Saturday, 8 February 2020 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Jerome Emiliani, and St. Josephine Bakhita, Virgin (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saints, Holy Virgins or Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of God in the Scriptures which first of all told us of the prayer of the king of Israel, Solomon, son of David, who prayed to God at the beginning of his reign asking for wisdom and good judgment, that God would bless him and help him to make up what he lacked in experience and ability. God blessed Solomon and praised his humility that he has not asked for worldly glory, wealth and power which were things commonly desired by those who were in power, like kings and lords.

God blessed Solomon for his steadfastness, honesty and sincerity, as Solomon readily admitted his youth and inexperience before Him, and also looked up to his father David as a great example he admired and aspired to follow in the actions he had taken in leading a righteous and just reign. God blessed Solomon with more than what he has earlier asked for, not just for wisdom and guidance, but even all those things which he had not asked for earlier on.

Solomon had a heavy responsibility and burden on his shoulders as king, especially as he succeeded his father David who had been very successful as king. David reunited the people of Israel once divided in civil war after the death of Saul, the previous king, and he also expanded the borders of the kingdom and brought great prestige and honour to the people of Israel. David provided a steady foundation that allowed Israel to enter into a great golden age, which continued and peaked under Solomon’s reign that God had blessed as He promised earlier on.

Solomon carried on his duties responsibly and reigned with great wisdom and justice over all of Israel, ruling Israel at the height of its glory and power. He also built the famous Temple of God, also known under its namesake the Temple of Solomon, upon the foundation and preparation that his father David had gathered beforehand. He was faithful to God for much of his reign, but unfortunately, if we read on more through the account of his reign from the Book of Kings, we will find it unfortunate that at his old age, Solomon began to be swayed by his many wives and concubines, many of whom continued to practice their pagan worship and customs.

Many of the successors of Solomon as kings in Israel and in Judah after the division of the kingdom were unfaithful to God and they led the people into sin, as they were the ones entrusted with the guidance over the people of God, and yet, they themselves were in error and led the people, the flock of God further away from their God and deeper into sin. And this is when we ought to look again into our Gospel passage today, when we heard about the Lord Jesus and His actions during His ministry with His disciples.

It was told that the Lord and His disciples were tired and exhausted after continuous work and encounter with many of the people who constantly brought their sick ones over for the Lord to heal them. And when they wanted to take a break, the Lord saw how many people were still coming to Him and seeking His help, even finding the way to discover where He and His disciples were despite their best effort to slip away. The Lord then continued to teach them and work, seeing how the people were like flock of sheep without a shepherd to guide them.

The Lord Jesus was the one and true King of Israel, Who as the Heir of David was the One promised by God to be the King that would sit on the throne of David and perpetuate his house. And yet, as the Lord Jesus Himself showed, His kingship was different from the many other kings of Israel who had not been faithful to God and led the people to the wrong paths. We can see how Jesus placed the needs of His people, His flock, above that of Himself, caring for their needs and loving them, even when He was tired and in need of rest.

Through all of these, God wants all of us to know that to be His followers and servants, to obey His will and commandments and to be the ones whom He had called and chosen, is something that will not be easy and straightforward for us. Those kings of Israel were chosen by God and had the obligation of being God’s vicars in taking care of God’s own people, the Israelites, but many of them fell to the many temptations present in our world, the temptations of money and wealth, of fame and glory, of lust and pleasures of the flesh among others.

As long as we allow our desires, pride, ego, ambition and all those temptations to mislead us, we will likely end up getting more and more distant from God and be like those who have not been faithful to their calling. The Lord Himself showed us what it means for us to work for the sake of the greater glory of God, which often requires sacrifices of time and energy, effort and resources. And today perhaps we should also look upon the good examples set by the two servants of God whose feasts we are celebrating.

St. Josephine Bakhita and St. Jerome Emiliani are two saints whose lives are truly extraordinary and they show us what being true and faithful disciples of the Lord is indeed about. They dedicated their lives in service to God, through prayers and work, that each and every one of us can also be inspired to follow in their footsteps too. If we are able to walk in their footsteps to follow the Lord, then we are heading in the right direction in life.

Let us begin first with St. Josephine Bakhita. She had a difficult early years of her life, being abducted from her family and community at a young age by slavers who made her into a slave and forced her to convert to a faith that was not her own. St. Josephine Bakhita had to endure much suffering as a slave and endured all sorts of humiliation and difficulties when she was treated less than a proper human being, sold from one place to another, until eventually she met her last employers, the Italian Vice Consul in Khartoum, Sudan who treated her well and eventually passed her on to another Italian family, who then gave St. Josephine Bakhita to encounter Christ for the first time through the Canossian Sisters when circumstances put her under their care.

