Saturday, 29 August 2020 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate the feast of the Passion of St. John the Baptist, remembering the courageous stand that this faithful servant of God showed in the last moments and days of his life, in staying true to his faith and in completing his mission of calling all the people to God. And he did this, even when he knew that he would be persecuted and suffer for all of his dedication.

St. John the Baptist spent several years ministering to the people and calling them to repentance, as those people flocked to him by the River Jordan and were baptised by him in the waters of the river. Many thousands came up to him and sought to repent from their sins, and through this, the servant of God fulfilled his mission as the one who prepared the way for the coming of the Messiah, calling the people to turn away from sin and open their hearts and minds to welcome the Lord’s truth that would come soon.

St. John the Baptist had to face against the opposition first of all from the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, many of whom were skeptical of him, because of his teachings and his proclamations, and because of his way of dressing, very simple and like a wild man living in the wilderness, and most importantly, because he was not part of their group, and St. John the Baptist also had scathing remarks against them, as they professed to be the guardians of the faith of the people, and yet, they misled the people and did not practice the Law in the way they should have done.

St. John the Baptist spoke out courageously against them, calling them the brood of vipers, as their actions turned many people away from God, and thus away from His grace and salvation. In this saint, we see a figure filled with zeal and love both for God and for God’s people, his fellow brethren, who had been entrusted to his care as part of the preparation of the coming of the salvation of God.

And he dared to speak up against king Herod and Herodias, his unlawful wife. Herodias was the legal and rightful wife of Philip, the brother of Herod, who at that time was likely still living. In contravention of the Law of God, which stated that a man may only take his brother’s wife should the marriage be childless, the presence of a daughter of Herodias in the Scripture likely highlighted that this daughter was the daughter of Herodias and Philip, as clearly had the daughter been of Herod, she would not have been named as the daughter of Herodias.

Therefore, Herod had committed adultery with his own brother’s wife, and as a king and leader of the people, such a terrible and immoral deed should not have been done at all. It was unbecoming and wrong for the king to commit such an act, and St. John the Baptist courageously pointed this out to the king and his unlawful wife, Herodias. Herod had St. John arrested, although he still respected the servant of God and did not allow any harm to come to the man of God.

But Herodias held deep grudge against St. John the Baptist and plotted to have him killed. She used her own daughter as a tool to coerce her husband to achieve that aim, and she had her chance when she had her daughter dance at a party held by king Herod for his guests and officials. Using the daughter’s beauty to her advantage and Herod’s weakness in tending to succumb to his flesh’s desires, and also likely compounded by being intoxicated with wine drunk at the celebration, Herodias made Herod to commit the wicked deed of executing St. John the Baptist in prison.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we recall the memory of the commitment and the perseverance of St. John the Baptist, we are called to follow in his good examples, in his faith and dedication, that we will always keep alive our faith and dedicate ourselves to God to the best of our abilities. We should be righteous and be brave in standing up for our faith before others, to be genuine witnesses of our Christian faith.

And we are also reminded to be careful and be vigilant against the temptations of pride and greed, as it was the same pride which prevented the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law to acknowledge God’s truth and that they had been wrong. It was also greed that had led king Herod to commit adultery with her husband’s wife, and how he succumbed to temptation and caused the murder of St. John the Baptist because of his lust for Herodias’ own daughter.

Let us all therefore strive to be ever better Christians through our every words and actions, spending and dedicating our every moments and efforts to serve the Lord and His people with ever greater devotion. May the Lord strengthen us and give us the same courage and faith as St. John the Baptist had shown us all. May God bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Saturday, 29 August 2020 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Mark 6 : 17-29

At that time, this is what had happened : Herod had ordered John to be arrested; and had had him bound and put in prison because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. Herod had married her; and John had told him, “It is not right for you to live with your brother’s wife.”

So Herodias held a grudge against John and wanted to kill him; but she could not, because Herod respected John. He knew John to be an upright and holy man, and kept him safe. And he liked listening to him; although he became very disturbed whenever he heard him.

