so fortunate to have been beloved by God. Each and every one of us are precious in the sight of God, without any exception. God is generous with His love and He will always be faithful to the Covenant He has made with us.

In our first reading today, we heard of the Lord guiding His people Israel as they went in hurry out of the land of Egypt right after their very first Passover celebration, when the Pharaoh finally let the Israelites go free after the Lord sent the last Great Plague on the Egyptians, killing all the firstborn children of Egypt. God brought them and provided for them, and asked them to bring unleavened bread along with them as sustenance along the journey.

In the Gospel passage, we heard yet another time when the Lord revealed His salvation and great love for His people, through none other than the Saviour He Himself has promised, in Jesus Christ, His own Begotten Son, through Whom the whole race of mankind was to be saved from eternal damnation and from the fate of sure destruction. The Lord Who has once saved His people, now committed Himself to save all of them from certain death.

The liberation of Israel under the leadership of Moses in the Old Testament was indeed the prefigurement and prelude to the true liberation of not just Israel, but that of all mankind under the leadership of Christ. Just as the Israelites suffered under the tyranny of the Pharaoh and the Egyptians, all of us mankind have suffered greatly under the bondage of sin, which corrupted us and brought us closer to eternal damnation.

God, Who loves each and every one of us, does not want destruction to be our fate, and therefore, He sent us the promised salvation through Christ, His own Son, by Whose wonders and works, He revealed the true extent of His love and generous mercy towards us, His own beloved people. Even though we have sinned against Him, constantly being stubborn and rebelled against Him, He still loves each one of us nonetheless.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, if God has loved us so much that He has been willing to show us all these wonderful love and blessings, shall we not then strive to show Him the same kind of love and commitment? Shall we not devote our time, effort and attention to He Who has been so generous and kind to us? Let us all think about this even as we carry on living our lives faithfully as Christians.

Today, the Church celebrates the feast of St. Apollinaris, a holy bishop and martyr, whose example in faith and whose dedication to the Lord can be a source of inspiration for us in how we should live our own lives with faith and dedication to the Lord. St. Apollinaris was one of the earliest bishops of the Church, successor to the holy Apostles of Christ. He was appointed as the first Bishop of Ravenna in what is today Italy, near the capital of the Roman Empire.

He was persecuted and suffered greatly with his flock during the persecution of Christians by the early Roman Emperors, but he continued to evangelise to the people and preach the Good News regardless, performing many miracles and wonders before the people. He was oppressed and made to suffer and it was told that later on he was arrested and persecuted as the leader of the Church in Ravenna, and yet, despite all these, he did not give up his efforts.

Instead, he continued to serve the Church faithfully and ministered to the people of God to the best of his abilities, which showed his dedication, commitment and love for God, as such courage and dedication would not have been possible without a heart that is so filled with genuine love for God and with true faith in Him. God has a centre part in his life, and this is what each and every one of us as Christians should be doing as well.

Let us all therefore contemplate and strive to do our best from now on, to become ever better Christians, through our own words, actions and deeds. May the Lord continue to guide us down the path to salvation in Him, and bless us all in our every good endeavours. Amen.

Saturday, 20 July 2019 : 15th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Apollinaris, Bishop and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Matthew 12 : 14-21

At that time, the Pharisees went out, and made plans to get rid of Jesus. As Jesus was aware of their plans, He left that place. Many people followed Him, and He cured all who were sick. But He gave them strict orders not to make Him known.

In this way, Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled : Here is My Servant, Whom I have chosen; the One I love, and with Whom I am pleased. I will put My Spirit upon Him; and He will announce My judgment to the nations. He will not argue or shout, nor will His voice be heard in the streets. The bruised reed He will not crush, nor snuff out the smouldering wick until He brings justice to victory, and in Him, all the nations will put their hope.

Saturday, 20 July 2019 : 15th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Apollinaris, Bishop and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Psalm 135 : 1, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 23, 24

Alleluia! Give thanks to YHVH, for He is good, His kindness endures forever.

He slew the firstborn of Egypt, His kindness endures forever.

And brought Israel out, His kindness endures forever.

With strong hand and outstretched arm, His kindness endures forever.

He splits the Sea of Reeds, His kindness endures forever.

And made Israel pass through it, His kindness endures forever.

Drowning Pharaoh and his army, His kindness endures forever.

He remembered us in our humiliation, His kindness endures forever.

And freed us from our oppressors, His kindness endures forever.

Saturday, 20 July 2019 : 15th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Apollinaris, Bishop and Martyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Exodus 12 : 37-42

The Israelites left Rameses for Succoth, about six hundred thousand of them on the march, counting the men only, and not the children. A great number of other people of all descriptions went with them, as well as sheep and cattle in droves.

With the dough they had brought with them from Egypt, they made cakes of unleavened bread. It had not risen, for when they were driven from Egypt they could not delay and had not even provided themselves with food. The Israelites had been in Egypt for four hundred and thirty years. It was at the end of these four hundred and thirty years to the very day that the armies of YHVH left Egypt.