Through the help of many people, St. Josephine Bakhita eventually was freed from her slavery with the support of the court and the authorities, and she became a Christian, and in time, joined the Canossian sisters into religious life. Her past, painful and difficult experiences in life did not make her to be bitter in life. On the contrary, she worked devoutly and always remembered the suffering of her people in Africa throughout her many years living as part of the Canossians, leading her to be well-respected by everyone for her faith and dedication to God.

She also forgave her abductors, persecutors and all those who had given her a terrible life during her first and early years. She would even thank and bless them, as she said that were it not for them, she would not have become a Christian and to be where she was then. It was God who called her out of slavery, much as how He liberated His people out of Egypt, and gave her a new life, to be a testimony of His glory and wonderful works among His people, and St. Josephine Bakhita’s life is indeed a powerful testimony of her faith.

Meanwhile, St. Jerome Emiliani was a man who ran away from his family during his teenage years to join the military, and then became official in the government. He encountered God through miraculous survival from a siege, which he attributed to the intercession of the Blessed Mother of God, which gradually began to touch his life, and in his later years, St. Jerome Emiliani dedicated himself to the care of the poor and orphans, those who are sick, opening houses and places to be where they can be taken care of and treated.

St. Jerome Emiliani was thus known for his extensive labours of charity, opening hospitals and orphanages, as well as dormitories for former prostitutes, caring for many and touching the lives of countless thousands. Together with some priests who supported his efforts, eventually St. Jerome Emiliani laid the foundations for the Congregation of Regular Clerics, composed of all those who share the same ideals and charity of St. Jerome Emiliani, in reaching out to the people of God, especially the less fortunate and weaker ones among them.

St. Jerome Emiliani embodied what the Lord Jesus Himself had done as described in our Gospel passage today, in caring for the needs of the poor and the needy, consoling orphans and all those who seek God for help. Together with St. Josephine Bakhita, they truly show us what true Christian virtues and charity are all about, and how each and every one of us are also able to follow in their footsteps to serve God in our own capacities and with our own abilities and talents.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, how about us then? Are we willing and able to follow in our predecessors’ footsteps? Are we capable to making the commitment to serve God as we should? Let us all ponder on this and reflect on how we can probably be better Christians and disciples of Christ from now on through our lives and through our commitment to live up to our calling as those whom the Lord has called to be His followers and disciples. May the Lord be our guide and may He strengthen us all in faith, at all times. Amen.

Saturday, 8 February 2020 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Jerome Emiliani, and St. Josephine Bakhita, Virgin (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saints, Holy Virgins or Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Mark 6 : 30-34

At that time, the Apostles returned and reported to Jesus all they had done and taught. Then He said to them, “Let us go off by ourselves into a remote place and have some rest.” For there were so many people coming and going that the Apostles had no time even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a secluded area by themselves.

But people saw them leaving, and many could guess where they were going. So, from all the towns, they hurried there on foot, arriving ahead of them. As Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He had compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. And He began to teach them many things.

Saturday, 8 February 2020 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Jerome Emiliani, and St. Josephine Bakhita, Virgin (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saints, Holy Virgins or Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Psalm 118 : 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

How can young people remain pure? By living according to Your word.

I seek You with my whole heart; let me not stray from Your commands.

In my heart I have kept Your word, that I may not sin against my YHVH.

Praise to You, o YHVH; instruct me in Your statutes.

That, with my lips, I may declare all Your spoken decrees.

I delight in following Your laws, more so than in all riches.

Saturday, 8 February 2020 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Jerome Emiliani, and St. Josephine Bakhita, Virgin (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saints, Holy Virgins or Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

1 Kings 3 : 4-13

The king used to sacrifice at Gibeon, the great high place; on the altar there he had offered a thousand burnt offerings. It was in Gibeon, during the night, that YHVH appeared to Solomon in a dream and said, “Ask what you want Me to give you.”

Solomon answered, “You have shown Your servant David my father a great and steadfast love because he served You faithfully and was righteous and sincere towards You. You have given him proof of Your steadfast love in making a son of his sit on his throne this day.”

