Saturday, 18 January 2020 : 1st Week of Ordinary Time, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

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

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scripture we are all reminded of the missions which God has entrusted to us as the people of God, whom He has called to be His servants and followers. We heard first of all the story of the calling and anointing of Saul as the first king of Israel by the prophet Samuel, and then the story from the Gospel on how the Lord Jesus called Levi the tax collector to be one of His disciples.

Therefore today we heard the story of the calling of two men by God to be the instruments of His works among His people. Saul was called from the tribe of Benjamin, the smallest and least important of the tribes of Israel at that time; and he was also from the least important and smallest of the groups and families within the tribe of Benjamin. And God called him to be the first king over His people Israel when the people cried out to have a king over them.

Saul was just a simple man without prestigious or powerful background, and God chose him to be the king over His people, much as how later on He would also choose a simple shepherd boy, David, the youngest and smallest of the many sons of Jesse to be the successor of Saul. God indeed chose His servants and called them, and not the other way round, that is we choose ourselves. He made those whom He had chosen to be worthy and empowered them as how He led Saul and David to many victories over their enemies.

In our Gospel passage today, we then heard of the calling of the tax collector Levi, whom the Lord Jesus called to be His disciple. Levi left behind his job and everything he had, following the Lord and eventually would be known by a new name, that is Matthew. As one of the Twelve Apostles, he would be known as St. Matthew, the Apostle and Evangelist as not only that he was one of the Twelve but with St. John the Apostle he also had the distinction of being also the writer of one of the four Holy Gospels.

When Levi invited the Lord to have a meal with him and the other tax collectors at his place, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law immediately judged Him and those tax collectors, condemning His actions and questioning why a supposedly holy and popular Man of God would mingle with the tax collectors who were considered among the least welcomed and also hated by a large portion of the population.

The tax collectors were despised because they were seen as collaborators who ‘sold’ their own countrymen and people to the Romans as they helped to collect the hated taxes and money for the Roman governors and magistrates. But in truth, those tax collectors were just the same as anyone else, when looked upon without the bias that many were looking at them with. In fact as we can see, while the tax collectors welcomed the Lord and were willing to listen to Him, it was the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who refused to believe in the Lord and rejected Him.

Again, as I said earlier on, God chose and called those whom He wished to be His followers. And unlike many of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law who wanted to show off their piety and righteousness before the people, and wanted to justify themselves as being better than others especially the tax collectors, they actually failed to see that God honours the humble and those who love Him more than they love themselves.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, how is this significant for us? It is so because we are all also called by God to be His disciples. God has called us to follow Him through our baptism, and if we are truly willing to follow Him, then we should open our hearts and minds to welcome Him into our midst. Are we able to do this? Are we able to trust in God to lead us down the right path going forward? God will lead us down the right path if only we allow Him to guide us.

Let us all seek the Lord and allow Him to guide us in our journey of life and faith. Let us dedicate ourselves anew to Him, and let us grow in our trust and faith with each and every days of our lives from now on. May God bless us all and may He be with us always, through all the goods and trials of this life we have in this world, that we may be His faithful disciples and witnesses to the nations. Amen.

Saturday, 18 January 2020 : 1st Week of Ordinary Time, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Gospel Reading)

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

Mark 2 : 13-17

At that time, when Jesus went out again, beside the lake, a crowd came to Him, and He taught them. As He walked along, He saw a tax collector sitting in his office. This was Levi, the son of Alpheus. Jesus said to him, “Follow Me!” And Levi got up and followed Him.

And it so happened that, when Jesus was eating in Levi’s house, tax collectors and sinners sat with Him and His disciples; there were a lot of them, and they used to follow Jesus. But Pharisees, men educated in the Law, when they saw Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to His disciples, “Why does your Master eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

Jesus heard them, and answered, “Healthy people do not need a doctor, but sick people do. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Saturday, 18 January 2020 : 1st Week of Ordinary Time, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Psalm)

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

Psalm 20 : 2-3, 4-5, 6-7

The king rejoices in Your strength, o YHVH, and exults in Your saving help. You have granted him his desire; You have not rejected his request.

You have come to him with rich blessings; You have placed a golden crown upon his head. When he asked, You gave him life – length of days forever and ever.

He glories in the victory You gave him; You shall bestow on him splendour and majesty. You have given him eternal blessings, and gladdened him with the joy of Your presence.