This is the watch for YHVH Who brought Israel out of Egypt. This night is for YHVH, and all the Israelites are also to keep vigil on this night, year after year, for all time.

Friday, 19 July 2019 : 15th Week of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard the words of the Scripture speaking to us about the matter of obeying the will and the commandments of God, not just superficially but also understanding the whole meaning and purpose of the Law in our hearts and minds. In that, we have heard the reading from the Book of Exodus relating to us the moment of the first Passover in Egypt, and then also the encounter between the Lord Jesus and the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law regarding the Law of the Sabbath in the Gospel today.

In the Book of Exodus, God had performed many powerful wonders and miracles before His people and before the Egyptians and their Pharaoh, as the latter continued to refuse to let the Israelites, the people of God, to go free from their bondage and return to the land promised to them and their ancestors. As such, God sent Ten Great Plagues to the land of Egypt, causing great destruction and harm on the Egyptians who continued to harden their hearts against God.

And the last of the great plagues was also the greatest one, the plague of death that afflicted all the firstborn children of Egypt, which ‘passed over’ the Israelites, as they had followed what God had exactly instructed them to do in our first reading passage today. They were instructed to take a young lamb less than one year old to be slaughtered for the Passover and its blood taken to mark the doorposts and lintels of the houses of the Israelites.

That was the very first Passover celebrated by the Israelites, following the commandments of God and listening to His instructions. And He also instructed them to remember that celebration of the Passover and to celebrate it every years in remembrance of that very night when the Lord had brought His people out of slavery and bondage, freeing them from the hands of the Egyptians and their Pharaoh.

That is what the Lord has intended when He asked of them to celebrate the Passover and to remember the love which He has shown to them, His great compassion and faithfulness, His steadfastness and commitment to the Covenant which He had made with their ancestors and which then He had renewed with them as well. But in time, the people ended up forgetting why they celebrated the Passover in the first place, just as the Gospel passage illustrated to us.

In that passage, we heard the exchange between the Lord Jesus and the teachers of the Law on a different matter, that is on the matter of the obedience to the Law of the Sabbath. That Law stated that all the people of Israel must not perform any work or labour on the day of the Sabbath, and which the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees interpreted very strictly to impose a total ban on work on the day of the Sabbath.

And when the Lord Jesus and His disciples seemed to disobey the precepts of the Sabbath Law, by performing work and miracles on that day, which the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees contested on many occasions, they became even fiercer in their criticism and opposition to the Lord. But they did not understand that the Law of the Sabbath was not meant to be understood or used in that manner, much as the Passover was at the time of Moses.

What happened was that the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees had become superficial in their observation of the Law and the commandments of God. They focused on the external observation of the laws and customs, and were focused on the fine details of such observation, but failing to realise the very purpose and intention of why that Law was made in the first place, that is because God loves His people.

The Law was never meant to oppress or make the people suffer and have a difficult life. On the contrary, it was meant to help and guide the people on their way and journey towards God so that they would not end up losing their way through that journey. It was God’s love for us that He has given the Law as a means for us to guide ourselves and to keep ourselves disciplined in faith, so that we may become closer to God.

And the Lord used examples from the past, using the example of king David himself, who ate of the bread of offerings which were reserved only for the consumption of the priests, when he and his followers were desperate and hungry without food. Essentially what the Lord mentioned here is that, the letter of the Law must not be separate from the spirit of the Law. The letter of the Law is what the Law in its literal meaning as the teachers of the Law understood, but the spirit of the Law is the intention and the purpose of the Law, which is God’s love for us.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore, today’s Scripture readings are challenging us to reflect on our own lives. Have we lived our Christian lives and faith in a manner more like the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, in only understanding the letter but not the spirit of the Law? Have we spent our Christian lives only following the rules and regulations of the Church because we think that we have to follow or obey them, or do we have deeper understanding of the meaning of those laws?

Let us all therefore deepen our faith in God, and spend time and effort to become ever closer to God, that we may become better and more committed Christians, no longer focusing on superficial faith, but instead to the deeper spirituality in our hearts, and in building genuine relationship with God from now on, in our community. May God bless us always in this endeavour. Amen.

Friday, 19 July 2019 : 15th Week of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Matthew 12 : 1-8

At that time, it happened that, Jesus walking through the wheat fields on a Sabbath. His disciples were hungry; and they began to pick some heads of wheat, to crush and to eat the grain. When the Pharisees noticed this, they said to Jesus, “Look at Your disciples! They are doing what is prohibited on the Sabbath!”

Jesus answered, “Have you not read what David did, when he and his men were hungry? He went into the House of God, and they ate the bread offered to God, though neither he nor his men had the right to eat it, but only the priests. And have you not read in the law, how, on the Sabbath, the priests in the Temple desecrate the Sabbath, yet they are not guilty?”