Herodias had her chance on Herod’s birthday, when he gave a dinner for all the senior government officials, military chiefs, and the leaders of Galilee. On that occasion, the daughter of Herodias came in and danced; and she delighted Herod and his guests.

The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want and I will give it to you.” And he went so far as to say with many oaths, “I will give you anything you ask, even half my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” The mother replied, “The head of John the Baptist.”

The girl hurried to the king and made her request, “I want you to give me the head of John the Baptist, here and now, on a dish.” The king was very displeased, but he would not refuse in front of his guests because of his oaths. So he sent one of the bodyguards, with orders to bring John’s head.

He went and beheaded John in prison; then he brought the head on a dish and gave it to the girl. And the girl gave it to her mother. When John’s disciples heard of this, they came and took his body and buried it.

Saturday, 29 August 2020 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 70 : 1-2, 3-4a, 5-6ab, 15ab and 17

In You, o YHVH, I seek refuge; let me not be disgraced. In Your justice help me and deliver me; turn Your ear to me and save me!

Be my Rock of refuge; a Stronghold, to give me safety; for You are my Rock and my Fortress. Rescue me, o my God, from the hand of the wicked.

For You, o YHVH, have been my hope; my trust, o God, from my youth. I have relied on You from birth : from my mother’s womb You brought me forth.

My lips will proclaim Your intervention and tell of Your salvation all day. You have taught me from my youth and, until now, I proclaim Your marvels.

Saturday, 29 August 2020 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Jeremiah 1 : 17-19

But you, get ready for action; stand up and say to them all that I command you. Be not scared of them or I will scare you in their presence! See, I will make you a fortified city, a pillar of iron with walls of bronze, against all the nations, against the kings and princes of Judah, against the priests and the people of the land.

They will fight against you but shall not overcome you, for I am with you to rescue you – it is YHVH Who speaks.

Friday, 28 August 2020 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we heard the words of the Lord through the Scriptures, we are brought to attention on the matter of ‘wisdom’. What is wisdom to us, brothers and sisters in Christ? What is the significance of wisdom to us? Wisdom is, according to its definition, the ability to discern something with great understanding and grasp of the matter, and to have the ability to make good judgment based on what we know of the situation.

Therefore, once again, what is wisdom to us, brothers and sisters in Christ? The Scriptures placed before us the contrast between divine and human wisdom, between the wisdom of the world, the knowledge and the ways, the understanding and all the combined efforts of people throughout the centuries in trying to figure out more and more about their lives and about the world around them. But, looking at it all, we have never been able to attain true understanding, that is if we keep God out of the equation.

In our first reading today, as St. Paul wrote in his Epistle to the Church and the faithful in the city of Corinth, clearly addressed to both the Jewish and the Greek converts to the Christian faith, he focused on the matter how the Lord confounded the expectations and the wisdom of man through whatever He has revealed through His Son, Jesus Christ, and which His Apostles and disciples then spread throughout the whole world.

To the Jews, whom having been brought up through the centuries fearing God and His punishments and laws, and the supreme authority of God over all things, many of them could not comprehend the fact that He has come down into this world as a Man, to share in their humanity and to live just in the same way that they had lived. They therefore found it hard to believe, and as St. Paul said, demanded miracles again and again to prove to their confounded beliefs and minds that the Lord Jesus is truly the Messiah and Son of God.

To the Greeks, who valued knowledge and learning above many other things, proven by just how many philosophers, thinkers and politicians came out from their ranks at the time, it seemed foolish and nonsense to believe in the Lord Jesus as they thought that they had known all that there was to be known, in their gods and deities, to which they attributed their understanding of the nature and the world around them, and which is why, their pantheon represent closely the world, both in the behaviours of the Greek gods and goddesses that mimic closely human behaviours, and also their actions.

The Greeks could not comprehend how a mere Man, born of a woman like Mary, could be the most powerful, Almighty God, far beyond all of their own gods and goddesses, and how their understanding, learning and knowledge could have been wrong. But this was exactly where St. Paul, throughout his long years of ministry to the various Greek communities and cities throughout the Mediterranean region, helped to dispel the falsehoods and reveal to them the truth about God.

