Saturday, 21 January 2023 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures, we are all called to continue to persevere in faith and to follow the Lord despite the challenges and trials that we may face in life. We must not be swayed easily by the temptations and pressures to do otherwise, and we should never let our trust and faith in God to go away. For the Lord Himself is our only Hope, the Light of our salvation, and the one and true Eternal High Priest Who has given Himself so wholly and completely for the sake of each and every one of us, without exception. We must also be inspired by the examples of the saints and martyrs who have dedicated themselves to the Lord and resisting all sorts of pressures and coercions to betray and abandon their Lord and God.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Epistle to the Hebrews in which the author of this Epistle highlighted as he had done in our past few days’ worth of readings, about the role that Jesus Christ had taken in being our High Priest, offering on our behalf a most worthy offering before the Lord, for the atonement of our innumerable sins. The author highlighted how the priests and high priests in the past would come to the presence of God, also touching on the layout of the Temple of Jerusalem, the House of God, where the Holy Presence of God resides, behind the Holy Place and separated by a veil, which was also known as the Holy of Holies. That place indicated the holiest place in the world, where God Himself dwelled in, in the midst of His people, being present among them and being with them.

The place was so holy and sacred that no one except the High Priest could enter, and even for his case, he could only enter it at a particular very solemn occasion each year, representing the people of God, seeking God’s mercy and forgiveness for their many sins. The High Priest was therefore the link between God and His people, and Christ is the One and true Eternal High Priest that far surpasses all the mortal High Priests appointed to lead the people of God in the past. For Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour, and Our High Priest has offered not the limited and imperfect offering of the blood of lambs and bulls, animals and other worldly sacrifices as the High Priests and other priests of the past had done. He has offered nothing less than His own life, His own Most Precious Body and Blood.

Yes, brothers and sisters, Christ our Lord has offered Himself to be the perfect and most worthy sacrifice, baring Himself on the Altar of the Cross, at Calvary, that as He was lifted up for everyone to see and witness, between the Heaven and the Earth, He was raised up on the Altar like a lamb being slaughtered and placed above the Altar of sacrifice, an offering for the sins of mankind. He broke His Body and poured out His Blood on the Altar of His Cross, much like the blood of the sacrificial lamb being poured down the Altar and sprinkled on the people of God as a sign of their atonement and reconciliation with God. However, what is truly different is that, unlike the offering of animals and their blood, which could only provide a temporary respite from our sins, the Lord’s sacrifice on the Cross is a complete, permanent and eternal in nature, giving us absolution from our sins forever.

It means that once and for all, by His most loving sacrifice on His Cross, Jesus Christ our Lord has saved us all through that supreme act of selflessness and love. He has given us all the sure path out of the darkness that had surrounded and reigned over us because of our sins. Hence, by all of these and most importantly because God loved us all, we have received grace and salvation, and as His people, we have to realise this love and understand, appreciate and be thankful for everything that God had done from us. As we heard in our Gospel passage today, for doing everything that He had done for us out of love, He had to face a lot of challenges, trials and difficulties, rejections and even, His own family and relatives were fed up with Him, and thought that He was out of His mind. He made Himself like an outcast, despised and hated for our sake.

All of us as Christians should devote our time and effort to serve the Lord wholeheartedly, and commit ourselves thoroughly to His cause. We should dedicate ourselves to work for the glory of God and for the proclamation of His truth in our world, just as what the saints and martyrs had done. And today we can refer to the good examples set by St. Agnes, a great and renowned martyr of the Church, whose dedication to God and commitment to purity and righteousness can inspire us that we may live a better and more Christian lives in our existence in this world. St. Agnes, also known as St. Agnes of Rome was a young Roman noblewoman who lived and suffered, died during the terrible years of the Diocletianic Persecution, also known as the Great Persecution for its particularly intense episode of persecutions against Christians.

