Sunday, 5 March 2017 : First Sunday of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we mark the occasion of the First Sunday of Lent, when we heard the customary readings from the Scripture about the fall of mankind, our first ancestors Adam and Eve, and also the reading from the Holy Gospels on the temptation of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who was tempted by the devil during His forty days of fasting and preparation in the desert after He was baptised and before He began His earthly ministry.

In today’s readings, we heard about how frail we mankind are, beginning since the time of our very first ancestors, whom God had created out of love and placed in the Gardens of Eden. We were not intended for a life of suffering and pain, and we were not intended to suffer death at the end of our lives. Indeed, everything was created good and perfect then, and mankind were supposed to live out their days in perfect bliss and harmony with God forevermore.

God has blessed us mankind with many things, and He has put us in charge over all the things that He has created in this world. And yet, as we have heard, seen and witnessed, they were not satisfied with what they had received. That is why we fell prey easily to the temptations of Satan, our great enemy who despised us and wanted to see us destroyed and crushed because of our own folly.

Satan was once known as Lucifer, a great and mighty Archangel of God, who was told to be the greatest and most brilliant of all the Angels of God, but he became proud and filled with greed and desire, thinking of going beyond what was his due, and claimed to be greater than God His Creator, desiring nothing less than the throne of Heaven itself, and led many Angels in rebellion against God. He was defeated and cast down out of Heaven, and became what we know as Satan, the devil, the evil one.

So much had he resented his downfall and defeat, that he resolved to bring ruin upon those whom God had loved most of all the things He had created, that is us all mankind. He played upon our human desires and vulnerabilities, and tempted us with the same vices that he himself had. He tempted us with the knowledge of good and evil, lying that by eating the fruits of the forbidden tree, we will gain power and knowledge much like that of God’s, and therefore became like God Himself.

It is in our disobedience and in our inability to restrain ourselves that we have sinned, not just Adam and Eve with their original sins, but also down throughout time and ages, when mankind frequently and constantly acted waywardly and committed wickedness before God and men alike. We have fallen into sin, which corrupted our hearts and minds and defiled our bodies and souls, preventing us from attaining true grace in God.

It is therefore in this holy season of Lent, the forty days of preparation we have before the celebration of Easter that we are all called to reflect on the state of our sinfulness and wickedness. We have been called to conversion by God, a conversion from our past sinfulness and waywardness, so that we may turn our back against all the disgraceful and selfish acts we had done, which had brought about our separation from God.

What we heard in the Gospel today, on the temptations of the devil upon Jesus our Lord in the desert is a clear reminder for each one of us as we proceed through this season of Lent. Among what we have heard in the temptations, it is a reminder for us to keep our guard up against the sin of gluttony, the sin of greed and desire, and finally the sin of pride.

First of all, Jesus was tempted by the devil who tried to manipulate His hunger and desire for food. He has fasted for a whole forty days and nights without any food or drink, and certainly then, as human as He was, He must have been really hungry. Just imagine for ourselves, that if we just skip one meal in a day, it would have been intolerable for us, not less still missing the meal for the entire day, and even more so for forty days and nights.

And that was what brought down many of the Israelites as they journeyed through the desert. They complained against Moses and against God, because they were hungry and then became angry against Moses and God for having led them out of Egypt, as they would rather live in slavery and had their bellies filled with food, the food of the Egyptians, rather than living in freedom and obeying the will of God their Lord and Master.

Let us all reflect on this, brothers and sisters in Christ. Is it not the same with us? Is it not like just what we mankind often do in our world, both past and present? Many of us are unable to resist the temptations of our flesh, the pangs of hunger and desire of our stomachs. Many of us live lavishly and eat food and drink as if there is no tomorrow. We feast and party among ourselves, while there are many people in this world who cannot even make ends meet, and who hunger for food and are starving to death.

Many of us worry about what we are to eat and drink daily, and we worry about our well-being, but how many of us realise just how much we have been blessed by God day after day? And yet, we are not satisfied and always desire for more things for ourselves. Jesus rebuked Satan and castigated him, saying that food is not all that we need in order to live, but really to obey the Word of God and to listen to His will.

What does this mean, brothers and sisters? It means that we must not allow ourselves to be controlled by the whim of our desire. This is linked to the sin of greed and desire I mentioned earlier on. Gluttony is a result of our desire, and so is lust and greed. We must overcome the temptations of our flesh, and learn to control ourselves. Jesus was tempted by Satan in his third temptation, with the offer of the whole kingdom and wealth of the whole earth, if only that He would worship him as a god.

But Jesus rebuked him once again, saying that God alone is worthy of worship, and He alone is God. It is our desire that had led us astray from God, and instead of obeying the will of God, we end up listening to the will of our own flesh, the will of our own desires, which lead us into committing acts that are abhorrent and wicked in the sight of God and mankind alike.

