Saturday, 4 August 2018 : 17th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. John Vianney, Priest and Patron of All Priests (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scripture telling us about the trouble and opposition which the prophet Jeremiah had to face during his ministry in the kingdom of Judah, during the years just prior to the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem by the Babylonians. The prophet Jeremiah warned the remaining people of God in Judah about the coming destruction, but they refused to listen to the Lord speaking through His prophet.

The king and his advisers, the nobles and the elites, the priests and most likely, most of the people hardened their hearts and minds, and closed their ears off from listening to the word of God. They persecuted Jeremiah and cast him out, and he had to suffer many rejections and troubles throughout the years of his ministry, just as the many other prophets and messengers of God had also suffered. The people of God had turned a deaf ear to their God.

Then, in the Gospel passage today, we heard about the story of St. John the Baptist, God’s herald and messenger, the last of the prophets who was sent to proclaim the coming and arrival of the Messiah into the world, that is Our Lord Jesus Christ. St. John the Baptist himself also encountered many oppositions, especially from the priests and the Pharisees, much as Jeremiah had once suffered.

St. John the Baptist has spoken the truth to the people, telling them of their sins and wickedness, of all their vile works and all the things that have kept them out of the grace and love of God. He was much reviled for this, and his enemies were aplenty, just as many people came to him to seek repentance and baptism in the Jordan. Yet, St. John the Baptist did not mince his words and continued to preach the truth.

And in the end, when he spoke up against the king, Herod, who had committed adultery with his own brother’s wife, Herodias, he was imprisoned and put to much suffering. Herod refused to kill the holy man of God outright, but Herodias, who was likely very angry at St. John the Baptist for his outspoken attitude towards her irregular and wicked relationship with Herod, plotted to kill him.

Although it was not exactly specified in the Scriptures, but it was likely because by being taken up as Herod’s wife, she would have real power, earthly glory, wealth and privileges that being the wife of a deceased former king, Herod’s brother, could not have given her. Thus, pride and worldly greed had likely caused that woman to fall into such a great sin, as described in the Gospel passage today.

Herodias had her daughter to dance seductively before Herod to get him to agree to the conditions she would prepare beforehand. Herod made promises and vows in his stupor, promising to give everything the daughter of Herodias asked for, even half of his own kingdom. In that state, Herodias managed to trick Herod into killing St. John the Baptist by asking for his head on a platter.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we also celebrate the feast of another famous holy servant of God, namely St. John Vianney, the patron saint of all priests. He was a French priest of a small parish in the town called Ars. As such he was affectionately called as the Cure of Ars. He was remembered for his great humility, his piety and devotion to God, his commitment to the flock entrusted under his care, as he ministered to them and listening to their confessions.

He became so popular and renowned throughout France and even beyond, that thousands came to him, seeking to have their sins confessed to him, or to have evil spirits cast out from them through exorcism. Yet despite his apparent popularity and charm, St. John Vianney remained humble, and in fact, with his popularity and apparent success, there were many trials and difficulties which many may not have realised, that all of them happened to this holy saint of God.

He had many opponents and naysayers who refused to believe in him, doubted him, persecuted him and made his life difficult, saying perjuries and lies about him, and slandering him before others. But St. John Vianney continued to carry out his priestly duties as best as he could, and he remained humble and obedient to God and to the will of his superiors in the Church. Nonetheless, the impact of his examples and actions reached out far and wide.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, through what we have heard in all of the readings of this day and from the lives of the holy servants of God, we should come to realise that to be a faithful disciple and follower of Our God is not something that will be easy for us. Instead, there will be undoubtedly plenty of challenges, obstacles, difficulties, trials and all sorts of things that will cause us to want to give up the faith and abandon the Lord.

This is when we should be inspired by the examples and the courage of the prophets, such as Jeremiah and many other servants of God who suffered and yet did their best to show their faith to others, calling many others to righteousness in their footsteps. Let us all seek to follow the good examples and the dedication shown by St. John Vianney, that through our own exemplary and good faith, we may show many others how we should love God and dedicate ourselves to Him with all of our hearts. May God be with us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Saturday, 4 August 2018 : 17th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. John Vianney, Priest and Patron of All Priests (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 14 : 1-12

At that time, the reports about Jesus reached king Herod. And he said to his servants, “This Man is John the Baptist. John has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in John.”

Herod had, in fact, ordered that John be arrested, bound in chains and put in prison, because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. For John had said to Herod, “It is not right for you to have her as your wife.” Herod wanted to kill him but he did not dare, because he feared the people, who regarded John as a prophet.

On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced among the guests; she so delighted Herod that he promised under oath to give her anything she asked for. The girl, following the advice of her mother, said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist, here, on a dish.”

The king was very displeased, but because he had made his promise under oath, in the presence of his guests, he ordered it to be given to her. So he had John beheaded in prison, and his head brought on a dish and given to the girl. The girl then took it to her mother.

Then John’s disciple came, took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.

Saturday, 4 August 2018 : 17th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. John Vianney, Priest and Patron of All Priests (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 68 : 15-16, 30-31, 33-34

Rescue me, lest I sink in the mire; deliver me from the storm and the deep waters. Let not the flood engulf me, nor the deep suck me in, let not the pit close its mouth upon me.

But I myself, am humbled and wounded; Your salvation, o God, will lift me up. I will praise the Name of God in song; I will glorify Him with thanksgiving.

Let the lowly witness this, and be glad. You who seek God, may your hearts be revived. For YHVH hears the needy; and does not despise those in captivity.