And while many of the earliest Christians were Jews, but many among the Jewish people still then refused to believe in Christ and His teachings. But nonetheless, the efforts of the Apostles and the disciples did bear fruit, as more and more among those who initially refused to believe eventually were willing to listen to the truth and believe in God. Those who refused to believe clung on to their own wisdom and understanding, such as many among the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who thought that they could not have been wrong and condemned Jesus as a blasphemer and false Messiah.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, through all of these we have seen how the Lord wanted us to understand that it is often our stubbornness and pride that prevented us from being able to seek out and approach the Lord with faith, as we clung to our own interpretations, intellect and wisdom, rather than to trust in the wisdom of God we have heard and which have been revealed to us. We must understand, brethren, that our wisdom and intellect are limited, and are nothing compared to God’s wisdom and truth.

Today, all of us also celebrate the feast day of the great St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the four original and greatest of the Doctors of the Church and one of the most influential early Church fathers and leaders of Christendom. St. Monica, his mother was celebrated in her feast day yesterday, as we heard how her persistence, constant prayer and effort to seek her son’s conversion eventually led to St. Augustine’s conversion, and today, we focus our attention on the great saint himself.

St. Augustine of Hippo was born to St. Monica, a Christian woman and a pagan father, and his early life was surrounded by the many wickedness of the world. And as he grew up, he began to be attracted by philosophical pursuits and learning, which was then dominated by pagan philosophers, prominent among the Greeks as mentioned earlier. The young St. Augustine was curious for knowledge, and he was seeking for truth and satisfaction on knowledge and understanding.

However, no matter how much he tried to find solace and satisfaction in human wisdom, and in his adoption of the Manichaean heresy in his youth, in his hedonistic lifestyle and pursuit of worldly pleasures, none of these were able to satisfy him. It was then that the prayers and efforts of his mother, St. Monica, led him to St. Ambrose of Milan, another one of the four great Doctors of the Church and charismatic leader of the faithful, who began to plant the seeds of faith in St. Augustine.

Eventually, St. Augustine discovered God and His truth, and having found the true wisdom and the truth itself, far surpassing all forms of human and worldly knowledge, he converted to the true faith. St. Augustine had been baptised earlier in his life, but lapsed and resisted for many, many years before finally embracing his faith fully, with the constant and never-ending support from his mother, St. Monica.

And later on, as St. Augustine wrote his most renowned treatise on the Most Holy Trinity, known as ‘De Trinitate’, it was told that as the saint wandered on the seashore looking for inspiration on what to write on this most mysterious and difficult of the divine aspects to be explained, St. Augustine saw a young boy trying to pour water from the sea using a scallop shell into a hole in the sand.

When St. Augustine approached and asked the young boy, the boy said that he wanted to empty the entire ocean into that small hole in the sand. When St. Augustine said that such thing is impossible as the ocean is so vast while the hole in the sand is so small, the young boy, whom in truth was God in disguise, spoke to him, that it was thus the same for the mysteries of God, the concept of the Holy Trinity and others that are just so infinitely great and far beyond the ability of our small human minds to fully appreciate, symbolically shown through the action of trying to empty the ocean, representing the fullness of God’s mysteries, into the small hole, representing our minds and human wisdom.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, through what we have heard in our Scripture readings today therefore, all of us are called to reflect on our own lives and our faith. Have we placed our faith and trust in God as we move along in life, or have we instead put our trust more in our own strength and wisdom, in our own limited perception and understanding of things around us? More often than not, we falter in our journey of life and faith because we did not trust enough in God.

Let us all pray therefore for the grace to listen to God and His will, and pray that we will always be strengthened in faith so that we may trust Him more and more, and follow Him ever more faithfully, as St. Augustine had done. And as St. Augustine himself had discovered, let us all find our true joy and satisfaction in life in God, and not in other pleasures of the world, that may be joyful, but are temporary, false and are mere distractions preventing us to find the true joy in God. May God bless us always, and guide us, now and forevermore. Amen.

Friday, 28 August 2020 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 25 : 1-13

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “This story throws light on what will happen in the kingdom of heaven : Ten bridesmaids went out with their lamps to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were sensible. The careless bridesmaids took their lamps as they were, and did not take extra oil. But those who were sensible, took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom delayed, they all grew drowsy and fell asleep.”