St. Agnes was a faithful young woman who had dedicated herself thoroughly to God, committing herself to a holy virginity and dedication to God. However, her great beauty attracted many suitors, who were enraged by her refusal to engage them. Hence, St. Agnes was arrested upon the reports from those men who sought after her, accusing her because of her Christian faith. The Roman prefect, named Sempronius, attempted to get her to be defiled in a brothel, but miraculously St. Agnes was protected by God, and everyone who attempted to defile and rape her were struck blind or were prevented from doing so. And when she was put on the stake to be burnt to death, again even the fires and the heat refused to harm her, and they parted from her. In the end, she was martyred by being stabbed and beheaded. Yet, her inspiration and faith in God lived on, and many were touched by her faith, courage and examples.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore follow in the footsteps of St. Agnes, in her dedication to God and in her love for Him, which we should apply in our own lives. Let us all be thankful and appreciative of all that the Lord had done for us, in offering Himself as the perfect and worthy sacrifice for our salvation. May the Lord continue to guide and strengthen each one of us so that we may draw ever closer to Him and His Presence, and may we all be found worthy to receive the fullness of His grace and love, in time to come. Amen.

Saturday, 21 January 2023 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Mark 3 : 20-21

At that time, Jesus and His disciples went home. The crowd began to gather again and they could not even have a meal. Knowing what was happening, His relatives came to take charge of Him, “He is out of His mind,” they said.

Saturday, 21 January 2023 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 46 : 2-3, 6-7, 8-9

Clap your hands, all you peoples; acclaim God with shouts of joy. For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared; He is a great King all over the earth.

God ascends amid joyful shouts, the Lord amid trumpet blasts. Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!

God is King of all the earth; sing to Him a hymn of praise. For God now rules over the nations. God reigns from His holy throne.

Saturday, 21 January 2023 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Hebrews 9 : 2-3, 11-14

A first tent was prepared with the lampstand, the table and the bread of the Presence, this is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain, there is a second sanctuary called the Most Holy Place.

But now Christ has appeared as the High Priest with regard to the good things of these new times. He passed through a sanctuary more noble and perfect, not made by hands, that is, not created. He did not take with Himself the blood of goats and bulls but His own Blood, when He entered once and for all into the sanctuary after obtaining definitive redemption.

If the sprinkling of people defiled by sin with the blood of goats and bulls or with the ashes of a heifer provided them with exterior cleanliness and holiness, how much more will it be with the Blood of Christ? He, moved by the eternal Spirit, offered Himself as an unblemished victim to God and His Blood cleanses us from dead works, so that we may serve the living God.

Friday, 20 January 2023 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Fabian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Sebastian, Martyr, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures, all of us are reminded that we have been called as the disciples and followers of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, to help and be part of His mission and work, in leading more and more of the people of God back towards Him, just as He has called on those whom He called the Apostles, and entrusted to them specific missions and ministries, as well as to others whom had been tasked with the evangelisation of the true faith. Each and every one of us are part of this great ministry of the Church, as members of the same Body of Christ, the flock of God’s faithful and as partakers of the same Covenant that God has established anew for the sake of us all, His beloved ones. We are therefore reminded of what we are to do as part of this Covenant with God.

In our first reading today from the Epistle to the Hebrews, we heard from the author of that Epistle of the role which the Lord Jesus, Our Saviour has as the Mediator of the New Covenant between God and us. This follows after the past few days of readings in which the same author highlighted the role that Christ had in being our High Priest in offering Himself as the Paschal Lamb, the sacrificial Victim on our behalf for the forgiveness of our sins. It was through this offering of the perfect and most loving gift of the Lamb of God, slain and sacrificed for us, that each one of us have received pardon from our sins, and have received a new hope through the Lord Himself, and also having this New Covenant being established between us and God, our most loving Father and Creator.