After all, that is what happened when we mankind fight against each other over prestige, over honour, over wealth and possessions, even over food and basic necessities of life. Wars had been fought and conflicts had raged over something as trivial as human pride and ego, over human desire for more wealth and commodities. The greed and desire of mankind had indeed led to the rich, mighty and powerful to oppress those who are poorer and weak.
But let us not be mistaken, brothers and sisters in Christ. For God is not against the rich and the powerful just because they are so. Do we realise that even the poor often oppress others who are poor like them, just because they have more power, more strength and advantage against those who are weaker from them? Indeed, in this season of Lent, we are all called to restrain our human desires, our greed, the desire of lust, for forbidden pleasures of the flesh, and also to be charitable.

Those who have been given more need to share their blessings with those who have less. And this is what God had commanded His people to do. In this season of Lent, besides fasting and abstinence, through which we restrain ourselves and our desires, we are also asked to do the works of mercy as our penance, loving our brethren and give generously through almsgiving, helping those who have little or even nothing to support themselves and their families.

And finally, it is a moment for us to resist the sin of pride, the most dangerous of it all. As I have mentioned at the beginning of this discourse, it is pride that had brought down even the mighty Angel Lucifer, whose pride overcome him and made him to desire the power and glory of God for himself. Pride and ego is indeed the source of all vices. For it is the ‘I’, the ego we have in us, that led us to selfishness, to desire and to all other things, among which had led our ancestors to sin against God.

When we are so focused on ourselves, and when we are so full of ego and arrogance, it is when we end up selfishly thinking about ourselves, desiring more and more for ourselves, even if these would mean that others may not get a share in what we desire, and if these lead others to suffer just so that we may enjoy what we want.

Satan himself tempted Jesus to jump from the top of the Temple, alleging that the Angels would not let Him to hit the ground and would lift Him up. It is a great temptation for Jesus to show Himself and His might to others, as God and Master of all. But Jesus did not succumb to the temptation of pride, just as He did not succumb to desire, greed, gluttony and others. He rebuked Satan and cast him away from His presence.

All of these are important lessons for us to take note of during this season of Lent. It is an example for us all to follow, that during this penitential season, and indeed from now on, even beyond the end of this season of Lent, that we ought to throw away our ego, far far away from us. We must not be arrogant, be egoistic and selfish, but instead, we must be humble in all of our ways.

Let us all pray to the Lord, that He will give us the grace to be humble, especially as we progress through this season of Lent. Let us pray that He will open our hearts to His love, that we may love generously and share our blessings generously and kindly upon others, giving alms and help to those who need it, and restrain our desires, our selfishness, and instead learn to be selfless and loving to all our fellow brethren. Let us indeed follow the examples of Christ, our Lord, Who was humble and obedient to the will of His Father, and Whose obedience had brought about our salvation, reversing the sin of the disobedience of Adam and Eve.

May the Lord help us all as we progress through this season of Lent, that we may grow ever closer to Him, and grow ever more righteous, just and worthy of Him through all that we have said and done in our lives. May God bless us all and our families, and may He strengthen in us our faith and our desire to love Him above all else, and love His people, our brethren just as we love Him. God be with us all. Amen.

Sunday, 5 March 2017 : First Sunday of Lent (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet
Matthew 4 : 1-11

At that time, the Spirit led Jesus into the desert that He might be put to the test by the devil. After spending forty days and nights without food, Jesus was hungry. Then the devil came to Him and said, “If You are the Son of God, order these stones to turn into bread.” But Jesus answered, “Scripture says : One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Then the devil took Jesus to the holy city, set Him on the highest wall of the Temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down, for Scripture says : God has given orders to His Angels about You. Their hands will hold You up lest You hurt Your foot against a stone.” Jesus answered, “But Scripture also says : You shall not put to the test the Lord your God.”

Then the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain, and showed Him all the nations of the world in all their greatness and splendour. And he said, “All this I will give You, if You kneel down and worship me.” Then Jesus answered, “Be off, Satan! Scripture says : Worship the Lord your God and serve Him alone!”

Then the devil left Him, and Angels came to serve Him.

Sunday, 5 March 2017 : First Sunday of Lent (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet
Romans 5 : 12-19

Therefore, sin entered the world through one man and through sin, death, and later on death spread to all mankind, because all sinned. As long as there was no law, they could not speak of disobedience, but sin was already in the world. This is why from Adam to Moses death reigned among them, although their sin was not disobedience as in Adam’s case – this was not the true Adam, but foretold the Other Who was to come.

Such has been the fall, but God’s gift goes far beyond. All died because of the fault of one man, but how much more does the grace of God spread when the gift He granted reaches all, from this unique Man Jesus Christ. Again, there is no comparison between the gift and the offence of one man. The disobedience that brought condemnation was of one sinner, whereas the grace of God brings forgiveness to a world of sinners.