“And now, o YHVH my God, You have made Your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a young boy who does not know how to undertake anything. Meantime, Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen – a people so great that they can neither be numbered nor counted.”

“Give me, therefore, an understanding mind in governing Your people that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to govern this multitude of people of Yours?”

YHVH was pleased that Solomon had made this request. And He told him, “Because you have requested this rather than long life or wealth or even vengeance on your enemies; indeed, because you have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I shall grant you your request. I now give you a wise and discerning mind such as no one has had before you nor anyone after you shall ever have.”

“I will also give you what you have not asked for, both wealth and fame; and no king shall be your equal during your lifetime.”

Friday, 7 February 2020 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scripture comparing two kings, namely David and Herod, in how they acted in their reign and life. One was faithful to God and committed himself to serve his Lord and Master, although he did fall at times and faltered but he remained true to his commitment and was righteous and just as a king. On the other hand, the other one was unfaithful, placed himself and his interests above that of his own people and did not follow God’s laws and commandments.

King David was the epitome of a faithful servant, who although a powerful and mighty, successful king, but he did not allow himself to be swayed by the temptations of his pride and desires. It was only rare occasions that he did fall into those temptations, but in all those occasions, David knew that he was at fault and repented deeply for his sins. God was always foremost in his mind and he devoted much of his reign in leading the people of Israel to be closer to God.

On the other hand, we have king Herod who succumbed to the many temptations he had, especially that of power and lust. First of all, as mentioned in our Gospel passage today, king Herod took his own brother’s wife, Herodias to be his own wife. This happened when Philip, Herod’s brother was still in fact well and alive, and then, Herodias and Philip already had a daughter from that earlier marriage, who was likely the daughter of Herodias mentioned in our Gospel passage today.

In that manner, the action of Herod constituted a serious adultery, as Herod embraced a relationship that was not approved or sanctioned by the Law of God. And in his position as king over the people of Judea, to embrace such an action so blatantly and publicly would equate to a terrible role model for the people he was king over. His actions brought scandal and wickedness, and St. John the Baptist rightly rebuked him before the people for his refusal to obey God and live righteously as he should have.

Then, we heard an even greater mistake that king Herod had done in our same Gospel passage today, when he allowed himself to be tempted even more by his desire and lust, when he was tempted even by his own stepdaughter, the one that Herodias had with Philip, Herod’s daughter. When Herod was immersed in the party he conducted and became enamoured with desire even for his own stepdaughter, Herod showed us how dangerous it is for us to allow the devil to tempt us and to twist us with all those wicked thoughts and desires.

In the end, because of that, king Herod caused the death of St. John the Baptist, God’s faithful servant, although he did not intend to do it. Herodias took the opportunity to strike a revenge at St. John the Baptist for having insulted her with his rebuke of the adulterous relations between her and Herod. All these happened ultimately because Herod and all the parties involved allowed themselves to be swayed by their desires and the temptations to sin.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us are called to reflect on these matters and consider how each and every one of us should be careful in living our lives that we do not end up like Herod who gave in to the temptations in life and sinned against God by his actions and deeds. Instead, we should look upon the good examples set by king David, just as Solomon, his son looked up to him for example and thanked God for all that his father had done in righteously serving God all his life.

It will not be easy for us to serve the Lord as there will indeed be plenty of temptations in life, and there will be lots of challenges we may have to face along the way. Are we able to resist those temptations and desires that are making us go astray from God and His path? Are we willing to commit ourselves to the Lord with faith from now on, knowing that as Christians this is our obligation and calling in life? Let us all be inspired to live as how God’s faithful servants had lived, like king David and many other saints and holy men and women, whose lives are readily available for us to emulate and follow.

May the Lord be with us and may He guide us all to live courageously with faith from now on. May God bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Friday, 7 February 2020 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Mark 6 : 14-29

At that time, king Herod also heard about Jesus, because His Name had become well-known. Some people said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in Him.” Others thought, “He is a prophet like the prophets of times past.” When Herod was told of this, he thought, “I had John beheaded, yet he has risen from the dead!”

For 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 his 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.

Friday, 7 February 2020 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Psalm 17 : 31, 47 and 50, 51

This God – His way is perfect; the word of YHVH can stand fire. He is a shield for those who seek refuge in Him.

YHVH lives! Praised be my Rock! Exalted be my Saviour God. For this I extol You, o YHVH, among the nations; I will sing praise to Your Name.

He has given victories to His king; He has shown His love to His anointed ones, to David, and to his descendants forever.