In the past, Covenant was made by a formal pact between both parties, and sealed by the sacrifice and offering to a deity, and in this case, God Himself was one of the parties, in the example of the Covenant made between God and Abraham, the father of nations and the Israelites. The same Covenant was renewed between God and His people at Mount Sinai, as Moses acted as the intermediary between God and the people of Israel, placing sacrificial offerings offered to God and also the blood of the lamb being slain was sprinkled on the entire people as a mark of the sealing and confirmation of that Covenant. Then the same had also happened as the Lord Jesus became a Mediator of the New Covenant between God and His people.

That is because He acted as the same intermediary, as the Mediator between His heavenly Father, and all of the people of God, mankind in this world, past, present and future. We have been sundered and separated from God due to our disobedience and sins, and unfortunately because of that, we could not have returned to the Lord our God, as there is no place for us in His Presence as long as we have been tainted and corrupted by sin. Yet, by His ever enduring love and desire to be reconciled with us, He has provided us with the sure path to deliverance through none other than His Son, Who as our High Priest and Mediator, chose to offer Himself, His own Most Precious Body and Blood to be broken and poured out for us.

Thus, on the Altar of His Cross, Jesus our Lord has made anew the Covenant between God and mankind, and by His Most Precious Blood outpoured upon us, He has marked us all as those whom He had chosen and called to be saved. He gave us this grace and gift through baptism, and then which we affirm further through the gift of the Most Holy Eucharist, as we partake in those very Precious Body and Blood of the Lord. During each time we partake of the Most Holy Eucharist, we are reminded of this same Covenant that the Lord Himself has established and renewed for us by His suffering and death on the Cross. We are truly blessed that the Lord Himself has willingly took upon Himself to reach out to us in this way, and to show us His love in the most amazing and tangible way possible.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard of the account of the Lord calling and appointing His Apostles, the chief twelve among all of His disciples and followers. They were meant to be the leaders of the Lord’s followers, and together with the other disciples and followers, they were to do the will of God, and carry out whatever mission that the Lord has entrusted to them. Later on, after the Lord has already risen from the dead and then ascended into Heaven, it was the Apostles, leading the other disciples and followers of God, that established the foundations of the Church and carried out extensive and intensive works of evangelisation throughout the world. That same work is still being carried out today to even more places and touching more peoples, as the Church had done for the past two millennia and more.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we reflect on these words from the Sacred Scriptures today, let us all ponder upon what it means for us to be in Covenant with God. A Covenant is a solemn and formal pact between two parties, and in this case it is between God Himself and each and every one of us. God has always shown us just how faithful He has been to us, in remembering us, caring for us, in His constant reminders for us, and in His care for us, that He reached out even the last and the lost and the least among us. Through Christ, He has shown us His ever enduring love, and fulfils His own words, that there is no greater love than for one to lay down one’s life for a friend, and He laid down His own life for us, suffering for us most grievously so that we may not perish, but have eternal life.

Hence, each and every one of us are expected to do our part in this Covenant as well. We are part of God’s same Church and flock, and we ought to carry out the missions and the many opportunities that God had granted to us in proclaiming His truth and love in this world. What are we going to do about it, brothers and sisters? Are we going to remain idle and refusing to embrace the missions and opportunities provided to us, or are we going to listen to His call and promptings, and finally commit ourselves to the path that He has shown us? Let us all consider carefully our choices and paths in life, and do whatever we can in order to live our lives more faithfully as the ones who call ourselves as Christians, as members of His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Today we commemorate the feast of Pope St. Fabian and St. Sebastian, two great saints and martyrs whose lives hopefully can strengthen and encourage us as well in how we live our lives with faith. Pope St. Fabian lived at the time of great difficulty and challenges for the Church, at the height of persecutions against Christians. Similarly, St. Sebastian was a Roman soldier who lived during the harshest time to be a Christian, under persecution by the Roman state and the Emperors. Yet, each one of them persevered in faith and remained faithful to God all the time. Pope St. Fabian led the Church patiently and faithfully throughout those difficult moments while St. Sebastian carried on his faith even in secret. Eventually both were persecuted, arrested and martyred for their faith, and especially for the case of St. Sebastian, in refusing to abandon his faith in God or worship the Emperor and the pagan gods. They faced suffering and death with great courage, knowing that God was by their side throughout.