“But at midnight, a cry rang out, ‘The bridegroom is here, come on and meet him!’ All the maidens woke up at once, and trimmed their lamps. Then the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, ‘Give us some oil, for our lamps are going out.’ The sensible ones answered, ‘There may not be enough for us and for you. You had better go to those who sell, and buy some for yourselves.'”

“When the bridegroom came, the foolish maidens were out buying oil, but those who were ready went with him into the wedding feast, and the doors were shut. Later the other bridesmaids arrived and called out, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered, ‘Truly I do not know you.'”

“So stay awake, for you do not know the day nor the hour.”

Friday, 28 August 2020 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 32 : 1-2, 4-5, 10-11

Rejoice in the Lord, you who are just, praise is fitting for the upright. Give thanks to Him on the harp and lyre, making melody and chanting praises.

For upright is the Lord’s word and worthy of trust is His work. The Lord loves justice and righteousness; the earth is full of His kindness.

The Lord frustrates the plans of the nations and brings to nothing the peoples’ designs. But His plan stands forever, and His heart’s design through all generations.

Friday, 28 August 2020 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

1 Corinthians 1 : 17-25

For Christ did not send me to baptise, but to proclaim His Gospel. And not with beautiful words! That would be like getting rid of the cross of Christ. The language of the cross remains nonsense for those who are lost. Yet for us who are saved, it is the power of God, as Scripture says : I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and make fail the foresight of the foresighted. Masters of human wisdom, educated people, philosophers, you have no reply! And the wisdom of this world? God let it fail.

At first, God spoke the language of wisdom, and the world did not know God through wisdom. Then God thought of saving the believers, through the foolishness that we preach. The Jews ask for miracles and the Greeks for a higher knowledge, while we proclaim a crucified Messiah. For the Jews, what a great scandal! And for the Greeks, what nonsense! But He is Christ, the power of God, and the wisdom of God, for those called by God among both Jews and Greeks.

In reality, the “foolishness” of God is wiser than humans, and the “weakness” of God is stronger than humans.

Thursday, 27 August 2020 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Monica (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today all of us heard of the exhortation for us to be holy, to be good and ever righteous in the presence of God, to be ready to welcome the Lord when He comes again as He has promised. And that is why we must dedicate our whole lives in His service and to be ever committed in our faith, not to be lax or complacent in living that faith, or else, we may regret it when the time of reckoning comes.

In our Gospel passage today, this is very well illustrated with the parable of the faithful servant and the bad servant, using the example of those servants to highlight what will happen to us should we take the Lord’s words seriously, or if we choose instead to ignore Him and continue to reject what He has called us to do in our lives. Unless we listen wholeheartedly to God’s words calling us and speaking to us in the depth of our hearts, we will be easily swayed and tempted to abandon His path.

The parable highlighted first of all, the two types of servants, one that is diligent and conscientious of all that he had been entrusted with, while the other servant was lazy and thought that the master would not come back so soon, and did not do as he had been tasked to, and instead abused his authority and treated his fellow workers and those under his authority badly for his own selfish desires.

The servants represent us, brothers and sisters in Christ, all the sons and daughters of man. All of us have been entrusted by God for our various tasks and callings in life. And this passage is a reminder that whatever we do in life, whatever we say and act, and how we interact with one another, all of these are significant and they will count on the moment of our reckoning, be it at the end of our lives or when the Lord finally comes again into this world.

The faithful and diligent servant represent those who have listened to the Lord, obeyed His commandments, and did everything as he or she had been told and taught through the teachings and laws of the Church. Meanwhile, the lazy and bad servant are those who ignored the teachings and laws of the Lord as held by His Church, and those who preferred to live their lives their own way, without regards for the path that the Lord had set before us.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, as we heard in our readings today, as St. Paul highlighted in our first reading today that, for all of us the faithful people of God, we have been assured of the glory of God and the eternal joy that will be ours. However, we need to trust in God and put our faith in Him, or else, because of our lack of faith, we are the ones who make ourselves stumble in rejecting the surety of the glory of God and instead, exchange it for the temporary pleasures and glory of the world.