Saturday, 18 January 2020 : 1st Week of Ordinary Time, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (First Reading)

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

1 Samuel 9 : 1-4, 17-19 and 1 Samuel 10 : 1a

There was a man from the tribe of Benjamin whose name was Kish. He was the son of Abiel, son of Zeror, son of Becorath, son of Aphiah, a valiant Benjaminite. Kish had a son named Saul, a handsome young man who had no equal among the Israelites, for he was a head taller than any of them.

It happened that the asses of Kish were lost. So he said to his son Saul, “Take one of the boys with you and go look for the asses.” They went all over the hill country of Ephraim and the land of Shalishah but did not find them. They passed through the land of Shaalim and the land of Benjamin, but the asses were nowhere to be found.

So, when Samuel saw Saul, YHVH told him, “Here is the man I spoke to you about! He shall rule over My people.” Saul approached Samuel in the gateway and said, “Tell me, where is the house of the seer?” Samuel answered Saul, “I am the seer. Go up ahead of me to the high place, for today you shall eat with me. In the morning, before you leave, I will tell you all that is in your heart.”

Then Samuel took a vial of oil and poured it on Saul’s head.

Friday, 17 January 2020 : 1st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard of the exchange between both the prophet Samuel and the people of Israel on the matter of kingship in our first reading today, and then the well-known story of how the Lord Jesus healed a paralytic man brought to Him through the roof in our Gospel today and also how the Pharisees in the crowd immediately criticised Him for His actions.

In what we have heard through our Scripture readings today, we can see then how we mankind often preferred to follow our own path and refuse to listen to God and His reminders for us. That is quite evident in what we have heard in our passages today, as the Israelites hardened their hearts and continued to insist to have a king over themselves just as their neighbours did, when the prophet Samuel had spent quite a considerable effort in trying to persuade them to rethink their choice.

The prophet Samuel presented to the people such a convincing argument, stating how God Himself was their one and only true King, and thus it was unnecessary for them to have a man as a king over them like their neighbours did. God has appointed the Judges to be His intermediaries and as the ones through whom God would act to lead His people, but it was those same people who constantly disobeyed and refused to believe in God and preferred to walk their own paths.

And they wanted to have a king over them most likely because they wanted someone who could make their country to be more prestigious and respected, to be an equal and like those of their neighbours, a king who could lead them to war and win against their enemies. More importantly, some of them probably wanted to benefit from having a king over them, as they could probably work to be in favour of the king for their own desires and benefits.

That was why they ignored all of Samuel’s warnings and advices in saying how those kings they wanted could abuse their power and authority to oppress them and make their lives difficult for the selfishness and ego of those same kings mentioned. And that was how the kings led the people down the path of sin and disobedience which eventually caused the downfall of Israel and its people, although there were indeed quite a few kings who were great and faithful too, like David and Solomon for most of the latter’s reign.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard yet another, related example of how we mankind preferred our own judgment and selfish desires rather than to listen to God. I am referring to the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who were there when the Lord Jesus healed the paralytic man. They criticised Jesus when they heard the Lord healing the paralytic by saying that his sins had been forgiven. They refused to believe that the Lord Jesus was the Messiah despite all the signs and the wonders they had seen before their own eyes.

They preferred to trust in their own way of thinking and prejudices, seeing the Lord as an upstart and even a heretic by saying that He could forgive sins. They thought that only God alone could forgive sins and not the Man they saw healing the paralytic before them. If only that they opened their eyes, not just their physical eyes but also the eyes of their hearts and minds; and see the truth that Jesus is none other than God Himself, incarnate in the flesh as Man, as He has mentioned but they refused to believe, and as the prophets had said, but again they refused to listen to.

And there was the King Himself, as I said earlier how God is the true King of Israel, and thus, Jesus is indeed King over His people, not just because He is God incarnate, but also even more so because He was born into the House of David as his descendant, fulfilling the promise that God Himself made to David that his house will remain on the throne and as kings forever. It is in Jesus Christ that the Lord has once again fully reclaimed His right to be the inviolable and true King of His people.

But the people refused to believe even in their King and again preferred to believe in their own judgment and strength, in their own intellect and power. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were concerned about maintaining their reach and influence, their prestige and honourable position within the community, and that was why they viewed the Lord Jesus as well as His disciples as rivals and threats to their own security and status, and they allowed these concerns and desires to cloud their judgment.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we are all called to reflect on our lives based on what we have heard in our Scripture passages today. Indeed, we can see just how we mankind easily succumb to the temptations of this world, the temptations of wealth, power, influence, fame, pleasure and many others that we crave and want. And in the process we lose ourselves and our direction in life and fall into the trap set by the devil and all seeking our ruination and defeat.