May the Lord continue to guide us and strengthen us in our journey throughout life, and may He empower each one of us that we may always strive to live worthily in the path that He has shown us, and resist the temptations to sin and to do whatever is against His teachings and truth. May we be reminded by the examples of the saints and martyrs, in particular that of Pope St. Fabian and St. Sebastian, among many others. May God be with us always, and may He bless us all in our every good efforts, works and endeavours, all for His greater glory, and also for the salvation of many more souls. Amen.

Friday, 20 January 2023 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Fabian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Sebastian, Martyr, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Mark 3 : 13-19

At that time, Jesus went up into the hill country, and called those He wanted and they came to Him. He appointed twelve to be with Him, and He called them ‘Apostles’. He wanted to send them out to preach, and He gave them authority to drive out demons.

These are the Twelve : Simon, to whom He gave the name Peter; James, son of Zebedee, and John his brother, to whom He gave the name Boanerges, which means ‘men of thunder’; Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alpheus, Thaddeus, Simon the Canaanean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him.

Friday, 20 January 2023 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Fabian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Sebastian, Martyr, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Psalm 84 : 8 and 10, 11-12, 13-14

Show us, o Lord, Your unfailing love and grant us Your saving help. Yet Your salvation is near to those who fear You, and Your Glory will dwell in our land.

Love and faithfulness have met; righteousness and peace have embraced. Faithfulness will reach up from the earth while justice bends down from heaven.

The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its fruit. Justice will go before Him, and peace will follow along His path.

Friday, 20 January 2023 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Fabian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Sebastian, Martyr, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Hebrews 8 : 6-13

Now, however, Jesus enjoys a much higher ministry in being the Mediator of a better covenant, founded on better promises. If all had been perfect in the first covenant, there would have been no need for another one. Yet God sees defects when He says : The days are coming – it is the word of the Lord – when I will draw up a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.

It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by the hand and led them out of Egypt. They did not keep My covenant, and so I Myself have forsaken them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel in the days to come : I will put My law into their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be My people.

None of them will have to teach one another or say to each other : Know the Lord, for they will know Me from the least to the greatest. I will forgive their sins and no longer remember their wrongs. Here we are being told of a new covenant; which means that the first one had become obsolete, and what is obsolete and ageing is soon to disappear.

Thursday, 19 January 2023 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures, we are reminded yet again of the role that Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour, has in being the High Priest of all mankind, in being our intermediary and mediator with the Father, our loving Creator and Master. Through Christ all of us have been shown the path of reconciliation and rejuvenation, in recovering our grace-filled existence where once we have been cast out into the darkness because of our disobedience and refusal to listen to God and to obey His will. God has loved us so much ever since the very beginning and He would not abandon us to the darkness and evil, and since the beginning, He has assured us of His faithfulness to the promises and the Covenant that He has established with us, and He sent us His Son to be our Saviour and to be the One to help us to return to His grace.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Epistle to the Hebrews about the actions of the Lord Jesus as the High Priest of all, in His offering of the most worthy sacrifice and offering of all for our sake. The author highlighted how the priests and high priests needed to offer sacrifices and offerings for the atonement of their sins first before they could offer the sacrifices on behalf of the people, and contrasting this with Jesus Christ, the one and true Eternal High Priest, by Whose sacrifice and offering every one of us, past, present and future, have received the sure guarantee of salvation and eternal life, should we embrace His most generous and wonderful love. Jesus our High Priest, the Sinless One, has willingly offered on our behalf, the perfect and most worthy offering that is sufficient to redeem all of us from the precipice of destruction and damnation.