Do we want to be like that lazy and bad servant who slacked and took it for granted that his master had granted him so much and so good a life, that he disobeyed and did things to satisfy his own selfish desires? We see how it all ends, when the master came back suddenly and the bad servant was caught unaware by it. Do we want to be caught unaware also in our vices and sins, and then be cast out into the eternal darkness, from where no regret can do anything for us anymore?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we should follow the examples set by St. Monica, whose feast day we celebrate today. St. Monica was a pious and devout woman, who was remembered especially as the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo, the great bishop and Doctor of the Church, one of the finest saints of the early Church. And the role of St. Monica in making St. Augustine to be who he was cannot be underestimated, as it was her persistent faith and commitment, her love for her son and her refusal to give up on him that eventually led St. Augustine to return to the faith.

St. Augustine was born to St. Monica, a Christian woman, and Patricius, a Roman pagan, his father, who led a dissolute and wicked lifestyle, which would eventually also be followed by St. Augustine in his younger days. But despite being surrounded by all sorts of wickedness and vices of the world, St. Monica patiently and faithfully lived her life as a wife and mother, and she also acted with virtue, often giving alms and charities for the poor and the needy.

St. Monica definitely wanted her husband and son to be turned to the light, but the path would indeed be long, arduous and can be heartbreaking at times. Not just that she had to endure her husband, who although respected her, but lived wickedly, St. Monica also had to endure seeing her own son falling into sinful path, as he grew up and began to seek the truth, in a long journey, during which time, he would dwell into false ways like Manichaeism and also various hedonistic ways.

It was so bad that St. Augustine even caused a woman to be pregnant out of wedlock, meaning that he made the woman pregnant while not being married to her. This amongst others, such as his pursuit of pagan philosophical pursuits, must have hurt St. Monica badly, seeing her family like that. Yet, St. Monica patiently put her faith in God and dedicated herself to pray for her family’s conversion.

Eventually, by her patient faith and endurance, her care and concern for her loved ones, St. Monica managed to turn the heart first of her husband, who was said to have converted to the Christian faith and repented from all his sinful ways when he was dying. And when St. Augustine and St. Monica were divided by the former’s adoption of Manichaean heresy and his wicked way of life, St. Monica patiently endured and followed her son, eventually leading her to find St. Ambrose of Milan, the influential and charismatic man who eventually together, managed to turn St. Augustine back into the truth of Christ after many years of resistance.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we see in St. Monica the example of a true and virtuous Christian, who remained committed to God despite the challenges and pains that she had to endure. St. Monica showed true Christian virtues and patiently persevered, continuing to pray and to do what she could, just as the faithful and diligent servant had done, in dedicating her efforts to the greater glory of God.

And you see just how much impact that had caused, as through St. Augustine and the many people whom he inspired and touched, countless peoples and souls had been saved thanks to the perseverance and faith of St. Monica, his loving mother. Are we able and willing to follow in her footsteps, brothers and sisters in Christ? Are we willing to make the sacrifices required at times to be faithful to God, in all things?

May the Lord be with us always, and may He strengthen us and encourage us to be always faithful despite the challenges, trials and tribulations we may encounter in life. May God bless us all, and may St. Monica pray and intercede for each and every one of us, now and always. Amen.

Thursday, 27 August 2020 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Monica (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 24 : 42-51

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Stay awake then, for you do not know on what day your Lord will come. Obviously, if the owner of the house knew at what time the thief was coming, he would certainly stay up and not allow his house to be broken into. So be alert, for the Son of Man will come at the hour you least expect.”

“Imagine a faithful and prudent servant, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give them food at the proper time. Fortunate, indeed, is that servant, whom his master will find at work when he comes. Truly I say to you, his lord will entrust him with everything he has.”

“Not so with the bad servant, who thinks, ‘My master is delayed.’ And he begins to ill-treat his fellow servants, while eating and drinking with drunkards. But his master will come on the day he does not know, and at the hour he least expects. He will punish that servant severely; and place him with the hypocrites. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”