If death reigned through the disobedience of one and only one person, how much more will there be a reign of life for those who receive the grace and gift of true righteousness through the One person, Jesus Christ. Just as one transgression brought sentence of death to all, so, too, one Man’s good act has brought justification and light to all; and as the disobedience of only one made all sinners, so the obedience of one Person allowed all to be made just and holy.

Alternative reading
Romans 12 : 17-19

Do not return evil for evil, but let everyone see your good will. Do your best to live in peace with everybody. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but let God be the One Who punishes, as Scripture says : Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord.

Sunday, 5 March 2017 : First Sunday of Lent (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet
Psalm 50 : 3-4, 5-6a, 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.

For I acknowledge my wrongdoings and have my sins ever in mind. Against You alone have I sinned; what is evil in Your sight I have done.

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.

Sunday, 5 March 2017 : First Sunday of Lent (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet
Genesis 2 : 7-9 and Genesis 3 : 1-7

Then YHVH God formed Man, dust drawn from the clay, and breathed into his nostrils a breath of life and Man became alive with breath. God planted a garden in Eden in the east and there He placed Man whom He had created. YHVH God caused to grow from the ground every kind of tree that is pleasing to see and good to eat, also the tree of life on the middle of the garden and the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Now the serpent was the most crafty of all the wild creatures that YHVH God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say : You must not eat from any tree in the garden?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees in the garden, but of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden God said : You must not eat, and you must not touch it or you will die.”

The serpent said to the woman, “You will not die, but God knows that the day you eat it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil.” The woman saw that the fruit was good to eat, and pleasant to the eyes, and ideal for gaining knowledge. She took its fruit and ate it and gave some to her husband who was with her. He ate it.

Then their eyes were opened and both of them knew they were naked. So they sewed leaves of a fig tree together and made themselves loincloths.

Saturday, 20 February 2016 : 1st Week of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today all of us are reminded of the laws and commandments that God had put in place for us, through His servant Moses, through His prophets and messengers, that all of us should obey them and act in the fulfilment of the precepts and the will of the Lord. This means that we should not do things that contradict the Law and the ways of the Lord, and in all things, we should devote ourselves to the righteousness as the Lord had shown us.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, but we have to take note that we cannot become like robots in our faith, which means that we must not believe blindly or believing without understanding the true meanings of our faith. If we believe for the sake of believing or if we believe because we were told to do so, and see it as an obligation, then brethren, I fear that we still have a long way to go to become truly the disciples and followers of our Lord worthy of Him.

In the example which our Lord Jesus gave us today, He gave us the example of those who love only their friends and relatives, meaning that they love only those who love them back, as opposed to those who love everyone without discrimination, meaning that they will even love all those who have hated them, disliked them, treated them badly and spoke all kinds of evils and wicked things about them.

What Jesus our Lord mentioned was in fact, the essence of true and pure love. This kind of love is love that does not expect returns or rewards, and neither does it require any prerequisites or conditions. This is unconditional, selfless and perfect love, the same kind of love which our Lord Jesus Himself had shown us as an example to all of us how we should love Him and love one another as well.

For Jesus had given Himself up on the cross, allowing Himself to die for our sake, to suffer for our sake, that even though we were all sinners, wicked and unrepentant, He was willing to die for us, so that through His death and through His perfect love, we may find a way to Him, and by His resurrection, be reunited with Him in love, within the grace and within the loving embrace of God.

And by His many other works and examples, and through His teachings to His Apostles and followers, He had given us the examples of how we should love one another, and how we should interact with others, be it those who love us and care for us, and for those who hated us, who despised us, who cursed us, and who treated us badly. These too we should love and care regardless of what they had done for us.

Therefore, in this season of Lent, all of us have been challenged to love one another, even those who have not loved us back first. Our love must be unconditional and demanding for no reward or returns. We are all called to greater mercy and charity during this period of time, turning our hearts and minds away from selfishness, and growing deeper in our commitment to love God and His people.

Let us all pray together, and work together as one people, belonging to the one and only Church of God, to be filled with love and with the goodness of God, in this season of Lent. Let us all be converted to God, and seek to be reunited with our Lord, and may by our actions, all of us can be made whole and worthy once again. God bless us all. Amen.

Saturday, 20 February 2016 : 1st Week of Lent (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 5 : 43-48

At that time, Jesus said to the people and to His disciples, “You have heard that it was said : ‘Love your neighbour and do not do good to your enemy.’ But this I tell you : love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in Heaven. For He makes His sun rise on both the wicked and the good, and He gives rain to both the just and the unjust.”

“If you love those who love you, what is special about that? Do not even tax collectors do as much? And if you are friendly only to your friends, what is so exceptional about that? Do not even the pagans do as much? As for you, be righteous and perfect in the way your heavenly Father is righteous and perfect.”