How did He do that, brothers and sisters? He did that by being both our High Priest and also the sacrificial Lamb at the same time. As our High Priest, He offered on our behalf the perfect offering of Himself, of His own Most Precious Body and Blood as the perfect, unblemished and most sacred Lamb of God. While priests and High Priests offered the imperfect although unblemished offerings of lambs and other sacrifices, but the imperfection and limited nature of those offerings prevented them from achieving lasting and complete reconciliation between God and His beloved people. It was only through Christ and His most wonderful, generous and perfect offering that He has redeemed all of us from our fated destruction and annihilation due to our sins and wickedness.

Christ has become the bridge between us and God, as He called upon all of us to follow Him and to enter into His presence, embracing the Love of God that He has shown us in the flesh, tangible and approachable to us. He has given His all for us, embracing our humanity and emptying Himself from all glory and honour, choosing the condition of a criminal and a slave, so that by taking up upon Himself all of our sins, all the consequences and punishments due to those sins, and as the Lamb of God, He might purify us from our sins and faults, through the power of His own mercy and love, and through His most selfless and loving gift to all of us, and for such a great love indeed that He was willing to endure the greatest of pain and sufferings, humiliations and indignations for our sake.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard of the works which the Lord has done for the sake of His people during His ministry in this world. He has spent a lot of time and effort to reach out to everyone who had come to seek Him, seeking His healing and help, amidst their many troubles and difficulties. The Lord has shown His compassion and mercy, as He saw our sufferings and pains, and He wanted us all to be freed from all those things. It revealed to us the true intentions of our most loving Creator, for He created us out of pure love and the desire to share His ever overflowing love with us. Hence, He could not have allowed us to perish or to be separated forever from Him, and thus, He has given us so many opportunities to return to Him and to find our path back towards Him.

However, many of us tend to be defiant and stubborn in our attitude and way of life, constantly and repeatedly refusing to obey the Lord, shutting our minds and hearts against Him, and refusing to embrace the truth of God which He has brought into our midst through His Son. Although the Lord has shown us His most generous love, but we still often refused to believe in Him, and refused to embrace His mercy and love, although we have seen, witnessed, experienced all the wonderful love that God has lavished on us. The Lord has not stopped loving us even with all of that, and He has patiently reminded us, helped us and encouraged us to embrace His path, His love and His mercy, and He still offered Himself even to those who have hurt and betrayed Him, just as He gave Himself to be crucified even for the sake of all those who condemned Him to die.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us having been reminded of the great love of God shown through Christ, Who has most generously offered Himself for our sake, we are then reminded to offer our own love and devotion to Him. God has loved us most unconditionally and generously, and He has not held even from us His own beloved Son, Who has given Himself so thoroughly for us. Can we therefore love Him in the same way, and devote ourselves, our time and attention in the same manner as well? Can we do more in our lives so that we can truly consider ourselves as genuine and worthy Christians, as those whom God had called and made to be His own? We are all expected and reminded that as Christians, we have to be wholeheartedly faithful to God and entrust ourselves wholly to His providence and salvation.

May the Lord be with us always, and may He continue to help us in our journey in faith and life so that hopefully we may all grow ever stronger in our faith and devotion to Him, and may He guide us and give us the courage and strength to persevere through the many challenges and trials that we may have to face in our journey as Christians, in each and every moments. Amen.

Thursday, 19 January 2023 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Mark 3 : 7-12

At that tine, Jesus and His disciples withdrew to the lakeside, and a large crowd from Galilee followed Him. A great number of people also came from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, Transjordan, and from the region of Tyre and Sidon, for they had heard of all that He was doing.

Because of the crowd, Jesus told His disciples to have a boat ready for Him, to prevent the people from crushing Him. He healed so many, that all who had diseases kept pressing towards Him to touch Him. Even the people who had evil spirits, whenever they saw Him, they would fall down before Him and cry out, “You are the Son of God.” But He warned them sternly not to tell anyone Who He was.