“I tell you, there is greater than the Temple here. If you really knew the meaning of the words : It is mercy I want, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the innocent. Besides, the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Friday, 19 July 2019 : 15th Week of Ordinary Time (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Psalm 115 : 12-13, 15 and 16bc, 17-18

How can I repay YHVH for all His goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the Name of YHVH.

It is painful to YHVH to see the death of His faithful. I am Your servant, truly Your servant, Your handmaid’s son. You have freed me from my bonds.

I will offer You a thanksgiving sacrifice, I will call on the Name of YHVH. I will carry out my vows to YHVH in the presence of His people.

Friday, 19 July 2019 : 15th Week of Ordinary Time (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Exodus 11 : 10 – Exodus 12 : 14

Moses and Aaron had worked all these marvels in the presence of Pharaoh, but YHVH had made Pharaoh obstinate and he would not let the people of Israel leave his country.

YHVH spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt and said, “This month is to be the beginning of all months, the first month of your year. Speak to the community of Israel and say to them : On the tenth day of this month let each family take a lamb, a lamb for each house. If the family is too small for a lamb, they must join with a neighbour, the nearest to the house, according to the number of persons and to what each one can eat.”

“You will select a perfect lamb without blemish, a male born during the present year, taken from the sheep or goats. Then you will keep it until the fourteenth day of the month. On that evening all the people will slaughter their lambs and take some of the blood to put on the doorposts and on top of the doorframes of the houses where you eat.”

“That night you will eat the flesh roasted at the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat the meat lightly cooked and boiled in water but roasted entirely over the fire – the head, the legs and the inner parts. Do not leave any of it until the morning. If any is left till morning, burn it in the fire.”

“And this is how you will eat : with a belt round your waist, sandals on your feet and a staff in your hand. You shall eat hastily for it is a Passover in honour of YHVH. On that night I shall go through Egypt and strike every firstborn in Egypt, men and animals; and I will even bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt, I, YHVH! The blood on your houses will be the sign that you are there. I will see the blood and pass over you; and you will escape the mortal plague when I strike Egypt.”

“This is a day you are to remember and celebrate in honour of YHVH. It is to be kept as a festival day for all generations forever.”

Thursday, 18 July 2019 : 15th Week of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scripture speaking to us about the trust that all of us must have in God, for He alone is capable of supporting, guiding and providing for us, giving us the strength and courage required for us to remain strong despite the adversity and challenges we have to face in life. We should not lose faith in Him and instead, keep our trust in Him ever stronger.

In today’s first reading, we heard of the doubt and uncertainty which Moses showed the Lord in the Book of Exodus the moment when God called him at Mount Horeb through a miraculously burning bush. Moses was unsure of the role into which God has called him, and wanted assurance from the Lord as he was not confident of his own abilities and strength in having to do what the Lord has entrusted on his shoulders.

But the Lord quickly reassured him and told him what he ought to say before the assembled people of Israel, that He was with him and that He has sent Moses into their midst to be the one who would deliver them out of slavery, and bring them into the land promised to them and to their ancestors. God Himself revealed to Moses what He was about to do in order to bring His people out of the land of Egypt.

Certainly, it was not something that Moses would enjoy doing or have things going his way easily. In order for him to carry on what the Lord has commanded him to do, Moses had to endure a lot of difficulties and challenges throughout the many years that he was leading the people of Israel through the times when they were still in Egypt, when he led the people out of the land of Egypt, and as he led them through the desert.

Moses had to endure a lot of troubles and pain, humiliations and pressure from the people, who refused to listen to him and defiantly reject to obey the will of God and His laws. Yet, God was always with him, guiding him and providing for him along the way. He was always there for him, giving him guidance and advice, and strengthened him to carry on his duties as the leader of the whole nation.

This is what we heard in our Gospel passage today, as the Lord spoke to the people about the yoke that He has brought into this world, His yoke that is lighter than the yoke of the world. This yoke is referring to the difficulties and challenges that all of us as Christians may have to endure as we remain true and faithful to our commitment as those whom God has called to be His own people.

But this yoke is much lighter indeed compared to the yoke of sin, which is the yoke of slavery and bondage caused by our sins and all of our disobedience against God. The yoke of sin may seem to us to be less troublesome, more appealing and less painful, and they may even seem to be enjoyable, but we must not be tempted or fooled. This is Satan’s trick to bring us into our downfall by making the path to our ruin less painful and more appealing than the reality.

The sufferings we may have to endure in this world indeed can be difficult and painful, and Moses himself had suffered the same kind of difficulties and challenges, and he also agonised over them. However, we must persevere, be courageous and strong despite these temptations, as in the end, those sufferings we have to bear as those who are faithful to God are just temporary but the sufferings caused by sin will be for eternity.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore commit ourselves anew towards God from now on, doing whatever we can to be good disciples and followers of the Lord, as those who are truly worthy of being called as true Christians. May the Lord continue to guide us in our journey and may He strengthen us in our faith, now and always. Amen.

Thursday, 18 July 2019 : 15th Week of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Matthew 11 : 28-30

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart; and you will find rest. For My yoke is easy; and My burden is light.”