Today, we should therefore look upon the examples of faith set by St. Anthony the Abbot, also known as St. Anthony the Great, a renowned monk and ascetic who was remembered as among the first of those who dedicated themselves so completely and wholeheartedly to the Lord in the unique calling of monkhood and contemplative lifestyle in the desert. St. Anthony the Abbot left behind everything in the world early on in his life after his parents passed away, and went to the wilderness.

There in the wilderness, St. Anthony sought God and focused his attention on Him, while being constantly tempted by the demons and evil spirits who sought to turn him away from the path towards God. He led a very strict ascetic lifestyle and resisted the temptation of worldliness and although the demons tried to dissuade him by many means, they eventually failed to do so. The example of St. Anthony became well-known and quite a few others came to join in his way of life as well.

What St. Anthony taught us all is that, contrary to how our many predecessors have behaved, in turning their backs against God and betraying Him for the comfort of this world, succumbing to the temptations of pride, power, desire, wealth and glory, we can indeed be faithful to God and stay on the path that He has shown us. We do not need to follow exactly what St. Anthony had done in abandoning everything and becoming an ascetic. Instead, what we are called to do is for us to trust in God more and to truly honour Him as how we should honour our Lord and King.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore strive to serve the Lord from now on to the best of our abilities, by placing Him once again at the very centre of our lives and existence, as the King of our hearts, our minds and indeed, our entire beings. Let us no longer be deceived by the devil and be distracted by the many temptations with which he tried to persuade us to abandon God and trap us into our downfall.

May the Lord our loving God, our mighty King, through the intercession of St. Anthony the Abbot continue to bless us and guide us all in our respective journeys of faith. May He be with us always now and forevermore. Amen.

Friday, 17 January 2020 : 1st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Mark 2 : 1-12

At that time, after some days, Jesus returned to Capernaum. As the news spread that He was in the house, so many people gathered, that there was no longer room even outside the door. While Jesus was preaching the word to them, some people brought to Him a paralysed man.

The four men who carried him could not get near Jesus because of the crowd, so they opened the roof above the room where Jesus was and, through the hole, lowered the man on his mat. When Jesus saw the faith of these people, He said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

Now, some teachers of the Law, who were sitting there, wondered within themselves, “How can He speak like this, insulting God? Who can forgive sins except God?” At once, Jesus knew in His Spirit what they were thinking, and asked, “Why do you wonder? Is it easier to say to this paralysed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your mat and walk?’ But now you shall know, that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”

And He said to the paralytic, “Stand up, take up your mat and go home.” The man rose and, in the sight of all those people, he took up his mat and went out. All of them were astonished and praised God, saying, “Never have we seen anything like this!”

Friday, 17 January 2020 : 1st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 88 : 16-17, 18-19

Blessed is the people who know Your praise. They walk in the light of Your face. They celebrate all day, Your Name and Your protection lifts them up.

You give us glory and power; and Your favour gives us victory. Our king is in the hands of YHVH; the God of Israel is our shield.

Friday, 17 January 2020 : 1st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

1 Samuel 8 : 4-7, 10-22a

Because of this, all the chiefs of Israel gathered together and went to Samuel in Ramah. They said to him, “You are already old and your sons are not following your ways. Give us a king to rule over us as in all the other nations.”

Samuel was very displeased with what they said, “Give us a king to rule us,” and he prayed to YHVH. And YHVH told him, “Give to this people all that they ask for.” So Samuel answered those who were asking him for a king. He told them all that YHVH said to him, “Look, these will be the demands of your king : he will take your sons and assign them to his chariot and his horses and have them run before his chariot.”

“Some he will assign as commanders over a thousand men and commanders over fifty. Others will till his ground and reap his harvest, make his implements of war and the equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters as well to prepare perfumes, to cook and to bake for him. He will take the best of your fields, your vineyards and your olive orchards and give them to his officials.”

“He will take a tenth portion of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your menservants and maidservants, the best of your cattle and your asses for his own work. He will take the tenth of your flocks and you yourselves will become his slaves. When these things happen, you will cry out because of the king whom you have chosen for yourselves. But by then, YHVH will not answer you.”