Saturday, 4 August 2018 : 17th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. John Vianney, Priest and Patron of All Priests (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Jeremiah 26 : 11-16, 24

Then the priests and the prophets said to the leaders of the people : “This man must die for he has spoken against the city as you have heard with your own ears!”

Jeremiah replied, “I have been sent by YHVH to prophesy against this House and this city all that you have heard. Hence, reform your ways and your deeds and obey YHVH your God that He may change His mind and not bring upon you the destruction He had intended.”

“As for me I am in your hands; do with me whatever you consider just and right. But know that I am innocent; and if you take my life you commit a crime that is a curse on yourselves, on the city and the people. In truth it was YHVH Who sent me to say all that I said in your hearing.”

Then the leaders, backed by the people, said to the priests and the prophets, “This man does not deserve death; he spoke to us in the Name of YHVH.” As for Jeremiah, he was befriended by Ahikam, son of Shaphan, and was not handed over to those who wanted him put to death.

Friday, 3 August 2018 : 17th Week of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the word of God in the Scriptures, speaking to us about the difficulties which the prophet Jeremiah encountered during his ministry among the people in the kingdom of Judah. He spoke to all of them about the coming of the time of trials and challenges for the people of God, of when the city of God, Jerusalem and its Temple would be razed to the ground and destroyed by the Babylonians.

Jeremiah spoke with the power and authority from God, and yet, the people refused to believe in him. They labelled him as a naysayer and a prophet of doom, dismissing his words as false and insulting to their ears. Some of them, especially those among the powerful ones in the society even condemned him as a blasphemer for having spoken such harsh words against God’s city, Temple and its people.

They claimed to speak for the Lord and for His people, but yet, all the priests, the elites of the society and all those who opposed Jeremiah, all of them failed to reflect on their own fallen and wicked state of life, and they overlook their own sins and disobedience against God before they cast judgment against Jeremiah. This was the same judgmental and self-righteous attitude shown against the Lord Jesus, as we have heard in our Gospel passage today.

At that time, the Lord Jesus went to His home village of Nazareth in Galilee, speaking to the people in the local synagogue, proclaiming the word of God in the Scriptures and the fulfilment of the prophecies of the prophet Isaiah regarding Himself. And He said so not just with words, but His actions and deeds have preceded Himself, in all the miraculous deeds and powers He had performed throughout the region of Galilee.

But the people chose to ignore this fact, and instead, they were being judgmental by comparing Him with what they thought they knew about His background and upbringing, as the apparent Son of a poor family of the carpenter, St. Joseph, His foster-father. They assumed that because He was merely the Son of a carpenter, that He could not have performed all of the wonders that others had claimed that He had done.

In doing so they have done exactly the same as their ancestors had done towards the prophet Jeremiah. They doubted the Lord’s good works and intention for His people, and they hardened their hearts and minds, closing their ears and the doors of their hearts from the Lord Who had tried very hard to reach out to them. And the very reason for these unfortunate and unbecoming attitudes is none other than the pride that is within each and every one of us.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, each and every one of us have pride in our hearts and minds, and this pride and ego cause us to fall into temptation, the temptation of worldly power, prestige and the desire for what is great in the world. And we end up being self-centred and egoistic, thinking that we are better than others. It is why many of us have this tendency to be judgmental upon others and to look down on them.

Yet, is this what we should be doing as Christians? No, certainly not. The Lord Jesus Christ, Our Lord and God Himself has been prejudiced against, betrayed and struck upon, rejected and humiliated. How can we act in the same manner as those who have persecuted and rejected Him and His prophets? Instead, all of us should imitate the examples of Christ Himself, in how He reached out to all with love, with humility and without prejudice.

First of all, the Lord reached out to the most destitute and despicable ones in the society, as He sought the sinners and the most unworthy among all of God’s children, the prostitutes and tax collectors, and many others who had sinned against God. He was not prejudiced against them, and instead, showed them all the same love which He has given to each and every one of us, the sons and daughters of man.

And then, He called them to repent from their sins, and to be open to God’s love and mercy working their effects in their hearts, minds and existence. That is why all of us are also called to be role models in our respective lives, that through our following of the examples of Christ, each and every one of us may be brought to a renewed existence in God’s grace and love. Let us all be humble as Christ was, and in how much He has loved His people, even though His own had rejected Him.

May the Lord be with us in this journey of life, and may He strengthen the faith in our hearts, that each and every one of us will grow ever more faithful, day after day, and that we will be able to give our best to serve Him and to love Him ever more, from now onwards. May God bless us all and our every endeavours. Amen.

Friday, 3 August 2018 : 17th Week of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Matthew 13 : 54-58

At that time, Jesus went to His hometown and taught the people in their synagogue. They were amazed and said, “Where did He get this wisdom and these special powers? Is He not the carpenter’s Son? Is Mary not His mother and are James, Joseph, Simon and Judas not His brothers? Are not all His sisters living here? How did He get all this?” And so they took offence at Him.

Jesus said to them, “The only place where prophets are not welcome is their hometown and in their own family.” And He did not perform many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

Friday, 3 August 2018 : 17th Week of Ordinary Time (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Psalm 68 : 5, 8-10, 14

More than the hairs of my head are those who hate me for no reason; mighty are those who attack me, many are my enemies without cause. What I did not steal I am forced to restore.

Since I am held in contempt for Your sake, and shame has covered my face. I have become a stranger to my kindred, an alien to my mother’s sons. Zeal for Your House consumes me, as fire, and those who insult You, insult me as well.

But I pray to You, o YHVH. At a time most favourable to You, in Your great love, o God, answer me, with Your unfailing help.