The people paid no attention to all that Samuel said. They insisted, “No! We want a king to govern us as in all the other nations. Our king shall govern us, lead us and go ahead of us in our battles.” Upon hearing all that his people said, Samuel repeated it to YHVH. But YHVH said to him, “Listen to them and give them a king.”

Thursday, 16 January 2020 : 1st Week of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we continue the readings from the early chapters of the Book of the prophet Samuel and also the beginning of Our Lord’s ministry among His people as recorded in the Gospel of St. Mark, we are reminded that God loved us all and wants us to be reconciled to Him, but we must be willing to listen to Him and obey Him and His words.

In the first reading today, we heard of the account of a great battle between the Israelites and the Philistines, a neighbouring people of the Israelites who at that time oppressed the people of Israel and often raided into the lands of Israel. The Israelites were beaten hard and they began to think that if they brought the Ark of God or the Ark of the Covenant with them, God would be by their side and they would win against their enemies.

At that time, the Israelites were led by the judge Eli, who was also the mentor of the young prophet Samuel. But Eli was then already old, and in the earlier parts of the same Book of the prophet Samuel from which our first reading today was taken, the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas were the ones who actually held the rein over the people, and were the ones who carried out the sacrifices at the Tent of God.

But those two men were corrupt, and they did not obey the will of God. Rather, they served themselves and their own greed. They would keep the best portions of the sacrifices for themselves when the Law clearly stated that those should have been given to God. Their corrupt behaviour and attitude were wicked in the eyes of God, and that was why, God was not on the side of Israel when those two men led the Israelites bearing the Ark of the Covenant into battle with the Philistines.

Then we heard of the result, how the Israelites were soundly defeated, the two wicked sons of Eli were slain in battle and the Ark of the Covenant itself was captured by the enemy. It was a great blow to the whole nation of Israel, and soon after the news came to Eli, the elderly judge of Israel passed away in grief, likely from hearing that the Ark of God had been captured by the enemy, on top of losing both of his sons.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard a different account, of how the Lord Jesus healed a person who was suffering from leprosy. Leprosy was a disease that was greatly feared and dreaded by the people for its supposed contagiousness and its terrible appearance. Those who have contracted leprosy had to stay away from the rest of the community and remain in the wilderness until they were proven to be cured of their leprosy.

The Lord healed the man who sought healing from his leprosy, and the man was told to report to the priest to be allowed back to the community while at the same time strictly ordering him not to tell anything about how Jesus had healed him. But the man disobeyed the Lord and went to tell everyone what had happened to him. This made things difficult for the Lord and as mentioned in the Gospel passage, Jesus had to remain outside of the towns and could not enter to those cities.

Why is that so? First of all, it is possible that the Lord had encountered a lot of opposition from the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who upon hearing what He had done, made it difficult for Him and His disciples to enter the cities and towns. In addition, it was also possible that because the Lord healed the leper by touching him, something that no one at the time would consider doing, that made Him appear to be unclean in the eyes of some people, and they distanced themselves from Him.

Regardless of whatever the reason was, the disobedience of the man against what the Lord had told him caused difficulties and also loss for many others whom the Lord could have healed then. This was just as how the disobedience and wickedness of the two sons of Eli had led the Israelites into great defeat and losing the Ark of the Covenant to their enemies. Through their disobedience and stubbornness, man has sinned against God and should have walked into destruction.

But in the end, God is still willing to forgive us and to give us another chance. That was precisely why He gave us His Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Saviour. Yet, are we making good use of this opportunity that He has given to us? Shall we appreciate the great and generous love that God has given us and is willing to give us even more? Let us all reflect on this and think in what way we can seek God with greater desire to love Him and to embrace Him with all of our strength from now on.

Let us not disobey God any longer but instead open our hearts and minds, allowing Him to enter into our lives and transform us to be better persons and to be better Christians. May the Lord be with us and may He continue to guide us through this journey in life. May God bless us all and our many good works for His greater glory. Amen.

Thursday, 16 January 2020 : 1st Week of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Mark 1 : 40-45

A leper came to Jesus and begged Him, “If You want to, You can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I do want to; be clean.”

The leprosy left the man at once and he was made clean. As Jesus sent the man away, He sternly warned him, “Do not tell anyone about this, but go and show yourself to the priest; and for the cleansing, bring the offering ordered by Moses in this way, you will give to them your testimony.”

However, as soon as the man went out, he began spreading the news everywhere, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter any town. But even though He stayed in the rural areas, people came to Him from everywhere.